Anomaly v1.5 [Book Review x2]


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.

Epilogue

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]

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About The Shogun of Baseball

Geek, lover of Baseball, avid comic reader, Bruce Lee fan, follower of Jesus and last but Never least Dad and Husband. View all posts by The Shogun of Baseball

27 responses to “Anomaly v1.5 [Book Review x2]

  • pcawdron

    Reblogged this on THINKING SCI-FI and commented:
    This re-blog entry is a review of the revised ending to my novel Anomaly. If you read the old version with the UN invasion and would like to compare that to the new version, simply remove the book from your Kindle, and download a new copy using the “Cloud” category on your device. Jump in around chpt 16.

  • pcawdron

    Obiwan,

    Thanks for taking the time to provide such a comprehensive analysis of the two endings to Anomaly. I debated long and hard over whether to conduct a rewrite, but I’m glad I did. It certainly changes the balance of the story, but for the better.

    For me, it is fascinating to see your perspective, as writers know what they’re trying to accomplish in a given section, but how that translates to the reader is often hard to quantify, so it is interesting to see what worked for you in both versions.

    Cheers,
    Peter

    • ObiWanCanubi

      I really do apprciate how the story was improved as a whole, it was sad (as I said several times) to lose the epilogue but it was worth the sacrifice… the book benefits for the changes.

      Wonderful story and my pleasure to read and re-experience the new direction.

      Cheers and keep writing.

      Jamie

  • Emmett

    Hi Ob,

    I read Anomaly the first time you added your review. I re-read with the new ending and I see where you are coming from with your opinions but as a writer myself the author is right, the characters now take the center stage in the conclusion rather than the events of the climax.

    You read from the heart, not saying your opinions are wrong, just that his reasoning is right.

    Keep up the good work.

    Emm

  • Carol Bauer

    Hi Obi, my husband is Emmett. After he read Anomoly back in February he insisted I read it, I never did get around to it so he asked again after the re-write. He thought the new ending was better but I read it and told him the new ending lost something, some of the mystery and that I enjoyed the ending of the old book better. He showed me your review and I laughed because your review is almost verbatim for what I said to him about the epilogue!

    • ObiWanCanubi

      Carol I am happy I am not the only person out the who likes a little ambiguity and mystery to their conclusions.

      thanks for reading.

    • pcawdron

      Carol/Obi,

      Thank you for taking the time to read Anomaly (twice!)

      The original version had the anomaly as a BDO, a big dumb object http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Dumb_Object and that meant what you (and I) saw as mystery and intrigue was seen by others as a cop-out, a failure to provide substance, a failure to give the reader a satisfying conclusion.

      This is the toughest part of first-contact sci-fi as such an event would redefine the world, so how do you bring what is an exciting new beginning for mankind to an end within a novel? Carl Sagan had confusion over what really happened to Dr Arroway in Contact. In Sphere, Michael Crichton had the characters wilfully “forget” all trace of contact and the sphere departs (while the audience also forgets there’s still a time-travelling USAF space craft sitting on the bottom of the ocean). Arthur C. Clarke had Rama leave our solar system. All of these were ways of avoiding the uncomfortable notion of just how radically such a first-contact would redefine our world.

      In re-writing Anomaly I wanted to remove the BDO aspect of the story but in such a way that we’re not suddenly building star-ships with warp drive in 2013 because our tech has jumped 10,000 years overnight. And that got me thinking about the motives of such an advanced alien civilization, that, from their perspective, they’d be keen for others to join them among the stars but would want to see them deserve to be there. Hence the quarantine until such time as (a) we’re technically capable of travelling between stars and more importantly (b) socially mature enough to manage such a responsibility. It seems to me, our technical progress often outstrips our moral progress, hence the makers of the anomaly police space the same way the US polices the oceans, allowing free trade but not condoning belligerents.

      Anomaly was a fun thought-experiment exploring these ideas, and I enjoyed being able to revisit the concepts and develop them further. Thanks again for taking the time to read Anomaly.

      Kind regards,
      Peter

  • ObiWanCanubi

    Maybe it is the way I read and just enjoy the “fantasy” of science fiction but the BDO object or the mystery technology is never something that crossed my mind in Contact, Anomaly or Sphere. I didn’t read 2001…yet.

    Readers and critics picking apart the reality of science fiction happenings is something people do but I question why. The whole point of science fiction is that it is altered reality and fiction. Why can’t people just accept that and stop micro criticizing and disproving why it can’t happen? Isn’t that the point of why it is science fiction and not a Newsweek article on a real event. It is part of imagination, if our imagination can’t run we will end up a boring, color coordinated society like Logan’s Run or the people of the Axiom in Wall-e.

    Society didn’t pick apart Jules Verne or H.G. Wells tales for not scientific reality, they just enjoyed the books for their literary content and wonderful imagination.

    It seems that the internet age has really given that vocal group of unhappy pick aparters a stage because they are everywhere and loud.

    I enjoyed both versions of Anomaly as I have said, an I think the re-write was grammatically the right way to go, but the issues of story telling never crossed my mind because it was a good story already and worked as a piece of fiction for the imagination.

  • Donnie

    I read the book. I don’t want to sound negative, but it was good. Great for a non-professional writer, but when you compare it to Arthur C Clark, Neal Stephenson, Michael Crichton, or Cormac McCarthy you just can’t really give the book such a top notch review. To give a 4 1/2 stars to this book means almost every one of Cricton, Clark and Stephensons books would have to be a 5 star book, or better.

    • ObiWanCanubi

      Hi Carlos,

      Thank you for you thought provoking response and let me give you my rebuttal. I do stand by my rating because of course this is how I feel about the book.

      But I am not a professional reviewer, I didn’t study lit or writing in school, so I don’t grade on context very much. I judge a book on the story’s over all enjoyment, flow and content. I am your average reader and rate on how a fellow average reader may enjoy a book.

      I do understand you factoring of rating, much like going first in the Olympics you need to leave room for improvement. But I grade on basic letter grade or 1-5 stars which makes hard to have space unless you start getting into decimal and that is far to taxing. I just think of 3 as average and judge from there.

      Now I haven’t read much Arthur C. Clark and I don’t know who Cormac McCarthy is but I have read Neal Stephensen and Michael Crichton is one of my favorites.
      Let’s take Andromeda Strain, my favorite and far and away a better book than Anomaly (no offense Peter) and yes it only limits me to give the book .5 points higher. But lets just take Crichton’s own bibliography to rate on level ground.

      Andromeda Strain
      Sphere
      Congo
      Jurasic Park
      Lost World

      Five books, all worthy of an A, but as I said Andromeda is far and away my favorite, how do I state this other than my supporting words, but I would never give any other anything less than an A. Sometimes the best of the best can only be ranked so high.

      And if Anomaly went through the same write/rewrite editor scrutiny and proof reads that a book from a major publisher can provide it could maybe be of the same literary quality… or it could be ruined through other peoples input. The beauty of indie books is the raw storytelling that is 99.8% the author’s own. I will give .2% to outside input from a confidant.

    • pcawdron

      I hear what you’re saying. Certainly, as an author, I like to see 4-5 stars and cringe at 1-2, and it’s fair to say no two people respond to any book the same way.

      There are a few reviewers that rate books relative to each other, assigning 3 stars as “a good read and worth your time,” and saving 4s and 5s for the likes of Stephensen, but most rate a book according to their personal enjoyment, and I think that’s what other people browsing the virtual bookstands are looking for. Potential readers want to know if they’re going to come away from the investment of time and effort required to a read a book with a sense of satisfaction. To my mind, ratings are subjective and work something like this…

      ***** the reader loved what they were reading
      **** a few weak spots but on balance a good read
      *** meh
      ** somehow I made it to the end
      * I feel ripped off

      So five stars doesn’t mean the book was perfect, but that it was satisfying and enjoyable.

      Like ObiWan, I think the written review says more than the stars, but on first glance it’s the stars that determine whether someone will look a little deeper at a book, especially if it’s written by an unknown (me).

      As for comparisons with Crichton and Clark, every writer has to start somewhere, even them. I’d love to know how their first books were compared to the likes of H.G. Wells, etc.

      Thanks for taking the time to read Anomaly.

      Cheers,
      Peter

      • ObiWanCanubi

        on a side note, I have rated several books I have gotten for my 4 year old on Amazon. and you have to rate against the group you are comparing against.

        Clearly if I rate a book,” Chloe” (a kids picture book about a bunny family’s ‘family time'” for example that I gave 4 or 5 stars to, you would not go out and buy this book for a 20 year old college student and expect them to enjoy it.

        You have to consider that an indie book will have certain flaws that a mass market major release will probably not have. Of course there are extremes to both types of books, but it is true also for genre and content.

        But I think the story down to its framework is the best way to view a book. Because no matter how well it is written you remember the book in your mind as an imaginary play/movie and rarely for the prose on the pages, unless you are reading poetry of course.

  • pcawdron

    Science fiction or newsweek article… great point of comparison. Yes, we tend to take scifi too seriously at times.

    And the internet has given rise to a vocal minority. Across my novels, I’ve found that less than one percent of readers leave a review on Amazon. What the other 99% think, I’m not sure. But if the 1% are representative of the whole then there’s some good feedback. Positives are always nice to hear, and negatives are something to learn from.

    I debated long and hard before changing Anomaly. A close friend pointed out that art is not subject to revision, it is what it is, but I felt there were elements of the story that let the reader down, and I figured, why the hell not? I wanted to show readers that I am willing to learn from constructive criticism. Writers should respect readers.

    Would I change any other books? Probably not, as you can’t please all the people all the time. But Anomaly was the exception. Perhaps that makes it an anomaly in the world of literature 🙂

    Cheers,
    Peter

    • ObiWanCanubi

      While I did enjoy the epilogue of the original the changes were the right thing to do. And I think your friend is wrong, respectfully. When is it art? If we can’t change it, is that before or after it goes through an editor? I would say it is not art until the artist is happy and content. One could argue that George Lucas has ruined Star Wars with all his changes, but one could counter with Superman 1 or 2, Aliens and Blade Runner and if they want literary there is always Stephen King’s revision of The Stand.

      I wish more authors would take your lead fix parts of books that don’t work. Movies have screening audiences, books have one editor/proofreader. Maybe a prerelease on Kindle for a few hundred to critique would improve the mass market of a story.

  • pcawdron

    Oh, BTW, my wife casually mentioned this morning that she agrees with you and prefers the first ending. LOL

  • Lenard Piechocki

    I read the book. It was good. I will recommend to all my freinds.

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