The Moon Maze Game Hardcover – Aug 16 2011
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“A cat-and-mouse chase in which role-playing serves as perfect training for heroics and survival.” ―Publishers Weekly
“The characters are nicely drawn and the plotting is intensely tight. This one brews up nicely.” ―The San Diego Union-Tribune
“It is a book that demands to be devoured in big, meaty chunks…[there is] an un-put-down-able quality between the covers of The Moon Maze Game.” ―New York Journal
“A solidly satisfying story. Series fans and lovers of gaming fiction should enjoy this action-filled collaboration.” ―Library Journal--This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
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We're set up for basically two different plots here, the stereotypical "evil genius gm out to get certain players and yet stay within the rules of the game" and the rather more interesting "professional kidnappers go after one of the players". The first is dropped once the second becomes known to the players. The game itself didn't seem all that interesting to me, but I'll admit that because of what happens the reader is only getting disjointed pieces to look at. There's more than enough ideas here to make a good book, but we don't get that. We get cardboard characters being pushed around a board. Most are barely one-dimensional. We get the terrorist with the Irish accent, the player that everybody loves who is handicapped, the politician on his way up who sells out. One member of what we are shown to be a possible budding relationship is killed off with no reaction from the other member at all. The final twenty pages probably didn't take much longer to write than they did to read. I don't mind the occasional mindless adventure in my fiction, but I don't expect it from Niven and Barnes.
Purists should wait for the paperback, everybody else can just skip it.
Summary (2.5 stars):
The Dream Park Milieu is brought back for the 4th book in the series. It is set roughly 30 years after "The California Voodoo Game" was set. The location is Heinlein Base on Luna (the moon). The basic plot goes something like this:
1) The biggest game ever is about to be played on the Moon.
2) During the game, a kidnapping takes place of the son of the King of an African country (might be benevolent tryrant or not...).
3) The PCs in the game have to both solve puzzles to stay ahead of the kidnappers for personal safety but they also want to show they can be heroes in real life.
You only get to see hints of the "Moon Maze Game" story, props and settings. It is actually quite frustrating as the game has some great potential for a Dream Park story/game. Disclaimer: I do run Dream Park RPG games from time to time, so I have a particular bias here. The story of the kidnappers and the interaction with the PCs plus moon base staff is very simplistic and not very compelling. It appears that Larry and Steven just phoned in this part of the book. It is rather disappointing especially when they do have a diamond in the rough here.
If you like the Dream Park book series, the book is worth reading. If you have not read the other books, I suggest that you read the first and third books before thinking about reading this book.
World Setting -- 3 stars:
Nothing really new here from the other Dream Park novels. If anything it seems that world society has become lazy and complacent. The joy that you felt from the gamers in Dream Park games / experiences is just not present in this story. The rich world environment built up in the first three books is not utilized very well.
Plot -- 2 stars:
I have to write this up in two parts:
Main plot -- 2 stars: It is a very basic kidnapping story with a team of well organized and professional criminals. However, the team is very much out of there element on the Moon...very bad tactical planning. It would have been much easier to kidnap the target on earth.
Game plot -- 4 stars: The game plot (for what you can get out of the book) could be really interesting. It is based on Steam punk technology and H.G. Well's various stories. The part of the game that you get to experience are well done. I wish the editor had said to stick more to the game plot.
It seems like the a couple of minor plot points took control of a good story / plot.
Writing -- 2.5 stars:
The writing is ok...not great and not terrible. The writing does not show much polishing but rather just a slightly fleshed out outline. There are some very good bits in the story....but not much wheat amongst the chaff.
Characters -- 2 stars:
The characters in the story are based on advancing the Dream Park milieu about 30 or so years into the future. One of the main characters is Scott Griffin (son of Alex Griffin). I am not sure if I wanted to see a Griffin connection to a main character or have a new character come to fore. The kidnapping target is probably one of the better written but as a teenager do not expect anything too fancy.
The characters are basically two-dimension which is to be expected with a book of this length. It would have taken many more pages to get some go character development. I wish the book was longer with more character development expressed via how the people reacted to the game scenario. It would have really helped the book overall.
The initial build up of the GM and PC rivalry was done pretty well. But, it did not turn into much unfortunately.
A general point is that the PC playing in what is supposed to be the greatest game ever seemed very weak to me especially compared to the characters in "The California Voodoo Game". It does not make sense to have such weak gamers playing in the first ever game on the Moon that has over 20% of humanity watching the game. I would think that you would have done something a bit more impressive and with more dynamic characters. You could have brought in many characters and knock out many showing the Game Masters personality through actions instead of a small bits of dialog.
This is readable hokum, but pales in comparison to the previous volumes in the series. And is seriously let down by laziness and poor sub-editing. There are whole chunks of the narrative which feel slightly out of order (where something happens, is mentioned by a character and yet that same character finds out about that "something" a couple of pages later on), jarring repetition of adjectives within the same sentence or phrases in multiple places in close proximity. And, most gratingly...
...the authors seems to have confused *themselves* about which of the pair of identical twins they're talking about at various points in the narrative. Compare, for example, pages 269 and 287 (hardback edition), where the authors (note, not characters: The authors' own narrative voice) mix up which twin is in the gaming environment and which is not.
All in all, lazy editing drowns a mediocre story and makes the novel feel like something of a rush job.