Review: Idlewild

Idlewild Idlewild by Nick Sagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. This is not your average Halloween—in fact, it’s not even a holiday, but a death-obsessed eighteen-year-old boy who awakes to find his memory has been rebooted and his body is immovable. While his thoughts are scrambled, he slowly regains some memories. Suddenly, he realizes that he was attacked and someone is out to get him. Halloween knows he cannot trust anyone, but with holes in his memory, he is hard-pressed to figure it all out on his own.

It’s the 22nd century, and Halloween and his classmates attend a high-tech school that prepares them to be the leaders of tomorrow. It is a physical school but much of the education and training transpires in a virtual reality simulation where the students use a myriad of resources that borderline on magic. The students rely heavily upon their virtual reality identities and return to the real world only when necessary or when attempting to avoid the caretaker of the virtual school. Hal and his friends are constantly finding ways to hack this system and manipulate the caretaker programs. While producing one of these glitches, Hal learns the true nature of his school and the legacy awaiting his fellow students. But with one student already missing, and his life in evident danger, Hal struggles to determine who among his friends and enemies has also learned of what awaits them after graduation.

The story maintains a decent level of mystery and suspense. Playing the part of the detective, Halloween even goes to the extent of having a gathering of all the students to flesh out the villain. Unfortunately, this party causes unforeseen events that only further Hal’s confusion and disillusion with his environment. Just as Hal was regaining his memories and understanding his situation, he is blown away by the knowledge that indeed his whole universe does not exist. He must determine what to do with his life when everything he knows is a lie.

Since the release of “The Matrix,” this idea of a reality within a reality has grown with popularity and one could say that “idlewild,” is just another copycat. However, it is much more than that. Nick Sagan combines aspects from “The Matrix,” but that is not his sole model. While it feels akin to such “what is reality” type stories, it carries its own distinction. Also, early in the story, he relies heavily upon H.P.Lovercraft and makes enough references to the famous writer to warrant looking up information on the genre writer. On the technological aspect of his writing, he seems to have been influenced by William Gibson.

Clayton Barclay Jones uses a soft and eloquent voice that perfectly coincides with this first person narrative. As the voice of Halloween, Jones is superb in fleshing out Halloween as a cool, calm, and collective being trying to rationalize his world. Even at times of excitement, the voice maintains gentleness quite appropriate for the protagonist. What does not work for this audiobook is Beth McDonald. At the beginning of each chapter, she reads off what sounds like a transmission record. This record appears to be a technical summation of what happens in the virtual world. While it is meant to feel very mechanical in its reading, it is too much for the listener. When reading the book, the reader has the ability to read and slowly digest what the readout is saying. McDonald delivers a fantastic computer voice but reads very quickly giving the listener no real chance for understanding.

“idlewild,” is a fantastic and thrilling novel about a young man’s fight for life and understanding of what living ultimately means. Enriched with a story line that has similarities to “Oryx and Crake,” “The Matrix,” “Neuromancer,” and several other contemporary books, the book keeps you guessing and maintains your interest until the very end.

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