The Demi-Monde: Winter
Rod Rees
William Morrow
ISBN-13: 978-0062070340


Yes, they make these books like movies now. When I say “they,” I mean new writers with a good marketing team. When I say “these,” I mean anything with a dystopian bent. Or, I guess, anything with a sufficiently digestible bent. Making it a series of books doesn’t hurt either; our attention spans haven’t reached that cutoff point yet.

It’s kind of like writing a really good press release and handing it to a really busy journalist. If you make the release cut hard enough, packed into a concise structure without much filler, the guy is basically just going to print what you give him. You get to bypass that transitional step that might have existed between the story behind a person, place or thing and its accessibly abbreviated presentation to the masses. Dissemination, pre-packaged and freeze-dried.

I don’t quite know how to feel about it all yet, but I just can’t stifle my love of the irony.

The Demi-Monde: Winter forces you to wrap your mind around the doomsday potential of futuristic military technology, man. Stretch your imagination to the breaking point; you’ll need it to deal with the epic struggle about to take place between authoritarian fundamentalists and emotionally calloused freedom fighters in a computer-created steampunk setting. It’s so heady.

Rod Rees is not just a journeyman author who, upon entering middle age, has decided to try his hand at mass-market sci-fi in order to have some fun putting words in the mouths of history’s evil geniuses. He isn’t overusing racial, religious and gender tropes for the sole purpose of creating several massive battle scenes. He isn’t expanding his thematic content for the sole purpose of fitting it into the outline required for a fantasy book series to be turned into a major motion picture. Never!

But, all right, looked at on its own terms, I guess it wasn’t that bad. You’ve got Ella Thomas, an unwitting yet highly capable jazz singer, being sent into the Demi-Monde — a digitally simulated training ground for the U.S. Army — in order to rescue the president’s daughter from some evil folk who’ve reached outside the bounds of their programming to capture her. These personalities include such dark and shadowy figures as Aleister Crowley and a real life Nazi who isn’t Hitler and whose name I forgot. There are some nice guys too; Trotsky and Josephine Baker show up later. Of course. We’re introduced to a few subplots within the simulation itself, as a few Dupes (the Demi-Monde’s inhabitants, who’ve all been modeled from real life counterparts) confronting their own (albeit programmed) personal issues while seeking to wrest control from the brutal regime.

The descriptions are vivid but seem always to be taking place in historical B-roll footage: the Warsaw Ghetto, a Victorian-era English pub, some military outpost. The characters are conceived well, but can become too thematically overblown (as racists, tricksters, valiant heroes, etc.) and seem to say or think everything they do along with actually doing it. Rees has some interesting ideas about the ills of contemporary society and the dangers of technology based on fear and violence, but his sentiment sometimes gets muddled by the unnecessarily twisted terminology he’s chosen to employ — white supremacy becomes UnFunDaMentalism and Jews become … nuJus. To name a couple. It just seems like Rees, in creating a virtual world based on a war game, is really just playing his own game of rearranging literary and historical stereotypes.

This was a relatively fast-paced, fun read, depending on what your idea of fun is. When the next book comes out in 2013 — there are four planned — I’ll probably just skip it and wait for Michael Bay’s crappy film adaptation to come out.

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