I Should Have Saved That Pun For This: The Saga of Tanya the Evil, Book One: Deus lo Vult

The Saga of Tanya the Evil - LN1 Cover

When I said I wanted to start reading alternate history stories again back in January, this wasn’t quite what I had in mind. About a month ago, I was browsing a small hole-in-the-wall forum and was intrigued by a few scattered mentions of a recent animé series set in a magically-charged version of the Great War. Since I’ve always been a sucker for alternate histories centered around the First World War, I threw the title into Google and was surprised to find a show from the Winter 2017 season that somehow managed to combine about a half-dozen of my interests into one package.

That said, this rambling post is not a review of that show. The Saga of Tanya the Evil, henceforth abbreviated to Tanya, started life in 2013 as a web serial written by the pseudonymous “Carlo Zen” with illustrations by Shinobu Shinotsuki. Since then, it has been republished as ongoing light novel series, and has been adapted into an ongoing manga and a limited-run animé series. While the animé is far and away the most popular version of the three in the West, I have decided to tackle the first light novel instead. There have been plenty of reviews and discussions of the animé in the past year, so I was more interested in approaching the material from a different angle, one that sticks closer to the (tidied-up and translated version of the) original text. I also find it much more comfortable and enjoyable to dig through a book than a television series, and judging from my daily statistics it seems like the feeling among all you guys in Internet Land is mutual.

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All Kawaii on the Western Front: Valkyria Chronicles Remastered


I couldn’t find any box art I was happy with, so please enjoy this action shot of Alicia and Welkin.

(As a prelude, I would like to sincerely apologize for that pun. It’s dreadful, even by my low standards.)

Valkyria Chronicles, Sega’s critically acclaimed 2008 release, was a departure from my usual gaming habits. While I’ve played my fair share of real-time strategy games and turn-based 4X games in the past, I’d never really tried my hand at a turn at a “tactical roleplaying game” before, much less a Japanese one. Despite this, the setting of the game, a fantasy Europe undergoing its own version of the Second World War, tickled both my love of industrial fantasy and occidentalism, and I grabbed the PC remaster during a Steam sale late last November. I’ve spent the past week burning through the game’s campaign, and while I have greatly enjoyed the time I spent with it, in a certain sense the game is a cautionary tale of the pitfalls that occur when translating historical events between cultures.

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A Very Brief Note on 2017 and the Road Ahead

2017 was a very bad year for me. While my new drug regimen did improve my overall well-being, they also left me with sleep and anxiety issues that I have yet to fully overcome. I was also met with a great tragedy in early August when Catherine Brunelle, a local writer and  good friend, passed away. Catherine was a wonderful, upbeat woman, and she helped me a great deal while I was struggling to get through a dark patch; in fact, she was the one who persuaded me to start this blog. She worked tirelessly to support and brighten the lives of her family, friends, and community, and she left us far too soon. I am glad for what little time we had together, and I miss her terribly.

Given the circumstances, I haven’t done as much as usual this past year. The major entertainment highlights I experienced in 2017 have been covered either in this blog or in my year-end wrap-up on Strange Horizons. The biggest writing project I embarked on was the massive collaborative review I did with Michal Wojcik over at One Last Sketch on Peter Higgins’ Wolfhound Empire trilogy, which was a great piece of work for both of us. As for the blog, it was much to my surprise that my review of Valsalia’s webcomic The Out-Of-Placers became one of the most popular posts on this blog in the space of a few months. (Kuvira is still the Supreme Commander of this blog, as well she should be.)

As for the year ahead, very little is set in stone, but right now I have two major goals for this blog. The first, which will be coming slowly over the new few months, is to start writing about alternate history again. I was a great fan of the sub-subgenre back in my high school and university days, but I’ve long since drifted away and I think it’s high time I reconnected with my roots. Secondly, with my resurgent interest in horror over the last month or two, I intend to celebrate Spooktober properly by banking up a few posts rather than trying to write everything during the month. They’re small goals, but from small beginnings great things can grow.

To end both the year and this post on a happier note, please enjoy this delightful prologue video for “The United Empire,” a playable race from the 4X space strategy game Endless Space 2. I’ve never played the game, but something about this video fills me with confidence. Confidence…and a desire to know more…

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The Girl In The Iceberg: Anna Kavan’s Ice

Ice - Cover

While the concept was based on dodgy science from the 1960s that was later disproven, I have a special place in my heart for stories about apocalyptic ice ages. A large part of it is simply due to my own ambivalent feelings about winter. I love seeing snow and ice cover the world like a muffling blanket while I huddle for warmth in a blanket of my own, but at the same time the short days and grey skies wreak havoc on my mood. At least for myself, depictions of the world ending in ice have a terrible finality that most apocalyptic scenarios don’t possess. Only a few plants and animals can survive the cold, and humans must sequester themselves into enclosed habitats just to survive. With global warming, plagues, and zombies, human life can go on, but an ice age is the cessation of life, one even more complete that the worst nuclear war scenario. Nothing can outlast the cold, and once they are gone there is no way for them to come back. Perhaps the most powerful apocalyptic image I have ever seen is from Stephen Spielberg’s insufficiently appreciated A. I. Artificial Intelligence. Near the end of the movie, the human race goes extinct as ecological degradation has led to the Earth becoming engulfed in ice sheets hundreds of meters thick. We are introduced to this world by a glimpse of a dead New York where only a few skyscrapers poke up above the ice, and where a robotic civilization has razored out perfect canyons out of the planetary glacier to explore the ruins of their former creators. While such a scene could never occur in real life, it is still the most memorable and haunting image I have seen depicting the death of our species.

It is for these reasons that I decided to pick up Ice, a short novel from 1967 written by the British modernist Anna Kavan. I first encountered the novel while reading some favorable comments sf author Brian Aldiss made of it in his genre history Trillion Year Spree, but I had forgotten about it until just a few weeks ago when I discovered a 50th anniversary republication in a local bookstore. The premise alone was enough to get me to try the novel, but Ice ended up taking me on a very strange journey all its own.

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Some Displeased Rambling on Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus


I have a very bad habit of impulsively buying things. It’s something I’m not very proud of doing, but it’s an irrational impulse that I’ve never been able to master. If I had to guess, I would say it is something that draws from the concept of “shopping therapy” as well as a childhood fear that if I don’t immediately possess something, it will disappear and I will never see it again (a fear borne out time and again by reality, alas).

My latest unfortunate acquisition has been Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, the followup to Machinegames’ surprise 2014 hit Wolfenstein: The New Order. I originally wasn’t even planning on buying this game, but seeing some gameplay videos shortly after release tripped a few circuit breakers in my mind, eventually resulting in me being out a serious chunk of change for yet another video game. At the time I bought it, I rationalized my decision by arguing that, just as Wolfenstein: The New Order (which this article will abbreviate to TNO) had proven to be far more interesting than the initial sales pitch made it out to be, the same would hold true for The New Colossus (henceforth abbreviated to TNC).

Naturally, fate made me a liar once again.

Before I begin, I would recommend that everyone reading this first take a look at my original review for Wolfenstein: The New Order on Ferretbrain right here. I want to jump right into the discussion of this game without having to explain a lot of background, and that review covers both the premise of the Wolfenstein series as the whole, the concept of TNO in particular, and elaborates on why I found the game so intriguing. I also happen to think it’s a decent game review, so go ahead and give it a skim; I’ll be waiting right here.

All done? Then let’s begin.

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Losing the Thread: Death of the Outsider and the future of Dishonored

Dishonored Death of the Outsider - Box Art

To fall out of love.

It is an tragedy of life that we all have to experience. Because the universe is not a static system where all is beautiful and good forever, every one of us will have to grapple with this at some point in our lives. People change, relationships evolve, and creators always take their creations in directions not everyone agrees with. That last one, built around the tricky relationship between creators, their works, and their fans, may only occupy a minor place on the great scale of heartbreaks, but it stings all the same. As fans, we read, watch, or play and become immersed. We discuss the elements and themes of a work, we use it as inspiration for stories and creations of our own, or simply take comfort in it and use it as a way to examine our own lives. It’s a strange sort of relationship; we can deeply love a creative work and worship its creator from afar, but the creator can only be aware of this relationship on a vague, theoretical level. As a result, when a creator decides to take their work in a different direction, it can feel like a one-sided betrayal, a sudden shock that reveals that the connection between a fan and the work was more tenuous than imagined. It is of course churlish to demand that creators always respond to the whims of their fans, but as I said, it stings all the same.

Now, being an intense dork of long standing, I’ve had my share of “breakups” over the years. I drifted away from Star Trek as the franchise ran out of steam in the twilight of the Berman/Braga years and the new creative leads did things I didn’t agree with. Something similar happened with my love for Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, but as I came late to that franchise my feelings towards it are a bit different. Recently, I’ve been having a great deal of difficulty processing my feelings about Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, the latest and possibly final installment of the Dishonored series of games, that was released back in September. While the game is fun to play on the technical level, it also carries over a lot of the problems I had with Dishonored 2 while also introducing even greater ones of its own. (Fair warning, in order to talk about this game properly, I will be spoiling everything about the Dishonored series.)

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Spooktober Special: You Are Empty

You Are Empty - Cover

Fun fact: The first thing that drew me to this game was not “why does this man have no face,” but rather “why is he wearing a Civil War uniform?”

I’ve been going back and forth about discussing this game for a long while now. Part of the reason for this is the fact that I’ve drifted away playing and discussing flawed games that have hidden merits; access to Steam and digital downloads has decidedly shifted my tastes more towards the mainstream. Additionally, when talking about You Are Empty simply as a game, I don’t think there’s much I can add to this sympathetic review an acquaintance of mine did several years ago. However, the Halloween season and my work with the Wolfhound Empire review project have rekindled my interest in Soviet esoterica, so I’ve decided to revisit this game and talk about why I still dig into it at this time of year.

Just to get the basics out of the way, You Are Empty is a horror-themed first-person-shooter, released in 2007 (2006 in Russia), that was developed by Mandel Artplains, a small Ukrainian developer that dissolved after the game was released. The plot is very basic; it’s sometime in the early 1950s in the Soviet Union, and you are a faceless guard. After an ordinary day of guarding, you get hit by a truck and are knocked unconscious. During your convalescence, the world goes a bit 28 Days Later, and when you wake up you have to shoot and bludgeon your way around an unnamed city to figure out what happened.

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Spooktober Special: House of Psychotic Women

House of Psychotic Women - Paperback Cover

With October again upon us, the time has come for the seasonal tradition of Spooktober to begin once more. This year, however, I’m going to be doing something rather different. Rather than delve into a bunch of horror-themed things, I am going to limit myself to an intensive look at just one subject. There are a number of reasons for this; I haven’t been looking for new horror movies, books, and games with the fervor of previous years, I’ve had a number of personal issues crop up that have cut into my productivity, and I’ve come to find I’m not that comfortable doing a lot of write-ups in a short space of time. I may do another review if fancy strikes me, but for now this will be the main event.

Fortunately for you guys, I’ve found a real treat: the book House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films, by the Canadian film writer Kier-La Janisse.

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(Repost) Entering a Radiant State, Part II

And now, the final part of our discussion of Radiant State, along with a small capstone for our discussion of the Wolfhound Empire trilogy as a whole. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Michal for caving in to my nagging and giving these books a try, as well as suggesting we do this collaborative review in the first place. If any of you out there are inspired to give these books a try, feel free to share your own thoughts about them in the comments below.

As for our final discussion, we narrow in on the final antagonist of the trilogy and discuss the ways he both does and does not conform to the image and personality of Josef Stalin. As someone with a more-than-casual interest in the life and memory of Stalin, I locked on to the “Kantor/Rizhin is Stalin” idea fairly early on, to the point of giving me a case of tunnel vision. It’s always good to have someone outside your head to give you some perspective.

One Last Sketch


Stalin, Stalin, wherefore art thou Stalin?

Part I

Alasdair: But even the Lodka cannot outrun Rizhin forever. As Lom searches the abandoned Lodka for Chazia’s secret archive, he is followed inside by Rizhin’s police agents, tasked by the President-Commander with demolishing the building. Despite the best efforts of the vyrdalak sisters, they succeed in their mission, and the Lodka, the final landmark of old Mirgorod, goes up in flames. And yet there is something curious about this event. In spite of the destruction of centuries worth of police files and confiscated artifacts, the novel emphatically describes the Lodka’s demise as “a good thing.” The immolation of the Lodka is another in the trilogy’s endless series of historical breaks, but it is one with a double meaning. On the one hand, it severs the last link Rizhin’s Mirgorod has with the Mirgorod of the Novozhd, the Mirgorod we were introduced to…

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(Repost) Entering a Radiant State, Part I

At long last, me and Michal Wojcik have returned to discuss the final installment of Peter Higgins’ Wolfhound Empire books, 2015’s Radiant State. Once again, the book opens with a radical break from the previous volume, with both a six-year timeskip and a Vlast that has been transformed from the crumbly half-magical tsarist-Soviet hybrid we know from the first two books into a radical science-fictional vision of Stalinist hyper-modernism. Please enjoy the first half of our review, in which we plumb the depths of Papa Rizhin’s New Vlast. (Fair warning: this may actually be the biggest installment of our review series to date. Suffice to say, I have a lot of opinions about Stalinism.)

One Last Sketch


There is only the future

At long last, we’re down to the last volume in Peter Higgins’ Wolfhound Empire trilogy, 2015’s Radiant State, and Alasdair Czyrnyj’s back for another round of discussion.

Six years have passed since Truth and Fear and the Vlast is a very different place; the nuclear shenanigans have spirited away the multi-future seed of the Pollandore and changed its fundamental nature, but have also sealed the stone archangel within the borders of the endless forest along with its new aspect in Maroussia Shaumian. Forest and Vlast are now fundamentally alienated both in space and in time; the slow struggle between angel and forest continues to play out but the rest of world is left to the designs of Papa Rizhin, the Vlast’s newly-minted dictator. And his desires are to force the Vlast into a rapid, impossible technological leap that will make humankind oust the stone…

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