YA fiction

New Reviews: “Red Queen: The Substrate Wars”

PrintCover3-1964x1395

The Kindle version is available on Amazon here, at only $2.99, while the trade paperback is available here at around $13.

The next two Amazon reviews:

4.0 out of 5 stars Fast paced, well plotted read. December 28, 2014
Good, well paced story. Reminded me of Heinlein’s “juveniles” in the pacing, dialogue, etc; and I mean that in a good sense. Young people (and some not so young) faced with making choices that have far-reaching consequences. An intriguing scientific development which can affect the whole human race forces the protagonists to grow up. I am looking forward to the continuation of the series.
4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed but fun December 30, 2014

I really enjoyed this book, but a warning for the hard science people – you may not like some of the cavalier treatment conservation of mass and energy gets.

Another nitpick I have is the old story of 1) discover a technology on Monday 2) debug the technology on Tuesday and 3) deploy the technology on Wednesday. I exaggerate, but only slightly.

In spite of this I gave it 4 stars, because who doesn’t enjoy giving it to the man?

I would share this reviewer’s concerns if the violations of standard conservation of mass and energy weren’t explained in two ways: explicitly, by Steve Duong (who shares the unease), and implicitly by the “world as simulation” thread of the story, which should leave the reader wondering if the story is taking place in a simulation itself. It’s pointed out that just such violations of physical laws would be expected on the margins of a less-than-perfect simulation, and there’s no reason to believe the physics-as-computation-on-substrate of what we think of reality is free of such flaws.

As for the normal pace of development of a technology, I’m asking the reader to believe Steve Duong is one of those rare geniuses who can do in a week what might take a team of scientists a year. While such people are rare, they do exist; and the story must move fast and so can’t stop to do more than hint at the long process of development in normal teams.

Reviews: “Red Queen: The Substrate Wars”

PrintCover3-1964x1395

The Kindle version is available on Amazon here, at only $2.99, while the trade paperback is available here at around $14 — but use the sale code BOOKDEAL25 for 25% off (I assume until Dec. 25th.)

So far, it’s received two Amazon reviews:

4.0 out of 5 stars
Good read!
By M. Cunningham
Verified Purchase

This is a fast pace science fiction thriller which pits college students against the powers-that-be in a realistic near-future. The dialog and characters are well-developed, believable, and the author seems to capture the mind-set and vernacular of the intellectual college students who tend to rebel against the status-quo. Some of the story had me ‘on the edge of my seat’ so to speak wondering if the college rebels were going to succeed. The novel also gives one much to think about concerning government power, educational systems, capitalism, and the limits of social equality. I heard echoes of Robert Heinlein here (which made sense in reading the author’s end-notes ‘Quotes from the Golden Age of Science Fiction’.) The only disappointment for me was I now have to wait for book 2 to see how the conflict proceeds.

4.0 out of 5 stars
The story took a moment to get going, but …
By Benjamin Olsen
Verified Purchase
The story took a moment to get going, but became one the most engaging reads I’ve encountered in months. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

“Red Queen: The Substrate Wars” for Kindle

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

The Kindle version is available on Amazon here, and at only $0.99 for a week or two so my friends can all buy it cheaply. Of course I want some good reviews to get it going, presuming it deserves them!

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars, first book in a long series.

Set on a California college campus just a decade or two from now, the world of Red Queen is post-terrorist disaster, repressive and censored — rather like China today, but with a stagnant economy and no jobs for young people. In that sense it is a dystopia, though not so far from our own day and time; only a few steps beyond where we are now. The students are cowed but not unaware, and they seize the opportunity to make a difference when their smarts and courage allow it. And so they change the world.

This is Book 1 of Substrate Wars, the series: A growing band of campus freedom-fighters discover a new technology that could either destroy the world, or save it. They take on the responsibility of using it for good. Homeland Security is one step behind them. Spies and traitors lurk. Shall it be repressive bureaucratic stagnation, or human expansion to the stars?

Kindle Format now at $0.99, regular price $3.99. Trade paperback in a few weeks.

“Red Queen: The Substrate Wars,” Second Part

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

I’ve finished a readable draft for the second part of Red Queen: The Substrate Wars, first book in a long series. Beta readers of Part 1 generally liked it and wanted to keep reading, so if you were holding off thinking it’s bad, maybe that will encourage you to give it a read.

In this part, our growing band of campus freedom-fighters discover a new technology that could either destroy the world, or save it. They take on the responsibility of using it for good. Homeland Security is one step behind them.

[edit: removed drafts since full book is available]

There are interesting questions about how much techno-geekery and science you should throw at the reader. Those who aren’t into it will see a paragraph of unintelligible babble and skip over it (“it’s magic!”), and those who are into it will read every word and try to find holes in the science, which they will of course be eager to point out.

So I need a wide variety of readers to help me decide just how far to go. There’s also an interesting problem with exposition: it’s necessary for the omniscient narrator to just tell the reader things, but they are more convincing coming from characters. But then you have long dialogues where characters go on in an unrealistic way. This has been accepted as part of the artifice since the time of the Greeks, but you can go too far. Let me know what you think!

Questions, errors, and comments to: jebkinnison@gmail.com. Hope you enjoy it.

“Red Queen: The Substrate Wars” First Part

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars, Cover

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll have noticed my rate of posting has declined lately. This is because I’m working on a novel, my first venture into fiction in years. It’s science fiction and adventure; my effort to write a good story the kids will both enjoy and learn from, as I did in my youth.

I have criticized modern “politically correct” science fiction for its grim view of progress and its conformist political content. This is my answer to books for young people like Pills and Starships. And the resemblance to Hunger Games is intentional — what Hunger Games gets right is that young people can remake the world to be a better place.

The world of Red Queen is post-terrorist disaster, repressive and regimented — rather like China today, but poorer. In that sense it is a dystopia, though not so far from our own day and time; only a few steps beyond where we are now. The kids are cowed but not unaware, and they seize the opportunity to make a difference when their smarts and courage allow it. And so they change the world.

I’m putting the first section out for beta readers. I’d appreciate any thoughts and error corrections you might have. The science gets more fully explained in the next section, for those of you into physics.

I’m doing a Hugh Howey and publishing this myself. I’d be most interested in hearing from agents or publishers who are interested, but I expect to finish in three months and the legacy publishing timetable is simply too slow, even though a good editor would be very helpful.

So I’m counting on you folks. If you read the first section, send me your comments at jebkinnison@gmail.com, and also email me if you want to be on the beta reader list for the full draft version. I apologize in advance for getting you interested and involved in the story, then making you wait to finish it!

[edit: removed drafts since full book is available]

“Pills and Starships” by Lydia Millet – Pseudo Science Fiction

Pills and Starships by Lydia Millet

Pills and Starships by Lydia Millet

As a reader of science fiction from age 6 (if Tom Swift books qualify, which they do), it pains me to see politicized and depressing stories for young people, promoted by a certain negative East Coast US mindset that believes technology and the future are bad things, that freedom of thought is dangerous, and that Progress is about appointing certain right-thinking types (the nomenklatura that are literate in the arts but not in the sciences) to direct everyone down the righteous path to equality and Utopia.

I also have a background in literary fiction: I have, for example, met John Updike at a Harvard writing class where he was a special guest, and experienced the joy of rejection slips with encouraging notes from the New Yorker. The New York/East Coast literary establishment — the academics, the publishers in Manhattan, the magazines that dictated tastes and high culture like the New Yorker — are in steep decline these days, and the damnable public insists on reading much more genre fiction, finding the literary novel less accessible and entertaining. Nothing makes a high-literary sort burn with resentment more than seeing self-published trash like 50 Shades of Gray and good science fiction like the Wool series route around the tasteful gatekeepers to make $millions for their authors.

Thus there is a temptation for literary authors whose sales are flagging to try to write in genres that might sell better. Unfortunately they sometimes try science fiction (which, if it is less technological but still projects a future society that runs on different principles, is sometimes called “speculative fiction.”) Being a futurist or technologist, or both, is not something most literary authors have the background for, and their lack of interest shows when they try it — generally they pick up the most hackneyed, uncreative current memes about the future and project them, mixed with their political biases, into a future world or society that is implausible to any student of technology or history.

A fine early example of this was Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which could only have been written by someone ignorant of the true American character. Somehow a people who are cantankerous and barely able to tolerate gun regulation are going to acquiesce to a fundamentalist religious dictatorship that enslaves women — really? Only an academic author would believe something so preposterous. The Wikipedia entry on the novel sets the scene:

Beginning with a staged terrorist attack (blamed on Islamic extremist terrorists) that kills the President and most of Congress, a movement calling itself the “Sons of Jacob” launches a revolution and suspends the United States Constitution under the pretext of restoring order. They are quickly able to take away all of women’s rights, largely attributed to financial records being stored electronically and labelled by gender. The new regime moves quickly to consolidate its power and reorganize society along a new militarized, hierarchical, compulsorily Christian regime of Old Testament-inspired social and religious ultra-conservatism among its newly created social classes. In this society, almost all women are forbidden to read.

This book became a bestseller and a movie, and the East Coast literati (with their paranoia about the feared Other, the fundamentalist religionists who were then getting headlines) were completely willing to believe that only one or two elections separated the US from a totalitarian religious state.

I was listening to NPR yesterday and heard an interview with author Lydia Millet about her new book, Pills and Starships. The book sounded like similar literati scare-mongering by someone of little or no scientific background, so I investigated further.

The PR blitzes legacy publishers can provide for a new book are still amazing. Not only is she getting a PR plug by those influence-peddlers at NPR for her crappy book, there are reviews in the Washington Post and the New York Journal of Books, as well as dozens of planted reviews at Goodreads. The book has climbed to around #2,000 on Amazon’s bestselling list but has only two reviews there so far, meaning the publisher was not able to game Amazon’s review system as effectively.

The world she proposes for the future (from the Amazon page):

Earth reached its ecological tipping point some years ago, and corporations now manage all aspects of life. No more babies are being born, the elderly must purchase contracts to die, and drugs (“pharma”) control a dwindling human population. Natalie’s parents have purchased a death contract, and they have one final week together. The 17-year-old must keep a journal, which she addresses to an unknown space traveler—the only place where starships come into the story. As the Bountiful Passing approaches, Nat and her rebellious younger brother, Sam, begin to make plans to save their parents, or, at the very least, to rescue themselves from the tyranny of the corps and their Death Math. A predictable plot and strained teen voice distract from the very beginning and with 90-plus pages of backstory, the real action doesn’t begin until well into the book. The ecological theme, clearly a passion of the author, unfortunately comes across as too heavy-handed and didactic in tone. An additional purchase only.—Katherine Koenig, The Ellis School, PA

Here’s her author bio from Amazon:

Lydia Millet is a novelist and short-story writer known for her dark humor, idiosyncratic characters and language, and strong interest in the relationship between humans and other animals. Born in Boston, she grew up in Toronto and now lives outside Tucson, Arizona with her two children, where she writes and works in wildlife conservation. Sometimes called a “novelist of ideas,” Millet won the PEN-USA award for fiction for her early novel My Happy Life (2002); in 2010, her story collection Love in Infant Monkeys was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In 2008, 2011, and 2012 she published three novels in a critically acclaimed series about extinction and personal loss: How the Dead Dream, Ghost Lights, and Magnificence. June 2014 will see the publication of her first book for young-adult readers, Pills and Starships — an apocalyptic tale of death contracts and climate change set in the ruins of Hawaii.

She has no background in economics, history, or hard sciences, but with “feelings” and a literary sensibility, she is willing to project a stunningly unimaginative future designed to reinforce current public school emphasis on “climate change” and the depressing fate that awaits us all if we don’t follow “feelings” as a guide to policy. The widespread promotion of this kind of propaganda to young people might have been useful when the education establishment drenched them in optimistic technocratic futures, but now it is just piling on a Conventional Wisdom that discourages any kind of planning for a brighter future. A subversive work now would be technologically optimistic and recognize how much better the future will be than the past for most people.

There’s a place for dystopias in Young Adult fiction, for example the Hunger Games series. But they should be sharp and imaginative and realistic about how real people respond to conditions.

Here are some fragments from reviews less influenced by PR quid pro quos:

I didn’t love this book. The book is told as a journal, with the audience some unknown spacefarer on a ship somewhere out in the solar system. And for me, that’s where it doesn’t work. Okay, I understand the point of a journal, but I think Millet sticks a little too strictly to the format, telling us far more than she shows us. If anything, the beginning drags as she explains and explains the world where Nat and Sam live.

I did care about the characters, but it would have been more enjoyable for me to see things as they unfolded. Millet even describes the dialog in places, rather than recounting it — or trying to recount it — which comes across as a rookie mistake. Just when the plot was getting good, the book ended, too, which left me feeling like I’d missed something. — Dean Fetzer at LitReactor.com

… When, from beneath the glossy surface, a disturbing reality begins to emerge, Nat’s emotionally flat narration makes it hard to care. Passive and without affect, she accepts her parents’ choices and later abandons her brother during a horrendous storm with elegiac regret. Despite exposition that’s rarely interrupted by dialogue, this world’s puzzlingly out of focus, real places carelessly portrayed. The novel’s narrative conceit has Nat explaining her story to a hypothetical distant reader. Summarizing the action robs it of suspense and interest: Readers do not see the story unfold and watch characters act and interact, making it difficult for them to interpret their behavior for themselves.

Detail may be the lifeblood of fiction, but storytelling is its pumping heart; without it, this all-premise effort is DOA. — Kirkus Reviews

In other words, it’s bad fiction as well as bad science fiction. Yet it will be sold and pumped up by the ideologically-biased publishing industry, which is doing a fine job of destroying itself by promoting the dull and correct while blocking the novel and subversive works of much better authors.

For an update on this topic and the ongoing war in gaming see: YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again

For more on pop culture:

The Lessons of Walter White
“Blue Valentine”
“Mad Men”
The Morality of Glamour
“Mockingjay” Propaganda Posters
“Big Bang Theory” — Aspergers and Emotional/Social Intelligence
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
Reading “50 Shades of Grey” Gives You Anorexia and an Abusive Partner!
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
“Raising Arizona” — Dream of a Family