Deep State

Deep State is the second Dagmar Shaw novel. It’s a sequel to This Is Not A Game, a feverish near-future novel by Walter Jon Williams that had a convincing, frantic first third through Jakarta.

Deep State is set in Turkey, and perhaps because I’ve never been there, but I have been to Indonesia several times, it felt a little less visceral. Dagmar Shaw is still heading up Great Big Idea, a company that makes enormous real-world multiplayer games that rely on the Internet’s ability to solve esoteric puzzles. Like a giant, live action crossword puzzle, in effect.

The story begins that way, with Shaw promoting a new and more-ridiculous-than-ever Bond movie, and then rapidly mutates into Shaw working for some shady US spooks who are trying to foment a revolution against a military junta.

From then on, I felt some unease; the CIA doesn’t have a great record when it comes to aiding regime change, and so it goes here too. There’s backstabbing and a few red herrings, and some twists at the end which it would be churlish to spoil.

However, like This Is Not A Game the start is better than the end. I’m not sure quite when it began to run out of steam for me (was that a function of reading it at 2 in the morning?) but the early joy with the scene setting and inventiveness fades as it gets grimmer (and as obsessions about things like Microsoft DOS and modems comes to the fore). The final set piece battle, in one of the ‘stans (it doesn’t matter which, because it’s camels and stoic locals straight from Central Casting) doesn’t really do much for me at all. I begin to wonder now if this is just the set up for the third book, Shaw rescued from some of her trauma from the first volume, and ready to take on the world.

So it’s solid, but not great. I guess coming off the back of Voice Of The Whirlwind and Hardwired, any other book by Walter Jon Williams was going to suffer in comparison. There’s one nice pun in the title: does "Deep State" refer to the arcane workings of the hidden government, or is it just referring to the state of concentration a programmer gets into? Extra points for that alone.

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