3rd SR Crapometer #51

Dear Miss Snark;

I'm a faithful reader of your blog and would like to thank you for your generosity in sharing your advice and information. My submission below is from a 100,000-word mainstream story with a science fiction premise. (that means it's science fiction most likely) I have prior publications in fiction and non-fiction through short stories, essays, and a novel.

On the Aegean coast of Turkey, an ancient bone box is unearthed which will challenge long-held religious beliefs. As the remains inside the ossuary are handed over to a renegade scientist (Joe) for cloning, Liz, the archaeologist who discovered the artifact, fights to terminate the cloning process. Frustrated with her failure, and worried about the welfare of the unborn child, Liz endangers her professional standing by assuming an alias and volunteering to become the surrogate mother, planning to abscond with the baby after birth.

As world conflict mounts, and forces escalate that would harm the clone, Liz and Joe must terminate their own battle and unite to protect the unborn life Liz now carries. They race through Turkey, Scotland, and the United States to seek the specialized medical care the clone needs to survive and to finally determine through the courts what makes a parent and who will protect the best interests of this unique child.

I appreciate your time in considering my project and look forward to your reply.


do you understand any of the science of cloning?
or the science of anything? bones decay. the reason there are mummies is cause they wrapped the bodies in shrouds and put them in air tight sarcophagi in a DESERT.

The only thing that makes me crazier than getting historical stuff wrong is getting science wrong. You can make science do you what you want on another planet but here on earth, you gotta play by the rules here.

I'd stop reading right now and send you a form letter.

"Professor, I think we've found something."

At her student's excited words, Liz Sinclair poked her head above the ground's surface to peer across the narrow trench she worked a couple of rows away from his. "What is it, another oil lamp?"

"No." Steve's muffled voice floated across their precisely laid-out grid. He remained bent low in his trench over whatever it was he'd unearthed.

"An Artemis votive?" her own voice rose with anticipation.

"Nooo," he drawled with a hint of laughter.

Liz sighed. Her body burned with the suffocating heat of working deep in the confines of the partially collapsed cave. Her arms ached from weeks of endless physical work, with only a handful of artifacts to show for it. And her brain seethed with frustration since her department had just today upped the date of her tenure evaluation. She didn't have time for teasing. "You're still within the first century strata, right?"

"Yep," came his clipped reply, but one that maintained that hint of excited discovery.

After brushing her hands off on her cut-off denim shorts, Liz levered herself out of the meter deep dugout and caught an immediate glimpse of what had captured Steve's interest. He was hunched over a rough stone slab, about sixty centimeters long and half that high, stuck into the back wall of the narrow trench. He'd already brushed away enough dirt to reveal incised, slanted ancient script. Now with his trowel he worked the edges of the stone emerging from the earth...like a box...like an ossuary. Impossible.

Her heart lurched. "Let me get there a sec."

Steve glanced at her over his shoulder, a wide grin splitting his sun-burnt face. He pulled himself up to sit on the edge, leaving her room below.

Her mind buzzing, Liz squeezed into the narrow opening in front of the large stone box buried deep in the soil. Her fingers, once again minus gloves, dug rapidly around its rough edges. Limestone, probably. She drew in a shaky breath, her pulse racing, her fingers surging with that familiar electrical awareness of an artifact's connection to people and lives of the past.

Squinting against the blinding mid-afternoon sun, she studied the partially revealed script, then blinked to clear her eyes of the dust which surely marred her vision. She brushed away more dirt until she hit a clog. Her fingers, tracing lightly over the rough surface, detected a thin spray of mortar.

"Mortar? Covering the inscription?" She glanced up at Steve, then reached over to stop his swinging leg.

"Sorry. Guess I'm keyed up. Unusual, isn't it?"

"A bit." Had someone deliberately plastered over the first half of the name of the ossuary's occupant?

"What does it say?" Anticipation made his voice squeak.

"I can only make out this last word. Give me a minute."

"Last? The mortar's covering the left part."

"Near Eastern. Written right to left."

She tried to discern each letter of the faintly carved word. This was just not possible. An ossuary, here on the western Aegean coast of Turkey. At least a thousand kilometers from where the bone box surely originated.

Have you ever seen an archeaolist at work?
You can write about things you haven't done, but for dog's sake, do some digging to get your facts right.


Kimber An said...

Like a lot of stories I crit over at CC, this has a great idea behind it. I would encourage the author to outline it, find the finer points, research anything that doesn't fly, and re-write it. I call this 'Slash & Burn.' I know it's painful, but if your heart is in this story I'll bet you it will be well worth it in the end.

Anonymous said...

"Professor"? They are working their tushes off in some remote spot in the desert for how long & he calls her "Professor"? What country are they supposed to be from? I think even the Brits would be on a first name basis by that time.

After that I had stopped reading, so I have no more to add, sorry (or perhaps you aren't sorry :-) ).

Anonymous said...

Jurassic Park (1993) created dinosaurs by cloning DNA from fossilized bones. They explain the "process" in the first movie. It's impossible to do, of course, but if we didn't accept the premise, then Michael Crichton wouldn't have those three films with Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern and Sam Niell.

What is farfetched is that any woman would consent to IVF and bearing a cloned child under these circumstances.

And wouldn't the agent or editor want to know if the child would be the son of someone important? Like maybe it's the son of Marcus Aurelius or Octavian or Herod or King David?

Bernita said...

Well, they fossilize after while.
How old are these bones supposed to be?

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know what Miss Snark thinks is the problem. Some archeologists still do things the old-fashioned way, and I didn't read anything particularly off-base in the first page.

Also, while cloning humans is technically still hard or impossible, this would have to be set in the future to fly (which I would expect is the sci-fi bit referred to in the query).

Anonymous said...

I'm writing something that touches, briefly, on cloning. I have a degree in chemistry, an extensive background in cell biology and genetics, and I spent a full day with a research biologist whose thesis involves cloning. Still, it took some doing to distill the prose into something that was both plausible (in the real world) and understandable by the average reader. I struggled with this!

You're playing with fire here. The concepts are very technical and if you spew bullshit, people like MS will know.

PS Good Luck.

December Quinn said...

Anonymous 3, there's nothing old-fashioned about archaeologists attacking artifacts with trowels. They don't. They simply do NOT.

And the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park were created from blood found in (non-fossilized) mosquitos trapped in amber. The DNA did not come from fossilized bones. Fossils are rocks. They do not have DNA (according to the websites I found, anyway.)

Anonymous said...

It occurs to me that, science aside, the scientists would research the potential surrogate mother INTENSELY, and that Liz would have had to have help to set up an alias that could withstand that kind of scrutiny. Also, so was invovled in the discovery of this thing, yet the people responsible for cloning it don't recognize her?

Now, admittedly, you may explain all of this in the novel itself, but when I read the summary and my disbelief is instantly triggered, I'm not likely to read further. Which is too bad, because the premise sounds interesting.

Chumplet said...

In Jurassic Park, they extracted the DNA from dinosaur blood in mosquitoes that had been encased in amber. I don't remember him mentioning fossilized bones. Still far fetched, but it's FICTION. That means it's all made up or it should be presented so that the premise is at least feasible. If it's bullshit, make it obviously so.

overdog said...

The research is part of the fun. I think your writing's fine, Author. If you like your idea enough, the research is worth doing.

acd said...

Plus, in Jurassic Park, there were no surrogate mothers: if I remember right, they implanted fertilized dino embryos into ostrich eggs.

BuffySquirrel said...

She's been actively opposing the cloning yet the scientist most directly involved with it doesn't recognise her? There goes the suspension of disbelief hitting the ground again.

Courts don't determine what makes a parent. They determine what's in the best interests of the child. Big difference.

(word verification: moady; almost right)

Chumplet said...

Research is a pain in the ass, but necessary. I don't know who the hell to ask whether a bullet will shatter the safety glass at a hockey rink or just go through, or bounce off. But I have to find out, don't I? Get one fact wrong, and everyone thinks the rest of your work is a crock of yanno, stuff.

Chumplet said...

I just contradicted myself, didn't I?

Anonymous said...

I participated in an archeological dig when I was in college. It was literally scraping dirt away centimeters at a time (with a trowel). That part's fine.

BUT when you find something interesting (which can be as mundane as a change in the color of the dirt) you don't yank it out of the earth. Archeology is a scientific discipline. You'd take photos, record the exact depth. Take soil samples. Analysis is done in the lab, months later. And if it's human remains, there's a whole protocol to follow...think forensics and CSI, not Indiana Jones.

I know it's fiction, but some realism helps.

Anonymous said...

I find a few points with the archaeology questionable, but I am an archaeologist. Bones can preserve for a very long time depending on the depositional environment. I have seen extremely degraded bone that is not very old at all, and very well preserved bone that is upwards of 8k years old. It all depends on environmental conditions, which we weren't really given here.

DNA can be obtained from several sources. Right now the DNA of Neanderthals is being mapped. Teeth are good sources.

The methodology could be better, but it isn't very clear what they are doing. Artifacts are generally recovered very slowly. If it's something that can be damaged by a trowel, use a chopstick or piece of bamboo. Not wearing gloves isn't a big deal. Hardly anyone does unless they are pushing dirt through a screen. I found myself wondering if these two people were the only ones there (not likely in a large university supported excavation) and why they have two (seemingly) parallel trenches. Make the trenches T, it makes more sense.

Oh, and a 1m deep hole - just crawl out or, if you must, use a ladder. Nothing fancy.

Anonymous said...

One other thing -- caves are almost always cold, not hot. I know you say it's partially collapsed, but if it's collapsed enough to let in the heat, it should have enough aeration to not be stifling.

Or something like that.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Without reading all the other visitor comments, I must state that the science isn't all that wrong. Within the past few years, scientists have recovered fully intact bones with actual bone marrow still within them from extinct dinosaurs. The discovery was made by accident because they had to break one bone in order to get it in a helicopter for transport if I recall the news article correctly. When they tested some other fully intact bones, they encountered intact, though degraded, marrow at least once more.

There are also bones being found intact from mastodons and wooly mammoths from bogs that not only have the bones still intact, but flesh as well because they were in the frozen tundra when recovered and these had been there for thousands of years.

Mummies and mummification can also occur in other than dry conditions. Numerous mummified remains have been recovered from Scottish peat bogs and from swamps in the southeast US. One tribe of native Americans buried their dead in a swamp and that preserved the remains rather than letting them decompose.

Writerious said...

True, bones can be preserved, depending on conditions. Bones pulled from the churchyard in the Jamestown site are in a sad condition, but bones taken from the dry ash of Pompeii were in decent condition.

Fossilization is a process that takes tens of thousands of years, at least. Human bones in a ossuary wouldn't be that old.

Yes, DNA can be found in bones.

BUT -- just because you find DNA doesn't mean you can clone the person whose bones those were. The DNA you find may allow you to do some interesting sequencing, maybe even trace certain genetic markers. But unless the entire chromosomes are preserved, cloning is impossible. I know in Jurassic Park they did a little hand-waving, saying that the "missing parts" were filled in with frog DNA. But we still don't have the technology to create chromosomes from scraps of DNA.

And as for the "bone marrow" found in T-rex bones -- I wouldn't say it was perfectly preserved. There was enough preservation to get a few bits of DNA, but nothing like chromosomes.

Maybe frozen mammoths could be cloned, if the tissue is preserved well enough to preserve the chromosomes. And there was some talk of trying to clone Tasmanian tigers from Tasmanian tiger fetuses perserved in alcohol. But T-rex is not going to happen, even from blood taken from a mosquito preserved in amber. Nor is it likely that a human is going to be clones from DNA found in dry bones. Have to have those chromosomes.

Anonymous said...

"Near Eastern. Written right to left." I would have quit here. My archaeologist friend would have loved this for the humor factor. Would an archaeologist in this area have been so ignorant that he/she wouldn't have known about right/left writing? NO. I'm not an archaeologist and I knew that in High School. And I even know that Chinese is top to bottom. There's some esoteric knowledge. Sorry to be harsh, author, but you don't have your logic hat on here. Go over this with the question What would an archaeologist know? and you will be deleting or changing all of it.

It is really, really dangerous to begin with something that you know little about when you write it badly.

He was hunched over a rough stone slab, about sixty centimeters long and half that high, stuck into the back wall of the narrow trench. Logic flaw. If an object of any importance is suspected, the buzz spreads fast. Also, it takes a long time to clear the soil away, generally using dental tools and brushes so they don't lose anything.

He'd already brushed away enough dirt to reveal incised, slanted ancient script. Ack. You are loving your words here. Just say what the archaeologist would observe, something along the lines of "it was badly worn but appeared to be ancient xlplzk."

Now with his trowel Not! Trowels move a lot of dirt. He wouldn't be doing that here. In case we are both wrong, you could just be generic: "He brushed the dirt away."

he worked the edges of the stone emerging from the earth...like a box...like an ossuary. Impossible. WTF? What does 'worked the edges of the stone' mean, anyhow? Sounds like chisels and mallets are involved. And please, saying Impossible to denote the big Surprise is so lame. Try for some real, unforced drama. And, most significantly, they'd have already decided it was about the size of an ossuary long before this scene opened.

Catja (green_knight) said...

I found the digging bit somewhat off-turning - I'd love to see it properly dramatised, some real-life archaeological digs make *fascinating* stories, full of false leads and unexpected finds - but then... what? Where's the story? What will bringing a child with X DNA tell us about the world that analyzing the DNA on its own won't? I can half see the point creating Dinosaurs just to study them, or cloning Eclipse to see whether he would run faster than today's horses (unlikely) - but Yet Another Human Being? It's a singularily senseless premise, and no amount of brilliant writing could save the story for me.

At least not unless you step over into the fantastic a lot more. Have a great conspiracy theory. They're the bones of the Messias, only the Messias was killed before he could fulfill his destiny, *and* he had special powers - at least one of the archaeologists belongs to an obscure sect and Our Heroes just found the incredible records that would prove that.
And someone steals those records. They still have the DNA, and they're determined to clone a child because so the destiny can be fulfilled.

In _that_ context, I'd buy the 'we found some bones and will create a child from the DNA'. Otherwise, well, there's probably a way to get some DNA from Einstein or Leonardo or some *really famous guy someone would like to see around again*.

People interact. People are formed through their environments. If Napoleon was born again today, he'd not stomp across Europe at the head of an army, he might

found a software company that holds millions to people at ransom - buy our latest update or you won't be able to use your computers properly...

Err, oops. Must run. Must *hide*.

Anonymous said...

I think what we have here is a feeding frenzy.

I've worked on archeology digs. We used trowels on ancient burials. Maybe a few details could be improved, but that's no reason for this mass attack.

I personally enjoyed reading this and would read more.

Elektra said...

I thought when I read it (not very carefull;y, I'll admit) that the reason they were cloning was Dan Brown-esque. Like the bones were Jesus' or something like that.

JRBrown said...

This is not that bad. Not great, but not irrecoverable.

I'm a non-archaeologist, but I found the description of the diggings a little sloppy; I'd suggest paying attention to the points raised by the anonymouses that start "I participated in an archeological dig..." and "I find a few points with the archaeology questionable...".

As a professional biologist I find the idea of being able to extract clonable DNA from dessicated bones from a first-century ossuary that has been at ambient temperature for the last 1900 years pretty unbelievable, but hey, it's science fiction. If you set it in the near-future you can do some hand-waving about reconstructing the damaged portions of the DNA and so forth. Unless, of course, the remains are miraculously preserved, or something.

I think the query letter could be improved; it's too nonspecific.

"an ancient bone box is unearthed which will challenge long-held religious beliefs" - why? what's in there?

"As the remains inside the ossuary are handed over to a renegade scientist (Joe) for cloning" - why? who wants to clone them?

"Liz, the archaeologist who discovered the artifact, fights to terminate the cloning process" - any particular reason, or is she just anti-cloning?

"As world conflict mounts, and forces escalate that would harm the clone" - again, why? is this something that was happening anyway, or is it provoked by finding the box?

And finally, the idea that Liz is unable to believe that a mideastern ossuary has migrated to Greece is... odd. All kinds of stuff moved entirely across Europe and Asia, even in the first century. As an archaeologist, Liz knows this, and she shouldn't be so astounded. Excited, puzzled, intrigued, yes. Incredulous, no.

This was the single biggest problem I had with the excerpt, and it was nearly a deal-killer; it felt like the author was trying to work up suspense but didn't know how except by saying "but that's impossible!".

Daisy said...

The problem for me is that you are going to have to take so many liberities with the science here to get a story(unless you can set it in an alternate reality or moderately distant future) as to make it unreadable, at least for me. Most of the main problems have been brought up already, but I'll toss in a few more:

-Bones are a very poor source of DNA. In cases when it has been found, it has required grinding up and destroying the entire sample to recover it. (Not likely to be an option, in this case.) I believe the neanderthal DNA that has been sequenced was recovered from corpses preserved by peat or permafrost.

-Even with ample, high-quality starting materials in animal experiments, cloning can be very inefficient, requiring dozens to hundreds of surrogate mothers for each live birth. This could change, but if you are in a world where humans have not been cloned before, then it probably won't have, and the idea of one woman serving and *the* surrogate doesn't fly.

writtenwyrdd said...

I don't think that the criticism is a feeding frenzy. Badly portrayed science or anything for that matter makes the author look stupid and puts off the audience. It doesn't mean the problems cannot be fixed, though.

What I am missing here is the drama. Saying it's impossible is not drama.

Jo Bourne said...

I think what's missing from the query is the reason WHY anyone would want, or not want, this particular DNA to become a living person.

Are we creating the twin of a First Century Saint, a spooky space alien, Satan, Jesus ...?

That -- who is the clone -- is probably the hook for the query and the motivtion for the story's action. The science stuff ... that's just plot device.

JLauren said...

I agree with JO. The query should state who the DNA supposedly belonged to. That's your hook.