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REVIEW: Godplayers by Damien Broderick

REVIEW SUMMARY: Cool ideas but fails to draw the reader in.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: August Seebeck learns that he is a Player in a Contest against the vicious K-Machine across the multiverse of worlds.


PROS: Humorous situations and prose. Cool ideas.

CONS: The plot is in serious need of a map as it was much too confusing; too many flat characters; dialogue interruptions were unhelpful.

BOTTOM LINE: The multiverse and the Contest are interesting as far as premises go, but the execution of that promise failed to deliver.

The 50,000-foot-view premise of Godplayers looked so promising. Twenty-something Australian August Seebeck thinks his Aunt Tansy is missing a few screws when she claims that a fresh corpse appears in her upstairs bathtub every Saturday night, only to have disappeared by Sunday morning. So, giving her the benefit of the doubt, he stakes out the bathroom with a cricket bat, only to discover (surprise of surprises) that dear Aunt Tansy is right. August catches two women emerging from a mirror portal intent on dumping a corpse. They are Players in a Contest of Worlds that spans multiple worlds and August soon learns that he, too, is a Player. (The point-of-reference world for August, we learn, is not our own as evidenced by the fact that there are only 11 months in a year and 33 days hath December.) The Seebeck clan is on one side of the Contest fighting for human immortality and they fight the K-Machines who would rather kill mankind across the multiverse. At the Players’ disposal is a way to instantly open up portals to any other world in the multiverse and reverse death itself. See? Sounds pretty cool, right?

However, the ball-of-spaghetti plot of Godplayers is way more convoluted than that below the surface. Behind the scenes, the universe is, well, a giant computer that is layered with complex mathematics and physics concepts. The Seebeck clan is really just software in the computer and August is the upgrade. The problem is that August doesn’t know his heritage so the story essentially amounts to a fish-out-of-water story. We are left to put ourselves into August’s big shoes which, incidentally, hide the metal plate on his foot that is the key to opening the portals. The problem is that too many elements of the story make it difficult, if not impossible, to relate to August.

The complexity of the world – or more accurately, worlds – made it hard to follow. Maybe it was the language of the Contest. Too many things had their own jargonized label: a world in the multiverse is a “cognate”; a portal to go between them is a “Schwelle”; the Seebecks aren’t human, they are Vorpal homunculi; and I’m not even sure what is meant by referring to Aunt Tansy’s bathroom as a “Nexus collection point”. Put simply – I was lost. August also traipses through most of the novel not understanding what is going on. Yet somehow, instead of identifying with him, his ability to seemingly speak intelligently about things of which he consciously knows nothing left me feeling like I was more lost than he was. He was leaving this reader in the dust. Despite this, August kept complaining that he didn’t know what was going on. His frustration lifted my spirits because I was eagerly hoping the dumbed-down explanation was just around the corner.

It wasn’t. And here I had a problem with the dialogue. It made the natural flow of conversations feel disjoint, although I’m not sure how much of this was caused by the Australian way of speaking. Sometimes August’s questions went unanswered altogether or were interrupted before any real information was given. And when characters were allowed to explain, they mumbled jargon.

Speaking of which, there were way too many characters – most of them Seebecks. August discovers he has eleven siblings all of whom are not very distinctive at all regardless of them having names based on the months – Avril, Maybelline, Juni, etc.

Throughout the book, but mostly in the interludes that reflected a point of view of a character other than August, mathematics and advanced cosmology (is there any other kind of cosmology?) is a strong underlying theme. Sadly (since they held the most promise for getting a dose of sense-of-wonder), it was these interludes where I felt the most lost – not because of the math or the discussion of Xon matter, but because it seemed like it was unintelligible or at least written for someone who already knew the ins and outs of the Contest’s inner workings.

As August goes through his misadventures he claims to be trying to insure the safety of his aunt, yet (and he even admits as much) he does very little to actually do something to make sure she is alright. Is August’s attraction to the mysterious and adventurous Luna so strong that he is willing to overlook the well-being of his foster parent? I just wasn’t buying it. The motivation to go with the flow and ignore his previous mundane life just wasn’t there.

All this griping is not to say that the book did not have some good points. The operation of the Schwelle windows was very cool. Invoked by a verbal command and enabled by a sophisticated tattoo, these windows between exotic and interesting worlds opened in an instant. Oftentimes they were used to great effect, more as tools to do something inventive and not just a means of travel. The prose has a humorous tone – indeed some parts were very funny in a quality sitcom sort of way – but most of it was unfortunately ineffective because I was simply not drawn into the story. Even the numerous references to classic science fiction works (when I caught them) were not enough to pull me into this story.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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