Anthology Review: American Carnage

american carnage cover
American Carnage: Tales of Trumpian Dystopia
Editors: Paul Brian McCoy and Jennifer King
Publisher: PDI Press
Format: Kindle (paperback available)
Full disclosure: I’m friends with one of the editors who worked on this project, and I learned about the book through her. I received the book as a gift from my friend (not the publisher), but opinions are my own. I am not being compensated for this review.
Note: the underlying theme of this book has the potential to become controversial. Please be respectful when commenting on the review and any future interviews with the authors and/or editors.
Another note: because of the topic, this book is quite likely going to be a love it or hate it book. Be forewarned!
Warning: possible spoilers. I try not to include spoilers, but I’m going to put this here anyway.
Okay, now to the actual review. (Ha!)
American Carnage: Tales of Trumpian Dystopia is a short story anthology from indie publisher PDI Press. (PDI Press is the publishing arm of website Psycho Drive-In.) My understanding of the anthology is that it was developed with a sort of punk rock dystopian theme, centered around an apocalypse brought about by the current US administration. (Let’s face it, anything apocalyptic is bound to catch my attention — the musical part just made it more interesting.)
Five stories are included in the collection; there are a couple of longer stories, but the other three are fairly short. It’s a super fun read, though; it’s been an interesting “what if?” exercise. (Okay, so some of it is less likely than others, but I guess anything’s possible. Or something.)
The five included stories are: What Kind of Monster Are You?; The Day the Earth Turned Day-Glo; None But the Brave; Where Eagles Dare; and Big Takeover. The stories are all quite different in tone; some are more serious than others. The writing in all of the stories was solid, and they all follow the same basic theme. It was really interesting to see how each writer interpreted the anthology’s theme and premise — I can honestly say that no two stories are anywhere near alike.
The opening story, What Kind of Monster Are You?, is the longest, but it’s also the most fun (and, um, the goriest). For me, this one captured the musical part of the anthology’s theme the most — it also has its own soundtrack since the main character listens to a quite a bit of music throughout the story. It’s got an alien invasion of evil space octopi who regrow tentacles like a president-faced Hydra. It was very…splatter-y. And absolutely bananapants bonkers, but in a totally fun way. The best part of this story is the dialogue: the writer used actual presidential quotes for the Trump-alien’s dialogue, and it is hysterical in the context of the story. It was also a brilliant idea to use actual, existing quotes. After all, why reinvent the wheel?
My favorite story, though, is the much “quieter” When the Earth Turned Day-Glo. This story is set in the near future, after the current administration has ended. Humans have colonized the moon (well, sort of), and have found a way to profit from the sun. I can’t even put my finger on why I enjoyed this story more than the others — maybe because it has a touch of realism to it? (Call me cynical, but I could totally see someone profiting from the sun by making people pay for sunlight.) Whatever it is, the story’s quiet thoughtfulness won me over completely. It’s the second story in the book and follows the alien octopi invasion story, so it had a really tough act to follow because that first story is just so much fun (in my opinion, anyway). But I really liked it.
The other two middle stories, None But the Brave and Where Eagles Dare, were well-written, but I didn’t quite connect with them as much. Regardless, they were still good stories and they presented two completely differing views of a Trumpian dystopia. In None But the Brave, special agents are able to extract thoughts from the dead (but only those who commit crimes against the state) and see their last moments. In Where Eagles Dare, a man pretends to be the sheriff and interrogates another man who dislikes the president — until the real sheriff shows up. (I can actually see these stories becoming reality in some way, which is alarming. But… it may just mean that I’m more cynical than I thought. Heh.)
The last story, Big Takeover, seems to be part of a larger universe, so I was a bit lost in terms of the worldbuilding. The world itself was interesting, though, and to me it was a little bit Matrix and a little bit Inception. (There was also a demon. Demons are fun in stories. Um, but not in real-life.) I might have to go track down some of the author’s other work, because the story’s universe is intriguing.
Overall, I loved this. It’s a collection of super fun stories written by a group of good writers. And I actually enjoyed each story (which isn’t always the case for anthologies). Yes, it may be a bit controversial because of the anthology’s theme, but it was really fun to read. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys dystopian anthologies (especially ones rooted in punk rock), but with the caveat that they should probably also be mindful of the underlying theme.
Keep an eye out for interviews with the anthology’s contributors over the next few days!

The Surge illustrates how beautifully the good intentions of corporations pave the way to Hell

The Surge from Maximum Games and Focus Home Interactive has it all: A teaser that opens with a corporate spokesman explaining how their company is going to no only save the world but also the people- by MAKING THEM BETTER,  glitchy feedback, space, robots, a desperation that can only lead to the most dangerous kind of progress.

Continue reading “The Surge illustrates how beautifully the good intentions of corporations pave the way to Hell”

Blood Zero Sky by J. Gabriel Gates

A prophetic glimpse into a chilling future dominated by two massive corporations, where systematic greed exploits the credit value of every citizen and endless productivity is the costly price for the lie called freedom. The only hope? A revolution is brewing in the America Division. . .
Unprofitables are banished to work camps to pay off their credit. Other tie-men and women look on apathetically. Fair is fair. Everyone knows you shouldn’t use more credit than you are worth to the Company. They turn their attention to the next repackaged but highly coveted N-Corp product on the market, creatively advertised on the imager screens that adorn virtually every available flat surface. All the while, their mandatory cross-implants and wrist-worn “ICs” keep them focused on the endless cycle of work and consumption to which they are enslaved.
May Fields—the CEO’s daughter—would like to believe she is above all that. Head of N-Corp’s marketing team, the young woman who has almost everything anyone could want spends her days dreaming up ingenious ways to make workers buy more of what they already have and don’t need. Even before May discovers that the Company is headed for its first loss in thirty years, she is feeling the stirrings of dissatisfaction with the system that has given her everything she’s ever wanted . . . except the freedom to be herself.
When she is kidnapped by a member of the Protectorate—a secret order dating back to the American Revolution—May is suddenly faced with the frightening truth of what the Company’s greed has done to our most basic human rights. Will she embrace who she is and join the battle to restore America’s democratic freedom, or put her blinders back on and return to her safe and passionless life?
Blood Zero Sky [1. provided free by HCI Books ] Is not an easy read, but it’s a book that should be read.
A powerful criticism of commercialism and coroporation interference in government, Blood Zero Sky  is also a very good read. It drags the reader on a roller-coaster ride, using prose and description effectively to truly bring home the unnatural state of the future.
It’s not perfect. I found it’s focus on America somewhat off-putting and alientating as a Brit – many of the concepts presented within Blood Zero Sky are uniquely American, and many of the things that were supposed to fill me with fear or horrified recognition meant nothing to me – and that lack of aplicability weakens to book.  At times, Blood Zero Sky slips into the didactic and the lecturing, which can be irritating when it gets in the way of the story. Also, I am a bit sick of rape being used as backstory or a plot point in dystopian or apocalyptic fiction, and rape is used that way here. It’s a small point of the narrative, however, and my distaste for it noted, I will leave the analysis of it to other book bloggers who may wish to tackle it, such as Requires Only That You Hate. Even with these flaws, I found the portrayal of a corporation-run future in Blood Zero Sky frightening and believable.
There is every chance that Blood Zero Sky will become a very controversial book. I can see many school districts wanting to ban it, as books like 1984 have been banned before it, although it’s focus on Christian faith may keep it in the good books of some. This is exactly why you should read it now.
Long story short, you should read Blood Zero Sky. Despite it’s flaws, it’s not only a well-written and readable book, it’s important. It deserves to sit up there with other great works of dystopian fiction.
[rating:5/5]

vN by Madeline Ashby

Amy Peterson is a von Neumann machine, a self-replicating humanoid robot.
For the past five years, she has been grown slowly as part of a mixed organic/synthetic family. She knows very little about her android mother’s past, so when her grandmother arrives and attacks her mother, little Amy wastes no time: she eats her alive.
Now she carries her malfunctioning granny as a partition on her memory drive, and she’s learning impossible things about her clade’s history – like the fact that the failsafe that stops all robots from harming humans has failed… Which means that everyone wants a piece of her, some to use her as a weapon, others to destroy her.
 
vN [1. provided free by Angry Robot. Full disclosure, I am a member of the Robot Army, making me an official reviewer for the company.] is an interesting book, exploring the nature of sentience and the ethics of inbuilt slavery and rebellion against your role in life.
If that’s making you go ‘Oh, no thanks, I just wanted to read a story’, well you don’t need to worry about that. It’s also a very good book.
Amy is a vN, a humanoid robot capable of self-replication. In an effort to help her grow up as a ‘normal’ child, her parents – her human father and her identical, vN mother – have her on a diet designed to slow her growth. Thanks to this choice, when her malfunctioning grandmother attacks her school, she eats her. And in doing so, she absorbs her grandmother, personality and all. A sereis of events leads her to realise that she can absorb the programming of any vN through consuming them. She’s a new breed, and her failsafe, the thing that prevents her from harming humans no longer works.
And there are other vNs that want to be able to do the same.
The book is a slow starter. I was a good 20% of the way in before I started caring about the plot or the characters, and I was actually considering giving up and calling this a DNF review. But then, around that mark something changed. The stakes got higher, or I connected with Amys character a little more, I don’t know. All I know is I stayed up till 1 am to get to the half way point, and then finished it off in one sprint the following morning.
It’s powerful. It really is. vN discusses slavery, the future of robotics, the nature of humanity and sentience and does so without preaching or lecturing. It merely tells you a story and lets you come to your own conclusions about the theories it advances.  Parallels are drawn between the fate of the vN and the fate of other opressed peoples within society. You’ll end up feeling sympathy for the ‘bad guys’ and maybe even rooting for them. They’re sentient: shouldn’t they be able to protect themselves and others from harm? Should their programming force them to love humans even when the human is a monster? Shouldn’t they have that free choice?
It’s not really a high-action piece. It has action scenes, but the tone and feel is thoughful and considering. For much of the book Amy is mentally a little girl discovering that the limitations she thought she had aren’t real, and that leads to an almost philosophical style to the narrative. Ashby is a capable writer, her prose effective and competent, but rarely lyrical or beautiful.
Perhaps it’s not, strictly speaking, apocalyptic, but the back story of how the vN were created is close enough for me, and the fact that it’s a series indicates that it may go somewhere dystopian or apocalyptic later, and I wouldn’t be surprised.
I strongly recommend picking up this book.
And I have to admit I enjoyed the irony of a book about angry robots being published by Angry Robot.
You can buy your copy (available in print or as an eBook) by clicking here.
[rating:4.5/5]

Book Review: Starters, By Lissa Price

[1. Review copy provided by Random House Childrens Books]
Callie lost her parents when the Spore Wars wiped out everyone between the ages of twenty and sixty. She and her little brother, Tyler, go on the run, living as squatters with their friend Michael and fighting off renegades who would kill them for a cookie. Callie’s only hope is Prime Destinations, a disturbing place in Beverly Hills run by a mysterious figure known as the Old Man. He hires teens to rent their bodies to Enders—seniors who want to be young again. Callie, desperate for the money that will keep her, Tyler, and Michael alive, agrees to be a donor. But the neurochip they place in Callie’s head malfunctions and she wakes up in the life of her renter, living in her mansion, driving her cars, and going out with a senator’s grandson.
It feels almost like a fairy tale, until Callie discovers that her renter intends to do more than party—and that Prime Destinations’ plans are more evil than Callie could ever have imagined. . . .
Starters is a great YA. The story is complex (though not too complex) the characters believable and likeable, and the dystopia shown in the work is disturbing.
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Book Review: This Perfect Day by Ira Levin

[1.Provided for review by Open Road]
Considered one of the great dystopian novels-alongside Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange and Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World-Ira Levin’s frightening glimpse into the future continues to fascinate readers even forty years after publication.
The story is set in a seemingly perfect global society. Uniformity is the defining feature; there is only one language and all ethnic groups have been eugenically merged into one race called “The Family.” The world is ruled by a central computer called UniComp that has been programmed to keep every single human on the surface of the earth in check. People are continually drugged by means of regular injections so that they will remain satisfied and cooperative. They are told where to live, when to eat, whom to marry, when to reproduce. Even the basic facts of nature are subject to the UniComp’s will-men do not grow facial hair, women do not develop breasts, and it only rains at night.
With a vision as frightening as any in the history of the science fiction genre, This Perfect Day is one of Ira Levin’s most haunting novels.
Grade: DNF
The trouble with classics and parents of a genre is that they often use tropes that are very common to the modern reader, or tropes that are outright nauseating due to values dissonance. Even if these things were acceptable and new when the book was written, a modern audience may struggle.
I struggled with this book. It’s not that I’m a girl with no love for the classics and no ability to look beyond the demands or the era in which a book was written- I’m probably one of the few people who reads classic literature for fun.
I just… really stuggled with this one.
Continue reading “Book Review: This Perfect Day by Ira Levin”

Book Review: This Perfect Day by Ira Levin

[1.Provided for review by Open Road]
Considered one of the great dystopian novels-alongside Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange and Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World-Ira Levin’s frightening glimpse into the future continues to fascinate readers even forty years after publication.
The story is set in a seemingly perfect global society. Uniformity is the defining feature; there is only one language and all ethnic groups have been eugenically merged into one race called “The Family.” The world is ruled by a central computer called UniComp that has been programmed to keep every single human on the surface of the earth in check. People are continually drugged by means of regular injections so that they will remain satisfied and cooperative. They are told where to live, when to eat, whom to marry, when to reproduce. Even the basic facts of nature are subject to the UniComp’s will-men do not grow facial hair, women do not develop breasts, and it only rains at night.
With a vision as frightening as any in the history of the science fiction genre, This Perfect Day is one of Ira Levin’s most haunting novels.
Grade: DNF
The trouble with classics and parents of a genre is that they often use tropes that are very common to the modern reader, or tropes that are outright nauseating due to values dissonance. Even if these things were acceptable and new when the book was written, a modern audience may struggle.
I struggled with this book. It’s not that I’m a girl with no love for the classics and no ability to look beyond the demands or the era in which a book was written- I’m probably one of the few people who reads classic literature for fun.
I just… really stuggled with this one.
Continue reading “Book Review: This Perfect Day by Ira Levin”