The story delivers an interesting premise, where the only profession left after the rise of the machines and the enslavement of humanity is basically being more human than human, being the best actor you can be. There’s something that works for me in the public/private dichotomy for the actress (highlighted in the last line, an act which nobody watches), and to be fair this is entirely her POV, but for all the subtlety that the story implies is the pinnacle of success for its protagonists, it shows remarkably little finesse when it comes to exploring the ideas of just who or what did the conquering and why humanity fell in line. I’m left with a lot of questions the story doesn’t really address, such as what happens when people simply carry on being genuine people without consciously playing the game. Seems like they would be the winners.
I usually don’t warn about spoilers, because if you’re reading a review of something then it rather goes without saying, but this time really—experience the story for yourself first, then come back. Don’t worry, this’ll keep.
So! This is really kind of brilliant. You think it’s one story, then another, then it turns out it’s about something else entirely, something richer and deeper and much closer to home. It might’ve been a well-conceived story about interstellar travel, or a well-conceived story about virtual reality, but it’s way more than that, tying its story–and it does have one, with a powerful emotional heart–into themes of prisoners’ rights and medical experimentation and—and I know this might seem frivolous compared to the other two but hear me out—gaming culture, expectations and doxxing. Coming a couple of months after the release of No Man’s Sky to similar expectations, if not similar technology, it actually has something to say about that, and about what drives consumers, and at whose expense our expectations–or entitlement–are, or are not, met.
I’m keeping this one in mind for when awards season rolls around again.
In short, this is pretty awesome. Stylistically it’s a bit jumpy for my taste in places, but overall it’s notably different and very satisfying. When I want to pick up the next book immediately, I know that it’s done something very right.
This deserves some more examination, particularly of the make-up of and relationships between the main families, and of the commercial nature of the colonisation of the moon which differs from many colonisation stories, so I hope that I will find time to come back to it and write something more thorough.