The dated term of demi-monde betrays the opulent steam punk setting of Rod Rees’ first book under his real name. Literally, the French translates to half the world and refers to those who live conspicuously hedonistic lifestyles. The term was most commonly used in Europe during the industrial age, from the late 18th to the early 20th century. Though certainly a futuristic tale, the dystopian world of The Demi-Mode: Winter is rich in its Victorian opulence.
The vibrant settings are no doubt due to the author Rod Rees having spent his life traveling throughout Africa, the Middle East, Bangladesh and Russia, and then living in Qatar, Tehran, and Moscow. His medical background was utilized as he helped build pharmaceutical factories in Dhaka, set up a satellite communication network in Moscow and then as no doubt a tribute to his siren wife, conceived and designed a jazz-themed hotel in the UK.
A rich life can serve a writer well and after reading the first of Rod Rees Demi-Monde books, Winter I can attest to the value in his writing. Though his words are never gaudy they convey the vivid images he seeks to share. The style is easy to read but the conveyance is gritty and perhaps too honest for younger readers and probably better appreciated by those with wider perspective. The pacing however is quick enough for any attention span.
Demi-Monde, in the book by the same name, is the code name for a sophisticated and due to its artificial intelligence, an unpredictable computer simulation. The brainchild of the U.S. military, the Demi-Monde was designed to virtually train soldiers and prepare them for modern urban warfare. To add to its effectiveness, the Demi-Monde is in a state of eternal civil war, ruled by “Dupes’,” cyber-duplicates of some of history’s most notorious tyrants. As an artificial intelligence, the Demi-Monde teaches itself and adapts. How far the program is able to evolve is now the question that needs answering.
The prologue begins with Norma, the President of the United States trapped inside the Demi-Monde and running for her life. Norma, the daughter of the president of the United States, was lured into the computer simulation. Like other players in the Demi-Monde, Norma’s physical body is left behind and vulnerable, similar to the movie Inception. In a more Dreamscape-ish twist, if she dies in the virtual game, she actually dies, instead of just waking. In an effort to save the President’s daughter, a young jazz singer, Ella Thomas, is made an offer she can’t refuse. Ella soon discovers though, that this virtual world is much more dangerous than she or anyone else imagined.
The Demi-Monde: Winter borrows heavily from established science fiction premises but never feels as derivative as it could. There is enough different and fresh to distinguish the journey from the huge number of stories it deftly borrows from. Stylistically, the 528 pages read freshly and easily and the tale rarely gets bogged down. Where, it really shines is the authenticity of the fantastic character that could easily come off as campy, particularly in an over the top steam punk world.
Overall, Demi-Monde is more than a good book, and once the series is completed will probably have to be re-evaluated. What keeps it from ascending to more now is there is little in it you haven’t read or seen before in books, movies, TV shows and video games. Though if the individual components are recycled, the formula itself isn’t. That being said, fans of the cancelled Caprica TV series should definitely give this book a read. As one that misses it terribly myself, it’s certainly my type of science fiction.