Virtual and “real” reality intertwine in unpredictable ways in this ingenious novel; to his credit, Shakar’s approach is more philosophical than sci-fi.
George and Fred Brounian are identical twins, and despite their genetic identity, George is clearly the more brilliant of the two, a visionary who has grown up on video and computer games. One side effect of his background is that he’s motivated, by the defects of reality, to transform games into something more vivid than reality itself, so in the late ’90s he gets the idea for a simulation called “Urth” and wishes to make it a form of “purer existence," realer than real. Just when he has the financial angels lined up, 9/11 comes about and the financing vanishes, but then the “Military-Entertainment Complex” begins to show untoward interest in the possibilities that George has raised. George, however, wants to use computer gaming as a different form of social engineering, to “steer players toward constructive and nonaggressive behaviors…rather than amassing and plundering and hoarding their resources." Fred is more pragmatic businessman than innovator, and he sees the worth of his brother’s creative genius. Also joining them is Sam, their intense younger brother, with an overly deep investment in the avatars of the games George and Fred develop. But George has recently lapsed into a coma, and Fred starts getting some odd e-mails that seem to come from some ethereal world—“Avatara” is their subject line, and they’re signed “George.” As a form of therapy, Fred begins to visit alternative worlds and has dream visions induced by Mira Egghart, an experimenter with whom he becomes sexually involved.
Shakar succeeds in a delicate balancing act here, securing the novel simultaneously (and paradoxically) in real, virtual and supernatural worlds.