It was a fast fun read and I think I could have given it 4 stars but.... the plot holes for me were just painful. I had no suspension of disbelief forIt was a fast fun read and I think I could have given it 4 stars but.... the plot holes for me were just painful. I had no suspension of disbelief for this whatsoever, and beyond that for this sort of near future work that is entirely built around a geek's ability to overly analyze something, I don't believe I should have to.
I won't even get into the ludicrously stupid economics on display in the book, because that will just get into huge arguments. Instead, let me focus on one tiny but critical plot point as symptomatic of the whole story - the method by which the protagonist jumps to the head of the race.
Now, according to the author the part of the clue regarding the marked letters was discovered almost immediately by hundreds of members of the geek community analyzing the text. That's reasonably believable, although in my opinion it would get discovered in the first 24 hours and be public with 24 hours instead of six months. But, after discovering the second clue, the whole of geekdom gets stuck for 5 years.
That's freakin' ridiculous both logically and in the context of the protagonists discovery. The basic problem is that the problem as presented is amendable to a brute force approach. Let me explain.
In the text, as soon as the protagonist figures out the clue and determines which planet the key is on, he subjects the surface of the planet to an advanced image search routine which returns a 100% positive match after 10 minutes of searching. If that is true, the copper key should have been found 5 years ago.
To begin with 'Tomb of Horrors' is not some little known bit of trivia buried back in 1978. It's the single most famous Pen and Paper RPG in existence. If a nerd knows the name of any RPG module, they know about Tomb of Horrors. The clue about a "tomb filled with horror" couldn't be more transparent to the nerd community if you tried. The module has been remade in numerous formats since 1978, and been revisited multiple times in other products. 3D models of the entire module are in existence, and it's one of the most common fan projects to create the tomb as a custom level of a video game in any game that allows level editing (which is just about all of them, since even if the designers don't provide for it, hackers will). So there is zero chance that any nerd seeing the second clue wouldn't get what it referred to, much less any nerd studying a D&D playing 80's obsessed autistic because the entire culture is obsessed with the 80's. I'll leave aside the problem that the author trivializes how difficult the module would be to run solo without access to even low level potions, and get to my main point.
We know from the text that the protagonist runs the search on an obsolete laptop with only a fraction of the computing power of a modern machine. But for now, let's just ignore that and compute how long it would take to search the entire game universe using the same technique. We know from the text that there are 27 game sectors, each containing "hundreds" of worlds with the total number of worlds in the "thousands". We also know that the Ludos world is a bit on the smallish side. Assuming 400 worlds on average per sector, and that Ludos has a surface area but 10th average, using only as much computing power as the protagonist has, the entire game universe can be searched in a bit over 2 years. According to the text - quite unbelievably - no where else in the game universe contains a recreation of Tomb of Horrors. There are no false positives. As soon as you find the Ludos instance, your search is done.
Does this mean we should expect it to take 2 years to search the game universe in a brute force manner? Not the in slightest. In fact, we should expect it to take at most mere hours. Let's suppose that the protagonists obsolete laptop has 1/10th the computing power of the most recent generation of machines. That means that a single idiot with a bit more money could have brute forced a solution in just 75 days. But, that assumes we are dealing with an idiot. The image searching is well behaved algorithm that is easily distributed. Any reasonably well funded hacker with just a bit of programming knowledge could have rented time on a server cluster or spun up a virtual cluster in the cloud for the equivalent of a few hundred dollars. We know they could, because the technology to do that is explicitly stated by the author as how the game itself works. Using a relatively small cluster, the search time could easily be brought down to a dozen hours.
But that's hardly the end of it. Because a really well funded corporation could have thrown a million nodes at this problem, more or less finding the location of the Tomb of Horrors instantly as soon as the second clue was known. And it wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility of a Gunter guild to do the exact same thing. After all, with billions of dollars on the line, a guild could easily get its members to pony up money to fund a search. Moreover, the entirety of Geekdom here acts like an Army of Davids. Millions of geeks would start working on this problem almost simultaneously, collectively throwing resources at the problem that match the resources of corporations or governments. With millions of geeks searching simultaneously, at least some of them would start in sector 1 or even with the planet Ludos and find the answer in mere minutes. Within just an hour or two of the release of the puzzle, the Tomb of Horrors instance would be the most well known secret in the world. And with no PvP, and no instancing of the dungeon (there is no sign the OASIS system uses instancing at all, which is a huge and possibly fatal oversight in the design), there would be a queue of millions of players standing in front of Acererak spamming requests to play like a bunch of old school Runequest or Ultima Online players queuing up in front of a favored spawn point. Luck would play a far bigger role in who got through than skill.
The whole puzzle is just riddled with design errors like that, most of which could be alleviated by more thoughtful writing and more understanding of how games and the geek community actually works. Instead, the whole thing comes off as someone who did some study of geeks and nerds and spent a whole book cluelessly name dropping stuff he didn't really understand, like the poseur in the story I-Rok (or whatever his name was). All in all it struck me as being something like 'Big Bang Theory', which non-geeks generally assume geeks love, but which geeks tend to find to be just another story filled with tiresome negative stereotypes about geeks and which spends most of its time laughing at geeks rather than laughing with them. ...more
The pretentious forward was the opening number in a scattergun approach to the topic that just felt so shallow compared to discussions you might hearThe pretentious forward was the opening number in a scattergun approach to the topic that just felt so shallow compared to discussions you might hear on The Forge or Extra Credits or EnWorld or really anywhere that gaming fanatics gather to discuss theory. A dreary dull text that will be of no interest to anyone that would be interested in reading it, written by dreary dull academics that haven't a clue really what they are talking about and know less about game design than the average experienced GM.
The only somewhat redeeming portion of the book were the four games the writer had asked prominent game designers to design for the book. But perhaps the book would have been a lot less dull and a lot more insightful if the designers had also been allowed to write the book. Those that can, should also be teaching....more
The vast majority of the non-fiction works I've read were read back when I had access to a college library and tended to live in it - often to the detThe vast majority of the non-fiction works I've read were read back when I had access to a college library and tended to live in it - often to the detriment of my studies. They aren't listed in Goodreads simply because they tend to unmemorable academic titles and I forget their names until someone mentions one in some discussion, and I think, "Oh yeah. I remember that book."
Fine's work might not be a particularly stellar or insightful bit of academic research, but it's still extremely valuable simply because in 1983 no one else had the guts or the foresight to consider academic research and historical documentation of the nascent gaming hobby to be important. As such he leaves behind what is probably the only contemporary historical records of the early days of gaming and the culture of early role playing groups, something that is of increasing importance as more and more of the grognards from those early days turn in their final character sheets.
As a munchkin coming in to the game at the very end of that era, I can testify that Fine captures some of the essence of early gaming both good and bad. Some things a modern gaming reader will recognize as very familiar. Some arguments and particular social frictions never go away. Some things I think will seem a bit bizarre.
One thing that modern gamers might not understand about the early days of D&D is that it was a frontier. And like most frontiers, by and large, gaming was largely peopled by groups of very much marginalized people. And was coming out of the '70s which made it in many ways an experimental counter-cultural lifestyle of its own before it became normalized through sheer popularity. Gaming was seen as a sort of delinquency both because it was new and a bit weird, and because the people playing it were legitimately weird and often as not anti-social in one way or the other. Comic books like 'The Knights of the Dinner Table' record the truth of that in parody, but it shouldn't be thought that because it is parody that it's really that over the top. As Homer Simpson observes, "It's funny because it is true." Groups that I knew of at the time were combining D&D with drug use, or living together in a hippy commune, or bought occult tomes so that they could really cast spells (or at least try to) while gaming, or invented weird and sometimes startlingly dangerous sorts of D&D meets LARPing. As gaming stores didn't exist in many areas, some of the earliest carriers of D&D works were occult book stores where you'd push your way through the haze of incense and other smoke to find D&D books on the shelf next to works on neo-Druidism and modern Witchcraft. I can only imagine what I'd known about if I was older. But even so I find the presentation of gaming culture in E.T. is remarkably spot on, particularly if you confine it to the younger players with little knowledge of the 70's groups, and particularly in the novelization where the references to drugs and the mother's fears regarding the older son are more explicit. Fine captures some of that in his work in an era that is just before society begins to revolt against gaming in the "Occult Scare" of the mid'80's, and really just before society even notices the gamers and before nerds really get their revenge by becoming the creators of the art - whether Game of Thrones, the Marvel Universe, or video games - that everyone else is consuming. It's hard these days to find anything in popular entertainment that hasn't been influenced by gamers, and it all starts in the groups that Fine takes the time to study.
If I had to criticize, I'd say that Fine spent too much time with some of the leading game creators of that era and not enough time out in 'the wilds' of the larger community. But the very fact that someone was paying attention and took the time to try to understand what was going on is still amazing....more
The Order of the Stick began as a very silly very simple fourth wall breaking comic sending up various tropes familiar to anyone that has long experieThe Order of the Stick began as a very silly very simple fourth wall breaking comic sending up various tropes familiar to anyone that has long experience with Dungeons and Dragons. It had no apparent depth, and no obvious ambition beyond landing a punch line at the end of the day's strip. It had only the most trite sort of dungeon crawling story about delving into a stereotypical dungeon to defeat a stereotypical villain. It's protagonist characters were constructed as simple parodies, and drawn as stick figures. It was occasionally funny, but probably only to insiders in a "you had to be there" sort of way typical of most role-playing funny stories.
Somewhere along the way, in the hand's of the Story Teller, this simple story of stick figure heroes acquired true narrative power. It began to elicit emotions other than simple humor. For me, the moment I consciously realized this had happened was the panel drawn in perspective in strip #438, with the little figure of Haley waving far down the battlements. Not only was this moment lovely story telling, and funny, but there was something more to it, and at that moment the stick figure art itself transcended the medium and I found I cared deeply for these little stick figure people and their silly little quest to save a purposefully silly little world.
Somewhere in that is a metaphor for everything that makes playing RPG's great.
Rich Burlew is an artist of the highest order....more
**spoiler alert** A couple of gamer geeks made good.
About 30 pages into this story, I turned to my wife and said, "This guy has done all the same rese**spoiler alert** A couple of gamer geeks made good.
About 30 pages into this story, I turned to my wife and said, "This guy has done all the same research I've done." As it turned out, this only makes sense - we are both game masters.
It's hard for me to review this book. I can't separate my thoughts about the book from my biases the way I feel that I am usually able to. I don't know if the book was really a triumph or merely a mediocre space opera that I like more than I should because I'm sympathetic to the setting, authors, and failings of the story. There are so many things to like that I want to overlook the somewhat serious flaws. So, lets start by getting the serious flaws admitted and then I'll talk about my biases and what this book really does right.
One of the most serious flaws in most recent sci-fi is the problem of childishness. By that I don't mean that the writers are childish, or that the genera is childish, but the genera has begun to reflect the trend toward irresponcibility of the larger society. In sci-fi this turns up as the trope that sometime in the near future, whenever it would be hard to solve the difficult problems of space travel, humanity helpfully encounters some alien artifact or species that gives Earth the technological jump start it needs to overcome the more intractable problems. Where once sci-fi celebrated a can do attitude and engineers with thews of steel, we now have space travelers as intellectual and moral coach potatoes waiting around for their parent to do all the hard work for them. It's annoying when it shows up, and though it's a minor element of this book, it still manages to invade this story as well.
Another problem with this book is the basic plot structure can be described as: "An alien species which parasitically infests its hosts is encountered which is extremely lethal to earth life, so much so that it threatens to destroy humanity if unleashed. An attractive female is infected early on, and ultimately it turns out that the real bad guys are a degenerate corporation that wants to weaponize the alien species." If that doesn't sound familiar to you, it should. So, while there is a lot of good research in the story and a lot of creativity on display, ultimately, there isn't nearly as much originality as there should be. It's standard trope bad guys and trope threats and all the twists are rote and predictable.
Lastly, the plot of the story suffers from several glaring gamerism which will probably be jarring to anyone who isn't a gamer, and which breaks suspension of disbelief from time to time for any one who is. One of the most obvious ones is that the protagonists enjoy PC level plot protection that manifests in their ability to cut a deal with any smart NPC because the smart NPC ultimately recognizes the PC's hero status as the only characters capable of saving the world. If you didn't understand that, what it means is that the protagonists though apparantly lowly and unimportant nonetheless are able to on the basis of no real evidence whatsoever convince really important individuals in the setting to trust them implicitly, to hear them out, and to agree to their seemingly fool hardy plans.
My biases in this of course are that as a gamer, I'm fairly willing to forgive gamer tropes. Sure, there are plot holes in the story, but compared to many authors, a writer with a gamer background is going to pay a lot of attention to certain sorts of plot holes and work harder to fill them. The setting is tight, internally consistant, and well thought out. The heroes are cunning and resourceful and the plot doesn't depend on the heroes doing stupid things, and there aren't obvious alternate strategies that the reader wonders why they don't employ. While you can occasionaly see twists coming that the characters in the story are oblivious to, you don't want to throw the book across the room because the characters haven't seen the problem yet because you can sympathize with how the characters are being emotionally manipulated.
There is so much though that the novel gets right. It's smart and often witty with several bits of dialogue that could show up in a Hollywood Summer blockbuster. The characterization is great, and the two principle protagonists are some of the more sympathetic and well realized in all of science fiction. The setting is Earth's glorious solar system, and the technology is believably a few centuries removed from our own in all areas but artificial intelligence (the absence of which is not really explained). The space combat is almost spot on best guess for the available technology level, and the military strategy, economics and physics are well thought out and explained. This is one of the best 'hard' (or at least semi-hard) space operas you'll encounter.
The story telling is artful. One of the things a good author will do when they know that they have a weak twist is layer the more obvious twists on top of each other so they climatic twist is hidden by the others. This strategy counts on your most sluethful readers to guess the first couple of twists within the first few pages, and then - cocky and sure of themselves - to underestimate the author and to not keep looking. Sure enough, they caught me perfectly in this trap (one I've fell to before, so I should have been looking for it). I was well on top of the twists, but they managed to successfully conceal the last twist not through having a really original twists, but by having enough twists along the way that you aren't looking for the last one until the same time it dawns on the protagonist. I love being outsmarted like that. Thanks guys. You made my day.
It's also probably the best collaborative novel I've read. Normally collaboration on a novel is a disaster, but here it works perfectly and seamlessly. I attribute this to gamer backgrounds of both authors, as they are clearly used to sharing a story with another author and make the most of their collaboration....more
Basically, this is Dungeons and Dragons meets Lawerence of Arabia. It's utterly predictable and unoriginal, and since its been nearly 20 years since IBasically, this is Dungeons and Dragons meets Lawerence of Arabia. It's utterly predictable and unoriginal, and since its been nearly 20 years since I read it I can't really vouch for its (probably) pretty pedestrian prose. I don't remember whether this was particularly well writen or not, I just could never get over how derivative it was. Troy isn't that bad of a writer for being in the TSR/WotC stable and some of my friends enjoyed this, but that's about as much of a recommendation as I could make....more
My limited mastery of the English language is insufficient to express how much I hated this book. It's poorly written, poorly concieved, and displaysMy limited mastery of the English language is insufficient to express how much I hated this book. It's poorly written, poorly concieved, and displays a poor understanding of the subject material. It's an immature, thoughtless, ego driven peice of pulp trash with no redeeming values whatsoever. Drizzt has to be the least interesting Darker And Edgier hero that is conceivable.
But obviously there is something in it that appeals deeply to quite a few people, and you have to admire Salvatore's workmanlike prolific output. ...more