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Existential Crisis in a Bottle: Mark Lawrence’s One Word Kill

Here’s a confession that I was ashamed to admit during my time at the Stonecoast M.F.A. program when all the horror and sci-fi and fantasy writers went to the convenience store to stock up on soda, snacks, and beer, and played various Dungeons and Dragons-style board games with the likes of Nancy Holder and other bestselling authors: I don’t game. At all. Not video games, RPGs, or Live Action Role Play. Even before I had two kids and started working somewhere between two and a half and four jobs, I never had the chance. I might have mashed buttons on my way through God of War once.

That isn’t to say I wouldn’t have liked to, and that’s where Mark Lawrence’s One Word Kill comes in. Like all genre books, it uses the familiar in a new way, playing adeptly with the same school-aged D&D obsessed child archetypes found in Stranger Things, Super 8, and E.T. but with one strong exception: Nick Hayes, the genius main character with an affinity for quantum physics, has cancer, a stranger stalking him who knows things about him that no one else could, and a maniacal, knife-wielding bully butchering his way up the ladder of organized crime is out to kill his girlfriend. Fortunately, Nick has his game playing friends to help.

Lawrence’s background as a scientist is on full display, making some of the more “bonkers” elements of quantum physics easy to understand as Nick relates that every choice he makes splinters multiple futures into alternate realities. Yet, implausibly, the stalker from the future is from his future, there to help him make choices to save one of his friends when they are forty. If Nick wants to save himself from terminal cancer, he needs to do exactly what the stranger says.

In typical Lawrence fashion, the pace is brisk and the ride is fun, but it’s the notion of alternate realities, branching endless fractals of roads not taken that has me ruminating. If that theory is true, somewhere there’s a version of me that didn’t get swept up into drugs and all the extra-curricular crap I learned in high school. Somewhere there’s a version of me that once got invited to play D&D as a kid and I wasn’t left wondering how many sides those magical die had when all the cool people invited me to play.

More importantly, somewhere there is a version of myself in which friends very much like Nick’s pull me back instead of helping me squander my youth. Or maybe, I just listened to the people who were there, begging me.

Fortunately, the second book in the Impossible Times series drops on May 28th, so I’ll be able to imagine what that might have been like vicariously through Nick’s friends. They’re good people. The kind of friends anyone would be lucky to have.

On that note, if you’re a dungeon master in my neck of the woods planning a quest…nevermind. In this reality, I still don’t have time to game.  

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Categories: Book Reviews

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