Paul Samael

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 behalf of his terrorist masters, making use of his status as a US citizen (which comes from having been born in the US).  For non-US readers, I should probably explain that the term “anchor baby” is a pejorative term used to refer to illegal immigrants coming into the US to give birth and then using their offspring to sponsor immigration by other family members. 

Put like that, it may sound like one of those slightly paranoid conspiracy thrillers, similar to the TV series “Homeland” (which also revolves around a character who seems to be ‘one of us’, but may in fact be ‘one of them’).  And there are some genuine similarities with “Homeland” (or at least the first series of it, which is all I’ve watched) – in particular, the question of whether one of the central characters is going to turn out to be a ‘bad guy’ after all.  In this case, the author skilfully keeps you guessing as to whether Abraham is going to turn out “as intended” by his terrorist mentors (and also whether he and others, particularly his mother and Khalil, the man who smuggled her into the US, will continue to cooperate with the plan).  In fact, once I was around half way through, I found the novel hard to put down.

In other respects though, my comparison with “Homeland” is misleading, because most of the way through, there is no parallel law enforcement plot-line;  instead, the focus is mainly on those involved in the terrorist enterprise.  Refreshingly, these characters are not generally portrayed as evil, crazed ideologues.  The first one we meet, Khalil, has already decided that he wants out, but is too weak-willed to extricate himself.  Tariq, his Middle-Eastern “handler” is less sympathetic, but is motivated more by money and power than by ideological fervour.  Meanwhile Najah, the pregnant girl he smuggles into the US, is partly a victim of her circumstances;  to the extent that she cooperates with the plan, she is largely motivated by a desire to escape a domineering father and a life of housebound drudgery in Algeria.  Even Mohammed, the most sinister character, appears to spend most of his time engaged in various forms of organised crime to “raise funds for his investors,” rather than plotting the demise of Western civilisation.  For me, this was a more insightful approach than the average fictional treatment of terrorism, which usually puts the emphasis on poisonous ideology – when in fact, in its tendency to prey upon people’s weaknesses, terrorism has much in common with other forms of more “conventional” anti-social behaviour, like drug-running or organised prostitution.

But what I really liked about the novel is that you can read it on lots of different levels.  Yes, it’s partly about how terrorism works – but you can also read it on a more “existential” level as being about free will versus fate or nature versus nurture.  It also has some interesting things to say about Western society and our attitudes to issues like immigration – because by the end, even Abraham’s friends from school (who have no involvement with the terrorist scheme) have become morally compromised to some degree.  In that respect, the novel reminded me a little of “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” by Mohsin Hamid, especially as both protagonists initially seem to have golden academic/professional careers ahead of them in the US, yet end up on a very different path.   But I wouldn’t want to push that comparison too far because there are some very important differences (Abraham, for example, does not have the same sense of cultural identity as the Pakistani narrator in “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” and the reasons for his disillusionment are somewhat different).

So to sum up, this is a gripping and well written story (if a little bit slow to get going) but I wouldn't really describe it as a thriller – and if we’re going to stick with TV shows as a comparison, “Homeland” probably isn’t the best point of reference.  Instead, try to imagine the writers of ”The Wire” doing with terrorism what they did with drug crime – but minus the law enforcement plot-line.  Then re-imagine that as a fairly compact literary novel with shades of “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” – and there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, “Abraham the Anchor Baby Terrorist.”  If, as is quite likely, you have absolutely no idea what I am attempting to describe here – well then, you’ll just have to read the book, won’t you?

Sean Boling has a number of other free novels on Smashwords.  So far, I have only read “Satellite Campus,” which I also enjoyed  – but be warned that it deals with completely different subject matter (focussing on the central character’s relationship with his mother, who has developed Alzheimers).  At the time of writing, all Sean Boling’s books (including “Abraham the Anchor Baby Terrorist”) were free.  Click here to go to a download page.


 

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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The Future Manifestations of Saint Christina the Astonishing

November 13, 2013





This short book describes eight appearances of the medieval “Saint” Christina the Astonishing (the unofficial patron saint of people affected by mental illness) in the near and distant future.  The “real” Saint Christina is said to have risen from the dead during the course of her funeral – and when I say “risen”, I mean literally soaring up to the roof of the church where the ceremony was being held.  According to Wikipedia, she flew up there because she couldn...


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3 by Moxie Mezcal

November 3, 2013



3 is a collection of three long-ish, meaty short stories by Moxie Mezcal.  By “meaty” I mean that they could almost qualify for the novella tag – because there is so much going on in terms of plot and interesting ideas that by the time you’ve finished, you are left with the kind of feeling more commonly associated with longer fiction.
 

The first story, “Home Movie,” is about a porn store DVD which has been replaced with what appears to be a snuff movie – is it ...


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The King of Infinite Space

October 18, 2013




Just published a new short story on Feedbooks.  Stylistically, it's more in the same vein as "Agricultural Production in the Sudan" i.e. quite short, verging on flash fiction - but rather different subject matter.

It was partly prompted by Jonathan Franzen's much ridiculed article in the Guardian last month, where he rails against self-publishers as worthless "yakkers and bloggers", who are wantonly destroying the delicate publishing eco-system (in contrast to highly paid professionals like hi...

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The Prodigals by Frank Burton

October 9, 2013



“The Prodigals” is an ambitious contemporary novel by Frank Burton, who runs Philistine Press (click here for an interview with him on that subject).  It follows the lives of four troubled young men in Manchester.  Well, that bit of the review was easy, because I have just copied it straight off the book description on Smashwords.  And it is a perfectly accurate description – but I can see why the author pretty much stopped there, except for adding that the book is also...


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Obooko and ebook conversion

September 27, 2013





Just published a copy of my novel on Obooko, which is a free ebooks platform based in the UK.  The upload process itself was pretty straightforward - and you get a nice email back from a human being (yes, a real person !).  The download page is here.  I will post an update once the novel has been on there a bit longer.  Judging from how other people's work is doing, I am not expecting vast numbers of downloads.  

That said, the figures for some of the books which have been there for some time ...

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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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