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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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