October 24, 2014
James Frey is building a “21st century world” with a pot of gold at end of it
by Sal Robinson
James Frey, Innovator, has launched his newest project, Endgame, which is a book and another book and a novella and a movie and an alternate reality game and a mobile game and probably also a pair of pants somewhere in there. Oh, you know, it’s a “universe.” Or as Frey described it on Tuesday night in London (as quoted in an article by Charlotte Eyre in the Bookseller):
“I’m trying to build a 21st century world. As we move deeper and deeper into the world of technology these things will fuse. We’ve always said that we’re building the deepest rabbit hole that ever existed and we want people to lose themselves in it.”
The “we” being referred to here consists of HarperCollins, which has just published Endgame: The Calling, the first of three planned books; Fox, which will be doing the movie adaptations; and Google, which is involved in a couple of ways—they’ll be publishing novellas that supplement the story on the Google Play store and Niantic Labs, which is a start-up within Google, has created the alternate reality game, after their success with another similar project, Ingress, last year.
We-who-will-be-lost are just at the edges of the rabbit hole now: on October 7th, HarperCollins released Endgame: The Calling, the first of three planned books, and the alternate reality game started off at the same time with a series of videos and an informational website vaguely sprinkled with photos of Stonehenge and goddess figurines.
The premise behind all of this is that there are twelve ancient tribes who have each groomed a teenage warrior for a high-stakes game that must be played when our alien overlords return to the planet… or else. This sounds just a little bit familiar.
Perhaps concerned that his readers would feel the same way, Frey and his co-author Nils Johnson-Shelton and apparently a team of Ph.Ds from MIT have included distractions from the plot in the form of puzzles in the book. And longer-range, shinier distractions too: the first person to complete all the puzzles correctly wins $500,000 in solid gold, a prize currently sitting in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. According the Bookseller article, 20,000 people have already completed the first puzzle.
In other words, this is a huge event that will involve umpteen million reader-participants all over the globe—rights were sold for more than thirty languages—and enormous movie deals and literal pots of gold and probably a few more splashy, expensive stunts if interest begins to flag along the way. James Frey officially has our attention.
But it just never feels like enough for that guy. Such a chip on his shoulder! So the next few years should also see new installments in Frey’s other long-running project, “James Frey’s One-sided Beef With the World,” in which he will say things like this, from a recent interview conducted by Alexandra Wolfe for the Wall Street Journal:
“I wake up every morning, and I’m totally terrified and totally, stupidly excited,” he says. Whether or not “Endgame” paves the way for storytelling of the future, Mr. Frey plans to press on. “If it works, I’m going to do it again, and if it doesn’t work, I’m going to do it again,” he says. “And that’s it.”
Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.