Recent Reads

Nathan W. Pyle: Strange Planet and Stranger Planet

Totally delightful. This being thinks in manners pleasingly similar to my own. I originally stumbled over this comic on Instagram, which is a great medium for online comics now that a post can have multiple images. I was immediately taken by the manner of speech of the characters, which has a formality and accuracy that just plain makes sense.

Richard Littler: Discovering Scarfolk

The pamphlets, posters and other pleasingly skewed civic media associated with the Scarfolk phenomenon made this a tempting buy, but it was a little disappointing in the end.

I still love all the visual media and elegant turns of phrase to be found within, but the story constructed around the fictional adventure of a visitor to the town of Scarfolk didn’t really grab my interest. The story does a great job of providing a setting in which the imagery fits, and provides more opportunity for the kind of writing we see in the text of the posters and pamphlets, but for some reason I found it a bit tedious to read. Maybe that’s intentional though, and part of the charm, since there is a heavy focus on the trappings of bureaucracy.

For more information, please re-read this section.

Peters and Waterman: In Search of Excellence

I only skimmed this book at first, but then got increasingly interested towards the end. I made the assumption that this book from the distant past world of 1982 would be regurgitating a bunch of antiquated corporate nonsense that has since been cast aside, but some of what it says is still surprisingly relevant.

Relevant in that it feels like only today are the lessons from that world starting to be applied in practice. The interesting parts are about company culture, what motivates workers and what makes large companies succeed. They mention trusting employees, empowering them with responsibility and autonomy, taking risks on side bets, avoiding stagnation by always coming up with new ideas, and keeping business unit size small to cut down on red tape.

It’s not until the last decade or so that I’ve been exposed to companies that are actually doing some of these things. It’s refreshing, but why did it take this long?

Frank Gasking: The Games that Weren’t

This book is about assorted famous and unknown video games that failed to reach market for various interesting reasons. It covered the whole range of history from almost the beginning right up to the date of publication.

I found the book very inconsistent in the amount of information presented on each game – many pages for some relatively uninteresting ones and almost nothing on some of the more tantalizing ones. I suppose this is inevitable given how difficult it must be to obtain this kind of information, especially in cases where the developers have died, disappeared from public life, or are legally bound not to comment.

There were a few stories that were particularly interesting to me. I learned of the existence of Akka Arrh, a novel game that was pushed out of the crib by Robotron – but I think the unpronounceable name would have killed it anyway. I learned what happened to some arcade-to-home ports that were promised in the gaming magazines I loved as a kid but never materialized. There were even bits about console hardware that never hit shelves. Now I know why Carmageddon 3 ended up being so terrible.

The book has a website (linked in the title above) that continues to add new entries that weren’t in the book.

Daniel Konstanski: The Secret Life of Lego Bricks

I contributed to the kickstarter for this book and it was well worth the money and the wait. There isn’t really any need for other books about Lego history – this one is amazingly thorough and answers a lot of the questions I had about Lego the company and their processes.

It’s mainly about the history of Lego themes and related pieces, how they came to be and how Lego learned to understand the popularity of various sets and get out in front of what customers wanted.

Jerry Pournelle: King David’s Spaceship and Jennifer Pournelle: Outies

Prequel and almost-sequel to the Mote in God’s Eye series by Niven and Pournelle, which is required reading for any science fiction fan. These two stories have a similar theme built around using the Empire of Man’s own rules against it. In the former book it’s humans doing it and in the latter it’s Moties.

They’re both decent. My only complaints were that the former book shows its age in its treatment of the one token female character – some but not all of which can be excused by the story being set it a very patriarchal society, and the latter book is a big slow getting started but really picks up in the second half.

Stephen Baxter: Proxima and Ultima

Did Not Like. I tend to find cross-time and alt-history stories tedious because I read SF to learn about the future, not the past. The anachronistic Roman and Inca civilizations depicted here managed to be not completely boring, but I also didn’t like the conclusion of the story arc – it was a downer to me.

Autumn Cthulhu

Picked up on a whim when browsing a book store, and it was worthwhile. Given the distinct lack of new, original stories coming from Lovecraft himself (death is no excuse!), one must make do with stories set or potentially set in the same universe. While few of the short stories in this volume fully captured the Lovecraftian flavor I like, they were close enough.

Benford & Niven: Glorious

The anticipated third book in the Bowl of Heaven series, which I mentioned in an earlier post. It introduces another new type of macro-engineered habitat, and was interesting and entertaining. I liked this best out of the three books in the series, I think.

Alastair Reynolds: Inhibitor Phase

I was absolutely delighted to stumble over another Revelation Space book that I didn’t know was coming, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. This puts a nice cherry on top of a universe that still inspires my imagination.

James Martin: Calgary the Unknown City

This was recommended to me but I found it a disappointment. I was hoping for some insight into the history of the city and some little-known facts. While there was some of that, the bulk of the book is more like a tourist guide advertising present-day popular businesses and tourist spots, which a never-ending stream of snide and sarcastic comments and jokes so obvious they could go without saying.