Nearly a year ago author Peter Cawdron took and dropped a gem on the indie book scene with Anomaly. The story of an under-achieving teacher who goes from field trip spectator in downtown NYC to over-achieving armchair scientist in the blink of an eye and thrusting himself into the biggest moment in human history, first contact.
WARNING! SPOILERS BELOW.
In January of this year I read and reviewed this story [LINK] and gave it 4 1/2 stars out of 5 or an A- overall. Last week the author shot me an email that he had updated and expanded the ending and asked me to take a look at how it had changed. Mr. Cawdron stated,
“There were two reasons behind the rewrite. Firstly, the [UN] invasion didn’t come off as plausible, and understandably so, but the second reason was more important. Like a lot of writers dabbling in science fiction, I made the plot bigger than the characters. In rewriting the ending, I tried to focus on building some depth of character, wanting to ground the story and give the reader someone to relate to.
The chance to revise and improve a story is not something many authors consider, whether it was feedback from comments and reviews on Amazon and Good Reads or just plain not 100% happy with their own work. The ability to identify, recognize and change really says something about a person, and how much they care about their work. Writing is a legacy, and when you are gone and people look for classics to embrace you really want to be remembered as the writer who got it right, not almost. For the most part, until the popularity of ebooks it was not so easy to just change printed works, but in this day and age more authors should take to the ability to fix their work and make use of technology.
There is a caveat, I don’t think every author should be just editing work only to appease the public, re-writing stories because 55 people wrote on a Facebook group that Bill should have fallen in love with Jodie and not Betty, but if there is a glowing issue that comes to light writers should take advantage of the ability to release what is the literary equivalent to a Director’s Cut. Let’s call this Anomaly v1.5.
The Lost and Found Chapter
The first thing you will notice, or at least I noticed, in the revised edition was the addition of a brand new chapter. Expanding upon the theories of further communication with the entities taking up residence in the intersection in front of the UN Building we find Teller and Co at the local mall shopping in a children’s’ store in search of all sorts of goodies. The chapter would have worked in both stories and regardless of the ending you prefer it adds an element of discovery and directs the reader to think outside of the box on ways to speak to another life form that does not use words or English. The explanations of Cawdron’s choices are brilliant and well thought out, his understanding of advanced science is clear and allows us to not only enjoy fiction, but learn a few things about light spectrum and how we can communicate our boundaries of understanding to another being without words. Grade B (Based on the context of change not quality, this is one of the books top moments) While the addition of the chapter was welcoming I find it hard to rate the chapter an A because it does not change the course of the story. As I said, in both stories the chapter would fit and it should be included, the story still works without the chapter. Well written and improves the overall enjoyment of the book, but for these purposes the story flow change it has little effect.
The Invasion of the Human Kind
The major change in the story is how the conflict at the science facility arises and unfolds for the world. I don’t know a whole lot about security practices, but the thought of a foreign army landing on U.S. soil and making it into a major city with relative ease seems unreliable. It seems more likely that a battle would have ensued at first contact of invasion, but it was fiction so I just took it that somehow some way it became possible. The change of an army to the now small domestic terrorist organization becomes more focused, bringing the ideology to a sole individual rather than a collective of national ideals across the globe. While not only making the story more believable because a small group could take even trained soldiers by surprise and create an incident with the threat of a bomb vest not only plausible, but a common tool of fanatic terrorists the one weak park of the story is not a reality based theory.
While the UN forces were led by a French commander we do quickly grow to despise, the reasons for him being there are based on superior orders, not a mission of ideals; thus grounding the attacks overall reason for inclusion. With the terrorist we have one upset individual with a genuine reason, while wrong, to be at the facility with the threat of violence. Grade A- Every reason for this change was needed and helped better the story, you will see my only critique for the change shortly.
Death and Loss
Stories need loss to help identify connection to the characters we have come to adore. Whether this change was to help further this change and intentional, it worked. In the original story the SEAL snipers protect the science team from the UN forces results in an assault on virtually unknown characters. As a reader I was miffed by the loss of an American soldier, but the impact on the feeling in the story was fairly unchanged. When Cathy stumbles out to confront the terrorist with an injured Anderson by her side the assassination of her wounded protector is sad and unexpected, more so if you had read the original ending where Anderson survives. A major character who was genuinely supportive to the addition to Teller is seen as an ally to the reader. His death causes a good reader to feel anguish and loss for a good character. The previous death of the sniper was a sterile death, killing off an unknown is like feeling sadness for an obituary in an ancient newspaper. Taking from us a big role explores our inner sensitivity for how we feel about loss for a person we have come to know over 17 chapters. Grade A+ Anytime you force a reader to care you improve a story. In conjunction with the previous chapter in the toy store the death is even more so compounded because of the fun and child-like wonderment side Anderson displays toward communicating with aliens.
Power of the Anomaly
One of the few instances I really relished the old ending was the penetration of the Anomaly by Teller. While the in-your-face ability of communication of the Anomaly is intriguing it is disappointing the progress it takes is unable to stay intact. Clearly it is a consequence of change that follows the new path the original ending found Teller injured and beaten and tossed into the Anomaly only to be later found, healed all the way down to childhood fracture evidence. The power of the Anomaly was just as mysterious with the change of a space portal as a mode of reason. But the transportation to another world where Teller and Cathy experience a 2 year trip and the people back home only lose mere minutes gives a far to familiar tone to Contact. The similarity to Contact is not bad, it just seems twice done and not as original as the trip through the Anomaly to save Teller from fatal injuries. Grade B- While this change is necessary due to the addition of a bomb explosion and the ability to communicate trust, the loss of the connection to the incident is lost. When Teller returns he has been 2 years removed from the bombing so his feeling of anxiety and passing has set in and the shock of the other characters weighted against his passive nature is perceived as a disconnect. Had this been something the writer could have explored mid-book and traveled with the reader to other worlds it would have brought the reader into the feeling of chaos when returning to the site of the attack moments later when it is history to the travelers. As an ending such a journey would disrupt the conclusion and take away from the climax.
This reason alone had me in the moment upset and angry at Peter Cawdron. The original epilogue in my opinion was one for the best resolutions I had ever read. The new epilogue reflects a better story and is an unfortunate, but necessary casualty of war so like a good dog that you sometimes need to let go, the epilogue needed to change. The original ending had Teller arriving at Cathy’s home for dinner weeks after the invasion. Feeling a loss Cathy expresses regret for what would have been only for Teller to reveal that the visitors are still within a candle’s reach.
Since there are so many similarities to Contact let’s keep the subject on par, when the terrorist destroys the other Machine and Dr. Arroway is contacted by S.R. Hadden who confesses to a second secret Machine. The feeling of hope and excitement when you realize the loss was only a bump rather than a canyon and that the journey did not end it was only the beginning.
Aside from a great ending what set this apart from a comparison from the S.R. Hadden reveal is that this was the end of the story. A sudden end with a far and productive future to explore, at least for me is beautiful. Many viewers and readers do not care for open and vague endings, most people like a director and writer to paint a picture clear resolution. The ability to think and chew on the freedom of the unknown not only brings in discussion but makes the reader or viewer as much a part of the process, bringing in thousands and millions of contributions to the ultimate resolution. Grade B+ While given the opportunity to experience both endings I will prefer the original every time, but that does not mean it is the right choice. My initial ire with Mr. Cawdron is similar to an owner trading your favorite player to a rival team. The whole story is bigger than a piece of the conclusion and while the best part is gone the overall product is improved because of previous events. (ie the shopping mall and the terrorist change with Anderson’s ultimate demise.)
Conclusion and Findings
Re-rating the book really doesn’t change in this instance I still give it a 4 1/2 out of 5. Yes, the story is better with the new ending and has lost a bit in the epilogue but the story is deeper than 2 chapters, the is story built on a frame-work and an idea of a high school teacher becoming a national hero from the brink of obscurity a basis of the American dream, the Australian dream or Egyptian dream. Humans from all countries dream that a commoner can one day walk down the street at stranger and familiar and cheered by all the next. To gain fame and heroism is a trait most aspire to attain.
The new ending benefits the reader as well as the betterment of the quality of the book, but down at the core you still have the same story. The story earns it’s reputation as a tale from page one and continues to the end. Is it possible I over-judged the original and over-looked a less than perfect ending? Maybe, but the book is better in the current incarnation and I still think it falls in that 4.5/5 range.
While I am a book reader, avid but casual in the sense I read with a focus on the story, not the vessel through which it is projected. In all honesty I do not have the
snobbery high end understanding of an English Major with a strong sense of character development, for structure and as the writer himself identified, “making the plot bigger than the characters.” I enjoyed the book in both forms, but readers with a real understanding of quality storytelling will see the difference and enjoy the newly finished product.
The changes made this a better book, but sometimes it is hard to chose to love the more successful child more than the one still living in their parents home. I know this is a poor analogy as this is not my story/child, but a great story I have grown to love is a near and dear part of my love for reading.
Having the ability to read the former ending for new readers is still a possibility on Peter Cawdron’s website Thinking SciFi [LINK] for the ability to judge on their own how the story should end.
Link to buy on Amazon [LINK]