I use this blog as a soap box to preach (ahem... to talk :-) about subjects that interest me.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Authors' Mistakes #22 - David Baldacci

David Baldacci is one of my favourite authors. I like his writing style and his plots are always interesting. But, contrary to what I had thought before reading Zero Day (ISBN 978-0-230-75490-4), he also makes mistakes.

To be fair, most errors were minor. I would have not reported them. But I also detected an inconsistency that couldn't let pass.

A typo on page 87: "skort" instead of "skirt".

On page 311, an accent is missing in an Italian word: "Vera Felicita" instead of "Vera Felicità". This is repeated several time in following pages. It is not uncommon to find that accents and diacritical marks of foreign languages have been dropped in English texts, but I would have expected a correct spelling from Baldacci (especially considering his Italian family name!).

On page 370, Baldacci writes: "You get plutonium-239 mostly from radiating uranium". Well, considering that 239Pu doesn't exist in nature, as far as I know, synthesis from uranium-238 is the only way to obtain it. Therefore, Baldacci could have dropped the "mostly". But the issue in his sentence is that it is produced by "irradiating", rather than "radiating", uranium.

On page 371, Baldacci, talks about gun-type nuclear bombs. They work by firing a "bullet" of enriched uranium into a subcritical mass (also made of uranium). Baldacci writes: "You'd need a tube of infinite length to sustain the chain reaction". A longer barrel makes possible to accelerate the bullet to higher speeds, thereby reducing the probability of the bomb "fizzling" (i.e., generating an explosion sufficient to take the bomb apart before a significant nuclear explosion takes place). I don't know where Baldacci got the idea of a very long barrel, but it is nonsense.

On page 390 is the bad mistake. Baldacci writes: "They were now in a long hall formed from concrete painted yellow". It sounds good, but the problem is that the protagonists of the story were wearing night-vision goggles. They could only see shades of green!

On page 394, Baldacci repeates the same mistake. He writes: "There was a light coming from the opposite side of the building. A soft green light. It had just come on. In the pitch dark he would've seen it before". Baldacci specifies that the light is green because, once more, he has overlooked the fact that his character is still looking through night-vision goggles, where everything is green.

For your reference, here are the links to all past “Authors’ Mistakes” articles:
Lee Child: Die Trying
Colin Forbes: Double Jeopardy
Akiva Goldsman: Lost in Space
Vince Flynn: Extreme Measures
Máire Messenger Davies & Nick Mosdell: Practical Research Methods for Media and Cultural Studies
Michael Crichton & Richard Preston: Micro
Lee Child: The Visitor
Graham Tattersall: Geekspeak
Graham Tattersall: Geekspeak (addendum)
Donna Leon: A Noble Radiance
007 Tomorrow Never Dies
Vince Flynn: American Assassin
Brian Green: The Fabric of the Cosmos
John Stack: Master of Rome
Dean Crawford: Apocalypse
Daniel Silva: The Fallen Angel
Tom Clancy: Locked On
Peter David: After Earth
Douglas Preston: Impact
Brian Christian: The Most Human Human
Donna Leon: Fatal Remedies
Sidney Sheldon: Tell Me Your Dreams


  1. The Hit, David Baldacci; page 16; the long distance flight of a 7.62 round; the farther it traveled the more energy it built up.
    The moment a bullet leaves the barrel it starts to slow down.The impact energy being a product of bullet
    weight and speed at impact,it diminishes as the bullet travels further.

  2. You are right! Where should that energy come from? It reminds me of a dance teacher who claimed that, if you squeeze your buttocks while jumping, you stay up longer. It is a completely different thing but perhaps the connection is that all sorts of people don't have a clue about Physics...