Derelict, by LJ Cohen (20:21)

IOD-DerelictToday we see that important character abilities should be demonstrated before they become pivotal story points.

What I gleaned about the story: A young girl feels trapped by an oppressive father and life on a remote asteroid station, so she takes matters into her own hands, and refits the old derelict ship parked outside, as her ticket to adventure. (I’m guessing on that last bit.)

Find this book on Amazon.

WTF #1: Missing commas

Analysis: When it comes to long sentences with dependent clauses, commas are really helpful signposts that help me parse the story effectively, while reading at speed. And in this case, I found a number of those helpful signposts had been stolen by vandals, leaving me to find my own way, and having to slow down to ask the locals for directions. About the third or fourth time it happened, I actually noticed consciously, and immersion broke.

WTF #2: Ro gets hired to help out with engineering, as an intern, and then seems to have total access  

Analysis: Our protagonist, Ro, who is still a minor, is given a position aboard station, acting as an engineering intern. That part is fine. And I get that she’s supposed to be a super-genius with computers and tech stuff. But still, she is put into a demanding, high-security technical job and then given absolutely no supervision. She’s free to see all the jobs waiting to be done and then to choose her own tasks. And this is on her very first day.

Also, as an engineering intern, we would expect that the station engineer would at least be notified of her appointment. And he just happens to be Ro’s father – the guy who is a total control freak about her life. Yet he makes no appearance, and offers no resistance to her joining his team.

Finally, all of this is predicated on what we are told about that super-genius computer-fu she has. But we are never shown any of this. We don’t get to judge her qualifications for ourselves. And when the commander offers her the position, citing her “historical services to the station,” we’re not told what those were, either.

So at the root, this is a giant tell that feels implausible to me, and really needed a show component. We’re being asked to swallow the entire premise of the novel without allowing us to see her abilities for ourselves and feel good about the situation.

Note: As was discussed online after this article originally posted, let me clarify that I’m talking about unusual skills here – things that the character in question would not normally be expected to have. I don’t need to be shown that a boxer is extremely strong, or that a sniper has extremely good eyesight, but if the guy bagging your groceries can kill with his mind, I need to see that demonstrated somewhere before it becomes integral to the plot.

WTF #3: …he felt his own expression shift to something more genuine. 

Analysis:  I can accept that his expression became more genuine. But he felt it become so? I know what was meant here, but it stood out for me, as though he could feel the genuineness as a sort of tingle in his flesh. And this is something I see a lot of in indie fiction. In an attempt to keep the writing interesting, authors often reach for more “writerly” ways of saying simple things. Especially common things, like changing expressions and moods. And in the process, they often make the character seem preternaturally self-aware, as happened here. But in this case, we’re talking about a teenage boy who’s been caught in a place he shouldn’t be, doing something he shouldn’t be doing. And worse, caught by a pretty girl who is making him feel entirely self conscious while he is also trying frantically to mask his feelings. In the immediacy of such a moment, he should be feeling all kinds of conflicting things, but he should also have zero conscious awareness of it. The distancing implied by allowing him to notice his expression change belies the intensity of his actual feelings in the situation.

Note: Despite my immersion breaks, the book is very popular, and I can see its appeal – especially for younger readers, who may not care as much (or know as much) about how the adult world usually works. Certainly, the dream of taking your fate into your own hands and building a rocket-ship future for yourself is one we can all relate to. And I fully intend to read more of this one, to see if it succeeds in capturing that sense of unbound wonder that I recall from the SF tales of my youth.

Dark & Day, by Israel Grey (13:56)
Games of Chance, by William L. Hahn (20:51)

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.