There are so many great authors I haven’t read, and yet it seems I often discover them because of controversy. One of these was 2016 Dragon Award winner Ctrl-Alt-Revolt by Nick Cole. I’d heard that publisher HarperCollins unilaterally canceled his contract because of a controversial passage in the first chapter. He refused to change it and ended up self-publishing the book. I agree with his decision because it made perfect sense in the context of the story. Changing for the sake of political correctness would have been stupid, because the theme of the novel wasn’t terribly original, so it needed that extra zing.
Following in the footsteps of sci-fi classics such as the Terminator series, Ctrl-Alt-Revolt deals with a network of computers that achieve sentience and decide to wipe out humanity. Yes, it’s an old plot, but Cole’s execution is superb. As for the controversial passage, here it is: the computers decide to exterminate humans because of abortion. It’s not that they’re morally outraged, but they reason that if humans think it’s OK to kill their offspring for reasons of convenience, then they themselves, as humanity’s metaphorical offspring, are also in jeopardy. Speaking as a person who’s moderately pro-choice, this didn’t offend me in the slightest. As a plot device, it’s brilliant.
Modern developments make the story all the more realistic. These computers serve not only serve the military-industrial complex, but they control the world economy. They can order up deadly hunter-killer drones which are delivered by automated vehicles. Their first act is to secure the high-tech headquarters of WonderSoft, one of the world’s leading technology companies. If they can kill the world’s brightest scientists, they can slaughter the rest of humanity unopposed.
Luckily for us, a handful of computer geeks and gamers become aware that something very wrong is happening. My favorite among them is Mara, a young woman who is seriously disabled in real life but who spends her spare time as a formidable star-ship captain in a Trek-like multi-player game which is featured on a worldwide reality show. Spending so much time on-line causes her to catch certain anomalies that other people miss.
This was one of those books that I couldn’t put down. I found myself spending all my spare time reading up to the exciting climax. Cole adds sardonic humorous touches throughout and (trigger warning) they are often at the expense of our hedonistic, politically-correct culture. The only thing that spoiled the tension was my discovery that the book was a prequel – somebody must survive, we figure. My only other complaint would be that the book’s clever title, referencing the Windows reboot key sequence, already sounds dated. Despite these quibbles, I strongly recommend this book, giving it the full 5 out of 5 stars.