"We tell lies when we are afraid... afraid of what we don't know, afraid of what others will think, afraid of what will be found out about us. But every time we tell a lie, the thing that we fear grows stronger." -- Tad Williams
One of my favorite modern speculative fiction writers is Tad Williams. Best known for his groundbreaking fantasy series Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, I first discovered his writing by reading his equally impressive science fiction series Otherland.
I'm a big fan of myths and fairytales, and through his Otherland saga, Williams was able to play with mythic elements from a broad range of worlds. The premise, in which children become comatose after exploring a dangerous virtual reality and the protagonist Rene Sulaweyo starts a quest to find the cause, allows Williams to throw his characters in any environment, any scene, any situation that his imagination can conjure up.
Many of those environments are inspired by classic literary works by H.G. Wells, L. Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll, and others. Williams then takes those familiar motifs from Wonderland, Oz, Homer's Odyssey in Ancient Greece, and more, and twists them into something fresh and unpredictable.
The story begins in City of Golden Shadow as we're introduced to the diverse characters, (my favorites include Renie, her dad Long Joseph, and !Xabbu) who begin their journey to unravel the mystery. It continues in River of Blue Fire as the characters look for answers and are thrust from one outlandish reality to the next, each with its own unique dangers...and clues. In the third book, Mountain of Black Glass, the conspiracy starts to get fleshed out more as we learn more about Felix Jongleur and the Grail Brotherhood who created this cyber realm in an attempt to achieve eternal life. The series concludes with Sea of Silver Light as all the characters and subplots merge in an epic and satisfying climax.
The characters are memorable, from Orlando Gardiner, the young, physically challenged boy who becomes a warrior in the Otherland, to the psychopathic assassin who calls himself Dread. Even when Tad Williams' plot seems to be growing out of control, as many serial fantasies seem to do, he manages to rein it back in.
I'm excited to hear that Otherland will be made into a game (a "Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game" to be precise). Tad Williams is keeping busy with another Shadowmarch novel coming out and a new book co-written with Deborah Beale titled The Dragons of Ordinary Farm. You can also check out some of his earlier tales, like Tailchaser's Song and Caliban's Hour. I think you won't be disappointed.