Hey, so I’m doing stuff again on my website. Sort of.
Basically, I read a book and I want to talk about it.
Last year, a book appeared in my Amazon feed, and once I took a real look at it, I was confused. It was called MineCraft: The Island. That was my first reaction. There’s a MineCraft book? Like an official one? (Side Note: There is in fact a thriving market of LEGAL MineCraft fan fiction being sold on Amazon. Yes, you heard that right. I looked into it. Mojang confirmed. It is legal to write, and sell, MineCraft fan fiction, if you follow a few basic rules.)
Then I saw who it was by, and I was like, Wait…Max Brooks? As in World War Z Max Brooks? As in Mel Brooks’s son? Now, this isn’t a shot against him, but I still wonder, what about Max Brooks screamed to Mojang ‘the guy to write a MineCraft novel!’? Then again, I’ve come across weirder situations. Like the guy who boasted about ‘living off the grid’ and how he ‘doesn’t consume celebrity culture’ and yet…he was the guy to novelize Alan Wake? Seriously? (He did a shit job by the way…maybe that’s a bit harsh. Suffice to say, I wish someone else had written the book.)
Anyway, about the book.
I didn’t buy it at first because it was 10$ and I had a lot of other things I’d rather spend 10$ on. Even to this day, as we’re closing in on a decade after the Kindle revolution, ten bucks still seems like a steep bill for a goddamned eBook. But recently I came back across it and the desire to give it a read was still pretty high, so I said fuck it and snagged a copy for my Kindle.
I just finished it. First thoughts: It’s a decent read. But that comes with a few caveats. It’s a decent read if A) You are a fan of MineCraft, and B) You go into this understanding that it’s written for kids.
Now allow me a side note to that caveat, because this is just something that bugs me. I in no way think that ‘it’s made for kids’ is an excuse for something being shit. It’s lumped in with the same category as all the other ‘it’s just a…’ excuses I hear when people write things off. “It’s just an action movie, of course it’s going to be stupid.” “What’d you expect? It’s just a horror movie.” “Duh, it has a shit story, it’s just a video game.” “Of course Pokemon was repetitive and dumb as fucking shit, it’s just a kid’s show.”
No, I do not let media entertainment off the hook based on things like that. This is lazy thinking. Have some goddamned standards. I’ve seen several things meant for a younger audience that was well written. I’m going through Avatar: The Last Airbender right now and that show’s amazing. Adventure Time is another fantastic example. Steven’s Universe is fucking stellar. A lot of Spongebob was enjoyable as a kid and as an adult.
However, I do understand if something is simpler. Simpler doesn’t mean worse, but there is a difference in media meant for a younger audience versus media meant for an older audience.
As such, the book is written in a very simplistic style. I think this works for the setting, but in some cases I think the mindset did rob the book a bit.
So let’s get started on some specifics.
At it’s core, the novel is about a person who is thrown into the world of MineCraft with most of their memories and personality stripped away. The protagonist can’t remember anything beyond vague flashes of their previous life, (although some very specific things do surface in their mind from time to time), they can’t even remember their own name. They appear drowning in an ocean and after swimming to a nearby island, the nameless survivor begins discovering how to survive.
What is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the story is that it very, very strictly adheres to every little rule in MineCraft. I.e. the main character has a blocky body with painted on clothes, they are physically incapable of eating anything that you can’t eat in the game, they can’t even touch their own head with their hand. Basically, if you can’t do it in the game, the protagonist is literally incapable of doing it as well. Although this does make for some interesting aspects to the story, I felt that it sometimes got in the way of the storytelling.
I believe that the book had two intended goals…I mean, beyond making Microsoft even more money. The first and foremost, I think, was to teach kids who had yet to play MineCraft, but for some reason decided to read the book, how to play the game. (What a vast demographic that must be.) A lot of the rules are specifically laid out by the protagonist in clear detail. That makes sense. The other point, I think, is to teach lessons in the same way that cartoons sometimes do. Basic life lessons. Every chapter is titled something that sounds a little bit like a life lesson or wisdom, and then the chapter lays out the protagonist learning that particular wisdom. Stuff like Never Give Up, Panic Drowns Thought, Don’t Assume Anything, Take Life In Steps, Risk and Reward.
On the whole, I’d say that’s one of the most positive aspects of entertainment aimed at a younger audience. That’s the best age to really be learning this shit. Kids genuinely need to learn things like patience, endurance, communication, etc.
Well, it’s entertaining, again provided you like MineCraft. I’m honestly not sure how someone who didn’t like it or hadn’t heard of it would react. You also might like it if you like survival stories. It’s rather endearing at times. It kept me engaged and reading. I got through the book more quickly than I normally do. It’s a good length and there’s a decent variety of events to it to keep things mixed up.
I’m still not sure about the 10$ pricetag. I guess I could see it for the paperback version, but the eBook version? Why? An eBook doesn’t need to be 10$. I guess I could understand if it’s some massive beast of a book like Under the Dome or any of the Game of Throne books. (Which, hey, they are! Most of the Game of Thrones novels are the same price as this book, and the first one is even like 3$. And Under the Dome is just a dollar more expensive.) I think most people could get through this book pretty fast. 8$ would’ve been a fairer price, I guess. There were also some inconsistencies to the storytelling, but nothing massive, just some minor gripes. And although the ending fit, I didn’t really like it in regards to the fact that there isn’t a follow-up. I’ll get into that below.
Let’s get onto some more specifics. I guess we’ll call this spoiler territory, if you’re at all interested in reading this and don’t want to be spoiled.
Something that bugged me just a little was how Max glossed over a few things. A good example is where the protagonist is building his second house (after the first one gets destroyed by his own stupidity), he builds it out of brick. Typically, up to this point, whenever something new is introduced, there’s a process to it. The protagonist stumbles across it, or goes looking for it, or what have you. Then he talks about it for a bit and spends some time figuring it out. Then applies it to the world. But when it comes to making bricks, this is completely glossed over. He just says he harvested the clay from underwater, and the writing seems to indicate that he has already talked about clay, which isn’t the case.
I know this is a fairly minor gripe for a number of reasons, but it seems like Max was being pretty good about that consistent narrative flow. Even a throwaway line about discovering clay underwater and then figuring out burning it in the oven made bricks would have served just fine. Or hell, maybe I just missed something.
There’s also times where the pacing takes a backseat. For the first portion of the book, everything is pretty blow-by-blow, which makes sense. Everything’s new, everything’s a fresh discovery. As time wears on, you don’t need every little detail of the same thing happening. And although there were a few instances of the protagonist jumping over a day or two, at one point we skip over an entire MONTH where the protagonist is underground and learning all about new things. I felt like that alone could have been it’s own entire section of the book.
This happened near the end, it was the climax of the book really, and I got the feeling that maybe Max was getting tired of writing, or maybe he had a deadline, or something else, and so basically just started to wrap it up quickly. I understand. I’m guilty of this myself. It’s one of my biggest weaknesses. Honestly, I just wish there was more of the book. I wish he’d taken his time and written all that out.
Let’s talk a little about the characters. Besides the protagonist, the only other characters to speak of are hostile entities like zombies, skeletons, creepers, spiders, etc., and wildlife, like cows, sheep, chicken, etc. Which made sense. I even liked how he spent a lot of time talking with the wildlife, even going so far as to name and befriend them, his closest friend being Moo the cow. There were even some pretty good emotional moments in the interactions between the protagonist and the wildlife. But there were no other people in the book. Not a single other human or any kind of entity that could actually talk back.
Now, on the one hand, this can make for a more interesting experience, as it’s a kind of constraint that forces the writer to be creative. Which Max Brooks did a decent job at. On the other hand, we're left with an unsatisfying ending. Why is the protagonist here? Who is he? What is this world?
This is, I believe, the book’s biggest weakness, and isn’t necessarily its fault. It sets up for a sequel or even a huge series, and apparently Microsoft failed to deliver. The thing is, there is another official MineCraft novel out there, called The Crash. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to. I liked The Island enough, and The Crash does sound interesting. However, even from the basic synopsis of the book, there’s an immediate explanation for why the protagonist is in the game: it’s a game and she’s recovering in a hospital.
The thing is, I can’t actually tell if it’s a sequel or not. The actual title is “Minecraft: The Crash: An Official Minecraft Novel: 2”, which seems to indicate a sequel, maybe? Or maybe it’s just the second official MineCraft book written? The plot seems in no way related to The Island, and it’s a different author. Obviously I’ll need to read it to be sure, but it honestly just seems like another book written about MineCraft. While that’s not a judgment on the book itself…I was really hoping for a direct sequel to The Island, as there were not only a tremendous amount of questions left to be answered, but a great deal of new content to be explored within the game world. I mean the Nether alone could be a few books.
Honestly, I have no idea why Microsoft and Mojang didn’t launch a series. Maybe Max Brooks wasn’t up to it, but why not just hire a new author? The Island seems like the beginning of a massive franchise within the MineCraft world that could be really successful. I’d certainly buy more books. It just seems really weird that they would set up a series, and then not do it. There are actually a list of other MineCraft books out there smeared all over The Island, on it’s Amazon product page, in the back of the book, etc., but with the exception of The Crash, literally every other book is just a player’s guide, non-fiction.
So yeah, I think it’s worth a read if you like MineCraft and you can spare 10$. I enjoyed it.