Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity is a serial science fiction novel by Robert Brockway, released in three episodes.
What is this?
I wrote a pretty messed up little science fiction novel called Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity. It took me several years and hundreds – possibly thousands – of hours to do. I would like to give it to you, all of you, regardless of region or eReader or marketplace or format, with no bullshit, for $5. If that’s too much for you, I’m also releasing the book episodically: You can buy the first episode right now, right here, for the low, low price of $2! I’m crazy for savings! And my illness is tearing my family apart.
Here's a synopsis:
Red is a user. Red is a pusher. Red is a drug addict.
And that’s not a problem.
Everybody in the Four Posts is nursing an addiction to something. In fact, their entire economy is based on the ‘feed: An officially sanctioned, omnipresent drug delivery system with terminals in every home. Red’s talent for mixing new and interesting narcotic concoctions isn’t an issue, but the fact that he accidentally ran while testing an expensive new prototype just might be. Now, with the help of QC, a walking nanotech factory, and Byron, an upper-class slacker literally addicted to the past, Red has to figure out what the strange experimental drug is doing to his mind before the sinister, faceless recovery agents tear him apart.
That is, if his frightening and increasingly real hallucinations don’t do it first.
I’ve done the traditional publishing route before, and I didn’t hate it, but I also wasn’t entirely happy with it. They wanted 14 dollars for a paperback copy of my last book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody, and 10 dollars for just the eBook version. That seems a little steep to me, especially to take a chance on a new author you may not end up liking. Whereas if you plunk down five bucks for my novel and you hate it, so what? You’ve paid more for a modest meal at Taco Bell, and then thrown it in the garbage the second it became apparent that it was Taco Bell.
What's with the "episodic" crap?
Five bucks isn’t much of a gamble, but I’d like to make it even less risky for you: I’m releasing these episodically. Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity will initially come in three parts, each priced at $1.99, and consisting of roughly 30k words each. Formatted to industry standards, that’s about 130 pages – more than enough content to kill the next uppity young afternoon that gets in your way.
While I think each episode functions relatively completely, they’re not standalone works. If the episodic release schedule bugs you – that’s fine. There will be a collected and compiled version at the end. It’s somewhere around 90k words -- or about 360 industry standard pages. It was always meant to function as a complete novel, and in the end, that is what you will be getting.
But I’m doing the episodic release first because I want to write something where fan reaction and audience interest directly feed back into the finished work. I have this thing completely written and the first few editing passes finished, so there’s no question that it will be completed – I know we’ve all been hurt by series stalling out right before the finish line (*cough* Half Life *cough*) -- but it still needs a bit more tweaking. That means the final product is still flexible, and I’d like you to be part of the process. Plus, we’re knocking your “gambling that I don’t hate this” price down to a measly dollar. To revisit an earlier analogy: You can choke down half a Seven Layer Burrito before the self hate and gag reflex catch up to you, or you can read a science fiction novella for a few days and maybe discover a new author that you like, or can at least hate in a novel and exciting way.
I'm not going to sit here and tell you that my little book is the next big thing, or that it's taking the world by storm...but these people totally will. (Hey, it doesn't count as arrogance if you outsource it.)
“This book is Episode 1 of a three-part book by Robert Brockway. The first thing readers should know going into this is that this is not purely a humor book. Brockway is most known for his work on Cracked.com and his other, more comedic writing. This book is a science fiction story first and foremost. That doesn't mean that the book isn't funny, however. Brockway's signature style of humor pops up frequently in the book, and many sections are laugh-out-loud funny. But Rx succeeds in being more than just a comedy book. The characters are interesting and likeable,the plot is engaging, and the atmosphere will draw readers in. Any fan of science fiction should be able to read this and appreciate it.”
“The first segment of Robert Brockway's first formal foray into science fiction is a disorienting exposition into an imaginative and daunting future. Rx is Fear of a Blank Planet meets Snow Crash, except more. It rejects logger lines, preferring to carve out its own space in the genre with disassembling nano-bot loogies.”
“Robert Brockway manages to do something amazing and downright magical, he has an uncanny ability to mix and merge the wacky comedic value of our every day lives and merges it with (somewhat) realistic views on how our current society works. What emerges from this is a book and honestly anybody with an open mind can take something from, whether it be the virtues and vices of having a nonchalant and light hearted view of the worlds we are placed in, or be it how we as humans strive to interact with the uninteractable.”
“George Orwell imagined a bleak future born out of the totalitarian lust for control; Brockway imagines the opposite, a bleak future born of capitalism’s aggressive apathy, fuelled of course by the internet’s psychopathic sensationalism. Brockways drug-addled dystopia of shantytowns built into the shell of a technologically incredible world is a one of a kind creation and it is absolutely fascinating. His extrapolation of modern trends is exceptionally psychologically acute; the intense stratification of society driven by the ability of the rich to buy new technologies that the poor cannot, the blithe recombination of anything remotely culturally meaningful (Abraham Lincoln fights a pitched battle with a triceratops) and the complete desensitivity to brutality and profanity all have their roots in the modern world. I heartily recommend this book for the vivid picture that it paints of a world gone wrong, propelled towards its doom at break-neck speed by the very cultural cynicism and unrestrained technological expansion that are shaping our own.”
Barnes and Noble:
“If you like gritty, far-future, kinda cyberpunk-ish sci-fi, you'll probably like this episode. If you like character-driven humor, you'll probably like this episode. If you like Lincoln-fighting-dinosaurs levels of badassery, you'll probably like this episode.”
“A great first step into the world of serious (kinda) fiction from one of Cracked's best writers. Brockway is a man who wears his influences on his sleeve; this story just stinks of Dick... and Adams, and Huxley, coming off feeling like the due reverence of a long-time sci fi addict and honest contributor to the canon. Robot zombies, Lincoln in a blood-frenzied berserker rage giving a triceratops a lobotomy with his bare hands, ALL the drugs- this 1/3 book already has more than I could expect (and I also have to give my utmost thanks to Brockway for giving me a reason to type that previous sentence). Pick it up; well worth your money.”
Red dreamt in half-present shapes; screen-burnt images twisting behind his eyelids. They jumped, phased, reshaped, and transformed. A small pulsing oval stretched thinner and thinner until it was a solid line, extending horizontally to infinity. It began to spike and dip rapidly, like an oscilloscope. Its parabolas and valleys spliced, folded, magnified and became structures. The structures fuzzed into a network of capillaries, and those capillaries extended and took on form. The shape split cleanly in two: One side acute and sparse, the other fluid and organic. Details begin to pick themselves out as the two clashed – advancing, merging and retreating as in a dance. Or a duel. The squarish form struck with hard precision, the organic form dodged with a feminine grace.
The squiggly oval of her head split open, and became a mouth.
“Red,” she spoke softly.
And then again, more desperate: “RED.”
“RED!” She screamed, again and again, her voice losing tonality, growing monotonous and piercing. “RED! RED! RED!”
“USER: RED. UNKNOWN FOREIGN AGENTS DETECTED. POSSIBLE OVERDOSE!” The skeletal microphone rattled his inner ear. “SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION OR ACTIVATE NULLIFICATION STRAINS! USER: RED. UNKNOWN FOREIGN AGENTS DETEC-"
Red slapped angrily at his forearm, applying a three-pronged pattern of pressure to the panel. The gesture engaged the hardware over-ride on his pharmacological network, and shut down the emergency protocols. The mod was illegal, of course, but if you left the damn thing stock it blasted OD alarms in response to every unauthorized chemical or large dose that the user ingested. Red’s exclusive domain was unauthorized chemicals in extravagant doses; he applied the over-ride with the same sleepy, instinctual muscle memory that others would use to hit a snooze button.
After the alarm went quiet, Red spent an indeterminate period of time in a state of semi-consciousness. He mentally catalogued, denied, bargained against and eventually accepted the myriad side-effects of a chemical hangover that he could not remember initiating. There was something else there, too: Some new, foreign aspect to his current situation. It lurked at the edges of his consciousness and demanded action, but he was too tired and too sick to venture forth into the waking world and acknowledge it.
Slowly, the ache became unbearable. The throbs in his head built, one beat upon the other, until there was hardly a break between them. He finally conceded that denial was not a tactically sound option. He would have to struggle awake, and see about fighting chemicals with chemicals. If Stoned Red was smart, he would’ve pre-loaded Hangover Red’s Rx Card with the proper drug cocktails to counter these effects.
Keeping his eyes clenched shut, he fumbled his card out of his shirt pocket (noting and disregarding the odd, bulky vest he found there; he would deal with comprehending any unusual accessories or uniforms later), and slotted it against his wrist. A two-tone descending chime sounded in his ear, signifying that the card was empty.
Stoned Red was always screwing Hangover Red.
He would have to find a ‘feed, and load it up himself. Red sighed, and cautiously opened his eyes, warding himself against the potentially searing light, but found only complete, unbroken darkness. The flashing blue pulse from the subcutaneous monitor on his forearm was the only illumination, but it was weak, and did not extend far beyond the skin.
Red groped apprehensively around him with his hands and feet, and ascertained a few things about his situation:
- He was wearing his own rumpled shirt and jacket.
- He was also wearing some kind of large, clumsy vest -- fire, impact, floatation?
- He was not wearing any pants or underwear; therefore he was likely recovering from a gas trip (something about the gas made Stoned Red find leg-coverings unacceptably binding).
- He was, thank God for small miracles, still wearing his own boots. The black ones with the flexible soles, for running.
- Judging by the persistent drip sliding down his collar, and the complete lack of both people and lightsources, he was likely somewhere below the water-line. Probably in one of the few old catwalks that hadn’t collapsed when they first filled the Reservoir.
- There was something heavy, metal, and inert lying across his legs.
- The metal thing was leaking warm fluid onto the ground beneath Red. Hopefully non-caustic, as Red’s cold-shriveled penis was resting gently in the puddle.
Taking all of these factors into account, Red formed a plan of action.
Step 1: Remove penis from mystery puddle.
Step 2: Vomit.
Having accomplished this, Red straightened and surveyed his surroundings more completely. The space to his left seemed slightly less impermeably black than the rest. That was likely the way back toward the relative safety of one of the Four Posts. With much painful focusing of the eyes, he could make out a cosmos of tiny lights through the translucent glass ceiling of the catwalk: The flotilla city, shining down from the Reservoir’s surface far above him.
He was deep. Why would he come here? What possible reason would Stoned Red have for stumbling all the way down below the Reservoir, into a dark floor? What did he want, or who did he know this far belo…oh.
Oh, no. Zippy.
Red’s eyes frantically shot up to the pulsing oval of his BioOS. It bloomed outward, and he quickly tabbed over to the Sent box of his messaging service. Nothing. The sobriety filters must have stymied Stoned Red’s attempts to send any outgoing messages, or else he’d never even tried. In his more sober days, Red had assigned the highest priority (and therefore the most difficult logic puzzles) to the contact info of all his old girlfriends, Zippy included. But Stoned Red must have figured that whatever dire wisdom needed imparting warranted an in-person visit, and stumbled off on his ill-advised quest regardless. Red assumed, by the relative sanctity of his limbs, that Stoned Red had failed.
Small miracles, again.
Red backed out of his inbox and opened the utilities panel. He flicked off the display on his forearm, and sat staring into the dark until his nightvision started picking out indistinct forms. He felt around the metal thing that he’d hefted off of his own legs: Glossy, plastic shields and steel tubes. A maintenance robot? He swept his hand across the faceplate and caught his palm on a jagged shard: The source of the oozing fluid. Somebody had put an axe through its head, and even Red was hard-pressed to find a scenario where he was not the culprit. A significant fine would be levied against him soon, if the thing had time to scan his ID code before Stoned Red had struck.
No use regretting it now.
Red took a few steadying breaths, paused for a quick pre-hike vomit, and set off toward the slightly less impenetrable side of the catwalk. There followed an eternity of tripping and swearing: He split his hands and cracked his knees on more sharp corners than had any right to exist in a former pedestrian highway, but he eventually managed to bumble out of the tunnel and into the comforting solidity of a Post hallway. Some of the lower levels were pretty seriously neglected, and the map programs in his BioOS didn’t have accurate guides for anything below the waterline, but maintenance always made sure the main structure was sound and at least partially clear. If he just kept a hand to one wall, he would eventually stumble across an elevator…which probably wouldn’t be running.
So it would have to be a stairwell entrance.
The thought gave Red pause. He flicked his eyes upward to the pulsing oval for the dozenth time, and stared at his empty Sent box.
She has no idea I’m down here, he reassured himself, and willed his feet to move again.
Four hallways and a busted lip later, a pinprick of light came dancing at him through the darkness. Red paused to watch it advance. More maintenance ‘bots? Scout drones? As long as it wasn’t a janitor, he should be able to just follow it back to its port and god…
Red saw the man before the man saw him, and quietly dropped to his knees in the narrow corridor, cursing under his breath. Of course it was a janitor: Too crazy to work in proper society, janitors were engineers that had been banished below the Reservoir to mind the foundations, seal structural flaws and repair the fleets of maintenance ‘bots. Sometimes “crazy” merely meant “heard messages in their teeth,” and sometimes “crazy” meant “occasionally eats people.” It didn’t really matter to the higher ups, either way: The valuable workers who manned the filtration plants down in the foundations all took special elevators to their sealed off sections, far below these abandoned floors. And those were all express lifts, straight from the worker’s dorms to the plants, with no floor access to the sealed shafts from any point in between. Nobody of consequence had any excuse to cross paths with a janitor, so what’s a little serial rape or homicide on the off-hours, as long as the worklogs get updated on time?
No, that’s the cynic talking, Red told himself. You can’t assume the mentally ill are evil. That’s ridiculously bigoted of you. People are basically good, or failing that, mostly harmless. This is probably just a guy who pissed off the wrong boss, or maybe thinks he’s a meatship piloted by a crew of tiny elves. That doesn’t mean he’s a murderer or a sexual deviant.
Besides, the janitor was definitely working his way towards Red, and without a light, Red could not outpace him. He straightened his spine as much as the crooked jags of chemical agony in his veins would allow, and called out. The janitor jumped at the noise, then swiveled in every direction, listening for the source. Red steeled himself and hollered again, and this time the janitor set off purposefully in his direction. When the man reached him, Red smiled benignly and blinked up at the silhouette behind the blinding light.
“Been waitin’ for a man like you,” the janitor crooned, in a voice thick with disuse.
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