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View Full Version : Would you read a novel about time travelers investigating an Extinction?



Luzoni
11-05-2015, 09:31 PM
Ok, so I've had this idea for a long time for a novel and I already have a name picked out that's perfect: The Great Dying. Anyway, pretty much my whole life I've been obsessed with paleontology and the Permian-Triassic mass extinction (also known as the Mother of All Extinctions, and The Great Dying by paleontologists) is a lesser known thing that happened before the dinosaurs when upwards of 90% of all life in the land and the sea went extinct. I've always envisioned writing a novel that's like Michael Crichton's Timeline meets Jurassic Park, where these time travelers would wind up in dire circumstances facing off with critters and whatnot.

Anyway, the reason I'm here is that I finally buckled under to do the nitty gritty hardcore research into things like carbon isotope changes during the extinction and such and decided to bite the bullet and NaNoWriMo this thing. But...I can't help but wonder if it'd be too weird to sell. Virtually no one I know has a clue about the Great Dying or life before the dinosaurs so it seems this is a really obscure topic. I already wrote one novel that my agent just barely managed to sell to a tiny publisher after close to two years of trying so I'm worried my interests are just too weird. So, I wanted to query the forum to see opinions here. Would this be something any of you would read?

rohstod
11-05-2015, 10:01 PM
I don't think you'll have to have an audience who understands/knows about the Great Dying. Mass extinction is something most people know about or understand.

Your concept sounds intriguing. As with anything, it's all how it's done. The only thing that would make me hesitate is the science stuff. For example, if there are pages and pages of information about carbon isotope changes... I would put the book down and go pick up a textbook or an article (this is especially true if none of that has anything to do with the plot). Others might not feel this way, though. I'm kind of a snob when it comes to information, and I have limited patience for fiction authors who try to turn their books into informative essays or arguments. It has to be REALLY well done for me to enjoy it.

That said, I have no idea how youíre going to use scientific information. You might only plan to tell readers what they need to know to understand the plot. Huzzah, if thatís the case. Itís just the one thing from your description that made me say to myself, I might not like this. And, again, this is only the view of one (very weird) reader. Others might love pages and pages of science facts.

I wish you the best of luck with the project! :)

CrastersBabies
11-05-2015, 10:35 PM
Premise sounds interesting to me. Good luck with the writing! :)

Luzoni
11-05-2015, 10:40 PM
Rohstod, thanks for the feedback! I get what you're saying that it's important it be done right. I don't want to infodump the way Crichton sometimes tended to do. However, I have to know about carbon isotope changes and such because my characters aren't yahoos who stumbled into this place. They're scientists. But, with that being said, I also want to make sure it's not dull or confusing. So far my approach has been to start the story with the characters already in the time period, looking at local flora and fauna and documenting it. But the plot of this tale would involve solving the mystery of this extinction, because it really is a mystery. To do that I have to make sure readers know enough about the extinction to understand the implications. We still don't know what caused this extinction to be so awful, even tho we do have clues. The carbon isotope bit ks actually important to my plot because it's a big clue that hasn't been solved satisfactorily.

Another interesting and frightening topic regarding this extinction is that you can draw parallels to our current time from it, with the whole climate change deal.

Liosse de Velishaf
11-05-2015, 11:00 PM
I mean, on the basis of the premise, I'd say it sounds really cool. It's up to the execution to live up to those expectations, though.

rohstod
11-05-2015, 11:42 PM
Yeah, I understand the dilemma. People who are there as scientists are going to use the jargon and terminology specific to their field. I'm far more forgiving if the information provided relates to the plot. Sometimes I think authors who do a lot of research are kind of like, "Wow, I sure did a lot of research, I better use ALL of it." That drives me nuts.

If the info dumps are frequent and heavy handed, the language and the characters have to work overtime to get me to the payoff. I'll be honest and say an opener where people are discussing plants wouldn't do much for me. Obviously I have not read it, so I might be wrong. It's possible to make anything interesting if the language is right and the characters are cool. I might pick up your book later on and say, "This is the best ****ing description of plants I've ever read!"

People read for different reasons, so don't take what I've said as me saying science-heavy books are doomed to failure. Subjectively speaking, they're not my favorite thing in the world. But I'm a rather lazy reader. I spend most of my time reading pretty technical crap for work, so I want some amount of ease when it comes to my pleasure reading.

I think you have a really neat concept, though. It's got a lot of potential.

Luzoni
11-06-2015, 12:43 AM
I appreciate honesty. :-) I wouldn't want to read a long passage about plants either, but I could fall into a trap where I find it far more fascinating than 90% of readers would and go on too long. Right now I'd estimate the character spends less than five hundred words documenting the plant, which is extinct so there's nothing exactly like it today for easy comparison and reader comprehension. After that she moves on. I'm almost certainly too close to the material to judge accurately tho, so it might need to be totally redone...but I will worry about that after NaNo.

I have a beta reader who is very knowledgeable about the deep science of all this (she's almost a biochemist) but I actually think I need an average Joe. If an outsider can read it without being frustrated or confused, I'll know I've done an acceptable job.

Richard White
11-06-2015, 12:51 AM
Here's my 2.5 cents worth, (rounded up for inflation).

Write the story.

Use as much or as little of the information you've found as you need to so that you arrive at "The End".

Then ...

Go back before you show it to ANYONE and ask yourself does this scene, this conversation, this description move the plot forward. If yes, leave it in (aka, they need to know something about this plant because later on it has the only cure to a disease they get infected with). If not, then be merciless and cut all the unnecessary stuff out of your story.

If it's not plot related, it doesn't need to be there.

Then, and only then, do you show it to someone else to review. Don't have them critique science, conversations, etc. that aren't going to make the final cut.


But, right now, don't worry about any of that. Just sit down and write the book. When you reach "the end", you'll pretty much know what should stay and what you can easily cut.

Hie thee to the writer's desk!

jjdebenedictis
11-06-2015, 01:14 AM
The answer to these sorts of questions is always yes and no. It depends on execution.

The real problem, however, is you're letting your insecurities try to talk you out of doing something you've been wanting to do for years.

You are the power figure in your own life. Don't abdicate that power to random strangers on the internet. The acid test for whether a book is worth writing is NOT whether it sounds marketable to random strangers; it's whether or not you want to write that book.

And you do. You have for ages. Go for eeeeeet. :)

Jozzy
11-06-2015, 01:31 AM
The setting sounds interesting enough for me to investigate further. Almost any SF setting would pique my interest, though, excepting perhaps "Star Trek Holodeck."

So now, in order for me to try the book, I ask: Who are the characters, what do they desire, and what is standing in their way? What happens to the scientists if they don't solve the extinction mystery? Do they lose their grant? Do they lose their tenure? If that is the main conflict, I'd pass.

If the main conflict is 9 t-rex's and a steggo standing between them and their portal, I'm interested, but that seems just more like one scene. Is there anything else?

If it's hard SF I'm expecting some real science, but that neither sells the book for me nor turns me away. If you could give more info about the conflict I could give you a better answer.

Abderian
11-06-2015, 04:40 AM
I think it's an interesting idea and definitely wouldn't be put off by the blurb explaining what it's about. And thanks in advance for considering what real scientists would actually do and say. I had to stop watching the most recent Aliens movie because I was so frustrated that supposedly intelligent scientists were doing things that anyone with even an ounce of sense would never do.
But I would also advise not getting too caught up with the jargon etc. The information should be necessary to the story and characters, not for the sake of it. It's hard to strike a balance, but imo what engages readers is always the human element.
Also, your team need not only be scientists. If they're remaining in that period, rather than making brief visits, they'll need survival experts.
Read A Sound of Thunder (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Sound_of_Thunder).

GeoWriter
11-06-2015, 06:26 AM
Wow! You go for it Luzoni! I'd love to see more geology in stories (but then, I am a geologist). What I, personally, would be most excited by is a story that engages the characters in real investigative practices of geology (not technology) and in which unexpected discoveries somehow bear on a pressing personal conflict (more than fighting dimetrodons and trying to save the rugose corals), and where the characters have evolving relationships, and, and...oh wait. You're writing this. I look forward to reading it!

Beware though that carbon-14 dating doesn't work for the Permian!

Laer Carroll
11-06-2015, 06:37 AM
JJ expressed my sentiments before I could: "Done well, sure."

Luzoni
11-06-2015, 05:54 PM
Thanks guys (and gals!) for the awesome feedback and encouragement! GeoWriter, that's actually news to me! I had read that the p-t boundary sediments are typically identified by a spike in what they believe are fungal spores and then there's the carbon isotope change. I am interested in geology too (my dad was a mining engineer and liked to joke about the feud between the geologists, the metallurgists, and the engineers) but it's not my strong suit. Is the carbon 14 failure in the mass extinction or limited to earlier Permian sediments?

And Jozzy, thank you for reminding me of the importance of character! I'm still introducing them and flushing them out currently, but I have an emotional evolution planned for my MC and the stakes...well, the stakes are whether or not these scientists can convince modern humans that history (very ancient history) can repeat itself. I've not been too concerned by all the hullabaloo over cli.ate change myself, but in researching for this tale...even I got scared. One geology site I was reading about said the amount of carbon dioxide added to the atmo from flood basalt eruptions (which correspond far better with mass extinctions than the far more dramatic and popular impact theories) is basically the same as what we are doing. So that's the underpinning issue, that this Great Dying could recur, in our time.

But of course I'm sure I'll find a way to put an archosauriform (think crocodile like critter but with longer legs for hunting on land) between them and their portal. Or maybe a poisonous theracephalian.

GeoWriter
11-06-2015, 06:29 PM
GeoWriter, that's actually news to me! I had read that the p-t boundary sediments are typically identified by a spike in what they believe are fungal spores and then there's the carbon isotope change. I am interested in geology too (my dad was a mining engineer and liked to joke about the feud between the geologists, the metallurgists, and the engineers) but it's not my strong suit. Is the carbon 14 failure in the mass extinction or limited to earlier Permian sediments?
.

I'm not familiar with the carbon-isotope research you refer to, but I suspect that it was based on stable carbon isotopes, that is, Carbon-12 and Carbon-13, rather than the radioactive Carbon-14. The stable carbon isotopes can reveal different metabolic pathways for living things (for example, grass has different proportions of C-12 and C-13 than does a pine tree). Carbon-14 will decay to below detection limits in about 50000 years, therefore carbon-14 can't be used to study rocks, sediments, or fossils older than that.

Remember, of course, that the book isn't a textbook! But the more science it has as part of a story about people, the more I would like it!

shakeysix
11-06-2015, 06:35 PM
I am interested in fossils, know about the Great Dying. Although I am not an expert I do read about paleo stuff, dig for fossils. (Well, I did more digging when I was younger. Now they have to be pretty close to the surface before I can even see them.) My dad worked on the oil field so I have a grasp of geology. Time travel has always fascinated me and I think the premise is wonderfully original. I would buy and read the novel in a heartbeat.

That said, I must add that I don't read much fiction or anything blockbustery. In my opinion novelists striving for blockbuster status turn out lukewarm versions of blockbuster novels--sameold, sameold. I am pretty much a small press kind of reader. I do think that if the novel is well executed it will endure. --s6

kennyc
11-06-2015, 06:51 PM
Love the idea and fascinated with extinction events. I've written a non-fiction article on them. Posted on my blog - http://kennyachaffin.blogspot.com/2015/06/extinction.html

As far as the story, it will depend on the details. Maybe you can tie it to aliens, extinction events on other life-bearing planets or future/contemporary extinction of humanity....

Keep us posted on your progress!

Jozzy
11-06-2015, 10:24 PM
I like the idea of having to convince current politicians about the reality of climate change...a current hot-button for me personally.

One trick with time travel stories is that the protags have "all the time in the world", as Marty Mcfly put it in BTTF. Keep working on a way to make their research somehow urgent in the modern world.

Whatever you do, keep working! I think there is a way to put it all together, but if you don't try you'll never find it.

CobraMisfit
11-06-2015, 11:42 PM
I'll read just about anything if it's well written.

benbenberi
11-07-2015, 03:18 AM
Another vote for Cool Idea Please Write It.

(My one concern, wrt turning the cool idea into fiction, is that the Great Dying and other extinction events happened over very long timeframes -- ten thousand years is the blink of an eye to a geologist, but it's a bit longer than a human-scale narrative can easily accommodate. Which I think is one reason people get so excited about impact events -- they're not only dramatic but very fast! Your story will have to balance both human and geologic time scales and bind them into the narrative in some cool way.)

lauralam
11-09-2015, 01:25 PM
^One good thing about that is they could possibly bounce around a bit in the past as well? Or yes, focus on a particularly bad sliver of time during the Great Dying.

I'd give it a whirl--it's a cool idea and time travel is always fun. Second the advice that getting the first draft down is the key point! I've often found that the books you're most afraid to write can often become your best books--you work hard, you're trying something new, something that maybe feels a bit beyond your ability. So your ability grows to try and get there.

RetsReds
11-09-2015, 01:50 PM
Sounds cool. I'd read it if it looks like it's well done. :)

Luzoni
11-09-2015, 06:36 PM
Thank you everyone for the great tips and encouragement! Some really awesome tips and ideas here!

So far I'm 6K into it. I'd be farther but I switched main priorities for NaNo to editing an already finished romance. That will only take a few days barring unexpected delays or personal plans. Then it's back to The Great Dying. So far I'd interested all but one character and had something unexpected happen to begin weaving in the grander plot that solves the mystery of it all.

Good point, benbenberi, about geological time. That's definitely an issue with all extinctions. With this one there's different reads of it and how long it took to happen. Anywhere from a million years to as short as 60,000. I've started under the assumption that my time travelers selected their time to be in the thick of things to study the cause and the atmosphere at the time of the extinction. Unfortunately, and I've already had my MC and support characters note this, that means the landscape looks ruined, more than their present time frame by a huge factor with animals that spend their whole lives wheezing and out of breath and entire forests rotting away. So, unless they hop around and document pre extinction for comparison, politicians of the present could say, well, that's awful but it obviously our situation isn't anywhere near that bad so clearly we don't have to take drastic action or be afraid.

iwannabepublished
11-09-2015, 06:57 PM
I agree that this is an interesting topic but you have to be very careful in creating a plot that does not in any way mirror stories like the ones you've mentioned. There have also been other stories involving the butterfly effect that you should avoid. And, of course, the standard time paradox issue - how can you go back in time and kill your grandfather when he was a small child? There have also been lots of stories incorporating aliens instigating life on earth and simple accidents of meteor strikes initiating (and ending) life. So, what are you left with? As others have mentioned, incorporating too much hard science might turn off your audience. In my humble opinion, you have to create your story based on some interesting and unique conflict between the characters that travel back in time to do whatever you decide to have them do. But, as I have said, avoiding any similarity between stories already told is going to be very tough. Good Luck.

kennyc
11-09-2015, 07:05 PM
I agree that this is an interesting topic but you have to be very careful in creating a plot that does not in any way mirror stories like the ones you've mentioned. There have also been other stories involving the butterfly effect that you should avoid. And, of course, the standard time paradox issue - how can you go back in time and kill your grandfather when he was a small child? There have also been lots of stories incorporating aliens instigating life on earth and simple accidents of meteor strikes initiating (and ending) life. So, what are you left with? As others have mentioned, incorporating too much hard science might turn off your audience. In my humble opinion, you have to create your story based on some interesting and unique conflict between the characters that travel back in time to do whatever you decide to have them do. But, as I have said, avoiding any similarity between stories already told is going to be very tough. Good Luck.

Every story has already been written. It's all in how you tell the tale.

Luzoni
11-09-2015, 07:43 PM
You're right about time travel paradoxes, iwanna, and I've got a plan for dealing with that. But, I disagree on having to focus on a human conflict tension between the characters or whatnot for the sake of "originality". To my knowledge no one has done anything like this with the Permian. The vast majority of people don't know anything about prehistory except DINOSAURS. I personally believe focusing merely on character conflicts would be boring. I just read Ben Bova's "New Earth" which should have been fascinating, but I spent most of my time shaking my head at how little the "scientists" seemed to know. Because I'd basically figured everything out, and I was asking questions these characters should've been asking and just never did because...plot device. There was no story really, just character conflicts as egos got in the way. It was really dumb actually. I'm astounded I finished it.

So, in short, while I will have some conflict created by characters themselves, the primary focus is going to be on science and the environment and the critters. I dint think it will risk being similar to Timeline or Jurassic Park much at all.

scifi_boy2002
11-09-2015, 11:24 PM
That sounds interesting.

Maxx
11-10-2015, 12:12 AM
You're right about time travel paradoxes, iwanna, and I've got a plan for dealing with that. But, I disagree on having to focus on a human conflict tension between the characters or whatnot for the sake of "originality". To my knowledge no one has done anything like this with the Permian. The vast majority of people don't know anything about prehistory except DINOSAURS. I personally believe focusing merely on character conflicts would be boring. I just read Ben Bova's "New Earth" which should have been fascinating, but I spent most of my time shaking my head at how little the "scientists" seemed to know. Because I'd basically figured everything out, and I was asking questions these characters should've been asking and just never did because...plot device. There was no story really, just character conflicts as egos got in the way. It was really dumb actually. I'm astounded I finished it.

So, in short, while I will have some conflict created by characters themselves, the primary focus is going to be on science and the environment and the critters. I dint think it will risk being similar to Timeline or Jurassic Park much at all.

It's a great idea and the Permian angle is super cool. I'm not sure how closely the Permian crisis was to the current climate disaster. You might want to look at an even more obscure event, the PETM (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleocene%E2%80%93Eocene_Thermal_Maximum). Closer to the present etc. I think you should consider writing it more like a horror novel in that the journey into the nightmarish past should be really nightmarish and the project should be full of very unstable people. And then the time paradoxes should blow up the current planet etc.

Luzoni
11-10-2015, 01:08 AM
Maxx, I'm actually somewhat familiar with the PETM. I'm not really interested in doing a horror thing with this where the characters are unstable, for a couple of reasons, but primarily because I've always envisioned this as a story of scientists sent on an official investigation. That means they'd be evaluated for temperament, like astronauts. Unless I say the time travel process itself causes mental instability or psychosis, there's not much room for that kind of conflict.

It is an interesting idea, but just not what I envisioned.