It took Bruce Whatley almost the same amount of time I have been plying my trade as an author to conceive and create this 96-page picture book (around 10 years that is). To call Ruben a masterpiece is a discredit to the complexity and intense beauty that harbours within each page. One might spend hours alone exploring the end pages, searching for clues and analysing the significances secreted within. This is not a picture book for the faint hearted. However, it is a supreme testament to Whatley’s self-effacing talent and a proclamation to strive to be the best you can be. As decreed by Whatley himself, ‘It had to be the best I could be.’
Ruben is a captivating synthesis of picture book and graphic novel. Told in parts akin to chapters, it describes the solo existence of a small boy living in the shadows of a futuristic city that functions only on what it receives. It is incapable of producing anything in return, an inequitable industrial wasteland of pylons, viaducts and ominous occupants who represent the pseudo organic heartbeat of a mechanical monster.
Picture books are a unique marriage of art and words. Occasionally, not even the words are needed. A picture book can evoke emotions so intense, you’ll wonder how so few images and words managed to resonate such an immense amount of feeling in such a short space of time. This is what I find so utterly attractive and astonishing in well-written picture books. Today, we reveal a few that not only take my breath away, but also astound me with their cleverness, humanity and sheer depth. Enjoy. Continue reading I Don’t Believe it’s a Picture Book! Astonishing reads for all ages Part 1
My newest release is DUST. It wraps up the Silo Saga that began with WOOL and continued with SHIFT. As I write this, it’s been two years to the day that I released WOOL, which changed my life forever. Putting the final touches on this series has been extremely rewarding.
Where are you from / where do you call home?:
I grew up on a farm outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. After a career as a yacht captain, I eventually settled here in Jupiter, Florida. I live with my wife and our spoiled rotten dog.
When you were a kid, what did you want to become? An author?:
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’ve dreamed of doing this since I was twelve. I never thought it would be possible, and I took a circuitous route to get here, but I’m now savoring every moment.
What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:
I, ZOMBIE. It was my most risky project, the one that touches on the most traumatic experiences of my life, and a work that was approached for purely cathartic purposes. It’s the least appealing to readers and the least commercial, and I enjoy that about it as well. Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:
I can write anywhere. I do all my writing on a laptop. I usually have my dog snuggled up against me, making it difficult to type or get comfortable.
When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:
I almost exclusively read non-fiction. History books, like Rick Atkinson’s latest trilogy or psychology works from Steven Pinker. I am a sponge for facts and knowledge.
What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:
ENDER’S GAME, by Orson Scott Card. Here was a book about young people saving the universe, and it was written by a guy from my home state. It made me believe I could be anything. Do anything.
If you were a literary character, who would you be?:
I’d be one of Shakespeare’s fools, acting dumb but often saying something with a sliver of insight and wit.
Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:
I collect seashells. I take pictures.
What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:
Pizza and beer. I could eat this every day (if only my wife would allow it).
Who is your hero? Why?:
My parents, both of them. My mother for the way she raised the three of us while working several jobs. My father for his kind heart and work ethics.
Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:
Competing with various free forms of entertainment. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, social media games . . . these are the things books will compete against. To thrive, they’ll have to continue to offer a brand of entertainment found nowhere else, and that is the building of vivid worlds in silent imagination.
There are so many things to love about this book. It shares nothing in common with The Hungers Games, The Passage or The Matrix ( the first film not the dodgy sequels) but if you liked those stories you will go absolutely nuts for this book like I did.
“You’ve felt it, right? That we could be anywhere, living a lie?”
Originally self published as a short story that grew into five eBooks it is now available as one eBook together and will bepublished in December in paperback. I read an advanced print copy that had each part as a separate volume and I wish they were publishing the print book this way because having five distinct parts I think is essential to the overall reading experience of this extremely impressive novel.
“Something had happened. A great and powerful thing had fallen out of alignment.”
Part One is only 48 pages but it is more than enough to blow your mind. We meet Holston who is a Sheriff and is waiting in a holding cell to die. Holston lives in a gigantic underground silo which is over 130 stories deep. The outside world is full of toxic air and wastelands. The silo is organized and supplied so that people do not need to go outside. They have food and water and the population is kept in check. A couple cannot have a child until someone else dies and a lottery is held. There is a Mayor, a Sheriff and the laws of The Pact. If a law is broken the punishment is ‘The Cleaning’. ‘The Cleaning’ involves going outside in a specially designed suit and cleaning a gigantic lens which allows the inhabitants to view the outside world. It also involves certain death. Holston is waiting in a holding cell to do ‘The Cleaning’. A task he has volunteered for.
“A project to pull the wool back from everyone’s eyes. A favour to the next fool who slipped up or dared to hope aloud”
Holston is the catalyst. His actions set everything in motion. A new Sheriff must be found. As the next four parts unfold we learn more about life in the silo and how each level is divided up in order for everybody to survive. You also begin to piece together a bigger picture and a more complex world that will astonish you and leave you gasping for air as you read. What at first seems to be a great lie is in fact something else all together and discovering the truth is more dangerous that anyone can possibly imagine.
“This is how the uprising begins”
This is a story bursting with imagination and ideas. Thought-provoking seems an understatement. Howey does what all great speculative fiction should, he creates a world seemingly removed from our own, in an apocalyptic future, and slowly peels the differences away. There is a lot of hype around this book. This is one of those rare occasions where not only does the book live up to the hype, it exceeds it.
Like Wool, which was originally published as five eBooks, Shift was originally published as three eBooks and is now available in one volume. Shift is the follow-up to Wool but it is actually the prequel. Set in Silo 1 it tells the story of how the silos came into being and why. The book is split into three shifts, each spaced decades apart, as we follow the work of Silo 1 monitoring the other silos as well as managing their own silo population.
Shift is as mind-blowing as Wool, maybe more so. I am totally amazed that the world Howey has created, which is so confined within a Silo, can have so many stories and is bursting with so many ideas. Howey slowly marries up the stories of Wool and Shift perfectly and leaves you itching to read the conclusion, Dust. The wool is well and truly lifted from our eyes but what this means for the survivors in the Silos is far from clear and I cannot wait to find out.
What is it about dystopian fiction that really pulls at our heartstrings?
I refused to see the movie TheRoad, based on the book by Cormac McCarthy, because I found the book so desolate. I am the first to start bawling in theatres, so I figure that if it’s really that great, then I’ll wait until I can watch it on DVD in the comfort and non-judgment of my own loungeroom and cry my little heart out. Funnily enough, I had no problem watching another McCarthy book-to-movie adaptation, No Country For Old Men, which is arguably equally as desolate. But then, it’s that ‘dystopian’ thing, isn’t it?
Deriving from an ancient Greek language construction of ‘bad’ and ‘place’, the idea of the ‘dystopia’ has long been fascinating school of thought for skylarking philosophers. Dystopian fiction then, does have a cautionary edge to it for us plebean readers. Like a school teacher that just won’t quit, a dystopian tale often takes place in a futuristic universe, or an alternative history that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy, and tells us that if we do or don’t do something, then THIS will happen. And it’s generally bad. Besides a foreshadowing of what things may come if we take a certain route, the marks of the dystopian societies are often just skewed reflections of who we are today, right now.
People in modern day society have often made the connection to dystopian novels: the surveillance of Big Brother from Nineteen Eighty-Four through ‘Reality’ TV; the test tube designer babies just as prophesied in BraveNewWorld. To the uninformed Westerner, the society in which Offred lives in TheHandmaid’sTale is Afghanistan; and uninformed foreigner or not, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, where people are transformed under surgery to become perfection, is pretty much Los Angeles, USA under a different name.
It always comes back to one thing: not the struggle for humanity per se, but the question of what exactly humanity is. This post may seem a little depressing but the latest dystopian novel I’ve been reading has affected me greatly and caused me to think about this subject a lot. I finished it a few weeks ago but I still I have a lot of questions, some answers, and some more questions to those answers.
Stay tuned for my review on Kazuo Ishiguro’s heartwrenching dystopian Sci Fi, NeverLetMeGo, tomorrow.