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The Merchants of Zion, in Print

I just received a proof copy of The Merchants of Zion in the mail. It looks pretty good I think!


2016-02-10 18.03.28

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My Short Story, The Furies of Mars, Is Free on Amazon

Until Sunday, The Furies of Mars is free. It’s about an astronaut stranded alone on Mars, and while it isn’t post-apocalyptic per se, it does touch on similar themes and concerns.

Go read it! And if you like it, please leave a review.

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Further, Final Thoughts on Station Eleven and the Post-Apocalypse

This is the third in a series of posts. Here are parts one and two. Spoilers for Station Eleven abound after the jump. For The Stand and On The Beach as well.

What makes post-apocalyptic fiction good? And what makes Station Eleven fail at being a good post-apocalyptic novel, despite its other strengths?

There are two aspects to the book’s post-apocalypse. The first is the coming of the apocalypse itself, when the characters in the book see the disease spread across the world and end civilization in a few weeks.

The second is the depiction of a post-apocalyptic society. In a world where 99.9% of people are dead, the survivors congregate in leisurely makeshift camps around highway exit strip malls.

For someone more interested in the book than I am, a person who would reread the book and fill in its margins with notes, the key to understanding Ms. Mandel’s approach to these two aspects in the book can be found in the character Jeevan Chaudhary a, according to the book jacket, “papparazzo-turned-EMT,” which is a hysterical realist description of a character if I’ve ever heard one. Continue reading

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Station Eleven: A Literary Pedigree

Expanding on my short review of Emily Mandel’s Station Eleven, I’d like to talk about literary pedigree. My opinions are probably wrong, but ignorance has never stopped me from forming strong opinions.

Which other works of fiction, in text or on film, dominate the book? Shakespeare, of course, but also Star Trek: Voyager. The former much more so than the latter. We see King Lear quoted at length, while the reference to Star Trek comes from the Shakespeare Troupe’s motto: Survival Is Insufficient, which Ms. Mandel makes sure we know comes from Star Trek because the characters say exactly that, and it is the bon mot that wormed its way into every professional review for the book I’ve read. The passage (on page 121):

“All I’m saying,” Dieter said, twelve hours out of St. Deborah by the Water, “is that quote on the lead caravan would be way more profound if we hadn’t lifted it from Star Trek.” He was walking near Kirsten and August.

It’s a winking allusion, accepting that the literary world in which we live is one where The New Yorker runs television criticism next to theater and film (I’m sure at some point film was considered in the same light). It’s beyond a winking allusion, it is an acknowledgment of, for better or worse, the intellectual landscape we inhabit. Station Eleven fits into it nicely. Shakespeare and Star Trek referenced within the space of the same page! Continue reading

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Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I have always hated impressionistic book reviews that lack any quotations or really explain anything besides the reader’s feelings. When you read reviews like that you’re getting more insight into their psyche than the substance of the book. I feel especially strong about the quotations part, and I feel like the worst offenders are takedowns of Guns Germs and Steel. The problem is less prevalent in reviews of fiction, but certainly not absent.

That said, it’s hard to write a review that does justice to a piece of art/text/work on which a person has spent so much time. Although most reviews offer more than Edward’s review of my short story, The Furies of Mars, which consisted in its entirety of the phrase, “truly awful and depressing,” it takes a lot of effort for a review to be substantial. I don’t promise substance in the following paragraphs, but I promise there will be at least one quotation.

Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic novel for people who prefer literary fiction to sci-fi which explains the National Book Award nomination. A Canticle for Leibowitz it is not. The book is trying to be Infinite Jest where the sci-fi adventure story is shown rather than alluded to in foot notes, except it’s carried out by peripheral characters instead of the book’s twin protagonists. And in a book that is, I’d guess, a quarter the length. Continue reading

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The Merchants of Zion is finished, and available for purchase.

The Merchants of Zion Cover

My first full-length novel, The Merchants of Zion, is available for purchase on Amazon. It’s $3.99.

I wrote the first draft six years ago, after I graduated from college and had trouble finding a job.  Some people might have redoubled their efforts in search of employment, but I devoted all my energy toward writing a novel, basically saying, “Fuck this, I’m going to be the next F. Scott Fitzgerald.”

Needless to say, that didn’t happen. I finished the book, didn’t get a job, and left New York. I became disillusioned with the quality of The Merchants of Zion and it languished on my hard drive. Last year I decided to give self-publishing a shot and I looked over the book, intending to throw it up as-is for a few dollars. But as I was rereading it I felt that would be unfair to Cliff, James, and Ruth, as I was much more capable of providing them with a quality fictional world than I had been before. So began a long process of redrafting, in which time I got engaged, moved to Nashville, and saw my betrothal turn to marriage.

So what is The Merchants of Zion? My goal when I originally wrote it, and to which I stayed faithful in the redrafting, was to write a book where the readers would realize the world is dystopian, but where the characters would have no idea. To them it’s just the way things are. It’s set in the near future (think 30-50 years from now) and humanity thought it was on the brink of an artificial intelligence revolution, but for reasons expanded on in the book that turned out not to be the case. Although the world isn’t ending, everything is crummier than it is today. The government is snoopier, the news is propagandier, the economy is brittler, the wars are more widespread, and the sea levels are higher. The gadgets, however, are much whizzbangier.

Against this backdrop is set the primary plot: a tale of love, jealousy, and money. The novel is narrated by Cliff, a Brooklyn dwelling slacker. It starts with an old friend of his, James, showing up at his doorstep, destitute. James was enmeshed in the world of high finance, but has fallen from grace and needs a place to lick his wounds and plot his revenge.

It’s a political book, but more Kurt Vonnegut and less Upton Sinclair, by which I mean it’s not driven by ideology. Cliff is a flaneur, he’s not about to get caught up writing editorials for Jacobin or quoting Atlas Shrugged. But the world is a scary place, and sometimes ordinary people get pulled into dangerous situations against their will. The Merchants of Zion is about finding your identity while the world around you falls apart.

If you missed the links above, you can buy it here.

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I Finished Another Draft of My Upcoming Novel, The Merchants of Zion

Previously, I’ve written about finishing a draft of my book. Two and a half months later it has been redrafted again. At 93,499 words it’s swelled considerably from 85,000, but this time it includes an actual ending and a series of interstitial chapters designed to flesh out the world in a way that’s difficult to do when writing from a first person perspective.

I’m happy with it, overall. I managed to keep the voice and sensibility of a person younger than myself while providing it with the characterization, prose, and plot befitting a proper novel. The science fiction is more science-y, and the oppressive atmosphere is a constant weight on our poor dystopian heroes.

Now the book is off in the hands of friends and erstwhile enemies. Once a set amount of time (about 6 weeks) passes, I’ll gather whatever feedback I’ve received and do another draft. Then I’ll do two more readthroughs for typos, grammatical errors, non-sequiturs and the like. Then it will be formatted and published, hopefully in early May.

I intend to use the downtime to write a novella slightly longer than A Key West Horror Story, about what I have several ideas but no definite decision except that, in contrast to The Merchants of Zion, it won’t infused with the painfully personal. Maybe another Dwarf Story, or one of several other horror stories I would like to write. Something where my hands can fly across the keyboard without a need to keep an eye on continuity and consistent characterization.

In any case, we will see what 2 hours a day, every day can produce in 6 weeks.

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Razib Khan in the New York Times

2015 will be the Year of Publishing, and the Year of Blogging, I declare.

Unz writer and PhD student Razib Khan has an editorial in the New York Times. It boils down to this: women have the most extreme views on abortion on either side of the political spectrum and so the War on Women is the War Between Women. Whatever.

A few thoughts:

1.) The entire premise is based on a single yes or no question in the General Social Survey. At least it talks about data over the course of 23 years.

2.) The link to the data just goes to the GSS website. This is bad form, but it could be either laziness or a way to hide your tendentious math. GSS doesn’t let you link directly to specific data, but that’s what blog posts are for.

My feeling is still that its the latter, but as I don’t want to dig up the data for myself, we will let Mr. Khan off with a warning.

3.) This paragraph seems to directly muddy the point he’s trying to make:

Our liking for black-and-white versions of reality is belied by their more shaded truths. Even among “extremely liberal” women in the General Social Survey, over 25 percent did not accept an unequivocal abortion-rights position. Meanwhile, among “extremely conservative” women, nearly one-fifth (18.2 percent) did.

So women have extreme views on abortion and there’s significant overlap? Also, why say “over 25 percent” and then “nearly one-fifth.” This seems like a weasely way to fudge the numbers in the direction of your bias, although for what purpose, I can’t really tell.

In the end, the article seems slimy enough to write a short blog post, but not important or outrageous enough to really get into.

Happy New Year!

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Free Stuff!

A Key West Horror Story is available for free on Amazon until Sunday. Go download it.

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