Book review: Plot Gardening: Write Faster, Write Smarter

Plot Gardening: Write Faster, Write SmarterPlot Gardening: Write Faster, Write Smarter by Chris Fox
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a perfectly cromulent book on outlining a novel and Fox goes into detail on two popular methods, the traditional three-act approach and the perhaps less-familiar story circle.

Running with the gardening metaphor, Fox provides step-by-step instructions and illustrates them with examples from several popular movies (relying primarily on Star Wars) and also drawing from his own work–including examples where he failed, and then learned from the failure.

Each chapter has exercises to follow at the end and Fox knows a lot of people will just read straight through, so he has thoughtfully included all exercises again at the end of the book.

Overall, there’s not much more you could ask for in a book about outlining a novel. Fox explains everything in a clear manner, provides examples, and even throws in a bit of neuroscience here and there. Despite all this, I never found the book overly engaging, perhaps because I’ve always resisted outlining my stories–and I can’t claim they’ve been better for this lack, either.

Still, don’t let my own indifference sway you–this is a well-constructed template on how to outline a novel and would serve any new novel writer well.

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Book review: Confessions of an Alien Hunter

Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist's Search for Extraterrestrial IntelligenceConfessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence by Seth Shostak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a fun read and my biggest complaint is that it came out in 2009 (just as the Kepler space observatory launched) and hasn’t been updated, so there’s a lot of near-future discussion about systems that have since come online.

Conversely, we still haven’t detected extraterrestrial intelligence since then, either. :P

Some might be put off by Seth Shostak’s breezy writing style, peppered with puns and humor, but I felt he always pulled back just in time to let the hard science and sober speculation take over. And if you’ve seen Shostak on TV–having more than a casual interest in astronomy, aliens or some combination thereof makes it likely, as he’s not just SETI’s senior astronomer, he’s also their main go-to for interacting with the media–then the light tone is not surprising. He is passionate about his work, but he is a wonderfully droll person. I suppose that may help when you’re willing to offer straightforward commentary on episodes of Ancient Aliens.

Despite being nearly a decade old at the time of this review, the book remains a thorough examination of SETI’s history, its goals, and its then-current operations. Shostak brackets the nuts and bolts of SETI with his own background leading up to joining the group, and offers tidbits from his work as an advisor on films like Contact and the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (he helped them make the scientists sound more like real people and less like jargonbots).

A lot of the book centers around the inevitable questions arising from SETI–what would SETI do if a signal was confirmed? How might the public react? What would aliens look like? How long will it take to scan the visible galaxy? Is it all just a goofy waste of time?

People who favor the “waste of time” side may not be moved by Shostak’s arguments, but most others are likely to come away with an appreciation of SETI’s work, and perhaps even a sense of hope in the continuing search for signs of intelligent life somewhere out in space.

Recommended. (But an updated version would be spiffy.)

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Book review: 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love

2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book I’ve read recently about how to greatly increase the volume of your writing. I note with some irony that both books have been very slim.

I was surprised that 2K to 10K had so little overlap with 5,000 Words Per Hour, so in a way the two books complement each other nicely.

Rachel Aaron offers some very specific advice that can be distilled down to two words: plan everything. And two more bonus words: track everything. She strongly advocates outlining a novel before diving in as the key to being more productive in your writing and boosting your daily word count. Unlike Chris Fox’s book, Aaron draws repeatedly from her own work to illustrate her tips, and it works to good effect, while also adding a more personal touch to the advice.

Like Fox, she is clearly enamored of her methods and the success they have brought her, and that enthusiasm is just as infectious here as it is in 5,000 Words Per Hour. You want to immediately dive in and follow the approach she advocates.

The second half of the book is a bit more of a traditional how-to, covering (and endorsing) the classic three-act structure, going over techniques on editing–here I find it interesting that she doesn’t let her beta readers look at her story until she is done with it, arguing that it’s not fair to have them offer feedback on what is still a work-in-progress.

There are no exercises here, unlike 5,000 Words, so the expectation is to take the advice and run with it.

Overall, a quick read and well worth it for both new writers or those who find themselves struggling with the process of simply getting words down in a regular, consistent manner.

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Book review: Acceptance

Acceptance (Southern Reach, #3)Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Southern Reach trilogy concludes with Acceptance, and it’s not a spoiler to say the title tips the author’s hand a bit.

As with the second book, Acceptance bounces between multiple characters, but here VanderMeer dives fully in, not just shifting perspective, but also switching between first, second and third person, as well as jumping between the onset of Area X 30 years earlier, the present day, and points in-between. Combining all this with the general enigma of Area X could lead to confusion, but VanderMeer keeps things focused. More than that, he begins stitching together different threads, by introducing and following characters hinted at or only briefly mentioned in the earlier books, such as Saul, the lighthouse keeper.

Again, it is difficult to say much without getting into huge spoilers, but what I enjoyed the most about the concluding book was the escalation of events and the contrast with the very ordinary and human characters swept up in Area X in its early days. There is a sense of unease running throughout this part of the story and VanderMeer works that unease well as unlikely alliances are forged in the face of increasing weirdness and the sense among some of the characters that humans can do little to stop the spread of Area X and its effects.

While the trilogy does come to an end of sorts, it also wouldn’t surprise me if VanderMeer returned to Area X at some point. He has created a deep and deeply weird place, and it’s one I would enjoy visiting again. After putting on my safety mask first, of course.

If you enjoy science fiction mysteries crossed with a bit of horror, you’ll likely enjoy the Southern Reach trilogy, but be warned–you will not have all the answers by the end. This is most definitely not a “pull back to reveal the man behind the curtain” type of story.

Recommended.

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Book review: Authority

Authority (Southern Reach, #2)Authority by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book 2 of the Southern Reach trilogy changes gears, switching from the first person perspective of the biologist to third person and switching between several characters, though focusing primarily on John “Control” Rodriguez, the newly-appointed erstwhile director of the Southern Reach. While Annihilation explores deep within Area X itself, Authority focuses on the organization investigating the area.

Perhaps not surprisingly, much of the Southern Reach is as weird and off-kilter as Area X itself, the product of 30 years of mostly fruitless efforts to reveal its mysteries, along with the after-effects of excursions both official and unauthorized.

VanderMeer peels back the layers here, and where Annihilation is steeped in mystery and things out of reach, here things are a lot more pointed, right down to nearly every character having an ironic name. Control is rarely seen to be in any kind of control. The assistant director, Grace, is cold and ruthless. Severance, Control’s mother, is…well, you get the idea.

The strength of this book, for me, comes in two parts. One is the interaction between Control and the biologist (referred to here as Ghost Bird, a name originally applied to her by her late husband) as he tries to wrestle information from her and comes to sympathize with her instead, the other being the increasingly frustrating attempts to understand or, well, control, what is happening in Area X, coupled with the feeling that it could get a lot worse without any notice.

The book ends on another cliffhanger, with the fate of the biologist and Control seemingly intertwined.

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Book review: Annihilation

Annihilation (Southern Reach, #1)Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While each book of the Southern Reach trilogy has its own feel, it’s hard to imagine anyone reading the first book and not pushing through all three to see how it ends (assuming they liked the first book). That said, while I view this as essentially one story split across three books, there’s enough unique in the approach of each to warrant separate reviews.

First, I’m a sucker for concepts like this. It’s simple and grabbed me immediately: Something weird has happened to a stretch of “forgotten coast” that the government is describing as an ecological disaster, but is far weirder than that. An organization called the Southern Reach sets up shop just outside the border of “Area X” to investigate. The first novel picks up about 30 years after the appearance of Area X, with the research team at the Southern Reach sending endless expeditions into the zone, but coming away with nothing to show but riddles, and for many of the expedition members, death.

Annihilation is told from the perspective of a biologist, part of an all-women team sent in as the “twelfth” expedition. None of the members of the team address each other by name, only by profession–the biologist, the surveyor, the psychologist. This detachment is meant to keep the group focused (and more easily malleable by the Southern Reach). The biologist serves as an interesting narrator, combining a cool, aloof attitude with passion for her work and fascination with the things she finds in Area X.

The story, told in the form of a journal kept by the biologist, details how things quickly go sideways for the team. To say more would be to enter spoiler territory and since all three books trade heavily on the mystery and enigma of Area X, it’s best to go in knowing as little as possible.

Suffice to say that by the end of Annihilation, the biologist has seen and gone through a lot. She urges everyone reading the journal to make no attempt to follow her into Area X. The cliffhanger ending all but has TO BE CONTINUED… on the last page.

And it worked. I was intrigued by the mysteries presented and keen to learn more in Book 2. VanderMeer writes with what is at times an almost lyrical style, which complements the strangeness of the setting the story takes place in. There’s also the open question of whether the biologist is a reliable narrator, but no hand is revealed in Annihilation.

Here I can say I would recommend the trilogy to those who love mysteries, especially ones involving fantastic or weird places. For those who love mysteries and even more love to see them neatly solved by story’s end…maybe not so much.

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Book review: Seriously…I’m Kidding

Seriously... I'm KiddingSeriously… I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you liked DeGeneres’s previous two books, you’ll like this third volume as well. Like the others it’s a collection of oddball riffs and ransom thoughts, a pleasantly weird collection of stories both fictional and real, with recurring themes playing throughout. Like eating almonds in a casino and how you should never, ever do it. The affection for her partner Portia also shines through.

It’s also relatively short. The chapters are only a few pages, so if a joke doesn’t quite grab you, there’s little time to lament the fact before she’s moved on to something else. There’s also a coloring section for kids. Very thoughtful. A bit tricky for the audio book version, though.

What I like most is just how nice DeGeneres is, without sacrificing any of the humor as a consequence. A lot of the anecdotes and observation had me giggling. The whole thing is just kind of adorable.

If you’re looking for serious observations on life made easier to digest through the use of humor, you’ll want to give this book a pass. If you delight in the absurd, this is an entirely delightful way to spend a few hours.

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Book review: 5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter

5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter by Chris Fox
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This very short book provides some basic advice for how to crank out more words for writing. Some of it may come off as the “well, duh” variety, but it’s presented earnestly, enthusiastically, and with no filler.

And that’s my biggest criticism of the book. Fox deliberately eschews providing personal anecdotes to fill out the book and it feels unnecessarily lean as a result. There are a few references to the neuroscience behind some of the techniques discussed, but little else. Still, for someone struggling to write more and to write more consistently, you can’t go wrong with the advice, which comes down to:

  • Write in sprints. This is something that is strongly encouraged for National Novel Writing Month (which Fox mentions), where your goal is to write without stopping to edit or even fix typos. If your writing sprint is 20 minutes, you write for 20 minutes, always pushing ahead, never going back. That comes when you specifically go back to edit, which Fox himself only does after finishing the complete manuscript.
  • Write sprints regularly, preferably daily and for at least an hour.
  • Track sprints using a spreadsheet (Fox links to one he created if you are not inclined to create your own).
  • Avoid all distractions when writing. Fox suggests indulging/checking things like email before beginning your sprint.
  • Create a space for your writing. This is not just a physical space, but a time and place where you will not be disturbed, such as very early in the morning when all sensible people are still in bed.
  • Develop a positive mindset, allowing yourself to see the possibilities of what accomplishing your goals will look like. Also, improve your life beyond writing to boost your overall frame of mind.
  • Learn to type faster. This is probably the main “Well, duh” piece of advice, but he makes a valid point. Typing 5,000 words per hour amounts to 83 words per minute. If your typing speed maxes out at 50 WPM, you have a problem there.
  • Do your fingers fail you (mine certainly do)? He also suggests dictation software for writing, noting that most people can speak much faster than they can type, and as sprints aren’t intended for editing, it’s a perfect fit for cranking out great loads of words. I’ve seen dictation software mentioned before by other authors, and am now intrigued enough to consider testing it.

Overall, despite its slim size, this is a good book full of sensible advice and tips. Recommended.

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Book review: Uncommon Type

Uncommon Type: Some StoriesUncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tom Hanks is a good writer and these are good stories.

Tom Hanks is also obsessed with typewriters. They inform the title of this collection, they pop up in many of these stories, and a typewriter takes center stage in several of them. Typewriters are the glue that binds everything together in Uncommon Type, and what a typewriter symbolizes reflects directly in many of the tales–a simple machine from a simpler time, a nostalgic callback, an evocation of memories both warm and bittersweet.

The first story actually defies all of this, though, and perhaps sets an inadvertently light tone for the remainder of the collection. “Three Exhausting Weeks” is just that–a story about friends that become more than friends, with the go-getter Anna driving the protagonist (and narrator) to exhaustion with her frenetic lifestyle over a stretch of just a few weeks. It’s breezy and funny and very unlike many of the other stories, which trade on sentimentality, a yearning for a simpler world and are often more character studies or mood pieces than fleshed-out stories.

This is not to say the more meditative stories are bad, but some of them never generate much heat, they just ramble along amiably and then end with a quick sign-off.

Another favorite, though, is the seemingly inevitable time travel story, “The Past Is Important to Us.” This seems much like a lot of the other tales, filled with lovely, warm people sharing wonderful times together, but it twists beautifully, in a way that I don’t feel is diminished even when the twist seems unavoidable.

“A Month on Greene Street” was another I enjoyed. A cynical single mother moves to a new neighborhood and thinks the worst of her likewise single next-door neighbor. For added flavor she also has occasional visions of the future. Hanks does some nice character-building here and the ending is both sweet and satisfying.

“A Month on Greene Street” also highlights both a strength and weakness of the stories. The women are complex, multilayered characters, but most of the men are much simpler, and less interesting as a result. I’m not sure if this is actually a fault of Hanks’ writing or if he just sees men as less interesting in general, but it was something that began to stand out as I read through more of the stories. One exception may be the newspaper columnist Hank Fiset, whose columns are interspersed throughout the book. His voice is clear, loud and colorful as he rambles on about the future of the paper he writes for and, of course, typewriters.

Overall, even when a story didn’t make my socks roll up and down, I was still entertained by the surprisingly sturdy wordcraft. As I mentioned at the top, Hanks is a good writer, and there are certain moods and technologies and emotions he is very fond of and obviously enjoys writing about. If you are up for some low-key character studies about mostly decent, but variably flawed people, Uncommon Type will serve you well. Jut don’t go in expecting explosions and car chases. There is bowling, though.

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Book review: And Then Begin Again: Six Tales of Hope

And Then Begin Again: Six Tales of Hope (Dark Collections Book 2)And Then Begin Again: Six Tales of Hope by Ann Christy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ann Christy’s second collection of six stories covers an eclectic mix of time travel, super powers, far-future doom and alternate history. Some spoilers ahead, so be warned.

“Sedge” puts together a young man and woman on a newly-settled world, each of them not quite fitting their own culture. There is an abrupt tonal shift due to a rather significant event happening right at the end, and I felt it was glossed over a little too readily, but it’s still charming to watch these two flirt on this new world before that happens.

“The Mirroring” is a weird story about a new counselor investigating some very strange self-worth issues some students at a private college are experiencing. A strong (and agreeable) Twilight Zone vibe here.

“Life/Time in the New World.” Alpha male business guy gets frozen for 300 years, pops out of his capsule and continues being an alpha male business guy in the future, which is part paradise, part sneaky Twilight Zone hell. All the pieces are here, but the story felt a bit perfunctory at times, and the character’s growth as an individual almost seems deliberately undercut by the ending.

“Unnatural” imagines an alternate history where Pope John Paul I doesn’t die after only 33 days and basically announces that births as a result of in vitro fertilization are A-OK, resulting in a future where natural birth is…illegal? Again, all the pieces here are put together well, but the basic premise, while a fun “What if?” exercise, doesn’t seem that plausible. Maybe this is just a reflection of the world we live in now.

“Yankari” tells the story of Olisa, an eight year girl in Africa who has some very potent abilities that she struggles to control and use to protect wildlife from poachers. I felt the ending broadened out the story in a way that was unnecessary, but this is still a tight, enjoyable tale of a little girl learning to harness some amazing abilities to do the right thing.

“Lulu Ad Infinitum” is an SF piece about a colony ship that suffers a catastrophic failure, forcing its lone survivor, the titular Lulu, to survive by cloning, then learning to live with, herself. Despite the grim backdrop, the tone remains surprisingly light as Lulu grapples with a possibly untrustworthy AI, the process of raising her clones and more. Christy does an excellent job here with the setting, fleshing it out in satisfying detail.

Overall, even the lesser stories were eminently readable and I enjoyed all six, just some more than others. An easy recommendation if you’re looking for a blast of SF/fantasy variety with a (mostly) hopeful theme.

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Book review: Strangers to Superfans: A Marketing Guide to the Reader Journey

Strangers To Superfans: A Marketing Guide to the Reader JourneyStrangers To Superfans: A Marketing Guide to the Reader Journey by David Gaughran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a good book. It’s a short book. You should read it.

The End.

Okay, I should probably elaborate a bit. If you’ve read David Gaughran’s two other books on self-publishing, Let’s Get Digital and Amazon Decoded, then Strangers to Superfans will nicely complete the trilogy, and unlike some trilogies, the Shire doesn’t get burned to the ground in the process.

Superfans is less nuts and bolts than the other books, discussing some of the intangibles of self-publishing, focusing on the potential pitfalls (the failure matrix, as Gaughran calls it) in trying to capture and hold readers, then turn them into willing promoters of your work. In this sense, the book is going to be more useful to those with one or more books ready to be set loose into the sea of millions of other self-published efforts. Amazon is once again the focal point of discussion and rightly so, as it utterly dominates the ebook market, but Gaughran doesn’t ignore other markets, and even highlights how they can present unique opportunities given their smaller size.

And while there may be fewer specifics in this book compared to his others, there is still plenty of sensible advice on advertising (he is a strong advocate on newsletters), positioning and categorizing your books, along with tips on how to hook the reader at the end to keep them engaged and wanting more.

Overall, anyone thinking of self-publishing would do well to read all three of Gaughran’s books, in the order of release: Let’s Get Digital, Amazon Decoded, and Strangers to Superfans. There’s no guarantee his advice will make you rich, but your odds will certainly be better. As a bonus, his writing style is so utterly friendly and engaging you can’t help but feel more excited to self-publish afterward.

Recommended.

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Book review: Abandon

AbandonAbandon by Blake Crouch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This review is full of spoilers, the way the hole under a lifted rock is full of bugs. Or something like that. If you want a short, non-spoiler review, read the next paragraph, then stop.

Abandon is well-written and has an intriguing premise–why did the 100+ inhabitants of a Colorado mining town suddenly disappear on Christmas Day in 1893?–that unravels once the mystery is revealed, and the plot gets hijacked by cartoonishly evil people, way too many coincidences and convenient acts of god. It’s a story about how isolation and greed affect people (hint: neither are good), but it fails to resonate because Crouch regularly undercuts the reader’s ability to suspend disbelief.

Spoilers ahead! The premise–and the fact that I enjoyed Crouch’s fun alternate reality romp Dark Matter–is what drew me to pick up Abandon. (It should be noted that Abandon is Crouch’s third novel, published in 2009, where Dark Matter came out in 2016.) Abandon establishes a structure where scenes jump from Christmas 1893 to late fall 2009 and back again. The present-day scenes follow Abigail Foster, who, along with her estranged father Lawrence, a ghost-hunting couple, and their guides, head up to Abandon to check the town out before the snows come and it becomes inaccessible until the spring.

Crouch starts unwinding things slowly and there’s some tension early on over whether anything actually supernatural might happen, especially in the present day. The 1893 scenes depict a town hit on hard times and winding down, its citizens poor and tired and about ready to, well, abandon Abandon. Crouch neatly handles the differences in dialect between the two time periods without making it seem forced or unnatural, though the citizens of Abandon tend to fancy the exact same expressions.

Where the story started to lose me was after the mystery got revealed–not because the mystery was gone, but because of what happens for the remainder of the novel. In 1893 the town’s preacher, Stephen Cole, goes mad because–well, he does (a brain tumor is hinted at). And God tells him to kill all the wicked heathens (the citizens of Abandon). Meantime, there’s a stash of Conquistador gold that’s been piled up and hidden in the area for a few hundred years and a couple of the locals look to make off with it.

Cole convinces the town that a marauding band of cannibal Indians is making its way to Abandon and everyone must hide in the mine above the town while they pass through. He escorts them all into the mine for safety (hehe), and then marshals some of the men to go meet the savages head-on. Cole shoots and kills the men. A few days later he returns to the mine with a team of burros carrying the gold. He dumps the gold off in an alcove inside the mine. Then he locks the impenetrable steel door for good, leaving the last few still alive to die.

One person manages to escape by getting boosted through a natural chimney by the barmaid due to be hanged in the spring–more on her fate in a bit.

From the 1893 side we see men who beat women, men who beat men and men willing to murder over gold or just because they’re plain loco.

In 2009…it’s mostly the same. It turns out Abagail’s father has lied about their trip to Abandon–he knows about the gold, and how it was never found. A small band of Iraqi vets (who maybe totally have PTSD) want him to lead them to it, then use everyone to help haul it out and be rich, hooray.

From here the 2009 scenes alternate between a kind of torture porn, with the group leader Isiah constantly threatening to hurt people, and sparing no detail in telling them how. He kills the husband of the ghost-hunting team to prove he’s a credible threat. After that the other members of the party–all of whom are evil or foolish, save Abigail, who is only kind of foolish–face various horrible ends.

There are several near-comedic scenes where Abigail and the others almost escape, but always get caught again. They finally think they’ve succeeded when Isiah and his right-hand man Jerrod go sliding off a cliff. But they can’t get close to the cliff edge to see the bodies. But they’re totally dead, right? Of course not. Convenient ledge.

But Isiah dispatches Jerrod because Jerrod is hurt and there’s no hope of rescue. Sorry, Jerrod! Isiah somehow gets down unscathed, spoiling for revenge/whatever. He also managed to hold onto his gun.

Meanwhile, the sudden appearance of a guy named Quinn startles, then delights Lawrence. He’s a big admirer of Lawrence’s work. What a coincidence they’d meet up at Abandon. Quinn has a key. Lawrence thinks some more and thinks he knows where the key might fit. Plus maybe gold. The three head up to the mine, unlock the magic door, and in that little alcove, there it is. While Lawrence and Abigail are exploring the mine–and finding the bones of the citizens of Abandon–Quinn helps himself to a bunch of gold, then uses the key to lock up that impenetrable steel door because he is super-evil.

Thus trapped, Lawrence and Abigail spend several days trying to find a way out. A veritable blizzard begins blanketing the mountain. They finally find a natural chimney and Lawrence is able to boost Abigail up high enough for her to climb out. She somehow makes her way back to Abandon, finds Scott in the old hotel, one of the guides thought to be dead, but who totally went ninja on his captor despite a grievous injury. They head out for Scott’s SUV, located miles down the mountain.

Quinn immediately pops up and gives chase, taking potshots with a rifle.

They evade until Scott finally has to get out of their hidden tent to take a poop. He then gets shot dead–by Isiah! Then Isiah starts to describe how he’s going to kill Abigail. He then gets shot dead–by Quinn! This is why guns are bad. So much shooting! At this point I thought the whole thing was just kind of ridiculous, but nearly everyone was now dead or stuck in a cave, so what else could happen?

Well, as it turns out, Abigail makes it to Scott’s SUV and peels off, just as Quinn arrives to get off a few more shots. He gets in another vehicle for a good ol’ car chase.

Meanwhile, in 1893, Lana Hartman, the mute piano-player, has escaped the mine, but Cole is on her like Quinn on Abigail, except slower, because they don’t have motor vehicles. He chases her on down through the snowy slopes of the mountain and though she falters, she never gives up. In the end she grows weak and stumbles and Cole–who has conscripted a seven year girl as his co-murderer (it’s easier to just not explain) is about to dispatch her when…an avalanche literally sweeps them all away, killing Cole, probably the girl, but leaving Lana relatively unscathed. Those darned convenient acts of god.

Lana pushes on through the snow and finally makes it to the town of Silverton, where she is brought to the hotel and treated by a local doctor, who regretfully has to amputate her legs and left arm due to the “mortification.” As she can’t talk, he gives her a notepad and she writes out the terrible tale of Abandon and also P.S. ALL THAT GOLD UP THERE. This is the doctor’s cue to reveal himself as super-evil. He knocks Lana unconscious, cuts off her good right arm, then signs her off to an insane asylum, because who knows what trouble a mute woman with three missing limbs might get up to when there’s gold to be found otherwise?

Somehow he never finds the gold, despite Lana earlier handing him the key to the mine door and telling him via the notepad to send a rescue party as there are children and such locked up there.

Back in 2009, Abigail arrives at…Silverton! Is she safe in civilization? No, Quinn is still hot on her trail. She dashes into a hotel and asks where the sheriff is, then tells the indifferent clerk to hide under the counter. Quinn comes in, huffs and puffs a bit, then leaves.

Abigail makes it the sheriff’s office or actually his home. Or maybe both? Anyway, his daughter Jennifer lets her in and for some reason Abigail clams up about her whole story, as if Quinn is suddenly not a threat. She finds an old book on a shelf and leafs through it. It’s that super-evil doctor’s journal from 1893! The sheriff spies her reading it and that’s when the drugged tea she was given kicks in. Turns out the Quinn is the sheriff’s son and they, along with Jennifer, are descendants of the super-evil doctor and have been hankering for that gold he never found. They are also super-evil, blithely willing to pass off multiple murders as a few days of bad behavior in exchange for lots and lots of gold.

They plan to take Abigail back up the mountain to make it look like she didn’t make it trying to get down through the snowy conditions. Instead, Abigail remembers she has her father’s Ruger stuffed in her pants (okay, it’s actually in her jacket, which the super-evil trio somehow failed to check), and even though she has 30 milligrams of Oxicodone–per Jennifer–coursing through her system, she manages to shoot and kill all three of them while completely zonked out.

THE END.

Except she goes on trial for murder, but then is found not guilty due to “mental defect.”

THE END.

Except I haven’t even scratched the surface of all the other details that just don’t add up. Abigail keeps quiet about the gold during the trial–confiding to her mother afterward how it brings out the worst in people (you think?) But it’s made clear earlier that multiple people knew about the gold and have been trying for more than a hundred years to find it. It doesn’t really seem that secret. Also, the drugged tea, the bullet holes in Scott’s SUV, Quinn’s rifle where said bullets came from, and a billion other pieces of evidence would clearly paint a picture of how yes, maybe someone really was trying to kill her and it wasn’t a “mental defect.”

But anyway, that’s where the story ended, so I was glad.

What frustrated me is despite everything I’ve said, Crouch writes the whole thing really well for the most part. It’s not just readable, it’s colorful, full of interesting and weird characters, vivid imagery, scenes that blend the real and hallucinatory. It’s just saddled with cartoonishly evil people, and a stream of coincidences and plot contrivances.

A curious “great idea/not so great execution” I can’t really recommend, unless you’re okay with everything that was obviously a problem for me. If you are, all the better for you, because the writing, as said, is quite good.

One thumb up, the other thumb waggling at the first one disapprovingly.

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