Sunday, August 4, 2013

Book Review: You

I finished Austin Grossman's second novel, You, while on vacation last week, and am just getting to writing some thoughts on it now.

It's quite different than his first novel, Soon I will be Invincible, which I loved.

You is the story of a law-school-dropout-turned-game-designer who accepts a job at the game studio his high school friends have turned into a hit-factory. Like his own career, the game studio has hit a point where its future is in question. The creative genius behind the original games is no longer around, the key founders have left, investors threaten to sell off the company, etc. In trying to prove they still have what it takes, the lead character learns about the company's past games and a lot about himself.

It's in this that the book starts to get interesting. The title "You" is a nod to the second-person narrative involved in many games, going back to the old Infocom titles like Zork ("You are standing in an open field, west of a white house, with a boarded front door"). Without spoiling too much, the company's games' characters, world, and eras are metaphors for the high school friends, events and phases of their lives. The author takes a long time to build this up for the reader. To tell the truth it was initially a little slow for me, and some of it was a little over my head. However, when he brings it all together toward the end it really is quite well done, and I found it very satisfying and quite moving.

I know Austin through friends, and knowing his history working at Looking Glass and on games like Ultima Underworld, I can't help but think that there's a lot of history underlying the work. It certainly is the most realistic depiction of what game development is like that I've ever read.

Some reviews I've seen have made reference to Ready Player One, perhaps because of all the references to games of our youth. I don't think that's fair though. This is far more a book about coming of age. More Breaking Away than Wargames, IMHO.

Good book. Recommended.

Update: One more thing I meant to add:

From the book's description of one of the studio's games:

"The game's concept demanded intrigue, mystery, glamour, and romance. Accordingly you couldn't just go around murdering people; there was exactly one bullet in the entire game. Instead, Nick could do things like (F)lirt, (Q)uestion, or (W)altz."
I cannot tell you how sad I am that we don't have this game yet.