No, I read this book
as a book because I wanted to re-read it and I didn't want to pay the $7.69 it would cost me to do that on my Kindle. Which is something I have complained about before but it bears complaining about again: WHY do e-books cost so much? I know the technical costs of putting an ebook onto the Kindle, and those technical costs are these: Pay a typist approximately $10 per hour to type the book and format it. For a typical book, this would cost $80.
That is the cost of your ebook, in its simplest form. There is no shipping costs, no infrastructure costs, no nothing. Ebooks cost $80 to produce. Even accounting for higher wages in New York (why would your typist have to be in New York?) an Ebook costs $100.
Some say that you have to factor in an advance and advertising costs that the book has to make back to make money, and to those people, I say HA! This book was published in 1986 as a hardcover and a softcover, and that advance was paid out YEARS AND YEARS ago and likely has been made back. It's not fair to assume that the publisher would only convert to ebooks those books that made money -- after all, the cost of conversion is a hundred bucks -- but let's assume that the ones that are profitable are going first, so the cost to the publisher of putting Into The Out Of on Kindle is a hundred bucks, because all the advertising was done years ago and is a sunk cost, and furthermore, Into The Out Of made it onto Kindle back in 2010, and I don't exactly recall an advertising blitz for the book, do you?
At $7.69, publishers are simply ripping us off -- and what's more, ebooks allow them to continue to do so because most books in real format eventually get marked down or go in the remainder bin or go on sale for $1 at my library where they buy seventeen jillion best sellers to have a bunch available to borrow at first but then are stuck with seventeen jillion books nobody wants, so this is the one downside of the ebook revolution, which I otherwise wholeheartedly endorse: It is making books more expensive, in the long run.
That's what I was thinking when I went looking last weekend for a used copy of Into The Out Of and couldn't find one, either: I was thinking that I never get to buy used books anymore, which doesn't sound so bad except that I never minded the books being used, and I liked the much-cheaper price. I always have to pay full price for books now, which, again, wouldn't be so bad if it didn't feel like getting ripped off.
The average price for an ebook is about $7.77 according to this website, Best-sellers average a bit more, at $8.37. The average price for a hardcover book, meanwhile, ranges from $20 (best-seller) to $11 (trade paperback) to a whopping $27 for YA fiction. (The New York Times said it was $26 in 2009, in this article in which the Times pointed out that publishers make an average of $4.56-$5.54 off an ebook priced at $12.99, while making only $4.05 off a $26 hardcover 'real' book.) Ebooks now make up about 30% of all book sales, which means that publishers' profits have been rising for several years (that Times article ran in 2009 and said ebook sales were 3-5% of all book sales.)
This has gone on longer than I expected, but it is, after all, something that I thought about when I thought about Into The Out Of, and it is simply impossible to get away from such thoughts if you are stuck balancing an unwieldy old hardcover library copy of a book because you couldn't find it used and you weren't going to pay $7 for a book you'd already read and just wanted to read out of nostalgia. The upshot of it all is that for now, ereaders like me are subsidizing all the Ralph Waldo Emersonites out there who prattle on about how great it is to read real books: I am having to pay higher prices (even after the Justice Department finally stopped the price-fixing, which had already done the damage because Amazon now routinely charges more than $9.99 for a book) to support your love of unwieldy tree-killing monstrosities, 90% of which end up being landfill.
|Your beloved childhood memories = someone else's warning not to drink the water in their house.|
Your move, Stephen King.
Thanks for that, 'traditionalists'.
As for the story itself, let me begin with a MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR COMPLAINT that will ENTIRELY RUIN THE STORY FOR YOU if you are COMPLETELY UNFAMILIAR WITH HOW STORIES WORK and so are SUBJECT TO BEING TAKEN IN BY A TRICK THAT IS UNBECOMING OF THE AUTHOR.
The story, which is quite good, involves an invasion of evil African spirits called shetani, who come from something called the "Out Of," so-called because everything comes out of there and into our world. Clever. These shetani are trouble-making demons that are poised to come through in huge numbers and set off a nuclear war (this was the 1980s, after all) unless the hole in the Out Of could be sealed up by a Maasai laibon (wise man), with the help of two foreigners, an FBI agent and an Eddie Bauer third-shift phone operator (seriously) and a late addition, a Maasai warrior who shows up late in the book to periodically save the day by being tall.
That is the setup, and they go through the usual adventures getting from Washington DC to the African plains or whatever, until there are four of them just outside where the Out Of can be entered and they are sitting and talking the night before they go invade (the mission is time-sensitive but that does not stop them from taking their sweet time getting to this hole, including a night at a swanky resort where they drink beer and watch the sunset and get in a fight with Italian workers).
So that is the setup: An old man with mystical powers, an FBI agent, a pretty woman he has a crush on, and a Maasai warrior who only just joined the party, are going into another dimension to stop the aliens. This being a book and books being stories and stories having endings we expect, you know that they are going to stop the aliens, right, and you know that the FBI agent and the clerk are going to hit it off and fall in love, right?
Or, to put it the way I put it to Sweetie when we were discussing this: At the end of Star Wars, you didn't seriously think that Luke Skywalker was going to die, did you? You knew he'd blow up the Death Star and survive, you just didn't know how.
|Masters of storytelling like George Lucas NEVER screw with an audience's expectations.|
THAT is the secret to good writing, there: You KNOW Luke's going to win, but good writers make it suspenseful as to how he does it. (WOW, I did an Andrew Leon-like segue into a writing tip, there, didn't I? I like being Andrew: WATCH YOUR GRAMMAR, FOOLS! Whew. Better take a break.) So when Han shoots the TIE fighter out and Luke hits the torpedo button, it's surprising. The route to the ending is where a good writer surprises you.
BAD writing uses tricks to surprise you and this is where we get back to what I was thinking about when I thought about Into The Out Of: In that little talk the night before they go into the Out Of, the old man (Olkeloki) tells the FBI agent (Josh) that "By the readings I have been doing at least two will die as we try to enter the Out Of, and many more if we fail."
Josh asks him "which two?" But Olkeloki doesn't know, and they talk of other things and it is all very sad and noble, etc etc etc
And then they go into the Out Of and battle biker demons and Nazi ghosts and shetani and lions and cold fire etc etc etc and they come back out and they are ALL ALIVE and Josh and Merry (the clerk) get married right there on a dry riverbed. (And I WON'T say SPOILER ALERT! because they always all were going to live that's how stories work.)
So what about the whole at least two will die thing?
Did Foster totally cheat to ramp up the suspense in the final chapter? YES. And he cheats his way out of it, too. A reasonable reader of this book would assume that Olkeloki, Josh, and Merry are going to live; they maybe assume that the warrior will die, as the designated late-joining redshirt. Upon being told that at least two will die, a reader's expectations still shift: Josh and Merry are the stars, so you figure they will live, so Olkeloki's going to die, right, and look down on them from the clouds or something? Or maybe Josh or Merry dies but one of the others sacrifices his life and they come back. Or maybe a real twist and one of the main characters DOES die, that would be surprising, too.
ALL OF THOSE might have been okay, especially given the warning/foreshadowing, but then Foster goes and does this:
Just before getting into the Out Of, the group's car gets stuck, and they are going to have to walk to the Out Of but another car -- a Subaru (the use of name-brands throughout the book made it feel like there was product placement going on, which I am okay with except that ads usually lower the price: you know, if books came with ads, they would be free and that is something I have long worked towards, once allowing people to advertise in my books. I LOVE advertising.)
|So much so that my kids have already appeared in|
MANY ads on Japanese TV.
-- comes along and offers to help them, but they turn out to be poachers, who try to kill them, so Josh et al have to run from the poachers and are saved from them by the appearance of a massive shetani who eats the poachers and then chases them down and they escape by getting into the Out Of (which Foster explains by saying that the shetani maybe didn't want to come back into the Out Of?) and then they end up winning, and THAT is how all four live but Olkeloki's prophecy comes true, which is totally cheating, if you ask me.
I understand that Foster is playing off misdirection. The reader is meant to assume that the prophecy of at least two dying applies to the group, rather than two random poachers. But it's misdirection that serves only to emphasize the author's fear that he won't be able to hold your suspense if you don't think that something bad is going to happen, and it was totally unnecessary -- and made me feel cheapened by the outcome, because at first, I honestly just thought "Wait, weren't two of them supposed to die?" before remembering "Oh, yeah, the poachers, well, I guess."
The effect was to ramp up the suspense falsely and then undermine the ending unavoidably; it felt cheap and interfered with my enjoyment of the story as a whole, which otherwise was considerable: the story is one of those detail-rich books that manages to span the entire world and includes enough about the characters' lives to make you understand and empathize with them, but the beginning chapters which provide lots of that detail are never boring, and the book itself reads quickly.
The only other thing to comment on is Foster's occasional use of unfortunate similes, something I've started noticing more and more not just in his writing but in all writing. Everyone harps on adverbs (he said, snarkily) but nobody seems to talk about overuse of simile, which to me is just as clumsy as overuse of adverbs. Using too many similes can be like a cake designer adding on too many frosting roses, transforming an elegantly spare cake into a monstrosity festooned with overly-large, overly-sweet drooping decorations.
Worse than just similes or metaphors is when the simile is not only unnecessary, but also doesn't work at all. Here is the one that so bothered me that I wrote it down, to save it for later and make fun of it:
Off in the distance, the thin white spear of the Washington monument stood out against the stark blue summer sky like a cloud that had been turned on its end and rooted in the earth.
SO MUCH UNNECESSARY. I am not pretending to be an expert, here; it's easier to make fun of someone trying than to do it yourself, so feel free to find my own terrible comparisons, but let's parse that off:
First, describing the Washington monument as a thin white spear is only necessary for those who have never seen, in person or in picture, the Washington monument, and describing it as a spear is perilously close to having a metaphor pile into a simile like a car crashing into a train. (I know, I know, I just couldn't resist.)
As for the stark blue of the summer sky? WHY?
Stark can mean complete, sheer, bare, or Tony:
|Iron Man 3, on Blu-Ray now! *cashes endorsement check*|
I suppose Foster meant sheer, or perhaps that there were no other clouds in the sky? Sheer and stark are tradeoffs, although stark sounds more dire, as if the sky is perilously blue (to keep on with my adverbiage.)
But my biggest gripe is the way he turns the Washington Monument -- a literally-rock-solid tower -- into a cloud "turned on its end". Clouds have ends? Is the Washington Monument puffy and round and rolling, the way clouds are? Have you EVER seen a cloud that had sharply-defined, dare I say spearlike, qualities to it? The image changes from the Monument itself to some sort of geyser-esque tree thing. A cloud rooted in the ground would also have to be confined to an obelisk shape and firmed up before it even remotely resembled the Washington Monument.
That unfortunate simile stuck with me throughout the entire book, and every other time Foster came up with a simile or metaphor I recalled the Rooted Cloud Monument and snickered a bit, which is probably not the effect he was hoping for.
If it sounds like I am disappointed in the book, I suppose I am, a bit; I recalled reading it as a teen and loving it, and the story more or less stuck with me for nearly 30 years; re-reading it now was probably a bad idea, as now I'm older and more sophisticated (?) and more apt to notice things like the cheating prophecy and the terrible similes and all. It's still a solid book, and easily worth the $7-8 you'd pay for on an ereader, and don't complain that I've ruined the ending because if I'd simply told you the barebones plot of the book you'd have (correctly) guessed the ending anyway: books like Into The Out Of, mass-market fantasy/horror/thriller books, do not play with readers' expectations in the way that would allow anything but that ending. Books like that give you a good story but the originality is in the details, not the plotline.
Read some of his short stories on lit, a place for stories, or check out his books, in each of which at least two major characters die per sentence, on Amazon.