The cheapness of human life in black ops novels

Surprisingly, black ops novels give me a sense of closure in a world where’s little closure. Another pacifist friend and I discovered that we both watched the TV show “24” because, while “real life” often made us feel powerless in the face of all the issues with seemingly no answers or bad answers, Jack Bauer’s actions on the show brought us a feeling that sometimes bad guys are caught and threats are neutralized.

I feel the same way when I’m reading “Tom Clancy,” James Patterson, and other series in which the good guys see a threat, analyze it, and then put a stop to it. Like Jack Bauer, these good guys operate in groups that are out from under any umbrella of legalities that (as they say) “hampers” black ops.

What bothers me, though, is how cheap life seems to be in these books. If you watched “24” you know there were car chases in which dozens of vehicles (driven by every day innocent people) were shown blowing up, turning over, falling off bridges, etc. in the background. Any police force conducting that kind of chase in “real life” would be on the carpet in minutes. But it “24” those people are collateral damage and (apparently) not so bad a price to play for Bauer catching a notorious bad guy.

While black ops novels seldom have those signature car chases that have been popular in the James Bond movies, a lot of cardboard characters always get blown away with little notice or regret en route to “a more-important goal.”

I’m sure ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups see mass numbers of civilian casualties as a sign of success.  Fortunately, the good guys in over-the-top novels, movies, and TV shows aren’t trying to create massive civilian casualties. In fact, in these stories, most of the cardboard characters killed are bad guys with no names who stepped ou from behind a building with blazing Kalashnikovs and got taken out by the good guys. No harm, no foul, right?

Perhaps bad guys and good guys really feel this way in “real life,” and by that I mean, operations that fall into the category of black ops rather than war.  If so, this bothers me more than the deaths in fiction; with fiction, I have plausible deniability since I know none of those deaths really happened.

In “real life,” I’m against black ops, but that doesn’t mean that novels about black ops aren’t serving as addictive painkillers against the insanity of the world.

Malcolm

Malcolm R.. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” “Lena,” “Special Investigative Reporter,” and “Sarabande.”

 

“Emily’s Stories” AudioBook: Thanks for the great reviews

I never know what combination of good luck and synchronicity brings a batch of nice comments and reviews to one book and not to another. Bottom line, whenever a reader leaves a review on Amazon or on Audible, I’m thankful they took the time to say what they thought (especially when they liked the book).

Emily’s Stories has some great reviews on Audible, for the story and for the audiobook’s narration. Seeing this makes my day.

Here’s what people are saying:

  • I recommend this audiobook more than any other
  • What a beautiful, beautiful story
  • A sweet YA paranormal fantasy story
  • An excellent book for young adults and others
  • Touching, great fantasy/paranormal stories

And those are just the titles for the reviews.  At present, Emily’s Stories has a 4.5 average rating.

Here’s the review from AudioFile Magazine:

Kelley Hazen’s spirited delivery enhances Campbell’s descriptive writing in these three stories about 14-year-old Emily Walters. “High Country Painter” present a talkative Emily and a realistic-sounding bird that directs Emily to magically draw obstacles to divert a grizzly bear. In “Map Maker,” Emily meets an eerie-sounding ghost who helps her save a sacred forest from developers. In “Sweetbay Magnolia,” Hazen captures Grandma Walters’s elderly voice as well as her persistence and wit to perfection. Young listeners will enjoy hearing Emily explain about TMI–too much information. Hazen’s skill at creating believable bird and ghost voices adds to the listening pleasure. S.G.B. © AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine [Published: DECEMBER 2017]

Perhaps the young adults in your family will enjoy the stories as well.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

Review: ‘The Starless Sea’ by Erin Morganstern

This novel is a breathtaking display of exuberant lyrical prose, wondrously detailed imagery, and elaborate plotting. Interlocking tales and snippets of tales comprise this brilliant celebration of storytellers and how the times and places and characters of their art become woven, often covertly, into readers’ lives.

The purported protagonist, Vermont college student Zachary Ezra Rawlins, checks out a book called Sweet Sorrows from the library and finds within it a story from his childhood. At first, he can’t believe it, but then as he tries to find out where the book originated and how it was catalogued by the library, he discovers over time that he can’t truly believe anything.

Rawlins initially discovers that simply having the book has placed his life in danger. He’s not sure why. In fact, he may never be sure. As it turns out, there are doors everywhere that lead to an immense and seemingly infinite realm of books stored in ever-shifting below-ground castles and caverns.

One is reminded of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere tale about a hidden-away realm beneath the streets of London where the culture is quite different from everything at street level. In Morganstern’s unique world, which comes with its own mythologies and origin stories, the culture is not only different from the “real life” we know, but changes constantly like the play of moonlight on the surface of the sea.

Stories are not content to confine themselves to their original plots. Instead, they update and morph themselves not only into other stories but into the reality of the inhabitants and structures of the underground world itself. In one respect it’s chaos, but everything is tied together as though the stories themselves got together and made sure their changes meshed perfectly with the changes in other stories like the gears in a perfectly designed machine.

The stories, in fact, are all there is. They are not only the motive power and intelligence behind the underground library on the shore of the Starless Sea but impact the direction of the science and technology world that innocently exists outside the doors leading into the depths.

In defense of readers who enjoyed The Night Circus and were disappointed with The Starless Sea, Morgenstern’s new novel strays dangerously close to being a work of experimental fiction rather than a true fantasy. The plot isn’t linear and may not even exist cohesively from one chapter to the next. The ending–which works perfectly within the confines of the novel–will anger those who read through some 500 pages hoping for a resolution.

I’m content simply to experience the world Morgenstern has created in The Starless Sea and the immeasurable beauty of her storytelling.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

New Year’s Eve Book Giveaway

My e-book short story Waking Plain will be free on Kindle December 31 through January 4th.

This is a twisted fairy tale, written because I like to turn things around and see what they look like in reverse. In this case, Waking Plain is the reverse of “Sleeping Beauty.” A prince is enchanted by a wrathful fairie and will sleep until a queen or princess kisses him.

However, he’s so plain, nobody wants to do that even though they would presumably have access to the riches of the castle.

Hope you like it.

Malcolm

Amazon Reducing Orders to Publishers

In order to deal with congestion issues at its warehouses, Amazon has been cutting book orders to publishers over the last several weeks. It isn’t clear how widespread the reduction in orders is, but several independent publishers contacted by PW reported cuts in their weekly orders since late October. One publisher reported that an order placed last week was about 75% lower than an order placed last year at this time. “It’s a nightmare,” the head of one independent publisher said.

Source: Amazon Reducing Orders to Publishers

Amazon has caused a fair amount of talk and concern amongst small publishers, and rightfully so. Publishers who need holiday sales to “make their year” worry those sales won’t happen if Amazon lists the books as out of stock.

We have alternatives, but for many readers, buying a new book automatically means logging onto Amazon’s website. It’s a habit that’s hard to break, yet every time it happens it makes Amazon bigger and makes us more dependent.

We could just as easily log on to the Barnes & Noble site where prices are similar. Or we can buy directly from IndieBound. Powells claims it’s the world’s largest independent bookstore. Its website is just as easy to use as B&N’s site, though the prices are a bit higher. On the plus side, they sell a lot of used books and those prices are pretty good.

A fair number of local bookstores operate websites like Powells where we can order even if we live on the far side of the country.

These are some of our options. I appreciate what Amazon has done for self-publishers.

However, they are a business and have to make decisions that work for them (as in making sure bestsellers are in stock rather than buying something from a publisher who may only sell 25 books during the holiday season), so I try to buy from other places from time to time. I’m sure Amazon doesn’t care, but it keeps me from developing too strong an addiction to the A-to-Z people.

–Malcolm

 

‘Moo’ by Jane Smiley

If you were born yesterday, or perhaps last week, you probably haven’t heard of this darkly satirical and nearly farcical novel about a midwestern agricultural college referred to as “Moo U.” I first read it a quarter of a century ago when it first came out. Now that I’m re-reading, I find it just as funny and just as true when it comes to university politics and the misfits who keep schools forever running on square wheels as I did in 1995.

I worked at two universities (not counting student jobs), attended four others, and–along with the rest of the family–followed by father to at least another five as he moved up through the ranks of college professors and deans. Suffice it to say, I know college politics in spades. That’s why I see this novel as the Bible detailing what’s really happening behind all those ivy-covered walls.

In a 1996 interview with Elisabeth Sherwin, Smiley says that she did not model the story after Iowa State University where she was teaching then. She told Sherwin, “I always wanted to write both a tragedy and a comedy on the same theme. ‘A Thousand Acres’ was the tragedy, the theme was American agriculture and technology, and ‘Moo’ was the comedy.”

At the moment, most people know Smiley from her recent “The Last Hundred Years Trilogy: A Family Saga Series” that includes Some Luck, Early Warning, and Golden Age. I liked the trilogy and see it as quite an achievement. But when I first found Jane Smiley’s work, it was her fifth novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Thousand Acres. That one remains my favorite.

Here are a few excerpts from Moo:

“This was an aspect of Barbie-hood that Mary had never given any thought to, that Barbie created Ken, anatomically incorrect to the very core of his brain, where he understood as well as he understood his own name that Barbie was inviolable.”

“He was turning out to be one of those men whose interest diminished as they got to know you. You got into this pattern of trying to be interesting by revealing more and more of yourself, like a salesman unpacking his sample bag, but the man, though he looked like he was smiling and paying attention, was really shaking his head internally—not that, not that either, no I don’t think so, not today.”

“Those Latin American and Eastern European novelists aren’t any help here. They live inside the mansion of female desire as if it is their right. Their own desire is a nice healthy dog on a string, ready to eat, fuck, fetch, piss on the bushes.”

Unfortunately, I can’t find a pithy excerpt that illustrates the dark side of Moo U. I can’t tell you how and why I think Moo is true of some really colleges without libelling a lot of people. If you decide to read Moo, I suggest you wait until after you’ve graduated from college. If you read it before you go to college, you’ll never go to college.

Malcolm

Why do I write?

Why do I write?

The short answer to that question is, “I don’t know.”

When asked, I usually respond with:

Why do you read?

Most people have trouble answering that question other than listing the reasons other people read and using them to make people go away.

I know why I read: so I have less time to write. I was actually a writing mentor once and gave it up after a while when I realized I was teaching my mentees all my bad habits. My bad writing habits have saved me from a life in an institution, a university or a mental institution, places like that.

When people ask me why I write, I usually tell them that as I got older the gigolo business wasn’t supporting the lifestyle to which I’d become accustomed. As it turns out, writing isn’t supporting that either.

Storytelling, perhaps.

We’re told by gurus that we read and write stories because they tell us the important things about the world. I think I’ve learned more from reading fiction than from history books or the nightly news. I’ve probably discovered a lot more from writing than I have from any other journey. But then people ask me why I write, I can’t really say that because it sounds crazy.

Writers who sound crazy tend to earn more and find more readers than writers who sound sane. I think this is because sanity is boring. Books that are boring don’t end up on the New York Times bestseller list. Or in Oscar-winning movies.

What’s Important?

I think we all want to know. We see that the world appears to be in a mess: War. climate change. Murder. One religion vs. another. BS on the evening news every night.

Most of us want to know the truth, the real truth behind all the BS. We learned early on that stories, especially old stories that we linked to ancient legends and myths, might have clues for us. I think that’s why I read and write.

The clues I’ve found, or think I’ve found, don’t make sense if I discuss them at the local Waffle House. People say, “Well, that’s just crazy.” I know it sounds crazy, but then that’s why I think it’s true. That’s the great paradox of living in this world, I suspect. The truth always sounds like it isn’t the truth.

Yet, we continue to believe that while reading and writing, we catch glimpses of the truth. So, we keep on playing our games with words. It’s like a journey into the unknown. When I start reading or writing, I have no idea where I’ll end up. Yet, I see a pattern to what I’m doing as I read books with a common theme that support each other and as I write books with common themes that support each other.

When people ask me why I write, I give them the short answer: “It beats driving a truck.” The real answer is too difficult to pin down just as the real answer for why I read what I read is hard to fathom. What about you. Do you have a short (and true) answer for why you read an/or write?

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Lena.”