Review – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Review – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

This wasn’t the best Star Wars film, but it certainly wasn’t the worst. (That would be The Phantom Menace, largely because it was so close to being a good film, but failed abysmally at almost every stage.)

The film’s biggest weakness was its poor pacing. This film was 2.5 hours long, but with the rejigging of a couple of plot points, could have been dropped to 2 hours; a film-length chase scene isn’t exciting unless it’s got the intensity of Mad Max: Fury Road. The entire final battle scene (which was, in itself, very good, and contained some lovely call-backs to the Battle of Hoth) should have been brought forward thirty minutes.

Finn and Rose’s mission to Space Monaco was a bit of a missed opportunity. While it served to expand on the First Order/Resistance era of the Star Wars setting, some parts of it just felt a bit… well… prequel trilogy. I guess that that’s what Rian Johnson was going for at times, with the child slaves and the racing and all that, but there’s no reason to bring the bad bits along. But at least slavery was actually portrayed as a bad thing in The Last Jedi, rather than just an obstacle in Qui-Gon Jin’s discovery of Jesus Skywalker.

The other big let-down with The Last Jedi is that it was saddled with the same characters as The Force Awakens. Don’t get me wrong – they were great characters, but they were created for Episode 7, not Episode 8. The main plot of the film explored Rey’s personal journey, and Kylo Ren’s parallel degeneration. However, the subplots felt like the writers were scrabbling around for something for Finn and Poe to do (other than each other, which didn’t actually happen – sorry, Tumblr).

There were loads of opportunities to mention midi-chlorians, but they never did. I wonder if this was because Luke wasn’t taught properly and so understanding of midi-chlorians never really made it through into the modern setting’s understanding of the Force, after the Emperor killed off virtually every other Force-user during the age of the Empire. Or maybe Johnson just tacitly acknowledged that midi-chlorians are bantha-balls.

The characterisation of Rey, Kylo Ren and General Hux were high points, along with the 30-year check-in on how Luke’s character has been developing. Kylo Ren and Hux were both particularly good, with both of them being deeply flawed individuals, neither of whom are actually well-suited for their roles. I look forward to seeing how they cope with working together in the next film; the First Order military have demonstrated they don’t respect Ren and Hux has shown that he’s willing but incapable of breaking away from domination by Ren.

Visually, the film was marvellous. The ‘bloody’ footprints on the salt flat made for some extremely stark colour contrasts when the red under-layer was exposed as the white crust was disturbed. (This phenomenon also provides a clue to a major plot event towards the climax of the film, as well as looking rather gruesome a few seconds later when a character gets targeted by heavy blaster fire.) Vice-Admiral Holdo’s crowning moment of awesome was beautiful, its visuals enhanced by the complete lack of sound at the key moment. The final shot with the kid with the broom, although possibly a bit cheesy, was also very nicely done.

Overall, despite not being the best Star Wars film, it’s still better than anything in the prequel trilogy, and does contain some incredible moments that more than make up for its weaker elements.

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Review – Fire and Fury

Review – Fire and Fury

It’s been a while since I posted anything up here, and I finished reading Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury earlier tonight, so here are my thoughts.

 

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (Michael Wolff)

I try not to get too political on this blog, for the simple reason that it’s (hopefully) eventually going to become my public-facing web presence in the event I make it as a published author. However, like most of the rest of the world over the past year, I’ve been watching, aghast, as a whole mob of badly-written movie villains have taken over the United States of America.

I pre-ordered Fire and Fury and, thanks to the White House’s futile attempt to cease and desist, got it several days earlier than expected when the publishers decided to tell Trump what it thought of his attack lawyers.

While I’ve been reading the book, I’ve also been reading/watching the parallel news articles and criticism of it and its author. A lot of the criticism makes very valid points. Although the story feels too in-sync with the news and gossip that’s been coming out of the White House over the past year for it to be, as the administration has claimed, a work of fiction, even the author admits that some of the events described are composites of reports from different sources, i.e. they’re probably not exactly what happened, but an interpretation of several versions of events.

Most of my issues with the book’s reliability are challenged in this video from Stephen Colbert, who, frankly, doesn’t seem overly convinced by Wolff’s claims of authenticity – note that he signs off the interview with a comment about looking forward to listening to the tapes of Wolff’s interviews, despite the author earlier saying he had no intention of releasing those:

The problem with Fire and Fury is also its biggest strength: it feels exactly right. Even if you were to assume it was a complete work of fiction, the characterisation of the real people in it feels so spot on that it’s hard to tell the difference. Events described tally up really neatly with actual historical events that have occurred. If this book’s fiction, it’s one of the best alt-history books out there. If this book’s 100% true, it’s terrifying.

My thoughts are that it’s somewhere in the middle. I’m not suggesting that Wolff deliberately made up events, but his sources (which he generally fails to cite) are, by his telling, generally unreliable narrators anyway, in competition with one another and either delusional or with a strong interest in portraying themselves as righteous and their rivals as imbecilic or ideologically flawed.

(Oh, and if even 10% of the events in the book are accurate, then the US is in deep, deep trouble…)

It’s been suggested that Wolff has delved into some pretty unethical journalistic practices to get his material – at least one of the various dinner parties mentioned in the book actually took place at Wolff’s house, and I’ve seen some suggestion that he ‘burned his sources’ by quoting them on the record when they didn’t wish to be identified.

Even if that wasn’t the case, it’s pretty clear who his main sources in the book were. Steve Bannon, for example, is almost a protagonist in this story, with extensive direct quotations that appear to have been spoken to the author rather than another character. Some critics have accused Wolff of describing him overly favourably – I don’t see that. Bannon’s characterisation is as a self-delusional egomaniac who’s downfall comes because he believed he could control an even greater self-delusional egomaniac. Jared Kushner, or someone close to him, appears to have been a major contributor as well, which makes sense, considering most of the book’s action revolves around the infighting between the Bannonite and Javanka factions.

Wolff says, in the Colbert interview above, that the book’s accuracy can be measured by how much it ties in with what we already know. Yeah, that’s called confirmation bias and is typically something best avoided. Just because the characterisation is so spot on to what we think we already know about the Trump administration doesn’t mean that it’s true.

That said, events since the book’s publication appear to be something of a continuation of its own narrative. Bannon’s career as an alt-right prophet has continued its dramatic decline, with him even losing Breitbart, and Trump’s vengeful attacks on him match the very style of casual cruelty and denial of history that the book ascribes to the president. But then, you only need to read @RealDonaldTrump to recognise how consistent both his recent tweets and his portrayal in Fire and Fury are to his previous recorded actions and statements.

I suspect there’s a lot more fact in Fire and Fury than (even inadvertent) fiction, but sadly its very writing process makes it difficult to identify which is which. All we can do is, as with Bannon’s dramatic fall, watch the ongoing events Wolff describes gradually come to their natural conclusions (or not, as the case may be). It will be very interesting to see, in decades to come, how much of this book reappears in actual scholarly texts about Trump’s term of office.

Ultimately though, the most damning revelation Fire and Fury brings is its very existence. I can’t imagine Obama, Clinton or either Bush allowing a single journalist such unrestricted access that he could even write such a book and have it appear plausible; nor would the vast majority of staffers and aides in those administrations be stupid enough to say the things that they allegedly said to Wolff.

 

 

The header image is a promo image from ‘Olympus Has Fallen’, a film which has the alternate title ‘Gerard Butler Shoots Lots Of Koreans, And His Best Friend, In The Head’.

Wargaming – Enhanced Rampant

Wargaming – Enhanced Rampant

Every now and then, the discussion comes up on the Dragon Rampant Facebook group about how to combine the Rampant games. The thrust of the discussion seemed to move towards the idea of not just porting units wholesale into Dragon Rampant, particularly from The Pikeman’s Lament, because of the different thematic and era-appropriate principles behind the writing of each set of rules (Dragon being effectively a rewriting of Lion Rampant’s medieval ruleset).

I figured I’d have a go. Here’s Enhanced Rampant, which adds Dragonised pike and shot units to Dragon Rampant, along with veterancy options inspired by those in Pikeman:

Enhanced Rampant – Pikes, Muskets, Artillery and Veterancy in Dragon Rampant

Poetry – Winter Keen

Poetry – Winter Keen

It’s Prompt Night 2017, this time on the theme of winter (again).

My prompt was from Virginia Woolf: “Melancholy were the sounds on a winter’s night.”

Kind of creepy, but I’m not afraid of her. Ahem.

Here’s the poem, intended as a cautionary tale for children whose moralising parents don’t mind traumatising them:

—–

 

They pick their way among the slaughtered dead,

Those ragged folk on that field of red.

Fourteen they number, though once there were more,

The rest lost to hunger, murder, or war.

They moan in despair, a keen in the night,

Their souls as black as the winter is white.

 

The dead need no riches, scavengers say,

So these men adopted the magpie’s way.

Once they’d sought silver, or boots, or lost blades,

But greed and self-hatred shrunk them to shades.

All too often, they would bloody their knives,

Stealing rings, gold teeth, from those yet alive.

 

From there, the magpie easily turns crow,

Carving meat from those they find in the snow.

The gods condemned them, and cursed them to live,

Though branded for sins too vile to forgive.

They now have no kin, no loved ones, no home,

Cursed to unlife, so forever they roam.

 

Don’t pity the ghouls; they pay for their sins,

The names of their crimes carved into their skins.

But consider: they were once decent men,

Who sinned once, then twice, and then yet again.

When you hear the ghoul’s winter keening,

Yes, flee, but just remember its meaning.

 

—–

The header image is The Ghoul King, by Dmitry Burmak, from Frostgrave: The Thaw of the Lich Lord.

American Horror Story: Roanoke – why the world needs Delta Green

American Horror Story: Roanoke – why the world needs Delta Green

I’ve just watched American Horror Story: Roanoke on Netflix, and it turns out it’s a great example of the vital importance of the work of conspiracy groups in fiction, like Delta Green or Torchwood or the Sleepers from Unknown Armies, whose job is to make sure that no one ever finds out about ghosts or aliens or whatever.

In the modern world, the supernatural must be covered up, for the safety of the public. Roanoke demonstrates this by making a single supernatural phenomenon famous.

In true American Horror Story tradition, it leads to a hell of a lot of deaths. As any agent of Delta Green can tell you, deaths draw attention.

 

[SPOILERS FOLLOW]

 

Since the colonial era, the Butcher and her associated ghosts killed a few people every few years. It was a remote area of North Carolina, so no one really paid much attention, and things ticked over without much attention. Even the police investigation of the ‘MURDE’ nurses and their old people’s home was just a passing incidence.

However, the modern day changed that.

Shelby, Matt, Lee and Flora weren’t the first people to survive the Blood Moon at the Roanoke house. Edward Mott’s lover escaped alive (as did, technically, all those house servants that Mott locked in the storm cellar – it would have taken them a while to starve to death). The author Elias Cunningham, whose Blair Witch videos Shelby discovered, also escaped the house alive (on that occasion at least).

Nevertheless, none of these previous escapes drew extensive attention to the house.

However, this time, the Millers’ experience was dramatised for television. My Roanoke Nightmare became a hit TV show with a massive following online. Add in speculation over whether Lee murdered her husband or not, and it more or less guaranteed someone would go there the next year, rather than the house being left empty for a few years or decades, as per usual.

Year One deaths: 4 – Mason Harris, Cain Polk, Elias Cunningham and Cricket Marlowe the small medium.

 

The second year of the show’s events saw the house host season two of My Roanoke Nightmare, as well as Agnes Mary Winstead, the unhinged actress who’d played the Butcher in season one, plus the three superfans. If My Roanoke Nightmare hadn’t been made, the only person in that house would have been Matt, who would have gone back to be with the witch Scathach, who he’d fallen in love with. Matt probably wouldn’t even have died, as Scathach clearly had a bit of a thing for him, or if he had it would have been voluntary, so that they could be together forever. Instead, the death toll went up massively.

Year Two deaths: 19 – Three members of the Polk family, Shelby and Matt Miller, the actors who played the Millers, Lee, Edward Mott, the Butcher and the Butcher’s son in season one, four members of the production team, three superfans and an unlucky rigger with a chainsaw.

 

In the third year, it gets even worse. To begin with, there was the unspecified number of the deaths caused during Lot Polk’s shooting spree (it was good to see Lana Winters again though, wasn’t it?). Even though this happened away from the house, they were a direct revenge attack based on the events of the second year’s Blood Moon. Year two’s massacre and the publicity (and money) surrounding it draws in the Spirit Chasers TV show, before escalating into a fully-fledged siege.

And then there’s another ghost massacre, broadcast live on the news, just after the season end credits start to roll

Year Three deaths: lots, but only 12 are shown on screen – Lot Polk, that production assistant we see him kill, all three presenters of Spirit Chasers, each of which had their own camera operator, the actor who played Cricket Marlowe in My Roanoke Nightmare, two cops investigating the Spirit Chasers team’s trespass on private property, and Lee Harris… and many, if not all, of the people still on the site at the end of the episode as the ghosts close in.

 

And what happens next? The Masquerade has been well and truly breached. American Horror Story: Coven may well have ended with its witches going public, but that could easily be dismissed as a hoax or forgotten about. This is live-broadcast footage of bullet-proof and, in some cases, clearly inhuman ghosts butchering police officers and TV journalists. There’ll be news stories for weeks, lawsuits from family members of the dead Spirit Chasers, congressional hearings, conspiracy theories, more adrenaline-hungry ghost hunters and, don’t forget, Lot Polk was a redneck whose family prominently displayed the Confederate battle flag at their home and on their vehicles, and who was shot dead on live television while trying to kill an African-American woman with an AR-15, having previously posted on Youtube his intent to do just that.

Unless Scathach and the Butcher are somehow magically put down (the witches from Coven, perhaps?), things are just going to get worse. The destruction of the house isn’t an end to the haunting, since the ghosts have haunted this area since long before Mott built it.

 

Meanwhile, Delta Green would have pulled strings to ensure that My Roanoke Nightmare was never made, even if that involved sabotage, blackmail of Sidney James or, as a last resort, discreetly force-feeding an entire bottle of sleeping pills down the throats of one or more of the traumatised survivors, all of whom had mental health problems or, in Matt’s case, a brain injury. The network pulls the show before it’s ever broadcast. Lee is never prosecuted for the murder of Mason and she disappears from public view or interest.

Finally, Delta Green buys the land through a CIA shell company, demolishes the house to ensure no one even attempts to move in there, and probably quietly eliminates the Polk family (who no one, other than the people they grew marijuana for, would really miss, and they’re not likely to cause a fuss).

Problem solved with minimal fatalities or public exposure and, since the Butcher has got the privacy she so desires, zero risk of escalation

Review – Pandorax

Review – Pandorax

I recently read two Warhammer 40,000 novels, Pandorax by C.Z. Dunn, and The Horusian Wars: Resurrection, by John French. The Black Library is often a gamble in terms of quality, particularly when you’re trying something by an author you’ve not read before. Both of these authors were new to me (aside from a John French short story I’ve read, but can’t quite remember, from an anthology).

Today, I’m going to do Pandorax. I’ll have a go at Resurrection on another day because I got carried away writing this and ran out of time.

One of these books is a great example of how to do a tie-in novel. The other is a great example of how not to do a tie-in novel.

This is a review of the latter.

 

Pandorax (C. Z. Dunn, 2013)

Pandorax is one of the Space Marine Battles series of books, which is a series I’ve dodged because it sounds as if someone at the Black Library said, “You know how everyone criticises our Space Marine novels as being bolter-porn? Well, what if we do a series that’s entirely bolter-porn?” That might be unfair. Like I say, I’ve avoided the Space Marine Battles series.

As well as being part of a series of books that doesn’t inspire confidence in those seeking good plot and characterisation, Pandorax is also a tie-in to the Apocalypse War Zone: Pandorax setting book for the 40k wargame’s ‘buy as many cool models as possible, line them all up in their deployment zones, and then remove most of them in turn one’ Apocalypse variant. (Back in my day, if you really wanted Titans and aircraft and tank companies on the battlefield, you played in 6mm epic-scale and actually had space on the tabletop to manoeuvre your troops.) In other words, Pandorax is one of those Black Library novels that, rather than just trying to sell the wargame setting in general, is specifically milking a recent release.

Those were my two main concerns going into the book: Battle Bro bolter-fests and ‘If you enjoyed this novel, maybe remortgage your house for this other book and loads of plastic soldiers and tanks.’ The former wasn’t so much of a hindrance to the story. The latter… was.

Pandorax starts out from the points of view of some Catachan Jungle Fighters and a reasonably nicely-drawn Inquisitorial retinue. (One of them is a traitor. Slight spoiler: it’s the one who’s a horrible person… Really? That’s the one the author picked? In the Inquisition, you shouldn’t beware the nice ones?) I really liked this segment of the story. There was a nice exploration of Catachan culture that I personally haven’t seen before, as well as a characterful depiction of the deathworld of Pythos. (Confusingly, and in contradiction to most systems portrayed in Warhammer 40,000, the Pandorax system and its primary inhabited world have completely different names.)

Things happen, Chaos turns up, someone turns traitor, and Rambo-style Catachan badassery ensues. This section of the story went well, although the abilities of the Catachans seems overstated. When Gaunt’s Ghosts go up against traitor Marines in Dan Abnett’s work, it’s always an effort to take down a single one of the superhumans. Here, Plague Marines fall like Star Wars stormtroopers, having apparently forgotten that they have enhanced hearing and centuries of combat experience. Catachans are badass guerilla warriors, but they’re still only human. They shouldn’t be slaughtering Astartes quite so easily, or silently.

Anyway, once Chaos arrives, the plot becomes a race to get the Inquisitorial team’s astropath to the capital so that they can send a request for reinforcements off-world, all of Pythos’ astropaths having been killed by sorcery early in the invasion. (I would remark on how contrived it was that they had an astropath on their team, but it’s a pretty common trope of the setting that Inquisitors like to have their own private psychic emailer.)

During this section, we spend a lot of time with Inquisitorial agent Tzula Digriiz (a black female protagonist – how often do you see those in science fiction, let alone Games Workshop science fiction?) and Colonel ‘Death’ Strike of the 183rd Catachan Regiment and various of their comrades and companions.

Tzula is a nice character. And by nice, I mean she’s actually a good guy. She’s a professional thief recruited to the Inquisition, but as much as I like her, she doesn’t feel like a member of an organisation that has the legal right and ability to commit genocide against its own side if it’s in the best interests of the Imperium. She possesses the McGuffin upon which the entire story hinges. She also gets a pretty good payoff at the end of the story, and (without spoilering) I think she’s the best Inquisition agent for that job. Certainly, she’d never make a good Inquisitor anyway.

Colonel ‘Death’ Strike’s main defining characteristic is that he has a goddamn stupid nickname, which he got early in his career, because the only thing those who fight against him have to hope for is… death. Really? Seriously? Who wrote this, a 12-year-old who thought he was being cool? Of the millions of soldiers that Catachan has given to the Imperium, he’s the one who gets the nickname of ‘Death’? Or is there a guy called ‘Death’ in every other squad, who fights alongside ‘Killer’ and ‘Knifeman’ and ‘Shadow Stalker’ and ‘Two Guns’ (who fights with two guns akimbo because it’s cool)? He doesn’t have much else in the way of personality, beyond being a kind commander who looks after his men. Unfortunately, this is an Apocalypse tie-in, so even when he’s leading a guerilla war against the invaders, he’s doing it with the most un-Catachanny of fighting methods, a super-heavy tank. A goddamn tank the size of a building, that can be heard from a mile away, is armed with ordnance that can be heard from even further, and is available as a plastic kit from Games Workshop. There is a nice touch that the Inquisitorial team included a Jokaero alien, who falls in love with the tank and starts tinkering with it. Unfortunately, the author gets carried away and decides that Jokaero abilities are so awesome (to be fair, they are, but not this awesome) that a tank that normally moves at 20-30 miles per hour is suddenly capable of 200 miles per hour. This is on a jungle deathworld not noted for its road network.

I’ve just realised… ‘Death’ Strike isn’t a character in the grimdark of Warhammer 40,000. He’s a supporting character from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.

The good guy Space Marines, around whom the entire Battles series is based, don’t actually show up until reasonably late in the story, but when they do, it’s in the form of the entire Dark Angels Chapter, all one thousand of them, and a bunch of Grey Knights. Because all the Dark Angels are there, that means all the named characters from the tabletop game are there, along with Dark Angels characters from other novels. Also, Supreme Grand Master Azrael is an arse. He’s a complete and utter arse. Some reviews I’ve seen of this book don’t like that revelation. I don’t know if it marries up with other portrayals of the character in other books, but I like that one of our shining heroes of the Imperium, available from Games Workshop Mail Order, complete with Watcher in the Dark Helmet Bearer(tm), is a git. The supreme boss guy of the Grey Knights turns up as well, and there’s a bit of friction because the Grey Knights don’t trust the Dark Angels and the Dark Angels are scared that the Grey Knights will find out their secrets. (Spoiler: they already know.)

It’s around the time of the Space Marines arriving that the story on Pythos ceases to be interesting. Oh look, Abaddon and Huron Blackheart are sort-of allies. That’s nice, but has no real bearing on events. As much as I like the Red Corsairs, Huron could have been left out of the story. Everything he provides to Abaddon is something that Abaddon could plausibly have already had in his arsenal.

This being an Apocalypse and Space Marine Battles tie-in, everything degenerates into massive battles. Even the finale of the story takes place in the middle of a pitched battle of hundreds of thousands of combatants. There are two problems with this.

Firstly, the author can’t really write large battles (even if the smaller guerilla actions of the early book were pretty decent). They all seem to be Hollywood-style, in which two armies line up and attack each other until one side is wiped out. And yet, despite the vast amount of ordnance and the tightly packed bodies of the troops, named characters are still running around and not being blown to pieces. It turns out that even the sneak thief Tzula is such a badass that she can run around alongside Space Marines and not get hacked to bits by the kinds of things they face.

Secondly, and most egregiously, the large battles scream, “WE ARE GAMES WORKSHOP AND YOU MUST BUY OUR MODELS!!!!” Every hideous daemon that materialises from the Warp, despite the infinite variety of Chaos, is one of those found in the Codex: Chaos Daemons army list. Every Imperial vehicle is named by its model name, rather than by its general type (e.g. ‘Leman Russ Demolisher’ rather than ‘siege tank’). Every single Space Marine squad is available as a boxed set. Every single regiment of Imperial Guardsmen present on Pythos has a model range behind it. How boring. Characters do reference other regiments that aren’t in the order of battle, but they also have model ranges. In the million worlds of the Imperium, our characters only know the ones whose tithed troops are for sale in your local Games Workshop store? All of the large battles seem to have been written with the primary aim of being scenarios for apocalypse-scale games of Warhammer 40,000.

Aside from the plot and merchandising, the actual writing style of the novel was pretty poor. It wasn’t as bad as, say, Twilight or anything by Dan Brown, but I was still halting after reading sentences and thinking about how I could have written that sentence so much better. There were cool things that happened that were utterly ridiculous, even within the heroic grimdark of 40k.

Here’s an example: one of the defining character moments of Shira, a viewpoint character who’s a hotshot space fighter pilot, is when she deliberately sets of a sonic boom in a hangar bay because she’s annoyed at the officer who reprimanded her for not wearing regulation uniform and then sentenced her to a fortnight in the brig when she comes back from the mission she’s about to go on. She’s a maverick, see, who plays by her own rules and won’t let anyone tell her… wait, what? This is the Imperial Navy. She just caused severe damage to a launch bay on one of the God-Emperor’s own voidships, as well as to the hearing of every person in the immediate vicinity. While they’re engaged in battle. That fortnight in the brig should have been escalated to immediate summary execution and no one in-setting would have batted an eyelid.

(Disclaimer: I’m an unpublished author, bitterly so at times, and it bugs me to read prose that is inferior to my own.)

Fortunately, everyone who knew that Shira is a saboteur and traitor dies shortly afterwards, so the author gets to keep her in the story.

I mentioned diversity earlier. She’s part of the gender diversity of the characters. There are a few others, including passing references to female soldiers among the Catachans. I have a big issue with the racial and gender issues in Games Workshop’s settings (I’ve ranted about it before – though apparently not on this blog). The Black Library is getting a lot better at gender balancing its casts, so long as you ignore Space Marines, who are canonically all male, but every time they do a good job, it throws the actual miniature ranges into stark relief. There have probably been less than a dozen female Imperial Guard models released by Games Workshop in the past thirty years, and yet the Black Library regularly includes women amongst the Imperial Guard’s ranks. And as for the new Primaris range of Space Marines missing the opportunity for female Astartes…

Anyway, I’ll grant Pandorax the credit that my initial recommender gave it for diversity, but overall, it’s still an example of how not to write a tie-in novel. The Black Library has released several series of novels that are amazing. The Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition tie-ins were great, as were The Ambassador Chronicles. The Eisenhorn trilogy is still one of my favourites, such that I recently bought the 15th anniversary special editions. The Gaunt’s Ghosts and Ciaphas Cain series are rightly renowned amongst Black Library fans, and the epic Horus Heresy series has thrown us some amazing tales of tragedy from Dan Abnett, Aaron Dembski-Bowden and others (although with a few stinkers from other authors, to be fair). Sadly, this isn’t one of the Black Library’s high points. Although it has its moments, it feels like it was written to order with the instruction to include a checklist of canon characters, events and products. There’s nothing wrong with writing to order, but the finished product shouldn’t feel like it was written to order.

It’s a good job that I’ve given up on ever being published by Games Workshop because C.Z. Dunn, author of Pandorax, is actually one of the Black Library’s senior editors…

 

Game of Thrones – Hope Like Hell Your Captor is Evil

Game of Thrones – Hope Like Hell Your Captor is Evil

I’ve been running a deadpool at work for the current season of Game of Thrones. Basically, people pick one or more named characters, pay £1 per character into the pool, and if one of their picks is the first to die, they get the entire pool.

Surprisingly, episode three has just ended and no one has won yet.

It was a difficult decision with this episode, because…

Wait one moment. Spoiler warning. Stop reading if you’ve not seen the episode yet.

Really, if you’re still reading this post, you only have yourself to blame.

One of my players had whatserface as one of their picks.

You know, her. Thingy. Whatserface. Pretty, Dornish, mostly pointless as a character, not stuck on the front of a ship?

That’s it: Tyene, apparently. (Thanks, Google.)

Unfortunately, one of my players picked her after last week, having correctly predicted that Cersei would target her, rather than Ellaria Sand, as vengeance for Ellaria’s murder of Myrcella. This led to a tricky quandary. Tyene was poisoned, supposedly with the same substance that killed Myrcella. I personally think that we’ll not see her alive again. However, she didn’t die on screen.

I wrote a few rules for the Deadpool of Thrones when I started it: “Flashbacks, bodies found long after death, weird mystical crow visions count in the order they’re broadcast, not when they occurred in-setting! If your character later comes back from the dead, but was actually definitely dead as far as the audience of that episode is concerned, it still counts.”

Tyene is likely to fall into the ‘bodies found long after death’ category, presumably the next time we see (an extremely traumatised) Ellaria Sand, but she’s not there yet. Ergo, she didn’t count as a death for the purposes of the game.

No one picked Olenna Tyrell, but then, no one really expected her to snuff it, least of all Olenna Tyrell. I’m glad of this, because (perhaps controversially) I’d say her death would have counted, despite the scene in which she was poisoned also ending with her still breathing.

For me, it all comes down to the nature of the poisoner.

Game of Thrones is fond of drawing comparisons between characters within an episode. In this case, the Lannister twins each killed a prisoner using poison, but the way it happened was completely different. In his Discworld novel, Men at Arms, Terry Pratchett wrote:

If a man has you entirely at his mercy, then hope like hell that man is an evil man. Because the evil like power, power over people, and they want to see you in fear. They want you to know you’re going to die. So they’ll talk. They’ll gloat.

They’ll watch you squirm. They’ll put off the moment of murder like another man will put off a good cigar.

So hope like hell your captor is an evil man. A good man will kill you with hardly a word.

Now, Jaime Lannister is not a conventionally good person, what with various murders and that time he pushed a child out of a window to cover up his incestuous affair with Cersei, but he’s still got a sense of honour and has been gradually developing a sort of decency since he hung out with that proper example of knightly chivalry, Brienne. He makes sure the poison he brings to Olenna Tyrell is painless and quick. When Olenna admitted to poisoning Joffrey in a very brutal fashion, I half-expected him to pull out his dagger and stab her to death out of anger, but he kept his word. He leaves the room to give her privacy to die, but Olenna, it is safe to say, is definitely dead.

Conversely, Cersei is evil. Her only redeeming features were her genuine love for her children, and the fact that she brought 67% of them up to become lovely human beings. As each of them has died off, and particularly since Tommen’s… uh… vertical abdication, she’s become soulless. Being evil, Cersei doesn’t even kill her actual enemy, instead promising to keep Ellaria alive, but murdering someone else instead. She poisons Tyene as vengeance for Ellaria doing the same to Myrcella. Cersei promises that the death could take a few hours, or it could be drawn out for weeks, and she’s going to leave the daughter to decompose in the cell occupied by her mother.

But she’s not dead yet, and Ellaria isn’t going to die for a very long time, because Cersei is evil.

What if Yara or someone else rescues Tyene and her mother? What if we see Tyene in a later episode, coughing up blood but still clinging onto life? What if there was never any poison and it was a cruel bluff by Cersei to torture both Dornishwomen?

Personally, I think Tyene’s had it. The Sand Snakes hardly served a narrative purpose in the show (and I barely remember them from the books, though the Dorne sequence completely failed to grab me when I read it) and it was obvious that the only reason she survived the battle at sea to be captured alongside Ellaria was for something more ghastly to happen to her later on.

My money is on Tyene being a corpse the next time we see her. So long as no one else croaks first, that would count as a win for the deadpool.

Ellaria though? As Cersei once said:

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”

Olenna Tyrell lost. Fortunately for Ellaria Sand, Cersei is evil.