Video games are becoming ever more realistic and rely more and more on our input, not only from controllers, but also our own bodies. This book explores what might happen when the virtual world designers create becomes as real as the world we live in. How do you tell the difference, and if you’re conducting violent game play, how do you differentiate between real people and virtual players?

The Sapporo Outbreak

In the Sapporo Outbreak, a Japanese company has come up with a game that is very realistic. But they’re behind schedule with release, so investors send a team of specialists to have a look at whether the game is really going to be as good as it should be and as safe as it should be.

It turns out the game has been delayed because of some teething problems where players become violent, bludgeoning friends and family because they can’t distinguish between the virtual and the real. When a team of hackers breaches the company’s security and releases the game to the world, anyone online becomes a killing machine. The specialists find themselves in a fight for their lives.

This novel for me was an important lesson about two things:

  1. Covers
  2. Moods

I’ll start with the first point. I’d like to think that I’m not so one-dimensional as to choose a book based on its cover, but if I’m being quite honest, the cover does actually influence my choice. There was something about the creepiness of this cover that drew me in. Because of the red eyes of the close up and the world “outbreak” I thought it was going to be a zombie book. The opening scene, making reference to some sort of myth only strengthened this view.

Of course the book wasn’t a zombie story at all. I was completely wrong-footed, which I would have avoided if I’d read the blurb. But because I started out with the zombie impression, I was surprised throughout the first third of the novel at what actually did happen. And I really enjoyed it.

So from that experience I took two things: a. Humans like to be surprised. b. Covers are important.

The second point – mood – was another factor in why I enjoyed the novel. At the time I picked up the Sapporo Outbreak, I was simultaneously reading a sci-fi and a fantasy but neither of them was really doing anything for me. I think I’d had a overdose of that genre. I don’t think I would have enjoyed the Sapporo Outbreak nearly as much if I hadn’t been hanging out for a thriller.

Quickly, what I liked about the novel was:

  1. The believable main character. In fact every character the author painted, even if they were only going to have a minimal role, had a background to explain their actions.
  2. The idea – unique enough to interest with an additional “too close to home factor”.
  3. The author managed to surprise me a number of times. I wasn’t very accurate when I tried to predict what was going to happen.

What I didn’t like:

Towards the end the main character and his love interest risk their lives to try and save that of someone else. The whole enterprise seems to have been a waste of time, because what they went to fetch is never actually used (from my memory).

I’m going to give this novel a 3.5/5.