A Idea Bubbling Away

What remains of fiction read in our most formative years? An atmosphere, certain sentences, some nuances of character, memories anchored in the place and time a book was read. A quarter of a century after reading a story I still retain not-quite images, not-quite sensations, but definite specific memories. A woman sitting on a thistle in order to fix a memory; a teenager-who would become a junkie-coming to Swiss Cottage to meet his sister; a man hidden underground while spies search overground for his traces, each memory almost as real as if they had happened beyond the pages of a book.

I read differently in those days, before the internet, when I relied on browsing and serendipity to lead me from one book to the next. When I read something that made the world feel charged, made me see, hear, sense the world around me in new ways, I read and reread, often reading a book three or four times in a row, and again after a few month’s break.

Those books, which wouldn’t fill much more than a typical shelf make me curious. Some of them are almost certainly poorly written, many riddled with cliché, some maybe ideologically unsound, but what would it be like to return to them now, to re-explore those early encounters?

Would it be awful, inadvisable to put together a short reading list? It would be primarily a list of male writers, curated not to allow an imbalance of science fiction. There would perhaps be some William Gibson, a Patricia Highsmith, maybe Kingsley Amis, Trevanian, Winston Graham, Iain M. Banks, Kem Nunn, maybe a Neal Stephenson, almost certainly a Richard Allen or two, perhaps Anne Tyler, Paul Theroux, J. P. Donleavy, Douglas Coupland or Nicholson Baker and Margaret Atwood. (There is also a very long list of those I know I couldn’t stomach again.) This is probably a rotten idea. I hope it goes away.

Strategy Gaming and the Ancient Game of Go

It was during my science fiction phase, specifically while consumed with the Culture civilisation authored by Iain M. Banks, that I read The Player of Games. Protagonist Jernau Morat Gurgeh is mildly obsessed with a tantalisingly complex computer game. I’ve disposed of the novel, my sci-fi phase long ended, so am unable to refresh my recollection. A strategy game revolving around politics and the intrigues of court, the concept appealed to my geeky nature, and lead me to play several incarnations of Sid Meier’s Civilization series. Superficially strategic, and undoubtedly a huge time-sink, Civilization lacked the depth and richness of Banks’s fictional game. As far as I can tell, and computer gaming isn’t a great interest of mine, the strategy genre is mislabeled. No computer games come close to the strategic depth of Go or chess.

In my late teens I was possessed my Trevanian’s Shibumi, a spy novel parody that wove into its narrative sufficient philosophy and condemnation of Western materialism to appeal to my suggestible nature. The ancient Chinese game of Go provides the structure for Shibumi and is integral to the storyline. My preoccupation with Go, which waxes and wanes with the availability of suitable opponents, started with Trevanian’s novel.

Unlike chess, no software version of Go has yet come close to challenging the professional dan-level Go players.