First Thoughts: Assassin’s Creed: Revelations Story Mode

Story-Spoiler Free.

Assassin’s Creed is starting to feel a lot like Madden NFL in a weird way. The crunchy toast of the play mechanics and user experience have been unchanged for several years now, while various marmalade-y experiments have been slathered on top of it and then scraped off in disgust or retained for next year’s bite. Revelations has pretty much everything you liked about Brotherhood in abundance, and probably has all the stuff you didn’t like lurking about as well. The stuff that’s unique to this entry is all awkward at best and sort of crap at its worst, and Revelations exudes the desperate musk of a franchise trying to justify too many releases too close together by piling on features for the sake of features.

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Schmannonball Schmead: Legion by Dan Abnett

Dan Abnett is arguably the best author working in the Black Library’s Warhammer 40,000 setting. He has a wonderful ear for dialogue and his characters tend to be well-drawn and to have understandable motivations, even if he introduces them only to kill them off a few sentences later. This is actually one of his favorite tricks, and it means that his novels, set in the splinter of the 40K setting known as the “Daniverse” are among the more colorful and well-populated.

Abnett also understands a key problem with 40K, which is that it’s actually sort of a shitty setting. Space Marines are dull, Imperial Guardsmen are idiots, and even Orks can get monotonous after a while. Sure, in the grim darkness of the far future there is only war, but you have to write about more than war or risk your novel turning into a Risk War Diary. Abnett’s solutions, at least in the novels I’ve read, are to avoid writing about Marines whenever possible, and to populate his stories with more-or-less normal humans who exist in cultures distinct from the usual kinda-like-Nazis-kinda-like-Victorians Imperium of Man. Legion, the 7th novel in the very long-running Horus Heresy series, set in the 30th Millennium, long before the “present” of the 40K universe. The novel purports to tell the tale of the Alpha Legion, youngest of the Space Marine Legions and one that we know in 40K as a dreaded Traitor Legion. In fact, like a lot of the Heresy novels Legion takes place mostly from the perspective of a series of bystanders, normal humans serving alongside the Alpha Legion in the vast non-Marine human armies.

John Grammaticus, an immortal psychic, works for a Cabal of aliens who have seen the future. They would like to meet Alpharius, leader and genetic template for the Alpha Legion, so they can warn him about a coming danger to the galaxy that the Legion might be able to help avert. The aliens don’t trust the humans, who are a young and violent species, and the humans don’t trust the aliens because various aliens have perpetrated mass slaughter against humans at times when the Imperium was weak. Wacky misunderstandings and hijinks ensue.

Continue reading Schmannonball Schmead: Legion by Dan Abnett

Cannonball Read #5 & 6 – The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls

The Curse of Chalion & Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold.

The Curse of Chalion and its follow up novel, Paladin of Souls, are explorations of the human relationship with the divine wrapped in a pair of eminently readable fantasy novels. Continue reading Cannonball Read #5 & 6 – The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls

Cannonball Read #4 – The Feminine Mystique

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. The book that gave a name to the problem with no name.

If you are a feminist or you agree with some of the principles of feminism (that women and men deserve equal opportunities and treatment) and you haven’t read this book you should. You should get ready to get mad. If you think we don’t need feminism anymore, or that we didn’t need it in the first place, you should read this book. Continue reading Cannonball Read #4 – The Feminine Mystique

Cannonball Read #3 – Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Dystopia, classic, disturbing.

This review contains spoilers.

Winston Smith is dead. He is dead because he has committed thoughtcrime and thoughtcrime is death. In his dead but not-dead state he becomes free to act in a manner that disregards his personal safety. He falls in love with Julia and they have an affair. They know the affair is doomed but they pursue it anyway. Julia and Winston are caught by the Thought Police. They are tortured and made to confess all their crimes. They are afraid to die but the goal of the Thought Police, in fact, the whole government of Airstrip One is not to kill people; it is to control them. To control the circumstances of their entire existence not through exterior means, through force or extortion or the threat of physical pain. They want to control people by completely shaping and knowing their thoughts. To inculcate doublethink into the populace so firmly that a person cannot even think of rebelling against the system. Complete hegemonic control is the goal, effected through the manipulation of culture, information and language. Winston and Julia are not tortured to death, they are tortured into complete submission. They give up every secret place inside their souls and in the end they become the property of the Party.

After I finished reading Nineteen Eighty-Four I read the news. I wanted to scream “It’s doublethink!!!” The cognitive dissonance on display was suddenly transparent to me. I was able to see through to the motivation of “culture warriors” who speak without logic. They seemed to be purposefully obtuse. The purpose is to avoid logical interpretation, to breed frustration to the point that people stop trying to interpret or argue and give in to illogic because they are too tired to try and make sense of the messages anymore.  The end goal is not temporal power or even political ascendancy. The goal is control. Control is not imposed but flows from within a culture. When a group can take control of the language of a culture they don’t have to fight for power any more. They own the consciousness of the culture.

I used to wonder when my father would be incredibly offended when he thought someone was engaging in revisionist history. Now I know. When public figures espouse an opinion and a month or a year later espouse a completely different one without explanation or acknowledgement they are trying to say that the past doesn’t matter. Now I know why The Daily Show continuously exposes these incidents. This sort of exposure shouldn’t get old. The contradictions, the desire to own the narrative of history, to try to recast, revise or just erase history, these are all facets of the control that Orwell plays out to a possible conclusion.

Ninety Eight-Four is a classic novel for a reason. It is frightening because it is possible. I feel like I am watching people try to implement Newspeak in the present day. Would public figures utilizing the tools of the Party in the novel be so adept in their use of these concepts if he had not written this? Would the populace be more vulnerable if he had never written about what he saw happening?

Forewarned is forearmed, as far as I’m concerned.



Schmannonball Schmead: Soul Drinkers Omnibus

Mildly spoilery in the service of outrage.

It’s often been noted that while Warhammer 40,000’s Imperial Space Marines are fun as plastic army men who beat up orks with their chainsaw swords, they make for terribly dull long-form fiction characters. There are only so many cries of “For the Emperor!” and “Xenos filth!” that a reader can take before boredom sets in, and a marine-centric novel runs the risk of becoming a string of heroic deaths and gruesome slaughters.

It’s very obvious that Ben Counter doesn’t really like Space Marines much, or at least understands the arguments of those who don’t. The Soul Drinkers in his novels have all of the usual Space Marine “virtues” – pride, wrath, pitilessness, overweening piety toward the Emperor – but Counter makes a point of giving the perspective of both the enemies and allies of the Marines, and none of them fail to see these flaws for what they are. Nobody in the Imperium of Man really trusts or respects the Soul Drinkers outside of their use as a tool to smash enemies, and in the omnibus’ third book we find that the Crimson Fists marines are held in similar poor regard by the Imperial Guard generals they are assisting.

Seriously, fuck this guy.

The first novel is set up as a Greek tragedy; the names of Soul Drinkers like Sarpedon, Iktinos, and Tellos are no accident. Small mistake by small mistake, prodded by hubris, they slowly make their way down the path of damnation. The other two books are more like action mystery novels, with the reader shut out of the Soul Drinkers’ motivations and getting more from the side of those who oppose them. All of the books have an ongoing sense of doom and decay, as the fugitive marines are steadily whittled down with little hope of… well, anything, really.

Continue reading Schmannonball Schmead: Soul Drinkers Omnibus

The Colour of Magic – Cannonball Read #2

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett. Snarky Fantasy.

The Colour of Magic is the first Discworld novel. It is a send up of fantasy, a genre ripe for mocking.  The heroes are a wizard who failed out of magic school and a tourist from the other side of the world, which is a disc that rests on the back of four elephants who are riding on a celestial turtle.

Rincewind, the wizard, is tasked with showing Twoflower, the tourist, around the continent. Twoflower is the first tourist from his side of the world to visit the main continent. He is extremely naive as to the culture on the continent he is visiting.  Most of the hijinks that ensue do so because of his ignorance and polly annaish nature.

Absurdism abounds and is quite diverting. Eventually it became distracting.  The satire is forced and relies heavily on puns. The tourist, Twoflower,  brings modern day concepts into the story but they are sometimes hidden behind impenetrable veils of punnery. It just broke the frame. In the end the point was the absurdism rather than the plot, which in the end meant absolutely nothing. Definitely not escapist fantasy. This book was so self aware that it is hard to get into.


Crave – Cannonball Read #1

….aaaaaand we’re back!  The last quarter of 2010 (and the first quarter of 2011) was way too exciting in real life for us to post here. Now that life is more boring we’ll be posting more.  On to the trashy novels!

Crave by J.R. Ward – Fallen Angels #2. Paranormal Romance/Thriller.

Jim Heron is back. He is the catalyst in the struggle between heaven and hell. Seven souls are in play and whoever gets the most, wins. If four of the chosen humans choose virtue, Heaven will triumph. If they fall to sin the world will be subsumed into Hell.

In play is Jim’s old Covert Operations buddy, Isaac. Isaac is trying to get out of Covert Ops.  As the usual way to exit the business is in a body bag, Isaac is taking the path less traveled and has gone AWOL. He’s tired of killing people for a living. He uses an underground, bare knuckle boxing ring in Boston as a vehicle for raising money to stay on the run. He gets arrested during a match and lands  pro-bono defense attorney Grier Childe  – how awesome is that name? She’s a high class, blue blood lawyer trying to somehow work off the guilt she feels over not being able to save her brother from heroin addiction.

Aside from the ass kicking, hot sex and “boy tries to give girl up for her own good but is fated to be with her” plot, there is a moral to the story. In the end, the soul that is in play is not judged on the consequences of its actions but on its intent. It’s a disappointment to the characters in the book but it resonated with me.  For all one’s pontificating and protesting about a righteous life, when we go to our final judgment it will be our hearts that our judged. A lot of people put on a front to make people think they are good or righteous. They are forgetting that it is not people who will be weighing their lives in the end. An odd place to find that message but welcome nevertheless.



Game Chat – Dawn of War II: Retribution

Our ongoing chat coverage of Dawn of War II: Retribution continues now that I’ve been playing for about 6 hours and have something to add to my sister’s earlier comments:

Sonic Rob: It’s funny, you know Brotherhood and Retribution are both refreshes of previous titles more than new games or even proper sequels
Sonic Rob: I’m really finding AssBro more compelling, tho
Fyrehaar: more compelling than?
Sonic Rob: than retribution
Fyrehaar: ahh
Fyrehaar: I am now very interested in the single player
Fyrehaar: each has the same missions with different plots
Fyrehaar: I want to see what it is for each of them
Sonic Rob: so far I’ve mostly been playing the marines campaign
Sonic Rob: by and large I don’t give a shit about these marines
Sonic Rob: it is really frustrating not being Poopus
Sonic Rob: Diomedes is a goddamned moron
Sonic Rob: and he is running the show
Sonic Rob: not me!
Sonic Rob: I felt like Poopus was my avatar, you know?
Sonic Rob: that’s me, in the game
Sonic Rob: Diomedes and I disagree on a lot
Sonic Rob: and he’s the one who gets to decide even tho I’m the one who paid the 40 bucks!

Continue reading Game Chat – Dawn of War II: Retribution