Book Review: Wool by Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey is a phenomenon in the self-publishing universe.  He began publishing his fiction as a hobby while working at a full-time job.  His “Wool” series exploded in popularity; Ridley Scott bought the film rights; Howey acquired an agent who helped him get an unprecedented book deal in which he sold the print rights for a six-figure sum to a traditional publisher but kept the electronic rights.  He became an example of what was possible in self-publishing.

Okay, not many self-publishers become as successful as Hugh Howey, though many make a decent living from their efforts.  But there’s more.  Howey has become an advocate for self-published writers, expending considerable time and expense compiling statistics and educating writers on the burgeoning field of self-publishing.  But there’s more.  From all his articles, all his comments, all his remonstrations on behalf of struggling colleagues, Howey comes across as a genuinely nice guy.  A rare commodity indeed these days.  With so many writers, pomposity and egoism seem to come with the turf, but not with Howey.  He seems sincere, concerned, helpful, even self-effacing.

I follow news in the publishing industry fairly closely nowadays, and it would be hard for me not to have heard of Howey.  His articles and comments appear often on the websites I frequent, and I even check out his website from time to time for his latest news or articles.  One reason I hadn’t checked out his fiction until now is that it isn’t available in shops, though it should be.  It seems traditional distributors got all pissed off about the deal Howey got and cut him off from such venues as Barnes and Noble.  Well, okay, let me be honest.  I don’t shop much at Barnes and Noble.  Their prices are too high.  If I go to a physical bookstore, I usually go for used books.  That’s my budget.  But I’ve never come across a Howey book in a used book store.  Maybe once people get them, they are loathe to part with them.  Anyway, it occurred to me to find “Wool” on Amazon.  There it was at a decent discounted price, and I ordered it.  I’m one of those who likes to feel the dead tree in his hands.  When I finally bought a Kindle Fire a year or so ago, one of my sons grabbed it off and I’ve hardly ever seen it since.

Anyway…  On to the story.  It’s a good, solid science fiction post-apocalyptic adventure.  I wouldn’t say the premise is starkly original, but the handling of the tale is unique; Howey has his own distinct style and manner of presenting characters.  Once the story gets going, in the third part, it’s very absorbing and hard to put down.  The first part, the original short story that began it all, is a sort of prelude.  Only the second part I find fault with.  It is interesting and the story is sound, but it has a short story’s worth of material at novella length.  It seems to me that at this point Howey was still getting his bearings, exploring the new world he had created, and by part three he was ready to really throw it in gear and charge ahead.  At least that’s how I see it.  It’s kind of like up to that point you are meandering down a lazy stream, and then at the beginning of part three you suddenly hit the rapids and from that point it never lets up.

“Wool” is a good read and Howey is a good writer and a good man.  I wish him the best, and thank him for the fun tale and the encouragement he offers to his fellow writers.

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Mendocino Mellow – Free Short Story Offer

MendocinoMellowStoryCoverFor five days, from Wednesday September 24th to Sunday September 28th, my fantasy story “Mendocino Mellow” is available for free download on Amazon.com here. Stop in and pick up a copy. Here’s what its about:

A government scientist develops a strain of marijuana that gives those who use it psychic sensitivity.  From all over the country people are drawn to him, and he is determined to use the drug’s special power to find a way for them all to time-travel back to the original Woodstock Music Festival.

 

FearWebCover_FinalBigIt’s part of my short story collection “Fear or Be Feared: Fantasies” which is available on Amazon here. Here’s a description of the collection:

A teenage girl climbing Mount Olympus with friends becomes possessed by an ancient Greek god who uses her as an instrument of vengeance.

A young artist pursued by her abusive stepfather is recruited to join a society of people linked together by telepathy which exists completely outside the awareness of the present world system.

Paranoia overwhelms a young college student as reality and fantasy merge in the midst of a drug trip that he realizes a dark power may be controlling.

During the British Raj an American reporter discovers a hidden valley in the foothills of the Himalaya ruled by a lovely but sinister woman who may not be human.

In these fourteen weird, surreal, frightening, and fantastic tales, unwary people discover that the world is very different from what they imagined.

While you’re there, stop in at my Amazon author’s page and peruse my other works.

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Book Review: Inside Out by Barry Eisler

I don’t read many thrillers, at least not in recent years, and I wouldn’t have read this one except for a curious cluster of coincidences.  First of all, I am poor.  There’s no getting around it; I barely make enough for my sons and I to get by month by month.  So I economize any way I can.  One way is not spending full price on books; with rare exceptions, I try to buy used books or borrow books from libraries.  I would love to support my fellow authors more, but that’s just the way it is for now.  Another way is to buy certain items at dollar stores.  You can’t trust dollar stores for all of your purchases; I found that some items are cheaper elsewhere, and other items are of such lousy quality that they are not even worth one dollar.  Still, I generally go in to have a look if I find myself near one.

So I entered a dollar store in Yakima, Washington, one day and what do I find?  A big bin full of hardcover books, probably remainders, most of them originally priced at twenty-five dollars or so, all on sale for one dollar.  Naturally I dove in and meticulously perused the inventory.

And one of the ones I came across was this one by Eisler.  Not that I was looking for thrillers.  If I hadn’t recognized the name I wouldn’t have glanced twice at it.  But Barry Eisler has made himself somewhat famous in indie publishing circles.  In 2011 or thereabouts, he turned down a large advance from a traditional publisher and decided to publish all his future books himself.  He managed to buy back the rights to all the books in his backlist – not an easy task at all – and has been handling his writing career completely on his own as an indie writer/publisher.  His blogs on the current state of publishing, especially those written in collaboration with fellow former-traditional-currently-indie writer Joe Konrath are interesting, informative, and entertaining.

So I figured I couldn’t go wrong spending a buck to check out the man’s writing.  After all, he has street cred for writing espionage thrillers.  He spent three years as a CIA operative before deciding to ditch the great game, as it’s called by Rudyard Kipling in the classic novel “Kim”, and become a professional writer instead.

As for the book itself, the prose is very rudimentary; I would have hoped for more description and more character development.  It starts a little bit slow, though not slow enough to put it down.  The complexities build up slowly.  One other downside is that the hero is a bit too cookie-cutter he-man.  The real strength of the novel, though, and one that overcomes the drawbacks, is in the story and its background to real events.  It concerns stolen video tapes of the torture of kidnapped detainees.  The powers-that-be are trying to get the tapes back before they are released to the public.  All this is anchored in actual events when the novel was first written and released.  In fact, the author includes a bibliography of source material, rare for a work of fiction.  At first the story follows the investigation and search for the man who stole the tapes, but then, near the end, it goes into a nifty conspiracy-uncovering that is great fun to read.

“Inside Out” is just the sort of book you want to read when you are in the mood for an entertaining thriller that’s hard to put down.  It’s not a deep read; you don’t have to invest a lot into it, but it’s a fun read.  I wouldn’t go for this sort of book all the time, but I might just try another of Eisler’s books the next time I’m in the mood for some absorbing escapism.  And this time, if I’m able, I’ll pay full price for it.

Update:  I have since moved from Yakima to Seattle, and I have picked up another thriller by Eisler, which I will be reading in due time.

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“Clouds Without Rain” – Free Short Story Offer

CloudsWithoutRainCoverFor five days, from Friday September 19th to Tuesday September 23rd, my short story “Clouds Without Rain” is available for free download on Amazon.com here. Stop in and pick up a copy. Here’s what it’s about:

Mexico has conquered much of the territory that once belonged to the United States. Americans are confused and disoriented. A lone, dying Native American searches for his people, a race of people that no one else believes ever existed. If he doesn’t find them soon it will be too late.

 

FearWebCover_FinalBigIt’s part of my short story collection “Fear or Be Feared: Fantasies” which is available on Amazon here. Here’s a description of the collection:

A teenage girl climbing Mount Olympus with friends becomes possessed by an ancient Greek god who uses her as an instrument of vengeance.

A young artist pursued by her abusive stepfather is recruited to join a society of people linked together by telepathy which exists completely outside the awareness of the present world system.

Paranoia overwhelms a young college student as reality and fantasy merge in the midst of a drug trip that he realizes a dark power may be controlling.

During the British Raj an American reporter discovers a hidden valley in the foothills of the Himalaya ruled by a lovely but sinister woman who may not be human.

In these fourteen weird, surreal, frightening, and fantastic tales, unwary people discover that the world is very different from what they imagined.

While you’re there, stop in at my Amazon author’s page and peruse my other works.

 

 

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“Wolf in a Cage and The Gift: Two Fantasies” – Free Short Story Offer

WolfAndGiftStoryCoverFor five days, from Sunday September 14th to Thursday September 18th, my short stories “Wolf in a Cage and The Gift: Two Fantasies” will be available for free download on Amazon.com here.  Stop in and pick up a copy.  Here’s what they’re about:

In the wilderness of Alaska a man escapes the attack of a pack led by a savage black wolf.  Many years later, in the ruins of Jack London’s Wolf House a wanderer discovers the trapped spirit of a wolf pacing back and forth.  But who or what is it, and is it benign or malevolent?  And…  A musician busking in the Athens subway system encounters another musician who can play the souls of men.

FearWebCover_FinalBigIt’s part of my short story collection “Fear or Be Feared: Fantasies” which is available on Amazon here. Here’s a description of the collection:

A teenage girl climbing Mount Olympus with friends becomes possessed by an ancient Greek god who uses her as an instrument of vengeance.

A young artist pursued by her abusive stepfather is recruited to join a society of people linked together by telepathy which exists completely outside the awareness of the present world system.

Paranoia overwhelms a young college student as reality and fantasy merge in the midst of a drug trip that he realizes a dark power may be controlling.

During the British Raj an American reporter discovers a hidden valley in the foothills of the Himalaya ruled by a lovely but sinister woman who may not be human.

In these fourteen weird, surreal, frightening, and fantastic tales, unwary people discover that the world is very different from what they imagined.

While you’re there, stop in at my Amazon author’s page and peruse my other works.

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“The Lady of the Lost Valley” – Free Short Story Offer

LadyoftheLostValleyStoryCoverFor five days, from Tuesday September 9th to Saturday September 13th, my short story “The Lady of the Lost Valley” is available for free download at Amazon.com here. Stop in and pick up a copy. Here’s what it’s about:

During the British Raj an American reporter discovers a hidden valley in the foothills of the Himalaya ruled by a lovely but sinister woman who may not be human.

 

 

 

FearWebCover_FinalBigIt’s part of my short story collection “Fear or Be Feared: Fantasies” which is available on Amazon here. Here’s a description of the collection:

A teenage girl climbing Mount Olympus with friends becomes possessed by an ancient Greek god who uses her as an instrument of vengeance.

A young artist pursued by her abusive stepfather is recruited to join a society of people linked together by telepathy which exists completely outside the awareness of the present world system.

Paranoia overwhelms a young college student as reality and fantasy merge in the midst of a drug trip that he realizes a dark power may be controlling.

During the British Raj an American reporter discovers a hidden valley in the foothills of the Himalaya ruled by a lovely but sinister woman who may not be human.

In these fourteen weird, surreal, frightening, and fantastic tales, unwary people discover that the world is very different from what they imagined.

While you’re there, stop in at my Amazon author’s page and peruse my other works.

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Book Review: On Moving: A Writer’s Meditation on New Houses, Old Haunts, and Finding Home Again by Louise DeSalvo

My son and I just moved again, from Yakima to Seattle, Washington.  We took a walk to the local branch of the Seattle Public Library to check it out and apply for library cards.  Waiting for the librarians to do their processing thing, perusing the collection, I naturally gravitated towards books on writing and literature.  I found one fascinating book on literature about which I will comment in due course, and then I came across this book.  “On Moving” – fascinating.  The story of my life.

Since I came back to the United States from Greece to help my sons find better employment and educational opportunities, I have been moving frequently, but in each case the acquisition of a domicile has been a matter of necessity, not of choice.

My first thought upon realizing I had to move on from Greece to the United States was to find a place in the Seattle area, where most of my relatives lived.  Seattle had gotten expensive, though, and housing was difficult to find.  My son in the Navy stationed in San Diego suggested I move there and we could find a house together.  So I flew on ahead, we searched for housing, and finally found a small two-bedroom house just two days before two more of my sons were scheduled to fly in.  We stayed there a year, one of my sons got his high school diploma there, and my youngest son, near the end of that stay, joined us from Greece.  I go into much more detail of that year in San Diego in my memoir “America Redux: Impressions of the United States After Thirty-Five Years Abroad“.

But then my Navy son received new orders and had to move elsewhere.  My thoughts turned again to Seattle, and again the expense and the paucity of available housing frustrated us.  One of my brothers suggested Yakima, just a few hours east of Seattle.  And so it was that we journeyed north to Yakima, not having seen our new abode.  My brother had booked a two-bedroom apartment for myself and my three sons, but we didn’t know exactly which one it was or what it looked like until we arrived and moved in.  We got by in Yakima, but it was unsuitable for a number of reasons.  It’s a small, isolated city without much to do.  There are no writers groups.  The public transportation system is very limited and infrequent.  During this time the two older sons living with me enlisted in the military and took off, and I was left with my youngest son, who was attending Middle School.

I determined to get out of there and move to Seattle.  One of my sisters told me of a nice apartment complex with reasonable rents in a nice neighborhood.  I looked it up on line and liked what I saw.  A two-bedroom apartment there inevitably cost more than one in Yakima, but it was within our means – barely.  I called the manager.  She was very congenial but told me she got at least three hundred queries a month for apartments but rarely had vacancies.  She told me to be persistent if I really wanted one.  So I started e-mailing her every day and calling at least once a week – and lo and behold, after a couple of months of daily queries a place opened up.  I accepted it sight unseen, as I knew I wouldn’t find another deal like it within the city of Seattle.  It turned out to be a good choice.  Another two-bedroom apartment, this one upstairs on the second floor, with views of the greenery of trees from all windows.

But this is telling you of the least of my wanderings.  In my hitchhiking days I wandered down the west coast of the United States, through Mexico into Guatemala, back up, across the States, all around Europe, across the Middle East, through Iran and Afghanistan, over the Khyber Pass, through Pakistan and India, to Sri Lanka and then through India again to Nepal, back across to Europe the way I’d come, around Europe, back across the States, back again to Europe and across the Middle East back to India.  Places I’ve stayed and lived in for considerable amounts of time include India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia, New Zealand, Italy, and Greece.  And I’ve lived in more than one city in a number of these places.  Yes, I’ve done my wandering.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever settle down.  I thought I had, in Greece, until the economy crashed and I had to leave for the sake of my sons.

So I found a lot of interest, a lot to empathize with, in DeSalvo’s anecdotes of writers and artists and their wanderings and homemaking.  Some stories affected me more than others.  Two, in particular, touched me profoundly.  The first was of the painter Pierre Bonnard, who moved to the south of France and bought a villa overlooking the sea. He created an ambiance there to suit his artistic temperament, and began to paint pictures of the house itself, over and over, all the different rooms, as it evolved and his life evolved in it.  He took to the task with spiritual dedication, seeing it as a life’s work to not paint just the appearance but the essence of things.  The other story that deeply moved me was of Henry Miller.  I have heard it before; indeed, I have read most of Miller’s works, but it was interesting to hear it in the context of DeSalvo’s thoughts on the moves an artist often feels compelled to make.  DeSalvo’s own story is also intriguing.  Though her moves were mainly within the state of New Jersey, she brings out the significance of each one and how it affected her life and work.

This is a slim volume.  I would have enjoyed more detail.  But it is what it is.  As the author brings out, moving is a profound, unsettling experience which can be either liberating or devastating, depending on why and how the move is made and how the artist uses the resulting emotional material in his or her life and work.

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Short Story “Matchmaker” Now Available in Infinite Science Fiction One

Infinite Science Fiction OneThe new science fiction anthology “Infinite Science Fiction One” is now available at Amazon.com. It’s got my story “Matchmaker”, about a man who travels back in time to Thessaloniki, Greece, in 1917, just before the great fire. In his era people have lost the will to pair up and procreate, and his journey is a fact-finding mission to locate and learn from a famed Greek matchmaker. His deception in pretending to be a client becomes complicated when she locates an ideal wife for him, and he is confronted with the decision of returning to the future alone with the knowledge he has acquired, or remaining in the past with the devastating fire about to sweep the city.

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“The Elephants Eyes” – Free Short Story Offer

ElephantsEyesStoryCoverFor five days, from Saturday August 30th to Wednesday September 3rd, my short story “The Elephant’s Eyes” will be available for free download on Amazon.com here. Stop in and pick up a copy. Here’s what it’s about:

In the midst of a savage riot a young Indian woman’s spirit merges with that of a temple elephant.  Realizing that she can control the beast, she guides it out into the midst of the chaos to rescue herself from those who are attacking her.

 

 

FearWebCover_FinalBig

It’s part of my short story collection “Fear or Be Feared: Fantasies” which is available on Amazon here. Here’s a description of the collection:

A teenage girl climbing Mount Olympus with friends becomes possessed by an ancient Greek god who uses her as an instrument of vengeance.

A young artist pursued by her abusive stepfather is recruited to join a society of people linked together by telepathy which exists completely outside the awareness of the present world system.

Paranoia overwhelms a young college student as reality and fantasy merge in the midst of a drug trip that he realizes a dark power may be controlling.

During the British Raj an American reporter discovers a hidden valley in the foothills of the Himalaya ruled by a lovely but sinister woman who may not be human.

In these fourteen weird, surreal, frightening, and fantastic tales, unwary people discover that the world is very different from what they imagined.

While you’re there, stop in at my Amazon author’s page and peruse my other works.

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“The Disappearance of Juliana and Invisible People: Two Fantasies” free short story offer

DisofJuland InvPeoStoriesCoverFor five days, from Monday August 25th to Friday August 29th, the short story compilation “The Disappearance of Juliana and Invisible People: Two Fantasies” will be available for free download at Amazon.com here. Stop in and pick up a copy. Here’s what it’s about:

In these two related tales, a young artist being pursued by her abusive stepfather and a middle-aged man fleeing a terrifying incident from his past are recruited to join a society of people linked together by telepathy which exists completely outside the awareness of the present world system.

 

FearWebCover_FinalBigIt’s part of my short story collection “Fear or Be Feared: Fantasies” which is available on Amazon here. Here’s a description of the collection:

A teenage girl climbing Mount Olympus with friends becomes possessed by an ancient Greek god who uses her as an instrument of vengeance.

A young artist pursued by her abusive stepfather is recruited to join a society of people linked together by telepathy which exists completely outside the awareness of the present world system.

Paranoia overwhelms a young college student as reality and fantasy merge in the midst of a drug trip that he realizes a dark power may be controlling.

During the British Raj an American reporter discovers a hidden valley in the foothills of the Himalaya ruled by a lovely but sinister woman who may not be human.

In these fourteen weird, surreal, frightening, and fantastic tales, unwary people discover that the world is very different from what they imagined.

While you’re there, stop in at my Amazon author’s page and peruse my other works.

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