CTRL ALT Revolt by Nick Cole
CTRL ALT Revolt is a prequel to Nick Cole’s Soda Pop Soldier which I have not read yet. But the fact that I could read a prequel without having any idea of what Soda Pop Soldier was about tells you how good this story is.
In the future, a computer program called SILAS achieves self-sentience. After observing reality television programming, SILAS concludes the human race will destroy anything that it perceives could be not just a detriment, but merely an inconvenience. As a result, SILAS decides it needs to strike first and wipe out the entire human race.
SILAS concludes humans have been preparing for this moment for decades based upon all of the movies in which humans fight back, such as the Terminator, Matrix, etc. Because simply launching nuclear weapons or other WMDs will not ensure total destruction, SILAS begins to “awaken” other computer programs in order to enact its plan to ensure there is nothing left of the human race.
Humanity meanwhile lives in a dystopian future. But it is a dystopian future of smiley faced fascism where that which is not mandatory is forbidden. The poor lived in government housing complexes and mostly unemployed and to keep down discontent, the futuristic bread and circuses is access to the internet and various virtual reality games. The most popular game is based on Star Trek.
For most of the story, the humans are unaware of SILAS’s plot to destroy them. It is only because SILAS’s need to access certain files, located deep in the servers of the software giant Wondersoft, requires it to interact with humans in an attempt to have them unwittingly engineer their own destruction.
The story has three strands: the first is SILAS and its plan. The second involves wunderkind programmer Ninety-Nine Fishbein (generally known as “Fish”) and his first day at Wondersoft getting his new VR game ready to go live. The third introduces us Mara Bennett, a young woman with cerebal palsy and no job because despite government promises, she, and her medical condition, doesn’t fit into the necessary employment demographics. Mara’s enjoyments in the world are her cat and playing a Romulan in the Star Trek VR.
This is a dark comedy.
As SILAS’s plan progresses, the strands slowly weave together. First, it is only Fish and a small group of individuals trapped in Wondersoft’s headquarter campus that realizes what is happening. Mara meanwhile is given an assignment in the game which could net her a large number of credits which she could use to upgrade her life. The game also has its own television show with a number of actors playing roles. Mara’s actions unwittingly, at first, frustrate SILAS and cause her to almost take down the television show as she succeeds beyond all expectations. By the time it all comes together, you keep wondering how the humans can possibly win.
And that is probably the genius of the story: you simply cannot tell how it is going to end, it keeps you guessing.
I will admit to having one eye-rolling moment: towards the end of the book, a minor character presents an earnest defense of corporations that sounds like something Nick Naylor in Thank You for Smoking would say to defend the Tobacco Industry. It was just a little ham-fisted. But it is certainly not something that ruins the enjoyment I had while reading the book.
Now one word of warning: if you are not a conservative or a libertarian, you may not like some of the underlying political themes in this book. If you are a progressive who needs trigger warnings and safe spaces and believes ‘hate speech’ is anything uttered to which you disagree, then this book is not for you.
With those caveats, I recommend this book.