All of us in one manner or another are storytellers, so I was intrigued by the idea of a novel that told the story of Dagmar, a woman who runs ARGs (Augmented Reality Games) hence her being called the puppet master. She runs these ARGs for Great Big Idea, a company founded by two of her University friends who were deep into role playing games where they were all in university.
The novel starts off with Dagmar, who’s supposed to be on vacation in Bali, getting stranded in Jakarta when she misses her connection to Bali. All is well until the military decides to repress demonstrations and then everything goes completely tits up. Ironically enough, her extensive group of friends, many who know her only via the online aspect of the ARGs she runs, aren’t convinced that this is reality, but rather just part of a game –hence the title of this novel.
She eventually gets out with the assistance of those same gamers as her boss simply isn’t flexible enough to figure out a way to get her out. (Having experienced similar conditions in an Asian country quite some years back, I can say that the author gets it spot on.) Back in Los Angeles, Dagmar is just getting busy writing the story in broad strokes for her next ARG when real life intrudes and her boss, one of those university friends, is murdered, apparently by Russian gangsters.
Dagmar decides that the best way to solve is murder is to incorporate it into the game. And of course that means reality and not reality collide within the game and beyond the game in spectacularly violent ways. So you’d be right if you guessed that things will get a lot worse before they get better.
It’s a very good look at ARGs, insurrections , the fragility of global finance systems, and why friendships sometimes can hide nasty secrets. Highly recommended. I’m now reading Deep State, the second book in this trilogy and so far in my reading it’s every bit as interesting as this novel was.
(Little Brown UK, 2008)