Saturday, September 16, 2006

Face-Lift 189

Guess the Plot

Computer Geeks, Their Hobbies and the Trouble They Get Into

1. A tour through the hell of comic book reading, obssessive-compulsive gaming, blogging and watching the Sci Fi channel.

2. Two geeks plot to gain control of most of the world's computers by posing as equestrian competitors. But was murder part of their plan?

3. A serious study of the twin phenomena of adolescent blindness and digital hirsuteness, this scholarly work is written in a light, one-handed manner.

4. Ricky discovers the key that unlocks the Tomb Raider code to provide an all-naked Lara Croft. Pursued by an army of desperate geeks, he ends up hiding in his aunt Linda's broom closet.

5. Thad, Rit, and Zeke liked radio controlled airplanes, Dungeons & Dragons, and kung fu movies. Detective Dan Rosler never expected such a trio to solve the 20-year-old cold case of Daisy Pilchkin's disappearance.

6. When the BTDR queue unexpectedly causes the CHIOE drive to fraffle the cDH7VY subsystem, leading to an HFID failure, much hilarity ensues. The first novel whose glossary is longer than its plot.

Original Version

Dear Desired Agent:

I am seeking representation for my completed 80,000-word cozy mystery, “Computer Geeks, Their Hobbies and the Trouble They Get Into”. My novel is set around the year 2000 in Seattle, Washington and explores the possibilities of the sabotage of the UNIX computer operating system. What if there was a fundamental problem with the majority of UNIX-based computers? A flaw built into the code of the UNIX operating system that when exploited has the potential of taking down 80% of the computers that run the world? [Does anyone remember what ran the world in the millenia before computers were invented?]

That’s exactly what Rhys Kadent accomplished when as a program manager assigned to the development of the new version of UNIX in 1989. He recruited a brilliant, but unstable programmer, Iris O’Connell, to encode the backdoor they would need to gain control of any computer running on this version of UNIX. They also needed patience to go through the years it would take to cover their tracks and allow UNIX to proliferate in the public sector of the world’s computers. A gamble that paid off as most major companies used UNIX computers to run all facets of their business. [This is sounding more like a technological thriller than a cozy mystery.]

Deneen Locke, aka Deen, is a UNIX System Administrator whose primary hobby is a combination of horses, horse shows and photography. Her involvement in the plot begins with the death of her friend, Frank Dutton, at a horse show. What seemed to be an accident becomes murder as Deen and her husband Paul uncover one clue after another. [He was killed by a UNIX operating system named HAL.] Their interpretation of the clues as murder is confirmed when John Kreste approaches them and identifies himself as a government agent on the trail of Rhys and Iris as high tech blackmailers. [Rhys and Iris are blackmailers; therefore Frank was murdered. I feel like we're missing a step or two in the logical argument.]

This book will appeal to both technophiles and horse lovers. [And especially those who are both: Equestratechs. These are the people you see using laptops on horseback.] The cover the villains have chosen is international eventing – an extremely demanding equine sport that has competitions around the world. [The computers are all rigged, the whole world is using them, now all we have to do to put our plot into motion is become world-class eventers. How long can that take?] This provides them the opportunity to travel to the network/business centers the world over, triggering their bug to wreak havoc and open the door to blackmail. [It seems like you could make enough from blackmailing a few major corporations, rather than traveling the world hitting eighty percent of the computers.] This is not a book heavy in technical details so non-computer-literate people will understand what’s happening. At the same time it is not immersed in the horse show scene so non-horsey types [I resent being referred to as non-horsey; I'm equine challenged.] will not be bored. [Now I'm starting to think techies and horse people are the only ones the book won't appeal to.] Deen’s initial involvement is through her hobby, but she uncovers the clues because of her job as a UNIX System Administrator. She works to solve the mystery of who killed her friend through both worlds.

Being a professional UNIX geek since 1983, I was amused with the burst bubble that was Y2K. I decided to explore the possibility of real chaos and what better approach than to go after the most secure and virus-proof operating system (what runs the computer) [If it's necessary to explain what an operating system is, you might do so the first time you use the phrase, rather than the last.] in the world?

Deen’s love of horses and all things equine mirrors my own. [Don't you mean "all things horsey?"] I have competed in a variety of competitions at the amateur level for several years. I look forward to sending you my completed 80,000 word Cozy Mystery, [You already told us it was completed and 80,000 words and cozy in the first sentence. You can't afford to repeat yourself; the title alone makes the query too long.] “Computer Geeks, Their Hobbies and The Trouble They Get Into”.


Revised Version

Dear Desired Agent:

Deen Locke is a UNIX System Administrator whose primary hobby is a combination of horses, horse shows and photography. When her friend, Frank Dutton, dies at a horse show, it appears to be an accident. But as Deen and her husband uncover one clue after another, they begin to suspect that Frank was murdered. And when John Kreste approaches them and identifies himself as a government agent on the trail of high tech blackmailers, their suspicions are only strengthened.

Turns out the blackmailers Kreste is after have sabotaged every UNIX-based computer in the world, and are now traveling the international horse show circuit, preparing to spring their diabolical trap. And who better to morph into an amateur detective and bring them down than a horse-obsessed UNIX expert? Can she solve Frank's murder and save the world from a disastrous meltdown, while also saving the UNIX corporation a lot of embarrassment?

Deen’s love of horses and all things equine mirrors my own. I have competed in a variety of competitions at the amateur level for several years. I've also been a UNIX geek since 1983. I look forward to sending you my completed 80,000 word Cozy Mystery, Computer Geeks, Their Hobbies and The Trouble They Get Into.


If you're selling this as a cozy mystery, you don't want to start out with two paragraphs about computers. Get to your sleuth, and stick with her, as I would advise you to do in the book as well.

The revised version is a little short, but it lacks the connection between the murder and the UNIX villains. Are they suspects in Frank's murder? If so, why? Who was Frank to them?

The title is comedic. And while cozy mysteries are often amusing, you haven't shown that this is at all funny. Maybe the title should go.


Anonymous said...

Are there really enough horse-loving computer geeks to warrant a book appealing to such an audience?

My novel appears to comic book fans and gourmet chefs, so what do I know?

Evil Editor said...

My WIP will appeal only to backhoe operators and cardiologists.

Anonymous said...

Of course, by 2000, linux was beginning to take over the computer world ... so whatever this book is, it ain't reality.

And yanno, I speak linux and remember some unix (and even the old Dilbert cartoon with pointy-hair sending the nurse), but I couldn't get past the 2nd paragraph, even with EE's notes to break the tedium.

dancinghorse said...

Phillip Dutton might have something to say about the Tuckerization. I'm just saying.

And here we dressage geeks have been wondering for years how the Champion of Champions wins competition after competition despite a demonstrable lack of, well, everything. Now we know. (But eventing is so much sexier.)

I'd read this, if you didn't overdo the technobabble.

Dave said...

My Brother and Sister-in-law teach dressage and the only thing they use the computer for is to email pretty pictures of the horses back and forth to other horse lovers.

I have no clue how this plot works from your description, but it would make a neat Christmas gift.

Rei said...

This is just wrong. I suggest that the author start out by reading the wikipedia article on "Unix" (and learn that these days, "UNIX" is not one operating system, but many, including a number of lookalikes that are written completely from scratch). What you get in one variant of UNIX won't go into all of the others -- even System V base. As stated, some "UNIX" operating systems are disjoint, such as FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, and Linux.

I also think that they should recheck their numbers for the year 2000 -- I'm sure that NT server, Linux, most BSDs, Netware, etc made up more than 20%.

Next, with all of the different mergers of Sys V code that occurred, and all the releases after 4 (the 1989 release), I'd be utterly shocked if the malicious code wasn't found.

Lastly, so what? Bugs occur in operating systems all the time. They're discovered (either by independent testers or because an attack exploits them). There's brief panic, sites take down services temporarily (or firewall) to stop the attacks, a patch gets released, and the problem is solved.

xiqay said...

I liked the fake plots, except for number 6, which was a fun fake plot but not one I'd want to see made into a book.

Any of the others would appeal to me as a book I'd want to buy.

That said, the query in this case, even after EE's editing, doesn't quite grab me. I think the unlikely combination of the horse-world and computers is interesting. I'm just not sure this story gets the combination right.

As for EE's version, a couple of problems jump out at me--clues piling up before the crime is even considered a crime; and the oddity of having already infiltrated all UNIX systems worldwide, then taking on the horse world. (Why bother?)

I hope you fix the plot problems. Hope you keep at it. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

If you need to tell the agent what an operating system is, they won't be the right agent for this manuscript.

And a backdoor won't cause much chaos. Everyone will just switch to Linux or Windows instead - pretty much killing the profit of your company (and thus putting the jobs of said programmers in danger).

You obviously didn't think the logic of this through.

December Quinn said...

I think the problem is, mentioning the idea of all the world's computers going down on even the same page as the millenium makes us all think of Y2K and what a tempest in a teapot that was. Which makes the story feel old hat even if it isn't.

And I know lots of geeks-Trekkers, comic geeks, computer geeks...not one of them considers international horse events a hobby. Now if it was death at DragonCon (hat's an awesome idea, isn't it? I might use that), and the bad guys are doing the convention circuit or something, I'd buy it. Most geeks have hobbies like PS2 or D&D, not horse shows. So I don't think implying in the title that horse shows are the hobby for computer geeks gives you much credibility. Again, it's not a story problem, it's a title problem. When I saw the title I expected lots of funny sci/fi refs and in-jokes a la Free Enterprise. That's obviously not what the book delivers.

JMO. I think it sounds like it could be a good story, but I'd seriously rethink the title.

Rik said...

Suggested titles:

- The Event Circuit Murders

- Event Hacking for Pleasure, Profit and Murder

- The Dressage Geek's Idiot Guide to Sleuthing

magz said...

Sigh. Maybe this book is good, but it's hard to tell from the query.

As a horsetrainer and a neophyte Geek, I'd really like to see one or the other or both interests expanded.

I'll nitpick the horse details to pieces and run to Google the Geeky, just please dont dummy down either nifty hook Oh Author. If you KNOW either subject.. be proud to expound upon em! Best O luck and my regards, Maggie aka Magz

MaryKaye said...

Why does someone with a back door into computers need to physically travel around to break into them? What earthly good would that do? Sitting at home breaking into them would be much safer (and more geeky, too).

Anonymous said...

Being a professional UNIX geek since 1983, I was amused with the burst bubble that was Y2K.

As someone who was involved with people who busted their rumps to fix the Y2K problem so that the hype didn't become reality, I lost interest in the book right there. Whenever I hear people who were supposedly deeply into the industry around that time blow off Y2K because the world didn't end after all, I have to ask myself where the hell they were for the two years or so others in IT were working 70 hours a week to fix the glitch. Doesn't inspire confidence in me that the author knows what they're talking about.

If you meant something different by that remark, you may want to consider rephrasing it.