Beautiful World by Kristina Tracer paints a both a haunting and beautiful tapestry of singularity culture, interspersed with all the questions that come along with an increasingly connected and creative culture. Its mix of furry characters, cyberpunk, science fiction, and romance gives Tracer a lot of room to explore the difficult questions that arise as virtual worlds pass beyond the point of believability.
Beautiful World follows a group of developers, administrators, and hackers in the world of Irokai, a fully-immersive virtual landscape owned and managed by a large corporation. There are three kinds of people in Irokai: visitors, who don skullcaps and blindfolds to induce their brains into the world, AIs, who are built on large repositories of experiences and are advanced enough to pass Turing Tests, and Immigrants, who have their brains scanned and "moved into" Irokai, destroying whatever body they may have had to begin with. Travelers pay for their experience ala carte - flight comes with a fee, as does teleportation, developing new worlds, buying new items, and pretty much anything that would make a world in which imagination was the only boundary.
Trouble stirs when Jules, a trans man who was kicked out of Irokai some time ago, begins hacking the world for the Democratic People of Irokai. In the process he manages to break the world right as his friend Johnathan immigrates into Irokai to be with the AI Mitsuko. As the world of Irokai crumbles the characters face a tough choice: side with the company's draconian management, or fall in with the new Democratic Revolution and risk their access to the virtual world.
Tracer's writing is well paced and rarely lags. Dialogue is crisp and snappy, and the mechanics surrounding Irokai are well thought-out. Descriptions of admin and developer activities are particularly well-written, and feel believable to anybody who has been in IT for a spell. I bought into the world hook, line, and sinker, and found myself actively wondering what I would do in Tracer's world. This is a good thing; in a genre that often falls back on conventions Tracer's world felt fresh, real, and approachable.
There are a number of story-threads that may be Relevant to Bilerico Reader Interests. Johnathan navigates a poly relationship with a trans man and a woman. Jules uses Irokai to live his life as a male - not terribly farfetched, as many people use Second Life for the same purpose. The actual narrative surrounding both immigration and the construction of bodies in Irokai, from transformations to social reactions, closely mirrors real-world transition narratives.
Beautiful World is a furry novel, which adds a few quirks to the book. Unfortunately, these sections are also the weakest parts of the piece. For one, the entire population of Irokai, a land in which anybody can be anything, represents itself with furry avatars. This is a hallmark of the furry genre and is mostly invisible; however, it did tug at my suspension of disbelief at points. There are also gratuitous transformation scenes that sometimes feel like they were tacked on for sake of showing, say, a wolf melting into a pool of raspberry jam.
The biggest hang-up I had with Beautiful World was the furry erotica - sex scenes in the book with furry characters. This is no big deal in and of itself, but after the first scene or two the fact that erotica is not Tracer's strongest suit becomes apparent. Thankfully, the scenes are both short and easily ignored so I usually flipped past them as I read. Trust me, the rest of the book is worth any self-censorship you may have to do.
Still, if you don't mind (or can flip past) furry erotica scenes in your science fiction Beautiful World is a fantastic piece of work. It's a fun, page-turning story, and the questions it poses stay around long after the book is finished.
Beautiful World can be purchased on Fur Planet's website.