Is there–should there–be a statute of limitations for past mistakes?

Is there–should there–be a statute of limitations for past mistakes?

Does it make sense to judge past behavior using present norms?

I’m not thinking about murder or theft. I think these are crimes that have always been considered illegal and–more importantly–immoral. While there may be mitigating circumstances for judges and courts to consider, e.g. hunger or self-defense, the basic societal norm doesn’t change. However, what I would like to talk about today is different. It is behaviors, acts that are clearly considered inappropriate, illegal even, from our current, contemporary point of view, things that may have been looked at very differently “way back” when they happened.

The #MeToo movement has put the spotlight on a great many such behaviors by men over the past eighteen months. And I think it is important that we highlight such behavior and speak out against sexual assault, rape, but also behavior that may not necessarily be illegal, but inappropriate, e.g. touching someone without their explicit consent, to not accept a no for a no etc. Racism, how we treat the LGBTQ-community, women’s rights etc. are other areas of how our views on humanity have evolved, for the better.

The people’s tribunal is in session…

Every now and then a celebrity or politician is making headlines for things they did a long time ago. Sometimes we learn when that was, sometimes, it’s more obscure. Let me say this again, just to make it clear because the topic is so sensitive, this isn’t about illegal behavior then and now, but inappropriate behavior. Is it fair to judge someone for something they did in the past when societal norms were different? I would like to use examples, but the trouble with specific people is that it clouds the bigger picture, as you dive into specific circumstances. So I won’t.

A long while ago, I wrote a post about the many statues that commemorate the American Civil War and the controversy they cause today. My point then was that we must see those statues in the light of the historical context during which they were erected. And treat them accordingly. Use them to teach today’s population about history so that we may avoid making the same mistakes again. I think we should apply the same approach to our more personal, human mistakes as well.

…and there is no way to appeal

If a politician made a racist remark thirty years ago may not necessarily disqualify them from holding office today. What was the context of their behavior then? What has their track record shown since? And how did their society, the place where they lived at the time view that which we now consider racist? Or homophobic? Please understand, I’m not trying to condone the act per se, but I also believe in human fallacy and in our ability to learn, to forgive and second chances.

In our days, we are so very quick to judge, so very quick to draw far-reaching conclusions. Social media and commenting here and there make people’s tribunals so easy to reach a damning verdict, a verdict to which there is no appeal. And let’s face it, if we look within ourselves, haven’t we all done things we are less proud of? Things we might not even remember? This is all part of the human equation. As such, everyone deserves that forgiveness, the caution before judgment, not just those we like or those who are on our side of an argument. Who has the right to cast that first stone?

What is your take? Should past actions be viewed through current lenses or through the lens of what society looked like back then, which–once again–is no endorsement of the past? Comments are welcome. Let’s talk.

Hans M Hirschi

Let’s talk about aging without the clichés and preconceptions

Let’s talk about aging without the clichés and preconceptions

Can we have a serious discussion about aging without reducing it to stupid expressions and hollow statements?

Aging. It happens to all of us, yet living in a society (Sweden) where youth is everything, growing older sometimes makes you feel at odds with how you see yourself, compared to how others see you. Aging is a thing, whether we accept it, or not. And it’s something we must deal with, one way or another. To grow older is neither good nor bad, it simply is, as inevitable as the earth spinning around the sun in the vastness of space. So why this post? I think a lot about aging, and no, I’m not “obsessed”, I think about a lot of things, twist them and turn them, look at them from various angles. I’ve also written about aging in more than one of my novels (e.g. Last Winter’s Snow, Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm or Jonathan’s Promise.)

Aging is more than “Seventy is the new Fifty”, “You’re only as old as you feel” or “Age is just a number”

The author at the age of eight.

The author at the age of eight.

No to all of the above. 🙂 With all due respect, but I can’t wait for the day when we finally dispense with repeating these stupid statements as if they were some Buddhist mantras. Society changes, norms change and people today act differently than they did ten, twenty, fifty years ago. Oddly, this only ever becomes a thing for the older generations. I’ve yet to year 3 is the new 7, even though there may be as much truth to that. But people obviously aren’t as obsessed with just how much more kids today know compared to what I did some forty-five years ago. And no, one isn’t as old as one feels, because there is always another side to that, how one is viewed by others. In this post, I would like to focus on aging from a couple of different angles. At this point, if you believe that I’m “obsessed” with age or if you think that I’m suffering from a mid-life crisis, then this might not be for you. Neither is true, but I acknowledge willingly that I have no desire to debate with a closed mind…

Speaking of a mid-life crisis. I did have a life crisis, but that was a long time ago. I was actually approaching my thirtieth birthday, and I recall feeling frustrated by that fact, no longer being in my twenties. After many months of feeling sorry for myself, I finally got to the point where I accepted the “inevitable” and enjoyed a great birthday and moved on.

Age is only a problem if you’re afraid to die

Author Hans Hirschi in Lower Manhattan and Battery Park, January 2019.

Author Hans Hirschi in Lower Manhattan, January 2019. Photo: Alina Oswald

This is one of my core beliefs. I think most people are afraid of the inevitable, death. And while we can’t change that outcome, we can at least pretend that it’s not happening yet. Strangely (I’ve just read another article about that), we seem to do little to stop us from aging prematurely and many of us let our general health lapse with crap diets, too much alcohol and sugar, and not enough exercise. And we’ve spent the past x-thousand years of human society to build elaborate religious systems (the extent of which is really mind-boggling if you think about it) creating fantasies around eternal lives and/or reincarnation. Simply because we cannot accept that life ends when we exhale our last breath. Now picture all the oppression, all the genocides, all the atrocities, the persecution and the hatred that follows in the footsteps of religion and you quickly realize that age and death are probably the biggest “thing” in human culture. So yes, we DO need to talk about it…

I never really counted how much time I spend contemplating aging or my death. I spend little time on the latter, as I can’t know when or how I’ll die. What I can think about is how I live my life, the kind of life I want to live. I also have very specific ideas on how I want my body to be disposed of after my death, something my husband and I discuss at times, to make sure we both understand each other’s final wishes. But ever since I realized that religion truly was “opium for the masses”, I’ve not had any issues with my own mortality. Therefore, aging is not an issue for me. Sure, I’d like to live to be very old (I’m a curious person), but only if I have my physical and mental health to allow me for a meaningful life. That view might change of course, as my aging puts new limitations on what I can do (physically) as the years progress. I no longer jump over fences as I used to and I do wake up every so often with my sciatica reminding me that I no longer have the spine of a teen.

There’s this weird dissonance between mind and body

I'd love to have that body back... Alas. I'd lose much of what I honestly value higher: experience, wisdom, knowledge

I’d love to have that body back… Alas. I’d lose much of what I honestly value higher: experience, wisdom, knowledge

Sometimes I look in the mirror and I see my brother, or my dad, not me. This is weird and only lasts a fraction of a second before I recognize that the aging face staring back at me in surprise is, in fact, my own. Sometimes my behavior doesn’t reflect my exterior appearance. Just yesterday, we were on a walk and I was strutting along the path we were on, holding hands with my son (he’ll be six next month.) Some of the people we met were looking at me as if something was seriously wrong with me: “why does this old guy strut like a child?” I still love roller coasters, and the way I dress hasn’t changed much since I was twenty-five. I still prefer jeans and t-shirts/polos. But most importantly, I still ‘feel’ as if I were twenty-five. I don’t feel that I’m more than twice that age, and it goes without saying that this dissonance is growing bigger for every year.

At the same time, I can also readily admit that other parts of my mind do age. I am less tolerant of anti-social behavior (stupid expression, I know, but it’s the best I’ve got) such as feet on chairs, loud music on public transport, people walking on the wrong side of the street, etc. than when I was in my teens and twenties. I just wish everyone could behave properly. LOL I know, this does make me sound ancient…

What I don’t like about aging…

There are several aspects to growing older I don’t like:

  • my physical limitations grow, my body decays
  • the perception others have on what I can do, cannot do
  • society’s views on my age cohort

The most annoying feature of growing older is, of course, my physical decay. When you get an x-ray done and the doctors tell you that your spine is “normal” for someone your age, waking up with back pains every day, my sciatica, how stiff I am compared to how I think I should be, how easily I seem to put on weight these days etc. Those are really annoying things. Oddly, I’m probably in better shape than I’ve ever been, working out regularly, with a diet healthier than ever before. Unfortunately, the sins of the first forty-nine years cannot be undone completely, and they are a constant reminder of not making them again. It’s also not very nice to see how my hair is getting grayer and grayer, or that my skin is beginning to sag. Then again, compared to others my age (or much younger), I can’t complain. Looking after yourself does wonders!

But much worse than my physical aging is how I am perceived by others. Finding a job at my age? Forget about it. I’m either over-qualified (HR code for “too old” and “too expensive”) or I don’t even hear back. It’s catch twenty-two: apply for a job you’re overqualified for but that you really should land and they’ll be right to claim you’re overqualified, apply for a job that might actually challenge you, and find one every year or so…and get no response. Sadly, for every year, this gets worse. I live in one of the worst societies when it comes to ageism. Here, things start to quickly go downhill as soon as you turn forty. At fifty plus, I might as well give up.

What I like about aging…

Horsing around with my son is still loads of fun.

Horsing around with my son is still loads of fun. Despite the gray hairs… Photo: Alina Oswald

This is really the fun part. I love all the things I know, the experience I have, the countless things I’ve learned and the wisdom of knowing that I still don’t know shit. I’m also happy that I still remember what it was like to be young and to be dismissed because of that. I also remember vividly that I held very strong views of “I know everything!” when I was younger. Not sure when that changed, but I thought that I knew it all and that I was pretty much invincible until I was at least twenty-five.

It’s quite relaxing to acknowledge that I don’t know it all. Which is different from being right. I like being right at any age. LOL And as I grow older, it’s easier to admit when I’m wrong. There’s less ‘shame’, less sense of losing face associated with that. I am more relaxed about a great many things, simply because I’m not in the same hurry, I feel more patient (even though I still like to get things done quickly.)

Just the other day, a friend and I were talking about the eighties, the advent of PCs at work, fax machines and how slow work life was back then. You sent a letter and then you had to wait, two days, sometimes longer, for a reply. Bank contracts had to be typed up and mailed. No email, no fax stuff, no electronic signatures. It was a slower time, and the pace of life was different. Mind you, not better, not worse, but different. I find it a valuable experience to have in our world today. Just this weekend, I once again realized how fast our world is changing when our son failed to realize what live TV is. We hardly ever watch it, and when he had to go to the bathroom, he asked us to pause the program, in all seriousness. No can do. How do you teach such basic concepts such as time, when kids no longer have to be in front of their TV at a given time, every day, to watch their kids’ show? The way I had to at six pm every Saturday? They turn to Netflix or YouTube any time, pause, resume at their leisure. Not better, not worse, but vastly different.

When you forget…kids are there to remind us

Let’s face it: we all forget stuff. I do, too. I’m lucky though to have a child to remind me of things, from playing to just simply remembering the various stages of childhood. And I am in awe of today’s kids. They know so much, so very early in life. They learn so much. My son dives into learning with gusto. He’s strong-willed and very independent, in many ways the opposite of me, and I’d like to believe that I may take some credit for that. Where my parents were over-protective, I keep him on a much longer “leash”.

Photographing author Hans M. Hirschi in Central Park, NYC. May 1, 2017.I love being out and about with my son because of his viewpoint, his perspective. He sees things so very differently. Sometimes funny, often wrong, but still, it reminds me of my own youth. But more importantly, the constant reminder that different perspectives complement each other. When I was a child or teen, my point of view didn’t matter. It was only the views of the older that mattered.

Today, the opposite seems to be the case. I wish we could see more balance. It pains me that we e.g. seem to forget the lessons of the great wars of the previous century. Let the older generations remind us of that, but maybe we need to let the younger generations tell the story? So that they capture the minds and hearts of the generations that need to heed the lessons?

What are your experiences? Thoughts? Let’s hear it… I for one will continue to ponder this for the rest of my life, as I learn new things, and maybe even unlearn some dear old habits that aren’t really helpful… Have a wonderful week.

Hans M Hirschi
author

You think authors “kill” characters for fun? Think again.

You think authors “kill” characters for fun? Think again.

Authors are not unlike readers, we’re not Chucky (Exceptions probably apply)

When memes kill off your favorite conversations...

When memes kill off your favorite conversations…

I stumbled across this meme on a friend’s wall on Facebook the other day. I commented on it with a GIF because why not. Since we seem to be conversing with memes others make for us, why bother replying with words…

It’s a stupid meme for starters, exaggerating things beyond any measure of what could be considered appropriate given the topic we talk about: books. Words like “murder” and “hate” feel weirdly over the top. This is after all not your children or partners we talk about. I think most readers realize that unless they’re Annie Wilkes in Misery. I know for a fact that my friend is not. Alas, memes… Nuff said about that.

Let’s forget the stupid meme and focus on the topic it seeks to highlight:

  • – The loss of an important (main/secondary character in a book
  • – The reaction from the writer
  • – The reaction from the audience

As a rule of thumb: a book where no one dies isn’t fiction, it’s fantasy (not the genre)

As the writer of seventeen full-length books, I know a thing or two about writing. Books mirror life in general and as such, they have to relate to life. If you happen to write instruction manuals for self-sealing stem bolts, this does not apply to you. Death is the ultimate consequence of life, its culmination. If life were sex, death would be the orgasm. You just can’t have life without death. (Yeah, no, the sex metaphor just died a painful death here…) If you write a book that plays out during a very short period of time, e.g. a day or a week or two, maybe even as long as a year, you can get by without anyone dying within the framework of the book.

But more often than not, books look back, they look forward, they cross decades, span across generations and they get to the point where death becomes a necessity. In my first novel Family Ties, nobody actually dies in the book. It plays out in just twenty-four hours (plus the epilogue) yet death is omnipresent, as a funeral is the spark that ignites the story.

I have been criticized by some who strongly dislike (to avoid the term above) the epilogue in Jonathan’s Hope (don’t believe me? Head on over to GollumReads and check out the reviews… I dare you.) They claim that Dan’s death at the end of the book did nothing to further the plot (as we authors often claim) and that it was utterly unnecessary. They must’ve have read a different novel altogether. And that is fine. Allow me to explain the misunderstanding.

There’s a reason for everything authors do, particularly when they do away with an important character…

You can read a book in many different ways. You can apply feminist glasses, a hermeneutic approach, a biographical one, a queer one, etc. Or you can try and squeeze a book into a genre and read it as such. You can read Romeo & Juliet as a romance novel, but you’d be disappointed with its ending (as it defies the romance genre’s call for a happily ever after.) Or you can read it as the drama that Shakespeare intended it to be and work through all the heartache and get to contemplate the many layers of subtext and the social criticism the play is laced with. Far too many lessons in his play are valid to our days. Alas, since forbidden love is still a thing, the “unhappy ending” makes a lot more sense than that which might make us feel good for the moment but wouldn’t make us think about what the author is trying to say.

Escapism genres tend to be shallow, and there’s nothing wrong with that (you’re probably not escaping fluff on cloud number nine), but if a book, a story, shakes you to the core, chances are the author is trying to tell you something (and no, I’m not about to debate exceptions, because that’s what they are.) In Jonathan’s Hope, there is a very good reason for the epilogue. The book’s title alludes to it, hope. Four letters, but they fuel the very life we lead. Without hope, it is questionable if we’d be able to live in the first place. For Jonathan, the epilogue is hope materialized. The hope of finding love, the hope of building a family, being happy, living a fulfilled, meaningful life. That is what the seventeen-year-old dreams about as he faces what seems certain death in the early pages of the novel.

As an author, I try to provide hope in my writing as well, and the book, despite the “death” of a main character, does provide hope anew. Looking around himself, beholding his family standing all around him, fills Jonathan with renewed hope and the knowledge that life is still worth living.

The death of a character is not something we do easily, the pain is quite physical

Yes, we sometimes have to let a character die. Yes, the plot demands it. My novel Last Winter’s Snow would be utterly meaningless without Casper’s death, the very premise of the book, how do you survive the loss of your partner. It’s what the novel is about. There are countless examples in literature of death being at the very core of the plot. Allow me to mention two from the LGBT world: Death in Venice and A Single Man. Remove death from those stories and consider the truncated stories and the impact they would’ve had on world literature. None whatsoever.

No writing project has ever caused me such pain as the death of Jonathan.

No writing project has ever caused me such pain as the death of Jonathan.

When I began writing the sequel to Jonathan’s Hope, I promised (sic!) myself that the novel would end with Jonathan’s passing. I had one important reason: I didn’t want to write a series around him and Dan, and I thought (naïvely, I admit) that writing a novel about the autumn of Jonathan’s life would ensure that. Alas, what sounded like a great theory was quite a different thing when I finally got to that point in the novel, when I was sitting at my laptop (as I am now), writing the actual words.

I hadn’t really planned for how his passing would come about, had no idea how or when it would occur. Suddenly (probably nudged by the word counter and the setting of the previous scene), I realized that the premise of the book was fulfilled, and that final chapter began to magically pour onto the screen. I remember it all too well. It is one of those moments in my life I will always remember vividly, similar to 9/11 or the Challenger disaster. Before I was done, my view clouded and as the tears were flowing freely from my eyes and onto my glasses. I was barely able to finish it, and the book does end rather abruptly. Quite unusual for me (hope anyone?) I just couldn’t go on.

Now, this isn’t exactly something to brag about, but I suffered a nervous breakdown, sobbing for hours, curling up into a ball of misery in my writing corner. I was utterly devastated. Jonathan, as fictional as he may be, had been a very close companion of mine for two years, and he’d nestled himself into my heart in ways I had not anticipated. It took me hours to pick myself up from the gutter, after long discussions with both my publisher and my husband, before the realization dawned on me: I had to press on. I had to write another book. Not for my readers, just for me. I had to fix it. I had to make it right. I needed to provide closure. Jonathan’s Legacy is probably my ‘sappiest’ book, with the happiest ending ever. So much for us authors killing for fun!

What about readers? Don’t you care about them/us?

There is probably a difference between “artsy” authors and “crafty” writers (and this is not a qualitative distinction.) The latter write primarily for money, but I’d say even they care deeply for their readers, even if it may be for different reasons, aka “I can’t afford to piss them off or they won’t buy my next one…” Needless to say, such books tend to stay clear of the strongest emotional expressions, they won’t deal with the darkest aspects of humanity. Those topics just don’t lend themselves to the business of money-making.

This book strikes a special note with many readers, because as painful as it may be at first, it is strangely cathartic for many.

This book strikes a special note with many readers because as painful as it may be at first, it is strangely cathartic for many.

I’m definitely an “artsy” writer. While I like my books being bought (thanks to those who do!), that is not my driving force, or I would’ve taken that hint a long time ago and moved on to more lucrative pastures. Instead, I write the books that I have to write, I explore the topics I must because my brain is strangely wired, which is why I write about losing a child because I’m a parent, it’s a real-life fear of mine. Ask ANY parent. It’s why I wrote Disease because Alzheimer’s is a thing in my family, etc. It’s why I wrote that book about losing your partner, or love at old age or, or, or… Those were all questions that were on my mind in my very personal life at some point or another. Writing allows me to consider the pros and cons in a safe environment. Cynics might say I’m being paid for my own therapy sessions!

Am I aware that it might hurt readers? I’ll be honest, it’s not a concern when I write because I have to do what I have to do it in order to write the story that needs to be written. But I’m not some cold-hearted bastard who shrugs at the emotions felt by people who read my books. Quite the contrary. Readers’ tears are my silent applause. And since I’m not paid much…they keep me going, and I strongly believe that emotions are a good thing. However, and this is an important caveat: I will not allow anyone else’s emotions (or vision or views) influence my writing as it happens, at least not consciously. It is my story after all, and I will tell it the way I feel (strongly) it must be told. I hope that makes sense to you. If my subconscious picks up on stuff is a different thing entirely. Even the stupid meme here did–after all–prompt this blog post and much contemplation on my part.

I look forward to hearing your (side of the) story. Authors, how do you go about writing death? Readers, have I missed something? Let’s have it and please use your words… This is a writing blog after all.

Hans M Hirschi

After writing is before writing: that precious–scary–time

After writing is before writing: that precious–scary–time

With the manuscript sent to the publisher, it’s time to focus on the next project

In case you don’t know what a writer’s work entails, here’s a quick summary: we write a book, send it to our publisher, wait for edits to come back, then edit the edits, re-write what needs to be fixed and send it back. Follows proof-reading and publishing. If this isn’t your first book, you also spend time marketing previous book(s) and you work on a plan on how to market the new one and you do admin, just like any other job. This is, of course, a simplified view. Writing a book can take anything from a couple of weeks to a lifetime. But when you’re done, and before you embark on your next project is a scary time for some of us, filled with angst, but also joy.

Anxiety and Anticipation rolled up into one? How does that work?

My fantasy novel is the first book in a planned series of three. A story for youths and teens primarily dealing with the big threats our planet is dealing with today.

My fantasy novel is the first book in a planned series of three. A story for youths and teens primarily dealing with the big threats our planet is dealing with today.

I’m not sure I can adequately describe the emotion or the melange of feelings that fill me at a time like this. This is the second time in my short career (I’ve only been writing for six years) that I’ve been in this situation. I submitted book three of my Golden One series to the publisher last week. It’s not due until September, giving me ample time this year to write. There’s nothing that says that any other book of mine will see the markets this year. Two publications are what my publisher musters. So in all likelihood (unless it’s a small project), whatever I write next won’t be published until 2020.

My planned novel about a dystopian future world turned into the opposite: a story about hope and a utopian Earth, five centuries into the future.

My planned novel about a dystopian future world turned into the opposite: a story about hope and a utopian Earth, five centuries into the future.

That gives me time, which is a blessing, a boon. But it’s also scary, for more than one reason. The blessing is that I can go for a long walk in my island’s local forest and just enjoy myself. I can read the placards about stone-age cultures and dream about writing a novel about that or I can be inspired by a sci-fi book I read to write my own hard-core sci-fi novel with starships and aliens. While Willem of the Tafel is a beautiful story of a future Earth, and technically qualifies as sci-fi, it’s not the Star Trek / Wars sci-fi I grew up with. A challenge for sure.

On the other hand, there’s the anxiety of not making any money, not being productive, seeing my husband report for his daytime job every day while I do nothing? You have to actually live through that to understand just how frustrating and emotionally taxing it can be. This isn’t the first time I’m in this position. I recall a period three years ago, after finishing the Jonathan Trilogy when I felt the same way.

The sooner you accept it, the sooner you can be creative again

Only a mock-up, not the real cover, obviously. I should have that in a few weeks, as part of the build-up toward the release in March.

Only a mock-up, not the real cover, obviously. I should have that in a few weeks, as part of the build-up toward the release in March.

One thing I learned from my previous ‘stint’ with anxiety/anticipation is that the sooner I accepted the fact that the emotions were natural and that there was nothing I could do about them except accept them, the sooner I was able to move on and actually write again. I am very proud of the books that followed Jonathan’s Legacy: Last Winter’s Snow, Disease as well as Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm are books I am incredibly proud of. Very different in tone and style, they represent some of my best writing to date.

So while I’m always anxious about the next book (will it be good enough? Will I finally be ousted as the fraud/incompetent writer I am? etc.), I also feel less stressed about it than before. I know that I can continue to write, there isn’t really a lack of ideas, but obviously, some of those will require more research. I can write short stories and I have my children’s book series to work on. The question is more “what” then “when”. The anxiety… LOL

Meanwhile, I enjoy the limbo. I know it won’t last, because the hamster wheel that is a writer’s job (any job, really) implies that before I know it, my publisher will send me the edits to book two of The Golden One–Deceit, and I’ll be knee deep in work again: editing, proofing, marketing. The Golden One–Deceit will hit bookstores on March 17, 2019. That is sooner than I care for…

Review: M.D. Neu’s “Contact”: we’re not alone!

Review: M.D. Neu’s “Contact”: we’re not alone!

Book one in a promising new Sci-Fi series

“If he mentions his dislike of series one more time I’m going to vomit!”

The cover of Contact, book one in the A New World series.

The cover of Contact, book one in the A New World series.

Don’t worry, I won’t. I think it’s well known by now. I was unaware this was the first book of several when I agreed to read the ARC of Marvin’s new book Contact. I had read and reviewed M.D.’s previous book about vampires in San Jose, The Calling. It was a promising debut and I was genuinely curious about what would come next from Marvin. Contact is very different from The Calling. Here’s my take on it.

What’s the book about?

I’m sure we’ve all thought about what the day would look like when aliens make first contact with humanity. What place would they choose? Which people/country? Would they be peaceful? Hostile? Judging by the movies made on the theme, from Independence Day to Mars Attacks, we can safely say that two things apply: a) the U.S. is usually the country in the focus and b) they’re usually hostile.

I’ll try to stay clear of any sort of spoilers, but given that Marvin is American, it’s a safe bet that the book plays out in the U.S. This isn’t a spoiler, it’s in the blurb of the book:

A little blue world, the third planet from the sun. It’s home to seven billion people—with all manner of faiths, beliefs, and customs, divided by bigotry and misunderstanding—who will soon be told they are not alone in the universe. Anyone watching from the outside would pass by this fractured and tumultuous world, unless they had no other choice. Todd Landon is one of these people, living and working in a section of the world called the United States of America. His life is similar to those around him: home, family, work, friends, and a husband.

On the cusp of the greatest announcement humankind has ever witnessed, Todd’s personal world is thrown into turmoil when his estranged brother shows up on his front porch with news of ships heading for Earth’s orbit. The ships are holding the Nentraee, a humanoid race who have come to Earth in need of help after fleeing the destruction of their homeworld. How will one man bridge the gap for both the Humans and Nentraee, amongst mistrust, terrorist attacks, and personal loss? Will this be the start of a new age of man or will bigotry and miscommunication bring this small world to its knees and final end?

At the core is Todd, and as the blurb announces, there’s this gap: what happens between “Todd Landon being one of these people” to Todd “bridging the gap”? What’s this “mistrust, terrorist attacks, and personal loss?” I can’t say without spoiling things, but safe to say, it’s well constructed.

A slow start…

The book has a slow start. Unlike his previous work, it takes seven chapters for Marvin to establish the premise, introduce us to the Nantraee, Todd and his family etc. Had this been a standalone novel, I would have criticized this. But given that Contact is book one of several, it makes more sense. The storytelling flows more slowly and M.D. takes his time to introduce us to the world of the Nantraee. The story is told from both the human and alien perspective, switching between on-world and off-world view of the same happenings. I quite enjoyed that.

We also get to know Todd, his husband Jerry, his place of work in some detail. Given that Todd is the main character, that makes a lot of sense. The current political situation in the U.S. is also weaved into the story. Names are changed but you still get the impression that Trumpism is beginning to affect literary works in the States, with authors having to relate to the new reality. It’s virtually impossible to simply ignore it, particularly given the fact that an alien arrival necessarily will involve an administration at some point. Makes total sense.

An abrupt ending…

I found the ending of Contact harder to swallow. It simply ends with the promise of a continuation in a novel called Conviction. Yes, the initial contact is established, Todd is embarking on “bridging”, but that’s about it. In a stand-alone novel, we’d been frustrated. In the context of a series, it makes more sense, because Marvin will have plenty of time to tell his story. I do understand the challenges of telling a “big” story, one that can’t be told within the confines of one book. I’m currently doing the same. It is a fine line we’re walking. Allow me to use the original Star Wars movies as an example. When A New Hope was released, the story ends positively with the by now famous award ceremony. We realize that this is only the beginning, but had George Lucas not been able to secure additional funding, the film would have worked stand-alone. The second movie, Episode V, was different. By then, Lucas knew there would be an episode VI (not just in his mind, but financed!) and the ending, while it worked was much more open and we all knew we’d only have to wait a year or so for the next one.

Contact is different. I presume that Marvin knows that a continuation comes for sure and the story doesn’t end. Only the book does and he has us readers long for that continuation. I don’t know at this stage when it will be released. Given that his debut released a year ago, we might have to work until next January for Conviction to drop in bookstores

Who’s this book for?

Contact is sci-fi light. Yes, there are starships, there are aliens, but the story plays out in the now and mostly on Earth (and Earth’s orbit), so the amount of world-building is limited. Even if you’re not a huge sci-fi fan, this is a book you can enjoy. It is no different than a story of e.g. the first encounters between Europeans and Americans or Africans. What happens, how do the different cultures look at each other? How will they build trust? Communicate? How do you bridge the cultural differences? Personally, I found the latter aspects the most intriguing ones and I have a hunch that this will be Todd’s main challenge going forward. This isn’t a story with phasers and wars, at least I don’t think so.

The characters aren’t fully developed and some feel very square and sketched, but I’m confident that we’ll get to know them better in the coming books. There is no rush. I’m sure all will be answered in time. Personally, I’m looking forward to Conviction and the continuation of Todd’s struggle.

Contact is releasing today from Nine Star Press and is available on Amazon et al. as paperback and ebook.

Book review: “The Seed of Immortality” by Wayne Goodman

Book review: “The Seed of Immortality” by Wayne Goodman

An interesting take on ancient Chinese myths, and the game of Mahjong

The Seed of Immortality is not a book you easily come across, it literally disappears behind all the naked torsos that dominate the Gay & Lesbian section. Yes, it’s on sale on Amazon, but I don’t think I’ve ever searched for a book under “Chinese” or “Historical” in my life. Instead, I happened to talk to the author, Wayne Goodman, about his writing after he’d interviewed me for his podcast Queer Words. Coincidences. He graciously made the book available to me and I read it with gusto over the Holidays.

I’ll be frank and admit that I have no clue how to play Mahjong and after reading the story, I’m no more interested to learn the game than I was before. To each their own. But even if you’re like me, you might enjoy this book for its story. This is an extremely well-written tale, and I don’t say that out of a false sense of gratitude toward Wayne for granting me a spot on his podcast. No. I really think this is an interesting story, in part because he so aptly captured the way Chinese conversation flows, how he depicts the time period and the flow of the narrative.

A great fan of China

The cover of The Seed of Immortality, by Wayne Goodman

The cover of The Seed of Immortality, by Wayne Goodman

The author is a China aficionado, he clearly loves the culture and the heritage that stretches thousands of years back in time. It’s easy to agree with him. I’ve traveled to China twice and the Chinese have a lot to offer the world in terms of knowledge, philosophy, and life wisdom. Sadly, the west doesn’t seem to appreciate the Asian cultures and their millennia of culture and history (nor Africa or the Americas for that matter.)

There are a great many words and terms used in The Seed of Immortality and the author explains them at the end of the book. I read it on my phone and it makes the getting back and forth a bit cumbersome. I would imagine this being a lot easier on a paperback with a bookmark at hand. Alas, it is what it is. But I applaud Wayne’s decision to not explain the terms in the story as he tells it. It would distract and it would risk pulling you out of the comfort of slipping back in time to the period in which the story is told, a good two-thousand-two-hundred years ago, starting with the reign of emperor Qin Shi Huang. The story ends a couple of hundred years later, but I won’t spoil that for you.

How to tackle homosexuality centuries before the expression was coined?

How do you write a story about gay people (and I use the term as loosely as I can) millennia before the term was first used? In an era where people’s thinking about gay people and gay acts were completely different than what we consider today? Well, Wayne Goodman does a marvelous job. See, we’ve always been part of human society, and if you doubt that you probably belong to the group of people who also believe that dinosaurs were part of Noah’s Ark. Hashtag facepalm. I’ve used Alexander the Great as an example, who lived in those days, and we have Hadrian, the builder of the wall between England and Scotland, the first man in history we know of to get married to another man. So much for “traditional marriage”… Alas, I’m digressing.

The real difference is that back then, people didn’t use sexuality as an identifier or a way to distinguish themselves from others. I just read an article about contemporary Afghanistan, and the ancient tradition of Bacha bazi, a form of gay behavior that still isn’t seen as such, not unlike similar traditions in ancient Greece. In Turkey, to this day, you’re only considered gay if you’re bottoming in a relationship. Odd, I know, but imagine if you don’t even have a word for it? As a linguist, I’m familiar with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which roughly states that we are unable to imagine that for which we have no word. On the other hand, we can easily imagine things we have a word for, even though they don’t exist, e.g. Warp speed or “beam me up”. A simplification of course. What the Chinese of the period did was to circumscribe behaviors, mannerisms and Wayne makes good use of those terms. They’re also defined in the glossary of The Seed of Immortality.

But more importantly, the characters don’t define themselves as gay. At first, I found that almost offensive (to me, as a gay man), but I have to hand it to the author. How could they when they “literally” couldn’t? The way–and I won’t offer any spoilers–the author delicately describes the altering attitudes and behavior on an individual level, particularly within the mind and thinking of our main protagonist, Hao Lan. Color me impressed!

The story pulls you in, like a fairytale, and keeps you hooked

I don't know how to play the game nor will I likely learn it (although, you never know...) But no matter what, you'll enjoy this story.

I don’t know how to play the game nor will I likely learn it (although, you never know…) But no matter what, you’ll enjoy this story.

I won’t offer a synopsis of the story, as it’s weaved like a tapestry of small scenes within the larger arc that is the immortality and how to stay immortal for the eight immortals that exist in Chinese mythology. The story is told from Hao Lan’s perspective, from his arrival at a health retreat to play Mahjong and regain his health to the end of the book where he departs on a mission west on behalf of the Chinese emperor, two hundred years later, right around the time our modern time begins, with the alleged birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

The story weaves in dream sequences where Hao Lan is in communion with a mythical blue dragon, who provides Hao Lan with foresight and also gives him tasks to accomplish. These dreams form the backdrop that weaves the tapestry of the arc story and they lead our protagonist and his huoban from tale to tale. It is most intriguing.

The dialogue is exquisite. I find it hard to put my finger on exactly what it is because obviously the story is written in contemporary English, but the dialogue feels Chinese, reminds me of how my Chinese friends and business associates speak English.

Mahjong or not, give this story a try…

I don’t play Mahjong, not sure I ever will. I learned long ago never to say never. I thoroughly enjoyed The Seed of Immortality, including its rather abrupt ending (how else can you end a tale about immortals?) There might be a continuation at some point and Wayne recently told me that it was originally conceived as a trilogy, so who knows. For now, this serves as a most excellent stand-alone. Don’t let the cover distract you from the treasure within! This is a book I most certainly will return to, knowing that more details are hidden, things I may have overlooked the first time I read the story.

To learn more about the author and his work, contact him on this Facebook page. Wayne Goodman is also curator of an excellent new podcast I regularly enjoy listening to, whether you’re an author or reader, Queer Words.