For about two thirds of its length, The Accord by Keith Brooke seems as if it might be one of the best books written about virtual reality this decade. Why? Because The Accord avoids all the usual troops so many virtual reality stories fall into, of trying to write about the abstract, and instead gives us the story of Noah Barakh, “The Architect of Heaven”, trying to create a virtual afterlife. The nuts and bolts of the Accord, the virtual reality world he is creating is light on the details, but Keith Brooke paints it as a plausible programming project of trying to recreate the world we live in, for those who have already died.
But in the middle of the process, Noah Barakh tries to have an affair with a powerful politician’s wife which ends in her murder and his suicide. Both of them are reborn in the Accord itself, only the version of Priscilla reborn in the Accord is one whose scan predates their love affair, resulting in Barakh going to greater extremes to try and recreate their relationship, while being pursued by her husband, Jack Burnham, a very determined and sociopathic politician. All of this sounds a bit soap operatish and it is, but Brooke’s writing manages to make it work.
The problem is that The Accord, like a lot of larger novels, is about 200 pages too long. And when Brooke runs out of ideas, he turns the formerly realistic nuts and bolts Accord into the Matrix. Yes, literally the Matrix. Jack Burnham takes on parts of the memories of others, and gains the power to turn into anyone in the Matrix he wants, basically turning him into Agent Smith. He seemingly kills Noah, but Noah returns to be worshiped by everyone in the Accord as a godlike figure. And by the time he grows wings and begins to fly around, The Accord hasn’t just gone off the rails, but off the cliff into the worst VR cliches you can think of. And it doesn’t help that Keith Brooke tries to pad out the space by tying in one of his stories as an ending chapter. What follows next makes no sense, and after a few thousand years in which Jack+ has gone around molesting half the girls in the universe and turned earth into a backward stone age planet constantly at war… ending the novel by having Barakh and Priscilla kiss and say the equivalent of, “Awww I loved you too”, just doesn’t fly.