Synopsis from Amazon:
It is the year 2051. A group of strangers are trapped in a virtual reality video game so real they don't always know they are playing it. While their bodies in the real world are gradually dying of dehydration, they must battle through a fantasy realm, a remake of Grand Theft Auto set in 1980s London and the dark underbelly of a Sims-type suburbia. They experience love, war and quite a lot in between as they progress in their adventures until, finally, they must meet the Cybermancer...
A couple years ago, I picked up the book "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline. It was one of the first novels that I didn't have any context for, I wasn't familiar with the author—I basically chose it because it was a Popular Pick at the library and the premise sounded interesting. I believe I had also just read "Warriors of the Edge" by Katie Bridges as well, which functioned on the same premise: characters from the real world chose to subsist and operate in a virtual realm. I loved the premise, I loved the use of the characters in both those books, and both were extremely-well written.
I mention these titles because, on the surface, Barber's novel seems like more of the same... But the more I read, the more I discovered something totally unique and intriguing.
It's the same premise, but with one added complication: staying in the game too long could be fatal for their real-world bodies. And there is the programmer in the real world who is willing to do anything to make sure that these people stay connected, where their fate is in his control.
Granted, it's rough—but who writes a stunning first novel on the first go? I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Barber has fashioned a future that makes sense, and he keeps his readers informed using layman's terms instead of jargon, doling out technical information in palatable lumps. Meanwhile, the scenarios are fascinating as, the more the player yields to the program, the less they remember of their real-world lives. Keeping track of who they are in each game can be tricky too—but these players have an ace in the hole: a programmer who hacked herself into the game and knows all the ins and outs. If anyone can get them through safely, she can. Barber balances the technical stuff and the dire situations with dry wit and ample humor. There were several moments I stopped and reread a section because it made me giggle!
In fact, about the only thing that disappointed me in this novel was the repeated and lengthy sex scenes. At least Barber enters these scenes slowly enough, so when it does happen, I know what's coming and I can skip forward to the next section. It does pull one out of the action, though, to have to suddenly stop reading every word and just flip through till something else happens. From what I understand, the author's point was to draw on common themes used in gaming, and one of those themes is sex. Not being a gamer, I did not realize this point, and even he agrees that perhaps he went a little too far in this first novel! He assures me that it does get far less graphic and frequent and far more tactful in the ensuing novels.
I am good with that, because, barring this unsightly feature, the adventure itself is just fantastic! I really enjoyed the concept and the characters of "Cybermancer Presents", and the ending, though immensely satisfying in a sense, did indeed leave me thinking, "Wait, that's it? I want to read more!"
Overall, "Cybermancer Presents" gets an Upstream Writer Certified score of 4.5 stars, and this recommendation:
If you like sci-fi, virtual reality games, cool futuristic tech, and adventures that utilize the skills of everyone involved, and do not mind high levels of graphic sex and language (more f-bombs than anything else, but still a lot of them!) then "Cybermancer Presents" is a book worth buying!
Warning: As evidenced, this title is not suitable for children... but "Warriors of the Edge" most certainly is! For a taste of the same kind of fun "group-of-strangers-with-a-role-to-play-in-a-virtual-realm" adventure that's "kid-friendly," use the link above to click over to that post and pick up your copy of Katie Bridges' book!