1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed

I really dig the idea of gaming in the time of the Trojan War and the Greek myths. Can you think of a better time for heroics than the period of Odysseus and Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece? Even historically, the era seems ripe for heroic fiction or RPG-ing because we know so little about it, and much of what we “know” can be overturned with a new discovery or even chronology.

And then there was the Apocalypse.

I had often read snippets about a period in time when all the major civilizations collapsed. The time when the Mycenean Greece collapsed into the Greek Dark Ages, to remain quiet until the flourishing of the Archaic period many centuries later. The idea of an ancient apocalypse intrigued me.

I remain intrigued and better informed after reading Eric H. Cline’s 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. 1177 B.C. does a great job of explaining what happened, some theories of why it might have happened, and why we should care. For me, this book was just about the prefect mixture of information and inspiration.

So the Apocalypse was not exactly what I imagined, though there is a period in which multiple civilizations either fell or underwent extreme hardships. And it is possible that there was some kind of huge disaster that cost millions of lives. We don’t really seem to know.

What was even more fascinating for me was Cline’s explanation of how “globalized” the preceding period had become. We might call this “known globalized,” because the networks encompassed the world known to the Egyptians – whose empire did go into decline, but which most certainly did not disappear. Trade was brisk and merchants travelled extensively. This was very much a period of cultural pollination.

Which makes the following period even more fertile for RPGs. Considering the general idea in something like D&D is that the world has points of safety and civilization, but is generally dangerous and that the world lays atop the ruins of an older, more advanced world. That’s kind of the post-1177 B.C. “known globe.” Those empires that did not disappear went into decline, and the points of light style campaign would work great there.

I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for an overview of the coming of the ancient dark ages. While the book is well-referenced – allowing a reader to quickly find a book or article Dr. Cline considers authoritative – it is also highly readable. This is much more a popular history than a scholarly work, and so is very accessible.

I give 1177 B.C. 4.5 amphorae of wine transported from Knossos out of 5.

You can learn more about 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed here.

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Metro 2033 Redux

I picked up the Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light Redux versions on Steam. I had both of the original games and had not even made it through Metro 2033 due to lack of gasmask filters. The Redux version has a Spartan mode which is more fight-y and less survival-y, and while I’m still struggling because I am just not a very good player (poor reflexes, which can be a problem because – as Jack Burton always says – it’s all in the reflexes), I have high hopes that while the monsters will continue to regularly kill me, my way forward won’t be blocked due to asphyxiation.

Metro 2033 is a really atmospheric game with an amazing setting. It has inspired me to pick up the e-book of the novel by Dmitry Glukhovsky on which the game is based. I’m a little bit concerned because I strongly suspect that while the setting might be cool, the story won’t meet the very high expectations I’ve built from playing the game. Still, I hope Mr. Glukhovsky gets something from that e-book sale because he deserved it for the setting alone.

You can learn more about Metro 2033 here.

You can learn more about Metro 2033 Redux on Steam here.

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Weekly Roundup for 14 Dec 2014

Mercenaries, Hybrid Armies and National Security by Dr. Caroline Varin: Almost all the reading I’ve been doing recently has been non-fiction, and I just finished this book last week. I really liked it. While it included a lot of theory, the history and analysis of the French Foreign Legion, Executive Outcomes, and US Government contractors during the Iraq War was informative and quite interesting. I have to say that I learned some stuff, and the author was refreshingly open-minded about what might motivate “mercenaries.” If you dig this kind of stuff, I would recommend this book for a scholarly consideration of the practice of hiring out violence.

Mercenaries, Pirates, Bandits, and Empires – Private Violence in Historical Context edited by Dr. Alejandro Colas and Dr. Bryan Mabee: This book is a collection of essays on a topic not dissimilar to the above book, unfortunately it was so enmeshed in international relations theory and so full of axe-grinding, I didn’t enjoy it at all, and can’t really say that I learned anything. Too much of the discussion was about theories put forward by other scholars that were obviously wrong and let me tell you why, but not with any level of clarity. If you are in a post-graduate international relations program, maybe you’ll get something out of this, but if you are and if you read it, the lesson I’d like for you to take away is: don’t write this way.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral: This is the 1957 movies directed by John Sturges and starring Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday. Now, Tombstone is one of my favourite movies, and I’m sorry, but not even the legendary Kirk Douglas can hold a candle to Val Kilmer’s version however this is a really enjoyable movie. The approach is more of developing the characters of Earp and Holliday as they become friends and slowly draws us into the conflict in Tombstone. Do yourself and favour – if you like Westerns and haven’t seen this, check it out.

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Weekly Roundup for 7 Dec 2014

Black Ops: This is a documentary series that the Warden pointed me toward on Netflix. It’s definitely in my wheelhouse, portraying specific operations of special operations forces around the globe. It’s refreshing in that it doesn’t just focus on the US and UK SOF but includes forces from India and Russia, among others. My problem with it is that many of the episodes seem to have 30 minutes of information spread over 50 minutes, meaning there’s lots of repetition. The re-enactments are also painful to watch, with very inaccurate weapons, participants, and movements. While I am by no means an expert, the tactics, techniques, and protocols of SOF are pretty well known now. Look at something like the Unit, Ultimate Force, or Act of Valor – all of those were overseen by serving or ex-SOF operators. Black Ops could have at least copied what it was seeing there. Heck, as poor as the portrayal was, Outpost: Black Sun did a better job of portraying SOF. I think they should have dropped the re-enactments and just go with documentary format, like PBS’ Ambush in Mogadishu.

Also? General Stanley A. McChrystal’s hair would never touch his collar. Never.

The Unit, Season 4: So speaking of the Unit, I got a chance to go over season 4 again on Netflix. I didn’t watch entire episodes. I jumped over the b-plots and pretty much anything “relationship” oriented. Sorry, that’s not what I want from a show like the Unit. Strike Back is horrible with its pathological need for gratuitous nudity, but at least those scenes are fleeting. The b-plots took up a third to a half of a lot of shows. I get that David Mamet was trying to look at more than the cool, SOF stuff, but I am really not interested in family drama. There are a shit-tonne of family drama shows out there, thank you. Still, most of the a-plots of Season 4 would have fit into Strike Back, and I think the Unit was a much better production with better action . . . it’s just that the Unit had so little of it.

I also found out that my Detachment story is not so original as I thought. I forgot about “Unannounced” from the Unit Season 1, but that’s pretty much the plot of the Detachment. Not that I’m going to bury my story, because they evolve in totally different ways, but it’s funny how our sub-conscious and memory can trick us.

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Dredd, A Review

I recently re-watched Dredd on Netflix in Canada. I was really looking forward to this movie when it was in production, but as is usual for me, waited for it to be released on DVD/blu-ray before I got a chance to see it. I really enjoyed it. I saw it on Netflix and decided to watch it again, and came here to see if there were a review. I was honestly shocked not to be able to find one.

I’m remedying that now.

Dredd came out about the same time as the Raid: Redemption, and though their stories are very similar, production schedules suggest that they did not influence each other much if at all. In Dredd, Judge Dredd is evaluating Judge Anderson, and during the arrest of a drug dealer in a high-rise complex, they come into conflict with the local crime boss, who shuts down the building and sends out legions of mooks to kill our heroes.

Violence ensues.

The plot isn’t deep, but I believe the movie does a good job of characterizing Anderson. Dredd is Dredd, and Dredd does not change. That’s important. That’s part of the problem with Stallone’s silly (but not absolutely terrible) adaptation. Dredd does not fit the Hollywood paradigm, so this movie had to made outside of that system.

Dredd also isn’t really the protagonist of the movie. I’m not a major devotee of the comic, but in the few I’ve read, this also seems to be the case. Characters that in other comics would be secondary, such as the villain or another Judge, all but take over the story. These characters have the arcs and the growth that is denied to Dredd, who is unchangeable.

Karl Urban, as with everything I have ever seen him in, is awesome. Yes, I have a bit of a man-crush. He does an amazing job of embodying Dredd – at least a Dredd that I can recognize. Lena Heady – from Game of Thrones – does a great turn as the crime lord and Olivia Thirby really delivers as Judge Anderson.

The action is fast and furious and there isn’t the reliance on shaky-cam common to movies that either think it’s edgy or don’t have the budget for a fight choreographer. The setting is fantastic. I really enjoyed this movie.

I give Dredd 4.25 Lawgivers out of 5.

You can read more about Dredd on Wikipedia and IMDB.

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Africa Action Inspiration

I believe I’ve mentioned before that I’m writing more modern action than fantasy these days. I am betting it’s due to my viewing and playing habits. I’m still going through Strike Back, which is okay silly fun, but is really starting to annoy me with the lazy writing. Still, the leads are charismatic and the action is pretty good. I’d like it better were it a bit more diverse. Seriously, one of my favourite action movies is Haywire, and not just because the lead is extremely attractive. I’d love to see Strike Back starring Gina Carano and Donnie Yen.

And for computer games, I’m playing a lot of Far Cry 3 these days. I like the collection of weapons offered and the ability to customize them with kit.

So I guess it’s natural that my instincts are tending toward modern action/thriller. I started another short with Reno, from “Boltcutter.” This one is also set in Africa, which also seems to be part of my streak of modern action stories. Then again, I know a fair amount about modern Africa and its politics, so I guess that makes sense. Also, if you want a “wild west” feel or even “corrupt gritty noir,” Africa is kind of your place.

Here’s the first 250 words or so of the new, unnamed Reno story.

You can see the opening of “Boltcutter” here.

The opening of another African-set action story here.

And here’s the teaser for the new story:

Norton held a handkerchief over his nose and mouth. His eyes watered. Reno would have felt sorry for the businessman, but since Norton had come to buy petroleum from pirates, perhaps a little suffering would be good for his soul. The same would be true of Anderson, the minder Norton’s company had sent. A walking tough guy stereotype, Anderson wore a sport coat, chinos, and loafers. They stood in what amounted to an inhabited garbage heap, and this alleged ex-operator wore loafers.

Their Nigerian contact, who identified himself as Ishola, had four men with him, all armed with Chinese knock-off AKs. He gestured to Reno, who had his SIG Sauer P225 on his hip, a suppressed Heckler & Koch MP5K-N with a reflex sight on a combat sling, and body armour. “You don’t need your guns.”

“Neither do you.” Reno winked, easy to miss in the darkness lit only by a couple of lanterns Ishola’s men had brought. Reno had switched off his weapon’s tactical light on arrival. He, Norton, and Anderson wore infra-red markers.

Reno hadn’t come alone. Having Anderson as backup had not inspired confidence.

“You think maybe you kill all my boys before we kill you?” Ishola laughed at the very thought of it.

“I didn’t think we’d come here for shooting.” Reno shrugged. “You want to do that, you’re welcome to try.” That made Anderson’s eyes bug out. Norton didn’t have so obvious a reaction, but his eyes narrowed slightly and the handkerchief slipped from his nose, if only briefly.

“Full trauma plates.” Reno tapped the front of his body armour. “Not enough to stop a full on AK hit, but I’m betting your ‘boys’ aren’t the most precise on the planet. If I can’t tag two of them before the other two start zeroing in on me, I deserve to die. And if you think I only came with the sharp-dressed man,” Reno gestured to Anderson, “. . . well, that’d be your mistake.”

Ishola laughed again, showing his big grin. “No need for this. I said no need for this. We are here for business, yes?”

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Weekly Roundup for 30 Nov 2014

Strike Back: Shadow Warfare Episode 3: So, if you like Strike Back, you’ll probably enjoy season 4, but I’ve said that before. This time, I want register another issue with the writing. Dougray Scott plays ex-SAS, now assassin for hire (and apparently casino owner in Beirut) Leatherby. Nothing wrong with all that, but they make him gay. Listen, it’s great to have gay characters, but to have them as a psychopathic villain? When one of the heroes is the most heterosexual male possible and you make the villain gay, whether you intend to or not you are indicating homosexuality is not normal, is wrong, is even evil. And that’s so completely false, I can’t even begin to argue it. It is, however, a common trope. A disturbing, common trope. I can’t really expect more from a show that has a boobies requirement.

Chasing Ice: My wife and I wanted to watch something together, and the look of this documentary made me think she’d enjoy it. She did. Lots of amazing visuals here as well as a very interesting story of a photographer who – upon seeing the effects of climate change – decided to act. And he used photography to do it. If you are in the climate change denial camp . . .  you’re going to have a bad time, both with this documentary and with the judgement of history.

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