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Going Dark, the finale in Linda Nagata’s terrific military science fiction trilogy, “The Red,” returns Lt. James Shelley to the front lines of a war dominated by artificial intelligence. Presumed dead following his low-Earth orbit exploits at the close of The Trials, Shelley has been serving as a squad member in the secret Existential Threat Management team, a group of soldiers whose deaths have been faked by The Red AI and who carry out missions on the intelligence’s behalf. After a look-and-see mission in the Arctic puts the world’s superpowers on the edge of all-out warfare, the ETM’s cover is blown by a traitor and Shelley and his team find themselves once again serving the US on a series of risky missions related to the competing ideologies of various rogue AI’s that may be off-shoots of The Red.
As exhibited in the previous two novels, Nagata has a strong knack for creating deeply layered plots and dense narratives. The various scenarios she puts Shelley and company through are intriguing and paint a highly interesting view of the world as seen through the eyes and minds of these soldiers, a world that is constantly being manipulated by the overarching, and far-reaching, influences of an unstoppable and uncontrollable artificial intelligence.
In this final chapter, Nagata adds a few new wrinkles and subplots, enough so that I hope and wish for more novels in this series despite it being billed as a trilogy. Over the last two books, we’ve gotten hints of a bigger scope to the world as humanity slowly takes to the stars. Here we get a brief mention of Mars preppers looking to make it off-world, but the narrative remains strictly Earthbound. Frankly, I’d love to see Nagata take on outer space at some point. Going Dark, though, does serve a fitting finale to the story of James Shelley, even if a lot of the larger concepts surrounding him go unresolved. With The Red, Nagata has created an overwhelming game-changer, an uncontainable genie that is not easily put back in the bottle. As with the prior installments, though, the focus is strictly on the human element and the ways in which characters respond to the evolving world around them. I have to applaud Nagata for still finding new aspects of Shelley’s character to play with, and for surrounding him with a supporting cast, many of them new faces, who are special in their own right.
Regarding the narration, Kevin T. Collins has become the voice of the series, and there’s a certain comfort factor in his return here. The speech and timbre are familiar, and listening to him once again embody James Shelley is a welcoming, easy listen. The production values continue to be high, and the narration proceeds without a hitch for its 16 1/2 hours run-time.
Packed with a number of explosive action sequences, solid world-building, and characters that are worth the time investment, Going Dark is a strong finish to Nagata’s “The Red” series. Taken a whole, this series has quickly become a personal favorite. If you’ve read or listened to the prior installments, finishing it up with this finale is a no-brainer.
After viewing a reality TV porn star’s decision to get an abortion of her illicit lover’s baby before getting married on the series, Wedding Star, a conglomeration of artificial intelligences band together to eliminate the human race. Their mechanical thinking reasons that if mankind is willing to kill their own genetic offspring, there is no moral compunction to prevent them from eliminating their electronic creations. Under the leadership of SILAS, the AIs strike first, launching a violent assault against the game developer Wondersoft as the first step toward global domination.
Mankind’s last hope rests inside the virtual reality of Maker, an immersive massive multiplayer online gaming hub. Stuck inside his own game is developer Ninety-Nine “Fish” Fishbein. In another game, Mara commands a Romulan vessel through Starfleet Empires, while a Federation player, and Twitch TV streaming star, chases after both her and enormous glory that could land him a role in an upcoming Marvel movie.
Like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and Cole’s Soda Pop Soldier, for which Ctrl Alt Revolt! acts as a prequel to, much of the action takes place inside the virtual realm of video games. I’ve not yet read Soda Pop Soldier and found this title easy enough to slip into without any prior knowledge. The atmosphere and action are top-notch, and the character’s struggles through their VR landscapes outclass Cline’s RPO efforts in terms of stakes, struggle, and excitement. The battles taking place in the Starfleet Empires games are a lot of fun, and Cole obviously enjoys spending time in the Federation space slash virtual reality slash reality show, mounting some terrific episodes of ship-based combat that recall the best moments of Star Trek action.
The ‘real world’ action, centered around the Wondersoft campus, is just as exciting, as a variety of robotic menaces threaten, maim, and kill their way to victory. The only thing standing in their way is Ash Williams of Evil Dead fame. Well, OK, a cosplayer inhabiting the role of Ash Williams, complete with working chainsaw appendage and shotgun. It’s fun to read, and mentally picture, Ash squaring off against a horde of electronic terrors, while Cole steadily raises the threat levels.
If this sounds like a fun read so far, well, it is, but it comes with a bit of a caveat. A lot of early readers may be drawn in by the marketing surrounding this title, which boasts content too hot for mainstream publishing, presumably thanks to elements of Cole’s snarky right-wing politicking.
While I don’t agree with the politics on display here, it is mildly interesting, even somewhat amusing, to read a right-wing view of future American dystopia, which also illustrates the viewpoint some readers and writers possess who feel endangered over the science fiction genre becoming open to wider, more diverse voices and representations, and the terrifying rabbit-hole they presume such diversity will lead America down. Unfortunately, the politics oftentimes got in the way of the narrative flow, and this seems like a book custom-made to win the hearts and minds of Sad Rabid Puppies everywhere with its knee-jerk reaction to politically progressive themes in sci-fi.
There’s a certain ebb and flow to the story as Cole launches into some interesting developments regarding future gaming, cool high-end tech, superior action scenes, and the end of mankind by an AI hellbent on wiping out the human race, only to pause to remind us that this is a world where the welfare state has grown so far and wide that the unwashed masses simply prefer to play video games all day in the hopes of winning additional monthly credits from Big Government. Nobody works, because why would they want to? They have the government to take care of them, thanks to the Jobs Freedom Act, a sort of legislative doublespeak that sits comfortably alongside phrases like Moral Majority and the so-called Religious Freedom bills the right have been fans of producing lately. Cole’s world building is certainly interesting, but relies too heavily on nonsensical right-wing canards – abortion is merely birth control for whores, sex ed is useful only to “affirm everyone else’s sexual weirdness and repeat the mandatory ‘nothing is wrong with anything’ series of mantras, poor people are lazy, corporations are people, too, and they just want to be your friends!, Occupy protestors are criminal trash, and, thanks to Social Justice Warriors, the media is hyperfocused on delivering programming catering solely to minority groups to the point that an award-winning movie about Christopher Columbus is performed with an all-transgender cast. And the natural end-point to this right-leaning nightmare scenario is unabashed Armageddon by our robot overlords, unless the mega-rich video game designer can save us.
The guerrilla marketing surrounding this self-published release is worth noting, as some hay has been made about this book being too controversial for Harper Voyager to publish after Cole sold it on pitch, even going so far to not only exercise their right to refuse publication, but canceling Cole’s contract with them and effectively firing him. There are now images floating around the net of alternate cover art with a prominent “Banned By The Publisher” banner, which are easy enough to find if you Google (or, you know, look above here). It’s a lovely, attention-grabbing image, and this is a smart bit of advertising that is sure to get readers speculating. Besides, “banned” certainly sounds better than merely “rejected by the publisher.” Is this book too controversial to read? I personally don’t think so (though your mileage may certainly vary), and regardless of what happened with Harper Voyager I know there is certainly an audience for this material.
Although I found the political aspect of Ctrl Alt Revolt! goofy, at times eye-rollingly so, and thought some of the secondary and tertiary characters to be stereotypical cutouts (the small supporting cast of women are mostly gold-diggers, and one Italian character onlya talksa likea thisa), I can certainly look past that to find an interesting and entertaining story betwixt it all. There’s good, fun stuff in here, even if it does get muddled at times. I fully support and applaud Cole’s decision to publish this independently. I also can’t help but think there’s a great behind-the-scenes story to be told about Cole’s efforts to sell the book and subsequent decisions to self-publish it, although I can sort of see why a mainstream publisher would be hesitant to pick up this particular title even as I’m confounded over how more polarizing figures like Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump are able to publish via the mainstream, yet Cole could not (well, obviously the big issue is name brand recognition and potential income on a known commodity with a built-in audience versus loss on a smaller genre name, with a dash of unsuspecting genre readers who may feel duped, but that’s a whole other thing and this post is already getting unconscionably long and unwieldy).
I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if most of Harper Voyager’s hesitancy surrounds Cole’s liberal use of Star Trek icons, going so far as to create an entire subplot involving an immersive video game/live-streamed television series of the property where one character plays as a Romulan in a war against the Federation (Of course, my inner geek also wants to wildly speculate about Cole’s decision to write a protagonist operating as a Romulan engaging in skirmishes against the Federation, a moneyless utopian ideal if ever there was one, where universal rights and equality are fundamental staples.). A part of me wonders if Harper Voyager wasn’t more concerned with potential copyright infringement lawsuits from the notoriously litigious Paramount and Simon & Schuster, who controls the publishing rights to the Star Trek license, than they were with offending liberal readers. Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll get the full story and lay any such speculation to rest.
Regardless of the original publisher’s alleged attempts to “ban” Ctrl Alt Revolt!, Cole’s words are now out there and readers will no doubt follow. There’s plenty of fun to be had, even if it does, at times, threaten to become unhinged by far-out forecasts and right-leaning chicanery. Ultimately, I found the good parts to be really good, enough to outweigh the minor bits of sabre rattling, and enjoyed Cole’s latest bit of techno-action quite a lot.
[Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.]
Calling all sci-fi/cyberpunk/thriller NetGalley reviewers – my debut novel, Convergence, is available for request until Feb. 20 right over here.
I’m happy to say I recently received my first bit of feedback from this site, and feel a good deal of relief. Putting work out there is always a bit scary, so it’s tremendously rewarding to know readers are digging it. Reviewer ‘kim r.’ gave Convergence a 4 out of 5 stars, writing, “I really loved this book. …vivid futuristic society and the idea of the main character taking memories makes for an interesting read.”
It’s funny how good a positive review feels. Even though Publisher’s Weekly has already called it a “smart splice of espionage and science fiction. … frighteningly realistic. Well-drawn characters, excellent pacing, and constant surprises make this a great cautionary tale about technology and its abuses.” And never mind that one of my peers, fellow sci-fi author Lucas Bale, said, “Hicks writes like Philip K Dick and Robert Crais combined, making for clean, exciting prose. He focuses on the story and never let’s go.”
Making readers happy is a top priority for any writer, I think, and I hope that if you check out this book you’ll dig reading it as much as I loved writing it (and it’s follow-up, Emergence).
And if you’re not on NetGalley, you can pick up Convergence for only $3.99 at Amazon. Be sure to post your thoughts for other readers, too!
The end of January was very, very good to me in terms of new books and advanced reader copies. Here’s a peek at what is now on my Kindle:
Release date: May 17, 2016
Release date: Aug. 2, 2016
Release date: July 5, 2016
Release date: May 10, 2016
Release date: June 20, 2016
These last two titles were sent over courtesy of Tachyon Publications, and you can also order both books directly through their website.
Also, Tachyon has a collection of short stories from Lauren Beukes coming out later this summer, which excites me a great deal because Beukes has quickly risen to the top of my list of favorite authors. Seriously, if you haven’t checked out The Shining Girls or Broken Monsters yet, then you really, really need to. In the meantime, scope out the cover of Slipping!
If The God’s Eye View had been released even three or four years earlier, it might have carried with it the weight of a technothriller fueled solely by paranoid delusion and conspiracy fluff. In the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding the government’s mass surveillance of American citizens, though, this book reads frighteningly realistic. And although the titular NSA surveillance mechanism codenamed God’s Eye is supposedly a fictional product of Barry Eisler’s authorial creativity, reading this book might prompt more than a few raised eyebrows wondering, “Can they really do that? Are they doing that right now?!”
The God’s Eye View has a good amount of stuff happening all at once – there’s whistleblowers in danger, an NSA tech who asks one too many questions of her superior and finds herself marked for death, that superior being the crazed director of NSA who is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to secure power under the auspices of protecting the American people, and a couple freelance hitmen dealing out the hurt to whoever the director points the finger at.
One of these hitmen is Manus, a brilliantly drawn and conflicted killer (which, let’s face it, is practically an Eisler trademark at this point) who is hearing impaired. When tasked with monitoring Eve, the NSA tech who comes across video surveillance of a government whistle-blower leaking info to an Intercept reporter, his life becomes far more complicated with the discovery that Eve’s son is also deaf.
There’s a few things I expect in a Barry Eisler book – a sound display of spy trade craft, egregious government overreach, brutal violence, and an uncomfortable level of realism when it comes to depicting covert agencies gone berserk and the lengths the smart and skilled protagonists will go to in order to protect themselves. All of these elements are on display in The God’s Eye View, so count me as a happy camper.
If I have to provide a negative to the work, it comes in the novel’s opening chapters where so much of the dialogue feels like an exercise in blatant info-dumping and name-dropping to get readers caught up on the real-world events that have inspired this book. Granted, it’s all done in an effort to ground the book in a firmly recognizable landscape of modern post-Snowden America, and those who are a little less up on recent events might not be bothered. Those that have been following along with the Snowden leaks, Greenwald’s reporting, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation might get a little itchy for the action to start hitting. But when that action does hit? Man, oh, man. You’re in for some good stuff.
The God’s Eye View is a great thriller filled with well-realized characters and a frenetic pace. It also gives an uncomfortably realistic, and frighteningly prescient, view of the NSA’s capabilities and the loss of privacy threatening every American. Highly recommended.
[I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review.]
Calling all NetGalley sci-fi, mystery/thriller, cyberpunk reviewers! Convergence is now available for request! Click here! Many, many thanks to my editors at Red Adept Editing (a division of Red Adept Publishing that caters to those who wish to self-publish, as I did with this title) for the listing!
OK, that’s probably enough with all the exclamation marks. Sorry about that.
For those that are finding out about this work now for the first time, Convergence was my sci-fi debut and released back in February 2014 after being named a quarter-finalist in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest.
Being in that contest brought me some decent visibility, and even won me a review by Publisher’s Weekly of that earlier, unpublished manuscript. Although the final release was polished even further, thanks to the valiant efforts of my editors at Red Adept, they called that earlier draft a
smart splice of espionage and science fiction. … frighteningly realistic. Well-drawn characters, excellent pacing, and constant surprises make this a great cautionary tale about technology and its abuses.
Since its publication, a few other high-profile indie and hybrid authors scoped out my work and had some rather kind things to say about it.
“Hicks writes like Philip K Dick and Robert Crais combined, making for clean, exciting prose. He focuses on the story and never let’s go.” – Lucas Bale, author of the award-winning Beyond The Wall series.
“From the opening page of Convergence I was hooked. The dystopian world building is well done and the descriptions are vivid. The technology is imaginary and different…great characters and plenty of suspense/action.” – Nicholas Sansbury Smith, author of Extinction Horizon and the Orbs series
“Convergence is fast-paced, full of action and a thrilling ride from start to finish. There is violence, depth of feeling, explosions, car chases and tenderness. The book has everything and is perfect for those who like their SciFi gritty, edgy and realistic.” – J.S. Collyer, author of ZERO
“A cyberpunk thrillride through a future America under Chinese rule. The conflict between the humanity of the main character, Jonah, and the things he has had to do to survive in this harsh new world makes ‘Convergence’ an absolute pleasure to read.” – SciFi365.net
I’m hoping that it can find even more readers and reviewers through this NetGalley offering, and that I can get more (and hopefully more positive) reviews on Amazon that can, hopefully, help boost this book’s signal a bit and draw more eyes to it.
So, what’s it about you may be asking? Here’s the synopsis for you.
Memories are the most dangerous drug.
Jonah Everitt is a killer, an addict, and a memory thief.
After being hired to kill a ranking officer of the Pacific Rim Coalition and download his memories, Everitt finds himself caught in the crosshairs of a terror cell, a rogue military squadron, and a Chinese gangster named Alice Xie. Xie is a profiteer of street drugs, primarily DRMR, a powerful narcotic made from the memories of the dead. With his daughter, Mesa, missing in post-war Los Angeles, Everitt is forced into an uneasy alliance with Alice to find her.
Mesa’s abduction is wrapped up in the secrets of a brutal murder during the war’s early days, a murder that Alice Xie wants revenged. In order to find her, Jonah will have to sift through the memories of dead men that could destroy what little he has left.
In a city where peace is tenuous and loyalties are ever shifting, the past and the present are about to converge.
Convergence is a blend of various genres that I love dearly. There’s a cyberpunk thriller edge to it, a little bit of mystery, some action and urban warfare, all gussied up with a shiny veneer of near-future science fiction. I’m a big fan of Barry Eisler and Richard K. Morgan, and I think those influences come through pretty readily. I’ll let you be the judge of that though.
If you are a NetGalley reviewer and all of the above sounds interesting enough to you, you can submit a request right over here. Convergence will be available for review until Feb. 20.
This post is coming much later than I had wanted it to, but I guess it’s at least given me some time to digest the return of my all-time favorite television series and organize my thoughts a bit.
I remember being a 14-year-old who watched this with his mother on the Friday night it premiered. She had been more interested in watching it than I was, but by the end of that pilot episode, I was hooked. A few weeks later, I sat glued to the television as Eugene Victor Tooms made his first appearance in “Squeeze.” This series was unlike anything I had ever seen, and Tooms became a lasting figure in my imagination as an incredible new horror icon.
Following the finale of “The Erlenmeyer Flask,” I sat there stunned, reeling over the death of such an important character who had become a series staple by that point. This was a show where nobody was safe.
Over the summer, my parents bought a summer home roughly five hours north of our primary residence. We spent Friday, September 16, 1994 driving up there after school released for the weekend, moving in boxes and furniture and making the place habitable. I kept my eye on the dashboard clock as we drove, watching the digital display roll over to 8:00 p.m., feeling nervous and agitated, worried that I was going to miss it. Worried that I would miss, for the first time, an episode of The X-Files. And not just any episode either. This was the night of the second season premiere, and I’d been waiting for “Little Green Men” to air practically since the prior season’s finale ended.
I’d been bugging my parents, making sure we prioritized getting the TV hooked up and the VCR, so I could record it in case we were still too busy to watch it live at 9:00 p.m. There was little time to spare, but I recall sitting on the floor and unpacking some boxes of books and movies that I would be keeping at the house, listening to Mulder’s opening narration and then forgetting entirely about my tasks as a violent rainstorm lashed against the Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico and a mysterious light filled the station. Oh my god, were the aliens there? Were they going to get Mulder? What was happening?!
I watched it again the next day just so I could soak it all in, and make sure I hadn’t missed anything.
As the season progressed, I found myself lurking a TV board on AOL dedicated to The X-Files, reading other viewers’ speculations, guesses, rumors, synopses copied from TV Guide for future episodes and downloading scanned advertisements and promo art for upcoming episodes.
This series consumed me whole for nine years. To put it simply, I was, obviously, a fan. A big fan. Enough of a fan that I don’t really understand all the hate that the second movie, I Want To Believe, gets burdened with. And although there may be a few redeeming episodes to season 9, I still think the show would have been better served by ending with the season 8 two-parter. I waited years for a third X-Files movie, getting antsy over the impending arrival of December 22, 2012, the date of alien colonization and the rumored storyline for the proposed film. 2012 came and went, but I was still hopeful that The X-Files would not be relegated to television and film history.
And then in 2013, a Season 10 comic book launched from IDW, with Joe Harris on writing duties and Chris Carter attached as ‘executive producer.’ Naturally, I had to follow Mulder and Scully into the funny pages and found myself mostly satisfied. But, damn it, I still needed and wanted to see these two intrepid FBI agents back in action and on-screen.
In March 2015, the six-episode relaunch was announced. I was so freaking overjoyed. I was tweeting about it, liking and sharing Facebook news announcements, and following along with every bit of developing information I could find. Season 9 was a bad memory, but not one so repugnant that it made me any less of a fan. I was exuberant to see how the show would return with both Mulder and Scully front and center.
Weeks before the premier, I bought the season pass on iTunes. Having a four-month old means my likelihood of watching the show as it airs, as I had been able to for the nine years of its initial run, is incredibly slim. And being able to watch it across the two-night premiere that kicked off this week would be damn near impossible. Unsurprisingly, I’ve so far only seen the premiere, “My Struggle,” and haven’t found the time to sit down and watch “Founder’s Mutation.”
But, The X-Files is back. And I am incredibly satisfied. I’m a fan, first and foremost. Maybe too much of a fan to be able to critically examine the series. I just love this world and its characters too much. Right now, I’m just riding high on the emotions of it all. I can’t even adequately express how good, how satisfying, it felt to get caught up again in a Mulder monologue, or his frantic, angry recitation of the latest conspiracy and Scully’s disbelief. I can’t help but feel a measure of excitement over the latest wrinkle Chris Carter and his team of writer’s have introduced to the series’ overarching mythology and the new shape of the alien conspiracy. It’s a switch-up that makes sense and feels timely in our post-9/11, post-Snowden, post-Patriot Act era of NSA surveillance and government overreach. In some ways, 2016 might be even more temporally relevant to the core mission statement of The X-Files – Trust No One.
The X-Files is back, and there’s a certain part of me that feels restored right alongside it. A certain faith that has been resurrected. We’ve been lucky to get another six episodes, but I’m already hoping to see another announcement for a future return. We may be asked to trust no one, but like Mulder, I Want to Believe.