In the first in a series of 3 short blogs Armadillo Reviewer Simon Barrett shares his thoughts on B R Collins Maze Cheat (Bloomsbury).
The separation of reality and virtual reality is perhaps increasingly difficult, especially for young people today, whose interactions seamlessly move between their physical surroundings and a world on Facebook. Gaming and virtual reality in particular has been a theme taken up by several children’s authors, including Alan Gibbons and by B.R. Collins in her recent book Maze Cheat.
Maze Cheat imagines a humanity retreating from a post-apocalyptic age of acid rain eating away the tarmac into the Maze, an interactive computer game. Watched by everyone, Gamerunners fight, avoid traps and battle with monsters to earn kudos and money. It is tempting to cheat, and Ario is the best Cheat there is. Ario writes computer code to give Gamerunners infinite health and upgraded weapons, making them... invincible. But the Maze is no ordinary computer game, something even the best Cheat can’t anticipate.
There is much about Maze Cheat that is probably conventional to young readers familiar with online games. It is therefore the characters in the book that makes the story engaging with much of it taking place in a claustrophobic tank shop, where the cheats work, live and sleep. Much of the tension is on what each of the characters know, but do not say to one another, and the hidden personal histories that suggests there is a shared fate or destiny.
I wonder whether books can fully capture a gamer’s experience or use some of the devices of Second life as a literary tool in a story. Reading a book like Maze Cheat however reiterates the importance of characters in making a story a great story.