Trying Not to Blush

by wjw on September 29, 2009

Christian Sauvé says some kind things about This Is Not a Game on his web site:
But there’s a bit more at stake than a look at games that bring together thousands of people in a global clue-hunt: As This Is Not a Game begins, our ARG-creating protagonist Dagmar Shaw sees her holidays in Indonesia become a catastrophe as the country is shut down and riots break around her hotel. Engineering her rescue away from this mess ends up being a problem that not even a well-financed Israeli security contractor can solve: In the end, Dagnar finds greater value in tapping the game-playing community and crowd-sourcing her own safety to the diverse talents of perfect strangers scattered around the globe.
And that’s just the first act, because once she’s back stateside, Dagmar’s life soon turns into a nightmare when friends are acquaintances are murdered. It’s clear to her that this is not a game-related development, but the players of her ongoing ARG aren’t so sure. When the police admit that the investigation may tax even their capabilities, Dagmar sees another opportunity to let the group mind of her plays chew on the evidence. But as she eventually discovers, it’s hard to get away from the game once it takes over…
While over at, Jo Walton— who I swear I am not paying for all the kind things she’s said about me in that forum— likewise has some good things to say.
I’ve written before about what a brilliant and versatile writer Walter Jon Williams is, so it’s no surprise that his new novel absolutely blew me over. This Is Not A Game is an exciting near-future science fiction story that does everything right.
There are four friends from a college RPG group, and they’re grown up. Charlie is a software millionaire, Austin is a venture capitalist, Dagmar is running a company that runs ARGs, and BJ is a failure working on a helpline and gold-farming to make ends meet. Dagmar gets caught up in Indonesia when the currency collapses and civilization breaks down after it. Her online resources and gaming friends turn out to be more help than she would have expected. But “This Is Not A Game.” There’s an interesting line between fiction and reality in a game like that, and while rescuing Dagmar is real, to the players she enlists to help, that almost doesn’t matter. Things get more complicated from there on, everything turns out to be more complex, more connected, and more satisfyingly resolved, than you would imagine possible.
Williams has always been good at extrapolation, and this is a terrific day-after-tomorrow near future. He’s been involved in various “reality” games and deeply understands how they work. The description of putting the game together and the way it works arefascinating and realistic. I often find depictions of gaming in fiction very irritating, but Williams knows why people play and what kind of people they are. Early on he uses a description of the four friends’ gaming styles to illuminate their characters. The forum messages between the gamers are just exactly the way these things work. Incidentally, I haven’t seen character developed through online messages done so well since A Fire Upon the Deep.
The economics and software sides of the book also make sense. It isn’t possible to talk about some of the niftiest stuff without major spoilers, and I’m reluctant to spoil anything at all because the pace at which information is revealed is masterful. Things that don’t look as if they’re connected are connected . . .
This is an exciting novel with great characters, including a very nice geeky female protagonist. It also has chewy science fiction ideas under the fast-paced action layer. I expect to see it on a lot of next year’s award ballots. I’m surprised I haven’t heard more buzz about it already. This might be because Williams is one of those writers who everyone infuriatingly takes for granted. Oh, another terrific masterpiece that’s not at all like the last book. Well, it’ll be on my Hugo nominations, because I definitely haven’t read five better books this year.
So there you have it! Don’t just buy the book, start handing it awards! Don’t worry about me— I can take it!
Saladin September 29, 2009 at 2:42 am

>Don't worry about me— I can take >it!

Heh. That's what I admire about you, man — your *grit*.

Glad the book's getting well-deserved attention.

Ralf the Dog September 29, 2009 at 6:37 am

I bet your next book does better.

David Pulver September 30, 2009 at 5:07 am

I'm reading THIS IS NOT A GAME now.

Very enjoyable characters, and tightly plotted. I've been recommending it to people even though I haven't finished it yet…

And I'm not just saying that because Dagmar used to run GURPS…

dubjay September 30, 2009 at 6:24 pm

Thanks for the kind words, David.

And you know what? I STILL run GURPS.

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