2017 Media Reviews «

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I’ve appreciated when people take the time to write reviews and highlight connections to other good works. This post was written in one go at the end of 2017. I didn’t keep good track of the games, so that’s spotty and may be updated in 2018 as I’m reminded of them, but is otherwise complete. Previously: 2014 2015 2016

Starred items are highly recommended. Unlinked items should be avoided. “Dropped” items were left unfinished.


A Deepness in the Sky: Verner Vinge; sci-fi
3rd read. Mentioned the future programmers at Recurse Center and had to reread. Also worth reading DRMacIver’s “Programmer at Large” that’s roughly a fanfic.
Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders: Warren Buffett; business
Skim ruthlessly if you want to read this, definitely skip any mention of out-of-date accounting law. Mostly interesting for what he leaves out of the myth-making, like when he lauded Rose Blumkin yearly and then didn’t mention her the year she left the company, then did again when he talked around how he acquired her next business.
The Pirate Book: Nicolas Maigret; Maria Roszkowska, culture
The history and art of various pirate communities.
The Ultimate Sales Machine: Chet Holmes; sales
A better-than-most sales anecdote book.
The Two Year Emperor: Eagle Jarl; fantasy
D&D munchkin crackfic.
The Traders’ War, The Bloodline Fued, The Revolution Trade: Charles Stross; sci-fi
A second Merchant Princes trilogy. Great worldbuilding and story, but the politics got overly grimdark for me given world events.
New York 2140: Kim Stanley Robinson; sci-fi
Dropped at the start of part six when I realized I didn’t believe in or care about the world or characters.
Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: Peter Pomerantsev; media
Personal stories of working in Russian propaganda.
Chrono Trigger: Michael P. Williams; games
Decent long read about the game, but not substantial enough without some help from nostalgia. Leaves me curious to read more Boss Fight books, though.
The Word Detective: Evan Morris; trivia
An interesting personal story, but I dropped it when I realized that was only prologue to 150 pages of language trivia.
House of Leaves: Mark Z. Danielewski; horror
3rd read. A wonderfully creepy story with new discoveries every reread. Must be read in print.
* Close to the Machine: Ellen Ullman; programming
14th (?) read after seeing Ullman speak. Got me thinking about computing ethics 10 years earlier than I otherwise would’ve, still one of my favorite books about programming. Brian is totally into Bitcoin.
Life in Code: Ellen Ullman; programming
Essays, mostly downers, about programming.
Master & Commander, Post Captain, HMS Surprise, Mauritius Command, Desolation Island, Fortune of War: Patrick O’Brian; historical
Started reading to have something light and non-technical while attending Recurse. Wonderfully dry, laconic series of period nautical adventures. Fingers crossed that Diana Villiers falls overboard sometime real soon now for toying with Maturin, who is precious to me.
Come as You Are: Emily Nagoski; pop science
Good read on women’s sexuality, but the inclusion of “healthy at any size” nonsense impeaches the rest of the science.
An Interview with BJ Fogg: Ramit Sethi; marketing
I haven’t included short pieces in this before, but Sethi’s blog post said “Treat it like something you spent $1,000 on”, so… this is an incredible rip-off: disorganized, chatty, with enormous omissions of critical topics and facile treatments of what’s included. If Sethi thinks this is worth $1,000, none of his online courses are worth a dollar. (Read Cialdini’s Persuasion that this cribs from instead.)
* Impro: Jay Abraham; theater
2nd read after ~20 years. Personal recollections and notes on teaching improv theater, which is uninteresting to me, but the chapter on status is perhaps the most valuable 42 pages I’ve ever read for laying bare a social phenomenon I struggled with.
Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got: Jay Abraham; marketing
A worse than most sales anecdote book.
Inadequate Equilibria: Eleizer Yudkowsy; culture
A smart person’s guide to coping with the insasity and inanity of the world. Unfortunately a big chunk of it is a dialogue, a rhetorical style that rightly died a couple hundred years back.
* Haskell Programming From First Principles: Chris Allen and Julie Moronuki; programming
Finished working through my favorite programming book of the last several years. Referenced resources.

Tabletop Games

Splendor: Marc André; drafting
Very tight multiplayer economy game. After two plays I hope to pick up my own copy.
Twilight Struggle: GMT Games; strategy
Got to learn from an experienced player and history buff. Wonderfully novel game, though there’s a dozen or so cards you have to learn and keep track of because they’ll screw you over otherwise. Gameplay would be noticeably improved by a cheat sheet warning of their effects with boxes to tick off their appearance.
Through the Ages: Vlaada Chvátil; strategy
Very strong, deep drafting/economy game. I hope to play this a few more times with a full four players.
Citadels: Bruno Faidutti; role-guessing
Nice light role game about building sets.
Potion Explosion: Horrible Games; puzzle
Fun, kinetic game to play with kids.
Imperial Settlers: Ignacy Trzewiczek; strategy
Engine-building drafting game. One game was only enough to get the gist of it.
Tractor: Traditional; trick-taking
I think I played for three hours before I had any confidence in what I was doing.
Tichu: Urs Hostettler; trick-taking
Roughly a heavier version of Great Dalmuti for two pairs partners. It’s based on a classic chinese game, but the theme is slathered on so heavily it comes off as Orientalist.

Video Games

* Crypt of the Necrodancer: Amplified: Brace Yourself Games; roguelike
Solid DLC for a personal favorite game. I’m up to 275h played and still having fun.
SpaceChem: Zachtronics; puzzle
Mechanical crypto-programming game.
Shenzen Solitaire: Zachtronics,;puzzle
A nice solitaire that I enjoyed solving.
* Fez: Polytron; platformer
2nd playthrough of a gem.
Undertale: Toby Fox; RPG
Very affectionate parody of 80s/90s console RPGs.
Life Goes On: Infinite Monkeys; puzzle
A puzzle platformer where you have to leave bodies to build up solutions. Cute take on puzzle platformers, decent puzzles.
Ironclad Tactics: Zachtronics; tactical
Grindy tactical RTS/card game. OK, but didn’t really grab me.
Castle Story: Sauropod Studios; RTS
Cute castle-building RTS. Finally playable with the late-2017 UI update.
Oculus Rift: First Contact and Superhot
Fun to try VR, didn’t induce as much nausea in me as most all 3d games do. Great sense of presence and Superhot was a very strong action puzzler.


Legacy Music Hour
Two old friends ramble about old video game music. If you don’t like their commentary, each episode is rereleased as a “mixtape” episode with only the music.
Talent Show
Nice intro to podcasting. I listened to the 10-part crash course and a dozen random episodes and reached diminishing returns on how much info there was – not that the podcast is thin: it’s clear and actionable about how to do a straightforward thing.
ChooseFI Radio
Decent conversation and interviews about financial independence. Start tapping your “skip 30 seconds” button every time they say “this community”, “ChooseFI”, or “we” because they’re going to blow smoke up your ass for a minute, a tedious tick I hope they grow out of quickly.
Only listened to the first few episodes, but nice to hear two experienced devs chatting about their work.
Future of Coding
Great research into the practice of programming.
Amateur interviews with devs using GameMaker Studio.
Planet Money
Fun exploration of economics-related topics.
Clockwork Game Design
I disagree with almost everything and enjoy doing it. Lots of great food for thought from an experienced dev.
More Perfect
The second season is a little shallower than the first, but it still hits a lot of very interesting topics.
Rationally Writing
Two niche sci-fi authors talk shop.
Revisionist History
Well-told stories.
Business chats. Dropped in the mailbag episodes. Nothing wrong, I understand the Basecamp take on business well enough that I wasn’t learning anything.

Last update: 2017-12-27. I only read half the books I do most years, which is a combination of playing lots of Necrodancer and listening to a lot of podcasts, and no new books worth a star. I would’ve been sure of this six months earlier if I’d kept up this review list through the year, and 2018 is going to have more reading.

Looking back over the last four years, an increasing amount of my reading is self-published books. I mentioned in 2014 that it could pretty much all use a professional editor and that continues to the capsule review of almost all of it: stunningly original, brilliant ideas with glaring mistakes in rhetoric and pacing that any professional editor would’ve fixed. This dynamic is frustrating, but the good ideas are increasingly worth it. And it almost makes me wish that published books credited editors as prominently as authors, because they clearly have that level of influence on quality.

I realized that for the first time in 20+ years I read no superhero comics. Not that they’re usually very good, but they’re a kind of comfort food. I thought about this a while and realized it’s because of Worm and Shadows of the Limelight. Worm is a (very long) deconstruction of all the things violence means in superhero fiction. Shadows deconstructs the narcissism behind average schmos becoming superheroes and the inevitable power creep that shows up with multiple authors and commercial incentive to never end a story. These didn’t ruin the power fantasy for me, just… exposed the gears so thoroughly that I don’t feel like there’s much of anything interesting left to read in the genre. It’s not wrecked, it’s done. Maybe in a few years I’ll read some more, maybe not.

Here’s the link back to 2016 if you’re reading chronologically.

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