This might come off as too much complaining, so let me say at the top - I really enjoyed this book. It had all the elements I hope to encounter in a w...moreThis might come off as too much complaining, so let me say at the top - I really enjoyed this book. It had all the elements I hope to encounter in a weird book, it was pretty well written, there were one or two truly funny moments that took it from being a book to being a memorable book.
High concept is harder to pull off than some people think. The concept is only 1/3 of the whole. You need a strong, interesting concept to pull a reader to a book, and Billings has that here: old Atari games buried in the radioactive Nevada desert form into one giant cartridge that attacks Denver, and turns the city into a large video game that our hero, Jimmy has to beat to save the day. That's a really good setup, yeah?
The next piece is character. If you don't have an interesting character that I can root for (or against, depending) then your concept is only going to carry the book so far. At some point, my interest will wane because there are no stakes for me the reader if there are no stakes for the character. If it's thinly-drawn caricatures of people bouncing around in this conceptual world, I'm not hanging around for long. Again, Billings nails this as well. Jimmy is a former video game prodigy from the 80s who now works in a Chuck E. Cheese. He listens to YouTube whisper videos to soothe him while he cleans vomit from the play tube. Life sucks for him. And then the Atari game attacks, and he seems to be the only one who gets what's going on, and the only one who can save the day. High-five to Billings here for a uniquely odd character that drew me in and made me care about what was at stake for him.
The final piece of the puzzle, when you have a great concept and an engaging character, is to do something with them. Give them a story. This is where the complaint comes in. Billings was so, so close here. There is a good story, but I just feel like it could have been a little better. The Atari cartridge jumps from one game to the next as Jimmy defeats each level - Centipede to Frogger to Space Invaders to, finally, Donkey Kong. There's a lot of rich material to work with here, but for some reason, Jimmy doesn't get to do a whole lot with it. He doesn't even technically beat the Frogger part himself, but instead becomes a spectator for a few pages. And then the final Donkey Kong sequence is basically about 2 1/2 pages long. We barely get into Jimmy's biggest hero moment, and then it's gone.
That's my only complaint, and I suppose it's also praise for Billings's little book. I wanted more. I didn't want to breeze through it so fast. She has the essentials that make a great high-concept story, but at 70 pages, we don't get to spend nearly enough time in this world. I don't know if it's ironic or hypocritical of me to make this complaint, considering my own history, but there it is. Billings left me wanting more, and I look forward to finding more from her. 8-Bit Apocalypse is a great, little book that I recommend to anyone, gamer or not, because it has all the elements of a good story. I had fun here, and if this is indicative of the quality of all the NBAS books this year, then you'll want to get your hands on all of them. Bravo, Amanda.(less)
I wonder if it was frightening to be around Stephen while he wrote this book. It had to be, as deeply into this disturbed character he gets. We go so...moreI wonder if it was frightening to be around Stephen while he wrote this book. It had to be, as deeply into this disturbed character he gets. We go so far into the mind of William Colton Hughes, we begin to develop our own little ticks and phobias and paranoias as we read - touch three things and check the locks again before you turn the page, because shit, who knows what's coming next. And you won't. I didn't. Granted, I suck at seeing the ending coming, but still, when I got there, wow. What a knockout punch of an ending. And what an amazing first book right out of the gate for Broken River Books.(less)
Vince Kramer puts the `bat-shit insane genius' into bat-shit insane genius. This book is worth your time simply for the meta-argument asides between i...moreVince Kramer puts the `bat-shit insane genius' into bat-shit insane genius. This book is worth your time simply for the meta-argument asides between its Narrator and its author, but those are interspersed throughout an equally ridiculous, hilarious, wonderfully self-aware story about death machines and sandwiches and the mentally challenged. This book is as offensive as it is funny. It really is the best thing, ever.
If you take yourself too seriously, you won't want to read this book. If you like to have fun and wish to be entertained, then this is the book for you. I look forward to ignoring this book for several months, until I practically forget all about it, just so I can pull it off my shelf again and experience it all over like it was the first time. It won't be, of course, because there can only be one first time reading this hilarious book, but that's the best I'll be able to manage. The hard part will be avoiding that re-read for as long as possible. It will be a difficult sacrifice, but it will be worth it.(less)
Was it well-written? Oh, yeah. Almost... too well-written. Felt a couple times like the plot was a bit too over...moreThis is an odd one to rate and review.
Was it well-written? Oh, yeah. Almost... too well-written. Felt a couple times like the plot was a bit too overtly manipulated to steer the story toward a particular conclusion, but maybe I'm just being picky.
Was it entertaining? Hell, yeah. It was hilarious, in the way that sociopaths can be hilarious with their overriding desire to please themselves at the expense of all others (and specifically, Celeste's inner thoughts about those around her.) The voice of this novel felt so real and so alive, it would be hard to believe that this specific person doesn't actually exist out there, somewhere.
Was it arousing in uncomfortable ways. Well, yeah. As a guy, it's difficult not to imagine my own 14-year old self being in that situation, and how amazing it would have been. But then my 14-year old son would walk into the room while I was reading, and that fantasy reading world would come crashing down around me like a controlled demolition. That's when the creepy factor really sets in with this book. Removing yourself from Celeste's fantasy world (which is all-encompassing, as this is written from her first-person perspective) makes the book uncomfortable. Imagining if the gender roles were reversed, makes it creepy as fuck.
Bravo, Alissa Nutting, for creating one of the most memorable characters I've ever read. But this is not a book I plan on revisiting any time soon. Or ever. (less)