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“Say what you will about pre-modern European society, no peasant was under any pathetic illusion the monarch would enjoy a beer with them” – @Trilburne
“Our ignorance can be divided into problems and mysteries. When we face a problem, we may not know its solution, but we have insight, increasing knowledge, and an inkling of what we are looking for. When we face a mystery, however, we can only stare in wonder and bewilderment, not knowing what an explanation would even look like.” – Noam Chomsky
“I read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It’s about Russia.” – Woody Allen on speed-readers
“Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.” -Unknown
“What would your good do if evil didn’t exist, and what would the earth look like if all the shadows disappeared? After all, shadows are cast by things and people. Here is the shadow of my sword. But shadows also come from trees and living beings. Do you want to strip the earth of all trees and living things just because of your fantasy of enjoying naked light? You’re stupid.” – Mikhail Bulgakov
“You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style” – Vladimir Nabokov
“If a mosquito has a soul, it is mostly evil. So I don’t have too many qualms about putting a mosquito out of its misery. I’m a little more respectful of ants.” – Douglas Hofstadter
“Hey Hef, how do you get so many bitches?” “Well, for starters, I don’t call them bitches” – Hugh Hefner
“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see.” -Arthur Schopenhauer
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” – Antoine de Saint
“My father is the jailhouse. My father is your system… I am only what you made me. I am only a reflection of you.” – Charles Manson
“There is no such thing as a former KGB man.” – Vladimir Putin
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The mortuary has eight chambers. They branch out from a hallway like arms on a spider. Inside these chambers, a maximum of thirty-two cadavers are stored at temperatures not exceeding -2 degrees Celsius.
The corpses stay for hours, or days, and then go to funeral parlors, forensic facilities, and, occasionally, pathology labs. The dead come from many paths to the mortuary, and they leave on many paths.
The mortuary hired me to install the security cameras.
I worked quickly in the chilly light, my fingers going numb in the cold. I made mistakes. I kept forgetting the task in front of me, my brain wandering like a lost and scared dog to the bodies on the slabs. Eyes that were open, but not to see. Mouths that were open, but not to talk. That horrible feeling of being totally alone while in a room full of people.
These weren’t regular cameras.
The mortuary forbids CCTV video feeds in the chambers. There was an embarrassing incident, years ago. A former employee sold photos of an OD’d starlet to the press.
The video coming from these cameras are distorted and garbled. You can’t actually see anything on them.
Instead, the cameras track motion.
Every twentieth frame or so is referenced and compared against the previous frame. If there’s any difference – defined as a pixel that has changed color – then it puts a flag in the camera’s software, stored on a web server.
“One flag is okay – sometimes the software screws up,” the mortuary security chief told me. “Two flags in a row is a suspicious screw-up. Anything more than that, get in your truck and come down here at the double, because there’s been a break-in.”
“Who breaks into a mortuary?” I asked.
“Organ thieves. People who want to be with a loved one, one last time. Frat boys pledging for Alpha Kappa Dumbfuck. It doesn’t matter, you just get down there as fast as you can.”
I’ve been monitoring the motion cameras for the past three months.
Usually, the cameras generate between ten and twenty flags a day. False positives. Sometimes I get two flags coming in within seconds of each other, and hair stands up on my neck for a moment, and after nothing else happens after a minute I go back to reading Deadspin on the office computers.
Once, I had forty flags come from chamber 7. I drove down there, expecting the worst…
…and found a cockroach crawling across a camera lens.
Another time, I got a single flag from all the rooms, simultaneously. A fuse had blown, knocking out the power. I replaced it before any of the cadavers had a chance to warm. Got a nice pay bonus for that.
The job was boring. Losing focus was just a matter of time. I went from checking the flags every few minutes to checking it every half hour, then to every hour, then to…
Today, I was on my phone, arguing with some nimrod online about Brett Favre’s passing stats, when my inner conscience spoke.
How long since you checked the mortuary flags?
Shit. Two hours? Longer?
I logged in to the web server.
I got in my truck, and sped down to the mortuary. I sat my phone on the passenger seat and flicked an eye to it from time to time.
More flags kept coming in. Several a second.
Someone had broken into the mortuary, and they were still there.
And the flags were coming in from multiple cold chambers. There was more than one person.
What was I suppose to do here? Tough talk a bunch of drunken frat boys with crowbars and hammers?
I parked outside the mortuary, the truck slewing sideways in a spray of gravel. I got out, ran to the front door, and tried to open it.
It was still locked.
I stared stupidly at the doorknob, as if reality wasn’t letting me in on some kind of joke.
I looked around, noticing details I hadn’t seen before. Like how there were no other cars in the parking lot, other than me. And no footprints in the gravel, other than mine.
Then, I went on a slow and steady walk around the mortuary.
No broken windows.
No forced-open doors.
No way in whatsoever.
I let that same slow and steady walk take me from the building back to my truck, where I sat in the cabin, phone in my lap.
The number of disturbances inside the building was now at 40,528, and climbing.
I watched more and more flags come through on my phone, wondering how long it would take before I turned on the ignition, picked a direction, and just kept driving forever.
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From his snowbound manse in Portland, Maine, Stephen King has unleashed his most horrifying work yet. A terrifying look at man’s inner heart, a raw and beating extrusion of pure horror.
I refer, of course, to his Twitter account, which is just the drizzling shits.
Imagine a hacky 1930s vaudeville comic with buck teeth, a spinning bow-tie, and a lapel flower that squirts water. Imagine “topical” humor that was growing only slightly musty in the early years of the Bush presidency. Imagine forwards from your grandma that are forwards from her grandma. Welcome to the Stephen King twitter feed.
The handful of pity retweets/favs renew one’s faith in humanity. Some people are taking a stand against this abomination. But there’s no time to relax, the assault has only just begun.
His jokes are best read with a trombone player supply the “waah waah waah” at each punch line.
What the fuck is this happy horseshit? I want to take the Twitter social media platform to a rape crisis center of some kind, whispering reassurances in its ear. “Everything will be OK. You’re being very brave right now. Just remember…it’s not your fault.”
I had a small Mogutu-style breakdown when I saw this. How’s this funny or clever? He just took a famous quote and changed it so it’s about Twitter. Yeah, and Gandhi would be like “be the RT you wish to see in the world.” Scary funny!
But there’s more! Are you a fan of low-effort dumbfuck political pandering? Especially of the left-wing variety? Stevie’s got you covered, my friend.
Somewhere, there is a politburo meeting in secret. They are compiling evidence, and building a case. Their thesis is nothing more than this: Twitter must be destroyed.
Obviously, if they rise to power they’ll close Twitter, bulldoze the corporate headquarters, imprison everyone involve, and grind the hard drives into a fine metal powder. But what will happen to the people who use Twitter? They’re the real problem. Final solution: lobotomies all around. They’ll insert a sharp metal rod under your eyelid, gently (or not) insert it past the sphenoid structure, and sever your frontal brain lobe. Not too far, though, or it might be fatal, and we still need people to drive lorries and empty rubbish bins and things. I’m not saying I support this plan. All I’m saying is that it’s real, it’s happening, and right now @StephenKing’s tweets are in the prosecution’s brief.
Is it too much to ask for some entertaining cornball, such as “The man in black created a Twitter account, and the gunslinger followed”?
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[I won't tell you to read this book or go to hell, I'll tell you to read this book and THEN go to hell]
Prelude 1 – Entrance to the Inferno…
“I am the punishment of God… If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.”
– Genghis Khan
New York, New Year’s Eve, 2024…
The white van turned the corner into Times Square and merged into late-morning traffic.
A man lolled back in the driver’s seat—no hands on the steering wheel.
He had touched the wheel of the self-driving vehicle exactly once since crossing the GWB—just a gentle touch, as if to remind the machine of his mastery, and then he’d pulled the hand away.
He studied New York through two layers of glass – the tinted dash, and the glasses on his nose. Rows of billboards, marquees, and coloured lights, all of them calculated to skirt just beneath the edge of the city’s light pollution limits.
A glaze of neon covered the city. Cheap. Thrilling. Saccharine for eyes.
During the day, Times Square had the dead gleam of fake jewellery. At night, it shone like a star too modest to rise into the sky. Even inside the car, he heard the buzz of thousands of voices. Tourists came from everywhere to ring in the new year.
Everyone wanted something from New York – memories, culture, experiences.
The driver didn’t come to New York to take. He considered himself more of a giver.
He pulled in to a metered parking spot and was about to get out when he heard and felt a banging fist on the side of his van.
He turned his head. A NYPD cop.
The big black cop shouted something, and spun his forefinger in a circle. The universal “roll down your window” gesture.
He obeyed. “Can I help, officer?”
“Yeah, buddy, you can. I saw you enter the street without using your turn signal.”
“This is a self-driving car. The computer should have thrown the signal for me.”
“It didn’t. I was watching. Step out of the vehicle for a moment.”
The driver got out. He had a small remote control on a keychain that allowed him to control the van without being inside it.
“Activate your left turn signal.”
The driver tried. The light remained dead. “Hmm. Bulb’s gone. I wonder how long it’s been like that.”
The cop scowled. “Are you the owner of this vehicle?”
“Can I see some paperwork?”
The driver produced his license and registration. The cop unclipped a RFID scanner from his belt and ran it over a microchip on the license paper. He looked over the cop’s shoulder at the LED readout as it checked the NYPD database for tickets, demerits, and other offenses.
There weren’t any.
The cop nodded and handed back the paperwork. “That’s fine. You’re free to go.”
“Will I get a ticket?”
“Naw, I couldn’t do that to a man on New Year’s Eve. Just get that light fixed, okay? There’s a mechanic on East Thirty-Fifth that’s open over the holidays. Best to get these things sorted out, right?”
“Sure, I will. And thanks.” The driver smiled.
“Say, where are you from? I can’t place your accent.”
“I’m from Portland. I’m actually not here to celebrate. My daughter’s coming from back from a vacation in Cancun, and she asked if I could pick her up.”
“Cancun? Aw, that’s such a kid place to go. I’ve got some time off coming up, and I hope to spend it in the Adirondacks wearing orange. You much of a huntin’ man?”
“Can’t say I am.”
“Well, it kicks the shit out of police work. Have a good day, man.”
“You too. And all the best with your hunting trip. It’ll be a good one, I’m sure.”
He reached into his pocket and pressed a button.
The uranium bomb in the van went off.
[Transmission of Vanadium Dark endeth, for now.]
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Pets can tell when their owners have died, even if they’re hundreds of miles away. It’s true. Happens all the time. Joe Bloggs goes into cardiac arrest, and at that precise moment his adoring dog Fido will get up and take a shit on the front lawn. Something it was going to do anyway, but now it’s a mournful shit.
I think I might share this psychic link with certain celebrities. Occasionally a name will pop into my head, and I get worried. Many people in my mental Rolodex are old and in bad health. So I’ll immediately ask Dr Google for a prognosis: are they still alive?
Sometimes they’re not. David Gemmell wasn’t. Tom Clancy wasn’t. Often they’ll have died weeks or months earlier, which weakens my claim to psychic ability.
But sometimes, as now, the prognosis is good. Harlan Ellison is still alive! In fact, he recently published a new book. It’s called Can and Can’tankerous. He’s more than alive, he still has his workclothes on.
He’s a writer who has spent nearly sixty years producing output in forgotten wastelands – first 1950s pulp fiction, TV shows, a few comic scripts, even a computer game – he seems attracted to media with a brief expiration date. He’s known for filing suits and (in the case of Connie Willis) groping them. He’s a strange creature, a narcissist who can be self deprecating (one of his collections has the endearingly honest subtitle “Seventeen Stories Written Before I Got Up To Speed”).
He’s also proof that you can be too good at self-promotion.
Becoming a funny dancing monkey is always a successful marketing strategy, but it’s no good as a long con – at the end of the day you don’t actually want the attention on yourself, but on your art. Rebecca Black’s art is now completely ignored – she was only valuable as a brief cultural zeitgeist, forgotten and disposed of once we found other dancing monkeys to gawk at. I don’t even have the courage to see what the Numa Numa Guy is doing now. Probably trying to launch an actual musical career. I feel depressed just thinking about it.
H.E. is different, yet in a sense, he isn’t. There’s a line of demarcation between selling a product and providing a spectacle. Harlan Ellison spent a career straddling that line blowing raspberries.
He’s so over the top and ridiculous that Nick Mamatas draws a distinction between “Ellison stories” (which means H.E.’s science fiction oeuvre) and “Harlan Stories” (stories about Harlan, the man). H.E. presumably wants the world to care more about the Ellison stories than the Harlan ones. My impression: maybe the Harlan ones are winning out. It’s hard to find in-depth commentary on his science fiction (and much of it has gone out of print). But man, the internet won’t stop talking about that time he got fired from Disney after four hours of work.
Ellison’s fascinating in a way that sometimes overshadows his work. But as I said, he does a lot of work in fields that lack longevity – how many Mickey Spillane paperbacks have you bought in the past whenever? Does your heart bleed from the loss? I don’t know if Ellison’s stories will disappear from our culture’s memory the way Spillane’s have. I think that his most famous efforts (“Repent, said the Etc”, “I Have No Mouth and I Must Etc”) will survive the memory hole for a long time, but someday even they will be forgotten.
But there’s a certain sad poetry in impermanence, and beautiful things that die quickly.
Think of the female mayfly, which rises from a swamp and lives for only about thirty minutes. Its compound eyes open, take in their surroundings…and then close. Forever. Its wings unfurl, beat upon the malarial air, and then are still. Only the swamp that spawned it remains.
Maybe Ellison knows what he’s doing, and maybe he’ll even have the last laugh. He’s cultivated an impressive amount of art, and maybe we could include Ellison himself in that body – a demonically charming man, both irritating and unforgettable.
Barthes wrote about the “Death of the Author”. Well, here’s one author that isn’t dead, and still won’t be dead when they put him in the ground. That might have been the plan all along.
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The Powerpuff Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. This would have been disturbing a medieval person, for spices were used to disguise the taste of rotting meat (…according to 21st century backfills of history. If you could afford cinammon from Cathay and saffron from the Indies, you’d think you could afford fresh meat.)
When something must be made of spice for it to be palatable, what’s it hiding? Where’s the decay? How deep do I have to go before I draw back the knife and there’s black corruption on the blade? Many classic fairytales hardly wait at all before brutally traumatising you. This graphic novel is a classic fairytale told in a very arch and self-aware way – you can see the blows coming a little bit, but they still hurt.
The backstory: a young girl creates a host of whimsical characters in her head. After she dies in an unexplained accident on a country trail, these characters escape her head, and must start a new life in the woodlands.
The plot’s events resemble William Golding’s book Lord of the Flies mixed with Kazuo Umezu’s manga The Drifting Classroom. Lots of characters die, both to the environment and to each other. Many are stupid, useless, or poorly-adapted – one-note characters that spill from a dead girl’s earhole into an many-note world. Even the smart and skilful ones have lots of trouble staying alive. They try to establish a new society, but it doesn’t work very well. Nothing does.
My sister used to wonder what cartoon characters do when we’re not watching them on TV, and what computer characters do when the system is switched off. Beautiful Darkness shows us. It makes you want to leave every electrical appliance switched on 24/7, so that they’ll never be outside their element again.
Various new characters get added to replace the dead ones – a mouse, and later a woodsman, who of course remains oblivious to the tiny creatures running around his hut. By the time the final showdown between two rival females occurs, so much has passed and the characters have become so twisted that we forget their whimsical beginnings.
The art is good – very splashy and expressionistic, lots of going outside the lines in a way that can be used both for blushing petals and pools of blood. The writing is adequate – apparently it’s translated from another language.
I liked Beautiful Darkness. It holds your attention while you’re reading it, but some of its more disturbing implications only arrive when you put the book down. That dead girl’s corpse must smell pretty bad on that country trail. You’d wonder that the woodsman never discovers her body – or, if he does, why he never tells anyone. Maybe he doesn’t want her to be discovered.
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This album has metal’s most misleading title since “Fast” by Dopethrone, “Plenty of Mids” by Pantera, and “Not Boring” by Opeth. This is very conservative German power metal that can mostly be predicted in advance.
The BPM is stuck between 120bpm in a generic uptempo stomp. There are screechy, trying-too-hard-to-be-Halford vocals, and guitars chugging away on the 8th note.
Plus, there are liberal occurrences of the Generic Primal Fear chorus. What’s the Generic Primal Fear chorus, you ask? SONG TITLE! / JABBER JABBER JABBER! / SONG TITLE! / JABBER JABBER SCREEEAAAAAAAAM! They have literally forty or fifty songs with this exact chorus.
…Are you excited by this? I’m not. How many homages to Judas Priest do we fucking need?. In the transhumanist community they talk about “rogue superintelligences” – basically, superintelligent computers with interests that are not aligned with humanity’s. A commonly given example is a computer that wants to fill the universe with paperclips. Primal Fear is exactly like a rogue AI that wants to fill the universe with “Breaking the Law”.
In the past I’ve stuck it out through Primal Fear’s crappy songs (and they have an ENDLESS SUPPLY of them) to get to the occasional barn-burner like “Give Em Hell” and “Nuclear Fire”. This time, I approached track 7 in a state of near-narcolepsy with a realisation – here was a new beast, a Primal Fear album with no redeeming tracks!
I was half right. The album has a bonus track called “Final Call”, which is fast and thrashy, and has some neat sectional contrasts. Why it isn’t on the album is a mystery. I guess they threw it off for another song where Ralf Scheepers shouts the title like a mongoloid. “Your holy scripture – your bible verse / They cause all conflict and make things worse”. Great lyrics. I just threw up in my stomach.
I don’t get it. Why do you people like Primal Fear? They make album after album of mechanical and boring metal that disappears from my memory roughly 2.1 seconds after listening to it. Iron Savior has great production. Gamma Ray has Kai Hansen’s songwriting. Helloween has some vestiges of nostalgia value. These guys have nothing.
Remember how we always mourn that Judas Priest never made another Painkiller? Be careful what you wish for, I say. Imagine Judas Priest in their current state of decreptitude, still trying to rewrite Painkiller with every album.
They’d be making…Primal Fear albums.
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“You know, it was always a big thing in my life when I was a kid, because I thought Muppets were cool. Now, I’m not talking about the ones that had their own show, I’m talking the Sesame Street ones. I was one of the people that felt that Kermit was a sell-out when he started his own show. I was never really into it. Fozzie Bear is just a wannabe Grover. I always thought there should have been war between the East Coast and West Coast Muppets. That’s just me.” – Joss Whedon
“Some people heard Johnny Rotten’s cry of “get pissed… destroy!” and took this as a call to set up left-wing youth community theatre projects. I set out to get pissed and destroy”
- Ashley Pomeroy
“That tiger didn’t go crazy. That tiger went tiger.”
- Chris Rock
“A professor is one who talks in someone else’s sleep.”
- WH Auden
“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see.”
“Fingers scratching blackboards makes cowards of the brave” – Ronnie James Dio
“When you’re taught to love everyone, to love your enemies, then what value does that place on love?”
- Marilyn Manson
“My favorite joke of his occurred when George was telling me about the joys of grandfatherhood. “If I could have figured out how to have grandchildren without having children first, I would have done so.” Later on, I knew just what he meant – high relatedness, no work. Or as Melvin Newton (Huey’s brother) once put it, “You can serve them ice cream for breakfast, what do you care?”
- Robert Trivers
“I hate when a director says to me ‘Here’s how I envision this scene’…excuse me? It’s right here in the script – I ‘envisioned’ it FOR you. Do what I wrote. If you want to ‘envision’, you should become a writer. Where the fuck were you when the page was blank?”
- Harlan Ellison
“Never underestimate the determination of a kid who is time-rich and cash-poor.”
- Corey Doctorow
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Jaguar Warriors (Aztecs). You can tell jaguars from leopards because jaguars have a distinctive spot-within-a-spot. You can tell jaguar warriors from other UUs because they blow. Jags are one-joke anti-infantry units that have a handful of uses: if your town is being overrun with eagle warriors and literally nothing else, make a few jags, they will get the situation under control. Otherwise, the story of your jaguar warrior binge ends with them dying, horribly, to almost everything. 3/10
Longbowmen (Britons). Archers with huge range. They kill units underneath castles, snipe siege onagers, and do your taxes. Very useful UU dragged down by something that’s not their fault: Britons just aren’t all that good in Imperial. 7/10
Cataphracts (Byzantines). The shallow interpretation that they are specialised anti-infantry cavalry. The deeper interpretation is that they are a UU without any hard counters. They kill pikes, they kill camels, they aren’t horribly uncompetitive against anything in the game. Unfortunately, they have lots of “soft counters”. Unit for unit they lose to paladins, and even sometimes cavaliers. Slightly low HP and pierce armor make them vulnerable Byzantines don’t get the blast furnace upgrade, which is a shame. 6/10
Woad Raiders (Celts). Infantry with the speed of cavalry. They’re fast, and dish out lots of damage, and critically they have no vulnerability to pikes. Get them into the enemy’s lumberjacks and watch him suffer. Should be used more than they are. 6/10
Chu Ko Nu (Chinese). Perhaps the most dominant UU in castle. Gather them into a large group and you’ve basically got a Starcraft-style death ball that can shrug off anything (knights, skirms, lcav) except mangonels. In Imperial their low HP and range start to tell against them. The way they attack is complicated. The first arrow does full damage (affected by upgrades), and subsequent arrows in the volley do 3 damage, regardless of upgrades. In practice, this makes CKN highly effective at destroying things with high pierce damage (like buildings and siege rams), since they’re getting many more shots in. 7/10
Throwing Axemen (Franks). Here’s a little trick – if you make lots of throwing axemen, you soon get a “You have been defeated!” message. Try it! 1/10
Huskarls (Goths). Anti-archer tanks that laugh in the face of arrows. Unlike other UUs, you can flood them from raxes. With the various Gothic bonuses that stack on to them, they’re perhaps the most bonused UU in the game. One of the backbones of the Gothic army. 7/10
Tarkans (Huns). Shitty UU, perhaps the second most shitty after the throwing axeman. Dedicated building killers that die to everything and aren’t even very good at killing buildings. They have one use: if you’ve got a castle out in the open somewhere, getting attacked by a single unguarded siege ram (this sometimes happens in death match), pop out a tarkan and kill it. Otherwise, make them in zero or negative quantities. 2/10
Samurai (Japanese). Good, but you have to understand them. Micro them intensively. Keep their attacks focused on low-HP units (they attack very rapidly and can kill or neutralise lots of weak enemies) and away from high-HP units. Don’t send them on a suicidal Iwo Jima charge against longbowmen or cataphracts on the basis that “they counter UUs, dude!” They are created very quickly. You both can and should mass them. They aren’t a “make a few here and there” UU. Lots of caveats but a decent unit all around. 6/10
War Wagons (Koreans). Lots of HP. They’re not exactly damage-dealing dynamos, but they fall nicely under the category of “support unit”. The idea is that while your enemy is trying to fight these overfed things, your siege onagers/bombard towers are raining heck on him. They even go well when paired with halberdiers. 6/10
Turtle Ships (Koreans). Near-worthless jokes that continue to baffle me with how bad they are. What’s the point of a slow ship that gets outranged by galleons? The enemy can just keep retreating out of range and kite these things to death. Yeah, they can nuke enemy docks, but if you’re in a position where the other guy is letting you pound his docks, you’ve basically won the game anyway. 2/10
Plumed Archers (Mayans). Fast, insanely tough archers that rule so much in Imperial. One of the two main tentpoles of Mayan army. Make them as soon as you can and never stop. 9/10
Mangudai (Mongols). Perhaps the best UU in the game. Cavalry-mounted machine guns that unleash a rapid stream of arrows into the nearest enemy soldier, the soldier standing behind him, his dog, his mother, his favorite out-of-work 80s sitcom star, and so on. Get a bunch of them into the enemy’s trade cart line and he’ll have lost 30 before he even realises they’re there. Nothing brings sudden, unexpected death like mangudai. 10/10
War Elephant (Persians). 620HP behemoths that defeat every other unit in the game with hundreds of HP remaining. Due to their massive cost (not so much gold as food), these are usually reserved for big team games with a Persian in the pocket, but when they appear, your opponent NEEDS to immediately have a counter. They cannot be ignored. They lay waste to everything in their path. Certain units counter them cost-effectively, but none counter them pop-effectively. If you can mass 80 elephants, your opponent probably won’t have the 320 halberdiers needed to stop them. Converting them sometimes works. Heavy scorpions with a meat shield works better. Either way, there is no elephant-sized pooper scooper to clean up these turds. 9/10
Mamelukes (Saracens). Any type of cavalry instantly becomes obsolete when these scimitar-hurling lunatics punch in for work. Slightly easier to counter than mangudai (tip: make skirmishers), but no less terrifying, these are a critical element of the late-game Saracen army. They shit on most units, and since they do hack damage they can rapidly take out buildings and siege equipment. These things are expensive, but they do an incredible amount of work. 9/10
Conquistadors (Spanish). Another great UU. Most effective in castle but stays competitive in Imperial. Like the cataphract they have few weak spots, and with their massive attack and fast speed they work well at basically anything you put them to. Very often the guy racking up ridiculous k/d ratios has conquistadors to thank. 9/10.
Missionaries (Spanish). Fast monks with less range. To be honest, I never see these used. Maybe they’re good, and we don’t know. Remember how it took years of everyone ignoring Aztecs and Mayans before people learned to DRUSH using them? For now, the jury’s still out. ?/10
Teutonic knights (Teutons). War elephants with three less attack, FIVE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FEWER HP, more armor, and no weakness to halberdiers. Pretty useless. Kind of the turtle ships of the land. They’d potentially hold a Goth player at bay for about three minutes until he gets some archery ranges built. 3/10
Jannisaries (Turks). I take back what I said about Chu Ko Nus, THESE are the best castle-age UU. For a while a winning strategy was to sling your Turkish team-mate to castle, let him pump jannies, then laugh your way to the victory screen together. 17 attack is really hard to beat in castle. They probably come off a bit better in Imperial too, when all is said and done. Note that hand cannoneers get 17 damage but +10 vs infantry, while elite jannies get +22 with no bonus to anything. A cunning Turkish player will switch from one to the other depending on what opposition he’s facing. 8/10
Berserks (Vikings). Crappy infantry that heals itself. What’s the point? As soon as they start fighting, they usually die. They never get a chance to heal themselves. I put them in the “tarkan” category. Use them if your castle is getting attacked and you have no other units nearby. 4/10
Longboats (Vikings). Unspectacular performance against galleons. Pretty good at sitting on the shore and shooting into the enemy’s town, but as with turtle ships, if you ever get to do that, you’ve basically won the game anyway. Late-game naval combat is one of the things ES made wrong. It’s just a game of who can mass the most galleons. All of these other naval units are just awkward fifth wheels, if you’ll pardon my Geneva convention violation against metaphors.
(No, I haven’t played any of the non-ES add-ons of the game)
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But sometimes apophasis happens unintentionally. Someone will try to avoid talking about something, and the omission will leave that thing shrieking in your head like a klaxon. Usually, it’s something political, or something that might offend people. They can’t figure out how to present it tastefully, so they slash Gordion’s knot and cut it out entirely.
The result, when it happens in art, is a weird kind of hole. Cartoons about Vikings where there’s not a hint of rape or plunder. TV shows about the antebellum south without a hint of slavery.
In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (the “when will they make another one?” movie), Harrison Ford runs into some goosesteppers and says “Nazis…I hate these guys.” This line sums up the approach of these films: obvious and simple themes presented in an emotionally satisfying way.
In the recent Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (the “WHY did they make another one?” movie), he encounters some Russkies and says “Russians…” Then there’s a beat where you wait for him to say “…I hate these guys”, but he never does. The effect is jarring, like stepping on a stair that isn’t there. You can actually feel that a line was cut out: it almost leaves an echo. They had the setup all worked out…and then someone’s nerve broke. “Guys, we can’t have Indie say he hates Russians.”
There’s lots of books and movies like that, where it’s obvious something quite specific ended up on the cutting room floor. Movies seem like they’re setting us up for a sex scene…and then snap out of it, suddenly enough to give you whiplash. When I see something like this, my imagination goes crazy. What happened behind the scenes? Did someone write the movie, scandalise some studio head, who then gave it to an underling to rewrite in half an hour? It breaks the fourth wall harder than an actor flipping off the camera.
In art theory they talk about “figure vs ground”. Figures are the things in a picture you’re supposed to focus on – Magritte’s not-a-pipe, Holbien’s terrifying elongated skull. Ground is all the background elements – anything that isn’t a figure.
In practice, it gets pretty complicated, because often the figure only makes sense in reference to the ground. Imagine if someone cut the Mona Lisa out of her painting using a pair of scissors – she would still be there, the vast gulf of negative space would be as good as a parking nameplate: THIS SPOT RESERVED FOR MRS LISA GHERARDINI. In fact, she might be more obvious than she was before. The missing area in the canvas would be stark, absolutely impossible to ignore.
Imagine a CIA report that has lines blacked out. You wouldn’t be able to put that aside: you’d be incredibly curious about what was originally there. In the same way, it’s often very conspicuous in art when something should be there, but isn’t. You can’t destroy and not create, the negative space remains, and sometimes the best way to draw attention to something is to remove it.
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