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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Books I Read in 2020

In 2020 I learned the word "doomscrolling," the perfect term to describe the way I obsessively followed online news feeds during this strange and stressful year. Reading so much about politics, the environment, social injustice, and general disaster online continues to have an impact on my reading, though I did somehow manage to eke out a couple books more this year than I did last. I read 107 books in 2020, compared to 103 last year--an improvement, but still short of my long-standing target of 136. 

This was another escapist year in reading for me. I took comfort in nostalgia to an even greater degree than usual, re-reading material from Alan Dean Foster, John Steinbeck, Henry James, and William Golding; revisiting old roleplaying rulebooks to fire my imagination for games I hope to play after COVID; exploring the history of film, art, and video gaming; and starting, finishing, or continuing fantasy and science fiction series that began long ago. I also managed to squeeze in a little bit of mainstream reading of the sort I really should have gotten to decades ago.

I don't claim that the list below reflects where my psyche was at this year, but I guess I chose these titles, which must say something...right? 

Here's the list: 

January: 10
The Gap into Conflict: The Real Story (Stephen R. Donaldson, 1991)
The Gap into Vision: Forbidden Knowledge (Stephen R. Donaldson, 1991)
The Gap into Power: A Dark and Hungry God Arises (Stephen R. Donaldson, 1992)
Star Trek Log Five (Alan Dean Foster, 1975)
The Egg (Andy Weir, 2019)
Star Trek Log Six (Alan Dean Foster, 1976)
Watchmen (Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, 1987)
Villains & Vigilantes: Superhero Role Play (Jeff Dee, 1982)
Car Wars: Deluxe Edition (Steve Jackson, 1996)
The Turn of the Screw (Henry James, 1898)

February: 10
The Gap into Madness: Chaos and Order (Stephen R. Donaldson, 1994)
The Gap into Ruin: This Day All Gods Die (Stephen R. Donaldson, 1996)
Star Trek Log Seven (Alan Dean Foster, 1976)
Combat Shield and Mini Adventure (David Zeb Cook, 1984)
Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck, 1937)
The Shady Dragon Inn (Carl Smith, 1984)
The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck, 1939)
Lord of the Flies (William Golding, 1954)
Black Beauty (Anna Sewell, 1877)
Top Secret/S.I. (Douglas Niles, 1987)

March: 11
Star Trek Log Eight (Alan Dean Foster, 1976)
Lord Foul’s Bane (Stephen R. Donaldson, 1977)
Star Trek Log Nine (Alan Dean Foster 1977)
Augie and the Green Knight (Zach Weinersmith, 2014)
The Holy Bible: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness (Zach Weinersmith, 2015)
Science: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness (Zach Weinersmith, 2017)
Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness (Zach Weinersmith, 2018)
27 Nerd Disses: A Significant Quantity of Disrespect (Phil Plait and Zach Weinersmith, 2013)
Religion: Ruining Everything Since 4004 BC (Zach Weinersmith, 2015)
Science: Ruining everything Since 1543 (Zach Weinersmith, 2013)
Trial of the Clone: An Interactive Adventure (Zach Weinersmith, 2012)

April: 13
The Higher Frontier (Christopher L. Bennett, 2020)
Summer Frost (Blake Crouch, 2019)
Emergency Skin (N. K. Jemisin, 2019)
Ark (Veronica Roth, 2019)
You Have Arrived at Your Destination (Amor Towles, 2019)
The Last Conversation (Paul Tremblay, 2019)
Randomize (Andy Weir, 2019)
The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind (Jackson Ford, 2019)
If It Bleeds (Stephen King, 2020)
Gwendy’s Magic Feather (Richard Chizmar, 2020)
A Very Scalzi Christmas (John Scalzi, 2019)
The Collectors (Philip Pullman, 2014)
The Test (Sylvain Neuvel, 2019)

May: 7
Fallout: Wasteland Warfare Roleplaying Game (Various, 2019)
John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom (Various, 2019)
GURPS (Steve Jackson, 1989)
GURPS Wild Cards (Steve Jackson, 1990)
GURPS Wild Cards Aces Abroad (Kevin Andrew Murphy, 1991)
The Last Emperox (John Scalzi, 2020)
The Most Dangerous Game (Richard Connell, 1924)

June: 7
Comic Book Implosion: An Oral History of DC Comics Circa 1978 (Keith Dallas and John Wells, 2018)
Star Trek Log 10 (Alan Dean Foster, 1978)
Comics Ad Men (Steven Brower, 2019)
The Great Canadian Comic Books (Michael Hirsh and Patrick Loubert, 1971)
The Art of The Empire Strikes Back (Deborah Call, 1980)
Network Effect (Martha Wells, 2020)
GURPS Atomic Horror (Paul Elliot and Chris W. McCubbin, 1993)

July: 5
The Oppenheimer Alternative (Robert J. Sawyer, 2020)
James Bond: My Long and Eventful Search for His Father (Len Deighton, 2012)
Pulling a Train (Harlan Ellison, 2012)
Getting in the Wind (Harlan Ellison, 2012)
La Belle Sauvage (Philip Pullman, 2017)

August: 5
The Secret Commonwealth (Philip Pullman, 2019)
Frankissstein: A Love Story (Jeanette Winterson, 2019)
Tooth and Claw (Jo Walton, 2003)
Sleeper (Jo Walton, 2014)
The City and the Stars (Arthur C. Clarke, 1956)

September: 3
The Yellow Wallpaper (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1892)
Star Trek: The Motion Picture: Inside the Art and Visual Effects (Jeff Bond, 2020)
Lifelode (Jo Walton, 2009)

October: 15
Sid Meier’s Memoir! A Life in Computer Games (Sid Meier, 2020)
The Dynamite Art of Lucio Parrillo (Lucio Parrillo, 2020)
The Marvel Art of Savage Sword of Conan (John Rhett Thomas, 2020)
Star Wars: The Lightsaber Prop Guide Book (Seth Sherwood, 2018)
Creating the Worlds of Star Wars: 365 Days (John Knoll, 2005)
Star Wars Art: Visions (J.W. Rinzler, 2010)
The Illustrated Star Wars Universe (Kevin J. Anderson, 1995)
Star Wars Portfolio (Ralph McQuarrie, 1977)
The Art of the Matrix (Spencer Lamm, ed., 2000)
The Art of Fallout 4 (Aaron Walker, 2015)
The Art of Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace (Jonathan Bresman, 1999)
The Art of Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones (Mark Cotta Vaz, 2002)
The Empire Strikes Back Portfolio (Ralph McQuarrie, 1980)
Return of the Jedi Portfolio (Ralph McQuarrie, 1983)
The Art of Solo: A Star Wars Story (Phil Szostak, 2018)

November: 11
The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Phil Szostak, 2015)
The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Phil Szostak, 2017)
The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Phil Szostak, 2019)
The Art of Painted Comics (Christopher Lawrence, 2016)
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Warped: An Engaging Guide to the Never-Aired 8th Season (Mike McMahan, 2015)
Mrs. Claus: My Life as the Wife of the Big Cheese (Julia Reinfort-Claus, 2013)
Taken by the Muse (Anne Wheeler, 2020)
Common Sense (Thomas Paine, 1776)
Player’s Handbook: Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition (James Wyatt, 2014)
Monster Manual: Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition (Mike Mearls, 2014)
Dungeon Master’s Guide: Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition (Mike Mearls, 2014)

December: 10
Cajun Night Before Christmas (Trosclair, 1992)
Once Upon Atari (Howard Scott Warshaw, 2020)
The Souls of Black Folk (W.E.B. Du Bois, 1903)
Passing (Nella Larsen, 1929)
Candide (Voltaire, 1759)
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (Frederick Douglass, 1845)
The Aliens Are Coming! (Dayton Ward, 2002)
The Day Remo Died (Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir, 1982)
Savage Song (Warren Murphy, 2014)
Number Two (Warren Murphy and Donna Courtois, 2012)

Nonfiction: 47
Fiction: 60

Adventure: 3
Fantasy: 10
Horror: 2
Mainstream: 17
Science Fiction: 23
Star Trek: 9

Top Authors
Zach Weinersmith: 8

Stephen R. Donaldson: 6
Alan Dean Foster: 6

Phil Szostak: 4

Steve Jackson: 3
Ralph McQuarrie: 3
Warren Murphy: 3
Philip Pullman: 3
Jo Walton: 3

Harlan Ellison: 2
Mike Mearls: 2
John Scalzi: 2
John Steinbeck: 2
Andy Weir: 2

Books by Women: 18
Books by Men: 88

Books by Decade
1750s: 1
1770s: 1
1840s: 1
1870s: 1
1890s: 2
1900s: 1
1920s: 2
1930s: 2
1950s: 2
1970s: 9
1980s: 10
1990s: 12
2000s: 6
2010s: 45
2020s: 12

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Finished the Best Pictures

Today I achieved my goal of seeing every film awarded the Oscar for Best Picture. I finished the list of 92 films this year with Parasite (way back in January); Braveheart (earlier this month); All Quiet on the Western Front, Dances with Wolves, and Gigi (over the last few days); and, today, The Last Emperor and My Fair Lady

Fifteen movies to go before I'll have seen every single nominee, however. 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Jim at the Christmas Party

I wonder if Captain Kirk wore this Christmas sweater that memorable night he enjoyed a romantic encounter with Dr. Helen Noel. 

Friday, December 25, 2020

And So This Is Christmas

Thanks to Scott and Margaret for inspiring this year's Christmas card! 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Monday, December 21, 2020

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Friday, December 18, 2020

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Monday, December 14, 2020

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Friday, December 11, 2020

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Monday, December 07, 2020

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2020 Day 6

Blue flame crackles bright
TIE Interceptor shrieks past 
Gas station goes "ding-ding" 

Friday, December 04, 2020

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Monday, November 30, 2020

No Longer Awaiting Moderation

 Today, for the first time in years, I explored Blogger's back end and found a moderation tab. Curious, I opened it to find several comments from readers awaiting to see if I'd allow them to be published. I wasn't even aware that I'd turned on comment moderation; indeed, the vast majority of comments are posted unhindered. But for whatever reason, about a dozen comments have been awaiting my approval. Some are days old; some are years old! One of them was even from France. I've now approved them all, save for a couple that were clearly spam. 

My apologies to the commenters, and my thanks for your thoughts! 

Saturday, November 28, 2020


Today I spent some time washing dozens of little resin miniatures and terrain pieces to prepare them for priming. After that...many hours of painting await. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Unpainted Sentry Bot

Earlier this afternoon I assembled a Sentry Bot miniature from Fallout: Wasteland Warfare. This model is made of resin, which allows for greater detail than 28mm miniatures made of other materials. Indeed, it's so detailed that I'm a little scared of painting it. 

Before I can paint or even prime it, though, I need to wash the mini in soap and water to get rid of the releasing agent that covered the model so that it could be taken out of its mould. If I don't do that, paint won't stick to the mini. 

Another consideration: the characters in Fallout are all a bit worse for wear, so the models shouldn't look pristine. This means I'll need to figure out how to add weathering, grime, and damage to the minis for a true post-apocalyptic feel. This may be why I've been painting pretty much anything but my Fallout minis. 


Thursday, November 26, 2020

Fantasy RPG Island, Part Three: We're Gonna Need Even More Green Stuff

So close, and yet so far. I have ordered a third package of green stuff. Hopefully that will be enough to fill in the remaining pits. Once that's accomplished, I can start adding paint and textures. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Mutant Sunset

The New Mutants (Josh Boone, 2020) isn't the complete disaster I expected. Blending the superhero and horror genres makes the difference, transforming a generic superhero coming-of-age story into a mildly interesting, claustrophobic chiller. Tonally, the film is, at least, consistent; this time around, the mutant teens study not in a palatial mansion, but an abandoned ruin, and rather than the sympathetic Professor X, their mentor is, essentially, a mad scientist. It's all very gothic and rusty, with a few effective freakout moments. 

That the characters feel true to their comic book origins also helps, as do the performances; the actors do pretty well with a bland screenplay, and their abilities are captured quite faithfully by the visual effects. It's also nice that this is the first mainstream majority-women superhero team to appear in film. (It would be nice to see more of that; there's no reason Disney or Warner couldn't assemble a mostly-women team of Avengers or Justice Leaguers.)

The plot, however, is by-the-numbers teen angst; there's a nice kid, a mean kid (good at heart, of course), a blossoming romance, rebellion against authority,  awakening adolescent sexuality, and finally the necessary teen bonding, the resolution of their inner turmoil through the conquest of horror, and finally the promise of further adventures (a promise surely to be broken, now that Disney is taking over production of the X-Men films). 

This is not to say that The New Mutants is good; merely that the filmmakers avoided a Dark Phoenix-level catastrophe. And so the Fox X-Men films go out with a reasonably dignified whimper.

Friday, November 20, 2020

"I'm Allergic to Peanuts!" Said the Prankster

One day in the future, when it's safe to gather in restaurants again, I'd love to try the following gag: 

Before we enter the restaurant, I stuff a few peanuts up my nose. I think I could fit at least one peanut in each nostril; perhaps even two or three per nostril. 

Then, I order something with peanuts in it. 

I enjoy the dish normally. But as soon as the server comes around, I start to look a bit ill and frightentened. "Oh gosh," I ask, "Does this dish have peanuts in it?" 

When the server says "Yes," or even "I don't know," I yell "I'm allergic to peanuts!" And then I sneeze the peanuts out my nose and onto the dish. 

Of course I would leave a generous tip for the server.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

A Passing Grade for Passchendaele

Paul Gross’ Passchendaele (2008) starts off strong with a gripping, evocative, and even artful small-scale battle in the muck and rubble of a ruined small town. I had high hopes for the film based on this sequence, but once Gross’ character winds up back on the home front in Calgary, the artistry and power of that opening is replaced by a not terribly compelling story of young love and PTSD  that feels like a TV movie of the week. The film does pick up a bit when the story moves back to the battlefield, but even then the filmmakers fail to show why Passchendaele was such a milestone moment in Canadian history. Instead, we get an obvious and awkward homage of Christ’s carrying the cross to his doom, for no particular reason that I can see. 

It’s not that the film isn’t competently made; the performances are solid, and the melodrama is fine, if not ambitious. But it’s too bad that Gross couldn’t sustain the excellence of the opening sequence throughout the rest of the film.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Dread Pirate Rogers

Yo ho ho, the pirate with a heart of gold, Dread Pirate Rogers. This one did not come out nearly as cleanly as I had hoped, but on the other hand, my ambition is increasing, so I shouldn't be surprised that more complex challenges will take more time to complete successfully. I'm pretty happy with the skin tone, the ripped pants, and the shirt; the chest is okay; the sword is messy and the sash is just a mess. I probably should have painted it something other than black, but I thought it would work well with red. Maybe, but it also obliterated the detail...

I figure Dread Pirate Rogers fell in with a really despicable lot, and is now looking for a way out. But first, he needs some loot to finance a less-troubled lifestyle...

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Atari Binder

During its all-too-brief golden age, Atari produced some pretty evocative artwork for its hardware and software products. The most visually arresting art was found on their video game packaging and instruction manuals, but even the staid 400/800 documentation binder was designed with the same art style. 

Monday, November 16, 2020

A Game of Khafka-esque Proportions

Caverns of Khafka took seemingly forever to load on our Atari 410 Program Recorder, but it was worth waiting for the software to load from magnetic tape. Your goal in this diabolically difficult game was to make your way through a deadly maze overflowing with different traps, monsters, lava pits, and other obstacles. Sean and I played this game until the cassette wore out. That was a sad day. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

An XElent Computer

We retired the Atari 400 after several years of yeoman's service, replacing it with the more powerful Atari 130XE in the summer of 1987. This was the computer that carried me through my first two years of study at the University of Alberta, and it was also the computer that, combined with the Atari XM301 300-baud modem, pulled me into the world of electronic bulletin board systems, or BBSes. Before the Internet became a mainstream service, BBSes were the destination for early adopters of the world of online communications. Edmonton's BBSes were limited to discussion rooms and primitive file sharing, and most of the ones I visited could only support one visitor at a time, since most people back then had only one phone line. 

My favourite games supported by this computer probably would have been Rescue on Fractalus, Ballblazer, Preppie, Karateka, and Star Raiders II. 

Sean and I retired almost all of our Atari hardware a couple of years ago to help create more space at Mom and Dad's place. I rescued this manual, among other Atari detritus. I was going to recycle it, but Sean will take the materials into his care instead. They're certainly fascinating artifacts of a lost era. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Few Finer Than Miner 2049er

Miner 2049er was a top-tier game for the Atari 8-bit line of computers. Sean and I and our cousin Darwin poured hours and hours into this charming platformer. You control Bounty Bob, a Mountie who must reclaim an abandoned mine by touching all the platforms on each level of the mine. Simply walking over the platform tiles does the trick, but you have to avoid deadly radioactive monsters, falling from heights, being crushed by pulverizers, beaming into a monster while using the teleporter, and accidentally blowing yourself up by using too much dynamite for the level with the cannon. Bounty Bob's death animations were particularly satisfying and cartoonishly gruesome. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

Where the Horror Lurked

The Lurking Horror also included this double-sided map of the catacombs beneath G.U.E. Tech. Beware all ye who enter here...

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Remnants of The Lurking Horror

Even though I wasn't clever enough to do more than scratch the surface of Infocom's 1987 text adventure The Lurking Horror, the game's dread atmosphere, chilling surprises, and pervasive sense of doom made it one of my favourites in the genre. 

Infocom games were famous not only for their excellent writing and clever puzzles, but for the "feelies" they included with their games, such as this guide to the university you explore in the game.

More than just trinkets, the feelies often provided important clues to unlocking the mysteries of the game. The G.U.E. at a Glance guidebook included this map of the campus, accurate to the game. 

Unfortunately I lost it long ago, but The Lurking Horror box also included a rubbery creepy-crawly centipede thing, which served its intended purpose by startling me the moment I dug into the contents of the game. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020


Here's the manual for the software that got me through the first two years of university: Paperclip. Paperclip was pretty primitive compared to modern word processors, but it did precisely what I needed it to do: made it possible for me to type and print my assignments instead of writing them longhand, which would have surely doomed my chances at graduation. 

Paperclip came with a unique form of copy protection: the Paperclip Key, a small grey dongle you plugged into the Atari 130XE's joystick port. Without the dongle, the software wouldn't operate. It took me years to wonder idly if the key was just an electronic switch that made the computer think a joystick button was being held down. So I pulled out the key, plugged in a joystick, held down the fire button, and lo and behold the software worked. A determined pirate could have copied the software, plugged in a joystick, and held the button down with electrical tape. Still, they wouldn't have gotten the manual, and for all the bother why not just buy the software...

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Autoduel Manual

Here is all that remains of Sean's copy of Autoduel for the Atari 8-bit computers. It's a thick manual rich in complexity and lore, back in the days when computer games often included not only really well-produced manuals, but also maps, keyboard or joystick inserts and attachments, reference cards, and, best of all, little tokens and toys that represented something you might encounter in the game. 

Autoduel itself was a fantastic game, based on Steve Jackson's popular Car Wars strategy game. The premise is simple; you start out with $2000 and need to buy a car to start "auto duelling" in the arena or on the highways of the northeastern USA. Sean and I played that game for years, until at last the disc stopped working. 

The road to fun with this game got off to a rocky start, however. Sean bought the game with birthday and Christmas and allowance money he'd saved for quite some time, and the first copy we bought was defective. Sean and I returned to the computer store in Heritage Mall where he'd purchased Autoduel, and the proprietor refused to help, claiming we were returning it under false pretenses and had pirated a copy of our own before returning it. 

This is one of the few times I've gotten really, really angry in public. All I remember saying is "He's ten years old," in quiet fury. The man behind the counter grumbled and muttered a little more, but in the end he exchanged the defective copy of the game for a fresh one. Thankfully, the new copy worked. 

Incidentally, Sean and I recently Kickstarted the latest edition of Car Wars, so at some point in the future, when COVID-19 is no longer a threat, we'll get together to reignite the spirit of a game we really loved back in the 80s.