The Elfish Gene

(subtitled: Dungeons, Dragons, and Growing Up Strange, a memoir) by Mark Barrowcliffe

The book is well written with a very consistent tone– but my attitude toward it varied dramatically over the course of the book. As it began, I empathized with his younger self, and remembered how D&D (and roleplaying) felt to me. I was annoyed, though, at his constant running down of himself and his friends– as a roleplayer, I felt like he was bagging on all of us. In the end, he really is, though there’s a lot of wistfulness as he talks about his early days.

In many ways he was a lot like me, squared. My love of gaming and friends squares into a horribly dysfunctional obsession; his sense of superiority is unbounded and turns him into a jerk around friends and family. His focus on cool reminds me of mine… but even more of Dan’s, with his desire to be the only one in on the obscure, his distaste for anything that turns popular.

In the end, it’s a great look at someone very like a more extreme version of me and my friends in junior high and high school. The same jealousies, dominance issues, and friendship choices loomed in his life. In the end, he sets up fantasy and reality as the dichotomy and chooses reality. For him, that’s victory, and I’m happy to let him mark it so. (Of course, I also note that my own identity is quite wound up in roleplaying– despite all the differences between us, I mostly ignored them and read along as if I was almost him. The differences in nation, schooling, social circles, and the like weren’t a huge consideration… which shows what an issue it is for me.)

I liked it, both for the familiarity and the differences. It’s a little amusing the ends he has go to in order to remain apart from the world of fantasy… but only because I’ve made little effort to separate myself from it. Something tells me that it’d be as painful a scab to pick… if I chose to. For now, I still look forward to gaming in the old folks home with my wife.

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

I just completed rereading Elantris, Brandon Sanderson’s first book. While the book is less polished (mostly word choices at the very beginning), it quickly develops into an interesting book. The three main characters are well drawn, and the Gyorn’s crisis of faith is handled particularly well in a low key way.

This world does a great job of detailing the results of a magic dependent society when their magic is suddenly cut off. The Shaod (and its cause) are interesting and well presented. All in all, it’s a good book and a great first effort.

Next Game: Friday January 30th

We’re looking forward to a session this Friday, January 30th. If you’ll have a problem making it, please let us know.

You finished the last session at the plantation where the demons were slaughtering the fleeing people. You’re just a few hours away from the city now, if you continue down stream. (You can see it in the distance.)

The Hero of Ages (Mistborn 3)

The conclusion of the Mistborn Trilogy, The Hero of Ages is an excellent book. As promised in the last book, the end of the world is in progress. Vin, Elend, and Kleiser’s crew struggle with Ruin. A new power, Hemalurgy, joins the mix and along the way we learn the secrets of the Koloss, Kandra, and Inquisitors.

What happens is too dependent and spoilery of the previous books, but the promised end of the world is in full swing. Spook’s development is handled well, bringing him into the spotlight– which he deserves as the book goes on.

If you’ve read the first two Mistborn books, this is a worthy conclusion.

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do

More fully, Tom Vanderbilt wrote Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). I liked the book a lot, though much of it felt familiar. The book is less about technological issues contributing to traffic, but about the sociological side of it.

The book is divided into nine chapters, each with two to four major sections. The first three chapters do a good job of establishing human biases, and explaining how our hardwiring affects how we see the world, particularly while we’re enclosed alone in a car. They also establish how difficult driving really is– and the biases that lead us to overestimate our competence, underestimate threats, etc.

Chapters 4 and 5 are bigger picture, about a systemic overview of the process. Interestingly, parking is targeted as a major component of traffic, due to circling, the way it blocks entire traffic lanes, etc. Chapter six talks about how our individual problem optimizing leads to the overall problems– there are a lot of tragedy of the commons issues in driving.

Chapter seven was the most familiar (due to ASCE articles); a lot of discussion about how things that feel unsafe (like roundabouts) can be much safer, just because it makes you more alert. It also talks about some of the efforts in the Netherlands to incorporate cards more into village life instead of giving spaces over completely to cars– and some of the unusual effects that result.

Chapter 8 was about local traffic variations– particularly how varied traffic can be in third world nations and rapidly developing nations. Chapter nine has a few loosely connected themes; how statistics don’t match our perceptions and concludes with a discussion of new technologies… and how they aren’t any more likely to dramatically revolutionize things than the last hundred inventions that promised to revolutionize driving and traffic.

All in all it is a good introduction to the subject. I suspect everyone will be familiar with some of the points brought up– through casual exposure, drivers education, etc. There’s a huge breadth here– I doubt anyone, even traffic engineers and other professionals, have looked at the problems of traffic from all of the angles mentioned. Check it out if you want a better handle on why traffic is the way it is– and why that frustrates us so much.

Jubilee by Jack Dann

This is a collection of short stories over a career. Lots of interesting stories, some more appealing than others. Still, a solid sampler for a man I hadn’t otherwise encountered.

While it’s billed as SF and many stories have some element out of the norm, the more constant focus is his characters’ relations with Judaism. Among the characters are several interesting perspectives on the culture and well described struggles with doubt and similar religious themes.

Next Game: Friday, Jan. 16th

After defeating and killing the Dwarven King (though the body vanished), the group decided to hole up and enjoy a few tankards celebrating their victory. Can everyone make it Friday? Let us know if Friday won’t work– otherwise we’ll start at 6:30 as usual.

Friday, Jan 9th

We resume on Friday, the 9th. Does anyone have a problem making it? We’ll need to figure out schedules and possibilities, and make sure that Fridays are still available for everyone given the new semester.

Does anyone remember where we left off? You just defeated the remainder of the elite guard, in the snow, a day and a half’s march from the great volcano. Any thoughts on your upcoming actions so I can prep appropriately?