I didn’t read that much this year in terms of volume of books. I found an old book on Davey Crockett I read as a kid and plowed through that, finished a book on early colonization called The Barbarous Years and a few manga here and there which don’t really count. I did get through a big one this year which was really rough going but extremely solid and worth the effort: Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett. This is the first novel in the Lymond chronicles.
Normally, I would never even look at this series of books based on the covers, even when when I was in my heavy reading phase of life (so far). But I saw a reference to it when reading about Pax Renaissance that it was a large influence on Ecklund when he was designing the game, so I gave it a shot. I had no idea what I was getting into. Instead of a light Bernard Cornwell historical romp– this is an absolute BEAST and took me all Summer to read.
Note that while the modern cover of the book is extremely bland, the older versions look like cheap medieval romance novels!
Later books in the series double down on the Romance novel cover action.
Is that the Disney castle in the back there?
Despite the fantasy romance covers, this book is nothing of the sort. It is an extremely challenging historical fiction about an exiled lord who returns to Scotland after being wrongfully imprisoned in France, starts up a band of thieves and rogues and starts messing with the coming conflict between England and Scotland over the hand of Mary Queen of Scots (who became the queen of Scotland 6 days after she was born!). This was the author’s first novel, and is nothing short of remarkable. While extremely difficult to follow due to Dunnett’s overly-liberal use of character’s other/landed names*, the plot is both one of conflict between nobles, a war novel (of the Rough Wooing) and a mystery all in one. Sound familiar? If this didn’t influences Game of Thrones, probably one if it’s main influences, call me a one legged cat trying to bury a turd on a frozen pond.
While this is a 600+ page beast and a very slow read in parts, it all comes together in the end with an exciting and intricate finale and builds up the main character, who seems at first like a complete arsehole and a Mary Sue ninja as well, to simply have had secret motivations and a brutal existence to explain both. Highly recommended if you can get through the name issue. Maybe you can find a cheap copy in the used book store with the romance novel cover!
*for example, the main character is called Francis, Lymond of Crawford, the Master, Crawford, Master of Cutler, not to be confused with his brother, Richard, the Baron of Cutler, Lord Crawford, and so on. This happens with ALL of the landed characters and sometimes I couldn’t tell if Dunnett was referring to the father or the son in some scenes. Anyway, you get used to it.
Ah World War 1, there is truly no end to the horrors that one can discover while plumbing it’s gory depths. It’s especially horrifying as no one except for a few Generals from the American Civil war and possibly the Prussians after the Austro and Franco Prussian wars knew or could have even imagined it would be this sort of conflict. The following short film has ghastly English dubbing, but is worth watching (it’s short). It references this horrifying battle.
And just for historical reference, the Russian army DISINTEGRATED near the end of the war, you have to imagine if the soldiers were willing to fight like this, what the scale of that really meant.
I want to do a long post about CK3. This is an amazing game. Here’s the TL:DR.
FIRST: it’s much easier to get into than CK2, which I gave the good colleddged try a few times and failed to figure out what to do and it definitely failed to pique my interest and I just yearned for Stellaris… this one is totally smooth. SMOOTH.
SECOND: this is not a conquest game like Total War, this is a medieval FUCK simulator with war-like…um… consequences. It’s all about relationships, both hierarchical and personal, hereditary and romantic. You don’t have winning goal– you set that for yourself which is extremely different than Total War or Stellaris. As a strategy buff, this seemed odd to me, but it’s great. It’s a sandbox and it’s huge.
THIRD: The things you can do are absolute madness. Eating prisoners, seducing relatives of either gender, creating a naked, satanic religion and then forcing it onto your subjects, running a bene gesserit style breeding program with your children and grand children to create what later amounts to a kwizatch haderach (or transalpine dwarfs….).
So what the hell is this game?
CK3 is a game where you play as a single person, specifically a landowning noble of some kind. When that person dies, if they have kids who can inherit their wealth and status and holdings (not just spawns that can’t inherit anything), you play as one of those children, otherwise it’s game over. You are incentivized to continue your bloodline and make sure you have enough heirs, so that with the high death rates of the early medieval period, you don’t lose the game.
You can start as anyone: a king, a queen, a count or a duke but not Barons or unlanded nobles (ie: no banking families— yet). You can start anywhere in the ‘old’ world (Europe to the western edge of China) as well as amazingly, Africa. You can play as nobles in the Califates, in the late dark age Viking kingdoms or as leaders of the Hausa in Africa. The scope is nuts.
Once you start, you will have a holding, house you belong to, family and a court that you need to manage. This comes with a small or large military, alliances, a current religion with all of the rules and complexity that goes along with these.
And here’s how this fucking madness can play out.
On my first play, I chose Malika of the Hausa, a matrilineal, tribal area in Africa. I got a husband and other mating partners (totally OK in Hausa culture, not at all OK in most others) and started the full auto birthcannon, just firing out kids. The issue was, they started to try to kill each other as there were no laws of primogeniture. Eventually my first character had about 7-8 kids– quite a horde and 2 of them died early. When my first character died, I thought: ‘Ok, I’ve built quite a power-base here and my oldest daughter is going to continue to kick total ass.’ NOPE! The rules of succession split everything among the female heirs equally and my main daughter immediately had to go to war with two of her sisters to reclaim (or claim rather) the lands that were rightfully hers. Meanwhile she racked up the consorts and started firing out kids of her own– but NO girls. So if she got killed, she I would end up playing as one of her sisters that I was now at war with, or at the last minute would have to switch to a patriarchal culture. Fan, fucking, tastic.
Being my first play with no clue as to what I was doing, I quit to start over. After running through the tutorial that starts in Ireland, then I began as Eudes, a little kid count in Western France, beset by enemies all around him with a couple of powerful uncles, one of which is his liege who has bigger problems to worry about.
Other than making sure I was not going to get immediately destroyed by the Vikings nearby, the first thing I had to find was a good woman just like the Hausa lady finding a set of good men to breed children, this is essential, and in Catholic France, you likely get only one shot at this. I have a certain… uh… type of lady that I like so I was like: why not let’s go look at Spain/Portugal and I found a similar age kid that fit the bill and had a positive congenital trait as well– boom! Betrothed which gave me an instant ally across the Pyrenees and some claims on some counties in the Basque region. I married off a sister which gave me another ally nearby. Then…
… I got– distracted. The map is gigantic, just mind-bogglingly large. I started looking at India and environs on a whim and BOOM: there were tits. Granted they were on a lady with dwarfism… Then the deep dive into the mystery of the naked rulers in India began– and then I found one in Eastern Europe. Why? What the hell and how can I get everyone naked?? How? I won’t spoil anything, but this led me to some deep respect around the religious aspect of this game. There are 15 Islamic sects alone and I have no idea how many Christian ones, including the Gnoscists, your leaders can, of course, create their own religions. These each have different mechanics and change the rules of the game, including, you got it: NUDITY.
I played as Eudes until he passed away happily having quite a few children and a few un-legitimized bastards and then the madness and obsession really began. When you start with one of the ‘try this first’ factions you feel a bit like you are on rails (you are not) but when that guy or gal dies, you know everything can and will change drastically, a lot like some of the better Total War games. Eventually, France collapsed under the constant conflict between rival counts and dukes, meanwhile raided from Vikings in the north and pressure from the south from the Islamic empire that had rolled across Spain. Eventually ALL of southern France was part of a massive Islamic empire who had also encroached into Italy. The only thing for it was for the Pope to call a Crusade and madness began again.
While the urge is to get the biggest Kingdom/Dukedom or solid heirs, sometimes, you just need do things out of spite. A few generations down I had an absolute rake seducer as a duke as well as some unruly vassals and they went and rebelled. The rebellion was crushed and I captured a couple of the rulers, most of which I tortured and then let go. But one of them had a comely lass for a spouse and no children yet! I left him to rot in jail, seduced his wife who must have been oh so lonely (she hated him anyway) and as soon as she was impregnated, I turned him loose from jail to cope with the fact that his primary heir was not his own child. This did nothing to advance the cause of my realm, but real good fun.
Another event was that I needed a good spymaster. I found some Teutonic broad in the low countries with a shockingly high intrigue stat, seduced her to my court, then my rakish duke had some kids with her. Over the years, I noticed one of her daughters had some amazing congenital traits and seduced her too (this was her daughter from a previous husband/lover) and when the Duchess died, married the duke to the daughter. Eventually, since her mom was the spymaster, she exposed the secret to her daughter that the duke had also humped her mom and there was an incident… luckily my duke had a high likability, otherwise you start to see murder after murder of your dynasty members from inside your own court.
Eventually my dynasty was stripped of all other Duke level titles and was stuck with just a Duchy of Provence (between Italy and France) and even though I had kidnapped my liege multiple times to get concessions, due to disease, murder and accidents at war, I was down to a barren duchess with zero male heirs in her line of succession and it was game over.
Again, this game has no ‘winning’ goal: you make your own goals and it’s just brilliant. You can play as a warlike Richard the Lionhearted, a foppish lout who whores and drinks, or a Bathory style torturer and murderer and anywhere in between. Then, next generation, you get to decide how to play again.
Lastly, I love how small, seemingly insignificant decisions later become massive problems or boons. Marrying off an ugly, scaly daughter to some bastard child of one of your vassals ends up accidentally with you controlling the province as the father murdered his bastard and a month later his son and heir, one of your knights, is killed fighting in a crusade.
They really knocked one out of the park and this will be played all Winter…I can’t wait for expansions: especially if there are BANKING expansions where you can play as the FUGGERS, etc. and not worry about all the owning land stuff.
Hopefully the last one (sorry, this shit pisses me off). I was pretty pissed off when they closed schools, and even more pissed off when they extended the closure to the full Spring semester. We got lucky where we live that we have experts from both the local children’s hospital and parents that recognize the critical need to get kids in school and we opened full 5 days. While one of the local schools is closed due to an outbreak for 2 weeks, everything else is full steam ahead in our area, and it’s working fine. Many, many children aren’t so lucky and their school districts have given in to fear.
I urge you to understand this epidemic outside the media and their experts and especially as a multivariate problem. Independent scientists have been the only ones actually applying the scientific method, and in many cases, very basic math. Most of them are retired so they are not beholden to anyone’s budget nor any tenured position. Settled science is not science at all. We start with the original problem: being primed to panic due to ridiculous modelling by the Imperial College and the University of Washington and somehow, this bullshit stuck and stuck hard.
“Neither Vallance nor Whitty outrightly challenged Ferguson’s model or predictions. By contrast, in a series of messages from Michael Levitt, a Stanford University professor who would correctly predict the pandemic’s initial trajectory, Ferguson was warned that he had overestimated the potential death toll by ‘ten to 12 times’….“
When the prediction was made, the UK went from the Swedish approach to hard, fear-driven lockdown and the US followed suit in most states due to Fauci’s using the model to stoke the Trumpster fire. Fear was rampant, on twitter, on facebook on reddit. I was banned from the WI reddit for posting that the University of Austin projections for deaths in WI were only 600 by May, while other cranks estimated with their napkin math deaths in Wisconsin into the hundreds of thousands. Days later the dire UK-Imperial College projections went down from 2 million to 500 thousand in the USA (still a big number). Then Fauci was pressed on the news and gave 65K as his estimate in April. And yet, Fear became law.
We have seen revealed some critical problems with ourselves, our government and our media via this pandemic. There are no clean hands, everyone is in the same plague pit on this, the Left should have never accepted lockdowns and all the upper middle class are pretty much all hidden in their houses because this financially doesn’t effect them (only to go out and protest systemic racism) instead of protesting the lockdowns and school closures that have crushed the lower middle class and poor. Republicans denied it was a thing at all, which was stupid, yet they ended up much closer to right that it is not severe for younger people statistically. Lucky for us because early mistakes were made by our federal government’s response (Fauci is square in the sights on this again). When someone said it’s the flu, they were wrong, but not nearly as wrong as the Left which constantly compares this to the 1918 Flu, which it is nowhere near. And yet, this is a pandemic, it isn’t fake and it isn’t a full casedemic (though it’s becoming moreso every week this goes on). The shit is real and it’s nasty but, it’s nowhere, nowhere, nowhere near as serious as we were led to believe and at no time was there any justifications for the horizontal lockdowns or school closures after March.
C-19 is a largely nosocomial (there is no vaccine that nurses/doctors can take to minimize hospital spread) and nursing home (50%+ of casualties were from the nursing home population so far) disease that primarily effects people over 65, which is not smear spread, but may spread via aerosols (like farts and shit air from toilets with no lid) and certainly from droplets. It spreads very easily but is barely noticed in the general population until hospitalizations and deaths spike (primarily among the elderly) and by that time the peak of the epidemic is likely already past. Lockdowns only work to slow the spread, but the outbreaks will come as soon as the lockdowns end. If there was a quick vaccine that prevented spread, this might be a viable tactic, but it won’t be quick and the vaccines in process only target reducing symptoms and not spread.
This hits your ACE2 receptors in your nose, forms a coagulate mass and then drops into your lungs where it creates a gel out of stuff leaking out of your infected cells. For most people, they don’t even notice or it’s just a crappy cold and extremely mild compared to the flu. For some, especially the elderly and infirm, it can causes horrible problems and the disease gets into other organs and causes issues. This was thought to be a cytokine storm (where your immune system goes crazy) but it’s now thought to be a bradykinin storm. There’s a lot being learned about treatment for the disease even as it disappears from European countries that didn’t lock down and, strangely, almost all of Asia. I’m stating this here because it’s important that I note that this is not the flu, it is much milder in the young and much worse for the elderly. It’s not some made up thing because the rest of this may read like I believe this is nothing or completely fake. It is not fake, people that would not have died of something else have died of C-19 and healthy people I know got very sick for a couple of weeks, a few for longer, yet as a society: our over-reaction to it is the actual problem.
The second issue after completely failed modelling, is internet and social media fueled panic. We started hearing about this and seeing videos in December and it was pretty scary, but so was SARs and MERS and Ebola and Swine flu (which was a fake pandemic). Data was already coming in that this 1) primarily effected the elderly and 2) spread like crazy 3) was novel (it’s not as novel as we thought). A torrent of social media posts, and people who’s entire existence is social media were crying out for attention with the most apocalyptic and dire nonsense, and they got plenty of what they wanted. I remember confronting someone with data that completely refuted their claims that there was exponential growth (this never had sustained exponential growth, and if you think that, you can’t math) and would kill millions in the USA. Their response: the scientist that authored the report was a conservative. This is basically social contagion. The Word Virus. Due to this and probably some crafty information creation out of China, we were primed for panic, and we did. We basically let our governments run a playbook of shutdowns and school closures en masse that was straight from an authoritarian regime that everyone should hate. Blue states were completely closed and shuttered and their children are still not back in school. This is absolutely horrifying and again, something no one on the Left should ever have accepted. School closures for a few weeks is absolutely understandable, Japan does it for the flu here and there, but for 6 months? This is a social experiment in fear that went horrifically wrong.
‘Flattening the curve’ turned out to be complete horseshit: first, because except in some extremely specific places and times, the curve never needed flattening, there were always enough hospital beds, and no one that needed a vent couldn’t get one, and secondly, some cities are still under total lockdown after 30+ weeks. Let that sink in: 30+ weeks, few overflowing ICUs. This is in order to go to complete suppression or ‘zero covid’ which is about as flat earther as you can get. Goalpost shifting basically forever, and for what purpose? If lockdowns work to suppress, as soon as you open up again, boom: virus gonna virus. What have we allowed to happen?
Take what you think the deaths are going to be if you can do basic math, add a zero, and that’s what most people have been led to believe it will be. To put it simply, you had a fuckload of real life and internet Karens who put enormous pressure on local governments to do ANYTHING to allay their fear, however ridiculous. Almost all governments panicked, some regained composure quickly, others did not and have not.
The second huge issue we face as a culture is information suppression due to tech companies that now control information. HCL treatment with Zinc, The California Doctors video to their LOCAL news agency, Prof. Wittkowski, Prof. Ioannidis (?!) and now the President’s advisor on Covid have been and are currently brutally suppressed by technology companies, including Google, Twitter, Squarespace and Facebook. They allow flat earthers and innumerate idiots that predicted 10 million deaths in the USA to keep posting their trash, yet these Doctors and professors who predicted a much less lethal course for this disease, or suggested a treatment that has now shown to have good effect for some patients (however odd one of them turned out to be), have been censored. Now that the evidence is in it would be almost comical that the tech companies picked the wrong horse, because they are imbeciles right? Nope, this was done deliberately. Why? The answer is simple. You sitting in your fucking house on your ass with nothing to do makes money for the above mentioned companies, TONS of money. The longer the lockdowns, fear and panic last, the more money they make.
For the tech companies, this is not about protecting the public, especially since shortly after the Ioannidis study came out the CDC itself showed very similar data in their planning documents on May 15th, and the WHO have now published one of Ioannidis’s papers themselves. Google, Facebook, Twitter and Squarespace are led by evil people and are terrible companies that are out for one thing and one alone: your data and your money. They don’t care about your politics and will happily allow posts of funny videos of antifa people embarrassing themselves (no wonder they don’t want to be filmed anymore), fake scientists like Eric Dingledong along with detailed reasons why rampant capitalism is going to be the bane of human existence and lead to and environmental catastrophe. Like the news media, they need your eyes glued to their product and your ass glued to your chair. That’s why they leave flat earther videos and remove anything on Covid that doesn’t cry out: stay home, stay home, stay home. And look at you, you are staying home. Guess what, Ioannidis predicted the Infection Fatality Rate to be 0.26, another paper came out last week and what was their IFR? 0.26 or less. You’re still at home because scientists like him were banned. You think you should stay home for a disease with an overall IFR of 0.26 where 80% of the deaths are over 75? Google thinks you absolutely MUST, not for your benefit, but for theirs.
“Accept the truth from whatever source it comes.” –Maimonides
But who they didn’t delete, except for one interview with Toby from Lockdown Skeptics, which is shocking to me in retrospect, was probably the most brutal critic of the lockdowns, fear and media panic because he did it with just college level math, not some bullshit Nate Silver ‘model’: Nobel Prize winner Michael Levitt. I did some digging and one of the principles at Google was one of his students at Stanford along with his son. Otherwise, I believe he would have been absolutely repressed for his views by google, twitter and youtube. Levitt predicted China’s case and death toll almost exactly in March, as well as Sweden. He made some statements about Israel that turned out to be a bit off and easily taken out of context to pillory him. He basically stated that most of the major outbreaks (not the entire pandemic) follow the Gompertz Curve rather than a Sigmoid curve and there was never exponential growth at any time (a big bunch of bullshit the media kept playing up). When you have a trickle outbreak (like where I live) it doesn’t really work as we don’t have the population density to even have a curve at all, but places like Sweden, New York, UK, France, Italy, Spain all have very distinct Gompertz curves. He destroys everyone in this short clip.
Unfortunately, while he had an incredibly important paper on China in March, it did not get out and about soon enough to allay the panic except for very few people. He made statements that he felt the Pandemic would be over on August 25th in the United States, which is now looking very close as people are examining quite the case and death rates data as much of it right now is extremely sketchy. When the CDC announced that only 6% of the casualties were directly FROM C-19, all death coding became even more suspect. PCR tests are another huge issue, as the PCR test is a diagnostic test that is now being used as a screening test(!?).
The more traditional news sources are awful as well, and their motivations are the same as the technology companies: create panic and people buy our newspapers or view our web pages. This everyone knows instinctively, but it’s been at a fever pitch during this pandemic. MSNBC has gone back and deleted articles where it predicted mass deaths– you can’t find them anymore unless they have been mirrored by other new sources. CNN and Fox are mirrors of the orange man bad, orange man good. Neither should be watched or listened to at any time, though I was shocked as the panic narrative on Fox ceased abruptly and they, the right wing conservatives, were the first to question the lockdowns– not the left anti-authority mavens, but the Right. What, the, Fuck. Trust in the scientific community, the CDC and Virology as a whole has been completely lost, and deservedly so. Yet now even opinion journalism CNN has started to turn against the liars and imbeciles.
Bhattacharya: “Very, very disappointed with the scientific community… also the press as well. There have been open calls by fellow folks here at Stanford to establish, in effect, a censorship board over open science, published in the New York Times. I’ve seen my colleague, Dr. John Ioannidis, one of the very top scientists, epidemiologists, infectious disease experts in the world, his videos that he’s done, suppressed…
I’ve seen… respected scientists descend to attack in the ugliest ways. I’ve been trying to understand what is motivating it, and almost always, the complaint is that if you have dissent on this issue, you’re endangering the public…
I don’t understand how having open scientific debate could possibly endanger the public. Science is not a mechanism of population control; it’s a mechanism for learning true things when you have a very complicated situation, and everyone in science gets things wrong…
That’s why we have open scientific debate, to correct one another. That has fallen away in service of this idea that as a scientific community, we should convey a single message, so we get the entire public to do the set of things we want them to do…
That itself is an error and has really poisoned the scientific debate… I think it’s going to take a long time to repair.”
What’s the biggest tragedy through all of this is the collapse into fearmongering and tribalism of the New York Times. In both their editorial section and articles, they have been the worst journalists and flat out look like they are funded by Big Pharma (buy our vaccines) and big tech (stay at home and use our product) at this point. Their panic laden editorials, biased covid coverage of the non-lockdown countries (Sweden, who have an extremely nuanced approach–not simply “no lockdown” as people claim), their support of total virus suppression, their lack of questioning lockdowns beyond 2-3 weeks and their lack of investigative reporting into hospitals, nor Cuomo’s horrifying, yet understandable at the time, mistakes with nursing homes in the state with the largest city in the country. They should be ashamed of themselves. As a primarily left wing person politically, it’s tough for me to say this but while Fox and CNN don’t pretend or hide their extreme political bias, the NYT puts itself forward as actual journalism. They are, like CNN and Fox, opinion journalism masquerading as something else. The New York Times is no longer of any value to our country nor the city that they have helped eviscerate.
This is probably the best video I’ve seen on the situation, worth watching all the way through.
So who was right? Belarus, Sweden, (Brazil), Japan.
“Nothing would be more fatal than for the Government of States to get into the hands of experts. Expert knowledge is limited knowledge and the unlimited ignorance of the plain man, who knows where it hurts, is a safer guide than any rigorous direction of a specialist.”
My advice out of this is to look at the data itself from the primary sources, some of which may be dubious, but I really think people are trying their best. I use the CDC site linked above and COVIBES— a site out of Hong Kong that is outside our sphere of political biases. If you are feeling scared about local increases in C-19 mortality, read your coroner reports. While morbid, it gives a very solid indication of who is vulnerable to this disease.
From Prof Levitt:
1) Ignore cases, use number of hospitalizations, deaths.
2) Beware of reported death: many ‘with’ not ‘due to’ COVID19.
3) All-cause deaths bias-free but ambiguous & badly delayed.
4) MSM is rarely right. WHO often right but timing off.
5) COVID19 is a contrast agent revealing what is wrong with society but was invisible.
6) Make errors: exploring the unknown cannot be correct. Learn from errors.
7) Use common sense. Think.
(8) Stop being scared. World reported COVID19 at 1,050,000 is 7 days of natural death. [Just be cautious]
Vote against any candidate using COVID as part of their platform. This will likely force you to vote third party. Do so.
Support getting rid of the WHO and get another Pandemic office that is properly staffed in the United States. Remember the WHO said there was no evidence of human to human transmission, and then went from not recommending masks except if you were sick, to 100% recommendation, to recommending lockdown, and now against lockdown. That there was very little asymptomatic spread, to it being a vector of the epidemic. They are not to be trusted and seem to have left the H out of the WO.
Masks. Wait for the worm to turn on this one pretty fast. Follow the WHO guidelines from April. Remember, masks are attached to people who struggle with them constantly. Regardless of the material, there’s still a person (or FFS, a child) under there most of the time not wearing or using it properly. Based on some anecdotal with people I know that wore masks all the time and still got sick, I personally think it’s all bullshit, but I’m willing to read studies that say otherwise– still can’t find them.
Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn. Cthulhu has been using “Why settle for the lesser evil” since the DOLE vs CLINTON campaign in 1996. But not it’s moved on (owing to maybe Cthulhu may not be the lesser evil?) in 2016 to the even more more appropriate for 2020: NO LIVES MATTER. Let’s see if he can win this time.
I read a bunch of stuff in 2018 so far. Some of these you should read, some maybe not.
I started off the year LIGHT because I had just finished a heavy history of the early American Colonies that took months for me to get through (The Barbarous Years). Heavy history is the real deal compared to the pop stuff most people read that I also, shamefully, like, but if you’re not in a scholarly mood, they can be rough.
The first book of the year was a Dashiell Hammett that I hadn’t gotten to yet: RED HARVEST (not the bullshit starwars novel). Cool name? Well that’s what the fuck it is. The first half is excellent and then about the middle end, when one of the main characters gets knocked off, it feels a bit rushed to me, like Hammet didn’t want to revel in the final carnage and high body count (or felt it would be unrealistic for his protagonist to survive if shit got too crazy). Overall a strong book in the genre and a fun read. Recommended.
Second, I stayed the course on the Pulp Crime but got into heavier, more nihilistic stuff with Jim Thompson’s Pop. 1280. This is a classic untrustworthy narrator style book with a self-proclaimed idiot Sheriff of a small town who turns out to be quite different than he tries to lead the reader to believe. This is one of Jim Thompson’s best. Highly Recommended.
Since I borrowed it from a dude at work, I was obliged to read Guns, Germs and Steel next. This is on the poppy side of history books but the author’s experience and angle through the narrative is unique, though I think the full extent of it would take many volumes. What he sets out to answer to his Polynesian friend is why the white folks have all the good “cargo” and he does so by showing that development of different foods, domestication of certain animals lead to people in Northern Europe to become the dominant group (until they ended their dominance via WW1 and WW2, like all groups do, by annihilating themselves in internal conflicts— just like the Mongols and Romans did). While “guns” is in the title, it’s really about FOOD, DOMESTICATION and GERMS– but that ain’t a sexy title. I disagree with his assessment that leader’s decisions do not truly influence the course of history of humanity. Caesar and at least three of the Mongol conquerors changed things beyond recognition, yet he may argue in turn that they were playing with the same set of germs and steel where Polynesia and the Native Americans were not. Recommended.
After this, I planned to read Twain due to promptings from Maat, but I realized I had not read the entire Border Trilogy yet and plowed through All the Pretty Horses in about a week, and then started on the beastly The Crossing, which is a much longer work. All the Pretty is an excellent read and not too heavy, much like No Country for Old Men (a Jim Thompson novel if I ever saw one!) and The Road. The main character, while incredibly capable at everything he does, is still believable and the mess he gets in with his friend Lacey is as interesting as it is horrifying. This book was hugely influential on a lot of SCHLOCK films and books that got way more attention (Horse Whisperer, Brokeback mountain which shamefully steals lines of dialog DIRECTLY from All the Pretty Horses). Leave those aside and experience the real deal instead. Don’t watch the movie.
The Crossing is more along the lines of Suttree (which is on par with Blood Meridian) but it doesn’t seem so at first, and I think the first 120 pages or so are astounding (the wolf part). After the first act of the book, you realize that this is going to be a picaresque and not as tight as All the Pretty Horses story wise. The book reminds me most of Stuart Little, except with a lot more violence and overt philosophy. While All the Pretty deals with an amazingly talented cowboy, the Crossing deals with a much less ubermench as the main character, Billy, in fact you could say he’s not all that great at what he does, so is more relatable to the reader (like Suttree). He gets in bad troubles after some really bad things happen to his family and his brother and then there’s a nuke (yes a nuke), but Billy is more of an observer than actor (like Suttree). In fact, his brother seems to have a much more exciting and book worthy existence than Billy does, and I think that’s one of the lessons of the novel. While All the Pretty Horses is the most popular of these, some people really love this book out of the trilogy. The beginning is so sad, I had to put it down for awhile, and then it gets worse.
Cities of the Plain is the sad ending to the Border Trilogy as it closes out the cowboy (and even rural) era of the United States in the wake of the Second World War and the rise of the Military Industrial Complex. The book involves characters from both of the previous works and is a pretty rough ride at times. The core plot revolves around the All the Pretty Horses guy and things go terribly wrong for everyone and the story ends in 2002, so the whole Trilogy goes from 1940 to then. The best part of the book for me is when the cowboys go hunting for a pack of dogs that have been killing calf on the range, you want to find out how people should write stuff, look at that part. This is a sad book as the end of the characters is also the end of a way of life. What happened to Lacey?
I recommend these highly, and if one has never read McCarthy, probably start with All the Pretty Horses or Suttree. I will need to read The Crossing and Cities of the Plain again to really assess how these fit into his whole body of work. Obviously these books are an absolutely surreal experience and the prose is unmatched and not to be taken lightly. I read these on the bus and would get to very important parts when people were talking or playing their shitty songs on their shitty phone speakers.
So next is Twain, lots and lots of Twain (then probably Blood Meridian or Suttree again, YAY!).
After getting nuked twice and having the USA act as the external military for over 50 years, Japan has voted to begin re-militarization in the face of looming external threats. This means a couple things to me. 1) Japan’s near threats, like North Korea and China, have been pressuring them and they need to react. 2) The United States is no longer in a position to guarantee the safety of Japan in the face of their mounting external threats. While the second one seems scarier, likely it is a combination of both. Since the US fights in the Middle East (an area that should have been put under complete Allied control and colonization after WW2 and remained that way forever–instead they just have Israel), it’s unlikely they could fire up another major theater of war in the East and do much with Japan only fielding 75,000 in their local defense force.
Needless to say, this is the end of an era and an historic shift in power balance in the East.
I read a bunch of history stuff this year along with my usual sword and sorcery and noir pap and these are some random thoughts on each if you have an interest. All three of these are extremely accessible for the non-historian, and with the exception of the last one, are quite short to boot.
Before reading this book on the Persian Empire (and Meades and Assyrians by extension) I had no idea what cruising meant in Sparta, I knew it as something people did with muscle cars down on the south side. Yet, it has a different meaning when applied to Spartans. We have this vision of the austere, martially focused and hard-hearted Spartans going to war together and fighting against the decadent Athenians and Persians. Well they were all those things as you had to kill a HELOT during your early teen years as a right of passage (yes, in the movie I know it was a tiger or wolf or something, but in real life it was a person and it wasn’t a straight up fight/kill, it was supposed to be a sneak-kill to boot), and they lived in barrack most of their lives. Despite being all bad ass in the movies (which to some extent they were in real life) the actual citizen Spartans also had people to do all their work (Helots: who were basically slaves) and were always worried about the helots revolting, which they eventually did. None of these things may surprise you, but Sparta’s habit of cruising might. Basically, once you got to be about 12 you could be legally raped at any time by any older members of the city (not Helots!). Girls AND boys would both be raped, and for the boys usually they would get other types of favors from their male rapists after the deed or deeds. The girls, of course, were not allowed to get pregnant while being cruised, so it was up the bum and no babies for them too. The title of this post comes from a line in this book describing Spartan wives as anally proficient virgins out of the gate. Quite disturbing and really one of the punchlines of Tom Holland’s excellent PERSIAN FIRE. For me, this book filled a gap of pre-Persian empire history between the Assyrians and the Persians attacking Greece across the Hellespont and Marathon and all that. As one of the best currently working narrative hostorians, and like Holland’s RUBICON, it’s highly recommended.
Secondly, I re-read Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul. This was an amazing read as it’s written by the man himself (in third person no less) about him dismantling in detail the petty empires of southern and northern France (with the Germans getting in the mix a bit too). There are a few pretty disturbing parts due to things NOT said rather than what Caesar is writing. For example, one Gaulish town that had a big wall around it had a Gaul army swing by for a visit despite the townspeople’s wishes since they were being pursued by Caeser. Soon after, the town became surrounded by the Romans who they themselves built a second wall around the town and then an OUTER wall to protect their inner wall from counter attack. The Army of Gauls that were in the town ejected the town’s original inhabitants (you know, the old, and women and children) but they had no where to go as Caesar would not let them through his walls– so they stayed outside the town between the walls until they fucking died of exposure and hunger. So, I think it was Dan Carlin who said something like– ‘go ask the thousands of people that Caesar killed if he was a ‘great’ man or not.’ To the Gauls, he was a right bastard for sure. Like Machiavelli’s The Prince, Conquest of Gaul is a pretty good handbook on how to fuck people over and how to not get fucked yourself in real life, as well as a poignant view into one of histories greatest figures.
Lastly in the history area is a friggin’ monster of a tome I picked up on a whim and found was as amazing as it was horrifying. A DISTANT MIRROR by Barbra Tuchman details 1300 – 1400AD in Europe (mostly France and England) during what I think could be the worst time in history for human beings on the planet Earth. This hundred years, in France especially, make the Dark Ages look like a fucking Mayday Carnival in comparison. The Black Plague depopulation, a completely corrupt and luxury focused Catholic Church that goes into a non-protestant Schism (it wasn’t about doctrine, there were just two popes at once and neither would abdicate) whose response to the black plague was to increase the price of pardons and the like to those who were left and who would persecute ascetic monasteries who weren’t as greedy since it made the actions of the mother church look bad, and let us not forget the Free Companies that ravaged France and northern Italy for the early part of the century. Lay on top of that completely destructive private wars between noble families (like some sort of West Virginian blood feud except these people had lots of money and castles and towns and cannons) and you have a simply horrifying hundred years. The book loosely follows the life of Engerrand De Coucy, an actually pretty swell noble who owned a massive (now destroyed) castle in Picardy during the century. I recommend this book heartily but it is extremely LOOOONG and took me a month or so to push through. It’s also quite amazing to me that a book of this sort was written by a woman. If you are looking for some of the historical influence to A Game of Thrones or Liebowitz and the Wild Horse Woman (who’s central plot is the schism in the church), this is a singular read.
And it is now in the realm of pretty fucking awesome. Last year, if you bought Rome: Total War 2 it was a bit of a mistake for everyone involved, players, developers, fans, families of all involved. I’m a long time fan of the series, having started with Medieval Total War back when it was sprites on a 3D map (looots of spriiites!!!) and it was a great game, though the fact that it was one single fight per territory (you didn’t move your armies around inside territories in the older games) made it a bit small. Reminiscent of Ghenghis Khan 2 by KOEI, it was still totally awesome. Rome 1 brought the jump to 3d and was, along with Warcraft 3, the best game of the decade. While the newer games were amazing in their own right, especially Medieval 2 and Napoleon Total War, something happened during the second run of the Shogun Series to sour me on the battles– and while the strategic part of the game is important as a framework– it’s all about the fucking battles. Suddenly, they felt cartoony and too fast and too arcade like, which is silly to say since the graphic details went through the roof in quality. When I first saw the asymmetric uniform designs of the units in Medieval 2, I got a huge claymore-sized boner for real. Yet the battle gameplay in Shogun 2 was not good despite the game’s overall polish, I just could not get into it. Rome 2, at first, followed suit much to many player’s disappointment.
With a series that has so much going for it, and has such pedigree it was shocking to me to suddenly get a Roman Shower from the company with the 2013 release. I played for about 20 hours (a SLIVER of the amount that I would normally play a big TW release) and uninstalled the fucker until a couple months ago, when I noticed that some of the guys that make TW battle videos had switched back from Medieval 2 to Rome 2 after apparently giving up on the game. I checked out some battles and noticed that formations worked much better, phalanxes actually PHALANXED and the archery didn’t look so shitty like it did in Shogun and Early TW. Added to this, the Emperor Edition upgrade was free to all previous purchasers which included a massive campaign detailing the Roman Civil War.
Now I’m merely 85 hours into the grand campaign and I can say I won’t be going back to any of the other Total War games for a long while. Over the year since release, they shined the hell out of this game. Performance is much better, the battle AI, the battle mechanics and the flow of the game has been completely tweaked. While battles are the most important core part of the game, the campaign play is actually where you spend most of your time and it’s far superior to the launch version. The AI especially is now quite brutal and with suprising frequency will cause you all sorts of problems– including sea borne invasions which were impossible for the AI to pull off before Napoleon Total War (just a few versions ago!). So you could sit as England or Italy and just send out armies to conquer everything around you on the ocean, with no chance or reprisal. Not so anymore. I had a really tough time as Rome early on. What’s brilliant about the AI now is that if they percieve you are strong, they won’t mess with you, but if you are seen as weak, like losing a bunch of battles in a row, they will join in and try to take a piece of you before someone else does.
Later in the campaign game it becomes less about gobbling up small kingdoms and more about HUGE wars that take decades and decades to finish up (if ever) with massive empires. Since coalitions of factions normally stick together, and factions will become client states of you (unlike other TW games where the option was there but they never would actually do it), sometimes taking out a small kingdom on your border leads to war against EVERYONE on the side of a map. I found it out the hard way when I accidentally went to war with the entire Achemedian empire (Persia and the like). I was able to eventually take the war to them, but not before many legions were swallowed in the desert and mountains of Asia Minor…
So here are a bunch of pictures. This is a long post about a really great game that finally came into it’s own. I think the developers have done right by the series after a really fucking huge misstep last year.