Gamerunner is a fast-paced novel for children and young adults, set in a not-too-unbelievable future in which humans have destroyed their planet through pollution. Life is extremely hard and dangerous, except for the privileged employees of the powerful corporation Crater, which runs the virtual reality online game called the Maze.
At first the book gives the impression that it will be set mainly within the Maze, and I was expecting something of a Tron or Matrix story. I was soon to be pleasantly surprised. Despite covering quite well trodden sci-fi ground, Gamerunner rarely gives in to clichés and often veers away from what the reader might expect. The story quickly adds depth as the action gathers momentum, making it an exciting as well as a thoughtful read. When Rick’s father falls out of favour with Crater, Rick is suddenly thrown back into the real world and forced to cope with a rapidly changing sense of what his life is. He realises that the real world is cruel, and that he has been living something of a lie. Rick’s journey is compelling, and though his character seems to keep making mistakes, his intentions and the dilemmas he faces ensure that his actions are never frustrating. Instead, there is a sense of grim inevitability running through the story, which leads the reader to the final cathartic climax. Rick makes the choice of truth and reality over comfort, a brave decision and a powerful message for a teenage novel about a boy who plays video games.
One particularly intriguing aspect of the book is the way the story parallels the Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus, a classic story of pride, power, escape and tragedy. There are many references to Greek mythology throughout, and to this story in particular. Daed is a great creator like his namesake Daedalus, and Rick plays the role of the loyal but overly curious and disobedient Icarus. However, it is the way that the myth is applied to the messages of the story that makes the comparison so interesting. Like Daedalus, Daed does not consider the consequences of the things that he creates, drawing strong lessons about the dangers of pride and the misuse of power. As Rick strives to escape the gilded cage he has been imprisoned in and to learn about real life, he begins to forge his own wings. Rick’s story parallels Icarus’ throughout, but at the end takes on a slightly different meaning. Whereas Icarus’ wings led to his ruin, Rick’s are a symbol of the importance of freedom.
The gaming aspects of the story have been well researched, and do not come across as patronising to gamers or overly ‘geekish’ for those who are not familiar with the subject. The story itself is well paced and never lets up, which will make it popular with its audience. The main characters are well written; Rick’s struggle to come to terms with his changing sense of reality is believable, and the ambiguous, slightly sinister Daed helps to keep the threatening tone lingering throughout. The many layers of the story and the questions it raises concerning reality and illusion, power and its misuse, and what it means to be free and happy, help to make the book a thoughtful read as well as an exciting story. There are quite a few unanswered questions at the end, which some readers may find frustrating. However, the story has clearly left an opening for a sequel, and hopefully Rick will be back to uncover some answers soon.
A surprisingly deep message, hidden layers, a fast, action-packed story and a moving ending make Gamerunner a compelling read, as well as a great choice for a classroom book.
"'Gamerunner' starts with a brilliantly-written action sequence, which sets the tone for the whole book. Fast-paced, compelling and slick, the story has enough momentum to grab your attention immediately and enough psychological drama to keep it." - Edmund Prowe, on Amazon.
"...you can feel the threat of this reality looming as you read, like a drum-laden soundtrack thrumming in your ears... Gamerunner is not a happy read but it is a very important read, a brilliantly written insight into a dangerously possible future where care for the real world has been replaced by care for a virtual world." - Lyrical Brown, on Amazon.