Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Vanished 3: Bad Points and Conclusion

And now, the bad points in Kathryn Mackel’s Vanished. I should also point out that this post is longer than the last one simply because I have to explain the concepts, not because the negatives are more numerous or important than the positives.

Once again we have silliness with explosives. I knew trouble was afoot when I encountered "plastique explosives." "Plastique," yes; "plastic explosives," certainly. But don't mix the two terms, even though they're synonyms. Writers need at least a quick overview of these topics.

In the story, people are killed by a knapsack partly filled with plastic explosives and set in a handy copse. No: for one thing, the plants would actually absorb some of the blast, and for another thing, explosions alone aren't that lethal. Reality check: "The main killing power of any bomb is not the explosion itself (the shock wave is rather small because of small quantity of explosives used) but the fragments of its jacket, which are launched in all directions by the explosion. ... More than 90% of the [suicide bomber] victims injured are hit by the bomb shrapnel." There is no evidence of ball bearings or other toys in the knapsack, nor is there any mention of shrapnel. Could the plant parts act as shrapnel? Probably not: they would be relatively light and thus lack the power to penetrate anything at any distance.

In checking for an explosive belt (roughly the same amount of explosive), 15m is considered a safe distance from the blast. (And that's allowing for shrapnel.) Yet in the story, a teenager is dismembered by the blast alone, and she may well have been outside that distance.

Similar point: The geek couple encounters a phenomenon that the he-geek considers a laser beam. If so, it's apparently quite large, and as one of the hallmark problems of lasers is overheating, not only will running the thing continuously take a lot of power, it should also make the area hellishly hot.

What follows comes under the heading of De gustibus non est disputandum, which is Latin for Your mileage may vary.

Gore. A little too much gore for my taste. People get shot, blown up, eaten by monsters, etc. It's not extremely graphic, but it bothered me a bit.

Short Attention Span Theater. I don't care for stories with multiple threads and a lot of jumping back and forth. I can keep track of the details--I've been known to put a book down and come back to it a year later without problems--but I feel like a dog on a leash: Just as I get interested in something, I get yanked away. "Come on! Keep moving!" You'd better keep moving, my friend; if you stop, I may mistake your leg for a fireplug...

Asking questions without answers. I once complained of a short story, "It doesn't so much resolve as dissolve." Vanished isn't that bad, but it breaks one of the cardinal rules of writing: never set up a question and fail to resolve it. At the end of the story, we have a long list of questions without answers. Virtually nothing has resolved, and in one or two cases we don't even know whether a viewpoint character is still alive.

Now, I know this is the first installment in a series, so I expect some matters to be left open. But if you look back at the other series openers reviewed here, they did at least sketch answers and suggest resolutions to the main issues. Here, I could have understood leaving some relationships open, but I should have at least a general idea what happened. There is no solid clue.

That means that the story ended too soon. What is The Mist? If Barcester isn't in Kansas (or Massachusetts) anymore, where is it and how did it get there? Where'd the sewer monster(s) come from? Even an incomplete answer would be something.

Conclusion. So as for me, I probably wouldn't start this, on the grounds that it's not a complete story as it stands. If Mackel could bundle it with the second installment, perhaps that would solve the problem despite making the resulting book rather long. On the other hand, if you are already determined to read the series as a whole, you probably won't mind the lack of resolution.

Meanwhile, there's no lack of resolution with
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John said...

Thanks for your thoughts on the book.

And thanks for the comment on my blog. Perhaps I need to add a third category that sits in the middle of the two sub categories of Christian fiction.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Well, of course I always hate hearing your comments about resolution since I am writing an old fashioned trilogy in which book one is only a third of the story. Such a bummer. I thought other readers were like me and would only want the next book all the more for the wait.


Steve said...

Trilogies: Technically, in a trilogy every book functions as a stand-alone work. This is why _The Lord of the Rings_ isn't really a trilogy, as Tolkien himself noted.

There is a difference between a book in n parts and a series: the individual works in a series, much like those in a trilogy, should be able to stand alone.

Consider _Star Wars_: the characters and situations developed across movies, but each movie worked as a story in its own right.

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