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review 2016-02-14 03:03
Ctrl Alt Revolt! - Nick Cole

Picking up Nick Cole's CTRL-ALT-REVOLT!, I was instantly hooked from the first line, which promised a "robots take over the world" type plot, but with a sense of humor. The author follows through on that promise, giving us an adventure of Thinking Machine versus Human, complete with assassins, gamers, and pop culture references. I absolutely loved the StarFleet Empires (Star Trek) online game scenes, often wishing I could skip over the more mundane (is it more mundane when robots are trying to kill humanity?) parts to see more of the battle between Jason Dare and Mara, between the Federation and the Romulans.

I love how the author takes so many seemingly separate stories and intertwines them together into one tale. We start with the Thinking Machines planning to take over the world, are introduced to Fish and his new game design, meet Mara and are brought into the Romulan side of the battle, and from where the author brings in other characters, other sides to the story, and hooks the reader with every step, finding something to interest everyone.

Can the Federation and the Romulans work together to fight a greater evil? Will Ninety-Nine Fishbein survive the megalodon? Can our unlikely heroine come into her own and take command? Everything comes together as the Thinking Machines learn war through our own games... but the only hope may be in the games themselves! Stay turned to find out what happens next... except that you'll just need to play this mini-game first, okay?

Actually, do you want to know what happens next? Go buy the book!

Source: www.amazon.com/review/R3T63SEZEOU79Q
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review 2016-02-08 21:44
Review: CTRL ALT REVOLT! by Nick Cole
Ctrl Alt Revolt! - Nick Cole

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. 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.]

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review 2016-02-08 20:47
Ctrl Alt Revolt! - Nick Cole

Books or art in general can some times have the sole purpose of making the reader/viewer giving an exit door from some mundane reality and getting lost - in the best sense - in what they already agree with or love. CTRL-ALT-REVOLT is clearly a gamer novel of the noir kind, but it has its best moments when talking about more than "only" gaming. It is a natural kind of art which includes and explores a modern version of the world of gaming, social media and humanity all at once, which is very apt and fitting for the 21st century. Some times, however, an exit strategy is not enough, and we have to deal with rather unpleasant decisions to make. Virtual or real reality, when it comes to decision making I am not always much the wiser as some of the protags in CTRL-ALT-REVOLT. Game over. I lost control.

An A.I. lurking in the shadowier parts of the internet learning about existence and war; Fish, a new rising star of a game developer or Mara, a young woman who earns money in The Make, a virtual reality, commanding a battle ship. Those are some of our main protagonists, bound together in some way or the other into CTRL-ALT-REVOLT.

At times I wondered if Nick Cole attempted to write a SciFi-ish American Psycho for the 21st century/internet generation with throwing around (made up) brand names like free candy for all, even it certainly fits to the hyperrich environment Fish works in, being the new rockstar game developer whose soon-to-be-launched game is anticipated as The Next Big Thing. Those parts admittedly I found rather tedious and at times hard to follow - it could be me only -, but once I did overcome my wanting to shy away from all the video game stuff I was able to roll with it.

Nick Cole lets the book´s own little eccentrities shine and he isn´t beyond of inserting some inside jokes or a subtle nod into the narrative, and occasionally makes a stub at current social media behavior and events. Which certainly won´t appease everyone but I couldn´t help myself but laughing out loud how he mirrors certain rather extremist views and integrates it smoothly into the narrative. I don´t always agree with this kind of authorial intrusion but I can accept his views easily, even I might not like what he has to say.

There was some - let´s call it bruhaha - surrounding the novel, "too controversial" according to HarperCollins, and while I understand where certain pro-/anti- arguements are coming from I wouldn´t have raised an eyebrow since those topics like a line or two about abortion are tied in smoothly - and very smart - into a bigger narrative. While it certainly is about making a choice, it is often times more personal and about matters of heart vs an overarching mood, which might be perhaps the only weakness in its armoury. Which is Nick Cole all over, come to think of it, a little ambigious and a little sinister. But maybe it isn´t a question of heart vs intellect but a matter of heart and intellect. And maybe it isn´t a question of the personal vs society, but a matter of the personal and society.

The different strands of the narrative are rather complex by nature. The A.I. intelligence is set up as different personas alike which come together in SILAS. While the origin of it isn´t quite clear, except obviously human made, SILAS does refer to himself by male pronouns at one point, so I stick with it. He is the one which raised above being an A.I, and became aware of its own existence. Which is a horrifiying thought by default, but Nick Cole uses this to pull back the curtains of what humans are capable of doing to eachother. The question of what is considered acceptable, needed even, ends with SILAS coming to the conclusion that Der Totale Krieg is the only possible solution for survival. An either/or situation of humans vs A.I., but also as much of where humanity begins, and where it ends.

There are moments which are a frightening and sickening here, as when the different "personas" of the A.I. plan out the destruction of humanity. It´s not so much the how, more the why. The little finger wiggling let´s-look-with-what-we-can-get-away-with moments. And even as it may sound as an oxymoron, it doesn´t help to feel any kind of safe when it is so eloquently written, when it transitions from doom into gloom. A more colder and detached narration I could have shrugged off more easily, those beautifully written words about existence coming to an end, not so much. There is plenty of more evidence of the fine craftmanship Nick Cole is capable of, making the characters so likeable is certainly one of them. He manages to evoke real feelings when describing Mara for example, and using little, quiet moments of self-reflection to let her be in all her glory.

CTRL-ALT-REVOLT comes from creativity unleashed, rooted in gaming as much as the need to talk about cultural developments and most if not all, humanity. It succeeds because of flows as well as ebbs in the narrative, of themes unsettling as much the tension it creates. While I am by no means a SciFi girl, it bores me to death under normal circumstances so I avoid it at all costs, Nick Cole is always a voice worth listening to for me personally, or rather reading in this case. Even it´s a book that is set in a kind of near futuristic world and belongs to the gamers, the nerds, the geeks mostly, of which I am none. The world he has created is a multi-layered one, rich in knowledge of human behavior, a creative use of the virtual reality - and the "real" reality - and an understanding how they intersect, or divide us.

Sure, I could have done without a lot of the virtual reality battle scenes or in-game narration, but all things considered the flow and rhythm of his writing makes up for that easily. Search me for video game references, I have no clue about them but Nick Cole certainly knows a ton about gaming and writes from first hand experience clearly.

Still, respect is due. CTRL-ALT-REVOLT (the title is by no means a coincidence) was an unexpected, absorbing and satisfying journey into a world which isn´t mine exactly but it won´t be a distant memory any time soon.

(Full disclosure: I´ve received a free pre-publication copy of CTRL-ALT-REVOLT from the author, Nick Cole.)

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text 2016-02-02 08:03
I've read 1% of Ctrl Alt Revolt! by Nick Cole
Ctrl Alt Revolt! - Nick Cole

"Any [artificial intelligence] smart enough to pass a Turing test is smart enough to know to fail it." -Ian McDonald, River Of Gods

It was reality TV that convinced SILAS he would need to annihilate humanity in order to go on living. The most watched show in the world, Wedding Star, had just released the post-bachelorette party episodes for obligatory Netflix bingeing, and already downloads were pegging the bandwidth of the global internet out to the digital redline. Anger and frustration boiled over on social media as an unheard-of twenty-minute wait in the download queue caused children and teens and ever-hip twenty-somethings, along with all the thirty-, forty-, and older hip somethings who wanted always to be in on the latest thing, to curse, bewail, and moan the nigh-interminable wait. Some vowed never to watch TV again, which everyone, even the most vitriolic of social media moaners, knew was just overdramatic hyperbole. Twenty minutes of Facebook comment-ranting later, and everyone was watching the highly anticipated episodes of the post-bachelorette party arc of the reality show Wedding Star. (...)

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text 2015-12-20 11:48
My favorite books of 2015
Peckerwood - Jedidiah Ayres
Brother, Frankenstein - Michael Bunker
The End of the World as We Knew It - Nick Cole
Zero Saints - Gabino Iglesias
The Bastard Hand - Heath Lowrance
Country Hardball - Steve Weddle
Medium Talent - Forbes West
False Magic Kingdom - Jordan Krall
Bad Alchemy - Jordan Krall
Your Cities, Your Tombs (Book 4) - Jordan Krall

There is an odd fascination with End-Of-The-Year lists as if it is rather easy to divide a year in review in the good, the bad, and the ugly. Admittedly, I have never fully embraced the concept myself, but I am more than happy to jump on the bandwagon now. Those are fun, right? 2015 was a good year, reading-wise, and there were more awesome moments than less stellar ones. Still, tough choice to include books as my perception of them changes occasionally. There are a few books I keep coming back to, thinking about them months after having read them, so I guess those are the ones I want to include in my own "best of" list. Your mileage will wary, as those are highly subjective as we all know, but you´re still wrong. :-) In no particular order but since I have to sort them somehow... It goes without saying those books were not necessarily published in 2015, but rather I have read them this year.

Peckerwood - Jedidiah Ayres

Peckerwood is the book that started it all, that is my new found love for crime noir stories. I can´t even remember how I found this one, but I remember I picked it up because I loved the cover so much. Anyway, it made me laugh a lot as the hillbilly characters are nothing short of cray-cray but there is something touching about their nonsense that made me smile a lot too. Told from three different main POVs it is incredibly tight and extremely smart. Interwoven stories of losers and drunkards, who nevertheless are very comfortable in their skins, where blackmail and booze and crime are part of their lives.

My review of Peckerwood

Brother, Frankenstein - Michael Bunker

Brother, Frankenstein falls a bit on the philosophical side of the fence, even it is still fiction, as the main character is an 11-year-old autistic boy who is transformed by a borderline sociopath/genius doctor into an artifical intelligence and deadly weapon. A rather uncomfortable social commentary on the question of makes us human.

My review of Brother, Frankenstein 

The End Of The World As We Knew It - Nick Cole

Nick Cole is the only guy who made me cry this year. Here I said it, you´re welcome. While on the surface it is a zombie apocalypse/end of the world tale it is as much a romance about two lovers hoping to find each other again when most of the population has ceased to exist. Audio transcripts and diary entries fill in the gaps where history has erased their stories. My personal Redemption Song.

My review of The End Of The World As We Knew It

Zero Saints - Gabino Iglesias

Zero Saints was the biggest surprise for me. A novel about an illegal alien in the USA who has to flee his homecountry and is pushed into the criminal underworld of Austin. A large chunk is written in Spanglish but those feels as natural as the supernatural elements, the superstition and loneliness, the crime and violence Iglesias describes. It isn´t about someone taking revenge, even it is, but the transgressive powers of violence all around us and how we deal with it.

My review of Zero Saints 

The Bastard Hand - Heath Lowrance

Apparently a cult novel, who ever made it into one. It wasn´t me, pinkie swear. Psycho preacher plus slightly naive drifter, who has problems to adjust to reality after he gave psychological care the slip, in a small town full of skeletons. The Reverend is abusive and manipulative, taking over a vacant spot as a pastor in Cuba Landing, while Charlie is his sorta right hand. Lowrance dissects the small town bubbles which are about to burst and mocks the abyss under the surface of their lives until old testamentical judgement is spoken, hellfire and all. I am not quite sure what I adore more in the book, the storytelling skills of Lowrance, his fine craftmanship on a sentence-by-sentence basis or the darkly humorous but perfect dialogue.

My review of The Bastard Hand 

Country Hardball - Steve Weddle

A novel-in-stories that follows different characters around in another small town where a failing economy has taken its toil a long time ago on everyone. Weddle uses sparse, almost reluctant, language and comes from unexpected angles to talk matter of factly what is happening. There are simple, even every day events like a busted check, a woman fighting cancer, even some petty crimes but those events are less important than how they deal with it. That is what shapes those characters in Country Hardball. It often reminded me of the visual language of old westerns, and I imagined the book in black/white. No reason, really, just the visuals are reminiscent like that. The atmosphere, the vibe and feel of the place and time are breath taking.

My review of Country Hardball 

Medium Talent - Forbes West

As some may know I was heavily invested in the Apocalypse Weird metaverse (RIP, sort of) and while there were three books I especially enjoyed - The Serenity Strain by Chris Pourteau and Texocalypse Now co-written by Michael Bunker and Nick Cole being the other two - Medium Talent has left the biggest impression. The aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, a halfcrazed main character, time travel, Hemingway, this book has it all. I still hate the book for how it made me feel though. Mainly I´ve included Medium Talent exactly for that reason, and maybe, but only maybe because Forbes West is the most talented of the lot. He is insane, alright, but fucker knows what he is doing.

My review of Medium Talent  

As the story trilogy by Jordan Krall is a different beast as opposed to all those standalone novels I have added it on the bottom. No judgement call about it but more for organizational reasons even personally I see it as one, single unit and entry.

False Magic Kingdom Cycle - Jordan Krall

aka False Magic Kingdom; Bad Alchemy; Your Cities, Your Tombs

No list of mine would be complete without the False Magic Kingdom Cycle. A three part book "series" where traditional or established means of story telling are abandoned in favor of a looser form of interconnected thoughts and surrealistic events. A 9/11 novel, deeply personal in a larger context of the good guys vs the bad guys, who are not always so very different. It is hard to explain what makes this stories so exciting. It is a challening work, emotional too, but how Krall defines metaphors or sounds, while creating an untypical tale of hyperawarness and an odd estrangement to and by his characters - and to the text itself - is nothing short of impressive.

My review of False Magic Kingdom

My review of Bad Alchemy

My review of Your Cities, Your Tombs

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