The plot is a bit of a corollary to Doctorow‘s young adult novel For the Win about teens who work in a massively multiplayer online game as gold farmers and organize against their real world bosses. In Real Life is about a young girl in Flagstaff who meets a teenage Chinese gold farmer in an online game and, in befriending him, learns both about his different experience and about the dangers inherent in her taking well-intentioned, if underinformed, actions on his behalf. The politics and moralism here are positive and are well-served by the story on a register that works for a teen audience. Jen Wang‘s artwork is great, particularly the beautiful coloring. I think it‘s too sophisticated for my nieces still, but I look forward to sharing it with them some day.
Lazarus sets up a near future in which a small handful of family-based corporations or cartels have taken over (at least) North America. It‘s a clear extrapolation of a world ruled by the 1% to a world ruled by the 0.1% with some biomechanical transhumanism and genetically modified agriculture thrown in. I love the world-building here. I care less about the characters and the story so far. I‘ve been really into other work I‘ve read from Rucka (Gotham Central, Stumptown), so I think I will probably continue with this, but I hope the next volume starts doing more with the promising setting.
Surprisingly uplifting and sweet in the end relative to Pollack‘s usual voice, the protagonist learns to appreciate his place in the world and to be satisfied with his life choices by virtue of countless repeats of his first four decades. Not so much time travel, these shifts are both involuntary and predictable, like a Groundhog Day that lasts forty years. Those familiar with Pollack‘s non-fiction work will recognize some (not always flattering) character traits in the protagonist in spite of the fact that Pollack appears as himself in at least one of life‘s playthroughs. That Pollack both writes himself into and distances himself from his character reflects my own experience of the novel. As a new father, the ultimately sweet and heartwarming conclusion landed with me, but the sardonic humor helped me keep my distance on the way there.