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Gideon Defoe on Elite Dangerous and the illustrious history of video game tie-in novels

docking is difficult

We are delighted to share with you a a special post from Gideon Defoe on his brand new book Elite Dangerous: Docking is Difficult
There comes a point in any writer’s career when, if we want to be taken seriously as an Important Author, we must tackle the trickiest form of our craft, the Blue Riband event of letters: the officially licensed video game tie-in novelization. The French call this genre ‘le petit mort’, which translates as ‘Super Mario’s book curse’. So when Victor Gollancz, over expensive drinks at The Ivy, pointed at me with his big, weather-worn finger and said ‘You seem like the kind of pallid wretch who enjoyed shipping agricultural products across a procedurally generated universe when you were a kid, why not write a novelization of seminal 1980’s space-trading game Elite?’ – I hesitated. ‘I’m not sure Victor,’ I said. ‘The history of game novelisations is strewn with the corpses of literary giants who came unstuck. I don’t know if I’m ready.’ ‘Listen kid,’ said Victor, fixing me with a hard stare, ‘I’m as surprised as anyone that you managed to flog that ‘pirates in an adventure’ horse for as long as you did, but you’ve got to face facts: you shifted about nine copies of your last effort, even though it was very good and people should have bought it. You need to move on. Besides, this is prestigious, and it will give you something to talk to women about at parties, assuming you get invited to parties, which I can’t imagine you do.’

Obviously I relented, or I wouldn’t be writing this weighty think-piece. But it isn’t my place to say whether the resulting book – Elite: Docking Is Difficult, ISBN 1473201306 – is up there with the greats (it’s the job of the reviewers who will say that unless they don’t in which case they are part of the shadowy publishing cabal that is constantly conspiring against me). So instead, here is a brief rundown of what I’ve picked out as the three OTHER most significant video game novelisations of the last fifty years. Probably I’ve missed off your favourite. Maybe you feel Norman Mailer’s slightly stabby take on Daley Thompson’s Decathlon should be here. Or James Joyce’s lyrical adaptation of Chuckie Egg (much loved now, panned at the time because – despite running to over six hundred pages – at no point does the protagonist, Henhouse Harry, even get past level one). Then there’s Margaret Atwood’s International Karate Plus or Martin Amis’s Fat Worm Blows A Sparky. But it’s my list so bad luck, you’ll just have to leave your choices in the comments like a lunatic.

Pong – J.G. Ballard

“Somewhere in the distance, cold and remote, an electricity sub-station hummed. The dog lay dead on the concrete. ‘Good game,’ said Serena. ‘Can’t believe you killed a dog with that backhand!’ Richard nodded, tight-lipped, and thought about air-conditioning units.”

An architect, Dr Richard Kerns, intends to leave the city because of an encroaching pong caused by plants or a tap that somebody has left running, but never quite gets round to it, instead playing endless games of tennis with the enigmatic Serena inside the blandly airless confines of their gated community. The first novel to make both the Booker long list AND be awarded a Crash Smash rating of 92%!

Pac Man – Tony Parsons

“There was all blood everywhere. Slabs of blood. Pac-Man had left school at sixteen. ‘WAKA WAKA WAKA’ said Pac-Man in muscular prose. He tried not to think about the column Miss Pac Man was probably penning right at this moment. He was glad she’d pissed off to Brighton. He wished these ghosts would piss off with her. ‘WAKA WAKA’ said Pac-Man, staying true to his working class roots.”

A barely intelligible rant about how British mazes are going to the dogs because of ghosts coming over and stealing our cherries and that. Sold in depressingly large numbers despite poor reviews.

Horace Goes Skiing – Will Self

“Back and forth, back and forth and back and forth, Horace interpreted the coarse neurological stimulation of light bouncing from the rippling tarmac into his ocular cavities, felt the rumble of traffic through his coccyx, dashed and ran and the ambulance hit him, the ironic ambulance, an irony chasing its own tail, an ouroboros of an ambulance, crushing the life out of him, killing him as dead as the novel is dead oh why do people refuse to buy my books, man I hate millennials.”

Basically one long extended metaphor in which Will Self sees both the repeated maiming of the protagonist beneath the wheels of assorted automobiles and the outrageous expense of hiring ski equipment nowadays as being symptomatic of our society’s modern malaise. There is a funny bit towards the end when Horace smacks into a tree.