For Christmas, Give Your Enemies ALL the Bullets!

Games Workshop is feeling festive this December, but in its own way; rather than just giving gifts, it's decided to offer you the chance to buy them.  How generous!

But seriously.  They're doing an 'Advent Calendar' for December, with each day offering up a new digital download for purchase.  The downloads are in the $4-$5 dollar range, just right for an impulse purchase.  December 3rd's was of note for me, because it contained a new Tau Empire formation, one that just so happened to match exactly the contents of a large box set GW just recently put up for sale.

How convenient...

The Firebase Support Cadre has to contain an XV104 Riptide and two squads of three XV88 Broadsides, though the drones are optional.  It costs no additional points, and curiously, can be taken in addition to Allied forces, without requiring the player to run a core Tau force; you could, if you wanted (and could somehow find the points for it all), run a Marine army, with Inquisitor warlord, Allied with Imperial Guard, backed up by a Firebase Support Cadre.  40K is getting weird, guys.


And Not A Single Lens Flare, Anywhere!

Almost Human, a science-fiction detective series on Global, premiered last week with a two-day event. Last night saw the third episode air, and at this point it feels safe to draw a certain number of conclusions. Pilots can be rocky, but a couple of episodes should give you a good idea of at least the bones of a series, especially one as relatively straight-forward as a buddy cop action/drama piece. Shows can get better, of course, or collapse mid-season, but usually they begin as they mean to go on, until the studio declares they're not allowed to go on any longer.

And I am happy to say that Almost Human has begun almost perfectly.


Relics of Treasure - Week 9

Round 9: 2500 pts
Graham (Grey Knights)

Grey Knight Brother Captain
Callidus Assassin
10 x Grey Knight Strike Squad w/Psybolt, 2 x Psycannon
10 x Grey Knight Interceptor Squad w/Psybolt, 2 x Psycannon
5 x Grey Knight Terminators w/Incinerator

You may have noticed that Graham was fielding slightly less than the full 2500 points. The reason for this is because it was decided that, for the league's grand finale, my Tau would seek to disrupt the Grey Knights' hold on the orbiting space station, a tile Graham had held without interruption, under constant challenge, for three weeks in a row. The space station is a series of interlocked corridors, like a game of Space Hulk, rather than an open field, and since the internal space is so much smaller the games were likewise scaled down. For the final week, it was only a thousand points, with the further restriction of no vehicles, and nothing that couldn't physically fit inside the corridors (so no Riptides or Dreadknights or Dreadnoughts). On top of this, the peculiarities of the station had a number of effects, including prohibiting Deep Strike, Infiltrate or Outflank.

Relics of Treasure - Week 8

Round 8: 2300 points
Anton (Space Wolves)

Wolf Lord w/Thunderwolf, Artificier Armour, Power Fist, Storm Shield
5 x Wolf Guard w/5 x Thunderwolf, 5 x Storm Shield, 3 x Power Axe
Rune Priest
10 x Grey Hunters
10 x Grey Hunters w/2 x Meltagun, Drop Pod
10 x Grey Hunters w/2 x Meltagun, Drop Pod
10 x Grey Hunters w/2 x Meltagun, Drop Pod
6 x Long Fangs w/5 x Lascannon
Dreadnought w/Twin-Linked Lascannon, Missile Launcher
Land Raider

Yet again I found myself going up against the forces of the Imperium, and for the first time since week two there were wolves on the far side of the table from me. Anton's forces were drop-heavy, as is common amongst the wolves of Black Knight Games, but with three heavy support choices and a pack of wolf-riders, he had a strong on-table presence from the beginning. I expected a tough fight, though I was hoping it wouldn't be quite as tough as the last time I went up against the wolves.

Relics of Treasure - Week 7

Round 7: 2100
Hammer and Anvil

Thom Morden (Chaos Daemons/Chaos Space Marines)

Great Unclean One w/Mastery Level 3, Greater Reward, Exalted Reward
10 x Plaguebearers
10 x Plaguebearers
15 x Flesh Hounds
Soul Grinder w/Daemon of Nurgle, Phlegm Bombardment
Daemon Prince w/Mark of Nurgle, Mastery Level 3, 2 x Greater Reward, Daemonic Flight, Warp-Forged Armour
Daemon Prince w/Mark of Nurgle, Mastery Level 3, 2 x Greater Reward, Daemonic Flight, Warp-Forged Armour
Chaos Lord w/Burning Brand of Skalathrax, Mark of Nurgle
7 x Plague Marines w/2 x Plasma Pistol, Chaos Rhino, Havoc Launcher
Heldrake w/Baleflamer

Having missed out on one of the league nights owing to an unfortunate personal issue, I was lucky to get a make-up game in against Thom on the weekend. I wasn't all that eager to throw down with the daemons again, particularly that brick wall of a Great Unclean One, but beggars can't be choosers. And it's not like Thom isn't a good guy, so a game with him, even a loss, is pleasant enough. Plus, I had a certain new weapon up my sleeve...


Relics of Treasure - Week 6

Round 6: 1950
Hammer and Anvil

Mitch (Dark Eldar)
Archon w/Shadow Field, Soul Trap, 3 x Sslyth, 2 x Medusae, Lhamaean, Ur-Ghull, Raider, Night Shields, Flickerfield
Haemonculus w/5 x Incubi
Haemonculus w/4 x Wracks, Raider, Night Shields, Flickerfield
12 x Warriors w/Dark Lance
10 x Warriors w/Dark Lance, Raider, Night Shields, Flickerfield
10 x Warriors w/Dark Lance, Raider, Night Shields, Flickerfield
10 x Wyches w/Raider, Night Shields, Flickerfield
10 x Scourges w/2 x Splinter Cannon
10 x Reavers
Talos Pain Engine
Cronos Parasite Engine w/Spirit Vortex
Cronos Parasite Engine w/Spirit Vortex

Mitch had a pretty lovely Dark Eldar force, which suggested he'd been at it for a while; they might not be as numerous as Orks or IG, but getting a raiding force of Dark Eldar ready isn't like throwing together a Draigowing list, either. That further suggested that he knew what he was in for when it was announced he'd be going up against Tau. Guns, guns and more guns, guns that cut through Dark Eldar bodies and skimmers alike with contemptuous ease, with ways to ignore the former's FNP and the latter's cover saves.  In short, every Archon's nightmare.


The R'Varna - For When You Just Have To Win

So, Forge World has brought out a new Tau kit, the XV107 R'Varna battlesuit.  It's a resin upgrade kit for the Riptide model, with a wide array of chest pieces, back, front and top, two new guns, shoulder pads and shin pieces.  Here are front and back shots of the model, to show off just how much has been added to it; more can be seen at Forge World's page for it, here.

Aesthetically, I don't mind it, though I do have some qualms.  The vanes on the gun don't look particularly Tau-ish, and the 'pulse submunition cannons' don't share any real design details with any Tau pulse weapons.  Or any official Tau weapons, for that matter; more than anything, they resemble O'Ralai's pulse submunition rifle, perhaps mated with the XV9's phased ion gun.  But both of those weapons broke away from the established Tau aesthetic in their own way, and the pulse submunition cannons just take those baby steps and turn them into a full-fledged sprint.  Forge World has been constructing its own distinct Tau look for some time, best exemplified in the XV9 with its bulbous knee joints and winged jump packs, and the XV107 is perhaps the ultimate extension of that to date.  It does sort of bother me, because as nice as at hose models are, they don't entirely look like they fit with the parent line.

I'm not a huge fan of the optical piece, either; I know a lot of people have complained about the Riptide having a pinhead look, but it's already a huge model.  Giving it a 'head' in scale with the rest of its massive frame just makes for an even more absurdly unwieldy model, not to mention making it dangerously top-heavy, and from an in-universe perspective it's hard to imagine that a fixed-forward camera system was an improvement over the existing swivel-mounted hardware.

But the XV107 isn't just a model kit, it's got rules.  Experimental rules.  And I think we all know what Forge World's experimental rules mean.

It's broken as hell.


Relics of Treasure - Week 5

Round 5: 1750
Vanguard Strike

James (Space Marines – Iron Hands)
Captain w/Power Sword
5 x Terminators w/Land Raider Crusader
5 x Sternguard
10 x Tacticals w/Multimelta, Meltagun, Rhino, Hunter-Killer Missile
10 x Tacticals w/Missile Launcher, Meltagun, Rhino, Hunter-Killer Missile
5 x Scouts w/Missile Launcher, 4 x Sniper Rifles
5 x Assasult Marines w/5 x Plasma Pistols, Meltabomb
Venerable Dreadnought w/Twin-Linked Lascannon, Missile Launcher
5 x Devastators w/Lascannon, 2 x Plasma Cannon, Heavy Bolter

We were supposed to go up to 1850 this week, but my opponent was relatively new to the hobby, and couldn't quite swing it with what he had, so I agreed to drop back down to 1750. No sense trying to drive the newcomers out of the hobby, after all. As usual, it was Crusade (4 objectives), and since I still had one last unoccupied territory in my area there was a relic in the centre of the table. The last time that will happen, though; from here on out, if I want to add yet more tricks to my Commander, I'm going to have to take them from the smoking plasma-riddled corpses of my enemies.

Which I am totally comfortable doing.

Relics of Treasure - Week 4

Round 4: 1750
Deployment: Hammer of Wrath

Cam (Imperial Guard)
Company Command Squad w/Master of Ordinance, Master of the Fleet
Platoon Command Squad w/Plasmagun, Commissar
Heavy weapon Team w/3 x Lascannon
Heavy Weapon Team w/3 x Heavy Bolter
5 x Veterans w/3 x Meltagun, Chimera
Infantry Squad w/Plasmagun, Missile Launcher
Infantry Squad w/Plasmagun, Heavy Bolter
Infantrry Squad w/Plasmagun, Heavy Bolter
Leman Russ squadron w/2 x Battle Cannon, 1 x Executioner Plasma Cannon
Aegis Defence Line w/Quad Gun

I was actually getting set to fight someone else, a Grey Knights player, when a couple of late arrivals forced Matt to juggle some opponents around to keep things on the level. Given the choice between Cam, here, and Graham and his Grey Knights, I pretty quickly called dibs on facing off against Cam. I can beat Graham, it's not impossible, but that guy wields his Grey Knights like a surgeon's scalpel, and I wasn't really looking to test myself against the current number one in the league. So, instead, I traded a couple of Stormravens, a Dreadknight and a Vindicare who looks like Deadpool for heavy artillery, a Fast flamer-tank, and a squadron of Leman Russ.

It never rains, but it pours.


Tau Heavy Support – Part 2: These Guns Aren't Getting Any Smaller!

I just realized, I never actually got around to putting  up the last of my Codex: Tau Empire reviews.  Well, let's correct that little oversight, shall we?

Last time we started on the Heavy Support slot, and unexpectedly got bogged down in the infantry choices. So now here we are in part two, and it's finally time to talk about the tanks. And oh, what tanks they are!

Relics of Treasure - Week 3

Round 3: 1650
Deployment: Dawn of War

Scott (Space Marines: Iron Hands)
Captain w/Artificier Armour, Power Weapon, The Shield Eternal, Relic (Furious Charge)
10 x Sternguard w/2 x Melta, 3 x Combi-Melta, Drop Pod
5 x Legion of the Damned
10 x Tacticals w/Power Weapon, Plasma Gun, Lascannon, Rhino
10 x Tacticals w/Power Weapon, Plsama Gun, Lascannon, Rhino
5 x Devastators w/3 x Lascannon
Aegis Defence Line w/Quad Gun

Coming off a defeat and a draw, I was itching to put a mark in the win column, and Scott's Marines seemed a reasonable target to hit to go get it. Only a single drop pod, no real close combat units, no major artillery and, having dropped my flyer for more suits on the ground, the Stalker wasn't going to be doing too much. On the other hand, there were no small number of lascannons on the far side of the table, and I've yet to meet the Stormraven that doesn't inspire at least one moment of heart-stopping fear when it aims its multi-melta square at one's most valuable tank. So I wasn't going into this with my eyes closed; any fight with Space Marines is a serious fight, and I was taking this seriously. Especially since, once more, there was a mysterious relic at play in the centre of the table.


Relics of Treasure - Week 2

Round 2: 1575
Deployment: Dawn of War

Thom Morden (Chaos Daemons)
Great Unclean One w/Mastery Level 3, Greater Reward, Exalted Reward, Relic (+1T)
10 x Plaguebearers of Nurgle
10 x Plaguebearers of Nurgle
15 Flesh Hounds of Khorne
Daemon Prince w/ML3, Mark of Nurgle, 2 x Greater Reward; daemonic flight; warp-forged armour
Daemon Prince w/ML3, Mark of Nurgle, 2 x Greater Reward; daemonic flight; warp-forged armour
Soul Grinder w/Mark of Nurgle, Phlegm Bombardment

Thom's a good guy, a friend of my best friend's little brother, actually. We've played in a doubles tournament together before, and are planning to do so again. In the not so distant future (read, next Saturday).  Unfortunately, I don't really have any experience fighting against him, and even just a pair of FMCs makes me a bit nervous. Not least because every one of his MCs managed to roll up Iron Arm, amongst other things, on Biomancy. Because if there's anything Nurgle daemons need, it's even more toughness!


Shiny, indeed!

I don't care, I'm still free...

Despite Fox' best efforts I watched Firefly in 2002, when it first aired, in its weird anarchic order.  I bought the dvd box set basically as soon as it was released.  I dragged every friend I had to see Serenity in theatres, on multiple occasions.  I own both the regularly and collector's edition of Serenity.  I've read Those Left Behind, and Better Days, and The Shepherd's Tale.  I even know what Inara's secret needle kit was going to be.

So you can only imagine how thrilled I am by this announcement:


Relics of Treasure - Intro and Week 1

The latest league has started up at Black Knight Games, my friendly local hobby shop, and it's quite the doozy.  Not only is it nine weeks long, instead of the usual six, but it's got a whole host of unique rules and restrictions in play, courtesy of the much-ignored variable terrain rules from the later part of the big rulebook.  This promises to be a campaign like none other!

There's an actual player pack for this thing; for those interested in it, there's a pdf up of it, available here. For those who don't want to go through the whole thing, let me give you the highlights. The league is a tile-based campaign, with everyone starting with a single tile and each victory seizing another one to add to your points overall. No special or named characters; every game is played under the Ice World rules (Dangerous Terrain rolls fail on a 1 and 2, and Gets Hot weapons don't); lightning storms will strike on a 1 each turn, either forcing flyers to hover or to take a S7 hit; every game is Crusade, with D3+2 objectives; any Infantry model can hold an objective.

The big thing, however, is the Relic system. Each warlord starts off with a single Relic upgrade, and gains new ones by either seizing the secondary Relic objective in each mission, or killing the enemy warlord in a challenge (or both). There's a d6+d6 table to roll on, providing a full 36 possible options, though in each of the six sections there is an Explodes result, in which you get nothing. The relic effects can be stacked, and if you get a double that doesn't (having Fear twice, for instance) you're allowed a re-roll.

From a Tau perspective, the campaign rules have a couple of obvious effects. First, the increased risk of dangerous terrain will make it more dangerous to jump crisis suits in and out of nasty pieces of cover to get a better shooting angle. At a one-in-six chance this can be an entirely reasonable risk to take to get a better shooting angle; at one-in-three, however, it means that statistically it'll happen to your three-suit squad every single turn. To me, though, that's more than offset by the fact that Gets Hot stops being a thing. Ion weapons, already good, become even better with these rules in place, to the point where I almost considered trying to find some way to make use of the cyclic ion blaster. But the ion accelerator, the ion cannon and the quad ion turret all get a significant boost from the reliability of no longer having to risk Gets Hot rolls. This is especially useful on the ion accelerator with early warning override, as it means you can reliably pull off the blast against deep striking units of 3+ and 2+ models while they're maximally clumped together. Given that two of these weapons (the cannon and accelerator) were things Tau wanted to bring along from the start, this increased reliability is immense. Honestly, I even considered trying to incorporate the cyclic ion blaster.


Anyway, the league starts off at 1500 points, and eventually finishes at 2000, rising by something in the area of 75-100 points per week. So, let's start from the beginning!


Tau Heavy Support – Part 1: Breaking Out the Big Guns!

The old Heavy Support slot used to be only slightly less of a no-brainer than the old Elites slot; two squads of XV88s and a Hammerhead, with the number of the former depending on the size of the game. Enough has changed, though, that it's not always so easy to decide. And, as Martha Stewart used to say, that's a good thing.


Like 300, But With Way More Gunfire

I just have to say this; the opening to Dredd is awful. It's just really, really bad. It consists of a freeway chase and a mall shootout, and while the action is decently staged, it in no way, shape or form looks like the kind of world Judge Dredd should be operating in. It looks like it's taking place in a particularly rundown section of contemporary Los Angeles. It's about as underwhelming as an opening can be, really.

Which is annoying, because the rest of this movie is pretty great.


The Best $7 I've Spent in Ages!

Pacific Rim is one of the greatest, dumbest action movies I've seen in a long, long time. And I mean that in the best possible way. This movie isn't dumb like, say, Star Trek Into Darkness, whose villain's behaviour can only be reconciled by assuming he is both working for and against another villain simultaneously, or The Dark Knight Rises, which completely wastes the entire emotional arc of the trilogy by having the people of Gotham not do a damn thing to save themselves. No, Pacific Rim is dumb in the biggest, coolest, most fantastic way possible, in the kind of way that doesn't let silly little things like reality and physics get in the way of grandiose displays of pure spectacle.

For example, there's a scene in the trailers where the hero's robot, Gipsy Danger, wields a cargo ship like a sword. This scene is dumb as a box of hammers. Just picking up a ship like that from one end would probably snap it in half amidships, nevermind dragging one end along a pretty long causeway. And then it gets swung through the air and collides with a giant monster. Multiple times! You can punch a hole in the hull of a ship like this by hitting it with a particularly sharp rock; the chances that it would've remained intact long enough to serve as a make-shift weapon for not just one, but several strokes, is essentially nil.

But it looks cool as hell!


Tau Fast Attack – Part 2: The Vehicles - Furious, But Fragile

With six options available, the Fast Attack section is second only to HQ for being crowded out. Last time, we looked at the infantry models available. This time, we're going to see what the vehicles have to offer.


Tau Fast Attack – Part 1: Fighting On Foot (or Hoof, or Wing, or Anti-Grav Generator...)

Aside from the HQ section, the Tau's Fast Attack is the most heavily populated section of the new codex. And amazingly, of the six units available, the worst of them is still solid enough that you won't get laughed at for plunking it down on the table.


As Criticism of Criticism, This Post is Insanely Meta

A formal warning, right here at the very start; I am going to be talking, in some detail, about Man of Steel, its critics, their criticism, and several key plot points and scenes. This post absolutely will contain spoilers. Anyone who hasn't yet seen this film, but wants to, and wants to do so un-spoiled, should not read this post.

Man of Steel has now supplanted Superman III as the most contested of the Superman films. Pretty much everyone agrees that I and II are good, if a little slow and uneven and very 70s; likewise, pretty much everyone agrees that IV and Returns are awful. Before this, III was the go-to movie if you wanted to find people actually arguing about whether a Superman movie was good or not. But now we have Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, and all of a sudden the presence of Richard Pryor's comedy stylings in a Superman movie seems a downright quaint point of contention. Ah, progress.


It's Not Perfect, But What Is?

Man of Steel accomplishes in its 143 minutes what Smallville spent 10 seasons alternating trying and failing, and just plain not trying, to do; show how Clark Kent, a young man of strange parentage alternately blessed and cursed with fantastic abilities, grows into the role of Superman, as much a symbol of heroism as a hero himself. It's not unlike Batman Begins, a similarity helped along by the presence of Christopher Nolan as producer, in the way it tracks its titular hero from their definitive origin point (the alley shooting for Batman, the destruction of Krypton for Superman) through a somewhat dissolute period of travel, into a return to their point of origin, and ultimately the establishment of their superheroic identity amongst the broader public. It's a bit formulaic, but hey, not all formulas are bad.


Tau Elites – All Suits, Great and Small

The battlesuit. Is there any more iconic unit for the Tau Empire? And of course, the reason it's so iconic is that, in the first and second codexes, it's had to do almost all the heavy lifting for the army, in terms of fielding special weapons. Oh sure, you could put a single fusion blaster on a Piranha, or a twin-linked plasma rifle on a Broadside, but if you needed anti-light vehicle or -heavy infantry firepower, the battlesuit was your choice.

Plus ca change, as the French say.


Tau Troops – The Few, the Proud, the Squishy

Unlike the HQ section, which was basically reworked from the ground up, the Troops portion of the new Tau codex is more a matter of subtle changes. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Tau Troops might not be Grey Hunters or Guard blob-squads, but they were solid choices stuck with slightly out of date points costs. And thankfully, those costs are now more in-line with the game-wide standard.


Better Late Than Never, Folks

Steven Spielberg and Microsoft Creating Live-Action Halo TV Series (via E!)I'm not going to lie, I literally do not understand what took so long.  Halo was an absolute monster at its peak, an entertainment phenomenon.  How did it get nothing more than an anthology of animated shorts?  How did anyone look at the wide-spectrum brand recognition of Master Chief and not think 'we should get three movies and a spinoff tv series in the works right away!'.  This would have been so insanely easy to make ludicrous amounts of money off of; the only real challenge would be finding a decent actor willing to never take off the helmet on camera.  No Robert Downey Jr.s or Tobey Maguires need apply!

Now?  I don't know, actually.  I mean, Halo is still Halo, and the Xbox One (because that makes sense as a follow-on platform to the Xbox and the Xbox 360) is likely to bring Halo 4 out when it launches.  That'll give it a nice little bump back into the public consciousness.  It's not like this is likely to do all that poorly.  But the property isn't what it was, in terms of reaching beyond the particular video game playing market, and I don't think starting with a tv series would ever have been the right move.  Master Chief is a hero in the traditional sense, a larger-than-life character with little to no weaknesses and no great interest in self-examination.  I'm not really sure he could sustain a weekly television series.  And I actually am fairly sure that launching a Halo tv series without Master Chief is not going to bring in the audience a science fiction television series is going to need to stay on the air.

Well, we shall see.   And hey, it's not like I'm rooting for it to fail or anything; the more science fiction on television, the better!  When this thing premieres, you can bet I'll tune in.  I just hope enough other people will, too.

Edit -  "The Halo series will be commissioned exclusively for Xbox Live."  Reading comprehension, FTW!  This is an insanely terrible idea, and really does not bode well at all.  It's one thing for Netflix to commission a new season of Arrested Development; they're a multi-platform content provider, with a reach that transcends any single system.  But if this Halo series is only going to be for Xbox owners, that means its either going to be a small vanity project, in which case it'll barely be better than those aforementioned animated shorts, or it'll be a low-budget long-running series, in which case it'll probably look worse than just going back and watching the original Halo's cut scenes.

And just like that, my enthusiasm for this project dwindles to a dot.


Tau HQ – Part 3: Special Snowflakes, I mean, Suits

The last two special characters in the HQ section of Codex: Tau Empire are the battlesuit commanders, Farsight and Shadowsun. As far as special characters go, these are probably the ones Tau players will be most familiar with, as one of them was taken once in a blue moon and the other was taken occasionally. For the old codex, that was actually pretty impressive.

Farsight was the more infrequently-chosen of the pair, thanks to the sharp restrictions he was burdened with; you could only use him in games of over 1500 points, and he hamstrung your ability to bring a variety of useful units, and also Vespid. Those restrictions are thankfully done away with, though it does raise the question of where the isolated Farsight Enclave is getting its four-fingered hands on XV104s and ion rifles. As a commander, Farsight is pretty well built, with a solid statline, including WS5 and I5, a good Warlord Trait (no scatter when his unit deep strikes), and the option to bring his 7-strong bodyguard team. The combination of a perfect deep strike, six bodyguards with plasma/fusion and target locks and one in support could be absolutely devastating, no matter whose backfield you're dropping into. Of course, at a minimum of 684 points (Farsight, 7 x Bodyguards with 7 x PR/FB/TL, MSS, CCN, PENchip), it had better be.

Strangely, Farsight seems to have left a slot on his commander-variant battlesuit empty, as he takes to the field with just the Dawn Blade (AP2 Armourbane), plasma rifle and shield generator. Where's your VRT, O'Shovah, or your Stims, or a second plasma rifle? Or more to the point, why is the single best challenge character in a book that otherwise has nothing to throw at close combat monsters not wearing Iridum armour standard? It seems like an oversight to me, and more it seems like something that could be justified on the table-top just as well as in the fluff. Farsight leads from the front, preferring a bold, close-in style of combat; why wouldn't the spearhead fighter wear the best armour? He's going to be taking the most firepower right in the chest, after all.

Shadowsun, in contrast, is a veritable tank on two relatively tiny legs. A 3+ save, plus a 5+ invulnerable save, plus Stealth and Shrouded, and if she brings a couple of MV52 shield drones along not only does her unit's average toughness rise to T4, but she has a couple of 3+ invulnerable saves she can pass particularly worrisome wounds off to. She also has Infiltrate, and a perfect Look Out, Sir! when she's in a squad with other stealth suits, and her Command-link drone allows a nearby unit to re-roll its To Hit rolls of 1. Oh, and she's a BS5 model with two fusion blasters that can target two different models. And her unit gets 3D6" for its Thrust move, thanks to her Warlord trait.

While Farsight is clearly designed to be the burning heart of the Farsight Bomb, it feels like Shadowsun is meant to babysit the Riptide. If she only brings the Command-link drone the three-strong unit has three different T values, meaning it sticks with the superior T6, plus the Riptide is more mobile, and it's got a constant 4+ cover save against shooting. Having Shadowsun along basically provides a slightly inferior version of two different Nova charge results at once, without having to risk rolling for the reactor in the first place. And since she's LD10, you could even bring a couple of shielded missile drones along without having to worry that the loss of one of them will send the Riptide scampering. Curiously, though, despite being the Tau character most closely associated with drones, Shadowsun does not herself come with a drone controller.

Shadowsun and Farsight can technically be fielded in the same army together, giving the Farsight Bomb Stealth and Shrouded and adding the ability to deal with yet more units. You know, just in case you weren't already reducing any clustered target to a smoking crater. If you do this, however, be prepared for anyone even passingly familiar with Tau fluff to roll their eyes at you as hard as is humanly possible. It will be the least you deserve.


I Demand Those 133 Minutes Back

God damnit, J. J. Abrams. God. Damnit.

The 2009 Star Trek reboot was launched for ostensibly one reason; modern Trek scribes were simply too hamstrung by decades of continuity. There was no way to tell fresh, new stories with all that established history clinging to the franchise, like barnacles on a ship's hull.  In order to tell twenty-first century stories, we needed a twenty-first century Star Trek.  I never actually accepted that argument, and would hold up the 'Typhon Pact' book series as being clear evidence that this is in fact complete nonsense, but at least it was something. And heck, even if the reboot wasn't necessary, at least there was talk of bold, new ideas. Coming off the pathetically anemic Star Trek: Enterprise and the simultaneously backwards-looking and continuity-ignoring Nemesis, that was worth something.

And then, apparently to prove all that was simply the most epic case of trolling imaginable, Abrams makes Khan the villain. No wonder he called it 'Star Trek Into Darkness'; if he'd called it anything even remotely like Star Trek 2 and had it use Khan as the villain, even his omnipresent lens flare and Apple Genius Bar-looking starship aesthetic couldn't have hoped to disguise the absolutely shameless and transparent failure of imagination that is this movie.

Also, the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch, one of the most quintessentially white actors imaginable, as Khan Noonien Singh, an Indian Sikh 'prince', is downright offensive. Like, 'The Last Airbender' levels of offensive. Or beyond, even.  It was bad enough that the racial and sexual dynamics were being recycled from a nearly fifty year old product, completely ignoring three series' worth of progress (Enterprise offered no forward motion for any group) in terms of crew breakup and reflection of present multiculturalism.  But to actually be less willing to cast non-white actors than an American network television series from the 60s?  That's so far beyond sad it starts to look suspicious.

Star Trek Into Darkness is, like 2009's Star Trek, worthless.  It's an interesting premise utterly squandered, with nothing to say about present day issues, a half-baked 'homage' to a movie that was already done as well as could be done wrapped with enough pyrotechnics and lazy action scenes to hopefully bamboozle the viewer into thinking something meaningful is going on.  This movie is bad, not in the way a Michael Bay or Friedberg/Seltzer movie is bad, but in the way it absolutely squanders all of its admittedly-considerable promise in favour of lazily 're-imagining' existing stories and characters while not only adding nothing, but actually subtracting a great deal.  Yet again, the new Star Trek team has given us a film, and a villain, that requires considerable supplemental material to actually connect with.  This is beyond lazy.

I think I'm done with Star Trek films.  I gave it two chances, and it failed me in each case.  And that's okay, because the book series is fantastic.  Maybe when the studio gets tired of wallowing in nostalgia and decides to try a new sreies I'll take a look in, but for now?  Screw it, I have better things to do with my time than watch Abrams and crew completely fumble every pass they're thrown.

And I hope you do, too.


Tau HQ – Part 2: Leaders on the Hoof

In the old book, there were two basic HQ choices, and you only ever took one of them because the other one was simply awful. There were also three special characters, and maybe you took one of two, because they were okay-ish, but the third one was awful. Well, brace yourselves for a shock, longtime cadre commanders; infantry HQ units don't suck!


Tau HQ – Part 1: The Commander

When a new codex comes out, you can basically count on things to either stay the same, or get cheaper. The Tau Commander bears the rather dubious honour of being the only unit in the book to actually get more expensive; 10 points more than the old Shas'O, and a whopping 35 points more than the Shas'El.

But you know what's really surprising? It was worth the cost increase.


I've Waited So Long for This Moment....

Well, it's been a long seven years of waiting, but after having had my brand spanking new Codex: Tau Empire for a week now, I'm ready to put some thoughts down for posterity.


Plenty of Swords, Not So Much Sorcercy

Stop me if you've heard this one; a young man is drawn into the world of a videogame, trapped in a virtual world with no contact with the real one, in a deadly game where there are no 1-Ups, and you don't re-spawn...

Oh. You have have heard that one? Well, I'm going to talk about Sword Art Online anyway, so you might as well get comfortable.


The Sub-Optimal Results Obtained by Extensive Imperial Mechanization

or, Why the Devilfish is the Worst Transport in 40K

For the first time in seven years there's a new Tau Empire codex, and the 40K community, and the Tau subset in particular, has been absolutely poring over it. There are some exciting changes, like the new Signature Systems and the new Ethereal, and some disappointing ones, like the erasure of Targeting Arrays and vehicle Multi-Trackers, and some that are so radical it's hard yet to tell if they're good or bad, like the change in role for the XV88 and Kroot squads. But there's one unit that really hasn't changed at all, the Devilfish troop transport.

Why is a hover-tank so darn static?

And that's kind of a problem.


It's a 'Julian the Apostate' Reference. You Learned Something Already!

Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd Century America is the kind of book Samuel Clemens would be writing, if he were alive today. Which is not to say that Robert Charles Wilson is the next Mark Twain; he's quite good, but Twain had such an innate facility with language, such an entirely relaxed way of picking out just the right word, that it's difficult for any writer to equal his mastery of the craft. But if Clemens were still with us, I think he'd consider Julian Comstock to be a damn fine adventure.


He Doesn't Love Her For Her Brains. And That's Good.

Alright, let's get this out of the way right here at the start; Warm Bodies is Romeo and Juliet with zombies. Her name is Julie. His name is R. They come from 'families' that hate each other to death (and beyond). He's got a buddy named M. She's got a confidante who wants to be a nurse. There's even a scene where she's looking down on him from a balcony.

So yeah, it's Romeo and Juliet with zombies. But that just tells us what it is; it doesn't tell us if it's any good.


A Little Light Sleuthing

There has been some debate over whether or not the XV104 gets a railgun, or just the ion weapon.  This has been fueled by claims that there are three distinct weapons depicted, the 'super burst cannon', the ion weapon and the disputed 'railcannon'.  Unfortunately, I'm afraid close inspection of the images shows that two of these weapons are, in fact, the same thing.

Behind the jump, since it would otherwise warp the page.


Still Worth the Wait, Though

So it's confirmed, Tau will be hitting the shelves in April.  There's a new suit, two new flyers, a handful of drones and new rules for that most iconic of weapons, the railgun.  3++ and Faeit 212 are doing a fine job of breaking the rumours, and I'm not going to replicate their work here.  I did, however, want to point out a small thing, which I found somewhat amusing.

See that?  That's the new O'Shovah, Commander Farsight of the renegade Farsight Enclaves.  Pretty sweet new model, huh?  Much more dynamic than the original one, which was just a standard XV8 with a shield and sword, just kind of standing there.  It's the sort of model that makes the wait worthwhile, right?  Makes all those long years of patience worth it, in exchange for something that obviously took so much time and effort to get just right.

Yeah, about that.  See this?  This is a concept model picture from Games Day a while back.  I've had this on my hard drive since 2011, and the image info says it was taken in 2009.  Aside from some changes to the positioning of the legs (and personally, I prefer the older, 'feet on the ground' version), these are the same models.  Which is to say, Games Workshop has been just sitting quietly on this model for, oh, four years or so.

Now that, as they say in the movie business, is development hell!


Kanaan Cluster Leage: Round 6


It's strange. This is the first time I went in with a full strategy, not just for me but for my team mates. There were basically three tiles that we needed to capture to put us out in front; the second hive city, and the hovering warship. We also needed to hold on to the hive city I captured in week 5. Unfortunately, my team mates had been having something of a bad run of luck this tournament, with most of them lucky to crack .500. So, I reasoned, since a tie will go to the defender, it made the most sense for me to go for the unclaimed hive city, and leave one of my partners to defend ours.

This, it turned out, was a mistake.

Hive city tiles could only be attacked directly, rather than by spaceport-enabled drops. However, the hive city I jumped to lay claim to was surrounded mostly by tiles belonging to my team, with a single unclaimed tile. That meant there was no way anyone else could challenge me for it. Which is to say, I engineered a situation where the most consistently lucky player on our team ended up in a position not to fight a single enemy. Worse, not only did one of my team mates fail to seize the orbiting warship, but another couldn't hold on to our existing hive city. At the end of the round, we were exactly where we'd started, and I'd managed to cleverly manoeuvre myself into a position where I really didn't influence the outcome one bit.

Most vexing.

Result: Tau forces seize hive city tile, uncontested

Overall result: My team places second of three, ten points behind the first-place team


And It's Not Even Really About an Invasion!

Starship.  Troopers.  Invasion.

Just... just look at it...

Oh my god, this movie is hilariously awful!

I know, I know, way to give it all away right from the start. But honestly, I can't help it; Starship Troopers: Invasion is just a terrible movie. It's tonally confused, it has no central character, it's neither serious nor sarcastic about the universe, it is just riddled with bizarre decisions and minor plot holes, and most bafflingly, it involves the original trio from the 1997 live action film and then makes their characters look absolutely nothing like them. Rico you might get away with by pointing to his scars and eyepatch, but Carmen is now a short, slender woman with short black hair, and Carl is...  Well, some sort of ghoul, I think. Neil Patrick Harris this most certainly is not!

Alright, so what's this trainwreck all about? Well, not much. Or at least, not much that actually hangs together. Some MI are sent to a station built into an asteroid to rescue some other MI guys, since the bugs have gotten loose. Carl steals Carmen's ship, leaving her to get a lift with the MI on their ship, along with a guy nicknamed, I'm not kidding, Hero. And let me assure you, this movie is nowhere near self-aware enough to get away with naming what appears, for the first two-thirds or so, to be its protagonist Hero. Anyway, Hero is in the stockade for Reasons, and when Rico calls to tell the MI to go after Carl and Carmen's ship, which has stopped transmitting, Hero's men declare that they want him to lead them on the mission. It's impossible to really have an opinion on this, because you have no idea who Hero is or what he's in trouble for. Nevertheless, the movie seems to think you should find this heartwarming, and that you should consider Hero heroic. There's also a random sex scene and a random shower scene, and a fight between a couple of MI grunts with nothing beyond the barest of stereotypical characteristics, which is won when a female MI grunt flashes some tit at one of them, inspiring him to fight on. I guess. I actually thought she was distracting him, but then he somehow powers through because of that flash of CGI nipple, so what do I know?

Anyway, with the gratuitous nudity out of the way, the MI catch up with Carmen's ship and board it, to find the entire crew slaughtered by bugs save for Carl, who's having a psychotic episode, offering cryptic advice that would have solved all the problems to come if he'd just said what he bloody hell meant. From there it's all scenes of MI gunning down bugs with about as much success as they had in the first movie, the grunts dying in ways that are clearly meant to be tragically heroic but fall flat because the movie has spent maybe a minute developing each of their characters, tops, and a truly absurdly one-sided space battle. The stupidity finally culminates in Rico landing with a squad of expendable grunts in giant robots to try and rescue the survivors, so that they can recreate the ending scene of the three original characters from the '97 movie but with none of the emotional set-up necessary for it to come off as a meaningful moment for them. It's an homage purely for its own sake, rather than one that serves the story.

Not that there's much story to serve.

To be fair, I didn't go into this thing with much hope of a good story. Really, I was hoping for some great visual action sequences; this is, after all, from Shinji Aramaki, the man who did Appleseed: Ex Machina, and that movie had a cyborg in a robot wielding a chainsaw sword to kill swarms of sentinels from the Matrix inside a floating Borg doom-fortress! Unfortunately, Starship Troopers: Invasion is as far from that as, well, the original Starship Troopers would have been. The action is almost all MI grunts hopelessly firing off huge quantities of bullets to try and kill bugs, mostly to no avail. There's nothing interesting in the staging or the fights themselves, and even when Rico and his giant robot show up, there's no real energy to his fights. The only time the movie feels like it's got something to offer, visually, is when the engine room on Carmen's ship starts up again, though that looks more like a giant casino than something you'd recognize as a power generator. It's honestly a tragic waste of potential, and manages to really drag down the action scenes to the point where I was honestly bored by them as often as not. There's nothing even remotely interesting or new here; if you've seen the original, you've seen all this has to offer.  And considering that Starship Troopers is a sixteen year old movie that looks like it was made on a shoestring, that's really sad.

You can maybe make an argument that ST:I is 'so bad its good', but there's no debating that this is a bad movie. The characters don't even rise to the level of archetypes for the most part, the returning trio are nothing like the originals (in look, word or deed), the plot is beyond wafer-thin, and the action is bland and repetitive. Considering all it could have been, to see it sink to these pitiful depths is really kind of depressing.


Kanaan Cluster League: Round 5

Opponent: Brad Lee
Deployment: Dawn of War
Mission: The Scouring

Librarian w/Terminator Armour
10 x Death Company w/Land Raider
10 x Death Company w/Land Raider
Death Company Dreadnought
5 x Devastators w/4 x Plasma Cannon
5 x Devastators w/4 x Lascannon

I was joking with Brad about his army design, which has no scoring elements; he said if an objective mission rolled up, his best bet was to go for the tabling! And lo and behold, the Scouring; let's see how a non-scoring force does in a six-objective mission, shall we?


Kanaan Cluster Leage: Round 4

Opponent: Will (Sisters of Battle)
Deployment: Dawn of War
Mission: Big Guns Never Tire (4 objectives)

Saint Celestine
Uriah Jacobus
5 x Seraphim
5 x Seraphim
10 x Battle Sisters w/Immolator w/Multi-Melta
10 x Battle Sisters w/Immolator w/Multi-Melta
10 x Battle Sisters w/Immolator w/Multi-Melta
5 x Retributors w/4 x Multi-Melta
5 x Retributors w/4 x Heavy Flamer

This looked interesting, and amusingly I was just talking with a friend about how I'd never yet faced off against Sisters. Annoyingly, it's tough even to track down their codex information these days, since it was only printed in a White Dwarf supplement. Know your enemy, indeed!  I didn't even realize Will was doing double FOC until after the fact, when I looked up where everything in his list fits in!


We... Will Be Watching...

I'm not sure, but I think X-Com: UFO Defense was the first serious computer game I ever played. That, or Warcraft. Before that there were a few basic things, like a flying shooter on the Commodore64 and the freeware Star Trek game that lived on bootlegged floppy discs, but nothing that even had a 'save game' option, nevermind a real story.

So you can imagine how nervous I was when I first learned about XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

It wasn't as though the franchise hadn't been through sequels and spinoffs before. Terror from the Deep was a slightly tweaked clone of the first game, while Apocalypse went so far in its own direction as to be virtually unrecognizable as a part of the same universe. Then there were Enforcer and Interceptor, poorly received forays into other genres. So while the thought of a modern X-Com game, with all the advances of twenty-some-odd years of video game development behind it, was thrilling, the franchise's rather checkered history made me understandably wary.

Having completed my first play-through of XCOM, on the PS3, I can honestly say... it's good.

That sounds bad, I know. But honestly, I really enjoyed this game. The controls are solid and intuitive, the enemy AI is good without being an obvious cheater, and the customization options are amazing. The new class and skill systems really helps make your soldiers individually useful, rather than just being a faceless horde differentiated only by who is carrying the heavy plasma and who is carrying the blaster launcher. Armour finally means something, as do medpacks, since alien weapons won't just casually one-shot every soldier they hit. The aliens themselves are much more intimidating, which is given an in-game shout-out when engineers test-firing the laser and plasma rifles for the first time use cardboard standies of the original Sectoid and Muton soldiers as their targets. They dropped Time Units in favour of a much more straightforward 'Move/Action or Action' setup. There's a variety in the missions, with standard 'kill them all' fights interspersed with escort, bomb disposal and 'rescue civilians' terror attacks. And the video cut-scenes finally give a peek into the world of the characters, though admittedly it's one that raises as many questions as it answers. Sure, it's chilling to watch them react to an alien attack on Washington, but what exactly are American politicians and military officers and citizens saying about that, afterwards? I suppose it might be a bit much to ask, to have this world expanded to such a degree. But hey, you opened this door, XCOM. You can't blame me for trying to push through it.

On the other hand, not everything has necessarily changed for the better. While the customization options for the individual soldiers have expanded hugely, a lot of your other options are sharply curtailed. You can't have multiple bases in multiple locations. There are fewer research topics, and they're more tightly focused than before, when it really felt like you were trying to figure out every aspect of an alien civilization. No researching Alien Entertainment nowadays! There are a lot less alien encounters; compared to the first game, where you could regularly shoot down a UFO and send out a Skyranger at least once a week, it's not uncommon to have the better part of a month go by before there's an attack. And you can only have one encounter at a time, unlike before when, with a couple Skyrangers and a few squads of well-trained soldiers, you could be taking on two or even three crash sites consecutively. XCOM is a much smaller, more tightly focused game than its rather sprawling predecessor, for good and ill.

But with all its faults, it's still a really solid, really fun game. It's also more of a story of human resistance, with your base's chief scientist, engineer and operations officer discussing what they've learned and what their next objective should be. The cut scenes make XCOM feel like you're really participating in saving the world, though the few times those characters address you directly raise a host of questions about just what you, the Commander, are doing.

If you like turn-based, squad-level strategy and resource management games, you should pick up XCOM. It's a little thinner than the first game, but still miles ahead of most of what's out there these days, and it's streamlined enough that you can pick it up on the fly, though first-timers will still probably want to set the tutorial on for the first run-through.


It Never Ends, and Other Furmanisms

Cultural creations are inextricably products of their time. Let That Be Your Last Battlefield wouldn't have been thinkable a few decades earlier, and would've been considered hopelessly outdated a few decades later. Contemporary action-genre movies of the mid-to-late nineties, like Robocop and Predator II, were these bizarrely dystopian tales of the immediate future, which you could never get away with outside that bleak cinematic moment. But I don't think any other medium is quite as susceptible to the vagaries of time as comic books. The comics written in the Silver Age and the Dark Age couldn't have been written any other times; you couldn't have The Dark Knight Returns unless you already had Adam West dancing the Batusi, and you couldn't stick a skull on The Shadow's chest and call him The Punisher.

Which makes Transformers: Regeneration One: Volume One a slightly surreal reading experience.

Parts of it still fit normally with what's accepted as appropriate in a  modern Transformers comics, and modern comics in general. Indeed, much of the Cybertron-based plot is pretty clearly reflective of what's going on in a similar kind of situation in IDW's own Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye line. A disillusioned Optimus, at loose ends after the war's end. The attempt to integrate Autobots and Decepticons, undone by unrepentant and unreconstruced Decepticons. Key Autobot characters chafing under peace's demands, and setting off for adventure in the wider cosmos. Heck, the reappearance of Grimlock a few issues into the volume coincided with his and the other Dinobots' reappearance, after a three year absence, in the core IDW books; they called it 'Dinobot Month'.

But then, right there in the middle of it all, there's Berko, and the Cosmic Carnival. And you're like oh, right. Marvel's Transformers universe was weird.

Returning to that universe can be kind of hard, particularly after having read 'realistic' Transformers stories for so long. It has, after all, been twenty-one years since the last Marvel Transformers comic, '#80 in a 4-Issue Limited Series' as the cover so glibly put it, came out. There are committed TransFans running around today, who know everything firsthand about three completely distinct iterations of the franchise, who weren't even alive when this thing ended, nevermind when it began. And for those of us who did read it at the time, two decades of growth and change as readers makes it tricky to fall easily back into a world where Megatron and Ratchet are magically connected because of a transporter accident, and where something like the Neo-Knights still lingers in an otherwise superhero-free fictional universe.

So, it's weird, and it's heavily nostalgic. But is it actually any good? Honestly, only if you've followed the Marvel series, either during its original run or by picking up the reprinted trades IDW has put out. If you don't know about things like the Last Autobot, and Circuit Breaker, and the effects of Nucleon, and what the Ark is doing under a lake in the Canadian north-west, and the Underbase Saga, you are really not going to get a lot out of this. It relies to a huge extent on prior knowledge on the part of the reader, and while it's full of old Marvel-style asterisks pointing out what happened and what issue it happened in, that isn't a sufficient substitute for having read those issues yourself. It'd be like starting Star Wars with Return of the Jedi; sure, you could, but without two movies of sexual tension the Han-Leia relationship is going to be totally flat, and the Vader/Luke dynamic is going to be about as bad.

If you did read the old Marvel run, however, this is more of the same. Whether that's good or bad will depend on whether you prefer your Transformers dealing with the politics of post-war reconstruction and trying to rediscover their spiritual roots, or palling around with superheroes and hitching a ride on a Cosmic Carnival.

Me? I'll take one of each, please!


Everything Old is New Again

Behold, the cover of World's Finest #12, on sale May 1.

So, that lasted a year; longer than I'd actually expected it to.  And frankly, longer than it deserved to have lasted.  Power Girl's nu52 outfit was brutal, from her weird 70's hair to the bland white onesie to the loss of her boots.  And sadly, they changed her character just as badly.  Here's hoping the return of her old costume heralds a return of her old character!


Kanaan Cluster League: Round 3

Opponent: Space Marines
Deployment: Dawn of War
Mission: Crusade
Warlord: Strategic Genius

Unfortunately, I didn't catch my opponent's name this time around. Which is silly, because he was a damn nice fellow; speaks poorly of my manners for not formally introducing myself.

Anyway, round three, and my team had some ground to make up; we'd lost three of five matches last week, one of them for control of our spaceport. With it, we could attack almost any tile, regardless of whether we held the adjacent piece. Without it, we were at the mercy of a team that held three of four spaceports, the fourth sitting unclaimed to date. Unwilling to risk such an obvious tactical threat in the core of our territory, my Tau cadre paused its advance, and turned its full might on the single enemy tile in the heart of our gains.


Kanaan Cluster League: Round 2

Opponent: Trevor Engle (SM)
Mission: The Scouring (sort of)
Deployment: Vanguard Strike
Warlord: Princeps of Deceit

Can I just say, Princeps of Deceit is the worst?  If you're going second, it's actually, literally useless; it can't take you out of your deployment zone, and you can't use it to counter Infiltrators.  Seriously, this trait is awful.  I can not wait until the new Tau codex comes out and we get warlord trait tables that aren't mostly full of things that are actively working against the nature of the army.

There Is Such a Thing as Bad Publicity, Actually

This is disappointing, but hardly surprising.  According to The Popehat Signal, Games Workshop is in the process of bullying a self-published author.  MCA Hogarth's "Spots the Space Marine" has attracted the attention of GW's legal counsel, which has claimed trademark infringement and threatened, well, basically Exterminatus on her.  Nevermind that 'space marine' is a thoroughly generic term, used in a wide variety of situations, and in no way unique to Games Workshop's own Adeptus Astartes; when did a shaky basis to a questionable claim ever stop a large company from trying to intimidate smaller producers into giving up without a fight?

Emails encouraging GW to do the right thing can be sent to legal@gwplc.com, and GW can be reached on Twitter at VoxCaster. 

Whether a company that's consistently shot itself in the foot with regards to customer relations for years, however, will balk at a threatened boycott is anyone's guess...


Oh, You and Your Right-Angle Lasers

I'll admit up front, I never really got into the works of Leiji Matsumoto.  I watched Galaxy Express 999, but Space Battleship Yamato and Captain Harlock and his spinoffs just slipped by me somehow.  So, I'm not entirely versed on whether this is going to be true to whatever canon exists.

What I am entirely versed on, however, is that this looks amazing!  There is no anime movie I'm waiting for more than the next Rebuild of Evangelion, but this thing is a solid second, and making a respectable attempt to fight for first!  The style, the space battles, the swashbuckliness of it all, it just works so well even in a forty-six second trailer!

Space Pirate Captain Harlock is set to premiere in Japan later this year.


That's a Falling Solar Mirror, For the Record.

One of the nice things about getting into a series late is that the wait between the last book you read and the next book to come out is pretty short. Which is why, not long after thoroughly enjoying Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey, I found myself picking up its sequel, Caliban's War.

Like the first book, this one is just a monster of a tome. It's over six hundred pages long, which would be impressive enough on its own, but those pages are 6"x9", and there's not a lot of wasted margin, header or footer space. For the sheer amount of story they contain, each of these books could have been split in half as a standard mass-market paperback, and you would not have felt cheated.

Caliban's War picks up eighteen months after the conclusion of Leviathan Wakes. The protomolecule is still on Venus, and despite being watched by basically everyone and every institution with an even tangential interest in science, it's utterly inscrutable. In more mundane developments, the UN and Mars are both trying to hold on to Ganymede, breadbasket of the Outer Planets, and are about one sudden twitch away from an open shooting war. The Outer Planets Alliance, given at least some status at the end of the last book, has spent the intervening time establishing itself in its sphere of influence, minting money, directing relief supplies and keeping the peace. And with the only available warship in the area, the OPA has been turning to James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante to do just that. The fragile peace is shattered, however, when what looks like a protomolecule-based monster slaughters first a UN and then a Martian military outpost on Ganymede; with each side thinking the either has finally stepped over the line, the space forces start shooting, blasting each other to pieces and doing major damage to the infrastructure of Ganymede in the process.

This is about where Caliban's War introduces its new characters. Praxidike Meng, a botanical geneticist on Ganymede. Roberta 'Bobbie' Draper, a Martian Marine and sole survivor of the monster attack on Ganymede. And Chrisjen Avasarala, a high-ranking UN bureaucrat and something of a power behind the throne of the Secretary-General. When Meng's daughter is kidnapped, along with all the other children on Ganymede with a particularly rare genetic immune deficiency, just ahead of the monster attack that Bobbie barely survives, the story really gets started. Like Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War is about the way enough little things can trip up the biggest plans; one more missing child on collapsing, war-ravaged Ganymede might seem like nothing, but it's the loose thread that sends Holden and his people right back into the thick of things.

Caliban's War is a good read, but for all its heft it feels in some way insubstantial, particularly compared to its predecessor. Partly, it's a function of the placement of characters. With Holden and Miller in the first book, the viewpoint characters were always on the front lines of the story. It was a conspiracy story, so of course they didn't know everything, but it always felt like whatever was happening that was important, one of those two men were involved. Unrealistic for a story concerning the fate of the entire solar system? Oh, certainly. But narratively compelling. In this book, however, while Holden and Meng are pretty good at being front and centre, there are also major political and military actions taking place that they really play no part in. And Avasarala and Bobbie are even worse, frankly. Each spends about half the book spinning their wheels while the other is in their element, which makes their sections drag when they're out of place. Bobbie's adventures on Earth are interesting enough in their own right, but rarely relate to anything besides character building, while Corey makes the frankly insane choice to remove Avasarala from her spheres of political influence towards the last third of the book. It makes perfect sense on the part of the characters, but it kills most of her narrative momentum.  She's basically reduced to sending cryptic video letters to her allies and offering the odd bit of sage advice to the others, and it's a serious waste of an interesting and powerful character. On the other hand, without removing her from Earth, it would have been tough for Corey to link her into the main plot with Holden and Meng. In that case, though, perhaps Avasarala should have been redesigned earlier; replacing her with, say, the already space-based Admiral Souther might have gone a long way towards bringing home the immediacy of certain sections that otherwise fall a bit flat.

It might sound like I didn't enjoy this book; that could not be further from the truth. Caliban's War might not be as strong as Leviathan's Wake, but as I reached the end I understood why; Corey is writing a trilogy. The back of this book contains a small excerpt from Abaddon's Gate, and even from what little we see it's hard to imagine how this story could continue past that volume without radically, perhaps even fundamentally, changing its tone and focus. So, a trilogy. And what is always the weakest point of those? Yes, the middle book. Limited set-up, limited pay-off, because the former's all been done in book one and the latter's all being done in book three. Knowing that, being able to judge the book in context, I actually revised my opinion up a notch or two. All things being equal, Corey has pulled off this midway book quite nicely. If you enjoyed Leviathan Wakes, you should definitely enjoy Caliban's War.


Please Don't Have a 'Tweest!'...

After a rather long break from the genre, Will Smith will be returning to the silver screen this summer in After Earth.

After Earth looks solid enough. The aesthetics are nice; the near-organic look of Jaden Smith's outfit and weapon, combined with the Apple-ish free-floating displays and what appears to be either a robot or a small gunship firing some sort of energy weapon (at 1:48) make the point that yes, this is a scifi film. But the natural scenery looks good, too, and that's just as important. It feels, from an admittedly small sample, that this is going to be as much a spectacle as a story, and in that case getting good locations is so key. Would anyone have sat through ten hours of Lord of the Rings if Middle Earth looked like a one-lot sound stage?

As far as the actors, well, it looks like there's only two of them who really matter. Jaden Smith, who looks like he's going to be carrying most of the film on his lonesome, did good work in Karate Kid. When he's not being a mini-Will Smith circa Fresh Prince, he can hit a surprisingly wide range. Will, meanwhile, looks like he has a nice gravitas to him this time around. It's sort of reminiscent of his work in Ali and I Am Legend, and it's nice to see it on display here. It feels appropriate. And the 'youth cut off from technology and lost in the wilderness' theme is a classic for good reason; it works. If Jaden can sell his character's isolation, fear and determination, and I'm willing to lay at least even odds he can, then this could be a solid outing for both Smiths.

The only thing that really gives me pause here is the involvement of M. Night Shyamalan. The guy hasn't exactly been on a hot streak lately. While I've heard mixed reviews of Devil, looking back before that makes for bleak reading; The Last Airbender, The Happening, Lady in the Water. The Village was decent enough, but he hasn't had a real success since Signs, and that was a decade ago. Hopefully he's learned something from his failures. I'd like to say nobody would trust him to work with Will Smith if he didn't have some idea what he was doing, but Will's inclusion isn't necessarily an ironclad guarantee. We all remember the theatrical ending to I Am Legend, after all.

Also, I'm calling it right now; Will Smith dies before Jaden is rescued. And I wouldn't even be surprised if that voiceover was a recording he made for his son just before he kicks it from his injuries.


Kanaan Cluster League – Week 1

Opponent: Tyler (Dark Angels)
Mission: Purge the Alien
Deployment: Vanguard Strike:
Warlord Trait: Princeps of Deceit

10 x Tacticals w/Missile Launcher, Flamer
5 x Scouts w/4 x Sniper Rifles, Missile Launcher
5 x Deathwing Knights w/Perfidious Relic of the Unforgiven
5 x Deathwing Terminators w/Assault Cannon, 2 x Thunder Hammer/Storm Shields, Lightning Claws, Storm Bolter and Power Fist
5 x Deathwing Terminators w/Assault Cannon, 2 x Thunder Hammer/Storm Shields, Lightning Claws, Storm Bolter and Power Fist
Dreadnought w/Drop Pod

For the first game of the new league, I had my first fight against any of the 6th edition codexes. And against the most recent of them, too! I'd flipped through Codex: Dark Angels, so I had some idea of what to expect, but you never really know an army until you fight it on the battlefield.