From the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution, men have struggled against the forces of automation. In English history, the first widespread outbreak of rage in the contest known as man vs. machine was the Luddite Rebellion (1811-16). For Americans, the iconic manifestation of that conflict was the mythical standoff between the African-American freedman John Henry and a steam-driven rock drill in the mid-19th century. The story is told in a classic blues folk song as well as numerous stories, plays, books, and novels. In Burnout, the science fiction writing team of Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant brilliantly update the tale to the 21st century.
A skilled mechanic vs. an AI
Platt and Truant’s protagonist is a gifted mechanic who matches wits with the AI piloting a driver-free truck. Jason Ruiz has grown up in a ghost settlement among “society’s cast-offs, first skirting the census and then fully ignored by it.” The community of “Amenity made its life scavenging, repurposing, getting extra lives out of objects the bigger world saw as garbage. You grew up here, and you patched what could be salvaged, and if it couldn’t be fixed, you turned the thing into something else.” At a young age, Jason proved to be supremely adept at fixing things. And that is what leads him both to the heights of success—and ultimately to his downfall.
Burnout by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant (2022) 184 pages ★★★★★
Man against machine in the age of artificial intelligence
As a ghost, Jason finds that few will employ him for more than brief stretches. An old man in Amenity had told him what was in store for him. “Folks are gonna look at you funny when none’a the screens read the chip you ain’t got,” the old man says. “But way things is out there, there’s no real ingenuity left. No creativity. They’re in the box, and you’re outside it. You use that brain of yours the way I know you can . . . and you’ll see. You play straight with the world, and it’ll play straight with you.” Unfortunately, as Jason finds to his chagrin, the old man was hopelessly naive about “the world’s” good intentions.
After a succession of short-term projects outside Amenity, Jason lands a job at a large trucking company called Hollander Sitwell. His work as a clerk is all drudgery, but it affords him the opportunity to gain an overview of the logistics that govern the company’s work—and he devises a more efficient system that will save the business millions. The only problem is, Jason himself is the only person at Hollander Sitwell who can possibly prove the system will work. Because it requires that a skilled mechanic ride hidden in the back of a driverless truck to correct any mechanical errors that crop up along the truck’s route from Las Vegas to Montana and back. This sets up the classic bout of man against machine, and to everyone’s surprise, the man wins. But that’s only the beginning of his troubles.
About the authors
Sean Platt‘s bio on Amazon reads that he “is an entrepreneur and founder of Sterling & Stone, where he makes stories with his partners, Johnny B. Truant, and David W. Wright, and a family of storytellers. Sean is the bestselling author of over 10 million words’ worth of books, including the Yesterday’s Gone and Invasion series. Originally from Long Beach, California, Sean now lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and two children.”
Amazon says (in part) that “Johnny B. Truant is the bestselling author of the Fat Vampire books, adapted by NBC/Universal in 2022 as a SyFy Channel series starring Spider-Man’s Jacob Batalon. Johnny’s other books include Pretty Killer, Pattern Black, Invasion, The Beam, Dead City, and over 100 other titles across many genres. In addition to writing novels, Johnny also writes nonfiction and co-founded Sterling & Stone. Originally from Ohio, Johnny and his family now live in Austin, Texas.” Truant works there with partners Sean Platt and David W. Wright.
For more reading
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- 10 top science fiction novels
- These novels won both Hugo and Nebula Awards
- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels
- Seven new science fiction authors worth reading
- The top 10 dystopian novels reviewed here
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