This Is Not a Game: A Novel
by Walter Jon Williams
Review by Steve Sawicki
Orbit Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780316003155
Date: 24 March 2009 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
This is only the second novel that I've read that really plays with the technology that we are all messing around with today. In this case the novel revolves around the gaming world, or, more specifically, the MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. The twist is that the game takes place spread out over cyberspace rather that on a specific web site. So, for example, gamers might get clues that certain blogs contain info they need for game resolution. Williams takes it beyond that though, to include real world events; everything from players receiving cell phone calls and emails to getting invitations to mass real time events such as wedding or concerts.
Behind it all is a puppetmaster, in this case Dagmar, who works for a company that puts on these ARGs (Alternate Reality Games). She's just put the finishing touches on a game and is on vacation when she gets caught up in the fall of the government of Indonesia. She's able to escape by using her game player contacts who, because they are spread all over the place, manage to figure out a way to get her out of the country. But this is just the beginning and before she can breath, Dagmar is put in control of designing another game. This time, though, the consequences are real and losing means death.
Williams does a really good job of extrapolating five minutes into the future to a place where these kinds of games actually make sense. In fact one begins to wonder why they aren't being played right now. There is a single turning point for the novel that involves a specific piece of software which is able to replicate and learn. This software eventually becomes the thing that must be destroyed (after, of course, destroying its creator). The whole thing plays out very nicely with a lot of good back and forth and mystery interjected into what could have been a fairly geeky premise.
I thought this book worked extremely well, particularly given the gaming subject matter which could have provided a number of dead ends. Williams kept the pace moving, the content pretty focused and the characters lively. I especially liked the way he managed to weave the personal history of the three main players into the whole mix, giving the book a sense of depth and perspective. Overall, I really liked it and thought he managed to capture a lot of the online community in a true light, showing both the positive and negative sides of it. Definitely a book worth reading.