If you’re a fan of movies, Stanley Kubrick, and propulsive beach-reads books where plots, prose, and character are second to crazy twists and turns, Derek Taylor Kent’s new novel Kubrick’s Game is for you.
It follows a group of film students trying to solve a complex puzzle embedded in the films of Stanley Kubrick, all while being followed by a deadly secret society. It’s very much a book for fans of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, as well as the pop culture-infused Ready Player One by Ernie Cline (soon to be a movie from Kubrick’s friend Steven Spielberg, by the way). Shawn is a typical nerdy film school kid who’s somewhat less typically drawn into an elaborate game Kubrick has created by his professor, and it takes him and his friends (a former child star turned wannabe director and a confident grad student/love interest) all over not just Los Angeles, but the world.
Despite Kent’s similar use of pop culture references, Kubrick’s Game feels more akin to The Da Vinci Code than Ready Player One. That’s because where RP1's quest actually takes primarily place in a video game world where anything can happen, Kubrick and Da Vinci are both grounded in reality and the present. Almost all of the book feels like it could happen, which makes it more believable (although the real world cameos are so abundant that a faithful movie adaptation is all but impossible, amusingly). The story is always moving, largely because of the wild analysis of Kubrick’s work and crazy connections between the films and the real world. Sure, it’s all a bit elementary, but it’s still incredibly addictive.
Part of the problem with the book, though, is that everything has to ride a very fine line. Is this a book written for people who have studied the films of Stanley Kubrick? Or is it a book for people who know little about them? As someone in the former camp, many of Kent’s theories and analysis didn’t feel new or explained to my satisfaction. The opposite goes for several of the pop culture references, which are sometimes overly explained.
Not everyone will come to this subject with the same level of awareness. Not everyone has studied The Shining, 2001 or Barry Lyndon frame-by-frame like these characters or many film fans. Others won’t need to have the “Han shot first” controversy explained to them. But Kent is clearly trying to make a book everyone can enjoy, and he’s mostly successful, especially when it comes to Kubrick’s work. There is a good amount of enlightening analysis made of his films, certainly enough to surprise and delight 95% of people reading.
It also helps that Kent is less concerned with subtext and word choice than he is creating a captivating narrative. Kubrick’s Game is very much a “beach read,” or, to put it in movie terms, a “popcorn flick.” So if the characters seem a bit one-dimensional, the plot and puzzle are insanely well researched, thought-out, and ambitious. You’ll root for the characters, just so you the reader can see what Kent has in store next.
For every one or two things Kent does wrong, he does a dozen right. Plus, in its own surprising twist, the ending is completely satisfying—a rarity in a story where a huge puzzle has to have a bigger payoff. At the end of Kubrick’s Game you won’t be disappointed; you’ll want to spend more time in this world and revisit Kubrick’s films yourself. Any book that spawns that kind of reaction is well worth reading.
Kubrick’s Game is now available in softcover, and as an audio book (voiced by Star Trek’s Jonathan Frakes and Community’s Yvette Nicole Brown) and, until January 7, is only $1.99 as an eBook.