THE MOON MAZE GAME
by Larry Niven & Steven Barnes
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In 1981, Larry Niven and Steven Barnes published Dream Park, introducing a world in which gamers could move through intricate adventures recreated by a variety of props and virtual effects. More than thirty years later, the two joined for forces to write The Moon Maze Game, the fourth novel in the series and the first in nearly twenty years. While the previous books have all taken place in the terrestrial gaming domes operated by Dream Park, the latest adventure is actually set on the Moon, the first game to take place there.
The characters for the Moon Maze Game include the expected experienced games, including Mickey & Maud Abernathy, an older married couple, two friends who gamed together in college, but have since gone their own way, Angelique Chan and Wayne Gibson, and Asako Tabata, a gamer stricken with muscular dystrophy. They are joined in the enterprise by African prince Ali and his body guard, Scott Griffin, son of the protagonist of the original Dream Park. The authors aren't just interested in the game and their characters have external relationships. Wayne and Angelique have a long-time friendship and rivalry with Xavier, the gamemaster running the Moon Maze Game, and Scott's former wife, Kendra, is Chief of Operations for Heinlein Base, where the game is taking place. These histories are set up with the potential to derail the game.
Niven and Barnes set the game up to be a recreation of the universe drawing from the works of H. G. Wells, beginning with the adventures of Mr. Cavor in The First Men on the Moon, but also including The War of the Worlds and other works. While Wells didn't form a coherent universe and the world Xavier has created for his character doesn't completely mesh, but it isn't supposed to. The characters are just beginning to understand the rules of Xavier's world when naturally something goes wrong. A group of terrorists attempt to infiltrate Xavier's game in order to get the largest possible audience for their demands. Although Xavier works closely with Kendra, it is clear that the terrorists have some inside help which must be ferreted out as the gamers try to save themselves. The location on the Moon means that there is no easy exist from the gaming dome, but at the same time the characters can take advantage of the lighter lunar gravity.
The Moon Maze Game is rife with red herrings and hooks, many of which are left dangling. This gives the story a very realistic feel since the plotlines are not always followed up or provided with conclusions. These people exist beyond the confines of the game they are playing or the attacks they must thwart. Even as their stories aren't played out in their entirety, they add a depth to the novel which would otherwise be lacking.
In the twenty years since The California Voodoo Game, the third Dream Park novel, was published, Live Action Role-Playing and Virtual Gaming have formed a confluence which imitates the society created by Niven and Barnes in the first books of the series and, perhaps ironically, removes some of the wonder and excitement of the adventure their gamers make their way through. The authors had to do some retcon in order to get the technology of the earlier novels to fit with the current start of gaming and have done so mostly successfully.
The Moon Maze Game is a continuation of the Dream Park series, but at the same time stands on its own. The situations are all explained within the confines of the book and, while they reach back to the events chronicled in the first three novels, it isn't dependant on them. Instead, it seems almost as a relaunch of the series, introducing characters and situations which could easily lead to future works
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