[Book Review] Dream Park by Larry Niven & Steven Barnes

What can you say about this story within a story. Even now, thirty-five years after it was published I find it a novel idea. Yes yes, it was tried in actuality and failed some years back and they even made a tabletop (I still can't quite grasp that I need to add 'tabletop' to make sure you know what I mean) roleplaying game out this novel (or series of novels).

Now with that nice segue to RPGs, it's actually in issue of Journeys magazine where I heard about the Dream Park RPG. At the time in 1992, the idea of a multi-genre RPG such as this was tantalizing and the magazine article convinced me to buy the Dream Park RPG. I bought it, read through it and realized that it was based on a book. I spent years wanting to read that book before playing the game. This was my chance after finding it in a local used book store.

The book itself had a beautiful cover and was thick at 434 pages plus ads. Thirty-one chapters with a table of contents, dramatis personae (cast of characters) and a nifty afterword. I love it when they include a cast of characters at the beginning.

This novel may not be an edge of the seat thriller however it is at all times, very engaging. I found no filler chapters and there were zero down-times where the plot slowed or you felt like you could put it down and forget about it.

I'm not big on spoilers however in this specific case I'll give you a quick run down. Dream Park is an amusement park with the penultimate virtual reality live-action roleplaying game. It's set into the 'not to distant' future (2051) with references to the world that still feel like the future here in 2016. It seems very plausible.

The game is created by a Game Master and players run through it following their Lore Master. Dream Park has staff to run it including security. This is really the cusp of the story. Something occurs in the park that causes the head of security to enter the game undercover to solve a crime.

This gives you two main realities to explore. The spine reality where a crime occurs in the park that becomes a mystery to solve and the in-game reality where players try to solve the adventure and win.

When reading the book, you have no trouble following what's happening. The cool part of this sci-fi/fantasy/mystery/part-thriller is that you can fully appreciate both solutions in the end. There are clues and just as it's being revealed, you might be starting to suspect the outcome but few will likely figure it out ahead of time. Most certainly it's not one of those mysteries where the final 'whodunnit' pulls out surprise facts you didn't know.

The novel is also quite dynamic with multiple levels of emotion and depth.

The characters are well fleshed out and the story is captivating. Each mystery moves along steadily to the conclusion. There was a part of the ending I didn't like but it worked and on the whole I really enjoyed this book.

My favourite paragraph is, "Most of the Gamers were wounded somewhere. Alex himself had a dozen wounds. Margie was unmarked. She had taken to the machete like a bat to warm blood. The Undead seemed unable to deal with her style: imprecise and un tutored, but full of crazy energy."

I will be looking for the others in the series now. The Barsoom Project and The California Voodoo Game. There is also The Moon Maze Game but it came much later.

@ 4.5 Stars



It sounds interesting and I'd give it a read.

Who needs skills with a machete really, just enthusiasm.

Kersus's picture

Those short evil looking machetes would be easier than a generic one. Not sure about the easy decapitations though.

Oedipussy Rex's picture

eXistenZ is a highly underrated movie.

Sorcerer Character Has Warrior Adventure

Disappointing Mom since 2010.

Kersus's picture

I watched it alone, at night, in the dark and had to call someone afterwards to make sure I was in reality now. What did you think of Thirteenth Floor?

Oedipussy Rex's picture

Haven't seen it.

Sorcerer Character Has Warrior Adventure

Disappointing Mom since 2010.