I feel like these two reviews, You by Austin Grossman and World War Z by Max Brooks, are a long time coming. I read both of them back in April, then just procrastinated on putting together even some short thoughts. In brief, I liked both of these books well enough, but I didn’t love them in a way that’d make me recommend them unequivocally as I have some books in the past. Read on to find out why!
You by Austin Grossman
When Russell joins Black Arts games, brainchild of two visionary designers who were once his closest friends, he reunites with an eccentric crew of nerds hacking the frontiers of both technology and entertainment. In part, he’s finally given up chasing the conventional path that has always seemed just out of reach. But mostly, he needs to know what happened to Simon, the strangest and most gifted friend he ever lost, who died under mysterious circumstances soon after Black Arts’ breakout hit.
Then Black Arts’ revolutionary next-gen game is threatened by a mysterious software glitch, and Russell finds himself in a race to save his job, Black Arts’ legacy, and the people he has grown to care about. The bug is the first clue in a mystery leading back twenty years, through real and virtual worlds, corporate boardrooms and high school computer camp, to a secret that changed a friendship and the history of gaming. The deeper Russell digs, the more dangerous the glitch appears–and soon, Russell comes to realize there’s much more is at stake than just one software company’s bottom line.
I think I went into You with slightly misplaced expectations. Because it was about video games and because Austin Grossman is Lev Grossman’s brother, I had this idea that You would be a mix between two books I really love — Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and The Magicians by Lev Grossman. But given how much I adore both of those stories, it’s an entirely unfair standard to judge You by.
But even when I managed to adjust my expectations, I think You fell a little bit short. There are three threads to the story — the making of a video game, the experience of playing video games, and the history of a video game company — but they’re not equally interesting. The characters are what really drive this story, so when they’re “off screen,” so to speak, while Russell is playing through the Black Arts backlist, the book flounders. Still, parts of this book were a ton of fun (I loved, for example, a scene when a demo for the game goes hideously and violently awry in front of a room of games journalists) and I’m glad I read it, even if it wasn’t a perfect read.
World War Z by Max Brooks
The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.
Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War.
On the one hand, I love the idea behind World War Z. It is a shining example of one of my genre weaknesses, process dystopia (thanks to Jenny of Jenny’s Books for the term), in which the reader spends the whole book watching the world slowly decline into chaos. And so from that standpoint, I enjoyed reading the book and had a lot of fun with it.
The problem I had is that I don’t think Brooks fully executed the concept. The book is supposed to be a collection of oral histories, but nearly all of the characters sounded exactly the same. What’s the point of writing the book in this format if it’s impossible to distinguish most of the narrators from one another? When I mentioned this book during the Readathon, several people mentioned that the audio book is done like a radio play with multiple narrators. I wish I’d listened to the book rather than read it, since I think that could have covered this flaw a little bit.
Disclosure: I borrowed a copy of You from a friend and borrowed a copy of World War Z from the library.