Skip to content ↓
MIT blogger CJ Q. '23

Things I enjoyed reading in 2022 by CJ Q. '23

(ok, i didn't enjoy all of it)

This is my fourth (and last) post like this. See 2019, 2020, 2021.

Things I read for class

These are all taken from 21W.765 Interactive Narrative.

Going for a Beer (1100 words). Content warning: domestic abuse. Surrealist short story that messes with time. It’s worth dissecting this piece to figure out how it achieves its effect. If you read one thing from this list, read this.

He finds himself sitting in the neighborhood bar drinking a beer at about the same time that he began to think about going there for one. In fact, he has finished it. Perhaps he’ll have a second one, he thinks, as he downs it and asks for a third.

Meanwhile (≈23k words). Content warning: death. Interactive science fiction comic book, lauded for its innovation. The cute graphics and innocent opening belie a dark plot. Best experienced in print, but it’s also on Steam.

Let’s play with the Killitron!

howling dogs (9500 words). Content warning: death. An interactive post-apocalyptic? science fiction? surreal? story. It’s dreamlike and poetic and pretty. I’m not quite sure what any of it means or what’s happening, but it’s certainly an experience.

I am cut off from the passion of religious women.

Aisle (≈30k words). Content warning: violence. This is parser-based interactive fiction: type a command to execute it. There’s hundreds of commands that’ll work. Although it’s experimental, I think it’s a good introduction to the medium.

Your intervention will begin and end the story. But be warned; there are many stories and not all of the stories are about the same man.

Exercises in Style (60k words). I’ve written about this before, but this is a writing classic. It’s 99 retellings of the same story. Also good is 99 Ways to Tell a Story.

Some of us were travelling together. A young man, who didn’t look very intelligent, spoke to the man next to him for a few moments, then he went and sat down. Two hours later I met him again; he was with a friend and he was talking about clothes.

Hopscotch (168k words). Content warning: domestic abuse, rape, violence, death. I know the post title is things I enjoyed reading, but this was one thing I hated reading. It’s pretentious and pseudo-intellectual and it sucks. I disliked it so much it deserved an anti-recommendation.


Counting words is hard.

Lost Pig (≈25k words). Another parser-based story where you type in commands and see what happens. It involves solving a few puzzles, which may be tricky if this is your first IF game, so use hints if needed. It’s light and funny and has the best characters.

Room light up! Grunk see little bed and trunk and desk and little man in bed. Light come from blue ball that sit on desk. Little man climb out of bed and put on pair of pointy slipper. Him walk over and squint at Grunk. “Huh,” him say. “An orc.”

The Property of Hate (≈100k+ words). Content warning: violence, death. Ongoing webcomic. An interesting deconstruction of the “child goes on a quest to become a hero” story. The art is vibrant and imaginative. Excellent worldbuilding. I’ve heard people say it’s like the Phantom Tollbooth but slightly more adult, but I’ve never read the Phantom Toolbooth.

“Will it be scary?”

“Not always.”

“Will there be monsters?”

“Oh yes.”

“Are you a monster?”

“The very worst one.”

“You don’t look like a monster.”

“That’s how you can tell.”

Demon (≈72k words). Content warning: suicide, self-harm, violence, death. Webcomic by Jason Shiga, making him the only author with two works on this year’s list. Jimmy is a demon: whenever he dies, he possesses the body of the nearest human. Jimmy’s also a demon in the sense that he has no morals, and will do anything to get what he wants. Take these to their logical conclusion and you get Demon, at times funny, at times dark, always witty.

“But… But I should be dead.”

Edith Can Shoot Things And Hit Them (27k words). Content warning: domestic abuse, violence. It’s a play, though I’ve only read the script. Gay Filipino-American Kenny gets a boyfriend in Middle America. Consequences ensue. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

“It’s safe here. I can shoot things. You’re totally safe. I can hit stuff.”

The Loser (16k words). Content warning: violence. Set in the SCP universe, where a titular, secret, worldwide organization aims to hide and contain supernatural objects. This is, once again, the token “favorite thing from SCP I read this year”. I liked SCP-6500 more, but that’s 100k words. Anyway, SCP-7000 is hilarious and not-at-all scary.

ADAMS: Sound ready.

BRITT: Ready.

TANNER: Ready!

O’REILLY: Ready.

CHICO: Ready.

LUCK: I don’t want to be here!

LEE: Ready.

ADAMS: All ready. Drop!

Not fiction

On Selling Out (11k words). What is selling out? As engineers and designers, how can we do social good in the constraints of our institutions? A bit of a technical read, but relevant to anyone who creates things.

While it is technically true that “guns don’t kill people; people with guns kill people”, guns happen to be well optimized for killing people, just as Victorian hallway benches were well optimized for discomfort. Technologies can certainly be appropriated for different uses; a technology designed for “evil” could also be used for “good” and vice versa. One could, for example, dig a hole with a gun, just as one could kill someone with a shovel. But each is clearly better suited to the opposite task.

Roger Federer as Religious Experience (7300 words). A classic by David Foster Wallace, yes, that David Foster Wallace. A model for writing about a technical topic for a general audience, with beautiful descriptions of tennis.

Of course, in men’s sports no one ever talks about beauty or grace or the body. Men may profess their “love” of sports, but that love must always be cast and enacted in the symbology of war: elimination vs. advance, hierarchy of rank and standing, obsessive statistics, technical analysis, tribal and/or nationalist fervor, uniforms, mass noise, banners, chest-thumping, face-painting, etc. For reasons that are not well understood, war’s codes are safer for most of us than love’s.

Conway’s Game of Life: Mathematics and Construction (≈100k words). A free textbook on Conway’s Game of Life, a process that takes place on an infinite grid of black and white cells. Complete with theorems and exercises.

There are three main techniques used to construct objects in Life that behave in interesting and unusual ways:
1) We can write a computer program that searches for patterns with particular properties;
2) we can combine different already-known objects in such a way as to create new composite objects; or
3) we can put some random garbage on the Life board and evolve it, with the hope that something interesting pops out.
Option (1) typically requires a fair bit of effort[…] option (2) is not yet possible for us […] We thus start with the extremely not clever option (3).

Stuck In The Middle With Bruce (5200 words). A classic in the Magic the Gathering literature, on the need to lose. Quick context: MTG is a card game, mana screws can happen when you get unlucky, mulligans let you redraw your opening hand, netdecking is copying a deck’s cards from the internet, and The Ron is Theron Martin, who was suspended for cheating.

I can succeed. I will succeed. I must succeed. But so must the other guy.

The Yankees pray to God:

“Lord, please grant us the strength and resolve to do our best…”

But so do the Braves.

And someone has to lose. Skill aside, what might aid in determining the loser is this: Who has the need to lose more?

A Brief, Incomplete, and Mostly Wrong History of Programming Languages (1250 words). Hilarious computer science humor article.

1970 – Guy Steele and Gerald Sussman create Scheme. Their work leads to a series of “Lambda the Ultimate” papers culminating in “Lambda the Ultimate Kitchen Utensil.”