Saturday, November 12, 2016

Piers Anthony's Steppe (Planet Stories # 23)

Steppe is a Piers Anthony science-fiction/fantasy novel from the mid-1970s that anticipates, in a surprisingly accurate way, some concepts that have become commonplace today.  The story involves a 9th century Uigur warrior from the steppes of central Asia being abducted into the future in order to play a role in a vast game.  The game, run by a powerful central computer, allows people to take on roles in a historical simulation and tracks their progress (and rewards) by how well they succeed.  If a character "dies", the player exits the game but can pay to come back in with a role that could be better or worse depending on how well the player did with the previous role.  In short, it's the idea of a massively-multiplayer online RPG about twenty years ahead of its time!  Anthony's story has a clever way that the computer anthropomorphizes entires countries as individual people in order to teach players history before they enter the game.  The story drags a little in the latter half and could have a more interesting conclusion, but the basic concept is really cool.  A good add to the Planet Stories line.

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