Monday, March 24, 2014

Battle of the Books, Bracket Seven, First Round :: Apollo’s Outcasts by Allen Steele vs. Blood Zero Sky by J. Gabriel Gates

Our last first round match of Bracket Seven of the Battle of the Books features Apollo's Outcasts by Allen Steele versus Blood Zero Sky by J. Gabriel Gates. The winner will be the book I (Amy) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

Apollo's Outcasts: Pyr Books, November 2012, 307 pages, cover illustration by Paul Young. Allen Steele is an American science fiction writer. He's written around 20 novels, including the Coyote series. He has won three Hugo Awards for his short fiction.

Apollo's Outcasts begins near Washington D.C. in 2097. Jamey, who is sixteen and physically disabled, is woken up after midnight by his dad and told to get dressed. He'd rather sleep, but he gets moving with the aid of his "mobil" device. Jamey has weak bones due to Lunar Birth Deficiency Syndrome. His seventeen year old sister, Melissa is awakened by their older sister, Jan. They are told to pack an overnight bag. They are going on an unexpected trip, and are not given any explanation.

Their dad, Dr. Stanley Barlowe, sneaks their van out of their neighborhood. On I-95, he doesn't switch to auto as required. He has replaced the van's traffic control and GPS chips to hide their track. Hovertanks and troop carriers pass them on the highway. Jamey and Melissa are informed that the President is dead, and their dad is going to be arrested for signing an ISC (International Space Consortium) petition.

They drive to the space launch facility at Wallops Island in Virginia, where Jamey meets his best friend, Logan, whose dad is also an ISC senior administrator. Another man is there with his wife and two kids. The parents are sending their kids on a cargo shuttle to the moon, to protect them. When they are about to board, a black government car arrives. The parents talk with the driver. Inside the car is a girl around Jamey's age, who needs to go on the shuttle, even though that means leaving one of other kids behind.

Blood Zero Sky: HCI, October 2012, 371 pages, cover illustration by Joshua Mikel at Sharkguts Design. J. Gabriel Gates has also written a teen horror novel, and is the co-author of the Tracks Series, a YA supernatural trilogy.

Blood Zero Sky is a dystopian novel set in the not-too-distant future. It begins with two peeks of things to come. The first scene features a young woman (probably May) who just shot someone outside N-Corp headquarters. The second scene introduces a group called The Protectorate, ready to do battle for freedom in a second American Revolution.

May Fields is the 25-year-old daughter of the CEO of N-Corp, the company that runs half the world. She works marketing N-Corp products. There are no competing products, but they constantly advertise to make people desire those products, such as on The Jimmy Shaw Hour in Christ. Earlier, May promoted the mandatory IC/Cross interface which requires a black, cross-shaped, cheek implant. The Cross, which is wired into the brain, allows people to control electronic devices with their thoughts, and, apparently, also influences their thinking.

Cities have been renamed as numbered N-Hubs. Almost all people are in debt to the Company. Those whose debt load is too high can be "repossessed" and sent to a Company work camp.

Randal, an old friend of May's, is working with her on a report for the board. Randal is on a neuro-enhacement drug that makes him a genius, but he stutters, can't sleep, and works 21 hours a day. Randal's revenue projections, which they double check together, show something terrifyingly unthinkable, that Company will lose money this year.

The Battle: This match-up features a YA science fiction book with political intrigue versus a dystopian novel with an oppressive ruling corporation.

Apollo's Outcasts begins with a sense of urgency and building tension. It isn't stated why Dr. Barlowe and his fellows at ISC fear being arrested, or what was in the petition they signed. The president's death appears to be part of a plot by the vice president to declare a national emergency.

Jamey is a likable teenage boy character. But Melissa seems to me to be a bit of a teenage girl stereotype. She lives in her own world of clothes and boys. She whines about having to leave home suddenly. Melissa's "pad" is taken away so she can't inform her online friends. Their older sister, Jan, seems relatively bland.

Blood Zero Sky tells of controlling technology and a repressive society. The setting achieves being unsettling. News stories point to the horrors of N-Corp, but most people don't care. It's not hinted yet why, or how, America went this far down this path.

I found it hard to emotionally connect with the protagonist May. She belittles the server at a coffee shop, and seems bothered even by her friend Randal. I have no problem with May apparently being a lesbian. But I would have liked to see more from her point of view. Maybe a tidbit of her back story would have helped to make her a more relatable character.

After 25 pages, both of these books have something to offer. But I'd rather read the book which I think is better written, and seems to be going somewhere faster.

THE WINNER: Apollo's Outcasts by Allen Steele

Apollo's Outcasts advances to the second round to face The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

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