MARSHALL - For several years, Southwest Minnesota State University English professor James Zarzana has been hard at work creating a new world - a world "where science has been co-opted to support a ruling oligarchy," according to the book's description.
Zarzana recently released the e-book, "The Marsco Dissident," the first of four books in a science fiction series called "The Marsco Saga."
Zarzana chose science fiction because it is a genre that allows the author to create a whole world. In his novel, the Marsco world is Earth in the late 21st century, so he put humans on the moon, Mars and on asteroids in the Asteroid Belt.
"But the story is not so much about the invented tech," he said. "Sci-fi, in my case, speculative fiction, allows me to deal with a current issue, the abuse of power by political and economic forces, but do so on a canvas I totally create. And yet, it's not that far-fetched." Zarzana said Marsco is a worldwide, multinational computer company that ends up ruling the Earth and the solar system, and it does so by controlling who uses computers.
Zarzana started writing the first novel back in April 1997 and has been writing them since then. Since he was chairman of the English department for five years and was teaching quite a bit, he wrote mostly in the summer and edited during the school year.
"Good writing, fiction or not, is writing and revising and revising again," he said.
Zarzana said the books are about a world where a single corporation has exerted control over the political landscape of the Earth. The three main characters are Anthony "Zot" Grizotti, Tessa Miller and Walter Miller.
"It controls everyone mostly by controlling information and technology," Zarzana said. "There are a few exceptions but not many. The Marsco dissident is Tessa's father, Walter Miller, a longtime Marsco associate who has dropped out of Marsco and wants to have control over his own life."
Tessa is in Marsco, questioning it but only internally and struggling with her ambivalence about allegiance to it. Zot, who was in love with Tessa once, is trying to figure out his own way to escape from Marsco's domination. Then there's a group of religious zealots who want to destroy Marsco by force, he said.
"I started the novel well before 9/11, but parallels do come to mind," he said. "A second group of officers from the defeated nations think it's time to revolt against Marsco. They all make for a volatile mix. I hope my readers enjoy the ride."
Zarzana said it will take three novels to complete the basic storyline started in "The Marsco Dissident." "Marsco Triumphant," the next book in the series, will be available in December. "The Marsco Sustainability Project" will come out in August 2014. "The Ascendency of Marsco" will round out the series. He said that all the novels are already written and are in various forms of completion.
"The first three novels are in traditional third-person format," he said. "I introduce a character or two, a plot twist and move along. Think Charles Dickens or Harry Potter. The fourth book is experimental. In academic parlance, it's meta-fiction.
"I have 14 or 15 speakers tell their story but purposely disjointed, fragmented, half-explained. By the time readers see that one, however, they'll know much of the story."
Some of the themes Zarzana explores in his "Marsco Saga" include power and the abuse of power, the abuse of authority and being in love amid the chaos of such a world.
"What is truth nowadays with the Internet being able to put up anything that passes as, in Stephen Colbert's term, 'truthiness,' which is something that's not true but can look true," he said.
Some of his friends have read the book, Zarzana said, and like it. But he was positively taken back by fellow writer Dana Yost's take on the novel.
"He noticed the connection between the novel and today's recent headlines and the NSA scandals," Zarzana said. "He thinks it is a lot like '1984.' Big Brother may be watching, but Mega-Corp. Inc. is watching also."
Zarzana is also working on a separate sci-fi series with some of the same themes. He said "The Aries-Augustan Empire" starts with "The Second Caeruleum Rebellion."
"It about an empire of 16 or so solar systems and a group of loyalists who want the emperor to answer to a Parliament," he said. "Another group wants to remove the Emperor and replace him with their own puppet to stay in power. So, something along the lines of military sci-fi, with a heavy dash of political intrigue. That one's a few years away."