Deep Dive – Review & Interview

Today I’m thrilled to welcome Ron Walters to Spells & Spaceships as part of the Angry Robot book tour for Deep Dive, Ron’s debut published novel. I’ve got a really interesting interview (credit to Mr. Walters for the great answers!) as well as my own review for the novel.

You can find the full tour schedule below to check out some of the features so far and those to come, from some great bloggers

Here’s a little about the author before we begin:

Ron Walters is a former ice cream scooper, lifeguard, waiter, journalist, college registrar, and stay-at-home dad who now writes science fiction and fantasy for readers of all ages. He also occasionally substitute teaches at the local high school just to remind himself he’s not nearly as cool as he thinks he is. When he’s not writing he like to drink coffee, play video games, drink coffee, play my bass & electric guitars, drink coffee, fry food, and drink coffee. He currently lives in Germany with his wife, two daughters, and two rescue dogs.

The Interview

Hi Ron,
First of all congratulations on publishing your debut novel, Deep Dive!

Thank you! It’s been a dream for a really long time. Hard to believe it finally happened!

If you had 3 words to describe it, which would you choose?

Harrowing, breakneck, and paternal.

The Deep Dive VR headset in your novel is indistinguishable from reality. What do you think about virtual reality in the present day; are we still some way off a more immersive experience?

If you compare the VR headset in Deep Dive to the headsets that are currently on the market or set to come out fairly soon, I’d say we’re still a ways off from the kind of immersive experience I describe in the book. The thing about current and even next-gen tech, at least when it comes to gaming, is that you’re still aware you’re wearing a headset and holding haptic controllers, and your body is moving around a physical space like a living room. In Deep Dive, the headset acts as a true brain computer interface akin to what you’d see in a movie like The Matrix, so, like you said, the VR world in Deep Dive is indistinguishable from reality. It’s not quite to the level of the metaverse that people like Tim Sweeney or Mark Zuckerburg want to develop, but the book’s headset is much closer to making that a reality than anything currently on the actual real-world market.

In some respects, your book looks at the potential dangers of technology. Do you think we’re reaching a point where its negatives are starting to outweigh the positives, or are most of the developments still for the best?

I honestly think it depends on what kind of tech you’re talking about, and even then, the same tech that has a negative impact on one person can have a positive impact on another. I love my smartphone, and think it’s been one of the most beneficial pieces of tech to hit the world in a long, long time, but I also work in a high school and see how phones and even laptops have impacted students’ attention spans, social interactions, and willingness to focus on school work in a not so great way. When it comes to VR headsets like what I have in Deep Dive, I do worry that the issues I see with smartphones will be amplified exponentially if we ever do reach the point where we’re able to fully immerse ourselves in secondary online worlds.

Your protagonist, Peter often prioritises work over family commitments. I felt like your book is sort of an encouragement to parents who might fall into that trap, to be mindful of striking a work-life balance. Was that intentional?

One hundred percent. It’s certainly something I struggle with nearly every day, though not to the degree that Peter struggles with it. I’ve been lucky in that I was able to be a stay-at-home dad when my daughters were little, so I didn’t miss out on a lot of things I might’ve if I’d worked full time, but even then I had to figure out how to fit in writing time. Now that my girls are older it’s a little bit easier since I work part-time as a substitute high school teacher, but there are plenty of days when I feel like I’ve prioritized writing over family time. That drive to succeed is hard to ignore, especially if you feel like you’re not where you want to be, but the truth is, success is such an arbitrary, ever-shifting thing. My kids won’t be kids for very long, and so I do my best to be present with them as much as I can even when my brain insists I should be writing. Some days I manage it better than others.

I absolutely flew through your book and it’s probably been my fastest read of the past year. It’s got that real page-turner quality to it. On finishing, it felt like I’d just watched a sci-fi thriller – was that the sort of vibe you were aiming for?

Absolutely. One of my goals when I wrote Deep Dive was to try and keep people on the edge of their seats from beginning to end. I wanted readers to feel Peter’s inner turmoil and confusion as if it were happening to them in real time. The plot takes place over the course of only a few days, so the story naturally occurs at a pretty breakneck pace, but to make it feel even more frenetic I decided to write it in present tense. Funnily enough, this is the first book I’ve written in present tense, and it’s also the first thriller I’ve ever written. I’m happy that both seemed to have worked out! In general though, when I write I see the scenes in my head like I’m watching a movie, so I always try to approach them as if they were happening on screen. It’s why action scenes are my favorite scenes to write. I love describing movement and sensation and trying to cover every angle.

I feel like a successful sci-fi makes you sit back and think – about society, technology, the future, humanity, philosophy. It has to offer something thought provoking that sticks with the reader. Would you agree with this assessment?

Oh, for sure. I’d never put myself in the same league as the sci-fi greats, but the one thing I’d like to think I have in common with them is a desire to ask “what if.” All books do this to varying degrees, but sci-fi usually has a futuristic bent that contemporary or fantasy novels don’t necessarily have. That naturally lends itself to questioning what impact a piece of technology will have on us, or where we’ll be as a species in the near- or far-future. Those sorts of questions definitely drove me to write Deep Dive. I love video games, and I love being a parent, and I think VR has such positive and negative possibilities, so I wanted to explore the intersection of all three.

Do you have any other ideas ready to unleash on the page, perhaps you are already working on something else?

As it happens, I am working on a new project. It’s still in the unfinished, really rough first draft stage, though I’m closing in on the end. It’s a weird hybrid story that blends VR tech and epic fantasy. I’m also in between revisions for my middle grade fantasy debut, Calix and the Fire Demon, which comes out this fall from Owl Hollow Press. It’s about a 12-year-old boy named Calix who accidentally unleashes an ancient Irish fire demon and learns he’s an heir of St. Patrick, tasked with keeping the world safe from mythological and supernatural threats. Once that book’s in the bag I’m going to start writing the sequel. If you can’t tell, I like to keep myself stressfully busy.

I got the impression in your work that you’re an avid gamer. Are there any upcoming releases you’re excited about?

I’ve been dying for someone to ask me a question like this! Honestly, I’m a little worried about fitting in all the new games I want to play. Next month alone, Sifu, Elden Ring and Horizon Forbidden West come out. How am I supposed to play them all and still function like a mature adult with parenting and writing and work responsibilities? And then Starfield and God of War: Ragnorak are also (hopefully) supposed to release later this year. Plus there are so many older games I’ve never played or only partially finished, like Witcher 3 and Skyrim. I just finished Bloodborne, which is a contender for my most favorite game ever (for the record, the others vying for the top spot are Red Dead Redemption 2, God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Control), and I’m currently playing Sekiro, which is really making me feel great about my gaming chops.

Thanks for stopping by for the chat, Ron. I really enjoyed Deep Dive and wish you the best of luck with its release!

Thank you so much! I had a blast answering your questions.

An engrossing, inventive, thought-provoking sci-fi that both pulls at the heartstrings and catapults you through each chapter at breakneck speed

Author: Ron Walters

Pages: 288

Publishing Information: Angry Robot, 11th January 2022

I absolutely flew through Deep Dive. It’s without doubt one of the fastest paced reads I can remember and I really enjoyed many of the gaming references littered throughout (prior experience not necessary however).

So what is the book about?

Well, Deep Dive actually refers to a virtual reality that has transcended our current day limitations and is able to fully immerse the user in the world they’re experiencing, so much so that it is indistinguishable from reality. There are parallels to other sci-fi – Total Recall for example, but the story stands on its own two feet with an exciting and interesting story.

Without trying to give too much away, our main character Peter tries a prototype model of a Deep Dive headset, and immerses himself in the world. On opening a doorway within the virtual world, he abruptly wakes up in his truck outside, feeling a little worse for wear. The reality he wakes up to however, is shockingly different to his memory – namely his two daughters don’t exist.

We spend most of the book trying to decipher whether he’s still in the virtual world, or whether he never had any children in the first place.

As a parent especially, this really does pull at the heartstrings and help us empathise with Peter’s situation. Imagine having family members you love, only to have to consider the possibility that you had imagined them all along and that they never existed? A soul destroying possibility. The other possibility – that they do exist but that Peter won’t be able to see them again, is perhaps equally traumatic, and Peter spends most of his time desperately trying to find a way back to them, in one way or another.

This forces Peter to look inwardly at himself as a parent and ask himself whether, although his job provides for his family, if putting so much time in at work is/was really worth it when it causes him to miss family events. It means for me, Peter started off in the initial chapter as fairly unrelatable and unsympathetic – the distant workaholic Dad, but a character I developed much more affection for as the story progressed. It feels like the author is issuing a warning to those susceptible of being a little consumed by their work, at the expense of their family and it will definitely make those parents or guardians reading to want to run over and hug their kids!

The story really immerses you and certainly provides that ‘one more page’ quality, with clever twists and turns throughout I really enjoyed.

I only have one piece of constructive criticism for the whole book; I felt the plot resolution came across a little too implausible and convenient within the context of the rest of the story, which made the pacing of the ending feel a little rushed. Perhaps the effect is increased because the lead up is so carefully constructed and because it all feels so plausible (and therefore scarier). Nevertheless, the way the story is wrapped up is imaginative and interesting despite emphasising the Fi in Sci-Fi more than the rest of the book. Some readers will of course prefer this, and enjoy a more unexpected and imaginative conclusion – see what you think!

The book as a whole is particularly memorable because there are so many moments where Walters encourages you to think more deeply, about the nature of our world, modern society, technology and ethics.

The author’s really adept at making you feel as the main character does, too. We share in his turmoil, hope, despair and determination as his world falls apart around him, the cracks desperately papered over only for a new challenge – and glimmer of hope to arrive. It’s especially effective if you have young children or young people you care for, with this heavy sense of loss underpinning events.

It’s not a depressing book, though. There are a number of humorous or witty moments and the whole ride was a lot of fun. Walters has a fantastic imagination and much of the book felt like a blockbuster action drama, with assassinations, shady organisations and exciting edge of your seat sequences. It really helps you just sit back and enjoy, pages absolutely flying by without a conscious effort.

It’s this combination of thought provoking ideas combined with fast based action and storyline that really hooked me and made this a particularly memorable read.

To me, good science fiction asks questions about life, society, culture, philosophy – something that sticks with you, giving you ideas and thoughts to take away and reflect on long after you’ve finished the story. Deep Dive achieves this and more – an exciting and enjoyable debut from an author I’ll definitely read more from!

Thankyou to Angry Robot and Ron Walters for the advanced review copy of Deep Dive in exchange for an honest review.

When your reality shatters, what will you do to put it back together again?

Still reeling from the failure of his last project, videogame developer Peter Banuk is working hard to ensure his next game doesn’t meet the same fate. He desperately needs a win, not only to save his struggling company, but to justify the time he’s spent away from his wife and daughters.

So when Peter’s tech-genius partner offers him the chance to beta-test a new state-of-the-art virtual reality headset, he jumps at it. But something goes wrong during the trial, and Peter wakes to find himself trapped in an eerily familiar world where his children no longer exist.

As the lines between the real and virtual worlds begin to blur, Peter is forced to reckon with what truly matters to him. But can he escape his virtual prison before he loses his family forever?


3 thoughts on “Deep Dive – Review & Interview

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