Novels, short stories, and other print fiction about IF

I recently finished reading the novel Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, and really enjoyed it. The book follows the tumultuous friendship between a pair of game designers who make their first game in the late 90s and continue to make games (following an alternative historical timeline) through to the present. The game is beautifully written and the characters are very compelling, and it’s just a great read overall.

Beyond the general focus on gaming and game design, the book is also quite interesting from the perspective of IF. As the main characters’ trajectories coincide with the history of video games, Zevin works in some really smart references to major games and developments in game design, including a discussion of the ‘xyzzy’ command in Colossal Cave Adventure and point-and-click adventure games like King’s Quest. There’s also an incredibly moving section of the book written in the style of a parser game.

So the point of the topic is twofold: 1) has anyone else read Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow and what did you think of it? 2) more broadly, does anyone know of other works of print fiction that deal with IF in some way?


I haven’t read it, but I quite liked the movie made from the author’s previous book, The Storied Life of AJ Fikry.

I believe Ready Player One includes Zork in its cavalcade of '80s references.


If we’re going to include just references, then The Martian by Andy Weir references Zork as well. Zork II if I recall correctly.

Usually folks are riffing on pop culture or society with IF, not the other way around. The “pop” bit of pop culture largely omits most IF.

Not really what you were looking for, but Douglas Adams’ estate and the BBC have repeatedly done call backs to the old Infocom Hitchhiker’s game over the years.

Given this game’s long-lasting staying power in the public consciousness, I feel like getting authors to collaborate with IF implementors might yield some positive results in terms of outreach and visibility. Stephen King co-authoring an IF spin-off of one of his existing worlds, or perhaps even as a tease to a new upcoming title, would probably do wonders in breathing fresh blood into the IF community. While we’re dreaming anyway, lol.

If I think of anything else, I’ll share it.


I just remembered there was a short story in Dragon magazine about a multiplayer online game with text commands. Managed to find it online: “Catacomb”, by Henry Melton.


Wasn’t there some fantasy author who wrote an IF tie-in to one of their novels? I feel like I heard people discussing that recently (though noting sadly that it wasn’t very good).

Adam Cadre wrote a book, though I’m not sure whether IF is ever called out in it.

Galatea 2.2, by Richard Powers, isn’t about our Galatea, but it’d be interesting to read the two in parallel (hmm, that might be fun to do for the new IF theory/criticism thing!)


There was also a series of 6 novelizations of Infocom games: Infocom Series by Arthur Byron Cover


I read Tomorrow (etc) a couple weeks ago. It’s a good story, and while discussing it with friends and family a lot of their sentiments were along the lines of, “I hadn’t realized how hard it is to make video games!”. That was cool to hear from non-video games people, even if the book still glossed over some of the drudgery of the craft.

However, I grated quite a bit at a lot of the heavy lifting the author did from existing works. They credit some of those at the end of the book, but throughout I kept thinking, “this is just [X] reskinned for this author’s story!”. And then the other day I saw this tweet from Brenda Romero expressing a more direct concern:


You might think this doesn’t count – they’re “about IF” because that was the assignment. However, Effinger’s The Zork Chronicles is a strange case because it’s sort of a sequel to Heroics, which isn’t about IF at all. It’s more like a crossover between the Effinger universe and the Zork universe. So it’s a better answer to this question than you might think.

It’s easy to mention Ready Player One, but people also refer to You by Austin Grossman, which is also a bit of a deep dive into the idea of adventure game development. However, I haven’t read it myself. (Either of those, in fact.)

Battle of the Linguist Mages (Scotto Moore), which I have read, is a SF novel about game worlds coming to life. More MMO games than IF, but it involves text magic so sort of?

And of course that goes back to “True Names”, an early cyberpunk story by Vernor Vinge, which invents the idea of people interacting in a “virtual” online MUD-like world.


Thanks for bringing up the lack of credit to Brenda Romero’s game, Austin. I wasn’t aware of that, and that definitely causes me to take a more critical look at Tomorrow.

I get what you’re saying generally about Zevin using allusions to well-known games do a lot of heavy lifting. At times, this works well and is actually core to the story Zevin is trying to tell – for instance, the characters have an important relationship to Oregon Trail that I felt is integrated well into the story and reflected thoughtfully in the games that the characters make.

There are definitely instances where this doesn’t work as well, too, and comes off as cribbing ideas rather than making thoughtful, artful allusions. For example, I thought Ichigo, the first commercial game that Sadie and Sam make in the novel, sounded a lot like Ico and I didn’t see any formal reference or credit given to that game.

The example of Solution and how that cribs quite directly from Romero’s Train is even more egregious, though. I’ll need to read more into that – I haven’t played Train myself, so this was lost on me when I read the novel – but how Zevin and Knopf have responded is not encouraging…