Two Hundred Years of Muddling Through: The Surprising Story of Britain’s Economy from Boom to Bust and Back Again

Two Hundred Years of Muddling Through: The Surprising Story of Britain’s Economy from Boom to Bust and Back AgainTwo Hundred Years of Muddling Through: The Surprising Story of Britain’s Economy from Boom to Bust and Back Again by Duncan Weldon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very good particularly for idiots like me who struggle to get their heads around economics. Wheldon's narrative loses the thematic thread a little bit. The idea that introduces the book is 'path dependency' – prior decisions binding the hands of decisionmakers, and it could have been brought out a bit more in the subsequent story Wheldon tells. This is nonetheless a very clear, readable and wide-ranging history and leaves you better informed about the challenges facing Britain's economy.

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Shadowrun: Dragonfall

After my Dark Souls oddysey I needed a change of pace. Dragonfall is a relatively short, text-heavy, cyberpunk, turn-based tactical RPG with indie origins – about as far removed from the tense, otherworldly duels of Lordran as you can get. And it was a good time.

The game does two things particularly well – mission design and companions. Most of the play is about you and your team of hackers-come-mercenaries doing jobs for various (usually nefarious) paying clients, and the variety never lets up. Heists, assassinations, rescue missions, investigations – you name it, your team will do it.

The game is at its most interesting where it throws several challenges at you that you have to manage at the same time. A great example of this is an escort mission where enemy 'riggers' (robot specialists) can turn the extremely powerful supersoldier robot you are trying to escape with against you. Putting this thing on the front line is a high risk, high reward strategy – he can do lots of damage, but is also more likely to be charmed and join the other side. Having that happen to me was a great "oh shit" moment. It's a massive swing in advantage, so I had to rapidly switch my priorities and take new risks in order to get the monster back on my side.

Another example is the way the hacking mini-game mirrors and is integrated with the combat in the real world. Your hacker companion Blitz's loyalty quest involves a tag team effort in cyberspace and meatspace, culminating in an epic confrontation where Blitz races to defeat the enemy hacker and turn four turrets to assist you while you face off against a horde of security personel. Pulling that off is supremely satisfying, and captures the feeling of a great heist story – where things work out just in time and against impossible odds.

The fact that you are doing these things with a team of complicated people whose loyalty has to be earned makes the game all the more involving. The player character is the newbie who is put in charge on a whim, and not everyone in the group is happy about that. Eiger, an army veteran with an inflexible attitude, is actively hostile to you at the start of the game, and you have to tread carefully to win her over given she doesn't respond well to flattery. Glory is stuffed full of cyberware to the point where her humanity has been erased. Recovering her sense of self requires patient excavation through regular conversations after missions. Getting to the stage where you can exchange jokes with Eiger, or see Glory smile, is both rewarding and meaningful, and speaks to the quality of the writing in the game.

Your connections with the team stretch across to the community they are based in. The leader you replaced was an indispensible part of what made the anarchist 'Flux-State' of Berlin actually function. By taking on those responsibilities, you inherit relationships with the merchants, charity workers, drug addicts and information-dealers of the Kreuzbasar (not to mention the ghouls who keep the sewers running). In my playthrough I took that responsibility very seriously, to the point where I allied with a dangerous AI who would keep the place safe against the encroachments of dragons and corporations (largely the same thing in the Shadowrun setting).

The game draws out the implications of having an anarchist society being propped up by community leaders with huge amounts of influence. There are bad actors in the Flux State – drug dealers, unscrupulous doctors, gun-runners. Your predecessor Monica kept people in line and the show on the road, but all of that gets put at risk when she's gone. The AI Apex absorbs Monica's consciousness and loyalties, and in my playthrough I gave it everything it wanted so that I could protect this community. But at the end, the contradiction of handing over that much power to an unaccountable force in order to protect an anarchist society is laid bare.

In the canonical ending of Dragonfall, the Flux State of Berlin is overrun by the corporations. There's nothing you could have done. You prevented the place being burned to the ground, but the dragons have their way with it, and it's implied that your team actually ends up working for a powerful dragon called Lofwyr. If you side with Apex, the AI is true to its word in that it effectively organises the resistance against the corporations, and the outcome is a truce rather than a rout. But Apex does not follow up on its promise to destroy the dragons. Instead it becomes another power-player in the world – striking deals with dragons and treating people as pawns.

The definitive edition adds an ending where you can join the bad guys and really take out the dragons for good. That option leads to a literal apocalypse – the magic embodied in dragons is loosened upon the world with horrific results. It's a clear metaphor for the danger of having a power-vacuum – an idea the game keeps returning to. There are worse things out there than dragons, and sometimes it's better to deal with the devil you know. Although it is a story set in an anarchist community, Dragonfall is deeply pessimistic about the prospect of such a community being sustainable over the long-term. Hierarchy and power will reassert themselves one way or another. The fall of dragons means chaos and destruction, not freedom.