Category Archives: Books

My Five Books of 2019

I did this last year and it seemed to go well enough, so here I am again.  I try to read, or when unable to find the time, listen to audio books.  Trips are usually good for reading time.  I do not read… or listen… as much as I would like… or as much as I used to back when my time was more free and my eyesight was able to focus on something as close as the printed page… but I do what I can.

I also log my reading over at Good Reads, which serves the same purpose for books as this blog does for gaming.  It is a record and a memory.  They even gave me a little end of year summary.

Good Reads Summary

According to Good Reads I managed to make my way through about two dozen books this year.  You can see my whole Good Reads list for 2019 if you want.  I’ve actually finished a book since then, and will likely finish at least one more, so the up to date tally is available at that link.

Out of those, these are the five that felt the most meaningful I suppose.

The covers, if you prefer visual representation

The Doomsday Machine by Daniel Ellsberg

Daniel Ellsberg is remembered as the RAND Corporation employee who smuggled out the Pentagon Papers, the detailed study of US involvement in Vietnam commissioned by SecDef Robert McNamara who wanted to figure out how we got in that mess.  It was a big deal and changed the outlook on the war for many.

However, Ellsberg actually smuggled two sets of documents out of RAND, the other being related to the work he had done as a nuclear war planner to support the US in determining its strategy for nuclear weapons use.  He didn’t want to dilute the Vietnam report, so he hid those documents while the government tore his life apart.

And he ended up losing them.  The story of how is in the book.

But he has been able to recreate much of what he had worked on from declassified government documents and his own recollections, which became this book.

It covers US policy on nuclear weapons, the level of command which felt it could authorize a nuclear strike (the movie Dr. Strangelove seemed very possible), and how the US has used nuclear weapons, if not actively, as a constant and ongoing threat, both implied and explicit, as part of its foreign policy.

It makes you wonder how we got through the cold war.

Albion’s Seed by David Hackett Fischer

This is a long, detailed, and somewhat dry book, and could easily be dismissed as so much trivia about four groups of colonists who came from England to the new world.  But buried in all of that are a series of attitudes and traditions and behaviors that still influence the US and its politics and regional divides.  It is no coincidence of history that partisans of the English Civil War, the Puritans and Royalists, settled in the regions of the colonies that would later end up as opposing sides in our own civil war.

The book lays out attitudes and traditions that persist through today that make up much of the current Red/Blue political divide in the country.  The book is uncanny in tracing lines from the 1600s through to today.  Also, a bunch of regional words that are often associated with southern or African American culture originated in rural England, where they have since fallen out of use.  Hat tip to The Mittani who mentioned this book on Twitter.

The Peripheral by William Gibson

Some times you just need something new in a science fiction tale.  William Gibson managed that back in the 80s with Neuromancer, which was on my list last year as a re-read.  While not as ground breaking as that tale, it does take what was a new tack for me on what might otherwise be seen as tropes of the science fiction genre.  A good palette cleanser in the midst of some deeper reads.

Shattered Sword by Jonathan Parshall

When I was growing up the generation of leaders from WWII was passing and the mid-to-high level commanders were getting very old.  All of them seemed keen to write their memoirs which created a base of myth about the war, feeding off of and supporting each other.  I hit a point in my 20s where I refused to ready anything about the “big” battles of WWII like Midway, D-Day, Stalingrad, and so on because they were all telling the same story with only minor variations in detail.

It has only been since maybe the late 90s, when the higher ranks of the commanders began to dwindle and so those with a stake in telling a tale that put them in the best light stopped being an influence.  Historians like Anthony Beevor began taking a harder look things and reworking the myths to either discard them or at least make them align to the facts available.

For the Battle of Midway, Shattered Sword has become something of a definitive source.  Focused on the Japanese side of the battle, it dispels myths that have lingered for decades.  My only regret is that it took me about a decade to finally get to it, though the fact that they found two of the Japanese carries lost at the battle while I was reading about them sinking was kind of a nifty coincidence.

Permanent Record by Edward Snowden

Something of a latter day Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden tells the tale of his life.  This is his biography, covering his youth, desire to serve his country, time with the CIA and NSA, and eventually how he went about telling the world about the dubious and illegal activities of the US intelligence community.  In a parallel to Ellsberg’s book, it is surprising how much access and control was being handed to young and not well supervised employees and contractors.  Whether you think he is a hero or a traitor, this is the story of his life and the string of events that ended up with him in exile.  It also lined up well because the book I read next was Legacy of Ashes, which was about how the CIA ended up in the state it was when Snowden was there.

Picking

That is a lot of non-fiction there.  Picking five wasn’t a huge effort, but there were clearly some other contenders in my mix.  As the Good Reads banner indicates, I read Margret Atwood’s The Testaments, the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, which I enjoyed.  However, I wasn’t for a minute unable to guess how things would turn out.  It felt like something cranked out as fan service to support the popular video adaption of the original book on Hulu.  I also disdain the re-used “academics discuss things” ending.

Good Reads also tells me that the book with the highest review score I read this year was How to Hide an Empire.  But that didn’t get high marks from me largely due to its tone, which was of the hysterical making mountains out of mole hills variety.  Also, I literally knew every talking point in the book before I picked it up, so this alleged attempt to hide an empire hasn’t exactly been a huge success.  I might not have been the target audience here.

I might have put Legacy of Ashes on the list if it had mentioned my great uncle who worked for the CIA in the 50s and 60s and who carried some of those briefcases of cash used to support or overthrow governments in the middle-east.  He also worked with Kermit Roosevelt in Egypt.  But he wasn’t high enough level to get a mention.  When it comes down to it, I wouldn’t kick any of the five titles I have to inject this.

And then there is William L. Shirer.  I have half a post written about his two huge tomes about Nazi Germany and the fall of France in 1940.  It basically sums up to what he wrote aligns up almost exactly to the views of my grandparents generation, who served in the war.  I heard many of the things he wrote come straight from the mouths of my grandparents and their siblings and friends.  His work, while not well loved by historians, captures that amazingly well.

I did read a lot more fiction than my picks might indicate.  Some of it was re-reading that didn’t spark much interest after I was done.  I did start on C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series, but after two books I couldn’t stand the ratio of introspection to action.  We read about Bren over-thinking things for about ten pages for every page where something actually happens.  I found that wearisome and declined to go further in the series.

I also went into the Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu due to it featuring as an alleged motivator for CCP for their summer of the Chaos Era.  Like the Chaos Era in New Eden, I found it interesting but tiresome.  I declined to pick up the third book.  I read a spoiler instead, so I know how it ends, so I don’t feel like I missed out.

I did just knock out the first book in a new series from Marko Kloos, who wrote the Frontlines series I mentioned in a post a few years back.  He’s done with that and while I liked the new book, Aftershocks, and I’ll read the next in the series when it comes out, it wasn’t epic.  Good, solid science fiction, but I want to see where it goes.

And then there is the curious case of Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, of Zero Punctuation fame.  I’ve read two of his books this year… one and a half as I write this, but I’ll be done with the second before we get to 2020.  His style has developed since Mogworld and makes me feel like he is about 20 degrees off course towards becoming the next Douglas Adams. (Also, he makes video games, which is something else Douglas Adams dabbled in.)  I like his work, I’ll read whatever he writes, but he isn’t quite there yet and I cannot put my finger on why.

Honorable Mention

I write these posts in advance which, given that they can go up whenever I have a slow day in December, which means they are done with enough time left in the year to knock out another book or two.  And so it was last year where I was able devour a book that might have made the list.  I thought I would mention it

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

Scalzi at his page turning best, creating a universe of lives and politics.  I read this and then the second book in the series and felt thwarted by the fact the third installment was more than a year away.  Such is the life of a reader.  You binge through a hot new title and then there is a year or more wait until the next one.  Odd how television has adopted that model these days, where we get 10 episodes and then wait a year… or nearly two in the case of Rick and Morty… for the next installment.  Anyway, the next installment was due in April last I checked, so I’ll be there.

And so it goes, another year of reading has passed by.  Was there anything great that you read in 2019?

Catch 22 on Hulu

I was interested to see the opening of the just released Hulu series Catch 22, and was not disappointed.

The thing is, Catch 22 is a complicated topic.  There is, of course, the sprawling 1961 novel by Joseph Heller which I first read in high school and have re-read several times since.  Clocking in at 472 pages in the 70s pocket paperback version I still have on my shelf (published in the UK under the Corgi imprint) and over 500 pages in the 50th anniversary paperback version I picked up a few years back (the German language version I set myself to read one summer in the late 80s is only 441 pages, but it is in the smallest font size I’ve ever seen in a paperback, so would probably swell to 600 pages in a legible font size), the novel wanders through a series of characters with intertwined stories and strange players who come and go and the whole thing is told out of chronological order. It is not a work that lends itself easily to other mediums.

Not that it has not been tried.

There is, of course, the 1970 film version that attempted to take on the novel, compressing it down into just two hours.

I love the film.  It is, at best, an imperfect vehicle, a sketch of what the book contains, but a beautiful sketch.  The audio commentary on the DVD version I own of director Mike Nichols talking to Steven Soderbergh about the trials of making the film is an epic tale on its own.

In video you can capture a sweeping landscape or a vision of chaos with a pass of the camera, summing up in seconds what might take several paragraphs.  But a film has trouble telling the audience things, passing on relevant details, without having characters say them aloud.  The importance of a breathtaking vista or a harrowing bomb run can be lost without somebody explaining aloud what is going on.

And since the characters cannot possibly speak every line in the novel and keep things in a reasonable time frame… I had an abridged audio book version of Catch 22 that was six hours long… huge sections of the novel had to be lopped off for the film version.

But here is the thing.  For all its faults, the film is my baseline for everything.  This is because long before I ever picked up the book I had seen the film.  Or at least part of the film.  After its theatrical run it made its television debut in… by my recollection… 1974 on a Sunday night.  This was back when showing newer movies on TV was kind of a big deal and would get weeks of ad spots on the network to herald its coming.  And my dad, ever the poor judge of what was appropriate, let me sit up and watch part of it.

This is probably why Alan Arkin is Yossarian in my head.  Well, that and the audio book I mentioned was read by him, which no doubt reinforced the whole thing.  Seeing just the first half of the movie set most of the characters in my head, so when I think of them I think of the people who played them in the film.  This was helped by the fact that the cast was an ensemble of well known actors.  So when I read the book I already had faces in my head for many of the roles.

Which leads me back to Hulu.  A mini-series has more time to deal with a book as complex as Catch 22, and so I was glad to see that it started somewhere besides the isle of Pianosa, the central location where the film grounded itself.

Instead it starts at the US Army Air Corps training base in Santa Ana with Yossarian and Clevinger and Lt. Scheisskopf (and his wife) and the obsession with marching in formation.  This is a major story arc in the book that is alluded at the very end of the film when you see the base turned out to march as Yossarian runs for the ocean.

We were going to get more of the story than the film gave us.  The mini-series was going to find its own way through the novel.  They even avoided using the name Yossarian, which is uttered, mumbled, and shouted throughout the film, referring to the lead character as Yoyo, his nickname.  I was good with that.

The whole thing emphasizes different aspects of the story than the film does.  Chaplin Tappman is a passing character.  The relationship with Orr is not as key.  Lt. Col. Korn has a much less aggressive role.  And they decided to include the tale of Maj. ____ DeCoverley and the great big siege of Bologna and the bomb line.

On the other hand, I was a bit dismayed at the introduction of the cast standing in formation in Santa Ana.  They were a series of actors so similar in appearance that I could not tell one from the other.  This was, perhaps, intentional, in order to emphasize the interchangeability of men in war, where  death leads to a replacement, where turnover in the squadron in the book highlights Yossarian’s alienation.  The only person who stood out was Christopher Abbott, who plays Yossarian.  I can see the point of that, signalling right away the main character.  And Abbott does a credible job in the role, though his version of the character is somewhat more subdued that the sometimes manic Alan Arkin performance in the film.

Christopher Abbott as John Yossarian

And things start off well.  After training Yossarian and his class from Santa Ana all end up in the Mediterranean theater together, during which the mini-series can tell its own version of the story, even throwing in early on the dead man in Yossarian’s tent, something an avid fan of the book will no doubt remember.

But it cannot stay away from scenes covered by the film as well, and at times it comes off poorly in comparison.  Yossarian and Doc Daneeka talking about the circular logic of “catch-22” on the flight line is one of the great early moments of the film.  The same exchanges has to take place in the mini-series.  In cannot go anywhere without setting that down.  But it doesn’t have the same punch.

Likewise, the story leads up to the scene with Yossarian and Arfy, where Arfy has raped and murdered the housekeeper and the sirens are blaring and Yossarian is telling Arfy they are coming to arrest him for this horrible act as the MPs are pounding on the door.  But the scene in the mini-series doesn’t live up to the same one in the film, in part because the mini-series hasn’t built up Arfy enough, but mostly because it simply couldn’t top the performances of Charles Grodin and Alan Arkin.

Those are, of course, my problems and not the problems of the mini-series.  A normal person probably wouldn’t be drawn to those.  But the mini-series has its own issues.

First, there is a seeming need to compress the set by putting characters from the books in different positions in the planes so as to cram everybody into the same scene.  The book is primarily about a group of offices, pilots, navigators, and bombardiers.  But they need to get Nately in the plane with Yossarian and so he ends up as a tail gunner.

While they visually references some of Orr’s quirks… he is clearly fiddling with the gas stove that so infuriated Yossarian in the book… they never establish any real relationship between Orr and Yossarian and, while they set up Orr’s eventual fate, it lacks any real punch.

The mini-series also eschews any attempt at non-linear story telling… even the film kept that aspect of the book in its two hour run… and bowls through events chronologically.  This takes a bit of the bite out of the changing number of missions to be flow, used as a marker in the book to keep the reader sync up with where the story lay at the moment.

Not very far in Milo starts to overwhelm the story.  In the end Yossarian is the cornerstone of the story, and while Milo plays into it, it feels like Milo gets about a third of the mini-series.  And, while it is fun to see his ever expanding empire and the inevitable contract bombing raid for the Germans, in the end he is a metaphor and not a key player.

Meanwhile George Clooney was an odd choice for Scheisskopf.  He is the big name in the production and his being in that role causes somebody who is at best a secondary character in the book to suddenly overshadow those around him.  I know he wanted to be in the mini-series, but that wasn’t the spot.  He is also too old for the role, starting off the whole things as a Lieutenant in the army.  He was originally supposed to be cast as Col. Cathcart, which I think he could have pulled off well enough.  Instead we have his outsized presence in an unsuitable role.

Then there is Maj. ____ DeCoverley, who is bizarrely played by Hugh Laurie.  I am a huge fan of Hugh Laurie, but he is a man of words and some sophistication, and plays his character as such, while Maj. ____ DeCoverley is so named because he is gruff and intimidating to the point that people are afraid to ask him his first name.  He is, as readers may recall from the end of the loyalty oath crusade in the book, not a man of subtlety or sophistication.  So I appreciate the inclusion, which is pretty much required as part of the great big siege of Bologna story line, which the film omits, but I am not sure it was well cast.

And finally, the whole story goes off the rails somewhere in episode five, leaving the original tale behind to forge its own story, stopping every so often to cram in some scene from the book to ground its otherwise odd turns.  It reminds me a bit of the end of Game of Thrones on HBO, only the team doing the mini-series had the ending rather than having to make it up.  That they chose to make it up seems… worse maybe?

Add in some unnecessary stumbles… when a man with sergeant’s strips on his sleeves shows up and introduces himself as Lieutenant Newman I rolled my eyes so hard I may have detached a retina… and the end, the whole thing feels unsatisfying, leaving off with Yossarian’s essential problems unresolved.  He still has more missions to fly and people are still trying to kill him.  I don’t know.  Maybe they are planning a season 2.  But they’ve already pass through so much of the book that I don’t know what they would do with six more episodes.

It isn’t all bad.  I was certainly on board with it for the first three episodes and had to sit on my hands and not spoil thing for my wife, who watched that far with me, as I spotted this and that from the books while the story moved along.

It was certainly adequate visually.  I suspect that the production had access to maybe three actual B-25 bombers for the filming… well short of the full squadron of flying examples the film had… in addition to a T-6, a C-47, and a JU-52.  From that they were able to CGI the flying scenes well enough.

The choice to keep the story line completely linear was probably correct.  Cutting back and forth in time is jarring enough without having to keep track of where you are across multiple episodes.

And Giancarlo Giannini as the old man in the brothel was an inspired choice.  Maybe the only right choice for that role.

But overall I am not feeling it.  I binged through it in an evening and morning and am not thinking about a re-watch.  Clearly many of my issues are because of the lens through which I viewed the series, a lens distorted by familiarity with both the book and the film.  I cannot see it independently of that context.  And the reviews for it seems to be overwhelmingly positive.  So maybe it is good and it is just grumpy old me who cannot see it.

My Five Books of 2018

A couple of years back I signed up over at GoodReads, a site devoted to books and reading.  I did so less to find new books or interact with others as I did to be able to track what I have read.  As with many other things, I often know that I have read a given book but I can be a bit hazy on when I did.

Anyway, now that I have a timeline of my reading I can now abuse the end of the year summary season here at the blog to recall the better books read.  If you want to see everything I read you can find me over at GoodReads under the usual name of Wilhelm Arcturus.

I used to read a lot more, knocking out a book a week easily at one point.  Life, family, TV, and video games have conspired to drop that number, and I have to make up some of the missing time with audio books in the car.

An odd aside, I had to look back and check which of these books I read on the Kindle and which I listened to as audio books.  One I read on the Kindle I could have sworn I listened to instead.  I suppose there is something to be said when, once done, the impression left by the book seems to be free of the media.

Anyway, I still think I get through a decent number of titles over the course of a given year, even if my taste can be somewhat questionable.  There are some dubious titles on my GoodReads page.

And, because we’re at the end of the year I thought I would pick out my five favorite reads from 2018.

The picks, if you just can’t wait

Five is a good number for such a list.  Three is too few, but when you try to stretch to ten there tends to be a couple of filler items in there that don’t really stand up to their peers.

These are not all new books.  Two are a bit long in the tooth, one is a book that I re-read every so often, and another actually got me to re-read an old title in anticipation.

Why Baseball Matters by Susan Jacoby

Picked up on a whim for a trip back in June and I pretty much finished it at the airport and on the plane out.

I grew up as a baseball fan and somewhere in my drafts folder is an unfinished post about the cultural importance and impact of baseball in the US.  It is the grandfather of sports in the US and had professional leagues back when basketball and football were intramural oddities at a few universities.

But it is also a product of its time, a game with no time limit played too often for many games to feel special. (A baseball season is 162 games and teams can easily play daily for a month at a stretch, while basketball and ice hockey have 82 game seasons and football a mere 16.)  This reflects it coming of age in an era of few competing entertainments and no mass media faster than the telegraph or the daily paper.

The slowness of play, the abundance of options and distractions, the expense of equipment and coaching needed for kids to advance towards serious play, and the 90s, where the big strike and the doping scandals made a mockery of the game, has all sent the baseball into clear decline.

Susan Jacboy has a plan to fix that.  It is a forlorn hope born of the connoisseur (my favorite over-used reason to link to this comic) who believes if you just got into baseball you would appreciate its subtleties and interesting choices, that if you just looked hard enough you would find a world to explore in every pitch.

I appreciated her walk through the history of baseball and felt a kinship with her feelings.  And I agree that some of the things Major League Baseball is trying or has proposed to solve the games problems in the modern age barely add up to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

But since the 90s I have lost my faith in the game and cannot see its decline being halted without radical change.  Baseball needs a new era.  Still, I quite enjoyed the exploring the game and my own feelings for it through this book.  Her passion for the game is genuine and I wouldn’t (and probably couldn’t) do anything to derail it.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

This one is from the same trip as Why Baseball Matters.

The news of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide was fresh in the news that week and I realized that, while I sort of knew who he was and recognized his face when it passed by on TV, I didn’t really know anything about him.  So I picked up his first book, which is pretty much the story of his life up to the late 90s.

While some seem to be critical of the fact that it includes sections that were initially done as magazine articles, which does lead to a change in style at times, it is still a good collection that holds together very well.

Restaurants are also an interesting business, as so many people seem to think it ought to be easy, but then so many restaurants fail.  But it still seems to be a thing that people do after they achieve fame and fortune elsewhere.  So people from Scott Adams of Dilbert fame to Willie McCovey, baseball star of my youth, end up in entwined in the business.

I also enjoy reading what goes on behind the scenes in various industries, how things really get done.  I’d read Waiter Rant some years back, a blog cum book, but that focused on the dining room.  Anthony Bourdain brings you into the belly of the beast, where the food gets made, who is likely making your food (Spanish makes up much of the lingua franca in most kitchens), how things go, and how to get a table’s food to all show up at once.

There is a lot off putting in the mix, but that is largely because, as with any human endeavor, it involves people with their own egos sometimes working at cross purposes.

In the end though I enjoyed the book and would recommend it.  I ended feeling I understood just a bit of the mania and demons and passion for food that drove Anthony Bourdain.

Neuromancer by William Gibson

I read this back in the 80s, maybe a year after it came out.  The name Wintermute was already on my brain when I started playing Stellar Emperor back in 1986.  I had an alt with that name for a bit.

Back then, as I used my Apple II and its 1200bps modem to log into an online service, the book seemed like a look into an amazing future.  And, as time moved along, I have been impressed with how prophetic the book was with each re-read.

There are bits that haven’t aged well.  Somehow the Soviet Union was still around and the fate of the US was a bit of a mystery.   But those things blow past in the vision of a gritty future that feels all too real and a tale told well.  I will be back to re-read it again I am sure.

Grant by Ron Chernow

I bought this for my father after hearing it reviewed, Grant is a hefty tome ringing in at over four times the length of Neuromancer.  But that is the way Ron Chernow rolls.  And before my dad had dug into it I picked up a copy for myself and dove into an exploration of all things Ulysses S. Grant.

Grant is a strange mix of traits who was lucky enough to have been in the right place at the right time.  Grant born 20 years earlier or 20 years later would have likely never been heard of.  Instead, despite multiple character flaws, including a social awkwardness that made things like his job as a debt collector nearly impossible to a trusting nature that marked him as a sucker to some and came back to bite him multiple times to his binge alcoholism that haunted his career and forced him to abstain, he rose to lead the Army of the Potomac to victory in the Civil War and was twice president of the United States.

He was a complicated man and the book spends much time exploring his life, behavior, and the stories around him, sorting out the fact from the speculation and the rumors spread by those seeking to rise by bringing him down.

The expanse of the book is almost exhausting, but like a day of hard work and accomplishment, you feel better for having put in the effort.

A Legacy of Spies by John Le Carre

I can be something of a lukewarm fan of Le Carre, and all the more so if we get into the film and television adaptations of his books.  I just made it through the AMC mini-series based on The Little Drummer Girl thinking mostly that it was at least an hour too long and that Michael Shannon could really play a good middle age to older Kurt Vonnegut if somebody wants to do a biopic.

But A Legacy of Spies is something special.  It drags up the events of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and runs it through the post Cold War wringer as loose threads from the original Operation Windfall arise and Peter Guillam is summoned to MI6 as investigators try and tease out what really happened in Berlin some 50 years before.

Knowing the basis of the novel, I read The Spy Who Came in From the Cold first, just to have that set in my mind before I started off on A Legacy of Spies.  I was not disappointed as the new novel explores and brings to light much of what was left out or only hinted at in the original.  The duplicity and hard choices of an older time seem silly and wasteful when trotted out decades after the Berlin Wall has fallen, an not only because the meat of the operation had been hidden all of this time.  Definitely worth a read if you’re a fan of the original book or even the film version, a Richard Burton classic that is an excellent adaptation of the material.

The World of Warcraft Diary Kickstarter Clears Nearly $600K

In something of an amazing turn around, or a demonstration of how well things can go when you do it right, the second Kickstarter campaign for the World of Warcraft Diary closed up earlier today having brought in $598,999 from 8,379 backers.

The book to come

Considering the ask for the campaign was a modest $10,000, that is quite a feat.

In fact, the second campaign was almost the opposite of the first one back in March, which asked for $400,000 and couldn’t even get to $10,000.  Instead the new campaign reached 10x its goal in the first 24 hours and averaged over $43,000 a day over the course of the campaign.

That is a wild success by any measure and along the way The World of Warcraft Diary became the highest funded non-fiction book on Kickstarter.

This is an example of getting everything right after having done many things wrong (no advance notices of the campaign, no press build-up, no kind words/backing from Blizzard, asking for too much money, and not having a plan for updates).

The campaign also again shows that Kickstarter is better for some things, discreet projects like books or other art, and less good for more complicated things like video games, especially online massively multiplayer video games and Minecraft servers.

The promised date for delivery for the book is December 2018, so in theory I might get my copy by Christmas.  Yet I suspect it will be late.  Not every project I have backed has been long delayed, but I think the closest any project has come was to show up a month late.  It will be something for me to read early in the new year I hope.

Kickstarter and the Return of the World of Warcraft Diary

I wrote about the first run at the World of Warcraft Diary back in March.  I was concerned that the ask for the project was too much ($400,000) and that the publicity groundwork hadn’t been done for the project.  One of the rules of Kickstarter campaigns is that your core audience should know it is coming and be ready to support it.

Anyway, the campaign failed, but the author took what he learned to heart and said he would be back again with a second run with better groundwork and a more reasonable ask.  And so here we go with round two of the World of Warcraft Diary Kickstarter campaign.

And it has funded already.

I got an email via the original campaign because I was a backer letting me know that the new round would be showing up this week.  But by the time I got around to check on it the campaign was already funded.

Op Success

That is crazy first day success, and the first day isn’t even done as I write this.  My usual minimum benchmark for success is 20% in the first 24 hours, but this is already past 1049% and the number keeps going.  The charts over at Kicktraq show the tale of the campaign.

So yes, this book looks like it will be a thing.

The level of success doesn’t really surprise me.  World of Warcraft is huge and still popular and has enough of a fanbase to support this level of effort… or even the first $400K level of effort… so long as the word gets out to the fans.

I mean, if Andrew Groen can get huge numbers out of the comparatively tiny EVE Online fan base, then the WoW fan base should be able to beat that in a blink.  I will be interested to see where this campaign ends up with such big initial interest.

Anyway, if you are interested the campaign will run through to the morning of September 25, 2018.  Again, you can find the campaign page here.

Kickstarter – One Day Left for Empires of EVE Vol II

The eventual success of Andrew Groen’s Kickstarter campaign for Empires of EVE Vol II was never really in doubt.  The original was a success, selling more than 15,000 copies, so there was little in the way of surprise when the project funded quickly, making the modest $12,500 goal in just a few hours.

Fully Funded

Currently the total pledged has passed the $150K mark.

As the campaign went on, new tiers were added, including an option to get the original and the second volume as one package.  The latest update announced that backers would be getting a digital art book titled A History of the Great Memes of EVE Online as part of the deal.

However, the campaign is coming to an end.  So if you want to support the project and secure a first run copy of the next chapter in Andrew Groen’s history of EVE Online, the time to act is now.

It will be for sale through Amazon eventually, but to get it soonest, to support the project, and to get the book of EVE Online memes, you have to back the project before it ends.

Go here to pledge now.

Addendum:  The campaign is now closed, having exceeded the campaign for the first book by bringing in $169,160 from 2,643 backers.

The first book brought in $95,729, though it had more backers, the number landing at 3,116.  I guess we were willing to spend more this time around.

The promised release date for Empires of EVE Vol II is May 2019, so call it August 2019 at least before it is done.

Kickstarter – The World of Warcraft Diary

Note: See addendum at the bottom for campaign status.

I’ve been down on Kickstarter after my first blush of enthusiasm something like six years back.  Apparently just because you and a few hundred to a few thousand random people give some stranger money it doesn’t mean that they’ll do what they said they would and it almost assuredly doesn’t mean they’ll do it when they said they would.

Still, I have gotten a couple of Kickstarter deliveries this year, and on the MMO front no less, the least reliable projects from an unreliable source, so I am feeling a little more charitable towards the crowd funding idea I suppose.  Also, this involves MMO design and history, and I am all over that.

So I am going to put it out there and support The World of Warcraft Diary: A Journal of Computer Game Development Kicstarter campaign.

The quick summary is that this is an inside look at the development of World of Warcraft.  From the Kickstarter page itself

The WoW Diary provides a candid and detailed look at the twists and turns inside computer game development. Its author was WoW’s first 3D level designer and he writes about the people behind the game and the philosophy behind their work.

The WoW Diary will be a hardbound journal with over 95,000 words and 130 images across 336 varnished, full-color pages of high-quality paper stock printed in the U.S.A.

Sounds great.

The WoW Diary

So why am I suddenly keen to back another Kickstarter given the somewhat sordid history of my backing experiences?

  • The topic is one I quite enjoy. One of my favorite sessions from last year’s BlizzCon involved old hands telling stories from the early days of various projects.
  • Book projects are pretty reliable on Kickstarter.
  • The book itself is already done.  These are essentially pre-orders to get the publishing process in gear.
  • It is just $40

All good right?

Well, the downside is that I suspect that this Kickstarter will fail.

The groundwork to get this Kickstarter campaign into the public eye hasn’t gone very well.  I only heard about it due to a mention in a forum post on Icy Veins that I saw referenced on Twitter.

So Wilhelm’s rule of Kickstarter campaigns, that if you can’t line up your supports to get to 20% of your goal in the first 24 hours you aren’t going to make it, appears to apply here.  The campaign is three days in and, while the rate of backers is picking up, it still isn’t that much.

Project Status early this AM

Give that, Kicktraq has a rather glum trend line for the project.

I could not get both with the same dollar amount

And then there is the amount of money that is the ask; $400,000.

That isn’t the biggest dollar amount ever for a Kickstarter campaign, but for a literary project that is pretty damn big.  Back when The Fountain War fiasco was unfolding as a slow motion train wreck, one of my main objections was that $150,000 was way too big of an ask.

Not only that, but Andrew Groen went on to write and publish Empires of EVE after getting $95,729 (on a $12,000 initial ask), a project that still needed to be researched and written.  So the pitch for $400,000 to get an already finished book published has problems to my mind.

Finally, there is the pledge increments.  Since the author has eschewed any special bonus give away things, there is exactly one pledge level, $40.  You can give more.  Some people have, as dividing the amount pledged by the number of backers will indicate.  But the average is still just $46, so the campaign needs close to 10,000 backers to succeed.

Currently that number is below 200.

And there are 12 days left to go, because… I guess the author felt 15 days was all he would need.

Also, he can’t ship to Canada.  So yeah.

This feels a lot like somebody’s theory of Kickstarter that they haven’t bothered to test against the data available.

Anyway, lots of problems and not a lot of hope of success unless the online game media picks up the story.  Still, I am in for $40.  We’ll see if it happens this way or not.

If you want to check it out, the Kickstarter page is here.  It also has links to the author’s own site which includes further details.

Addendum:  This was posted by the author as a comment on the campaign a little while ago:

Yeah, this campaign isn’t going to happen. LOL. I had some really bad advice. I’ll reboot it with 1/10th of a target and give it 30 days to clear. Thanks for your support. If you sign up to to my email list, I’ll send a notice to you when it begins again. (And I promise not to spam you with constant updates).

So it looks like this will be starting over again with a better plan.

Addendum 2: An update to the project has been posted.  For some reason the author is going to let this campaign run out despite the fact that the campaign page will not go away if he cancels it. (You can, for example, still find the failed Project: Gorgon and Pantheon campaign pages on Kickstarter.)   Anyway, look for this project to return in the next 1-4 months.