Posted in Fiction, Fiction, gaming, geek culture, Intermediate, Middle Grade, roleplaying

Invasion of the Overworld – Is Minecraft The Matrix?

invasionInvasion of the Overworld, by Mark Cheverton (2013, Sky Pony Press) $9.99, ISBN: 978-1-63220-711-1

Recommended for ages 8-12

If you’re around tweens at all in the course of your day, you’ve probably at least heard of Minecraft. It’s an online game and community that allows users to create their own worlds in 8-bit, or face off against other users on other servers. My kids have been Minecrafting for a  few years now, and some of the stuff I’ve seen is nothing short of mind-blowing. I’ve seen Hogwarts, Middle Earth, and castles and creations that defy all explanation, created by anyone from young kids to architects and engineers who use Minecraft. That said, there are – as in real life – creeps who find amusement in destroying other people’s creations. Called “griefers”, they find their way into users’ areas and burn down and destroy other people’s hard work. Invasion of the Overworld addresses this beautifully.

The story begins with a boy whose Minecraft name is GameKnight999. He’s a 12 year-old kid who loves griefing and setting up traps to lure his teammates and friends to. It’s his way of exercising power that he doesn’t have in real life, but it’s not doing him any favors. When – in a scene that reminded me of Disney’s Tron – he finds himself digitized and in the Minecraft world itself, he learns that his online actions have repercussions, and when he’s confronted with the fallout from his actions, he begins to see things in a new light.

He also learns that all is not well in the world of Minecraft. The monsters that exist in the game are finding their way, server by server, to the Source, a source of power that will lead them to our world. GameKnight – called The User That is Not a User – is the one things standing in their way. We see GameKnight on a voyage of personal discovery as he matures and takes on the responsibility not only of defending Minecraft, but his own world.

The book is Minecraft-heavy. There are detailed desriptions of settings, tools, and game vocabulary. Minecrafters will recognize and love this, and newbies to the game (and I count myself in this number) will appreciate Mr. Cheverton’s explanations. Mark Cheverton wrote this series after the Minecraft world he and his son created was destroyed by griefers. Parents will appreciate the discussions about cyberbullying and bullying in real life, and I’m hopeful that kids reading this series will see that every action brings with it some consequence, whether or not they hide behind the anonymity of being online.

I bought a set of these books for my library, because the kids are avid Minecrafters. I haven’t seen the books since the day I put them on the shelves – they’re constantly in circulation, and I really should by a new set, along with Mr. Cheverton’s latest series, The Mystery of Herobrine.

Keep up with Mark Cheverton’s Minecraft novels at his website, where you can sign up for email updates.

Full disclosure, I am mortified by how long it took me to get to this review. I received a copy of the GameKnight999 trilogy at New York Comic Con last year, and only just got to sit down and read this first book in the series. I hope that all the booktalks I’ve given this series in the time it took me to read it helps make up for the delay!

Posted in Fantasy, geek culture, Graphic Novels, roleplaying, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

In Real Life: Where online worlds cross over to reality.

in real lifeIn Real Life, by Cory Doctorow/Illustrated by Jen Wang (:01 First Second, Oct. 2014). $17.99, ISBN: 9781596436589

Recommended for ages 13+

I’m a Cory Doctorow fan. I loved Little Brother, and I was fascinated by For the Win, which examines the lives of “gold farmers” – people whose job it is – in real life – to acquire gold and magic/rare items in games, and sell them to players for real-world currency. The gamers – which include children – are from poor families in third-world countries: India, China, and Singapore, working in deplorable conditions, and exploited by sweatshop bosses who pay pitiful wages.

In Real Life is a graphic novel about a girl named Anda, who loves playing a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) named Coarsegold. She makes friends in the gamespace, ultimately falling in with Lucy, a more experienced gamer who takes Anda under her wing. They stalk and “kill” the “gold farmers” they encounter, believing them to be cheating by selling gold and rare items to fellow gamers. The farmers look small, almost childlike, and Anda – despite doing this in the gamespace – feels guilty. She strikes up a friendship with one of the farmers, a Chinese teenager named Raymond, who tells her about his life and his job – laboring under sweatshop conditions to farm so that he can help support his family – and Anda decides that something needs to be done.

The story is similar to Doctorow’s plot in For the Win, but without delving into the global politics and economics involved in the novel. I loved this graphic novel, which could be an introduction or supplement to For the Win. We get to see positive representations of female gamers, teenagers, and we have a moral central character who is forced to understand that even morals don’t come solely in black and white. At the same time, In Real Life calls attention to a form of human rights violation taking place all over the world, yet located in our homes, our libraries, and anywhere we game.

Jen Wang’s art is perfect for Doctorow’s story. She’s got a manga style that works for me. Her use of color works to as a soft contrast to the tech storyline, and brings out the humanity at the tale’s core.

In Real Life publishes in October of this year, and I can’t wait to get it on my shelves. It’s going to be a great addition to any graphic novel collection, and a must-read for older tweens and teens, especially those who game. Social Studies courses could get some great discussions by adding this book to their curriculum.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, gaming, geek, geek culture, Humor, roleplaying, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Attack the Geek: Geek Culture Gone Wild!

attackthegeekAttack the Geek, by Michael R. Underwood. Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books (2014), $2.99, ISBN: 9781476757780

Recommended for 18+

Attack the Geek is more of a New Adult read than it is a YA read, but there are plenty of pop culture, gaming, and garden variety geek references in there that will appeal to younger audiences. There’s a content heads-up for language, but it’s nothing the kids aren’t screaming at each other these days.

Attack the Geek is a side adventure to a series created by Michael R. Underwood; his previous two books, Geekomancy and Celebromancy, are available via digital download on Amazon for a very reasonable price. I haven’t read the two previous books which could be a reason why I felt off-kilter with Attack the Geek.

For any gamers out there – did you ever have a roleplaying session where one bar fight or battle took up hours of your campaign? If you know what I’m talking about, that’s how I felt while reading Attack the Geek. It’s a single combat story, with barista Ree Reyes, the heroine and protagonist of the series, and her fellow geekomancers coming under attack at Grognards, the establishment owned by Ree’s boss, Grognard. The geekomancers have the ability to channel the power of geek culture by consuming it – Ree, for instance, keeps clips from her favorite movies, like X-Men or Spider-Man, to draw upon when she needs power – and she’ll be able to shoot webs or toss people with telekinesis. There are props aplenty, including working Star Trek phasers and Star Wars lightsabers, and collectible card game cards merely need to be torn to release their  magic in this world, if channeled by the geekomancer. So when they come under attack from a Strega witch named Lucretia, it’s a hairy battle, loaded with pop culture references and witty banter.

This being a side adventure is my own issue – I am unfamiliar with the geekomancy power and these characters, so in a sense, I was at a disadvantage. But I also thought the book was trying to be too witty, throw too many references in, for its own good. The references took over the plot, and after a while, I was just reading about a battle where there was Spider-Man web slinging, Star Trek phasers, and lots of collectible card game references. This just wasn’t my book. For anyone who’s a devoted sci-fi/fantasy/gaming/comic book fan, it’s worth a shot. It’s why I requested it from NetGalley, after all, and I may read Geekomancy now just to see if having more of a background will help me better grasp the book.