Ascend Online, whose name sounds like a beloved game I used to play called Eve Online, was immediately appealing to me for that reason. When I read some other online reviews, the book hearkened back to Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – a nostalgia piece aimed at video games the way that Cline’s work was a love letter to pop culture of the 1980’s.
Sadly I was disappointed.
Ascend Online chronicles the journey of a band of merry friends led by Marcus as they adventure through a fantasy video game world. The new virtual reality world , is one in which the players are so immersed into the game world that they are fed and cared for outside the game for days and weeks. Players are forced to log out on occasion, so addicting is the game. But the real world implications are just part of the story. Players in game also feel pain when they are attacked in the game world. All of this leads to the players constantly reminding themselves that the game world is just that – a game.
The story itself is interesting, and unlike other books I’ve read recently I haven’t put it down. This fact tell me that the true fans of this genre would likely enjoy it. While the characters feel one dimensional (e.g. we never get a true feel for how the characters actually feel about each other), the story is engrossing nonetheless. Chmilenko takes great pains to simulate a game world we might have experienced in the past, including providing text that the players “see” in game as it relates to weapons and items, for example.
For all of the video game feel for the book, I can’t help but think that this takes away from the book. At times, Chmilenko seems more interested in describing the damage output of a favored weapon instead of describing how it gracefully arcs through the air. The concept of a virtual reality world is often forgotten at the most important parts of the story, as we are dragged out of the story by being forced to read about the hit point damage received compared to the remaining hit point the game avatar has.
In looking at information about this novel, I realized that this is not a unique story type. I discovered a genre of story I hadn’t encountered before called “LitRPP”, short for Literature Roleplaying Game. This discovery, however, did not enhance my opinion of this book; in fact, in some ways it lowered my opinion. Simply, I learned that this was not a unique type of story. The uniqueness was the original appeal for me, after all, and the writing style of the book became duller as a result.
In addition, the nostalgia factor is lost through the immaturity of the writing. To clarify: I am not referring to the age of the writer or the intended audience, but instead to the quality and polish of the writing itself. This novel reads like a first or possibly second draft. As a result, the flow of the story feels rushed and ill conceived through much of the story telling. This, combined with the lack of in depth character development, truly made me feel as if I were watching a nameless computer generated character mindlessly progress though a game.
In my opinion, Chmilenko would have been better served to use this platform to show the true humanity of the characters. The environment that the characters found themselves in was both foreign and familiar to them. This juxtaposition could have really played heavily on the plot and character development. As it stands, the book is devoid of any character development, and the plot seems to meander as well.
In conclusion, this is a good popcorn read for when you wait on your plane to begin boarding or when waiting for a friend to arrive. This book, sadly, is not the focus of your day nor an escape – it is merely a way to spend some time when you have nothing else you prefer to do.