“The History of Rome” Podcast

Few weeks ago, I finally finished the The History of Rome podcast by Mike Duncan. After 5 months I slogged through 179 25-minute podcasts covering 800 years of the Roman republic and Roman emperors.

I came for the content but stayed for the author. Duncan has a professional but colloquial tone that is just perfect for traversing the dozens of consuls, emperors, barbarians and chaos across hundreds of years.

There are no words that can summarize all of this, from Rome nearly falling to Hannibal’s elephants in 200 BC to salting the fields over the burnt remains of Carthage after the 3rd Punic War. From the (possibly fake) “Et tu brutus?” of Caesar’s assassination to Augustus’s full transition from republic to dictatorship. From the Jewish revolts, which actually happened after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ himself, to Diocletian’s purges, to Constantine’s mandate of Christian equality 300 years later, to Christianity becoming the official religion under Theodosius few decades later. From Hadrian’s wall and the crisis of the third century to Aurelian to Diocletian’s bureaucratic reforms we see a long and chaotic history.

Despite brutal, ridiculous, stupid, and incompetent leaders in Roman history, the empire chugged on. Sometimes we panic about crazy actors in the modern world, but the world has survived through so much more.

Comparing the Fall of Rome to Modern America

Rome and America are often compared because it was the republic and hegemon of it’s era. Inevitably, the fall of Rome is a persistent harbinger for the fate of the USA.

Is modern America anywhere near the Fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century? It probably isn’t even close.

Is modern America anywhere near the fall of the Roman Republic right around 50AD? Closer – as there are more references and henceforth potential of a collective self-fulfilling prophecy. Shakespeare in the Park got in some trouble depicting the assassination of a Trump-esque Caesar in modern day times.

Politically, convention is constantly being broken for game theory. This is what Duncan cites as one of the reasons for the fall of the republic:

“Take the Gorsuch thing, denying the Supreme Court seat for a whole year. You can’t undo something like that. From now on, it feels like if you don’t have the presidency and the Senate controlled by one party, we’re just going to have empty Supreme Court seats. Because neither party now has any incentive to give in. So what’s that going to start doing to the judiciary? —- Mike Duncan interview with The Nation, What the US can learn from the fall of Rome

This single thing won’t tip the scale, but time will tell how this momentum and precedent pans out in the next 50 years.

Why bother with history?

Learning history is like a defensive patent. We need to learn history when it isn’t politicized, so we can have a critical eye when history is actually used to push an agenda.

Otherwise you get garbage like this (speech in 1979 denouncing government programs):

“The Christians were the last to resist the tyranny of the Roman Welfare State. Until 313 A.D., they had been persecuted because of their unwillingness to worship the emperor. But in that year they struck a deal with Emperor Constantine, who granted them toleration in exchange for their acquiescence to his authority. In the year 380, a sadly-perverted Christianity became the official state religion under Emperor Theodosius. Rome’s decline was like a falling rock from this point on. Reed, Fall of Rome and Modern Parallels, 1979

This is non-sensical rhetoric. Christians weren’t resisting the welfare state, they were resisting paganism. How does gaining religious tolerance translate to succumbing to welfare? Arguments like these simply mix and match historical half-facts, attribute causation willy nilly, and simply serve to rile people up.

Going down this rabbit hole there is still so much to learn.

This also makes me want to play more historical games like Civ. Roman game references, literature references, all sorts of references that make so much more sense now.

Exciting times.

Reviewing 25 more iOS games (circa Feb 2018)

The past half year has been more games than I’d like, but it’s been a good process of exploration of enjoyable games. Not all of these are very new, but there definitely is a bias towards new games.


All played with iOS 7 plus. Bold = Paid game. 

I think these check off all the boxes of an amazing game. Highly recommend.
  1. Banner Saga 2 (Grid Strategy)
These are absolutely amazing games with one or two things that prevent it from being perfect. I absolutely finished as much as I could, or uninstalled to prevent myself from being debilitated by getting too addicted. 
  1. Star Wars KOTOR (RPG)
  2. Titanfall Assault (Strategy Duel?? e.g. Clash Royale)
  3. Arena of Valor (MOBA)
  4. Through the Ages (Board Game)
  5. Elder Scrolls: Legends (Card Game)
  6. Lost Portal (Card Game)
  7. Agent A (Escape Room)
These are pretty solid games with no huge complaints. I’m happy to have played them however, I wouldn’t go out of my way to play them too much. Some of these (i.e. Vainglory) are supplanted by better versions above.  
  1. Vainglory (MOBA)
  2. Reigns, Her Majesty (Decision Making)
  3. Age of Rivals (Board Game)
  4. Hero Hunters (Shooter)
  5. The Room, Three (Escape Room)
  6. Iron Marines (Strategy)
Some of these I spent a good amount of time on, hoping they’d get better. They mostly ended up being a huge grind and waste of time. I think many of these have brilliant game mechanics but the Free to Play nature of them (along with autoplay) make me regret spending time on them. 
  1. Alchemist’s Code (Grid Strategy)
  2. Lineage 2 (MMORPG)
  3. Rules of Survival (Survival Shooter)
  4. Iron Blade (Swipe RPG)
  5. Dust, AET (Platformer)
Below 6
These games generally disappointed. They were often burdened by equal F2P issues as 7-rated games, but didn’t have great mechanics either. I wouldn’t recommend these.
  1. Ultimate General Gettysberg (Real Time Strategy)
  2. The Trail (Don’t know)
  3. NBA Live (Basketball)
  4. FIFA Live (Soccer)
  5. Onmyoji (RPG)

Onto the Reviews

Banner Saga 2 10

As beautiful and brilliant as the original Banner Saga, with new characters and fun.
I think I spent around 10-20 hours on this game. I really enjoyed the storyline, and the fact that your decisions are so often consequential. (i.e. if one character dies early on then it affects the story options later in the game).
This is one of the perfect and fun strategy grid series that I cannot recommend enough to new mobile gamers.

Star Wars KOTOR 9

+10 for being a brilliant story with tons of consequential decisions throughout the game. You don’t only pursue good or evil in the main storyline. Rather, these decision points exist in almost all minor interactions and side quests. You can choose to be helpful, or a huge asshole across the board.
-1 for controls.
This is a 9 because the controls aren’t that great. Definitely would have preferred WASD w/ clicking, but the mobility was absolutely worth it.

Titanfall Assault 9

Titanfall Assault is an isometric Clash Royale clone, and executes it extremely effectively. 
For those who haven’t played CR, you strategically drop units across the map to win capture points. The units move autonomously to capture objectives. Each unit has different costs and counters, so you have to manage resources to out-duel your opponent. 
I really like the capture points system rather than just base race. These packaged 3-5 minute games make it easy to squeeze in throughout the day.

Lost Portal 9 

This is a pretty good card game that rivals the two peer games Hearthstone & Elder Scrolls:Legends. The mechanics are much easier to learn and a bit more forgiving. 
The brilliance of this game is difficulty progression. You have to make nuanced but steady improvements in your deck to battle your way through the ~6 stages in the game. Each stage has 3-4 levels, each level has 3-4 floors, each floor has 3-4 opponents, so 6 x 3 x 3 x 3 gives us at least 100+ unique opponents to power through.

Through the Ages 9

Never played the board game, but this this screams to me very good port” of a very fun board game game. This game’s resource management and counting rivals the complexity of Agricola (i.e. blows Settlers of Catan out of the water), and the app collapses this into a very functional UI and does all the counting for you.
Ultimately a highly addicting game, and with challenging CPUs. I can’t imagine the commitment needed to play an online game, so I won’t try that. In the end, absolutely worth it if you love board games and want to harden those chops.

Arena of Valor 9

This is legitimately a good game. AoV basically a League of Legends clone that has taken China by storm. There are some others (i.e. Mobile Legends, Vainglory, etc.) but I believe AoV is the best at this moment. Games are around 25 minutes for a ranked 5v5. Matchmaking is nearly instant.
A combination of joystick & auto-target simplifies the otherwise difficult mechanics in LoL, and allows you to focus on the fun parts (i.e. positioning, team fights, etc). Admittedly, it is a bit harder to specific units for single-target spells, but that’s for another day.
Also, just like league, this has very limited pay to play” mechanics so you can be on
One of the main issues with Vainglory, for example, was if you fat fingered an attack, you would move towards the enemy rather than attacking & kiting. 

Agent A 9

This is a fun, cutely animated escape room” type game. You are Agent A, trying to sneak into enemy operative La Rouge’s” to stop her from eliminating your entire intelligence team. The colors are bright, so It is a great combination of playfulness, challenge, and a nice thick plot. Altogether a pleasant play.

Elder Scrolls: Legends 9

This one is a brilliant card game that has equally fun if not funner mechanics than Hearthstone. Matchmaking was very reasonable, and I don’t remember having any problems with progression. This is one of the few games I uninstalled to prevent the addiction from getting too far.

Hero Hunters 8

I think the issue is that early on it’s very non-obvious where the strategy in the game is (other than composition). It is like playing some bite-sized version of Time Crisis on mobile, where the big mechanics involve moving between cover”, switching between characters, and shooting enemies.
I liked it but it was fun for about… 2 hours until I moved on.

Age of Rivals 8

I downloaded this in an attempt to play a board game on the computer. It actually has very difficult mechanics and non-trivial CPU difficulty. Minus points for not allowing you to adjust your deck! This is a pretty annoying part.
This is one of the few board games” where I think multiplayer is pretty reasonable each game is < 20 minutes. I think I’m scared of going back to it because it Is easy to forget all the strategies very quickly. 

The Room Three 8

This game is one of those escape the room” type games that is slightly creepy but intricately designed and absolutely beautiful. I didn’t finish it entirely, but enough to love and appreciate the artistry.

Iron Marines 8

This is an attempted Starcraft-style RTS that is much more simplistic. I don’t think these types of games work too well on mobile, and in the end I couldn’t really figure out how to effectively deal with the mechanics. 

Rules of Survival 8

+ for implementation
– for difficulty, generally not worth getting into this genre (though i guess you can say the same about FPS, RTS, MOBA  etc.)
I played this game for like 2 hours, and decided this PUBG/Fortnite style game was not for me. This is such an experience-driven game that as a newbie you are completely dead in the water in this free for all battle royale. The mechanics for this game are admittedly very good and I imagine almost as fun as the PC version.
Overall plus points for implementation, and minus for difficulty, generally not worth getting into this genre (though i guess you can say the same about FPS, RTS, MOBA  etc.)

Onirim 7

This is another classic board game/card game port to Mobile. It is kind of fun in the beginning, but effectively a sophisticated version of Solitaire with different cards and rules. If that is your thing, you will love Onirim. Otherwise, it is a solid free game, easy to learn, and worth a shot.

Lineage 2 7

+1 for well designed open world, no stamina in F2P
-1 for Autoplay, lack of customization
I really wanted to vent by playing a brainless Diablo-style clone. Lineage is a beautiful open world game with reasonable characters and a diverse map. There is no end of things to do, and stamina is not an issue.
However, the big issue with Lineage (and a lot of modern games coming out of asia) is Autoplay”. In this mode, your character plays itself, and you end up doing little more than equipping your character and deciding which missions to embark on to get in on all the promotions. Yes, you don’t *have* to autoplay but once the option is available it becomes a heavy disadvantage not to use it.
It also gets minus points for lack of customization (everyone has same spells), and lots of fetch/kill quests.

Dust AET 7

Sideways platformer. Pretty fun but in the end it is some sort of mindless mashing of attacks and combos. The story doesn’t seem good enough to make up for that.

Alchemist’s Code 7

This is a mobile F2P version of Final Fantasy Tactics. I think that it is legitimately a fun game and has good mechanics. It has a grinding structure where you can get most of the characters.
The story is pretty crap, and overall I just couldn’t bear myself to finish or continue playing. In the end, pretty addicting but overall “wouldn’t reinstall”.

Character Sympathy (+10 more rankings!)

Character Sympathy

I’ve discovered that how I sympathize with a lead character heavily influences how much I like a book.

Its not enough to simply to have empathy and understand a character’s reasoning. As I read a book, there is a part of me that wants to be a participant of the story.

*sympathy is when you share the feelings of another; empathy is when you understand the feelings of another but do not necessarily share them. (the internet)

I value humility and intellectualism. I’m averse is to cockiness and unnecessary heroics. I appreciate complex, flawed characters. I’m dislike infallible characters that dominate their opponents with ease.

This is why I could not stand Ready Player One (and a lesser extent, Name of the Wind). This is why I enjoyed the Dispossessed (and why I loved The Witcher III).

Of course, there are instances where there main character is insufficient, but supplemented by a strong supporting cast. “Kafka on the Shore” has a really amazing supporting cast that helps to promote the coming of age story of Kafka. The zombie book “Girl with all the Gifts” wasn’t really about the main zombie girl Melanie as much as the surviving humans around her.

Ranking 10 Recent Reads

In general, but also from the perspective of protagonist sympathy. These are pretty much all scifi/fantasy, to some extent (if you include zombie books and murakami’s shenanigans

Rank (rating) Book, Author Protagonist Protaganist Description
1 5*The Dispossessed, Le Guin adult scientist adult
2 5* The Fifth Season, Jemisin 1 kid, 1 teen, 1 adult nice kid, sassy teen, seasoned adult
3 5*Old Man’s War, Scalzi adult old grandpa
4 5*Kafka on the Shore, Murakami teen weirdly introspective teen
5 5*Dune, Herbert teen coming of age
6 5* Foundation, Asimov adult pretty normal people, some ‘heroes’
7 4* The Girl with All the Gifts, Carey kid crazy brilliant kid
8 4* The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Adams adult & alien sassy AF
9 4* Foundation and Empire, Asimov adults pretty normal people
10 2* Ready Player One, Cline teen smart but cocky

1. The Dispossessed, Le Guin (1974)

The Dispossessed is, more or less, a man’s struggles and realizations in comparing a poor but well-run Communist/Anarchist society with an ultra-efficient but highly political capitalist world. From a character perspective, Shevek is a genius physicist that is generally stable but suspect to his emotions.

This is top because I know Shevek story will stay strong in my mind as the books below get reduced to faint abstractions over the years.

The full review is in a previous post!

2. The Fifth Season, Jemisin (2015)

“And since stonelore would be harder to remember if it was full of phrases like ‘watch for the inverted fulcrum of a conical torus,’ we get centers and circles. Accuracy is sacrificed in the name of better poetry.”

I love this because it is the essence of Jemisin’s writing. She trades obscure vocabulary for colloquial thoughts and dialogue – The Fifth Season reads so smoothly that it was over before I knew it.

The characters follow common tropes. The innocent, curious young girl. The prideful, sassy teenager. The seasoned adult. I believe these tropes actually enhanced my experience.

The Fifth Season isn’t about characters taking weird, dark or unpredictable turns – rather it’s how they adapt to a world constantly changing, a world constantly on edge of collapse, and a world where you are the enemy despite how much you want to help. Decisions are generally rational, but people get carried away by emotions. These tropes make people realistic, believable, and their actions easy to emphasize with.

3. Old Man’s War, Scalzi (2005)

Old Man’s War is a mix of hilarity, somberness, and lots of guns. It gets really funky really fast, and once you adjust you realize there’s quite a bit of space philosophy to go with fighting aliens across the universe.

The protagonist is generally jaded, sarcastic and fun to introspect alongside. That being said, I think the character himself wasn’t all that memorable – the excitement of the world & story is what carries Old Man’s War to #3.

4. Kafka By the Shore, Murakami (2006)

Oh man, what a weird book. It starts unbelievably slowly, but Kafka’s story gradually becomes more complex, interesting as it gets weirder and weirder. The novel concludes with a powerful, resounding and emotional finish.

Kafka himself is intelligent, introspective, and conflicted. As a 15 year old dumped into an mystical world, he makes mistakes, suffers, learns, and powers through a cruel Oedipal prophecy.

Also Oshima (the librarian) was an absolute badass. And these fan illustrations are amazing.

5. Dune, Herbert (1965)

Dune was a great story, fun plot, and has all the shenanigans of the modern hero story (loyalty and betrayal, sacrifice, twists, yadayadaya). All around a very solid book but mostly if you appreciate it as the first of its’ kind, as a scifi/fantasy epic. It’s seen to have heavily inspired Star Wars, alongside many other story based science fiction stories.

6. Foundation, Asimov (1951)

This Asimov is one of the original scifi books (written in the 1940s). It is a brilliant story of prediction (psychohistory, which is basically macroeconomics on steroids), political heroism and the world as it could be. It is a sophisticated space equivalent of the Fall of Rome.

Foundation focuses on political relationships and world building, and less on realism/character development. The heroes are brilliant, fallible, but not necessarily complex or developing characters.

7. The Girl with All the Gifts, Carey (2015)

Brilliant storytelling and a cute first person view of a young intellectual zombie 10 y/o girl. I’m not a huge zombie reader, but this really showed how love can play a huge part in people when their brains are getting eaten. It wasn’t extremely special (hence a 4*) but no real knocks and overall a solid book

8. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Adams (1979)

This is a truly revolutionary and ridiculous book in the genre of sci-fi, and I am all the better for having read it. That being said, I can’t say it was a either a mind-altering or extremely sophisticated experience. Now I think about it, it’s pretty much the Rick and Morty of the 70s. Solid stuff.

9. Foundation and Empire, Asimov (1952)

The second book of the Foundation Trilogy is a show of inevitability of sociopolitical nature of humanity under certain conditions. It had a solid story and a few great twists, but the characters were mostly static and predictable. I think its worth a read to understand Asimov but there are better books out there.

10. Ready Player One, Cline (2011)

This is probably the single worst book I’ve read in the past 10 years.

On the plus side, it was a great page-turner. Cline crams every possible gaming and pop reference from the 80s in a action-packed “adventure”. Unfortunately, the main character is a cocky teenager that somehow just happens to be the best at every game in the world. There are no real twists, no real complexity in any of the characters (both good and bad), and no real redeeming features.

I was hoping for a book that bathes in its own absurdity. As I hoped my way for two thirds of the book, it became clearer that it was simply oblivious at its own ridiculousness.

The only consolation here is that Andy Wier (author of The Martian) did a spin-off short story called Lacero that is actually good. Give it a read!

Thanks for reading, and let me know what you are reading!

Brilliant (and useful) “What should I read” infograph

“What should I read”?

Giving recommendations, or figuring out the next book to read, is pretty tough.
  • As usual, it’s hard to give one without spoiling too much.
  • We read so few books that iteration becomes slow. Out of tens of thousands of books out there, we are lucky to get 20 or 30 in a year.
  • Because of this sparsity, we often recommend the most recent, reasonable book we’ve read.
  • Top book lists are great but often summaries are all over the place.
That’s why I love this what should i read” infograph, because it is witty and hilariously accurate. Note that these are science fiction/fantasy books on NPR’s top 100 list from 2011. Even though it’s 5 years old, most of the books are clearly popular and relevant! Especially science fiction & fantasy, where the current time has arguably little impact on the story settings.

Classic dystopias classified as religious totalitarians vs. warlords

What if I want “man vs. man?”. Nevermind, WWII books it is…

The full image in all its glory. Link below!

Book Review: The Dispossessed – Science Fiction as Art

The DispossessedThe Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a time when I was burning through a book every three days, this one took a month to read. And deservedly so. The Dispossessed is not a “fun” book. It is a work of art, a brilliant display of social science fiction.

Every sentence is crafted so perfectly with Le Guin’s idea of morality in a fictional anarchy-communist utopia (which is then compared to a technocratic capitalist world). The Dispossessed reflects upon both a diversity and complexity of themes around science, politics, religion, time, human nature, yadayadaya. It’s not all in your face, and pokes you gently in as you follow Shevek’s journey through the utopian worlds.

What I liked

Content aside, I loved that…
  • Ideas are represented as a discussion rather than fact.
  • Book dialogue between intellectuals seems to be an outpouring of the points and counterpoints inside Le Guin’s mind.
  • The main character is sometimes wrong or flawed, but his thoughts are then supplemented those of his peers or intellectual enemies. 
And then the content is phenomenal. This book is not necessarily perfect”, but  it is absolutely special.

What you might not like

Of course, we already know that this novel is…

  • Slow, brooding, intellectual, etc so if you aren’t in the mood for that you’ll never finish.
  • I also wouldn’t say it is a satisfying” book.
  • If you have one scifi book to read, I wouldn’t read this to start off. Maybe I’d suggest Three Body Problem, Old Man’s War, or Snow Crash which are just as thought-provoking but much more fun.

Finally, there are several things to watch out for.

  • Commenters point out that Le Guin doesn’t really give a fair fight to capitalism and makes them look like quite a snobby, suspicious bunch.
  • Also, it still has some patriarchal overtones (published in 1974), and there is a sexual violence scene that is heavily debated.

In the end, its the quotes that I keep coming back to again and again. They are meaningful in their own right, but even more so in the context of The Dispossessed.

On suffering, pain, and brotherhood:

In an austere society anarchist society, pain and suffering is what makes the society work.

It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when forced. The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. 

On Pain:

“Of course it’s right to cure diseases, to prevent hunger and injustice, as the social organism does. But no society can change the nature of existence. We can’t prevent suffering. This pain and that pain, yes, but not Pain.”

On possession and privacy

Privacy is something people have”, and thus don’t need.
…sexual privacy was freely available and socially expected; and beyond that privacy was not functional. It was excess, waste.
A goodreads review says it well  Possession isn’t just about capitalism and material goods. It’s more pervasive than that. Just think about how people refer to each other. My” son. My” girlfriend. My” mother.” When his wife is proud of him:
I confess to being proud of you. That’s strange, isn’t it? Unreasonable. Propertarian, even. As if you were something that belonged to me!

On freedom and promises in physics and society

What is freedom in a world where you have but one goal?
So he worked. He lost weight; he walked light on the earth. Lack of physical labor, lack of variety of occupation, lack of social and sexual intercourse, none of these appeared to him as lacks, but as freedom. He was the free man: he could do what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it for as long as he wanted to do it. And he did. He worked. He work/played.
If a promise restricts your behavior, how can it be resolved with freedom?
though it might seem that her insistence on freedom to change would invalidate the idea of promise or vow, in fact the freedom made the promise meaningful.
How is a promise related to time and physics?
To break a promise is to deny the reality of the past; therefore it is to deny the hope of a real future.
(Full quote) How does ethics play into the causal reality of physics? 
“. . . chronosophy does involve ethics. Because our sense of time involves our ability to separate cause and effect, means and end. The baby, again, the animal, they don’t see the difference between what they do now and what will happen because of it. They can’t make a pulley, or a promise. We can. Seeing the difference between now and not now, we can make the connection. And there morality enters in. Responsibility. To say that a good end will follow from a bad means is just like saying that if I pull a rope on this pulley it will lift the weight on that one. To break a promise is to deny the reality of the past; therefore it is to deny the hope of a real future. If time and reason are functions of each other, if we are creatures of time, then we had better know it, and try to make the best of it. To act responsibly.” 

On social behavior

On dealing with social outcasts in Annares (anarchist place)…
A person whose nature was genuinely unsociable had to get away from society and look after himself. He was completely free to do so. He could build himself a house wherever he liked (though if it spoiled a good view or a fertile bit of land he might find himself under heavy pressure from his neighbors to move elsewhere).
On being a potential social outcast:
“There’s a point, around the age of twenty, when you have to choose whether to be like everybody else the rest of your life, or to make a virtue of your peculiarities.”
When discussing decision makers:
Intellectuals are always being led astray, because they think about irrelevant things like time and space and reality, things that have nothing to do with real life, so they are easily fooled by wicked deviationists.

On government

On revolution compared to capitalism (buying and making)
“You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”
As Shevek walks through a beautiful park with lovely trees:
Wasn’t all this extravagant foliage mere excess, excrement? Such trees couldn’t thrive without a rich soil, constant watering, much care. He disapproved of their lavishness, their thriftlessness.
In a social anarchy, customs rather than laws start to govern” behavior.
The only security we have is our neighbors’ approval. An archist can break a law and hope to get away unpunished, but you can’t break’ a custom;
On government and science:
“You put your petty miserable laws’ to protect wealth, your forces’ of guns and bombs, in the same sentence with the law of entropy and the force of gravity? I had thought better of your mind, Demaere!”
Snide and representative comments on freedom:
We have complete freedom of the press in A-Io, which inevitably means we get a lot of trash.
The Urrean (capitalist world) scientist’s view on Annares (anarchy world). In many ways he’s right.
The Odonian society called itself anarchistic, he said, but they were in fact mere primitive populists whose social order functioned without apparent government because there were so few of them and because they had no neighbor states.

On the meaning of life

When Shevek asks the Hanish commander(high tech civilization) why he wants to go to Annares (anarchy):
“My race is very old,” Ketho said. We have been civilized for a thousand millenia. We have histories of hundreds of those millenia. We have tried everything. Anarchism, with the rest. But I have not tried it. They say there is nothing new under any sun. But if each life is not new, each single life, then why are we born?” 
If you are into scifi, politics, science, anything, I wholeheartedly recommend The Dispossessed as a nice, slow, and thoughtful read.

“Scifi & Fantasy Week” on Goodreads! (for what it’s worth)

Turns out BLEACH has made its way to Science Fiction canon

As much as I hate Goodreads, I enjoy that they went through the trouble of ordering their top rated Scifi books and named it “Scifi & Fantasy Week“. The week just ended.

Considering how annoying it is to run those filters right now (X+ rating, Y+ review count, deduplicating series) on the website, this is actually pretty useful!


What I thought was cool was they hosted an Interview with N.K. Jemisin, author of “The Fifth Season”. Some good quotes:

(On art education)

“Probably my least-favorite interview question is the one I get most often: “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve tried repeatedly to figure out if there’s an easy way to answer this question that doesn’t come off as patronizing or glib, and there just isn’t.”

“Here’s the thing: When people ask this question, I think they’re actually asking something else. See (gets out soapbox), there’s a fundamental failure to understand art in American society. This is partly because we’ve basically eliminated art education for all but our wealthiest class, but some of it is just endemic to a capitalist society that views everything in terms of commodities. “

(On how ideas are a dime a dozen. Sound familiar in SV?)

“News flash: Artists don’t need other people’s ideas. Why? Because ideas are everywhere. At any given time, all of us are drowning in them. The measure of an artist lies in the ability to encapsulate these ideas and give them form in a way that others can share. “

These are all very timely, since I picked up Fifth Season on sale last week. I also picked up Red Mars, which is happily on Andy Wier’s list of top space colonization books. Looking forward to both of them!




Favorite books for great prices right now ($2.99)

No musing here. I stumbled upon some of my favorite books & the season’s hottest on Amazon for $2.99.

We’re talking Hugo and Nebula winners/finalists, top of the top. Most are discussed in a previous blog post. I’m sure sales are always on and off but THIS IS A LOT OF THEM and they are VERY GOOD.

A few that I just bought (two award winners, two also highly recommended)


Proof of purchase…and my craziness I suppose.

Ranking 30 games from my recent iOS game binge

These past few months I had a huge desire to find good iOS games. This is partially due to my first iPhone in March, and partially due to being on-the-go (more phone, less computer). I played all these anywhere from 1 (finish onboarding) to ~20 hours (starting the grind), and here is my “ranking” of all my recent iOS games!

Bolded games cost money, but have fewer pay to play elements.
(*) means that there is a beginning and an end
(**) means that there is a beginning and an end, and I finished the game 

  1. Dawn of Titans (Strategy Battleground)
  2. 80 Days (Around the World) (Strategy/Decisions, Story)**
  3. Banner Saga (Strategy Grid, Story)**
  4. Final Fantasy Brave Exvius (RPG, Turn-based)
  5. Device 6 (Puzzle, Mystery)**
  6. Madden NFL Mobile (Sports)
  7. Ticket to Earth (Strategy Grid, Story)**
  8. Clash Royale (Strategy, Battleground)
  9. Reigns (Strategy/Decisions)
  10. Mini Metro (Strategy Other)
  11. Lara Croft GO (Grid Puzzle)**
  12. Clash of Clans (Strategy)
  13. Injustice 2 (Fighting)
  14. Framed (Puzzle)**
  15. Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes (RPG, Turn-based)
  16. Severed (RPG, Slashing)
  17. Infinity Blade III (Slashing)*
  18. Plague, Inc. (Strategy Other)
  19. Fire Emblem Heroes (Strategy Grid)
  20. Asphalt 8 (Racing)
  21. Real Racing 3 (Racing)
  22. Sniper 3D (Shooter)
  23. Unkilled (Shooter)
  24. Monument Valley (Puzzles)*
    –don’t recommend under this list —
  25. Legacy of Discord (Hack & Slash)
  26. NBA Live (Sports)
  27. Polytopia (Strategy, Civilization)
  28. Food Street (Resources)
  29. Typeshift (Word Puzzle)
    —- below this is uninstall after 10 min —-
  30. Dynasty Warriors Unleashed (Hack & Slash)
  31. Flight Alert (Simulation)
  32. Game of War (Strategy War)
  33. War Dragons (Point and Click)

General thoughts

In the game binge, I optimized for variety (sports, rpg, racing, puzzle, etc.), and found that I really liked strategy and RPG games on mobile. The asynchronous on and off nature of mobile games meant that you have to easily start where you ended, and it has to be easy to regain context. My list leans heavily fantasy & sports (not fantasy sports) with few others scattered in between.

  • It would be super interesting to do demographic segmentation of who plays what types of games (fantasy, sports, shooting), ad tolerance (some games had so many ads), and onboarding handholding.
  • Certain games are better in different environments, and I had a smattering of each. Some categories are:
    • some great bathroom/waiting-in-line games (10 min, async) – i.e. titans, ffbe, madden, 
    • some great walking/public-transit games (50% focus, longer game, turnbased, forgiving) i.e. reigns, mini-metro, lara-croft GO
    • some good treadmill games (70% focus, longer game, can be live), i.e mini-metro, injustice 2, dawn of titans
    • some good home/plane games (100% focus, unforgiving, can be hours on end), i.e. 80 days, device 6
  • If mobile gaming wants to take over the world, it still has a long road to go. I’m excited for what it has to offer and will be on the lookout for some great stuff.

On to the reviews

1. Dawn of Titans

Lots of components of this game are shit, but what makes it special is its the first that doesn’t feel like a mobile game. It feels like a legit Total War game. Graphically intense components were built from the ground up. This might not be the

Unfortunately, its matchmaking, clan dynamics, and probably its late game whale strategy (didn’t get that far) are not up to par. However, Dawn of Titans is absolutely worth a play if you enjoyed games like Rome: Total War and one of the few I think are way, way ahead of its time. (~20 hours logged)

2. 80 Days around the world

Based on the book by Jules Verne (and the movie with Jackie Chan), 80 days is an adventure around the world in the late 19th century. In the book, there is one path. In the game, you can navigate the world in any path you want!

I’ve never been exposed to so many places I haven’t heard of (Muscat, Ridyah, Bandar Abbas) that really inspires the travel bug. Also a beautifully smooth reading experience that I simply couldn’t down for the 4 hours of my first run through around the world. (~4 hours total)

3. Banner Saga

Banner Saga is a beautiful game. The drawings are beautiful. The map is beautiful. The story is beautiful. And the gameplay is great (solid top down grid strategy). Decisions you make during the game are actually really relevant, and you will inevitably get slammed with tearjerkers along the way. (~10 hours to finish)

4. Final Fantasy Brave Exvius

FFBE is a great fully fledged game, with great gameplay, and designed for the power player in mind. It promotes the ‘auto attack’ feature, which quickly plays optimal moves and takes some of the tedium of grinding. It has a lot of little hidden trinkets and its cities are pleasant to walk through. Has the graphics of like FF4, but doesn’t detract from gameplay at all. In the end, you still need some good rolls to get good characters, but free play can take you all the way.

5. Device 6

Device 6 is a “puzzle hunt” style game that is a bit creepy, but has extremely innovative use of sound, phone orientation, and scrolling to create a story that keeps you asking questions. Its a short play (~6 hours) but absolutely worth it.

6. Madden NFL Mobile

Madden is THE perfect sports game for mobile. Think about it – when you are on console, all you do is hold turbo when running, and pass the ball when you are QB. This is the same on mobile, and now it’s even harder to pass to the wrong receiver (“SHIT i meant to pass to the post not the flat!@$#!”)

The PvP mode is brilliant, where you only play offensive drives against each other and ignore the tedium of defense. The mini-games are solid too. I’m not too familiar with auction houses in general but countless hours were spent flushing out my team there. (~20-30 hours)

7. Ticket to Earth 

This is a beautiful, playful grid strategy game that has you busting bugs, robots and bad guys in a world thrown into chaos. I loved the innovative gameplay and was hooked from beginning to end. A somewhat short game, but absolutely worth a play.

8. Clash Royale

Clash Royale is one of the biggest moneymakers from Supercell, and it makes money because its fucking good and matchmaking is FAST (<5 seconds for a 3 min minigame). If Clash of Clans is starcraft macro, then this is it’s micro equivalent. This game throws you to the wolves early (minimal onboarding) and has a very rewarding skill curve.(20-30 hrs)

9. Reigns

Reigns is a super fun swipey game where you are presented with absurd choices, magical results, and lots of dying from peasant revolts. You get infinite lives to try to live as long as possible in a crazy, weird world. I’ve lived to age 72, but usually die at like… age 20, GoT style.

10. Mini Metro

A cute little indie logistics game where you have to build train lines between a constantly growing number of stations. You lose when a single station becomes too packed. Sounds easy but actually pretty complex and has lots of strategy.

11. Lara Croft GO

This one ranks very high on the FUN scale. This is a turn-based puzzle game where every turn matters, whether you be trying to avoid monsters, big collapsing rocks, or other obstacles of the sort. An amazing commute or bathroom game.

12. Clash of Clans

Yet another base building game. But one where your base organization actually matters – enemies attack your base directly. You can easily spend lotsa time optimizing your base layout, which dulls the pain of waiting for new buildings and upgrades. Brilliantly balanced and an enjoyable daily checkin game.

13. Injustice 2

A pretty solid fighting game with great onboarding, simple controls, and fun destruction of your enemies. The story mode is pretty light but fun to watch DC Hero characters smash each other. Super addicting but don’t play it much these days

14. Framed

Framed is a cute little puzzle game where you re-arrange frames for some people running across a ‘comic’ to escape policemen. Its actually pretty fucking ingenious, but the gameplay is pretty simple. It is definitely worth a play, but won’t leave you amazed.

15. Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes

SWGOH is a pretty fun, grind-y RPG game that has all of your favorite Star Wars characters, both good and evil. There’s not much of a story, but some fun gameplay and somewhat well balanced characters. The onboarding bonuses can keep you going for 5-10 hours of pure gameplay, but then it starts to fall off.

16. Severed

Severed is a pretty fun dungeon crawler puzzle that involves slashing of monsters that have tricky abilities, and fighting multiple monsters at once. Its mechanic is a ‘slash’ game, kind of like fruit ninja. I haven’t finished the game yet but so far its been solid. No grinding and pure adventure/puzzle.

17. Infinity Blade III

Also a slasher, this game has beautiful graphics and very satisfying fighting animation (almost like God of War/Ryse-esque). Enemies have different attack patterns that you have to parry or dodge, making it pretty fun and difficult. I think the items economy is kind of broken but other than that solid game.

18. Asphalt 8

A super fun driving game similar to need for speed. You drive by tilting your phone sideways, and there are only two buttons: drift and boost (obviously the most important). It gets a bit ad-heavy which is annoying, but can be dealt with. Lots of speed, drifts and jumps make it a fun weekend evening or waiting game.

19. Plague, Inc.

Here you try to plague-out the world with virus elements . Couldn’t get too into it though, so haven’t played after a few games.

20. Fire Emblem Heroes

The biggest thing about mobile friendly versions of your favorite games is that they are vertical! Standard FE, a good amount of grinding, and the onboarding on this one is super annoying (since it refuses to download the first 500mb update asynchronously).

21. Real Racing 3

A slightly more realistic racing map than Asphalt, Real Racing gives eventual options to do gear shifting, etc. etc. That being said, it simply hasn’t been as fun.

22. Sniper 3D

This has an insanely high rating on the App store, and I admit it is a surprisingly fun game. Insane number of ads as well. Its a great game for when you don’t want to think at all and just shoot at things.

23. Unkilled

Shooters seem notoriously hard for mobile games, but Unkilled does a great zombie shooter. Basically its autofire once the crosshairs hover over an available target. Lots of fun mowing zombies to the ground, and probably lots of skill required as I progress.

24. Monument Valley

This probably doesn’t deserve the lowest ‘ok’ ranking, but basically I really didn’t buy the hype for monument valley. Its a pretty cute and beautiful puzzle game, but so far has been super simplistic and doesn’t make me *really want to play it*. Maybe after beating the game I will like it more, but so far so meh.

There were some other games that I just can’t recommend – the experience wasn’t great.

  1. Legacy of Discord (Hack & Slash). I actually played this one a LOT. And
  2. NBA Live (Sports) – basketball isn’t too good on the phone.
  3. Polytopia (Strategy, Civilization) – cute game, didn’t feel like there was much of a point to it
  4. Food Street (Resources) – actually kind of fun but this is back to the tedious farmville style games
  5. Typeshift (Word Puzzle) – an OK word puzzle but not too stimulating or fun.
  6. The Trail (Adventure) – this game looked nice and indie but a bit slow to start and so far very simplistic. hopefully it gets better but not sure if i’ll get there

Then there were games that were just bad: (Dynasty Warriors Unleashed (Hack & Slash), Flight Alert (Simulation), Game of War (Strategy War), War Dragons (Point and Click)). They had reasonable ratings but the gameplay turned me off so early that it was immediate shut down.

As for “what’s next”, it’s back to books for now. But I have a nice queue when I return, and excited for some new things in the game world!

  • Banner Saga 2 (Grid Strategy)
  • Framed 2 (Puzzle)
  • Final Fantasy Tactics (Grid Strategy)
  • XCOM (Strategy)
  • Prune (Puzzle)
  • Hitman Go, Deus Ex Go (Grid Puzzle)
  • Her Story (Mystery)
  • KOTOR (RPG, Turn-based)*
  • Final Fantasy VII (RPG,Turn-based)*

I’d love some more game suggestions and hope some of these could help you!

Ranking recent fantasy/scifi reads (from this spring)

The past three months I’ve had a fantasy/sci-fi kick. I staked out Goodreads, Reddit, and few other sites for recommendations, and came out with some great books and experiences. Here is my contribution back to society – a real-ass ranking to granulize the 5 star Goodreads ratings every good book gets.

  1. Words of Radiance (#2)(Sanderson)
  2. Death’s End (#3)(Liu)
  3. Snow Crash (Stephenson)
  4. The Dark Forest (#2)(Liu)
  5. Way of Kings (#1)(Sanderson)
  6. Leviathan Wakes (#1)(Corey)
  7. The Innovators (Issacson)
  8. The Three Body Problem (#1)(Liu)
  9. Name of the Wind (#1)(Rothfuss)
  10. Ancillary Justice (#1)(Leckie)
  11. Homo Deus (Harari)

Many currently popular books revolve around modern sociopolitics, dystopias, investigative journalism/biographies, and ideas about the world. However, all this Fantasy/Scifi offers an escape, a series of thought pieces of what a world would look like with completely different variables, social structures, rules of science, and decision making criteria. Even though a lot of the genre is targeted towards young adults, here are some works I could wholly appreciate as an adult:

1 – Words of Radiance

Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive, #2)Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

When I think fantasy, this is what I have in mind.

A whole new world. A patchwork political system showing its cracks through narrators of various sociopolitical classes. Novel concepts of magic, energy, and the dark underworld are never explicitly explained – you learn along with the characters.

What else? I loved the witty dialogue. The plot is unpredictable with lots of red herrings, false leads, and crushed hopes. All this is mixed in with satisfying vindication alongside shades of hopeful uncertainty.

This book is hilariously thick, but worth it from cover to cover. Also you can’t tell on Kindle 🙂

2 – Death’s End

Death's End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #3)Death’s End by Liu Cixin

Death’s End doesn’t have much relationship romance, but it is beautifully romantic novel. When everything seems to be going wrong, there is an out against all odds. When humanity is but a bug in the grand scheme of the dark forest universe, we do not lose the glimmer of hope.

What a grand fucking finale to Liu Cixin’s “Three Body Problem” series. The series is one that just gets better and better, and this is what really got me into my reading binge this Spring.

3 – Snow Crash

Snow CrashSnow Crash by Neal Stephenson

First published in 1992, Snow Crash beautifully extrapolates the hacker, punk, pizza delivery suburban culture to their imaginative extremes. Started getting really interesting 1/3 into the book and the action just never stopped. Brilliantly sarcastic writing and loved Stevenson’s ability to take ridiculous puns from corporate marketing to the next level.

There is a bit of suspension of disbelief required with all the pseudo history and linguistics, alongside lots of crude humor and shenanigans. I can see how it’d be a turnoff to some but I loved its crass, deadpan tone.

4 – The Dark Forest (REP #2)(Liu)

In a fully rational world where the optimal decisions still result in certain defeat – what do you do?

The Dark Forest is the second book in the “Three Body Problem” series. Liu Cixin explores a story of individual ingenuity, subterfuge, mutually assured destruction, and a bit of luck in a Earth 5headed towards a dangerous future. It keeps you guessing all the way to the end, where the “Dark Forest” theory of universe (a la Fermi Paradox) does not disappoint.

5 – Way of Kings (SA #1)(Sanderson)

The first of the Stormlight Archives, the Way of Kings kept me coming back with it’s mysterious world, vague politics, and spicy characters. I didn’t exactly know where things were going, and yet I knew something crazy and relevant was just around the corner. On Kindle, you can’t tell, but this series has the fattest books in the fantasy section and I loved every word from cover to cover.

6 – Leviathan Wakes (Exp #1)(Corey)

In this book, Corey explores some seriously weird ideas but with great writing and a host of really interesting characters. It has a pretty viable future with Earth/Mars/Outer Belt solar system politics. All in all, I think this ranks pretty low in sci-fi world building, but it was really action packed and could not stop reading.

On the downside, you knew exactly what was going to happen at the end, so minus points for suspense.

7 – The Innovators (Issacson)

(This isn’t fantasy/scifi, but whatever) I think the history of modern computers and internet is wildly interesting and a must-read for Silicon Valley techies. What brilliant things can be done when the government/military, corporations and academics collaborate! What brilliant things can be done by individual hackers in their garage! There is no one place where innovation takes place, and here are some stories of that diversity.

The book is well researched, and has a similar style to Issacson’s popular “Steve Jobs” book. Unfortunately the writing can get very repetitive, with Issacson is constantly rehashing the same point every other chapter. This bumps it to the lower half and a 4*.

8 – The Three Body Problem (REP #1)(Liu)

I enjoyed this book a lot in its own right. To be honest though, books #2 & 3 (Dark Forest, Death’s End) were so good that I barely remembered what happened in this one. However, this book is critical setup for the series so I recommend the whole series wholeheartedly.

This has a “Chinese” social perspective, which might turn some people off. Many American books revolve around individual heroism, while this entire series seems to promote optimal decision for the greater good. However, that’s just the setup, and we find throughout the series that the winner doesn’t come from collective thinking at all 🙂

9 – Name of the Wind (KK #1)(Rothfuss)

Beautiful writing, beautiful poetry and songs, beautiful descriptions.

Pretty slow plot. A fallen hero recounts a story of his his precocious yet rogue-like youth. Do something dumb but calculated, get in trouble, get out of it, rinse and repeat. Each arc is very interesting, but I don’t think I will read the rest of the triology.

10 – Ancillary Justice (IR #1)(Leckie)

Ancillary Justice has a great ideas, but mediocre execution on a thinly built world. The main character has an intentionally robotic dialogue, and there is little character development or depth across the board.

It seems like Leckie built a world around her desired plot, and nothing more. There are components of tiered sociopolitical systems, religion, power dynamics, aliens, and personalities, but it all feels very artificial. All that being said, a lot of sci-fi is about interesting ideas and thought exercises. I enjoyed the read and it is great food for thought.

11 – Homo Deus (Harari)

Bringing the rear guard of a highly curated list is Homo Deus. A successor to the popular “Sapiens”, this book has great ideas on how humans are have gone from religion to “Humanism” (a Nietzsche’ian influenced idea of “God is dead, we are our own gods now”). The future, Homo “Deus”, is all data driven decision making as humanity optimizes itself for the future.

All this is great, but Harari just *has* to make constant inane, sweeping statements devoid of any nuance. He then bases his theories on these flimsy arguments, and expects the reader to blindly believe his theses. A damned shame, because so much content seems well researched and with potential to be taken for serious discussion. Instead, this becomes yet another pop culture book about humanity and its future.


End. Would love thoughts and more book suggestions!

The Stormlight Archives – When Good vs. Evil becomes messy

1080 pages. 1.5 days was all it took to burn through book 2 of the Stormlight Archives, after powering through the first in a week.

Fantasy is a huge risk. The story will almost always be interesting, but it is tough for it to be something special, something memorable. I’ll be reading this series for quite a while.

The book had a straight set of 5 star reviews from your friends. It has 4.75 out of 150,000 reviews, one of the highest I’ve seen. It’s not perfect obviously but its pretty freaking close.


Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive, #2)Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first two books in the Stormlight Archive (The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance) have the POV of a washed up general who’s trying to regain his sanity, a brilliant soldier unjustly sent to slavery, and a witty, sheltered girl who escaped an abusive household. Three entirely different perspectives on the world from three people who have something to prove, and something to learn. All of this in the backdrop of a tedious war stemming from the assassination of a king, vague hints to some sort of “Desolation” to end the world, and an opaque history of a great betrayal by an ancient order called the Knights Radiant. And that’s just the beginning.

What I liked

  • Brilliant character development/backgrounds as the author does appropriate flashbacks that explains what motivates them to move or hate.
  • The world is so well developed – different physical elements, societal roles, secret societies, various governments that characters learn about as they progress.
  • Unbelievable ups and downs, so much r/nonononoyes in book form.
  • It’s sense of right and wrong is somewhere in between Game of Thrones (honor is dead) and Lord of the Rings (a clear line of good and evil)

Additional thoughts:

  • A pleasant break from the popular human/elf/orc/dwarf/undead framework.
  • To me, this is a fantasy novel with similar quality, meaning and style to the manga One Piece. Brilliant character development and backgrounds that explain imperfect decisions in the past and allow characters to be honorable in the present. It’s world is already fleshed out, but the main characters discover more and more as they go.
  • Extremely witty conversation, especially from the female lead, Shallan. 21st century banter is applied to high fantasy (similar to The Witcher 3, a recent fantasy RPG) and I actually like it quite a bit. It doesn’t try create its own brand of fantasy banter and makes the characters relatable.

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