ARCADE by Robert Maxxe


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Very similar to John McNeil's Little Brother (1983), this long, teased-out thriller imagines what might happen if kids were being brainwashed by all those electronic video-games. (McNeil did the same thing with home-computers.) The heroine here is lovely young widow Carrie Foster, who runs a gourmet food-shop in a quiet, posh Long Island village--and becomes increasingly fretful about the new video arcade that recently opened just down the street. Carrie's 13-year-old son Nick seems to be spending more and more time on the arcade's unusual ""Spacescape"" game. True, Nick's grades in school certainly aren't suffering. (In fact, he's becoming scientifically precocious.) But why do the arcade games seem to be so much more sophisticated than others? And why is there never any sign of the owner or manager? And why do the kids who play the games seem to be forming into exclusive cells, with ungifted players permanently barred from the machines? Even Carrie's new love, computer architect Lon Evans, can't quite figure out the technology involved. And then one of the barred non-players drowns--a possible suicide. So Carrie becomes convinced that Something is Wrong. (""Perhaps it was a secret government plan"" to program children for future space battles.) She and a dubious Lon start tracking down the people behind the arcade--finding only a single entrepreneur in an abandoned factory, who offers an almost plausible explanation. But, with Nick refusing to give up the game, Carrie's surer than ever that ""some unholy, unhuman"" force is programming the kids. Furthermore, when she and Lon kidnap and dissect one of the machines, their suspicions are confirmed: Lon finds super-sophisticated signs of ""biochips,"" brain chemistry, organic soup--a way of feeding intelligence via the game's joystick! So who is behind it all? Well, says Lon in the hoary sci-fi tradition: ""I'm not so sure this thing is evil."" And, just like McNeil's Little Brother, Maxxe's more predictable fantasy ends with a close, preachy encounter of the spacey kind. A fine idea for a Twilight Zone episode, bulked out to 336 pp. with uninspired padding--but harmless and simple enough (unlike the tricky McNeil novel) for those susceptible to computer-phobia and alien masterminds.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1984
Publisher: Doubleday