Sunday, 14 July 2019

Scorpia Fish

The fifth Alex Rider book, Scorpia, was published in April 2004 in the UK (that printing is the one pictured above - if your copy looks similar but with a bigger insignia and a smaller title, then you've got a reprint from circa 2005, and it was reissued with new covers several times between 2009 and 2015 as the series' publishers struggled to find a design they liked) and, if Wikipedia is to be believed, in March 2005 in the US.

I recall reading some years ago that there was a fairly significant change to the text in the US edition. To quote from a conversation between Alex and his friend Tom on page 88 of the UK edition, during chapter 6 "Thoughts on a Train":

Alex hadn't mentioned his father. That was the one area that still troubled him. It was too private to share with anyone. "I've got to find Scorpia," he began. He paused, then continued carefully. "I think my dad may have had some sort of involvement with them. I never knew him. He died shortly after I was born."

Allegedly, in the US printing, Alex actually does tell Tom that his father used to work for Scorpia as an assassin, significantly changing Tom's motivation, but exactly how that version of the text differs has never surfaced in exact words. I am presuming the section of text I quoted above is where the change is, but the alteration - if it did actually happen - could be somewhere else for all I know, or it may be that that was not the only section changed. There are other edits to the US versions of the books, but principally only to include Americanisms (such as changing the exploding keyring gadget in the third book from a model of Michael Owen to Tiger Woods); this seems to be far more significant than those.

It is also worth noting that the UK audiobook has a few minor differences compared to the text, almost as if they were working from a slightly earlier version, or there were a few last-minute changes after the audiobook was recorded:
  • When Alex asks Alan Blunt what'll happen if he doesn't tell him the truth, then in the book Blunt replies "What do you think? Do you think I'll give you a truth serum or something?" (page 237). However, in the audiobook, this changes to "What do you think? Do you think I'll pull your fingernails out or something?"
  • Later, during the COBRA meeting, the highlighted part of this passage from page 258 is in the audiobook, but not the book: "Nanotechnology is about manipulating matter at the atomic level and it's already out there in more ways than you would believe. Universities, food companies, drug agencies and, of course, the military are all spending billions of pounds a year on development programmes and they all agree. In less time than you think, the life of every human being on this planet is going to change for ever." She paused. "It's true. There are a lot of stories - nanobots, miniature robots, taking over the world. Brain implants so you never need to go to school. Artificial blood cells that can be programmed to heal disease. Not all of these things will happen, but there are some amazing breakthroughs on the way and if you don't believe that, it's time you woke up." (In the book, the "there" that comes right after where the missing section should be is capitalised, obviously.)
  • Not long after, on page 260, Dr Stephenson says: "Yes. But I'm afraid that's where these people have been so very clever." In the audiobook, the line changes to: "Yes. That's exactly where these people have been so bloody clever - if you'll forgive my language."
  • A very tiny change on page 336: in the book Blunt refers to "the man called Nile", but the audiobook uses "a man called Nile". The book's version makes sense whereas the audiobook's does not (since Alex knows very well who Nile was), so perhaps this bolsters the theory that the audiobook producers had a version of the text which hadn't been given a final polish yet. Similarly, a few pages later later the audiobook introduces two grammatical errors not present in the printed word in quick succession: "They caught in his throat" becomes "They were caught in his throat", and a superfluous "and" appears at the start of the second sentence in "But Scorpia made a mistake. My father could influence government policy couldn't actually change it".
  • There are no fewer than seven tiny changes in the final chapter, all bunched quite closely together: "if the boy had only lived a little longer" becomes "if only the boy had lived a little longer", which does seem to scan better to me; "all sorts of confusing thoughts were racing through his mind" changes "racing" to the less urgent "going"; "perhaps he would call and meet her" changes to "perhaps he would call her and meet her"; "And here was something else" becomes "There was something else"; "There was an irregular shape spreading rapidly across his sweatshirt" is revised to "There was an irregular shape that was spreading rapidly across his shirt"; "the sound of the traffic" loses the second "the"; "tilting so suddenly that it seemed to turn upside down" has the word "almost" added to it. Bloody hell, this really has become niche even by this blog's standards, hasn't it?
It seems possible that the publishers may have objected to the first and third of these changes in a children's book (Blunt uses the word "bloody" later on, in both the book and the audiobook, but rather less gratuitously, and that example has more impact without Dr Stephenson's use of it.) The second one seems like a simple trim to avoid bogging a crucial chapter down too much, further suggesting the audiobook's copy of the text was not quite the final draft. It is worth noting that Anthony Horowitz thought of the final chapter quite late in the day, and it may have been written some time after the rest of the book, which may explain the number of tiny differences between the book and the audiobook there, especially given how short that chapter is.

There are some other small differences, which are all tiny and very occasional examples of missing or additional words, none of which make any difference to the meaning of the text at all, such as "We've only got a few weeks... that may not seem very much" becoming "We've got a few weeks... that may not seem very much," but I decided I had to draw a line somewhere in this summary. (Although there is one instance of a single word's omission/addition that does seem to make some difference: when Alex is holding Mrs Jones at gunpoint in chapter 13, in the book she says "I don't think you're a killer, Alex," but in the audiobook she doesn't use his name; the book's version seems to have more impact to me.) Taking into account the nature of all these differences, I would be fairly confident in saying that either the audiobook producers were sent something that was not quite the final version of the text by accident, or there was a tight deadline and they had to get it recorded before Horowitz had finished the final draft, with the knowledge that there wouldn't be any huge differences between the two versions.

But what of the alleged much bigger difference in the American version? If you happen to have a US printing - or any non-UK printing - of the book, and can verify whether or not that first, and biggest, change is there, I would be grateful. (Assuming this change did happen, it is possible that later US versions were changed to match the UK version, so knowing when your printing dates from would be helpful too. My copy of Scorpia which I compared against the audiobook is a first edition from 2004, so it might even be helpful to check later UK printings.)

It is also an amusing sidenote that in the book, the Deputy Prime Minister is implied to be the then-real life DPM John Prescott... and in the audiobook, Oliver Chris removes the subtlety by reading all the DPM's dialogue in a (rather good, it must be said) Prescott impression. He also extends this to other members of the cabinet, even though the book's PM doesn't really have much in common with Blair. This is despite the fact that the Prime Minister in the first book, Stormbreaker, is blatantly a thinly-veiled parody of Blair, and logically the PM in Scorpia must be the same man, but you could probably write an entire thesis on Alex Rider continuity errors.

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