So, Which One's Frank, Again?

One of my favourite things to see, in science-fiction, is older people.  It's a little personal quirk, I admit, and one that's rarely satisfied.  It's far more common, of course, to see younger characters, whether on the big screen, the small screen or the page, and I admit there are perfectly good reasons for that in many cases.  Younger characters are less secure, and therefore they can more easily be thrown out of their normal lives and into a more unsettled state, which of course is a great starting point for any genre story.  For visual media they're more photogenic in the eyes of the viewers who matter to the money-people, and even for print, it's often preferable from the publisher's perspective to be able to put a square-jawed or wasp-waisted twenty-something on the cover.  And they're considered more adaptable to new technologies and systems, so given that many science-fiction stories focus on characters exploiting, resisting or introducing a new system, one that the older elites will often have less facility with and therefore be more easily misled by, there's decent enough reason to have younger characters take the lead.

But darn it, I grew up with Captain Picard as my role model, and it's nice to see a grey-haired older fellow or a woman outside the usual Hollywood starlet age range take centre stage.  Which is why I'm so pleased by this trailer.

Honestly, the movie just looks delightful.  James Marsden is always reliable, if often miscast, Susan Sarandon and Frank Langella are extremely solid actors, and I really think Kevin Spacey missed his calling; between this and Moon, it really does seem like the man should've been a voice actor.  He can just do so much, with such a small change in inflection!  And of course, it's always nice to see a story in which there is an AI who is neither evil, nor defending a human against an evil AI.  The near-future world of Frank and Robot looks pleasantly believable, our present with just a few little glass-panel bits bolted on in honestly realistic ways, another little pleasure of mine.  For all that I enjoy Star Trek and the Culture and Honor Harrington, it's really nice to see a believable little near-future, not a utopia or a dystopia, not a pollution-ravaged hellhole or a corporate mono-culture or a hippe neo-Eden. 

But really, I'd go see this just to watch Frank Langella teach robot Kevin Spacey to be a hilariously awkward burglar, alone.

It's So Nice to Have Friends

More than any other single aspect of the upcoming 6th edition Warhammer 40,000 ruleset, the new Allies rules has people up in arms. It's managed to unite both hardcore and fluffy gamers, two groups that rarely agree on what colour the sky is, and has even managed to overshadow random charge distances, terrain that has a random deadly attribute, and shots at flyers needing 6's to hit. This is no mean feat, but it's also pretty heavily misplaced.

For the hardcore gamers, the complaints have largely centred around how 'broken' this will make the game. A Dreadknight in every codex! But most of these people seem to have forgotten two very fundamental points; Allies units still cost points, and you have to bring an HQ and a Troop unit before you can get access to a second Troop, and one each of Elites, Fast Attack and Heavy Support. For a non-Grey Knight army to take a Dreadknight requires, not just finding the hundred and thirty points for a naked Dreadknight, but another hundred points for a Strike Squad, and twenty-five points for a bare-bones Inquisitor. And for a grand total of two-hundred and fifty-five points, you have a T3/4+ Inquisitor with no decent gear, five power armoured Grey Knights with no upgrades, and a Dreadknight with no guns and none of the mobility needed to get it right into close combat. A steal at twice the price? No, I think not. And none of the other chapters are better, trading slightly cheaper Scouts for significantly more expensive HQ units.

What's much more likely is the use of Allies units to cover over small weaknesses in the individual codexes. In particular, a heavy priority is going to be placed on books that have relatively solid, relatively inexpensive HQ and Troops units, since otherwise you're paying a hefty tax for a single unit from one of the other slots. It's quite likely, then, that Eldar, Blood Angels, Grey Knights and Imperial Guard are about to become every race's best friends; Farseers are powerful pskers with good defences and Pathfinders have the chance to direct AP1 fire at a model of the player's choosing on to-hits of 6, Blood Angels have ASM as Troops, Grey Knights have force swords on their Troops, and the Guard can provide access to cheap, plentiful bodies, with cheap, plentiful special weapons. The other races will probably see use, as well (I've already heard some players plotting to bring Space Marines along to get access to the Stormtalon), but to a somewhat lesser degree, because they lack strong HQ or Troops units, and the Allies system provides only limited access to the other slots. And while a Dark Eldar army with Terminators, or Chaos Daemons with Leman Russ battle tanks might sound terrifying at first, those armies would have to give up a lot from their core competency in order to get a handful of units which can't ride in their transports, benefit from their special rules, and in some cases have to test each turn to see if they can even act. This isn't really a recipe for an overwhelmingly powerful force-multiplier, so much as a way to bring a few small units along to cover a weakness.

As an aside, I've been kicking around the idea of Allies myself. In order to fit a Blood Angels Librarian with a jetpack, five naked Assault Marines, and a Landspeeder with a multimelta and heavy flamer into my 2000 point cadre, I had to drop six Firewarriors, two Piranhas, two bodyguard Fireknife XV8s, and the fusion blaster off my commander. The results certainly aren't bad, but they're not overpowering, and I doubt I'd even try to squeeze a detachment in to a lower points level. You just have to give up too much to get a little.

Now, the other argument against Allies comes from the fluffier player. Their criticism usually runs along the lines that 40K's slogan is 'In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war!', while Allies seems to make it more 'In the grim darkness of the far future, pretty much everyone is besties, except Tyranids'. Which is just silly, of course, since the only reason these Allies are being fielded is to fight a war, so that element has hardly gone anywhere. Indeed, arguably there's even more war to go around now, since not only are armies fighting their own fights, they're getting dragged into other peoples', too!

In all seriousness, though, the races in 40K have never been as single-mindedly xenocidal as the fandom often portrays them, again, except for the Tyranids. Yes, all things being equal Imperial forces would rather fight against from non-Imperial forces than alongside them, but there've been plenty of instances in which all things weren't equal. The Valhallans fought alongside Eldar against a Chaos incursion (after fighting against the Eldar who didn't bother to explain why they'd appeared on Valhalla). Orks of the Blood Axes tribe are known for being mercenaries, their shootas and choppas for sale to the highest bidder, including in one instance Commander Puretide of the Tau Empire. The Space Wolves and the Eldar combined forces to defeat Grimtusk Bloodboila. Space Marine, Imperial Guard and Tau Empire forces co-operated to fight back a Chaotic incursion in the Firewarrior game, and if people don't consider that fluffy enough, the Ultramarines and the Tau also fought together against a Necron tombworld. The Grey Knights secured Malan'tai from a Keeper of Secrets, and returned the dead Craftworld to the Eldar; not a fight, admittedly, but they could have simply destroyed the defenceless Craftworld, and didn't. The Blood Angels and the Necrons united against a Tyranid incursion. The Dark Eldar have 'helped' both the Tau and the Eldar in their current codex, always for their own ends of course, but they've still fought beside them. Inquisitor Czevak has been allowed inside the Black Library. Yes, everyone is at war with everyone else, but some wars are more important than others; if the Imperium loses a world to the Orks, or the Tau, or the Eldar, they can always try and get it back later, whereas if they lose a world to the Necrons, or the Tyranids, or Chaos, it may well be lost forever. People at war for the fate of their species have to pick their battles very carefully, indeed.

That's not to say that it makes perfect sense to have any of these races being all buddy-buddy with any of the others. But the rules cover that, with degrees of Allied co-operation, and a situation can always be invented to explain why, say, Eldar and Dark Eldar forces are fighting alongside each other, and no doubt resenting every second of it. Indeed, rather than gut the fluff, the Allied system offers players an unprecedented opportunity to craft their own, extremely particular little corner of the galaxy at war. To return to my own Allies plans, for instance; while the units will come from the Blood Angels codex, I have no intention of fielding actual Blood Angels models. The Librarian and Assault Marines will be experimental battlesuits, built out of converted XV25 models, and the Landspeeder will be a next-generation Piranha, based on wrecked Landspeeders the Empire has recovered in their fight against the Space Marines. It's a perfectly fluffy explanation for everything, and more than that, it allows me to customize the fluff of my own, particular cadre in ways I simply could not have done, before.

Will there be some players who attempt to power-game the Allies system? Of course, just as there were people who jumped to the most bandwagon-y of armies at the drop of a hat. Will there be armies of Eldar and Necrons fighting alongside each other, with no attempt to explain why? Sure, but how many players out there actually have backgrounds for their armies currently? The Allies system at worst maintains the status quo among most players, and at best, allows some players to field truly personalized armies, both in terms of the units on the field and the explanation behind their presence. It's fine to dislike it on a personal level, of course, no-one should be expected to have to like every aspect of every unit and every bit of background fluff. I myself don't field Kroot, not because I think they're bad, but because I simply can't stand the models. But that doesn't mean I think the Kroot's place in the Tau Empire is 'wrong', any more than I think the options opened up by the new Allies system are 'wrong'.

It is what it is, moderately balanced, moderately fluffy. Could anyone honestly say they expect more from Games Workshop?


Going Out In Style!

Black Knight held its final 5th edition tournament the other weekend, and as far as last hurrahs go, I could not have been happier!

Round 1: Trevor Engle (SM)
Deployment: Spearhead
Major Objective: Capture and Control
Minor Objective: Protect the Package (a Troop unit, in reserve and arriving automatically on Turn 2, has the 'package' and must survive)

Cato Sicarius
5 x Command Squad w/Apothecary, 4 x Plasma Gun, 4 x Storm Shield, Drop Pod
10 x Tacticals w/Plasma Gun, Missile Launcher, Rhino
10 x Tacticals w/Plasma Gun, Missile Launcher, Drop Pod
5 x Scouts w/4 x Sniper Rifles, Missile Launcher, Camo Cloaks
5 x Scouts w/5 x Combat Blades, Melta Bombs
Stormtalon w/Typhoon Missile Launcher
5 x Sternguard w/5 x Combi-Melta, Powerfist, Drop Pod

Trevor won the roll-off, and elected to seize the quarter with the superior cover for his scouts and his objectives. This meant I'd be going second, which in an objectives-based mission is no bad thing. But as I watched Trevor laying out his plan, his scouts camped in a ruin with the objective, his drop pods in reserve, Cato joined to the Tacticals in the Rhino and using his special rules to let them outflank, the Stormtalon in reserve and set to accompany the Rhino on from the edge, I realized something else; it also meant I didn't have to put anything on the board. My usual response to a drop-assault is to castle up, and it works moderately well, but it completely surrenders the initiative and it guarantees you'll lose vehicles and units to that first-turn, close-in shooting. And with combi-meltas and plasma guns in drop pods, that would be a seriously deadly turn of shooting, indeed.

Which is why, rather than castle up, I decided to just put everything in reserve.

I was quite pleased with the results, too. Immediately, it baffled Trevor, which is no bad thing to do to your opponent. The Tacticals and the Command Squad dropped in first turn, the former running for my objective and the latter just standing there, with nothing to shoot; second turn, his Sternguard dropped in to reinforce the Scouts on his objective, the Rhino and the Stormtalon came on, the former hiding by the table edge near my objective and the latter zooming out into the middle of the board for the cover save, and his other scout unit wandered on behind the Rhino. That meant the entirety of his army was on the board Turn 2, leaving me spoilt indeed for targets when my cadre rocked up. Turn 2 I got about half of them, with a Fireknife squad, the Pathfinders in their Devilfish, the Firewarriors with the Package in their Devilfish, an XV88 and my Hammerhead, and sent them onto my right corner, well away from either the combi-meltas in the top-right or the plasma guns in the bottom left. Turn 2 I scored first blood, blowing up the drop pod closest to my objective, but what little additional shooting I had either didn't connect or didn't go through cover saves. Turn 3 Trevor had me a little worried with his shooting; I'd actually lost track of one of his Tac squads, their paint job blending nicely with a ruin in the top-right quarter, but their existence came back to me when their krak missile immobilized the Firewarriors' Devilfish, while the plasma-armed Command Squad shot the burst cannon off my Pathfinders' Devilfish. Nothing too serious, but there was an equally good chance the Devilfish with the Package could have exploded as been immobilized, so I was on my guard. Turn 3 the rest of my cadre arrived, with the second XV88 rolling snake-eyes for his movement; unable to make it into the board, he was destroyed, sadly. Frustrating. Still, the second Fireknife squad clumped up with the first, who enjoyed a good shooting position, and the Deathrains took cover behind a bit of ruin, while the third Devilfish cruised up, pushing the weaponless Pathfinder one further up the board to provide more cover. My commander came on to the extreme right end of the board, more for lack of alternatives than any tactical reason, and really never got a chance to put his shooting to use. That's okay, though; the rest of my cadre had him covered.

Over the next few turns, my Package-less Firewarriors gunned down most of the Command Squad, one of the Fireknife squads finishing them off, then turned their guns on the Tac squad on my objective, taking them, with some help from the Hammerhead and the Fireknife squad again, clear down to just two guys. Of course, that second squad of scouts were on the objective, so clearing it was never really a possibility, but the slaughter sure made me happy! My Deathrains, the second Fireknife squad and my commander, meanwhile, took the Scouts on Trevor's objective down to just two, and did the same to the Sternguard, while my remaining XV88 managed to blow up the second drop pod near my objective and drop the Stormraven, though only after it shifted to hover mode and shot the railgun off my Hammerhead. If that had been where it ended, of course, it would've been a major loss for me, but I was playing a longer game. Turn 5, my two mobile Devilfish took off, moving their top speed and then throwing their drones forwards, contesting both objectives, and when the game ended that turn (which I knew it would, since the round's time was almost up and there wasn't time for another), Trevor suddenly found he'd gone from holding both objectives with overwhelming force to having no objectives at all. Of course, he still had Cato and the Package in a Rhino, but I had my Package-toting Firewarriors still alive as well, putting us nicely even straight down the line. End result? A perfect draw, and nine points for each of us.

Round 2: Dave Grant (Orks)
Deployment: Pitched Battle
Major Objective: Annihilation
Minor Objective: Forward Push (+1 point for having a Troop unit on your opponents half of the table, -1 point for having a Troop unit on your half of the table)

3 x Killa Kans w/3 x Rokkits
3 x Killa Kans w/3 x Rokkits
Deff Dread
Dakka Jet
Dakka Jet
12 x Lootas
21 x Boyz, Nob w/Big Choppa, Boss Pole
21 x Boyz, Nob w/Big Choppa, Boss Pole
21 x Boyz, Nob w/Big Choppa, Boss Pole

Again I lost the roll-off, and again my opponent opted to go first. He arranged his army along his back edge, the three mobs equally spaced and the Lootas hiding behind a crater, with the two Dakka Jets between them, and the Kans flanking the Deff Dread and Ghazghkull in the middle. I responded in kind, breaking my force up into several small fire teams; my commander, Deathrains and an empty Devilfish were tasked with destroying the mostly-unsupported mob on my right, the two Firewarrior teams were arranged in rank behind their Devilfish for cover, and supported by the twn Fireknife teams, while the Hammerhead was on the left flank, ready to drop submunitions on the Orks, and my two XV88s and the Pathfinder team were in a small bunker, between and just ahead of the Firewarriors and my commander's team.

I failed the roll-off, but it didn't much matter, because there was basically no shooting. The Lootas fired at one of my Devilfish and shook it, but other than that the Orks either missed, or couldn't punch through my disruption pods. In return, I brought down both Dakka Jets with my XV88s (AV10 means auto-penetrate, whoo!), and began the long task of whittling down sixty-plus boyz. It was remarkably refreshing to find an opponent whose armour wouldn't shrug off anything I threw at him; pretty much every other Annihilation game at a tournament, I've ended up facing Marines of some description, which gets rather frustrating. Unfortunately, I was so taken with the novelty of killing huge swathes of enemy models that I forgot the most important detail in fighting Orks; just because you're killing them doesn't mean you're winning.

Dave lost big getting across the board to me; on the right there was just a single Nob left stubbornly standing, while in the middle he'd lost one of his Killa Kan squads, and both of the other mobs had taken huge casualties from the combination of missile pod, plasma rifle, pulse rifle, burst cannon, pulse carbine, SMS and railgun submunition fire. Unfortunately, I let myself get overconfident, and before I knew it there were Orks in my lines. Ghazghkull and the survivors from the central mob poured into the bunker, killing one of my XV88s and the Pathfinder team, while the mob that had suffered under the Hammerhead's fire got their revenge, tearing the big gun off and stunning the vehicle. The Killa Kans piled in, slaughtering one of the Firewarrior squads while the other fell to the crude attacks of the central mobs' survivors, then turned their rockets on my Devilfish, shooting down one of them while the Lootas finally managed to down the other. Most ignominiously, that lone Nob? He charged into my Deathrain squad, and it took six assault phases before he finally went down, putting a wound on one of my suits before he went!

The game was an absolute slaughter; by the end, Ghazghkull was leading one mob of two boys, three Killa Kans, an immobilised Deff Dread with its skorcha shot off and the Lootas, while my commander had a railgun-less Hammerhead, a single XV88, and his Deathrain team still in the game. But the relatively even nature of our surviving model count was deceptive, as that Ork-fighting dictum should've reminded me, because while I'd killed over sixty boyz, three Killa Kans and two Deff Dreads, it was only worth five kill points, while the eighteen Firewarriors, six Pathfindgers, six XV8s, three Devilfish and an XV88 had netted Dave a handy ten kill points. Even worse, while he had just two boyz left, they were both standing nearly up against my table edge, while my own Troop units had been slaughtered to the last, giving him the Minor Objective, as well. Which left me with a Major Loss, and a reminder of just how careful you have to be, fighting Orks for kill points.

Because just killing them is almost never enough.

Round 3: Alex Kirley (Chaos Daemons)
Deployment: Dawn of War
Major Objective: Seize Ground
Minor Objective: Marked Man

Keeper of Secrets w/Pavanne of Slaanesh, Unholy Might
Herald of Slaanesh w/Chariot, Unholy Might, Transfixing Gaze
5 x Daemonettes, Chaos Icon, Instrument of Chaos
5 x Daemonettes, Chaos Icon, Instrument of Chaos
5 x Daemonettes, Chaos Icon, Instrument of Chaos
5 x Fiends w/Unholy Might
Soul Grinder w/Phlegm
Daemon Prince w/Mark of Slaanesh, Daemonic Flight, Iron Hide, Unholy Might, Boon of Mutation
Daemon Prince w/Mark of Slaanesh, Daemonic Flight, Iron Hide, Unholy Might, Boon of Mutation

Third game, third time my opponent won the roll-off and opted to go first. We rolled up four objectives, placing them in each of the four quarters of the board, and then deployed. Or, rather, didn't. Because, in response to Alex' Chaos Daemons all starting in reserve, I decided to revisit my round one strategy, and do the same.

Alex got his preferred half onto the board, starting with several Daemonette units, which he placed on two of the objectives and a third close by, the Herald, one of the Daemon Princes and the Fiends, which he dropped near the table edge, ready to snap up my Tau when they arrived, and I believe the Soul Grinder, hanging out in the back behind a ruin for cover. To confront these forces, I initially rolled up a Fireknife squad, the Deathrains, Pathfinders in their Devilfish, one of the Fire Warrior teams and an XV88. The Fireknives put the boots to the Daemon Prince, their plasma and missile fire gunning him down in one shooting phase, while the XV88 used its SMS to try and damage the Fiends and the Deathrains peppered the Daemonettes on the left-side objective, who went to ground. In return, the Fiends charged up and ate one of my Devilfish, losing a wound to the flechette dischargers, while the Herald started around my other Devilfish, intent on getting to the Fireknives, who'd been confronted by the second Daemon Prince and lost one of their number to the Boon of Mutation. Neither the Herald nor the second Prince survived the following turn, however, with the Firewarriors disembarking to pour pulse rounds into the Herald and the second Fireknife squad arriving to help the first finish off the slightly-luckier-rolling Daemon Prince. My commander, second Firewarrior team, XV88 and Hammerhead also arrived, the commander joining my Deathrains in putting pressure on the left-side Daemonettes and their nearby cohort, and the Hammerhead aiming to drop its submunition on anything it could draw a bead on. Amusingly, it actually ended up being the death of the Soul Grinder, skipping over and behind it and putting a solid slug into the thing's back, even managing to roll a 6 to seal the deal. That tank has never been so effective before! The Keeper of Secrets fared no better, done in by a combination of the Fireknives and markerlight-guided Firewarriors, completely overwhelming it with weight of fire and sending it right back into the mark. Since it was the Marked Man, that meant I was up on the minor objective, as well.

With the main combatants seen off before they could do much damage, it was just a matter of mopping up. The full-strength Fireknife squad killed their mutated brother, while the depleted one, the XV88s and the Hammerhead poured fire into the lone Daemonette squad, and my commander, Deathrains and one of my Firewarrior squads targetted the other two. The full-strength Fireknives were eventually called away to deal with the Masque, who they were still in combat with when the game ended, one of only two Daemons left on the board. The Firewarriors, complete with their Marked Man, had piled back into their Devilfish and seized one of the objectives, while both left-side Daemonette squads had been obliterated. Unfortunately, the remaining solo Daemonette on the right was a little luckier than her sisters, and my last-minute contestation attempts ended up with my Hammerhead out of position (curse me for choosing to shoot rather than go full-speed to contest!) and a pair of detached gun drones falling just a single inch short on their run rolls to get into position. With one objective each the game would've been a tie, had I not gunned down that Keeper of Secrets, earning me a minor win.

With that, I found myself sitting in fifth place overall, far and away a personal best and still rather shocking. To make things even more pleasant, I won best presentation, earning me both the accolades of my peers and, no small matter, a thirty dollar gift certificate from Black Knight. With 6th edition just days away, and my thoughts clouded with visions of Allies filling serious holes in the Tau codex, the possibilities for that thirty dollars are tantalizing indeed...


Through a Mirror, Politically

I'm going to bend my rules a little, to talk about Cory Doctorow's 'For the Win'. Partly because it's a really good book, and partly because it's a fairly important subject, and partly because, well, they're my rules; if I don't bend them, who will?

The thing about For The Win is, it's not really science-fiction by any conventional definition, and it's only debateably futuristic. It does contain a few elements that don't quite map onto the present day, but for the most part it's a wholly contemporary tale. And even those few elements aren't especially fantastic; if they were enough to define For The Win as science-fiction, every Tom Clancy novel ever would fall into the same definition. And I can't think of many who'd consider Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan or Rainbox Six series to fall into that literary camp.

So, why do I want to talk about this book on a blog entitled 'Forward the Future'? Well, because it's not about the setting or the technology, this time; instead, it's about the ideas. Although it contains no fantastical futuristic technology or hallmark science-fiction tropes for the exploration of the humanity (aliens, alternate realities, clones and robots; the Big Four), For The Win does have something to say about a likely near-future reality. Namely, what happens when Third/Developing World workers take a lesson from Western workers? What happens when trans-national 'independent contractors' decide not to compete as national citizens, but to unite as labourers? To be specific, what happens when gold farmers decide to start a union?

There are those who would dismiss the idea as impossible on its face. No shortage of them would claim that there's something unique about the working cultures of India or China or south-east Asia, that a union would never be accepted by such people. To that, I say nonsense; almost nobody, no matter their colour, creed or sex, likes to work very hard. I don't mean people don't want the old cliche, 'an honest day's pay for an honest day's work', I mean all things being equal, people don't want to work twelve-hour days for pennies an hour, minus expenses. Industrial workers in the West got tired of it, which is why we have a five-day work week and vacation pay and sick days, and there's no reason to assume that fundamental aspect of human nature, the desire to not work any harder than you absolutely have to, won't carry over to workers in the rest of the world. There's very little chance of a trans-national union, for reasons both obvious and subtle, both explored in For The Win, but there's every reason to assume that eventually, Chinese sweatshop workers are going to find they've had enough, and demand something a little more humane from their employers.

Which is not to say it will be easy, and this is where For The Win really shines. It would've been simplicity itself to have the heroic workers triumph over their greedy and corrupt masters, both economic and political. But it wouldn't have been believable. The politicians and the businessmen are just as tightly intertwined in modern-day China as they ever were in the America of the Robber Barons or Industrial Revolution-era Britain, and they will use all the considerable powers of the state to block anything that looks to threaten their friends and themselves. Heck, we still see it in the West, with the current war on unions (understandable, since after all they did crash the economy in 2008, oh wait...) and Canada's own government's apparent refusal to allow any workers to go on strike, ever. For The Win makes the work of unionization as hard as is believable, which probably means it's easier than would be true, with gangsters and cops alike trying to crush the nascent organization on behalf of, essentially, the exact same people. Indian badmashes with machetes, Korean gangsters throwing firebombs, and the riotgear-clad police of the People's Republic of China all use similar tactics, to similar ends, to the point where it's largely impossible to understand where the criminals end and the state begins.

So, For The Win is about that moment, not too far from now, when a new group of oppressed workers stands up and says, enough. But that's not actually a narrative; what's the novel actually about, as a work of fiction? And aside from all this consciousness-raising, is it actually any good? Is it, in short, worth reading?

Happily, the answer is yes. The novel follows several characters, spread over multiple countries and continents, in order to provide a variety of viewpoints on the story. There's Matthew and his buddies, a group of Chinese gold farmers trying to get out from under the thumb of Boss Wing; there's Mala, also known as General Robotwallah, and her 'army', a group of Indian slum-children hired to fight the gold farmers on behalf of the game runners; there's Wei-Dong, a 17-year-old Jewish kid from the OC with serious Sinophilia and a desire to make his own mark on the world; there's Connor Prikkel, a statistician who figures out the formula for fun and uses it to get in good with Coca-Cola Games; and there's Big Sister Nor, the mysterious visionary at large in south-east Asia who sets in motion the plot that connects all these characters to each other. And of course, each of those major characters has a handful of minor characters in their orbits, some of whom become just as important as the story goes on. There are also brief looks in on single-shot characters for a page or two, to illustrate some particular point or provide a bit of necessary backstory, and despite the brevity of their appearances they're all quite well fleshed-out, all things considered. There are also occasional breaks for the narrator to explain, by way of metaphor and example, key economic ideas like futures trading and bond markets and derivatives, which is delivered with all the scorn that, frankly, such dangerous and economy-wrecking junk-work deserves. There's no secret as to what side Cory Doctorow is on; this is not a book for the 1%.

Which is why I wanted to bend my rules a little, to talk about it here. For The Win is that rarest of things, a modern scifi book (it's what it'd be shelved as, if not necessarily what it is) with a social conscience. It's worth reading on its own, as a work of fiction, but it's even more worthy of time and attention given it's willingness to talk about the way the global economic system is, frankly, rigged. And the fact that it does so realistically, without resorting to a Shadowrun- or Tales from the Afternow-style dystopian world of monolithic megacorps, just makes it all the more compelling.


The Fate of Bavgad Prime IV – Week 6

Opponent: Brad
Deployment: Spearhead
Objective: Seize Ground

Darnath Lysander
Vulkan He'Stan
10 x Sternguard Veterans w/Drop Pod
10 x Scouts w/Sniper Rifles, Camo Cloaks
10 x Tactical Squad w/Combi-Melta, Meltagun, Drop Pod
Land Raider w/Multi-Melta
5 x Terminators
Ironclad Dreadnought w/Heavy Flamer, Drop Pod

For the last game of the series, a Space Marine player decided to drop on my head, in several senses of the word. The player, Brad, had ceded his territory earlier, leaving his single token to deploy 'from space'', dropping down onto any space on the board. Having decided to take a run at me, he then opted to drop with his pods, aiming to start as aggressively as any drop pod-based Marine army ever does.

Brad won the roll-off and opted to go first, deploying his scouts on their objective in a ruin to really maximize their invulnerability to my shooting; ten models with a 2+ invulnerable against all but four weapons in my army (only the AFP and my Deathrain's flamers will ignore cover saves) are pretty much as safe as houses against Tau. His Land Raider, on the other hand, deployed right up on the 12" boundary from the centre of the table, filled with the Terminators and Vulkan. In return, I went with my usual drop pod-denial deployment, Hammerhead and Devilfish along the outside, then the Firewarriors and XV8s spread out inside that ring, as wide apart as possible to blunt the damage of flamers and maximize 'shooting through squad' cover saves. The only exceptions to this were my Pathfinders, who deployed in a nearby wood just outside the circle, and my second Firewarrior squad, which went into reserve just in case. I set my own objective down, stupidly outside my drop pod-denial circle, failed to seize the initiative, and we were off.

And off I was, right from the start. Because when I didn't put my objective inside my circle, Brad seized on the mistake, and put his two drop pods down around it, immediately contesting it. His Ironclad trundled out, melta'd one of my Devilfish and flamed a couple of Firewarriors to death, while the Tacticals split into two coming out of the pod, the melta gunner and combi-melta-wielding sergeant taking the Hammerhead to pieces on their first round of shooting. The Land Raider raced forwards and popped smoke, while the Scouts, not wanting to be left out, took a shot at the Pathfinders. Sadly, the Pathfinders promptly broke and ran off the edge, a bad start on the very first turn given how good my shooting had to be. And unfortunately, it was just the start of my trouble. While I did blast both halves of the Tactical squad to pieces with my two Fireknife squads, it wasn't until Turn 2 that I actually wiped them out, with two of the survivors of the first round of shooting going to ground against more plasma fire and, astoundingly, making two of three 6+ cover saves. The Ironclad shrugged off my Deathrains' fire, while the XV88s only managed to stun the Land Raider, which at least didn't have extra armour.

Of course, Power of the Machine Spirit still left that pesky multi-melta free to fire, so in Turn 2 Brad microwaved one of my Fireknives to death, while his Dreadnought did the same to one of my Deathrains with its meltagun. Astoundingly, both squads actually broke and ran clear off the table, a crippling blow to my force that, frankly, it was impossible to recover from. Shoddy Tau leadership strikes again!

After that, it was mostly a delaying action. My second Fireknife and my commander managed to put down the Ironclad and one of the Drop Pods, but once the Terminators trundled out of the Land Raider and both units clobbered my XV88s, well, that was that. The Land Raider was now invincible, given that my strongest weapon left was S7, and capable of just driving onto my objective and sitting there, immovably contesting it. But while there was no way to aim for a win, I hadn't lost track of the objective. My second Firewarriors had piled into the surviving Devilfish and raced across the board, hanging out on the edges until, on Turn 5, they cruised up, disgorged the drones who ran and assault-moved clear onto Brad's objective, contesting it in turn. A 1 one the die at the end of my turn meant the end of the game, leaving us in a draw, not bad considering what a ferocious beating his army had given mine all game long.

Oh, and Lysander and his Sternguard? You might have noticed they didn't rate a mention. That's because the drop pod scattered clear off the table when Brad tried to drop it in behind my shattered cadre's lines, and while I would've been happier with them being destroyed for it, I was still satisfied with placing the pod in the far corner of the board, taking the squad completely out of the game even with some reliably high run rolls.

So, the last of the six-game series ended up in a tie, putting my series results at three losses, two draws and just a single win. I never held more than two tiles, and with the draw lost one of those (both attacker and defender 'bounce out' of a tile on a draw), leaving me with just a single tile left on the board flying my cadre's colours. My series points total was 32.5, good enough to put me in 9th place. Breaking into the top ten was quite the pleasant surprise, though the spread between me and first place was over twenty points, so there was still some ground to make up. Still, for a Tau player, one of just two in the thirty-four player series, to manage to squeeze into the top ten is no mean feat, and I'm entirely happy to celebrate it for what it is, even while I aim for the top five next time around.


But Can You 3D Print 3D Printers?

A while back, I mentioned the use of a 3D printer to make Warhammer 40K models. There were plans available, online, for an Imperial Guard Sentinel, a Leman Russ battle tank, and a Space Marine Dreadnought. Obviously Games Workshop, the company that puts out 40K, wasn't happy about this fact. Somewhat ironically, given its name, Games Workshop has always styled itself a producer of models, rather than a developer of game systems, so a mechanism that would enable their player base to cut them out of the loop in terms of creating their own, personalized, fully customized armies would have to be their worst nightmare. In a completely predictable move GW sent in their lawyers, and Wired recently did a piece on the latest from the scuffle, including noting that GW may not actually have much of a legal leg to stand on. And not that I wish GW any specific harm, but it wouldn't pain me to see a company that basically stole the setting of Dune for their earliest iteration of 40K laughed out of court for arguing someone else is violating their 'style'.

Don't even get me started on these guys!

But I don't specifically want to talk about GW, today. What I wanted to talk about was 3D printing, and in particular the more utopian rhetoric that surrounds these devices. While many appear aware of their actual limitations, there's no shortage of those predicting Star Trek's replicators are just around the corner, happily oblivious to the fact that it would take the combination of several different technologies, all currently in relative infancy, in order to even approach the TOS-style replicators, nevermind the more sophisticated ones seen in TNG onwards. I think 3D printers, whether for plastic or food, are a fantastic new innovation that will upend the world just as much as the computer and the cellphone and the internet, but I don't think we're just a few short years away from a post-scarcity world.

See, both at present and for the foreseeable future, the output of 3D printers is going to be pretty limited, both in terms of complexity and scale. Copying a Dreadnought or a Sentinel is easy; they're relatively small, relatively boxy things, which can be made in a single immovable piece that's able to lose a great deal of fine detail and still remain useful. And that's about what these devices are going to be offering for the next few years. Now, look around yourself; what do you have, what do you buy on a regular basis, that could be replaced by something with those limitations? Cutlery, plates and cups, if you don't mind looking a bit shabby; combs and hair-clips, if we can get the detail work down far enough; small toys for children, or models for wargames, though you could never enter the army in any official tournaments; shelves and boxes, perhaps, if you had a sufficiently large printer. But what do most people spend their money on? Housing, bills, clothes, food, services, entertainment. Aside from clothes and food you can't replace any of that even with a fully-realized replicator, nevermind a current 3D printer. Which is why, contrary to what some are hoping for, and some are fearing, the sky is not, in fact, falling.

Star Trek has trained a generation of nerds, and I count myself among them, to believe that once you have replicators, that's it; this whole economy thing can be put behind us, like bartering chickens for a pair of trousers, and we can get on with 'improving ourselves', whatever that may mean to each of us, individually. But a deeper look at the way even a replicator-possessing society would have to be organized shows that's simply not going to be the case. And it's going to be even more prevalent for us, now. Yes, 3D printer technology may well advance to the point where you can make, probably in pieces, whatever small, solid pieces you might require; you could print out pieces of furniture and them assemble them yourself, a sort of hybrid offspring of torrents and Ikea. And yes, the experiments with food-printers may bear fruit, giving us at least the ability to produce strands or sheets of pasta or flavoured pastes or grains or the like, reducing our reliance on the basics of food and making grocery shopping more a case buying the best complementary frills rather than building meals from the ground up. But nobody is going to be printing out a car, or a computer, or a cell phone. Certainly nobody is going to be printing out a house, and even if they did, where would they put it if they didn't own land? And what are you supposed to print with, if you haven't got the appropriate raw materials, and the power to run it on, and the network connection to get the plans for all these things?

Without a heck of a lot of infrastructure supporting it, this is nothing but an ugly shelf.

So long as it isn't strangled in the crib by companies like GW, companies that may quite rightly fear for their future as a viable business in the face of replicator-like capabilities in the hands of the average consumer, it's entirely possible that 3D printing will revolutionize the world. For the first time in human history, it may be possible, both practically and economically, to provide the basics to every human being on the planet. But the infrastructure to support these systems is going to be massive, far beyond what we have in place now. Some jobs, some industries will fall by the wayside, like horse and buggy makers or telegraph operators did in their time.  But there will still be jobs. We'll need people to build and run the power plants we'll need for all the computers designing the plans for all the 3D printers. We'll need a hugely expanded power delivery infrastructure, and a better network to handle all these plans zipping back and forth.  And we'll still need roads, and sanitation, all the services governments provide to keep cities habitable. We'll need raw materials to put into these printers, since there's exactly no chance everyone will be one hundred percent efficient at recycling everything they use, and we're not yet at the point of being able to turn any element into any other with the push of a button. And we'll still need all sorts of services, be they cosmetic or financial or personal. There will still be hairdressers and barbers, restaurants with chefs and waiters and busboys, bankers and stock brokers, doctors and lawyers and teachers and firefighters and police officers and politicians. Possibly the overall amount of money being made will go down, but that's not a terrible thing; with the economy organized as it is right now, we largely have too little work for too many people. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if a person could earn a living wage with fifteen or twenty hours a week; more jobs to go around, more shifts to share, and of course, more free time. The productivity levels of the average worker have climbed incalculably from the Industrial Revolution to the present day, and there's no reason to assume they won't keep doing so; if we went from ten or twelve hours a day, seven days a week to eight hours a day five days a week, well, where's the harm in going down to six hours a day, three days a week, in the future? Rather than arbitrarily set employment at 'full time' levels, we could force the market to reorient around 'full wage' levels, leaving people capable of meeting their diminished economic needs in a shorter work week. And since so many of the post-3D printer jobs will be service based, rather than production based, the decline in hours-to-sufficiency is even better; a restaurant that's open ten hours, six days a week can employ a heck of a lot of people who only need three six-hour shifts a week to meed their needs.

3D printing, whether plastic or food or some future fabric-based system, is going to change the world. But it's going to do so in the same way, to the same extent, that the telephone, and the internet, and the steam engine changed the world; it's going to reorder the world that exists, not create a wholly new one. I look forward to a future where people work as hard as they want to, not as hard as they possibly can, because our material needs are so much less demanding than they are now. But I don't for a second imagine that this future will be some eternal utopian summer holiday; there will still be people with jobs, making money to buy things. What they buy may be different, and how they make their money may have changed, but the fundamental nature of the present system will not change overnight. There's just too much that goes into it for one alteration, no matter how potentially paradigm shifting, to upend it overnight.

Contrary to what some might think, this is not a synonym for 'new technology'.

Which isn't to say I wouldn't love living in a post-scarcity society. It's just that I'm confronted by the most basic problem of science-fiction, whether utopian or dystopian; I just can't see any way to get there, from here.


The Fate of Bavgad Prime IV – Week 5

Opponents: Blake and Ben
Deployment: Pitched Battle
Objective: Seize Ground

Blake Nelson:
Primaris Psyker
Company Command Squad w/4 x Plasma Rifles, Chimera
3 x Mortar Team
3 x Lascannon Team
3 x Heavy Bolter Team
10 x Veterans w/2 x Missile Launcher
10 x Veterans w/2 x Missile Launcher
5 x Veterans w/Valkyrie
Leman Russ
Armoured Sentinel w/Plasma Cannon

Ben Warburton:
Hive Tyrant w/Wings
10 x Termagants
3 x Tyranid Warriors w/Warrior Prime
3 x Tyranid Warriors
3 x Biovores

Jamie Goddard:
Cato Sicarius
Techmarine w/Thunderfire Cannon
10 x Sternguard w/Drop Pod
5 x Tacticals w/Razorback, Lascannon
5 x Tacticals w/Lascannon
10 x Devestators w/4 x Missile Launchers
5 x Tacticals w/Lascannon
5 x Tacticals

This was originally just going to be a tie-breaker rematch between Blake and I. In our previous fights he'd won while defending his territory and I'd won while defending mine, so neither of us had really accomplished anything on the map. This time, though, I felt confident I could take him, especially when he laid down rather fewer Leman Russes, and rather more AV12 vehicles. As we were setting up, though, Ben and Jamie, who'd arrived too late to get in a fight with anyone, asked if we'd mind them piling into our battle for a 2v2. My instincts told me to press Blake while he was weak, but, eh, it's just a fun league, so we said sure.

I ended up with Jamie's Space Marines at my back, facing off against Imperial Guard and Tyranids. Blake said we should re-roll the mission and deployment, but while I was already in the middle of deploying I just sort of grunted something and went on re-ordering my cadre. This lapse would prove critical, as Blake rolled Pitched Battle again, but Seize Ground instead of the earlier Capture and Control, removing the objective in the middle and placing his objective on the other side of his deployment zone. Eventually Jamie and I got sorted out, with my Pathfinders, both my XV88 squads, his Techmarine and one of the Tacticals with a Lascannon anchoring the left side of the table, while my Hammerhead, Deathrains and commander, and his Devastators and the other Tacticals with a Lascannon hung out on the other flank, the two Devilfish, the Razorback and both Fireknife teams in the middle. Across the table from us the centre was held by the Carnifex, a Zoanthrope, the two Veteran squads and the Termagants, while the Hive Tyrant and Tervigon were on our left and the Guard's entire mechanized complement, plus the Biovores and the second Zoanthrope, were on our right. They checked for seize, failed, and we were off.

It was, frankly, a bloodbath. Ben's Carnifex and Hive Tyrant were shot down long before they could accomplish anything, as was the central Zoanthrope. The rightmost Zoanthrope got one shot off, but failed to do any damage. In what has to be the best outing I could ever hope for, my Piranha managed to explode the Leman Russ, while one of the gun drones turned sideways and shot up the Armoured Sentinel, actually managing to wreck it. Sure, the Piranha vanished immediately afterwards, but I'd happily trade it for those two any day of the week! What was worse for Blake and Ben, Ben's outflanking Genestealers refused to show up, while Blake's Valkyrie scattered off the table and was destroyed on the mishap table, taking the Veterans with it. By the end of the game, Jamie and I had traded my Piranha, his Sternguard, the gun off his Razorback and most of a few infantry squads (none of which had broken from their casualties), for the Hive Tyrant, Carnifex, Tervigon, Mawloc, Leman Russ, Armoured Sentinel, most of the Heavy Bolter team, the guns off the Hydra, all the Termagants, and all but one of the Tyranid Warriors.

Unfortunately, that's where that lapse in concentration came in. See, originally, there'd been three objectives on the board; one on my side on the left, which I just left where it was, one in the middle, which Blake removed, and one on Blake's side on my right, which he moved to behind a tall tower on my left. So where I thought I had an overwhelming force to contest his objectives with, including my Hammerhead, commander, and a Devilfish full of Firewarriors with Drones still on the racks, the actual objective was on the opposite side of the table. And while a Devilfish with Drones has an impressive contestation range (12" + 2" disembark + D6" run + 6" assault + 3" contested zone around the objective), I only noticed the changed objective on turn 4, and even they can't cover the entire table in a turn. With nothing in range to challenge Ben and Blake's objective, it came down to shooting, and while a truly miraculous series of shots wiped out all the Termagants, the Tervigon, most of the Veterans and two of the Tyranid Warriors, at the end of our phase there was one last, unbreakably-Synaptic Warrior sitting on the objective, completely obscured by the tower from what few remaining unspent weapons Jamie and I had left.

And that's how the tie-breaking grudge match between Blake and I managed to end, in the sort of ludicrous irony usually reserved for Greek tragedies, in a tie.

The Fate of Bavgad Prime IV – Week 4

Opponent: Graham Wilson
Deployment: Spearhead
Objective: Annihilation

Librarian w/Terminator Armour
5 x Terminators w/2 x Psycannon, Stormraven
10 x Strike Squad
5 x Strike Squad w/Rhino, Psycannon
5 x Strike Squad w/Razorback, twin-linked Heavy Bolter, Psybolt ammo
Vindicare assassin
Dreadnought w/twin-linked Autocannon, Psybolt Ammo

I hadn't fought Graham in a while, and I do like a challenge, so I decided to try and invade some of his territory. I've always maintained that, contrary to what one might think, the Tau Empire codex is actually very well suited to dealing with Grey Knights; lots of high-strength, low-AP firepower on mobile platforms, plus torrenting power from Firewarriors, Devilfish and the Hammerhead's large blast to force a Grey Knight player to keep rolling saves. And sooner or later, those 1's and 2's always show up. The only real time Tau are pretty much out of luck when it comes to Grey Knights are in annihilation games, but having rolled three of those already, it seemed impossible that I might get stuck with a fourth such mission.

Unfortunately, that one-in-three chance decided to turn up, for the fourth week in a row.

Already on the back foot with the objective, I managed to deploy poorly, as well. As usual, I aimed for the 'twin firebase' deployment. Unfortunately, Spearhead meant I didn't have the separation between armies I need, since of course Graham had deployed aggressively, right up on the 12" line from the centre. And once I failed to seize, well, Graham brought the hurt.

It didn't actually start off that badly. On his first turn, Graham sent the Stormraven flat-out onto my right firebase, while the Dreadnought, Razorback and Vindicare picked away at my left firebase. After some bad rolls on his part and some good rolls on mine, however, his first turn of shooting amounted to nothing at all. My own shooting wasn't much better, though, with most of my army's shooting required to drop that Stormraven, which then disgorged its payload of Terminators and the attached Librarian right on my right firebase's doorstep. The following turn Graham turned those Psycannons on the rear armour of my Hammerhead, exploding it, while the dismounted Strike Squad moved up to threaten my XV8s and the Strike Squad in the Rhino cruised over to explode my Devilfish, killing most of the Firewarriors inside in the process. With my right-most firebase eaten alive, there was little hope left. My commander heroically managed to pin the Strike Squad with his AFP, and the fire of my surviving Fireknife squad killed all but one of the Terminators and the Librarian, while the Vindicare and the Dreadnought eventually succumbed to the Deathrains' fire. By the end of the game, however, I was left with nothing but a Devilfish, a squad of Firewarriors and those Deathrains, while Graham had only lost the Dreadnought, Vindicare and Stormraven, giving him seven kill points to my three.

I still maintain that Tau can take Grey Knights. But if it's Annihilation, and you don't deploy just so, well, it's going to be a little trickier to pull that off than it might otherwise be.


More a Drizzle Than a Thunderstorm

I finished A Rising Thunder, by David Weber, recently. Well, I say finished; really, I devoured it, covering its four hundred and sixty-four pages in about three days. Even for an inveterate book-lover like myself, such progress is unusual, a testament to the hook Weber's 'Honorverse' series has on me. But when I sat down to write this review, I was struck by the fact that, really, this is a very difficult book to review. Because while it is a book, it's not really a story.

It's actually been a fairly long time since Weber wrote a straight, stand-alone story about his heroine. The first few books could be taken as fully-realized tales set within a expanding world, but by the fifth book, In Enemy Hands, Weber had clearly been sucked into the ever-growing scope of his own universe. Not that that's a bad thing; Weber has created a sprawling fictional galaxy of hostile multi-planetary star nations, most of them trying to play empire at the others' expense, populated by politicians, spies, and naval officers who run the gamut from incompetent to genius and from vile to heroic, regardless of what side of any border they happen to be. The story has grown from a single star system desperately trying to escape conquest by a massive, hopelessly corrupt empire to an alliance of new friends and old enemies all trying to, well, escape conquest by a massive, hopelessly corrupt empire. But, you know, a different one from the first time around. And with that growth have come new planets, new fleets, new commanders, new politicians, new enemies and new allies, all of whom have to be checked in on every now and then to advance the larger, galactic-level plot.

Which is to say, the individual books that attempt to get across the movements of dozens of characters across a handful of states have largely fractured, turning from self-contained narratives to somewhat arbitrarily-selected dispatches. Waiting for the latest Honorverse book, I can't help wondering if this is how people felt waiting for the latest chapter of Dickens' works to be published in the newspapers.

By embracing that sense of serialization, Weber has been able to keep the story moving pretty smoothly. Unfortunately, he's done that at the expense of the actual divisions of the books themselves. The latest one, A Rising Thunder, is the worsts offender; it essentially starts and ends at completely arbitrary points. It's not the only one, though. Ever since the issue with the Solarian League arose, with the exception of the Shadow of Saganami/Storm from the Shadows spinoff series, the books have transitioned away from 'building a story around, and to, a singular confrontation' and towards 'telling the latest serial instalment'. Which is what makes reviewing modern Honorverse stories difficult, because it's become the equivalent of reviewing the chapters of a book.

Still, there are a few things you can say about it. The Honorverse books, after all, are marked by a few recurring themes, and within the series you can judge the worth of a book by how well it hits those themes. And within that metric, A Rising Thunder does pretty well. It carries on the evolution of the Manticorn Alliance, the trials and tribulations of which have been a constant issue, and builds on the growth of the Republic of Haven, particularly the alliance between the two of them that kicked off at the end of Mission of Honor. It builds up the threat of the Mesan Alignment, particularly their nanotech mind-control abilities. And it gives hints that, like the corrupt Peoples Republic before it, the Solarian League does actually have some competent, honorable individuals working within its borders. None of them seem in the kind of key positions that Theisman, Giscard and Tourville enjoyed, yet, but if the League is serious about fighting the Manticoran Alliance there should be plenty of dead men's shoes to step into quite quickly.

Unfortunately, A Rising Thunder is rather bigger on political manoeuvring than it is on space combat. There is one major space battle in the book, about two-thirds of the way through, and it breaks very sharply from the Honorverse's tradition of 'outmanned, outgunned, but not out-thought'. Rather than being a matter of tactical genius overcoming crushing odds, the Manticorans enjoy total intelligence on the enemy force, the defensive position, superior technology and superior numbers. It's a well-executed plan, and it has Honor's trademark cunning, but it lacks the thrill of Terekhov's battle at Monica or Rozsak at Torch. Worse, despite being billed as 'an Honor Harrington Adventure' and falling in the main line of the series, that is, the books that are supposed to be about Honor herself, the woman doesn't appear until over a hundred pages into the story, and her role is extremely minor given the scope of the story now being told. It may be that, with the series having grown so expansive, and Honor having attained such advanced rank, she can no longer be sent on the kind of desperate missions that made the earlier books such pleasures, but if that's the case then perhaps she should be retired from the novel series in favour of the Crown of Slaves/Torch of Freedom and Shadow of Saganami/Storm from the Shadows storylines.

A Rising Thunder isn't a bad instalment in the series. It moves the story along nicely, it introduces some characters who are likely to play important roles down the line, and while it never comes to an open fight, there are some well-written, tense moments of Manticoran naval ships trying to get out of, and get the Manticoran Merchant Marine out of, Solarian space. But the actual space battle is a one-sided and rather dull affair, the Alignment is still a giant cipher of moustache-twirling villains, and the character who's billed on the cover has relatively little page time. For those already invested in the series it's a nice addition, but I could never in good conscience recommend a first-time Honorverse reader pick up this book.