Saturday, August 27, 2016

Glory for the Emprah!

I frigging love Warhammer 40K Soulstorm with the Apocalypse Mod. Having a plethora of new infantry, weapons and vehicles to utilize on the battlefield as well as expanding the volume of units you can field at any time really gives this game some punch.

It was yesterday that I used this mod to engage in one of the most intense battles witnessed by man, mutant, heretic or xeno. My regiment of Imperial Guard, aided by another regiment, landed upon a battlefield known only as Dread Alley. Bombed out buildings smoldered around us as our bases were erected. We didn't know who or what we would be facing. We knew only that we had to reclaim this city in the name of the Emperor of Mankind. Through some fouling of our strategists our regiments were separated, each of us holding a small chunk of territory on opposite sides of the city. I was unable to lend him aid in the event of attack, nor could he aid me.

Undaunted, we swiftly began fortifying our positions and ushered in squads. Imperial Conscripts, young men and women barely having completed basic training were our first on the field. When serving the Imperium one must use all tools offered. Unfortunately our initial position was not advantageous. It had few resources and space. The one saving grace was that the entrance was a bottleneck, which would soon prove to be our salvation. By concentrating our firepower on this narrow entrance the enemies of mankind were unable to attack us without receiving a withering hail of bolts, artillery shells and blisters lasgun blasts.

We established a number of heavy bolter turrets and attempted to expand our territory whilst we built up our forces. But to our horror our left flank was beset by one of the worst enemies of mankind: The Ruinous Powers of Chaos. But like us they had not yet build up a sizable force. Gathering what men I had I beat back their initial wave and attacked their base which was only a hundred meters away from my own base of operations. How the Ruinous Powers could have been so close without our noticing I do not know, and it troubles me greatly. Even so we lost our initial advantage, for they had enough weapons in place to beat back our light infantry. Then as fate would have it we met another foe upon our right flank, almost equally repellent to Chaos if such a thing were possible. The Dark Eldar.

Their wretched ships sailed across the once sacred streets of the human city and their hideous soldiers marched on us, quickly destroying what little area we had secured. I realized that unless we reacted swiftly our base would be quickly be overwhelmed. Utilizing the expertise of the techpriests I built a wall of heavy bolters and summoned the true might of the Imperial Guard, our artillery. We deployed Medusa and Basilisk artillery units which then began to lob their shells with devastating accuracy. Soon heretic and xeno alike were sent skittering back under our devastating fire. Our bolters rattled unceasingly, sending streams of lethal bolts into their ranks.

Realizing that we didn't yet have the ability to fight enemies on each flank, I erected a wall of barriers across the bottleneck, effectively barring all entrance to our base. From here our bolters and artillery delivered scathing fire to our foes as they sought to break our defenses or attacked each other. Their mangled bodies piled high outside our walls. Rivers of blood soaked the soil. Daemons were shot to tatters. Our lasguns burned the flesh from their bones. It was no wonder that none of their assaults lasted for long. Not even a Tyranid horde could have withstood our withering fire.

North however our allies were in dire straights. They fought the horrendous Necrons, those soulless machines that moved without haste or emotion, coming with the same relentless inevitability as death itself. They unleashed their arcane weapons upon the regiment and slaughtered hundreds of brave guardsmen. In fact, even with some air strikes I delivered to assist them, their base was crushed under the weight of the Necrons and only a small enclave of barracks and a listening post managing to hold on in the far corner of the city. Being unable to lend them any true support and knowing they couldn't build any vehicles, I gave what resources I could to them and wished them luck. Had I the capacity to do more I would have done it. But with heretics on my left and xenos on my right, I had no ability to do anything else.

I began building more artillery, as our deep scans revealed that the Chaos base was close, and knew that with proper positioning and dedicated fire our long range guns could reduce their foul buildings to rubble. This process presented its own problems however. Being constrained in our small cell of city we had little room to build the necessary batteries. But build them we did and delivered the righteous wrath of the Emperor. Better still, we managed to construct a nuclear weapons silo. After many long minutes of repairing our barricade and firing countless rounds at the enemy, our nuclear weapon was ready. We calculated the target carefully, for the enemy's close proximity to us risked the blast damaging our own troops and buildings. With some careful planning however this was achieved.

With a single press of a button we bathed the traitors and daemons in atomic flame. A cheer went up from our soldiers as we watched them burn and turn to ash. But this was not enough for scum like them. We launched airstrikes and had our artillery annihilate what little was left, until there was not a single scrap of their foul tech or flesh left. Everything within range was bombarded relentlessly. We were determined to purge their taint from the planet. But to our disappointment, they were not entirely expelled from the city. Somewhere they still held barracks, as their forces continued to fight, albeit at a far lesser intensity. Even so we were overjoyed, having beaten them back and swiftly moved to seize their now vacant territory. We were in desperate need for additional space.

After an initially terrible attempt at securing it, the first party being slaughtered by another attack party, we barricaded the entrance and constructed much needed barracks and vehicle depots. We planned to unleash titans upon your foes, for none could stand before our full might when we launched our armored behemoths. Our forces were bolstered by a Baneblade we had fielded. Few things inspire Guardsmen or strike fear into the heart of the enemy like those mountains of armor and swiveling guns. It's plasma bolts burned earth into glass and vaporized heretics, leaving not even charred skeletons.

It was then that disaster struck. Before we knew what doom had befallen us our primary base was suddenly engulfed in a piercing light, and an explosion rocked the earth. Entire squads of infantry were vaporized in but a moment. Vehicles were burned to slag. Buildings were reduced to rubble. As my ears rang I realized to my horror that we had just been hit by a nuclear weapon. Almost half of our combat force had been wiped off of the battlefield, crippling our regiment. Worse still, our defensive walls had been knocked down and our turrets either badly damaged or destroyed. Somehow, my lieutenant survived the blast, even though her entire squad of weapon specialists had been devastated. I can only believe that she was protected by The Emperor.

Then the Dark Eldar came after us. They poured through the hole in our defenses and what little we had left was swiftly destroyed. It was fortuitous that we had established our secondary base, otherwise we would have surely met our doom. Our Baneblade roared to life and rumbled down the street, rubble crunching under its mighty treads. The Dark Eldar were soon blasted to bloody pieces under its mighty guns. They were unable to sustain the assault and were forced to retreat to lick their wounds. Although we were badly hurt, we were not dead, and the moment the assault ended we began rebuilding what we had lost. Our walls were again erected. Bolter turrets were mounted. Earthshaker platforms were placed. Techpriests repaired and rebuilt. Hundreds of Imperial Guardsmen and Karskins marched onto the field. We were the vanguard of the Imperium, and we would not falter.

Unfortunately our northern regiment faltered. Only able to field normal guardsmen and cavalry, they were crushed under the foul foot of the Necrons. We were alone amidst a hostile warzone. It was a dreadful stain on the history of the Imperium.

But we were not to be stopped! I fortified our ranks, bolstered our defenses and summoned our General's personal titan! A war machine of unparalleled terror and destruction, towering above even our largest buildings and boasting an arsenal that put even our mighty Baneblades to shame. It was our time to strike back. It was time to show the heretics and xenos the true power of the Imperium! So great was our resolve that even after we endured FOUR more nuclear strikes, we didn't falter. We moved forward, now finally ready to bring death to the enemies of the Imperium!

Then my sodding game crashed. Sigh. The one enemy that the Emprah can't protect me against.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Hunting Ground: And Other Stories review

Hunting Ground is a collection of shorts and one decent novella taking place in an alternate history where humans and dinosaurs co-exit together from ancient to modern times. Huh, that sounds kinda familiar. Like another series that this reminds me of, cough cough, the dinosaurs aren't called by names that we use today, what with the continents having formed in a completely different way and the animals were named by other means rather than where their bones were found. It makes little sense to have an animal named Albertosaurus when no Alberta exists, no?

The biggest story is Hunting Ground, and I have to be careful with this one since it is pretty complex to judge. That and the author is a fellow indi and from all accounts seems like a very cool guy and very influential in the paleo community, and I don't want to risk him taking offense and having his raptor-ssassins coming after me.

Hunting Ground in a nutshell is the tale of two huge theropods of an unknown species appearing seemingly out of thin air in a rural territory full of ranchers herding scalies in present day and are being pursued by the adrenaline-junkie main character, Gina. These two critters are bigger than anything else in the area, and before you think you know what the story is, they are not causing mass panic and eating everyone in sight. Rather they are almost treated like Bigfoot at first, a few sightings by ranchers and such wondering what the heck they saw and others wondering if they just got into the vanilla extract again. Things do pick up after a time, as interactions between the huge theropods and people increase in frequency and problems arise, especially when a prize bull is killed and a bunch of ranchers and hunters decide that they have to solve that little problem.

The best thing I can say about the dinos in these stories is that they feel like living animals, not monsters bent on harassing our heroes at every turn like loan sharks. If you're one of the people who is bored with the Jurassic Park Syndrome and want to see actual animals that happen to be prehistoric acting like real animals, then this is your wet dream come true. From the first I was smitten with how natural the things felt. It was like I had stepped into a real breathing world and not a realm of chaos where you spend every second risking getting eaten. I have to give Will major credit, because his portrayal of scaly critters acting like critters is perfect. Every action our giant theropods take is natural and makes sense, from a critter perspective anyway.

But that's what also makes the story somewhat challenging: It was kinda boring for the most part. Because these dinos acted like normal animals and were NOT causing problems meant the story had almost zero momentum. Some scenes with our human characters don't feel necessary and I found myself tapping my foot, wanting to get a move on. I think part of this is a problem with myself. I've been spoiled by the lyrical prose and juggernaut pacing of REH and other authors, so pulling the pace back can feel like driving below the speed limit after you just had a try at NASCAR.

When we're at the interesting points this story is great. It's real. When the huge critters start getting aggressive it makes total sense from an animal perspective, something that takes great finesse and you can see the effort and love Will put into those parts. But when we get to the characters doing their every day stuff the story is wearing lead shoes. But I do give credit for trying to do a plot that hasn't been beaten into the ground like a railroad spike.

I did have difficulty following some of the exposition on the history of the locations and tribal interactions, but whether this is due to the way it was presented or because I have the attention span of a goldfish that lost a head-butting contest with a drunk bison is kind of a coin toss. Perhaps a combination of both.

The story mostly centers around our reckless young heroine Gina, who is adventurous to the point of being an insurance liability and being pretty abrasive to other people. Not many people can tolerate her, but when it comes to dealing with dino critters she is pretty darned good. A lot of the time I found her to be bland, but at a few points her character seemed to glow. The end game goes from just trying to spot the animals to actually capturing one and proving its scientific existence, and making a name for herself. It's not everyday someone makes a contribution of that size to science! One scene in particular captivated me, where we saw straight to her core and for a brilliant moment Gina was a whole person and you truly relate to her. It was an absolute gem of a scene. I just wanted more of those.

But most of the time the characters don't jive that well. I mean, it's not like I'm one to talk, and I am the half-Vulcan who doesn't relate to most actual humans or fictional characters anyway. Gina is supposed to be a gruff tom-boy character, but at times it really felt like she was trying too hard and it felt a little awkward. That also isn't to say that the characters are bad. Not at all. They aren't like 90% of anime characters, and wow that's going to net me some hate mail. I will actually say that the characters never felt like stereotypes or annoying tropes to make a point. They were just people and while they sometimes did stupid things, it was in keeping with their characters and had some range. I suppose I simply wanted them to shine more.

The ending is actually very sad. I mean nobody dies, but it leaves you with this sad, hollow feeling. Definitely not a story that ends on a high note. I mean Gina loses a leg, and now living as a cripple resigns herself to the fact that she can never go adventuring again, and the captured dino lives the rest of its life in a small concrete cage, its soul slowly dying in its prison of flesh. Jeez, apparently the zoo was willing to help catch it but not give it a decent habitat. Maybe the author was trying to make a point about something, but I just felt sad.

What I find interesting is that the very first page which serves as more of a prologue than anything else, describing an ancient wall, is frigging fantastic. You feel the age and mystery surrounding this wall and you want to explore it. I was taken right in like a bass looking at a worm jig. I may be incorrect, but I get the feeling that this author prefers a more prosaic style, as he certainly exhibits such a style in his earlier stories, and then tried his hand at a more casual style that had a slower pace. Again, I could be wrong, but that is simply the impression I got. Will Svensen does have some legit writing skills, and when he's on the ball, he does great. It just felt like he was experimenting in some of these stories and that on this big one he was going outside his comfort zone.

So what are my overall thoughts on Hunting Ground? I think objectively speaking it's good, but not great. Like I said, I've been spoiled by pulse-pounding thrillers and a slower paced story just dumped sand in my gears. But when we deal with the actual dinosaurs, this story truly does stand out. If you're a paleo fan and want something you haven't seen before, definitely check this one out. It does have some very well thought out and intriguing world building, with unique cultures, customs, and wonderfully realistic dinosaurs. I actually really hope that he keeps building this world, hones his craft, and delivers more stories. We need more fiction like this! He certainly broke the mold and took a real jump into the alternate history vein of dino stories, a sorely untapped sub-genre.

Most of the other stories are major shorts, lasting one to five pages, one of them a darned good little short as we watch nature take its course with some hadrosaurs. My personal favorite, a novella of decent size is Long Winter Night.

Unlike all the others, this is a survival story. Two scientists doing grunt work in the Northern Circle of this alternate reality are routine rounds with surveillance equipment when a blizzard comes in and they have to hunker down for shelter. Lo and behold, when it's over their rides are gone and they have to hoof it and hope they can make it back to the compound before the freeze, starve or get eaten. This time since it's winder and all normal prey critters have gone into burrows, anything active that eats meat is going to be mighty hungry and have exactly no standards. So a pair of humans walking around make prime pickings, so these two really have to keep on their toes.

I really like this one. I get the vibe that Will has actually done some outdoors stuff, because the steps the characters take in their survival situation are smart and realistic to the point I was almost clapping with glee. Take that Bear Grylls! It has good tension, a good action bit and it's fun. With the exception of mentioning that the two boinked while holed up, which even they felt was kinda pointless, I have little to complain about in Long Winter Night. It's a good story.

I'm glad that someone is taking all this time and effort to make something like this. I truly do recommend checking out and buying the book and checking out his sight Tyran King Press, a small hub trying to network other paleo authors in this vein dubbed dino punk. Hey, how can I not be cool with that? Or anyone for that matter? Dino punk! And yes, that did make me think of a dinosaur wearing black makeup and listening to punk music whilst headbanging. Somebody make this happen.