2018 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 is an in-progress list that I’ll update over the course of the year. Previously: 2014 2015 2016 2017


Surgeon’s Mate,
The Ionian Mission,
Treason’s Harbour.
The Far side of the World,
The Reverse of the Medal,
The Letter of Marque,
The Thirteen Gun Salure,
The Nutmeg of Consolation.
The Truelove,
The Wine-Dark Sea,
The Commodore,
The Yellow Admiral,
The Hundred Days,
Blue at the Mizzen,
: Patrick O’Brian; historical
More Napoleonic-era nautical adventures in period English. Wonderfully creative and thrilling.
Fire and Fury: Michael Wolff; politics
I look forward to the inevitable libel suits to see if there’s support for the unbelievable anecdotes in this book.
The Undoing Project: Michael Lewis; pop science
The personal history of the work of Kahneman and Tversky. Read Thinking, Fast and Slow instead.
* Time Management for System Administrators: Thomas A. Limoncelli, self-help
2nd read. I’ve been revising my personal workflow and revisited a favorite.
Babel-17: Samuel R. Delaney, sci-fi
Spiritual predecessor to Snow Crash.
Artemis: Andy Weir, sci-fi
An OK sci-fi adventure. The protagonist’s naivety makes other characters look annoyingly stupid for the first 2/3rds of the book, but only one of one of their actions (the posse guarding airlocks from the outside) is actually stupid.
Creative Interviewing: Ken Metzler, journalism
A nice overview of the topic for new journalists.
The Craft of Interviewing: John Brady, journalism
Mostly anecdotes.
Interviewing: Peter Laufer, journalism
The best of these three interviewing books, and quite good.
Replace Capitalism: Marshall Brain, economics
A specter is haunting the Internet — the specter of thoughtless ahistorical arguments for a command economy.
* The World According to Mr. Rogers: Fred Rogers, philosophy
A collection of quotes from his materials, worth reflecting at a rate of one quote per day.
* Corruption in America: Zephyr Teachout, history
A history of the ever-shrinking definition of corruption in American politics.
The State of Affairs: Esther Perel, self-help
Issues and perspectives presented as salacious anecdote instead of serious discussion, research, or models.
The Power: Naomi Alderman, sci-fi
Freely granting the premise (hey, it’s simpler than the X-Men), the book is painfully implausible. Dropped after the ridiculous eviction scene.
Anki Essentials: Alex Vermeer, manual
A better introduction to Anki than the official manual. Only minor bits of outdated info for Anki 2.1.
How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming: Mike Brown, pop science
Memoir of his astronomical research leading up to Pluto’s demotion. The attempted theft of a planet was a surprising turn.
Rome’s Last Citizen: Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni, biography
Compelling story of a tragically uncompromising politician during the death of the Roman Empire.
* The Dark Wizard of Donkerk: Alexander Wales, fantasy
The plot and setting are decent, but the way the protagonists think, plan, and decide is so rarely, wonderfully true to my experience that I read this in one sitting.
The Effective Engineer: Edmond Lau, programming
“The Profitable Engineer”. An extended YC News blog post on how to make the most money for the venture capitalist that owns you. Ignores high-leverage topics like choosing meaningful work, salary and contract negotiation, not working for people with horrifically misaligned interests, ethics, etc. etc.
The Freeze-Frame Revolution: Peter Watts, sci-fi
Interesting setting, but the narrator is mostly uninvolved with the plot, so it’s not particularly engaging. Wait for an omnibus that prints this novella between the short stories also set in the “Sunflowers” series.
The Unwritten: Mike Carey, fantasy

Great comic that builds a world and reaches towards a climax… and then instead has a crossover with some other comic, incomprehensibly lurching into its story with The Unwritten characters as minor side characters.
* Factfulness: Hans Rosling, pop science
Global trends in human well-being and rationality, interspersed with anecdotes of rural medicine, meeting Fidel Castro, and fighting ebola.
Profit First: Mike Michalowicz, business
YNAB/pay yourself first for the entrepreneur struggling with cash flow. A bit rah-rah, but decent rules of thumb.
Speed of Dark: Elizabeth Moon, sci-fi
Doesn’t work. Bad ending.
Lower Ed: Tressie McMillan Cottom, history
Chapter one explains that graduates of for-profit colleges get jobs on par with high school graduates, and then there’s another two hundred pages.
Out on the Wire: Jessica Abel, journalism
The differing production processes of famous NPR shows.
Spell on Wheels: Kate Leth, Megan Levens, Marissa Louise: fantasy
A group of witches road trip through challenges based on on structural injustices… to defend their genetic superiority from an inferior hoping to join them. An OK story, but thematically incoherent.
StoryCraft: Jack Hart: journalism
Structure and production of narrative non-fiction.
* The Mom Test: Rob Fitzpatrick; business
3rd read; for Anki cards. The best book on how to do customer development. I only wish there was a hardcover so I could get a satisfying “thunk” when I hit entrepreneurs with it.

Tabletop Games

Pandemic Legacy: Season 2: Rob Daviau, Matt Leacock; strategy
Only played the prologue twice, but it feels like a nice balance of old and new mechanics. Really looking forwarding to playing through this.
Unearth: Jason Harner, Matthew Ransom; worker placement
Fun, quick strategy game with a nice amount of variance. Rules are a little unclear, seems like almost every action card has a corner case.
Underlings of Underwing: Kevin Ballestrini, Stephen Slota, Alisha Volkman; worker placement
A very cute resource management/worker placement game. I like the use of colors for crafting; much simpler and easier to learn than arbitrary resources would have been.
Armageddon Preppin: Darth Rimmer; hand management
Unclear rules, overwhelming variance, and an obvious dominant strategy.
* Captain Sonar: Roberto Fraga, Yohan Lemonnier; deduction
Real-time strategy game where two teams of four players eavesdrop on each other to have a submarine hunt duel.
Burgle Bros.: Tim Fowers; co-op heist
Teammates sneak through a random map to rob a bank. Really enjoyably difficult, lovely graphic design.
Mottainai: Carl Chudyk; drafting
A stunningly deep short game that I want to put a recommended star on, but the theme apparently drew its nouns and actions from a hat and it’s so incoherent and confusing that it’s not worth the time to learn. I’ve taught it to six people and all have been hopelessly confused for 2-3 games. (Fans made a nice solitaire ruleset, though.)
Unstable Unicorns: Ramy Badie; Munchkin
Basically Munchkin, but it plays much quicker so at least it’s over sooner.
Imhotep: Phil Walker-Harding; strategy
Has an incredible amount of zugzwang with two players. May be a fairly light game with three or four players, and I hope to try that.
Tiny Epic Galaxies: Scott Almes; strategy
Nice quick dice-rolling game with some ways of reusing your opponents’ actions so their turn is more than just waiting for yours.
Kodama: Daniel Solis; strategy
Arrange cards to grow a tree, very nice use of play space. Don’t miss that the max score per turn is 10 points or that cards can touch any trunk rather than just the obvious forks.
Not Alone: Ghislain Masson; bluffing
Clever asymmetrical bluffing game. Solid with two players and I’d love to play with a half-dozen.
Boss Monster: Johnny O’Neal, Chris O’Neal; bidding
Cute pixel art but winning is almost entirely lucky draws.
Dark Souls The Card Game: Steamforged Games; deckbuilding
Co-op monster-hunting. Feels shallow, there’s rarely more than one obvious right choice per turn. Some unclear rules.
* Gloomhaven: Isaac Childres; tactical
Wonderful legacy dungeon-crawler. Solid core mechanics, interesting design, great scenarios, stunning production values.

Video Games

Fantasy Strike: David Sirlin; fighter
Deep, accessible fighter; the first where I could recognize and enjoy the strategies of the different character matchups. Even figuring out how to counter “cheap” strategies is fun.
Tonight We Riot:
Pixel Pushers Union 512; beat-em-up
A competent example of a genre I’m not interested in.
The Witness: Jonathan Blow; puzzle
Still in progress, but so far worth the motion sickness.
Star Realms: White Wizard Games; strategy
A deep game, though with very high variance (top players only win 60% of matches). The tablet-oriented UI needs keyboard shortcuts.
Out There: Ω Edition: Mi-Clos Studio; roguelike
Very nice setting, core game loop, and balance, but too shallow for more than a few hours of play. Bad controls and UI, even before the fact that they didn’t change when the game was ported from tablets.
Everspace: Rockfish Games; space sim
Fun space shooter with PCG. Tons of mandatory between-game level grinding (like Rogue Legacy) so I can’t call it a roguelike, and it makes the PCG quickly feel quite thin.
* King of Dragon Pass: A#; strategy
Colonize a new land while competing and cooperating with rival clans. Not Yet Another Strategy Wargame, frequent events that build on each other, trade, and diplomacy make this an enjoyable, novel take on the genre.
Convoy: Convoy Games; time management
Basically FTL with constant micromanagement of unit locations. The map is a nice addition but UI and writing are significantly worse.
Legend of Dungeon: Robot Loves Kitty; beat-em-up
Feels like a beta. Simple beat-em-up with mushy controls and random, possibly unplayable levels.
Acquaria: Bit Blot, dunno
Saw a ghost, found my home, never had a goal or could go more than two minutes in any direction away from the home. Looked everywhere, nothing to interact with and no gameplay.


The Daily; New York Times
A “20 minute” podcast with 25-35 minutes on Donald Trump and up to 60 seconds of news. Dropped Feb 6 when their story on FISA abuse elided how the NYT hid the story for a year.
Conversations and Seminars; The Long Now Foundation
No idea why it’s two podcasts instead of one, but generally interesting, thoughtful talks related to long-term thinking.
Future Strategist; James D. Miller
Retreads of Less Wrong blog posts and interviews with alt-right kooks. Dropped when the argument against free trade is that it might lead to miscegenation.
Star Realms strategy discussion. Worth it to start from the first episode, listen to an episode, play an hour or two, then repeat.
Economics Detective Radio; Garrett M. Petersen
Dropped on my first ep (minimum wage) when the host begain by saying people only disagree because they’re naive and lazy, and then that getting evidence before theorizing is bad. Dismal way to understand the world.
Soft Skills Engineering; Dave Smith and Jamison Dance
Q&A about programming careers, decent advice.

Last update: 2017-04-16