L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

11 September 2006 Blog Home : September 2006 : Permalink

I'm really worried

On Saturday I posted the Ultimate Bad Query Letter, which was the purported letter to pitch a "african american alternate history litery fiction novel set in the past" written by a teenager. Judging by the comments, both at my post and at Miss Snark, most people found it funny, which was what I hoped for.

What really worries me is that some people apparently thought the "plot" sounded good and one person apparently felt that Baen books would publish it. Umm. Never. Not without a lot of rewriting.

However I reckon it could make a plausible film script since it was a Hollywood bit of alternate history, i.e. completely false from start to finish and, for that matter a Hollywood grasp of science. The "plot" supposedly revolved around a visit made by Percy Shelley, his wife Mary and Lord Byron to the Levant where they saw the statue that eventually became immortalized in "Ozymandias". Unfortunately this is a pack of lies because:
  1. Ozymandias' statue is really that of Ramesses II in Egypt and Shelley's poem is based loosely on traveller's tales describing it
  2. The Shelley family never travelled further than Switzerland/Italy in 1816 - 1822
  3. This was where they met Lord Byron
  4. While Byron did travel the Levant in 1809-11 he spent most of his time in Greece and Albania and didn't go much beyond Constantinople where he swam the Hellespont
Other obvious errors included placing the victorian period in the 18th century. The "science" included turning a metal detector into a time machine - accidentally. Curiously despite the zillions who have queued up to go through these machines around the globe there are no reports of people disappearing as they step through them.

So the plot as described is laughable. And let's ignore the fact that our would be hero is supposed to have sex with Mary Shelley and is unclear on corsetry...

You can criticise Baen for many things but one thing that you probably ought to to gripe about is their alternate history. The attention to detail in (for example) the 1632verse, not to mention the apologies of authors such as John Dalmas or Mecedes Lackey in afterwords for either failing to do complete historical research or taking liberties with it in parts of their novels, makes it clear that Baen tends to go for more accuracy than may strictly be necessary.

Secondly this is clearly adolescent wish fulfillment masquerading as a plot. Now you may claim that some Baen authors, Leo Frankowski for example, pander to this trend but even in his worst, say, "Conrad Starguard" the technology is good even if the rest isn't. As pitched the hero in my tale is called Ozzie, the author is called Ozzie and the story is called OzymandiRAP. So might there possibly be a touch of the author in the hero you think?

Not to mention its a pimply teenager who seems to think that romantic poets such as Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley were the equivalent of rappers. Don Juan and Ozymandias are part of the dead white male cultural baggage that infuriates trendy professors of literature and have been well known for close to two centuries. Does anyone think that the lyrics of P. Diddy or Tupac Shakur are going to last as long?

Oh and on the subject of Ozymandias and slushpiles - I recall that I once wrote this. It is the only sonnet I've ever tried to write and it isn't very good, but having read a bit of slush and having heard the complaints of those who do it more frequently I think it is at least as true to nature as Ozymandias is to Ramasses II


I met an editor from an SF house
Who said: Two vast and plotless tales of heroes
came in the mail. Next them, in the pile,
Half ripped, an illiterate scrawl whose errors
And stilted prose, and ignorance of basic sense
Tell that its author too much Tolkein read,
Which yet arrive, printed in countless fonts
The hand that plagiariased and the brain that fled

And in the cover letter these words appear
"My name is Ozyfandias, 'Writer-man'
Read my works, best-sellers and despair!"

It would not fit the bin. Yet in the rest
of that collossal parcel, We're unaware
Of hints to the return address

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin