Wednesday, March 02, 2005

A quest fantasy in a sf world: Vivian Vande Velde Heir Apparent (New York: Magic Carpet Books, Harcourt Inc.,2002)

Giannine accepts a gift certificate from her rather neglectful father which takes her into the virtual reality shop of Rasmussen Enterprises. The intelligent bus she takes refuses to let her off at her stop because there is a protest going on outside, CPROC (Citizens to Protect Our Children) but gets off later and double backs. She decides to play Heir Apparent, a game in which you are the hidden prince or princess and must fight for your right to inherit the throne instead of your legitimate siblings.

Once in the game Giannnine/Janine finds herself frustrated in her quest, replaying the same early scene and quickly being killed at the castle. Then there is a lightening storm and Ginannine is told by a ghostly scientist that CPROC have damaged the equipment and her only way out of the game is to win it. If she gets stuck, she is likely to experience severe brain damage after a couple of hours (or three days of game time).

What follows is Ginnanine's attempts to play the game and work out how to use the people and objects around her. The first nice twist is the realisation that her decision not to wait for her peasant father to say goodbye is a mistake, based in her own experience of her father. But this is not a reconciliation novel, itís a book about questioning the decisions you make. Ginannine movesófor exampleófrom reckless mercy/generosity through to a growing sense of how to rule a kingdom and other people. She moves from giving orders which are not obeyed to learning how to command loyalty through respect and listening to the knowledgeable. The entire structure is about growing up as a moving outwards, gaining new horizons. Some of her decisions turn out to be the kind of rational, rather than mystical, decisions we associate with sfóie using the magic crown to turn the dragon to gold.

One of the reasons the book is so successful is that Velde uses the repetitive structure of the game to gain pace: as Giannine has to retrace her steps she narrates it to us in an ever more abbreviated and impatient form, so that as the novel moves into its final phase, it seems to speed up even as we are being given far more detail about the virtual world in ways which should slow it down.


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