Book Review : Donnerjack

Author : Roger Zelazny & Jane Lindskold
Full Title : Donnerjack
ISBN : 978-0380770229

Pitch : The human race gave birth to an all-encompassing virtual reality inhabited by sentient artificial beings, Virtù. It came into being by a freak accident involving three humans from Vérité — the “real” world : Warren Bansa, trickster and main architect of the crash, Reese Jordan, the theoretician exploring the layers of reality and capable of explaining how to change locally the laws of physics, and John d’Arcy Donnerjack, the Engineer, creator of most of the artifacts of the virtual world. The denizens of Virtù reject this creation theory and claim their world was the first, and that the crash only provided a way to access it. The gods of Virtù are playing games which might endanger both worlds. During one such game, they cross Death, the Lord of Entropy, who decides it’s time to involve himself in these games to balance things out. He’ll need the intervention of the 3 creators, and starts a long campaign to involve them all.

Re-reading this pitch, I feel like I made a bad work of it… It’s so hard to pitch this book, with its very complex mythology, its characters (two generations of them), and its long story (it spans over two decades — real time — or infinity — virtual time…)

This book is like every Zelazny book : we feel that there is a lot more to it than the smallish story told. Everything and everyone has a backstory, of which we know very little. The three major gods always war each other, but we only hear about their battles from tight-lipped survivors, and their current actions are only depicted as scheming. History is defined by the way various sources tell it… Death knows a lot, but shares little, and what he shares is tainted with his own schemes and opinions on the topics at hand… Humans generally know nothing of the secret cult of Virtù, and those who do tend to keep it to themselves. By the end of the book, everyone seems to be able to crossover from one world to the other as if the barrier didn’t exist anymore, but there is no information as to which world is the origin of the other, or any hint as to why these worlds seem to interconnect in a very big number of ways.

In short, it’s a very very good read, but a bit frustrating : as usual, we see a lot, and understand very little of the mechanisms… I decided to re-read this book after a friend asked me to come and visit him on SecondLife. It made me think of Virtù in some ways. And then the pragmatic programmer that I am most of the time saw that we are far from being able to immerse ourselves in these virtual universes… And even if we could, I doubt we’d like it the SecondLife way…


Book Review : The Book of All Hours I (aka Vellum)

Author : Hal Duncan
Full Title : Vellum (The Book Of All Hours I)
ISBN: 0-330-44433-6

Pitch : Reality is not what it seems. Reality is just made of words written in the Vellum. All the myths, stories, legends and lives are variants of what is written in the Book. Most of us are just part of the background, unaware of the world below what we call reality, but some people, some unkin as they call themselves, can alter the Vellum, or at the very least read what’s in there. These people are angels, demons, monsters, gods, sorcerers.
One faction craves for stability, to preserve a status-quo. Another faction wants to use the power they have for their own sake, for the betterment of mankind or just for fun and freedom.
The only thing both sides hate are rogue unkin. These are hunted down and broken if they can’t be convinced to join either side. The same story of the brother/sister pair and Jack the anarchist is replayed over and over in the legends, and throughout history. Can the cycle be broken?

This book is interesting like an acid trip : it makes perfect sense while you’re in there, everything’s just… you know? And then you have to explain to someone else why it’s a good book. And if your name’s not Hal Duncan, you fail miserably.

The premises of the book are pretty good : language can bind reality. History, myths, etc, all share the simple fact that they exist through a written trace. So if the trace can be altered, so can reality. People who have that kind of power are still people, and therefore imperfect : they can misread, fail to rewrite history, because it’s still visible underneath it all, etc…

Without spoiling the story too much, it’s just the story of how the stable-prone gods get their knowledge stolen by an anarchist who’d rather see it in the hands of the multitude. Where it gets complicated, is that since the characters have all tangled stories (sometimes parallel with other versions of themselves), some of them are their own ancestors, or cross-bred from different realities.

And in all these voices, the one from a “sane” person that’s not an unkin and finds his way across the Vellum, learns about its genesis, but to play what role?