Author: Nick Cole
Length: 367 Pages/ 12 Hours, 27 Minutes (Audio)
Publisher: Nick Cole/ Podium Publishing (Audio)
Release Date: January 14, 2019/ November 6, 2018 (Audio)
Narrator: Guy Williams
Series: Soda Pop Soldier, Book 1
I was a big fan of Nick Cole from his previous work on books like The Red King, but it wasn't until the kerfuffle about this book's predecessor, CTRL-ALT Revolt!, that I became aware of this book. A shame, really, because I missed out on some damn fine writing until now.
Set in the same universe as Revolt, just years later, we meet the protagonist, PerfectQuestion, professional gamer for ColaCorp, doing battle in WarWorld, the biggest MMO in the world, as ColaCorp's online soldiers battle WonderSoft's virtual troopers in a winner takes all battle for prime advertising space in New York, all in a game that has similarities to the Vietnam war and the setting for the movie Aliens. Unfortunately for PerfectQuestion, ColaCorp has suffered one defeat after another lately, being rolled back from previous gains and facing imminent defeat. In the dystopian corporate controlled world he lives in, losing his job will mean hard times, since jobs are hard to come by, and he'll be tainted by failure.
With his career possibly about to come crashing down, his personal life in shambles as his girlfriend is acting as though she is about to leave, and his game play bonuses leaving him well short of the rent, PerfectQuestion takes the rent money and bets big on himself, buying into an illegal fantasy MMO which can lead to big money and expensive prizes. It could also lead to jail if he is caught. Booting the game up, he finds himself playing a one handed samurai on a quest to find his sword. He begins to suspect something is up with the game, as outside forces put a hit on his character, and forces in real life turn his life into a deadly game of cat and mouse. He has to remain alive in game and in the real world, all while trying to come up with a way to keep ColaCorp from crashing and burning, leaving him nowhere to go. This leads to the breakneck finale, which will leave the reader breathless with anticipation all the way to the end, which has a satisfying, completely action packed conclusion.
Being one of the early entries into the GameLit genre, with a smothering of Cyberpunk, Soda Pop Soldier avoids a lot of the pitfalls that more recent additions to the genre suffer from. There are absolutely no harem elements to scare away female readers, and the main character, PerfectQuestion, is not a stat obsessed ubernerd living in mom's basement, but a guy who treats the game like what it is, his job. The secondary characters, almost all of whom are seen just in the various games, are surprisingly fleshed out, and some interesting backstory elements come out as well. The villain is a bit generic in motivations, but is cleverly integrated into the story, and he has an interesting resolution in the story. The world building, both in game and IRL is top notch, and the reader really gets a feel for being in the thick of the action. The game play elements are also fairly unique in today's overabundance of virtual reality interfaces in GameLit, instead going old school gaming and using keyboard and mouse. You still feel fully immersed in the game world, which is a testimony to the writing skill of the author. The military action all has a genuine feel to it, and I suspect the authors military background came into play in keeping the feel real to life. All in all, I would definitely rate this in my top 5 GameLit/LitRPG titles, and recommend it without reservation.
Guy Williams, who's work I was familiar with from several other titles, does a fantastic job bringing this world to life. He uses a variety of tones, accents and pacing to give each character a life of their own. His narrative pacing is solid as well, never getting either monotonous or speed reading. If you are a fan of audio books, this is definitely a version I can recommend heartily.