Sunday 25 June 2023

Zootopia was accidentally Fascist



I have never been able to stop thinking about this; the 2016 animated film ‘Zootopia’ is a defence of liberal cosmopolitanism so earnest and poorly thought-out that it accidentally becomes crypto-fascist.



A Quote from Matt Zoller Seitz 

"Zootopia is constantly asking its characters to look past species stereotypes, and not to use species-ist language or repeat hurtful assumptions. This all seems clever and noble until you realise that all the stereotypes about various animals are to come extent true, in particular the most basic one carnivores eat herbivores because it’s in their nature”



Some Warnings; 

This is me going full schitzo-autist on a funny animal movie from 2016, AT LENGTH. 

None of my commentary is aimed directly at modern headlines or intra-group relationships, but the parallels are obvious and are absolutely necessary to the film itself, so its impossible to talk about it in detail without mirroring some of that stuff. 

So BE WARNED, this is what you are in for. If you don't want to read about that then stop reading! 


Not Deliberate 

To be clear, I don't think Zootopia is crypto-fascism. There are no deliberately 'hidden messages'. Instead I think it presents a case for liberalism so flawed, garbled and intense it accidentally says the exact opposite. 

So I am accusing the makers of being fools, rather than monsters. 


But What Is Zootopia Patrick? 

Zootopia is 2016 animated film by Disney set in an imagined utopian city if sentient, language-using partially humanoid animals. 

“Zootopia is a gleaming metropolis populated by anthropomorphic mammals, divided into several districts including Sahara Square, Tundratown, Little Rodentia, and Rainforest District.


This film begins with a jungle which fades into a children's play about the history of Zootopia. One day, Judy Hopps, a bunny rabbit from rural Bunnyburrow, fulfills her dream of joining the Zootopia Police Department as the first rabbit officer, however, she is regularly assigned parking duty by Chief Bogo. During one of her shifts, she is manipulated by Nick Wilde, a con artist fox. Judy unlawfully arrests Duke Weaselton at Little Rodentia and is reprimanded by Bogo until Mrs. Otterton, an otter, arrives pleading help on locating her missing husband, one of the many recently missing predators. To Bogo's dismay, Judy volunteers and the assignment is praised by assistant mayor Dawn Belleweather. However, Bogo gets Judy to agree to resign if she cannot solve the case within 48 hours. With Nick as a key witness of Mr. Otterton's disappearance, Judy locates the fox and coerces him to assist her with the investigation lest he be charged with tax evasion, which he openly admitted and Judy recorded with her carrot pen, saying "It's called a hustle, sweetheart." 

After acquiring Mr. Otterton's license plate number from Mystic Springs Oasis, Judy and Nick track the vehicle from the Department of Mammal Vehicles to Mr. Big, an arctic shrew crime boss in Tundratown. Mr. Big spares their lives after learning that Judy had rescued his daughter earlier, and informs the pair that Mr. Otterton is his florist and had been picked up by his chauffeur Manchas, a black jaguar, to bring him to Mr. Big to talk about something important. However, en-route, Otterton suddenly "went savage" - meaning he reverted to a feral state - and attacked Manchas before running off. Judy and Nick locate Manchas at his home in the Rainforest District for questioning. Manchas describes the attack on him and mentions that Otterton had been yelling about "night howlers". However, before he can reveal anything else, Manchas suddenly turns savage himself and chases the pair, but they manage to escape. Judy calls the ZPD for help, but when Bogo and his reinforcements arrive, Manchas is nowhere to be found. Bogo demands Judy's resignation, but Nick takes a stand, insisting they have 10 more hours to solve the case. As the pair leave the Rainforest District, Nick opens up to Judy, revealing that he was bullied by prey animals as a cub for being the only predator and subsequently became a con artist, resolving to live out the "sly fox" stereotype, as he felt no one will ever see a fox as anything else. 

Nick realizes that the city's traffic camera system may have captured how Manchas disappeared, and the pair consults Assistant Mayor Bellwether. They then discover that Manchas was captured by wolves, which Judy assumes is what Otterton had meant by "night howlers". Judy and Nick locate Cliffside Asylum, where the wolves have detained the missing predators (including Mr. Otterton), all of which have gone savage, and eavesdrop on Mayor Lionheart consulting with a doctor about their condition, revealing that he is keeping the savage predators hidden from both the public and the ZPD, and that the cause their strange behavior is unknown. The pair escape, inform Bogo and the police swarm the area, arresting Lionheart and those involved. Bellwether subsequently becomes the new mayor. 

Having developed a friendship with Nick throughout the case, Judy requests that he joins the ZPD and become her partner, which Nick happily considers. However, a pressured Judy describes the savaged predators' condition during a press conference as them reverting to their natural instincts. This confirms Judy's bigotry against foxes to Nick, who angrily walks out on her offer after he asks her if she sees him as a savage predator (along with her almost reaching for her fox repellent after he asks if she thought he would eat her). When fear and discrimination against predators spread across Zootopia, a guilt-ridden Judy resigns, feeling that she made things worse. During this time, Gazelle holds a peaceful protest and publicly asks for the harmonious Zootopia she loves to be restored. 

Two to three months later,[3] Judy has returned to Bunnyburrow and rejoined the family business as a carrot farmer. However, she later learns from her parents and reformed childhood bully, fox Gideon Grey, that "night howlers" are toxic flowers that have severe psychotropic effects on mammals. Realizing that the flowers are what Otterton was referring to and that they must be the cause of the outbreaks, Judy returns to Zootopia, where she reconciles with Nick. They then locate Weaselton, who explains that he has been collecting night howlers for a ram named Doug Ramses, who owns a lab hidden in the subway tunnels. The pair finds the lab and discovers Doug creating a night howler serum, which he has been exposing to predators via paintball-like pellets fired by an air-powered sniper gun.



Judy and Nick hijack the lab (which is on a still functional train) and race to the ZPD with the evidence but are pursued by Doug's henchrams, whom they barely manage to defeat. The train is destroyed in the process, but Nick manages to save a case containing Doug's sniper gun and the serum pellet.

Just short of the ZPD, the pair encounters Bellwether, who insists she takes the evidence. Realizing she is the mastermind of the conspiracy, Judy and Nick try to flee but are knocked into a pit by her henchrams. Bellwether shoots a serum pellet from the evidence case at Nick and frames a call for help to the ZPD. Nick seemingly becomes savage and corners Judy, but it turns out the pair was acting in order to trick Bellwether into openly admitting her prey-supremacist scheme to take over Zootopia and rid it of all predators, and that they replaced the dart gun ammo with blueberries from the Hopps' farm. With Bellwether's monologue recorded on Judy's carrot pen just as Bellwether made her short-lived threat to frame them as she did with Lionheart, Chief Bogo and the ZPD arrive and arrest her and her henchrams upon hearing everything. Upon being informed and interviewed on the matter, Lionheart denies any knowledge of Bellwether's plot, but admits to having illegally imprisoned the savage predators, claiming it to have been done for "right reasons".



Later, Judy is reinstated into the ZPD. An antidote is discovered for the effects of the night howlers, and all the infected predators, including Mr. Otterton and Mr. Manchas, are cured. Months later (about a year after Judy started her job at the ZPD), Nick joins the ZPD as the first fox officer and Judy's new partner. The final scene (during the credits) has almost all Zootopian citizens attending Gazelle's concert while Bellwether angrily as Doug, Jesse, and the other prisoners patting on their lap views it on a television set in prison.”




Ok, imagine you are the average Zootopia resident. statistically you are likely to be a 'Prey' animal. (90% according to the Wiki). 

You surround and outnumber, but are in regular day-to-day contact with a minority group  who are specifically designed to kill and eat you, and who could do so relatively easily. 

But... they don't eat you. Instead they eat Fish, plant protein and bugs. 

The Mayor of the city, much of the police force, and many of its celebrities, are all of this minority group. 

So if you did, for instance, suspect that the minority group were secretly killing members of the majority and covering it up. Or, if a member of this minority group ‘ran amok’, , you would go to the police, who are made up of that minority, and who report to the Mayor, who is also of that Minority. 

It seems that, even when given a free choice, the majority group will vote for, promote or valorise this minority group, they are just that much more charismatic and powerful .



There are rumours of the minority group losing control, running amok and attacking the majority. There are rumours of the minority group “disappearing”. 

Its revealed that this has in fact been happening. Minorities have been ‘running amok’ and savagely attacking others at random. A situation made much more dangerous by their terrifying natural weapons. The mayor, who is a member of this minority, has been secretly imprisoning the guilty parties and hiding the truth while he investigates this matter. 

The Mayor is fired and the deputy Mayor takes his place, this is one of the majority group. 

The police officer who revealed this scheme (one of the few majority members of the police force), speculates that the minorities biology might be behind these violent attacks. This is in some senses a truism, they a literally designed to kill you and you are their natural food. For most of history the minority group could not live without destroying you. They simply choose not to. 

A chill falls over the city and suspicions rise. 

A beautiful and charismatic Gazelle music star appeals for the return of normalcy. 

After a short interval, the same police officer reveals the origins of the situation; the new majoritarian mayor was secretly developing chemical weapons to drive select minority members violently insane so they would attack members of the majority group, all as part of a plan to put the majority group fully in charge of the city, this whole situation arose because of Her scheme. 

The Majority group mayor is imprisoned, and the old Minority group Mayor is back in charge. He says imprisoning violent members of his own group secretly was ‘the wrong thing, for the right reasons’. 

The problem now solved, you and the city relax, everything is back to normal. 



Now, let me know at what point any of this reminds you of; 

  • Blood libel conspiracy.
  • Hitlers fantasies.
  • Modern headlines.
  • Alex Jones.
  • The internal sound of your brain melting as you suffer a schizophrenic break. 


Predators and Prey are Fundamentally Adversarial 

.. and this is the point of the film. From the Wiki; 

“The primary issues centering the film, as mentioned, are prejudice and preconceived notions based on stereotypes. To further emphasize this, the creatures that inhabit Zootopia were limited down to mammals, to portray a sense of segregation between animals of predator and prey mentality; animals such as birds and marine life were left out like most, if not all, are consumers of other living organisms, making it difficult to narrow them down within the status quo of the story's conflict.” 

Of course, if you imagine a world of sentient, tool-suing and civilised compulsory carnivores, living in close integration with equally sentient prey animals, what you have is a moral horror story. All of the good stories using this as a premise include some element of moral horror because it is inherent to the setting.

 And ‘Zootopia’ was very nearly this. Again, from the Wiki; 

“In response, the story was tailored to center the relationship between the "predator and prey" group while reflecting modern day society by having the story serve as an allegory for racism and prejudice. In this version, predators, despite having evolved, were generally viewed as dangerous threats and were forced to wear electric shock collars as a means to keep their "aggressive natures" under control at the hands of prey. The "tame collar" concept stuck through most of the film's production, even being approved by John Lasseter, but when screened for the team at Pixar, the response was negative. The city of Zootopia, in this state of being so blatantly unjust, was deemed too unlikable, and the story too dark, whereas the goal was to create a city that the audience could fall in love with while making a film that—despite its serious subject matter—can still be a fun family film”


I Get "Don't Think Too Hard About It" 

But Zootopia DEMANDS you think about it! It was designed specifically as an allegory for racism from early development. It is a very, EXTREMELY values-laden film. 

It’s all about the greatness of cosmopolitanism, how wonderful diversity is and how evil twisted members of the majority group might try to destroy that wonderful peaceful diversity with evil schemes. 

It is a very, very, very earnest film that is intensely anxious about having 'something to say'. This quite intense seriousness is written through the whole of the film


Zootopia demands you pay deep attention to exactly the ideas it cannot sustain 

One thing that hit me very hard on viewing Zootopia was the gravity of the scene where Judy Hops states that the minorities that ran amok were reverting to their natural instincts. 

This is treated with deep and overwhelming seriousness by those in the imagined world and by the structure and tone of the film itself. it feels like a grave sin against the rules and ideals of this world. 

I must be autistic as fuck as I may have been the only person in the room thinking "Well yea, they are wolves, lions and tigers of course they are biologically dangerous to fucking rabbits or whatever". 

I know what the film intended. The deep tragedy, gravity and sinfulness of this statement only makes sense if we view Zootopia as an allegory or metaphor for relations between human groups

In a statement about humans saying "Well they are just biologically dangerous, of course they were going to flip out and kill someone, its inherent to them" would be monstrous and this matches the feel of the scene 

But as a statement about Lions and Tigers and Wolves it’s just obviously true. 

And Zootopia insists we think about this

Or more precisely, it demands we think about this in precisely this way and no other. It is so confident of its argument, its premise and the way its scenes and message are meant to be felt and considered, that it just leaps ahead. It is a story for an audience that already knows what the answer is and is just waiting for the story itself to fill that in 

Prejudice  = bad 

Brining up biological differences in discussion of violent acts - horrible 

they clearly didn't think, or were so confident, or so half-Intelligent that they didn't even consider that anyone would possibly read it any other way


The Fascist Reading of Zootopia 

You surround a minority group of biologically dangerous potential killers. 

It’s considered social death to point this out. 

This is very important; saying the wrong thing, making assumptions about someone’s nature just because they, for instance, have teeth and claws, is considered very terrible. so you have to not mention these very clear and obviously physical and innate behavioural differences. 

Just don't bring it up. Don't bring it up or our fragile society will implode. 

There are rumours of attacks by the minority. 

There is confirmation of attacks by the minority. 

They have been going crazy and TEARING APART members of the majority at random. 

The city government has been covering this up. 

The city government is headed by a member of the same minority and the police force is dominated by them, so essentially they rule over you

Later another conspiracy is revealed, the conspirators are of the majority faction. 

They have been triggering the dangerous minority with drugs made from certain commonly available garden flowers. The old Mayor is returned and the conspiracy ended, everything is fine now. 

You still surround a minority of potential killers,  and they could be triggered to kill randomly at any time by the use of a commonly available chemical. 

So this is hell, surely? It’s the Liberal Polity as seen through the eyes of a Fascist. Fundamentally opposed groups bound together by a tissue of lies under the leadership and control of elite members of the powerful minority group with anyone who defies the lie by pointing out basic biological and historical fact ostracised and driven into poverty. 


Beastars is Zootopia Done Right

Beastars – is an animated series based on almost exactly the same setting and concept as Zootopia; an urbanised society of anthropomorphic sentient animals which hands, language and tools, but still massively different body types and huge differences in natural capacity, and with obligate predators and obligate prey animals “trying to get along”. 

Beastars is a weird, queasy, sometimes disturbing story and the main reason it works as anything at all is because it directly acknowledges and is largely about the massive innate differences between Predators and Prey and the fact that this society is a thin strand of compromise over a roiling churning mass of potential conflict.



In Beastars Predators do occasionally Run Amok, and eat Prey citizens. Its not quite covered up but is down-valued by the media. Predators have secret meat markets where they go to eat flesh and criminal groups who supply them. Many Prey-citizens live in a state of quiet helpless terror about being killed, many Predator-citizens live in a state of consuming dysphoria and self-loathing about their own nature. 

Despite being a pervy, weird, strange and intense story Beastars feels more moral and sane than Zootopia because the characters in it are grappling directly and honestly with the unresolved darkness at the centre of their society while in Zootopia; it was all an evil conspiracy by bad majority group members and things are back to normal now.



Wednesday 21 June 2023

A Review of ‘Northern Journey’

 This is a review of a videogame ‘Northern Journey’ by Sild Studios. I found out about it via this video;


I thought this would be interesting to False Machine readers and OSR types as a game art which has a bunch of OSR-type theming and but also as a distinct work of art by chad neurodivergent creator who made it while sitting in a cellar for several years.
(Maybe also with fans of 'Thief' and the Thief modding community maybe? It has that kind of feel.)


Chad Neurodivergent Creator


Interviewer - "Working on your own, you must have had a pretty deep schedule."
Chad - "No I didn't really have a schedule or a plan. As you are working on something, things, story beats, come to mind. So for instance you might realise you want some mountains, or you want to fight a witch. Then you might be in a forest and realise you need something to go between the forest and the mountains or it doesn't feel right "
Chad - "There were a lot of things I didn't spend time doing. Like sketching and drawing and planning enemies and whatnot. I usually just made them then and there."
Chad - "The game was made in a cellar and there were a lot of spiders there so there are spiders in the game."
Chad - "Anyone can make music really, you look at pictures of the place you are making music for and start making sounds."
So, he made the game by making the game.
I will return to this in the end.

The Level Design

Northern Journey combines vast-feeling levels and wide-open spaces with complex, nested and carefully planned challenge routes. In the interview above the creator says they often solved design problems by just removing space, bringing things more closely together.
Often the routes and locations are nested vertically, with looping fishbone paths, leaps and scrambles taking you from one to another, or caves, long diversions or surprising detours leading you back to somewhere you have already seen from afar, maybe only a few feet away from where you were standing, buy previously unable to reach.

The internet tells me that this is “like Dark Souls”.
You are almost always in sight of the promise of a future journey,  being shown expanses you might traverse, places you might visit and methods you might use. There are keys to open doors but there is also a winch thing you can use to access ziplines which take you whooshing across these densely-plotted levels - you can see the ziplines coming in but can't access them till you get this widget. In terms of level design this is in practice, just another kind of key or teleportation system, but it doesn't feel like that, instead it feels like an extremely cool reward for achieving stuff.
How could this feeling be expanded to OSR-style games? With difficulty I think. The functioning of team play using largely the minds eye and maps doesn’t work the same way as in a videogame. In Northern Journey, the ‘correct’ or accessible routes are obvious and the language of the game and movement in its space is easy to accept. You know you can’t climb things above a certain set incline, so you don’t bother. In an OSR game you can try climbing things above a set incline, and can try doing a whole bunch of things that wouldn’t work in Northern Journey.
As well, the presentation of a vertically nested environment is more difficult in map form, and the sheer power of a open view of a big landscape promising various adventures and possibilities wouldn’t act the same way.
Perhaps to some extent, partial maps, rumours and ‘promising objects’ serve a similar aim in D&D adventures. I tried to do something a bit like this in Demon-Bone Sarcophagus but apparently fucked it up .

The Music

The music is custom, nothing in its pockets but knives and lint. It’s dungeon synth/ambient created for each environment. This is distinctive because there really isn’t a big gap between the sounds of the environment, the twitchy calls of insect danger (or witches), the wind, the treetops moving in the wind, the echoing of cave noises and whatever the ambient music is for that area.


The Fucking Spiders

Or monsters generally, but most of them are fucking spiders.

None of the spiders are the same, look the same, act the same or interact with the environment and the player in the same way. Some crawl in the undergrowth quietly, some swarm in gangs, some hover and leap, or hang in treetops and drop on you.
The enemy design, movement plans and AI loops are carefully integrated into the environments, the spiders in the trees, the tree-tops slowly waving, the spiders in the waving grass which bob and move in the same rhythm as the grass.
The juddering, weaving repetitive but incoherent attack patterns of the insect enemies exist apparently because they were easy to program - presumably real insects are running something not that much more complex than the systems in a modern computer.
The deep integration with the environments means you spend a lot of time hiding, listening, watching, stalking and paying a huge amount of attention to trees, grass, sounds and movement.


The Combat

I feel like there are two main ways to run the combat in Northern Journey; Doom Style or Cheese It.
If you have really good twitch sensitivity and aim then you could maybe burst into target-rich environments and race around shooting things while brilliantly swapping weapons for optimal effect. I absolutely could not do this and so most of the time I just cheesed it by save-scumming, creeping forward till I trigger one or two enemies then running like fuck away till they are lined up behind me on an attack run, then turning round and shooting them, save-scumming and doing the same thing again.
The sling was an interesting embodied weapon. You get it for free, it never runs out of ammo.
On pulling out the sling the p.o.v character WHUMPS it round your head, one, two, three, four, five, six times then puts it away. You can trigger a cast at the peak of any of those WHUMPS. If you wait till the 3rd or 4th WHUMP, the damage goes up to 100, which is actually not bad, on par with other weapons, or you can release early for a faster shot with less damage.
This starts as a crap and awkward weapon, but as you get better with it, it becomes quite workable and your skill with its timing helps you upgrade it along with your other stuff so it never quite goes out of fashion.


Oddities drawn from something like a folk tale; a village idiot, a suspicious priest, a fool in the stocks, a policeman in his hut, some mysterious crones with a bubbling pot, a doctor throwing runestones and laughing, a sketchy soothsayer whacked out on fumes, an isolated engineer living in a box held over an abyss; there is literally no-one normal in this village,
Crones - Lots of crones in this one, a large variety of tricky witches doing crazy witchy things, trying to push you off bridges, strand you in infinitely black pools, fly screaming and cackling at you on broomsticks
The Mysterious Flute Player – is he Odin? A wizard? The Gygaxian Game Master? He feels a little like all of these things. He has his own theme and you can hear him noodling on his flute as you enter some levels. At other times a dog or raven will turn up with a rune-stave message.


The Special Missions!

Caving, cave-diving, diving into a haunted, drowned village in a leaky bathysphere, taking a hang-glider through super-mountains, diving into a maelstrom & coming out the other side, slowly scaling and ziplining up a staggered and vast mountain face; 

the darkness, fear and paranoia was lovely. In particular the bathysphere mission and cave-diving was just utterly rich with darkness and a deep sense of strange otherness. Any Veins of the Earth fans  would enjoy these.


The Ending

There are parts of the end I love, and which feel a lot like the pure mood of the game and other combat-based parts I don't love anywhere as much.
It feels like a lot of supernatural problems in Norway are solved with a midnight communal village rave to dungeon synth electrobeats. Probably this is just how they do it, who knows. The game nearly ends with what I think should have been the final scene, a game of keep-away with a bunch of crazy villagers dancing in a circle around a cursed dimensional violator while the village idiot keeps trying to grab it and run away, while demonic root monsters run interference. Then there is a tower shooting bit which is less interesting.




A game about an environment by a guy who lives in that environment. The production loop is a hiking loop - guy goes for a hike or climb in Norway, takes photos, records sounds, observes nature
then comes back to the spider-cellar, makes textures from the plants and rocks, builds the sound of streams from the recordings.
All of the sounds and textures in the game are made by the creator, so those curiously pixelly textured shadows, waving plants, lichen-spotted wood, are all recovered dreams from the real world.

The combination of the tightly-plotted but expansive-feeling level design, the intensity of dealing with the FUCKING SPIDERS and this transposition and concentration of the natural phenomena means with Northern Journey has a kind of Hyperreality, like its NorwayPlus. The same hyperreality you would get from surrealism but driven towards a natural environment, a bit like 19th century romantic paintings of guys staring at the alps where a natural view is intensified, but in this case it’s a game and a process of doing which includes movement, exploration and challenge.
(I am not saying Northern Journey is 'like being there' which I think would be a mediocre aim and which I am unable to confirm anyway, bit it is more like an intense, lucid dream of Norway)


Singularity of Vision

Though original, no single element is absolutely better than the best in other games, though much is very good. Instead we must speak of the combination and synthesis of elements in a manner original, expressive and rare. It would be hard for a large group the make *this particular* game because things were combined and "cooked" very closely and very intuitively.
The textures, plants, sounds, arrangements of form, living entities, (especially the spiders), etc, are all seemingly drawn from life and inscribed directly into the game without much pre-decision or conversation.

For instance; in one level the waving of grass mimics the colour and movement of the resident spider enemy, which skitters and bobs exactly like the movement of the grass in simulated wind. in another, the texture and size of an attacking spider means it blends with and seems to move "under" the textured knee-high foliage. Combined with its silence (which would have no significance if not for the aural tapestry of the levels), this makes it a particular paranoia-inducing threat.
There is a level where, after coming out of a deep dark and claustrophobic mine, you do nothing but climb and zipline up a seemingly endless series of mountain faces, facing a rolling grey sea, it’s wonderful and arguably 'nothing happens'.
These things, if done as part of a group or company, would have taken meeting after meeting and description and argument after description and argument. Here, done by one individual, they are simply created and arranged immediately, intuitively, in a manner which speaks of a coherent world, creates beauty and interest in the eye of the beholder an is 'gamic' or playable, leading to interesting and cohesive play.
The whole game is like this; a collage or weaving together of elements, some drawn from nature, but woven coherently, subtly, to create a kind of hyper-reality. The sensory aspect of a Norwegian wilderness/biome, compressed, transformed and made into something that can be played. Any addition of complexity of the kind a corporation or marketing director would instantiate would disrupts this clear fluidity and directness of approach.
The credits are literally three lines;

Wednesday 7 June 2023

The Grandaddy of Evil; Ian Watson and the Inquisition War Trilogy!


"When they were heading away from the barricade through the host of pilgrims and tents, a scrawny liver-spotted hand clutched at Jaqs hem. 

'Charity for a registered cripple' croaked an elderly voice. 

Smouldering thuribles of incense dangled on chains from a gibbet-like frame. Backed up against the base of this frame was a rickety cart with small iron wheels. Upon the cart crouched a ragged crone. her face was wizened with age. her stringy long hair was white. Yet her rheumy blue eyes were keen with a light of tense intelligence. In those eyes was a quality of anticipation for which expectancy of coins alone could hardly account. 

Grimm scrutinized her circumstances. The thurible-gibbet protected this cripple from being trampled accidentally. A handle jutted from the rear of her cart. It might be pulled or pushed. Here she crouched under the cool red sun, begging.
'Was the temple breaking your legs, mother?’ Surely the Occidens Temple did not need to create and exploit cripples, pitifully to swell its coffers. 

The crone rocked forward, as if in sudden anguish from a cramp of the bowels. 

'Oh yes, it was breaking my legs!' was her reply. 'Yet not in the way you're meaning. 

Grimm hunkered down by the cart. Soon s did Lex and Jaq. 

The crones name was Herzady. One thing she had never been was a mother. Defiantly she declared herself to be elven years old. 

Who else on Sabulborb would dream of counting their age in local years? She had lived long enough to arrive at double figures. She had endured more than a hundred and ten Imperial years - the vast majority of them spent in this cart. Grimm was impressed by Herzady's longevity, even though to a long-living Squat a century was rather small beer. 

'Pretty impressive for an ordinary unenhanced human being, particularly in such reduced circumstances!' 

A century earlier, as a young girl, Herzady had attended that Holy Years unveiling in company with her pious parents. During the bedlam which ensued, her mother and father both lost their lives. Herzady's legs were permanently crippled. A compassionate priest had taken pity and provided this cart. For decades Herzady had awaited the next Holy year. When the unveiling came again she was watching from a safer place than on the previous occasion. 


Oh yes. At the unveiling fifty two years later there had been homicidal bedlam once again, due to the hysteria of the pilgrims intent on seeing... what could not be seen. 

Could not be seen, what did she mean by this? 

Why, Herzady had been all ears and eyes for decades. She knew that the visage had faded, aeons since, into invisibility. On the climactic day of Holy Year when the high priest of Occidens in splendid procession carried the requilary out along the walkway, briefly, to open the sacred container, what he would expose to the gaze of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims was a cloth which was blank, apart from a couple of stains vaguely located where the eyes might have been. 

'Pilgrims are glimpsing almost nothing sired! How they are straining and struggling to see!'

Gently he said to Herzady, 'Being crippled, crippled because of adoring him, you are partaking in His vaster malady.' 

'I am waiting, she replied bleakly, 'for many more persons being crippled and killed the day after tomorrow, as surely must be happening. Then I am dying contentedly.' 

it was to witness this calamity that Herzady had endured indomitably throughout the five decades since the previous holy year! The crones persistence was pathological. her lucidity was madness.

The little man prompted her; 'Hundreds of people dying outside that courthouse earlier on today. All imagining the True Face being unveiled early - and panicking.' 

Galvanized by shock, the crone sat bolt upright upon her twisted shrivelled legs. She gasped tragically. 'Herzady missing so many deaths....' 

Her wizened face spasmed in pain. A thin spotted hand fluttered to her chest. She slumped over. 
Lex checked her pulse. In his hefty hand her wrist looked no wider than a pencil. Herzady was dead. Of a heart attack, of a broken heart. 

It was Grimm who reached to close the crone's gaping empty eyes. 

'Huh' he said, 'saved myself half a shekel anyway.'" 

Blanche drawing Jaq Draco as... Sean Connery?



I return to the beginning; the original Black Library novel and first Warhammer 40k fiction. Dan Abnett dedicated the first volume of ‘The End and the Death’ to Ian Watson, likely out of respect to this originating series. 

I read one book in this series many many years ago and I did not like it at all. I thought it was dirty and weird. Uncomfortably so. 

Now I think it is a work of GENIUS! Clearly I have migrated to one end or another of the I.Q. graph meme. Which end I cannot say....




 “A dreary slope of great boulders, poised on a scree, extended downward into murk. Upward likewise. In the upward direction rococo-metallic towers were visible. A small fleet of grotesque vessels might have impacted in the terrain. Evilly flamboyant, these towers were canted at absurd angles to one another in defiance of gravity, yet they were linked by eerily wrought bridges along which prowled tiny figures.
In a bilious sky hung an hourglass sun. Two suns were joined impossibly at the waist like a double yolk within a glutinous pulsing albumen-womb of glowing gas. This absurd sun made the eyes and the spirt ache. How was gravity thus defied? That double-sun should have cohered into one sun aeons ago. Two such celestial bodies could not exist side by side.
‘Chaos’, breathed Jaq in horror.”


It’s all about the FUKIN STAR CHILD BABY! It’s all coming back! Perfect circle!

Ok so what is this story actually about? Essentially an Inquisitor wants to bang his Callidus Assassin, that’s the main driver of the plot. 

Let me try again.. 

Our story is about Inquisitor Jaq Draco, who encounters a super-mega conspiracy within a conspiracy of the Inquisition to create a psychic ‘Hydra’ and turn all of humanity into a giant singular hive mind and thereby ‘save’ it. 

Over the course of three books [SPOILERS] Draco accidently exterminatus’s a planet, fights genestealers, enters a space hulk, visits a demon world, goes to Terra and infiltrates the Imperial Palace for a chat with the Emperor, sleeps for 100 years, enters the webway, visits Ulthwe craftworld, gets into the mythical Black Library and steals the book of the Apocalypse, gets his Callidus assassin girlfriend killed, hides out on a nutty pilgrim world, steals a relic, escapes into the webway again and performs a mysterious ritual to undo fate. Other things also happen. 

The over-plot is all about the Sensai, the Star Child, the schitzoidal mind of the Emperor 

Very old 40k lore from Rogue Trader says that when the Emperor fought Horus he cut out all the actually nice parts of his psyche and cast them into the warp so he could win. These more fluffy bits have been floating around out there for 10,000 years and are about ready to reincarnate into the Star Child; the actually-nice superbeing who will create the golden path to humanities hopeful future. 

Roaming around in the galaxy are the Sensai; 40ks original Woke Warriors who roam the galaxy fighting oppression yes this is real and I am not making it up.

Meanwhile in Games Workshops two active series, in the final books of the Horus Heresy series, Dan Abnett is finally creeping towards the Final Confrontation with Horus where all this is actually set up, and has been reintroducing the idea of secret immortals in 40k. And in the ‘present day’ Dawn of Fire series by mainly Guy Haley I think, the idea of the Star Child and the Emperor ‘awakening’ has been reintroduced. 

So, essentially, the Horus Heresy series, the current Dawn of Fire series and this Inquisition War series, the first one published, form a coherent whole, or are being formed into one. It was all just one giant saga all along… 

And it’s amazing how much of a 40k book it is, right from the offing, rich with ripe dankness. Within 200 pages of the fist book we have genestealer purging, exterminatus, a squat on a trike, a space hulk, the Eye of Terror!, actual Terra and a month long oddesy through the imperial palace lead by the Star Child (probably), and a MEETING WITH THE EMPEROR. The sheer amount of stuff, of details, of incident, combined with the wild euphonia of the prose really adds up to make a funky stew




"During stages in Lex's novitiate as a future Space Marine he had been initiated dauntingly enough - by a feast of foul excremental unfood and other formidable ceremonies.

 The forced rite of initiation which took place like a ravishment within that Chaos vessel was execrable and almost unspeakable. How could Lex obliterate from memory the Kiss of Corruption, the Communion with Chaos, the Prayer of Perfidity, the spells and the invocations? And all the while he was experiencing the slither of tendrils within his spinal sockets. These invaded his nervous system, generating nauseating visions of the fragility of the comos, of the feebleness of reality which demonic fingers sought to unpluck and reknit with such vile success.

Lex in torment saw the whole cosmos burst forth from a mere bubble in the energy warp. A sparrows fart the universe was!"




It’s kinda, no, scratch that, incredibly pervy, rich and ripe with strange life, overflowing with crazy stuff, wild with colour. It feels a lot like David Lynches Dune in its gleeful perversity and general oddness.


The vision of 40k is absolutely one torn from the pages of early White Dwarf, Realms of Chaos, Rogue Trader and other early vibrant texts; 

“And so Meh-Lindi approached the monster on the throne: a leering fang-toothed, armoured hog of a grandsire alien. Its eyes glared at her from under ridged bony brows. One of its lower, humanoid hands, adorned with topaz and sapphire rings, contemplatively stroked a fierce claw-hand that rested on its knee. One of its hooves tapped the floor. Loaves of armour-bone jutted from its curved spine, and it rubbed these against the carved back of its throne grindingly, as if to dispel an itch. Its spatulate tongue stuck out, tasting.”



And is absolutely riddled with often ridiculous and sometimes really quite discomforting sexual and bodily weirdness, especially surrounding the Callidus Assassin Meh-Lindi who starts the book doing exercises in a giant ritual hamster wheel and then examines herself in the mirror naked at length while remarking on her boobs as women so often do. Then she gets a pseudo-plastic Genestealer skeleton implanted in her body in an excruciating surgery scene.



"Were the screaming tethered female prisoners hallucinating while abominations were perpetrated slowly and perversely upon their flesh? The Slaanashi Chaos Marines had certainly used hallucinogenic grenades -as well as boltguns and meltaguns and terrible chainswords, and heavier weaponry too. Were hallucinations intensifying the already appalling sight, and the implacable cruel touch, of pastel-hyed armour exquisitely damascened with debauchery upon the breast plates and the shoulders? Was that which was already monstrous being multiplied far beyond the brink of sanity?

A few tormentors had shed items of armour, exposing grotesquely mutated rampant groins, their organs of pleasure bifurcated and more, with squinting eyes sprouting from them, and with drooling lips.

Others had no need to shed armour. Chaos Spawn had materialized: wolf sized creatures with legs of spiders and bodies of imps, with questing tentacles and phallic tubes. Jaq himself almost believed that he was hallucinating. A snake-like umbilical cord connected these spawn to the swollen groin-guards of their master - who stood back, roaring and whinnying with delight, as they guided the spawn in the ravishing of their captives, soaking up the sensations of these roving external members."



Even at this early stage its clear this is about SELLING PRODUCT. We have to put the toys on display and while I think probably Watson enjoyed the breakneck pace and sometimes delirious invention of the blizzard of encounters, its also true that Inquisitor Jaq Draco encounters pretty much every model that you can buy right now; Genestealers, Eldar, Space Marines, Chaos Marines, Harlequins, Titans, Commissars, 

And the Space Marines and others are fashionable in an exquisitely 90s Warhammer style;  



"Strapped in the gimballed control seat, protected by padding and armour, the princeps faced those great slanting eye-screens. Bronze bones framed the screens. Across an array of lesser data screens diagnostic icons shuffled like phosphorescent beetles. A spaghetti of cables led from his reinforced mind-impulse suit into ducts. Cables coiled from his shoulder pauldrons, and wires from his impulse-helmet - which now swung round to scrutinize the newcomers. 

Behind a goggle-visor: weary blue eyes. below the visor: a hooked nose with sapphire rings through each nostril, thin lips, and a depilated chin tattooed with tiny silver pentacles. 



“Grimm urinated into the open helmet of the Chaos Marine. Sizzling softly, the webs became a gingery mat clinging to horrid contours above the gaping metal-fanged jaw. 

From one of his pouches Grimm produced a bar of marzipan and began to gobble. 

Lex snapped his visor shut to scan data and diagnostic icons. When he opened it again, he announced, ‘My waste storage unit may be malfunctioning somewhat.’ He murmured a prayer to Rogal Dorn. 

Grimm cocked his head. ‘Does that mean your mighty metal legs will start to fill with muck? 

Lex’s gauntlet lashed out. He stayed the blow before it could pulverize Grimms face. 

‘I can recycle and detox my own waste for two days, abhuman. This suit is ancient,’ he declared. ‘Reverently repaired.’ His groin-hauberk had visibly been renovated with a damascened silver engraving of a potent warrior firing a storm bolter.”



“Scar tissue on Hachards chin stood out whitely as though he had been punched. His cheek-tattoo was of a skull skewered by a dagger. His teeth were painted black as a signal that any smile of his was dark. A vermillion badge of nobility -a stylized power axe – adorned his right knee-pad modestly so that, whenever bending to the Emperors image during devotions, he should kneel upon this heraldic honour. His gloved hand strayed to the Imperial eagle emblazoned in purple on his lavender dress cuirass, as if to emphasize his unquestioning loyalty.”




Its mad with dankness.

The tumbling maddening harlequinesque prose combines and overlays with the deranged invention

Watson is very clearly going carefully and joyfully off his tits with his prose, his word choices, idea combinations, rushing but ever-uneven rhythm, hold onto your hat at the start of every sentence and paragraph because you don't know how it is going to end, like a fairground ride that segues into some other ride in the middle, and again before the end. A KNOWING SMIRK is the emotion I am detecting here but not the joyless Dreamworks smirk of the empty ironist who abstracts themselves from their own ID through a veneer of eyebrow, but an Orson Welles-type smirk of a plump gourmand of words and concepts who is about to gorge themselves on sounds.



“Night rolled towards them like a velvet curtain, or like a negative of an aurora. It hid from view those leaning towers. In the sickly sky an eclipse was eating swiftly across the leftward sun. 

This was not how night fell in any sane reality! 

The curtain of darkness halted before it reached them. Within that darkness flapped moth-like shapes, faintly phosphorescent, visible in violet. 

More such moths swiftly gathered, They massed to form a giant humanoid figure bestriding the shrouded land. The hulking figure gained substance moment by moment as Lex continued to engrave Azul’s eye. 

On the shoulders of the figure were mounted what appeared to plasma cannons. Great grasping powerhands dangled. Around the ankles of that solidifying ogrespook capered shadows – reminiscent of that horned spiked suit of armour which had lain in Ulthwe’.”


“Jaq was sighting his force rod tentatively at the looming colossus, muttering prayers of his own. Just then an extremely low moon sailed into view. Astride the capsized crescent sat the vilest of creatures, as on a saddle. Such saucer-eyes, such a parrot-beak. That tentacled fiend resembled some kraken from the deeps of an ocean. Its tentacles trailed down, becoming vastly long threads. With these, it began to fish.


“Here was nightmare incarnate. Another thread snared a Chaos Marine, plucking the armoured brute from out of the darkness. ‘That ain’t no helmet,’ exclaimed one of the Imperial Fists, ‘that’s his head – ‘ 

To the amplified horror-struck gaze of the Marine it was evident that the grotesquely metamorphosed Chaos warrior was guffawing with insane delight as he was drawn up to share that surreal perch with the daemon.” 



THE DIALOGUE feels like a kind of arch 70's fantasy somehow, declarative, anquished, arch, pointed, ridiculous. Theatrical. Is he joking? Is he screwing up or screwing about, or both? We will never know… 



“Lex’s voice rumbled sympathetically. ‘I understand loss, Sir Jaq.’ 


Jaq had long since lost his holy office. He had lost the fellowship of his ordo. He had lost his cherished funereal ship, which might well have been blasted to pieces in that eldar dock by Imperial forces quite incidentally. Now he had lost his…. Helpmate. 

‘Reckon we can steal this hyper-lance?’ Grimm asked Lex. ‘Can you use it? Must be ancient and revered to be so powerful. Shall we pull it free? Reckon that’s wise? 

‘No-oh-oh-oh!’ Such a howl burst from Jaq’s throat, a howl of universal rejection and misery. Pull the great blade from Meh’lindi’s ravaged ribs and homogenized entrails? ‘No!’ he cried. ‘She shall not be treated like some harpooned sea-beast!’



 Or at least it tries to be for a while. 

Most 40k texts are fake Epistolary novels; remember in the grimdank future no record can be trusted and unreliable narrators and whatever, but *in effect* books tend to be written from a floating 3rd person perspective and are clearly not 'in-world' texts in any way, and furthermore, texts part of the same general series are clearly attempting to tell a coherent story where all the details match up, and not presenting a dracula-style collection of missives or whatever. 

So there is a certain fakeness to the 'everything is true and untrue' shtick. But the Inquisition War, while written in a 3rd person, does fully purport to be an in-universe text, (apart I suppose, from some framing stories where some people are reading it and asking "why did he write it about himself, in the third person?") These ‘novels’ are actually strange chunks of paper found in the entrails of the Golden Throne, transcripts of a report of something and Eldar Farseer maybe said, or just a funky book from the Inquisitorial archives. 

They kind of give up on this somewhat , actually the middle one is the only 'impossible' report as it ends with Jaq raiding the Black Library, 

I do love the idea of it being a theme with Inquisitors that they commonly write their own experiences down as pulp novels and hide them in archives, a useful technique since the truth must be disguised with fiction and fiction with truth, an ever-deniable record which may represent true events, or the shape of true events. 



“The ribbed wraithbone walls of an immense dome rose sombrely upward. Across the zenith stretched a lake of night. A vast sky-light or energy-field excluded yet also revealed the void of space. 

That funereal lake was polluted by diseased lurid gases. Hues of jaundice and gangrene and blood and bile stained those billowy shrouds. Suns within the sickly veils of gas, and of vile corruption, of a cancer spreading through the void. 

It was the Eye of Terror – where Chaos spiled into reality. Where warped worlds of unnatural geometry orbited furnaces of nauseous light. Where daemons ruled.” 




Ok the perving on the Callidus assassin, including her constantly stripping naked, putting on sysnskin, examining herself in the mirror naked and noting the shape of her breasts (watson what the fuck). Pretty much everything to do with sex is anguished, overwrought, obsessive, horrifically and malignantly autistic in a negative sense.. however, is this Watson being a charismatic nutter or brilliantly illuminating the perverse compression of natural human desire in a nightmare future? I refer you to the IQ graph above.. 

The meeting with the emperor is relatively well done and not that dumb. It takes a super-competent inquisitorial team about a month to weave their way through the palace, constantly changing identities, being lead a crazed path of opportunities by a prescient fragment of the Emperors soul itself and they only get through the Eternity Gate because a larger gestalt of the Emperor casts Time Stop and pulls them through.

 The last book is a downer with the team hiding out on one single world instead of having a crazed rollercoaster time, but there are still a host of deranged moments and a sad, hurried end.




What happened to the Ordo Hydra? 

The Sensi are coming back! The original Woke Warriors for our Disney Plus future! 

The Star Child! 

At the end Jaq Draco DIES but his spirit is trapped in the webway where he can commune with dead Eldar seers. HE COULD STILL BE IN THERE! Its going to be great if he pops up randomly in some future book. 

Meh-lindi the sexy, dangerous Callidus assassin is sort-of resurrected in the end! I fucking BET Abnett or *someone* will being back the only Callidus to successfully impersonate a Genestealer AND and Eldar (though not at the same time), she is still out there! 

Grimm the Squat! That utter legend! Will he turn up on Necromuda? 

Probably GW aims to escape the looming tentacles of the hysteric left and the pink captialists “WHAT ARE YOU DOING THERE NERDS? IS THAT FASCISM I SEE?” by shattering the Galaxy, turning it into something like Age of Sigmar with bits dominated by Primarchs and godlings, and brining back the Sensai and the Star Child so that you can finally tell your mum “No mum I an playing the good-guy anti-fascists actually!” 

Hey its from Rogue Trader, its scripture so you can’t complain.



That’s it! Imagine him reading this stuff. It would be wild!




“WE ARE MANY, INQUISITOR’. The voice boomed in his mind almost gently – if gently was how an avalanche would sweep away a doomed village, if gently was how a scalpel might strip a life to the bare, aching bones.




The Emperors mind-voice, if that truly was what it was, had dissociated into several voices, as if his great undying soul co-existed in fragments that barely hung together.













‘Great  lord of all,’ whimpered Jaq, ‘did you know of the hydra before now?’