What a great way to end the year! My first review on Amazon and it's a five-star one too.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Matrix meets Sheri S. Tepper, 30 Dec 2010
By Steve Benner "Stonegnome" (Lancaster, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER) (VINE VOICE) (REAL NAME) This review is from: The Demi-Monde: Winter (Hardcover)
In "The Demi-Monde: Winter", Rod Rees has managed to produce a fantastical fabricated world that is simultaneously both ridiculous and credible. The Demi-Monde is supposedly a high-realism heuristic computer simulation, developed to provide the US military with an extreme asymmetric warfare environment (AWE) in which soldiers can be trained and prepared for operations in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan without subjecting them to a life-threateningly hostile or inflammatory scenario for real. The simulation is peppered with computer-recreated "pre-lived" psychopathic "singularities" from earth's history ("Dupes" of people such as Aleister Crowley) mixed into a densely populated series of social milieux (18th Century London Rookeries; the Warsaw Ghetto; Rangoon), designed to provide a powder-keg mix of conflicting racial, sexual and religious ideologies and intolerances, engendering perpetual and widespread internecine strife -- a veritable virtual "Cyber-Hell on Earth", in fact.
The story's basic premise is not new: predictably, things are not entirely going to the military's game-plan with the Demi-Monde. Not surprisingly, (to the reader at least) a number of programming errors have been made which have resulted in some rather quite embarrassing and alarming consequences in the way the simulation is operating. The first problem is that trainee soldiers "released" into the simulation are being quickly identified for what they are by the denizens of the Demi-Monde, captured and incapacitated within the simulation, from which they cannot now be extricated (and which cannot, of course, be turned off). Secondly -- and more mysteriously -- the rebellious and unruly teenage daughter of the US President has somehow or other been drawn into the simulation and has similarly been captured and is now also held captive. Someone will need to go into the simulation to effect a rescue. But who...?
While this scenario is not at all new -- and indeed, borders on the hackneyed -- I have to say that Rod Rees' approach to it is not at all hackneyed, defies all predictability and is often nothing short of masterful. The "rules" for the operation of the Demi-Monde, its competing ideologies and factions, are developed to a very high degree and, in spite of their often entirely ludicrous natures, are often portrayed with full internal consistency and with an extremely clever (and playful) eye for detail. The book balances seriousness with humour in a way that few authors can achieve effectively, and blends comedy and horror (as well as a playfulness with words, albeit with a penchant for bad language) in a way that is encountered only rarely -- I haven't found it done this well before outside of the writings of Sheri S. Tepper ("The Visitor" springs most immediately to mind) an author with whom Rod Rees seems, in fact, to share much in common (quite apart from the common approach to religious and sexual mores, Burlesque Bandstand is exactly the kind of name that Tepper would opt for in a character too!)
Rees not only handles the essentially ludicrous nature of the world he has created in an all-too believable manner, he also manipulates the story arc supremely well too, constantly unearthing new, darker, undertones which run beyond mere real-worldly incompetences. And just when it looks like things are going to work out to schedule and everything be wrapped up nicely at the end, he suddenly injects a nice little twist, conjures a whole series of cliff-hangers from his hat, and absolutely guarantees that every single reader will have but a single question on their lips as they reach the end of this book: "How soon will Spring be here?"
A great book and a fun book; highly recommended.
I've never read Sheri S. Tepper before so I'm gonna have to check her out. Anyway thanks for the kind words Mr Benner: much appreciated.