Monday, September 14, 2015

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1275  (the post just below this one) would like feedback on this revision:

Dear Evil Editor,

In 2097, fourteen-year-old Brian has always been fascinated by the first interstellar colonization mission [Saying he's always been fascinated in 2097 is like saying Last Tuesday Brian always wanted to be a fireman. In any case, we can guess that it's well in the future, so no need to specify the exact year.] – a 300-year-long, 20 light-year voyage [We don't need both the time and distance of the planned voyage.] that the crew will spend mostly in Cryosleep. After he nearly drowns, his dad tells him they both have the rare Cryosleep genetic modifications, a requirement for going on the mission. He’s stunned to learn that his mother’s death eight years ago was [mother died eight years ago] in a bombing by fundamentalist terrorists opposed to genetic modifications. His dad never told him, to protect him from growing anti-genmod prejudices fostered by fundamentalist propaganda. [We don't need to know why dad didn't tell him. We just need to know he's got the genmods needed for the mission.] [I provided a sample of a cohesive opening paragraph in my notes on the previous version, one that eliminated the mother's death eight years ago and Brian's failure to drown. I see they've made their way into this version. How mom died would be important if it were the inciting event in Brian's signing on to the mission, but he's always been interested in the mission. We don't care that Brian nearly drowned, we only care that he has the genmods. In fact, I'm not sure we even need that. Can't he just get the genmods after he's approved for the mission? Why did he get them so young? They wouldn't modify you at a young age, knowing you might not want to go on the mission when you were older, or that you might not even be qualified physically and emotionally and intellectually for the mission.] 

Brian is delighted when he and his dad join the mission. But the mission will be canceled if it hasn’t reached its goals by an approaching deadline – anti-genmod prejudices are slowing recruitment, as many are afraid to disclose, or even unaware that they have, the essential Cryosleep genmods. [The whole point of getting the genmods was to be prepared for the mission, so why are there people who don't know they have them?] [How many recruits do they need? When NASA has ten positions available in astronaut training they get thousands of applications. Hey, the more people with genmods get subjected to prejudice, the more they're gonna want to get off the planet.] When Brian learns the mission is also short of pilots for its critical Dragonfly one-person support spacecraft because the fundamentalists are blocking approval of the contract for training software, [Apparently things are different in the future; in our time, we would never give fundamentalist terrorists the power to block approval of contracts for anything to do with any kind of mission.] 

[The mission to put a man on Mars has completed the training phase.

Excellent. So what's the holdup?

The rocket fuel contracts still haven't been approved by al Qaeda and ISIS.]

he adapts shareware from a gaming group he’s in to do the job, and recruits some new teenage mission friends to help test it. Their hard work earns them spots as Dragonfly cadets, and their teenage adaptability helps them do well, despite attempts of some jealous older cadets to discredit them. [Failed attempts to discredit them is a minor subplot that has no place in the query letter.] But the terrorists are worried that positive publicity surrounding the teenagers’ participation will save the mission by boosting recruitment, and attempt to eliminate them – the teenagers barely escape.

The teenagers are more determined than ever, and are sent into space with the other cadets to the nearly completed starship to finish their training. But while they’re drilling in their Dragonflies, a robotic cargo ship establishes a collision course for the unarmed starship. Time is short, and the teenagers are the only ones in a position to stop it, [In the previous version you said the starships were nearing completion. Yet not only is this one unarmed, it can't even go to warp 1 to escape a cargo ship?] although the attempt could cost them their lives. But if the starship is lost, it will be the end of humanity’s first attempt to reach the stars – and of all the rest of the Dragonfly pilots and other close friends still onboard. [It's not clear that the robotic cargo ship is being controlled by the bad guys. Maybe it's gone off course due to a computer glitch.]

Mission of Terror is a young adult hard science fiction novel with series potential, complete at 95,000 words. It’s use of human genetic engineering for Cryosleep, [I don't remember Ripley needing any genomes to be put in Cryosleep in Alien.] [Just once I'd like to type "genmods" without Blogger changing it to "genomes."]and fundamentalist terrorist opposition to genetic engineering, drive much of the stories’ [story's?] conflict.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


You keep using the word "fundamentalist." I Googled fundamentalism and found it was a movement in American Protestantism that arose in the early part of the 20th century in reaction to modernism and that stresses the infallibility of the Bible not only in matters of faith and morals but also as a literal historical record, holding as essential to Christian faith belief in such doctrines as the creation of the world, the virgin birth, physical resurrection, atonement by the sacrificial death of Christ, and the Second Coming. Is this what you mean by fundamentalists? I think you need to come up with a name for the group. If al Qaeda called themselves the "fundamentalist terrorists," the world would ignore them. Your group needs a cool name, like the Antediluvians. 

Even if fundamentalist terrorists wanted to stop genetic modification, it seems they'd attack buildings where it's being done, or politicians who favor doing it, not a starship whose mission is colonization. People will think they attacked the starship because they believe man was not meant to travel to the stars.

This sentence has too much unnecessary information: When Brian learns the mission is also short of pilots for its critical Dragonfly one-person support spacecraft because the fundamentalists are blocking approval of the contract for training software, he adapts shareware from a gaming group he’s in to do the job, and recruits some new teenage mission friends to help test it. Here's what we need: When Brian learns the mission needs pilots for its Dragonfly spacecraft, he and some of his friends sign up


alaskaRavenclaw said...

Try to say it all in one sentence, no more than 20 words in length.

Once you've got that, you can expand to five sentences. Maybe six. Not long sentences. Ordinary sentences.

Anything that won't fit shouldn't be in the query.

Anonymous said...

EE--I'm assuming the genetic modifications are something that has to be done to a person before they're born. Probably something along the lines of designer babies with extra human manipulation of gene sequences.

Author--This query looks like the last one with a few extra details that don't really help. And, for hard science fiction, a lot of scientific details don't appear to be thought through very well.

You can waste word space in the query explaining why you have a lot of people with presumably expensive genetic modifications wandering around without knowing they have them. Or you can not bring the subject up in the query and leave the explanation for it in the book. Assuming there is an explanation.

You have ~100 words to explain your story. This will be looked at by an agent for ~30 seconds. Limit yourself to the essentials.

Is the story about your MC being fascinated with a interstellar colonization mission? Is the story about your MC discovering his mother was killed by terrorists? Is it about being worried about propaganda? Is it about jealous rivals, bullies, and incompetent mission planners? If these are merely things that happen, why are you spending your limited words on them?

Hint: you don't need the entire plot

As near as I can tell, your MC wants to be a pilot for support spacecraft for an interstellar colonization mission. Try building your query around that.

InkAndPixelClub said...

EE> "Fundamentalost" can be used to describe any person or group that believes their holy text to be the literal truth. But it's usually seen in combination with the belief system that the subject sees as factual - "fundamentalist Christian" for example. The problem here is that we don't know what doctrine these terrorists think is fact.

Author> I'd suggest you follow the other minions' suggestions and get back to the basics of your story. Here are a few of the essential questions you'll need to answer in a query:

1. Who is the protagonist? Brian, a fourteen year old with a rare(ish?) gene that allows him to endure cryogenic sleep.
2. What does he want? To be part of the first interstellar colony. You could probably expand on why he want to do this. Plenty of people find space travel interesting, but not that many want to leave behind everything and (nearly) everyone they know to travel to another planet.
3. What's prventing him from getting it? The fundamentalist terrorists, who are trying to stop the colonization mission because they are opposed to genetic modification and interstellar travel demonstrates the benefits of such modifications. This could be made clearer than what you have right now.
4. What qualities might help him succeed? He's got the Cryosleep gene, but that's not much help against the terrorists. He's good at programming, I guess, but that's still not much use against people who want to kill you. He's determined. I guess that could help.
5. What happens if he succeeds? The mission goes ahead and Brian gets to live on another planet.
6. What happens if he fails? The terrorists kill people, possibly including Brian.

Keep your focus on those elements and ensuring that they all make sense and sound interesting and exciting.

Again, leave out the second sentence of your last full paragraph. If you haven't already shown the reader that these elements drive the conflict in your story, then the query isn't working. If you have, you don't need that sentence.

Anonymous said...

We had a pretty good example of this problem a few Facelifts ago with the story of the former Marine who becomes a mail carrier who saves a Latino sex slave: author starts out with a query that raises too many questions, and instead of rewriting as a brief, vivid, pitch so that the questions don't come up, he tediously answers all the questions in the next version in a long, blow-by-blow synopsis that introduces a few more non sequiturs.

Brian dreams of space travel! Cryosleep is cool! After he nearly drowns -- [sound of screeching brakes]. Okay, Brian is dragged back from the brink of death in the hospital, and his Dad picks this moment to tell him that his mother was killed by terrorists [squeal of tires as car lurches into reverse] Nevertheless, there's a fight with older cadets, and then everything's cool with them, and then [sound of engine sputtering and stopping]

And I have to repeat some of my critiques from the last version. The action is small -- Brian is delighted, stunned, and fascinated. Next, the people who poured untold trillions into a 300-year, 20-light-year space mission are all set to cancel the whole thing due to lack of interest brought on by a bunch of Monsanto-hating propagandists. The stakes finally rise at the end when the terrorists attack the starship, but this seems like the last 5-10% of the book. If the older cadets undertake crucial action that they wouldn't have were it not for that earlier conflict with the teenagers, this would be the place to mention it. (If the conflict episode doesn't make any difference to the teenagers' progress or the success of the mission, what's it doing in your book? -- don't answer that! Just don't raise the question in my mind if you can avoid it.)

Maybe a better word for the fundamentalists (if they don't have an actual text or scripture that they rigidly and literally adhere to) is "extremists."

Komal Verma said...

Nothing much to add to this other than if Brian is the MC then each paragraph needs to represent that. The 3rd, the one starting 'The teenagers' loses that focus. Which of these teenagers are important? Better yet rewrite from Brian's POV with relation to his wants/desires/risks.

dhewco said...

Hmmmm....When you say cryosleep gene, I think of that toad (I believe it's a toad) that can be frozen and unthawed without the ice doing heavy damage to its cells. I can't remember which toad it is, I just remember hearing about it. Apparently, the creature has an enzyme that allows it to do this. Is this what the cryogene does?

SB said...

"Maybe a better word for the fundamentalists (if they don't have an actual text or scripture that they rigidly and literally adhere to) is "extremists.""

I agree with this, but I might even suggest, based on what my interpretation is of who these people are, calling them "anti-expansionists" or "anti-expansion extremists" or "extremists" paired with whatever it is that they're against. Or, like Ink suggested, saying what it is exactly that they're "fundamentalist" about.

khazar-khum said...

Why not try:

"Fourteen year old Brian and his Dad both have the Cryosleep gene, a mutation that allows them to survive the cryonic suspension needed for long space travel. Since his mother's death he's been training and planning for the 300 year long, 20 light year journey to a new planet. His amazing abilities with computers and electronics will be vital on this new world.

However, a group of eco-religious terrorists are doing their best to block the voyage, including vandalism and sabotage. They don't want anyone leaving Earth.

Can the launch go as planned, with Brian and his Dad aboard for the pioneering trip? Will the eco-terrorists succeed in stopping it? Or will they simply destroy the vessel, no matter who's on board?"