A Mound Over Hell Steps Up To The Plate
Media has been around a long time now, and the creations coming out of modern day are so vast and abundant that it can seem like there is no idea left under the sun left unexplored. And, perhaps, those people who state such things are right—that the basic idea of a story will always be a rehash of something.
But, for the sake of being a reviewer, I certainly hope that is not the case: because my job would get rather boring.
Oh, also, I have a counter-argument.
Because I dare you to point me toward another baseball dystopian novel that contains ghosts.
I freakin’ dare you.
And, yes, that may sound a tad insane, but, after being allowed to read the first 30 pages or so of Gary Morgenstein’s A Mound Over Hell, I can now say the concept not only holds water but also seems like an interesting place to take a story.
Now, before we go any further, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I am not a sports fan. I do not watch it, and I like to tease my friends and family that do. The baseball aspects of a baseball novel were never going to have an easy time grabbing me, but, in a way, that leads to my first bit of praise for A Mound Over Hell: I got it.
A Mound Over Hell: Bittersweet Baseball Love
I don’t mean I have seen the light and plan to be at the next whatever-you-call-a-baseball-championship-game, but I see the tragedy inherent in the death of baseball, and the real sadness of the main character at watching something he loves break apart from disrepair and disinterest. That made me get baseball in this book’s world, more than any celebration of the sport could.
The thing I care the most about when I read a story is the prose. I can read pretty much any genre, any story, if the writer uses good enough composition and flow. It’s a magic thing, and a book has got to have it somewhere, to some degree, or I won’t enjoy it.
Thankfully, A Mound Over Hell has the spark—even if I had to read a bit to find it. Again, I don’t care about baseball, but when the dialogue and progression got going, it flowed. Perhaps a little too much: the book’s jumpy. I’m all for keeping the pace tight, but the narrator teleports—leaping great distances in a single sentence, often in a jarring way. I don’t dislike the approach: more it is a curiosity you should know about if you are going to read it.
A Mound Over Hell Sprints Along The Bases In Its Prose
Also, before I wrap up, I’ve got to point out the obvious with a book of this type: it’s political. Hyper political, it seems. As a reviewer, it is my job to talk about a story’s quality and if it succeeds in being a communicative piece of media: not to push my own agenda. But, if you are one who might take offense to certain political ideas, know this book may be a powder keg for you—and to approach with caution. It deals with America losing a war to radical Islam, so, yeah–there’s that.
You’ve been warned.
Final points come to this: I think we have a polarizing book on our hands here. A blending of two genres I have never seen blended before. A book quite willing to go and do what it wants (I did say ghosts—or, at least, what seems to be a ghost). Fans of baseball, fans of New York, fans of dystopian literature, if you can accept the otherness of the parts you might not like, this could be for you. If you are the sort that likes all those disparate pieces though, then your niche is filled, and I am ecstatic for you.
I want to thank Gary Morgenstein for the opportunity to review his book. If nothing else, he’s given me hope that there are still new and inventive things in all genres and that creativity, unlike baseball in this novel, is not dying.
I also want to thank him for doing an interview with me regarding his book. Which you can read right now!
I suppose I should start with the classic question “what inspired you to write this book?” Blending baseball and dystopian fiction is a rather interesting choice. What brought you to it?
My wife and I were having Sunday breakfast a couple years ago, listening to The Beatles, and eating everything bagels when the idea popped into my head about baseball’s final season in a dystopian America. Baseball and science fiction are my two loves, and I’m also a political junkie and a history buff, so this was the perfect literary storm. The beauty of writing speculative fiction is you build upon existing events and take them to that next terrifying, thought-proving level, like Orwell’s 1984 or Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, along with a healthy dose of Philip K. Dick. Combining baseball and science fiction is very rare although all the sci-fi peeps point out there was an episode on Deep Space Nine. I don’t want to claim my novel is the first, but it certainly re-imagines the genre. Since baseball is so old school, science fiction writers don’t think it’ll make the cut into the future. As a lifelong baseball fan (the Yankees are my team), I wanted to turn things upside, making baseball represent what America once was—for which it is reviled.
On that note, you clearly have a great passion for baseball, what about it appeals to you? Do you have a personal history related to the sport?
I grew up in the Bronx six blocks from Yankee Stadium, revering the team and especially Mickey Mantle. When I was a kid, I actually made myself limp like he did. My second novel was The Man Who Wanted to Play Center Field for the New York Yankees and, to promote the book, I tried out for the team. Here’s a YouTube link for your readers’ amusement.
I find that, at least with most dystopian fiction, there’s a general trend in the real world the author noticed that inspired the dark future they created. If this is true for you, what are you seeing in modern society that you think would lead to the world in A Mound Over Hell?
Science fiction writers live in the world of “what if?” Dick wrote about what if America had lost World War Two. Now I turn to World War Three. For the country to have lost to Russia would’ve been boring, too much like the Cold War. Ditto for losing to the Chinese. But Islam? That struggle is anchored in the present time and the clash of cultures is deep and dark and potentially horrifying. As with all sci-fi, you have to walk the tightrope between fictionalizing and predicting; I stay away from the latter. I’ve created a pretty rich and unique world which echoes somewhat from contemporary times but is also a creation of its own. There’s no distinction by sex, race, sexual preference, ethnicity, on and on. All that matters is a society based on love and ethics, led by Grandma, head of The Family, which governs America from the Bronx (Washington was nuked and Manhattan eviscerated by chemicals during the war). What if it didn’t matter whether you were gay or straight as long as you loved someone? What if you ran a business without cutting someone’s throat? What if the most trusted professions were cops, teachers, and doctors because if you can’t trust them, who can you trust? In this world, all acts of patriotism, from flying the flag to singing the National Anthem, are illegal. Social media has been banned under the Anti-Narcissism Laws. Religion, associated with Islam, is also illegal. In a nation where children are revered, abortion and the use of contraceptives are capital offenses along with pedophilia. Banks, lawyers, psychologists, and the entertainment industry were banned by the Anti-Parasite Laws I and II. All rather self-explanatory. Robots with faces are also outlawed; during the 2030s the AIs caused havoc by posing as humans and blending into society. As A Mound Over Hell opens, baseball, a sport now identified with treason, begins its final season ever, playing in battered Amazon Stadium (formerly Yankee Stadium), the only remaining ballpark
A Mound Over Hell is only the first book in The Dark Depths series. Without too many spoilers, where are you planning on taking the series going forward? How many books can we expect?
I don’t have any exact number of books for the series in my head. Originally, I thought a trilogy, but there’s way too much material and characters, so it will go on until the story runs its course. I’d also like to write a prequel, going deeper into the events that led to World War Three, the death of democracy, and the rise of Grandma and The Family.
Writing a book is no easy task. As an author, what would you say to other aspiring authors and creators? Do you have any advice?
If you want to be a writer, just write. Don’t walk around telling folks what a great idea you have. It’s hard work, which I think most would-be writers don’t realize. First of all, you have the awesomeness of a blank page staring at you. I think a good trick is when you write, leave a paragraph in the tank for the next day so you have a little movement to get you going. But most important is you have to be prepared to edit and edit and edit. Not everything we write is brilliant. I know, I know. A writer must devour his young. I wrote seven drafts of my novel and the bloody thing ran nearly 800 pages in manuscript form.
And, finally, where should we go to buy the book?
Here’s a link to my Author Page at the publisher BHC Press. In advance, I want to thank everyone who reads the book. The relationship between a novelist and the reader, 99% of whom we’ll never meet, is very special. Someone spends money and spends time in your world. What an honor.
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