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February 16, 2012 5:28 AM   Subscribe

A fascinating look inside a disowned and ultra-rare early book by Martin Amis: a guide to video games.
posted by WPW (48 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
“Kids,” he assures us, “are coming across for a couple of games of Astro Panic, or whatever. More about this later.”

So Martin Amis invented "or whatever"?
posted by nathancaswell at 5:32 AM on February 16, 2012


Amis Effect - a weaker form of Streisand Effect.
posted by hat_eater at 5:41 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Outstanding post.

IIRC, the RE/SEARCH issue on J.G. Ballard included an interview in which the Amis book (only a few years old at that point) came up. Mr. B - who of course was no stranger to unwholesome passions of men for technology - seemed to want to be sympathetic. But finally he had to chase the kid off his lawn with the grumble "it's nostalgia for 5 minutes ago, for God's sake".
posted by Trurl at 5:45 AM on February 16, 2012


There's something disgustingly wholesome about this generation's writerly transgressions. Why can't they write overly stylized erotica and keener sports blurbs like the Greatest Generatin's writers did?
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:48 AM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


But is is disowned though, or is it included in the list of previous books in many of his later publications? I picked up my copy of House of Meetings a couple of nights ago and it was on the list (see for your self), and if memory serves it has featured on the equivalent list in other Amis novels. Does Leith provide any justification for the idea that Amis has disowned this publication? Is this just the literary equivalent of the TV show where they show famous people clips of themselves from the 1980s and invite them to laugh because they look like someone looked in the 1980s?
posted by biffa at 5:54 AM on February 16, 2012


Good point Biffa. He's certainly reluctant to talk about it, but not to the point of denying its existence.
posted by WPW at 6:02 AM on February 16, 2012


So Martin Amis invented "or whatever"?

That brings back memories. I killed wayyyy too many hours playing or whatever. The sequel, as if, sucked, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:08 AM on February 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Not! ruled but didn't age well.
posted by DU at 6:16 AM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I personally like, Shyeah, right!
posted by plinth at 6:17 AM on February 16, 2012


I remember finding this book in a university library in the late 90s - it is actually one of the first ever books written about video games. I like the Christopher Hitchins anecdote mentioned in the link.
posted by rongorongo at 6:21 AM on February 16, 2012


That was great. The linked review of the recent Amis bio is good, too:

Where’s Invasion of the Space Invaders? That’s what I want to know. Only by consulting Richard Bradford’s bibliography would you know that in 1982 Martin Amis published a book — subtitled ‘An Addict’s Guide’ — on how to win at Space Invaders, and that he (presumably) hasn’t let it come back into print.

An entire book! That seems to me worthy at least of a paragraph in the body of a 400-odd-page writer’s biography. It tells you something, doesn’t it? I mean, apart from the fact that Martin Amis once liked Space Invaders, which is amusing if not crucial....That absence — whether it’s down to a misfired attempt at high-mindedness, or was (less likely) a condition of Amis’s agreement to be interviewed — shakes one’s confidence in this work. Amis thrives on modernity....

posted by mediareport at 6:21 AM on February 16, 2012


David Foster Wallace co-wrote a really bad book on hip-hop once. Maybe it could be sold with this as some sort of gift-pak.
posted by jonmc at 6:40 AM on February 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


The photo of the group of people fawning over the Astro Blaster cabinet is a curiosity in itself. At first you think, "That image was probably used as the advertising flyer or something." But when you compare the two, it's clear that it's a different take of the same photo shoot.

There might be something deeper there, but I'm not sure what it is.
posted by helicomatic at 6:44 AM on February 16, 2012


Man, I wish my embarrassing youthful follies included getting a book published.
posted by item at 6:46 AM on February 16, 2012 [13 favorites]


There's something disgustingly wholesome about this generation's writerly transgressions. Why can't they write overly stylized erotica and keener sports blurbs like the Greatest Generatin's writers did?

Be thankful. Tomorrow's literary giants are currently engaged in the crafting shockingly well written Ron Weasley/Edward Cullen fan fiction.
posted by Jon_Evil at 6:53 AM on February 16, 2012 [14 favorites]


I think the funniest thing here is the "Introduction by Steven Spielberg" that nobody questions. Of course Steven Spielberg wrote the introduction to a video game book in the 80s.
posted by DU at 7:04 AM on February 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


I had this. Bought it remaindered during a drab outing to Stranraer. My parents might still have it. It did get me out of a literary bind at a party when someone more artsy than me was reeling off "wonderful Martin's books", and I added IotSI sotto voce.
posted by scruss at 7:06 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


For what it’s worth, this is actually very solid gaming advice. I tested it out on one of those classic arcade websites, and the man knows what he’s talking about — it is all about phalanx-narrowing.

How old is the article author?
posted by DU at 7:08 AM on February 16, 2012


I had this book too, but had forgotten all about it by at least ten years before I learned who Martin Amis was. Reading this article brought it all back. It was like the final few moments of a masterfully constructed twist movie, in which the protagonist finally puts together a whole bunch of stuff that seemed trivial at the time as realization dawns on his horrified face.

But now I know the truth. The whole truth. I learned to narrow the phalanx in Space Invaders from Martin Amis.
posted by No-sword at 7:14 AM on February 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


The article's worth it for the inclusion of the standard eighties photo of a crowd of crappy eighties stereotypes clamoring to look in openmouthed awe upon some tiresome eighties junk that some unimaginative eighties ad executive has been charged with presenting as something insanely exciting despite the fact that something genuinely cool is happening elsewhere and is going completely unnoticed without a crowd of crappy eighties stereotypes clamoring to look upon it and neither he nor the maker of the tiresome eighties junk would ever know.

Wide-eyed, openmouthed awe, barely concealing the artifice involved as underpaid advertising models stood in some hot studio, swaying gently as they tried to hold the rictus of joy for as long as it took to get the perfect shot, was clearly the aesthetic trope of the eighties.

The actual scene in any given arcade was actually far more tragic.

This is why, when my nieces ask me to retell thrilling tales of those grim years, I occasionally squint at them and say "Your taste in decades clearly comes from your father's side." I used to add that the eighties actually sucked beyond all possible comprehension, but then no one will listen to me at all after that.
posted by sonascope at 7:17 AM on February 16, 2012 [11 favorites]


Martin Amis also wrote bonkers sci-fi film Saturn 3, which I still have trouble getting to grips with. But this book probably explains a lot.
posted by panboi at 7:21 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks sonascope, for finding the "something deeper" I was referring to earlier.
posted by helicomatic at 7:35 AM on February 16, 2012


David Foster Wallace co-wrote a really bad book on hip-hop once. Maybe it could be sold with this as some sort of gift-pak.

And Charles Frazier (of Cold Mountain fame) co-wrote a book for accountants who can't talk so good. Let's package the three as a trilogy.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:36 AM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the funniest thing here is the "Introduction by Steven Spielberg" that nobody questions. Of course Steven Spielberg wrote the introduction to a video game book in the 80s.

If you're implying this is a fake, I don't think that's possible. There's a whole bunch of people selling it on Amazon.

If you're implying Spielberg has a ghostwriter, I would tend to agree...
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:37 AM on February 16, 2012


Some sample pages available here.

The whole thing used to be here and here, but has been taken down. Anyone really interested in getting a copy could register and post on the AtariAge forums where there appear to be several owners.

Also a Mefite mentioned it in December; I've invited him to the thread.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 7:45 AM on February 16, 2012


I was implying that nobody thinks of Spielberg as so high-minded that he wouldn't have done that.
posted by DU at 7:53 AM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I haven't read the book by Amis, but Pilgrim in the Microworld is another early 80s book about video games (and addiction) that is very well written. David Sudnow gets very serious about Breakout and in the process produces what may well be the clearest description I've ever read of how video games 'work'. It's incredibly prescient; near the end he basically outlines Zynga's business plan, substituting arcades for Facebook. Even today I rarely read work about video games that begins to approach the depth that Sudnow illuminates, extrapolated from the simplistic Breakout. A very remarkable book, and definitely worth checking out if you are into this sort of thing.
posted by soy bean at 8:02 AM on February 16, 2012


Just found out that David Sudnow's Pilgrim in the Microworld is available online here.
posted by soy bean at 8:08 AM on February 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


If somebody handed me a well-worn physical copy of this book, my first thought would be to marvel at the capabilities of today's vanity press.
posted by whuppy at 8:20 AM on February 16, 2012


Hang on...I just finished Hitch-22 and he claims to have never suffered a hangover. Either Hitch failed to remember that one occasion in Paris when apparently he did have a hang over, or the story is about Ian McEwan.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:40 AM on February 16, 2012


Also a Mefite mentioned it in December; I've invited him to the thread.

Thanks, Busy Old Fool. Yes, I own this book, and in reasonably excellent condition. I don't have much to add, unfortunately, but Mr. O'Connell sums up the book's appeal quite well.

I have occasionally thought about dismantling my copy so I could scan it and create a PDF (but now that I know that a digital copy already exists, that seems like a crime), and I actually began to transcribe the text manually as a sort of compromise, but ceased after a few chapters, as doing so was a real drag. Still, here's the last chapter from my aborted effort. Consider it my gift to Metafilter.

PLAY IT AGAIN

Talking of guardians of the peace… There used to be an arcade near where I live called Play It Again Sam. I tended to look in there, oh, not more than four or five times a day. On many occasions I had to abandon a promising intergalactic battle — or lose concentration to a disastrous extent — as a far more tangible brawl took place a few feet from my back. One tried to keep playing until the last possible moment, but when ashtrays and billiard balls started humming past one’s ears — well, it was usually time, I figured, to warp to another quadrant. You joined the other grumbling video artists out on the street, and waited for the technical hitch to be dealt with.

Sam’s was 24-hour. One night, about 1 am, I was in there, quietly defending earth as usual, when four policemen strode into the hall. Ten seconds later, Star Wars was underway — and not on the video screens. I myself was on Wave 9, with three ships and two Smart Bombs and my disposal, all set for a record score, and generally very reluctant to leave. In between skirmishes, I glanced to my left: to white youths were in the process of being apprehended; they were cartwheeling about in an explosion of up-ended pintables, swaying hot-drink machines, and a blizzard of missiles from the sympathizers further back. I glanced toward the street. It looked like the 87th Precinct out there — police cars, thirty or forty cops, a dozen nervous German shepherds. In they came. A policeman standing directly behind me stopped a glass ashtray with the back of his neck. I warped out.

On the street the boys in blue herded, threatened and pacified the disgruntled evacuees. Eventually the two youths were dragged out and crammed into the wagon, where to receive an elaborate roughing up, if th hi-fidelity sound effects were anything to go by. Sam’s was barred up for the night. There was an outcry on the street. “I had four lives left!” “One more wave and I would have made Space Colonel!” “What about my three credits?” “I was carrying my last humanoid!” Peering inside, we could see the attendants cheerfully taking over the free machines. They smiled and shrugged. There was nothing they could do. The next morning I strolled into Sam’s and asked one of these purple-suited stewards, a gentle, slow-talking giant, what last night’s rumble had been about. A Space Invaders-related crime? Had these guys committed murder for a few games of Frogger? “Stolen property,” said the steward. “Receiving. Ah, but then,” he drawled, “they resisted arrest.” “I know,” I said, “I was in here.” That was certainly true, they had resisted arrest all right. The phrase had never meant much to me until that night. Boy, did those guys resist arrest.

Theft, pimping, drugs, assault and battery — all have been associated with the shadowy world of space-game parlors. It is undeniable that such places are the scene of many a purse snatch, wallet lift, and so on. Undeniable, too, that the New York joints and their equivalents around the world contain their fair share of genuine desperadoes. But it is largely a matter of coincidence: all-night places attract all-night people. There is nothing inherently clandestine about the average parlor addict. These adepts of wipe-out and smart bomb, these dealers in death and destruction, these guerrillas of Space Fury, Berzerk, and Astro Blaster, are really pretty gentle types.

Shortly after the night when all that arrest-resisting came down, Sam’s was obliged by the City Council to close its doors at 1 am. Shortly after that, at midnight. There were complaints, there were worried parents. Then one morning I came around the corner as usual, trying not to break into a run at the thought of Defender and Missile Command, expectantly fondling my charge — and the rotating lights above Sam’s entrance had ceased to flash. With faltering steps I approached the dark window. I stared in. All dismal and dead. The row of pinball tables, normally a raft of active color, stretched away inertly into the gloom. The silent space games were shoved brutally into the corner. They huddled together resentfully, already looking neglected, ruined, scrapped. …I couldn’t repel or defeat those aliens, those avengers, those space intruders. In the end, the City Council had to go and do it for me.

posted by incomple at 8:41 AM on February 16, 2012 [10 favorites]


Metafilter: nostalgia for 5 minutes ago, for God's sake
posted by Devonian at 8:56 AM on February 16, 2012


I used to add that the eighties actually sucked beyond all possible comprehension, but then no one will listen to me at all after that.

Testify!
posted by Hoopo at 9:26 AM on February 16, 2012


The actual scene in any given arcade was actually far more tragic.

I think modern "arcades" that you see at bowling alleys and whatnot these days are a lot more depressing. Usually there are maybe one or two actual video games, and the rest are redemption machines with no actual gameplay that spit out tickets for cheap prizes. It's basically like a casino for small children, minus the free drinks.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:40 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


So Martin Amis invented "or whatever"?

It doesn't appear so.
posted by The Tensor at 11:02 AM on February 16, 2012


But, sonascope, the great thing about that picture (which, frustratingly, doesn't link out to a larger picture so that we can find out what "the algebra of need" actually is is that they aren't "a crowd of crappy eighties stereotypes", really, but a random assortment of central casting types. Look at the dude in the black hat in the middle, who is probably supposed to be a cop, but with the hat cocked back like that looks more like the skipper in Gilligan's Isle; that could be the Howells just below him and to his left. The guy who looks like Rick Moranis in a letter carrier's uniform, talking to the black kid. The falling stack of pizza boxes, the gum bubble forever unpopped. The only one in the picture who isn't totally enraptured by whatever is on the screen is the floozy all the way on the right; everyone else, no matter how young or old they are or what their deal is, is irresistibly drawn to whatever's on screen, as if it's showing their very heart's desire, like moths to the flame or the hapless townspeople in one of Stephen King's lesser novels.

It's beautiful.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:34 AM on February 16, 2012


If you liked this book, you might also like these other fine titles!

"Deadness and Rocquets; Advanced Croquet Techniques" by Vladimir Nabokov

"Closed Impetus: Learn to Foxtrot with F. Scott Fitzgerald"

"The Tallest Stick: Flagpoles, and Those Who Sit on Them" by Ernest Hemingway
posted by rusty at 11:42 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for linking to this article (I edit The Millions). It's a fun one. Here's a larger version of "The Algebra of Need" scan, so you can further plumb its mysteries.
posted by cmaxmagee at 11:47 AM on February 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Does Seth Godin acknowledge "Ultra Secrets of Game Boy Games"?
posted by PenDevil at 12:38 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is one of several potential reasons why Amis is uncomfortable enough about Invasion to want to keep it out of print.

Well...

There were dozens of books like this back in the way. It was a very short-lived genre, the arcade help manual. I specifically remember seeing a lot of books like this at a local bookstore as a kid, mostly at the time on how to win at Pac-Man. But there was also Joystik Magazine, one of the coolest magazines I've ever held with my own hands.

But anyway. The reason they are out of print now is because they would not sell. Who in this age would front the cash to write about how to win at Space Invaders? Well this particular book might sell, but only because its author went on to do greater things, and it probably wouldn't tell us much about the author except that he liked to play video games once, like a lot of people did in the early 80s.

Lots of authors go through a period where they write things just to keep themselves fed, or the mortgage paid, or whatever. Amis happens to have one based in a very specific time, that brief window in which "normal" people found themselves able to let themselves enjoy a computer game played in public. How is this any different from a someday-famous author who makes a living writing self-help books, or home carpentry, or politics, or needlework, or what else? (Do these people not exist? If they don't, I'd rather say that says something positive about video gaming.)

It's fun, I will say, to think about lit grad students pouring through a guide to Space Invaders looking for clues to the life of the sacred Author. "He calls them pointy-heads. Are we to assume these invaders are mentally-deficient?"

(Aside: May I put in a plug to my own favorite early 80's gaming manual, which I received literally sans cover in a schoolyard but have since learned is called The Winner's Guide to Video Games?)
posted by JHarris at 1:56 PM on February 16, 2012


The funniest comments in this thread evoke Bill Keane.
posted by stevil at 2:42 PM on February 16, 2012


I went to one of those 'what should I read next' sites and when I entered my favorite author Richard Price's Ladies Man it recommended Martin Amis who I've never read. Accurate?
posted by jonmc at 4:04 PM on February 16, 2012


I think the funniest thing here is the "Introduction by Steven Spielberg" that nobody questions. Of course Steven Spielberg wrote the introduction to a video game book in the 80s.

I can personally attest that Spielberg was very seriously into video games in the 80s. I saw a huge shelf in his house that had every damn video game ever sold.

So.. who is going to edit Amis' wikipedia entry? The book would fall chronologically right in between the sections "Early writing" and "Main career." I would suggest putting it in the Main section, it would fit the theme:

Although the books share little in terms of plot and narrative, they all examine the lives of middle-aged men, exploring the sordid, debauched, and post-apocalyptic undercurrents of life in late 20th-century Britain.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:25 PM on February 16, 2012


I saw a huge shelf in his house that had every damn video game ever sold.

Wait what
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 9:27 PM on February 16, 2012


Well, not exactly a shelf, a huge set of shelves.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:49 PM on February 16, 2012


I saw a huge shelf in his house that had every damn video game ever sold.

Wait what

Well, not exactly a shelf, a huge set of shelves.

THAT'S NOT THE POINT, charlie don't surf.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:17 AM on February 17, 2012


And what was your point? A guy who is worth a $42 Kajillion (that's Kajillion with a K) can get some lackey to go buy everything he ever wanted. Well, almost everything, he couldn't buy me.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:00 PM on February 17, 2012


Well, almost everything, he couldn't buy me.

And here we are again, with more questions than answers!
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 8:41 PM on February 23, 2012


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