Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

This Is Not A Game This Is Not A Game
by Walter Jon Williams

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Simon Litten
Jacqui Smith

This is not a Game is Walter Jon Williams’ latest novel. Mr Williams is a writer who for his twenty or so previous works has seldom revisited the well of inspiration for his novels; to the best of my knowledge This is not a Game is a standalone work.

This is not a Game is set in world only days ahead of now. A world where thousands, even millions, take part in online role playing games where the action takes place in the real world: the world’s a stage and we but actors on it. Dagmar is a games master for this world, that’s how she earns her living and she loves it. Only lately, a fly or two have got in the ointment: one of her friends from her old dungeons-and-dragons role-playing days has been murdered, and another friend (as her employer) is insisting on changing the mechanics of her latest game. And then art begins to imitate life or is that the other way round, as the latest game and her life reflect each other in an all too perilous manner.

Mr Williams has managed to write a novel set in the world of instant messaging, Facebook and Twitter and create a fast-paced, taut science fiction murder mystery; and has carried it off admirably.

This was a fun book to read. A whodunit in SF drag, drag it wore most convincingly. A drag that was all the more enjoyable for not being a police procedural, but a world in which the power of social networking can be a help or a hindrance, a weapon or a shield in the right hands.

If you want to start with Walter Jon Williams and have never tried, then I heartily recommend this book. He has written others – so you could try them too.
-Simon Litten

This is not a bad book – actually it’s the best novel I’ve read in some time. It has well-developed characters, and you get to know the protagonist, geek and game-designer Dagmar, quite well. As a fellow girl-geek, I can relate to her quite well. The book has a great plot, in fact, a great deal of plotting, and plenty of action, and it’s not an easy book to put down. It’s borderline in terms of being actual science fiction, set in the very near future, and being more about economics than aliens, vampires, or spaceships.

It begins with Dagmar stuck in a hotel room in Jakarta as Indonesia falls apart around her, a destruction brought about by a currency crisis. The first third of the book is mainly about getting Dagmar safely out of Indonesia, an escape brought about largely by the on-line community of which she is a part. Dagmar is, in fact, a "puppet master", a designer of alternate reality games, and it is the players who work together, using real world contacts, to rescue her.

But Indonesia is just the start. One of Dagmar’s former College gaming friends is shot and killed by a Russian assassin, and Dagmar lets the players loose on the problem of finding out why. And that’s not all. Something out there is de-stabilising world economies. Dagmar has to find out what, and put a stop to it, before it gets her killed.

This is not a book I’m likely to forget soon. The fragility of the world economy as portrayed here, and its vulnerability to electronic attack, is enough to give anyone nightmares.

I do recommend this novel, especially to gamers and geeks, who will find it all of inventive and challenging, scary and fun. Oh, and I must add that this new paperback edition has an absolutely brilliant cover – one of those times when you really can judge a book by its artwork….
-Jacqui Smith

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