Friday, 23 February 2018

Frank Frazetta Scene - FQ Book 6 Canto 8

A strange long Canto. The first half deals with the Mirabella situation, the second half is a really creepy, pervy, sexy, violent not-specifically-racist but still racist-feeling Robert E. Howard short story.

These two things do not go together. They are, however, both quite fun.

Lets begin;

(I'm just going to bomb through a lot of this as its 50 verses long.)

"Ye gentle Ladies, in whose soveraine powre
Love hath the glory of his kingdom left,
And th'hearts of men, as your eternall dowre,
In yron chaines, of liberty bereft,
Delivered hath into your hands by gift;
Be well aware, how ye the same doe use,
That pride doe not to tyrrany you lift;
Least if men you of cruelty accuse,
He from you take that chiefdome, which ye doe abuse."

eh

Mirabella feels very sad aboout Tiamas being tied up. Lucky for you Mirabella, you are about to run into Prince Arthur (the original) and he is not only a verifiable super-hero, but he's really into that squire.

Arthur is with Sir Enias, the Knight who's friend he killed a Canto back and who he has instantly redeemed from being a dirtbag just by hanging out with him, because Arthur practically gives off Pure Chivalric Radiation, if he bites you you gain all the powers of a Knight.

Tiamas is too ashamed of his situation to even look up but Enias doesn't like what he sees;



".. See you Sir Knight,
The greatest shame that ever eye yet saw?
Yond Lady and her Squire with foule despight
Abusde, against all reason and all law,
Without regard of pitty or of awe?"

So he starts a pretty awesome fight scene, beginning with some excellent chivalric smack talk;

"Abide ye caytive treachetours untrew,
That have with treason thralld unto you
These two, unworthy of your wretched bands;
And now your crime with cruelty pursew.
Abide, and from them lay your loathly hands;
Or else abide the death, that hard before you stands.

The villaine stayd not aunswer to invent,
But with his yron club preparing way,
His mindes sad message backe unto him sent:"

I love this shit.

Enias manages to slip past the strike and 'with his sharpe sword he fiercely at him flew' and draws blood. But unfortunately, first blood in Spenser only pisses off the receiver and gives them extra hit points and the gyant hits him so hard that;

"He driven was to ground in self despight;
From whence ere he recovery could gaine,
he in his necke had set his foote with fell disdaine."

And then he gets bound up right alongside Tiamas. Arthur, of course, is not happy about this, and attacks himself. Distain counters with an anime weapon-spinning display;

"The villaine leaving him unto his mate,
To be capti'd, and hadled as he list,
Himselfe addrest unto this new debate,
And with his club him all about so blist,
That he which way to turne him scarcely wist:
Sometimes aloft he layd, sometimes alow;
Now here, now there, and oft him neare he mist;
So doubtfully, that hardly one could know
Whether more wary were to give or ward the blow."

Arthur is too fly to fall for this and eventually Distain decides to go for the old Spencerian/Anime standby - the fight-ending super-mega-strike.

"His dreadfull hand he heaved up aloft,
And with his dreadfull instrument of yre,
Through sure have pownded him to powder soft,
Or deep embowled in the earth entyre:"

Wait for it..

"But Fortune did not with his will conspire."

Arthur ducks underneath 'And smote him on the knee, that never yet was bent.'

"It never yet was bent, ne bent it now,
Albe the stroke so strong and pussiant were,
That seem'd a marble pillour it could bow,
But all that leg, which did his body beare,
It crackt throughout, yet did no bloud appeare;"

I think this means that Distain is so distainful that he can't kneel, or even bend his knee, as in submit to someone, ever.

Still, he cannot stand, and Arthur rushes in for a decapitaion strike. But Mirabelle cries out;

"Slay not that Carle, though worthy to be slaine:
For more on him doth then him selfe depend;
My life will by his death have lamentable end."

Dun dun duuuuunnnn.

"Then bursting forth in teares, which gushed fast
Like many water streames, a while she stayd;
Till the sharpe passion being overpast,
Her tongue to her restord,"

Then we get the story. Arthur is unsympathetic. We get some stuff about the ladies previously unmentioned bottle and wallet being for her tears and her repentance respectively.

Distain gets up, helped by the Fool;

"But being up. He lookt againe aloft,
As if he never had received fall;
And with sterne eye-browes stared at him oft,
As if he would have daunted him with all:
And standing on his tiptoes, to seeme tall,
Downe on his golden feet he often gazed,
As if such pride the other could apall;
Who was so far from being ought amazed,
That he his lookes despised, and his boast dispraized."

I just love Distain in any of his incarnations.

Arthur lets the captives go, including Tiamas;

"It was his owne true groome, the gentle Squire,
He thereat wext exceedingly astound,
And him did oft embrace, and oft admire,
Ne could with seeing satisfie his great desire."

I mean come the fuck on.

The Salvage Man sees the 'huge great foole opressing th'other Knight,' and

"He flew upon him like a greedy kight
Unto some carrion offered to his sight,
And downe him plucking, with his nayles and teeth
Gan him to hale, and teare, and scratch, and bite:
And from him taking his owne whip, therewith
So sore him scourgeth, that the bloud downe followeth."

Mirabella drags him off the Scorne-Fool and tells Arthur that she has to complete her quest before she can be free and that this quest involves these two ding-dongs.

"But Arthure with the rest, went onward still
On his first quest, in which did him betide
A great adventure, which did him from them devide."

And that's the last we will see of Arthur in this book and in the Faerie Queene. Wandering off with Tiamas, Enias and his Salvage Man. Wave goodbye everybody.


..........................

Now shit gets freaky;

What has happened to Serena? Well, on seeing Tiams get teken down and tied up by the supporting cast of a Spawn comic, she has 'fled fast away, afeared Of villany to be to her inferd:'

"So fresh the image of her former dread,
Yet dwelling in her eye, to her appeared,
That every foote did tremble, which did tread,
And every body two, and two she foure did read."

She flees 'Through hills & dales, through bushes & through breres' and alights from her horse, sits down, and, not unreasonably; 'her selfe a while bethought Of her long travell and turmoyling paine; And often did of love, and oft of lucke complaine.'

"And evermove she blamed Calepine," untill eventually she falls asleep. And of course things are about to get worse for Serena.

"In those wylde deserts, where she now abode,
There dwelt a slavage nation, which did live
Of stealth and spoile, and making nightly rode
Into their neighbours borders; ne did give
Them selves to any trade, as for to drive
The painfull plough, or catell for to breed,
Or by adventrous marchandize to thrive;
But on the labours of poore men to feed,
And serve their owne necessities with others need.

Thereto they usde one most accursed order,
To eate the flesh of men, whom they mote fynde,
And straungers to devoure, which on their border
Were brought be error, or by wreckfull wynde.
A monstrous cruelty gainst course of kynde."

So non-agricultural, non-producing thieves, raiders and cannibals. It's interesting to see this negative-image of positive civilisation in its popular culture proto-form (and, as a dirtbag 21stC extruded cultural product I do find the Faerie Queene more interesting as popular culture than as high culture).

"Soone as they spide her, Lord what gladfull glee
They made amongst them selves; but when her face
Like the faire yvory shining they did see,
Each gan his fellow solace and embrace,
For joy of such good hap by heavenly grace.
Then gan they to devize what course to take:
Whether to slay her there upon the place,
Or suffer her out of her sleepe to wake,
And then her eate attonce; or many meales to make."

Eventually they decide to let her sleep to keep the meat tender, then sacrifice her to their God and 'make a common feast' of her.

"So round about her they them selves did place
Upon the grazze, and diversely dispose,
As each thought best to spend the lingring space.
Some with their eyes the daintest morsels chose;
Some praise her paps, some praise her lips and nose;
Some whet their knives, and strip their elbows bare:
The Priest him selfe a garland doth compose
Of finest flowres, and with full busie care
His bloudy vessels wash; and holy fire prepare."

Eventually Serena wakes up, sees whats going on, screams 'where none is nigh to heare, that will her rew' and 'rends her golden locks, and snowy brests embrew'.

If you were disliking the creep levels so far, stop reading now.

"But all bootes not: they hands upon her lay;
And first they spoile her of her jewls deare,
And afterwards of all her rich array;
The which amongst them they in peeces teare,
And of the pray each one a part doth beare.
Now being naked, to their sordid eyes
The goodly threasures of nature appeare:
Which as they view with lustfull fantasyes,
Each wisheth to him selfe, and to the rest envyes.

Her yvorie necke, her alabaster brest,
Her paps, which like white silken pillowes were,
For love in soft delight thereon to rest;
Her tender sides, her bellie white and clere,
Which like an Altar did it selfe uprere,
To offer sacrifice divine thereon;
Her goodly thighes, whopse glorie did appeare
Like a triumphall Arch, and thereupon
The spoiles of Princes hang'd, which were in battel won.

Those dantie parts, the dearlings of delight,
Which mote not be prophan'd of common eyes,
Those villaines vew'd with loose lacivious sight,
And closely tempted with their craftie spyes;
And some of them gan mongst themselves sevise,
Thereof by force to take their beastly pleasure."

But their cannibal priest says they can't, becasue they are feeding her to god before they feed her to themselves.

Now we cut to when 'Eventyde His brode black wings had through the heavens wyde'. Serena is on an altar, the Priest 'Approaching nigh, and murdrous knife well whet. Gan mutter close a certain secret charme,'

Walter Craine finally drawing the pervy kind of thing he's been avoiding drawing all book.


"Then gan the bagpypes and the hornes to shrill,
And shrieke aloud, that with the peoples voyce
Confused, did the ayre with terror fill,"

Bagpipes? Are these evil Scots? Or Irish? Or just evil Celts of some kind?

Luckily for Serena, the first of the long list of Knights who alterately places her into, then frees her from, danger, is nearby;

"Sir Calepine by chaunce, more than by choyce,
The self same evening fortune hether drove,"

Calepine has been, of course, seraching for Serena throgh 'endlesse toyle', 'certain harmes' and 'wretched stormes'.

He runs towards the noise, sees some hot chick about to be sacrificed;

"With that he thrusts into the thickest throng,
And even as his right hand adowne descends,
He him preventing, layes on earth along,
Ad sacrifizeth to th'infernall feends.
Then to the rest he wrathfull hand he bends,
Of whome he makes such havocke and shuch hew,
That swarmes of damned soules to hell he sends:
The rest that scape his sword and death eschew,
Fly like a flocke of doves before a Faulcons vew."

I wonder, was Spenser the first person to invent this scene?

Pure Frazetta. Serena freed, bad guys driven off;

"The end wherof Ile keepe untill another cast."

From the notes; "At this point Calepine and Serena leave the narrative. Spenser's promise to finish their tale is in the manner of Ariosto, but unlike Ariosto, Spenser never provides the promised conclusion."

Only four cantos, plus two from the DVD extras, are left in the book, so if somebody leaves the scene you can be increasingly sure they are not coming back.




Thursday, 22 February 2018

Foul Womanwronger and Lady Friendzone - FQ Book 6 Canto 7

"Like as the gentle hart it selfe bewrayes,
In doing gentle deedes with franke delight,
Even so the baser mind it selfe displayes,
In cancred malice and revengefull spight.
For to maligne, t'envie, t'use shifting slight,
Be arguments of a vile donghill mind,
Which what it dare not doe by open might,
To worke by wicked treason wayes doth find,
By such discourteous deeds discovering his base kind."

So Turpine, (he lord of shitbag castle was in fact him) follows Arthur, thinking of some way to screw him over.

He comes upon 'two knights to him unknowne,
The which were armed both agreeably,
And both combynd, what ever chaunce were blowne,
Betwixt them to divide, and each to make his owne."

These guys are young, untested and dumb, so Turpine strings them along with a tale. But crucially, also offers them 'meed' i.e. cash.

They find Arthur; 'Ryding a softly pave with portance sad,
Devizing of his love more, then of daunger drad.

Then one of them aloud unto him cryde.
Bidding him turne again, false traytour knight,
Foule womanwronger, for he him defyde."

Arthur wins of course, but the verse and nature of his winning is interesting;

The first hits Arthur head-on, but his lance 'in peeces shivered quite' and Arthur hits him;



"That the cold steel through piercing, did devowre
His vitall breath, and to the ground him bore,
Where still he bathed lay in his owne bloody gore."

next comes one of the most interesting animal-comparison verses yet;

"As when a cast of Faulcons make their flight
At an Herneshaw, that lyes aloft on wing,
The whyles they strike at him with heedlesse might,
The warie foule his bill doth backward wring;
On which the first, whose force her first doth bring,
Her selfe quite through the bodie doth engore,
And falleth downe to ground like senselesse thing,
But th'other not so swift, as she before,
Fayles of her souse, and passing by doth hurt no more."

The notes say a Hernshaw is a young heron. Has this ever actually happened? I know from reading the Peregrine that they do sometimes hunt in pairs and that the power of their strike is derived from the steepness of their 'stoop' or dive, so if a big-beaked bird did learn to turn round and use that beak as a spear, it could used the raptors own kinetic strength against it. Plus this sounds like the kind of extremely unlikely but just-about-possible rare animal event that could be known to historical falconers and unknown today. But could also be bullshit.

Anyway, the second knight swings around;

"As if he would have passed through him quight:
But the steele-head no stedfast hold could fynd,
But glauncing by, deceiv'd him of that he desyned.

Not so the Prince: for his well learned speare
Tooke surer hould, and from his horses backe
Above a launces length him forth did beare,
And gainst the cold hard earth so store him strake,
That all his bones in peeces nigh he brake."

Arthur leaps off his horse to behead the guy, who begs for mercy and tells him what happened;

"The Prince much mused at such villenie," and tells the guy to go and get him whoever paid him to do this. The Knight runs off (bone situation uncertain) and finds Turpine, who is surprised;

"To see him so bedight with bloodie gore,
And griesly wounds that him appalled sore."

The knight speaks;

"Witnesse the wounds, and this wyde bloudie lake,
Which ye may see yet all about me steeme.
Therefore now yeeld, as ye did promise make,
My due rewards, the which right well I deeme
I yearned have, that life so dearly did redeeme."

The Knight tells him Arthur is dead and to follow him to the battle site (just trace the streemes of bloud).

"Much did the Craven seeme to mone his case,
That for his sake his deare life had forgone;
And him bewayling with affection base,
Did counterfeit kind pittie, where was none:
For wheres no courage, theres no rith nor mone."

I wonder if this is actually true? It feels both true and un-true at the same time.

They find Arthur actually sleeping;

"The whyles his salvage page, that wont be prest,
Was wandred in the wood another way,
To doe some thing, that seemed to him best,
The whyles his Lord in silver slomber lay,
Like to the Evening starre adorn'd with deawy ray."

Is 'thing, that seems to me best,' Renaissance for taking a poop in the woods?

"Hold on, I must do a thing, which seems to me best."?

Turpine is too afraid to go near Arthur, even sleeping, and make an attempt to buy back the service of the wounded Knight;

"Nathlesse for all his speach, the gentle knight
Would not be tempted to such villanie,
Regarding more his faith, which he did plight,
All were it to his mortall enemie,
Then to entrap him by false treacherie:"

The Woodwose returns and seeing them together; 'doubted much what mote their meaning bee,' throws down his nuts (so thats what he was up to) and shakes his weapon ('That was an oaken plant, which lately hee Rent by the root').

Arthur wakes up and terrorises Turpine (not that difficult);

"His foote he set on his vile necke, in signe
Of servile yoke, that nobler harts repine,"

Gives him a lot of crap about how terrible he is and hangs him from his ankles in a tree so that 'all which passed by, The picture of his punishment might see, And by the like ensample warned be,'.

So ends that tale.

...........

A reminder of where we are in Book Six; three levels down;

Level One - Calidore is sent to stop the Blatant Beast, briefly meets Arthegall, encounters Calepine & Serena, Serena is bitten.

Level Two - Calepine tries to save Serena, is tortured and messed-with by Turpine, is saved by the Salvage Man but separated from Serena. Serena encounters Arthur and Tiamas. She hangs out with Tiamas because they both need healing from the Bite of the Blatant Beast.

Level Three - Arthur teams up with the Salvage Man and beats up and shames Turpine.

Now It's back to Level Two to find out what was going on with that Lady and the Fool, and apparently also a Gyant that wasn't mentioned originally;

.............

"She was a Ladie of great Dignitie,"

Sounds good.

"Though of mean parentage and kindred base,"

Uh oh...

"Yet deckt with wondrous giftes of natures grace,
That all men did her person much admire,"

Beauty in Spenser is either super good or super evil, so which will it be?

"Yet she thereof grew proud and insolent,
That none she worthie thought to be her fere,"

"But this coy Damzell thought contrariwize,
That such proud looks would make her praysed more;
And that the more she did all love despize,
The more would wretched lovers her adore.
What cared she, who sighed for her sore,
Or who did wayle or watch the wearie night?
Let them that list, their lucklesse lot deplore;
She was borne free, not bound to any wight,
And so would ever live, and love her own delight."

NOOOOOOOOOO! It's Lady Friendzone!

So the grand crime of this woman is that she is too hot and really into her own hotness and also proud and won't get with any guy, even though loads are into her, and that this literally kills them through being friendzoned;

"Many a wretch, for want of remedie,
Did languish long in lifeconsuming smart,
And at the last through dreary dolour die:"

What happens is that Cupid is keeping court on St Valentines day, and 'when the roules were red, In which the names of all loves folke were fyled,' that a bunch are midding for various reasons, and when he interviews Infamie, and Despight, they give evidence 'that they were all betrayd, And murdred cruelly by a rebellious Mayd.'

This is fair Mirabella

(Probably from the italian mirabile - admirable, and from mirari - 'to gaze at' and bella - 'beautiful'.)

They drag Lady Mirabella Friendzone in and she refuses to plead 'Even for stubborne pride, which her restrayned.' So she is set a very knightly penance, one quite similar to that slutty knight we saw in the friendship Canto;

"She wander should in companie of those,
Till she had sav'd so many loves, as she did lose."

(This would actually be a cool start to a serial TV show.)

"So now she had bene wandring two whole yeares
Throughout the world, in this uncomely case,
Wasting her goodle hew in heavie teares,
And her good dayes in dolorous disgrace:"

And worse than that, she has not one, but two complete assholes to accompany her.



"... And eeke that angry foole
Which follow'd her, with cursed hand uncleane
Whipping her horse, did with his smarting toole
Oft whip her dainty delfe, and much augment her doole."

And also another complete freak who looks like a Quentin Blake illustration;

"For he was sterne, and terrible by nature,
And eeke of person huge and hideous,
Exceeding much the measure of mans stature,"

And in fact is the descendant of giants and brother to Orgoglio, that guy somebody killed a bunch of Cantos previously;

"His lookes were dreadfull, and his fiery eis
Like two great Beacons, glared bright and wyde,
Glauncing askew, as if his enemies
He scorned in his overweening pryde;
And stalking stately like a Crane, did stryde
At every step uppon the tiptoes hie,
And all the way he went, on every syde
He gaz'd about, and stared horriblie,
As if her with his lookes would all men terrifie.

He wore no armour, ne for none did care,
As no whit dreading any living wight;
But in a Jacket quiltedd richly rare,
Upon checklaton he was straungely dight,
And on his head a roll of linnen plight,
Like to the More of Malaber her wore;
With which his locks, as blacke as pitchy night,
Were bound about, and voyded from before,
And in his hand a mighty yron club he bore.

This was Distaine, who lead that Ladies horse"

"NO IT ISN'T!" I hear all you Faerie Queene super-fans cry out. "Distaine is from Book Two, Canto Seven, where Guyon, knight of Temperance, either has a dream vision or literally enters the underworld to hang out with Mammon, and sees a bunch of crazy shit, including 'A sturdy villain, striding stiffe and bold' who is also a 'gyant' but a gold one, carrying an 'Yron' clubbe. And we remember this becasue he had one of the coolest descriptive verse-fragments;

"Disdayne he was called, and did disdaine
To be so cald, and who so did him call:""

Options -

1. That was just a dream vision so this is the real one.
2. They are the SAME GUY, he just moonlights underground for Mammon sometimes (the gold paint is his Mammon-Uniform) and does shifts for Cupid in the summer, Persephone-style.
3. Edmund has forgotten he already used Distaine. (impossibe).
4. They have differnet spellings, so they are actually two completely different Distaines.
5. Its a clever theological callback, ahhh you see Distain serves Mammon AND Cupid, so you see? Hmmm? Ahhhhhh.
6. Heroes like the Faerie Queene and Arthur, get multiple shadow-selves cast into different adventures, and even meet their shadow selves, so maybe this is that, but for a Villain?

The recursive, repetitive, endless shadow-casting, multiple-person-characters, all Villians are related nature of the Faerie Queene is one of the things that almost calls out for it to be made into an RPG because all of that stuff represents complex organisational elements that make play more interesting.

If you kill this Distain, does Mammon lose an employee? Is he then pissed off? They are both descended from Titans, can they call on their family? If one is a shadow-self, does killing the prime destroy the shadow? Or can you only kill the Prime once you have killed the shadow in a spiritual-ladder sense?

Anyway, these two are so horrible to this lady that Tiamas goes into full Knight mode and attacks.

And Distain goes after him with the gyant yron clubbe. Tiamas avoids him 'Like as a mastiffe having at a bay, A salvage Bull, whose cruell hornes doe threat Desperate daunger' while the gyant 'oftentimes by Turmagent and Mahound swore', thereby proving he is not only a giant evil dude but a non-anglo giant evil dude.

But eventually Tiamas slips, 'And with his yron club to ground him strooke:', then ties him up and he and the fool both whip him for fun;

"And other whiles with bitter mockes and mowes
He would him scorne, that to his gentle mynd
Was much more grievous, then the others blowes:
Words sharpely wound, but greatest griefe of scorning grows."

Truth


Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Wolverine Woodwose - FQ Book 6 Canto 6

Things that have traumatised Edmund Spenser;

- Ireland
- Ships
- That situation with Lord Grey (see 'Ireland')
- Lord Burleigh
- That time the Irish burnt his house down (see 'That situation with Lord Grey')


We open with another curiously-modern verse about the horrors of character assassination and gossip/calumny generally;

"No wound, which warlike hand of enemy
Inflicts with dint of sword, so sore doth light,
As doth the poysnous sting, which infamy
Infixeth in the name of noble wight:
For by no art, not any leaches might
It ever can recured be againe;
Ne all the skill, which that immortal spright
Of Podalyrius did it it retaine,
Can remedy such hurts, such hurts are hellish paine."

The poisoned (and it is explicitly named as poison of a sort) Serena and Tiamas are chilling with the Sean Connery former-badass healing hermit, who is thinking about how to heal them.



Of course, this is the Faerie Queene and the whole thing is a sermon, so the solution is a moral one, becasue the poison of the Blatant Beast is a spiritual/moral one;

"For in your selfe your onely helpe doth lie,
To heale your selves, and must proceed alone
From your owne will, to cure your maladie.
Who can him cure, that will be cured of none?
If therefore health ye seeke, observe this one.
First learne your outward sences to refraine
From things, that stirre up fraile affection;
Your eies, your eares, your tongue, your talke restraine
From that they most affect, and in due termes containe."

Sean Connory then describes the origins of the Blatant Beast. Its generic monster nonsense, it seems to share a parent with the Spanish Inquisition Sphinx that someone fought that time, another example of all the bad guys in the FQ being related somehow. The verse is good though; 'Wasting the strength of her immortal age.';

"Echinda is a Monster direfull dred,
Whom Gods doe hate, and heavens abhor to see;
So hideous is her shape, so huge her hed,
That even the hellish fiends affrighted bee
At sight thereof, and from her presence flee:
Yet did her face and former parts profess
A faire young Mayden, full of comely glee;
But all her hinder parts did plaine expresse
A monstrous Dragon, full of fearefull uglinesse.

To her the Gods, for her so dreadfull face,
In fearfull darkness, furthest from the skie,
And from the earth, appointed have her place,
Mongst rocks and caves, where she enrold doth lie
In hideous horrour and obscurity,
Wasting the strength of her immortal age."

The Blatant Beast is a big poisonous dog-monster with rusting iron teeth;

"A wicked Monster, that his tongue doth whet
Gainst all, both good and bad, both most and least,
And poures his poysnous gall forth to infest
The nobllest wights with notable defame:
Ne ever Knight, that bore so lofty creast,
Ne ever Lady of so honest name,
But he them spotted with reproach, or secrete shame."

Then Sean Connory repeats and deepens his spiritual anti-poisoning prescription;

"The best (sayd he) that I can you advize,
Is to avoide the occasion of the ill:
For when the cause, whence evill doth arize,
Removed is, th'effect surceaseth still.
Abstaine from pleasure, and restraine your will,
Subdue desire, and bridle loose delight,
Use scanted diet, and forbeare your fill,
Shun secresie, and talke in open sight:
So shall you soone repaine your opresent evill plight."

And this moral psychology apparently works, they are both healed and decide to go off together to look for Arthur, Calpeine, the Savage Man and presumably Belphoebe. What they find is another group from the Chivalric Encounter Generator;


".. a faire Mayden clad in mourning weed,
Upon a mangy jade unmeetly set,
And a lewd foole her leading through dry and wet."

There is also a creepy Gyant, not mentioned here.

But by what meanes that shame to her befell,
And how thereof her selfe she did acquite,
I must a while forbare to you to tell;"

Because now we have to follow Arthur on another of his surprisngly-sneaky and ruthless quests to murder some dudes;

.................

Arthur finds the hall of Turpine, the Knight that refused Calepine shelter (for it is he), and the gate is wide open. Arthur sneaks his way in;

"Where soft dismounting like a weary lode,
Upon the ground with feeble feete he trode,
As he unable were for very neede
To move one foote, but there must make abode;"

Another very murder-hobo/Cugel choice from Arthur, the secret old-school player in the storygame.

Eventually someone comes out to speak to him, Arthur requests aid, they say lol no fucking way gtfo errant knight aaaaad;


"And therewithall rude hand on him did lay,
To thrust him out of dore, doing his worst assay.

Which when the Salvage comming now in place,
Beheld, eftsoones he all enraged grew,
And running streight upon that villaine base,
Like a fell Lion at him fiercely flew,
And with his teeth and nailes, in present vew,
Him rudely rent, and all to peeces tore:"

Literally tears a guy apart. A fight is on.

Arthur and the Salvage Man super-murder everyone until Turpine hears what is going one and;

"Came forth in hast: where when as with the dead
He saw the ground al strow'd, and that same Knight
And salvage with their bloud fresh steeming red,
He woxe nigh mad with wrath and fell despight,
And with reprochfull words him thus bespake on hight.

Art thou he, traytor, that with treson vile,
Hast slaine my men in this unmanly maner,
And now triumphest in the piteous spoile
Of these poore folk, whose soules with black dishonor
And foule defame doe decke thy bloudy baner?"

Yes I am. And I'm going to do the same to you. Also, I have an unkilable Woodwose. More fighting happens.

"But when the Prince had once him plainely eyde,
He foot by foot him follwed alway,
Ne would him suffer once to shrinke asyde
But joyning close, huge lode at him did lay:
Who flying still did ward, and warding fly away.

Arthur chases the fellow through his own house, he runs to where his wife Blandina is sitting and in front of her Arthur hits the Lord;

"And with his sword him on the head did smyte,
That to the ground he fell in senselesse swone:
Yet whether thwart of flatly it did lyte,
The tempred steele did not into his braynepan byte.



Which, when the Ladie saw, with great affright
She starting up, began to shrieke aloud,
And with her garment covering him from sight,
Seem'd under her protection him to shroud;"

Turpine now literally hiding under his lovers dress;

"Her weed she then withdrawing, did him discover,
Who now come to himselfe, yet would not rize,
But still did lie as dead, and quake, and quiver,
That even the Prince his baseness did despize,

...

Vile cowheard dogge, now doe I much repent,
That ever I this life unto thee lent
Whereof thou caytive so unworthie art;
That both thy love, for lacke of hardiment,
And eke thy selfe, for want of manly hart,
And eke all knights hast shamed with this knightlesse part."

Arthur pauses in his shit talk and realises he has left his Woodwose fighting absolutely everyone else in the castle;

"He had beynd him left that salvage wight,
Amongst so many foes, whom sure he thought
By this quite slaine in so unequall fight:
Therefore descending backe in haste, he sought
If yet he were alive, or to destruction brought.

There he him found environed about
With slaughtred bodies, which his hand had slaine,
And laying yet a fresh with courage stout
Upon the rest, that did alive remaine;
Whom he likewise right sorely did contraine,
Like scattred sheepe, to seeke for safetie,"



So he returns to give the Turpine a load of crap about being an awful person and a bad knight, but Blandina tries to calm things down;


"For well she knew the wayes to win good will
Of every wight, that were not too infest,
And how to please the minds of good and ill,
Through tempering of her words & lookes by wonderous skill.

Yet were her words and lookes but false and fayned,
To some hid end to make more easie way,
Or to allure such fondlings, whom she trayned
Into her trap unto thier owne decay:
Thereto, when needed, she could weepe and pray,
And when her listed, she could fawne and flatter;
Now smyling smoothly, like to sommers day,
Now glooming sadly, so to cloke her matter;
Yet were her words but wynd, & all her teares but water."

So eventually Arthur and the Unkillable Woodwose leave, with Turpine embarrassed, ashamed, alive and PLANNING REVENGE.


Tuesday, 20 February 2018

My liefe, my lifes desire, - FQ Book 6 Canto 5

I am ending this bitch, so get ready for a rollercoaster of a week and a bit while I get to the end.

We return to Serena and the Savage Man in the forest. The opening lines tell us that Edmunds brief experimentation with democratic nurture-over-nature is over and we are back to 14th Century Genetic Essentialism;

"O what an easie thing is to descry
The gentle bloud, how ever it be wrapt
In sad misfortunes foule deformity,
And wretched sorrowes, which have often hapt?
For howsoever it may grow mis-shapt,
Like this wyld man, being undisciplynd,
That to all vertue it may seeme unapt,
Yet will it shew some sparkes of gentle mynd,
And at the last breake forth in his owne proper kynd.

...

For certes he was borne of noble blood,
How ever by hard hap he hether came;
As ye may know, when time shall be to tell the same."

We never find out where this guy comes from.

Somewhere in history there are a bunch of scrawled notes for the next 6-9 books of the Faerie Queene with Edmunds arrows and plot-plans.

The Savage Man goes off to look for Calepine, who went missing last Canto after the deal with the Bear and the Baby and finds no sign of him;


"Tho backe returning to that sorie Dame,
He shewed semblant of exceeding mone,
By speaking signes, as he them best could frame;
Now wringing both his wretched hands in one,
Now beating he hard head upon a stone,
That ruth it was to see him so lament.
By which she well percieveing, what was done,
Gan teare her hayre, and all her garments rent,
And beat her brest, and piteously her selfe torment."


After a lot of drama she decides to grab her horse, which has been chilling in the forest, and make off to find Calepine, despite sill being wounded/poisoned by the Blatant Beast. The Savage Man decides to go with her and picks up Calepines armour, left behind, and shield to follow her. (Though Calepines sword is still hidden.)


"So forth they traveld an uneven payre,
That mote to all men seeme an uncouth sight;
A salvage man matcht with a Ladie fayre,
That rather seem'd the conquest of his might,
Gotten by spoyle, then purchaced aright.
But he did her attend most carefully,
And faithfully did serve both day and night,
Withouten thought of shame of villeny,
Ne ever shewed signe of foule disloyalty."



"then purchaced aright"?

Its the middle of the Canto again, so time to introduce a new plot element. Remember that guy Tiamas, who was Arthurs Squire and who ended up making out in the forest with that Amazon chick? Back iiin, Book 3 or 4 I think? Well here he is, turning up with Arthur himself and about to stumble over the Serena/Woodwose situation.

How did they get here? mysterious auto-generated enemies.

FLASHBACK. Everything was going fine with Tiamas except he developed some generic Rennaisance pre-Iago-esqe enemies who just hated him because they were hateful dudes


"Three mightie ones, and cruell minded eeke,
That him not onely sought by open might
To overthrow, but to supplant by slight.
The first of them by name was cald Despetto,
Exceeding all the rest in powre and hight;
The second not so strong but wise, Decetto;
The third nor strong nor wise, but spightfullest Defetto"

(Spensers italiainised terms for Despite, Deceat and Defect.)

These guys want to hurt Tiamas but aren't tuff enough alone, so they lure him into fighting the Blatant Beast, knowing he won't be able to resist such a challenge.

Tiamas does encounter the beast, and drives it off;


"Yet ere he fled, he with his tooth impure
Him heedlesse bit, the whiles he was thereof secure."

Which is interesting becasue it seems the Blatant Beast isn't actually that hard to scare away, (every Knight it has fought has done that) but is almost impossible to catch and kill, and it has a 'tooth impure' so even if it gets a nip in, the bite slowly corrupts.


Tiamas rides after the beast but is waylaid by Despetto, Decetto and Defetto (who I now can't help but see as Warner Brother characters). They surround him;


"Like a wylde Bull, that being at a bay,
Is bayted of a mastiffe, and a hound,
And a curre-dog; that doe him sharpe assay
On every side, and beat about him round;
But most that curre barking with bitter sownd,
And creeping still behinde, doth him incomber,
That in his chauffe he digs the trampled ground,
And threats his horns, and bellowes like the thonder,
So did that Squire his foes disperse, and drive asonder."

But who should be randomly riding around but magnificent Prince Arthur himself! Tiamas's former (current?) boss. They didn't seem that close several books back when Arthur rode off after (I think it was false Florimell?), but now they are back they get some surprisingly emotive verse about being reunited;


"Whereof exceeding glad, he to him drew,
And him embracing twixt his armes entire,
Him thus bespake; My liefe, my lifes desire,
Why have ye me alone thus long yleft?
Tell me what worlds despight, or heavens yre
Hath you thus long away from me bereft?
Where have ye all this while bin wandring, where bene weft?

With that he sighed deepe for inward tyne:
To whom the Squire nought aunswered againe,
But shedding few soft teares from tender eyne,
His deare affect with silence did restraine,
And shut up all his plaint in privy paine."


So again, we have a powerful Spenserian theme of held vs expressed emotional pain. And we have the very-Chivalric situation of guys who just feel a lot of big feelings for each other. This is all over Mallory as well, friends and brothers who find each other after being seperated will grab and kiss each other and cry a lot.

But now these two see Serena with the Savage Man looking like an absolute freak who has captured her, so they arm up and Tiamas starts dicking with Doc Savage. This does not go well for him;


"Gnashing his grinded teeth with griesly looke,
And sparkling fire out of his furious eyne,
Him with his fist unwares on th'head he strooke,
That made him downe unto the earth encline;
Whence soon upstarting much he gan repine,"


In another classic chivalric gender situation; the woman stopping the pointless intra-male fight, (women have a very strong, rarely directly referenced theme of both legitimising and preventing violence. Sometimes it seems like there is a kind of gender-lock on men fighting. This even starts with Una preventing Redcrosse from suicide in Book One) Serena explains everything;


"Had not this wylde man in that wofull stead
Kept, and delivered me from deadly dread.
In such a salvage wight, of brutish kynd,
Amongst wilde beastes in desert forrests bred,
It is most straunge and wonderfull to fynd
So milde humanity, and perfect gentle mynd.

Let me therefore this favour for him find,
That ye will not your wrath upon him wreake,
Sith he cannot expresse his simple minde,
Ne yours conceive, ne but by tokens speake:
Small praise to prove your powre on wight so weake."

(The guy is invulnerable to harm but whatever.)

And they all calm down and travel together through the forest. It should be noted that both Serena and Tiamas have been wounded/poisoned by the Blatant Beast.


"Till towards night they came unto a plaine,
By which a little Hermitage there lay,
Far from all neighbourhood, the which annoy it may.

And nigh thereto a little Chappell stoode,
Which being all with Yvy overspred,
Deckt all the roofe, and shadowing the roode,
Seem'd like a grove faire braunched over hed:"


Inside the pleasant chapel is a hermit who, I'm sorry to say, is not going to be Archimago in disguise (miss you bro!). But seems to be something of a Sean Connory type.


"And soothly it was sayd by common fame,
So long as age enabled him thereto,
That he had bene a man of mickle name,
Renowmed much in armes and derring doe:
But being aged now and weary to
Of warres delight, and worlds contentious toyle,"



"he thence them lead into his Hermitage,
Letting their steedes to graze upon the greene:
Small was his house, and like a little cage,
For his owne turne, yet inly neate and clene,
Deckt with greene boughes, a flowers gay beseene.
Therein he them full faire did entertaine
Not with such forged showes, as fitter beene
For courting fooles, that curtesies would faine,
But with entire affection and appearaunce plaine."

After hearing about the terrible things that have happend to Serena and Calepine Arthur rides off to do some fucking-up of bad knights locally. Serena and Tiamas stay behind. And so everything seems fine, for now.


Monday, 19 February 2018

A Review of the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes

(This showed up on my Goodreads page first, so if you read that then you have already read this.)



The dusty hard-drive of oral culture found in the back of a drawer, lets dig out an old emulator and see what's inside.

(Of course we rarely have access to actual oral culture as it is annihilated and transformed by contact with the structure of academic recording, more on this at the end. What we actually have is records of the point of transformation and/or translation from orality into text, almost always into print since it requires the cheapness and replicability of print to make 'common' culture worth recording to most societies.)

It’s a mixture of trash and gold, but even the trash isn't actually trash because, like Belloq's watch, it is ennobled by survival and time, and because, like an ink-stained stream used to trace a water table, watching its flow and mutation lets us trace the structure of human thought.

Some common elements;


COMMON SONGS

A huge amount of nursery rhymes are alterations or mutations of the historical version of pop-songs; broadside ballads, folk songs, music hall numbers etc. These provide the seed structure for a lot of rhymes. Like a mother singing a half-remembered chorus of a Taylor Swift song, altering the words, keeping the structure.


MISSING MUSIC

If there is one huge failure with this, and with the whole culture of transmitted orality studies, it is that there is no smooth or *commonly* readable way to encode musical notes, rhythm or any of that musical stuff in text form. Even Rubins Memory in Oral Tradition, didn't talk enough about the music.

In their natural environment, a vast range of these structures exist, are transmitted with, generated by and possess a deep interrelationship with music. They exist sung, the exist played, they are symbiotic with instrument, voice and song on a lot of levels, and that very rarely shows up in books like this.

For good reason; it would mean opening up an entire new, parallel track of scholarship and resourcing it like the first track.

And because you would then need to integrate the two, needing more time and more resources.

And you would need to find a way to present this to a mass, or at least a common/educated audience - though modern neo-orality like Youtube etc, could be good at this.

But still, the text-based nature of the transmission of orality studies is a major, and unacknowledged limitation, and more dangerous BECAUSE it is unacknowledged - as people will default to text-fetishism.


RIDDLES

Still a minor, but continual theme. 'Good' riddles (the kinds I like) where you could understand them even if they were translated. 'Dick' riddles, where the clue is that four kings each took an apple even though there was only one apple because the guys name was 'Fourkings' or some bullshit like that, Textual games as well, including some elegant verse forms made from the removal or alteration of punctuation and shifting of line-meanings.


THEEVES

The heavyweights of nonsense verse, Lear & Carrol, both based their early stuff on generative verses, subjects and forms from mass oral culture.


THOSE CRAZY KIDS

The moral universe of children, as seen through their rhymes, is arbitrary (yet rule bound), stark, intense, bordering on surreal (as in super-real), morally cruel or violent, funny, imaginative; loving both the excise and overturning of authority, highly animate (everything is alive, has intention and a self), with many changes in scale - living in shoes, floating to the moon etc.

Doubtless the moral view of children is shaped by the fact that they exist under the dominion of gigantic tyrants exercising what seem like arbitrary and inexplicable rules which they often do not meaningfully explain. And by the fact that things seem to exist, and not exist, to be brought forth, and to disappear, without any clear cause or meaning. It may simply be a rational view of an insane experience.

(Children live in a world where every useful object is out of scale for their use - too big, and where they are given other, arbitrary objects, which they may do with as they will, which mimic the larger objects but which are scaled much too small for their use. A child, for instance, cannot simply get in a car, they can be lifted into a giant one, or play with one too small to drive. No wonder they are obsessed with strange changes in scale; their world does not make sense.)


COUNTING

Counting rhymes are a big dal and, from textural analysis it looks like these may actually (some of them) be evolved or decayed forms of old, even pre-roman, counting rhymes.


HAPSIS

Bouncing rhymes where the child is manipulated on a knee, finger rhymes where the adults hands form a kind of shifting model and where fingers become people, pigs, houses, churches and priests, are common. As well as limb-naming and face-feature naming rhymes. The body in space being at the primary root of much human culture.


ANCIENT FEEL

To bring up Belloq's watch again, it doesn't take much processing or many revolutions through an oral culture for something to gain a feeling of deep numinous or oneiric ancientness. As if it referred to something huge and shadowy, just out of sight. But this feeling seems to have no, or little relation to whether something actually *is* ancient. A generation of oral transmission and manipulation might be enough to give something this feel.


BULLSHIT HISTORIES

Consequentially, Nursery Rhymes are plagued with minor academic, or general enthusiasts who swarm like flies and who are all universally sure that;

- A known personage coined this particular rhyme (usually a distant relative)
- Its a political thing about this particular king or whatever
- its ancient celtic/Indo-European stuff (pls also read my book on the occult)

Any of these might actually be true for any particular rhyme. But usually they aren't. Usually its an old pop song about a squire, often with some dirty bits taken out and changed.


BOWLDERISATION

There’s a lot of dirty vague sex stuff in popular folk culture, as well as a lot of scatological stuff. Almost all of this is edited out either by gradual cultural transmission, or by some Yankee or Victorian with a pen. before the scatological stuff at least is put right back in by the children as soon as mum has left the room.


THE REAL OLD STUFF

There are a few fragments, Snail, Ladybird, London Bridge, and a few others that are almost certainly really very old indeed. If you want to have strange thoughts about deep time and human culture, there you go.



There should really be a leather-bound version of this so you can leaf through it and intone mysterious stuff while giving people curious and meaningful looks.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

A Review of 'Forges of Mars' by Graham McNeill.

This is clearly one long story, I feel a little bad for anyone who had to read it as a serial.



SPOILERED
TO 
FUCK
FROM 
THIS 
POINT
ON

I read it on the kindle and its designed well for that. All three books together would be physically huge , but its a lot more convenient of you can shlep them all around as-one, digitally.

So; ages ago, crazy-ass radical genius space-Peter-Thiele went off to the inaccessible cake-slice of the Milky Way to look for GODPOWER. And no-one ever heard from that guy again which was probably fine.

But now someone’s found message in a bottle and it looks like he might still be alive out there beyond the Halo Scar. So bankrupt space-Elon-Musk grabs his recently excavated super-ship and calls in his few remaining favours from 40k central casting;

"I need a Rogue Trader, some Space Marines, some army dudes, some GOD MACHINES, and hold the Inquisition."

And a microcosm of the Imperium are off to the far reaches of space to find a guy who definitely will not have gone completely insane just because he was already a radical and has now been alone with GODPOWER for millennia.

Some Space Elves follow because they are obeying the weave of fate. The weave of fate basically says whatever the Graham McNeill wants it to say at any particular time so the space elves are enemies or quasi-allies whenever required.

(Some of the space elf characters do seem rather aware of, and pissed about, this, repeatedly asking their farseer; "WTF is up with these strands of fate?")

It takes them ages to get there, they meet one seriously bad freak, some bad stuff happens and when they get there the guy is nuts and they have to fight him and run away.




GOOD THINGS


Scale

If there's one thing that 40k excels in and that both Abnett and McNeil are great at, its scale. The sheer, intense, piling-on of stuff, the enormous reaches of material and the gogmagogic size of events themselves, and the ability and story-artefacts to tell a story that passes through every possible scale of action, in which they all interact.

The gothicness of 40k helps with the assembly of scale in writing, art and in 3d because it provides an endless palette of specific and ominous detail. To put in in its simplest form; it’s easier to make something feel big when there are skulls everywhere.

In slightly finer language; the sheer number of things, censers burning strange unguents, forgotten embossed walls of ancient crusades, old weapons emplacements with some pale servitor still plugged in and gathering dust, yet active, banners, heraldry, gargoyles with camera eyes, tables with hexamathic equations in the margins, servo-skulls, ivory wings on the chests of space marines, the glimmer of tertiary-grade augmetics around the margins of the eye, old guard tattoos, electro-tattoos of old work-groups, strange sub-cults,  feral wolf-tattoos on the pilot of a God Machine, dermal sockets, mechadendrites, everything, all of this means that when the eye of the viewer, or the 'eye' of the reader scans, not only up and down large structures, but focuses first on tiny small details and then opens to grand vistas, there is always something to be seen, a particular and specific object or sign, that makes sense/unsense in the context of the world, and that there is an endless transmission of specific meaning, a linkage of particular object and feel, that joins one scale to another, at every point at which the eye or story rests.

It would be hard to do this with a modernist aesthetic, because modernism, and classic techno-futurism, is smooth. It is made to abrade and sand off detail, to present a clean, regular whole. So when you look at a modernist city or building, it doesn't feel fractal or busy in the same way. It's smooth and clean in each room, on each road, in each block, and the star ships are smooth and clean as well.

One Star Trek corridor is one Star Trek corridor, A 40k corridor has the crumbling statue of Archmagos Vedek who rediscovered binary incantations, or it has an auto-generated list of names of the heroic fallen etched into the steel by a blind servitor, who is permanently etching even though the names at the beginning are worn smooth by the passage of hands, or it has at least some huge cogs with the AdMech Skull/Cog emblem on them.

There are always things. The Dark Future is a world of things.


>>> scale makes scale

Godzilla always has birds flying around him in films - so do big robots. This is to create a sense, rather than a view of scale.

40k has a lot more to play with at every level. Flags, people climbing up and down huge machines, or living inside them, giant gun-bullets, chains, servitors, and of course skulls.


>>> unity of self

Because the setting has been gone over and gone over and developed and developed for 30 years; all the things in 40k are the right things. They repeat, intensify and construct a deep coherence of mood. Everything is awful, everything is doomed and death-obsessed, and everything is coherent with the setting. Of course the AdMech would build actual, literal altars in the middle of big machines, of course they would have cyber-monks hanging around to watch cyclopean random number generators to divine prophecies from the Onmissiah.


>>> sense/unsense

Most pop science-fiction for a mass audience (or all of it really) has to not make sense. Because the deep future probably won't look like anything we can understand. So big ships are run by apes instead of AI's, they hang near each other to shoot tracer bullets, phasers are less dangerous than AK 47's, guys fight with lazer swords, etc.

All for good reason so far as creating necessary technological and socio-cultural chimerae to use in the transmission of story.

But in 40k the fact that things don't make sense is integrated into the setting in a different way. The things that don't make sense meta-textually often literally don't make sense in the setting, but are kept in place because it’s an insane, superstitious, authoritarian, deliberately-ignorant dark-age. So every time you come up against a fragment of incoherence in the imagined world, it often adds to the strangeness of the setting and concentrates the feel of the world.

>>> Anyway.

Anyway, to get to the point - there is a lot of cool scale-switching in the book. The memorably good parts often include the Titan-Legions (building or sky-scraper sized) fighting inside the Speranza (Manhattan-sized space ship) with Imperial Guard and tanks and whatever (WWII-scale combat) happening mixed in with that, while planetary stuff is happening outside, with a world blowing up or whatever, while cosmic-level stuff is also happening tearing space & time apart, while psychic dream-world-hell-reality stuff is also happening, which postfuture cyberpunk stuff is ALSO happening. Multiple layers of reality, many ranges of scale. All at the same time, all mixed in together, all reacting together. You don't get that many other places.


Detail

Dealt with above somewhat, but as I said, there is a lot of it and it is good. Our doomed Archmagos, Lexell Kotov, obsessively changes his mecha-bodies like clothes for each mission and each of them reflect a differing level of pretension or utility unique to it.

People wield particular brands of Las-Pistol or graviton gun.

A good test of whether you will like 40k is if you prefer;

"Ah, a pre-heresy Agrippna-Bellusarius pattern grav emitter, praise be to the Machine God, you will find its plasma converters unstable and its machine spirit unwilling."

Or;

"You! Drop the gun!"

If you think the first one is better, you may well like 40k.

If you like the 'behind the warfare' sub-genre of 40k fiction where we tool about in the background of the omni-conflict looking at how people live; there is a lot of that here, all centred on the Mechanicus. So if you want to find out what kind of equations Archmagos Kotov gets acid-etched into the hems of his synthetic dragon-scale cloak, then you have come to the right place.



Titan-Driving Whakos

We get a little look inside one of the Titan legions and its fun. A kind of gothic techno soap-opera based around a quasi-family of people who are all selected to be the one-in-a-billion who are OK'd to fuse with the spirits of the insane hyper-murderous God Machines.

They run like some kind of feudal/barbarian/wolfpack inside the belly of the Mechanicus, guys and girls taken from feral worlds, raised from early youth to ride the god machines whose biofeedback  will slowly reduce them to physical cripples chilling in amniotic tanks, and working out feral dominance/submission hyper-dramas with each other.

One of the best parts is when a Titan Alpha guy has a PTSD flashback to his Titan nearly being consumed by a Tyrranid swarm, while he is actually piloting the Titan, inside the space ship, during a training mission, and accidentally fires his insane super-weapon inside the ship, killing, at least a couple of thousand of people. Scale, size, meta-consequences, human drama and differing levels of reality all smashing together.


Society

Since it’s a long series of three large books mushed together, and because everyone is jammed together in a super-ship, we get to take a Grand Tour of this microcosm (still a couple of million people probably) of the Imperium, going all the way from the shitty disposable near-slave-grade bondsmen, through the crew, to the bridge where they fancy cybernetic bois hang chilling with the ivory-winged Space Marines.

It's rare that we get to do this in a 40k book since, even when they go "behind the scenes" we usually only get bits and pieces of each particular part of society as the main badasses pass through.

(Actually there’s no, or almost no ‘middle class’ in this book. But maybe that’s because the Imperium is a goddamn feudal shithole.)



Techno-Incantation Prose

The main thing I liked about McNeil’s prose, which some other reviewers hated, was the big janky sentences with lots of mechanical detail. There is a shitload of this. Let me see if I can grab a random fragment;

"At the heart of the Ciborium was an elliptical chamber like a grand hall of governance, with stepped tiers of hard metal benches rising to either side of a perfectly circular table. The table was easily ten metres wide, fashioned from wedge-shaped planes of segmented steel inset with panels of a smooth red rock that could only have come from one world of the galaxy. Gently humming data engines ran around the curve of the chambers walls, and a number of blank-faced servitors were plugged into several exload ports, holo-capture augmetics recording every angle of this gathering."

Better than; "They sat around the table." It's not high-poetry but its fucking fun.



I Can Actually Remember Who Most of These People Are

Well done Graham. There are a huge number of people in this and a lot of them are various kinds of funky machine-boys made from cogs, but I actually remembered who nearly everyone was and even recognised them. It’s not necessarily easy to achieve this. The initial impression of the characters has to be STRONG, with each one bound closely within a particular social/dramatic matrix with their immediate group, a meaningful visual aesthetic that can be communicated through natural language, speech-patterns and, personality and, of course, 40k-style 'hero objects' for the writer to use in their incantations.

This is all done well.


Freaky Toaster Bois

I like me some crazy Ad-Mech dudes and we get a bunch of them and even though they are all apsergers-cyborgs shouting at each other about LOGIC like a MTG tournament bar, they are all different in personality, form and expression. of particular use is the way each Toaster-Bois physical form is used to intensify, counterpoint or just highlight their inner nature.

In the Ad-Mech, everyone’s gonna cyborg eventually, and the way they do, the things they do and do not change, are interesting elements of character, and useful dramatic objects and tools you don't get in other fiction. (Apart from the main baddy in this, more on that later.)



Never Learn Anything Ever

I like how narcissistic, self-important and shallow Archmagos Kotov (our main Odysseus guy) is, while still remaining likable, sympathetic and interesting enough to be fun reading. This is manages by surrounding him with absolute freaks, Asperger’s space marines and varying levels of backstabbing idiot. And also by often making him the most reasonable, least puritanically-insane person in a lot of his scenes.

I also like how his apparently sincere desire to improve as a person and finally learn his lesson, never seems to actually work. He keeps getting beat in the face by the fruit of his own stupidity, picking himself up and thinking "Ok, Lexel, this time you've really learnt your lesson." and then doing exactly the same shit.



Ancient Mariner Sense Ov DOOOM

"Archmagos Kotov, do you think that since your planets got blown up, except for the one that mega-crashed when you turned on your accidently-found super-ship, and that you are going beyond the edges of reality through the HALO SCAR, to find a guy who was pretty fucked in the head to begin with, and who has been on his own with the POWER OF THE GODS for millennia, that things might not necessarily go to plan?"

"Nah, it'll be fine."

It's not subtle, but it is effective. The continual, mistakes, failures, accidents, attacks, losses, dangers, betrayals, and the piling up of weird freaky shit, does add nicely to the Colridge-esqe (GET YER ALBERTROSS BOY) you're-really-fucked-now feel of the story.



Arco-Flagellant

There is an Arco-Flagellant in this which, despite not being that good in the 40k rules, in this book can apparently murderfuck anything.

We get to find out how fucking weird it is to spend time hanging out with an Arco-Flagellant, exactly how they turn you into one, and what a seismic level of evil fuck you need to be in order to actually get that punishment.

None of this actually seems to go anywhere, but there you go.


Harlan Ellison Cyborg Dude

One of the main antagonists, Galeta, is essentially the Harlan Ellison story 'I Have No Mouth Yet I Must Scream', but as a character. A pissed-off crazy AI made from stringing a bunch of brains together with a semi-intelligent computer stack, it essentially refused to die when its original brains started to wither, and started luring in and capturing people to get fresh brains.

It’s a quasi-AI, a gestalt intelligence which can't exist without human flesh, but which SUPER HATES humanity, so captures and tortures its brain-selves, even though they make up part of its essential nature.

It's just great fun, and much better than the main Ahab-Baddy, Archmagos Telok.



People Banging on about Honour

You know I love people banging on about honour and brotherhood in space. There is no shortage here, we have enough last-minute speeches about brotherhood, sacrifice and THA EMPRAH to fill about twenty Michael Bay third-acts. Its raining in Arlington cemetery, and  a FLAG IS FLAPPING IN THE WIND BECASUE HE WAS... MAH BRATHAAAA.



No Chaos

One character does get eaten by Slanesh, but that's is, and its mainly offscreen. A nice refreshing break. You see, even in the slightly-more-science-fictional Dark Future, things can still be Unutterably Terrible.



(Multiple) Non-Sociopath Characters

Because so much of the cast are massive freaks one way or another, it means there's a nice range of people who are not totally fucked in the head to sympathise with, and they don't come off as too boring since they are surrounded by Gothic Weirdness.




Daddy-Daughter Day

Two of the main characters are likeable star-charting Magos's Vitalli & Linya Tychon. Vitalli created Linya as a clone-replacement/servant but a freak chromasonal change made her female, and this was enough to make sure she developed into an entirely different and unique individual. Someone with all of Vitalli's intelligence but an entirely unique world view.

It's a really interesting, and engaging relationship and a stroke of elegance for the book



Cyberpunk trash/Strands of Fate mishmash

This is both good and bad, I'll talk about the bad later.

There's multiple levels of reality - the Eldar are doing their psychic straaaandds oooov faaaate stuff, and there is also a lot of William Gibson 90's style virtual reality where people deep dive into the noosphere and look at the GOLDEN NETWORKS OF PURE INFORMATIONS.

The fun part is that there are worlds within worlds, and without, and like the business with scales, you can have people in different sub-realities affecting and influencing each other in a variety of different ways. STUFF HAPPENS.




The Hrud!

They are in this and we see them from a distance.

My idea for a Hrud model is to create something that feels 3d printed, but is actually just assembled. But you paint it first, then assemble it, so it feels like the model has these inner layers and this illusory but felt interior space, and it looks kinda like an optical illusion, as if it were phasing through our reality and also in others at the same time. And they would also be pink, hairless super-rats with jezzails.



We Took The Breaks Off This Planet - see 'scale' above

Teloks Colonel Kurtz planet of 'what if we left and Ad-Mech nutter alone with the power of THA GODZ for a coupe centuries, is pretty fun. It's largely an insane BLAME!-like planetary factory where everything is generating energy for insane cosmic plans and where everyone has been lobotomised except for the Main Guy. Like a death factory on a Giga-Scale. It's kinda horrible and wonderful. Maybe more could have been done with the idea but this was fun.




"Good" Guys Kind-Of Win?

I think the Imperials actually win this one? They do lose a staggering amount of men and material, and ships and whatever, and they were part of the problem in the first place, but they get to keep the Speranza, many of the main cast survive and they do stop the Entire Cosmos (technically the Eldar stop it) from unravelling to nothing. So I think that’s a win?





BAD THINGS


Crystals

The main bad guy has this vague nanotech crystal thing going on, so his armies and the things he sends to beat up the goodies are all these crystal dudes.

McNeill does what he can with this. There's the initial shock of encounter; "They're adapting! They're transforming!", then he has a grand theatre moment with this giant titan-sized scorpion thing which is pretty good, then in the last act Telok, the baddy, blasts these self-assembling crystal dudes into the Speranza (the good guys ship) with superlightning, and they assemble themselves from air and stuff, and that’s pretty good. Somewhat BLAME!-esque.

But he is pushing up hill all the time because holly shit there is just something inevitably boring and lesser about bad guys made of crystal. It’s a boring material. It might be ok as a counterpoint to something meaty and sweaty like, "Here's my gross Ogre enforcer who sweats beef dripping and bleeds black ale as he's descended from a Titan, and here's the light ethereal crystal dame that follows him around to keep him in check.' Like a caliban/ariel thing, but I think that’s actually it.

Emma Frost from the X-Men (I accidentally typed 'Z-Mane' there for a second. Parralel-earth cryptoculture X-Men? Metatextual X-Men series where they get saved by the mass-produced Engrish Chinese Knockoff X-Men from another dimension? Anyway.)

Emma Frost from Morrisons X-Men is the only thing that really comes to mind when I think 'crystals + interesting'.

Why?

Is it the abstraction central to their nature? It’s just an empty box of light. The lack of features, of character? Of particularity? Transmission of meaning?

There is another fight against a terrible swarm at the start of the trilogy, it’s very like the crystal fight but noticeably better because it’s against lobotomised cyber-altered (big mad scissors) Orks that have been flayed and wrapped in vat-grown, pink, human skin.

See, that already sounds more interesting than the crystal stuff doesn't it? Why? It's still a mindless swarm working for one evil dude. It still just walks forwards and stabs.

My best guess is that crystal stuff is separate enough from the human lifeworld that it’s hard to write about in natural language. If you are J.A.Baker, or a great prosidist, (or Ballard even, but even his crystal things were altered normal things) and you want to devote a tonne of descriptive energy to getting your crystal stuff exactly right, then you can probably do it.

But if you are writing adventure/genre and there is just a lot of stuff you need to get done, then it’s a lot easier to link elements and objects to the human lifeworld. Which, even though it’s not real, and Ork is, more than a crystal man, because it breathes and poops and sweats and has eyes and a mouth and looks at you. And then the ork wrapped in human skin is another thing you know about, and you sense what it is in the text right away, and go ugh. And then you can use literary techniques to embroider and make it extra-bad.



Was That Going Somewhere?

Oh my gaaawwd they've found and Arco-flagelent! Oh my ghaad he's going INSIDE the Arco-Flagelents mind! Oh my ghaad this was a space hitler who went super evil and now actually likes being an arco-flagelent and this is the guy protecting one of our more likeable heroes! WHAT WILL HE DOOOOOO?

Goes nowhere.


Oh my gaaawwd tHE Speranza has a super space cannon that shoots fucking black holes or something that no-one noticed because manhatten-sized + dark-future fuckups, but then they awaken the Mysterious Spirit inside the Speranza and it uses the ancient mega-cannon to blast some dudes! What does this mean for the future?

Nothing. Goes nowhere.


Oh fucksticks, the main Titan-driving pack-head guy is an ok dude but has mega-PTSD and literally shot a fucking hole in the sacred ark-mechanicus and killed a couple 1000 (more?) people INCLUDING Cadian and Ad-Mech troops who’s job it is to fight alongside him. And the next in line to be pack head doesn't have super-PTSD (good) but is generally a twat that nobody likes (bad). WHAT WILL HAPPEN?

Nothing. Situation is resolved and Cadians apparently just deal with it. Cog-boys can have their resentment deleted.


Magos Blaylock, the second in command of the expedition, thinks Kotov, the main guy, is an absolute tool on a fools errand who is wasting a huge amount of imperial and Ad-Mech resources just trying to avoid future-bankruptcy. Not only is he planning ways to dick him over, with every new turn of the expedition, it looks more and more like the conservative Blaylock is simply correct? Maybe he actually should just take over?

He doesn't. They just decide to work together for the OMNISSIAH.


Fffffuuucck. The Speranza is in terrible danger, falling into the orbit of a world on the Brink of Destruction! Forces on the ground are being ferried up. Big arguments in the bridge. And At. This. Moment. The machine-touched apparently-real prophet hero guy stages his insurrection to demand better (i.e. not slavelike) living conditions for the millions of people who make the ship go and who have been treated horrifically since the start of the book. Morally he's in the right! But the ship might die! And if he backs down he's ffffuuuccckked because this is the Dark Future fascist Imperium where dissent is punished with a massive skullfucking for everyone regardless of whether you had a point or not! What's going to happen???

Nothing. The prophet backs down. Kotov is persuaded not to lobotomise everyone or open the lower decks to space and conditions improve a bit. That's a surprisingly reasonable solution for the Dark Millennium (maybe that's the point?)


There's a lot of that in this.




Cheeze

The wheel of one of the land-leviathans is allegedly from Nelsons ship at Trafalgar. The Big Strike Speech that a main character gives is that classic 'throw yourselves on the wheels' speech that somone gave in the 60's and which was also in Battlestar Galactica.

Telok hunts the good guys on his doomworld by unleashing some freaky AI machines from either the Dark Age of Technology or from even further back he found floating beyond the galactic rim and which he's hacked with Necron, or C'Tan technology to be UNKILLABLE. They are vaguely hound-like and decently written. They are programmed to only eat the person they are chasing, to not be able to eat anything else, and to grow ever-more hungry.

The fairytale + Dark Future Megatech thing is ok, there's a fair amount of that in the book.

It's just that he calls them 'The Tindalosi'.

Do you get it?

The references in this book remind me of the bit in Y-The Last Man, where the hero has a 'Fuck Communism' lighter, which is a reference to Preacher, another (better) comic book.

It's difficult to explain exactly why this leaves me with this pained expression and vague sense of tiredness and age, but it does.


 
I really fucking hate absolutely everything about this.


Basic-Ass prose

If you are worried that Graham McNeill is too much of an expert in good prose; don't worry. He multi-classed and is also an expert in basic-ass prose!

Do you think of George R.R.Martin as a Great Writer? Then you are in luck my friend!

Here's a random page;

"Abrehem heard Ismael's words without understanding them, but knew they were only pulling him into the mire in which he was already neck-deep."

Here's another, it took me a bit of flipping to find it;

"'I don't have many phobias, Ven, but being trapped alone in the darkness is one that's haunted my nightmares ever since the Preceptor was crippled by that hellship.'

'Understandable,' said Anders.

'And it feels like I'm living that nightmare right now.'

Anders nodded, and left him alone after that."

Not terrible, but not great either.




I Get You Did RE In School

There's lots of vague religious stuff in here. Ketov thinks he's on a mission for the Omnissiah, Good-Guy Abrehem Locke seems to be touched by a force that literally does miracles. The Black Templars pretty much worship THA EMPRAH. It's suggested that the Speranza is some kind of quasi-immortal being but with a ship wrapped around it, like an angel of order & science or something.

None of its really bad, and a lot of it is relevant to people from the Mysteriously Religious Dark Millenium. But a lot of it is vague and blathery and it’s never really clear what is and isn't just a big old computer or an alien death god or a thing that bleeds golden light or just some crazy stuff in your head.

And the lack of clarity is not interesting in the story. It’s not suggestive in an ‘aaaaahhh’ way, its vague in an ‘eh?’ way.



Basic-Ass Bad Guy

Telok, the main Doctor Moreau, Colonel Kurtz figure that almost all of the trilogy leads up to, is very average. Mad in exactly the way you would expect from a serial villain, making terrible choices exactly the way you would expect, with boring crystal minions. Galeta was much better.

His physical form is a big dreadnaught guy with claws and a waxy face and crystal grooowths. Fuck crystals




A Handful Of Historical Times

So, time compression in 40k is a thing. Just like our view of history being shaped by the needs and drives of today, the faux-history of 40k, its general shape and historiography, is shaped by the period of its creation.

So in classic 40k, from the late 80's to the 90's, most things happened in the 10,000 years since the Horus Heresy. The heresy itself was myth and if the writers needed to locate something 'old', they could put it in the 10,000 years of the Imperium. More than enough time to work with.

Then with the development of the Necrons, C'tan and the War in Heaven mythology around the 2,000's, thing could now be super-fucking-old. Like, birth-of-the-cosmos old. So now there was a new place to put ancient things, they could be from the last 10,000 years, or from MILLIONS of years ago.

(This means the Eldar race has been around for literally millions of years, billions maybe?, gradually taking over the galaxy, before Slanesh woke up, relative to them, yesterday, and started nomming on them. And we know nothing about this time, it’s just featureless empty eons, and so it feels not-real.)

And since the development of the Horus Heresy novels from the 2010's on, the Heresy has become a Real Place, and the imagined time between it and Now has essentially been annihilated, like distance in Westeros in Season Six. Things go into hibernation in the age of heresy, then 10,000 years later - BOOM, they pop right back up, almost unchanged.

And in addition to this, there has been some exploration of what exactly was going on in the Age of Strife (imagine Ian M. Banks Culture if the machines suddenly went Harlan Ellison, the Xenos went like Any Non-American in an episode of '24' with Kiefer Sutherland and Actual Fucking Demons popped up). So now things can be from there as well.

And the weird thing about there being much more detail is that it feels like there is less time for things to be in. The Thousand Sons codex has a cool timeline for 'what have the Thousand Sons been up to?' and the answer is nothing. They did the heresy, then kinda hung around for like three entries, then popped right back up in the 41st millennium.

Most of the stuff in this trilogy feels like it comes from War In Heaven stuff, and a bit from the near-past of the Imperium. But even though Telok Mysteriously Disappeared maybe a millennia ago, it hasn't affected his insane Xanatos Gambit at all.




We Need To Do What Now? For What?

So the Eldar are follwing the straaaands of faaaaate, and this is somewhat fun but it’s also slightly bad because it means that they want to do exactly what the writer needs them to do at any particular moment. We need to stop the humans!, no, wait, we fucked that up, now we need to save the humans! If almost any Eldar farseer character at any point in the imagined sequence of events had just got out the graph paper and told any human 'Look, we are trying to stop *this*, so *this*, you see that green line? Well we are trying to stop that. Ok, don't worry, I'll get a whiteboard." Then the whole fuckup would never have happened.

Likewise Abrehem Lock the good-guy machine-touched prophet who sometimes exudes golden light, gets Mysterious Assistance from an Unknown Source. This assistance is somewhat irregular since, if there was a bit more of it a bit sooner then a lot of bullshit could have been avoided, but if there was a bit less of it any later than there was, then everything would be fucked.

And to a certain extent this is just the nature of storytelling. But there is a bit too much of it in this story.



Xanatos Gambit in Extremium

Yes everything you did, even the apparently MASSIVELY random things, were part of my MEGA PLAN to bring you here! A plan which started before I probably could have thought of it, which was almost perfectly timed, (TO THE SECOND), even though it took centuries to work, which relied almost totally on you making a lot of really-pretty-questionable decisions than sane people probably wouldn’t have made, and which (spoilers) is STILL IN EFFECT even though my planet has been eaten by mega-entropy, my crystal dudes are smashed, my AI freak is dead, my ancient reality-bending super-weapon is gone and I have been literally code-wiped and brainfucked by a conclave of vengeful Arch-Magoses AND destroyed by a Mysterious Golden Light which might actually have been The Omnissiah or at least some kind of extra-reality techno-god. It was all (nearly!) JUST AS PLANNNED!!!

Yes! Telok is still around! Will he return in later books? No-one cares. Bring back Galeta.



No-Ones really Autistic Enough

If the Ad-Mech or the Black Templars where as Autistically fucked in the head as they are often portrayed in other stories or background, then this story would probably have been impossible to tell. It would just have been cogboys and homeschool space marines going REEEEEEEE in separate padded cupboards. Instead we get the Tony Stark of Ad-Mech and the Black Templars who were allowed to watch The Simpsons after homework, even though its from a fallen world.



It’s an Insane Death-Cult as the Heroes

Same as all 40k really. Dark Warning from Future History? Quasi Fascist Masturbation Tool? Harmless, but Aesthetically Intense Playgound and Generator for a rare Deep Gothic Mood?

Most of the current writers believe they are fully in the "Dark Warning" crowd. None think they are in the "Fascist Masturbation" crowd.

But you can't really write a 40k story without, to some extent, 'good guying' the Fascist Imperium, or the story would be unreadable. In 'real life' it would be like living in North Korea, plus the medieval Catholic Church. It would be bad.

But the fascist space-boys we spend our time with are almost always the good commissar with the deaths-head cap, or the _good_ autistic mass-killer space marine who will never know love, and if our hero did an exterminatus then by tha emprah they HAD ta do it! So you can't really interact with the darkness of the world without lightening it. There may be a complex moral element in there

And its unquestionable that some fascists are masturbating to 40k.

I don't think I really care, mainly because I'm from the 80's and am happy to go with the power of the non-fragile individual to absorb and contain powerful aesthetic energies without harm as a point of belief. And I think the world is better for 40k being in it. Dark Dreams have many sources and many ends, not all obvious.

If it fucks with your head, just keep repeating "It was a satire in the 80's. IT WAS A SATIRE IN THE 80'S!!!!" with your eyes closed and your hands clutched to your head.





ODD THINGS



WTF is the Speranza? And, Who is the Omnissiah?

Who the fuck is the actual Omnissiah in this book? Because someone, or something is hanging around in the background EXACTLY like the Judeo-Christian god is sometimes wont to do, handing out irregular gifts involving healing golden light that also fixes and powers machines.

Is it THA EMPRAH!? It certainly does the stuff you would expect the Imperiums version of the Emprah to do. But isn't the point of view of most 40k books that the Emprah being the Omnissiah is just a massive, and obvious, snow-job to unite humanity and that everyone just goes along with it because the alternative is cyborg/human civil war? Also - no Eagles.

Is it the Speranza? So everyone who goes noodling in the Speranzas data core thinks there is some Huge Unknowable Intelligence in there. Kotov encounters it and it directly tells him that it is eternal and the ship is just a body, that it has had many names (one is 'Veda') and it seems not-evil or chaosy, but also largely indifferent to actual people, but it does appear to speak in first person in one of the chapter introductions in first person and to say that yes, it is 'Hope in a Hopeless Age'.

Is it a nice C'tan? This seems unlikely but would fit with the Speranza being built around it, then being hidden and all records wiped, then waking up and wrecking a planet as it did so. One of the people helping good-guy machine-touched prophet Abrehem Locke has a literal goddamn Void Dragon tattoo from a cult they are in. Do they know wtf that is?

Is it a 'nice' AI from the Age of Strife? One that didn't get Chaos-boned? But now just hangs around not really interacting? But how would it be immaterial? Is it a tardis-like quantum computer shoved into another dimension but interacting with this one through a big ship?

If the Speranza makes it back to 'normal' 40k, is anyone going to ask basic-level questions like 'What Was Up With That Magic Golden Light'? and 'Shouldn’t We Investigate The Speranza?'




I gave it three stars on Goodreads. There was a lot to like. But there was also just a LOT.