17 January 2006

Review of "Rad Decision"

So, I read Mr. Aach's book. To summarize, the book makes an entertaining thriller novel, with the advantage of having technical information that we can be fairly sure is correct given that Mr. Aach is evidently an engineer. As a literary work, however, it has several flaws.

First, it reads more like a novelized screenplay than a book. I get the distinct impression that Mr. Aach was picturing the film as he wrote. I know a lot of books that get published nowadays are like that, but I don't enjoy reading that sort of thing. One particularly annoying result is that the book jumps back and forth between characters, and in the first few chapters, it also switches time periods heavily. While the time period is given, and of course all the characters have names, I had a lot of difficulty keeping track of the ten or so principal characters, their ages relative to each other, their roles at the plant, their relationships with each other, and their family members.

I see this effect as a result of writing it like a screenplay, because with visual cues as one would have in a film, keeping track of the people would be much easier. I have read books that effectively switch between different foci for third person limited (Corelli's Mandolin comes to mind), but this one doesn't.

The early sections in which the reader learns about the power plant through the characters are somewhat pedantic, but necessary in order to understand later events. I'm not sure how that could have been done better, given the amount of technical knowledge that needed to be imparted to the reader. The story lagged quite a bit at this point.

Mechanically, the writing is better than a lot of published authors' (Christopher Rowley comes to mind). I spotted only a handful of mistakes, all of which I think were simply typos.

The climax did have me on the edge of my seat. I found myself feeling just a little sorry for the KGB agent, and rooting for the characters to pull through. But as the story enters the denouement, Mr. Aach kills off a couple of characters in a gratuitous, poorly-written sequence. I had the distinct impression that he killed them only because he felt the story needed some deaths.

I am very grateful, however, that he didn't inflict any sex scenes upon us. A lot of mainstream authors (Harry Turtledove comes to mind) seem to think that every novel requires at least one explicit sex scene that has nothing to do with the plot, and that said scenes must include ridiculous statements like "He saluted her without using his hands." (That's an actual quotation from one of Turtledove's Great War books.)

In short, Rad Decision was moderately entertaining, but does have some flaws, and starts off very slowly. So, read, or don't read. It's up to you. (To paraphrase Warren Bell on the Corner.)


Anonymous Michael said...

I am very grateful, however, that he didn't inflict any sex scenes upon us.

Uh huh, why am I not surprised, Ms. Too Repressed To Show A Little Skin.

So, read, or don't read.

No gratuitous sex? Let me think this over.

12:47 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

First, it reads more like a novelized screenplay than a book.

Is this starting to piss you off? I mean, half of what you read today sounds exactly like the whole thing was written as a pitch to some Hollywood producer. You can't write a book that way. A book has to create the imagery, the action, the mood and the personalities in your head. The unique quality of a book, as opposed to a movie, is that a book requires you to imbue the story with your own personality and experiences. With a well-crafted book, the story is never the same for any two people.

/end rant

12:57 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Peel said...

Actually, Michael, my gratitude was more because I could tell that his sex would have been atrocious. He would have given "Like Zorro" a run for its money.

Yes, you're exactly right. I hate to read screenplay pitches. After thinking about it overnight, I'm downgrading "read, or don't read" to "don't bother, although there are some interesting bits about nuclear power plants."

9:55 AM  
Blogger Chestertonian Rambler said...

"With a well-crafted book, the story is never the same for any two people."

And that's not true of movies?

Admittedly, a movie will look the same to any two people, but that doesn't mean it will be the same.

Just look at various reviews for Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. If you can still honestly tell me afterwards that all those reviewers had the same experience, then I'll eat my smallest hat.

11:24 AM  
Blogger James Aach said...

Wow, that was fast. Thanks. I appreciate your fair assessment of my novel. The positive comments sprinkled throughout the review were nice (of course).

A couple of comments on things you mentioned: This novel was written as a techno-thriller. This genre invariably seems to read like a screenplay at times (versus a literary novel). However, I didn't have a screenplay in mind - quite the opposite - - I’m not sure a movie could handle this topic very well, as it requires a lot of technical backstory to get the reader up to speed, as your review indicates. (But, still, I know what you mean). I skipped the procreation thing because it wouldn't have been in any way central to the plot - so my skills (or lack thereof) in this literary area remain untapped for now. Regarding the deaths, they may seem gratuitous at first (not an reasonable view on a first read), but if one considers the panic involved in such an event, the likelihood of a bad car accident is pretty high. I just did it featuring characters you’ve already met.

In the long run, if you came out of Rad Decision being reasonably well entertained and understanding the real world of nuclear power a little better - - then I'm content. (For instance - perhaps, while watching the upcoming ‘West Wing’ episode featuring a nuclear plant accident, you’ll understand how silly their take on it is.) Energy is a multi-zillion dollar issue facing the country, so understanding it can be useful.

Again, thanks for the time you spent doing this, and the honest assessment. James Aach

4:57 PM  
Blogger James Aach said...

Bad typo. Try: "Regarding the deaths, they may seem gratuitous at first (not an UNreasonable view on a first read).... JA

4:59 PM  
Anonymous someone said...

Sign an author should never try to write a sex (or, indeed, romance) scene:

He calls it "the procreation thing"

5:11 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Peel said...

LOL, someone.

James - take my comments with a grain of salt, as I'm not a big fan of techno-thrillers, primarily because of the "screenplay effect."

I completely agree that a bad car accident is very likely in such a situation, but I thought its timing (during the denouement) and its featuring primary characters made it gratuitous. I see why you did it, but it felt unnecessary to me.

Anyway, I was reasonably well entertained, so thanks.

5:40 PM  
Blogger James Aach said...

Fair enough, and thanks again.

Time to go back to my draft novel about people trying to pass on their genes in ways that may be shocking to readers. JA

5:44 PM  
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