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Viewpoint: Boise author discusses his new dystopian, near-future novel

Alan Heathcock's first novel "40" tackles themes of civil war, politics, religion and "magical realism".

BOISE, Idaho — Good things come to those who wait. Fans of Boise author Alan Heathcock have waited a decade for his second book to come out. But they don't have to wait much longer.

Heathcock released his critically-acclaimed, debut short story collection "Volt" in 2011. Now, his first novel "40" hits store shelves and online book stores Tuesday, August 2.

It's a sweeping, near-future, dystopian epic of biblical proportions involving, war, politics, religious fanaticism, natural disasters and a mysterious set of wings that appear on the main character.

And according to a couple early reviews, "40" appears to be a good thing worth waiting for. "Vanity Fair" featured it as a "Freshest New Fiction" selection. A review on Booklist says, "Heathcock's first novel beautifully captures the seriousness of the questions, posed in sparkling prose. Dystopian fans will relish this compelling, lyrical tale."

Heathcock has woven a story around the main character Mazzy Goodwin. In the synopsis, she's described as a "young soldier who wakes up in a bomb crater and inexplicably has wings emerged from her back. She flies out of the crater, very confused, to find her entire platoon killed in a bomb strike, and later finds America has devolved into a civil war between the U.S. Government and the Novae Terrae, a mysterious cult-like, pseudo-religious faction headed by the also-mysterious Jo Sam.

In an interview for this week's Viewpoint, Heathcock talks about the premise of the story. An excerpt is below.

Alan Heathcock: "I had thought about a person with wings being brought down into this world and how people would react. And I thought that was kind of an interesting thing to think about. All the connotations that would come with it and what would be lauded on top of just having wings, let alone the type of person you are."

Doug Petcash: "Will you divulge why the title is '40'?"

Alan Heathcock: "40 is kind of a sacred number across a number of the world religions, and I think, specifically, there's a couple allusions from the Christian Bible, 40 days and 40 nights of rain, 40 days in the desert. There's lots of 40s in the Christian Bible, and Psalm 40 is one of my favorite psalms. It speaks basically into waiting patiently for a song to come from your mouth and sing a new song into the world, and that kind of speaks to the way I think about myself as an artist. I kind of think of the book, the publishers always gets tricky. You know, is it science fiction, is it fantasy, is it literary fiction? I don't think in those ways. I kind of think of it as a secular Bible story that's set in America. It's just the way I've always thought of it. You know you think of Bible stories, they have politics and war and there's magical realism."

On Tuesday, August 2, Heathcock is holding a book launch and signing event at 7 p.m. at TRICA, 1406 Eastman St. in Boise. The event is also a benefit for Radio Boise. That same day copies will also be available at Rediscovered Books, Barnes and Noble and any online bookseller.

On this edition of Viewpoint, Heathcock talks more about how he developed the themes he included in the book and his overall creative process.

Viewpoint airs Sunday mornings at 9 o'clock on KTVB.

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