Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Book Review: Dream Park by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes

Pros: unique but accurate mythology, good science, interesting ideas

Cons: two dimensional characters, large cast meant referring to dramatis personnae list several times, characters referred to by several names meant keeping track of them was difficult, mystery plot seemed secondary to the game (and was often forgotten by the protagonist)

Dream Park is the Disneyland of the Future.  With one difference.  For $100 a day - as long as they survive - players can participate in real life role playing games.  Created from a mix of sets, actors and holograms, these games are real for the players and a way of advancing in points with the International Fantasy Gaming Society and having fun.

When a security guard at the park is killed and an experimental formula stolen on the first night of the South Seas Treasure Game, park security chief Alex Griffin must join the game to see if one of the players was the culprit.

Griffin has 14 suspects to watch while the game becomes increasingly real to him.

I had to remind myself that the book was originally published in 1981 (and republished in 2010).  It's definitely a campy, fun read.  There's some science to explain how the game works, but the book doesn't focus too much on the how.

I was a little disappointed that the game wasn't medieval inspired.  But the post World War II New Guinea mythology the authors used was fascinating once the game got moving.

The murder/theft plot seemed oddly unimportant, almost there as a way to get Griffin into the game more than because the authors wanted to write about it.  Griffin seemed to forget his purpose quickly and got caught up in the game.  Having said that, the authors provided a very satisfying wrap-up to the mystery, involving all the clues I started to think were red herrings.

My biggest beef with the story was in characterization.  First, there were too many characters for them to all be fleshed out, so, with them sometimes called by first name, others by last name and still others by game name, I had to refer to the character list a few times.  And the ones who were fleshed out seemed very two dimensional.  Acacia especially waffled a lot in terms of personality, flirting with Griffin while, apparently, trying to get back together with her boyfriend.  The gamers also took the game a little too seriously at times, cursing the Lore Master when they died and threatening revenge.  One would think they'd expect to die part way through (while aiming to live to the end).  Still, if you're going to curse someone, why not the Game Master who's throwing all the monsters at you?

In the end it's a fun, if sometimes exasperating, read.  The ideas are great.  If someone ever creates a role playing park like this for fantasy adventuring, count me in!

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