Thursday, December 14, 2006

Face-Lift 244

Guess the Plot

Dark Heir

1. Katirin, heir to the throne, teams up with an enemy wizard to destroy a sentient computer trying to take over the kingdom. Also, drone nuns.

2. When an Eddie Murphy look-alike is named sole heir to the Augusto Pinochet fortune, hilarity ensues. Also, The Village People.

3. Iowa feed magnate Hank Wermer bragged that at 65 he had enough left in the tank to sire an heir to his vast corporate empire. Will he accept the dark-skinned baby born by his 22-year-old trophy wife, or will he spend his entire fortune trying to find the true father? Also, a shady sperm bank.

4. When a mysterious Mexican man is named as the sole beneficiary of a wealthy Boston Brahmin, all hell breaks lose in the board room. What did the man from Baja know and when did he know it? Also, a dancing pigeon.

5. Indelible black dye, tasteless hi-jinks, and zombies! The fun never ends in the Delta Gamma frat house, where pledges unwittingly compete in a competition that will mark the dark heir (literally) for sacrifice. Also, drunk geese.

6. Eyebrows nearly hit the ceiling when Duane "Fresh Young Chicken" Jones walks into the conference room at Dewey, Cheeetham and Howe for the reading of the Pettipants last will and testament. Also, a lost ferret.

Original Version

Dear You,

Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. [The magician's trick of sawing a woman in half and restoring her? 22nd-century medical technology, incomprehensible to the primitive man of today.] In DARK HEIR, a completed 104,000 word fantasy, a backward world struggles with such magic, as a damaged sentient computer from a bygone technological age gives potent but flawed supernatural powers to certain individuals.

Katirin is a princess of inconvenient parentage, confined to a convent to nullify her claim on the throne. [If more evil tyrants had known that being in a convent nullified one's claim to the throne, fewer throne claimants would have been needlessly murdered throughout history. On the other hand, convents would have been bursting at the seams.] When she discovers that the unworldly priestesses of the convent are really drones of the ancient computer - which is winding out of control and will eventually claim the minds of the entire kingdom [That seems like a lot for Katirin to fathom.] - Katirin decides that she would rather save her nation than rule it.

Cementing her family's disapproval by fleeing both convent and country, Katirin strives to find and destroy the computer - an object she barely understands. [If she wants to find a computer that's destroying her country, shouldn't she be looking in her country?] [You opened by implying that the people would consider technology magic. Is that what Katirin thinks? Wouldn't she be seeking a wizard or a witch, rather than a computer?] The only person willing to help her is Arkadiy, prince of an enemy state, and the price he demands is that Katirin turn both traitor and assassin for him. More distressingly, his assistance consists of lending her the services of another of the computer's creations, a powerful but unstable "wizard" named Lethan, who seems more interested in learning to use the artifact than destroying it. [I'm not sure I'd call working with Lethan "more distressing" than becoming a traitor to one's country and an assassin for one's enemy.] Katirin will eventually have to battle Lethan to keep him from protecting the object he helped her find.

As Katirin fights to save the nation she loves more than her own fierce ambitions, she must decide how much evil she will do in the name of accomplishing one act of good.

I am a physicist, a visual artist, a rock climber and, of course, a writer. DARK HEIR is my first novel. May I send you a partial or full?

Thank you for your time and consideration.



It's not clear how a computer can give supernatural powers to certain individuals or claim the minds of the entire kingdom. Sounds like there is magic involved.

This reminds me of the Star Trek episode where a computer built 6000 years earlier by someone named Landru has taken over the minds of the primitive people, who consider it their god. Except your book is better, and I can say that with confidence, despite not having read it.

Actually, the query isn't bad, but if it addressed a couple of the questions I raised, or failed to inspire them, it would be better.


Anonymous said...

Hey, three of my GTP's were selected for this one. Has anybody ever gotten a clean sweep?

Anonymous said...

If you're going to quote Arthur C. Clarke, get the quote right, and be sure to credit it:

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

(Clarke's Third Law)

(Clarke's other two laws:
1: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
2: The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.)

The plot contains some elements very much like Gene Wolf's Book of the Long Sun trilogy. I recommend reading Wolf, if you haven't, before anyone accuses you of lifting that, too -- not that the whole "Oh, look, the Gods are just the ramblings of this ancient computer program" theme hasn't been done before, many times, with various levels of skill.

Evil Editor said...

Hey, three of my GTP's were selected for this one. Has anybody ever gotten a clean sweep?

I cut and paste them onto the query when they arrive. By the time I get around to choosing, I've forgotten who sent them. Of course, if they're sent anonymously, there's no way of knowing if they came from the same person.

Anonymous said...

Your query succeeded in making me want to read the book. But by the time I had gotten to the "traitor and assassin" part I began to suffer from info overload.

Any way you can simplify a little more?

Dave Fragments said...

I'm wondering what is more important to the story -- the love of family and country, or breaking the computer's control of the ruling class.

Anonymous said...

anon 9:49: three? Wow, best I've ever done is two.

verification word: faskvi
a unix utility to query the vi editor on multiple files (what you would ask vi is an exercise left to the reader)

PJD said...

I am very fond of [also mis]quoting Clarke's third law to my kids (thanks, writerious, for the reference). Anyway, although I liked that you opened with it, you might want to rethink putting it as your first sentence. It has a gravity all its own, and I think it might be pulling the reader away from your story. My suggestion: Bury it maybe at the end of the first paragraph. Opening with it had me looking for tie-ins to it all the way through (note also EE's comment about it later in the query). I was distracted from your actual story, with I rather like.

I got a little lost in the nuances of the computer/magic/understanding thing. It's unclear to me if the computer is somehow ruling Katirin's country or just wielding some odd and inconsistent influence over the minds of the people. But what really confused me was "an object she barely understands."

Picking a nit, would you refer to a sentient computer as "an object"? (Well, obviously you would since you did, but I probably wouldn't.) But how about "barely understands"? That implies she does understand it, albeit barely. Does everyone understand that there's a wacko computer causing mayhem? Or has Katirin discovered something no one else believes or understands? For me, this is important to how I think about the rest of the story.

Finally, I get little sense of what type of "magic" the computer appears to be. I think that this takes place in a world similar to Arthurian legend, not a world similar to Harry Potter.

I feel quite confident that these questions are answered in the other 103,800 words, but it seems to me that your story is of a young woman questing to save her people while faced with serious ethical issues. It is not really about how technology seems like magic. That's a cool idea and all, but IMHO your plot stands on its own without needing the shoulders of a giant.

Solidus said...

I also like the corrollary to Clarke's third law:

"Any technology that is distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced."

pax et bonum

writtenwyrdd said...

that first paragraph? A great hook! I've read otehr books with this concept, but not for a while (Andre Norton wrote a couple) and there is room with the "flawed" portion of the powers to be really, intensely unique.

Bernita said...

"more distressingly"
Watch awkward words like that - makes the Dark Heir sound blonde.

Anonymous said...

Not even EE should dis Star Trek. Those are Holy Grounds! I thank the author for that trip down memory lane and would suggest writing about something else. -JTC

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this sounded interesting. Orson Scott Card also has a series with a similar premise if I recall, although the ancient computer didn't bestow magic powers. I too would like to know what kind of powers we're talking about exactly. Does it just make you really good at math? Or can you shoot lasers from your eyes?

Rei said...


Landru thinks you know too much. You will come with the lawgivers to be absorbed into the body.

HawkOwl said...

Things I found out this week:

1. my dog can hunt after all,
2. I don't like query letters that start with a thesis statement.

Supposing I did, though, I'd at least expect you to write your own thesis statement. You are, after all, "obviously" a writer.

Other than that, I think I counted 17 push-button words in the query letter. Also, a reflection on the theme "how much evil would you do for the sake of doing good" is gonna have to be really outlandish if it hopes to sound fresh.

If I were an agent I doubt I'd have read to the end of the query letter, but good luck with it.

Anonymous said...

I cheated by submitting GTPs for the long-past orphan Face-lifts. I felt sorry for them. Got four picks for Face-Lifts 33 and 42, three picks for a couple of others.

Anonymous said...

Thanks EE for your very helpful and specific comments; thanks to the authors of the awesome Guess-the-Plots; thank you very much to the commenters! These are great, helpful, funny and useful things you've pointed out to me, and I really appreciate your attention and courtesy.

Er, and I'm sorry to be thanking you all so long after the posting-date, but I've been frolicking in the surf for two weeks. The fishies wouldn't let me borrow their internet.