(Cover Owned and Created by Louis Bulaong. This is used for Review Purposes)
Escapist Dream is my second book out of the fifty two books I’m reading this year – already, I’m ahead of the curve. Started on December twenty fifth and finishing last night, this 522 page novel tells the story of Charlie and Jim, two loners each suffering their own mental struggles. While Charlie is recovering from the death of his friend, Jim is struggling with his ability as a programmer and the death of his wife and kid. They both come to The Escapist Dream, a Virtual Reality hub for all geekdom. Jim is there to fix bugs and Charlie is trying to escape the drudgery of life in Wyoming, and their paths cross as they become partners in heroics.
I had discovered this book on a late night read through of Ready Player One’s Wikipedia article. On some articles on Wikipedia, there’s a “See Also” section, which can describe, say, what genre this is in, or books similar to it. The three for Ready Player One were: Virtual Reality in Fiction, LitRPG, and Escapist Dream, with a little note at the end of Escapist Dream that read “a similar book that deals with pop cultural references.” Intrigued by this bluntness, I had navigated to the Escapist Dream Wikipedia page, and the plot had captured my interests. It landed into my Amazon Christmas Wishlist, and I unboxed it Christmas Morning.
What I didn’t know was that this is a Self-Published novel. It’s noticeable from the first page, and throughout the book you can find countless grammatical and punctuational errors. The length is also possibly because of the self-publishing route.
While there’s a lot of positives to Self-Publishing, like you can tell the story you want to tell without worrying about an editor’s input, this book made me realize that Self-Publishing is a blessing and a curse. An Editor is necessary because of this subject matter, and the amount of errors on a single page made me want to stop reading at times. As a proofreader for four years, I’ve grown accustomed to taking the red pen to a page, and I want to help out. I know, though, that since this is a self-published work, it is not my place to do that. There’s a character who’s pronouns switched from she to he during the final battle, commas placed where a comma shouldn’t have been placed, and the page formatting. My goodness – the page formatting.
The novel is 522 pages, but, and this is a positive, those 522 pages were a breeze to get through. This is also thanks to the fact that the book I received was Times New Roman, Double spaced, size 12 with one inch margins on the side, leading to pages being taken up by one singular paragraph. Most books are very dense in their word font and spacing, maximizing the amount of words-per-page. This is such a minor critique, but the table of contents is literally wrong. The table of contents is basically pointless, as by chapter three, there’s a three page difference between what the table of contents says and what the actually page number says, and then by chapter twenty two, there’s about a fourteen page difference. It’s a quick fix in reprints, if a reprint comes, and I really hope it does because the story Bulaong told is pretty interesting.
The Escapist Dream is split into four different zones: The Library, Stan City, the Gamer’s Den, and Otaku Academy. The Library is a large library, with full recreations of Middle Earth, Hogwarts, and other literary cornerstones. People dress as their favorite characters, from Peter Pan to King Arthur. Stan City is a superhero landscape, which conjured up images in my mind of Paragon City, the setting of City of Heroes.
Stan City allows for players to be any kind of superhero they want – from a lightsaber wielding Spider-Man, to an Iron Man-Spider-Man-Batman Mashup. So many ‘mans…’ In Stan City, players fight villains of cartoonish evil. In the Gamers Den, there’s full-scale recreations of video games, all playable in Virtual Reality. If you want, though, you can go and sit at one of their countless game consoles, and play a game there. It’s like inception – you’re playing a video game… inside a video game. Lastly, Otaku Academy is situated near Stan City, and it’s home to fans of Japanese animation, also called anime. You can attended school in a Japanese classroom, or have large battles on the baseball field.
Basically, these four areas all represent a certain convention for a form of nerd – the library is reminiscent of Literary conventions where authors and readers meet and exchange autographs and talk their favorite books, Stan City is like Comic Con with superhero fans geeking out in their cosplays, Otaku Academy is like those Anime Conventions where… I don’t know what happens at those, but I assume they talk anime. And the Gamers Den is mentioned as feeling like E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, where investors go to see what’s going on with the new games coming to consoles.
The world is not captivating, to be blunt. In fact, I’m not sure how this video game setting would work. I recognize it as being Soft Science Fiction, so you don’t need to wrap your head around the mechanics of Full-dive VR, but the video game itself feels like a chatroom, similar to Second Life. You can create your character and walk around and fight villains, but that’s it. There’s no sense of level progression, and the way a character gets a superpower is just by thinking of it. There’s no quests, and no “origin story” type of thing. A change I’d make is have it set that these characters can select their power from a long wheel of things. Do they want super speed, web shooters, and a secretly powerful strength boost, or invisibility, flight, and the ability to control enemy’s minds? The ability to simply think of whatever power you want on the fly is interesting in combat and action, but it’s not interesting when you realize how powerful this makes the player.
I think where Louis Bulaong succeeds, however, was in character. The twist villain was unexpected, yet feasible. And the characters had psychological issues that were realistic, as Bulaong has knowledge in psychology, adding a whole new angle that not many others would explore. Their arcs are feasible, and it brought up many questions about what it meant to be real, what would one do if they could escape to a world where they can live out their fantasies of being a hero – would they want to stay forever? The ending made me really sad, though, and left me thinking about plans for the future and how to be successful.
I feel as though this story is really rough around the edges, and needed an editor, or a few beta readers, to come on and fix it grammatically. That would definitely improve it a few points. The story was captivating, but I also think the ending chapters should’ve been split into it’s own separate book, showcasing the last two weeks of it in greater detail. It’s good in some places, great in others, and really, really dull at worst. But, as a first time author (besides the fanfictions and blog posts he’s written), Bulaong told a captivating story without relying so hard on Pop Culture Knowledge for it to make sense.
I will be looking at Louis Bulaong’s career with great interest, and I’m excited that my fifty two book challenge is already ahead of the curve.
Purchase the book here: Escapist Dream.