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Literature / Idlewild

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A man awakens alone in a swamp. His body is paralyzed and his memory has been wiped, but he knows the following: Someone tried to kill me. Lazarus is dead. I killed him.

Working from amnesiac roots, he must investigate his environment, meet old friends and enemies, and unravel the mystery at the heart of Idlewild.

Idlewild is a 2003 science fiction book by Nick Sagan. It is characterized by dark atmosphere, a grim sense of humor, and repeated plot and character twists that can drag the audience through an emotional wringer. As such, almost all of the information below is a spoiler to one extent or another. Read accordingly.

Not to be confused with the 2006 film of the same name or the 1995 novel of the same name by Mark Lawson or the Scottish rock band Idlewild (who took the name from a location in Anne of Green Gables).

It was followed by two sequels: Edenborn and Everfree.

This work provides examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Malachi is the only true AI, with the other programs relying on personality bleed to adapt to the students. Unfortunately his negative emotions toward the students, while balanced by his moral center, run unfettered in the other programs.
  • Apocalypse How: Planetary/Species Extinction. Black Ep infiltrates the entire human race over the course of generations in asymptomatic form, then mutates into a deadly world-destroying plague.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Maestro, the Nannies, and Malachi, but only the last is truly free. The others are heavily bound by programming until Malachi starts bleeding into them.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Pandora! Fantasia! Halloween! Champagne! Played with in that (most of) the students chose their dramatic, unique names for themselves.
  • Blood Sport: What clodge ball has become, albeit with virtual soldiers.
  • Broken Masquerade: The world-shattering revelation that the students' upbringing has been entirely within IVR.
  • Buried Alive: Halloween's fate at Maestro's mercy.
  • Chameleon Camouflage: Adam's armor has a visual effect that blends into the background. Halloween doesn't notice him until he moves.
  • Color-Coded Characters: Each student has a specific two-cycle color code, mostly for their message sprites.
  • Coming of Age Story: A teenager discovers that he has been lied to for most of his life by authority figures, and must then take on responsibility for the weight of the world.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Fantasia's clodge ball assault on Halloween, primarily because he had absolutely no idea what he was getting into.
  • The Dead Have Names: The children's letters to Halloween and Fantasia have this effect.
  • Depopulation Bomb: Black Ep infiltrates the global population over decades before it mutates into a lethal form that kills literally every single host. No ape is safe.
  • Dream Within a Dream: IVR nested within IVR.
  • Driven to Suicide: Simone, by the sheer terror of their situation.
  • Easy Amnesia: Averted. Our hero recovers scraps and pieces, but his retrograde amnesia is permanent.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Halloween's vampire majordomo Doom is saddled with the first name Aloysius.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Halloween's rude awakening to a depopulated world.
  • Fling a Light into the Future: Gedaechtnis' strategy to fight Black Ep is to engineer children capable of surviving it, knowing that they will have to be raised by programs since all the adults will be dead.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: The nightgaunts have nicknames like Widdershins, Popeye, and Gules.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Played completely straight. "Gedaechtnis" is translated as German for "memory", but the only character who bothers to explain the acronym says "G-something E-something Drug And Enhanced Chemical Health Technologies".
  • Hallucinations: Fantasia has difficulty sorting daydreams from reality, but whether this flows from her condition or her meds is never proven.
  • Hollywood Hacking: How to use a system editor? Visualize it as a spider and wear it like a glove, naturally!
  • Insistent Terminology: Halloween is not a necrologist, he's a thanatologist. He obsesses over the death of spirit, not the biological processes.
  • In Vino Veritas: Halloween invokes this trope by throwing a tiki-themed party with simulated alcohol in an attempt to garner confessions about hidden motives and grudges. He doesn't learn anything new and ends up exposing his clone of Simone and his jammer.
  • Local Hangout: Twain's in Idlewild is the off-campus bar where the students spend time outside class.
  • Logical Weakness: The Ten may have superhuman immune systems, but they're ludicrously susceptible to allergic reactions as a result of their upbringing.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Halloween's opinion of Lazarus in his imaginary eulogy when he learns Lazarus really is dead in the real world
    "Our man Lazarus had an uncanny ability to make everyone around him feel stupid. By this, I don't mean to insinuate that he was in any way intelligent. Just smug and calculating"
  • Mauve Shirt: Jasmine. She even comes back to life. Twice.
  • Meaningful Name
    • Adam was the first of a new, not-quite-human species.
    • Lazarus was to rise from the dead.
    • Gabriel carries the message from the creators to his cohorts.
  • Mechanical Evolution: Dr. Hyoguchi's programmed "personality bleeding" to allow the IVR to adapt and better teach the students at the Academy. Unfortunately it also allowed bleed from unsanctioned programs and affected at least one student.
  • Religious and Mythological Theme Naming: The pods the Ten are held in are named after paradises, such as Walhall, Dilmun, and Elysium
  • Multinational Team: The Ten represent genetic and cultural backgrounds from around the world.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Played with by the clodge ball generals: The Violet Queen, Blackdawn, and Widowmaker D'Vrai sound really impressive but aren't really indicative of their characters. Clodge ball soldiers take them very seriously, though.
  • Oblivious to Love: Halloween, to Pandora. Possibly Simone to Halloween as well.
  • One-Word Title: Also a Portmantitle
  • Order Versus Chaos: Fantasia's worldview; as she puts it, Nutritious vs Delicious.
  • The Plague: Black Ep is a disease that first infiltrated the global population over decades, then abruptly mutates into a lethal form. By the time the story starts it has already wiped out the entire global ape population.
  • Psycho Prototype: Adam was the first member of the Ten. He didn't turn out great, but by the time that was evident the creators weren't in a position to fix it.
  • Reality Bleed: How students' domains interact when the students make personal calls.
  • Red Shirt Army: Halloween's nightgaunts, Fantasia's Smileys, Tyler's cyborgs, and Mercutio's hobgoblins.
  • Rule of Cool: How the students designed their personal domains.
  • The Schizophrenia Conspiracy: Averted. Fantasia is diagnosed hebephrenic, not paranoid.
  • Schmuck Bait: The radio bomb in Idlewild.
  • Screw Destiny: Halloween's response to Vashti at the end. The Ten were designed to survive Black Ep and rebuild the human race, but they couldn't be programmed to want to do it.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Extremely cynical.
    • While idealists are working on a cure for Black Ep, Gedaechtnis is assuming everyone's going to die and preparing accordingly.
    • Dr. Hyoguchi loves Malachi as the son he never had and allows him to continue to live in IVR. Malachi's resentment of the students (the reason for his torturous labor testing all the other programs) bleeds into Maestro and Mercutio.
    • When confronted with their future and responsibilities, Fantasia decides she's better off working completely alone and Halloween completely eschews the mission.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Experienced by several characters at different points.
  • Try Everything: In-universe. Gedaechtnis couldn't know what would or wouldn't work and couldn't troubleshoot if there were problems down the line, so they made the students as heterogeneous as possible in the hope that something would work.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Our hero can be trusted for current events, but his interpretations of the past are very rosy and self-aggrandizing.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: The author isn't shy about throwing around medical and psychological terminology.
  • Virtual-Reality Warper: The Nannies are powerful programs with the ability to create entire virtual environments within the simulation in order to accommodate the wishes of either the students or Maestro - though fortunately this is almost always for the benefit of the students. Almost.
  • Visual Pun: Pandora's light bulb costume at the costume party.