Another eBook and a Science Fiction Book Club rant
I was once again approached by an author who is looking for eyeballs and asked to read and review her new work of fiction (in eBook format, so it took me a lot longer to get through - I read several physical books in the same time-frame). It's a dystopian political thriller set almost thirty years in the future. And here we go...
Fire of Our Fathers
Fire of Our Fathers is a interesting take on a dystopian American future set in 2046 by an author who writes a lot of this kind of stuff, L.C. Champlin. But the United States isn't the only country suffering - though it is the focus of most of the events in this story - the whole world has succumbed to corruption and economic collapse.
Here's the author's own description of the story:
2046 -- Thirty years into the Great Decline, America and the world are mired deep in the swamp of corruption and despair...
Richmond Monroe has just finished the biggest antiques-hunting contract of his life - and taken out a few Somali pirates along the way. When he returns home to Panama, he learns he must risk his life and paycheck to rescue his town from destruction by the land-hungry rulers.
One man offers hope. His price? President George Washington's finest sword.
Richmond ventures into the highly restricted United States to track down the blade. Unrest and chaos are growing in the former Land of the Free, but the Glock-wielding historian is ready to tackle the challenge. He'll encounter powerful figures and uncover devastating secrets.
If he fails in his quest, America could sink permanently under the tyrants' oppression.
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
And here's a description of the current state of things in 2046 from the story's protagonist, Richmond Monroe.
The whole damn world looked this way now. The economic depression had lasted years, with banana republics and even hulking dictatorships squabbling for resources. Religious extremist groups murdered civilians, while drug cartels kept everyone too high to care.
After the US succumbed to its long-standing, long-festering corruption, the world rapidly followed. The Last Bastion of Hope had fallen. Now everyone bumbled on as best they could, as the human race always had. Two-hundred years, when you thought about it, amounted to nothing more than a flash in the pan.
"Constitutional republic," Richmond snorted. The American Dream - and America had woken up to cold reality.
Speaking of the United States being 200 (and a little more) years old, there's a hilarious quote in the Eric Idle sorta-biography I'm reading now about the bicentennial that's I'll be sharing later (along with way too many other quotes and scanned photos from that book).
The story's dark future bears a pretty strong resemblance to the stories of D.W. Ulsterman1 that I've mentioned briefly here a couple of times. As with Ulsterman's dystopian future, there's no William Forstchen-like EMP that took down the grid, no Zombie-inducing virus that wipes out humanity, no John Barnes-esque plastic eating bacteria to bring all tech to a halt, no S.M. Stirling-like change that reduces mankind to 17th century technology - there's just political upheaval leading to a collapsed economy and end of true representational government (which was ended a long time ago, to be honest).
We meet several people trapped in the declining United States (the protagonist has expatriated to Panama) throughout the story's events. One of these tells the protagonist her story that describes her experiences as an immigrant to the United States who arrived near the end of the era of possibility and watched as opportunities disappeared and a government too much like the one she'd escaped took over.
"We came to this land of opportunity and freedom. People here valued life. We worked very hard here. We learned the language, we made a business, and we gave back to the community. It was the happiest ten years of our life. Coming here was like getting a new life. I was thirty. But over time, after 2016, the Great Decline began. Then it was more and more like living in China. China also was allowed to buy more and more land and companies in America." She sighed. "I'm glad my children and grandchildren are not in China, but I wish they could know America as I knew it."
I was probably most attracted to the promise of actual historical references being interwoven throughout the story, a la Umberto Eco/Dan Brown/Michael Crichton/Brad Meltzer. And while there were a few historical references throughout the story (to George Washington and his swords, and a little from the Civil War era), they weren't really as tightly interwoven as the historical references in the aforementioned authors' books. So that was a little disappointing.
There were quite a few passages in the text that felt out of place. Here are a three (taken out of context, so they may not seem as odd to you). The last one wasn't weird because of the non-flowing prose, like the others, but it was a surprise that the protagonist would bring a Tolkien fantasy element into the story (the only time this happened).
"I'm trying to let you fellows get out with your dignity," Richmond admonished. "You ought to be thanking me."
He kept the front area decked out with smaller, cheaper, but expensive-appearing finds. Jackie's desk took center stage; he maintained an office behind her. In the warehouse proper, beyond the office area, Jackie oversaw a strict filing system. She must have a psychological compulsion for orderliness.
He accepted the manila envelope. Everything important came in manila envelopes. To do otherwise would break a universal law.
"They halted in what a hobbit might consider a clearing"
Also noteworthy is the unusual chapter naming. Each chapter was named with either an Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, or Marilyn Manson song title. Though a little weird, I can understand the Elvis and Johnny Cash references, but One of these things is not like the other.... Not that chapters names really impacted the story in any way (though it can be nice to have a chapter name that does a little foreshadowing). But there is an explanation for the chapter headers within the story itself - a conversation between our protagonist, Richmond, and the more interesting, but secondary, character, Myles Fremont. It's a weak argument in my opinion, but music is a subjective thing so I may be in the minority there.
quote title="from 'Blue Moon - Elvis Presley'"
Richmond cleared his throat. "What about you and Marilyn Manson?" Since Myles had asked his question honestly, no disdain went into Richmond's, either.
"Ah, Manson," Myles breathed, settling back in his seat like an old warrior preparing to tell a yarn of derring-do. "When Marilyn Manson - his real name was Brian Hugh Warner - exploded onto the Heavy Metal scene, no one had heard anything quite like it. People thought his music would make kids violent. Of course, it didn't. People are already violent. Society wrote him off as just another crazed, makeup-caked rocker. And he was a little crazy. But I doubt you can be a true freethinker without bucking the norms to the point where much of the population thinks you've gone mad." Myles smirked. "He kept playing and experimenting. He influenced an entire generation of musicians, not to mention listeners. He was serious about freedom."
Richmond met Myles's earnest gaze. "Freedom. They both fought for it and sacrificed for what they felt driven to do. They changed the world and inspired countless people."
Myles nodded. "In a way, Manson comes from Elvis."
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
As with most dystopian stories, the government that evolves is thuggish and corrupt. Here's a brief description of the TSA of the future (which doesn't sound much different from the TSA of today).
The TSA thugs wore blue uniforms, carried submachine guns, and had riot cuffs on their duty belts. They looked like the security of every other third world country.
And the local militarized police force sounds a lot like the police we have now - just a little further to the dark side.
Though the legalization of all substances had occurred over a decade ago, dealers still undercut the system, providing as much of a black market as ever. Rather than take on the dangerous and thriving gangs, the cops preferred to beat down law-abiding citizens who thought or said the wrong thing. Namely, the truth."
And the best part of the story is the totally unexpected hero. I won't tell you who he is, but here are some clues (there are five non-concurrent quotes excerpts - it's not meant to be a continuous quote).
The other man wore a knowing smile. "So you recognize me." Myles lifted his chin.
"You are the Baron."
The Baron? Now and then a news report mentioned the Baron, a man who operated in numerous markets across the world. His holdings ranged from tech companies to real estate, but his passion lay in restructuring failing corporations.
"My father also loved this country. He thought he could make the US great again."
Myles cleared his throat. "In 2016, the Baron's father ran for president of the United States as the Republican Party candidate."
Of course! Richmond hadn't bothered to keep close track of the Rights' Last, Best Hope's five offspring. "He was rock-star popular with his base, if I remember. But before the election, his 727 went down in flames, him included."
Eyes narrowed, the Baron shook his head. "He was murdered. His enemies knew he would win the election. If he did, he would be the first outsider in generations to take the presidency. He'd made it abundantly clear that he would make sweeping policy changes. His opponents couldn't tolerate that. When they saw they couldn't win against him, they took the easy route and eliminated the competition. With him out of the running and little time left for his vice president to campaign, the Democratic challenger had no trouble winning the election."
"The beginning of the Great Decline," Richmond supplied. The familiar sense of awful disappointment came over him. It felt as if he had reached for a friend as they slipped over a cliff, but he'd moved a second too late.
The Baron nodded. "My father wanted to make America great again. He believed in the American Dream, just like his father - my grandfather - did. They lived the American Dream. They rose from nothing to be among the rich and powerful"
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
This story must have been written before the father of the Baron moved into the White House, as he didn't go down in a fiery plane crash in our own timeline. So...the moral of the story is this: "If you enjoy dystopian political fiction with a right-leaning bent and don't mind an uneven writing style, you'll likely enjoy this book. I noticed that the eBook price is only around a buck on Amazon, so you've gotta like that.
The Science Fiction (and now other genres) Book Club
I've been a member of the Science Fiction Book Club off and on2 since I was in my late teens. Way back then, the draw was getting several hardcover sci-fi and fantasy books for basically the cost of shipping with a commitment to buy a few more books over the next couple of years at full price. So the average cost of the books was less than buying the same number of paperbacks, which sounds like a great deal. But there were a couple of drawbacks: #1, the books were dimensionally all about 3/4 scale of the publisher hardcovers. So I have a great many miniature hardcovers in library that insult my OCD when they're all on the same shelf with the full-sized hardcovers (now all in bin, so they're not as annoying). And #2, you had to send a card back every month through the mail or you get the book of the month auto-mailed to you. You could do a return-to-sender and return it easily enough, but that was a hassle I didn't enjoy.
At some point, I decided that the affordability of the tiny books wasn't enough to offset the discomfort of having books that looked out of place on the shelf, so I abandoned the SFBC for many years. But a few years ago I decided that cheap was more important than big and joined back up. I was pleasantly surprised when the books arrived and were full-sized hardcovers. And also happy to learn that the card in the mail had been replaced by an online response, so it was much easier to decline the unwanted books of the month. Also a nice improvement was the wishlist feature to save books you may want to order in the future. And maybe best of all, each month you can buy two credits for $14.99/each to later buy any two books at a reduced price (lower than Amazon or Costco, even). So that's pretty cool.
Over the past few years I've more than fulfilled my commitment and am still a member, though I've been a little disappointed that every hardcover hasn't been a full-sized edition (most are). A couple of other comments and/or complaints: the book club is now more of a Generic Book Club that sells just about every genre of book (I've wandered outside the Sci-Fi/Fantasy boundary a couple of times since I've been a member again) and books are often dropped quickly from the club so the availability of Sci-Fi/Fantasy titles is a little less than it once was (and WishList books can quickly become unavailable if you don't pull the trigger fast enough). But my biggest complaint about the good ol' SFBC is this:
THEY SENT ME A BOOK WITH A RIPPED DUST JACKET!!
I don't know if it happened in transit (it wasn't very well packaged - there wasn't any packing material to hold the book in place) or before being packed, but either way, I'm not happy. That hasn't stopped me from buying other books from the SFBC and none of the others have been ripped, but still...
1 L.C., D.W., S.M....each of these authors uses a pen name with two initials followed by a surname. Coincidence? I THINK NOT!!
2 Once your commitment is fulfilled, you quit and rejoin and get 5 more tiny free-ish books. Genius!