Friday Five: 5 Fighting Fantasy Favourites
Fiction: '(0,0)' by Robert Sharp

Review Round-Up: Trouble OF GOR

I'll get back to longer reviews next week, but for now, a very quick run-down of some recent books and bits (the "What I Read During the DGLA Reviews To Keep From Going Insane" edition):

TroubleNon Pratt's Trouble (2014) is definitely getting a proper review from me next week, but this book was fantastic. Fifteen year old girl gets pregnant, new boy in town does her a favour by pretending he's the father. It feels like a rom-com set-up, and, to her credit, Pratt manages to treat extraordinarily heavy issues with a grace that keeps things from ever being ponderous or worthy. That said, Trouble isn't ever trite or silly - it is filled with powerfully, wonderfully real characters, dealing with stuff. The protagonists are smart and confused, good-hearted but overwhelmed. I wish rom-coms were this good. Great book.

John Norman's Tarnsman of Gor (1967) is... terrible. But I've been shouting "...OF GOR" so often on Twitter recently, I thought I should do some research into the primary sources. It took me about the halfway point until I realised I'd read this a zillion years ago as a kid. This revelation took so long because: a) Tarnsman is nearly identical to Burroughs' John Carter series and b) it is really, really boring. Words can't express it, but by the end, I was actually wishing for scenes of infamous Gorean sex-slavery, if only to break up the monotony. Alas, the prurience is few and far-between - apparently the proper 'fun' doesn't show up until later books. Instead, Tarnsman is the chronicle of a fairly insufferable guy who flies back and forth on a big bird, broken up by monotonous observations about the state of society. Weeeeeee.

William Sutcliffe's The Wall (2013) is another of last year's highly-praised YA books. It takes place in a (fairly heavy-handed) analogue of an Israeli settlement. The protagonist is a thoughtful (and very lonely) kid that finds a secret tunnel to the outside and, upon seeing what's happening out there, starts to question everything going on in here. I think The Wall seems cued for pretty young readers - but, even despite the simplicity of the language, it doesn't reduce the issues. Definitely one that'll be taught in schools: an empathetic protagonist that manages to see all sides of a (vast) problem, plus the compelling parallels with his own family. Not a particularly 'happy' story, but a good one, and oddly inspiring - there are no villains, just... people.

David Ewalt's Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It (2013) was a pretty big disappointment. Ewalt seems like a great guy, but the main thing I took out of this book was: "He likes Dungeons & Dragons". Sub-theme: "He'd be fun to play with." Unfortunately, his story is just that - a story - and merely a superficial look at the origins, rise, decline and... wherever it is now... of one of the world's largest and most intriguing games. Everything is filtered through the lens of David's own experience, so the brief history of wargames is drowned out by his experience trying a game in the mall. Ditto, LARPing is captured by one session. It is a fast read, but a cursory one - made more frustrating by the fact that Ewalt does occasionally brush up against some really interesting points. What's happening to the 4e players that feel 'abandoned' by the company's disavowal of that edition? Are video gamers coming back to pen and paper, or are they still fleeing it? What's going on with the rise of Pathfinder and 'old school' gamers? Why did the company overextend and fail so badly? What did WotC - and then Hasbro - see in it? All of these are very, very lightly addressed, and invariably in a fashion that is somehow laudatory to the game and its creators. But the book spends more time going through Ewalt's personal relationship with the game (as extended metaphor) than, say, a bit of valuable muck-racking. (By contrast, this article in The Believer is fantastic, infinitely more balanced and, despite the shorter word count, a lot more detailed.)