“Win and all your dreams come true. Lose, you die.”
I’ll admit it. I was hooked from the blurb. Honestly, as a fan of science fiction with a twisted love for how terrifying technology can be, the premise of an AI created from the combined scripture of every religion in history punched me in all the right places. I mean, COME ON!!! Imagine the possibilities!!! Oh wait, Danny Tobey did, and O.H. M.Y. G.O.D. was this a wild ride!
Charlie and his friends all vote to play the game. It’s a game, right? So even though the tagline is a bit disconcerting, everyone technically dies when they lose a game. It’s easy to rationalize that it’s nothing but a dramatic marketing ploy to draw interest and curiosity.
And it works.
From the moment they log in, the tech is insane, overwriting a fantastical reality over their actual reality. It’s over the top and the quests seem harmless. But as the rewards get bigger, so do the demands of the game. Except this isn’t as straightforward as a quest in Zelda. You can say no, but you’ll pay the price.
“Anyone is a murderer under the right conditions.”
What I loved about this book is from the beginning, we see that all isn’t right within the group. Known amongst themselves as The Vindicators, this group of teens is going through some legit growing pains. Charlie recently lost his mom. Alex struggles with his abusive father. Vanhi is fraying over secrets. Kenny is exhausted from the weight of expectations. And Peter, well, Peter doesn’t really seem to have many problems.
Tobey opens this book up with delirious tension but breaks up our certainty with teenage antics. Charlie and Peter are the first of The Vindicators to experience the game by telling it to go fuck itself. They don’t take the warning of the game seriously, so why should we?
“It was systems and anarchy. You played the system to achieve what anarchy used to provide: the power to take what you want.”
As we are drawn into the story, we get a variety of POV’s sprinkled in throughout Charlie’s main narration. And as the characters begin to show their inner selves to us, a deep-rooted, uneasy feeling grows. There are too many secrets, too many things hanging unsaid, unseen, unacted upon. Too many ways for everything to go horribly wrong. It’s a richly complex recipe for disaster.
Although, disaster seems too mild a word for what actually unfolds.
Beyond science fiction or suspense, The God Game is a deeply philosophical novel exploring not just what can go wrong with tech, but how complex unraveling human nature truly is. This is a story about morality. Tobey doesn’t preach morality to us though. Instead, he takes us on a philosophic roller coaster ride reminiscent of a modern Socratic method. We are asked questions, leading not to answers, but more questions, and while the characters make their choices, propelling the plot forward, the reader is left with the uneasy examination of all the possibilities hanging in the ether.
The result? A mind-bending, soul-twisting, compulsively addictive read.
If you love all things sci-fi and tech, where the AI is less a personality and more an all-powerful, omnipresent being full of all that terrifying possibility, get your hands on The God Game immediately. Lucky for you, it releases January 7, so you don’t even have to wait long.
Huge thank you to St. Martin’s Press for sending me an early review copy.