Reckless Sleep
by Roger Levy

Victor Gollancz

2000 London, paperback 10.99

ISBN 0 575 06899 X

A manufacturer of recording media uses the slogan, “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” A similar question underlies Roger Levy’s debut SF novel; Reckless Sleep is a virtual reality tour de force. Jon Sciler used to be a Far Warrior. With others of his kind, he returned from a disastrous attempt to fight a war on the planet Dirangesept, and like the American soldiers who returned from Vietnam he did not receive a hero’s welcome.

Reckless Sleep is set in a dystopian near future London, where the air is all but unbreathable, and the ground is apt to open up at any moment with building-shattering earthquakes. Unemployed, after an abortive stint with the engineers trying to repair the gaping quake faults, Sciler is sought out, to test one of the latest virtual reality games, using the VR skills he honed on Dirangesept.

The company’s new product, Cathar, is a virtual environment so detailed, so complete and so real, that Sciler begins to wonder if in fact it is real, and not virtual at all. At the same time he finds himself, as a Far Warrior, the subject of a student’s thesis. Initially he’s ambivalent towards Chrye, even hostile, but as she studies him, the two of them become closer. The novel improves as it progresses, with Sciler immersing himself in the virtual world of Cathar. Chrye continues her research, and together they attempt to find out why and how the Far Warriors are being killed off. Sciler also has a life in the real world, as does Chrye. But her story is almost entirely outside the virtual world, and comes to a horrifying climax two-thirds through the book, during an inevitable encounter with Sciler’s unsavoury neighbour.

Though Reckless Sleep is undeniably science fiction, its virtual reality scenes allow Levy to include elements of traditional fantasy, including magic. The narrative viewpoint alternates between Chrye and Sciler; though physically vague, these two are emotionally well rounded, and their inner lives come off the page in subtle, assured style. A remarkable first novel, Reckless Sleep puts an original spin on an old idea. Recommended.

Copyright 2001 Paul S. Jenkins

Note: This review originally appeared in The Third Alternative

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