Big Little Lies
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The central event in Big Little Lies is something that, in a different book or story, could be summarized in two or three pages of exposition. It’s a dramatic sequence, to be sure, but the trick of Liane Moriarty’s cunning novel is to tease this moment, then back away and rewind, then slowly peel back layers until the full context and complexity of the moment can be understood. Thus, when the scene finally happens, the impact of it and the shocking, fascinating, deliriously entertaining chaos of it are keenly understood and richly felt. It’s a master class on building tension.

The event in question is an unspecified tragedy that takes place at a fundraising function (a Trivia Night) for a public school in a small Australian beach town. The introduction teases the Trivia Night from a remote point of view and then backs up six months and focuses on the stories of three of the night’s key players, each of whom take turns with a deeply intimate third-person narrative style that I can only describe as arresting. As the story unfolds from these distinct points of view, Ms Moriarty takes great care to skip to just the most pertinent or character-revealing moments, and while the book is long and detailed, it has short, punchy chapters and is never, ever a slog to read. Throughout, reality-show-style confessional transcripts appear, discussing the events leading up to the Trivia Night, the night itself, and its aftermath in cleverly obscure language from the perspectives of some of the people involved.

These flashback-y transcripts are a gimmick, sure, but they’re one of the most effective gimmicks I’ve seen. The book reads like a screenplay, with sharp directorial cuts and a phenomenal sense of pacing. But don’t mistake this book for a disposable summer beach page-turner quickly forgotten once the back cover is closed. Ms Moriarty uses her ability to capture the reader’s full and suddenly ravenous attention to open the door wide for her remorselessly bladed and often downright hilarious insights. This may be one of the finest satires I’ve read since Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions” and the book’s commentary about the politics of public schools, the collective hallucination of suburban existence, and the messy necessity of true friendship is so on point it pricks and draws blood. It’s scathing, laugh-out-loud funny, and absolutely horrifying all at once. There are so many insights on the inner lives of women: working mothers, single mothers, stay-at-home moms, women with supportive husbands, women in terrible marriages, directionless women, women with dark secrets, dark pasts, dark thoughts, personas, nuances, layers, contradictions, fears, truimphs. Big Little Lies’s characters are alive in ways most authors only wish they could manage and it’s all done in such an insightful, delightful manner that you don’t see it happening until it’s done.

The book is not utterly flawless. Ms Moriarty takes liberties with her three central protagonists when several of them appear on page together, hopping sometimes confusingly from viewpoint to viewpoint. She occasionally structures sentences in ways that tripped me up, and I found a bit of the transcript gimmick and a lot of the early character-introduction sequences needlessly confusing and overwhelming with lots of new names and relationships. Eventually the key names and connections did sort themselves out but there are places where a minor character reappears at a key moment and there’s a few minutes of disorientation until something re-contextualizes them. But it’s worth noting that there is another version of this novel that could have been written at twice the length wherein it might rival a Russian novel in terms of characters with their own point of view chapters. And next to the scope and skill on display everywhere else in this book, these are very minor complaints indeed.

I’ll say simply that I loved this book. I tore through the last two hundred pages at a breakneck (for me) pace, completing them in a single evening, and was thrilled to see the conclusion met every one of my sky-high expectations. I’d recommend this book to anyone, but I kind of especially want to recommend it to male readers specifically for the way it draws attention to the multifaceted ways that women view each other and themselves. After so much pop culture time spent distilling and generalizing women down to a set of simple stereotypes for the sake of “comedy” it’s so refreshing to see the real unpacking of women’s thought processes and self-aware complexities. And, it happens to result in genuine laughs that are much funnier than any of that other reductionist crap you usually see. It’s refreshing, dark, honest, hilarious, thrilling, heartfelt, and completely satisfying. Put it on your to-read list and thank me later.

View all my reviews

At the end of last year, we pulled into the station on a full twelve months of the 200 CCs experiment. The safest thing I can say at this point is that it’s been quite a ride and nothing like what I expected. It feels like it’s worth reflecting a bit and being as forthcoming as I’m able to be about the future of the endeavor.

What’s Past

I learned an awful lot last year as an editor. The first is that editing is richly rewarding, but also that it’s powerfully demanding. My own writing suffered in 2016 as a direct result of my work on 200 CCs. Now, that was a possibility I considered going in, but way back in December of 2015, my writing wasn’t going very well anyway so I felt good about the change of pace.
But, writing is (for me) a cyclic undertaking. By the time I felt like I was starting to get my mojo back, I was well embedded in the commitments of the 200 CCs project. The way this manifested was a total ball-drop of the zine aspect. I don’t know how many readers were enjoying the monthly issues, but once I hit the mid-point of the year (which I had been calling Volume 1), I could no longer maintain the schedule. Volume 2, Issue 1 slipped behind, then Issue 2 slipped behind that, and the collected Volume 1 edition stumbled as well. By the time it was late in September I was four issues behind and had to sort of quietly resign myself that zine editions would probably not be coming for Volume 2 at all.
Part of that slow burial behind the mounting work was a fresh output of new writing I was producing. I still liked the idea of the monthly issues, but I had the mounting sense they were redundant. The stories were already available here on the site. The tighter layout controls and guest editorials and so forth were fun and (I hope) aesthetically exciting, but it wasn’t always clear how much value those digital-only versions added.
The other factor that cannot be overlooked is that I bit off just slightly more than I could chew financially speaking. Sure, I had funding for the project as it was initially conceived: a weekly microfiction story and a few themed contests. But as the scope grew to twice a week and the contest prizes grew to accommodate the large number of wonderful entries, I had to dip past my reserves to cover costs. Given that the whole thing had zero revenue potential (and was originally just an excuse to keep fresh content on the website—paying for freshness with cash instead of time), there was no way to offset any of the expenses.
I don’t mean any of this as a complaint or an excuse. Most of the pitfalls I foresaw as possibilities and wasn’t blindsided by them. But, they do play into the future of 200 CCs as an entity and I’d be stupid to ignore or downplay their significance.

What’s Present

As much as I’ve loved having lots of great stories to post on the site and have enjoyed the increased traffic to, I have to admit that none of it has made this site—ostensibly devoted to my own writing—a better place to come and find out about the writing of Paul A. Hamilton.
But a few things remain as true today as they were nearly a year ago when I cooked up this idea. One is that I still love microfiction—in particular the loose 200-ish word format that I’ve focused on. Seeing the expertise at which my contributors have displayed in wringing every last bit of pain and beauty out of those precious few sentences never ceases to thrill me.
Another is that I still crave a collaborative creative outlet where I can stretch beyond word-monkey and exercise my visual design skills, my eye for talent and execution, my photography, my editorial instincts. And lastly, I still crave the means and opportunity to pay writers for strong work that speaks to me (and hopefully others).
That all being said, I can confidently say that at this point I know I have one final trick up my sleeve for Year One of 200 CCs and beyond that any further exploration of this kind of endeavor will have to involve the following:
  • A sufficient infusion of cash to maintain the minimum semi-pro rates I’ve offered to date.
  • A separation of the microfiction stories from the site.
  • A new schedule, format, or process that does not involve a nonstop cycle of twice-a-week publication (plus any other format variations).

What’s To Come

The one sure thing is that Year Two of 200 CCs won’t look like this past year. I don’t know exactly what that means, only that you shouldn’t expect twice weekly microfiction stories posted on My early visions include a lot more guest editors, zine editions first, and more like a bi-monthly schedule.
But all of it depends on that final trick I mentioned above. I’m currently putting together a 200 CCs Year One print edition, featuring (nearly) all the stories from the entire year. There will not be an ebook edition available to the public. The only way to get all these great stories in one place will be the book.
And the catch is that the proceeds will determine the funding for (or even the existence of) 200 CCs in 2017.
The experiment is pretty straightforward: if enough people buy the book to fund another year, I’ll make 200 CCs Year Two happen, in some form or another. If not, well, that’s the way it goes.
I hope it’s successful, but in a way there’s no chance that it won’t be. Even if nobody buys the book and we can’t fund future forays into 200 CCs, there will at least be a collection of last year’s wonderful experiment available, and I can’t think of a more fitting legacy to the project than that.

Half-Resurrection Blues
Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Half-Resurrection Blues is the kind of novel that’s somehow more than the sum of its parts. Superficially, it’s the story of Carlos Delacruz, a partially (or previously) dead bounty hunter working the gray area between the world of the living and the world of the dead. There’s a shadowy Council calling Carlos’s shots, a fantastical plot afoot, a lot of intriguing and memorable characters, a love story, elements of noir and mystery and magic and romance and horror all mashed together.

Which all sounds well and good enough, but it’s not entirely fresh on the surface, excepting that for the most part HRB avoids the heavy religious under- (or over-) tones from a lot of other life/afterlife/death urban fantasies I’ve read. But even beyond that, what sets HRB apart is the phenomenal pacing, the expert character crafting, and the spot-on plotting Mr Older manages. There are a lot of events, a lot of characters, and none of it feels overwhelming or sketchy. Each major development is well-earned, the wildly imaginative sequences outside the vibrant Brooklyn he creates are all crisply narrated to avoid the muddled description issue that plagues some other writers in this space. But at no point does the book bog down, belaboring the machine underneath the plot. There is always something happening, something looming, something just about to surprise the reader. Some of this is probably due to the way the plot is delivered primarily through a lot of crisp, real-world-feeling dialogue instead of overblown narration. Carlos is a terrific guide through Older’s world, and even when he’s making mistakes, it’s impossible not to root for him to come out on top.

There is so much to like here, including the fact that even though I was worried the ending would be unsatisfying or rushed based on how much was left unresolved and how quickly the end of the book was approaching, but Older manages a neat trick of hitting the peak of all the major story arcs at once right when it needs to and then tidies up in just a handful of concluding pages. This is a complete book in and of itself, which is a relief even though there is at least one sequel; I’ve been burned a lot recently by series books that, by virtue of their ongoing nature, don’t feel inclined to find a legitimate conclusion.

I heavily recommend this book. It’s dark, fun, spooky, surprising, fast-paced, and wonderful. I can’t wait to read the next in the series, because I can’t wait to spend more time in the world and with these memorable characters.

View all my reviews

Adulthood Rites
Adulthood Rites by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What I’m enjoying most about the Xenogenesis series is how damn thoughtful it is. This is idea science fiction at it’s very best, exploring what it means to be human through the lens of wild speculation. It’s post-apocalyptic and full of invading space aliens but it’s not grim, fatalistic or even swashbuckling. It’s about relationships, about potential, about sex and gender and adaptation and growing up. It’s about change. Change happens all the time, Butler points out, but can we—as humans—ever really embrace it?

Compared to Dawn, I kind of missed the presence of Lillith, who is relegated in this volume to a supporting role. Instead we mostly follow her son, Akin, the first male construct (hybrid oankali/human—basically the new generation of oankali) and the first to look almost completely human, at least in his larval stage. Lillith and the other human survivors introduced in the last part of Dawn have been transplanted to a repaired Earth and though some humans are working and breeding with the oankali, others have splintered off into human-only villages. They are bitter at being sterilized, at being at the mercy of the aliens, and early on Akin is kidnapped by a group of them. Fortunately, Akin is a wonderful character in his own right, and is absolutely the right person to see this chapter in the broader story through.

He spends enough time among the humans to develop a fascination with them, which informs the bulk of the book’s conflict. Oankali direct their evolution by “trading” genes with species they encounter. The constructs like Akin will be a merging of the two species but will call themselves oankali. Older branches of the oankali are allowed to continue as part of the alien society, but what of the humans? They are a dead end species and Akin must decide if he should fight to grant them similar protections as outdated oankali branches.

The brilliance of Butler’s work is that despite there not being a ton in the way of action or obvious tension, there is a gripping quality to the story. Much of the driving action is a series of small calamities and momentary dangers. But the underlying concerns are as big as they come, full of the sorts of thought exercises the very best SF can ignite. I loved thinking about this book. Did I sympathize with the Resisters? Would I be the sort of person to see the larger vision of the oankali? What would Akin’s solution near the end of the book mean to the people who were almost convinced but couldn’t get over the hurdle of being forced into breeding themselves out of existence? What did it say about humanity that the people originally selected to be re-awoken by the oankali in Dawn were potentially amenable to re-integration and so many of them chose to be Resisters?

As with Dawn, the set-up is deliberate but fascinating. The ending where things happen is a bit rushed and a lot of the relationships don’t develop in a comfortable way, which is to say it unfolds in an unpredictable manner and not all readers are really going to cheer for how it shakes out. Unlike Dawn, which felt like it had room to continue but was complete in itself, Adulthood Rites has a much less self-contained feeling. It’s book two of a trilogy, though, so I can forgive it that. Put another way, there’s no scenario in which I won’t read book three. I’m all in with the series at this point.

View all my reviews