(2014) Simon Spurrier, Gollancz, £9.99, hrdbk, 176pp, ISBN 978-1-473-20126-2
Fans of the BBC Micro (Model B, of course), an early educational and home enthusiast microcomputer from the late 1970s and early 1980s, might recall the space simulation game Elite. In this game, you immersed yourself as the captain and pilot of a spaceship in a 3 dimensional , wire-frame universe, populated with (what seemed like) endless star systems, multiple spinning space stations, and numerous other space ships piloted by AI opponents. You could choose to trade goods between star systems and space stations, to make money and upgrade your ship. You could be a smuggler of illegal substances (but donít get caught by the cops). Or you could go rogue, become a pirate, and steal the goods and wealth of others. All the time, you had to avoid the (other) bad guys out there, and keep your nose clean with the space cops. With the restricted technology and graphics of the late '70s home computer the screens were rudimentary, the space stations and planets all featureless. The ships quite often were jumbled lines and dots moving across the screen: but the challenge was real, the concept gargantuan, and you got sucked in, playing for hours at a time without noticing, forgetting to eat or do homework.
So why am I describing an ancient piece of computer game history when reviewing a book? Well, a recent Kickstarter-funded project has recreated the universe of Elite as Elite: Dangerous, and funding a new version of the computer game (released December 2014). A number of short novels set to the backdrop of the game have also emerged: Nemorensis by Simon Spurrier is one such novel.
Myquel Dobroba Pala-LeSire LeQuire, a bored and disillusioned rock star from a moderately popular hard rock band with a dubious reputation across many solar systems, steals the bandís money and their limousine space ship when he escapes from a jail cell with a runaway slave girl. The pair engage in an orgy of sex and destruction, purposelessly hunting and shattering lumbering freight vessels using their expensively converted luxury gun-ship. They turn their exploits into pay-per-view 'Destructotainment' for the masses via the galactic news casts, while engaging in endless bouts of copulation in every conceivable (and inconceivable) situation. However, the pair does not just attract the attention of the media and the cops: there are others who have designs on bringing their activities to an orgasmic end.
You do not have to be an aficionado of the original game, or even know of it to enjoy the fast-paced character of this book. Yes, the story is faithful to the concepts and ideas of the Elite universe: the activities of the characters, the mix of the well thought through commercial backdrop, the mindless destruction, and the successive objectives might consistently remind a reader familiar with the game of their own forays from seasons past. But throughout the narrative is woven a less obvious storyline, one which ties together the whole and gives it purpose, without getting in the way of the reminiscing for those who want to indulge. The whole makes for a very readable piece of nostalgia which makes I, for one, want to dig out my old BBC Micro from the loft and dust it off to see if it will still power up and run Elite. And perhaps that is the point: with the new version coming out perhaps it is no coincidence that these books based on the game are being published.
You wonít mistake this for a great piece of literature, but it is a ripping good yarn with a neat twist.
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