This Is Not a Game
Walter Jon Williams
Orbit, Jan 2010, $7.99
At college, they became four friends because of online gaming. Charlie, BJ, Dagmar and Austin were able to turn their love for Internet gaming into a thriving business with each having a different prime role; although their fortunes and misfortunes vary. However, the financial crash has crippled their firm leaving their affluence and influence in jeopardy.
Even more dangerous is the situation that one of them finds herself in. Alternate reality game designer Dagmar finds herself trapped when rebels and riots threaten everyone in Jakarta. She has no real way out of Indonesia, but has a virtual escape path. Over the net she contacts the online gamer community and manages to escape the country. However, once back in Los Angeles, Dagmar finds herself in the middle of real homicides including one of them and a wizard using online tools to manipulate finances while the world struggles with the greater crisis. She uses what she learns to create a new game with the “Group Mind” competitors solving clues leading her, she hopes, to the culprit, but not the Russian Mafia.
Perhaps the scene in a restaurant in which a hostess stays on her cellphone ignoring Dagmar the customer sets the tone when the gamer draws a flow chart on the placemat. Fans will relish this strong thriller as the blur between reality and virtual is almost zero. Ironically the social networking commentaries make the plot believable but also slow down the faster than wireless networking story line. Still this is a terrific look at aging gamers as reality and virtual converge in their minds, but with a Russian Mafia professional hit man the only reality is a speeding bullet.