What are you reading now?

Confession: I thought that this Chris Taylor (the author) was this Chris Taylor, the legendary games developer. Oh how I cringed with embarrassment when I tweeted him! Let’s move swiftly on. What am I reading now?

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise

As a true Star Wars fanboy/nerd/geek I adore everything to do with George Lucas’ epic saga. I recently wrote about my favourite movies and The Empire Strikes Back, the second (or fifth!) movie in the series features in a list of three. I’ve watched all the movies, I’ve played almost all the games, I’ve collected the collecitbles, I have read dozens of Expanded Universe novels, I even named my child Lucas George. I have lived and breathed Star Wars for as long as I can recall.

When I saw this book over on Amazon I immediately clicked ‘BUY NOW’.

Why do most people know what an Ewok is, even if they haven’t seen Return of the Jedi? How have Star Wars action figures come to outnumber human beings? How did ‘Jedi’ become an officially recognised religion? When did the films’ merchandising revenue manage to rival the GDP of a small country? Tracing the birth, death and rebirth of the epic universe built by George Lucas and hundreds of writers, artists, producers, and marketers, Chris Taylor jousts with modern-day Jedi, tinkers with droid builders, and gets inside Boba Fett’s helmet, all to find out how STAR WARS has attracted and inspired so many fans for so long. ‘It’s impossible to imagine a Star Wars fan who wouldn’t love this book. There are plenty of books about Star Wars, but very few of them are essential reading. This one goes directly to the top of the pile’  ~ Booklist

The book starts with Taylor’s quest to find a true Star Wars virgin and his attempts to find one at a screening of Star Wars translated into the language of the Navajo native american tribe. It seems that Star Wars has seeped into popular culture the world over; even people who have never seen the movies can reel off the names of characters, planets, droids and ships. It seems that everyone knows that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father.

If you are a fan of Star Wars and want to understand more of how this project which nobody believed in became a global phenomenon this is a good place to start.

Highly recommended.

 

 

Three favourite books

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

This is quite possibly – along with book three in this list – what got me into science fiction in a big way. I was in my mid-teens when I first read Consider Phlebas and it opened up the universe of Banks in such a big way that I developed a voracious appetite for The Culture. So much that character names from his books have featured in numerous online ventures. Names like Horza, Zakalwe and Excession.

The epic scale of a war spanning light-years sets the back drop of the story of Bora Horza Gobuchul and his quest to locate a renegade Mind lost on one of the famous Planets of the Dead controlled by the elder Dra’Azon species.

The war sets the scene but the book is really a collection of short stories chronicling Horza’s adventures. The Temple of Light, the Megaship, the Eaters, the Damage game, the Command System. Horza’s escapades are numerous and Bank’s prose is both humorous and epic in scale.

What’s interesting – from the perspective of a Culture novel – is that Horza is an enemy of the Culture, choosing to fight for the Idiran’s in their holy war as the Idirans are ‘on the side of life’. This is a precursor to future Culture novels which a focused around the Minds which control that utopian society. For a first book to feature the enemy of your primary series protagonists is a bold step.

Thoroughly entertaining if ultimately futile as set out in the epilogue of Consider Phlebas, Horza’s escapades get 10 from 10 and a thorough recommendation.

 

 

Wonderland Avenue by Danny Sugerman

Wonderland Avenue hit me right in the feels during my tumultuous late teens. Handed to me by a friend I immediately fell in love with Sugerman’s portrayal of life with Jim Morrison of the Doors, and more importantly – both to the book and to me – his relationship with his father. 

The book opens with Sugerman’s childhood and his difficult familial relationship and quickly introduces the music of the Doors to the reader. This was also a commentary on the impact of popular music on society and how it heralded social change. 

Sugerman casts off the protection of his family and strikes out on his own falling under the wing of Morrison. It charts his rise – much to the disgust of his father – in the music industry, his encounters with drugs, relationships with other personas from the music scene and his ultimate fall from grace. 

The book had my crying with laughter; Sugerman’s description of Iggy Pop in a dress chopping up a car with an axe is a firm favourite moment for the sheer hilarity. As is Sugerman’s call to the police to report his car stolen only for it to dawn on him that it’s in a house in Laurel Canyon having been driven off the road and through the roof. Wonderland Avenue is replete with comic set pieces which will have you laughing your ass off. 

But there is also genuine sadness in the book. Estranged from his father and brother, hooked on narcotics, Sugerman’s demise and redemption was both joyous and difficult to read. It brought back personal feelings of remorse as to my own relationship with my father. 

And when I turned the final page I cried tears for both Danny and for me. 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I can’t remember when I first read Hitchhikers. It was a long time ago. Funny, very English, and science fiction which borders on science fantasy. It’s the story of Arthur – a fairly average chap – who embarks on a whirlwind adventure with Ford Prefect, a researcher for the titular Hitchhiker’s guide (which has the words ‘DON’T PANIC’ in large, friendly letters on the cover.)

Adams wit is absurd, the plot borderline insane, but the true and very real message of Hitchhikers is largely what makes its appeal.

You see, to Adams, the universe is a joke and nothing actually really matters. Earth is bulldozed to make way for a hyperspace freeway, a towel is the most important thing a traveller can own, and The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42.

In many respects, Adam’s writing is nihilistic. It’s designed to show our place in the universe doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make a difference. There’s futility in the message but it’s wrapped up in the warm & comfortable prose of a writer at the top of his game.

You can enjoy Hitchhikers for the many jokes, set pieces, wry humour. For the offbeat characters such as Zaphod Beeblebrox – the two headed, three armed Galactic President and Marvin the Paranoid Android who dwells in the depths of depression. Or you can see it as it is meant to be; a treatise on the scope of the universe and how little, how so very little, we small humans matter.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

What is your favourite book? Share in the comments below.

Start reading books

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

I used to read. I mean, I used to read an awful lot. Recently I have tended to find something else to do. TV, movies, Twitter, games. It seems that as I have grown older my ability to pick up a book and sit in silence and read has diminished. Seems I seldom bother these days. I have shelves full of books. Some read once, others read innumerable times, some attempted and discarded, others not even glanced at.

Speaking to Tweeters about reading has got me thinking about diving back into books. I’m going to give myself a target of one book a month, starting right now, with Trainspotting. One book a month should be easy right? Let’s do this.

Comment below with your favourite book, or recommendations for me to read.

I’ve started so I’ll finish

I’ve always been a fan of alternative history settings. I think that stems from playing Red Alert back in the day. In Red Alert, Einstein invents a time machine and goes back in time to kill Hitler setting the world on a path to war between the Soviets and the Allies. (Watch the game introductory scene here.) I was inspired to read Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle after watching the series on Amazon Prime. A slow burner but towards the end I was in ‘just one more episode’ territory.

The Man in the High Castle asks the question, “what if the Axis won World War II?” In a nutshell:

“In the novel’s parallel history, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt was assassinated in 1933, leading to the continuation of the Great Depression and U.S. isolationism. Thus, the U.S.’s military capability was insufficient in aiding the other Allied forces during World War II, allowing the Nazis to conquer and exterminate the Soviet Union’s Slavic peoples, and the Japanese to destroy the U.S. Navy fleet, in the Attack on Pearl Harbor, before conquering Oceania. By 1947, the U.S. and the remaining Allies surrendered to the Axis powers. By the 1960s, Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany became the world’s competing superpowers, with Japan establishing the occupied “Pacific States of America” (P.S.A.) from the former Western United States, while the remaining Rocky Mountain States have become a neutral buffer zone between the P.S.A. and the former Eastern United States, which is now a puppet state of Nazi Germany.”

From Wikipedia.

A very interest premise, and right up my street. I’ve been aware of Philip K. Dick for a lot of years; Minority Report, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Blade Runner). I have always turned to science fiction as my preferred reading genre, but I’d never tackled Dick (oo-er!) until now.

The Man in the High Castle is a laborious, difficult read. The setting is excellent, and I expected so much more, but reaching and passing the half way point in the book and still feeling uninspired and ‘unentertained’, I started to ask myself, why do I bother? Why do I think to myself: I’ve started so I’ll finish?

I’m not going to finish it! I said at the start of the year that I wanted to read one new book every month and this was the first book. Be mindful that if you set yourself a task you need to be fluid and flexible enough to change the goals if it isn’t working for you.

The Man in the High Castle is such a thing. It’s not working for me, so it’s time to move on.

You can do whatever you want to do

I’m currently reading (amongst others) a book called Masters of Doom by David Kushner. Subtitled, “How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture”. It tells the story of John Carmack and John Romero. Of Doom, Quake, and id Software. I’m about half way through. In book terms, Doom had just been released, and I’m eager to find out what happens next.

But reading it has given me pause for thought. When I was younger, when I was in my first couple of years at secondary school, I was a huge fan of arcade games. These aren’t the same arcades as you would expect to see in America, but I used to go to the local arcade after school and battle my way through Golden Axe and other total classics such as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. I’d take trips to the seaside and pump pounds worth of 10p pieces into the machines. Always action, side scrolling ‘beat ’em ups’ or shooters. I was hooked.

This all came to a stop when I was seen by my mother and forbidden from using the arcade machines. Then I was forbidden from even entering the arcade. We never had much money. She saw me putting money into an arcade machine as throwing it away, but I loved the escapism from my life. I loved to venture into fantasy to escape reality. The reality of not fitting in, or being apart from my family, from being the black sheep. I never felt wanted when I was in my early teens. Games gaves me a method of denying the destructive feelings of isolation. Things finally came to a head when I was attacked from behind by my mother when I was playing the aforementioned Golden Axe. I remember it so well, even though it was so many years ago. The year would have been 1991 or 1992. Eighteen years have passed but I still remember the humiliation I felt being dragged out of there by my mother in front of the kids from school. I still remember the hot tears and the stinging shock of that slap. I wasn’t allowed to do what I wanted to do.

I think back to that and I wonder what damage it did to my aspirations. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not going to sit here and proclaim to have missed my calling, or to be the next Sid Meier yet discovered and undeveloped. But games is something I wanted to do. I have always loved games. Who knows what I could have done had I been encouraged and not slapped down all those year ago. Who fucking knows….?

He may not yet be three. But I told Thomas today, I promised him, that he can do anything he wants to do. I promised him that if he wants to be a sportsman, or a writer, artist, musician, dancer, game designer (!) then I would support and encourage him in his dream. I promised him that I would never hold him back from pursuing his path or try and coerce him down a route that I want for him. It’s his life, and I will be there to help him in any way that I am physically, mentally, emotionally or financially able. Of course, he had no idea what I was talking about, but the words were for my benefit not just for his. I want him to have the life I never had. Christ that sounds fucking shit, doesn’t it? I haven’t had a bad life. Far from it. But with Tom I want only the best. That was my promise today. Tom can make his own choices, and I’ll be right behind him, supporting him on his way.