Daily Archives: April 26th, 2011

Deep State: a review

Dagmar Shaw is a game designer, but her games are way more interesting than any MMORPG that exists today. I never entirely came to grips with what Alternate Reality Games actually entail, but it has players follow a story, interpret clues online, and it sometimes has real-world connections. The story opens with Dagmar Shaw designing a James Bond movie tin-in game that sees some players going to Turkey to actually follow some of the action in real life, while tens of thousands of others follow the video and other media Dagmar and her employees upload to the web. She runs a successful game, and is then recruited by a US  – ah – security specialist to do some interesting things in Turkey. Which she does. Things do not go entirely to plan, not unexpectedly.

It’s interesting coming to Deep State after having read The Dervish House. Both are set in Turkey, but that’s about where the similarities end. The plots are entirely different, and Deep State isn’t as futuristic as Dervish House. More interestingly, where McDonald made almost all of his characters Turkish, and events happen exclusively in Istanbul with little reference to the outside world, Williams has only a few Turkish characters, and the plot revolves around foreigners getting themselves involved in Turkish politics. Williams does seem to know Istanbul, but he doesn’t evince quite the same love for the country as McDonald; and Turkey is not of the same fundamental importance to Williams as it was to McDonald. Deep State could as easily be set almost anywhere but Western Europe, I think. Turkey, although quite well realised, is not irreplaceable.

This is, it turns out, the second book about the main character here, Dagmar. She has a few flashbacks to the events of the first, This is Not a Game, and there are a few aspects of her character that are not entirely explicable but would be, I think, with knowledge of earlier events. However, it does stand alone fairly well.

The story is well-paced. The opening, with the James Bond game, is as exciting as it should be. There are lulls in the action for character development, the action is spread over a few different characters, and it wraps up nicely. I enjoyed the politics, although I’m not au fait enough with the current Turkish situation to know whether it is completely believable or not. The characters are not the most well-developed I’ve ever read, but they were more than sufficient to carry the plot. Dagmar herself is quite complex enough to be interesting; she had a difficult childhood and still suffers from the aftereffects of the events of the first book. These make her more than simply another game designer, as well as more than simply a cipher. Her boss is appropriately mysterious, while the members of her team are varied enough to provide interesting interactions. I really enjoyed the snippets of online discussion that were included; it was a nice touch. Overall the book could have done with a few more female characters; given that most of them are computer-types of one sort or another, there’s not even the (weak and laughable) excuse of needing men to do the action stuff. There were, I think, only three female characters, and one of them was almost incidental. This was my main disappointment with the novel.

Aside from the plot and the characters, the really cool part of the book – and one that, I must admit, I probably didn’t appreciate as fully as I might have – was the tech side. The creation of the ARG by Dagmar and her team, the way in which they manipulate video, the technology they use to keep track of everything: very, very cool.

Deep State is immensely enjoyable. I have put the first book on my to-read list, and expect that there will be a third at some time which I will definitely be seeking out.

Reflections on Natcon50

Well, it was brilliant, basically.

I went over on Wednesday, to get a head start on the fun. Tehani picked me up, which was lovely of her, and then I got to spend the afternoon with Kathryn. We had dinner with Alisa and Justina Robson, one of the Guests of Honour, which was a great privilege! I managed to get a good night’s sleep, which was a good thing… Thursday involved chasing down Kathryn’s artwork, which was cool, and then we had lunch with Justina and the other Guests of Honour – Ellen Datlow and Sean Williams – and a bunch of other Swanconners. Which was awesome. Then to the hotel, and starting the real business of the weekend: catching up with lots of people. Also hanging around the Twelfth Planet Press table. Thursday night was free; there was the Opening Ceremony, which I attended and it was good, and panels, which I didn’t attend and that was fine too. The con bag was awesome – four free books!

The con proper involved a number of panels that I was both on, and attended, including a megapodcast recording where we got to tell people what books they MUST read, and films watch, and I got to shock people by saying Lord of the Rings and The Fifth Element; and a recording of Galactic Suburbia too. I presented at the Edustream, which was good, and on a panel about religion in fantasy too. I attended a number of interesting ones: Grant’s presentation on Disney films was utterly enchanting, and the “Vikings are awesome” panel was far more informed than I expected! The best, though, was probably the panel that in theory was meant to be on “the crisis of the midlist, and the rise of the celebrity author.” It featured Justina and Ellen, and two Aussie contributors. It turned into a broader discussion, at least partly about how we figure out what to read – the place of podcasts, reviewers, etc, and how to know who to trust in those arenas. It was fun, becoming quite interactive towards the end.I also thoroughly enjoyed Jonathan Strahan interviewing guest Sean Williams. They have known each other for a very long time, and rather than the conversation being full of in-jokes it meant that Jonathan knew exactly the right questions to ask for it to become an interesting discussion for the audience. Also, Sean’s concertina-pack of his books’ covers was awesome.

Most of the time, though, was spent with people. The foyer of the hotel had a large cafe/bar with lovely couches and chairs and I spent a large amount of time sitting, chatting… generally doing the things that make cons brilliant. I made a few new friends, but really it was about catching up with existing friends. It’s hard having friends all over the country that you don’t get to see very often. Twitter and blogs and Skype make it feasible to actually call them friends… but spending physical time together really shows just how much those things are not really a substitute. I had breakfast, lunch, and what passed for dinner with friends all weekend, and spent many hours into the night with them too.

The evenings were, of course, very entertaining! Friday night had a celebration of the Twelve Planets, and I was particularly thrilled to see that Tansy’s Love and Romanpunk had come back from the printer… and, even more than that, it is dedicated to meeeee! I was gobsmacked and overwhelmed to discover this. (Also, Jonathan Strahan’s Year’s Best Fantasy and SF vol 5 is dedicated to me, Alisa, and Tansy, as the Coode St Feminist Advisory Council – which is very flattering indeed.) The evening also involved a cake made by the awesome Terri, surrounded by pink cupcakes to make it look like the Twelfth Planet Press logo. Saturday night was the masquerade, which I went along to for a little while to see the costumes and then retired to a room party to continue various conversations.

Sunday night… well, that saw the presentation of the WA awards, the Tin Ducks; and the national fan-voted awards, the Ditmars. It was preceded by a cocktail party thanks to Orbit and Gollancz, which was very pleasant indeed. I am an awards junkie, so it was a lot of fun to actually attend one with friends. Um, especially when many of the awards were won by said friends. I was so very pleased that Tansy won for Power and Majesty, and backing it up with the William Atheling for her Modern Women’s Guide to Dr Who was brilliant! Alisa’s Sprawl won best collection, which was well deserved, and Cat and Kirstyn sharing Best Short Story was great. I was really, really happy for Thoraiya Dyer winning Best New Talent and Best Novella. And, yes, Galactic Suburbia won the Tin Duck for best Fan Production and the Ditmar for Best Fan Production. And Kathryn, Alisa, Rachel, Tehani, Tansy and I won Best Achievement for Snapshot2010, which feels like it was a very long time ago but was heaps of fun! And… I won for Best Fan Writer, for my reviews, which I am still utterly and totally overwhelmed by. The perceptive among the audience will notice that all of those names are female. There was one male winner: Shaun Tan, for The Lost Thing for Best Artwork… and given that short film won an Oscar, we figure that’s fair enough. So the awards ceremony was one big barrel of awesome, and we retired to the bar to toast our celebrations. And try to ignore the fact it was our collective last night together.

I came home having had more sleep than I expected but less than was necessary; 4kg of books, only a few of which I bought – most are review copies or were freebies!; 4 awards (one physical trophy, since we split the others); a reading list a mile long, and instructions that I must watch Blake’s 7; and, most importantly of course, renewed friendships. Also immense respect for and gratitude to Alisa and the rest of her committee for running a brilliant con. The hotel choice was excellent – it was a lovely venue, and the fact that the hotel didn’t believe we’d all be there to eat and drink and therefore didn’t staff the bar well enough on the Friday was certainly not their responsibility! The programme was diverse and interesting and well organised, the guests seemed like they were good choices, and although I know some people had hitches of various sorts I, at least, had a completely trouble-free con.

And now I am home.