Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Orca maligned

There's a certain best-selling Australian author of thrillers (MR), whose novels many people find un-put-downable. I am not of their number. I am currently listening to his 'groundbreaking' novel set in Antarctica (or should I say 'icebreaking' he he) as an audiobook, and I'm finding it both woefully badly written and simply ridiculous.

Now I know MR is a mega millionaire and I'm an aspiring wannabe, but I mean, really. How on earth do so many people read his books? I've heard him say he deliberately writes using sentences especially crafted to be read quickly, to have readers flicking the pages in feverish anticipation.

Since when do tension-dissipating info dumps, or a gazillion compound adjectival phrases achieve that?

If I have to listen to the 'fur-lined hood' described as such one more time . . . or hear about the the 'ice-covered walls' . . . OMG, the repetition. The superlatives. The clunky clunky phrasing. The stating the obvious five times. Eeeek.

But -- as if that wasn't bad enough -- it's not only the sentences that stick out. There's a shocking lack of research in some parts. And if I can recognise this about certain subjects, how can I trust that the rest of it is correct?

The main thing at this early stage that I'm irate about is his treatment of orca (killer whales). Now I know that orca are predators, but they are generally considered to be not harmful to humans, with the only exceptions being isolated events with orca in captivity. They are part of the dolphin family -- beautiful creatures -- and they eat mostly fish or seals. Yet MR has the 'killers' acting like jaws on steroids, chomping down on people like mega sharks with gaping maws full of razor-sharp teeth.

Because I simply don't believe orca would act this way, all the violence, tension, drama, and terror in the scene is non-existent. In fact, I want to laugh.

It's a really good example of why research is important. I can't take any aspect of this book seriously now. MR has completely lost my trust. There can be no more willful suspension of disbelief. There can only be suspicion and laughter.

Sorry to all the MR fans out there.


  1. I think I read this book about 10 years ago, and remember it being absolutely awful for similar reasons as you mentioned. However, if I remember correctly, my dad loved it. I guess it just goes to show that there is a market for this type of 'junk fiction'- or as the MR website says, '... a perfect blend of Hollywood and Literature.'(!)

  2. Hmm, not sure 'literature' is the word I'd use! (And I know PLENTY of people who love this book!)

    On another but related subject, I thought of you when I came across the phrase 'nuclear magnetic resonance' badly out of context in a different SF/fantasy novel I am currently reading. The author (clearly non-scientific) seemed to be bandying around every tech term she could find, simply to make it sound like Science Fiction. (The book is mainly fantasy, so in this case I could laugh and move on . . .)