Beautiful Zurt by Jes Simon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Beautiful Zurt by Jes Simon
This novella is interesting; but rather frustrating. It has the earmarks of something that could have been quite good; but falls backwards, because of the general premise behind it all. I like this as a short entertaining piece of light Sci-Fi and would love to give it high marks; but there is a struggle with that. The story itself is easily discerned to be one of a re-creation of a game experience put into context of a story. It has a sort of nostalgic flare to it; but inwardly the nostalgia seems to stifle the piece. It is not easy to explain but I'll give it a try.
The first puzzle that comes and then unravels itself is the immediate strangeness of the nomenclature for the tools and other oddities found in the world. This is the first clue that this is mostly about a game (one that might exist). The player Renya Zaffor has arrived on the planet after her ship attained orbit; and was somehow trapped leaving her few options from which she somehow determines transporting down is the best option. From there she is stuck. She was drawn here by a friend, The Baron, who seems absent; leaving her as the sole occupant of the world. The Baron has left some notes pertaining to the Tools that are lying around everywhere--tools that may be assembled in various ways to make different levels of tools--none of which have much if any explanation from the Baron as to their use. The names are weird and probably not names created by the Baron; though we don't know much about him, so that assumption might be taking license with the feeling that this is a game.
Much of the first part of the book Renya is wandering around assembling tools and finding even some tools not yet in the Baron's notes while she makes her own notes; possibly for the next unfortunate who might be trapped here. Sometimes blasé about things Renya is a bit concerned about what might happen when her food supplies run short. Eventually she discovers that one common room she's been using will give her access to the language of whoever created the tools. When a new arrival appears she is able to help them learn much more quickly all that is needed only to have them zapped into some sort of creature construct.
The map of the world easily begins to read like one of those MMORPG's of today and as it turns out this, though textual rather than graphics, might be one of the earliest of multiplayer games. Knowing in advance that that is what this is might be more helpful than a spoiler so I won't count this as a spoiler. Though this mirrors the game it is real--at least to Renya and the four others involved in the story.
There is a plot of sorts in all of this, which involves mostly finding the Baron and getting off the planet. Though we learn a bit about the Baron's past we don't really get to know Renya enough to know if her actions and attitude are reasonable to the circumstances under which she finds herself. As a reader I found that, at best, I had to rely on the notion that the Baron must have expected something of this nature from her; since he lured her to be trapped with him.
This novella is an interesting story that might be more suited to those interested in MMORPG's and enjoy Sci-Fi. It's a quick light read and does contain an evenly paced story. It might be most valuable to those who have some nostalgic connection to the original game it was derived from, since it maintains the games naming conventions and some of the general map of the world.
Overall, for me, this was a good framework for a story; but it could have been fleshed out more.
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