The Helmet of Horror by Victor Pelevin isn’t especially horrific in the usual RIP kind of way as in giant helmets falling from the sky and killing the Prince on his wedding day in Castle Otranto. Or, rather, I suppose it is but the horror is of the existential sort rather than the something weird and creepy is out there and going to get me sort. Except there is something creepy out there in the form of a Minotaur and two dwarves. But are they really there?
The Helmet of Horror is part of the Canongate Myths series and retells the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. The story spools out in a private online chat room. Each of the characters wakes up in a room with a bed and a desk and a computer. They have no idea how they got there. They don’t get to choose their screen names and they quickly discover that their conversation is being monitored and censored – all the swearing is xxx out as is anything they say about their real names or professions. They can talk freely about their situation and what they discover outside their doors, and what they think the meaning of it all is. Theseus is the crux of it all and finally, in the end when he arrives, the game is up.
What that game is, well, it involves the Helmet of Horror. It also involves questioning what is real and what isn’t and whether it matters in the end. Is reality created by someone or something else? Do we create our own reality? What constitutes real anyway? The fact that the conversation takes place in virtual reality adds an entire other layer.
I enjoyed the book even though I had to read the last ten pages twice to figure out what happened. I wasn’t wowed by the book though, which could have something to do with reading it on the train. The book reads fast and I think it would benefit most from reading in it in one or two long chunks. I have never read Pelevin before and I do want to read something else by him. I found Helmet of Horror to be well written and creatively conceived, just not quite the right time or place for me to read it. These things happen.