When you spend over 5,000 pages with a fictional character and his companions, you start to feel like you know them pretty well. When you liked this character from the first time you met him – I mean, really liked him with a jolt of “hey, I know this guy!” in that, he feels familiar and fun and accessible, and then goes on to continually amaze – then an attachment is bound to become pretty strong. So it was for me with the character of Orlando in Tad Williams’ mighty tetralogy, Otherland.
Teenager Orlando lives in our world of the near future where technology has allowed online capabilities (“the Net”) to intertwine at will with reality. He’s a master at manipulating online worlds, manifesting in his alter ego, Thargor, a mighty barbarian warrior in an MMORPG (online role-playing game) with a strong resemblance to JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It is his glimpse of a mysterious anomaly in this game that makes him aware of a major conspiracy which has taken control of our unsuspecting world. And just like his online persona, Orlando joins with a group of disparate adventurers to unravel the mystery – only to find they have been trapped in the Net and must overcome many obstacles on a perilous journey to make it back to the real world alive.
At the time that I read the Otherworld series, I myself was deeply into MMORPG gaming and not coincidentally involved with a Tolkien-based game then in development (now known as “Lord of the Rings Online”), so of course I was delighted to have as a main character someone with whom I could identify with so very strongly from the onset. But Orlando, as with the best of characters, became so much more than this simple synopsis. And every step of the way, even to the very end, his character resonated with me.
Still a gamer at heart (even though I don’t have nearly as much time for it now), I would love, love, love to have Orlando as a gaming buddy. Yes, indeed: Orlando Gardiner, for the win!