01/12/2008. Contributed by Gareth D Jones
pub: Pan Macmillan. 599 page paperback. Price: £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-330-46163-4.
check out website: www.panmacmillan.com
Set in the year 2044 when the virtual reality 'Second World' is indistinguishable from real life a'la 'The Matrix' and the American President's virtual avatar has been kidnapped, this book is surprisingly not Science Fiction. It's a thriller which gave me pause to wonder how a thriller writer's treatment of the subject would differ from an SF author's.
The first thing I noticed was the huge amount of information imparted in the first few chapters to bring the reader up to speed with concepts around which the book is based. I found it rather tedious, but I guess SF readers are more used to getting on with it and figuring out the new concepts themselves. The info-dumping didn't stop there, though. There was a lot of verbose and unnecessary explanation of world developments that would end with phrases like, 'But all this was far from the President's mind,' with no attempt to subtly work the back-story into the plot.
There are also numerous contemporary references that would be meaningless in 2044 and other instances where the time frame has been overlooked. One example is the old farmer in 'real world' who is 77 and like a lot of other older people doesn't like modern technology. He's never had computer or mobile phone. Hang on, this is 2044. He'd have been born in 1967 - hardly of the pre-technology generation. Numerous gaffes like this left me frustrated.
Most of the book is set in Second World, which is adequately thought out and described, but has been disappointingly reduced to the simplest form. The explanation is given that the whole Internet/Second World is now controlled by governments and corporations. The centre of Second World is the Brick, a long straight road around which everything else has been built.
This allows the plot to be much more linear than a more imaginative version of virtual reality. People have to travel as they would in real life, use doors properly and pay using real credits. The whole thing seems to have been designed to enable the plot to be moved from real life into a more exotic location without too much thought. At several points, the author appears to be confused himself about what's real and what's virtual.
As for the plot, it actually does become quite gripping, but not until about page 400. The high-tech government agencies involved in espionage and investigations are well-developed and suitably Machiavellian. With this stronger aspect of the writing, I suspect the book will be enjoyed far more by fans of thrillers than by SF readers.
Gareth D. Jones
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