Review: Revolution World

By Andrew G. Dombalagian

Stauber, Katy. Revolution World. Night Shade Books (March 2011). $14.99 USD. ISBN: 978-1-59780-233-8.

Raise your hand if you were ever browsing through books, movies, television shows, or video games and came across one that sounded so bizarre, ludicrous, or otherwise ridiculous that you were immediately fascinated. Now, keep your hand up if you were surprisingly satisfied after giving that silliness a shot. My magic computer box doesn’t let me see you…yet…but I will assume that most of you did not keep you hands up. My hand would stay raised and here is why I am thankful for that.

Admittedly, when I read the synopsis for Revolution World, the first novel from new writer Katy Stauber, I could not believe how far-fetched the story appeared. The plot was described as a love story between Clio Somata, a “rogue genetic engineer”, and Seth Boucher, a “martial artist computer-programmer”. The pair encounters trouble in the form of “an overreaching U.S. military establishment” partnered with an “evil multi-national bioengineering firm”. Finally, the whole fandango ends with “a bunch of libertarian Texan gamers…kicking off a new Texas Revolution.” I am not making this up, as much as, enviously, I wish I could.

For how much I laughed based on the synopsis, the novel itself was a pleasantly enjoyable surprise. Do not get me wrong – if anything, the story was far more bizarre than the summary could have ever suggested. The first chapter alone introduced ninjas; fire-breathing cows; giant, carnivorous bunnies; and a nuclear-powered hovercar. To reiterate: I wish I could say I was making this stuff up.

The novel takes place in Texas of the not-to-distant future, after a time of ecological and economic collapse called “The Troubles”. Clio Somata is one of four identical sisters who help their mother run Floracopia, a benevolent genetic engineering firm supporting quaint Ambrosia Springs. The despotic U.S. military, having declared war on pretty much everyone, teams up with Malsanto, a lampoon of a real world agribusiness boogeyman, to steal secrets from Clio’s family. Seth Boucher and his uncle Max ride into town with their high-tech digital security firm, Omerta, to protect Floracopia. Romance, action and silliness ensue, served with Texas Pride like it was a bed of rice.

According to Stauber, the Global Warming-ravaged world of the near-future is going to be a hoot and a holler (my words, not hers). With weekly (American) football games, barbecued and Tex Mex food, people shooting off guns at parties, distrust of the government, and a heaping helping of xenophobia, the Texas of eighty years in the future seems to be little changed from how we understand the state today. The severe resource shortages, totalitarian government, secret torture prisons, and massive wars waged by America in this near-apocalyptic vision of the future seem to be only mild inconveniences to the people of Ambrosia Springs. Rather than an omission of storytelling, however, this seems to be Stauber’s method of demonstrating the human proclivity for adaptation. Travel has become prohibitively expensive, but is overcome by advancements in virtual reality and telecommunications. The nigh-total end of imports means a boom in local industry and agriculture. The one thing people cannot adapt to is the frequent disappearance of local citizens at the hands of both the military and domestic terrorists. To distract themselves, a great many people play a popular online strategy game called ‘Revolution World’.

The flavour added to characters, dialogue, and narration is a key part of what makes this novel so pleasurable. One of the fatal flaws of speculative fiction is the tendency to create characters that are stiff, inaccessible, or simply unlikable. Not only does Stauber manage to ably develop a number of characters, she endears them to the reader. The clumsy awkwardness that characterizes Clio and Seth’s relationship – plagued by doubt, anxiety, and tense hope – is believable and relatable.

Clio’s mother, Harmony, is a respectable depiction of a woman trying to balance being a mother of four, honest entrepreneur, and researcher in a world falling apart. In addition, the subplot of Harmony being reluctantly wooed by Seth’s uncle, Max, is a charming addition. The mature romance between these adults offers a refreshing counterbalance to the kids’ love story.

Of Clio’s sisters, Kalliope is given the most development, to great effect. Her dialogue, attitude, and general characterization make for an incredible supporting character. Then again, perhaps I am simply partial to steampunkish tomboys – especially ones that wear overalls to formal affairs and ride into battle on a scooter equipped with a cannon.

Speaking of steampunk, the buffet-style approach to genre in Revolution World is a double-edged aspect of the novel. The myriad elements in the story ensure there is something for almost everyone. The downside is a lack of the specialization needed to immerse hardcore fans. The short list of genres in the book includes steam and cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic, action, romance, comedy, science fiction, kung-fu, political commentary, social satire, and vampires. Yes, Stauber also manages to work vampires into the fold.

While reading Revolution World, I kept a list of the devices, concepts and creatures that very nearly blew my mind. I will not spoil the ending, but I will say that laser guns and marijuana grenades help save the day. That’s right. Marijuana grenades. While we let that sink in, let me say that I envy Seth Boucher in only one respect: I wish my lover would create for my protection a pack of super-intelligent, talking, ninja Pomeranians.

If you are not convinced by now to buy this book, I pity how jaded you are, my friend.

Revolution World is a great read, though not perfect. The narration makes frequent, disorienting jumps in perspective. Changing the point of view between chapters is fine. When the perspective switches several times on a single page, though, it can confuse readers. Sudden leaps in time or location are also bewildering and interrupt the narrative’s rhythm. Nevertheless, new novelist Stauber creates a voice and style that will please most readers.

Katy Stauber’s Revolution World is a campy, off-the-wall and solidly good read. The world needs more unpretentious speculative fiction like Stauber’s debut novel. Reading Revolution World is like watching an awesome TV movie from the Sci-Fi Channel – earnest, honest, and fun. The fact that the author possesses degrees in biochemistry and mathematics, besides making her automatically amazing, also generates hope that some of the outlandish creations in this novel may actually be in the works. One can dream. Now, while I dream up names for my ninja lapdogs, go buy Revolution World.

Bio: Andrew G. Dombalagian is a graduate from Penn State Brandywine and an aspiring author of speculative fiction. Find his nonsense at: https://sites.google.com/site/dombalagian420/home.

Purchase Revolution World from Amazon.com.