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The Web: Spiderbite Graham Joyce (Dolphin, £3.50, 106 pages, paperback). October 1997.

cover pic In the shared future of this multi-author series, children spend much of their spare time, and most of their school time, in the virtual reality world of the Web. Large sectors of Webworld are devoted to education: history, for example, really comes to life when you can talk with a virtual ancient Roman, or investigate Olde England in person. These Edutainment sectors of the Web are carefully managed to create safe and stimulating environments for children to explore.

There should be no secrets in Edutainment -- that's the whole point.

So why has Conrad found a part of the Ancient Greece sector where access is forbidden? Every time he tries to get into the Labyrinth a dog-sized security spider attacks him, ejecting him from the Web. These spiders are meant to keep people out of high security areas, or to keep children out of adult-only areas. There's no reason why Conrad should have found one where he has.

At first, his friends, Chloë and Paddy, don't believe him. When they go with him to the Labyrinth entrance, Conrad is the only one to be attacked by -- or even to see -- the spider.

The kids' attempts to investigate the mystery begin to have repercussions in the real world. Why is Conrad's father suddenly desperate to recover his son's high-tech Web-suit? Who are the strange, too-happy people they find in the Labyrinth and in their dreams? Who is the mysterious Ariadne, who says she wants only to help them?

Joyce has turned in a terrific, high-paced romp as his contribution to the Web series. The plot -- only slightly undermined at times by the Boys' Own DIY techno-wizardry of the children -- is neatly constructed, building relentlessly to a climax that recapitulates the consensus plot-rationale of the series without being formulaic or predictable. Probably the most accomplished performance of the series to date.

Review by Nick Gifford.

Elsewhere in infinity plus:
fiction - read an extract from Graham Joyce's novel, The Stormwatcher
reviews - Jason Gould reviews Graham Joyce's The Tooth Fairy
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© Nick Gifford 5 October 1997