Reviews: The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon – The Story Behind the Craze That Touched Our Lives and Changed the World; Food Processor Perfection: 75 Amazing Ways to Use the Most Powerful Tool in Your Kitchen; Planet Barbecue!: 309 Recipes, 60 Countries; Prepare to Meet Thy Doom: And More True Gaming Stories; Abaddon’s Gate; Damnation Alley ; The Improbable Rise of Singularity Girl; The Perfect Cookie: Your Ultimate Guide to Foolproof Cookies, Brownies, and Bars; Words of Radiance

The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon - The Story Behind the Craze That Touched Our Lives and Changed the WorldThe Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon – The Story Behind the Craze That Touched Our Lives and Changed the World by Steven L. Kent
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very comprehensive look at the history of video games going way, way back. I’m familiar with a lot of the main points from having read lots of industry histories. Where this one excels is in going to the smallest of details and talks about a lot of the personalities and more obscure companies involved. So even if you already know a lot about video games history, if you’re interested, you’ll end up learning things you most likely didn’t know. Most importantly it is stuffed with first-hand quotes from interviews and other published material.

If I had to give this book one fault, it’s that the details get slimmer as it gets closer to modern times. On the one hand, this makes sense – there are still people under NDA and who don’t want to burn bridges. On the other hand it makes less sense – in our current information-rich world a lot of the details are out there. Best way to drive this home is to mention what happened as I neared the edge of this book. I listen to a podcast on the Wondery network called Business Wars. They’re currently doing a series called Nintendo vs Sony which started off with the fated CD-ROM system they were supposed to make together. I’ve known the most general outlines of that story for years now. But Business Wars has revealed lots of new information about the conflict. A few episodes in, the focus shifted to the Sega Saturn vs the Sony Playstation. They mentioned the Sony team breaking open the Saturn to see that they could compete against Sega on price because Sega was achieving their specs via throwing lots and lots of chips at the problem. None of this was mentioned in the book. It could be because the details weren’t available when the book came out? The book ends with the Xbox about to come out. But after all the details that the book had up to the 8-bit era, it feels a bit thin at the end.

Oh, and one more thing I remembered as I wrote the next paragraph – it merely glosses over computer gaming. That makes sense in that the computer industry had a LOT more companies and so it’s a harder story to tell narratively. Just reading the book about DOOM and Id software or reading the Prince of Persia diaries shows how complex that world was. Perhaps a companion book by Mr. Kent?

Other than that criticism it was a neat examination of how we got to where we did via the four phases: research at universities, pinball and arcade, pre-80s crash consoles, and post-80s crash consoles.

View all my reviews Food Processor Perfection: 75 Amazing Ways to Use the Most Powerful Tool in Your KitchenFood Processor Perfection: 75 Amazing Ways to Use the Most Powerful Tool in Your Kitchen by America’s Test Kitchen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve got a few of America’s Test Kitchen’s specialty books: cast iron, bread, cookies, mexican, and maybe another. This one is the one that could most just be a web page with tips. It’s beautifully written and has great color photographs of various aspects of the cooking. But the techniques involved are pretty easy and the resulting recipes are pretty easy so I got something out of it, but not as much as some of their other books.

I still think they should have cook/prep times standard in their books instead of only in some of them. It’s not impossibly hard math to try and estimate based on cooking times, but, since this is a prep-heavy book, those times are bound to be way off. (As happened to me the time I made a mole sauce from one of their recipes and the time to prep the ingredients took half of the total cooking time and left me eating very late)

View all my reviews Planet Barbecue!: 309 Recipes, 60 CountriesPlanet Barbecue!: 309 Recipes, 60 Countries by Steven Raichlen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A survey of grilling, BBQing, and smoking around the world. Not as much for beginners as Meathead’s book because Raichlen goes by the old style of BBQ where you get vague temperature ranges like “medium” vs a temperature reading or range. That said, it’s pretty exciting to add foods to my grilling and BBQ repertoire that are outside the usual American BBQ and grill.

Also, includes my favorite part about Raichlen’s writing style – each recipe comes with a story about the food or the chef who taught it to him. This can add a bit more to the recipe than just some ingredients and instructions. It’s also what I really like about the America’s Test Kitchen style. This book expands on that by having little sections that focus on various countries and chefs in depth (1-2 pages).

I recommend it to anyone who’s already mastered pork shoulder, baby back ribs, and burgers and longs for more.

View all my reviews Prepare to Meet Thy Doom: And More True Gaming StoriesPrepare to Meet Thy Doom: And More True Gaming Stories by David Kushner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a collection of essays by the guy who wrote Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture. It starts off with what could be an epilogue to a new edition of that book. It then proceeds through various video game stories.

The biggest takeaway of this book is how big fads can just as quickly disappear. For example his stories about Neopets and Second Life. The last chunk of the book is mostly about Rockstar – it’s so funny how worked up people got about their games. And now, either I’m just not in the same circles as the pearl clutchers, or it’s just not that big a deal anymore. I think it’s finally become clear that a huge chunk of us playing games are in our 30s and 40s and should have access to any media we darn well please. And when it comes to kids – until there’s conclusive research that it doesn’t jack up kids who weren’t already on that path, it’s no different than parents deciding their ids can watch rated R movies. As someone makes clear in the article (and which no one seems to get on TV to mention during these scandals) the games sell millions and like 2-5 kids murder people. Clearly, it’s on those kids, not the games or this would be a Purge Planet every time one of those games came out.

Anyway, the essays are well-written and it’s a near time capsule of gaming trends in the early 2000s.

View all my reviews Abaddon's Gate (The Expanse, #3)Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again, the duo who make up James SA Corey have knocked one out of the park. The protomolecule has gone to the next evolution and, of course, humans have to be there to screw things up. The teeniest of spoilers: Not having Chrisjen Avasarala and Bobbie the Martian Marine are what rob this story from being a 5-star story to me. I love their POVs so much. That said, the crew of the Roci are back at it again. JSAC do a good job of making it plausible why Holden and crew would be anywhere near the protomolecule. It could have stretched too far, but they make it work. They also do a good job of setting up a potential reason for them to be there next time, too.

The main antagonist this time around is somewhat familiar, but once again, I think JSAC do a good job of making the character very realistic. In fact, outside of some characters having plot armor (but not necessarily all the ones you think would), people act and situations evolve in a relatively realistic manner. We also finally get the story of the creators of the protomolecule and it’s a pretty great one. Yeah, the story has echoes of the story in Mass Effect, but that’s simply a matter of tropes doing what tropes do.

I don’t know (because I’ve stayed away from any materials that would potentially spoil) if JSAC intends for the story of The Expanse to be 3 trilogies, but things wrap up pretty well here. If you decided to choose this as a stopping point, you’d have a pretty satisfying story witha beginning, middle, and an end. The setup at the end of this story seems to suggest a new era in the story of our solar system.

I continue to be happy that I began this series.

View all my reviews Damnation AlleyDamnation Alley by Roger Zelazny
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is 100% perfect as an illustration of a story being about the journey and not the destination. Zelazny creates a world in which a nuclear war has created a nightmarish, hellish landscape with enormous creatures. Hell Tanner has to cross this wasteland to make a delivery. (view spoiler)

View all my reviews The Improbable Rise of Singularity GirlThe Improbable Rise of Singularity Girl by Bryce C. Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a great example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover…or title. I got it as part of a Storybundle deal and passed it over a few times. It just didn’t quite feel like something I would enjoy. BOY WAS I WRONG! For me, this book was everything that Ready Player One was not. In fact, I’d say that TIRoSG was more like Mel Brooks early parodies while RPO was more like the Scary Movie and its ilk type of parodies. RPO seemed content to say, “Look, a reference for late Gen X/Early Millenials!” While TIRoSG tells a great, mostly unique story while paying homage to that which came before it. Some of those are overt – the author calls out Pratchett early on. Others are more implicit like the writing style (similar to early Neal Stephenson) or later cyberpunk elements that recall Gibson while not (to my knowledge) aping it. (The last chapter also recalls stories by Asimov and Clarke) The language of the characters and the parodies of I haz cheezeburgers type things are minimal enough that I don’t think it’ll end up dating the book in the future.

So it had the write writing style and tone. It was also a great story of personal growth of the characters, including many of the side characters. Many of the tech changes that the world goes through seem even more likely today than they did when the book was first written. Like more and more fiction is starting to realize – we’re slowly being automated out of jobs without the world of plenty envisioned by Star Trek. On my way back home from a trip (during which I was reading this book on the plane) I wanted to pre-order some Olive Garden takeout since we’d cleaned out the fridge before our trip. The phone call reminded me twice at least (maybe 3 times) that I could cut a human out of the loop by using the web to order. And stores are trying to get more aggressive about both self-checkout and RFID-based walkouts. Also, the eventual political story is SO much more plausible today that it’s scary! Like I wanted to stop reading because I could see it happening for real.

There are only two things that kept it from 5 stars for me. The book is divided into parts 1 and 2, but I think it might have made more sense to divide it into more parts. Because I kept getting to what seemed like narrative dead ends, but knew I had a lot more book to go. But the following chapter would spring in a completely new direction. So just for a bit more cohesion. The other thing was the latter 1/4 (I didn’t actually measure, but it seems to be about this much) of the book that involved a lot of cyber battles. Anderson was probably just paying homage to cyberpunk books and movies which, themselves, were paying homage to the metaphorical fights that Professor X would have on the thought planes with villains. (Or like Inception symbolizing the safe to contain secret information) But given the two entities that were battling, it seemed…like the metaphor wouldn’t truly make sense given what they were doing to each other. Maybe I was just too tired, but I kept falling out of the story in the last few chapters because of it.

That said, I thought it was well-told with engaging characters. Also, the story works very well and the ending makes sense, even if it is slightly early Stephenson-esque. If you like the narrative style of Douglas Adams or early Stephenson and enjoy SF, you’ll have a good time with this one.

View all my reviews The Perfect Cookie: Your Ultimate Guide to Foolproof Cookies, Brownies, and BarsThe Perfect Cookie: Your Ultimate Guide to Foolproof Cookies, Brownies, and Bars by America’s Test Kitchen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve already made 4 of these cookies and, as you would expect from America’s test kitchen, these are the best versions of those cookies I’ve ever made. (Or eaten)

View all my reviews Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive, #2)Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I had to reduce this chapter of The Stormlight Archive to one sentence that describes the thesis: Everyone in Words of Radiance believes he or she is working for a righteous cause and, therefore, the ends justify the means. This ethos guides Kaladdin, Amaram, Dalinar, Sadeas, The Ghostbloods, the Parshendi, Jasnah, Szeth, and even Shallan. I think the difference between heroes and villains in this part of the story is between those who are willing to grow and look for a way better way to achieve their goals and those who remain fanatical.

We continue to learn more about the history of Roshar and why things aren’t as “magical” as they once were. I’m used to reading trilogies, but this first arc is a quintology and so it makes sense that the story does not move as quickly as a second volume might in a trilogy. And I hear from others that Oathbringer may be a bit of a slog – again because there’s yet another book after that before we get to our first climax and resolution. So while a lot of this book has the feeling of setting up the chess pieces, Sanderson still packs in plenty of character growth and inter-book climaxes. While book 1 gave us Kal’s backstory, this one slowly reveals Shallan’s. And while the FINAL reveal was telegraphed a mile away, that was a brutal story to read. Oh man! When she’s finally able to hit Kal over the head with it after he keeps acting like she’s a spoiled brat, Sanderson makes her win feel very earned. Also, finally Sanderson takes Checkov’s Drawing Abilities off the Mantle. I was wondering during the whole of book 1 why Sanderson gave her this amazing drawing power for no reason. Yeah, she uses it to see the Eldritch Abominations that it’s revealed/implied also haunt Elhokar, but I thought it was lacking use for how much he focused on it. Speaking of which, I really love Shallan’s witty retorts. Her scenes courting a certain someone are great and her back and forth with Kal is also great. (Although as I tweeted – and was agreed upon by the owner of Sanderson Army – I anti-ship Shallan and Kal. All the tropes seemed to be pointing to her falling for him instead of her betrothed and that would have been so hackneyed!) And it was fun how Sanderson made Pattern’s rise to sentience completely different from Syl’s. I also think Sanderson does an excellent job of conveying a sense of sympathy from the other side of the war.

The book has a lot to say on the idea of gods and what humanity does with powers granted to it. I think we may get more insight into that in the next book or two. I do like the system Sanderson has set up where oaths really mean something. So often they’re treated flippantly in the real world. Although, on the flip side we have Szeth taking his oaths perhaps a bit TOO seriously. And so, while it’s not unique in fantasy, Sanderson finds a way to make it his own.

As with the last review, here are things that I noticed are Sanderson Cosmere tropes that appeared in the Stormlight Archives:

Magic revolving around what an object considers itself to be (eg Shallan and the Boat in this book, The forging of art and other objects in The Emperor’s Soul)\\

Witty girl at Court (Shallan, princessses in Warbreaker and Elantris)

Animal Life changed somehow (other than Shinovar, most animals like we would expect are considered mythological; Nalthis in Mistborn Trilogy 1)

***

Well, after this I have a couple handfuls of Cosmere books/stories remaining:

Edgedancer
Sixth of Dusk
Oathbringer
Mistborn: Wax/Wayne Trilogy
Allomancer Jack
Shadows for Silence
Mistborn: Secret History
White Sands Vol 2
Arcanum Unbounded – whatever extra material wasn’t in the short stories and novellas I’ve already read by this point.

That’s the order I intend to tackle them in and then I’ll be done. But, given my pace, I believe Wax/Wayne four (or at least Mistborn Era 2 book 4) should be out by then.

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Published by Eric Mesa

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