City of Golden Shadow: Otherland, Book 1 Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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Surrounded by secrecy, it is home to the wildest dreams and darkest nightmares. Incredible amounts of money have been lavished on it. The best minds of two generations have labored to build it. And somehow, bit by bit, it is claiming the Earth's most valuable resource - its children.
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|Listening Length||28 hours and 41 minutes|
|Audible.ca Release Date||October 30 2014|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #5,638 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#45 in Hard Science Fiction
#91 in Cyberpunk Science Fiction (Books)
#119 in High Tech Science Fiction (Books)
Top reviews from Canada
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So, when I saw that Mr. Williams' next series strayed from the realm of fantasy, I feared that he might be over-reaching himself. I was a fool to have worried. Although I have only read the first book of "Otherworld" so far, I have to place Mr. Williams in that small group of writers (Jules Verne, Stephen Donaldson, Robert Silverberg, Gene Wolfe, and a few others) that have been able to produce masterworks in both the fantasy and SF genres.
And what SF it is! For a half-baked synopsis, we are thrust into the middle of the 21st century, where the entire planet Earth has become an electronic global village for those of enough means to afford it. What we think of as today's world-wide web has grown beyond all bounds and has practically taken on a visceral presence. To those with good enough equipment, the net has supplanted the physical world as their place to shop, to sight see, and to seek pleasures undreamed of in real life (or, RL as it is known to the citizenry of the day). Of course, as is always the case, much of the world's population still lives at a third-world level while the super wealthy have managed to transcend even the bounds of the known net to devise their own fantastic playland, known to the few who are aware of it as Otherland. The creators of Otherland are performing some evil deeds that somehow involves trapping pre-teen and teenage hackers in a state of stasis for some yet unknown sinister purpose. The story centers around a group of friends and relatives of some of the kids imprisoned in the net, others with axes to grind against the founders of Otherland, and a few rouge constructs loose in the net that are out to bring down the powers that be. I don't think I've given anyway any secrets that will decrease your enjoyment of the book.
Does this sound suspiciously cyberpunk, or what? But, it is cyberpunk with panache. Mr. Williams shamelessly mixes in a little "Jack in the Beanstalk", a little "Alice in Wonderland", a taste of Philip Jose Farmer's "Riverworld", and just enough "Martian Chronicles" to know it's there. It is cyberpunk with a sense of humor, but also with a sense of dread. As is the case with George R. R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire", this is not a series for everyone. It is intense and some characters come to rather gruesome ends. It is not quite as graphic as Mr. Martin's series, but there are some unsettling moments. Having said that, I will also say that it's no more frightening than anything else in the genre, so take that as you may. Also, like Martin's series, each book is a segment of the larger whole, hence the book ends with a cliff-hanger. I don't know about you, but I prefer this to a contrived resolution at the end of each book just for neatness sake that could blow the whole flow of the story.
The main characters are sometimes a little rough, but are sympathetic. They have their times when nothing will go down better than a cigarette and a beer, but they also have their moments of nobility. The advances in computer networks and virtual reality are a reach from today's technology, but are plausible (a main requirement for high quality SF). And, I say this as a career systems engineering professional. There is only one instance of *deus ex machina* concerning the character Dread, but it does help advance the plot so nicely that it can be overlooked. There was one section of the book that almost stuck me as being cartoonish, but I felt a tad (groan. . .) of vindication when Mr. Williams used the same adjective in the synopsis of this book that appears in the second book of the series. The high points so far outweigh the low that I feel almost criminal mentioning them. . .
I have had this book in my possession for several years now but waited until all four books of the series were in print to begin reading. So far, the wait has been worthwhile because I'm not planning on slowing down my enjoyment of this series for anything!!
I was *very* pleasantly surprised. This book is terrific. It's a slow starter; I had to work to get into the thick of it - but once I settled in, I was well and truly hooked. I went straight on to read the second and third and plan to get the fourth right quick.
At first blush, it's not all that obvious the series could be so interesting. The plot is plenty original, but it could easily have been a waste of dead trees. Williams has a fine line to walk here - the nature of the Grail Network in which our protagonists find themselves is such that he could easily stretch this baby out forever just moving them from one sim world to another. Sometimes I can't help but wonder if that's not just what he's done, but the reality is, he's balanced well - give us too few worlds and one of the better features of his idea will go to waste, too many and he's padding. Four novels is not too many to tell this story (yes, it could probably have been told in three) nor is it too few to take advantage of the central idea. He's certainly a good enough author to have held my rather fickle interest and I can't wait to get the last installment and find out how it ends.
However, he falls short of getting five stars from me for uneven characterization. The most rivetting, interesting character in the book, by far, is Dread. That's to be expected, since Dread is one of the more malignantly evil - yet compelling - characters I have recently experienced (he's no Hannibal Lector, but you'll have a hard time not being repulsed and attracted at the same time).
But the protagonists, despite a lot more "screen time", aren't nearly so interesting. !Xabbu takes second in interestingness - throwing a Bushman into this post-cyberpunk mix was a daring and provocative choice and he's certainly the best of the "good guys" and the one with the most depth. But repeated attempts to juxtapose his "primitive" viewpoint against the hyper-technogical menace the main characters face is not yeilding the kind of insight I had hoped it would. There's a real opportunity here to explore our own technological dependence I feel is underdeveloped to make room for more descriptions of the settings (not that I mind hashing these thoughts out on my own, but I'd like Williams to do a little more to show what he thinks about it than just point in the general direction of it).
Jonas is next; the nature of his involvement is such that we can only find out who and what he is as he himself does - and project forward what we think he will discover and see if we're right. That's working only too well.
The rest of the main characters range from downright uninteresting to wooden to under-realized. Orlando, Sayers, and Jongleur come out all right, though I've got farther into the heads of other writers' characters in far less time. Rene should be the character we relate to best - if anyone is in this novel to represent "us" it's her. Yet I find her limited and fairly dull.
That said, most of these people have their own voices and (three books in) it's generally possible to predict how they will think and act and what they will say when confronted with a new situation. That's proof Williams is doing his work in transmitting these people's natures to us better than the vast majority of writers ever do even with fewer charcters to work with.
All told, I am very pleased with this "accidental" discovery and would not hesitate to recommend it to fans of both SF and fantasy, two genres it blends nicely to create a unique and fascinating reading experience.
Top reviews from other countries
Tad Williams is a man who clearly loves the sound of his own voice but evidently is so boring that he can only get himself heard by writing devastatingly tedious tomes such as this one. Completely absent is any concept of story, plot, pacing, characterisation or anything else that would vaguely resemble an actual novel. In its place are endless, wordy, barely literate paragraphs of what ultimately, when all is said and done, amounts to textual diarrhoea.
What makes this whole desperate endeavour even more disappointing is that there is actually the germ of a good idea buried (very deeply) somewhere in this mess. A novel about VR and conspiracies provides rich material for dramatic storytelling but here this promising concept has been squandered utterly.
Do everything you can to avoid reading this and make sure you warn others who might be tempted by the tantalising cover blurb. I did eventually get to the end of this but I can legitimately say that it is one of the very worst novels I have ever actually read in its entirety and I certainly won't be reading the remainder of this series - the very thought of another 3000 pages of this tripe makes me gag.
What really shines, as in all the Tad Williams books I've read, is the characters. The villains are suitably villainous, the kind you love to hate while the protagonists are diverse, deep and fantastically rendered. The perk of the length is that the diverse cast has time to develop and you will truly care about all of them.
If you can look past the sheer length of City of Golden Shadow you'll find great story with some fantastically memorable characters that you can't help but care about. Also I'd give my right arm to play Middle Country it sounds bloody marvellous.
I have two complaints and they relate more to Mr Williams' editors than to the man himself: The whole series is way too long. Many of the lands we visit along the way are frankly boring and we spend too long in them. Interestingly it is the virtual reality worlds that have this problem more than the real-life ones. Paul Jonas' experiences in a World War I simulation go on forever, for instance. My second complaint relates to the use of "who" and "whom". Surely there is someone in Orbit Books can search through the text and correct these.
But, aside from these quibbles, I highly recommend this - but make sure you buy all four, because you will not want to stop before the end!