Book Review: Soda Pop Soldier


spsWith a name like Soda Pop Soldier, I half-expected a light-hearted romp through modern video games. What I got was something completely different. Something telling about how many of us live our lives online and the anonymity that we expect. Something visceral and violent, yet clean and sanitized at the same time. Something that fully engaged my head and heart alike. 

Nick Cole’s Wasteland Saga led by The Old Man and the Wasteland was Cole’s bleak dystopian debut. He impressed me with the deliberate and purposeful pace of that novel, but in SPS, he treats the reader to something completely different. Is the future portrayed in Cole’s new novel a dystopia? I would say it is, but it resembles more of a Ready Player One-type future rather than the post-apocalyptic tone of his previous work. 

Unlike RPO, however, Cole infuses his world with a much darker tone. RPO always had a certain Reagan-era optimism. That everything would be OK even if Parzifal didn’t succeed. Here though, there is a certain amount of fear behind the scenes. If PerfectQuestion doesn’t get everything just right his existence is definitely in question.

The gamer PerfectQuestion is a key piece in ColaCorp’s ongoing war for advertising space. The winner in the online arena gets billboard space in Times Square and other key spots around the world. PerfectQuestion is good at what he does, but his squad finds itself outmatched in their latest round of battles, leading to his pay getting cut.

In order to make ends meet, he takes to the back alleys and signs up for an illegal game called the Black, where twisted fantasies play out for those who want to indulge in that sort of thing. This game, however, turns into something more for PerfectQuestion and an additional quest to finish alongside his professional life in WarWorld.

Throughout it all, we see the real world, but in many ways Cole presents this as almost more fantastic and ridiculous than the online worlds that PerfectQuestion plays in. There are scientific advancements that take humans to other planets and planes that seemingly traverse around the world without stopping, but most of that is unavailable to the average person. The more the book explores those areas – the areas inhabited by the rich and powerful – the more the reader finds themselves in foreign territory.

In many ways PerfectQuestion is more at home in the war and fantasy of his online games than in the real world.

Hence why we never really get a clear picture of who our protagonist really is. What’s his name? PerfectQuestion is the name of his online avatar, but we are lead to believe that the names he gives others in real life are false ones. His name – his true name – is PerfectQuestion. He is more at home online.

I don’t know if he was intending it, but I think Nick Cole is certainly saying something in this book about our online behavior and the idea of anonymity. Are we truly anonymous online? In an age when the NSA could be spying on our every behavior, what protections do we truly have? When PerfectQuestion meets others in real life, they seemingly all know him by online personas. He doesn’t have an identity outside of the computer until the final pages of the book and we as the reader are left to decide if that is a good or a bad thing.

PerfectQuestion plays the part of a samurai in the Black game he launches into to supplement his income and that aspect of his life transcends and bleeds through every facet of his life. He is a noble person who truly wants to do what is right. There is an honor code he follows, even when the easy option is staring him in the face.

I loved Soda Pop Soldier. It definitely wasn’t light-hearted, showing off a fast-paced action with only brief pauses to catch your breath. Cole upped his game for this novel and I look forward to what he has up his sleeve next.



Author Interview: Ann Christy


ann christy mugOn Wednesday my friend Ann Christy releases her novel Strikers. She’s written a few short stories recently in Synchronic and the upcoming The Robot Chronicles, but Strikers is her first full work published outside of Hugh Howey’s WOOL Universe. I’ll have my review up on Wednesday, but I really enjoyed it. The cover itself will sell a lot of books, but the story itself is well worth it.

In anticipation of the release of Strikers, I decided a small interview with Ann would be great as an introduction to the book and a little bit about what Ann is going to be working on next.


Where did the idea for Strikers come from?

I’m a dystopia fan and a huge fan of good YA fiction. But one of the problems with a lot of dystopian fiction is that it is hard to believe it would ever occur like that. Occasionally, the science is really…*really*…bad, as well. What I wanted to do was create a dystopia where the seeds of that dystopia already exist (if not in practice, then in popular thought). Then I wanted to take it out to the point where the good intentions had become so corrupted it was a dystopia. That is what Strikers is and I think it worked. The readers will tell me if it did or not, though. They are the ultimate deciders of that.

strikersWhat’s different about writing for Young Adult as opposed to Adult?

Young Adult is a lot like regular Adult fiction. It’s all in the focus and the newness of experience. Things we tend to take for granted as we get older…like the thrill of sitting close to someone we like or the frightening nature of being on our own for the first time…are still vivid in the YA world and need to be accounted for. I want readers to feel all the thrills and chills they deserve in a book.

For me, it was difficult to write YA. Far more than standard adult fiction. I couldn’t just resort to a curse word or anything like that. I *had* to find the correct way to express what needed expressing. In the end, I think it’s a much better book for having worked that hard to do it right.

Also, I absolutely adore the characters. If I were anywhere between 14 and 18, I would be scheming for a way to go out with Jovan. No question. I like them all, though. And the romance aspects of this story made me smile. I’m not a romance writer in general, but this part of the story turned out to be the most difficult and the most rewarding aspect of it.

This is the first trip out of the silo for you — how is going?

Well, it’s not truly the first trip out of the silo. It’s just the first full length novel out of the silo that I’ve published. I’ve got two other nearly complete novels…about 180,000 words worth…that I just haven’t finished yet. And there are two (or three?) non-silo stories in anthologies out there.

But, you’re right that this is the first non-silo novel I’ve felt ready to put out into the world. It’s scary and I’m keeping my coveralls close by so that I can run back into the decon station at a moment’s notice.

You’ve been included in a few recent short story anthologies as well. What has that experience been like?

My first thought after being asked for the Synchronic anthology was…”Uh, why are they asking me? Aren’t these people all famous?” For the second one, I felt a little less weird, but still completely intimidated. After all, The Robot Chronicles will also feature Hugh Howey in it!

Short story creation is actually really hard work. Essentially, you have to go to all the same work to create a new world you would in a book, but then tell the story in about 1/12th to 1/15th of the length. It’s like walking a high wire. I love it though! It’s the kind of challenge I enjoy. I’m thinking that I’ll probably do more of those.

What’s next on the docket?

After Strikers is released on the 16th of July, I’ll mostly be useless for a little while because I’ll be watching for reviews and seeing if people like it. I have another story for yet another anthology to create…no, make that two.

You and I will be together again in a book, don’t forget. Another LOOW anthology about superpowers. I’m excited about that one!

I’m already working on book two of the Strikers series, but readers should not worry about cliffhangers. I hate cliffhangers. Strikers is a complete novel. That world is a big world though and there is a lot to explore in it.

Also on the back burner, getting simmered to soak up all the flavor, is a series of medium length works I’m calling Good News Gone Bad. Each will be a stand alone story/novella that turns what might have been a good news story into something very dark, dystopic or apocalyptic instead. The first one is called, Young Blood. It’s my dark telling of the recent discovery that GDF11, something found only in young blood, reverses many of the effects of aging on brains in older people. Oh…yes…you can see the dark future there, can’t you?


(Full disclosure: Ann and I are both members of LOOW, a writing group that includes writers who have all published in Hugh Howey’s WOOL Universe. Her first Silo 49 book was coincidentally published the same day I published my Silo Saga book The Veil.)