Gamers must survive a glitch-y virtual-reality realm that’s rendering its players comatose in Allen’s (Apocalypse Orphan, 2016) sci-fi actioner.
In a world that’s been ravaged by nuclear bombs and the effects of the Cyber Wars, in which self-aware robots turned against humans, it seems that salvation lies in a game. A woman named Alice Mason proposes that countries settle disputes by warring in a virtual realm, which leads to the creation of the World Gaming Association with her as director. She’s stolen the technology from professor Raymond Brady, who’s in a maximum security prison after federal agents raided his home, grabbed his servers, and left his daughter to die in a fire that they started. But now Mason needs Brady to fix a glitch in the game, in which gaming soldiers, or “irus,” are inexplicably hemorrhaging in their bio-beds. The professor generates a new scenario and gathers six irus to play it, including currently undefeated American Andre Kingston. When the peaceful simulation inexplicably pits the players against zombies, Brady determines that the problem is outside interference. Then Kingston and the others lose their communication link with the WGA. As the scenario changes, the irus face aliens, an ancient Roman army, and energy-draining “cyberstalkers.” Although Mason can’t explain the glitches, it’s clear that she’s harboring a secret and doesn’t want anyone, players or programmers, digging too deeply. Allen’s steadily paced story offers numerous battles with conventional creatures but proudly acknowledges its inspirations. The zombies, for example, are sometimes called “the walking dead,” but only after Kingston references the popular TV series of the same name; the author also notes similarities and differences between the game’s aliens and the xenomorphs from the 1979 film Alien. Clipped sentences with essential details sustain the momentum: “She took two steps forward and stomped on his neck.…She then fenced with a trooper, using her war axe with good effect.” Even the final act, while predictable, doesn’t slow down until the very end. However, the tale is hampered by a few inconsistencies: “cyborg” and “android” are used synonymously, for instance, as are “Captain” and “Commander.”
An ambitious, enjoyable romp whose briskness makes its few stumbles forgivable.