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on Nov. 10, 2011 :
This is a hopeful, yet ambiguous, vision embedded within a dystopian conception of the future, with some cautionary-tale leavening for good measure. It qualifies as SF, but it's refreshingly un-cliched; indeed, it focuses where good fiction always should: on the human heart.
Mr. Knuth bills "Level Zero" as for young adults, but this 59-year-old codger enjoyed it immensely. It asks questions about the nature of reality, and about how much of our "classical" reality we'd be willing to give up for a simulation that pleases us better. It also asks whether we're ready for the long foretold (but painfully slow in actually arriving) emergence of artificial intelligences that possess the gamut of human capacities -- including our ability to love.
The aspects of "Level Zero" that do aim at a YA audience would be:
-- The use of a digital game as a simulated universe and field of action;
-- The selection of teenagers as the principal characters;
...yet in neither case does that make the story unpalatable to an older reader.
The plot is fresh and ingenious, without demanding excessive suspension-of-disbelief. The characterizations struck me as spot-on. The metamorphosis of Arkade from a borderline-sociopath antisocial to someone capable of loving was handled exceptionally well. The overall theme -- that anything with human-scale intelligence will ultimately demand to be valued as such, and to be free -- is as important as anything SF is being written about today.
If only all young-adult fiction were this well executed, and aimed this worthily. Highly recommended!
(reviewed within a week of purchase)