Bedlam

bedlamTitle: Bedlam

Author: Christopher Brookmyre

Summary: Ross Baker is an overworked scientist developing medical technology for corporate giant Neurosphere, but he’d rather be playing computer games then dealing with his nightmare boss or slacker co-workers.

He volunteers as a test candidate for the new tech – anything to get out of the office for a few hours. But when the experiment is over he discovers he’s not only escaped the office, but possibly escaped real life for good. He’s trapped in Starfire – a video game he played as a child – with no explanation, no backup and, most terrifyingly, no way out.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: As a fan of every other Brookmyre book, i was really looking forward to reading this. I was, however, also apprehensive; it apparently wasn’t his best work. Hoping all the people i’d heard that from were wrong, i jumped in with full optimism. Oh well.

As much as i don’t want to start with the things i didn’t like, i feel like i should. They were simple but big things.

The first was Brookmyre’s obvious enthusiasm for video games. His love of the games, the worlds, the terminology shines through, especially at the start, when the main character, Ross, wakes up, realises he’s in a video game and starts figuring out how to play it from the inside. I so easily felt Brookmyre’s joy in his writing, but the trouble with that was that i didn’t share it. I know enough about video games and the terminology to get by and understand enough of what was going on, but not enough that i got all the references or laughed at all the jokes.

The second major thing i disliked about the book was some of its representation and objectification of women. Ross’s girlfriend (whom we never actually “meet”) is a two-dimensional plot device, used only to help us care more about Ross. This failed for me, however, when Ross didn’t really seem to care about her at all, and only started missing her when he thought he might spend eternity alone and viewed her mostly only as the mother of his child. I also failed to give a shit about the main character when he was ogling the breasts of a purely computer-generated character and “getting a virtual semi.” Yep, really missing his cardboard cut out of a girlfriend. There were other occasions, but for obvious reasons i didn’t commit them to memory. This sexism may be intentional and related to the video game culture, but Brookmyre did not seem to be making a worthy point, but merely reinforcing the one that already exists and is still highly prolific.

But there was plenty i did like, too. It hooked me very early on with its plethora of imaginative curses, most being variations of “arse X” (arse cakes, arse candles, arse trumpets etc). The majority of the humour is classic Brookmyre, and many out loud laughs were had.

The plot was intriguing. It took a while to get into, thanks to the long set up, world(s) building and the aforementioned enthusiasm of the author (which i think only made this problem worse), but by about halfway through i was fully engaged in pondering possible motives and theories and outcomes. By the last 150 pages i was engrossed and finished it all in pretty much one sitting–i had to know what happened!

For all its sexism, Bedlam does have a few wonderful female characters (just not Ross’ girlfriend), and i appreciated everything about them. Juno’s personal strength and determination, Agnes’ optimism and sunny disposition, and Iris’ independence and grey moral spectrum.

So, while this was not a patch on Brookmyre’s other books, it still has many of the elements that i love about his work. I’m sure he had a hell of a good time writing it, and reading it certainly wasn’t any sort of hardship.

This knocks three squares off my Bookish Bingo: Pirates, cyborgs or robots and set in a parallel universe. (Some might consider pirates a stretch, but computer game space travel or not, they are called pirates in the book!)

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About Wendleberry
I'm odd.

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