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4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 23 July 2001
I bought Otherland for around £2 second-hand (and knowing aboslutely nothing about Tad Williams) and I have to say it's much better than I'd expected.
I've been systematically avoiding Tad Williams for fear of disappointment (not being a huge fan of the newer Fantasy / Sci-Fi novels) but this one blew me away - it's superbly written with plausible plots and characters (a rare combination) in addition to some truly horrific and breathtaking moments. I swam through the book in three days and loved every last word of it.
I can understand the technological criticisms some have levelled at it but, as a programmer, I cannot personally see much which is not conceivably achievable (besides, sci-fi ought to be, at least in part, fantastic :) It *is* cleverly done though - not once in the book did it seem, in any way, to be a detached experience.
Is it flawed? Absolutely... almost all books are. However, the flaws it does have in no way detract from the experience of reading it. Give it a try - personally I hate the idea that I might have never read this one.
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on 20 December 2000
Although I am a big fantasy books fan, I usually avoid science fiction books, since a large percentage of them are just cyberpunk nonsense and very badly written and it is hard to get hold of a real masterpiece once you read the classic ones. Having read (and loved) the Williams fantasy books, I decided to give Otherland a try and never regretted it: the book stands among the (say 10) best I ever read (classic literature included).
Williams is really talented and the book is exceptionally well-written. The author takes great care to set up the characters and the background,while there are some great ideas in the book. Being a computer scientist, I am happy to say that this is one of the few books where even most of the wildest technology-related ideas manage not to sound silly and have an actual basis. Williams is perhaps a bit influenced by other SF books, but the result is a very original and gripping story that stands out from the usual SF stuff. Just one advice: be prepared that all four Otherland books should be considered as one book in four volumes, after finishing each one of them the story does not come to any kind of end, you must be ready to get the next one.
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on 17 December 2014
I managed to read the Otherland quadrilogy twice: the first time in hardcover, when it was first published between 1998 and 2002. I finished the second reading (on e-reader) yesterday. To be frank I didn’t quite make it to the end the first time, I abandoned the first tour halfway through the third book. I simply gave up, the story didn’t go anywhere and didn’t have any point or pace anymore.
The second time I made it through all to the end. Otherland certainly is an intriguing story and has original and fascinating characters. Its major flaw is it is simply too long. Way, way too long. The entire story could –and should--- have been told in two volumes instead of four. Editing is an art in itself and, apparently, not one of Mr Williams's strengths. Making it to the end took quite an effort. The first volume is fascinating, but at the end of the second volume the storyline bogs down and hardly develops anymore. It becomes a neverending description of world after world, landscape after landscape, emotion after emotion, thought after thought. The characters think and talk a lot but act very little. Getting past the point where I gave up during the first reading and proceeding to the fourth volume was extremely annoying and took a huge effort. I was becoming increasingly irrritated again by the lack of development and the continuous postponement of the final confrontation and conclusion. I held on by sheer willpower. The series ending was a blessing but, up to a certain extent, also a letdown. Little wonder with a build-up that took three and a half 900+ page volumes. Just finishing it was bliss. Now I can read other books again. In retrospect I am glad I bought and read the Otherland series, and the overall experience was rewarding, but I will most certainly not read it again. Life is too short for that.
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on 23 April 2000
In many ways Tad Williams has written an old fashioned cyberpunk novel dating back to the mid 80s. He's got the superpowerful megalomaniacs with their global-spanning corporations up against a bunch of ordinary users in a virtual environment with a lot of artificially intelligent programs thrown in for good measure. Anyone familiar with the genre will spot very strong references to the work of William Gibson, Bruce Sterling and Neal Stephenson. Having said that though, Williams' expert ability at creating fantasy worlds has created a cyberpunk tour de force.
I particularly liked the characters, Orlando and his friend Fredericks as they had the feel of true adventurers whereas Renie and !Xabbu and the others seemed less real. Paul, the central character to the whole series seems to have been lifted from a 60s TV chase series but is convincing in his confusion.
I liked this novel enough to buy the next and hopefully the final two but I feel that the Otherland series should be the last word in virtual reality novels as we know it. Role on the real thing.
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on 18 November 2007
I started reading this book after it being recommended by my Dad; he's not one for reading, but couldn't put this book down.

I found the book hard to get into initially, but when the Mister Jingle's funhouse was introduced, it really began to pick up. The plot is very well thought out and superbly written; there are several different storylines running at the same time with numerous characters, and not once did I get confused or forget what was happening to any of the characters; although I would have liked to have read more about Paul initially, however there is plenty more of him in the later chapters.

Tad Williams is a very talented storyteller and was consistently so throughout the Otherland series. It is a four-part story however, so the books do end with no wrap-up, which only made me all the more eager to begin the next volume. You don't necessarily need to be a lover of science-fiction/fantasy, as none of the volumes are absolutely saturated with either.

If you're stuck for a present to buy a book-lover (or yourself), then buy this one.
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on 4 May 2000
An attempt to bring together the gentle side of cyberpunk with fantasy. A lot of work developing the initaial ideas and setting the tone for the rest of the series, some times it seems just a little too much. Although, in itself not particularly original piece of work with recognisable influences from all over, it has captured enough of my interest to buy the second in the series.
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on 3 June 2002
This is really a review of all four books, as they should be considered as one mammoth novel. Anyway, these really are the best things I've read ever! As with Memory, Sorrow & Thorn, the first 300 pages or so are quite slow going. This isn't a criticism however as when the story does get going you feel you know the characters so well that you are there with them. To have a story told from so many different characters viewpoints is very ambitious but Tad Williams pulls it off so well. I particularly liked Christabel(a small child) and her misunderstandings of the adult world. To answer some of the points raised in some of the other reviews: Anymore technical stuf about the computers and I would have been completely lost and probably wouldn't have finished it, but maybe I'm just a bit thick! Anyway, to my mind and limited understanding of such mysterious objects as computers, there was enough information so that you could picture what was going on, but not so much that you got distracted from the story. Also I loved the netfeeds at the beginning of each chapter - they painted a grim and all too believable of the world outside VR, and also supplied nuggets of information about the story.
There are problems with Otherland - it's really really big - not too much of a problem unless like me you are trying to read it on the tube. I wouldn't like to say which bits should have been removed though! Also you have to buy all four books at the same time as the author leaves each one with such a cliffhanger that you're practically breaking into the bookshop the next day to get your hands on the next one.
I only wish I hadn't read it so fast or else I could still be reading it. Sadly it does gave to end though. Be warned - once started this book will take over your life!
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on 9 May 2002
I bought this book with immense reservation. I'm really a Fantasy not a Sci-Fi fan, but as I loved his Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series I thought I'd give it a go and I'm not sorry that I did.
Compared with his earlier works the style of prose is entirely different. Quite refreshing really. It's rare to find a writer with the capability to skip between genres and writing styles confidently and Tad Williams is one of a select few with this talent. The pace of the novel also felt right, although I would've liked to have had a few more of my questions answered in this book, but when you read a Tad Williams novel you expect that it's not going to be a standalone read.
I particularly enjoyed that his main characters come from a selection of ethnic backgrounds and ages, quite brave of the writer. He made a big effort to bring to life in the pages some cultures that many of us will never experience. Unlike some of the other opinions listed here, I really empathized with his characters. In the main part, they felt like real people to me, and I look forward to getting more insight into their lives in the next books in the series.
I do have a couple of critiscisms. It's a bit long, and I wasn't sure of the necessity to have the introductory netfeed paragraphs. Did they actually tell part of the story, or was their purpose simply to set the scene? I noticed some other reviewers critiscizing the way he dealt with the technology and VR, ignoring it mostly, well that didn't bother me in the slightest as I'm not too interested in functionality only the end product (and didn't feel that it would've benefited the plot by putting in endless reams of techno explanation). However, I felt that he sketched over his descriptions of the real world as if he were afraid to provide too much detail of what our future planet and its cities might look like (maybe that's where the netfeed stuff was supposed to come in and I just didn't get it). This bothered me so much that I sometimes found it difficult to place the characters in any real location at all. His VR descriptions were much more realistic. That's where Tad really scores (and let's face it, VR and the net is what the book is really about). What an imagination! Where on earth did those ideas come from? I want some of what he's on!
Go ahead. Give the book a go. It's a bit of a mammoth read, but I reckon it's worth the time spent, even if it's just to delve into the imagination of one of the greatest writers of the last decade or so.
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on 21 June 2013
This is a review of the tetralogy, rather than "City of Golden Shadow", as all four books need to be read to appreciate the full story.

The concept behind the story is an interesting one and one that may yet prove prescient. The characters are well-realised and their "story" is interesting enough for you to care how it (eventually) concludes for each of them.

Unfortunately, the key word in that sentence is "eventually". It takes a long time to finish. Of course, this is evident by the page count you can see here on Amazon and by the thickness of the books I saw when I found them. And, I have nothing against long books; I would not have bought them otherwise. But I did find myself skimming through certain sequences and thinking "get to the point/end". There were also times when I felt that it was a little too episodic with yet another adventure for the group of characters to get through before advancing to the next stage - a little like "levels" on a computer game (though perhaps that was intentional).

As a story I would award it 4 to 4.5 stars but I'm going to drop that down to 3 as it really needed a damn good edit and would have been more enjoyable had it been tighter.

Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed it and would recommend it but I'm glad I was lucky enough to find the set of four for a fiver.
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on 27 November 2000
City of Golden Shadow is the kind of book many readers dream of: an immense plot taking place over a large scale, a wide cast of characters who are good, bad, and inbetween, lots of different cultures, and a writer who's taking his time with setting and character.
...The book takes about 200 pages before things start moving, and even then, it's a fairly slow process. Of course with a plot of this scale, taking things slowly at first is a Good Thing - but 200 pages is a way too long for me.
The pity of this is that while I really like the characters, and I admire Williams' use of words, I get the feeling that he's in love with his own skill and keeps writing scenes that don't necessarily move the plot along. This happens far more often in the second book, and thus becomes far more annoying.
I still recommend the book, as it's well written with good characterization, folks you root for and folks you boo and hiss for, but feel free to skip some of the longer parts.
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