The List Break: Nine Books and Video Games

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Every now and then, I find myself unable to post a review for the week. This is due to a variety of factors: sometimes it has to do with work; other times it has to do with being deeply engaged in other media; in other cases it’s because I’ve hit a reading slump; or some combination of all three. Whatever the case may be, I find myself unable to post a review per my preferred posting schedule, which leaves the blog disappointingly quiet.

In order to rectify that issue, I’ve decided to do up list posts, to do with books and reading and the other things I’m interested in. The number of items in the list will vary wildly, depending on how many items I can come up with for every list, but since this is a book blog, one can rest assured that whatever list I toss out there will have to do with books.

For this first List Break, I’ve decided to combine two things I enjoy: books and video games. Some people might not think the two compatible, but anyone who loves to read – especially those who enjoy genre fiction – will know that video games are capable of telling some very fine stories. On the other hand, gamers with enough interest in the written word will also know that many elements in their favourite games are derived from books. While some people might prefer one medium over the other, there is no denying that there is a significant overlap in terms of the stories that video games tell with the ones that are told in books.

Because of this overlap, it is possible to create a list of books with content that might appeal to a gamer who likes a particular game, and vice versa. My list is not comprehensive, of course, nor is it absolutely accurate, but I hope that it encourages any gamers out there to try out the books I recommend, and encourages readers to give video games a shot.

Paradox Trilogy by Rachel Bach – For those who like the Mass Effect trilogy

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Rachel Bach’s Paradox Trilogy has all the same elements as the Mass Effect games: high-octane action and adventure; a strong, kick-ass protagonist; and interesting and amusing side characters (some of whom are aliens). There is even romance – one of the most notable elements of Mass Effect’s gameplay is a romantic subplot between the game’s protagonist and one of the side characters. Indeed, the only difference between the two series is that Bach’s is a set of novels, instead of a set of games, and feature a much more cohesive storyline and characterisation (players of Mass Effect will know what I mean).

Cesare by Fuyumi Soryo – For those who like the Ezio Auditore arc of Assassin’s Creed

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Although Cesare Borgia is a major villain in the Ezio Auditore arc of Assassin’s Creed, he is still an interesting personage: a lot of books have been written about him and his family over the years, and much of that information (accurate or otherwise) went into his characterisation and the characterisation of his family members in the game. Players who found themselves intrigued by Cesare and his world will enjoy Soryo’s manga, which is immaculately researched in a way that shows in both the artwork and in the story itself.

Lives in Ruins by Marilyn Johnson – For those who like Tomb Raider

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The best part of the Tomb Raider video games is the thrill of discovery and the satisfaction the gamer feels when they solve a fiendishly difficult puzzle or surmount a particularly difficult obstacle. However, fun as the action in Tomb Raider might be, it’s not quite the same as actual archaeology. Johnson’s book lets readers take a glimpse at what real archaeology looks like – and while it’s not nearly as exciting as Tomb Raider makes it out to be, archaeology can be very thrilling, and very dangerous, in its own way.

Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe, Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Šejić, Tess Fowler – For those who like Neverwinter Nights

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To say that Dungeons and Dragons left a mark on both video games and fantasy fiction is understating the enormity of its impact. Rat Queens, in particular, is an enjoyable homage to not just D&D, but to the video games and books that were spawned in its wake. It employs all the elements and conventions familiar to anyone who has played or read anything that is in any way rooted in D&D, but comments upon them in a way that exposes not just what makes D&D and its successors great, but what makes them problematic, as well. This is all done in a humorous, entertaining manner, with superb artwork to tie everything together.

The Worldbreaker Saga by Kameron Hurley – For those who like Dragon Age: Inquisition

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Like Dragon Age: Inquisition, Hurley’s Worldbreaker Saga is about confronting the apocalypse. What does one do, when one is faced with the destruction of everything one knows? What if that threat comes from another world entirely? What if that threat wears a familiar face? These are questions that both Inquisition and the Worldbreaker Saga ask the player/reader to address – although it must be said that Hurley’s take on it is far richer, deeper, and more complex than Bioware’s.

The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum – For those who like L.A. Noire

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While playing a detective with excellent sartorial taste is one of the main charms of L. A. Noire, it is also true that the gameplay – investigating crimes in 1940s Los Angeles – is a major factor behind why the game draws in as many players as it does. Though Blum’s book talks about events in the 1920s – a full two decades before the time in which L. A. Noire takes place – it still follows the same patterns of investigation and rigorous inquiry that can make the game such a pleasure to play. The Poisoner’s Handbook also reveals the origin of certain forensic techniques, some of which are used in the game.

The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold – For those who like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

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A sprawling universe, high adventure, and the chance to save a galaxy far, far away from an evil Empire: that is what Star Wars is all about. And while Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga doesn’t quite have an evil Empire, it does have a sprawling universe, amazing characters, and more action and adventure than a Jedi can shake a lightsaber at. Even better, the world of the Vorkosigan Saga is very well-developed, as are the characters – mostly because the series is quite long. Readers are advised to settle in for the long haul; it will be quite a ride.

The Stormlight Archive Series by Brandon Sanderson – For those who like Final Fantasy

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Though the Final Fantasy games all look different on the outside, at their core, they all work on the same formula: the end of the world is coming, and only a special band of misfits wielding incredible powers can stop that from happening. Wrap it all together with amazing fantastical worlds and an astounding musical score, and one has Final Fantasy in a nutshell. In many ways, Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive is the same: the end of the world is coming, and only a band of misfits can stop it from happening by wielding amazing powers in defiance of the coming apocalypse. The only thing missing is a musical score – though I am certain that, with some patient searching, any reader can find a fanmix that works with the series to their satisfaction.

YOU by Austin Grossman – For those who like video games in general

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Every now and then, I wonder what it might be like to work as a game developer. During such times, I fancy that my complete and utter lack of coding knowledge will not be a hindrance to participating in game development, that my ability to craft a story will be sufficient. I am certain other gamers have had similar thoughts – at least until reality hits with the realisation that it takes much, much more than a clever story to work in the video game industry. YOU is about all the blood, sweat, tears, and heartbreak that goes into making a video game, but it is also a love letter to that process, as well as to the hidden stories and people that go into the making of any video game. If the player is a fan of RPGs, especially, Grossman’s novel will touch a very particular chord.

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