Whilst the book has an impressive ending, the explosions and magical exchanges are but a sideshow to a surprisingly emotional climax, as not all of our protagonists make it to the end and even the Sojourner is revealed to have a sense of the nostalgic (albeit a highly warped one). Ultimately, Kemp’s success with the trilogy, after a somewhat rocky start, is to deliver a story where the focus is on the characters and their emotional journey as much as the somewhat expectation-defying narrative.
The review got me to thinking about something, because notwithstanding the recommendation of the trilogy, one of the things that sometimes bothered the reviewer about the books was “in game” things appearing in the narrative (e.g., when a protagonist resists a wizard’s mind control through force of will, that might feel like a prose rendering of a saving throw, which is a game concept; or priests praying for magical spells, which is likewise derived from the underlying game mechanics). This is something about which I try to be very sensitive (and avoid), and it’s also something I’ve thought about a fair amount.
The interesting thing about the criticism of gameisms in the prose (at least D&D gameisms) is that many of them are things that appeared in other fiction in the first instance, rather than in a game system. That is, when Gary Gygax first created D&D, he drew heavily on certain classic sword and sorcery/heroic fiction stories while developing a system that would allow people to play a game that modeled those stories. So, if one were ignorant of the development sequence, one could read Jack Vance, with his fire-and-forget magic system, and see it as a gameism. Likewise, when the Grey Mouser struggles in Quarmall to cast a wizard’s spell from a scroll, one might “hear dice rolling in the background” as the Mouser made his Decipher Script roll. Heck, when any hero dives and covers behind a rock to avoid a curtain of fire blazing from a wizard’s fingertips, one could be jarred by the fact that the prose just showed the hero making his saving throw.
But I don’t think gameisms in prose are limited to the source stories for D&D. I think one could read just about any heroic fantasy novel or sword and sorcery novel, past or present, and, were one so inclined, imagine and model as game mechanics just about any number of events happening in that novel (I’ve actually done this as an exercise with a couple books). Most of the time we don’t do that, of course, as there’s not much point to it and it would be jarring. Instead, we understand them as a rule of the setting and read on. But with game fiction, some readers see them not as a rule of the setting but as a prose rendering of a gamism.
So, does that mean that some readers are sensitized to seeing such things in fiction that’s tied to a game setting, and much less inclined to seeing them in fiction that doesn’t connect to a game? Perhaps I’m totally off base here. Any thoughts on this?