reviewed by Gabino Iglesias | Thursday, January 15th, 2015

"Hearers of the Constant Hum" by William Pauley IIIGrindhouse Press, 228 pages, paperback, $12.95

Having a unique voice, truly interesting research, great storytelling skills, and the level of weirdness that demands attention coalesce into a narrative that is unlike anything else in contemporary fiction is a strange occurrence. Fortunately, there are a handful of brave authors out there willing to risk it all in order to pull it off, and William Pauley III is one of the names at the top of that heap. Pauley’s latest novel, Hearers of the Constant Hum, brings together end-of-the world fears, the Taos Hum phenomenon, and a tip of the hat to the enigmatic Toynbee tiles to deliver a fast-paced and wonderfully bizarre story about a man who can hear the message insects are constantly transmitting.

Bill Krang has the ability to hear the voice of insects and understand their message. He’s always had this ability, but a few bad experiences as a child taught him that his unique gift is something better left unshared. Krang has also spent his life recording the voice of insects onto cassette tapes and labeling them THE CONSTANT HUM. The hum is something that has affected him in every conceivable way, including physically. Now that he’s an adult, he’s slowly collapsing. And through it all, the same mysterious message is perennially present: “Ashok burn right hand of men. To Neptune, rebirth in blue fire.” Krang once saw the same message graffitied on the side of a building, and that lead to a research facility and some experiences that made his childhood look like a dream. Now that he’s once again seeing the words on the walls and written on mysterious tiles half-buried in asphalt. To make matters worse, a woman comes to his apartment to collect dead bugs to make a drug, and they end up linked in more than one way. Time is running out, and they must find out what the message means, and that’s only one of the many questions that have been bothering Krang his entire life.

The above paragraph offers a synopsis of only one of the three interconnected stories that make up the narrative because Pauley’s work is far too nuanced to be easily summarized. In this narrative, each chapter delivers an onslaught of new ideas and a healthy dose of humor, fear, philosophical ruminations, mystery, horror, physical alterations or a mix of those elements. In a way, the beauty of Pauley’s work is that he makes the reader (relatively) comfortable with these fun, weird elements and then injects the narrative with short bursts of deep thinking and questions that cut to the marrow of human nature. For example, fear of technology and the future is a recurring theme here, and the author makes a point of touching on everything from buses full of people with a screen in front of their faces to an addiction to gaming. Ultimately, this fear, and the uncertainty that helps it become a monster, is surreptitiously passed on to the reader:

“I am a confused animal who fears the idea of progress, not because I do not wish to progress, but because I fear how those in control define progress.”


 “Do you think humans will survive their own inventions?”

Another elements of Hearers of the Constant Hum that makes it a must read for fans of outré fiction is the way the author was able to bring together a plethora of things like the Toynbee tiles, artificial intelligence, the possibility of memory preservation through digital means, and the Taos hum and incorporate all of them in a storyline that’s far more interesting than any article that deals with these things separately. In that regard, this novel is also a manual for writers that teaches how to perfectly blend fiction and the strange, marvelous world of bizarre information the internet puts at our fingertips.

For fans of Pauley’s work, Hearers of the Constant Hum is new territory traversed with old friends. For those new to his unique brand of bizarro fiction, the narrative serves as an outstanding introduction to an author whose voice is as distinctive as the themes and (un)scientific marvels he deals with.  Oh, and in case you were wondering, “Ashok burn right hand of men. To Neptune, rebirth in blue fire,” will stay in your head for a while and will return any time you hear the sounds of insects. Whether it’ll do so because of what it means or because the author never reveals the secret is something I’ll let each reader discover by his or herself.

Gabino Iglesias is writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of Gutmouth and a few other things no one will ever read. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.

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