Poem: Tristyn and Adeline

Poem: Tristyn and Adeline

It’s Valentine’s Day(ish), so that can only mean a romance-themed Writers’ Soc prompt night. Last year, I wrote a superhero story about a monster destroying a city, so there’s some flexibility.

This year, I wrote a poem. It’s set in the same vague fantasy world as Winter Keen and, I guess, The Privilege of Fools (though it’s not comedic).

The prompt was a quote from Lao Tzu: “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”


Tristyn and Adeline

Sir Tristyn, atop his steed draped in mail,

Rode boldly into the depths of the vale

Where his love, Adeline, the Maiden Blade,

Had fallen, lost when her band was betrayed.


He found her amongst the wounded and dead,

Her arm in a sling, a rag ‘round her head.

‘Fair Adeline,’ said he, ‘I feared you be slain,

‘Though now I will see the dawn’s light again.’


‘My lover,’ she said, ‘The dawn is yet stilled,

‘For my warriors were tricked, ambushed and killed.

‘Our guide was a ghoul, disguised in man’s skin.

‘I swear, on our love, he’ll pay for his sin.’


Head bowed low, Tristyn agreed to the quest,

‘Til the traitor was slain, ne’er would they rest.

Their quarry sent forth vile servants in swarms;

Together, the lovers weathered such storms.


The storm broke and they reached the ghoul king’s throne,

A cannibal wretch on a seat of bones.

‘You have slaughtered my kin,’ the foul ghoul said,

‘But you are both wounded, soon to be dead.’


The ghoul leapt, fuelled by hunger eternal

Its eyes burned bright with fire infernal.

Adeline and Tristyn did hold their ground,

In love for the other, victory was found.


Love gives you courage, a reason to die;

To be loved grants strength to hold up the sky.

As one, the lovers could not be withstood;

Their swords stained black with their enemy’s blood.


Heroes are known for cutting off their kin,

For barring their hearts from those they’d let in.

To spare their loved ones mortality’s dread,

They walk alone, with none mourning them dead.


But Tristyn and Adeline held no fear;

For them, their loved one was always stood near.

They knew if one fell, then so would their love,

To meet again in those fields above.



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


Review – The Post

Review – The Post
The Post (2017)
The Post, although it’s going to win loads of awards (and already has a few), isn’t one of Steven Spielberg’s best, but that’s praising with faint damnation. This is Spielberg we’re talking about here; he’s probably one of the greatest living film-makers.
Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks were as solid as ever, and it was an excellent period piece, but the first half was somehow overly-expositionary without explaining stuff well enough for people who aren’t already up on their American political history. Basically, they spent too long setting the plot up, before it became good.
The opening Vietnam battle scene, was as atmospheric as you’d expect from the guy behind Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers and The Pacific, but I wasn’t even sure until afterwards whose perspective the audience were meant to be following, and it felt like it came from a different film entirely – the rest of the film is composed entirely of dialogue scenes.
This was a problem throughout the early stages of the film. It felt disjointed, as if the dominos were being set up in time for the second half to begin. (Hehe, a ‘domino theory’ joke.)
Also, the final scene, in which some guy interrupts a burglary at a certain hotel, didn’t fit logically into the film’s events at all. Although critical to the downfall of the film’s villain, Richard Nixon, there didn’t seem to be an obvious link to the Pentagon Papers, other than to show the length and breadth of Nixon’s corruption following his threats of reprisal against The Washington Post. (As a point of curiosity, were those telephone conversations genuine Nixon tape recordings, of which I understand quite a few were made, or an actor? EDIT: Yes, apparently they were genuine.)
How would I have improved the film? By which I guess I mean how would I have done it better than Steven Goddamn Spielberg? Well, my partner thinks it went on way too long. I’m inclined to go the other way. It could have benefited from being longer, but spending more time making us care about the characters (although Streep’s character development was done nicely), maybe conveying the importance of the historical events that characters referred to in passing (but then, this is a major period of modern US history that I assume an American audience is more acquainted with than someone from this side of the Atlantic). Also, courtroom drama. Injunctions were sought and fought and this case got to the Supreme Court of the United States, only for the film to skip over most of the arguments and then provide the result via telephone/telex in the newsroom. Spielberg can do controversial American history courtroom drama, as demonstrated in Amistad. It’s a shame we didn’t see some of that, even heavily fictionalised, here.
The film was clearly topical (and Spielberg’s said as much), with the Trump administration’s hostility to the press in its sights. Aside from several mentions of the First Amendment when discussing whether or not to publish the Pentagon Papers, this is emphasised in a slightly on-the-nose comment that Streep makes towards the end about the press being ‘the rough first draft of history’, and that even if it doesn’t always get it right, it still needs to do its job. The Post was in production for less than a year. Maybe if Spielberg had spent as much time on it as he does his other films, it would have been a more polished film.
As a final note, I spent ages trying to work out if the Washington Post lawyer that turns up midway through the film was being played by Matt Damon or not, because it didn’t look quite like Matt Damon, but then it did, and then it didn’t, and then… and then Bob Odenkirk (Saul Goodman from Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad) appeared in the same scene and I realised it was Meth Damon wearing a suit.
Hey, I didn’t think I’d get to re-use the promo image from Olympus Has Fallen quite so soon. Not trying to draw any equivalence between the two films, honest.

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.

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.




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