Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListS

As sure as spring gives way to summer, Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading List is here to help you get your portable video game fix during the sunny, sandy situations where gaming isn't an option.

The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the surf is gently lapping at the shore. While that all sounds idyllic, it's not exactly a prime setting for video game playing. The sun glares off of your portable's screen. Bird droppings and sand can ruin electronic components, and that crystal clear water? Forget about it. Leave your gaming fear at home and curl up on the beach with one of the excellent selections from the second annual Kotaku Summer Reading List.

Just like last year, we've compiled a list of some of the best video game-related reads your money can buy, including straight-up adaptations, side stories set in your favorite video game universe, original fiction, and non-fiction.

Fiction

What makes a great work of video game fiction? Strong writing helps, but it's the more supportive nature of gaming fiction that makes a title stand out. The author must not only tell a compelling tale, but tell it in such a way that, when the reader returns to the game, they find the nature of their relationship to the title has changed. Whether it enhances familiarity with one of the title's characters, or deepens our understanding of the game world, video game fiction excels when it changes the way we experience what we play.

Here is a list of some titles that excel at adding depth to the games they are inspired by, as well as a few that have inspired games on their own.

Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListAssassin's Creed: Renaissance
Author: Oliver Bowden
Publisher: Penguin
Pub. Date: February 2010

Assassin's Creed: Renaissance is the novelization of Assassin's Creed II. It tells the story of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, just as the video game does, from the murder of his family to whatever spoiler-ish thing happens at the end. It's a pretty straightforward retelling of the tale, not deviating much from the plot of the game. Renaissance will add a little more depth to your Assassin's Creed II experience, without distracting you with side quests.

Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListEVE: The Burning Life
Author: Hjalti Danielsson
Publisher: Tor Books
Pub. Date: March 2010

EVE Online's lead narrative creator Hjalti Danielsson takes a novel approach in fleshing out the universe of New Eden in The Burning Life. Rather than write a book from the players' point of view, the book tells the story of two people affected by the deeds the players have done. Many novels based on massively-multiplayer online games ignore the seeming immortality of player characters, leaving readers wondering why no one casts resurrection spells on fallen comrade. The Burning Life bypasses this paradox by depicting two characters that can be killed, among a universe of starship pilots that can't.

While the narrative is a little dry, there's a wealth of background information in The Burning Life, giving the reader a deeper understanding of the inner workings of New Eden.

Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListFor the Win
Author: Cory Doctorow
Publisher: Tor Books
Pub. Date: May 2010

Boing Boing co-editor Cory Doctorow takes us to a near future where gold farmers in third-world countries slave away under horrible working conditions while virtual economies that rival those of real nations thrive upon their backs. While the book is classified as young adult fiction, it explores deep issues, from virtual economies to the formation of labor unions. According to Brian Ashcraft, who reviewed For the Win, it's one hell of a great read, with compelling characters and a strong message, even if it does feature the terrifying prospect of an MMO from Nintendo.

Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListGuild Wars: Ghosts of Ascalon
Author: Matt Forbeck and Jeff Grubb
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pub. Date: July 2010

Guild Wars 2 takes place 250 years after the events of the original free-to-play massively-multiplayer online role-playing game. Ghosts of Ascalon picks a year before Guild Wars 2 begins, following a band of adventurers as they seek an ancient artifact that could change the course of a centuries-old war. The catch? It lies within the doomed city of Ascalon, populated by the vengeful spirits of the citizens that called it home in life. With compelling characters and a great deal of background regarding what's gone down in the past two and a half centuries, Ghosts of Ascalon is a must-read for any player looking to get an early look at ArenaNet's next big MMO.

Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListHalo: Evolutions
Author: Various
Publisher: Tor Books
Pub. Date: November 2009

Is a full Halo novel too much for you? If you've got the attention span of your average Halo player (just kidding!), then perhaps Halo: Evolutions is more your speed. This collection of short stories based in the Halo universe just missed our 2009 Summer Reading List. Luckily its selection of bite-sized tales from the likes of Tobias S. Buckell, Eric Nylund, Frank O'Connor, and Karen Traviss is more than memorable enough to make the list this year. If you've got a favorite Halo character, they're in here, with stories told from players in both sides of the battle. The book is subtitled "Essential Tales of the Halo Universe," and rightly so.

Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListHalo: The Fall of Reach - 2nd Edition
Author: Eric Nylund
Publisher: Tor Books
Pub. Date: August 2010

Originally published in 2001, Eric Nylund's Halo: The Fall of Reach tells the story of the bloody battle for the planet Reach, a battle that sparked the legend of Master Chief. Now that Bungie is revisiting Reach in the upcoming video game, Halo: Reach, the novel returns with all-new updated information and extra content, bringing it in line with the game's story.

Fans of the original book will doubtlessly enjoy the fresh take, and The Fall of Reach should be a perfect way to get you psyched up for Bungie's last hurrah in the Halo universe.

Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListThe Infernal City - An Elder Scrolls Novel
Author: Greg Keyes
Publisher: Random House
Pub. Date: November 2009

Forty years after the events of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the world of Tamriel faces another horrific threat in the floating city of Umbriel. Floating across the sky, the city leaves death in its wake, and those the fall prey to its shadow are doomed to rise again. As Umbriel spreads terror across the land, a motley band of unlikely heroes could be Tamriel's only hope.

Of course, if this were faithful to The Elder Scrolls video game series, it would be one hero fighting in first-person, but we'll give author Greg Keyes a break. You can only write "I swing my sword downward" so many times before it gets old.

Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListMetal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Author: Raymond Benson
Publisher: Random House
Pub. Date: November 2009

The author of several James Bond titles and director of the Ian Fleming Foundation, Raymond Benson is no stranger to stories of international espionage with bizarre plot twists, and no video game plot twist was quite as bizarre as the swapping out of Solid Snake with Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Benson continues his work novelizing the entire MGS series that began with 2008's Metal Gear Solid. It's a faithful adaptation of the game, right down to having Raiden plagued by pigeons at the Big Shell. Fans of the game will be able to quote dialog before reading it. It's likely the closest thing you can get to playing the game without having to power on a game system.

Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListMogworld
Author: Yahtzee Croshaw
Publisher: Dark Horse
Pub. Date: August 2010

Fans of Yahtzee Croshaw's acerbic and loquacious Zero Punctuation video game reviews won't mind waiting until late into the summer (August 31) to get their hands on his first novel, Mogworld. Mogworld tells the story of Jim, a long-dead non-player character in a popular massively-multiplayer role-playing game, brought back to life by a necromancer for dark purposes that Jim could really care less about. He'd much rather be dead, and with hordes of players against him and inept programmers trying to hammer out game bugs, he might just get his wish.

The Escapist posted a lengthy excerpt of Mogworld when the book was first revealed, and there's definitely something very Terry Pratchett-ish about Yahtzee's writing. Should make for an entertaining read, and if it doesn't, you can always tear it apart in a Flash-animated review.

Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListThe Myst Reader
Authors: Robyn Miller, Rand Miller, David Wingrove
Publisher: Hyperion
Pub. Date: September 2004

If the goal of video game companion novels is to flesh out the game's worlds, adding depth and detail, then The Myst Reader knocks it out of the park. Compiling the three novels in the Myst series - The Book of Atrus, The Book of Ti'ana, and The Book of D'ni - The Myst Reader explores the magical worlds and compelling characters of the bestselling video game franchise, with a focus on the character of Atrus, a member of an ancient race that can write whole worlds into existence, or destroy them.

Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListSOtherland Series
Author: Tad Williams
Publisher: Penguin
Pub. Date: 1996 - 2002

Tad Williams' Otherland series explores a not-so-distant future where virtual reality has been fully realized and people from all walks of life spend their free time exploring an expansive online world known as The Net. Over the course of four books - City of Golden Shadows, River of Blue Fire, Mountain of Black Glass, and Sea of Silver Light - Williams takes his characters on a wild ride through countless fictional worlds. In many ways the series is evocative of today's MMO culture, touching on the threat of online gaming addiction through a strange disease that traps users inside the virtual reality network.

dtp Entertainment and Singapore-based developer Real U are currently working on a massively-multiplayer online game based on the Otherland series, slated for release on the PC in 2011.

Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListOther Lives (graphic novel)
Author/Artist: Peter Bagge
Publisher: Vertigo
Pub. Date: April 2010

Peter Bagge is best known as the creator of Hate, a comic born in the 1990s that has long lampooned slacker and grunge culture and some social misfits that lived them. Other Lives is a graphic novel about a different brand of possible misfits, people who spent several years of this decade obsessed with the virtual world Second Life. Amid a tale of possible government spying, possible infidelity and possible lunacy is a spot-on recreation of some of Second Life's most incredible qualities — which is to say that some of the characters in Other Lives indulge in some extraordinary virtual world sex fetishes. This is a story of masking identity, but it is also a time capsule for Second Life at its bizarre heyday.

Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListSScott Pilgrim Volumes 1-6
Author/Illustrator: Bryan Lee O'Malley
Publisher: Oni Press
Pub. Date: July 2004 - July 2010

Don't go see the Scott Pilgrim movie without reading Bryan Lee O'Malley's amazing series of graphic novels first! Enter the bizarre, video game-centric world of twenty-something Canadian slacker Scott Pilgrim. Thrill as he battles Ramona Flowers' seven evil ex-boyfriends! Laugh as the hilarious cast of characters takes over-the-top boss battles in stride! Laugh as Scott's gay roommate Wallace Wells steals every scene he appears in.

As the film recreates many of the series' more ridiculous scenes frame-for-panel, you can't possibly fully appreciate it fully without reading the books first. At $11.99 apiece, picking up all six volumes is a bit of an investment, but it's well worth it.

Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListStarCraft II: Heaven's Devils
Author: William C. Dietz
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Pub. Date: April 2010

Heaven's Devils tells the story of StarCraft hero Jim Raynor, taking the naive 18-year-old on one of the Confederacy's fringe worlds and transforming him into the hero he would eventually become. Witness bonds of friendship form between the backwater brawler and street-tough soldier Tychus Findlay, as the two uncover the corruption running rampant in the Confederacy.

William C. Dietz is an acclaimed science fiction writer, who has lent his hand to quite a few video game novelizations, including Halo, Hitman, and Resistance. Heaven's Devils takes the classic story of a backwoods "hick" making it in the military, and adds a futuristic twist.

Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListWorld of Warcraft: Stormrage
Author: Richard A. Knaak
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Pub. Date: February 2010

Richard A. Knaak, author of multiple Dragonlance novels as well as the Dragonrealm series, finally returns to the characters he brought to life in the Warcraft War of the Ancients trilogy. Malfurion Stormrage, one of Azeroth's greatest druids and brother of the nefarious Illidan Stormrage, has been trapped in a twisted version of the Emerald Dream for far too long. Informed that the body of her lover is dying, priestess Tyrande Whisperwind and druid Broll Bearmantle (recently featured in the World of Warcraft comic book series) set out to bring Malfurion back to the waking world.

As with the War of the Ancients trilogy, Stormrage gives fans of World of Warcraft a heaping helping of back-story for the game, and is essential for anyone looking to stay up-to-date with game lore.

Non-Fiction

While some of prefer their video game reading to tend to the fantastic, others prefer to take time during the summer months to brush up on their facts, get a little bit of back story, or wax philosophical on their favorite titles in preparation for the busy fall forum flaming season. Here's a handful of more-grounded gaming reads.

Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListExtra Lives: Why Video Games Matter
Author: Tom Bissell
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
Pub. Date: June 2010

Politically-charged travel writer Tom Bissell explores a completely different sort of journey in Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter: The journey from normal guy to video game addict. As demonstrated by his world-spanning bout with drugs and Grand Theft Auto, previously featured on Kotaku, Bissell doesn't simply write about playing video games; he chronicles his journey through game worlds like a virtual tourist, regaling us with his experiences with the characters and settings we know and love, unafraid to venture into dark places, both in the games and within himself.

Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListGuinness World Records Gamers' Edition 2010
Compiled by Guinness World Records
Publisher: Brady Games
Pub. Date: January 2010

The Guinness World Records Gamers' Edition seems like more an exercise in creative video game marketing than anything with real informational value. Still, the 2010 Edition is one of the lightest non-fiction gaming books you can pick up, with tons of small, easily digestible record entries making it, once again, perfect summer bathroom reading.

Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListHalos and Avatars: Playing Games with God
Editor: Craig Detweiler
Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press
Pub. Date: January 2010

Halos and Avatars is a collection of well-written essays on how religion is integrated into today's video games, from the myriad ways that video games integrate religious themes, subtle and overt, to discussions on how children can learn virtue through playing. No need to worry about condemnation for our favorite hobby; these essays are written by gamers that celebrate the melding of virtual and theological.

Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListJapanese Schoolgirl Confidential
Author: Brian Ashcraft with Shoko Ueda
Publisher: Kodansha International
Pub. Date: August 2010

Kotaku's own Brian Ashcraft follows-up his 2009 book Arcade Mania with Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential, a non-creepy look at Japan's number one export. From the origins of their sailor outfits to their prevalence in every aspect of Japanese culture, from music to movies to video games, the book is a comprehensive exploration of the teen girl squad that holds an entire island nation in its thrall.

Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading ListStreet Fighter: The Complete History
Author: Chris Carle
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Pub. Date: March 2010

Take an in-depth look at the history of the franchise that launched a thousand fighting games. Street Fighter: The Complete History features tons of interviews with the creators of the series and more than 200 pieces of artwork straight from the Capcom vaults. Even if you can't play Street Fighter to save your life, you'll be able to discuss it in exhaustive detail after polishing off this read.

This first edition of the Kotaku Summer Reading List presents a rather broad range of titles, from fantasy and science fiction to philosophy and scientific study. Hopefully you'll find something worth a sunny afternoon read somewhere amongst the selection. Of course, this certainly isn't the end of this list. You are all part of Kotaku as well, so now that we've shared some of our favorites, it's your turn to share some of your own. After all, the only thing better than reading a good book is sharing a good book.