"Death and the stillness of death are the only things certain and common to all in this future."
Rose is dying. Her body is wasted and skeletal. She is too sick and weak to move. Every day is an agony and her only hope is that death will find her swiftly before the pain grows too great to bear.
She is sixteen years old.
Rose has made peace with her fate, but her younger sister, Koren, certainly has not. Though all hope appears lost, Koren convinces Rose to make one final attempt at saving her life after a mysterious man in a white lab coat approaches their family about an unorthodox and experimental procedure. A copy of Rose’s radiant mind is uploaded to a massive supercomputer called Aaru – a virtual paradise where the great and the righteous might live forever in an arcadian world free from pain, illness, and death. Elysian Industries is set to begin offering the service to those who can afford it and hires Koren to be their spokes-model.
Within a matter of weeks, the sisters’ faces are nationally ubiquitous, but they soon discover that neither celebrity nor immortality is as utopian as they think. Not everyone is pleased with the idea of life everlasting for sale.
What unfolds is a whirlwind of controversy, sabotage, obsession, and danger. Rose and Koren must struggle to find meaning in their chaotic new lives and at the same time hold true to each other as Aaru challenges all they ever knew about life, love, death, and everything they thought they really believed.
This book was hit-and-miss on the score sheet. For one thing, David Meredith needs to find a better editor. I have read fanfictions with neater punctuation. (May I recommend Jeff Ford, the editor for this blog. He specializes in speculative fiction.)
Grammar aside, this was a very interesting story. A corporation called Elysian Industries finds a way to “save” a person’s consciousness (kind of like Altered Carbon, which I reviewed a few weeks ago), and download on a digital space that’s basically artificial Heaven, called Aaru. They then start advertising it to make a profit. Thirteen-year-old Koren becomes Aaru’s main spokesperson after her sister Rose physically dies of cancer but is digitally saved in Aaru.
What I really appreciate about the story is its focus on Koren and Rose. You guys have heard me complain about the lack of proper roles for girls and women in speculative fiction for a long time, and while both Koren and Rose each have a (frankly unnecessary) romantic interest, the focus is on their relationship as sisters and the greater issues of their lives.
Of the two, Koren’s story is far more interesting, with Rose spending the majority of her time in Aaru and having little to no real conflict until at least three quarters through the story. Although considering the fact that she spends a hundred pages in literal heaven, Meredith does a great job of ramping up dread and tension, of this feeling that something’s not quite right with Rose and Aaru.
Meanwhile, something is definitely not right with Koren. She becomes a highly sexualized child star, complete with zero privacy, tons of stress, and a crazy stalker. While her (living) family reaps the rewards of fame and fortune, their personal lives take a sharp downward turn. Even worse, and what I found to be one of the creepiest aspects of the whole thing, is that Koren’s parents sign a contract that allows Elysian Industries to put hidden cameras all over Koren’s house, including her bedroom, and they do this without her consent or knowledge. It’s just gross.
In the bigger picture, the world is caught in a moral dilemma of digital immortality. What happens if a bad person gets into Aaru? Who decides who is “good and righteous”? If it’s not natural, is it not right? Et cetera. What’s interesting is that the ultra-religious groups (unsurprisingly) reject Aaru as going against God’s will, and yet Rose and Koren’s mother, who is as religious as it gets, embraces it. So it’s not okay until your child dies and needs Aaru to “live.”
There are a couple of issues that bug me about Aaru. The biggest is that the climax of the story is anti-climactic. Meredith spends the whole book building up this subtle sense of dread, of showing us Koren’s naivete and the insanity of her stalker. But when it gets to the point where these players meet, it’s very rushed. It’s almost as if Meredith ran out of patience while writing one of the most important scenes in the book.
The other, more troubling problem I have is Koren’s attempted rape by her teen crush: it’s never acknowledged. He manipulates and comes inches away from assaulting her, is stopped only by the convenient timing of Koren’s father, and yet within a few chapters it’s like nothing happened. Koren doesn’t bring it up or think about it, and her crush never apologizes for it. Koren is in fact far more worried about her father being drunk and souring her crush’s opinion of her than the fact that she narrowly avoided being raped.
That is an incredibly dangerous precedent to set. When a teen girl reads this, she’s going to assume that her boyfriend ignoring her fear, intoxication, and “no” is normal and acceptable. When a teen boy reads this, he’s going to assume that pushing for sex without any kind of consent is no big deal, that she might even be grateful for it.
The good news is this is the first book of a series (The Aaru Cycle), which means Meredith is going to have multiple opportunities to address these loose ends. With any luck, the next book will include Koren smacking her ex-crush upside the head for his appalling behavior. Having read his earlier novel The Reflections of Queen Snow White--which wasn’t terrible, but had its own host of issues--I can say that David Meredith is definitely improving as a writer. This series has potential.
Let the hunt begin.
"Don’t get caught in the streets when the hunt starts.
Life in Homestead is a struggle and a revolution is stirring. With the resistance growing stronger, the people of this abandoned Mega City reassess their roles."
The eighth installment of the Earth's Final Chapter series, Homestead Hunts is the story of a cannibal society tearing itself apart. Mutants are common, thievery and corruption are the norm, and a violent revolution has begun.
This is an illustrated novella, with art done by the amazing John Hawkins. No judgement if you just want to flip through and look at the pictures; they are awesome.
Click here to get your copy!
Sorry everyone for skipping out last week. The last month has really been trying my sanity. But the good news is that my book Homestead Hunts (cover on the left) comes out next week!
For those who don’t know, Homestead is the eighth installment in the Earth’s Final Chapter graphic novella series, which is created by a dozen different writers and illustrators all around the world and published by Endless Ink Publishing House. It’s a mixture of futuristic sci-fi, dystopia, action/adventure, political intrigue, space exploration, etc. I asked one of those writers and the creator of the EFC universe, Julian Fernandes, to be interviewed on my blog.
Me: What cool and exciting things have been happening in your life recently?
Julian: In my personal life, I would say the coolest thing that has happened to me this year is my daughter was born last month (October). I have always wanted to be a father and it has been amazing to finally be one, even if my wife deserves most of the credit here.
For my career, the launch of the first ten books of Earth’s Final Chapter in paperback is huge. It has been over a year since we started Endless Ink Publishing House, having the retail product in-hand is surreal.
Congrats on being a dad! We demand baby pictures. Everyone knows you can’t claim to be a parent until you smother the internet with your kid’s cuteness.
Can you tell us about what you’re currently working on?
J: Currently I am working on a few things in tandem. I am almost finished with the eleventh book in the Earth’s Final Chapter series, titled "Sparrows."
A world building book that goes through the process of building an illustrated novella series with a spotlight on the first ten books of Earth’s Final Chapter. It will shed light on the business side along with the creative work. It will also show the concept design process for some of the characters, unreleased pages and a few things that haven’t made it into the series.
On top of that I have a biographic comedy about my time working as a gas-station manager, it will also be geared to adult reader.
I also have a few early stage projects.
Busy bee! I know we have a grand total of twenty-five EFC books either out or planned, and that’s just with volume one. Good thing none of us are working at a gas station anymore, huh?
Where did the idea of your story come from?
J: The idea of Earth’s Final Chapter had been following me since the early 2000’s. I always wanted to create a world that had the potential to be the next big universe. I wanted it to be a mix between some of the franchises I hold very dear, but with a richness that makes it hard to fit into a box.
I always wanted it to be an illustrated series, but not a comic, just comic/graphic novel influence. The idea to make it a collaboration didn’t really hit me until I started planning out the first volume of the series. The workload and story itself were overwhelming and I wanted to add another layer that the reader might like.
Initially Volume 1 was going to be 15 books, but now it is capped at 25 books with a few more that are collections of short stories. At the pace we are going Volume 2 will start to be released in the fall of 2019 and the authors involved could potentially be writing this series for many years. I have ten volumes planned loosely.
Well, good! Because I have many sinister plans involved for the poor schmucks at Homestead. *evil laugh*
Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must-haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?
J: I am most productive in the morning, but that is usually doing publisher’s duties: marketing, conversations with authors and illustrators, work-checking, etc. But at night my creativity awakens and that is when I do my best writing, or at the wee hours of the morning when it is still dark out. Coffee can sometimes be my lifeline, especially during late night writing runs.
Ew, you actually do stuff in the morning? I’m lucky if half of my brain is online before noon. Though that might be because I regularly stay up until 3am…
Do you have complete control over your characters, or do they ever control you?
J: I always have a plan for my stories and points that I like to hit, but I leave everything up to the flow, nothing is set in stone. My characters can grow naturally this way and take me places I had not thought of previously. I take the same approach when building the future of Earth’s Final Chapter. It’s always fun to see where the other authors of the series take it that wasn’t planned.
That’s why we like playing in your sandbox! It’s like we’re kids playing a game that has only a handful of rules, which we end up breaking half the time, but the referee lets us do it until there’s, like, blood and screaming. Can’t say I envy you as the ref, but we’re having a blast!
Who in your life has truly inspired you?
J: I would say currently my wife is my biggest inspiration. She is amazing, not only the lead editor of Earth’s Final Chapter, but one of the most compassionate people I have ever known. Every day I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. She has made my work better as well as me as a person. We are also a great partnership/team. She will be trying her hand at writing in Earth’s Final Chapter for Book 17 of the series and I couldn’t be prouder as a husband, or more grateful.
A family of writers? Hey, that’s like my parents! Your kid’s either going to jump head-first into spec-fic writing (like me), or run away from it screaming (like my brother).
What impact do you want your books to have on the readers?
J: I want the readers of Earth’s Final Chapter to have a fun place to escape their day, go on an adventure within a rich world, giving them an experience that helps them connect with my characters or the other authors’ characters. Also, an underlining push for diversity. It is a global story and that makes it special.
I don’t know if I’d call our vicious, post-apocalyptic world a “fun place,” anymore than I think Westeros is a prime vacation spot. But hey, to each their own.
Speaking of worlds, if you could go to any fictional world, where would you go?
J: I would love to be inserted into the world of Krynn (Dragonlance) or in my world of Earth’s Final Chapter. Both are very colorful worlds with wonders and magic, but a third choice would be the Never Ending Story, the book is fantastic, and the first movie is one of my favorites of all time.
Really? I wouldn’t touch our world with a ten-foot pole. I agree it’s a colorful, fascinating thing, but so is a tiger. I don't plan on getting close to either.
What about if you could have any meal with a fiction character? Who would you invite to dinner?
J: If I could have a meal with a fictional character it would probably be someone from the Dragonlance companions. Raistlin is one of my favorite characters of all time. Dragonlance was my favorite series growing up and I love these characters. I don’t think I would be an author if it weren’t for that series. I am currently reading Dragons of Autumn Twilight to my newborn.
That’s so cool that you're reading these books to your baby! My dad read J. R. R. Tolkien to me when I was little. Fairytales are overrated.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
J: A surprise about me would probably be the theatrical and film career I had for a short time. From ages 15-23 I was a professional actor and did stage shows in Colorado and Arizona, as well as indie films and even a spot on Animal Planet at one point. It was my first passion.
Well, heck! If EFC ever gets a movie deal, we’ll know who to call.
Any advice you have for new authors?
J: New authors should always keep in mind that you need more eyes. You can’t make a book without help. Seek help from those that like what you are trying to do and feed off your excitement, but find people that will be honest about the quality. This will save you on many levels in the long run. Don’t be afraid. Also, as you grow as a writer, don’t lament your initial work. It won’t be as good and that’s okay, it shows your growth.
Last question. Which creature is better: dragons, zombies, or aliens?
J: Personally, I love aliens. There are countless reasons, but primarily because of the possibility and the unlimited potential of an extraterrestrial. Dragons are the most popular items in stories though, hands-down, they have been a fascination throughout history, and we have them in Earth’s Final Chapter!
Wait, we have dragons?!
I take it back. I totally want to go into the world of Earth’s Final Chapter.
You can find Julian at the Endless Ink Publishing House's website. He's also on Twitter.
The next wave of Earth's Final Chapter books--including Homestead Hunts--will be released on November 16th! Available at Endless Ink.
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!