Says Zoe: "My brother is turning 40 in February and I'd like to get him something special to mark the occasion. He's a video game programmer, reader of speculative fiction and political analysis, WoW player, pipe aficionado (as in, he likes to smoke pipes), multilingual, enjoys gin and tonics and fine wine, likes retro things and humor, owns two cats...um...is that enough to work with? I'd ideally like to spend no more than $100, but for something really amazing, I'd go up."
Hi, Zoe, it's Marian. And your brother sounds like the sort of person who knows exactly what he likes and does not like, which makes this a challenge! But I've taken a shot (or several shots) at it. First off, if he's a really devoted WoW player, you could shell out for 1) a FigurePrint of his main character ($130), which is a custom-"printed" (read up on how they do this, it's kinda cool) 3D statuette of your paladin, warlock, or what have you. Or on a more classic note, you could always get him a pipe stand, if he has more than one pipe; we liked 2) this teak one, for three pipes ($25), and this 3) briar and metal one ($10), ditto. And as a topper, you could throw in some of 4) Demeter's whimsically-named pipe fragrance This Is Not A Pipe ($20 for one ounce).
If he's susceptible to pet bribes, there's the 5) SnoozePal Cat Hammock ($35), which looks cozy and functional enough that I might like a human-sized one. And if he likes both WoW and science fiction, we suspect that he might like anime, specifically the clunkily-titled but interesting miniseries 6) Starship Operators (out of print, so price varies by seller). The premise is that a single ship full of military cadets is away when their planet is attacked and conquered, and the kids decide to wage an almost hopeless war against the empire responsible. Which enterprise is financed by their sale of their soon-to-be-tragic story to a broadcast network, who puts a reporter on board and sets out to entertain the masses. Yeah, it's a wee bit cynical.
And when in doubt? OVERLOAD HIS BOOKSHELF! If he doesn't already have Kim Stanley Robinson's Nebula- and double-Hugo winning 7) Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars, and accompanying short stories The Martians), $8 each, he really, really should. This is very careful, meticulous sci fi with some very well-delineated characters. Or maybe the first Hugo winner of all, 8) Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man (out of print, price varies)? I borrowed my roommate's copy in college, and I can still recite the unsettling little verse that plays a big part in the plot. A game programmer might (or might not, I guess) find 9) Better Game Characters by Design: A Psychological Approach ($50) to be of interest. I've leafed through it even though I'm no programmer, and it did provide some interesting insights into games I've only played. And there's always the slightly dated but still hilarious political satire of 10) The Mouse That Roared ($11), not to be judged by the movie. And lastly, if you'd like to encourage an entirely new interest with some relevance to the old ones, why not the very readable primer that is 11) Contemporary Linguistics ($49 used)?
I hope that at least a couple of these things seem right to you, Zoe - let me know! (And happy big old fortieth to your brother!)
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