Diane Duane is one of my favorite authors. While I haven’t read all of her books, I know that when I do pick one up, it’s going to be an enjoyable read - which is why I was so disappointed in her latest book, Omnitopia Dawn.
You would think it would be right up my alley. Set in the immersive world of online video gaming, Duane posits a tech so futuristic that I don’t know how she has set it only a few years in the future. However, a mixture of characters that I don’t care about, an intriguing twist that happens near the end of the book and wallowing in the technology that she doesn’t succeed in making interesting all make for a book that almost bored me to tears until it picked up slightly near the end.
Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games have been around for awhile now, but in the first quarter of the 21st century, they’ve become even hotter. Millions are playing Omnitopia, a game with thousands of different universes, some user-generated. Billionaire Dev Logan created the most popular game in the world, and he’s about to roll out a huge update for it as well. But forces are working against him. A rival (and former friend) will do anything to make Dev’s huge splash something that sinks like a stone. Organized hackers and thieves will use it to try and steal millions of dollars from Dev, as well as getting access to players’ accounts. Will Dev be able to hold off the hordes arrayed against him?
A book already has a strike against it going in when the cover copy spends
more time describing the game than the actual plot. Despite Duane’s usually guaranteed mastery of character, the people in this book are more types than characters. Dev is the Bill Gates of the Omnitopia world, a master programmer and businessman who wants ensures his employees’ loyalty by making a wonderful working environment. He’s got a heart of gold and loves his family but also loves the game. He’s altruistic to a fault, something that former friend and current rival Phil Sorenson finds almost insulting. Phil is the prototypical “evil businessman,” though Duane does occasionally give him some second thoughts (mostly through bad dreams).
Reporter Delia Harrington, a woman with some secrets of her own, begins the book with the stereotypical “the public face of Dev Logan has to be a façade hiding a greedy businessman, because they’re all the same” attitude. Assigned to do a story on Logan, she doubts everything she sees. The other characters in the book fall easily into their roles as well, never really breaking the mold.
Instead, Duane spends pages and pages immersed in the tech of the Omnitopia world, the creation of microcosms within the world, the interfaces that allow you to either play with the normal mouse and keyboard to literally step into the world. Duane’s descriptions of the technology are loving and very detailed, almost making this hard sci-fi. I found my eyes glazing over quite a few times. When Duane jumped back over into actual character work, the flat characters weren’t able to make that feeling go away.
I did like a few things about Omnitopia Dawn, though. The twist near the end turns the entire point of the book on its ear and will hopefully lead the series in a new direction (the book is listed as “Omnitopia #1,” so I assume more will follow). It delivers more to the science fiction feel of the book, though it’s sadly under-utilized, probably to save for being explored in the next book.
Also, it was interesting to see Denial of Service (DoS) attacks visualized within the game, with security firewalls and programmers in character fighting off the hackers represented by various monsters. Dev gets himself involved in one of these battles and is almost surrounded, ultimately needing to be rescued like a medieval king on the battlefield. If the “monsters” had cut him down, Duane intimates, the hackers would have had full access to the Omnitopia system. A scary thought.
Omnitopia Dawn is a great idea poorly executed. A novel that takes place in a fully-immersive MMO where almost anything can happen has a lot of potential. It’s too bad that Duane didn’t inhabit this world with any characters I could about. Hard SF junkies might be interested in the technology of the world that Duane created, but sadly, the rest of us are left out in the digital cold.