Simon Bisson (sbisson) wrote,
Simon Bisson

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Gaming with the Universe: a Friday lunchtime book review

There's one thing guaranteed to turn any SF novel into a fantasy, and that's the Holy Grail.

Eric S Nylund's early novel A Game Of Universe is literate enough to realise this, and turns the concept on its head, giving us an interesting hi-tech spin on the Grail quest mythos.

Germain is a corporate asassin with a few skills beyond the usual cyberpunk tropes. He's also a failed mage, with a handful of spells at the ready - including one that absorbs souls, with a side effect of multiple personality disorder. Charged with finding the Holy Grail in under a year, he will find the quest threatening his existential nihilism, while revealing larger and more complex conflicts than those with his rival Grail hunters. Nylund manages to balance fantasy and SF skilfully, as he gives us FTL starships controlled by advanced AIs - and protected by spell runes - along with perfect crystaline philosophers stones and world-destroying curses, vast computer networks and powerful megacorps.

This isn't a deep philiosophical read, it's a romp through a well imagined universe that mixes Bond movie tropes with high fantasy, space opera and cyberpunk, and a little leavening of Mallory's Grail romances. And yet it's more than just mind candy for a long Tube journey or two, as Nylund is trying to say something about human nature, about greed, corruption, and the hope of redemption. Germain's Grail quest is one that ultimately cleanses his soul, gving him a fresh chance at life and love. While the message may not be crystal clear here in A Game Of Universe, it's a theme he returns to more successfully in his Signal diptych (Signal to Noise and A Signal Shattered).

It's a pity that the curse of the midlist has struck, and Nylund is paying the bills with computer game novelisations. After reading his fiction, one can only hope that he will return to the creative freedom of his own game of universe.

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