The Barsoom Project – Larry Niven & Steven Barnes

About the Book
The Barsoom Project is the direct sequel to 1981’s Dream Park. Eviane’s first visit to the state-of-the-art amusement arena Dream Park ended in disaster: the special effects had seemed more real than life…until the holograms she was shooting with live ammunition turned out to be solid flesh and blood…and very, very dead.
Haunted by the past and rebounding from a lengthy spell in a mental hospital, she has returned to Dream Park to exorcise a nightmare that has become reality. But in Dream Park nothing is what it seems. The Inuit mythology controlling the images is part of a “Fat Ripper Special” designed to implant new behavioral memes. The players are struggling against the game master, one another, and their own demons. And there is a killer who wants to ensure Eviane never regains her memory…no mater what it costs.

Authors: Larry Niven and Steven Barnes
ISBN- 978-0-7653-2668-3
Published: First published in 1989, rereleased in Nov. 2010
Published by: Tor
I’ve never read anything by Larry Niven before or Steven Barnes. After reading this book, I’m wondering why. While there were parts of this book that didn’t completely connect with me, the writing was great and the story interesting enough to hook me almost right away. Now, it should be noted that the first book in this series, Dream Park, is said to be better than The Barsoom Project. However, since I haven’t read it I can’t verify that one way or another. I just thought I should mention that since I’ve seen it from other reviewers.
While this book is considered science fiction, it’s kind of light on the SciFi aspects and heavy on the gaming (and thus) computer-type aspects. This worked well for The Barsoom Project. It also insured that the gamers amongst us will probably love this book and enjoy bits of it that completely flew over my head. Hey, it’s not Nivan or Barnes fault I’ve never played a game in my life and can’t figure out why anyone would want to.
To be fair, this book is about a lot more than just gaming. There are politics and personal struggles involved as well as relationships. The Barsoom Project has the potential to be read as a book full of deeper meanings and the tight writing and quickly moving plot ensure that all of this is enjoyable to ingest. Plus, who hasn’t wondered what it would be like to be sucked into a video game and take the place of (insert character here)? I don’t even play games and I’ve wondered that. Thus, this book works well on several different levels and for numerous different interests.
Though I haven’t read Dream Park, I did not feel that my interest and understanding of this book suffered at all. There is a nice synopsis of Dream Park on the back of the book which caught me up to speed on the main conflict the protagonist, Eviane, faced. Also, there is a prequel which was (I’m assuming) straight out of Dream Park. With those two parts combined, I felt caught up to speed on what was happening and was automatically interested in this amusement park which was far too real. The book opens with an incredibly intense scene which nicely sets a dark, mysterious tone for the rest of the work. It also succeeds in hooking the reader and making them want to learn more. 
The Fat Ripper Special is a game which plays a central roll in this book. People use it to change behavioral patterns. For example, if you overeat, you can play the Fat Ripper Special to unlearn that habit. The game gets your psychological profile and tailor makes conflicts and situations to help you change your thought process and habits. Interestingly enough, Niven and Barnes wove Inuit mythology into the game that plays a central role in The Barsoom Project. It’s obvious that they did their research. The Inuit addition added a nice flair and some interesting, colorful depth to the game that the plot hinges on.
There also is quite a bit of mystery within The Barsoom Project. Evian, a main character from Dream Park is back to play the game and face her demons. While that may seem fairly stereotypical, The Barsoom Project opens with the amusement park being visited by delegates from many other worlds and nations. These two situations work together to keep things interesting and intense. There is murder and plenty of politics, colored by interesting characters who may suffer slightly from being a little two dimensional at times.
While part of me thinks that these ideas aren’t new, they aren’t exactly tired and overdone either. The idea of getting sucked into an RPG is interesting. I’m sure if I’ve thought about it, someone else has as well. That’s part of what makes this book work. Niven and Barnes are playing on ideas that many people have had and creating a whole book out of them. Because of that, many readers may find The Barsoom Project very relatable and interesting. The characters also help with that. Once you get to know them, its hard not to care about them and wonder what will happen. Thus, all of the spokes in this book’s wheel are firmly in place and work together nicely to keep things moving forward. 
Some people have called this book “SciFi Lite” and perhaps that fits as much of the book takes place within a game, thus causing the SciFi aspects to be an addition to the book rather than central to it. If I couldn’t quite connect with the gaming aspect of things and some of the characters were slightly two dimensional; the mystery, Intuit mythology, politics and the characters really kept me hanging on and yearning for more. Niven and Barens writing is descriptive, while only going a little over the top during some of the introductions to various new concepts. However, these over-the-top portions also serve to ensure that gamer-defunct readers like myself understand what is going on. The plot is quickly moving and is sure to satisfy both gamers and non-gamers alike.
Thanks to the kind people at Tor for sending me a review copy of this book.
3.5/5 stars
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3 Responses

  • Jared

    I also really have a soft spot for this book (and also read the series in the wrong order – going 3, 2, 1!). It is a really fun series – I like that the authors take the "low-brow" concept of the virtual gaming and try to squeeze in some more interesting repercussions of the technology.

    Book 3 – The California Voodoo Game – is entirely self-indulgent and 100% about the game itself. It might be the most fun, if also the most fluffy!

  • Sarah (Bookworm Blues)

    I am actually really excited to read this series in the proper order. Dream Park REALLY interests me now that I've read The Barsoom Project. I can't wait to get my hands on it! You are right, it was really fun but I also enjoyed the additions like the politics, the Inuit mythology and the characters themselves. It all added up to be a pretty damn interesting and worthwhile read – which I really REALLY wasn't expecting as I am not a gamer, at all.

  • Kat Hooper

    I received this book from Tor so I checked out Dream Park at the library. I flipped through it a bit, but I thought I might not enjoy it since the gaming was such a focus. I took it back. I don't have much time to sit down and read print books, so I only read print books I'm expecting to LOVE. I can be a little more indulgent with audiobooks since I can do something else while reading them.

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