I ended up not being totally pleased with the book, but there were some good things. Let me first issue praise where praise is due...
- I loved the sense of camaraderie and purpose of the core characters, who built up a thriving video game empire from humble beginnings as outcast high school students. Their early years -- especially their time at an experimental computer camp in the woods of western Massachusetts -- reminded me of the early years of the tight-knit team of "losers" from Stephen King's novel "It." (And no, I didn't think of that just because it's another novel with a pronoun for a title!)
- As someone of pretty much the exact age of the protagonists, I recall those early years, too, and I think Grossman captured a lot of its charm quite nicely. I certainly shared the characters' drive toward their Platonic ideal of the Ultimate Game. Some blurb on the back cover said something to the effect of "Now I want to go break out my old Commodore 64 and revisit some of those games." I felt the same way.
The protagonist, Russell, was kind of a bland cipher, and (to me) borderline unlikable as a person. Instead, I wanted to know more about Simon, the brilliant, unstable innovator who died a few years before the "present day" action of the book -- but who nonetheless drove much of the plot. I think I've known a few people like Simon in my life, and I was left wondering if Grossman ever really knew or understood someone like this.
Part of me wants to wax philosophic about how modern literature seems uncomfortable with straightforwardly heroic personalities. Do they see it as more preferable to have a wavering dud like Russell as the point-of-view character, than someone like Simon? Someone who seemed to be honest, good, and unflinching in his will, even with flaws, even unto his own demise?
I was also unhappy with how the plot got resolved, but I'll leave out spoilers.
Still, the story made me think about a lot of things that I hadn't thought about in a long time, and it made me think about them in new ways. I'm glad I read it, even if I wanted to throw it across the room when I was done. :-)
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Oh, one other thing. Grossman's descriptions of Simon and his best pal Darren (the latter being the taller, smooth-talking pitch man who helped convey shy Simon's visions to the wider world) reminded me of another pair, where one of them does the talking for both... often to excess...
This comparison also got me to thinking of a few similar pairs in popular culture, where there's one who is silent and supposedly "deep," and the other who compensates by being more of an over-the-top goofball...
Can you think of any others?