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on 4 October 2011
2007 book, now remaindered, but with an eye-catching title. The author seems to have been born about 1966 - my best guess from this book.

This appeared to be an attempt to humanise 'Dungeons and Dragons'. It purports to be autobiographical, but my guess is that the detail is largely made up. The reason I say this is the lack of in-depth insight - his descriptions go no further than strangely-shaped dice and a cursory account of fantasy powers, though he seems to have looked at some of the packaging and documentation.

There are some books on games and sports - perhaps the first being Izaak Walton on fishing, then perhaps Surtees on horse racing - and more recently football, rugby, cricket, mountain walking, Monopoly for that matter - which manage to describe and enlarge on the activities in a style which is attractive, even for people who aren't at all interested in participating. Barrowcliffe doesn't in my view manage this. He calls them 'war games' though of course they're not war in any modern sense. He seems to avoid the attempts at simulating the past, too - Greece, Rome, Norse Gods maybe. There is no description that I could find of what I presume is the attraction of the game - the hours and hours of total immersion, the precariousness of situations depending on one single throw of a die (yes!), the exploitation of the rules to achieve victory in unexpected ways, the use - I'm guessing - of alliances, the sudden reversals of fortune, the other-wordly quirkiness of unreal 'powers'.

There are bits about premature sexual attempts in Coventry, visits to the Bullring in Birmingham - and it's amusing to see politically-correct bits shoehorned in unnaturally. After all, he's a writer and isn't going to say anything risky. He makes a claim to have studied chemistry, maths, and physics, but I couldn't believe in that, either. To be honest I couldn't make it to the end of the book, but, sneaking a look at other reviews here, a triumphalist note appears. Maybe he never learned the lessons of reversals of fortune.
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While there is a link to the game Dungeons and Dragons this is more about growing up and youthful obsession. It moves between sad, funny and honesty with ease as young Mark discovers gaming at the expense of just about everything else.

It captures an age and does remind us of that time we had an obsession about something and makes us feel glad that perhaps we grew out of it quicker then Mark did!

It has an honest charm and wit although it will make you wince in places this was a worthwhile reading experience.
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on 13 December 2010
Arrogant, smug, no it all, tries to blame DnD for being a arrogant smug no it all. ASNIA

Only achieves confirmation that DnD has nothing to do with him being a ASNIA, it is in fact ingrained in his very nature. (See section where he leaves a child HE INJURED lying in the park to try and hit on a girl)

The only book where I've wanted to hit the 'author' over the head with it afterwards.

NOT FOR DnD FANS - DO NOT GIVE THIS ASNIA YOUR MONEY.
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on 26 December 2007
This is a dreadful, anti-creativity rant, that reinforces the stereotypes people have of anyone who ever played a roleplaying game.

In suggesting that so-called normality and a vivid imagination are mutually exclusive, this book is aimed squarely at the Daily Mail/Sun readers who have already made up their tiny minds about "speccy, spotty, nerds".

The Elfish Gene is just a savage tirade of cheap jibes by someone trying to be "cool" by making fun of people who thought he was their friend.
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on 21 October 2008
I'm incredibly picky about books. I used to review for SFX and Interzone, and I'm always aware that I can be ferocious with anything I find less than outstanding. Occasionally, I can even muster a snarl when I'm negotiating my way through a real stinker. However, I'm even more hesitant when it comes to reviewing a book I actually like. I continually have to ask the question: is this book truly a brilliant piece of work, or is it just particularly tailored to my own tastes? Well, the latter is certainly true of The Elfish Gene by Mark Barrowcliffe...but it's pretty amazing, too. My favourite thing about Elfish Gene is that, excluding the undeniable talent of the author, it could have been written by just about any of the kids I grew up with. Hell, I could have written it, myself - though I tend to gloss over the effect gaming has had on my life, so it wouldn't have been anywhere near as balanced and as honest as this undoubtedly is. Mark Barrowcliffe is immediately likeable, to the point where anyone who spent their teenage years immersed in D&D will genuinely have to stop themselves from hunting him down on the net and confessing, in a heartfelt sob, how delighted they are to see written evidence that they weren't alone. This book isn't just for gamers, though: it's a warm, funny and moving story ABOUT gamers. These are people all around you...the curious kids you grew up with who wandered around staring distractedly at the clouds and always seemed to take four or five minutes to answer relatively simple questions about the weather and what they were having for dinner. As adults, most of them move around you, now, albeit not shouting about their hobby from the rooftops. I write fantasy books for a living, so I might be an obvious gamer - but the others around the various tables I sit each week include a motorbike dealer, a principal consultant for an insurance broker, a museum education director, a customs' officer and a railway engineer. We're all around you....and this book contains everything you need to know about the people they were growing up. I absolutely loved it, and am personally devastated that it's over. Highly, highly recommended.

I'm incredibly picky about books. I used to review for SFX and Interzone, and I'm always aware that I can be ferocious with anything I find less than outstanding. Occasionally, I can even muster a snarl when I'm negotiating my way through a real stinker. However, I'm even more hesitant when it comes to reviewing a book I actually like. I continually have to ask the question: is this book truly a brilliant piece of work, or is it just particularly tailored to my own tastes? Well, the latter is certainly true of The Elfish Gene by Mark Barrowcliffe...but it's pretty amazing, too. Before I delve any deeper, here's a brief synopsis:

In the summer 1976, twelve-year-old Mark Barrowcliffe had a chance to be normal. He blew it. While other teenagers were being coolly rebellious, Mark--and 20 million other boys in the 1970s and 80s--chose to spend his entire adolescence pretending to be a wizard or a warrior, an evil priest or a dwarf. He had discovered Dungeons & Dragons, and his life would never be the same. No longer would he have to settle for being Mark Barrowcliffe, an ordinary awkward teenager from working-class Coventry, England; he could be Alf the Elf, Foghat the Gnome, or Effilc Worrab, an elven warrior with the head of a mule.Armed only with pen, paper and some funny-shaped dice, this lost generation gave themselves up to the craze of fantasy role-playing games and everything that went with it--from heavy metal to magic mushrooms to believing that your bike is a horse named Shadowfax. Spat at by bullies, laughed at by girls, now they rule the world. They were the geeks, the fantasy wargamers, and this is their story.

My favourite thing about Elfish Gene is that, excluding the undeniable talent of the author, it could have been written by just about any of the kids I grew up with. Hell, I could have written it, myself - though I tend to gloss over the effect gaming has had on my life, so it wouldn't have been anywhere near as balanced and as honest as this undoubtedly is. Mark Barrowcliffe is immediately likeable, to the point where anyone who spent their teenage years immersed in D&D will genuinely have to stop themselves from hunting him down on the net and confessing, in a heartfelt sob, how delighted they are to see written evidence that they weren't alone. This book isn't just for gamers, though: it's a warm, funny and moving story ABOUT gamers. These are people all around you...the curious kids you grew up with who wandered around staring distractedly at the clouds and always seemed to take four or five minutes to answer relatively simple questions about the weather and what they were having for dinner. As adults, most of them move around you, now, albeit not shouting about their hobby from the rooftops. I write fantasy books for a living, so I might be an obvious gamer - but the others around the various tables I sit each week include a motorbike dealer, a principal consultant for an insurance broker, a museum education director, a customs' officer and a railway engineer. We're all around you....and this book contains everything you need to know about the people we were growing up. I absolutely loved it, and am personally devastated that it's over. Highly, highly recommended.
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