Dragons and Jetpacks

Dragons & Jetpacks: Books of the Month, November 2016

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Dragons & Jetpacks is a science fiction and fantasy bookgroup, based on Goodreads. The group is open to all, all that is required is a Goodreads account. We read two books a month, one fantasy and one sci-fi – the second week of each month is when members make suggestions, and the third is used for voting. We’re always happy to meet fellow fans of the genres, so you’re more than welcome to join the group!

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Armada

Goodreads

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe. And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders. No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little… familiar?

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Invisible Library

Goodreads

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.

Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.

Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.

And for Sci-Fi Month, we have a special extra SF pick:

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Goodreads

A billionaire has created a technique to clone dinosaurs. From the DNA that his crack team of scientists extract, he is able to grow the dinosaurs in his laboratories and lock them away on an island behind electric fences, creating a sort of theme park. He asks a group of scientists from several different fields to come and view the park, but something goes terribly wrong when a worker on the island turns traitor and shuts down the power.

Have you read either of this month’s picks? What did you think?

Prose & Pixels

Prose & Pixels #11: Books About Video Games

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Prose & Pixels is a feature that combines two of my loves: books and video games. Here I’ll discuss all sorts of things to do with the two, whether it’s recommendations, influences or just a good old chat.

Today I wanted to share a selection of books that feature video games as a major plot device.

I’m always excited to find a book that features or is set in a video game. It’s so fun to combine these two interests of mine and see how they interact. Normally I end up wanting to play the video game myself… So here is a selection of books where video games play a major role.

Erebos by Ursula Pozanski

Erebos

When 16-year-old Nick receives a package containing the mysterious computer game Erebos, he wonders if it will explain the behavior of his classmates, who have been secretive lately. Players of the game must obey strict rules: always play alone, never talk about the game, and never tell anyone your nickname.

Curious, Nick joins the game and quickly becomes addicted. But Erebos knows a lot about the players and begins to manipulate their lives. When it sends Nick on a deadly assignment, he refuses and is banished from the game.

Now unable to play, Nick turns to a friend for help in finding out who controls the game. The two set off on a dangerous mission in which the border between reality and the virtual world begins to blur.

I haven’t read Erebos, but it sounds like an interesting concept. From the blurb, it sounds like less of the book takes place within the game than others on this list, and that it is perhaps a bit of a psychological thriller. It was originally written in German, and was translated into English a couple of years after original publication.

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

Michael is a gamer. And like most gamers, he almost spends more time on the VirtNet than in the actual world. The VirtNet offers total mind and body immersion, and it’s addictive. Thanks to technology, anyone with enough money can experience fantasy worlds, risk their life without the chance of death, or just hang around with Virt-friends. And the more hacking skills you have, the more fun. Why bother following the rules when most of them are dumb, anyway?

But some rules were made for a reason. Some technology is too dangerous to fool with. And recent reports claim that one gamer is going beyond what any gamer has done before: he’s holding players hostage inside the VirtNet. The effects are horrific—the hostages have all been declared brain-dead. Yet the gamer’s motives are a mystery.

The government knows that to catch a hacker, you need a hacker. And they’ve been watching Michael. They want him on their team. But the risk is enormous. If he accepts their challenge, Michael will need to go off the VirtNet grid. There are back alleys and corners in the system human eyes have never seen and predators he can’t even fathom—and there’s the possibility that the line between game and reality will be blurred forever.

I read and reviewed The Eye of Minds by James Dashner in June this year, after it had been sitting on my Netgalley shelf for a while. It comes from the same author as The Maze Runner, and whilst I didn’t find it quite as enjoyable or fast-paced, it was still a fun read. The third book in the series (The Mortality Doctrine) was released last month.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

It’s the year 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. We’re out of oil. We’ve wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS – and his massive fortune – will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle.

Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions – and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed.

I have written a LOT about Ready Player One in the past – I’ve reviewed it, shared five reasons why you should read it, recommended it to YA readers, listed it as one of my top ten books of 2013, made it part of my definitive sci-fi reads challenge and listed it as one of my top ten sci-fi reads overall. So, yeah. I like this book quite a lot. It can be a bit hit and miss depending on when you grew up and if you’ve always loved video games, but most other people I know who have read it absolutely loved it too.

Elusion by Claudia Gabel

Elusion

Soon, Elusion® will change the world and life as we know it.

A new technology called Elusion is sweeping the country. An app, visor and wristband will virtually transport you to an exotic destination where adventure can be pursued without the complications — or consequences — of real life.

Regan is an Elusion insider. Or at least she used to be. Her father invented the program, and her best friend, Patrick, heir to the tech giant Orexis, is about to release it nationwide. But ever since her father’s unexpected death, Regan can’t bear to Escape, especially since waking up from the dream means crashing back to her grim reality.

Still, when there are rumors of trouble in Elusion — accusations that it’s addictive and dangerous — Regan is determined to defend it. But the critics of Elusion come from surprising sources, including Josh, the handsome skeptic with his own personal stakes. As Regan investigates the claims, she discovers a disturbing web of secrets. She will soon have to choose between love and loyalty… a decision that will affect the lives of millions.

I’ve not read Elusion and found it especially for this post. It sounds like the program within the book, Elusion, is a Second Life type game, where the player can become whoever they want, and do whatever they want. It seems to have received quite mixed reviews from my Goodreads friends though!

The .hack// series

.hack//Legend of the Twilight Volume 1

Old-fashioned role-playing games have experienced a renaissance on the World Wide Web. Twins Rena and Shugo are two middle-school students who enter ‘The World’ as level one game characters. When Shugo’s character dies, he is transported to another level where he is entrusted to bear the Twilight Bracelet by the mysterious Aura. Shugo must find out who Aura is and why she gave him this powerful weapon to protect his sister from the peculiar characters in ‘The World’.

The description above is for .hack//Legend of the Twilight, which is one of my favourite manga series. However, there are lots of different .hack// series with different story arcs and characters, all set within ‘The World’. Most of them have also been adapted into anime series. If you’re thinking of trying them out, I’d recommend you start with this one – it’s fairly short and a good introduction.

Armada by Ernest Cline

Armada

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe. And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada — in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills — as well as those of millions of gamers across the world — are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little… familiar?

Yep, another Ernest Cline book! Armada was released earlier this year, after a long, long wait. I was lucky enough to get a review copy, and reviewed the book a couple of months ago. It didn’t have quite the same wow factor as Ready Player One, but it might work better for those who don’t get all the 80’s/video game references in the previous book.

What books about or set in video games have you read and enjoyed?

Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: My Top 10 Science Fiction Novels of the Year

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

I feel this has to be a part of Sci-Fi Month every year: my favourite science fiction novels read this year. These are the ten novels that impressed me the most, listed in no particular order because I find it so difficult to order books… I just love them all too much. If you enjoyed any of these, let me know!

Steelheart & Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson Firefight

Both Steelheart and Firefight were extraordinary books. I have really enjoyed everything by Brandon Sanderson that I’ve read so far, but these two are written in a very different style to everything else, and are aimed at younger audiences. However, if you’re not a Young Adult fan, this series still comes really highly recommended – particularly if you like the superhero genre.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury & Tracer by Rob Boffard

Fahrenheit 451 Tracer

Reading Fahrenheit 451 meant making progress with my Definitive Science Fiction Reads challenge, created for Sci-Fi Month 2013. It is a haunting tale; the thought of a world where books are banned absolutely terrifies me, and many others I’m sure. Tracer was a Netgalley find, chosen for my post-The 100 needs. It is so action-packed and fast, and I can remember the opening scene really well as it was so vivid.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North & Armada by Ernest Cline

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August Armada

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a more ‘subtle’ science fiction book, in that whilst time travel (of a sort) is the central concept of the book, it actually takes a backseat. How Harry time travels/is reborn is less important than what he does with his many lives. It is definitely the sort of science fiction book that would appeal to those who do not consider themselves big fans of the genre. Armada, on the other hand, is definitely one that will appeal to a certain group of people: video game fans. The story of a teenager who gets caught up in an alien invasion that seems inspired by the online game he plays, it is Ernest Cline’s second novel. I couldn’t wait to read it after Ready Player One, and whilst I did not enjoy it much as his first novel, I still rated it five stars because it was just so fun.

Time Salvager by Wesley Chu & The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

Time Salvager The Girl With All The Gifts

Time Salvager was one of those books that I had high expectations for, but it still managed to utterly blow me away. As I said in my review, it is the type of science fiction that I have been yearning for for a while. The Girl With All The Gifts is a very different type of book, but equally fantastic. A sort-of-zombie dystopian novel, unlike other books of the same ilk, the reader sees the zombies from a more ‘personal’ viewpoint.

Way Down Dark by James Smythe & Catalyst by S.J. Kincaid

Way Down Dark Catalyst

Way Down Dark was another wonderful Netgalley find, that I partly took a chance on just because of the cool cover. This felt like a breath of fresh air compared to the whole host of science fiction/dystopian Young Adult novels that have recently been released. Unfortunately as it has been labelled as ‘for fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent, I fear this will put many people off the book who actively avoid those series or those similar. Ignore that! Catalyst is the final book in the Insignia series, and was a really great ending. It follows young teens training for the military, and somehow often feels simultaneously tense and light-hearted.

Have you read any of these, or are you planning to? What are your thoughts?

Review

Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I had been waiting for Armada to be published from the moment I finished Ready Player One back in 2013. Despite my attempts to stop requesting ARCs on Netgalley until I raised my ratio, I just couldn’t stop myself when I saw Armada.

It was everything I wanted, and expected, from Ernest Cline. Pop culture references galore, every one relevant. A fantastic sense of humour. Fast-paced action. And video games – I can’t seem to get enough of books about or that involve video games. When the book opens we are introduced to Zack, an apparently ordinary teenager, living with his mum in a small town in Oregon. He daydreams through his classes and spends his free time playing an online game, called Armada with his two best friends. Soon we learn more – Zack has quite a temper on him, and he never quite got over the death of his father when he was only one year old. His father was a huge fan of science fiction – video games, films, books – and Zack has inherited this passion, along with his father’s collection, including his journals. Journals which detail conspiracy theories on how the government are using video games to train people for extraterrestrial combat, Ender’s Game style.

It turns out that Zack’s father was right, and Zack soon finds himself enlisted in the Earth Defense Alliance. This happens early on in the book, and from there on out Armada is an incredibly fast-paced and action-packed story. To me, this story did not feel as ‘big’ as Ready Player One, in that the reader only gets to see a few locations. However, this did not detract from my immersion into the plot, and I was cheering every character along every step of the way. Cline’s writing meant I could easily visualise each action scene as it happened.

With references from Star Trek to The Lord of the Rings, plus more subtle ones to games such as Portal, as well as ‘appearances’ from famous scientists, Armada will draw readers in with its link to our very own lives. Armada is, ultimately, a love letter to old school alien invasion sci-fi that also pokes some fun at the genre, one that many sci-fi fans will find themselves equally as in love with. Highly, HIGHLY recommended for all fans of Cline’s previous novel, Ready Player One, as well as any classic science fiction fan.

Throughout the book, Zack refers to his father’s ‘Raid the Arcade’ playlist, which he uses for gaming. I have recreated this playlist on Spotify, although sadly without the AC/DC tracks which aren’t on there.

My review of Armada is quoted in the UK paperback!

 

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Monthly Roundup

Monthly Roundup: June 2015

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Every first Wednesday of the month, I’ll be posting a roundup of the month just gone, and writing about what’s to come in the next few weeks.

June 2015

Last month I read a total of ten books: Vortex (Insignia #2) by S.J. Kincaid, Promise of Blood (The Powder Mage #1) by Brian McClellan, The Witch Hunter (The Witch Hunter #1) by Virginia Boecker, Way Down Dark (The Australia Trilogy #1) by James Smythe, Time Salvager by Wesley Chu, The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold (Demon Cycle #1.5) by Peter V. Brett, Armada by Ernest Cline, The Ships of Aleph by Jaine Fenn, The Parthenon by Mary Beard and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North.

I managed to read more this year, due to handing in my thesis and having no work to do – what a relief! 😉 I read some really great books this month. Time Salvager and Armada really stood out, and the latter was definitely worth the wait.

 

Challenge progress:

  • I read five books towards the DC vs Marvel Challenge. Next month’s villain is Bane, and I’ve already managed to select my books to defeat him.
  • I have currently read 41 books towards my Goodreads goal.

 

Currently reading:

Shadowscale

How was June for you?

Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2014: YA to Adult SF Recommendations

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2014, an event hosted by myself and Oh, the Books!. You can keep up to date by following @SciFiMonth on Twitter, or the official hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

Science fiction can be a scary genre. The potential that it holds can be daunting, and it can be difficult to know where to start. I know many readers who are more than happy to delve into Young Adult science fiction, but are wary of going any further. So I thought I’d make some recommendations of ‘heavier’ science fiction, based on YA books. Let me know what you think, and feel free to share your ideas!

If you enjoyed Insignia by S.J. Kincaid…

YA to Adult Recs

… then try Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

In both books, real life and online gaming become very entangled. So many of my fellow bloggers have read and loved both of these books! The 80s references only serve to make Ready Player One even more awesome.

If you enjoyed Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld…

YA to Adult Recs

… then try Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding.

Although one is an alternate history, and the other is a space western, they’re both steampunk books that really gave off the same sense of adventure to me. If you loved the steampunk inventions of Westerfeld’s series, as well as the fast pace of the story, you’ll enjoy Retribution Falls!

If you enjoyed All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill…

YA to Adult SF

… then try Hyperion by Dan Simmons.

Why? Because TIMEY WIMEY! Hyperion features a lot of (complicated but amazing) time travel, and is just a fantastic, fantastic book that I can’t recommend enough (seriously I’ve recommended it so many times over the past two and a bit years).

If you enjoyed Divergent by Veronica Roth…

YA to Adult SF

… then try Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

If you want the classic dystopia disguised as a utopia, as seen in Divergent, then give Brave New World a try. It’s a harrowing tale of good intentions gone horribly wrong.

If you enjoyed Cinder by Marissa Meyer…

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… then try Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.

If you enjoyed reading about cyborgs in Cinder, then you might enjoy PKD’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? Like the cyborgs in Cinder’s world, the androids of this book are so human-like that it is almost impossible to tell. Philip K. Dick was a master of science fiction, and this is one of my absolute favourite science fiction books.

If you enjoyed Beta by Rachel Cohn…

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… then try House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds.

Now I have to admit that I haven’t actually read Beta, but I really wanted to recommend House of Suns as it is another of my favourites – and as both books are about the lives of clones, I thought it was a good match. Now to read some more Alastair Reynolds and see if he is favourite author material…

What recommendations would you make for someone wanting to move from YA sci-fi to the ‘heavier’ stuff?

Past Features

Turning Off The TV #11: Tron Legacy

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Welcome to my regular Thursday feature, Turning off the TV! In this feature I recommend books similar to TV shows or films you may have enjoyed, both series and specific episodes.

The film this week is: Tron Legacy.

Tron Legacy

Sam Flynn, the tech-savvy 27-year-old son of Kevin Flynn, looks into his father’s disappearance and finds himself pulled into the same world of fierce programs and gladiatorial games where his father has been living for 20 years. Along with Kevin’s loyal confidant Quorra, father and son embark on a life-and-death journey across a visually-stunning cyber universe that has become far more advanced and exceedingly dangerous. Meanwhile, the malevolent program CLU, who dominates the digital world, plans to invade the real world and will stop at nothing to prevent their escape.

Yep, I’m mixing it up this week with a film instead of a TV series! I’ve chosen Tron Legacy, a film I particularly enjoy for its visuals and soundtrack. It’s the sequel to Tron, released in 1982, and is just slightly more visually impressive… If you’ve not heard the soundtrack by Daft Punk, I recommend giving it a try. And now onto the recommendations!

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I read and reviewed Ready Player One near the beginning of 2013, and I’m so happy to see that more and more of my blogger friends are reading (and loving!) it. Set in the future, where a massively multiplayer game called OASIS has become most people’s reality, the story follows a young man called Wade. Like everyone else, he spends most of his time on OASIS – and it becomes even more important to him after the creator of the game announces a lottery. The first person to solve his riddles and achieve the highest score will inherit both his fortune, and control of the OASIS. It’s packed full of 1980s references, as well as tributes and alludes to various video games, and is pretty much the nerd’s perfect book. I absolutely loved it, and frequently recommend it.

Lockstep by Karl Schroeder

Lockstep by Karl Schroeder

A more recent read of mine, Lockstep isn’t set in a virtual world – but it is based on one. On his way to claim a planet for his family, Toby McGonigall finds himself stuck and drifting in space. When he awakes, he finds that fourteen thousand years have passed, and many planets now operate on the ‘Lockstep’ system: hibernate for three hundred and sixty months, stay awake for two. To his shock, Toby learns that his family are still alive – and they are the ones ruling the system. His brother Peter is a tyrant, and has based the Lockstep system and cities and planets within it on a virtual reality game that he and Toby created and played as children. It also has a pretty cool cover, which I now know is by Chris McGrath, thanks to Carl!

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

I read In Real Life just the other week, and a review will be coming soon! It’s the story of a young girl, Anda, who plays an online game called Coarsegold Online. She gets accepted into a females-only guild, and has to prove herself in order to be promoted to a full member. One of her fellow guild members, Lucy, invites her along on a quest – only it’s not an official one. They’ve been asked to rid the game of gold farmers by killing them on sight. However, Anda gets to know one of the gold farmers, who also plays in his spare time, and begins to question what is right and wrong within the game, as well as the real world. It’s a sweet story, that picks up on more real world issues and morals than many similar books. Plus the artwork is gorgeous, which doesn’t hurt!

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

I haven’t yet read The Eye of Minds, but I have a copy on my Kindle, thanks to Netgalley. However, I think it sounds pretty perfect for fans of Tron Legacy: set in our future, it follows Michael, who spends most of his time in a virtual reality game called VirtNet – as do most of the world’s population. The trouble begins when hackers start attacking the game, and taking players hostage. Michael finds himself recruited by the government in order to try and stop these hackers from taking over – but there’s a chance this could have a major impact on his life, blurring reality and virtual reality.

The .hack//Legend of the Twilight series by Tatsuya Hamazaki

.hack//Legend of the Twilight Volume 1 .hack//Legend of the Twilight Volume 2 .hack//Legend of the Twilight Volume 3

I think this is the first time I’ve included any manga in this feature – but the .hack//Legend of the Twilight series is one of my favourites. At only three books long (and twelve episodes in the anime) it’s a nice short series, especially if you’ve not read much manga before. The story follows two twins, Rena and Shugo, who decide to play an online game called The World together. But when Shugo’s character dies early on in the game, he finds himself in a strange bonus level – where he is given a bracelet by a mysterious lady called Aura. After making friends with a few more experienced players, Shugo and Rena aim to find out exactly who Aura is – and that’s when players of The World start dropping unconscious at their computers.

Are you a fan of Tron Legacy? Do you have any recommendations to add?