Archive for November, 2018

Beauty In Outer Space

One of my three science fiction novels is about a group of explorers who land on a distant planet in an attempt to see if it could be colonized by people of their civilization.  Many things go wrong on that planet, and that leads most of the group to consider it as dangerous and unattractive, a place to be avoided at all costs.  But a couple of explorers find the planet exciting and beautiful.  They are willing to look beyond the death and destruction to see the planet for what it is, a lovely and inspiring place on which they could live.

Fine.  But that got me to thinking, what are we likely to find when we get into outer space and see planets and moons and asteroids and comets up close?  What will we think once we land on them and take a good look around?  Will we think of them as “beautiful?”  Or will they be little more than desolate blobs of dust orbiting a hot, blistering sun?

Over the past fifty or so years of the US space program, we’ve seen a lot of images taken on the surface of two major celestial objects in our solar system, Mars and the moon.  Astronauts on the moon (the only body outside the Earth mankind has walked on) took many spectacular photographs of their moonwalks (largely on film, mind you) and brought them back for us to wonder at.  Several unmanned robotic travelers have landed on Mars and tantalized us with more vivid images, and the European Space Agency landed an unmanned probe on a comet.  All three sets of images show a largely barren landscape, though to a great extent that was planned since it’s much easier and much safer to land a spacecraft on a smooth surface than on one littered with rocks.  (The Russians did land a spacecraft on Venus, but its few images don’t show much.)  I don’t know about you, but I found the landscapes of Mars and moon to be rather plain and not terribly lovely or “beautiful” in the usual sense of that word.  They are stark, and in themselves compelling in a minimalist sense.  But not “beautiful” in comparison to, say, an evening sunset on the Rocky Mountains, or an autumn  landscape of the woodlands of Vermont.  Just my opinion here.

Still, in our solar system are planets and moons that we haven’t landed on (and in most cases I hope we don’t), and from above they show many various mottled and unique surfaces.  I imagine that the surface of Jupiter’s moon Io would be a fascinating place on which to stand.  With volcanoes that spout liquid sulfur, and lava flows and what not, it might be intriguing.  (Dangerous, too.)  But would we characterize it as “beautiful,” especially in comparison with the Earth?  I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  We might have to come up with new adjectives to describe the new worlds we encounter.

Nothing we’ve ever seen on any image returned from outer space even begins to compare with the beauty of the surface of the Earth.  But we’ve only just begun to explore.  Who knows what we will encounter when we land on planets and moons of other solar systems.  Will we think of them as “beautiful?”  Do you think of the moon or Mars as “beautiful?”

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It’s A Two-Way Street

I’ve been submitting queries about my trilogy of science-fiction novels to agents and a few editors for about fifteen years now (possibly more), and I would say that probably around half of those agents and editors now have a regular policy of not responding to an unsolicited query if they don’t intend to pursue it further.  Some don’t even bother to respond to submissions that they actively solicit (!)  (That is, if they asked for it at a meeting.)  This refusal to respond is a big part of the publishing world now, and I don’t see it changing any time soon.  It may even get worse, and most, if not all agents and publishers may eventually decide to stop responding to unsolicited queries.  I hope not for reasons I express below.

The usual reason given for the decision not to respond is the large number of queries agents and editors receive.  “A thousand a month,” is a typical measuring point.  Sometimes it’s even more.  I can certainly understand their reasoning and ultimate decision to forego a response.  Were I in their shoes and subject to all the submissions they get, I suspect I would at least give it serious consideration.

But for those of us who submit to hundreds of different agents and a fewer number of editors, not receiving a response can be frustrating.  I know in my own case—and I’m speaking only for myself at this point—it is somewhat, though I try to accept it knowing that they are very busy handling the inundation of emails/letters/other stuff they regularly get, along with their other duties.  But I want to make it clear to all those editors and agents that their decision has repercussions beyond the simple decision not to respond.  Many agents say that if the submitter doesn’t hear back within a certain amount of time, they should either contact them or query again because the submission may have gotten lost in the mail or within the email server.  Now we have to contact the agent or whoever a second time just to find out that the query has been rejected.  Time consuming and, really, unnecessary.

But my most vehement concern about agents and editors who don’t respond comes from something else that agents and editors emphasize when writers communicate with them.  We submitters must always act “professional” they say.  We must always come across as someone who knows the rules of the business of writing and publishing, and act in a manner consistent with that knowledge.  Follow the rules of each individual agency, they say; don’t be “cute” in your submission; don’t send flowers or candy with your submission; know the agent’s name and how to spell it; don’t send a letter with the salutation “Dear Agent;” don’t tell them your mother-in-law liked your book; don’t send blanket queries to a hundred agents; and so on and so forth.  Always good advice, certainly.

But it seems to me that while we submitters are always supposed to always be “professional” in our dealings with those who hold the keys to our publishing success, the reverse is also true: agents and editors must always be professional in their dealings with the writers they represent and publish.  And ensconced firmly within that requirement is a response to any and all communications.  A negative response doesn’t have to be much, just a note telling the writer they have decided not to further pursue publication.  Any query, and this applies especially to one that was actively solicited by a publishing professional, deserves a response.  That’s only professional.  After all, if publishing people don’t want to work with unprofessional writers, then those publishing professionals must realize that writers sure as hell don’t want to work with unprofessional agents and editors either.  It’s a two-way street.

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