Tortured by grief, Nicholas Smith ends his 21st century life in an ill-fated suicide attempt. But destiny has other plans and that’s when his 31st century life begins.
Present day college professor, Nicholas Smith, finds his life turned upside down when his wife is killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In an effort to escape his loneliness, he decides to end it all.
But fate intervenes and Nicholas finds himself thrown into a war-ravaged, post-apocalyptic 31st century where the remains of society are split into two factions: the dictatorial Proletariat Council and the rebels of the Sovereign Brotherhood. Confronted with the atrocities of the Proletariat Council, Nicholas reluctantly takes up arms.
Still reeling from his own personal loss and deeply confused about his displacement in time, Nicholas must reconcile his convictions with what those around him say is his destiny. He must decide exactly what duty means and how far he will go to defend what is right.
Targeted Age Group:: Adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I started writing Exertions of Better Men in 2008. I was living in Colorado Springs and finishing my Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics at the University of Colorado. While this turned out to be exactly the right path for me, it was not the direction I had in mind when I first set out on my collegiate adventures. In fact, I had intended to graduate from the Air Force Academy and become an Air Force doctor. I was injured during basic training however, and had to come up with another plan.
In the time I was at the Academy, however, I learned quite a lot about the military, power versus influence, and the importance of quality leadership. I have always loved science fiction and time travel in particular. I felt the combined backdrop of grief, time travel, and military might would make for a very interesting story. These musings, combined with the stunning Colorado landscape, formed the beginnings of the novel.
In the years that followed, I pursued a career in mathematics, had children, and traveled the world. Exertions of Better Men developed slowly over that time and gave me a chance to examine the ways my own beliefs had changed and how many of them had remained the same. The story is about perseverance, duty, and love all because I have been fortunate to experience those things over the years myself.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The main protagonist of my novel, Nicholas Smith, is a reluctant warrior. The world loves an underdog and that was really what I wanted Nicholas to represent. As the story opens he is battling tremendous grief and loneliness. I believe that people come into our lives at exactly the moment we need them to and that was the inspiration for Alessia, Nicholas’s love interest. She and her peers in the Brotherhood, like Ethan and Sam, were the people that Nicholas needed. Their perseverance in the face of adversity contextualizes the struggle Nicholas has been going through. Their dependence on him is also what ultimately helps Nicholas rediscover his own motivation and gives him a renewed sense of purpose.
The gallows were made of steel and set into the ground with concrete pilings, leading Nicholas to believe that the Righteous did this sort of thing quite frequently. They had placed a nylon noose around his neck and faced him towards the open courtyard. The stage was set high enough in the grounds that he could see beyond the walls of the so-called Proletariat Palace. He had expected it to be surrounded by the trees lining the river near the waterfall, a dense shroud that would hide the illegal and outrageous practices of this place.
In fact, the Palace may have been the center of a massive urban outcrop for all he knew, but there was no way to tell. A fog had settled in the air, which was so thick that Nicholas could feel it beading in liquid crystals all over his bare arms and chest. The inclement weather had apparently dissuaded the spectators of the day before from coming to make sure he was good and dead. There were a few onlookers peering from beneath heavy hoods under the Palace eaves, but it was quiet enough that Nicholas could hear the rapid thrum of his heartbeat echoing through his head.
A messenger of the Council, whose members were conspicuously absent, was reading the charges aloud. It seemed to take him hours, with the words ‘blasphemy’ and ‘irreverence’ thrown in several times for good measure. A cloaked figure suddenly moved from beneath the eaves to get a better view. As she pulled her hood away from her face, Nicholas was certain they must have already killed him, because she looked exactly like Amy.
That was fast, he thought. He supposed it was movies that had given him the unrealistic expectation that it would take a slow-motion 30 seconds for the executioner to pull the release lever and another five minutes for him to drop through the hole and, hopefully, break his neck. He had to be dead though, because it was Amy beneath the hood. His mind twisted in confusion trying to understand why Amy was wearing a uniform of the Righteous Army. However, as she shook her hair out, Nicholas realized with mounting frustration that her hair was black. Why would Amy change her beautiful red hair?
Finally, it dawned on Nicholas that this was not Amy; this was a young girl, perhaps in her late teens, but clearly a soldier of the Righteous Army. Her face, though, was so like Amy’s that it momentarily took his breath away. Her hair was so black that he surmised, had there been any sunlight, it would have appeared deep blue. Like his own, he smiled internally. Then, he felt his heart sink into his stomach as he realized, sadly, that she looked very much like the child he and Amy might have had. The child they would have had…
Suddenly, the ground beneath him began to tremble. It shook the gallows and the surrounding walls. The meager crowd looked around in confusion, and Nicholas squinted at the invisible horizon. Then he looked straight up and saw it. A compact metal aircraft was hovering, descending just over his head. It was a conglomeration of metal pieces and propellers, but Nicholas was sure it was far too heavy to stay airborne. There was sudden mayhem in the courtyard, and Nicholas realized these invaders might present a completely separate difficulty from the Righteous.
If there were engines on the craft, they were quiet. The only noise was from the air now whipping around them and the loose pieces of the gallows clanging in the wind. He could see the fleeing crowd opening their mouths in silent screams, but couldn’t hear them over the roar of the wind. In utter confusion, he wondered when this ridiculous nightmare would finally end. Five figures, all in dark, muted clothing, dropped from the craft on cables. Nicholas was a little shocked that instead of attacking the few nearby soldiers, they cut him loose, clipped him to one of the men, and they all shot back into the air. It was over as quickly as it began. When he reached the craft, a pair of bear-sized arms pulled him up into a chair and the craft whizzed off into the fog. Nicholas stared out a small circular window, watching the spires of the Proletariat Palace disappear in the gray; he looked up at his new saviors, completely baffled.
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