Title: User Unfriendly
Author: Vivian Vande Velde
Genre: Science Fantasy
It’s the most advanced computer role-playing game ever – when you play, you’re really there. The game plugs directly into your brain, making you feel like you’re actually in a world teeming with evil creatures, danger-filled fortresses, and malevolent magics. For Arvin Rizalli and his friends, all it takes is a little hacking to get in with no cash up front and no questions asked…and no hope of rescue when the game goes horribly wrong.
I’ve read all of Vivian Vande Velde’s books that my library has. They were all fantasy, and I loved them all. So when I saw her name on this book, I snatched it right up. And then I looked at it and said “Vivian Vande Velde wrote a science fiction book?”
But despite the fact that it’s actually sci-fi, I kept forgetting. Maybe it was the fact that it took place almost exclusively in a fantasy role-playing game. Maybe it was the fact that everyone had the forms of dwarfs and wizards and elves. Maybe it was all the magic. But no matter what it was, this felt more like fantasy than anything.
I could tell that Arvin/Harek (I don’t know which to call him) was a character that Vivian Vande Velde wrote, based on her other books I’ve read. He has a wry outlook on things, wishes he had good ideas, and feels like everyone gangs up on him. Some of his commentary on the story just cracked me up. Despite the fact that he’s Harek, an elf, in the game, he seemed more like a regular boy. Of course, that could be just because he’s narrating, so I know what he’s thinking.
Even though Cornelius was actually a teenage boy, he acted quite a bit like an old man. Well, an old man who can shoot lightning and create light and illusions and do other sorts of wizardy stuff.
Feordin was so dwarfish, I had a hard time that he was really a kid pretending to be a dwarf. He’s got the don’t-mess-with-me-I-may-be-short-but-I’m-not-puny attitude down, and he’s gruff and sometimes grumpy and whatever other synonyms for “dwarf” you can come up with.
Thea, despite the fact that she was an elf, seemed more like an average human girl. But when they’re stuck in a fantasy role-playing game, nobody seems entirely like an average human.
I didn’t get much of an impression from Nocona. For a good chunk in the middle of the book, the group split up and he went with the group that Arvin/Harek wasn’t in. For most of the rest of it, he was either really quiet, or angry and snappish. But I think I can blame the angry snappishness on a development named Wolstan.
I really liked Robin – he wasn’t entirely comic relief, but he was always optimistic and mischievous. Marian, I didn’t like quite so much; I agreed with Arvin/Harek that she was bossy. But I can’t say too much about either of them without giving away a major plot twist.
I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like this before. Science fiction and fantasy are two totally different genres, so I’m surprised that they could be combined – let alone be combined well! Everything from sand hands to magic swords and spells to dragons and orcs was definitely fantasy. And then there were the non-player characters (who Arvin/Harek identified as such) and occasional reminders that it’s “just a game.” But there wasn’t quite enough of those kind of reminders to make me say “Oh, this is definitely sci-fi.”
I do believe I’ve mentioned this before, but despite this being science fiction, fans of Vivian Vande Velde won’t be disappointed.