LOOKING AT BOOKS
Atari PILOT for Beginners
Jim Conlan Tracy Deliman with Dymax
Reston Publishing Company, Inc,
Reviewed by Shoneen Gervich
There is a new breed of computer book out these days. I call them Champagne Flight books; they get you where you need to go, but all you remember were the giggles. Atari PIL0T for Beginners by Jim Conlan and Tracy Deliman is an example of this increasingly popular style.
Atari PILOT for Beginners jets you through the rudiments of Atari PILOT, Atari's user-friendly language with Turtle Graphics, with the ease of whispering flight. The reader journeys through all the basics, plus the not-so-basics, with sassy cartoon characters and humorous programs.
For instance GR: really stands for Grover the Turtle. One program verifies that computers do get fleas, and somewhere out there is an Uncle Clem who gives clam leashes for Christmas so that little boys have to write thank-you notes. But lest you think this volume is only for children, I assure you it is not.
The overall structure of the book is highly original; some may find it objectionably so. In no way does it imitate either the Atari Student PILOT Reference Guide or the educator's PILOT Primer that accompany the PILOT cartridge. After an excellent keyboard orientation, the first programming done is with sound, utilizing monster music and music theory of chord components. Some might feel more comfortable venturing into simple T:ype and A:ccept commands first, as the Atari manuals do.
Now, in true critic-style, I feel obligated to point out some of the possible failings of this volume. The section on "The Number Chopper" (module) would have been more helpful if another few sentences of explanation had been added. The section on True/False (0,1) could have been elaborated. Understandably, though, an introductory volume of this size could not be comprehensive in delving into all aspects of PILOT. I also found it annoying that in their attempt to appeal to the beginner the writer purposely avoided using words such as "module" or "string indirection" which are used in the Atari PILOT Primer. The book also could have benefited from a better layout so the pages would not appear so crowded.
One advantage of this book over the Atari material is that it contains a reasonably-sized index. The volume goes into deeper explanation in some of the game and graphics applications than does the PILOT Primer, with much clearer and shorter examples, but is weaker than the Primer in the core-command areas. It has excellent sections on use of the joysticks, calculating "turtle" velocity, and writing interactive stories. The "Turtle Herding" and "Thrice Dice" programs are excellent examples demonstrating that most people really wouldn't hate math if they knew what to do with it.
On the title page of the volume, the authorship includes only Conlan and Deliman but also credits Dymax. Dymax is a unique concept in the publishing world. It is a business concern serving both as an agent, support group and testing forum for authors of computer books. Dymax is even more though; it represents a style. Many of their books are in a similar vein to Atari PILOT for Beginners (Freeze-dried BASIC, Atari Games, etc.). If you dislike heavy computer tomes, then look for the Dymax label. They pride themselves on being able to deliver you on the flight from Novice City to Being There. You may not be an expert PILOT Programmer after this volume but you certainly won't complain that you didn't get service with a smile.