Thursday 30 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #30: The Tub Full Of Cats


Bernice Summerfield 8.1:
The Tub Full of Cats
written by Daniel O'Mahony

Okay, I'm bored of GW stuff, so let's end this catch-up series by resolving something from earlier: did the cliffhanger from The Empire State lead to a good season opener in this or is it going to be completely incomprehensible because the resolution was in a random novel I don't own?

Surprisingly between series four and this one Big Finish seem to have learnt their lesson. This story picks up pretty directly from The Empire State with Bernice and and Braxiatel's cloned daughter Maggie dragging Brax back to the collection. For various reasons, including being a cheap bastard and only wanting to pay for two full price tickets, Brax has put himself into suspended animation in a coffin and is getting himself shipped home as cargo. Brax picked the ship and so, naturally, we're in one of those stories where he's got himself a deal with a hell of a downside. If nothing else its a good nostalgia trip for those who missed the character,me included.

Its a trippy sort of story with regular cutaways to an old time American astronaut called Anthony Rogers, cutaways in which Brax is a waiter, Bernice is the former First Lady and Maggie Matsumoto is the personification of death that Rogers keeps being racist about.

Its a race against time for everyone to get back to the Collection where the Draconians and the Mim (the latter who I vaguely remember from a Companion Chronicle) are blockading the place and getting ready to shoot at each other. The ship has a secret, of course, a particularly nice science-fiction-y secret that involves the ship being absolutely infested with cats. I finally looked up what happened to Wolsey and its nice to hear Benny doting over a cat again, even if I seem to remember references to Wolsey still being alive when she's moaning about the people she doesn't know the fate of in Legion.

For my money, the most interesting parts of the story are the interactions between Brax and Maggie. Brax is still being charming and urbane, or trying to, but Benny is having none of it after the things he did to Jason and Maggie is just angry with him for a whole host of reasons starting with being an absent father and moving up from there. Its certainly more interesting than the fictional history of late twenty-first century space travel. That whole thread comes to an interesting and tragic conclusion but the reason I'm going back to listen to the stories from the single release era is I miss the Collection cast.

Speaking of which, now that Brax is back on the Collection I'm looking forward to hearing the fireworks fly when he gets the necessary confrontations with Bev and Jason.

But that's not for tomorrow, maybe not even for the day after, I'll get to it I'm sure but that's the last of my thirty discs in thirty days. Its been fun, apart from I Scream

Returning to the Alola Region

I wanted to play one of the Pokémon Ultra games but I was damned if I was going to pay full price for the thing. This isn't just because I'm cheap (which I am) but because I found Pokémon Moon a bit underwhelming. There was a lot I liked about it, most especially the format chance away from gym battles to the more individualized Trial Captains. Still, the Alola Region felt a bit small and hemmed in compared to the sprawling mass of Kalos.

I've kept myself relatively spoiler free on this one. I know the Rockets are back in the post game, I know there are new Ultra Beasts (who I think I can capture?), and I know there's a bunch more story and side quest content. I'm prepared to give it a go.

And the first job, of course, is to pick my starter.

My starter in Moon was Rowlet because he looked cute and I've always had a preference for Flying types. Also, he was absolutely bloody adorable. I feel I should make a different choice this time around for the sake of variety. My choices are a cat that evolves into John Cena and a sea lion that evolves into Liberace. Also, in common with all Water starters, Popplio's second form looks bloody awful. That said, I have a profound and irrational dislike of humanoid Pokémon which is what Litten ends up as. I'm sorry, they look creepy and it starts to feel a bit too much like slavery.
So, Popplio, I choose you which should be interesting because their final form, Primarina, is dual Water/Fairy and in spite of them being around for a couple of generations now I don't think I've ever used a Fairy type. Also, Water starters are a rare one for me but Bulbasaur was what I used in the very first Pokémon game back in the day and what I'm currently using in my FireRed playthrough so let's come full circle for the last Pokémon game on the dedicated handheld console before it all moves over to Switch.

Let the Trials commence. 

Wednesday 29 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #29: The Eagle's Talon


Horus Heresy: The Eagle's Talon
written by John French

I'm not sure if its a different editorial direction of if they just both came out after Mortarion's Heart but so far the Heresy audios have been a lot better for knowing what makes a satisfying audio experience. The basic plot of this one is a very simple engagement: at some time during the Battle Of Tallarn an Imperial Fists strike team of three squads has infiltrated an Iron Warriors macro-transport ship (its like a troop transport except its transporting an entire army including armour) that they have to stop reaching the surface.

That's a very simple and direct skirmish engagement, more so even than the battle at the centre of Mortarion's Heart, but John French uses the audio medium to make it both interesting and varied to listen to.

First of all we are once again in a story being related after the fact. In this case we have someone examining a series of archived radio transmissions between the three Fists squads as they infiltrate the ship and making notes on them. This allows French not only to skip a lot of boring bits but to use the listening historian as a source of exposition. During the breaks between vox fragments we have our Iron Warriors historian talk about the specific tactics of the skirmish, the larger tactical situation of Tallarn, and even offer some thoughts on whether or not the concept of honour has any value in the Heresy-era Imperium.

A similar conversation to that last one comes up between the Fists sergeants, one interesting detail of which is that one o their number became a Space Marine during the Heresy and has only known war against other Space Marines.

Of the communications the most interesting, for my money, is when the subject is broached of destroying the ship and letting it crash. The impact and the nuclear fallout would kill indiscriminately the people on the surface both loyal and traitor. What interests me, what gave me more insight into the Imperial Fists psychology than I think I've ever been granted before, is that one of the sergeants insists that Space Marines should not sacrifice human lives for their own victory, that it runs counter to the reasons the Space Marines were created.

It isn't a new insight into Space Marine psychology (it forms the basis of one of the earliest Black Library novels) but it gives the “vox archive” sections a bit of meat they might otherwise have lacked alongside the more contemplative exposition of the archivist. 

A sidestep into royal commentary


Look, usually I don't care about this stuff. I mean, I've nothing against the royals as people though I do think they should be able to afford their own bloody weddings (seriously, tens of millions in taxpayer money is not something we need to waste right now) and I know this could come across as mean...

but...

I kind of want the alt-right to get confused about this engagement and condemn the future princess' ethnicity as forced diversity that doesn't serve the plot.

You might think this an unrealistic expectation but The Spectator is honest to goodness saying she's “unsuitable” to marry a royal because she's divorced. Yes, in our exciting Space Year 2017 a supposedly serious news source is invoking the spirit of Wallis fuckin' Simpson because they can't bring themselves to just be honestly racist.

Wallis. Fucking. Simpson. 

Tuesday 28 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #28: Hunter's Moon


Horus Heresy: Hunter's Moon
written by Guy Haley

I think I made a mistake yesterday. I chose an audio from the Space Marine Battles line which tends to be very action oriented (and not terribly well-suited to audio) from an author I didn't know about an army that doesn't much interest me. Today its a Horus Heresy story, which tend to do better on audio, by one of my favourite Black Library authors and featuring two of my favourite Space Marine factions ever: the Space Wolves and the Alpha Legion. Certainly a better recipe for success. Also its only half an hour long so wouldn't try my patience it if didn't live up to its pedigree.

Haley certainly knows how to make a story like this work on audio. He crafts a small incident in the greater sweep of the Heresy rather than trying to write an entire battle into a short script. He also employs a more intimate narration style as an old fisherman on the planet Pelago tells his young pupil of the day the “star giants” came to their world. As well as providing us with characters from grimmest, darkest Mummerset this allows us an unusual glimpse into the Horus Heresy setting. Several, actually.

First, the Heresy is normally either presented as the present day or as ancient legends, not the recent past. This is someone narrating the lived experience of seeing the dream of Unity end before his eyes, having the illusion that the Space Marines are perfect defenders of mankind shattered. We also get to hear something of how this more liberal and forward looking Imperium affects the worlds under its banner. Pelago is clearly a primitive world where flashlights are an imported miracle but one of the characters mentions attending a collegium where he's learnt some science and knowledge of other worlds, spaceships and the existence of the Legions. Its clear that the presence of the Imperium is actually doing something for the population rather than the grinding exploitation more commonly shown in the forty first millennium setting.

Its actually a little disappointing when the Alpha Legion ship crashes in the sea and the fishermen go to investigate. Now, obviously, there has to be some point to the story rather than just some fishermen telling tales and filling us in on random worldbuilding and I don't begrudge it that. Rather, its that there's a limited number of places the story can go after that. I enjoyed the interactions of Torbjorn with the fishermen once he loosens up enough to tell them things (he's all “do not speak to me of it” for a little too long given the brevity of the story, to be frank) but a lot of the exposition is just to reinforce that his squad was one of those dispatched by Leman Russ to look in on the Primarchs to see if anyone was thinking a bit too much about rebellion in the wake of Prospero.

As with any good Warhammer short there's a twist of the knife ending. Not a terribly surprising one but one that has a lot more punch than you'd expect thanks to the narration style. 

Pity the political historians of the future


I mean, for serious, the present day is bizarre if you stop and think about it from the perspective of what, if we survive the Orange Supremacist's attempts to dick wave at “ Crazy Rocket Man”, will have to be included in future political science textbooks:

Okay, so there was a huge fascist revival that first came to public prominence as a harassment campaign against one female game developer.”

The fascist revival adopted a cartoon frog as their new mascot and god. When a fascist was explaining this on television they got punched in the face and it became a meme. It also became a sort of competitive sport at his future speaking engagements.”

The fascists founded a fictional nation, made a flag for it and named it after their frog god.”

Okay, so internet memes and their political significance...”

Here is a photo of the future 45th President of the United States failing to sell a Stone Cold Stunner at Wrestlemania 23. Here is another photo of his appearance in Home Alone 2.”

A massive vote winner was the promise to save an obsolete fuel industry whose entire US infrastructure employed fewer people than the Arby's restaurant chain.” (Totally true fact, I swear)

Another vote winner was a promise to build a wall across the entire US/Mexico border. There follows fifty-sxeven pages of detailed costings and basic geography that prove how impossible that would be.”

In Great Britain, the generation who spent twenty years telling their children not to believe anything they read on Wikipedia collectively decided 'but if its on the side of a bus, it must be true'.”

After claiming their opposition was soft on terrorism, the Conservative Party lost their majority in an election they had no reason to call and ended up entering a coalition with the political offshoot of a terrorist organisation.”

The Kremlin used social media to try and stop British pensioners from getting their flu jabs.”

There was an annual controversy amongst conservatives about Starbucks holiday themed cups that got so entrenched that in 2017, in sheer desperation, they decided that a pair of simplified cartoons hands drawn on the cup were both so slim they must represent a clear advocacy for lesbianism.”

In a separate incident, US conservatives ritually destroyed their coffeemakers in support of Sean Hannity.”

The coffeemaker incident was tangentially related to an Alabama election where 'Republican pedophile or Democrat not a pedophile' was a genuinely hard decision for thousands of people.”

The president supported the pedophile, by the way.”

There was a transphobic conspiracy theory concerning the chemical composition of soy milk.” 

Monday 27 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #27: Mortarion's Heart


Warhammer 40,000: Mortarion's Heart
written by L. J. Goulding

I'm looking for motivation to paint at the moment so let's round out 30 Days Hath November with a few Warhammer 40,000 audios I found in the same box as those fan made unlicensed “not Doctor Who, honest guv” CDs. First up, because I'm still mired halfway through my Dark Imperium Death Guard, is Mortarion's Heart. Oh, there are also some Grey Knights hanging around, as well.

I joke but, if I'm being honest, I was rather disappointed that this was a Grey Knights story where they fight Mortarion rather than a Death Guard story. Also, the story sort of pauses for the Grey Knight grand masters to have a psychic teleconference.

For the most part this is a straight-up battle story. It doesn't say much about the Grey Knights or the Death Guard, in fact aside from Mortarion there isn't much in the way of speaking rolls for the Death Guard. There's a rather nice confrontation between one of the Grey Knight battle-brothers and an inquisitor who doesn't understand or appreciate the chapter's mystical rituals which is pretty fun for what it is and would have made a nice centrepiece for the story if it had led to anything. As it is its more interesting filler than Goulding trying to say anything about the two allied but separate organisations. Rather it just sort of fizzles out when Draigo tells him to bugger off.

The psychic teleconference itself has an interesting aspect to it: the idea that Mortarion is not Mortarion's true name which makes sense since all the Primarchs were adopted at least some of them might have been given different names. Some, we know, only ever had one name (Perturabo and Magnus, for instance, both awoke on their homeworlds knowing their names). The central idea of trying to bring Mortarion to personal combat where his “true name” can be used to bind and kill him is a good one, especially as the surrounding destruction of an entire world plays well to the Grey Knight's ends justify the means attitude.

Naturally, it doesn't work since Mortarion is a big deal deal sort of guy who isn't going to get jobbed in an audio original (not to mention it being an old release and Mortarion still being around nowadays) but the confrontation has some fun posturing about titles and battle honours between Mortarion and Grand-Master Draigo. This, to be frank, is more satisfying than the actual fight because even with narration a sword fight on audio is not the most thrilling experience. It does end with a fantastic visual, though.

Also, I know its probably a practicality thing, but I question giving Mortarion a deep, booming voice. That's petty, I know.

Anyway, though it doesn't have any deep insight into either force or the two character dueling this is decent listen and certainly useful background for the rituals and admin of the Grey Knights. 

Underhive Adventures pt.1: Housing Shortage


My friend Dave is planning a Necromunda campaign for the new year. He's still hashing out the details and basic background for our little corner of the underhive so right now we're just picking out the gangs we want to play.

Obviously, the options are a little limited and we're just in luck that at least one other player has an old gang of their own (Orlocks, I believe) so we won't be completely limited by the current plastic range. I, however, am and so my choice for the campaign will be House Goliath, the house of massive cleavers and big sweaty men. I originally wanted to do Escher but we were already drowning in Escher players by the time I got to store on Saturday.

I am definitely getting some Eschers just to paint because they are gorgeous but for the functional side of things I'm all about the big, sweaty muscular men.

I've yet to read through the rules for making the gang but there are some things I definitely want to include. I want someone to have the big chainaxe that has its own mohawk; I also want at least one of those big thumpy hammers; and, I absolutely don't want to paint their armour red. Its not that I dislike red (because Flesh Tearers are awesome) but since I don't have to paint many miniatures for this project I want to push the boat out a little and red is sort of my comfort zone.

Now, to build the models and come up with a suitably hench name for my gang leader. 

Sunday 26 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #26: Cold Vengeance


Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Adventures 2.3:
Cold Vengeance
written by Matt Fitton

Well, this is a wishlisty one, isn't it? The Ice Warriors, the one big classic monster RTD never really got around to, versus the Tenth Doctor and Rose. Also, its set on a space station that's a massive freezer centre which is nostalgic for me because Dragonfire was one of the first Doctor Who stories I ever watched and I maintain a nostalgia for it that borders on denial of its actual quality to this day.

Is it weird that this felt like the most “authentic” recreation of the show in 2006? Part of it is the claustrophobic setting: a mostly deserted moonbase freezer centre that would be extremely budget efficient if it were physical sets and locations. Then there's the fun selection of people on board: as well as the Ice Warriors we have a robot manager, two interstellar refuse collectors; and, a pair of space pirates trying to raid the place for caviar. It all rather reminds me of Planet of the Dead except with Rose in it and with me enjoying it.

If I had to choose a least favourite episode from the RTD run its Planet of the Dead. Great idea, dull execution.

It might sound odd after how I began reviewing this set to say that this was me favourite story in the set. It is, as I say, nostalgic and very much based on executing the formula of the 2006 series. There's even a fantastic broody confrontation between Tennant and Nicholas Briggs' Ice Lord about the morality of war and the sacrifices commanders ask their soldiers to make. Rose gets to be plucky and determined, running around with her own one-off companion. Just about the only thing that isn't pure 2006 is the fact these are clearly Moffat-era Ice Warriors but they had to be since the old style ones are a bit... basis, shall we say?

I guess I just ended up resigned to the fact that this box set wasn't going to push the characters too much. If we're being honest it was probably inevitable. One of the problems of going back to these seasons is that the characters had pretty complete arcs so what actually is there to do with Rose Tyler or the Tenth Doctor? Don't get me wrong I'd like to see Big Finish try harder to find new places to push the characters but I do understand why it might not feel like the best option. The previous Tenth Doctor Adventures set did manage to do new things with Donna but then Donna's arc wasn't as involved or, dare I say it, complete as Rose's so there was more blank space to fill.

As a nostalgia fix, I can't fault this box set, its pure RTD: a modern set story with Jackie Tyler; a celebrity historical; and, a classic monster. Its all there.

Its just a frustrating pity it all that's there. 

Tim Drake is a brilliant idiot


[SPOILERS below for the most recent issue of Detective Comics. No, I don't think the title of this post is a spoiler, just a self-evident statement that's been true since the Nineties]

Sometimes you love a character because they're a precious little cinnamon roll who has done nothing wrong. Sometimes you love a character because they're a self-destructive idiot and you enjoy watching the trainwreck.

So Tim Drake's back from the dead and being an idiot.

The thing about Tim Drake, a thing that I love about him, is that he's an arrogant little son of a bitch. I adore him but he absolutely is. He has that problem of being so often the smartest person in the room that he relies on it and tends to have a massive blindspot for how other people are going to feel about his decisions, especially when he doesn't explain that he's even made a decision.

Right now his decision is to embrace the future he's glimpsed where he becomes Batman. His plan before that was to set up Batman with a team and then swan off to Ivy Town for university and making the world a better place through computer science. As far as Steph Brown, his girlfriend who is very pleased to see him alive again, that's still the plan. Tim is being Tim about thing and changing the plan whilst assuring himself that she'll see how good the new plan is and come around to it without him actually explaining himself.

Yay for emotional honesty in relationships, am I right?

James Tynion really gets Tim's characters because this is the perfect Tim move: its essentially selfless (he's giving up his dreams to alter his destiny and avoid becoming a fascist dickbag); its logical (because fighting this destiny actually causes him to become a fascist dickbag); and, most importantly, its going to explode in his face. Hell, he even has Kate, a woman who admits to being the crappy partner in most of her relationships, telling him he's being an idiot and he's just not listening.

I look forward to seeing the flaming ruins of his arrogant good intentions in the future. 

Saturday 25 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #25: The Sword of the Chevalier


Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Adventures 2.1:
The Sword of the Chevalier
written by Guy Adams

I was nervous going in to this one. I mean, its a story featuring an actual, historical nonbinary person. That's pretty untested territory for Big Finish even with as good as they've been getting actually representing LGBTQ+ people every now and again.

First, a word on language. Whenever I've heard of the Chevalier D'Eon they've been discussed in terms of being nonbinary, hency my use of the term above. In this play the Chevalier is treated as a trans woman. Its a legitimate matter of debate and so I'm going to simply refer to “the Chevalier” through out rather than use gendered terms or even the singular they (recent events in US politics having taught me how gender neutral language used to refer to trans people is often meant as an act of aggression). Given the period the Chevalier lived in its not like the contemporary language is any help, either, so I am respectfully bowing out of adjudicating on this one and leaving it for other, wiser and more educated voices not belonging to a cis man.

Anyway, the Doctor has brought Rose to Slough in the year “half past Blackadder series three” or, in other words, the Regency to see William Herschel's 40-foot telescope. Rose, unimpressed, wanders off and discovers a fencing match going on involving the legendary Chevalier D'Eon.

Now, I rather like the portrayal of the Chevalier here especially in the fact that the Chevalier is... well, a bit boorish: constantly telling tall tales about people met and battles fought in. Rose, of course, finds the Doctor's exasperation with this hilarious. Being a celebrity historical, of course, the Chevalier gets some wonderful moments including a couple of sword fights which might not be that impressive on audio but you could hardly expect the story to do without them. On a more audio-friendly note, the Chevalier is getting on in years here and wondering if there's anything left to do.

The alien baddies (sorry, folks, we're still lacking a New Series pure historical) are a bunch of slavers from Consortium Of The Black Asp, a sort of loose confederation of alien gangsters. They're an interesting idea, not only in this specific case but as an idea and I hope they get used somewhere else. Doctor Who is oddly light on alien organised crime, now I think about it.

Also, not to spoil anything but this story has absolutely the best take on the psychic paper I've ever heard even if Guy Adams does slightly wuss out on the punchline. 

Well, Watchmen suckered me but good


(content warning: this post discusses fictional incidents of sexual assault and homophobia. Also, spoilers for the first quarter of Watchmen.)

The other day I made good on my threat and actually bought of a copy of Watchmen and two and a bit chapters in I'm starting to get the impression there is no such thing as a sympathetic character in this world. Now, I wasn't shocked when the Comedian turned out to be a dick. He was, after all, murdered and its a rare fictional murder victim who did nothing wrong in their lives. I wasn't expecting him to shoot a Vietnamese woman who was carrying his child but I was prepared for something unsympathetic.

What I wasn't expecting was for Roschach, the man investigating the murder, to handwave attempted rape and physical assault as a “moral lapse”.

Then the real hit came.

Each chapter (so far) has ended with a prose extract from the autobiography of the first Nite Owl, one of this world's earliest costumed heroes. In one extract Nite Owl relates the aftermath of the Comedian's attempted rape of the original Silk Spectre and describes the Comedian's departure from the Minutemen shortly afterwards as being “by mutual consent”. Up to now Nite Owl's been portrayed as quite sympathetic and thoughtful and he does roundly condemn the Comedian for this and other transgressions.

You're obviously meant to read the “by mutual consent” line as either understating the emotions of a painful moment or as an old man who, as a product of his time, reacted poorly and has come to understand the situation better in hindsight.

AND THEN...

Then he just casually mentions that they threw another woman off the team because she was a lesbian. That's all. Oh, and that she and her partner were murdered shortly thereafter.

So, yes, I'm getting the feeling that no one in this book is going to end up sympathetic in the final analysis.

The main question I'm still mulling over is whether Rorschach's narration is meant to sound like pretentious bollocks or if its genuinely meant to be read as deep and contemplative. I'm leaning towards it being the pretentious bollocks of someone who thinks they're deep and contemplative, a reading my friends mostly agree with.

Which leads us to the further question: is the new Rorschach in Doomsday Clock just imitating this one's style or does he honestly believe his stream of bollocks is deep and contemplative?

Friday 24 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #24: Infamy of the Zaross


Okay, because this came out all of a day ago I'm trying to keep this as spoiler free as possible but I do mention some plot details so anyone wanting to go into this Tenth Doctor Adventures box set totally unspoilt should look away now (and also for the next two evenings and then I'll go back to rambling about old stuff the statute of limitations has expired on).


Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Adventures 2.1:
Infamy of the Zaross
written by John Dorney

Its bloody weird listening to this and getting a genuine nostalgia rush for 2006. If nothing else that's a measure of success in itself. The moment Jackie sighs and greets the Doctor with “Hello, trouble.” I knew this was going to at least be a comfortable, familiar listen.

Is that a criticism? It sort of sounds like one and if there's one thing that concerns me about this box set is that the writing team is practically a list of Big Finish's current old faithfuls: John Dorney, Guy Adams and Matt Fitton. To be clear, I like all these guys and I've no reason to think their stories will be anything but good however I would like to see some more experimentation. Big Finish listeners are a pretty captive audience, after all.

Anyway, plot wise we're in familiar RTD-era territory: there's an alien invasion going on with a satirical twist. Its not a twist I'm too fond of as its about “Millennial fame culture”, a subject that rather tends to get an overly critical reception. There's also what should be a touching moment of Rose telling a young woman that whatever she does she'll always be special which would be a great sentiment if it didn't come from a character who has always been presented as the best of the best as far as the Doctor and the fan base is concerned.

There's a lot to love here despite those criticisms. The alien invasion is led by a set of brilliantly observed office manager types whose every line of dialogue is comedy gold. Jackie gets a rather more sympathetic portrayal here than she did for a lot of her two series on the show though for those craving an authentic RTD nostalgia buzz I assure you there is an Awful Mother elsewhere in the story so tick that one off the list. Actually, if you thought that Jackie running around with a big gun at the end of series four was out of character then John Dorney has you covered as he perfectly works out a scenario for Jackie to do exactly that again but funnier and with more exploration of character.

You know, listening to this I think that either I underestimated Camille Codouri's skills or Russel T. Davies did because she's fantastic.

All in all its not Earth-shatteringly innovative but it is an excellent distillation of the RTD era, especially his season openers. Here's hoping that distillation continues and we get something a little more involved for the next two stories.

The Return of Sly Marbo

I am inordinately fond of Sly Marbo and now, finally, he's getting a plastic model. I did like the old metal one but this one is a lot better. We don't know what his rules are going to be but I have a lot of hope that he;ll be a lethal one-shot weapon because if there's one thing this edition has been good for its been taking a long look at what a unit or character is meant to be for.

I have an affection for lone operatives and spies. I'm also the right age to have watched all those eighties action movies when they were new and something we took seriously.

I also like the fact there's a little smiling carnivorous plant on his base. A little friend.
Sadly, every time I think about making a Catachan army I remember just how bad the basic troops are. The Command Squad and the Heavy Weapons are great but the Infantry Squad are just so dated. Look at that sergeant at the front there: not even the greatest miniature painters in the world can make that face anything other than a disaster of misaligned proportions.

I adore the idea of the Catachans. I love their way of war; I love their special characters; I love the Straken novel by Toby Frost; I love Catachan-pattern Sentinels. Those Infantry Squads, though, are in serious need of replacement before I seriously consider the army. 

Thursday 23 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #23: The Barnacled Baby


Audio Adventures in Time and Space #30:
The Barnacled Baby
written by Anthony Keetch

Its back to the world of unlicensed Doctor Who spin-offs for another adventure featuring a well-known one-off monster from the show. This time its the shapeshifting fetus people the Zygons and... well...

Okay, to put it mildly there are times when BBV landed on the wrong wide of good taste. There was Only Human that took a hard swerve into trigger warning territory in the middle of what felt like a lightweight Doctor Who adventure and some seriously insensitive material about child loss in The Rani Reaps The Whirlwind. By comparison inflicting the mental image of a Zygon beastfeeding is mild by comparison but still not entirely pleasant (due to it being a Zygon, not the act of breastfeeding itself, you understand). The idea is that the Zygon is weak because he doesn't have a Skarasen to drink the milk from and this woman has offered to sub in.

Anyway, the situation is this: the Zygon is alone and cut off from his spaceship and because he landed in Victorian England he's ended up in a freakshow. The owner sees “the Barnacled Baby of the Sea” as his meal ticket, a wonder that Queen Victoria wants to view and PT Barnum wants to exhibit. There's also a wealthy doctor, Sir Frederick Maltravers (played by Clive Merrison, to my great surprise) who wants to purchase the Zygon in the name of science.

Talking of surprising voices, this is the first time I've heard Deborah Watling perform since her death. Its always a funny feeling, that voice from the past you know is no longer around. I sort of dread listening to the final Jago & Litefoot box set for this very reason. Watling appears only briefly but gets in a corker of the final scene where she gets to deliver the twist punchline I'm starting to get used to from these monster-led audios.

Bizarre breastfeeding scenes aside, this is actually a good take on one of the classic science-fiction situations. Bobby the Zygon (who has an alien name but one the internet refuses to tell me how to spell) is in a weak position and proceeds to manipulate or murder whoever he needs to in an attempt to locate his ship. Running alongside the Zygon's story is tale of typically squalid Victorian family drama with the freakshow owner Jethro and his much abused daughter Doris, her former lover Toby and the financial problems and opportunities of all three. Its actually a lot better written and performed than the last couple of these monster audio I listened to. Quality-wise its much more like The Quality of Mercy was: well-acted and atmospheric with a well-realised historical setting.

Sadly, TARDIS Wikia credits Anthony Keetch with only three other pieces of Doctor Who fiction, all of them prose Short Trips and he;s mainly an actor. In fact, he's Coordinator Vansell from the early Gallifrey-set Big Finish audios which I didn't realise under the thick jolly Cockney accent. Pity, I would rather have enjoyed hearing some more full-length audios from him. 

The Big #1: Doomsday Clock #1


(Plot type spoilers and a hell of a lot of unfounded and ill-informed speculation await you below.)
It occurs to me that I probably should have finally got around to reading Watchmen before this came out. I fully intend to rectify the problem this afternoon (its one of DC's eternal classics, Waterstone's has to have copy) but for the moment let's all pretend that I intended to go into this series unbiased by the perception of the original series' sacred cow status instead of just being someone with the forward planning skills of a custard doughnut.

Agreed? Moving on.

Through that prism (or lack of prism), I have a few thoughts. Firstly, was the narration from Rorschach always complete pretentious drivel or what? Now, if that was what Geoff Johns was going for with it he succeeds admirably. “An intestine of truth and shit strangled us.” is absolute gold if your intention was to write a dumb or mad person's idea of deep social commentary. Speaking of which...

He's not a subtle man, our Geoff Johns. The US President of Watchmen Earth, President Redford is pretty much Donald Trump pretending to be Ronald Reagan (art imitates life): he's got a wall to keep out Mexicans and he's replaced the entire free press of the United States with his own news channel so he can better explain to the people that he absolutely has to start a nuclear war no matter what those horrible foreign news organisation think is happening.

Okay then.

As to how much this issue tips its hand towards the connection between the Watchmen continuity and the DC Universe... it doesn't. Most of the issue takes place on the Watchmen Earth with only a short coda at the end featuring Superman having a nightmare that's probably some sort of premonition. The nightmare in question features Superman's parents dying on the night of his high school prom just as he watches Pete Ross kissing Lana Lang and being heartbroken.

I hope this means something.

You see, an odd thing over the last decade or so has been the increasing desire to kill off the Kents. It generally started with Pa Kent who was killed off in the comics during the New Krypton arc, in the middle seasons of Smallville, and then was declared to have died years ago at the beginning of the New 52. Now Ma Kent (otherwise known as “WHY DID YOU SAY THAT NAME!?”) seems to have joined him in the great hereafter a lot earlier than I'd assumed.

So the question that occurs to me is this: Is this something to do with the diddling about with history that's been slowly uncovered since the Rebirth one-shot? Is Superman now having a super sad childhood with 100% more dead parents some part of the master plan? I feel confident in assuming it is because Geoff Johns is that sort of writer but also because its an odd nightmare to be explicitly placing as a premonition of doom of those events have nothing to do with the whole Watchmen thing.

As to the actual Watchmen content... I absolutely need to read the original because this seems to follow on pretty directly from what I know of that series' conclusion. We're introduced to a pair of new characters, the Marionette and the Mime who appear to be what counts as super-villains in the Watchmen continuity, who are being recruited by Rorschach who appears to not be Rorschach (though he has what I assume to be a convincing line in imitation of the original's pretentious bollocks) who has a watch that's a bit slow so he doesn't know quite how long they've got until nuclear armageddon.

Its all very atmospheric and darkly humoured, at least I hope I'm meant to be taking it that way. One of the problems with the consensus DC all-time classics is that a lot of them seem to be taken a lot more seriously than they were meant to be. When I finally took a look at some of Frank Miller's Batman stuff I was actually surprised by how many jokes and little knowing nods were in there. You will never convince me that Batman admiring how well Sarah Essen walks in heels as she pretends to be a prostitute being assaulted is not meant to make me smile. On the other hand, The Killing Joke is exactly as po-faced as its reputation makes it out to be and that's Alan Moore.

So, yes, I definitely need to read Watchmen before the second issue comes out. Absent that context the issue is pretty good, visually interesting and well-written if I'm taking certain things the right way. I am painfully aware, however, that we still aren't anywhere near the punchline that I am dreading: the moment when the Watchmen universe and the DC universe finally collide.

I look forward to this moment with dread barely tinged with the distant glimmer of hope. 

Wednesday 22 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #22: The Empire State


Bernice Summerfield 7.6:
The Empire State
written by Eddie Robson

Why do I get the awful feeling that I'm eventually going to spin the disc that opens the next season and find out that the cliffhanger and the whole situation on the Collection was resolved in a novel that's probably out of print?

I know this is a very specific whinge but I do find it irritating how the novel and audio series were intertwined and neither was exactly the primary source for major events. The box set era had novels, which I did read, and those were all side stories to the events of the audio. You could happily ignore the books and you'd get a complete experience just from the audio stories. In this era, not so much. I'm practically certain Doggles appeared in Summer of Love for the very first time in the audios but we're supposed to know him because he was in the books.

Right, now I've whinged about the overall structure of the Bernice Summerfield series in this era let me get on to my whinge about the overall structure of the audio series in particular because that's sort of where that all came from.

If this is a season finale then I'm a Dutchman (I'd say Chinaman but a: racist and, b: actually some distant Chinese heritage on my father's side so not the best way to make my point). We carry on from Summer of Love and The Oracle of Delphi as Bernice goes to dig up the Stone Of Barter that she found out about from the Oracle under orders from Bev at the end of Summer of Love. So far so good, halfway decent structure. Unfortunately this mission takes her far from the Collection and into a rather separate adventure that only really gets back to the point at the end without taking us back to the Collection and the situation this has all been intended to resolve.

I just know its going to have been dealt with in a bloody book.

Anyway, the Stone Of Barter was meant to be in a place called the Empire State, a lunar colony that was wiped off the map by an explosion a century or so back. As the story begins, Bernice finds herself disorientated and standing in a suddenly revived and fully populated Empire State. Bernice is confused and looking for a women called Maggie with whom she was working on the dig to find the Empire State. Maggie, meanwhile, has struck up a friendship with a man called Rand, the person who originally blew up the colony. Its not that the mystery of how the colony came back is uninteresting (though the presence of a magic stone at the centre of it means it isn't the most complicated mystery either) but the very tight continuity of the last two stories rather led me to believe the season would conclude with a conclusion.

However, much like The Oracle of Delphi, this story contributes to the general arc of the season only at the very end after a pretty much separate adventure concludes. Well, that and in various video messages from Jason Kane updating Benny on the situation back at the Collection.

A situation I can only hope, but do not necessarily expect, to hear resolved when I get to season eight. 

Doomsday Clock Watchin'


Today's the day. Today it begins. The series I have been dreading since the DC Rebirth one-shot hit, the potentially horrible punchline at the end of all the good things the entire Rebirth initiative has achieved.

So here's my issue. I have adored the whole groundwork for this. Superman Reborn, A Lonely Place of Living, all the other little bits and pieces hinting towards the conspiracy underlying the whole DC Universe. Unfortunately, we've known since day one that the whole conspiracy somehow involves the mad idea of introducing the Watchmen character to the DCU proper.

I'm not exactly crazy about this idea.

I mean, the whole point of Watchmen is to be a satire of how disastrous superheroes would be in the real world. The DC Universe is not the real world, is actually in fact defined by having a lot of cities and trappings that separate it very much from the real world.

Essentially, I question the sanity of introducing satire characters to the world they were meant to satirise.

That having been said I'm on board for the first issue at least because, well... the car crash mentality in the main but also because every step up to this point has been enjoyable and I have the tiniest scintilla of a hope that maybe this has actually been thought through enough to work.

Just the tiniest bit. 

Tuesday 21 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #21: The Oracle of Delphi


Bernice Summerfield 7.5:
The Oracle of Delphi
written by Scott Handcock

Well, I wanted more Jason Kane before he was gone and I'm getting it. Not un-coincidentally, the line “What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this with no clothes on.” is about the most Jason line ever written.

So, as this season of Benny audios becomes more and more serialised we have Bernice and Jason using their time rings to travel back to 430BCE Greece to asks the Delphic Oracle some questions. Naturally, Jason decides to have a bit of skinny dip in a sacred pool while Bernice goes to ask the questions (and find an empty cave for her troubles) and ends up getting hypnotised and kidnapped by some random woman. That's just how he rolls, go with it.

Incidentally, I have to wonder how much I'm screwing myself over by not reading the books because I was bloody sure the Oracle of Delphi or somesuch other future telling sort was actually present on the Collection. I thought she was why the Collection was where it was. Ho hum...

Anyway, the meat of the episode is Benny having a good old celebrity historical team-up with Socrates, a team-up started by her trying to tell him in broken Ancient Greek that she's looking for her husband and giving him the impression she's just looking for a man and wants to sleep with him. She later signs a note to him “Lots of sex, Benny.” I rather like this version of Socrates who gets annoyed at the very idea that Plato felt the need to write an apology for him and ends up putting Jason in a headlock.

I said I liked Jason, not that I didn't want him to get a sound beating every now and again. In that sense I feel a certain kinship with Benny herself.

There's the usual historical ticking time bomb in the form of the plague that's going to imminently sweep across Greece which means Benny really, really has to find Jason quickly. In this search she is helped by correctly identifying that where there;s an all-female cult with booze Jason Kane won't be far behind. Both characters get a chance to stand in the Athenian Assembly, a scene that Benny makes a magnificent hash up of whilst wearing a disguise the effectiveness of which is left as an exercise for the listener (personally I choose to imagine a fake beard augmenting her stolen robe).

As fun as it is, there is the feeling that at this stage the idea of writing for the arc is still a little new and fiddly for the series as the asking of the questions Bev wants answered (well, some of them) form a coda at the end of the story in which literally Benny and Jason have to backtrack from where they came in order to fulfill what was meant to be the whole point of the story. A minor issue in an otherwise enjoyable tale. 

I'm going to miss Jason Kane


[SPOILERS for the later seasons of Bernice Summerfield and the eventual fate of Jason Kane.]

Listening to these old Bernice Summerfield audios the last few days I've remembered how much I adore the audio version of Jason Kane. Back in the day when he was a character in the novels I never really cared for him. He was introduced rather quickly a whole book before marrying Bernice in what was meant to be her departure from the series. The publisher then lost the Doctor Who license and decided Benny needed to get divorced or risk being an uninteresting protagonist because...

Well, because the misogynist belief that marriage is somehow the death of all fun in a person's life, that's fucking why. Seriously, how is this a mainstream attitude to marriage and yet so many straight people want to keep the institution all to themselves?

Anyway, Jason and why I adore him.

I love his relationship with Bernice, the on-again off-again thing they have going for them that even when its on isn't 100% exclusive. That, Virgin Publishing, is how you allow yourselves to have the interesting character relationship of marriage (and it is interesting if you allow it to be) and still have on-off and temporary love interests when it'll serve the story.

I love that he is an absolute chancer always out to make a buck but with a heart of gold. During the occupation storyline and the brilliant short story collection Life During Wartime which was about the only Bernice Big Finish novel I ever read, he appears to have sided with Axis and become a collaborator. Eventually, though, it turns out he's been using his position to smuggle food out to an underground railroad for the Collection's children.

One thing I will say that actually encompasses the novel version of Jason is that I appreciate the attempt to portray a male survivor of child abuse. It rarely landed with any author besides Paul Cornell and Kate Orman but the effort was there to portray the character with sensitivity and reference to how he still deals with the memories as an adult.

That said, I don't think anyone ever addressed the fate of his sister.

Anyway, the reason for this post is I know that Jason is going to die. I know vaguely how it happens, even, since I picked up the box set series of Bernice Summerfield. I know this character I like is on borrowed time as I barrel through his remaining appearances.

That said, if they ever actually address the bloody cliffhanger from Missing Persons we might yet hear from him again.

Monday 20 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #20: Summer of Love


Bernice Summerfield 7.4:
Summer of Love
written by Simon Guerrier

I guess it was only a matter of time before someone wrote an actual, honest to goodness sex comedy for Bernice Summerfield. Bernice has returned to the Braxiatel Collection which has been falling apart recently (presumably in the novels which I never followed and would explain the introduction of Doggles, a character I'd never heard of before). For some reason people are shagging like rabbits and Ben Tarrant, former art thief and current head of the Collection, is wandering the grounds naked reprimanding students.

The punchline to it all is actually brilliant: this is a literal sex pollen story. I kid you not, an actual canonical sex pollen story which has both magnificent comedy potential and some very, very serious disadvantages where the issue of consent is concerned. The script absolutely leans into both aspects of the classic fan fiction trope and I'm not sure it entirely works but here we go.

On the plus side there's plenty of comedy to be had from Bernice watching the Collection descending slowly towards all-out gangbang whilst Jason is off-world. As she explains herself, she and Jason are hardly monogamous (“monogamous when they can be” is the phrase she uses) but she's obviously not in the mood to play away at this stage of their relationship. Unfortunately she has advances from Doggles, Adrian, Joseph the robot porter, the gaseous groundskeeper Haas (who I swear used to be an Ice Warrior, probably another event from the novels I missed), various students and even Bev to contend with.

On the down side, of course, are the consent issues which range from the merely bad (Doggles acting like a kicked puppy at his thwarted advances) to the downright repugnant (Haas engaging Bernice in an activity without telling her it'll give him a thrill). Its sort of impossible to do a sex pollen story without addressing this, at least if you want it to be anything other than masturbation material on a fan fiction site, but I'm not sure that Guerrier sticks the landing. I'm rather reminded of some of the more... unsavoury implications of his Graceless series but a lot milder.

Like, a lot milder.

The main joy of the story, aside from Bernice's constant need for a cold shower, is getting to hear Bev Tarrant lording it over the Collection as its nudist master which turns out to be less about sexual inhibition and more about treaty negotiations with a series of local worlds who are in real danger of invading the Collection now Brax is gone. I do wish this series spent a little more time at the Collection as I've always liked the cast, especially Adrian and Bev who appear to now be a couple which makes sense of why they're always mentioned together by Peter in the Legion-era box sets.

Next stop, according to the cliffhanger, is a Bernice and Jason story as they go searching for “advice” on how to keep the Collection safe. For some reason this involves the Oracle of Delphi. You've got to love anthology series.

Hive Fleet Jormungandr (in theory)


I'm making progress painting my Start Collecting set (the old one with the Hive Tyrant) and I've got a few other odds and ends cheap off eBay. The Codex is in hand and thoroughly flicked through for inspiration so its time to think about the sort of army I'm building towards. Thus, a theoretical army list. Nothing extravagant, just 50 power to be getting on with. Here's what I'm thinking:

(anything without wargear are units I haven't built yet)

HQ
Hive Tyrant with scything talons and heavy venom cannon
Tervigon with massive scything talons and stinger salvo

Elites
3 Venomthropes

Troops
3 Tyranid Wariors with rendings claws, devourers and venom cannon
20 Hormagaunts with scything talons
10 Genestealers.

Fast Attack
20 Gargoyles

52 power

As I say, this is mainly a “field what I got” army which is why my tunneling army of ambush contains not one single Ravener or Trygon. That I'm leaving for 100 power and when I start to experiment with fancy tactics after I've mastered the basics.

The Tervigon is probably a bit OP for this size of game but I learnt recently that these sorts of armies need bodies on the ground and some big things to draw fire, both of which a Tervigon is admirably capable of plus being having an extra psyker on the table is always useful. Also, I got a cheap one off eBay for like twenty quid and I am dying to paint it.

I won't pretend there's any great tactical insight in this list its more a statement of intent to give me something concrete to work towards: the point at which I will have something like a useable army. After “useable”, one hopes, comes “good”.

So here;s to embarrassing but educative defeat!

Sunday 19 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #19: The Worst Thing In The World


Bernice Summerfield 7.3:
The Worst Thing In The World
written by Dave Stone

Dave Stone is a funny one. I have a sort of love-hate relationship with his writing but not in the sense of some worked landing on one side and some on the other. That would be too simple an attitude to have towards The New Adventures' weirdest son, oh no. No, I tend to find his stuff a bit hard to get into but once I'm a few minutes/chapters in I start going with the flow and really enjoying it. Thus it was when I originally bought this CD: I got a couple of minutes into the Eastenders parody that opens the disc and gave up.

Then, when it was getting on for two o'clock this afternoon and I still hadn't written anything for this 30 Discs series and nothing was really grabbing me so I thought “Sod it, might as well get this one out of the way.”.

Whatever else I have to say about the story it made me realise how much I miss Jason Kane and hope that we get to see him again some day, an idea that was briefly mentioned at the end of the old Bernice box set series before they went back to being an explicit Doctor Who spin-off. I love that old chancer and his on-off relationship with Bernice that actually manages to be as entertaining whether its off or on. In this story he's being interviewed for galactic television as the director of a “xeno-porn bondage” movie because that's just the sort of thing Jason gets involved with when Benny isn't keeping him in line.

Anyway, he's being interviewed on “the Drome”: a massive self-contained corporate eco-system entirely dedicated to producing television shows. Everyone is part of the show there with actors doubling as audience members in other shows. Its all the brainchild of Marvin Glass whose brain patterns power the massive “transputer” that runs the Drome and who is inconveniently murdered a few minutes into the story providing us with plot and Jason with a reason to call in the expertise of his ex-wife.

It also gives Bernice a chance to escape the chaos of the post-Braxiatel Collection. I don't really remember the all the context (this has been sitting to one side for quite literally a couple of years) but it turns out that Bev Tarrant is not enjoying running the place after they kicked the boss out and Benny is extremely keen to have an adventure that's just fun and has nothing to do with anything.

The story that follows is one of the more batshit installments in Bernice's series as she and Jason find themselves dawn into various TV parodies as characters between more straightforward scenes of them going undercover to investigate Marvin Glass' murder. Your mileage will probably vary on this story depending on how much you enjoy really comical parodies such as, say, Bernice waking up as the heroine in a bodice ripper period drama and really, really living up to the name of the genre. Its the sort of over the top weird that one expects from Dave Stone which is either a massive selling point or a big strike against the story, in my case kind of both since it first stopped me getting into the plot and then was what kept me listening.

The end of the story promises that Benny and Jason are on their way back to the Collection to deal with ongoing plot which I am rather looking forward to because I do miss the Collection cast and I think I'll spend these next few entries polishing off season seven as listening to Ruler of the Universe reminded me how fun the Bernice Summerfield series is. 

Watch Station Rubicon (a Tyranids side narrative)


Its no use, the not having a story to tell is getting to me. Tyranids are a wonderful army to paint, a fascinating army to play but there is nothing to write. No other army in any Warhammer system offers zero opportunities to personalise and characterise your force. They are completely without personality and whilst I feel sure that once I have a tide of chitinous to unleash on my opponents, once I'm contributing at least to their stories, that will have its charm for the moment it feels a little lacking.

So I'm dusting off my Deathwatch. Like the Mechanicus and Genestealer Cults I was really into the idea when the army came out but ended up making a couple of kits' worth before losing interest. I cannot stress how little seventh edition engaged me as a player.

You know what does engage me? Teams of mismatched individuals who eventually cohere into a closely bonded unit. What can I say? I was raised on Joss Whedon shows and Star Wars Expanded Universe novels.

The idea I talked over with my friend Tom, an Imperial Guard player and one of my most regular opponents, was that I'd make a couple of Kill-Teams and he (or anyone else in the group playing an Imperium army) would leave some space in their army list for a Kill-Team of their choice as an allied unit. The idea being that the Kill-Teams are on a wide-ranging mission against Hive Fleet Jormungandr and these battles are where their operations interact with the longterm deployment of the Guard and other forces in the sector.

And thus I have a story to write.

In particular, the story of Watch Station Rubicon and its commanding officer Watch Master Caldon Gerhardt of the Iron Knights. The team of oddballs, incidentally, will be Kill-Team Germanicus led by the rather mismatched but curiously efficient partnership of Sergeant Yehven Germanicus of the Novamarines (a by the book Codex sort) and Brother Mannheim of the Raptors (the ultimate “whatever works” chapter).

There'll be a Black Shield, of course, because they are too cool not to have; the various members of Kill-Team Cassius re-purposed to be my own characters; and a pair of Space Wolves because I love the background detail that Space Wolves always join in pairs. Oh, and Germanicus' rival is a Sergeant of my beloved Flesh Tearers because I was also brought up on crap animes where a rival on the hero's own side was a prerequisite.