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Friday, March 20, 2009

“This Is Not A Game” by Walter Jon Williams (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Order “This Is Not A GameHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Walter Jon Williams has been nominated repeatedly for every major SF award, including Hugo and Nebula Award nominations for his novel “City on Fire”. His most recent books include the Dread Empire’s Fall series and “Implied Spaces”. He has also written both fiction and rulebooks for the roleplaying games “Privateers and Gentlemen” and “Cyberpunk”.

PLOT SUMMARY:This Is Not A Game” is a novel built around the world of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs)—massively interactive games that combine video, text adventure, audio, animation, improvisational theatre, graphics, story and more into an immersive experience, and have become a staple of entertainment marketing.

Dagmar is a producer and writer for an ARG gaming company. Her boss Charlie is an old friend and a multimillionaire. When another old friend is murdered, Dagmar, Charlie and the fourth of their former college gaming circle, BJ, suddenly find themselves the players in a very different kind of game.

Now they must draw on all their resources—not least millions of online gamers—to track down a killer, prevent a financial crisis, and possibly even save the world. They just have to remember TINAG . . . This Is Not A Game and there are no second chances…

CLASSIFICATION:This Is Not A Game” is a techno-thriller seasoned with a tiny dash of cyberpunk and set mostly in a near-future Los Angeles. Because of its cinematic flair, mainstream appeal and cautionary tone, “This Is Not A Game” was like reading a Michael Crichton novel…

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 384 pages divided over three Acts and twenty-seven chapters. Each chapter is titled with a ‘This is Not…’ like “This is the Not the Bat Cave” or “This is Not a Flashback.” Narration is in the third-person, mostly via the main protagonist Dagmar Shaw. “This Is Not A Game” is self-contained. March 5, 2009 & March 24, 2009 marks the UK/North American publication of “This Is Not A Game” via

ANALYSIS: Before 2008, I had never even heard of Alternate Reality Games, but then I read
Cory Doctorow’sLittle Brother” which introduced me to ARGs and much more. In many ways, “Little Brother” is a lot like Walter Jon Williams’ new book, “This Is Not A Game”. Both are smart and skillfully written including believable characters and dialogue, movie-like pacing, clever plotting and cool pop-culture references—Dungeons & Dragons, MMORPGs, comic books and cartoons are just a few that are used in “This Is Not A Game”. Both deal with subjects that are timely to current real-world problems. And both are tremendously entertaining.

Of course there are differences. For one, “Little Brother” is written in the first-person while “This Is Not A Game” is in the third. Two, “Little Brother” is set a bit further in the future whereas the setting for “This Is Not A Game” is almost indistinguishable from ours. And three, “Little Brother” is a YA novel and “This Is Not A Game” is not—although the book is just as accessible as one.

The biggest difference between “Little Brother” and “This Is Not A Game” is in the subject matter and their plots. Where “Little Brother” mostly concentrates on terrorism, the loss of civil rights and a ton of technological info-dumping centered around youthful rebellion, “This Is Not A Game” revolves around financial crises, ARGs, and a thriller plot that involves murder, deception, and revenge. In particular, “This Is Not A Game” explores the intriguing, but disturbing capacity of using ARGs—or in general social networking—to solve real-world problems like extracting an individual from a third-world country that is suffering from currency collapse, finding a killer, driving stock prices up, performing acts of terrorism, and so on. What I liked best about this scenario was how much effort was put into creating a real-life ARG, even going so far as interjecting forum messages and emails into the body of the narrative.

Negatively, it takes a while for the direction of the novel to be revealed—basically the whole first act and then some—certain stuff feels outdated like finding bomb recipes online, and once specific pieces of information fall into place the plot can be a bit predictable. But like “Little Brother”, “This Is Not A Game” is a nearly perfect novel.

Between the two, “This Is Not A Game” is not quite as frightening a scenario as “Little Brother”, and is not as ‘tech-savvy’, but I think Walter’s book will appeal to a wider audience. I also believe “This Is Not A Game” would make a better film, especially in the hands of a director like Ridley or Tony Scott :)

CONCLUSION:This Is Not A Game” is the first Walter Jon Williams novel that I’ve read and it lives up to all of the hype and praise surrounding the author. Masterfully written and executed, scarily relevant, and massively entertaining, “This Is Not A Game” is a gem of a novel and should be on everyone’s reading list…


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