|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Publisher||Penguin Books (USA)|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|LC Class||PS3619.A36 I35 2003|
Idlewild is a science fiction novel by Nick Sagan, published in 2003. It is the first of a trilogy, with sequels Edenborn and Everfree. The story is split between two settings: the middle of the 21st century (told through interludes and distinguished from the main story by italics) and a generation later. It is a picture of the last ten people on earth, a near-complete pantheon of gods and goddesses, and thus may be regarded as legend or mythology.
The story told in the interludes is set in the middle of the 21st century. Here, a retrovirus called Black Ep has rendered all of humanity infertile, and causes people to die. It went undetected by hiding in the human genome itself. Humanity, realizing that the end of the world is imminent, promptly unites in a show of universal brotherhood, but they are too late. However, in the lab of a major German-American genetic research facility, a group of scientists (referred to throughout the interludes as The Southern Gentleman, Blue, and Halfway Jim) are working on a project which may save humanity. The project involves raising ten genetically altered children in immersive virtual reality (IVR), since nobody would be left to raise them. To test the efficiency of the software, Halfway Jim uses his masterpiece work, a program designed to be as close to a real child as possible, to run through the virtual lives the children will lead. Out of sentimentality, Jim's dying act is to integrate this program, which he names Malachi, into the virtual reality environment.
A young man wakes up with no memory of who he is, where he is, or anything about his life and is initially unable to move. He knew only three things — he was a young male student, someone was trying to kill him, and Lazarus was dead. He didn't even know who Lazarus was.
After a short period of time, he regains motion, but no memories. Over the next few pages, he is faced with flashing lights, disembodied voices, a cathedral, teddy bears nailed to wooden posts, graveyards, the realization that he is both alone and that his world is impossibly small, and terrifying creatures known as Nightgaunts, before meeting with Jasmine, a 'human' who identifies him as Halloween.
As the book progresses, Halloween realizes where he is. He's in a virtual reality school that his parents have sent him to. Upon completion of the school, each student will receive both a scholarship to go through college and a position in a prestigious medical company called Gedaechtnis Corporation (in German, Gedächtnis means memory, or ability to recall). The ten students are Mercutio (Adam), Pandora (Naomi), Simone, Isaac, Lazarus, Vashti, Tyler, Champagne (Charlotte), Fantasia (Gina), and Halloween (Gabriel) himself. Fan, Merc, Hal, and Ty are considered the "clods" while Simone, Isaac, Laz, Vashti, Cham, and Pan are the "pets". Where pets study and follow all of the rules, clods do the opposite. The digital teacher of the school is named Maestro, but the clods call him Mae$tro (pronounced 'Maeshtro') and do not respect or care for him. Each student is given a digital world that they may edit to their liking; this is where they 'live' while in IVR and where Halloween first finds himself at the beginning of the book. They are also assigned a "Nanny," a digital being that can help a student with anything they need help with. For example, when Halloween realizes that Jasmine is not real, he asks Nanny to bring her back to life (she died in a fight against Fantasia), and Nanny does so. Because of Halloween's suspicions that he may have killed Lazarus, he does not confide in anyone for a long period of time.
Mercutio asks Halloween if he'd like some food, and they decide to dine at the Taj Mahal. Mercutio begins to order a steak, but halfway through his order, the entire world freezes up. Merc has triggered a jammer so that he and Hal can escape IVR, and they both wake up in their beds in the school. They decided to visit their favorite diner, Twain's, and enjoy a nice meal before Merc decides to head back to IVR. Halloween, however, chooses to call his parents and report that he is dropping out. After a tough time with both his parents and Ellison, the school's headmaster (and the man Maestro was modeled after), Halloween is sent back to IVR.
At her request, Halloween goes to visit Simone, who also believes that something happened to Lazarus, although she is not sure what. The school claims that he has graduated, but Simone and Hal don't believe that. Hal agrees to help Simone determine what happened to him, so they both travel to Laz's last known IVR location — his own domain. Hal still believes that he was the one who killed Laz, but since he loved Simone, he would have done anything for her. However, Simone keeps talking about how she loved Laz, because before he had left, they had been going out.
In what is almost a legendary event, like the Last Supper, Halloween throws a party on what turns out to be the last night the students spend together in IVR. At the party, Mercutio breaks the rules, which brings the governor program Maestro to the scene. Using a prepared code, Mercutio breaks the system. With information gathered in the course of his murder investigation, Halloween is able to get out of the broken system, to what he assumes will be the Idlewild IVR Medical Academy in Michigan.
Instead, he finds out that his entire life has been spent in a pod. The periods of time he spent out of the school were periods of virtual reality just like the personal domains and virtual schoolhouse he knew. The ten students of the school - five boys and five girls - are divided between four different locations in Europe and America, with another in space, guarding against the possibility of some catastrophe. Halloween and Fantasia break out of their facility, steal a car, and decide to wake up one of their friends, not being able to wake the others due to the distance between the pods. In the meantime, Halloween goes back to speak with his classmates and finds Tyler suffocating to death in Champagne's domain. Back in the real world, he decides to go to Idlewild HQ, the American headquarters of the real Gedaechtnis Corporation located at the real-world address of the virtual school (in Idlewild, Michigan), to release their other friends. There they are attacked by the real murderer - Mercutio. He refuses to explain his actions, telling Halloween only that he has won. They battle, and Mercutio is fatally shot. Afterwards, Halloween finds Mercutio's strange log. His last cryptic messages imply he wanted to kill his virtual siblings to rule alone, and that he alone should survive to breed.
Halloween "graduates" all of the remaining students, waking them up from IVR. They decide to fulfill Gedaechtnis' plans for them to rebuild the world, but Halloween rejects the plan. The book ends with Halloween standing in the woods of Michigan, angry at the world for robbing him of his illusions, the girl he loved and his two best friends.
Overt Symbolism in Idlewild
||This section possibly contains original research. (September 2009)|
The character Mercutio has significant similarities to his counterpart in Romeo and Juliet. For example, in Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio curses both his friends and enemies when he realizes he is about to die, just as in Idlewild, Mercutio goes after both the clods and the pets.
Mercutio's real name is an allusion to Adam the first man according to the Abrahamic religious tradition, especially given his plan to kill all his male classmates ("He who succeeds, breeds").
Fantasia's hometown, Aberbeen WA is also home to Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic of Nirvana. Cobain is referenced throughout the story by Tyler, who shares Cobain's legendary angst.