As a new school year ramps up on campus, Justin Smith began another day at the Artificial Life lab running ALife simulations on human evolution. The lab was a sanctuary from the political divisiveness on campus and, for that matter, across the nation. A nuclear terrorist attack in New York City some years ago resulted in a government crackdown on dissent as well as a depressed economy where educational grants were drying up except for those labs who “cooperated” with the government. However, Justin’s lab was soon to transform itself from a sanctuary to the center of resistance to the government. This transformation came about when another graduate student, Steve Duong, was investigating an anomaly in his quantum computer research that led to a discovery of a computer program so powerful that it could be weaponized, tilting the balance of power even further into the hands of an already repressive government. The race to keep this mega weapon out of government hands leads Justin, Steve and a small cadre of students to secure the weapon and fight for their freedom from a tyrannical Dept. of Homeland Security.
RED QUEEN is the first book in The Substrate Wars series. On the surface, it is a tale of insurrection against a government that believes that the ends justify the means. Where this plot diverges from other of this type is that the government is not a fascist state nor the result of a coup but a duly elected government that uses the terrorist attack to stifle dissent and maintain order according to their politically correct philosophy. The prologue begins with a quote from Robert Heinlein, “There is nothing in this world so permanent as a temporary emergency”. This quote from 1950 eerily foreshadows life in the United States in the immediate future where there is only one political party with true power. The idea of freedom and the right to self-determination are explored throughout the book as the students seek a refuge from the ubiquitous spying from Homeland Security. The plot occasionally bogs down when discussing the physics behind quantum computing. The author attempts to work through this with footnotes and an appendix with “notes” on politics and science that are somewhat long and a bit too academic for this type of story. These are only minor drawbacks to an engrossing book about life in the near future that is neither perfect nor dystopian.
RED QUEEN is a tempered look at politics and science in the near future. It is a coming of age novel where the characters reach out beyond the safety of their university to take back their right to self-determination.