I finished reading Nick Cole‘s brilliant CONTROL ALT REVOLT earlier this week. C/A/R is the prequel to Cole’s fantastic gamer noir novel Soda Pop Soldier, easily the best fiction book I read in 2014 (well… right up there with The Martian,) and one of the best sci-fi books I’ve ever read. Period. CONTROL ALT REVOLT is currently only available for pre-order. I read an early beta version. The full, finished, Harper Collins Voyager edition will be launched and ready for you to download on October 13th.
There is actually a review here, but there are some things I need to say first. So stick with me…
I called Soda Pop Soldier “gamer noir” because that’s really how I see this new gamer/scifi/virtual reality genre, though it is now being called “mmopunk” by people who know more about these things than me. “Mmopunk” refers to the fact that these stories make use of Massive Multiplayer Online gaming realities as the setting or “world” for much of the action in the novels. Most people will have at least heard of Ready Player One, Ernie Cline’s 2011 smash hit novel (and soon to be blockbuster movie – directed by none other than Steven Spielberg.) RPO was the first hugely successful book set primarily in the world of a Massive Multiplayer Online game. Soda Pop Soldier was the second book I read in the genre, and those two books are probably my all-around favorites since I really started reading Sci-fi seriously in 2011.
Full disclosure: I’m currently re-writing, expanding and adapting an early novella of mine (FUTURITY,) that featured a serious gamer as the protagonist. The new book will be a full mmopunk novel that I hope to release later this year.
Anyway, I was blessed to receive an early beta copy of Control Alt Revolt from Nick this past week and I immediately dropped everything in order to read it. My wife even ended up whispering threats to Nick Cole’s future and safety because in her words “That man stole two full days from me.”
It’s no secret that I’m a huge Nick Cole fan. I’ve been a fan of his writing since I first read Old Man and the Wasteland back when I was just learning about Indie publishing. So when I received my beta copy of C/A/R I ripped right into it…. and I wasn’t disappointed. Not one bit.
That’s saying a lot. A whole lot.
Two BIG TIME novel releases this past week prove that point. Ernie Cline (of Ready Player One fame) finally released his long-awaited follow-up to RPO, another mmopunk novel entitled ARMADA this week to mediocre reviews and an overall sense of fan disappointment. Slate magazine savaged Armada (unfairly, I believe… but I haven’t read the book yet,) adding their voice to what looks to be the consensus of many Cline fans… that Armada did not live up to the greatness of RPO. My position? How could it? It wasn’t likely to start with. Again, I haven’t read Armada yet, but as a “going in” position I believe it is unfair to hold a book up to what has become a classic (even from the same author) and expect that magic to happen twice. I intend to read and review Armada soon, and I bet I’ll enjoy it… because I don’t have any expectation that it needs to meet or exceed the greatness of RPO to be a success in my eyes.
On the same day Armada released, Harper Lee of To Kill a Mockingbird fame released her controversial second novel Go Set a Watchman – to moderately better reviews than Armada, but a lot of gnashing of teeth and scathing criticism.
Now, let’s face facts. Both of those books will make tons of money. So don’t feel bad for Cline or… whoever is actually running things at Harper Lee, incorporated. Millions will be made. And movies too. But on launch day, you could almost walk on the reader disappointment it was so thick. That’s just the way it often goes with books that follow classics.
So I had some trepidation going into C/A/R. I may have been worried. Just a little. I consider Soda Pop Soldier to be a modern classic. But with his books Nick had some things going for him. Or against him. Depends on how you look at it. Harper Collins Voyager had completely botched the launch, marketing, and sales program for Soda Pop Soldier. They absolutely blew it. That’s my opinion, and not particularly the opinion of Nick Cole. I don’t think Harper could have done a worse job releasing SPS if they actually intended for no one to ever read it. The cover was horrible, the marketing plan was anemic and completely inadequate, and they’ve priced the book out of the range of most of the buyers who stumble onto e-books they might otherwise buy.
*What follows is a short paragraph on e-book pricing. If you’re not interested in that, skip this next paragraph and read on.
(That might sound weird when I’m comparing Soda Pop, priced at $7.99 for the e-book, to say… Armada, which just launched at $11.43. How can I say that Soda Pop is overpriced? Easy. Armada launched with tons of free publicity, a mountain of paid marketing, a massive number of publisher generated reviews and huge expectations. You can get $11.43 for it as an e-book because people are going to Amazon… or wherever… specifically to buy that book. On purpose. With Soda Pop, there was functionally NO marketing at all. Harper Collins Voyager expected people to stumble upon the book and pay $8 for it. They still do. Sorry HCV, that doesn’t happen much anymore. It’s one or the other… spend the money on marketing and promotion, and charge a lot for it, or do it on the cheap and price it in the range of buyers looking for bargains and new finds. You did everything wrong. Absolutely everything. And this book could still be a massive hit, if just the publisher cared for people to read it.) (A second note: Ready Player One is currently priced at $3.99, fully $4 less than SPS. Pull your head out Harper and let people buy this book.)
So, due to no fault of his own, Nick’s absolutely fantastic book (every bit as good as Ready Player One,) hasn’t been read by enough people yet to set anyone up for massive disappointment. Silver lining I guess. Whatever.
So what about Control Alt Revolt? Let’s get down to it.
I’m not sure there is anyone out there who worldbuilds as well as Nick Cole. I constantly found myself astounded and slack-jawed at how deep and wide his worlds can be. There is so much texture, so much depth here, that it becomes easy for the reader to get completely immersed in this world. And isn’t that the point? Isn’t mmopunk about full immersion into an alternate universe? Virtual Reality. Whatever you call it, it’s about getting into the fiction to the point that it begins to feel real. When an author can do this, they’ve really done something. When they can do it in a world that is absolutely about that very thing… WOW. It’s so meta it blows the mind.
C/A/R is definitely a rocket fueled page-turner, and it left me breathless at the end. And there was a lot to think about too. That’s what a great book does for you. It may take awhile (and another reading) for me to fully digest this book and decide what all I think about it, because it really made me think.
For people who liked Ready Player One and/or Soda Pop Soldier you will absolutely dig all the game crossover elements, in-game play, and geek/nerd allusions. It’s not bathed in 80’s trivia like RPO, and to me that is a plus. It doesn’t lose itself in allusions, but there are enough geek references and cool winks there to make it fun and not top heavy. As a self-confessed nerd-fraud I probably didn’t catch half of them. Nick has real geek street cred. He plays old school D&D, earns his bones in Battlefield 4 and first person shooters, and if you like Star Trek and just about any other video game released in the last 20 years, you’ll love how Nick slides his gamer knowledge into C/A/R.
In many ways, this book is scarily prescient and probably prophetic too. At the same time, like Ready Player One, Control Alt Revolt is philosophical and somewhat dogmatic on some hot-button cultural issues that can be considered divisive today. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander I suppose, or however that saying is supposed to go. Most people applaud political dogma they agree with when they find it in books and deride it and hate it when they disagree with it. Only truly open-minded and tolerant people can read art from both sides and enjoy them both for what they are and politely determine they are both probably full of shiznit politically. As a person who scoffs at the modern, false, contrived, over-heated political dialectic, especially in Science Fiction, I found both RPO and C/A/R to be interesting, fascinating, well written, and fun.
Sincere art involves all of us. Not just all of us corporately, but all of us individually. And we don’t have to agree with something 100% to see it as art and enjoy it. In fact, I can viscerally disagree with some things and still see and appreciate the art in it. That’s part of being authentically human, I propose. I can think you are insane and your politics are nutty and still love your art. If only more people were able to do so. Sci-fi needs some fun right now, and I certainly had fun reading Control Alt Revolt. It’s a mold-breaker for sure and a book I’ll probably study (as a writer) for years to come. I’d definitely tell anyone out there who was (for whatever reason) disappointed with Armada and who wants their gamer/geek/nerd fix to look into Nick Cole’s books.