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Wednesday 4 September 2013

A wind age, a wolf age, before the world goes headlong

A comment from Efrem Orizzonte recently reminded me that we discussed Heart of Ice at some length during his interview with me a few years back. I've always thought of this as my best gamebook, with its emphasis on character interplay and on who to trust (and who to backstab) when you're stuck with a pack of the most ruthless and power-hungry people on the planet.

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Efrem: "Heart of Ice is arguably the most mature gamebook ever written. The plot is superb, character design and development is among the finest ever seen, the atmosphere is perfect and the multiple endings mean that if you survive to the end, you can always 'win' – if you can call any of the ambiguous, bittersweet finales a victory! Heart of Ice is a story full of deeper meanings, and it is so good that it may even have inspired a movie, called Post Impact. What inspired you to write such an original and mature story in gamebook format? Is there some particular message you wanted to convey to your readers?"

Dave: "I’m not so much into trying to give my readers messages, I just have certain topics that interest me and I like to get readers thinking about them. [What interests me are] questions, not answers. Heart of Ice got started as a role-playing session. I can pinpoint it exactly to Christmas 1976. I was back home after my first term at college and I needed a scenario for a large number of players. Believe it or not, I started with the idea of doing a serious version of It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, kind of the way Failsafe Point is a serious version of Dr Strangelove. The idea of Du-En came from marvelling at the buildings of Christ Church, absolutely deserted late on a frosty night after the end of term, with the buildings lit up pale against this immense field of stars and the unyielding smell of cold sandstone, I love that.

"After the first game session, I was walking home with one of the players and he said how he was imagining Du-En as a movie, and what he liked was that the focus of the session had been in the tension among the characters camped out in this ruined, snow-filled city. It was big end-of-the-world action but it was centred on a small group of characters. And a mere 18 years later I took all that and put it into the book.

"I’d had an idea in my mind of [it] as [...] a [Sergio] Leone movie. It’s that combination of operatic/ mythic significance with ordinary messy human life – the fly walking in the sweat of a man’s face. Leone’s films are all about how the stories we construct make sense of what would otherwise be a short, meaningless existence."
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It's interesting that in all of that interview I never mentioned The Thing, which surely had an inspirational effect on the tone of the book. There are no actual shapechangers (unless you count the option to genetically upgrade with Chameleon Skin) but the twisty, slippery, scratchy sense of uncertainty and paranoia is there all right.

Heart of Ice is back in print again this week (and on Kindle too) so if you missed it first time round and you like the idea of a world where ultimate power is up for grabs if only you can prove more cunning than your rivals - okay, here's your chance:


  1. You may have answered this before, Dave, but I don't recall- beside the illustrations, is there any new text content to this (or any of the other three) Virtual Reality books that you are re-releasing?

    1. There is, though the amount varies from book to book. Heart of Ice has an extra ending (a "success", that is, not a death!). Once Upon A Time In Arabia, as befits the title change (from Twist of Fate) has a completely different prologue. Down Among the Dead Men has some extra options that give you more freedom in the early part of the book. And Necklace of Skulls has several new sections.

      If you already have these books, I wouldn't necessarily suggest buying the new editions just because of the new content. However, the Kindle editions are pretty cheap so you might want to check those out. Reviews (as I always say, sorry to be a bore) make a big difference on Amazon and are much appreciated.