Friday, December 7, 2018
Book Review: ALTERLIFE by Matt Moss
Author: Matt Moss
Publication Date: Early 2019
I'm a huge fan of books where the characters are somehow injected into a video game or virtual reality situation. It all started with the Otherland series by my favorite author of all-time Tad Williams. I was simply blown away when I first read that series because I had never read a plot that incorporated that type of virtual reality storyline before. The fact that Tad did it so brilliantly didn't hurt. Recently books like Ready Player One have also served to reinforce my appreciation for this kind of theme. So when I first came across ALTERLIFE by Matt Moss and saw a blurb describing it as Breaking Bad meets Ready Player One, well let's just say that I absolutely had to read it. It was upon reading it though that I found out that it was much much more than that sensational description could ever do justice. Yes, this is a fantasy book with some incredibly fun and break-neck action, but at its heart it is a book about a man who loves his wife and kids so much that he would do absolutely anything for them. Before I give away too much though, let me talk a little bit more about the plot of ALTERLIFE.
In the opening chapter of AFTERLIFE we meet John Crussel. John appears to be a man at the end of his rope as he sits in his car outside of a bank holding a gun and deliberating with himself whether he should go in and rob it or not. John is a decent man who is trying to do right by his family, but just always seems to run into financial bad luck at every turn. He wants more than anything to provide a better life for his wife and two small children than they currently have. His family is barely getting by living paycheck to paycheck (which isn't very much) and John has finally had enough. As he's waiting in line at the bank to commit his illegal deed, he overhears two men talking about a video game and how the one man made an easy $5,000 playing it the previous night. The game is called ALTERLIFE and there is quick money to be made if you are a good enough player to earn it. John has a change of heart at the last minute and decides to explore this whole potentially lucrative scenario, after all, John was a pretty good gamer back in the day before adulthood forced him to focus on a more serious path in life. John immediately borrows some money to purchase the game and the necessary VR equipment he needs, takes a week off from his current meager-paying job, and settles down at a friend's house to start trying to make the fast cash that he hopes will turn his family's fortunes around. As he logs into the game, he is immediately approached by a few shady characters who may or may not be on the up and up. ALTERLIFE is basically an epic fantasy-like setting and there are taverns, keeps, and various guilds that battle for prominence. If you defeat a character or a monster from the game, you earn skill points and virtual money, which can be transferred into your actual real life bank account. John (who goes by the name Ace in the game) experiences instant success and is even appointed the battle leader of one of the most famous guilds in AFTERLIFE, the Black Knights. Things all seem to finally be coming together for John and he truly believes that this is the answer to his prayers and financial woes. At long last he will be the provider that he has always wanted to be for his children and a husband that his wife can be proud of. John absolutely expects to be able to quit his job and make big money playing ALTERLIFE full time. But someone in the game doesn't especially care for this cocky newcomer's absurdly quick stardom and in an act of treachery, John is poisoned awakening to find all of the monetary gains he made in the game have been wiped clean. A devastated John is now left with two choices, give up and go back to his daily mundane struggle to make ends meet, or start all over, find out who sabotaged him and climb the ladder again in his attempt to be the master of not just the game but his own destiny. It won't be easy though because whoever wants him dead is still somewhere inside ALTERLIFE waiting should he decide to venture back into its dark and ruthless environs.
We all know someone like John Crussel. In fact, some of us may even BE John Crussel. A person who feels like a failure in life, wants to do the right thing, but consistently makes misguided or rash choices in doing so that just seem to dig the hole deeper. John's character was one that I felt such sympathy for immediately because he is a perpetually conflicted soul. He loves his family above all else and is at heart a good guy, but he also feels the need to lie to those same beloved family members in an effort to conquer the game of ALTERLIFE and make enough money to give them the life that they deserve. So he's almost a self-loathing person who at once both hates the situation he is in and blames his own inadequacies for putting he and his family there. There is one scene in the book where he and his wife are looking at their children asleep in their beds and John's wife says, "Look at those miracles. We made those, you and I." Being the father of two little miracles myself, this particular quote really moved me and it is also the perfect encapsulation of the type of person that John Crussel is at his core. It's this dichotomy of the loving family man who often pushes the envelope to give his family a better life that really drives the story. This is where my earlier statement in the beginning of this review comes from. To call this book simply a fantasy story or a story about a video game is not at all sufficient. The emotional struggles of John are present throughout the entire story and motivate every single one of his actions. Oh and by the way, the action and fantasy parts are great too don't get me wrong. The only thing that kept me from giving ALTERLIFE five stars is that I wish the setting of the game was fleshed out a little more. And that is coming from a place of me yearning for more of ALTERLIFE the world-building part. It's actually a compliment because I thought that the brief descriptions that we did get of the setting itself were amazing and I wanted to know much more than what was provided. So in closing I would just like to make the point that Matt Moss has done something here that should really make people stand up and take notice. He's written a magical fantasy story that is also deeply rooted in real life humanity. If you want to know how I feel about ALTERLIFE all you really need to know is that I read the entire book in only four days. That's how damn good it was. So preorder this one as soon as you can because it has a planned release date of early 2019. Books like these don't come around very often, so make sure that you check out ALTERLIFE. It's a ride that will thrill you and move you at the same time.