An Audio-Book Review: Now That’s a Computer Game!


 

Omnitopia Dawn

By Diane Duane

Published by Tantor Media, Inc.

Read by Kirby Heyborne

 

The Book:

 

I first became aware of Diane Duane with the “Young Wizards” series, starting with “So You Want to be a Wizard.” That was a series written for a younger audience, but still worth reading by adults. That involved some interesting concepts that she developed in some original ways. I’ll admit that I always thought the first book was the best and I have not read some of the newer books in the series, but when they became formulaic and repetitive I became less interested. Her Cat Novels, starting with “The Book of Night with Moon” were an interesting twist on the world of her wizards, however and written for a more mature audience, although there is nothing in them a parent should object to. Since then, Ms Duane has gone on to write a number of different sorts of stories including some intriguing movie and TV series adaptation of SeaQuest and Star Trek and even some superhero stories.

Omnitopia Dawn is a wonderful departure from her previous novels although far from her first foray into worlds of science fiction. The story centers around a number of characters, first of which is Dev Logan, the creative genius behind the world’s most popular gaming system a full-immersion, Massively Multiplayer Online Role Player game (MMORP) taken beyond the extremes of where such games can go today. Indeed this is a game… no a very large set of games that combine the features of “Second Life,” “Facebook,” “Twitter,” “World of Warcraft,” “Star Pirates,” and many more of today’s games and social sites.

In fact, Omnitopia and its competitors seem to be gradually replacing  movies and television as a major form of entertainment and why not? The multiverse of Omnitopia is made up of many worlds. The major worlds were developed by the game owners of which Dev Logan is the chief executive, but there are also smaller worlds that have been designed by the players and in Omnitopia, there is a fine line between owner and player since the owners, especially Dev, frequently play just like anyone else. It’s been a while since I read this, so maybe  Ms. Duane mentions it, but there’s no reason a Hollywood production company could not produce fully immersive “movies” within the frame of Omnitopia, so naturally the game is becoming increasingly popular especially with the advent of the “new” virtual reality gear that can give players the ability to use all their senses within the game.

There are people in Ms Duane’s future world who make their entire living off features of Omnitopia; designing, buying and selling game artifacts, brokering game money and commodities. Of all the players, a rare few are chosen to create new worlds.

However, Omniitopia is not without its competitors and some, including a former partner of Dev’s will do anything to bring the Omnitopian system crashing down and thereby put their own game-universes ahead of the rest. As if that were not enough, the utter complexity of Omnitopia has allowed an electronic environment in which an artificial intelligence, the life of Ominitopia itself, has developed and now it (or is it “she?”) is as much under attack as the hardware of the system is?

This is hardly the first time an author has dealt with artificial intelligences on our computer networks, but I found Ms Duane’s Omnitopian AI to be both interesting and endearing.

The book is thoroughly engrossing and it kept me interested, with only a few spots where the story seemed to lag, right up to the end.  The characters were well drawn with little or none of the usual cookie-cutter stereotypes – no one is purely good and no one is purely evil, they read like real people, which is just how it should be.

Omnitopia Dawn is, not too surprisingly, given the title, the start of a series. In a way I’m sorry about that, because while the second book (Omnitopia: East Wind) has not yet been released – Amazon.com lists the release date as December 31, 2025… which I suppose means “not yet scheduled.” – the first books stands so well on its own without leaving any undue loose ends that it really does not need a sequel.

Oh well, that’s the way it is in the modern world. I hear Les Miserables: Valjean Back from the Dead will be released by the end of the year to coincide with the long-awaited Zombie Apocalypse…

I must say that I would love to be able to play in a game universe like Omnitopia. Not every game thewre is to my taste, but should I be in the mood for a fight or just a picnic on a world with purple trees under a green and orange moon. This is a game system that has what anyone could want, and, who knows? Maybe someday we’ll have something like this… or not.

 

The Audiobook:

 

I did not like Kirby Heyborne’s narration very much. He made a very bad first impression with me as he began to read in a sarcastic/sardonic manner that, to me, sounded like, “What the heck am I reading now? They had beet pay me on time!” he certainly did not sound like he liked or even respected the story. After a while some of that sarcastic tone wore off, but Mister Heyborn’s nasal voice always sounded like he was sneering. This made almost everyone sound like they were sneering as well.

His vocal characterizations were frequently insufficient to tell one character from another even though one could tell he was trying. To give props where they are deserved, when emotion was needed in the story, he did come through. Mister Heyborne definitely does NOT read in a monotone! And his performance did improve toward the end as though he actually got interested in the story at last.

However, it was not the reader who kept me interested in the story, but the story itself. My enjoyment of the audiobook is a testimony to Diane Duane’s writing, not Kirby Heyborne’s vocal talents. Very good story. Barely adequate reading. I recommend reading this one for yourself.

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