Another retro-review, this time from January 24, 2011.
This turned out to be one of those books you remember more for the central concept than any kind of plot.
Review: MetaGame, Sam Landstrom, 2010.
So is a book where “Life is the Game”, where our hero “must kill someone he’s grown to love” and is named D_Light worth reading? Is this just another improbable, game-obsessed society? A recap of Logan’s Run with this villainous computer possessing the boring, generic name Oversoul?
I have to admit I wasn’t looking forward to it that much and was rather bored with the opening two chapters where we get a recap of D_Light’s killing of a woman when a game rule allowing legal killing of players is in effect. However, with the opening epigraph of the third chapter, my interest picked up, and the book held it until the end. Landstrom does pull off something new – creating a credible society that harnesses the addictive properties of video games for all sorts of productive tasks. It’s a world realistic in its odd mix of horror and utopian possibilities with some satire thrown in.
Mind chips enable person to person telepathy of a sort as well as communication directly with Oversoul. The overlay of artificial video game style sight and sounds (with a few smells) onto the real world is believeable and well handled as the questing characters prowl through a Warcraft-type game called NeverWorld. Cute robots styled as animals follow people around in their role as firewalls to prevent hacking of their owner’s mind chips. Genetic engineering has developed various “products” – beings with no legal rights because they don’t meet the threshold of 96.3% commonality with regular human DNA.
A lot of this material is provided in one of my favorite infodump techniques – quoting future documents. In between info dumps, Landstrom provides some humor as D_Light puts the moves on the mysterious Lily. She is a “demon”, a product without an owner, on the lam. Landstrom gives us some pretty good action sequences as products and demons square off.
I think the book had a bit of a weak ending when our characters, engaged in the Metagame played by this world’s aristocrats in a real, not virtual, setting, end up at the retreat of one Dr. Monsa who we’ve frequently heard from in those quotes. The pacing drags a bit here as characters take a break to talk around the dinner table, and D_Light mopes over what to do about the death sentence hanging over Lily. The story doesn’t drag because of Dr. Monsa’s technical discussions on the mechanics of this world but because of the interaction of the questing characters. Paradoxically, the final burst of action in the book seems a bit hurried.
Still, Landstrom pulls off a surprise ending, one fairly novel for a plot featuring persecuted lovers. This doesn’t follow the trajectory of other lovers against tyranny as in Fahrenheit 451, 1984, or the previously mentioned Logan’s Run. (Partly that’s because it is not at all clear this is a dystopia.) And that end is realistically provided for in the nature of this world.
So, in short, an interesting, effectively rationalized premise dramatically compromised by a weak opening and hurried ending.