I’m not an astronomer, an astrophysicist, or any other type of spacey science professional that offers me any credibility or credentialed knowledge on this topic. I studied business administration in college. Through my interests and my work, I know a lot about finance, fitness, child care and marketing. Not space. Not astronomy. But I happen to think the moon is cool. I have a big poster of it in my office. I typically pay enough attention to know its current phase, when it will next be full.
The phases of the moon are misrepresented in many books. Descriptions of full moons rising in the middle of the night. Crescent moons rising in the evening, setting at dawn. These aren’t possible. There’s no mystery or randomness in moon phases. The phase of the moon you see is dictated by the moon’s position in relation to the sun from your perspective. If the sun has recently set, and the moon has recently risen, the moon is going to be something close to full. Crescent moons are either leading or chasing the sun by a few hours.
Children’s books are the biggest offenders, but only because they’re so visual. In many stories the moon isn’t mentioned, but it’s prominently placed in the pictures, and usually, it’s wrong. In many of my kids’ favorite books as infants and toddlers, the pictures contain moon phase errors. From an aesthetic point of view, I get it. If an illustrator is going to show a moon in a kids’ book, it’s going to be full or (more frequently) a crescent. Kids don’t want to see a picture of a gibbous moon. It’s ugly, misshapen, lop-sided. Half-moons are boring. A crescent moon looks much more romantic, the thinner the crescent the better. Fine, show a crescent moon. The problem is that as these books progress, the crescent moon keeps getting higher in the sky. This means that dawn is approaching – usually out of context with the story, which invariably includes kids going to bed.
This isn’t just a picture-book problem. As my kids grew, we moved into family story-time with chapter books. And moon mistakes remained a common occurrence. So frequent in fact, that whenever the moon was mentioned in a story, my kids fully expect me to stop reading to endorse or correct the description. It’s usually a correction.
I just read Dean Koontz’s Velocity. I don’t know that much about Koontz, I’m just starting to read his books. Based on the few Koontz books that I’ve read, I gather that many of the stories, like Velocity, take place primarily at night. References to the moon seem common.
And there it was. Mid-way through the book, Koontz steps into a great big, glaring, moon-phase error. Repeatedly. During a long night, Koontz uses the progress of the moon to chronicle passing time. The problem is that beginning at 1:00 a.m., he talks about the “thinnest silver shaving of a new moon.” This “fragile crescent” is high in the sky, and it’s pretty much up there all night. He makes two more references to this moon across the course of the chapter, the night.
Not possible. It would be up all day, a few clicks ahead or behind the sun. A “shaving” that thin would likely not even be visible except in the twilight before or after daytime. It would not and could not be in the sky all night. I find it hard to believe that an error like this can pass whatever editing process Dean Koontz’s novels go through. I always assumed such a prolific writer would have a staff of helpers to smooth out the rough edges, to research technical topics, and take care of misrepresentations of the moon. Clearly, I was wrong. So, I thought I’d help out.
I’m the sort of person who likes corresponding with strangers through email. I’ve emailed reporters about their articles, debated op-ed writers on their opinions, emailed the president about policy. I once emailed a popular D.C. radio personality admonishing him for some misinformation he was spouting when the band Chumbawamba broke the Top-40. My advice was not well received. But if a person gives an email address, I’m likely to use it. I don’t like it when people correct me, but for some reason, I think everyone else will appreciate it when I correct them.
Plus, exchanging emails with a celebrity is a rush. Many children’s books have contact information for the author. My children and I have emailed several of them to applaud a particularly well-developed book. We cheer when we get a response. I thought it might be the same with Dean. If I let him know about the problem with his moon, maybe he could correct it in a future printing. I saw this as a chance to correspond with a “real” author, an adult author. Velocity didn’t provide an email address, but it did offer a URL – www.deankoontz.com.
Disappointing. Dean Koontz is more like a corporation than a person. His multi-tab website features legal disclaimers, apps, and ways to communicate with other fans. It even includes a talking dog. If I wanted to buy a book or make a request for charitable funding, I was in the right place. To engage in a simple discussion with the author about his prose? No way. Lodging a complaint with Dean Koontz would be like writing Starbucks to suggest a different cup lid. If anyone ever read my email, they’d put me in the crackpot folder. They’d break out my email every so often just to make fun of it.
Fortunately, I have other methods to catch Dean’s attention. I have this blog. People around the world read it. Dean’s publisher might read it. Eventually, the Velocity moon error will undoubtedly come to Mr. Koontz’s attention. It will finally be fixed.