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The War Bug



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by Biff Mitchell

It is 200 or so years in the future. Abner Hayes, like his contemporaries, spends his leisure time immersed in the virtual world of the net, a world that is far more attractive than reality. Abner has met and married Claire, but Claire doesn’t exist in the real world, she is a piece of software – a virtual person. In Abner’s world virtual families are not unusual, but Abner loves his virtual wife and his talents as a programmer allow him to develop her programming. Through his software and hardware skills he endows his wife with sentience and in time, a daughter. Abner has created woman, but unlike God he has gone the whole way and his sentient ‘virtual’ family may well be immortal.

All around, the net is falling apart, due largely to the efforts of the War Bug, a virus developed to destroy the virtual world, but just as Abner prepares to store his wife and daughter in a bubble computer he has developed to keep them safe, they disappear. Can he find his Wife and Daughter before the net falls apart, taking them with it? Abner is surprised to find an ally in his search, the War Bug of the title, who guides him through the net towards his wife and daughter in return for sanctuary within Abner’s Bubble computer.

This book illustrates a nightmare possibility for our future – a world where ‘progress’ is entirely virtual and all intellectual investment is made in the unreal world of the net. We can see the seeds of it in our daily lives – if children must now wear armour before playing conkers, it is hardly a giant leap to the day when only ‘virtual’ online conkers will be legal – leading to the safe, sanitised and ultimately soul-destroying world the War Bug portrays. By developing these ideas the author could easily take his place amongst the great science fiction prophets, painting and predicting a future we can understand and as a result, avoid.

The War Bug is a love story, albeit a love story with a difference. What is reality? Can software have a soul? What is the nature of sentience? All these questions are raised, but barely discussed, and this would be completely understandable if, as in many science fiction tales, the ideas involved provided an interesting backdrop for a great story. In this case the story is marred by the villains who seemed to me to be as realistic as a 3 note. Both super–rich, both perverted, both in search of the secret of immortality and convinced that Abner Hayes’ wife and daughter embody that secret.

I had to struggle to finish this book, chiefly because I found it disappointing. I wanted to explore the ideas and questions, to know what makes someone sentient, to wonder what makes a world turn in on itself and live ‘virtually’. I can’t say that The War Bug is a good book, but I can say that I think the author could write a great one.

ISBN B0001YTFRE
Double Dragon Publishing, 2004
e-book
Retail price 3.68

Open Book

Review by Lesley Rice