by Damien Broderick
Review by Sam Lubell
Thunder's Mouth Press Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 1560258055
Date: 12 March, 2006 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In Godplayers, Australian August Seebeck (no, he's not named for the month, the month is named for him) learned that he is really part of a very large family from an alternate universe with the power to jump from world to world, a Player in the Contest of Worlds. And his family's enemy are the K-Machines that follow a philosophy called SgrA*. The K-Machines are linked to the Xon Star which has the ability to shut off the Players' Vorpal powers. In the first book, August fell in love with Lune, another, more experienced player. He also gained a weapon, the Vorpal Sword of Alice in Wonderland fame, and fought off a K-Machine attack. But he has never received a full briefing on what everything was all about.
In the second book, K Machines, August and Lune are attacked while at tea in August's version of Australia. August nearly kills an innocent because he somehow transferred to an alternate Australia where they drive on the other side of the street and then to a King Arthur-style round table where he acquires a real sword, and finally to his sister's spaceship on a mission to the Xon star. But none of this is explained. A person close to him turns out to be secretly working for the K-machines, but the story never says to do what, and is discovered as a traitor, although the book never says how save for that character's attachment to August being suspicious. And ultimately, when all the characters finally sit down to have the talk the readers have been waiting for since the opening of book one, August announces that he knows the truth.
But this truth is not revealed in this book. There are hints though that the whole thing is a computer simulation (the Matrix movies were even mentioned in the first book). There are references to the Tarot, alien godlings, and a computer running the multiverse. The chapters from the book SgrA*, about an aging scientist go up to 2036, even though the narration from August appears set in the present day; and the scientist works for a company called Other World Realities. But the lack of an explanation tying everything together is deliberate, August even says, 200 pages into the second book, "I'm allegedly a Player in the Contest of Worlds, and I still don't know what that means, not really...I don't know the rules. I'm fairly sure we've all been taken for a ride but I don't know who's leading us by the nose. Every time I try to get to the bottom of these questions, people rush to change the subject, or the roof caves in on me, or something dreadful tries to kill somebody I love...." But it is unclear whether the author knows the answers or if he is, as is common on TV shows with a central mystery arc, stringing out the mystery to such an extent because he does not know how to create answers as interesting as the questions.
K-Machines is more disappointing than Godplayers not just because the questions still have not yet been answered and the background explained, but because the distractions from the questions here are not as interesting as in the first book and are not really explained in themselves. If the next book in the series does a better job of showing the author does have answers and can create a payoff worth the struggle to get there, this Contest of Worlds series might yet redeem itself. But at present, I cannot recommend it. Instead, I recommend going back to Zelazny's Amber series