Star Trek Discovery Episode 1

I’m not a Trekkie by any means. I’ve only watched about a season and a half of Next Generation, and none of the Original Series. Of what I’ve watched, most of that I’ve enjoyed, particularly the focus on ethical and cultural viewpoints. I’ve seen every Abrams movie, and enjoyed them for what they were – banal sci-fi that seems to miss the thrust of Roddenberry’s original vision, but manages to skate by on impressive visuals and an interesting universe. I’ve picked up most of my Star Trek knowledge through cultural osmosis, through podcasts and websites, RPG books and Reddit posts. But I’ve never been bored by a Star Trek property, and Discovery continues that trend.

**Spoilers for Episode 1 of Star Trek Discovery**

The first episode is fairly typical; we’re introduced to our protagonist, Michael Burnham, a half-human half-Vulcan First Officer who survived a Klingon attack as a child. Her ship encounters an unusual object in space, and she investigates. The object is an ancient, intricate structure – landing on it, she is ambushed by a Klingon in battle garb. She attempts to evade him and impales him on his weapon. She’s rescued. Humanity hasn’t encountered Klingons in a century, but upon focusing weapons on the object, a Klingon vessel uncloaks. The Discovery calls for backup – the Klingon object activates, sending an extremely powerful signal. Burnham calls her Vulcan teacher, who reveals the Vulcan strategy for establishing peaceful relations with the Klingons: attacking first, and annihilating them until the Klingons respected them. The captain insists they don’t attack first, Burnham attempts a mutiny (!), but too late – a Klingon fleet materializes.

The most unusual thing about this episode is the way in which Burnham chafes against Starfleet’s chain of command. Even Abram’s Kirk had more respect for the rigid procedure that defines Starfleet, albeit willing to turn around and do his best to subvert it. Burnham’s act of mutiny, Vulcan nerve-pinching the captain, is something I can’t imagine seeing in any other Star Trek film. The visuals are impressive, as always. Space looks beautiful, and the Klingon/human aesthetic is established early, the clean functional lines of the Discovery contrasting with the overly ornamental Klingon ship.

Nothing revolutionary, but perhaps evolutionary, depending on the direction that Netflix take the show from here. I really enjoyed the episodic nature of Next Gen; television sf often shines when introducing and exploring new ideas. New lifeforms, new ways of living, new cultural customs, and showing how humanity would deal with them. I hope they manage to focus on variety. The most interesting episodes were in the complex interplay between alien life, human ethics, and Starfleet policy, and I worry that the more cinematic focus may detract from that, just as it did in the films.

However, this first episode was compelling enough that I’m ready to boldly go where I haven’t gone before.

Thoughts on The Defenders


After the first season of Daredevil, I’ve been relatively all-in when it comes to Marvel and Netflix’s partnership. To me, that was the proof-of-concept for modern superhero television. It was equal parts character portraits and satisfying action setpieces. It didn’t pull its punches in terms of portraying violence but didn’t glorify in it. Every character felt well-rounded, and D’Onofrio’s Kingpin was possibly the best superhero villain on-screen.

Jessica Jones was the next logical step up, a deeply psychological show that again foregrounded characters and backgrounded action. Killgrave was, again, a brilliant villain. Jess is surrounded by interesting characters who manage to be more than their archetypes. Luke Cage, at least in retrospect, seemed to lean a little bit more on the action. The second half of the season, in particular, was weaker than previous outings. The death of Cottonmouth marked a shift in tone that I didn’t find as compelling. The Diamondback storyline’s focus on Luke’s individual limitations was less interesting than the focus on Luke’s social and emotional vulnerabilities in the first half. Daredevil season 2 had the same problem – The Punisher was a fascinating ‘villain’ for Matt to face, and their scenes together were a highlight. But I wasn’t convinced by the Hand storyline, and Elektra’s whole nihilistic violence thing seemed a bit too paper-thin.

I didn’t touch Iron Fist. There was enough of a critical malaise around it that I didn’t really feel it necessary, and Danny Rand has never been a draw for me in the comic book space. So this was my first taste of Jones’ portrayal, and I think they’ve handled it well. It’s clear that Rand is from a different part of the Marvel Universe than Jessica and Luke, a more mystical quasi-Eastern crime compared to their more-grounded storylines, but Daredevil provides a good moderating force.


I liked Sigourney Weaver. She set a tone for The Hand, and acted as a figurehead, but was relatively underused. And this is definitely a story about The Hand, and I understand the writer’s decision to use them as the uniting factor for The Defenders – they’re shadowy, they’re powerful, they have powers and guile that can match them. I loved Madam Gao’s appearances in Daredevil, and the hints that she was not what she seemed. But when you come face-to-face with the Hand, I think they lose a lot of their impact. Their menace is in their insidiousness first, their ninjas second. The idea of a band of five immortals who, since time immemoriam, have used humanity for their own gain sounds more exciting than it ends up actually being in The Defenders.

I think that the action scenes, while fun, tend to drift towards the forgettable; with so many heroes on screen, it becomes more about attrition rather than any actual stakes. Plus, Luke Cage. It’s hard to make fights interesting when one of the Defenders is essentially invulnerable. There are basically three options – another character has to be able to go toe-to-toe with him, he has to be distracted or removed from the fight, or his ‘weakness’ has to be the vulnerability of his teammates. I never really thought any of them were in serious jeopardy.

The best scenes of The Defenders were when the leads were interacting. There’s something particularly thrilling about comic book meet up events. Their characters track nicely with the four temperaments trope that’s familiar from everything from Ninja Turtles to Sex and the City. The way Luke tears down Rand’s mystical bullcrap and Jessica constantly questions the ridiculousness of their situation adds a layer of self-awareness. The writers know this is ridiculous. Marvel television up until this point has been relatively grounded, but it gets super ‘comic-book’ in The Defenders. Misty Knight, the detective who we first meet in Luke Cage, is constantly pointing out that the vigilante actions the Defenders take are risky, criminal, and endanger the lives of innocents. She’s right, because that’s what comic characters do, and in ink, most comic writers don’t have the space to portray the fallout.

It’s definitely worth watching for those moments. We’ve spent a long time with these characters struggling in relative isolation from other super-powered people. To see them meet, laugh, and work alongside each other is as exciting as it was in The Avengers. However, there’s not the space for the character work that was so compelling about earlier Marvel series.

Review: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

I came third in my first game of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), which is notable because I’ve never returned to those lofty peaks since. I’d seen some video of people playing, so I knew the basic gameplay loop. Drop from a plane onto an abandoned Soviet-era landscape, complete with brutalist apartments and windswept plains. Scrounge around for the weaponry and medical equipment scattered through farmhouses, lumber mills and bars, all the while dodging an ever-incroaching blue wall of death that drove me, and the other 99 players I was playing against, into the middle of the map. I met my end cowering the side of a small shack, with zero kills to my name.

I jumped back in after that and resolved to drop somewhere with more excitement. Really sink my teeth into how it felt to shoot a gun and respond to fire. I dropped on the roof of “the school”, a popular landmark that’s always a popular landing zone for players due to its density of lootable items.

Pictured: The school in the top-left has led to much anger

I made it all of three metres before a shot rang out and I dropped. Alright, well, I’d been prepared for that. I hadn’t been prepared for it the next three times, however, which nearly led to me chucking my computer monitor out the window.

PUBG is often an exercise in frustration; the annoyance that your killer just happened to be looking in the right direction, or the sinking feeling of dropping in the building next to somebody and realising the house contains no way for you to fight back. The nature of the blue circle adds yet another spin of randomness, particularly when you’re forced to leave the place you anticipated you’d be able to hole up for the rest of the match and run across four-hundred metres of open field, due to no fault of your own. But that randomness is also part of its hook. Truly no fight is the same, which is a welcome change from the recent shooters I’ve been playing. Too often in Battlefield 1 will I die to the same person five times over, because they’ve got an excellent angle and a superior position. In PUBG, you die, and you’re done – you head back to the lobby to get back in the plane to drop somewhere else, likely kilometres away from the last place you died.

Frustration also comes from the early-access nature of PUBG. There are bugs aplenty, and a recent update rendered the game unplayable for over 48 hours before the developer, Bluehole, issued a bugfix. Many a run has been ruined by hitting a slight bump in terrain and watching my car spiral into the air, gracefully flip, and explode, with me inside, or simply leaving me stranded with an encroaching blue circle and nowhere else to run. The game lacks some fundamental elements of FPS/3PS gameplay, most notably some sort of contextual climb to get over the low fences that populate PUBGs map. Such a system is forthcoming. But the game’s jankiness often falls into the background because of my engagement with the gameplay itself.

The game is equal parts mundanity and terror. The initial drop gives you some semblance of who you’ll be surrounded by, enemy players visible in the distance, or circling underneath you, already with the time advantage when it comes to snatching that first (and likely, only) gun that spawns in the village below. After about three minutes, however, even that vague certainty disappears. Any building you approach could have somebody hiding in it, who knows that a shotgun, a bathroom, and patience is an easier way of gathering equipment than sprinting from house to house. The sound of a car in the distance, and its slow increase in volume as it gets closer and closer, is intimidating, and each gunshot in your direction is disorienting. However, there are often long moments of silence, broken only by the distant noise of gunfire or the sound of the air-drop plane that contains extremely deadly weaponry if you can fight through the stream of people heading towards it. I’ve had minutes of running or driving across fields and mountains, but that travel time doesn’t feel wasted like it does in an MMO. Every second I live, I get closer to winning, as the player count dwindles in the top-right corner.

The best way to punctuate those moments of silence is to play with friends. PUBG can be played solo, as a pair against other pairs, or in squad play, where people could be playing alone, or with up to three others. The game changes with cooperative partners – a knockdown mechanic means it’s easier to risk your life to reveal a final enemy of another squad, as long as you have the resources to get up and running again. More eyes can be pointed in more directions, so ambushes are less likely, provided everyone is paying attention.


The Bunker – I’d never drop here solo, but with friends, it’s a worthwhile risk.

There’s a sense of whimsy to multiplayer PUBG, a different mindset that I enter, where everything has slightly lower stakes. Until the endgame, however. Those last frantic moments where the circle begins shrinking to mere metres are much more tense with three others watching your every move. But that just makes it all the sweeter when you manage to pull off a win, with the whoops and cheers of your teammates filling your ears. The relatively short gameplay time compared to other competitive games with friends (looking at you, Dota 2) means a victory never feels like a slog It’s the same thrilling sensation of winning a game of sport. It’s true that most games are more fun with friends, but PUBG with people is almost a completely different game.

Both those games – individual play, tense 1v1 battles, free-for-all skirmishes, or cooperative gunslinging, re-enacting the best parts of Saving Private Ryan or other war movies – are extremely compelling. I’ve put over 150 hours into PUBG, and feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. As long as the developers continue to fix the rampant bugs and develop the game’s fledgeling systems, I can see it being around for years to come.


Review: Going Postal



I’ve read Going Postal by Terry Pratchett five or six times. Every time I find something new to laugh at, and that speaks to both the comic density of Pratchett’s work and its effectiveness.

For people who have always felt daunted by the idea of Pratchett’s Discworld, I’d suggest this is an ideal second outing. I think most readers should start with one of the Rincewind novels; I started with Interesting Times, but you can always go back and start with The Colour of Magic to really get a taste for its roots. However, if this is your first Discworld entry, I don’t think you miss much – Pratchett doesn’t waste time trying to relay the entire back stories of characters from other Discworld books who pass in and out of the narrative of Going Postal.

And what a narrative it is. It’s a story that would be at home in any more mundane fantasy work – a criminal is given the choice of death or public service, chooses to live, and eventually begins to find themselves in their work in a way they never had in their criminal career. It’s not an innovative story on the face of it, but the way that Pratchett works those well-worn tropes is where the magic happens.

The threats that face the unfortunately-named Moist von Lipwig (“pronounced Lipvig, you moron.”) are largely mundane. The Post Office he has been entrusted to steward wasn’t attacked by an ancient being or corrupted from within by Gods – it simply grew too large, too unwieldy, and the private sector drove it out of business. “The clacks” are a series of semaphore towers, linked in chains, that allow the quick transmission of information. Here, Pratchett delivers the fantasy version of the telegram or the early computer – without magic.

One of the things I love about Discworld is that it’s ever-changing. Most fantasy worlds are stagnant from a technological point of view – magic has either replaced most mundane tasks or remains completely inaccessible. Peasants are still farming in fields for thousands of years. News travels by horse and cart. Not so, in Discworld. Not only is this a boring trope, it’s unrealistic – people don’t rest content at their current level of technology. People strive to make their everyday life easier. Half the fun of Going Postal is watching how Pratchett brings new ‘inventions’ to life in a fantasy context. Going Postal features the creation of the stamp, for example, inspired by Von Lipwig’s previous life as a forger.

It’s very possible to argue that Going Postal, seen from a distance, is actually the story of the inadequacies of market forces. “The clacks” have no soul. They’re good at relaying short pieces of information, quickly, across long distances, but they’re expensive. Even more so, now that The Grand Trunk Semaphore Company has quickly formed a monopoly on service.

Going Postal doesn’t innovate in the plot department. Von Lipwig consistently outsmarts his opposition – but that’s what we expect from stories about intelligent people surrounded by incompetence. He’s the Sherlock of the Disc. He’s genre-savvy – if not breaking the fourth wall, then certainly winking at it. But Pratchett’s prose and his subversion and uptake of popular fantasy tropes make this a book I’ll always revisit. Pratchett’s work is always extremely readable, laden with dialogue that keeps things moving, but also leaving space for introspection.

“They’d saved the city with gold more easily, at that point, than any hero could have managed with steel. But, in truth, it had not exactly been gold, or even the promise of gold, but more like the fantasy of gold, the fairy dream that the gold is there, at the end of the rainbow, and will continue to be there forever—provided, naturally, that you don’t go and look. This is known as Finance.”

There are small asides like this throughout most of Pratchett’s work, and they serve to inject the narrative with meaning beyond the simple events. They’re also usually very funny. It’s hard to emphasise how funny Going Postal is – of course, your mileage might vary, but simply the wide variety of jokes will ensure that something will probably land. There are puns and wordplay, there’s sarcasm, there’s dramatic irony and humorous similes. As corny as it is to say, I read this book with a smile on my face. I can’t help but feel the same joy Pratchett must have felt in writing it.

Going Postal is set in a fantasy universe – but its subject matter is thoroughly modern. It’s the story of a public servant outsmarting greedy capitalists, it’s a redemption story, it’s a story about the interaction between new and old technologies. Read if you love the idea of fantasy with a twist, or intelligent humour. It’s worth every sentence.

“Nevertheless, he picked up a piece of smashed chair. It had splintered nicely. And the nice thing about a stake through the heart was that it also worked on non-vampires.”


Review: False Gods

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McNeill’s False Gods is still compelling but suffers from middle-book syndrome

The momentum from Horus Rising carried me through the first third of Graham McNeill’s False Gods. The novel hits the ground running, jumping immediately into another unheard-of risk to the burgeoning Imperium of Man – rebellion. One of the planetary governors left by Horus, Eugan Temba, has betrayed him, falling under the sway of the tribes that live on the moon of Davin. McNeill wastes no time dropping the Sons of Horus on Davin’s Moon, where they confront forces of Chaos for the first time – undead corpses animated by Temba. Their voice communications are haunted by another voice, but in a cute twist, this is an actual transmission – from Temba’s crashed flagship.

The Luna Wolves fight their way to the ship, and Horus elects to enter the ship himself, while half the Sons of Horus wait outside to hold off the undead horde. While the combat sequences against the undead are well-written, it often feels like busy work, as the real task is taking place inside the ship.

Horus confronts Temba and takes a mortal wound – from a xeno weapon that’s theft had been the impetus for the war in Horus Rising. This is, by my reckoning at least, the first chapter where Horus has been the narrator. I’m torn – on the one hand, it was interesting to see McNeil try to envision the thoughts of a primarch, and Horus most of all. On the other, it does remove a little of the mystery about him. No longer is he a figure from afar because we’ve seen things directly from his point of view. The weapon was stolen by Erebus, a Word Bearer Marine who has been slinking around for several chapters being generally noxious and placed in the hands of the mutated Temba.

Horus Rising was so compelling for me, as someone who already knows the outcome of events, but here it feels limiting. I would much prefer to be ignorant as to the ultimate fate of Horus – but, knowing what I know, it’s obvious that he survives. The middle part of the book is devoted to Horus’ recovery. The Lodge elects to send him to a temple to be healed by occult magic, without input from Loken or Torgaddon. I liked McNeill’s Torgaddon more than Abnett’s – it might just be because of how the plot has progressed, but he was trying less constantly to be funny and, thus, became more of a well-rounded character. We get more characterisation of Abaddon as well, the oldest member of the Mournival, Horus’ informal advisory council. Here, the cracks in the Imperium are played out on a small scale, and by midway through False Gods, the Mournival is fractured, possibly beyond any hope of repair.


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A shrine-world devoted to worshipping the Emperor (source: 40K Wiki)

There’s an extended sequence of Horus in what at first seems like a dream, but we later learn is a vision of the future. Erebus has also been inserted into the dream and disguised as one of Horus’ old comrades, shows him the future of the Imperium. They visit a shrine-world, showing the worship of the Emperor – but not Horus. They then visit the Emperor’s secret laboratory under the Himalayas where the primarchs themselves were built.


While Horus’ horrified reactions to the future of the 40k-universe are amusing for veterans, I felt like I would have appreciated this extended sequence more if I knew nothing about 40,000. Horus’ decision to betray the Emperor is seen as a huge, momentous occasion – which it is, within the novel. But as a reader who’s already aware of it, too much time was devoted to the dream-sequence.

Much more interesting is the first manifestation, directly, of the Emperor’s divine will. A remembrancer named Euphrati Keeler encounters a Chaos beast that was accidentally summoned on board the flagship, and she directly channels the Emperor, banishing the beast into the Warp. The slow emergence and development of the Cult of the Emperor throughout the novel is a highlight; it delivers for old fans of 40k in a way the Horus storyline doesn’t. It doesn’t show what we know to happen – it shows what we don’t know, further building the foundations of the universe.

The book ends with Horus attacking another civilisation of mankind that bears a remarkable resemblance to the Imperium – because they have ancient manufacturing technology that Horus covets. Horus convenes his trusted advisors and announces his intentions to overthrow the Emperor.

I enjoyed False Gods, but in many ways, it suffers from the middle-novel syndrome that often captures trilogies. Threads of the plot are resolved, new threads are opened – but there’s not a huge sense of payoff at the end of it. Which is understandable – the best middle novels in trilogies are the ones that focus on building character and the world, spinning enough plates so that when the end-game comes, everything can harmonise properly. In that respect, False Gods succeeds. I only wish there’d been more worldbuilding beyond building towards Horus’ (for 40K readers, at least) inevitable betrayal.

Walkaway Review: Dense but Dull


I wanted to love Walkaway. The elevator pitch sold me – an extrapolation of current events that lead to the last dying gasps of capitalism. The emergence of an underclass no longer tied to labour, and how technology could enable us to move beyond the wealth gap. Post-scarcity. The Singularity. All sf concepts that I love to read about and see examined.

And Walkaway has ideas in spades. In fact, I think that one of the main problems is there’s simply too much going on. There are too many ideas, and too much plot happening to allow those ideas to be fully explored. In the first half of the novel, each scene seems devoted to explaining and positioning a particular technology, or way of thinking, or simple exposition and world building. And sf novels have done this to great effect – Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy is full of chapters which are solely expository, and Neal Stephenson often devotes pages and pages to developing a particular concept. But here, it’s clunkily integrated around the plot, and it does a disservice to both elements.

We’re introduced to Hubert Vernon Rudolph Clayton Irving Wilson Alva Anton Jeff Harley Timothy Curtis Cleveland Cecil Ollie Edmund Eli Wiley Marvin Ellis Espinoza, whose absurdly long name was a protest move by his parents to make his name unsearchable in databases, and his friend Seth, who has dragged him along to a ‘Communist party’ in an abandoned manufacturing plant. They meet the organiser, Natalie, who is a ‘zotta’ – the term in-universe for the ultra-rich 0.1%-ers who profit while everyone drifts closer to poverty.

I need to stop for a minute because the use of terms like ‘zotta’ and ‘pwned’ really threw me off. Zotta is a terrible word. Every time I read it (and it recurs, rearing its ugly head again and again) I never lost the internal eye-roll. I don’t know what would have been wrong with something like one-percenters – possibly Doctorow wanted to try something novel. It didn’t work. And that’s quite apart from the ‘hacker culture’ terms that recur like ‘pwned’ and ‘owned’, words which feel dated now, and are presumably being used by these individuals living at least fifty years in the present. Most of the dialogue in the book reads like this, apart from in some of the Socratic-debate sequences. Which are great to read as Socratic debates, about the best way to build a post-capitalist society. But not as dialogue in a novel.

And the clunky dialogue coupled with the exposition dumps mean that the characters feel less like real people, and more like sock puppets, representing particularly ideological viewpoints, or varying levels of experience with a particular concept – “walkaway”, “uploading”, “deadheading”, ideas about ownership and the distribution of labour, reward structures. The veteran walkaway who takes the three ‘newbs’ under her wing, Limpopo, is particularly guilty of this. She’s the main source of exposition, and it makes her feel extremely flat. This is something that LeGuin’s The Dispossessed, another sf novel about post-capitalism, does extremely well – the characters have a view, but they are not solely that view. The society they inhabit is explained by the way the characters act and think – not by what they say to one another.

Which isn’t to say that the things they say aren’t interesting. There are great ideas here, particularly around technology, and I particularly appreciate the way Doctorow presents the use of technology. Technology use is intrinsically ideological, and Walkaway displays that throughout. It’s how you choose to use the technology that matters, that distinguishes the corpo-fascism of the ‘default’ world from the neo-communism of walkaway. Doctorow’s conception of AI is also fascinating – the consciousnesses that get uploaded are regulated to separate the instances of yourself that couldn’t cope with being uploaded. But too often the interesting ramifications of this are sidelined in the interest of moving the plot along.

The pace never lets up until the time skip near the end of the novel; the characters are always on the run, someone is always about to die. I would have appreciated more room for the ideas to breathe, and characters to develop. I also feel some of that room could have been reclaimed from the overt sexual interludes throughout. I understand wanting to explore the sexuality of characters and examine sex in walkaway. But it feels misplaced – without actual character building in-between, they do little to develop the characters. I encountered the longest sex scene I’ve read (outside of erotica), which was immediately followed by another critique of the welfare state and capitalism. Which I had heard before, from a different character, two hundred pages ago, and I agreed with it then.

It’s not a difficult read, apart from the cringe-worthy dialogue. But at the end of it all, I don’t think the interesting ideas that Doctorow introduces are necessarily worth wading through the text to get to. Which is a real shame, because the issues it touches on of the increasing wealth gap, the development of technology, and the paranoia of capitalists are valuable, and the kind of subject matter I love in modern sf. ButWalkaway‘s clunky prose and dull characters overshadow its potential.

Review: Horus Rising

The fictional universe of Warhammer 40,000 has always intrigued me. It’s bombastic and self-aware in ways that most sci-fi I’ve read isn’t. It’s a universe of constant misery and suffering. Humanity isn’t even the ‘good guys’, by all accounts. It coined the term ‘grimdark’, which has since been coopted by mainstream criticism and becoming its own ‘genre’ of fantasy. Game of Thrones is often described as such.

Here it is in its original context:

To be a man in such times is to be one amongst untold billions. It is to live in the cruelest and most bloody regime imaginable. These are the tales of those times. Forget the power of technology and science, for so much has been forgotten, never to be relearned. Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future there is only war. There is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods.

Hell of an opening statement.

I’ve read my way around the edges. I’ve read Dan Abnett’s Gaunt’s Ghosts, about the Imperial Guard, the functional equivalent of the Army in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and also Eisenhorn, who is an Inquisitor, responsible for investigating heresy and ‘xeno’ threats to the Imperium of Man. I’ve watched some painfully long YouTube videos and read some intricate wiki pages. Warhammer 40,000 has a lot of moving pieces – not least because each moving piece is reflected in a product you can buy, paint, and play a wargame with.

horus rising cover.jpg

Horus Rising is set in the 40k universe, but 10,000 years in the past. Which might make you think that it would be a good (to borrow a tortured marketing phrase) “onboarding” moment, a jumping-off point. And it does that well, but the true glee in Horus Rising is how Abnett slowly begins laying the dominoes for the eventual future of the fictional universe. A reader approaching 40K for the first time misses these small moments and would take less away from the experience.

Horus Rising opens with a scene-setting exposition dump that is typical of most of the Warhammer books I’ve read. I’m torn on these scene-setting passages. I often think that a book should be able to do the work of world building and scene setting within the narrative itself and that it’s lazy to simply write a few paragraphs of backstory.  On the other, I recognise that the author doesn’t want to waste pages letting narrative details unfold organically when an expository paragraph would be simpler. It works here, I think, although that might be because I’m used to it in 40K fiction.

The first act introduces us to Horus. He’s a primarch, one of the Emperor’s ‘children’, genetically engineered to peak physical and mental fitness. He’s also the Warmaster – the Emperor has returned to Terra and left Horus in charge of the entire Crusade. He also leads a Legion of Space Marines called, at this time, the Luna Wolves. We’re also introduced to the remembrancers – civilians who are gifted in the arts who accompany the Expeditions to catalogue their work.

Their work is simple. They expand outwards into uncharted space. They encounter three things – empty worlds ripe for plunder or settlement, worlds inhabited by aliens here called ‘xenos’, or worlds inhabited by branches of humanity that had been separated from Terra. They secure the empty worlds and eliminate the xenos, intelligent or otherwise. The latter problem is more slippery, though. Some of the separated worlds are happy to be inducted into the Imperium. Some are cowed by the Imperium’s strength. Others aren’t too keen on these secular crusaders showing up, declaring all religion a lie, burning their temples and demanding they accept reunification.

This is where Horus Rising opens. The Expedition encounters a belt of worlds unified under one man, calling himself ‘The Emperor’, who demands they swear fealty to his Imperium. The irony is palpable, and that’s an underlying theme throughout the text. The Emperor demands secularism; but already a cult of personality has developed, who read from the ‘Lectio Divinitatus’ which extolls the Emperor as a god. A remembrancer walks among the conquered, and no longer feels inspired – he realises the frailty of the Imperium.

In the tail of the first act, the leader of the Tenth Company, Loken, quashes the last pocket of resistance – but at a cost. He witnesses one of his loyal soldiers kill another Marine, which is meant to be impossible. Further impossible is how his flesh twists and distends into a foul, daemonic creature, that takes many men to bring down. There are no such things as daemons – except there are, as Loken learns from Horus. It’s kept secret, but the warp, the dimension humanity’s fleets use to travel faster-than-light, is filled with malicious creatures. It’s kept a secret to not scare the civilians and dishearten the troops. Another secret that festers within the Imperium of Man.

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Ship Emerges from Warp (Artist: Columbussage)

Horus Rising continues in this fashion. We learn more about the universe of 30K, and surrounding that are chapters of Space Marines in combat. The prose is compelling – Abnett’s action is short, punchy, and gore-filled. Heads are ripped off and gouts of blood spread. It’s grimdark, after all. But it contrasts nicely with the political manoeuvring and intrigue in the slower-paced chapters, and it kept me barreling through the novel – even going so far as to put it on my phone, to continue reading.

Horus Rising forms a trilogy, with False Gods and Galaxy in Flames. But while there’s no ‘final resolution’, I didn’t walk away unsatisfied. For new readers to Warhammer, Horus Rising is intriguing. There’s the sense that something isn’t quite right in this utopian version of humanity. But it’s also, technically, ‘Golden-Age’ sci-fi, where things are on the upswing – something that rarely happens in sci-fi these days. It’s pre-apocalyptic, or maybe just apocalyptic. It’s also compelling military sci-fi in itself, and Abnett is a master at writing military scenes that draw me in, with the right sense of pace and the right weightiness. For 40K aficionados, Horus Rising reinforces the grand tragedy of the Imperium of Man and reveals a human dimension to characters that had previously been relegated to history books.

Worth reading if you like soft military sci-fi, or have any interest at all in Warhammer 40,000.

Family Guy

We currently rest in a climate of uncertainty. Whether it is the looming spectre of Trump’s administration, the war in Syria that continues to claim countless lives, or Australia’s new Health Minister advocating the American healthcare model, it’s not surprising that most us turn to the comfort of television. We’re officially in “peak TV”, after all, and the onslaught of new fictional content to consume tracks quite nicely with the increasing noise in our lives born by an increasingly interconnected world.

We are lucky that we have escapist period pieces like The Crown and Outlander, or socially conscious sitcoms like Master of None and Blackish. The grand fantasy of Game of Thrones draws hundreds of thousands each season, keen to watch over Tyrion’s shoulder as he delivers yet another fabulous quip or watch Jon Snow die, again, probably, maybe on a dragon. Animated comedies such as Family Guy have an abs-

Sorry, Family GuySeth McFarlane’s Family Guy? They’re still making that show?

Scrolling through my viewing options last night I saw the whole Family™ and was struck by a feeling I’ve come to call nostalassment; one part nostalgia for the things I used to love, two parts embarrassment that I used to get in heated classroom arguments over its virtues and biting satire.

My relationship with Family Guy begun after its 2009 cancellation and renewal, which while being a relatively inspiring story of the passion of fans and creators, says nothing about the series itself, which I remember as being crass, “un-PC” and, yes, hilarious. I loved the first five seasons of Family Guy. I would rewatch episodes to where I knew every cutaway gag. I bought the guide to the first three seasons. I was fourteen at the time if that’s any consolation, and as I matured I found myself laughing less. I dropped the show, and in my Narcissan ways assumed that the rest of the world had as well.

Not so, dear reader.

I watched the latest episode of Family Guy. I didn’t do what I normally do with new sitcoms – watch the first episode, and then watch the most critically acclaimed episode of that season – to ease in. I watched the first one that I was pointed at.

Whoo, boy. That was something, I’ll tell you what.

I watched episode 11 of season 15 (15!) of Family Guy, which I retroactively discovered was titled ‘Gronkowsbees’. If you know anything about American football (I don’t) it’s clear that this title is a very amusing pun on famous Patriots player Rob Gronkowski’s name. It’s a very clear signpost for the episode’s content, particularly if your idea of a very clear signpost is a huge neon sign saying “Shit”.

The episode opens with “the guys” – Peter, Joe, Quagmire, and Cleveland, sitting in The Drunken Clam and watching football. So Cleveland is back now, I guess? The Cleveland Show is yet another sitcom spin-off consigned to the pits of mediocrity, along with Joey, Top of the Heap, and The Love Boat: The Next Wave? Also, two out of three of those examples star Matt LeBlanc, so I’d be eyeing the American Top Gear with scepticism.

Anyway, the show lasts about thirty seconds before Quagmire insists the bartender change the TV to ‘The Bone Zone’, which shows ‘every sex scene on television but without dialogue or plot’. Cut to a man sitting at a newscaster’s desk who quickly makes a gag about not showing the audience Girls‘ Gaby Hoffmann because of how many viewers they lost. Finish with a cutaway of Peter having “breakfast in bread”.

Peter Griffin is encased in a loaf of bread eating breakfast.
Lois’ expression mirrors my own.

Well, I don’t know what I expected. Open with an extremely unfunny pun, continue with some hurtful insults and finish with a ‘random’ cutaway. Exchange these three elements from scene to scene, vary the characters and the number of elements, and you’ve essentially made your own Family Guy episode, at least from what I saw in this episode. This wasn’t an “event” episode that the show had started doing around about the time I stopped watching – Stewie and Brian go back in time, Stewie and Brian travel the multiverse, Stewie and Brian get pizza, etc. I genuinely enjoyed the conceit, if not the execution, of those episodes – it’s something that Rick and Morty takes, makes their own, and leaves every other animated comedy in the dust with. But this was a run-of-the-mill episode, by all accounts.

The B-plot features Stewie and Brian investing in an artisanal honey business, which leads to a funny (yes, I’ll admit, it was funny) scene where Stewie sells his honey to the gullible crowd; “say ‘anything-to-anything’ & people lose their minds”. But the episode spends about two-thirds of its length on jokes at Gronkowski’s expense; it’s like they picked the stereotype of ‘football player meathead’ and built an episode around it.

There were ten cutaway gags, which seemed low – but the show only runs for twenty minutes. So roughly one every two minutes. Roughly five jokes that were varying degrees of offensive depending on your sensibilities – possibly more that I didn’t pick up on. Example A: A black man stands in a farmer’s market and asks if it is some sort of “vegetable parking lot”. It’s not just that the jokes are offensive (though they are), they also just seem so lazy. That’s the danger of the stereotype-reliant joke.

That’s not to say there weren’t funny moments. There were some. But few and far between, and not really worth the effort. Like, say, if you found a ten dollar note but it was covered in dog vomit. Sure, you got something for nothing – but at the end of the day, you had to handle dog vomit to get there, and what you got wasn’t even that valuable. It’s clear there are some writers working on the show who see its potential, but after fifteen seasons, the show probably isn’t acquiring many new viewers. There are expectations to uphold, after all.

Sadly I won’t be coming back to Family Guy, although I may check in here and there. Nothing quite reminds you what you like about television than something you don’t – or, even better, something you did like, but don’t anymore.