Continuing my blitz of fall 2011 Bloomsbury UK titles, I just finished Gamerunner, a sci-fi dystopian thriller. Rick is a teenage boy who has spent more of his life in the virtual world of the “Maze” than out of it. He is a champion – able to run missions no one else can. While the Maze is a rich and interactive 3D world (operated through Avatars – think Avatar), the real world is a grey wasteland with poisonous rain and a toxic atmosphere. The early pages of the novel show off Rick’s prowess in the Maze, and reveal his rather privileged existence inside Crater’s skyscraper (Crater is the company that owns and operates the Maze). But the mood soon turns to suspense/thriller as Maze designer and Rick’s dad, Daed, gives him an almost impossible assignment to go to the roots of the Maze. Daed wars Rick to under no circumstances finish the Maze, but because Daed doesn’t inspire trust, and because Rick can’t resist the challenge, he does. This puts Daed’s career in jeopardy, as well as their continued safety in the confines of the company’s compound.
And so it goes. At every turn, Rick does something stupid to make a bad situation worse – harming those around him, or causing Daed to harm someone in order to protect Rick (or so it seems – Daed is a very well-drawn, enigmatic character who is either a sarcastic but devotedly self-sacrificing father, or a psychopathic control-freak protecting his own glory). One of the characters even asks Rick to please “stop doing stupid things.” But he can’t – as he proves over and over and over. It’s kind of cute, but as a plot device, a character who can’t stop himself from doing stupid things only gets you so far.
The best bits of this novel are some of the secondary characters – Daed, etc. Also interesting is Rick’s inability to operate or understand the real world after so much time spent in the Maze. And the action is good. What’s unfortunate and tiresome is the constant waffling. The plot is basically RIck wandering back and forth through the compound (I would have liked more Maze scenes) wondering what to do, and invariably choosing the worst option.
In the end, Gamerunner has a a fascinating premise reminicent of Ender’s Game or Avatar, some good characters and an interesting moral greyness about everything, but is rather ruined by the lack of action and plot.