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World Leader Pretend 

By James Bernard Frost
St. Martin's Griffin (April, $13.95)

You don't have to be a total nerd to enjoy James Bernard Frost's debut novel World Leader Pretend, but I think it would help. Quick litmus test: Are you already humming the REM song of the same title? A better test might be: Do you know what Second Life is? It's one of these strange virtual-community things that happens on the Internet, and it has come to this: We are writing novels set in Internet worlds. Even for an REM fan who knows nothing about virtual realms, World Leader Pretend is pretty entertaining, a sweetly geeky tale of four losers (a young Thai girl, an Antarctic carpenter, a dot-com refugee, and a paralyzed former ski-champ) and the warlords and monarchs they become online. Frost (himself a refugee from the S.F. dot-com world) shows definite promise as a writer, with a better grasp of emotional and linguistic nuances than one would expect from a techie, and knack for poetic use of cadence and repetition in his lengthy sentences. If you're not a gamer, all the squabbling that goes on between the various online players as they storm one another's kingdoms gets tiring. (Also tiresome is the character who infuriatingly writes liKe a tEenAgEr oN mYspAcE — why do people do that?) However, this book deserves a broader audience than the computer geeks and aging fans of college rock who would most naturally pick it up. —F.R.


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