Within a couple of days I received a lovely bunch of books: The Nostalgia Nerd’s Retro Tech: Computer, Consoles & Games, the 8-bit 2008 Annual, Invasion of the Space Invaders: An Addict’s Guide to Battle Tactics, Big Scores and the Best Machines and Gaming in the Obscure. What a great month of reading that would be!
I snatched Nostalgia Nerd’s book as soon as I found out about it because I’m following his YouTube channel and love most of his videos. He manages to be both informative and funny, and the items he covers are usually very interesting, so getting the book was a no-brainer. Although I have to say, its price has fluctuated, both up and down, over the weeks; for instance, I think I bought it at around £17 (not sure though), then got a refund for a fiver and now it’s standing at £6? Weird.
The book itself looks, feels and smells lovely. It’s a 15.9 x 2.9 x 21.9 cm little tome with a very nice hard cover. The heavy-stock paper it’s printed on is uncoated, offering a feel both warm and modern. At 224 pages it’s not small, though it’s not long either. So, something ideal for a cold afternoon in the old armchair or an evening in bed.
The book follows a steady format, first presenting a machine, coupled with a few photos, and then offers three games with their respective screenshots – A “must see” title, a “must play” one and a “must avoid” one. It’s well written an pretty, with few errors or typos (though by this time there have been a few books where the editors have managed to avoid event he single its/it’s typo, this is not one of them. But it’s almost there); though there is a big layout error on the ZX 81 page (I think – or around there) with some wrong photos and a repeated passage.
It covers 49 (maybe I counted wrong and it was 50? 😃 ) computers and games consoles ranging from the early 70s to the early 00s.
The devices covered are your usual fare, covering all classics and some not-quite-so-classic ones, with a Eurocentric bias – which is always good in my book. So don’t think you’ll go into it looking for obscure machines you’ve never heard of before.
The blurb accompanying each machine is interesting, but no more than a short description. There’s also a box containing a (very) short ‘Fact Sheet’. So it’s highly unlikely you’ll learn something new about a particular device, to be honest.
The photos are lovely, shot professionally and with some aesthetically excellent speciments, and include the machines themselves, some internals and some accessories. However, they are quite small, and although the paper used in the book is really nice, using uncoated paper does have its drawbacks when it comes to photos: some shiny, coated paper would greatly benefit those photos and help them stand out.
The last page of each section/machine deals with the three characteristic games in the way mentioned above. Three very small photos with a blurb that’s probably the tiniest reviews you’ll ever read. Of course I understand that exhaustively reviewing these titles was completely outside the scope of the book, but come on, especially the “Must Avoid” ones are SCREAMING for some of the Nerd’s dry humour to pummel them into a Mexican landfill. Also, inevitably each and every reader will disagree with the choice of the titles on those pages, but of course the opposite would be just impossible. I myself did find some choices curious, but didn’t exactly grumble about them.
All in all, I’d say that (if it’s not already evident by now) the books biggest shortcoming is its dearth of content. There’s lots of white space which makes it very pleasant to the eye, but as far as content goes, it’s lacking, unfortunately.
What’s worse, though, is that, most probably because this lack of material, I finished the book having learned nothing whatsoever. Now, I do love my retro machines and have a nice little collection, and I do know more about them than the average person in the street, but when reading such a book I do expect to learn something new – and I often do, even when reading something that covers my top favourite ones. As it is, I’m sorry to say that after a few days passed I can remember very little of the book’s content, because -for me at least- it was so little of it it barely scratched the surface.
Which brings me to the question: who is this book for? A retro hobbyist will not gain much by it. A member of the ‘general public’ will probably pass it by. And yet it’s not a coffee table book to just sit there, beautiful and glorious, to be idly browsed. Somehow it manages to slip through all these very real categories. A real pity, because it’s a book put together very competently, but its goal is not clear at all.
A real pity, because it’s a book put together very competently, but its goal is not clear at all.