The temptations of self-publishing are obvious. Every aspiring writer looks at the dross that sometimes makes it through the professional filter – in books and magazines – and thinks to themselves: if they publish his shit, why won’t they publish mine? Self-publishing offers the hope of getting your work “out there,” bypassing the established professionals’ market domination, and letting the public judge.

But sometimes those professionals have a point.

For example, Tau 4 by VJ Waks.

It is possible that there’s a half decent story buried in this book. But I couldn’t find it.

A clichéd plot with a mad scientist, a rogueish space pirate and an innocent girl who just happens to have been given the ability to turn into a giant, cat-like, predator rumbles along on predictable rails. Will Gerda Tau fall in love with space pirate Captain Col? [Yes!] Will they avoid the clutches of the mad scientist? [Of course!] Will good triumph over evil? [D’uh!]

But what really damages Tau 4 is the appalling quality of the writing, both in detail and in overall tone.

The story is conducted at an hysterical emotional pitch – the characters teeter on the edge of screaming hissy fits or furious outbursts. Which would be fine if it all built to some meaningful release, or if it ebbed and flowed to add rhythm to the story. But it doesn’t. Tau 4 is like being screamed at by a six-year-old who has attention deficit disorder and is overdosing on Sunny Delight. It isn’t pleasant to begin with and it quickly becomes very irritating.

The pacing of the story doesn’t help. Pages pass in minutely detailed recounting of the juvenile “emotional turmoil” of the main characters but, after chapters (and chapters) of debate and intrigue to persuade the native “People” (the author must have spent ages thinking up that one) to attack the mad scientist’s fortress, the actual assault is then, infuriatingly, dismissed in two paragraphs (395-6).

But it is the details that really sink VJ Waks’s novel.

Like the fact that she has no control of the point of view of her writing. In Chapter 8 (chosen randomly) the character describing the action changes at least fifteen times. Sometimes the POV switches three times on the one page (320 or 328, for example). This is not deliberate style, it is sloppy writing.

Plus, there’s the failure to control detail: A “mid-sized battlecruiser” (123) becomes a “dual-wing fighter” two pages later. Three men at the helm of the ship (131) become four when they are all named. And Waks seems particularly fond of adjectives, particularly “cruelly” and “violently” which she peppers liberally through passages of text. And under it all, is the desperation of a writer trying too hard, her writing becoming so convoluted that it jettisons all meaning:

But what Bereg hazarded to surmount was no mean feat. For never had the warriors of the People yet attempted a direct assault on the terrible ramparts which continued to grow every stronger in the Valley of the Rift and it was just such an assault that Bereg now proposed to make. (390)

Until, finally, we come to the eyes. Oh lord, the eyes! Eyes “flash” and eyes “glitter”, eyes are “grim” and eyes are “sharp”, eyes become “glowing copper orbs” and eyes “flicker with a pale light” – in one paragraph on page 132: “Col’s eyes that suddenly flashed dangerously… Teng’s dark eyes glittered like obsidian… their eyes [were] on him, cold and deadly” – not only are the descriptions all hopelessly clichéd but the repetition becomes first funny, then distracting and finally maddening.

Like the rest of the book.

VJ Waks – Tau 4
Authorhouse, 2007, 496 pages, £15.49, ISBN: 978-1434333933

(Originally published in Vector 259, Spring 2009)

2 responses to “TAU 4”

  1. I am very sorry that you didn’t like this book, either in premise or execution. The book is based upon a screenplay; the simplest story is what works best here in Los Angeles and when the script ‘disappeared’ into a big name production house, I was forced to publish as quickly as possible to protect this work. Hence, the simple love story and the effects heavy prose. The changes in POV work for this novel and the vast majority of readers that talk to me have liked this a lot; I am sorry that you found them disconcerting. A mid sized ship happens to be a dual wing fighter, this is not exceptional in my experience. The entire book was storyboarded to ensure flow and ebb at a rate that builds to the climax. If I lost track of a character on that bridge, soit-il. But seriously, the book has won awards (no, I didn’t pay for them), and I am pretty sure I went up against many hundreds of entries to get to my mere Second Place and Honorable Mention. Book Two, HAMMERSPACE is actually quite good, not falling into the traps that caught me in T4. I would be happy to post you a copy of HAMMERSPACE. If my abilities are still in doubt, I am actually a Quarterfinalist screenplay writer, with the Nicholls Fellowship (part of the group that does the Oscars) — my script came in, in the top 300 out of about 6000 screenplays. Let me know if you would like Book Two.
    very best

  2. admin

    Victoria, I’m sure that many, many people have enjoyed your book and congratulations on winning awards. Tau 4 wasn’t for me, however, and I’m going to reject your kind offer of the sequel as my “to be read” pile is already dangerously high (and by that I mean in danger of collapsing and causing me serious injury) and I’d be unlikely to ever get to it.

    Good luck with your future writing. I’m sure you’ll go on to prove me wrong and enjoy enormous success.

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