“Solarversia: The Year Long Game” by Toby Downton (Kindle, 2015)

Solarversia
starstarstarstar

If you like video games, chances are you’re either a fan of or are at least familiar with massive multiplayer online role-playing games, better known as MMORPGs. There are a lot of MMORPGs out there right now: Lord of the Rings, World of Warcraft, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, Star Trek, and Warhammer to name a few. Some are hugely successful, some not so much. But what is known is that a lot of people on this planet like playing them.

So it makes sense then that a book about an addictive MMORPG would also be popular; and there have been a few of them over the last couple years, such as Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, Reamde by Neal Stephenson and For the Win by Cory Doctorow. Toby Downton is looking to go one step further with more than just a book. But first, lets talk about that book.

The year is 2020 and Solarversia is an MMORPG like no other. It lasts an entire year, as players complete puzzles and obstacles, leveling up and traveling to new places around the planet. By the time the game officially begins, there are 100 million players. As new levels are unlocked by special feats completed by players, they can then travel to other planets to complete further puzzles, culminating in a final showdown on Pluto at the end of the year where there will only be a few players left. The last player standing gets something really special: prize money in the amount of ten million pounds and the opportunity to help develop the next game due to be released in 2024.

Nova Negrahnu is a teenage girl who has been waiting a long time for Solarversia. She was one of the first people to register for the game with her friend, Sushi, and once the year begins, she can’t get enough of it, playing as often as she can and forgoing school work at times. Her parents aren’t big fans of her obsessive game time, but once Nova starts winning some prize money attitudes soon change. It is of course her dream to win it all and help create the next game, but at this point that is little more than wishful thinking.

But the creators of Solarversia also have another big thing to worry about. There is a cult known as the Holy Order whose leader believes an artificial intelligence known as the MAGI will be born from the game and it is MAGI who the followers of the Holy Order believe will come. They plan to sabotage the game and attack its players to help bring forth their new god.

Downton has clearly played a game or two or ten in his life, as a lot of the “game play” in Solarversia feels real, as if it came from an actual video game. His description of action scenes and completing game puzzles and obstacles is exciting and keeps the reader hooked and interested. He has also created a large and complex mythology for the MMORPG which the reader learns about through Nova playing the game and learning its history and back story for its characters and worlds.

Downton’s ultimate goal is to release the MMORPG of Solarversia in 2020, and in the meantime gamers and fans of these types of books can enjoy Solarversia the book for the fun, wild literary video-game ride that it is.

Originally written on August 25th, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Solarversia from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Reamde” by Neal Stephenson (William Morrow, 2011)

This is book review number 600 for BookBanter!

Reamde
starstarstar

Neal Stephenson returns with one doorstop of a tome weighing in at over a thousand pages, with Reamde, which some computer geeks may have guessed is in fact a misspelling of “readme.”  Stephenson takes a growing sub-genre that is right up his alley: that of the massive multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG).  Whether you’re a computer fan, a Stephenson fan, or a fan of edge-of-your-seat thrillers, you’ll find something to sink your teeth into and keep chewing on for some time in Reamde.

Richard Forthrast is our approaching-middle-age hero who is one of the big brains behind the multi-billion dollar MMO, T’Rain, which is known throughout the world, whether you’re a rich white kid who likes to pretend he’s an elf, or a gold farmer somewhere in Asia looking to make some good money.  T’Rain was in fact created with that in mind – Richard’s past is not a completely clean one by any means – to be open and available and possibly profitable to just about anyone on the planet with a good Internet connection.  And then a very specific virus attacks T’Rain, known as Reamde, which immediately begins making a lot of money for its creators and screwing over a lot of the regular players.  Richard and his team of brainiacs are now working round the clock trying to bring a stop to this.

Meanwhile, one of Richard’s family members – Zula – originally from East Africa and adopted into the family as a young girl, was hired by Richard to work for T’Rain, and becomes involved in a really big problem when her boyfriend Peter – who happens to be a renowned hacker – is looking to make good money selling credit card numbers to a shady, unknown character.  Things take a turn for the worse, when the Reamde virus hits and screws everything up for him.  Before they know it, the Russian mafia is breaking down their door, kidnapping them, and taking them to Asia by private jet to find the perpetrators of the Reamde virus and get their revenge.

Reamde begins like an expected Stephenson book with computers and an MMO, but then makes a change to a Tom Clancy-style thriller, as the characters travel around the world, getting involved in elaborate shootouts in distant countries.  Eventually Islamic terrorist even get involve, as well as a member of MI6 who seems to appear from nowhere and gets a twenty page introduction.  The crux of the book takes place towards the end of the first third of the book, in what Cory Doctorow calls “. . .an epic, 100+ page climactic mini-war.”  The ongoing saga eventually leads back to Seattle and the northwest, passing into Canada, where the novel began, pulling Richard Forthrast into the mix.

Reamde certainly has a captivating voice that Stephenson skillfully uses to hook people in, with a complex and interesting story, but then the action and thrill-ride goes on and on, pulling in more and more characters.  As can be said for almost any thousand-page novel – though I’m sure some Stephenson fans love that it’s this long – Reamde could afford to lose a couple hundred pages, perhaps be edited in half.  Towards the end of the novel, it feels like the initial drive may have become lost in the mess of people and bullets and traveling.  Readers will be left wondering why this massive cast is now chasing and following the ever-changing villains, in the hopes of getting to Zula – an originally interesting female character who eventually becomes “kidnapping baggage,” when even some of these characters looking to find her have never even met her.  Reamde could’ve used an editor performing some heavy page cutting and some necessary redirection to help Stephenson stay on the rails; the result is a sprawling epic that loses its way on a number of occasions.

Originally written on October 13, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Reamde from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline (Crown, 2011)

Ready Player One
starstarstarstarstar

Ready Player One can best be described as nerd crack.  It joins the ranks of a growing sub genre of books featuring an MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) game as its main construct.  If you like anything about video games, the ‘80s, ‘80s music, ‘80s movies, computers, science fiction, dystopian futures, nerdy references, you will love this book . . . if you like all of these things – like I do – this book will become your bible.

In the not-too-distant future, the world is quickly going to hell in a hand basket.  It’s very much a dystopian world, but within this gloomy, depressing place is an MMO that just about everyone plays.  OASIS is not just a game, but a way a life for most, where you can have fun, meet friends, got to school, and pretty much lead a full and entertaining life under the guise of your anonymous avatar (whose façade is of your choosing).  Depending on what people can afford, the experience can be fully sensory so that players feel as if they are actually existing in the world of OASIS and experiencing it in just about every way possible.

James Halliday, who grew up in the 1980’s when computers were beginning to take off, quickly became addicted to video games and then began making his own.  He is the creator of OASIS, which has gone from a game to life and reality for so many people in this world, and he is many times a billionaire.  When he dies, he activates his will which states that whoever finds the three keys and solves the puzzles will be entitled to his entire fortune.  Wade Watts is an eighteen year old nerd who has hopes of finding all three keys and gaining those untold riches.  His parents are dead and he lives with an aunt who treats him terribly and he cares little for her, scraping by in abject poverty.  And now he thinks he might’ve just found the location of the first key.

Cline has written a book that just about any sort of nerd (whether they’re honest about it or not) will quickly get sucked into and not want to let go.  Not only is it like playing a video game or watching your favorite movie, but Ready Player One is literally filled with references and anecdotes and stories of the time period that Cline clearly holds close to his heart.

From the man who brought you the cult-hit movie Fanboys, comes a nerdy book featuring a nerdy story with nerdy characters set in a nerdy world that nerds will absolutely love!

Originally written on September 23, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

“Omnitopia Dawn” by Diane Duane (DAW, 2010)

Omnitopia Dawn
starstarstarstarstar

In the style of Michael Crichton at his absolute best, blending gripping science fiction with a harsh, believable reality; bestselling author Diane Duane brings the incredible Omnitopia Dawn to life, combining the world of a massive multiplayer online game like never seen before, with an the exciting world of corporate gaming and intrigue.  If you’re any sort of tech geek, or just like playing video games, Omnitopia Dawn will suck you in and never let you go, making you forget worrying about that next level up.

There are two worlds here: the compelling fantasy world of the massive multiplayer online game (MMO) Omnitopia and the real world where video game companies fight to keep doing what they do best and keep the fans hooked, and make lots of money.  It is the near future and when one sits down to play an MMO – like Lord of the Rings Online or World of Warcraft – they can use the familiar screen and keyboard set up, or there is the full immersion into the game, akin to virtual reality only better, where one experiences almost all senses of the game.  It is an incredible complex world of fighting and raiding, of gaining levels and increasing your wealth, and even eating and drinking with friends, while discussing your next strategies.  But Omnitopia is unique as every once in a while it selects one of its subscribers to create their own unique world of their own choosing and actually make money from it.  So there is the world of Omnitopia, and then there are the thousands of other user-created worlds covering all of history and the imagination.  The result is a game that one can quite literally be completely absorbed by, almost forgetting the real world.

Rik Maliani is an ordinary person with an ordinary job who’s been a fan and player of Omnitopia for years.   Then he gets selected to create his own world; it’s a dream come true, especially with the possibility of making serious money, but the question is what type of world to make?  What would make it truly unique and encourage people to come see and play?  As Rik begins creating his world, he notices some unusual events happening in the world of Omnitopia that seem to affect the one he is creating, but at the same time to be affected by his world somehow.

Dev Logan is the CEO of Omnitopia and started the whole enterprise many years ago as a college student, and is now the eighth richest man in the world because of it.  He has a crack team of computer whizzes and geniuses who spend their days monitoring Omnitopia, making sure it’s running as smoothly as possible, and preventing the constant attacks and hacks against the worldwide popular MMO.  And now things are really heating up, as the new expansion is about to be released.  Everyone is working pretty much nonstop and none more so than Dev, who forgets to even eat at times.  Delia Harrington is doing a story on Omnitopia for Time Magazine about the company and the expansion.  As Dev deals with the reporter – who seems to be snooping around a little more than she should be – he’s constantly being barraged by updates and news on what’s happening with Omnitopia.  It seems there are an absurd number of attacks building against the MMO, more so than usual, even for an expansion, but then that’s all in a day’s work for the CEO of Omnitopia.

Finally, there is Phil Sorensen, who was a good friend of Dev’s in college – they were going to revolutionize the gaming world together, but then had a falling out – and is the CEO for Infinity Inc. with his own giant, money-making MMO.  He would like nothing more than to see everything that is Omnitopia come crashing down, and have Dev come crying back to him.  He’s going to stop at nothing to make this happen.

In Omnitopia Dawn, the first of a series, Diane Duane has created two complex worlds: that of the MMO game and that of the real world business, and yet she does a remarkable job of keeping things simple, explaining everything but somehow not overloading or boring the reader in any way.  The result is an exciting, page-turning, addicting read that will have the reader wondering what’s going to happening next with who, and how it’s all going to end.  Fortunately, readers won’t have to wait too long for the sequel, Omnitopia: East Wind, coming out August 2011.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on January 27, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Freedom™” by Daniel Suarez (Dutton, 2010)

Freedomstarstarstar

After the runaway success of Daniel Suarez’s debut book, Daemon, the author wraps up the gripping story in the concluding Freedom™.  The daemon that was set lose with the death of Matthew Sobol continues to run seemingly out of control, and yet every event and move it makes has been carefully calculated.  Bank accounts and private information are no longer protected with this daemon loose, and neither is anyone’s identity.  At the same time, the daemon continues to increase its army of killing machines and people to do its dirty work.  This time the daemon is taking over the agribusiness, strategically using its people to create a new sustainable lifestyle in small towns across America.

The members who work for the daemon are able to stay in contact and continue their “quest” with the use of special glasses that keeps them connected with the Darknet, a type of virtual reality world much like that of the Massive Multiplayer Online games (MMO).  It is with the Darknet they know what their quests are, essentially the jobs and duties they are to perform.  In this way they can increase their character levels, experience points, and popularity with a ratings system.  It is a world that has existed on the Internet for some time and has now been transposed into real life.

The government is doing its best to pretend that none of this is actually happening, that they have everything under control, while in reality the daemon continues to be unstoppable, taking over and/or erasing people’s identities and lives in seconds, as well as executing those it deems no longer necessary with its vicious inescapable creations.   People considered long dead are miraculously resurrecting themselves on the Darknet, including Matthew Sobol himself, and then there’s the evil Nazi general from Sobol’s MMO The Grid who is somehow alive and well in the real world.

Freedom™ has less of the background and development, focusing more on Matrix-style action scenes and catastrophic events, so reading Daemon first is certainly recommended, and while Daniel Suarez said in his interview that it would only be a two-book series, there is a storyline left open at the end that could lead to more.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on June 28 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

“For the Win” by Cory Doctorow (Tor, 2010)

For the Winstarstarstarstar

For anyone who’s ever played an MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) game like World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online, you know it can be a lot of fun.  What you might not know is that if you’re really good at it, play it just right, and know where to advertise, you can make a lot of money from it.  There are certain quests or missions that can be repeated over and over for maximum experience points and/or gold; that gold can be turned into cash.  People who do this are known as gold farmers; it’s illegal; thousands of people around the world do it for profit.

In For the Win, Cory Doctorow goes into depth with this world, revealing the teenagers that love to play, but also the children in India, Malaysia and China that work nonstop grueling hours for little money.  But those who play these games, learn and know a lot about what they do.  Doctorow takes it up a notch by having these slave laborers fight back, forming unions and protective groups to fight for their rights as employees.  The result is a fascinating and fun story that kids, teenagers, or adults can enjoy.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on June 9 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Daemon” by Daniel Suarez (Dutton, 2009)

Daemonstarstarstarstar

Daniel Suarez has designed and developed enterprise software for the defense, finance, and entertainment industries, as well as being an independent systems consultant; he’s also an avid gamer.  So it’s no surprise that in Daemon he has created a world and plot that involves all these facets, resulting in a fast-paced, riveting, exciting novel that is a combination of classic Michael Crichton and The Matrix.

Daemon begins with Matthew Sobol, a renowned computer programmer and video game designer, dead from cancer.  It is upon his death, when the obituary is posted online, that the dormant daemon is unleashed upon the world.  In this world – just like our own – everything is automated and computerized: banking, transportation, defense, government, patient records; there are few things remaining “off the grid.”  The daemon works fast and incredibly efficient, beginning a systematic takedown of technology and world systems, causing deaths and the collapse of companies, and a financial meltdown that is scarily similar to the current economic climate.

It’s up to Detective Sebeck and computer genius Jon Ross to try and stop the daemon somehow from destroying everything.  Then there is The Grid, the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game – in the style of World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online – created by Sobol, where the daemon secretly begins recruiting the disaffected but brilliant youth who play the game as part of its efforts to bring down technology and society.

Whether you’re a gamer, a computer person, a network specialist, an Internet aficionado, or just someone who likes books about technology and possibly the end of the civilized world, Daemon is the book for you.  Expertly written by Daniel Suarez, who knows exactly what he’s talking about, Daemon is a book that will have you on the edge of your seat from page one to the very end, and waiting for the sequel, Freedom, due out in 2010.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on February 8th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Daniel Suarez check out BookBanter Episode 8.