Usually my reviews are long and detailed; but for this book I'll keep it relatively short and sweet. The author sent me a free copy in exchange for an honest review, so I owe him an honest review. This book is one of those you can delineate easily into the strong points and flaws, so I'll directly talk about that and try to be as lucid as possible.
First, the good points of the book:
1. The themes: In a scenario where the reader base in India is dangerously, and depressingly, tilted towards soppy, cold turkey romance novels, the author has made the right choice by opting to write a book of short stories about various human themes brought together under the umbrella of twisted, dark storylines ( another reason it clicked with me). From zombie horror to psychotic army men to psychedelic plants on mysterious deserted islands, the author has got the variety right and interesting.
2. Ideas have potential: The ideas are original and have potential, if explored properly, of making for mind-blowing stories.
3. Emotional intelligence: The stories speak of everyday human beings, our varying moods, shades and fantasies. Emotional intelligence in a book is important, at least for me, as a reader, to connect with it.
Flaws: As good is the idea of the book and its potential to shine, Among The Stars fails miserably in execution. And that's the sad part- to see books with great potential never realize their own capacity for greatness. Where it fails:
1. Language: Honestly, from the quality of writing, it's glaringly obvious that the author has had lack of practice- both in reading and writing. Too many big words and too much purple prose. A mistake many first-time writers make, seeking to impress by usage of complex words and phraseology. Wrong. The reader seeks the story, the context, something they can relate to first; and vocab second. You don't need complicated language to tell a great story and leave an impact- your writing becomes powerful when you string simple, lucid language together in an effective manner.
This needs practice. You need to read and read and read books till your mind resonates with words that coalesce into ideas. You need to write and get your work critiqued, then write more and more critique till you can pack those ideas cogently into power-packed prose. This is inevitable.
2. Grammar and quality of prose: Grammatical errors-basic ones- dot the landscape of the book, and take away from the stories. Add in the poor use of language and the prose becomes stilted and difficult to sift through. As a reader I'm being blocked because the author hasn't packed any flow into the prose. There's no finesse, and the prose is languid, lacklustre.
3. Poor editing: The editor can still take away some of the inadequacy by at least window dressing the work- especially in this case where the author lacks basic language skills and grammar skills. But where the editor disappear into on this one?
Will make a comment here, even though it's perhaps not my place to make it. Has the editing been ignored because the publisher is a vanity publishing house? Then I would advise the author to go with a traditional publisher next time, or hire a good editor if the publisher is a small or middle-level press. Editing IS important, no matter how much we are awestruck with Chetan Bhagat's bestselling status despite the horrible language and grammar and lack of editing.
It may take time, and numerous attempts, to find a good trad pub house- but in the mean time the author can hone his writing skills by reading a lot, writing a lot and getting his work critiqued by other writers in critique groups.
But do check the book out because it has some really original ideas in store: Among The Stars