First Paragraph(s): Molly floated in the vacuum of space with no helmet on—with no protection at all. In the distance, a starship slowly drifted away. It was her parents’ ship, and they were leaving her behind.
She swam in the nothingness, trying to keep them in view, but as always she spun around and faced the wrong direction. It was the only torment the old nightmare had left. After years of waking up—screaming, crying, soaked in her own sweat—she had whittled it down to this.
She gave up fighting for one last glimpse and tried to relax, to find some breath of peace. They were out there, even if she couldn’t see them. And as long as she stayed asleep, suffocating and alone, her parents remained among the stars. Alive.
“Molly.” A voice pierced the dream. Molly cracked her eyes and blinked at her surroundings. Beyond the carboglass cockpit loomed a scene similar to her nightmare, but filled with a fleet of Navy ships. The fire of their thrusters blended with the stars beyond, little twinkles of plasma across the stark black.
“Gimme a sec,” she mumbled, rubbing her eyelids before snapping her visor shut.
Don't you just love that first sentence? It tells us right away what genre of story we're reading and hooks the reader with immediate danger. I doubt a traditional publisher would've allowed an opening containing a dream sequence, but an indie author can do what he pleases, and I think it's a great opening.
Oh my, Esteemed Reader, have we got a treat in store this week! If you're one of those who hasn't yet discovered Hugh Howey, I envy you, because you have some amazing reading experiences ahead. No, not this review:(
Wool is the story getting all the attention because it was an indie publication that lead to huge sales and a movie deal, and you don't want to miss it. Hugh Howey is living the dream of every author, self published or not, and anytime we writers see someone's fiction making this sort of impact, we should read them. Readers around the world are sending a signal: "we like this."
I loved Wool. But I listened to the audio version, so I didn't highlight any passages, because I didn't know how much I was going to love it. I didn't further know that Hugh Howey would be willing to make time for us and answer the 7 Questions, which he totally is (check back Thursday, it's going to be epic). I did read and highlight I, Zombie (so awesome), but there's no way that book's appropriate for this blog. As I'm reading Howey's entire catalog anyway, I thought I'd share my thoughts on the first book in his wonderful YA series, The Bern Saga.
The opening events of Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue reminded me quite a bit of Ender's Game, and as that's my favorite science fiction novel after Stranger in a Strange Land, that's a very good thing. Orson Scott Card may be a terrible human being, and Robert Heinlein would probably have obnoxiously hit on your wife, sister, breathing female companion, but man can (could) they write:) Like Ender Wiggin, Molly Fyde begins as a cadet training for warfare in space through computer-generated virtual reality who might just be being manipulated by a vast conspiracy.
Minor spoiler: Howey does the very smart thing of not telling us we're reading the inconsequential events of a virtual reality simulation until it's over. In this way, he's able to open his novel with an exciting space battle every bit as awesome as the best moments of Battlestar Galatica and Star Wars. We get to see Molly in action, learning what a bada** (it's YA this week) she is by Howey showing, not telling us. We also get to meet the supporting players and see them get killed, but not really.
This is a tricky business as opening with a virtual reality sequence is as potentially deadly to a story as opening with a dream sequence, yet Howey does both, deftly navigating around the pitfalls as though he's piloting the Parsona between asteroids. The key is he keeps the simulation sequence exciting and short. It's so much fun, afterward, I didn't care the star-ship battle was never real, and Howie tells us it's not real as soon as he's out of ships to blow up and cadets to kill. If he'd waited 50 pages to reveal all the deaths I'd just read didn't really happen, I would have been annoyed. Brevity is the soul of wit and surprise virtual reality sequences:)
Unfortunately, reality comes crashing back and we learn human society has taken a surprising step backward:
Women used to fight alongside men. They used to fly ancient atmospheric ships and go into combat. It was hard to determine the numbers from the history books, but it was common enough that people didn’t seem to notice.
Something happened to change all that. Somewhere along the way, it was decided that women can be Presidents and CEOs and Galactic Chairs and work in the support side of the military, but they cannot fight.
What the history books wouldn’t tell her was why this had changed. And anyone she approached with the question, including Lucin, brushed her off or reprimanded her for being “too inquisitive” or “naive.” And she had been naive. Back then, the knowledge of what women used to do gave her the optimism needed to join the Navy. Now she saw it differently. The precedents set by history didn’t mean something was possible in the future. No. The fact that they were able to go away from this progress meant something far more sinister. And final.
That's right, ladies. Howey is writing about the future and it looks a lot like the 1980's:
So I ask you, given that Howey is writing about a future most readers have no hope of living to see unless the singularity happens sooner rather than later, why does he choose to write about a backward society? Why not set his story in Star Trek times where Klingons may blow us out of the sky, but people of all races, genders, and planetary origins are mostly treated equal?
There are a lot of reasons and the story provides some, but for my money, I think Howey did it to give his protagonist more opposition to encounter. I know that racism and sexism in America are over, but if you can harken back to a time long ago when those things did exist, I'm sure modern readers might just relate to Molly's struggle to overcome the prejudice of those around her. More, a protagonists is only as interesting as the antagonism she faces, and by stacking the deck against her before he even introduces an actual antagonist, Howey invests us in Molly. Here's one of my most favorite passages:
As soon as she returned to the barracks, Molly could tell something bad had happened. Her arrival in a towel invariably led to whistles and catcalls from the male cadets. These were usually followed with bouts of derisive laughter, assuring Molly the flattery was a joke.
Five years ago, Molly saw these taunts as signs of fear. An androgynous eleven-year-old stick of a girl had entered their ranks and could out fly every single one of them. Later, as she grew into a young woman, she sensed they were hiding a different brand of fear. Despite the Navy’s poor excuse for food, her thin body had filled out. Workouts and womanhood had wrapped long, lean curves over her tall frame. The narrow face that had once made her look like a gangly boy produced high cheeks, a straight nose, and a tapered chin. She was beautiful. She knew it. And she hated that everyone took her less seriously because of it.
Lest we forget, Esteemed Reader, The Parsona Rescue is the first in The Bern Saga, and Howie has more books to sell us. Therefore, it is essential that he takes time to establish Molly Fyde as a character we want to read more about and often. And he does. I'm already enjoying Molly Fyde and the Land of Light. I'll follow Ms. Fyde through her many adventures because Howie has shown us a character worth investing our time in.
He does this in broad strokes with the over-arching plot, of course, but also in a million small ways:
From her meeting with Lucin to her arrival on Earth’s Orbital Station, it felt more like a month than a week. Especially with all the lazy scheduling teachers do prior to spring break at Avalon. She tried to concoct busywork for herself, doing all the problems her teachers said to skip, but it barely dented her anticipation.
Molly Fyde is the sort of character who works harder than the other students and cadets because she has to. Plus she's beautiful and as I mentioned, a bada**. What follows is another passage to the same effect as the previous, but with a reckless breaking of a sacred rule I want to talk about a paragraph from now:
A visitor? Molly couldn’t think of anyone who knew her outside of the school and the Academy. And nobody from the latter would be caught dead here. Vaguely intrigued, she ambled toward the door thinking of Jim’s problems with the corn harvest, unaware of how profoundly her life was about to change.
Mrs. Stintson watched her prized student file out before sliding Molly’s test out from the bottom of the pile, placing it on top.
Did you see it? Did you witness Howey hoping from one character's perspective to another without even batting an eye? This is what the indie author revolution looks like: opening with dream sequences and shifting perspectives in a mostly third-person fixed narrative. There's ink running in the streets! Viva la revolucion!
As with all the rules he breaks, Howie does so for a reason. First, know that the passage in question is the end of section, so the break in perspective is less intrusive. By putting us briefly in Mrs. Sintson's head, we learn information about Molly we wouldn't otherwise know. Is it absolutely necessary for Howie to break perspective to accomplish this? No, but it works and nobody gets hurt, so why shouldn't he do it?
Great Caesar's ghost! We're out of review! Sorry, Esteemed Reader. I haven't done one of these Book of the Week posts in a while and we've run long. And after all that brevity/soul talk:(
Let me wrap up by saying Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue is an amazing read and Hugh Howey has joined the pantheon of great science fiction writers in my mind. Except he's cooler than Orson Scott Card, who hasn't agreed to face the 7 Questions despite frequent, stalker-ish requests:)
There's a whole lot more to this book and to this series, but I'll let you discover the wonders ahead for yourself. Does Molly have a strong attraction to her handsome partner? Does she encounter strange alien worlds and get locked up in their prisons? Does she take on a wonderfully vile alien sidekick? Does she ever get to fly her father's ship, the Parsona, and does she ever unravel the mystery of what happened to her parents? Esteemed Reader, you'll just have to read this wonderful book and find out--and you totally should. Hugh Howie is an author worth setting a PlayStation controller aside for:)
As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue:
She was living on borrowed time, which made suicidal risks suddenly worth calculating.
It wasn’t supposed to be a scoreboard, or taken as a game, but that’s how the students saw it. All but one of them were boys. Comparing anything measurable was their favorite pastime.
Molly frowned at her pilot and pulled the reader out of its pouch. She resented not being able to fly, but she had a hard time taking it out on Cole. Partly because he had earned his position, but mostly because she considered him a friend. And in the male-dominated galaxy in which she lived and operated, those were as rare as habitable worlds.
They were pressing toward a cacophony of clanging and yelling—poverty’s soundtrack. This was a tune Molly recognized from her childhood on a frontier planet. It was a chorus of competitive complaining, a group with very little yet wanting much.
Molly suddenly realized they were in a bunker disguised as an office. A room meant to take the worst kind of pounding and survive. For some reason, walls so thick made her feel less safe. Like she had moved to the center of a bull’s-eye.