Monday, February 2, 2009

Sweet Trouble, by Susan Mallery -- Rant

Let me start by saying that I really like Susan Mallery’s full-length books (she has a ton of categories that I know nothing about, so no comment on them). I liked the Marcellis, I liked the Buchanans, and I started off liking the recent “Sweet” trilogy. The first one was good.

The second one was… OK.

The last one though, I have a number of problems with. The biggest one is not an uncommon thing – the hero crosses the line from Alpha to Asshole and IMO doesn’t manage to come back. Seriously, I don’t like Matt and when we get to the “black moment” and Jesse tells him that she can’t forgive him, I should’ve just stopped reading right then. I’d’ve been happier.

But what I’m going to indulge my inner bitch on today is not just Matt’s unloveability. It’s his whole character arc.

We see Jesse and Matt’s first meeting in a flashback:

He was tall and he could have been kind of cute, but everything about him was off. The haircut was a disaster, his thick glasses screamed computer nerd. His short-sleeved plaid shirt was too big and—she nearly choked on her coffee—he had an honest-to-God pocket protector. Worse, his jeans were too short and he was wearing geeky tennis shoes with white socks.
Jesse decides that she can give this guy a makeover, purely from the goodness of her heart. After all, if there’s hope for Matt, there’s hope for her.

Later, we also find out that Matt made his first “couple million a year” from a game that he rewrote: "I broke into their system, accessed the code and rewrote it. Then I took the new version to them. They licensed it from me.”

This is wrong on so many levels I hardly know where to start. First off, this is a recycled character. The Seattle computer nerd getting a makeover from his best platonic girlfriend has been done. I would’ve sworn it was an earlier Susan Mallery title, but I can’t find it. Maybe Jayne Ann Krentz?

Secondly, the nerd in question here is circa NASA 1966. You know how lawyers can’t serve on a jury? I believe the official reason is that they presumably know too much about law be susceptible to the usual courtroom bullshit. Technically. The thing is, I’m kind of like a lawyer trying to sit on a jury—I know way more about gamer nerds than the average romance reader. In fact, if there’s one thing I can claim some knowledge of, it’s the phylum and genus of nerd, and gamer nerds specifically. My credentials: engineering degree, 1988. Microsoft employment, 2002-2004 including a run with the XBox hardware team. Husband: video game artist since 1989. Video game artist AT MICROSOFT for over 5 years. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about.

“Matt” would’ve gotten beaten up by real nerds. He would be wearing ratty cargo shorts and a vendor t-shirt with a stupid slogan on it. He would be either tattooed or pierced or both, somewhere vaguely disturbing. I could give you dorky tennis shoes, but more likely would be Teva knockoffs with gnarly toenails. Possibly with socks. Bad haircut, sure. If you want to be really out there, it would be white-guy dreadlocks or maybe a shaved head. There’s really no difference between a nerdy gamer and a cool gamer. Here’s a sample Microsoft game team. (I may or may not actually know a couple of those guys.)

Matt never once talks about playing games or liking games. He never plays a video game of any kind in the book. This really quite simply proves that he is NOT a game geek. Five years ago (when the flashback takes place) I can GUARANTEE you this guy would have tried to tell you how awesome Everquest is and what level his character was on. Even if you tried really hard to stop him. Even if you said right to his face, “I so totally don’t care about MMORPGs.” He would’ve kept talking. He would’ve said things like, “I have to meet my clan at 7:30 for a raid. I’m wielding the emerald-level enhanced magi-staff of enlightenment, so I HAVE to be there!” If he were a REAL gamer geek, anyway.

Then the thing about rewriting the game? Ahahahahahahahaha….. OK, when I quit laughing… I’ll try to break it down. First off, very few games retain much popularity for more than a couple years. Gamers are fickle, and manufacturers like it that way – they churn out new versions every 2 years or so for the really huge games. Not to mention the fact that if you do the math, the computers that would’ve been running the 15-year-old Matt’s hacked program are pre-Pentiums. Pre-Windows. We’re talking DOS, or maybe a Mac SE. Do you remember your computer in 1993? Neither does today’s software. So the likelihood of making millions for 10 years? Slim to… well, none really. Not slim, just none. Secondly, let’s just say he could “break into their system.” Whatever that means. He hacked the code on his PC? Well, OK, maybe. Not that hard, even, in 1993. Rewrote the code? Oh, so very unlikely. Million-dollar games are not simple and without a test platform, it’s unlikely that you could just “make it better” without fucking something else up. But let’s just say he did. Maybe it was some simple little puzzle game (these do not make millions per year, but whatever). Corporate America does not fall on its knees and hand over million-dollar licensing deals to people WHO HACK THEIR CODE. They SUE those people.

I realize that most readers won’t care too much about these tiny distinctions. But what gets me is that it’s just lazy. Mallery lives here in the Seattle area. Twenty minutes of internet research would have gotten her 80% of what I just told you, and dozens of contacts happy to talk about the gaming industry (gamers LOVE internet forums). And for all that gaming itself played into the book (ie, not at all), Mallery could have given us a way more realistic character – the Microserf who made a couple million in options and was smart enough to get out before the ’01 bust. Gamers don’t really make good hard-assed corporate moguls, which is what Matt turned into. Gamers are proud of their dorkiness and would have been far more likely to completely ignore Jesse as a shallow bitch with her Cosmo and Car & Driver –based personality makeover.

Damn. I hate doing negative reviews. Ms. Mallery, I hope I haven’t hurt your feelings if you’re reading this. It’s just that you got it so, so wrong, and these are some people that are actually pretty close to my heart.


JenB said...

Bwahahahaha...I love this. So full of win.

You sound like I did when I came across an author writing about a brand new Lincoln Navigator with a carburetor.

Or when I read that Nora Roberts book that features several scenes with an insurance agent.

I know very little about computer games, but it sounds like even I would have trouble with this book.

Awesome rant. *high five*

Unknown said...

I completely agree.

The same goes for all sorts of designers including Web site designers and development.

Oh, and well, the entire IT part of the professional universe.

Research people!

Sayuri said...

Too funny.

Yeah the description of him is dork circa 1950's.

WHy aren't there more gmaer nerd heroes. You made me want one now!

Nicola O. said...

Come visit, Sayuri, I could hook ya up.

You might not thank me, though....

JenB: ^5

Mnemo: ;)

Erin said...

I just spit coffee on my screen this was so funny!!! I totally would have had the same issues with the book ... I hate when authors don't bother to do enough research to make a character or storyline credible. Having worked in the biotech industry I run into this quite a bit with films (very off putting there too!).

Thanks for the belly laugh and I agree that we need more computer nerd heroes - that is my kind of guy (as evidenced by the number of vendor t-shirts with bad logos in my master closet!).

Holly said...

I totally cracked up while reading this, too. I really hate it when authors don't do their research. It's one of the reasons I read very little romantic suspense.

LOL @ JenB and the Nav w/ a carburetor. srsly?

Anonymous said...

I haven't had great luck with this author.

But the "computer geek" thing is pretty out of date. For at least the last 15 years, the meaning of being a "geek" has been transformed by the Bill Gates and other like him.

Several of my closest friends are high school teachers, and they say that being computer savvy and/or a gamer does not go along with pocket calculators or nerdy appearance. There's a lot of respect among their peers for their skills.

Nicola O. said...

Erin, sorry about the coffee. And you got a good one, I think. ;)

Holly, I'm glad you liked it!

Jessica, I have to sort of think that in this day and age, a person under 30 who wasn't pretty proficient on a computer would be the doofus.

It's possible that I'm a little oversensitive about the notion that a smart person who doesn't care much about fashion, sports or cars is somehow broken and needs to be fixed. Hmmm, wonder why that would be...


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