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Demi-Monde: Winter
by Rod Rees
William Morris, 2012, $26.99, 517pp
Release Date: December 27, 2011

William Morris Publishing has scored a major coup with Demi-Monde.

Using my 4Sight, I predict that a hundred years from now, when the 22nd century’s reincarnation of Woody Allen is making her movie, Midnight in Minneapolis, to celebrate the great, long gone artists and authors of this century, Rees is going to be the primary writer the protagonist travels through time to meet at WorldCon. Said protagonist will come to understand the essential guts of the creative process from Rod Rees, learn the wisdom of humor (or the humor of wisdom) from Lois McMaster Bujold at a writer’s conference, listen enraptured to a filker’s duel between Emma Bull and Seanan McGuire, discuss mythical aspects of the Trickster archetype with Kelly McCullough, get drunk at the bar alongside Neal Stephenson and Neil Gaiman, and fall in love with a fan who wishes (s)he could time-travel to meet Isaac Asimov and Poul Anderson.

If you have had the superior good fortune to read Kim Newman’s tribute to virtual reality and film-noir, Night Mayor, you can appreciate that Demi-Monde: Winter is to that story as World of Warcraft is to the original D&D computer game: similar premise, but vastly expanded. This outing, it’s the history buffs instead of the film afficionados who get to scream, “YEAHHHHH!” as a VR simulation, designed to test and train operatives deployed to the most dangerous places on earth, begins to take on a life of its own as avatars of the Demi-Monde become self-aware and devise a scheme to commandeer the real world. The President of the United States’ daughter, Norma Williams, a psychology major, has entered this VR realm to study history’s sociopaths, but she has gotten herself trapped; and while the avatars Torquemada, Reinhard Heydrich, Beria, and Empress Wu are subduing their territorial masses and making unholy alliances, Aleister Crowley is putting together a magical ceremony that will transfer the “soul” of the avatar Aaliz Heydrich into Norma’s body as “she” awakens in the real world.

The programming of the avatars is based on DNA reconstructions, so a biological basis for megalomania is implicit, with social factor written into the program to replicate the environmental factors that produce tyrants. In short, the designers have deliberately made a living hell, into which mission trainees descend as Daemons. Daemons, by the way, can be identified by their ability to bleed – and Daemon blood is the most valuable of all currencies.

This deliberate, intelligent design of a virtual reality sets up fascinating parallels with religious and philosophical viewpoints of existence. To what extent is Earth itself a Demi-Monde in which free will gets free play, and the consequences play out?

And to really captivate his readers’ minds, Rees has devised a brilliant vocabulary that the characters of the Demi-Monde employ, full of puns and artful twists of the tail. The Eiffel Tower becomes the Awful Tower ; a psychic’s female assistant is called a PsyChick. Other examples:

4Telling: Predicting the future. From the declension 1Telling = silence; 2Telling = speaking of the past; 3Telling = speaking of the present; 4Telling = speaking of the future.

Himperialism: The official religion of Noirville, based on an unwavering belief in male supremacy and the subjugation of women (or, as they are known in Noirville, woeMen)… woeMen’s role is to be Mute, Invisible, Supine, and Subservient (subMISSiveness)….

HerEticalism: The official religion of The Coven. Developed by the Empress Wu, HerEticalism is a religion based on female supremacy and the belief that if the Demi-Monde is to survive and flourish it must be protected from MisMANagement….

Both the colonated nature of the title and the cliffhanger conclusion promise a sequel. I hope we will not have long to wait; I’m on the fracking edge of my seat with this one. Strongly recommended. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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