Feb 4, 2014

[Books] The Book of Atrus (Myst Book 1)

Back in 1993, brothers Rand and Robyn Miller released the point and click adventure game, Myst. It was one of the first games that relied on the relatively new CD-ROM technology for its distribution, which was important given the stunning graphics of the game and the use of live-action video throughout the game as well.

Simply put, the game was a game-changer. It was an amazing demonstration of what games could be like with the benefit of advanced 3D modeling and live-action video. It was a game that was clever (as adventure games typically are) and yet also experiential. The game placed you on Myst island and it tried to make you feel like it was actually you walking around the island trying to unravel its secrets.

The Book of Atrus is the first of three books set in that magical universe and tries to provide more of an explanation of how Myst came to be by focusing on it creator, Atrus. And this story begins well before Atrus eve reaches adulthood.

Synopsis: The Book of Atrus is the first novel in the Mysy book series. The book was written primarily by the brothers Rand and Robyn Miller but with help from David Wingrove.

The Book of Atrus is pretty much a prequel to the Myst game. Here we first meet a very young Atrus still living with his grandmother in an arid location known as the Cleft. Together they lead a simple life with Anna determined to teach Atrus everything that he needs to know But things change when Gehn, Atrus father, finally returns to claim his child. He had abandoned Atrus shortly after he had been born and not a word had been heard from him since.

Atrus eventually agrees to go with his father and Gehn takes him deep into the mountain to the ruins of a once great city. The city was the former home of the D'ni, a race that possessed a special ability to create books that bridge to other worlds known as Ages. Gehn has been studying the ruins and already understands the fundamentals of The Art, which he offers to teach Atrus. As they visit ages together, Atrus learns of Gehn's plans to somehow revive the D'ni empire with him as its leader - and he's more than willing to sacrifice anything in order to get his way.

The book has a rather slow start since we do focus on a very young Atrus, who has been a largely enigmatic figure throughout the Myst games. As much as he's the man primarily responsible for the creation of the worlds that become the focal point of the game series, we didn't exactly see a lot of him in the games. And now that we finally meet him, it's a much younger him and thus he's completely unrecognizable to us who played the games. So in some ways it was harder to appreciate the story because I had played the games instead of things being the other way around.

Slow burn stories aren't bad in themselves, although this one really needed more development in order to make the initial pacing feel worth it later on. The big lesson of the beginning of the book is the fact that Gehn isn't just a horrible person, but he's also a bad father. And it seems like we needed to find so many ways to stress this with every single encounter with Atrus.

I would have appreciated a bit more explanation of the "science" behind the crafting of the books that link to the different Ages. Even the odd symbol or two featured amid the narrative might have made for an interesting change of pace. There's a lot of conversation about the Art but we never really get to learn more about. The book also includes a few rough sketches of various locations featured in the story but they're not of sufficient detail or clarity to make for more interesting study. Perhaps they made more sense when blown up to a larger size, but wasn't quite seeing that in the copy that I have.

The Myst games certainly left a lot of questions in the minds of all those who played the game but this book doesn't really address a lot of them. Things might make more sense in time once I've read the other books, but for now The Book of Atrus only gives a hint of the larger story out there that I'm a lot more curious about. So as it stands, this first prequel novels gets 3 primitive inhabitants of the various Ages out of a possible 5.

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