Hiroshi Sakurazaka (trans. Joseph Reeder)
Haikasoru/VIZ Media LLC
We’re back to James praising Haikasoru books, although I do have one minor issue with this book.
Etsuro Sakagami is a disaffected student who sees much of day to day life (which he calls RL, for real life) as pointless and boring, who prefers to game the university system rather than trying to learn anything in the few hours he grudgingly allocates to it. Etsuro has inexplicably has caught the eye of a hardworking female student named Fumiko but what Etsuro really cares about for much of the book is an online game called Versus Town, where his mastery of the stick and buttons on his controller allows him to be Tetsuo, one of the top martial artists in the virtual town. In particular, he becomes obsessed with a character named Ganker Jack, who eschews the formal system by which players are ranked in favor of just kicking the (simulated) piss out of those he stalks.
Unlike a lot of books where the action occurs in a virtual realm, the realism of Versus Town is pretty low, no better than you’d find in a standard MMO of a few years ago. This is in part because this is set in an imaginary MMO using the technology available a few years ago, which gets me to my one minor quibble about the book; unless you use a definition so expansive as to include most fiction, this isn’t SF. It’s fiction, possibly even l*t*r*t*r*1, but it’s not really science fiction, which is not to say you shouldn’t read it. It’s much closer to a mystery than it is to SF.
I think that other reasons Sakurazaka always keeps the reader aware that a kick to the head in Versus Town is actually some combination of buttons being pressed in the real world are that Etsuro is incapable of losing himself in the moment, any moment, without consciously analyzing what is going on, and also to remind the reader that Versus Town, as much fun as it is, is just an MMO. It’s not some wonderful Eganesque VR realm that is just as good as reality if you ignore the possibility someone might pull the plug and in the end it’s not a replacement for real life.
People who read the 2005 edition of this will be pleased to know there is an additional story included, “Bonus Round”, which expands on the outcome of a particular bit of side-story Etsuro mentions from time to time.
Again, I may or may not come back and expand on this. I thought this was a perfectly competent novel about a young man (grudgingly) growing up, at least to the point of encountering some limits to his intellectual puissance and his eventual epiphany that he has to actually pay attention to his RL girl friend if he wants her to stick around.
+5, +3, 1
1: In fact, this is exactly the sort of book I can see someone deciding to suck all the joy out by forcing kids who would have enjoyed it had they encountered it on their own to write essays about the thematic significance of the blue cat and how Etsuro’s experiences parallel those of his friend from Hokkaido.