Summer Reading Road Trip: Playing Tyler

Summer Reading Road Trip 2013Ahoy, summer readers! The folks at SparkPoint Studio are running a Summer Reading Road Trip. Each book on the list is set in a different city and state, so you can read your way across the country without gas-guzzling your way to a massive carbon footprint. Join in, and read your way from Massachusetts to Montana!

Today’s stop: New Haven, Connecticut for a Little Brother meets Ender’s Game adventure: Playing Tyler.

A Review of Playing Tyler by T.L. Costa

Strange Chemistry, 2013

Playing Tyler by T.L. Costa

By REBECCA, June 3, 2013

hook

Tyler’s dad is dead, his mom’s never around, his brother’s an addict, and his ADHD makes it hard for him to concentrate on anything but gaming. Ani designed a popular video game, was an internationally-ranked gamer, and started at Yale all by the time she turned sixteen, but she still feels like a kid. Someone wants Tyler and Ani for their skills, but what will they do when they realize they’re implicated in something that will have far greater fallout than a video game?

worldview

Ender's Game by Orson Scott CardTyler MacCandless just wants to fly. Maybe he can’t concentrate on anything at school, but in the flight simulation games, he’s a genius. After his dad’s death and his brother’s turn to drugs, Tyler’s mom can’t cope, so she buries herself in work. The only one Tyler can count on is Rick, who he’s known for years through a mentoring program. Rick sees Tyler’s potential and says that if he performs well while beta testing a new flight simulation training game then he’ll make sure he gets into flight school. Tyler is shocked when the new sim’s designer shows up at his house to set up the sim and it’s Slayergrrl (Ani), the creator of his favorite game, World of Fire!

At first the new sim seems boring—Tyler is just flying drones over miles and miles of road. But then, little by little, Tyler starts to think there’s more to the sim than just showing off his flying skills. Is it possible that the “sim” is actually linked to real drones in the Middle East? And why has Rick insisted that Ani can’t have any contact with Tyler? But Tyler and Ani can’t stay apart and as their relationship heats up, so do things in the sim. And soon they’ll have to confront Rick and put their lives on the line for their freedom.

Little Brother by Cory DoctorowT.L. Costa’s debut is a compelling read and, while the premise itself isn’t new, this is a comparatively realistic, circumspect take on the when-is-a-game-not-a-game phenomenon. It’s told in chapters that alternate between Tyler and Ani’s points of view, and Tyler’s voice is great. His ADHD causes him to think in short, declarative sentences and sometimes omits first person pronouns, kind of like Rorschach in Watchmen. Tyler’s a well-drawn character—his worry for his mother and brother, his difficulty expressing himself, and his love and awe of Ani make him sympathetic and likable. But he’s also naive, and his struggle between his general patriotism and the specifics of what he learns is happening in the sim provide enough contrast so that he doesn’t just seem like a stereotypical hero-caught-up-in-forces-beyond-his-control. He is also occasionally quite amusing. On his first date with Ani he realizes that he’s not as good at paying compliments as might have hoped:

“Her face looks like I stung her. Shit. My face heats up, burns. So many books. Can’t one just like fall on my head and put me out of my misery? Please?”

Ani’s voice is less compelling, less particular, but it’s really awesome to see a supersmart gamer and computer programmer whose character isn’t undercut by the author’s compulsion to frame her as either hypersexualized or terrifyingly sociopathic. Ani is just a sixteen-year-old with a talent for programming got involved in something shady, and she and Tyler balance each other well.

As for the plot, as I said, it’s not new, but Costa makes a good choice, I think, in making this a small-beans plot as opposed to a mega-conspiracy or an intergalactic fight to the death. The storyline of Tyler’s brother’s heroin addiction and Ani’s relationships (or lack thereof) with her roommate and the other Yalies turn what could be a dry, by-the-book execution of an interesting plot into a very enjoyable drama with some intrigue, some romance, and some well-done family drama. This is an understated book, but it doesn’t strike a false note. I’m looking forward to seeing what Costa writes next.

procured from: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Playing Tyler by T.L. Costa is available now.

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