Revolution 19

I grew up with the original Terminator movie, so an apocalyptic book about robots that have risen up and gone to war against their creators had a real appeal. Revolution 19 by Gregg Rosenblum lacked both logic and grit.

In this story some of the humans who survived the Robot war are living in the countryside outside the city in makeshift tents and structures. As the book shows in the first chapter, these aren’t necessarily survivors which escaped, but were let go by the robots. The book never really addresses the question of why. Why were Cass’s birth parents killed, but she and the couple who ends up raising her allowed to flee?

The other thing that bothered me in this book is that the robots were originally created to replace human soldiers in war as they are obviously physically superior and unlike humans with emotions they don’t hesitate to follow orders on the battlefield, etc. So how would humans survive against a superior foe unless they deliberately are allowing these humans in the woods to continue, doesn’t that thought bother those in the countryside? If it were me, I would be trying to figure out the enemies’ end game, particularly when their camp is attacked and its members are either killed outright or taken into the City, why now?

However, maybe it’s the youth of the main characters, Nick, Kevin, and Cass, that don’t allow them to see past the here and now. So when their parents fail to show up at the rendezvous after the raid, the kids decide logically to sneak into a robot controlled city to rescue their parents who there isn’t any evidence survived the attack.

It’s when the kids get near to the City, that the story deviates greatly from what my Terminator trained brain was imagining. In the Terminator movie the remnants of human survivors eke out a hard existence full of hunger, desperation, and violence. Far from being kept like animals in a pen, the humans in the city appear to be living a near normal existence going to school or work, eating at restaurants, living in clean homes, etc. While the kids are surprised, again it doesn’t appear to dawn on them that other than the fact the city dwellers cannot leave the city as they are chipped, they are able to live a decent life if not a free one. No, the characters in the story are not asking these bigger questions as they are too busy rebelling, hooking up, etc. Only Kevin has the bigger picture in mind beyond just rescuing the parents, but trying to figure out how the robots work in order to take them down.

I was just way too frustrated with the immaturity of the main characters to consider reading the next book in the series to see if the big questions get answered. Economists talk about ‘sunk costs’ and after investing time into reading the first story I tend to fall into the trap of feeling that since I have already spent the time, I should continue reading even if I wasn’t too impressed with the first. For once, I am going to cut my losses and walk away.

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Free To Fall

Free to Fall by Lauren Miller had lofty intentions, but didn’t execute on it. I understand Ms. Miller’s point, we live in a world where technology is increasingly guiding our tastes and decisions. Rather than looking up at a sunset, people are looking down at their gadgets where apps tell them what route to drive, what restaurant to eat at, what clothes to buy, etc. After all, when was the last time you made choice, big or small, that didn’t involved spending a little online time. However, while I admire Ms. Miller’s ambition to tackle this theme through a dystopian novel, it was written in a pedestrian way.

Rory Vaughan is accepted into the prestigious Theden Academy which is the social equivalent of the Golden Ticket. Students who graduate are automatically sought by the top colleges and companies, these are the elite who will be the movers and shakers in society. Who wouldn’t want to go there? Uh, anyone who knows there isn’t any such thing as a free lunch. In Rory’s defense, she is just a teen whose mother died at birth and while she loves her Dad, they are very different. She doesn’t have a wide circle of friends and only Beck, her BFF gives her a sense of belonging. Beck is a photographer and a free spirit, unlike Rory he tries to keep his distance from Lux, the decision-making app that most other people are mildly addicted to.

When Rory arrives at Theden she has a lot to work through such as dealing with Hershey, another Theden student from Rory’s own town who never gave her the time of day until she heard Rory was also accepted to Theden. Then there’s Dr. Tarsus, a teacher at the school whose class consists of running the students through stimulations where lives are at risk. There’s also a secret society at the school similar to Harvard’s famous Skull and Bones which might be interested in Rory. Finally, there is North, the mohawked coffee barista Rory is drawn to.

Rory finds out that her deceased mother also attended the school and was the top student, something she knew nothing about as the only tokens she has from her mother are a necklace and a handmade blanket. From here the book tries to weave together a conspiracy by a shadow group, a family reunion, a teen romance and teens trying to bring down a corrupt society, which results in the theme of giving our freedom of choice being watered down. Strip away these superfluous elements and this might have been an interesting book, but it read like Scooby Do in the social media age. It was also ironic that one of the Scooby Gang, North, is a hacker that uses technology to help unleash people from technology even though he uses retro gadgets. The secret society and the blanket story lines broke into DaVinci Code territory. The author should take a page from singer who strip everything down to standing alone one a stage with a guitar performing an acoustic version…I want to read the acoustic version of Free to Fall, not this one.

Genesis

I just read the last page of Genesis by Bernard Beckett and feel like someone punched me in the head and I am dazed.

First, I really don’t know how to categorize Genesis. Is it an apocalyptic, dystopian or sci fi novel? Can it even be called a novel at 150 pages? It’s a weird, weird piece that defies easy categorization, a mind game. During a time of escalating conflict among the superpowers of the world, an entrepreneur forsees what will likely happen and establishes a remote outpost in a series of islands as far from the released plague as possible. Despite the remoteness of the location, refugees do attempt to reach this place and the citizens of this haven are trained to automatically kill anyone attempting to cross the Great Sea Fence around the islands. While the world outside goes to hell, the survivors inside are part of the entrepreneur named Plato new world named the New Republic. They are divided into four classes by the predictions of potential of their genomes, though someone could rise above their class except for the Philosopher class. Children are separated from their parents and their birth details are never known.

One of these children, Adam, was raised to be a Soldier. He and his partner are on duty watching their outpost when a boat is spotted. One of the partners is always assigned the role of going out and manning the laser guns to destroy the intruders, the partner’s job is to kill his comrade if he hesitates to kill the refugees must be killed in case they carry the Plague. Rather than take is role of destroying the refugees, Adam convinces his partner to switch roles and when the partner goes out to intercept the boat, Adam shoots him and lies to command that his partner hesitated. Instead, Adam rescues the occupant of the boat, a young woman nearly dead of starvation. Eventually they are caught and due to public sentiment Adam is not executed, but he is sentenced to a strange punishment.

Adam is to be the companion of Art, the latest and most advanced creation of an artificial intelligence program so that Art can learn from a human being other than his creator. Adam and Art’s story is being told by Anaximander, a young student who is sitting her oral examination to gain acceptance into The Academy. She has chosen the story of Adam’s life as her thesis and must defend it to the Examiners.

Therefore, the structure of Genesis is a story within a story. The story of Anaximander wrapped around the story of Adam and Art. You know the expression a mystery wrapped in an enigma? Well that’s what this is…even the big reveal at the end left me with my head shaking and more questions than answers. Is that a bad thing in a world where people want easy answers and tend to have short attention spans?

While Genesis left me unsettled and by revealing one answer left me with several questions, you could say that’s its strength, the fact that it will linger with me for a long time despite its brief length. Genesis is to me the Chinese Room puzzle…