Friday, February 16, 2024

Friday Book Recommendations (Feb 16)

This week's reads

The Secret Pilgrim by John le Carré: Generally good as a review of the cold war espionage from the point of view of 1990. Less tightly written than the earlier stories in the Smiley sequence, as le Carré seems to be in the too famous to edit stage. The book isn't my favorite of what I've read of his because the lifetime review of our viewpoint character falls too much into the travails and sufferings of the midcentury white man (oh, he's having an affair with a younger woman; well at least it's not a grad student in his English program). And it's disingenuous to call it a Smiley book: even if it takes place in the same world, Smiley is the Greek Chorus of the book, but his commentary about the effects of the espionage war on the world are devastating and make it work reading. 

The Tomb of the Serpent Kings from skerples: This is a very good 'teaching dungeon' for the Old School craft; easy to get and strongly recommended as a tool for new DMs and or DMs playing with new groups. 

The Return of the Pharaoh by Nicholas Meyer: I picked this up because I enjoyed The Seven Percent Solution back in the 1980's, which was already 10 years old then. I wasn't aware there were 5 books in this series so far, and this in and the prior are very new entries (2019 and 2022, when the last was 1993 and the others in the 1970s). It was pleasant enough, but somewhat toothless, member of the "found historical document presented to the reader with editors footnotes"; while the Flashman books in this vein have the vicarious pleasure of watching a bastard get away with things/wanting to see him get the crap kicked out of him. Holmes and Watson are always on the right side of things, and the real people appearing feel a little too cute. 

If I'm so lukewarm on it why is it in book recommendations: because my library's copy had the best case of post publication copy editing. At two points in the document Watson references the adage that you can't make bricks without clay. And some prior reader of this book in my town crossed out the first 'clay' to correct it to 'straw'. For the second? Well

Not just the correction but the Bible verse for support! Now that is someone really annoyed with the author. Cracked me up. It's not my all time favorite comment someone wrote into a book, which is in my purchased used copy of Seamus Heaney's Beowulf where the student studying it had this one word + emoji annotation 

Villains and Vigilantes 1E by Jeff Dee and Jack Herman: I am sad to say that I haven't read this book in nearly 40 years; one of the older gamers in my town game group had a copy and used it for a few sessions to show the contrast between it and 2E. I finally ordered an e-copy and it is just fascinating as a game design artifact. Expect to see more of it later as I continue my New Salem work, but wow, is there a lot in here to digest on how the game changed between editions, and where parts of V&V were duplicated elsewhere even as V&V 2E abandoned them for better designs. 

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