Recently I’ve been reading novels by newer, largely unknown indie writers. By way of helping them along, I’ll be introducing some of them here. These authors are up-and-coming, at varying stages in their development as writers. They may not all have the polish of traditionally published authors, but I think they all have potential and deserve encouragement.
An old rule of science fiction writing states that an author is allowed one independent miracle per story. In Halfway, Lokesh Sharma and Anubhav Sharma hit us with a real doozy: your memories are being harvested, and after you die you are remade with an engineered body and a little bracelet that connects you to those saved memories. Thus reborn into a world called Enigma, you are judged for your actions during your Earthly life and either admitted into the paradise of Elysium or condemned to the torment of Hell. But these realms are not religious/spiritual realms. Rather, they are technological realms situated in a distant part of the galaxy. Pardon the pun, but how the hell did that come about? We aren’t told, and for now it doesn’t matter. Independent miracle. Just sit back and enjoy the ride!
And it is an amazing ride. Like their authors, the key characters hail from India and have backstories bound up with the customs and history of that land. Dev, a young computer wiz who pulled himself out of a suicidal funk by entering into an illegal cell phone scam with his over-the-top pal Sid, faces Hell because he was killed when he ran in front of a truck with an old suicide note in his pocket. An open and shut case, except he didn’t kill himself at all. His death was a tragic accident. Meanwhile, a young woman named Aparna is in similarly deep trouble. After her enraged father killed her boyfriend in front of her for the crime of dating Aparna, she retaliated by murdering him. Worse, she’s now killed two of the locals in Enigma, although in self-defense. But in Enigma, justice can be as elusive as on Earth. In fact, the “afterlife” doesn’t seem all that different from Earth, riddled with politics, corruption, lust, murder, and other lesser crimes and sins. Worse still, lurking in the background is the specter of war as Hell’s self-appointed queen Phoenix prepares to attack Enigma. This is an amazingly good story given that the premise makes absolutely no sense. I found it hard to stop reading. Even better (or flummoxing, depending on how you feel about it), this is book 1 in the Aspiration for Deliverance series, and in some ways it’s not a complete story. The lives of Dev and Aparna don’t intersect at all. This is just the set-up for whatever comes next. But it works, so long as you’re willing to wait for book 2, where at least some questions will presumably be answered.
In spite of my raving, this is not a perfect book. It’s a first novel by a pair of indie writers, and as usually happens the writing could stand some editing. Not that it’s terrible. It’s among the better-written first indie novels that I’ve read. But it could do with a fair bit of tightening. Some material needs reorganization for clarity, and many of the information dumps should be cleaned up. The description is a bit klunky. There are too many sound effects for my taste (I’d get rid of them all, guys, and write some engaging action instead). Oh, and many of those hyphenations and capitalizations shouldn’t be there. Nevertheless, it’s a good start to a uniquely weird story.
I recently asked Lokesh Sharma about the novel and his writing. Here’s what he said:
You co-wrote this story with your brother Anubhav. Which of you got the idea for the “Aspirations for Deliverance” series and where did it come from?
Before I answer this question, I would like to thank you for this opportunity. I read your review of Halfway, and I found it to be very insightful.
About the question: I had this concept in my mind for a while before I decided to put it into words a couple years ago. I have been fascinated with the idea of a life after death since I was a little kid, and my fascination continued to grow with age. There are about 4,200 religions on Earth, and although they are different from each other in many ways, most of them hold the belief that there is a life after death, and I found that very interesting.
There are a number of books written on the afterlife, and I’ve seen some movies made on this concept as well, so I knew that the idea itself wasn’t very special, unless I presented this story in a very unique way. I realized that the best way to do it was to show it in a different light, which is why I decided to transform this idea into a science fiction story. It made sense because if there is a place called Heaven, ruled by someone that created us and this whole universe, then it must be way more advanced in terms of technology than our world.
How do you and Anubhav organize your collaboration? Do you each write particular scenes, for example?
I had already finished the first draft before my brother joined me in the project. I discussed the story with him and he pointed out a couple flaws in it, and then from first draft onwards, we worked on the project together. The benefit of working with him, I found, was that he didn’t cushion the blow when giving me feedback. If he hated something about my book (a particular scene, a character, etc.) he said it to my face. Hurting my feelings is the least of his concerns. *Laughs*
Halfway is unusual in that the stories of the two main characters, Dev and Aparna, don’t intersect. Will that happen in the next book in the series? Were you concerned that letting them lead unconnected lives in the first book might be too risky?
Definitely! The stories of Dev and Aparna will intersect in the next book, but in a very unusual manner. And yes, we were a little concerned that letting Dev and Aparna lead unconnected lives in book 1 might be risky, but it was a risk we were willing to take. This was our debut novel, and given that we had no previous experience in writing, we weren’t sure if readers would find the book interesting. Well, I strongly believed that they would, but then I’m sure that every person who ever wrote a book thought the same way about their book!
Anubhav is more practical than I am, and he kept telling me not to get my hopes too high. Although I still thought my book was great, I didn’t see the point in writing a book so long that readers would find it hard to finish if they didn’t like it. So I thought it best to keep it short, and I’m glad I did because now that I have received some reviews, I know which things I need to work on in my next book to make it even better.
Had either of you written or published anything prior to Halfway?
No, Halfway is our debut novel.
How many books will be in this series? When will the next one be available?
When I started this project, I thought of writing a trilogy, but given how much some people dislike cliffhangers, I’m now thinking of wrapping it up in my second book, which is expected to be released around the end of year 2018. However, if I have more story ideas in which I can use the same world, I may write them as stand-alones.
Are you working on anything else?
I do have a couple ideas in mind, and I have started brainstorming on one of them. It’s a high fantasy novel called Apex of the Dark Age. I can’t say much about it yet as the idea isn’t fully developed. All I can say is that it’s a story about a fictional war between God and Satan.
Where can readers find you?