Saturday, July 16, 2011


Guess the Plot

The Theft of the Dai- danna Dan- kenka Maru

1. 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.

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

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" [Named after Kim Stanley Robson] 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 from treating a whale?] 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 [It's always good to have a few sociopathic assassins on call, just in case you need one.] 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; [What's the process for recruiting 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.

Selected Comments:

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

The head of nasa 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.

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.

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.

phoenix 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.

Anonymous said...I've heard of pods and schools. Do whales also come in tribes?
I believe they come in bucketfuls...

whitemouse 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.

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.


150 said...

I'm disgusted! This concept is impossible, absolutely preposterous. Everyone knows A50 is female.

batgirl said...

Did I blink, or did really nobody bring up Silent Running?
Kids today, no acquaintance with the classics.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Oh, I fell in love with Bruce Dern and Huey, Dewey and Louie in Silent Running! *heart tug and tears* Thanks a lot, Barbara, now I'm gonna have to track that movie down and rewatch it. *grumble - no time - grumble*

@150 - Clio! Of course. And the author said they did their research...

I like revisiting the classics. Reminds me of the days when we were all funny.