Otherland (Volume 1): The City of Golden Shadow

By Tad Williams

I grabbed this book at the library for the same reason that I always grab books at the library. I’m chasing a kid down that aisle and the shiny, thick spine attracts itself to my attention. A girl’s gotta read something, after all, and not having time to properly browse is no excuse at all. Besides, with our local branch closed for recarpeting and paint and other renovations, I’ve been spending time at the next-possible local branch. You do get used to the books on the shelves of the library you always visit. I won’t even say I’ve read 5 percent of the stuff they have, but you get so used to scanning what’s always there–in the same, goddamn order–that you miss stuff. Mixing it up a bit breaks your habits. I never would have seen this book at my usual place because it had faded into the background. Of course, if I’d never been at the other branch, I never would have popped in at the grocery store across the street and had my wallet stolen. It’s a toss-up, that one. Bastards even took my frozen yogurt rewards card, right before I could claim my free small yogurt with a topping. But that’s a story I am tired of telling. So I’ll tell you a story about a story that was told to me instead.

I don’t know what to think of Otherland. I liked it, but I was confused, so I looked up some reviews on Amazon, and then decided that I didn’t like it based on what people said, but then I kept reading, and then I liked it a lot and made my peace with it being just the first part of a four-book series, and then I was totally into it, and then they spent too much time on the villains and their complicated pseudo-Egyptian mythology simulation, and I am sick of completely evil antagonists who are cruel and wicked to a cartoonish point, and having to spend most of the last twenty pages in the company of Horus and his odd minions and their monologuing tales and now I am doubting if I’ll continue with the series. The world is so interesting, and could be perfectly entertaining as obtuse and marvelous and strange, and the AI could be a perfectly sufficient source of conflict, but then it gets all mucked up with a conspiracy. I honestly don’t know if I can handle another three thousand pages of conspiracy. I wonder if the books would make sense if I just skipped over the villain parts. It certainly hasn’t affected my ability to enjoy the virtual reality coolnesses of this first book.

Although the book is way too long for the story it contains. And !Xabbu is too precious and perfect to be a real person, and his character playing the Mystical Negro gets tiresome quick, as does the wisdom of the ancient people who follow the cycles of the earth and live in harmony with nature.

I did learn a valuable lesson about reading Amazon reviews before finishing books. I’ve learned it before, but I need periodic reminders. It’s awfully fun to go to Amazon and read only the reviews that perfectly align with your feelings after you garner some of your own, but you really can destroy a book experience by reading them partway through. I almost ruined this experience. Should I end up continuing with this series of books, I’m not going to look up another thing about Tad Williams til this session has run its course.

But because I might continue with the series, I just want to say that I find the friendship between Orlando and Fredericks endearing beyond belief (however overtly a tribute to Frodo and Samwise Gamgee), the plight of Paul Jonas completely engaging, and that the father is totally being groomed by the author for redemption. I predict that the evil conspiracy of the Egyptians is just blocking the view of what actual weird, unearthly thing is going on, and that the machines will wake up (but not try to kill the people) and that Orlando will escape into cyberlife for a chance at adulthood, but that Fredericks will stay behind to deliver the message to Orlando’s parents that he loves them.

But since I am Book Journaling, I will say that this book reminded me in very many ways of Vellum, which I read last summer. I liked it more than Vellum, because it was much more cohesive, but it’s less interesting than Vellum, from a structural and a content viewpoint. Paul Jonas specifically reminded me of how the characters in Vellum are trapped in these lives they cannot change, even though Jonas is not reliving the same story over and over again. He’s pursued from life to life by the same people, but his destiny is his own to a great degree wherever he goes. It’s Gally in Otherland who I can’t figure out. I think he is one of the children who are lost online–it was hinted at pretty strongly–but that’s a well-created mystery.

I feel like I am talking myself into the second volume the more I write. I did enjoy some of the characters who popped up at the very end. Sweet William seemed like a lively fellow! OK. I’ll get the book. But not until I read that City of Bones one that I already have lying around. I don’t know why I picked up City of Bones on that trip–Cassandra Clare is nowhere near Tad Williams in the alphabet, although the spine is equally thick and shiny. Maybe it was on a special shelf.

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