Virtual Destruction, Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason

Ace, 1996, 327 pages, C$7.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-441-00308-7

There are times where I really wish for honesty in advertising. Or at least in cover blurbs. Even though Virtual Destruction isn’t as bad as some horrendously misleading cover copy I’ve seen, it still angers me to see bad labelling like this-

but perhaps the only problem is in my own mind. You see, no one will contest the affirmation that Virtual Destruction is Science-Fiction. To wit:

At the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, scientists (ie: computer nerds) are putting the last touches on a revolutionary technology: Virtual Reality. But as the date of an important demonstration approaches, the project leader is found in the VR room, dead. Is it a murder, or not? And who did it?

Much like the likeable Walter Jon Williams thriller Days of Atonement, Virtual Destruction uses a near-future locale as background to a “murder mystery”. But whereas Days of Atonement had a resolution that hinged specifically on science-fiction, Virtual Destruction mostly uses VR as a prop… the real guts of the novel are elsewhere.

There are other problems too. While Days of Atonement was a solid thriller that stood on its own from beginning to end, I got the impression that Virtual Destruction was nothing more than the start of the “Craig Kreident, High-Tech FBI Agent” series. While Kreident is an enormously pleasant protagonist, he’s not as well developed as his Days of Atonement counterpart. This is probably intentional, since series hero can’t have all the stuffing knocked out of them in volume one, hmm?

I will be forthright in saying that I do not enjoy reading about retarded (or even “dim”) characters, of which there are two in Virtual Destruction and whose plight is milked for maximum pathos. But that’s just me.

In the end, Virtual Destruction might be better suited to another category: “Best Sellers”. Like it or not, I interpret Virtual Destruction as an attempt from Anderson and Beason to write accessible, wide-span yarns like Crichton, Cussler and the like.

It’s a successful attempt, mostly. As said before, the character of Agent Kreident is sufficiently sympathetic to engage the reader. The prose style is fast and readable. The SF trappings are meticulously described, and there’s an impression of authenticity from the novel.

The resolution, for reasons that will remain a spoiler, is a letdown on several fronts. Some plot threads are dropped without adequate resolution. I liked the fact that one potential flaw was turned into a virtue by one plot resolution. On the other hand, a certain scene intended to be powerful came up as flat because… get this… virtual means not real!

The biggest flaw of this novel is that it’s surprisingly fluffy. Light, escapist, bestselling entertainment. That’s not a bad thing per se… if you’ve got the right expectations.

Still, it’s better than the usual Crichton.

[Jan’98: There is indeed going to be a “Craig Kreident” series of Techno-Thrillers. I intend to read’em as soon as they come out at my local library.]

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