Monday, November 23, 2009

Readin', Ritin', 'n R-Nitpickin'

I'm a sci fi geek. I've read, and still read, oodles of sci fi and fantasy. One of the best/worst things in that particular genre, in my opinion, is the franchisable "universe" idea. The most egregious examples being, of course, the Star Trek and Star Wars branches. I think it's both "best" and "worst" because it provides an easy way into reading from the more prevalent and passive media of television and movies, but is also inherently more constrained and less original.

So now the nitpicking, because I don't feel like gloating over the religion of Global Warming's recent reception of a Hand Spear to the Throat: Double Damage - YY, and because I don't feel like panicking over the Senate's decision to open the steaming diaper that is the "Health Care" debate, and I don't quite have a clever title yet for my upcoming "I just saw the new Trek movie and I must pee on it a little" post.

But I do have a bee in my bonnet about a Star Trek: Next Generation book that's over ten years old. Do I know how to prioritize, or what?

So I'm internetting around and I twig to the fact that apparently some not-obscure scifi author had written a Trek book about Picard using a second Doomsday Machine (the giant ice cream cone that ate planets and an unshaven Matt Decker in the second season of the original show) he finds to smoke a Borg cube. This was back in the days when the Borg were still menacing and nigh-invincible, so you'd pretty much need a planet-whacker to have a hope of smacking them around. So anyway, I check the local second hand book dealer and sure enough, I find one.

Now, instead of the "Picard and co. find another ice cream cone o' doom and trick it into blowing itself and a nasty Borg cube up" story I was looking for, I got a "Picard & co. are found by a super-better-follow-on model of the ice cream cone which of course turns out to have been made to fight the Borg in the first place and is hunting Borg cubes, and oh, it's run by ghosts (yeah, ghosts)" story that I wasn't looking for at all. And Data gets his arm ripped off, but it's not a big deal. Altogether I found it to be a disappointing offering. The Next Gen crew is remarkably passive and relatively inconsequential throughout the story, and it suffers from what I call the UNGUT; the UN-Grand Unified Theory that everyone and everything in an epic story arc must be related closely somehow. The Star Wars universe is smaller and less interesting when we find out that Yoda knows Chewbacca, and the Star Trek universe suffers similarly when a terrifying historical piece of bad-assery turns out to be originally intended to solve the very problem facing Our Heroes "today".

In my opinion. Anyway. I can put reviews like the above on Amazon, and a general review of that book is not my point. My point is really "where are the editors and proofers?" Ignoring them, where is common sense? To whit: In the book the author refers to a metal, implying great strength, he calls "castrodinium". This is obviously an attempt as fan service, calling back to the original episode "Balance of Terror", the Run Silent, Run Deep story with the Romulans. During the episode at a briefing after a Federation outpost has been destroyed, Spock brings out a piece of the outpost's armor plating recovered from debris. He calls it by name, identifies it as the strongest alloy known, and then shatters it with his hand to show how big an ass-beater their opponent's new weapon is, because it alters the molecular structure. Nice little scene, effective, and the material he referred to was "cast rodinium".

Cast. As in poured hot into a mold then cooled. Like cast iron, they have cast rodinium. Not castrodinium like it was named after a bearded island dictator. Cast. Sheesh. You'd think a scifi author would be able to pick up on something like that.

In a similar mode, switching geek-gears to Star Wars now, one of the original bonus print items to come out of Star Wars was the Star Wars Sketchbook, wherein budding geeks like me could drool, ooh, and ahh over various and sundry production and design sketches showing various stages of Escape Pods, X-Wings, and Millenium Falcons being created or dead-ended. All hail Joe Johnston. In the blurb introducing the Millenium Falcon drawings, somebody wrote some text about how the MF was heavily modifed now but probably started life as a "stock light freighter". Years later West End Games got the license to do a roleplaying game for Star Wars and gadgets and vehicles of course figured prominently. One of the ones the smuggler characters could go for was the Stock Light Freighter. Once again, where were the editors? Where was the thought that, since the assumptions is that the vehicle doesn't start modified, that it's already "stock"? Gah! It's not a "stock light freighter", it's a stock "light freighter". That one's bothered me for years, and I had to get it off my chest.

And Mr. Zahn, Cloud City floats free - it's not on a long pole that extends to the ground. Again, editors asleep at the wheel.

Yes, I'm a supreme geek.


Kelly McCrady said...

Can you say "Books produced too fast because money is the bottom line"? As an editor of scifi/fantasy books, I thank you for pointing things like this out, but remind you that we are human and may not know everything--or even know that a factoid made up by the author was taken from somewhere and needs to be looked up. This is a reminder to editors to look everything up--especially in already established worldbuilding. Sheesh.

Atom Smasher said...

Oh, it's nothing more than a silly pet peeve of mine, and I blame both author and editor equally and stir in a little extra blame on top for proofers (and even typesetters who "fix" things that don't need to be fixed). That's easy for me to do because I've never done any of it. And as I see it, one has to be a stark raving geek to even notice such triviality. But... niche fiction is built on trivialities and purchased by stark raving geeks so I think it's going to get noticed more.

Correia's "Monster Hunters International", for instance, is a book written by a gun guy for other gun guys. Errors in gun trivia WILL be noticed.

Regardless, thanks for editing!

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