#5 – Christian Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy “Seraph”

Dear Doctor Query,

2012: Satan engages Heaven and humanity in an earth-shattering battle for supremacy.  The forces of good narrowly prevail, and God leaves Earth’s survivors to unite and rebuild society.

2998: Over the centuries, Earth has coalesced into a bicameral Christian state.  When a fleet of rapacious aliens attacks, the ideological divide between the pacifist Church and the militant Sword of God mutates into a dangerous schism.  With the Church excommunicating war-supporters and the Sword conscripting the able-bodied, society teeters on the edge of a civil war it cannot afford.

Expert marksman Kenneth Barrett enlists in the Sword to procure amnesty for killing a man in self-defense.  On the megastation Seraph, he rises through the ranks and establishes himself as Earth’s best hope.  However, the discovery of a loathsome conspiracy in the Sword’s highest echelon complicates his mission and calls his destiny into question.

Genevieve Brennan foresees a glorious future in the military.  When the Sword begins a prestigious new excavation on Earth, she drops everything to immerse herself in the career-making project.  In a fit of ambition, she unearths the prize: an imprisoned demon with insuperable coercive powers.  Now Genny is set to spoil Heaven’s thousand-year-old victory…unless she can find the strength to stop herself.

Kenneth has his work cut out for him on Seraph: unravel the Sword’s corruption and defeat the alien foe.  With the help of five specialists and a brilliant engineer, he just might manage.  But with Earth embroiled in civil conflict and Genny sowing the seeds of chaos besides, will there be anything left to come home to when he’s done?

Seraph (157,000 words) merges Catholic mysteries and deep space into a fast-paced commercial fantasy.  The full manuscript is available on request.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely yours,

[redacted]

Doctor Query says:

Oh my.  What a lot you’ve got going on.  Aliens and religion and conspiracy.

The reason people buy and read books is because they want to be pulled into another world.  Starting your query with the religious war of a thousand years before is not the way to go.  Start with the action.

Also, be wary of language you include in order to impress.  “Coalesced,” “bicameral,” “rapacious,” “mutates,” and “schism” are all words that slow us down.  Instead of impressing, they make the query turgid and hard to follow.  In addition, much of your letter is in passive voice.  It sounds like a term paper you wrote to show the teacher how smart you are.

Sentences such as “However, the discovery of a loathsome conspiracy in the Sword’s highest echelon complicates his mission and calls his destiny into question” confuse the reader.  We have to stop and think about what you mean.  How about, “When Kenneth makes his way to the top of the power structure, he is stunned to discover a conspiracy at the highest level.”

Simple, simple, simple.  Short and clear and full of action.  Tell us your characters, their goals, and the conflicts they must overcome.  Start with Kenneth and what he’s trying to do.

You have two large issues here.  One is the obfuscatory language of the letter. The bigger one is your story, which sounds like it is overstuffed with three layers of conflict: conspiracy in the ranks, Genny and her demon, and the alien war.  Methinks it’s too much.  Most writers don’t have enough conflict — you may have too much.  Perhaps you could lend some to another writer?

Of course I haven’t seen the book, and it might be brilliant.  But with this letter, I wouldn’t be asking for pages.

Fellow writers, please post some comments — I’d love to hear whether you see this plot as overstuffed, and the query as bombastic.  Or not.  And if the story would attract you.  I assume it’s an attempt to marry Dan Brown with Star Trek… maybe you would love it.

I know you’re out there — my dashboard count reveals you!

That is all.

Doctor Query

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. 157,000 words seems rather long. Perhaps you could make two stories if you could resolve at least some of the conflict halfway. Think Lord of the rings: stories are told, but the final resolution takes several books.

    Also, the query seems like too much pitch. I have always heard less is more (to some extent) when vying for an agent’s time. It should read like a book blurb, teasing and making the reader want more.

    And definitely simplify the language. Granted, people who read are usually smarter than those who don’t, and those who read sc-fi even more so, but the words are there to tell a tale, not get in the way.

    • Marty:

      I agree the word count is long, though this is one type of fiction where unwieldy word lengths might be contemplated. It might well be that this is two novels worth of story.

      People who read are smarter than those who don’t, and people who write are the smartest of all!

      That is all.

      Doctor Query

      • Aint it the truth.

  2. To be more explicit:

    I didn’t have a problem with the vocabulary of the query as much as with the sentence structure and the passive voice. I stopped reading after the third paragraph, but it was enough to get me hooked.

    “Coalesced,” “Bicameral,” and “schism” seemed appropriate to convey the political and religious setting. “Rapacious,” “loathsome,” and “insuperable” could be dropped. Why would anyone unleash something insuperable? It might easily supersede yourself. Unless they were extremely stupid, which doesn’t sound like Genny.

    I like the 2012 thing because of the whole Mayan calendar issue so understandably popular of late, but perhaps you shouldn’t lead the query with it.

    I like the idea that Genny has to battle herself – a nice moral dilemma really spices up a plot-driven narrative, IMO.

    Can I borrow some of your conflict? Just kidding.

    Perhaps you can do a Tolkein-esque thing and break it up until mutiple volumes of a single work?

  3. I like the concept of the story. The SFF genre is more tolerant towards stories with larger word counts, of course, but if the tone of the novel is anything like the tone of this query I don’t think it would be difficult to cut it down a bit. I love the idea, but not the voice. It’s far too wordy for a query letter, in my opinion, with too much passive voice. I don’t think the plot’s overstuffed, though. I’d check it out; I like complex stories. It’s the voice that puts me off more than anything.

    But it does sound a bit like it could be two novels worth of story.


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