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Ghosts of Cortanis (Cortanis Trilogy) (Volume 1) Paperback – November 18, 2015
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"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
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At first I was suspicious that this was another attempt at rebranding a VR story as LitRPG, but I was thankfully wrong. While I would have personally have loved to have read about more details about the game mechanics of the world, there’s enough there to be LitRPG.
The game world is first presented as a space mission fighter game and there are details about how the A.I. creates custom challenges for the players, the variety of missions available, establishing player worlds, PVP, upgrading ships, etc. It’s only after the 30% mark, when the MC goes on a single player mission to find locate the ghost of a deceased friend and takes her personal A.I., that you see more of the advancement of individual power characteristics. Then you get more of a sci-fi mmo feel.
There’s never a ton of damage notifications or detailed descriptions on powers, abilities, or weapons. It was likely written more as a cyberpunk novel that is also set in a game world. Remember it was published before LitRPG became super popular and it was ok to write about a ton of detailed game stuff. You can sort of tell that since the author added a glossary of terms at the end of the story with definitions for things like PVP, crafting, and FPS.
What I really enjoyed about the story is the speculative sci-fi elements early on in the novel and the adult themes, (1-4%). The details about a A.I. system that has the potential to not only read and understand human emotions and reactions but then create content based on that feedback is interesting. It’s initially described as a system that can be used for therapeutic purposes or to help humanity better understand itself.
This system bleeds into the game part of the story as the A.I. system that runs the game and creates custom content for players based on understanding what challenges them and what frustrates them.
The story then gets into the sci-fi thriller cyberpunk realm, when the MC’s in-game friend dies but his digital ghost is still hanging around. There are questions about whether the game is manipulating the MC or if she’s having a psychotic break or if something even more sinister is going on. Still, with the help of a game administrator she goes on a quest chain to find the ghost character and discover what’s happening (30% mark).
Overall, I had a good time reading this story. It deals not only with speculative technology, but also themes of suicide, death, depression, and the road to dealing with all that. The story made me think and that’s always good to me.
Score: 7 out of 10.
I had trouble maintaining interest in "Ghosts" until somewhere between a quarter and a third of the way in, but the pace maintained after this point. I also had trouble connecting to the protagonist, but intelligent observations from the author regarding personality, identity, social masks and a powerful undercurrent of paranoia counter the shortcomings in craft. I will read the sequel, and I look forward to seeing what Weiland will offer in the future.
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