Friday, 22 August 2014

Review: Sargasso of Space

Sargasso of Space
Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Andre Norton was one of the first, if not the first, SF authors I read, at the age of ten or eleven. Our school library had several of her books, including this one and its sequels, and I read them multiple times and loved them. When I saw that it was cheap on Amazon, I picked it up, wondering how well it would stand up to an adult re-reading.

As a story, it stood up surprisingly well. I went in expecting exactly what I got: a pulpish space opera boys' adventure. I use the term "boys' adventure" advisedly; from the evidence of this book, you would conclude that only the male gender existed in the galaxy. Even the ship's cat is male. And the author felt compelled to call herself "Andrew North" in order to write it. It was 1955; it would be about another decade before very many people said, "Wait a minute, SF can be by, for, and about women, too," though C.L. Moore had been pioneering that movement since the 1930s. Setting this aside, though, it's a story with suspense, excitement, and an underdog protagonist - though Dane doesn't, in this first volume, solve very many of the problems that the crew encounters. It's very much a team effort.

The crew is, at least, racially diverse, though there are stereotypical moments: the "negro" character says, at one point, "Oh, Lawdy!" and the crewman of Japanese descent, though many generations removed from Japan, is short, practices martial arts, and speaks in a formal cadence. But they are full characters, not just stereotypes, and take effective action to forward the plot.

What really let the book down for me was the editing. Firstly, the editing of the original; Norton is the mistress of the comma splice, and doesn't have much idea of how to use a comma in general. (She also says "chaffing" when she means "chafing".) What really degraded my reading experience, though, and lost the book the fourth star, is the editing - or complete lack of editing - of the scanned version published by Open Road.

When a book is scanned - particularly an old, cheaply printed book - there are often errors of character recognition. It takes a good going-over from an experienced copy editor to get it into publishable shape. Open Road appears to have skipped this step, even the abbreviated version of it where you throw the text into MS Word and run a spell-check, since there are a number of instances of misread words which aren't in any dictionary.

I marked over 80 errors in this relatively short book, and I wasn't even counting most of the comma issues, or the instances where a word that was broken across two lines in the printed book has come out with a hyphen and a space in the middle of it. Taking those in as well, there are probably more than a hundred places where my attention was distracted from the story by an easily avoidable error.

The CEO of Open Road was formerly the CEO of HarperCollins, the large publisher which, more than any other, features in my Goodreads "seriously-needs-editing" shelf (and has produced the worst-edited books on that shelf that come from a major publisher). It appears that the same lack of editorial excellence - in fact, lack of basic editorial competence - is in place at her new venture as well. Accordingly, I won't be buying any more of the several Norton books which Open Road has available for sale, and I'm somewhat dreading my next read, another from the same publisher.

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