In Review: A Mound Over Hell

A dystopian novel that goes on far too long with barely enough of the featured sport.

A Mound Over Hell by Gary Morgenstein

Published by Indigo, and imprint of BHC Press, March 29, 2019. Softcover of 520 pages at $18.95. Ebook available at $7.99. 

Note: I was sent an electronic version of this book to review.

The cover: In a dark baseball stadium a fiery ball makes it way at the reader. Above the flaming orb is the book’s title and subtitle. Below it a blurb from Billy Sample and the author’s name. This cover doesn’t truly represent what this book is about. Overall grade: D

The premise: From the website, “It’s 2098 and the last season of baseball — forever. After the ravages of WWIII, the once all-American sport is now synonymous with terrorism and treason. Holograms run the bases for out-of-shape players and attendance averages fifteen spectators per game. The only ballpark left is Amazon, once known as Yankee Stadium. America, nearly wiped out by radical Islam, has established a society based on love. Religion, social media, and the entertainment industry have been outlawed. All acts of patriotism are illegal, and the country is led by Grandma. Heading up the Family in her home base in the Bronx, she works tirelessly to build a lasting legacy for the future. As baseball historian Puppy Nedick prepares for opening day, a chance encounter lands him face-to-face with former baseball greats. Determined not to go down without a fight, the players band together to revitalize the game for one last hurrah. But not everyone wants peace. Will baseball become the catalyst for WWIV, or will it save America?” I didn’t read this premise until after I had finished reading the book and it does follow this basic summary. It suggests that much of the book will deal with baseball, but that wasn’t the case. There’s much more dealing with society and governments than America’s favorite pastime. Overall grade: C

The characters: Puppy Nedick is the last baseball historian in what’s left of the United States. His life is pretty miserable with baseball his only joy. One morning he finds Mickey Mantle in his small apartment, and soon after Ty Cobb appears — I know, just roll with it. He knows both men are dead, but holds this pair in the highest regard for being iconic ball players. Puppy’s goal is to reestablish baseball as a sport for all of America to watch, and he’ll do anything to do so. He recruits the two stars to play and whip the human players back into shape. He is the strongest character in the book. Zelda Jones is an artist who has flitted from job to job until finally finding success in the most surprising locale. Just as she begins to do well, she learns she is pregnant, which causes several rules of society to fall upon her, with America needing all the children it can make to regain its stature in the world. Pablo Diaz is a dentist who is being scouted for Fifth Cousin by the government. Once one attains a certain level of cousin they can receive certain benefits from society.  Mickey Mantle and Ty Cobb have all the attributes one can imagine if only having the vaguest understanding of their characters. Simply put, Mickey’s a drinker and Ty is a racist and a hard ass. Both are good at playing baseball. They don’t move beyond these classifications. Grandma is the ruler of America, doing all that she can to have the country become a world power. I couldn’t tell whether to take her seriously or as a joke. Therein lies the problem with the characters: I couldn’t get a clear handle on them and, ultimately, just didn’t care. Puppy is interesting and Mickey and Ty I know, but no one else had any attributes or believable actions that I cared for. Not helping is having the Family, the U.S. government, behave like a remnant from a Judge Dredd strip, though not as humorously. And the antagonists of the book is the Arab nation, which focuses for a ridiculously long time on sex/child slavery and every other Arabic stereotype one would expect. Anytime either the Family or the Arab nation appeared, it goes exactly as one would expect. If I can’t believe the majority of characters, or find anything about them to hold onto, the book becomes difficult to read. Overall grade: D-

The settings: The book’s settings are many in the year 2098: Amazon stadium, Puppy’s apartment, Zelda’s work, several countries in Europe now overtaken by the Arab nations, and the streets of New York. All are described well, with the best being the baseball stadium. I had hoped that more time would be spent there, and it does become a key location to the novel, but too much of the book deviated from it. Overall grade: D+

The action: This is really where I had difficulties. I was expecting a novel about baseball and it was actually a dystopian novel involving baseball. I didn’t care for the politics, which is a good third of the book, or the drama with the supporting characters, because I just didn’t care for them. I enjoyed the baseball moments, few as they were, only to have them become a political stage. I did read the entire book, but it was not easy going. Overall grade: D-

The conclusion: There isn’t one. The two surviving characters are on the run and their exploits will be chronicled in a future novel. I won’t be reading it. Yes, the book cover does state Book 1, but I was hoping for some storyline to be resolved. Overall grade: D-

The final line: A dystopian novel that goes on far too long with barely enough of the featured sport. I was disappointed in the book’s tone, the stereotypes and their lack of interest, and the overwhelming and dull political machinations. To paraphrase Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park, “You do have some baseball in your baseball book?” When done, I felt as though I had read a book under false pretenses. This might have worked had the supporting characters’ side stories and the political muck lessened or been deleted. I could not read the sequel(s) for any possible reason. Overall grade: D

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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