Dante and Byron are avatars, characters created to represent their human counterparts in the role playing game Synth. In real life, the two men have never met and probably never will. But within the world of Synth, Dante and Byron are partners and in love. They share a beach house, spend almost all of their free time together, and even have cyber sex lives.
The world of Synth can be a complex one though. With everyone hidden behind the persona they create, you never really know one’s true motivations or personalities. Some people are in it for the fun, while others are just out their to cause trouble and hurt, taking what they want from others but never giving back. Dante has been burned once by a past Synth boyfriend and is extremely wary about trusting again. Byron is more open and has a harder time closing himself off from others. While out in the Synth world one day he is approached by another avatar, SexxyBabee, who throws herself at him, refusing to take no for an answer. She plays on Byron’s guilt, making him feel bad for his lack of interest in her, telling him she is lonely, no one likes her, etc. Byron is such a good guy that he lets it go on way too long, despite Dante’s warnings about protecting himself and being cautious. The incident reminds both men of Dante’s upsetting past and that in the virtual world things are not always as they seem.
This was a really unique story as it takes place almost completely within the virtual world of Synth. The story is told from Byron’s POV and although we get a sense of his real life personality, most of what we learn about him and Dante is through the lens of their avatars. Byron is pretty reclusive in real life; he doesn’t have much in the way of relationships or a sex life. But in Synth, he is happily partnered with Dante and his personal connections are largely through his avatar where he can create a perfect image of himself for others to see.
I found the part with SexxyBabee interesting, highlighting the dangers of the cyber world and the fact that you really can’t know who is behind their digital selves. In many ways the rules of interaction are similar to the real world, but there is a whole other level of complexity when you are dealing with the cyber world. I think the authors bring in a lot of interesting issues here and I thought the details of the game, of the difficulty for new folks fitting in, and the complexities of social interaction were quite fascinating.
While I thought SexxyBabee was a great plot device to help us understand both Byron’s personality and Dante’s history and wariness, I wish more of the story had focused on the guys themselves. Her interaction with the guys brings up a lot of issues that sort of come to a head at the very end of the story. But by then things are just about over and nothing is really resolved. I wish we had more time to see the effects of her actions on the guys and how they worked through them (or didn’t work through them), but it just felt like once the issues came out, they never really went anywhere.
Overall I found this a really interesting and creative short story. I have never read anything that uses the virtual gaming world quite this way and I found the detail really well done and quite fascinating. I do wish for a bit more relationship development, but overall I found this an enjoyable story.
P.S. I categorized this one as a futuristic/science fiction due to the cyber nature of the story, but it is really unclear what the time period is and this could just as easily been a contemporary book.