Sunday, August 13, 2006

Face-Lift 155


Guess the Plot

The Clockwork Detectives

1. The year is 2278. The city of sin covers most of Mercury. It's sizzling . . . with crime! Can a robotic police officer solve the spate of air conditioner vandalisms, and maybe find his soul?

2. An organization of robot spies in 1939 England. A German scientist who wants to defect. But when war breaks out, will the Mission Accomplished banner have to be put in mothballs?

3. Fat Willie and Bam-Bam Smith spend every morning at The Donut Hole, but promptly at eleven, they hop in the squad car for a trip downtown, where all the good restaurants are. Back on the job at one, it's a scant two hours until coffee at Rosie's.

4. The whole team assembles near the mainspring to survey the damage, but when the shaking starts, only Tibbs has the presence of mind to shout, "Take cover, he's winding his watch!"

5. A holographic interface created by a literary scholar to manage his collection of a hundred thousand 20th-century mystery novels, takes umbrage at its creator's botched murder investigation and launches its own probe.

6. A serial killer of cell phone-talking drivers converts a new gang of droogies, deputized to do her ultra-violence, with a bit of the ol' in-out.


Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

The date is August 15, 1939, in an alternate-history England where robots have integrated themselves into the country’s class structure. Erma Stroud is one such “mechanical person.” She’s also the newest rookie spy in the Bureau of Clockwork Detectives, a top-secret agency that sends out the country’s elite to further His Majesty’s interests on the Continent. But technically, Erma isn’t clockwork. Her brain has been constructed using the latest of mechanical technologies, the transistor. She’s damn proud of it, too. So when she gets paired up with the Bureau’s oldest and clunkiest spy, the nearly-obsolete Herrick Daly, to say that they fail to get along is an understatement.

[Erma: I say, old bean, you're looking a bit clapped out. Shall I wind your mainspring for you?

Herrick: Most amusing, but not up to your usual standards. Might I be so bold as to suggest it's time to replace your batteries?]

The two of them are sent on what is supposed to be an easy job – locate a particular German physical scientist who wants to defect and get him safe passage back to England.

[It's in His Majesty's interest that we get a certain scientist out of Germany.
I see. What do you propose?
We must send out our country's elite to accomplish the mission.
Tommy Hambledon? George Smiley?
No.
You don't mean--?
Yes. Erma the mechanical woman and Herrick the obsolete robot.]


But when war breaks out and they find themselves stranded in Berlin, Erma and Herrick are going to have to cooperate if they hope to survive.

The Clockwork Detectives is a 70,000-word completed fantasy novel. I have published articles about the craft of fantasy writing in WoodWorks e-zine and written profiles of local high school students for my community newspaper. If you are interested in knowing more about Detectives, I have enclosed a SASE for your reply. I would be delighted to send you a synopsis and sample chapters.

Sincerely,


Notes

The letter isn't bad. I'd drop the profiles of local high school students from the credits, and use the full title, rather than just "Detectives" in the next-to last sentence. This isn't going to fill your page, so you might add some information. Can you be more specific about the "country's elite" that the bureau sends out? Elite spies? Elite robots? Do the robots look like C-3PO or like humans?

Presumably this is a comedy. If not, you may have to explain how robots in the clockwork/transistor age of this Earth can feel pride and have brains that aren't the size of a gymnasium. If it is comedy, you could describe it as a humorous 70,000-word fantasy novel, or work something else (besides the clunky robot) that's funny into the plot description.

15 comments:

Bernita said...

I see, it's an enigma.

Anonymous said...

Robots? In 1939? It's a VERY alternate history....hmmm, interesting. Wouldn't it be easier to just have another world war after we've invented robots, rather than creating an alternate history with them? I guess that totally messes up the mood....oh well. A thought.

Macuquinas d' Oro said...

Sorry but I just don't understand that first sentence: "...have integrated themselves into the country's class structure." That sounds a little like something you'd run into in a sociology textbook, but what does it mean? Do you want to say that humanoid robots have become accepted as persons in a legal/moral sense? I would guess that and probably something more. I like your premise, but right now that so important first sentence is hanging me up.

Cathy said...

I thought this was a good query letter, and am also hoping it's humorous, at times. Of course there's some suspense when they're trapped in Germany and have to work with the Nazis.

I agree with EE. Lose the high school students profiles thingy. It took me out of the flow of your letter and made me wonder if you're a recent high school graduate. Which might be good if you're writing well already.

Margaret said...

Ha HA! Evil Editor didn't say it sucked! (I'm the one who wrote this query.) I'm pleased as punch.

Although there are humorous parts, I didn't intend this to be a comedy. They spend most of the book in mortal danger, and when they're not, they're feeling ostracized because they're not human. Should I put that sort of information about the emotional tenor into the query?

mistri said...

I really enjoyed this query and would definitely pick it up in a bookshop and have a flick through it. Whether I bought it might depend on the tone within its pages. I think I'd actually prefer this as a not-full-on-comedy, so you may want to make that clearer :)

Dave said...

You said:
They spend most of the book in mortal danger, and when they're not, they're feeling ostracized because they're not human.

There are several novels out there with just that idea - Robots are not human and subject to discrimination. So say that in your letter and in language that plain and straightforward. Your's is a robot's story of living with being less than human.

December Quinn said...

"...have integrated themselves into the country's class structure.

I agree, macuquinas. It sounded to me like the House of Lords s full of robots.


I'd revise the query to mention or better imply the tone, because I think the title is funny and the names are funny. I would expect to laugh quite a bit reading this, and if I didn't I'd be grumpy.

braun said...

I would so read this. WWII robot detectives? Heck yes.

HawkOwl said...

I didn't even read the query. I read the first guess-the-plot and had to email myself the sentence "the city of sin covers most of Mercury" to put in my "seed ideas" pile.

Good luck with the detective robots. :)

acd said...

Have you seen the pilot for Sci-Fi's new show "The Amazing Screw-On Head?" It's along those lines too, only in the Civil War.

I'd definitely read this. Good luck!

Simonbun said...

Bernita! Snort giggle. There could be a great scene between the more obsolete robot and an Enigma machine..."He fondled its rotors and sighed regretfully..."

Actually, I don't think this would be a comedy. 1939 is the brink of the 20th c. scientific revolution...conflict not only between robot and non-robot, but that between newer technology robots and older technology robots...does Alan Turing at least have a walk-on part here?

I'd definitely pick this one up. Good luck with it!

Simonbun said...

Bernita! Snort giggle.

I sure as shootin' hope this isn't a comedy--there's lots of room here for terrific conflict between robots and non-robots and higher vs. lower tech robots, plus the lovely historical atmosphere and real sense of good vs. evil in the allies vs. axis external story. I hope Alan Turing has at least a walk-on role.

I would definitely pick this one up--good luck with it!

Zombie Deathfish said...

Robots are the mechanical enemy of the Zombie Deathfish, so I'd have to pass this one by. But the premise sounds interesting. For reasons I can't really explain, the word "clockwork" makes this sound more like a comedy to me. I guess it's just not as threatening and sinister as "mechanical" or "automaton." Maybe.

Eleanor said...

I would love to read this. The query letter didn't particularly read like a comedy to me, but you do need to explain the apparent inconsistency of robots having feelings when the transistor has only just been invented, just to stop it getting rejected by people who think you don't know what you're talking about. My first guess is that there's also some variety of magic making these robots live. Anyway, good luck with it. I hope to see it on a shelf some day.