More Than This
I expected More Than This from Patrick Ness to be as interesting as his series that begins with The Knife of Never Letting Go, and I was sorely disappointed, perhaps because the beginning is so promising–a boy wakes up dead. He remembers dying. He can’t figure out why he’s in a deserted house he lived in years ago. He can’t even remember his own name until Chapter Five.
The boy’s name is Seth, and he believes that his dreams, of his former life before he killed himself, are his torment in hell. He begins exploring the neighborhood beyond the deserted house and finds two other children, hiding from a man who cruises by in a black car. Their names are Regine and Tomasz, and they believe that the man will kill them if he catches them.
It really didn’t help my suspension of disbelief that Seth’s younger brother is named Owen. An innocuous-enough name, except that the kids and I made up a fish story once about the size of a blue crab that got away and decorated it with details that eventually included its murder of their made-up younger brother, Owen Mort Griggs (note the initials). There’s a terrible story in More Than This about Seth’s guilt about something he did when he was very young that resulted in his younger brother Owen’s kidnapping. We find out eventually that the kidnapping led to murder.
Here’s the big plot twist, though. In the fictional world that Seth’s parents created for themselves and him, Owen never died. They’ve all been lying near the deserted house where Seth finds himself, plugged into a future, nightmarish version of the internet which can create an entire reality and is branching out to include human reproduction. The three children have woken up from this, and the man in the black car is trying to plug them back in.
The virtual reality is not a paradise, as we know because of the events that led Seth to kill himself. Seth does make a few attempts to discern between appearance and reality. He thinks that
“Tomasz was a lot like Owen, just like a helping figure his brain might have conjured up to help him…accept death or move to a different consciousness or whatever the point of this place was, if it even had a point, then that might have made sense.
But he wouldn’t have made Regine up. She wasn’t like anyone he knew, not anywhere. Not that accent, not that attitude.
No, they were real. Or real enough.”
The three children have to fight to save each other, and to find out what has become of the world, and what their choices are. In the end, Seth decides to try to make his world different.
I think Cory Doctorow would have done the internet parts better, and Patrick Ness could have left the interesting spooky parts alone, without trying to explain everything by calling the alternate reality a virtual one. It struck me as a cheap trick, like having the characters wake up at the end of the story and say oh, it was all a dream.