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Monday, August 12, 2013

Authors' Mistakes #23 - Sidney Sheldon #2

I recently read another novel by Sidney Sheldon that, once more, had many mistakes. The Doomsday Conspiracy (ISBN 978-0-00-78375-2) is a nice novel.  I enjoyed reading it, but I can only wonder why editing at Harper Collins lets so many mistakes through.

The first problem is on page 50: "Robert strapped himself in and leaned back in his seat as the plane taxied down the runway. A minute later, he felt the familiar pull of gravity".  Pull of gravity?  Please!  Gravity has nothing to do with what happens when an airplane takes off.  We feel pushed back but, in reality, we are just trying to remain stationary.  As the airplane accelerates, the seat, which is part of it, pushes our backside forward in order to takes us along.  It is a similar situation when a lift starts towards higher floors: we feel pushed down because, in fact, the floor of the lift is pushing us upward.  And when we sit in a car and drive along a curve, we feel thrown "outisde", but in fact it is the car door that is pushing our shoulder to keep us "inside".

Page 70: There is no "Lavesseralle" in Zurich and, even if it existed, it would be written "Lavessner Allee".

Pages 87/88, talking about an alien space ship: "Our best guess is that it uses monoatomic hydrogen in a closed loop so its waste product is water that can be continually recycled into hydrogen for power. With all that perpetual energy, it has a free ride in interplanetary space".  Goodness me!  Even ignoring the gobbledygook, this is utter nonsense.  It is nothing else than a modern version of a "Perpetuum Mobile" (perpetual motion), which is a physical impossibility but which many so-called scientists have tried to achieve since the middle ages. In any case, the amount of energy needed to break down water into hydrogen and oxygen is exactly the same amount of energy obtained when obtaining water by burning hydrogen in an atmosphere of pure oxygen.  Nothing is left to accelerate or slow down the space ship.  The term "monoatomic" is also nonsensical.  And, to top it off, Sheldon totally ignores the oxygen part.

On page 93, Sheldon writes: "It's been proven over and over that living plants have an intelligence".  This is obviously not true.  According to Sheldon, the fact that carnivorous plants can trap insects and others can attract them for pollination confirms their intelligence!

In three occasions (pages 75, 81, and 106), while the protagonist is in Switzerland, Marks (instead of Swiss Francs) are used as currency.

Page 122: "he strapped himself into his first-class seat on the Swissair flight [Zurich to London]. As the plane rushed down the runway, its huge Rolls-Royce engines ...".  The novel was first published in 1991, which means that it was written in 1990 or 1991.  If I remember correctly, already by then, the best seats you could get on intra-European flights were Business class, and not on all fligts.  But there is another problem: "huge Rolls-Royce angines" suggests a wide-body airplane. At the time, the only short- to medium-range wide-body operated by Swissair was the Airbus A310, for which Rolls-Royce never delivered engines!  I know, most people wouldn't care about such details, which don't affect the story, but I can't help noticing them.  It seems disrespectful towards the readers to make up stuff just because it sounds good.

On page 206, a minor character states that in the Italian city of Orvieto only one government television channel was available.  The statement contributes to moving the plot forward, but it is wrong.  For almost one decade before 1991, Italy already had six television channels with full national coverage: three public (RAI 1, RAI 2, and RAI 3) and three private (Canale 5, Italia 1, and Rete 4, owned by Berlusconi, who later became a controversial prime minister).  In addition to those major channels, there were also many regional channels.

On page 209, is the first of the language-related errors that pepper many English novels. Sheldon writes: "Vietato passare oltre i limiti".  It was meant to indicate "Forbidden Entry", but it is not correct Italian.  "Vietato oltrepassare i limiti" would be the correct sentence, but the meaning would still be wrong.  In Italian, it would be a funny expression equivalent to "It is forbidden to exagerate"!  What is written on fences surrounding military installations is usually "Limite invalicabile".  In general, "Ingresso vietato" is the expression used to signal that people should not enter a private area.

On page 210, Sheldon mention a certain "Signora Fillipi".  Pity that "Fillipi" is a family name that doesn't exist in Italy.  "Filippi" would have been OK.

On pages 240/241, one of the characters appreciates Bahnhofstrasse, the main shopping street in Zurich.  According to Sheldon, you can buy there "dresses and coats and shoes and lingerie and jewellery and dishes and furniture and automobiles and books and television sets and radios and toys and pianos".  I'm not sure about pianos, but I am certain that you cannot buy cars in Bahnhofstrasse.  My wife and I lived in Zurich for longer than a decade and we agree on that.

On page 292 is another "pearl" of bad Italian. Somebody says "How are you, mio amico?"  This is a straight translation from English that doesn't work in Italian.  In Italian, at best, you would say "How are you, amico mio?"  But I wouldn't use it and I doubt that any other Italian would.

On page 305 there are two further expressions of bad Italian.  The first one is the exclamation "Cacatura!".  I understand that Sheldon wanted to translate "Shit!", but, at best, he should have used "Merda!", because "Cacatura!" is an almost never used word that means either "fly escrement" or the act of defecating.  In any case, "merda" is somewhat old fashion.  I would have written the almost universal term "cazzo", which means "cock" (in the sense of "penis") and is used to express shock or strong disappointment.  Some people liberally sprinkle "cazzo" in many sentences, like some English speakers do with "fuck".

The second mistake on page 305 is "Andate al dietro, subito".  In Italian, that sentence doesn't mean anything.  Sheldon wanted to translate "Go to the back, quickly", but he should have written "Andate sul retro, presto".

Page 312: "Twenty minutes later they had reached Tor di Ounto, Rome's red light district, populated by whores and pimps. They drove down Passeggiata Archeologica...".  Now, in Rome there is no red-light district and no quarter or suburb called "Tor di Ounto" (mistake repeated on page 345).  There is a quarter (and also an adjacent suburb) called "Tor di Quinto", which makes me think that "Tor di Ounto" is the result of a double typo.  I'm not sure whether there are many prostitutes in Tor di Quinto.  Perhaps, Sheldon wanted to avoid the risk of being sued by some of the 27,000 people who live in Tor di Quinto for denigrating their suburb.  But he didn't have any problem in saying the same about the Passeggiata Archeologica.  There are several areas of Rome where prostitutes "roam", and the Passeggiata Archeologica is indeed one of them (another well-known place for prostitutes is the area adjacent to the Terme di Caracalla), but it is located between Aventino and Celio, far away from Tor di Quinto.

On page 314, Sheldon introduces a new female character named Pier.  Well, I'm sorry, but Pier doesn't exist in Italian.  With so many Italian names, I wonder why Sheldon had to invent something so wrong...

On page 323, Pier says: "Cacchio!"  That's not realistic because Pier, being born in the late 1960s, would never think of saying that word.  "Cacchio" is an old-fashion euphemism for "Cazzo".  It is a bit like in English saying "shoot" instead of "shit".  I don't think that anybody used it after the 1960s.

On page 339, referring to a man and a woman travelling together, Sheldom writes: "They had been driving in silence for the last half an hour, each preoccupied with his own thoughts".  But one of them was a woman.  Therefore, "his" is not appropriate.  He could have said "They had been driving in silence for the last half an hour, preoccupied with their own thoughts".

On page 349, the Italian name "Dell'Ovo" is broken at the end of a line as "Dell'" and "Ovo". This is not acceptable in Italian. The name should have been broken as "Del-" and "l'Ovo".  Perhaps, I'm being a bit too demanding here, but when writing foreign terms, I believe it would be best to respect the foreign grammar.

On page 366, somebody receives an unexpected visitor.  While standing naked at the open door, he says to the visitor: "Che Cosa? What the hell are you doing up so early?"  Beh, "Che cosa?" is not right.  No Italian would ever say it.  Perhaps Sheldon tried to translate "What?".  He could have asked "Che vuoi?" ("What do you want?") or "Che c'è?" ("What's up?").

On page 368, Sheldon uses the word "Orologia", which doesn't exist in Italian.  He should have written "Orologeria".

On page 387, Sheldon states something that is wrong in more than one way.  When referring to Civitavecchia, on the coast of mainland Italy, he writes: "The port is one of the busiest in Europe, servicing all sea-going traffic to and from Rome and Sardinia".  Now, the traffic going through Civitavecchia is a small fraction of what goes through major European ports like Hamburg, Bremen, and Amsterdam.  But there is another problem: the awkward expression "to and from Rome and Sardinia" literally means "to Rome and Sardinia and from Rome and Sardinia" (or, if you prefer, "to and from Rome and to and from Sardinia"), which is clearly impossible.  He certainly meant to say "between Rome and Sardinia".

On page 392, Sheldon writes: "one of the most famous palindromes was supposedly said by Napoleon: 'Able was I ere I saw Elba'". Give me break!  Napoleon was perhaps the most French person of the times.  He certainly didn't invent any palindrome in English.  Somebody else did.

Perhaps, I should stop reading Sheldon's books.  It takes me too much time to list his mistakes in this blog!  But I still have one of his novels in my bookshelf: "The best laid plans".  MMmmm...  What are "laid plans"?  He should have inserted a hyphen between "best" and "laid" to avoid the ambiguity.  Perhaps, he felt that a title like "The best-laid plans" would have been uncool...

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
David Baldacci: Zero Day


  1. In chapter 23, he talks of Dustin Thornton and willard done. If I'm not wrong , that part wasn't less properly.what happened to Dustin? How did willard stone "expect him"??

  2. I don't understand. Isn't this meant to be a FICTION novel? Who cares about these superfluous details, correct or otherwise?

  3. So many mistakes mean that the author churned out the story quickly, without doing proper research, and that the publisher didn't care to edit it, confident that it would sell in any case. Such stories are the result of a publishing industry that only cares about money and pays lip service to quality.

    If you don't care about the details, nobody forces you to read my posts on Author's Mistakes!