Monday, 12 December 2016

Delete by Karl Olsberg

Have you ever felt like the whole world is fake, like you’re living in one massive simulation? Like the matrix for example? Well if so, this genre mash-up, sci-fi-meets-crime-fiction, might just be for you.

Delete starts off with online gamers, in particular Mina who plays an orc in World of Wizardry, an MMORPG, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Think World of Warcraft, which it’s obviously based on. These are games which people from all over the world log into and play out their Dungeons & Dragons fantasies for hours on end. So, Mina is playing this game and another player acts weirdly, talks about how “it’s all true” and “World on a Wire”. He then stops playing, his avatar falling still and Mina’s character is killed as a result. Her death leads to her character losing all her hard-earned loot - magic armour, swords and the like. She’s pretty pissed off and goes looking for Thomas, the other player, in real life. Only to find that’s he’s gone missing in the real world too. She soon discovers that other players have gone missing too. Eventually she brings her concerns to the police.

Enter Chief Inspector Eisenberg who has just taken charge of an experimental unit. It comprises a programmer with severe Asperger’s, an obnoxious hacker, a police officer and a forensic psychologist. They have nothing better to do as the police don’t know yet what to do with the unit, in part because it has been plagued by internal disputes. As the crimes may have something to do with the MMORPG and their focus is cybercrime they begin to investigate.

This is a book of two halves. The first half is the much stronger. Here Eisenberg and his team are forced to grapple with the notion that perhaps the world is just a computer simulation. The author, Karl Olsberg, is a computer scientist and so this part of the book is quite unnerving. Apparently, there are quite a few physicists who take this idea seriously. This part of the books is like an entertaining, and to the author’s credit, not too heavy, philosophical treatise. Unfortunately to my mind, the second half of the book reverts to a traditional crime novel. Readers of my reviews might know that there is a certain strand of crime fiction that I can’t abide (no, not domestic noir, that’s the other strand that leaves me cold). I won’t spell it out in this review as it would in effect be a massive spoiler, but needless to say I was a little disappointed to find the author taking this path.

But then, just as the book comes to a close, there is an almighty twist, which to my mind salvages it once again. Really, it comes at the 11th hour, but is well worth it. It rounds the novel off nicely. Again, I can’t even give a hint as to what it is as I don’t want to ruin the fun, but it does do the trick.

4 out of 5 stars

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