Ah, books… I’ve been reading books on D&D and more, so I’ve had happy times. Michael Witwer wrote a great biography of Gary Gygax, Another bit of Drizzt reading by R.A. Salvatore, high fantasy by Weiss and Hickman and a treatise on bullshit by Frankfurt. Good times!
Michael Witwer – Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons
Gary Gygax is the undisputed king of the nerds (sorry Chris Hardwick), but who was this Emperor of Imagination? That must have been what Michael Witwer thought, before he embarked on his quest to write this book about the creator of Dungeons & Dragons. The book features episodes out of the life of Gygax. It starts with aregular kid falling in love with comic books, Conan and games. The chapters are usually started with a D&D referring intro, offering a teaser for the life experience discussed in the following chapter. It’s a pleasant book, with a strong feel good atmosphere. The rise of a new idea that no one believed in, a shady period of darkness and then the moment of redemption. Witwer doesn’t eschew the darker periods of Gygax’s life. He also adresses his marriage, his departure from TSR (his company, that he was booted out of) and his drug abuse while staying in California.
Thoug this book is largely written from a pro-Gary standpoint, it is not always as mercyful to the original Dungeons & Dragons game master. The figure of Dave Arneson is greatly trivialized and in this version of the story. His contribution is described as a rambling set of ideas and incoherent notes, which were pretty much useless. This for example is stuff that is left out. Gary remains the sympathetic guy, even though at some time he really must have een a complete ass. His business dealings with TSR were also not a highlight of his carreer. All in all, this is a great book though, demonstrating story telling without really chosing sides as much, more a perspective. A really cool way to learn more about the creation and originins of the great game of D&D and the man who made it happen.
R.A. Salvatore – Transitions (The Orc King, The Pirate King, The Ghost King)
Another series of books by R.A. Salvatore I read as a part of the ‘Legend of Drizzt’. I have to admit that I read these with a heavy heart, having had a good look at the follow-up already and knowing fully well what doom and gloom awaited me. Fortunately I was happy to first read some great story telling, before the unfortune hits me. In these books the world around the heroes of the hall is changing significantly. The world is morphing into the chaotic realm of the later books ánd the world Drizzt will be facing.
It starts with ‘The Orc King’, which is an interesting tale about the tentative peace between the Dwarves and Orcs. A group of conspirators wish to destabilize the already difficult situation to perpetuate the war. In the Pirate King we meet Deudermont again, the heroic pirate hunter from Waterdeep. This time he intends to take on the corruption in Luskan and fight the Lych Arklem Greeth. Worse still is to come when in The Ghost King a creature emerges with the combined forces of various old enemies. We also meet Cadderly again, the human servant of Deneir and his family. Oh, this well known drow drops by too.
The stories are exceptionally dense and well written, but give less space to the characters. Most of them have been fully developed, but the enemies are really very flat. That is not so surprising, since this is really a series of transition stories. What else do you need to know after reading all previous books, one could argue. That would be right, the world is changing and that means you have to shift the players to that setting. Salvatore does that with three touching, great and magical books. I really enjoyed reading these.
Margaret Weiss & Tracy Hickman – The Magic of Krynn
As it is, I’m a Forgotten Realms fan. I’ve not learned much about the Dungeons & Dragons universe beyond the Sword Coast and I’m not very familiar with the past. Reading this masterpiece by Weiss & Hickman, two of the most appreciated writers in the scif-fi/fantasy. I’ve gotten my first taste of their work with the ‘Death Gate Cycle’, so their skill were known to me. I learned that they had started out as TSR writers, D&D’s company. This is the first Dragonlance book with short stories from the wildly popular Dragonlance setting, which probably helpt put D&D on the map even more firmly. The stories are sort of brief and vary between short and funny, fairytales with hidden wisdom and more complex stories that fit in with the bigger story arch.
The characters seem a bit flat at first, which makes them really pieces that help progress the story. It feels very typical for the more traditional fairy tales, where the characters are fairly simple. Soon you start recognizing them and reading their personalities through the stories. For example the character Tasslehoff Burrfoot is a continuous source of entertainment for the reader. There’s really the sense of dark forests and mystery of a world you barely know anything about here. I think that is part of the allure and probably the close connection to classical fantasy worlds, where figures embody deity like essences. Tasslehoff would be a bit of a trickster, a Loki if you will. Though it’s not my setting of preference, I look forward to revisiting it in future reading endeavours.
Harry Frankfurt – On Bullshit
Yes, there is a philosophical article about bullshit available, though much like the makers of ‘Idiocracy’, I doubt that Frankfurt thought he’d ever be known to publish something so particular to the current state of the world. Yes, Trump immediately comes to mind when we discuss the difference between lying, not saying something and speaking absolute bullshit. Bullshit is more than just talking out of your ass, it’s more than willingly mislead your audience, it supposes an almost non-caring attitude towards whatever story you’re spinnin.
On Bullshit is an essential bit of reading for the post-factual age that we live in.