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Plugging in to Tad William’s Otherland



Photo by Thomas Bonner

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When it comes to art, from the visual, musical, or even literary, the rules and restrictions people place on creativity can come with ridiculous, biased ideas. Some people place an unfair judgment against speculative fiction, thinking that since it often deals with elements and themes that “aren’t real”, that they lack any connect to reality, and cannot hit us on the psychological and emotional levels that “literary” fiction does. Someone that notes the genius of Dostoevsky or Tolstoy in dealing with a variety of characters, psychological temperaments, and cultural developments may raise their noses when presented with a horror, science fiction, or fantasy novel.

Readers and fans of speculative fiction know better. There are so many speculative books that not only explore imaginative realms and concepts in beautiful ways, but also possess great characterization, complex tackling of real issues, and a familiar connection to our everyday lives. Otherland is one of those novels… well, four of those novels, a 4-volume series which basically makes one big, epic story.

Otherland, written by Tad Williams, is a multi-character based story set in the late-twentieth century. The main characters of the novel are Renee, a South African instructor at a college who works with virtual reality through an global internet system, and !Xabbu, a South African bushman who becomes Renee’s student. When Renee’s younger brother, Stephen, suffers from a strange incident on a virtual reality network online, Renee and !Xabbu eventually find out that a strange online-based conspiracy is behind Stephen’s tragic circumstance.

That’s the simplest I can go without ruining the story line. There are many cool characters I could talk about, but its more fun learning about the characters as they come out through the series. You literally never know who you’re going to run into, or what’s going to happen in Otherland. Tad’s story has so many layers, and as you read on, you realize things really aren’t as they seem. There are so many secrets that come out, book by book, and great characters appear all over the place. Not only does Tad Williams do a great job with balancing a variety of different characters in a four-volume book series, but he’s great at chapter cliffhangers (which only make you want to read more) and tying up all of his complicated plot puzzles by the end of the series.

Tad Williams crafts a brilliant cast of heroes, and he makes some haunting villains as well. Antagonist-wise, this book has so many creepy characters and unsettling moments, you’ll question humanity. The bad guys are really, really bad, from the pathological and insane murderer types to the downright greedy, hateful businessmen that exist “behind the scenes”. Reading, you can tell Tad Williams is familiar with a variety of conspiracy theories, but he doesn’t just bite off of theories that are out there; he creates his own, yet makes it believable in the make-believe future. In an environment where there is a worldwide virtual-reality based internet system, its not hard to believe the bad guys would do some of the horrific actions they do, and that is scary.

If you’re one of many people who have read George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, you’d be pleased to know that Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn Trilogy actually influenced Martin to write GOT. Tad Williams’ writing and George R.R. Martin’s writing have similarities in all of the right areas. Both write big, epic works, both are masters at cliffhangers in chapters, and both make believable but bigger than life characters that are fun to read about. Also, both authors are accessible. They’re smart writers, but not so much that they alienate their audience. Otherland portrays these great aspects of Tad’s writing from start to finish. Check it out.

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