The Demi-Monde: Winter, by Rod Rees

The first part of this science fiction novel is a bit rough; Rees dives right into the myriad proper nouns and acronyms that make up the computer simulation that is the Demi-Monde, and it's too much, too soon. Once we get past that initial awkward introduction, however, the novel opens up into something fantastic. The Demi-Monde was created to help train US soldiers in Asymmetrical Warfare, e.g. urban warfare, religious extremists, racial violence, etc. To this end, the Demi-Monde has four sectors, each with a very distinct racial, political, religious, and social milieu, all packed in very tightly. Populating this simulation are Dupes, incredibly accurate duplications of people from the Real World, mostly nonentities, but with a few key sociopaths mixed in to really get things going. Henry VIII, Reinhard Heydrich, Empress Wu, Trostky, Robespierre - these are examples of Dupes from history, and they're all running the show.

Into this mess the US military has thrown about 20 soldiers, who were promptly captured and are now being used as blood donors: due to a programming oversight, Demi-Mondians have no blood but need it to survive, whereas people from the Real World who enter the Demi-Monde DO have blood. These "Daemons" are captured and milked, creating a huge black market for blood. On top of that, the US president's daughter has been somehow lured into the Demi-Monde and taken hostage. If someone dies in the simulation, they remain a vegetable in the Real World, and obviously, this cannot happen to such an important personage. Only one person can save her: Ella Thomas, an 18-year-old, mixed race jazz singer, highly intelligent and highly adaptable. She's thrown into the Demi-Monde with her mission, and nothing else. As one might imagine, all hell ensues.

What fascinates me so much about this book is the sheer enormity of the idea Rees has come up with, without making it seem too big to be dealt with comfortably. Sociopaths aren't the easiest people to write about since they are so inimical to how "normal" people think and react, and Rees has done a good job of making these characters seem real enough to make the reader a little bit uncomfortable. The dialogue could be a little bit better, but all in all, it's an incredibly engaging story with very interesting characters, and I am looking forward to reading the next installment.


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