Spoiler alert - this is going to be less of a book review and more an ode to writers who have the courage to invest in themselves. Since starting For Pity Sake Publishing in 2014, I’ve been astonished by the sheer number of normal people out there who write book-length manuscripts. Some of these folks know from the outset they want to publish – either by themselves or via a publisher. Others simply feel a compulsion to write it down, ‘it’ being anything from genre-busting fiction to personal memoir or family history. Whatever the reason people put pen to paper or, more likely these days, fingers to keyboard, I’m continually gobsmacked by the imagination, tenacity and sheer grit of anyone who follows their instinct and actually writes their book.
Cameron O’Neill is a fine example of this with his self-published The Zemlya Conspiracy, a fast-paced futuristic fantasy novel about a walled city-state ‘managed’ by omnipresent despots who deploy enhanced military agents to battle a perpetual rebellion.
I first came into contact with Cameron when he made an enquiry about For Pity Sake’s Manuscript Appraisal Service where, for a small fee, we pass submitted manuscripts to real readers to assess and provide recommendations for improvement to the author. Having read our blurb on this service, Cameron felt it was too preliminary for where he was at with his book. We discussed other ways we might help and Cameron eventually settled on an Overview Edit which offers a more in-depth assessment regarding the structure, continuity and editorial direction of the work.
That was my first clue that Cameron fell into the category of emerging authors who are serious about honing their manuscripts. Naturally, as a publisher, I applaud this but as a writer I also know how much courage and humility it takes to ask for help and, moreover, find the wherewithal to invest in it. Cameron was incredibly kind in his feedback on our overview edit (read it here) and his re-write of The Zemlya Conspiracy was released first as an e-book then a print version in 2016.
While dystopian futuristic fantasies aren’t my reading genre of choice, I have seen more than a few movies in this vein. To my way of thinking, The Zemlya Conspiracy could easily pass as the love child of Bladerunner and Logan’s Run.
The main protagonist in the story is Kate, an ‘e-type’ military agent who’s not only been warrior-trained within an inch of her life but surgically enhanced for extra physical capability, endurance and recovery. These computerised enhancements extend to an embedded internal communication link to Kate’s ‘operator’ who issues orders directly into her psyche. This embedded technology also provides scanning and search capability as well as access to data feeds from official channels, general news and social media sources.
This is the Bladerunner part of The Zemlya Conspiracy in my opinion because the author has created a world that’s undeniably futuristic while remaining just a little outside the reality we know today – things like the immediacy and pervasiveness of social media, all-encompassing civilian surveillance, artificial intelligence, robotics and cybernetics. The parallel notion of a pre-determined ‘life clock’ that ticks away within Kate and all the citizens of Zemlya is the Logan’s Run end of the equation, as is the rebel’s desire to beat the system and make it over the wall to freedom.
I can’t fault Cameron O’Neill on either of these representations in The Zemlya Conspiracy. There was continuity and clearly enough research to make the scenarios and the many action scenes plausible and engaging. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and my only other assessment relates to the work’s physical appearance.
Spending time and money on proper editing is never misplaced but when a book is to be published in print or electronic form, there are many other things the author/publisher should consider in order to present it in the most appealing way possible to the reader. After all, without readers, where would any author or publisher be?
Internal layout is one of these things. The text font, point size, leading and paragraph configuration all play a role in making a book readable and, more importantly, a pleasure to read. It’s a sensual thing that speaks subliminal volumes about the story but it’s much under-rated by authors who self-publish, presumably because it’s also expensive to do well. If it’s a toss-up between spending limited budget on the story or how the words look on the page, no one would blame the author for choosing the former – certainly not me.
However, this is the one issue I have with The Zemlya Conspiracy’s print version. Large paragraph breaks are the norm but there are many places throughout the book where this is inconsistent, most likely by accident. As a reader I found this confusing. I couldn’t tell if the author was trying to create changes of scene with large paragraph breaks or if the words were meant to run on in an urgent kind of way when those large breaks went missing. It seems a small thing but if you’re a late-night reader as I am, the internal layout of a book can mean the difference between staying engaged in the story or giving up because it’s too much like hard work. No author wants their reader to be faced with that choice.
Nevertheless I remain impressed with The Zemlya Conspiracy - a solid effort and one of which Cameron O’Neill should be rightfully proud. We’re also very grateful to Cameron for choosing For Pity Sake to help with the editing and even more thrilled that he found it helpful.
Click here to buy your copy of The Zemlya Conspiracy by Cameron O’Neill from Booktopia.