Worlds by Joe Haldeman - a short review
I first read Worlds many years ago, but had forgotten almost everything except for the basic premise - in just under a hundred years' time, humanity populates a collection of artificial environments ("Worlds") in the space around Earth. Only the near-Earth space seems to be occupied and there do not seem to be serious colonies on, say, Mars or elsewhere. Each World is a unique and quirky society in its own right, proud of its distinctive history and culture. (In passing, I wonder if @clash_bowley had drawn on some of the ideas to contribute to The Great Game?)
But by far the majority of the population still lives on Earth, which is politically divided into a few major continental units. America has had a second revolution, the Soviet Union still controls much of Asia, and other recognisable religious or political groups have territories in Africa, South America, and so on. The main character, Marianne, is a citizen of one of the Worlds, temporarily on Earth for study, when a third American revolution breaks out and triggers global war.
The great majority of the story follows Marianne on her personal journey - literal and conceptual. But behind this story of an individual life, and ultimately coming to dominate its direction and choices, is the story of the ending of a world. This ending happens with shocking abruptness, cutting suddenly across Marianne's plans and intentions. At first I thought that this way of telling the story was too sharp, too fierce: on reflection I decided that it was a carefully crafted device to emphasise just how final such an event would be to Earth's inhabitants.
Most of the above describes my reactions as reader, but the story makes interesting reading for anyone interested in near-future life. Gamers wanting to mine the ideas will find a rich variety of possible back-stories against which a player's actions can take place. Certainly there are details that betray the year of writing (1981) - for example, the prominence of the Soviet Union - but it doesn't take much imagination to map the described geopolitical units into ones which are relevant today.
Worlds is a self-contained story, but also the opening book of a trilogy. I am looking forward to rediscovering the other two books. For me, 4* rather than 5, because although the concepts worked well, I wasn't always convinced by Marianne's touring activities, and felt that the writing quality wasn't always up to Joe Haldeman's best.