Goodwill Goods: Pokémon, God’s Y2K, and Japanese AI

February 8th, 2008 by Benj Edwards

Three Used Books from GoodwillYesterday afternoon, I drove to a local Goodwill store in search of more random junk to clutter up my house. As always when the electronics pickings are slim, I spent most of my visit perusing their used books section. Among the mountains of Danielle Steele and self help guides, one can usually find a number of interesting obsolete computer and video-game related books there. Yesterday was no exception, as I picked up three interesting printed techno-artifacts from the past. Care to take a look? To the Bookmobile!

How to Become a Pokémon Master (1999)

Author: Hank Schlesinger
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks

How to Become a Pokemon Master Book Cover

Among other, more obvious things, this book teaches its readers in a 14-point font that schoolwork is always more important than video games. Sheah right! I smell intellectualist propaganda.

But seriously, this book was written with an eight year-old mind in mind and thus, my mind — however much it might resemble an eight year-old’s (according to my wife) — has trouble tolerating even a mere glance at the text without grimacing. Even ten years on, it’s hard to deflect the publisher’s soul-piercing dollar sign-gaze as you labor to read this utter turd of an attempt to capitalize on the then fever-pitch Pokémon-gasm.

That being said, I’m proud that I’ve added it to my historical library.

The Fifth Generation (1983)

Authors: Edward A. Feigenbaum and Pamela McCorduck
Publisher: Addison Wesley

The Fifth Generation Book Cover

Economic fear of Japan seems strange to us these days, but in the early 1980s, when Japan was eating America’s domestic auto and electronics industries for breakfast, it was par for the course. Simultaneously, a popular fad among computer pundits of the early 1980s held that computer AI would soon (and I mean soon, i.e. 1990) become the prevailing software paradigm.

Fittingly, the premise of this 1983 scaremonger’s delight is that, by 1993, Japan will develop “artificially intelligent machines that can reason, draw conclusions, make judgments, and even understand the written and spoken word” thus throwing the balance of world power favorably in Japan’s direction. Be warned, my friends, for 1993 will soon be here. America best counter this threat, or we’ll all be doomed to lick East Asia’s robotic bootheel…forever!

Y2K: The Millennium Bug (1998)

Author: Shaunti Christine Feldhahn
Publisher: Multnomah Publishers

Y2K The Millennium Bug Book Cover

To see why this book is unique, please note the book’s subtitle above (you’ll find it just under the golden beetle). Far be it from me to criticize a “Christian response” to anything (heck, just criticizing a certain aspect of the sacred Commodore 64 brought me enough faithful wrath as it is), but this book is straight-up hilarious for a secular Y2K fanatic like myself. A quotation on the back cover reads:

“This moment is creating the occasion for God’s people to seriously question whether the Y2K computer glitch may be a judgement of God. Is God using this to drive His people and the nation back to Himself?” — Henry Blackaby, author of Experiencing God

Ho ho…not so fast, Henry. Far more likely is the reality that the Y2K bug was the work of Bill Gates, who wished to bring the whole world to his knees and give birth to a new nation of cyborg zombies that only run Microsoft Windows. And by a quick visual survey of those unfortunate souls BSODing around me, I’d say his plan worked.

The book itself looks a little rough, as if it had weathered a worldwide civilization collapse. Ironically, the only collapse it survived was that of a giant stack of these remaindered hardbacks sitting in a warehouse somewhere in Montana.

6 Responses to “Goodwill Goods: Pokémon, God’s Y2K, and Japanese AI”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Neat stuff. You can’t provide a scan/extract of the Pokemon book? Your description of the text is intriguing (and I want to also know how to capture Mew!)

    The last book is one of those bizarre ones. Funny find indeed 🙂

  2. Benj Edwards Says:


    I just looked through the book and it doesn’t say how to capture Mew. The book doesn’t even have a list of all the Pokemon. I’d wager that the author only played the game a little bit, as the text is mostly fluff and doesn’t contain any more advice than what you can find in the game’s instruction manual. He even says in the intro that he never played it until his publisher called him and asked him to write a book about it.

    50% of the book is “tips” in the form of quotes from kids saying things like “I like mostly the trading. It’s really fun. It’s like you can take what you decide.” (That’s a real quote, by the way). The other 50% — the part actually written by the author — mostly consists of bad jokes about homework.

  3. Andrew Says:

    Sounds awesome!

    I bet you are so pleased with your purchase, haha 🙂

    At least these get a laugh, especially the latter two which are definitely in the 20-20 hindsight category (or the last one, in the crazy theories category too).

  4. dogma00 Says:

    Hmm… maybe the Y2K bug was the judgement of God, and because we still are here, it means Satan won the battle?

  5. Richard Says:

    The “AI/Japanese threat” book is hilarious. Remember TRON? No, not the movie, the Japanese operating system that was going to kick our ass in oh so many ways, running in everything from wristwatches to supercomputing mainframes. I wonder if the Japanese even believed 1/10th the hype of all their 1980s computing projects that were supposed to bury us in our obsolescence and subservience to them. Instead of worrying about AI fantasies or other oddities dreamed up by the Ministry of Information, Trade and Industry, us measly Americans were worried about how we were going to develop object oriented programming for the masses (C++), graphical user interfaces for the masses (AmigaOS, MacOS, Windows) and networking and broadband for the masses (dialup internet access, modems, SLIP, PPP, AOL, ISPs).

    I remember reading all this crap at the time, even in IEEE software/computer journals and thinking it was a load of shit at the time, but all I could find were parrots echoing the fears of others.

  6. Sellam Ismail Says:

    That Y2K book is certainly interesting. I have what I believe to be the world’s largest Y2K library (a couple dozen different titles on the Y2K subject) but I don’t believe I have this one. Will have to get it.

    As far as The Fifth Generation, you find that book every other time you go to a thrift store, it’s that common.

    As far as Richard’s comment, don’t be so snide. The Japanese “threat” skipped a generation and materialized in this millennium. Have you seen their fucking robots? They can walk and talk and run and do all kids of crap. And they will get the groceries for their elderly owners within the next dozen years or so. What do we have here? RoboQuad? Don’t make me laugh. So the Fifth Generation was correct, I believe, in its assessment. They just forgot to include debug time in their calculations.

    By the way, Ed Feigenbaum is a heavyweight in the annals of computing history. Goolge him.

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