Dou­ble Takes

David Lang­ford en­joys some lit­er­ary faux pas

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Opin­ion -

Along time ago in a pub­lish­ing in­dus­try far, far away, mag­i­cally gifted Jedi known as copy ed­i­tors would of­ten save au­thors from se­ri­ous prose em­bar­rass­ment. Alas, too many copy ed­i­tors fell prey to the Dark Side of Down­siz­ing, and writ­ers now need to take more care. Or their favourite sen­tences are show­cased in my news­let­ter... Can you imag­ine these noises? “He walked in and heard a sound like a tomb.” (Lee Child, Trip­wire.) “An eerie sound­less shriek of ter­ror ripped from the con­vulsed shroud.” (Terry Brooks, The Sword Of Shan­nara.) “The sound of Ed­die’s voice had been an in­jec­tion through the ear.” (Wil­liam McIl­van­ney, The Pa­pers Of Tony Veitch.) “...a noise so soft and in­vis­i­ble it wouldn’t mean any­thing un­less you knew what it was.” (John Burn­ham Schwartz, Reser­va­tion Road.)

Did these chaps con­sult a dic­tio­nary? “Luck­ily, the wall be­side me was ir­reg­u­lar with pro­tu­ber­ances, and I was able to pack my­self into one of them.” (Hugh B Cave, “The Door Of Doom”.) “Ru­golo glanced at the green­ness car­pet­ing the plain, which he had taken to be a va­ri­ety of grass or moss, forms of ver­biage com­mon on many worlds...” (Bar­ring­ton J Bay­ley, Eye Of Ter­ror.)

How many peo­ple can do these tricks? “Un­der his beard, Torin frowned.” (Keith RA DeCan­dido, Dragon Precinct.) “Ar­ca­dia’s head moved sharply back of it­self.” (Isaac Asi­mov, Sec­ond Foun­da­tion.) “...slowly a crim­son flush spread around his ears. Even­tu­ally his ear­lobes, un­usu­ally large and awk­ward, were il­lu­mi­nated like traf­fic lights.” (Anne Holt, Death Of The De­mon.) “A hand took his, pressed it firmly, looked him straight in the eye.” (Neil Gaiman, Amer­i­can Gods.) “He rose to his spare el­bows.” (Charles E Gan­non, Fire With Fire.)

Know any pets like this? “Like a cat scent­ing an ap­proach­ing storm, she had left with a pair of suit­cases ...” (Chris Fowler, Soho Black.) “His gin­ger hair with its gen­er­ous dashes of grey sat on his head like an elec­tri­fied cat.” (JD Robb, Strangers In Death.) From Miss Man­ners’ Book Of Ex­treme Eti­quette: “But one does not scream with a beer bar­rel tap in­serted deep into one’s jugu­lar vein...” (Jack Oleck, The Vault Of Hor­ror.) One cer­tainly does not. One has stan­dards. Whose eyes can do these tricks? “Dorothy’s eyes were turned in­ward to her long-buried me­mories.” (De­bra Gins­berg, The Neigh­bors Are Watch­ing.) “The eyes fol­low me down the street, pinch­ing the back of my neck.” (Veron­ica Roth, In­sur­gent.)

Cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment? “If they were cap­tured wear­ing the en­emy’s uni­form, they would prob­a­bly be tor­tured to death be­fore be­ing shot.” (Giuseppe Filotto, “Red Space”.) Pow­er­fully evoca­tive sim­i­les and metaphors? “They stared at me, squint­ing as if I were hold­ing a su­per­nova.” (Cather­ine Asaro, Un­dercity.) “...a face pink and stern as frozen straw­berry cus­tard.” (Ayn Rand, Ideal.)

What would doc­tors make of these symp­toms? “Not for the first time, a cold fist ap­peared deep within her stom­ach.” (Becky Cham­bers, The Long Way To A Small, An­gry Planet.) “His brain be­gan to sway on its base, as the land­slide of pos­si­bil­i­ties un­reeled be­fore it.” (AE van Vogt, “Jug­ger­naut”.) With­out com­ment: “Con­nie had a wry, com­pact in­tel­li­gence, a firm lit­tle cli­toris of dis­cern­ment and sen­si­tiv­ity ...” (Jonathan Franzen, Free­dom.) “Daniel sat back, steepling his long fin­gers across his waist­coat. He bought them from a lit­tle shop in Brix­ton Mar­ket.” (Paul McAu­ley, Some­thing Com­ing Through.) Enough, enough!

David Lang­ford is, as usual, flee­ing a mob of out­raged au­thors.


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