Not from the Onion: Martin Amis' 1982 video game guide
Martin Amis, the brilliant British novelist, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award for best first novel and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography, who has been longlisted and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, long ago wrote a how-to video game handbook.
"Invasion of the Space Invaders" was published in the U.S. in 1982. With an introduction by Steven Speilberg -- that Steven Spielberg.
The Millions writes about the book, quoting its premise: “What we are dealing with is a global addiction. I mean, this might all turn out to be a bit of a problem. Let me adduce my own symptoms, withdrawals, dryouts, crack-ups, benders ... " Language worthy of the son of writer Kingsley Amis, certainly -- but are his talents misapplied?
Not that there's anything wrong with writing about playing video games. 2010 saw Tom Bissell's "Extra Lives" make a highbrow literary play to take video games seriously. But after more than 20 years, the games had gotten considerably more complex.
Those familiar with the arcade games of the early '80s are likely to be amused by the way Amis approaches Space Invaders and Pac-Man. To him they present serious challenges, deserving of careful, carefully articulated strategies. The Millions quotes from the book:
Amis on Space Invaders: The phalanx of enemy invaders moves laterally across a grid not much wider than itself. When it reaches the edge of the grid, the whole army lowers a notch. Rule one: narrow that phalanx.
Amis on Pac-Man: Do I take risks in order to gobble up the fruit symbol in the middle of the screen? I do not, and neither should you. Like the fat and harmless saucer in Missile Command (q.v.), the fruit symbol is there simply to tempt you into hubristic sorties. Bag it.
More Amis on Pac-Man: PacMan player, be not proud, nor too macho, and you will prosper on the dotted screen.
Copies of "Invasion of the Space Invaders" can be secured for $70 to $150 -- a signed edition goes for even more, $250 -- if you can find one at all. It's hardly Amis' favorite work; it often goes without being mentioned, and didn't appear in Richard Bradford's new biography of the writer.
At the Millions, writer Mark O'Connell concludes, "for all its contextual aberrance, this strange and disreputable book actually makes a certain kind of warped sense. And if for some reason you happen to be looking for a guide to arcade games of the early 1980s, you could probably do a lot worse."
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: A signed edition of Martin Amis' "Invasion of the Space Invaders." Credit: Jeff Hirsch Books