Book Review: The Great Game, by Lavie Tidhar
Author: Lavie Tidhar
Publisher: Angry Robot, January 2012
Length: 416 pages
Price: $7.99 US / $8.99 CAN
When Mycroft Holmes and his own love, Alice, both turn up dead in a mysterious string of murders, retired Bureau agent Smith is reactivated and tasked with finding the killer. But that isn’t as easy as it might sound. Suddenly, everyone wants him dead, and he doesn’t know why. He used to be a player in this, the great game, but he suspects that this time, he is only a pawn. They used to call him The Harvester, but now there’s a new Harvester in town … and the game is afoot.
Lavie Tidhar has authored a number of novels, novellas, and short stories, and is the editor of The Apex Book of World SF, volumes one and two. His short stories have appeared in magazines such as Strange Horizons and Apex Magazine, and have been selected for numerous anthologies. Israeli-born, Tidhar has lived and travelled in numerous countries. He has a passion for World SF, and has been striving to bring lesser-known authors into greater prominence since 2009.
The Great Game is the third novel of Tidhar’s The Bookman Histories series. I feared I may be at a bit of a disadvantage in this review, as I haven’t read the first two books, The Bookman and Camera Obscura, but to my delight, this fear was groundless. Anyone wishing to jump into the middle of the Bookman Histories will find that Tidhar has done a fantastic job of making this book work as a stand-alone story as well as part of the greater series. And what a story it is …
An overabundance of commas and parenthetical clauses makes the story move a bit slower than it should at times, but it is such an overwhelmingly fun story that this is hardly a problem. Tidhar seems to have made a game of the book itself, challenging himself to reference as many real and fictitious characters from the Victorian era as he possibly could. From the expected cast of the Sherlock Holmes stories to Tesla and Edison, Harry Houdini, and the hunchback of Notre Dame, each new character is a familiar delight to be discovered anew. Even Ian Fleming’s M. and Q make appearances. Between them all, The Great Game could be considered fan fiction at its finest.
As if that isn’t enough to keep readers entertained, the story also includes an alien race of lizard people who have taken over seats of power in government. Spies, monsters, machines, and mad scientists fill every page, and the action never stops. From the foot of Big Ben to the top of the Eiffel Tower and the castle of Vlad the Impaler, readers are taken on a joyride through some of history’s most famous places. Twists and turns await around every corner, constantly leaving readers wonder what will happen next.
With such a vivid cast of characters and such a range of settings, The Great Game is already something of a bold experiment, but Tidhar’s daring hardly stops there. In the end, the author uses this great cast to ask some of the bravest questions humankind has ever asked of itself: What is it that makes us truly human? When pieces of us can be ruined, taken out and replaced if necessary, where is the threshold between human and inhuman? When intelligent machines can be built with an awareness of self, are they as human as actual humans? What separates us, what defines us?
After asking these tough questions, Tidhar takes a final great leap, which I cannot help but quote:
“And what does the future hold?” she couldn’t help but ask, sarcastically.
The machine made a small, apologetic sound. “Great horror,” it said. “Or great beauty.”
“What does it depend on?”
“On humanity,” the machine said, simply.