Wednesday, July 9

Mindwar by Andrew Klavan

In high school he was the star football player. Now, the only thing Rick Dial is good at is moping and playing video games. His mom and younger brother attempt to engage with him, but he shuts them out. His father is no longer around, having left with an old girlfriend. After a traffic accident leaves him crippled, he turned to video games to dull the pain.

Little does Rick know that this obsession with video games makes him a prime candidate for a secret government program. A Russian terrorist has created a whole digital reality, named the Realm. Through the Realm, he can launch attacks on American systems, wreaking havoc wherever technology could be found. Rick is tasked with entering the Realm to help stop this man before he can sow seeds of destruction and chaos across the country. In this digital world, Rick is freed from the constraints of his injury, but anything that happens to him there will affect his real body. If you die in the Realm, there are no extra lives.

The concept for Mindwar is wonderful. With the prominence of video games in our culture, recent developments in real world technology such as the Oculus Rift, and the threats of digital security can certainly make you think about ways that technology can be exploited for evil, but also used for good.

The back cover offers comparisons to Ender’s Game and The Matrix. Unfortunately, these comparisons promise something that is not delivered. While the novel certainly has a digital world, the Realm is nowhere near as rich or detailed in the virtual Realm in those other stories. Rules governed those world, even if the audience wasn’t always aware of everything single detail. In the Realm there are bad guys with alligator heads because…..well, I can’t really tell you why, because I’m not sure myself.

Far too many times in Mindwar, things happen for no good reason and or are not very well described. Nothing illustrates this better than Rick being invited into the Realm. The reason he is singled out is because he plays video games and is really good at them. And this qualifies him for high-security government work in an environment where he could literally die? At one point Rick thinks about how video games have helped hone his reflexes, but playing video games doesn’t teach you how to actually handle weapons. Even if the rules of the Realm helped compensate for that, surely he would at least be seriously injured in his first encounter with a trained bad guy.

Why didn’t the government try to find a trained soldier who also happened to be really, really good at video games? A couple of other ‘reasons’ are offered latter in the book for why Rick might’ve been picked, but they still do not address the issue that he is a civilian who hasn’t been trained in any sort of combat but is being put into a situation where he may have to fight for his life!

If you can get past the wild leaps in logic that the story takes, there are still more issues with Mindwar, including extremely dull characters. When you first meet Rick, he’s a brat, but at least he has a character arc. I can’t think of a single other character that had any sort of depth. The government agents were your typical stone faced, get-r-done type, and the main bad guys played heavily off of the Muslims are terrorists stereotype (even though the evil mastermind is Russian!).

Not helping matters is the dull presentation of the Realm. The rules of the realm are unclear (intentionally at first), but even as information is revealed, it felt awkward. The idea of a digital realm sounded fascinating at first, but I found myself wanted to rush through those sections so I could get back to the real world, which was marginally more interesting.

There are a couple of ghosts/spirit type creatures in the Realm which were sort of interesting, but they were overshadowed by the laughably cheesy monsters and henchmen When it comes to virtual reality realms, I thought Epic created a much more thought out world which was believable within the constraints of the novel’s setting.

Upon receiving this book, I was looking forward to a thrilling ride. When I finally reached the last page, I found myself quite disappointing. The concept of the story is still exciting, but with a combination of dull characters, a story that didn’t make logical sense to me, and a confusing and cheesy virtual realm, I don’t see myself reading any sequels. At the final page I wonder if I would’ve enjoyed this at age 15, and I really don’t think I would.

1/5 Stars

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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