Four stars not because I have any real complaints about the book, just because it seems weird to give five stars to what is essentially just a souveniFour stars not because I have any real complaints about the book, just because it seems weird to give five stars to what is essentially just a souvenir of a museum exhibit. Well, I could complain about the smell of the book, which hasn't seemed to fade after a couple weeks now...
Aside from a collection of short essays about each of Jason Rohrer's 17 published videogames, there are a few essays about his work as a whole, plus interviews with a high-scoring player of his games and with Rohrer himself. There are interesting insights sprinkled all throughout these essays and interviews, though I imagine it might be less relatable if you haven't played the games yourself (which, by the way, you can do if you happen to be in the Boston area in the near future: the exhibit is running at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College until the end of June, 2016).
Rohrer's stated quest is to create a videogame that is deep in both an artistic/emotional sense and in a gameplay sense: something that can be played, replayed, and studied as much as Go or Poker. I think so far he has come much closer to the former goal than the latter, as most of his games are more "interesting" to play than "fun". His abstract puzzle game Primrose comes the closest to being a compellingly playable game for me, but it's also nearly devoid of artistic resonance, other than being moderately aesthetically pleasing in appearance. (The gameplay is elegant too but it mostly piggybacks onto the elegance of Go.)
In addition to its contents, the book is an interesting physical artifact: every page is an uncut pair of pages, and on the inside of each pair is an abstract, blocky smear of shapes and colors. I'm told that there's some hidden meaning to these semi-hidden images (perhaps they fit together to make one big image?), but so far I'm not willing to cut them all apart in order to puzzle it out.
The most interesting part of the museum exhibit is the elaborate physical structures that have been built (out of wood and glass and lights) to contain, complement, and augment the machines running the games. It would have been nice to have some photos from the exhibit in this book but perhaps the publishing schedule didn't make that feasible. In any case, I'm glad I have this as a memento of the exhibit, and I hope it helps encourage more exhibits of its kind to be put on in the future....more
Each chapter starts with a scientific fact about the history of the universe, like the big bang, or the formation of galaxies, or the evolution of fisEach chapter starts with a scientific fact about the history of the universe, like the big bang, or the formation of galaxies, or the evolution of fish into land animals, or the extinction of dinosaurs. Then a character named Qwfwq, some sort of immortal extra-dimensional being, tells a vignette about his life during that time, in a way that sounds like a great-grandfather reminiscing about the Old Country crossed with a Munchausenesque tall tale.
It's all very whimsical and absurd, but for some reason I found it mostly off-putting rather than charming. The stories are all kind of pedestrian, which I suppose is the point, that we view the universe through an unavoidably anthropocentric lens, but, meh.
I liked the last story the best, about falling in love as a mollusk, which digresses into a chain of descriptions of nearby events demonstrating the poignant interconnectedness of all things. It reminded me a bit of Toby's Nose, an interactive fiction in which you play Sherlock Holmes's dog with a superhuman sense of smell, who can virtually explore a mansion and its occupants' recent past solely by detecting scents inside scents inside scents. I would have enjoyed more stories like this one, but the rest of the book just didn't do much for me....more
Enjoyable character study of a girl who lives alone in the tunnels below an ancient magical university, who is either magically attuned to the needs aEnjoyable character study of a girl who lives alone in the tunnels below an ancient magical university, who is either magically attuned to the needs and desires of inanimate objects, or is (more likely) schizophrenic. Her mental state is evoked with poetically whimsical language, though sometimes I found it too clunky or twee.
The story fixates on objects and rooms in a way that almost feels like an old-school text adventure, but there are no puzzles solved, at least not in the way you might expect. Both the obstacles and their resolution seem to happen mostly in Auri's head.
I found the ending abrupt, confusing, and unsatisfying. (view spoiler)[Why/how does she suddenly realize that Kvothe is going to arrive a day early? And her visit to retrieve the "eider" from an inn basement is perfunctorily described in a single paragraph, even though it's an object and place we've never seen before. The reveal of the forgotten lab behind the iron-bound door felt anticlimactic; the point seemed to be to indicate that she used to be a student, but this seemed obvious from the start (indeed from her first appearance in The Name of the Wind). Similarly, the mention of something being like a "wrist pinned hard" with the smell of "want and wine" seemed to make explicit (almost) the possibility that the cause of her schizophrenia was being raped, which if true would be a disappointing cliche. (hide spoiler)]
Overall I'm glad he was talked into publishing this experiment, but for me it didn't quite succeed.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Some interesting plot developments, lots of new characters & settings, but it doesn't add up to much-- there's nothing to dislike, just not a lotSome interesting plot developments, lots of new characters & settings, but it doesn't add up to much-- there's nothing to dislike, just not a lot to wow you. But it's darkly amusing to read GRRM's note at the end saying the next book would come out a year later....more
A thorough examination of the history of thought about irrational numbers. Many fascinating and surprising properties of the irrationals are proven; tA thorough examination of the history of thought about irrational numbers. Many fascinating and surprising properties of the irrationals are proven; the book also presents some questions about the irrationals that are surprisingly still unanswered. For example, though e and pi were both proven to be transcendental in the 1800s, it is still unknown whether e+pi is irrational, let alone transcendental!
This book seems to be pitched to the layman, but there are equations and detailed proofs on nearly every page, so I can't imagine reading this without having taken a few college math courses. For the most part I found the proofs followable, with some effort, but there were more than a few where my eyes glazed over and I ended up skipping to the punchline. And sometimes the thing being proved (at great length) wasn't actually all that interesting, or just a subtle variation on something that had already been proved. I also had some problems on my Android Kindle reader where no matter how large I made the text font, the equation font was still tiny. Still, I'd rather have a book be too technical than not technical enough, which is a problem I've had with many popular physics books....more
A wide-ranging rumination on the history of art, culture, and personal computing, using a one-line BASIC program as a hub from which many spokes of inA wide-ranging rumination on the history of art, culture, and personal computing, using a one-line BASIC program as a hub from which many spokes of inquiry extend. It's nearly exhaustive, yet energizing.
I have two quibbles:
Some of the links from the BASIC program to a related topic of discussion seem a bit too tenuous, and some of the discussion feels a bit too descriptive or catalogical without having a clear point to make. I suppose you could say this is a metaphor for the output of the program (or vice versa).
The pretense is of 10 writers collaboratively writing and revising a single cohesive text, but sometimes it doesn't quite cohere: sometimes the same point seems to be made in multiple chapters in slightly different ways, and some passages don't quite fit the flow of the surrounding text but seem to have been kind of shoehorned in for lack of a better place to put them.
The quibbles are both pretty minor, though, and subjective. They don't detract from the value of this book a persuasive argument for taking a critical approach to computer programs as texts and cultural artifacts, even at the microscopic level of a single line of code. ...more
Many say this is the best book of the series, and I can't disagree. Lots of forward progress on the many plots, but also lots of loose ends tied up anMany say this is the best book of the series, and I can't disagree. Lots of forward progress on the many plots, but also lots of loose ends tied up and questions answered (and an alarming body count). But the writing seems to have gotten more lyrical as well (and I don't just mean more songs!), and the settings and characters rise to new heights of imaginativeness....more
Not much new for those who have been reading his NY Times columns, but it's good to have the whole story laid out (with an appropriately urgent title)Not much new for those who have been reading his NY Times columns, but it's good to have the whole story laid out (with an appropriately urgent title). My only quibble is that he tends to demonize the opposition; there may very well be rampant corruption in Congress, but you don't need to posit conspiracy theories to explain the facts (and it may alienate many readers who would otherwise be receptive to the basic Keynesian argument).
And far more damaging than politicians on the take, in my opinion, are pundits who genuinely believe in the wrong policies simply because of their ideology. I would like to see a more sympathetic argument that tried to explain why people believe in anti-Keynesian ideologies (and refute them) without questioning their motives or being condescending. But probably that would be more of a philosophical investigation than economics, and wouldn't really fit in here.
TL;DR: Fix unemployment by giving federal aid to state & local governments to reverse drastic cuts. That alone might be enough stimulus to put us on the road to recovery....more
Not as concise as the first book, and the separate narratives diverge a bit more than I'd like. I hear these both get worse in later books, but I've aNot as concise as the first book, and the separate narratives diverge a bit more than I'd like. I hear these both get worse in later books, but I've also heard that the third book is the best, so I'll keep reading.
Also, I had a vague sense of understanding what the first book was about, as in, what the overarching theme and message of the book was, even though I couldn't really put it into words. For example, I enjoyed the repeated motif of someone saying "We'll have a good talk when I get back" and then never getting back. I felt less of that with this book-- it was more just world-building and plot-advancing. But maybe I was just not paying enough attention to the theme.
The chapter where (view spoiler)[Dany's dragon burns down the blue wizards' crazy building (hide spoiler)] felt like a great homage to New Wave fantasy a la Moorcock, Leiber, Farmer, and Zelazny (or even Gygax). I don't know if this was intentional, but I hope it was. It felt kind of ridiculously out of place compared to the rest of the setting (and even the language and style of description), but presumably this was just to emphasize the exotic locale (and presumably foreshadow some stuff from future books?).
Edit: OK, Fritz Leiber was Golden Age, not New Wave, but I was thinking mostly of his '60s/'70s Lankhmar stories.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
The prose often veers into generic medieval fantasy cliche, but the plot is fun and the characters' motivations generally make sense. It almost standsThe prose often veers into generic medieval fantasy cliche, but the plot is fun and the characters' motivations generally make sense. It almost stands alone as a single-volume story, but there are several important questions that are left unanswered at the end of this book. I'm happy to keep reading the series, though....more