Author: Jason Segel, Kirsten Miller
Published: October 31, 2017
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Goodreads Description: The company says Otherworld is amazing — like nothing you’ve ever seen before. They say it’s addictive — that you’ll want to stay forever. They promise Otherworld will make all your dreams come true.
Simon thought Otherworld was a game. Turns out he knew nothing. Otherworld is the next phase of reality. It’s everything you’ve ever wanted.
And it’s about to change humanity forever.
Welcome to the Otherworld. No one could have seen it coming.
Two words that will guarantee me to pick up any book? Virtual reality.
The first book in the Last Reality series, Otherworld by Jason Segel and Kristen Miller was a dark, speculative rework of virtual reality fan favorites such as Ready Player One and Heir Apparent. It was the story of Simon, a troublesome, boarding-school boy, and his journey to rescue his best friend, Kat, through the relentless, digital landscape of the video game, Otherworld. I’ll spare you the details because this was one book that hinged on its numerous mysteries and tiny unveilings to keep the reader engrossed.
The opening scene swiftly set the steady pace of the story as I was plopped in a tundra in the chilling, titular game. The (quite literally) cold opening was a relief from the verbose introductions fantasy and sci-fi books oftentimes fall into. By withholding any tedious exposition for later chapters, I was able to quickly acclimate to Simon’s youthful and boyish perspective. His natural tone was undemanding and eased the comprehensibility of the story. It only took a couple of paragraphs before I was hooked and found myself flying through the book.
Simon wasn’t the most likable character at the start. In fact, I have “simon is kinda an a$$whole” scrawled in my notes. He was an immature, self-serving, and spoiled teenager, but fortunately evolved to become a compassionate hero, even earning him the title of “the one” from thankful characters.
Uh-oh, mini-rant starting 3, 2, 1…
Still, Simon’s character growth was gradual, so certain aspects of his personality continued to grate my gears throughout the book. Mainly this one:
Simon liked girls 😀! And Simon liked to describe girls 😐¡ And when guys start describing why they like girls in books, it’s often uncomfortable to read 🙃.
However, that wasn’t so much as Simon’s fault as it was the authors. Maybe they were trying to paint him as immature, but it was a tacky attempt. Having to read about a teenage boy ogling at women’s “breasts” is cringey and (I’ll say it again) uncomfortable. The descriptions don’t add anything to the book—they make me want to close my eyes and put it down.
Ok, rant over. Back to the story.
There was a great deal of emphasis on Simon and Kat’s relationship. The story would often pivot to expound on their history, and I was surprised to find that those were the scenes I enjoyed the most. I liked discovering how their relationship evolved innocently and how they learned to love each other platonically first. Knowing how much they meant to each other made me as anxious as Simon for a timely reunion.
But if they were to see each other again, Simon had to traverse through Otherworld first.
I can undoubtedly say that this was the most disturbed I was reading a young adult, sci-fi book. Otherworld was ruthless, and for Simon to make any progress in the game, he was forced to commit gruesome violence. My stomach churned at the gory descriptions of the stabbing, crunching, and screaming—all the blood was almost excessive. I’m positive that if this book had a movie adaptation, it would not be rated PG-13 for teens.
Even though the amount of violence in the game was difficult to stomach, it was a crucial warning to the audience: virtual reality should be approached with caution. Otherworld surmised that while your freedoms are endless when you’re not bound to the natural or man-made laws of the real world, perhaps those limits are necessary. Perhaps those limits keep us healthy by protecting us from our indulgences. And perhaps we still need to be restrained in a virtual reality because the gap between virtual and reality is smaller than we think.
“It’s not virtual if it changes who are. It’s real.”
After all this, I wish I could say I was satisfied with the ending, but I wasn’t. The final twist was predictable and underwhelming compared to the surprises leading up to the climax. The falling action was also rushed, which is a feeling I’ve noticed I get from many first books in series. Even though I enjoyed the book up until the end, I can go without picking the sequel for a while.
I recommend Otherworld to fans of VR, sci-fi, and childhood friendships (⚠️ if you can stomach violence). While the writing and conclusion is not without its faults, I’m sure the book will make you squirm as it blurs the lines between virtual and reality.