Book Review: Bedlam

Bedlam by Christopher Brookmyre

Heaven is a prison. Hell is a playground.

Would it be your ultimate fantasy to enter the world of a video game?

A realm where you don’t have to go to work or worry about your health; where you can look like a hero or a goddess; where you can fly space-ships, slay dragons, yet all of it feels completely real. A realm where there are no consequences and no responsibilities.

Or would it be your worst nightmare?

Stuck in an endless state of war and chaos where the pain and fear feels real and from which not even death can offer an escape.

Prison or playground. Heaven or hell. This is where you find out. This is white-knuckle action, sprawling adventure, merciless satire and outrageous humour like you’ve never experienced.

This is Bedlam.


Christopher Brookmyre has always been an author on my to read list, I have read some humorous fiction from Orbit written by Tom Holt, The Portable Door and Christopher Moore, Lamb and plenty more that really cracked me up. An author similar to these was Christopher Brookmyre and I heard some very positive news about his books, he has established himself as a leading author over the past few years writing various detective books. Bedlam is quite something different as you follow the main protagonist inside a videogame, for all the fellow geeks out there, how cool is that! 

In Bedlam you follow the story of Ross Baker, just your average computer guy working for an American company called Neurosphere, which develops medical technology. Lately his life hasn't been that great. Every day at work his gives his best but it feels for him like he never moves forward. His home situation isn't also one where he looks out for, the relation with his girlfriends seems to be at a stagnant point and it feel for Ross like she is looking around for someone else. So with his life not going anywhere anytime soon, Ross volunteers as for a scan conducted by a fellow scientist, Solderburn. However this scan wasn't part of a research project of Neurosphere but rather acted as a bit of a hobby project for Solderburn. Ross though this scan to be harmless, just getting an image quickly of himself. Instead of being a harmless sanc, it soon turns out to be something else entirely and something in the wildest dreams of Ross. 

Because, now Ross finds himself being transport into a computer game of the 90's called Starfire and is placed on the planet of Graxis as a cyborg and in the midst of an ongoing and never ending battle. Ross isn't the only real-life human who finds himself in the heart of the computer game. He gets to talking to other people and then it all starts to dawn on them that they have been placed in a computer game. Though Ross' life wasn't the best in real-life, he prefers that above the virtual one and sets out to find a way out of the virtual world. But without having any clue as to how he got transported into the videogame in the first place, getting out of it will proof to be a difficult challenge. In his efforts to get out, Ross will find himself navigating trough many different videogames that only Starfire. He does have one advantage, in his youth he was an avid fan of videogames and is able to use his skill will searching for a way out. 

I highly enjoyed the storyline that Christopher Brookmyre has created in Bedlam, it especially becomes that more engaging by some other idea's that he brings to the forefront. Of course Bedlam is fiction but the way that Christopher Brookmyre brings his story to light does make you wonder what else and perhaps more importantly how fast several things will be made possible. Christopher Brookmyre does a nice job in provoking you to think about a certain philosophical drive between real life and virtual life and what exactly is real and how does "realness" feels. Current AI technology is able to create very real life robots that act in a way humans do... Interweaving such things in his plot makes it all the more intricate to read and just like Ross was sucked into the virtual world you will be sucked into a riveting narration. 

One way how Christopher Brookmyre readily achieves to create a spot on virtual/gaming setting is by involving a the right terminology. Most of my gaming days are over but when I was still in high school I played a lot of videogames from FPS, MMORPG's and RTS. From those days I still remember all the words used and several on the concepts that were used in those games. Christopher Brookmyre uses a lot of these concepts while telling his story: wallhacks, aimbots and respawn points just to name a couple. During the visit in Starfire, Ross met up with another real person who was sucked into the videogame and he can't seem to die, he just spawn a new to fight another round. Next to this there is also a great exploration about the term NPC and this did got me thinking (the provocative AI part). I really pleased by this aspect as I wasn't at all thinking about reading these bits, it clearly comes to show that Christopher Brookmyre knows what he talking about and also finds a lot of pleasure telling about his fondness for the nostalgic videogames.

Part by the events but also part by the gaming phrases, Bedlam, gets a nice dose of humor. As I already mentioned if you played computer games I think you will appreciate the terminology used to create a very rich story. Bedlam also gets a humorist tinge by the way that the main protagonist Ross acts when he is confronted by new things. He isn't one of those heroic protagonists that conquers everything on the first take, his real life nature reflects back in his virtual persona. 

I have read some computer game tie-in books, but Bedlam, is completely different. Yes it does explore several computer games in more detail, the plot and the idea behind the story do revolve around different concepts. Christopher Brookmyre has created quite the engaging read and his narration and several of his ideas great a very provocative setting. The start-up of the book was slower than I expected but with this you do get to learn enough of what could be possibly going on with Ross, gradually as you delve deeper into the story the pace is picked up and the ending of Bedlam really is like one of those door slamming close kind of BAMS (which I appreciate very, very much). Christopher Brookmyre mentioned in the back of his book that he wanted to create a great enjoyable science fiction book and yes he has does that. Bedlam is a must read for computer game fantastic and science fiction readers in general. I enjoyed Bedlam by the handful and will definitely be checking out more of Christopher Brookmyre's books.    

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