Hello my fiendish, freakish feasters of frightening, freakish fare. This week’s Gem is quite freakish indeed. Look into the black heart of this diamond. What do you see? Do you see a figure? A mask? A pair of eyes looking back at you? As you hold it ever so carefully in your gloved claw, do you feel someone staring at you, even though it is only you and me here in this part of my lair? Does it make this little scales on the back of your neck stand up, even though you don’t know why and the thing looks almost like a piece of junk jewelry, something a little girl might wear to a tea party, to play the part of the Wicked Witch? Oh, it does? How wonderful! For this is Gem Maker Danny Tobey’s “The God Game”.
This is a tale so terribly, terrifyingly terrific I spent more than one long night realizing the sun was up before I dragged myself off to sleep for a few hours before coming back to read again. It gave me, this War Horse of Horror, nightmares more than once. What is “The God Game”, I hear you asking, to this to such a veteran reader? I’ll tell you. It is in a sense a morality play, but not one of those preachy, ham-handed things we see today, no..this is a morality play in the sense of the ancient Greeks or perhaps better still, The Brothers Grimm, in the original.
In this novel, Dragon Feeder Danny Tobey takes us back to highschool. All the awkwardness, the cliques, the hierarchy is there. The bullies, the jocks, the princesses , the nerds, the outcasts. All are here on Tobey’s stage. One thing all these children in adult bodies have in common are cellphones and computers. Nearly all of them play computer games of some type. Don’t we all. What harm is there? A bit of a time waster, something to distract us from our humdrum lives, a bit of fun and color. But one day Peter finds a new game, not just any old game, he happens upon The God Game. He introduces it to his friend Charlie.
We must first understand Peter, handsome, father has money, mother died some years ago. Peter used to be a fat, nerdy kid whom no one liked. Now he is a handsome, rich kid who is extremely intelligent when it comes to two things: drugs and computers. He hangs with four other computer nerds who call themselves ‘The Vindicators’. A title from a superhero movie. How exquisitely nerdy! They meet and play games and write code. But Peter is very close to Charlie who lost his mother to cancer. He is his best friend and he wants Charlie to play ‘The God Game’ with him. Charlie doesn’t want to play with the other Vindicators and so, he tells Peter they should all meet and discuss playing it together. Like the Three Musketeers, ‘All for one and one for all’, they all agree to play.
At first it is an awful lot of fun. A person can earn Goldz (which is very good) or Blaxx (which is very bad). If you follow God’s commands, do as you are bidden to do when faced with choices and win, then you are given Goldz. And if you do this all the while you play and you win then “ALL YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE”, but if you do not do these things, if you hurt another player, if you disobey..if you lose, then you die. And if you die in the game, “YOU DIE IN REAL LIFE”. Impossible you say? Ask Charlie, Kenny, Alex, Peter, or Vanhi. Ask them what happens when you disobey God.
What happens when you meet Abraham sacrificing Isaac in the Art Supply Room and he ends up giving you a task? What happens when you, strung out on lack of sleep, too many drugs and too much game play find yourself having a conversation with Jesus and Freud? What happens when you follow the directions of G.O.D. and suddenly you find yourself in front of an abandoned strip mall and the A.T.M. there is blowing hundreds of $20 bills around your legs? When the girl of your dreams kisses you?
What happens when you want to leave and G.O.D. is a jealous god? Why would you ever want to leave? You have whatever you could ask for in real life as long as you do whatever the game asks.. afterall, it’s only a GAME, right?
I also want to say the world Tobey builds is phenomenal, both inside the game and out. The parents are real people. I knew so many of these parents and their kids when I was growing up. The situations are realistic. Danny Tobey understands what motivates parents when it comes to their kids and all too often what doesn’t. When the kids are just in the way of a good time or that next promotion.
This is a gangbuster of a book, suspenseful, page turning, I could not put it down. I cared about these characters. I wanted this book to end and not end. And talk about an ending.. WOW! You will not be disappointed. I am sure that someone, somewhere will want to make a movie out of this book. I have to say I most likely will not watch it because the movie I have in my head is far better than anything Hollywood can dream up. I don’t know where Mr. Tobey got the idea for this book, but it is sheer genius! Thank you, Danny Tobey, just ..thank you!
Until tomorrow, I remain, your humble Book Dragon, Drakon T. Longwitten
I won a copy of this novel in a drawing from the publisher #stmartinspress