We’ve been reading Bedlam, by Christopher Brookmyre

19 Mar

Is there more to Bedlam than some nicely turned gaming nostalgia? Keith Brooke jacks in…


I’d heard lots of good things about his work (Christopher Brookmyre is the cunning science-fiction pen-name of crime author Chris Brookmyre). and I was glad of the opportunity to see what he could do. But… a programmer trapped inside a consumer game? It’s a trope that’s been retrodden many times already. It’s so 1980s.

Bedlam is the story of Ross Baker, an under-appreciated geek working in Scotland’s Digital Glen who agrees to beta-test a colleague’s project by having a full mind-scan. Ross wakes up in a jacked-up version of a computer game he obsessed over when he was a teenager. Gradually, he relearns the rules of the game, along with all the shortcuts and cheats he used years before, allowing him to survive long enough to encounter the mysterious Iris and find a way into another game world. What emerges is an entire gamesverse, comprising all the computer games we’ve ever had (the PacMan scene is fun) and some yet to be released, all peopled by hordes of non-playing characters, a few real people like Ross, and some neo-Nazis, who are trying to squash the rebellion of the Diasporadoes and seal off the routes between the worlds, as a mysterious corruption threatens to reformat everything

The clagnuts, arse candles and lumpen bum nuggets grated, too, in their sub-Viz way, as did dialogue like “Where in a swamp-slug’s suppurating ring-piece have you been?” That this schoolboy language thinned out in the second half of the novel suggests an author finally having found the book’s tone of voice, and an editor who should have been paying more attention.

Watching someone else play a computer game is an odd thing. Sometimes you can get caught up in it but usually it’s the tech equivalent of a detailed description of someone else’s dream. About a third of the way in, though the book picks up, when the characters raise Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom’s proposal that all we know might be a simulation. Let’s accept that any advanced technological civilisation is likely to run computer simulations of its race’s own minds. Then, once those simulations become accurate, they will do the same thing. By the laws of statistics, you are almost certainly in a simulation rather than in the original reality that spawned all the layers of simulation

Add this intellectual deepening to a smoother prose and less reliance on playing out games scenarios, and some wonderfully-crafted and often extremely funny gamesworlds, and the second half of the story starts to show what Bedlam might have been. Add to that Brookmyre’s undoubted skill at constructing a multi-layered puzzle and you start to feel very sorry for anyone who might have been put off by the opening chapters.

I believe there are sequels to come. Good. <em>Bedlam</em> is like the games it explores. The graphics may be a little off, and the pacing a bit jerky, but it gets its hooks into you in the end and it doesn’t let go.

Bedlam by Christopher Brookmyre

7 February 2013 

Orbit £17.99 (Hardcover, 376 pages)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: