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The God Game (SF) - Danny Tobey *****

Wow. I'm not sure I've ever read a book that was quite such an adrenaline rush - certainly it has been a long time since I've read a science fiction title which has kept me wanting to get back to it and read more so fiercely. 

In some ways, what we have here is a cyber-SF equivalent of Stephen King's It. A bunch of misfit American high school students face a remarkably powerful evil adversary - though in this case, at the beginning, their foe appears to be able to transform their worlds for the better.

Rather than a supernatural evil, the students take on a rogue AI computer game that thinks it is a god - and has the powers to back its belief. Playing the game is a mix of a virtual reality adventure like Pokemon Go and a real world treasure hunt. Players can get rewards for carrying out tasks - delivering a parcel, for example, which can be used to buy favours, abilities in the game and real objects. But once you are in the game, it doesn't want to let you go and is powerful enough that it's almost impossible to get away from it.

There's some very clever writing here - the game has been given the characteristics of deities from the world's religions and is arguably amoral in this framework, but from the viewpoint of the players inevitably seems to lead them into a spiral of malicious behaviour. So their tasks move from a simple delivery, say, to offensive graffiti or beating someone up.

Although the AI is distinctly too omnipresent and unbeatable - it seems to have no problem instantly hacking into everyone's phones and pretty well any computer system and taking them over without ever being detected - and the protagonists (and everyone around them) are far too uniformly damaged individuals to start with - it doesn't stop The God Game being a chilling and truly page-turning read. It's certainly not always a nice experience - at times it can feel that it's making you dirty just by reading it - but with a suitable suspension of disbelief on the AI's overplayed capabilities, it's a truly impressive nightmare of a massive interactive game gone horribly wrong and treating humans as a massive sociology experiment. Recommended.

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Review by Brian Clegg


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