Book review: 'The Demi-Monde: Winter' coyly plays with cyberspace and reality

By Caitlin Orton

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, March 3 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

"THE DEMI-MONDE: WINTER," by Rod Rees, WilliamMorrow, $26.99, 528 pages (f)

Somewhere between “Tron” and “Avatar” comes “The Demi-Monde: Winter,” a high-tech fantasy about an alternative cyber world used to create asymmetric warfare for military training.

Author Rod Rees tells an uncanny and haunting story of Norma, the daughter of the president of the United States, who is seemingly accidentally lured into a computer simulation. Like other “Real World” players in the Demi-Monde, Norma’s physical body is left behind and vulnerable: if she dies in the game, she dies in the “Real World.”

Then enters Ella: she’s talented, young and completely broke, and everything the creators of the Demi-Monde need in order to save Norma. Ella naively agrees to enter the Demi-Monde to save Norma, but not without $5 million if and when she returns.

While Ella understands what will happen if she dies in the game, she doesn’t begin to comprehend the gravity of the computer simulated world. Planted inside that world are more than a dozen of the most vicious, tyrannical and conniving men to ever walk the face of the “Real World,” like Ivan the Terrrible and Reinhard Heydrich, but reinvented and equally as terrifying as “Dupes” in the Demi-Monde.

Ella’s work is cut out for her, and as she enters the Demi-Monde she’s faced with challenges she didn’t foresee — separation of races, stifled freedom of speech and religion, underground anarchy and racial hierarchy. Living in fear of being captured by Heydrich, who wants nothing more than the Demi-Monde cleansed of all “Dupes” except those of Aryan descent, Ella becomes attached and confused about what’s real and what isn’t, and if it’s possible for the Demi-Monde and her world to overlap.

Rees’ book is mature and heavy as he creates an entirely new world, seemingly perfectly parallel to the “Real World.” In creating an alternative world, Rees regularly uses vulgarities and obscenities to express the angst of Ella and Norma as they fight to survive amongst computer-simulated tyrants. But Rees creates languages and ideologies, slightly altered from what is practiced and accepted today, but just distorted enough to give readers something extra to chew on.

The plot is often complicated, making it difficult to keep the facts and language straight. But Rees’ careful and detailed writing will captivate readers until the end, leaving them hanging and surprised. When the plot seems to come to a climax, he throws in an unexpected but welcome twist.

“The Demi Monde: Winter” is an epic cyber tale, challenging ideologies and reality on a scale of what the military could be capable of, and what the consequences of an all-too-real virtual world could be.

Email: orton.caitlin@gmail.com

Twitter: @CaitlinOrton

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