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Monday, January 17, 2011

“Deep State” by Walter Jon Williams (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Walter Jon Williams Website
Order “Deep StateHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “This Is Not A Game

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, Implied Spaces and This Is Not A Game. He has also written both fiction and rulebooks for the roleplaying games, Privateers and Gentlemen and Cyberpunk.

PLOT SUMMARY: By day, Dagmar Shaw orchestrates vast games with millions of players spanning continents. By night, she tries to forget the sound of a city collapsing in flames around her. She tries to forget the faces of her friends as they died in front of her. She tries to forget the blood on her own hands.

But then an old friend approaches Dagmar with a project. The project he pitches is so insane and so ambitious, she can't possibly say no. But this new venture will lead her from the world of alternate-reality gaming to one even more complex. A world in which the players are soldiers and spies and the name of the game is survival...

FORMAT/INFO: Deep State is 416 pages long divided over a Prologue, three Acts and seventeen numbered chapters. Also includes an excerpt from Master Baby Head, the upcoming third Dagmar Shaw novel. Narration is in the third-person, exclusively via the protagonist Dagmar Shaw, except for the Prologue. Deep State takes place three years after the events of This Is Not A Game, but like its predecessor, is self-contained. February 3, 2011 & February 7, 2011 marks the UK/North American publication of Deep State via Orbit.

ANALYSIS: A smart, entertaining, and skillfully written techno-thriller, Walter Jon Williams’ This Is Not A Game was one of the best novels I read in 2009. So naturally, when I heard the author was writing another book featuring Dagmar Shaw, the heroine from This Is Not A Game, I was pretty excited. Unfortunately, Deep State was not nearly as enjoyable to read as its predecessor.

The main problem I had with Deep State, was the story. In This Is Not A Game, Walter Jon Williams cleverly explored how alternate reality gaming (ARGs) could help solve real-world problems like extracting a person from a third-world country suffering from currency collapse, finding a murderer, and preventing a financial crisis, all while delivering a story that was not only intelligent and relevant, but also highly entertaining. In fact, for most of the time that I was reading This Is Not A Game, I felt like I was watching a big-budget Hollywood action-thriller. Deep State on the other hand, was more like watching a documentary or a movie on The History Channel. Using the alternate reality gaming model to stage a revolution in a country under the rule of a military dictatorship, Deep State is mostly set in Turkey, and is rife with political, historical and cultural details about the country and its citizens. Of course, as informational as all of this was, it just wasn’t entertaining. To compound the problem, the whole ARG concept felt less interesting the second time around, while weak subplots involving murder, treachery, a Scottish actor named Ian Attila Gordon, and the High Zap—“the Internet equivalent of a thermonuclear bomb”—failed to add anything of value to a story already suffering from a transparent lack of excitement. Finally, the conclusion to Deep State, which included the outcome of the revolution in Turkey and defeating the High Zap, was disappointingly sudden and anticlimactic.

Apart from the story however, I can’t really complain. Like its predecessor, Deep State is an extremely well-written novel led by crisp dialogue, accomplished prose and brisk pacing. Supporting characters may lack depth, but they make up for it with distinctive personalities, while Walter Jon Williams convincingly captures the pain and torment that haunts Dagmar Shaw because of what happened to her in This Is Not A Game. On top of that, the subject matter in Deep State is once again topical and thought-provoking, perhaps even more than its predecessor.

In the end though, the excellent This Is Not A Game was a tough act to follow, and even though the writing in Walter Jon Williams’ Deep State was on par with the first book, the story and degree of entertainment were not. As a result, Deep State is one of the biggest disappointments of the year...


Jon said...

Darn, that's too bad. I used to read a lot of Walter Jon Williams' stuff. Was hoping these would be worth hunting down.

Ian Kaplan said...

Thanks for the review. I buy a lot of books, so, perhaps counter-intuitively, I'm careful about what I buy. I also like "This is not a Game" and, like you, was thinking of buying this book. Now I think I'll wait until I can get it used or from the library.

Robert said...

If you enjoyed This Is Not A Game, then I would at least give Deep State a shot if you can get it from a library or borrow it from someone, but keep your expectations lowered...


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