Friday, February 02, 2024

Karen S. Wiesner: {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: "Unity", An Interactive Fractalverse Story by Christopher Paolini

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: "Unity", An Interactive Fractalverse Story

by Christopher Paolini

by Karen S. Wiesner

Last week, I reviewed Christopher Paolini's previous Fractalverse novel, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, in an article called "Combating Big Book Overwhelm with Audiobooks". The Fractalverse Universe encompasses all known space and time, binding everyone everywhere as fellow travelers. In order to really understand "Unity", you had to have read and understood To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, so this review is filled with spoilers. If you haven't read To Sleep… and want to before learning all the basic details, you might want to come back to this review later.

Here's a very concise summary of that nearly 900-page book:

On an alien world, the heroine, a xenobiologist, Kira blunders into an underground hole where an artifact was left by an alien culture long, long ago. An ancient xeno seed left there resurrects enough to infiltrate Kira's body, inside and out, so she and the alien become one. This thing is called the Soft Blade. After Kira's taken into military quarantine, the ship they're on is attacked by Wranaui, aliens that worship the Vanished--the beings that originally hid the Soft Blade in the underground reliquary. In her attempt to escape, Kira causes an explosion that joins a piece of the Soft Blade to the doctor in charge of testing Kira and to one of the Wranaui. What's created from this is a corrupted being called the Maw. Floating in space, it grows and spreads malevolently. It converts a planet into interstellar ships that are used by the Maw's corrupted warriors. There's a whole plotline about a lesser bad guy that takes up hundreds of pages. But the Maw is the real enemy in the universe. A faction of the Wranaui join humans in the fight. Long story short, the Maw and the Soft Blade merge so their minds are joined. The Maw is subdued, the Corrupted unmade, and the Maw's mass is converted into a space station--Unity--intended to serve as an embassy so humanity and its new alien friends, the Wranaui, can hammer out a peace treaty.

I only discovered "Unity" when I went to the website to find out what else Paolini had to offer in this universe. There, I came upon an interactive short story that was laid out in a similar fashion (though much less complex) to the Choose Your Own Adventure "gamebooks" that were published from 1979-1998. I devoured these as a kid, even if the stories weren't always fantastic. The concept was what captured me. They were a precursor to the videogames I would soon come to embrace as an adult, making them my most favored hobby in lieu of watching TV. In a Choose Your Own Adventure story, the reader is the protagonist who makes decisions about how the story will proceed and end. Frequently, a wrong choice leads to a bad ending--in other words, "Story Over", and the reader has to choose another path to try to reach a good ending. The number of endings included in each adventure varied--Wikipedia's write-up talks about as many as forty-four in the early titles to as few as seven in the later ones.

As I said, the "Unity" interactive adventure was much less complex. There were never more than three choices as to which direction to go, and most didn't end badly. Only occasionally did a bad choice lead to a "You're dead" ending. So you had to go back a page and choose another path, or simply do the opposite of what you did last time. Fairly uncomplicated. I did die once or twice, lol, but I enjoyed it nevertheless.

In the time since the events of To Sleep in a Sea of Stars concluded, Unity has become an advanced space station where both humans and Wranaui abide in peace. It's the last place anyone would expect a murder to take place. You play the investigator trying to piece together what happened. The story is fun and well-written, especially with some backtracking involved if you choose a wrong path. It won't take you longer than a half hour, possibly much less if you're faster running through it and don't die. If you want to partake, you can start your adventure here: or here:

A print version was in the works, as Paolini explains in a Twitter post (you can access it from the link I posted in the last paragraph). He actually shows in a video the print edition that was designed with gorgeous, original, custom artwork. The cost with print on demand was apparently prohibitive, so unless there's a "Kickstarter" (global crowdfunding platform initiative), the online version that's available free on Paolini's website is all there is or ever will be available for "Unity". I say, enjoy it for what it is. This is the kind of thing that's intended to be interactive and doing it online just streamlines the process. All the artwork is also free on the website for you to enjoy.

Next week, I'll talk about the publication, chronological, and optimal reading order of all the installments in the Fractalverse series as well as review Paolini's newest offering in the Fractalverse. Finally, I'll extrapolate about where he might go from here in the series.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

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