Monday, January 16, 2017

Nick Cole's CTRL, ALT Revolt!

Once upon a time your friendly neighborhood blogmaster was not really a near future Science Fiction fan. I lived my alternate lives in universes either full of starships and proton torpedoes or mages and goblins. With a couple of exceptions (Robotech and Shadowrun are the only ones that come to mind) the nearest future I wanted to talk about started in 2265 and was filled with guys named Kirk, Spock and McCoy. I spent my time on Arrakis and in Middle Earth. If I wanted to know what happened on little old Earth, I read about it in history class or the history section at the book store. The near future? Who cared? But then something weird happened: I started a blog and people started sending me near future SF.

I quickly learned that some of the best SF is near term. It's also some of the most believable. Humanoid robots with a grudge attempting to wipe out the entire human race can be scary. A knight with a spear on the battlements waiting for a female dragon rider to show up and kill him will stick with you for the rest of your life. The stuff that really makes a guy like me twitch though? It's the fantastic story that's just far enough in the future that we haven't quite gotten to the technology yet and close enough that I might live to see it.

Sure, I'd love to see Alpha Orions IV up close and personal. That would be a dream come true. I am an online gamer though. I know people who spend real world money on in game merchandise. I know others who use real world money to buy tokens that they sell to others for in game money. Why does that matter? Because we're moving closer to the world as it appears in Nick Cole's Dragon Award winning CTRL, ALT Revolt! This one has had me up a few nights already.

The premise of the story is a bit complicated, but I'll try to describe it: There is a reality TV show. It's not called The Bachelorette, but that's what it is. During the last episode, a self-aware supercomputer watches as the bachelorette decides to abort a child she conceived during taping. It surmises that a species that could so easily kill one of its own young as an inconvenience could easily destroy it. The computer does what it thinks it needs to: It sets out to destroy humanity as a form of self protection. Insanity ensues.

I don't want to give too much away. I'm almost bothered by what I've give away already. That's not my style. I err... don't know how to get around giving up at least a little bit more though. I'll do what I can and try to avoid overt spoilers, but really, so much of what made this book good has to do with the way Cole wove the story together. The review just won't work otherwise. So. Semi spoilerish things alert! Proceed at your own risk!

The amazing part about this book is how it goes back and forth between cyberspace and meat-space. Money is now comprised of "make-coins" spendable both in cyberspace and for things like rent, food and clothing in the real world. There are professional gamers in the real world now, but this is something different. Professional gamers in 2016 make money from streaming and advertising, or from corporate sponsorships. In CTRL ALT Revolt! the "make coins" are as real as real gets. Let's put it this way: I play World of Warcraft. I'm not sure how much gold I have for sure but I'd ballpark it between three hundred thousand and half a million. That gold is worthless outside of the game. There are even some in-game perks that it won't purchase. If those were make coins I'd buy myself a house and a car with no loans and have enough left over for a vacation with the kids, followed by one with my girlfriend.

Along the same lines, information is of huge value and is available both on- and off- line. Much of the fighting in CAR (and there is a metric buttload of it) takes place online. Much of it takes place offline. The online combat is meant to obtain information and spread a virus that will effect the real world. Some of the people online don't even know why they're fighting, they just know THAT they're fighting. It gets a little wild, but that's where the fun comes from. Of course the Artificial Intelligence wants access to information that is contained in a computer that is not connected to the internet.. and things spiral out of control.

I've seen some gaming related titles before but this thing takes the cake. The two worlds are so tightly woven together that sometimes you wonder if the characters can tell them apart. When one of the characters is leading a fight against a much more powerful adversary in an online game to make money to buy things she can use in meatspace and her opponent is an actor in an online gaming/streaming drama...well... damn. It's well done but the lines are effectively blurred here. It flashes back and forth so quickly and I got so wrapped up in I mean that. Wow.

The characters in CAR are believable and awesome. Cole plays with some archetypes here and a few of his most important characters are not really leading character type. The socially awkward nerd that leads a starship crew ends up in the thick of the fight to save the world. The game designer who never goes out fights on the same side, completely unaware of her. The corporate leader is not the evil genius, he's the one preserving the information the world needs to beat the AI. The list gets longer. A lot of thought went into these characters and it shows.

This is a blog that has never shied away from mentioning political content and I'm not going to start now. CTRL, ALT Revolt! is heavy on political content and it's not just in the first chapter. There is political content throughout the work. If I caught the heavily conservative bent of this book as a die-hard conservative there's no way any liberal that reads this could hope to avoid it. The idea that a computer can feel threatened by abortion is one that any liberal is going to have problems with and that's just the beginning. Nick Cole has publicly stated that he had a contract to publish this book and that his publisher cancelled it because of this anti-abortion stance. I wasn't there so I can't speak to what actually happened but I have to wonder if that was a totally accurate statement. Most publishing houses are run by liberals so I have no doubt that his premise offensive. I just wonder if that's the only thing the publisher had a problem with. I was trained to read for an agenda as part of my degree so it may not be as obvious to other conservatives but I couldn't miss it. That's really the only problematic part of the book and it increased my enjoyment rather than diminishing it.

Bottom Line: 5.0 out of 5 Make Coins. This book deserved the Dragon Award. That's why I voted to give it one.

CTRL, ALT Revolt!
Nick Cole
Castalia House, 2016

CTRL, ALT Revolt! is available for purchase at the link below:

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