Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

This Is Not a Game, by Walter Jon Williams ($7.99)

For a 462-page book, this is a pretty fast read, because Walter Jon Williams does a great job of moving this action-based thriller along. One of the underlying concepts is complex, but Williams doesn't let that stand in his way of writing a good tale. He distills what readers need to know into digestible packets and lets it rip.

Gamers writing gaming thrillers sometimes lose the essence of what makes a story readable and instead create an RPG (role playing game) script. (If you didn't grok that last sentence, then, tautologically speaking, that showcases my point.) Williams proves that a good writer can make obscure subjects understandable.

Dagmar Shaw has been working for a long time as an event producer for Charlie, one of her Caltech college buddies who hit it big as a software mogul. Another friend, Austin, is a venture capitalist and is involved in the same computer world. Dagmar creates scripts that allow people from all over the world to follow on-line adventures and interactively solve puzzles.

In a heart-thumping start to the novel, Dagmar finds herself stranded in Indonesia on her way back to her home in L.A. from India, after staging the denouement of one of her adventures. Indonesia is destabilizing because the government has had financial difficulties, and transportation out of the country is difficult. When more traditional methods of escape fail, Dagmar surprisingly is helped by the effective and efficient on-line gamers who have been fans of her adventures.

Upon her return to the U.S., Dagmar launches another adventure, but it is complicated by more intrusions from the real world. Austin is murdered by what appears to be a hired assassin. Then Charlie begins to make odd requests for modifying the adventure. In combination with personal complications, including the appearance of two of her ex-suitors, Dagmar reluctantly becomes involved in figuring out how to clear up real world problems through the use of her game.

I'm going to use that word again: surprise. It was a pleasant surprise to find a realistic female character who didn't feel it necessary to be a superwoman or to compete with the big boys, but who turned out to be brave and resourceful despite her self-doubts. (I don't mean this to be an insult to Mr. Williams, but rather, I think that it's always a surprise when a good female character pops up.)

This book provided a great balance to the books I'm currently (and slowly) reading: 2666 by Robert Bolano and Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem.

1 comment:

  1. I had a chance to talk to Walter Jon Williams about his new near-future novel, This Is Not a Game. He told me that the idea came from a real-life experience writing an alternate reality game, and he has suspicions that in a few decades, alternate reality gaming will be indistinguishable from advertising. Very cool ideas from one of the cutting-edge writers of our time. (If you're interested, you can read the whole interview for free on SciFiBookshelf.com )