Today sees the release in e-format of three books I’m very excited about – Gollancz’s three official tie-ins to forthcoming blockbuster computer game ELITE: DANGEROUS.
But wait! If you’re the sort of person who would never read a game-related tie-in, please let me try and convince you why these are worth your time.
For a start, there is no real plot to the ELITE games – they’re a sandbox, a world in which the player truly makes his own decisions. Apart from a few elements of background fiction – the setting, as it were – our authors were allowed pretty much free reign to write whatever they wanted (well, as long as it was set in space – things with magic and dragons might have been tricky, although who knows, maybe there’s a magical planet out there waiting to be found…).
Secondly, the authors. As well as Gollancz stalwarts Gavin Smith & Stephen Deas – writing together under the cunning pseudonym Gavin Deas, from whom you will hear more soon (EMPIRES is amazing…) – we also welcome to the list Simon Spurrier, acclaimed comic book and thriller writer, and Gideon Defoe, best known for his humorous PIRATES books and film. These are major authors, all of them enthused by the setting and framework of ELITE.
Thirdly, the game itself – ELITE was a seminal piece of eighties gaming, and still stands up today. The forthcoming sequel – many years in the making – looks amazing, and for those of us who’ve been allowed to play very early builds, promises to recapture the sense of awe and spectacle that the original created.
And lastly, they’re three very different, very pacey reads. Ranging from 41,000 to 75,000 words, covering humour, action and the cult of celebrity – often all in one book – and written by three (or four) authors at the top of their games, these books require no knowledge of their source from the reader – they’re just great books.
Here follows short extracts from each of the books. Please do give them a go – all three are available in ebook now, and will be released in hardback this autumn. There will also be at least six other ELITE books published by fans of the game in the near future – look here for more details.
ELITE: Docking is Difficult, by Gideon Defoe:
‘I just think the President is right,’ said Misha. ‘We need to move with the times. In his book on Innovating The Workplace Via Space-War, Cliff Ganymede says a business, like a shark, must constantly swim forward, or it will be eaten by a moon whale or a squid.’
‘Oooff. Again with Cliff Ganymede. Always his stories filling your head with tales of exciting adventure beyond the stars. I know what it is. You feel destined for some life greater than pig farming. A life much more exotic, yes? Well. There is reason for this.’
Misha Senior pulled the hover-truck over to the side of the road and rested his chin on the wheel. He exhaled a heavy, whistling sigh.
‘There is something I must tell you.’ The old man sounded tired and resigned. ‘I think maybe you have long suspected it. The truth is …’ He paused for a moment. ‘I am not your actual father, Misha. Your real father was great hero. An Elite space ace. He fought brave secret battle in the Alioth Rebellion of 3228. When he was dying, I swore to him I would raise you as my own, out of harm’s way, but now I see: is pointless to try to fight the destiny that courses through your blood.’
‘What?’ Misha’s mouth opened and closed like the door of a broken elevator, except up and down, not sideways. ‘What?’ he said again.
‘Oh, sweet mother of Belka and Strelka. Look at your stupid plate face.’ Misha Senior cuffed his son round the ear. ‘You want to know why really you feel destined for great things? Because you are idiot dreamer just like President. All so many dreams, but no follow-through. Wasting money on expensive notebooks to write big ideas down.’
Misha scowled. He knew that using paper notebooks in the thirty-fourth century was a pretty daft affectation, but he’d seen a show where at the start of each episode Cliff Ganymede, sat behind his sturdy non-synthetic desk, introduced the upcoming space adventure with a real leather-bound journal in his hands. And Misha really liked Cliff Ganymede.
‘Nice stationery is important for the creative process,’ he mumbled.
She flew perfectly, of course. A few exquisite tweaks, a few directional nudges to affect a course-change, parroting a Brownian-buffeting by other nearby junk, to carry them softly back towards the battle. So deft was her touch that the The barely lifted from its sleeper-state: expenditures of heat so faint that none but the most grotesquely refined systems could have detected them, and even then only with pilots undistracted by the more pressing concerns of mortal combat.
More sharply defined onscreen by proximity, the merc’s Cobra was maintaining a constant stream of kinetic destruction: every fifth shell a blazing tracer, every twentieth a rad-dirty klikbug to help his vectoring. SixJen watched him tailspin from an outfacing loop to intercept the runner as it came back round – and for one hateful second she was certain he’d done it: had outflown the fugitive, had smuggled a direct line onto its least shielded front-facing aspect. But the clever little move paid no dividends. Even as the Cobra poured fire and tweaked for its strike the Shattergeist had already shifted out of alignment: a crash-halt followed by a monodirectional burst from a dorsal thruster. It simply dropped perpendicular to the combat, like an anchor into an abyss – precisely the sort of spatial sneakiness which marked out the born spacejockey from the glorified atmoflyer.
‘Huh,’ Lex declared. Algorithmically impressed.
Far worse for the hunter, as he flopped and struggled to regain his line, was a massive slab of the dead freighter which came bumbling from the mass to fragment across his starboard fluke.
****ty luck, SixJen thought without sympathy. Quietly self-censoring the arising notion that the Shattergeist’s eccentric moves might have been leading to this all along. Nobody’s that good.
The shields on the merc’s Cobra held up, though barely, and the monstrous wreckage crumbled around them like an icesheet striking flame. But in all the foaming ionic chaos the Cobra’s inertia was annihilated, and it tumbled back from the collision with the selfsame force it was so flamboyantly expending to survive.
And then the turn.
In that one moment of shieldlight and confusion, as the hunter grappled with unhelpful physics and hurried to recharge his shield, the Shattergeist had all the time in the world to bolt. To max-gee out of range and start pounding out the warpjumps: testing the chaser’s ability to follow, widening the lag in a great, glorious chase across inconceivable space. SixJen herself sat poised to pursue.
But the Shattergeist didn’t move.
Lex parroted a pointless intake of nonbreath. ‘Are they …?’
It opened fire.
ELITE: Wanted, by Gavin Deas
‘Nothing’s changed,’ she told them. ‘Orla, tell that sick ******* to get back on his ship right now.’
‘Newman, if you’ve got the payload then we are leaving, you understand me?’ Orla said over the comms link. She was answered by more gunfire.
A blinking icon appeared in Ravindra’s vision. Jonty was asking permission to arm a very particular weapon.
‘Arm it,’ she told him. ‘You drop it on my command only.’
Jonty’s fingers moved within his holographic control glove.
‘Patch me through,’ Ravindra told Orla, who did so. ‘Newman, make sure everyone’s dead and get back on your ****ing ship right now.’
‘You’ll do what you’re paid for, do you understand me?’ Newman said calmly over the comms link.There was more gunfire and screaming in the background.
‘Listen to me, we’re not leaving any evidence or witnesses behind, do you understand?’ It was a direct threat. Piracy was one thing. Multiple murder was another. Right now it didn’t matter if some of the passengers and the crew on the Orca were dead, or all of them – legally speaking. It did matter in terms of evidence collection and witness statements, however.
‘Understood,’ Newman said. Even across the comms link she could hear his begrudging tone.
They waited tensely for what seemed like a very long time, but in actuality it was only a few minutes. Then they saw the Cobra detach from the yacht. Orla was shaking her head.
‘What?’ Ravindra asked. The first mate pointed. Three lifepods shot away from the yacht. ‘The fools. Jonty, drop it.’
Ravindra moved her fingers, preparing for a hard burn. It was Newman and his crew’s hard luck if they couldn’t keep up.
‘E-bomb gone,’ Jonty said.
Acceleration slammed all of them back into their chairs. Behind them energy connected all matter in what looked like an electrical display. Behind them space whited out, and the force of the exploding energy bomb buffeted the Song as it destroyed everything.
They had just blown more than half the profit they were likely to get from this job by dropping the E-bomb. Ravindra was mostly disappointed to see the Cobra make it out of the blast radius. She was a little relieved as well. It had the payload on board, after all.