Audiobook Review: Minecraft: The Island by Max Brooks
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Media Tie-In
Series: Book 1/Stand Alone
Publisher: Random House Audio (July 18, 2017)
Length: 6 hrs and 17 mins
Narrator: Jack Black
I never thought I’d see a book like this, brought to us by the author of World War Z no less. A month ago, if you had floated me the idea of a Minecraft novel adaptation, I would have laughed and said it would never fly. I mean, what would it even be about? Won’t it just end up being a three-hundred-page instruction manual on how to play the game?
Well, apparently yes and no. This “first and only official Minecraft novel”, trumpets the publisher blurb, tells the story of a hero stranded on an island based in the Minecraft world. The book starts off with our unnamed protagonist (whom I will refer to as “he” since I listened to the version of the audiobook narrated by Jack Black) coming to consciousness in a freaky new reality where everything—the land, the trees, the animals, the sun, and even the character’s own body—is made up of square blocks. This shouldn’t be too hard to picture in your mind, if you’re familiar with Minecraft, though if you’re not, then this book—not to mention the rest of this review—is probably going to sound very strange.
Reading this story, I flashed back to early 2010 which was when I was first exposed to Minecraft. The game was in Alpha phase at this point, very early in its development cycle, and the only mode available was Survival where players must collect resources, build shelter, fend off hostile mobs, and manage your health and hunger in order to survive. Like the character in this novel, you literally started with nothing but the clothes on your back. To flourish and thrive, you had to explore and gather raw materials which can in turn be used to craft other items like tools, weapons, and furniture. At night, you wanted to be safely ensconced in a well-lit shelter because that’s when monsters like zombies would spawn, which our protagonist discovers to his horror and dismay. This book is essentially the story of his experience and serves as a proxy for a new player who might be seeing this confusing and disorienting game world for the first time—except, of course, there are no game guides or online wikis to help him out.
As surprised as I am to admit it, Minecraft: The Island ended up being very good. Much of the enjoyment came from listening to the audiobook, I am sure (which I will go into later), but I was overall quite impressed with how the author managed to dramatize the new player experience, making even the most mundane tasks feel like a race against time. Brooks also did a great job capturing the spirit of the game, perfectly portraying that giddy sense of excitement whenever you make a new discovery, or even that satisfying feeling of accomplishment when you survive your first night without being killed by a zombie.
For a story based on a desert island scenario, the tone of the narrative was also much more enthusiastic and upbeat than I expected. Thanks to unconventional personalities like Moo the cow and other barnyard animals that our protagonist befriends (hey, it sure beats talking to an inanimate volleyball), we avoid the usual problems involving loneliness and tedium. As this book is geared towards children and young adults, the humor we get is light and clean, though I’m also confident that readers of all ages will be able to appreciate the story’s universal themes. The table of contents, which ostensibly reads like a list of guidelines to help you succeed in Minecraft, show chapter headings like “Never Give Up”, “Details Make The Difference”, “Take Life In Steps”, “Take Care of Your Environment So It Can Take Care Of You”, “It’s Not Failure That Matters, But How You Recover”, or “Books Make the World Better”—all good lessons that can be applied to the real world, no matter how old you are.
Bottom line, Minecraft fans will undoubtedly get the most out of this, but it would also be a shame to dismiss it out of hand. Having sunk plenty of hours into this game back in Alpha, reading Minecraft: The Island was a nice shot of nostalgia, with the main character’s challenges reminding me lot of those early days where no one really knew what was going on and any progress was made mostly through experimentation and sheer dumb luck. Overall, I thought this was a fun little book filled with tons of game lore and Minecraft-y goodness—along with a surprising amount of introspection, which is always a nice bonus.
Audiobook Comments: The audiobook for Minecraft: The Island comes in two versions—one narrated by Jack Black, the other narrated by Samira Wiley. Since the protagonist is undefined by gender, this allows the reader/listener to select their own “character”, so to speak. I personally went with the Jack Black version because I love his work as an actor and comedian, and it was a choice I did not regret at all. His energy was a great fit for Max Brook’s humor and writing style, and his voice acting really took the story to a whole new level. I also liked how the audiobook incorporated sounds from the game, and though the music could get a bit loud and distracting at times, I doubt I would have enjoyed myself as much if they hadn’t included these nice little touches. Indeed I am happy that I decided to go with the audiobook, and I would not hesitate to recommend this format to anyone thinking of checking out the novel.