Originally posted 31.3.2010
Tulagi Hotel is a novel of fiction. It has World War II as its background, and of all the different modes of warfare, it is set in the air arm of the US Marine Corps. This by default makes it necessary to have references to types of planes and guns and ships and whatnot, and there’s always the risk of alienating readers with technology.
To offset the war, there’s a modicum of romance, humor, pranks, relationships, and even hotel business. It has been a major goal of mine to balance the different features so as to create a coherent package with a wide appeal, from the aviation enthusiast to the reader who expects deft handling of relationships.
Writing technical stuff is easy for me, as I used to work in translation and technical writing. I’ve written manuals and user instructions for quite complex machinery and software, and I liked doing it. In a novel, technology can have useful functions as background material and as facilitator of events, but there is no excuse for letting it run the show, as happens in many novels of late.
When I read a book like this myself, I am not a great fan of the type of book where technical matters obstruct the story. In the very first versions of TH, there were references to pilots attempting to air start a certain type of engine, and long sentences laden with technical terms.
At the time of writing them, I thought I was Tom Clancy. But when I read these later, I found the technobabble got in the way of the story; was it of interest how Jack started the engine while plunging a six thousand feet a minute in his plane, or was it interesting that he got it started in the first place?
Therefore I went back and had a critical look at every technical bit, and I weeded out those that were there for their own sake. (Well, a few may remain, but you can skip them if you like.) I also streamlined the flying bits. They have to be there, as they form such a central part of Jack’s person and are important to understand why he does what he does.
Yet another change concerned the order of chapters. At one point I had a long streak of warfare, but I was told it was too much to take. Hence, the current book has seen a split in the flying and fighting, and I believe it is now lighter to read.
There’s another inherent danger in indulging in technobabble: there’s ample room for mistakes. I wrote some pretty incongruous stuff, such as having a land plane take off from the sea, and listing the number of guns wrong on a classic fighter plane. I am aware of the fact that I will be scrutinized for my writing anyhow, and having obvious mistakes such as these kicks the whole book off its soap box.
Luckily I have friends who went through the book and found many of these in time, and I corrected them. Still, there may be one or two for eager beavers to pinpoint and whoop about. I’ll leave it up for the readers to find them.
And in any case, the reader is free to concentrate on the bits that seem most relevant to him or her. Let’s see how that goes.