(Well, of course it is; but every chapter is entitled “This is not a…” and the trick is to figure out whether that’s the truth, or a lie, or a clue, or all three.)
This is not science fiction.
Well, it might have been when it was published – in 2008 – but I’m fairly sure that the requisite technology actually exists in the real world, now, to make everything (except maybe for the twist, but I’m not sure) actually work.
Dagmar Shaw’s job is writing ARGs – massively multi-player games where players access information etc on the web, but sometimes partake in real-world and real-time events, too. It’s all about puzzle-solving and cross-referencing with other players to figure out what the next clue is and how the game’s story is going to unfold. When things go wrong for Dagmar, she finds herself tapping into this Group Mind, and the possibilities inherent in having several tens of thousands of people – bored people with access to the wonders of the internet – willing to work for you are demonstrated.
It’s not the sort of game I can imagine myself being involved in, but I absolutely understand the appeal. One of the neat narrative tricks Williams uses is including message forum threads, so that the players’ points of view become part of the narrative; they’re nice little vignettes. I know that there have been some attempts, usually connected with marketing (which this is too), to have real-world/web crossovers, but I understand they’ve not always been that successful. Williams suggests one way of making it successful: better writing, and better narrative.
I like Dagmar. I read the sequel to this (Deep State) first, which is something that I almost never do, and while the idea of this sort of game is intriguing and I wanted to see how it started, it was Dagmar that was the clincher. It’s not that she is that unique or anything, she’s just an engaging and absorbing character. Which is really nice.
Overall this is a highly entertaining, fast-paced, well-detailed and appropriately twisty story. It’s probably not the sort of book to read twice, because of the twists and turns, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.