I’ve long been involved with the UK’s Commodore 64 scene, but the computer’s impact outside Englishspeaking countries has been lost on me. When author Jimmy Wilhelmsson and designer Kenneth Grönwall announced they were working on a coffee-table book about the Swedish Commodore 64 scene, entitled Generation 64, I saw a chance to observe eight-bit life outside this green and pleasant land. Well, except for one small problem: the book was in Swedish.
Enter Sam Dyer. The founder of Bitmap Books, interviewed back in Issue 136, has been hard at work since launching Commodore 64: A Visual Commpendium – a pun on ‘Commodore’ rather than a typo – and his latest crowdfunded project is a translation of Jimmy and Kenneth’s book from Swedish to English. Following a near-£30,000 Kickstarter campaign, Sam worked to translate the book and republish it under the Bitmap Books imprint as a high-quality, full-colour hardback suitable for any eight-bit fan’s coffee table.
Inside the cover, which is protected by a hard black sleeve adorned with the title and company logo, the contents are largely untouched: the layout and photography is identical to the original, reproduced in full matt-finish colour, and the text has only been translated. It’s the closest you’ll get to the original book without Swedish lessons.
That’s good, because Jimmy can really write. There are detailed interviews with everyone from game developers and musicians to gamers and hackers. Like the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64 in the UK – a rivalry that will never die – many in the Swedish tech industry credit the Commodore 64 with giving them their start, and it’s fascinating to see where it’s taken them. From a choir leader to a chip architect, the book leaves little doubt about the machine’s impact on the nation’s youth at launch.
The book’s slavish adherence to the originally published format can, however, make it awkward to read at times. It’s particularly obvious in the way quotes are handled: rather than using quotation marks, which clearly delineate where the speech begins and ends, the book starts a quoted paragraph with an em-dash, then sometimes includes a comma followed by a traditional ‘as Interview Subject Name recalls’ citation, which my brain kept interpreting as a continuation of the quotation until several words into it.
It’s a minor niggle, though, in an otherwise great book. From the introduction by Chuck Peddle, who designed the MOS 6502 processor that powered many of the eight-bit micros, and the founders of Battlefield creator DICE, to shots of Swedish advertising and even an interview – on the subject of the Commodore Amiga – with Pirate Bay founder Pete Sunde, Generation 64 is packed with fascinating details of a microcomputing revolution that was mirrored in countries all around the globe.
Even if sitting down and reading the title cover-to-cover sounds a little dry (although I can assure you it isn’t), the book serves well as a coffee table decoration. The full-colour layout is eye-pleasing on every page, and with the subject matter is split into easy bitesized segments, making it a fun publication to simply flip open and read when you have a few minutes.
The English translation of Generation 64 is available from http://generation64.com for £19.99 (VAT exempt)
Readers of a certain age will recognise the name Fairlight