Watching “Hollywood” left me severely troubled
It’s been a week since we finished the Netflix hit mini-series Hollywood. It’s impossible to NOT include spoilers in this post, so be prepared or walk away. But while my instant reaction was enjoyment, after the end, especially after the final episode, I was left troubled. I found the final two episodes really disturbing. I turned to my collective brain on Facebook to ask them about their impression and I walked away even more confused. The almost unanimous feedback was “great. show”, “it’s revisionist”, “it shows how things could’ve been, should’ve been”, etc. I’ve been thinking about those comments for days now.
Medici, Borgias, the Crown paved the way for this…
I’ve watched a lot of historic TV shows, some mentioned above, and then some. Doing so, I always have my phone in hand to check things on Wikipedia: is this a real character/event? And as has always been the case with TV and movies, writers and directors take significant liberties when creating their shows. I also watched “Once upon a time…in Hollywood“, the Tarantino movie which takes the murder of Sharon Tate and changes it significantly. I enjoyed that movie, to a degree. And it wasn’t primarily the fact that Sharon Tate isn’t killed, but the violence of the movie in general. Typical Tarantino, I guess. Just not my cup of tea.
But “Hollywood” is different on a completely different level. While very loosely based on real events from the post-WWII period, and using several historical figures, including Rock Hudson and Henry Wilson, to just name two of the most infamous ones. It starts out by depicting the arrival of Hudson in Hollywood, and his character is portrayed as the gay man he was. So far so good. The same is true for Henry Wilson, in all the gory despicability of who he apparently was. It also showcases the racial differences and how extremely difficult it was for POC in those days. And while some individuals were able to see past that and regarded people as simply humans, that certainly wasn’t true for society at large. There are scenes with Queen Latifah and Michelle Krusiec that are gutwrenching to watch, yet based on the reality of those days.
Suddenly, everything is different
There is a scene where the gay black screenwriter walks up to the studio head to warn her that he’ll be holding hands with Rock Hudson on the red carpet. By that scene, the improbable movie had already become a smash hit at the box offices and been nominated for a lot of Oscars. She warns him of the consequences thereof, but he, as they say, persisted. From there, the scenes are stacked up and blacks, gays, and the improbable movie “Meg” walk away with Oscars and the mini-series ends with the promise of a romantic gay movie being made. Yes, amazing, isn’t it?
Yet totally unrealistic… That gay movie still hasn’t been shot. No, Simon’s not it either. And while it’s close, it shows that even in 2020 we are so far away from even being close to treating minorities similar to the white ruling classes of Hollywood. #hollywoodsowhite anyone?
Yes, things have changed for the better, but…
I don’t mind fantasy. I don’t mind things being portrayed in rosy colors. But please, don’t change history. Why? Stupid people, simply put. And there’s plenty of them, sadly. There are hundreds of millions of people around the world with no sense for historic accuracy/literacy who do not know how to use Wikipedia while watching historic dramas (I’ve seen the comments about e.g. the Medici or the Borgias on Facebook) and they’ll take this at face value. Don’t believe me? Five letters: T R U M P.
The man and his regime change history on the fly. Suddenly we’re facing “Obamagate” (even though there is NO such thing and never was), Russia is replaced by Ukraine, the Trump campaign by the Biden campaign (which had not begun yet) but I guess beating on Hillary got old. Without any care for facts, we have seen how the perception of the world is changing. One day 45 trumpets about a malaria medication being a promising cure from the White House pulpit, the next day, people are poisoned in Nigeria because they (lack of education) believed him and overdosed on that shit. I’m just waiting for the first idiot to publicly spout from the rooftops that gays and blacks have no reason to complain, that things have been so great for them as the show portrays. And don’t tell me people will not react like that because there are literally millions upon millions who are incapable of separating truth from fiction. Sometimes even educated people. The worst part is how this will affect the perception of things like #blacklivesmatter and the ongoing struggle of the LGBTQ and POC communities for equality if suddenly people think there’s no reason to complain.
It was one of the great reads of my youth, George Orwell’s novel 1984. I remember how they went back to change articles in The Times to better and accurately reflect changes to IngSoc dogma. It was Winston Smith’s job, after all. I doubt that Mr. Orwell would’ve been able to even imagine a time, in the not too distant future where the president of the world’s dominant nation would lie so often and so callously that facts had become a perishable good. He changes his views on the fly and there is no Winston Smith there to alter the facts and clean up the mess. He simply ignores it, labels yesterday’s facts as “fake news” and moves on lying. I have family members reading every word from the man’s lips.
This is why I am so disturbed by revisionist (what an awful word btw.) TV shows and movies. Do fantasy and sci-fi, by all means, but don’t change the past (unless you do so the way time travelers do, where it’s all in the open and stated as fiction and an alternative reality.) It’s simply too dangerous in our time and age. I’m not surprised though. It’s the perfect form of entertainment for the Trump age where nothing is real anymore. Not the news, not science, not facts, not even history. That makes me sad and worried for humanity.
A new take on a popular genre
The dedication of The Killing Spell. Certainly made my day…
A couple of months ago, I noticed a post on my Facebook wall. Someone had posted a picture from a book, thanking me and a couple of other authors for our help in making the book possible. I was intrigued. Rewind the clock another couple of years to 2016 when I was contacted by Shane. He had some questions about writing and publishing. I was happy to respond and connected him to a local South California writer friend of mine. We’ve been loosely in touch ever since, but the release of his book caught me by surprise. Seeing the dedication with my name made my day. I bought the book and asked Shane to sign it for me. After it arrived last week, I’ve finally had the chance to read it, even though I’m in the thick of publishing one myself, not usually a time when I read.
The Killing Spell is a youth novel in the Harry Potter tradition
Remember that first letter to young Harry Potter, inviting him to attend Hogwarts? That is exactly how The Killing Spell begins, with a letter to the main character in the book, Edward Peach. I won’t spoil the story. There are other similarities and Shane has cleverly placed his novel with references to the Potter universe and others. The big difference? Where there is no mention of any LGBT characters in Harry Potter (until way after every book was published and the money safely in the bank), Edward is openly gay. At least to the reader. He’s not really interested in going to the prestigious school he’s invited to, but goes anyway and soon meets another youth, merely mentioned as Mr. Andreas. His first name carries a curse and must not be mentioned.
I presume there will be more books about Edward and Mr. Andreas, as the story mentions fifth-year students. The language is carefully crafted to suit Edward’s very English background and a young audience. I’d have no qualms recommending this to kids ten years or older. The YA genre is a bit misleading because the books are typically written for teens or youths, not “adults”, young or not. It is what it is.
My very own signed copy of The Killing Spell
The language makes this an interesting read
Readers who are familiar with the wizard genre will quickly recognize themselves and the reading flows easily. I’ll be honest and readily admit that I’ve not read Harry Potter myself. This is not typically a genre I read. So I don’t know how Ms. Rowling crafted her books, nor am I interested in how Shane’s writing compares. His language is interesting and I’ve found myself more than once having to look up expressions that I was unfamiliar with. So thanks for those lessons in British and Australian English. Narrated in the first person, we get to know Edward intimately, his thoughts and dreams. As he often thinks about Mr. Andreas and the latter is a bit of a cumbersome expression to use frequently, Shane had to come up with quite a few synonyms to use.
To make being gay an integral part of a story is an interesting approach. Not because we are part of society, but because it’s so rare. In mainstream media, young LGBT character portraits are still largely revolving around the coming out, the discovery of their sexuality, e.g. “Call Me By Your Name” or “Love, Simon”, to mention two recent examples. To write a story about a character who faces adventures, and challenges despite being gay are most refreshing. Shane does an excellent job at portraying a youth who knows he’s gay but whose sexuality still has not come to bloom. The descriptions of a first kiss or a sleepover are so sweet and innocent, but yeah, very realistic. We’ve all been there, done that. Maybe not always this innocent. But let me reiterate: this isn’t primarily about Edward’s sexuality, but his innocent relationship to Mr. Andreas is at the center of the plot for reasons I can’t divulge without giving away the plot.
I read this book in three sittings but could’ve in one. I was positively captivated and wanted to find out what was going to happen next. The ending had me want more, and given that Edward only just got through his first year, I suspect there could be at least four more books to make this a really nice series. Needless to say, I’m curious as to what Shane will throw in Edward’s path next. We get to know a little bit about the school, the houses it’s made up from, etc. but there is not much detail and I was often left wanting to know more. Why is it this way? There will be plenty of filling out to do in subsequent books, should Shane write them, not only allowing for further character growth but also to expand the universe of Arcadia and Prymoutekhny Wizards Academy.
If you like to read fantasy books, or if your kids do, I highly recommend you to give this a chance. The Killing Spell is published by Deep Hearts YA and is available from all your regular outlets, including Amazon.
There’s a reason why authors keep nagging about reviews
1.11% is a number that is greatly frustrating me. It’s the percentage of reviews I’ve received last year. Roughly one in a hundred book buyers actually left a review. In reality, the number is lower because some reviews are left by reviewers who work with advance review copies, i.e. books they don’t pay for. The low number of reviews isn’t just frustrating for me, it’s a source of great consternation for most authors out there. A couple of years ago, when Disease came out, I had been in touch with several Alzheimer’s associations around the world, and one of them, in Australia, said they’d be happy to mention the book to their members, as soon as I’d reached one hundred reviews. I got to thirty-one during that release cycle, having to work hard for every single review.
Why reviews matter
Disease was greatly received by the audiences, but after I had worked hard for those first reviews, they’ve pretty much stopped, even though the book still sells.
The sad truth is that reviews matter. For many reasons. Of course, I could tell you how much I love to read them, but I won’t lie to you. I usually don’t, simply because I’m unaware of them. Also because I have thin skin (I share this trait with most artists) and a negative review can ruin my mood for days. If someone emails me a positive review I walk on cloud #7 instead. Some readers think that authors learn from reviews. With all due respect: don’t overestimate your importance. I say this in all humility. That is not the job of a review, nor the job of a reviewer. By the time a book is released, it’s polished and looks exactly the way author and publisher intend it to be. Nothing left to change, except for some sad and overlooked typos. If you feel you need to teach an author a lesson, try to get involved during the alpha-, beta-, editing or proofreading stage. I know some freelance editors who itch to critique a finished novel as a way to pitch their services. I also know editors who have killed for less after having read such reviews. Just saying.
But reviews matter. The primary reason is commercial. The more reviews a book garners on a site, the more likely it will be highlighted by the site’s algorithms. There are differences, of course, but many reviews are always better than few or none. That is why they matter to the authors and publishers of the world. This isn’t just true for books, but any product sold online, and the main reason why we’re all asked for reviews, be it after a hotel night, a product purchase, by the apps on our phones and–duh!–authors and publishers.
I hate to leave a bad review
I think readers who are afraid to leave a bad or negative review make a big mistake. Firstly: if a book is full of plot holes, or poorly formatted, or if the story just doesn’t make sense, don’t you think other readers deserve a word of caution before they invest their money? It’s so easy to publish books today. Upload your word document, slap on a cover and you’re pretty much done. No editing, no proofing, no typesetting.
Equally, if you do not like a perfectly well-crafted book, I think people deserve to know. Let’s face it: there is NO book that is for everyone. If you don’t like that a book includes e.g. a descriptive sex scene, this is great customer information. It might actually attract readers who enjoy that sort of reading. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, but simply that it’s a book that wasn’t for you. You might not enjoy lengthy descriptions of locales in a story or how the dialogue is structured or, or, or… Someone else might love that. I hope that makes sense.
Finally, consider this: as much as I love a five-star review, and I am personally super lucky to get amazing reviews (the ones that I receive), but look at it from your point of view, as a reader. When you look for a product that is adorned with five-star reviews only, doesn’t that make you the least bit suspicious? Aren’t you more at ease when you see that there is a mix of reviews? Sure, we all want the majority of those to be favorable, but all of them? Which isn’t to mean that you should start to hand out one-star reviews, but rather than not leaving a review, wouldn’t a two- or three-star review be better? To balance all those five-star ones?
I don’t review because I’m not good at writing…
I get this a lot from people I talk to about reviews. Thing is, you don’t have to be a writer or author to review. Simply say what you like about a book, what was your favorite aspect? What didn’t work for you? Maybe explain why? I understand that many readers want to do the author justice, but remember this: your review isn’t for the author. It’s for other readers. Keep it simple, keep it short. There is no need for a review to be several paragraphs long. Yes, some reviews are long, they look at a great many aspects of a book, and being a reviewer myself, I can often write a thousand words or more in my reviews here. But let’s be honest: on Amazon, nobody’s going to read a review that is longer than 200 words. They might read the first couple of sentences and then move on to the next. Our attention span is limited. We look at the stars and then why those stars were awarded (or not.) Simple as that.
I used to review, but then got flak from the author
First, allow me to apologize on behalf of all authors, and I don’t give a shit whether they allow me to or not. To criticize a review is one of the taboos I hold dear in my job as a writer. So what if you get a bad review (see above.) It’s not a criticism of you as a person. I know, I know. Authors are sensitive flowers and read on a wrong day (heater broke, the youngest kid was sent to the principal’s office, car totaled) we are all extra sensitive to it. BUT, readers are entitled to their views in peace and quiet. And as authors, we have no right to go after them. And sadly, it happens.
But instead of giving up on reviewing altogether, please consider just sticking the middle finger to that particular individual. Continue reviewing other books you read. To my fellow authors, I say this: if a review rubs you the wrong way, for whatever reason, look the other way. Talk to a friend or a fan and let them pick you up from the gutter of your self-loathing (we’ve all been there.) But never, ever, take your frustration out on a reader. We all end up losing.
Reviews matter, they are probably the single best thing you can do for an author besides buying their work
I can’t stress this enough. Reviews are absolutely critical and on sites like Amazon where most Americans and Britons these days look for “stuff” (regardless of what it is), having reviews is essential to a book’s visibility. So if you have a moment, please go back to your orders and review past book purchases. We authors will be forever grateful for it. This is even more important for authors who are not published by the “big five” where marketing funds will make sure to highlight those books to potential readers. Indie authors and authors with small presses just don’t have that luxury. Reviews and sales are the only way to make a dent, to be seen among the fifty-plus million books that are on sale on Amazon. And without reviews, no/fewer sales.
Most people buy their books on Amazon. Like that fact or not, but a fact it is. Review there. Or leave it wherever you buy your book. If you have the time and feel inclined to, reviews on BookBub or Gollumreads are appreciated, even though the “average” reader doesn’t frequent those sites. They are geared toward very frequent readers, fans.
I just can’t…
Patreon is a service to help artists find people to keep creating their art through crowdfunding.
I get it. And you are in good company. Unfortunately for us authors. But even if you can’t bring yourself to review because of bad experiences, lack of time or just can’t find the right words, there are still things you can do to help an author: why not recommend a book you like to a friend or two? Word of mouth is the best marketing method there is (hence reviews…) and if every reader were to get two more people to buy a book, most authors would have fewer reasons to complain about declining book sales.
If you are active on social media, and you see a post by an author you like, heart/like it. No need to comment, but those darned algorithms react to reactions. It doesn’t even take a second and you’ve done a good deed. Share, comment, encourage. Write your favorite author a letter/email and I guarantee you there will be smiles on the other end. Most of us who do not support ourselves financially with our writing “live and breathe” those messages. They truly make our days.
If all of that isn’t for you, but you have money for a couple of lattes to spare, consider sponsoring an artist through sites like Patreon. I just started my page after long consideration and I’ve just written a post explaining why contributions make such a big difference for us.
Please don’t read this post as a “lecture”. I have had several conversations over the past weeks and months on this subject with readers, and I’ve recently attended a seminar which really drove home the importance of reviews for me. Hence the above. I felt I wanted to address some of the concerns and provide perspective.
I would also like to say thank you: thank you to those who buy my books and others, to readers who reach out and care, reviewers and my first patrons. Art isn’t primarily about money. Every true artist keeps saying that, but the fact of the matter is that “love” and “exposure” don’t pay utility bills and they don’t keep us from maxing out credit cards.
Every author’s life is different, our circumstances vary and we do what we do for a great many reasons. I can only speak for my own. Thank you for supporting us, the arts, for allowing us to enrich human culture, to facilitate our continued growth and development, particularly “in these dark and troubling times”.
Hans M Hirschi
Beat Surrender is an exciting mix of sci-fi and fantasy
I got to read this book, Beat Surrender, by Liverpudlian (yeah, who knew…) author Bob Stone through of our shared publisher, Beaten Track. Recently, they asked for people to proofread Bob’s latest one and since I had the time, I figured why not. Proofing is a somewhat different reading experience, but the book was in such excellent shape that it turned into a very enjoyable experience. For the author me, to find other people making mistakes was very refreshing (and soothing to the old self-esteem), too.
The Cover for Beat Surrender.
Beat Surrender is book two in a trilogy about Joey Cale, a young man from the Liverpool area in Northwestern England who ends up in a place he never could’ve dreamed of. Here’s the book’s blurb:
“Something came from somewhere else and crashed onto Trafalgar Square.”
Joey Cale thought he was going home but instead has ended up on another version of Earth just as dangerous as the last.
Aided by his friends, he must discover the cause of one of the greatest disasters Britain has seen. But a threat as old as time is pursuing him and will do anything to stop him.
Who are the sinister Green Jackets? Why are the birds gathering and watching? And what is buried in a wall deep beneath London?
Beat Surrender is the second book in the heart-stopping trilogy which began with Missing Beat.
Excellent read, in fact, a real page-turner
I haven’t read book one, yet, but I’ve purchased it. Therefore, I came somewhat unprepared to Joey’s arrival on the ‘other’ Earth. But even though I haven’t read what happened to him in the first story, I read this book without feeling I was missing things that hindered my enjoyment. I can always go back (which I will) and read the first one to get the background information. It works as a stand-alone. The book is excellently written. I was caught up in the story from page one and read it in three installments, simply because I had to take breaks every now and then to rest my eyes. I was proofreading after all, and I wanted to do Bob justice.
This is science-fiction I like, taking “ordinary” places we are familiar with, but adding a twist to them. No spoilers, but not unlike my own Golden One series, these seemingly regular people are more than meets the eye. While the concept of parallel Earths is one taken from sci-fi (or simply modern physics where the multiverse is a given), the talents our protagonists have are taken from the realm of fantasy. So are the villains.
Varying points of view keep it interesting
The story is told in what I found a most intriguing and captivating way. There are a handful of main protagonists: Joey, Raj and Emma, and about a dozen others who play secondary or tertiary roles. Yet the story is told in a standard chronological order, and every chapter has a different POV, sometimes two, clearly separated for reader comfort. Every chapter links back to the previous one and latches on, almost like a cogwheel, at times repeating a scene partially, but from someone else’s POV. Very well executed.
To heighten tension, new characters are introduced at times, even though they may only be mentioned right there and then. This is a risky endeavor, particularly since Bob can’t really flesh them out. But you don’t really notice, as you are too focused on the plot to wonder about a police officer or ambulance driver’s view of things. I was really impressed!
Yet in the end, the story always gravitates back to the main characters where Joey’s view is the most common one, followed by Raj and Emma.
Book one in the trilogy about Joey Cale, Missing Beat.
Diverse characters and a very sensitive storytelling
Sometimes when I read books by het authors, I notice how truly blind mainstream WASP society is to the diversity all around them. Without labeling Bob (I truly don’t know, his bio reads as him “living with wife and cat in Liverpool”,) I am deeply impressed with his inclusion of the great diversity of people one will expect to see in the UK: people of color, LGBT, young, old, differently abled. This was, to a degree, not surprising, given that our publisher is specifically labeled as a “diverse publisher”, yet it was still refreshing, deeply satisfying and at the end of the book I felt this enormous gratitude. How often do you read a book that e.g. mentions someone in a wheelchair? I think I can go back on what I’ve read and count those instances on one hand.
The way Bob handles diversity is a true joy and I wish we’d see more of this in literature, even outside the queer community who is, for many reasons, sensitized to it yet often fails this very task, too.
Read Beat Surrender and look forward to the final book in this astounding trilogy
Well first, if you haven’t, you should go back and read book one, Missing Beat, available from all reputable resellers including Bob’s own bookstore in Liverpool. Second, read Beat Surrender. If you like sci-fi and fantasy “light”, with aspects of thriller and crime novel, you’ll absolutely adore this trilogy. I for one am already looking forward to the final book in the trilogy.
I don’t hand out stars or rate the books I read. I simply recommend them. This is a high-quality story, very well written. Be mindful that sometimes, the characters speak the local dialect, which may require you to look up an expression or two, especially if you’re not from England. There is a significant body count aka deaths in this book and a certain amount of violence is depicted. A fair warning to those sensitive to that.
Beat Surrender releases today, March 23, from Beaten Track Publishing as an ebook and as a paperback.
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.
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.
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 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 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.