Saturday, 28 June 2008

Further Celebration Of The Inexorable Passage Of Time

Today BT gets one year older, which we celebrate here by offering up a song about the horsies she loves so much.

I Now Add Comics To The Geek Gumbo That Is This Blog

This might only be truly relevant for comic book afficionados, but Progressive Boink's deconstruction of why Rob Liefield is one of the most overrated comic book artists of all time (if not one of the most overrated artists of any stripe of all time across all sentient species) made me laugh so hard I required medical attention. Best line:
If this isn’t a drawing of a naked guy on fire anally violating a semi-nude grotesquery in midair I don’t know comic books.

Although, really, they're all brilliant.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Wanted For Crimes Against Cute Doggies

So one of my precious, precious doggies got set upon by a goddamn pit-bull whilst on the beach. Pictured here is the perpetrator (well, it's the same type, at least, and I'm really not that uncomfortable with racism as applied to dog breeds).

We also present my dog, pictured in happier times (i.e. without fucking holes in her fucking neck).

It looks like a fairer fight than it was, since Staffordshire Bull Terriers were specifically bred to ruin other dogs' shit, and Old English Sheepdogs, were they specifically bred at all, presumably were done so to create the illusion of a cowardly walking carpet. If Threepio had been a dog, he would have been a OES (Artoo would probably have been a spaniel). Storm ended up bitten fairly badly in three places.

Once this thing's owner finally bothered to arrive and grab hold of it, it twisted free and attacked Storm, biting my mother in the process as she tried to separate them. It then got lose again and went for Josh instead, which didn't go as well for the little git since Josh is made of somewhat sterner stuff. Both of them had to get injections, Storm's on antibiotics and we have to keep checking for infection, and given that it went for my mother (fortunately the damage is mainly superficial) the canine douche-bag is very lucky not to have been put down (and by lucky, I mean that the police won't do anything on the grounds it was my mother's fault for sticking her hands in the dog's jaws, apparently better to just have let it tear Storm's throat out).

So, given that these rabid bastards exist purely to rip the throats out of other dogs (this thing wasn't just vicious, it was pretty good with it target selection), wouldn't you keep the damn thing on a lead? How has it survived this long without being destroyed? Some of these breeds are now illegal in many countries, and I can see why.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

From The Archives

It's now two on a Thursday morning, leaving me with four more days to finish the novel I sort of wrote back in November and wanted to actually end properly. Unfortunately writer's block has hit pretty hard (and if anyone has a cool name for a hideously be-weaponed battle cruiser, I'm open to ideas), so I'm basically just up drinking. Thus, in order to justify the damage to my liver, I choose to indulge in one of the activities I'd always assumed the internet was built for: relating stories about my insane friend Mad Richard.

Mad Richard is, at the very least, a statistical anomaly. In fact, he is a statistical anomaly on two fronts. Firstly, the very weirdest of weird shit constantly happens to him; Richard is liable to say "I had to hitch-hike home on a tractor" in much the same way you or I might say "I had to go inside because it started raining."

Secondly, none of the crazy events that seem to follow him around like probability-defying flies has ever managed to kill him. They totalled his bike once, and it's a miracle his liver survived celebrating R's nineteenth birthday (he told me once he'd only been drinking so hard because he'd misheard his biology teacher in school and thought he had two livers; the revelation that he had only the one was something he likened to discovering that Santa Claus was entirely fictitious).

In honour of Mad Richard, then, I present the conversation that occurred between us on the day R introduced us.

Mad R: Hey!

R: Hey Richard. This is my mate Squid.

SS: Wotcha.

R: How are things.

Mad R: Pretty awesome actually. I got a job!

This is clearly news of some surprise.

R: Really?

Mad R: Really. Of course, I had to lie a bit on the entrance form.

This is apparently news of considerably less surprise.

R: Christ, Richard, what did you do this time?

Mad R: I pretended to have eighteen years of fighter pilot experience.

R: You're only eighteen years old!

Mad R: Well obviously I had to lie about my date of birth, too.

R: Fine. Let's skip a number of steps and get straight to you telling us what this job actually is.

Mad R: You know what a black hole is?

R: Yeeeeeeees.

Mad R: And you know how anything fired into a black hole will be instantly crushed by the horrific gravitational forces such celestial phenomena generate?

R: I'm not sure I can cope with what's coming next.

SS: I find myself oddly curious from a scientific perspective.

R: You said that about "Pets Win Prizes".

Mad R: Anyway, the very instant NASA develop a vessel that can survive the pummelling already described, they're going to fire me into a black hole inside of it. You would not believe how much they're offering as payment.

There is silence for several seconds.

SS: I think we need to review.

Mad R: What do you mean?

SS: I mean that even if NASA are so blind they can't tell the difference between a man who's been flying for eighteen years and a teenager who's been breathing for eighteen years, and even if we skip over the somewhat inconvenient truth [1] that we're talking about singularities here, and "survive the pummelling already described" isn't really a question of bolting on an extra layer of steel or anything, and the equally problematical fact that we have no idea where to find black holes, much less how to get you there, then current scientific thinking about this stuff suggests you're gonna get tossed into another universe, or into the past, or something. You'll never return to collect your salary.

Mad R: Well, if I'm going to get thrown into the past, I hope it'll be to yesterday; I completely fucked up that assessed chemistry practical.

R: Is it time to get drunk yet?


Right, that hasn't helped at all. I'm going to bed.

PS: I promised not to drone on about politics unless I came up with some angle I hadn't seen anywhere else, so I'll keep this brief, but I did want to mention that the White House has started dealing with irksome environmental reports that condemn them by no longer opening the e-mails they are contained in. This, by the way, is an excuse that has been tried by our undergraduates and failed miserably, so it's interesting that the "Leader of the Free World" is looking to get in on the action.

[1] I fucking copyrighted that! Damn Al Gore. DAMN HIM!

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

In Which It's Apparently The Nineteeth Century Again

Heinz has had to pull its latest TV ad after getting a couple hundred complaints about it. The offending advert is shown below in all its society-corrupting glory.

Surely that's just too damn funny to object to, right? How are we still at this point? I note that, of course, it's all about protecting the children. Apparently the ad
raised the difficult problem of parents having to discuss the issue of same-sex
relationships with younger viewers.

I've been hearing this argument a lot lately (most often in conjunction with Doctor Who's disgraceful ongoing practice of admitting gay people exist, one particularly egregious coming from Guardian writer Zoe Williams whose child had met John Barrowman but was still judged too young by his mother to see Barrowman kiss James Marsters), and I still don't get it. How is homosexuality a concept that we have to shield our children from? I mean, I understand there genuinely are concepts that can't be handled by a child until they reach a given level of intellectual development, but since a young child's view of sexuality is frequently tremendously abstract anyway, what harm is it liable to do? I remember once asking my parents why my best mate didn't have a sister, because I just assumed everyone did. It didn't take any effort to explain that away, why would "Why does Jimmy have two dads?" be any more tricky? It's only because of the sexual element that there's a difference between the two questions, which is something a parent is projecting onto their explanation, not something that inherently needs to be part of it.

Then of course once a kid is old enough to be able to cope with sex education one would hope the issue would be raised [1], or if it isn't, then that's a bigger problem by several orders of magnitude than dudes kissing in kitchens. Christ, there isn't even any tongue.

I'm too young to remember, did we have to go through this shit with mixed race couples, too? I mean, maybe all bigotry eventually gets hidden within the claim that it would be hard to explain to kiddies. [2]

[1] I genuinely can't remember whether or not it was when I started my sex ed way back at the start of the Nineties, but I do remember knowing what it meant to be gay, and not finding it remotely confusing. Or at least no more confusing than why anyone would want to, say, go kayaking.

[2] This isn't really the point, since I refute the "it's hard to explain" argument in its entirety anyway, but given that a child can get their head very easily around, say, a bunch of people in trucks fighting alien cars made out of plants, or watch robots that turn into animals beat the crap out of each other on prehistoric Earth, the idea that they couldn't possibly get their head around some couples not automatically being one woman and one man should take seconds to process.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Last Musing On Galactica For A While: Part Two

Now then, where was I? Spoilers ahead, peeps and peepesses.

Once we make the leap of logic and work under the theory that the Earth was wrecked quite some time ago, the immediate head-scratcher that presents itself is: why come here at all? Clearly someone or something wants the Colonials to get to Earth, as evidenced by what happened to Starbuck. But that same intelligence seemed very keen on making it as convoluted a process as possible. One possible explanation for this was to force the humans and the Cylons to work together, to discover Earth as a united front; although frankly it's a minor miracle that ever worked out.

Is this intelligence the Final Cylon? And if that's the case, did he/she stay behind when the Final Five travelled to Earth, or is there something more going on? We still have no idea how the skin-jobs were created. Ronald D Moore has already said that Tigh, Anders, Tyrol and Foster don't have model numbers (what happened to No 7? I've no idea, although even money says the question gets covered in one of the TV movies they're considering making after the series ends); which helps explain why there aren't multiple models, but more importantly it adds fuel to the idea that the Five may well not be part of the current generation of Cylons. They may have set up the current crop of skin-jobs themselves (Tigh points out that Cylon aging isn't impossible, not that it's inevitable). There are a lot of possible explanations as to why: one being the belief that they needed to procreate one way or another (note how this was passed on to their "children") another being that they needed a force capable of returning humanity to Earth (and if they figured could only do that by forcing another nuclear holocaust as a mirror image of the first, then it would betray a certain mechanical logic: they certainly know that it's worked once).

The corollary to this is the idea that the Final Cylon is a hangover from the original war. Again, I'm not the first person to suggest the Cylon "God" may actually be the only unknown model. Perhaps said model went through a similar epiphany to Caprica and (briefly) Boomer following the original war, and is attempting to make amends by bringing humanity home. The arrival of the fleet represents a plan that's been in motion for who knows how many millenia. For whatever reason (probably one of resources) the Final Cylon waited until the Colonials created their own race of Cylons before dispatching his four agents to help the toasters cyborg themselves the fuck up (it's hardly compelling evidence in the context of a sci-fi show about killer robots, but I always thought it was a bit of a leap from chrome-jobs to skin-jobs in just forty years).

All of this leads us to the next Big Question (TM) which is: what exactly is the fleet going to do now that it's "home"? More specifically, who are they going to fight? The current alliance with one half of the Cylons might still fall apart, of course (although that would undo a lot of interesting stuff that has been done this season, so I hope not) or the other half of the Cylon fleet could show up and start blasting at shit (certainly it would be interesting to see how the other three models respond to the the Final Five). Certainly things can't remain as they are, you can't spend ten episodes looking around the solar system and shrugging [1]. But what if they don't go back to just slapping around the Colonial-made Cylons? What if they have to face a larger threat? Say, whatever happened to Cylon society after the first war. Just because the Final Cylon is interested in getting the humans home (assuming this isn't the mother of all traps, designed at finishing off humanity once and for all by wiping out 99.99975% of them on the colonies and then sending the rest of them into an ambush at Earth), it doesn't mean the rest of the first-gen bunch have to think the same way (if we go back to the cyclic time thing again, the Final Cylon might be analogous to Athena), which would allow the series to something new instead of constantly reshuffling the positions of the Colonials and the known models.

Anyway, that's all I got right now.

[1] This is another reason why I don't buy into the Colonials as Cylons idea; I'm far from sure it leaves any room for further development. We find out they're all skin-jobs and then... what?

In Which An Old Friend Gets More Decrepit

In honour of Pause taking one step closer to the grave today with a tremendously ill-advised "birthday", I thought I'd post up this video to celebrate his heritage.

Shameless Self-Congratulation

Got hold of my Japanese results for the year on Thursday. I didn't do as well as last year, but I still came in over the 80% mark, so I can now confidently say I can speak Japanese at an elementary level. Since I can't possibly afford the intermediate classes (which are fully twice as expensive as the beginner's class I took in 2006), I shall probably have to leave it at that for a while.

Still, nice to know I can stutter out meaningless platitudes and basic directions in a country I cannot possibly afford to go to.

Last Musing On Galactica For A While: Part One

(This post contains the internet tradition known as "spoilers").

So after three years of wandering space, fighting robots, and using the word "frak" in socially unacceptable situations, the rag-tag fugitive fleet finally manages to pull up their hand-brakes over a shining planet named Earth (anyone looking for jokes about flying motorbikes can go elsewhere, I am trying to not be too obvious today).

My previous musings regarding the show have all focused upon the nature of the Final Five and how their existence can be crow-barred into the established history of the show. Well, half a season later and we're almost no closer to any kind of answer than we were to begin with. Aside from Tigh's conversation with Adama, which may be more important than it appeared (I think it finally answered the question of whether Tigh was ever "replaced"; since if this was the case the dialogue would have accentuated how Tigh's revelation made no sense, rather than quickly glossing over it), the only real piece of information to puzzle over is D'Anna's comment that only 80% of the Final Five were aboard the Colonial Fleet.

There are four theories that spring from this comment. Firstly, D'Anna might have been lying; the only reason I can think of for that is the realisation that if everything went tits-up and the Colonials flushed the four, she would still have some chance of rescuing the last one. This seems pretty unlikely, though, since she presumably couldn't know it was exactly four of the five that have been "activated", and because she was prepared to blast the fleet out of space once Tigh, Anders and Tyrol were stuck in the airlock.

The second is that the fifth Cylon was aboard the base-star at the time. This has the advantage of meaning said Cylon might still be someone we would recognise when they show up, but if this was the case, why wouldn't D'Anna talk to them in person, especially once Tory arrived and thus gave D'Anna some indication that the Final Five had been awoken.

Option three is a theory Senior Spielbergo kicked around a while back, that the final Cylon is already dead, which has some interesting possibilities (although the main one that Sen. S suggested, namely that the final Cylon might be Adama's father, doesn't really make sense in terms of the time line, even by the standards of recent revelations), but I think after knowing for the last five years that there are twelve models, I'm not sure the writers would be likely to toss away one of their final trump cards like that. They might be able to do something pretty good with it, but a priori it's hard to see how it wouldn't seem a bit of a let-down.

Of course, the fourth and final option is that the final Cylon is still at Earth, having stayed there when the other four returned to the Colonies. Why they would choose to do that is, obviously, a complete unknown, but it at least gives us a possible route to some kind of explanation as to what happened to Starbuck. Of course, this leads us into a whole new set of questions. The most salient of which being, of course, what the hell has happened to Earth?

I've spent the last five years of my life [1] praying that when the Galactica found Earth, it wouldn't be in the past (I've never been worried about them turning up in the present day, I don't believe there could be a TV writer left in creation that wouldn't realise that that was the mother of all crap-tastic ideas). People have been talking about this possibility (most chillingly over the idea that Baltar might end up becoming Jesus, which frankly would mark the first time the new series managed to drop the ball so badly Galactica 1980 would become a better post-Earth model), so I'm glad we've gotten past that. Obviously the new question is: who nuked Earth?

Again, there are a number of possibilities. One thing that bears thinking about is whether or not the Earth was in this state when the Final Five visited, or did the attack happen some time after. There are advantages and disadvantages to both scenarios. If we assume the Earth's destruction happened comparatively recently, the most plausible scenario is that the Ones, Fours and Fives found Earth first (hardly impossible, the implication given by the show so far [2] is that they were winning the Civil War, so they likely have more Basestars around to search for Earth), and blew the crap out of everything. I'm not convinced by this idea, though, mainly because finding a ruined Earth after years of searching is bad enough, and I think finding out you were just too late to do anything about it might be too dark even for Galactica.

So let's assume the attack occurred prior to the arrival of the Five. This ties in neatly to the "All this has happened before" idea, the idea that Earth was obliterated in a nuclear holocaust just like the Twelve Colonies were. The survivors of that war presumably relocated to Kobol, their records of the war became myth (this would explain the Scrolls of Pythia's impressive hit-rate predictions wise), and the Colonials got it into their heads that Earth was another colony, rather than the homeworld.

As well as tying in nicely thematically, it also allows you to have fun regarding who the Colonials actually are. The theory that they might actually all be Cylons, having taken on human form and wiping out their masters on Earth millenia ago, has been hanging around for quite a while now. I was never a huge fan of this idea, for two reasons. The first is based on the shows central concept regarding the cyclic nature of time; if a fleet fled Earth after a nuclear war, just like they have from Caprica (and for that matter New Caprica) it just makes more thematic sense for it to have been humans each time. The second reason is simply that it might be a bit harder to summon up sympathy for the humans if we discover they are in fact artificial life-forms who destroyed the actual human race generations ago. Again, this show is hardly one to shy away from dark and depressing, but "actually we're all dead and we've spent years following the fates of our killers" is probably pushing it.

No, I think it far more likely that if Kobol was the new home of refugees from Earth, that group would also be humans and not skin-jobs. The other advantage to this line of thinking is that it very easily lends itself to an idea about what the final ten episodes will concentrate on: namely, what happened to the original Cylons (or whatever they are), and where the hell are they now?

I shall post my thoughts on that very topic a little later, since I think this particular piece is quite long enough for the moment. Until then: keep watching the skies...

(Oh, and can I mention how much I love youtube? I was sat here trying to remember exactly what happened in the final scene, before I realised that I could probably just go there and type in "Galactica finds Earth". Sure enough, this led me to the final few minutes of the episode (also an "alternate ending", which is the same as the original ending but with U2 warbling over it; I never ceased to be amazed by what people spend their time doing), which was a big help).

[1] I did other stuff too, obviously.

[2] I spent some time defending the show over the whole Cylon civil war idea. It got quite a lot of flak for just how little air-time it got when it first kicked off. I counseled patience, assuming we'd get to see more of it later, but although we did get a little more info, there are a spectacular number of questions left unanswered. Did the whole fleet end up joining in? Did every base-star end up populated only by Ones, Fours and Fives or by Twos, Sixes and Eights? What happened at the Hub; did the One's shut down the resurrection capabilities for the rebel models? One of the most frustrating aspects of this show is the tendency to portray Cylon events as happening to individuals, rather than to an entire race of clones. The interchangeable names, for example. D'Anna was just a label a Three gave herself so that she could infiltrate the Colonials. There's no reason to believe that model was also the one who started going nuts on New Caprica, certainly she must have been different to the one in Downloaded (which gave us the first indication that the Three's had the potential to be pretty fucking dangerous), but for some reason that's the name they keep using. You have the same problem with Conoy: the original Conoy almost certainly can't be the same one that met Starbuck in Flesh and Bone, since it seems reasonable to assume that once the fleet was up and running (in both senses) the Cylon's weren't able to keep adding new infiltrators into the fleet. So given the current Conoy seems to be deliberately implied to be the same Cylon each time, why would he take that name? What were all the other Conoys doing while he had Starbuck held hostage in the bunker-of-love ? Season 2 made it clear that the Cylons were beginning to develop individuality (the implication is that this only happens when a model spends enough time with the humans for it to have some kind of impact), but the repeated tendency to focus on Conoy, D'Anna, and Cavil makes it hard to extrapolate to the rest of Cylon society. In fact, when was the last time we saw a Two that wasn't Conoy? Or a One that wasn't Cavil?

The inevitable side-effect to all this is that events that more or less make sense in microcosm (such as ambushing the rebels in The Ties That Bind) become desperately implausible on a wider scale. For example, given how Machiavellian, ruthless and bloodthirsty the Three's are it's hard to imagine boxing her entire line could have been easy, but we see Cavil put "our" D'Anna to bed and then just assume everything else went off OK everywhere else. We're being asked to believe that the Cylon's are sufficiently homogenised (I've been using that word a lot lately) that we can view a small portion of events and assume it can be applied on a wider scale, but the more time we spend with the particular individuals in question the more difficult that becomes to swallow.

I Could've Just Driven, You Aquamarine Bastards

Quick props to Arriva Buses, who outdid themselves this afternoon by not only forcing me to wait twenty-five minutes for a bus that runs every ten, but arranging for no less than four of said buses to sail merrily by on the other side, beating their previous record by one entire bastard omnibus.

The mystery of where all these vehicles go once they pass into deepest Newton Hall remains unsolved.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Variations of Perspective

Fatherhood, it seems, changes the make-up of the male mind. Having found that Kellogs has begun marketing edible Lego bricks, Penny Arcade's Gabe immediately thought:
I just spent the first three years of my sons life trying to get him not to eat blocks, and now you're telling him they taste like fucking strawberries.
Which, I guess, is a reasonable response from a concerned parent.

My first impulse was slightly more reptile brain, though:
I'm going to use these things to build me a gun and then I'm gonna eat it!
Whether or not this immediately disqualifies me from procreation, or whether my thought processes will shift somewhat after the hypothetical arrival of Ric Junior (shut up! That will be his name. His middle name will be ) remains to be seen.

Internet Traditions

So the whole "Internet Traditions" meme has really taken off. Even though it's pretty much entirely based around slapping down an idiot, I actually think some sort of grouping together of the various idiosyncrasies of the net is an interesting idea. It doesn't really seem to far-fetched to me (and I acknowledge that I'm way out of my depth on this one) that the internet community is developing some kind of culture just like any group of people forced to interact with each other. We already have a relatively advanced idea of net etiquette (to the point where we have a name for it) but perhaps more general ideas are arising, too. How long before we give birth to holidays, and religions (I'm pretty sure one way or another we've already fought more than a few "wars"; and we certainly have our own dialect)? Just take a look at mightygodking's contribution to all this, which in itself references what may (or may not) legitimately be considered an internet tradition. I'm wondering what other examples we might be able to dredge up.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

When Microcosms/Feministas Attack

Thought of something.

This article here worried me somewhat, mainly because at first glance I misunderstood its premise (I encountered a truncated version originally, but mainly I was just skim-reading). I thought the argument was that beating Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primaries and then having the temerity to suggest a man for the VP slot somehow made Obama a big old stinking sexist. It seemed a fairly crazy position to take; the idea that because Ms Clinton's campaign was historic (and it really, really was; she defeated Edwards, for Christ's sake, hardly a lightweight; when her campaign pointed out she had brought America to the point where a female Presidential Candidate no longer seemed extraordinary or doomed to failure, they were right on the money) any attempt to fix a second man to the ballot (conditional probability given independence: one half, motherfuckers, and anyone arguing we shouldn't have conditional independence in these things isn't arguing for equality, they're arguing for a quota system, which I'm not necessarily against per se, but acknowledge that that's what you're talking about) was immediately a slap in the face to women. If they can't have the Presidency this year, then heaven help you if they don't get the Vice Presidency.

Like I said, it's an immediate non-issue. Like anyone else with any right to exist on this Earth, I would like to see a female Veep just as much as I'd like to see a female President. But you have to come at me with a better argument than "It's our turn, so there". If you ain't the best candidate, I won't support you.

Of course, it turns out none of this matters, because the argument Ezra Klein notes in his piece isn't "Now Hillary's defeated we demand a female VP", it's "Now Hillary's gone we refuse to accept any female VP except Hillary."
"With Clinton now formally gone from the race," writes Cilizza, "her most
fervent female supporters have taken up the cause of putting her on the ticket
as the vice president. To snub Clinton in favor of another woman -- Sebelius --
would be a slight that many women might not be able to reconcile themselves to."

Klein is just as baffled by this argument as I am. That is to say, anyone saying Clinton being in the intersection of women and people who ran a slightly crappy campaign and got beaten should automatically qualify for the bottom of the ticket are wrong, are obviously wrong, but at least there's some method to their madness. It is conceivably possible to follow the tortured logic of "Women should get something out of this primary season". It's vain and self-serving and anyone who puts identity politics first is setting themselves up for a fall, but after all those years of male-dominated government (i.e. all of them) I can see how someone might end up thinking along those lines.

But this? I can't possibly wrap my head around it. Klein points out that this is counter-productive because it suggests that the door has closed after Clinton; and I agree. Somehow some people have got it into their heads that Clinton wasn't a female candidate for the Oval Office, she was the only female candidate, ever, and to let her finish with nothing (where "nothing" here is a role as a powerful Senator from a powerful state) is to slap the sisterhood across the face. Even offering up another female candidate like Sebelius is apparently a snub against women. It isn't. It is, maybe, a snub against Clinton (although by extension it would also be a snub against any other major player in the Democratic Party, and I don't see anyone bitching about how not picking Edwards would prove Obama is a dick about United Methodists), but if you can't tell the difference between snubbing a woman, and snubbing women, then you really need to shut up.

None of this might be particularly important if it didn't tie into a larger problem that the American Left has had pretty much since it's inception, and which I think I've touched on before. If you ever need to remind yourself as to why the Democratic Party can't get its shit together this primary season has been a fascinating microcosm. Everyone is so busy arguing over which particular minority/oppressed group/ecological imperative/social programme is the bestest ever in the whole wide world that they invariably conspire to totally fuck over anyone with the slightest difference of opinion as to what the shopping list of progression should be. Bill Clinton once said "Democrats fall in love; Republicans fall in line", which is pretty close to the truth, but there's another facet to this, which is that it's much, much easier to say "Fuck everyone but us" than it is to say "Let's deal with everyone equally from now on". The latter requires some kind of preference ordering in order to not be too general to be feasible (immediately leading to sniping and whining from whoever isn't at the top of the pile, and yes that's easy to say for a white middle-class heterosexual male; fuck you), the former most certainly does not.

Or, alternatively, you could just quote C.J. Cregg. "This isn't a women's issue, it's a dumb women's issue." Clinton would have made a good president, a worthy politician to earn the title of America's first female president. Unfortunately, Obama will probably make a better president, a worthy politician to earn the title of America's first Afro-American president [1]. And he won. He didn't win because of sexism (which isn't to say it didn't exist during the campaigns, either in voting tendencies or in media coverage), he just won. The next president of the USA will not be a woman with a probability arbitrarily close to one. Suggesting that the VP can't be either, unless it's Clinton, is so far beyond any kind of rational thought process and into the realms of petulant whiny fantasy that I can't believe I've had to spend a post decrying it, let alone Klein, who unlike me actually has a career of his own to worry about.

[1] Of course, he's only half Afro-American, but no-one needs my blog to tell them a world in which you're defined by whatever fraction of your genetics that deviates from Caucasian is a pretty screwed up world indeed.

Friday, 13 June 2008

In Which I Continue To Post Pictures In Lieu Of Actual "Content"

I haven't really added much to the blog this last week, since nothing much has really happened. I don't particularly intend to change that state of affairs with this post, but I thought I could at least picture-spam so that my blog-hosting overlords won't repossess.
So I thought I'd show you some images I created using some snazzy tech over at Bolter and Chainsword (a site that is slightly less bat-shit crazy and hostile than its rep suggests) to create a few pictures for a hypothetical force of Space Marines.
I thus present, with no small degree of trepidation, some design ideas for the newest Chapter on the block, the Space Squids!

The standard tactical marine. The black and gold motif is entirely so that I can steal the Greyjoy heraldry as a chapter badge and thus continue my idiotic and uber-fanboy-esque plan to create an army for each major house in A Song of Ice and Fire. Obvious and admitted stealing aside, however, I think it actually looks quite snazzy.

A Space Squid veteran. The white helmet idea seems to have worked pretty well for those suffocatingly vanilla pretty-boys the Ultramarines, so I don't see why I can't co-opt it (since I'm apparently already on a shopping spree for plagarised material in any event). I've been wanting to delineate tactical role by face-plate for a while, it's a fraction more subtle than the whole-helmet deal that the Blood Angels have got goin' on.

An assault marine. I'm not 100% sure about this one to be honest; I'm not sure it gels aesthetically. I wanted blue, though, since it tied into the concept of woad, and GW has always been about the re-jigging of archetypes. The idea of having a space marine leaping at you, jump-pack blazing, bolter spitting, chainsword screaming, whilst having his face-plate painted in the manner of a Jacobite rebel, is curiously appealing.

A devastator. Not much to say here, other than that his face-plate is yellow purely because I couldn't find any other colour that didn't immediately look stupid. In the end I might go for gold instead, it's hardly a great change and might clash a bit less.

Anyway, that's what I'm thinking right now. Some genuine content as and when I think of it, although frankly Our Front Room probably needs the attention more right now.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Fresh From Sunken Ry'leh

Observe in hushed wonder the avatar fellow SFX forum-goer speedingslug made for me:

All investigators take d20/d100 SAN damage for witnessing Great Colthulu.

Even The Fogeys Have Me Beat

I learned today that the only person less likely to become POTUS than someone over seventy is an atheist.

Not that I was in line for it, or anything, but still, damn.

Another Note On Galactica

(Beware of spoilers, bitches)

When I was fourteen, I hated my English teacher. Partially, I'm sure, this was just the hormones surging round my body, making me furious that anyone could expect me to read Far From The Madding Crowd (a book I will despise until my dying day) when there were women about (well, whining children who thought they were women, but then hindsight is 20/20). Mainly, though, it was the argument over whether or not "horrid" is a word. Mrs B was quite convinced I had made the word up, secure in the belief many teachers seem to cultivate that if they don't recognise something immediately, then it must have been invented wholesale (quite a statement concerning a language with over half a million words), and the fact that I was basing my certainty of the etymological legitimacy of the word entirely upon Threepio in Return of the Jedi in no way dampened my enthusiasm for its defence.

A lot of teachers hated me in school.

One thing Mrs B can be credited with, though, is teaching me the specifics of pace change. The language used to describe a man watching a sunset should not be the same as the language used to describe him run down by bandits. Every time I sit down to write what might loosely be described as an "action scene" (nine times out of ten it'll be a man fighting a giant sentient aquatic centipede from another planet, but that's not particularly relevant right now) I always remember her slapping me around (metaphorically) for not shifting gears enough.

I mention all this by way of explaining what my advice would be to Ronald D Moore right now, should I happen to bump into him: remember how to shift gears.

I've been thinking for a while that the reason why Season 4 of Galactica really isn't grabbing me is because nothing really seems to be happening. Sure, Baltar's religious conversion is interesting (though not nearly so interesting as the writers seem to think), and Cally's death (and the Chief's subsequent nice tall glass of crazy) was well-handled (Tory is so much more fun as a scheming Cylon mecha-bitch), but there was a distinct sense of just setting up the board for the second half of the season. This was a bad idea before the writers' strike, er, struck, but afterwards it seems totally ludicrous. All filler, no killer.

After watching The Hub last night, though, which seemed to deliver around half (give or take, and I can't be totally sure until I've seen next week's episode) of what had been set up; Baltar's confession, Laura's confession (and the best line Adama has had all season, although he's only been on-screen for about ten minutes in as many episodes; only Dee has been sidelined more disgracefully); the Hub exploding; and the return of the Threes (well, a Three), I'm no longer sure. I don't think the problem is that nothing is happening, it's that when something does happen, it doesn't actually particularly register. Jamie elsewhere described the space battle as all style, no substance, which I can sympathise with, but my own take on it is that it didn't feel like watching a battle, but rather watching a person's dream of a battle. This woozy, morose and, as Jamie says, stylised approach seems to permeate the season. The continued fascination for dreams and visions (which now apparently hit Roslyn every time a Basestar jumps, which may or may not make any sense later on) simply feeds into the fact that as the fleet gets closer and closer to its goal, it feels like its been drifting further and further away from us, from reality. Dream logic is everywhere. We can see a cat even though its already died. Caprica 6 is apparently pregnant with Saul's baby (after a vision in which he thought she was his dead wife, natch); even though we only saw them share a kiss, and even though Tigh at least knows that such a thing should technically be impossible (I say should, obviously the whole Cylon breeding issue is still very much a muddle), he accepts it without question. Characters we've known for years start to become distorted, not totally so, but step by step, they become harder to read. Even that trippy version of The Joker and the Thief adds to the sensation we're asleep with its twanging sitars. Gaeta spends an entire episode high and singing, for God's sake. The lines between reality and our dreams are being blurred, probably intentionally, and have been ever since the fleet entered the nebula, and Starbuck miraculously returned from the dead.

So that's my case. The first three seasons we watched what writers had committed to paper and had filmed. This year, it's impossible to escape the feeling that we're watching the original shifting patterns and sounds from within the writers' heads just being beamed straight through our TV screens.

Maybe the show will pull itself out of this (although I very much doubt it can), but if not, well, next week's trailer suggests that, at the very least, we'll shift from dream to nightmare, and those are always a lot of fun...

Monday, 9 June 2008

Chalk It Up

Quick tally from last night's fun.

Number of hideous abominations of necromantic science put out of their misery with a shotgun blast: 1.
Number of insane warlocks allowed to escape by investigators setting of his own defences for him: 1.
Number of teenagers catapulted into their late twenties by reading a cursed tome: 1.

Man, but I love Cthulhu.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

In Which I Take A Writer Massively More Talented Than Me And Explain Why He Sucks

First of all, the necessary disclaimer: I actually rate Steven Moffat pretty highly as a writer. If the space-time continuum had flowed a little differently and I'd had the sufficient time/will/talent/desire to make my parents miserable that would have been required to allow me to write professionally, Moffat's Who output is likely to have been the sort of thing I would have aimed for.

Having said that, though, his latest Doctor Who two-parter has got me wondering to what extent he is a genuinely imaginative writer, and to what extent he is simply regurgitating the same basic ideas in different orders every time he sits in front of the type-writer. As justification for my fears, I present to you the Steven Moffat scary-ass Doctor Who episode checklist, which will allow you too to churn out stories that chubby-faced celebrity-whore RTD will declare genius every time a wide-angle lens allows his flabby face to hove into view.

1. Make something ordinary scary.
Moffat flirted with this in The Empty Child using telephones and tape recorders, and of course children themselves (although from what I remember of my early years, I reckon scary-ass children are considerably more scary-ass to adults), started sleeping with it in Girl In The Fireplace (ticking clocks) then married it in Blink with the statues (to the point where the episode contained a totally unnecessary and borderline fourth-wall breaking montage of various statues, the rapid-fire visual equivalent of having RTD appear at the bottom of the screen and shout "There you go, viewers! Statues are scary now! Your children's lives are ruined! WE DEMAND A BAFTA!"). As of last night Moffat has officially begun to beat his new bride with the attempt to scarify both shadows (hardly original) and dust (just bat-shit insane).

2. Take an innocuous phrase and make it soooooooo spooky!
Item: "Are you my Mummy?" Scare factor: extreme. Doctor Who often does quite well when it touches upon missing children/parents/family members (one of my all time favourite Who moments remains Kathleen Dudman in The Curse of Fenric asking the Seventh Doctor if he has any family himself; his response: "I don't know"). Note that this does not mean they should be basing an entire fucking season around it, but then RTD never had an idea he didn't love so much he would try to cram it into every damn thing he could [1].

Item: "We did not have the parts". Scare factor: None, really, but the moment it clicked what the robots meant I concluded it was the most creepy idea the new series had had to date.

Item: "Don't blink!" Scare factor: significant. Have you tried not blinking? Even attempting to keep winking with alternate eyes doesn't work, for reasons I don't understand. Plus, those statues were genuinely messed-up, even if when you watch the episode again you very quickly realise that there are plenty of times when Sally and co aren't watching the angels and they could've pounced and chose not to [2].

Item: "Who turned out the lights?" Scare factor: Zero. There's nothing scary about the idea behind the phrase. In fact, Moffat had to include the data ghost idea just so the repetition made any sense at all. This is exactly why I had a problem with this story, I could see the gears working as Moffat worked his way through this list.

3. Make sure no-one dies.
I flat-out adored the ending of The Doctor Dances, because as a child of the Eighties I remember when Doctor Who stories positively demanded body counts that would make John McClane blush. Tegan even gave up travelling with the Doctor because she was so disgusted with the constant massacring of all and sundry whenever they rolled up to visit. The idea that, just for once, the massive death tally could be reversed was wonderful (and Eccleston did wonders selling the Doctor's euphoria).

The problem was (and this can't be laid at Moffat's door, in fairness) was that it started a run of episodes in which some or all of the irksome events of the previous forty minutes were hurriedly erased in the final five. In the case of The Parting of the Ways, I was prepared to forgive since the re-ordering of time cost the Doctor a regeneration (and I was still so busy spitting feathers over the idiocy of the "Bad Wolf" resolution that I didn't have time to regenerate my bile), but then New Earth pulled the same trick. So did The Idiot's Lantern, Fear Her, Last of the Time Lords, etc. etc.

The next two Moffat stories avoided continuing the trend he started, but it's worth noting that in Girl in the Fireplace, no-one dies on-screen, although of course the freighter crew have already been killed and harvested, and in Blink the only person seen to die passes away quietly in their sleep having lived a full life. There's nothing wrong with eschewing carnage, of course, but it did mean that when it appeared a whole mess of people had disappeared from the universe's biggest library, the immediate thought I had was not "What happened to them?" but "How convincing will the hand-waving be when they're returned?" (The answer, by the way, was "Convincing enough", although I still don't see why the number was only 4022 given we're supposedly dealing with an entire planet here). Even those that got eaten alive by swarms of shadows merrily pop up in the virtual universe (those pesky data ghosts again) that a little girl from the far future has bafflingly decided to base upon the early twenty-first century.

4. Mock the fan-boys.
Not even fan-boys, necessarily, anyone with more than a passing interest in sci-fi. Maybe not so much in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, in which the nods to the genre were pretty gentle (something about getting “some Spock”, if I remember rightly) but by Blink we were faced with Larry, most one-notey of the one-note geek characters, whose entire character arc was basically the revelation that one could be a geek without being totally worthless. I won’t dwell too much on this one, mainly because Lawrence Miles described it so well last week (here, although because he hates you, yes you specifically, he removes his reviews after seven days), his basic thesis (or at least the relevant part) being that Moffat constantly trips over himself to reassure his audience that what he’s writing isn’t really SF because it has romance and funny lines in it too. Wasn’t it Margaret Atwood who insisted she didn’t write science-fiction because at no point in A Handmaid’s Tale was a space-ship attacked by an interstellar squid (and ain’t that a goddamn shame)? Miles is convinced Moffat is the TV writer equivalent, and I see the point [3]. This time round I guess we only had to live through them chucking the word spoilers around the whole time, forgetting that laughs of recognition are not subject to the rule of three, let alone the rule of three times three.

Actually, I may be being unfair on this one, but then it’s getting increasingly hard not to watch Doctor Who on a hair-trigger for these things. I guess once the ruler of the fascist junta pumping out the caffeine-addled celebrity-enslaved shuffling vacant zombie (that used to be a TV programme rather than a loose collection of sketches, bloated CGI and scenes which are emotionally important because they have VERY LOUD FUCKING STRING MUSIC SO SHUT UP) that is Nu Who comes up with a faintly offensive nickname to describe a non-existent grouping of fans that you would unwillingly labelled as part of, you start to get a little paranoid.

5. Tug heartstrings.
I feel faintly bad about including this one, since it’s possibly just further evidence that I am dead inside, but there was an odd similarity between Donna comforting the data ghost of Ms. Evangelista and Sally Sparrow watching Billy Shipton breathe his last. The latter, though, made sense (well, not really, who the hell writes a list of instructions to a Time Lord she’s yet to meet and includes the line “Make sure you tell the detective the angels kick back in time that he’ll cark it just after the end of a brief spell of precipitation”, but it made some sense); the data ghost thing just seemed opportunistic, a way for people to die instantly but still need agonisingly long death scenes [4] to prove this show is about more than science-fiction (see earlier).

6. The sudden realisation.
The six people line wasn’t nearly as interesting as the first time Moffat did it with end of the tape, or when he did it with ticking in a room with a broken clock. He may have done a similar thing in Blink, although I don't remember it.

So there we are. An enemy scary in its mundane nature, a spooky playground-ready catchphrase, a body count of zero to the point where anyone who dies will automatically be reborn somehow in minute forty-one, needling at anyone who dares to suggest the show be treated as an ongoing narrative rather than a weekly conjuring show with bolted-on fireworks display, a frequently unnecessary attempt to reach for drama, rather than just allowing it to flow naturally from the characters, and a visual or audio clue presented in full view for the Doctor to point out so that he seems smarter than everyone else.

Have I missed anything?

[1] Still, at least it's a theme this year, and not just a word. A lot of people at one time or another have asked why people like me demand stories and plot threads that last for years rather than forty-five minutes. The only answers I can give are a) because they are better and shut up, that's why; and b) I could happily live with Doctor Who not embracing the Buffy model of stories that develop over the course of a year, the problem is RTD apparently thinks he is following that model, but is so cack-handed it took him three attempts to come up with anything that wasn't even a phrase (a totally nonsensical one in hindsight) or a year long advert for a spin-off so poor, it was like watching a thirteen episode long car crash punctuated by strangely sterile sex scenes.

[2] In fact, the only way Blink can even remotely work as an episode is if we as viewers affect the angels as well (observe them attacking the TARDIS at the end, who's watching them whilst Sally and her witless foil are cowering inside?), an idea about which the less said the better.

[3] Miles also makes the excellent point that Moffat's rep as a brilliant character writer may be significantly over-stated, comprising as it does mainly of the fact that the man knows his way around dialogue. Being funny is not the same as being well-rounded, as I have been told in the past several times, both regarding my writing and my daily life.

[4] That’s three out of four mini-rants that have the Data Ghost in them. Could this be the most useful nonsensical plot contrivance since the sonic screwdriver returned from its very, very deserved exile?

Thursday, 5 June 2008

In Which I Dramatically Expand My Capacity For Damaging Humanity

I am worried that my volunteering for psychological experimentation earlier today may have drastically warped the averages for the poor researchers forced to analyse my brain-type functions.
Having sat me down in front of a computer these foolish and unsuspecting head-shrinkers crowned me with a device designed to film my eyes (my very eyes! The windows to my soul! Although they did look pretty good through the camera feed; why am I still single again?). This done (through the slightly disturbing process of turning a screw to tighten the head-set until my skull started throbbing), I was presented with 144 human faces, each of them looking either left or right, and each looking either scared or happy. On one side, at random, was a picture of what my researcher referred to with an alarming degree of childish anthropomorphism as "happy animals", on the other side, the "scary animals" which we have all grown up being taught to fear.
The idea was to look at the "happy" animal irrespective of whether the face was looking toward it or not, and whether it appeared scared or pleased by whatever animal it was facing. I'm sure no-one hear needs me to tell them what they were aiming to prove here, although just to be on the safe side, the girl running the experiment made sure to explain it to me (after I was finished, presumably to avoid the arcane knowledge ruining my performance; I refrained from pointing out that not only had I worked it out unaided but I had spotted a number of potential confounding variables. I didn't want to make her cry). After the 144 faces/animal pairs were finished, I was then instructed to repeat the process, this time glancing at the scary animals.
The big problem with all of this is just how badly I understand the idea of "scary animals". Take this pairing, for example.

Seriously: WTF? One of these is a bull. The other is a fucking bull elephant. Hundreds of people get crushed by these rampaging sharp-tusked killers every year. I'm supposed to feel happy to see one? I'm not saying a bull would necessarily be welcome at my birthday party either, just that anyone that breaks out into a grin as one of those lumbering grey murderers hove into view is, in fact, an idiot.
And what about item 2?

Sure, the polar bear cub looks cute and cuddly. But does anyone really know at what age they become strong enough to rip out a human's throat? That gorgeous little ball of downy hair might already have massacred entire teams of nature show makers and do-gooder environmentalists. Look at the eyes! The cold dead eyes!
The bat, though, is just a mouse with wings, however old it gets. Since I'm neither a screaming child nor a vampire hunter, seeing one of these flying pseudo-rodents flapping past my window at dusk presents no response other than "Fuck me, I'd assumed those were extinct by now".
And observe two more allegedly "scary" animals.

Eagles are not scary: they are full-on awesome, and anyone who argues is a Commie. Sharks are scary, fair enough, but their hideous grins seem to say "Yeah, I'm terrifying, but does not my perfect evolutionary heritage as a souless killer command respect, you pathetic squawking monkey?". Which makes it hard to avoid looking at them. There's a reason why Eagle vs Shark has the title it has, it's because watching a golden eagle try to fuck up a great white would be the most bone-shatteringly amazing spectacle ever witnessed by humanity, albeit somewhat difficult to set up fairly.
Also, you can't scare someone who owns dogs the size of donkeys by showing them alsatians with their teeth bared. We just don't give a shit.
I guess what I'm saying is this: if you read in the paper that researchers in Durham (as oppose to research in Durham, which apparently can incorporate bollocks up to and including cod liver oil making children do better in their SATS) have discovered people of the 21st century are now totally gay for eagles and sharks, and apparently have never seen Cujo, you'll know who to blame.
(A shiny penny for anyone who can tell me why this post decided that once pictures were inserted, line breaks are suddenly impossible to create. I had to take the line breaks from above the pictures out too, just so that I at last seemed consistent with my total inability to understand the concept of paragraphs).

Update: Also, the preview feature of this blog creates a version of the post that looks nothing fucking like the actual post. What the hell is the point of a preview button that just shows you random shit that bears no resemblance to what you're eventually going to get?
Update II: Oh, that fucking line break works, no problem. Sheesh...
Update III: Have solved problem by embarrassingly low-tech solution of inserting invisible letters. I shall now slink off to bed. I hope you people appreciate the effort I'm putting in here.
Update IV: AARRGGHHH!!! The post now looks fine in preview, and looks fine (albeit somewhat different) on my PC at home. I get into work today to find it's completely mangled on my computer here! I am so sick of these non-deterministic hell boxes I could vomit.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

A Pretty Good Indication As To Why We Never Get Anything Done

Nero's Coffee Shop has begun selling a new flavour smoothy, pineapple, banana and orange. This fact must be discussed at length!

Danny: Christ, that sounds awful.

SS: Actually, I think it sounds like some form of pseudo Um-Bongo.

Danny: Um Bongo! Um Bongo!

SS: They drink it, I believe, in the Congo.

Danny: Do you think that's true? Are there tribes deep in the rainforests around Kinshasa hunting for prey with stone-tipped spears who periodically whip Um Bongo cartons from their loincloths?

SS: You do know that the song is almost entirely ficticious, right?

Danny: You take that back!

SS: The jingle says that parrots paint the packets!

Danny: They could hold the paintbrushes in their claws!

SS: Danny, if anyone paints the packets manually, it'll be blind Congolese children trying not to smudge the pictures of cartoon animals with their hot salty tears. Where the Hell are all these amazingly artistic macaws hiding out, huh? Wouldn't someone stumble across their operation sooner or later?

Danny: They wouldn't do it on the ground, obviously.

SS: What, they paint it on the wing?

Danny: Don't be ridiculous. They'd just take all the relevant materials up into the treetops.

SS: Well, makes sense, I guess. They'd be safe from predators.

Danny: Absolutely. How annoying would it be if you were in the final stages of colouring in the mandarins when a lion lopes up and bites your head off.

SS: How the hell has a lion ended up in the jungles of a Congo?

Danny: Fine; a tiger then.

SS: A tiger? Fine, forget it, let's just say it's a lion.

Danny: And then it bounds up to this poor parrot, swallows him whole, and then drinks the Um Bongo.

SS: Why would a lion want to drink Um Bongo? Plus, how will its mighty paws manage to remove the straw from its plastic wrapper?

Danny: Think about it, Squid; it would just use one razor-sharp tooth to puncture the foil circle, and then suck out the innards with its massive lion chops.

SS: It is the ultimate insult, isn't it? Some big cat, presumably lost after being separated from its tour guide, eats your frail, feathery body, and then drinks your delicious fruit drink. Unless...

Danny: What?

SS: Maybe the parrots could bribe these horribly misplaced lions to allow them to live in exchange for a percentage of the weekly Um Bongo supply.

Danny: Dude! That's completely unacceptable!

SS: Yeah, you're right. The pythons would be furious over how many of the passion fruits they'd picked were being used to buy off lions that should all just fuck off back to the Serengetti anyway.

Danny: Isn't this getting pretty close to the Congolese wildlife equivalent of a BNP rally?

SS: Yeah, maybe.

Danny: I really do want to know whether they drink Um Bongo in the Congo, now.

SS: Well, we should find out. Hire a plane, assemble a crack team, and get ourselves over there. Obviously the very first thing we'll have to tell the locals is that we're in no way going to help them overthrow the tyrannical regime that rules their brutish lives with an iron fist. "Nuts to the local despot, Johnny Foreigner, do you by any chance drink a tropical fruit blend popular in the nineteen nineties?"

Danny: This is a strangely attractive plan.

SS: And why stop there? We could travel the entire world, seeking out the most troubled and miserable of countries to ask irrelevant questions about products that entered the cultural zeitgeist over a decade ago.

Danny: We could go to Mexico and quiz them about Kia-Ora!

SS: Well, we'd need a time machine rather than a plane, since I think you've confused Mexico with pre Civil War America, but I'm fine with it in principle. "Put down that cotton, boy, and tell me: is this drink too orangey for crows?"

Danny: Sold!

Our heroes leave, arguing the cost of chartering a plane versus the difficulty of lashing together a functioning time machine.

A Brand New Warhammer

This morning I read Jervis Johnson's article in White Dwarf 342 (at least I think it's 342, I haven't got it in the office and White Dwarf's "Next Issue" link brings up an issue that's at least two months old, the dossers) which attempts to explain why we needed a new edition of 40K a mere four years after the last one (six years being the previous average).

The article is both interesting, and potentially deeply disturbing. Obviously, until I can get my caffeine-stained hands on a rulebook I'm shooting in the dark somewhat, but what Jervis said was sufficiently pregnant with implications that I decided it was worth commenting on straight away.

The basic thrust of his argument is really worth discussing, and I think I agree with it. Basically, he's sick to the back teeth (although he doesn't quite come out and say it) with the fact that every rule has to be written whilst considering the number of ways some hyper-competitive tournament player could twist it to breaking point in order to create an unstoppable army. Each successive iteration of the game contains more attempts to plug the gaps through which Christian Byrne (who not only completely embodies the type of player I hate, but has an article in the same issue reminding us all of how good he is at slapping together armies that are invulnerable as they are joyless) can drive a Rhino rush through. What Jervis wanted was to re-jig the game to bring some of the fun back in, rather than just making sure all bases were covered regarding the beardies having tantrums as to whether or not their grotesquely unfair practices just about stay this side of legal.

Which, as an idea, I'm entirely happy about. In a perfect world, the game should be as fun and evocative as possible. The trouble is that it's transparently obvious we don't live in the perfect world. If we did, we wouldn't need traffic lights, or law courts, or microwave-meals-for-one, either. The whole reason the game ended up with so much beard-deflection is that there are too many beards out there. And the easier it is to be a member of that shadowy cult, the more people are going to head over to the dark side, tempted by the prospect of eight Hammerheads, or an army made entirely of Carnifexes, or whatever other idea enters their twisted heads. Relaxing the rules and hoping everyone sticks to the spirit of them isn't just naive, it's insanely forgetful.

The one example he gives of how this change has been employed is somewhat concerning too; Jervis focuses upon the new line of sight rules. Gone, he proudly tells us, are the days in which LOS and cover issues were decided abstractly: from now on, if your model can see a target, he can shoot at it. Automatic blocking of LOS through area terrain is apparently so 2004, as are height values, which have been replaced by the literal size of the terrain being used. This way, we are assured, the game becomes much more exciting, since you no longer say "This Marine shoots at your squad, which count as in cover because less than half of them are positioned within that area terrain", and instead can say "This Marine shoots at that guy, since he's stuck his head above the parapet like a ***ing noob". I'm paraphrasing, of course, but that's pretty much what was said.

There are three reasons why this is worrying, which I shall give in reverse order of importance:
1) Anyone who can only find a table-top war game thrilling if he can draw imaginary straight lines between the tiny painted faces of his own men and the tiny painted bodies of his opponent's is not really someone GW should be catering for. This is a game that simulates battles in which your troops employ ludicrously cool futuristic technology against genetically modified super-humans or hideous creatures from other worlds, galaxies or even realities. If you can't get behind that, then getting to play a table-top form of hide-and-seek on top of everything else is unlikely to sway you.
2) The new rules as presented in the article are just bat-shit insane. Games like this absolutely require some kind of abstraction when considering battlefield views. Forests, for example, have to be sufficiently sparse to allow you to place miniatures inside them, which means they are necessarily easier to see through than a real forest should be. No-one making terrain should have to strike a balance between how easy it is to fit models in a model forest, and how tactically advantageous it would be to do so. Hills, too, are always less tall than they would be in real life, for two excellent reasons: no-one could afford a hill if it was created according to the scale of the miniatures, and even if they could, knocking their exquisitely painted Venerable Dreadnought off a five foot high polystyrene hill to shatter on the battle-mat below is liable to be a seriously de-motivating experience. Applying WYSIWYG to terrain is an obvious non-starter, just from a practical standpoint; we still have to go back to worrying about how the tournament players are going to piss around with it, too. Also, does this mean enemy troops will start blocking lines of sight again, too? Because there were some really good reasons they did away with that idea, as anyone who ended up on the crappy end of my Tyranid army back in the mid nineties can attest.
3) The games developers at GWHQ want me to fork out another £30 for a new rule book, and potentially one or more codices, too, and then make me re-learn everything (or at least check everything to discover whether or not I need to re-learn it), and the best advert they can give me for doing all of that is that the LOS rules are different ? That's the brave new dawn of 40K they've been promising me? I believe the standard phrase under these circumstances is "Fuck that shit".

Still, I suppose a rules shake-up might mean I get a couple of months in which C doesn't completely dominate me on the gaming table. I still won't win, obviously, but my defeats may stay clear of the massacre line, at least.

I won't hold my breath, though.


Hurrah! My free book (earned for slapping down SFX's News Editor) arrived today. Obviously the fact it arrived with a knock at the door at the ungodly time of seven-twenty was quite irritating, and the fact it arrived in a Games Workshop box somewhat confusing, but what matters is that I now have my reward for being mean to someone.

The only problem I can see is that the blurb both mentions "dragons" (which is usually, although not always, a bad sign) and, far more worryingly, "harmony". Is this SFX's attempt to rob me of my hate by deploying a novel featuring talking, genial dragons skipping gaily through marigold fields?

If so, then it was a bad move. I declare WAR!

Also, going back to the subject of dream interpretation, what does it say about me that last night's dream (OK, fine, the dream I had between picking up my new book and waking up at half nine thinking "SHIT!") involved me finding out that I'd written so much on my blog, Blogspot had decided to charge me. And not. weirdly, per post, but per tag? Is my subconscious telling me I need to focus more? Or just that I should use this blog as a procrastination enabler a little less?

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Denied Once More

I was tremendously happy to discover a spare copy of Mario Kart Wii in Sainsbury's today. I've been wanting a copy ever since discovering the joys of dirtbiking dinosaurs back in Oxford.

Of course, this being me, it turned out they didn't have a copy after all, they'd just put an empty box out to, I don't know, perform some kind of psychological experiment, or something.

I mention this incident as a perfect example of the First Rule of SpaceSquid's Universe: it is not enough to simply deny me what I want, every effort has to be put into making me believe what I want is within my grasp, so that it can be whisked away at the last minute to the sound of the laughter of the cosmos.

Not that I'm bitter, obviously.

Monday, 2 June 2008

In Which I Am Presumably Person 1,000,000 To Use The Hilarious Phrase: Lost Has Lost It

OK, fair enough, “lost it” is a fairly major exaggeration, but the Season 4 finale left me distinctly cold. Sure, there was action, and drama, and killings, and self-sacrifice, and most importantly of all, flower-identification, but whereas last season concluded with a bat-shit crazy expectation-detonating cluster-fuck of a cluster-fuck, parts two and three of “There’s No Place Like Home” felt like nothing so much as an exercise in dot-joining.

Consider the latter half of the third season, when the show was spooling up from the mother of all lulls. Amongst the many methods the writers employed to keep me awake was the revelation that the group’s resident heroin addict/Gallagher rip-off Charlie Pace was headed for that difficult-second-album launch in the sky. Which as a Eastenders drum-roll episode closer, works really well.

For about four seconds.

Then the inevitable questions start rolling in from the Ocean of the Damp Squibs. Once we know someone is going to shuffle off the mortal coil, then a number of dramatic possibilities immediately vanish into the ether. You can’t kill him like you did Boone, for example, which entirely relied on the fact that everyone expected him to live. Same with the sudden accident that killed Shannon (though that may be just as well, as Shannon’s death was one of the worst things to happen in Lost since it began, execution-wise; and this from someone who hated the character with an almost indescribable passion). You have to make the death mean something, and you have to ensure that something about the demise of one of your main-iest of main characters still surprises people.

Did it work with Charlie? I’d argue yes, but just barely. The fact that his last act before he died was to warn Desmond as to the identify of the boat (well, as to what its identify wasn’t, what with this being Lost and all) did at least mean he died for something, even if that something thus far has gotten at four people killed (five including Naomi, who as far as we know was as “innocent” of Widmore’s master-plan as Daniel is) and led his precious Claire into Jacob’s cabin, getting up to who knows what kind of weird-ass shit. But much of those (already qualified) kudos are immediately rescinded because a) finding out the freighter wasn’t Penny’s didn’t really require a fatal sacrifice (I know jamie is liable to read this so I won‘t point out the Babylon 5 plot development for which the sacrifice of a main character really was necessary, but suffice it to say it didn‘t happen because someone needed to know who owned a fucking freighter), and b) the only reason Charlie did end up trapped in the saltwater Jacuzzi of death is because no-one in Lost World takes even the most basic of corpse-checking precautions (it was especially frustrating since Mikhail had “died“ twice already that season). We can tick the touching box, and the plot-developing box, but as something remotely sensible or particularly relevant at the time (finding out a character’s death may have been arguably important in retrospect is also not a development for the writers to be particularly proud of), not so much.

The reason why I bring all this up is that last night’s season closer felt like Charlie all over again, only multiple times. Just consider the various plot developments that raised their heads. We find out how the Oceanic Six escape, the reveal being that it was simply because they happened to be on a helicopter. Hardly breathtaking. Ben moves the island, which we’ve already known was on the cards for a fortnight (and of course we already know where he ends up courtesy of “The Shape Of Things To Come”). Jin takes an explosion to the face, but we already knew Sun believed her husband was dead, and presumably for a better reason than a vanishing magical island. Obviously I don’t for a moment believe Jin is dead, Mikhail and (in this very episode) Keamy prove that in this show, you don’t bet on characters being dead even if you do see a body, and certainly not when you don’t. The point is, if it is a bluff, then it’s still a bluff we saw coming (the most interesting question is, if Jin (and various Lostie red-shirts) did survive the blast, did they end up being caught up in the Island shift, or not?). Michael, too, was clearly living on borrowed time ever since “Meet Kevin Johnson”. The only genuine twist was the reveal of Locke in the coffin, which whilst hardly unpredictable, was at least not spoon-fed to us in advance (and was viscerally pleasing into the bargain [1]).

And then you get the other problem the Charlie storyline hinted at. Yes, I’m assuming Jin isn’t dead (and I’d better be right, too, otherwise it was a shitty, pointless death, without even the cold comfort that it gave depth and/or added viciousness to his killer, who is also dead, murdered whilst wearing a dead-man’s switch that, gosh darn it, we already knew was there), but, as I've said, given it was obvious that Michael’s time was running out, it’s pretty crappy for his death to involve nothing but fractionally extending the time limit of a bomb. Sure, that saved the helicopter, but the whirlybird had only ran into trouble a few moments beforehand, and that because of a fuel leak, which hardly qualifies as particularly dramatically satisfying. Aside from allowing Desmond to get to Penny’s boat instead of jumping into the water (one wonders why Ms Widmore‘s boat didn‘t head for the big plume of smoke to check for other survivors); nice and all but hardly worth killing one of your original characters for, exactly what good did it do? Other than to apparently piss Harold Perrineau off a lot, I mean. It was a massively crappy ending to a storyline that originally seemed so promising.

There is nothing wrong per se with presenting a journey when we already know the destination. Again, B5 had a tendency to throw us visions of the future from time to time, some of which involved some fairly important people graduating from not dead to dead (Christ, Londo tells Sheridan that he and G’Kar will kill each other twenty years into the future in the first episode), but the specifics were both vague and fascinating enough to keep us wanting more. But Lost seems intent on using the same trick again, and again, and again. It reminds me of the second half of BSG’s second season, when every goddamn week we got a teaser that the rest of the episode then spent three quarters of its run time working back to. It’s a neat narrative conceit once in a while, but pull it (something like) five times in seven episodes, and it just gets lazy. It just closes down too many narrative roads, and demands a certain type of writing to make events we already know are coming still feel like a surprise, but not feel like a cheat. The Lost writers only just pulled it off the first time with one plotline, so I’m baffled as to why they based pretty much an entire season on it. Perhaps people’s responses to the flash-forward idea made them think more of the same was a good idea, but people thought making Angel evil was a good idea, too, and it didn’t lead to Season 3 of Buffy featuring every character growing an Mirror Universe goatee and attempting to destroy humanity. This stuff is hard, it's limiting, it's of questionable dramatic pay-off, and this year it was ubiquitous into the bargaining.

Here’s hoping this shit gets sorted for next time around.

[1] There’s a whole article to be had out of how much Locke pisses me off. Suffice it to say that the fact that he apparently screws up leading the Others, comes begging for help, and ends up really, really killed, is exactly what the bug eyed mentalist bastard had coming after three years of always being wrong and getting a wide variety of people dead in the process.