Within a couple of days, both of the co-moderators of CLFA (Conservative Libertarian Fiction Alliance) had noteworthy books come out, one indie, the other published under the auspices of Amazon’s own Kindle Press. Kindle Unlimited subscribers can enjoy both books for free. If you do not own a Kindle, official reader apps are available for all major computer and mobile device OSes.
“Chasing Freedom” ($2.99 on Kindle, $10.99 in paperback), Marina Fontaine’s powerful debut novel, was seeded by a short story submitted to a flash fiction context at Liberty Island. The story itself does not appear in the book, but the premises of its world building are rooted in it.
The novel is a near-future dystopia, but a very realistic one. Technology features, but all of it extant and in use as of the time of writing. As the author herself puts it, you can’t have much technological progress in a society where creativity is stifled.
The government is ‘elected’ between nominally ‘different’ Tweedledee and Tweedledum parties. In practice, it is best described as ‘soft totalitarian’. It holds an iron grip on both the flow of information and the lives of its subjects. Suburbs have been forcibly emptied out in the name of ‘restoring the environment’, with most people living in micro-apartments in overcrowded cities, eating subsistence-level processed rations. Healthcare is spotty and heavily rationed. The population resorts to a variety of coping and avoidance mechanisms that sound familiar to anyone who has lived in the former USSR or one of its satellite states. (Marina emigrated to the USA as a young adult.)
A Russian author invariably evokes images of very long novels that move at a glacial pace. As the fictional Howard Anderson quipped to his former operations officer, admiral Ivan Antonov, in “The Stars At War”:
“I read a Russian novel once,” Anderson cut in bleakly. “People with unpronounceable names did nothing for seven hundred and eighty-three pages, after which somebody’s aunt died.”
Not this novel. It is written very tightly (though not unpleasantly so), with essentially no fluff. The author was almost apologetic about its ‘short’ length, until I pointed out her book is about the same length as “Brave New World”, about 65K words (roughly the median length of novels on Amazon).
If you need superpowers, over-the-top action, and improbable Mary Sue superheroes to enjoy your fiction, go elsewhere. One of the most refreshing features to me was the novel’s realism: the protagonists are clever and resourceful but not implausibly so, while the antagonists are not ‘love-to-hate’ cartoon villains but ordinary, flawed people who gradually sell their soul to an inhuman system.
Marina writes like a native speaker. I could only find one typo: “his metal state”, which may have been Freudian, considering Marina’s musical predilections.
I read the book in two sittings and enjoyed the heck out of it.
In contrast, Kia Heavey’s third novel “Domino” is a tale set in the animal kingdom. Its device of anthropomorphism in animals goes back to at least Aesop’s Fables — fittingly, Kyriaki (Kia) is of Greek heritage herself. Unlike Marina’s independently published novel, this book was published by Amazon under its own Kindle Press imprint after being nominated through the Kindle Scout program.
The eponymous protagonist is a tomcat keeping the suburban house of his mistress free of mice and rats. He lives in an uneasy truce with the dog and protects the chicken coop against small predators. In the process he makes the acquaintance of a mysterious but beguiling female feline who lives and hunts in the wild. The cats have an informal social life of sorts.
Then a mysterious feline orator named “Socrates” moves into the neighborhood, and starts preaching a message of coexistence between cats and rats. This ‘community organizer’, if you like, is manipulated by a couple of rodents through stroking his enormous intellectual and moral vanity. (Sounds familiar?)
Soon the entire neighborhood is predictably infested with rodents, who then start nibbling away (literally and metaphorically) at the lives of the others and upsetting the local equilibrium.
The theme of ‘social justice’ being imposed by moral preeners who need not live with the consequences, or make any of the sacrifices, runs strong. It gets to the point where cats with kittens are forced to feed ratlings out of ‘fairness’ even when they can hardly keep their own alive.
It is difficult to talk more about the plot without leaving spoilers. Suffice to say, the tale is well told, at a fairly brisk pace, and its denouement surprising.
One need not be a cat person to enjoy this book: I’m a lifelong dog person and was quickly drawn in, to furious yips and howls of ‘Treason!’ on the part of my faithful rat terrier.
Amazon appears to outsource its editing to a well-known firm in the business: the book looked as professional as anything I’ve seen from a major publishing house.
“Domino” can be enjoyed on several levels. For children and young teenagers, there’s a delightful animal adventure. For those who love the outdoors, Kia offers plenty of great atmosphere without getting long-winded.
Older and more politically literate readers, of course, will surely recognize the allegory: although the book is not an outright roman à clef , many of the calamities that befall the animals in the wake of “Socrates” have parallels in current or historical events, even as any allegory can only be taken so far.
Both “Chasing Freedom” and “Domino” are highly enjoyable reads, and both eBooks a steal at $2.99 and $3.49, respectively. I suggest buying both. Kindle Unlimited subscribers of course, can read both books for free.