Game is the first book in a trilogy from Swedish author Anders de la Motte. The second volume, Buzz, is due to be released in January, and the third and final volume, Bubble, follows in February. The author was a police officer and also worked as Director of Security for an IT company, and it’s easy to see how that background slots into the plot. This is the story of a marginally employed slacker, Henrik “HP” Pettersson just out of prison, who’s about to blow his “crap Mcjob.” When the novel opens, he’s been partying, has a hangover, and is returning home on the train. He doesn’t give a toss about the job as he only took it so that he could claim unemployment in due course. HP is the sort of person who finds justification for all of his screw-ups; there’s no learning curve here, and in his mind, if he does something wrong, the fault is society’s.
A passenger leaves the nearly-empty train and HP notices that he’s left his phone behind. Checking for a lack of security cameras, HP switches seats and picks up the phone intending to sell it to a fence for “easy money.” The phone looks expensive but there’s no manufacturer’s name anywhere to be seen. There’s just a number: 128. While HP is looking at the phone, noting that it has a camera, the screen lights up with the words: Wanna play a game? At first HP ignores the prompt but when it appears repeatedly, and includes Henrik’s name, his curiosity, boredom combined with poor impulse control lead HP to accept the challenge. From that moment on, Henrik is in the Game and under the direction of the Game Master. Through the phone, HP is presented with a series of challenges for which he receives points and cash rewards even as he competes with other players for status and fans. For someone like HP, it’s the best of all possible worlds, and he thrives under the gratification of the Pavlovian system designed, it seems, to stroke his ego with instant feedback through the cyberworld, monetary compensation and the illusion that he’s some sort of rock star player.
It’s all great fun, until suddenly it isn’t. HP’s tasks becoming increasingly more serious and then they turn deadly….
In this age of virtual realities where some of us spend more time on the internet than we do with real live people, Game makes a statement about crossing the boundaries between the real and the virtual worlds. While HP is the main character, the book introduces many computer geeks, hackers, IT specialists and conspiracy theory whackos as HP tries to unlock the secrets of the Game. There’s also HP’s sister, Rebecca, a woman with a dark past who’s molded fear into toughness. As a member of the Security Police, she’s dedicated and focused–the opposite of her brother, but they are both connected by their pasts and a secret that landed HP in prison.
Game is a fast-paced read. No argument there, and this trilogy will no doubt make a great film, so move over The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. On the positive side, the author shows HP’s moral decline as he becomes fixated on the Game, and his addiction sucks all of his negative character traits to the surface. There are problems with the book, however, some of which may an issue of the formatting of my kindle edition. The action between characters shifts with no indication that we’re leaving one set of characters and moving to another with the result that I was confused several times as to who ‘he or she’ was. I’d go back a page or two and re-read and it would still not be clear. There was a scene in which HP is having enthusiastic sex with an unnamed woman, and he refers to three sex partners in two hours which seemed so bizarrely out-of-place with the rest of the novel. At one point, I thought perhaps it was Rebecca who had sex with her brother, (WTF) so I went back and reread but nothing was clearer. So I kept reading and later finally realized that Rebecca had had sex with another male character whose name wasn’t mentioned at the time, so we have two separate sex scenes which seem to be the same scene with just two characters named: Rebecca and HP. Back to that confusing shift in perspective. I wonder if I’m the only one who was mixed up about this. Initially the writing seems clumsy and then it appears to improve, or perhaps I was swept away by the action.
Translated by Neil Smith