This was the third and final assigned reading for Advanced Novel Workshop 2023. I must give a presentation on the last quarter of the book, in which I highlight the writing techniques that the author used. My first draft of that presentation was bitter, and I thought twice about the last impression that I wanted to leave on the class, so I dredged out most of the negative bits and saved them for this review.
Let me start by telling you that Tomorrow… is a fine novel, and an excellent representation of modern writing. This is why it didn’t sit well with me: I’m a man approaching fifty years of age who has spent much of the last year consuming literary classics alongside esoteric and weighty tomes of philosophy and religion, plus healthy—or un-, depending on your bent, and there is an essay that needs writing about my perceived benefits of reading “the news”—daily doses of the Wall Street Journal. I admit that I have slanted my bias and that these reviews are all subjective. That said, and without getting out the scalpels, that I think this book is a brisk read that presents a fresh and at times naïve look at the nature of relationships and work, though the latter is flawed to the point where it becomes little more than fanciful set dressing.
The trouble I have is that, as someone who gave a decade of his life to the pursuit of independent video game development, I felt that Zevin got so much wrong about the act of video game creation that it threw me out of the story any time she wrote about it. Now, if you know nothing about how that digital sausage is made, I suspect you’ll have zero issues with the parts of the book that deal with it. In fact, Zevin presents such an idealized look into game production that anyone ignorant of its true perils could very well come away thinking that it’s just like any other job.
It is not. Video game development is a death march across a hellscape that more often ends in tragedy than triumph. And that truth could have added so much more to the story. Perhaps the author should have tried making a game.
I think that this bothers me as much as it does because my own ability to lend authenticity to a story came into question early in the semester. I tried—and failed—to defend a position of “if we are writing fiction then we should be free to write whatever we like.” I was told that no, we must use an authentic voice that speaks from lived experience and not steal one from those who could better tell such stories.
I still call bullshit on that. To me such restrictions live only in the academic world, and as we all know the hallowed halls of education have not reflected reality for a very long time now.
Whatever the case: Tomorrow… is a well-paced modern novel with many social justice author-inserted asides told against a fantasy backdrop of video game business success. The author masterfully weaves the leitmotiv of the journey into the tale, and the characters are all distinct and believable. The book is worth reading, and a good litmus test to see where you sit when it comes to your generation and the culture wars.