Virtually Criminal
by John Broughton

"The truth is like garlic. They might try to hide it, but there's always the smell."

One perspective of history is that the novel begat movies, which begat radio, which begat television, which begat video games. The end of that lineage is on full display in this novel, which takes readers into a future where virtual reality gamers have literally changed the world. The author’s setting is Detroit in 2053. The attraction to gaming has eliminated certain human foibles such as war, crime, and sloth. Even sex is practiced only sparingly. Nearly everyone has a good job and spends almost all of their leisure time either watching or participating in a virtual game that allows players to fight anyone in any epoch with any weapons they choose. However, since not all of humanity's weaknesses have been vanished completely, envy, greed, and corruption worm their way into this quasi utopia.

Jasmine is a hard working twenty-something CPA. Like others, when she’s not working she’s fully engaged in the virtual combat game. Her friend Erica is similarly inclined. Soon reality intrudes on both their lives when Erica is unjustly sent to prison. Sinister forces align to make Erica an unwitting participant in a series of virtual fights that will literally extort money from her parents and rig outcomes to assure huge gambling wins for corrupt officials. It’s left to Jasmine to help her friend, discover the villains, and throw a real wrench into the virtual works.

Broughton’s prose is clipped, quick, and conversational. He imbues his story with a rapid fire pace that keeps you flipping pages. Characters are sharply drawn and engaging. His dialogue is sprinkled with clever techno-speak, and he even provides a glossary to help translate it. Game junkie or not, one might very well get a kick out of this literary fast forward to a virtual future.

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