The Fourth Wall (book, Walter Jon Williams, 2012)


From SFX #220.

Three and a half stars

Author: Walter Jon Williams

Publisher: Titan Books

Ex-child star’s woes meet utopian plot

Running on an engine of great characterisation and wit, The Fourth Wall mercilessly skewers Hollywood’s star machine.

Sean Makin is a washed up child star with cheating parents, a dirty secret, and a desperate need to be adored. Among his problems is a physical condition that makes him appear somewhat freakish. Condemned to the lowest rung of the star ladder – appearing in reality TV show Celebrity Pit Fighter – when he’s offered the part of extra-dimensional alien Roheen in an international, serialised movie, he leaps at the chance, only to find murder and conspiracy are his wages.

Williams is at his best with Sean’s world. Sean’s an amusing guide to the tragic life cycle of child actors, with desperation cutting his residual arrogance nicely. Williams has a fantastic feel for life of set, and the passages describing the movie business and its impact on people are the book’s most effective parts.

The actual plot, a twisty murder mystery, is fragile, the denouement more so. And it’s not really SF. It depends on your definition, we suppose, but aside from slightly more advanced hardware and software and a couple of passing references to augmented reality, this is contemporary satire, right down the line.

But then, exploring the unrealised potential of existing tech is Williams’ forte. Although The Fourth Wall is not as pertinent as Deep State in this regard, the plot gives a reasonable enough frame to hang a bunch of excellent characters and observations from.

Did you know?

Deep State predicted the technological aspects of the Arab Spring. The Fourth Wall is a sequel of sorts, and features State’s protagonist Dagmar.

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