Not From Around Here by Larry Hochwald

Not From Around HereNot From Around Here by Larry Hochwald
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not From Around Here is a collection of 18 short stories ranging in genres from horror to paranormal to science fiction. Starting with “Best Friend” the book begins on slightly predictable note with an adult man pining for family meeting a ghost boy. This is the last point at which I thought that anything in this book was predictable, and for a variety of reasons.

Hochwald has a talent for storytelling, evidenced in the range of genres he collected herein. His ideas are imaginative and a great many of his outcomes/plot reveals I simply did not see coming. I enjoyed the first half of the book which comprises stories revolving more around horror and paranormal. I got a few chuckles from stories like “Fur and Loathing” and “Join the Club”. However, the second half of the book made me feel mired in viscous sludge in trying to wade through his science fiction efforts. Once I hit “Faker” my enjoyment took a rapid downturn.

It was right around this time when I realized Hochwald loves the name Alan Trente. He uses it as the name for his main characters in 9 of the 18 stories: “Best Friend”; “Join the Club”; “Faker”; “Mirrors”; “Desolation Lovers”; “When This War Began”; “Wall”; “Revelation”; and “Not From Around Here”. Considering the wide variety of stories he imagines and tells this overuse of the name strikes me as hackneyed and entirely unoriginal. It would be one thing if each Alan Trente was written as an entirely unique person but just as the name doesn’t vary the personality attached to it doesn’t either. After the first few stories like this I began to wonder if I wasn’t actually reading a book about one rather boring guy who just happened to have a multitude of extraordinary things happen to him and have the same lifelong best friends: George, Richard and Stephen.

There are just a few individual stories that I was compelled to comment upon:

“Old Ways” read more as an overlong summary for an equally long epic Sci-Fi fantasy blended novel. Hochwald displays a penchant for more “telling” scads of back story than attention to character development and interaction. The overload of this information via dialog grew tiresome quickly and I found myself repressing the urge to scroll past this story to start the next. I stuck with it for integrity’s sake, digesting the full story (31 pages) with wide eyed exasperation as the pages just continued to scroll by without the story ever getting any better. The plot does pick up with action toward the end but after so much convoluted back story serving to dull my interest I couldn’t actively engage in it.

I didn’t understand the point of the inclusion of “When This War Began” except as space/page filler. The author states twice in this 3 page “story” that this isn’t a science fiction story but a metaphor. To me it appears as only another way to re-use the names Alan Trente and Richard, his best friend.

I was most intrigued by the ideas in “Wall” and went off on an abstract bunny trailing for awhile which is always fun but Hochwald’s style doesn’t do justice to his ideas.

Hochwald’s style in his science fiction stories appears to be more focused on expounding upon details (convoluted back-story, super science-rich hypothesizing, etc) through long paragraphs of information-rich dialog than in actually telling a story. The author “tells” more than he shows and in such a way as to eventually achieve that dreaded “glazing over of the eyes and fogging of the brain” when too much information is given in a manner that is informative rather than engaging through character description, development, physical interaction and so on. They read so much more like dumbed-down yet somehow gloriously overcomplicated dialogic explanations on the depths of his scientific knowledge, daydreaming and readings rather than composing stories that reach out and snag the reader through action, character development and interaction. There is simply too much science in his science fiction and not enough of a human element so as to make them relatable and engaging. I found myself reading them not so much out of curiosity or concern for the characters and what happens to them but from a place of “I hope the next story makes me feel something for the people he’s creating and putting through all these strange plot twists”. As a reader I want to see events unfold rather than be led through them by the hand like some grade school child. I want to connect with the characters and be pulled at emotionally. Hochwald failed to kindle my true interest due to these shortfalls.

Hochwald is cautioned to remember to provide that necessary balance between humanistic feeling and relation over the inundation of the science necessary to compose a science fiction narrative. Without characters to evoke our emotional connections science fiction is merely a collection of scientific facts, theories and fantasies that leave the reader feeling bored and regretting the time invested in reading the book. Give us less science, more descriptive imagery, more definition and depth of characters. If you can’t give us less science, find a way for your characters to show us their story as it unfolds rather than feeding us a ceaseless stream of point to point narration.

Hochwald would do well to have an editor review his manuscript in great detail. The editing misses were numerous for misplaced or unnecessary punctuation, and if commas could provide sustenance Hochwald gives nourishment in plenty here. The editing misses that I spotted are as follows:

Page 44:
“Alan decided he would have to charge down the steps, knock that grotesque walking pile of bones down, and get passed it, if he were going to get out of this.” (past, not passed)

Page 46:
“Alan opened his eyes and saw Jessica looking down at him, so beautiful, bathed
in sunlight —it was morning.” (no quotations needed as this is not dialog)

Page 48:
She gave him a shy little smile. (italicized, unnecessary – not a train of thought)

Page 52:
“Finally his grandfather spoke. (misplaced quotation)

Page 58:
A slight smile crossed Ishii’s slips. I am quite sure you are not evil, yet I am also quite sure you have done something bad….” (missing starting quote for dialog)

Page 59:
“You’re prisoners? You don’t seem so bad. None of you do.” I said looking around me.”; At first I think it was a false laugh to mock what he had said, but I could not stop, I was laughing so hard.”(misplaced quotations)

Page 70:
They went inside, and came out a few minutes later. (extra spacing)

Page 78:
Alan wondered, “how do we get passed this thing?” (past, not passed)

Page 98:
In her exploration, their mother came across a remarkable people: the Hutuu. (mispelling of Huutu)

Page 99:
“It’s nothing to look at yet, but soon it will be a grand temple to my great presence,’ Tril’anga said in perfect English. Though the tribe spoke a dialect of an old language, their mother was able to understand and converse fluently. P’kutuh, the shaman, however, was able to speak freely in English and their mother was sure someone must have made contact before she did. P’kutuh assured her he was granted the ‘gift of tongues’ by the old ones, and that was how he did this. ‘Yes,’ Tril’anga said, ‘I have the gift of tongues.” (This section is italicized and is previously explained as a diary entry the main characters are reading, written from their mother’s point of view. However, at this juncture the tense changes from a retelling from their mother to a third person accounting yet the text remains italicized).

Page 101:
Flames burst out all around them: colored flames, green, blue, red, it would have been beautiful if it weren’t deadly.” (needs a semicolon after red; misplaced quotation – no dialog).

Page 111:
“From what I understood we should put it high up on the outside. The men went outside the tent and Scott pushed on the side of the tent to bring it down, so Robert could better access the top. (missing end quotation after “on the outside.”)

Page 112:
“Maybe, but we can’t know for sure until we know what’s going on. Kah’lar gave us the amulet also and said it was the most powerful protection. It was for the one going back home to face Tril’anga — so you have it. Either the Huutu magic is working or it isn’t, but I don’t think it would be any more dangerous to take a look at what is going on out there. They moved closer to the front flap. Robert touched the amulet he wore under his shirt. (missing end quotation after “what is going on out there.”)

Page 130:
“They’ve infected me with the virus. I’m in bad shape. At first, I feared it would be a long and painful process, but now it seems it might go more quickly than even I might have hoped. (missing end quotation; next line in text opens new dialog from a different speaker)

Page 137:
Smoothly and quietly it accelerated while the artificial gravity and dampening system kept the G-forces from becoming uncomfortable.” (misplaced end quotation; no dialog)

Page 162:
Now I would need to probe their weaknesses with the computer, in a way that would give me sufficient information and, not arouse suspicion. Just then, a wall lit up and Mr. Archer was on a large screen. (This section is italicized as protagonist’s stream of thought. The last sentence in this paragraph is not stream of thought but description of a change in environs and therefore should be separated into its own line and not italicized)

There were also a few formatting issues of note:

Desolation Lovers: There appears to be a spacing issue for the text: in some places it appears to be single spaced, in others 1.5, and strewn throughout the text are large gaps of open white space between paragraphs, which usually indicate a scene-change but in this case it appears to be an editing/formatting issue.

Almost Home:
The tense changes at:I keep eyeing the clock. I have to steel my nerves for what I have already put off too long ; the call home. I must accept that I’m late and call to check in.

The phone rang four times before Laura picked up. I was greeted by a tentative, “Hello”.

(The text continues on in 3rd tense from there).

In conclusion: Hochwald infallibly delivers a unique twist in his plots that often made me chuckle; others made me wince, deeply. He delivers on his promise to deliver thought provoking stories but is thankfully vague about what kind of thoughts he, his stories and writing style will invoke. Where others appear to have greatly enjoyed this collection I’m afraid I am left wanting and unimpressed.

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