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Word Wednesday: The Copyeditor Makes the Book

1 February 2006

At first blush, I’m sure most authors would disagree. And some might point out that my being a copyeditor somewhat biases me, but let me share from my current reading.

I’m a SciFi/Fantasy junkie, but I had never read any Octavia Butler. She’s important to the field for several reasons. Her story ideas are fresh (that’s most important, to me), her characters are African American (a severely underrepresented group in SciFi), and, at least in this novel, the main character is a woman (many others have been writing from a female POV, for sure, but I’m always up for a strong female character).

I decided to read The Parable of the Sower, which describes a dystopian near-future of ineffectual government, dangerous gangs, and drug addiction. When the main character’s small enclave is destroyed, she decides to find a better life in a trek north from LA through California, Oregon, Washington, into Canada. (I don’t know if she goes all the way, I’m at the point where her family and neighborhood is destroyed by drug-addled thieves/rapists). Anyway, when she writes in her journal, or talks to other people, about going north, everyone points out how there are “dangerous boarders” between LA and Canada. And this happens *every* time. This is not a one-time typo. Each time I hit one of these, I get pulled out of the story, and it is pissing me off.

You may think, “But maybe because these are her journal musings, it’s just part of who the character is.” Maybe, except I’ll take her word for it that she’s intelligent and top of her class, and there is the added annoyance that there is also a constant mix-up between its and it’s, as well as random start-quotes in descriptive paragraphs. So I think it’s just bad copyediting (if it was copyedited at all!).

And if I didn’t already know that Butler is a Big Name in SciFi, I may have given up on this book. And that would have been too bad.

Now, I’m reading the original 1993 edition put out by Four Walls Eight Windows, and a visit to their site shows that it was bought out by Avalon in 2004. I hope that subsequent editions were fixed, because it is a very good story, and I recommend it to all of you.

Just be prepared for those jolts.

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