BOOK REVEAL: Nicholas Conley’s ‘Knight in Paper Armor,’ coming September 15, 2020

This one has been a long time coming. Writing a book is always an amazing experience, but seeing this particular novel finally come to life — from the moment the spark of an idea first hit me, years ago, to the impending reality of its release date — has, honestly, felt transformative.

It’s exciting. Nerve-wracking. Definitely surreal. But here, I’m thrilled to finally pull back the curtain, and announce the release date for my next book: Knight in Paper Armor — coming September 15th, 2020!

Knight in Paper Armor Nicholas Conley

Knight in Paper Armor

by Nicholas Conley

Release Date: September 15, 2020

Billy Jakobek has always been different. Born with strange and powerful psychic abilities, he has grown up in the laboratories of Thorne Century, a ruthless megacorporation that economically, socially, and politically dominates American society. Every day, Billy absorbs the emotional energies, dreams, and traumas of everyone he meets—from his grandmother’s memories of the Holocaust, to the terror his sheer existence inflicts upon his captors—and he yearns to break free, so he can use his powers to help others.

Natalia Gonzalez, a rebellious artist and daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, lives in Heaven’s Hole, an industrial town built inside a meteor crater, where the poverty-stricken population struggles to survive the nightmarish working conditions of the local Thorne Century factory. Natalia takes care of her ailing mother, her grandmother, and her two younger brothers, and while she dreams of escape, she knows she cannot leave her family behind.

When Billy is transferred to Heaven’s Hole, his chance encounter with Natalia sends shockwaves rippling across the blighted landscape. The two outsiders are pitted against the all-powerful monopoly, while Billy experiences visions of an otherworldly figure known as the Shape, which prophesizes an apocalyptic future that could decimate the world they know.

The Complexities of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We.”

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“There is no final revolution.” – I-330, We

When it comes to classic dystopian novels, it’s hard to compete with the brutal combination of George Orwell’s 1984 and Alduous Huxley’s Brave New World.  Orwell’s novel – which I’ll admit to being biased toward—is overwhelmingly bleak, painting a very human portrait of what would happen if human beings lost their humanity.  It shows a world that has been destroyed by fear.  Huxley, on the other hand, portrays a world destroyed by our obsession with meaningless triviality.  The two books are opposing sides of the same coin.

Both novels, however, owe an enormous debt to a novel that is mentioned all-too-rarely: Yevgeny Zamyatin’s sci-fi masterpiece, We.   And it’s a shame, because We is a very powerful novel in its own right, and it deserves far greater recognition.

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Orwell was very open about We’s inspiration on 1984, whereas Huxley claimed to have never read it—a statement that Orwell disagreed with, believing that Huxley was lying.  Regardless of who was lying about what, the parallels between We and both of these classics is impossible not to see.  We predated both novels by several decades, seeing publication in 1924.

So, what’s the plot?

We takes place in a world of glass—glass walls, glass sidewalks, glass buildings.  A fully transparent world, where everyone follows the exact same schedule—even down to impersonal, scheduled sexual encounters—and everyone has been carefully trained to despise individuality and loathe imagination, instead aspiring to become merely a cog in the great machine of the One State.  Everyone lives in cities, separated from the outside world by the Green Wall. The world is ruled by logic and mathematics, and free will is a thing of the past.   Now, this society of glass is attempting its greatest achievement yet: the Integral, a spaceship that will be used to conquer other worlds.

In this strange world, we are introduced to a character named D-503 – the head engineer of the Integral, a diehard supporter of the One State, and a man whose entire world is about to be turned upside down when he accidentally falls headfirst into a sexual relationship with a rebellious woman named I-330.

Yes, this probably sounds a bit familiar, but remember, We did it first.

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The first thing that separates the novel We from its dystopian children is that it’s far more science fiction oriented; whereas the sci-fi elements of novels like 1984 and Brave New World are relegated to the background, We displays them far more openly, and the concept itself is far less realistic.  Another notable difference between We and most other dystopian novels is that the protagonist, D-503, isn’t particularly sympathetic.  In contrast to Winston, who betrays his party early and often, D-503 is constantly looking for a way to undermine his own betrayal and return things to how they were before he met I-330.   Finally, the third primary difference is tone.  Yamyatin’s novel isn’t quite as serious nor gritty  as Orwell’s—if anything, it’s really more a satire, and it’s a satire of the best kind.

It’s amazing that this novel was written as early as it was; inside its pages, Zamyatin mounts a decimating attack on Soviet Totalitarianism, utterly goring the very concept.  For that alone, it’s an incredibly important novel to read.

However, due to this more satirical nature, We doesn’t have quite the same sense of fierce, torturous horror as 1984, though several sequences toward the end come close; this isn’t a flaw, simply a difference in style.  1984 was crafted to make the reader scared, angry and furious – to force the reader into action, to open their eyes.  We’s goal is similar, but different.  Yamyatin wants to make the reader shocked, he wants to make the leader scoff mockingly, and then, finally…he wants to make the reader think.

Unlike the many dystopian novels it inspired, We isn’t anywhere near as despairing – but it isn’t entirely hopeful either, and this dualism is exactly what makes it interesting.  As I-330’s quote at the beginning of this blog states, the central theme of We is that “There is no final revolution.”  We doesn’t paint a picture of a world that will forever become worse and worse, but it also doesn’t imply that humanity will always overcome all evils and be prosperous.

No, the statement that We makes is far more complicated, and far more realistic.  We shows us that the only constant in life—and civilization—is change.  The irrational nature of “the square root of negative one” – a recurring motif within the narrative – demonstrates that  that there will always be things that break the rules, things that can’t be controlled, can’t be understood.  Governments will always be overthrown.  Systems will always be replaced.

Yevgeny’s novel has a remarkably complex message –and that message firmly cements the book as one of the most unique and important sci-fi novels of all time.

-Nicholas Conley

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A Tribute to George Orwell

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Throughout my childhood – and definitely in my adulthood – I have been very happy to identify myself as a bookworm.  I read novels like they’re going out of style, often reading about two books a week.  Whether I’m sitting at the beach, hanging out at the doctor’s office or waiting in the car as I pick someone up from an appointment, I always have my current book on hand.  When one has a book, one never has any “empty space” in his or her day.

Okay, with all of that said, here’s an embarrassing revelation:

Back at the beginning of my teenage years – back when I was about, say, 14 years old – there was a brief period in my life where I wasn’t reading.  Looking back, this realization is rather shocking to me, but it is what it is.  Oh, I had plenty of excuses; I was too busy, I hadn’t found the right book, blah, blah, blah…but regardless of any justifications I might’ve had, the fact is that my lack of reading was severely depriving me of a very real, very deep personal joy, a joy that – until that point – had been a part of me since I was a little boy.  And this, right here, is why I have a deep love of George Orwell.  Why?

Because Orwell’s 1984 is the book that changed that.

Reading the book was a class assignment.  I was interested, but not enormously so; at first, I entertained the lazy notion that I’d skim through, just enough to properly answer the test questions.  I just didn’t have time to read the whole thing, you know ? I just didn’t have a…

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

…and just like that, I was hooked.

By the end of 1984‘s first chapter, I was swept away.  Grabbed by the throat.  Addicted.  I dove into the pages, intensely devouring them in a way I never had before, with any book.  I read through nearly half of the novel in a single day.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, I was a reader again.

Naturally, as the years have gone by, I’ve come to appreciate 1984 on an even deeper level than I did on my first read.  The stark warning within its pages is a truly chilling statement on the weaknesses of humanity, and while there’s many fantastic dystopian novels out there, none of them are quite as horrifying…or as real.   Watching the news, one almost feels as if people are getting ideas from 1984.  A very scary proposition, indeed.

As a writer, George Orwell’s skills have always blown me away.  There’s a scene toward the end of Animal Farm, where the pigs—and we all know who/what those pigs are representative of, right?—suddenly learn to get on their hind legs, stand and walk upright, like human beings.  Under the pen of almost any other author, this scene would be laughable.  Goofy.  But Orwell sells it, somehow turning this  silly scene into something out of a nightmare.

In the end, though, I’ll admit that there’s one Orwell piece that has inspired me more than any other.   It isn’t a novel.  It isn’t a story.  It’s an essay, titled “Why I Write,” which every young or aspiring author should read.  It’s like an anthem for all writers, everywhere; as Orwell describes his own life story in detail, we writers can’t help but find ourselves in it, identifying with his struggle, remembering our own difficulties.  That essay can be found here:

George Orwell – Why I Write

The last paragraph, especially, is a thing of beauty.  No one has ever said it better than Orwell…and most likely, no one ever will.

-Nicholas Conley