Albert Camus

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Alice in No-Man's-Land by James Knapp

When her escape pod falls to earth, crashing in Ypsilanti Bloc, privileged seventeen-year-old Alice Walshe is dashed from the wonderland of wealth and prosperity into a ruined, walled city overrun with militias, gangs, and even cannibals. On top of this horror, her younger brother’s escape pod is missing.


When her escape pod falls to earth, crashing in Ypsilanti Bloc, privileged seventeen-year-old Alice Walshe is dashed from the wonderland of wealth and prosperity into a ruined, walled city overrun with militias, gangs, and even cannibals. On top of this horror, her younger brother’s escape pod is missing.

Alice isn’t naïve – she’s always known blocs like Ypsilanti exist, left behind after a foodborne illness ravished the country decades earlier and left pockets of severe urban decay in its wake. Men like her father - a major player at Cerulean Holdings - renew the devastated blocs and bring stability back into the areas. But, Ypsilanti is even worse than the tales she’s heard, and rumor has it the bloc is faced with the threat of extermination by Cerulean, not renewal.

Trapped within Ypsilanti’s borders and left for dead, Alice teams up with a pair of teen scavengers who tracked the wreck of her pod. Despite their rough exterior and vulgar speech, they’re her only option for navigating the hostile and violent environment of Ypsilanti, finding her brother, and getting out of No-Man’s-Land alive.

An Inside Look

There were certain things I knew right off I wanted to do differently than the original Alice - I wanted to move the story out of the realm of magic/fantasy and into purely speculative fiction, and in keeping with that I knew I didn't want to use actual animals (even anthropomorphic ones) as characters. I also, with the exception of Alice herself, didn't want to use the original character names since in this world it doesn't make sense to have a Mad Hatter, March Hare, etc. I did all this understanding that purists may hate it on principle (fewer tea cups, more cannibals), but this is a much more subtle retelling viewed through the lens of modern times which I hope readers will both appreciate and enjoy.

That said, while perhaps many of the more recognizable aspects like the giant blue hookah-smoking caterpillar may not be present (he's a blue shirt wearing, cigarette smoking boy in this version), many of the themes of the original are. The original Alice had some things to say about society of that time, and my version is no different in that regard. I wanted my Alice to start the story as a good example of a young woman living in her world (like the original); Alice Walshe is smart, and ambitious, but she's also well-mannered, and polite. She knows where her path will lead her in life and at this point she's more than happy with it. That said, she has a subversive streak - she's a model citizen and daughter, but she's not a clone of her powerful father. She has her own identity and ideas, both of which serve her well in this story's Wonderland. When she first arrives, like the original Alice she is lost both in the literal sense, but also the sense of an emerging identity crisis as she's flooded with new information which force her to alter her world view (in the interest of survival if nothing else). She finds herself in a strange new 'wonderland' where the food and drink, as well as the dialects and customs of the natives, are very different from what she knows and she has to do her best to adjust on the fly. Like the original Wonderland, Alice can't help but be changed by her experiences there.

The last theme, and one of the more important ones in this version, is the idea of justice. It was held up to some mockery in the original, and the same holds true here just with a slightly different twist. What constitutes justice in this world is not some kind of universal (or even country-wide) constant. In this world, what is 'just' depends very much on what side of the wall, or rabbit hole, you happen to live on. As in the original, Alice is her own woman - it's just that in this version instead of dealing with cryptic caterpillars and head-choppy Queens, she's dealing with cryptic Bloc denizens and head-choppy militia leaders (as well as the occasional head-eatey cannibal). It's more serious and violent, for sure. The inhabitants of this Wonderland don't just confuse and frustrate Alice, her life is threatened at every turn. This is a world where alliances aren't forged easily, and death is a fact of everyday life. In order to survive Alice is forced to either step up to the plate or die, losing her little brother as well in the process.

All of this leads to the question of 'what made me want to write this in the first place?' The answer for that is simple - at this point in my life I've lived on both sides of 'the wall' or 'the rabbit hole', and so the juxtaposition of it is real to me. I've never been as poor as the people of the bloc in the story, nor have I ever been as wealthy as Alice's family, but you don't have to exist at either extreme to see just how different life is when you have enough money and opportunities to live a life that is at least stable, and when you don't. It's not even really a political thing, it's a money thing - either you have the resources to live comfortably in society or you don't. In either situation, it doesn't take long for people to begin looking at the other side and forming opinions about them and their choices, fair or not. It's so easy to begin demonizing the 'other side', and you can see it playing out in reality even today. In these types of situations, either side will find itself willing to fight (for either change, or the status quo). Alice just happens to straddle both sides as she fights to save her own life, that of her little brother, and, along the way, some people who are a lot more like her than she may have thought before walking a literal mile in their shoes.

About the author:
James Knapp was born in New Hampshire in 1970, and has lived in the New England area since that time. He developed a love of reading and writing early on, participating in young author competitions as early as grade school, but the later discovery of works by Frank Herbert and Isaac Asimov turned that love to an obsession.

He wrote continuously through high school, college and beyond, eventually breaking into the field with the publication of the Revivors trilogy (State of Decay, The Silent Army, and Element Zero). State of Decay was a Philip K. Dick award nominee, and won the 2010 Compton Crook Award. Ember, The Burn Zone, and Fallout were all written under the name James K. Decker.

He now lives in MA with his wife Kim.

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