“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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Presidential Breakfasts

So not all the research that went into O.L.D. — A Good Way to Die dealt with Cold War top-secret missions. Case in point: presidential breakfasts. A real perk of being the Commander in Chief is the personal staff at your disposal. This includes culinary chefs ready and waiting to prepare anything you might desire. So, naturally, I wondered what the hell these presidents have eaten for breakfast over the years…

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Project Azorian

What’s one of the most enjoyable things about reading a fast-paced action-adventure like The Da Vinci Code or an edge-of-your-seat techno-thriller like The Hunt for Red October? — THE HISTORY, right?

Yeah, there’s a lot of liberties taken. But you still feel smarter just thumbing through the pages. Without a doubt, all that real-world history makes the read that much more fulfilling for you, the reader. And, glancing through the research that went into O.L.D. — A Good Way to Die, it’s just too good not to share with you here, especially if Cold War history is your thing. Sure, some of it’s rather mundane (like what Ronald Reagan ate for breakfast), but some of it is astonishing.

Take, for example, Project Azorian

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