(2012) Rod Rees, Jo Fletcher Books, hrdpbk, £18.99, xix + 523pp, ISBN 978-1-849-16502-0
This is the second book in the Demi-Monde sequence, the first being Demi-Monde: Winter. The US President's daughter Norma Williams has entered the ultra-advanced computer simulation world of Demi Monde and has been kidnapped (so prevented from leaving) by some of this artificial world's residents. A reluctant, real-world citizen, Ella Thomas, was 'recruited' for her abilities to effect a rescue.
The Demi-Monde simulation is of a circle of land and rivers some 50 miles in diameter and containing zones that reflect several real world areas such as Washington, Warsaw, St Petersburg, Paris, London, Tokyo etc around the time of the real-world early 20th century. The simulation was created so that real-world soldiers had somewhere to train for asymmetric warfare: think Afghanistan where a modern army has to combat a less well equipped force in a variety of terrains.
The first book in the sequence was a real cracker, and this is indeed something for, as far as I am aware, this was Rees' first book: he was a neo author. But I have to say that I was subsequently a little surprised that it did not make a bigger splash on the SF circuit. Do not get me wrong, I recently (December 2012) checked other reviews of the first book on the web and found that the vast majority were as complementary as my own. A look at reviews on Amazon UK revealed that well over two-thirds scored the book 4/5 or 5/5 and only a small minority 1/5 or 2/5 and there was a similar two-thirds majority of clearly favourable reviews on the Amazon US site. So why the first book had not been short-listed for a number of awards is a little mysterious. Given the favourable reviews already around I can only surmise that the number of competing quality works was such that Demi-Monde Winter only just missed out of such award short-listing. This briefest of surveys as to the first book's reception should be enough for you to seriously consider checking out this Demi-Monde sequence of novels.
As for the second book, Demi-Monde Spring, it contains a very brief introductory section that brings us up to speed but, to be quite frank, I would advise your reading that novel first before proceeding onto this one. Of course the advantage you have over those of us who read the first work when it came out is that you will not have to wait to read this one. (Lucky you.)
Predecessor novel spoiler alert! Please do not read on if you want to avoid first novel spoilers. Instead read the first book's review but do consider my giving the sequel a very firm thumbs up.
If you have decided to risk first novel spoilers, or have already read the initial book in the sequence, then the first question you will want to know is what happens next? Well Demi-Monde Spring takes up exactly where Demi-Monde Winter left off. Dupe [citizen of the simulated world] Alastair Crowley's right of passage ceremony has worked and dupe Richard Heydrich's daughter Aaliz is now in the real world masquerading as the real-world US President's daughter. It is apparent that the fascist ForthRight movement of Demi-Monde is bent on invading the real world. Meanwhile the real US President's daughter, Norma Williams, is still in Demi-Monde, and is beginning to organise resistance to the ForthRight.
We also get to explore further aspects of the Demi-Monde simulation and meet new PreLived dupes: simulations of historical real-world people. These include Cassanova, the Marquis de Sade, and Mengele.
Above all we discover fairly early on that the novel's real-world is not in fact our real world but an alternate reality/time stream/or possibly something else.
Throughout the novel the theme of counterparts recurs again and again. Aside from the obvious real-world counterparts of PreLived dupes, we have the counterparts of resistance to authority in different parts of Demi-Monde and indeed a further reflection of this in the (supposed) real world. Of course 'demi monde' itself means 'half a world' and so a theme of yin-yang counterparts is signalled up front.
As for style, this second book is as laced with pun terminology as the first book. And so we have 'Intelligent Design' as proposed by (dupe) Laplace) that Demi-Monde exists in a deterministic universe. This notion itself is supported by the success of another pun term, 'preScience', that is a study of '4Tellings' as to what the future may hold (especially in the areas of finance and economics). Yet despite such terminology appearing on every page, the novel remains as easy to read as its predecessor. And then there are the joke sequences such as with Burlesque Bandstand and Rivets: among others, I loved the bar scene in which they met Odette. These comedy turns neatly contrast with the action sequences and political intrigue: another example of Yin and Yang counterparts. We only see a little of the real world developments but it is clear that the few dupes that have taken the place of real world people are preparing for a rapid transference of a good number of simulated Demi-Monde folk to take over real young people…
This second book in the Demi-Monde sequence did not disappoint and was as a delight as the first. I do like the hardback production with the 'dust jacket' being an integral part of the cover and not being separate. But I have to say that the map of Demi Monde, as well as the illustrations of the column were far too small and so I suspect that the smaller paperback editions of the book will render these almost illegible. (Fortunately we had decent maps in the first novel in this sequence.) The novel will appeal to both readers of hard SF as well as specialist aficionados of steampunk (only here the steampunk has a solid hard-SFnal rationale). Because the Amazon website has the facility, I did check out what other novels those few who gave the first novel poor reviews. Here I can say that these reviewers were not core readers of SF, but read more along its peripheries such as military SF and technothrillers. Conversely, the majority of others, who like me gave the first novel a favourable review, seemed to read a broader base of speculative fiction and SF in general. This lends credence as to whom I think this novel will appeal.
So what does this tell us about the real word and indeed the novel's author? Well, the Oracle told me that 'neo' Rees was the one, for he can see the Matrix.
Demi Monde: Spring has been cited by a number of the SF2 Concatenation team as one of the best science fiction books of 2012.
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