Monday, September 19, 2016

Beyond Ice

If there's one thing that most self-published books have in common, it's the lack of editorial guidance. I'm not talking about checking for spelling errors. I mean the sort of editing that can be brutal to a fragile writer's ego.

If you can get beyond the sorts of mistakes that creep into a self-published work to find the gems within, that's fine. If errors make you want to whip out a blue pencil, you might want to stick to commercial works.

Beyond Ice is self-published. So, let's get through the technical problems.

First, it's written mostly in present tense. Most books these days are written in past tense, and that's what readers expect. It's what's normal. If a writer chooses to write in present tense (and can do it skillfully), the book should stay in present tense. But this book bounced around, and every time it leaped into past tense, I would be jolted out of the story. A good editor would have caught that. Whether most readers will notice ... I really don't know.

Second, this book suffers from what I call CSI Syndrome. This is the plot device where characters have a conversation simply to give the audience facts, but the people in the conversation probably know these facts and don't have any need to discuss them. Done well, it works. You find out facts you need and the story moves on seamlessly. Done poorly, you're left wondering if these people have some sort of mental disorder that makes them tediously explain things to people when the people already know everything you're telling them.

The CSI shows would often have the main character go into a lab and the lab technician would explain something to the CSI. Or the CSI would explain something to an intern or civilian. Most of the time it worked well enough, but there were times when it stretched credulity a little too far.

In this book, there aren't a whole lot of extra characters who can explain (or be explained to) so you have two guys who have worked together for years and set up a secret lab for experiments who say things like "But what if the power goes out?" and "That's what we bought the generators for!" Um ... I knew there were generators. I'm pretty sure these guys didn't need to tell each other why they bought the generators.

Worse yet, a power outage never happened - and it wasn't even threatened - so this exchange didn't move the plot forward.

Other times, it was family members having these sorts of conversations. It was strange and unnatural.

On television, you have the choice of showing action or having dialog. But in a book, there can be that narrator-voice who explains things to the reader. Much of the conversations in the book could have been handled outside of dialog.

There are other conversations that didn't need to exist at all. Several times, characters went out for lunch, and we're treated to, "Hi my name is *whatever* and I'll be your server. Can I get you a drink?" and this trudges onward through the characters ordering whatever it is they order. If one of them came down with food poisoning from a bad anchovy, their lunch order might make sense. But otherwise it's just filler.

And ... since I'm talking about dialog, much of it wasn't realistic. People don't talk like that. They just don't. I have a feeling someone read a first draft of this book, told the writer more dialog was needed, and this was the result. Oh well.

But, maybe it's just me. After working for years as an editor, I see things like this and my editor brain shifts into gear and I want to start fixing things. So I lose interest in the plot. It's like artists who start looking at brush strokes in a painting and miss the fact that Waldo is still hiding in there. Forest for the trees, and all that. I can't turn off that editor-brain, but people who can, or who don't care about technical issues, are probably more interested in the story, yes?

So ... the story.

Hmmm. It gets off to a really slow start. The first chapter could fall right out of the book and we'd lose nothing. It almost feels like it was tacked on after the rest of the book was written. And here's the thing that struck me as really odd. There were three references to a particular brand of insulated beverage container (I'm not going to name the product) that listed the brand name along with the little registered trademark symbol. Who on earth does that in a novel? There was no need to mention the brand name, it had nothing to do with the plot, and the trademark symbol was completely out of place. I have to wonder if that was a paid placement.

Call me skeptical. Go right ahead.

But that might have been just a quirk. Like the use of footnotes. Which was also very weird in a novel.

So anyway, it started slow. Way slow for the first 100 pages or so. There's a woman with what might be a terminal disease. She becomes interested in having herself frozen after she dies. Brrrrrrr.

Meanwhile, two scientists build a secret lab. They have been able to freeze dead mice and bring them back to life but they think that the public will be upset if they freeze live mice and bring them back to life. And bringing these live frozen mice back to life is somehow more difficult that bringing dead frozen mice back to life, so that's the focus of their work at the beginning. Okayyyyyyy ......

So they build this lab in an underground bunker with a general store above for loggers that acts as a disguise for the lab. They move on from mice to gerbils and other rodents to finally freezing and thawing a monkey.

Anyway, these stories run parallel to each other until the woman goes to a symposium where one of the reclusive scientists is giving a speech. And then it starts getting tangled. The woman disappears. Ruh roh. Where could she be?

Towards the end of the book, it fast-forwards by about 20 years and I couldn't help thinking that some of those 20 years might have been much more interesting in terms of fleshing the book out than the first 100 pages. But that's just me.

The story, once it gets going, is pretty good. I liked the good guys enough, but I sort of wish I hated the bad guys a little more. They seemed like reasonably nice guys (who are way too concerned about what "tree huggers" will think of them) up until they do the heinous thing they do ...

The reviews on Amazon (all [both] of them ...) are positive, so maybe normal readers aren't as bothered by the technical issues as I am. Both of them actually call it a page turner. So there ya go. I thought it was slow, they thought it was enthralling. Everyone's got an opinion.

If you read this one, I'd be curious to know what you think.

I received the book at no cost to me.

1 comment:

  1. Great review! Sounds like you'd make an excellent editor for folks looking to polish up self-published books, if you'd ever want to add another hat to your hat tree.


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