From the turbulent intimacy that binds The Boys of Summer, to the mind games that sowed the seeds of Rift, Richard Cox made a name — and odd worlds — for himself with his knack for unpredictable chains of events that shake the foundations of both his settings and its inhabitants.
Such is the state of mind and affairs yielding an unsettling House of the Rising Sun.
Set in Oklahoma and Texas in the 2020s, where the “desire to acquire resources [for survival]” festers in a heated socioeconomic climate, the sci-fi suspense novel tracks three groups of folks with woes that push them toward the edge or have them indulge in their pain. With gambling family man Seth Black’s hesitance to take the easy way out, or with screenwriter Thomas Phillips’s struggle to use his feelings of resentment to power his art and convey a world of fragility within those who “satisfy [their] cravings, no matter the cost to [themselves] or those they loved.”
With fragility loving company, a mysterious star pops up on the day of Seth’s foiled suicide attempt and Thomas’s meeting with Hollywood darling Skylar Stover. A star that siphons attention from First World problems and electricity from the nation with an EMP blast.
Cars and phones shut down. Folks flock to stores in a panic-buying spree. Survivalists load up on AK 47s, RPGs, and the like. Add a dash ofgovernment inaction to the mix and, as Cole Porter once put it, anything goes. To the rapture. To Hell. To a Walmart warehouse for sustenance.
As the characters travel across the likes of Oklahoma and a militant Republic of Texas, the new world (dis)order not only places them on the spot but also puts their morals to the test.
Leveraging his talent for injecting tension into every scene and wielding thematic foresight that makes the novel eerily reflective of real life, Cox pictures a (lack of) civilization in which few folks care for fellow individuals, unless remnants of the old world are involved, like “canned chicken, a box of tuna in pouches, and a case of Vienna Sausages.”
To some, the disaster’s a hard reboot for their selves and a “culture [of] electricity and iPhones and groceries on demand.” Skylar opens up to others about wanting to be her own woman while acknowledging that the stardom that made her so successful in the old life will make her vulnerable in this new one. Seth seeks redemption by leading his wife and sons to safety before he releases them from his life of failure. The pulse puts things into perspective, a perspective disfavoring “short-term [gains and] long-term failure.”
To others, the cataclysm sows the seeds of nihilism and germinates entitlement and resentment before blossoming into action. Like Aiden firing his rifle at crowds of “children, mothers, [and] teenagers in football jerseys.” And crazed ex-scientist Larry dragging Skylar and Thomas at gunpoint outside the Walmart warehouse. Action in the name of warding off uncertainty. And hastening a return to glory that involves sacrificing the weak and shutting oneself off from others.
From the petty to the desperate, the Lord of the Flies-like breakdown of communication spotlights the urgency of coming together despite the meaning of pre-pulse life, one tethered to material wealth and unchallenging livelihoods, melting away under the heat of the sun and acrimony.
Nimble pacing and the heated back-and-forth among the characters create momentum conducive to the struggle between virtue and vice. It also comes at the cost of further developing the characters’ humanity (or lack thereof).
Cox highlights discrete instances of the tug-of-war between communitarianism and egotism in a predictable world rendered unpredictable, one “[stopping] a lot of people from ever trying to become who they really want to be.” A worldbuilding technique that emphasizes the sociological over the psychological and moments like armed reactionaries herding “Asians and Hispanics and Indians and a few Caucasians” like chattel do attest to the author’s desire to call out the fallacy of conquering the unknown. A side effect of folks whose fear often causes them to commit acts of desperation.
Starkin its treatment of a culture’s fall and revealing in its contrast between one’s willingness to embrace the alien in the name of virtue and ”the fear that lived in [and hijacked] the hearts [and minds] of their human brethren,” House of the Rising Sun serves as an allegory for what happens when folks steel their sense of materialism and entitlement in lieu of their potential for virtue and independence from the cold front of human vitriol. The novel can be seen as a way to teach the audience how controlling the way we react to things that happen to and around us can prove less destructive than attempting to control that which lies beyond our minds.
House of the Rising Sun
By Richard Cox
Night Shade Books
Published July 27, 2020