“I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.“
Speculative Fiction: what’s my genre?
Isaac Asimov wrote an essay for Modern Science Fiction (1953, ed. Reginald Bretnor) in which he claimed there were essentially three types of science fiction—gadget, adventure, and social science fiction. Let’s say, for example, that you are applying these categories to a post-apocalyptic parent explaining the world to their kid:
- Gadget (focus is on the science itself): “Brace yourself, kiddo—Mommy’s going to give you a detailed discussion of the science of climate change. There will be a test at the end.”
- Adventure (the science is just a dramatic deus ex machina): “So kid, there’s this crazy-scary alien cyborg dude working for the Evil Empire—no, not Microsoft. The other evil empire—and he wants to take over the universe. Oh, and he’s your real dad.”
- Social: (how the science element affects people’s daily lives): “Yes, you are a plain teenaged girl, but when you flick your red hair and open your green eyes, we can all see that you are The Chosen One who will go from our humble village to The Test, at which time you will exchange mocking taunts with the Glorious Leader, and be forced to make the life-altering choice between a Handsome Boy and another Handsome Boy. This is all due to some science thingy way back when that nobody really cares about any more.”
To see how this works, I turned once again to the ever-helpful Plot Generator and chose Science Fiction genre to create the following plot.
A Science Fiction Plot
by Suzanne duHowey
A long, long time ago in a resource raping galaxy…
After leaving the resource-raped planet Old Paradise Earth, a group of computer programmers taking part in a 12-step program for recovering internet addicts flys toward a distant speck. The speck gradually resolves into the mystery plague infested Space Temple of Solitude and Video Gaming, where their ship crash-lands near an organic seaweed farm.
Civil war strikes the galaxy, which is ruled by Major Planetraper, a global warming Government Bureaucrat capable of infecting seaweed farms with genetically modified kelp and even ocean coral polluting.
Terrified when he is proclaimed the Chosen One by a consortium of Broccoli and Kelp peoples, a teenaged Organic Seaweed Farmer known as Mickey Megachin flees the Empire, with his protector, Gaia Treehugger, and the recovering internet-addicted computer programmers.
They head for the Soulless Suburban Cluster-Trucks on the planet Fake New Earth. When they finally arrive, a fight breaks out. Treehugger uses her climate-warming alien computer virus to defend Mickey.
Treehugger and Organic Seaweed Farmer Mickey decide it’s time to leave Fake New Earth, so they steal an environmentally responsible Soccer Mom 8-seat NCF (no-carbon-footprint) vehicle to shoot their way out.
They encounter a tribe of soft spoken but terrifying Kindergarten Teachers. Treehugger is attacked and the Organic Seaweed Farmer Mickey is captured by the Kindergarten Teachers and taken back to the Soulless Suburban Cluster-Trucks, where Mickey is forced to spend his days reading The Rainbow Fish to insatiable five-year-olds. (Its moral: If you don’t want to be lonely, you need to rip off your skin or hair or anything that people are jealous of and give it to them. That way you’ll have friends. At least until you run out of skin and hair…).
Treehugger must fight to save Organic Seaweed Farmer Mickey but when she accidentally unleashes a computer virus while using her cellphone in a crowded theater, the entire future of the climate-warming, resource-raping galaxy is at stake.
- If Major Planetraper is actually a former Vice President who imprisons our heroes in a darkened movie theater as he goes into a detailed explanation of climate change—there may be flowcharts and a power point presentation because his evil knows no bounds—it is Gadget SciFi. (Probably written as fanfiction by a 34-year-old computer programmer still living in his mother’s basement. He will have a long ponytail.)
- If Major Planetraper followed the trail of easy money over to the dark side and began developing genetically enhanced kelp beds (esp. if he’s actually Mickey Megachin’s real father), this is Adventure Science Fiction.
- If Gaia Treehugger is The Chosen One (esp. if she has red hair and big green eyes), this is Social Science Fiction. In that case, it could belong to one of several sub-genres:
- if Gaia Treehugger is actually an intergalactic were-badger, this might be Science Fantasy.
- If Gaia Treehugger, the intergalactic were-badger, speaks in iambic pentameter, occasionally eats bits of Mickey, and now and then is inexplicably back on Earth-That-Was, it’s New Weird Fantasy.
- If Gaia and Mickey join the crew of a lovable bunch of misfit space smugglers and often have to shoot their way out of trouble, it’s a Space Opera. If there are horses (even genetically modified talking android horses), it’s a Space Opera Western.
- If the recovering internet-addicted computer programmers wear matching red uniform shirts and are killed by aliens before we really even have a chance to learn their names, this is Trekkie fanfiction. Probably really, really bad fanfiction because seriously? Star Trek?
Why am I bringing this up today? Well, Carol Hedges—my favorite writer of victorian murder mysteries with a touch of the paranormal—has just released The Final Virus, a new SciFi novella that resists easy classification.
The Final Virus by Carol Hedges
Dying is just a change of direction
Will’s father dies in a work-related accident. At least that’s the official story. But Will knows it isn’t true. Someone wanted his father dead – and he’s determined to find out who, and why.
The only person who believes him is strange, beautiful loner Amber. But she’s hardly ‘normal’ – always hearing voices and seeing terrible Apocalyptic visions in her head.
Will and Amber will have to use every resource they can grab onto to make sense of what is going on in their lives. Meanwhile as they get deeper into trouble, time is running out. And the President of Globecorp is watching them. He has plans…
The Final Virus, like Orwell’s 1984, paints a terrifying picture of a Dystopic world that has lost touch with its past and is about to destroy its future.
Back in 2007, SciFi writer Bruce Sterling proposed “An Eschatological Taxonomy“. (Yeah, I had to look that one up too. Apparently, eschatological means the study of the end of the world. Who knew?) According to this world-ending events scale, Carol Hedges’ new post-apocalyptic YA thriller is a level 2—
“Global civilization destroyed; millions (at most) remain alive, in isolated locations, with ongoing death rate likely exceeding birth rate. Chance of humankind recovery: slim. Many non-human species die off, but some remain and, over time, begin to expand and diverge. Chance of biosphere recovery: good.”—http://www.openthefuture.com/2006/12/an_eschatological_taxonomy.html
So readers might be surprised to meet the main characters—teenagers who live in suburban houses, attend high school, go to the mall, and play video games on their home computers. At school, they are taught the history of the previous century’s disaster, The Great Cybercrash. Following the destruction of much of the world’s population due to climate change, worldwide crop failures, and plagues, a single company—Globaltraid—under a seemingly immortal President, led the remnants of humanity back to relative prosperity in a regenerating world. Or did they?
High school senior Will begins to question this version of events when his father is killed in a mysterious workplace “accident”. He is accompanied by the class outsider, Amber, who sees ever-increasing visions of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. With the help of Ned—an artificial intelligence construct with a video-game addicted multiple-personality disorder—Will and Amber begin to kick over the stones that their world is founded on. What they find underneath could kill them. And destroy the world.
There were so many things I loved in this book, such as the way the action was set in a suburban location so normal it took a while to realize that for this Earth, the setting was anything but normal. I particularly liked the creepy President, a man so ancient he has trouble remembering to care about anything except his own ongoing survival. Both Will and Amber’s characters were believable as the high school’s golden boy and outsider girl. And even the supporting characters such as Will’s little sister, and the brother and sister of Will’s nemesis Mr. Neots, were fun to read if less well-rounded.
There were some pieces that didn’t work for me. Even in a low-tech post-apocalyptic tale like this one, the science was dubious at best. Okay, maybe there was an instantaneous and globalwide virus that caused every machine in the world to fail simultaneously. Didn’t anyone ever hear about backups? If most of the world’s ecosystem is wiped out, what are Will’s town and the others using for raw materials to make their cars, computers, and provide their food? And don’t even get me started on Ned, the all-powerful computer (who somehow survived the cybercrash and hundreds of years later still can hack current code?), or on the fact that despite it being centuries later, there has been no noticeable change in dress/morals/family structure/customs/language/housing/machinery? Why are all parents invisible, evil, or dead? And especially why is it that apparently only the descendents of white middle-class types have survived?
But even with these elements, I would give The Final Virus four stars. I enjoyed the way it kept adding twists and turns at each step. Amber’s semi-prescient premonitions contrasted well with Will’s appealing cluelessness, both in their developing relationship and in the unfolding events. I realize that it’s already a little long for a novella, but I wish that the ending had gone into more detail about events and their wrapup. Maybe fodder for a sequel?
*I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*
Book Title: The Final Virus
Author: Carol Hedges
Genre: YA Post-Apocalyptic
Publisher: Little G Books
Length: 159 pages
Release Date: 7 April, 2016
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