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March 11, 2009

This Is Not A Game - Walter Jon Williams


This Is Not A Game by Walter Jon Williams (UK / US) is a thriller set in and around the world of Alternate Reality Games, which are online games that bleed into the real world. I have, by the way, never played any ARGs, I get the feeling that you need some serious commitment (although was tempted by the Lost ARG).

On the surface this sounds very similar to Halting State by Charles Stross, and there are a few ideas that are similar between the two, but their feel differs completely. TINAG is still rooted in geekery: with games, online and RPG, and tech start-ups, but it feels more now and less near future, more Douglas Coupland without the angst, more current William Gibson with a tauter plot. (This the first book that I have read by Walter Jon Williams, so you'll excuse me if I explain the style in terms of other authors.)

A comment about the cover art, like Halting State, I don't like the direction that Orbit have gone with their "mainstream" covers. Considering that there are such lovely SF covers by Orbit I don't understand the need to dumb it down when trying to sell to a non-SF crowd. I much prefer the US cover art.

The story of TINAG follows a group of friends who met at college playing games, and later on in their lives have been, or are, successful, running their own businesses: a software company, an ARG company and a VC company. Then events, global and close to home, change things for them. The plot is fast, exciting and at times unexpected. I had trouble putting it down. From act one I couldn't guess where the plot was heading, and yet by the end it's all so inevitable. I'm not going to go into any more details, because the fun is not knowing and trying to work it out.

The novel isn't so much Science Fiction as current day speculation and extrapolation, edging just beyond what could happen today. But the tech game geek side of the story should appeal to a large subset of SF fans, there's probably a Venn diagram of that somewhere. It may be the much heralded proto-SF Slashdot crowd, that was the target market du jour last year. And as with all good SF the story has a strong (in fact uncanny) resonance to right now, which I'll put down to a remarkable moment of foresight and extrapolation by the author!

I enjoyed it an awful lot, devoured it. A highly entertaining, exciting and  prescient thriller.


Nice review. Not sure I agree about the covers. The UK one is the grey-background, right? The US one is decidedly ambigious about whether the book is genre or not (judging by the review, so is the book). The UK one knows exactly where it's going to be shelved.

I'm not sure that I would describe the covers of either Halting State or this as dumbed down. They are bold and design-led but that is hardly the same thing. And that US cover is less genre than generic.