Review of This is Not a Game by Walter Jon Williams


This near-future thriller has a feel of Charles Stross’s Halting State – apart from the second person viewpoint and constant dry humour. There is the same sense of everything teetering on the edge of precipice, ready to slide into chaos at a few keystrokes from the wrong sort of people…

Dagmar is a game designer trapped in Jakarta in the middle of a revolution. The city is tearing itself apart around her and she needs tothis is not a game get out. Her boss Charles has his own problems – 4.3 billion of them to be precise, hidden in an off-shore account. Austin is the businessman. He’s the one with the plan and the one to keep the geeks in line. BJ was there from the start, but while Charlie’s star rose, BJ sank into the depths of customer service. He pads his hours at the call centre slaying online orcs, stealing your lot and selling it on the internet.

They all knew each other at college. They all promised to keep in touch. But when one of them is caught up in an international emergency, they are all sucked into a series of events that changes everything.

This enjoyable adventure comes with a caveat – stick with it. The start is rather a slow burn, but once you get fully into Dagmar’s point of view, the pace picks up and the narrative voice starts to convince. The bursts of violence are wholly believable because of the horror experienced by the protagonist. All too often in such books, a major character pickforked into a shocking situation seems to take it far too much in her stride – not so here. Williams manages to make me feel the enormity of the events as they unfold and by the end, I was reading late into the wee small hours to discover exactly who was doing what – and had a thorough blast with the denouement and climactic ending.

It is the voice and pacing that slightly slips at times and I get the impression that Williams isn’t entirely happy writing from a feminine point of view. However, the story and scenario are sufficiently compelling that I was prepared to overlook the slight unevenness in the main protagonist. For those of you who don’t know my tastes – this is a big Get-Out-of-Jail card, as I’m a gal who zeroes in on characters all the way, and is a testament to the pulling power of the plot. While I’ve concentrated on the thriller aspect of this book, there are some really enjoyable touches of humour – Williams’ has great fun with his gamers and their responses to the unfolding drama – which both manages to give some welcome relief to the gritted tension elsewhere, yet also highlight the gravity of the underlying situation. It’s a neat trick to pull off.

This is the first in a trilogy and I’m delighted to have managed to track down the other two books in the series, Deep State and The Fourth Wall and shall be shortly tucking into them. Watch this space for more Williams’ adventures.

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