This one was definitely a guilty pleasure. With all the heavier reading I’ve been doing, I was looking for something light and fast to break up my reading sessions a bit. .Hack// AI Buster 1 by Tatsuya Hamazaki fit the bill nicely. (Amazon incorrectly lists Rei Idumi as one of the authors. Rei Idumi is listed as illustrator in the book.)
The .hack Project (sometimes written as “dotHack”) is a series of manga, anime, videogames and novels all set in The World, a fictitious MMO (massively multiplayer online game). Most of the action takes place inside the game, but the characters, like characters in real MMOs, shift their focus between events in-game and events in real-life. A big part of the draw of the various parts of the .Hack project, to me, is how well the creators replicate the culture of these games. Guild drama, PKing, exploiting bugs, wondering who is really behind the avatar….if these concepts mean nothing to you then you probably won’t ‘get’ the .Hack material. As an avid MMO player I gobble it up gleefully. Reading/watching/playing .Hack properties is almost as fun as playing a good MMO.
As to this particular novel…guilty pleasure or not, I have to say it isn’t a great book. It feels more like an establishing piece. The main character spends a lot of time talking to a ‘newbie’ about the mechanics of the game (in turn instructing the reader as to how these games work). The World as an MMO exists in the near future, so while the technology is a bit more advanced than what exists for us today, much of it is recognizable to real life MMO players, so a lot of these discussions between characters just felt like filler to me.
The actual story is very thin here. We have one character, an employee of the company that runs The World, chasing down a rogue AI. A bug, essentially. We have another character, with his newbie tag-along, trying to complete a quest. That’s really it. Some other characters are introduced but their stories are fleshed out in other .Hack properties. Not a lot of actual plot to chew on here.
Worse is that the author chose what I’d call a First Person Limited viewpoint. I can’t really explain this without a spoiler, but honestly the plotline isn’t compelling enough for this to really matter anyway. Nevertheless you’ve been warned. INCOMING SPOILERS! The book bounces between these two main characters, both told in first person. Neither character indicates in any way that they are aware of the other. The big reveal at the end of the book is… they’re the same character! During the ‘bug-hunter’ chapters the character is referred to by his real world name, since most of these chapters take place outside The World. During the ‘quest’ chapters the character is referred to by his in-game name. It really felt to me like the author was cheating. If you’re going to write from a first person viewpoint, you can’t ‘hide’ things like this from the reader. And it wasn’t even like “A-ha! So that is why X did Y when Z happened!” because ‘neither’ character ever really used what the other knew in any apparent way. If just felt like the author was stuck and suddenly decided at the end of the manuscript that these two characters were the same person and never went back to rewrite the earlier chapters.
But the oddest thing of all? I still enjoyed the book. Now take that in context. First, I’m an MMO gamer and more generally I’m fascinated with online culture. Second, it’s a YA book that I read in a couple of short evening reading sessions, so I didn’t make a major time commitment to it. My demands on it weren’t very high. Yeah, the plot was weak, but… It was like having a candy bar wear the nougat center wasn’t all that great, but the caramel layer and chocolate surrounding the nougat were sugary bliss. Not the greatest food in the world, but it satisfied a craving at the time.