I started reading Stephen Arseneault’s Hadron series #1, a book named “Dark Matter”. I got as a free eBook on Amazon and it’s been clogging up space in my Kindle library. So I decided to give it a try. At the time of writing, I had read a little over half of this book and there’s only one way I can describe it – frustrating.
There are a lot of reviews of this book out there that criticize it for being a ‘prepper’ book, glorifying doomsday preppers and pure redneck Americanism. But I’m OK with that. I’ve never read a novel about preppers and so this idea of a band of people surviving some sort of total system breakdown through the blatant use of guns is fresh to me. That’s one reason why I started reading this book – the author makes no qualms about it in the beginning – this is not a book in and of itself. This is a prelude to all the scifi stuff that happens in the rest of the books. Read this book only to get context of what will happen next. Perhaps some of the same characters survive and go on to become central characters in the rest of the books?
If you think about it, any other combination of characters than the ones displayed in the book might not survive the events that happen. If they have guns but no one with a military background, or they have all that but no mechanical engineer with an agriculture degree who also brews alcohol, or have everything but no chopper flying father-son duo. Any of those missing characters and the story could turn out different. I found that to be a compelling idea. This is a somewhat Tolstoyan in vision – how can I explain what happens next, without explaining what happened before?
But that’s where I’ll end the comparisons with Tolstoy. The writing, the editing, the mollycoddling of the reader, are all a little too much on the nose. For each of those reasons, I’d like to take off one star out of the rating. Allow me to explain.
- The writing – There’s one rule, one simple rule of long form fiction writing. You must never break this one rule, no matter how innovative you’re trying to be, or how different you think your English to be from the English spoken around the world (i.e, even if you describe your language to be “American”, you still follow this rule) – always write in Active voice. I can’t say it more calmly. For years, I’ve written things, copy pasted them into hemingwayapp.com and had to rewrite the entire thing because I wrote it in passive voice. Now, when I paste things in, I get the gold standard of good writing – zero sentences in passive voice.
- For a long time, I didn’t understand why this was such a problem. “Passive voice is so easy!” I would say to myself, grumbling. But now that I’ve read this book, I take it all back. Hemingwayapp is right. Passive voice is the worst thing you can inflict on your readers. Even spelling mistakes don’t hurt as much as passive voice. Most of the time, I can’t tell who in the story is performing a particular action or speaking a sentence.
- Sentences like, “Tres was signaled” or “The neat stack of boxes was carried to the back of the trailer. ” are so frustrating and jarring that they completely throw the reader’s flow off. Till this point in my review, the only two uses of passive voice are the sentences above. It’s so stupid that the author decided to write the entire book in passive voice and that his editor let it slip, and the advanced readers let it slip, and the reviewers giving glowing reviews let it slip.
- The author often forgets that in a conversation of a few people, a simple ‘she said’ would explain so much to the reader. This means that most of the dialogs are spoken by ghosts and the reader is left grappling for context. Sometimes, it’s obvious who said what, but compounded with the grammatical mistakes, this tends to get confusing and irritating fast!
- At one point, I started questioning my own sanity. Had I received a bad copy of the eBook? Is this an ARC that slipped into production? Is there an update in Amazon that I can download to get an active voice, free-from-errors version? Nope. This book is in passive voice and that is torture. Why am I sitting through it? The idea is slightly novel to me and I’ve already spent my time on half the book, I aim to breeze through the rest.
- The editing – Was there an editor to the book? I went back and checked and couldn’t find any. I wrote an email to the author, being as polite as I could to ask if there was an editor, but ended up not sending it, because it sounded insensitive and attacking. But it’s clear that no one looked over the author’s shoulder while he hit publish. There are missing opening quotes throughout the book, so you’re never sure if it’s a dialog or narration. There are instances where the author mixes up ‘to’ and ‘too’ and forgets ‘of’ from phrases like “couple of homebodies”. There are many scenarios where actions are mixed up, so it’s unclear which character did what first.
- These are all things that a good editor could find. Heck, even a mediocre editor could spot them and nag the author to eventually fix them. I noticed that the book is available in paper through an independent on-demand publisher on Amazon. Perhaps they could have done something to help the author out of this mess? The worst thing is that the book came out in 2015 and the author has had enough time to revise it a hundred times on Kindle, but has chosen not to.
- Lastly, I want to look at how author presents the book. This being the first book in the series, and perhaps the worst written one, the author has placed it on a perennial full discount. You can download it for free from Amazon and read it. That’s how I got into it. At the beginning of the book, the author explains that though it is the first book in a scifi series, it’s not a scifi story in itself, but a survival one. That’s all fine, but then the author goes into a long, two page explanation of what will happen in the book and what one should expect from it. Why? What is the point of the book if the author is going to give me the tl;dr version right at the beginning. This is not news or a buzzfeed article. I want to read the story, so why are you irritating me with an explanation of the story right before the story?
All in all, it’s an irritating and frustrating book to read. I’ll still finish it though. Why? Just for the credit (on Goodreads). I’ve spent a good amount of time on the book and I’m not going away without some of the promised ending. In case I find the ending to be exciting and the cliffhanger to be intriguing, will I pick up the next book, or any other books written by Arseneault?
Not in a million years.