Welcome to the November 14th review stop on the blog tour for The Rage Room by Lisa de Nikolits, organized by Silver Dagger Blog Tours. Be sure to follow the rest of the tour for more spotlights, reviews, guest post by the author, and a giveaway! (More on that at the end of this post.)
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The Rage Room
by Lisa de Nikolits
Published 30 October 2020
by Inanna Publications
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Page Count: 300
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
What if you had a chance to fix the worst mistake of your life…but only made things worse? The Rage Room dives into dystopia with an extraordinary tale about choices and second chances. Sharps Barkley jumps back in time and finds that changing the future isn’t as easy as he thought.
Set in 2055, our plastic world is run by robots, fueled by consumerism, twisted religion and virtual data. Satellites control the weather, food is grown in laboratories. Arts and culture are distant memories. Beneath the sunny skies and behind the garbage-free suburban McMansions live deeply disturbed, materialistic families. Prescribed visits to rage rooms lance desperate anger, boredom and discontent but the band-aid fix hides disturbing governmental motives.
An intense and provocative exploration of societal coded messages, The Rage Room is an action-packed story of unravelling and alternate realities, of disturbing and searching re-runs. Can the army of feminist hackers restore Mother Nature?
Can love triumph over fear? And, ultimately, can the children be saved?
Dark, fun, weird, imaginative, The Rage Room is a dystopic ride perfect for the anxieties and conditions of the present day. The paranoia of Sharps Barkley seeps into you, propelling this thriller that will keep you guessing to the very end.David Albertyn, author of Undercard
Leave it to the wild imagination of Lisa de Nikolits to bring us the dystopian future of The Rage Room, an extraordinarily inventive speculative fiction thriller with a decidedly feminist bent. Fast-paced, funny, bold, and completely engrossing, The Rage Room is an allegory, a cautionary tale, and a rollicking good read that will stay with you long after the last page has been turned.Amy Jones, author of We’re All in This Together and Every Little Piece of Me
In turns unsettling and very funny, The Rage Room is a berserk science-fiction satire of toxic masculinity, narrated by your guide, Sharps, the neurotic, rage-filled Jason Bateman of the future. There are lines and descriptions that will stop you dead in your tracks and make you take notes.Evan Munday, The Dead Kid Detective Agency series
In her latest captivating book, de Nikolits proffers not only a roller coaster of entertainment, but also, sharp political commentary in complicated times. The Rage Room is an intricately woven dystopian world, rich in strong female characters who easily whisk readers to a world of futuristic follies. Move over George Orwell – de Nikolits shows us how the future can be scary, exciting, and above all, female.Kelly S. Thompson, National Bestseller author of Girls Need Not Apply: Field Notes from the Forces
I don’t know what year it is. We aren’t allowed to know and really, I couldn’t care less. I’m in my safe place, the rage room, focussed on doing what I do best, breaking things. Thwack. I bring the baseball bat down on what’s left of a kiddies wagon. The room is full of wagons, broken toys, junk furniture and discarded office equipment, garbage, all of it.
The auto voice made her usual announcement as I entered the room: Screen-based materials are forbidden in the rage room. Glass cannot be utilized or destroyed in the rage room. We always consider your safety first! Because we care about you! All in accordance with Docket102.V, Health and Safety Code 0009: By Order of The Sacred Board, Gloria In Excelsis Deo.
Yeah man, I know all the rules. And here’s what I think of your rules.
I attack the wagon again and the cheerful pink plastic replies with a slight ‘ugh’ as if asking me if that was the best I could do but it doesn’t give. I come down harder and score a crack that mocks my feeble efforts. Story of my life.
My soundtrack is on maxed. O Fortuna, Carmina Burana on repeat, volume pumped. Sometimes it’s War, by The Cult or You Lied by Tool or, incongruously, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with a disco twist and added bass for power. Rage Against The Machine is a good one too. Thud, thud, thud, yeah. I choose my soundtrack and I like vintage, none of that auto-robo music for me.
Thinking about music choices makes me think about life choices or the lack thereof, and my wife’s beauty badge, previously known as her profile pic, flashes unbidden across my crystal path.
Celeste. She looks angelic, like Farrah Fawcett in the days of Charlie’s Angels, only hundred pounds heavier, with two chipmunk teeth perching on the lower lip of her overbite. Celeste had ordered those teeth, paid premium to get her primaries longer than anyone else’s. She thought it made her sexy.
I raise the bat higher and split the wretched wagon in two. Sweetie, honey, baby, sugar. Thwack. Was it possible for the woman to utter anything without coating it with saccharine, glucose and fructose and then deep-frying it like an Oreo at fun fair? Celeste had fried my brain alright. So why did I marry her? Thwack. Because she offered me everything I wanted, the sum of which boiled down to one thing. I wanted to be normal. I wanted to be The King of Normal. And Celeste’s marrying me was the act of a desperate addict trying to set her life straight, topped up with a deep-seated desire to please her father, Daddy.
I thrash at an impervious lime green keyboard, finally picking it up and slamming it against a workbench. I’m grunting as if I’m up against heavyweight champion of the world and my thin white protective plastic suit rips off like old wallpaper. But it’s not all my fault, the suit was torn when I got into it. That’s the government for you, step into this used piece of shit, so what if it’s slick with the sweat of some other angry dude who came before you, the rules say you have to wear it, Docket809. V, Health and Safety Code 0009.12: By Order of The Sacred Board, Gloria In Excelsis Deo. The rules should say you each get a fresh new suit but that would cost too much money.
We look like giant Easter bunnies, hopping insanely behind one-way mirrors, covered from head to toe in white disposable Tyvek coverall suits with elastic wrists, booties and hoodie. All we need are big floppy ears and little bobbing white pompom tails. Hop, hop, hop in a plastic room and break plastic shit to make yourself feel better for a tiny piece of your stupid, meaningless life. I’m a clean freak and I like my life to be scrubbed and tidy which makes the rage rooms an anomaly to be my safe place but I’m an anger addict, giving into chaos at the drop of a hammer. And the hammer drops a lot in my life which I’ve come to accept but what I can’t accept is that the white suits still disgust me. They’re damp when you pull them on and it’s like trying to wriggle into someone else’s just-discarded swimsuit. I also hate the smeared and greasy goggles with scratches like some kid used them for skateboarding, which is still a thing.
I’ve offered more than once to buy my own equipment but it’s against regulations. It’s also against the rules to self-harm in a rage room but more than one person has tried to commit suicide. I imagined them rushing in, falling to their knees and hacking their veins open, wanting to die in a thick red sea of gushing blood while their fave hate song drums out the dying pulse of their lives. Trust me, I’ve thought about trying too. It’d be a fitting place for me to meet my end but the person behind the window watches just enough to not let that happen. Sometimes I yell profanities at the blacked-out glass window but I’m sure whoever’s watching is so used to witnessing the pointless destruction that they don’t even bother to look or listen most of the time.
I smash on, chasing release and finding none. Then the music stops, just like that and a cop-car siren sounds. Whoop, whoop, whoop! Red lights flash across the room. Green lights signal go, red for when your time is up.
I’m out of time but release was denied. Shit. I pulled my face gear off, hearing only my frustrated breath. My face is dented from the goggles and I run my fingers along the ridges and bumps.
A guy opened the door and dragged in a trash can. He ignored me and I just stood there. I wasn’t ready to leave but my time was up. The siren sounded again, whoop, whoop, whoop, and still, Istood there, goggles in hand, looking the useless crap I had broken.
Another guy came, in a big fella. “Buddy,” he said, “you know the rules. You gotta go. Come on now.”
I turned to him and I couldn’t help myself, tears spilled down my face and I heard myself sobbing and he said “oh crapola, we got ourselves a wet one,” and he left. The guy behind me carried on cleaning. I had nowhere to go so I just stood there, crying.
The big guy came back and handed me a roll of paper towel. I tore off three sheets, blew my nose and handed the roll back to him. “A bunch of us are going for a drink,” he said. “You wanna come? You need a drink. Come on.”
I thought about Celeste, waiting at home and I thought about my baby boy, Baxter. I thought about the carpet that needed vacuuming because the robovacs never got into the corners and how Bax wasn’t eating properly and how Celeste wouldn’t listen to me when I panicked about his nutrients. I needed my boy to eat properly and no one cared but me.
“But honey,” Celeste smiled, “we’ve got science, you know that. Science takes care of us. Minnie’s got everything under control. It’s not like the old days. We don’t have to worry anymore.”
She was right. It wasn’t like back in the early 21st century when the news was filled with illness, devastation, human loss and natural disaster. It was, however, thanks to the pervasive fears of that time, of illness, aging and dying, that politicians had secretly funnelled billions from the taxpayer’s pockets into the science labs, and the results, once uncovered, were astounding. The powers-that-be knew they were killing the world by denying the existence of global warming and they’d collectively and secretly developed labs to create food and fuel, motivated not by altruism but because none of them wanted starve or die in a flood or drought or fire or get taken out by the newest raging disease, caused by alpacas or bearded dragons or, in the most deadly of cases, the family cat.
Scientists had developed surgeries and scientific solutions for any manner of ailment or disease and Minnie, the Supreme World Leader, and her Sacred Board of Directors, shared this wealth of knowledge with the world.
So Celeste was right. Bax would be fine.
I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was lie down on the floor and carry on crying. Yes, the carpet at home needed cleaning and yes, I was worried about Bax not getting enough protein but, weighing on me more heavily than anything, was the fact that my paternity leave was over.
I was due back at work the next day, the thought of which ripped through my gut like a tumbling drum of sharp nails and broken glass, all sloshing around in an icy pit of poisoned, oily water. So I mopped up my face and figured it would be best to follow this guy to a bar and pull myself together before I went home. I couldn’t let Celeste see me like this. She thought I was Mr. Strong and Steadfast, solid as a rock and I couldn’t let her know any different. But I realized I needed help, so I flashed a comm to my best friend, Jazza. Need to see ya, buddy. Follow my cp. I wondered if Jazza would even respond, given that I’d sorely neglected him since I ran out the building into the waiting arms of my pat leave.
My cp. My Crystal Path. By logging in, Jazza could access my bio-hard drive, the neural implant microchip embedded in my brain. We all had them. Every interaction from my, and everyone else’s Crystal Path, moved across The Crystal Lattice which was like a large invisible digital spider’s web around the Earth, connecting all the satellites and all of us. Even the weather was satellite controlled and every strand of the information was part of the Crystal Lattice. We were studded with implants shortly after Minnie came into power. Of course, she said it was optional but after she assumed control of the Internet, how else were we to communicate? She dominated the service providers and instated regulations that didn’t let anyone else provide access. So really, what choice did we have? In my opinion, Bax was far too young for implants, he was only a year old which didn’t stop some parents hooking their newborns up, to monitor them in their cribs, watch them at childcare, at preschool and in the playgrounds. It was important to keep an eye on the nannies, don’t you know, and make sure that the robo-carers and humans were doing a good job and not subjecting their beloved offspring to any horrifying abuse or disturbing discipline. More expensive software developments allowed parents to access the kiddies bio-stats to make sure heart rates, blood sugars and serotonin levels where all where they should be. The Crystal Path wasn’t exactly pure, it had its own form of the Dark Web just like the old days and, despite my body being riddled with every manner of software that I could get my hands on, I wasn’t sure I wanted Bax to have access to any of it. And yet, the creation of those implants were the very thing that gave me, and thousands of others, jobs.
The Crystal Path was like a map of screens that could viewed at any time, all jam-packed with data and information that we could switch on or off, supposedly curated by ourselves, we were supposedly the editors of our own content. What a joke that was. We were pawns while big business moved the pieces of our lives around the playing field. When I went on pat leave, I shut Jazza out of my cp. You could do that, control who had access to what. Previously, Jazza had permissions to my path that Celeste didn’t even know existed. I just hoped Jazza would head my cry for help. God knew the guy owed me nothing considering how I’d dumped him when Bax was born.
I nodded at the rage room attendant.
“Yeah. I’ll come for a drink.” I ripped my suit off, a petty act of childish fury that felt so good at the time but later, felt shameful. That was me to a T – equal parts fear, guilt, shame and anger.
The guy didn’t say anything as I followed him. He had a man bun. Talk about retro. Why was I even following a guy with hair like that? But I went out to the parking lot and got behind the wheel of my solar-powered station bubble, an Integratron company car, courtesy of Celeste’s father. The inside was full of yielding soft curves and cushions that molded to my body. The round rolling ball of the car’s exterior looked like just glass but it was it was plastic, shatterproof polymethyl methacrylate to be exact, with a sunshiny yellow interior. Our car interiors came in a variety of colours – sky blue, fire engine red or bubblegum Juicy Fruit pink. Pink was the most popular. The cars were cheerful, happy creatures, with scads more room than one might think, and they rolled along like soap-bubble spheres.
My cp connected me to the car’s displays and controls and I could choose to drive the car or not. I always chose to drive. The cars were utterly silent and they were soundproof and it felt odd, rolling along a busy suburban street or highway, and seeing other bubbles filled with reclining people who looked like they were talking to themselves, leaning back in their colourful chairs and controlling the cars with their thoughts. There were no steering wheels or dashboards, just the flash view that connected the driver to the car via their cps.
I sniffed my pits. I was annoyed with myself for skipping the post-session cleansing shower booth and my clothes had a rank, sweaty plastic smell. I’d have to do a washdown with wipes so Bax wouldn’t smell me like this. I couldn’t let my little guy smell the fear on me. I had to get a grip.
My Rating: 5 Stars
I received a complimentary review copy of The Rage Room from the author via Silver Dagger Book Tours in exchange for an honest review as part of my participation in the blog tour for this title. Thank you to Lisa and Silver Dagger for this opportunity! This has not swayed my opinion. My thoughts are my own and my review is honest.
Set (mostly) in the not too distant future of 2055, Sharps Barkley lives in a world where an Orwellian overlord named Minnie controls everything, access to the internet has been revoked and replaced with interconnected brain implants, hobbyist horticulture and live pet ownership are crimes, and the weather is scheduled. Oh, and everyone takes out their anger and frustration in scheduled sessions at rage rooms where they’re free to destroy what they wish until the clock runs out. Sharps is a salesman, making his living selling the latest crap through your brain implants and always saying yes to his boss and father in law. On the outside he’s handsome and powerful. On the inside? He’s a trembling, neurotic ball of fear and anxiety. The powerful women in his life seem to be pushing for a return to a natural world. His addict wife wants more babies she isn’t fit to care for. Enter time travel, attempts to fix and reset the world, and the decision that his family is better off dead.
The Rage Room is a wild ride that held me hostage and kept me turning pages until I had finished in a single day. It’s a little bit 1984, a little bit Farenheit 451, just a hint of Psycho, and a whole lot of cyberpunk dystopian thriller of its own unique flavour.
I hated the man Sharps pretends to be and immediately loved and pittied the broken shadow of a man he actually is on the inside. I couldn’t help but notice that he shares a surname with a neuroticly fearful and holo-addicted lieutenant in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I think I caught some Trek references here and there, so I sincerely hope the name was intentionally chosen as an easter egg for us Trekkies.
In the beginning, as Sharps is struggling to return to work after his year long paternity leave following the birth of his first child, I found it intriguing, oddly encouraging, and at the same time uncomfortable to read a overblown verison of the post-partum anxiety experience I’m familiar with, but in the father while the mother goes about her sugar baby addict life without a care in the world. I knew from that early stage that this book would be full of feminist speculation and criticism of our world, and I was so ready for it.
My one complaint is that I really, truly did not need such a complete play by play of conceiving the children. Yes it’s a mockery of the babymaker role turned on its head, but I could have done with being left to my own imagination a little more.
All in all this is a great, riveting story that writers of the past like Swift and Orwell would be proud of, but with the sort feminist spin a cis man could never write, and the techno-horror only imaginable by someone living in the 21st century.
Content warning: violence, murder, vivid description of sexual acts, forced medical procedures, and all the oppressive nature expected of a dystopian setting.
Lisa de Nikolits is the internationally award-winning author of ten novels (all Inanna Publications). No Fury Like That was published in Italian in 2019 by Edizione Le Assassine as Una furia dell’altro mondo. Her short fiction and poetry have also been published in various anthologies and journals internationally. She is a member of the Mesdames of Mayhem, the Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, The Australian Crime Writers, The Short Fiction Mystery Association and the International Thriller Writers. Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits came to Canada in 2000. She lives and writes in Toronto.
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