Deep State (2011) is Walter Jon Williams’ sequel to his great near-future thriller This is Not a Game, and for my money it’s an even better book. It’s not often I find myself preferring the second book of a series to the first, but Williams manages it here by delivering another compelling, quick-moving plot while spinning inventive new variations on the series’ robust central idea.
Dagmar Shaw is the master of designing alternate reality games, wherein online problem-solving and real-world activities are combined. As her second adventure begins, she’s executing a ground-breaking new promotional campaign for the latest James Bond movie in Turkey. All is proceeding per plan, but as this latest enterprise enters its final stages, a military junta occurs. Dagmar’s high-profile Bond ARG puts her on the radar of Turkey’s unsavory military dictatorship, who sweep her into an unwanted photo op that goes south in a hurry. Once again, Dagmar spontaneously leverages her limited resources and expertise to extricate herself from danger. But in so doing she only ends up drawn in deeper when her boss, Lincoln Jennings, recruits her to run an audacious new ARG — and this time the stakes are higher than ever, with an entire nation as the game’s chessboard.
Dagmar is a likeable protagonist, and Deep State runs her through another exciting thriller maze, freshening the concept with a vivid new backdrop and a complicated new set of problems. The book blends politics, gaming, technology, espionage, and interesting SFnal thought experiments, always asking the next question as its well structured story unfolds. Deep State definitely adds to Williams’ impressive track record for delivering compelling entertainments; particularly recommended if you enjoyed This Is Not a Game.