THE EXTREMES by Christopher Priest


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Carrying less of a charge than his electrifying, prizewinning The Prestige (1996), Priest’s latest uses an appealing premise—that virtual reality scenarios somehow influence real events—but applying it to an FBI agent whose husband is murdered in Texas by a spree shooter, at the same time as a quiet coastal village in England is suffering a similar attack, proves problematic. Teresa comes to England on bereavement leave from the Bureau, shattered by husband Andy’s death, but she also has a mission. The town of Bulverton is quiet now, echoes of Gerry Grove’s mass-murdering gunfire having long since died away. Teresa, though, wants to know why the killings took place simultaneously in England and Texas, and starts to open old wounds with her questions. Her quest takes her to the local Extreme Experience shop, where an infinite number of VR scenarios, available on microchip, can be loaded into a valve in the user’s neck; some of these Teresa is convinced are linked to Grove, who stopped in there on the day of his rampage. Familiar with ExEx from the Bureau, which used it for interdiction practice, Teresa is still stunned to find scenarios depicting both the Texas and the Bulverton massacres already available, with a crew lodged in her hotel ready to do the definitive version of what happened in the village. Near-constant use of the ExEx material teaches her much about its possibilities and limits, but when she decides to take the bull by the horns and enter Grove’s warped mind—an option in one of the scenarios’she mysteriously becomes trapped in the past, on the day of the shootings. Engaging to a point, until the tracing of Teresa’s learning curve crowds out all other characters and plot developments: the gimmickry and her personality just aren’t compelling enough to carry the story on their own.

Pub Date: May 14th, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-20541-4
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1999