Archive for December 2008

The Shut List

10 December 2008

The purpose of this page is to vent my frustration at the modern state of the publishing industry. Nowadays, copy editing seems to be a nonexistent function of publishers. Simple typographical errors crop up in nearly every book, and oftentimes missing punctuation, transposed letters, and outright misspellings run rampant throughout the pages. It’s time book buyers took a stand. If I’m going to kill a few trees, dump dioxins in a river somewhere, and pay 25 bucks of my hard-earned cash, damn it, I think it’s only fair that I get my money’s worth. It doesn’t cost much to print a book, publishers, so hire someone to do a little quality control!

It’s called the “Shut List” to make a point, however subtle. This title will pass any spelling check, and give the reader the mistaken impression that one should “shut” these books, i.e. not read them. In fact, that “u” is a typo. It should be an “i”—because the copy editing in these books is for shit.

What follows are the most heinous offenders. Many are excellent books despite their typos, so stop by your local public library and give them a read. Just don’t give money to their publishers.

coverZodiac: The Eco-Thriller by Neal Stephenson. Publisher: Bantam Spectra

Just how does a book make the Shut List? Hard to say. It’s not a “zero tolerance” policy, because every book ever published has had one or two minor flubs. For me, I guess the threshold is reached when the typos are just beginning to be annoying, but only in a subconscious way, and I have almost forgotten about them and am getting back into the book, and then find two on a single page. Apparently it’s not possible to print the word “chloracne” five times on a page without the last appearance becoming “chlorachne.” The clincher came when I had to stop for a few seconds and think to myself, “who the hell is this character Bone?” before realizing he meant “Boone.”

coverCryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. Publisher: Avon Books

The text seems to have been fed directly from Neal’s laptop (or his BeBox) into the presses without even the benefit of a spellcheck. An error occurs an average of once every 10 pages throughout. (Note to Neal: we know you like the word abbatoir [sic] since you use it in both this book and your thought-provoking essay on the computer industry, but repeat after me: A-B-A-T-T-O-I-R. One b, two t’s. One b, two t’s.) Worse, both the standard-issue code example (“Attack Pearl Harbor…”) and the appendix describing the Pontifex Transform contained errata that affected the outcome of those systems.

coverChariots for Apollo: The Untold Story behind the Race to the Moon by Charles R. Pellegrino & Joshua Stoff. Publisher: Avon Books

Wernher von Bran. Lenoid Brezhnev. The list goes on and on.

coverThe Chicago River: An Illustrated History and Guide to the River and its Waterways by David M. Solzman. Publisher: Wild Onion Press (an imprint of Loyola University Press)

Here is a book report describing this book’s most glaring error. Of course, it also has its share of typos.

coverRockets into Space by Frank H. Winter. Publisher: Harvard University Press

Well-written and informative, despite a 1990 publishing which leaves the “Future of Rocketry” chapter very dated, and info on the Soviet moon program almost nonexistent. The text is also full of numbers: dates, engine thrusts, etc. Unfortunately (at least in the 1990 paperback first printing) the numbers cannot be trusted. I have never seen a reference to a Delta 3916/PAM (in the Delta numbering scheme the 6 contradicts the PAM. It should be a 0). Much worse is the claim that Apollo 11 launched on 18 July 1969. If not for the rampant errata I could readily recommend this book.

coverRace to the Moon: America’s Duel with the Soviets by William B. Breuer

A decent and interesting book for the first two-thirds of its length, when it focusses on the Peenemünde rocketeers. Then it goes through the motions to complete the story of the moon landing, and fact checking goes out the window. Any book on the Space Race that gets the date of the Apollo 11 launch wrong, even by a day (as this one does), deserves nomination to the Shut List. This one also conflates the names of the Gemini XI crew, Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon, into “Lieutenant Charles ‘Pete’ Gordon, Jr. (who apparently flew solo to an altitude record of 850 miles). And finally (as the last error I’ll mention, not the last I noticed), it states: “the Peenemünde team… developed forerunners of the full range Pershing, Cruise, and SS-20 series of missiles, which formed the backbone of the NATO armory and deterred the Soviets…” [ellipses added, but guaranteed not to change the meaning of the sentence]. Sorry, but every source I can find confirms that the SS-20 was a Soviet missile—it deterred NATO.