Though not as venerable as novels based on movies, novelizations of video games have been a sturdy publishing genre for decades. Assassin’s Creed, Halo, Donkey Kong Country—all have been rendered in what technically counts as prose. You wouldn’t call these novels of ideas, probably, but that’s what the Swedish gaming company Mojang got, in 2016, when it approved Max Brooks to write a book based on Minecraft, widely considered the best-selling video game of all time. In most iterations, Minecraft players enter a Lego-like universe where they must learn how to shelter and feed themselves, marshal resources, build stuff, and otherwise survive while coping with nightly mobs of zombies, skeletons, and other bad actors. There is an often ignored way to “win” Minecraft, but for most players the game is more a world to invent. Authors, too.
Brooks was both an obvious and an unusual choice for a novelization. He had previously written “World War Z,” the best-selling 2006 zombie novel that was loosely adapted into a Brad Pitt movie. Brooks’s book took a more rigorous approach to exploring the ways a zombie contagion might unfold in a globalized world—so rigorous that it helped earn him a senior fellowship as a worst-case scenarist and lecturer at the United States Military Academy’s Modern War Institute. (The pandemic, which mirrored his zombie plague by originating in China, only enhanced his reputation as an alarmist seer.) His first two Minecraft novels—“Minecraft: The Island,” published in 2017, and “Minecraft: The Mountain,” out this month—continue in this semi-wonky vein: both read less like narratives than like introductory texts on problem-solving theory, albeit lively ones with zombie attacks. They are aimed at kids.
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