Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Lesser Evil

This is a shoot, as they say in the wrestling business. I'm not speaking as the Goon, or the Esteemed Critic, or any of my other characters. This is me, *********, working stiff, hack writer, family man. I'm writing because I've seen and heard a lot of people commenting that there is no real difference between the two presidential candidates in that they'll both be bad news for our country. That's a load of shit, honestly. Let me explain why.

Look, I understand why a lot of people don't want to vote for Hillary Clinton. If you're a liberal, she's basically been a moderate Republican her entire career. If you're a conservative, well, she's a Democrat that believes in abortion and gun legislation, and blah, blah, blah. There's also the fact that the Clintons seem to be perpetually embroiled in scandal. We have Benghazi, the private email server, the cigar Bill lied about inserting in a White House intern. There's the Clinton Foundation and the speech to Goldman Sachs. She's an establishment figure, part of the machine. She's also a woman in politics, which rubs a lot of stupid people the wrong way, even if they won't admit it. She voted for the Iraq war. She's not the best speaker. The list goes on.

But can you honestly tell me that she's as bad as Donald Trump? The guy who's demonized illegal immigrants as rapists and criminals? Who questioned whether a federal judge should be allowed to keep his job because his family was born in Mexico? The guy who said that he'd pay the legal fines of any of his supporters who get thrown in jail for beating protesters? Who thinks that an entire religious group should be banned from entering the country? Who retweets white supremacists? Hey, his speech at the RNC was endorsed by former KKK head David Duke. These are his people, is what I'm saying. His constituency.

Well hell, maybe you don't care about all of that. Maybe the bigoted stuff doesn't bother you for some reason. Let's consider the temperament of the man. You can bait him with a tweet into saying something offensive. During the RNC, he sat the Ohio delegates in the nose-bleed section because they didn't vote for him. If you ask him to actually explain himself, he takes it personally, especially if you're a woman. Ask Megyn Kelly, who apparently has blood coming out of her whatever. He's so goddamn insecure, he responds to every insult. Point out the small size of his hands or the fact that he's not really a billionaire and watch out.

And then there's the myth of Trump the businessman. He says he'll run government like a business, whatever that means. Does he think the purpose of government is to make money? I thought the purpose of government was to govern. This is a man who was a millionaire at birth. This is a man whose corporations have declared bankruptcy four times. A man who has dodged paying his taxes and his employees and who refuses to release his tax returns because, guess what, he's not a goddamn billionaire.

So on what basis is Donald Trump qualified to become president? He's a racist xenophobe who holds democratic principles in clear contempt (he has a weird admiration for Vladimir Putin, who's a goddamn supervillain). He's a loose cannon who's called on Russia to hack his opponent. He's a shitty businessman and has never held public office.

Clinton, for all of her faults, is none of those things. She's been First Lady, a senator, and Secretary of State. You can't argue that she's not qualified to be President.

And now for the matter of principles. If you're a die-hard Bernie Bro, I can see you not wanting to vote for Clinton. If you're a Reagan Republican, you can't vote for Trump. If you hate both Parties and are considering a third Party or an independent, then I understand. But there's a time for principles and a time for practicality. If there was an election for Prime Minister of Hell, and you had to choose between Richard Nixon and Adolf Hitler, well, shit, you'd have to vote for Nixon, right? The danger of Hitler outweighs the odiousness of Nixon.

So that's why I'm voting for Clinton in November.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Select Farmers Only Profiles

Name: Harold Reynolds

Age: 65

Looking For: An all-American woman to help me make America Great Again.


Name: Don't bother, you won't be around long enough to learn it.

Age: 25, but perpetually 16.

Looking For: A material girl who is willing to demean herself and who doesn't expect a phone call.

Bio: Girls are just in it for the cash and the pretty things, right? I'm just in it for the hookup. Will show you a good time and take you to a fancy restaurant as long as you put out. Might be willing to party more than once, provided you are a good lay. I have a great job as a phone sales tech, so not afraid to make it rain up in here. Must be willing to screw at your place. My mom is tired of cleaning up the mess.

Name: Dick Grayson, AKA "The Boy Wonder."

Age: 17.

Looking For: A bi-curious older gentleman who isn't afraid to take charge.

Bio: Look people, I just got out of an abusive relationship with an older guy who I sort of viewed as a father-figure. Messed up, right? Yeah, I have some emotional baggage, I'll be up front about it. Ever since my family was killed in a tragic trapeze accident, I've been doing some strange things. Must admit to having a pretty bad cosplay fetish. Also like to roam the streets and beat the hell out of random people. Older guy didn't let me date or experiment, so I'd like to ease into possible a three-way with a girl. Would help if you're a super-villain because I might need some protection from older guy.

Name: Ayn Rand

Age: Deceased.

Looking For: Objectivist truth.

Bio: Hey, just made this profile to see if there were any Objectivists looking for a relationship. Love the theories, but not so hot on the weird rape fetish that Rand had. Kind of into dressing up as conservative heroes during coitus. I have this awesome Ronald Regan mask that makes Ted Cruz's look fake. Open to anything, message me even if you just want to have coffee. Just please no more Trump supporters. He's not a real conservative, and nothing kills my boner like the unnatural orange skin hue most Trump supporters prefer.  

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Esteemed Critic Reviews Ghostbusters (Remake)

Ah, the Critic's usually unflappable wisdom seems to have abandoned him. I wasn't going to touch the Ghostbusters remake with a ten-foot pole, not after all the unnecessarily controversy drummed up by MRA weasels and internet trolls regarding the all-female cast. And you were wrong, internet; some of the women in this movie were funny, particularly Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon, who plays an eccentric fusion of Egon and Peter Venkman. The script, however, is a poorly-written copy of the first film, and the gags have nothing approaching its organic chemistry. Kristen Wig. who's comedic talents I have always doubted, does her usually thing and simply flails about, mumbling awkwardly. Melissa McCarthy was okay as a Dan Aykroyd stand-in, but she also doesn't incite any laugh-out loud moments. Chris Hemsworth as a hair-brained secretary was a good gag, one that perhaps gets repeated too many times. Two other weakness of the film are its terrible CGI (the original didn't have great special effects, but these ghosts look like they popped out of a video game) and its underdeveloped villain, played unconvincingly by Neil Casey. The whole thing seems to lack a decent outline; someone wanted to reboot Ghostbusters, because Hollywood loves existing properties, and performed their duties in the most rote manner possible.

And really, did Ghostbusters need rebooted? Like fellow eighties classics Robocop and Conan the Barbarian before it, Ghostbusters basically hit its concept out of the ballpark the first time. It's not as though the premise is that great--a bunch of humorous idiots come together to bust some ghosts. If the makers of the new flick had just stuck with that, instead of copying the original note for note, then perhaps you would be reading a different review. But who knows; my wife says that I am incapable of enjoying things, so I likely would have found some fault with it. C'est la vie, say the old folks.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Democracy is just a Joke

Well hello to all of you lazy 99 percenters. I hope you took some time from doing drugs and eating yourselves into oblivion to watch the Republican National Convention. It was great television, let me tell you. An unrepentant chorus of billionaires marched to the stage and told everyone how they would make America great again by cracking down on immigration and murdering all the terrorists. Those are the real issues of importance, correct? To hear Trump tell it, you'd think we were in John Carpenter's Escape from New York. His words painted a bleak picture of violence and rampant criminal activity. Yet violent crime has decreased dramatically for the last 17 years. But politics isn't about facts. Fact get in the way of politics. You see, you peons, you loyal supporters of the Republican Party, are too stupid to understand that you are being played. The plutocracy that runs this country thinks very little of you. I hold you all in extreme contempt. All we have to do is spout Goebbel's level propaganda and you starting believing that wasteful government spending and the collapse of Christian values are the reasons for America's decline. We even throw in a line about trickle-down economics for old time's sake. While you are lapping up our shitty propaganda, we conspire to decrease your wages and further weaken the vanishing middle class. To tell the truth, I believe in feudalism. Now that was a good system of government. The cream rose to the top, and all the shit sank to the bottom. Didn't have a lot of useless government oversight back in medieval days, did we?

Trump couldn't get any of the so-called stars of the GOP to speak in support of him. No, he had to turn to men like Peter Thiel, co-founder of Paypal and a proud gay man who loves his power and money so much that he'll speak in support for a party that has done nothing but discriminate against LGBT people. Hell, Indiana governor and Trump VP pick Mike Pence passed the Religious Freedom Act, which makes it legal in Indiana to discriminate against people who are gay if it offends their religious beliefs. Peter Thiel thinks that letting women vote was bad for democracy. Hell, Peter Thiel doesn't really believe in democracy, saying that it is conflict with freedom. By the way, Mr. Thiel is also on a quest to become immortal. Sounds kind of like a Bond villain, right? I tell you what, Peter Thiel has accomplished more in one day than you ever will in your entire life. He's a winner. Trump is all about winners. Life is about winners.

This year's GOP convention was about how much of a joke democracy is. Sure, the people's candidate won. He won by appealing to fear and the authoritarian tendencies of scared white people. Over 13 million people voted for Trump, out of a country of 300 million. Over 13 million people voted to help build a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants. Over 13 million people voted for a candidate who wants to murder the innocent families of terrorists. Over 13 million people voted for a candidate who thinks that someone's ethnicity should prevent them from being a federal judge. Over 13 million people voted for Donald Trump, who believes we should ban an entire religious group from entering our country. Over 13 million people in this country are complete fucking idiots. And hey, the Republican Party is counting on their vote.    

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Hanging with the Goon

 Ol' Sam caught 'emself teh coyote! Hot-damn!

Folks and gentlelady-folks, we ares in teh depths of peach season, witch as far as teh Goon is concerned, is money-making season. Hand-over fistests! Teh Goon is absolutely rolling in teh dough. As of last week, I has made 240 dollars! In two weeks! That's enough money to not pay my rent and purchase 24 cases of Miller High Life. That's liek a week in a half's worth of beer. So teh Goon is livin' well, folks. Dont uses worry bout him.

But this is a pubic service annoucment. WTACH OUT FER TEH JAPANSE BEATLES! Dees little varmits are all over teh place! Tehy are eating teh peaches and chewin' on teh apple leaves, and just generally makin' tehmselves a nuiscance to decent orchard peoples leik myself. What really pisses me off bout teh beatles is that they're always screwing all over teh place liek Yoko and John Leenon. Every peach tree is havin' a beatles' orgy! They doing it ontop an on bottom, though I hasn't seen any positions that I was unawares of, not yet, at least. My boss Sammy is spraying teh trees wit Carbaroyl and nuclear material in teh hopes that it will kill teh beatles an save teh rest of our peaches. Unfortunately, all that toxic stuff kills just about everythin that has four legs or two, so when I's picking teh peaches, I has to wear a hazmat suit, witch is hot as hell! Over teh last few weeks, I has lost twenty-two pounds in thirteen hours, witch is just too many, to be honest. Still, I has my ten pack back an all teh ladies are put on alerts. Watch yourselfs, ladies. Dont be caught hanging round teh lampost after hours, or teh Goon will be there to sweep you off of yur feet!

Id lieke to says a little bouts teh heat. It has been attrocius tehis year. Me an Hernando has been plagued by teh swamp ass. We cant move ten feet witout hasin teh swamp ass crawl up our asses an make em sweaty. Inf act, when teh Goon gets home, he burns his underpants in teh stove an throws his socks out in teh crick fer teh animals to devour. But u has to watch it: unfortunately, teh crick dont flow very well, an last summer I clogged it up wit all my dirty socks an tehy had to has teh utility company come down and pump it free. They gave teh Goon a stern talkin-to, but i didn't listen too well cuz I'm a mental midget. Anyways, dont let teh swamp ass prevent you from livin' ur life. That's my main message today.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Conan Brothers' Q&A

GottaCatchemAll asks "Has the world stopped functioning to play Pokemon Go? Or am I just crazy?"

Arnold: You're crazy, asshole.

Dave: I have yet to see anyone playing Pokemon, but then again, I rarely go out in public.

Arnold: Someone explain this shit to me. Pokemon are little Japanese monsters that run around on your phone and you have to wandered through the city, discovering dead bodies and shit until you corner the little bitch's avatar in the real world and mace it to death. Is that it?

Dave: People have discovered dead bodies while playing Pokemon Go. I'm not making this up.

Arnold: This is why I don't have a smart phone. I don't want to discover dead bodies.

Dave: We live in a world where it is acceptable for a grown-ass man to spend his free time hovering over his phone playing some weird game featuring something called a pikachu.

Arnold: You're just jelly, Dave. You don't understand.

Dave: I'm nearly thirty-one years old and I've never caught a pokemon. What have I done with my life?

Arnold: Pretty much jack shit.

RealAmericanHero asks "So how much of a disaster are the Olympics going to be this year?"

Arnold: Who gives a shit about the Olympics.

Dave: Goddamnit, you have to give a shit about something, otherwise we have nothing to talk about.

Arnold: They never give any of the strength sports any coverage. I never see wrestling or weightlifting. It's all about the synchronized swimming and beach volleyball. Fuck, ping pong is in the Olympics. It's a goddamn joke. Not to mention the blatant corruption. And the sex parties...

Dave: What's wrong with sex parties?

Arnold: Nothing in theory, but you know how they turn out in practice. Somebody locks eyes with you during a group grope and then the vibe is weird.

Dave: They have Zika to worry about too.

Arnold: I like how a bunch of male golfers pulled out. Like they were going to carry a pregnancy to term.

Dave: Haven't you seen Mr. Mom? It could happen.

PicardTrumpsKirk asks "Why were there so many Star Trek episodes involving Riker and sexual assault? It's almost as though the producers were trying to tell us something"

Dave: I can think of two. There's that one where the alien chick tries to frame him, and then there's the episode where these mind-controlling guys make Troi think Riker took advantage of her after a poker game.

Arnold: I like to think of Riker as basically a riff on Captain Kirk. Like Kirk, he has an unbridled sexuality that, realistically, gets him into trouble. Contrast him with the chaste and responsible Captain Picard. You don't see Picard ever getting accused of putting his manhood somewhere where it didn't belong. It's almost as though they were trying to say that Kirk's swinging 60's guy wouldn't cut it in the more refined 90's.

Dave: Having an unbridled sexuality is pretty different from being a rapist.

Arnold: It's not that he is actually a rapist, it's that you could easily picture him as one.

Dave: He's a pretty heroic character throughout the series. I don't know if I agree.

Arnold: All heroes have their faults. I mean Jesus, look at that beard.

Dave: He has too much of a Kurt Douglas butt-chin without it.

Arnold: You have a Kurt Douglas butt-chin. On your face.

Dave: Where the hell else would I have it?

Arnold: On your butt.

Dave: Okay, I've had enough.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Weightlifting: Working with 5/3/1

5/3/1 is a basic monthly progression weightlifting system created by Jim Wendler, a former powerlifter and strength coach. It's a simple, no-frills precentage-based program for those that just want to make progress without racking their brains. I'm not criticizing it; it's currently the program that I'm using, since it fits my needs. With a 3 month old infant and physical job, it's hard for me to recover from heavy training, so I've cut my lifting days down to four days a week. 5/3/1 usually uses the squat, deadlift, bench press, and press, but I've programmed the front squat, clean, weighted chin up, and the press. You start by taking ninety-percent of your one-rep max in each lift, and then programming a 4 week cycle. For example:

Front squat: 90 percent of 1 rep max: 285
Week one: 65 percent (185) for 5 reps, 70 percent (200) for 5 reps, 75 percent (215) for 5+ reps.
Week two: 75 percent (215) for 3 reps, 80 percent (230) for 3 reps, 85 percent (245) for 3+ reps.
Week three: 85 percent (245) for 5 reps, 90 percent (260) for 3 reps, 95 percent (270) for 1+ reps.
Week four: deload 50 percent for 5 reps, 55 percent for 5 reps, 60 percent for 5 reps.

Add weight and start again.

However, I use the percentages as more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule. Who wants to bring a calculator with them to the gym? For example, this is what I actually did with my front squat.

Front squat: Max 315.
Week one: (Warm up 135*5, 185*5), 205*5, 225*5, 245*5.
Week two: (Warm up 135*5, 185*5), 205*3, 235*3, 265*5 (personal record).
Week three: (Warm up 135*5, 185*5), 225*5, 250*3, 295*3 (personal record).

So my percentages were considerably heavier than recommended, yet I still hit two PRs. If you're just starting out with 5/3/1, I'd start like Jim suggests. Other than the main lift work, you should do some assistance. My chosen lifts are dumbbell rows, barbell curls, dumbbell presses, one legged squats, and the deadlift. I usually just do 3 sets of 10 with one minute in between sets, except for the deadlift, which I pyramid up to a heavy triple or set of 5. There are numerous ways to modify this flexible program, so just do a quick google search or get creative. That's all for now.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Heart of the Thief, Part 7 (Chapter 3)

Here's my seventh post in my epic fantasy series, The Heart of the Thief. This is the entirety of chapter three, during which our protagonists Cassilda and the Thief find themselves on a ship sailing to the ancient land of Archaea, rumored to be the land of the dead. Let's just say they don't quite make it there (thanks, barbarian raiders.) Click here to get caught up.

Chapter Three
The Thief awakens and immediately knows that he is at sea. The cabin is dark, but he feels the rocking motion of the waves, smells the salt air, hears the distant squawking of gulls flying low on strong winds. It takes his eyes only seconds to adjust to the lack of light, and then he sees her, sitting cross-legged on a chair, no longer a courtesan, but quite obviously a sorceress by her bearing and the strong aura of power radiating from her being like heat from a hot coal. She wears long black boots and leather pants with a green vest; a golden snake slithers up her right arm, its eyes glowing emeralds. Does she know I can see her wonders the Thief. By the way she stares, he knows she can see him.

“What do you remember?” asks Cassilda in the darkness.

A choice between hearts. That's all he can recall, besides the pain.

“Nothing,” he says.

“I found you in there, Thief, huddled in a corner, cradling the Heart of Rankar like a newborn babe. You did what cannot be done, as the oracle said. Only the elite of the Priesthood can enter the lower temple and gaze upon the Heart. You bypassed their enchantments, circumvented their traps, navigated the maze. You remember nothing? I understand keeping the secrets of one's trade, but really, Mr. Thief, your silence is unacceptable. You must tell me everything,” demands Cassilda.

“You have it, don't you,” he asks.

“Of course. There, by your beside, is a purse containing five-hundred sovereigns. That's what the old wizard promised you, right? We'll drop you off in Roche Harbor. It'll be a few days yet.”

“What am I to do with five-hundred sovereigns in Roche Harbor? I don't live or work there, courtesan. I want what I stole,” the Thief says, getting out of bed, steadying himself on a beam as the ship sways.

“Stole? For all we know, you simply found it lying on the ground with a big, pretty bow wrapped around it. What would you do with it, anyway? You can't sell the Heart of Rankar. It's truly priceless. It's the sort of thing you start a war over.”

“I'll take it to the Galvanians,” says the Thief.

“And they'll hang you and send it back to the Capetians. Did you really fall for Dazbog's ruse? The Galvanians have no use for religious artifacts. They have a plague to deal with as well as the beginnings of an economic collapse. Mindless propaganda to keep the masses in line. Huddle behind the big, strong shield of the Duke. Never mind the squalor of your lives, the inescapable poverty, the scourge of serfdom. No, that old wizard had something else planned. Who knows? It doesn't matter.” She sighs, snapping her fingers. A green flame appears before her, heatless, a shivering, writhing star. The Thief steps back, shielding his eyes.

“I am in debt to you, master Thief. You know some hidden sorcery, and obviously luck follows you around like a beaten dog. Five-hundred sovereigns is all I can offer you. You are but a minor player in this journey. Though you are simple, I will be sorry to see you go.”

He leans over, lifts the purse, feeling the small fortune in his hands. A pittance for the heart of a god. No, this was not enough. Whisked away from his homeland, lied to, robbed of his prize—he couldn't let such things go. Not the Thief.

“Can you read my mind, courtesan?” he whispers.

“I am no courtesan, as you well know. As for your question, I find it's in my best interests to let my powers remain ambiguous, though it takes no skill in magic to guess what you're thinking. I'm sorry, Thief. I'm sorry for Dempsey, the poor clueless sod. I'm even sorry for those mutants that I barbequed. That's the way the world is. People died because I wanted something. Want isn't even the right word. Need doesn't begin to cover it. I have my reasons, and I assure you, they are very good. But you don't need to know this. The thing about sorceresses is that they're not bound by conventions or etiquette. I don't have to tell you anything, you see. I shan't see you again.”

The green star disappears in a brief supernova, scattering light like tendrils of melting fire. The Thief steps back and shades his eyes. When he can see again, she is no longer there.
“You're the witch's lad,” says a one-eyed sailor with a pipe jutting from his lips as the Thief walks the deck. A motley crew of leathery men stripped to the waist and covered with fractal tattoos roam about, lean and taut, swearing in foreign tongues. Ocean all around, endlessly blue, with an infinite, stretching sky—he has never seen such a sky—accompanied by the strong odor of raw fish and salt. The sun feels stronger out here, burns hotter and brighter. He'd never been on a ship, never even left the general sprawl of his city, and now, baking in the ocean clime, he wonders why he has led such an isolated life.

“She's an ornery one, eh?” says the sailor. Like the others, his tattoos repeat in intricate geometric patterns.

“She has something of mine,” replies the Thief. He takes a seat next to the sailor, places his hand over his eyes. The endless horizon shimmers like an uncertain future.

“Your heart, right? Lemme tell you something. You don't wanna love a witch. Beauty comes at a price. Under the skin, they ain't at all what they seem. Knew a fella who slept with one. Said she had red hair and blue eyes and tits as big as your head. Lit a candle in the night so that he could use the pot. Saw her face in the light an' he dropped the candle, let out a scream like a little girl. Said it was like a skull was looking back at him. Let her have it, sir, your heart that is. You'll grow a new one.”

“Your tattoos. You all have them,” says the Thief.

“You like em? All of Archaea have them. We have our own shapes and patterns passed down from when the gods still roamed the world.”

“What do they mean?” asks the Thief.

“Buggered if I know. Does everything have to mean something?”

“No,” says the Thief, looking back towards the cabin.

“There ain't any meaning to any of it,” says the sailor suddenly, standing up. “Don't talk about your witchy friend to the others. They don't know. Superstitious lot.”

“You the captain?” asks the Thief.

“First mate. I saw you come aboard. It was like you was put together by the air. Came into being bit by bit.”

“She must've teleported us to the ship.”

“Aye, and you clutched something in your arms which the witch pried from you, and you offered little protest. I helped carry you below deck. You're a heavy fella, and you was muttering something about having to choose between hearts.” The sailor takes his pipe from his mouth and stares out at the sea. “There really ain't much choosing in it, is there? Things happen they way they do. There's work that needs tending to. I take my leave.”

The Thief watches him go, silently amused. A bow-legged cyclops giving love advice regarding witches. There was humor there, somewhere, but the feeling soon leaves him. There was the depressing matter of his stolen property, and he didn't mean to leave the ship until he possessed the Heart. He had little experience dealing with sorceresses, Dazbog being the only magician he'd ever known, and he only stole things for the old wizard, not from him. She's beyond you, burglar. Indeed, he didn't know what to do. Cassilda's powers eclipsed his imagination, and it was likely that she kept the Heart on her. His pickpocketing days were long ago, and to pickpocket a sorceress...well, it was probably impossible. I was never that great of a pickpocket anyway
Some of the sailors rig fishing lines over the side; one baits a giant hook with a rotten chunk of flesh. Their skin is tanned a deep bronze, cooked and dried free of fat by the hot sun, which shines its heat on the Thief, causing him to raise his hood. Off the port side there is the faintest suggestion of land on the horizon. 
Even if he did manage to steal the Heart again, how would he escape with it? He wouldn't get far in a stolen boat—the sailors seemed to be afraid of Cassilda, and would likely do her bidding—though the shore wasn't too far off. You could cut your losses he thinks. When Giles and Victorian made off with most of Lady Hearst's jewelry, leaving him with a mere pittance, he hadn't sought revenge, though he meant to find the both of them, someday. But the heart of a god is not equivalent to some doughy lady's precious stones. He suddenly thinks of the mark given to him in that ancient dungeon, imprinted atop his brand. When you deny oneself, others see nothing. Why the dying man had given him the gift, he didn't know. He thought about it often, usually at random, especially when he was thinking hard about other things. I owe everything to chance, maybe even the Heart. Though he could not fathom how he had stolen it, it didn't matter. There was no letting go. 
He notices the two fishing sailors pointing at something in the distance and decides to approach them. They are both small, muscular men with shaved heads and ragged black beards that curl like sheep's wool. One has a bright green tattoo of a dragon on his right shoulder, a toothy creature spouting flames.

“What do you see, dragon?” he asks. The man turns and gives him a dispassionate glance. There is a small scar on his forehead likely caused by a knife.

“Barbarosie,” he says. “They've been following us.”

“I see nothing,” replies the Thief.

“You have landlubber's eyes. I can see the blood color of their sails.”

“What are we going to do about them?” asks the Thief.

“They will either catch us or not,” says the sailor.

“What do you think?” asks the Thief.

“I think they will catch us,” says the other sailor. “Barbarosie have fast ships.”

“You don't seem too concerned about it,” says the Thief.

“What can I do about it? I have no control over the wind.”

“You don't fear death?” asks the Thief.

“No man from Archaea fears dying, for we are all dead men walking. The world grows weary and the sun fades. Look up at the sky. Can you not feel the lessening of its rays? When its fires die, darkness will swallow everything.”

“I knew a wizard that told a similar tale. What will we do when these Barbarosie overtake us? Will they rob us? Shackle us and sell us into slavery? Or will they leave us dead and sinking into the sea?” Squinting, the Thief peers in the direction the sailors were staring, and still sees nothing.

“It is no good to fight Barbarosie,” says the first sailor. “If they catch us you will see.”

“You ask too many questions. Are all Capetians so curious?” asks the other sailor.

“Are all men from Archaea dullards?” snarls the Thief, turning away from them. Their nonchalance regarding the approaching barbarians annoyed him, and if they were going to be boarded, he would rather do something about it than submit his fate to fortune. She'll be in the cabin, haughty sorceress he thinks, walking across the deck, ignoring the sailors who stare at the sea like statues, impartial observers to their own destinies. “Cassilda!” he shouts, reaching his hands towards the double doors, yet before he can thrust them open, an arc of electricity strikes his chest, knocking him off of his feet. A few of the sailors turn and laugh, saying words in their own tongue, watching as the Thief remains on his back, the odor of burnt hair lingering in the air. “Witch!” he spits, the taste of iron in his mouth.

“Did you not see the sign?” leers a mostly toothless sailor. “It says do not disturb.”

“I don't give a damn about any sign! She can deal with the marauders! We don't have to sit on our hands and roll the dice. She could sink their ships with a snap of her fingers!” shouts the Thief.

“Barbarosie are not kind to witches,” says the sailor. “It would be best for her to remain silent.”

“Oh really? What do they do to women that they find? I'm sure they extend them the proper courtesies.”

“A rape is better than a death,” says another sailor before pointing toward the sea. “Their karvi are pulling away from the drekkar. They have spotted us. There is no hope of escape now.”

“Do not cause trouble with the Barbarosie,” says the sailor with the dragon tattoo, hovering over the Thief. In his hands is a filleting knife, resembling the fang of some aquatic creature. “If you do not agree, we will throw you over.”

“Where is the captain? I will speak with him,” says the Thief, ignoring the threat.

“Men of the Shimmering Isles have no captain,” says another. “We speak with one voice.”

He sees them, finally, for what they really are, staring at the speaker, mentally removing his tattoos and scars, and then doing the same with the next, and the next, until one man remains, free of distinguishing marks, an unremarkable creature, really, having a plain peasant countenance and the marble eyes of soulless domestication. There is no such thing as an Archaean man says a voice from his childhood, coming from boys huddled around a fire. There were many far-off lands, fantastical places that spawned wild rumor and fantasy, and he had disregarded much of it, yet he suddenly remembered one of the myths of the Shimmering Isles—that the men from that misty, isolated region all wore the same face and saw through the same pair of eyes.
“The first mate, then. The one-eyed fellow. Where is he?”

None of them answer. Two of them come over and seize his shoulders, pulling him to his feet. In his chest where the arc struck there seems to be a smoldering wound that throbs and steams. The men are strong, with round shoulders and iron grips, and he offers no resistance as they bind him to the mast. As they tie him he tries to look in their eyes, attempting to see some evidence of communication, of telepathic ability, for no command was given, no audible verdict suddenly reached. Yet here I am. Cassilda's doors remain closed, and the men return to staring at the sea, awaiting their red-flagged pursuers. Their ships come into view quicker than he would've thought, dragon-prowed vessels, bearing rugged men draped in bear skins and animal skulls, who howl into the wind and wave spiked clubs and bastard swords stolen from their vanquished enemies. The Archaeans stand silently as hooks are thrown from the karvi and men climb up the sides of their ship, and even after the first barbarian aboard slits the throat of the first sailor he meets, they do not stir. The Thief can smell them, even from a distance—the iron scent of blood, the stench of sweat and unwashed bodies, a rotten odor of foul mead—all of these mingle to create a malodorous perfume that assaults his nostrils. Surely Cassilda can smell them and hear the ruckus
“You shivering men all look like you spawned from the same whore,” yells a massive barbarian with red hair. He seizes the closest sailor by the throat and lifts him into the air, eyes bulging, great axe hanging loosely in his free hand. “Where is your precious cargo? Tell me it is more than stinking fish and watered-down mead. Who is the leader here? That's right, you have no leaders because you shivering men are all empty vessels more akin to rocks than human beings.” Visibly annoyed, he tosses the sailor into his fellows and prowls the deck, cutting into cargo and overturning tackle boxes, making his way toward Cassilda's cabin. “Not there,” murmurs one of the sailors, but the red-headed monster continues, undeterred, waving at two of his comrades to come forth and aid in the inspection of the cabin. One of these men takes the lead, a tall, raven-haired youth with a jagged face—the Thief manages to hear the chief call him Josun—and it is he who first reaches for the handles and receives a green bolt of electricity in his chest. “Witchcraft!” shouts the chief, turning to the Archaeans. “You are harboring a witch! The penalty for such malfeasance is death! Coriver, go forth and fetch the shackles. Bring the potions so that we may dissolve this unholy barrier and destroy that which lies in wait. What madness is this, shivering men? We have raided few of your vessels and killed little of your number over the years, and how are we rewarded for our mercy? With your harboring of witches! Vile magic is to blame for the state of our world. No longer shall you be considered our friends. This boat shall sink with all of you on board, after we extract the witch and dispose of it as is proper.”

“You are harsh, Terran,” says Josun, climbing to his feet. “These men may be bewitched and harbored the creature not of their own accord.”

“Josun tenderheart, you dishonor your father when you speak such nonsense,” says Terran, shaking his head and pointing to the Archaeans, standing quietly. “These are not men; these are sheep awaiting the slaughter. Do they protest their fate? The shivering men are passive and do not try to change their destiny. We can do what we please with them, as you would do with an animal. Now see to that man there tied to the mast. More he may know about this witch, for he looks a roguish type.”
Josun crosses the deck and approaches the Thief, measuring him with a steely-eyed stare. Like all the barbarians, this raven-haired youth is muscular, with shoulders like boulders and a neck like a tree trunk. Quickly he removes a knife and cuts the Thief's bonds in one swift movement.

“Much appreciated, Barbarosie,” says the Thief, feeling his hands. “What can I do for you?”

“Move,” says Josun, pointing the knife at his belly.

“As you wish, Barbarosie,” replies the Thief, marching ahead. “I am a stranger in a strange land.”

“No one cares,” says Josun, giving him a good push. He comes to a stop against the chest of the red-bearded giant, who seizes him by the chin, a scrutinizing expression coming over his wide, battle-scarred visage.

“Who are you, black man?” he asks, squinting as though trying to see the dye in the Thief's pores.

“I am the Thief,” says the Thief, simply.

The Thief? Not a Thief?” asks Terran.

“There is no other of my ilk in this world,” he replies, without a trace of hyperbole.

“Is that right?” says Terran, his monstrously broad face breaking into an enormous grin. “What deeds of renown has one committed to earn such a haughty moniker?”

“I am guilty of robbing the Valientice vault of a fortune of over five-thousand sovereigns. I also orchestrated the grand heist of the Royal Bank, during which my party took the heirloom jewels of Rothenbergs and the Bertrands. I stole myself from the Duke's dungeons, an incomparable feat, for no one ever escapes from that dismal place. My greatest accomplishment, however, is not yet widely known. It is likely that you shall hear of it someday.”

“You sound like a man who has written his own epitaph,” replies Terran. “The problem with thieves is that they are all tell and no show. If I ask Josun here to display his martial prowess, he will dutifully comply. If I ask you to display your talents, you cannot, for thievery depends on guile and guile is impossible when one is expecting it. We have no use for thieves in my tribe. Your life will depend on what you tell us about the witchery on this ship. What do you know of it?”

“Your suspicions are right. There is a witch in that cabin, of foul-temper, though beautiful. A strong hand is what she needs,” suggests the Thief.

“The slavers pay well for witches,” says Coriver, who has just returned aboard with a pair of shackles across his shoulder and a greenish bottle held in his hands.

“She has something that belongs to me,” says the Thief. “An organ of a dear acquaintance that she foolishly believes has magical properties. Let me to keep it and I will help you. If you break her protective spell and then march in there and try to wrestle her into submission, it will not go well for you. A softer touch is needed. A thief's touch.”

The barbarians exchange impenetrable looks impossible for any outsider to read. Josun says something to Terran, a series of high-pitched warbling that the Thief interprets as their native language, while Coriver plays with the shackles, club-like hands fingering the enchanted metal lovingly. Likely made of lead thinks the Thief, for the barbarians seems to know what they are doing. Yet Cassilda will be a surprise. He had already made up his mind what to do about her, though something tugs at his heartstrings, an odd feeling that he can't quite describe, being entirely unaccustomed to it. He had lived a selfish life, one devoted to survival by way of hedonism, a life uncomplicated with complex yearnings and now, waylaid on the sea and under the threat of death, seemed like a damned foolish time to be rethinking one's principals. Guilt can be buried with wine; unrequited love with the embrace of another. It's all interchangeable he thinks because nothing matters. With that last thought, gooseflesh prickles his skin. Does he believe it? It is essential to say one thing and then think another.

Terran slaps him on the back, says something in his barbarous tongue, and puts the shackles in his hands, motioning toward the door. He watches as Coriver tosses the mysterious contents of the green bottle across its threshold, resulting in a snap of static and a brief cloud of smoke. Go he hears in his ears, so he complies, still half-expecting an arc of electricity to come forth, hurled out of nothingness, but the bolt does not come; suddenly he is in the cabin, looking across the small room at Cassilda, the powerful sorceress, asleep in bed—snoring even!— oblivious to the ruckus outside. She is beautiful lying supine, her chestnut hair draped across her shoulders in flowing, wavy locks, her oval face like a carving of Astarte, goddess of love, perfectly symmetrical, with high cheekbones and plump crimson lips. Captivated by the striking beauty, the Thief stands dumb, hands at his sides, eyes watching the rise and fall of her breasts as they move opposite the rocking motion of the ship. Perfect Cassilda is—too perfect, of course—her appearance looking more refined since he last saw her only hours before, the sorceress having since tweaked the finer features of her visage with magical spells, a practice not without controversy. Yet he doesn't know this; he doesn't know that sorceresses and wizards often appear differently to different people, their spells modifying a nose, a brow line, or even the color of their eyes to fit the viewer's personal aesthetics. All he knows is that Cassilda is almost unbearably beautiful at this moment, and his intention to betray her and take the Heart and sate his revenge disappears in almost an instant. It happens so suddenly that he is left with a mysterious feeling of loss, as though a piece of him has as been stolen. He reaches out a hand, murmurs her name, and then clutches his head as something heavy and hard crashes against his skull, driving him to his knees. As he falls, he sees Terran push past and roughly grab Cassilda's wrists, locking the shackles around her. Emerald eyes lash open, fury brewing beneath them, yet she can do nothing as the brute hauls her to her feet. For a second the Thief thinks he sees that beautiful visage waver; it's as though the lines that make up her face shift and bend momentarily before correcting themselves. Up someone says; as he rises, they push and prod, rolling the man like a barrel of wine. They throw Cassilda into a karvi with Terran, while the Thief is left on his side as they pour oil on the deck, dousing the Archaeans as well, laughing their hearty guffaws and heaping curses on the quiet tattooed sailors, who seem serene and resigned. When the torches are thrown, he doesn't hear any screams, only the crackling sounds of the flames. Death; the word crawls out of the heat with chard limbs and sloughed skin, yet someone kicks him in the stomach, rolling the Thief toward the ocean and breaking his paralysis. Before he falls into the sea, he catches a glimpse of a one-eyed man standing on the burning vessel, a pipe seemingly jutting from his mouth, hand extended, as though to say goodbye and good luck.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Esteemed Critic Reviews Doom

That's a nasty-looking fellow.

Ah, the Critic is not old enough to have properly appreciated the original Doom. Controversial for its unrepentant violence, as well as its Satanic imagery, Id Software's classic is held in high regard today as perhaps the definitive first person shooter, its gameplay tenets being movement (always keep moving) and ballistic slaughter (always keep shooting). Doom 2016 (just Doom from here on out) is very loyal to those ethos while being in many ways a different game.

Circumventing the story-focus of many post Half-Life shooters (man, that game came out eons ago), Doom rejects its basic plot. Early in the game, a terminal begins barking orders at you, and Doom guy can't stand it, so he just punches it until it explodes. There are a handful of characters, though none are given much screen time or development, and that's fine: this is a game that is very confident in what it is, and what it is the first-person shooter. You are given an arsenal of Doom classics: the shotgun, the supershotgun, the minigun, the rocket launcher, the plasma rifle, the BFG, etc...all of which are upgradeable with alternative firing modes. You can turn the basic shotgun into a grenade launcher, while the plasma rifle has a mode that fires a stun bomb (very handy for paralyzing Doom's frantic bestiary). In order to not turn into demon food, you must keep moving and be ready to utilize the glory kills system, a melee finisher you can activate when you're close to a staggered demon. Performing a glory kill will cause the monster's carcass to explode like pinata with ammunition and health packs. It's cheesy, but a welcomed addition to Doom, though the glory kills are a little repetitive.

After 2004's Doom 3, a dull reboot that added a horror theme that was never really present in the original titles, Doom is a return to form. It's fun, it's violent, and it's the most addictive first-person shooter I've played in years. It's not without problems, though. First off, it could've used a bit more variation in its environments. We get space stations and hell, and hell isn't particularly inventive, being an amalgam of 80's heavy-metal album cover tropes: skulls, pentagrams, rocky terrain not terribly different from Mars, where much of the game takes place. The new tech powering this iteration is impressive, though not a huge upgrade from Wolfenstein: New Order. Why first-person shooters are always on the forefront of graphical sophistication I'll never know; the action is usually so fast that you can't appreciate all the details. My other main complaint is that Doom often corners you in a arena and locks the doors, and you can't escape until you've slaughtered all of hell's denizens. I'd much rather explore and encounter demons wandering about the Mars base rather than having them teleport in by the dozen. Minor quibbles, however. If you're a fan of old-school first-person shooters (basically, anything that Id and Epic made back in the day), then definitely give Doom a try. Its campaign is pretty long, and filled with secrets and optional challenges that make it ripe for a replay.

Welcome to hell. It's not too bad a place, after you get used to it.