Paul Samael

The Inelegant Universe

January 31, 2015

This collection of short stories by Charles Hibbard is thought-provoking, varied and beautifully written.  And if short stories aren’t really your thing – although in this case I would urge you to make an exception - the author has a number of other longer-form fictions available on Smashwords (discussed briefly below). 

But getting back to “The Inelegant Universe,” what can you expect from this collection?  Well, here are some examples to give you a flavour:

  •  “Fare Evader”:  David attempts to get his girlfriend’s sick cat to the vet, running the gauntlet of the San Francisco metro in the process.
  •  “Baking Day”:  Chuck pulls a sickie but ends up being hospitalised after cutting his arm.  It was just an accident of course, a lot of fuss about nothing and definitely not a sign of anything more serious.  Or is it?
  •  “Rest Area”:  Ruth agrees to look after another woman’s purse as the latter goes for a walk at a cliff-top toilet stop in the Sierra Nevada.  But when the woman fails to return, she begins to fear the worst.
  •  “1944”:  a soldier, behind enemy lines, hides up a tree to evade German troops.
  •  “Birefringence”:  two hikers have a heated argument as they collect calcite crystals in the mountains.

I particularly liked the way that many of the stories manage to combine relatively mundane events (e.g. dinner parties, visiting an elderly parent in a nursing home) with larger, more abstract ideas – these range from string theory (“The Inelegant Universe”) through to evolution (“Archaeopteryx”) and conflicting views of the relationship between order/meaning and chaos/destruction (“Birefringence”).  

That might make the stories sound heavy-going and potentially somewhat contrived –
 but whilst the universe may be inelegant, the marrying up of these ideas with the subject matter is beautifully done and never feels artificial.  And there was always enough in the way of plot/character to draw the reader in and no shortage of humour. 

Anyway, on the strength of this collection, I went on to read two more of Charles Hibbard’s books on Smashwords, both of which I’d also recommend. 

“A Burned Over District” is a novel about a small town in the Sierra Nevada which becomes gripped by speculation over the origin of mysterious lights in the sky on Christmas Eve.
  I liked the colourful collection of characters and sense of place, which reminded me (a little) of Garrison Keillor (only minus lots of Lutherans and the Mid-West location) – not entirely convinced that the plot quite delivered in the end, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of it.  

“Retirement Projects” is a novella-length comedy about a retired schoolteacher, a slightly sinister ex-cop and knitting (what is it with me and stories about knitting?).
  I enjoyed that too – just not quite as much as the stories in “The Inelegant Universe.”

Finally, my thanks to Bernard Fancher for drawing my attention to this author, as I had missed his work on my trawls through Smashwords in search of hidden treasure.

At the time of writing, "The Inelegant Universe" was available for free from Smashwords here, as were “A Burned Over District" and “Retirement Projects.”


Confessions of a sexist reader

November 9, 2014

They say you should never judge a book by its cover.  But when, in my last review on this site, I said that I hadn’t really expected “Pedalling Backwards” to be my kind of thing, that was exactly what I was doing.  Here’s that cover again – it doesn’t really scream “Men! Buy this book!”  does it?

And just to reinforce my prejudices, it was also categorised as “women’s fiction” on Smashwords.  But of course, when I actually read it, I enjoyed it.  Which means that my preco...

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Pedalling Backwards

September 28, 2014

“Pedalling Backwards” by Julia Russell is a very well written literary novel which has attracted an impressive haul of positive reviews on Amazon, and two five star reviews (including mine) on Smashwords. 

Lizzie, her husband and her parents have rented a holiday cottage on a bleak, muddy island in the Blackwater Estuary.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, for starters, Lizzie has recently lost a baby.  Her husband thought it would be a good idea for them both to get away from things fo...

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Read by robots

August 22, 2014

In common, I suspect, with many authors, I write at least partly in the hope that at least a few other people will read my stuff.  So I was a little dismayed to discover that the overwhelming majority of my “readers” on Scribd appear not to have been people at all, but robots.

Until recently, Scribd was showing my total “reads” as being about 1.4K.  I was somewhat sceptical of this (see this post) and thought the true figure was probably in the low three figures – but felt that even ...

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HHhH by Laurent Binet

July 31, 2014

This book by the French author Laurent Binet is described in its blurb as a “novel” but I think it would be more accurate to categorise it as “faction.”  What I mean by that is that the book is based quite closely around actual historical events but it also has certain features in common with other genres, like memoir or, at times, fiction.  I have blogged about faction before – in particular a book called “Red Plenty” by Francis Spufford, who started off writing a factual accou...

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Abraham the Anchor Baby Terrorist

March 8, 2014

This is a very interesting and well written novel by Sean Boling, whose collection of short stories (“Pigs and Other Living Things”) I have already reviewed on this blog.  It’s about an attempt by Islamic terrorists to insert a long term “sleeper” agent into the US.  This is to be done by smuggling a pregnant Algerian woman into the country and passing her off as a South American immigrant;  her son, the Abraham of the title, is to be raised to carry out as yet unspecified tasks on ...

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The Hole in the Wall

February 5, 2014

"The Hole in the Wall" by Clare Fisher is another mid-length piece (longer than a short story, shorter than a novel) of the type which I have been trying to promote on this blog because it is so under-represented in modern fiction (but I recognise that I may now be in severe danger of boring people to death with this point).  Luckily, we live in the age of the e-reader, which seems to be (slowly) helping to create more of a market for mid-length fiction - so maybe, eventually...

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Stream of consciousness: what does it mean to you?

January 8, 2014

Fear not:  this blog entry is not intended to be a free-flowing word association experiment chronicling all thoughts and feelings passing through my head right now.  That may come as a relief to you, although possibly not to my employers, for whom I should really be doing some work (the trouble is, I work from home on Wednesdays and it’s easy to get distracted when you start thinking about interesting concepts like “stream of consciousness”).  It’s also easy to get distracted by gazin...

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The Free Indie Reader No.1

December 20, 2013

Just wanted to draw attention to this interesting project from Tom Lichtenberg - it's a collection of short stories he has put together from self-published authors, intended to act as a "free sampler."  As Tom explains here, it's an attempt to reach a wider audience than he has so far managed by reviewing other people's work on his blog and elsewhere - so I hope it succeeds.  

I say that with a certain amount of self-interest, because it includes one of my stories.  But even if that were not t...
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Interview with James Crawshaw

November 22, 2013

Here’s an email interview with James Crawshaw, one of the founders of bibliotastic, a free ebooks platform based in the UK, which occupies a space somewhere between a straight ebooks platform (like Smashwords or Feedbooks) and a peer review/”incubator” site for new writers (like YouWriteOn – which I have reviewed here). 

I recently submitted my novel to the site and am happy to report that it was a straightforward process – bibliotastic will also convert your Word...

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About Me

Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books.
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