Exiles’ Escape–Kirkus Review

Please find below in its entirety the content of Kirkus Review on Exile Escape, being released this fall (yeah, I know. Schedules slip and slide)

Young warriors fight a repressive government in this dystopian vision of America.

Boutwell’s (Outland Exile, 2015) sequel, which begins immediately after the events of his debut, plunges readers back into the high-stakes fight between the Democratic Unity of America and the Restructured States of America, two nations that emerged following the collapse of the U.S. in 2051. Seventy-five years after the great war, tension between two countries is increasing. Seventeen-year-old Unity soldier Malila Chiu has faked her death and is on the run from commander Eustace Jourdaine, who’s engineering a coup that will put him in charge of the nation. At the same time, the Restructured States have sent Will Butler to spy on the Unity and gather secrets from The CORE, its vast computer network. Malila’s childhood friend Hecate Hester Jones is also fleeing the Unity, hoping to make it across the Scorch, a lawless borderland filled with sentient plants. Meanwhile, wizened warrior Jesse Johnstone is on his own mission for the Restructured States, even as he fends off assassination attempts. If all this sounds a little confusing, it is, at least at first. Readers would be wise to start with the series’ first installment, which introduces several key characters and their back stories. Perspectives and settings shift from chapter to chapter, similar to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and, as in those books, it takes a while to see how everything fits together. But Boutwell is a masterful worldbuilder, packing his gripping tale full of rich, creative details that should thrill genre fans, from the shadowy, anonymous Solons, who rule the Unity, to a race of subterranean tunnel dwellers whose society is structured like a union with rituals involving the recitation of poetry (the novel is dense with literary references). The sci-fi trappings should draw readers in, but Boutwell’s sharp writing will keep them turning the page. When he describes a voice as “old and cracking as if taken out of a box just for this occasion,” he proves he can make even quieter moments come alive.

A vividly imagined sci-fi epic.

Genres of Science Fiction

There are only two varieties of Science Fiction.

Yes, I know.

Wikipedia lists forty-seven varieties of Science Fiction genres, from “Afro-futurism” to “Weird Western.”

It is confusing, to state the obvious. From a Feghoot, something of a shaggy dog story ending in a pun, to Mathematical, like Flatland, to Decopunk, there seems to have been a profligate multiplication of designations, all appearing more descriptive than defining. A naïve editor would be hard pressed to categorize a work as Mundane Science Fiction versus Noir Science Fiction accurately.

As a confession, of sorts, I was trying to get Amazon to create a genre Political Science Fiction” for those works with a paucity of golly-gee whiz-bang elements but rather more of the political and social aspects of society. Into this new genre, I was urging placement of Brave New World and 1984, along with, not surprisingly perhaps, my own Outland Exile: Book One of Old Men and Infidels. Each has a degree of speculative technology, respectively: surveillance tech and perpetual world war; and flying-cars, reproductive-tech and recreational drug use. My own concession to future tech was a “pulse” weapon, necessary for the climactic battle and incidentally useful as an ice-melter. The rest of the OE-tech (surrogate pregnancies, depot contraception, brain ablation zombies, and chimera production) while not common, is possible. If Amazon had agreed, I would have been in wonderful company!

Amazon, in its greater wisdom, did not.

Fortunately, several critics in their reviews have agreed with me, describing OE as a cross between BNW and 1984.

Outland Exile languishes in the “hard,” dystopian,” and “military” Sci-Fi categories. I find the lumping with other genres prompts some people to disregard it because of dislike of the genre, especially the “dystopian.”

“Dystopian,” unfortunately has become a Young Adult and New Adult genre. The trope is: birthed into a horrible world with ineffectual, absent, or intolerant parents, the plucky, young, (and very frequently female) protagonist strives against a society not of her making to win through, in the end, gaining new insight into herself while saving those she has come to love.

Sound familiar?

I tried very hard to turn that on its ear with OE and the whole OMAI series. My teenage heroine is actually middle-aged. She is perfectly copacetic with her society and has never been burdened, she thinks, with parents.

But in another way, I think that science fiction really only comes in but two flavors: Fantasy and Alternative.

SF-fantasy: Speculates a society of plenty. There is usually faster-than-light travel. The two things sort of cancel each other out. They become FTL adventure-fantasy stories where the next challenge is just on the next planet. Slimy space aliens and ray guns abound. Man-Kzin Wars (Anderson, Niven, Ing), Gor series (Norman), and the whole Star Wars franchise fits nicely into this genre. One could imagine each of these being worked out with alternate villains, dangers, and locations in the byzantine world of 12th century Europe on a much lower budget. Enjoyable if not taxing!

SF-Alternate: Speculates a society of want. It answers the question of “what if.” What if we could travel back in time? (Timeline by Crichton) What if we found a new epidemic (Scarlet Plague by London)? What if the socialism triumphed (1984 by Orwell)?

What is absent, generally, is an inscrutable or unrecognizable distant-future, extreme technology, and inscrutable social forces. Speculation is what this genre is about. What if? This includes much of what is called dystopian, no doubt, because if one said “… And everyone lived happily ever after” it would not sell well. Dystopian presumes that something went wonky … and now somebody has to fix it. Star Trek is more this style, despite the culture of plenty and the FLT. Each episode is a mini-“what if.” “What if we went met improbable rock-people?” “What is the nature of sentient life?” And et cetera.

Conflict comes with want. Fantasy comes with plenty

I have no doubt that Sci-Fi editors will rise up en masse and to a man ignore this plea to simplify the genres just as Amazon ignored my attempt to add a new genre.

“Questioning Islam” by Townsend– A Review

The blind spot of the West in regards to Islam has been going on since the rise of the Muslim invaders in the 7th century. Muslims attacked and captured Jerusalem from the Byzantines even while they debated whether they were, in reality, a new cult of Christianity. There is little doubt that the ambivalence and uncertainty of the West have served Islam well in its many military campaigns over the last 1400 years.
Peter Townsend is attempting to arm us, protecting us from the misinformation and disinformation which have plagued our political institutions, most recently, from the fall of the last caliphate in Istanbul over a century ago. The Ottomans fell, probably more of a century-long dwindle, when the sultan retreated from the path demanded by the prophet: conquer until all submit.
Questioning Islam is a valuable tool in the education of the culture. Townsend, rather than engaging in a polemic for the West, examines the claims and the basic documents of the Muslim faith itself. Without reference to other belief systems he looks at what teachings are basic to Islam and how the Muslim believer formulates his world view.
It is not pretty. The Qur’an is held out to be the faithful as the very words of the creator deity, pure and “perfect in (its Arabic) language,” complete in its conceit and execution, and unsullied in its transmission. However, despite an empire-wide effort to burn all deviant copies in the eighth century, the fundamental document of Islam is revealed to be a hodge-podge of plagiarized sentiments (primarily Jewish), self-serving and convenient “revelations” to benefit only Mohammad in his venereal pursuits, and a high degree of plain old-fashioned bloody-mindedness. It is enough to make an Arab blush and apparently did. There are multiple examples where the companions of Mohammad wished to reduce, or at least limit, the rapine only to be urged back into the carnage by Mohammad.
Rather than being in the “purest Arabic” there are many words taken from the patois of seventh-century trade. Some words are completely indecipherable, yet supposedly sent from God via Mohammad as the end and culmination of all wisdom. Whole sections are known to be missing due to the dietary indiscretions of a family goat. Instead of being the highest form of literature the Qur’an amounts to a rag-tag assemblage of political and self-serving edicts. It documents not so much eternal verities as it does the rise of Islam from a despised minority, requesting tolerance, to a military Ponzi scheme demanding submission or blood.
The hadiths, i.e. traditions, providing the basic framework of what is now Islam, are obviously critical in understanding the faith. It is an inconvenient fact that none of the hadiths were written down within two hundred years of Mohammad’s death. Moreover by that time, the great schism had occurred, dividing Islam into the Sunni and Shi’a traditions. Hadiths conflict with each other both with and without each community. Mohammad, held out to be a “perfect example of conduct,” can only be glimpsed via these hadiths and what is shows of him is grasping, vacillating, and sanguinary religious tyrant.
Questioning Islam is extensively documented, with long passages from the original documents reproduced within the endnotes. Author Townsend has done a remarkable job in organizing a difficult subject topically. This leads to some redundancies which may, at time, strike readers are being overdone. Despite that, it is a very fast read. This should be required reading for anyone who is exposed to Islam. Today, that includes us all.