sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes)September 2002
© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge
Format: ISBN 0060088575 PubDate Sept 02
Review by EJ McClure
353 pages List price $24.95  
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“We honor you as the first citizens born into the new age of world coalition.
You are the face of unity: the living symbol of our hope to be a global community with shared dreams and common goals.”

Jackal Segura grew up on an island in the South China Sea knowing she was special. As a Hope, one of the lucky children born the first second of the first year of the new Earth Government, she has been as carefully nurtured as a prize orchid since birth. The best teachers, the special tutorials, the head of every line: she has benefited from the best Ko Island has to offer, and has in turn been molded into the best Ko Island has to offer the world.

She looks forward with some trepidation to her investiture at Al Iskandariyah, the seat of the Earth Government. There, at age 23, she and the other Hopes will be recognized in a gala ceremony, then employed in the Earth Government in ways best suited to their special talents. She wants to make her friends and family -- and all of Ko -- proud of her.

And then one day she discovers it is all a sham. She isn’t really a Hope. It has all been an elaborate high-stakes game, a game in which she was an unwitting pawn.

Terrified of revealing that she knows the truth, and thus shattering all her dreams, Jackal decides to soldier on as if everything is just as it was. She can BE the Hope of Ko, the Hope of the great commercial enterprise on the verge of being recognized as the first corporate-state of the new global government. If she just tries hard enough. If she just does better. But she herself has no hope. Eaten up by the deception, sick at the lies she is telling everyone who loves and trusts her, Jackal begins to slip. A quarrel with Snow, her lover. Too much to drink on too many occasions. A violent flare-up with Tiger, one of her web mates. Estrangement from her mother, who both loves and resents her. Jackal comes to feel that the only thing holding her together is the challenge of working with Gavin Neill, her new mentor, and Garbo, the special project she has been given to manage.

Garbo's ambitious goal is to produce a self-contained virtual reality environment that delivers an individualized sensory experience. The research team is struggling with Phase Four, which will allow on-line editing of the program. Jackal instantly grasps the commercial potential of a virtual reality experience that a user can tailor in real-time. Here is a challenge that, if she can do it, will allow her to prove to herself that she really is special, deserving of all the attention and resources that have been lavished on her.

Then one day everything goes horribly, tragically wrong. A stupid mistake? A freak accident? A terrorist plot set up to frame her? It comes down to the same thing: Jackal is tried for murder, convicted, and sentenced to eight years in a canned Virtual Confinement program. Alone with herself, within herself.

Her only hope is herself.

It was a sheer delight to read such a coherent vision of the near future peopled not by androids or robots, but by flesh and blood human beings moving through their vividly detailed world.

At first, I expected the plot to blossom into some elaborate scheme revolving around that sinister EarthGov, nanotechnology, Chinese hacker-terrorists: you know -- the standard cyberpunk stuff. But SOLITAIRE is really the story of Jackal’s growth from a shallow, self-obsessed girl to a self-possessed young woman. It is a voyage of self-discovery. The technological gambit that provides the science underpinning the character-driven plot is well within our grasp come the next century, and the futuristic geopolitical situation that forms the backdrop of Jackal’s adventures is entirely believable. In fact, this is one of the best “possible futures” I have read about recently. And it sure beats the evening news.

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