ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Weston Ochse is a former intelligence officer and special operations soldier who has engaged enemy combatants, terrorists, narco smugglers, and human traffickers. His personal war stories include performing humanitarian operations over Bangladesh, being deployed to Afghanistan, and a near miss being cannibalized in Papua New Guinea. His fiction and non-fiction has been praised by USA Today, The Atlantic, The New York Post, The Financial Times of London, and Publishers Weekly. The American Library Association labeled him one of the Major Horror Authors of the 21st Century. His work has also won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won multiple New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. A writer of more than 26 books in multiple genres, his military supernatural series SEAL Team 666 has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. His military sci fi series, which starts with Grunt Life, has been praised for its PTSD-positive depiction of soldiers at peace and at war. Weston likes to be called a chaotic good paladin and challenges anyone to disagree. After all, no one can really stand a goody two-shoes lawful good character. They can be so annoying. It's so much more fun to be chaotic, even when you're striving to save the world. You can argue with him about this and other things online at Living Dangerously or on Facebook at Badasswriter. All content of this blog is copywrited by Weston Ochse.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Living Dangerously's Best Books of 2013

It's time for my best books of 2013.

My lists are different than other people's lists. For instance, since this is my best books of 2013, this means that they could have been published any time at all, but read by me in 2013. I did a lot of reading over the summer. As most of you know, I spent six months in the glorious garden spot we call Afghanistan. After working 12-16 hours each day and every day, I'd go back to my rack and need something to calm my nerves and soothe the soul. Not able to carry actual books because of space reasons, I fully utilized my Kindle... more so than any other time for certain. I also don't rack and stack the books I've read. If they make this list, then they are prominent in my thoughts.

The Queen of Patpong by Tim Hallinan
I discovered Tim Hallinan quite by accident. I was in an airport and had a layover. I like to peruse the bookstores at airports rather than inventorying the backsides of my own eyelids. I've always been a fan of the detective story since college. At the Wofford College bookstore, I was given a list of books to buy which included all the old detective novels by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler which were for a class I was supposed to take. Except they contacted me the next day and told me they gave me the wrong books and I had to return them for James Joyce.  Errrg.  I had a week to return them, so I read all eleven books in one fell crime wave. They were glorious and made me a lifetime fan. Crime and detective fiction is an old standby of mine. But with so much competing for my time, I have to be selective. They have to be different. They have to have a hook. Hallinan has that hook. Written with an American expat protagonist living in the dark corners of Bangkok who is also a protector and shepherd to the women who are lured, cajoled, and kidnapped into the sex industry, I found this to be at once completely different than anything I was reading and yet the same, influenced by Hammett and Chandler. I've since read all of the Poke Rafferty books, but this was my introduction.

Life During Wartime by Lucius Shepard
I'd heard of Lucius Shepard's book for many years but never got around to it. Since I was going to war, I thought that now was the time I should definitely make time and try it out. And I wasn't disappointed. Having grown up on John Wayne and the purist view of soldiers and the military, it's comforting on a soulful level to see some of the terrible revealed. I first encountered the idea that the military wasn't perfect when I saw The Boy's of Company C and Platoon. Having spent 29 years on the military (and still ticking), I know that we are a mirror of society. There is as much good and bad in us as anywhere. Some of the things we do are well-meaninged yet turn out bad. Sometimes we find ourselves sliding down a slippery slope unable to stop the events from unfolding. Lucius captures this terrifically with a protagonist who joins a psychic unit, only to discover an even broader conspiracy. Written in the mid-1980s, it's also curious to see what he'd done with the near future. I love this book.

Night Film: A Novel by Marisha Pessl
I know I said I don't rack and stack books, but this is the best book I read this year hands down. It's Marisha Pessl's second book, and so wonderfully and skillfully wrought that I am at once envious of her and thrilled for her. This was one of my 3AM Amazon purchases as I lay awake trying not to think about Afghanistan. I had no idea. No forewarning. I had never heard of her. I hadn't read any reviews. But I got it anyway and did not get any sleep that night. The writing is flat-out beautiful. But not just beautiful like so many literary writers can be creating an impenetrable story, but beautiful and accessible. Without revealing the plot, what made the book even that much more wonderful was the back story and background she created for a mysterious movie director, his cult of fans, the codes in his movies, and all the ephemeral one would associate with a director who could be a dark and sinister David Lynch, kicked out of the mainstream and making movies on a private compound, possibly worshipping Satan or worse. If this is anywhere in your TBR pile, move it to the top NOW!

 American Rust: A Novel by Philipp Meyer
Another of my Afghan reads, I was drawn into the story by the author's straightforward prose and his telling of a tale of the country's soul. Not only is this the narrative of a young man in search of himself, but this is also the story of the Rust Belt in search itself. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and appreciated the way I was transported from the deadly streets of Afghanistan to the lush yet baleful existence of thy dying heart of America.

The Storm Giants by Pearce Hansen
This was an eBook only, self-published book, and another thing I read desperate to be transported out of Afghanistan. I don't usually read these because of poor editing. This one did not have the pall of poor grammar I normally associate with such things. In fact, I think I grabbed it because the author was offering it for free on Facebook and the title intrigued me. I thought it was actually going to be about storm giants. Cool, right? As it turns out, storm giants is a metaphor, but an apt and well wrought one. This is a crime fiction novel. You read earlier what I think of these. Add to it that the narrator is a bad guy too. This was a novel what worked on many levels and had many more layers than your average, or even good crime fiction novel. I liked it so much I bought the author's self-published collection, Gun Sex (cool title). I see that The Storm Giant's is on Amazon but currently not available. I hope this means someone's giving him a book deal for it. The book absolutely deserves a wider audience.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Another Afghanistan read. This is Joe Hill's The Shining and Talisman all rolled into one. I've read his previous two novels, Heart-shaped Box and Horns. While they were good, they didn't blow me away like NOS4A2 did. Reading the novel, I felt as if John Irving was telling me a Stephen King story. But where John Irving can't write the stuff Joe writes, and Stephen King would have pulled many of Joe's gut-punches, Joe didn't hold back. He smacked me across the face just when you I was saying to myself, he can't possibly do what he's going to do. Having met Joe and corresponded with him a few times, I felt myself smiling with pride as I was reading this. As much as I've compared this to other authors, including his dad, Stephen King, this is purely Joe's voice. Even though he can't help but be influenced by his father, this is Joe's book. he takes ownership of the narrative and never let's go of it's neck. This is a book I'll go back and read again, which is the highest praise I can give.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
Although I read this in Afghanistan, I knew I wanted an actualy physical copy of this. I mean a 1280 page paperback book. The heft and the smell was everything I remembered as a child, curled up in bed reading Terry Brooks and J.R.R. Tolkein and Jack Chalker. It came in the mail and I knew that if I didn't like it I could also use it as a weapon against the Taliban. I'd never heard of Brandon Sanderson. I guess he finished Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, which I stopped reading somewhere around book 56 (actually 4, but it seemed like 56). That I'd never heard of him surprised me. I'm a pretty well-read author. I checked up on him before the purchase of the book and was impressed. After all, reading a 1280 page book is a serious commitment. And I was so happy I did. In The Way of Kings, Sanderson creates an entirely new world, an entirely new socio-political structure, and an entirely new magic system. I love it when authors do this. While I love the various billion re-tellings of the Lord of the Rings, it's so much more fabulous to get something new and fresh and mind-bogglingly original. The second book, which probably tops out at 7,000 pages comes in March. I can't wait.

So these are my best. Please seek these out if you can. Buy them from your favorite independent bookstore or online. Whatever. They have my highest recommendation.

Can't wait to read in 2014.

Isn't reading great?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Dear Sir...Please Save Our Planet

While listening to NPR Remix the other day, I was struck by a song they were using in a piece about William Temple Hornaday. The song is called Dear Sir and is performed by Black Prairie. You can actually listen to it in full and for free HERE.

Please listen, then go to Slate's article about William Temple Hornaday to understand its significance. Jon Mooallem wrote an amazing piece about a letter Hornaday left that wasn't read until 70 years later. This letter partially fueled the group think idea of what is now termed as Shifting Baseline Syndrome and how cultural memory can cause us to forget things. It's also about the buffalo. Of course the letter, like the song, begins with Dear Sir.

The idea of Shifting Baseline Syndrome is both amazing and aweful. From Hornaday's point of view, he believed that an America without buffalo would eventually become normal. Although this never happened because of acts of conservation and restraint, it has happened to the passenger pigeon for instance, which we hunted into extinction at the turn of the last century. There were an estimated 5 billion passenger pigeons when America was discovered. These avians were extremely easy to kill, however and became a food staple, as well as a source for feathers. In 1822, a single family killed 4000 passenger pigeons for their feathers. In the 1890s, they were so numerous that an entire day could go by while a cloud of pigeons flew over. Seriously. They were an indelible part of our landscape. Well, not so indelible. They're gone. The last passenger pigeon died in 1914. You can read their extinction story HERE.

Why should we care?

Imagine a world without dolphins or whales. Image us thinking how natural that is.

You don't care?


Then imagine a world without dogs or cats.

Can't happen you say?

There were more passenger pigeons in 1880 than all the dogs and cats in America combined.

We live in a world where the lack of a passenger pigeon is conceived to be normal. The sort of cutlural and possibly global amnesia that goes into shifting baseline syndrome is scary. I don't know how to stop it except to ensure that the things which make up our great planet continue to be a part of it. This sort of behavior takes a conscious act of will.

We have to pay attention.

Conservation and the protection of our planet isn't a political thing. It's a human thing.

Listen to the song and think about this for a moment. Then, if you have time, do a conscious act of will. Support someone conserving something or take action yourself. I support Sea Shepherd Conservation Society not only because of the efforts they go through to preserve whales and dolphins, but also because they are pirates.