Book Simulator, by Chris Yee (40:00)

IOD score cardToday we learn the art of the long con. And we’re thoroughly delighted to be conned.

Warning! Do not skim this paragraph. Do not proceed onward until you’ve thoroughly digested this heartfelt warning. Book Simulator is short (can be read in about an hour), cheap ($0.99), nonsensical, and surprisingly effective. It’s also the sort of book where the less you know going in, the more effective it is. So when I say “spoilers ahead” you should take it to mean “stop reading this review right now and don’t come back until you’ve purchased, downloaded, and devoured every line of Book Simulator.”

Also, spoilers ahead.

Turn back now.

This review will still be here when you come back. I promise.

Last chance to find this book on Amazon and experience the fun without spoilers.

You didn’t go read it, did you?

[world_weary_sigh.mp3] Well, I tried.

Confession time. I stopped the clock somewhere around the twenty minutes mark, after deciding, “No, this isn’t a genre book. It’s just satirical non-fiction nonsense.” While I was enjoying it thoroughly, there was no sign that the book was anything but a satirical tutorial about how to look like you’re reading without actually reading. And this here is a USDA-certified Genre Fiction Reviewing Shoppe.

But I soldiered on, because while I didn’t consider it an ImmerseOrDie book, it kept making me smile.

WTF #1: The joke starts to wear thin.

Somewhere around the 35% mark (like I said, it’s a pretty brief read) I started to wonder how many different ways the author could talk about “pretending to read” without losing my interest. It was already starting to suffer from a bit of rehashing. I could tell my interest was starting to flag.


…did I mention you should go buy and read the book first? I think I was very clear on the point.

…then the book started, um… misbehaving. It explained why I shouldn’t read any further. If I went much further, people would see where I’d left my bookmark, and since I’m only learning to pretend to read, they might assume I was actually reading it and start asking questions I can’t answer. Do I want that sort of embarrassment? Of course not!

The book was trying to talk me out of reading it.

It reached its peak as we hit “the perfect page,” the point in the book where you’re far enough in that you obtain maximum credibility as a “reader” without the risk of pesky questions about the book’s contents.

Stay here. Stay on this page. Forever.

This is a sudden, captivating shift in tone. And knowing it’s coming would most likely wreck the experience (hence my insistent spoiler warnings). Of course I read onward, because that’s what you do to books. But the book did not appreciate my disobedience. It got angry. Hell, it got downright abusive.

The relationship between me and the book was changing dramatically. The book was developing a personality of its own, an adversarial, malevolent, manipulative one. The book was a character in the book. Now I’m reading a book who believes it will die if I finished reading it, and will fight me as I read.

I don’t know about you, but I find this deeply troubling. Like a weird, meta horror story.

The book, in a deliberate attempt to lengthen itself and delay its demise, explains that it’s an artificial intelligence created to teach children how to read. The retelling is punctuated by the thoughts from a second character, the Narrator, whose goal is to actually tell a story. Since stories inevitably progress towards an ending (The Young and the Restless notwithstanding), the Narrator and the Book are natural enemies.

Since it’s now clawed its way back into the sci-fi category, I made a command decision and re-started the clock. Reclaiming a book from the dustbin may be an #ImmerseOrDie first. I am a rule-breaking maverick!

So the last half of the book is pretty amazing, mind-bending, hilarious sci-fi that sometimes makes you feel deeply sorry for it.

But in order to pull this off, the book first had to execute the setup. It had to pretend that it’s not science fiction at all, long enough to anchor the reader’s expectations right in the path of the wrecking ball. In my case, it succeeded, though (as mentioned in WTF #1) there was a bit of a thin stretch right before the book went off the rails and onto much better rails.

The setup section is more akin to “non-fiction humor” than your standard story/plot/protagonist/love-interest novel, so I’m not sure a detailed examination of “how it kept me reading” would help most authors. Let’s just say that Book Simulator strings the reader along with a combination of flattery, insults, promises of the respect of their peers, and jokes about cashews.

But we can still extract a general lesson. There may be something in your book that could cement a reader’s attention: a nifty gadget, a huge plot twist, a new character. You don’t necessarily need to hurry to introduce it. But if that element doesn’t appear until chapter five, you’ve got to make the first four chapters engaging in their own right, or the reader will shut the book without realizing they’re missing anything.

Congratulations, Chris Yee. I’ve never had the privilege of crowning an #ImmerseOrDie survivor before, and it’s doubly impressive that you got it through an unprecedented feat of resurrection.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Try the free sample on one of my books or short stories and decide for yourself.

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