Board game rank change report for Q3 + most of 2018

It’s time once again for a round-up of games that have become especially popular at BGG over the past year. But first, here’s a belated report on what games showed the most positive movement in rank between 6/30/2018 and 9/30/2018.

Fast, positive movers among 'Board games':
180 (+320) Root
187 (+313) Brass: Birmingham
349 (+140) Century: Golem Edition
382 (+118) Decrypto

Fast, positive movers among 'Strategy games':
068 (+432) Brass: Birmingham
091 (+409) Root
249 (+251) Everdell

Fast, positive movers among 'War games':
034 (+466) Root
040 (+460) Wir sind das Volk!
253 (+247) Cataclysm: A Second World War
292 (+208) Skies Above the Reich
300 (+200) Gaslands

Fast, positive movers among 'Family games':
024 (+476) Evolution: Climate
099 (+401) Welcome To...
123 (+377) Century: Eastern Wonders
126 (+374) Ex Libris
199 (+301) Jump Drive
250 (+250) Odin's Ravens (Second Edition)
297 (+203) Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft

Fast, positive movers among 'Collectible games':
045 (+455) Aristeia!

Fast, positive movers among 'Thematic games':
127 (+373) Zombicide: Green Horde
132 (+368) Witness
138 (+362) Wasteland Express Delivery Service
164 (+336) The Big Book of Madness
187 (+313) Dragonfire
195 (+305) Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game
292 (+208) Western Legends
297 (+203) The World of SMOG: Rise of Moloch

And here’s a report on what happened across most of 2018 (1/22 to 12/8):

Fast, positive movers among 'Board games':
015 (+103) Twilight Imperium (Fourth Edition)
021 (+165) Spirit Island
041 (+459) Brass: Birmingham
051 (+449) Rising Sun
093 (+101) Agricola (Revised Edition)
103 (+100) Raiders of the North Sea
106 (+394) Root
138 (+285) Clank! In! Space!
162 (+140) This War of Mine: The Board Game
178 (+159) Too Many Bones
189 (+311) Dinosaur Island
219 (+281) Rajas of the Ganges
238 (+164) Roll Player
244 (+138) Flamme Rouge
249 (+105) Hanamikoji
256 (+244) Everdell
270 (+230) Pulsar 2849
283 (+217) Decrypto
285 (+215) Welcome To...
301 (+199) KeyForge: Call of the Archons
303 (+197) The Quest for El Dorado
304 (+196) Century: Golem Edition
305 (+131) Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures
307 (+193) Mythic Battles: Pantheon
320 (+125) Bärenpark
322 (+126) Photosynthesis
339 (+161) Altiplano
342 (+158) Heaven & Ale
344 (+138) The Godfather: Corleone's Empire
346 (+154) Ganz schön clever
354 (+146) Lords of Hellas
366 (+134) Endeavor: Age of Sail
380 (+120) Aeon's End: War Eternal
386 (+114) Santa Maria

Fast, positive movers among 'Strategy games':
014 (+486) Brass: Birmingham
041 (+459) Rising Sun
063 (+437) Root
119 (+381) Dinosaur Island
128 (+204) Rajas of the Ganges
143 (+357) Evolution: Climate
146 (+354) Pulsar 2849
149 (+351) Everdell
171 (+329) Endeavor: Age of Sail
184 (+316) Aeon's End: War Eternal
191 (+309) Heaven & Ale
195 (+305) Altiplano
196 (+304) Century: Golem Edition
198 (+302) Lords of Hellas
203 (+297) Coimbra
205 (+295) Teotihuacan: City of Gods
207 (+293) Santa Maria
253 (+238) London (second edition)
263 (+237) The Fox in the Forest
272 (+228) Exit: The Game – The Pharaoh's Tomb
296 (+204) Thunderstone Quest

Fast, positive movers among 'War games':
002 (+498) War of the Ring (Second Edition)
018 (+482) War of the Ring (First Edition)
032 (+468) Root
039 (+461) Hannibal & Hamilcar
106 (+394) Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain
111 (+389) Here I Stand (500th Anniversary Reprint Edition)
189 (+311) Cataclysm: A Second World War
194 (+306) Skies Above the Reich
218 (+282) Diplomacy
229 (+271) Great War Commander
245 (+255) Gaslands

Fast, positive movers among 'Family games':
014 (+486) Exit: The Game – The Abandoned Cabin
025 (+475) Welcome To...
037 (+463) Ganz schön clever
096 (+404) Century: Eastern Wonders
109 (+391) Dragon Castle
118 (+382) Ex Libris
125 (+375) The Mind
131 (+369) Stuffed Fables
148 (+352) Majesty: For the Realm
150 (+350) Rhino Hero: Super Battle
153 (+347) Reef
172 (+328) Kitchen Rush
173 (+327) Space Base
179 (+321) Hardback
182 (+318) The Grimm Forest
192 (+308) Istanbul: The Dice Game
198 (+302) The Quacks of Quedlinburg
241 (+259) My Little Scythe
250 (+250) Cat Lady
251 (+249) Odin's Ravens (Second Edition)
273 (+227) Ticket to Ride: New York
276 (+224) Noch mal!
280 (+220) Palm Island
281 (+219) Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
298 (+202) The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game

Fast, positive movers among 'Collectible games':
006 (+494) KeyForge: Call of the Archons
030 (+470) Star Wars: Legion
038 (+462) Aristeia!
211 (+289) Hatalom Kártyái Kártyajáték

Fast, positive movers among 'Thematic games':
036 (+464) Dinosaur Island
071 (+429) Chronicles of Crime
072 (+428) The Godfather: Corleone's Empire
079 (+421) Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game
113 (+387) Western Legends
116 (+384) Exit: The Game – The Secret Lab
118 (+382) Zombicide: Green Horde
134 (+366) Witness
136 (+364) Stuffed Fables
138 (+362) Wasteland Express Delivery Service
161 (+339) Kitchen Rush
168 (+332) The Big Book of Madness
170 (+330) High Frontier (Third Edition)
178 (+322) Legacy of Dragonholt
186 (+314) Dragonfire
197 (+303) The City of Kings
205 (+295) Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Wrath of the Righteous – Base Set
213 (+287) Arkham Horror (Third Edition)
214 (+286) AuZtralia
236 (+264) John Company
240 (+260) Tiny Epic Zombies
243 (+257) Unlock! The House on the Hill
265 (+235) Deep Madness
274 (+226) The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game
275 (+225) Sub Terra
283 (+217) Gaslands
288 (+212) The World of SMOG: Rise of Moloch
291 (+209) Bios: Megafauna (Second Edition)
299 (+201) Hunt for the Ring

Fast-growing Fandoms: An Initial Look

Two weeks ago, I took a snapshot of entry counts for each tag on the fandoms page at Archive of Our Own, hoping to eventually get a sense of which fandoms were growing fastest. Comparing that data with the entry counts on the site today, I think it might be possible to understand which fandoms are growing most quickly.

Unfortunately, a simple count of how many times each fandom’s tag was used is going to be imperfect—maybe much more misleading than my BoardGameGeek reports. Evidently, AO3 tag counts can fluctuate quite a bit: their names can change; tags can reportedly be reclassified such that their new parent tags suddenly get credit for existing entries; and the archive accepts mass uploads of fanfic from old repositories / personal collections such that work written long ago can suddenly show up as if it were new.

Still, it’s something. I’ll start with the top 25 fandoms by a raw count of new entries appearing in the past two weeks:

∆       %∆      Total   Fandom
----    -----   ------  ------
3218	0.023	143559	K-pop
3105	0.013	241238	Marvel
2792	0.013	220048	Marvel Cinematic Universe
1619	0.038	44004	Voltron: Legendary Defender
1572	0.026	62339	방탄소년단 | Bangtan Boys | BTS
1278	0.063	21405	僕のヒーローアカデミア | Boku no Hero Academia | My Hero Academia
1263	0.008	167506	Real Person Fiction
1249	1.892	1909	Detroit: Become Human (Video Game)
1215	0.01	118844	The Avengers - Ambiguous Fandom
1214	0.011	115916	The Avengers (Marvel) - All Media Types
1185	1185.0	1186	Metalocalypse (Cartoon)
1116	0.007	169996	Harry Potter - J. K. Rowling
1034	0.009	116772	DCU
1011	0.01	98215	The Avengers (Marvel Movies)
936	0.005	184710	Supernatural
715	0.01	72436	Star Wars - All Media Types
706	0.017	42992	Original Work
607	0.009	65714	Captain America - All Media Types
568	0.098	6376	Firefly
557	0.01	58797	Captain America (Movies)
498	0.005	93744	Teen Wolf (TV)
462	0.034	13870	Spider-Man - All Media Types
451	0.004	113953	Sherlock Holmes & Related Fandoms
423	0.072	6285	NCT (Band)
397	0.013	30213	Final Fantasy

Honestly, the most surprising items are things like Firefly, the tag count for which has likely been skewed by one of the factors I mentioned above. Only Detroit: Become Human pops out as the kind of fast-growing category I’m sure I’m looking for (though I have doubts about the game itself). So a raw count of new entries is probably not very helpful for discovering newly popular / fast-growing fandoms.

So here’s a list of every fandom that had more than 25 new entries in the past two weeks, that grew by more than 4.0%, and that had more existing entries two weeks ago than it has gained in the past two weeks (a criterion that will eliminate things that are really too new to judge; for example, assuming it has real growth potential, I’ll have to catch Detroit: Become Human next time, because it’s more important to weed out name changes and weed out percent changes that only seem large because the population is too small):

Total   ∆       %∆      Fandom
-----   ----    -----   ------
21405	1278	0.063	僕のヒーローアカデミア | Boku no Hero Academia | My Hero Academia
6820	298	0.046	Dungeons & Dragons - All Media Types
6376	568	0.098	Firefly
6285	423	0.072	NCT (Band)
4936	365	0.08	Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
4637	256	0.058	Critical Role (Web Series)
3999	181	0.047	New Dangan Ronpa V3: Everyone's New Semester of Killing
3245	255	0.085	Sanders Sides (Web Series)
3211	174	0.057	全职高手 - 蝴蝶蓝 | Quánzhí Gāoshǒu - Húdié Lán
2068	104	0.053	Black Panther (2018)
2061	105	0.054	Figure Skating RPF
1508	91	0.064	Doctor Strange (2016)
1449	65	0.047	Buzzfeed Unsolved (Web Series)
1329	94	0.076	Bendy and the Ink Machine
1307	51	0.041	RuPaul's Drag Race RPF
1116	90	0.088	Far Cry (Video Games)
1104	83	0.081	Timeless (TV 2016)
1093	75	0.074	Stray Kids (Band)
1006	148	0.172	偶像练习生 | Idol Producer (TV)
955	66	0.074	Deadpool (Movieverse)
889	49	0.058	Fire Emblem Heroes
833	45	0.057	MacGyver (TV 2016)
772	46	0.063	Fate/Grand Order
753	30	0.041	Falsettos - Lapine/Finn
724	49	0.073	Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda - Becky Albertalli
676	52	0.083	The Arcana (Visual Novel)
671	48	0.077	Disney Duck Universe
663	43	0.069	13 Reasons Why (TV)
633	38	0.064	Doki Doki Literature Club! (Visual Novel)
633	38	0.064	Call Me By Your Name - All Media Types
583	36	0.066	The Worst Witch - All Media Types
570	85	0.175	Far Cry 5
539	45	0.091	Love Simon (2018)
531	52	0.109	Trollhunters (Cartoon)
517	28	0.057	龍が如く | Ryuu ga Gotoku | Yakuza (Video Games)
511	31	0.065	Call Me By Your Name (2017)
497	114	0.298	NINE PERCENT (Band)
481	36	0.081	The Worst Witch (TV 2017)
441	99	0.289	Ocean's (Movies)
409	30	0.079	Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu | Legend of the Galactic Heroes
399	62	0.184	Splatoon
374	27	0.078	Humans (TV)
369	38	0.115	DuckTales (Cartoon 2017)
361	43	0.135	BanG Dream! Girl's Band Party! (Video Game)
304	34	0.126	Granblue Fantasy (Video Game)
295	56	0.234	凹凸世界 | AOTU Shijie | AOTU World
293	28	0.106	Eurovision Song Contest RPF
265	27	0.113	Boruto: Naruto Next Generations
245	41	0.201	The Incredibles (2004)
193	45	0.304	Flight Rising
179	34	0.234	Garrison's Gorillas
121	30	0.33	HiGH&LOW: the Story of S.W.O.R.D. (TV)

I’m not positive this is the best way to look at the data, but there sure are plenty of things here I’ve never heard of and would like to know more about.

Board game rank change report for 2018Q2

Here’s an update on what games have advanced in the rankings recently at BoardGameGeek.

Fast, positive movers among 'Board games':
339 (+104) Rajas of the Ganges

Fast, positive movers among 'Strategy games':
272 (+206) Century: Golem Edition

Fast, positive movers among 'War games':
018 (+482) War of the Ring (First Edition)
098 (+332) Hannibal & Hamilcar
265 (+235) Here I Stand (500th Anniversary Reprint Edition)

Fast, positive movers among 'Family games':
015 (+485) Exit: The Game – The Abandoned Cabin
160 (+340) The Mind
176 (+324) Ganz schön clever
182 (+223) Dragon Castle
219 (+281) The Grimm Forest
297 (+203) Cat Lady

Fast, positive movers among 'Collectible games':
034 (+466) Star Wars: Legion

Fast, positive movers among 'Thematic games':
074 (+426) The Godfather: Corleone's Empire
119 (+381) Exit: The Game – The Secret Lab
194 (+306) The City of Kings
270 (+230) The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game

Analysis of SF/F Movie Data

Looking back on a number of metrics associated with the 253 feature-length science fiction, fantasy, or supernatural horror films I’ve seen from the years 2011-2015, I don’t find too much of interest, but an uninteresting result is still something. It’s not bad to have empirical evidence for what you might have guessed, and if you look at something closely enough for long enough, you come out the other side of uninteresting and enter a tiny world of nerdy fun.

Correlations among metrics

First, a matrix of correlation coefficients based on data from multiple sources:

                     A    B    C    D    E    F    G    H    I    J    K
                     ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ----
A: My rating         1    0.98 0.15 0.38 0.23 0.34 0.15 0.38 0.27 0.2  0.33 
B: My retro rating   0.98 1    0.15 0.39 0.23 0.37 0.14 0.39 0.29 0.23 0.35
C: IMDb votes        0.15 0.15 1    0.46 0.94 0.22 0.81 0.43 0.1  0.17 0.24 
D: IMDb rating       0.38 0.39 0.46 1    0.48 0.77 0.32 0.86 0.55 0.55 0.75 
E: Letterboxd votes  0.23 0.23 0.94 0.48 1    0.34 0.71 0.47 0.22 0.33 0.35 
F: Letterboxd rating 0.34 0.37 0.22 0.77 0.34 1    0.06 0.72 0.77 0.8  0.86 
G: RT votes          0.15 0.14 0.81 0.32 0.71 0.06 1    0.33 0.05 0.05 0.15 
H: RT user rating    0.38 0.39 0.43 0.86 0.47 0.72 0.33 1    0.65 0.55 0.79 
I: RT crit. rating   0.27 0.29 0.1  0.55 0.22 0.77 0.05 0.65 1    0.87 0.96 
J: Metacritic rating 0.2  0.23 0.17 0.55 0.33 0.8  0.05 0.55 0.87 1    0.87 
K: IMDb * RT crit    0.33 0.35 0.24 0.75 0.35 0.86 0.15 0.79 0.96 0.87 1 

As a basic explanation of what’s going on here, every available set of metrics has been compared with every other. For the sake of space, the column labels have been simplified to letters that correspond to the letters beside the row labels. “My rating” is the collection of scores I gave each film at the time I watched it. Evidently I held my marks: I didn’t give out a single “10.” I also never changed a rating, so the “My rating” metric is not colored by rosy retrospection. But in view of the fact that my opinions did evolve a little over time, I built a “retro rating” metric by awarding a one-point bonus to every film noted in my previous “Movie Favorites: SF/F/H 2011-2015” post. Most other data sources should be transparently intelligible, except for row/column K, which is based on multiplying the IMDb user rating and RT critic ratings together—a metric I’ve used in some earlier data mining posts about movies.

Unsurprisingly, my judgments line up best with those of other users at IMDb, RT, and (to a slightly lesser extent) Letterboxd. It’s only a moderate correlation, but aggregate ratings from critics have even weaker correlations with my scores.

Optimal movie selection

Looking only at the 40 feature-length films I eventually designated as favorites, here are the minimum scores they achieved:

IMDb        6.0+
Letterboxd  2.7+
RT user     43%+
RT critic   32%+
Metacritic  41+

If I’d known this in advance, I could have skipped 29 out of 253 films without missing out on any favorites. That is to say, if I had insisted sort of compulsively that everything I watch have at least the scores above, I could have achieved a 40/224 favorite-to-watched ratio. But if I’d been interested in a compromise—discovering fewer favorites but also watching far fewer films I didn’t enjoy—what criteria would have yielded better ratios? To answer that question, I wrote a script to cycle through random threshold values for all five metrics and find a set of scores yielding a good ratio for each number of favorites:

                  IMDb   Let.    RT u.  RT c.  Meta
40/224 (17.9%)    6      2.7     43     32     41
39/207 (18.8%)    6      2.7     43     58     43
38/166 (22.9%)    6.3    3.1     55     42     41
37/150 (24.7%)    6.4    3.1     61     39     44
36/132 (27.3%)    6.3    3.3     48     68     45
35/127 (27.6%)    6.3    3.3     60     68     41
34/118 (28.8%)    6      3.35    53     68     46
33/114 (28.9%)    6.4    3.35    61     66     45
32/101 (31.7%)    6.1    3.4     52     67     48
31/95  (32.6%)    6.2    3.4     61     68     42
30/88  (34.1%)    6.3    3.45    46     68     41
29/85  (34.1%)    6      3.45    61     47     42
28/78  (35.9%)    6.4    3.4     73     67     43
27/70  (38.6%)    6.1    3.45    73     68     41
26/67  (38.8%)    6.1    3.4     60     88     60
25/59  (42.4%)    6.5    3.45    60     89     46
24/56  (42.9%)    6      3.35    73     89     62
23/50  (46.0%)    6.1    3.45    73     89     44
22/48  (45.8%)    6.4    3.45    73     89     68
21/41  (51.2%)    6.8    3.45    46     92     41
20/35  (57.1%)    6.8    3.65    56     89     60

My script in fact yielded much more data, showing each ratio it preferred over the next, and one very slow version of the script deterministically ran through every possible value for every metric. But the “random walk” version converged on similar results much more quickly.

My conclusions are a little impressionistic. Aiming at a ~33-34% favorite-to-total ratio “feels” about right. Ratios above 38% require very high RT critic ratings, perhaps limiting a viewer to a steady diet of blockbusters and children’s movies. Surprisingly, Metacritic and IMDb scores don’t seem very crucial in these results: they often return to their start values as the ratios improve, suggesting some Letterboxd or RT user rating might have served about as well. So I suspect I could find favorites more easily in the future by selecting only SF/F films that have a Letterboxd rating of 3.4+, an RT user approval rating of 61% or above, and an RT critic rating of 68% or above. I mean, I doubt I’ll do much with the information—movies that don’t turn out to be favorites can still be fun, etc.—but it was an engaging puzzle to work through.

Movie Favorites: SF/F/H 2011-2015

For a while now, I’ve been catching up on science fiction, fantasy, and supernatural horror movies released from 2011-2015. Counting short films, I recently logged my 300th title, meaning I would have seen well over one per week if I’d been watching them as they came out. It’s easy to imagine serious fans seeing many more, but to me, it feels like a milestone worth summarizing. So here are very brief notes on the ~17-18% that I still recall with particular interest (categorized and alphabetized but not ranked).

Edit (10/22/2018): Liza the Fox-Fairy was unavailable in English at the time I posted this, but having watched it since, I think it belongs here too.

Action / thrillers (very few surprises here)

Attack the Block (2011; trailer): awesome concept/situation
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014; trailer): superheroic spy thriller
Chappie (2015; trailer): Chappie’s dialogue is the best part
Gravity (2013; trailer): especially exciting to see on the big screen
Hanna (2011; trailer): barely SF, sometimes quiet/thoughtful thriller
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015; trailer): nearly a requirement for cultural literacy
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015; trailer): yay!
The Avengers (2012; trailer): Avengers fan since 1979; director’s issues relevant though
The Hunger Games (2012; trailer): among the best of SF novel adaptations

Anime (rated 9+ to 13+ on Common Sense Media)

A Letter to Momo (2011; trailer): sweet, simple, slice of life story … with yōkai
Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Beginnings (2012; trailer): a re-edit of the awesome TV show
Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Eternal (2012; trailer): the re-edit continues; skip the third movie
The Boy and the Beast (2015; trailer): thumbs up for the spectral whale
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013; trailer): a beautiful film that gets even more beautiful
Wolf Children (2012; trailer): poignant story with scenery that reminds me of my own childhood

Children’s movies (rated 4+ to 7+ on Common Sense Media)

Arthur Christmas (2011; trailer): out of a straightforward premise, some pretty funny moments
Big Hero 6 (2014; trailer): made something great out of a mediocre 90s comic
Ernest & Celestine (2012; trailer): nice friendship story with origins as a children’s book
Frozen (2013; trailer): my sympathies to folks who had to watch it too often, but I still love this
Inside Out (2015; trailer): just a charming, funny story about emotional self-regulation
Paddington (2014; trailer): I have no Paddington nostalgia, but I really liked this
Rise of the Guardians (2012; trailer): the premise is bananas, and it works out pretty well
Secret of the Wings (2012; trailer): the best of several good Tinkerbell videos
Song Of The Sea (2014; trailer): delightful animation; resembles a children’s book
The Book of Life (2014; trailer): fun movie with great character designs

Horror-themed (mostly not scary though)

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014; trailer): tries a bit hard to be cool but still succeeds
He Never Died (2015; trailer): tough guy urban fantasy story with just enough deadpan wit
Housebound (2014; trailer): hilarious and also scary ghost story; great premise
It Follows (2014; trailer): maybe my most favorite; beautiful & dreamy, yet tense & rule-driven
The Cabin in the Woods (2012; trailer): brilliant & funny, though director’s issues still relevant
The Lure (2015; trailer): very strange and often beautiful fairy tale—good music too
Under the Skin (2013; trailer): tries a bit hard to be mysterious & cool but also achieves it
What We Do In The Shadows (2014; trailer): more smiles than lols but still brilliant

Miscellaneous (e.g. romance and SF with a ‘literary’ feel)

About Time (2013; trailer): very sweet time travel / romance story
Cemetery of Splendour (2015; trailer): quiet, subtle, warm & captivating magic realism
Circle (2015; trailer): wow; like a trolley problem crossed with a game of Werewolf
Her (2013; trailer): problematic premise redeemed by posthumanism akin to written SF
Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013; trailer): sort of an art history documentary, full of fun SF content
Liza the Fox-Fairy (2015; trailer): exaggerated, sympathetic/moving fractured fairy tale
The Beauty Inside (2015; trailer): makes Hallmark films look gritty, but I liked it a lot
These Final Hours (2013; trailer): low-budget wonder akin to The Last Policeman

Short films (many free online)

A Single Life (2014; watch): packs a lot into almost no time at all
Bag Man (2014; watch): SF short film evidently being made into a feature film
Cargo (2013; watch): clever zombie short, now already a feature film too
Get a Horse! (2013; trailer): cute 4th-wall-breaker; resurrects Disney’s actual voice too
One-Minute Time Machine (2014; watch): cute, silly, and surprising
Possessions (2012; trailer): nice; in Japanese the title evokes old objects becoming self-aware
Poulette’s Chair (2014; watch): reminded me I had a little chair I liked when I was very small
Prospect (2014; watch): good little story; I loved the greenery too
The Answers (2015; watch): simple idea, well-executed; poignant
Toy Story Toons: Hawaiian Vacation (2011; watch): this series > Marvel One-Shots
Toy Story Toons: Partysaurus Rex (2012): I lol’ed; best of this series
Toy Story Toons: Small Fry (2011; watch): the discarded toys were delightful
World of Tomorrow (2015; trailer): super smart, super funny, and in tune with very current SF

Board game rank change report for 2018Q1

Here’s an update on what games have moved up a lot recently at BoardGameGeek. The dates covered by the data are actually 11/17/2017-03/31/2018—a bit more than 2018Q1, but close enough for this purpose.

Fast, positive movers among 'Board games':
018 (+482) Gaia Project
037 (+344) Pandemic Legacy: Season 2
044 (+456) Twilight Imperium: Fourth Edition
061 (+439) Azul
063 (+348) Spirit Island
065 (+143) Clans of Caledonia
078 (+422) Rising Sun
098 (+402) Charterstone
128 (+242) Codenames Duet
141 (+131) Lisboa
174 (+115) Sagrada
195 (+305) This War of Mine: The Board Game
216 (+119) Exit: The Game – The Abandoned Cabin
252 (+248) Clank! In! Space!
343 (+117) Flamme Rouge
344 (+156) Dinosaur Island
355 (+145) Photosynthesis
359 (+106) Dice Forge
367 (+122) Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures
400 (+100) Mythic Battles: Pantheon

Fast, positive movers among 'Strategy games':
006 (+494) Star Wars: Rebellion
008 (+245) Gaia Project
015 (+485) Pandemic Legacy: Season 2
025 (+475) Twilight Imperium: Fourth Edition
054 (+446) Rising Sun
059 (+441) Charterstone
137 (+363) Clank! In! Space!
186 (+314) Dinosaur Island
211 (+289) Mythic Battles: Pantheon
225 (+275) Rajas of the Ganges
299 (+201) Pulsar 2849

Fast, positive movers among 'War games':
002 (+498) War of the Ring (Second Edition)
209 (+210) Holland '44: Operation Market-Garden
224 (+276) Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain

Fast, positive movers among 'Family games':
084 (+416) Queendomino
115 (+385) Bunny Kingdom
139 (+361) The Fox in the Forest
171 (+329) Majesty: For the Realm
208 (+292) Rhino Hero: Super Battle
228 (+272) Meeple Circus
256 (+244) Viral
262 (+238) Stuffed Fables

Fast, positive movers among 'Collectible games':
032 (+468) Dungeon Command: Curse of Undeath
034 (+466) Dungeon Command: Blood of Gruumsh
038 (+462) Dungeon Command: Tyranny of Goblins
039 (+461) Dungeon Command: Heart of Cormyr
041 (+459) Pixel Tactics 2
042 (+458) Dungeon Command: Sting of Lolth
134 (+366) Romance of the Nine Empires

Fast, positive movers among 'Thematic games':
005 (+495) Pandemic Legacy: Season 2
029 (+471) Captain Sonar
038 (+462) Exit: The Game – The Abandoned Cabin
087 (+413) Flamme Rouge
090 (+410) Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle
167 (+333) High Frontier (3rd edition)
174 (+326) Fire & Axe: A Viking Saga
181 (+319) Fog of Love
188 (+312) Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Wrath of the Righteous – Base Set
195 (+305) Fallout
199 (+301) Stuffed Fables
204 (+296) DOOM: The Board Game
227 (+273) Whitehall Mystery
231 (+269) Legacy of Dragonholt

Prose Fiction Favorites: The 1600s

Just for fun, I’ve been reading through works of prose fiction from the 1600s until I feel able to declare a favorite for each decade, out of multiple good options. My favorites are given in bold below, along with comments about the other texts I definitely appreciated along the way. How much I had to say isn’t really an indicator of how much I liked the book. In a few cases, I’ve commented at length on things I learned from with modest enjoyment, and my comments overall got longer as I read more books in no particular order. But I’ve omitted anything I didn’t care for or didn’t finish. Incidentally, the texts that really floored me were The Plum in the Golden Vase and The Tale of Tales.


  • Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, part 1 (1605; translated by Tobias Smollett; info). I’m sure I’d heard the essential plot of Don Quixote many times before reading it, but I don’t think I ever realized what a large role that reading and world literature actually play in the story. There are so many references in it to medieval and Renaissance literature (especially Amadis of Gaul) that it’s virtually a lesson in comparative lit itself. Anyway, I understand now why it’s such a landmark text: it’s a readable and engaging adventure; it includes plenty of good stories within the story; it’s funny enough to at least be worth a smile here or there; it’s rich in allusions both to other works of literature and to historical circumstances of interest; and, most importantly, it’s aware of its status as fiction and its own relationship to the world of fiction, playing with those kinds of things in a number of ways (interrupting itself, mentioning Cervantes himself in the text, hinting that it’s a dubious picture of what really happened, etc.). I chose to read Smollett’s translation based on this comparison of many translations, this review that compared Smollett and Grossman [PDF] in particular, and my nominal preference to read the work of two well-known writers at once. Even if Smollett’s hand in his translation has at times been doubted, I was happy with the choice.
  • Honoré d’Urfé, L’Astrée, part 1 (1607; translated by Steven Rendall; info). This may be the original soap opera: extremely complicated/interrelated stories and stories within stories, all torrid romances and tied together by more than the frame story. Probably the most interesting was “Diana’s Story,” a tragic six-way love hexagon involving three different people hiding their true gender that ended abruptly when a foreign warrior wandered in and brutally murdered several of the principle characters. But for the most part, the book reminded me of Baroque paintings: anachronistic tableaux of quasi-mythologized people standing around emoting at each other, listening to each other tell stories with classical roots, overhearing each other, and confessing feelings to each other. Apparently the setting really is picturesque: Wikipedia has a nice photo of the Chemins de l’Astrée along the Lignon du Forez, where the book takes place. Anyway, while the emotional core of each story was often plausible and moving, the story framework was pretty contrived. Incidentally, after I read this, I watched Éric Rohmer’s last film, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007), which turned out to be a very thin adaptation of just the frame story, and it managed to share all the non-modern features of the book while simultaneously being very much an Éric Rohmer film: talky, posed, and awkward, but embedded in a beautiful landscape full of natural light.


  • Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng [“The Scoffing Scholar of Lanling”], The Plum in the Golden Vase, a.k.a. The Golden Lotus (1618 [manuscript in 1596?]; translated by David Tod Roy; info). For centuries, this gigantic novel has been most well-known for being pornographic, and it sure is: there are many gratuitously detailed scenes that, if filmed, could not be shown on HBO. But it’s also stuffed full of songs and poetry. And it’s also a reasonably compelling dynastic family saga about a corrupt public official and his many wives. It reminds me of several good TV shows that I think of as “bad decision theater,” and the narrator often drives home just what bad decisions the characters are making by literally saying, “though they never ever should have done it …” In short, this book is a lot of things. But what I really enjoyed most is that it’s a truly beautiful portrait of the life of the wealthy in pre-modern China. Trying not to spoil too much, I’ll list some especially good or noteworthy moments:

        Lantern-viewing from the belvedere (ch. 15).
        The finished flower garden (ch. 19).
        Viewing the snow while drinking wine beside burning braziers (ch. 21).
        Enjoying a two-person swing (ch. 25).
        Kinds of people who do and don’t appreciate the heat (ch. 27).
        Chin’s vase’s plum? (ch. 27).
        Physiognomic prognostications (ch. 29).
        Amazing (intentionally overdone?) chapter on Taoist ritual and Buddhist teachings (ch. 39).
        Watching fireworks (ch. 42).
        The tortoise oracle (ch. 46).
        Seven administrative proposals (ch. 48).
        Description of a bordello, plus grief and its reminders (ch. 59).
        The Taoist priest who summons a spirit marshal (ch. 62).
        An elaborate funeral (ch. 65).
        Details of post-funerary rituals (ch. 66).
        A ghost appears (ch. 67).
        Another ghostly visitation, an Imperial audience, a well-described windstorm, and a dilapidated monastery (ch. 71).
        The Temple of the Goddess of Iridescent Clouds and the outlaws’ stronghold (ch. 84).
        A violent end (ch. 87).
        Visiting the Temple of Eternal Felicity during the Ch’ing-Ming festival to pay respects to the dead (ch. 89).
        The hilariously self-deprecating speech of the martial arts instructor (ch. 90).
        The dilapidated garden (ch. 96).
        And finally, the major shift in things, the atmosphere around it, and the unexpected appearance of several characters (ch. 100).

    I can’t say this book is for everyone, but it’s certainly for a lot more people than those who are aware of it.

  • Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, part 2 (1615; translated by Tobias Smollett; info). I had heard somewhere that part 2 of Don Quixote was better than part 1, so perhaps my expectations were too high, but I was disappointed, in part because the stories within the story were basically eliminated. The narrator mentions at one point how they’d been unpopular elements of part 1, so he expected to keep the story focused on Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Unfortunately, that makes part 2 more straightforward—essentially a series of episodic encounters. It’s sometimes funny enough to be worth a smile; Sancho Panza’s ‘wise fool’ aspect gets fleshed out quite a bit; and I certainly felt for Don Quixote by the end. But all in all, I thought part 1 was a richer text.
  • Miguel de Cervantes, Exemplary Stories (1613; info; translated by Lesley Lipton). This is a collection of mostly straightforward stories similar to the novellas of Boccaccio, Salernitano, Marguerite de Navarre, da Porto, and so on, but I did appreciate “The Glass Graduate” for its portrayal of the glass delusion and “The Dialogue of the Dogs” for being a picaresque story with a hero akin to Marryat’s Snarleyyow or London’s White Fang—but appearing much earlier and told in dialogue form.
  • Robert Anton, Moriomachia (1613; edited by Charles C. Mish; info). Really more of a short story, but one originally published by itself, this is a mildly humorous piece about a joust/melee between the Knight of the Sun and the Knight of the Moon. First, we get the backstory for the Knight of the Sun: he’s a bull the Fairy Queen turned into a knight-errant for being so patient with her when she tried to milk him, and he’s pretty confused about the lives of ordinary humans, often in a manner reminiscent of Don Quixote, which is referenced directly at the end of the story. Next, we hear about the Knight of the Moon, who took possession of the Knight of the Sun’s armor when he saved its courier from a “pygmy giant.” They fight over the armor, and the battle is so monumental it triggers an eclipse—an exaggerated effect, stretched out for laughs.


  • Yang Erzeng, The Story of Han Xiangzi: The Alchemical Adventures of a Daoist Immortal (1623; translated by Philip Clart; info). This didactic novel teaches some principles of Taoism within a mythological frame: the story of Han Xiangzi, one of the Eight Immortals of Chinese legend. Having disturbed the divine Immortality Peach Assembly in a previous existence, Han Xiangzi is sent to be reborn into a mortal family until he can re-learn the path to immortality. As a young man, he acquires two Taoist masters as teachers, and one discussion they have with his uncle Tuizhi is interesting (p. 54):

        “Can humans have a constant mind that holds fast to the Dao?” Tuizhi asked.
        “Gold dust may be precious, but still it is harmful when caught in the eyes,” Master Lü returned.
        “How can I have a constant mind by being mindless?” Tuizhi asked.
        “One who once suffered from snow and frost will be startled by willow blossoms falling to the ground,” was Master Zhong’s reply.
        Tuizhi said, “How can I be mindless by having a constant mind?”
        “Don’t bother hanging up the old mirror. When the sky brightens, the rooster will crow by itself,” Master Zhong said.
        “Is the conscious mind completely false?” Tuizhi then asked.
        Master Lü said, “Without the spring wind the blossoms do not open, but once opened they are blown down by the same wind.”
        “Is being without a conscious mind alone to be sought after?” was Tuizhi’s next question.
        “When the light of the sun has not yet risen above the horizon, everyone awaits it with expectation, but once broad daylight is here, it is taken for granted,” Master Zhong answered.

    Most of the book isn’t like that, but Han Xiangzi is inspired by his masters to cultivate himself and pursue immortality in the wilderness where they live. On his journey, his masters put him through several trials, during one of which there’s another nice mystical moment (p. 106):

    When Xiangzi looked carefully around the room, he saw that it was now completely empty. Thus he realized that everyone has this most precious treasure, and it is not necessary to withdraw to the stillness and solitude of the deep mountains to gain it. Those who regard it as far away have no grasp of it. Those who want to employ it recklessly reveal their attachment to the world of forms. Thereupon he closed his mouth, lowered his eyelids, and sat down cross-legged.

    Anyway, Han Xiangzi becomes an immortal and ascends to heaven, where he is appointed Immortal of Universal Deliverance Who Opens the Primordium and Performs Magical Techniques, Greatly Initiating Transformation by His Teachings (p. 116). And that’s exactly what he does for the bulk of the novel. The Jade Emperor sends Han Xiangzi back to help his kin reattain lost immortality as well. In particular, Han Xiangzi spends a great deal of time trying to convince his uncle to detach himself from ordinary life and aspire to immortality, but his uncle doesn’t believe a word of it, even when Han Xiangzi performs magic like using his own vomit as food for a dog to turn the dog into an immortal crane or like conjuring a painting and stepping into it with his uncle. So Han Xiangzi goes to the underworld to rewrite his uncle’s destiny and seriously messes with his life to get him on the righteous path. Allegorically, all the stuff he puts him through makes this a Job-like story that explains why misfortune might befall even someone full of spiritual merit. Although it’s repetitive at times, it’s generally a pretty neat book.

  • Francisco de Quevedo, El Buscón (1626; translated by Michael Alpert; info). Picaresque novel that moves along quickly from the first-person narrator’s morally deficient childhood to his life in Madrid where he’s imprisoned with a gang of gentlemen thieves to his time in Seville where he joins a group of actors and eventually falls in love (more or less). I especially enjoyed bits about how the gentlemen thieves mask their poverty and about how actors compose plays.
  • Feng Menglong, Stories Old and New (1620; translated by Shuhui Yang and Yunqin Yang; info). The forty stories in this collection are thematically paired, and each typically begins with a poem and a sort of prologue story before launching into the main narrative. It’s a languid formula and an odd one in that the prologue story often ends abruptly, leaving the reader wanting more (e.g. the prologue to story 28, “Li Xiuqing Marries the Virgin Huang” is actually the story of Mulan, told in a single paragraph), where the main narrative is sometimes a bit overwritten and too full of incidents that stretch out the action without adding much perspective. Still, they’re sophisticated stories, easily comparable to Italian novellas (Salernitano, da Porto, Bandello) or to several of Cervantes’s Exemplary Stories in complexity, and in each one I could usually see either interesting cultural context or a thoughtful moral or fun supernatural content. I just suspect that as a casual reader I’d have been about as well served by the abridged selection, Stories from a Ming Collection, translated by Cyril Birch.
  • Anonymous, The Life of Long Meg of Westminster (1620; edited by Charles C. Mish). A few tall tales about a tall woman who works in a tavern (but also goes to war), interesting because they present her as a strong Robin Hood-like character. Typically, she has some good reason to beat someone up, and they’re ashamed and either make amends or leave.


  • Giambattista Basile, The Tale of Tales, a.k.a. Il Pentamerone (1634-1636; translated by Nancy L. Canepa; info). This is the fairy tale collection that probably gave rise to many better-known Mother Goose stories like Cinderella (“The Cinderella Cat”), The Fairies (“The Two Little Pizzas”), Puss in Boots (“Cagliuso”), and Sleeping Beauty (“Sun, Moon, and Talia”). And it is amazing, particularly in this unexpurgated translation. It’s full of crude language, fun literally-translated idioms, bizarre metaphors, strange imagery, amusing lists, and so on. It’s so wild that the only European text I’d really compare it to is Rabelais, because subsequent European fairy tale collections just don’t play with language/rhetoric to the same degree. The stories are also much pithier than, for example, The Fairy Tales of Madame d’Aulnoy (1697-1698; info).
  • Bishop Francis Godwin, The Man in the Moone (1638; edited by Charles C. Mish; info). While recuperating on the island of Saint Helena, a man from Spain trains a flock of birds to carry him aloft, and he uses this as his means of escape from a tricky situation en route back to Spain. Unfortunately, because it’s autumn, the birds undertake their annual migration—straight up to the Moon. During his eleven-day transit to the Moon, he experiences weightlessness but no hunger, meets with spirits, and observationally verifies that the Earth rotates, but won’t go quite so far as to agree with Copernicus that it revolves around the Sun (though he hints that it probably does). Once on the Moon he finds that the Earth is larger in the sky than the Moon is from a terrestrial point of view, so the Moon is definitely smaller than the Earth. He discovers that the Moon’s darker areas are oceans, and everything on the Moon is larger than it is on Earth—the trees are taller and thicker, as are the creatures he sees and the people he meets. The people actually come in three heights: “dwarf Lunars” are about as tall as Earthlings; another group averages around 10-12 feet; and another group averages around 20 feet. They wear clothes of a glorious and resplendent color not found on Earth. They live up to thirty times longer than Earthlings and reside in gigantic buildings. The gravity on the Moon being less than that of Earth, everyone travels by jumping and waving fans made of feathers to boost them fifty or sixty feet into the air. Sunlight and Earthlight cause people on the Moon to fall asleep for days at a time, depending on their height, e.g. dwarf Lunars and Earthlings will sleep for around 14 days per month, but taller folks can stay awake for some of that time. The Lunars all speak the same language, which the narrator records using musical notation because it is a tonal language with some words that vary by their musical tune and some words expressed as tunes only. The narrator gives the Lunar leaders jewels as gifts, and he is rewarded with three kinds of stones: poleastis (which when heated remains very hot indefinitely unless it is cooled with a liquid); machrus (which shines with the light of a hundred lamps); and ebelus (which functions as an antigravity device when it is attached to something on one side or a gravity-enhancing device when attached from the other side). The Moon is a paradise too, where there’s plenty of food, the women are beautiful and permanently fulfilling as partners, no one commits crime, etc. (though if by chance a child is born among the Lunars with an imperfect disposition, they’re sent to the Earth—typically though not always to North America). And after their deaths of old age, which they greet happily with a feast, their bodies never decay. Anyway, the narrator leaves the Moon before his birds die off, and he lands in China, where he manages to conceal his jewels before being captured as a magician and imprisoned long enough to learn another tonal language. He gives his narrative to a Jesuit priest to take back to Spain and hopes to return there someday himself. Overall, it’s an amazingly inventive story, presented in a matter of fact way with only a little religion and almost no natural philosophy mixed in.
  • Johannes Kepler, Somnium (1634; translated by Reverend Normand Raymond Falardeau; info). Kepler’s frame story about having a dream about reading about the life of someone else who goes to the moon is the only thing that makes this short science-fictional treatise into a narrative. The bulk of it is really just imaginative astronomy / planetary science with a tiny bit of xenobiology at the end. The frame story is interesting though. The principal subject of the story studies with Tycho Brahe before returning home and learning more about his mother’s witchcraft, both of which apparently mirrored issues in Kepler’s life. I mean, he’s famously an associate of Tycho Brahe, but I didn’t know his mother was accused of being a witch. Apparently, Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov called this the first work of science fiction, and (barring Lucian’s A True History for a number of reasons) I might agree—but I’d call Godwin’s The Man in the Moone the first satisfying work of science fiction.


  • Madeleine de Scudéry, The Story of Sapho, an excerpt from Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus (1649; translated by Karen Newman; info). Scudéry’s roman à clef supposedly runs to almost two million words, making it one of the longest novels ever written. This selection focuses on the character of Sapho (i.e. the poet Sappho), who probably represents Scudéry herself. Like the author, Sapho eschews marriage and leads a social circle concerned with the proper behavior of minor elites (they literally spend time debating the “je ne sais quois” that accompanies social refinement). The story is interesting as an instance of protofeminism: Sapho equates marriage with slavery and argues that women ought to be well-educated, even if they ought also to be modest in their self-presentation. The rivalries and dilemmas animating the story itself are reasonably engaging but not far removed from the stiff portraiture of a pastoral romance.
  • Cawwood the Rook (1640; edited by Charles C. Mish). Brief collection of fables most akin to stories about Reynard the Fox but all tied to a gathering of different kinds of birds to determine who will be king in the Eagle’s absence. The morals are sometimes dubious (e.g. something like “As the least of birds, the Wren should know her place”), and I don’t think there’s anything but a vague thematic similarity to Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules or Farid ud-Din Attar’s The Conference of the Birds.


  • Paul Scarron, The Comic Romance (1651/1657; translated by Jacques Houis; info). At one point in this very readable comic novel, an as-yet unnamed highwayman shoots one of his henchmen in the head for very little reason and then shoots a horse who “in all likelihood had no quarrel with that strange man,” and I thought, ha, that’s not the only thing here that reminds me of a Tarantino film: an ensemble cast of roguish characters; backstories all revealed in flashback; chapter headings conspicuously ornamenting the story with meta-jokes about the book itself; random ugly/cruel events intended to be funny; stories within stories; and a very convoluted main story that ties things together. It’s not actually as violent as all that, though, in spite of the cruel bits, and many of the stories within the story are nice, virtuous novellas. Also, the main characters are actors, generally portrayed sympathetically, and Scarron was a dramatist, so it’s easy to imagine some affection there. It’s too bad that Scarron died without finishing part three, but the book as it stands doesn’t leave a lot of questions unanswered. There are obvious unresolved conflicts, but in principle, it’s fine that it ends where it does.
  • Cyrano de Bergerac, Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon (1657; translated by A. Lovell, A.M.; info). This is one among several early science fiction stories from the 17th Century. The narrator’s two take-offs from Earth were interesting. First, starting from France, he attaches bottles of dew to a chair, and when they’re warmed by the sun, he rises so high he becomes frightened, breaks a bottle, and lands in Quebec (presumably because the author thought the vehicle would not retain its motion relative to the Earth turning). But next, assisted by some fireworks, he makes it all the way to the moon and correctly observes that the moon’s smaller mass yields less gravitational attraction. Anyway, on the moon a lot of things happen: the narrator discovers the garden of Eden; he meets a spirit that has inhabited many human bodies on Earth; he becomes the captive of a species of giants among whom the nobles speak in music and the common people speak in body movements; believed for a time to be female, he’s paired up with a man from Spain (in fact, the main character from Bishop Francis Godwin’s earlier The Man in the Moone!), ostensibly as a mate but more definitely as a companion; he learns the musical language, so he’s able to write the names of his captors in a musical notation; etc., etc. There’s also plenty of natural philosophy, including a discussion of whether the stars show us that there are infinite worlds, but most of that stuff is pretty dull. More engaging are the many observations of odd facts about life on the moon, like people sleeping (or getting tickled by servants) in little closets on beds of flowers, towns that move around on wheels, people walking around at night with a bunch of crystal globes full of glowworms around their legs, and music boxes that take the place of books in the musical language.
  • Li Yu, A Tower for the Summer Heat, a.k.a. Twelve Lou (1658?; stories 4-7, 9 and 11 translated by Patrick Hanan and the rest translated by Nathan Mao and Weiting R. Mao; info). Compositionally speaking, these are extremely refined short stories: each features a poem, a word of introduction, a story in several chapters that includes as a motif some tower/house/lodge/upper room, and a critique explaining the moral of the story. They’re pretty down to earth—in fact, they frequently show astrologers and people claiming to be immortals to be charlatans, and in the Hanan translation, one story concludes, “The worship of gods and buddhas means worshipping our own minds; it does not mean that gods and bodhisattvas exist” (p. 38). Generally, they focus on trickery/deceit, arranged marriages, or trickery/deceit in the service of arranging a marriage. And quite a few offer puzzles for the reader to figure out before going forward in the story—one is explictly didactic in that it explains several kinds of lenses/mirrors lately available in China at the time and reveals as the solution to what happened in the story that a character had used a telescope to trick his bride-to-be into thinking he was a semi-omniscient immortal. Anyway, I enjoyed the stories well enough to seek out all twelve, even if, in the end, I would point someone toward The Plum in the Golden Vase if they were looking for similar material (17th C. realist domestic fiction from China).


  • Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, Simplicissimus (1669; translated by Mike Mitchell; info). A picaresque novel set during the Thirty Years War, Simplicissimus is entertaining for its roguish episodes and occasional wit, but what’s especially engaging is its portrayal of the war itself as a confusing and ugly mess someone can wind up fighting from both sides. In one notable episode where he’s disguised as a housemaid, Simplicissimus experiences harassment and misogyny, matters made even more visible in the sequel novella, The Life of Courage. In another episode omitted from several translations, because it’s generally not this kind of book, lake spirits give Simplicissimus a stone that allows him to breathe underwater so that he can dive down deep into the earth and get a natural history lesson from their ruler.
  • Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, The Blazing World (1666; info). I appreciated this for its imagination—another world of bear people, worm people, lice people, etc., not to mention the appearance of the author in the work and her several arguments in favor of building imaginary worlds—but it’s mostly pretty dry natural philosophy, utopian allegory, or quirky argumentation.


  • Madame de La Fayette, The Princess of Clèves (1678; translated by John D. Lyons; info). Ostensibly the “first modern French novel,” this is basically a love triangle story—more specifically, an emotional affair—at the court of Henri II, more than a century prior to the novel’s composition. It’s a twisty, Shakespearean story, full of coincidences and mistaken interpretations, that maps out all the highs and lows of people crushing on each other.
  • Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, The Life of Courage (1670; translated by Mike Mitchell; info). This was readable and interesting for how the main character proves to be so relatable even in the negative light she’s sometimes put in; as a picaresque novel focused on a character sometimes engaged in sex work, it’s sort of a precursor to Moll Flanders, but it’s set in the Thirty Years War, and it’s fairly dependent on Simplicissimus for some background.
  • Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, Tearaway (1670; translated by Mike Mitchell; info). This is a relatively slight addition to the Simplicissimus saga. Tearaway is the son of an acrobat and a young noblewoman. He gets caught up in the Dutch War of Independence, the Thirty Years War, and the wars against the Ottomans, sometimes as a soldier and always as a rogue. His story overlaps with that of both Simplicissimus and Courage, but it’s predominantly a picaresque account of an ordinary soldier’s life. There are occasional episodes involving “magic” that is revealed to be trickery, but near the end, the book takes a sharp turn toward SF/F when Tearaway’s wife takes a magical bird’s nest that turns her invisible and uses it to rob people, make them think she’s a ghost, etc.
  • Marie-Catherine Desjardins, Madame de Villedieu, Memoirs of the Life of Henriette-Sylvie de Molière (1672-1674; translated by Donna Kuizenga; info). At the beginning of this short, epistolary, semi-autobiographical picaresque novel, the main character’s adoptive father takes her hunting but tries to rape her in the woods, so she shoots him, setting off the first in a long series of social/legal problems that will plague her throughout the book. By the mid-point (p. 127), she can very reasonably say, “Madame, it was not men themselves I hated, but rather their mania for attaching themselves to me and then unfailingly entangling me in some troublesome adventure.” I think it’d be fair to call this a proto-feminist novel, and it’s also notable for its many connections to historical figures and events.


  • Ihara Saikaku, Five Women Who Loved Love (1685; translated by Wm. Theodore de Bary; info). Though sometimes described as “erotic” fiction, this story collection (or at least this translation) is considerably more tame than an average romance novel published today. The characters do pursue their romance with the aim of pleasure, and both prostitution and the practice of shudō are mentioned briefly. But in reality the stories are just tragic love stories, elegantly written and full of beautiful imagery. The prose style is wonderful and feels very modern—so much so that I thought the translation might have something to do with it, but if so, the same thing happened to another Ihara book translated by a different person (see below).
  • Aphra Behn, Oroonoko (1688; info). I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that an early novel aiming to generate sympathy toward its enslaved hero would pile despair on top of violence on top of tragedy, but wow, things do get remarkably bad. I’m glad I read this though—it’s definitely worth knowing that it exists.


  • Kim Manjung, Kuunmong, a.k.a. The Cloud Dream of the Nine (ca. 1690; translated by James S. Gale; info). I’m not sure whether to describe this wonderful Korean novel first and foremost as an enchanting fairytale, political satire, or harem fanfic. Its fairytale imagery includes things like fairies riding on white deer and cranes, the hero meeting a mermaid deep in a poisoned lake, and time passing mysteriously while the hero learns to play music. And as a fairytale, it’s really nice: full of romantic scenes and ornate set pieces. Its satire is not as obvious, I guess, but Wikipedia mentions that it is intended as commentary on King Sukjong‘s affairs, and read that way, it’s pretty arch stuff. The hero of the story is portrayed variously as great, really great, or super great, so people just line up to marry him and fall all over themselves to praise him and find ways to sort out and justify his numerous marriage arrangements. And that leads us to the harem fanfic aspect of it: this is a Korean novel set in Tang Dynasty China, and the basic plot involves one guy meeting, falling in love with, and eventually marrying eight women on his path to enlightenment, but the little bit of tension in the book arises in that “eventually,” because he’s in love with all of them and yet repeatedly blocked from marrying any of them for a good chunk of the story. So it’s both a fannishly romanticized picture of China and a polygamous romance novel with a lot of deferred resolution to it. Incidentally, one review that I read mentioned minor issues with the translation and implied this was related to the translator being a Christian missionary, and I can definitely see that. The translation sometimes uses phrases like “let no man put asunder” that are presumably wrong for the context, even if they get the gist of things across, and I can well imagine there being other ways that the religious and/or earthly content of the story has been assimilated. Another translation exists, but it’s out of print, and this one was still a fun read.
  • François-Timoléon de Choisy, Marie-Jeanne L’Héritier, and Charles Perrault, The Story of the Marquise-Marquis de Banneville (1695; translated by Steven Rendall). This short love story seems plainly intended as a positive illustration of how gender encompasses more than just biology. In that light, the book’s premise that a mother might simply choose to raise any child as a daughter and have that work out as it does at least makes sense allegorically as a lesson that someone who seems to be male can actually be someone’s daughter and that it can be OK. We could also suppose the mom was lucky enough to make her decision and by coincidence have a trans daughter too. At any rate, this was a delightful book: the AFAB character was also great, and the story was well-written, deeply accepting of human differences, and happy about it.
  • Ihara Saikaku, This Scheming World (1690; translated by Masanori Takatsuka and David C. Stubbs). Themed short story collections must have been kind of a thing in the 1600s—at least for Li Yu and Ihara Saikaku, though I guess fairy tale and morality tale collections count too. Anyway, these twenty vignettes about debt collection at New Year’s take it to an extreme in terms of realism. They’re full of interesting sociological details, and they’re also extremely well composed. Unfortunately, they’re also a bit dry.
  • François Fénelon, The Adventures of Telemachus (1699; translated by John Hawkesworth; info). Fénelon’s didactic novel about best practices of leadership and government is always eloquent and occasionally beautiful but also very frequently dull. It re-imagines Telemachus’s search for his father as having been much longer and more full of incident than it is in the Odyssey, and that’s a great premise. Accompanied by Mentor, Telemachus winds up going all around the eastern Mediterranean: Egypt, Phoenicia, Crete, Calypso’s island, and Hesperia (i.e. Italy). At each stop, he endures some peril or another and learns lessons about virtuous leadership. Unfortunately, I really cannot count how often Mentor’s lectures literally put me to sleep—they’re not bad lessons, but they are obvious from an adult post-Enlightenment point of view, and they go on and on. But if they’d each been half the length, then their elegant composition would have been more enjoyable to read. The story does pick up some around the mid-point, when Telemachus becomes involved in a war in Hesperia, and overall it does have the flavor of the books it’s based on: the fighting scenes and many characterizations are reminiscent of the Iliad, and the travel and the descent to the underworld are reminiscent of the Odyssey. I also thought the descriptions of individuals and of the landscape were sometimes pretty great. I suspect, though, that the main reason to read the book is to observe how much it informed the French Enlightenment. Fénelon’s admiration for “savages [that] set you a noble example” shows in several places, explicitly, and in combination with the book’s general emphasis on educating someone to be wise, that feels very much like Rousseau. It’s also not too surprising that, even though Fénelon was reputedly an effective tutor for the young Duke of Burgundy, Louis XIV resented the book for questioning the divine right of kings to be absolute monarchs.
  • Charles Perrault, Stories or Fairy Tales from Past Times with Morals, a.k.a. Mother Goose Tales (1697; translated by Christopher Betts; info). Many of these have obvious forebears in stories from Basile’s The Tale of Tales (q.v.). Perrault’s are nonetheless interesting, in part because they are recognizably the ones many modern re-tellings are based on. The stories not found in Basile (e.g. “Little Red Riding-Hood,” “Bluebeard,” and “Hop o’ my Thumb”) are important too. But really, I’d recommend Basile to adult readers as the richer, more interesting collection.
  • Henriette-Julie de Castelnau, Comtesse de Murat, A Trip to the Country (1699; edited and translated by‎ Perry Gethner and Allison Stedman; info). A group of French nobles stay for a while at an idyllic country estate, where there are fountains and an orangery, terraces and gardens, and musicians who come and play for them outside. The nobles flirt with each other and tell stories—in particular, ghost stories, though in most cases there turns out to be no ghost. There’s one fairy tale too about how four specially-talented brothers rescue a princess from a dragon but find the princess wasn’t in any real danger and actually wanted to stay on the dragon’s island because she was in love with a fisherman (who turns out to be a prince and comes to marry her, post-rescue, so all’s well). They also share a few stories about their past romances and whatnot, and they cruelly tease the nouveau riche neighbors. All in all, it’s an interesting picture of what people found entertaining at the time, and it’s well written too, though I’m not sure I recall a favorite scene.