Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Material Witness: "a story that develops at breakneck speed and is cinematic in action levels"

REVIEW: Unholy Domain by Dan Ronco

I have two colleagues who tell illuminating stories about the development of technology: one illustrates how unpredictable the application and adoption of new technologies can be, the latter just how quickly things can change and how our expectations and perceptions of them alter with it.

The first recounts the early days of telecommunications when the pioneers of the industry laid the first cables with little understanding of exactly how they would be used. Everyday conversation was certainly not expected to be one of the major uses of the lines. It has of course become the "killer app" and has altered our world beyond recognition.

The second story is told by a woman who took her young son to a doctor's officer where he saw a strange item with a handset and a wire coming out of it sitting on the receptionist's desk. "What is this mummy?" the boy asked. "That's a telephone," she replied. The boy picked it up and mimicked taking a photograph.

Bear with me, because there is a point to all this. Having spent most of the last decade either writing about technology or working for a technology company, I have become fascinated by the evolution of networks, gadgets and the like and also about the limits of them. As the story of the little boy who sees a phone as a camera first rather than a communications device shows, things move extraordinarily quickly and in unexpected directions.

A dozen years ago I had no internet access, no digital camera, no GPS. Now I have them all in one device of about 3x2x1 inches, which also allows me to make calls wherever I am in the world. I could not have envisaged any of these things, some of them even five or six years ago. What will my device do in 12 years time? I have no idea, but I expect it to be extraordinary.

For all those reasons, I was well disposed to Dan Ronco's novel, Unholy Domain, which takes curiosity about technological evolution and turns it into a fascinating and thought-provoking sci-fi thriller.

Ronco, is well placed to do this. His academic qualifications in the technology field are impeccable and he has also done stints with AT&T and Microsoft. (I tried not to hold this against him; after all it is probably not his fault that it takes Windows so damned long to open). But what he also has going for him is imagination, and that combined with his technological know-how has allowed him to develop a credible, if outlandish, plot in which the forces of technology and religion clash in a future-defining battle of wills, power and no little violence.

It is not the most stylishly written book I have come across and there are one or two moments (not technologically related) that defy belief (I found an episode where the protagonist David Brown falls in love utterly unconvincing).

But that doesn't matter so much in a book like this, where the idea is key, and where here it is followed through with utter conviction in a story that develops at breakneck speed and is cinematic in action levels.

David Brown finds himself in the middle of the war between the anti-technology Church of the Natural Human and a shadowy technological organisation called the Domain, which fight for supremacy in the wake of a massive software virus attack which disabled the world's communications system and left the US in economic depression and on the verge of total societal breakdown.

The one side believes that only by adopting a Luddite approach to technology can humanity find its way, while the other stresses that only advances can restore society to its former glories. The ruthlessness with which both pursue their cause is total: assassination, murder, even crucification is carried out without undue reference to conscience. The struggle is bitter, bloody and brutal.

Brown is the son of Ray Brown, a former colleague of Dianne Morgan the "witch" at the heart of the Domain, the man believed to be responsible for the catastrophic virus PeaceMaker. When his father visits him from beyond the grave to proclaim his innocence, David, a software prodigy embarks on a quest to find the truth, which ultimately draws him into the battle between church and PC.

David Brown is the story's major weakness. I found him a largely unsympathetic character: unlikable and largely difficult to understand, particularly in the early stages of Domain, which presumed more knowledge of its prequel, PeaceMaker, than I had (none).

But again, it was reasonably easy to overcome this - and he grew on me a little as the story wore on - partly because other characters Morgan and Adam Jordan, head of the religious faction, were so satisfactorily demonic and insane. But also because the idea - of the techno/religious war and the central technology itself, which is an advanced form of AI, capable of "mixing" with the human mind, for want of a better word - is intriguing.

Religion has long raged against science, and science has long ridiculed religion. It's an old warIt's going on right now around stem cells and genetics and the like, and that is fascinating. What Ronco has done is given it a new lease of life by casting it 20 years into the future where it is powerede by his impressive imagination.

Visit my Amazon Profile to read other reviews of Unholy Domain.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

My Favorite Television Science Fiction Characters

Over the years, a surprising number of excellent science fiction characters have appeared on television. A memorable character requires good writing, superb acting and a little charisma. Usually, several memorable characters may be found on a good television series, one that meets the test of time. Often it takes several years to really buy into a character, because great characters are complex, developing or revealing themselves over several seasons. A critical mass of good writers is also essential; one good writer can’t carry a show year after year.

In any case, I’d like to describe a few characters that stand out in my mind. I enjoyed them when I first saw them, and I still enjoy them in reruns. Let me add that many fine characters, such as Captains Kirk and Picard, G’Kar, Boomer, Mal, Tasha, Crichton, Scotty and others didn’t make the list. They’re good, but I had to cut somewhere. My favorites are listed below as I thought about them; it’s not a ranking.

Admiral William Adama of Battlestar Galactica is a tough, honorable, natural leader. Capable of making mistakes, big ones, but also brilliant at times. A rough exterior hides his need to give and receive love, compassion and tenderness. Just looking at the man, you know he’s SOMEBODY. When he speaks in that low, rumbling voice, everyone pays attention. He’s the kind of guy I would follow into battle.

Well, maybe not battle.

Wouldn’t you like having Star Trek’s Dr. Leonard McCoy as your doctor? I know I would. This guy knows his stuff, he’s decent and loyal, and he has a great sense of humor. The friendly name calling between McCoy and Spock made the show both unique and realistic. I’ve always enjoyed mocking out my friends … although I haven’t seen any of them for a while. Sometimes McCoy’s conversation got into a rut (“He’s/she’s dead, Jim.”), but things would pick up as soon as he spotted pointy ears.

Then there’s Cylon Number Six, also from Battlestar Galactica. Blonde, slender but shapely, and legs that don’t quit. I’m beginning to drool already. Talk about an electric presence! When any version of Six turns up, you know there’s going to be plenty of action. Doesn’t matter if she’s making love or beating the stuffing out of someone, you can’t leave the room, even when your wife is shouting that dinner’s getting cold.

Is there anyone who doesn’t know the pointy-eared, super logical Vulcan named Spock? He was unique, complex and fascinating when he was introduced four decades ago, and guess what, he’s still interesting. An old friend, someone who doesn’t disappoint. There is still that struggle between human emotions and Vulcan logic, that sharp wit and that strong loyalty to friends. I understand that he will be in the Star Trek movie coming out next year. What an amazing career.

Battlestar’s Gaius Baltar is one of the most complex characters ever to appear in science fiction. He’s basically a villain, but you get the feeling he’s a pretty decent, if weak, character down deep. A genius, a womanizer, a leader, a manipulator --- they all apply to Baltar. He’s almost always on the wrong side of an issue, but you can’t help rooting for his good side to emerge. And those scenes with Six will melt your socks!

If Baltar were an all-powerful alien, he’d be Q. Star Trek TNG’s favorite villain, Q always presents Picard and the other Star Trek leaders with a fascinating problem to investigate. He’s self-centered, mischievous, and arrogant, but always amusing. You just have to smile when Q makes an appearance.

Captain Elizabeth Lockley was only on Babylon 5 for a year, but she really made an impression. Tough, smart, vulnerable, and very hot, she quickly established herself as the leader of B5. The woman dominates her scenes, too. Somehow, no matter who is talking, my eyes are on her.

And finally, there is Lando Molari, the Ambassador to B5 from the Centauri. Lando began the series as a lightweight villain, but gradually evolved into an honorable, brave man willing to sacrifice his happiness for the survival of his people. His relationship with G’Kar, the Narn Ambassador, gradually grew over the life of the series from mutual contempt to respect to a tragic friendship.

Okay, that’s my list. I have noticed that these great sci-fi characters become almost like friends over the years. That’s when you know a character was something special.

Check out SFSIGNAL to see the characters others have selected.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Win a Free Copy of Unholy Domain

TRACY FARNSWORTH at Roundtable Reviews is running a contest as described below:

Looking for a gripping summer read? Look no further! Author Dan Ronco is giving away an autographed copy of his powerful suspense novel UNHOLY DOMAIN. It's easy to enter, simply send your name and address to Dan is willing to ship his book to any interested reader. Please be aware that shipping to countries outside of the United States will take longer to arrive. Contest ends August 30, 2008 at midnight EST.

Check out the review to find out what had reviewer Jeff Cook so excited!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

SF Characters

If you are a serious reader of science fiction, you have probably noticed the smugness of so-called mainline or literary readers. You know the type --- they don’t consider SF real literature. Among many deficiencies, they think SF is peopled with cardboard characters. This attitude irritated me until I realized there are differences.

Literary fiction is character driven. The characters resemble real people in realistic places. Literary fiction reveals character or develops character through a cumulative awareness that builds over the story or through a sudden personal awakening, usually near the conclusion of the novel. Literary fiction explores human complexity and strives to develop a deep understanding of the uniqueness of one or more main characters.

Much of science fiction, on the other hand is idea driven, let’s call it the big idea. For example the big idea in Unholy Domain is to explore what it means to be human. The main characters serve the big idea. They may be well-rounded, but they must fit into the idea of the story. While the literary character may spend pages dwelling on the relationship with his father, the SF character will spend little if any time dissecting that relationship. The focus is on the big idea and the plot must keep moving along.

Science fiction come in many subgenres --- cyberpunk, romance, post-apocalyptic, space opera, near future, soft and hard --- to name a few. All SF is a mix of setting, plot and character, but SF places more emphasis on setting and plot than does traditional literary fiction. The SF writer has more to deal with than the traditional writer, and can’t put all her marbles in the character basket.

That doesn’t mean that SF characters aren’t well-developed. They can be, but within and supporting the framework of the story. David Louis Edelman has an excellent article on Building Character(s) in DeepGenre and provides a useful list of factors to consider. Read the comments, too.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Book Chase: Unholy Domain is "a rollercoaster ride"

Dan Ronco’s Unholy Domain comes along just when most people are becoming fully aware that the world’s new dependence on the internet leaves all of us vulnerable to a completely new kind of terrorist threat that was never envisioned by the net’s creators. All it takes to cripple economies, kill power grids, shut down sophisticated weapons systems and, ultimately, to kill people is one person with the will and the skills to hack into the right computers around the world. If that thought makes you nervous, you probably should stay away from Unholy Domain.

Unholy Domain is Ronco’s follow-up to his PeaceMaker in which he described how a computer super-virus was used to destroy economies around the world, causing the deaths of so many people in the process, that things might never be the same again. The U.S. government now fears out-of-control technological advances and, in self-defense, is severely limiting the release of new high-tech products. Complicating the situation are two groups, one completely in opposition to the introduction of new technology (the Church of Natural Humans), and a second one intent on selling new technology on the black market to the highest bidder (the Technos), that are literally at war with each other.

Caught between the government and the warring factions is one David Brown, son of the now deceased Ray Brown, the man blamed for creating the virus that devastated the world ten years earlier. David, hoping to prove that his father is innocent of the crime, begins his own investigation into what happened a decade earlier and quickly draws the attention of both the Technos and the leadership of the Church of Natural Humans. In order to safeguard their plans for the future, the Technos want to eliminate David as soon as possible. The religious fanatics, on the other hand, want to keep him alive long enough to follow him to the headquarters of the Technos in order to destroy that bunch once and, hopefully, for all.

When Unholy Domain shifts from set-up of the intriguingly dangerous mess that David creates for himself and anyone who tries to help him in his investigation, it becomes a rollercoaster ride of pitched battles between fanatic warrior armies, assassinations, murders, kidnappings, torture and wild lovemaking, not necessarily in that order. There is enough science in the book to satisfy science fiction fans and enough action to keep thriller fans more than happy.

This one, despite the terrifying glimpse of a future set only a few years from now that it offers, is fun.

Posted on Book Chase by Sam Houston

Visit Dan Ronco's Amazon Profile.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Soulless Machine Review: My writing compared to Crichton , Gibson and Leonard

Posted by Aaaron M. Wilson on the Soulless Machine Review.

Unholy Domain by Dan Ronco was the second novel that I read while I was in Puerto Vallarta, to read the review of the first, click here: DARWIN'S PARADOX by Nina Munteanu.

Imagine a world several years after a computer virus called Peacemaker destroyed nearly all internet connections in the world and infected almost all computers. In this world, Peacemaker is indirectly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people due to loss of remote control of utilities, phones, satellites, hospitals; everything that we take for granted stopped working.

In the aftermath, the government has taken control of all technology related R&D; and in the wake of this take over, two opposing forces have arisen: the Technos, who push the envelope, creating new and illegal technologies, which are sold on the black market by the mob; and the Church of Natural Humans, a terrorist-like sect of Christianity that believes all machines, smart-technologies, are spawns of the devil.

In this world, your name is David Brown. You're smart. You're good looking and women flock to you. You're not wealthy, but you don't want for money. You have everything going for you, except that you are the son of the man who created and unleashed Peacemaker.

Unholy Domain is an action packed coming of age story in which David Brown must uncover hidden secrets about his father, secrets that others have killed to keep, secrets that if uncovered could change everything. In his search, David will go up against the Church of Natural Humans, the Techos, and an intelligent internet program that threatens to suck his consciousness out of his body and into the World Wide Web forever.

Ronco's writing is clear and detailed. I read every word. The plot is fast. A worthy comparison of Ronco's style would be: Michael Crichton's action, William Gibson's attention to technical detail, and Elmore Leonard's tough guy attitude. This combination finds a unique and entertaining mix in Ronco's fiction, creating a book that I couldn't put down long enough to enjoy the beaches of Puerto Vallarta.

I highly recommend Unholy Domain to anyone interested in the future of human consciousness, technology, and the evolution of the human machine.

To learn more about my novels, check out my Amazon Blog.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008 Unholy Domain almost screams "Look around you!"

Review for “Unholy Domain” by Dan Ronco

The futuristic world of Cyber Technology is spawning a new genre that falls somewhere between creative imagination and scientific probability. And possibly, imminent projection. It’s the impending element that is the rather scary part. Is Unholy Domain science fiction, a thriller of sorts? Or is it a quite feasible and likely glimpse into a very near future? Unlike the imaginative sci-fi of the Star Wars and Trekkie generation where we were thrust light years ahead of our time, Unholy Domain almost screams “Look around you!”

It’s 2012. A deadly computer virus renders identity theft, electronic spying and cyber fraud mere child’s play. This bug, known as Peace Maker, literally sends the world spiraling into chaos with a shut down of communications, energy, and product distribution. What’s compelling about this calamity is its very possible authenticity. It could happen tomorrow! Look around you!

Fast forward ten years. It’s 2022. Society, itself, is in decay. The Great Depression of the Thirties pales in comparison. Once in control, the Technos and their ensuing alternative intelligence capabilities have roused the ire of religious fundamentalists. The Technos, their controlled robots, and the Natural Humans of the Army of God meet head on in the age-old battle of good versus evil, of God against Lucifer! But there is a yet new dilemma. Has evil become the only power? Is evil only fighting for a more intense degree of itself? Is this the ultimate jihad?

True to books of this genre, Unholy Domain does have an enigmatic ending which leaves the reader free to draw their own conclusions as to the validity of this futuristic world. The goal of a writer is to leave the reader pondering their story, the whys and wherefores of it, and the personal impact it invokes. Unholy Domain succeeds in doing that. By all means . . . look around you!

Susan Haley, Author

**Susan Haley is the published author of two books, several articles on networking, an award-winning poet, and the copy editor and book reviewer for Pepper Tree Press Publishing. She is a columnist for “The Florida Writer” the official magazine of the Florida Writers Association, and serves as Facilitator for the Sarasota County Chapter. The audio version of her novel “RAINY DAY PEOPLE” was recently awarded runner-up Finalist in the 2008 Indie Excellence National Book Awards. She also contributes a variety of editorials and excerpts of her work to various E-zines, newsletters, and local papers. Susan can be contacted at

To learn more about Dan Ronco and his novels, check out his Amazon Blog.