Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A review of MultiReal

All right. So the first of the promised reviews: David Louis Edelman's latest, MultiReal. For those just tuning in, MultiReal is the sequel to his first novel, Infoquake, which I thoroughly enjoyed. These both fall squarely into the science fiction realm, though do so in ways that make them unique and engaging stories--if at times, frustrating ones.

What do I mean by that?

Edelman has a huge imagination and some great vision for the future--if you want to envision a future that has been flushed down the toilet a few times and then rebooted into a whole new incarnation. Suffice it to say, the technology of the far future doesn't depend on clunky things like computer screens, keyboards or mouses. Nope. It runs straight off your body's bio-logic systems, interacting directly with your brain, and thus your five senses. There is software out there that can do anything from change the color of your eyes to ensure you have the best poker face for your game night on Wednesdays.

In Infoquake, we meet Natch, a fiefcorp businessman who wants nothing short than to be at the top of the entire bio-logic industry. He is a ruthless sociopath who will do anything--and I mean anything--to get his way. In the first novel, he gets handed control of an incredibly powerful program, and much of the story deals with him fighting his way out of one moral and legal mess after another while trying to maneuver his company into Primo position, as well as understand exactly what this program (MultiReal) is capable of and how to market it to the public. At the end of that story (minor spoiler)...Natch has just recovered from being infected with an unknown virus (called black code), and while he is healthy, the virus is still in his system.

So MultiReal begins with Natch trying to keep control of MultiReal (which is still being explored and implemented) from being stolen away by various factions, both government and military, who see its potential application for power. Meanwhile, his company is under attack from all sides, and still no one knows what the virus is doing to Natch's increasingly unstable health, or how to get rid of it.

Some reviewers have had issues with Natch being the main protagonist, and I'll admit, it is pretty difficult to sympathize with him. As other characters note time and again, it is his manipulative and sometimes malicious techniques that land him in the increasingly untenable situations he finds himself in. He often rages into temper tantrums when things don't go his way, and he is willing to sacrifice anyone and anything to barge and slice his way through life. Hard guy to relate to, but at the same time, it is fascinating to watch his schemes unfold, to see his cleverness pay off (or not) and watch as his opponents crumble. I think one of MultiReal's strengths is that while Natch still does play a big part, our focus and emotions tend to shift to those around him...his "friends" and coworkers who have to struggle to survive the fallout of his plots. Those are the people we come to care about and root for. Natch becomes more the black hole at the center of the galaxy, wanting to consume everything and causing all sorts of chaos around himself in the process. A beautiful, yet dangerous thing to get near.

I do love how most characters use artifical programs to show emotion, rather than actually relying on their own expressions. People constantly use software like PokerFace18, SolemnExpression2.0 or FierceGlare32. This is one of those great touches that Edelman puts in place to show how integrated life and technology have become in this future age.

The story does wrap up some loose ends, but leaves plenty more dangling, which is to be expected since this is only the second in a trilogy. But for some readers, it might be a frustrating cliffhanger to walk off of. Edelman pretty much did the same thing in Infoquake, leaving us in the absolute dark about an important character's ultimate fate, which we've been hoping to see resolve all along.

There are some great surprises in other character development, including one, who I won't name for fear of spoiling, who does an almost 180-flip and takes the story in some unanticipated directions.

Edelman states that his desire was to avoid making a sci-fi novel that is driven by big explosions, mindless fight scenes and other action-driven tropes. Instead, he wanted to take the intrigue to the meeting room, the debate halls, the mental corridors where will and intellect clash. I'd say he did a wonderful job of that, and still manages to provide a couple fight-or-flight spots that would satisfy the adrenaline junkie.

There are a ton of factions and numerous political and business figureheads to keep track of, and, near the end especially, it is easy to get confused in the clash of powers and wills, trying to sort out who is attacking whom, how, and why. Fortunately, Edelman provides an appendix that helps the reader keep track of who is who and what is what, so it might be good to refer to that if you feel yourself getting lost.

So even for a reader who loves laser battles and big explosions, MultiReal still comes across as extremely satisfying and fun. Lots of intrigue, battles of wills and constant betrayals and plot twists drive this machine to the end, and it's all you can do to hang on for the ride.

I see that smile.


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