Friday, August 23, 2019

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 23rd August 2019: "Speccy Nation" by Dan Whitehead (Self Published)

Our Chapter Book of the Week this week is something that I'd had my eye on for a while, and picked up on a whim as a way of trying to explain to C why "Daddy" used to be completely obsessed with a cranky, often unreliable piece of gaming tech that became a huge, huge reason why a lot of folk my age ended up working in some form of computer-based job.

"Speccy Nation" by veteran games journalist and comic author Dan Whitehead might well have a few choice moments that you might want to filter out for your own kids, but it does give a rather personal view of what it was like back in the heyday of British gaming, when an entire cottage industry sprang up around geeky folk who could somehow make the Sinclair ZX Spectrum do some truly amazing things when it came to videogames.

Across the pond while Americans were still obsessing over the Atari 2600 and the NES, we were getting our teeth into typing out wobbly bits of game code from the back of magazines, or listening to the electronic screech of games loading into the black and rubbery machine via cassette tape.

Dan has drawn up an initial list of 50 games that truly defined that microcomputing era of greatness, ranging from the utterly sublime and surreal Manic Miner (a game that C has got mildly obsessed with beating, but can't seem to get past the Solar Power Generator - HAH!) through to the greats from game studios such as Ultimate Play the Game and Imagine Software.

Dan's anecdotal writing about these games mirrors my own experience of a lot of these titles, and his memories sound an awful lot like my own as well (and I'm pretty sure there'll be a lot of 50-somethings out there who will feel the same way). What I wasn't quite expecting was that C would find this book as fascinating as I did, though there were an awful lot of moments where she would shoot me the side-eye and call me an old saddo when I got that misty faraway look in my eye from remembering just how tough the phanton biker was to beat in "Wheelie" by Microsphere.

"Speccy Nation" might not be a historical book full of blow-by-blow accounts of how these games came to be, but it (and its follow up volume Speccy Nation 2) do bring back happy memories of a time when it felt like your imagination could blissfully fill in the sensorial gaps that modern games try and fill in for you, all courtesy of a machine cooked up by a true British eccentric in every sense of the word.

"Speccy Nation" by Dan Whitehead is out now. Self published (self purchased, not provided for review).