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Thursday, March 02, 2023

Review: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

 Tomorrow, and Tomorrow and Tomorrow showed up on many "Books of the Year" lists. I checked it out of the library with suspicion, since books that show up in literary lists are usually pretentious, difficult to read, and full of characters you don't care about. To my delight, Gabrielle Zevin defies such expectations. Her prose is transparent, her characters real, and more important, the world she builds is so close to the world we live in and her voice so authentic that it overcomes my resistance to reading mainstream fiction.

The story revolves around Sadie Green and Sam Masur, who met when both were friends as children but had a falling out, only to reclaim their friendship when both are at college (at MIT and Harvard) respectively. The two had bonded over video games as children, and in reclaiming that bond, decide to partner and make one. The name of the first game, Ichigo, ironically, was the codename of Pikmin Bloom back when I was at Niantic. 

I loved the characters of Sam and Sadie. Both are half Asians. (Zevin makes it super realistic that both managed to get into top schools by having both of them explicitly not have Asian names) Sam has the attitude of many highly intellectual folks:

Sam was a complete teetotaler. He never drank, didn’t even like taking aspirin. The only drugs he’d ever taken were whatever painkillers he’d been given in the hospital, and he hadn’t liked the way they had clouded his ability to think. The body part that worked consistently well for Sam was his brain, and he was not going to compromise it. Because of this experience, Sam often suffered through pain that probably should have and could have been somewhat ameliorated. (Page 96)

He over-intellectualizes everything, and has the timidity and lack of social courage you may have observed in many such folks. Yet despite such stereotypes, Zevin paints a complete picture of his traumas, his stoic nature, and his willingness to push on. I love the way Zevin does so --- not only does she provide the usual narratives and internal dialogue, she also includes interviews with Polygon or Kotaku as appropriate --- the world she creates feels lived in.

Similarly, Sadie Green, for all her virtues, has a semi-neurotic nature who regularly makes up stories of betrayals from her closest friends, and resents the perception of other people for whom her friends can't take responsibility for or correct. After all the events in the novel, the two friends get together and reminiscence:

“There must be some other versions of us that don’t make games.” “What do they do instead?” “They’re friends. They have a life!” Sadie said. Sam nodded. “Oh, right. I’ve heard of those. They’re those things where you sleep regular hours and you don’t spend every waking moment tormented by some imaginary world.” (pg. 392)

I won't spoil the novel for you --- it ends with the characters overcoming their foibles, but the path it takes there is what matters. Like real life, the journey is the reward. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book with its hyper-real setting, and the author can't fake this one --- she truly does enjoy computer games.

The book isn't without flaws, but they're minor. There's a reference in an early section of the book about burning out video cards while writing a game --- I've been in the industry for a long time, and that's never actually happened. You can see it as an attempt by the author to depict technical work and going over-board.

Reading the blurbs for the book, it's clear that the authors go overboard to avoid mentioning that the book is about video games. Bah. It's as though games is not a legitimate venue for creativity --- ignore such things. The novel revolves around video game designers and programmers --- it's about time they got a novel, and I'm very happy it's a good one. Reading this book with my highest recommendation.

1 comment:

Aaron Fuegi said...

I also read this recently and loved it. It caused me to also read her 'The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry' which was also very, very good, although probably not quite as good as this one.