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by J.W. Wargo
(NOTE: After reading the title of this post, you might be asking yourself, “HEY! Where’s the 25 NBAS book reviews that came before this one??” If you are interested in reading my reviews of all the previous books in this series (including a review of my own book by guest reviewer Garrett Cook), you can find them archived on my website HERE.)
000110110111010011011!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The code is all around us!! For Margy and Victor, video game-addicted best friends, life is a daily dose of Up-Up-Down-Down-Left-Right-Left-Right-B-A-Starts. But shit gets wicked cool when they come across an extremely rare, retro gaming system at a thrift store with a sandbox-style game inside neither of them has played before. They take it home, plug it in, and start playing.
Oh fuck, then shit turns totally heinous when they realize everything they do in the game world is happening in the real world! They try to contain the mayhem, but when Victor’s parents accidentally get a hold of it they raise the fuckness by a factor of 10 (Luckily Margy’s parents are in comas at the hospital so they can’t raise fuckness anywhere), and the noise they make in Sprinklesburgh, IL is loud enough to perk up the ears of the higher-ups.
Margy finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy involving an Original Player and its original controller. From the city to the Infranet, to the dreaded desert wastelands of the Internet, she hunts for the equation that can save her world, her parents, and her Victor… Oh yeah, and her Victor’s chicken familiar, Mort, whatever the fuck that ugly thing is.
I was delighted to discover a major theme of this book the characters were forced to deal with was that of identity. Not satisfied with merely skirting the edges of this difficult idea, Cheat Code follows in the footsteps of films like The Matrix and books like Archelon Ranch in forcing the protagonist to question who they are and why they are.
Margy at first felt to me like a hapless heroine. She is haunted by recurring blackouts and the pain of dealing with not one but both her parents locked up in an asylum. Deep down, though, she feels that something is askew. A good portion of the book develops her intuition as she slowly comes to realize the truth to her.
Victor is her irritable bowled, best friend and, though he doesn’t arc as roundly as Margy, as I see it he is the deuteragonist of the story and nearly as important. His familiar Mort, a digitally constructed chicken, acts as a sort of non-speaking counterpart to easily identify Victor’s thoughts/feelings at a particular moment.
I concluded that supporting roles include, Tyson, a seeker of the equation and the first gamer to use the Original Player capable of godlike creating/destructing in their world. He was caught and banished to the Internet wastelands by a group known only as The Panel. The Panel’s made up of various people invested in keeping the status quo, some being well-known characters from actual video games. I would’ve liked to see more about this group, but as it stands in this short novel their presence is minimal.
Seeking the answer. It is what we all want. A simple, short, and clear expression of who/what/when/where/why that includes everything. Even life seems to be pondering, using evolution and mutation in its own code, DNA, to discover its secret of itself.
For the denizens of Sprinklesburgh and the world they inhabit, many do not question their lives. Victor seems totally content eating flying turtle bacon burgers and designing new pet familiars for people. Margy could live with her planetarium job and collection of video game systems, cartridges, discs, and spare parts.
Ms. Fonseca uses a mixture of gaming terminology and subtle hints to pull the plot together as it races towards a big reveal. Surprisingly it is not the reveal, but the reaction of Margy afterward that completes this story and impressed this reader greatly.
As the line between real/unreal begins to merge, a sense of necessity and righteousness emerges. It’s like the very games Margy and Victor play, and the fate of the entire universe rests in their portable Opus system controlling hands.
J.W. Wargo is a writer and author of his own NBAS book, Avoiding Mortimer, which received the 2012 award for Best Use of a Termite Golem or Ant Blob in a Fiction Novella. You can read about all the crazy shit he gets into while hitchhiking the world at Imperial Youth Review.