I’ve often compared fiction to a petri dish. It’s a fertile environment where you can put ideas and characters and situations and see what comes of it. Rod Rees applies my analogy a little more literally than I’m used to seeing in the opening book of his series, The Demi-Monde: Winter. The bulk of the book takes place inside of a computer simulation that was designed to train American soldiers for combat in asymmetrical warfare environments. The simulation is peopled with the worst, most devious, most vicious figures from history: Reinhard Heydrich, Lavrentiy Beria, and Maximilien Robespierre among others. Then the creators of the simulator stacked the deck by increasing population densities and introducing intractable political, religious, and social beliefs among the inhabitants. The place is designed to be a powder keg. No, that’s not the right analogy because there is always someone fighting someone else. Maybe it’s more like one of those coal fires that can’t ever be put out and is wildly dangerous to even approach.
This idea fascinates me; it’s what drew me to the book in the first place. But I almost stopped reading the book before I’d even finished the prologue because of how it was written. Rees is very fond of short. Punchy. Sentences.
And one sentence paragraphs.
Both of these irritated me and I was glad that the stylistics seem to calm down as the book progresses. I suspect Rees just needed to get into the right tonal groove. It also took me a while to get used to Rees’s tricks with capitalization. A lot of those inflammatory political and religious beliefs programmed into the simulation have far too many capitalism and I had a hard time taking them seriously. Honestly, how are you supposed to take the vile philosophy of UnFunDaMentalism seriously? But I’m glad I stuck with the book because the pay off was completely worth a little writerly eccentricity. And, as I said, Rees does seem to calm down after a while.
So, to the plot. In the prologue, we meet Norma Williams, the President’s daughter, is trapped inside the simulation. Unless she can get to a Portal site, she can’t get back to her body in the Real World. The bulk of the book is narrated by Ella Thomas, the woman sent into the simulation–the Demi-Monde–to rescue Norma. If this were just a rescue mission, it would have been an exciting enough plot. But things quickly start to get weird.
The Demi-Monde exists inside of a powerful computer named ABBA. This computer appears to be so intelligent that it’s clearly got its own agenda, one that doesn’t jibe with its programmers’ agenda. Rees hints at all sorts of mysteries that the programmers aren’t aware of and definitely didn’t include in their original simulation. It gets downright supernatural after a while.
So there’s the rescue mission, the supernatural stuff, cyber-Nazis, and a cyber version of the Warsaw Uprising, all on top of one of the most fantastically interesting and dangerous settings I’ve seen in fiction. I am really looking forward to the next book in the series because this book doesn’t resolve itself at the end. This book is clearly setting up things for the next book. I can only hope that Rees keeps up the good work with his wildly inventive and provocative story.