Sunday, 25 December 2016

The Inevitable Christmas Post

Happy Christmas to all my readers, or more accurately to all the Faeit 212 readers because let's be honest, the overlap is basically 100%.

If you're stuck for something to read whilst waiting for/ digesting that turkey, or whatever alternative you're trying out this year, might I direct you to the sidebar where you'll find an assortment of shorts and articles, both 40k related and otherwise. Of course if you need a chewier read and happen to get a Kindle or similar this year, there's always my book..

Going forward, once I can extricate my metaphorical feet from the equally metaphorical wet cement that is Let It Die, I'll be reviewing my new Creature Caster Spider Daemon, working on lots of new-old metal Daemonettes, and revisiting both my CSM and Sisters of Battle. I'm also working on a sequel to the book, so if you should happen to give it a look please let me know, the feedback is always encouraging!

Until next time, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and all that jazz.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

About Time II- the sequel nobody asked for

Some time ago, I wrote a little think-piece on here about dumb time travel in fiction, calling out some of the more ridiculous things movies, books and games do with it that make absolutely no sense. Well, whilst I stand by every word of it, the offenders listed there do deserve an apology. It's not that they aren't dumb, it's that most of the others are too.

Oddly enough, what led me to this realisation is actually one of my favourite repeat offenders, the DC TV-verse. Without veering too far into spoiler territory, recent plots in the DC shows are revolving quite a lot around time travel, and one of the noted side-effects has been that a character who previously had a daughter now instead has a son. This development sent me down a rabbit hole of thinking that led to some pretty startling conclusions.

One quite common trope (I hate that word, but it's useful here) in time-travel stories is a character having to make sure that they get born. Maybe they stop someone killing one of their ancestors, or persuade their future parents to get back together after a breakup. This is usually presented as a pre-destination paradox- the result of an event (e.g. Marty) goes back in time and causes the event (e.g. Marty's parents getting busy). What isn't addressed is how incredibly, astronomically difficult that is. I'm going to do that really pretentious italicised quotes thing now, because I haven't done it before and it looks cool:

"I can't wait to get back to Deep Space 9 and see your face when you find out that I never existed!"
Julian Bashir, DS9, 'Trials and Tribble-ations'

Julian doesn't know the half of it. In 'Trials and Tribble-ations', a sub-plot features Bashir wondering if he's supposed to be his own great-grandfather. Leaving aside for a moment the effects a time-loop might have on genetic diversity, as a doctor Julian should know something very important, which most of these stories (with the notable exception, presumably by pure luck, of the DC shows) ignore. In order to make sure a baby 'A' is produced by parents 'B' and 'C', we don't just need  them to fall in love and produce a child- we need them to do it at exactly the right moment. 

"When your parents combined their DNA, the odds of them producing someone with your precise genetic pattern were ten million to one. Add in the odds of your parents meeting and bothering to procreate in the first place, and the odds of your existence are along the lines of drawing three straight Imperial Courts in an honest game of Vedran whist! If you overcame those odds once, who's to say you can't do it again? "
Tyr Anasazi, Andromeda, 'The Widening Gyre'

Now Tyr gets it, or most of it. As most of us know, the process of fertilisation involves millions of sperm attempting a Death Star Trench Run to be the first to reach and penetrate an egg. Unlike Rebel fighters, however, these things are constantly being created and re-absorbed by the body, and so every one is subtly different. Even the most minute change in circumstances might result in a different sperm remembering to use The Force and... ok, that metaphor has stretched past breaking point. Where I'm going with this is that even a few seconds difference in the time of conception will probably lead to a different resulting person. Of course, they'll be a very similar person in many respects, carrying most of the same genetic markers and so on, but even two 'identical' twins will generally go on to lead different lives. Our baby will be more like a brother or sister to the potential person who should have been born if our hapless time traveller hadn't spilt coffee in the lap of his great-grandfather and made him miss the train home. (Not actually 'our' baby, of course. I mean, I'm flattered, but I don't think of you that way.)

Once again, this whole thing probably comes under the heading of Thinking About It Too Much, but it's certainly an interesting thing to consider. So many stories revolve around the idea that time can take a certain amount of punishment and just bounce back as if nothing had happened, or maybe you come back to find your dog never died and now your uncle speaks Portugese, but as we've seen, go more than one generation and the chances that any of the same people even exist start to become pretty remote. It's probably the sort of thing that gets Richard Dawkins very excited and makes him write books that make Buddhists want to punch him. I feel a Nightwish segue coming on..

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

40k and White Wolf- a word of caution

Before anyone gets over-excited, this isn't some sort of rumour post about a tie-up between White Wolf, the legendary paper RPG makers, and Games Workshop. Rather, it's a look at how the fate of one might foreshadow the travails of the other.

Back in the day, when I used to do pen-and-paper roleplaying, there were several systems that were big with our gaming group, and few were bigger than White Wolf's "World of Darkness". To this day, my old gaming buddies and I can happily regale an unsuspecting victim with tales of the Vampire clans of the Camarilla and the anarchistic Sabbat, the tribes of the Garou and the various flavours of Mage, amongst other things. The Storyteller system, supported by a steady flow of sourcebooks, allowed players to take part in a struggle to decide the very fate of reality itself. Eventually, the story reached its own End Times, known variously as Gehenna, the Ascension, the Apocalypse and various others.

Of course, the thing with a story is once it's over, it's over. You can write a sequel, but if you basically end by destroying the world then the only option is reboot city. We've seen this recently with Age of Sigmar, and White Wolf did the same thing with the "New World of Darkness".

Now, I don't move in those circles any more, but from my perspective this reboot never really took off. Veterans didn't really appreciate all their knowledge of the setting becoming obsolete overnight, and new players were intimidated by the negativity from the older ones. These days, White Wolf are a shadow of their former selves who were recently bought out by the makers of Eve Online.

What does this have to do with 40k? Well, the Warhammer reboot was, I think we can agree, eventually fairly successful, especially once GW wised up and released the General's Handbook to add a points system. The thing was, though, that this was with a background of very low sales of Warhammer and a world that was largely stagnant and very derivative. 40k, on the other hand, is still for all its faults one of the best-selling and most famous sci-fi wargames in the world.

I've always said that one of the great strengths of the 40k setting is that massive battles and campaigns can be won and lost without the larger galaxy giving much of a damn. Entire star systems can be eaten by Tyranids, overrun by Orks, or lost to Chaos and there's still plenty more where that came from. It means players have a lot of room to tell their own stories and need not worry unduly that something official will come along and render them invalid. Recently, though, this has started to change. The threat against Baal, the desolation of Fenris, and now possibly even the destruction of the Cadian Gate are events too serious to ignore, and the rumours point to Chaos forces even reaching Holy Terra itself. But for me, this whole thing actually started with the Tau.

The thing with the Tau Empire is that, compared to most 40k factions, they're tiny. The Tau Sept Worlds are a mere postage-stamp in the galaxy, and the whole race could conceivably be wiped out by the Tyranids, Orks or even the Imperium if they got around to it in the space of one lost campaign. For all the talk of the Tau being a faction of hope- even the only 'good guys' in the galaxy- there's no scope in the setting for them to suffer a serious reverse. They're uniquely isolated in one place, they don't have that many worlds, and they have a lot of enemies. Put the Tau in a campaign and we know the worst they'll do is a stalemate because if they lose heavily, they're gone- and you can ask any old Squat player how that feels. This is really the first time that the huge 40k setting finds itself lacking space for stories.

Now we have Chaos possibly breaking through to Terra, Daemon Primarchs returning and Loyalist ones waking up or being rediscovered. Rumours point to Luther escaping The Rock, and the Eldar possibly creating Ynnead and defeating Slaanesh. Many of these events would have impact that the 40k setting, as it stands, cannot sustainably absorb. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Maybe the Black Crusade will be defeated at Terra and we'll enter a new Great Crusade, an age of progress and reconquest. Maybe the Emperor will die, and maybe be reborn, we just don't know. But the problem for me is that all of this picks away at that great strength of 40k- a setting that was too big, too awesome in scope and wide-ranging in timescale to be broken. We're seeing more galactically significant events in a decade or so than have occurred over the previous ten thousand years, and that begins to pick away at the foundation that makes 40k's world so compelling.

Perhaps I'm worrying over nothing. Perhaps if they break the galaxy this 40-something might decide to make a clean break with the whole thing. Maybe, since the galaxy is such a big place, I won't be missed. But the thing with big events is that they tend to make everything around them look small, and 'small' is never a word we want to see associated with the 40k galaxy.

But maybe a reboot is what the whole thing needs. Let's just hope it goes better than the White Wolf one.