Holiday Reading for the Gamer

Holiday Reading for the Gamer


If you’re like me, you’re about to spend some of the upcoming winter holiday AFK–either squished between Fatty and Snorri the not-very-attractive dwarves on a cross country flight or trapped in your relatives’ house with only dialup to connect you to the virtual world. Fear not, intrepid gamer. Instead of reading the quest text this holiday season, curl up with an enormous novel. I hear that reading is (almost) as effective as Wow for lifting mind and spirit beyond the little inanities of mundane existence. In other words–a good book can help cut down on holiday boredom.

Of course, Professor Syd has a particular book in mind for you this holiday season. It occurred to me the other day that gamers must love Tad Williams’ Otherland series.


Why Read Otherland?

This four-book series will satisfy fans of either sci-fi or fantasy novels in general, but it has a special appeal to the gamer. I’m more of a fantasy reader myself. I read this series in 2004, and at that point, I had never even heard of online gaming. In fact, I think I might not have been willing to play WoW at all if I hadn’t become familiar with the concept of virtual realities through Williams’ novels. In the Otherland books, the evocation of both character and (virtual) landscape is masterfully done. Those of you who’ve already read the series may wonder what my favorite “world” is–I’ll just go live inside The House. Incidentally, I am of the opinion that The Makers in WoW are a reference to Williams’s Builders of the House.

A Short Plot Summary

I have to admit that my memory was fuzzy on this point after four years, but the story centers around Renie Sulaweyo, a South African programmer whose little brother Stephen mysteriously goes missing. It seems that he’s been literally sucked into the computer–or rather, his personality has been downloaded into an extraordinarily detailed virtual world. This virtual universe, Otherland, has been designed as a kind of afterlife for the rich and computer literate. All the self-styled gods (programmers) of this world have created their own fantastic refuges in which they can store their personalities and memories after their physical deaths. Pretty cool huh?

However, of course the whole thing goes awry, and each programmer’s heaven becomes Renie’s hell as she tries to find her brother. To the rescue: a cast of motley characters, including a click-language speaking romantic lead who spends most of the book transformed into a baboon, an avatar who’s somehow managed to escape an endlessly-repeating WWI campaign, and two teenage MMO players. One of these gamers, Orlando, is an invalid in real life, but in his virtual life, he is the most famous hero of the fictional MMO The Middle Kingdom. Interestingly, it is his Middle Kingdom avatar that appears in Otherland. The relationship between teenage “real person” Orlando and his avatar Thargor (who I picture as an orc warrior) is the most fascinating part of the book. Looking back, I can’t believe that Otherland came out in 1998, which means that it was probably in the works as early as 1994–the Dark Ages as far as MMOs are concerned.

Interesting Ideas

With a series like Otherland, the ideas often leave a longer-lasting impression than the plot line. What, four years after reading the novels, do I still think about from time to time? Here is a short list of philosophical questions that Williams’ series is able to answer.

Q. What is the best way to connect to the internet?
A. Clearly, a neural device implanted in the skull is superior to clunky computers and cables. The characters are able to interact directly with the virtual world without the mediation of the computer screen.

Q. What is the difference between real life and virtual life?
A. None at all. The experience of the mind is just as real in either case.

Q. Where do gamers go when they die?
A. The good ones become Rangers in their own idealized Lord of the Rings world. Duh.

I hope you’re convinced. Put Otherland on your reading list or, if you’ve read it already, consider sending a copy to a gamer friend as a holiday gift.

As a side note, I’d like to invite readers to recommend books for me. I was addicted to reading long before WoW existed, and I’m still able to burn through some pages every week.

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  1. I’m surprised that there is no mention or even a side note that there is a MMORPG being developed based on these books for the PC, another good reason to check these books.
    One of my fave books that I’ll likely be reading is the warhammer 40k based book Eisenhorn by Dan Abnett.

    Noobiewans last blog post..Tagged and to Tag Again!

  2. @Noobiewan: If I had known, I certainly would have said something.

    However, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to base an MMO on Otherland. I love Otherland as a book series–but one medium doesn’t necessarily translate well into another. For example, I don’t think a raiding endgame could be too tightly based on the books and still be fun and repeatable. However, if it’s a pretty loose inspiration? Great. There are some awesome mini-worlds that would make very cool playable zones.

  3. I like to keep warm with Maxim personally ^^

  4. I loved that series – it has a place of honor on my shelves still.

    re: Otherland MMO: Careful when pigeonholing all MMOs into the WoW mold there, Syd – who knows if “Raiding” is even a concept that makes sense with the direction that the game is taking. I wouldn’t be surprised if the final result is more open-ended and less scripted than a game like WoW.

    Here’s a preview:

    I’d subscribe to try it out for sure – especially if they seem likely to pull off something new & special.

    Karthiss last blog post..I second this

  5. If you haven’t already read it, then I’d recommend another Williams series: Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Published before Otherland, and a true fantasy setting, rather than the sci-fi/fantasy mishmash of Otherland.,_Sorrow,_and_Thorn

  6. I’m sorry, didn’t mean for that to sound like it does when I reread my comment. and to get this comments thread onto a non book topic (fail)

    I wouldn’t mind some other idea’s for books from your site’s readers. I’m reading another 40K (Horus Heresy actually) book at the moment: Battle for the Abyss.

    Noobiewans last blog post..Tagged and to Tag Again!

  7. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis is a great series that takes you into an incredible and magical fantasy world, and the first two have have recently been made into movies. When I first started playing WoW, I imagined the Lion depicted on the Alliance seal was, in fact, Aslan.

    The Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkings series was one that I throughly enjoyed. It’s the last series I’ve read where I was salivating for the next book to roll off the presses. I should do a blog post about it, lol.

    Finally, I always recommend Mere Christianity by also by C.S. Lewis when people ask for book recommendations. It is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s a non fiction work, and really gets the critical thinking nerves working.

    Enjoy your Holiday!

    Honorshammers last blog post..Thinking of the Future

  8. I have to say I was really disappointed with Otherland. I like Tad Wlliams as an author as I had read his Memory,Sorrow and Thorn novels when they first came out. I think his writing style is better suited to Fantasy then Sci-Fi/Cyberpunk. I felt bored through most of the first two books and never really cared for the main protagonist in any way.

    I personally like Gibson or Stephenson for “Virtual” world novels one because his books are short and tight and the other for taking me to places I cannot imagine but being very close to what could be our reality.

  9. After reading your synopsis, I have to suggest The Caverns of Socrates by Dennis L. McKiernan.
    I read it before I really got hooked into Warcraft and before I really knew how immersive an MMO could be. Its a great read.

  10. I love Tad Williams. I have read everything he’s done. I hated this series.

    Richard K. Morgan for Altered Carbon and Thirteen if you like cyberpunk type stuff. DocHoliday makes great references as well to Gibson and Stephenson.

    Druff recommended The Caverns of Socrates by McKeirnan which in my opinion is one of his weakest and still decent. If you are going to read McKiernan I highly recommend the Iron Tower trilogy and the Silver Call Duology.

    I can’t say enough good things about Stephen Brust. His Dragera series of which 11 of a planned 19 are currently released is stunning.

    If you can find it (and your only chance is a used bookstore as it has been out of print for over a decade) The Architect of Sleep by Stephen R Boyett is a book that I will buy every single time I see it on a shelf. I have bought this book about 24 times and given it away to friends and acquaintances. My wife is completely pissed as I always talk about it and never remember to let her read it before I give it away again.

  11. Ya I am a Big Richard K. Morgan fan. He and Stephenson are the only books me and my dad share in. I have not been able to convert my dad to fantasy yet with any author.

  12. I recommend Jennifer Fallon. Just read the first book in the Tide Lords series and very much enjoyed it. THE IMMORTAL PRINCE.

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