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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Book Review: Across the Universe

Of course, The Fool's Illusion isn't the only speculative fiction book that centres around the theme of deceit. Author Beth Revis's Across the Universe is set on a star ship that seems to run on lies and therefore illusions some of which are very literal. I recently finished reading this YA novel which was part of my summer reading. My review of it is below. Is it a book you would consider putting on your own reading list? Feel free to provide your answer in the box below.  






Photo Credit: Razorbill/Penguin


Book's Title: Across the Universe
Author: Beth Revis
Series: Across the Universe Trilogy
Volume: Book 1 (of 3)
Year of Publication: 2011
Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

With young adult science fiction  rising in popularity, especially since The Hunger Games craze, Beth Revis’s Across the Universe carries on this trend. Part space opera, part murder mystery, it’s the first book of a trilogy. Even so, it holds up good as its own story and so doesn’t leave the reader hanging at the end. The book’s theme of deceit runs through not only the villainous characters but all the major characters no matter how virtuous and loving they’re made to be. And so this theme of lies is used realistically, making the characters and situations more life-like. However, as well written this YA novel is, its setting and its characterization of the main antagonist fall short of what they can be.



Synopsis

Teenager Amy Martin awakes from a cryogenic freese on the spaceship Godspeed fifty years earlier than she’s supposed to. She discovers that the reason for her early revival is that someone tried to kill her. With the help of her new friend, Elder who is of the generation presently running the ship, she tries to track down her would-be murderer before the killer can get other frozen passengers, especially her parents.

Novel’s Structure

Across the Universe holds up good in its structure. The chapters regularly alternate between the two main characters’, Amy and Elder’s, point of views making it easy for the reader to follow the story. At the same time, the organization of the sequence of events time the suspense, foreshadowing and irony good which is a big accomplishment since the author has to be careful not to reveal too much too soon through either character who also serve as narrators.

Characterization 

Both Amy and Elder’s characters are well developed. We can sympathise with both but especially Amy’s who the novel centres around. We feel her loneliness and anger as well as her love for her parents, especially her father. We feel the struggles and fears she goes through while she's forced to adapt to a new generation of passengers who, unlike her, have never seen either outer space or the surface of any planet and so have lived on the Godspeed’s windowless farm deck their whole lives. She wrestles with the homesickness for the Earth she leaves behind and with her loneliness of not being able to communicate with her cryogenically frozen parents. We sense Elder’s struggle with and rebellion against Eldest, the ship’s administrator who raised him since birth and who Elder is to succeed. We feel the anger and uncertainty of both Amy and Elder when they discover more and more that they and the other passengers have been living off of lies conspired by the administration.

In one aspect of the character interaction, the old fashioned love triangle is used between Amy, Elder and Elder’s friend, Harley. Even though such a literary device may typify the story a bit too much in certain respects, it's done convincingly here taking us into the emotions of the two male characters showing the reader their jealousy and anxiety for Amy. Yet we also see these two struggling to hang onto their friendship and so trying to rise above the jealousy. So the way this love triangle is handled portrays clearly the extreme emotions of adolescence.

The antagonist’s character, Eldest’s, could have been better developed. He comes across as caring and friendly to his common subjects, a deceitful method on his part to control the ship and its population. The only problem with this trait of his is that it's more told than shown let alone not revealed to us until around halfway through the book. So Eldest comes across too much as the typical fairy tale villain, all evil and cruel, both in his ambitions and actions, including his manner of speaking.

Setting 

The Godspeed’s interior is portrayed okay but takes a while to convey clearly in the reader’s head. This is especially so with the farming level of the ship where much of the novel takes place. Even though there is a landscape in this vast part of the ship, there is no simulated sky, only “the steel-grey metal of the walls that curve over this level of the ship ” as Amy explains it (page 141). However, the other major setting within the ship, the cryogenic freeze chamber, is described really good giving the likeness to that of a mausoleum and so works perfectly for a murder mystery/space opera cross-genre story such as Across the Universe.

While the science and technology are plausible enough overall, there are some flaws for the distant future this book is set in. Today’s technology seems to be more reflected at certain points in the novel. For example, there are doors on the ship that have to be opened manually. Another example is a fake outer space that a simulated window looks out on in which the stars are described as light bulbs. I wouldn't call that too futuristic of tech when so many of today's simulations are digital or VR. 




The relatively simple structure of Across the Universe, the story’s tension and the realism of Amy and Elder’s characters make Bevis’s YA novel worth reading. This isn’t only so for the teen audience that the book targets, but for an adult one too. That is, if adult readers can get past a too typical villain character and a few devices that would be outdated in a far-future setting. Not to mention euphemisms for typical teenage cuss words, probably used so school districts and libraries don’t get sued by certain parents. 


Until next time . . . 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Free Fiction Friday: "The Assassin"

It may have been a sizzling hot Fried Day here in the Sacramento area, but it's also a Free Fiction Friday! And so I have a story for you (written by your's truly). I consider it an atom punk story even though it may be lightly so. Which is okay, because it causes a big portion of the story to reflect more where our own timeline is going which is one of the most important things of science fiction--to show where society may be in the future. If you aren't familiar with the atom punk subgenre of sci fi, then check out my earlier post here. If you get tired of hearing me talk, then a person who is really an expert on the subgenre is Philip Reeve who has a great article on it and so you might want to check that out.  

About the formatting of my story's text: I copied the story from a file that I had formatted for submission to a magazine. Even though I changed the font from Courier to New Times Roman so it would reflect the style of the blog more, other manuscript style formatting may be in there. Some of that formatting may be underlined text as opposed to italicised text. That's because standard formatting for emphasised words in manuscripts for submissions, especially for fiction, is underlining. Also there are some pound symbols ("hash" symbols as they're referred to for social media linking) between paragraphs to represent breaks or lapses in time. 

As some of you may have realised I write according to British spelling (e.g. "realise" as opposed to the American "realize"). You won't find that in this story. I changed the spelling to American because I'm more likely to submit the piece to American publications as much as I prefer British spelling. I truly believe British English is the more correct English. Part of that reason is the most obvious (or at least it should be obvious, except to those pea brains who loafed off back in their high school history classes and never grew up): English originated in England. Now as far as it being the more correct version, that's just my personal opinion. I'm not even British. In fact, I'm not even of British ancestry (I'm Mexican and Portuguese, but born here in the U.S. of course). But I love British culture. I'm not getting into other reasons why I prefer British English over American. If you want to know more why, then ask me in the comments box below and I'll be more than happy to explain. 

I hope you enjoy this story. Please let me know what you think, including what could be improved. You won't hurt my feelings; you would actually be helping me. Come on now! Not even the top best-selling authors are perfect! Not even the Noble Prize winning ones are, for that matter. 

Until next time . . . 





The Assassin
by  Steven Rose, Jr.



Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/OpenClipArt.org

            

“How many credits have I worked?” asked Albert McArthur as he hopelessly stared at Kariith’s digital body that was sealed inside the giant vacuum tube.

“Five hundred,” said the metallic voice of UConet. 

Shit, Albert thought.  He didn’t dare not say it out loud.  UCoNet sees everything, Albert always remembered as did everybody of both Earth and the known universe. The Interplanetary Computer Network was everywhere. Albert scowled back, “Really?”

“Affirmative,” UCoNet said. But Albert knew he didn’t need to confirm the super computer network’s answer.  UCoNet was the Supreme Machine.  Although Albert knew UCoNet’s answer was truth, he couldn’t believe it. Kariith was only a life size holograph sealed inside a glass tube. Sealed inside like his own anger and resentment for UCoNet was sealed inside his own body.

“Break is over,” commanded UCoNet. “Return to your work station, please.”

Albert laid his hand on one of Kariith’s brown legs, or at least on the glass in front.  He would’ve laid it on her cheek, but the tube was suspended too high to reach that part.  The height only reminded him of how her 6-foot Aoelian body would tower over his 5- foot-10 Earth one when they would embrace. Then, glancing back at the tube, amongst the row of other tubes of naked digital bodies that seemed to stretch away into infinity, he walked to the door. It slid open and he exited the Debtors’ Vault and entered the corridor leading to the Production Floor. 

As Albert passed the transportal, UCoNet said, “You are late.” So he stepped into the transportal and pressed the button labeled “Production.”  He had wanted to walk so he could pass Kariith’s  packages of holographic dolls modeled off of her.  But Stock was two chambers away from Production.
#
Seventy-five years, and only 500 credits, he thought to himself as he materialized under the transportal onto Production.  He dragged his feet back to his station, eyes downcast in futile anger.  What else could he do but work his credits? He had to pay to keep his extended life going just so he could buy back Kariith’s.

He pressed the button that turned on the huge round-cornered screen that revealed his sketches for the new products for UCoNet. He touched the thumb print for the potato maker.  The image of the device was in the likeness of a six inch potato, covered with buttons in the form of “eyes”. He finger-dragged the image’s top layer to reveal the sketched circuits, transistors and wires. Those were complete but he needed to make the atomizer. The atomizer made the vegetable that legend said used to grow in the ground, but was now grown with DNA stored in one of the Network’s banks.  He turned to his co-worker.  “Simon, did your ed-program ever teach you how to make DNA atomizers?” 

Simon looked from his screen. “It was never in the curriculum. Nobody makes them because they’re already made.”

Albert swung his chair into his monitor, glass shattering everywhere.

“McArthur! What is the reason for this unproductive action?” UCoNet’s metallic voice demanded from one of his hidden mouths.

Albert waited to catch his breath before answering, thinking of an explanation.  He never reacted like this before.  “Sorry, UCoNet.  I ran into some problems with my project.  I’m supporting my parents, too.”  His parents were financially secure.  He couldn’t tell UCoNet who he was really supporting.  UCoNet was both Kariith’s creditor and sentencing judge besides former manager.  And now Albert made himself a debtor to that manager. The monitor would cost him a quarter of the credits he had worked to buy Kariith’s existence back. Not only that, but UCoNet would probably suspect him more than ever of being un-UCoNet. 

UCoNet  said, “Apology accepted with 75 labor credits for the monitor.”

Teeth gritted, Albert said, “Yes, sir.”  He pressed the “Maintenance” button for the robot janitor.

UCoNet hadn’t told them everything in computer and UCoNet history.   Albert had been contemplating over his screen about where the hell he was going to find a model for the atomiser.  He couldn’t use any of the Store’s; they were too many credits.  One time, he asked UCoNet if he could borrow blue prints but UCoNet said it was against the Rules and that he knew it.  Since that day, he knew UCoNet suspected him of being un-UCoNet, a traitor to free enterprise.  It seemed UCoNet watched him more closely ever since.  Albert had been burning out looking at the Reference banks to see if there was anything  that talked about atomizors’ anatomy.  But now he knew the library banks did not make such information available; such information was a key to all real creation.  To create similar to UCoNet’s centuries-dead creators, a person needed to pay credits. Albert could never understand why anyone had to pay for their act of creativity. Creativity was a natural act.

“Why do you come up with such hard projects, Al?” Simon asked.

Albert exhaled deeply. “First of all, because I’m tired of making things based on templates.  I was better off composing security code. Second of all, I need the extra credits.”

“She’s gone, Al,” said Simon.  “Just let it go.  She was nothing, is nothing.  Nothing but a burden to society.”

Albert snapped, “She was everything, Simon! Everything to me.”

Simon, shaking his head, said, “How can she be anything to you, Albert?  She’s only a design, a design to be turned into little girls’ dolls.”

Albert wished he had his doll with him even more than Simon who was not only his co-worker but best friend.  Even more, he wished for the simple fact that Kariith still existed.

Simon continued as he punched input into his design, “She’s a mere character of fiction now.  She’s only code and pixels.”

“I know she is,” shouted Albert.

“McArthur,” warned UCoNet.

More quietly, Albert said, “I know, Simon! But she doesn’t have to be.”

Simon looked up from his screen while continuing inputting and said, in a slightly higher volume, “But you’re wearing yourself away trying to work extra hours to bring her back, Al.” Albert had gone days without sleep, even without food in some cases.  “You’re going to end up like her, nothing, because like her you won’t be able to keep up with your own labor credits.”

“I am nothing, Simon. I’m nothing without her.  She’s the only girl I could ever relate to, not like all these other ones made from the template of Earth’s culture.”

“What about Jiirth?  She’s Aeolian.”

“That’s just the problem!  She’s Earth’s Aeolian!”

“What do you mean?”

“Simon, do you think real Aeolians act like that? So passive and silent like this planet’s movies and news media portrays them?”

Simon stared at Albert for several seconds. Finally, he said, “Yeah. The Supreme Machine doesn’t lie.”

“Well then why didn’t Kariith act that way?”

“Kariith was a deviant, Al. She wasn’t like everyone else.”

“Because she was smart enough not to be.  All the native Earth girls, the Earth-born Aeolian girls and ones of other alien ethnicities are so superficial and boring. There’s no challenge in them, no energy.”

“Energy? No energy? They like going dancing, going on the hikes you like to go on.  What was in this chick?  She was so homebound.”

“She was not homebound.  We went to movies and sporting games.”

“You guys only went to those flat screen films and her brother’s soccer games.  That’s a kid’s game.  They don’t even use robots.”

“They’re high school,” corrected Albert, “not college or pro.”

Simon shook his head saying “Whatever. But this girl was living her mommy and daddy’s life too much.” 

“Kariith loved her father.  That’s why she paid for his life extension.  It’s in her people’s culture.”

“That was on Aeolus.  She didn’t know how to get with it on Earth. And she was born here, wasn’t she?”

Albert froze his electric-blue-eyed stare on Simon.  Simon didn’t understand alien cultures.  He was too damn Earth-centric like all the other Earth natives, including Albert’s parents.  Al answered, “They were her parents, Simon.  It is a sacred duty for those people to lay down their lives for their immediate family when they can’t take care of themselves.  It’s almost second nature to them.  And she wanted to do it.” 

“Well see?  Those people are superstitious, so primitive.”

“They are religious,” grunted Albert.  “They have fully established religions like Earthlings have almost all of history.”

“Too established, Al.   This is post-22nd century Earth, not 21st.”

“Well if they’re ‘too’ established then they can’t be primitive or superstitious!”

However, Albert was afraid his co-worker was right.  When did any of his own family say a rosary, read the Bible or pray over a meal outside weekly mass?  The only time he saw rituals of any religion performed outside the houses of worship were in the ancient films he loved watching since a kid.  The Aeolian religions were so different from Earth’s, so much more natural.  Like Kariith.

“But still, Al, they are so impractical.  It’s an everyman-for-himself world today.  It’s the only way to survive.” 

Albert said, “And she was for herself.  That’s why I liked her.”

“She wasn’t for herself if she had to stop and pitch in for her father.”

“Aside from that, Simon!”

“And she put off her marriage to you for her father.  She didn’t love you.”

“She did love me by the standards of her culture.  And I can love her even more because she thought about her father before me!  Now we both need to get to work before UCoNet yells at us for being incompetants.”

Simon shrugged.  “Suit yourself, but it’s your life energy, not to mention labour credits.”

Albert said, “They are and so I’ll use them the way I want.  It’s everyman for himself.” 

#

Albert materialized into the Department of Post-Engineering and said to the robot secretary at the counter, “I have to see an Engineer, it’s an emergency!”

The metallic secretary said in an electronic, feminine voice, “What is the nature of the emergency, please?” 

Albert said, “I just came across a terrorist scheme involving the shutdown of UCoNet.  The schemers know where the main power switch is located!” 

The secretary burst laughing.  “No need to be alarmed, sir.  You just came across some ignorant delinquents.”

“How do you know that?” scowled Albert.

“Because a power switch for UCoNet has been obsolete for the past two centuries.  It was uninstalled completely once the Turing Equalization Act went into effect.  Only UCoNet’s sub-units have power switches. So you can go home feeling comfortable that there will be no terrorist attack or assassination of our Net!”

Albert’s training and history lessons of UCoNet never said anything about the Net’s main power switch going obsolete.  He walked slowly and quietly back to the transportal.  Although UCoNet never laughed, Albert felt the Super Computer Network’s mockery through the secretary’s own laughter echoing in his mind. The secretary had called him an ignorant delinquent. But he knew she was right. He was the “terrorist.” The scheme was his. He had hoped his false alert would lead him to the main power switch’s location.

Albert would not make the credits needed to purchase Kariith’s existence before he grew old. He would have to steal it for both his and her good. He only half existed without her. They had admitted to each other that they were one soul. Stealing Kariith’s existence back would not only be the sacred thing to do but also the natural one. Nobody should have to pay for love.

#

That night in his bedroom, Albert pressed the activation button of his computer. The UCoNet logo faded on—a white, gridded globe encircled by three white rings against a blue background. Below the image, in slanted display font, was UCoNet’s name.  Albert typed in a search for the major sub-units of UCoNet.  The computer revealed over a billion. He never knew the known universe to be that big, but then he had never been off Earth.  He knew there was no way he was going to shut off a billion or more machines before UCoNet would find out that he was going to re-birth Kariith back into existence. Albert could not do that even if he did have enough labor credits to travel. 

After typing an inquiry for the control unit his Store received power from, he clicked on the sub-unit’s Anatomy in the Education menu. Although part of the curriculum of UCoNet history, the free anatomy studies were abridged. As he suspected, the entrance area to the CPU chamber was missing from the blue abstract labyrinthine map of the sub-unit. He would have to pay and use the VR version of the Anatomy. It would bring him pretty close to creditless. But what would it matter?  He would annihilate himself from existence.  At least as far as UCoNet would know. Or maybe not know.   He would do the same to Kariith.  Albert could make the entry key code; he made skeleton keys at his previous job. He also made encryptions there. They were used for organic and non-organic items transatomicized between locations. Albert had made the encryptions for almost all living things—vegetation and animals. One of the few exceptions were people. Until now.

Albert inputted his credit information, rose and walked to the living room where the transportal waited. 

#

The next evening, Albert materialized into the real CPU of the sub-unit. He slowly stepped out of the transportal. He took a second step. No sound but the hum of the CPU. He had read news reports of criminals stepping into units such as these but the security not sensing them until as many as five paces inward.  Sometimes it would be too late—a ray from some shadowed corner would blast them. When he reached the seventh pace, he breathed much easier.  The “invisibility” virus, which he had created from pieces of UCoNet’s programs he was authorized to use for his job at the Store and ones of code from his former occupation, worked. It would probably work for Kariith too, which he had copied to the memory tube for her. The unit’s sensory could not detect his presence and so to it and its security system Albert McArthur did not exist.  He was not sure if the same held true for the orb itself which controlled that entire unit and everything that it processed and generated to the sector. After all, he had only been a Security program assistant, not a Post-Engineer. But the orb was not the real problem. The real problem: the possibility of Post-Engineers in the vicinity.  The invisibility code did not work on human senses.  But it wasn’t a time of crisis so it was unlikely any Post-Engineers were patrolling.

He walked more quickly toward the sub-unit’s glowing, red orb. In front of it, on a console, was the power switch. The closer Albert approached, the more he felt like the orb was staring into him. Upon arriving at the console, he slowly reached for the switch.  His muscles tightened. His heart pounded.  Albert braced himself for the ray that would beam from the orb and burn his hand off. Once his middle finger touched the switch, he pulled. Everything blacked out. He pulled the memory tube from a pocket of his lustrous trousers and opened the door under the console revealing its circuit board in the beam of his pen light.  Albert inserted the device into a port.  The white code of the file names flashed one by one on the device’s small monitor.  When Kaarith’s appeared, Albert yanked out the device, saying, “Fuck! Fuck you, UCoNet!” He nearly threw it at the orb. Kaarith was still in non-existent status. The power shutdown didn’t effect the debtors.  The sub-unit was extra secure when it came to the debtor bank.  UCoNet didn’t trust his other heads.  They were constructed centuries ago by the Engineers when they were autonomous corporations.  That was before the Executive Unit was built, the final and ultimate head of UCoNet. Albert would have to go there.

Though he knew UCoNet’s main unit had the same basic layout as his sub-units, it would be far more secure. Far more deadly.  He would have to study the VR version like he did with the sub-unit. 

When Albert arrived at the transportal he broke out laughing.  He just realized, though he hadn’t shouted because of the possibility of Post-Engineers, he had cursed UCoNet out loud.  The “invisibility” virus had hid his voice too.

#

Albert materialized in the VR of UCoNet’s head of heads.  “The System’s track unit, where all data is broken down,” introduced the bodiless automated guide as Albert stared awe-struck at the binary numerals, which must have been at least thousands in number, flowing up and down transparent pipes like green radiated water.  The guide said, “To go to the next chamber, choose any ‘vein’ you desire by simply walking toward it.”  Albert walked toward the nearest one.  Though he knew this was the VR bowel of the beast, it was too real looking to be sure he couldn’t easily be digested into mere atoms and then, finally, mere code like his fiancĂ©.  That would have defeated his purpose.  But what else could he do? It was the only way to find the route to the CPU.

When he reached the transparent tube, he expected to bang into the “glass”.  Instead he found himself surrounded by the green flowing binary and shooting up with it.  He felt himself flying through the snaking vessel until he deposited into a vast chamber of gray, metal surfaces. The only thing that resembled a passage way was a drape of blue lightning straight ahead. As he passed through the electric “drape” he felt himself dissolve from the feet up, his body breaking up into binary. He assumed it was all VR. Until the dissolution reached his neck. He screamed, “No!” Then he felt his mind scatter into random images, good and bad: images of tranquility and images of forbidden nightmares; the peace of the forest in early spring, the blackness of an abyss at the bottom of an ocean, or at least what looked like an ocean, ready to receive him; the cool snow whiteness of a bed, the knives and spikes of an iron maiden closing on him while a tiger’s jaws did the same, while flames did the same. 

His body and mind reassembled. 

Albert stood in a transportal and, ahead--a humongous, burning red orb. It looked like the one in the sub-unit, only 10 times larger—50 feet in circumference. It seemed to stare directly at him. It was suspended over a wide shaft from which a fiery glow radiated. The Guide said, “The Eye of UCoNet, where all input becomes a part of his memory and where all action initiates from--like with your own human brain.  The Central Processing Unit (or CPU) of UCoNet is Eye and Brain in one. In front of the power pit stands the CPU’s circuit box. All these can only be reached by transportal as opposed to passage or walk-through and only by a top secret password entrusted to Post-Engineers sworn to use it only when all of UCoNet is jeopardized.” Albert smiled. He had finally gripped the power that his manager always had over him. Not only his manager, but the ruler of the known universe, the ruler called UCoNet! He walked toward the “Eye”.

As he arrived at the box, he reached for the cover. Then he stopped.  Could all this “VR” be another one of UCoNet’s conspiracies? He survived the break-down and reassembly. But how did he really know if he was reassembled back to his true self? For all he knew he could be part of the VR. If this was VR. The curriculum never told the students that UCoNet’s power switch had went obsolete, let alone was removed forever. Why would the wider education system tell anyone that this was not really VR? Or that the learner him/herself was VR? There was no other way to be sure. The only thing he was sure of was that there was no way to get Kariith back unless he located the box’s ports and transistors he needed to take out to make a partial planetary power failure. He popped open the cover. 

#

UCoNet’s security didn’t sense him when he materialized into the real CPU chamber. The “invisibility” code worked even in the central unit. This assured Albert more that, after all his years of working for UCoNet, he would for the first time beat UCoNet’s tyranny. He felt a sense of hero-ship for himself, Kariith and her family. He felt himself a hero for all Aeolians which Kariith represented like her entire race represented her. As he walked toward the looming orb, the all-seeing eye of the Network, and saw that it didn’t respond, a sense of accomplishment filled him.  For the first time, he felt he made something of his own creation without the commands of UCoNet. He couldn’t help snickering. Albert McArthur, one person, only a product technician, outsmarted the known universe’s ruler who thought he knew everything and that he was above all sentient beings. It was as if Albert outsmarted God himself. He wanted to shout out of victory but didn’t dare. There was that one percent chance that a Post-Engineer was patrolling.

Albert pulled the tube from a pocket as he approached. He crept slower.  As the fiery red light bathed over him, he realized more that he was in the real head CPU. The “invisibility” code might not work within a certain range of the Eye of all UCoNet’s eyes. After all, Albert was the first to use it here.

When he arrived at the circuit box, he opened its cover and pulled the appropriate transistors.  He inserted the tube. When Kariith’s file appeared he yanked out the tube, grinning.  As with the other files that flashed on the tiny monitor before her’s, Kariith’s read as “Existent Status”. In his mind, Albert could see Kariith and the other debtors banging desperately on the glass surfaces of their tubes. He jabbed the transistors back in. As he ran toward the transportal the chamber blacked out. A circle of dim lights from above lit up. Albert knew they were backups. Both the orb and transportal lights remained dead. The shaft under the orb was dark.  Albert was baffled. The transistors he pulled were only those of the Store’s unit; only that unit was supposed to black out.

“Stop there assassin,” echoed an electronic voice.  UCoNet! thought Al. But when he turned around he discovered a swarm of rocket propelled Officers jetting toward him from the other end of the room, spotlighting him. The “invisibility” code apparently did not work on all of UCoNet’s security system. As Albert raised his hands surrendering, the Officer spotlighting him with the scan light said, “You are suspected of the assassination of the Network.” Then to its fellow Officers it said, “According to UCoNet’s data banks, this citizen does not exist. Yet a bio-presence stands here. Identify yourself, intruder.” Albert realized that, for the guards, the code only worked on his ID records and not his bio-rhythms.

After a second’s confusion, Albert answered, “Simon Ward.” His friend and co-worker’s name was the only one he could think of that wouldn’t give himself away.

The robot guard’s eyes flashed for several seconds. Then it said, “That name registers with another bio-presence not in this vicinity. Identify your true self, assassin. Any more false identification will be cause for your annihilation!”  All the Officers’ glass bug-eyes lit up in preparation for a blast. “You have a countdown from five, assassin, in which by zero you will have to identify yourself in order to avoid permanent non-existence.” The robot began the count.

Heart racing, jaw and stomach muscles tightening, Albert tried thinking up a fictitious name.  But as he thought of each name it occurred to him that it could belong to an acquaintance long forgotten. The best thing to do was give his real identity.  Just as he opened his mouth the light faded from each robot’s eyes.  The bullet-shaped Officers fell to the chromium floor like wasps that had been sprayed. Albert couldn’t see any source for the sudden “short circuiting”. Then the area around the CPU vibrated. The floor began to crack.  The giant orb shattered.  The Ripple Effect.  

Albert thought he must have put a transistor in the wrong port. He ran. When he arrived at the transportal, he pounded several codes into the keypad but nothing returned the transport device’s power.  Suddenly he felt himself dropping with a chunk of the floor. When it hit the bottom of the next level Al was relieved to find himself in a corridor. As with the level above, only the back-up lighting was on. He ran in the direction of the above portal. He wound through several turns in the passage until a chunk of ceiling caved in.

“Shit,” he shouted. The rubble was 20 feet high. He hauled out some of the debris and found a tiny opening. He tried squeezing through but got stuck.  He had to reach Kariith before the Ripple did. Before a Post-Engineer did. Grunting, he heaved himself full force until he stumbled out the other side.  Pain flamed through his left knee and calf. [What does a fractured leg/knee bone feel like?] He knew he fractured a bone, but it was secondary to him at the moment.

Limping, he looked for another transportal.  He breathed easier when one came into view. He punched in the destination code to the store. Nothing happened. Not until then did he realize debris was falling around him and that whole side rumbling. He had been so intent on pulling through the crack in the blockage that it hadn’t occur to him that the Ripple caught up with him. Albert punched the key pad again--with his fist. After regaining control of his emotions, he turned into one of the other passages hoping to find another transportal. 

Soon, he came to a huge gash in the wall.  It looked out into a 100 foot-wide, white corridor where crowds of panicking people ran in either direction as ominous sirens screamed.  The Freeway.   The exterior walls of the dying UCoNet were crumbling to reveal other avenues of the Freeway. It may be easier to find a transportal out there. However, he knew they would be filled with people trying to escape regardless of the overhead speakers warning everybody to not use the transportals but to use the walk-throughs instead.

In all his 316 years he never had to use an emergency walk-through or the Freeway. But the emergency walk-throughs only lead to the planet’s surface. Out there, there were no automatic transporters of any kind. There hadn’t been since the world atomic war (also known as World War III) that occurred centuries ago when the United States and Soviet Union, two powerful countries when separate nations existed, wiped out the entire earth’s surface with robot missiles.

Albert ran as fast as his fractured leg would allow. He had to beat the Ripple to a transportal. He passed several dead ones, hardly noticing the partly transported bodies laying within or just outside some of them. However, he did notice the stampede of bio-engineered cattle heading in his direction. He noticed it only a few seconds after slamming to the chromium floor from his leg giving out. He began rolling out of the way. But then, just as one of the 20 foot beasts trampled within a couple feet of him, he heaved himself up with his good leg and both hands and grabbed onto the animal’s neck fur.  Albert climbed to the nape and tumbled his way toward the herd’s outer edge. He missed the back of one of the outer edge bulls. But he clung to the fur on its side and climbed up. When the stampede reached within about 15 feet of the next live transportal, he let himself fall outward.  He crawled to the transportal and punched in the destination.

#

When he materialized, the Store was already empty of his co-workers. All was dark. He limped to the Vault. When he got there all the tubes were empty. Including Kariith’s. “Sir, you need to leave now,” a voice warned from behind him. “The place is going to collapse anytime.”

Albert turned around to discover a Post-Engineer in blue uniform complete with UCoNet logo badge and military cap. Al said, “The Debtor Files, where are they?”

 “Gone. They went out with UCoNet’s memory,” said the Post-Engineer.

Albert said, “Where did they move them to?”

“Nobody moved them anywhere. Somehow UCoNet interpreted a strange virus as a program to delete all his memory and that included the debtor files.”

A shock of despair shot up through Albert. Kariith was gone completely. She never existed and never would. Later generations of her family would never believe she was a real person even if her family of today would pass down stories about her. UCoNet and his faithful clergy under him, the Post-Engineers, were the keepers of truth.

Albert almost didn’t hear the Post-Engineer shout, “Sir! Didn’t you hear me? We have to go now!”

“I’m going,” Albert muttered, as he limped toward the door that lead out of the Vault, the Post-Engineer at his heels. As they passed the transportal in the corridor, Albert thrust himself into it.

“No, not the transportal,” barked the Post-Engineer. Albert punched in his next destination.

#

His parents had already fled by the time he materialized inside the quarters. Most of the furniture and other valuables were gone. But the walls and ceiling were still intact. With a quick breath of relief, he limped to his room, more slowly to conserve his energy. They had salvaged many of his things as well but left his “Kariith” doll. Just what he expected. Albert grabbed it. He hugged it, bursting with tears. His parents could never understand why a grown man like himself had ever wanted to keep a doll. They had accepted that Kariith was “irresponsible” for her debt, that she was no good for him and that to purchase a doll modeled off of her was total childishness. But now he realized it wasn’t a doll.

Nearly paralized with emotion, Albert dragged himself to the transportal clinging the template, clinging Kariith, to his breast. By the time he reached it, his tears stopped flowing. He punched in the code for the Store and then the one for Production.

Only seconds after Albert vanished, the Ripple arrived.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

At Trash Film Orgy's Carnival of the Dead

I attended the Trash Film Orgy's first Carnival of the Dead this Saturday and it was a blast! For those of you who don't know what Trash Film Orgy is, TFO is a production studio that makes both their own B-rated sci fi and horror movies as well as holds screenings of classic B-rated flicks by other production companies. That night was TFO's scream screening of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead held at the Crest Theatre in downtown Sacramento. The movie was preceded by a zombie walk through the vicinity and their Carnival of the Dead at Roosevelt Park before that. I got to meet several great people there, dead and alive (okay, they were dressed as dead, as in the living dead) and I took pictures of some people who were in some really groovy ghoulie costumes, including the Sac City Roller girls who are a women's roller derby team and who I had the pleasure to met for the first time.Check out the photos below!






Kind of resembles a cross between Uncle Fester and one of the Plan 9 ghouls.





That's mwa shadow snapiiiiing a photo! (To do a play on an Andy Gibb song from the '70s! You can call this a shadow selfie, I guess.)




Three of the Sac City Rollers with yours truly (and another undead dude in the background who just happened to decide to jump into the photo). I'm holding up the Rollers' promo sign, though it didn't come out too clearly in the photo. 



The works of a carnival. 



Yours truly made sure he got a head shot of this, uh, head shot! 





 Michael Jackson's back! (From the grave, of course.) No, really: God, rest his soul.




This soothsayer was nice enough to give me a free reading, though it didn't turn out to be true: I didn't attend the zombie walk or screening that night like she said I would. Well, nobody's perfect. But the fortune cookie strip she gave me held true: "All facts are true." But it came without the cookie; a Tootsie Roll lolly pop came with it instead! I can go for that. (No, the strip was not at the centre of the Tootsie Pop.)



And here's the fortune teller going into her mystical trance. (Okay, so it's just the blazing sun light radiating on her devilish horns.)




And a mad scientist picking up after those sloppy zombies. (Didn't their parents teach them any table manners and not to litter?)




Until next time . . .






Sunday, June 29, 2014

Hot Summer Reading

We are officially one week into summer, even though in some parts of the nation, here in Sacramento, California included, the season’s sizzling weather had already begun weeks ago. And like those ancient societies that centered their actions around the seasons and made festivals to please their deities, summer, as with the other seasons, is a time to make plans and goals. One of these for me is in the form of a reading list. Summer provides most of us extra time to catch up on those books that we said we would read, passionately wanted to read but didn’t because we didn’t get around to it. It’s also a time of new book releases, which are equivalent to the flickers’ summer movie releases. This is the time to plan a list of what we would like to read on the pool deck, on a long trip or at the local AC’d cafĂ© or library on those dragon breath weather days when we just don’t want to go out yet don’t want to pile up on the energy bill running the air conditioner in our houses. Here’s my summer sci fi/fantasy reading list below (not necessarily in any particular order)!


Across the Universe,   Beth Revis (currently reading): a YA space opera-mystery involving an unseen killer on board a generation ship.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman: This involves a pond in which one of the characters imagines to be an ocean. Wherever there’s an ocean there’s a beach. Therefore this book is perfect for summer reading!

Jack Glass, Adam Roberts: another science fiction mystery tale involving a murderer but with a more atom punk touch in that it uses elements of golden age sci fi.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood: The critically acclaimed novel about women in the near future whose rights have been taken away.

The Manitou, Graham Masterton: This novel about the evil spirit of a medicine man was made into a movie only three years after its 1975 publication. I’ve seen the movie which was made really good as underrated as it was. Now I would like to see how much more is in the book bearing in mind that most movie adaptations of novels don’t include all scenes or even all characters from the original stories. 

Batman comics: This includes both Batman and Detective Comics, particularly from the ‘70s. For me summer has always been Batman season because that’s when I got to know Batman most when I was a kid around six or seven years old. This was particularly through reruns of the campy ‘60s TV series, and even though today I feel like it never did the Dark Knight Detective justice with its rainbow/Technicolor sets and daylight dominant settings it’s what started me on Batman. Today, I’m trying to catch up with the true Dark Knight by reading the comics from just about every era except the ‘50s and ‘60s when Batman became more of a cut and dry trusted hero of the people, like Superman, rather than that questionable more-or-less anti-hero. Lately, I’ve been trying to collect and read the ‘70s comics, since they’re more in my current budget and also because that’s the decade Batman was returned to his true dark hero role.

1001 Arabian Nights (Author anonymous): This is a thick book that’s pages can add up to almost the number in the title. Being a slow reader, I know I couldn’t read it in one summer but since it consists of several tales the ones I would like to read before the summer’s out are “Aladdin” and one or two of the Sinbad tales. “Aladdin” has influenced Hollywood films since the 1940s at least, including a Disney animated feature in the ‘90s, and Sinbad has been adapted to a series of movies whose special effects were done by one of my long time sci fi/fantasy Hollywood special effects heroes, the late Ray Harryhausen. Now it’s time to read the original stories, and if I read Arabic I would read the story in its original language but, unfortunately, I don’t.

Galactic Energies,Luca Rossi:   A short story collection, and again not that I’ll read them all during the summer, but I’d like to get started on a few.

A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs: The first of Burroughs’s Mars series of novels. I read a couple of his Tarzan books, one each of the past two summers. Now this summer I’d like to give his Mars series a chance.

That’s my summer reading list, at least for sci fi fantasy reading. What’s your reading list for the summer? Need help getting started? Let me suggest yours truly’s short story collection, The Fool’s Illusion. In fact, there’s a great story in there that may just be perfect for the pool deck, or for reading at the beach or lake. It’s about the search for a legendary sea monster (not the Loch Ness monster, this one’s in the Mediterranean). If you like simulating your surroundings to a great horror-sci fi story, then this is the one to read in one of the above settings I just mentioned. Better yet, you may even want to read it on the water! That is, if you’re not faint of heart or prone to fear-based accidents.

You can purchase Fool’s Illusion at Amazon, and if you do so between now and Tuesday July 1st you can take advantage of the special Kindle Matchbox deal! And you don’t even need a Kindle device to read the Kindle version! Just go to The Fool’s Illusion’s Amazon page and click the “free app” link underneath the Kindle price. What is the Kindle Matchbox deal? It’s a special where if you buy a print copy of my book you can have a Kindle copy of it for free! If you don’t like reading print or can’t think of anybody who does who you can give the print version to as a gift, then you can purchase the Kindle copy alone for only 99 cents! Again, you don’t need a Kindle device to read the Kindle copy; you can read it on any Windows, Apple or Android device. Just visit the Kindle free app store!

Until next time . . .







Wednesday, June 11, 2014

An Author Supporting His Local Bookstore on a Budget


Photo Credit: Amazon

Saturday I was at The Avid Reader in Davis considering buying Neil Gaiman’s newly released paperback version of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I had told myself, since the day of Gaiman’s novel’s original hardcover release a year ago, that I would purchase Ocean as soon as it released in paperback keeping in mind the $8 “pocket” size mass market version. When I saw that the paperback was a $16 trade version, I had second thoughts. I thought that if I’m going to pay $16 for a trade version of Ocean, then I’ll just try to get it used on Amazon. I could probably purchase a hardcover version of it on there for less than the paperback version offered at brick-and–mortar stores. However, while considering my budget, I try to purchase my books at my local independently owned bookstore, in which Avid Reader is, as much as possible. So I ended up buying another author’s book I had been considering, Beth Revis’ YA space opera, Acrossthe Universe. Even though that was a trade edition itself, it only cost me 10 bucks. Buying at an independently owned book store will not only keep much of the money in the local community but will also strengthen the local literary culture.

Photo Credit: Amazon

As a person who believes in contributing to community and local culture, I try to keep the money at home. By this I mean that when I purchase at locally owned stores, the money for those purchases are going back into those stores’ community. I admit that I’m not an economics expert, but I don’t want all my money for a purchase to go to some suit in a corporate tower across state or even on the opposite side of the nation (I’m on the West coast) who doesn’t give a damn about who purchases the products they distribute but just want the money from those purchases. Generally, the CEOs don’t give a damn about the individual communities they’re selling or distributing  to yet never see. They don’t care about the culture surrounding their products, in this case books. They don’t care who’s who in the various branches of their business across the nation and the world over. Those branches are just units of a machine to them, an impersonal network that pumps in the cash.

The locally owned, independent bookstores, the few that are left at least, don’t only care about the books they sell but also the people they are selling them to who are often avid readers. They are enthused about the books and the literary culture surrounding them, wanting to enhance that culture, and so are ready to promote local authors especially newer ones. That’s why you’ll see book signing events at these indie stores that feature authors who may be known around the community but often not worldwide via a best seller’s list. They tend to cater to the people in the local area and are less worried about how they‘re going to market a particularly book or service in a branch in Australia. Like the public library, they sponsor programs for both adults and children, often book reading clubs for the adults and storytelling time for the children and thematic arts and crafts to go along with it. They support community-wide events such as art walks and will often display local fine artists’ work in their stores. And so you can almost be sure that even when you purchase a big publisher’s book, such as Harper’s, at a locally owned bookstore, a significant portion of the money is going to go to the community at least through city, or maybe even county, revenue if nothing else. It, or the majority of it at least, won’t go to some big chain store’s headquarters that most shoppers haven’t even seen.

It’s true that chain bookstores such as Barnes and Noble (which I heard has not been doing too well with their sales and may go the way of Borders) have their book culture events, such as book club meet-ups. But they’re often for the reason of selling a single book or series of books such as the Harry Potter or The Hunger Games series and so these clubs or their individual meet-ups often are based on big selling titles such as these two. And so big chain bookstores centering their literary cultural events around these best sellers is more of the agenda of pumping more money out of more consumers to go into the company rather than the local community. It’s an agenda that cares little about the culture of books in general, even within certain genres such as sci fi/fantasy, romance or thriller and more about the individual product being sold and the increase (as opposed to the simple maintenance) of profits.


I’m not saying I don’t want to see my books, currently TheFool’s Illusion, sold beyond my local community. Most of us writers want to make sufficient money off our books and those of us who are lesser known can only do it by distributing our work beyond our home areas. I’m just saying that I want my books to be sold for the love of books themselves rather than to simply make ever increasing profits off of them. If those profits continue to increase inevitably then good, I can definitely go for that! But I’m going to make my books products of the local community rather than of the impersonal corporate system that many best sellers too often get caught up in and, when they do, the major publishing houses rather than the authors have too much control of how their sequels (if any) and the authors’ future works are written.

I’m a member of my home community of Sacramento, not a member of the global corporate system and so I’m going to market my books among the locally owned stores here way before I do to big chain stores elsewhere. I want people the world over to buy my books, sure. But I want people in my home area to also buy and read them and so I want to support the local literary culture. Like I was born here, Fool’s Illusion was also born here. We’re both members of the local community and so we’ll support that community first and foremost.


I’m in the process of pitching Fool’s Illusion to locally owned bookstores. Expect to see live signings by me in the Sacramento area soon. Exactly where and when, I’ll mention in upcoming blog entries. So keep tuning in.

Until next time . . . 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

CW’s upcoming ‘iZombie’ deviating too far from its comic book origins?

iZombie vol. I graphic novel cover
Photo Credit: Vertigo


DC comics announced last Thursday, May 8, that The CW officially decided to make the Vertigo comic book, “iZombie”, into a live series. Though not as popular among comic book fans as The Walking Dead has been that has also been running as a TV series for the last four seasons, it shouldn’t be surprising that it has been given the official permission to be adapted into a TV series during this time of a zombie craze in pop culture. The iZombie comic and graphic novel series is my “Walking Dead”, since I never cared for The Walking Dead comics or television show. And so I was proud to hear that iZombie would be adapted to TV. That is until I read about several changes in the original storyline that could make the series resemble almost nothing of its comic book origins.

What’s so different about this comic book, created by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred and published by DC imprint Vertigo, is that unlike most other zombie comics the young heroine, Gwendolyn (“Gwen”), herself is a zombie. She’s intelligent regardless of her occupation of grave digger which she takes up in order to access the brains of fresh corpses for food in order to stay “alive” and so to keep her human state of mind and from going into a total rot that would cause her to lose her feminine beauty forever. (Okay, at least relative feminine beauty since she’s a little pale, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder as they say.) But there is a price to pay for eating these brains and it’s not taken out of her paycheck: many of the corpses are ones of murder victims whose disturbing memories invade Gwen’s mind and in order to get rid of them she must track down the murderers and bring them to justice.

But now here’s the problem with the upcoming TV series: regardless of the main character’s name change from Gwen to Liv, who is to be played by Rose McIver (Once Upon a Time), she has been given the role of coroner in place of grave digger. A beautiful heroine who is a med student and helps the cops solve homicide cases with her zombie psychic ability taking the role of grave digger probably wouldn’t look so good to a television audience. Which brings us to producers Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars) and Diane Ruggiero’s other rewrite of the script. In the comic, Gwen often solved these cases on her own or with her supernatural friends (a were-terrier and the ghost of a ‘60s girl). Because of these rewrites—the main character’s role of coroner technician, her partners in crime being people of the mainstream (let alone living) such as the cops and her medical examiner supervisor—CW’s iZombie may be not much more than just another front for a crime series. A front to gratify a Hollywood inclined audience with gun violence exploitation and the all too old car chase scenes, all for the purpose of studio and television network executives to make profits off of that audience that has unwittingly seen these same old tropes all their lives.

Not that TV crime drama shouldn’t cross over into the horror and sci fi genres. There has been horror and science fiction television that has crossed with the crime genre in ways that support the storyline really well. This is the case with Fox’s Sleepy Hollow which involves Ichabod Crane having awakened from a 250 year long sleep to the present day and helps the skeptical cops track down the Headless Horseman who continues hacking off people’s heads. The ‘90s had the X-Files in which FBI Agents Mulder and Scully attempted to solve classified cases involving UFOs and the paranormal. The show’s ‘70s predecessor, Kolchak: The Nightstalker, involved a reporter who investigated similar cases connected with crime. Similarly, any decent adaptation of iZombie definitely calls for solving murder cases since the comic book often involved such storylines due to the nature of the main character.

The real problem here is that, unless we’re given further notice that the other supernatural characters from the comic book will be included, the supporting characters in the iZombie TV series would probably drown out the paranormal elements of the plot making it come across more as a crime drama than a horror or dark fantasy. This would be regardless of DC.com’s Tim Beadle’s claim that the show will be like no other zombie series, which, to an extent, he would be right. It wouldn’t be like Walking Dead which is based more on the ideas of George A. Romero’s 1968 movie, Night of the Living Dead, and so is more apocalyptic in theme. Besides the comic book’s twists and as Thomas himself says, it’s not apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic and so it takes place in an everyday life setting. So on the level of zombie television shows and movies it may be very different. However, on the level of supernatural shows especially ones involving psychics assisting with homicidal investigations, such as Medium and Psych, it may not be that different.

We can only hope the producers have more surprises up their sleeves and so will reveal further twists to this series that make up for the above mentioned old TV tropes as the production of the pilot episode comes to completion, which an expected date for has not yet been revealed.


Do you think iZombie as a TV series has potential to differentiate itself from other paranormal crime dramas? Feel free to leave your comments in the box below.

Until next time . . . 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Book Review: The Age Atomic


Photo Credit: Adam Christopher/Will Staehle/Angry Robot Books

I’ve had numerous projects that I’ve been working on for the last several weeks, one of them being the continuous marketing of Fool’s Illusion. This includes contacting book reviewers to review my book. If any of you out there are book reviewers and care to review Fool’s Illusion, let me know by emailing me at   strosejr@gmail.com and we can talk about it.  Please indicate “Book Review for Fool’s Illusion” in the subject line when emailing me. I’m also in the middle of pitching Fool’s Illusion to local bookstores hoping they’ll sell it on their shelves for me and so I can get a cut of the profit. All this while I’m still trying to keep on top of writing new fiction as well as articles that I write for both Examiner.com and here. And so now that brings us to my newest book review of another author’s work that I have posted here at the Fantastic Site in which I’m hoping to post many more in the near future. So take a look at my most current below and feel free to leave any comments or questions in the box.


Book Review: The Age Atomic
Book’s Author: Adam Christopher
Publisher: Angry Robot
Year Published: 2013

For almost 30 years science fiction literature has seen the rise of punk. It started with cyber punk in the mid 1980’s, which resulted in steam punk in the latter part of the decade, and then many lesser known punk subgenres such as splatterpunk (which is more of the horror genre), biopunk, dieselpunk and atompunk. While cyberpunk speculates cyber culture of the future, steam-, bio-, diesel- and atompunk speculate culture and society through alternative histories and time streams. They re-imagine certain periods in history using elements of today’s society, science and technology. They also speculate retro futures and so imagine futures that are more directly derived from particular eras. Steampunk does this with 19th century Victorian society, dieselpunk with society of the 1910s through ‘40s, and atompunk with mid 1940s to mid 1960s society (though it can be debated that it covers a longer period). While steampunk imagines history with today’s computer technology powered by steam as opposed to electricity, silicon or transistors, dieselpunk does this with early 20th century industrial motorised technology and atompunk with atomic science and cold war politics. Atompunk re-imagines history with robots, mad scientists, and ray guns along with today’s speculation of parallel universes, alternative histories, and even internet and social media to a degree. It also involves many of today’s social issues at a suggestive or superimposed level. British author Adam Christopher’s novel, The Age Atomic, utilises many of these elements well, even though its quality of writing isn’t the best.


The Age Atomic is a sequel to Christopher’s Empire State, which I have actually not read but wouldn’t mind doing so. My reason for reading Age Atomic first is because since it takes place in the 1950s, while Empire State is set in the ‘40s, it’s more reminiscent of the atomic sci fi drive-in movie culture that I love. But because Age Atomic was so good as far as story goes and because it is a result of the previous novel, I would be willing to read Empire State and learn more the background story for Age Atomic.

Although Age Atomic starts with a brief scene in the late ‘40s, it speeds up to 1954 and introduces Rad Bradley, a detective who is on an assignment investigating a mysterious scientist called “The King of 125th Avenue”. At this point, we are in a New York City of a parallel universe in which that city’s name is the Empire State. There has been an over-freese of the city which was caused by the closing of the portal (called the “Fissure”) between that universe and our own. The over-freese adds to the novel’s apocalyptic theme along with an oncoming armageddon. The freese also suggests today’s concern with climate change and global warming. The armageddon is a war between the King’s army of robots he creates from real people and those of a leader in the New York of our own universe: Evelyn McHale of the radical organization, Atoms for Peace (don’t let the last word in this name fool you!) The twist here isn’t only that McHale is a feminist character that breaks 1950s status quo, but also that she is the ghost of a young woman who committed suicide by jumping off the Empire State Building. Rad discovers that a fellow detective, Jennifer Jones, is looking for her missing brother suspected of having been abducted by the King. The two eventually meet up with Captain Carson who had also been missing and last seen piloting his airship, who in turn meets up with his double of our own dimension’s New York, Captain Nimrod. These four with many other characters team up to put a stop to the oncoming robotic war that threatens to destroy all human existence in both dimensions.

Elements of film noir,1950s science fiction, today’s science fiction involving parallel universes and alternative histories, and even certain modern computer tech terms make Age Atomic the atompunk story that it is. Even the New York of our own universe, referred to as the “Origin” in this novel and also as a template for the Empire State (the “Pocket”), is an alternative history within itself by the very nature of the plot: the doorway between the Origin dimension and the Pocket dimension which, needless to say, recreates history.

The other alternative history is the New York of the Pocket (the Empire State) described as “an imperfect duplicate of New York”, hence the term “template” applied to the New York of our own universe and suggesting today’s software technology. Other suggestions of today’s computer technology are ones referring to internet and social media. An example of this is a scene where two of the King’s robots, referred to as “Ratings . . .  chattered excitedly, their shared words piling over each other. . . .” Terms such as “ratings,” “chattered” and “shared” suggest internet and social media concepts such as rating tools on websites, chat boxes and sharing of posts. And so like what steampunk does with Victorian society and technology, Age Atomic is an intelligent example of what atompunk does with the cold war era’s society and technology to criticise our own internet/social media era.

Besides the superimposing of the two periods’ technologies, there’s also the superimposing of their social issues. A disaster scene where an airship crashes into a sky rise suggests our own 21st century’s 9-11. Similarly, the 1950s communist scare, especially through the threat of Atoms for Peace, compares with the concerns of today’s homeland security act which grew from 9-11 and the War on Terrorism.  Returning to the novel’s analogies of internet technology, the politics over control of the Fissure--a connection between universes like internet is a connection between computers--compares with today’s battle between net neutrality and corporate net control.

While the characters in Age Atomic tend to be somewhat typical, this is probably intentional to fit the novel’s pulp fiction nostalgia. The novel reads like a detective noir as well as a sci fi horror tale and even an epic sci fi adventure movie serial of the 1940s. Rad is the main detective who investigates a robot war scheme and searches for a missing person in connection with it. He is depicted as film noir’s and pulp fiction’s detectives are: a private eye type with his own office and agency. Along with this, the story contains themes of film noir’s interplay of darks and lights but also of gothic horror which is a genre that merged with science fiction elements in the 1930s’ and ‘40s’ horror films. These elements can be found in the book’s mad scientist labouratory scenes.  Rad’s young friend, Kane Fortuna, is a comic book super-hero type character--he wear’s a rocket propelled uniform consisting of a helmet mask and cape. Jennifer is depicted as a film noir/pulp female character in that she is in the victimised position at times, a damsel in distress, but she is also a stronger feminist type: she carries a gun like Rad, but a high tech one that wards off the robots. Also, as indicated earlier, she is a pro investigator like Rad.  

Christopher’s writing style is done well in that it goes with the theme of pulp nostalgia and so is more straight forward than interpretive. However, aside from a clever plot, the writing quality needs improvement. There is wordiness in some parts. There are some grammatical and mechanical errors which may be simply due to misprints and/or typos. Although these aren’t constant, they are a lot considering most other novels written by well known authors such as Orson Scott Card, Harlan Ellison, Ursula Le Guin and William Gibson.

What’s most noticeable is the epilogues. That’s right, there appear to be two of them at the end of the book which is very rare for a novel of any sort, and it is not indicated that the second one is an alternative ending and so this can confuse a reader a bit. Either this was a heading misprint due to poor editing (as in final proof reading) or it was intentional since the ending switches between the two dimensions and so an epilogue was needed for each dimension’s ending scene. But couldn’t Christopher simply put both these scenes in one epilogue and just divide it into two parts?

A couple chapters before the first epilogue, the resolution to the mystery, even though it makes sense and concludes the story well, is done in too speechy a manner and seems a bit rushed. This is done through one character, Nimrod, who explains answers to the questions that the story poses earlier. However, both the final chapters and two epilogues bring a satisfactory ending even if it is a somewhat dark and ironic one that leaves the novel open for another sequel.

While the writing quality of Adam Christopher’s Age Atomic can be better, the conventions of atompunk that consist of elements of our own time and that of the atomic era’s are used cleverly to tell a great story. In doing this, Christopher reflects our own era’s problems while showing a desire for a more innocent, more simple age and how it dealt with its own social and political fears. He brings back elements of a past speculative culture while yet relating them to our own time which is what alternative history subgenres such as steampunk, dieselpunk and, of course, atompunk do. These criticise science and technology’s impact on society, science and technology that hasn’t occurred yet such as mass robot wars and discovering doorways to other universes. This criticising should be the minimum that all good science fiction does, regardless of subgenre.


Note: The copy of The Age Atomic reviewed here was purchased by your faithful blogger. The book’s author or publisher has not paid me a penny or any gifts for this review nor do I expect them to.


Until next time . . .