Lacking Natural Simplicity

Random musings on books, code, and tabletop games.

Recent Reading

  • One Virgin Too Many, by Lindsey Davis. Davis's Falco novels are about a Roman informer mixing it up with low-lifes and senator's daughters, and are a little in the style of the hard-boiled private detective novels. That is slightly disconcerting, but they are very enjoyable once you've adjusted your viewpoint a little.

  • Ambrose Bierce & the One-Eyed Jacks, by Oakley M. Hall.

Recent Reading

  • H.M.S. Surprise, The Mauritius Command, and Desolation Island, by Patrick O'Brian.

  • SPQR V: Saturnalia, by John Maddox Roberts. I've always enjoyed Roberts's books, including his earlier SF, and was glad when, after a hiatus, more of his SPQR novels turned up. In some ways Decius Cecilius Metellus seems more of a typical Roman than the protagonists of Saylor or Davis. I enjoy Saylor's books the most, I think, with Davis's books coming after Roberts's.

Space Opera Redefined is an interesting article that that points out that the term space opera has changed in connotation from “bad science fiction” to “colorful, large scale, science fiction adventure”. I was vaguely aware that such a change had happened, but was uneasy with it, and sometimes described books as “well written space opera”.

Playing an RPG with Lily

Lily (my daughter; she'll be five next month) was in my office today and asked about a miniature 1 that was in a little box on one of my bookshelves. I told her it was used for playing a game, and showed her some more of them. She was fascinated, and wanted to know if we could play the game. I said ok, and got out my battlemat. Without thinking too much about it, and influenced by the miniatures (typical AD&D miniatures) I drew out the entrance to a cave in the side of a cliff, and we played out exploring a typical mindless dungeon with several of the miniatures and drawing the dungeon on the battle mat. Lily really got into it, having her PCs go back to their house for supplies once and exploring and scaring away monsters and looking for treasure. She also really liked rolling dice.

In retrospective, she'd probably have had more fun if I'd run a Bunnies & Burrows game; I don't have any B&B miniatures, though. She's seen me play B&B (using the Fudge rules) with her cousins a couple of times, and has been a little bit interested, but given her greater interest in the miniatures this time I think she might really enjoy a B&B game now.

Watching Lily have fun moving the miniatures around and rolling dice reminds me of how much shear fun this was when I first starting gaming (playing D&D and AD&D). Part of the fascination was indeed just the miniatures and dice, and that's something that I've not really thought about in a long time. I've maintained in the past that part of the fun of games like Stormbringer is actually rolling all those funny shaped dice, and certainly there is something neat about a well-painted minature figure.


I'm not much of a miniatures person myself (I don't play any miniature games, for instance), and these miniatures were actually my brother Alan's from many years ago when we actually played AD&D, and some of them are actually official AD&D miniatures. I like being able to look at a fight scene on a battle map and see where the characters their opponents, however, and often use dice or 0.75 inch numbered wooden cube to represent characters during complicated fight scenes.

Recent Reading

  • Master and Commander and Post Captain, by Patrick O'Brian. Post Captain, the second book in O'Brian's series of Napoleonic era British Navy novels featuring Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, is considered by many to be the best of the series, and is often recommended as the book to read first. It is easy to see why: many of the recurring characters of the series are introduced here for the first time, as well as the seeds of many things that are resolved much latter.

    I agree that it is one of the best books of the series, perhaps the best, but I do not think it ideal as an introduction to the series. Without the background given by Master and Commander I think that Post Captain is harder to follow and the relationship between Aubrey and Maturin much harder to understand. I think it is much better for the reader new to Aubrey and Maturin to begin with Master and Commander, a simpler (though not simple) book and to get a good feeling for the two and their world before tackling the lengthier and more involved Post Captain.

    Certainly my own experience agrees with this course: I first read Post Captain in the early '90s, and found it a real struggle to finish. Perhaps a year later I found a copy of Master and Commander and was enthralled. I immediately re-read Post Captain and was further enthralled: in this re-reading the book pulled me in and carried me through the story in a state of eager concentration, much better prepared to see what the book had to offer.

  • Ashes of Victory and War of Honor, by David Weber. These books, the nineth and tenth of Weber's vastly popular science fiction novels about Honor Harrington, an officer in the Royal Navy of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, chronicle then events taking place after Harrington's return from imprisonment and presumed death, the downfall of the People's Republic of Haven, the reformation of the Republic of Haven, and the continuing tensions between Haven and Manticore. The Honor Harrington series are well written military science fiction, probably the best series of any of the current crop of this currently quite popular sub-genre.

  • Illium, by Dan Simmons. This novel, the first of two, is an interesting blend of mythology and science fiction, mixing a re- enactment of the Iliad (observed by academics re-embodied and recycled at the whim of the gods), the reawakening of a post-Post Human Earth, and the scrutiny and action of the robotic residents of the outer solar system into an interesting and engaging story. I'm looking forward to reading Olympos, the concluding book of the duology.

  • Captain Kilburnie, by William P. Mack. Mack is a retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral and this is his first novel about Fergus Kilburnie, a young Scottish officer in the Napoleonic era British Navy. It was originally published by the Naval Institute Press. I enjoyed the book, although the last third seemed to lag, and am looking forward to reading the sequel.

  • Unicorn's Blood, by Patricia Finney. Intrigue and espionage in the London and Court of Queen Elizabeth I, this is excellent historical fiction with interesting characters, story, and an excellent recreation of Elizabethan England.

  • Otherness, by David Brin. A collection of Brin's short stories.

Remembrance & Choices


Warren Zevon died Sunday; he'll be missed.


What is more, it appears to me that this is a critical time for him, a lesser climacteric — a time that will settle him in that particular course he will never leave again, but will persevere in for the rest of his life. It has often seemed to me that towards this period (in which we all three li, more or less) men strike out there permanent characters; or have those characters struck into them. Merriment, roaring high spirits before this: then some chance concatenation, or some hidden predilection (or rather inherent bias) working through, and the man is in the road he cannot leave but must go on, making it deeper and deeper (a groove, or channel), until he is lost in his mere character — persona — no longer human but an accretion of qualities belonging to this character. James Dillon was a delightful being. Now he is closing in. It is odd — will I say heart-breaking? — how cheerfulness goes: gaiety of mind, natural free-springing joy. Authority is its great enemy — the assumption of authority. I know few men over fifty that seem to me entirely human: virtually none who has long exercised authority. — Stephen Maturin, writing in his diary, Master and Commander, by Patrick O'Brian


I finally got my copy of HeroQuest today. While I've not yet had time to read it through completely it's easy to see that it is an excellent game. While it uses the same base mechanics as its predecessor, Hero Wars, it is a new, although compatible, game: it does not just correct the flaws of, it greatly improves on the successes of Hero Wars.

Recent Reading

  • Ruled Britannia, by Harry Turtledove. What if the Spanish Armada had succeeded in landing in Britan? Shakespeare and consipracy.

  • Person or Persons Unknown, by Bruce Alexander. The fourth Sir John Fielding mystery.

  • Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. I've finally got around to reading this, and enjoyed it greatly. Lots of neat ideas.

Recent Reading; Where free software is failing

Recent Reading

  • Transit to Scorpio, as by Alan Burt Akers; actually written by Ken Bulmer. The earlier books in this series have Alan Burt Akers listed as their author while the later books are listed under Dray Prescot, but they were actually written by Henry Kenneth Bulmer, a prolific writer of science fiction and other things. The Dray Prescot Saga is a long series in the planetary romance genre. The first 37 of the books were published in English (starting in 1972 and continuing into the early 1990s) and the rest of the 52 books were published in German. They are the story of Dray Prescot, a 18th century sailor who is transported to the distant planet of Kregen and his adventures there as nomad, slave, warrior, pirate, and reluctant troubleshooter for two opposing superhuman forces. Like most classic planetary romance, these are rousing tales of adventure, straightforward wholesome escapist fantasy. The length of the series, however, allows this to be something more than than a mere escape, as we watch Dray Prescot develop from a typical warrior stereotype into something more interesting and see how the many themes of the series (friendship, identity, fair play, prejudice, religion, and trust among them) develop through a much longer period than most authors are able to devote.

Where free software is failing

Daniel Barlow's blog for Monday, 25 Aug 2003 talks about Tom Lord's post that talks about where Free Software is failing to think ahead.