December 10th, 2013

Complaining about _A Desperate Game_

JAK has been re-releasing some of her older books (like, from the 1980s) as e-books. For the most part, I've been ignoring them, because I caught a lot of them when they were rereleased in the 1990s or possibly a little later, I believe as Mira paperbacks. I wasn't really overjoyed about them: they were categories originally, and as much as I enjoy JAK (most of the time), my tolerance for categories is ... limited.

If you are google impaired, and want to know what I mean by categories, well, here you go:

Anyway. I made an exception for the first in the Guinevere Jones series, _A Desperate Game_. It's set in Seattle during the mid- to late 1980s, and there were no indications in the reviews that there were icky rape-y encounters (romance as a genre has improved in step with cultural mores). When I read a "contemporary" which was written decades ago (which this was!), I start to think of it as a historical, and I start to watch for historical errors. In theory, there shouldn't be any. At all. Because it was written in the time period that it was describing. But remember, this is an e-book rerelease, and it has a new publication date. I don't really know how much JAK reworked it, so I'm watching.

And boy, howdy, there's at least one paragraph of rework and I know why she did it and it was probably a good call but slams you right back into the present, doncha know.

Earlier in the book, Zac was riding in Hampton Starr's car, which had a car phone and Zac was wondering if he'd ever get Free Enterprise Security, Inc. successful enough to have a nicer car and a phone in the car. He himself drives a boring Buick. This is Fabulous 80s color. It's perfect. In a "historical" (please join me in laughing raucously) set in the 1980s, we'd all be shaking our hips and waving our hands in the air, we'd be so happy. Then this happens 2/3rds of the way through:

"He pulled out his cell phone and called the offices of Camelot Services. When there was no answer there, he dug Carla Jones's number out of information and tried it."

In the paper original (if anyone has it, please check!), Zac probably went downstairs and found a payphone, but someone reread the book and said There Are No Pay Phones, kids these days (which is to say the 30 something audience the rerelease is hoping to connect with and I now feel really, really middle-aged) won't know what one is. Zac may have called information, but more likely he picked up the paper phone book dangling from the shelf and was surprised that the pages he wanted were still there. Again, totally mysterious behavior if you are born after about 1980. (*sob*)

There are _many_ points in the book where access to a cell phone would have dramatically changed character behavior, and it was super cool to read a book again which highlighted how much our world has changed. Zac pulling the phone out of his pocket just totally destroyed that. Now, everyone is some sort of weird luddite that doesn't have a phone and where's their fucking phone just google it! Gaaah!

Also, IBM PC. (<-- For clarity, I loved the IBM PC. That's not a complaint about rewriting. That was in the original and it was Oh So Right.)

Look, I'm not saying that JAK should have rewritten the whole thing. But that paragraph really bugged me. I'm all better now.

ETA: I should note that when I read Dickens' _A Christmas Carol_, I did complain about a historical error, but it wasn't because the history was anachronistic -- it was because Dickens' misunderstood the waste/scrap/recycling/rag-and-gone industry of his time and created a shop which recycled both fats/rags AND metals, which of course Never Not in a Million Years. And which misunderstanding people have been pointing out in that particular book more or less since the thing was published.

ETA: A few paragraphs later, Zac puts the receiver down. Of the cell phone. Yeah, he sure does. Later, when Guinevere goes to the hospital to see Larry Hixon who is being visited by her sister Carla, Carla says she tried to call her cell but she didn't answer. As near as I can tell, that's it for cell phone usage in the book (I did not actually search it. Probably should.). Also, Guinevere drives a Laser. In Seattle? I don't think the Ford Laser had any US distribution? Unless it's a different Laser.

time warps

I know I grew up in a time warp. But wow, some people _really_ grew up in a time warp. As I was googling around trying to figure out which birth year cohort can be considered the last group for whom payphones were "normal", I ran across this:

I do indeed understand that southern and/or Christian can result to time warp experiences, but this description had me scratching my head.

"We didn’t wear seat belts. Never crossed our minds. Mom’s arm DID cross our chest if she had to brake fast."

Cars _did_ have seat belts during that time frame, as a result of activism by people like Ralph Nader, and his fans like my father. And my father's hella older than that blogger.

Also, lots of people had VCRs in the 1980s. That's just silly saying otherwise.

_A Desperate Game_, Jayne Ann Krentz writing as Jayne Castle

Published originally in the 1980s, in a world of Remington Steele, this ebook reprint has at least a few revisions. One at least two occasions, a character refers to cell phones (as cell phones, as opposed to as car phones -- the car phone reference I believe to be in the original). In the first instance, it appears to replace use of a payphone and either a phone book or Information/asking for operator assistance, and after a few paragraphs, the character puts the receiver down. In the second instance, it is tossed off, probably to replace attempts to reach a character at the office and at home and failing -- I called your cell; you didn't answer. The revisions are unfortunate, because they are anachronistic and unaccompanied by other, more substantial revisions that would be necessary to make the novel as a whole believable in either the present day, or even in the 1990s.

The plot revolves around a company which makes computer or computer like products. Guinevere's sister (SPOILER!) slept with the boss when she was his secretary. He dumped her and asked her to quit. Guinevere came on board as a temp and rigged the benefits system to cut checks adequate to pay for her sister's subsequent therapy. Somewhat later, an employee of the company writes some code that detects Shenanigans over in shipping -- then he disappears and his body is found in a ravine by hikers. Meanwhile, the company brings Zac (hero) on board to try to identify who is ripping the company off.

Guinevere's temp work at the company (data entry) makes no sense in the contemporary world, and fairly limited sense any time after about 1995. The two computer programmers are working on a PC game during their off hours; the description of the game only really makes sense in the mid- to late- 1980s. The car the hero drives, his lust after the CEO's car phone and nicer vehicle make no sense after 1990ish. (I'm still trying to nail down the broccoli puree remark. I haven't consistently eaten at that kind of restaurant to know the years that vegetable purees were a Thing. For all I know, that was an edit.) Further, Pioneer Square is depicted at a point in its development compatible only with the original publication and the idea that there's anything inexpensive much less vacant in Wallingford is, well, risible.

So dumping cell phones into this thing was, to say the least, jarring.

But if you sort of erase those bits and replace them with what was probably in the original book, it reads well for what it is. You can sort of think of it as a 1980s historical. I am a little curious whether JAK reworked any of the character interactions. Back In the Day, a lot of "seduction" and other sex scenes were written in a way that a lot of us even then thought of as rape, and is unambiguously rape when read with 2013 sensitivity. None of that going on here, and JAK was variable even then. If you have a paper copy, I'd love an opinion about whether JAK cleaned any of it up, or if she left it alone.

I don't know how the rest of the (short) series develops the characters. If this is like _Gift of Gold_/_Gift of Fire_, I would expect more of Guinevere and Zac, with them probably moving in together in one of the books and getting engaged in another, while continuing to engage with mysteries that Zac's company is hired to solve, and which Guinevere is deployed as a temp in the course of. But for all I know, secondary characters and relationships instead take the spotlight -- I'll post if I read more.

If you are a long time reader of JAK, you'll notice the usual tics: getting into a car and suddenly realizing just how close to each other they are, the man engaging in a little B&E, the woman protesting, and then the woman going even further (taking stuff, doing the same thing later in another location on her own). As always, the connection between the two is depicted in part by having them freak out when the other is in danger, even if they kind of can't really know that -- this is developed a lot more in the Arcane series but shows up in a lot of earlier JAK as well. And there's the usual descriptions of hilariously inaccurate newspaper coverage of whatever the hero and heroine have been up to.

Not sure if I'll read more. I'm currently reading backwards in the Harmony books. Either I've completely forgotten several of these (possible!) or I never actually read them (also possible).

ETA: The reviews over at goodreads are variable. Character names are misspelled. Someone asserts it is set in the 70s (!! maybe a typo?).

ETAYA: Looks like book 2 has the mystery turn up with Guinevere's job -- and they go to the San Juans! This sounds promising . . .