fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Plagiarist by Hugh Howey science fiction book reviewsThe Plagiarist by Hugh Howey

The Plagiarist is a science fiction novella written by Hugh Howey, who recently became famous for his self-published WOOL series. The plagiarist of the title is Adam Griffey, a college professor who uses newly discovered technology at his university to visit virtual worlds where he seeks out brilliant authors, memorizes their works, and brings them back to our world. Everyone knows the works are plagiarized, but since the author doesn’t live in our world, it doesn’t count, and our protagonist gets the credit for discovering the talent and, most importantly, he gets the money for the sales. This sort of plagiarism isn’t just for literature, though. Adam has colleagues in other departments who do the same thing, and now all fields of knowledge — science, technology, art, etc. — are advancing rapidly because of the discoveries made in virtual worlds.

All is going well for Adam — his work has made him famous — until he falls in love with Bellatrix, a woman in the latest universe he’s been visiting. When he goes there, he spends all his time making a virtual life with her instead of doing his job. His relationship with his real online girlfriend is suffering and, of course, so is his teaching and research. Like a true plagiarist, he is “faking his real life so he can live his fake one.” Just when it seems that Adam can’t maintain his plagiarized life any longer, his university announces that Bellatrix’s world is about to be wiped from the servers because it’s taking up too much space. That means that the virtual woman he loves will no longer exist, so Adam goes on a mad scramble to try to save their relationship.

Okay, if I had just read my synopsis above, I wouldn’t even need to read the rest of this review — I’d already be pressing the “buy” button ‘cause that just sounds awesome. But for those who want to know more, I’m happy to report that I loved this story. If Philip K. Dick had lived twenty years longer, he would have written The Plagiarist.

Not only is the plot exciting, but for such a short story (58 pages in the 99¢ ebook, 1.5 hours for the $2 audiobook) there’s a lot to think about: online dating; how spending time in virtual worlds might affect our real lives and relationships; parallel universes; the meaning of art; the way that rapidly advancing technology has led to information overload, mass consumerism, and perhaps a decline (or at least an inability to recognize) genuine talent. And there’s more that I don’t want to tell you about so as not to ruin the plot.

The Plagiarist is a perfect introduction to Hugh Howey. I listened to the audiobook which is narrated by Alexander J. Masters. At first I was slightly put off by his stilted cadence, but as the story progressed, I found that it fit nicely.

The Plagiarist — (2011) Adam Griffey is living two lives. By day, he teaches literature. At night, he steals it. Adam is a plagiarist, an expert reader with an eye for great works. He prowls simulated worlds perusing virtual texts, looking for the next big thing. And when he finds it, he memorizes it page by page, line by line, word for word. And then he brings it back to his world, the real world, and he sells it. But what happens when these virtual worlds begin to seem more real than his own? What happens when the people within them mean more to him than flesh and blood? What happens when a living thing falls in love with someone who does not actually exist?


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.