Sunday, February 23, 2014

Life First by R.J. Crayton

Indie Author Spotlight

Life First, by R.J. Crayton

Life First, by R.J. Crayton, is one of those novels that uses a disturbing possible future to make us think critically about our present and ourselves. 

Years after a pandemic killed the vast majority of the population, life has become sacred, to be preserved at all costs.  If someone needs a kidney transplant, for example, the vast medical database finds the citizen who is the best match, and that person must give the needed kidney.  Kelsey, marked for the procedure, decides that it should be her choice, and tries to run away before the surgery. 

This brings up all sorts of ethical questions:  Is Kelsey right or wrong, selfish or not?  Is the government justified?  Is the good of society more important than the rights of the individual?  Is saving one person's life worth the risk to another?   I love the way Crayton doesn't shy away from giving sound arguments for the others side—sometimes even more sound than the main character's—so we're never sure what to think.  This is the beginning of wisdom:  admitting that we don't know, and then examining the issue. 

I rather wish Kelsey would have stuck to her position more, and tried to make a stand, because after the first part of the book, these fascinating dilemmas fade a bit.  However, even her backing off is interesting.  She doesn't try to change the world.  She tries to save herself.  And again we wonder:  selfish or not? 

There is some great world-building, like the offhand references to survival statistics classes that seem to be the norm for school children, but there are also a few believability issues.  Would a government that forces you to donate your organs really only demand blood donation once every two years?  Why has there been so little crime since the pandemic?  After all, we've seen the aftermath of real disasters, and it's usually not pretty.  Other believability issues crop up here and there, but most stem from the troubling what-ifs of the future, leaving room for debate.

Repetition and over-explanation sometimes bog down the pace of the story, and there are a few errors or oddities in language and mechanics, but otherwise the book is well written.

The narrative takes a turn in the middle, becoming a legal drama with a lot of talking and little action.  Some readers may not like this, since the first few chapters set a different tone, but I quite enjoyed it, and applaud Crayton for going where the story would go, instead of where commercial writing advice might suggest.  The courtrooms scenes are full of twisty logic, clever arguments, and verbal traps.  Very engaging.  

During this middle section, Kelsey doesn't actually do much.  She's just an observer.  She thinks and reacts, but doesn't make many choices.  Again, some readers won't like this, but I believe it works here, and communicates the sensation of not being in control. 

The ending is satisfying yet leaves some questions unanswered for the next book, Second Life. 

Though Life First isn't specifically about current issues, readers can draw many thought-provoking—and perhaps uncomfortable—parallels.  This is the job of the good speculative fiction, and Life First accomplishes the task.   


Warning:  One rather explicit scene

*I was given a free copy in exchange for an honest review*

Click to read an excerpt of Life First
See my review of Second Life

My Interview with R.J. Crayton

1)  Life First is science fiction, but mostly in the sense that it allows us to explore the social ramifications of a possible future.  Are there any other books of this genre that have inspired you, are that you think are particularly powerful?
There are so many great dystopian future books out there that explore the slippery slope of what will happen if a certain principle is taken too far, and the government runs amok. I think I like all the big ones of the past, like Fahrenheit 451  and1984. Of the current dystopian books out, I like the big names like Wool, the Hunger Games and Divergent. All interesting takes on people who are against the current status quo.

2)  Life First has some really good court scenes.  Did you do a lot of legal research?
I did not do legal research, but my husband is an attorney who used to practice criminal law. So, he was helpful with making sure the court scenes were realistic.

3)  I'm curious:  what do you think would have happened to Kelsey if she hadn't had politically prominent relatives? 
In some ways, Kelsey’s father being so prominent made it harder for Kelsey, because people were watching what happened even closer. There were also political grudges working against her. But, even had her father not been the leading gubernatorial candidate, she still would have faced tough consequences. The timing of the book is a flash point, where people are all poised for something of enormity to happen.

4)  What was your favorite thing about writing this book?
My son is reading over my shoulder and saying my favorite thing was telling him, “No you can’t use the computer. I’m working.” He suggests I wasn’t really working, but playing games. However, I was working (most of the time)! But, back to the question. My favorite thing was probably figuring out the whole Kelsey/Luke relationship, particularly the stuff that happened before the book opened. I wrote a couple of scenes, just for my own knowledge (they’re in the extras section of my website) and they turned out to be really helpful in writing book two of the series.

5)  What are you writing now?
 Right now, I’m finishing up the final book of the Life First series. I wrote the first draft. It came in around 72,000 words, which makes it the shortest of the trilogy (Life First is 86k, and Second Life is 98k). However, my husband did a first read, and I may add a scene based on his comments, which will bump up the word count slightly. Book three is meant to be fast-paced and then over, with a nice (OK, somewhat nice) conclusion. The book takes place over the course of six days, so I don’t think there’s too much more I can pack into those days. I’m also working on a YA paranormal book, loosely title Scented. But, I’m just writing dribs and drabs of that, because I’d like to get the final Life First book out by June.

6)  How can fans contact you?
I’m all over the place. My website has all my info: I’m also on:

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