Battle of Jutland (Skagerrak) ABCs

This is a unique blog in that I have a set of a few book reviews planned but I can’t reasonably expect people to follow them without some background: which is this. My goal is to provide the basics, a nutshell, of the great World War I sea battle “The Battle of Jutland” or as it’s known in Germany, “Skagerrak”. Jutland is one of my favorite moments in history, it was a moment where had the British lost the battle, in a few short hours they would have lost World War I completely. Likewise, a crushing German defeat would remove the threat of Germany outside of the continent of Europe and deal a devastating blow to morale.

What was it:

The battle involved a sortie (mission) by the vast majority of the German fleet. The idea was to separate, and trap, part of the British fleet as the main British force, “The Grand Fleet” was deemed too big and powerful to meet in open battle. Yet, the German fleet and British fleet mirrored each other in overall disposition.

German High Seas Fleet – 22 battleships

German 1st Scouting Group – 5 battlecruisers

British Grand Fleet – 24 battleships + 3 battlecruisers temporarily attached to the fleet.

British Battlecruiser Fleet – 6 battlecruisers + 4 battleships temporarily attached to the fleet.

What happened – Run To The South:

On the 31st of May, the German 1st Scouting Group of battlecruisers (think battleships with less armour and therefore faster) met the British Battlecruiser Fleet off the coast of Denmark, known as Jutland. At first Vice Admiral David Beatty of the British Battlecruiser Fleet thinks he has the German 1st Scouting Group cornered. He does not know nor believe the entire German fleet is sailing towards him. The 1st Scouting Group engages the British Battlecruiser Fleet and lures them in a running battle to the south, towards the main German fleet as was planned.

This first stage, the Run to The South, sees the British Battlecruiser Fleet badly mauled. First, shots from the oldest German battlecruiser “Von Der Tann” strike the HMS Indefatiguable and she blows up due to a magazine explosion. Next, the much more modern Queen Mary, often considered one of the best ships in the world with one of the best crews, is hit almost simultaneously with shells from two German battlecruisers and also blows up. When a later salvo heavily damages the ship behind him, thinking it also blew up, Beatty makes one of the most famous quotes in naval history “There’s something wrong with our bloody ships today.”

If you’re wondering why this was going so good for the outnumbered Germans the answer is fourfold.

1.) The British through communication error left the 5th Battle Squadron (the 4 battleships attached to the Battlecruiser Fleet, which were the top 4 strongest battleships in the world at the time) behind and out of the battle for around 45 minutes.

2.) The British had terrible aim.

3.) The British were accidentally doubling up on which German ship they were firing at.

4.) The British had very bad safety procedures to protect their gun magazines from fires. This permitted the two ships to explode.

 

Run To The North:

At this point the British Battlecruisers run right into the German High Seas fleet, so they turn around 180 degrees and hightail it towards their own Grand Fleet that is behind but sailing south. The Germans don’t know the Grand Fleet is out there so they pursue. There is some frantic action as the 5th Battle Squadron known as “The Goods” – the four super powerful battleships likewise need to turn 180 degrees, but they’re turning at the exact same point and the Germans have them zeroed in for gunnery. Two of the four almost explode – Warspite and Malaya – with Warspite’s rudder taken out doing circles as it gets abandoned and hammered by shells (it later limps home alone).

At this point the Admiral of the British Grand Fleet, John Jellicoe, is steaming with all his battleships in small columns, side-by-side, he needs to get them into one solid battle line but he only has once chance…To form them on his west or east side. The right decision will lead the Germans right into all his guns, the wrong decision would lead them away and let the battlecruisers eventually get eviscerated. If he delayed too long, he could be caught out of position and the Germans would hammer him. He chooses eastern deployment, this ended up being correct because it let him cross Admiral Scheer’s “T”. This is the most important move in naval combat.

Crossing the T allows a turreted battleship to fire all guns on a target, while that target can only fire forward guns at it. Therefore it has a roughly 2-1 shot advantage. Such as this:

_  _ _ _   _   _    _    _    (ships have front and rear guns able to fire)

I

I         (ships only have frontal guns able to fire)

I

I

During this time crazed Scotsman Robert Arbuthnot and his armoured cruisers (one step below a battlecruiser) charged the German line, almost ramming his own ships on the way. His ship, HMS Defence, and her partner HMS Warrior, were annihilated with Defence blowing up visible to all and Warrior slowly sinking. This was the stupidest move of the battle, with Arbuthnot being called according to Wikipedia “A bulldog with it’s teeth in his prey…If only he and they existed”. Many British captains stated the moment they saw Arbuthnot sail in they knew he was doomed before a shot was fired. It was the German flagship battlecruiser SMS Lutzow which saw HMS Defence emerge full in her gunsights providing one of the easiest targets of the battle. The other German ships couldn’t even move their turrets in time towards Defence before Lutzow eviscerated it at close range, alone.

The two fleets meet and while you’d think the Germans would take catastrophic damage from their “T” being crossed, they don’t. They take hits, but they escape. Scheer actually turns back towards the British ships – twice – but then retreats again. Soon it’s nightfall and unfortunately for the British, the Germans sneak past them at night. Many British ships saw, but never reported the Germans leaving which was a terrible and mysterious mistake. I’m skipping a lot of details here as a lot of cool stuff happened, including an old German battleship being torpedoed at night and another British battlecruiser (attached to the Grand Fleet, not Beatty’s fleet) accidentally charging out of smoke right into the Germans and is obliterated, exploding as well.

The most important German ship lost is the big, new, battlecruiser Lutzow. It’s actually scuttled late in the battle after it takes horrific damage but it doesn’t explode or sink solely due to enemy damage. The battle ended up with the British taking way more casualties but the strategic situation in the sea didn’t change – so historians often call it a ‘tactical’ victory for the Germans but a draw overall. Even a strategic victory for John Jellicoe simply because he didn’t lose the battle.

A lot of details are missing but as I delve into the various books I’ve read over the next few months this post will be referred to as background reading. If you have any questions about the battle, I’m always happy to talk about it!

Super Satire: Sicario Day Of The Soldado

“Sicario: Day of The Soldado” is a remarkable film on many angles. Firstly, a lot of people myself included, would think that the movie is a sequel to the first Sicario movie when, in fact, it’s an alternative script that was drafted at the same time as the original movie. Yes, you read that correctly, Soldado is simply an alternative version of the first film. While that’s pretty simple to say – the idea of it being shot and given a wide release is so rare as to confuse movie-goers even when they read what I just wrote.

Yes, Soldado is the darker, alternative, to the first Sicario movie. It is a movie devoid of light and of hope. Emily Blunt, who’s FBI agent was the moral compass of the first film, is completely missing. Leaving Josh Brolin’s “Matt Graves” and Benecio Del Toro’s “Alejandro Gillick” to reign without any restrictions on their actions. The result is a film of rare darkness and satire, but one that ultimately leaves us wanting just a little bit more.

The movie opens with Islamic terrorists completing an attack that saw them smuggled by Mexican “Coyotes” (IE. people-smugglers) through the Southern border. This major attack gives the USA reason to authorize black ops to ignite a war between the now-stabilized Mexican drug cartels. The idea of this is when the cartels fight each other, they would be weaker for the USA to take out later.

**Spoilers follow this point**

In the beginning, all goes to plan. But the shit hits the fan when during one operation inside Mexico, a Mexican Federali SWAT team fires upon the Americans and is massacred by them in response. You can’t blame the Americans but the results are what they are. This creates a situation where Matt Graves has to turn on Alejandro who’s forced to try to sneak back across the border with a drug lord’s daughter. This same drug lord who happened to kill his family.

The action is good, there are some gory scenes particularly of Alejandro who survives an assassination attempt with a bullet wound to the head that offers up a lot of realistic blood and gore in spades. The action, like in the first film is tight. I particularly liked one mid-movie gun battle being shown from the perspective of the terrified drug lord’s daughter – “Isabela” – played by an actress named Isabela Moner. This actress acts surprisingly well for her age in her first scene, following a schoolyard fist fight. Josh Brolin and Benecio Del Toro clearly like their characters and deliver well as actors. The problem with the movie is that it’s a bit confusing and doesn’t give the payoff needed insofar as action.

The confusion is simply what I stated at the start of this article: Soldado is an alternative version of the first script, it is not a true sequel. If you know that, the movie falls into place, if you don’t, you don’t understand why certain scenes, lines, or decisions exist. The lack of payoff in action is that the movie is like the “Empire Strikes Back” – a middle act clearly to set up a third film.

The ending itself is the most confusing of all. Alejandro, a year after his failed assassination at the hand of a teenage gangbanger, catches up with the teen and offers to talk to him about becoming a “sicario” or “hitman”. Why? We don’t know. Presumably Alejandro, a former lawyer for a cartel, has no more cartel…So why does he need a hitman? The most plausible idea is that he would have used the kid to get to his boss. But this really isn’t explained.

This movie is hard to review. The first Sicario definitely had the script that should have been done first. But this movie provides a great contrast to the first as it’s devoid of a moral compass. Obama, not in name, is insulted as being a “weak POTUS” but that’s as political as it gets. The rest of the movie is apolitical, showing what these black ops men do and letting you decide if the cost of their work is ethical or not. But I give points to a movie that 1.) doesn’t browbeat its audience with its politics and 2.) doesn’t force touchy-feely happy scenes, because life doesn’t work like that. Soldado is bold and definitely worth a watch.

3 out of 4 stars.

 

Why “Solo” Is Great

Myself, a big Star Wars fan, just returned tonight from seeing the much-maligned “Solo”. Solo is the first Star Wars movie that is believed to lose money since ticket sales, compared to the other films, was poor. It had a troubled history with a relatively unknown actor (Alden Ehrenreich ) as Han Solo with rumors coming out that he frankly, sucked, as Han. Later the directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired with generally losing control of the film on many levels, including making a mess of things by overlying on improvisation. “Thor: Ragnarok” this film was not supposed to be, or so we heard.

Veteran director Ron Howard, one of my personal favorites, was brought in to clean up the mess and re-shoot the majority of the film. With rock-bottom expectations for the film I just felt uninterested in seeing it soon after release, but I did want to see it like I want to see all Star Wars films, at least ONCE in the theater.

I remember tonight being 15 minutes in, noticing a huge smile on my face, and realizing “Hey, this is really good so far!” And that didn’t change for the rest of the movie. Why people don’t like this movie much – I have no clue – it pleasantly surprised me. So instead, I’ll give my reasons why I really liked it. All spoilers I want to discuss follow (but who HASN’T seen this yet except for me??).

1.) The characters were really solid.

First and foremost I “bought” Alden E. as Solo. He just felt right…Right smile, right attitude. Not the same Han, but a more innocent Han. Emilia Clarke was seductive and charming as Qi’Ra and I felt her and Alden had some legit chemistry. Lando was great, Donald Glover is a AAA talent and delivers in everything in his short career, and he was great as Lando.

Some other minor characters impressed. I liked Paul Bettany’s turn as Dryden Vos, the main bad guy. Paul has traditionally played dramatic roles and good guys (at least where I’ve seen him) but with his tall lanky frame, scar makeup, and a few scenes of rage, I thought he was a great villain. Woody Harrelson as Beckett was good as well. I liked what they did more with Lando’s droid L3 than her personality, but I’ll discuss that in a minute.

I also liked Chewbecca’s origin and continue to enjoy how seamless the transition has been to the new Chewbecca actor, who has the body language and mannerisms down pat.

2.) The movie was well-crafted.

A surprise after all the turmoil of its production, but the movie didn’t feel like a mess. Ron Howard has always been a master at keeping the action in frame and showing the audience what it needs to see to make sense of a scene…Not like many of the new “quick cut on meth” directors we see directing the action these days. I hate those rapid cuts, you can’t see what’s going on and it can cover up poor choreography. I felt it was a major issue in “Black Panther” for example.

3.) The Beautiful Retconns.

Retconns or “retroactive continuity” is a relatively new concept in film, certainly on the scale we see it these days. Basically it is plot points or answers to plot points found in earlier-made films, but films that take place in the time frame after a prequel. A big example prior to Solo would be “Rogue One” explaining why the Death Star has such an obvious flaw with its exhaust port. A well-crafted retconn has the ability to enhance BOTH the prequel and latter film’s viewing. A poor retconn can ruin both, however.

In Solo’s case my favorite retconn is that of the droid L3. In the original trilogy, Han is constantly talking to the Falcon as “her” and while some people do that with vehicles, for me Han’s affection always seemed to be more than that. That was backed up in “The Empire Strikes Back” where Han mentions that he needs C-3PO to talk to the Falcon. When hooked up, C-3PO talks about her having a weird personality and a “peculiar dialect”. This was great: it shows that the Millennium Falcon is more than just a ship but actually a sentient robot with the ‘soul’ of L3.

I enjoyed seeing Sabaac, basically Star Wars poker, actually onscreen instead of just mentioned (it’s a huge part of the books). Corellia looked good, planet Corellia has always represented the United States, and I felt represented such architecture.

There were a few other tidbits I wanted to touch on. I enjoyed the “Western” feel of the movie, particularly the “Great Train Robbery” type scene. I thought Lady Proxima, a giant puppeted water millipede, was a creepy but really good effect. In general, costume and set design were great. Emilia Clarke in particular has some great costumes that fit her well (really well). She’s always seemed super intelligent in interviews and I’ll admit I totally have had a crush on her for years anyways 🙂

The criticisms? Well, very few films are devoid of criticism and Solo isn’t an exception. Firstly, I really didn’t like the music. It felt tonally wrong for Star Wars and was uninspired. In addition the music wasn’t LOUD enough! This is something filmmakers actually control at the theater level, so the blame is on them. I felt the ending was overly long and had too many double-crosses to be believable.

Narratively, my biggest criticism is why Qi’Ra leaves Han. She chooses money as a way of “surviving” it seems rather than running off with Han. Perhaps it’s implied that she can’t leave Crimson Moon or whatever the hell gang she’s part of, but I figured she would have tried, choosing love with Han even with said risks. Darth Maul’s cameo was cool though!

I guess in the end, I’d ask the world, I’ve made my case on why Solo was great – what are your reasons why it wasn’t?

 

Exegesis Of A Scene: Glengarry Glen Ross

The first in an ongoing series, “Exegesis Of A Scene” I’m going to delve into what I believe are the best scenes in movie history. Explain different details I’ve noticed through countless viewings, and maybe draw your eyes to some things you wouldn’t ordinarily notice. I use the term “exegesis” as my old teacher Mr. Kennedy sold me on that beautiful word in high school. It means a ‘critical interpretation of text’ but hell, I’m adapting here! We’re doing it live!

The first film I’m going to tackle is “Glengarry Glen Ross”. This 1992 classic adaptation of David Mamet’s Pulitzer and Tony award-winning 1984 play involves the plight of four real estate salesmen, their attempts to not get fired, as most of them are not doing well. A mystery opens up later about some stolen leads.

However, in most people who have seen the movie it is Alec Baldwin’s character “Blake” which steals the show. Baldwin has a single scene, which is mostly a monologue and then he’s gone to never reappear. Most surprisingly, Baldwin’s scene and character never existed in the original play! It was a scene originally written for Baldwin and the risk pays off, it’s fantastic. I would direct you now to go to the end of my blog, view the scene in the embedded video, then scroll back up here below the dotted line for some exegesis.

****************************************************

Ok, so the first thing we notice is how disheveled the salesmen are. They’re moving in random ways and doing random things, it instantly gives us the impression they’re losers. However, one of them is missing, Roma, and a comment is made. That’s important for my discussion a bit later, so remember it. Notice the body language as Blake begins to speak – one salesmen immediately leaves to get coffee, another sits with his legs spread as if he doesn’t give a crap. Truth is, they don’t, and Blake doesn’t have their attention. Lets look at Blake for a moment, he’s perfect, his hair is perfectly done, not a strand loose. His suit and clothing is impeccable and he moves with ‘violent determination’ as I see it. Quickly Blake unloads an iconic line (of which I even own a T-shirt that references this…Was wearing it today!) “Put that coffee down. Coffee’s for closers.” As the rest of the salesmen begin to write Blake off entirely, and attempt to leave, he starts to emasculate them. Telling them the “good news” is that they’re fired – the bad news is, they get to work to get their jobs back.

Right before that line though when asked why he’s there, Baldwin says “I’m on a mission of mercy” but listen to his tone when he says that. There’s a messiacal bent to it, a vibration in his voice, as if he’s trying to imply he’s a celestial or supernatural authority. The next part of the speech turns Blake into saying “The leads are weak, you’re weak.” When asked next what his name is – Blake doesn’t answer – he says “Fuck you, that’s my name” and proceeds to emasculate one of the salesmen by showing off the wealth his success has brought. “I drove an $80,000 BMW here, that’s my name.” Interesting how he dehumanizes himself like this? Yet, he places himself on this pedestal but it isn’t a human one. Blake is something to be achieved, a goal, quite possibly an unobtainable one yet a concrete, material, goal. In fact, right after that he looks at another salesman, Shelly, and says “Your name is wanting…”

This is the point Blake dives into specifics “ABC…Always Be Closing”. He implores the salespeople to close, or walk. The now line is perhaps the most interesting. He goes over another acronym “AIDA” with “D” being decision and what does he say to illustrate his point? “Have you made your decision for Christ?” Right at that moment a car, the only car to drive by the entire speech, rolls past the window of the sales office and the headlights flash over Blake at that very moment. This is no accident, this was an intentional move by the director.

Why? It’s time to delve into my theory. Blake *IS* a supernatural force in this movie – he represents sales incarnate, as if “sales” became corporeal in human form. He is fueled by the only thing sales is every fueled by: closing. If you don’t close, you don’t have a sale. Period, nothing else matters. In addition, Blake has made and will make multiple references to desirable goods – the fruit of success. His suit and lifestyle first, his BMW second, his golden watch third, and lastly explicitly telling them his salary from the past year. This is also why he doesn’t answer who his name is just a minute ago. He’s not meant to be seen by us or the salespeople as a human figure, he’s an ideal. When he explains his salary he says “I made $970,000 last year…That’s who I am.”

Next, Blake talks about whether he’s “abusing” them or not with his harsh speech. But he explains that that’s what sales is and if you don’t like it, leave. His following statements have to do with the money being “out there” for the taking. As if there’s a simple pile of cash, why don’t you just take it? That actually makes sense – sales is the direct lead to that money. Sell the prospect, get the money. It’s tough; however, it really is that simple. Then comes the real bait: the Glengarry leads. These are high-quality leads for the salespeople but they can’t have them just yet…They need to prove themselves as closers first.

And there you have it…Mostly. One last point is what I mentioned in the beginning: Al Pacino’s character Roma is missing, why? He’s the best salesperson. He doesn’t need to be in this scene locked in with the other underachievers. I would go so far as to say his presence would have ruined the scene as it would have watered down Blake’s ability to tear the office apart. Blake can only exist as a messiah to those that need him. As Jesus said “the healthy don’t need a doctor”. Roma’s challenges lie in a different direction; however, the rest of the office share the same vices: laziness, complacency, a loss of fire and hunger for sales. They have lost the core foundation of what sales IS and Blake serves as a powerful avatar for what sales is for those men.

In Defense Of Iceman

People that know me and my obsession with “Top Gun” – my favorite movie of all time – ask me one question about it: why Iceman? See, Iceman…Tom Cruise’s character’s rival and the antagonist of most of the film, is my favorite character. He’s one of the biggest reasons I watch the movie and fell in love with it as a kid. But when Tom Cruise is the main character, so emotional, so *intuitive* (do I ever stop saying that word?) , so…Cool…Do I spend all that money to put together my Iceman costume and props?

I figured as I’m 33 years old with Top Gun 2 coming out next summer I figured it was high time to answer this question.

Firstly, I always wanted to be a fighter pilot as a kid. It was the first job I ever wanted to do. Poor eyesight robbed me of that by grade 5, but previously to that there was nothing I wanted more than, in Charlie’s (she’s the love interest in Top Gun…) words be “…Mach 2 with your hair on fire.” But even as a kid I understood that 1.) planes were expensive and 2.) they were paid for by the taxpayer. In fact, “Striker” – the commander of the aircraft carrier in the movie – tells Maverick near the beginning “you don’t own that plane, the taxpayers do!” That always stuck with me. And respect for the taxpayer is still a big deal for me given where I fall on the political spectrum.

Iceman is the definitive pilot, or at least what the definitive pilot should be. He’s calm, responsible, very skilled (people forget that he leads Maverick the entire Top Gun class), and he’s honestly a good guy. Is he a bad boy fighter jock hitting on his teacher? No…Does he ride a cool Kawasaki Ninja in a leather jacket at sunset? No…He’s in his cabin studying theory and figuring out how to be the best damn fighter pilot. So that when the chips are down he has his wingman’s back and will be best prepared to face the enemy and WIN.

Iceman gets a bad rap through most of the movie being portrayed as the “bad guy” simply because during training I guess Maverick needed a foil. But Iceman isn’t “bad” at all. In fact, he does his utmost to do everything right by Maverick. What I’m meaning here is there are at least two conversations in the movie where Iceman tries to mend fences with Maverick and get him to chill out and focus on the big picture:

“Maverick, it’s not your flying, it’s your attitude. The enemy’s dangerous, but right now you’re worse. Dangerous and foolish. You may not like who’s flying with you, but whose side are you on?”

Who’s side are you on? That’s honestly poignant and I say that without irony. Maverick is a member of the U.S. Navy, he is a naval aviator and a key cog on a TEAM. But he never flies or acts like a team player until the final battle. It’s Maverick’s recklessness that gets Goose, Maverick’s radio intercept operator (RIO), killed by being overly aggressive, forcing Iceman to bug out from a kill he was attempting in the training mission where Goose dies. One part of the movie that irks me is how Maverick is not held to account for this. Maverick implores Iceman over and over to prematurely bug out from his attempted kill just because Maverick is impatient to get the kill himself.

In the final battle it is Iceman who is chosen to lead the combat air patrol (CAP). When Hollywood is shot down early, what people forget is that Iceman holds off 7 MiGs (I believe) for about 10-15 minutes until Maverick gets there. One vs. seven in a dogfight for 10-15 minutes. That’s nuts level skill! Even unrealistic. As all it would take is one MiG to back off and get into a firing position. Sure enough, Maverick saves the day (Iceman does get one solid kill at least) and when they land they’re best of friends.

My hope is that in Top Gun 2, which Val Kilmer/Iceman is in, that Iceman finally gets the respect he deserves. How does that look? Quite simply the same relationship that Viper and Jester (the two trainers in Top Gun) had in the first movie. Even though Viper was Jester’s superior, in every scene Viper looks for Jester’s honest opinion and treats him as a partner, not a pawn.

Iceman is the real hero of Top Gun and that’s why he’s my favorite.

 

S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Call of Pripyat

When asked “if you could vacation anywhere, where would you most like to go?” Probably very few people answer “the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone”. Well, I am one of those very few. I’ve been obsessed with the Chernobyl story since I first learned about it in grade school: a cataclysmic nuclear fire that caused an entire region to be evacuated, now reclaimed by feral beasts and mutated catfish feeding off the reactor cooling pool effluence (this part of the story is true). A 1980s era Soviet city, Pripyat, frozen in time. Train cars stuck on the tracks with no hope of passengers, huge dock cranes abandoned amidst their daily work, now posed like ancient extinct skeletal beasts stuck in time, over the horizon. Realistically, it’ll be a tough trip to do and with each year “the Zone” becomes more tightly controlled and hard to tour.

Thankfully, the PC game “S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Call of Pripyat” gives me the next best thing. “Stalker” is actually the third game in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R series, and was released in 2010. The game plays like a “budget Fallout 4” wherein it’s a first person shooter with RPG and survival horror elements. Call of Pripyat had a lot going for it, it just wasn’t very mainstream. It was developed by obscure Ukrainian developer CSG Game World and did not have much of a marketing budget to speak of. I only heard of it when I stumbled on it, Googling Chernobyl looking for an online tour or interactive experience

The game turned out to be an extremely pleasant surprise! To discuss STALKER, you really need a quick primer on the basics of the game. You play Major Alex Degtyarev, a former STALKER turned Ukrainian agent. STALKER, refers to groups of treasure seekers who prowl the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Why? Because in the story a second catastrophic accident leads to reality bending (and dangerous) “anomalies” scattered around the area. These anomalies spawn artifacts, which are essentially valuable new types of minerals which give you slight powers. You can keep many on hand to stack their effects, but mostly they’re to sell.

Major Degtyarev is dropped into Zaton, one of four real life districts in Chernobyl to try to understand where and why five Ukrainian helicopters crashed en route to the center of the Zone, the Chernoybl power plant itself. That’s the main goal of the story, but you’re welcome to explore and take the game at your own pace. The exploration is the part I loved, the games designers really tried hard to recreate Chernobyl as well as they could including many iconic places. For one district you go to is dominated by the Jupiter factory – a gigantic real life factory that was modeled inside and out as realistically as possible. I’ve looked up real Jupiter photos…And they did a good job in the game!

The game itself is cool because your character can’t actually “level up”. The only way he gets stronger is buying, scavenging, trading, or stealing better weapons and gear. Everything needs to be found: you start off with a military issue pistol and submachine gun, a little bit of ammo, and are simply dropped in a forest alone to orientate your way and complete your mission. The pacing is very good, with interesting and unique side missions. It starts off with a bang: Zaton is the best district in my opinion, I will never forget walking out of the forest to see two beached freighter ships on the bottom of a now-drained lake. Then above them, the shadows of the gigantic Zaton dock cranes, like silent goliaths peering over the whole region. I was hooked right then and there.

The game series itself is inspired by a famous Soviet era science fiction book called “Roadside Picnic” written by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky in 1971. It’s similar, involving STALKERS searching for artifacts in one of several “zones” after aliens make a brief pit stop on Earth causing major shifts in our reality. I own the book, but have some other stuff to read first. It will definitely be reviewed here later!

In the meantime, STALKER is available on Gog.com and I definitely recommend it to anyone who likes 1.) Cold War stuff and 2.) first person shooters with horror or RPG elements.

If you want to be amazed by the Chernobyl port cranes, like I am, the video below will show you why they’re so amazing. Skip to about 11:00 to see what it’s like to have them first loom out of the horizon…

 

The Fountainhead: A Preview

A confession to start: I don’t recall ever reviewing a book anywhere, anytime. Not sure why, I don’t read many books per year but I’m always working my way through something interesting. Currently, I’m working through one of the most unique books I’ve read. It’s called “The Fountainhead” and is by a pretty notorious author called Ayn Rand. Rand had some very controversial ideas, essentially she promoted selfishness as a virtue. She was an athiest and felt it was ridiculous for people to live their lives for anyone except themselves. She tempered that – slightly- by saying that your promotion of yourself shouldn’t come at the cost of another, but altruism or sticking yourself out for someone else or their happiness would be opposed by Rand.

The Fountainhead is about two dueling architects. One, Peter Keating, is a manipulative, effervescant, people-pleaser. He does what the world would say to bring success, he charms the boss, does what “he ought to” and completes that with some backdoor Machiavellian manipulations. His foil is Howard Roark, a monolithic, almost primal, force of “self”. Roark usually speaks in simple phrases or short phrases and is willing to compromise nothing of himself: no matter the cost. Roark would sooner kill himself then please a single other soul in a way that would be inauthentic to himself.

I’m only 1/3rd done because I am taking so many notes. The book will need to be distilled into a long-form essay, then a short-form essay, and finally a blog posting here. There’s simply no other way to address this book except to “distill” it like a fine spirit. Distill really is an accurate verb for what I’m doing, but I wanted to get you excited because frankly, the book is a rush and I can’t wait to put my thoughts into a coherant form and share it with you here!

-Matt