The Extremes

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The Extremes
First edition
Author Christopher Priest
Cover artist Holly Warburton
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Science fiction
Publisher Simon & Schuster
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 393 pp
ISBN 0-684-81632-6
OCLC 41267264

The Extremes is a 1998 science fiction novel by the English writer Christopher Priest. The novel received the BSFA Award.

Plot introduction[edit]

Teresa Simons is drawn to a quiet English seaside town in the aftermath of an apparently motiveless massacre by a gunman. Her husband, Andy Simons, who was an FBI agent like Teresa, had died in a similar outburst of violence in a small Texas town, on the exact same day. Similarities between the two incidents of spree violence (a term often used in the novel), apparently taking place at random, are shocking and inexplicable. Teresa finds she can come to terms with the senseless nature of the murders only by immersing herself in the world of virtual reality—to be precise, the American-built technology that allows her to enter into the frightening world of the Extremes simulations.

Plot summary[edit]

The Publishers Weekly review provided a concise plot summary:

"On the same day, at the same time, that a man with a gun committed mass murder in Kingston City, Texas, another armed man did the same in the seaside resort town of Bulverton, England. FBI agent Teresa Simons, 43, lost her husband in Kingston City. Now she's visiting Bulverton to determine if the slayings were more than coincidence. Teresa's training included the virtual reality scenarios of ExEx (Extreme Experience), which reconstructs violent events and requires participants to get shot over and over until they learn the right way to fight back. The FBI uses ExEx for training; companies market it for entertainment. Teresa uses ExEx facilities in Bulverton to seek parallels between the two murder sprees. But the GunHo Corporation has a major ExEx investment in the Bulverton incident, and wants to thwart Teresa. Could ExEx's feedback loops have altered time and reality, affecting or even creating the paired killings? Teresa's discoveries horrify her, but propel her into action. She endures a barrage of carnage to find her way back to her love."[1]

Booklist offered another summary:

"FBI special agents Teresa Simon and her husband, Andy, have been trained in ExEx—Extreme Experience—a kind of virtual reality enabling intelligence officers to relive scenes of carnage, murder, and brutality as they learn to save themselves. Andy is investigating the possibility of connecting killers with victims thought to be random, in the hope of becoming able to predict violent outbursts, when, ironically, he is killed by a crazed gunman on a shooting spree. Teresa takes a restorative trip to England, her birthplace, sojourning in Bulverton, a sleepy former resort town. There, she winds up investigating a mass murderer's shootings of her hotel's owners, the barmaid's husband, and many others on the very day of Andy's death. Thanks to a bourbon-induced haze, the line between reality and ExEx blurs for panicky Teresa, and suddenly she is "experiencing" the violence in Bulverton. Or was she dreaming? hallucinating? If not, who is controlling her ExEx experience?"[2]

Critical reception[edit]

Publishers Weekly described the novel as a "forensic thriller with a strong science fictional element": "Priest (The Prestige) keeps one eye on his suspenseful plot, another on the SF angles that underpin it and a third, camera-eye on the real implications of worldwide instant communication, virtual reality and media-driven violence. If his lingo can get a bit thick ("It's the same thing, in algorithmic terms, as your basic what-the-hell symbolic adumbration"), his plot will keep most readers raptly amazed."[1]

Booklist wrote, "This enthralling fantasy seems tailor-made for film, filled as it is with images blurring time and space."[2]

Rich Horton, at SF Site, said, "The scenes in ExEx are well done, believable and scary, and comment on our fascination with violence – and to some extent on our complicity with it – subtly, without lecturing. The writing is excellent... Priest seems fascinated with reality and how our consciousness creates our reality, and as such could hardly be expected to resist the temptation presented by a subject such as extremely realistic VR simulations. His speculations here jump off the extrapolation track a bit, in my opinion, but they are fascinating, and the ending of this novel takes on a certain logic of its own. It's moving and interesting, and well constructed... I was left feeling a bit like I'd read two books: one about what a cover blurb calls "the pornography of violence" and how people react and adapt to it; and another about consensus reality, and how VR might expand or alter that reality. Both subjects are interesting, and I still found this an absorbing novel, one of the best of 1998."[3]

Awards & nominations[edit]

The Extremes won the BSFA Award in 1998 for Best SF Novel,[4] and was nominated for the 1999 Arthur C. Clarke Award.[5] In the 2000 Locus Poll Award it ranked No. 23 Best SF Novel.


  1. ^ a b "The Extremes". Publishers Weekly. 246 (11): 44. 15 March 1999. 
  2. ^ a b Scott, Whitney (15 May 1999). "The Extremes". Booklist. 95 (18): 1682. 
  3. ^ Horton, Rich (1999). "The Extremes". SF Site. Retrieved 12 July 2013. 
  4. ^ "1998 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 28 September 2009. 
  5. ^ "1999 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 28 September 2009. 

External links[edit]