Otherworld – Review

“A future in which there’s only one all-powerful Company doesn’t seem totally preposterous anymore.”

Otherworld is the reboot of a virtual reality game that people swore was like heaven, it was so perfect. What we actually get in this book is Otherworld 2.0, the revamped version brought back from the virtual dead by a young billionaire.

Initially the headsets are limited, and Simon manages to get a set for him and his not girlfriend, Kat. Apparently this is the only way he can see her, and he goes to some pretty extreme lengths to do it. Obviously things fall apart fairly quickly, and both headsets end up getting destroyed.

But when Kat ends up in an accident, Simon is convinced it wasn’t an accident after all, and that Otherworld holds the answers he’s looking for. Stumbling into a top secret test program that eliminates the need for a headset at all, Simon begins to see the plans the Corporation actually has for Otherworld. Suddenly, he’s not just playing a game, but the game of his life. Literally.

“This is true virtual reality — not just sight, sound and touch. Tap into the brain and you can engage all five senses.”

It’s been a few weeks since I finished Otherworld, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. It’s still a solid three star read for me. I don’t know if I read it too soon after Ready Player One, which just blew the virtual reality parts of this book to bits, or if I just wasn’t that impressed. It was a fun read, and I enjoyed reading it, don’t get me wrong. But, if you’re looking for smart science fiction, this isn’t it.

Otherworld is definitely a YA book. It is written for a Young Adult audience, and while it has some humorous parts that adults and more mature readers will like, it’s still firmly in the mid-teen YA spectrum.

Simon is an interesting character. He is a weird mix of likable asshole. I had an easier time visualizing him when I pictured Jason Segel’s humor, but if you aren’t familiar with his previous movies and shows, I’m not sure it comes across on it’s own merit. He is a bit spoiled, very privileged, and while his loyalty to Kat is impressive, he just didn’t find his way into my heart. That said, I didn’t hate him either. I think he could have been a bit better developed.

We end up with a story within a story, or rather two different plots taking place. One inside Otherworld and one in the real world. Simon has to straddle both, and figure out how the two are related to each other.

“It’s not virtual if it changes who you are.”

Otherworld does bring up important conversations about technology. When does virtual reality just become reality. At what point can that technology take over our every day lives? Can it influence and change the way we behave as a society? I think presenting these questions to a generation that will have to explore these questions in more detail is smart. I wish it presented more for them to analyze, but to raise the questions is a valid start.

The plot inside Otherworld is also fairly interesting, and I wish it was a lot more developed, or that they continue to develop it in future books. The idea that somehow a virtual world could “create” it’s own new characters and rules. Sort of an advanced AI or sorts, limited to existing in just this world.

This war between the original components and The Children was an fascinating discussion into implications of technology and what happens when we humans begin developing things that we really have no control over, or really understanding of. I think that this would have been an endlessly fascinating thread to really examine. But, in the scope of that younger YA audience, the world building in that regard was minimal. Again, I hope they dive down this rabbit hole in the future.

I think pieces of Otherworld are unique and fun, but really, it’s fairly standard video game “levels” presented within a virtual world. It raises important questions but doesn’t really explore them in any meaningful way, at least not yet. But it is a fun read, and goes by fast.

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