Billed as a near-future thriller, Sagan's first novel plods through terrain all too familiar to SF readers. The narrator awakens with amnesia in a mysterious realm easily identified as a computer-generated virtual reality, fraught with metaphors and symbols. He slowly grasps that his name is Halloween, and that he may have murdered someone called Lazarus. Eventually, he realizes he's one of a handful of high school students attending "Immersive Virtual Reality" classes at the Idlewild IVR Academy, sponsored by the Gedaechtnis Corporation, a multinational biotech company. Intimidated by the villainous teacher, Maestro, and wary of his fellow students, Halloween is determined to recover his memory, apparently damaged in a power surge that threatened to destroy the IVR, and learn what really happened to the missing Lazarus. Despite a compelling twist near the middle, the low tension and meandering plot will likely frustrate the primary target audience, mainstream fans of such futuristic action films as The Matrix and Minority Report. Sagan may not be the next Philip K. Dick or William Gibson, but he shows enough talent here to suggest he can improve on pacing in the promised sequel. (Aug. 11)
Forecast:As the son of the late popular astronomer Carl Sagan, the author is bound to get more than the usual media attention for a first novel. The stark, stylish jacket—of an impressionistic brown-toned butterfly superimposed on a "solar eclipse"—signals that, unlike a lot of genre SF, this is a class act.