The Beasts of Electra Drive by Rohan Quine
|The Beasts of Electra Drive by Rohan Quine|
|Category: Science Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: An intriguing premise – a man finds his computer game characters coming to life, when his output is vitally important to the sanity of the world – is let down by rigid patterning, and not going the way it should. Still, I think it's worth a look.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 358||Date: January 2018|
|Publisher: EC1 Digital|
|External links: Author's website|
Meet Jaymi. He's a world-class video games designer, and fresh to a new mansion in the Hollywood Hills on the basis of some recent success. But he's seen the future and he doesn't like it. His current employers, able to bring any amount of class, skill and culture to the world of gameplay, are beset on appealing to the most lunkheaded and lowest common denominators instead. Indeed, their next big thing will change the world for the worse – it will be a massively disturbing environment, where people progress through the world of the entity by spreading fake news about anyone and everyone else on the planet, whether they're playing along or not, and by getting kind of prestige points on spoiling and shaming anything beyond a user-accepted, algorithm-designed, status quo. With a much more Reithian approach, Jaymi goes freelance, and sets up a way of restoring the balance with a launch of his own, where aspects of his more humanitarian mind are played out by avatars of him in the game. He sees this as a way to improve society and get his own back – but the chance of getting revenge more quickly comes about when those avatars leave their encoded background, and become fully playable characters in reality…
You'll notice Jaymi hardly reacts with much surprise when his first creation, a stolid but charming gangland enforcer, bursts out of the computer screen into his study. You have to accept that as a perfectly reasonable thing in this science fantasy, but then you do also have to try and believe an incredibly weird world for Jaymi. I really didn't buy into the way he was portrayed as a programmer – what he did, and how and when, just felt unrealistic – he seems to code through the language of metaphor. With all intent to be the provider of a more philosophical, artful, and levelling-UP game, where the furtherance of humanity is some kind of real life end goal, within a month he has not only worked that out (without us seeing so), but peopled it with some characters, and made progress on turning it into a trilogy, complete with completely playable game-within-a-game. His piecemeal work on all three things just rang false. And all the while that's going on, the evil empire he's left have debuted the launch towards their game with a modern-day version of Hot or Not, which will only remind those with a long Internet history of when we actually rated people's looks by numbers, and not the even more apelike swipe-left of today.
So there are flaws in the ideas of the book, but ones I could forgive. And there is the same thing going on with the writing – it's not perfect, but it's more than good enough, all told. The style can delve into pretentiousness, especially with the birth of the second avatar. But at the same time, if you're on board with the style being so effusive and florid, it actually successfully disguises a lot of exposition, so much so you can easily fail to see that that's what's happening. What you can also, see, however is a naff brand of property porn (especially when the particulars of these Californian hills and roads means jack to a reader like me), and an awful lot of repetition. You forgive things like the rote fact-finding Jaymi undertakes as being mentioned severally, but there is a clear cut-and-paste aesthetic going on, which diminishes the book. It makes the actions of the characters as repetitive as a computer game, and makes the people not fully-rounded characters as on a modern, PS4 game, but blocky, stuck-in-logic-circuit images, like an old C64 title.
You could also see that repetition (did I mention there was repetition? I thought I'd just say it was there – an awful lot) as a disguise for the major plot failing here. Yes, Jaymi wants to do two things – right the wrong that is the company he left, and finish coding (by metaphor) his games, and yes, they go hand in hand. But when he's discussing the "whole Beast-creation mission", he's finding himself used to the process, and mastering it every time – even though the baddies are by now interfering with things. But we're supposed, somehow, to ignore the fact that he already has a Beast perfect to be his avatar and get rid of his rivals, their games and their espionage. And we can't ignore that.
This, then, does have some seriously iffy bits about it – plot inconsistencies, repetition (damn, it's catching, that it is), and so on. But at the same time I still liked it. The writing can be more than competent, and the book is about something, when I had feared it would be about the author's word play and stretches of imagination – or, perhaps worse, solitarily gearing up to be a prequel to all his other books (which have the same titles as the games herein). The novel certainly wants to say something, and inasmuch as shoot-em-ups and social media ratings aren't the most Darwinian of concerns it's an important observation – the only thing to add to that, then, is that there is only one tiny section talking about the public response to the bad app(le)s; if Jaymi is saving the world it's a very absent world. So as much as I enjoyed reading it, I can also see some people will take against the way it's presented. The author's completists, however, will have a riot with a fully-wrought origin story like no other.
I must thank the author for my review copy.
There are avatars of dead people – and a meaty crime to solve – in From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters.
You can read more about Rohan Quine here.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Beasts of Electra Drive by Rohan Quine at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Beasts of Electra Drive by Rohan Quine at Amazon.com.
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