by Jason Segel, Kirsten Miller (Goodreads Author)
2.5 stars out of 5
Okay, let’s talk about Otherworld. Um…it’s a thing? It’s…honestly not that great?
Were I to judge this book on most of the third act, maybe this would bump half a star, but unfortunately, I’m judging this book in its entirety and OH BOY do I have some complaints.
First off, the pacing. This book has god-awful pacing. It’s backloaded to a fault, which means you’re slogging through who knows how many pages to get to the point that narrative decides to explicitly lay out the entirety of the story in the biggest info-dump you’ve ever seen. Granted, some parts of the info-dump are actually interesting, if not particularly shocking.
Yes, this is a book that relies on “twists” that are so constantly telegraphed throughout the narrative, they shouldn’t even be called twists. It’s painfully obvious to see where the book is leading, and it makes me both sad and frustrated to say there wasn’t anything interesting enough about the world to help me see past this.
And it makes the backloading of the narrative even more obvious — Simon literally just runs around Otherworld with no sense of direction or purpose other than to “save the damsel in distress” (who’s not actually in distress and is taking care of herself but GODS FORBID he consider that option), and so I’m left reading like, “Okay…is the plot going to show up sometime soon?” When it does, it’s whenever Simon is outside of Otherworld, which made returning to it an experience I dreaded more and more as the novel progressed.
When the story kicked into high(ish)-gear at the end, I thought it was entertaining…until it did this so that it could sequel-bait the audience onto a cliffhanger that really didn’t need to be there. This novel did not need to be the first of a series. Perhaps had it been a little longer and had better pacing, the writers (and the publishers) would have realized that. Instead of an “eh”/very clunky book one of two…why not take the time and produce just one book of better quality?
Second, the characters. Most of the characters are consistently inconsistent. Our protagonist, Simon, is every other whiny, lovestruck teenage boy out to be the hero we’ve met before and, therefore, engages in wildly reckless and potentially dangerous behaviour to “rescue” his “damsel in distress.” And while Kat (Cat? I listened so I don’t know spellings) may seem worth it — i.e. she’s actually smart and can 3000% take of herself and really doesn’t need him to rescue her at all — the book literally pulls out one of the most wretched tropes at the end.
You know that trope where they’re trying to make the antagonist see the error of their ways and he attacks them and OF COURSE injures the girl to the point of nearly killing her and that’s what snaps the antagonist out of their shit behaviour?
Yeah, that trope. This book does that. And I wanted to screech in irritation. In a book filled with old, tired tropes, this is the one that really struck home and bothered me the most. It’s so stupidly unnecessary and really spoiled my enjoyment of the back third of the novel, which was proving to be, frankly, the only entertaining part until, you know, THAT TROPE happened.
The best character in this series is a side-character, Busara Ugubu, who is smart, ruthless, gusty as hell — oh yeah, and she’s asexual. I think she’s also aromantic, but either way HELLO TO THE ACE REP. This badass filmmaker chick needed to be in more of the story and I’ll sign any petition that wants to make her the protagonist for the unnecessary af sequel that this book is getting. Seriously, make Otherearth or whatever its title is about Busara’s quest to save her father. That’s all it needs.
This is a book that could have been so much better. It has glimmers of interesting aspects, including the effect of advanced virtual reality technology and the effect it has upon the brains and personalities of the users and even the dangers of becoming addicted to one’s form of escapism — but these aren’t explored in any meaningful way. It devolves into a simple story of “good teens vs money-hungry corporation” and goddamn was that boring because we’ve seen this all before.
If the two writers had taken the time develop their thematic content in a way that streamlined the plot, this could have been a really good standalone science fiction novel. Had they dumped their protagonist and instead focused on their side character whose familial motivations as well as skills both in and out of Otherworld made her the most compelling character in the story, this could have been a really entertaining story.
But, alas, this feels like a book that was pushed out to cash-in on the success of other popular virtual reality-based science fiction stories (*cough*Ready Player One*cough*) when it could have used some more thought put into what it was perhaps trying to do. It’s not terrible, but it’s certainly nothing special either.