Friday, December 15, 2017

Ideas I am Currently Stealing, Part 6: Hunger Makes the Wolf, By Alex Wells

Full disclosure to begin: Alex bought my first story sale. The goodwill I have for them, for that, and for how lovely they were during editing, is hard to overstate. It’s a major reason I got this book to read the first time. It is very much not why I am writing this article now.

I read Hunger Makes the Wolf in one day. I did nothing else. I had not planned to spend my Saturday doing nothing but reading, but I opened the book, and then I had no choice but to continue. Be warned; it is difficult to stop this train once it leaves the station. Be sure you have set aside the time you need to make the journey, but do make sure to take it. Hunger Makes the Wolf is entirely worth whatever space you can make for it. Here are some fumbles at why, as I try to find a way to distill a little of the same pulse-pounding pull into my own work.

Visceral description makes everything realer and more compelling. From the first sentence of Hunger Makes the Wolf, you can taste the grit of Tanegawa’s World between your teeth, feel the heat of the desert and the sweat under your leathers. The powerfully present physicality of the characters’ experience transports you into the setting on a bedrock level. Even now, months after my last reading, I can conjure the heat and dust and sound of the story in a moment. I strive for viscerality, for that closeness, in my own writing, and I have no idea if I achieve it, but Wells never lets you down. From start to finish, you can place yourself right under the skin of the world and the immersion gives the story weight.

Solidarity is the foundation of resistance. Hunger Makes the Wolf is, at its heart, a union story. The villain is the corporate overlord, and the heroines are the core of a resistance. Wells understands, very well if you follow their real-world social media presence, the nature and history of corporate violence and oppression and the need for solidarity on all levels, to resistance. Hunger Makes the Wolf showcases the quest for a broad union, between communities, between workers of different industries, but also at the personal level. It is the strength of personal bonds that lets the heroes of this story be heroic. Hob and Mags trust each other, and they are the hinges of a power that can fight a corporation bigger than the interstellar government and win, at least for a little while. Hob trusts her gang, and they trust her to lead. They don’t think each other perfect; they understand the foibles and weaknesses and bad decisions that their friends have made and will continue to make, but they build something together. That core of trust and action together is a worthwhile lesson, for society and for writing. Friendship can move mountains. Solidarity can re-shape the world. It takes the small to build the large, and together the poor and insignificant can shake the thrones of the mighty.

Fear also build coalitions. Hunger Makes the Wolf is a story about solidarity, but it is also a story about witch hunts, quite literal ones. The corporation preys on fear of the other, and on fear of being labelled among the undesirable, to make the people of Tanegawa’s world police themselves and purge people suspected of having power the corporation fears, and it works, sometimes extremely well. Even people who know what the right thing will be do the wrong thing when it will keep them safe. From the outside, a mob and a community coming together look very similar, and Hunger Makes the Wolf has both, and makes you understand how people who are not particular evil by nature become so when they are pushed toward it.

There are different kinds of strength, and they are all important. Hob is a biker and a fighter and witch, and she does violence and rides the desert, and that matters. Mags is a miner’s daughter and a talker and an organizer. She builds networks and reads people and convinces them, and that matters. It takes a clever hand to make space for fire-magic and reckless gunplay, and careful building of a half-secret network of solidarity to feel important as part of the same larger puzzle, and Wells does an amazing job with it.

Heavy subjects don’t mean a heavy book. This all sounds really serious doesn’t it? I have not managed to approximate the tone of Hunger Makes the Wolf in this blog about it. The book is a fast-driving good time, full of perfect action and occasional tenderness, with delightful humor and plenty of stand and pump your fist moments. When I try to learn from Hunger Makes the Wolf, that’s the heart of what I’m aiming at: something that deals with weighty, topical things without reading like a tract or an epic. Hunger Makes the Wolf is fun, so much fun, and there is still more to come back and enjoy once all the twists and plunges of the rollercoaster are familiar. It’s an alchemy of prose and concept and humor and joy that makes a book that is satisfying in a single huge gulp or a long savoring. Definitely give it a look.

Once you’ve enjoyed Hunger Makes the Wolf, you can pre-order the sequel, Blood Binds the Pack at your local bookstore or on Amazon.

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