The Imaginarium Machine
by John Adrian Tomlin
BookVenture Publishing

"Mages throw fireballs at hay-stuffed men, summon creatures out of nowhere, make ice out of thin air, heal wounds by making their hands glow, and create miniwind storms."

By the year 2030, the hosts of the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, believe they have seen almost everything the industry has to offer. After all, with Xbox World having practically perfected virtual reality, what new frontiers in gaming could possibly be left? But when the head of Sony Computer Entertainment International demonstrates a new device that goes beyond sight and sound by allowing gamers to actually feel, taste, and smell the objects in the game they are playing, jaws begin to drop all around. Understandably, the demand for such an innovative gaming system is overwhelming, and by the time the release date for the Imaginarium arrives a year later, avid gamers like Ben and his kid brother Jake are more than willing to stand in line for hours to get one.

The Imaginarium quickly proves its promise is not all hype. Millions of people don their helmets, close their eyes, and enter worlds that their senses scream are real. Once inside the many amazing realms of fantasy, it can be hard to leave, but the makers of the system have even included occasional reminders to open your eyes, take a break, and stretch your legs for a bit. For Ben and Jake, there is even another, unexpected benefit. Their father, Mike, has been in a coma since his accident, but his sons discover that with an Imaginarium helmet on his head he is able to interact with them in a virtual world. Such a marvelous device seems too good to be true. Unfortunately, it is.

Using every hardcore gamer's dream as a lure, the author reels in his readers with wish fulfillment for several chapters before suddenly switching gears when the true purpose of the Imaginarium is revealed. Using a scheming megalomaniac worthy of inclusion in an Ian Fleming tale, Tomlin quickly shifts his book from a calm, what-if narrative into a suspense-filled thriller. A newly-conscious Mike, who before the accident had been a cop, is now thrust into the role of the book's protagonist. Along with a tough, female FBI agent named Becks, he soon is racing against a looming deadline to free the millions of gamers who are now trapped in a mental prison. Then, just when it appears that the good guys have somehow managed to pull off a victory and the villain's victims are freed from his clutches, Tomlin twists the plot again to reveal an even more sinister scenario.

Tomlin's fast-paced story makes for a light and quick read. His shadowy antagonist, later unveiled as a minor character introduced earlier in the book, is delightfully loathsome and vaguely reminiscent of some of the nastier figures in the DC Comics universe such as Dr. Jonathan Crane (Scarecrow). In addition, Mike and Becks make a good team, and while there is no hint of a romance brewing between them at the moment, the possibility definitely seems to be there for the future as the author in his epilogue gives himself plenty of material from which to build a sequel. Filled with danger, intriguing technology, and an occasional plot shift just to keep things interesting, Tomlin's tale should appeal especially to those in the gaming community.

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