Friday, January 27, 2012

The Restoration Game: Ken MacLeod

Ken MacLeod's The Restoration Game is yet another entry in this year's bounty of books dominated by MMORPGs and set in a near-future real world. I've read at least three and I think I have another three in progress or at the top of my stack. MacLeod's stands out for having some actual science fiction, which (though it has significant implications for the characters' interpretation of reality) doesn't actually effect the story much. Any other Macguffin would have served as well; it is only revealed at the end of the story, and other than searching for it, its exact nature didn't affect the characters' motivations.

The MMORPG in question is being developed by Lucy Stone during the course of events (which is also not unusual in this year's crop of books.) In this case, Lucy is working for a game design company building a more prosaic MMORPG, and they are contracted to build a special purpose variant that will be used to promulgate certain destabilizing ideas among the population of Krassnia, an ex-soviet bloc region that is ripe for a revolution. Lucy's mother was a spy, so Lucy is used to working undercover and making her way unnoticed in the real world. She also has a few friends who seem to be connected to shady and unscrupulous characters.

The action is exciting and the characters' need to travel around Europe and visit the ex-Soviet bloc give MacLeod plenty of opportunities to compare places and the kinds of activities going on there. Krassnia is a dingy place, but the young people there are vibrant and exploring new business ideas and ignoring their elders who have habits developed and honed behind the Iron Curtain. Lucy herself had some scary run-ins with high officials while she was growing up there. That and her mother's book on the history and folk tales of the country give her a leg up when she has to sneak in and look for the MacGuffin.

Restoration Game is, of course, nominated for the Prometheus Award. It's very well written, and has at least a modicum of science fiction (which gives it an edge over Stephenson's Reamde). The libertarian elements are subtle—There's a popular revolution going on in the background, and government agents are trying to stop Lucy's progress. Lucy isn't explicitly libertarian, but libertarians will like her; she's a strong, responsible individual, trying to make her own way. There isn't a prominent struggle with important libertarian themes, though those seem to be generally lacking in this year's nominees. It's definitely worth a read if you haven't overdone the MMORPG-influenced genre yet.

No comments: