Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Otherland: City of Golden Shadows

By Tad Williams.

This is volume one of four, so I'm not sure I have much to say about the story as a whole, although each volume is ridiculously long. This story is probably 2000+ pages long, which I think is a little bit ridiculous.

In case I don't end up liking it at the end, let me say that this volume, the beginning, has successfully caught my attention. The story almost isn't even science fiction at all: it's set only a little bit in the future and the centerpiece of the story is the virtual reality (VR) network. The problem is, even with only audiovisual headsets (i.e., nothing actually connected directly to your nervous system), people seem to be getting lost inside so that they can't get out. This attracts the attention of Renie and several others when their loved ones (in her case, her little brother Stephen) go into comas for no visible reason.

At the beginning, it seems like there are a lot of characters, but by the end they all seem to have their place. So far I like Christabel a lot, since she's just a little girl on a military base with an old man who eats soap. (I laughed at that point; soap? Why? An unanswered mystery, so far, but I expect there to be something very significant about it later...) The old man, Mr. Sellars, seems kindly enough, if it weren't for the sentence on the cover flap implying that he might have a secret agenda of his own.

My one big quibble: Near the beginning, Renie and a friend get stuck in a VR place using harnesses and headsets. If they can feel the equipment used in the VR world, why can't she just lift off the headset instead of having to enter a disconnect command from inside, which the system refuses to recognize? I find the suggested theory of subliminal hypnosis lacking in credibility. She ends up letting herself panic intentionally so that her heart rate will go outside safe parameters and trigger a dead man's switch on the system, which works.

I may delete this and/or write more when I finish the series.

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