Wednesday, June 1, 2016


Press Start to Play
Edited by: Daniel H Wilson and John Joseph Adams
Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: Vintage
Language: English
August 2015
Genre: Anthology/Video Games

Video games are a multi-billion dollar a year industry that has outpaced movies and books combined. The humble, pixelated games of the ‘70s and ‘80s have evolved into the vivid, realistic, and immersive form of entertainment that now rivals all other forms of media for dominance in the consumer marketplace. For many, video games have become the cultural icons around which pop culture revolves.

PRESS START TO PLAY is an anthology of stories inspired by video games: stories that attempt to recreate the feel of a video game in prose form; stories that play with the concepts common (or exclusive) to video games; and stories about the creation of video games and/or about the video games—or the gamers—themselves.

These stories will appeal to anyone who has interacted with games, from hardcore teenaged fanatics, to men and women who game after their children have gone to bed, to your well-meaning aunt who won’t stop inviting you to join her farm-based Facebook games.

At the helm of this project are Daniel H. Wilson—bestselling novelist and expert in artificial intelligence—and John Joseph Adams—bestselling, Hugo Award-nominated editor of more than a dozen science fiction/fantasy anthologies and series editor of Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy (volume one forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin in 2015). Together, they have drawn on their wide-ranging contacts to assemble an incredibly talented group of authors who are eager to attack the topic of video games from startling and fascinating angles.

Under the direction of an A.I. specialist and a veteran editor, the anthology will expose readers to a strategically chosen mix of stories that explore novel video game concepts in prose narratives, such as save points, kill screens, gold-farming, respawning, first-person shooters, unlocking achievements, and getting “pwned.” Likewise, each of our authors is an accomplished specialist in areas such as science fiction, fantasy, and techno-thrillers, and many have experience writing for video games professionally.

Combining unique viewpoints and exacting realism, this anthology promises to thrill generations of readers, from those who grew up with Atari 2600s to the console and PC gamers of today.


I am a gamer. When I was younger it was Galaga at the local arcade and Super Mario when I was at home. Now it is Mass Effect, Destiny, and most recently Stardew Valley. I love video games. I love the escapism, the strategy, and the utter satisfaction that they bring. The Rogue and I play together often as well. Our favorites are shooters and RPGs, but we each play a little of everything. Of course when I saw that there was an anthology all about gaming you know I was hooked.

I love anthologies. They are a great way to be introduced to a new author. They are short and sweet, but if done well hold the same impact as a longer novel. Press Start to Play is a diverse little collection. There are fantasy and sci-fi selections as well as horror and whimsy. As a while it was a strong anthology and one that I will return to again in the future.

The Stories:

God Mode // Daniel H Wilson: The anthology begins with a tale about an American studying abroad in Australia. There he falls for a fellow student named Sarah. When Sarah falls and hits her head the sky begins to disappear. Soon the couple finds their world slowly being derezzed around them. While I liked the story and the subtlety of it, it was not the strongest of openers. Yet I still liked it. Whose world was it to begin with in the first place?

NPC // Charles Yu: What if your NPCs suddenly became playable characters and began to level up. Such is the case for one NPC who lives his life every day collecting iridium in the background, crushing on a woman, and eating Lean Cuisines. A twist of fate levels him up one day. But is it all what it is cracked up to be? I loved this story. It was funny. It was charming. And it made me think of all of those NPCs in our gaming lives.

Respawn // Hiroshi Sakurazaka: The lead character is killed, but discovers his consciousness has respawned in to the body of his killer. It goes on from there. This was a great story. Loved the intro. Of course very similar to ‘All You Need is Kill’ (the film Edge of Tomorrow was based on this) which he also wrote, but in a different way. I kind of want to read his other short fiction "The Saitama Chain Saw Massacre". Nice addition.

Desert Walk // S. R. Mastrantone: Desert Walk is a game that Sam has wanted forever. Not only was it cancelled, but the only copies that exist are the demos which happen to have the full game on it. There are stories about the game, odd things that people have found and now Sam gets to see what all the fuss is about. The game is simple really; you walk through the desert. Except maybe there is more to the game than he thought. Maybe there are some things that don’t belong in the game. Maybe there was a reason why it was cancelled. One of the first horror tinged stories of the anthology and I loved it. Nice.

Rat Catcher’s Yellows // Charlie Jane Anders: A degenerative neurological disorder has torn through the populous in this dystopian laced world. When our lead finds a game that brings her partner back she is all for the therapeutic nature of it. Even if the game is a Renaissance MMP completely populated by cats. Also there needs to be this game IRL. I like Charlie Jane Anders for many reasons and while I have not picked up her debut novel, this gave me a slight taste of what to expect. And I am intrigued. Good story.

1UP // Holly Black: Yay text adventures. Three friends attend the funeral of their online gaming friend. While at the reception they find a text based game on his computer. It was supposed to give them answers about his death. It becomes all too real. I love you Holly. You rock. Such a good story.

Survival Horror // Seanan McGuire: Set in the InCryptid verse, this stars my fave ship of Artie and Sarah. A harmless day of hanging out turns into a life or death situation when they are both sucked into Artie’s new videogame. Survive or die. It was cute, but I imagine that those who have not read the series might be a little bit lost as it feels very much like a missing ‘episode’. Gold star for all the comic mentions. Oh Seanan, you big geek. :)

Real // Django Wexler: ARG is an exciting subgenre of games. In this game, players use various forms of social media and their own phones to discover demons and hidden runes. A journalist is trying to uncover the truth about the game, especially since many players think its real. Is it? Great story. I now want to go grab some ARGs.

Outliers// Nicole Feldringer: Our player is obsessed with a game that tracks weather patterns. So obsessed that she even skipped her brother’s wedding in person. But she soon realizes that there does not seem to be a way to win. However, she is determined. What is the game for and what is the point? The first weak outing of the anthology in my opinion. I really didn’t like the protagonist, the pacing was slow, and it just wasn’t for me.

End Game // Chris Avellone: Another text based adventure story where you, as the reader, read through the commands. Like the homage, but the ending was a little disappointing.

Save me PLZ // David Barr Kirtley: It begins with Meg getting in car to go find her ex-boyfriend Devon. Insert giant spiders and her quest not going as some had planned. Love Meg. Loved her badassness. Love how it ended. Great story.

The Relive Box // T.C. Boyle: Grief is a powerful thing as is regret and our memories. One father is obsessed with reliving the moments he had with his wife, but in the process destroys the relationship with his daughter whom his wife left behind as well. Convinced he can see where it all went wrong he spends more time in VR instead of making new memories with his daughter. Could VR really rule our lives? If I had a holodeck? Maybe? No probably. The Rogue and I would just spend our days adventuring in various games, movies, and books. I like the ideas behind this, the ideas Boyle was trying to explore, but it didn’t quite work for me. I wish I could pinpoint why.

Roguelike // Marc Laidlaw : Oh Rogue likes and your tombstones of doom. So perfect. The Rogue (thus named because of his online moniker and his love for playing and creating roguelikes himself) really enjoyed it as well. If you have not played a rogue like before I can see why you may not enjoy it as much. If you have not played a roguelike I insist that you go play one now. Dwarf Fortress is a great one to start with.

All of the People in Your Party Have Died // Robin Wasserman Survival: Oregon Trail was a staple in my younger years. In this story the game becomes a little creepy as the game starts bleeding into real life. I liked it and yet I was disappointed by it. I like the horror elements, but I wanted more. I feel like it fell apart slightly at the end.

Recoil // Micky Neilson: Jimmy is at the office late trying to beta a new game. Bad night to do it though, when he finds himself part of a hostage situation. Nice twist. Thought I had it all figured out, but not quite.

Anda’s Game // Cory Doctorow: Anda is your average girl in real life, but in the virtual world she is elite, kicks ass, and fights like a girl. When she discovers some secrets about her virtual life, she has an important decision to make. Who hoo lady gamers who kick ass. While I know better than to start an MMO (Hello lack of willpower on my end…no one would ever see me again) this was good. It touched on a lot of different themes and gaming issues. There are people who farm and groups who have industrialized certain games. Loved seeing girls kick butt. Heavier themes here, but enough humor and action to balance it out.

Coma Kings // Jessica Barber: Two sisters bonded over Coma. Both are incredibly talented within the game, but one became so obsessed that she implanted the game directly into her brain. Now her sister is just trying to find a way to reconnect. Interesting concept.

Stats // Marguerite K. Bennett: Joey is not a good man. Maybe that is why someone is teaching him a lesson by messing with his stats in real life. A revenge story that is kind of creepy from both sides. Joey is an asshat sure, but….

Please Continue // Chris Kluwe: Chris Kluwe, former NFL player and ginormous geek writes a story that talks about the power gamer. As a woman who knows a few powergamers who are obsessed with grinding, finding the loopholes and glitches, and making sure you never miss a raid night, I get it. But everyone games differently. I like the immersion and escape. Others view the game as a problem and want to solve it more than escape into it. To each their own (unless you are trying to do multiplayer story mode with that above mentioned gamer set and want to solve things your own way and not skip the story bits). I can see why some may not like this story, but I enjoyed it.

Creation Screen // Rhianna Pratchett: Oh how much time I spend creating characters (looking at you Dragon’s Dogma). Poor character. This story is from their point of view. The spark of life, the painful physical transformations and modifications, the first glimpse of a new world, and having to comply with commands that may differ from their desires. I liked this story. Sorry character. Really I am.

The Fresh Prince of Gamma World // Austin Grossman: Post-apocalyptic Boston for the win. I don’t want to give too much away, but I now want to go play Fallout 4 again. Great world building, nice pacing, and some nice twists to boot.

Gamer’s End // Yoon Ha Lee: War games. Literally. A simulation turns a little too real. Love the idea, but for some reason it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

The Clockwork Soldier // Ken Liu: Alex is tasked to bring back runaway Ryder back to his family. Another text based gaming story and yet different. I loved the android bits (I am currently watching the first season of Humans on AmazonPrime). I think this would make a great Outer Limits episode.

Killswitch // Catherynne M. Valente: An interesting outing, this one involves a game full of ghosts who haunt the mines and machinery. It also parallels the real mining industry and deals with themes like gaming versus real life. There are no respawns, just one shot. Interesting as is most of Valente’s works.

Twarrior // Andy Weir: Oh how I love Weir, not because he wrote the Martian, but because he’s a big nerd and I love nerds. So so funny this story. A programmer creates a program to run for a billion seconds and to learn what it can. Over 30 years later the AI returns, self-aware, intelligent, and…who speaks only in slang. This is what happens when you learn from the interwebs.

Select Character // Hugh Howey: Another story that I don’t want to give away too much about, but let’s just say it involves a gaming urban legend and a wife who plays her husband’s video games. I liked it. Not the strongest ending, but one that made me smile.

Buy or Borrow: Buy. If you are a fan of video games in general this a great little anthology.

Part of: Standalone

Also Recommended: For more gaming themed books try Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, and Arena by Holly Jennings.

3.50 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks 

1 comment:

SRM said...

Thanks so much for the kind review!