Nick Cole's new Soda Pop Soldier is as different from The Wasteland Saga as Skyrim is to Donkey Kong. Not that The Wasteland Saga is as emotionally bankrupt as Donkey Kong. It's not. And it's awesome. It's just so different it seems as if someone else wrote it. In a way, it was. It's clear that John Saxon wrote this book while Nick Cole wrote the other one--John Saxon being both an actor who starred in Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon as well as being the nom de guerre of the main character of Soda Pop Soldier. And Nick Cole can level up with 10,000 cool points for channeling the great unsung pop-culture icon of the 1970s.
The great great grandchild of Neuromancer (Gibson), Soda Pop Soldier shares its inventiveness, themes of moral bankruptcy and greed, and isolationism with it's siblings Reamde (Stephenson) and Ready Player One (Cline). But it achieves more. I'm not sure if John Saxon used these as stepping stones, or came up with the premise whole cloth in the vacuum of his shag-carpeted, spinning disco ball, scotch soaked mind, but whatever +5 Potion of Inventiveness he sucked down, it worked.
But that's all creation myth.
Soda Pop Soldier has not one but two online universes John Saxon interacts with. The first is the corporate war gaming universe of a pseudo-Vietnam where megacorporation victories are rewarded with mega-advertising. The second is The Black, which is a truly vile hole in the internet where within the constructs of a game, players can do some truly terrible things that have consequences in the real world, all the while viewers pay to watch. What's most interesting is that behind all that vileness is a Tolkeinesque quest MMORPG that shines with its brilliant reincarnations of all the questings we have come to know and love as fans of high action high fantasy, roleplaying, and online gaming.
All this set on a timer that if it goes off could mean the end to our fabled hero and true author of the book, the venerable John Saxon.
On a personal note, as a fellow writer, I can tell Nick Cole is a foodie. The way he describes food in this book is nothing short of old-school Ventura-based porn. I can almost see him leering as he wrote about garlicky fries and mile-high club sandwiches. And of course there's the scotch. Never forget the scotch. Our hero drinks enough of it to fuel a pair of funny cars at San Bernardino Motor Speedway.
As an author and a soldier--fellow soldier it appears--the fighting and combat sequences rang true. Having written knock-down-dragged-out fight scenes for my SEAL Team 666 series as well as my Grunt series, I know how mentally challenging these are to get right, to keep track of all the personnel and havoc we're choreographing.
And I loved the nod to Corporal Hicks. I wanted to scream Punch it Bishop! every time there was an Aliens reference.
So here we are.
When I read Reamde I thought that was the best thing I'd read using online gaming as a theme.
When I read Ready Player One I thought that was the best thing I'd read using online gaming as a theme.
And they were... at the time I read them.
Now that I've read Soda Pop Soldier, I know that this is the best thing I've read using online gaming as a theme.
And it will remain so right up until the point that it isn't. When something else comes along. But that eventual usurpation will have no effect on the lasting quality and immoral goodness John Saxon nee Nick Cole created with this masterpiece the megacorporation HarperCollins calls Soda Pop Soldier.