One of the most fascinating books I've read lately has been Neal Tringham's Science Fiction Hobby Games. Released this May, Mr. Tringham has written an astounding survey of the world of science fiction roleplaying, tabletop, card, postal, board and war games - not just a history of the field, but an exhaustive review and analysis of all the most important games.
From Shadowrun to d20, Fighting Fantasy to Gamma World, Heroclix, Illuminati and RoboRally... no science fictional gaming stone is left ungathered. The stories about the games are fascinating, as is the careful thought about why they work (and in some cases, why they don't).
Without further ado, I'm delighted to present Mr. Tringham's guest post on a related topic (and one very dear to my heart) - five books that read like games...
Novels licensed from games, like those spun off from films and tv series, have a poor reputation. While this view has become something of a cliché, it is a stereotype for a reason; despite such honourable exceptions as Ian Watson's Inquisitor or Kim Newman's Drachenfels, most game tie-ins are poorly executed and somewhat formulaic by the standards of the wider sf and fantasy genres. More interesting, perhaps, are the books which have been influenced by games, or whose milieux echo the fantastical universes created by the more original game designers. Here are five such works which were inspired by, or seem to be cognates of, tabletop games played with pen and paper or miniature figures.
Stephen Baxter, Exultant (2004)
While it is the second book in the Destiny's Children sequence which began with 2003's Coalescent, Exultant is only loosely connected to its predecessor. It is, however, an integral part of Baxter's overarching narrative of mankind's billenia-long war against the Xeelee, an alien species which is technologically – and, perhaps, morally – far superior to any human civilization. In this novel, the war is being prosecuted with great savagery, by a brutal regime whose goal is the total conquest of the Milky Way... and which bears a more than passing resemblance to the grimly medievalist Imperium which dominates much of the galaxy in Games Workshop's tabletop wargame Warhammer 40,000. As the game's strapline says: "In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war". Perhaps any Gothically dark future of endless conflict and arcane technology now reminds us of Warhammer 40,000 and its many derivatives and descendants – the Mercatoria of Iain M Banks' The Algebraist is also suggestive of the Imperium, at least for me – but Baxter's novel seems particularly evocative of Games Workshop's milieu. In this context, it is interesting to remember that Baxter's first novel was almost a Warhammer 40,000 license: the ultimately unwritten Assassin, in which an Imperial guard would have plotted the murder of humanity's Emperor.