Science Fiction


Gank it!

Gettin’ robbed, Gettin’ stoned
Gettin’ beat up, Broken boned
Gettin’ had, Gettin’ took
I tell you folks
It’s harder than it looks
It’s a long way to the top
If you wanna rock ‘n’ roll

Our heroes stood in the smoking ruins of the abandoned railway platform, the two surviving gangbangers on their knees before them. As they took stock one of the two shuddered and passed out, all his remaining energy draining out of him as the combat drugs he had taken wore off. The other sat quietly on the ground, waiting his fate. Adam busied himself healing John and Jayden, and then while John kept an eye on their prisoner Jayden and Adam shuffled down the platform. At the far end they found a construction zone, separated from the platform itself with a temporary wall covered in DO NOT ENTER signs. The wall was riddled with bullet holes and the door hanging ajar, possibly broken open with a grenade. From inside they could hear heavy breathing and muttering. Assuming this must be Anansie, Adam called out a greeting and they cautiously entered the construction area.

They found Anansie behind an upturned cabinet, seriously injured and leaking from multiple bullet wounds beneath his armoured vest. Adam healed the worst of the damage and they helped him out of the room. As they passed the unconscious gang banger Anansie casually shot him in the head, but they managed to convince him not to waste the last survivor. Moving slowly under the burden of prisoners and injuries, they emerged from the underground into light evening rain, Jayden supporting Anansie and John escorting the gang banger. They all slumped against the nearest wall while Anansie put in a call to “a guy I know,” who turned up very soon after in a spacious van with tinted windows and menacing corners. Everyone piled in and they headed to Jayden’s apartment.

Jayden’s apartment was a shabby little one room carved out of a storage tank in an old water purification plant near the industrial end of Havensport. The water purification plant was no longer used for its original purpose, and its standing water towers had been converted into cheap apartment blocks. Piles of shipping crates had been stacked between them, and people lived in those too, though that lifestyle was barely better than squatting and Jayden, though dirt poor, still had the scrip to elevate himself above them. His room was one of a block of four that had been set up in the rear half of one of the water towers, walled off from each other with cheap drywall and opening onto the front third of the tower, which formed a kind of common area and laundrette. Rickety stairs wound around the tower and into this common area, which they trooped through armed and pushing their prisoner without attracting even a passing glance from the other residents. Either the residents were used to Jayden’s line of work, or they were all into the same business. Inside his room Jayden flung open the windows, revealing a view of looming chemical refraction towers, gestured for people to sit where they could, warned them away from the damp and mould on one wall, and handed around beers. The refreshing sound of cans opening set them all to relaxing, and after a moment to savour a cold beer after a hot day’s work, they all turned to look at their prisoner.

He was remarkably forthcoming, and told them all he knew. The Red Hand gang had a job out on Anansie, they didn’t know why, but all the lowest level squads were out looking for him. Their squad had been directed to his safe house by a higher up in the gang, a woman called Fay, but when they got there they found Anansie gone and the dwarf hacker and the orc dead. So they left, but later they got word that Anansie had been seen and they tracked him to the disused subway station. They went after him and were in the middle of the battle when suddenly their leader got a call – the prisoner doesn’t know who from but guesses it was Fay – warning them that the PCs were incoming. And just when they were about to complete the hit too! And the rest, as they say, was history. He couldn’t tell them why the Red Hand had a job out on Anansie, he was too low down the food chain to learn that kind of info, but no hard feelings and could they maybe see their way to letting him go?

They did, Jayden giving him a quiet word about bygones being most certainly bygones before kicking him out the door. Anansie then filled them in on some of the details. Havensport is the turf of a rival Triad, the Golden Dragon, and the Red Hand usually restrict their activities to a different part of New Horizon, but recently they had been mounting raids into Havensport and causing trouble for the Golden Dragon. Anansie is just a fixer, but he has it in mind to start working for the Golden Dragon too, or at least operating with their license in their Havensport turf, but to get such a market position he needs to present himself to the Golden Dragon leadership and he needs to be carrying a strong letter of introduction. His plan had been to form a team of independent runners and send them in to bust up a Red Hand drug factory that had been set up in Golden Dragon turf, and present its destruction to the Golden Dragon as his letter of introduction. Unfortunately the hacker and the street samurai he had intended to be in the team had been slaughtered by some kind of maniac when they came to his safe house, and he had been forced to run when he found the mess, which was why he had not been able to make it to his meeting with the PCs. His plan had been to offer the PCs to join the team he was assembling, and although his plan had been partially derailed by the killing of the hacker and the samurai, he was still up for doing it now before word of his inquiries into the drug gang got out. Would the PCs still be willing to do the raid? They would need to act quickly, because eventually the drug makers would learn of his interest, but if they acted in the next day or two they would surely have surprise on their side.

They asked a few probing questions. The drug makers were a gang under the control of a psychotic dwarven fire mage called Hui. Anansie did not know exactly where they were, but he had narrowed it down to a block of buildings up against the old section of New Horizon superstructure that separates Havensport from the Kwun Tong industrial district. He would pay them 12,000 nuyen as a group to go in, bust up the group, kill Hui and deliver all the drugs and gear to him. They would need to spend some of that on a hacker to help find the exact location, since the hacker he had intended to hire was dead. Once the job was done he would put in a good word for them with the Golden Dragon, so it would be a job with more than just financial benefits.

They agreed. They all needed the money, and none of them seemed particularly unhappy at the idea of busting Red Hand gang bangers after their recent run-ins. With that, Anansie gave them what info he had and disappeared into the night, leaving them to set up their run. Over the next day they acted fast, assembling gear and hiring a hacker to do a more detailed scout of the area they needed to go to. They also hired a getaway driver with a decent vehicle, and got their hacker to break into a cheap van they could use to get close. This took them longer than they thought, so they were only ready to go in on the second night after they rescued Anansie.

In a stroke of good fortune, that same afternoon a storm swept in over New Horizon from the sea, and their approach was cloaked in blinding rain squalls and darkness, the streets empty of bystanders or witnesses. They had found the factory in a building that rested right up against the border wall with Kwun Tong, a huge remnant fragment of the original New Horizon super structure that loomed over the area’s four- and six-storey buildings. This wall was honeycombed with tunnels and roads and even old building structures, and relatively easy for them to move through undetected. Once they reached the building next to their target Adam levitated them down onto the rooftop and they took up positions. John used his low light and thermographic vision to scan the rooftop of the drug house, finding a single guard standing desultorily in the rain. There was only one door onto the rooftop, and their brief reconnaissance of the building itself suggested that the floor below the rooftop was abandoned, with most activity happening on the lower two floors.

Jayden leapt across the gap between the buildings onto the roof of the drug house, and crept up behind the guard while John took aim. Their plan was simple: kill the guard and go down the stairs. John fired, killing the guard with a single shot, and Jayden drifted over to his body to check for access cards and other details. He dragged off a lanyard with a swipe card, and also cut off one of the guy’s fingers just in case they needed prints to get in, and was just moving towards the door to the stairs when Adam Lee, using his magical sight, saw a magical alarm trigger, and something come rising up through the building. The guard had been rigged to give a signal if he died, and the fire wizard had conjured up a fire elemental to clear the rooftop!

It appeared moments later, roaring to steaming life as it manifested right in front of Jayden, but thanks to Adam’s warning they were ready. John shot the thing, and Jayden was able to dodge its first attack. He struck back, but instead of doing any damage found himself engulfed with fire wherever his knife sunk in. He fell back, dodging a second attack, and let John destroy the beast with a second shot from his rifle. The creature disappeared screaming into the abyss, and the rooftop went quiet. Jayden, seriously injured just from standing near the elemental, ran back to Adam’s side, where he was healed, before running over to again take cover behind the door onto the rooftop. John took aim at the doorway and they waited.

They did not have to wait long before a team of men spilled onto the rooftop. The battle was short and brutal, with John picking off fighters from the next building over as Jayden moved amongst them, stabbing and hacking. When Hui emerged, steaming and hurling fire bolts, all three of them focused their fire on him and took him down before he could harm them. Jayden made sure the unconscious mage was permanently out of combat, Adam used his levitation magic to throw a guard over the edge, and the final guard gave up and fell to his knees begging for his life. With the benefit of surprise, darkness, the storm and John’s phenomenal sniper rifle they had made short work of six goons, a fire elemental and an insane dwarven fire mage. They collected themselves, gathered what information they could from their sole surviving enemy, and prepared to head down into the drug den …

Not just a pretty face

He’s a ghost, he’s a god,
he’s a man, he’s a guru
You’re one microscopic cog
in his catastrophic plan
Designed and directed by
his red right hand

A wizard, a cyborg and a black man walk into a bar …

  • Adam Lee: A human mage, Korean background, always smartly dressed in a suit and tie, a smooth talker whose negotiation is backed up by an arsenal of arcane tricks
  • John: An elf sniper, heavily cyber-augmented, a long-range killer with limbs of steel and a heart of stone
  • Jayden Roose: Human adept, a drifter, a tribesman from the far south with nowhere to go and nowhere to be

They came to the bar looking for a man called Anansie, a Somalian living in New Horizon who had a job for them. New Horizon is full of people passing through, living unregistered in the shadows between the giant industrial sectors of the harbour, squatting in the walls of the giant canal that cut through the heart of what once, 50 years earlier, was a stunning megalopolis that sprawled over old Hong Kong, and its surrounding seas. The Awakening was said to have started here, when a great dragon of steel and concrete tore itself free from the wastelands on the edge of the city and triggered the rising of the Sixth World. The dragon is long gone, leaving a fractured city in its wake, but where there is mana there is life, and now the city has been repopulated and (mostly) healed over its old scars, though the landscape is new. Arasaka, the great Japanese company that was in a war with Militech and Goliath at the time of the Awakening, grew in power in the chaotic aftermath of the tragedy, and formed a new corporate Shogunate in Japan that rose to its apotheosis with giddying speed and frightening brutality. Where the old Shogunate spawned Feudal lords the Arasaka Shogunate gave birth to subservient companies, great mercantile beasts like Shiawase and Renraku, that owed Arasaka fealty but fought with each other for all the profits they could glean from this new order. New Horizon rebuilt, spread over the old crash zones and recolonized the deserted and shattered outer regions of New Horizon, reconstituting them as floating corporate arcologies and free industrial zones.

The flotsam of a thousand nations came ashore on New Horizon’s outlying Arcologies and trade zones, people drawn to the promise of freedom and wealth from countries newly riven by Awakening, mana storms, metahuman strife, communal violence, war and pestilence. Anansie was just such a person, a fixer and petty criminal in over his head who needed protection from someone or something. So it was that Adam, John and Jayden found themselves in the bar in Havensport, on the eastern edge of New Horizon, waiting for Anansie to arrive and offer them payment for their strength and magic.

But Anansie didn’t come. He wasn’t the unreliable kind, certainly not when business was ready to be done, and after a half hour of waiting their bar maid started to worry. This was Anansie’s business, and he was always there to meet his contacts – perhaps something had happened. The characters pushed her – had someone been looking for him? Was he in trouble? Perhaps whatever he needed protection from had got to him before he had time to secure their help. She remembered that earlier that day a dwarven hacker and an orc had come in looking for him, then left suddenly when the dwarf received a message. Had they found him? In a flush of worry she told them where Anansie usually holed up in the local area, and they left to find him. They all needed the work, and who knew – if he was already up to his neck in trouble maybe they could negotiate a better payment.

Havensport’s central feature is a massive shopping arcade, perhaps three or four kilometers long, as wide across as a shopping mall at its best parts and as narrow as an alleyway in its dingiest moments. Sprawling over multiple levels, its walls were lined with stalls and shops intermingled with squats, rundown tenements, huge advertising hoardings, car parks and recruiting offices for shipping companies and mercenaries. The locals called it Golden Gai, though no one knew why anymore – any glint of gold had long since rubbed off the shoddy facade of its workshops and tenements, and now it was just a dripping, corroding network of grubby shops connected by a single, tangled walkway and an equally complex tangle of ephemeral allegiances, networks and deals. Anyone who was anyone had a shop front on Golden Gai, and anyone who did business in Havensport – or with the trade that passed through it – had an office in one of the alleys and gantries that wove through and around the ‘Gai. The PCs took those alleys from their bar, down to the Golden Line on the Metro and two stops along to Joystone Path station, a ramshackle little nowhere stop that spilled its metro passengers out into a grubby section of markets and seafood stalls that had obviously seen better days. They took a narrow series of rickety switchbacks up through steaming noodle stores and overcrowded tenements onto the Golden Gai, which at this part of its serpentine route was a rainwashed open expanse of low-rent single story houses and brothels clustered around a series of fresh food markets that were open to the constant rains that swept in off the murky waters of the South China Sea – the roofing that covered many parts of Golden Gai had partially collapsed here, and whatever creaking architecture of interpersonal agreements, family deals and gangland extortionates covered this part of the ‘Gai had never managed to come to terms on how to replace it.

Anansie’s block was recessed into the seaward side of the ‘Gai, entrances to individual apartments suspended in the air above the ‘Gai and connected to the ground through a complex hanging garden of stairs and ladders. Anansie’s apartment was on the street level, the door nestled in amongst the scaffolding and stepways of the other apartments. But now it stood open, and a crowd had gathered. As they approached they could see the telltale red and blue flashing lights of a local security company’s warning poles, and a uniformed guard lounging idly in front of his open door, clear signs of trouble. They pulled back into the shadow of a pistol vending machine and Adam signalled for them to guard him. His eyes turned a neon blue and he sagged against the vending machine as his clairvoyance spell took hold.

Adam’s vision drifted through the doorway and into Anansie’s house, where he found a scene of brutal murder. The dwarf hacker and the orc lay dead inside the first main room of the house, both of them brutally stabbed in the back by what looked like claws or maybe cyber rippers. Their blood pooled on the floor around them but was also splattered over the walls and ceiling of that room. Someone had ambushed them as they entered the room, and they had had no chance. The room itself and Anansie’s bedroom and study had been ransacked, turned over by people looking for something. Whatever they sought had not been large, because the raiders had slashed open cushions and the mattress of the bed looking for it. Drugs? Data? Guns? In his brief disembodied search of the house Adam could not tell, but he did catch sight of a data disk with “CON data” written on it, that had been missed by the intruders and lay discarded on the ground behind a desk. Perhaps whoever searched the house knew they had little time, or their search had been interrupted by the dwarf and the orc. Or perhaps the dwarf and the orc had been the ones searching, and had been interrupted halfway through by a savage killer emerging behind them…

Adam returned to his body with a start and told the others. Then he sauntered over to the door of the apartment to speak to the cop. He spun him a story that his girlfriend had been at the house earlier hint hint, and he needed to find out if she was safe – could he have a quick look round just to see? A tall story delivered smoothly with a small bribe and he was in, though only for the briefest of circuits through the house – enough time to palm the data disc and get out. While he was inside John retreated to a gantry overlooking the whole area, so that he could maintain a clear shot on anyone causing trouble, and Jayden scanned the area for possible belligerents. He soon noticed an Asian woman in combat ready gear who stood in the crowd looking too carefully at the building, and checking her commlink regularly. Fragments of a tattoo sticking out over the neckline of her shirt suggested a red hand tattoo on her back – a gangbanger? When Adam emerged from the apartment he and Jayden sidled over to her for a chat.

They soon found out this woman, Fay, was no disinterested observer. She claimed that she was one of Anansie’s many jilted lovers, a girl he had never called back, and she had come to the scene of the betrayal this evening to confront him and maybe slap him for his rudeness, but had instead found the bodies of the dwarf and orc and made a quick call to the local security franchise. Now she was standing around to see if he came back, so she could administer that slapping. When she found out that the PCs had intended to work with Anansie she told them that she thought she might have seen some other people who had been with the orc and the dwarf, and maybe knew where they went. If they promised to let her have her turn at slapping Anansie when they found him she would take them to the people she had seen leaving the scene. Adam was sure she was not telling the whole story but they had nothing else to go on so they decided to trust her and see where her story took them. They set off along the ‘Gai.

They soon found a man who Fay told them was one of those who had been at the apartment. He was lounging on the edge of a busy vegetable market a few hundred metres down the ‘Gai, looking like he was minding his own business but probably keeping an eye on the road for pursuers. They tried to sidle up to him but he caught sight of them and tried to run. Jayden chased him and caught him, but he leapt over a barricade on one side of the ‘Gai and down to a lower level. Jayden followed, making a huge leap that took him past the place where his target fell, landing with a roll and coming quickly and smoothly to his feet facing the landing spot. The man had fallen into a ramshackle market stall, collapsing its plastic and tarpaulin roof and scattering its wares. The Aunty who ran the stall was stood back yelling at a pile of tarp and plastic in rage. Jayden marched in and hauled back the tarp, to find the man struggling bloodied to his feet, a pistol in his right hand. The man fired on Jayden, who dodged the shot and cut him down with one hard blow from his knife. As the Aunty staggered back from her bloodied stall and Adam and John popped their heads over the barrier up above, Jayden quickly and expertly searched the body. He found nothing but a gun and some body armour, but then he noticed that Aunty was putting in a comms call to someone, probably local enforcers. He decided to strip the body and began piling loot onto the stall’s counter – a gun, a 100 nuyen cred stick, some body armour. Seeing what he was doing, Aunty canceled her call and came over to him, yelling that he would pay for this and he better have enough money. He kept looting the body until he had assembled about 1200 nuyen of resalable booty, at which point she patted him on the shoulder and told him what a good young man he was.

It was then that Jayden saw the body had a red hand tattoo on its back. The same tattoo as Fay, who had somehow managed to make herself scarce during the fight. Was this a trap? He asked Aunty about the tattoo and she told him this man was a member of a gang that had been causing a bit of trouble recently, and they had got in a fight with a black man a short while ago. Two black men in one day! She was going to steer clear of their like from now on, it’s bad enough that you see one black man getting in a gunfight, let alone having another fall out of the sky into your shop. No offense, of course.

That barghest took my baby!

None taken. They dumped the body and headed in the direction of the fight, now keeping a wary eye out for Fay. Their path led them through an alleyway where they were attacked by a Barghest, but they managed to scare it off without anyone getting hurt, and continued on their way to the location of the gunfight. This turned out to be the entrance of a disused railway station, Trimanifest Field, on the old Awakening Line that had been closed before its maiden run because of intense mana disruptions at some parts of the line. Not the best place to go unprepared, but what can you do? In any case they would not be fully unprepared – Adam could reconnoitre without showing himself at all. He sat down in the shadow of an old advertising hoarding and slid off into Astral space.

When he returned he had all the information they needed. There was an escalator down to the platform, which was lined with transparent plastiglass walls to stop people falling on the tracks, and on that platform were five mundane people, four of whom might perhaps be attempting to kill the fifth. If they got down there quickly they might find that fifth man was Anansie – and what better time to negotiate an improved protection deal than when your potential employer most needs you? They sneaked down the stairs.

The sneaking did not go so well, and by the time Jayden reached the platform they knew he and John were there, though they missed Adam. While Adam and John hung back on the disused escalator Jayden stepped forward to try and negotiate. There were four men visible on the first half of the platform – three humans and a big, nasty looking orc. As they emerged Jayden noticed the orc finish snorting something from a capsule and drop it on the ground – combat drugs. All of them had a wild, twitchy look, the kind of look gangbangers get when they’ve been going hard on the cram. Not the most reasonable people to negotiate with, but still. Adam tried asking them what they were doing and if they had his employer bailed up at the far end of the platform but they refused to talk, telling him instead that he had better go. Things just got worse from there, and before they really had time to make a plan Adam was hurling a manaball down the platform, and the orc was throwing a grenade back at them.

The manaball wreaked havoc on three of the men, and Jayden was able to scoop up the grenade and boot it back down the platform in a smooth footy move before entering melee with a stunned ganger. The orc had to clear out of the blast zone and scuttled straight into battle with Jayden, while the remaining two guards tried to shoot down John and Adam. One hit Adam, who ducked out of sight to heal himself, but the battle didn’t go so well for the others after that. Jayden cut the orc down and John blew away one of the other gangers, and nearly killed a third before they finally surrendered. They dragged them down the platform away from the body of the orc and started asking pointed questions. What was the red hand? Why were they after Anansie? Where was Anansie? The gangers spluttered and blabbered, and told their story …

Save

Awoken!

 

Standing at the limit of an endless ocean
Stranded like a runaway, lost at sea
City on a rainy day down in the harbour
Watching as the grey clouds shadow the bay
Looking everywhere ’cause I had to find you
This is not the way that I remember it here
Anyone will tell you its a prisoner island
Hidden in the summer for a million years

Things have not gone well for Australia’s Aborigines in the 70 years since the apology. Not because the government did or didn’t do what they had to do but because in the years that followed Australia became a banana republic. The world moved on from the oil age, and by 2077 Australia was a relic of a bygone era, a nation of miners and farmers in a world of virtual business and infinite energy. Successive governments, held in thrall to the big resource companies, rich farmers and an agrarian socialist rump, consistently missed the chance to seize on the enormous wealth of the Lucky Country: they missed the solar boom that made energy virtually free for everyone; they missed the asteroid mining industry that jump started a new decade of economic expansion but left terrestrial resource economies staggering in their own dust; they missed the chance to profit from the growth of offshore arcologies and the new Green Revolution. By 2077 the nation had been reduced to a corrupt kleptocracy, a rump of hard scrabble miners and farmers in the interior scraping by where and how they could in the wreckage of the resource economy, while on the coasts a cheap service industry bloomed around elite corporate arcologies and gated holiday homes while the advanced industry of the early millenium moved offshore and disappeared. Cities crumbled, migration slowed, the smartest young people left, and Australia floundered, a land of 1950s ideas squatting in the shadow of 2050s neon.

Then came the Awakening, when the ancient spirits of the world’s First Nations were ripped from their aeons of slumber and returned to the earth. The Awakening rolled over Australia’s Aboriginal people like a wave of enlightenment, affecting them more perhaps than any other indigenous community. Everyone and their Aunty knew someone who had discovered new powers, and the old tribes found themselves surrounded by powers and spirits they had not known since the Dreamtime. It was pure, too, in a way that signified some ancient difference in this ancient people: While the Awakening tore through the bodies of white people on the coasts, ripping them apart and reconstituting them as Orcs, Trolls and Elves, almost no Aboriginal person Awoke as a metahuman. Instead they just … Awoke. Shamans, mages, adepts … every tribe and family suddenly found themselves suffused with the knowledge of the Dreamtime, and the spirits of that time walked the deserts and scrublands where once stockmen and mining companies had their way.

Jayden Roose Awoke in this time, and found answers to questions that had always bothered him. Jayden was a knockabout man, a typical country bloke making his way in this new rough and ready world. He left school … sometime back then … and since then has worked where and how he can: driving cars and trucks for mining companies, helicopters on the big stations, pearl diving in the summer and sometimes working as a tourist guide or a hunter when times were lean. He worked offshore at the crumbling, rusting gas rigs, and then in the dry season moved to Darwin to work as a security guard at clubs and brothels, sometimes mixing in with gangsters or providing private security to the shadier visitors to that wild northern city. Over time he became better at these security jobs, an almost supernatural sense of danger working to protect him even in gangland ambushes or when tense negotiations went wrong. He also found a natural affinity for working with knives, and despite only peripheral involvement with criminal gangs and martial arts teachers across the Top End he found himself an expert in knife fighting, faster and deadlier than almost any non-augmented man around him, even people with many years’ more combat experience. People put it down to his natural affinity as a sporstman, but he was never sure.

In between his knockabout jobs Jayden returned to his tribal home in an inland town, and in those long months of furloughed time he would play a lot of footy. Here too he excelled compared to his peers – people wondered how he could leap so high for the marks, and why he was never seriously hurt no matter how hard the collisions or how vicious the tackle. With his almost prescient ability to judge others’ movement, his seeming immunity to damage, and his powerful leaps, he soon became a valued player in the wild scrubland melees of local pick-up footy matches, and in the local league that his team routinely topped. People said he was just a natural … but he always wondered. And then he Awoke, and discovered that he was an Adept, some kind of spirit-walker who had always had some connection to a deeper well of spiritual power, something he never felt or believed but suddenly understood fully and could use to his advantage. Suddenly he understood how his life had been blessed with the foreshadowing of this power, and he also realized that he had been guided in his travels, to some extent, by a mentor spirit. Wherever he traveled he was never too far from that symbolic Northern bird, the Wedge-tailed Eagle, and now he understood that that feeling of assured confidence he had walked with was not just his own youthful arrogance, but a greater power that had selected him to watch over. His sixth sense for danger, his ability to dodge that backstab or that unexpected kick, to duck just when that man opened fire as the drug deal turned south … it wasn’t just luck, or a steely eye – something soared above him, and in those moments he saw everything around him as if from a great height, through steely predator’s eyes. He was blessed with the mentor spirit of the wild raptors of the North, walking on ground newly sacred, bearing an ancient power in his long black limbs.

This ancient power that Awoke in the Red Centre soon began to tear Australia apart. The spirits of the Dreamtime were back and many of them were angry. Australia’s sclerotic political system, so insufficient for the task of grappling with the 21st century, was completely incapable of dealing with the Sixth World. Connections between states and cities frayed, long-standing political truces collapsed, and the distant lands of the Top End and the far west began to spin away from central control. The lands that Jayden knew from his youth reverted to a wilder, more primal state, and his people began to return – many against their will – to a way of life that some had long pined for, and just as many had forgotten. For Jayden, part of his tribe but not close to it, used to wandering the byways of both tribal and corporate culture, it was all too much. He took one more journey, and this time he ended up in New Horizon, watched over now by the city’s sea eagles, hungry for work, dislocated and looking for new things. New adventures in the shadows now not of a crumbling colony, but a collapsing megalopolis…

Jayden is an unprepossessing man. Simply dressed, with dark skin and the typical wide, cheerful facial features of an Aboriginal man, he looks like nothing special or especially imposing. He moves with a certain unaffected grace, and acts with the confidence of a man who knows he can get out of any spot no matter how tight, but years of rough work and rough sleeping have cleansed him of any belief that he is special or unique or that any great fate awaits him. He is uneducated, simple, rough and pure: what he wants to do he does, and he associates only with people he cares about. He has little care for money and few ideals, though he will not do anything especially criminal or immoral unless the target of his wrath is another, worse criminal. He wears rough jeans and simple linen or cotton collared shirts, usually under a stockman’s coat that is old, dusty and lined with kevlar. He carries a wicked knife that has carried him through many fights, and somewhere inside that coat a plain pistol with no pretensions to grandeur or any kind of Street Samurai heritage – but which has seen more than its share of blood spilled. Laconic, relaxed and simple, his manner puts those around him at ease quickly, and his relaxed, easy style and languid grace hide a deadly seriousness of purpose when the fighting starts. Why be a man of many words, when a few strokes of the knife can tell the whole story? And why waste words on strangers, when a warm smile and an easy hand can smooth over any awkwardness? With this unpretentious and uncomplicated style, Jayden will make a new life in New Horizon – or die trying.

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
– The parable of the old man and the young, Wilfred Owen

Last weekend I watched Guardians of the Galaxy 2, the highly-rated sequel to an excellent original movie. I went with high expectations because I read some good reviews and because the first movie was so great, but I was let down by this one. It was still fun, but it suffered from some deep and fundamental flaws, including that most basic flaw that spoils so many American movies: Daddy Issues. I’m so over putting up with the blatant, sentimental moralizing of modern American movies, and this one really really laid it on thick. So here is my brief review of the many problems of this movie, followed by an analysis of one possible interpretation of the bad guy’s evil plot, and how it can be read. This review has spoilers.

The daddy issues are laid on pretty thick from the start of this movie. The fundamental plot entangles the same characters from the original story in a madman’s attempt to turn all the planets in the galaxy into a model of his home planet, probably eradicating all life on those planets in the process (this isn’t clear). Of course Quinn, the idiot dude from the first movie, is central to this plot because the bad guy is his dad, and we have the classic American trope of discovering that your dad is not the great guy you believed he was when you were five, but is actually just a dickhead with an oversized ego who will never ever listen to you because you’re his son and therefore nothing you say is important. If you go by American movies, this completely ordinary run-of-the-mill discovery is a deeply traumatic experience for American men, who then (I guess because, pace that classic Monty Python sketch, Americans just won’t shut up) have to go and make multiple movies about it. Perhaps if they didn’t fridge their mothers in every single action movie, they would have a countervailing voice to explain that there’s nothing unusual about finding out your dad is just a paunchy dude who has no power and has some sketchy views about black people.

So then the group of heroes have to spend an inordinately long period of time trying to kill Quinn’s dad, which is cute because this movie combines daddy issues with patricide, which is actually a really pretty seedy basic structure for a movie: Dad had a bad idea, so instead of reasoning him out of it and coming to a better plan, you murder him. Although his bad idea involved serial infanticide, so make no bones about it (there are a lot of bones), he really did deserve to die. Credit where it is due, this movie strips back all the bullshit about daddy issues and gets back to basics: You gotta kill papa before he kills you.

Outside of the toxic daddy issues the movie is fun, packed with the same slapstick and chaotic banter as the first movie. The opening 10 minutes is a joyous rampage, worth paying for even if the rest of the movie lets you down, and some of the characters really live up to the high expectations they set in the first movie – especially Rocket, Draxx and Yondoo (as in the first movie Quinn is just a boring jock). The movie also introduces a girl called Mantis, who is well placed right in the uncanny valley, as well as being gloriously stupid and honest and sweet, so she’s a great new cast member. Unfortunately these great characters are merely support to the two boring white dudes fighting their existential battle. The key bad guy – Quinn’s dad – has a plot to destroy the galaxy which has depended on him womanizing his way around it, then consuming all the by-blows of his unions with many different aliens in a desperate attempt to destroy the galaxy. Quinn’s dad is a kind of a god so killing him is tough, and the second half of the movie involves an inordinate amount of flying and fighting and dodging and trying to blow him up. This is unfortunate because both Quinn’s dad himself and all attempts to kill him are just boring. This means that every time the main bad guy is on screen you just want him to go away, he’s so boring, and you just don’t have anything invested in the team’s efforts to beat him. He’s just some philandering idiot with a big ego and you can’t bring yourself to care. This bad guy is no Magua, no Imortan Joe. It’s like if Homer and Bart Simpson were in a fight to the death over who gets to destroy the galaxy. You want to care – your life depends on it – but really? Really? Is this how it ends?!

Which brings me to Trump, and Imperialism. It strikes me as not much of a coincidence that this particular variant of daddy issues – a daddy who is so stupid and dangerous you have to kill him to save the galaxy – comes up now, when America is ruled by the ultimate useless dad. Over the past year of being subjected to daddy issues movies and seeing the way that Americans respond to their presidential candidates, I have started to think that the US president is a kind of embodiment of the same cultural daddy issues that Americans are so obviously desperately expressing through their bloated action movies. I don’t know what is going on in US culture but the entire nation is obviously on a desperate quest to find a decent daddy, and the President is the ultimate embodiment of that. This time around they got a gaslighting, domestic abusing dickhead for a daddy, or as one Facebook meme had it, “It’s like our cool dad left and mum has taken up with a jock driving a trans am” or something similar. This president beats his (metaphorical) kids and is letting the house go to ruin, and the kids are having a huge argument about whether to leave or kick him out or kill him and bury the body under the floorboards, while the neighbours look on in horror. And so it is that this movie comes out that is about a dude who finds out his dad is a murderous arsehole whose plans involve sacrificing his own son to take over the world. Right! No coincidence at all.

Furthermore we learn that this daddy – just like Trump – is a womanizing fool, who has been running around the galaxy impregnating as many women as possible, then luring the offspring back to his home and destroying them in an attempt to take over the world. This is such a transparent play on male sexual insecurities that it’s hard to believe it’s not deliberate, but then Quinn is such a silly useless character that it’s possible to believe that the writers really didn’t get where they were taking this. On another level it could be that this is actually some kind of deep, devious critique of imperialism, because a classic feminist critique of modern imperialist politics is that it consumes the flower of its own male youth to ensure that the older men get to rule over a wasteland. Under this critique the young men are also victims of Imperialism, though some lucky few of them from specific classes get to rise up and rule the roost later, if they can survive the slaughter. The first half of this critique was expressed often by the world war 1 war poets, who saw the destructive half of this sexist order up close in the trenches of the Somme and Ypres. In this movie our hero completely rejects the imperialist order, killing his cruel and destructive dad and destroying the means of domination then disappearing into the horizon with a rat[1] and a foreign woman. Revolution, man! Did the writers intend this as a super-subtle critique of Trump and the general republican politics of wars of choice and infanticidal consumption of their own children that has come to dominate US politics since world war 2? Or did their own overwrought daddy issues lead them to this allegory by accident, as a side effect of their desperate attempts to slay their own useless dad in a movie?

That was a rhetorical question: I don’t care. I just wish these people would get their daddy issues out of otherwise perfectly good movies, and find a better way to humourously critique the current order. Avatar provided a critical analysis of colonialism without daddy issues; Mad Max 3 managed to offer up a perfect piece of savage ecofeminism without any daddy issues. Why do we need to resort to such cheap and boring plot devices as “ooh daddy hates me” or “oooh daddy disappointed me” (or both) in American action movies. Please, please stop it. This could have been a great movie, but it was let down by a boring bad guy in a boring, hackneyed emotional dynamic with a callow main character. It’s still worth watching, but only so you can watch the supporting cast shine. That’s poor movie making, and it’s an insult to me the viewer that I once again have to sit through the same emotional baggage every time I watch an American action movie. It’s not even original emotional baggage.

American movie makers need to grow up. But despite that, go and see this movie for the first half. You won’t miss much if you walk out once Quinn meets his dad, but it’s probably worth sticking out to the end. Unless you get even madder than me at being forced to swallow this horrible medicine just to make the sugar go down, in which case I recommend rewatching the first one.


fn1: Sorry, not a rat. A trash bear.

(This review is a little pointless because the exhibition closes tomorrow).

Yesterday I visited the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills to see the Universe and Art exhibition. This exhibition attempts to show the relationship between artists’ and scientists’ attempts to explain the cosmos and the human relationship with the stars. It incorporates artistic visions of the cosmic order, scientific explanations of space over time, and artistic interpretations of science, from many different cultural perspectives. To do this it displays a wide array of art, items, scientific objects, film and video art. These objects have been drawn from many different cultures – Indian, Asian, Europe and the Americas – over several thousand years, with a particular emphasis on Japanese material from the past and the present. They include mandalas from India and Japan, star charts from China and Japan, and early stories about space from Japan and Europe. It also includes film, photos and objects from the space programs of several nations, science fiction art and stories inspired by these programs, and visual art that either glorifies or critiques or reinterprets them. Some highlights that I particularly enjoyed are listed below.

The meteoric iron katana

Blade of coolness +5

Blade of coolness +5

What can I say? Apparently Okayoshi Kunimune made two swords from meteoric iron, which took three weeks to craft and required several trips to the local shrine for prayer. One of these is on display, and it is quite impressive. It has all the fine lines of a classically-forged katana, but the metal is kind of darker and less shiny, more sinister-looking. Also the scabbard has “Meteor sword” written on it, which just says it all really. This blade was forged the old-fashioned way in 1898, which was after the samurai era, but was forged in the traditional way, which means that it has that slight rippling pattern in the metal around the blade. Viewed end on it looks wicked sharp. The photo I took is just a snap and overstates how dark the blade is, but I do think it is darker than a normal blade (I haven’t seen many of these artifact blades so I don’t know how dark an original samurai blade is). One of these blades ended up in the possession of the Taisho Emperor, which means that he was decked out in a sword made from a meteorite. I think that makes this a kind of unique artifact and it genuinely is very cool, just sits their heavy with its own sense of foreboding awesomeness. Everyone was impressed by this sword.

Bjorn Dahlem’s Black Hole (M-Spheres)

Space!

Space!

This installation is large and imposing and when viewed in detail kind of naff – it’s just a bunch of fluorescent lights stuck onto some wood – but viewed from afar with that kind of disfocused gaze that you have to take with certain kinds of art it suddenly becomes much more imposing and abstract. In the centre is supposed to be a black hole, with what I guess are galaxies or some kind of star tracks circling around it. A single sphere of black metal somewhere in the middle is, I guess, the black hole that it all is meant to be built around. It’s surprisingly cool (though the windows at the far end of the room give a view of Tokyo from the 52nd floor of this building and are kind of more awesome in their own way). It doesn’t move or anything, unlike …

The God Machine

It watches and waits ...

It watches and waits …

This monstrosity is set up in its own room, and is basically just a series of robust metal arms circling slowly in rings of different size and speed, with brilliant lights on the arms. The lights themselves move in simple planar orbits but the whole structure is set at an angle to the floor surrounded by walls of white, and the motions of the shadows of the arms on the wall are complex, occasionally threatening, and frustratingly close to predictable. The size, clarity, depth and position of the shadows changes as the arms complete their loops, and depending on the direction you look you see a very different system of shadows interacting. A single spike sticking up from the floor casts a complex pattern of shifting triple shadows on the floor. The whole thing is a simple set of ordered moving parts, but it carries this sense of immensity and brooding threat that makes it really cool. I think it’s by Wolfgang Tillmans, who contributed a few beautiful images as well. His website gives a sense of some of his other art, which is quite striking.

The great books

Original history

Original history

The exhibition also featured first editions of Newton’s Principia, Darwin’s The Origin of the Species, and the first works of Copernicus and Kepler. Kepler and Copernicus’s books are open at centre pages so you can see the quality of their work, while the Principia is open to the frontispiece.

On the shoulders of giants ...

On the shoulders of giants …

I studied physics in my undergraduate years, and then statistics, and so for me even just the frontispiece of Newton’s original work (shown above) carries an enormous weight and power – this is truly a book of vast importance in the history of science, and to stand in front of a work that is so close to the original hand of one of science’s greatest and most influential minds is really a great privilege. This book is over 300 years old, heavy and worn with the weight of history, and everything in my career and everything I love about the science I do is built on what is in its thick and fragile pages. So it was really great to stand looking at that frontispiece and revel in the significance of of those three words: Naturalis Principia Mathematica. I imagine if one were an evolutionary biologist one would get the same feeling from Darwin’s Origin of the Species, which was also on display, but for me as someone trained in physics this book is a great treasure and it was the first (and I guess, the last) time I will be in the presence of this original piece of history.

The exhibition had other contributions from the scientists of that era, including an excerpt from da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus that described the movement of the planets (his handwriting is incredibly beautiful, every letter a work of art), armillary spheres and beautiful navigational tools made in intricate and beautiful detail out of brass, and a replica of Gallileo’s original telescope (also, his Sedereus Nuncius and his sketches of the moon, that he made with that incredibly primitive telescope). It’s really humbling to stand in the presence of so many of the original moments of modern science, and to think that almost everything we do now depends on the work these men put into these humble books, or that once people had to find their way to Tokyo using nothing more than one of those brass navigational instruments. It’s quite incredible to see them and realize just how primitive it all was – these scientists really were fumbling around the universe, making guesses on the basis of almost nothing, when you think about what we can do today. And almost everything we can do today depends on their fumbling efforts … So it was quite amazing to see all this stuff in one exhibition, and also to see some of the wild, amusing and speculative ways in which artists of that time and since have speculated on the implications of those scientific endeavours. It’s also obvious when you see that early work that there is no barrier between science and art – those scientists were technicians but they approached their work with a religious zeal and an obvious sense of aesthetics, a joy in the beauty of maths and physics as well as in the discovery of the unknown. For all the challenges of that era, for these men it must have been a very exciting time to be alive.

The Crows and the Insects in Amber

Some of the video installations weren’t so great but there were two amazing works. The first was a high resolution high magnification video exploration of a piece of amber with insects trapped inside it. Set to eery backing music, it moved through the amber filming different parts of it in such a way that it produces spacescapes and scenes like starscapes, nebulae or distant galaxies. In between these strange galactic visuals it zoomed in or out on the insects themselves, so that they loomed in the camera like Cthulhoid monsters, alien horrors, or strange planetary landscapes. This installation was probably 4-5 minutes long (or at least the part I saw was) but it was a fascinating way to turn a piece of something ancient, terrestrial and tiny into something vast, timeless and cosmic. A brilliant idea.

The second was a video work by teamlab, Crows are Chased and the Chasing Crows are Destined to be Chased as well, Blossoming on Collision–Light in Space. For this you enter a large dark room and stand in a specific spot in the centre of the room, then the entire room begins to shift and move as the video covers all the walls, floor and ceiling. From your central spot you watch crows take flight and then you chase them along the lines of their flight, and then they burst over you and disappear and suddenly you’re chasing new ones. I don’ t know why crows, I don’t know why we’re chasing them, but it’s really good. It’s a kind of mixture of video game and interactive exhibit, I guess, but all through a movie. It probably wasn’t entirely suited to this exhibition – it could easily be the open sky rather than space that these crows are flying through – but it was still a splendid experience.

This exhibition finishes tomorrow so there is not really any point in recommending that you, dear reader(s), rush on down to see it, but at least now you know what you missed. This was a really interesting attempt to combine two fields of human endeavour that are often seen as at odds with each other or unconnected, and it did a really good job both of merging the two and also of introducing me to some genuinely cool modern artists working in this field. It also serves as a good reminder of how space exploration, from its earliest beginnings, has been not just an engineering and physics endeavour, but an artistic effort that expresses something about what it means to be human and what our position is in the cosmos. As we watch new and modern efforts to explore our solar system – and, possibly, to colonize it – it’s worth remembering that they are always about more than just science, which makes them simultaneously both a luxurious waste of money, and an essential attempt to understand the core of what it is to be human. I hope in the future other museums and art galleries will attempt a similar exhibition to this, so people outside of Japan can share this unique insight into how art and science have worked together over thousands of years to bring humans closer to the stars, both physically and spiritually.

Kong does a runner

Kong does a runner

Our heroes know their path now, and the first step along it is to capture Kong(s) the Younger, give him a thorough beating for failing to pay them for their first mission, and find out who he was working for. Having broken through the space defenses around his asteroid base, the PCs now wait outside the entry to his asteroid base, armed and ready to enter, their backup teams now unloaded from the spaceships and ready to go. Red Cloud had asked to join them for this attack, and since he had finally received a little training in vacc suit, and seemed more stable after months of experience on the ship, they agreed[1].

Before they entered the base Simon Simon accessed the nearby cameras, and began searching through them to find visual confirmation of the far side of the doors. He was still searching through images and trying to piece them together when a squad of soldiers came flying over the ridge of rock they crouched behind, firing down at them. They returned fire, but not before one of their soldiers was killed by the squad. Worried more might come, Simon Simon hastened his search and gave them a quick overview of what lay beyond the doors. There were three doors inset into the ridge, all opening into large service lifts which descended to the centre of the asteroid. The lifts opened into corridors that all converged on a central crossroads. The three lifts were in a row, and the outer lifts in the row each had a room next to them that could be a guard room, but only one of the two guard rooms had guards in it. Alva confirmed this by extending his life sense to encompass much of the subterranean base. Alva sent his drone down the lift they were closest to, and as soon as the door opened it was blown apart in a hail of bullets. Watching this over video link, Simon Simon confirmed that there was a machine gun nest set up at the crossroads of the three converging tunnels, capable of firing into any lift.

They moved to the lift that was not close to an occupied guard room, and Simon Simon set the three lifts moving down at the same time. They also moved a couple of chunks of asteroid rock into their lift to provide some cover when the doors opened. Everyone took position behind the rock, and the lifts descended. At the bottom the lift doors opened onto a long, straight corridor that stretched down to that machine gun nest. Surprised by all three lifts opening at once, the soldiers in place there acted last, and the PCs were able to open fire on them. Noticing that a single corridor ran from their lift past the central lift to the third lift – and thus gave the guards in the guard room by that lift an open field of fire – Ahmose moved into the guard room nearest their own lift, to get a firing position along that cross corridor. Unfortunately as the lift descended the guards had moved, and Ahmose walked straight into a group of four of them, who opened fire on her but did barely any damage to her armour. She began hacking into them with her magic sword.

The battle was short and vicious. The machine gun nest had good armour, so finally Simon Simon used his PGMP gun to blow it away, killing everyone in the nest but somehow preserving the gun. Alva and Ahmose managed to clear out the guard room, and a well-placed grenade cleared the other guard room. They had mostly taken no damage, although another of their soldiers had died. They moved down the hallway to the crossroads.

The asteroid base was a small structure, a couple of tunnels leading off from the crossroads in two directions, with occasional living rooms or military-style command or storage rooms recessed into the walls. It was dimly lit with standard fluorescent lighting, and seemed to have an intact atmosphere, though they did not take off their vacc suits to risk a sudden decompression. At the crossroads Alva extended a narrow-range life sense and identified a cluster of guards in another room some distance from them, so they branched off in that direction. They managed to surprise these guards but as they did so Alva noticed another set of guards coming from another room and trying to cut them off behind. They split the party and moved around a curving corridor to take these guards from two directions, but when they joined battle they suddenly found there was a fifth figure, who Alva’s life sense had not registered, in combat armour – Kong the Younger.

This battle was much harder, as a second squad of guards joined from the rear. They fought hard but all their soldiers were cut down in crossfires, and one of the guards had a grenade launcher that wreaked havoc on their attempts to maintain a cohesive firing unit. It took all their efforts to bring down Kong’s underlings, during which time Red Cloud, Lam and Alva were seriously injured. Once his guards fell Kong made to escape down another corridor, and when Simon Simon tried to shoot him he used a psionic mind attack to knock Simon Simon unconscious. Ahmose suffered a similar fate trying to engage Kong at melee range, and finally Lam was left, badly injured and almost dead, trying to shoot Kong down as he fled away down the hallway. Kong fled down a side hall, Lam in pursuit, and into a small dock where his personal vessel was parked. Lam managed to shoot him down here in the open space of the dock just as he was preparing his final getaway.

They had captured Kong, but at the expense of almost all of their soldiers, and with most of the party unconscious from psionic attacks or serious battle injuries. For their pains they managed to capture another ship, Kong’s small escape ship the Thoughtcrime, and once they had recovered they were able to loot the computer systems and records of the asteroid. Kong they later handed over to the Confederate Navy for thorough questioning. As part of their subsequent investigations they discovered that Kong had traded the chip they gave him in their first mission to an AI called the Covenant of Shadows, which the Confederacy suspected of being linked to the mysterious AI called the Cognate; he had worked through an adherent called Abernecht. In trade for the chip he had received weapons shipments, the elimination of two enemies of the changelings, and promises of future aid.

As part of the raid and the subsequent interrogations the Confederate Navy unearthed a network of changeling agents both inside and outside the navy, and began a long and detailed period of purging of their changeling allies. Although it had nearly cost them their lives, the raid had revealed a rich stash of secrets. Now they were ready to begin the next stage of their intelligence gathering, and head to the Cult of the Last Barrier.


fn1: We have a new player, and he took Red Cloud as his PC. Great!

 

Someone has been reading the Star Wars RPG opening adventure

Laser from space!

Rogue One is a great movie. But more importantly, it’s a movie that brings the original Star Wars feeling back to life. It is a lively, intense romp through the Star Wars universe, replete with all the things that made the original movies so enjoyable: characters you really want to win, a plot that unfolds at the speed of light and keeps you on the edge of your seat to the end, stunning settings, space battles, and valiant heroism and sacrifice. The main characters are constructed quickly and smoothly at the beginning in broad brush strokes, which waste no time establishing who they are but get you engaged with them early on. The plot is driven by the same tense, demanding deadlines that we are used to from the original movies: an impending doom, a crucial space battle that depends on a small insurgent team to rescue it from catastrophic failure, and a taut race against all the resources of the Empire to snatch victory from them against impossible odds. The story unfolds over several planets, all presenting very different settings and ending in a beautiful archipelago that offers great views for the astounding slaughter unfolding in and above it. The fundamental driver of the plot – the need to get the plans to the Death Star – demands valiant action, heroism and sacrifice from a band of people thrown together by a mixture of desperation and idealism.

Still, we know from bitter experience that it’s possible for a Star Wars movie to appear to have all these elements, but to submerge them in plots designed by the marketing department, a sea of CGI, and limpid acting that makes you forget whole scenes. We don’t see any of that in Rogue One – the plot isn’t just tight and well worked, it makes sense within itself and does not demand that we regularly suspend our sense of disbelief or our understanding of what makes stories work in order to accept the sequences of events unfolding before us, and although there are several points in the movie where disparate forces come together to create chaos, the mechanism of their having been brought together makes sense and doesn’t stretch our credulity. There’s plenty of CGI but it’s used sparingly, giving us what we need and no more – none of those classic sci-fi disasters of filling the screen with spaceships because you can – and the CGI doesn’t ever serve to distract us from bad dialogue or bad acting. The dialogue is, apart from one bad joke, very well crafted, and just as in the original movies a droid plays an essential role in establishing the best repartee. And the acting is great.

Of course there was a time when these would have been considered baseline standards for a good movie, but in modern science fiction movies you’re lucky if you get to see all these basic conditions met, so we must remark on them as if they were unlocked achievements. Rogue One goes further than just unlocking these achievements, however. It also presents us a moody feeling of loss and threat throughout, it gives us fine cinematography and some stunning set pieces to make us marvel, and it is picture perfect to the original movies. If you watch Star Wars Episode 4 immediately after this movie (as I essentially did) you will see a seamless flow from Rogue One to A New Hope. Better still, Rogue One’s story offers an explanation for a core problem many people have with the fundamental plot of Episode 4, effectively saving that movie from itself and improving the original offering. It also is about more than just stealing the plans for the Death Star – it is the entire first two sentences of the opening text of Episode 4, fleshed out and with a rollicking ending that explains everything and leads you straight to A New Hope. As a result this movie, much more than anything that was made since Return of the Jedi, deserves to be considered canon, even if Disney are trying to present it as a sideshow. This movie is a genuine improvement on the Star Wars universe, a real core offering, and has much more to add to the story we grew up with than any of the flaccid bloatware that has been released in the past 20 years.

The movie does have its flaws, of course, but they’re not serious. At one stage near the end the heroes are presented with a series of seemingly insurmountable challenges to achieving their task, which of course they overcome, but this turns a small section of the movie into an action platformer, or some kind of sci-fi version of that Ninja Warrior game show. That lets it down a bit and I think this part could have run more smoothly without pushing our heroes to be super-human to no particular plot purpose. Also this movie suffers the same problem as Episode 7, where hyperspace travel now happens at the speed of plot rather than any coherent actual time frame – we no longer do the Kessel run in 12 parsecs, we do it in however long it takes to get our spaceship to the next scene on time and in position. Of course there’s no reason not to have hyperspace travel be near-instantaneous, since it’s hyperspace, but in the original story they at least had time for a highly fraught game of chess and some jedi training before they rocked up into a meteor shower. Now it appears we can get an entire fleet of battleships from quiescent to the other side of the galaxy, in battle formation, in the blink of an eye.

Aside from those small flaws though, this movie was brilliant from start to finish, and for me at least it restored my faith in this once-great series. If we’re lucky the producers and directors of Episode 8 will learn from this and try to get the whole carnival back on track – or we will see more spin-off movies that add more to the Star Wars mythology than the core movies ever do. Or, ideally, both. But just in case this is the last good thing ever to come out of Star Wars, I recommend seeing it as soon as you can – the ending of this movie is absolutely ruined if you hear any spoilers, so get down to the cinema and see it as early as you can, before the best thing to happen to Star Wars in 30 years is ruined by its own success!

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