Friends and followers, I'm going to be blunt here. Otherworld by Jason Segal (yes, that Jason Segal) and Kirsten Miller severely disappointed me. I expected a deeply troubling dystopian novel where humans have succumbed to the temptations of virtual desires and reality. Instead, I got a petulant, privileged teenager and a poorly executed take on "realistic" science fiction. Warning: there are spoilers and book quotes ahead. Note: I received a complimentary advanced reader's copy from the publisher for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
The company says Otherworld is amazing—like nothing you’ve ever seen before. They say it’s addictive—that you’ll want to stay forever. They promise Otherworld will make all your dreams come true.
Simon thought Otherworld was a game. Turns out he knew nothing. Otherworld is the next phase of reality. It’s everything you’ve ever wanted.
And it’s about to change humanity forever.
Welcome to the Otherworld. No one could have seen it coming.
I didn't realize going into this book that Otherworld was meant to be a Young Adult novel. The first few pages open up in a confusing dreamscape filled with swearing and perversion. This is from page 3: "Apparently the city's a CGI Sodom that makes Grand Theft Auto look like Dora the Explorer. I'm tempted to do a little sightseeing in tow, but that seemed to be what the designers expected us to do." This novel perches precariously on the border between Young Adult and Adult novel, and I think that should be made very clear given the explicit content here and later in the book as well.
I was completely lost for almost the entirety of the book for a few reasons. First, it's narrated in a confusing way. It's told entirely through Simon's perspective. He's the neglected son of extremely wealthy elitist parents in the suburbs of New Jersey. He was kicked out of boarding school in New York for covering up a hacking attempt by his roommate- whom he now treats as his tech minion. Back in New Jersey now, Simon's one goal is to reunite with his best friend and enormous crush, Kat. Kat has been distancing herself from him for the past few years, ever since her stepfather married into her family, and Simon wants to find out what's wrong and rekindle that friendship. In all manner of creepy stalker-y behavior, he sends her a virtual reality set to attempt to meet her in Otherworld.
SImon is 100% unlikeable. Let me just throw this quote at you. It's the purest form of poorly executed social awareness. For context, Simon is confronting two girls at school whom he overheard calling Kat a "slut." Of course, he must rush to her defense.
Simon calls out two girls for calling his friend a slut by blackmailing them with explicit photos that he hacked from their boyfriends' phones. This is the most insane passage I have read in a very, very long time. You can even see in this brief bit by what I mean about the poorly paced narration. To be honest, Simon seems psychotic. Kat, while a character that could have had plenty of potential, is reduced to a prop- a damsel in distress for whom this entire book and Simon's entire mission in Otherworld revolves around. She gets few lines and no meaningful scenes of her own. Instead, we're stuck with Simon.
There are also inconsistencies that I noticed throughout the book about the nature of Otherworld, virtual reality, and tech innovation in general. The reclusive CEO of The Company, Milo Yolkin, laments that he used to love playing Otherworld. He was extremely powerful in the game. "'One morning about eleven years ago, I turned on my computer and Otherworld was gone. The game's publishers had decided there weren't enough subscribers and they'd just shut the whole thing down' (page 82)." Ok... so Otherworld existed before. And yet later on, it becomes clear that The Company created Otherworld, or at least this reintroduction of it into popular culture. Couldn't they have just renamed it? That seems about as unoriginal as the rest of this book. Ouch, that came out harsher than I meant it too. But in all honesty, Otherworld seems a bit Frankenstein-ed together, taking various elements from video games, virtual reality tech, and existing books without seamless cohesion.
In this book, the villains are designed to be extremely vile and indulgent in as many deadly sins as possible. It's a very black-and-white sort of novel that shames its genre of science fiction. Science fiction is such an amazing genre because of ways it plays with morality and human behavior. Otherworld is plain, undecorated, and base. If you are a fan of science fiction, do not get your hopes up for this book. If you are intrigued by real world tech advancements in virtual reality and augmented reality, I would not recommend this book. If you loved the moral dilemmas that shows like Westworld and Black Mirror pose, you may be disappointed.
I rate Otherworld 2/5 stars. This book releases on October 31, 2017.
Note: The sequel, titled Otherearth, is slated for release in Fall 2018.