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The Barsoom Project    by Larry Niven & Steven Barnes order for
Barsoom Project
by Larry Niven
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2010 (1989)
Hardcover, Softcover, Paperback, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Barsoom Project, by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes, is a direct sequel to Dream Park, which I read and thoroughly enjoyed in the early 80s. It introduced a future fantasy theme park where players immerse themselves in a virtual reality game, with live actors and carefully manipulated holograph settings. When a very real murder and theft occurred during The South Seas Treasure Game, security chief Alex Griffin inserted himself into the virtual reality, seeking the killer - and gained a new appreciation of the game world along the way.

The book's Prologue shows young gamer Eviane in an early venture into Dream Park. Caught up in an attempt to discredit the organization as part of a ruthless takeover bid, she was given a gun with live ammunition that killed a real actor. It was all hushed up and Eviane ended up in a mental hospital. The story fast forwards to an impressive Dream Park presentation of The Barsoom Project, 'the beginning of the largest venture in mankind's history' to the multinational billionaires whose money is needed to make it happen. But that project, fascinating as it is, is peripheral to the story here.

Eviane enrols (under a false name) in the Fimbulwinter Game, a Fat Ripper Special that employs neuro-linguistic programming to create new behaviors. The game is based on Inuit mythology. When Eviane's character is killed early in the adventure (which is not supposed to happen in a Fat Ripper Special, security chief Alex Griffin is alerted. After he learns of Eviane's previous involvement (before his time) in what was clearly an inside job, he decides to insert her back into the game, in order to flush out the staff member who was responsible for murder.

Needing assistance, Alex employs 'boy genius, soldier of fortune, hacker supreme' Tony McWhirter. Though Alex was personally responsible for sending Tony to jail, he has done his best to protect him there and now offers Tony the chance of early release in return for his help. The Barsoom Project is an intriguing mystery, set in a high tech gaming fantasyland, and with a most satisfying resolution, especially for the vulnerable young woman at its center. Though I have to admit that I enjoyed the original Dream Park even more, it's a great sequel and it was fun to read it again.

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