Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stolen Genes, Stolen Children

by G. R. Revelle

One half of a thumb up, one and a half down.

This is a hard review for me to do because it's by a start-up author who I believe self-publishes under his own company, Smultron Publications.  Since I myself hope to have some of my writing published one day, I want to support the effort of Mr. Revelle.  But there are things within this book that make it impossible for me to give it a two thumbs up.

The book is historical fiction, including bits of 20th century Norwegian and Swedish history, and World War II history.  The historical information and several main themes within this book appeal to me.  Progressivism, eugenics, and genetic manipulation are exposed and discussed.  These are important ideas.  Society benefits from conversations about the sins of its past.  Too often they are forgotten under the broiling current of contemporary societal conversations, even when those conversations follow lines of reasoning similar to the ideas acknowledged as mistakes of past generations.  From the introduction to Stolen Genes, Stolen Children, Mr. Revelle himself appears to have written, at least partially, with a goal of inspiring such conversation.

The plot is compelling.  I was drawn in, although it took me several chapters to feel the pull.  The characters are well done, although a few are somewhat one-dimensional.  Mr. Revelle does a good job describing scenery and sounds in nature and the city.

The story is set in 1965, but also contains many flashbacks to the days before, during, and immediately after World War II.  In some ways, the flashbacks are the story, more than the later story line.

While reading the paper one afternoon, Karin sees the name, Arlene Angel, in a list of nurses being tried for their participation in the euthanasia programs practiced under the Third Reich.  This name jumped out at Karin, because it was a pseudonym occasionally used long ago by Alena Engela, a good friend from Karin's nursing school days.  Reminded of the close friendship they had enjoyed in their early years, Karin sets out to contact this Arlene Angel to determine if it is indeed her friend.   And if so, to lend whatever aid and support she can to Alena during the trial.

In the process of digging through old records, hoping to find a way to exonerate her friend, and at the same time experiencing continuing mortification at the extent of the euthanasia program, Karin discovers several unexpected connections.

The flashbacks in the narrative trace the history of Alena; aeronautics engineer, Lorentz Klein; the Norwegian Resistance movement; and Karin, herself; along with a number of less major characters.

The story line is very interesting and contains a few twists and turns that I perhaps ought to have seen coming, but didn't.

The negative aspects of the book begin immediately, in the first paragraphs of the prologue.  The author introduces his work with a somewhat hoaky fictional account of how an early farming woman discovered fertilizer when an early herdsman let his water buffalo wander onto the woman's garden.  The somewhat silly account seems unrelated to the point for which the author uses it.  And it presents a weak beginning to what later in the prologue becomes a very good introduction to the philosophies presented in Stolen Genes, Stolen Children.

Regarding the narrative's exploration of the philosophies or ideals of genetic engineering and eugenics, the connection between the fictional narrative and a deeper analysis of such philosophies is somewhat weak.  The author leaves to the reader most of the thinking and exploring .  The narrative certainly introduces the the subject and shows it from several angles.  But from the build-up in the introduction, I was expecting a richer or somehow different depth of discussion of the subject.

The biggest negative for this story, however, is that it is a prime example of the risks of self-publishing; or put another way, it lends credence to the importance of a professional editorial staff.  The book is filled with grammatical errors.  Truly filled.  To the point of distracting from the story line.  There are many points at which a sentence begins one way and ends in a different direction.  The reader is left interpreting what the author intended.  There are sentences in which the subject or object of a clause is missing, and again the reader must guess.  Sentence parts often don't agree in person, number, tense, voice, etc.  Commas are used very sloppily, often giving the sentence an entirely different sense than that which the author obviously intends.  There are many places the spellcheck or auto-correct was trusted in error.

And let me reiterate.  The book is filled with mistakes of this sort.  Sometimes there are several examples per page.

The narrative also contains at least one historical error, of the sort which a professional editor is trained to catch.  The author includes as historical, the mythology surrounding the song, Edelweiss, that Richard Rogers wrote for the 1959, The Sound of Music.  One scene in the book describes a character getting sentimental over the song as an Austrian folk song from his childhood in the early years of the 20th century.

From the prologue, "The novel... is based on facts, figures, and personalities, though the characters and plot themselves are purely fictional."  The author is making a claim to the historicity of the information presented within the fictional plot.  The somewhat lengthy introductory pages of the prologue seem to be intended to make people consider and evaluate the idea of eugenics and its place in the world today.  Besides just being annoying and distracting to a reader, the sloppy presentation of the story distracts from the author's purpose.

A reader is left wondering about the care that went into the historical research and the accuracy with which it is presented.  "If the author is so careless with his editing, how can I trust his research?"

Especially when an author is making a claim toward a certain ideal, such an author ought to use care in presenting the material.  The carelessness of presentation casts doubt upon the entire issue.

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