Une histoire du jeu vidéo en France, 1960-1991: des labos and chambres d’ados (Alexis Blanchet & Guillaume Montagnon, 2020)

A book with a very long and exhaustive title (in English: A history of video games in France, 1960-1991: from labs to teenagers’ bedrooms), that fits perfectly with its content: a long and exhaustive study of, well, the way video games were made, distributed, and played from the early sixties to the start of the nineties. After Un feu dans le ciel nordique, this is another book that reads like a (friendly) PhD, with its analytical approach, its matter-of-fact tone devoid of any storytelling, and the very impressive amount of research that its built upon.

Even if the first chapters (how video games were first disdained curiosities for researchers; how they eventually entered the realms of pinball-adjacent games for cafés and bars) were a bit of a slog, albeit an interesting one, once we reached the 1970s and the home consoles, I got hooked; by the ’80s, the time of the 8-bit home computers and my own youth, I could not put the book down. Learning the history behind all the companies whose names I used to read in magazines ads and game reviews – Infogrames, Ere Informatique, Ubi Soft… – was captivating. And, like with RPGs or start-ups, the synopsis is always the same. First, passionate enthusiasts tinker in their basement, then the money pours in, and finally consolidation kicks in, squeezing the fun to extract the dough. But as for the book, after a slow start, it was a great read!

The Once And Future Sex: Going Medieval on Women’s Role in Society (Eleanor Janega, 2023)

I believe that I heard about this one in an episode of Radio 4’s You’re Dead To Me. This would make sense, since like the podcast, this book is instructive, entertaining, friendly and witty. Unlike Une Histoire du jeu vidéo…, it doesn’t go into too much details, giving you just enough to keep the narration lively and interesting. (Obviously, the author doesn’t need to assert her expertise, since it’s a given; this probably helps.) Even if the book’s structure is a bit obvious and repetitive – first the upcoming points are announced, then broadly introduced, then presented one by one, then summarised, and then we move on to the next topic – the author’s style and humour keep you hooked.

And what about the women’s role in medieval society? Unsurprisingly, it was major and yet underestimated and under-appreciated, and one of the author’s point is that it is still the case today – by which I mean that we fail to give medieval women justice, but also that we fail to give modern women justice. The book’s conclusion articulates this point much better than me, but don’t expect the whole book to be a political manifesto: it is the work of an historian first, and a feminist second. Getting the whole picture of the medieval society’s view of women is a bit disheartening, because it’s both indisputably coherent and yet completely stupid – it makes perfect sense if your world view starts on fallacious premises. Which means that we still aren’t immune to such misguided ways (and more than once, I felt like I was reading something out of an incel manifesto.) All the more reason to enjoy this smart and witty book!

The Black Dahlia (James Ellroy, 1987)

I hadn’t read this book in 15 years, or maybe more, but had a good memory of it. Reading it now, I was a bit disappointed. From a stylistic point of view, it is a delight – Ellroy is as sharp and cold-blooded as Chandler, with a bit of extra crudeness to punch harder. But the story itself lacks a bit of cohesiveness – some of the things that are set up aren’t payed off, while some parts – especially towards the end – feel like fillers. The ending manages to tie everything up, but to do so resorts to one of the easiest tricks: it’s because they’re insane that the bad people did what they did (and a lot of characters turn out to be insane.) Still, I’m a sucker for stylish stories of hard-boiled detectives.

Mountain of Daggers (Seth Skorkowsky, 2015)

I love Seth Skorkowsky’s videos on tabletop role-playing games. I indisputably deserves his 2023 ENNIE award for best podcast. And, since I’m always on the lookout for good fantasy novels, I was eager to read his work as a writer.

Unfortunately, I found the adventures of the Black Raven, good, but not great. The writing is perfectly fine – in fact, the action scenes grabbed me more than once – but I couldn’t care for the protagonist, nor the adventures themselves. The characters and the stories are a bit lacklustre, except for the very last story, with its disturbing, almost body-horror tone. I don’t know if the short stories in this book are adaptations of roleplaying sessions, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the case, because this is usually how it ends up: way less interesting to read than it must have been to play. Even the tales of the Black Company, which as far as I know are highly praised, eventually bored me. Still, Skorkowsky definitely knows how to write, so I’ll probably give his works another chance.