This series opener spoofs the many sub-genres of fantasy and sci-fi with cliche while not letting itself in on the joke. It takes itself too seriously to embrace its comic absurdity, and not seriously enough when it comes to establishing ground rules for its own world. Riding the line between the two options, ultimately doesn’t work–however fun the ride may be.
Despite toying with sci-fi and speculative fiction, this novel is purely fantasy with a magic machine capable of reordering the world and everything in it to align with a single person’s whims. The god-machine, called the Actuator, is meant to merely test its abilities in a contained fashion at a covert military installation. During a test with 20+ monks, each a specialist in a different fiction genre, a saboteur manages to release the containment fracturing the world into hundreds of micro-verses overlaying the native landscape each territory formulated to reflect a single monk’s whims. A fantasy realm with dragons and orcs abuts a 60’s sci-fi state with aliens and UFOs which in turn leads to a steampunk western filled with dirigibles and goggled characters etc. As people and objects cross these realm borders, they transfigure to fit the new genre.
Either the tale could embrace the whimsy by calling the scenario magic and carrying on with the story, or it could assert a “holodeck explanation” that ultimately boils down to one of user perception overriding reality. It does neither. Whimsy, ala Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, would have been the safer choice as the conversion of matter is fully ignored and steampunk harpoons become energy beams without resultant explosions from the conversion of matter into pure energy. It would also explain the all-too-convenient plotlines with the characters easily running into each other monks as they cross the nation, without managing to run into nearly anyone else.