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review 2015-10-01 17:17
Dystopian Sci-Fi About the End of a World
John Smith - Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars - Roland Hughes

John Smith: Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars is dystopian science fiction at its best, portraying the disintegration of human society from the perspective of a reporter, Susan, who sets out to interview the last survivor to have known the 'Earth That Was' before it was broken into twelve continents and changed forever.


What were the Microsoft Wars which caused such disruption? Apparently they were predicted by Mayan prophecy and as events are told to a reporter who gets so much more than she bargained, she decides to publish one John Smith's eyewitness report in its entirety - and is challenged by him to adjust her pat reporting style to more critical thinking in an approach that requires her to understand many underlying facets of the Wars and their outcome.


What sets this saga apart from other dystopian productions is its specific, methodical focus not just on events of mass destruction, but how they came to pass. By including the social and political structures that ultimately contributed to disaster, John Smith becomes a study in frames of reference - and by using the give-and-take question/answer format of a reporter's interview, its characters, events and worlds come alive. While at times this format seems weighty and the reader might wish for a story that juxtaposes the format with the usual third-person narrative style, it ultimately proves a powerful device offering more depth than the traditional story line approach could have provided.


What do Atlantis, rules of conduct, and Microsoft have in common? Read John Smith to find out: its thought-provoking insights linger in the mind long after the story is done - and that's truly the hallmark of a dystopian read that stands out from the crowd and eschews formula writing and pat predictability for a taste of something far more complex and richly satisfying.

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review 2013-12-19 22:47
Book Review: John Smith - Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars by Roland Hughes

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Disclosure: My copy was offered by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Once you read the description of this novel it’s impossible not to pick it up immediately. The Mayans knew about the end of the world because they survived it before? And that puzzle made of pieces we can find in classic science-fiction writing and TV shows sounds way too intriguing. Oh, and the Microsoft Wars… let’s not forget about the Microsoft Wars. What can they possibly be? This being my initial reaction, you can imagine that when I started reading “John Smith – Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars” my expectations were pretty high. I finished the book half an hour ago, and I can say that, overall, my expectations were met.

At first, it might seem just another dystopian novel about a bunch of survivors who are trying to rebuild their society. In truth, it is much more than that. We meet Susan Krowley, a reporter for The Times, who was sent to interview John Smith, thought to be the last survivor of the Microsoft Wars. Smith lives in a house he built all by himself above the bunker where he and his grandfather took refuge right before the world as we know it ended on November 13, 2013. The action takes place 70 years after the tragic event, which didn’t only almost destroy the planet, but also destroyed its history. Being part of the newest generation, Susan has no idea what the Earth was like before the Microsoft Wars. This is why Smith takes it upon himself to provide her with a frame of reference before he tells her what she wants to know.

Roland Hughes managed to create an impressive history of the world by combining real, well-known facts with science-fiction details. Sometimes, you might find yourself so engrossed in the story, that you must stop and think which aspects are real and possible, and which are pure fiction. The fact that everything began with Atlantis was no surprise, but the way things evolved was really unexpected. The author developed an original theory about how the Atlanteans discovered a method of surviving thousands of years, thus getting to influence the new people that repopulated Earth after each end of a cycle. And this is just one of the many ideas that turn this book into such an exciting and thought-provoking read.

However, there were some things that made it impossible for me to read it faster. No matter how surprising everything John Smith described was, I couldn’t read more than a couple of pages at a time. From beginning to end, the novel is structured as an interview. Susan asks the questions, and Smith gives her an entire course in history, geography, technology, and so on, trying to make her understand how it all started and why it ended with the Microsoft Wars. At first, this interview-like structure was ok, but it soon got very tiring. I found it a bit limiting, especially because there’s no room for “show” when the structure itself requires “tell”. And reading pages after pages of “telling” can take away the joy and excitement. I understand that the main focus was to invite the readers to consider the ideas presented and the reasons why humans evolve only to destroy everything they have built, but a bit of action wouldn’t have hurt.

Aside from that, I truly enjoyed “John Smith – Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars”, and I can easily say it’s one of the most original novels I’ve read lately. I would recommend it to those who love science-fiction and speculative stories about Atlantis, the beginning of the world and, of course, the end of it.

Source: www.allfantasyworlds.com
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review 2013-09-26 15:05
Futuristic History Lessons
John Smith - Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars - Roland Hughes

 “Beginnings, no matter how important they are, get forgotten,” writes Roland Hughes in this far-reaching inquiry into mankind’s history, and perhaps, its future. With John Smith: Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars, Hughes pushes the restart button on humanity, setting us down nearly seventy years in the future on a planet with very few people and very little memory of everything that has come before.


                Trying to sort it all out is young reporter, Susan Krowley, who has grown up in a post-apocalyptic world that retains only stray remnants of modern technology, and a vague story about the near-annihilation of humanity on November 13, 2013. She’s hoping for answers from the oldest person she’s ever met; at 79, John Smith carries knowledge from the old world that has nearly been lost. Krowley’s interview with Smith provides the structure of the book, and allows Smith to hold forth on topics ranging from Druids and Mayans to terrorism and global warming.


                The question-and-answer structure will be familiar to philosophy students, and Hughes’s use of the method aptly recalls Plato. Like the Classical Greek philosopher, Hughes tests theories about the nature of the world and the human beings who inhabit it, and both use Atlantis as a model through which to explore the possibilities.


Hughes lightly develops the relationship between interviewer and subject as their conversation continues, and it becomes clear that Smith is really the one challenging Krowley with his insistence that she understand the context, or “frame of reference” for her questions about the so-called Microsoft Wars. Krowley does become more inquisitive and critical throughout the interview, although many of her queries continue to be simple prompts for Smith to continue his contemplation. Thus their dialogue seldom tells us a lot about their characters, which limits the impact of Hughes’s ideas.    


                Although Hughes creates a detailed modern science fiction setting—the Human Genome Project, weapons of mass destruction, and anti-gravity science all contribute to man’s fate—the book is less of a science fiction adventure than it is an opportunity for philosophical musings. Readers hoping for something earth-shattering to happen in the pages of John Smith may be disappointed. The seminal event happened in the past, and Krowley and Smith are just here to help us pick up the pieces.

                The pieces themselves are intriguing, and Hughes keeps the frequent monologues from dragging by imbuing Smith with a dark sense of humor—speaking of fossil fuels, for instance, he includes humans in the equation (“Humans are useful in a variety of forms. Have they invented a product called petroleum jelly yet?”)—much to Krowley’s dismay. And don’t get him started on economists and MBAs. Smith is an opinionated guy, which helps his forays into history read less like encyclopedia entries and more like impassioned speeches. Some speeches are lengthy, but Smith’s urgency carries the reader along.


                The Microsoft Wars, as it turns out, are only a small part of the tale here. Instead of focusing on the final battle, Smith expands his thoughts on the political, economic, psychological, and even mythological forces that may have led to humanity’s demise. What the few people left on earth will make of this history, and how it will affect their future, remains an open question that Hughes, a prolific author, will likely take up in future volumes.


Reviewed by Sheila M. Trask, MS/LIS, through ReviewWorm Book Review Services






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