Friday, 23 June 2017

Building a better Seth part I: Parts

As much as I love the look of the Gabriel Seth model I just haven't been able to get one that wasn't mismoulded beyond usability. Its the chainsword, one of those classic long, thin components that just doesn't do well in finecast. I've bought three copies of Seth over the course of the last year or so and each time the sword has been dreadfully mismoulded. What happens is that either the sword snaps when I try to bend it back into shape using warm water or that part goes well but the component then distorts again once the model is assembled, snapping from the tension of the bending and the glue.

So I've decided to just convert my own. Obvious question: what do I need? What are the essential components of Gabriel Seth? Well, here's the model I'm trying to imitate:
He has an angry slaphead, a two-handed chainsword, Flesh Tearers iconography, a distinctive iron halo design and a dynamic pose. Of these, the chainsword is essential, its part of his wargear and has special rules of its own as is some form of Flesh Tearers symbol, though it doesn't have to be in the same place as on this model since that would probably involve freehand beyond my abilities. I have plenty of upgrade set and Deathwatch Flesh Tearers shoulder pads for the iconography as well as a spare Eviscerator from the Space Marine Assault Squad sprue.

The slaphead is optional, I could use a helmeted head, but it won't be difficult to find if I want one. There's a bald head in basically every Space Marine kit, I just have to critically evaluate the ones available and choose the most angry looking. I seem to recall the one on the plastic MkIII armour set being particularly angry and particularly bald.

I actually still have the cape from one of the botched Seths I bought, so that at least will lend a certain authenticity to the model. It will also give him something of Seth's silhouette, which is a very important aspect of character design, especially as I intend to diverge very, very much from the original model with my choice of body.
A while back I picked up the torso and legs component from this Legion Praetor off eBay. It is by far and away one of my favourite designs in the whole of the Space Marine range and I've been trying to find a project to use it on ever since. It will be a less dynamic pose than the original but I think I can make him look suitably commanding, especially as he'll be accompanying footsloggers rather than more dynamically posed jump pack troops.

I also like the idea of having Seth posed in a way that suggests a degree of self-control. I don't see him as a frothing berserker, I prefer to think of him (and the Flesh Tearers in general) to be more like the World Eaters character in the novel The Outcast Dead: constantly on the verge of violence and so conscious of it that they are ridiculously self-disciplined in every circumstance other than open combat. So a more static, commanding pose suits my purposes more than having him running forward so fast he looks like he's going to fall over.

Now to build it. 

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The process of reading fan fiction at work

Funny thing, technology.

Archive Of Our Own (henceforth AO3) has the option to download stories as .mobi files which can be read on a Kindle. Usually I download them in the .pdf and read them on my laptop but the other day I decided to give the e-reader version a try.

So, there I say, reading a fan written story downloaded from the internet onto my laptop and transferred by USB cable to an e-reader. The odd additional step, qualifier and lack of financial transaction aside that's exactly the same process as any other book on my Kindle. The most astonishing aspect, for me, is how portable fan fiction becomes under these circumstances.

Up to now my own personal stash of fan fiction has been a series of increasingly labyrinthine folders on my laptop divided by series, ship or whatever other method occurred to me at the time, sometimes in open contradition of one another. To be honest, aside from a rather sizable folder of Weiss Schnee/Blake Belladonna stories (shut up, I like me some Love Across The Barricades enemies to lovers action, add in the high probability of Jacques Schnee getting slapped and I'm in) there isn't much sense of order there.

The important here, though, is that its all on my laptop in a format my Kindle makes impossible to read because of screen size and the laptop is actually rather unwieldy. Now, I can simply save these files as .mobis and transfer them to the Kindle at need.

And there's a practically unlimited supply, for free. Payment will be offered, of course, in the form of comments and praise. This process feels, from my rather ostentatiously luddite perspective, very much like magic and anyone who benefits from magic without paying the price is rightfully doomed.

Plus, if the format of the one I downloaded to test the system is any indication they include the archive warnings at the beginning of all the .pdfs so I won't find myself reading something unexpectedly explicit in public. 

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

The Fate of Konor and the Wrath of Cretacia

So, global campaigns. I've never taken part in one before and if nothing else its a good excuse to get to know some people down the local store club. I don't know if you have to register online with a particular army (I recall you had to in some other campaigns) but if I do I'll break the habit of a lifetime and volunteer to be on the good(ish) guy side with my Flesh Tearers.

The local store manager is talking about 75 power levels as roughly equivalent to 1500 points in the old money (I am rather a fan of power levels, I must admit). I've been having a lot of fun with the Flesh Tearers, though I haven't had as large a game as 75 power and I'm rubbing my hands together in glee at all the cool Blood Angels-y things I can try out in a larger game.

I actually think I might experiment with the Spearhead Detachment with its six Fast Attack slots. It seems very fitting for the Flesh Tearers, especially as it also restricts my Troops and Elites choices which is a nice reflection of how beaten down and undermanned the chapter is.

Also, I want to have lots of Land Speeders because so far my one multi-melta Land Speeder has proven itself a magnificent character sniper. It has a weapon capable of doling out massive amounts of hurt and the speed to whip round the flanks of the enemy to get into a nice position where their general is the closet target.

I also don't terribly favour tanks and heavy weapons so probably the army will remain rather speed-based with perhaps a Devastator Squad or two at the rear for fire support.

Now, just to work out a basic 75 power level list and get it painted up. 

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Why are Space Marine tanks STC?

It is actually a slightly oddity. Of course, its one of those oddities that exists for the simple reason that we're talking about a canon written in fits and starts over the course of decades by dozens if not hundreds of people. However, as time has gone on and Space Marines have become more and more special it has become a little odd that their tanks are STC tech.

So, bear with me here: as its always been explained a Standard Template Construct system was basically a massive fabricator that could create anything out of anything. Human colonies would set down on a world, the STC database would evaluate the resources at hand and provide the colony with the best version it of whatever it needed that could be created out of a series of standard schemata that it's AI could adapt to circumstances.

Nowadays, in the grim darkness of the even farther future, the STC patterns are revered as holy writ and there is a very real crossover between technological advancement and archaeology as tech-priests strive to discover lost STC data.
There are even whole bits of background about how the techno-archaeologist Arkhan Land found the STC schematics for what would become the Land Raider and Land Speeder. Further, there was a massive theological divide in the Adeptus Mechanicus when the Black Templars retrofitted linebreaker weapons onto the Land Raider as to whether it was heretical or not (read: a non-STC design or a forgotten STC design). The result of that debate basically boiled down to: “It works, therefore it must be compatible with a heretofore unknown STC or the Machine-God wouldn't allow it also half the chapters in the Imperium have adopted the design while we were debating and they're bigger than us.”.

The thing is, though, that Space Marines are the one place where non-STC tech was prevalent in the early Imperium.

The Primarch Project, the Astartes process, their power armour, their weapons tech and almost everything else was designed personally by the Emperor, the one being who could get around the Mechanicus because of their very convenient belief that he was the Machine-God personified. He was personally able to advance science and technology to his own design because his word on such matters was, effectively, considered itself to be an expression of the STC system.

So why are Land Raiders and Speeders STC designs? Why are Rhinos and all their variants based on the (Dark) Age Of Technology RH1N0 all-terrain vehicle?

Of course, but the I opened the post with the real answer and there's not really a way to reconcile it with modern canon. Though, there is a cheeky part of me that just wants to claim that the Emperor agrees with my complete disinterest in tanks and transport vehicles.

On the other hand, of course, being based on pre-Astartes STC sdesigns would explain why all Space Marine vehicles are actually slightly too small to accommodate the people they're meant to be transporting. 

Monday, 19 June 2017

Why am I not a redhead?


I think I could take it if I was a redhead. The summer, I mean, and the heat. I have trouble with heat (and also shaving cuts) because simmering on the top of the genetic soup that is me, floating on top of the deep layers of Misc. Immigrant, is a great big gelatinous film of Classic English Redhead from my mother's side of the family.

Do I get to be one? No. I don't get the alabaster skin and the cute freckles and the hair like beaten copper. No, I just get to spend every summer one patch of shade away from heatstroke and clutching a paper towel to my face for forty-five minutes after every slightly too emphatic stroke of the razor.

So, here I sit on Sunday evening, determined to hit my goal of posting something every day to keep the creative juices flowing, except I'm too consumed by the horrible prickly sensation of so much sweat even after the fourth shower of the day that I can't think of anything to write except this self-indulgent twaddle.

Its not that I think I'm bad looking. I don't particularly mind my body or my appearance other than the nose. Its just that, well, redheads are basically universally gorgeous and that could have been me!

I strongly suspect I post something like this every summer but I am too sweaty to check. 

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Flesh Tearers vs. Death Guard: let the 8th edition commence!

Yesterday, finally with rulebook and Index supplements in hand, Matt and I began the first in our first series of games for the new edition. This is our “getting to know the edition” series, naturally, I used my Flesh Tearers because they are my training wheels army (I haven't played regularly since the beginning of 6th edition). Matt, meanwhile, spent an hour or so gluing his Death Guard together so he could start the edition with an army he has no preconceived notions of (this actually turned out to be a good plan).

So, not our first game but the first outside of using slightly incomplete resources off the internet. Matt had the contents of his Dark Imperium box and I had the roughly equivalent power points Flesh Tearers force consisting of:

Librarian in power armour
Chaplain with jump pack
10 Tactical Marines
5 Vanguard Veterans
Land Speeder with multi-melta
Death Company Dreadnought

This worked out to 2 power points more than Matt's and so he got his underdog bonuses. We had a straight up fight with no objectives just to get a handle on things.

Result: win to me. I had both characters, the Dreadnought and a couple of Tactical Marines still standing at the end, Matt had one Poxwalker and his Plague Champion (who... just... would not... die!). We learnt a few things and we forgot a few things.

Things What We Forgot
Shooting pistols in combat is something you really, really need to remember you can do. The loss of additional attacks for charging affects Tactical Squads' effectiveness a lot more than you think it will so, seriously, remember that they have pistols and you can use them.

Cataphractii armour has a better invulnerable save than normal Terminator armour and the Lord Of Contagion is wearing Cataphractii plate.

You can't deny psychic powers if you don't have a psyker on the table. This is why I targeted Matt's Malignant Plaguecaster early on but we forgot this detail and so some of my psychic powers got denied in Turn Two out of the clear blue sky.

Morale at the end of the turn, not the phase, we did a couple of morale tests at the end of the shooting phase and just had to remember the result for later.

Things What We Learnt
Matt used his twenty Poxwalkers to roadblock my Death Company Dreadnought, a slow and interminable beating I took because my Dreadnought was not in a position to do anything useful by leaving the combat. Given how resilient the Poxwalkers turned out to be (it took me eleven turns of combat to whittle them down to one guy) I dread to think what they might have achieved if they'd reached my Tactical Squad.

Plague Marines: super resilient. Matt was trying to use them to take out my Tactical Squad at range but as I kept failing to kill him from a distance we quickly realised that it would just have been better for him to wade through the bolter fire for a turn or two and charge me. This edition is a lot better for designing units to do what they're meant to do and Plague Marines are footslogging attrition specialists.

My Land Speeder is now a character sniper. The speed meant that in about every turn I was able to ensure a character was the closest possible target for my multi-melta.

Also, Land Speeders are a lot more fragile than I anticipated at only Toughness 5 and 6 wounds. Definitely a vehicle that needs to avoid combat wherever possible.

In an edition where extra attacks don't just materialise out of thin air, chainswords are worth their weight in gold.

On the other hand, I'm not sure meltaguns (or any multi-Damage special weapon) are really that useful in a Tactical Squad anymore. They seem more of a contingency fallback than something you'll get full use of most turns.

Given how poorly it did in the one turn it was fighting my Dreadnought, I think the Feotid Bloat-Drone is more of an anti-infantry thing than anti-vehicle.

Area of effect is better than having buffs that only work for the unit a character is with. My Dreadnought managed to get Litany Of Hate re-rolls just from having the Chaplain nearby. Obviously, though, this is a thing to keep a ready eye and a ready tape measure out for.

I love my Chaplain's inferno pistol. It is a good pistol.

Bonus Background Fact!
According to the main rulebook's appendices, there is still a planet of the catgirls. This joke persists. 

Saturday, 17 June 2017

The War Master (no, not Horus)

So, just to prove me wrong, the very minute yesterday's post published, Big Finish announced a new Time War box set featuring Derek Jacobi as the Master.

There are things, in any fandom, that you just can't let go of and for me one of those things was that RTD got Derek Jacobi to play the Master and Jacobi only got to play the actual part for a few minutes out of the episode. Not only that but those few minutes were absolutely amazing. The article on the Big Finish website calls him the Hannibal Lecter of Time Lords and that's a pretty apt description. In those few minutes between opening the fob watch and turning into Sam Tyler he portrays the razor edge balance between whimsy and murderous fury the Master exists in better than anyone since Delgado.

Also, I've always wanted stories that give some insight into how the Master works in their own adventures. This won't be the first attempt at it but it will be the most substantial.

Plus, its four hours of Derek Jacobi's voice which isn't anything to sniff at. The man has a gorgeous voice. 

Friday, 16 June 2017

The 1st Doctor, Ben and Polly: a rare treat

Yesterday, this appeared in my Big Finish account and it occurred to me that this is the first time in a long time I've bought something from them because it was special.

You see, this box set contains two stories featuring one of the rarest casts in Doctor Who: the First Doctor, Ben and Polly. This crew only appeared in three stories on TV, all of which dovetail into each other rather directly. As a consquence, amongst all the hundreds and hundreds of books, comics, audios and short stories retroactively slotted into Doctor Who continuity this is a very rare set of characters.

By my count there's a novel (Ten Little Aliens by Stephen Cole), a recent Short Trips audio, this box set and that's about it. This particular TARDIS crew might be more than half a century old but its nice that there's finally some new material for them.
Hell, its nice that Ben and Polly are getting new stories at all, as screwed over as they got by circumstance on TV. Of their entire run of stories only one (their first) exists in its entirety. Others have been reconstructed for DVD release but as good as some of the animations are they still represent something of a barrier to more casual fans getting to know them. Plus, the fact that Jamie turned up and became the iconic Second Doctor companion whilst making Ben sort of redundant as the action man companion hardly helps them, either.

Also, their departure is absolutely crap, one of the worst handled in the entire classic series.

And The War Machines, that one surviving story with Ben, Polly and the First Doctor? It paints such a vivid picture of their dynamic that I've always wanted to see more of it. Unfortunately, The Smugglers never left much impression on me (most of the missing stories I've only experienced in audio left me like that, I should really track down the Loose Cannon reconstruction) and The Tenth Planet sadly has to have Ben fill in for the Doctor to the detriment of the Ben's character, in my view.

So you can understand why I've always craved more of this tantalisingly brief and under-documented cast.

I really should dig up my copy of Ten Little Aliens, I never did get around to reading it. 

Thursday, 15 June 2017

What if I hate Doctor Who next year?

As we go on, I think its sensible to at least consider the idea. Now, we know nearly nothing about Chris Chibnall's Doctor Who. All we have are rumours, speculative statements and Mirror articles (but I repeat myself). We have essentially nothing to go on here. For my part, judging on Chibnall's precious work for the series, it could go either way.

His episodes have been an even split for me. On the one hand he wrote Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and was basically chief writer on the one season of Torchwood I actually like (according to RTD in The Writer's Tale, anyway) while on the other, well, none of this other Doctor Who episodes really grabbed me and I admit I've never been much drawn to his other work (I just don't watch much television, so it's nothing personal).

So, in as unbiased a fashion as possible: what if I don't like this version of the series?

You see, there isn't really an era of the show I actively dislike. There are personal bugbears, obviously, I'm a fan it would be bizarre if I didn't have a list as long as my arm of things I dislike but they're all ultimately annoyances peppering eras I generally enjoy.

I mean, I'm not fond of the Pertwee era's confused politics or the “fan pleasing” mythos obsession of seasons 20 to 22 but those factors aren't all or nothing deal breakers, you know? I love The Green Death which is a scriptwriting tug of war between left and right wing politics and The Mark Of The Rani which is almost a shopping list of where the middle JNT era went wrong.

If I had to pick an era of the show I actively disliked all I can think of is John Wiles' producership and I wouldn't blame anyone for accusing me of cheating. Even if we count the stories he comissioned and left for his successor to complete it only rounds out to half a dozen stories but, well...

His era was horribly reactionary towards women, POC and youth culture. He had a story in which mute brown-skinned aliens with Beatles haircuts turn into egomanical dictators who practice white slavery just because they gained voices in an era where the British Empire was granting its African colonies independence. He fired the series' female lead for daring to pick holes in a script that actually was hastily rewritten and just kind of crap then proceeded to introduce no less than three potential successors to the role over two stories and fridging the lot of them before settling on Dodo, the blandest non-character imaginable. Hell, I can barely even call it fridging since the amount of manpain caused by the deaths of Katarina, Sara and Anne doesn't last much more than a scene or so before being forgotten. Oh, and Wiles just plain doesn't like the idea of the Doctor winning for some reason.

But even here, even with all this, I have to grudgingly admit that The Myth Makers and The Massacre are really good. Yes, their endings are rushed as hell but they're both really good stories up to that point and with The Massacre you can literally just count that ending as a seperate “short trip” barely related to the preceding three and three quarter episodes.

So, I've never been in this position before and I worry that, frankly, it'll send me full Moffat Hate. I mean, I have a lot of issues with Moffat's Doctor Who but then I have issues with the show as produced by JNT, Hinchcliffe, Lloyd and basically everyone who has ever made this show.

The thing is, though, I see the hatedom that has grown up around Moffat as a person through Doctor Who and Sherlock and being so (their word) hateful and (my word) shit at criticism as some of these people scares me.

I get a lot of pleasure out of good meta analysis of Doctor Who (I just received my second Black Archive book in the post: The Evil of the Daleks, yay!). I even have pretty regular lunches with a friend called Tom where one of our main topics is discussing Doctor Who. I have another friend who, again, I talk to about Doctor Who and is very, very critical of the Moffat era but he's actually capable of articulating eloquent and sensible critique (the man is massively engaged with political philosophy and, that makes it very interesting to hear his opinions on the show).

It may sound trite, even hysterical, to say I fear the withering of my critical skills more than the idea that my favourite show will go through a rough patch. I just don't like the idea of all that comes with the “hatedom” idea.

So I propose this to myself: the TV series is already the smallest share of the Doctor Who I consume. There are multiple audio dramas released every month; I have decades of half-finished and untouched original novels on my shelves; AO3, FF.net and A Teaspoon And An Open Mind are right there with thousands upon thousands of original stories available for free; my DVDs are not going to dissolve under the influence of Chibnall being mediocre (though my copy of Robots of Death is starting to stutter from repeated use). So, if the worst comes to the worst that's where I'll be: catching up on novels and audios, enjoying the creative side of fandom.

I will NOT under any circumstances:

  • be writing screeds personally directed at Chris Chibnall on this blog or anywhere.
  • be writing screeds directed at people who continue to enjoy the series (I hate people who do that).
  • write any criticism of any episode I haven't at least seen relevant clips of.
  • ever use the phrase “remember when the series was good?”
  • watch the show just to suffer.

That last point, I feel, is the crux of the matter. I see no reason to put myself through an experience I will hate just to rant angrily about it. There's enough of that in the world. Oh, there are subjects I can do that with and sometimes there is catharsis in doing it but I'm not dedicated enough to my own suffering to waste nine to ten hours of my life on it.

(Anyone reading this with knowledge of my taste in women is, at this point, invited to shut the hell up).

So, I'm nailing my trousers to the mast on this one and saying I'm going to do what I have always said I would do if this or anything I enjoy ever stopped being fun. I'm just going to stop watching. I'll keep an eye and if a friend or writer whose opinion I trust says there's something interesting to see down the line I'll check it out.

To be frank, I have the skin and blood clotting of a redhead, a job with baker's hours and every day I have to see Theresa May (the prime minister, not the pornstar) and Donald Trump leering at me out of the newspapers. I've got enough suffering to be getting on with, to be frank.

Rant concludes. Peace. 

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Have video games learnt nothing?

Mario with a gun. Mario with a gun with his back to the camera looking back at us over his shoulder with a solemn expression. Brooding Mario. Edgy Mario. 2nd amendment Mario. Mario who, apparently, has been rummaging through Samus Aran's locker when she wasn't looking (Princess Toadstool will not be pleased, no “cake” for Mario tonight!).

In my day we had fire flowers and tanuki suits and we were glad of it.

In a really bizarre way this makes me worry about the future of Nintendo as a console manufacturer and, by extension, the future of console gaming (which, as someone too lazy to ever update his PC before it destroy itself, is an important issue). You see, I've been here before.
Between this and Super Mario Odyssey having Mario running around a realistically proportioned cityscape it feels like the Sega End Times again. We've got one game reiterating the mistakes of Sonic Adventure 1 and another trying to do Mario With A Gun, the very same psychology that lumbered us with Shadow the Hedgehog.

Of course, unlike Sonic, its not like Mario games are ever actually terrible. There have been some that weren't to my taste but overall you can be guaranteed a solid, polished gaming experience. So probably I'm just worrying over nothing. As disastrous as the Sonic Adventure/Dreamcast era was for Sega there were a lot of other factors: the untested newness of 3D polygon graphics, the lingering audience commitment issues of Sega having four different 32-bit consoles, the sudden jettisoning of the Sonic franchise's English-language background in favour of unifying the narrative around the Japanese storyline, voice acting beneath even the worst standards of anime dub.

Most of those problems aren't things Nintendo is going to have to tackle between the tech not being as raw and the Super Mario series basically having perfected silent storytelling (aside from the odd “It's-a me, Mario!”)... but still...

Mario with a gun? 

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Revisiting the classics of comics


I need to read more graphic novels.

The other day, for no real reason than there was a new edition that looked pretty, I bought a copy of Will Eisner's graphic novel A Contract With God. I've not read a lot of Eisner, just a few off Spirit reprints, and I don't want to insult the absolutely transformative work he did there but this finally convinced me I need to seek out more of his work.

Not only that but there are a lot of this medium's classics I have just never read.

Perhaps the most significant gap in my knowledge of the classics is Watchmen, which I should probably read before those characters get irretrievably ruined by being bootstrapped into the DCU. So that's practical. There's a lot of Alan Moore I haven't read but that's definitely a place to start.

I've never read Persepolis, though I got a copy for Christmas a couple of years back. Funnily enough, it was originally recommended to me by someone who didn't enjoy it. I don't remember why she didn't enjoy it but she did think it would be more my thing, being an autobiography from a cultural voice you don't hear much in the UK.

On a similar subject, I've often sen Joe Sacco's Palestine on library shelves and I think I should definitely check that out, again more true history of the Middle East.

I love Neil Gaiman's Sandman so it seems strange I've only ever read one collection of John Ney Rieber The Books Of Magic, which is basically the most well-respected spin-off the series ever got. Whilst I'm at it, Preacher is another of the great Vertigo series I've somehow never found time to read.

I've not read either of Frank Miller's Dark Knight series... PUT THE PITCHFORKS DOWN! Sometimes you read a classic because you expect to enjoy it and sometimes you read it just to know you've read it.

I have no idea what Daniel Clowes' Ghost World is about but people tell me it deserves a place on this list.

I'm told the Colin Baker era Doctor Who comics are a high point of the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip. Actually, what I'm told is that they're terrible Doctor Who but great comics.

I think that's enough to be getting on with. 

Monday, 12 June 2017

Do Theresa May's talents know no beginning?

Theresa May (the prime minister, not the pornstar) has so far succeeded calling an early election that cost her party their majority, announced a coalition before it was properly negotiated and is even now announcing cabinet appointments ecen though you usually save a few to bribe your coalition partner with.

Her chosen coalition partner is the DUP: a far right Irish Unionist (that means pro-UK) party founded by former terrorists that is the most anti-choice party in government, rabidly anti-LGBTQ and climate change deniers. Sinn Fein has already started grumbling about this coalition, which is exactly the sort of tension you want to encourage in Northern Ireland. I mean, what children these days really need is the character building experience of bomb drills at school like what I had.

Elsewhere in the Conservative Party, press interviews are being given in which the sharpening of knives can clearly be heard. Not that anyone can blame them. There didn't have to be an election for another three years and any other leader who losyt the majority would have resigned out of sheer bloody pragmatic shame to spend more time with their index linked pension.

When this all started there were two theories. There was the generally accepted idea that the Conservatives wanted a more solid mandate for Brexit and to not have to fight an election after the Article 50 deadline just in case (you know, on the off-chance) Brexit completely fucked the economy. Then there was my theory where they were so completely unable to control the Brexit negotiations that they just wanted to throw the election and make it someone else's problem.

During the campaign, as May did seemingly everything she could to alienate her core voters (like the Dementia Tax), it started to make an awful lot of sense.

Now, she's holding on to power when any other politician would resign and willingly getting in to bed with the DUP who, even by Conservative standards, are utterly mad.

I guess what I'm saying here is: Has anyone seen The Producers

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Delving into the Black Archive (The Massacre)

I have something of a soft spot for Doctor Who criticism. I love Philip Sandifer's TARDIS Eruditorum, Robert Shearman and Toby Hadoke's Running Through Corridors, Will Brooks' 50 Year Diary and so on. A lingering effect of the show's sixteen year hiatus is that the fandom had a long time to go back and analyse and discuss and research the series' past.

The Black Archive is a series that started just over a year ago: novella length discussions of single Doctor Who stories from the full length and breadth of the TV series. Potentially overkill on the word count front but I thought I'd give the series a go. Looking at the titles available I went for James Cooray Smith's analysis of The Massacre which the back cover describes as “a serial of disputed authorship […] produced during a fractious transitional period” which is one of the biggest undersells you will ever read.

Now, one of the things I look for in these things is evidence that real, original thought is going into the analysis. Doctor Who being Doctor Who just about any story has a set of standard talking points. Smith takes two of the most usual talking points, the debate over the story's title and whether the Anne/Dodo ancestry thing makes any sense, and not only exiles them to the appendices but finds new and interesting things to say about them.

The main thrust of the book concerns what is actually happening on screen and what the various authors who contributed to the story intended to be happening. The entire footage of the story is missing, the photographic record is limited, the audio doesn't match the camera script, the script was significantly rewritten and the novelisation was written twenty years later by the original scriptwriter who admits to doing new research to write a revised version debatably based on his original script.

Its actually a pretty fascinating archaeology of who wrote what and how the different versions pile on top of each other to form a story that makes very little internal sense but is still usually considered a classic of the era.

There's also an extended discussion of the historical events the story is based on: the days leading up to the mass killing of the Parisian Protestant Huguenot population in August 1572. I've got some serious grudges about how history is taught in this country and a glowing example comes from the fact I learnt more about the French Wars Of Religion from a book analysing a 1960s Doctor Who story than I did from twenty years of formal education.

James Cooray Smith has certainly done a lot of research, not just in the BBC archives and legitimate history books but into the other film and literature that has dealt with the Bartholomew Massacre. Its interesting to see the variety of influences Smith either flat out discovers contributed to this story or claims as probable influences.

I certainly see myself prioritising any of these books about the historicals in future as well as Smith's return to the range for The Ultimate Foe this coming November. I mean, if there's any story that needs a deep dive into the archives to work out the hell is going on in it then its The Ultimate Foe. On that subject, I'm also looking forward to the next release in the series which will have Kate Orman, one of the greatest Doctor Who novelists of all time, writing about Pyramids of Mars.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

8th edition, 1st impressions

Disclaimers before we begin: this is all based on one game in an odd format with no reference to points or power balancing. That said, these are impressions based on an actual game with full access to the rules and datasheets so I guess it might be of use to someone.

The format of the game was simple: come to GW on games night with an HQ, a Troops unit and “something cool”. There were four of us: myself with my Flesh Tearers (I didn't get my Black Templars, for that is what they were finished on time), Matt with some Traitor Guard (using standard AM rules), and two people who I shall refer to as Rugby Shirt and Baseball Cap out of respect for privacy and not knowing Rugby Shirt's name who had Khorne Daemons and Tau Empire respectively.

We divided into pairs: me with a Librarian, Tactical Squad and Death Company Dreadnought and Baseball Cap with Tau Commander, Fire Warriors and a Crisis Battlesuit Bodyguard Team vs. Matt with Command Squad, Veteran Squad and Rough Riders and Rugby Shirt with Daemon Prince, Bloodletters and Bloodcrushers. No scenario, standard twelve inch deployment, fight!

So, first eighth impressions:

The Good
Dreadnoughts are a lot more survivable. Mine ended up in combat with the Daemon Prince and Bloodletters. It died but it survived two turns and got the Daemon Prince down to one wound before it fell. The fragility of walkers has been a problem for a while and this has been very effectively addressed.

On that subject, the ability of small arms fire to wound anything came into use with the Veterans chipping off a wound from the Dreadnought. It took an entire squad (and Matt muffing his rolls for his meltaguns) but they took off a wound.

Multiple wound and multiple damage weapons got a rollout on all sides. The fact that multiple damage doesn't carry over between models balances it out nicely. Firing my meltagun at Matt's Veteran Squad was pretty ineffective as I was basically wasting two thirds of its power sniping off one model.

The ability to use pistols in combat is an idea I'm surprised hasn't been included before. It makes dedicated assault squads more effective for what they do and actually enhances Tactical Squads rather nicely, making them the all-rounders they were always meant to be.

Flamers are better. On paper they have much the same range they always did but, like other ranged weapons, if even a part of the target unit is in range you now get to fire with full effect. Obviously, they hit automatically which is more than enough compensation for losing the templates.

Supporting charges, or whatever the actual term is: great idea. It always seemed strange to me that a unit could be standing a few feet away from their comrades being minced and do nothing for a few minutes. Nice and fluffy idea, good mechanic that makes the opponent put extra consideration into considering their charges.

Chargers attacking first: unalloyed good, no problems there even if we kept forgetting that all chargers had to attack before we moved on to the alternate activation. Just a thing to get used to.

And, finally, as far as Johnny Number Blindness here is concerned, a To Wound chart that can be explained in simple sentences is worth its weight in gold.

The Middling
I am still not entirely convinced by the AoS-style leadership. None of us lost more than a couple of wounds to it at a time, the single D6 and generally high leadership on our units meant it was quite forgiving. Get back to me once I've had reason to test it out with my Orks.

Falling back from combat... well, I imagine it has more utility in bigger games. In our game all it really did, when we came to think about it, was deprive my Tactical Squad of using their pistols in the next turn. Probably the best use of the rule is to open enemy units up for a firing solution from more effective ranged weapons.

No firing arcs is ultimately good though I do miss the mechanic of picking enemy models off from the front of a unit backwards. Its probably for the best and means you don't get sergeants and such hiding in the middle of the unit which just looks... well, crap.

That said, the ability to effectively “hide” characters from all enemy fire unless they're the closest target is perhaps not the most logical idea (there would be times when you as a commander would want to target the enemy general) but the Rule Of Cool applies. You just want to get your general into combat with the enemy general and this facilitates that.

The Bad (or, The Will Take Getting Used To)
I think the relative ease of firing off psychic powers might be a bit OP. Again, am impression that will need a few larger and more balanced games, preferably ones where I don't have the only psyker on the table, to sort out whether I'm right or not.

Not getting extra attacks for charging isn't a problem but the brain has had years to program its cost/benefit analysis around the idea of charging as a force multiplier that it will take some adjustment. It has its bright side: it means combat units will be prioritised for combat instead of just charging everything in that's in range. Its a good mechanic that means units will be used more frequently in line with their background purpose but, again, a little mental adjustment is in order.

Overall, I was impressed. The game flows a lot more organically than I've ever seen it, there was very little rulebook flitting and no significant unbalances came up from four pretty diverse armies.

Quiet confidence is beginning to transform into moderately loud confidence. 

Friday, 9 June 2017

Theresa May gets hung

As I write this we have a hung parliament, which for those in countries who don't do it this way is an election that does not return a majority. There are five seats yet to declare but the Conservatives have 314 seats so they can't themselves get a clear win. They could, if literally two seats are declared for them, form a coalition with the DUP, though that has a bunch of issues all its own because the DUP might have an actual spine unlike the Liberal Democrats.

There are not, mathematically, enough seats in the hand of progressive parties to form a Labour-led coalition, which is a shame.

Still, the Tories have suffered from their arrogance and if Theresa May (the Prime Minister, not the pornstar, and I hope this is the last time I have to write that clarification) doesn't resign over this I confidently predict a vote of no confidence in her future.

I am willing to take that as a win. May campaigned hard on her Brexit strategy which, for those unaware, has been purely to stamp her foot and impotently threaten the EU because she has no idea how to negotiate.

So, as much as I would have preferred a Labour government we do at least have a stronger opposition, a right that has been given a kicking and we will likely be rid of May. Its not perfect and the left needs to build on this and build on this until the next election happens but it is something.

Over in the US, James Comey has given his first round of testimony.

In France, fascism and xenophobia lost big.

The Resistance has finally begun. 

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Wonder Woman: spoilers on, I have feelings to discuss

This post is a mess. I just sat down and wrote about everything I could think of about this brilliant, brilliant movie. As such, he aware there are a lot of wild, unrestrained spoilers here. There might not be any sort of coherent structure but there are spoilers.

Batman and Wonder Woman: OTP 4EVA

Okay, not really, my OTP in the DC Universe will always be Tim and Steph (its generational) but I love that this whole film is a flashback brought on by Bruce sending Diana a photo her her Steve and the WWI gang. Being Bruce, of course, this sweet gesture is delivered by armoured car in a secure briefcase carried by armed guards because Bruce is the most extra person who ever lived.

I despise the pairing of Diana and Clark with a fiery passion but I have always had something of a soft spot for a bit of Bruce/Diana. I know this is probably not meant to be taken as a romantic gesture because this is Batman on film and he is TRAUMATIZED and CAN NEVER KNOW LOVE and MAAAAARTHA but I can live in hope.


Weeping Manly Tears

I admit it, the No Man's Land section brought a tear to my eye. Every last second of that scene is just liquid empowerment. Its a huge moment not only for Diana but for Steve and the rest of their ragtag little group. Everything from her climbing the trench ladder to demolishing the sniper nest is amazingly directed.

Diana in battle is probably the best thing to point to when someone asks how much having a female director on this film makes a difference. She's always shot in ways that keep her properly centred in the shot and accentuates her actions: the sweep of her sword, the direction of a leap, and so on. There are no scenes shot to give us a good angle on her breasts or her backside. There have been something like five Marvel movies with Black Widow in them and every damn fight scene, I swear...

27 countries

There are certain realities of the First World War that just get... well, whitewashed is a pretty appropriate word. When Steve is explaining the war to the Amazons he makes a specific point of how twenty-seven countries are involved in the conflict. I don't know about you, but wheb I learned about this in school the list was pretty much abbreviated to the UK, Germany, France, Russia and the United States.

There's a scene early in the film with a massive crowd of British soldiers about to take ship for France and in amongst them are Indian soldiers in turbans. There's also a substantial set piece set in the Ottoman theatre, instead of everything being about the Trenches as in just about every other WWI movie I've ever seen.

How cool is Steve Trevor?

The scene where we're introduced to the Lasso Of Truth is a great set piece for establishing Steve Trevor's character. In this version of events, the lasso is something that can be resisted but it causes pain. Steve manages to bite back the truth several times before blurting out that he's a spy. It shows us how strong a personality Steve is and, frankly, why he's worthy of Diana's attention (and, yes, that's the way it works because its her name on the film and he's the love interest).

The conversation about sleeping together on the boat is comedy gold, as well. Too much of Steve and Diana's funny scenes later are cringe comedy where he tries to force her to fit in with a patriarchal world and... I understand why those scenes exist and I like the bit with the glasses but I've never liked the cringe thing.

Oh, and I love the bath scene. I love that for once the guy is naked (and it is no chore looking at Chris Pine shirtless).

I adore Etta Candy

Probably the biggest departure from source material (other than the change of World War) is Etta Candy, here reimagined as an English suffragette with a dry sense of humour. I adore her and I wish there had been more room for her but Lucy Davis squeezes every moment of comedy from her scenes.

Allan Heinberg Returns

Allan Heinberg wrote the screenplay and, for those unaware, Heinberg is a very good screenwriter who sometimes moonlights as a very slow comics writer. He created the Young Avengers for Marvel where he made a twenty-four issue masterplan last six years. He was also writer on the post-Infinite Crisis Wonder Woman which stalled after four issues with a fifth being released something like a year later as an annual. For all that, those five issues were a bold statement of intent for a revitalised new direction... that totally stalled out because a year's worth of guest writers had to leave their options open as to what they were actually following up on.

Still, he had a fine sense of what Wonder Woman was about and I'm glad we finally drew some dividends from that.

BTW, Philippus is in it

I don't think she's named in any dialogue but IMDB tells me that the Amazon played by Ann Ogbomo is Philippus. So, if you were worried Queen Hippolyta might get too lonely with her sister dead and her daughter out in Man's World, well...

Part of me wishes Ares wasn't there

I can't help it. I like David Thewlis and what he does with the role and I acknowledge that there had to be someone about the place at Diana's power level for a final confrontation but...

I prefered the idea that there was no great supernatural conspiracy at work in the end, that the Great War really was just a mess of people being stubborn and shit at each other. That war genuinely was one of the greatest human tragedies in history and part of me feels that that could stand on its own. I'm not sure I'd call it disrepectful, exactly, but there is a part of me that questions the taste.

That having been said, it was a good idea to set the story just before Armistice Day. What Diana is foiling is explicitly the last ditch attempt of a German general to keep the war going when the end was all but a done deal. That means that Diana isn't ending the war all by herself which I think genuinely would have been disrespectful.

*****

Now, I don't doubt I'll have more to say about this movie in time, at the very least I'm likely to see it again with some friends some time next week, but that seems a decent amount to be getting on with. 

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Thoughts on Wonder Woman (NON-SPOILER VERSION)

This was a good movie, maybe even a legitimately great one but I'm writing this about three hours after leaving the cinema so I'll let the euphoria fade before making that judgement.

On Sunday I wrote about how I thought Wonder Woman's success vindicated the DCEU approach. The drive towards more auteur-driven superhero movies and a greater variety of creative visions really pays off here. Well, it pays off for me, at any rate, I know there are plenty of people who felt it paid off in Suicide Squad or BvS or Man of Steel and ain't no problem with that. With an approach like this, mileage varies a lot.

Hell, even DC's habit (much older than the DCEU) of reinventing the wheel at the drop of a hat works here. Shoving Diana into the action of the First World War rather than the Second was a fantastic idea. There's so much more drama to be made out of having her interact with the “bad” world war, the one that was just a bunch of alliances and pacts getting in each other's way until the worst conflict in human history happened. Surprisingly, there's a lot more attention paid here to the period detail than many serious films about the period: one of the film's major set pieces takes place in the German occupied Ottoman Empire; Indian soldiers in turbans appear several times; even the most sympathetic characters (besides Diana, that is) are moved to callousness by the hopelessness of the conflict; and, some actual thought goes into placing the story at a point in the war where we don't see Wonder Woman rather insensitively winning a war that in reality cost millions of lives whilst still giving her a good reason to be involved (more on that tomorrow).

As to Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot is great in the role even though it took a while for her line delivery to really click with me. I've not seen her in anything before (I decided to skip BvS somewhere between learning about the peach tea and “Martha!” scenes) but once you're used to the voice it really works. Chris Pine is perfectly cast as Steve Trevor and its clear Pine has a good sense of what Trevor is there for, never getting in the way of Gadot's performance.

Lucy Davis' Etta Candy is, sadly, not as prominent a role as the trailers might have led people to believe but that's more than made up for a brilliant trio of companions Diana and Steve pick up along the way played by Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock as Sameer, Charlie and The Chief and, yes, there is a perfectly good reason for a Native American to be hanging around that even provides a great moment for Diana's education in how Man's World works.

Patty Jenkins' directing is top notch, by the way. Every fight scene is fantastic, busy with action on multiple levels and sheer power granted to Diana in those scenes is, whilst ultimately nothing special in the genre as a whole, something we're just not used to seeing a female superhero doing. Jenkins has an enviable sense of space with Paradise Island being all open spaces and clear skies whilst the London sections are full of crowded spaces indoors and out.

Most of all, though, at no point does the action stop to stare at Gal Gadot's body. Now, it would be a braver man than me who could claim that the camera doesn't linger on her, she's a stunning woman and the star of the movie, but what the camera conspicuously does not do is linger on her breasts or backside, nor is she ever blocked into a shot in such a way to emphasis body at the cost of moving her face out of shot. There have been something like five MCU movies with Black Widow in them and ever damn fight scene, I swear...

So, yes, this is a really good movie. I'm not sure I'm sold enough on the character to see Justice League just on the strength of her being in it but I'm more than on board for any sequels or spin-offs to this movie DC might want to greenlight in the future. 

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Extreme Rules 2017


(SPOILERS for this past Sunday's Extreme Rules pay-per-view)

Predictable. Cautious. Extreme.” the opening moments of the show inform me because for some reason no one proof reads these things out loud. It was... kind of fitting, though.

Dean Ambrose vs. The Miz: Intercontinental Championship
(The Miz wins)

I question the logic of opening Extreme Rules with a match where the only stipulation is “ if the champion gets disqualified, he loses his championship”. That's actually a more vanilla match than usual and not extreme in any way. It could have worked, though, at another event and if Ambrose was not constantly losing his rag and on the verge of whacking the Miz with a chair. I genuinely think Ambrose could benefit from a proper, technical showcase if only to prove he can do it. He's a talented man and even if he needed carrying a bit in the absence of his usual set pieces then the Miz is absolutely the right person to carry him. The Miz is the right person to carry anyone.

I did love the moment with the exposed turnbuckle, though, where Ambrose had to stop himself slamming Miz's head into the metal fixture the Miz himself had exposed. On the subject of the Miz, though, they had him try for a chair shot and have to break a figure four leg lock at a four count but he should have been constantly flying close to disqualification just to goad Ambrose.

And it should have been on another show.

Even then it was so nearly a brilliant match and then Maryse slapped the Miz with the ref actually understanding what was happening. The official should have disqualified the Miz as she was interfering on his behalf, then there was the ref bump which “should” have had Dean disqualified and then there was a pin anyway. Bit of a mess, frankly.

And it should have been on another bloody show.

Noam Dar & Alicia Fox vs. Rich Swann & Sasha Banks: Cruiserweight Mixed Tag Match
(Swann & Banks win, Swann gets the pinfall)

First, Noam Dar deserved to get slapped for getting in Sasha's face. Second, bloody hell are mixed tag matches a terrible bloody idea. I mean, since they can't have the wrestlers of different genders in the same ring at the same time its just two different matches happening concurrently in the same ring. I adore Sasha Banks, I think Alicia Fox is great, Rich Swann is a fantastic cruiserweight and Noam Dar... I don't have much opinion on him, I don't watch much 205 Live, sorry pardon.

Also, “Noam Dr stole Alicia Fox...”. When did this become 2004 and the likes of Alicia Fox got reduced to an object for men to steal from each other and compete over?

And it had a sudden finish, which seemingly is a sexually transmitted disease that the Women's Division has passed on to the Cruiserweights. Speaking of which...

Bailey vs. Alex Bliss: Kendo Stick On A Pole Match
(Alexa Bliss retains)

It is such an awful stipulation: here's a kendo stick on top of a pole and whoever gets it down gets to use it. Thrilling.

Also, where does Alexa get off saying Bailey isn't extreme, she was in the first Ironwoman match! She has more experience with extreme rules than Alexa has. Why all this crap about “will Bailey use it?”. All that hesitating and chasing around and... why, oh why am I bored watching a Bailey match? And why wasn't Alexa using the stick a DQ offence when the stipulation, battered into us in the clips package, was that only the person who brings it down gets to use it? That was Bailey.

And I wasn't the only one bored. Bailey and Alexa looked pretty bloody unengaged during the whole affair. All this and a sudden finish as well. The clips package ran longer than the match!

Still, this match was useful for scientific purposes as we finally know what a bad Bailey match looks like.

The Hardy Boys vs. Shamus & Cesaro: Steel Cage Tag Team Championship Match
(Shamus & Cesaro win)

Man, Cesaro is agile, isn't he? The way he just jumped more than halfway up the cage in one bound was amazing. Escape only is a good stipulation, even if it means a lot of repeated spots of one guy getting most of the way up and being dragged back down.

Its actually a good match but there just isn't that much to say about it. People climbed up, people were pulled back down, Matt ended up on his own against Cesaro and Shamus and that was a great bit. I'm not sure when they stopped locking the door on these things and just allowing people to wander in and out of the cage at will but that generated a few pretty cool spots at least. I mean, everyone was a tactical ignoramus at some point or another but you can forgive that in a wrestling match so long as it looks cool.

And, honestly, the ending looked cool with the Hardys leaving via the door but not fast enough to beat Cesaro and Shamus climbing down the other side of the cage.

I am very much looking forward to the rematch.

Neville vs. Austin Aries: Cruiserweight Championship Submission Match
(Neville retains)

Now this is how its meant to work: an interesting juxtaposition of championship and stipulation. All the “flippy shit” of the Cruiserweight Division is meant to tire and batter the opponent to get a pin. So a submissions only match has an interesting dimension, helped by the fact that these are two of the most muscular men in their division. There was still plenty of the high flying athleticism that makes this weight class great but it all revolved around weakening the opponent to make a submission move more painful.

Aries struggling backwards to get a foot on the ropes when Neville had him in the Rings Of Saturn was a particular highlight. Neville tapping out but outside the ring so it doesn't “count” was a good way to allow him to retain without harming Aries' momentum. Also, it didn't drag on too long after the false submission so it didn't matter that it made the conclusion a little predictable.

Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe vs. Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt vs. Roman Reigns:
Fatal Five Way Number One Contender Match
(Samoa Joe wins)

AKA the reason I unsubscribed to What Culture Wrestling because this is the second main event they have spoiled for me with the bloody thumbnail of a What Just Happened? video. Sorry, Plumpy and company, but I can search for your stuff and have some control of what I see then.

Anyway, Joe wins and I knew that going in. I was hoping for Bray Wyatt because I have this pie-eyed notion that the most charismatic man in the room whose entrance relies on the audience loving him should probably be kept in the main event scene. However, I can hardly argue that Joe doesn't deserve it. He's had to make a long journey up to this level since joining the company and I can see why WWE want him facing Lesnar for the Beast's first defense (about six weeks after the 30 Day Rule stipulates it should be but since when has simple maths mattered?).

Roman deserves all the props for the wonderful comedy bit of just standing in the corner alone and then wandering the ring unmolested as the other four beat the crap out of each other. His look of bemusement as he strolls is just perfect.

Joe won't win it, not at a PPV called (good grief) Great Balls Of Fire. I'm absolutely convinced by the rumours that Lesnar will retain right up to 'Mania. I think it should be Balor who eventually beats Lesnar, by the way. As was pointed out a lot here, he never lost that title and he should win it again to restore the natural course of history. That said, I do like that Joe wins with a submission move (he is the Samoan Submission Machine, even if he seems to have left that nickname behind) and that could be a good thing to emphasise in the build-up to the Lesnar match.

He won't win but it should be an interesting technical match with Lesnar's massive power game versus Joe's submission style.