Feels like: Dave Eggers’ The Circle meets World of Warcraft, narrated by that friend of yours who’s really into Second Life.
Sounds like: “Arisen My Senses” by Bjork
“And that’s the true test, I realize–the one that reveals who’s human and who’s not. Real people rarely do what you wish they would do.”
Just to start this off strong, I read Otherworld in one sitting. It’s good, it’s great, it’s everything I wanted it to be but absolutely did not expect. I’m not usually a big fan of novels that are subscribed to the YA category, and it’s not because YA isn’t a totally legitimate and amazing genre of respectable literature. It is. I just haven’t picked up a YA novel in the last two years that’s pleased me. Disappointments piled onto disappointments, one more “unique, off-beat, totally original” character doing the same thing over and over (love triangles, special gifts, parents who just don’t understand); I was beginning to think I was just broken. This once pristine genre that gave me my beloved Cait Tiernan Sweep series, the delectable Uglies series by Scott Westerfield, the shocking impact of psychological apocalypse a la Meg Rosof’s How I Live Now and the undervalued Jean Hegland’s Into The Forest, was now churning out some really boring sludge.
Until now. Otherworld is the answer, and I don’t care that it steals tropes from Dave Eggers and mimics verbatim the Matrix, it’s just a damn good romp into a virtual reality experience that very gently explores Bladerunner-level ethics and quandaries of what it means to be human and to exist.
Plot points: Simon is a rich kid with a big nose (this is an actual device Jason Segel uses to make Simon relatable. I respect it because it’s Jason Segel writing himself into the character, which makes him instantly more likable) who meets his neighbor Kat when they’re both 8 years old. When Simon turns 16, he’s sent away to boarding school, and when he returns two years later, Kat is an entirely different person. His attempts to get her attention seem fruitless–until he purchases them both a set of insanely expensive virtual reality glasses and specialty gloves which permit them to play Otherworld, a groundbreaking game that’s unlike anything any gamer has ever experienced.
Otherworld is like a virtual reality World of Warcraft. Create your avatar, become anything you want to be, and traverse a sci-fi landscape full of mystery, danger, and all of your most taboo indulgences. Of course, it’s not what it seems–when Kat is hurt in a terrible accident which leaves her paralyzed, the Company (a super shady organization who owns the Otherworld technology) hooks her up to an experimental disk that drops her into the game–permanently. Now Simon’s only drive is to rescue Kat from the many dangers roaming Otherworld, because if she dies in the game, it’s game-over in real life, too. Couldn’t help the pun.
The whole novel is driven from Simon’s perspective, which is a kooky one. Get past the first few chapters and his voice becomes a lot less abrasive. He’s one of those narrators that have to grow on you, but when they do it’s a very distinctive voice. Even the periphery characters we meet in Otherworld feel memorable and actuated. I would have loved to get some chapters from Kat’s perspective, but I understand why we’re here with Simon.
The novel flows in between reality and virtual reality without any significantly jarring transitions. We know what’s coming, but we like it, so the predictions we can make from having seen this idea before (re: The Matrix, Bladerunner, The Circle) are comforting reference points and don’t make for a stale plot.
The ONLY MAJOR ISSUE with this novel is the way in which it ends–so abruptly, I actually thought my copy of the book had lost its last few pages. It’s a mid-paragraph break, a pause in a thought, and then literal nothing. Such an awful way to leave readers. Guaranteed Otherworld was meant to be one book, but for obvious marketing reasons, they’ve chopped it into two or three. We’ll be getting Otherearth in the Fall of 2018, we’re reassured. But hello, that’s NOT how you leave a transition between novels.
Five stars, big high fives to our friends Segel and Miller (a dream literary duo.) I’m looking forward to reading the next installment, which is a really great feeling.
I received my copy from Blogging for Books for an honest review.
” ‘I don’t understand. It’s just virtual reality,’ I say. Kat leans forward. ‘No, see, that’s the big secret,’ she whispers. ‘It’s not virtual if it changes who you are. All of this is real, Simon. It’s real.'”
“Her pleas don’t appear to make much of an impression. ‘The real world?’ asks the Child. ‘Why is your world the real one? How can you be so certain you humans were not created by someone else? Does your history not speak of a Creator too?’ It’s a good question–so good that even Kat can’t find an answer.”