Gabrielle Zevin’s new novel, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, traces 30 years of friendship between Sadie Green and Sam Masur as they grow from young game lovers to seasoned video game creators. It is a novel that manages to be as smart as it is sentimental, while also offering an insightful and fun glimpse into the world of game creation.
Sadie and Sam meet in the children’s hospital wing when Sadie’s sister is convalescing from cancer and Sam is in the wake of a devastating car accident that has killed his mother and severely injured his foot. They find solace in each other and bond over Super Mario Brothers. Years later, they meet again in college. Together, with the production assistance and emotional support of Sam’s roommate, Marx, they begin work on a game titled Ichigo, which becomes a sensation. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is the story of this creation and the team’s creative evolution. It’s also a love story — a complicated one — that involves all three of Ichigo’s producers.
Sam and Sadie are fully realized and relatable characters, as complex as the gaming worlds they create. They are not always likable. They make mistakes and wrong one another. They make assumptions without knowing the inner workings of each other’s minds. Sadie mistakes Sam’s actions for selfishness when, really, he is dealing with terrible, chronic pain. They have differing, often competing views of success, which often puts them at odds with one another.
“For Sam,” Zevin writes, “greatness meant popular. For Sadie, art.”
But they also learn and mature over the course of the novel, and this growth makes them all the more real. Gaming remains the common ground throughout their lives in spite of their differences — even when other trials and tribulations separate them. Their differing visions help them create beloved games that meet somewhere in the middle.
Even for the uninitiated (myself included), this book makes video games easy to appreciate as complex and intricate works of art. The creativity of the fictional games imagined within the novel — the details within them, their narrative structures, and the logic behind the choices their creators make — allows the games themselves to come alive along with the characters.
The mid-’90s, when Sam and Sadie begin their work in college, is the perfect setting for their work to flourish. The technology is just beginning to evolve to meet their vision, while there is a real sense of freedom in creating at a time when so little has been done before, when there isn’t an entire internet full of games and game concepts — when a couple of college kids can have a great idea and become superstars. It is also a nostalgic and fun world to inhabit as a reader.
One of the final games we encounter in the novel is called Pioneers and it is there, in that fictive world, that Sam and Sadie find themselves together again after turbulent times separated them. This is fitting because they are, of course, pioneers themselves in this game space — especially Sadie Green, since so few women were making games at that time.
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow navigates that difficult landscape well and does a good job of portraying its changes over the course of the novel. Sadie begins her career in a rather predatory relationship with a professor and one of the book’s great satisfactions is seeing her later placed in an analogous position of power helping young women along their way.
The book also does an excellent job of grappling with Sam’s disability and his Korean-American identity and how both impact him both professionally and psychologically. It also shows how his feelings about his disability sometimes complicate his relationship with Sadie and with others. All of these aspects come together to make Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow a moving and heart-wrenching portrayal of the life cycle of a deep friendship in the face of change and unspeakable loss. It’s a beautiful portrait of companionship and collaboration, with all of its greatness and all of its pitfalls.
“What is love, in the end…” says Sam under the guise of his character Alabaster in the game Pioneers. “… except the irrational desire to put evolutionary competitiveness aside in order to ease someone else’s journey through life?”
This is the kind of love — not necessarily romantic, but deep, complex, and real — at the heart of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. That’s what makes it such a genuine love story and such a compelling book to read.