San Francisco Chronicle
The ultimate virtual-reality saga.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When Renie Sulaweyo's younger brother, Stephen, returns from the Net after visiting Mister J's, a virtual reality equivalent of the Hellfire Club, she's worried about him. When his next Net trip leaves him in a coma, Renie is terrified and angry. Soon she discovers evidence that other children have lapsed into comas under similar circumstances. A professor of computer science and an adept user of the Net, Renie retraces Stephen's trail and enters Mister J's but barely escapes with her own mind intact. After her adventure, she discovers that someone has downloaded into her computer the impossibly complex image of a fantastic golden city. Then her apartment is fire-bombed, she loses her job and another professor whom she has recruited to help her decipher the mystery is murdered. It's clear that Renie has angered someone with almost unlimited power, but she remains determined to save her brother. In the first book in what is projected to be, in effect, a single, enormous four-volume novel, Williams (Memory, Sorrow and Thorn) proves himself as adept at writing science fiction as he is at writing fantasy. His 21st-century South Africa, where blacks run the government and pursue careers but where whites control most economic power, rings true. His version of the Net, although obviously indebted to Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash and other novels, is detailed and fascinating. Best of all, however, are Williams's well-drawn, sympathetic characters, including Renie and her family, her student !Xabbu, the mysterious invalid Mister Sellars and a host of other folk, all of whom hope to solve the mystery of the terrifying VR environment called Otherland. (Nov.)
VOYA - Kevin S. Beach
This futuristic fantasy tale is a true mind bender. The author acknowledges in his preface that it was "hideously complicated to write," but it is a pleasure to read. I was intrigued by the surreal first chapter that opens with a World War I doughboy, trapped in the trenches somewhere in France, who is transported into a fairytale land after an explosion. Many other stories are introduced that are so far removed from each other it seems they will never come together, but they do. The main story line follows a black South African teacher, Renie Sulaweyo, who teaches the used of virtual reality equipment in the near future. Her teenage brother explores a forbidden area of cyberspace and cannot return, his body in real time lying in a coma state. Renie's quest for her brother's safe return leads to the layered unfolding of a global plot by a secret society that is systematically peopling a virtual world with young people's minds. Renie and one of her students, a bushman named !Xabbu, are joined in the quest for answers by an unusual collection of web surfers: a fourteen-year-old boy dying from a premature aging disease who exists in cyberspace as Thargor the barbarian, an alter ego comic book guise; a deformed elderly man confined to a wheelchair on a military base; a serial killer known as Dread; and Paul, the young soldier from World War I. All begin to find their way to a city on the web and join forces to unlock the mystery of the secret society's plan. The book, part of a planned trilogy, ends just as the group escapes a deadly encounter in the city. At an imposing seven-hundred-plus pages, only the most die-hard SF/computer tech fans will stick with it, but the research, writing, and character development are all remarkably well done. VOYA Codes: 5Q 3P S (Hard to imagine it being any better written, Will appeal with pushing, Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
The first book in a planned tetralogy features Renie Sulaweyo, a black South African professor; her Bushman student; and dozens of other characters enmeshed in the intricately plotted international adventure and suspense thriller set in the near future in which the seductiveness of the net and virtual reality can be extremely dangerous. An exciting addition to the growing virtual reality literature from the author of Caliban's Hour (LJ 11/15/94). Highly recommended for sf collections.
Another doorstopper fantasy from Williams (The Dragonbone Chair, 1988, etc.), book one of a projected tetralogy large enough to satisfy the most gargantuan appetite. In the near future, a conspiracy of the super-rich and super-powerful has created an exclusive and impregnable virtual reality called Otherland, where the participants adopted the appearance and attributes of Egyptian gods. This Grail Brotherhood seek a McGuffin, the key to whose location is bewildered Paul Jonas, a man pluckedapparentlyfrom the battlefields of WW I. Even though he can't remember anything and has no idea what's going on, Jonas plunges through various weird computer realities, somehow just evading capture. But the Brotherhood's split into factions, one of which is stealing children's minds from ordinary cyberspace. Teacher Renie Sulaweyoher brother is a victimand her Bushman friend, !Xabbu, along with various others stumble across the conspiracy and force their way into Otherland. And who is mysterious, crippled old Mr. Sellars, now a prisoner on a military base? Well, after 782 pages of flabby confusion, readers, like most of the characters, will have only the vaguest idea of what it's all about.
If, for whatever reason, you intend to absorb the entire tetralogy, you'll need your reading spectacles, a cool hundred bucks, a prodigious memory, and unlimited patience.