Nice recent review of Winter carried BookGeeks, see http://www.bookgeeks.co.uk/2011/10/23/the-demi-monde-winter-by-rod-rees/
For his début novel, the first in a four-book story cycle, Rod Rees has taken on the well-used SF theme of virtual reality and the consequences when worlds collide. From cyberpunk novels to some particularly well-known episodes of Star Trek (which, with its holo-decks, could conjure up virtual realities for its characters at the push of a button), it’s a popular idea – so the execution of it, and the characterisation and storytelling, are the keys to success if originality is the goal. Fortunately, Rod Rees has demonstrated considerable prowess in all of these areas in Winter.
The Demi-Monde is a totally immersive virtual reality environment created to train US soldiers in asymmetric warfare – a simulation so realistic that players can forget they’re in a game at all, populated by millions of AI characters called Dupes. Everything about the simulation is designed to foment tension – limited access to natural resources, over-population, competing ideologies and the presence of a number of Singularities, characters modelled on the despots, tyrants and hard men of history, including Shaka Zulu, Henry VIII, Robespierre and Reynhard Heydrich. But (it won’t surprise you to learn), something’s gone very wrong in the Demi-Monde: the Dupes have realised that soldiers and other visitors walk among them and have started taking hostages – since to die in the game is to die in real life, the simulation can’t be turned off. Worse, somehow, the daughter of the US President has been drawn in to the game and captured. The stakes are very high indeed.
The unlikely heroine of the rescue mission is Ella Thomas, an 18-year old jazz singer – the only person who has the attributes to exploit a back door in the programme. Behind enemy lines, she has to adjust to the unique reality of the programme – and before too long she finds herself caught up in the middle of a war, started by Heydrich against a neighbouring zone, with genocidal intent. Also fighting against Heydrich are a rag-tag Polish resistance, led by the daughter of an aristocrat who works for Heydrich. Along the way, Ella meets versions of Alasteir Crowley, Leon Trotsky and Josephine Baker, among other figures from history, falls in love, and generally becomes completely immersed in the simulation despite the fact that she should be the only person in there who knows it isn’t real. Except she’s not the only one – some of the Dupes have worked it out too.
Everything about the Demi-Monde is beautifully thought out – the Orwellian delight in perverting the English language, a consideration of what would happen if all these characters from history were alive at the same time, a well-realised alternate system of physics and chemistry, and so one. It’s a rip-roaring story that does not pull any punches, with the desperate defence against Heydrich tragically evoking the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in its bloody desperation. It also has some great characters, including Ella and her Dupe partner-in-crime Vanka Maykov, and succeeded in leaving this reader very keen to know what happens next. Roll on Spring!
Many thanks my Geeky friends!