Originally posted 08/20/10 in my meta/review blog.
Omnitopia: Dawn is the first in a new series by Diane Duane. Reading it, I was reminded strongly of Daniel Suarez’ Daemon and Freedom ™, but mostly by way of contrast. Suarez’ books are about a computer game programmer who decides to make the world a better place by creating a daemon program which takes over the internet and uses hackers, various dupes and corporate espionage to completely destroy capitalism. Diane Duane’s book is about a computer game programmer who has to deal with a massive hacker attack, corporate espionage, family, and is trying to make the world a better place by providing a place to play, and making his staff a better place to work. Both are set in the near future, and both have a strong populist theme.
I’m leaning more toward liking Omnitopia–because there’s more speculative in the speculative fiction than in Suarez’ work. Which is to say, Suarez’ tried too hard to make everything workable with “today’s technology,” and I feel he made a big mistake in creating an artificial intelligence that was not actually sentient. I still don’t think a “daemon program” as described by Suarez’ would be able to out think or out plan humans on the scale it was able to, and not be sentient (and to be blunt, I like Duane’s characters more than I like any of Suarez’ characters, who were all stock role characters or deeply unlikable in some respect.)
Omnitopia:Dawn opens with a gamer named Rik, who is immersed in the game, which has virtual reality components. He has recently bought the new “RealFeel” gaming headset that enables him to experience the game will all of his senses. Unfortunately, he’s discovered what griffin scat smells like. Of course a little later in the day his luck turns unbelievably good: he finds out that he’s been chosen to create his own “Microcosm” a gaming world within the greater gaming worlds of Omnitopia. The game Omnitopia has two kinds of gaming possibilities–there are the company-manufactured “Macrocosms” which provide every gaming experience from fantasy and science fiction themed battle strategy to skiing and hiking. The Microcosms are worlds created by players known as “Levelers” people who for various reasons have earned the right to build their own game within the game. What makes the Microcosms interesting is that successful Microcosms earn royalties for the Leveler who created it. Rik is overjoyed, and his non-gamer wife is likewise pleased and impressed once she has it explained to her.
From there we’re introduced to the creator of the game, Dev Logan, the eighth richest man in the world and self-named “First Player” of Omnitopia. He has a lot on his mind and his schedule as he gets ready for the latest upgrade of the game, and juggles finding ways to keep hackers and corporate rivals from ruining his game. It’s very clear that Dev is a nice guy who tries hard to do the right thing and does his best to ensure that his employees (and the players of his game) are taken care of. We’re introduced to the “corporate culture” of his business which seems nearly paradisiacal, and which is staffed by extremely loyal, extremely helpful employees who manage to be cheerfully, almost obnoxiously concerned for his welfare (it doesn’t help that he literally lives on the work site campus, and his home staff and his business staff are almost symbiotically intertwined). Somehow, this feels entirely natural, instead of “unrealistic,” and the alternate “realistic” viewpoints presented by Delia Harrington, a journalist who is certain “something is up” and Phil Sorensen, a business rival not above the uglier forms of corporate espionage and smear campaigns, are the ones that feel “unnatural and unrealistic.”
These two stories are the “A” and “B” plot of the novel, and while there are few direct intersections, they are both very important to the overall plot. I liked both Rik and Dev a great deal, as well as the other characters involved in the story. (I even liked Phil a little, even if he is a complete bastard. I kind of hope that he gets some sense shaken into him though, because some of his reasoning about his rivalry and former friendship with Dev sort of make my head hit the keyboard. Multiple times.)