Courtesy Del Rey Books
Isabella Biedenharn
February 23, 2017 AT 11:18 AM EST

With books like World War Z and Zombie Survival Guide, Max Brooks has already taught us more than a few ways to survive a zombie apocalypse. Now, with Minecraft: The Islandwe’ll learn how to survive something even bigger: life itself.

Minecraft: The Islandthe first in a non-connected series of Minecraft novels from developer Mojang and Random House imprint Del Rey Books, follows a character who must survive on an island while figuring out who he is and what secrets the island holds. Below, Brooks explains more about the book, and what appeals to him (and millions of other players) about Minecraft. But first, check out EW’s exclusive reveal of the novel’s cover:

 

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: For people who don’t play (like me), what exactly is Minecraft?
MAX BROOKS: Minecraft is an online world where everything is in cube shapes. Now, there are different types of Minecraft you can play. If you play on something called Creative, then you can just build whatever you want, and all the natural materials of that world, just like this world, are automatically in your inventory. And that’s usually where people build extravagant buildings.

So how do you play?
I play on something called Survival, where literally you wake up in a world. It’s a natural world, and it looks no different than this world. There are different biomes, or ecosystems, like a desert or swamp or tundra, and you have to survive. From the moment that you open your eyes, just like in the real world, you’re losing food. So you better find a way to eat: Either hunt animals, or plant seeds and grow crops. But in order to do that, you better make tools. And to make tools, you have to get wood. And to do that, you literally have to start by breaking down a tree with your bare hands to get the wood to make the tools, to plant the seeds, to eat.

Wow. That’s very different than all the Minecraft music videos I saw on YouTube.
Wow is right. That’s way different from music videos, but you know what? It’s actually not different from music videos. When I called it an alternative universe, I mean it. Because in our world, people make music videos, but those people still need to eat! And when you think about somebody making a music video online, just anybody, that person had an ancestor 100,000 years ago who literally had to find food. So that’s Minecraft. Minecraft is our world.

How did this book come about?
What happened was, I got a call [asking], “Are you interested?” and [saying] that Mojang is starting to look at the concept of a Minecraft book, and do I have a take on it?

And herein lies the initial challenge of a Minecraft book. Like, if I’m writing a Call of Duty book, that’s a no-brainer. You already have the characters, you already have the plot, you have everything. Whereas this, you literally have to write a story that takes place in this world. So I already had a specific story I wanted to tell. Like we said, Minecraft speaks to different people in different ways, and this is how it spoke to me, specifically.

We need to be very clear: I’m not writing the Minecraft book. I’m writing a Minecraft book. If the folks from Halo called me to write the Halo book, I could do that, but you cannot write the Minecraft Book.

Because Halo has a mythology?
Yeah. If you’re doing World of Warcraft or something like that, it’s very specific. Whereas Minecraft is literally just a world. It’s like saying, “Write the human race book.”

So how was it different than just sitting down to write a regular novel?
First of all, there are very specific rules of this game. I would say for every hour I spent writing the book, I had to spend, I’m not kidding, tens — if not hundreds — of hours playing, and war-gaming, and researching to make sure that everything I did in the book could be done in the game.

And — because I’m very OCD — literally down to “How many steps can I take in a certain amount of time?” and “How fast do I lose my food when I get hungry, when I’m running as opposed to when I’m walking?” I mean, the game is that specific.

Did you do anything else to research besides playing on your own?
No, because the story really happened to me once when I was playing Minecraft on Hardcore. Get this: I literally, playing the game, woke up at the bottom of the ocean. I opened my eyes and locked on the sun, because I didn’t know which way was up. Scary, huh? Swam like crazy for the surface — and, by the way, ran out of air within an arm’s reach of the surface. And once you lose air, you start to acquire damage. So I already broke through to the surface in pain, and then had to pick a location and swim for it, and hope that I found land.

Can you give us a rough outline of the book’s plot?
The premise is that this person wakes up in this world and knows that they are from our world, but doesn’t know who they are in that world. They have no memory. It is a story of survival: waking up at the bottom of the ocean, swimming to an island, and having to survive on that island. And the story is, before this person can answer the really big questions like, “How did I get here? How do I get home?,” they have to solve the basic survival questions of “How do I eat?” and “How am I safe?” and “Where do I sleep at night?”

Okay, so it’s like Hatchet?
It’s a little bit like Hatchet. I would say that in Hatchet, the boy knows who he is, there’s the divorce… I would say the key difference between Hatchet and my book is: The kid’s got a hatchet! How awesome would it be if my character had a hatchet?

Yeah, that would skip a lot of steps.
Exactly. But if you skipped a lot of steps, you’d skip a lot of life lessons.

Do you think everybody who plays Minecraft thinks of it in terms of life lessons? Or is this just you, as an adult and as a dad?
I have no idea. I’m the type of writer who can never try to anticipate my audience. My first book, Zombie Survival Guide, stayed in a drawer for a couple years, because I could have never imagined that anybody else would read a real book on how to fight something that isn’t real. I thought I was the only one who thought about this. So I would love it if more people look for life lessons in Minecraft and were interested in that stuff, but right now, I have no idea. So I have to go with what appeals to me about that world.

So is this going to be a series?
No. There are other Minecraft novels coming out, and I think it is really important for the Minecraft authors coming up behind me that everybody understand that they’re not sequels, the other books. I may write another Minecraft book down the line, but the ones that are coming out behind me are not part of the same story.

Well, it’s nice that you get to be first.
Yeah, well, I literally wrote the book before we had a book deal.

You did?
Oh yeah. Mojang had a publishing deal with another company, and they came to me, they asked if I had a book idea. I had a book idea, they loved it… and I think their contract ran out.

Because they waited too long?
No, I think that’s just the normal business cycle. And while Mojang was waiting to find a publishing partner, we were in limbo. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And I had to do it, so I literally sat down and wrote the first draft of the book and my plan — if you can call it a plan — was if there wasn’t a deal, or if they said, “We found a publisher, but we don’t want you,” then I was just going to publish it as free fan fiction. Just throw it up on my website and… whatever.

Well, thank god you didn’t have to do that!
Yeah, but the attitude was, “I have to write this book. This book is going to get written, because otherwise it’s going to be rattling around in my head, and it’s going to be unfair to any other writing projects I ever do.”

Now that you’ve scratched the itch, do you feel like you want to write more Minecraft books?
I don’t know, because I haven’t really finished it yet. We’re on draft three, and there may be two, three, four more drafts. Part of the job now is to take the time and get it right. It’s not fair to this book if I give one neuron of my brain to another book or a sequel or anything like that.

Minecraft: The Island hits shelves later this year.

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