Writer Nick Sagan takes on the already hoary virtual reality subgenre and produces a dark and imaginative first novel in Idlewild. Set in a near-future world, the novel introduces readers to Gabriel Hall (nicknamed Halloween), a teenager who wakes up with amnesia after an attack he cannot remember. He thinks his assailant is one of the nine other students at Idlewild, an exclusive school where the residents learn to create their own virtual environments. When Halloween throws a party to bring the students together, he finds he's suspected in the possible murder of Lazarus, one of his fellow students. The school authorities insist Lazarus has graduated but the students don't believe he would leave without telling them.

Alongside Halloween's tale, Sagan unfolds a parallel story involving humanity's final days as a killer virus spreads around the world. While people panic and some plan for cryogenic storage, the Gedaechtnis company designs "posthumans" who are genetically altered so the virus won't harm them. The hope is that the posthumans will find a way to stop the virus and resurrect humanity. Sagan, a Hollywood screenwriter and the son of astronomer Carl Sagan, adds unexpected and satisfying complexity as he ties the two plot lines together. Despite a slightly disappointing ending, Idlewild is a strong debut that should make readers eager for the next entry in what is expected to be an Idlewild trilogy.

Gavin J. Grant writes from Northampton, Massachusetts.

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