In a futuristic version of Earth, society is mostly controlled by a company that produces an addictive virtual reality game called Chimera. Everyone plays Chimera. Defeating the levels is how you earn enough points for clothes, food, even medical attention. Miguel Anderson is good at Chimera. In fact, he’s better than anyone he knows. He spends all his free time playing, hoping to reach Level 25. At Level 25 you can pick any prize you want—and Miguel needs a new biometric heart. When the game runners announce a global competition launching a new version with untold prizes, Miguel enters and becomes a team leader. That’s new—playing on a team. And it’s complicated, as the game becomes a delicate power play between wholly unexpected players.
The major part of Gamescape:Overworld is a sci-fi adventure, but it’s ending is a bit of a genre changer. The book is set in a futuristic world that is on the brink of death and humanity has abandoned all efforts to save the Earth – they are only concerned with making the ride smooth. So, in Miguel’s world, humans are more focused on bio-engineering to augment their now weak bodies, to make them stronger to survive the harsh conditions as long as possible. Everything looks the same, but it is not. People are mostly cyborg, some for function, some for necessity, but all of it is carefully controlled by the makers of Overworld, as they have the best scientists. So, Miguel’s primary incentive for playing the game is to gain enough levels to be able to afford a new heart. When the makers announce a new competition, he joins up despite his body not being strong enough for the challenge.
While a lot of the book takes place inside the game, the core matter of the story is about real-world consequences. Living a virtual life may be easy, but if those consequences are transferred to reality, it changes how we do things. When Miguel would play the game before, he would play to win – morality inside a game is practically non-existent when you know it is not real. But when it becomes real enough, the question is what kind of person we want to be. And continuing from this thread, is where the story flows from one genre to next, towards the ending. Because while the story was about the mystery of the Gamerunners and their objective to creating the game and the competition, it was also about human nature in part.
The writing beautifully complemented the story path, and the descriptions inside the game were rendered quite realistically. The world-building was not so strong, I feel, because the practicalities of the ideas suggested seem far-fetched; I particularly can’t believe that the creators of the game had so much power that they could regulate the economics of the world. The ethical ramifications alone mean it would be a slight impossibility – people wouldn’t stand for it. And while the genre changed subtly, I still feel it was added too late into the game (pun intended) and just crashed forward to an abrupt cliffhanger. Even so, I still think this was a good book in totality, and am eager for the next installment.
Received a free galley from Greenwillow Books, via Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.