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The virtual reality tale has become a mainstay of science fiction,
a frequently used template for books and films that explore the
increasingly intimate interplay between human beings and
technology. It is territory well worth exploring, as more and more
human-to-human interaction in the real world is modeled and
replicated in the digital environment of the Internet, an
environment that is as pervasive as it is profound in its effect on
civilization. But as with any genre, the difference between
mainstay and cliché is defined by the skills of the

With IDLEWILD, his first novel, author Nick Sagan has distinguished
himself as a storyteller of considerable talent. Sagan, the son of
the late scientist and author Carl Sagan, has crafted a story that
delivers everything one expects in a cyberpunk/virtual reality
novel. But IDLEWILD throws enough curves at the reader to keep the
story well out of reach of the clichés that might otherwise
mark it as yet another cut-and-paste virtual reality clone.

IDLEWILD opens as a young man awakens in the middle of a field,
having been rendered unconscious by some unidentified trauma. He is
unable to remember who or where he is. His environment reveals
itself to be a fantastic place, populated by strange creatures with
strange powers. As his memory slowly returns he realizes that this
fantasy world is a virtual environment of his own creation and the
strange creatures are his classmates in Idlewild, an exclusive
midwestern prep school that uses sophisticated virtual environments
as classrooms.

Gabe, the young man, learns that the trauma he suffered was a
potentially fatal electric shock and that the massive current
surged through his body as he lay wired into his virtual reality
world. Gabe suspects that the shock was no accident and begins a
cautious investigation of his classmates and of Ellison, the
artificial intelligence that acts as the virtual headmaster of the
school. Who would want to kill him, and why? As Gabe digs deeper
into the mystery, the lines between the real and the virtual worlds
blur and with each answer comes a new question. Gabe's paranoia
increases as he learns that even his own perceptions are

To describe the storytelling technique Sagan uses in IDLEWILD would
be to reveal too much of this intricate tale. But it can be safely
revealed that Sagan has deftly juggled multiple storylines to
produce a slick cyberpunk whodunit with a tight and energetic
narrative and an apocalyptic kick. Good stuff from a writer with a
bright future.

Reviewed by Bob Rhubart on January 22, 2011

by Nick Sagan

  • Publication Date: July 6, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: NAL Trade
  • ISBN-10: 0451212061
  • ISBN-13: 9780451212061