Catching Up: Books Read, July 2012
The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell. As I said, I'm learning about game design. Because not enough people on this gamification project are gamers, let alone have ever played around with creating their own. Schell's book is an excellent overview of game design principles, and is one of those books that turns out to be about every art while focusing on a specific one--I made connections to my writing, and caught points of overlap with The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars.
Un Lun Dun by China Mieville. YA urban fantasy in conversation with Neverwhere and every magic portal fantasy ever. (Bujold, at the National Book Festival last weekend, defined genre as a set of works of art in conversation with each other. Which is the best definition I've heard that's more meaningful than "a marketing category for the convenience of book stores.") The narrator gets drawn to Unlondon, where her best friend is the Shwazi--the chosen one foretold by prophecy who will overcome the evil Smog. Also she is befriended by a discarded milk carton. Then the Shwazi is defeated in her first battle, in such a way that she can never return to the city... Recommended even if you don't normally like Mieville, as I generally do not.
Trial by Fire by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. Second in the Raised by Wolves series, following the all-too-human female alpha of a pack of werewolves. I love this series--it gets into the guts of agency, power, consent, and choice in a way that almost nothing else except Octavia Butler has ever managed. It plays with the usual tropes of primally patriarchal werewolves, takes them seriously, and lets the characters take them seriously whether or not they're going along with them. Highly recommended.
Getting Green Done: Hard Truths From the Front Lines of the Sustainability Revolution by Auden Schendler. Not as hard as he thinks, but a good and entertaining discussion of what's involved in being a corporate sustainability officer.
The Big Book of Virtual Team Building Games by Mary Scannell, Michael Abrams, and Mike Mulvihill. Sounds dippy, and is about half-dippy. The question of how to get real collegiality in dispersed teams is a tough one, especially when the people being dispersed are not Millennial hacker types, but just people who need to coordinate a job across a large number of sites. I've been trying to help out with one of these, and scraped some decent ideas out of this book, so it was a worthwhile read.
NOT Tim Powers' Declare. This is about the Cold War with eldritch abominations, but fifty pages in I still didn't care about any of the characters. (Did I mention that, also in July, I had to explain the Cold War to Bobby? That is an awkward explanation. He was looking at some of the eldritch abominations at the Air and Space extension museum, and wanted to know what they were and how fast they went.)
NOT Melissa Scott's Trouble and Her Friends. I really wanted to like this, because classic cyberpunk with lesbians. But my problem with classic cyberpunk is not that their predictions failed to come true, but that their Net is much duller than what we actually got. The Net has been around for 100 years, and is mostly the province of corporations and elitely skilled hackers. You can get an implant that lets you walk through data like a landscape, but a visual map of the entire Net can fit on your desk. The big conflict is that the government has just passed laws against the hackers trespassing on corporate data. Compared to the fight over SOPA, compared to blogs and flamewars and net neutrality and the Arab Spring and Occupy and... not to diss on Curiosity, but it's kind of as if Heinlein had written smug novels about unmanned probes, and then we had interplanetary colonies and asteroid mines and ancient Martian civilizations.
Emphasized in September, when I read William Gibson's Pattern Recognition, which is basically cyberpunk about the real internet, and is interesting the way the real internet is interesting.
NOT Thomas E. Sniegoski's A Kiss Before the Apocalypse. This is about an angel who left Heaven to become a hardboiled private investigator, but fifty pages in I noticed that all the women were there to be rescued or protected, except for the ones who were simply ignored because not interesting to the author, who were generally left behind to die. There was one cool thing--the angel's wife, who he met in the 50s, is living in a nursing home and he still dotes on her--but it wasn't enough to keep me reading.
Other Media Consumed:
Podcasts: Wait Wait Don't Tell Me (awesome NPR news quiz--The Daily Show for folks who don't watch TV), History of Rome (entertaining, though I could wish for more daily life and less follow-the-emperor), 99% Invisible (cool short bits on urban planning and architecture), The Story Collider (stories that have something to do with science), SF Squeecast (Just won a Hugo! Positive reviews of books/media anywhere between 100 years old and ARC status).
Role Playing Games: S and I had a conversation, on the way home from the National Book Festival, about why RPGs are rarely appreciated as art, and how there is basically no recognized vocabulary for reviewing, reporting on, or criticizing such things--in fact, talking about your role-playing game is the archetypal Boring Conversation in fannish circles, possibly because of the lack of said vocabulary. Nevertheless, this is how I get a good portion of my artistic, dramatic, and emotional catharsis needs met during the course of a month.
Currently, all my games are built off of the older World of Darkness setting with serious modifications. S is GMing a DC-based Changeling game, with characters who all have day jobs they actually like--since the setting is not built to acknowledge that this ever happens, it results in some interesting conflicts.
J is running a Changeling game following the same characters through multiple reincarnations; currently we're in Medici Florence. Thank you to everyone who visited Florence last year and helped with our research! Also, Marie Brennan's Onyx Court series is based on a similar game--but they ran the incarnations backwards from the present. This leaves me gape-mouthed, as forward is challenging enough as far as stunt-gaming goes. I wouldn't want to do it with people that I hadn't played with extensively before. There are some things you just don't do without a team that you know, absolutely and for certain, has got your back. In this case, "got your back" is everything from keeping track of what's out-of-character knowledge this lifetime, to being able to handle Lorenzo di Medici and Savonarola as NPCs.
S also has a Chicago-based Technocracy game--currently on pause, but she says she's working on the next segment. Playing around with societal effects of technology. Also with some of the screwy bits in the World of Darkness setting, which tends toward the technophobic.
Total Books: 5 & 3/2
Recent Publication: 2, or at least I think the Mieville is recent. We bought it new, anyway.
Recommendations: None, I think
New Music: None.
New Media Created: I believe this was the month I finally finished "The Litany of Earth." Because what my stories-in-submission list needed was clearly a novella.