The Fourth Wall by Walter Jon Williams

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The Fourth Wall by Walter Jon Williams

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Sean Makin wants more meaningful acting work and is desperate enough not to ask too many questions. Action packed science fiction, mixed with ‘whodunit’ and served up with a large side order of cynical satire.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: February 2012
Publisher: Orbit
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1841498256

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Sean Makin was a cute, much demanded child actor. Then he grew up and the cute became creepy as the baby face that had made him famous remained (due to a physical condition) but was unsuited to an adult's body. So the demand dried up and Sean tries to come to terms with his change of fortunes by writing a 'how to act' blog, intoxicating substances and appearances on a reality celebrity martial arts fight show. One day, whilst being beaten up for the cameras in a wrestling ring full of cottage cheese, he realises the depths to which he's sunk. Something has to change! Luckily change soon arrives in the form of 'Alternate Reality' magnate, Dagmar Shaw.

Dagmar, as readers of Walter Jon Williams' previous books This Is Not A Game and Deep State will know, specialises in games that invade the players' real lives. Dagmar, however, is branching out. She is now looking for talent to appear in a unique kind of feature film. Dagmar's history may be littered with the unexplained deaths of friends and colleagues, but Sean desperately wants the work. There's only so much public humiliation in dairy produce that an ego can take.

This is the third Dagmar Shaw book written by WJW (as his fans refer to him... understandably), but the novel belongs to Sean Makin. The story is told with his voice and through him WJW can explore the plight of the discarded child actor. It's all here: Sean's parents stole from him throughout his childhood and, when the gravy train ran off the rails, his father disappeared and his mother went to join an ashram in India. (Some of the humour comes through his email conversations with his mother that intersperse the story narrative, along with his blog and the posted comments of his fans.)

The cynicism of celebrity reality shows also comes under the author's microscope. The producers of 'Celebrity Pitfighter', the show that keeps Sean off the streets, feed off celebrities' desperation for fame and willingness to do anything for a few moments before the public. As much as we'd like to believe this is a total fabrication from a writer's imagination, the sight of celebrities stuffing their mouths with insects on I'm a Celebrity... may hint otherwise.

I came to this book without having read the previous two and it didn't affect my enjoyment. Williams cleverly alludes back to the first books in a way that leaves them shrouded in mystery for those who aren't familiar with them, but with enough information to raise a knowing nod from those who are. They've read the books and therefore know the background – a device that cleverly encourages interest in the Dagmar Shaw back catalogue.

Indeed, talking about back catalogues, this author is both prolific and versatile. The list of sci-fi genres in which he's proficient includes military, fantasy, the intriguingly classification post-cyberpunk space opera plus he's written a Star Wars novel. He's also an online gamer and here The Fourth Wall merges his hobby and livelihood beautifully as he explains the mechanics and background of ‘Alternate Reality'.

The characters are as three-dimensional as necessary for a fast moving book like this. Sean is superficial, but beneath the ego he harbours a dark secret. So dark that, as bad things begin to happen, he wonders if he instigated them. Dagmar is as distant and cold as anyone with her past or her future plans would be. The twists come thick and fast towards the end. One or two may be obvious but the surprises compensate for this nicely.

This is a hybrid book. Along with the satire and the chilling possibilities that encouraging today's trends may bring, there co-exists a good crime thriller. This may not be a book that sets the literary world alight, but its good shut-out-the-world escapism that may just leave you a little anxious as you realise that Sean Makin's fictional journey has already started to bleed into real life.

I would like to thank Orbit for providing Bookbag with a copy of this book to review.

If you haven't had the pleasure, may I suggest This Is Not A Game. If you've read this and fancy another light movie-themed crime thriller, try Bloodthirsty by Marshall Karp.

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Buy The Fourth Wall by Walter Jon Williams at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Fourth Wall by Walter Jon Williams at


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