Murder out of the Blue, by Steve Turnbull (10:00)

IOD-MurderOutOfTheBlueToday the treadmill reveals that even a well imagined world remains locked behind a plate of glass in tell mode.

What I gleaned about the story: An anti-grav luxury skyliner prepares to set sail with an assorted cast of Victorian-style characters.

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WTF #1: The entire first chapter is in tell mode.

Analysis: I picked up a sort of Agatha Christie meets H. G. Wells sensibility in this world. The technology appears to be well thought out, and there are definite signs of the class barriers and the rich sort of petty personal politics that are the mainstay of Victorian society drama. But it was like watching it all unfold behind glass, in a diorama at a human zoo. The entire first chapter filtered all of these experiences and judgements through the eyes of the protagonist. And having already been weighed and judged, in that superior manner of the British upper classes, there were scant few crumbs left for a commoner like me to judge for myself.

WTF #2: The immersion threshold was not met.

Analysis: As I noted in this previous IOD post, books need to establish immersion within the first 10 minutes. Otherwise, I’m wouldn’t actually be timing a book’s ability to keep me immersed. And in this case, despite one or two flashes of interesting technical description, I hadn’t actually sunk into the world and begun to feel it for myself by the time the 10-minute bell sounded.

The prose was actually very good. The language was appropriate to the setting, the descriptions of characters seemed effective, with just a few details sketched in to give shape without belaboring. All very promising, had it not been for the too-distant narration mode.

Notes: Both the chapters and the scenes are numbered, like sections and subsections in an academic paper. This may have been done to mimic some stylistic convention of the era, but I found it distracting to have sequential numbers on each scene.

Something else I noted this time out was my reading speed. I normally read at a rate of 450 wpm, which drops into the 375-400 range on the treadmill. But by my estimate, I was down near 250 wpm on this book. And since the prose itself was not an issue, and there was nothing unusual about the font or the text layout, I suspect it is owing to the “tell” problem. I’ll have to monitor this in the future, but I wonder if maybe, when I have trouble slipping into the world, I do a lot of back-scanning – rereading passages to see if I’ve missed something.


The King's Sword, by C. J. Brightley (8:27)
Athame, by Morgan Alreth (34:40)

About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is uniquely unqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.