Books Games

Tempted by an older Monster Manual edition

I popped on to the Book Depository site to check out the availability of the D&D Monster Manual, and spotted a 12 year old edition:

I don’t think I ever used that older edition, it’s not available, but I still felt a little tempted! 

Even though I prefer digital formats when it comes to most of the things I do, I like the idea of playing Dungeons and Dragons on paper.

It feels like the sort of game that could be better with physical books, paper character sheets, physical dice … that sort of thing.

Of course not everyone has the opportunity to play in person these days, and I do like many of the digital tools we have. Still, doing it all on paper appeals to me.


Reading more Arthur C Clarke books

I grew a little bored with my current books, so I thought I’d read some classic science fiction. I picked one of Arthur C Clarke’s early books, “Childhood’s End“, and read it pretty quickly.

Despite the slightly dated technology references, the story is really well written, and kept me engaged right to the end. I wrote a short review on Goodreads for the book:

I enjoyed this book. Some of the technology references are a bit dated (the book was written some time ago). That said, they didn’t detract from the story, which was fascinating. The book managed to retain a few plot twists until the end, which was really nice.

I started re-reading Clarke’s 3001. I’m sure I read the previous books in the series (2001, 2010, and 2061), but 3001 always appealed to me the most. One aspect of the story that stands out for me is the identifier citizens of that era use in place of email addresses, handles, or whatever else we use.

It uses a gender indicator, followed by a date, a random 5 digit number, and an institutional or interest-based association. It reminds me of the names that Iain M Banks uses for his characters in The Culture. Here’s an example in Wikipedia:

Some humanoid or drone Culture citizens have long names, often with seven or more words. Some of these words specify the citizen’s origin (place of birth or manufacture), some an occupation, and some may denote specific philosophical or political alignments (chosen later in life by the citizen themselves), or make other similarly personal statements. An example would be Diziet Sma, whose full name is Rasd-Coduresa Diziet Embless Sma da’ Marenhide:

  • Rasd-Coduresa is the planetary system of her birth, and the specific object (planet, orbital, Dyson sphere, etc.). The -sa suffix is roughly equivalent to -er in English. By this convention, Earth humans would all be named SunEarthsa (or Sun-Earther).
  • Diziet is her given name. This is chosen by a parent, usually the mother.
  • Embless is her chosen name. Most Culture citizens choose this when they reach adulthood (according to The Player of Games this is known as “completing one’s name”). As with all conventions in the Culture, it may be broken or ignored: some change their chosen name during their lives, some never take one.
  • Sma is her surname, usually taken from one’s mother.
  • da’ Marenhide is the house or estate she was raised within, the da’ or dam being similar to von in German. (The usual formation is dam; da’ is used in Sma’s name because the house name begins with an M, eliding an awkward phoneme repetition.)

Iain Banks gave his own Culture name as “Sun-Earther Iain El-Bonko Banks of North Queensferry“.[1]

unsplash-logoFeatured image by Ed Robertson

This article about Agatha Christie looks like a great read!

People Writing

“I believe that repressing ideas spreads ideas”

I read a great article on Brain Pickings about on Neil Gaiman‘s thoughts about writing, many of which are about writing as the transmission medium for ideas.

The article includes a number of great quotes from Gaiman’s writings about, well, writing. Another of my favourite extracts is this one:

Ideas, written ideas, are special. They are the way we transmit our stories and our ideas from one generation to the next. If we lose them, we lose our shared history. We lose much of what makes us human. And fiction gives us empathy: it puts us inside the minds of other people, gives us the gift of seeing the world through their eyes.

I especially like this line about the value of fiction writing:

Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over.

Read “The Power of Cautionary Questions: Neil Gaiman on Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ Why We Read, and How Speculative Storytelling Enlarges Our Humanity” in its entirety on Brain Pickings:

The Power of Cautionary Questions: Neil Gaiman on Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ Why We Read, and How Speculative Storytelling Enlarges Our Humanity

Books Events and Life

A gentle bedtime story from Jennifer Garner

Jennifer Garner read a gentle bedtime story for kids that almost all parents will love because it speaks our truths at that late hour. This is probably essential reading for the 21st century parent:

Just in case you were wondering (or have been living in a science station in Antarctica for 6 years), the book is very real:

Image credit: Pexels


If you enjoyed The Expanse on TV, read the books

I have been reading James S.A. Corey‘s “The Expanse” books and I just finished the 3rd one. I thought I’d share my reviews on GoodReads here too.

We watched the first season and enjoyed it but it was a bit different to the books. As good as the TV series was, this is one of those times when it is worth reading the books for the bigger picture (especially the first one which is what the TV series seems to be based on).

Book 1 – Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started reading this soon after we started watching the TV series “The Expanse”. The TV series departs from the book (we’re about 2 episodes in) but the book is a pretty good story. I enjoyed the first book and have started the second.

Book 2 – Caliban’s War

Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a great follow-on from the first book and introduction to the series. I really liked some of the new characters, especially the star Martian Marine. This book also develops the Rocinante crew further as a more cohesive crew.

Book 3 – Abaddon’s Gate

Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was pretty good although not as good as the first two. The storyline worked but there were times when it seemed a bit overdone, a little too cliche’d. Leaving that aside, if you enjoyed the first two keep going with this one. I have already bought the 4th book and I’ll start that soon.

Book 4 – Cibola Burn

Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this one more than the previous book although I am starting to feel as if Corey is channeling Tom Clancy a bit. This was an interesting story and it developed the storyline nicely. I’m tempted to start the next book right away (the one reason I am hesitating is because this series is becoming a bit of an addiction).

Book 5 – Nemesis Games

Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was worth reading but it lacked the edge of the earlier Expanse books. I keep feeling as if this series is becoming a sci-fi Tom Clancy series. Fun to read but a bit too camp and predictable.

Book 6 – Babylon’s Ashes

Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was probably one of the better Expanse books. It was a story that encompassed a number of characters, some of whom seemed pretty peripheral (although I suspect they will be more prominent in the next book). I enjoyed reading it.

View all my reviews


Will these libraries appeal to our kids in a digital future?

I noticed this post on Facebook about 6 buildings that are helping to redefine libraries. I wonder: will these libraries appeal to our kids as much as the more traditional libraries in our cities appealed to us when we were young and lacked the digital devices our kids have?

In an age when Google can replace much of the information-gathering duties librarians once shouldered, libraries need to rethink how they can best serve their users.

Posted by Co.Design on Sunday, April 12, 2015

I remember spending hours in libraries in my hometown and taking piles of books out for 2 weeks at a time. At some point I just stopped visiting libraries and now, when I think about new books to read, I don’t think about visiting a library, I decide between the Amazon Kindle store and the Apple iBooks store.


Bookless libraries

I just read an article titled “Texas library offers glimpse of bookless future” about a library that has no paper-based books. Instead, it has rows of iMacs and tablets which lenders can take out with books loaded on to them. This may horrify book lovers who love the feel of paper and all the other stuff they argue makes the experience of reading paper books better than ebooks. I think this is the beginning of a future trend both because ebooks are so much easier to move around and manage and for a reason that doesn’t frequently come up in these sorts of conversations:

Head librarian Ashley Elkholf came from a traditional Wisconsin high school library and recalled the scourges of her old job: items put on the wrong shelf and hopelessly lost in the stacks, pages thoughtlessly ripped out of books, and items that went unreturned by patrons who were unfazed by measly fines and lax enforcement.

But in the nearly four months since BiblioTech opened, Elkholf has yet to lend out one of her pricey tablets and never see it again. The space is also more economical than traditional libraries despite the technology: BiblioTech purchases its 10,000-title digital collection for the same price as physical copies, but the county saved millions on architecture because the building’s design didn’t need to accommodate printed books.

“If you have bookshelves, you have to structure the building so it can hold all of that weight,” Elkholf said. “Books are heavy, if you’ve ever had one fall on your foot.”

I don’t see this being the primary library model in the near future, though. Sure, there will probably always be a need for a facility like BiblioTech but as more and more devices capable of handling ebooks become more widely available, I think libraries will become services rather than institutions where you maintain an account and can check books out to read on your personal devices.

That future is pretty much here already. Kindle users can lend books for limited time periods (this may be possible with other services too, I haven’t checked). Books will then be removed from your device once your time is up. No worries about late fees or returns.

The one aspect of an ebook future that concerns me is how books become ephemeral content that can be whisked away from us at a provider’s whim. At least with paper books we own the physical copy and that can’t just be remotely removed if Amazon or some other provider feels we shouldn’t have the book any longer.