Author: Terry Miles
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: June 8, 2021
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Conspiracies abound in this surreal and yet all-too-real technothriller in which a deadly underground alternate reality game might just be altering reality itself, set in the same world as the popular Rabbits podcast.
It’s an average work day. You’ve been wrapped up in a task, and you check the clock when you come up for air–4:44 pm. You go to check your email, and 44 unread messages have built up. With a shock, you realize it is April 4th–4/4. And when you get in your car to drive home, your odometer reads 44,444. Coincidence? Or have you just seen the edge of a rabbit hole?
Rabbits is a mysterious alternate reality game so vast it uses our global reality as its canvas. Since the game first started in 1959, ten iterations have appeared and nine winners have been declared. Their identities are unknown. So is their reward, which is whispered to be NSA or CIA recruitment, vast wealth, immortality, or perhaps even the key to unlocking the secrets of the universe itself. But the deeper you get, the more deadly the game becomes. Players have died in the past–and the body count is rising.
And now the eleventh round is about to begin. Enter K–a Rabbits obsessive who has been trying to find a way into the game for years. That path opens when K is approached by billionaire Alan Scarpio, the alleged winner of the sixth iteration. Scarpio says that something has gone wrong with the game and that K needs to fix it before Eleven starts or the whole world will pay the price.
Five days later, Scarpio is declared missing. Two weeks after that, K blows the deadline and Eleven begins. And suddenly, the fate of the entire universe is at stake.
I’m not sure I’m actually up to the task of righting a Rabbits review, but I’ll give it a shot!
Rabbits is both the name of this novel and the name of the game within the novel. Rabbits — the game — is secretive and mysterious. No one knows for sure if it actually exists, who created it, how you play, who has played, or how you win. Yet there are countless online discussion groups devoted to Rabbits, as well as countless die-hard gamers who live and breathe for the opportunity to find out more and maybe even get to play.
K, the main character of the book, holds regular workshops on Rabbits in a Seattle arcade, where he reveals rare recordings and shares the lore of the game. It’s all based on rumors and hearsay and dark web conspiracies, but K is more successful than most. Gifted since birth with the ability to see and recognize patterns and connections, he’s highly skilled when it comes to recognizing the anomalies and seeming coincidences that are so crucial to Rabbits.
K also presents as being somewhat imbalanced, losing time, having strange freakouts, and becoming so obsessed with clues and the game that he forgets to eat or sleep. As the book opens, K receives a strange warning from a tech billionaire rumored to be a winner of an earlier iteration of the game. He states that there’s something wrong with the game, that it’s up to K to fix it, and that if he doesn’t, the world may be doomed. No pressure though!
We follow K and his maybe-girlfriend Chloe through a baffling series of symbols, puzzles, and patterns as they work to solve the riddle of Rabbits and, hopefully, to keep the multiverse from imploding. Reading Rabbits, I couldn’t help thinking that it’s sort of a Da Vinci Code kind of mystery wrapped up in gamer-speak, with a techno-thriller pace and edge to it all.
Rabbits is incredibly confusing, and to be honest, I don’t think I could actually tell you what Rabbits — the game — actually is or how someone wins. The book is convoluted as heck, although I can’t say it doesn’t have enjoyable moments. The mindfuckery is leavened by funny dialogue and pop culture references — in between all the parts that left me scratching my head and utterly bewildered. More often than not, I found myself incredibly impatient with all the twists and turns, and I just couldn’t suspend disbelief enough to buy into the idea that these hidden clues could actually make sense to a real person.
I think maybe I’m just not the right audience for Rabbits. The book is long, and while there are some fun passages and escapades, overall it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I will say, though, that it’s made me hypersensitive right now to patterns and coincidences… like why do I always happen to be glancing at a clock when it’s 9:20?
Maybe it’s the game. Maybe I’m playing and I don’t even know it!
Final note: Rabbits is also the name of a podcast created by the novel’s author, Terry Miles. I haven’t listened to it, and understand from the book’s marketing that it’s not necessary to have listened to the podcast to read the book — but it’s also about the game Rabbits. The podcast can be found at: https://www.rabbitspodcast.com/