First, the hook: in a future dominated by megacorporations, a virtual reality MMO with permanent character death is one of the major forms of entertainment. Longtime players are ranked based on the points they score in the game as well as their popularity with a viewing public that can watch play sessions. Despite that, the players themselves are more or less anonymous. The hero, Jarrod, plays the most popular character and is selected to travel to an actual world that has been created in the MMOs image to play his character in person.
The hook is the only thing about this novel that stands out. The rest is bog standard fantasy/sci-fi that fails to deliver in its execution. The author spends the bulk of the time telling the reader about the world instead of showing it, an overuse of action sequences leaves the setting little room to breathe, and the characters have no depth.
As fun as the hook is, the author presents the setting in long, descriptive paragraphs that outright tell the readers everything they could ever want to know, and more, about the world. There are few instances in which the author actually shows his readers how the world works. Instead, he feeds the readers just enough to make it to the next action sequence.
Part of the problem is that the author is essentially trying to take the reader through three different worlds simultaneously. First, there is the world of the MMO and the characters within it. Then there is megacorporate Earth. Finally, there is the world on which the real version of the MMO is taking place later in the book. All of this leads to a lot of clutter, and the author never figures out how to present all of this information to the reader well.
In addition, this is a run and gun novel in which there’s little breathing room between each action sequence. Most scenes resolve themselves in some kind of fight or other form of direct conflict. While this isn’t a problem on its own, the author is trying to build a world with this novel, not just enough of a world to connect the action sequences. This leaves the book on uneven footing, like a chemistry teacher trying to conduct a history lesson with explosions.
Finally, the characters are stock archetypes without any nuance to set them apart. Part of the humor in the book is that they’re mostly MMO characters, so of course they have silly names and are over the top. Unfortunately, the joke stops there and the author never really digs down into each character to reveal something beneath the stats on a character sheet.
Even the main character is your typical chosen-one everyman. Of course he’s had a memory wipe, is immune to stasis sickness, has no idea how famous his character is, is a janitor that has the physical skills of a master thief, has a corporate princess seeking his company, he is the representative of the common man versus the corporations, etcetera. He’s a bundle of clichés, not a character. The only difference between him and the other characters is the amount of fantasy/sci-fi chicken stock they were boiled in.
There are other issues with the book: the author shifts between too many character perspectives, he saps mystery out of the story via foreshadowing, the characters shift between emotions at an unrealistic pace, and he uses ‘growled,’ ‘sputtered,’ ‘sneered,’ and the like instead of sticking with ‘said.’
All of that aside, the basic idea was a fun one, and the writing was decent. I didn’t have to fight to get through to the novel, though I found myself skimming rather quickly. I give it a 2/5.
If you’re interested in picking up a copy of it, you can nab one here.