Respectful, fitting treatment of a tale that started 30 years ago
Back in 1984 Tim Stryker released Fazuul, a multi-user adventure game that made its way to several bulletin board systems (BBS) when the notion of dialing up another computer and interacting with other users online was somewhat novel.
A BBS, for those who are unfamiliar, was essentially a computer that hosted messages, files and “door games” such as Fazuul. Those old door games had quite a number of fans. Jes Simon, author of Beautiful Zurt, was clearly a fan of Fazuul — her book is based on the old text adventure. And, folks, Beautiful Zurt is a page turner with a bit of an added bonus — people who are fans of old text adventure games will get a kick out of this one but fans of science fiction and fantasy who aren’t familiar with the game will like it, too.
Simon has pulled off quite a feat in Beautiful Zurt. It’s a love letter to a game that she clearly adores, but you don’t have to be in on the relationship to enjoy the book. It is an efficient, well-written tale that captures the interest of the reader — it’s 200-pages long but feels a whole lot shorter than that. You could finish this one in a couple of nights of steady reading, in fact, but that’s not advisable — as soon as you put it down, you’ll wish you’d lingered over it a bit longer.
Beautiful Zurt centers on Renya Zaffor, a traveler summoned to the “vacation planet” by her somewhat secretive and manipulative mentor, the Baron. Once she arrives on the planet, Zaffor can’t find the Baron and learns that she’s stuck on Beautiful Zurt.
The book is, in essence, the diary maintained by Zaffor in her attempts to solve the puzzle of how to get off the planet. The reader, from that first person view, is treated to illustrations, tools Zaffor has built in her efforts to flee the planet, the arrival of other people and their interactions with her, etc.
The narrative will look quite familiar to those who spent any time at all playing text adventure games in the 1980s. The narrative reads quite a bit like the terse descriptions given in those text adventure games, but Simon takes brief descriptions and expands them into highly detailed observations that Zaffor had of the planet on which she finds herself trapped. The text adventure on which this book was based was confined by computer hardware limitations common in the 1980s — it was impossible to get too descriptive when memory space was quite scarce. Simon fleshed out those terse descriptions a turned them into a fully involved narrative that is still efficient but much more vivid than the source material. That’s quite a feat, really.
Along the way, text adventure veterans will see more than a few things that look familiar. Rooms in buildings are described by what is in them as well as what passages lead off of them into other areas while Zaffor spends a lot of time assembling the alien tools that will interact with the equipment that should lead her off the planet. The narrative is all about exploring, solving puzzles and interacting with newcomers to the planet.
Again, Simon keeps the story from detouring into something that only game insiders will appreciate — any fan of science fiction and fantasy should get a kick out of this one. It would have been a pity if Beautiful Zurt felt like more of a members-only club than an invitation for all interested parties to spend some time exploring an alien world with the resourceful Zaffor.
Will Zaffor find the Baron? Will she find the way off the planet? Will those newcomers to the planet be a help or a hindrance? Go buy your own copy of the book and find out for yourself. It’s for sale at Amazon — click here for the paperback and Kindle versions.
Or, to learn more about the book and even how to play Fazuul though your favorite Telnet client, visit BeautifulZurt.com.
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.