Not From Around Here by Larry Hochwald
Amazon| Amazon Author Page
Genre: Horror/Paranormal/Science Fiction short story collection
Synopsis via Amazon:
Not From Around Here is a collection of 18 unique and connected stories that are sometimes scary and sometimes funny, but are always thought provoking, entertaining and unlike any you’ve ever read before. In this book you’ll find: “Best Friend”, where a young man is going through difficult times, until a little boy with a remarkable secret reminds him of the healing power of friendship. “The Placebo Effect,” where a doctor uncovers a shocking conspiracy, but his murder leaves it in the hands of his close friend to get the truth to the government. “Join the Club,” in which a college organization has a frightening initiation and a tantalizing reward. “Faker,” a rich grandfather wants to make sure his grandchildren grow up just right—unlike his own children. “Fur and Loathing,” the story of how a disgruntled groundhog takes matters into its own paws. “Old Ways,” where an African curse threatens to end a family’s bloodline. And “Mirrors,” where a man getting a haircut sees a reflection in the mirror of someone waving to him, who isn’t actually in the room. All of these, and 11 more extraordinary tales, await you.
Greetings everyone! The Review Board is here to share our thoughts on the short story collection Not From Around Here. First we have Wordsmith Andi:
The Wordsmith Weighs In:
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.
The Evolution of Alan Trente (or not)
Get your Alan Trente shirts here!
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.
Deeper Story Observations (Piping Hot)
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.
Less Science More Soul
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.
The Eyes Should Have It!
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:
“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)
“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)
She gave him a shy little smile. (italicized, unnecessary – not a train of thought)
“Finally his grandfather spoke. (misplaced quotation)
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)
“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)
They went inside, and came out a few minutes later. (extra spacing)
Alan wondered, “how do we get passed this thing?” (past, not passed)
In her exploration, their mother came across a remarkable people: the Hutuu. (mispelling of Huutu)
“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).
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).
“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.”)
“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.”)
“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)
Smoothly and quietly it accelerated while the artificial gravity and dampening system kept the G-forces from becoming uncomfortable.” (misplaced end quotation; no dialog)
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.
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.
Next the Unleashed One:
I have quite a bit to cover, so let’s get down to the nitty gritty. First I will cover what I consider strengths in this work.
Want a Plate for your Conflict?
There was plenty of conflict to go around with each of the stories. The conflict presented in each story did contribute to moving each one along.
Set a Table for Me
In the majority of the stories, I could actually feel as if I were there. This served as a plus for the author.
The author’s quirky sense of humor is sprinkled throughout the collection. My quirkiness could connect with the humor rather well.
But hold on! There’s a knock at the door. Could there be party crashers? No other than the crew of Opportunities Galore. I really hope I made enough food! Here are some things that could use some “spit shine to leather shoes.” (as my Grandpa would say)
Stuck in the Middle (Gimme a Hook)
With the majority of the stories, I felt like I was catapulted in the middle of a strange land with absolutely no map or compass to guide me. It took a brief moment for me to get hooked in and drawn into what most of the stories (especially the longer ones) were focused on.
Dialogue Laying the Smack Down on Action
In these stories, the author relied heavily on dialogue to carry the stories. This served as a major deterrent and made it difficult for me to get invested in the stories. Instead, the author should have incorporated more action to really make the reader seem like she was there.
Repetition in Themes
In all of these works, certain themes were put on replay:
- God vs. the Devil (“Mirrors “and “Revelation)”
- Aliens and Strange Behaviors of every day creatures (“Desolation Lovers”, “Fur & Loathing”, “Carpet Shock”, and “Wall”)
- Viruses (“OCD”, “When This War Began”)
- Deceased in denial of departure (“Best Friend”, “Almost Home”)
I would have liked a bit more variation. If not, for certain themes to have been grouped together to substantiate consistency in reader flow.
With some of the darker themes, I recognize that it is hard to find a horror/science fiction theme that has not been used before. Yet if they are used, utilize and execute them well. One example of this is “Desolation Lovers”. With “Desolation Lovers,” it had a feel to Stephen King’s “The Stand”–in the way that everyone was brought together. Instead of inhaling the scent of rosy delivery, I was choking on the fumes of a recycle that wasn’t quite stellar. With the length of this story, there should have been better balance between dialogue, character development, and overall narrative, yet it was presented using the same formula as the shorter stories.
He’s Here; He’s There; He’s Everywhere! Should I beware?
Confusion furrowed my brow because one character (Alan Trente) was present in damn near all of the author’s short stories. An explanation was given at the end to clarify this phenomena. This would have been better suited at the beginning of the works; however, this really subtracted from the potential of originality that could have shown with so many different scenarios being addressed.
Full Character Connectivity
In addition to Alan’s insertion in these stories, there was a missed opportunity to connect with other characters in each of the works. The only exceptions to this mishap is the very first story “Best Friend” (my favorite in the collection) and “Mother’s Nature” which reflected on the author’s own relationship with his mother.
Since “Best Friend” was the very first story and the connectivity with the little boy touched my heart, I predicted the same type of empathetic flow and ambiance with the rest of the stories and the characters. My excitement soon became drenched. The connectivity became short circuited (particularly with the longer stories), and by the time I was close to feeling even one-eighth of emotion for a character, it was on to the next story.
Some stories that stood out (OCD, Wall, Old Ways, and Not From Around Here) would have been stellar reads if the author would have taken time to develop their characters. Quite honestly, these selections could have easily been their own novelettes, novellas, or if the author was feeling heavily ambitious–full fledged novels. Yet in the short story constructions, the premises of these stories got watered down and felt rushed.
Before I get to my verdict, peep this-
Side Note: I do think if an editor has submitted changes that improve the read of your story (yet do not deter from the story), then an author should listen. I just find it strange for (1) The editors to not even want to be mentioned and (2) To put out an announcement if one sees editing mistakes, it’s because the editing suggestions weren’t incorporated.
Verdict: Potential is sprinkled in each of the stories. Yet lack of enhancement with character developments along with little substance to balance marathon like dialogue and action, as well as minimal interweaving of originality and recycled horror/macabre took away from my enjoyment. This is a shame because I am a huge fan of “twists”, “what if scenarios”, and macabre/horror writes.
Both the Wordsmith and the Unleashed one ranked this work the same, which was why it is placed at the very end: 6 out of 10 TRB Stars.
Thanks for checking out The Review Board. Feel free to like, share, and subscribe. Have a great day!