Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Face-Lift 973

Guess the Plot

Prosthetic Gods

1. The Prosthetic Gods are hailed as heroes for their proficiency at attaching hands to chins, the latest worldwide craze. Then the dormant computer chips awaken and the stranglings start.

2. Beautiful Kim Moseley has a secret--she stands on prosthetic legs. Meanwhile, Dr. Brandon McKay works to perfect a set of hands that grasp and feel like the ones he lost two years ago. Will a chance meeting between them lead to romance?

3. Three plucky young Indian-American orthotists fresh out of grad school start up a new shop and name it Prosthetic Gods. A trio of cranky, anti-immigrant techs down at Middlebrook Orthopedics, Inc. don't appreciate the competition.

4. On the run from the US Marine Corps for destroying their trillion-dollar killer robot, Jackie is rescued by a psychotic cyborg circus owner. But can she now survive invisible assassin bots and the world's deadliest lawnmower to take down the former Secretary of Defense?

5. They're called "prosthetic gods" because they're the best at what they do. But can they meet their biggest challenge yet, providing a prosthetic head to a decapitated cab driver?

6. Installing spare parts on robots isn't all it's cracked up to be. Especially when the robots like their original limbs and see no need to replace them with more advanced models. That's where Bill Bluto comes in. His job: convince robots to accept the latest technology, thus averting a second robot-human war.

Original Version

Sergeant Jackie Woolcombe has just made the worst mistake of her life. She's killed a trillion-dollar project in the form of the latest and greatest of killer robots, and is on the the run from the US Marine Corps. She is rescued from the fate of eternity in the stockade by Bone, a psychotic cyborg circus-owner, [Is that a circus owner who's a psychotic cyborg, or a psychotic who owns a cyborg circus or a regular guy who owns a circus of psychotic cyborgs?] and his cybernetic technical support guru Steve. Steve and Jackie discover they have a shared homicidal hatred for the former Secretary of Defence, [Defense] Steve's foster-father, and they are conveniently capable as a pair to wreak vengeance on him. Too convenient – a cabal of interests has brought them together for just this reason. Jackie and Steve must find a way to execute the plan under the eyes of a conspiracy, and escape from the certain death that awaits them when they have served their purpose. They must overcome nano-swarms, invisible assassin bots and the world's most deadly automatic lawnmower before riding the Space Elevator to meet their destiny. [Does everyone ride the space elevator to meet their destiny?] [Divide that paragraph into two or three paragraphs.]

Prosthetic Gods is a science-fiction novel complete at 113,000 words. It has been critiqued by a writers group that includes by [by?] (recently well reviewed writer X) and your own (agency's author Y). [If this is of any interest to the reader, and I'm not saying it is, I'm guessing she would want to know what the critique group (or at least author Y) thought, not just that the book was critiqued.] I am seeking representation and offer it for your consideration.

Your [Yours] sincerely,

Notes on the title: The title comes from a Sigmund Freud quote and is intended to allude to the (mis)uses of robots and technology: “Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs, he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown on him and they still give him much trouble at times.” [Would his switching the discussion from prosthetics to troublesome non-growing organs be considered Freudian slippage?]


Is Jackie immortal, or are you exaggerating when you say she'll spend eternity in the stockade?

Did you name the circus guy "Bone" as an homage to Freud?

Now that he's the former Secretary of Defense, what good does it do to kill him? What's his current job? What has he done to make Steve and Jackie want vengeance? Plenty of people wouldn't mind seeing Dick Cheney dead, but few actually take action, and if they did, he'd probably shoot them in the face.

Over the course of the entire book, the wacky highlights you've chosen to mention in the query may be welcome comedy relief. But packed together in these few sentences, they seem over-the-top. Thus I recommend getting rid of at least two of the following phrases: psychotic cyborg circus-owner; world's most deadly automatic lawnmower; riding the Space Elevator to meet their destiny.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Donald Rumsfeld was the Sec of Def under Doofus. I get them confused too.

In fact, I had remembered it being Cheney who delivered the famous "you go to war with the army you have" smackdown, but it turns out it was Rumsfeld.

Sort of a Prosthetic Cheney, is Mr. Rumsfeld.

Cheney himself is a prosthetic... something.

debhoag said...

Personally, I dug the lawnmower. The description was long, though, and I thought it could use a good trim. It sounds like a great, fun read. I'd like to know who the authors who read it were, too, and what they said, if you're going to mention.

Evil Editor said...

Nothing was mentioned about Doofus. Cheney was Sec of Defense from March 1989 to January 1993. He directed the United States invasion of Panama and Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East. And he's the only one of the two who shot anyone in the face.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

He was? Dayum. Why wd a guy who reproduced to stay out of the military end up being Sec of Def? Makes no sense.

It's almost as if we were to keep getting Secs (heh) of Education who had never been teac... oh. Never mind.

Okay. So he was a prosthetic Sec of Def.

Mm. This query seems to have awakened my interest less than the question of who was Secretary of Defense when.

To the writer-- watch out for figurative language that can be taken literally in the F/SF world--

About that last graf, I guess it kinda begs the question "If my own client has read this manuscript, why isn't my own client recommending it?" You see the problem there.

Anonymous said...

Seems like you're not in complete control of your spell/grammar checker, or else you didn't bother using it.

Storywise, this sounds potentially amusing. I don't care what your writers group said. It seems to me that when someone really is wowed by the novel someone in their group produced, they mention it to their agent and if the agent is impressed you would be writing a letter in response to an agent inquiry. Or maybe your pal was really impressed but thinks their agent is an evil fiend so isn't encouraging you to go there. I don't know.

You could privately ask the person, what do you think, is my book ready for an agent, would agent X be good for me? If the answer to both of those is an enthusiastic YES! you then ask: would you please please please tell her I am f***ing brilliant and she needs to look at my pages??? In the absence of this kind of buddy referral, I see no need to mention any writers group in the query. Use the space to say more about the book.

Matthew MacNish said...

Can't you spell defense with a C if you're from the UK? Or in it?

Unknown said...

I like the idea. I just want to know more about what happens.

Why mention Bones? He slips out of the query as soon as you tell me that Steve is his tech guy. I'd drop the reference to Bones.

Same thing with the Marines. She's on the run from them but then they drop out of the query too.

Did Jackie really "kill" the machine I.E. does this world recognize the robot as a "person" or property?

I had no sense of whether Jackie was trying to help the conspiracy do what it wanted (or what it wanted) or hinder it.

I like the lawnmover too. but I'd only use the zany list if you let the agent know comedy is a huge part of the story telling from the outset.

Trim a lot so you can give me the details I need.

For example:

Sergeant Jackie Woolcombe just killed a trillion-dollar killer robot. Now the Marie Corps wants her to pay the bill. She evades capture when Steve, a cybernetic guru, makes the Marines' Hummer drive off a cliff.

For some reason Jackie blames her killing the Uber robot on the former Secretary of State who happens to be Steve's foster-father. The coincidents keep stacking up and soon Jackie realizes that there's a larger player behind everything.

Details about the cabal here.

Jackie chooses to (thwart or help) the cabal by doing somthing specific. Too bad the the world's most deadly automatic lawnmower stands in her way.

Back up and start over. Who is the main antagonist? Who is the main protagonist. I think it's Jackie but once you mention Steve the two become joined in the query. It makes Jackie look week that she needs a man to help her through the query. What sort of Marine was she?

Once you identify the players for the query, then tell me what they want, what happens if they get it, and what the stakes are.

It sounds like the book could be a lot of fun. Focusing on the right details in the query help convey that.

Good luck.

Evil Editor said...

You can and you should. However, does that apply to the term Secretary of Defense, a title? I recently read a New York Times article that referred to the Labour Party. Apparently we are willing to use the British spelling for proper names, and they should be willing to do the same.

Or possibly the spelling should depend on which country the author is sending the query to.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I kinda thought the UK had a Minister of Defence rather than a Sec'y.

Dave Fragments said...

My first reaction is this: Is Sergeant Jackie Woolcombe a plot trick to present all sorts of odd robotic satire?

And by that I mean that Jackie is the human element of the story. It is her abilities that move the story and not anyone else. So how does her character grown and change throughout the story. This isn't about robots seeking vengeance on robots. This is about Jackie and her "lover" Steve (is there romance between them or not) who are fighting the combined armed forces.

And you know, I just looked back at the query to find out why she was fighting... Jackie kills the military's most advanced robot (which means she discovered its weaknesses) and that is why they are chasing her? That works if the military is abysmally stupid and vindictive but most likely the military wants her to find out the flaw.

I mean, look at her, she killed the super-duper, bad-assed, marine-cyborg-mutant killer-bot with a half human brain with (what?) a knife, some C4 and two used Tampons? Why does that put her in the stockade for life and not into the next metal body so that she becomes the super-duper, bad-assed, marine-cyborg-mutant killer-bot with a half human brain?

We know this:
"Jackie kills the ultimate weapon, and escapes military custody. The weapon is possible a fake? and Jackie must expose the conspiracy in order to regain her freedom. Along the body-strewn path, she must overcome nano-swarms, invisible assassin bots and the world's most deadly automatic lawnmower before riding the Space Elevator to meet their destiny."

Evil Editor said...

They also don't have a US Marine Corps, but while the book seems to be set in the US, there's no evidence the author is.

horza said...

Thanks for the comments so far.

Quick clarifications:

Yes, I am British, though I lived in the US for some years. The query is targetted (initially) for a British agent. However it's a fair point that the American spelling of Defense could be more valid.

Jackie is a range sergeant at the Utah (Robot) Proving Grounds, and exceeds her orders in order to prove the trillion dollar warbot is just a boondoggle. She is the purely human element to the story, who uses her wits, training and extreme violence to kill bots. Steve has cybernetic elements that make him uniquely capable and vulnerable.

There's no romance between Jackie and Steve. A deliberate decision to avoid cliche that I ended up regretting somewhat.

The Space Elevator is literal, but the lawnmower only happens to cut the grass. I'm not aiming for satire exactly, but trillion dollar warbots cannot help but make for some over-the-top action.

The SecDef was originally a Cheney-Rumsfeld hybrid being held to account, but he grew in the telling until he was some kind of monstrous Other. However the thought of Cheney and Rumsfeld combining together like The Thing now provides a much more horrible vision. Thanks for that. ;-)

As regards to the Writer's group, I'll certainly be asking "author Y" whether he'd be happy recommending me to his agent.

One question: the book is US-set, with US protagonists and a British villain (we make the best villains for Hollywood after all). It's initially going to a British agent, but could end up going to American agents if unsuccessful. Should I detail my background to explain the choice of setting?

Evil Editor said...

It' s not necessary to detail your background. On the other hand, mentioning it is a good lead-in to the line about Brits making the best villains, which is a more subtly humorous (British) line than the one about a man-eating lawnmower.

Is it a spy thriller with humor like James Bond, or is it wild and crazy like Monty Python?

Dave Fragments said...

Should I detail my background to explain the choice of setting?

Not in the query. Your story should sell itself in the query. Or what I should say in a less shorthand way, the description of your story in the query should sell the novel independent of your background.

Zachary Gole said...

The Space Elevator may not actually seem so wacky to a science-fiction editor; a space elevator is an established SF concept that I'd suppose an editor familiar with that field is likely to recognize.

As written, however, it kind of comes out of nowhere and seems a non sequitur. Up until that point, sure there are robots and cyborgs, but there's nothing to indicate that the story isn't confined to Earth. Then all of a sudden there's a space elevator? What is it for? There are several purposes that space elevators could be built for, but none of them obviously applies here.

More importantly, what does the space elevator have to do with the story? What "destiny" is being confronted there? Do they have a showdown with the main villain at the top of the space elevator? Or do they ride the space elevator in the denouement to... I don't know, catch a spaceship to another planet? (I don't know if there are other inhabited planets in this setting, but the mention of the space elevator certainly raises the possibility.)

I don't know, maybe it's just me, but the mention of "riding the Space Elevator to meet their destiny" struck me as a bit out of place -- not because it's "wacky", but because it's not at all clear how it fits into the story.

none said...

Some (I don't say all; I don't even say most) Brits are very tired of the wussy American actors who daren't play villains. Still, it's nice earners for British actors, I guess.

This needs paragraphs before it's readable.

horza said...

Thanks again for comments.

Zachary is quite right about the Space Elevator being a common SF concept, and it's in the process of moving into mainstream science/engineering - the wiki page on it is worth a read for those who are interested.

The final denoument with the lead conspirator occurs in space, which in the end is the only safe place for my hunted protagonists - the space elevator was an obvious choice, so that I could have someone skydive off it.

I wouldn't have thought of spy fiction, only I now realise that I have a super-villain awaiting the heroes in his lair, even cackling insanely at one point. It's more an action-thriller that tries to hit the highlights of tech that should be possible circa fifty years from now. In SF terms this would be post-cyberpunk, which I hereby dub swarmpunk.

I can see I need to do a revision - I'll post a final draft over the weekend which will hopefully address most people's concerns.

horza said...

Revised draft:

Dear Evil Editor,

Sergeant Jackie Woolcombe has just made the worst mistake of her life. US Marine Corps Regulations don't say what happens when exceed your orders to the extent of sending a trillion-dollar killer robot project into oblivion. Eternity in the stockade would be the least she could expect.

Unexpectedly rescued by Bone, a psychotic cyborg, and his tech support guru Steve, Jackie discovers that Steve may be the perfect complement, professionally at least. Not only that, they have a shared enemy and shared plans for vengeance. It's all far too convenient.

Someone wants their enemy dead, and has brought them together to do it – she and Steve should not expect to survive their vengeance. They must find a way to execute the plan under the eyes of a conspiracy, and escape from the certain death that awaits them when they have served their purpose.

They must overcome nano-swarms, invisible assassin bots and the world's most deadly automatic lawnmower to achieve their vengeance. However they will need to ride the Space Elevator to escape their pursuers, which will lead to a final confrontation with their puppetmaster.

Prosthetic Gods is a science-fiction novel complete at 113,000 words. I am seeking representation and offer it for your consideration.

Chicory said...

Bone is getting a little lost. Is this a trio of adventurers, or is it just Jackie and Steve?

150 said...

No, man. You're telling us all the wrong stuff. I'm going to look closer at this later, but for the moment I think Kings Falcon is on the right track.

150 said...

Okay, try this:

Marine Corps Sergeant Jackie Woolcombe wants nothing more than to murder the former Secretary of Defense...and now that she's accidentally destroyed a trillion-dollar prototype, she figures it's time to act. After all, she's already on the lam. Even better, while making her escape from the smoking crater of the accident, she ran across a tech-support guru who, it turns out, hates the SecDef as much as she does. Operation Murder is a go.

But it's all too easy. When [something happens], Jackie discovers that she and Steve were brought together intentionally, by a [SPECIFIC GROUP] with an interest in helping the SecDef get dead. And once the would-be assassins have fulfilled their purpose, they're next on the hit list. Now, Jackie and Steve have to [NEW SPECIFIC GOAL] [DESPITE SPECIFIC OPPOSITION] or [SOMETHING SPECIFICALLY BAD WILL HAPPEN, presumably death].

Prosthetic Gods is a high-tech thriller complete at 113,000 words. Thank you for your time and attention.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

This is much better. There's a word missing in the second sentence, and the hop from "expect" to "unexpectedly" reads choppy.

I'd say this query was good to go once you fix those two things.

Dunno about the manuscript though. 113k seems long.

St0n3henge said...

The expect/unexpectedly thing annoyed me, too, but overall this reads better.
"Ride the space elevator" sounds like a euphemism for doing drugs to me. But hey, whatever gets you "high."

Zachary Gole said...

You still don't mention why your protagonist wants the former Secretary of Defense dead, which seems like an important point. (Without that, she comes across as kind of just randomly homicidal.) For that matter, in this version, you don't even mention that the person she wants dead is the former Secretary of Defense--you keep referring to him as just her "enemy". While it may not be necessary to state that he's the former Secretary of Defense, if he plays an important role in the story (and from your query it seems that he does), it might be a good idea to mention his name. (And definitely give some inkling of why she wants him dead.)

I still don't know that it's a good idea to mention the space elevator in the query; the particular means of transportation they have to take to escape their pursuers doesn't seem like something that really warrants being specified. Space elevators are an interesting concept, and I can sort of get why you want to mention that there's a space elevator involved, but it seems kind of awkwardly shoehorned into your query just for the sake of saying "space elevator". I don't know whether there might be a more elegant way of working in a mention of the space elevator; if not, it may be better to just leave it out.

Those matters aside, though, I think overall this query does flow better than the last one, and does a better job of clarifying the stakes.