I came to Amazon to read other folks' impression of the content of the book, but, alas, found no posts, so I'm starting one, unwinding Ariadne's thread, as it were, so others would follow it with me. I'm basing my views on the Russian original here. I wanted to understand The Helmet very much. It feels vaguely portentous and significant in some way, and I found myself giving different accounts to authorial metaphors upon rereading it.
Is Thesius the programmer while the others are stuck in VR? Are they WWW AI or real human beings? Whose is the independent reality? Is it theirs? Is it Thesius's? Was there a minotaur or are they the minotaur and were all along? Or perhaps they became the minotaur when the previous minotaur was massacred?
It's like the literary version of Donnie Darko, and like Donnie Darko, it is a paradoxical entrapment, a fairly amusing jumble while it lasts that unravels to nothing. After all is said and done, the ultimate purpose of The Helmet is not to enlighten at all. It is to deconstruct. To destroy: your mental comfort in spirituality, social order, psychological adjustment, idealism, optimism, hope. When viewed through the prism of Pelevin's literary corpus, the metafictional aspects of The Helmet become clear: it is to show how existential "discourse" is a form of mental agony or onanism, if you will, created out and by nothing for no one's benefit. All is meaningless is the message here. In fact the very discourse is the helmet of horror as is the brain creating it, and as one tries to substantiate and justify the existence of the other, both fail miserably. The entirety of The Helmet (the book), therefore, with all its airs and profundity, with all implications of significance and allusions to higher planes of being, is an onanism, a pure escapist onion in metaphysical skin. Not unlike Pelevin.
So why the four stars? During the reading process, you expect some sort of a revelation, a mind-expanding experience, while by the end the story world collapses, and you are left with no more with which you'd started. It isn't a failed expectation either. It's clear that the subject of the book and the book itself are intended to be of no existential consequence, which is, in fact, the lesson. It is that solipsistic speculation -- the author's signature and beloved cash cow -- is a barren womb. Once the concept is understood in a remedial philosophy class, it will yield no more meaning than the minimum number of words required to bring it home. All the literary effluvience and writing mastery in the world will not add weight to it, as anything times zero is zero. Solipsism is self-annihilating, however much it may be true. A book, any book, on this subject is too long. Nothing is easier than cynicism and criticism, gospodin Pelevin, stop it already! Grow up and give us some substance.