Wot I Read – X-COM UFO Defense, A Novel

The Stunday Papers

Somehow, I wasn’t aware that there was an official novelisation of 1993 strategy/everything game X-COM until just last month. Given my decades-long fixation with X-COM, this was rather like discovering that there was a book about my mum that had passed me by completely.

Diane Duane’s slim text X-COM: UFO Defense – A Novel, published in 1996 by game guide firm Prima, has long been out of print (and never made it to e-print), so despite long scouring of fansites my only option was to explore the secondhand market, which in general wanted over £20 for this 250-page paperback. One joker’s even asking £500 for it. Fortunately, a lucky eBay bid got it to me for a mere £11, and so it is that I now own this fascinating oddity: a novelisation of a strategy game, written by an author with a long history of penning books based on existent sci-fi franchises. Could it truly recreate the tension and horror of X-COM? The thoughtful trauma of the minute-to-minute decisions and the long game of base-building and troop-nurturing?

There are two major things to know about this book.

Firstly, it really does understand X-COM.
Secondly, it doesn’t understand X-COM in the slightest.

The novel’s primarily told from the perspective of an X-COM base commander, one Jonelle Barrett. She’s been heading up an alien defence headquarters in Morocco but does such a good job that she’s tasked with constructing and managing a second one in Switzerland. Author Duane seems reassuringly familiar with the economy of X-COM: the need for hangars, Mind Shields, hyperwave decoders and living quarters, how there’s never quite enough money for everything, and how the budget for these is supplemented by selling alien artifacts and corpses to shadowy folk with unclear motives. She’s either played the game extensively or been given a very thorough breakdown of it (a Prima strategy guide, perhaps?)

But the battle scenes, the descriptions of the turn based, tactical meat of X-COM – these are what made me strongly suspect that this book mightn’t have been any kind of passion project, but instead, work-for-hire with a checklist of weapon and alien names to mention. Throughout, the book is a perversely jolly romp, with the strongest negative emotions anyone feels being ‘mild annoyance’, ‘slightly worried’ and ‘a bit of a hangover.’ This despite regularly seeing their friends die, the Earth constantly threatened by inhuman invaders and the discovery that someone within the base is working with the aliens. Indeed, the only attempt at any emotional resonance throughout is Jonelle’s casual relationship with one of her best soldiers, which carries all the romantic gravitas of a sex scene in a Jean Claude van Damme movie.

The battles, meanwhile, have about as much tension as waiting in line for a latte at Starbucks, with each soldier death happening off-camera and inciting precisely zero reaction in anyone else. Every fight is two massed armies clashing in all-out open warfare – at one point, numbers are given as 30 X-COM operatives versus 120 aliens – with none of the stalking, hiding and sick-to-the-pit-of-the-stomach gambling on low-odds shots we might expect from X-COM.

The drama is instead hung around reckless, high-melodrama actions such as exploding a landed alien battleship, crashing an Avenger in a lake and, in an absurdly long-winded opening chapter about nothing, looking for coins that will activate the floodlights in an alien-besieged Italian plaza. Very few of the soldiers are ever even named, and those that perish rarely have the cause of their demise described. The anonymity of the soldiers could be said to play to the cold ruthlessness of the source game, but at the very least there is a need to know who’s dead, under what circumstances and what the practical effects of this loss might be. That the perspective is almost unwaveringly that of a commander who doesn’t put his/her own boots on the ground (though Jonelle does in the game’s limp climax) is obviously true to source, but to ignore the loss/replacement angle is to ignore an equally critical and appealing aspect of what makes X-COM X-COM.

The plot’s even lacking a defined start and end – it’s all middle, leaping straight into what roughly maps to the late but pre-Mars stages of an X-COM campaign, concluding with nothing much changed and throughout presuming the reader is already so well-aware of every X-COM foe and armament that there’s no need to describe any of them.

So all we hear about hulk-like, genetically-modified X-COM posterboys the Mutons is that that they’re big, all we hear about the notoriously terrifying Chyrssalids is that they have claws and make zombies, and all we hear about Snakemen is that they’re called Snakemen. I suppose it is fair to presume that anyone buying a novel based on a videogame already knows the videogame and as such doesn’t need laborious explanations of elements they understand just fine as it is, but even so I’d been hoping to have careful, evocative descriptions of monsters I’d only ever known as a handful of 256-coloured pixels. If nothing else, I wanted to know more about those skintight catsuits Mutons wear.

When it’s not busy spending hundreds of words talking about Swiss public transport, it’s a rapidfire series of namechecks, with every alien, every weapon and every ship type all in play at once and serving no particular purpose of their own. Occasionally, the book seems to realise there is potential for more than simply listing events, sending out sadly short-lived tentacles of thoughtfulness. It briefly chews on the idea that Sectoids have been troubling humanity for centuries, thus giving rise to the conspiracy theory mainstay of the little grey man, and raises the possibility that the physically puny, psychically mighty Ethereals were once like humans and as such is humanity treading the same dark path?

Alas, this harder stuff is just part of the blunderbluss spray of hollow namechecking, weightless humour and broadest-stroke sci-fi concepts that runs through the novel. It reads almost like stream of consciousness, randomly switching from repeated gripes about the sandwiches in the X-COM canteen to ponderous descriptions of regional Swiss politics to conversations about pedigree cow breeds to what’s almost an advert for the Italian tourism department to a ‘the enemy is among us!’ sub-plot that lasts all of two pages to a tedious document of a train journey that takes five.

In other words, there’s a very good reason I hadn’t heard of this novel before now. I confess I had been ridiculously excited when it arrived, as while I didn’t expect a lost classic I was anticipating suitably leery descriptions of brutal deaths at the hands of horrifying alien monsters, entire chapters written from the point of view of a terrified man hiding in the corner of a darkened barn and gruesome blow-by-blow documentation of alien autopsies.

Instead, it’s a snappily-written but constantly distracted and entirely superficial Saturday morning cartoon that screeches to an abrupt, unsatisfying halt after having spent more time talking about Swiss farmers’ prize cows than it does UFOs. X-COM: Cow Defense might have been a better spin-off than Interceptor was, mind.

For all these failings, either through misdirected dramatic ambition or plain old silliness, I love that X-COM: UFO Defense – A Novel could even exist in the first place. It’s essentially off-the-cuff fan-fiction as competently but shallowly written by someone I’m far from convinced is a fan, but the mere idea of words dedicated to soldiers flying Lightnings and attacking Silacoids with plasma weapons pleases the eternal 13-year-old in me more than it really should.

(I would kill whole armies of men to write an X-COM/XCOM novel myself).
(Please can I write an X-COM/XCOM novel?)

Eternal credit to c-Row for the ’50 Shades of Grays’ pun.


  1. pupsikaso says:

    Diane Duane? Sounds like Durand Durand.
    What other authors have first and last names that sound almost identical?

  2. KikiJiki says:

    this was rather like discovering that there was a book about my mum that had passed me by completely.

    I was expecting a ‘Your mum’ joke. I was disappoint :(

  3. Tom De Roeck says:

    As about the content: I think the best novelisation thus far, is Myst, and its 3 sequel/prequels.

  4. Faldrath says:

    “(Please can I write an X-COM/XCOM novel?)”

    What’s stopping you? :)

    • Richard Beer says:

      An official licence, presumably. Although 50 Shades of Gray started as fan fiction.

      How about it John – 50 Percent Chance of Critical?

    • cwoac says:

      Yeah, we are only 9 days into NaNoWriMo – I’m sure he’d have no trouble catching up on the word count.

      • The Random One says:

        Do it, Alec! Who cares about that silly video games blog you post in, you must follow your true calling!

  5. c-Row says:

    A “Choose Your Own Adventure” X-COM novel maybe?

    • Grygus says:

      If you die because you missed the high-percentage shot, turn to page 23.

      If you die because you made the high-percentage shot, but did minimum damage and failed to kill the alien, turn to page 25.

      If you die because you killed the alien, but there was another one, and your teammate panicked and murdered you, turn to page 27.

      Otherwise, turn to page 30 and get sniped by a Thin Man who isn’t even on the map at present.

  6. Hentzau says:

    “Instead, it’s a snappily-written but constantly distracted and entirely superficial Saturday morning cartoon that screeches to an abrupt, unsatisfying halt after having spent more time talking about Swiss farmers’ prize cows than it does UFOs.”

    Welcome to the wonderful world of videogame tie-in novels.

    • c-Row says:

      Incidentally, I found the “The Dig” novel at a local flea market some weeks ago for one quid.

    • Makariel says:

      Is there any game tie-in-book that would be worth reading, even for people not being hardcore-fans of the respective game?

      • Lars Westergren says:

        I like some of John Shirleys books, so I wish I could say Bioshock: Rapture was good, but alas…

        Chicago: Three Shades of Night from the White Wolf/World of Darkness setting is just about the only game based (P&P RPG in this case) that I have found even mildly enjoyable.
        link to amazon.com
        It has three parts by three authors with protagonists from three different games (Vampires, Werewolves, Mages), but it goes from best to worst unfortunately.

        • Makariel says:

          I read some world of darkness novel long time ago. I can’t remember the title, but I promised myself to stay far away from these novels ever since ;-)

      • Premium User Badge

        phuzz says:

        I read a bit of one of the Halo novels, and it was quite good, well, certainly better than this books sounds.
        (I would have read it all, but it was just something I picked up at a mates house and read to pass the time, then had to give back).

        Does the short story booklet that came in the Frontier box count?

        • Vurogj says:

          That short story collection from Frontier is a decent enough call. Pretty variable in quality, but there were a couple of gems in there. I got a lot more from the book than I ever got from the game, that’s for sure.

        • noom says:

          Not read any Halo novels but I know at least one was written by Greg Bear, and I do rather like him.

          Possibly not relevant, but I tried reading Horus Rising after a friend raved about it for ages. There were also many positive amazon customer reviews. Lesson learned: never trust reviews on amazon. Or your friends. Never trust your friends.

          • Makariel says:


            A friend of mine was also raving about Horus Rising, but he’s a 40k-addict and I just don’t like Warhammer 40k novels all that much, so I never got it a shot. Probably a good decision :)

          • strangeloup says:

            The Ciaphas Cain 40k novels by Sandy Mitchell are pretty great. It’s basically Blackadder… in…. SPAAAAACE! (With a fair bit of Flashman In Space too, admittedly.)

          • mouton says:

            I was horribly disappointed with Ciaphas Cain books. Their whole joke was repeated ad nauseum and they had very much this “checklist” thing Alec described in the article. “Oh look, necron warriors. And now scarabs. And now, wow, pariahs! Omg, now a monolith!”

      • Luaan says:

        I really enjoyed the Starcraft novels. I have no idea who was the author or what the name was. Of course, it’s not that hard making a novelization of a game with such a strong storyline, but I liked it nevertheless.

      • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

        Republic Commando books took on a life of their own well beyond the game.

        • Makariel says:

          I enjoyed Republic Commando the game quite a lot. A shame it never got to a second part. Might give one of the novels a shot.

      • Salix says:

        Not necessarily video-game based but I’d suggest checking out some of the Warhammer 40k novels, I’d recommend the Ciaphas Cain books and I’ve heard good things about the Horus Heresy series too.

        Edit: I see the Heresy books were mentioned above, there are a number of different authors writing in the series but I haven’t actually read any of them so I couldn’t tell you the ones that are supposed to be good.

        • iucounu says:

          I’ve been very much enjoying Dan Abnett’s WH40K novels. The Eisenhorn and Ravenor series are lots of fun, as is the Gaunt’s Ghosts series. I dipped into the Horus Heresy but it’s not grabbing me.

          • Makariel says:

            A friend borrowed me the Gaunt’s Ghost books and I read the first, but struggled a bit at the second and thats where I’m still stuck in that series. The most hilarious 40k book I read was the German translation of Ian Watson’s Space Marine, mainly because the translator had obviously no clue what Warhammer was.

          • mouton says:

            I really like Gaunt’s Ghosts, they are pretty sold all across the series.

            Eisenhorn, not so much. Didn’t touch Ravenor after that. And I found Ciaphas Cain books quite unappealing.

      • Pray For Death says:

        I have read lots of game novels. The Diablo novel Demonsbane is amazing (and really short, like 100 pages.) The Black Road was good, and The Kingdom of Shadow was decent. Don’t touch the Sin Wars trilogy though, it’s awful.

        Some of the Warcraft books are also good (and some are really bad.) I particularly like the ones by Christie Golden, specifically Lord of the Clans and The Shattering.

        I read the Mass Effect novels. Only recommend the first one.

        • Makariel says:

          I thought the Diablo-books to be similar to the Doom-books, surprised to hear that there seem to be some good ones ^^

      • Werthead says:

        Someone mentioned the Myst books being surprisingly good above. THE DARK WHEEL, the ELITE tie-in novella written by the excellent Robert Holdstock was also reasonably decent (though rushed due to its size). The ancient STARGLIDER 2 also came with an accompanying novella that I remembered being unexpectedly hilarious, though it’s been over 20 years since I read it.

        Probably the best video game tie-in novels in existence are the STAR WARS X-WING novels by Michael Stackpole (and, later, Aaron Allston), which are heavily inspired by the X-WING computer games. One of them even borrows a bit from BALANCE OF POWER (the single-player-focused X-WING VS. TIE FIGHTER expansion) by having a whole book being about how the hell Rogue Squadron can take down a Super Star Destroyer with limited resources. They’re decent in that they fit in with the existing STAR WARS mythology without requring extensive knowledge of it, as they feature mostly a new cast (Luke and Leia appear for about 5 minutes of the entire series and only Wedge Antilles is a major recurring charactter from the movies). Stackpole also wrote some good BATTLETECH books, although not any based on the computer games that I recall.

        Never, in a million years, think of touching the BALDUR’S GATE or PLANESCAPE: TORMENT novels. Horrible, horrible things. Also run screaming from anything with ‘Kevin J. Anderson’ on the front cover (and if it has ‘Dune’ on the front cover as well as ‘Kevin J. Anderson’, burn it with fire).

        • Arglebargle says:

          This man does not lie: The Star Wars Rogue Squadron and Wraith Squadron books are pretty good reads. And stay far far away from Kevin J. Anderson.

          • MacTheGeek says:

            I, umm… I actually, uhh, bought Kevin J. Anderson’s entire Gamearth trilogy. But only in paperback, and it was 20 years ago, when I was both young and stupid.

        • Makariel says:

          The X-Wing books were quite enjoyable indeed, found them much better than Stackpole’s Battletech-novels. They were good for battletech-standards, rather formulaic, but 14-year old me enjoyed them. The dark wheel sounds interesting.

      • mactenchi says:

        It’s the only video game literature I’ve read, but I found Brian Sanderson’s Infinity Blade mini-novel surprisingly entertaining. Wish the game had furthered the plot more from where the novel leaves off.

      • malkav11 says:

        Karen Traviss’s Republic Commando and Gears of War novels are surprisingly good (you could almost imagine Gears of War had characters), and she’s written at least one Halo tie-in as well which I will have to investigate.

        The novels based on Doom and Doom II weren’t great, per se, but they were a fun read and managed somehow to get four books of increasing narrative insanity out of a videogame series whose entire pre-Doom 3 plot was summarized in two paragraphs in the game manual.

        If you can track it down, the incredibly talented George Alec Effinger, who wrote a lot of work-for-hire fiction because of medical bills, did a Zork novel which is absolutely hilarious.

      • oceanclub says:

        The Jack Yeovil (aka Kim Newman) Warhammer “Genevieve” books – collected now in 1 volume- are great.


    • c-Row says:

      The DX:HR novel was rather entertaining since it features characters from the game and mentions some of the things happening throughout it. I guess it helped that both the book and the game’s story were written by the same person.

      The first Mass Effect book fills in some holes in Captain Anderson’s background story and his relation to Saren, but it’s rather short.

      Haven’t touched Bioshock yet.

    • Dinger says:

      Wait! Does she talk about Cow Fighting? No discussion of Swiss Cows can be complete without a thorough discussion of the Bantam- and Heavyweight brackets in the Cantonal Championships.

      • Arglebargle says:

        Yes, you will read about sectoid butt being kicked by Swiss fighting cows…..

    • Ross Angus says:

      Well, it’s not quite a spin-off, but Soon I Will Be Invincible is almost “The Anna Navarre Story”, plus it was written by Austin Grossman, who worked on System Shock, Deus Ex and Thief: Deadly Shadows.

      Plus Shamus Young wrote a System Shock fan-fiction novel, which he released for free.

    • Jackablade says:

      There’s the Witcher books which are pretty decent (Though obviously the source rather than a tie-in). They tend to be a bit less bleak than the games, but you should still get plenty out of them if you enjoyed the games.

    • Arathain says:

      I just read The Deacon’s Tale, by Arinn Dembo. She’s the writer for space 4X Sword of the Stars, and it’s a short novel set in that universe. It’s really pretty good.

      • Cian says:

        I always enjoyed the bits of EVE fluff that would get written on EVE Chronicles, but unfortunately the novel I read was pretty duff.

    • soldant says:

      Heh, I was waiting for that! To be fair they’re not exceptionally bad books and the authors didn’t have much to work with besides “Future Phobos… then suddenly demons, and then on Earth!” But the weird obsession with Mormons and whatever the hell was going on in the last 2 books was absolute nonsense. Take out the Mormons and forget the last two books exist, and it wasn’t a bad attempt.

      • Oozo says:

        The fact that they were in on the joke of their own existence made them at least mildly readable.
        Oh, and obligatory Richard Cobbett-plug:
        link to pcgamer.com

        • Strange_guy says:

          I remember reading and somewhat enjoying the second book in that series a while back, but following that link I’m surprised at how insane the series got.

    • RogB says:

      even though the words dont fit right, my mind keeps reading that to the tune of ‘Gypsies, Tramps and thieves’

  7. Didden says:

    I think I have read that book about your mother.

  8. Dilapinated says:

    “(I would kill whole armies of men to write an X-COM/XCOM novel myself).
    (Please can I write an X-COM/XCOM novel?)

    That’s what the internet’s for! I know I’d read it.

    • Luaan says:

      There’s a couple of rather good fan-fictions out there, but I can mostly think of czech ones, sorry.

      English one I can remember is a Stargate/X-COM crossover, and very good if you like both franchises: link to tthfanfic.org for X-COM: UFO Defense + Stargate SG-1, and link to tthfanfic.org , a sequel targetting X-COM: Terror from the Deep + Stargate Atlantis. It’s mostly told from the point of view of the SGC (after all, there’s not that much source material in X-COM :D), but there’s quite a lot of X-COM approach to things :D

      • Jehuty says:

        Honestly, I think one of the more fun and true-to-atmosphere bits of X-Com fiction out there is SomethingAwful’s Apocalypse LP (link to lparchive.org) and it’s prequel for UFO Defense (link to lparchive.org). Lighthearted in a lot of places, but also packed to the gills with lots of thoughtful touches that make it clear it was definitely a passion project. Lots of deaths too, appropriately, and since the soldiers were named after the forum members reading and commenting on the LP (and some effort goes into making them actual characters), they carry a bit of weight.

        Must’ve tickled someone at Firaxis too, because one of the cheatyface supersoldier names in Enemy Unknown is Otto Zander, the main character of sorts of these LPs.

  9. iucounu says:

    This will have been a nice little work-for-hire project from a good author (I know her work of old) commissioned by Prima, rather than a labour of love. As someone who has done similar jobs I will go out on a limb and say that though she will have researched it conscientiously she might not have played the game very extensively, because you usually only get a month or two to put something like this together.

    (Did you mean to say the climax was ‘limpid’?)

    • dubyabyeats says:

      I remember meeting Diane and her husband Peter Morwood (also an author) many years back. They spent some time living in Switzerland researching some of the more obscure history of the region and dialects if I recall correctly. It probably explains the Swiss/Italian obsession. Diane has written a lot of Star Trek novelisations also over the years so this kind of one off novel wouldn’t be that unusual to her.

      • iucounu says:

        A colleague of mine bumped into them the other day, in Ireland. It’s a small world!

    • pertusaria says:

      I really enjoyed her Wizardry series, aimed at teenagers. I dipped into one of the Star Wars books once, and it didn’t seem bad, but I was never that obsessed with the films.

      • malkav11 says:

        Young Wizards, not Wizardry. Might confuse people into thinking they were based on the CRPG series.

    • Canadave says:

      She did some of the best Star Trek tie-in novels, I thought. Spock’s World and the Rihannsu novels did a fantastic job of exploring Vulcan and Romulan history, even if they have been contradicted by later shows and movies at points.

  10. sfaok says:

    I’d say the best XCOM-esque novel written is A Matter For Men (The War Against The Chtorr Book 1) by
    David Gerrold. I think he’s up to book 4, but writing at a glacial pace (last book was 1993!!).

    • iucounu says:

      Diane Duane once worked as David Gerrold’s assistant.

    • Palehorse says:

      I enjoyed the Chtorr books quite a lot, and was bummed to see that while Gerrold insists he’s still writing, it must be at a word a day. Hope springs eternal.

    • MacTheGeek says:

      Ohhh, so THAT’S who George R. R. Martin is patterning his current writing schedule around…

  11. jayc4life says:

    Please Alec, contact 2K about doing a modern-day XCOM choose-your-own-adventure novel. I’d Kickstart some monies if it were absolutely necessary.

  12. pupsikaso says:

    I have to confess, your thoughts on novels are just as good as on games, Mr. Meer.

  13. ritalingamer says:

    By saddling her main character with the name “Jonelle Barrett,” the author clearly grasps the randomness of X-Com naming. Or, perhaps with the nomme de plume Diane Duane, the author simply doesn’t understand how names work.

  14. Premium User Badge

    CdrJameson says:

    Ha! I’ve got this. One of my first thoughts on playing the tutorial of the new XCom was how much it reminded me of the start of this novel.

    Don’t forget that the original has to be non-spoilertastic to a certain degree.

    It definitely smacks of teen-aimed work-for-hire though, and any attempt to fill in any of the blank areas with too much detail runs the risk of messing with the version generated in your own head.

    • imperialus says:

      I remember reading it ages ago… I also remember my 13 or 14 year old self loving it, so as far as ” teen-aimed work-for-hire” goes it wasn’t half bad.

  15. MrThingy says:

    I remember Diane Duane, she did a book called “Spock’s World” or something with a very sad looking Spock on the front.

    More sad than usual, I mean.

    • neolith says:

      I remember her from ‘My enemy, my ally’. God, I think I read that twenty years ago or so. I feel old…

  16. DAdvocate says:

    I seem to remember “Terror from the Deep” came with a journal type booklet which described the days prior to the player’s involvement which was a mixture of lore and tutorial, detailing first encounters where the lack of a smoke grenade caused an entire squad to be lost etc.

    At the time I found it superb, adding character to the game world; but perhaps it was just the lower standards of youth.

    Edit: Found an online pdf for those interested:
    link to xcomufo.com

    • Premium User Badge

      Bluerps says:

      Heh. I remember that. I even think that I still have that somewhere (in german, though).

    • liceham says:

      I was going to point this out as well – I read it when I was younger, and thought it set the mood for Terror from the Deep very well.

    • Moraven says:

      That was great. Reread that multiple times. Nice short story. I liked how it presented the items in the game along with good gameplay tactics. Makes me miss the old game manuals.

      Now its 3 pages on how to play with basic controls and your cd key.

  17. mckertis says:

    “at one point, numbers are given as 30 X-COM operatives versus 120 aliens – with none of the stalking, hiding and sick-to-the-pit-of-the-stomach gambling on low-odds shots we might expect from X-COM.”

    So its the same as the Firaxis’ game.

    Russian X-Com inspired novel is better, but not by alot. It’s going a bit much into another extreme, trying to justify why the aliens dont run away from the crashed UFOs, expanding a bit too in-depth into minitank operating principles, and so on.

    • Totally heterosexual says:

      -Firaxis’ game
      -30 X-COM operatives versus 120 aliens

      I maek gud ironic remarks.

      • Premium User Badge

        Bluerps says:

        Not to mention that there is a large amount of “stalking, hiding and sick-to-the-pit-of-the-stomach gambling on low-odds shots” in Firaxis’ game. Or at least there was in the 30 hours I’ve been playing that game.

        • Totally heterosexual says:

          Well that is kind of a subjective thing. All im saying is that if he is going to try to seem all badass by saying nasty things about well received game, he should at least get his facts straight.

          • Premium User Badge

            Bluerps says:

            Hence my clarification that I’m talking about my own experience with the game. But you’re right, of course.

        • mckertis says:

          ” there is a large amount of “stalking, hiding and sick-to-the-pit-of-the-stomach gambling on low-odds shots” in Firaxis’ game.”

          We must have been playing different games, then. You cant stalk enemies that teleport around the map. Cant hide from them either, as there is no real cover in the game and once you aggro’ed them they know exactly where you are. And if you have to “gamble on low-odds shots” in this game…i dont even know what to say to you.

          “nasty things about well received game”

          Popularity is the measure of quality for you. I see.

          • Totally heterosexual says:

            I never said. I simple stated that you seemed to be pandering for attention by saying negative things about a game that is regarded good by a lot of people. If that was not the case then you should learn to state yourself a little better.

          • Premium User Badge

            Bluerps says:

            Apparently we did play different games, yes. More than one time I encountered an enemy who I had discovered and subsequently lost a few turns earlier, and who very obviously did not know that one of my soldiers was lurking behind a nearby wall. And the gambling is not something that happens all the time, but sometimes things get hairy and a shot needs to hit or someone dies – or at least that is the case on Classic difficulty. No idea how it is on Normal or Easy..

          • pupsikaso says:

            Wow, are you all idiots? The OP is mocking Firaxis game.
            The Novel in question is based on the original game.

  18. bobbobob says:

    I’m feeling pretty smug I got this off amazon for £2 last year. Bidding starts at £100.

    • MattM says:

      11 pounds you say? I’m Rich!! I was a fan of Duane when I was younger and still have my copy of this book.
      I think my favorite video game novelizations ever was Halo: The Flood. It wasn’t good but it was a weird nearly room by room recreation of the Halo 1 campaign.

    • Arglebargle says:

      Ha! Fifty cents from a used bookstore. But I have had good luck in the past. Don’t even ask about the 20 autographed and numbered Fantasy Press editions I picked up for $1-2 a piece….

  19. Tom OBedlam says:

    That was a lovely piece, Alec. I think the only game tie-in that I’ve read was Baldurs Gate 2. When BG2 came out I was 12/13 and my mum had begun insisting that if I wanted games, then I had to pay half of the cost myself. Books, however, she’d get me. So, while I was saving up for BG2, I think I must have read the novelisation five or six times.

    Edit: Wow, another memory just surfaced. 1997, Dungeon Keeper had just come out. I was 10/11 and, ever since I got my first computer last year, I’d done nothing but play Theme Park and Civilization. When my PC Gamer that month was delivered, I skipped straight to the DK review and promptly read it over, and over, and over. My parents agreed that I could have it as a present, if certain criteria were met. In my memory, it took months until I actually got bought a copy. It may have been a few days. But in between reading that review and getting the game, I had built myself a cardboard dungeon, with cardboard cutout monsters and traps, all based on what I had been able to glean from the review and the accompanying photographs.

    • Oozo says:

      Poor you. While quality can often be dubious in the genre, the BG-novels are likely to qualify as the nadir of game novelizations.

      • Tom OBedlam says:

        Yes, it wasn’t great. Though I do remember that Irenicus was rather more interesting in the books. Now that I think about it, my experiences with that novelisation may well be responsible for my now ingrained dislike of fantasy writing.

    • Werthead says:

      There are some good (well, okay) books in the FORGOTTEN REALMS, but the BG books are amongst the worst ever published in that setting. Just very poorly-written.

      Early R.A. Salvatore, before he started phoning it, is passable. Paul Kemp has done some good stuff. Troy Denning and James Lowder had some good books in the setting as well. Almost everything else (especially by Ed Greenwood) is meh-to-terrible.

  20. Oozo says:

    “Ponderous descriptions of regional Swiss politics”? As somebody with some insight on the subject, I can assure you that regional Swiss politics can be any bit as tense as an X-Com campaign.
    (With red-and-blue double-tip crayons replacing Plasma rifles, jingoistic farmers standing in for Muttons and conflicts being settled by democratically voting other’s opinions into smithereens of misguided dreams and hopes.)

  21. TeraTelnet says:

    The novel adaptation of Planescape: Torment came bundled with my copy of the game. It was absolutely terrible. The authors had clearly been given only superficial insight into the storyline and the characters, and managed to run in completely the wrong direction with it all.

    Mind you, I’d love to read the Alpha Centauri tie-in novels, they sound fascinating.

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      “What can change the nature of a man?”
      “I’m sorry, Adahn, you didn’t phrase your answer in the form of a question”

  22. The Random One says:

    Why are you posting this if this book isn’t coming to PC? YOU HAVE RUINED MY LIFE, MEER.

  23. dr.glyndwr says:

    I think you should write an X-COM novel, Alec. With some knockabout workplace humour and a tacked-on love story.

    An X-COM sitcom rom-com, if you will.

    • Hematite says:


      The main character could be a reformed socialist, you don’t get much more ex-commie than that.

  24. zeroskill says:

    “Could it truly recreate the tension and horror of X-COM?”

    Not much can.

  25. Themadcow says:

    Next stop ‘The Dark Wheel’ novella that came with Elite? Kinda topical now with the Kickstarter I guess…

  26. Flint says:

    The only game novelisation I’ve read was the Gabriel Knight one. Not badly written per se, but adventure game puzzle logic doesn’t translate into book form very well.

  27. Low Life says:

    That mug looks filthy. That’s why I opt for black mugs – the illusion of a clean mug is never broken.

  28. Sergey Galyonkin says:

    I’ll just post it here – it is a cover of “Enemy Unknown” by Vasiliyev: originally Russian fan-fic based on X-COM, but it was later published and basically started his career as sci-fi writer.

    link to imgur.com

  29. deadly.by.design says:

    For some reason, I read the byline as “Diane Lane.”

  30. StormFuror says:

    Man, I was so excited to see this article. Now I’m very disappointed. Like Alec, X-COM: UFO Defense is my #1 favorite game ever. I would have killed armies of men just to get my hands on this book in the 90’s. It seems like that would have been a waste of soldiers though. Alec, I know you could produce a worthy product!

  31. Sidewinder says:

    If you think the X-com novel was bad, hunt yourself down a copy of Star Control: Interbellum. But hide your knives first.

  32. Feridyan says:

    ha x-com novels… , i found an excellent fan fiction based on xcom:ufo defence many years ago , it goes from the war on earth to the cydonia base on mars. It is using the xcom ufopedia information but with his owns merits , they add some original concepts like a mysterious council that try to works behind the xcom organisation , and it is really a world effort , they use russian , japanese , french , NATO and many more. Well in every case , if you want to read it , it is 693 pages long and you can get a pdf version here :

    “http://area51.xcomufo.com/files/UM-Full-PDF.rar” (don’t know why my links do not appear)

  33. Premium User Badge

    chiroho says:

    The best X-COM story that I ever read was written in 1994 by Russ Brown. I thought it did a much better job capturing the fear of the original game, as well as the impact that had on the members of the X-COM organisation. Certainly it showed a pretty good familiarity with the game.

    While the colours are awful, you can find a copy of the story online here: link to xcomufo.com, where there are nine chapters titled “Saga 1” through “Saga 9”.

  34. Metonymy says:

    As I read this article, I got increasingly confused. Are you describing the book you read, or the new X-Com game?

  35. hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

    I remember reading and rather liking some of Diane Duane’s novels in her own series. Granted I was much younger, but I’d venture a guess that maybe the quality here isn’t up to scratch because of the contract; I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if she was told to make sure certain game things made it into the book.

  36. Andrigaar says:

    I read this back in high school when it was fairly new still . Took a day or two of ignoring class when I could to read it. Then I misplaced my copy somewhere in the 10+ years after when I suddenly wanted to read it again. All I recalled was semi-graphic violence and psi-training.

    Got another copy for like $5USD shipped a few years ago and couldn’t get more than 30 pages into it without getting bored out of my mind. Now you’re reminding me to try again to see what teenage me was entranced by.

  37. isdiusdf says:


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  38. dduane says:

    So this is why my site was getting so many hits from over here. :) Oh well: sorry the book didn’t work for you, Alec. –DD

  39. guru520 says:

    I had an uncle for many many years who had a really cool big boat whose name was Pete Peterson

  40. MadMatty says:

    Its true! – genius astronauts/special forces elite never batter an eyelash. Its unprofessional, and uneffective- as we all know, fear is the mindkiller.
    If you´ve seen Prometheus, you´ll be forgiven to think that they´d let any recently released x-con into space with guns and multi billion dollar hardware, but no…..

    The book is probably literary and technical/factual genius, to the level where you loose sight of it, and think its a bit crap.

    havent read it tho, just saying ;)

  41. Teran says:

    I was quite young when I read this novel and I loved it. I suppose I could re-read it with a critical eye but that’d take some of the magic away.

    I will say this though: Diane Duane is a decently talented author who wrote this before there was much to be gained from writing about games. It’s easy to criticize this book 17 years later but this was something of a standout back in 1995 when it was published.