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Deep State

Fiction, Science Fiction

Novel: The Fourth Wall by Walter Jon Williams

April 2, 2013

The final volume of Walter Jon Williams’ Dagmar Shaw trilogy, The Fourth Wall (2012), may be the wildest and most entertaining yet. It also has an entirely new – and not entirely reliable – protagonist.  Sean Makin was a star, once: a child actor on a popular sitcom whose youthful turn on the Hollywood A-list evaporated as soon as his show ended and his career tanked.  Sean ekes out his living as a celebrity has-been, and as the novel opens he’s at his lowest point: slumming for an exploitative reality TV show called Celebrity Pitfighter.  His life changes drastically when Dagmar Shaw offers him the lead role of a lifetime – in a top secret, interactive augmented reality serial, a brand new medium.  Sean doesn’t quite know what he’s stumbling into with this bizarre new project, but then neither do his employers, who aren’t aware of Sean’s sordid past or shifty, ambitious nature.  As filming progresses and things start going wrong, he finds himself caught in a web of dangerous schemes – some of them his own – and has to unravel the mystery of Dagmar’s project.

Written in a breezy, sleazy first-person narrative, The Fourth Wall is a slight tonal change from the earlier books – more kinetic, more zany, and way more Hollywood than This Is Not a Game or Deep State.  It’s a shrewd maneuver, converting Dagmar from protagonist to enigmatic supporting character, a shady, string-pulling mastermind seen only through the eyes of an angling Hollywood schemer.  Sean makes for a memorable “hero” – shallow, self-unaware, egotistical, but not without charm and a crafty, self-interested intelligence. It’s a tightrope walk of a character, for he’s inherently despicable, but he also has to be sympathetic. Williams carries it off impressively, and the narrative voice’s unreliability adds another layer of complexity to a plot already rife with hidden agendas, red herrings, and compelling mysteries. It all escalates to a wild conclusion that ties up all the threads, making for a satisfying wrap-up to this inventive series.

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Fiction, Science Fiction

Novel: Deep State by Walter Jon Williams

July 11, 2011

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.

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