Saturday, 25 November 2017

Book review : Otherworld - Jason Segel & Kirsten Miller

When a review copy of Otherworld by Jason Segel & Kirsten Miller landed on my doormat, my first thought was how pretty the cover design is - it almost sucks you in, dragging your eyes to the tree on the horizon, making you want to get past the bars standing between you and the mysterious, enchanting landscape beyond. My second thought was, why is there an energy bar and an energising green tea drink along with the book? As I started reading, it all made perfect sense though - in the book, Otherworld is an augmented reality video game experience, so realistic and enjoyable that people become so addicted to it, they forget to take time out from the game for real-life essentials like going to the toilet or eating and drinking. As the blurb on the back of the book says, "There are no screens. There are no controls. You don't just see and hear it - you taste, smell and touch it too. In this new reality, there are no rules to follow, no laws to break. You can live your best life. Indulge your every desire. The company welcomes you to OTHERWORLD. Are you ready to play?".

Back in the mists of time (before I had kids), when you had to buy video games on disks to use on a computer, and laptops, tablets and smartphones didn't exist, I used to love playing a video game called Neverwinter Nights. You could become whoever you wanted - a mighty warrior, a sneaky thief, a magical enchantress, ... - and, even better, you could team up with people you knew in real life or online and interact with them, which was pretty mindblowing back then. I could therefore understand the excitement the central character Simon feels when a new early-access, hugely improved virtual reality version of his favourite game, Otherworld, is released. He can't resist charging thousands of dollars to his mum's business account to procure the top-of-the-range gaming equipment required to play the game.

Otherworld (both the book and the game) is about much more than a simple gaming experience though. When a group of high school kids (including Simon's best friend Kat) are involved in an accident and end up in hospital in a vegetative state known as locked-in syndrome, Simon discovers that another version of the game is being developed as a way to enable paralysed or comatose patients to live out a fulfilling alternative life in a virtual reality world. These players require no headset to play - they have a disc attached to their scalp which interacts directly with the brain to appeal to all five senses (unlike the headset gamers, who can only see and hear in the game). There is one other major difference - whereas being killed in the game just takes you back to the start if you're a headset player, the same may not be true of the disc gamers. Despite the risks, Simon manages to get a disc of his own and sets off to find Kat, help her battle through the virtual-reality realms and find a way back to the real world. On the way, they discover real-life danger, corruption and greed, with the ruthless game developers willing to arrange a few accidents to come up with the guinea pigs required to beta-test the game and find its (potentially deadly) bugs.

When I started reading the synopsis of the book, I wasn't sure it would appeal to me - I'm well out of the target age range of the hip young things interested in video games and virtual reality - but the book offers so much more than that. It's a tale of adventure and friendship, with conspiracy theories and a dash of romance thrown in for good measure. While undoubtedly classed as young adult fiction, you definitely don't have to still be in your teens to enjoy it. While I managed to remember to eat and go to the toilet, I did become so immersed in Otherworld that I read well beyond my bedtime and almost missed my bus stop on a couple of occasions !

This is the first in a series and there are some big loose ends left hanging that promise great things in the sequels. If you want to buy a book for a teen this Christmas, this will definitely appeal - but I recommend you read it yourself first before wrapping it up and putting it under the tree !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £12.99

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Rock the Boat (31 Oct. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1786073692
  • ISBN-13: 978-1786073693

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.


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