Sunday, April 3, 2011

Review: The Otherland

Virtual Reality has become a reality.  Everybody is plugged in: Renie from South Africa and her Bushman student !Xabbu; the terminally sick Orlando; Paul Jonas, a soldier who may or may not be real and may or may not be from a completely different era; Renie’s little brother, Stephen, lying in a coma after a disastrous web trip; plus kids, adults, and hackers galore.  All of them view VR differently: with hope, with hate, with love, or as just another tool.  All of them, from different backgrounds and practically different worlds, will be thrown together in search of a massive conspiracy that may redefine the net as they know it.  They will have to fend off the mysterious Grail Brotherhood, with hidden motives and unimaginable power, who will do anything to protect the secret of the golden city and the Grail Project…
Entertainment: ★★★
First off, this book is 800 pages long.  Even for a dedicated reader, that’s a lot.  By the 600s, my interest was starting to flag.  Plus, this book just didn’t hold my attention.  I actually put it down halfway through and read another book, just for a quick break.  It wasn’t boring or anything, it just wasn’t gripping enough to be worth wading through 800 pages at once.
Plot: ★★★
This plot could get five stars just for being fascinating, if it would sit still long enough to make sense.  I was forced to track at least five different plot lines, most of which didn’t even intersect until quite late in the book, all occurring in different settings with different characters with different motivations.  Things happened very quickly and occasionally without a lot of explanation.  I was just confused at some parts.  Also, the ending just kind of stops.  Literally, I wondered for a moment if I was missing a chapter that explains what the heck actually happens.  So overall, it was a really cool plot, just really really complex.  Get ready to think.
Characters: ★★★★
I found the villains really, absolutely fascinating.  They seemed incredibly real, and I was really interested in their plans and plots.  That said, the protagonists were only so-so; they were well-written, but nothing really stands out about them.  Particularly, I had a hard time connecting with their grief.  Orlando is dying.  Renie’s brother’s in a coma.  !Xabbu’s whole culture has been wiped out.  Come on, that’s a great opportunity for some serious angst there!  But when the characters did deign to complain or feel emotion, it didn’t feel as real as it might have.
Well, they were fine characters besides their non-emotions.  I liked the diversity (Williams really covers the spectrum, with tons of races, ages, genders, opinions, everything.  Hello, Bushman?  When’s the last time you read a book involving Bushmen?) and I liked that each character seemed to narrate in a different voice, instead of slapping them all with the same generic style.
Writing: ★★
Sometimes the descriptions got really dense and detailed.  Also, while I got an overload of description on the VR environments and the Real World environments, I found the description of the technology a little lacking. Also, besides !Xabbu, most of the main characters never really got a description.  I’m still not sure what some of them look like.  I was a little annoyed by that; yes, I can picture them in my head, but I like a starting point.  So I was not overwhelmed by the writing.
End Result: three stars.  A decent book, but not amazingly excellent.

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