88 Names

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The critically acclaimed author of Lovecraft Country returns with a thrilling and immersive virtual reality epic—part cyberthriller, part twisted romantic comedy—that transports you to a world where identity is fluid and nothing can be taken at face value.

John Chu is a “sherpa”—a paid guide to online role-playing games like the popular Call to Wizardry. For a fee, he and his crew will provide you with a top-flight character equipped with the best weapons and armor, and take you dragon-slaying in the Realms of Asgarth, hunting rogue starships in the Alpha Sector, or battling hordes of undead in the zombie apocalypse.

Chu’s new client, the pseudonymous Mr. Jones, claims to be a “wealthy, famous person” with powerful enemies, and he’s offering a ridiculous amount of money for a comprehensive tour of the world of virtual-reality gaming. For Chu, this is a dream assignment, but as the tour gets underway, he begins to suspect that Mr. Jones is really North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, whose interest in VR gaming has more to do with power than entertainment. As if that weren’t enough to deal with, Chu also has to worry about “Ms. Pang,” who may or may not be an agent of the People’s Republic of China, and his angry ex-girlfriend, Darla Jean Covington, who isn’t the type to let an international intrigue get in the way of her own plans for revenge.

What begins as a whirlwind online adventure soon spills over into the real world. Now Chu must use every trick and resource at his disposal to stay one step ahead—because in real life, there is no reset button.


“Matt Ruff is one of science fiction and fantasy’s most consistently brilliant and innovative authors… In his new novel, 88 Names, Ruff adds to the canon of MMORPG heist novels (Charlie Stross’s Rule 34, Neal Stephenson’s Reamde, and my For the Win, to name three) with a unique take that he dubbed ‘Snow Crash meets The King and I.'” — Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing

“Ruff presents his story in John Chu’s first-person voice, and the creation of this engaging, engrossing persona is his first major achievement… [Chu’s] relationships with his crew, with Darla, with his dad, and above all with his brilliant, ruthless mother, offer the reader a chance to savor a kind of well-done family drama… Ruff’s second major victory is in making the reader care about virtual reality. Whenever a novel plunges too deeply into this kind of artificial turf, it risks losing the reader’s interest because of a lack of sensory grounding and the notion that when anything can happen, nothing matters. Ruff overcomes this by making his adventures fashioned from electrons and bytes read as authentically as any naturalism… Ruff’s fast-flowing, fascinating narrative is full of amusing topical and pop culture referents without being overburdened by allusiveness. His witty, often snarky dialogue crackles, and every aspect of the gaming experience—which Ruff has been immersed in for 40 years—is sharply rendered and explicated… Any novel that can bridge these disparate worlds and appeal to gamers and literary fans alike is a treasure greater than the loot in a cyber-dragon’s cave.” — Paul Di Filippo, The Washington Post

“Ruff is an expert at keeping readers off-balance and providing entertaining stories that cross genres… Employing a diverse cast of characters and weaving historical facts with an abundance of pop culture references, Ruff’s richly imagined world of next-generation internet is plausible and a bit frightening. The action inside the virtual gaming world is sleek and exciting, but the extrapolation of identity, friendship, and human relationships makes the narrative shine.” — Booklist (starred review)

“[A] fun, fast-paced novel… The many pop culture SF references make this adventure pure geek gold. Ruff remains on a winning streak with this seamless genre hybrid.” — Publishers Weekly

“Ruff’s newest technothriller is an exciting page-turner that delves into the online gaming world and should appeal to both veterans and newbies.” — Library Journal

“Good characters, keen social commentary, and propulsive action sequences…” — Kirkus Reviews

“I’ve never purchased a Dungeons & Dragons sourcebook or been involved in a campaign; I’ve never finished a Sierra Entertainment adventure without cheating; I’ve never registered a World of Warcraft or Everquest account… It’s, therefore, a credit to Matt Ruff’s strengths as a story-teller that I was utterly engrossed in his depiction of a virtual world of epic quests, galactic-spanning space battles, and incredibly violent bank heists… What stands out is how much fun Ruff is having combining the conventions of spy fiction — the betrayals, the twists, the contrivances… and the freedoms, both creative and personal, afforded by role-playing.” — Locus Magazine

88 Names proves predictably unpredictable, especially as the author seizes every chance to toy with the conventions and possibilities of computer role-playing. The digital espionage at times seems like a formal excuse for Ruff’s loving parodies of gamer trolls, dungeon crawls, Grand Theft Auto-like crime sprees and old-school Infocom text adventures, all rendered in the breezy, geek-positive, charmingly profane mode he established in his 1988 debut, Fool on the Hill. But Ruff is clever enough to make 88 Names’ many apparent detours crucial to the revelations of his final chapters… Unlike most stories involving VR, all-powerful corporations and the possibility of catfishing, 88 Names never verges into the cynical or dystopian. Instead, Ruff invites readers to play.” — Shelf Awareness