Bert Cooper, Death Drive, Thanatos

Memorial Day Weekend

Brief news announcement: A review of Far Worlds is available over at The Founding Fields.

This three day weekend was spent at a lake house in North Carolina. I was afforded a chance to get some exercise, some sun, drink a little and get some reading over with. Oh, a piece of advice. If you ever see a guy you would call a joker go fishing, don’t turn your back to him…

Over my time there, I finished Dead Winter by C.L. Werner, and wrapped up 75% of Sandy Mitchell’s Death’s City, the second of the Blood on the Reik trilogy. Both of these books take place in the Warhammer universe.

Death’s City, like it’s precursor Death’s Messenger is the closest thing you will ever get to Young Adult literature from the Black Library. The second book is an immediate continuation of the events of the first, following young hunter Rudi and his magically gifted friend Hanna, as they escape the clutches of Witch Hunter Gerhard.

The books are written from the third person but always at the perspective of Rudi himself, which has allowed Mitchell to maintain a sense of mystery as Rudi tries to find out the enigma of his birth. The plot flows along, as Mitchell invents new twists and turns to keep it moving, light and breezy. But the young adult elements enter the book as Rudi deals with teenage pride, his wax-and-waning attraction to Hanna and just trying to make a living as a teenager despite the hardships both of life itself and caused by those pursuing him.

Dead Winter was something very different from C.L. Werner’s usual work, and the results are amazing. Dead Winter is the first of a trilogy (always a trilogy) that is a Warhammer Fantasy take on the Black Death which swept through Europe during the years around 1350. Thus, it manages to be a rebellion story, a natural disaster tale and a spy thriller all in one.

Dead Winter is one of the Time of Legend series, centered around a critical, historical event in the Warhammer universe which numerous other works mention and reference without going into any great details. Werner seems to take a cue from A Game of Thrones, but in a different manner. Where as George R.R. Martin invests entire chapters to the point of view of a single character, Werner instead expends one or two pages on a character before shifting to someone else within the chapter. The result is a kind of ‘serial flash fiction’ approach that builds to something awesome and then shifts immediately after the plot twist.

And there are more than a handful of characters to follow, such as the lowly rat catcher Walther, Priest of Morr Frederick van Hal, Prince Mandred of Middenheim and a Reiksknecht named Erich. And those are only the humans, as the other half of the conflict involves a plague ridden Skaven (rat-man) priest named Puskab Foulfur.

Each of these characters have their own separate story lines which indirectly connect and relate to the plague that sweeps the Old World. The Skaven start the plague, intent on weakening the human-held Empire before invading. Their timing is nearly perfect too, as the humans are too busy rebelling against the current Emperor, Boris ‘Goldgather’ Hohenbach. But other than spreading the plague and engaging in espionage and sabotage against the humans, the rest of the Skaven are involved with their own infighting.

The story ends as the rebellion fails to stop the Emperor but sows the seed of a second wave, while the Skaven experience a power shift in their council of thirteen. All this while other historical elements are laid bare, preparing the story for an even greater conflict to come.

Perhaps the only weakness of the book was the sheer number of introduced characters in the beginning. The earliest chapters open with meetings amongst not one but two major political bodies, bringing a horde of names that aren’t thrown around during this book but are likely to be important in the later installments. A Horus Heresy style personae dramatica listing of names and titles would have gone far to alleviate the problem.

Finally, there’s Mad Men. Satellite issues kept me from watching the season finale “Waterloo” until yesterday night. Spoilers follow.

bert

I have to say, the entire episode seemed to be about showcasing Don Draper’s maturity. In almost every way, Don faced off against challenges and problems that the old Don would not have handled with the grace that he did this episode. From turning down Meredith’s advances, to handling the end of his second marriage, to dealing with Jim Cutler. At the last minute, he brought that wisdom to Ted Chaough, saving the man from walking the very path he had.

The last scene, where the recently departed Bert Cooper appears in a hallucination to give us a song-and-dance number, seems to carry a sinister message. For many seasons, we’ve seen the quiet hints of death, death, death tap dancing for us, from Lane Pryce’s suicide to Betty’s cancer scare to finally Cooper passing away. If this farewell had been strictly for us and not something Don had witnessed, it would have come across as a cheeky send off.

But no, Don watched it unfold. A smiling, happy and now dead Bert Cooper informing him that the “best things in life are free,” is a most ironic notion for a man who invested his life in the pursuit of money. As I write this, it hits me. Mad Men, episode 1. The death drive, a point which Pete used to try and get a cigarette client. Bert was Thanatos. Now it makes sense… we’re coming full ouroborus. You haven’t seen the end of the snake’s tail yet… but you’ll taste it soon enough.

Warhammer Movie Ideas

The old debate for a Warhammer movie felt put aside after the release of Ultramarines. The feeling I got was Games Workshop declaring, “We’re doing this only for the fans.”

It was not a gigantic attempt, like as a $50 million dollar summer blockbuster. A rumor over at DakkaDakka put the budget for it at around $14 million (£9 million). I gathered that it was not for those uninitiated into the 40k cult. But an idea had been boiling in my head to consider trying my hand at a fan made film someday.

But then I thought about Damnatus, the fan-made unofficial 40k movie that was… “unreleased” a few years back. Story goes that Damnatus was supposed to be a strictly fan made movie with respect to Games Workshop’s IP permissions. The problem came about when it was discovered that German IP laws would require that the movie and its content would belong to the creator of the movie. This loophole was cause enough for Games Workshop to deny permission for its release.

The ugly lesson learned is that time would have to be spent reviewing the differences between the IP laws of England and the United States before even attempting.

Putting aside the legal groundwork of such an endeavor, I began to think about a lot of the technical details to make a film possible. The first issue was choosing which of the two universes I would prefer, be it Warhammer 40,000 or Warhammer Fantasy.

Although there’s more excitement for 40k, I think that Fantasy would be easier to do overall. We can thank Tolkien for giving us a lot of the settings and concepts within WHF, although the Black Library has added its own ugly details, such as the politics and religions, various races both original and not. Still, I believe that the backstory would be easier to settle into over 40k.

Another reason for choosing WHF is the physical settings themselves. Both 40k and Fantasy call for urban settings and for backwater locations. Both Altdorf and any hive would be almost too much to reproduce on a limited budget, so an urban location is not preferable. And 40k often has the Imperial stamp over everything. Landing pads, the aquila, all the vehicles… it would be an awful lot to reproduce even if it takes place in a rural area.

I have recently started reading Brunner the Bounty Hunter, by C.L. Werner. As I ventured through the short stories, it quietly dawned on me that this would be good material to craft a movie from.

Not pictured: His marvelous singing voice.

Not pictured: His marvelous singing voice.

First, many of the stories started with some scholarly character who took down Brunner’s tales. This gives the director the option of using a narrator to fill in the details and explain any issues that may not be easily shown on the screen. These stories aren’t overwhelming with the details, and they are both faithful to the source material and easy to spoon feed to the uninitiated.

Second, Brunner’s tales thus far (I’m three and a half stories in), have taken place more on along the frontier than anywhere near Altdorf. Finding a place to shoot hills and forests would be much easier than constructing huge keeps and streets, especially on a fan’s budget.

Third is the fact that the tales don’t have to be made into a full length movie. The short stories could probably be made into 30 minutes-to-an-hour in length. This reduces the investment of time and money. Rather than banking too much , the success or failure of it can be recognized on a bite-sized piece of film craft.

Fourth is the fact that Brunner himself is such a powerful, interesting character.

Rather than a tiring origin story or extreme development, Brunner simply is. His motivation is clear. His appeal obvious. That steely action-hero glare just draws you in, regardless of whether you have any idea what Warhammer is.

But despite these points, there are hang ups and considerations for a short movie. Of the three stories I’ve finished thus far, two of them involve non-humans. Beastmen and a werewolf. How would I make such monsters on the screen?

It’s possible to try CGI if I know the right people, but I’ve never been terrible impressed by that sheen that appears on the surface of digitally made objects. Besides, it would be more interesting to come up with the right costumes and the right camera work to create beastmen. CGI has its place, but I want that place to be as minimal as possible.

Although the frontier setting would be much easier to recreate, there are still medieval/colonial settings that would have to be made. This is where being an American on the east coast pays off, as there are many historic locations that might work for this effort. Indeed, I feel the setting is more a matter of research and creativity than stage construction.

Another concern is the sheer number of props. Some of it can be alleviated by contacting a group of local LARPers (Live Action Role Players). These guys buy and craft weapons and armor for their sessions, sometimes looking quite authentic and dirty. I’m sure they’d jump at the chance to put together a movie.

That would solve many of the problems, but not all. Brunner, for example, would need a well made costume. His sallet and armor would have to be carefully made. He’s also a walking arsenal, frequently described as having multiple throwing knives, a falchion, crossbows, a knife for combat and beheading and black powder pistols. Rather than a single special or weapon, Brunner comes equipped for almost any situation.

Another concern are horses. While a horse farm would be willing to provide horses for a price, many scenes involve horses being spooker or involved in combat. And there is absolutely no way I’m going to risk the safety of amateur actors around a large, scared animal.

Which brings me to my final concern for the moment. Finding good actors. Brunner has an advantage in that his face is frequently hidden by his helmet. All I’d need is someone capable of portraying a general badass for a few hours, no heavy emotional scenes or points of incredible drama.

I think there’s a part of me that would want to try it myself, but being a main actor/director has always struck me as a somewhat vain pursuit. And besides, for a first effort I think it would be best to try just the directing. And everyone else? Well, it depends on the role and whether or not I can find people skilled enough to fill it.

I think this Halloween, I’ll keep my eye out for particularly talented costume makers. Who knows? It may solve at least one of these issues.

Blackhearts Omnibus

How can a man survive that cold with such a thin mustache?

How can a man survive that cold with such a thin mustache?

The Old World is an easier setting for people to get into than its 40k counterpart. For one, it’s more jovial and humourous. It feels like there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s more fun and less serious. Second, thanks to gentlemen like the father of swords and sorcery, Robert E. Howard and high fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien, a lot of people get fantasy settings long before they touch the pages of a new novel. The concepts of Orcs and magic have long had a place in our minds.

The double edge of this sword is that some people are tired of fantasy as there is plenty of bad writing in the genre. And others have a distinctive taste for it, which may easily reject the details of ye olde Warhammer.

But the Blackhearts Omnibus isn’t like most fantasy. Never mind complex details like magic or the history of Altdorf. Forget needing to learn a whole bunch about the universe. You don’t have too. It’s an easy read about ordinary guys in extraordinaire situations.

Nathan Long‘s tale stars luckless trickster Reiner Hetzau. Although far from innocent, Hetzau is imprisoned on false charges and is spared for a secret mission with a group of other criminals. Eventually earning the leadership of the group, the Blackhearts face against the Chaos marauders of the north, treacherous Imperial commanders, rat men and plenty more.

Nathan Long excels at two things; characters and plots. The plots throw enough at you to keep you guessing, as the Blackhearts face traitors within their own ranks. They are convicts, after all. Meanwhile, a combination of political intrigue and unforeseen elements keep shaking up the story. There maybe times you wonder if the plot has gotten off track, right before it comes sailing right back at you. And then explodes.

Another version of the cover.

Another version of the cover.

With the Old World setting established for him, Long focused on creating a group of smirk-jerking characters who remind you of an adult version of The Goonies. What’s more, you cannot help but feel that there is some similarity between Reiner Hetzau and one Captain Jack Sparrow of the Pirates of the Caribbean fame. It kind of helps that the book feels like it was made for the movies too, with many of the character’s backgrounds told through dialogue over the writer’s narrative.

But in that statement lies the single real weakness with the omnibus. The story is written surrounding Hetzau. Even though it’s always in third person, the narration never leaves Hetzau’s side. If you happen to like him and his roguish ways, you’ll probably end up loving this book. If not, then this isn’t the book for you.

But the Blackhearts Omnibus is an enjoyable, leisurely read for even the uninitiated. Try a chapter. You’ll probably like it more than not. If not love it.

Halloween

Yes, Halloween is a month and a half away. Guess what? I don’t care.

Fact is, I love Halloween. Dressing up, being goofy, funny and scary. There is no finer way to celebrate the autumn season than with the clash of colors and fun I get from a great Halloween night. This year however, Halloween falls on a Monday, so it’s effectively going to be a four day celebration. People will dress up on Friday right through to Monday. For me, that means I can do up to four costume ideas. The ol’ gear box in my head is cranking and thinking up of a few ideas.

In the mean time, I’ve taken to rereading some tales from the Old World, including Mathias Thulmann, Witch Hunter trilogy by C.L. Werner and the Blackhearts Omnibus by Nathan Long. The Warhammer Fantasy universe is far more Halloween-esque than its 40k counterpart. Why? I guess it’s because it’s less science focused and more mythical, and the colors I often see of it include more browns and oranges. The monsters tend to be more traditionally scary, like the undead, skaven and orcs. If I recall from the Witch Hunter trilogy opening, C.L. Werner is a huge Halloween fan. And something about it shows through his work. I’ll be posting reviews of these omnibuses soon enough.

Captain America? Batman? Or… would I dare go as Thulmann himself? Warhammer fans might know me, but other people would be lost. Unless of course, I could tie the idea into this oldie genius skit from Saturday Night Live. Or, this guy:

What could possibly go right?

Irene and How-Your-Social-Life-Can-Survives-a-New-Game Guide

This is why I love Halolz.com.

This is why I love Halolz.com.

So D.C. took another round of natural disasters with Irene. Granted, Irene was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm after making landfall, but she still inflicted some damage on homes and infrastructure. It was worse than the quake, but we’ll make do.

While the storm hit, I spent the weekend at a friend’s place for a hurricane party. We brewed pumpkin pie ale and enjoyed pizza, guacamole and good beer while chatting and playing a card game of Would You Rather…

Games like that are always interesting, because on one hand you want to say what you would do and on the other hand you have to think in the shoes of the person who asked the question. There’s no real win or lose either, and such games like Apples to Apples are meant to curb any competition for a social aspect. You don’t have to speak to one another for chess. But Would You Rather… is all about conversation.

Cool thing though was that at the party, I got to know a gent I had met before. As it turns out, he and I had a lot in common, including both being Team Fortress 2 advocates as well as Warhammer enthusiasts. If you haven’t got Team Fortress 2, get it. It’s free on Steam and upgrading your account is a one time cost of $1 if you find yourself liking it. Anyway, this guy collected a Warhammer Fantasy army of Dwarves. I’ve considered a Fantasy army, but would want something I can use in the 40k universe as well. You can use feral Orcs or crazed Marauders in 40k in some capacity, but not Astartes in the fantasy setting.

Moving along, Space Marine is due out in 7 days. On one hand, I might want to make a crew of the Bolthole gang. On the other, my buddy will probably want to do an Angry Marines clan. I’ll figure out which soon enough. Now, if you want your social life to survive a new game that you will probably have to make for some preparations.

  1. Clean your house. Because you’re not going to be doing this for a while.
  2. Pay your bills. Too easy to forget to do this, so do not procrastinate.
  3. Stock up on quick meals. If you’re like me, you may want to consider some healthy food options if you’re watching your waist. But quick meals save time, and save money that would otherwise be blown on expensive pizza deliveries.
  4. Hang out with the friends who don’t play. You’re going to disappear for one, possibly two weeks. So hit the happy hours, buy them a round, laugh, smile. Be a good wing man. Make the most of it.
  5. Treat the girlfriend nice. Make or take her to dinner, be romantic. Do something wonderful. Or she won’t be around when you get back.
  6. Work out like a champ. Alright, your body is going to suffer from a wee bit of atrophy from sitting there for a few days. To prevent this, you may want to work out hard core so your body actually needs you to rest. What’s that, body of mine? You want me to take it easy? I can do that…
  7. Get a list of who is playing. Find your friends, get them together. At least they know where you’ve been, because they’ve been playing themselves.
  8. Figure out your time off. You would have had to prepare for this ahead of time, but a day or two can really make a weekend rock. If you have flexible hours, consider taking a few hours off a day for a week, so 6 hours work days for a week while using 10 hours of time off. Play it right and you can beat traffic home, giving you even more free time to play. However, I do not advocate working from home because you wouldn’t actually be working.

This is probably the most eclectic batch of tags I have ever posted.

Blood for the Blood God

Rock for the Rock God!

Rock for the Rock God!

Yes Union Jack’s, I will not use your wifi connection for terrorism or to make nuclear weaponry. I promise.

Okay, sorry about that. Today I’m reviewing a book by C.L. Werner, who is something of a mentor to me writing wise. The man is the heir apparent to the writings of Robert E. Howard, creator and original author of Conan the Barbarian. Robert Howard’s writing was bold, full of description and depth. It was very hard to step into the short stories at first because of how thick they were. But once you did, you were enthralled, you kept going and going as you get sucked into the world that Howard wrote.

For these reasons, be ready for thick tale if you read this book. It’s probably best done when you have a few hour chunks set aside to really dive through the pages, so you can fully and honestly concentrate on the graphic visuals. Turn off the television, play music with no lyrics if you must and just read.

Blood for the Blood God is a stand alone book that takes place in the Chaos Waste, far to the north of the Empire. Although there are many tribes that exist among the wastes, the story is a tale of eight, who are caught up in an ancient feud. Dorgo is the son of one of the eight chieftains. In an ambush led by one of the other tribal leaders, Dorgo witnesses the chieftain slaughtered by the Skulltaker, a menace as old as the feud itself. The news is not well received by Dorgo’s father. But when Dorgo’s words are proven true, the lad is set out on a quest that may allow him to kill the Skulltaker.

Blood for the Blood God is a strong tale, mixing several great components: The history of the tribes and their political bickering, the elements of a heroic quest against the dark setting of Chaos. C.L. Werner’s book is a window into tribal life in the servitude to the dark gods.

Ask him about his tailor. I DARE you.

Ask him about his tailor. I DARE you.

The book is a prologue, a precursor to the daemon known as the Skulltaker: who he was and what he became. But more importantly, Blood for the Blood God is an eye opener into the cults of Khorne. The usual stereotype is that all Khorne worshipers are just crazed blood lusting warriors with no regard to the necessities of food, maintaining their equipment or doing anything to survive beyond what they can take from their victims. But in truth, they are not as one dimensional as people believe. Other stories written about the cults of Khorne would also work to minimize this stereotype. But make no mistake, for despite Khornite warriors having to go through the same struggles to survive as everyone else, they are still awesome warriors. And despite whatever sympathies you may have for Dorgo’s strife, no tale about the struggles of Chaos can ever end on a happy note.

Zombieslayer

When it's your brains or his, you chop.

When it's your brains or his, you chop.

Why? Why one may ask?

Why bother with a review of Gotrek and Felix’s latest adventure and the 12th book of the series, Zombieslayer? The fans are going to buy it anyway, while the initiates will need to catch up reading the first three omnibuses. Nathan Long has proven himself a worthy writing successor to William King, who started the series.

Well, all true. Still, I guess someone has to be vigilante for any loses in quality in the series. And now as then,  it’s as good as ever.

If anything, Zombieslayer seems even better than some of the earlier books. Most of the books have been open and closed affairs, but Zombieslayer takes place immediately following Shamanslayer after a cliffhanger ending. If you haven’t read Shamanslayer and are worried about a few minor plot spoilers, best turn away from here on.

The Gotrek, Felix, Snorri and the rest of the gang find themselves in trouble. Having killed the shaman who threatened to transform an entire army into beastmen, the crew are threatened by an evil necromancer whose power was no longer held in check. With Snorri missing a leg and memory damaged, Gotrek is determined to have him escape and releases Felix from his vow to do so. But before they have a chance, a misunderstanding leads to their arrest and incarceration, transporting them to castle Reikland.

There, they are eventually freed, but they are trapped in a long and lasting siege against a horde of no less than 10,000 strong and well, dead. Matters get worse when a powerful wight lord, whom the dwarves recognize from their book of grudges, appears with the allure of a glorious doom to the slayers. Meanwhile, not one but two mysteries grows when a traitor works to sabotage the defenders.

Zombieslayer is a top notch page turner. The siege is sharply written, the mystery kept you going right to the end. The characters are an intriguing lot. And questions about Gotrek’s fate are raised within the book, suggesting where the series is going. For any fan of Gotrek and Felix, or zombies in general, you’re going to get a kick out of this book.