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Book Review
by Ben Morgan

Trading Reality

Michael Ridpath
(Heinemann; publication: September 1996)

Virtual Reality and City whiz kids?? How very late Eighties. Michael Ridpath sets himself a Herculean task in trying to whip up a 1990's thriller from such themes. Perhaps this book is trying to catch the wave of the Net (it mentions it at least four or five times! Joy!)? Unfortunately, this is no cyberpunk rubber-wearing classic, but a rather staid thriller in hi-tech clothing.

        Trading Reality is a who-dunnit which twists in some high-powered City money-making with chunks of VR and ideas on how to run a small business. Mark Fairfax is a man who makes a not inconsiderable amount of money in the City, has a beautiful (trader) girlfriend and City chums. His brother, Richard, is a handsome boffin who runs a small Scottish firm putting together cutting edge VR systems. Unfortunately, brother gets the chop (literally, we're talking axe-wielding murder here). Cue Mark being thrown into the twin worlds of VR and small business. Can he save come to terms with the alienating new technology and save the firm from bankruptcy? The share markets are easy in comparison to fighting the cash-flow problems, speculators, take-overs and bolshie staff. Here is a Scottish Silicon Glen full of tech-heads, friendly locals, scheming Japanese, and insider traders. And you thought Scotland was all haggis, kilts and bad football?

        Ridpath, with his difficult ingredients, rather struggles to get Trading Reality up to speed although he tries hard. Only for a short time somewhere near the middle does the pace of the book pick up, does it make you want to keep reading. The first half is too much City life versus Scotland, too much rather inane patches of dialogue and business chores. Perhaps its the sheen of hi-tech rubbing off, but the characters are as two dimensional as any computer screen. No one quite suffers despite the various difficulties they encounter - brother dead, mother dead, father estranged, girlfriend troubles, company going down the drain, possibly being stalked, staff difficulties, and yet Mark remains so bland. Where's the stress, depression, madness, heavy drinking? The bits of VR don't help either - Ridpath ain't Gibson. No recourse to the surreal or bizarre in describing cyberspace. Everything is matter of fact, which makes the unlikely climax of killer(s) versus victims in a VR mock-up sit even more uncomfortably with the rest of the book. Plus the 'twist' is not that unexpected, but then to give Ridpath his due, may be its not meant to be. The finale gives Mark a few more reasons to need to visit a psychotherapist, but no he staves off the breakdown in favour of a happy ending.

        In short, a pretty routine thriller despite the VR knobs and City buttons - not light speed but virtually walking pace.

Ben Morgan
The Bird Museum
The Claws of Death
Whatever Happened to Mutley?

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