This Virtual Night: An entertaining SF thriller

This Virtual Night by C.S. Friedman science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThis Virtual Night by C.S. Friedman science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThis Virtual Night by C.S. Friedman

C.S. Friedman’s This Virtual Night (2020) is billed as book two in her OUTWORLDS/ALIEN SHORES series but these novels are, so far, stand-alone stories set in the same universe. Thus, you don’t need to have read the first book, This Alien Shore (1998), though I’d recommend doing so anyway because it was fabulous. All you need to know about Friedman’s world is that, long ago, the humans who left Earth to colonize other galaxies evolved in ways that their fellow humans who remained on Earth find repulsive. There is little communication or cooperation between Earth and the outworld “Variants,” though some people on earth are trying to reconcile the two groups.

In the opening scene of This Virtual Night, two friends playing a virtual reality game accidentally blow up the life-support systems of a space station in the outworlds and it appears that someone off-station hacked into their game to cause the sabotage.

Two people are compelled to discover the culprit. One is Micah, the software engineer who coded the game’s failsafe that is supposed to prevent players from entering restricted areas of the space station. If he can’t discover what happened, he’s going to be scapegoated and prosecuted for the crime. He doesn’t trust the company he works for to support him and, for all he knows, they may be complicit. Plus, he’s worried because Earth’s corporate law is not friendly toward variants like him.

The other interested party is Ruisa, a thrill-seeking outrunner who works for the guild that is trying to reconcile Earthlings with their variant cousins. When she is assigned to investigate the explosion, she chances upon Micah who’s been stranded on a creepy derelict space station. From there the two team up to discover who is responsible for hacking into the game.

C.S. Friedman

C.S. Friedman

This Virtual Night is a straight-up science fiction thriller, less complex and dark than most of Friedman’s novels for adults, and not as deep as This Alien Shore, but still an entertaining story. The space station settings are cool and probably my favorite part of the novel. The plot is diverting, but not as clever or astute as I’ve come to expect from Friedman. For a story about ingenious hackers trying to block a sophisticated computer virus, their efforts were fairly elementary. Also missing are Friedman’s usually profound insights into human behavior.

As far as the characters go, Micah is particularly appealing and I found his programming projects about smell and memory evocation to be thought-provoking. Ruisa’s work, also, is interesting, and Friedman inspired me to think about the psychology of having the kind of job that requires someone to be away from home for very long stretches of time. Micah, the kind of guy who sits in front of a computer all day, and Ruisa, who has trouble keeping still, make an unlikely but complementary team.

Audible Studios’ edition of This Virtual Night is 13.25 hours long. Kathleen McInerney gives a nice performance. Friedman is planning a third OUTWORLDS novel and I look forward to reading it. I’m hoping we don’t have to wait 22 years for that one!

Published in 2020. When deep-space travel altered the genes of the first interstellar colonists, Earth abandoned them. But some of the colonies survived, and a new civilization of mental and physical “Variants” has been established, centered around clusters of space stations known as the outworlds. Now the unthinkable has happened: a suicide assault has destroyed the life support system of a major waystation. All that is known about the young men responsible is that in their last living moments they were receiving messages from an uninhabited sector of space, and were playing a virtual reality game. Two unlikely allies have joined forces to investigate the incident: Ru Gaya, a mercenary explorer with a taste for high risk ventures, and game designer Micah Bello, who must find the parties responsible for the attack in order to clear his name. From the corridors of a derelict station lost to madness to an outlaw stronghold in the depths of uncharted space, the two now follow the trail of an enemy who can twist human minds to his purpose, and whose plans could bring about the collapse of outworld civilization.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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