The message is simple and familiar. But those three words, written in blazing crimson letters on the lunar surface, will foster the strangest revolution humankind has ever endured and make Markus West wish he was never involved.
The message is Drink Diet Coke.’
When Coca-Cola denies responsibility, global annoyance with the beverage-industrial complex becomes indignation. And when his investigation confirms Coca-Cola’s innocence, Markus West becomes one of the most hated men on Earth.
Later, five miles above the White House, a cylinder is discovered floating in the night. It is 400 feet tall, 250 feet in diameter, and exactly resembles a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup. Nearly everyone thinks the cylinder is a promotional stunt gone wrong, just like the lunar advertisement. And this is exactly what the alien in the cylinder wants people to think.
Ralph, an eccentric extraterrestrial who’s been hiding on the moon, needs Markus’s help to personally deliver a dark warning to the White House. Ralph has a big heart, a fetish for Andy Warhol, and a dangerous plan to save the world.
Looking upon the cylinder, Markus realizes we are not the ones in control. The unexpected guest becomes the host, and somehow humans never belonged: We are the homeless orphans peeking through the banquet window. We are the frills of the universe gazing upon something unspeakably more central than ourselves.”
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The Book of Ralph
By Christopher Steinsvold
Medallion Press, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Christopher Steinsvold
All rights reserved.
I was at home in Washington, DC, when the solar eclipse occurred on January 28, 2021. At the totality of the eclipse, a message appeared on the moon. I watched through a digital camera rigged with a solar filter to protect my eyes. When those three words appeared on the lunar surface, I closed my eyes and shook my head.
The message was in plain English, but I couldn't process it. I kept peeking through my camera at it and turning away. I did a quick virus scan on my camera, but it was fine. In the end, I looked directly at the eclipse. As a scientist, this is embarrassing. Everyone knows you don't look into a solar eclipse, but like everyone else, I couldn't resist.
I stupidly looked through the camera again. I stupidly looked at the moon again. I collapsed on my ass and stared.
'DRINK DIET COKE' was writ bright across the moon.
The crimson letters across the blackness of the eclipse looked simply satanic. After the eclipse passed, the bright, grey glow of the moon made it seem more natural and professional, though there was no trademark symbol.
It would remain visible for a little over a year.
'DRINK DIET COKE'
It was the perfect message, and it did what it was intended to do.
Six hours after the advertisement appeared, Coca-Cola sent out press releases to every major news outlet on the planet. They denied all responsibility. All of it.
Like any normal person, I thought they were completely full of shit — lying to shield themselves from the worst implosion in the history of advertising. And like any normal person, I wanted to break something.
Within 24 hours, arsonists destroyed the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Liaoning, China, the largest bottling plant on the planet. The local police stood by and watched. Within 48 hours, rioters demolished bottling plants in Bangladesh, Libya, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Texas. #OccupyCoke was the dominant trend on Twitter, and humans around the planet used all social media available to protest the beverage-industrial complex.
Three days later, just as I'd been doing every day since, I was watching cable news. My phone rang right when CNN had a breaking news report: North Korea threatened to attack the moon with a nuclear missile. When I stopped chuckling, I picked up the phone.
"Markus?" It was my old friend in Congress, Bill Paterson, a former trial attorney.
"Bill, haven't heard your voice in a while. What's going on?"
"A lot, actually. As you've probably heard, Coca-Cola is still denying responsibility for their own advertisement," he said, sighing with disbelief, "and so we're putting together a rather large investigation team. We need someone to lead the forensic side of it. I've been making a case for you, and when we took a preliminary vote, you won."
"I'm not a forensic scientist."
"Markus, are you tired? We're not investigating a murder on the street. We're investigating something that happened on the moon."
"But you're not sending a forensic team to the moon."
"No one's going to the moon," he said. "I'm sure there's plenty of evidence here on Earth, somewhere."
"Why me?" I asked, looking out the window at the lunar ad.
"Well, you're certainly qualified."
"Thanks, but there are others more qualified."
"Markus, you're a fucking rocket scientist."
"I prefer 'fucking aerospace engineer.'"
I was a rocket scientist, but after joining NASA, I realized they weren't interested in building new rockets, because of funding, and I spent my time rechecking someone else's calculations. I considered leaving, so NASA appealed to another interest I had studied passionately: climate studies. They offered me the head of NASA's climate studies division, and I took it gladly. My colleagues saw it as a backward career move, but, for me, saving the Earth from environmental destruction was a dignified intellectual thrill.
"We both know I've been focusing on climate studies, so why me?"
He paused. "It's because of your falling out with NASA."
"I don't understand."
With a hushed tone he said, "Markus, no one here is saying it publically, but everyone thinks NASA must have played a role. They had to be complicit in this. How could anyone put a huge advertisement on the moon without NASA knowing?"
"And since I got fired from NASA, that makes me trustworthy?"
Four years prior, I saw the funding for my climate studies research sliced in half so that NASA could create a new research division, dedicated to SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Sea levels and carbon dioxide levels were rising, and NASA wanted to appease the public by searching for little green men. Dipshit SETI sympathizers acted as if finding a microbe on Mars was more important than saving the Earth's environment.
In a rather heated disagreement about this with the head of NASA, I took a globe of the Earth and smashed it through his office window. He fired me. Newspapers labeled me 'the mad scientist,' and I was lucky to get a part-time position as a professor after the negative attention.
"How do you think they did it?" Bill asked.
"You mean, how did they engineer the lunar ad?"
"I ... I have no idea."
There were many solid reasons against funding SETI projects, and I was happy to present them to my colleagues at NASA, but my real motivation was not rational. The truth is I had a fear of aliens — I hated them.
I feared the aliens of popular imagination, the cold, grey ones: the humorless aliens with tall, oval heads, dull, skinny bodies, and dead black eyes. There were years of nightmares — as a child, my parents subtracted from my allowance the extra cost of keeping my light on at night.
Most of all, I feared we would become them.
Within me was a strange horror of humans evolving into purely self-interested, unemotional, and science-obsessed monsters — with no true love of laughter, art, or one another. In my dreams, aliens were cynical demons who coldly raped the Earth. At times, my fears were so strong and nightmares so visceral — I prayed to God for humans to be alone in the universe.
I'll do it," I told him.
"I want you to be sure about this."
I smiled. "You're discouraging me?"
"No, but you must know what we're up against."
"Stop being a politician — what are you getting at?"
"Right this second, I'm being your friend. You do know President Shepherd was a former executive for Coca-Cola ..."
Cindy Shepherd, the newly inaugurated U.S. president, was doomed by the controversy. As the former head of public relations for Coca-Cola, she was a primary player in every conspiracy theory available. For the year to come, gun sales and death threats against the president would increase above tenfold.
"Powerful forces are in play," he said, "and if the executive branch is involved —"
"Okay. I get it. Thanks for the warning, but stop being a friend. I want to do this."
"Good, but let's be clear what you'll do. Mainly, we want you to double-check any evidence we find. There must be plans or engineering schematics for the lunar ad somewhere, and we want you as the final judge. People will trust you, and with that in mind, I have to say, you'll be the public face of this investigation — the poster boy. And don't worry about the legal part of the investigation; we're covering that."
To be completely clear, our investigation was a criminal investigation. Back in 1967, the U.S. signed on to the Outer Space Treaty of the United Nations. If a corporation did anything on the moon without authorization from the government, it would violate the treaty. And, by Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, treaties must be respected as law.
"I've got federal judges calling me, practically begging me to request search warrants for Coca-Cola's headquarters — our probable cause is written on the fucking moon. But we have to act fast. They may start destroying evidence."
"If they're responsible, we'll find evidence. Someone will talk."
"What do you mean 'if?" Bill said, laughing.
The next day, I, Markus West, was named 'chief scientist' of the congressionally sponsored forensic investigation into the lunar advertisement.
A week after the appearance of the lunar ad, the top executives at Coca-Cola faced the members of our congressional committee. It was televised, and the room was overfull with spectators and journalists. To his credit, the CEO of Coca-Cola, Carlos Heisenberg, appeared without any legal representation. Though well dressed, he was not well groomed — he clearly needed sleep and a shave, and there were rumors he was intoxicated. On his turn to talk, he brazenly pulled out a can of Diet Coke from his satchel, opened it, and noisily sipped as the crowd gasped.
"Do you maintain that you have no clue how this happened?" Bill Paterson asked.
"Yes," Heisenberg stated flatly. The New York Times said this was less credible than the seven tobacco CEOs who swore, before Congress in 1994, that nicotine was not addictive.
"An advertisement for your product suddenly shows up on the moon, and you really expect people to believe that Coca-Cola is not responsible?"
Heisenberg let out his breath and dipped his head. "You tell me, how could my company, as wealthy as it is, have the resources to do something like this? I cannot tell you how offensive it is, the very idea that Coca-Cola is somehow responsible."
"Congressman Patterson, before this, Coca-Cola was the most popular soft drink in the world ... hell ... Even Osama Bin Laden drank Coca-Cola. But since this so-called 'advertisement' showed up, our sales and stock have suffered dramatically, several of our factories have been destroyed, and my colleagues and I receive death threats daily. From my perspective, it's more likely a competitor or perhaps a communist conspiracy is responsible," he said and paused to take another sip from his Diet Coke. "For all I know, aliens did it."
By the next week, mid-February, our investigation invaded Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. Walking into the main building through a throng of journalists and cheering protesters, my forensic team followed an army of FBI agents wielding the most permissive search warrants ever granted. Bill Patterson wanted me to be the public face of the investigation, and, as it turned out, the media did too.
I don't know if it was southern hospitality, or subterfuge, but Coca-Cola headquarters was eager to supply our forensic team with free drinks. Soon after, a journalist photographed me through a window drinking a can of Diet Coke. By the next day, that photo graced the cover of the New York Post with the headline, 'COLLABORATOR?'
Consequently, I ordered everyone on the team to stop drinking any soda whatsoever. Within hours, my demand was leaked to the press. The next day, there was an ugly photo of me on the cover of the New York Post under the headline, ' SODA NAZI — NO SODA FOR YOU!'
After that, the FBI threatened jail time and fines for anyone caught leaking any info to the press. The leaks stopped. Ultimately, our investigation ended sooner than expected, and I would announce our results at a press conference in October.
While the world waited for us, it was changing.
In March, the Cuban government began mass production of crimson-tinted eyeglasses. The glasses were an attempt to prevent citizens from seeing the crimson letters of the lunar ad and were required for going outdoors. They didn't work very well, but Cuban glasses became globally popular when Hollywood celebrities started wearing them. I owned a pair myself.
On May 1, the state of Washington banned all billboards, and many other states soon followed. An impressive development, but not new, as bans on billboards had already existed for decades in Vermont, Hawaii, Alaska, and Maine.
Untrue theories flourished. People imagined the advertisement was either being projected by lasers or somehow burnt into the moon by lasers. If you asked where these lasers came from, they would say 'satellites.' No satellites. No lasers.
While naïve explanations were easy to debunk, it was unclear what the correct theory was. By all accounts, the advertisement went from nonexistent, to appearing all at once.
In July, courtesy of NASA, we had forensic access to satellites orbiting the moon. We learned nothing. Our experts in computer forensics found trace evidence suggesting the lunar satellites were hacked, but they couldn't explain how it was relevant.
In August, an anthropologist exploring the Amazon found an isolated indigenous group profoundly affected by the lunar ad. They believed the advertisement was a cryptic message from a god. They tattooed 'DRINK DIET COKE' on their bodies, faces, and animals. The group was friendly enough to be studied, but only after the anthropologist was forcibly tattooed. Later, he would sue Coca-Cola for the tattoo on his forehead. This lawsuit was one among thousands claiming Coca-Cola's liability for damages.
The most common lawsuit involved whiplash — from a car crash or from double taking too quickly when seeing the ad for the first time. Several thousand people sued Coca-Cola for retinal damage from staring directly into the eclipse. Homeowners with beachfront property formed a class action lawsuit, arguing that the lunar advertisement ruined their view and devalued their home. Moon worshipping Wiccans filed suit as well.
All of these lawsuits were waiting on our investigation.
On October 12, eight and a half months after the lunar ad appeared, the commission held a press conference in Washington, DC. I stood at a small podium in front of the television cameras and reporters, while members of the congressional committee sat behind me, stiff in their suits. After a long introductory statement detailing the efforts of our investigation, I said the sentence that branded me forever.
"In conclusion, our investigation has found no evidence that Coca-Cola is responsible for the lunar advertisement," I said as gasps and nervous laughter sputtered across curious faces.
"Your investigation is over?" a reporter asked loudly from the back of the room.
"The investigation is over. Yes."
"Why end your investigation? Isn't it possible that with more time and effort, you might uncover something?" another asked.
"Our search warrants only covered Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta, and they've expired. We've searched through millions of e-mails, phone records, and internal memos. We've interviewed thousands of employees, from executives to janitors, and no one —"
"Just to be extremely clear," a reporter said, "you're saying Coca-Cola is not responsible for the Diet Coke advertisement on the moon, right?"
"As far as the evidence is concerned, that's correct."
"So, then, who's responsible?"
"Our job was only to determine whether Coca-Cola was responsible."
"But who is responsible?"
I didn't answer.
"Dr. West, do you really expect people to believe that Coca-Cola is not responsible?" Everyone laughed.
Two weeks after the press conference, our summary report appeared in print for the public. The Lunar Advertisement Commission's report was a 924-page testament to our own ignorance, and it appeared nine months after the lunar advertisement, coinciding with the greatest spike ever in newborn deliveries — maternity wards were overflowing globally.
I doubt any of these children were given my first name. Random pedestrians called me 'sellout' and 'traitor.' Restaurants openly refused me service. Friends and colleagues didn't return my calls, and I had no family to talk to. I couldn't read the news without seeing my name, so I stopped reading it.
Once, someone threw a baseball, but mostly people threw rocks, through my windows in the middle of the night. It was difficult to fall asleep, and it was difficult to stay asleep. I refused to see a therapist out of pride and drank a bottle of red wine every night, rarely leaving home.
Then, one morning in January, I woke up laughing. Maybe there was a dream I didn't remember, but I thought I knew the greatest joke in the world.
"Shut the fuck up down there," my upstairs neighbor yelled as he stomped the floor.
Excerpted from The Book of Ralph by Christopher Steinsvold. Copyright © 2016 Christopher Steinsvold. Excerpted by permission of Medallion Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Book of Ralph by Christopher Steinsvold is a highly recommended first contact story. When a message appears on the moon saying "Drink Diet Coke" and the Coca-Cola corporation denies all responsibility, Markus West is asked to help with the Congressional investigation into the lunar advertisement. Coca-Cola is found non-culpable for the ad, but the world is still a-buzz over the audacious ad. Markus is called back to help when, exactly a year later, a giant can of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup is floating above the front lawn and planning to land at the White House. After it lands, out of the can jumps someone in a space suit waving the American Flag to the Rocky theme song. While most Americans think the whole fiasco is another promotional stunt, this time perpetrated by the Campbell's Soup Company, the giant can is really a space ship and Ralph is an alien who is trying to arrive undercover and warn us of an impending invasion by malevolent extraterrestrials who wish us harm. Once ensconced away to a secret hiding place, Ralph freely shares some information about the evil aliens coming (from the planet Kardash.... which makes them Kardashians - one of the better bits of humor). During a large part of the plot Ralph shares his thoughts about a host of philosophical topics with Markus. And then the bad aliens arrive. The novel moves along quickly, with humor tucked into the narrative throughout, and most readers are going to keep reading during the less-than-exciting discussions in order to find out what happens when the Kardashians arrive to spread chaos. It's not that Ralph's philosophical discussions are tedious or boring, they are insightful, but when you are waiting for the bad guys, well, you tend to race through the slow stuff. The novel does take a dark turn once they do arrive. The writing is good and the narrative will hold your attention. There are several funny scenes and they will help you through the dark ones. At the end it did feel more like a vehicle for the author to share his thoughts and worldview with readers. I suppose that is the case with most novels, but it just felt much more obvious here, perhaps because it was set in a first contact sci-fi story. Don't necessarily allow that to stop you from reading because it is, on the whole, an enjoyable, thoughtful story and the evil aliens should give most readers pause in the way they try to cause chaos on Earth. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Medallion Press.
Reviewed by K.J. Simmill for Readers' Favorite When he failed to find evidence that Coca-Cola was responsible for the 'Drink Diet Coke' slogan that mysteriously appeared on the surface of the moon, Markus West's name became garbage. Exactly one year after the advert's appearance he received a call. The Secret Service agents were waiting outside, and he was to report to the White House at once. At 1:28 a.m. the world had changed forever. When Markus arrived, the White House was empty, the President and her family, along with the Vice President, had all been evacuated, and why? Well, it had something to do with the large tin of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup descending at a steady trajectory towards the White House. This was first contact, but not in any way you'd ever have imagined. Find out what happens next in Christopher Steinsvold's The Book of Ralph. The Book of Ralph is definitely a book for people who like the less serious side of sci-fi. In some places I even found myself drawing parallels with some of Douglas Adams's work. A great injection of humour makes this first person narrative stand apart from some of the others I have read in the genre. If I was to use one word to describe Christopher Steinsvold's style, it would be "quirky." Whilst clearly having a humorous side, there are also serious aspects. The plot is not all fun and games; there is danger, chaos, change, building relationships, and what sci-fi story would be complete without a healthy dose of philosophy to really make you think? Smoothly written with a clear talent and flair; I can honestly say I enjoyed Christopher Steinsvold's The Book of Ralph to its last page.
Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite The Book of Ralph by Christopher Steinsvold is a comedy with a message. When a sign - “Drink Diet Coke” - suddenly and mysteriously appears on the moon, everyone on Earth just assumes somehow that Coca-Cola had managed to do this. The backlash against Coke is massive, but what no one understands is the sign was a message from Ralph. Ralph is an alien come to warn Earth of an impending invasion by one of the most feared races in the Universe, the Kardashians, from the planet Kardash. Markus, a disgraced “rocket scientist” formerly with NASA, is asked by the White House to investigate the mysterious advertisement and report back whether Coke was indeed the miscreant. Confusion reigns, though, when a giant Chicken Soup Can, containing the alien Ralph, lands outside the White House. So begin the adventures of Ralph. What I particularly liked about The Book of Ralph was the subtle, yet clever humour that Steinsvold used to introduce the reader to much deeper and interesting thoughts. Although, I would have to say that Ralph’s explanations as to the “purpose of being” and the Universe, in general, didn’t actually come as a surprise to me, it made them nonetheless interesting and thought provoking. The idea that we, as a species, could possibly be alone in this massive universe is an arrogant and presumptuous notion. I also liked the idea that we are far too primitive and young in evolutionary terms to understand much of what Ralph and his like could tell us. I found Ralph to be totally appealing and, as a potential “alien”, one you would not mind making contact with. Chris Steinsvold has brought us a funny, thoughtful book with some real insight and I can definitely recommend this not only to readers with a sci fi or philosophical bent, but also to those who just like a good yarn well told.
Reviewed by Arya Fomonyuy for Readers' Favorite While entertaining readers with this wonderful meld of sci-fi and adventure, The Book of Ralph by Christopher Steinsvold will provoke powerful thoughts in readers with its philosophical leanings. The message that appears on the moon is very clear and can be read from any point on earth. It reads: “Drink Diet Coke.” Markus West can’t believe what he is seeing, and he will lead the team of investigators looking into the origin of the message, but Coca-Cola denies responsibility for the message. The investigation will only prove Coca-Cola’s innocence while an unusual phenomenon happens five miles above the White House with a cylinder floating in the air, one with a strong resemblance to a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup. While everyone sees the two events as advertising stunts, they are the work of an alien who tries to make contact with Markus West. Ralph has a message that could save humanity, but is the world ready for it? I don’t particularly love books with aliens, but The Book of Ralph was something I couldn’t stop reading. The plot is well-imagined and the characters are rock-solid. I enjoyed the way Markus West is developed, a character I wouldn’t want to be. The story is told in a compelling voice that allows the reader to enjoy the points of view, and Markus’ voice is really irresistible. The chapters are written to tease the reader every step of the way, short and with intriguing endings. The paragraph breaks are well designed to have a strong dramatic effect on the reader. Christopher Steinsvold blends humor with suspense to build interest in readers and the emotional intensity of the story is palpable. This is a story that is beautifully written, mind-boggling, and utterly entertaining; one with many interesting layers.
Reviewed by Francine Zane for Readers' Favorite The Book of Ralph by Christopher Steinsvold opens with the message “Drink Diet Coke” written across the moon by an unknown source. Markus West is hired to investigate the phenomenon, but he has little success, until one day a cylinder appears over the White House and Markus is pulled in for an extraterrestrial contact with the fun-loving Ralph. Christopher Steinsvold has created one of those books that you will either get and love every minute of it, or walk away scratching your head as you wonder what all the fuss is about. The Book of Ralph is a richly balanced science fiction novel filled with humor, thought-provoking philosophical concepts, a liberal peppering of hard science, and just-a-hair-more-than-is-good-for-you sophomoric references. Ralph is who I want to be when I grow up—if I grow up. He thinks outside of the box and tries his best to dumb down his very existence into something humans can understand. His tale is a refreshing take on science fiction. I especially liked the concept of an alien who doesn’t take himself too seriously, and who values hugs. If only more people could be like Ralph, the world would be a better place. Wake up your brain. Read The Book of Ralph with the expectation of being entertained. When you finish, you may find yourself a little wiser and a whole lot more open to the possibilities in a world built of impossibilities. At the very least, you will find yourself wanting to talk about your discoveries, preferably in front of an Andy Warhol painting.
Reviewed by Caitlin Lyle Farley for Readers' Favorite Somebody has written ‘Drink Diet Coke’ on the moon. All fingers immediately point to Coca-Cola, who deny any responsibility. Outraged citizens boycott Coke and burn down factories around the world. Dr Markus West gets a call from his old friend in Congress, asking him to join the official investigation into this incident. He accepts. Eight and a half months later, Markus announces the conclusion of the investigation and its findings: that Coca-Cola is not responsible for the lunar advert. Exactly a year after the advert appeared on the moon, a 4 a.m. phone call summons Markus to the White House. A massive can of Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup is descending towards the White House, piloted by an alien called Ralph. An anthropologist from another world, Ralph has made contact with the USA to deliver a dire warning. I found it hard to discern where dry humor ended and earnestness began in The Book of Ralph. For example, there’s a reference to the USA as the most influential country in the world. I’m inclined to believe this is a subtle poke at the stereotype of America as a nation with an inflated sense of self-importance, but it’s not clear. Other elements, like the Kardashians, are comedic in a more obvious manner. Otherwise, Ralph’s views on Earth are insightful, and the protocols laid out by his race for establishing first contact ring true, even if the results are humorous. Ralph is an intriguing and likable character, and Christopher Steinsvold has done an excellent job of imagining a being that is plausible while still maintaining an element of strangeness. The human characters pale in comparison. The Book of Ralph is an entertaining and unusual take on an alien invasion with a fresh philosophical view on life.