Review of tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow – love virtually | Fiction

J21st century youth are as likely to bond over video games as they are over rock music or movies. Gabrielle Zevin’s uplifting, timely and moving book is perhaps the first novel to truly understand what this means.

Sadie and Sam meet as precocious and somewhat clumsy children in a hospital where Sadie’s sister is being treated for leukemia and Sam is recovering from injuries sustained in a car accident. Sam hasn’t spoken since the collision, but Sadie slowly pulls him out of his self-imposed exile, via long sessions of Super Mario Bros in the hospital playroom. Their friendship made possible by the video game sets up a major theme of the novel. “Allowing yourself to play with another person is no small risk,” writes Zevin. “It means allowing yourself to be open, to be exposed, to be hurt.”

Eventually, the two have a falling out, only to coincidentally meet eight years later on a crowded Boston subway. Sam is at Harvard, Sadie at MIT, and they still love video games enough to start developing one together, helped by Sam’s charismatic roommate Marx. Their game, an artistic adventure inspired by Hokusai’s woodblock print The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, was a smash hit, and the trio set up a development studio in Los Angeles. But as their success grows, so does the complexity of their intertwined lives. Marx begins a romance with the game’s hippie composer. Sadie falls back into a troubling underworld relationship with Dov, an abusive male coder who could be modeled after one of dozens of wealthy predators in his 40s. years that patrol the video game industry. Meanwhile, Sam remains silent, still slowly eaten away by the physical and mental toll of that childhood car accident.

For those who don’t play or understand games, the lengthy descriptions of the development process can be overwhelming at first. The novel explores, with considerable precision, the complex technological challenges, the inherent sexism of the games industry (Sadie’s contribution is consistently underestimated by fans and journalists), and the trade-offs necessary to meet the demands of publishers. . But throughout it all, Zevin’s jargon avoidance and descriptive flair ensure accessibility – and the narrative is grounded in the characters’ fragility and humanity. Video games, for them, are a therapeutic source of escape. Sam is part-Korean, part-Jewish, and the success of his games allows him to transcend his awkward sense of not belonging. Sadie has been neglected in a family where a sick brother has taken all the attention, but its protagonists are free to become heroes. Marx is a handsome and charming playboy who was never taken seriously until he became CEO of their studio. The worlds they create are progressive and uncompromising, even as a destructive love triangle develops between them and tragedy looms.

Comparisons will almost certainly be drawn between this book and Ernest Cline’s blockbuster Ready Player One, if only because there are still so few novels that seek to investigate the appeal of video games and our relationships. with them. But whereas Cline’s book is an uncritical celebration of hyper-consumerist geek culture, a male fantasy obsessed with the trivialities of power and rights, Zevin’s is a much more complex and interesting novel about how our lives and our experiences are now mediated by technology. There’s a moment early on when Sam wants to help Sadie through a bout of depression and Marx tries to drag her down. “Let him know you’re here,” he said. “And if you manage to do that, bring him a cookie, a book, a movie to watch. Friendship is a bit like having a Tamagotchi. It’s a light reference to the virtual pet phenomenon of the 1990s, but it also shows how, in the modern age, digital culture mirrors and replaces real-life intimacy.

Zevin has written young adult fiction and Tomorrow…leans towards the accessibility of this genre; the subject, too, will no doubt attract a younger audience. But this is not a YA novel about video games. Instead, it’s a novel where video games are a vehicle for self-expression and emotional connection, and where gaming is the most intimate and important human activity there is. Game development becomes a compelling metaphor for how we build our friendships and loves – a process of shared imagination, effort, and myth-making. Twice, Sam and Sadie say to themselves, “There’s no point in doing something if you think it won’t be great.” They talk about games, but they also talk about relationships.

Love, says this captivating novel, is a creative project, and like any collaborative work of art, it is demanding and thoughtful work; there will always be risk and heartache involved. But the rewards are riches we could never have imagined or experienced alone.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin is published by Chatto & Windus (£16.99). To support The Guardian and Observer, order your copy from Delivery charges may apply

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