This has been on my Audible recommended list for quite a while. I happily judge books by their covers when browsing for something to read, and I have to admit, as a life-long lover of video games, I was suckered in by this cover. It’s almost unfair, really. This was written by Scott Meyer, who has a web comic I was unaware of called Basic Instructions.
This is about an unhappy programmer named Martin Banks who, out of boredom, spends time digging through random files on random file servers. He finds a document that allows him to manipulate the world. It has entries for every object in existence, and if he changes his height attribute on his personal entry, he will immediately become that height. If he changes his latitude and longitude, he will then be in that location. If he adds a couple of feet to his altitude, he’ll probably land on his ass. The world, he discovers, is just a computer program, and he’s able to control everything around him in a way that appears as magic to others.
Where did the file came from, what does it mean for humanity, who controls the system, what other files are available, what type of file system allows files of that size (maybe less important) – none of these questions occur to Martin. He just happily accepts what’s happening and moves on.
The beginning of this novel is just bad. I don’t know if his writing improved as he went along, and he just never went back to revise, but I almost had to stop. I am glad I persevered, though, as it became an enjoyable story once he found his stride. I wish it wasn’t quite as light as it is. The situation he uncovered, all of humanity being nothing but a computer simulation, has some pretty obvious philosophical questions that could be explored, but it’s all glossed over. This is a trilogy, so maybe those ideas will be explored in the later books, but Martin’s lack of curiosity really felt unnatural to me.
The story is full of interesting ideas, but it feels like Meyer rushed through to get to the bit he was most interested in, which left it feeling empty for the first half. It does start to pick up as the story moves along, thankfully. He does some interesting things with how the file is manipulated and how the wizarding community controls it, and I was genuinely interested in seeing what happened next. The overall premise, even though it isn’t explained at all, was a fun one that opened up a lot of possibilities.
One thing that always annoys me is when characters give a sly remarks about problems in the plot as if that excuses them, with comments like “this is like a bad movie” or, in this case, stating that someone is like a two-dimensional character in a bad novel. It’s just faking self-awareness. Joking about it doesn’t make it any less true. If you’re aware of a problem, fix it. I can see this working under very specific circumstances, maybe, but I’ve never read a novel that tried that joke without it being irritating.
There’s obviously a lot about this that bothered me – some of the writing, the plot holes, the lack of character development, the way characters didn’t seem to really stop and react to anything in any meaningful way – but despite all of this I still found it entertaining. Some of the dialogue and situations were actually really funny, and I enjoyed the unique ‘magic’ system and how it allowed for each wizard to manipulate the world in their own way, awarding them for creativity. Once I got over the problems and just accepted the novel for what it was, it was quite a fun listen.
As you can see, I’m a little conflicted with this one. I’m hesitant to carry on with the series, but I am slightly interested to see how the rest of the trilogy holds up. He has enough here to come up with something fun, but I’m worried that it will continue to fall short. He’s a funny author with interesting ideas, and he could potentially come out with some great novels if he can sort out his plotting issues.