Friday, March 30, 2007

Face-Lift 305

Guess the Plot

The Theft of the Daidanna Dankenka Maru

1. An animal trainer, a schoolteacher and an astronaut steal Earth's first starship in order to escape the Earth's pollution and recreate Earth's biosphere on another planet. Also, a suicidal whale.

2. Dundenna Kantawanna momo dinteka wantana. Maima ratwonu titi kenka ma kenku, danna mianta Maru. Also, a vampire.

3. Alex, a two-bit street thief, determines to join the ranks of the master thieves by stealing the Daidanna Dankenka Maru, the most often stolen artifact in the world. Now, he just has to figure out two things: where it is, and what it is.

4. By the time Tony "The Stutterer" Calabrese has finished explaining the intricate details of the heist to his street crew, the cops are on to his scheme and he's on the run. Next time, he'll just rob a bank and forget about the Daidanna Dankenka Maru.

5. Police Chief Jake Martin is having no problem tracking the stolen masterpiece, the Daidanna Dankenka Maru. It's filling out the police report that's so difficult.

6. When a new Virginia class attack sub is christened USS Daidanna Dankenka Maru, some of the higher ups in the Pentagon have a conniption fit. Now it’s up to Black Ops Specialist Trick Lambert to do the one thing more difficult than pronouncing it: steal it, and send it to Davy Jones’ locker. Also, an autistic Chinese deli worker.

Original Version

Dear Mr. Editor;

Information on the Internet says you like smart, quirky science fiction, and literary writing on environmental issues. Please consider representing my 122,200-word hard/soft/ [Is this a book or a boiled egg?] literary sci-fi novel (think of Kim Stanley Robinson's work), [I tried. I spent ten minutes thinking of Kim Stanley Robinson's work, only to realize I was actually thinking of Spider Robinson; I blame it on you for calling it quirky.] The Theft of the Daidanna Dankenka Maru (DDM), in which learning to talk with orcas drives a scientist, an animal trainer, a schoolteacher and an astronaut to steal earth's first crude attempt at a starship.

2050: After ten years in captivity, Sam, a Sea-World show orca, [realizes he can no longer reach the splash zone. In a fit of depression, he] tries to suicide. His trainer, Zachary Qualar, saves him and takes him home, [Fortunately, Zack drives a 50-foot limo jacked up on earth-mover tires.] to Robson Bight on Vancouver Island. Zack and cetologist Joshua Mason rehabilitate Sam, and hire Native American schoolteacher Amy Blackstone, talented in linguistics, to help decipher his language. Amy has a secret: she's an empath, preternaturally sensitive to others' emotions. She connects, empathically then telepathically, with Sam and his father, A50, his tribe's historian, and together they write a computer program [Just to be sure I've got this straight, the orca's father is named A50, and he's a historian and he helps write a computer program?] that translates Orca to English. [At last they will know what Sam is trying to say. They jack him into the computer system and hear:

Fish again?! Can't you get me a nice tender elephant seal? Tandoori-style. No cilantro, it gives me hives. And would it kill you to spring for HBO so I could watch The Sopranos? Christ, I get sick of Animal Planet. Oh, and one more thing: there aren't any broads in this bight. I'm a mammal, not a fish. Get an orca babe in here fast, 'cause that empath chick is starting to look good to me. And what the hell's a bight, anyway?]

The "Robson Bight Crew" sets up a hospital to treat sick and injured cetaceans. Treating an orca who has miscarried, they learn that the oceans are so polluted the whales can no longer reproduce. Global warming threatens a new ice age, another species goes extinct every hour, and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans threatens nuclear war. [They learn all this while treating an orca that miscarried?] Learning of this, A50 demands their help. Using the translation program, he writes a book exposing the minds and souls of orcas and asking that humans recognize the orcas' right to a tolerable planet. [Unfortunately, he can't interest an agent, and is forced to go with PublishAmerica.] His book is derided as fiction. [Unbelievable. A whale manages to write a book, and the critics pan it.]

Joshua's friend, Jeddidiah Jay, was an astronaut until a jet crash ended his career; now his aerospace engineering firm builds space vehicles and mines the asteroid belt. A sociopathic assassin on call to the CIA sabotages and spies on his company, and corrupt politicians force him to license his spaceship designs to competitors. Then a drunk driver kills his young family. Embittered, Jay plots with his Robson Bight friends to steal the Daidanna Dankenka Maru, earth's first starship, which the government is forcing him to build. He recruits 100 people from among his asteroid miners, and twelve dolphins; they raid a "frozen zoo" for genetic material to recreate earth's biosphere on a new planet, steal the ship, and on Christmas Morning, 2060, leave earth forever. [Some people go into therapy when their lives are going bad; others recruit dolphins and steal a starship.]

I have a degree in Journalism; I've written for and edited magazines and NPR broadcast copy. I spent years researching whales and dolphins and the Kwakwaka' wakw [Anagram of Waka Waka Waka, the noise Pac-Man makes.] natives of British Columbia, because I believe that the best sci-fi does not stray far from reality. My protagonists' motivation is the mass extinction event we humans are currently causing. [Except for Jeddidiah, whose motivation is revenge on The Man.] I am a science junkie, and the chapter-opening newspaper articles with which I detail the destruction of the environment are frighteningly real. [End of query. If I'm still on the fence at this point, the rest isn't going to push me in any direction you're hoping for.] You will love the depth of my characterization, my evocation of setting and emotion. And DDM (my third unpublished book) tells the story of the main plot point of my second, completed and polished sci-fi novel, which [tells the story of the main plot point of my first completed and polished sci-fi novel, which tells the story of the main plot point of Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home.] I will tell you about when you're ready.

Thank you for your time and help, Mr. EE. I hope to hear from you soon.


What whale would name its kid A50?

I've heard of pods and schools. Do whales also come in tribes?

Wouldn't it be better if Sam wrote the book? Sam seems to drop out once they dump him in the bight.

It's too long. Does the query need Sam at all? It could begin with the crew setting up a facility to study whale communication at Robson Bight. We also don't need Jeddidiah's life story.

I don't care if Jay's company is building it; it can't be easy to steal Earth's first starship. Could the head of NASA make off with a space shuttle? Probably not. And a starship is much bigger; heck, the holodeck alone is bigger than a space shuttle.


Anonymous said...

I can't think of any good reason to use a name in the title that is so long and cumbersome you don't find it suitable to use in your query.

DDM = dentist.

You could cut a lot of that prose in the query and just say it's Noah's Ark in space.

Kristine said...

I had a hard time taking this query seriously, especially when you claim to know science and are trying to make this 'close to reality' and then say:

Global warming threatens a new ice age...and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans threatens nuclear war.

Global warming means ice gets melted. Ice Age means ice gets made. Global warming does not lead to ice ages. Or do you mean that another ice age is starting, but luckily global warming is reversing that and everything will be okay?

I also have no clue what ethnic cleansing in the Balkans has to do with nuclear war or this story.

Since you say that you start each chapter with "newspaper articles" that "detail the destruction of the environment" which "are frighteningly real'" it sounds to me like this isn't really a novel but is a heavy-handed way to sell regurgitated articles about the world going to pot. I wouldn't be interested in the book for those reasons. Perhaps my impressions are wrong, though, and the query just needs to be cleaned up.

none said...

It took a lot more people to steal the spaceship in Allen Steele's Coyote, and I still had trouble believing it.

Anonymous said...

OMG, GTP #2. still laughing.

Horrid title. Isn't this query a jest?

kristine's objection to an ice age caused by global warming totally ignores the factual, unimpeachably scientific, ripped-from-the-headlines movie The Day After Tomorrow, which proves conclusively that g.w. would cause a sudden ice age.

All kidding aside, though, the movie's premise was based on the action of the Gulf Stream, and an ice age really could be the effect of g.w.

Robin S. said...

Absolutely loved GTP#s 2 and 4.

Thanks for the laugh!

Anonymous said...

Global warming threatens a new ice age?

GutterBall said...

I'm glad Mr. Evil mentioned Star Trek IV because I really didn't want to sound like a trekkie when I said the title sent my mind directly to Kobiyashi Maru. For those not in the know, that's the no-win situation training module for Federation cadets.

I spent the entire query wondering when the ship (which, I'm guessing, is not named the Kobiyashi Maru) would blow up.

I'm also fairly certain that I'm the only person this bothered, so please ignore me.

Anonymous said...

Great to see the quality of GTPs seem to be going up since you posted your plea for more attempts, EE! Keep them coming, folks.

Blogless Troll said...

If I was a killer whale in 2050 and humans still thought getting splashed by marine life was neat, I'd commit suicide too. Better yet, I'd squeeze out one of those billowing gray bowel clouds, then splash 'em. Those splash zones would be empty if people had to pick undigested mullet spine out of their hair.

Also, Sea World wouldn't name a killer whale Sam. It'd be more like Nanunanu or Ikea. Even in the future.

Anonymous said...

Hey! I didn't write GTP #6 (at least not that I remember), but I do remember writing one a long time ago that had an autistic Chinese deli worker in it. (I think a good title for a novel featuring an autistic Chinese deli worker who has a bizarre ability for counting the number of cars passing through intersections would be "Lane Man.")

Rei said...

Author: This is a synopsis, not a query. Please try again.

Miss Snark's formula, to paraphrase. "Meet our protagonist. Meet our antagonist. They meet in A, and all B breaks out. If the protagonist does C, then D will happen, but if he doesn't, it's B squared."

You're not trying to convey all of the plot. Synopses are boring. You're trying to tempt us.

I'm not going to go into the believability aspects here; otherwise, this post will be ten pages long. I will, however, note to the people who complain about global warming and ice ages, perhaps the author is referring to the possibility of oceanic conveyors shutting down, which would lead to regional ice ages. For example, if the thermocline fuelling the gulf stream were to reach a critical point and fail, Britain would end up with a climate like Norway's. Meanwhile, the Carribean would heat up even more.

kiss-me-at-the-gate said...

Your sentences are long and tangled:

Please consider representing my 122,200-word hard/soft/literary sci-fi novel (think of Kim Stanley Robinson's work) The Theft of the Daidanna Dankenka Maru (DDM), in which learning to talk with orcas drives a scientist, an animal trainer, a schoolteacher and an astronaut to steal earth's first crude attempt at a starship.

As such, there are a lot of commas, some of which are possibly correct but definitely awkward:

His trainer, Zachary Qualar, saves him and takes him home, to Robson Bight on Vancouver Island. Zack and cetologist Joshua Mason rehabilitate Sam, and hire Native American schoolteacher Amy Blackstone, talented in linguistics, to help decipher his language.

I think you would improve this by using short declarative sentences instead of long ones with lots of clauses.

The idea sounds interesting, however. Good luck.

Scott said...

kristine and others: actually the author is well within the bounds of theoretical science with regard to the global warming=ice age issue. Check out the following:

A quick Google pulled up a few other articles as well.

Anonymous said...

"Waka Waka Waka, the noise Pac-Man makes"

Also, Fozzie Bear.

I'm a fan of quirk and I dig this story. I hope you continue, author. It sounds really interesting.

The query does has too much in it, and that is probably one of the reasons so many questions are coming up over believability.

Anonymous said...

So a plea to humanity from a whale is best accomplished by writing a book? This from a journalist and a writer for radio? Wouldn't the media be the first step to building credibility? We have been convinced that KoKo the gorilla is not simply a well-trained ape because we see her problem-solving on video and passing tests that would baffle a 6-year-old human kid. And we've seen her teaching sign language to other gorillas. I unequivocably believe in the intelligence of cetaceans. But if someone today published the translated ramblings of a whale without a lot of media/documentary coverage and credibility-supporting and hoax-dispelling testing, I, too, would snicker and dismiss the writing (after I queried the whale's agent and publisher because if they would pub a whale's ramblings, why not mine?!).

Who are the protags trying to convince going with the book approach? The general public? The scientific community? The political wags?

Star Trek IV dealt with the issue of constructing a holding tank large enough to house a pair of whales. Somehow I doubt the first starship will have a convenient aquarium the size of a large pond and all the filtration and equipment needed to keep the salt content and dolphin waste in check for an extended voyage. Or do the 12 dolphins just help steal the ship and get left behind like Sam and A50? (Man, that's gotta hurt -- bet they BOTH suicide after being dumped like that!)

Now I love SF, I recycle and compost, and I vote Green when I can. I think the idea behind this query is good, but the execution sounds like it strays far beyond the bounds of reality. It could well be the fault of the query and not the book, of course.

As for the query: cut, cut, cut.

kiss-me-at-the-gate has pointed out some places to cut. Another is The "Robson Bight Crew" sets up a hospital to treat sick and injured cetaceans. "Hospital" is not a term that needs defining. I would say just shorten it to "... sets up a hospital for cetaceans." But in your revised query, the hospital will hopefully not even be mentioned. Unimportant where and how they learn that whales can no longer reproduce.

Cut out other unimportant bits, then when you think you're done, cut some more.

Anonymous said...

I've heard of pods and schools. Do whales also come in tribes?

I believe they come in bucketfuls...

Dave Fragments said...

Earlier, I was gouig to say that MARU is an Estonian word for tempest or storm.
Kobayashi is a porcelain factory in Japan.
Blogger acted up with server troubles.

Dave Fragments said...

Regardless of the science behind global warming, or the political views, or the time line (real and artificial) of the effects, you can construct a believable scenario for the warming of the oceans and the melting of the icecaps to create a new ice age (or a drastically different ice cover over the surface of the earth).

I read a novel years ago, I can't remember the name, that postulated the deforestation of the rain forests got so bad that localized concentrations of CO2 rose too high and when a few cities died, the poor of the world revolted. this novel also had air fleets of UAV's as hunter-killer aircraft.

Robert Moss's Death Beam in 1975 (I think that's the year of the hardback) postulated hig powered lasers in space.

And Jules Verne postulated a gun large enough to fire a projectile to the moon.

I know for a fact that when Werner Von Braun was designing the V1 and V2 for Hitler in Germany that he had plans (blueprints) for three stage rockets capable of moon missions. The SS almost threw him into a concentration camp for treason.

Anonymous said...

I just want to address some of the issues in the final paragraph of the query letter.

Sentence 1: Sounds good; these are relevant credentials.

Sentence 2: Did you really research whales, dolphins and the natives of B.C. just so you could write a science fiction book? Or was the research related to graduate school or something? I'm assuming it's the latter, in which case you might want to rephrase things to imply that you had a good reason to do the studies. It sounds a bit creepy to say you did years of hard-core research just 'cause you felt like it. Every writer does some research (usually via Google-Fu, these days), but you're implying something well beyond that.

Sentence 3: You should get your characters' motivation into the paragraphs that describe the storyline. Putting it here seems weird and inelegant, especially plunked down in a stand-alone sentence like this.

Sentence 4: This makes the book sound preachy, which will likely make agents/editors automatically reject it. They want a book that tells a great story, not someone's ranting manifesto. You don't want to harp on the book's message, even if everything in the story hinges on it.

Sentence 5: I read several agents' blogs regularly and they've all said at some point that they don't like to be told what their reaction to a book will be. Don't tell them they'll love it; make the story sound so awesome that they decide for themselves they might love it. They're not going to take your word for it.

Sentence 6 and 7: This makes it seems like you're trying to pitch three books at once, which is also bad form. The agent/editor doesn't care if you have other books until they've seen whether or not this one is any good.

Also, if you say this is the third unpublished book in a series, you're essentially admitting that the other two books have already been rejected by publishing professionals. That doesn't speak well of the quality of the books in the agent/editor's mind. I think you'd do well to not mention the other books in the series at all until after you have successfully bagged your agent/editor. At this point, the most you want to say is that the book has potential as a series.

Stacia said...

I also immediately thought of kobiyashi maru, but I wasn't quite geeky enough to be the first to mention it.

This query is so far from being my kind of book I can't really comment on the story...but I agree with whitemouse's comments about the specific query points.

Anonymous said...

While I do see problems with this query, as others have pointed out, I also find the story interesting and would probably want to read it. If the author has figured out ways to solve some of the technical questions (like how dolphins help steal a space ship - and do dolphins speak the same language as whales?) I think it has potential.

Anonymous said...

You gotta believe how easy it would be. Y'know, they keep those things fueled up all the time, and the keys are behind the sun visor.

Heather Dudley said...

Good lord...


Too much going on in this book. There was so much insanity I couldn't decide what was important.

Balkans, whales, global warming, and spaceships?


Sylvia said...

The miscarrying whale knows the waters are getting ruined, but the machine-translation-developer father whale doesn't?

This is way too much quirk for me, I'm afraid. I found it very difficult to comprehend "why" for a large number of the actions described.