Otherland series

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Tad Williams

Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Adventure

In the near future, virtual reality has pervaded all lives until there are no limits but the imagination. The most elite and powerful of the world have joined together to form the Grail Brotherhood, a group dedicated to founding and expanding a virtual world called Otherland, a utopian computer simulation where they could essentially be immortal and omnipotent. With the birth of Otherland, the Brotherhood is prepared to sacrifice their physical place on Earth as well as the lives of others.

A montrously large tetralogy, the Otherland series gradually unravels layers of conspiracy, secrets, alliances, and enemies, as different factions vie for control of both Otherland's and Earth's future.

The City of Golden Shadows introduces the basic plot and many of the innumerable characters within. Renie Sulayewo is a teacher taking care of her brother and alcoholic father. When her brother lapses into a coma after an excursion into VR, Renie begins to investigate and finds that children all over the country are showing similar symptoms. With the help of her bushman friend !Xabbu, Renie embarks on a quest to find a cure for her brother and unravel the secrets of the City of Golden Shadows.

The River of Blue Fire continues the adventures of Renie and her cohorts as they separate and journey through the innumerable worlds of computer simulation looking for clues to the unfolding conspiracy of the Brotherhood as well as a cure for the mysterious ailments befalling the children of the country. In their midst lurks Dread, a serial killer in his own power struggle with Brotherhood members. On his own, a bewildered WWI vet seems to hold the key, as he barely escapes from capture time after time within each world. This novel also sheds a bit more light on Mr. Sellars, the mysterious ancient man playing his own game for unknown ends.

The Mountain of Black Glass focuses more on the young and terminally ill Orlando Gardiner as he traverses the dangers of Grail leader Felix's simulated ancient Egypt. WWI soldier Paul Jonas is also an increasingly pivotal character when the mysterious winged woman Vaala guides him to the mountain of black glass that she says will answer all questions.

The Sea of Silver Light concludes the saga of those trapped in the Otherland network as well as those working in the real world to save them. All answers are revealed through intricate alternating stories and interactions between all the established characters.

I love these books, but each time a new one came out, I was almost scared to read it because the series is so convoluted and lengthy that I didn't know if I'd be able to remember the characters and numerous storylines. But I guess that's a problem to a certain degree in any series.

Yeah, most of the reviews on this series claim Tad got more than a little long-winded toward the end. But I can't fault the guy... after all, I've decided we're on a first name basis, and he did write 'Tailchaser's Song' which was my ultimate favorite book when I was 11. Back to Otherland-- Each volume is an intimidating size no doubt, but they're actually very fast-paced and easy reads. Once you can get over his initial couple-hundred page introduction and setup, the book takes off like a cliche scifi rocket. The length gives Tad time to develop each character and each subplot fully so the reader becomes completely engrossed in the story.

Unfortunately that is one of the downfalls in this book; there are so many characters and subplots that the alternating stories are quite annoying. Each chapter is a cliffhanger and the reader has to wait several chapters more until Tad returns to that particular scenario. I guess there's no other way to balance the complexities though, and this way, the conspiracy secrets are gradually revealed in each subplot. In the final books, the characters gradually join and the subplots become one... and that's an amazing achievement when you consider how much stuff was going on in these books!

One of the most appealing aspects of this series is the beautiful intergration of sci-fi and fantasy. The core structure of Tad's internet- and VR-based society is pure sci-fi, but the computer simulations within are often pure fantasy. The author has created a very flexible storyline that allows him to use a myriad of worlds, settings, and genres in one package. For example, in the first book, the characters jump from a WWI minefield to a nightclub in Hell, from a Jack-and-the-Beanstalk castle to Alice's Through the Looking Glass, from 19th century Mars to ancient Egypt. This series genuinely has something for everyone.

In length, the Otherland series is on par with other tomes of paperback wonder, like Robert Jordan's fantasy Wheel of Time series. However, Otherland is much more fast-paced and finds its foundation in science fiction.

Perfect for fans of both sci-fi and fantasy. It's a big commitment, and once you start the first book you'll be hooked. Entertaining, fast, amazing, and long. You decide if it's worth the time. But, yeah, in order to do that you'll have to read it!