Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of Sea of Silver Light by Tad Williams

Review of Sea of Silver Light by Tad Williams

The fourth and final book in the Otherland series – and not a moment too soon.

In the first book, Renie Sulaweyo, !Xabbu, Orlando Gardiner, Sam Fredericks, Martine Desroubins, Paul Jonas and others find themselves trapped in a massive and massively realistic secret computer simulation called the Otherland network. Outside the network, a number of other people are caught up in its mystery. All of them are trying to find something – the truth about relatives who have become comatose after going on-line, the truth about their own lives, the truth about Otherland – or they are trying to use, subvert or bring down the network.

In a later book, the reader learns that Otherland is a kind of immortality machine, possibly powered in some way by the comatose children. At the end of the third book, Felix Jongleur, the network’s master becomes trapped along with the others and Orlando Gardiner dies.

In the fourth book, most, but not quite all, of the characters’ questions are answered. And it all has a happy ending that I think aimed to be bittersweet.

I read the first three books nearly consecutively and enjoyed them a lot, although by diminishing amounts. I waited a while before reading book four because I didn’t want Otherland fatigue. Unfortunately, that seems unavoidable.

The big problem with the series is its length. It consists of four long books and not enough really happens in much of that time. It’s almost as if Tad Williams had designed a certain number of the virtual worlds that make up the Otherland network and he was damned if he wasn’t going to squeeze them all into his series. Throughout the four books, the characters who are trapped inside Otherland are constantly travelling through world after world achieving little more than finding another virtual realm through which to journey. I think the series could have been completed in two books, and should have been no more than three.

In addition to all that, Williams’s writing is journeyman-like at best, so finishing the final book was a fairly pleasureless exercise. Especially at the end, it was full of infodump – long explanations of what had happened and why – mostly, perhaps exclusively, delivered by Sellars, a man with cybernetic implants that give him godlike powers to interact with and investigate the network. Sellars and !Xabbu’s infinite patience and good humour make them two pretty boring characters – who are absolutely crucial to the good guys’ efforts to achieve anything.

The revelations about the network’s true nature (when they are revealed by Sellars) make some sort of sense, but a lot of the set up of the characters’ dilemmas require a great suspension of disbelief. The idea that people can be trapped on-line, and put into permanent comas through simple VR equipment, the idea that the world’s wealthiest people could build such a network and then rent out space to a number of less wealthy but still rich people and keep it a complete secret, the true secret of the network’s power – it’s all too much to swallow.

I think if Tad Williams could write this series again, he may well choose to write it differently. In the first book, Renie is very much the central character, but by the end it turns out that the most important character is Sellars – he’s the one who seems to solve everyone’s problems.

In short, it’s not so much Otherland as Overlong.

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