In the past few years, virtual reality has become the next big thing. The Oculus Rift and Playstation VR are making gaming more immersive than ever, Samsung is supplying schools with VR headsets to help make education more accessible, and even Sir David Attenborough has got involved, but as we step into this new future where we can explore the world from our own living room, should we be worried as well as excited?
JR Stewart, author of new dystopian novel, Nirvana, thinks we should be, and he should know; the idea for the novel came from first-hand experience of working in the VR industry, where he became growingly concerned about the psychological effects of the system.
Nirvana follows Larissa, a former punk rock star, living in a world where the bees have been driven to extinction, leaving a desolate wasteland in it’s wake. Larissa’s husband Andrew, a scientist working for the all-powerful corporation, Hexagon, controllers of virtual reality system Nirvana, disappears one day while out on assignment, but as everyone tries to convince her he’s dead, Larissa is convinced there is more going on than she is being told, and as she delves further and further into the corporation, she soon discovers that perhaps Nirvana is not the perfect utopia it seems to be.
The idea of corruption in virtual reality is not a new one in the realms of fiction, with Ernest Cline’s incredibly successful Ready Player One, being the most well-known example, but unlike that book, JR Stewart takes the idea to a darker place. From the opening, you immediately get the sense that this is a world where no one is to be trusted, and every time Larissa “steps” into Nirvana, you are just waiting for something bad to happen. In that way, Stewart really draws you in and only spits you out after he’s convinced you to never wear a VR headset ever again! It is unnerving and unsettling, and you really don’t know what to expect next.
For me this was Nirvana‘s biggest draw, but as far as the rest of it goes, it just really fell short. I didn’t feel particularly empathetic towards Larissa, in fact, the longer the book went on, the more frustrated with her I became; for a woman who is convinced she is being lied to, she is incredibly trusting and naive!
I also felt like the story never really got going. I know this is only the first book in the series, but it actually felt more like the first half of the first book in the series, because just as things started to get interesting, it finished.
It was also incredibly forced at times; there was a whole conversation towards the end of the book, that went into the backstory of Hexagon, but it was so poorly written that it was literally just two characters going, ‘Remember when we did this?’ ‘Oh yeh, and then we did that!’ ‘Yes, and then we did that other thing!’. It was clearly entirely for the reader’s benefit, and just didn’t sound like a conversation anyone would have.
Overall, this was an interesting idea, but the structure just wasn’t good enough, the writing was at times quite poor, and the characters weren’t very likeable.
I was sent a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.