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Subject: Brilliant writing by Dave Morris rss

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W. Tan
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San Mateo
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This is a great game book - well-written, vividly imagined, and not overly luck-based.

Setting:

Post-apocalyptic. A unique variant on the overdone Mad Max setting where the villain is a malevolent computer program. Author Dave Morris is a gifted writer. The book draws you in, immersing without drowning you in details. You learn about the world and how it came to be this way during your journey - there aren't pages and pages of introductory text to read before starting the adventure.

One of the themes explored by the book is the convergence of fantasy and science fiction at the "end of time". There are ghosts (victims of teleporter accidents), gorgons (radiation mutants), sorcerers (scientists who create DNA retro-viruses), vampires (can't remember the scientific explanation for these), etc. The setting is so vivid that it could be the subject of a movie, RPG, or video game. I was thinking about the world after I finished the book.

Mechanics:

Random number generation (dice rolling, page flipping, Random Number Tables) is not in evidence here. Simply select a character (or create your own) and begin. There are life points, but the text will tell you how many to gain or lose based on the decisions you make or the skills you pick. This is quite novel - I feel that a) taking time to roll dice detracts from the sci-fi horror atmosphere and b) dying due to a bad roll leaves you feeling cheated because you were penalized for something you could not control (rolling a "1" on a 1D6) versus something you could (poor decision-making). In this sense, Heart of Ice is arguably a mature Choose Your Own Adventure or interactive fiction book more than a "game book".

Adventure:

Parts of the adventure can be undertaken cooperatively or individually - it is up to you. Some allies are trustworthy, while others may betray you. No one is completely evil, or totally incorruptible. The shades of gray are what make this game book deep and complex. There are multiple ways to achieve certain goals (the process of acquiring the codeword "Nemesis" is one example). Use of codewords gives the game "memory", so decisions you make now have non-apparent repercussions later. The game rewards sound judgment; I made it two-thirds of the way through on my first try, because I was paying attention to clues, making sensible decisions, and so forth. In contrast, I typically get one-third of the way through a Fighting Fantasy book before dying - usually due to a failed LUCK test, going "left" instead of "right" (when both options were equally appealing), not having an item needed to advance the plot, etc.

Summary:

A brilliant work by Dave Morris. I don't know if the Virtual Reality series was originally targeted to adults, but this book could be. Even the cover art is atypical of a children's book - understated, no flashing swords and fireballs, no multi-limbed mutants being hit by rockets. The characters, plot, and setting are complex and interesting. The genre is best characterized as sci-fi horror (picture a levitating brain with its spinal cord and one eyeball still attached, stalking you through a labyrinth because it wants to possess you), and that's what makes it memorable. Best of all, the 2000 printing is still available on Amazon US.
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