Voracious reader and DPhil candidate blogs about books and scholarly life.
Endgame: The Calling
James Frey and Nils Johnson-Seton
Do not judge a book by its cover, they say. It is true that a book will usually need more research before you can write it off as hopeless with reasonable certainty. This does not mean, however, that one always has to read the book before being able to judge it: I would not have needed to start reading it before drawing that particular conclusion about Endgame. A little Wikipedia research would have been able to put me off well enough: one of its authors, James Frey, previously published another over-hyped series under the pseudonym Pittacus Lore. That’s right, I Am Number Four, one of the books on my list of shame published earlier this year, came from this guy. Had I known this, I honestly wouldn’t have agreed to review this book.
Would it not have been amazing to see me bow my head in shame at my misplaced arrogance here! Would it not have been amazing to see me change my mind entirely, apologizing for judging too soon, celebrating the fact that Frey improved so much as a writer!
It would have been, but this book unfortunately confirms all prejudices a disappointed I Am Number Four reader can possibly have.
The Endgame series is written as part of a multimedial hype. The book contains clues to an interactive adventure game, facilitated by Google, that readers around the world are encouraged to solve between 7 October 2014 and 7 October 2016, or whenever the first person comes up with the solution. The grand prize is $500,000, which provides some compensation for the fact that people will have to read and re-read this book in order to solve it.
Unfortunately, the book is not readable as good fiction separately from the game. So much of the book is written only because it may or may not entail a clue for the game, that a reader simply trying to enjoy the flimsy adventure story is put off by it. Apparently, many of the clues to the adventure game lie in numbers, which means that the story is crammed with the most random strings of numerical facts that it makes the story utterly unreadable. This example is the opening of a chapter: “Maccabee Adlai, the Player of the 8th line, settles into the 1st-class cabin on Aeroflot 3501 from Warsaw to Moscow, which will take 93 minutes. In Moscow he will make a connection for a flight to Beijing, which lasts 433 minutes. He is 16 years old but has the build of a decathlete 10 years his senior. He is six feet five inches tall, and he weighs 240 pounds.” Yes, all the numbers are written as numbers, not as letters. I can only guess that these figures are clues to the game, because they make the story an absolutely dull read.
Frey tries to make the book a fast-paced read, apparently trying to compensate for this overload of numbers, but unfortunately he only seems to have one trick under his belt to achieve this: write in really short sentences on separate lines.
Which is fine.
But only once.
And he does it too much.
Which makes it annoying.
And then he adds some more.
Filling half a page with them.
You get the picture.
Another aspect of the book that makes reading nearly impossible is the proliferation of footnotes that lead to Google links. The book contains no fewer than 73 of these notes, which makes reading it feel like preparation to write an essay rather than simple enjoyment.
But let us focus on that bit of the book which is a story in itself. The idea is as follows: humankind stems from twelve ancient clans which were once upon a time scattered all over the world by aliens. These clans all send one representative, between the ages of 13 and 20, to play Endgame. There can only be one winner to this game, and this person will be the only survivor of the game. The aliens running the contest will destroy all of humankind except the clan to which the winner of Endgame belongs.
There are few aspects of this storyline which are not problematic. The most glaringly obvious is of course the similarity between this idea and The Hunger Games (and therefore of course Batte Royale, too), but the problems lie much deeper than that. To claim that humankind descends from separate ‘clans’ and that this clan aspect has survived throughout the development of humankind is hugely problematic and smells of racial differentiation. It cannot possibly be the case that nobody from one line ever intermarried with someone from another. The book never considers the possibility that someone will be descended from multiple lineages in equal measure. What will happen to someone who is half “Sumerian” and half “Harrapan” if the latter representative wins Endgame? Will half-bloods half die?
The problem with the Endgame series is that it is not at all written to last. After the contest ends, nobody will ever bother to read these books again, since all the hints that make this such a boring read no longer lead to a $500,000 reward. This book will be forgotten after two years, and it is a shame that a writer would agree to deliberately write a series of novels that are not meant to be remembered.