The Extremes, by Christopher Priest

the-extremes-by-christopher-priestGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Warner Books
Published: 1999
Reviewer Rating: fourstars
Book Review by Paul S. Jenkins

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Teresa Simons is a 43-year-old FBI agent who has lost her husband (also FBI) in a Texas shooting. She has come to England on vacation, but also to investigate — in her own time — a similar shooting that took place in the quiet Sussex seaside town of Bulverton, on the same day her husband was killed. By this means she hopes to ascribe some meaning to her husband’s senseless death.

Teresa’s FBI training immersed her in the use of virtual reality scenarios, or ‘extreme experience.’ In these sessions she assumed the roles of different people present at shootings of innocent members of the public. By repeated participation in the scenarios, from various points of view, she eventually learned how to deal with such situations in real life.

Set a little into the future, when completely involving VR has been developed — though how it is accomplished isn’t more than hand-waved — The Extremes is an exploration of how our personal realities impinge on the realities of others, and how others’ perceptions can be changed by our own.

The commercial version of extreme experience is known as ExEx, managed by the GunHo Corporation. Teresa is surprised to find a branch of ExEx in Bulverton, and decides to make use of it. Gradually she spends more and more time there, and begins to lose track of what’s real and what’s virtual.

Priest uses a relaxed, open style, with a transparency that lets the reader into the minds of the point-of-view characters. Although the point of view shifts about a lot, it’s rigorously logical.

There’s a metaphysical aspect to the novel, when Teresa seems to be experiencing things in real life that couldn’t possibly happen. Of course, this could be the approach of mental breakdown, and not metaphysical at all.

The Extremes is an engaging and readable novel that raises several questions, not least about the wisdom of creating virtual realities that could ultimately permeate the real world.

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