HomeWriting LifeStuff I RecommendNo Man’s Sky: A Science Fiction Novelist (And Grown-Up Nerdy Girl) Reviews the Game
No Man's Sky

No Man’s Sky

Before I review No Man’s Sky, you need to know two things about me.

Well, three, but if you’re reading my blog, I’m assuming you already know I’m a professional SF novelist.

So, two.

The tree has eyes!

The tree has eyes!

ONE: Back in 1970 when I was nine, we moved from Ohio — where I’d spent my entire life to that point — to Alaska, and suddenly I was a nine-year-old girl living with my parents, little sister, and very little brother in a log-cabin boy’s dorm heated by a wood-burning furnace on the tundra four miles by river from the nearest village (Kwethluk).

I was the only white kid and the only native English-speaker in the one-room school in the attic of the boy’s dorm.

I discovered a world where food came to us once a year by barge and anything we did not order we had to hunt and kill and clean ourselves (and I learned how to mend and clean salmon nets and how to clean game birds because children in primitive places can do real work).

I learned that if it’s -81 degrees Fahrenheit and you throw hot coffee into the air, it freezes instantly and explodes with a sound like a shotgun going off. This was, by the way, the coolest real-world demo of “why you can’t play outside today” ever done by a father.

I skied on a tow rope behind a snowmobile, and listened to wolves singing at the moon.

I learned what a honeybucket was, and discovered that in a world without plumbing, waste gets dumped well away from the the house and on a patch of ground both well away from the river and downstream from the house, and that Clorox goes into the cistern full of drinking water you pump in from the river that runs by the house. Because there are folks who live upriver…

I listened to people speaking and singing in foreign languages, wearing clothing unlike anything I’d ever seen before, telling stories by crouching on the ground and smoothing the summer mud with story knives and drawing pictures in it.

I wore a wolf-ruffed parka and sealskin mukluks because this is how you don’t die in a deadly environment.

I was ripped out of what I’d mistaken for “the way things are everywhere” and thrown into the reality of “Ohio is not the whole world, or anything like it”, and…

…I became an alien. A stranger in a very strange land. And simultaneously discovered science fiction, in the form of a wonderful stack of YA books left behind by the previous children’s home dorm parents.

Beneath A Lemon Sky

Beneath A Lemon Sky

TWO: A year and a half later, we returned to Ohio.

I became that weird kid who’d lived in Alaska.

I had learned that there are still places where hunting and fishing are what stand between you and starvation.

I had become a heavy reader and a lover of science fiction. And I was a skinny eleven-year-old girl with glasses in a new school in a new town with no friends.

I no longer fit in back in the world I’d once considered normal. I realized that I was never going to be normal again.

But…

I discovered Star Trek, and also that if I ran home from school instead of taking the bus, I could get there in time to catch Star Trek re-runs. So I did — and I fell deeper in love with outer space.

At eleven, I wasn’t yet an atheist, but I was already having serious doubts. I was giving religion its first long, hard look, and it wasn’t doing too well.

But I did pray, every night. This prayer:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
Please don’t make me go to heaven;
Let me go to space.
(And P.S. May I please have a pony?)

Planets Above -- And I Can GO There

Planets Above — And I Can GO There

The horse thing came and went.

Space didn’t.

My whole life (and I’m fifty-five now, and getting pretty close to fifty-six), I have yearned for starships, aliens, strange skies, faster-than-light travel.

I discovered early that my hellishly bad math skills were going to disqualify me from ever being an astronaut, even if being a girl didn’t — and remember, when I started school, girls had to wear dresses to class and “you’re only a girl” was still not just a common phrase, but expected. And acceptable.

Back then, girls went to college for their MRS degree (as in Mrs. Robert Biteme, for those of you who are female and young enough that you’ve grown up with the expectation of actually getting to use your own name your whole life).

Useful, Necessary, Strange

Useful, Necessary, Strange

Every year after that, from the time I was eleven until the time I was sixteen, I changed schools again. Moved again. To Costa Rica, Guatemala, back to Ohio. I learned another language, got comfortable with being the perpetual outsider, the perpetual alien, the only “whatever everyone else isn’t.”

I learned to observe, to watch, to listen, to think. I lost religion, gained reason, logic, and the scientific method.

I knew I was never going to get to go to space — not in the real world. So I became a science fiction writer, went to space in my head, and took readers with me.

Planet of the Giant Bouncy Puppet Monsters

Planet of the Giant Bouncy Puppet Monsters

Two years ago, my younger son, then sixteen, told me about No Man’s Sky.

I thought, “Maybe this time.”

And the two of us waited for it to come out.

Not Kansas. And not Ohio, either, Dorothy.

Not Kansas. And not Ohio, either, Dorothy.

At the stroke of midnight on August 9th, with my pre-ordered copy of No Man’s Sky and the first patch already loaded up, I went to space.

The timing was pretty much perfect. I was recovering from Yet Another Surgery on My Damn Tongue, I was in pain, I was still dealing with not eating and not speaking because I had a tongue full of stitches.

I was too tired, too in pain to work.

So instead…

I soared through a shifting sky filled with stars to wake up on an alien planet, to discover that I had limited resources and a broken space ship.

I thought, I experimented, I discovered.

I found ways to use the terrain around me, to harvest resources.

I figured out how to fix my ship, I got it airborne. I started discovering the planet on which I’d landed.

How to commune with aliens.

How to commune with aliens.

I started cataloguing creatures and plants, earning money, learning alien languages and decoding conversations and figuring out how each alien race thought so I could get better rewards.

Not my first time, and it turns out being an alien in your own life prepares you pretty well for being an alien in No Man’s Sky. Even with tiny linguistic cues, I turned out to be pretty good at figuring out the cultures and getting the good stuff.

I was less good at fighting pirates.

And when you have mined minerals like a lunatic to buy yourself a kickass spaceship, and have filled your hold to overflowing with awesome space loot, there are gonna be pirates.

I died a few times, and discovered that the game is insanely forgiving of death.

My current awesome pirate-ass-kicking ship.

My current awesome pirate-ass-kicking ship.

I went back to my space station and my ship, flew out to the spot where I’d died and picked up all of my goodies, and went on with the game.

I was not so forgiving. I built up my defenses, and started shooting down the pirates. Last night, with roughly {cough, cough} a hundred hours in the game in exactly one week, I successfully took out four pirates in an aerial dogfight on a planet, while dealing with gravity and terrain. Run, little pirates. You are my meat now.

The last of the stitches in my tongue worked its way out this morning. I’m feeling better. Less pain, more energy. So it’s time to get back to work.

But this was the first thing I wanted to do today, on my first day back in quite some time.

Because I want to say thank you. To Sean Murray, Harry Denholm, Ryan Doyle, Innes McKendrick, David Ream, Grant Duncan, Jacob Golding, Suzy Wallace, Paul Weir, and 65daysofstatic.

Thank you, thank you, fucking thank you. For making it possible for me to go to space, to walk on alien planets, find weird plants and animals and weirder aliens, travel faster than light between the stars. To name solar systems Wodehouse, Wyndham, Simak, Curious Cheese, and Questionable Condiments.

Thank you for making it beautiful. Thank you for making it fun. Thank you for taking your vision and working your asses off and bringing it to life. The game might not have been for everyone, but it was definitely for me.

I don’t give things stars. I think stars are an idiotic way of rating something. But this game doesn’t need stars from me anyway. It already has billions (trillions? Quintillions?) of ’em.

And 18 quintillion planets circling them.

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Comments

No Man’s Sky: A Science Fiction Novelist (And Grown-Up Nerdy Girl) Reviews the Game — 61 Comments

  1. I would love to have had u for a writing teach this year it would be so great i need help to find my full writing self with-in me and ur books r helpin with that.

  2. I remember as a child reading a lot of science fiction, especially short stories. I hardly understood the cutting prophecy contained in these cynical little gems, but reading this reminded me of how much virtual reality was a part of science fiction worlds. I remember one story where people who were to be permanently installed in a virtual reality network had their palms slashed and grafted onto controls. The people of the future in this story had lobotomized a man who had traveled there with a time machine from the past and had been deemed crazy, but they weren’t without compassion, so they installed him into a wild west VR for the remainder of his life. VR was all people had left–so I always think–because I have a game that I find very magical and immersive that I escape into as well–where are we headed? Game designers are the new fiction authors, fiction authors were the new prophets and mystics… well it’s fun to ponder, anyway.

  3. Hey Holly,
    So i don’t know if you’ll read this but i want to notify you of another great game about space (Well more about being stranded after a starship crash). It’s called Rimworld and it’s about a group of survivors that stranded on a planet that’s as good as deserted with only a few other factions that aren’t as far developed as you were. The game is super fun to play but it’s als a good story creator. Don’t know how much of a gamer you & your son are but would be cool if you could check it out.
    http://rimworldgame.com/

  4. Oldest kiddo asked for this for a late birthday present. As in, he opted to SKIP a present UNTIL we could get him this game. Since we don’t have a PS4 he’ll be stuck with the computer version. Hubs is working on getting it running on the kids desktop and…

    I’m Jealous. May have to divert some ‘book income’ to a ‘big holiday gift’ for the winter. As in a PS4 and this game. But… I’ll never have use of the television again if I do so; because hubs will become one with the couch.

    Fingers crossed the kids puter will run this game; and toes crossed I can resist the temptation to play until my next couple books are published.

    • Oh, yeah. I would have skipped presents to get this, too.

      It’s getting a bug patch (small but annoying bugs) and a Cool New Stuff patch already.

      Support on the game has been superb.

      • Steam games have a feature where you can share your license with family/friends when you’re not playing. Got a chance to try out the game after kiddo went to bed. Oh. My. Word. I am hooked….. and tired. Pulled an all nighter and managed to explore the first planet, find all the critters and get the bonus money before headed to space station. Also died four times. One which was miserable. Because glitched on take off so I ‘perished from catastrophic impact with what amounts to a large pillar of stone intended to be mined. Ship got caught up against stone and would not unstick lol.

        Love it. Lots. All the kiddos and visitors who’ve seen it played want a turn now.

        • I’m still playing for a couple hours every night after work and food. I keep finding new things. I found Teddy Bear Monsters last night, and a form of Gravitino Ball that scared the bejeezus out of me the first time I tripped over it.

          And I have a couple hundred pictures of amazing places.

          • Teddy Bear Monsters? Oh man I hope you screenshotted the heck outta those! (I play catch as catch can around kiddos school stuffs and writing. All too easy to lose an entire night to exploring a planet or two…although I’ve yet to see teddy bear monsters…… :D)

            I’ve heard those Gravitino Balls sell pretty good at the market if you’re looking to upgrade ship/suite etc 😀 (Haven’t found any yet.)

            You had any luck actually navigating by that star chart? Or finding your way back to say, your starting solar system/planet zone?

            • You bet. I’m trying to figure out a way to get the screenshots to my Mac that doesn’t require me using my phone to take pictures of the TV screen.

              If I can do that (and post better pic), I have a ton.

  5. Holly –
    Thanks for this post. I’ve been following progress on No Man’s Sky for over a year and trying to decide if I have the time to invest my efforts on an outer space journey and adventure. I finally decided that writing the next Spies Lies thriller in DS Kane’s series is more important. But, now I’m nearly finished with CypherGhost, Book 7, and, when that goes out to my copyeditor, I’ll need a brief vacation before moving on to Book 8. Maybe we’ll meet in space somewhere…

    • With 18 quintillion planets in one galaxy, (and I suspect multiple galaxies coming) the phrase “astronomical odds” becomes literally appropriate.

      Apparently there are ways of sharing your worlds’ coordinates with other players, but I haven’t figured out how to do this yet.

  6. grin. space will happen in your life time baring more bad problems like when you stopped writing but getting some where interesting outside of game may not.

    There are a couple more good games out there as well that do the space thing. Most people who look up and wonder, do something physical and or mental. I will have to give steam version of no man’s sky, try. There are many indies that making space games that are fun because rsi made some much money on their kickstarter, then on their own site. Right now that is still in design. But eve online (be careful the players are like a bunch of publishers), and bunch of other games both single and mmo do space in a very cool way. I use steam to find the pc games and humble bundle to find the indie stuff I might miss.

    grin a good game is just a book in losing your self for hours. Also looking through the thrust entries on cg society might be worth grinning at.

    CG Society Challenge Home
    My entry
    http://www.phantomworks.xyz/member/profile/1137

    Benjamin

    • Very cool. 😀

      Space is a terrific place to set games. It looks toward a future where frontiers are infinite and wonders await.

      I LIKE that future.

  7. Been thinking about way back when, when you posted regularly and how I missed those posts. And miraculously, this one appears in my long list of daily emails.

    Loved hearing from/about you. You are a fantastic lady AND teacher. Not to mention, you have helped greatly in aiding me to find my way about in the world of writing and authorship!

    All the best and thanks so much for what you do,
    Elaine

    • I’d like to get back to regular posts. I have to get the work site up and running, and we’re still dragging on that.

      When it’s up and my core classes are fixed, I’m going to be doing everything I can to write fiction full time and and writing nonfiction part time again.

  8. OK, now you’ve done it. I want a ship named Questionable Condiments, just because. and now to go translate that term into other languages and back to get a good round of laughs going. Thank you for this review. I have no apparent hand eye coordination, so the probability of my getting the game is debatable, but you gave me a lift I needed. (Viewing and service for the friend I lost last Wednesday. Not horrible, but … not really a lot of fun either)

  9. I so enjoyed your narration of the space game. More than that though, I truly enjoyed the description of your childhood. I could understand the feelings and appreciate the loneliness that you may have been going through. Your life to you, may have seemed ordinary from your perspective. To me, it gave me a lot of insight as to what brought you to where you are now. Thank you for that post.

    • No “might” about it. I was a lonely kid. The massive advantage of this was that I made friends with books, and read whole libraries of them.

      I’m what you get when you don’t make sure you properly socialize your children.

  10. Damn! Two of my great regrets are:

    (1) Being born a dozen years before you so that not only did video games arrive way too late in my life (I learned computers first by coding and key-punching my own program cards), but also that I now lack the finger dexterity needed to play well; and

    (2) Having loved DOOM and found it way too addictive, I know this game will suck away hours otherwise already committed to: full-time care-giving; doing EVERYTHING needed to keep us alive and well; AND writing in the few hours left. So something will suffer. Probably me.

    BUT WTF! NMS sounds so cool that maybe I’ll give it a shot all the same. In my afterlife musings, I have come to hope “Heaven” means each of us gets our very own galaxy to explore and run. This would be good practice. 🙂

  11. I have been waiting almost 3 years for NMS! I have the PC version, which is a little buggy, but I feel exactly the way you do. I’m 30 hours in since I got home from work Friday. I have named plants and animals and rocks and planets and stars after friends, family, and favorite authors. I love the audio the best, but then I’m sound oriented, I love the it makes me feel as I blast into space again.

  12. I loved reading this perspective on No Man’s Sky, and now I’m curious if you’ve ever thought of writing for games. A game set in one of your worlds would be amazing.

    Have you ever seen Inform 7? It’s an interactive fiction engine written in natural language, so the source text often ends up reading like a novel. A legitimate line of code might look like “The Solar Room is a room” or “Evan is a male dragon”, so it’s designed with writers in mind. I often use it for world-building, and for designing adventure games, although it’s possible to code simulations/survival elements into it.

    • I actually have thought about it.

      I looked at a couple of engines.

      And then decided that I’m already seriously overbooked, with students waiting for courses and readers waiting for books.

  13. It’s on my wishlist at Steam. I’m going to be good and wait for a sale – maybe. From your review, I know I’ll love it. When I was a kid, we had to do a resume for a job – I did one for a spaceship captain. The teacher was not amused. This sounds like a good way to get that job!

    I’ve been playing games since you had to type them manually into the computer each time you wanted to play. (Yes, that original Apple.) Loved Doom, which everyone at the time thought was crazy. Now I have female friends on Steam who play FPS games all the time.

    • FPS games — I played the crap out of Destiny. But the developers kept removing stuff I liked, and adding stuff I didn’t, like the Taken.

      Destiny Great Idea #471… “Gee, guys, people hate lag switchers so much, let’s program some into the game.”

      So I’m going to have to think really hard before I get the Rise of Iron DLC. No telling what exciting new suckage they’ve decided to add this time.

    • Yeah. I’m getting back to work now. But since what my guys and I do together in the evening is play games, I’ll still be getting my daily dose of NMS.

  14. After reading other reviews, I couldn’t decide if I would love or hate this game. I’m pretty busy with World of Warcraft: Legion right now, anyway. But your review is inspiring me to buy No Man’s Sky immediately. Thanks!

  15. Hey Holly. Glad you are feeling a little better. Your perseverance through all this is amazing to witness!

    I only have maybe 10-12 hours in the game (on PC), but I can relate to your experiences. I hope I don’t meet any pirates, because I suck at flying around in 3D space and I am positive they will kick my ass!

    You’ve known me a long time, and you’ll probably understand why playing this game “in character” and trying to keep the meta game out of it has been wonderful and essential. I even wrote a short 500 word introduction story about my character waking up next to his ship. I am really looking forward to playing more and writing his story more.

    I really want them to add the functionality to allow me to build my own home on my own planet. Then all I need is a better map to help me find my way back there!

    Keep us posted on your progress!

    • I do know what you mean.

      I played the game as “Me…waking up with amnesia after a crash to discover I had a broken-down spaceship. And no help was coming.”

      Having seen flying fish, the giant bouncing puppet monster of doom, and a sort of Mammal-Rex that attacked me and tried to eat me on the outer planets, I’m trying to imagine what inhabits the inner planets where things get weird.

      ‘Cause … things aren’t already weird?

      Learning to fight the pirates was a lot harder for me than for either my husband or my son. They both grew up playing video games. I played my first video game in my late twenties.

      Centipede. Didn’t actually get into it until my mid-thirties, with PC games like Myst and Wolfenstein and Doom.

      Didn’t learn to play on a console with a controller until my early forties, when I bought myself an Xbox.

      I don’t have great video game reflexes. It takes me a while to get the hang of things.

      Where the pirates were concerned, the game was mental before it was physical.

      I discovered that I needed to breathe, and relax, and realize that no matter what happened, I would be okay. I wouldn’t lose anything.

      Once I got past my initial panic reactions when I was attacked, I learned how to switch between weapons on my ship’s gun (and how to upgrade them—REALLY important), then I learned how to hit inside the targets.

      It’s doable. It ain’t easy, and you’ll die a few times while you get the hang of it. But you’ll be able to do it.

  16. I absolutely love this. I’m mostly a tabletop gamer, but we have a PS4 that I’ll occasionally get sucked into. There’s often a stigma surrounding gaming, especially video gaming and MMORPGs (used to play World of Warcraft, was the guild master actually, and non gamers couldn’t comprehend a grown woman with kids and responsibilities enjoying the game). I love this because it shows the why of gaming- it’s another way to experience story, to lose yourself in another world, to spend time in space if you’ve always wanted to spend time in space (last video game I played was Until Dawn, so apparently I wanted to spend time in a horror movie. Ha), to problem solve and think creatively and expand someone else’s story with your own imagination and so much more. A good game can make you think and help you grow, just like a good story. Love, love, love this.

    • Cheers to a fellow female gamer.

      I’ve been playing video games since Wolfenstein on the PC.

      Screw what people think. 😀 Good video games are amazing.

    • There are one or two really good Ted-Talks by game designer Jane McGonigal about the worth of games and a playful mindset to answer the “You’re wasting your Time” croaking 😉

      • LOL! My answer to the “You’re Wasting Your Time” croaking is to walk away.

        Gaming is another way of seeing the universe of “What might be, but is not. Yet.”

        While the universe of a game like Fallout bugs the crap out of me (Hundreds of years and no one has cleaned up ANYTHING? Bite me. I was in a big earthquake, and the next morning, the people who were alive were cleaning. And so was I, because at fifteen, it was that or be scared of the aftershocks. Actually, it was both, but cleaning helped.), game universes for things like Mass Effect and No Man’s Sky show wonderful looks at possible futures, possible future tech.

        And considering the flip phone was, by the admission of its creator, designed from the Star Trek communicator, having good visions can pay off in the real world.

  17. What a great review, and even more interesting, what a fascinating synopsis of your formative years as an outsider. Those sound like priceless experiences. Thanks for sharing your take on this, I’m definitely going to check it out. I also need to go to space. 🙂

    • I was lucky. Not every kid gets to live on bleak tundra with wolves, foxes, bears and free, inch-thick King salmon steaks pulled fresh out of the river during the annual run; in a Guatemalan war zone or through a massive earthquake there; in anti-American Costa Rica during a Communist influx.

      I was born to go to space. Just a bit too soon.

  18. I’ve been watching this game waiting for it to come out but me and video games get along much too well and days and weeks vanish too quick so I was going to pass. Half awake last night I started watching a live broadcast on Youtube of someone playing. After an hour I realized I was wide awake staring at my television thinking “Why I am not playing this game?” It’s beautiful and I love it and I really need to get writing today at some point. But when I saw your email pop up a big smile crossed my face and I had to read your post. Have a great day!

  19. I have been waiting in wonder for this game to arrive. I don’t play games like this, though my kids always have. But the time is right. Can’t wait. Need to be the console first. 🙂 A solar system called Wodehouse. That will definitely have to be my first stop.

      • This game was the primary reason I bought a PS4 two years ago.

        Just knowing it was coming, and hoping it might be wonderful, were enough to spend the money.

        For me, it was worth that purchase, even if I hadn’t played anything else in the meantime.

        Apparently loud numbers of folks disagree with me. So…

        Your mileage (and mine is standing at a couple hundred light years right now) will vary.

    • There’s no system search yet.

      I suspect that will be coming, but right now, you would have to be just crazy lucky to find Wodehouse.

      It was a great little solar system, though.

    • It’s possible to walk away after a while. I think I’ll be able to just do this evenings and weekends.

      The first fifty hours, it’s pretty hard to do anything else, but after a while, you start being able to, um… eat. Sleep.

      Maybe work. 😀

  20. Cool. I’m always amazed by how you get into video games. You make it sound fascinating, but it never translates to that when I give them a go.

    • I have spent forty-six of my fifty-five years living mostly in my head.

      It gives me a real advantage when playing video games. 😀

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