Monday, August 22, 2011

BOOKS: This Is Not A Game by Walter Jon WIlliams

If I have some time to while away on gaming while on the computer, it's spent with Bridge or Scrabble. I've gotten through a reasonable number of screens on Angry Birds, but haven't fired it up in awhile (I'm stuck on a screen that requires using the boomerang birds effectively and that's ... well ... not ever going to happen). Occasionally I might play some mahjongg. That's it. No First Person Shooters, no Massive Multi-Player On-line Games, no hack and slash Dungeon Games. No Mario. No whatever's hot in the gaming world.

And yet, I found This Is Not A Game by Walter Jon Williams to be highly entertaining. That's because WJW takes gaming, at least the MMOG type, to another level and than wraps a serial murder mystery around it. And despite my disinterest in the gaming part, I learned enough about what a game might be like in this day-after-tomorrow future to understand the mania. But not be so inundated with gaming minutiae that I had to become a gaming export to enjoy the book. So, DO NOT BE SCARED OFF!

Dagmar Shaw is a writer (a VERY good start) who specializes in taking these games out of the computer and making them very real-worldly. Oh, you still have to use the computer to play, but there's a real world component. Plus, a very deep need for co-operation amongst the players. Clues are spread out, in some cases all over the world, that have to be gathered and added to the information base in the computer part of this game's world to solve puzzles and find the next one. All of this is done, usually, as promotion for something or other. Let's use Lost, the now-finished TV show as an example of something like this. The TV viewers could try to fathom what was going on by JUST watching the TV. Or, like many others, go out onto the internet to get extra clues from the Lost writers who did a lot of puzzle making on the web to give the die-hard fans an enriched experience. Or so they say.

When the book starts, Dagmar is on vacation, heading to Bali through a connecting flight in Jakarta, Indonesia. Unfortunately, her arrival co-incides with an attempt to take down the government and she becomes stuck. And being a tall, blond American woman is not the best of things to be at this specific time.

What follows is what I thought this book was going to be all about. Using her vast web of computer 'friends,' Dagmar is moved about the islands like a chess piece, evading perilous situations behind at each step. For the part of the book that deals with all of this, the book's great. Dagmar does finally escape and gets back safely to the shores of North America.

At that point, waaaay more than half the book is left! Okay, bring it on WJW.

Now, the book quickly becomes a murder mystery. Dagmar's company, Great Big Idea, is coming apart at the seams. Her friend Austin gets murdered. And, despite some misgivings, his murder is rolled into the current game she's creating (with the help of others, of course). In fact, the reason she acquiesces is that she thinks the same player group that got her out of Indonesia might collectively be better at solving the murder than the local constabulary.

There are more murders before the bad person is caught. And it turns out that Dagmar comes closer to death at home than she did back in Indonesia. But she survives, which is a good thing. There's a sequel out and it's high on my reading list.

Again, I caution you, the reader, to not give in to a non-playing bias against games played on the computer. It's part of this book, but it ISN'T the book. You will have your time rewarded if you do.

No comments: