You may have never heard of Nathan Lowell. He, like many podcasters, exists in kind of relative obscurity. Relative, that is, to “accomplished” writers, ones that “made it” in the big leagues. However, relative to his fellow story tellers in this digital age he has garnered quite a reputation. His science fiction podcast has become quite successful as podcasts go and he did it without breaking much of a sweat in the way of self promotion. There’s a reason for that. They’re really excellent tales, well told. As such I expect, not hope but expect, that he will indeed “make it” one day.
But I’m not here to talk about those today. No, today I want to bring to your attention South Coast: A Shaman’s Tale. It takes place in the same universe as the Share series so if you do intend to listen to it, it wouldn’t hurt for you to listen to those as well if you haven’t already. It’s by no means required, but it may help with a few things setting wise. Because it shares a world with those tales, in a sense South Coast is science fiction. The thing about it is though, none of these stories adhere to any particular genre so make sure that you check your baggage at the door.
That’s actually kind of the maddening thing about Mr. Lowell’s work. And for those in the peanut gallery, that’s maddening in a good way. The temptation as a writer, my temptation any way if not yours, is to think about what sort of genre you write in and stick to it. By all accounts it certainly makes getting published a bit easier. Trouble with that is though, it’s kind of a stupid game. You end up putting yourself in a box. South Coast, and really everything Lowell’s written so far, can’t be put in a box. It’s got elements of science fiction, fantasy, and literary fiction. What it boils down to is, it’s just a darn good story.
Here’s the gist of it from the Podiobooks page where it resides:
Otto is Richard Krugg’s only son and heir to the Shaman’s gift. The only problem is Otto doesn’t want it. He wants to be a fisherman. When company policies force unwelcome changes onto his life and threaten even the security of the village, Otto discovers that being a shaman isn’t optional.Jimmy Pirano is caught between the devil and the deep green sea when new production quotas are handed down from corporate headquarters. Locked into a century of existing practice, Jimmy is forced to find new ways to fish and new places to do it in or face the very real possibility that Pirano Fisheries will lose the St. Cloud franchise.Join Otto, Richard, and Rachel Krugg as they struggle with what it means to be the son of a shaman. Cast off with Jimmy, Tony, and Casey as they navigate the shoals and shallows of corporate fishery along the South Coast.
That’s it in a nutshell I suppose, though it is, as most flyleaf’s are, inadequate to the task. If that alone isn’t enough to make you run out and get it then stick around and let me give you a couple.
When I told him via Twitter that I’d be listening to it he said “I’ll be interested to hear your take on it. It’s *real* different.” As a side note that’s one thing I love about Twitter. If you like a podcast and he or she’s on Twitter, follow them. Talk to them. If you’re a writer yourself then I highly recommend using it to connect with your audience. That’s the writerly PSA for the day. So is South Coast “different” than the Share series? Yes and no.
It’s not different in a few ways. It gives the characters some problem to solve. Much like the Share series the problem involves economics, and through a combination of luck, hard work, and smarts, the problem gets solved. At least, I assume the particular problem here gets solved. I confess I’m only up to episode seventeen. Giving that away gives nothing away since the problem, while it provides some conflict, is never the best part about Lowell’s stories. It’s a good part and that’s a tribute to him since I find anything related to economics dreadfully boring. I suspect that’s the good teacher in him shining through. A good teacher can make any subject shine. It’s never the best part though. Like its cousins there is a lot of focus on building relationships and there’s character growth and development. Those are all good things to be sure and in my mind those are the best things about both series (I’m trusting we’ll see more of South Coast).
So what’s different?
Well for one thing, and perhaps the biggest thing at that, South Coast involves two separate story lines. For those who haven’t listened to the Share series it pretty much follows Ishmael Wang. We get to see him and how he advances through the ranks. With South Coast though, Lowell weaves together a much broader tapestry of characters and situations, snugging each thread in place before adding the next. This takes place mostly in two main plot lines that eventually twine together, the whole resulting in a much richer story. As a writer I gotta respect that. Too often I have trouble enough with just the one plot line and taking it where it needs to go.
Another thing that I like about South Coast is getting to know the world. That, perhaps, is another way in which it is different. Back to the genre for a second. In fantasy versus science fiction I think that world building is often different, at least the primary focus. In most sci-fi the focus is usually on the technology/aliens/future forecasting. Fantasy on the other hand tends toward the local. How will the different races interact? What will the government be like and how will that affect the characters’ lives? Sure you need to decide on the magic system and critters, but interpersonal dynamics take a larger place. So, to me, SC feels more like a fantasy setting.
Perhaps that’s not a difference between the two genres so much as it is, where mediocre writing stops and good writing begins? In any case it feels like much thought and or focus was given here to the groups of people and the setting. Come to really think about it, there was a good deal of thought put into the Share series in those areas as well or so it seems to me, so maybe that’s another way in which it’s similar. What I can say for sure, as someone who grew up in a fishing community not entirely unlike the one described in South Coast, is that Lowell nailed it to the wall.
Well I’m running a bit long on this review, so here’s a good place to stop. I wanted to do a full review here (somewhat like the awesome ones Odin does at his place) and I also wanted pluck out some story writing elements so that we could talk about them. I’ll likely do more of them down the road. So let’s talk about South Coast, world building, and twining together plot lines!