An Ode to My First 1 Star Review and Things I Shouldn’t Post

Of course, 24 hours after making my last post about how I’d only received 5 stars, someone immediately felt compelled to change that. Seems I poked the angry bear, or maybe a surley racoon… No? Ok, just an irritated squirrel in the trash can.

Much to my excitement, when I did my daily check, I received a bit of critical feedback from Mr. David B on Quantum Beginnings: A Cyberpunk Thriller.

First, to MDB, I thank you. Really, I do.

Why? He felt impassioned to write up a review as follows:

Just another cheap sex novel disguised as sci fi. Started well but quickly devolved into glorification of unconventional sex, drugs, and distorted political justification. I couldn’t force my self[sic] to continue past 73%. 1/5 stars

MDB

One might ask, why I’m happy he dropped this 1-star pile of poop in my public Amazon ratings. After all, Amazon treats reviews as gospel, and rate them as thus:

5 Star: I liked it, and will buy the next one. (Amazon will let you know when the sequel is out or advertise more things like this to you. We’ll also advertise this book to others we think might like it too.)
4 Star: I liked it, but won’t buy the next one. (Amazon thinks this was ok, but probably not good enough to suggest things like this to you again.)
3 Star: I disliked it. (Amazon will avoid sending things like this to you and avoid advertising the author’s works elsewhere.)
2 Star: I hated it, go die in a fire.
1 Star: I hated it, you and anyone you care for should die in a fire.

So, why thanks?

Well… for those familiar with Cyberpunk’s unofficial tenants of Sex, Drugs, and Anarchy against the establishment, what he just put up there was a solid endorsement.

He also dropped a hell of a hint of what finally pushed him over the edge. One might ask what, exactly, is on 73% that was so objectionable that he couldn’t finished the book?

I’ll risk a mild spoiler to illustrate the issue. 73% is the “rooftop scene.” In that scene we have a 20 year old male, and a 22 year old female, who are dating. The biggest part of that scene is a bisexual female talking about society, being judged for her impulses, in regards to still being attracted to women. She speaks of the double standard of being both encouraged for some things, but immediately derided after the fact. As though it’s all fun to pretend to enjoy things, but the moment it’s real, it’s a problem. About always feeling like there was something missing, and other people making her feel like damaged goods. She explains why she’s had trouble with monogamy and proposed something other than a traditional relationship. A bit of airing of her kinks in a serious relationship, to try and make her feel a bit less broken. Mind you, she hasn’t done anything about it. She’s just discussing it. To be frank, this exact conversation has happened numerous times in the real world, and it doesn’t always go well.

So… that did it? The final straw? Apparently.

To be fair, I knew that scene would be controversial, at least to some. So, why include it at all?

Simply put, I’m respecting my characters. I’ve seen this play out in real life and have no desire to diminish those that have fought the struggle. It takes courage to speak plainly with one’s partner, to expose the heart of the matter, to peel away the masks we wear. To speak directly, even if it means hurting the other person or risking it all.

It also takes courage to support them. To love someone enough to accept that they aren’t magically “complete” the moment you walk into the room. To accept that they might be a bit unconventional, but they are worth trying to make of a go of it anyway.

As to including sex in general? Have you met 20 year olds? I’ll willingly call myself out in the process of saying it was absolutely necessary for the characters to be realistic. If I’d have left that out of the book, more people would have called me out on it than the other way around. Besides, if you are looking for a bit of a wikipedia hole to fall down, look up the symptoms of APD (formerly known as sociopathy), then get back to me.

Do I expect to get dinged on it periodically since there are adult situations? Well, since I anticipated publishing under my real name, I actually wrote two versions, one without the explicit bits, and one with. After weighing it all out, the version that was fade to black and downplayed all just seemed too… fake. It broke the characters. It seemed too prim and proper. It was too fairy tale, if I didn’t embrace the fact that they were flawed, broken, and complicated people. I even put it up for a vote on RRL, and 92% voted to keep it explicit, but the other 8% were far noiser about it.

Yeah, it’s unpleasant to get knocked on my ratings, but if I look at the 1 star reviews for any influential book in the genre, they all have the same dings for the same reason. I’ve had 20 times the number of people who ding it, praise it for being real and having well developed characters. I’ll go with the crowd in this case.

So, unconventional arrangements in a relationship? Absolutely.

Next comes the drug comment. From Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun, to Nexus and Altered Carbon, seeking to alter one’s mind or escape from reality via some form of drug been a staple of the genre. But, the fact is, (again, mild spoiler) no illegal drugs are actually taken at any point during this book.

Instead, electrical stimulation is used as an experiment to see if it could create the same affect. It’s turned into a R&D project. It’s splitting hairs, I know, but I’ve always used this book as a template for this is how you get the neon-soaked Cyberpunk that comes later. A precursor to Mega-Corps having more control than governments. Where dystopian situations can emerge from our current culture and political systems. Because, simply put, you can’t have a call to revolution without conflict.

The thing is, what is posed above is something that’s being studied in depth at the moment. We’re actively learning how to use external stimulus to optimize the thought process to learn faster, stay awake longer, relax deeper, create a therapeutic mindset, and yes, some of that tips against why some people opt to take recreational drugs. In this case, it’s used as a plot device. So, yeah… unconventional drug use? Absolutely.

So, lastly we have distorted political justification. Honestly, I’m not sure what prompted this one. But, I’ll take a few guesses. First, Alex is an anti-hero. Straight up. Let’s not pretend otherwise. However, let’s be fair here for a moment, that’s almost all of the Cyberpunk main characters.

Alex has had his brain tinkered with, memories ripped out during the accident, and enough damage that he is diagnosed as having antisocial personality disorder (realistic for neuro-injuries) and is essentially locked in a cage until his sponsor extracts a return on investment out of him.

Add in the situation he’s in, his age, and later a sudden influx of power/money, add who he’s surrounded by and you get a recipe for some self-serving decisions. He’s young, angry, and has had terrible things done to him. However, rather than falling into angst or violence, he uses a bit of business savviness to crush his opponents with corporate moves.

Also, when pressed against the wall, he opts to go outside the law to protect those he’s come to love. Does that mean he makes some shady deals? Absolutely. Does he end up going against established political tenants and want to tear down some of the establishment in the process? Yep. When he becomes a target by social media driven retaliation, does he try to find creative ways to redirect public perception in, frankly, disturbing ways? Certainly.

He could have easily ended up a villian bent on setting the world on fire. So yes, unconventional politics that embrace at least portions of punk ideology and adapted it to a high-tech mythology of the world? Certainly. Arguably, that IS cyberpunk.

I could be drifting off of MDB’s point here, as I’m not certain what it is. During public beta reads over on RRL, I was even been called out for including the reference where a woman (former US Army) mentioned, “who doesn’t want to punch a Nazi.” That particular reader wanted to argue semantics and have me remove it, saying it was unfair, and this other group was worse… That’s, to date, the only case I ever used my moderation controls on RRL. Delete. If I managed to piss off a neo-nazi sympathizer with my book’s politics, I must have done something right.

So, where does this leave us with MDB and his 73% quitting mark? A simple thank you for illustrating that fictional characters became so real, that MDB’s real-world dispositions and hangups were triggered. That the book forced uncomfortable thoughts into their mind. The fact that it disrupted the conventional status-quo was the point, and in this author’s opinion is fairly Punk. The fact that his final straw happened to involve a complicated woman having an honest conversation with someone that has a neural implant shoved into his head, just made it all the more Cyberpunk.

Thanks!

Joe Kuster


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