In Jo Walton’s newest novel The Just City, the goddess Pallas Athena uses her divine powers to create an approximation of Plato’s Republic. As in, she literally sets up a mini-version of the ideal state as described in The Republic, transferring over 10,000 children and a few hundred adults to a Mediterranean island in the past, giving them The Republic as a general operating manual (as well as some handy robots from the future) and basically directing them to set up the Just City, where every soul is free to strive for excellence. The end result is something like a planned community with divine guidance.
We’re seeing this utterly fascinating premise unfold from three very different perspectives.
Preamble: As mentioned before, I took a sort-of-vacation from reviewing in the second half of 2014, mainly because I wanted to enjoy reading for fun for a while, without having to take notes and formulate ideas for reviews along the way. (Side-note: this was actually really fun, and I recommend it to any of my fellow reviewers who occasionally feel burned out.) However, since I didn’t stop reading per se, I now have a backlog of about 30 titles I’ve read but haven’t written much about, aside from maybe a couple of sentences over on Goodreads.
So now, vacation over, I’m going to try and catch up by writing mini-reviews for most of those titles, working chronologically from July 2014 up to the present day. My memory being what it is, some of these may be fairly vague (hence my usual need to take plenty of notes) and short (hence the “mini-review” part), but I hope they may still help readers decide whether this is a book you may want to read or not.
First up: Soda Pop Soldier by Nick Cole!
The Galaxy Game is Barbadian author Karen Lord’s third novel, following the critically acclaimed and award-winning Redemption in Indigo, and last year’s well-received The Best of All Possible Worlds.
From the publisher:
On the verge of adulthood, Rafi attends the Lyceum, a school for the psionically gifted. Rafi possesses mental abilities that might benefit people . . . or control them. Some wish to help Rafi wield his powers responsibly; others see him as a threat to be contained. Rafi’s only freedom at the Lyceum is Wallrunning: a game of speed and agility played on vast vertical surfaces riddled with variable gravity fields.
Serendipity and Ntenman are also students at the Lyceum, but unlike Rafi they come from communities where such abilities are valued. Serendipity finds the Lyceum as much a prison as a school, and she yearns for a meaningful life beyond its gates. Ntenman, with his quick tongue, quicker mind, and a willingness to bend if not break the rules, has no problem fitting in. But he too has his reasons for wanting to escape.
Now the three friends are about to experience a moment of violent change as seething tensions between rival star-faring civilizations come to a head. For Serendipity, it will challenge her ideas of community and self. For Ntenman, it will open new opportunities and new dangers. And for Rafi, given a chance to train with some of the best Wallrunners in the galaxy, it will lead to the discovery that there is more to Wallrunning than he ever suspected . . . and more to himself than he ever dreamed.
Onward to the review!
In a nutshell, In Real Life is a graphic novel that tackles some of the same themes and concepts as Doctorow’s earlier YA novel For the Win, most notably: gold-farming in online games, from an economic and social perspective; the concept of having a separate online identity, specifically for teenagers who may still be forming a “real life” identity; and feminism and the myriad ways it ties into those first two items.
Anda is a teenager who gets recruited into a girls-only guild in the online game Coarsegold. Before she knows it, a more experienced player co-opts her into hunting down gold farmers, explaining that it’s a good thing to do because gold farming ruins the game. Eventually, Anda learns more about the plight of the gold farmers (in this case, poor kids in China working in sweatshop-like conditions) and, well, basically rides in on a shiny sparkling unicorn, saves everyone, and solves world poverty.