Otherland by Tad Williams – Review

200px-TadWilliams_Otherland1The SSF-genre is well known for long series and books big as building bricks. This is of course often a good thing, if you like the series you have a lot to look forward to, and if you don’t like it, well you just stop reading it. The problems of course starts when you really love a series, but then the author decides that enough is not enough and stretched the story to the limits and far beyond. The generally accepted terminology for this is “to-commit-a-Jordan”.
Ok, maybe not generally accepted as such, but I generally accept it.

So why am I ranting about long books and series? you may ask. No idea really, after all I am writing about Tad Williams’ Otherland, a series that one in no way “commit-a-Jordan” (admit it, it is starting to grow on you?).

So, who is Tad Williams? For starters he must be one of the most productive writers there is, at least in SSF literature. Rumors has it that Wikipedia had to buy two new servers the day someone published his bibliography there. Other than that he is american and according to his authors bio has held more jobs that should be humanly feasible. Everything from burrito rolling to writing military manuals, you name it, he has probably done it.  I guess this has given him an unique insight into society in general and the diversity of the human race in particular, an insight that has enabled him to write rather spectacular novels.

In addition to the series covered here, Williams has written the multivolume fantasy series, Memory, Sorrw, and Thorn, another fantasy series, Shadowmarch and the YA-series Ordinary Farm written together with his wife Deborah Baele. In addition there are several stand-alone novels and his latest series, The Bobby Dollar Books which was finished in 2014. And there are more but I have only so much space on my rented server.

And now, onward to Otherland.

The Story

Oh my, where to begin………..?
Well, first and foremost this is a science fiction story, but not one that takes place in a distant future, or a long time ago in galaxy far, far away. We are taken less than 100 years forward into a modern world where the concept of virtual reality has taken society into a whole new and, as it turns out, dangerous path. With the possibility of full virtual immersion a whole new world has opened up , or actually thousands of new worlds. And as with all things popular, there are ways to use it to ones own advantage, especially if you got the money to spend. This is the backdrop of the story. A small group in nauseatingly rich people have created their own virtual network where they can act as gods and in reality ensure their own immortality. Fittingly enough they call themselves The Grail Brotherhood and is led by Felix Jongleur, who also happens to be the worlds oldest man.

It is probably needless to tell you that The Grail Brotherhood has some really dirty secrets and even dirtier goals, and believe it or not, yet dirtier means to reach these goals.

The network created by this men goes under the name Otherworld and is a vast place where all the members can create and rule their own large domains. With tendrils reaching far into all levels of society the rulers of Otherland are in a position to exert enormous influence and straight out control over the world.

The machinations both inside and outside the network of otherland are borth complex and nefarious, and it soon becomes clear that to create and sustain such a place, the Grail Brotherhood has need of a lot of resources. All well and good, demand for resources will help the ecconomy and thereby society as a large right? Maybe in some cases, but when one of these resources turns out to be the comatose minds of children it fast turns ugly. All around the world children are starting to disappear or fall into a deep slumber and no one seems able to find any reasons for this or indeed any connection.

Into this maelstrom of power, riches and evil stumbles a group of representatives for us, the normal guys and girls and through the series we follow these people as they battle first for understanding, then for surviving and finally for an end to The Grail Brotherhoods depraved plans.

The Characters

The complete Otherland story spans 3046 pages(!) and as I guess you can imagine the number of characters is correspondingly large. It would bore you to death if I should go through even a fraction of these here, but some deserves mentioning.

There are of course some main characters that the series focus on.
In California we meet the terminally-ill teenager Orlando Gardiner who lives his lives mostly as the large_cityofgshighest ranking warrior in a VR-game taking place in a fantasy setting called Middle Country. One day his until now undefeated character is temporarily distracted by a vision of a golden city, the distraction proving fatal as his character is killed by a low-level player. Starting to investigate this golden city together with his friend Sam, he finds a secret fringe online community, called The TreeHouse. From this he soon finds himself inside the for him unknown Otherworld and adventures and perils abound.

At about the same time, in South Africa, VR-engineer Irene “Renie” Sulaweyo is concerned about the amount of time her 10-year old brother Stephen is spending online, and she knows that he frequents places in there that could prove dangerous. As Stephen suddenly falls into a deep coma and together with her student  !Xabbu, a Kalahari bushman, she plunges into the deepest and darkest parts of the virtual world to find out what has happened to her brother. From here she also soon finds herself immersed in the conspiracy that is the Otherworld.

I think I will let that be it when it comes to listing characters in this immense book, but I can assure you that there are many more noticeable persons to meet.

The Verdict

This is a roller-coaster of a series, blending science fiction, thriller and even fantasy into a near perfect mix. The characters are believable, you rapidly get to know and like the good guys, and, even more importantly, Mr. Williams manages to make the chief antagonist really villainous without turning them into dull stereotypes.

The story itself is an adventure, taking place through history, through time and through a myriad of different worlds and settings. It being a very large series, you may not find everything equally interesting, but my bet is that you will find the overall reading-experience breathtaking.

As you probably have gathered by now, I really love this series. It took a little while to get into it, but we are talking maybe 50 pages before I was totally immersed.
So buy it, read it, love it!

The series:

taddy


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