i have a section of my bookshelf devoted to good books about games. it is very, very small. so far, there's: PILGRIM IN THE MICROWORLD, for a thorough...morei have a section of my bookshelf devoted to good books about games. it is very, very small. so far, there's: PILGRIM IN THE MICROWORLD, for a thorough case study of a single game, RACING THE BEAM, for a study of a single platform and how its constraints guided the design of its library, THE WELL-PLAYED GAME, VIDEO KIDS, MIND STORMS. my own book, RISE OF THE VIDEOGAME ZINESTERS, in my hubris.
greg costikyan's UNCERTAINTY IN GAMES. it's a valuable introduction to thinking critically about games - something we seem to mostly be lacking. why? for one thing, it includes digital games and non-digital games (board games, card games, folk games) in the same discussion, something that's necessary to an understanding of how games function but oddly rare. (there's this rift between our conversations about digital games and those about all other types of games, probably because the former is way more visible in our culture as a form of hollywood blockbuster entertainment.) this is the reason i include THE WELL-PLAYED GAME in my games library: its primary focus is on folk games, and although i am primarily a digital game designer, digital and non-digital games have a lot to say to each other that often doesn't get said. costik has designed both digital and analog games.
another reason i like this book: costik rejects academic jargon that would needlessly complicate his writing. (he uses "fiero" a few times, but i can allow that.) this book is a good introduction to understanding broad ideas about game design and how they make games interesting, and alienating language would harm its ability to be that. who really needs the words "paidia" and "ludus" anyway?(less)
so for the purpose of disclosure, jeanne was the editor of my first published book, and i look up to her as a kind of cooler, more worldly big sister...moreso for the purpose of disclosure, jeanne was the editor of my first published book, and i look up to her as a kind of cooler, more worldly big sister figure. which is maybe appropriate, given that the protagonist of her first published work of fiction has a big sister complex.
this book is the best telling of the worst story. jeanne has this magic trick: she can describe the possessions, the bric-a-brac, the detritus of any fictitious character. whenever we go into someone's room, whenever we peek at someone's porch, jeanne knows all of the things that are on that porch, all of the ephemera hanging in that house, what cd is in the cd player. it's amazing. she pulls this trick over and over again. how does she know any imaginary person so well? everyone and everything in this book is so messy - how could she possibly have so perfect a grip on them all?
this story made me feel absolutely miserable, and it did so in the most perfect way.(less)
the suggestion of this book is that when we play games, our primary goal is often not victory - it's establishing a satisfying dynamic between all inc...morethe suggestion of this book is that when we play games, our primary goal is often not victory - it's establishing a satisfying dynamic between all included parties, it's meaningful play. we accomplish that through handicaps, through negotiation, through sometimes checking our egos. with suitable playfulness, bernie dekoven explores the complexities of negotiating what he calls "a well-played game."
as a digital game designer, this is a pretty valuable read: often, the rules of digital games are really strictly enforced. often the player is denied the ability of adjust the game to suit the level of play that's most rewarding to her; instead we rely on this thing we call "skill" that is actually a learned vocabulary that few players actually possess. the well-played game makes yet another compelling case that digital games have a lot to learn from folk games.(less)
this is such a traditional fantasy adventure in so many ways: bad guys show up, the protagonist is left as the last of his kind, he embarks on a journ...morethis is such a traditional fantasy adventure in so many ways: bad guys show up, the protagonist is left as the last of his kind, he embarks on a journey for revenge with companions of different but still humanoid species, he gets his revenge (this isn't a spoiler cus it says as much on the cover). it's a testament to le guin's power as a writer that through her craft this story manages to dance, to be new and compelling despite its transparency.
part of that is the way the fantasy premise has been relocated to the far future: the protagonist is a xenoarchaeologist, a starfaring man investigating a "primitive" world where his technology is perceived as magic, but a world which hums with a magic of its own. the societies of this planet are adjusting to the fact that gods from the stars walk among them, wielding powerful spells and unguessable agendas. but what works even harder is the way le guin writes her characters - the warmth and sincerity of their friendships and interactions is what led me through the book, what leads rocannon across a familiar world that shines new in his eyes. this is one of the most enjoyable le guin books i've ever read - AND IT WAS ONLY HER FIRST. (i think.)(less)
on humongous, beautiful pages terry gilliam explains the fundamentals of his cut-out animation style, which is focused on doing things as cheaply and...moreon humongous, beautiful pages terry gilliam explains the fundamentals of his cut-out animation style, which is focused on doing things as cheaply and easily as possible and in appropriating images to serve the artist's needs. he gets through this pretty quickly and spends the rest of the book narrating an inner conflict between commercialism and artistry. the kind of obnoxious that's charming.(less)
i encountered this book by way of faffhhd and the grey mouser, which is one of those sword and sorcery barbarian stories. this begins as one of those...morei encountered this book by way of faffhhd and the grey mouser, which is one of those sword and sorcery barbarian stories. this begins as one of those sword and sorcery barbarian stories. but while most of that genre is super sexist, women existing as nameless objects and prizes, alyx's adventures are an inversion of that: halfway through one story, the text casually mentions "her man," her husband, waiting for her at home. the next paragraph she leaves to go confront a wizard dude; when she returns home on the very last page, she's saved her nameless husband from some kind of curse. they laugh about it and go to bed.
joanna russ is a genius of depicting developing relationships. this is apparent from the first story, where alyx rescues a young girl from an arrange marriage and subsequently spends months on a boat with her, but it's most visible in the middle story, which makes up almost half the book's length. in this story, "picnic on paradise," alyx is plucked from ancient greece to the far far future to babysit a bunch of vain, incompetent, self-interested adult children of the post-internet world. again, the story is one in which alyx's maternal sensibilities manifest in a relationship with an initially weaker woman.
and then the closing story is entirely in female man territory: a young girl's sense of self is transformed by an encounter with a time-travelling fantasy of a liberated women that at times terrifies and alienates her.
russ knows how to use technology in science fiction: she introduces dazzling, inventive future tech and then has moved on in the next paragraph, knowing it's the human relationships, not the walk-through walls and eye-melting lasers that are where the story comes from. technology is always seen from an outsider's perspective: magic, in the arthur c. clarke sense, putting on a great show but never replacing our human needs.(less)
the irony of this book is that if seymour papert had his way, WE'D BE SEEING A LOT LESS PAPERT.
this book is about how a computer age can move away fro...morethe irony of this book is that if seymour papert had his way, WE'D BE SEEING A LOT LESS PAPERT.
this book is about how a computer age can move away from the assembly-line model of teaching of american schools - in which typically memorization, not learning, happens - toward a learning environment in which children are actually allowed to learn and to direct their own learning. he uses as his example LOGO - the program where you type instructions to a turtle about how to move and draw a picture. he was one of the creators. LOGO was mis-taught in my school - they simply imposed the "guided instruction" format of any other class on it, rather than allowing us to learn by setting our own goals and making and correcting our own mistakes.
this book dares to imagine what could replace compulsory schooling in our society, and what a society would look like in which people are free of the mental straitjacket of believing they're simply incapable of learning because they were never allowed the time or freedom to create their own conceptual models. this prose is sometimes redundant in an academic way - the epilogue, a reprinted lecture by the author, was totally unreadable - and there are occasionally pages where you can't go half a sentence without a reference to piaget, the author's mentor, but this 1980 book is still important thirty years later, in a society that, despite many children having access to and learning from computers, we still haven't cut out or reshaped our vestigial model of institutionalized teaching.(less)
this book is angry, it's furious and brilliant. it reminds me of hothead paisan, except instead of being ab...morethis book. this book, this book, this book.
this book is angry, it's furious and brilliant. it reminds me of hothead paisan, except instead of being about a queer urban woman it's from the perspective of a white, middle-class professional. it lives in the same suburb as the feminine mystique, but the author still eviscerates men and fucks women on her journey to catharsis.
here is a book that, you realize, had to have been mismarketed to exist in the time and place it did at all. it's spun as a science fiction odyssey because who would buy an autobiographical collection of one woman's rants? (me, forty years later.) characters leap through worlds and realities, but how they do so is not important, what's important is how they react to meeting their reflections and recognizing their capabilities.
one thing that made me wrinkle my face is how trans women are treated in a part of this book, or a kind of trans woman. trans women like me didn't exist in the 70s in the way that i exist now, sure, but what does it say of an author that she can imagine a cyborg amazon utopia but not a world where transgender people exist as something other than a male invention to suit male needs? can we compare her to diane dimassa, who rejects them in full cognizance of their presence and experiences? does she get off the hook?
my brow-furrowing at this particular vision of our world - a version of our future if we fail to solve the problem of gender - didn't stop my from crying at the end of the book. i cried for a lot of reasons, not the least of all is that neither i nor you nor anyone i love gets to live in whileaway, the one thing in the book that is truly an invention of fiction - a world where women are universally free, to travel, to explore, to love and to fuck, to choose for themselves rather than have choices made for them. though not, lest i mischaracterize the book, without exception.(less)
this is the first book in the FFHDARD AND THE GREY MOUSER series i've read, at the recommendation of a friend. last night we discussed whether fritz l...morethis is the first book in the FFHDARD AND THE GREY MOUSER series i've read, at the recommendation of a friend. last night we discussed whether fritz leiber is sexist or just writes sexist characters. we couldn't decide. but the fact is that every woman character in the book fucks the protagonists, is interested in fucking the protagonists, is a subject of interest for the protagonists, as far as fucking goes, or is using witch-magic to hold open a physics-defying ocean portal so that other female characters can fuck the protagonists. oh, there are some old women on a boat who get angry at the protagonists for not allowing another dude to rape them. (in fritzi's almost-defense, whether there might actually be consent in this situation is ambiguous.)
alienation aside, fritz leiber, sometimes, has a real playfulness with language and a real skill for shaping a story. the story "lean times in lankhmar" is genuinely hilarious and brilliantly symmetrical. and it's early in the book, so you can stop reading afterwards. the subsequent stories aren't as rewarding, although there is a tunnel of suspended water that's described so perfectly that it's impossible not to visualize exactly as the author imagined it, and the last story seriously drags, aside from being about jealous women who mentally flog themselves (on the soles of the feet, the author is careful to point out). is "lean times in lankhmar" online? you should just read that.(less)
i bought this book for the cover, which was terrible: a FUTURE BABE in cyber-combat armor jump kicking a robot in front of a grid of lights. the book...morei bought this book for the cover, which was terrible: a FUTURE BABE in cyber-combat armor jump kicking a robot in front of a grid of lights. the book is nothing like the cover, which led me to expect the kind of pulp that i usually like. instead, i got the kind of science fiction that i love.
arachne is the right kind of cyberpunk: it hurls a new made-up futureword at you every sentence, and it doesn't expect you to keep up. the storytelling is redundant enough - or maybe i should say recursive enough, because "redundant" sounds too negative - that you can follow the story even through the texture of future cyber telespace jargon.
although i said arachne turned out not to be pulp, it does have the quality i most expect from pulp: IMAGINATION. the story is set in a future bay area, post-big quake II, where san francisco's skyscrapers are buried half-underground, berkeley is a military dictatorship, the mission contains an imported incan temple, and alcatraz is a dazzling casino. the cyber landscape, with its easter island head judges and vibrating fuck-chair board meetings, is just as rich.
it's science fiction about two women from our cyber-future in an antagonistic but necessary relationship. it's a good fucking book, exactly the kind of thing i want to read more of.(less)
clive barker writes like he's trying to impress someone, choosing words for grandiosity over clarity. early in the book he describes a sound as being...moreclive barker writes like he's trying to impress someone, choosing words for grandiosity over clarity. early in the book he describes a sound as being "no louder than the din of a cockroach running behind the skirting boards." that's some loud fucking cockroach! we figured this was just a case of barker having a run-in with a thesaurus that ended badly for the reader, but no! as we read on (i read the book aloud to my partner, because it's the sort of book that seems close to the author's vision when read in as pompous a voice as you can manage), we kept finding the word "din," over and over, almost once per chapter. it became clear that clive barker just ranked the word "din" higher than the word "sound," and made the substitution every time the word came up.
grandiosity over clarity. there are passages where the actions of the characters are just incomprehensible. one gets the sense that maybe he was imagining the scene visually, as a film. "cut to a shot of birds flapping their wings on black. then, a shot of the room, with a yellow light strobing." it would certainly explain a few things: the book is about as incomprehensible as the movie. (that's "CLIVE BARKER'S HELLRAISER," more a special effects reel than a film.)
ultimately, the only way to read the book that made any sense was as a screed on how dumb heterosexual coupling is. the characters are all trapped in unreciprocated or abusive relationships: one character pines for another over a single encounter that "had in every regard but the matter of her acquiescence, all the agression and the joylessness of rape." SOUNDS LIKE A REAL CATCH. later, during an actual rape scene, a man's penis is described as "a boastful plum," like he's scared to say the actual words. why not just put the sex scenes behind asterisks like the victorians do?
to present any character enjoying mutual or joyful sex would, i suppose, undermine the "horror" of the book, which is that sex is scary. a cheap trick, but probably a lucrative one if you're writing to a straight middle-class audience trapped in loveless marriages. it must be, since barker's spun the book into an entire film career. clive barker has said, "i want to be remembered as an imaginer," which is fair. i'm certainly not going to remember him as a writer.(less)