Thursday, 13 June 2013

Review: Rodger Dodger

Rodger Dodger
Rodger Dodger by Tonia Brown

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So the problem I have with steampunk fiction is this: far, far too often, a great concept is let down by poor execution. Unfortunately, this book is an example.

I was hopeful when I noticed that an editor was named on the title page, but there are significant editing issues. Having been an editor in the past, I know that when a manuscript is bad, it's hard to catch all the errors, but I would have expected "apposed" and "axels" to be picked up by a spellcheck. I would also have hoped that an editor would have caught the fact that the main character's name is spelled incorrectly four times.

Then there's "condensate" instead of "condense", "aiming there weapons" instead of "their", "many a folk", "a might bit" instead of "a mite bit", "I suppose its part my fault" (should be "it's") and "he switched the guns places" (should be "guns'"). There are several incompletely revised sentences, too, that change grammatical direction partway through.

That's all at the basic level of copy editing. At the next level of editing, I would expect the editor to pick up that the author is using "locomotive" to mean the whole train (it just means the part that pulls the rest of the train), and may be doing something similar with "bogie" and possibly "holster".

An editor with a good general knowledge might also point out that the supposedly English Professor has a very American-sounding name, uses the phrase "I guess" instead of "I suppose", and in fact has nothing about him that is remotely English.

She might think to check for anachronisms, too. Now, I expect some technological anachronisms in steampunk, since that's more or less the basis of the genre, but sociological anachronisms annoy me. The main character was in the American Civil War, and someone he knew in that war says it's been five or six years since he saw him, which places this story not much later than 1870.

Yet the text refers to both "steroids" and "hallucinogens". A few seconds searching the Google Books Ngram Viewer, which goes through a large number of English books looking for words you specify and shows when they started to be used, tells me that "steroids" was first used around 1935, and "hallucinogens" around 1955. Now, this may be deliberate anachronism for purposes of worldbuilding, but the main character is also described as reading the novel Ulysses. Presumably this is Joyce's novel, which was published in the 1920s.

Now, it's not all bad. The train is cool. The nine-shooters are kind of cool. There's a nice piece of description of the absent-minded professor as 'the kind of man who remained so unaware of his surroundings that he could be ambushed by a ten-piece brass band playing “Nearer My God to Thee.”' But it's too little, for me, to make up for all the issues. Besides which, I usually say of novellas that they're too short and I wanted more. This novella, I felt, dragged. Not much happens in it, and it could probably have been told a lot more crisply.

The ebook is based on a website, and has "return to top" links at the end of each chapter. I'm not sure what the point of these is (they take you back to the table of contents), since it's a linear story and nobody would read it out of order. The title page mentions an illustrator as well as an editor, but the ebook doesn't have illustrations, so the illustrator's contribution is as notable by its absence as the editor's.

Overall, this is another piece of steampunk fiction that could have been good if it had been better executed. I'm growing a little disillusioned with how many of those there are.

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