Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Face-Lift 651

Guess the Plot

The Lesser Species

1. Cows have had enough. It's time to knock humans to the bottom of the food chain.

2. Aliens land on earth and refuse to communicate with humans. Strange gases start coming out of their ships, killing any human who comes near them. One scientist realizes the chemicals in the gas are pesticides, and the aliens are carrying tanks full of the stuff to rid the Earth of . . . the lesser species.

3. A man is abducted from Earth by the Galactic Council and put into a zoo with other lesser species. He escapes and rigs the next election so that he becomes Galactic President. But once in power he realizes he'd just as soon have a plate of nachos.

4. Dogs vs. Cats. The final war that will end the debate once and for all.

5. Christof flexed his legs. It was time for the revolution. His army's carapaces gleamed. He was proud of them. So began his war against the lesser species. One day the Earth would again belong to Christof, king of the cockroaches.

6. Biologist Harold Carter is obsessed with the reproduction of the monotremes. He's spent decades in Australia, studying. Meanwhile his wife and children grow increasingly distant. Will he return to soul-crushing suburbia, or stay in Australia with his beloved platypi?

Original Version

While there’s no doubt we humans are happy to wallow in our own importance, what would happen if we were sent into the galaxy where everyone else regards us as The Lesser Species? [We're already regarded as the lesser species by cats. And, of course, sharks.]

Mistaken for Earth’s leaders, Lucy and Peter are abducted by the Galactic Council as part of an outreach project for lesser species. When they end up at a natural zoo, an unhinged journalist orchestrates their escape and leads the reluctant pair on a quest for excitement. [If the Council wants a couple Earthlings in their zoo, why would they care whether they get Earth's leaders? They ought to go for Penn and Teller or Yo-yo Ma and Tina Turner. Much more entertaining for zoo visitors. Wait, professional wrestlers!] This includes seriously annoying a man who owns a religion, [The best example you can come up with of their quest for excitement is they annoy a guy?] and convincing a group of rebellious programmers to rig the next election. On a parallel quest to find Peter, his fiancée Wendy and her friend Mark spend most of their time in a spaceport security line, with a short stint as the pets of reality show stars. All four meet up at the Council where, despite a horrid press photo and inane campaign speeches, Peter is elected Galactic President.

The Lesser Species accompanies these four travelers as they try—and fail—to make sense of their place in the galaxy. Lucy sets out to raise the bar for the human race, but only manages to raise the bar on her weirdness scale. Mark applies scientific reasoning to all problems, and still loses all of his luggage and one of his shoes. Wendy discovers that big breasts and a winning smile really are tickets into anywhere. [Especially if you ever want to be published.] Peter never learns to duck when the galaxy tosses something unexpected at him. But at the heartwarming conclusion, they realize that relationship drama, hot showers, and nachos are what make life as a Lesser Species not so bad.

A science fiction satire of 73,000 words, The Lesser Species would be appreciated by those who (like me) regret that Douglas Adams can’t add a sixth book to his Hitchhiker Trilogy.

As a computer engineer, I spend most of my time writing about real science, but over the past five years, I’ve added fiction to my repertoire. One of my science fiction stories won a Southwest Writer’s Award.

I’d be pleased to send you my completed manuscript. Thank you for your time.


The tone is right for the type of book. This could get results, but I'm not thrilled by some of the details. For instance, the third paragraph is listy, which is okay, as the plot is finished, but the items in the list aren't especially funny or interesting. Except the breasts, of course. If you could make Lucy's more specific and Mark's less boring it would help. I don't consider it ironic that a guy who applies scientific reasoning to all problems loses luggage and a shoe. Typical absent-minded professor.

The previous paragraph doesn't need the horrid press photo or the waiting in a security line:

On a parallel quest to find Peter, his fiancée Wendy and her friend Mark become celebrities as the pets of galactic reality show stars. All four eventually meet up at the Council where, despite a series of inane campaign speeches, Peter is elected Galactic President.

If you also dump annoying the guy, or replace it with something that is exciting I'd be more excited myself. (Possibly just telling us what they do to annoy him would be enough, if it's funny.)


Eric P. said...

"Lucy and Peter" reminds me a bit much of Narnia, while "Peter and Wendy" sounds like Barrie. Not sure if that's intended.

The overall tone is good (though as a Douglas Adams fan I'm a sucker for this kind of thing). I think it needs a bit more of a focus on the central conceit of the story, which is a good one, and a bit less of "A bunch of funny things happen to some people." But definitely on the right track.

Adam Heine said...

Dang, Eric stole my comment. I'm a Douglas Adams fan as well, and I liked this query by the end. I wasn't sure if the novel would be able to live up to Mr. Adams, but I'd be willing to ask for pages to find out, you know?

And I actually disagree with EE on the security line and press photo bits. They worked for me. It was those mundane details that reminded me most of Adams' work and told me this wasn't a serious take on intergalactic zoos and politics. Everything else EE said is spot on, of course.

Also, I'd drop the rhetorical question at the beginning. At that point in the query, we don't know it's satire, and humans-as-inferior-species is a well-traveled hook. But that's just my opinion.

Mother (Re)produces. said...

I'm not sure who to follow. Even the hhgttg had a clear protagonist (arthur). I couldn't keep up with your foursome. Whose story is this?

Anonymous said...

Needs more wit.

Mame said...

"part of an outreach project for lesser species."

I think the most common understanding of an outreach would be trying to help the other species, maybe feed them day old donuts and making sure they have underwear, not kidnapping them.

AND, then these other two go chasing after them to Petville? Why the hell would someone go in the front door?

AND, how does a pet, in Petville, wind up Supreme Ruler of the Pet Owners?

Just because it's a satire, doesn't mean you can bend any old rule you like. It still has to make SOME kind of sense. Maybe it does in the overall project, but it doesn't in this. I'm still interested though, that's a plus.

Yeah, paragraph three is awesome. Beer and nachos make life divine.

_*rachel*_ said...

I was a little confused about which character was which, but I really liked it! If it gets published, tell us, because I want to read it.

Eric has a point about the names.

EE, I bet Queryshark loves you for your fist comment.

So, are you going to stick Bill Watterson's poem in the front? I'll type it up for you when I get home.

Dave Fragments said...

an outreach would be trying to help the other species, maybe feed them day old donuts and making sure they have underwear, not kidnapping them.

Oh that's what Great Britain did in their colonial period {?} {!} {?}
Outreach to lesser species is like outreach to sheep and cows -- we grow them as food. Or non-burping cucumbers... Or how about those lesser species of Dodo birds. Of course we have domesticated Miss Piggy and Piglet and created kosher bacon bits in their honor.

AS for the query, I don't like the first paragraph. Rhetorical questions sound so advertising-copy-like and false. Plus being considered a lesser species is an old plot "least" memorably done in Battlefield Earth (both book and movie).

Anonymous said...

I liked the third paragraph and it sparked my interest. I wanted to read more details, which is what you want an agent or publisher to want.

the rhetorical question in the beginning, not needed and I didn't like.

It's a good idea - with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies on the top of the best seller list - I foresee a huge interest in publishers looking for this type of work.

I would encourage you to send it out quickly.

Whoever wrote GTP #5 - now that would be a fun children's story to read to squemish four year old girls and five year old boys. Go for it.


Sarah from Hawthorne said...

I really liked this the further I read, but I don't think you need to reference Douglas Adams at the end. Believe me, the HGTTG influence is clear. Don't be afraid to stand on your own unique voice.

none said...

So now there are two things to regret--that Douglas Adams can't continue his series, and that you think you can.

Matt said...

I'm not feeling the title. The Lesser Species doesn't exactly scream satire...It makes me think of a cheesy sci-fi, but not one that's shabby on purpose.

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

As a Douglas Noel Adams fan, I thought the book sounded great. I'd definitely ask for pages.

I liked most of the Evil Editor;s suggestions, though personally I liked the mention of the bad press photograph and the security line.

Best of luck.

Steve Wright said...

Hmm. What about those of us who loved the first Hitch-Hiker radio series, thought the second was fun but lower quality, and wanted to like the expanded trilogy but had to concede that volumes three through five were actually pretty dire?

Anyway. I think it might be useful to know a bit more about how the plot hangs together ... as things stand, I'm not quite getting how someone goes from zoo animal to Galactic President. (Yes, yes, I know about Zaphod Beeblebrox, not to mention real-world examples ... )

The Adams books include sentient mattresses, lethal cricket-playing robots, talking birds and super-intelligent shades of the colour blue. I'm pretty sure big breasts mean nothing much to any of those. So, is your universe mammals-only, then?

I'm guessing that this could be funny, but the organization of the query isn't showing it to me yet. It might also come across as derivative, which you might want to avoid. (I bet Douglas Adams never mentioned Robert Sheckley's Dimension of Miracles in his original pitch ... )

Evil Editor said...

You can't watch a comedy show without at least one comedian ranting about the long security lines at the airport and lost luggage. And while I'm sure there's new material to be mined in this area, and that this novel does just that, if you bring it up in the query and don't explain what's original, we'll assume it's the same tired jokes, just set in the future. This is why I oppose mentioning among the highlights of a book the fact that two characters spend a lot of time waiting in line at the airport. Or spaceport.

Anonymous said...

Found this confusing and oddly reminiscent of "Sleeper". Would like to have some description of the galatic council. For example: are they squirrel-like? Agree with those who suggest dropping the Adams ref and ?? intro.

_*rachel*_ said...

Normally I don't wonder how drunk/high people are (at least, not aloud), but, as I read the later books in the HHGTG series, I was pretty sure he was so drunk he could barely write. But, in his case, the books were still good enough to read.

batgirl said...

My difficulty with this query (maybe just me) is that I had no idea who/what Lucy and Peter were, if not the kids from Narnia. Given the absurd sf premise, they could be super-intelligent shades of the colour blue. You might want to at least mention that they're human, and perhaps one or two words more specific, like 'ordinary Earthlings'?

Dave Fragments said...

I don't care how strange Douglas Adams got, he invented all of these people and things

And that, as they say, is an impressive list. It even includes underarm deodorant.

Xenith said...

The first line makes it sound like generic/cliched SF. Which is OK you've established it's satire but putting it at the beginnng made me switch off and not want to read the rest. (That and I'd just crawled out of bed.)

I did like the line about caught in a line at the spaceport too, but that's because I like the "getting caught up in the minutiae of daily life while trying to save the world" sort of humour. It's a line that shows what to expect in the book (I assume) whereas some of your listy things didn't. I'm thinking the problem with the query is it comes across as a list of things that happen, which of course gives the impression that the book is a series of things that happen rather than a story. More emphasis on plotty rather than listy?

Also, do they still say that humorous SF won't sell?

Robin B. said...

All this time, and I thought the lesser species was men. Seriously. Not that they don't have their excellent uses, mind you. But still...

Robin B. said...

I just saw on FH's blog that SF is a harder sell lately. Is that true, EE?

Anonymous said...

"The previous paragraph doesn't need the horrid press photo or the waiting in a security line"

Those are the first images I enjoyed. They lifted this query from day-old cheese to a potentially tasty snack. But then I don't watch a lot of standup comedy shows.

I am a sucker for a tongue-in-cheek SF riff, if it is well written. But your query leaves me in some doubt on that score: too wordy, not going straight for the pith of any situation.

Definitely lose the Narnia-like names. And don't compare yourself to the master; it sets up expectations you can't possibly meet. And don't try to be so funny in the query that the plot momentum is lost. And for heaven's sake lose the list; lists are boring unless they're really, really not. (see?)

Evil Editor said...

Maybe that's why so many agents single it out as the one thing they won't represent.

Xenith said...

SF has been a hard sell for years (according to agents, publisher & SF authors). Fantasy sells much better, esp. Urban Fantasy. Epic seems less popular at the moment.

Humorous SF & F has traditionally been one of those things that Won't Sell At All (Unless Your Last Name is Pratchett) but that might have changed in recent years.

Dave Fragments said...

If you are stuck for character names, try sports rosters of overseas teams. Soccer and Rugby are great sources of ethnic names. Or Australian football (which is not soccer or football as Americans know it).

If you find a frequency list, then go to the second 500 for a name. Don't pick from the top ten most common names.

I made comment on the Tour De France and it is a great source of names and (if you need them) faces to go with those names.

Pick a nationality and goggle nationality names. for instance "Irish names or surnames" or "Spanish names or surnames" or "Gaelic names and surnames" anything like that. That usually gets a baby name sight and thousands of names.

Or (I'm not saying this in any disrespectful sense) troll the death notices in the newspaper - at home and online.

Dave Fragments said...

It's not Goggle, it's GOGGLE.

Evil Editor said...

Go sleep it off, Dave.

writtenwyrdd said...

This could be good, but it is off-putting to be told that your book is like someone as brilliant as Douglass Adams. I suggest you omit that bit, and give a listen to EEs suggestions.

I think the best approach in a letter about a satire is to brilliantly yet succinctly give us the details that portray the satire without so much having to say it. Not quite as easy as it seems, but you have some good bits there--or should I say tits, because that is definitely a good example.

_*rachel*_ said...

I don't mind the comparison to Douglas Adams. He's relatively well-known, and this book is sure to appeal to about the same audience. Based on the tone and content of the query, I don't think it's an innapropriate reference.

Robin's was.

I don't goggle it much, Dave; I've got a site with the "history and etymology of first names" bookmarked. Easy popularity, ethnicity, history, etc. Other sites do it well, too, but this one is my favorite.

Who cares if it's a hard sell? As far as what you choose to write, anyway. Once you're querying, feel free to rant.

Xenith said...

Who cares if it's a hard sell? As far as what you choose to write,
anyway. Once you're querying, feel free to rant.

It matters when you come to write your query letter. :)

I think the secret of successful querying is to make your book sound like someting really Fresh and Original yet still Similar to these bestselling books. Too much one way or other, and you're out.

Dave Fragments said...

Must get new bifocals!

Unknown said...

I am (inadvertently) Anonymous 8:05. The pithy opinions expressed there are still mine.

none said...

Steve is right about the radio series. And Adams didn't rely on breasts for humour; he had, yanno, imagination....

But if the person reading your query only knows of HitchHiker's from the execrable film, they'll probably toss the query anyway.

Mother (Re)produces. said...

Except for the triple breasted whore of erotican six? And the parties where the hostess' undergarments suddenly jump 3 feet to the left.

You're in a vile mood lately, Buffy. Somebody mess with your nut stash?

none said...

You're right, Mother. I guess time and memory had glossed over those minor plot points.

Vile mood? Oh dear!


_*rachel*_ said...

Just what I was thinking, Mom. And the movie was just plain pitiful.

none said...

We will not speak of the movie. Like Highlander II, it never happened. Repeat at intervals.

Mother (Re)produces. said...

Rubbish. The film was great. It didn't add much other than polish and brevity to the original series, but I thought it was really well cast. I'll turn out for Bill Nighy any time. The series was also great. And the books. And the audiobooks read by Stephen Fry, while we're at it.

Which brings us back to the slightly more relevant point that it's risky to compare yourself. I reckon these comparisons are a bit like adverbs and excessive speech tags; if you need them, your dialogue may be weak.

Sorry to hear about your nuts, Buffy. I guess drawing a map is about like writing down your passwords... Here; have a cyberpecan until they turn up.

Mame said...

In a moment of weakness and false hope, I rented Highlander: The Source. I still haven't forgiven myself.

none said...

Ooooh, cyberpecans! my favourite!