Author: Bruce Bethke
Genre: Science Fiction
The characters in this novel live in the year 2005. Virtual reality technology has become so much a part of the protagonist's life that the life he has created for himself on the internet has become more important than his real life. Jack Burroughs is a computer genius working for MDE, a software company he hates, in order to pay off his college loans. His obsession with virtual reality games causes him to lose his job a quarter of the way through Headcrash. Right after he losses his job at MDE, he (or MAX_KOOL actually) is contacted by a beautiful woman who offers to pay him a million dollars to hack into MDE’s computer system and steal files for his new client. Keep in mind, this is all occurring in the virtual reality world where identities are hidden. SPOILER: It turns out that Jack is tricked by the client he is working for and the deal doesn’t turn out the way he hoped for. It turns out that all of the characters Jack is working closely with in the virtual world, are acquaintances of his in the real world.
Geographical Setting: Urban setting and the virtual world on the Internet
Time Period: 2005
This novel won the Philip K. Dick award in 1995. Headcrash begins with a leisurely pace but as Jack becomes more engrossed in his mission, the pace quickens and the story becomes more engrossing. Bethke gives detailed descriptions of quirky secondary characters. The protagonist, Jack, is introspective. He is also witty throughout the novel, even when events don’t occur as planned. The storyline is at times action oriented when Jack and other characters interact in the virtual world. In the virtual world, chases ensue as Jack rushes to get his hands on the desired files. The story also has multiple plot twists and the reader is unable to foresee what events will occur next. Readers may find the virtual world to be an exotic setting for this novel. In this world, the characters can act out their desires with fewer repercussions than in real life. Interesting technological devices and systems are discussed in Headcrash. The humorous tone of this novel may keep readers chuckling as they read. Headcrash contains technological jargon and colorful language and characters. Headcrash is classified as a part of the cyberpunk genre of science fiction (in fact, Bethke coined this word himself according to the Fantastic Fiction website).
Read-alikes: Readers who liked Headcrash may want to read Bethke’s other novels: Rebel Moon, published in 1996, Wild, Wild West, published in 1999, or Headcrash 2.0, published in 2000. Readers who enjoyed the emphasis on computer technology and hacking may enjoy William Gibson’s Neuromancer, which features a protagonist named Case, who is sent on a mission to steal a heavily guarded security code. This work was also a Philip K. Dick award winner in 1984. The Hitchhiker's series by Douglas Adams such as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy would appeal to readers who like the technical jargon and the humorous tone of Bethke’s writing. The Hitchhiker’s series follows Arthur Dent as he reluctantly embarks on an intergalactic journey. I would suggest Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson to readers who enjoyed the amateur hacker characters in Headcrash. Snow Crash features a hacker who must fight to save everyone plugged into the virtual reality world from a threatening virus. Snow Crash is classified as cyberpunk fiction and is fast paced as the hacker races to protect the virtual world from disaster. Readers who enjoyed reading a humorous science fiction novel may enjoy Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, a story about eccentric characters searching the world to locate a new type of ice that freezes at room temperature. Readers who enjoyed the humorous tone in Headcrash may want to read Tom Robbin’s Even Cowgirls Get the Blues that also features quirky characters in a story about hitchhiker Sissy Hankshaw’s trip across America in the 70s. This novel is not a work of science fiction but the writing style, detailed descriptions, and characterization is similar to that in Headcrash.
Red Flags: References to sexual activity and some violence that occurs in the virtual world