Tag Archives: cyberpunk

Back in the Game

Author: Christopher Keene

Dream State Saga, vol. 2

My rating: 4 of 5

Noah is gradually recovering from the car crash that killed his girlfriend and left him fighting for his life in the virtual reality world of the Dream State. But he’s got unfinished business with Wona, the creators of the game and the company responsible for orchestrating the crash to begin with. Somewhere in the Dream State is an item encoded with video evidence that could put Wona out of business, make them take responsibility for what they’ve done. To get this item, though, Noah must return to the game where he was previously trapped, reunite with his old team members, and race to find this item before someone else does . . . except, when he gets back to the Dream State, he finds that someone already has.

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Stuck in the Game, and I think that Back in the Game is a solid continuation of the story. The author does some really great stuff with the setting, focusing less on explaining the mechanics of the game (which you should already know from the first book) and more just letting the game setting affect the way things play out in the story. There are aspects of the story that just couldn’t work in any other setting, and there are also some really neat ideas and nuances that are developed here that I liked a lot–the way that leveling, items, and spells affect the battles or the wide variety of locations, for instance. That said, the type of story presented here is actually pretty different from that of the first book; Stuck in the Game is more of a survival story, whereas Back in the Game is much more revenge-focused. It works, and I enjoyed the plot, but I think I personally like the story-type of Stuck in the Game a bit better–but that’s just me. Also, not to give out too many spoilers, but I felt very personally betrayed by one character in the story . . . and I’m intrigued to see how that betrayal will end up playing out in future volumes. I did enjoy getting a variety of character perspectives throughout the book; they were balanced out quite well and provided some interesting insight into the various players. Overall  I think Back in the Game would be an enjoyable read for anyone interested in LitRPG stories, light novels, video games, or cyberpunk/fantasy/sci-fi stories in general.

NOTE: I received a free review copy of Back in the Game from the author in exchange for an unbiased review, which in no way affects the contents of this post.

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Cell

Author: Stephen Kingcell

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Clay Riddell has finally gotten his big break, signing a ridiculously good deal for his comic Dark Wanderer as well as a sequel. But his euphoria doesn’t get a chance to last for long as the world around him seems to go mad in a matter of minutes. People lose all appearance of reason, attacking each other, biting, running cars into buildings and people. In the following days, as Clay manages to make contact with a few normal people, it becomes apparent that this madness is linked to using a cell phone . . . and these days, who doesn’t use one? Distraught and desperate, Clay and his new companions, Tom and Alice, begin making their way across country in an attempt to reach Clay’s estranged wife and son–while doing their best to avoid run-ins with those who have come to be known as “phoners”. Especially as the phoners’ behavior becomes increasingly concerning and odd.

Stephen King is an amazing author, and while Cell is probably not my favorite of his books, it is certainly both an exciting and a thought-provoking read. It actually reminds me a great deal of Patterson’s Zoo, only better in every aspect. The idea of someone hacking the cell phone system is both chilling and just possible enough to get under the reader’s skin, however improbable the reprogramming of millions of people’s brains using such a signal is. I admired that King limited the story, kept it to a select group of individuals, kept the reader from knowing everything that’s going on, and never revealed the actual source of the problem. It made Clay and his companions’ experience seem much more present and real, more emotionally gripping. And this is certainly an emotionally loaded story, full of adrenaline and horror and sorrow and worry, but also of affection and laughter and joy, surprisingly enough. I enjoyed the characters and found that each brought something indispensable to the story. On a much more detailed note, I loved the allusions to Clay’s comic and his attention to signage and fonts (which is carried through by using different fonts in the text at key moments); I just found that this added a nice extra touch of character development. For those interested in a chilling cyberpunk zombie story that’s a bit open-ended, I think Cell is a great choice, one I would certainly recommend.

 

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Stuck in the Game

Author: Christopher Keenestuck in the game

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Noah and his girlfriend Sue find themselves increasingly concerned and frustrated as they seem to be losing their friends to the new VR game Dream Engine. But when the two are involved in a terrible car crash, Dream Engine becomes Noah’s only link to reality and consciousness as the doctors in the real world work to help him heal. Noah finds himself trapped in an astonishingly realistic virtual reality world–complete with monsters that could kill him in-game and send him into a coma in real life.

I very much enjoyed reading Stuck in the Game. It appeals to the gamer in me, but also to my love of sci-fi and fantasy stories. I know the concept of being trapped in a VR game is not exactly original (think Sword Art Online), but I do think that Keene’s use of the idea was both creatively and interestingly executed. Also, the whole idea of using VR in medicine–cyberpunk, original, and thought-provoking from both a scientific and an ethical standpoint! The balance of game mechanics and descriptions against Noah’s very human plight works. I actually really enjoyed both the characters and the plot; both were quite engaging. I do have to note that this book would be . . . not necessarily inaccessible for non-gamers, but more challenging for them to get into perhaps. The writing style flows well and is easy to follow, however; the writing style has almost the feel of a good-quality light novel. I would definitely recommend Stuck in the Game, especially for gamers and those who love science fiction and fantasy adventures.

Note 1: I received a free review copy of Stuck in the Game from Future House Publishing in exchange for an unbiased review, which in no way affects the contents of this post.

Note 2: You can check out the author’s blog (including more information about this book) at fantasyandanime.wordpress.com.

 

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Operation Sherlock

operation sherlockAuthor: Bruce Coville

My rating: 4 of 5

The A. I. Gang, vol. 1

Wendy, Ray, Trip, Rachel, and Roger all find themselves dragged across the ocean to a new home on the island of Anza Bora–all because their parents are involved in some sort of super-secret artificial intelligence research project. Determined to make the best of a situation none of them are particularly happy about, the five children become friends and begin exploring what the island has to offer. But soon they discover that things just aren’t right. Bugs, explosions, and other unexplained events catch the gang’s attention–especially when they begin receiving threatening messages on their personal computers that ought to be un-hackable. There’s only one thing for it: they determine to put together their (considerable) intelligence and computer skills to create their own crime-solving A. I. in the interest of solving this mystery.

In terms of serialized middle-grade mysteries, Bruce Coville’s Operation Sherlock has to be pretty high on my list. While it follows the basic patterns you’ve seen in everything from The Mysterious Benedict Society to Nancy Drew and innumerable others, this particular book fails to get mired down in the way that many of this sort of book do. The plot manages to be typical of the style and yet fresh at the same time. The slightly cyberpunk setting adds a lot, being well-developed and yet not overly emphasized. I think the character creation is where Coville’s skills truly shine, though. He manages to craft a group of individuals who truly show developed, distinct characters without ever falling into stereotyped characters. I feel like his development of the gang is subtly done, and I really enjoyed the interactions between the kids. Nice dialogue as well, which helped the progression of the story a lot. I think for anyone who likes the genre, Operation Sherlock is a significantly above-average choice, and it’s sure to be a hit with anyone (like myself) who loves Bruce Coville’s writing in general. I’m looking forward to trying the second volume.

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More Happy Than Not

Author: Adam SilveraMore Happy than Not

My rating: 4.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE

Every life is a mixture of good stuff and bad stuff. Aaron Soto is no exception, and he tries to be happy with what he’s got. But sometimes it really seems the good just isn’t enough to make up for the bad. Sure, he’s got an incredible girlfriend, a job, a home–but he’s also got the memories of his father’s suicide, his own attempted suicide, poverty, friends who don’t really care. Sometimes it’s so overwhelming that the memory-altering procedure offered by the up-and-coming Leteo Institute really seems like a good option. But when Thomas comes into Aaron’s life, always knowing just what to say, things begin to change . . . for better or for worse.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up More Happy Than Not, and in a lot of senses, this isn’t a book I would usually read. But I have to admit, it pulled me in, right from the first few pages–and the great pacing and interesting story continued throughout. The writing style is very engaging, a personable first-person taste of Aaron. And while his story is certainly sad, it never gets depressing to the point that I didn’t want to continue reading–a balancing act that takes some talent to pull off. There are a lot of things about Aaron that I don’t really care for (like the way he can’t stay committed to a relationship), but the transparent depiction of the conflicts he goes through within himself are honest and moving. And the struggles he deals with in realizing and dealing with his sexuality in a number of senses is eye-opening. I do have to say, the cyberpunk Leteo thing threw me when it became a bigger part of Aaron’s story, although it had kind of been hinted at right from the beginning; I guess I’m just blind in that sense. And the ending really threw me, but at the same time, it works quite well. Finally a word of warning: this is an older YA book, and there is ample sex, drugs, language, violence, etc. But for a mature reader looking for an engaging but challenging story, I think More Happy Than Not is a great choice.

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Dollhouse

Created by Joss Whedon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Imagine a technology that would enable people to completely remove an individual’s memory, personality, identity. . . . Terrifying, isn’t it? A girl by the name of Caroline finds herself dragged into a corporation (the Dollhouse) that does just that–for profit. For various reasons, she becomes an “Active” called Echo, her own identity erased to become whoever the client needs her to be: spy, lover, special agent in a hostage situation, whatever. Only, unlike most of the other Actives, Echo keeps having pieces of old personality imprints popping up after they were supposedly erased; memories she shouldn’t have retained begin showing up. She is evolving a self of her own, beyond that of her original, Caroline. And Echo is determined to bring the Dollhouse down, whatever it takes.

I know I’ve said before that I really enjoy Joss Whedon’s shows. . . . Dollhouse is the best I’ve seen of them yet. I absolutely devoured all 26 episodes and was saddened that there wasn’t more (although I think they ended it very well). Rather than being about the paranormal, this is very much a science-y show–but not in an obsessively, overwhelmingly geeky way. While it does give a clear and terrifying picture of what could (likely would) go wrong if this sort of technology ever did come into existence, it is much more focused on the individuals involved in this particular story. Echo herself is absolutely the focal point of the entire story, and she is an excellent character. Eliza Dushku’s acting in this role is exemplary. She shows the individuals whose minds are implanted into Echo as distinct and yet also shows the gradually developing entity that is Echo as an individual herself . . . it’s truly fascinating to watch! The relationship that grows between actives Victor and Sierra (without giving too much away) is absolutely beautiful as well. The whole show is a strong argument for there being some–a soul perhaps–that makes us who we are, even if all our memories and such are stripped away. More challenging characters include scientific genius Topher Brink (whom I enjoyed very much, although he is again, a challenging character) and Dollhouse leader/shepherd Adelle DeWitt (who is excellently played, though provoking, and in my personal opinion absolutely maddening).  I guess what I’m getting at is that the characters, characterization, acting, and character-driven aspect (sorry if that sounds repetitive) are all wonderful. I’d also like to note that the production for the whole series is quite lovely–it’s visually stunning. Plus it has a great soundtrack. I would highly recommend Dollhouse to all mature viewers (not a kids’ TV show).

Starring: Eliza Dushku, Harry Lennix, Fran Kranz, Tahmoh Penikett, Enver Gjokaj, Dichen Lachman, Olivia Williams, Amy Acker, Reed Diamond, & Miracle Laurie

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