It’s been just five months since my last book post – something of a record. But this was helped by a couple of shorter books and a real page-turner (by my standards lol – it even left the loo once or twice!). I expect a return to my normally glacial post for the next few. A weirdly mixed bag this time too, it’s fair to say.
However, the isolation of the Covid19 lock down has done nothing to speed things up. While furloughed from work I was actually very busy. I’ve been doing a lot of garden work at home, while upping my blog post output. And if anything, with the extra down/home time, I’ve been watching more TV – largely thanks to signing up to Amazon Prime. Rather than reading.
I did a Communications degree, which was a weird amalgamation of journalism, sociology, linguistics, politics – you name it. It served its purpose, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. But it did leave some odd gaps in my learning. A great example being The Communist Manifesto by Marx & Engels. As a bit of an old Trot, it’s hard to believe I’ve only just gotten around to reading the ultimate left wing source material.
I probably should’ve guessed it would be short, but wasn’t expecting just 40 pages. The ‘book’ itself is filled out with a tediously written introduction that’s longer then the manifesto. Plus a series of prefaces which would certainly prove interesting to historians. The 19th Century was such a time of monumental change across Europe, so it’s interesting to see how the manifesto lurked behind so much social unrest. On the flip side, looking at the 21st Century, selfish global capitalism and scary dictatorships seem to have rather come out on top. But hey, nice try.
While we clearly live in a very different world, so much is the same. The classes are as divided, the worker as undervalued, and the ability of ‘working men of all countries to unite!’ is as distant as ever. You only have to look at how the ‘greatest’ countries in the world are being led by the likes of Trump, Putin and Xi Jinping – doing what they please, when they please, and screw the rules/us/the world. There’s never been a better time to rise up against the bourgeoisie and reclaim the means of production. The independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. But we’ve got Netflix, right? So its not so bad…
Next up was Rules of Prey by John Sandford – a book that’d been on my previous four ‘what’s next’ lists, which was getting a bit embarrassing. It’d been brought to my attention as it was a cop thriller where the main character was also a game designer. Funnily enough, the game designer bit ended up being the one part I didn’t really buy into. It worked as a way for the lead character to run ideas past his friends. But the actual game discussion seemed hokey.
It’s a fantastically written gritty cop murder mystery on the hunt for a properly unhinged, unpleasant serial killer. Writer Sandford is a career journalist, and was on the crime desk of a big paper for a long time – and it shows. His characters are believable, even if the main guy (Lucas Davenport) is a little too larger-than-life. But I’m happy to give a main character a bit of license if it roles nicely into the story lines as it does here.
While sensational, the plot is believable. Written circa 1990 and set around Minnesota, both the cops and killer make mistakes and seem vulnerable and flawed. Davenport is likeable yet a bit of a dick, meaning the fact he comes off second best in relationships is a believable character flaw. The story is well paced and while I found the conclusion a little unsatisfying the rest of the novel had more than made up for it. There are more than 10 Lucas Davenport novels out there and I’ve already ordered the next one. Good stuff.
Rounding things off this time is another four-times-on-the-list-er, Dice Games Properly Explained by Reiner Knizia. I’ve started work on a solo board game and was considering having a few dice mini games as ways to resolve battles, so this was the perfect place to start. I’ve got a few game design books, but rarely pick them up, which really isn’t good enough. So here we go.
It’s actually a very light read, largely being an extended list of game examples from around the world that demonstrate how mechanisms evolve over time. It nicely demonstrates how small rules tweaks can significantly change the amount of luck in a game; but how this added predictability can also spoil the experience. It’s all about finding that line, where the randomness is adding unpredictability and an opportunity to push your luck. But before it restricts choice to a point where there is really only one path. Dice games need an illogical path, where your chances of victory may be reduced – but could end up being glorious.
I find reading this kind of book – even if just dipping in – always triggers ideas. So even just for that, it can be hugely valuable. But this level of research also shows why the likes of Knizia and Sid Sackson are a cut above most other designers. Sure, it was much easier to do due diligence back when the amount of yearly releases was in the hundreds, not thousands. And the amount of those you’d be exposed to was far less. But these game history/theory nooks remain a valuable tool for any game designer.
What’s next on the list?
I managed to knock three off the list time – very disciplined! There is only one non-fiction book on the list now, alongside four novels. Patrick Ness is the only author on the list I know nothing about, so familiarity is the order of the day. Not that I expect it to make me read these things any quicker…
- Book of Dust #1 by Philip Pullman. Third time on the list. Picked this up because the first three books in the universe were brilliant – and the new (slightly crap, sadly) TV series has reignited my interest in these old characters.
- The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Second time on the list. I heard loads of good things about this, and found it in a charity shop cheap as chips, so finger’s crossed it will live up to the hype.
- The Long Earth by Pratchett & Baxter. New entry! I’ve had a couple of these sitting on my book shelves for years, so time to give the first one a go. I love the idea of deep sci-fi but find it impenetrable. Hopefully added Pratchett will soften the blow enough to enjoy it.
- A Gamut of Games by Sid Sackson. New entry! Having removed a Knizia game theory/history book from this list, it’s time to add another to the list. This time from game design’s other biggest legend (in my mind) – Sid Sackson.
- K-PAX III: The Worlds of prot by Gene Brewer. New entry! Having loved the first two novels, I’m finally getting round to completing the trilogy. I just wish the deeds of a certain Mr Spacey hadn’t ruined the rather brilliant film for me. Can I read this and not picture him?