Book Review — Pennsylvania by Michael Bunker

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Tomorrow is the Pennsylvania Book Bomb, meaning if you are going to buy Michael Bunker’s Pennsylvania Omnibus, tomorrow is the day. If you buy the paperback on Amazon, you can get the Kindle version for just 99 cents thanks to the Matchbook program. This is a great work of science fiction and encourage everyone to give it a try. My interview with Mr. Bunker from last week, can be found here

Bunker_PENNSYLVANIA_Omnibus_EbookEdition-640x1024In preparation for the Pennsylvania Omnibus launch, I went back and re-read my reviews for each part of Michael Bunker’s science fiction serial. I was reminded that I was amazed by the beginnings of the book and that I wouldn’t be surprised by any measure of success by the author.

Part of my review for Pennsylvania 1, read:

“If I went to sleep for nine years like the main character, Jed, does in “Pennsylvania” to awaken up to find Michael Bunker dominating bestseller lists, I wouldn’t be surprised. As I read Pennsylvania, I was struck by reminders to so many standard-bearers in the sci-fi field. Asimov. Heinlein. Bova. Scalzi.”

I grew up a huge Isaac Asimov fan, which meant I quickly grew to love the writings of Robert Heinlein as well. The space-age sci-fi transitioned into Ben Bova and now modern-day with the books of John Scalzi (Old Man’s War & Redshirts).

Then I stumbled upon Pennsylvania. Stumbled upon may not be the best turn-of phrase, but when you read a short story by a bearded dude in suspenders who lives off the land and generates his electricity by solar power, you may not be prepared for the story you find.

Bunker definitely derives a good chunk of his story from his “plain” lifestyle, putting his protagonist Jedediah Troyer in a “Stranger in a Strange Land” situation. Jed, is Amish, living in a future world where people can access the Internet via a chip in their heads. Jed is headed to New Pennsylvania where he will help establish a new Amish community.

As a reader, we identify with Jed in this story. We are just along for the journey in this futuristic, alien world, and Jed, with his simplicity and innocence, acts as the perfect vehicle for the audience. We are Jed and are forced into this new world and are just as confused as he is.

As great of a protagonist as Jed is in the book, I daresay Bunker’s supporting characters are even better. Jed befriends a number of people throughout the books, notably Dawn, a woman whose interests in Jed may have a number of motives. I find the character of Jed’s brother, Amos, perhaps the most fascinating and would love a book series focused solely on him. When Jed leaves Earth in book 1, Amos is a 14-year-old younger brother, but when we meet him again later on in the book, he is aged considerably, both by time and experiences. What happened and who is this man?

The trip to New Pennsylvania isn’t as easy as Jed is led to believe and that journey has its costs. By the time he arrives, the planet is fully at war – both in an active and Cold War capacity – between two groups: Transport and TRACE. We get more characters and more and more revealed as the story moves on. Just as Jed learns what is really happening all around him, the audience is slowly clued in as well.

The book is a great work, alternating between moments of calm with the Amish lifestyle, and anxiety with the pending war between the two factions on New Pennsylvania. The simple life that that Amish lead with the chaos and politics of the “English” world raging around them. Bunker has painted a brilliant picture of this dichotomy by showing the differences between Jed and Amos. One content to be plain – the other aware of a different calling on his life.

By the time Pennsylvania ends, it is clear this is a big story and too big for just one book as Bunker has already made plans for the sequel – Oklahoma. Sign me up for the sequel and some more Amish science fiction.

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Pennsylvania Book Review and Interview with the Beard himself

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Pennsylvania is a special book. If you haven’t read it, you need to — for the words, for the amazing art by Ben Adams, for the formatting — all of it that makes this indie book look not so indie. Except — wait until April 29. That’s the launch date for the Omnibus and we need all hands on deck to buy it that day. I’ll explain in a bit…alright…everybody in? Good.
In Pennsylvania, Michael Bunker has created a futuristic world where the most unlikely of protagonists takes center stage — the Amish.
I read the first part of Pennsylvania last summer and thought it was genius. I went back to find my review of that installment and found myself comparing Bunker’s tale to Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ben Bova, and John Scalzi. The comparisons are apt. While the men I mentioned have collectively written science fiction for decades, Mr. Bunker has been trying his hand at it for only a few years. Add “Amish” to that science fiction moniker and Mr. Bunker finds himself in a unique position.
I’ll have my full official review for Pennsylvania up next week when the Pennsylvania Omnibus drops in the Amazon store. (You can find my previous reviews of each of the parts on their respective Amazon pages.) The title is up for pre-order on both Kindle and Paperback right now, but you should wait until Tuesday, April 29 to buy.
Why?
Because as Indie Authors, we need all the help we can get. If the people who are going to buy PA anyway all buy it on one day, the book has a greater shot at rocketing up the charts, faster than an Amish Wagon heading to a barn raising. Michael Bunker calls it his “Book Bomb.”
I’ve read Pennsylvania and found it to be a great throwback to the Golden Age of Science Fiction, with the added element of 21st century independent author flair. Bunker did a great job crafting a world foreign to us, but yet based on a world he is all too familiar with. (If you don’t know already, Bunker lives an “off-the-grid” lifestyle, generating electricity for his computer off solar panels and sustaining him and his family off the land.) Readers really can sense a combination of a serious, but separate society in the Amish, combined with the modern politics of the time. He has already noted there will be a follow-up book, entitled Oklahoma.
With the release of Pennsylvania just a few days away, I decided I should ask Bunker the hard-hitting questions everyone is dying to know.
1. The Postal abbreviation for Pennsylvania is PA, which might also stand for Passive Aggressive. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble – why should people buy the Pennsylvania Omnibus? If you have the time to answer, that is…
Bunker employed the ridiculously-talented Jason Gurley to design his covers for Pennsylvania, including the Omnibus cover.

Bunker employed the ridiculously-talented Jason Gurley to design his covers for Pennsylvania, including the Omnibus cover.

MB:  Because if they don’t, they are with the terrorists. And besides, every time someone buys the Pennsylvania Omnibus an angel gets its wings. A puppy finds a home. An old, lonely person is comforted. But then… some people don’t care about those things…

 
2. Alright. You’ve said Pennsylvania is actually a prequel to the upcoming series Oklahoma. (Which is OK.) Can you confirm or deny that this is actually the futuristic retelling of the classic Broadway musical “Oklahoma!”? How will Curly’s story intersect with Jed’s?
MB: Jed goes back in time to stop Jud from killing Curley, only to be mistaken for Jud because of the name similarity. Because of the mix up, Jud kills Curley, hilarity ensues, and Jed goes to prison in a surrey with a fringe on top! It’s a comic love story.
 
3. As for this Facebook group, AZ… how do you feel about having your own fangroup? Also, does their name have any sense of foreshadowing, meaning is the third installment of the Michael Bunker state series entitled Arizona?
MB: It is weird and humbling having a fan-started, fan-run, Facebook fan group. I was honored when it got started and I’ve enjoyed getting to meet and know so many of the readers. But I am starting to feel I’ve been duped. Since the AZ got started, I think I’ve posted about 90% of the content in there. Wait a minute… Doh. (Interviewer’s Note: Mr. Bunker conveniently dodges the third installment question, leading me to assume he is looking to become the James Michener of state-named science fiction novels.)
 
4. What makes the Amish such great subjects for a science fiction novel?
MB: Great question. There really could be no better subject for a sci-fi novel in my opinion. The whole history of the Amish is a tale of how humans who deliberately consider what technologies they will use or adopt, interact with a world that tends to adopt technologies without much long-term consideration. Of course, no one is “anti-technology,” even the Amish, but the Amish culture is the perfect canvas to examine the future, technology, and how these things affect our lives. And of course, since the Amish came to America on huge, futuristic ships, the parallels of colonization and exploration are ready made for sci-fi.
 
Look at that marvelous beard. Gaze upon its beauty.

Look at that marvelous beard. Gaze upon its beauty.

5. I know every author these days does a zombie novel and technically you’ve already don’t yours, but what about Amish zombies?

MB: The biggest problem with Amish Zombies is trying to figure out how the first infection starts.  How do you get “patient zero”? Since the Amish eat wholesome, home-grown foods, and tend to avoid a lot of processed products, they are generally a healthy and robust people. Perhaps a young Amish man contracts the virus from an iPod earbud during rumspringa? Besides, the Amish practice of shunning would probably nip the infestation in the bud pretty quickly. Being undead is a definite violation of the Ordnung.
 
6. Hunker (Bunker + Howey) is so early 2013 and Burley (Bunker + Gurley) is so late 2013. The new jam is the Bunker-Nick Cole Bromance, which I am officially dubbing Nickel Co-Bunk. I will allow no more than 200 words of fangirling about Nick Cole’s work. And…go!
MB: You know, my relationship with Hugh was purely physical. He never appreciated my brain. And with Jason, well, I was in love with the art. We never really sat down for coffee. But with Nick, well.. he completes me. But, in all seriousness, these are three talented men, and I’m pleased to be their friend. But… desert island time? Give me some Nick Cole (or as I call him… Nick King Cole.) And unless Solzhenitsyn or Hemingway comes back in time… well, you know… (Interviewer’s Note — that response clocked in at just 84 words, meaning Mr. Bunker could have written another 116 words on his love for Nick Cole’s books. I’m sure he’s just trying to conceal his true emotions.)
 
7. There is a whole new sub-culture developing of independently published writers. In your opinion, what are some of the best aspects of being an independent author?
For each of the five parts of his Pennsylvania series, Michael Bunker employed Jason Gurley to design these mind-blowing covers.

For each of the five parts of his Pennsylvania series, Michael Bunker employed Jason Gurley to design these mind-blowing covers.

MB: There are the obvious answers. Creative freedom, more money, the community aspect of having direct access to readers and vice-versa. I am so happy to be where I am today, and in on watching and participating in the revolution. And that is my real answer. I honestly believe that we are in one of those times… those golden moments that become “a thing” historically. Like being on the Left Bank of the Seine in Paris in the 1920’s, or hanging around the Algonquin Hotel during the time of the Round Table. Very few people (when things like that are actually happening) realize that they are participating in a monumental period. There are things happening right now that students will study in the future, and we’re getting to take part in it. Some of the names we’re throwing around loosely will be (and are becoming) household names, and will become part of the cultural consciousness and lexicon of this very distinct time.  We’re a sub-culture, but what is happening now is fundamentally changing the world, and that is fun to consider!

 
8. Would you rather: Have a burrito for every lunch every day for the rest of your life OR have a donut for breakfast every day for the rest of your life?
MB: I refuse to live in a world where those two things are mutually exclusive. I choose “C”. BOTH!  (Although a breakfast burrito and lunch donut are also wonderfully valid options.)
 
9. What is Michael Bunker currently reading?
MB: I recently finished Andy Weir’s The Martian, which was wonderful, and I’ve been reading some fantastic short stories as they have been submitted for super-editior David Gatewood’s soon to be released Synchronic time-travel anthology which should be out in May.
 
10. Any other secrets in that beard of yours?
MB: Oh, I’m always finding things in there.  Bear claws, Cadbury eggs, new collaboration projects… even a whole new MB website coming soon with direct purchase and download of e-books for every e-reader.  Lots of cool stuff in that ol’, plain beard.
Thanks for having me, Will!
As always, it was a pleasure.
Michael
Additional information on the Book Bomb can be found here. (Note: thanks to Amazon’s Matchbook program, you can get the Kindle version for just 99 cents with the purchase of the Paperback — a steal!)