Book Review – You by Austin Grossman

books, reviews

Rating: 2 out of 5.

What’s the longest that you’ve had a book on your shelves for? I’m not sure of the exact number but I’ve had You by Austin Grossman since 2015. I’d also bought his book Soon I Will Be Invincible because it sounded really fun. I did try and read that book but I couldn’t get to the end of it. It just spent too long going round the houses and not getting to the point. I guess it didn’t exactly get me in the mood to keep going with him. It also didn’t help that I’d recently read Ready Player One and not enjoyed myself at all. I really wasn’t ready to get into another video game book. I picked it up in May because I was in need of a book starting with “Y” for my Spell the Month challenge. I’ll be honest, if I hadn’t needed this book for that challenge, I definitely wouldn’t have finished it.

I really struggled to finish this book. I understand that it’s trying to capture the process of designing a new video game but I’m not sure it had to be quite so long and boring to do that. I know that Austin Grossman started as a video game designer but that doesn’t mean he knows how to write stories about video games. This is a novel that is less interested in telling an engaging story about the characters as it is relaying all of the information it can about video game history. I can’t be 100% sure but I reckon Grossman gets all (or at least most) of the details right. He clearly knows things about the gaming industry in the 90s and understands the nostalgia for the early days. When it comes to capturing the mood and context of the era, I guess You gets it right. Everything else? That’s a bit less surefooted.

This is a book that makes a lot of promises that it can’t keep. Reading the back, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were reading a murder mystery and thriller set in the gaming world. We are told that Russell has got a job with his former classmates to investigate the mysterious death of Simon, his one-time friend. Simon was a genius who had a special knack for creating exciting games. While Russell chose a more secure future in law, Simon and Darren set up their own company, Black Arts, and release a few popular titles. After hearing of Simon’s death, Russell turns his back on law and gets a job at Black Arts. With plenty of corporate issues creating tension around the office, Russell soon finds himself out of his depth. So, it’s a really bad time for a deadly bug to surface in all of Black Arts games. Can Russell help the team find it and fix it before the release of their upcoming release?

Really, Simon’s death doesn’t serve any real purpose to the plot except to give Russell an excuse to reminisce. There is no mystery here but there is plenty of jumping through time. Not that I really minded. The chapters that take place when Russell and co. were teenagers were, by far, the most interesting moments in the book. Much more interesting than the endless pages given over to watching our protagonist play every game Black Arts has ever made. I get that Grossman wanted things to be accurate but there’s nothing quite so dull as reading about a pretend person playing a pretend video game. Maybe Grossman is just paying homage to the time when video game plots were absolute nonsense? However, I suspect that it’s more likely that he just sidelined the plot in exchange for detail.

Really, he’s more bothered about showing off his knowledge than in creating a decent story. This book is boring and lacks any real tension. Even though we’re constantly being told that sorting the bug is vital to the company, we get a hell of a lot of long descriptions of gameplay. It takes any real drama out of proceedings and just makes You seem really boring. The timeline of the novel and its random structure also work against the narrative. It feels disjointed and messy. Like the constant changing between first, second and third person. I get that Grossman was trying to make a point with this but it just didn’t work effectively. Rather, it was distracting and annoying as the novel kept going on and on and on.

Despite all of this, you never really get to know the characters very well. There’s an attempt at some development but it’s all just cliched stuff. Nothing is exciting or original about any of these characters. Grossman seems to have taken the Hollywood approach to computer geeks and we just get the same old hackneyed stuff. I really wanted to like You but I just couldn’t. Everyone compares this to Ready Player One and that is a book that really annoyed me. Well, it pains me to say it but You makes Ready Player One look like a masterpiece.

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