INVASIVE by Chuck Wendig

Or “How I Learned to Start Worrying and Fear Hockey Pucks”

So I finished INVASIVE within 48 hours of starting it. I highly recommend doing this. It’s not that the book is so good as to warrant dangerously speedy devouring. It is—but my warning comes from a place of squirminess. You don’t want your mind resting on the main stars of this book.

Ants. Lots and lots of ants. Thousands. Probably millions.

I’ve been a Chuck Wendig fan for some time, but I have to say this is likely my favorite of his so far. While in the same universe as ZEROES, it is a very different book. I was not so hot for ZEROES, though I enjoyed it well enough. This book is a wholly different experience. It earns its comparison to (if not flat-out rivalry with) the techno-thriller master, Michael Crichton.

INVASIVE rests on three big strengths. Let’s take the least skin-crawly of them first.

Hannah Stander. INVASIVE’s main badass is exactly that. She’s no Black Widow mind you. No flipping, kicking, and snarking here. She’s a badass because she’s smart and cool under pressure. This has the book standing in stark contrasts to ZEROES that had few, if any, truly likable characters, apart from Agent Copper who, thankfully, is alive and well for this romp. I really hope to see him emerge as a Coulson in tying this literary universe together.

Ants. What the like of Crichton and King usually (though not always) have to do is get you to fear something you’ve never seen. Velociraptors, super flus, John Cusack. Not many of us have experienced these creatures of myth and prehistory. But unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve had an ant attack you. Actually, come to think of it living under a rock is an excellent place to experience ants…Point is, it doesn’t take much for the reader to dash to the nearest shower to sit in the frigid water for fear of the crawling bastard-buggers to make an appearance as you’re reading about them.

Speculation. I think what put this one ahead of ZEROES for me is that it was only slightly speculative. I won’t pretend to be a genius geneticist (law enforcement tells me this is called ‘fraud’ and I’m not to do it again), but with all the GMO panic going on, genetically engineered ants feel less like science fiction and more like next Thursday. It’s being done right now in other ways to other insects, so who’s to say this very premise isn’t unfolding right now?

Yep. Your skin could be carved up tonight while you’re sleeping. But if you pick up INVASIVE and read it today, you won’t have to worry about it! You won’t be sleeping anytime soon.
~~~

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INVASIVE is out now! I grabbed it from Phoenix Books in Essex, VT, but you can snag it wherever you get your tattooed dead trees!

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FRONTLINES by Michael Grant

Before I begin the post about this jarringly good book, I do have to admit that I’ve read nearly every word Michael Grant and his wife Katherine Applegate have written since I was about 9 years old, and loved the lot. I blame them almost exclusively for the beginnings of my writing career by making me fall in love with reading. So there’s likely a touch of confirmation bias going on here.

frontlines-book1-cover

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A Natural History of Dragons

I don’t review books very often anymore. I could politely lie and say it’s because the life of a published author is busy, but my Youtube history would soundly refute that statement.

The truth of it is that I haven’t read many books of late that have given me the desire to take to the streets to shout of their wonder. Some might say I’m jaded, others would say I’m picky. I prefer to think I’m a bit of a dick.

But in recent months, I picked up a copy of A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS by Marie Brennan at a local book-dealer of mine. Drawn in by the cover:

Nat_his_of_dragons

Seriously, how could you not fall in love with this?

And had that lovely feeling of the fishhook being jerked and set by the back-of-the-book blurb. A naturalist recalling tales of their youth studying dragons? Okay, Miss Brennan. Let’s take this ride.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book on many levels.

First, the obvious. Dragons. But these are not your Draco, Elliot, Smaug, or any of the number of personified and emotive dragons that you’ll find in tales today. These are more akin to Reign of Fire. Dragons set forth not by magic, but by science. For some, this might be a deal-breaker, but for me, it was a necessity. Given the selling point of the book, I wanted a scientist not a witch or wizard to introduce me to the scaly wonders.

Which leads me directly to our narrator. The book is written as a memoir of sorts of Isabella, Lady Trent, the world’s foremost authority on dragon knowledge. She tells the tale of her youth with the clarity and snap of a finely aged woman. The thought of reading a memoir or autobiography had me skeptical. Brennan blew me away, though, as it reads with such voice and veracity that you might think you are reading the thoughts of a real-world naturalist. One with a razor wit, no less.

What I think might have really sold the book for me in the end is that the story takes place in a world much like Victorian England. This is important because while a female scientist today is an admirable though shruggable revelation, having your character pursue a career in science in the world of gentry and husband-hunting is a dangerous game. The author runs of the risk of either eventually bending to society’s will or having the protagonists efforts be so extreme as to be unbelievable. Then of course, you could have the story piss away the potential for a very real message of feminism and a genuinely mold-breaking character.

Brennan not only dodge these pitfalls, she dynamites them on her way by.

Isabella’s struggles are real and the reader can’t help but be empathetic to her troubles as she grows up being fascinated by the natural world but having her hand slapped down each time she tries to expand her world and the world of everyone else. But she’s persistent, she’s enthusiastic (dangerously so…), and above all she’s goddamn reasonable. She wants to study scholarly topics like her male peers. Why the hell shouldn’t she be allowed to do so? She doesn’t want to best them or prove that she’s just as smart.

She just wants to learn.

Is there romance in here? Sure. Does our lovely protagonist occasionally act as a socially elite snob might? Absolutely. Frequently. But these things only serve to cement the character as dynamic, believable, and relatable. You’ll root for her the whole way because, hell, you wish you could  be as genuine as she is.

And of course. The Dragons. There are a-plenty in here and they prove to be as interesting as Isabella herself because as she learns about them, you do as well. The world you’re entering knows as much about dragons as you do—nothing. So you truly feel as though you are right beside Isabella, writing her notes in the mountains mere hours after observing the flying beasts.

I’ve already got the sequel sitting on my bookshelf begging to be read. Were it not for another book crawling into my thinkspace, I’d probably tackle it right now. But alas, you’ll have to wait to see if lightning indeed strikes twice.

 

For folks who may have read my blog in the past, you’ll know you won’t find a star rating here. I either recommend a book or I don’t. I don’t bother telling you about books I didn’t enjoy because who has that kind of time? I also don’t tell you about books I didn’t thoroughly enjoy because I did plenty of book reports as a kid—I don’t fancy going back there.

But, then again…if I were to give A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS a star rating, you could imagine that out of 5 it’d be very difficult for me to not use all the fingers on my hand to score it…

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SQUARRIORS Review (Alternate Title: Reclusive Writer Pummels You With Awesome)

It has been many, many days since I have been moved by a book so strongly that it compels me to recommend it—or wave it in front of people’s faces like a deranged maniac praising its awesomeness. I’m not really a man of moderation, so books either end up in a closet or enshrined in my office as the next Stunning Book of Amazingosity.

Sorry, Andy Weir, I will be dethroning Mark Watney’s adventures for the moment to pelt a very different tale at the people.

I have, quite literally, just closed the page of a graphic novel that I had never heard of until my local comic book store sent me an email blast of the trade paperback coming out some weeks ago. The email included the cover of the trade paperback and I was instantly intrigued. Whether it was the title or the image, I can’t really be sure. One was the hook, the other the swift jerk that sets the hook.

Squarriors

Squarriors Volume 1

SQUARRIORS Volume 1

Squarriors is a comic book serial that centers around several clans of animals living in a world recently voided of humans. Since the demise of humanity, the remaining animal life have become intelligent. The spark of rational thought creates an internal struggle for these creatures; instinct versus reason. And the clashing of these ideas erupts into ultra-violent wars across the planet! – Amazon.com

For those not in the know, comics are generally released in issues and eventually collected in a trade paperback at the end of a story arc. Further, hunting down indie titles of graphic novels is a lot like hunting down a wild animal (no pun intended). You can check many stores and still come up hungry. Luckily, I did not have to suffer such a fate.

Once Upon a Time

SQUARRIORS is a book that instantly transported me back to a world of my youth that I fell in love with. The idea of animals behaving like—and frequently better than—human society is one that has fascinated me from the first time I tore through Watership Down. There’s something very interesting that happens when you use someone other than the reader to relate some human qualities: the reader sees them clearly.

In this case, tribes of animals have splintered off of each other following the spark of rational thought. What’s very interesting is that SQUARRIORS doesn’t take the easy route of pitting squirrels against foxes against cats against raccoons, in obvious species-wide alliances. Instead, the tribes of this world are splintered along philosophical lines. The Tin Kin group that a majority of the novel follows are made of mice, squirrels, crows, sugar gliders, and even a fox. They are bound not be species loyalty, but by the abiding belief in their way of life. The way of reason and compassion. The other groups are not so Jedi-like in their respect for other living creatures. It’s Lord of the Flies, folks.

Walk A Mile In Their Pawprints

What sets SQUARRIORS apart from the likes of Watership Down is that we follow several storylines and points of view rather than just our heroes. We follow the Tin Kin, but we also get glimpses of what lead to the world we’re exploring.

SQUARRIORS takes place after the human race has gone. Called The Creators throughout the novel, it’s not quite clear why animals have taken control of the planet. Humans are nowhere to be found. But like any good mystery, we get clues. Brief pages following a human family a decade before the main story give us some ideas about why the Earth is in rough shape. This is distinctly different from your Watership Downs, your Sights, and countless Disney films. We get to see what the human race did to the planet.

In the Eye of the Be-HOLY SHIT

Graphic novels differ from the novels that I write—if the name graphic novel doesn’t clue you in as to how, I can’t really help you. Put simply, I’ve read many, many books from many, many artists. Some lean more on story. Some lean more on the fact that ‘you know what Captain America looks like, it doesn’t matter how I show him to you now’. Others lean on the fact that they have dinosaurs. Auto-win.

SQUARRIORS doesn’t need to lean on anything to make you glance at the art. As much as the story pulls you in, the art drags you in. In reading it, I found myself pausing just to stare at the page. To note the minute differences between one squirrel and another. Coming from someone who shouldn’t admit that he spends a lot of time watching squirrels, this book does more than personify its animal characters. It makes you fall in love with them like you might your family dog. It makes you pity them like you might a child who has lost their parent. It makes you hate them like that damned groundhog that used to totally eat all the weeds in my yard, but he absolutely doesn’t anymore.

Come on, Morty. Get your shit together.

Sorry. Tangent. The point is, the art and story drive you to connect with animals in a way that will absolutely make you watch squirrels, chipmunks, crows, and lazy-ass groundhogs in a very different way.

 

So, in conclusion, you should have navigated away from this review by now. You should log on to Amazon, or your favorite indie bookstore, or run with mouth-foaming glee to your local comic book store and demand incoherently for this book!

SQUARRIORS on Goodreads

SQUARRIORS on Facebook

SQUARRIORS in the Wild

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Life Imitates Art Imitates Life

 

‘Write what you know’ is perhaps one of the oft most parroted lines of writing advice from those who rarely write. It’s not strictly bad advice, but it is somewhat limiting, wouldn’t you say? It can—and has—been interpreted as ‘Don’t write what you don’t know.’

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Sorta Like Legos

Hello, Dear Reader. Welcome back.

Lego_Color_BricksWell, unless you’re a new reader, Dear Reader. And let’s face it, you’re likely new. In which case, welcome.

For those not in the know, I’m Ian Hiatt. I know, the www.ianhiatt.com thing probably threw you. You thought you were meeting Ianhi Att. This is commonly called the bait-and-switch. You’re stuck on the hook, don’t bother wriggling.

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Behold the Ultimate Writing Desk

Yes. That is correct, dear reader. The super awesome Ultimate Writing Desk was finally finished this past week after months of intensive labor, profanity, and a handful of boo-boos remedied with more profanity.

Now, this is not the desk’s final home. This is what is affectionately known in this home as Spare oom as it serves no real purpose as of yet. My actual office is in the process of being redone, so in the meantime I’m moving operations next door.

Let’s start the tour! You can see here my tea kettle has itself a nice little perch an arm’s length away for easy relief or for use as a bludgeoning tool for anyone sneaking into the Writer Cave. What’s all that next to it you ask? I’m glad you’ve noticed.

What we have here is the Pantry. Special racks designed to hold tins of tea and varieties of cocoa. And in the drawers?

Tea. Like so much tea. Obnoxious amounts of tea. This is what I get for buying in bulk and having an addiction to beverages that make me feel British.

And of course, no Writer’s abode would be complete without a lot of shelf space…And I’m not satisfied with the mile or so of shelving I have in my office already.

Filled it with writing books up top and research books on the bottom, filling up the space with awesome where necessary…

So…somewhere around thirty hours of labor and a decent chunk of change, and my bouncing baby beast of a desk has been born. It doesn’t bounce, though. I couldn’t get that to work…

Where do you do your best writin’?!

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The Hiatt Home Garden Part 1

So, I’ve had many requests to show off my new house. While I think it’d be creepy to give you this full tour of my home (there are many Hiatt Groupies out there…right…?), I want to give you guys something.

You get to see the evolution of certain bits. Right now I know it’ll be my writing office, including my awesome new desk, and my indoor garden. Unless I get an intriguing request for something else.

One of the reasons I fell in love with this house is right at the front door, there’s a long line of planters built in.

This here is my velociraptor guard, provided by my ever tolerant Melissa. He is awaiting a plant to call his own, but I’m leaning towards finding a nice cactus soon.

And beside him is the only plant I took from my parents’ garden (the garden I tended for years), a nice strawberry plant.

And, because I enjoy cooking from time to time, here is the garlic patch.

And this is my herb patch, again for the cook in me. Chives, Basil, and Oregano.

Now, outside I have the standard tomato, cucumber, etc. garden going. This one is getting more attention right now, because I’ve already mastered the fine art of growing outside.

As of this posting, this garden has already changed and grown. But the fun part is, I get to make you folks wait to see what the pictures will look like next!!!

Any tips? Requests? Hate mail for caging up strawberry plants that are meant to roam free across the open plains?

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Homeward Bound: The Incredible Time Suck

This is the rough draft of my office. In my new home.

Yes. I’m a homeowner. I know, I’m scared, too. Can you imagine that people–intelligent, well paid people–believe I’m capable of caring for a whole building?

But it means I have an office again. Which means I can finally get back to the wonder world of writing, right?

FALSE.

See, this office is indeed Ian’s Office Mark I (sue me, I’m an Iron Man fan…).

In fact, the entire house is at Mark I status. Someone likely did construct this home in a cave with a box of scraps. The whole lot needs a great deal of elbow grease. Along with knee, neck, and wrist. It eats up a lot of time. Which is why you haven’t seen much of me here, dear reader.

So how do I manage to get much work done when every day something else needs fixing or cleaning or is actively exploding? When it’s just me, myself, and the bugs trying every second of the day to invade?

Easy. I don’t. Fact is, I haven’t had much chance to sit down and write. Or even read.  I’d say over the past two months, I’ve written less than 20,000 words. And only about 10,000 of those has stayed in my work. A huge chunk of that has been just random scribbles after I’ve dusted off the muck of lawn, showered off the defeat of a semi-flooded basement, shamed away the fear-urine of a battle with attic wasps. And the ten hours or so I spend chained to a cubicle do not make for productive time on Writer’s Island.

In what little guilt ridden free time I have, I do try to write before the exhaustion sweeps over me. Or read. Or catch up with fellow writers. It adds up to an hour or two a day. Which doesn’t seem like a lot.

But the one thing I (and you) need to be reminded of is the untrimmed path of writerdom. There are no marked trails in our forest. There are no clean cut, easy way to park your car in the lot and stroll amongst the daises to Publisher’s Summit. You will inevitably have to trek through the tall grass dodging the velociraptors of writerly doom (Velociraptor selfdoubticus). So when you feel like you can’t hack it because life is making you its bitch and writing becomes a struggle, just remember: You’re only a failure when you give up.

What do you do to balance the demands of your day with your writing alter-ego?

To remedy this in some way, I’ve decided to show off this house and some of my projects to you fine folks. Of course, not the whole house. That would be creepy. But I’d say my office might be of interest to you…Hell, it’s even drastically different now than it was in those pictures. Pretty soon you folks will get to see the Awesome Desk of Awesomeness I’ve been building over the past few weeks…If I can’t make you all jealous over my snazzy writing skills, I can definitely make you jealous of my kickass furniture.

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Road trips and the Warm N’ Fuzzy

Oh, yes. I’m well aware that I’ve been a silent lil bugger for some time now. I wish I could say it’s because I’ve been churning out novel after novel, but the truth is I’ve been working on various projects both relating to the ole pen-monkey job, and not related to it.

And, of course, every now and then those two things get to cross over.

With my first manuscript, GUARDIAN, out to agents, I’ve started dancing a bit with other works on my shelf. One of these is a horror/suspense young adult novel with its roots in a Native American legend set in New England. I began working on it around this time last year, just playing around with the idea. Now I’ve dusted it off and hope to get it roaring to life.

Or rather howling. As part of my work on this novel, I’ve done quite a bit of on-site research. One of those sites is an amazing place up in Northern Massachusetts.

For those who don’t follow me on Twitter (I’m eyeing YOU), I’m a big wolf fan. You’ll run your feet a nice raw red if you try searching for a bigger fan, in fact. But do try.

This past weekend I decided to bring the most recent addition to my life, a lovely girly-face by the name of Melissa, up to one of my favorite places in the world. Wolf Hollow in Ipswich. I’ve been up there myself a handful of times, and I decided it was finally time I brought someone else along so I could stop being the creepy fellow enjoying the wolves from the back row.

See, Wolf Hollow is a special preserve set up exclusively for wolves. They have several large enclosures that, at the time of this writing, house ten wolves all together. Primarily they work to educate the public, opening themselves up on weekends for demonstration. They bring out the wolf pack, interact with them and explain that pretty much every myth you’ve ever heard about the wolf is 100% Grade-A bull plop. The smear campaign against the wolf has been about as masterful as they get. Needless to say, my novel features wolves far away from the villain role, as they should be in any story if it hopes to be accurate.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen my favorite pups in the world. But I made the mistake of taking someone awesome up there to see them without realizing the very imminent consequences of doing so.

Sigh. Melissa is the girl your mother warns you about.

This is Argus.

And at 16 months old, he’s my adopted wolf! He’s definitely a confident fellow, and more than a bit of a trouble maker. Which meant he’d fit in well with Melissa and I. Melissa donated to Wolf Hollow to adopt the pup for me.

A surprise that she hinted would be “warm and fuzzy”. She’s a tricksy one, precious.

So, I bring this up for three reasons.

The first, to demonstrate that while I’ve been wandering about with a crazy, wolf-adopting girl, she’s pretty damn awesome. One of the best pieces of advice I can give a hopeful writer (with my massive amount of experience…) is that you can’t just lock yourself away and stab at a keyboard. If you don’t go out and experience life, every word you write is pure fantasy, regardless of your genre.

The second, to show that one of the best parts about being a writer, is the places you get to go to do your research. Sometimes you need to just watch a wolf run around to get a scene to come together in your mind like the most difficult game of Tetris ever. For you kiddies, Tetris was the Angry Birds of my younger years…

The third, is that there are so many ways you can pay these places back. Your writing research can take you to corners of the world you’d never think to find yourself. Luckily, places like Wolf Hollow take donations.

If you have a spare moment, and y’know, a heart. You should stop by their page to donate a few bucks. It’s an entirely non-profit, volunteer organization and they do some amazing things.

And if you’re anywhere in New England, make the trek there. It’s well worth it just for the chance to howl with a couple of timber wolves.

And tell Argus that his adopted dad says Hi. 🙂

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