Inside the Skunkworks machine (Chris Dale, 2022)

]Skunkworks]( is one of my favorite records, and has been for almost 30 years now. A textured rock album, it’s neither heavy metal (as fans of Bruce Dickinson would have hoped) nor grunge (as fans of Jack Endino would have guessed). It’s simply great, I love it, and it is a shame that what was supposed to be a lasting band turned out to be a short-lived project, quickly shelved so that Dickinson could go back to heavy metal (and subsequently Iron Maiden).

Because they were so good, I kept track of the musicians behind Skunkworks for a while, especially Chris Dale, the bass player whose cool-looking instrument got me to cover my own bass with stickers. But I somehow missed a lot of things, including the self-publication of this book, by Dale, which covers everything about Skunkworks, the band, from the first auditions to the eventual disbanding.

In spite of its awful layout, Inside the Skunkworks machine is a great and riveting book – I couldn’t put it down and read it almost in one go, stoppig only for a few hours of sleep. It is much more captivating than Dickinson’s own autobiography, which turns to a slog of aeronautical anecdotes midway. Interestingly, Dickinson himself is rather absent from this book; not because he didn’t contribute (that’s only fair, it’s Dale’s book after all), but because he comes across as detached from the band’s life. Not taking part in the frequent jams between the 3 musicians, arriving late to the sound checks and leaving early after the shows – often to go fly planes… And yet, he was the one repeating than Skunkworks was a real band (including when I saw them in 1996 at the Elysée Montmartre), while neither the management nor Dale seemed to really believe it…

In any case, Inside the Skunkworks machine is an exhaustive documentary on a great (albeit short-lived) musical project, and more importantly on a slice of the British rock scene of the mid-nineties and a bunch of passionate musicians who all, somehow, crossed the path of the ever-friendly Chris Dale.

The Last of Us: que reste-t-il de l’humanité (Nicolas Deneschau, 2021)

My brother offered me this essay (in French) on the eponymous video games last Christmas; it tooks me 6 months to read it for 3 reasons: my backlog of books is shamefuly long, this one seemed a bit dry, and more importantly, I hadn’t recovered from the emotional Vietnam that The Last of Us part II dragged me through.

Well, it turns out that this book was not as emotionnaly taxing as I feared, if still a bit dry. Furthermore, I don’t really know what its point nor audience are.

Like the games alternate game and narrative sequences to unfold their stories, the book interlaces the retelling of said stories with either behind-the-scenes anecdotes or superficial gameplay analysis. This makes for an entertaining read, once you get used to its academic (and sometimes clumsly) voice, but not a very instructive one. Readers who have played the games probably don’t need their recap, while total newcomers could benefit from a more immersive narration.

In the end, this book barely more than a love letter from a fan who has studied the game and all the making-of documentaries. I may bring back some memories, and offer some trivia, but not much else.