Nick Cole’s CTRL ALT REVOLT! (CAR!) is a 2016 publication that was rejected by his original publisher. This was probably because it takes a number of swipes at the politically correct culture found in this dystopic future (and more importantly in our own real world). For that reason alone, I would probably have given it a whirl. But when it won the 2016 Dragon Award for Best Apocalyptic Novel I felt I owed it to myself to test whether the Dragon Awards would be a better fit than the Hugos when it came to predicting a good read.
I am happy to say they are. CAR! is an excellent read. Putting aside that it pokes merciless fun at progressive ideas and practices (which I see as a plus), the action in the story is interesting and fun throughout. The characters vary from barely sketched in to fairly full framed but they do not jar the way the characters in the “literary sf” often do. Even the computers come off as recognizable personalities and not HAL 9000 stand-ins.
I won’t describe the whole plot because there are enough twists that I’d be spoiling a lot of the fun. But the back cover says it’s a robot revolution and I’ll add that it’s a goulash with artificial intelligence, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), the Star Trek universe and the extravagances of Silicon Valley as ingredients in a future world where a nanny state handholds its wards through their cyber cocooned lives. Because of the skillful insertion of on-line story lines the action jumps from deep space naval battles to running gun battles through the streets of a Caribbean paradise. The real-world action is more bizarre. Not to indulge in cliché, but the good guys consist of a rag-tag bunch of individuals that barely know each other and can’t be sure if they’re actually on the same side. The ending is a train wreck (a really cool one) and promises at least a sequel. I have to confess that there are so many odd elements that I have no idea which way he will take this story line, but I am excited at the prospect.
One of the more interesting concepts that Cole has built into his near future is the merging of television and MMORPs. There are scripted and semi-scripted intrusions of television shows into MMORPs and to some extent, the reverse. The professional “reality” for the actors highlights how the old studio star system will continue to degenerate until minute by minute trending of character popularity on social networks will replace long term contracts. One of the sub-plots revolves around the interaction of gamers with tv stars and how knowledge and intelligence can trump telegenicity and histrionics. There’s even the recognition that the finance people in media might be more reliable partners than the directors and talent agents when it comes to dealing with difficult situations on the set. So here you have the collapse of television, on-line gaming, social networking and on-line business into one complex that allows some people to spend most of their time and almost all of their working and even their emotional lives interacting with each other only virtually. But looking at the way the world is heading I hesitate to even call that a prediction. It’s probably closer to a short term extrapolation that’s already reality for some.
Now a word about the anti-pc snark. Full disclosure, I’m a card-carrying member of the “Basket of Deplorables.” I haven’t met a dig at SJWs that I didn’t chuckle at. So, it’s not hard to imagine that I haven’t deducted any points from my review for lack of cultural objectivity. I laughed at every single ironic take, every set-up shot. If you happen to be of the other persuasion will these bother you? Probably. Should you read it anyway? I think so. But remember I’m a terrible person and worse, I have a sense of humor.
And finally mention of the trekkie angle. There is a small amount of Star Trek plot that dredges up mention of Kirk and Shatner and the associated hagiography. Suffice it to say that there is a comical congruence between the pretentious prima donna that was Shatner and the current captain in the book. There is even a reference to him performing a “shatner.” Now of course, Shatner mockery is required reading at the academy but I have to add five points to the review grade to cover these goings on.
So if you want my opinion, read this book unless you’re a literary sff type. In that case run, run for the hills.