May 29, 2009

War Machine: A clipped drawl

Welcome to the first part of my close reading of Andy Remic's "rock-hard military science fiction" opus War Machine! The introductory post was here. This post will cover the Prologue and following Excerpt.

**

In my opinion, the first sentence of a book is always one of the most important. It does more than any other part to set the scene for the reader. In this case, though, the first three are worth quoting.

She hated scissors: their gleam; their simple function. She laughed, and it was a bitter laugh like a tumbling fall of worlds. There within the maelstrom of her mind - a cold constant, like the elliptical spinning hub of a galaxy - was fury.

I think you get the idea. Quite apart from the florid language, there is the bizarre notion that scissors would be more agreeable to the woman if they were more complicated. With a pair of unnecessarily complicated matte scissors, maybe she's be less like the elliptical spinning hub of a galaxy!

After this strange prologue about a woman who hates scissors and cries, we meet the Combat-K team. They're holed up in a bunker in a jungle on the planet Terminus5. The scene itself is strangely difficult to reconstruct. On the one hand, the "corrugated bunker" was submerged in vines dangling down from hardwood trees; on the other hand, somewhere beyond the bunker is a treeline. But this is far less important than meeting our characters!

The first to be introduced is the main character, Keenan.

Admittedly my biggest problem is that the only person I can think of when he writes Keenan is Mike Keenan. You know, him:


Keenan is looking out of the doorway of the bunker, and he's joined by our second character, Pippa. Pippa is a British diminutive form of Philippa (hilariously, Wiktionary gives this definition: pippa, Swedish, Verb: 1. (vulgar) have sexual intercourse).

"I can't believe they spotted us," whispered Pippa, crawling up beside him on her elbows, commando-style. Her mouth was a grim line, grey eyes suggesting something unholy: a single concept.
Trap.

I'm not sure the writer understands how to use a colon. In this case, the colon means that "a single concept" is in itself unholy, not that the unholy thing she is suggesting is both hunholy and a single concept. So bizarrely, we've learned that Pippa is a woman and that she considers single concepts unholy. A trap is "unholy" because it's a single concept; if it were more multifarious, presumably she'd be OK with it. I want to make it clear that in English, the above quotation does not mean that her eyes are suggesting "Trap"; they're suggesting "a single concept". This kind of language is par for the course for Remic.

From Pippa's strange epistemological views we move on to Keenan himself.

Keenan's voice was a deep smoker's drawl, smooth, calculating, his words clipped and economic.

A drawl is, according to Wiktionary, "a way of speaking slowly while lengthening vowel sounds and running words together." A clipped way of speaking is one "with each word pronounced separately and distinctly." The Macmillan English Dictionary has "speaking clearly and quickly, in a way that seems unfriendly."

In other words, clipped speech is more or less the exact opposite of a drawl.

Occasionally it's remarkably difficult to visualize what authors write; the less competent the author, the greater the difficulty. Here's a selection from The Eye of Argon; try visualizing the scene, specifically the man's face, in your head.

"Up to the altar and be done with it wench;" ordered a fidgeting shaman as he gave the female a grim stare accompanied by the wrinkling of his lips to a mirthful grin of delight.

A grim stare combined with a mirthful grin and fidgeting. I got Charlie Murphy.

Similarly, Keenan is speaking in both clipped tones and a drawl at the same time, which is, if not impossible, going to be considerably challenging as the two things are logical opposites. The way he's talking is going to be something like how Charlie Murphy carries himself as a playa hata. In other words, totally ridiculous.

**

Combat-K is on a mission to destroy a shield reactor, which will allow the Quad-Gal's "Peace Unification Army" to invade the planet. As we briefly meet the third character, Franco, he is easing free "the micro-barrel of his Bausch & Harris Sniper Rifle with SSGK digital sights. The weapon sported a rapid single action fire linked to a hairline trigger: a devastating gun in the right hands."

The brand names and abbreviations are pure fabrications, but the weapon description itself is more interesting. A "hairline trigger" is more usually known as a hair trigger, which is unexceptional; the single action fire is more puzzling. Remember, this is an elite military outfit in the post-Singularity future. A single action rifle is one where the shooter has to manually reload the rifle after each shot, so given that the others are carrying automatic weapons, that's hardly a very rapid fire. Also, it seems more than a little anachronistic for people in a post-singularity future to be lugging around bolt-action rifles. I mean, it's even surprising to find them using gunpowder, but clearly these are guns we're talking about. But as we'll learn, this is par for the course.

In addition to that, there's the simple fact that as "military science fiction", the military science on display is incredibly underwhelming. You've just described a sniper rifle that is functionally nearly identical to ones being used in the 19th century. Only the "digital sights" would be out of place in the American Civil War.

There's also time for another Remic moment:

"There are four of the bastards." He spat on the earth floor, glancing rigt towards Keenan and Pippa - lying vulnerable and coiled by the warped doorway where fingers of sunlight raped by swirling dust pointed arrows of accusation through the pepper-pot interior.

One thing I will say for Remic: his use of language is surprising. In what is otherwise an inept, adolescent narrative of short sentences and tortuous exposition, he, seemingly at random, comes up with these wild endless sentences of strange visual metaphors. They're never good, but at least they are unexpected.

**

The team comes under fire, and Keenan reacts:

Above the cacophony Keenan licked salt lips, annoyed now, and lit a cigarette. "Take them, Franco." He eased his bulk around the doorway, smoke stinging his eyes, locked his MPK to the tree line and sent a savage sweeping volley of thundering firepower.

I'll run through this is reverse order. Keenan is in a bunker, under fire, so he sits in an exposed doorway with a lit cigarette in his mouth and fires a sub-machine gun. This is really a minor detail, though, as they're taking fire, he licks his lips "above the cacophony". That is to say, the sound of Keenan licking his lips is louder than the gunfire in the jungle around them. That is what the sentence means. And that's... startling.

As the attack continues, Keenan and Pippa get to their feet and walk across the bunker doorway, shooting down attacking soldiers. Of course, this somewhat begs the question of what the soldiers themselves are doing at the time. After the firing subsides, Keenan brazenly stands in the doorway, looking for the enemy. In this prologue, the enemy seems to have all the military aptitude of Imperial Storm Troopers or COBRA Vipers. Of course, Keenan himself is almost superhuman, according to Remic. Here:

His gun came up, stocky, black, deathly serious, held in strong hands that had no right to be that steady in the midst of a fire-fight.

If there's one thing we're going to learn in the course of this book, it's that Keenan is not a little man. One can only presume he must have a hat.

Before Keenan indulges in a brief sexual fantasy/reminiscence of Pippa, she has this puzzling line:

"We've got to get to the reactor. We're fast running out of time!" soothed Pippa, words tickling his ear she was so close.

Either Remic is taking a dip in the waters of beat poetry or his editor is inept, as the last part of the sentence doesn't quite work out grammatically, but above all the characters are still talking incredibly weird. We're running out of time! she soothed. That is just bizarre.

**

As the team prepares to assault the reactor, another flashback takes us to Combat-K graduation.

A bugle sounded, forlorn, wavering, and sixteen thousand boots stamped in perfect unison as the battalion wheeled - a well-oiled machine - and every greased cog saluted officers standing stern but proud on a high fluid compress alloy podium. This was the climax of four years hardcore training.

One presumes that should read "years'". Also, "fluid compress alloy" is just gibberish, but marks our first encounter with an alloy. There'll be more ahead.

Most puzzling, though, is that in something that calls itself military science fiction, one expects military terms to make some kind of sense. A battalion of 8 000 men? Generally a battalion has always been used of a formation of some 1 000 men. In modern military terms, a formation of 8 000 men is a reinforced brigade or maybe an understrength division. A battalion of 8 000 is as pointless a concept as a squad of 50 or a company of 800.

**

On their way to the reactor, Keenan muses on the fact that they've been compromised.

During covert Impact, the Terminus5 government should not have had time to scramble units to protect what was considered planetary low-key targets, such as this global reactor site.

The logic here is unfathomable. On page 8, their mission is "pivotal, crucial"; on page 14 they're attacking a "low-key target". The reactor they're going to destroy is powering some kind of shield system that's stopping an army from invading the planet, and it's a low-key target?

From Keenan's musings we enter another erotic flashback featuring Pippa. During this, we learn that Keenan has a wife called Freya and two beautiful young daughters, but he's still sleeping with his squadmate. We now enter Remic's characterisation of Pippa in all its brutal misogyny:

She was a hard woman, a killer, a devastatingly brutal assassin. But within her lurked a core of insecurity, a child in need of nurture, a young girl locked in a room craving nothing more than love and caring, and - ironically - protection. He had become her protector, her brother, her father, and, against all probability, almost forced by circumstances, he had become her lover.

Lest anyone get any womens-lib ideas that Pippa is a soldier just like the men she serves with, she is instantly reduced to a child who needs a man to protect her. In case someone might have thought that Keenan and Pippa might have a relationship as equals, she's a simpering little girl who is, by implication, his daughter, his sister, his protege. Isn't it far more disturbing to enumerate the relationship that way?

**

They arrive at the shield reactor, which has an alloy door (check). There's a scene in which they rappel down to the reactor and destroy it, facing a "metal AI" on the way. Keenan reminiscences on his ranch, his horses, his dogs, his wife and daughters, and his tortillas and beer, giving us another glimpse into a non-little man's world. The chapter abruptly ends as Keenan, Franco and Pippa are presumably captured by Terminus5 troops.

I've covered the prologue in this much depth as it's really a very good microcosm of what's to come. The contracictory narrative, the bizarrely inept language, the stereotyped, misogynistic characterization. The only thing "science fiction" about this is strings of nonsense words and occasional lasers and AIs. The "military" part isn't doing much better.

There are several intriguing strands that I'll be following throughout:

Keenan. He's clearly the central character of the book, and given what I posted about the author earlier, it doesn't seem like too wide a stretch to say that Keenan is an idealized projection of Andy Remic. That falls outside my mandate of text-based criticism, but even within the text it seems that Keenan is being set up as an archetype of sorts.

Pippa. So far, she's a brutal, tough soldier who's really a scared little girl. Speaking as a feminist, I have to say that the way she's treated is typical of misogynistic fiction. One sets up a strong female character, and then proceeds to textually emasculate her by reducing her to a little girl. This isn't just a staple of fiction written by men; a particularly galling moment in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series is Hermione's self-emasculation in the first volume.

The post-Singularity future. So far, we've had guys running around a jungle firing sub-machineguns and sniper rifles. There have been some references to far higher tech, but on the whole the basic narrative could easily have happened in the 1960's. There isn't really anything science fiction about it at all; it just seems to be a war story with some random gibberish thrown in to make it science fiction. And that isn't science fiction. The only truly bizarre anachronism is the single-action sniper rifle, but later there'll be more. Much more.

Repeated motifs. Licking lips and alloys have already been noted. They'll recur.

**

Before Part I: Combat-K gets under way, there's a strange bit of text in the book. Its title:

being an extract from:
THE HELIX WAR-A HISTORY
kv 4788-hv3792
written by
Professor Marsaal Su b-Krδiy∞


For the font-challenged, that's b-Kr delta iy infinity. The text that follows is Remic's horrible attempt to imitate or parody academic prose. Reading it is pure torture. Seemingly random proper names are CAPITALIZED. The text runs through three theories on the causes of the Helix War, and ends up saying that one of the theories on the causes of the war actually caused the war. That's right, what happened happened because of a theory on why it happened. That doesn't make any sense, but then again, neither does anything else. This is what it ends with:

Atrocity followed atrocity. Escalation led to destruction, to escalation, to destruction in an apparent Catch 22 of spiralling violence. From three possible origins, all time/space strands intercepted and moved along in a sequential and singular course...almost written in stone.

First things first: a Catch-22 (properly hyphenated) is not a spiral. For the uneducated, Catch-22 refers to Joseph Heller's book of the same name. In it, a Catch-22 is an example of circular logic, not of an escalating process. Also, isn't it a little strange to be supposedly reading an academic work in the post-Singularity future where reference is made to a 1961 novel?

Furthermore, Remic is again having serious difficulty using English. The "time/space" (spacetime?) strands "intercepted". Intercepted what? To intercept means to stop or catch something before it gets to where it's going. What did the strands catch? To say that they intercepted each other would be bizarre; an interception requires an interceptor who catches and an interceptee who is caught, and therefore is going somewhere or doing something. He doesn't say they intercepted each other, though, just that they intercepted, which is pointless.

After "intercepting", they move "sequentially". Sequentially means one after the other. How are we to visualize three theories moving sequentially? Presumably Remic has no idea what sequentially means. Also, their course is "singular". Singular means something strange, exceptional. The "strands of time/space" move on a strange course, one after the other?

Presumably what he means is that the strands converge. For someone who is apparently a teacher, this total inability to use a dictionary is puzzling. I just hope he doesn't teach English. The misuse of singular recurs later in the work, making one strongly suspect that not only does he have no idea what many of the words he uses means, he can't even be bothered to look them up.

Somewhat more worryingly, neither can his editors.

**

Overall, the Prologue and "being an extract" give an overwhelming impression of ineptness, both literary and linguistic. Now that I've taken a fairly close look at the prologue, I hope you've gotten an idea of what it is we're dealing with and I can move through the rest of the book considerably more quickly, focusing more on themes and characterization and items of interest rather than continue to trudge through his hideous language and repated errors.

Coming up next: an alcoholic private investigator, a mental hospital and a naked woman killing a cow with a sword. I couldn't make this stuff up even if I tried.

May 21, 2009

"Star Trek"

So I saw the new Star Trek movie. I need to review it twice to be fair. First as a movie, then as a Star Trek movie.

As a movie: bleah. If I did stars, I'd say 2/5. I didn't think it was particularly good. There isn't even an original story: the main plot is a total retread of Star Trek: Nemesis, of all movies, with its Romulan villain and his planet-destroying ship, combined with the original "Starfleet Academy" idea for Star Trek 6. Everything else is cobbled together from a mix of tropes stolen from the previous movies, and as Anthony Lane puts it for the New Yorker:
He [Kirk] is played here by Chris Pine, who struggles with a screenplay, written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, that could have been downloaded from a software program entitled “Make Your Own Annoying Rebel.”

As near as I can tell, the movie had no theme. The annoying rebels were pointlessly annoying rebels who had no meaningful conflict, and barely even a sensible character arc. The plot is not only a pastiche at best, but any aspect of it falls completely apart under any kind of logical scrutiny. Basically this is a mindless action movie.

On top of that, I truly loathe Abrams's "breathless" directing. The movie is constantly in such a terrible hurry that it rushes from scene to scene like a sprinter on meth. So as a movie, the whole thing is a madcap rush through a nonsensical plot that fails to engage me on any level. The quality of the acting varies tremendously, but most of it is frankly piss-poor.

Overall I'm not impressed.

**

As a Star Trek movie, well, it isn't. I need to give some background here. I saw my first episode of Star Trek: the Original Series when I was something like six years old. In a way, I grew up with Star Trek. My interest in movies, literature and everything has lead me to read up on Star Trek and its antecendents, specifically some of the ones that inspired Gene Roddenberry. In other words, I've done the kind of thing you might expect someone who's going to create a Star Trek re-make to do.

Coming from this background, the first half hour or so of the movie felt like a calculated slap in the face. All of the fundamental ideas and themes of Star Trek have been abandoned. In the first 30 minutes alone, Starfleet has changed into a quasi-miltary organization where officers snap to attention in the corridors when the Captain walks past, during a catastrophic emergency, behavior never seen in Star Trek before. Despite being seemingly more militaristic, the movie has also totally abandoned the original Star Trek's navy background; an unimaginably awful moment comes at the start when Kirk sr. orders his crew to "evacuate ship". After this, we're transported back to Earth where a young Jim Kirk uses a Nokia telephone and listens to the Beastie Boys. This is a terrible scene, but moreover it finally destroys any impression that you might be watching a Star Trek movie.

Later on we begin to meet the cast. At best, they behave like caricatures of the Original Series crew. Karl Urban delivers a fair impression of Deforest Kelley's Dr. McCoy, but it's an impression, not an acting performance. Zachary Quinto's Spock is occasionally almost good; every time you start warming to him, however, he starts talking like Conan O'Brien's caricature nerd. Chekov is on board in defiance of original chronology, but apparently it was thought necessary to have someone with an accent they can make fun of.

By the way, Spock speaks bad English several times in the movie. His line about "performing admirably" is hideously clunky, but unforgivably, he at one point wonders if he can "ask a query". I do major in English, and if you give me a Vulcan who speaks bad English, I can't take you seriously. Of course, this is a minor gripe given that "alternate Spock" is a raging psychopath who physically assaults people who insult him and maroons subordinates on dangerous planets.

On the topic of characters, it's worth remembering that the original series was politically and socially extremely progressive, even revolutionary. The series that boasted the first interracial kiss on network television, even if the actors didn't actually quite kiss (because the show wouldn't have aired in Klan country if they did), also added a Russian character in the second season. This was a powerful message at the height of the Cold War, telling viewers that in the end, Russians and Americans are both people, and can work together as equals. Contrast this with the movie's Chekov, who is only present to be mocked for his funny accent.

Most insultingly, the movie fails to be a Star Trek movie in the one way that counts the most. Previous Star Trek movies had intelligent content. They had themes. They had something to say. One of the dictums of the original series was that you should be able to watch the show as a kid and enjoy the action, and you should be able to come back to it as an adult and realize that there's a real issue being discussed in a meaningful way. This is one of the essential characteristics of science fiction proper. Another is at least some kind of respect or even lip service to actual science, of which the Original Series is a shining example. Its list of technical consultants is probably the most impressive of any TV show in history.

Abrams's Star Trek, however, is totally brainless. The movie has no discernible theme, and has nothing to say about any issue bigger than itself. As I said, the plot makes absolutely no sense, so the first moment you stop to ask the movie a question, it falls apart. What's more, the physics and science of the movie are, even for latter-day "technobabble" Star Trek, downright insulting. There are thousands of grade school students in the world who understand more about our universe than the screenwriters. Anyone with the slightest idea of astronomy will be stunned to hear Spock recite probaly the most inept "astro-babble" in Trek history.

In other words, Abrams has made a Star Trek movie that can be fun as long as you don't think about it. That's not science fiction; that's definitely not Star Trek.

**

I could go on for ages. In fact, I may yet, as taking apart everything that's wrong with this movie would take a lot of writing. My overall impression is that I'm far more disappointed by this movie than I thought was possible. Not only have Abrams and co. made a remake that abandoned all the core ideas of Star Trek, they've made it ineptly. They didn't bother to write their own plot; instead they created a mishmash of "Starfleet Academy" and ST: Nemesis. Their script is totally brainless. Their characters are at best caricatures, at worst one-dimensional cutouts. The mindless action movie they're calling "Star Trek" isn't even good.

Overall this was the most disappointing movie I've seen in years. It was just awful. I'm unspeakably disgusted by the reviews that say Abrams's team has respected the show's legacy. Given that they've abandoned all the core ideas of Star Trek, from what I know of Gene Roddenberry, he would have hated this. His show, which had a theme and a message, and his characters have been reduced to a one-dimensional parody of themselves to flog a bad action movie. This movie is an insult to his legacy.

**

Seeing this movie was actually one of the most depressing single experiences I've had this year. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it leaves me feeling disappointed, depressed and alienated. I was planning to do this anyway, but J.J. Abrams made my decision for me: I'm retreating to the Finnish countryside to recuperate. Things will be pretty quiet on this blog for most of the summer, but I'll make the occasional post, and be back for good latest in August.

Have a nice summer, everyone!

May 20, 2009

By the numbers: Washington-Pittsburgh

Here's some numbers from the Washington-Pittsburgh conference semi-final.

Power play opportunities:

Game 1: Pittsburgh 5, Washington 2
Game 2: 5-5
Game 3: 7-2
Game 4: 6-4
Game 5: 2-2
Game 6: 5-4
Game 7: 4-0

In five of the seven games, Pittsburg had more power plays than Washington. In two, they had an equal amount. Interetingly, they split the two games 1-1. The other four went 3-2.

In total, Pittsburgh had 34 power play opportunities during the series; Washington had 19.

**

In some of the games, the discrepancy might be justifiable. But over the entire series? Hardly. Let's talk about NHL officiating for a moment.

Adam Proteau, of the Hockey News:
The NHL continues (and will continue) to claim they care about the health of players like Ward. We should know by now this is simply untrue. And I will prove it with a series of scenes from this year’s playoffs, the place where, given the NHL’s odd logic in demarking the line between regular season and post-season suspensions, it must be true that every player’s head is even more precious this time of year.

First I will point to Mike Cammalleri drilling Martin Havlat square between the chops. Then I will reference Chris Kunitz cross-checking Simeon Varlamov in the neck. Then I will recall Mike Brown decimating Jiri Hudler, Ward getting creamed by Walker and Donald Brashear adding to his stellar resume by taking out Blair Betts of the Rangers.

Then I will tell them that only one of those situations resulted in a suspension.

Well, I’ll say, technically there were two suspensions, but the league rescinded one of them.

As a reminder, Brashear was the only one suspended. Scott Walker had his suspension rescinded.

All of those are fairly clear violations. Ironically, I think Brashear's hit on Betts was the most questionable, in the sense that I'm not at all convinced it was a penalty. I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that had it been Milan Lucic who laid that hit on Betts instead of Brashear, the same people screaming about it now would be playing it in highlight reels and talking about what a fantastic player Lucic is.

On the other hand, only one of these violations led directly to a goal. In fact, Sidney Crosby scored his first career playoff hat trick on the play by Kunitz. After Kunitz cross-checked Varlamov, Crosby got the puck from behind the net and scored. Watch the cross-check here:


Notice the referee watching the play and ignoring it. The NHL's disciplinarians did the same.

All the penalties Proteau listed were shots or punches to the head. Another one went uncalled and doesn't even rate a mention here; in Game 3 of the Caps-Pens series, Evgeni Malkin punched Shaone Morrisonn in the head in the middle of play. The result? Obviously, no call. It was just as blatant a violation as the Kunitz cross-check, if not even more so.

**

After Game 3, both Alex Ovechkin and coach Bruce Boudreau had something to say about the officiating, (source):

"They have only two penalties," Ovechkin said. "It's kind of a joke, I think."

Boudreau added: "As far as penalties go, I hope I never hear them complain about penalties again, picks, and everything else. I think we might have deserved the penalties, but they sure as hell deserved more than they got."

Boudreau is bang on the money here. Many of the penalties called on the Caps were justifiable; that's not the problem. The problem is watching the Caps get called and the Pens get away with exactly the same violations throughout the series.

In my opinion, it was impossible to watch that series and come away with the impression that the referees were calling the game fairly. I realize that it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but I can't dismiss the idea that the league wants Sidney Crosby, the anointed Messiah of hockey, in the finals so badly that it shows in the officiating. I'm not sure any other explanations make any more sense.

Be that as it may, the end result is clear. To me, the Capitals-Penguins series was conclusive proof that dismissed my last doubts. Officiating in the NHL is not fair; NHL referees are biased in favor of certain teams. The team they're most obviously biased in favor of is Pittsburgh.

**

On a side note, it's going to be interesting watching the least penalized team in the regular season (Carolina) take on the referees' darling children (Pittsburgh).

In the first period of the first game, Mark Eaton got away with a blatant slewfoot that injured Tuomo Ruutu. Later that period, Marc-André Fleury threw his stick at the puck; no call. In the second, Erik Cole was skating toward the goal, Hal Gill next to him "lost his balance", and Fleury took a huge dive. Result: 2 minutes to Cole. In the third, Cole took a dirty hit below the knee from Matt Cooke and was injured. Again, no call. It's been pretty sickening again.

In 14 playoff games, only twice have the Penguins had less power plays than their opponent, and both those games were in the first round. In the conference semi-finals and finals, Pittsburgh has not once had less power plays than their opponents. Overall, in nine out of fourteen games, Pittsburgh has had more power play opportunities than their opponent.

It looks like the referees already decided who's going to the finals.

May 18, 2009

War Machine: a close reading, part 1

Recently, a friend of mine ran across a novel that seemed so hilariously awful he had to share. The book in question was Andy Remic's War Machine. Just using Amazon's "Look inside" feature led to so much fun that I obviously had to get him the book.


I mean, it's got Edge and Bono from U2 on the cover. How can I not buy that?

You'll notice it's billed as "rock-hard military science fiction". For so many reasons, I felt I had to read the damn thing. I mean, I've been writing about all things military for a living for nearly ten years now, I've been reading science fiction for nearly twenty years, and hell, I'm still technically majoring in English. It's a book I simply have to read. What's more, it's published by Solaris Books, which is ultimately owned by Games Workshop! And because I believe I have to read it, I'm also going to be sharing it with the world, i.e. you.

In other words, I'll be doing a close reading of Andy Remic's novel War Machine on my blag, starting soonish. Before I get to the text itself, though, I'd like to say a few things.

In doing this close reading, I may occasionally be a little harsh. I tend to be a little harsh about a number of things on this blag, but I'm not going to apologize. I don't criticize people in order to offend them or to get kicks out of it; the easiest way to describe my approach is that I follow my version of the somethingawful.com credo: if you publish it and it sucks, I'm going to make fun of it. We'll shortly be seeing if War Machine sucks. (if you visited amazon.com and read any of the excerpts, you may already know the answer)

My approach to literary criticism is strongly text-centered. To exaggerate, I don't particularly care who wrote a text and why, and I certainly don't want to try to discover the author's opinions or preferences by studying their text. The approach I'm going to be taking here will be reading the text as it is, without more context than the one provided by the book itself. I'll probably make an occasional foray elsewhere, but in the main I intend to concentrate on the text itself.

**

Having said that, in the interests of good writing it'll be proper to get in some background first. The author, Andy Remic, is a former English teacher from Manchester, UK, who has written a number of games for the ZX Spectrum back in the day. That's him, from Wikipedia:


In his blog, he described himself as an "Author of high-octane fast-paced kickass Fantasy and Science Fiction novels". On his website, he poses with a chainsaw (bottom of page). And the book itself contains both a dedication and an "about the author" section. Here's an excerpt from the surprisingly long dedication:

"How many men have been where we've been? And seen what we've seen?"

No matter what happens, we're not little men.
Hats on!

Not to be outdone, here's "About the Author" from the end of the book:

Andy Remic is a young British writer.
He has an unhealthy love of martial arts, kickass bikes, mountain climbing and computer hacking. Once a member of an elite Combat-K squad, he has since retired from military service and works as a biomod and weapon engineer at the NANOTEK Corporation.

From amazon.com:

About the Author
Andy Remic is a young British writer and teacher from Greater Manchester. During his teaching career he developed an interest in martial arts and is now expert in unarmed combat. He can kill a man with a single blow, but prefers writing and hacking computer systems. War Machine is his fourth novel.

There's so much I could say about these descriptions. I'll just note, though, that in case you're fooled by the recurrence of the word "young", a Google search leads one to understand that he was born in 1971. If 38 is a "young author", then, well. You know.

**

This is the kind of fellow whose work I'll be reading. Oh, and, um, do you suppose this counts as a book review? Because this is what he says about book reviews, on the aforementioned website:

How do you deal with the people who don't like your books, and tell you as much? If a person doesn't like my books - no problem. Everybody has different personal tastes, and I suppose my work is as acquired as any Islay whisky. After all - there are plenty of books I don't like. However, the pieces of shit I really do hate are failed-writers turned book reviewers - they really make me boil, and then know who they are. I'd certainly like to meet a few face to face.

I could be a real dick and wonder what, exactly, a failed-writer is, but I won't, nor will I ask whether he hates failed writers who review books or hates everyone who reviews books and is insulting them. In the first case, he should be OK with what I'll be saying, but in the latter case, I guess not.

Why am I being a dick about this? There's a real simple reason. He isn't, by any means, the first or the last author who hates book reviewers. I have no sympathy for this rubbish at all. In my opinion, it's perfectly simple. If you publish something, let alone if you're selling it, you're going to be criticized. Sometimes that criticism is probably going to be unfair, and it's perfectly OK to respond to that. But as for hating book reviewers in general?

In a free market economy, criticism has an important function. Every book that's out there has some gushing blurb from a publisher telling you it's the best thing ever, and every book that's notable enough to be commented on will probably have at least a page of quotes of other people gushing about it. Because practically every book has this, it contains no real information. Most of us people who read book would like to know if the books in question are good or not before we make a decision to buy them. That's what book reviews are for. They're a fairly essential service. If you hate the people who write them, or are going to respond with some inane argument on the level of "well why don't they write themselves then", you have a problem.

If you choose to write and publish a novel, you're putting it out in the public domain for us to see, read and experience, and to talk about. If you don't like some of the things people say about your novel, that's just tough. As for the level of class it shows to rail and swear about them on your website, well, like I said, I don't go in for biographical criticism.

A wit suggested to me that maybe he's looking to set up as the Uwe Boll of literature.

**

Let's get to the book itself. Here's what the author himself had to say about it, in an interview for SFX magazine:

SFX: Again, no spoilers! But what's the basic premise of your new novel?
RE: "War Machine is a sizzling rollercoaster of a novel with a gratuitous excess of violence, sex, dark humour and exotic aliens all wrapped up in a high-octane cling-film plot concerning an elite military unit illegally reformed who must battle across alien planets to discover justice, truth and revenge. Initially, the story begins with a quest to find an artefact which will reveal to Keenan the person who killed his wife and children."

Can you imagine a person really talking like that? Would you call something you wrote a "sizzling rollercoaster" "wrapped up in a high-octane clingfilm"? If not, then you're clearly not the kind of non-little man who writes Combat-K novels.

SFX: Solaris are calling you "the new master of rock-hard science fiction" - what's the appeal of this sort of writing, and how do you deliver?
RE: "I have a very low boredom threshold. And I love science fiction. However, in years past, nothing I read seemed to deliver the sort of high-explosive thriller-driven adventure I was looking for. So I decided to write my own. I suppose one way of looking at it is that if the work of Iain M. Banks (of whom I’m a great fan) is categorized as Space Opera, then my work would be classed as Space Opera – The Punk Remix. So, a sprawling canvas of interesting yet volatile characters, exotic war-torn alien locations held together with fast action, guns, chases, fights and battles, clever plot twists and a liberal pepper sprinkling of black comedy. Dune crossed with Jonny Rotten. Disney merged with The Clash. Doctor Who on heroin. Buffy, when she’s grown up and become a hooker. Hell, Star Wars with rag doll corpses and the Sith being real evil bastards."

So, we're in for some Rock-Hard Military Sci-Fi, or Punk Space Opera. What does that mean? Damned if I know. It all sounds really edgy!

This is what amazon.com says about the book itself:

Product Description
In a time of post-Singularity and FTL travel, the Helix War has raged across galaxies. When ex-soldier turned privite investigtor [sic], Keenan, takes on a new case, he must overcome his demons and gather together his old military unit, a group who swore they’d never work together again....

The first sentence is reproduced verbatim on the book's back cover. It's the first issue I have with the book, so I'll start there.

In mathematics, a singularity is a point at which an equation "blows up", as Mathworld puts it. Back in the '80s, US professor and author Vernor Vinge coined the idea of a "technological singularity", which meant a point at which the growth of technology reaches such a high rate that we cannot extrapolate the future beyond it from where we are now.

As Remic's novel doesn't seem to provide any alternative meaning for "Singularity", the assumption that a sci-fi reader will make is that the blurb is referring to a technological singularity à la Vinge.

And that's why it's so pointless. If the future beyond a singularity can't be predicted, then it's logically impossible to write a novel set in a time after a singularity. In the same interview, Remic says his "Combat-K" novels are set "a million years into the future". That's a ridiculous number; we, homo sapiens, haven't been around for even close to a million years. A million years in the future is an impossibly long time to make predictions, as is any time beyond a technological singularity. The best you can do is guess, and by the very definition of a singularity, your guess will be based on incomplete data and can't really be accurate.

The blurb on the back cover continues:

Ex-soldier Keenan now works as a private investigator on a planet at the peaceful fringes of the Quad-Gal. Following the brutal death of his family he's run up hefty debts, gained a bad reputation and become a heavy drinker.

So it's a post-Singularity novel featuring an alcoholic private dick? Some singularity.

**

So we have a book called War Machine, with half of U2 on the cover, billed as "rock-hard military science fiction". It's set in the pointless contradiction that is a "post-Singularity" future where there are alcoholic private investigators. The author poses with chainsaws, describes himself like a 12-year-old and hates book reviews.

All this, and I haven't even started reading yet.

May 17, 2009

Eurovision Song Contest 2009

Blech. The winner is the most annoying little kid ever sent to the Eurovision Song Contest. Maybe they might consider renaming it the Eurovision Shout Contest, given his, erm, vocals.

My vote went to Estonia's Urban Symphony, for a beautiful song and excellent show. They got disgracefully few votes!



As it happens, I thought the best song by far was Anastasiya Prikhodko's "Mamo", the Russian entry. However, when they did the song in the finals I thought it went very badly, and above all, the beautiful Anastasiya was wearing the most hideous "dress" of the whole evening. It was really sad, because as I said, I do think theirs was the best song of the night.



Of course, the most beautiful woman in the Eurovision Song Contest made her only, fleeting appearance in the first semi-final: Julia Volkova.


**

Of course, Finland and Waldo's People came dead last. I didn't actually think we were going to do that badly, but given how awful the Finnish time machine back to 1989 was, no-one should be surprised. I'm just going to say that Signmark wouldn't have come in last! It's disappointing but unsurprising that after Lordi, Finland has returned to the tried and true line of picking ridiculous artists who have no chance of even doing well. First Teräsbetoni, now this.

Of course, the post-ESC highlight of the year will be in the British media. I can't wait to see how they explain why their awful, hideously boring song didn't win because of bloc voting, corruption, Godzilla and global warming. Until then!

May 16, 2009

Fallout 3: Enclave Deathclaws

Okay, so this is weird. The Fallout Wiki says:
Deathclaws make another appearance in the game as the Enclave camps begin to appear. These camps are likely to house cages containing Mind-Controlled Deathclaws, which are just the same as regular ones with the exception that they will not attack Enclave forces.

Is that the way it's supposed to work, then? On my XBox 360 version of the game, fully updated, the Deathclaws held in Enclave cages attack the Enclave soldiers almost as soon as they've been let out of the cage.

In one memorable incident, the Enclave officer outside Dukov's Place was shooting at a Radroach and decided she needed help, so she opened the Deathclaw cage. The Deathclaw killed the Radroach, stood around for a moment, and then killed the officer.

So far, every time I've seen the Enclave unleash their Deathclaws, they've turned on the Enclave soldiers. According to the Fallout Wiki, they're not supopsed to do that. I wonder which is wrong? The game is so loving buggy that I wouldn't be surprised if it was a bug, but it's not in the wiki's list of bugs.

It's been funny, yeah, but I'm just wondering. I mean, the Enclave aren't meant to be that stupid, are they?

On reflection, my theory is that when the Deathclaw is released, it doesn't attack Enclave soldiers. If there's no-one else around to attack, however, it will attack the Enclave. This would explain the behaviour we've been seeing.

The question remains, though; is that supposed to happen? It makes the Enclave officer releasing a Deathclaw into a lose-lose situation for the officer; either the Deathclaw loses, and anything tough enough to kill a Deathclaw is also going to kill them, or the Deathclaw wins and then kills them.

So it's either a bug or really dumb game design. Hey, wait, I've just accidentally described most of the game. Oops.

(okay, I'm exaggerating, but if you've played it...)

May 15, 2009

April birthdays

I've been negligent in acknowledging the birthdays of various hot chicks around the world. Here's some of the people I missed in April. Sorry!

Jenna Jameson, US porn star (April 8)

Amy Dumas, US pro wrestler (April 14)

Veronika Zemanová, Czech porn star (April 14)

Maria Sharapova, Russian tennis player (April 19). The WTA tour just hasn't been the same without her this year; here's hoping she manages to show up soon!

Susana Spears, Czech porn star

Happy birthdays to all, belatedly.

May 14, 2009

Goodbye Caps

Have a nice summer vacation.

The series was what it was. The refereeing was interesting; in the last game Washington got four minor penalties while Pittsburgh didn't get a single penalty. Overall, the power plays in the series were 34-19 in Pittsburgh's favor. They got nearly twice as many power play opportunities as the other team. Given that that in no way reflects the way the game on the ice was played, it's horrifying.

Having said that, the Caps lost this series on their own. After Game 2, they never played like they meant it. The horrible, lackluster game they played from Game 3 forward is the reason the Penguins won this series. I'll write more about this later, but right now I'd just like to know what Bruce Boudreau's excuse is for the way his team conducted themselves on the ice. It's game 7 of the conference semi-finals, for crying out loud, and your team comes out and falls flat on its face. The first period ends 4-0.

If I were calling the shots in Washington, Bruce Boudreau would be out. Like we say in Finland, the team played like loose shit. All Boudreau seemed to do was stand flabbergasted behind the bench while his guys went out and lost a Game 7 by four goals. Four.

That wasn't the greatest playoff series ever; from Game 3 on it was a total disgrace as only one team showed up. At the end of the day, the Caps didn't deserve to win. Hell, they didn't even look like they wanted to.

May 13, 2009

The Finnish Parliament is in session

Or was, yesterday. Among the laws up for debate was one conerning the right of same-sex couples to adoption. They got in about ten statements until MP Pentti Oinonen, of the dearly beloved Base Finns, lived up to their name. According to Oinonen, if Finland allows same-sex couples to adopt children, the next thing we'll be allowing is paedophilia and marrying animals. If you want to read the actual text, glance over at my Finnish-language blag.

I thought we did all this already when Finland (sort of nearly) legalized same-sex marriages. But apparently the Base Finns aren't done with us yet. Lest you think this is just Oinonen speaking, he was quite adamant that their chairman, Timo Soini, agrees with him completely.

I'm sure he does.

May 12, 2009

Book review: A Splendid Exchange

I recently picked up William J. Bernstein's A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World, and was quite disappointed.


According to the back cover blurb, he "tells the epic story of global commerce, from its prehistoric origins to the myriad crises confronting it today". Obviously, I was interested.

In the first few chapters of the book, Bernstein touches on a couple of areas that I happen to know someting about: the history of Islam, and sailing. That's where the trouble starts.

To start with sailing, on page 76 Bernstein says this:

Even so, Mediterranean shipping did benefit from the introduction of the Arab triangular lateen sail, which enabled vessels to tack into the wind, a feat not possible with the square rigging of Western antiquity.

First of all, as even the Wikipedia article will tell you, the lateen sail did not originate with the Arabs. Much more importantly, though, I'm baffled as to what Bernstein thinks tacking means. Again, the Wikipedia article is perfectly clear:

Tacking or coming about is the maneuver by which a sailing vessel turns its bow through the wind so that the wind changes from one side to the other.


The question is, what other kinds of tacking are there, apart from tacking into the wind? The reverse maneuver is called wearing. Much more importantly, though, square-rigged vessels, of antiquity or later times, are perfectly capable of tacking "into the wind"; it would be strange indeed if they couldn't.

The confusion persists later, when Bernstein talks about Chinese junks (p. 98):

The Chinese military leadership made maritime engineering a high priority, and their boatyards began to turn out many types of huge military and maritime (!?) vessels with... advanced fore-and-aft sails (which enabled ships to tack almost directly into the wind).

What on earth is a non-maritime vessel? The confusion with tacking continues; here Bernstein seems to confuse tacking with sailing close to the wind.

The larger point, however, is that on the topic of sailing, Bernstein clearly has no idea what he's talking about. This doesn't stop him from making statements about sailing. The question obviously becomes: is he taking other matters he's writing about equally lightly?

I can attempt a partial answer by looking at his chapter on the birth of Islam; Chapter 3: Camels, Perfumes and Prophets.

Bernstein discusses the birth of Islam in strangely contradictory terms. Pages 66 and 68-69:

66: "There [Mecca], the incense trade catalyzed the birth of Islam, whose military, spiritual and commercial impacts transformed medieval Asia, Europe and Africa."

68-69:

Exactly how Mecca became a bustling commercial center is something of a mystery; it produced nothing of value, was not a great center of consumption or government, and had little strategic worth. (...) The role of the incense trade in the city's rise is also uncertain: ther eis controversy as to whether or not the main caravan route bypassed the town. (...) In a narrow sense, Mecca may be thought of as a miniature, parched, landlocked Arabian version of Venice, whose food supply and rhythms of daily life hummed to the tunes of trade, whether or not it actually sat on the main incense route.

The problem is that Mecca was never any such thing. Here the reason for Bernstein's confusion is amply clear: his bibliography and notes omit any mention of the definitive work on the topic, Patricia Crone's Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam. Crone's book makes it perfectly clear that Mecca was only a bustling center of commerce in later Islamic traditions. There is absolutely no historical evidence to support those traditions. Almost unbelievably, Bernstein credits the siting of Mecca 100 miles away from the trade route to Nigel Groom's Frankincense and Myrrh; apparently Bernstein is unaware that Crone's book even exists.

Bernstein, has been quite content to write a chapter on the topic without even consulting such standard texts of Islamic studies that should occur to every undergraduate student. He doesn't seem to use any of the current scholarly works on the topic, but instead references books like Karen Armstrong's biography of Mohammed. Karen Armstrong is not a trained historian or islamicist, but an ex-nun. He quotes her work, but ignores any serious academic sources. The source material for the chapter is at best haphazard; in my opinion it can fairly be described as inept.

**

So far, I've read Bernstein's work on two areas that I have some knowledge in, and in both I've found his methods leave much to be desired. Despite what seems to be a total ignorance of sailing, he glibly makes statements about it. In writing on Islam, he is quite content to use sources that seem to have been selected at random. I stopped reading the book shortly later, as I don't see that a more comprehensive criticism is worthwhile. The way he treats these two areas is so incompetent that it throws the entire work into question. Has he been as haphazard in his source material for other claims? I'm not competent enough in those areas to say, but I have my doubts.

**

As a sidenote, reading reviews of the book is frightening. In lieu of a review, the New York Times printed a page-long summary of the book and called it a review (here. According to its back-cover blurb, the book was selected as "An Economist Book of the Year".

Most frighteningly, historian Paul Kennedy reviewed the book for Foreign Affairs, no less. Here's what he said:

A Splendid Exchange is a work of which Adam Smith and Max Weber would have approved. And it is all the more interesting because it is written by someone who is deeply knowledgeable about and active in the financial world yet finds the time to write graceful and insightful history with a delicate display of scholarship that conceals a vast erudition.

I find several of his insights to be, at best, questionable, and the scholarship he displays in the chapter on Islam is delicate in the sense that a car crash is a delicate display of driving.

I would assume that anyone who has the slightest background in Islamic studies could poke considerable holes in Bernstein's work. That even someone like Paul Kennedy seems to accept the entire work at face value is a powerful reminder of how important it is for us to read critically.

**

Having said all this, I certainly can't recommend Bernstein's book to anyone. The inept scholarship of his chapter on Islam is enough to raise serious doubts as to his methodology and rigor; serious enough to me that I can't take his book seriously as a work of history, even popular history. If all of his facts have been checked as rigorously as those on sailing and Islam, I can't even imagine what the rest of the book might contain.

May 11, 2009

The uneven surface: faceoffs

Here's another little thing that bugs the hell out of me in the Pittsburgh-Washington series.

As anyone watching the playoffs is likely to have noticed, Sidney Crosby's faceoff win percentage has shot up dramatically. Before this season's playoffs, Crosby was at best mediocre in the circle. Now he's winning faceoffs constantly. Why? At least in part it's because he's found another rule that doesn't apply to him.

Faceoffs, from the NHL rulebook at nhl.com:
76.3 Procedure – As soon as the line change procedure has been completed by the Referee and he lowers his hand to indicate no further changes, the Linesman conducting the face-off shall blow his whistle. This will signal to both teams that they have no more than five (5) seconds to line up for the ensuing face-off. At the end of the five (5) seconds (or sooner if both centers are ready), the Linesman will conduct a proper face-off. If, however:

(i) One or both centers are not positioned for the face-off,

(ii) One or both centers refrain from placing their stick on the ice,

(iii) Any player has encroached into the face-off circle,

(iv) Any player makes physical contact with an opponent, or

(v) Any player is in an off-side position,

the Linesman shall have the offending center(s) replaced immediately prior to dropping the puck.

My boldface.

I guess the online rulebook omits the part "unless the offending center represents the Pittsburgh Penguins". In last night's game, not only Crosby but also Malkin repeatedly took draws where they never placed their stick on the ice. They won most of those draws.

Having watched nearly the entire semi-final series so far, I'm prepared to claim the only reason Crosby is winning so many draws is that he doesn't have to take his faceoffs honestly.

For the life of me, I don't understand why they let first Crosby, and now his teammates, get to ignore the rules on faceoffs, but they do. I challenge anyone who disagrees to watch the game and watch the Penguins' center's stick on the draw. More often than not, they never touch the ice until the puck is dropped.

It really makes me sick to see this stuff, but there it is. In my mind, the most reasonable explanation is that the Penguins, especially Crosby, know that they're the apple in the league's eye, and are taking maximum advantage of it. It's a disgrace that the officials and the league are allowing it.

**

This is my last post on the Penguins this year. I'm so sick of this bullshit that I can't watch the Eastern games any more. When the referees gave Pittsburgh the overtime game on Saturday I had to resist an urge to smash the TV set. I'm done with these playoffs, at least in the East. No doubt the Penguins will win the conference, again, because whenever it looks like they won't, the refs step in. Washington won the first two games and got completely screwed in the next three, to make sure the Golden Boy gets to the finals again. And in the meanwhile, the hockey media is tripping over themselves to suck his dick.

I can't stand it.

May 10, 2009

So much for the series

Let's run through the last two shifts of yesterday's Pens-Caps game.

In the second-to-last shift, first Alex Semin is hooked from behind and pulled down in the offensive zone when he has the puck. No call. Then Malkin is tripped in the offensive zone when he has a puck. A penalty is called to Washington.

On the power play, the Pens get an odd man rush because the Washington forechecker is knocked down to the ice by a Pittsburgh hit. That's interference, for those of you not familiar with the rules. No call. Pittsburgh scores on the odd man rush.

This has nothing to do with sports any more. OK, one of the big reasons the Caps are losing this playoff series is that they're playing poorly. But so are the Pens. I don't see any way the refereeing could be more blatantly biased in favor of the Penguins without just giving them goals for no reason.

It looks like the league has decided Crosby is going to the finals again. Sucks to be you, Boston or Carolina; expect the same treatment in the conference final.

Sometimes the NHL makes me want to vomit. This is one of those times. They're flusing the credibility of the league and the sport down the toilet to sell a whiny Canadian kid as the future of hockey. Hey, NHL: fuck you.

May 9, 2009

I hereby award this award

Today, I'm inaugurating my annual Brooks Orpik Hypocrisy Award. The award will be given to the player who, during the course of the NHL season, gives a public statement that at first glance seems like a reasonable thing to say, but when you consider who the player is and what their history is, is so appallingly hypocritical it makes you go nuts. The first ever winner is the man himself, Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik.

In yesterday's Caps-Pens game, Ovechkin tried to hit Sergei Gonchar. It's my opinion that Gonchar was trying to avoid the hit, and they collided knee-on-knee. I completely agree with TSN's Bob Mckenzie that there shouldn't be a suspension as Ovechkin wasn't trying to injure Gonchar.

However, this is what Brooks Orpik had to say about the hit, to the Canadian Press via TSN:

"I mean, you can run guys, guys are fair game, but the guy (Ovechkin) takes strides every time and leaves his feet a lot of times, too," defenceman Brooks Orpik said. "To us, we got the feeling he's really trying to hurt guys at times."

Cue violins immediately after "really trying to hurt guys at times". Why? Because this is coming from the guy who broke Erik Cole's neck. Watch.


To fully appreciate the context, note that the Pens are not only losing the game, but by that time in the season they were already out of the playoffs. Carolina, on the other hand, was set to win their division. This was the year they won the Cup. In that situation, Orpik breaks Erik Cole's neck by running him into the boards.

Orpik was suspended for three games. You may recall that earlier this year, Sean Avery got twenty games for saying something derogatory about a player's girlfriend on TV. Take a moment to reflect on the fact that for the NHL, a player's girlfriend's reputation is worth slightly more than six broken necks.

For having delivered the dirty hit that broke Erik Cole's neck, and generally being a dirty player, and then complaining about how Ovechkin hits people so hard, I award Brooks Orpik the inaugural Brooks Orpik Hypocrisy Award. Congratulations!

May 8, 2009

Fallout: New Vegas

The first next Fallout game was announced last month, but I managed to miss it. It's going to be called Fallout: New Vegas, and is being developed by Obsidian. Due out in 2010.

I confidently predict that Fallout: Knights of the New Vegas II: The Enclave Lords will have a breathtakingly epic plot that totally falls apart and abruptly ends halfway through, missing quests and locations, and it will be amazingly buggy. There are two reasons for this. First, I've played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, also by Obsidian. In addition to that, Obsidian was founded by ex-Black Isle developers, the people who brought you the two original Fallout games, which were, erm, amazingly buggy...

Coming to your console in 2010: Fallout: Epic Crash.

May 7, 2009

Last night's fiasco

There's really no nice way to say this, so I won't waste words.

Last night's Washington-Pittsburgh game was the most disgusting mockery of a game that I've ever seen. As a rule, I'm thoroughly averse to conspiracy theories as they nearly always fail Occam's Razor and many other rules as well. However, for what happened last night, the simpest explanation is that the league wants Pittsburgh to win. At the very least they want to prolong the series.

After Washington dominates the first two games, suddenly they're called for six penalties in a row in the third game. The overall minors were 7-2, with Pittsburgh only getting the two. That's not the real problem; the problem is how they got them.

Pittsburgh went ahead 2-1 on Malkin's goal. The shift before the goal, Malkin and Shaone Morrisonn go into the corner after a loose puck. As they're skating there, Malkin pnuches Morrisonn in the head with his fist, right in front of the referee. Play goes on. Malkin gets the puck as Morrisonn is still reeling, gets himself into the slot, and as he's about to shoot Alex Semin lifts his stick with his. Semin gets two minutes for hooking. Malkin scores on the power play.

I saw Super Bowl XL, and I can say this was much worse. What happened on the ice last night wasn't a hockey game, it was a hatchet job by the referees. There was no way Washington could have won. The Penguins could do what they wanted, and did. Especially Malkin punched, tripped, hooked and slashed players constantly. There was not one penalty called on Washington, apart from shooting the puck into the stands, that the Penguins couldn't do at will, as often as they wanted, and never get called.

In the regular season, Mellon Arena usually boasts the most uneven playing surface in hockey. In the playoffs, it's a cliff. If the next game is called the same way, then why bother playing it at all? Just mark it up as a 5-0 Pens win.

May 5, 2009

I ♥ Bianca

Again I've been negligent in the hot chicks department. But I think I can make up for that, because boy, oh boy.


Meet Canadian model Bianca Beauchamp. I think I'm in love.





Her official website is at http://www.biancabeauchamp.com/, with separate glamour and fetish sections. The whole PVC fetish thing never really did anything for me, but on the other hand, I can't argue with this:




She's beautiful. I'm in love. ♥

May 4, 2009

Game review: Fallout 3

Great game, shame about the plot. 8/10

The good part is that Fallout 3 is a tremendously enjoyable and somewhat addictive game. Most of the game mechanics work just fine, as does the user interface. As a level design issue, I'd just like to say that I got really tired of the practically identical dark, ruined buildings after the third one, and there were still, what, 500 more left? Okay, you don't have to explore them, but still, there's been a tremendous amount of level design done, with nothing to show for it except dozens of identical levels. That's a bit lame, really.

The bad part is basically almost all of the writing. In parts it's good and even engaging; in parts it's so embarassingly bad you need to steel yourself to keep playing. I'll keep this spoiler-free, so I'll not treat the main plot other than to say that at times it's so mind-blowingly stupid it makes you want to bash your head into a wall.

There are two glaring flags of disbelief that the game can't help but make you hoist. The first, and most serious, is the claim made in the game that the events take place 200 years after nuclear war. When you play the game, it very quickly becomes obvious that that doesn't make any sense at all. In places they're trying to give the impression that it really has been ages since our civilization stood; in other places they give the impression that the bombs fell just last year. It feels like they can't make up their minds, and at times the discrepancy is really bothersome.

Another serious problem I have with the game, which might not be so bad if you don't know about these things, is that none of the damage you see in the game is in any way consistent with nuclear weapons. If I played the game without knowing it was called Fallout, I'd never guess they were trying to present a picture of a world after nuclear war.

There is radiation present, for example in bomb craters. This is totally ridiculous as no nuclear warhed would create radiation effects that persist for 200 years. Most of the radiation one encounters in the game, however, comes from barrels of nuclear waste or some other radioactive goo that seem to be basically lying around at random. There doesn't seem to be any reason or explanation for this, but apparently in the dystopian future of Fallout, people used to, um, store nuclear waste in subway tunnels before the war...

The game is set in the "Capital Wasteland", supposedly the ruins of Washington, D.C. Apparently nuclear war has dried up the Potomac river and turned DC into an arid wasteland where it never rains. Only it must rain, because there are pools of stagnant water everywhere, and that water has to come from somewhere. An easy guess would be those numerous clouds in the sky, but during the entire game, never once do you see it rain.

I can't for the life of me figure out how a nuclear war would turn the DC area into a desert or dry up the Potomac river. It should be pretty much exactly the opposite. But as we know, the earlier Fallout games were set in a desert, so maybe they felt this one needs to be in a desert too. And as we know, it's a generally accepted rule of fiction that postapocalyptic stories are set in the desert (Mad Max), where it doesn't rain. Therefore it can't rain in Fallout 3.

Overall both the plot and the overall writing of the game is designed to give you certain impressions and rather ham-handedly prod you into feeling emotions for your character or other characters. All of the writing places giving impressions far above realism, consistency or even sense. This is even more blatant because mostly the game is very atmospheric and great fun to play. You just have to grit your teeth and think of England when the cutscenes start.

I really wish this had been a better game. As it is, I really like it. It just saddens me to see such hideously bad writing in an otherwise well-executed game.

May 3, 2009

Checking to the head

In Game 1 of the Detroit - Anaheim series, Mike Brown took a run at Jiri Hudler and got a five-minute penalty but no suspension. Here's the hit:


Earlier, in the East, Donald Brashear got a five-game suspension for hitting Blair Betts:



Here's what the NHL had to say about the Brashear suspension, according to NHL.com:

NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell says he felt the hit was delivered late and targeted Betts' head.

So, wait, hitting a player's head is legal but grounds for a suspension?

The NHL has no rule about headshots, and both the league and players' association are opposed to one. Most of the objections are some variation of the repellent Mike Milbury's argument that any rule change to improve player safety is "pansification". Having said that, though, the fact that there is no rule against headshots in the league doesn't stop the league from handing out suspensions because of it.

It's absolutely bizarre. In my opinion, there's no question that Mike Brown deliberately hits Jiri Hudler's head. As of this writing, Brown isn't getting a suspension. How on earth can this possibly be justified? One player gets five games for a hit to the head, another gets nothing.

The situation where hits to the head are both allowed and not allowed, and where one player gets five games for a hit and another gets nothing, is ridiculous. I'd say it's making a mockery of the NHL's discipline and refereeing, if that was possible. It's enough of a joke as it is. I'm tempted to say something acidic and highly critical about, for instance, Tyler Kennedy slashing Viktor Kozlov's stick to pieces yesterday, with the referee looking on but apparently not feeling like making a call. I just can't be bothered any more as the bias in favor of that particular team is so ridiculously blatant it's barely worth commenting on any more.