I’ve been meaning to read this bestseller ever since its publication last year – I even acquired the Waterstones signed edition back then with lovely turquoise spredges (I love her stylised signature). And it sat there, whilst the world, including many bloggers, loved it. It finally found its time in mid December when all my reading commitments had finished and I could choose to read anything I wanted.
Although this novel is set in the world of the gaming industry, there is no need to know anything about it, so don’t let that put you off. The timeline runs from the 1990s forwards, so we’re talking about the first video games onwards really.
I was an enthusiastic player of the ground-breaking adventure game ‘Myst’ and Roman world-building ‘Caesar 3’ on CD-ROM back in the day, and later I was totally addicted to Zynga’s ‘Frontierville’ on Facebook for a while (like their ‘Farmville’, but more fun). So I did know a little of this world – but only how the games tend to play, not their mechanics. It’s to Zevin’s great credit to that she shows us just enough of how the games that form the base of this novel are built and created, without getting at all bogged down in detail. Her light touch on the IT side is perfect allowing the psychology of gameplay to come forwards in the technical mix.
That said, the cut and thrust of the games industry did put me in mind of Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs which, published in 1995, followed some start-up software companies in the pre-Windows 95 environment. Of all of Coupland’s books that I’ve read, Microserfs has stuck with me the most, and given that I read it over 20 years ago, it could be time for a nostalgic re-read.
Back to Tomorrow x3, and yes, the quotation from Macbeth does eventually come into the story, it is at heart a story of love and friendship between Sadie and Sam. They meet when she is visiting her ill sister in hospital where Same is recovering from an operation on his foot, crippled in a car crash. It’s the late 1980s, and they bond over playing video games in the visitors room, so much so, that Sadie volunteers to stay on as a staff visitor so she can keep seeing Sam.
Of course when Sam finds out she was visiting partly to fulfil the public service requirement for her Bat Mitzvah, he takes it the wrong way – and they end up not talking for years afterwards. However, they bump into each other again in Boston/Cambridge, where Sadie is at MIT and Sam is at Harvard. Discovering they both want to write games – it’s the beginning of a long collaboration, which over the years will have many ups and downs, fallings out and fallings back in. All the time, the reader wonders if they’ll ever get together as lovers or, if they’re beyond that, as said near the beginning of the novel:
To allow yourself to play with another person is no small risk. […] To play requires trust and love. Many years later, as Sam would controversially say in an interview with the gaming site Kotaku, “There is no more intimate act than play, even sex.” The internet responded: no one who had had good sex would ever say that, and there must be something seriously wrong with Sam.
This novel was just a joy to read from start to finish, I loved it. Yet, for some reason I didn’t include it in my year end best of; it was the last book I finished, but I couldn’t make a space for it. I loved Sadie unreservedly, and later their business partner Marx who ran the company while they created, but Sam just reminded me of Jude in Hanya Yanigihara’s A Little Life. Not so much bad happened to Sam as Jude, but he had that same fatalistic aura and I couldn’t stop comparing the two. Despite that slightest of misgivings, this novel certainly was worth the hype, and I’m so glad I got to read it while it was still riding high.
Source: Own copy – Chatto & Windus hardback, 401 pages.
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