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on 24 November 2009
This certainly took me back to my D&D days, and my (like the author's) misspent youth. What elevates this beyond a mere chuckle at strange roleplayers is the touching innocence of the times, the people and memories of a slightly-forgotten era ... 80s heavy metal, rules lawyers, terror of females and obsession. Very, very funny and, in a strange way, quite moving. You don't have to be a games nut to read this. In fact, I think my wife should read it and she'd understand me better! Also brought back memories of Cov(entry) in the 80s.
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on 26 February 2010
The author claims that it was playing D&D that made him an insufferable, socially-inept, belittling, smugly-superior, arrogant, casually-callous and unlikeable person.
In my opinion, he is using that as an excuse.
The tone of this autobiography is one of sneering condescension. His attitude toward anyone who indulges in gaming (portraying them all as sad, rules-obsessed loners, incapable of forming meaningful relationships) and his dismay that an ex-gaming buddy has become a christian (a particularly barbed Dawkins-esque sneer) show that his much loathed and gaming-blamed casual cruelty is still very much a part of him, one wonders what his excuse is these days.
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on 3 January 2008
I got this book for Christmas. Just finished reading it in the New Year. It was very, very funny. As an ex-D&D-er the jokes and insights had the ring of truth to them and I recognised lots of the characters and situations. I would definitely recommend this book.
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on 18 January 2009
I personally loved this book, but I fear that it might be aimed at a minority audience and not to everyone's tastes. However, I'm not saying that's a bad thing as there's no book, film or piece or music that everyone loves, is there?

The other reviewers and the synopsis given in the book's description tell you pretty much everything you need to know about this book, so I'll keep this short. It's an autobiographical book about a teenage boy growing up in Coventry in the UK in the 1970s. He is a bit of a social outcast but finds 'friends' and relief in the newly released Dungeons and Dragons. He quickly becomes obsessed with game and soon starts talking and dressing like his character and looking at the real world as if the rules of D&D somehow govern real life.

If you can identify with any of this or you know someone who was/is strongly into wargaming, or particularly roleplaying, then you'll probably enjoy this book. It's an interesting read in itself, but it does go into some detail about the game that will probably pass most people by if they're not at least vaguely familiar with sci-fi/fantasy/RPGs/fantasy or something similar. There are some really funny anecdotes in the book, as well as a few sad ones, and I couldn't wait to read the next chapter every time I was forced to do something else like eat or sleep.
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on 3 September 2013
I am a year younger than Barrowman, so entered all the D&D phases a year after him, but aside from that this is the story of my role-playing life, presented in laugh-out-loud and well-observed detail. Although there are certain popularist elements, like the title, which suggest a sneering look back on the whole world he has since grown out of, in truth 'the Elfish Gene' really gets to the heart of what made fantasy role playing games so special, so addictive and some life altering in the 70s and early 80s.

A lot of the negative reviews really don't appreciate the whole 'Life on Mars' feel of the time. How conformist, how difficult to branch out and make statements about lifestyle and values. We played a game that literally had no female players (I think I met my first female role player in the early nineties), that simply had no hold in the mainstream (I saw a news item about it on Nationwide once, otherwise it was a charmed circle of devotees.) Like Barrowman I had a moment of revelation aged 13 when one of my role playing friends said he wasn't interested in football, it was a game for morons. This was 1980 and every boy played football and followed teams. Suddenly Dungeons and Dragons gave us permission to speak this unspeakeable thought and enter (as its own authors explicitly stated) a higher and more intellectual world.

All of which makes it a bit difficult to be dispassionate about the book. If you know a role player and don't play yourself (you may be married to one, for instance...) this is the book to explain what made and makes them tick. If you do play/did play there will be a continual sequence of 'that's so true! I remember that!' which you have to share. It gives a voice to all of those for whom the Nick Hornby-type 'We all liked Footie' 'We all had our first faltering drugs and sex experiences at school aged 16' books have nothing to offer because we were, quite literally, much too busy exploring the City State of the Invincible Overlord for such lowbrow, mundane pursuits. It is funny and ultimately very poignant.

Barrowman and Porter and Billy and all the rest of the characters who people this memoire were pioneers to the mainstream world of World of Warcraft, Elder Scrolls, The Lord of the Rings films, gigantic sections of fantasy books in high street booksellers and amusing songs on You Tube about Isengard we all now inhabit.
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on 28 March 2008
I loved this nostalgic ride into the past. I grew up playing these games, and alas into my 40's am still playing them now!! I didn't mind the poking fun of geekish gamers too much, as you have to be able to laugh at yourself in anything you do. This is not an anti D&D or geek tirade, but a coming of age book with great detail of the gaming hobby from a teenager's point of view. Much as Mark might seem to be self cringing sometimes at his memories, I suspect that he wouldn't change them. Gamers will get more out of this than others, and will have a good laugh, providing they dont take themselves too seriously about their hobby.
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on 22 April 2008
If you played D&D as a teenager you'll enjoy this although you'll probably wince with embarrassment at the memories it brings back. It also has a lot to say about why certain boys prefer fantasy to reality and how obnoxious they can be to each other when in a group.
It's also good on English life in the 1970s.
Above all, the writer is happy to reveal what a prat he was and look at why he was like that.
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on 6 May 2009
This book was so engaging I finished it in one sitting.

At least three times during reading this book I was physically crying due to laughter. A bit too close to home methinks....

(Over 40, and the product of a British all boys Grammar School)
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on 11 March 2008
A bit of a disappointment from Mark Barrowcliffe after his previous three novels. Almost all of the other reviewers here seem to have some experience of Dungeons and Dragons, and most seem to have enjoyed this book as a result. D and D never appealed to me and therefore, the long, intricate descriptions of individual games the author played as a youth left me cold. He may as well have been quoting lengthy tracts from a railway timetable.

Having said that, Barrowcliffe could not write badly if he tried, and the general comments on adolescence and growing pains are at times hilarious, often touching.

Hopefully, having got this out of his system he'll be back on track next time out.
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on 20 January 2008
The Elfish Gene is far more a more biographical account of the author's teen years than a sardonic critique of the world of Role Playing Games. However, the life of the author rang true in so many aspects with my own, as I suspect that of many other teenage boys from the late seventies and eighties who were obsessed with these games. So in that respect, whatever your opinions of the subject matter it is both funny and well observed. The games provided, and continue to provide, much treasured entertainment, but if you vent spleen over the stereotypical caricatures of the 'nerds', then unfortunately it is scything more closely to the truth than you may admit. Yes, "unputdownable".
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