The Commodore 64 Handbook (Century) Review | Commodore User - Everygamegoing

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The Commodore 64 Handbook
By Century
Commodore 64

 
Published in Commodore User #9

The Commodore 64 Handbook

If you were writing a book about the C64, you'd almost certainly call it 'Getting The Most From The C64' or 'The C64 Handbook'. That at least seems to be the obvious conclusion from the flood of Commodore books hurtling like lemmings from the world's publishers. There are so many, in fact, that the average punter could well be forgiven for ignoring the claims in the title.

Book jacket blurbs and titles are becoming debased: you know full well that the book probably *won't* help yo 'get the most from' your C64, or it *won't* be an all-you-need-to-know 'handbook'; instead it'll be another supplement to the C64's manual, introducing the C64 and expanding on those bits the manual glosses over.

The best you can hope for is that it will give you some extra information, or that it will help you quickly to locate some fact you need, or that it will demonstrate the use of the C64 and the commands available (a tenner to anyone who can tell me how, why, when and where to use WAIT).

And so to The Commodore 64 Handbook. Now, let's be viciously literal. A 'handbook' it seems to me should be a handy compendium: it should tell you all you might want to know (and I do mean all), and it should do so in a useful and useable fashion.

Strike one for Messrs Lupton and Robinson. They're written yet another "beginner's guide to the C64" that goes a bit further than the manual; as such it's not a bad try. A bit me-too in its nature and not particularly lively in its style, but still adequate. There are some oddities of construction, given that it is for novices: like the tuning screw at the back of the C64 is identified in the caption to a drawing (most C64 books ignore it) but the thing isn't mentioned at all in the section on tuning. You're told all about variables and array (heavy stuff for page 27, but quite well explained) before you're introduced to the use of cassettes (all part of the basics, surely). The TI clock, a genial extra in the C64, is introduced before the fundamental stuff like subroutines. And so on.

At the other end of the book are the usual appendices, most of them apparently reprinted en masse from the C64 manual. Which you'll have your C64 anyway. To my mind, appendices should give additional information: why not a decent memory map, at the very least?

More crucially, the book has two significant deficiencies as a handbook. The authors simply haven't presented their information in as easy-to-use reference form (though end-of-chapter summaries and a decent index do represent a nod in that direction). They haven't covered everything - nothing about disks and printers, for instance, nothing about off-the-shelf packages either.

And sometimes what they do cover is cursory in the extreme: CMD is mentioned only in passing, and there's nothing about the alternative use of CMD or PRINT# in addressing I/O channels. You get a mere five pages in Chapter 16 on 'Advanced Techniques', though truth to tell it does contain a plug for something called "The Advanced Commodore 64 Handbook". Anyhow, the advanced techniques in question are machine-code subroutines (a less than helpful mention of SYS and USR): there's half a page on WAIT that concludes by saying the command in unnecessary: and there's a couple of pages on 'designing good programs' which mis-defines 'structured programming' advocates the use of some forethought, and omits any explanation of flowcharting...

What's worse, the book falls into the style of so many C64 books. Most of the examples are mathematical and many are pointless: surely there must be a better way of illustrating loops and decisions than a long program that sorts numbers into ascending order? Which leads on to a major criticism: like most C64 books, this one tells you a lot about Basic commands without explaining how, why and where you might actually want to use them.

The authors can't have it both ways: either the book is a reference handbook or it's a beginner's introduction. It succeeds as neither. As an intro on the C64, it's no worse and no better than a dozen alternatives: good sections on graphics and sprites, for instance, but iffy on sound.

Get the idea? Well, don't bother getting the book - not if you want to use it as a genuine handbook. As an intro, it'll do as well as any until something really good comes along...

Simon Potter