Book Review: Otherland by by Tad Williams

Otherland by Tad Williams

*Mild Spoilers Ahead*

I first encountered these 4 books when Anupa and I went on a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico. They were on the bookshelf and I didn’t know why they caught my attention. I filed them away for later because the first volumes weren’t on the shelf. So I came home and got them instead. They blew me away.

First of all, this isn’t like any other “fantasy” book you’ve encountered. Nor is it like any other science fiction story either. Even though you might say that virtual reality fiction has been around for a long time, I’ve never read anything quite like this. The books are huge. I mean seriously, it’s almost as if each was twice the length of a regular novel. So it’s more like eight books instead of 4.

Even though it features a tight cast of characters, the scope is epic. Each and every one of them is memorable. Tad Williams takes the virtual reality bull by the horns and pushes it as far as it will go. And then some more. The “fantasy” as you might call it is extremely grounded in reality. Even if the technology for this kind of thing doesn’t exist today, there’s no reason why it couldn’t exist in the future.

I’ve grown so attached to the characters! When I look back now at the very first books, I’m astounded at how far I’ve traveled with them. From the time they were completely unaware of the “Grail” network, to becoming an intricate part of it.

We see themes of virtual immortality, deep philosophical questions concerning our our very identity. Is a virtual copy truly “us”? If no such thing as a “soul” exists, then who are we exactly? If we transfer our consciousness into a machine, are we merely killing ourselves and creating a new person, or is that person us? Do we die each time we go to sleep and awaken as someone else?

I must admit these questions are of interest to me because I’ve been thinking of them myself for years. To see all these themes come together in a fantasy/science fiction novel thrills me no end. Characters like the dying kid Orlando Gardiner who wants to be a hero in the best tradition of the Lord of the Rings. The “Wicked Tribe” – a bunch of children represented as flying monkeys. !Xabbu (That’s not a spelling mistake – the exclamation mark is part of his name), the centered Bushman who’s trying to preserve whatever he can of his almost dead culture. His quest reaches a success he could never even have fathomed.

The blind frenchwoman Martine – terrified of the psychopath Dread whom she comes into contact with. The lost Paul who finds his true nature like Odysseus. Felix Jongleur – the old heartless asshole who wants to live forever, is pathologically afraid of death, and is willing to sacrifice anything and everything to achieve his goal. The solid Bonnie Mae Simpkins – the mother figure and seemingly the only one capable of making the Wicked Tribe listen to her!

The scope of these books is mythical. Epic. Even legendary. Questions and actions that cut to the very root of life itself. And all linked up into the “Grail” – a virtual reality of mind numbing complexity and realism.

The story unfolds slowly. Never boring, but slowly nonetheless. Layer after layer is peeled back from the plot. It might not be the kind of book for everyone. But even though I’ve always hated slow books where boring stuff happens most of the time, I never felt bored with these. Perhaps the most frustrating thing is the tendency of Tad Williams to end each chapter with a cliffhanger. Not my style, and immensely frustrating in the middle of the action! But that’s a relatively minor complaint.

If you want your horizons challenged and your brain to be stretched to its breaking point while still having a magnificent story set in a future not too far away, pick up “Otherland” by Tad Williams. You’ll emerge stunned.

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: Otherland by by Tad Williams”

  1. Sir,

    Good article.

    As an aside, I want to know, is Spanish a necessity in America these days? From what I heard, it seems to be the second most spoken language in the US. If not Spanish, which language has the second highest speakers in the US? I know French is number 2 globally. I want to know about the US where the scenario is different.



    • In reply to Iniyavel

      Spanish is easily the number 2 language in the US. Actually, French isn’t number 2 globally..depending on how you count speakers, it’s probably English. Number 1 would be Mandarin.


  2. Interesting that you liked these books. I found your site by reading your review of Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. I felt your review there was bang on with my own.

    This one though is very different than my opinion. I found the Tad Williams books extremely slow, which is fine, but also boring. The action was not suspenseful as I felt it was not leading to a goal. The characters felt like they were just moving from one situation to another with no real resolution or development of the story. I think I stopped reading halfway through the 4th book. I read this far, as the writing was good, as I was always thinking “next chapter, it is going to get good and the story is going to be revealed”, but I never felt it was.


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