Supreme Predatory Strangeness

In space, no one can hear us thinking...'cause of the heart-noises...

One thing that I like about Smashwords is that I can sift through a lot of ebooks and usually find something entirely new, really novel/fresh, and (sometimes) very well-written. It’s a common critique of these sites that a person is taking a big gamble, likely to find a vast quantity of garbage, but little substance. Recently, though, my sifting led me to an interesting find and some troubling possibilities. Is this blog entry a review? Well, not exactly. But, in a way, I guess you could say it is. There certainly won’t be any numerical rating; I can say that much.

About a week ago, I started reading an excerpt of a novel that I’d downloaded. (Often, novels posted on Smashwords are available to preview in small chunks of the initial 20% or so.) This one had caught my eye with its enticing blend of subdued, astronomical cover photography and bizarre, strangely-worded title:
Planet of the Supreme Predatory Octopus (who Don’t Hear US Thinking Through Their Octopus Hearts). [I’m placing a portion of the title in parentheses because I’m kind of unsure whether it’s meant to be a subtitle, a continuation of the main title, or what. I’ve maintained the specific capitalization used in the original title for accuracy.] The page for the novel listed one “Daniel Rosenthal” as the author.

So there I was, lying on the couch at home, suddenly motivated to read this piece of a novel. I’ll admit that I chose it, in part, because I expected I wouldn’t get sucked into it; that it would become one of the books that I start, read a few pages or a chapter of, and then delete or discard. It was a gut-level impression that I had; though I’ve been wrong about such impressions in the past. From the start, this was a very different kind of reading experience. The prose was strangely writtenI felt that trying to follow the narration, all of its turns of phrase and the leaps in focus, requiredsome odd stretching of my frame of mind. I’m unsure how to put it exactly…  I can say reading it made some part of my brain—some bit in the fore of my head—tingle a little. As I read, I started to think that, if it were possible for a text to drive its reader insane, the experience might start out not entirely unlike this. This isn’t to say it was written well at all. Quite the opposite; it was filled with run-on sentences and odd grammar. I made it through about five of the preview EPUB’s pages before deciding to stop for the day and switch to something else. At this point, I felt convinced the writer was either really talented or really out of his mind. I honestly couldn’t tell quite which it was, though.

The next day, I tried poking around on the ‘Net to find out more about the author. There was little to go on. I found multiple sites that were selling the book (including Amazon, who are offering a paperback version), but little else. Especially lacking were any links or traces of a web-presence for the author. The only lead I had to go on was the Smashwords author page, which listed his location as the United Kingdom, and listed that he had been affiliated with the site since October of 2013. Planet seems to have been published in December of that year.

I also came across a brief review of the book at Another Universe, which is an insert in the San Francisco Book Review‘s and Sacramento Book Review‘s monthly magazines. The reviewer at the site also seemed a little confused by the work. One sentence in their review caught my eye:

“Suddenly, toward the end, the text breaks into an extremely clear, lucid account of the author’s (rather off-putting) experiments on chick embryos and his ideas about physics and FTL travel.”

I hadn’t reached anything about FTL travel or chick embryos in the five-or-so pages I’d covered, but my interest was still held. I pressed on to see what else I could dig up.

Turning my attention away from the novel and toward the author, I noticed that my searches were finding little regarding a Rosenthal-the-experimental-sci-fi-writer, but quite a few hits regarding a Rosenthal-the-homicidal-madman. Multiple articles spoke of a Daniel Rosenthal who lives in England and who had murdered both of his parents in 1981 (traveling to kill his father in France before returning to England to also kill his mother). There was one article from The Mirror, a British newspaper, that was of particular interest, as it contained this sentence:

“Rosenthal was dubbed ‘the mad scientist’ because of weird experiments he carried out on chicken eggs and embryos in a ‘lab’ he built in the living room.”

This seemed, to me, a bit too much to be deemed coincidental. It seemed to me that: either someone had written a bizarre short novel that was inspired by this incident, capitalizing on it to turn a quick buck; or, this was an original work penned by a murderer. I haven’t yet found anything online that makes any connections between the incident and the books.

The end result of all this investigating? I still can’t decide if it’s worth paying $3.50 to read the entire novel.

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