Journey, A Short Story (Vol. 1) — Richard Saunders
When Inkshares sent over the description of Journey, A Short Story (Volume 1), its description was something of a caveat emptor. The story was described as a “meta-novel” with a strange structure, which contains a cypher leading to a real-life geocache that supposedly holds items having to do with the larger story.
My interest was piqued by this description. Particularly the notion of the “meta-novel”.
The prologue, written by Mkyl Walsh, pseudonym for the actual author Richard Saunders, is a science fiction piece set in the year 10,001. A pair of explorers from a distant planet arrive on a devastated world, Earth, after some cataclysm destroyed it. They descend to the surface, and their scanning equipment detects an anomaly underground, which is turns out to be a time capsule. In the time capsule, one of the characters finds a book and begins to read. The scifi piece ends there, and a new story begins.
The story within is Secret Agent Man, an account of a man of genius-level intellect through much of his life. The story is structured oddly, each chapter covering the events of one year in the life of Lawrence Ronald Howard, that aforementioned genius, and closing with a bulleted list of events that took place in the world that year. The list of events sometimes seems irrelevant, but it does help reset the reader’s attention to the very close connection this book makes with real-time events between 1956 and today. Often, they’ll have to do with the performance of sports teams.
There are chapters, however, wherein Journey tells pieces of the story, and it’s in these that the reader can get a feel for the character Saunders is building. A fiercely intelligent man, Howard is a true jack-of-all-trades. He learns any skill he thinks may prove useful to the point of mastery, then moves on to the next skill. He uses these skills to accomplish a number of “noble” feats, from solving the ultimate problem of physics to helping secure domain names for a nonprofit from would-be extortionists. At one point, he files a discrimination lawsuit against a TV show hauntingly similar to The Apprentice, in order to advance the cause of older job applicants. (More on that in a moment.) The chapters of his life seem to fall, in the main, into orderly annual escapades.
The stories of his exploits can sometimes feel disconnected from each other, but I get the (good) feeling that this teaser — for that is ultimately what Journey is — will lead to a book (or books?) where everything comes together and makes more sense.
There are other interesting factoids about Journey worth discussing. Mr. Saunders states that he practices a technique called “method writing”, for which he imitates his protagonist, Lawrence Howard. The book details several interactions between Howard and people who are very real, from Donald Trump (named Daniel Trask in the story,) to author Dan Brown (Donald Breen). It is worth noting that, in a post on Goodreads, Saunders states that these scenes correspond to events that actually took place.
Considering that caveat, and the convolution of having a book authored by the author and his nom-de-plume, I’m not exactly sure what to believe. Is the story-within-a-story real? Is any of it? Is Richard Saunders a real person? Obviously he is. But I wonder about how deep it goes. It seems almost too far-out to be true.
Whatever the answers to those questions may be, Journey made for an interesting read, and I look forward to peeling more of the oniony layers of the story when the full novel is released.