Way back in the first half of the 1990s, my husband worked for a small NASA contractor on a project that had the worst acronym ever: the TOCWQM, or total organic carbon water quality monitor. It checks for the presence of carbon in parts per billion, needed for some of the Space Station’s ultrapure water systems. That company had a colorful cast of characters of varying degrees of sanity, from his (excellent) team lead who was a dead (sorry) ringer for Sam Kinnison, to the manager who once put a pencil through his own hand in a fit of rage. One of his most interesting (and sane) coworkers there was a guy named Donald Saxman, who was an expert on many things and spent his spare time writing highly technical books on things like the outlook of the batteries needed to electrical or hybrid cars. (I guess the outlook was good.)

It turns out that Donald Saxman was many other things as well, including an early fan of roleplaying games. One of those early ones was Strange World, invented by Don and friends including his college buddy John M. Ford, and later played on some of the first online systems back when the way to cmmunicate was by uploading files because not all systems had email*.

Don has now become one more thing: a fiction author. His book Strange World and its four (so far) sequelae based on that game are now available at Amazon (Kindle only). I’ve just finished the first book of the series, which as you might expect is titled Strange World. It’s not exactly about a world, though, strange or not; it’s about the tunnels that connect worlds, and what happens when a group of teenagers from multiple worlds is selected to travel in the tunnels and work together as part of the Zone Pioneers. (It’s not entirely clear yet what the ZPs actually do.)

The best thing here is the world itself, which is as inventive and detailed as you’d expect given that the author has been working on it since the 1970s (the book is based on an early RPG). Worldbuilding is handled via the characters themselves learning about the tunnels and the Zone Pioneers (some already knew all about them, some knew nothing) and via infodumps in the form of selections from various “records” of the tunnels and the ZPs. This book is a bit short on plot; it mostly serves to present the characters, bring them together and get them to begin working together – it’s very clearly the start of a series, not a standalone book. The characters don’t feel fully developed yet, but you can tell each voice apart and and they are fully characterized enough to make me curious to see how they grow in future adventures.

Strange World doesn’t really feel like a thing in itself; it feels like the start of a thing, and it has enough promise to get me to come back and see if it grows into a good thing. I have the second book, and I’m curious to see where it goes.

*I know all that about the history of the Strange World game and the early days of online RPGs because it’s told in a rather faascinating afterword.