An arrow skewers my foot. A flock follows, darting above our heads, destined for our flesh, damning us to the ward and worse. I load the rifle and yell out instructions, and in pain. Those still standing speed through the movements, with eyes scanning the hills and bushes. But already they’re in our faces. Bullets wait within barrels as we jab, thrust, parry, pirouette. Blade meets javelin, dagger splices shield, body hits floor, Death laughs aloud. The carnage has stopp-. Why? I can’t believe it. It can’t end here. Why does it always have to crash at this bit? But I won this time!

I never got Empire Total War to run on my computer. Every time the first scene would play out, and regardless of the outcome, a black screen would greet me. In its stead, Napoleon Total War taught me about the Egyptian and Italian campaigns, about Prussia, about howitzers; but I never discovered the Peninsular Campaign DLC, having eschewed the few video games I played for extra page-turning.

My eyes dart across, scanning shelves and titles, searching for a friendly book amongst the reams of hostile drudgery patiently biding their time to ensnare another unwitting op-shop-shopper. Death To The French.

Death To The French? Death To The French. My fingers cleave the spine out from the sagging bookcase. 1810. Portugal. C. S. Forester rings a bell. But do I really want to read a military book, perfumed with English exceptionalism and mild xenophobia? 1933? Why would anybody have written in 1933 about the Peninsular War instead of the Great War? What was the Peninsular War anyway? I buy the book.

Hunger and hunger and hunger pervades the story, incessantly searing through the plot scorching the characters. The mad, but stoic, Englishman harries the crazy, and emotional, Frenchmen with help from the sane, but pathetic, Portuguese guerillas. And they are all starving. Rifleman Dodd, though mad, is luckily mad for God, King and Country, and therefore prevails. God, King and Country gift Dodd bread, to munch and munch and munch.

After shutting the cover, the same questions still confound me. Did I really want to read a military book, rife with English exceptionalism and mild xenophobia? 1933? Why would anybody have written in 1933 about the Peninsular War instead of the Great War? I guess I did find out about the Peninsular War though.


Only philosophers embark on this perilous expedition to the outermost reaches of language and existence. Some of them fall off, but others cling on desperately and yell at the people nestling deep in the snug softness, stuffing themselves with delicious food and drink. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen,’ they yell, ‘we are floating in space!’ But none of the people down there care.

Sophie’s World

Napoleon Total War and Death To The French subtly hoodwinked me into learning about Prussia and howitzers and starvation by packing in nuggets of history between fun and guns. Sophie’s World, on the other hand, is just one big nugget of history, wearing a fake glasses-nose-moustache combo. Without any guns.

With the fake glasses-nose-moustache combo, Sophie’s World attempts to disguise itself as a novel, when it is in fact A Fourteen Year Old (Almost Fifteen Year Old) Schoolchild’s Introduction to (Western) Philosophy. A plot is slapped on, with the audience and author standing in for the characters, Sophie and Alberto, respectively. Indeed, the whole trick of novelisation is laid bare to the reader, girders and all.

Jostein Gaarder sets out to create a sense of wonder, the wonder of contemplating the Universe, the wonder of watching a masterful magician change a couple of white silk scarves into a live rabbit. But Gaarder brings out the white rabbit onto the stage, coerces it into the top hat with its floppy ears and chubby cheeks still hanging out, and then proceeds to reveal the carrot-muncher in the top hat. Ta-da! How’s that for entertainment?

The textbook is great; the rest, mere bagatelle. But translated into the medium of a 90s video game, Sophie’s World is unrecognisable. Ethereal and ponderous, Sophie’s World slows down the Universe outside, a force exudes from it curbing the pace of Nature, warping space, shooing me up a wizard’s sleeze. Life waits tethered outside as thoughts rocket, dazzle, jab, thrust, parry, pirouette. Idea meets counterpoint, fun splices ennui, mood hits right, Absurdists laugh silently. A spirit within promises nirv- No! Why? I can’t believe it. It can’t end h-