mikith's review

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emotional reflective sad medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.5


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stephbee's review

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emotional reflective medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0


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owenwilsonbaby's review

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dark emotional funny reflective sad medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

5.0

"Maybe it was the willingness to play that hinted at a tender, eternally newborn part in all humans. Maybe it was the willingness to play that kept one from despair."

A book that had so many lines I wanted to include here that I actually found it pretty hard to choose. Zevin has crafted such a wonderful piece of art. There are so many layers to this that I think I need to reread it almost immediately. The entire last third made me want to ugly cry. Every scene of this book was on the surface about moving its tightly-wound plot onward, yet simultaneously managed to further an extraordinary portrait of play, art, ethics, performance, love and sex, disability and illness, relationships and family. Zevin's ideas about these varied topics are finely painted, always finding room for levity, lightness, nuance and exploration. At the same time, the scenes that lean more heavily into these themes never feel like they lack depth. If anything, the lightness of touch here in everything from narrative voice to plotting to recurrent images and motifs felt carefully considered. I learned so much about the gaming world and its history which I have never really interacted with before. And yet most of all I feel the novel's important insights boiled down to how humans relate to and care for another. That despite everything, in the end, love can be very simple. The conversation with Dong Hyun near the ending of the book where he incredulously looks at Sam and says "Are you kidding? [...] Everything is funny now." Insane. I wanted to sob.

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lex_mags's review

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dark emotional hopeful reflective sad tense slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

2.5


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3mmers's review

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emotional hopeful sad slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

2.0

Have you heard about Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow? That new contemporary literary novel flying off the shelves thanks to its innovative combination of a meditation of co-creatorship and (adjusts monocle) video games. Once again I find myself in the position of hating something that everyone else seems to like for reasons that elude me. I found it both pretentious and misguided, a bunch of words circling the drain, making no substantial point but in the longest, most overwrought way possible. I finished it in about four days, desperately hoping all the while that after the next chapter it would get good. It is well-written enough to keep me engaged for that time, I guess, but left it feeling profoundly underwhelmed. Disappointing games are often described as ‘wide as an ocean but deep as a puddle’. They attempt a really ambitious scale, but no particular element is any good, usually as a direct consequence of biting off more they can chew. That is how this novel feels to me. It is trying to incorporate a huge number of elements and motifs: a very long timescale, highs and lows of human emotion, political and philosophical questions of equal rights and identity politics, creativity, Shakespeare, love. But it is never able to unify any of them because its focus is pulled in too many different directions. Basically every decision felt unmotivated and incomprehensible. This is the review that broke me; I have to date spent over a month and a half trying to articulate why the fuck I didn’t like this. Please understand that the following barely scratches the surface of enumerating and explaining the things I hated.

The video games are perhaps the core of the problem. I love video games and I love reading about them. I read T3 because I love gaming. But I could never seem to get away from the feeling that this book doesn’t. It is a book about video games for people who don’t care about games and can’t imagine themselves ever playing them. Before I ever started this book, when I’d only mentioned to my mum that I was having trouble finding a copy because it was so popular, she told me that her book club had considered reading it, the club leader having been reassured that, ‘it is about video games, but fortunately they weren’t that important to the story!’ In hindsight, this was a bad sign.

The truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction, and this is perhaps more true of the video game industry than anywhere else. That it is fiction (and that it never lets you forget this) is one of T3’s biggest weaknesses. One of the great joys of video game history for me is the stories of what would go on to become super popular properties and developers back when they thought they would never release anything and were frantically burning their game onto CD-ROMs themselves (as was the case for MYST). The fun is in knowing how it all turns out in the end. One of my favourite anecdotes, about the game Dragon Age: Inquisition, is that overall direction was so messy that the devs spent a huge part of the development working on the opening area while producers tried to figure out where literally the entire rest of the story would go. It’s great because you can absolutely tell. The first area is super pretty and absolutely massive, way more full of npcs and quests and dialogue than anywhere else. And fans fucking hate it. General consensus is that the best way to play is to get the heck out of there as soon as possible or you’ll feel like you’re trapped in this one zone for the entire game. Disproportionately huge amounts of dev time have not polished this area to a mirror shine perfect vertical slice, rather, it ended up ballooning out to a bloated and directionless mess that is better off skipped. Tragically (and I am genuinely, unironically bummed about this), no such anecdotes are referenced or mentioned or even used as inspiration anywhere in T3. It’s all fiction, and the downside of fiction is artifice.

Real world games are included almost exclusively as namechecks, but they didn’t flesh out the setting for me because they felt poorly chosen. This may partly be my fault. T3 is set beginning in the 90s and alludes mostly to games from that era, which is kinda before my time as a gamer. My mother refused to spend five hundred dollars on a console that she thought would corrupt her children’s minds with obsessive competition, gun violence, and microwaves, and because I was a girl I was not entitled to a turn on the neighbour’s Nintendo, so I only really started gaming as an adult. On the other hand, since the video game integration in the novel exists as little more than an extensive reference list of 80s and 90s games it was deeply disappointing. I’d been excited to read a book about making video games, not one about namechecking videogames. The feeling was exacerbated by the way that anything deeper than a namecheck was introduced in the most baby-level exposition possible. While reading a sentence carefully clarifying what a ‘goomba’ was and why jumping on one would be a meaningful gamer action I was struck by the realization that the intended audience of this book was one with absolutely no familiarity with video games at all. You don’t have to own an ugly red and black chair and a monthly G Fuel subscription to know what Oregon Trail is or what Mario does at his day job. It’s jarring to hear those things explained and then to understand that T3 is entering into the conversation at too low a level to create a discussion that is meaningful to me.

Very little of T3’s time is spent actually talking about the creative process of making a video game. Sam and Sadie personally create about a half dozen games between them over the course of the novel, with the process of creation happening off-page more and more as the novel progresses. We only see the creation of their first game, Ichigo, in depth. Even then the things that the book chooses to pay attention to are the conceptual process and then, even more importantly, Marx’s role as an organizational leader in the group. Since the book has locked itself off from being able to talk technically about the nuts and bolts of game creation by pitching itself to an audience with basically no prior knowledge, and since it doesn’t want to invent a game in any more detail than the broad strokes, the audience experiences the creation of Ichigo from Marx’s perspective. I found it an uninspiring choice. Sure, the actual process of creation is most often profoundly boring, coding especially so, but that is the challenge that the book explicitly set up for itself! It is about making video games! The decision to summarize the process of creation and meander lovingly through the anticipation of creating something and the reaction to doing it instead is the most fundamental of the decisions within T3 that I simply do not understand, not intellectually, not emotionally, not artistically.

To that point, enough grousing about what T3 is not, let us turn out eye to what it is, which is, disappointingly, a long-term relationship study of a man who feels entitled to his female creative partner. Such innovation. Much deepness. I hated Sam. I get that both Sam and Sadie are deeply imperfect characters who have hurt each other intentionally or otherwise, but I hated Sam. Part of this is due to specific scenes;
SpoilerSam confesses to Marx that he feels entitled to Sadie’s love and is hurt by her not romantically acknowledging him for the gift of being there.
I do get that this was a moment of extreme emotion and tension but I cannot separate it from the wider context of this being how platonic partnerships work in so much other literature. There were also pervasive issues for me. Sam and Sadie, as characters, are frequently used to represent opposite positions. Sam very often represents fiction: he is a natural salesman and writer on the team, but he also frequently misinterprets things in bad faith and narration from his point of view often omits information the reader should know. On the other hand Sadie is forthright and hard, but she basically always has an accurate assessment of things that happen and her point of view reveals information that Sam’s hides. To be blunt, I found it distasteful that the book never acknowledged how she was basically right.
SpoilerSadie is entirely correct that reviewers overlooked her contribution to Ichigo because they liked Sam more. She is entirely right to be mad at Sam for pushing her back into an abusive and exploitative relationship for the sake of a game. I hate him.
Once you’re majorly uninvested both in one of the main characters and in the main plot it’s tough for the story to recover. For once T3 lived up to expectations and didn’t.

The decision to focus the book on mundane relationship drama was the most fundamental decision that I disliked, but it was not the one I disliked the most. Far and away the most enduringly abrasive part of T3 was its style, all circling around an overbearingly desperate attempt to be literary. The language used is so horribly complex that it noticeably detracts from the story. Actually, ‘complex’ is kinda the wrong word; it’s more like ‘esoteric’. The vocabulary for this is straight out of a spelling bee finalist’s worst nightmare. While writing this section I worried that maybe I was the problem and just needed to, as the gamers say, git gud. So I took an online vocabulary test and scored 100% correct in the top 0.01% of test takers and concluded that I’m fine actually. The use of extremely niche and often ambiguous words adds nothing to the novel. Characters and narration use words that literally no one says (other than the spelling bee administrator of the earlier figure of speech I suppose) and it makes them feel immensely artificial. Like puppets in an Aesop’s fable for just the most annoying linguistic purists in the world. For every use of obtuse vocabulary there is a more widely used word that would be more clear and wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb. The example I hated the most was this paragraph: “A bromide of the creative process is that a person’s first idea is their best. Ichigo wasn’t Sam and Sadie’s first idea, it was perhaps their thousandth.” Bromide here is used as an idiom meaning a common false idea, a usage I’ve never seen before anywhere. I had to look it up. Why not use cliché, which already connotes a false statement? It’s shown to be false anyway in the next sentence. Moreover, the chemical imagery involved by the word bromide adds no new meaning. This paragraph is about how creativity eschews concrete advice. The point is that creativity is not quantifiable and scientific. Then there’s the implication that the initial conception of the Ichigo idea was not as important as the process of making it (Sam and Sadie don’t even remember which idea it was, just that it was ‘perhaps the thousandth’), counteracted by the implication that it is important since it gets its own little paragraph. It’s confusing. The whole book is full of these moments of complexity for no apparent purpose. It doesn’t make the reading feel erudite or meaningful. It made me stop to look up what ‘zaftig’ meant.

I was instantly aware that I didn’t like the choice of vocabulary or the way video games were used as the set dressing for the overall theme of creativity and creative collaboration, but it took me a much longer time, over a week after I finished the book, to figure out that I was unsatisfied by the use of literature in the novel. Once again I didn’t feel like the creative choices served the message that the author was trying to create. The example I’ll use in this case is the title. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is the first line from one of the most famous soliloquies from Macbeth. Macbeth recites it right at the end of the play, after hearing that his wife and co-conspirator has committed suicide. At the end of T3, it is retconned that Macbeth was Marx’s favourite play and this his favourite soliloquy. Marx suggests they name their studio Tomorrow Games after this speech but is overruled because it sounds too cliché. The words ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ are invoked to mean hopefulness and keeping going. From a close reading of the allusion, the parallel the tomorrow soliloquy creates is that Marx was the protagonists’ Lady Macbeth. He is the cheerleader and motivating force behind their activities and
Spoilerdies due to his relationship to them.
Lady Macbeth commits suicide after being driven mad by guilt thanks to the responsibility she feels for Macbeth’s regicide.
SpoilerMarx is murdered because of the responsibility he claims for Sam and Sadie’s games.
In the tomorrow soliloquy, Macbeth is exhausted and defeated. With the death of his wife and the failure of their plot he sees time as little more than a nihilistic trek towards the end. This would imply that without Marx, Sam and Sadie’s game developing days are over. This is a contradictory image, while the first line is used to imply that Sam and Sadie must keep going, taking every day at a time, its context suggests a much darker fate, that their careers will not survive, their studio acquired by EA and then summarily shut down like so many other icons of 90s game development (condolences to Maxis, Bullfrog Productions, Mythic Games, and more).

In the final chapter, Sam and Sadie reconcile and Sadie mentions how important identity politics are to her students and how different their perspective is from her own. Sam answers, “‘If their traumas are the most interesting things about them, how do they get over any of it,’” in one of a couple weirdly out of place conversations about identity politics in games (this conversation is supposed to be happening in 2010, four years before GamerGate would mark a watershed conflict over the role of marginalized voices in the video games industry, three years before games like Depression Quest and Gone Home would hit pcs everywhere, so while it is not inconceivable for this conversation to be taking place, it definitely feels anachronistic and shoehorned in). On the one hand, this is the return of a message appearing earlier in the novel, that to create great art requires total creative freedom; being tied to making art based on one’s identity or traumas is inherently limiting. On the other hand, the use of allusion to the tomorrow soliloquy implies that this particular trauma is inescapable. Sam and Sadie can’t recover from
SpoilerMarx’s death
just as Macbeth could not go on with his rebellion after the death of his wife. If the reader is intended to understand that these two factors are in tension, then the literary device is buried in so many other elements that it took me two weeks after finishing the novel to work it out. In other words, at best it is too confusing to be effective. At worse it is a misinformed choice of allusion capitalizing on one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines without understanding the additional meaning its context would bring.

Maybe T3 is trying to subvert this meaning and to reinterpret the soliloquy in a hopeful way but frankly I have a hard time extending it the credit. I’ve been having a hard time meeting it in good faith for this entire review, and for most of the reading process. That’s not the best way to approach this book. I am fully aware that I’m missing out on appreciating the message because I’m not meeting the novel where it wants to be met. I don’t have the good will to grok the unarticulatable nuances of the creative process in the way the book wants to share them so I can only receive them as empty vagaries. I’m not trying to be a cynic. I read this book originally because it came highly recommended as a readalong for a podcast whose hosts’ taste I admire. It feels shitty to say ‘I just didn’t like the characters enough,’ but honestly that is what it boils down to. It’s really hard to bring a positive spirit to a book with such misanthropic and disenchanted main characters. I saw a comment online saying that the literary genre sucks because it is mundane details about very generic people blown all out of proportion. I don’t think that is true about the genre as a whole (if you haven’t met literary novels about just the weirdest perverts then you haven’t read enough of them), but it is true about this one, in spite of the many diverse identities that the novel insists shouldn’t matter. This is a very cynical introduction for a book that desperately wants you to overcome cynicism and goodfaithedly embrace its message about love and creativity. Unfortunately, T3 didn’t do anything to help me get into that mindset.  I finished it in four days but every one of them was a grind, and, while I kept hoping it would get better, the whole thing was a profoundly joyless experience. Which is bad for a book about video games since they are, after all, supposed to be fun.

Video game critics sometimes talk about ‘feeling the hand of the designer’. It’s not a compliment. In this sense it means that the experience is shaped by its format as a video game rather than any organic development within the interaction itself. In other words, the player is working with what they expect the designer wanted them to do in any given moment (based on their external knowledge of game conventions and clichés) and not on what the character in the game would do. It’s the opposite of immersion because it is the knowledge that one is playing a game. We collect all the collectables or kill all the enemies or complete all the quests next for any mechanically or narratively satisfying reason but because it is a video game and would be a pretty bad one if it didn’t have any of these things. In Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow the hand of the designer is inescapable. This book never lets you forget that it is a book, that it was written by a particular person in a particular place and time. It feels artificial. It feels constructed. It feels unbearably cynical. 

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mel_s_bookshelf's review

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emotional reflective medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.25


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royam's review

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reflective medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.75

I have complicated feelings about this book. On one hand,  I felt like
SpoilerMarx's death
was not necessary to have character development. Life can be hard but it doesn't need to be hard every time. On the other hand, I really enjoy that the characters are human and complicated. Relationships, platonic or romantic, are never clear-cut. The more you open up to someone, the more vulnerable you are. But if you always keep yourself at a distance, then no one will ever truly understand you. The struggles with failure and success were super relatable and personal. As a gamer, I loved each game's progress and the characters' differing experiences with every game. 

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bpwagoner's review

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challenging dark emotional funny sad tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

This is a book about life and loss and failure and identity. It's very beautiful, it's sometimes funny, it's always interesting. I will be thinking about this one for a long time, and I am already looking forward to a reread. You can tell that the author spent an appropriately long time building these characters, their world, and their lives. The characters are lovable, infuriatingly flawed, slow to change, and messily human. The events are so realistic and immersive that you question which elements are historical truth and which ones are fictional — it's that seamless. Other books attempt this (Daisy Jones and the Six comes to mind) but none so successfully. The traumas and heartbreaks described are quite heavy, and I recommend checking the content warnings. 5 stars, and thank you to the Bad Bitch Book Club for making this the September pick as well as my many friends who recommended it too.

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chambersaurusrx's review

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emotional reflective medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

5.0


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liv2199's review

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challenging emotional funny reflective slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.0


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