2019 Books

When I was still at university, I used to devour books, but in the last five years or so I’ve slowed down to probably less than ten books a year. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it any more - I’m usually just trying to do too many other things to make time for books.

This year I’d like to try to read at least 12 fiction and 12 non-fiction books - this blog post is where I’ll keep track of what I’m busy with and what I’ve finished. Initially the plan was to include handy Amazon links in-case you see anything you’d like to read yourself, but unfortunately, Amazon makes it hard to get an embeddable link reliably.

Instead, I’ve now modified this page to include Goodreads widgets showing what I am currently reading and what I’ve completed (apologies if you are on mobile, I still need to figure out how to make this plan work reasonably on a small screen).

I will now only update this blog post with very brief notes or impressions on the books - full reviews (if any) will reside on Goodreads.

Cover photo by Ivo Rainha from Pexels

December 2019
A Theory of Fun For Game Design by Raph Koster

This book seems to be very polarising! Reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads are divided between people who loved it and people who hated it. Many of the more recent reviews think the book has become irrelevant. Most of what the book espouses may have become common knowledge in the field of game design in the 15 years since its first publication. However, I still think it is useful as an investigation into the philosophy of why we make games.

The Secret of Crete by Hans Georg Wunderlich

Not exactly something that was on my planned reading list - I picked this up from a bookshelf in the place where we were staying for our short five day holiday in Crete…

This book was a fascinating read that dispels Sir Arthur Evans’ widely accepted theory of a pre-Greek Minoan culture. The author theorises that the ruins at Knossos that Evans based his theory on were not, in fact, a palace, but rather the remains of the temple of an early Greek death cult. In essence, a burial site where priests performed the rites for the dead and rituals of remembrance. That was until rampant grave robbery led early cultures to eschew the idea of burying their dead with vast amounts of worldly treasure, which eventually rendered the temple obsolete.

November 2019
The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design by Mike Selinker

A collection of essays by board game designers on a variety of topics related to designing board games - I should probably give this a second read very soon.

Game Engine Black Book: Wolfenstein 3D by Fabien Sanglard

This book does a deep-dive into explaining the code of the original Wolfenstein 3D game released in 1992. For me, it was a fabulous walk down memory lane: remembering the severely constrained hardware from my teenage years and my dabblings in writing assembly code for that era’s hardware and software. Not that I spent much time writing code for these old systems - that was only for a little bit in 1999 or 2000 - long after their heyday. Instead, I spent much more time than I should have to figure out how to run every old DOS game that I could get my hands on with early versions of Windows in the late 1990s. So much of the background information for this book like how the DOS memory models worked was already very familiar to me.

Still, I am overawed by the creative cleverness of these developers who managed to push these very limited machines to do such amazing things!

Tiamat’s Wrath by James S.A. Corey

Tiamat’s Wrath is the eighth book of the Expanse series.

This book was a nail-biter towards the end, and I can’t wait for the final book to come out next year!

Domain-Driven Design: Tackling Complexity in the Heart of Software by Eric Evans

This one has been on my reading list for the longest time! It’s a challenging read thanks to the very long chapters, densely packed with complex abstract information. I think it’s worth reading at least once so that you know what it’s about - then consider coming back if you find yourself in a position where domain-driven-design would be useful. For example in my new job we are maintaining around five or six web services and of those perhaps two could stand to benefit from DDD - the rest are mostly wrappers around third-party products or libraries. Hence, the domain is almost entirely outside of our control.

In my opinion, the most valuable part of the book is the bit about relationships between teams in multi-team setups. Realising that a couple of our services are in a client position to a service maintained by another team has made the peril of our informal relationship clear. It has made formalising this relationship a priority for me.

Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey

Persepolis Rising is the seventh book of the Expanse series.

I don’t want to say any more than that the series seems to be getting better and better with every book!

October 2019

Another slow month… lots of time building IKEA furniture and getting settled into our new place… plus we went to Spiel in Essen for four out of four days (not full days, but it was a long tiring trip each day).

Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey

Babylon’s Ashes is the sixth book of the Expanse series.

This book had a LOT going on but managed to be a page-turner in spite of that!

September 2019

Bit of a slow month - we were moving into our new apartment at the end of September, so I only managed one book.

Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey

Nemesis Games is the fifth book of the Expanse Series.

Holy crap! This book changed EVERYTHING! Was thinking the series is going to settle into repetitiveness, but looks like it’s just getting started…

August 2019

I managed two books again for a change!

Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey

Cibola Burn is the fourth book of the Expanse series.

Without giving too much away, this is the first book in the series that takes us beyond our solar system. While I agree with those that say it’s a bit slow-paced at the start, I suspect the end wouldn’t be as impactful without first getting to know all the new characters. So I guess it was worth slogging through the start to get to the end.

Dungeon H@cks: How NetHack, Angband, and Other Roguelikes Changed the Course of Video Games

This one was a nostalgia-filled read for me because I played many of the roguelikes it covers back in my university days.

It reads much like a history book, focusing more on the stories of the creators of these roguelike games than on the roguelikes themselves. It does provide some insight into where the unique mechanics in roguelikes came from, but I would’ve preferred a bit more focus on the games.

July 2019

I only read one book this month: continuing with The Expanse.

Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey

This book is the third in the Expanse series. I suspect I may already have read this one as a lot of the story felt vaguely familiar. I couldn’t remember the ending though, so I’m not sure.

This one was exciting! The story finally started to go in a direction where we might find out where the alien proto-molecule came from and what its purpose is.

June 2019

This month was an Expanse marathon with no non-fiction books included. I’ll have to get some fibre back into the diet again next month.

Drive by James S.A. Corey

Another short story - this one shows a bit of the invention of the Epstein drive and the death of its creator.

Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey

Caliban’s War is the second book of the Expanse series. The middle was a bit of a slog, but once I got to the last 30% of the book I couldn’t put it down and ended up reading until two in the morning on a work night!

The Butcher of Anderson Station by James S.A. Corey

This novella covers the back story of Fred Johnson a.k.a. The Butcher of Anderson Station. It was a quick, enjoyable read.

The Churn by James S.A. Corey

The Churn is a short story telling the origin story of the character Amos Burton from the Expanse series of novels (he’s the slightly psychotic grease monkey that makes up the 4-person crew of the Rocinante).

May 2019
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

I decided to re-read this a week before the end of May and finished on the morning of the 1st of June, so I’m counting it as part of May.

While I might not agree with this being hard science fiction, I will concede that it’s pretty close and I must thank my colleague for reminding me about this series. The first book in the series is excellent, and I suspect I’m going to be spending much of the remainder of this year catching up to the latest book in the series (which is up to eight, with a bunch of short novellas in between as well).

The Art of War by Sun Tzu, Translated by Thomas Cleary

After reading another translation by James Trapp on my Kindle in April, I decided to give this tiny little pocket translation another read. I found the typesetting much more comfortable to follow with translated passages from Sun Tzu’s writings in bold, interspersed with text from various commentators trying to clarify what was meant by the original text.

In spite of the increased readability, I still couldn’t say by the end of reading this that I felt like I had all of the concepts adequately internalised. I could not explain everything in this book to you from memory like I could with most of the technical books I’ve studied - in fact, much of the author’s advise is a bit vague and hard to apply without a real-world conflict for practice. Most board or computer strategy games are probably too abstracted to use more than maybe a quarter or a half of the concepts covered, so long story short: I might need to do a bit more in-depth study of The Art of War at some point - especially once I continue with my Turn-Based Strategy genre series.

German Men Sit Down To Pee & Other Insights Into German Culture by Frank Niklas & James Cave

I happened across this book while searching the Kindle store for more Adam Fletcher books (they didn’t have any). It was interesting how many topics this had in common with Fletcher’s book, but I think I might have preferred this book’s more focused approach (less personal storytelling, more focus on the topic at hand).

Make me German! by Adam Fletcher

I came across an article by the author in a magazine which mentioned his many books and figured it seems like required reading for someone emigrating to Germany in a few days. Suspect, I should’ve started with the first one, but was still a fun read!

April 2019
Infanta by Deon Meyer

My uncle said Deon Meyer books are addictive… I should’ve listened.

The Art of War: A New Translation by Sun Tzu, Translated by James Trapp

I didn’t enjoy this translation nearly as much as the pocket-book version I have, so I’ll instead go re-read that next month.

The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win by Gene Kim

A fun, insightful fiction story about why DevOps is crucial to the success of modern businesses. Not quite sure what genre this falls under, it’s not entirely non-fiction, because all the characters are fictional, but deals with technical subject matter so doesn’t quite feel like fiction either. A long-form modern parable?

Proteus by Deon Meyer

This book is the first Deon Meyer novel I’ve ever read. It was terrific in spite of being in Afrikaans. I’ve always found my mother tongue very clumsy when trying my hand at writing short stories in high school.

I have encountered the author’s work before in the form of the TV series adaption of Orion, so I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was about how good it is.

Building Microservices by Sam Newman

Contained many useful insights into when micro-services do make sense (no they are not a silver bullet). My biggest takeaway was that I should knuckle-down and fight my way through Domain Driven Design by Eric Evans because it sounds like some of the concepts covered there form the core skills for being good at designing micro-services.

March 2019
Revenant Gun (Machineries of Empire #3) by Yoon Ha Lee

This book provided a reasonably satisfying conclusion to the series. It did make me think that this series was basically Dominions in space… a not-at-all terrible game idea for someone with a huge team or terrible scoping skills.

February 2019
Raven Stratagem (Machineries of Empire #2) by Yoon Ha Lee

Now that I have a rough idea of what’s going on in this fictional universe the story was quite captivating.

January 2019
Game Feel: A Game Designer’s Guide to Virtual Sensation by Steve Swink

Just finished this one in the nick of time on the 30th of January!

I think this is an essential book if you are interested in game design - perhaps not quite as important as The Art of Game Design, but it’s a close second for me.

While the concepts taught in this book are crucial for making games that feel good, I must warn you that I experienced several quality issues with the book and its supporting materials:

  • Page 96 and 226 in my book were blank - I found an illegal PDF online to read them because they were not supposed to be blank!
  • The book is designed to be very practical, but except for chapter 1 examples that the author ported to Unity none of them works any more! I’m almost upset enough about this to start an open-source project to rebuild all of the examples. However, that might be biting off more than I can chew right now…
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

I got this science-fiction novel from Seshan and Ray as a Christmas present (thanks guys). The jacket describes it as a “Starship Troopers meets Apocalypse Now”, but it felt more like Starship Troopers meets Ender’s Game to me. It was most definitely a weird read, but I’m intrigued enough that I’ll read the second book in the trilogy for my next fiction book.

Finished reading


Matt Van Der Westhuizen

Back-end service developer at Ubisoft Blue Byte by day - wannabe game designer & developer by night.