Thursday, May 30, 2013

"Epsilon A.R." - Zachary Humphreys (Virtual Book Tour Cafe Book Tour)

 "Hundreds of years into the future, mankind has gone under ground to relocate to the beautiful city of Epsilon. Epsilon is run by a strong, secretive government that keeps its citizens in check by subtle manipulation and strict schedules. No one questions its authority and no one is unhappy. ALN-896, an average man who is just trying to live a normal life, begins to have dreams; something strange and rare in Epsilon. In his dreams, he meets a man named Harry and everything is fine- until Harry dies. When ALN-896 wakes up, he shrugs it off as if nothing has happened. It was only a dream. But then the next day, he is suddenly arrested and sent to prison for killing Harry, whom ALN-896 assumed was just a figment of his imagination. Now inside prison, ALN-896 begins to learn about everything the government of Epsilon has been doing and he plans on escaping. Not only from prison, but from Epsilon. This one decision turns him against everything he has ever known and forces him to face against centuries of lies. To escape means to live. But what will it cost?


Zackery Alexander Humphreys is a Novelist, Actor and Poet who occasionally dabbles in Screen Writing and Play Writing.

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Dystopian futures.  These have been the stuff of our imaginative fancy for years.  From stories about children living on Mars who wait for a once-a-year glimpse of sun, to evil robots vying for control of the Earth and using humans for batteries, to adorable little robots who just want to clean up the trash, dystopian futures have been used to explore social questions, bizarre and disturbing "what if" scenarios, and shock us into caring about the present.  Epsilon A.R. is a dystopian future with a twist.

The Good
I really liked this book!  The main character - a man we eventually come to know as Alan - finds his innocent self plunked into the merciless hands of a cruel government bent on absolute and total control of a society created to escape....oh boy, I just about spoiled a significant plot point!  Whoops!  :)

Dystopian futures have fascinated audiences for decades, whether they were in written or movie form.  A bizarre form of escapism, these "futures" give us something to think about as we get into cars that are not auto-piloted, drink coffee that we had to make, and drive to a place where we still have to open the doors.  It is a fun psychological experiment to think about what the future will be like.  Wilt there be hoverboards? When will the flying cars appear (have you noticed how common those silly things are in many futuristic works?)?  What will be the role of government?

Humphreys explores some of this as we are introduced to Epsilon, an automated underground city whose residents are brainwashed and subliminally controlled, where everything seems perfect and has its place, where days and activities are strictly regulated.  Get up at a certain time.  Take a shower that lasts exactly 8 minutes (pretty fast shower, if you ask me).  Eat for a certain length of time.  Complete the task assigned for the day which the computer provides.  No friends allowed.  No romantic interactions allowed.  Babies are all test-tube babies.  6th graders study string theory.  

What if all people are subliminally controlled?  A familiar premise (computers controlling people, dystopian setting, etc) explored in an unfamiliar way.  Humphreys utilized a writing style that goes between a couple different alternate realities of the main character: Alan - the innocent sweet guy we come to know at first who is wrongly accused and desperately loves the society in which he lives, as well as adores the man who runs this society. In one reality he is dear, sweet, innocent Alan.  In another he is the same Alan, but obviously much more worldly wise.  In another he is an ethereal being (I think) somehow visiting a former version of himself to provide warning.  Past, present, and future of alternate realities run together in a way that is exquisitely well fashioned...just as soon as you as a reader figures out what is going on.  

Okay, I'll try to be less confusing - essentially this is a dystopian world where computers and a single man have absolute control.  Society runs like clockwork - routine and perfect.  Any abnormality and the offending thing/person is shunned and sent to prison.  Unfortunately for Alan, this abnormality can be real or created.  He begins having visions/dreams which speak to the fact that his reality is not real, that there is somehow more to the story.  He sees scenes, then wakes up and ponders it whilst going about his job turning trash into air with a fancy machine.  After telling someone about these dreams, he is sent to prison, supposedly for murdering a coworker.  More dreams and visions reveal more about the truth behind the setup, the truth behind his childood love, the truth behind the mask....but I'm going to reveal too much if I the book!!

Okay, to get to the booky stuff  :)  (I write, I can make up words...right?) - the plot of this book flows very well, and Humphrey's has a manner of writing which is extremely efficient and absolutely hooks the reader. If reading this plot could be likened to an experience, I would say it could be likened to a white water rafting starts off slow at first, but then the waves of action happen which pull you towards the next wave and you cannot help but go along because it is just too dam* interesting!  What is Alan going to uncover next?  Is he going to survive in prison?  Why does the leader of the society seem to like him so much?  eeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Setting?  Futuristic and yet realistic in a way that is scary in its plausibility.  Setting kind of reminded me of The Hunger Games in the way computers determine weather and such within the dome of the city.  I liked the setting, and am very glad Humphrey's explored this...especially the contrast between the sparkling, pristine city and the dirty, dingy prison.  I could see the city and prison in my mind's eye, and being able to form a picture from the description is generally a good thing.  :)

Think I, Robot meets the movie "The Island" meets Holes meets 1984.  This book serves as a stark warning about what can happen when absolute power and fear goes too far.

Oh, I nearly forgot - character remain true to themselves, have distinct voices, and I know who I'd cast for various roles in the movie of this book.  Yay!!

The Bugly (bad/ugly)
Just a few things to quibble about: 

Exploring alternate universes is awesome and eye-opening, but the whirlwind of those universes, dreams, altered states of consciousness, etc got to be a little confusing at times.  A few times I had to pause and backtrack a little to figure out which universe was being depicted.

There are some editing problems, but only a few.

Some loose ends never tie up...unless the author is providing room for another book (to which I say, "Yes, please!")?  Why is Alan so favored by the leader?  Why is he the target of that-which-shall-not-be-named-because-to-do-so-would-spoil-a-plot-point?  The big, huge important things are covered...I just was seeking some resolution to minor points which never seemed to resolve.  Oh, and where did the visions come from initially? Was he merely the subject of an experiment?  Yah, I ended the work with a lot of questions that begged answers...which begs a second book....  (hint hint..though I have suspicion Humphrey's will continue this work...see interview below!!).

I thoroughly enjoyed this book!  There are some rather grisly parts when the men are essentially pitted against themselves (and lions!) in order to survive, but Humphrey's does not use a gratuitous amount of gore.  Instead, he simply relays what happened in the scene in a way that is extremely efficient without overdoing anything.  I was grossed out, but not so much that I quit reading.  An interesting exploration into human psyche on a number of levels, as well as exploration of a possible future, this book is definitely worth reading!

Overall, I give this book a 8 out of 10.


So, I sent Mr. Humphreys some questions and he graciously took the time to reply!  YAY!!  See below:

What was the trigger for this book and why did you choose the temporal setting that you did?
I would say the first inception of an idea concerning Epsilon A.R. would be after reading Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. I loved the character of Guy and his struggle to break away from the life he grew up with. I also absolutely love the setting of a Dystopia. On the other hand, I wanted to take a well know setting (and genre for that matter) and manipulate it in a way no one has seen before. The future doesn't always have to deal with robots and aliens. We humans will be around too, but how we will have changed is a scary thought to think about if you dwell on it long enough.

How did the main character come about?
Actually, my idea of ALN-896 came very different than how I usually think up a main character. I like to build things organically and ALN-896 was my guinea-pig. I knew that I wanted a likable guy who was average and someone that you could relate to. He needed to be extremely intelligent but naive. He needed to be awkward but smart. These traits were needed to fit the setting but how they formed a person I didn't know until I started writing.

What did character development look like for you?
Like I said before, I wanted to create my character organically. I knew what he needed to be in order to fit in but not who he was until I started writing. How I started to create ALN-896 is a question better answered at the beginning.

I first started off thinking about Epsilon and the kind of control it would have to have in order to tell the story I wanted to tell. After that, I looked at what that kind of control would have on a civilization and formed the people through that lens. Essentially at this point, ALN-896 was nothing more than a clone of everyone else, and, in fact, that's exactly how he is at the beginning of the book. It takes certain events both known and unknown by the reader to shape him in the character he becomes at the end of the book. You see the character development actually in the book.

I wanted the theme of Epsilon A.R. and its series to be Change. I believe E.E. Cummings sums my idea up best:
"To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting."

If you were to do a pre-quel to this book, what kinds of things would you explore? 
Actually I am already half-way through a prequel to Epsilon A.R. and its subject matter concerns elements in the Epsilon saga that haven't been explored yet. I'm going to keep the details under wraps for now but I can tell you that the central theme is Love. No it's not a romance novel.

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  1. Thank you so much for hosting.

  2. You have to really know your characters in order to write them well.