In This Is Not A Game, Walter Jon Williams introduced readers to Dagmar Shaw, the head of Great Big Idea, a fictional company dedicated to producing and directing alternate-reality-games, or ARG, for short. Ms. Shaw returns in Deep State, and Walter Jon Williams spins another tale of intrigue, though one decidedly less interesting than the first outing.

Synopsis for Deep State:

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By day Dagmar Shaw orchestrates vast games with millions of players spanning continents. By night, she tries to forget the sound of a city collapsing in flames around her. She tries to forget the faces of her friends as they died in front of her. She tries to forget the blood on her own hands.

But then an old friend approaches Dagmar with a project. The project he pitches is so insane and so ambitious, she can’t possibly say no. But this new venture will lead her from the world of alternate-reality gaming to one even more complex. A world in which the players are soldiers and spies and the name of the game is survival.

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eyecityFollowing events of This Is Not A Game, Dagmar suffers from hallucinations and nightmares about her experiences in the previous novel, which makes her character ultimately believable and flawed. Unfortunately, Dagmar is the only character to truly shine in the novel, as most of the other characters feel particularly flat. Lincoln, aka Chatsworth, is possibly the only other truly interesting character, though with all of the information he withholds from Dagmar throughout the book, readers are left wondering exactly who this man is, and what’s he’s not saying.

Williams is obviously proficient with computers, as evidenced by the frequent and long descriptions of technology, filled with computer jargon. Though accurate, these scenes rarely provide actual benefit to the story, and serve as page-filler for the most part.

The novel is split into two sections, which feel very much different–almost like two separate novels. The first section introduces readers to Dagmar once again, and just what it is that she does for a living. It also introduces the antagonist of the novel, General Bozbeyli, the military leader of Turkey. Williams spends a lot of time in Dagmar’s head, describing her hesitations about the job, her love life, and her seemingly increasing mental instability. Readers never get into another character’s head, which may actually be a disadvantage, as some of the more intriguing characters may have added some variety to the story. Instead, Dagmar dominates, and becomes less likeable, overall.

Though the first section of the book reads fairly well, it’s pretty much downhill from there. Far from a page-turner, and much less enjoyable than it’s predecessor, Deep State never lives up to its promise. The second section of the book is dull and tedious, taking place mostly in a secluded office space, never providing much in the way of excitement. Though there are a couple twists and turns in the story, they’re much too subdued, and lend little to liven up the plot. The climax of the novel, involving shootouts, down-to-the-wire timing, and escaping from murderous thugs sounds more exciting here than the novel delivers. It’s a plodding example of storytelling, and fails to deliver at nearly every level.

Williams has written excellent novels in the past, so it’s a shame that Deep State delivers such a poor story.

– Reviewed by Bradley K. Brown