The Micro Kids - A book by Gary Plowman

Micro Kids? I thought they looked small.

It seems Gary Plowman may have an obsession with Spectrums - first he wrote a book of self-penned ZX Spectrum games in his ZX Spectrum Games Code Club book, now he's back again (but this time in novel form) with another book featuring the old Speccy. Though we are treated also with other notable home micros (you should have noticed the C64 on the cover - and also the excellent pixel work of Simon Butler) here, as we are taken on a journey back to the glorious eighties when computers were real computers and the games defined many a young persons' life. Ah, memories.

It's 1983 and The Micro Kids' main character Billy Whizz obtains his very own Spectrum for Christmas and finds it completely changes his life. The excitement of switching it on for the first time, finding your new favourite game and having your mates around the house to play games on it for hours on end. Billy and his friends become so taken with their new micros that they look to set up a gamers' club - well, who wouldn't - but hit upon a few barriers along the way.

ARRGH!!! Ah, my mistake. I thought that was mutant camel when I first looked. On closer inspection, it's a mutant cam....ARRRGH!
Now, if you're like me, as soon as you pick up a new book you'll flick straight to the pages with pictures to whet your appetite about what you'll find as you make your way through the book. As I picked this one up and flicked through, my eyes were certainly in for a treat. Notable screens from classics such as Chuckie Egg, Penetrator, JetPac and The Hobbit immediately get my attention but it's also nice to see lesser known titles feature including the very underrated Viking Raiders and one of my favourtie childhood games, Jon Ritman's Bear Bovver (don't judge me, I was only four at the time). There's a personal story about that game and how the music annoyed the hell out of a mate of my dad's for many hours, until my dad told him there was a key to press to turn it off all that time. How we laughed.

Back to book itself, though fictional, there are some elements of Gary's younger years used to help form part of the story which is great to read as there a lot of memories that a lot of readers can relate with. Like many, Gary (and Billy) received their home computer as Christmas present and it turned out to be one of the defining moments in their life. You were now open to a plethora of worlds that were only previously attainable through TV or film, but you had no control over them so where was the fun? Who can forget when you acidentally hit the BREAK key whilst playing a Spectum game, thinking that the game rould crash and reset only to find that you had inadvertently 'hacked' into game and its listing was there in all its glory for you to amend (if you had the skills - I didn't). Changing the code to make random swear words appear across the game - memories.

The book also concentrates on other elements of growing up and memories from the time being very young; from remembering your mum cooking tea for you (and your particular favourite foods), rushing home from school to catch your favourite TV programmes and things you learnt in school, which as we all know was not always the subjects you were taught. You found and made your friends at this age and memories of doing this yourself will no doubt come back to you as you read through this book as you'll find a lot of similarties and relatable subjects discussed and raised. Did that girl that smiled at you like you or was she just being nice? A conundrum that's plagued me all my life. It's nice to read something so humbling and to realise that yeah, we were all young once and these are these days that defined you in a way, and for a lot of people, their home micro played as big a part of their childhood as their friends.

The classic Viking Raiders for the Spectrum. Egbert was the main man! Plus he was excerable.
As I said earlier, there are a few games that get a mention that don't normally come up in these types of books usually, and the one I refer to here is Viking Raiders. The budget release will probably never go down as one the Speccy greats but it has certainly found a place in Gary's heart (as well as mine) just due to its accessability. By this I mean you can play with up to four human players and this definitely means a great opportunity to get one over your sibling/s, which is another memory I'm sure many people have during that period of growing up. Aaah, I'm welling up, here!

Ah, I always wanted one of these. I remember asking my mum but she said, 'No, Paul! You're 38!'

Aside from the computer game aspect, the book is scattered with images of toys from yesteryear which again only add to the nostalgia trip and is a very, dare I say it, heartwarming angle to the book. (Wow, I'm getting old). But let's wipe our nostalgic tears away and celebrate what it was growing up in the 80's. A lot of stress for a lot of people no doubt but when you were a kid, if you had an outlet and place to go to get away from your troubles, it made life good. This book is a way of saying a big thank you to Sinclair, Commodore, Atari and the other machines that defined our childhoods and one we can look at with a smile on our faces. Mainly because I remember beating my brother at number of games (he'll of course deny this but why would I lie, eh?). Excelllent times.

So, there we have it; if you'd like an uplifting read about the good times of growing up (plus micro computers), learning of Billy's trials and tribulations plus maybe remembering those memories of your own, this is one for you.

Right, I'm off to dust off my BMX, grab my transformers and watch Minder on TV. I'm sure work won't mind, will they?

If you like what you read, follow me on Twitter, if you want @florinthedwarf

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