Blog Tour, Guest Post

Blog Tour + Guest Post: Adam-Troy Castro, Book of Apex Vol 4

Book of Apex Blog Tour

Here is my fourth and final post as part of the Book of Apex Volume 4 Blog Tour – a guest post by author Adam-Troy Castro. As part of the tour so far I’ve shared my review of the Book of Apex Volume 4, an interview with Adam-Troy Castro and an interview with author Rahul Kanakia.

Things Seen By The Story Guy

by Adam-Troy Castro

You see, the thing is, I’m a story guy.

I would be a story guy even if I wasn’t also a writer of fiction and therefore a producer of stories myself.

My hunger for story is insatiable; it is in large part what drives me. It probably drives me too much. I live what is very likely too much of my life following lies about nonexistent people, caring about them as if their troubles impact my own.

I can bore you senseless, just on the subject of Batman.

But part of being enamored of any form of art is growing so familiar with its various manifestations that you recognize when a practitioner has done a half-assed job. This makes us incomprehensible pains in the ass to those whose love of the art in question is not quite so fervent.

As a story guy, I am therefore in the position I observe when a music guy (or for that matter gal) insists on telling me that a certain song is a three-finger exercise, a piece of hackwork shit, when I am less sophisticated myself and know only that it’s something I can hum.

Few things demoralize a story guy more than when we point out that a given story contradicts its own premises, makes up its rules as it goes along, makes no sense, depends entirely on you completely forgetting in any given five minutes what happened five minutes earlier, and is morally reprehensible to boot, and the friend not a story guy sniffs, why do you have to analyze everything? Can’t we just, you know, enjoy it?

Yes, I suppose you can.
If you’re not a story guy.
Me, I always see where the scaffolding has been left behind when the story has been declared done.
Always.

Even in classics.

I see how this one brilliant writer I can name, whose talent I venerate and whose prose is driven by rich sensual description and an unerring sense of place, inevitably runs into a wall at the two-thirds mark of his novels, when he realizes that the story he’s been writing will soon have to be wrapped up; and he’s still only midway through the first act. I see how his prose becomes less lush, how his narrative speeds up to the point of desperation, and how he is all too clearly in the part of his tale that he didn’t plan for and must somehow wrench to an end anyway. I see that this never quite works. I still think he’s brilliant. But plot is not something he excels at.

I see how one very popular series of novels works only because the writer happens to be very good at making sure you don’t ask some pressing questions about its universe. I further notice that there was a vast and important element of the background that the writer just didn’t want to get into at all, and that the solution was having everybody tell you that the only person who could tell you about it was so boring he put people to sleep. I see how this fulfills the desired function of putting all that dull stuff aside, and I have actually praised the solution as perversely brilliant. But I also see how it renders the narrative all foreground, dependent on you the reader not asking questions you might otherwise be moved to ask.

I see how in this classic epic story that the entire world loves, the writer maneuvered himself into a situation where his characters were so thoroughly screwed that the only way to get them out of trouble was to invent a whole bunch of previously unestablished supernatural allies. I see how this story is driven by many such cases of the author playing favorites with his characters, acting as a kind of benevolent God to make sure they all make it through okay. I see how this becomes harder and harder to ignore on subsequent exposures.

I see how in one of the greatest books in all of American history, the writer established a murder mystery, somehow didn’t find the time to get back to it in a story that happened to be about matters richer to the human condition; and how, with the end of the book in sight, he threw in some half-assed shit on the last page, just to wrap it up.

I see how in one of the most important works by one of our most beloved genre writers, he found himself wandering around for the length of a shorter book trying to find the story again; and how he finally did find it again, and how he managed to hide the fact that what happens between then and the end of the book still doesn’t quite work.

I see how one of the greatest works by one of the greatest writers who ever lived builds to an unbearable tragedy at about the 2/3 mark, that results in the protagonist being estranged from his whole support system; and how he simply returns not long afterward to grins and smiles and to disastrous consequences that an idiot would have been able to see coming.

I see how another great work by yet another of the greatest writers who ever lived depends on coincidence; how a love story subplot is the deadly dull poison pill at the center of it; how the young couple involved are pretty damn intolerable; how it is impossible to go without that subplot but it’s less a compelling story element of its own than a McGuffin that wrenches a lengthy tale into its final act.

These are all books.

One of my favorite movies is built around the search for all-important documents that, at the end, don’t have much to do with anything. Another depends on a ruthless villain somehow failing to do the most practical thing, which she has actually threatened to do. Another depends on a trapped protagonist not realizing until the last five minutes that he can defuse a dangerous situation by doing something that he could have done hours earlier.

These are all, mind you, things I see in stories I love.

They are all real examples, so real that I suspect story guys (and gals) reading these words may be able to identify the individual works by their capsule descriptions.

I am still capable of loving the stories I cite because I also see what they do well. I see how they illuminate. I see how they resonate. I see how they are flawed gems and not just rickety structures. I get to the point where I regard the flaws I’ve mentioned with bemused affection, as the imperfect elements that make the surrounding beauty possible. I see the achievement. But I can feel solidarity with even the greatest of writers, losing rhythm while spinning plates.

So when I point at some much lesser work and say, no, this doesn’t work at all because of this, this, this, and this; when I conclude that the sins overwhelm the virtues, and that the story just isn’t very good; when people accuse me of being a picky scold out to ruin things for everybody else, I absolutely understand how they feel.

But I’m a story guy.

I honestly can’t help myself.

And when your defense of a work you love is a sputtering, “It’s just a story! You’re over thinking it! It doesn’t HAVE to make sense!”, I simply don’t understand you at all.

Author Interview, Blog Tour

Blog Tour + Author Interview: Rahul Kanakia, Book of Apex Volume 4

Book of Apex Blog Tour

Time for my third post as part of the Book of Apex Volume 4 Blog Tour! My previous posts include an interview with author Adam-Troy Castro and my review of the Book of Apex Volume 4. Today I have an interview with Rahul Kanakia, who has written for many short story collections and anthologies.

Rinn: I would first of all like to say thank you Rahul, for letting me interview you. Tomorrow’s Dictator was a pretty harrowing story – peoples’ emotions and behaviours being modified and optimised. How did you come up with the idea for ‘adjustments’?

Rahul: During college, I lived in a vegetarian co-op: a huge house with about fifty students who all cooked and cleaned and lived communally. We were a pretty motley and disorganized lot, except for one girl who was incredibly efficient and well organized. She woke early, exercised frequently, ate right, slept on a mattress out on the porch, and lived in a room with almost no furniture or possessions. She was also extremely even-tempered and never raised her voice or appeared to be visibly annoyed. As such, she was the only person whose complaints and ‘suggestions’ I’d ever take seriously, because, quite frankly, her perfection was quite eerie.

Our coop also ran by consensus, which means that every single person has to agree on a proposal in order for it to be enacted. In practice, this meant that nothing ever got enacted and that everyone did whatever they wanted. At one point, I suggested that we–as per ancient Roman tradition–unanimously acclaim this girl as our dictator (a joke that, of course, she did not particularly enjoy). And that’s where the story came from.

As for adjustments, I’m not sure. That’s something that I played around with in a bunch of stories, and it never quite worked out right. In a world where anyone can be adjusted to be any way that you want, there’s not much room for stories, since most stories are basically about how the protagonist got adjusted to be one way or the other. In this case, though, the story fit just right and everything came together.

Rinn: If you could ‘adjust’ one emotion or behaviour, what would it be? I know I take things too personally and get quite hung up on it, so I would change that!

Rahul: I’d probably adjust myself to be less self-important and condescending.

Rinn: Do you prefer to write short stories over longer works?

Rahul: I prefer to write longer works. Short stories are harder and less enjoyable, because the least enjoyable part of any work is figuring out all the basics: setting, character, conflict, voice, character arc, etc. And the most enjoyable part is when you’ve figured all of that out, and the story starts writing itself. In a short story, the moment you figure that stuff out, then you can write it in about a day. But in a novel, you’ve got months of fun before it ends. However, once you write a short story, you can send it out and sell it and have it published in a fairly short span of time. With novels, the gratification takes much longer.

Rinn: Have you got any particular favourite stories in the Book of Apex Volume 4?

Rahul: Yes! I really liked David J. Schwartz’ “Bear In Contradicting Landscape.” It’s a surrealist story that comes together with that perfect dream-logic that writers are always trying (and failing) to fake. You can tell that the events in the story–though they are seemingly arbitrary–are actually determined by some intuitive aesthetic sense on the part of the author.

Rinn: Have you always been a big fan of science fiction?

Rahul: Yep, ever since I was about ten years old and my mom gave me a copy of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation (Which was a book that she’d enjoyed as a girl growing up in India in the 1960s!)

Rinn: Is there anything you’d like to see left out of science fiction?

Rahul: I’m a bit tired of books and stories that are merely fun adventure stories. I like to see something else: new ideas, new settings, new character types. I don’t like books that are just trying to give readers the same thing that they felt when they first read Heinlein or Asimov or Clarke. In literature, there is no going home again. Each book is an non-replicable experience. And if you aim to duplicate it, then you’ll inevitable end up with something worse than the original.

Rinn: Are there any other genres you would encourage people to delve into?

Rahul: Yes! All the genres! But, most particularly, realist literary fiction. There’s something of a bias against it in science fiction circles, which I don’t understand. Oftentimes SF fans will say that realist fiction is boring and that all the most interesting things are being done in the science fiction world. But that makes no sense to me. Do these fans really see no value in stories that are about ordinary, real-world lives? Realist fiction has a wealth and denseness of detail that purely imaginary settings can’t replicate.

Oh, also, I really like crime fiction! And chick-lit!

Rinn: Who, or what, are your inspirations?

Rahul: Lots of people. I’m inspired by Asimov, Heinlein, Ted Chiang, Aimee Bender, Tolstoy, Willa Cather, Sinclair Lewis, among others.

Rinn: I note that you are currently enrolled in a MFA Creative Writing program – do you have a strict routine for this?

Rahul: Yes, I do. During the week, I write for one hour on two days (usually Monday/Wednesday), two hours on three days (usually Friday/Saturday/Sunday), four hours on Tuesday, and eight hours on Thursday. I also try to read at least one hour a day (although it usually ends up being much more than that). And I try to begin writing by 9 AM and do at least one hour before 10 AM.

Rinn: And finally, you’re stranded on a desert island. You can take five books and one other object. What do you take?

Rahul: I’ll leave out the jokey answers (How To Get Off A Desert Island) and just deliver some serious ones. If I had to be alone for extended periods of time, I’d want books that allowed me to think about how and why I should continue to live. And they should also be really long and dense. So I’d probably go for In Search Of Lost Time, Anna Karenina, Atlas Shrugged, War And Peace, and The History of Western Philosophy.

Thank you so much to Rahul for letting me interview him!

Blog Tour, Review

Blog Tour + Review: Book of Apex Volume 4

I am taking part in the Book of Apex Blog Tour hosted by Little Red Reviewer, so you will see a couple of features linked to the tour over the next few weeks. Please note that my review is based on the short stories of the authors I will be interviewing, Adam Troy Castro and Rahul Kanakia.

 

Tomorrow’s Dictator by Rahul Kanakia

This short story reveals a world where ‘adjustment’ is possible – a process where people’s emotions and behaviours can be adjusted at will by another, resulting in an incredibly hard-worker who doesn’t need a break, a totally devoted lover who never strays, completely obedient children and more. It is a very scary idea – the loss of total free will, and people voluntarily give it up without really realising what they’re doing.

The main character of the story, Sasha – I don’t really want to call her a protagonist because of what she’s done – uses the process, both on her employees and her husband, George. George has been reduced to a simpleton, following Sasha around like a puppy and responding to her every word and command. What is especially terrifying is how George asked for the process, and how Sasha agreed to it.

Although we don’t get much time to get to know the characters, I instantly disliked Sasha because of how she treated others. Perhaps she was just doing her job, but as she brought adjustment into her personal life then she couldn’t really have that big of a problem with it. This tiny glimpse into a world devoid of free will is pretty terrifying and harrowing. For this reason, I’m awarding the story four stars – Kanakia gets a lot across in just a few pages.

 

During the Pause by Adam Troy Castro

This short story immediately struck me as unusual in that it is written in second person plural – and it’s not so much a story as a fictitious warning or message from an alien race, claiming they will wipe ‘you’ out. Like Rahul Kanakia’s story, a real sense of fear for the situation is created in a short amount of time. One of my thoughts after reading the story was that it could even be humans talking to another alien race – although there is mention of how they do not understand religion. However, my idea was that it was humans far into the future, a future where religion no longer had any real meaning – but I suppose it is rather far-fetched!

The message sounds incredibly arrogant, the attackers looking down on their victims as if they are ants they could easily squish with just one step.  Which is pretty terrifying – and reminds me of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. Hopefully these invaders will succumb to the same thing as Well’s tripods too! I also want to award this particular story four stars – for the chills it sent down my back whilst reading it.

 

If you want to learn more about the Book of Apex blog tour, or would like to check out the schedule, then please take a look here.