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This is Not a Game, by Walter Jon Williams

I liked this book. I didn’t honestly expect to. The last Williams book I read, Implied Spaces, was cleverly conceived and had some interesting moments, but it was implicationally half-baked. We got a bunch of first-order stuff, some smash-bang plotting, and it was great fun, but the second-order stuff was spare to missing. His future seemed direly old-fashioned, somehow. Williams’ space opera thing whose name I am too lazy to google, I couldn’t even get through the first book.

But this one got through to me for some reason. Perhaps I have too much of a soft-spot for geeky topics, or maybe it’s just that Williams is better at contemporary settings, but this one had me from beginning to end, staying up late, the whole bit. Other reviewers have complained about the end being too obvious, or revealed too early, but it didn’t bother me too much. My only nitpicks are about the drivers of the plot being too convenient, too limited to the scope of the story. It’s totally unbelievable that the AI trader scheme would be as easy to carry out as Williams frames it. That they’re able to take over more or less the entire financial world show touching faith in the rather brittle field of machine learning. Still, a clever idea well-enough integrated into the fiction of the world that it isn’t too obtrusive. Also, there’s a callousness – at times bordering on sociopathy – on the part of the protagonist and her friends to the suffering of the people caught in the AI-triggered currency crises. We spend the first part of the book where the protagonist lives through one of these crises and sees the effects it has on the natives, the deaths and chaos. Yet when she finds out that one of her best friends is more or less entirely responsible for the issue, she barely reacts. It could be that the flattened affect is intentional, after all, she’s freshly traumatized for most of the book, but the fact is that the good geek friend is significantly more dangerous and damaging than the actual sociopath who’s trying to kill her.

I should stress that unless you’re a CS person, you’re not going to be bothered by the first one, and the second never seems to matter while you’re reading. Not challenging, but an enjoyable read.

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