Book Review: FOLLOME

Followers watching Followers watching Followers. Monuments to humanity’s ignorance, greed, corruption, obsession. They all stand around waiting for the next hit.

I came across FOLLOME by Grant Jahn on TikTok and loved it. If you like edgy dystopian, cyberpunk thrillers or think social media will lead to the downfall of civilization, then this book’s for you! 

Broken up into three sections — the Entertainer, the Consumer, and the Savior — the book follows three main characters that become increasingly consumed by the social media platform FOLLOME. In this world, only a select few are granted the elite status of having a FOLLOWER assigned to them. One’s FOLLOWER is a mysterious, humanoid robot that films its user’s every move, streaming it on the app for the masses to consume. The lust for more and more views leads inevitably to desperation, lest you lose your FOLLOWER.

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Book Review: THE UNION

A Union flag, half-blue and half-red, was proudly stationed behind each pupil. The white lines and stars had been removed long ago. Father explained that those signs symbolized the division of the states and old powers that had fallen.

I just finished The Union by Leah Vernon — a great read and the start of a promising sci-fi dystopian series. The premise is fantastic: a few centuries from now, black elites have enslaved the white lower class…. amazing, right? And the execution of it all is also top-notch.

The main characters are Avi, an “elite” born into a powerful family and heir to the empire. And Saige, an enslaved, mixed-race girl whose life experiences have made her tough as nails. When Saige saves Avi from an assassination attempt, the two become intertwined, pulling each other deep into their respective worlds. Here, Avi experiences the horror her society exacts on the enslaved firsthand. Whereas Saige is unwittingly trained and indoctrinated as a Watchman, a paramilitary unit that enforces the nation’s cruel laws.

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Book Review: END MAN

“Six foot three without my Sketchers. One-hundred and fifty-four pounds with my Sketchers. Long, dark hair—clean. Blue beanie. White T-shirt and drift pants. Carrying a skateboard with Cult Centrifuge wheels.”

So I took a dive down Amazon’s dystopian best-seller list and found this gem: End Man by Alex Austin. This is a slick, fast-paced cyberpunk thriller that I highly recommend!

At the heart of End Man is Raphael Lennon. Working for a mega online-data collection company, Raphael hunts down “possums” – that is, people who fake their own deaths in an attempt to disappear. When a person dies, this company gathers all their personal data — an entire lifetime’s worth — then profits from it. So when a person seems to die but doesn’t actually die — that’s a problem. 

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“A single black-and-white photo can damage a man’s mind if the image is powerful enough. A thousand can shred it beyond repair.”

I just finished The Photo Thief by J.L. Delozier, and this thriller is worth the read. Taking elements from the mystery genre, the author twists it together with a supernatural flair, crafting a story that’s fresh and inventive. 

The Photo Thief features Dan Brennan, a Philadelphia detective who is still mourning his toddler’s death when he returns to work and is immediately assigned to investigate the seemingly accidental death of a wealthy socialite. But things take a wild turn when the deceased’s teenage daughter Cassie tells him her mother was murdered. Her proof: a ghost told her. A ghost that lives in a photograph.

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“I don’t think people are inherently evil or selfish,” she said. “We just seem to have a hard-wired stubbornness for rationalizing our own beliefs and behaviors.”

Rules of Order, Cover Artwork by Andrew Reider

By far, one of my favorite genres is dystopian fiction, and I’m certainly not alone. Few genres are more effective at exploring and extrapolating contemporary issues in hopes of steering society away from impending disasters. Just as political and environmental anxieties have ebbed and flowed over the last century and a half, so too has dystopian fiction’s popularity, almost as if meeting the moments that define it. 

So, where am I getting at with all this? 

Well, I just read Rules of Order by Jeff Vande Zande, and I was blown away. Brilliantly written, hauntingly atmospheric, and highly entertaining: this is top-notch dystopian fiction that is both reverential of the classics and also fresh and inventive.

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The Sagan Standard

So I dove back into my research and plucked this tidbit out today: The Sagan Standard. Now, Carl Sagan isn’t technically a character in my novel, but he’s certainly a presence (and quite an unexpected one, if I say so myself!) I’ve been a big Carl Sagan fan since I was a little kid — I can remember sitting in my family’s living room watching Cosmos with my parents. In high school, I discovered his books. Pale Blue Dot, The Demon-Haunted World, Billions and Billions — whether I realized it or not at the time, those books had a significant impact on who I am today.

Anyway, let’s talk about the Sagan Standard…

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You and the Atomic Bomb

Here’s an interesting pamphlet I picked up for another project of mine. ‘You and the Atomic Bomb’ was produced by the New York State Civil Defense Commission in 1950 and reassured the reader that an atomic attack is survivable if one is adequately prepared. Early in the Cold War, efforts to inform the public of what to expect/how to prepare for an atomic confrontation were relatively common, even in the United States. But those efforts faded over the decades (in the USA at least) as both the dire reality of thermonuclear warfare became apparent, and the domestic politics of nuclear weapons became more polarized.

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It goes without saying that one of the biggest influences of O.L.D. — A Good Way to Die was the granddaddy of secret agents himself: Ian Fleming’s James Bond. As a topic, there’s a lot of cool rabbit holes we can jump down and explore: there are the war-time experiences of Ian Fleming (hint: they’re badass), the cool details of how (the late) Sean Connery was cast (hint: he was a badass), but today, let’s focus on an object that’s both synonymous with the character AND also serves as a significant plot device in O.L.D. — A Good Way to Die: the Walther PPK.

“Like a brick through a plate-glass window.”
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The bullshit heard around the world.

For years, the CIA had been flying ultra top-secret (and highly illegal) espionage flights over the Soviet Union. Their vehicle: the U-2 spy plane, a technological marvel seemingly lightyears ahead of anything the Soviets could throw at it. Flying at heights of 70,000 feet, the plane was assumed to be untouchable by Russian anti-aircraft weaponry. In other words, the U-2 spy plane (and the state-of-the-art cameras mounted in its nose) had free reign over Soviet airspace, to photograph whatever they pleased. But — as so often happens — the unthinkable became doable…

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