Monday, 26 October 2015

Deus Ex Nostalgia



I am a creature of nostalgia. I like delving into things from times past, to remember good moments and see how far I’ve come since the way back when. For example, I recently dug up poetry I wrote as a teenager. Admittedly, I immediately wanted to burn all traces of them off the Internet, then travel back in time and give my teenage self the mother of all ass-whuppings for what he did, but nonetheless, it is...somewhat...pleasing to know that my writing skills have greatly improved since then.

One of the biggest nostalgia trips I go on is with video games. I still hold possession of my Nintendo 64, the first console I owned. Slowly but surely, I’m acquiring what PC games I had in my youth on Steam, just for that added piece of mind of knowing they’ll always be there.

For added bit of contextual nostalgia, I shall refer readers to a blog entry from 2012 when I listed my (as of 2012) top ten favourite video games. I may revisit this list soon, as a few changes need to be made, but one remains the same. The Big Kahuna. Numero Uno.

Ladies and gentlemen, Deus Ex.

I never thought this game could get better. I thought it simply impossible. Then a bunch of awesome people called Caustic Creative came along and gave us Deus Ex: Revision. The world as I knew it inverted itself and the game I thought I knew like the back of my hand changed dramatically.

Before I proceed any further, in spite of the fact that Deus Ex has been around for fifteen years now, I am going to issue a spoiler warning. I am going to discuss aspects of the game’s plot/later missions. I don’t know how spoiler-ish people will think these are, but the warning’s here anyway. Do with it what you will.

Rather than being a reboot, reimagining or what have you, Deus Ex: Revision is a fan-created mod for Deus Ex. Free on Steam to download, incidentally. In a nutshell, it’s a massive environment overhaul. All of the locations have been revamped – in some cases expanded, such as Hell’s Kitchen in New York City and the Wan Chai Market in Hong Kong. The gameplay itself is the same, the game is largely the same. It just...it looks SO MUCH PRETTIER! Multiple squeal-gasms were had as I played what felt almost akin to a new game. In places there are new enemies, guys with sniper rifles or some such who weren’t there before, or impertinent security bots that I really wasn’t expecting. But you know what, I didn’t give a frak. Because it look so godsdamned pretty. Moreover, the unexpected additions made the game so much more thrilling. I will now cite the specific, possibly spoiler-ific, instance where my nerves were on the verge of being shredded.

The abandoned gas station west of Vandenberg. Your objective is to rescue Tiffany Savage, the daughter of Doctor Gary Savage, who is a critical ally at this point in the game. Now whether Tiffany lives or dies doesn’t affect the game all that much, except in dialogue. Doctor Savage acknowledges you tried to save her and you don’t rewarded. If you save her, a shiny augmentation upgrade canister is yours for the taking.

Anyway.

Save Tiffany. That’s the mission. Of course, my first hurdle here is “Oh gods, oh gods, the layout of the gas station is totally different.” Fortunately for me, it turns out that Tiffany was in the same building as before. Just the buildings are a bit different, as are the Majestic-12 troops on guard duty. Things were going well. I was getting past all these new guards, taking them down nice and quiet-like. Avoiding the MJ12 commando who would give the whole game up if I tried to take him down, lethal or non-lethal.

So I’m going in the usual way – climb up to the roof of the gas station itself, then across to the garage building where they’re holding Tiffany. In Deus Ex it’s an easy jump across, then down through the hatch in the ceiling, kill the MiB and MJ12 trooper inside, job done, take out everyone else and Tiffany’s safe and sound.

Not so easy in Revision. The garage is now firmly out of jumping range. There are, however, a pair of sturdy cables stretching across from building to building that you can walk across. Simple, right? NO. There’s an MJ12 guard down below. Standing right up against the gas station. No way to jump down and stun him quietly without alerting the others.

This is where borderline nerve-shredding occurs. It’s a mixture of “oh crap this is going to take a couple of tries to get right” and “oh my gods this is so frakkin’ cool I love this game all over again!”

Deus Ex: Revision is pure, absolute joy. The same core game. Dialogue, character interactions. But with amped-up action and amped-up locales. I got lost in Hell’s Kitchen. Lost. In Hell’s Kitchen. Shouldn’t be possible. But it is. Paris, a city I despised in my first playthrough of the original so many Moons ago, now stands as a beautiful beacon, a rich environment I want to explore again and again. Much as I will do with Hong Kong and New York City.

But the real spine-tingler came at the end. Naturally, I completed all three possible endings – the New Dark Age, Illuminati and merging with the Helios AI. Now this is where I have to say a massive, huge SPOILER ALERT because I thought this was so frakkin’ cool to discover on my own. So please, exercise caution when scrolling down. As it is going to be a picture, I’ll do a sort of summation now. First off, Caustic Creative, my hats off to you. You beautiful bastards. I love you all. Keep up the good work, I look forward to your future projects. Secondly, everyone else, especially Deus Ex fans, get Deus Ex: Revision. Right now. Right. Frakkin’. Now. You’re still sitting there, reading this? For the love of the gods, go! NOW!

Okay. To the spine-tingling spoiler.

In a minute.

I want to make sure no one scrolls to the picture by accident.

Really.

I’m that nice of a guy.

Honestly.

Really nice.

Almost tediously so.

Okay, you get the picture now.

Speaking of pictures...


It’s a simple thing. A detail. But it’s in the details, isn’t it? The beauty, the sublimity of it all. I think you get the point now. Deus Ex: Revision is amazing, it has revitalised a classic and is just so beautiful. I’m going to have so much fun replaying this in years to come.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Female of the Species

“Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.” Talbot, The Maid of Orleans. A play by Friedrich Schiller. A line used to great effect in Isaac Asimov’s superb work of science-fiction, The Gods Themselves. All too often a quotation I find unimpeachably accurate about the nature of the Internet troll condition. I almost typed human condition, but I barely rate these morons as human. Even those that attempt to cleverly disguise themselves as such.

I recently read this article on The Mary Sue. It made my blood boil. It touched a nerve about a systemic problem I faced at university, epitomised by a recent article in the fabled British bastion of liberal journalism, The Guardian. A paper I now regard with an edge of scorn because they allowed that particular troll to write such vile click-bait.

The article on The Mary Sue deals with a review on Amazon for a recent sci-fi anthology called Dark Beyond the Stars. The article on The Guardian showed an ignorant outsider labelling Sir Terry Pratchett’s brilliant works of fantasy fiction as “ordinary potboilers”. Arguing that he wasn’t a literary genius at all and people should stop regarding him as such. This kind of thinking is the systemic problem I faced at university – the brazen arrogance of those who sneer at genre fiction because they think it’s too formulaic and because of all its rules, nobody can write anything original. The review at the centre of The Mary Sue’s article went one step further. Instead of the genre being attacked by an outside force that had already made its mind up without any due consideration of the genre’s offerings, a male author has decreed that the females of the species lacks the adequate talent to write skilfully in his chosen genre.

Bull-shtak.

I must beg the readers’ forgiveness now, because I am likely to devolve from civilised discourse into childish demonising and name calling. I’ve learned to develop a thick skin over the literary snob’s disdain for science-fiction, fuelled by one simple truth – I’m good at writing it, so they can suck it. But when those within start attacking each other? That’s when it all becomes a bit ludicrous. When it’s a guy telling women to get back in the kitchen because they can’t write science-fiction? I fetch my shovel and shotgun.

I’m a firm believer that humans can do absolutely anything they put their minds to. Often that sentiment is specifically applied to women, often subjected to archaic, patriarchal limitations, epitomised in the idea that there are things, or jobs, that are “just for men”. That’s frakkin’ bull-shtak. As a result of erroneous statements such as that, I determined very early on that I wanted to write about women doing things most people might think are jobs for men. Starting in 2005, when I wrote a story about a female assassin called Angel, set in 2207 on the red planet known as Mars, not being an object of sexual desire, not a helpless damsel in need of a strong man to rescue her, but a fearsome and formidable killer.

Of course, the offending male author (who I am disgusted to learn is British, he brings shame not only to his genre but my country as well) in The Mary Sue article isn’t purporting that female characters are the problem. No, he is telling us that women can’t write decent sci-fi. To this man, I have this simple message.

Go frak yourself.

Some of the most fearsomely talented writers I know are women and a lot of them I have the privilege to call my friends. One, whom I don’t have that privilege with, but had the incredible fortune to know even for five minutes (yes, I am referring to the mysterious woman discussed in The Garden of Forking Paths and Destiny is not what it seems) wrote a science-fiction novel in her final year of university that overwhelmingly impressed her tutor, a man who doesn’t feel that much of an affinity for science-fiction. She told me that despite his general aversion to sci-fi, the excerpts of her novel she submitted really made him want to read the whole thing.

Women have incredibly important, incredibly beautiful and incredibly insightful voices. These voices should be heard, singing to the rafters, singing to our bones. That a man dares to silence them in such a blatant and condescending manner boils my blood beyond the limits of that which even a Targaryen can endure.

What’s more...it may seem like an extremely petty thing to pick on this guy for, but those who were at university with me know this was my thing. I am a stickler for the rules of punctuation. So when I saw this absolute gem...well, my already non-existent respect for this frakwit took an even deeper nosedive – “Leave the genre to those of us who know how to write scifi, being well versed in it’s many nuances...”

I tell you what, frakwit. Leave the writing to those of us who know how to use punctuation, being well versed in its many nuances.

Looking at the comments attached the review, I am elated to see that the first one picks him up on the very point I’ve just made about his punctuation. The rest proceed in similar veins of highlighting his misogyny, his complete misrepresentation of a genre that was pioneered by women (thank you, Margaret Cavendish and Mary Shelley) and his other grievous error, calling it “Star Gate” as opposed to Stargate, as it should properly be rendered. Ironically, dig into the man’s review history, he reviews the original Stargate movie. I believe, in the common vernacular, he could be called “a poser”. I still prefer to call him a frakwit. Many thanks to Chief Galen Tyrol, deck chief of Battlestar Galactica (BSG-75) for that beauitful word.

To anyone who doesn’t think women can write science-fiction, to anyone who has problems with science-fiction being used a prism through which to examine the social and psychology issues affecting society – including those of sexual identity and gender identity (mentioned in The Mary Sue article, being lamented by a different frakwit) – I say this. Please feel free to vacate this planet at your earliest convenience. You want mindless violence and spaceships? Build some spaceships, fly them to the opposite end of the galaxy and keep out of the frakkin’ way. Ideally, destroy yourselves through mindless violence. Science-fiction is for everyone. To read and to write.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner


No, this is not about the 1967 Sidney Poitier film, nor the 2005 remake. A week or so ago, I was struck by a very random, whimsical urge to poke around this old forum I was a part of in my youth. In fact, around the 2005 mark would have been one of the heights of my participation in this online community dedicated to the fandom of 24. If you’re looking for some strange duality between the title, its relation to a movie made in the year 2005, blah, blah. Looking at some of the things I wrote/said back then...well, I was a bit of a monumental prat in those days. I’m more a statuesque prat now, smaller than a monument but still pretty dull.

Anyway, I stumbled upon a thread started by a user known as Yil. He was quite the erudite, intelligent young chap. Quite on the ball as I remember it, astute observations...the kind of fellow you invite over for tea and cake, end up debating the merits of Nietzsche and Voltaire. Then retire for whiskey and cigars in the smoking room, with your high-backed, winged chairs and smoking jackets in front of a crackling fire.

In this particular thread, Yil asked who people would invite to their ideal dinner party. Six guests, living or dead. Back in 2004, when the question was posed, I had no answer. It was something that I didn’t even think about. Dinner party? What the frak was a dinner party?
Eleven years later, I have found myself contemplating which six guests would constitute my ideal dinner party:

1. Richard Feynman


Nobel Laureate in Physics, noted for his work on quantum electrodynamics, the Feynman Lectures and the Feynman Diagrams. A scientific genius, oft overshadowed in popular culture by Albert Einstein but every bit his equal, if not on some occasions his better. But more than anything, Feynman is a genuinely brilliant and fun human being. A series of YouTube videos posted by Reid Gower can attest to this. I’ve provided a link to one called “The Key to Science”. When Feynman explains what the key to science is...just brilliant. An amazing dinner guest.

2. Douglas Adams


One of the funniest writers in all existence. Let’s face it, all my guests after Feynman have been influenced by his placement on the guest list. Who work with Feynman? Well, having read The Salmon of Doubt and seeing just how deeply funny a man Douglas Adams was, I can only imagine the hilarity and good conversation that would ensue at the dinner table to have such a talented humorist as Adams and an irreverent scientist as Feynman...it would be beautiful.

3. Sir Terry Pratchett


The other funniest writer in all existence. Such a gifted and talented man whose worked has touched a generation and the effect of which will ripple onwards through time, a legacy to match the previous guest. The combination of wit and wisdoms from Feynman, Adams and Pratchett...I would have to keep a team of trauma surgeons on standby to repair the guts busted from laughter.

4. William Gibson


One of my all time favourite writers. As evidenced by a video I saw the other day, itself from 1994, quite the funny chap too. Although his writing is not outwardly intended to be funny, they are laced with fun little moments (my favourite in Zero History, where an American in London calls a Belgian with the name Bigend “Mr Bellend”. I maintain it was a nod to the British readers who know exactly when to use the term “Bellend”). Also, when conversational matters turned to more serious matters of science, Feynman and Gibson would be two very formidable visionary minds I think.

5. Sonya Belousova


Not all my guests would be writers and scientists. As much entertainment as they would bring through conversation, a good dinner party needs something else. Some music. And Sonya Belousova is an incredibly talented pianist. She does spectacularly awesome piano arrangements of theme tunes from TV, movies, video games. They’re amazing. I am also just a tiny bit love with her and would also use the dinner party as an opportunity to woo her. Undoubtedly. Check out her YouTube channel and tell me you wouldn’t too.

6. Bear McCreary


While my guests are gathered around the arbitrarily placed grand piano to hear some music and I want to impress Sonya rather than have her make me melt with her musical talents, I have a back-up plan. My other favourite composer and quite awesome pianist, Bear McCreary. For evidence of his piano talents, this video of my favourite song from Battlestar Galactica, “Something Dark is Coming”. Also I would have to pick his brains about Battlestar and all of the things. And make him play all of my favourite songs. Then have Sonya do the same, whilst settling down for whiskey and cigars with Feynman, Adams, Pratchett and Gibson.


There are, of course, many, many more awesome people I would love have at a dinner party. These guys are just the first round. Perhaps I should have monthly dinner parties, with different guests each time...hmmmm...well, anyway, those are my six ideal dinner party guests. What about you, dear readers? Who would your six be?

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Destiny is not what it seems



Destiny is something that has been plaguing my mind as of late. To my mind, many (what some may define as) incidental details I have noticed are linked to the one destiny I concern myself with. My romantic destiny. In truth, that is when I break out all of my philosophical arsenal, rarely any other time. I don’t worry about my destiny as a writer. For one thing, I am writer. Published or not, the fact that I am a writer exists. It has existed since I was fifteen, when I figured it all out and when I read in an interview with Matthew Reilly in the back of his book Area 7 – when asked what advice he had for aspiring writers – “Yes. There is no such thing as an aspiring writer. You are a writer. Period.”

No, it’s my romantic destiny that I spend restless nights concerning myself with. It’s the reason I sometimes have a Cylon running around my head, a manifestation of my subconscious, or at least the other, quieter part of my psyche, trying to help me reason out why this fire just won’t die.

I have a great reservoir of metaphors at my disposal, comprising a large part of my philosophical arsenal. I have this whole...elemental theory, if you will. It’s partly based in astrology, how the twelve signs of the zodiac each have a corresponding element. A few years back I spent a lot of time considering these elements and how certain people in my life embodied these elements. For my part, I am water. I am patient. I wash up and down, wear down a single rock over thousands of years if need be. But equally I can be relentless, reckless, tides stirred by external and internal forces. A force to be reckoned with. Water always finds a way. No matter the diversions, it will always find its way, follow its true course to the sea.

That’s one metaphor. A pretty good one, I think. Only it gets tricky in certain contexts, especially when I talk about feelings. So this is where my metaphors get a bit mixed. In comes fire. Fire is great for romance. Heat, passion. It’s fabulous and fitting. Love is akin to air, breathing life into the fire. Take away the oxygen, it starves. The flames subside, they die, burnt-out ashes, wisps of smoke drifting away. Now you would think that someone completely not replying to any of your messages would constitute starvation of the fire. In most circumstances you would be absolutely right. In most real, obeying-the-physical-laws-of-nature situations. When it comes to things as nebulous and existential as feelings...things get a bit trickier.

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, I have someone on my mind. I mentioned her abstractly last time and will continue to talk about her abstractly out of respect for her life and privacy. There are those readers who will know who she is, my friends who I have spoken to at length on the topic because I can’t shake her out of my head. There are few who have met her, though.

I’m also determined to talk about the situation itself in an abstract fashion. Suffice it to say, I made a lot of mistakes and I’m paying the price for them. The icy suffocation of silence is something I brought upon myself. I may never know nor understand her reasons, but she has them and I respect them. I know many of my friends will disagree very loudly with me, but this is my belief – I am at fault and she has every good reason, even if they only make sense to her, to be this cold towards me. As Benedick said in Much Ado About Nothing, “It is the opinion fire cannot melt out of me.” I screwed it up. If there is a villain to this piece, it is I, no matter how unwitting or repentant I am.

ANYWAY.

Destiny. So, in the abstract, I have tried to paint a scene of hopeless desolation. I am walking alone in a desert, calling out her name, with no response. No water to sustain me, only the fires of the sun searing my skin down to the bone. One could hardly regard her as my destiny. In the incredibly, infinitesimally unlikely event that she should be reading this, it is no doubt killing that idea even further. Yet I cannot shake it.

This is where things get very awkwardly existential. It engenders a question. Am I merely seeing these incidental details as signs of a destiny because I cannot let my feelings lie, or are they truly emblematic of some grander scheme the ’Verse has in store for me? I have been contemplating what it all means for some time now. Doubtless I will continue to ponder these conundrums for days, possibly weeks to come. But now, thanks to the front cover of Battlestar Galactica season four*, I have a mantra.

Destiny is not what it seems.

Recently I have sworn to take some much needed “Me” time. My heart, for reasons that I can only surmise are its own, separate entirely from my conscious thoughts, is set on someone who is lost to me. A persistent ghost. So these incidental details, if they are pointing to this person being my destiny (a fact that diminishes every time I say it, even more so saying it here on my blog) fall nicely into my plan. As it stands, I have no chance with this person. Thus by retaining my feelings for her without taking action as there are no more actions to take, I am free to organise the other aspects of my life. Most importantly my writing. I am aware there are many people who will violently shake their heads at what they see as a self-destructive path. The thing is...to quote Loki, “Once you accept that, in your heart, you will know peace.” He’s talking about accepting freedom as life’s great lie, a topic we can debate some other time. I’m talking about accepting your feelings. Even if they’re futile. Own them. Embrace them. Here we come back to Shakespeare, but Polonius and Hamlet – “And this above all, to thine own self be true.” Retaining feelings for someone who does not requite them can be incredibly destructive, yes, if you refuse to acknowledge and accept that you cannot change their minds. In my case, it came from reaching out, from exhausting all reasonable options. In doing so, in reaching out and being met with silence, I accepted I had lost her, I had lost her affection. I cannot change my heart’s desires. It’s a fickle thing, but it has to do it by itself. I cannot trick my heart into forgetting. It’ll do it all by itself, in its own time, when it’s ready.

In case nobody’s guessed it, I am a determinist. A determinist with a twist though. The twist is what I talked about last week. The garden of forking paths. Destiny, fate, whichever name you choose to bestow upon it, is not a single linear progression. It’s a web, a spiralling, chaotic web, intermingling, intertwining with all the other webs in the ’Verse. I subscribe to the idea that many, many paths in our lives are written out before us. When we choose to walk down a certain path in the garden, it follows that narrative and the others fall away, possible futures that never happened. Unless you subscribe to the Multiverse Theory. But nonetheless, our paths, our fates, are determined by our choices. Many endings have been written. It is how we navigate the enduring adventure of life that determines upon which chapter our story ends.

Ultimately, there’s one thought that keeps me sane in all of this, keeps me from trying to take action in a situation where all reasonable avenues have been pursued. No matter what, destiny is utterly unstoppable. If this woman is my destiny, there isn’t a damn thing I can do to stop it. It might be ten days, ten weeks, ten months, ten years, but destiny is like water. It’s patient. It can wait. And if this woman isn’t my destiny, if someone else is my romantic destiny, well frak, can’t do anything about that either. Even if I have sworn that I will not be worrying about affairs of the heart for a good long time.

*It is further fitting that this blog post, my seventy-fifth of this blog, was inspired by Battlestar Galactica, the eponymous star of the show bearing the hull code BS-75. Destiny at play once again.