Thursday, March 26, 2009

Comfort TV and ethics

There's something very comforting about watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. I remember watching the first episode on video in the late 80s and thinking how stupid the space jellyfish was, but other than that I loved the series for the most part.

It's hard to believe how nostalgic it feels rewatching the show now. Has it really been 20 years?

I've watched most of Classic Trek, TNG and Voyager, and some of DS9 and Enterprise. The characters frequently face ethical issues that usually have or had analagous situations in real life, and I've come to the conclusion that Star Trek writers have some strange ideas about ethics. Last night on TNG, Picard had to decide whether to let 30-50% of his crew die in Nagilum's death research or kill everyone to spoil Nagilum's fun. He chose the latter, putting the ship on autodestruct, and fortunately Nagilum did not call his bluff. Aside from this questionable choice, the even more bizarre thing was the way Picard spoke admiringly to Nagilum at the end about the alien's sense of curiosity. "You may have powers beyond our capability, but we're sentient beings like you, and it's wrong to kill us to satisfy your curiosity." No, that's not what Picard said. Those are the words I'd have put in his mouth. Admiration for a would-be mass murderer is not an appropriate response.

Star Trek really does get it wrong sometimes.

I watched an episode of Enterprise last year that shocked me, and not in a good way. In Cogenitor, Trip is fascinated by an alien who is one of a small percentage of "cogenitors" among its species, a third gender required for reproduction, of equal intelligence but treated as nameless pets and denied basic rights. Trip teaches the cogenitor to read and to question. The knowledge leads it to wanting a better life, and it asks Captain Archer for asylum.

Archer's response is ridiculous - and I have to assume his reaction is the one the writers want us to agree with, given that Archer is the hero and Trip the dumb schmuck. He denies the cogenitor's request, and when the cogenitor kills itself he berates Trip for interfering. "You thought you were doing the right thing. I might agree if this was Florida or Singapore, but it's not, is it?" For Archer, what's good enough for humans is too good for other sentient beings. Respect for another culture trumps basic ethics. He's even pissed off about the non-existence of the baby the couple would have had. Instead of blaming himself for not saving a desperate person from a hopeless situation, he blames Trip for teaching it that it has rights.

I would hope that 150 years from now we'll have figured out that all sentient beings deserve fair treatment regardless of species. All sentient creatures are "people" regardless of their culture. Anyone who desires education and emancipation has as much right to those things as anyone else. So what if it wrecks relations between the Federation and an alien race? Why would the Federation want friendly relations with slavers anyway? So what if it leads to a cogenitor civil rights movement? Would that be a bad thing? That culture was broken and needed to be fixed.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sci Fi on TV and other thoughts

I heard the other day that Sci-Fi channel is changing its name to SyFy in July because the bigwigs think science fiction equates to nerds and geeks, and SyFy is sexy (makes me think of syphilis - oh well). Seems to me an excuse to show even less science fiction than ever.

Anyway, as I type the series finale of Battlestar Galactica is on. I watched the series in 1979 along with Buck Rogers in the 25th Century - I was easily pleased as long as spaceships were involved. I started watching the new BSG but lost interest because it seemed to revolve around a supermodel Cylon. So I don't have a clue what's going on in the finale (seems to be a lot of close-ups with people talking seriously to each other). I started googling a bit and landed on a page about Stargate Universe, which starts later this year. I thought the Stargate movie was dreadful but watched the entire TV show on DVD last year. I wasn't as interested in Atlantis.

In this new show, the third in the Stargate franchise, the crew gets stranded on a spaceship far from Earth and they have to fend for themselves (I'm not the first to call it Stargate: Voyager). I looked up the seven main characters (5 guys and 2 girls, of course) as I didn't recognize any of the actors' names, knowing before I even clicked on the IMDb links that the 2 girls would be super-hot and most of the 5 guys would be character actors (i.e. not hot).

I wasn't wrong.

I don't really have an opinion about this one way or the other, except to say I wish there were more female character actors (read "actresses over 35") allowed on TV. One of my favorite sci-fi women is Frances Sternhagen's Dr. Lazarus in Outland (with Sean Connery, 1981). I love the movie, too, although I'm probably in the minority there. It has a cool poster.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Interruptions

Earlier this year I switched to a part-time job working from home. Now that I'm home all day, I'm enjoying those delightful interruptions known as marketing phone calls. Recorded messages are ringing me up at least twice a day. Usually I hang up after 0.3 seconds, but I've twice pressed "1" to speak with someone. Both times, when I politely asked the human to remove me from their list, I got an aggressive "No!" and a dead line.

These are not companies I ever asked to call me. They're telling me things like my car warranty is about to expire ("This is your final warning!") or my credit card interest rate is about to increase ("This is your final warning!"). I don't have a car warranty or a credit card and I don't want either. Neither the recorded message nor the human ever identify which company they're calling from, so who do I complain to? How do I make it stop?

Meanwhile, I'm still getting my head around being a housewife and I fear I'm not doing a great job. This morning my husband had only one shirt to wear, which is all he needs but it's the one that's had a dubious stain on it through two washes. We ran out of iced tea yesterday, we're about to run out of milk, and I forgot to bring in the mail or refill a prescription. So right now I'm doing laundry and brewing tea while adding various "errands" (as the Americans call them) to my to-do list for tomorrow.

As for today, I'm ready to start writing!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Workshopping

Yesterday I workshopped the first two chapters of the sequel with my critique group. I met these ladies through my local Romance Writers of America chapter, although coincidentally I already knew one of them via an unrelated online newsgroup. (Small world - two women from opposite sides of the globe, both with an interest in writing, moved to Tucson in the same month a few years ago.) It feels good to be back in the swing of writing and workshopping. We meet every two weeks, and as well as critiquing chapter drafts, we sometimes brainstorm plots too. And eat chocolate.

Oh, my husband had a stroke of genius, as he often does, regarding the ending of the book. We often plot together while walking the dog in the evening. Maybe it's a kind of bedtime story for the dog (because I'm sure she's listening to every word). Anyway, I'm excited about this ending and the way it ties everything up.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The deal is on

This morning I accepted an offer from Eos (HarperCollins) for a two-book deal!!!! <-- Note excessive exclamation points. Song of Scarabaeus is going to be published! Here's a short blurb:

Edie Sha'nim has been trained since childhood by the oppressive Crib government to program advanced terraforming technology called biocyph seeds. She is kidnapped for her valuable skills, assigned a reluctant bodyguard, and coerced into working for mercenaries who steal biocyph and sell it to the outlawed Fringe worlds. They take her back to Scarabaeus, the planet she first visited seven years ago as a trainee, and her one terraforming failure. But Scarabaeus is no longer the serene and beautiful alien world she remembers...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Double trouble

We now have two offers on the table - I get to choose! How exciting is that! I'll find out more details tomorrow...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

How I got my agent

Agent Kristin is on the verge of selling Song of Scarabaeus. I think it's really going to happen! Seems like a good time to tell my "How I got my agent" story.

By the time I had a manuscript that I deemed ready to send out to agents, my husband also had a (fantasy) manuscript ready so we did the research together. We gathered a list of about 30 agents who were asking for science fiction and fantasy and sorted them by preference. We prepared our query letters and submissions according to each of their specifications, and began mailing/emailing - starting at the top of the list.

By about a month later, I had five requests for partials. One agent didn't want simultaneous submissions (even on a partial) so I sent three chapters to the other four. This eventually resulted in three requests for the full manuscript. That was pretty exciting!

Then came the agonizing wait for what I felt sure would be three swift rejections. Two of the agents took about six weeks to get back to me (the third was very slow). And both rejected me. But both sent a long email explaining what they did and did not like about the book. They agreed on many points, so I knew they were on to something. Agent A said she'd reconsider after a rewrite. In writing to Agent B to thank her for her feedback, I mentioned that fact - and Agent B then said she would also reconsider after a major rewrite. Somehow I'd managed to turn a rejection into a "reconsider"!

Real life caught up with me at this point, and it was 13 months before I had finished the suggested changes. Partly this was because the changes necessitated many other changes, which stimulated new ideas, which created a mound of new rewrites. I also changed the narrator from first to third person and ran the entire book through my critique group, chapter by chapter, when we met every two weeks. Whew!

Agent B was my preferred choice and I resubmitted to her first. I reminded her of our previous correspondence and she requested the full. Three months later, when I was home sick with the flu, came The Call. Kristin Nelson offered me representation...

...and asked for more rewrites! But that's another story.

Kristin took on two new clients in 2008 and I'm honored to be one of them. And to think, it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't given her that little push that prompted her to say she'd reconsider a rewrite.

Most importantly, it just goes to show that you can score your dream agent by working your way up through the slush pile.