Sunday, August 20, 2006

Face-Lift 162

Guess the Plot

Triumph of the Sun

1. Imperial Starship captain Lash Loft orders his navigator to set a course for the star of the Terran System. Unfortunately, the order is interpreted literally.

2. Penny King waits for hours in a cold, dark place. Her torture is ended every morning around six, when once again heat and light flood into her bedroom.

3. Tseng Ri initiates mages into the Dark Mysteries. But there's a catch: if their knowledge ever exceeds his, they must die in the Sun Ritual, thus ensuring Tseng Ri remains top dog. The mages pretend to be idiots, of course.

4. A young engineer's contraption, involving tunnels, fiber optic cables, and three enormous mirrors, proves to be the last, best hope for a town ravaged by a vampire clan.

5. The Sun colonies battle Moon2's crews for galactic domination. Oops, the title gives it away!

6. More than anything, Lily wants to get a tan this summer. But handsome dermatologist Steve is determined to protect her porcelain complexion. Who will win in this battle of wills, secret desires, and SPF levels?

Original Version

Dear Ms. Agent,

I'd like you to consider representing my fantasy novel The Triumph of the Sun. It is a completed stand-alone novel of 140,000 words, and has not been submitted for publication.

For centuries the archmage Tseng Ri has been initiating mages into the Dark Mysteries; but if their understanding exceeds his, they must die. [Which explains why, whenever Tseng Ri drops in, the mages are all listening to rap music and watching The Real World.] and Master Shien's students have ventured into the forbidden knowledge. [Meaning they've gone to Tseng Ri to be initiated, or they've come by the knowledge another way?] Fighting to save them without being drawn into their mind-shattering experiences, Shien finds that he must open himself to the god whose power he long ago stole. [You're not much of a god if some guy can steal your power.] From this comes the insight that finally topples Tseng Ri: to preserve his own power the archmage has killed the goddess [One begins to get the impression that gods and goddesses are at the bottom of the food chain in this world.] who granted it, and bound her spirit in the underworld. Shien and his students persuade the goddess to accept her death, allowing rebirth. [You're not officially dead until you accept it.]

The book is unusual in not presenting magical conflict as a souped-up version of physical combat: it goes deeply into the heads of protagonists who are in moral, psychological and spiritual danger. In this regard, and in treating religion seriously, it's somewhat like Lois Bujold's Paladin of Souls. [Actually, I was going to say it's like Doctor Strange in the comic books. In fact, I need to dig out the issue in which The Ancient One dies, and read it again, as it forms the basis for my philosophy of life and my religious beliefs, guiding me spiritually in troubled times.] [Also, unlike the Bible and Koran, it's illustrated.]

I'm a research scientist at (an unnamed research university), doing computational work in evolutionary biology; my hobbies include martial arts and role playing gaming. I have written several novels but Triumph seems the most immediately saleable. My only publication credits are academic.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


If you need more explanation of the title, it refers to a magical ritual to which Tseng Ri sends some uninvited assassins.


I don't find the plot paragraph especially clear. Tseng Ri's power was granted to him by a goddess, but Shien stole his power from a god. Yet Shien is the good guy? Only because he didn't later kill the god, apparently. If Tseng had to kill the goddess to preserve his power, why is Shien's power preserved, when he didn't kill the god? Are these the kinds of gods people worship? Because usually you don't kill or steal power from your gods.

A few more sentences might clear things up, but if not, you might leave the gods and the abstract stuff out of the query and concentrate on the time, the place, the action: Tseng Ri captures Shien's students, and threatens to shatter their minds, and Shien must use his mystical powers to save them. Etc.


HawkOwl said...

Whoa, whoa, whoa! I actually read the guess-the-plot and thought "hey, I'd like to read that." Hellooooo, I have a reputation to maintain, here!

Anyway, like EE said, the plot isn't clear from the query letter, but at the same time, that's about right for Chinese gods. They're a pretty shagged up bunch of dudes.

What I thought didn't work at all was "I have written several novels but Triumph seems the most immediately saleable. My only publication credits are academic." For one thing, I don't think you need to mention that you have nothing to mention, and for another, should you really be saying it "seems" saleable? It sounds like Christopher on Project Catwalk. "I don't mind my garment - I guess."

The book sounds good in a complicated sort of way. Maybe your query should give more a sense of "this is hella good" and less a sense of how complicated it is.

Fuck-me shoes wouldn't hurt, either.

writtenwyrdd said...

Hey, have you ever tried to read Chinese literature? I'm struggling through the first of the 4-volume Three Kingdoms [shudders] with limited success, cuz my eyes keep crossing!

Seriously, I think the idea could be good, but Evil Editor makes a good point. No matter how logical you make it in the story itself, the letter does make the plot seem a bit silly.

I can imagine a bunch of ways to have a half-dead goddess, though. I personally thought that bit was intriguing.

Anonymous said...

I dunno, I've never quite got my head around the whole concept of a god being killed--especially by a mortal. It ruined the Belgariad for me when I was twelve. I always thought once a god was usurped or "destroyed" or stripped of power, they ought to just go to a celestial dive bar and get hammered for eternity, or maybe get sent to one of those cosmic nursing homes like the ones they profiled on 60 Minutes. You know, the kind where the nurses beat you for no reason, don't roll you over so you get bedsores, and steal your manna when you're napping.

Hey, I forget my classical mythology--did Zeus kill Cronos, or did he just steal his mojo?

Dave Fragments said...

Think of the Perseus and Andromeda myth (hint, rent the movie Clash of the Titans)

Think of Prometheus bringing fire from the gods.

Think of Sisyphus rolling the rock up hill.

Think of the journey and not the destination.

Anonymous said...

I must be dumb cause I did not understand this query letter at all!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but this genuinely baffled me. I have no idea what's supposed to happen in this book. Why would you go to the trouble of training people if you're just going to kill them once they get smart?

Anonymous said...

I like this. (Author, I saw the original version elsewhere, but didn't get around to commenting.)

In the summary paragraph, I'm not sure if EE deleted part of the second sentence or inserted a period in the middle of the first, which makes it more confusing. Is the problem that Master Shien's students have learned more than Tseng Ri, and therefore he wants to kill them? Or is it a problem if that's what I think is going on?

The other bit that puzzled me was whether "the archmage" that killed the goddess was Tseng Ri.

I'd drop the publication credits.