This review is from: This Is Not A Game: You Don't Get a Second Life (Paperback)
Tapping into the current vogue for alternate reality games or ARGs, Walter Jon Williams' novel stands shoulder to shoulder with Vernor Vinge's Rainbow's End and Cory Doctorow's For The Win, in the way that it looks at how entertainment may alter society. Less investigative of the changes in society and intellectualism than Vinge's work, less polemic than Doctorow's, it nonetheless manages to be political (commenting heavily on the frailty of the economic systems that govern the world, the tenuous nature of society, and what greed can do to a person) and pulse-racing. Unlike the other two books, which I greatly enjoyed as well, I read 200 pages of this book in one day and the rest the day after. That's how strong the narrative is.
Our heroine is Dagmar, who writes ARGs for Great Big Idea. They are about to launch a new game called Planet Nine and need an ARG to tie into it and create buzz. Dagmar uses events from her own life (she is caught up in the economic collapse of Indonesia and finds herself prisoner in a hotel) to create the new story. And then one of her colleagues is murdered in the street in front of her, and she uses the ARG to mobilise the players of said game to find the murderer and from thereon blurs the line between paid entertainment and her own agenda, as her friends prove to have murky pasts and her certainties are taken away from her.
Williams finds strong voices for all his characters who live and breathe on the page. He comes up with a byzantine tricky plot, which only falters a little right at the end by not being quite so clever as you'd expect and making the book feel like it would fit equally well on the thriller shelves. He paints a very familiar online world that carefully mimicks the real-life behaviours of gamers, whilst dealing with the world of entertainment in a similarly accurate way. The familiarity is warm and draws you in because you've seen people talk like that in forums.
But my favourite part is how subtly he points to how society can be manipulated and how the world can be controlled.