– by Wombat-socho
I’ve been kind of slack about hitting the library lately, having been busy with Ingress; what I’ve been re-reading as a bedtime book is the David Drake & S.M. Stirling collections Warlord and Conqueror, which between them contain the first five Raj Whitehall novels. For those unfamiliar with the series, Whitehall is a captain in the Army of the Gubierno Civil, one of two civilized nations on the planet Bellevue eleven hundred years after the interstellar civilization of the Federation collapsed in a welter of nuclear fire. Whitehall has been tasked with a surviving Federation command and control AI (“Center”) with reuniting Bellevue, which is a tall order. Opposed to the Civil Government is the Colony, a Muslim empire equal in technology and frequently better at applying military force; the other two major polities are the Brigade and Squadron, barbarian military governments that believe in the heretical Spirit of Man of This Earth (as opposed to the Spirit of Man of the Stars worshipped in the Civil Government) and both being technologically inferior to the Civil Government. The books follow Whitehall as he successfully repels a Colonial attack on the eastern frontier, retakes the southern territories and crushes the Squadron, does the same with the western territories and the Brigade, and finally, when paranoid Governor Barholm is about to have him executed for the death of Barholm’s nephew and heir, he is sent into action again to save the day again in the east. The series does an interesting job of transposing the tale of Belisarius into a far-future world where the native sauroids are a continual threat in wartime (or on other occasions when society breaks down), gasoline engines are a recent and unreliable innovation, and horses have been replaced by mutant half-ton riding dogs. While frequently gory, the Raj Whitehall novels also contain a fair amount of grim humor and references to Mauldin, Kipling, and other half-forgotten literary figures. Well worth reading; there are also (at last count) five more sequels in which Center and Whitehall’s uploaded mind try to set matters straight on other worlds poised on the edge of collapse into barbarism – or worse.
I’ve also been spending time on Sanctum 2, a fun combination of tower defense game and first-person shooter which I picked up when it was on sale at Steam last weekend. You get a variety of weapons to stick on the towers, a choice of shooters to help croak the monsters, and as you level up you get more options for the towers and your shooter, as well as perks that make the killing easier. I’m enjoying it a lot.
For something less mindless, I prefer Bioshock and its sequel Bioshock 2, both first-person shooters set in the undersea city of Rapture. The first game is a revenge quest; guided by the radio voice of Atlas, your character makes his way through Rapture, which has clearly seen better days. The surviving inhabitants are all homicidal maniacs called Splicers, except for the “Little Sisters” who harvest the wonder drug Adam and the “Big Daddies” who guard the Little Sisters. Your mission changes as the game progresses, and you get quite a bit of leeway in how you carry out the missions; you have to make choices regarding which plasmids and tonics to use, which devices to hack and how, and most importantly – how you treat the Little Sisters. Rapture is a city predicated on extreme Objectivist values (the founder Andrew Ryan’s name is in fact an anagram of Ayn Rand), but it’s in no sense a utopia, and the underside is pretty squalid. Bioshock 2 starts you in the body of a Big Daddy, an early model who’s bonded to a particular Little Sister. Unfortunately, that Little Sister is Eleanor Lamb, the daughter of. Dr. Susan Lamb, founder of the commune “Family” that’s running Rapture – and kidnapper of little girls from coastal towns. Fortunately, Eleanor’s Electra complex works to your advantage, as she leaves helpful gifts for you along your path, and you’re going to need them; even though you start with the ability to dual-wield weapons and plasmids, ammo is harder to come by and the weapons are trickier to use. Both games are hours of fun; didn’t feel compelled to pick up BioShock Infinite because the storyline didn’t appeal to me, and well, it wasn’t set in Rapture, which I think had a lot of unexplored potential left.
Next week: more SF, fewer games.