I am a late-comer to Stross' "Halting State," and he has moved on to bigger (better?) things. Therefore I feel perfectly comfortable in noting the boo...moreI am a late-comer to Stross' "Halting State," and he has moved on to bigger (better?) things. Therefore I feel perfectly comfortable in noting the book's weaknesses as well as its strengths.
This is one of the most annoyingly written good books I've ever read.
The plot is a futurist geek's dream: gamers and hackers and cops and robbers and ninjas all fighting for control of a distributed Augmented Reality RPG which turns out to be the key to, well, pretty much all of civilization. Plus a bucketload of cash.
Stross' love for, and knowledge of, his subjects is on sharp display here...perhaps a bit too sharply, since he has a nasty habit of dropping piles of loosely associated computer terminology and gamer-slang into conversations. For the most part, he does so accurately, though at times his urge to name-drop a SQL trick or an OD&D reference trips him up, in ways which would ever really only matter to other uber-nerds, like myself, who can make fine sport out of spotting niggling little errors like those. That's not a problem.
A problem is Stross' bizarre decision to write the entire novel from the second-person POV. Yes, I get what he was aiming at here: the choose-your-own-adventure feel of early Infocom text adventures, or classic RPG supplements. The constant "you feel this" and "you suspect such and such" and "So you do that thing..." is quirky at first, and a little hard to navigate simply because it's such an unfamiliar narrative mode. About three chapters in, the reader gets the rhythm down, and the flow smooths out. But then, about three chapters later, the persistant "you, You, YOU" becomes like a finger jabbing out of the text, painfully poking the reader in the eye at every turn. There's a reason that the 2nd-person is not frequently used for narrative: it actually accomplishes the opposite of its intention. Rather than making me feel more like I was part of the story, it was as if a character on screen kept breaking the fourth wall and reminding me I was in a theater; it completely threw me out of the tale. This problem was exacerbated because the jargon-laden sci-fi setting necessitates a fair amount of exposition, which had to be rather ham-handedly stuffed into appositive constructions. "You suddenly remember about CMOS, the layer of programming underlying the OS, or Operating System, which yuo might use to..." See? Ugly.
So, an ambitious move. Daring. Bold. Totally flops. Which is a pity, because the book and characters themselves are quite likeable, much in the vein of Ernie Cline's Ready Player One. The rating above reflects my mixed feelings. (less)
On the one hand, the world needs more novels about spandex-clad super heroes. I realize it's a genre crossover, but so is a musical based on poetry ab...moreOn the one hand, the world needs more novels about spandex-clad super heroes. I realize it's a genre crossover, but so is a musical based on poetry about cats. Get on it, world.
In the meantime, we have this anthology (and its many, many sequels). Like any anthology, this is a mixed bag of success and not-so-much. As far as that goes, I think the stories generall get stronger as the temporal arc progresses. Each story takes place in a later year than the previous, and maybe because that means it's closer to 'now,' I found them subsequently more approachable as the book went on.
Exception: George R. R. Martin's own contribution to this anthology is in the middle of the book. And it stinks. It's some of the worst writing, characterization, and plotting I've ever encountered in this sub-genre, as if it were crafted by someone with only a glancing understanding of how to elicit character identification, or even basic rules of narrative like "don't introduce major plot-changing characters at random" or "don't have your major characters simply wander off, mid-story, never to be heard from again." It's barely a story at all, more a vague wash of imagery, none of which are strong enough to justify that approach to fiction. It's crap.
This was, for me, a gripping and challenging novel, with a unique voice and a compelling plot. Yet I still don't know how universally I can reccommend...moreThis was, for me, a gripping and challenging novel, with a unique voice and a compelling plot. Yet I still don't know how universally I can reccommend it to other readers.
King's first novel (not his first foray into writing) is a love letter to comic books, both in their over-the-top golden- and silver-age spandex-clad glory and in their more fully realized, gritty, Frank-Miller and Alan Moore maturity. Like the former, this is an adventure tale of a hero who, against Overwhelming Odds, makes the needed sacrifices to Win the Day. Like the latter, it's a sometimes wry, sometimes bleak commentary on the heroic in every human, and the human in the heroic, and the occasional lack of either.
I shant spoil the plot, but the short version poses te following question: what if there were a world in which all the superheroes gave up their powers...except one of them decided not to?
Well and good, but the narratorial voice here is *so* self-consciously literary that even I found it occasionally off-putting. King's plotting is anecdotal, a series of vignettes, often veering from narrator to narrator, and frequently out of chronological order. This means ocasionally flipping back to the start of a passage to re-read it because it turns out it was in the voice of an entirely different character than you thought it was. It's clearly an attempt to add gravitas to the material, but I found it distracting. I get that King is afraid of being dismissed because his subject matter might be cnosidered juvenile, but really, I could all too easily visualize him hunched over his laptop, a copy of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying open in his lap as a model for this self-indulgent poststructuralism.
I'd be willing to revisit the world King has set up here, and I think there is excellent discussion to be had about its moral quandaries, but next time, I hope he has the confidence to relax and let the tale tell itself. Quit trying so hard. (less)
This book was something of a downward spiral. Perhaps with such a brilliant premise, there was no way for it to be anything but.
The central plot of the book (and this is spelled out in the back-cover blurb, so I'm spoiling nothing here) is that a group of low-ranking crewmembers on an Enterprise-esque starship in a Star-Trek-esque universe discover that they are, in fact, expendable cannon fodder. This part of the book, the first third or so, is solid gold. Scalzi's black humor is on full display here, and the dialog between the snarky-yet-doomed crewmen is Joss-Whedon caliber funny, and stands as a stark contrast to the wooden posturing of the senior officers who are the seemingly invincible 'stars' of the show.
Unfortunately. Scalzi suffers here from Monty-Python syndrome: driven by this wonderfully absurd premise to this point, he doesn't know where to end it. Instead, he has the characters break through their fourth wall and confront the authors of their show. This begs all sorts of narratological questions, including why, given their now infinite power over their universe, they don't ask for a quick ressurection of all their dead friends, or a million other boons.
Not content with that, Scalzi then unfortunately nails the coffin shut by breaking the fourth wall of the book itself. If the premise of the novel is that fictional characters resent their treatment, then that applies to characters in novels by John Scalzi too, and suddenly we're made uncomfortably aware of the reading process as the narrator starts to intrude on the text. Not content with thus upsetting the consistency of the book, Scalzi decides to make the apparatus of production even more evident by tacking on some loosely connected "codas." I've read enough freshman essays to know when someone is desperately padding their work, and this last 20,000 words or so stank of all the miserable fear of the English 101 student who just realized that their 12-page essay on the French revolution is due in the morning, and they've only penned 5 pages. It's unworthy material.
The biggest sin here is not that Scalzi plays fast and loose with our expectations, nor even that he breaks the fourth wall of the narrative. After all, plenty of works in the genre, most notably The Princess Bride, have played with just that sort of self-aware winking at the audience. No, the problem is that the manner in which he does so renders the first half of the book, the really stellar and entertaining part, null and void. "How dare you take pleasure in these fictional characters," the text demands. "Recognize them for what they are: made-up characters in a made-up story, with no real agency, no real humanity, and thus impossible to empathize with." It's a rather sneering point, inelegantly made, but if that's what Scalzi wants, that's what he gets.
Demand that I no longer suspend my disbelief, and that I no longer invest in the diagesis of your fictional universe? As you wish. (less)
I have two problems with McGonigal's book, one structural and one functional.
Structurally, the book verges on redundancy, at the expense of some other...moreI have two problems with McGonigal's book, one structural and one functional.
Structurally, the book verges on redundancy, at the expense of some other themes that could have been covered. McGonigal's thesis, that the compelling nature of games make them the perfect tool for accomplishing large-scale tasks, from increasing the GDP to curing cancer, is dependent on proving first that games are (a) positively influential on the individual (b) enjoyable enough people will do the needed work and (c) able to be translated to these major tasks. I think she proves all three of these more than adequately, deftly interweaving personal anecdote and the (slim but present) academic research on the matter. However, she sometimes spends a chapter or three re-proving one of those three same points. Maybe this is a consequence of her personal love of games, which would make me forgive her if this didn't mean that:
Functionally, McGonigal elides some very real concerns with gamification. Does remapping our productivity to a game's state mean that we'll be further divorced from the actual point of our labors, or the real world at large? What about the well-documented negative effects of gaming compulsion? What about the research proving linkage between certain types of game and antisocial behavior?
That McGonigal simply skips these valid concerns is a disservice to her work, I think, and I hope she might address some of them in a future edition. (less)
Well dang. The title is, once again for this sub-genre, misleading, as Anderegg's thesis in the book is *not* how "Nerds" will "save America," but how...moreWell dang. The title is, once again for this sub-genre, misleading, as Anderegg's thesis in the book is *not* how "Nerds" will "save America," but how badly we supposedly treat them.
Item: Anderegg really struggles to define his terms, before finally admitting that it's impossible for him to actually do so, and instead simply relying on the self-reporting of schoolchildren for his categorical statements.
Item: the tautological definition he finally settles on (a nerd is someone who is called a nerd) is superceded in most of his 'research' by the fact that he treats "good at math and science" as equivalent to "nerdy." A moment's reflection should have let him know that it is possible to be good at math and science without that appelation.
Item: even that definition fails him, since it doesn't admit the legions of "nerds," Trekkies, dweebs, geeks, and spazzes who are *not* particularly identified by their love of or skill at mathematics, but by their obsessions with fantasy, literature, gaming, music, or other non-mainstream pursuits. Instead, Anderegg gets fixated on the false equivalency of "nerds=math," because it's the only one he can point to which suggests - and he never actually proves it - that nerdiness, per se, will somehow "save America."
Item: "save America," apparently, means "make money." The concern with a purely material outcome is unfortunate, if understandable since theoretically this would be the one argument Anderegg could use to persuade the non-nerds about the value of nerds. "See," Anderegg seems to say, "save Geeks, because they'll eventually make money for you." It's shortsighted, at best.
Item: although Anderegg is an academic, his research is spotty, even shoddy in places. There is almost no statistical data here, merely self-reported anecdote and supposition. He frequently draws conclusions which are unsupported even by that.
All in all, a dissapointment. The one takeaway is that those who claim that our current culture has crossed some magic threshold, and that geek is cool now are wrong, almost axiomatically. Geekiness is still geeky. What has happened is that thanks to the tribalistic effects of social media, the geeks can now hang out with one another more effectively, and feel better about themselves. That's a wonderful, positive change which, unfortunately Anderegg completely ignores. But he's right that there's been no grand revolution. Shows like Big Bang Theory are still laughing *at* geeks, not laughing *with* them. Unfortunately, a book like this one isn't going to do much to alleviate that. (less)
Confession: I got a 790 on the 'logic' section of my GRE. That's a near-perfect score. I'm not bragging - most hyperlogical people, self included, can...moreConfession: I got a 790 on the 'logic' section of my GRE. That's a near-perfect score. I'm not bragging - most hyperlogical people, self included, can be complete bores. I'm bringing it up just to make a cogent observation: I can understand this book.
But I choose not to, because most of the prose is drop-dead awful. Hofstadter is not doing his field many favors with the bulk of this book, unlike other popular science writers (Sagan, Lewis Thomas, and Gould come to mind. Not Dawkins; too cranky). Except...
...the dialogs. The dialogs between Achilles and the tortoise provided my sixteen-year-old brain enough meaty puzzles and paradoxes to significantly alter how I thought about information, system design, and paradigms. Without them, I might be even more inflexible than I am. Even at my advanced age, they provide cogent metaphors for how every system is open to fracture both from within and without, and how even the most complex can be modeled. Recursion, self-contradiction, definition of terms...many of the essential structures of my brain were given first voice here.
So. As I told my son when I offered him my copy: read the dialogs. Skip the rest. (less)
In brief: this novel reminded me - sometimes painfully - of a younger self. This was, of course, much of its intention, but it's worth noting that it requires an act of willfull suspension on the part of the audience. Where a book like Ready Player One reaches out and pummels you senseless with its references (in a good way), this one is inviting you to investigate, indulge, and finally accept, the embarassing side of geekery: deep down, geeks are geeks because they feel *intensely*. And that means most of us are secretly convinced that we are Very Special Snowflakes, and that the rest of the world is bent to our will, or at least it will once the jocks and the popular kids recognize our innate superiority.
Like I said, embarassing. Painful. But ultimately catharctic.
For the love of God, people! Don't we academics get enough scorn heaped on us as it is???
Its really not fair: if you work in a nice, traditional acade...moreFor the love of God, people! Don't we academics get enough scorn heaped on us as it is???
Its really not fair: if you work in a nice, traditional academic discipline, producing post-imperialist readings of Moby Dick, people in the general populace mock you for indulging in empty ivory-tower navel gazing, but at least they generally leave you alone to tweed-it-up in peace.
Move over to cultural studies, or visual rhetoric, or media theory and you get to hang out at the cool kids table at interdisciplinary conferences, and while you'll lose the respect of your dissertation advisor, and any hope of tenure, at least you're studying things people actually read and know about.
But write a pop-culture studied book loaded with vague academic jargon that means absolutely nothing, in a rhetorical affectation which sounds like Jacques Derrida and Max Headroom's unholy love child, and all you're going to is annoy the people you were desperately trying to impress.
I'm beginning to think that the search for the Arkenstone of geek culture is less like a search for the One True Grail and more like panning for gold....moreI'm beginning to think that the search for the Arkenstone of geek culture is less like a search for the One True Grail and more like panning for gold. Not in one of those rich, heavily flowing streams either, but in a rather narrow, shifty little trickle of a stream, which simultaneously depresses your optimism yet makes you airpunch when a goodly sized bit of gold dust sifts out in your pan.
It's a little odd that it's taken me this long to get to Gilsdorf's book. If you throw "geek culture" into a book search, this title comes up more often than perhaps any other. It's something of an 'Ur' text in the sub-genre of geek culture studies, preceding the recent interest in nerdy navel-gazing which has given us both highs and lows . As such, it has the usual virtues and faults of a 'first book in genre': it's got some overly broad statements, but bears a simple sincerity which makes it quite readable.
The primary problem with Gilsdorf's book is that it's not, in the end, *really* about geek culture at all. It's about Ethan Gilsdorf. He's fairly self-indulgent as a writer, spending as much time or more fretting over his own identity as he does the functions and fallacies of geekitude as a whole. He tries a sociological take, mixing interviews with major figures and meccas in the field (comicon, Dave Arneson, Tolkien's England and Jackson's New Zealand, SCA's Pennsic war...) with his own fumbling attempts to 'go native'. But such an approach misses THE signature element of geekery: it's deeply, deeply immersive. It's about sincere, even unhealthy, obsessive love for some abstruse topic. The escapism is commonplace, yes, but it's almost a side-effect to the strange desires of geekery to know a thing down to its depths.
There's a marketing concept sometimes called "Realia." It's real-world representations of things from fictional universes. Instead of selling people a Harry Potter t-shirt saying "I love that book series," you sell them a Gryffindor team scarf and their own wand, so they can imagine being part of that world entirely. True geekery takes that concept and punches it so hard it comes out in another dimension.
There's no way to fake that. No objective sociological approach can really represent it accurately. Certainly Gilsdorf, who is mostly concerned, we discover, with finding a girlfriend, is not going to get much deep insight from his bargain-basement Margaret Mead approach. He's not hateful about it, like poor Mark Barrowcliffe, but he's not particularly effective either. This is an enjoyable book, a sincere book, but not an earthshaker.
Panning for gold takes patience. Still hoping for that mother lode.(less)
The structure of Wheaton's life parallels Romantic poet William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience: a childhood period of perfect happiness, when everything simply falls into one's lap...then the difficult, painful transitions of adolescence and young adulthood, into an awareness of loss, of disappointment, anger, and an understanding of what fear really means....then, if one is fortunate and perseverant, a final transformation into what Blake scholars call "higher innocence," true adulthood, when on e knows that yes, the world holds pain and misery aplenty, but joy is not only possible, but necessary in the face of that truth.
Just a Geek is Wheaton's account of the interim years, between youthful celebrity as the star of major feature films and ST:tNG, and mature celebrity, as internet trendsetter and geek advocate. This is his Song of Experience.
And now for the confession: Wheaton writes that the impetus which drove him out of the Star Trek fold, into the financial and professional wasteland of failed auditions by day, and desperately fighting with bitterness by night, was a belief that he had to be something more than just a Star Trek has-been. This pressure was, in large part, augmented by fans of the series and its original who wrote into the studios or hounded him at cons, demanding an end to the Wesley Crusher character which ran counter to their vision of Roddenberry's universe. No wonder he fled. The hatred Wheaton, a teenage boy at the time, personally fielded over the decisions of writers and producers of the series was scorching, disproportionate, and unjustified.
Yeah. That was me.
I was one of them. I was an original Trekkie, raised on the series by my dad, filled with that special flavor of arrogance which is the birthright of smart kids who are poisoned by the hormones of puberty, a geek myself (though back in the 80s we would never have had the guts to admit to such titles), and with a geek's obsessiveness, and devotion to a structured, categorized, worldview which does not tolerate deviation from what we are certain is The Right Way to Do Things.
Watching tNG in the basement of my college dorm, I howled along with the other nerds any time Crusher saved the day from his own over-the-top science project, railed at length about how 'soft' the good ol' Enterpise had become, and engaged in way too many drunken late-night debates about how to 'fix' the 1701d and its crew. Step one: airlock tours for those characters we thought were distorting 'our' sci-fi.
Years passed. Wheaton left the show, and the public eye. I barely noticed...I had my own problems. I worked as a computer programmer for a few years to build up cash for graduate school. I got my degree. Then another, and another. I wrote a dissertation, and a novel, got married, had kids. And tried to get a job in my field, and traction for my writing. And tried.
Now for those of you who don't know, if there are any professions which rival acting for the sheer volume of rejection you face, they are (1) academia and (2) writing. I'd chosen both. I sent out the manuscript of my first novel to 36 agents. Only three even bothered to read it, and only one of those replied with anything more than a form letter. One publisher I sent to directly praised the writing to the skies...then rejected the novel itself, since she claimed their calendar was simply too full to take on any new authors. In the first year of my job search, before I'd even finished my Ph.D., I sent out 41 applications. Nothing. The next year, degree in hand and confidence restored, I sent out 106 applications. I got four interviews out of that batch, which made me cocky as hell around the other post-docs limping along with one, or none. None of the interviews went anywhere. Fine, I would focus more. The next year, just 77 applications. Then 63. Then 48. Then 14.
Five years into a post-doctoral lectureship, my wife would find me, hunched over the computer, surfing endlessly, looking for conferences which would help me build my scholarly credentials, half-time positions at obscure colleges in the boonies, forums filled with tips on how to write better cover letters, better novel pitches, better appeals to writing agents.
But eventually, a funny thing happened. I realized the lectureship had turned out to be more satisfying than any of the jobs I was looking at, and if it didn't pay quite as much nor have the glamor of a tenure track position, well, who wanted the hassles to publish-or-perish that came with those jobs anyway? Certainly not me, with three awesome kids and a wife more fabulous than my teenage nerd dreams could have imagined. And if traditional publication had shut me out, well, there were these newfangled e-book markets to look at, and maybe I could find a publisher in that risky new field who'd like to take a chance on a book about gaming and geekiness, and wouldn't that at least mean it was out there, in the world, and I could move on? I found my own state of 'higher innocence.'
And then, another funny thing. Raising my own little geeklings, I stumbled across Wil Wheaton guest starring on a couple of my favorite nerdy shows. I heard he'd started a blog. I tracked down this book, in app form on my new android phone, a device with more computing power than the first four computers I owned, combined.
And there it was, right there in the e-pages glowing up at me: the rejection; the desperate longing for external approval; the hours waiting by the phone, or checking the mail, in constant agony, knowing someone, out there, controls not just your professional career, but in a very real way controls the way you value yourself. Everyone who puts themselves out in an audition, or an interview, or an application, knows it: you have a vision of yourself, as a writer, an actor, a student, a professional, and that person out there with your resume in hand will determine whether to reinforce that vision you have, or destroy it...sometimes again, and again, and again.
Even more tellingly, Wheaton captured the division of the psyche unique to the desperate wanna-be: the way your personality fractures under that pressure into shards, personalities with their own names that seem to have nothing better to do with their time than insult you, call you out on your unrealistic expectations, your lofty ambitions, your phoniness with friends and family as you tell them "everything's going great" when it really, really isn't.
This is an honest, painful book, and anyone's who has known that longing to be more than you are right now will recognize its authenticity at once. Reading these passages was like being slapped in the face with my own past. The only relief was knowing that, like me, the author has made peace with himself, and had found new skills to celebrate, of which this book is itself a clear example.
So Wil Wheaton's ok now. But that doesn't excuse the gratuitous abuse he got from the fans which drove him out into the cold in the first place. So:
Wil, I'm sorry.
Here's the truth, something I could maybe only see with the 20/20 hindsight of age: jealousy. I was just 2 years older than you. I was just a geek too. That explains the callousness, to some degree (and what teenage boys do you know who aren't callous?)...but not the vitriol. No, that came out because I wanted to be where you were.
There I was, schlepping along in college, doing just what was expected of me, a nerd back in the late eighties, when that was a much bleaker proposition than it is now. Escape, for the geeks back then, was either diving into yet another sci-fi or fantasy reading binge, hanging with the few other nerds I knew for RPG escapism, or turning off all the lights and blasting the Pink Floyd until the loneliness didn't hurt so much. I wanted to be on the Enterprise. I wanted to be Wesley Crusher. We all did. Every one of us, every one of the miserable bastards who gave you grief about how your frakking *character* was written, we would have given up vital organs for the chance of even a week or two soaring with Captain Picard out to the fringes of the galaxy...or even getting to pretend to do so on a soundstage. In the age when there were only a few, even of us nerds, who were on BBS, we had so few outlets for our longing, our frustration with how little the world of what actually was resembled our dreams of what could be...
So we lashed out. We were so jealous of you, and that made us cruel. And I'm sorry.
This is not a tragic book. It's not a whiny book. It's not a vengeful book. Wheaton isn't demanding apologies from anybody, and he's not lording it over the executives who turned him down for parts. He has moved on, and in doing so not only restored those parts of him that were fractured by too early fame and the pressures that come with it, but forged a better self out of his experiences. Better, he provides here a model for all the lost who are still out there, waiting by the phone call that says they got the part, waiting for the acceptance letter from the college of their dreams, or waiting, in any way, for life to happen to them. Sometimes it does, but sometimes you can simply reach out, assess what you have, and realize you're living right now, and that sometimes the very frustrations and distractions you think are keeping you from yur imagined 'real' self are the parts of you you should be developing because, hey, you're spending your time doing that because it's actually important to you. That's an invaluable lesson, particularly for those of us who still are 'just' geeks. (less)
Pure crap. Deeply, deeply condescending. My daughter, and all women, deserve better than this sneering, insulting junk. A perfect example of how badly...morePure crap. Deeply, deeply condescending. My daughter, and all women, deserve better than this sneering, insulting junk. A perfect example of how badly WotC has lost its way.
This *should* have been much more compelling. As an academic, an educator, a past and present (and future) g...moreThe title is, unfortunately, simply wrong.
This *should* have been much more compelling. As an academic, an educator, a past and present (and future) geek, one with geeklings of my own, and a guy who genuinely wants to be optimistic about our future as a country and a species, I'd love to read about how the geeks - intelligent, semi-obsessive nerds who get way too into some abstruse knowledge - are going to take over and turn our overly pragmatic and materialistic society into the Star Trek universe of Gene Roddenberry and Gary Gygax's dreams.
Didn't happen in this book.
What we get instead is a series of fairly dull anecdotes. No significant statistical analysis. Poor scholarship. And word choices that make it very clear that Robbins has a chip on her shoulder about the size of a Borg cube. She *wants* geeks to win, so she uses snarky language to insult anyone who is mean to her adoptive 'subjects'...but totally ignores any evidence that might actually, you know, prove her thesis. Instead, she just comes across as even more judgmental and mean-spirited than the jerks who used to give all us geeks swirlies back in the day. Replacing one group of oppressive goons with your own is not the future I'm looking for. Happily, Robbins is just a lone voice in the wilderness, some distance away from the actually interesting advances in geek culture which have come about because, thanks to teh intahrnets, we can now find each other.
Mind you, while Robbins' thesis is deeply clouded by her personal wish-fulfillment, it's at least more sincere than all these yahoos jumping on the geek bandwagon because of the (90% false) belief that this is somehow a cultural watershed moment for nerds. The world is still, sadly, owned by business majors and jocks. Nerds do tech support and serve as the butt of jokes. The big difference is that improved communications technologies mean we now have conferences and readily available support groups. That's awesome, but let's not fall victim to the echo-chamber effect, guys.
Verdict: Go read *anything* by Wil Wheaton instead. (less)
This is an outrageously accessible approach to what can seem an intimidating language.
Interpreted languages have the same basic structure as narrative...moreThis is an outrageously accessible approach to what can seem an intimidating language.
Interpreted languages have the same basic structure as narrative, so they are relatively straightforward to comprehend GOTO and similar loops notwithstanding. Object Oriented languages like C++, on the other hand, though they can do a fantastic job of modelling and simulation, are somewhat foreign at first ni their approach to the basic components of code. Functions attach explicitly to classes and instances, rather than as qualities of the programming environment. That's not quite naturalistic, and it takes a bit to wrap one's head around where, precisely, to locate routines and variables so that they can be accessible enough for functionality, but not so universal that you're simply throwing everything into an #include file and eating memory.
Sam's guide, like always, comes through. The initial steps are teeny, tiny baby steps, and it is tempting to think that one is going too slowly. But this is an essential coneit of the series, and it's particularly necessary in this case. Think of this book as the prelude to a meatier, application-specific tome.
Since this is just a 21 day intro, don't expect to get into GUI design or pretty graphics libraries. Save that for a later day. But as an intro to the structure of C++ and OOP languages in general, this is highly recommended. (less)
The author is under the impression that Dungeons and Dragons caused, or exacerbated, his social problems as an adolescent and young adult. As other re...moreThe author is under the impression that Dungeons and Dragons caused, or exacerbated, his social problems as an adolescent and young adult. As other reviewers have noted, there's plenty of evidence that he has reversed cause and effect: fleeing his own maladjustment, the author escaped to a venue of fantasy and action which was easier for him to understand.
This would be bad enough, but the real tragedy of this book is the degree to which the author bends over backwards to ignore all the evidence that this fantasy universe is where he belongs. In adulthood, it turns out, plenty of his friends still play, and are able to carry on normal lives outside of their hobby. He dismisses these as flukes. As an adult, he discovers that well adjusted men (and even, by golly, women) play RPGs without any of the ill effects he attributed to his own obsession. He decides these must be rare exceptions. It is inconceivable to him that the problem is not the game, but him.
The final scene is particularly sad. The author, who confesses he weeps sometimes because he longs for that fantasy venue again so very badly, tries out a modern game. All is going well, and he's actually happy, for just a moment...then runs out of the house, convinced he has "escaped" the gravitational pull of his old madness. The tragedy is that gaming is clearly the only thing that's ever made this poor sap happy. He takes refuge in *other* games -- the games of money and relationships which constitute his "real" life - without recognizing that the very skills which he depends upon in those situations - the ability to compromise, to approach strangers, to use a system of rules, the ability to tell a story - are the ones he only developed in his gaming hobby.
The only potential happy ending to this tale would be if he finally realized that, and returned to the games which made him what he is today. If he's happy at all with who that person is, he needs to recognize the gifts gaming gave him, instead of harping on its occasional abuses. I honestly wish him luck with that, even while lamenting that this book stands as testimony to the unlikelihood of such a resolution.(less)
As I recall, it was $8.00. And I played it "wrong."
That's chump change these days, of course. Coffee for two at Starbucks. A single day's parking fees...moreAs I recall, it was $8.00. And I played it "wrong."
That's chump change these days, of course. Coffee for two at Starbucks. A single day's parking fees at the airport. A happy-meal-and-a-half.
But back in 1979, living in rural Oregon under the semi-benevolent despotism of my parents, who thought $0.50 a perfectly adequate weekly allowance, it was a modest fortune. There was only one place in town that sold any D&D materials - Presto Print, which mostly did business as a copy store for local businesses - so they could have theoretically set any price they wanted. Working against that was the fact that the market for RPG materials was, shall we say, limited. In our entire county of approximately 30,000, there is not a doubt in my mind that, tender age or not, I was the most knowledgeable (and eager) customer they could muster. So $8.00 was out of my immediate reach, but I at least had the consolation that there would be no competition for the title. It would wait.
I worked weekends for three weeks - mowing the lawn ($0.50), weeding the rose hedges ($0.25 each), vacuuming ($0.25), splitting wood for the fireplaces ($1.00 for a pile as tall as me). I worked like a fiend, and spent not a precious quarter at the pizza parlor arcade, tempting though it was. At last, I had my small fortune amassed, and badgered my mother until she agreed to drive me into town to claim my prize.
It was gone. While I'd been tearing my young, gloveless hands open on rose bushes, some wretched, sneaking *unworthy* thief had purchased the only copy. Gollum in his agonies could not have hated the Baggins more than I hated that nameless parasite who had dared to steal away with my prize. I went mad. I demanded that the store owner tell me who had bought it. I burst into adolescent tears, frustrated rage and shame at the spectacle I knew I was making of myself both coursing through my overwrought brain. My mother drove me home. Eventually I calmed down enough to call the store and ask them - ever so professionally, polite but firm, stupidly thinking they wouldn't know it was the little freak who'd gone crazy in their store on the line - to order another copy.
Two weeks later, I was at the store when it opened, and there it was: the module, only my third, reputed by my few out-of-town D&D contacts to be the wickedest ever created.
I could barely wait. The cover enchanted me. The fold-out illustrations compelled me. The design: a compendium of trips and traps, a slow-paced, perfect dungeon crawl which would demand the most careful scrutiny for players to survive, was a thing of genius. I ran my brothers through the module within the week. Then they did it again. Then I brought it to school and badgered those few friends who had a passing interest in the game to go through the Tomb, sacrificing precious recess time. I went further afield and dragged in anyone I could persuade to the game table, bribing them sometimes, just for the opportunity to experience the Tomb from their perspective once more.
Over the next eight years, before I moved on to college and (foolishly, FOOLISHLY) left behind my Dungeons & Dragons obsession for "more mature" pursuits, the Tomb of Horrors was easily the star player of my stable of modules. I must have DMed the adventure for fifteen different groups.
And I never killed anyone.
At least not permanently. Oh certainly a few characters were temporarily ground to paste by falling rocks or lost an arm to a Wall of Annihilation, but these were routinely dealt with by convenient clerics who wandered the ruins with resurrection spells handy, just in case. You see, I knew - and know - all about the module's reputation as a killer dungeon. I saw immediately how easy it would be for even normally cautious players to be blasted to atoms by the ridiculously unfair conditions. I ignored those design flaws which are obvious to me now: the ludicrous false entrances, the bragging riddle on the floor, the impossible final encounter. A lover in the first gidddy stages of infatuation, I had already absorbed the most important rule of D&D: simply alter what doesn't work, make it up on the fly, deliver your lies with confidence and, from the other side of the DM screen, the players will have no idea that what you're telling them isn't exactly as written. And I wasn't interested in "winning" the game over the players. Any moron DM could declare "rocks fall, everyone dies" in a fit of pique, and many have. I wasn't at war with the players. Playing through a module with them wasn't an act of hatred. It was love. I loved the game. I loved the story we were creating together. I loved the sense of shared purpose, the comfort of an understandable rules system, the assurance of knowing my function. That was heady, delicious, and all too rare for a lonely boy who knew, during the course of most days, how weird he appeared to most of his peers, and how little they thought of him. During the course of the game, I wasn't a wrathful God, out for revenge...I was God's benevolent avatar, achieving reconciliation with all the hurt I couldn't admit to myself at the time, and which fantasy drove away, at least temporarily, into the dark corners.
So yeah, I played it "wrong." I fudged dice rolls, I gave broad hints, I re-arranged rooms to lead the players from encounter to encounter, a showman trying to give the audience the most for their money. And they were happy, and I was happy. So up yours, rules lawyers. Acererak was my wingman, and the Tomb of Horrors was my perfect playground. I found more concentrated joy in those thirty or so pages than I would find until I was much older, and had finally found a way out of loneliness. Thank you, Gary. It made me happy.