Friday, 16 June 2017

The Good Lucifer

Prometheus was one of the titans, the generation of gods whose rule preceded that of the more famous Olympians. His name means ‘forethought’, and he was one of the few titans who sided with Zeus, the Olympians’ leader, rather than Cronos, father of Zeus and titan leader. As such, when the other titans were thrown into Tartarus (darkest pit of the underworld), Prometheus was left in peace.

However, there was a problem. He saw mankind scrabbling about on the Earth, lower than gods but barely above animals, and Prometheus wanted to help them. Zeus forbade it, perhaps fearing men might usurp the supremacy of gods in time.

The titan defied the Olympian, and stole fire from Mount Olympus, which he then gave to people. Knowledge spread rapidly, and the use of fire kickstarted technology. It was used for heat and light, melting down ore and casting metal tools. People benefited greatly and civilisation flourished.

But Zeus was not amused.

Prometheus was chained to a rock, and each day a great eagle came to peck out his liver. The titan could not die, and each day the liver grew anew, only to be feasted upon once again.

It’s a sort of immortal martyrdom that Prometheus suffered to give a great gift to us all.

And yet, there are startling similarities between this story, which portrays Prometheus as a clear benefactor of mankind, and the Devil in the Garden of Eden (Satan, of course, depicted in a rather different light).

For those unaware, in the Bible God creates man and then woman (Adam and Eve). The pair live together in an idyllic garden, Eden, where all is lovely and super. God orders them not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and they obey.

God then apparently fell asleep or wandered off, or briefly forgot he was omniscient and omnipotent, because Lucifer, masquerading as a snake, slithered into Eden. He persuaded Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and she did so, and gained awareness (not least shame about her nudity). Eve then persuaded Adam to eat.

God returned and was furious. He banished the pair from Eden forever, and handed out punishments. Eve would face pain in childbirth, and Adam would have to toil and labour in order to survive. The snake appears to have gotten off quite easy, as God punished him by sentencing the serpent to ‘slither on its belly’.

The similarities to the Prometheus story are pretty obvious, but so too is the contrast between Prometheus the friend of mankind, bringing us knowledge at great personal risk (and, ultimately, cost) and Satan, the meddler who interfered in paradise and got us thrown out. However, that does lead to the interesting conclusion that, in the Bible, ignorance actually was bliss.

You might simply sign this up to the Prometheus figure being pagan and therefore condemned (as an aside, Lucifer means light-bringer). But lots of pagan ideas (check out how much Christianity stole from Mithridates’ followers) were simply borrowed wholesale, given a lick of paint and incorporated into Christianity. So, why not the story of how mankind gained knowledge?


Friday, 9 June 2017

Space Adventures of the Proximate Kind

There are plans already under consideration for the colonisation of Mars. Bases on the Moon, mining the asteroid fields, exploring Titan (Saturn’s moon) for life, all are on the horizon.

To be honest, it’s all quite exciting, both in real life and in terms of the sci-fi that can be written about such things. Scientific advancement, commercial gain and military advantage could all play a role in the near term exploration of the solar system.

On the scientific front, Mars and Titan present the most intriguing prospects. Mars is nearer, although getting there will still take months. Establishing a base will require substantial resources, but modern technology does offer some short-cuts that even a few years ago would have been impossible. For example, 3D printers mean that you don’t need every precise structure or tool to be carried with the human crew. Printing materials could be sent on ahead with unmanned or robotic expeditions, and future blueprints for improved structures could be sent from Earth and printed on Mars.

Any trip is believed to be one way, because of the lower gravity on Mars that would create health problems for anyone returning to Earth (not to mention prolonged exposure to zero-G on the way to Mars). For a long term settlement, a stable gene pool would be needed (which would also tie in neatly with the generally international approach towards space exploration). Of course, not everyone has to go at once. Farming would require internal agriculture (cultivating Mars would require it to be terraformed). Energy supply and other fuel sources is an interesting one. Solar panels could add some juice but I’m not sure if that’d be sufficient. Due to long flight times and the potential for mishaps, sustainability would have to be the goal. If the colony were reliant on fuel sent from Earth then it could easily find itself cut short.

There are diamonds the size of cars in Jupiter. Unfortunately, fishing them out is technically problematic. However, the delicious deposits contained within the asteroid belt are altogether more accessible.

In my short story Dead Weight (in Explorations: Through the Wormhole), I had to rework the early draft because I’d wrongly believed the Mars-Jupiter asteroid belt was some sort of Star Wars maelstrom. It’s not. There are big open spaces between the various rocks and, although you’d still need to be careful, mining them is eminently possible in the near(ish) future. The bigger problem is likely to be how you divvy up fairly, between either companies or nations, the resources of the asteroid belt.

An international company could be the way to go. So far, after the 1960s space race between superpowers, space exploration has generally been along rather friendlier lines than terrestrial politics. Whether that continues remains to be seen.

Mining could probably be done largely by robots, which would dramatically reduce the cost and complexity of operations. Humans are a pain in the arse to move through space. They need oxygen, food, water, psychological well-being (an increasingly important factor for longer flights), somewhere to get rid of the waste they produce daily, and if you land them too quickly they turn into meat paste (landing a robot too hard will break it, but they won’t leave behind upset relatives).

Titan is a moon of Saturn, and the only other place in the solar system where liquid water seems to exist. This presents the best possible chance of finding life in our near neighbourhood, which is very exciting until you remember that also means it makes an impending apocalypse a lot likelier. Leaving aside the Fermi Paradox and the Great Filter, life on Titan could also present a serious pathogen problem. It is, nevertheless, a fascinating prospect.

Any visit to Titan would be much harder than visiting Mars. For a start, it’s a lot further away. That means more time in zero-G and more time floating in a tin can, which will increase physical and psychological effects. Secondly, a mission would probably be about collecting samples and the like. Now, you could do this just with robots. That’s cheaper and safer. But humans are smarter than robots and more adaptable. The gravity, however, is less than half that of Mars. So, if you’re sending a human, that’s moving from prolonged zero-G to 0.14g. Very much a one way trip for something organic and squishy (it also raises the question of what happens if you actually found something advanced, say a space-donkey, and tried bringing it back to Earth. The affect would probably be the same as if you tried moving an Earth-donkey to a planet with 7g).

However, the Moon has surface gravity of 0.16g. That’s a seventh higher (akin to a human moving to a world with 1.14g). You’d notice, but it wouldn’t be horrendous. Species (or returning humans) could go to a lunar base for experimentation. No need to try and establish a permanent base on Titan, the gravity’s practically identical, and it’s miles (and then some) closer to Earth for fuel, communication, supplies and so on.

Most of the above assumes that we continue to have relatively friendly space adventures. However, the history of the human race is one riddled with conflict. Any nation that acquired dominance of space would have huge advantages. Asteroid-mining would give a resource and commercial advantage, access to the Moon, Mars and Titan would offer scientific progress denied to lesser nations, and the military aspect of near-Earth domination would be significant.

There are a number of existing or near-term weapons projects that operate from or in space. Tungsten rods operate by firing a rod of tungsten (as you may have guessed) at the Earth. The kinetic energy of it hitting the planet is immense, but also highly localised. It’ll annihilate a house, and the next door neighbour will be fine. (Sidenote, all ICBMs have nuclear warheads because a smaller payload would have less destructive potential than the kinetic energy of the missile itself).

Masers are also in development currently and would probably work in space. The problem with space warfare is that damage would commonly include explosive decompression and total destruction of the ‘enemy’. It’s hard to think of anything other than a war of annihilation (you might think of an EMP to knock out the electrics, but do that and how long will the oxygen and warmth last?).

Hopefully we won’t see military nonsense in space, but we’ll find out in the coming decades.


Thursday, 1 June 2017

Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger – Episode 3 out now!

The Tiger and The Demon, the third episode of Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger, came out today.

It’s the fun, action-packed finale to the initial run of the serial (first episode free), featuring dramatic plot twists and memorable characters. Perfect Saturday morning adventure, set in a mythologised version of Ancient China. Enjoy!


Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Dragon Age – What I want to see next

I really like the Dragon Age series. Origins is one of my favourite RPGs, and whilst DA2 was clearly rushed, it also had a certain charm (and a rare case of retconning improving something, namely the Qunari). Inquisition had its plus points but also took a step in the wrong direction, I think. Size was emphasised over quality. Maps were enormous but the side-quests were shopping lists.

Inspired by this great article by Shinobi here’s what I’d like to see in the next Dragon Age game.

But first, a note. It’s eminently possible, probable, even, that a Dragon Age Tactics game will come out. I have no idea if this would be before or after DA4 (my guess is before). These suggestions are about a main franchise sequel to Inquisition rather than the intriguing Dragon Age meets XCOM game that’s been mooted.

Origins. I do like the increased mentions of race and class (mostly mage) in Inquisition, but the origin stories in the first game were a great addition to help make every combination of race/class feel more distinct, and I’d like to see them brought back.

Combat tactics. These were present in the first two games and inexplicably axed in Inquisition, replaced with a rather rubbish system whereby the skills were tagged as Use, Use Often, and Do Not Use. The Origins/DA2 approach of having, say, Alistair use an attack to knock down enemies but only if they were elite or higher was a straightforward and effective way of ensuring you didn’t have to micromanage companions in combat.

Weightier decisions. In Origins (I’m harking back to it a lot, but it’s a bloody good game) there were numerous stark choices to make, from a possessed child to werewolf attacks on elves who might not be entirely innocent. These choices affected who your allies would be in the final battle. Whilst there are decisions in Inquisition (who to put on the Orlesian throne, for example) they don’t actually seem to have much consequence in gameplay.

I’d also like more moral conflict within parties (this could tie in with the decisions point above). It’s an approximately medieval world, and this can (and historically did) lead to some difficult decisions. If you’re being besieged and there’s food for 10 days, or 40 if you force out all the non-combatants, then you’ve got a dilemma. Suppose you’ve accepted the surrender of a 1,000 men, but an enemy army has appeared and is blocking your access to fresh water, which is running out fast. They offer to let you past if you release the prisoners. Do you do it? Try and negotiate as your water runs out? Kill the prisoners so the men guarding them can join the army and battle the enemy? Or, on a smaller, more personal scale, suppose an arranged marriage could end a war, but one or both of the couple don’t want it. Do you force them to bring peace to many and misery to them? Or let them have freedom at the cost of ongoing conflict? Or what if you’re chasing enemies and they take refuge in a chantry? Do you burn it down or camp outside, risking being attacked by their followers? Difficult choices create meaningful decisions, and the potential for moral conflict.

I’ve already mentioned side-quests. The shopping list approach (fetch 10 dead rams to feed some refugees) is boring. It’s worse still when put alongside the excellent side-quests of The Witcher 3. Quality over quantity, writing little storylines over Fetch X, is much better as well as providing the opportunity to give more depth to role-playing and companions.

Add more weight to judgements. The judgement system in Inquisition was a good addition, capping off a questline by sentencing the defeated foe. However, the upshot was mostly you lop off the bugger’s head, throw them in jail, or they become your ally (which usually meant a small bonus side-quest from the war table). I think this should be expanded. If someone’s imprisoned, they could escape or be rescued, or even have a ransom offered for their release. If they’re killed, their followers/family might seek vengeance. If they become an ally, they could betray you, or (as a one-off) become a party member. I’m not saying have this for every judgement, just make them possibilities that have to be considered. In Inquisition, the ‘good’ option (make them an ally) got most approval and in-game bonuses. There’s no downside. Adding betrayal possibilities would help balance that.

Base improvements to be more substantial. I don’t mind if the cosmetic stuff has no gameplay impact, but other decisions (focusing resources on income or information, diplomacy or military) could be used to affect how things progress. Originally, Inquisition was going to have every conquered keep in the field be designated diplomatic, military or espionage, and something like that could work well.

I’m not a DLC fan. I didn’t get it for Inquisition, though I do know how things turned out. And when I buy a game, I expect the whole storyline in the game, not to be finished off in DLC. Extra content should be just that.

Bring back the murder knife. It was possible, and fun, for the Origins protagonist (the Warden) to be pretty damn evil. A bit more in the way of dark options would be good.

Frivolous stuff:
More armour styles. Some of the armour/clothing looked pretty nifty in Inquisition and I liked the customisation options, but there’s not much range.
Better haircuts. It’s a shame they axed the original set (also used in DA2) because there were only one or two I liked in Inquisition.
A photo mode. I loved this in The Last of Us Remastered.
Bianca and Scout Harding as companions.


Thursday, 25 May 2017

Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger – episode 2 out now!

Liu and Guan return in the second action-packed episode of Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger.

In The Demon Attacks, the outlaws go their separate ways, Liu Shanshan and Guan Shi heading to Xuzhou to stay ahead of Ximen’s lackeys. But it’s hard to relax when there’s a demon on your tail…

The third episode, The Tiger and The Demon, is up for pre-order and comes out a week from now.


Friday, 19 May 2017

Skyrim PS4 mods – thoughts and recommendations

It’s been a little while since they came out, but mods for the PS4 edition of Skyrim are an interesting addition to an already immense game. However, as is known, there are limitations compared to not only the PC but the Xbox One (which has a clear advantage), namely total file size (only 1GB) and the total absence of new assets. There’s also a 100 mod limit.

So, given all that, are mods still worth bothering with if you’re on the PS4?

In a word: yes.

As well as nice little additions, some offer substantially changed weather effects, tweaks to gameplay, or even a full-blown overhaul (more on that later). The file size isn’t a problem because the absence of new assets (including scripts) means that you’re almost certain to never reach the limit.

So, are there any downsides to mods? Well, sometimes they conflict, although this will often be obvious. I’ve had a few more crashes (not loads, maybe one every 10 hours or so) when playing as The Red Panther. And the greyface bug is irksome (new NPCs can have freaky faces). But they add a lot to the game, so if you’ve sunk a lot of time into Skyrim and want something a little different, mods can really add to the experience.

Below is a list of mods I’ve particularly enjoyed. Do remember (I keep forgetting...) to like/rate mods that improve your game. These are all free, remember.

Darkness Falls, by Grumpy-Gazz

Since Dragon’s Dogma introduced totally black nights (save for your lantern’s limited light) I’ve really liked this approach. Nights are miles darker, practically impossible to see unless you’ve got a torch, magical light or are Khajiit. The only downside is this is incompatible with Dolomite Weathers (see below). It dovetails very nicely with the two mods bracketed together below.

Lanterns/Lampposts of Skyrim, by MannyGT and Micahghost (respectively)

The first of these mods adds little lanterns to settlements. In the newly darkened world, these really help make the villages and cities a spot of illuminated civilisation in the middle of the wilderness. The lampposts work much the same, providing lighting for the roads. Neither overdoes it, instead managing to get the balance of light just right. They work perfectly with Darkness Falls, and also fit the darker (although not as dark) nights of Dolomite Weathers.

Simple Survival, by Worlds

Now, I’ve only played with this a little bit because it’s not compatible with the Great Realism Overhaul, and when I made two new characters to see which I preferred I went for the latter. That said, this simple survival mod seemed to work very nicely. It adds a requirement to eat, drink and sleep regularly. Fail to do so and you take penalties, including your health, magic or stamina (or multiple) not regenerating. The mod’s author increased the frequency of finding salt to enable more cooking. I liked this a lot, and the only reason I didn’t stick with it is because I liked the other mod even more.

The Great Realism Overhaul, by Simtar123

This mod changes a colossal amount. The perks, especially those for warriors, have been reworked massively, and mostly for the better. One-handed, for example, has various multi-tiered perks to improve your skills with daggers, swords, axes or maces. Backstabbing perks are now located in one-handed, for daggers, and archery, for bows. Crafting replaces smithing and includes perks to improve cooking (curtailed options initially), create pottery as well as the armour/weapons you’d expect (tip: to improve rapidly, focus on arrows).

Combat is utterly reworked. On the recommended Legendary setting, damage both dealt and received is x2 normal, and you can’t shift mid-swing. So, enemies can be side-stepped and whacked, wolves are suddenly a bit dangerous (early on), and fighting multiple enemies is much harder. Correspondingly, a good follower is worth a lot, and summon spells are much more powerful. Stealth is also more valuable because of the enhanced damage, balanced out by enemies searching for you for much longer.

Carry weight has been utterly nerfed (100 initially) and fast travel is verboten, so this will put off some players, and I completely understand that. It’s particularly irksome when you kill a dragon (which is much harder than it was) only to find its valuable bones and scales weigh so much you can barely carry any of it. Travel by carriage is a lot more useful, but you can’t use it when you’re over-encumbered. Perks to make your armour (when worn) weigh less are also really helpful.

One discrepancy I found (I briefly played with a Breton mage to see how magic worked) is that my Khajiit, The Red Panther, had more or less the starting skill numbers I’d expect whereas my Breton, Laura de Mirgnac, had 1 for everything. Incidentally, the Breton starting spell (conjure familiar) is actually of some use.

It also has two supplementary mods for enemies and looting I recommend getting.

The Great Realism Overhaul really does change an awful lot. For me, it’s reinvigorated a game I’ve already (on the PS3) sunk hundreds of hours into.

All Armour Lootable and Wearable, by Bear

A great little mod that does what it says on the tin. If you get attacked by a Dark Brotherhood minion, why shouldn’t you be able to steal his snazzy masked cowl? Also good for getting a load of cash from selling looted stuff. Not compatible with the Great Realism Overhaul (but you wouldn’t be able to carry all the extra armour in any case).

Dolomite Weathers, by Megaloblast

An all-in-one weather mod (there are a few varieties, I just went for the original) which improves things a lot. In particular the higher intensity and sound effects of rain gave me goosebumps, it’s very good. Fog is denser, and the sky (clouds, aurora) just seems a lot better. I think that the distance you can see has been dramatically increased, although before this I was using the weather mods below so I can’t swear to it. Nights are darker, although not as black as Darkness Falls. The only downside is that the aforementioned mod is incompatible with Dolomite Weathers, but, generally, this is really good.

Supreme Storms, by MannyGT

A weather mod that turns rain showers into torrential downpours. It’s even more intense than the Dolomite version, and works very well (obviously incompatible with Dolomite, though).

Supreme and Volumetric Fog, by MannyGT

Similarly, dense fog for those who don’t want to go down the Dolomite route. Before I had the all-in-one mod, I used this, Supreme Storms and Darkness Falls, which all meshed nicely together.

Master the Summit, by SpaceGoats

We’ve all been there. Heading for Ivarstead. Discovering you’ve got to go all round the houses. Master the Summit adds bridges, steps and so forth to various places in Skyrim, making it easier to get around on foot. Especially useful for those going without fast travel, and fits in perfectly with the game.

Rich Merchants, by Jason069

Pretty simple. Stops merchants running out of money when you want to flog them stuff. Straightforward and very useful.

Smooth Human Female Faces, by FiNwolf

At the risk of sounding shallow, wrinkly foreheads don’t do it for me. This simple mod gives them (particularly Bretons) smooth foreheads so you can have a character who isn’t looking inexplicably old.

Phenderix Magic World DLC, by Phenderix

I’ve not played extensively as a mage, but had to include this mod. It includes several new locations (not visited them) and hundreds of new spells, some of which I’ve messed around with. There’s a vastly increased range of summons, and the destruction magic is improved with new spells too. New bosses, followers, loading screens and the mod bundles together a number of previously released, smaller mods. If you’re playing as a mage or part-time magic user, this is well worth a look.

Immersive Patrols, by Ameermohamedtt

Adds patrols from the various factions (Imperials, Stormcloaks, Thalmor etc) throughout the roads. These can, and will, encounter one another. They can also be very handy if a dragon shows up. I happened upon a fort that’s usually bandit-held (in the vanilla game) and instead found a massive Imperial-Stormcloak battle, which was pretty cool. It’s a nice touch that makes the world feel more alive.

Immersive and Levelled Items, by Gehirnmutant

There’s a problem with finding cool items early, which is that you get lumbered with a basic level of enchantment. However, this nifty mod means you can then level it up to improved versions, if you have the right material. So, if you get Chillrend early on, you’re not stuck with the n00blet level effect forever. Pretty simple, and a nice addition.

Late addition:
Fix: Restore Vanilla Settings, by DylanJames

After writing the above, I wanted to check to make sure I wasn’t over-egging the cake with certain things (particularly to see whether I was misremembering how far you can see the landscape without mods). So I started a new save, without mods. However, my character had far lower skills (1 for most) than she should’ve. Lakraz Ogre-Killer was not amused. I tried making another new save, but Gryzelda also had the same problem. Mostly, this didn’t change a lot, but I couldn’t actually sharpen the iron dagger in Riverwood because I lacked the skill (my smithing was only about 6 or 7).

Happily, the above mod fixed things, although I did have to make a new character.

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but there’s a fair range of good mods that players both hardcore and casual might enjoy.


Monday, 15 May 2017

Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger – episode 1 out now (free)!

Fast, fun and free, the first episode of new fantasy serial Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger is out now.

It’s very much Robin Hood meets Ancient China, as the story follows the adventures of the feisty and irascible Wandering Phoenix, and wise and experienced Roaming Tiger, as well as featuring their loyal friends and implacable foes. Lots of action and dramatic plot twists abound, with a minimum of flim-flam, so it’s perfect for some fantastical escapism.

The first episode is less than half the size of the next two, a nice bite-sized snack to see if you like the style and characters. Episodes 2 and 3 should be up shortly (plan on submitting episode 2 later today for pre-order). So, give it a look and if you like it the next two episodes will be available soon, and, if not, you’ve lost nothing.


Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger cover reveal

Here it is, the cover for the first run of my new serial, Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger:

Many thanks to Jamie Glover for the cover art, which really captures the Far Eastern feel of the story. 

Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger is akin to Robin Hood meets Ancient China, featuring the two title characters and their friends as they fight injustice and face treachery, oppressive noblemen and fearsome warriors along the way.

I’m hoping to get the first episode released within a week, and will put up a new blog when that’s the case. Once Episode One is price-matched (for zero) on Amazon, I’ll put up Episodes Two and Three for pre-order.

Being free, the first episode is quite dinky and will be an easy way to find out if the serial’s for you. It’s fast, action-packed, high on drama and adventure. If you’ve read Outlaws of the Marsh or Three Kingdoms, it may well appeal to you especially.

So, keep your eyes peeled. Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger will be on the loose soon!


Friday, 5 May 2017

Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger – Coming Soon

This month, all being well, the initial run of Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger will come out. It’s a fast-paced, action-packed serial following the adventures of the title characters and their friends. Think Robin Hood meets Ancient China.

The first part will be a free taster, with parts two and three to follow shortly thereafter.

I don’t want to give too much away (the first part is free, after all) but the style is quite similar to Sir Edric. A bit less comedy, and a bit more heroism, but high on action and low on flimflam.

Can’t give a precise date (not least because having a price tag of zero on Amazon takes a little faffing) but everything’s on course for release soon. So keep your eyes peeled.


Friday, 28 April 2017

Holy Days and Lots of Fish

Holidays can mean both time off work and time spent away from home, lazing around, visiting ancient ruins, paragliding, or indulging in whatever else might be your preferred form of relaxation. The term originated from holy days, of which, in medieval England, a great many were celebrated.

I use the term ‘celebrated’ loosely. Some of these are still well-known or even participated in today (Lent, Easter, Christmas). But way back when, there were scores of them. And they came less with delightful presents and chocolate eggs, and more on restrictions of what you could eat.

Meat was banned. And if that sounds bad, that was true on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays all year round. Now, if you’re Peasanty McPoorperson, this made as much difference to you as banning the use of golden footstools. The staple foods of humble people were bread and cheese, and weak ale.

On the other hand, if you were rich or moderately well-off (a yeoman farmer, say), then not being allowed to eat meat for perhaps as much as over half a year was a pain in the posterior. As we know, the wealthy and powerful are not necessarily renowned for sticking to inconvenient rules, so they conjured up some work-arounds.

Fish wasn’t banned. They swim in the sea or rivers or lakes, and don’t count as meat (veganism wasn’t big in medieval England). So, fish was a popular (although sometimes hugely expensive) alternative. Obviously it was cheapest and most readily available for those near the coast, rivers and lakes, but nobles might send one another fish as gifts (a large pike, for example). These piscine presents were kept fresh by catching them alive and transporting them in water.

The definition of the term ‘fish’ was also creatively applied. A puffin was considered fish, for example, on the basis they dive into the sea to eat. The same went for beavers and geese. It was a bit like early definitions of vegetarianism, (in the early 20th century, ‘vegetarians’ [such as Hitler] might eat kidney. Because that didn’t count, apparently).

Then there were the holiest of chaps: monks. They were banned from eating meat entirely. It said so, according to their holy rules. Thou shalt not eat meat in the refectory.

Sometimes monks can be slippery weasels. Some of them, particularly those from noble backgrounds, looked at the rule and realised that it actually only applied to the refectory. So, they created a second dining room called the misericord. As long as at least half the monks ate in the refectory, shunning meat, the rest could eat in the misericord, and eat meat.

There you have it. Thou shalt not eat meat on holy days or Wednesday, Friday or Saturday. Unless it’s a beaver, and then it’s ok. And no meat at all if you’re a monk. Unless you’re eating in the swanky dining room, obviously.


Friday, 21 April 2017

The Power Paradox

The last blog was loosely inspired by the shock decision by Theresa May to hold a General Election, since voted for by Parliament, and this one has a similar theme.

There have been some calls from people like Nicola Sturgeon for, in her words, a progressive alliance between Labour, the SNP, Lib Dems and so on, in order to oppose a Conservative Party which appears to be electorally formidable.

Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time a seemingly predominant power caused an alliance of rivals to oppose it.

After Alexander the Great died, there was a period of phony peace for about three years. Perdiccas was regent, but ended up getting killed by his own men after a failed invasion of Egypt, to punish Ptolemy for stealing Alexander’s corpse.

Theoretically, the remaining Diadochi (Successors) were still loyal to the two kings: Philip Arrhidaeus (Alexander’s mentally disabled half-brother) and Alexander IV (Alexander’s young son). In practice, they were all jockeying for position.

Ptolemy retained Egypt, wealthy and defensible land that it was. Antigonus Monopthalmus acquired substantial power, from modern day Syria to (roughly) the western border of Iran. Lysimachus got Thrace (Romania), strategically vital but also not the easiest land to tame. Antipater, the ageing viceroy who had held the reins in Macedon whilst Alexander conquered the world, retained his place there and became regent.

It wouldn’t last.

Antipater died a few years later and his chosen successor Polyperchon was not recognised by the other Diadochi. Cassander, Antipater’s overlooked son, toppled Polyperchon and taking Macedon, which ended up having terminal consequences for Alexander IV (Philip Arrhidaeus had already been murdered by Alexander’s mother Olympias).

Antigonus had steadily expanded his power, taking even more territory and becoming dominant on the seas, surpassing Ptolemy’s Egypt which had previously held sway. Then came a critical turn. Antigonus’ young son Demetrius (later nicknamed Poliorcetes – the Besieger) fought Ptolemy at the Battle of Gaza. Demetrius lost. It wasn’t catastrophic in itself, but for the ultimate consequence.

Ptolemy had been sheltering Seleucus, another of Alexander’s former generals. After the death of Perdiccas, he had been made satrap (regional king) of Babylonia, but Antigonus had wrested the large and wealthy satrapy from him. Following victory at Gaza, Ptolemy gave money and some troops to Seleucus, who returned to Babylonia, surprisingly managed to defeat Antigonus’ forces, and was welcomed by the local population. From there, he expanded east, and entered into marriage with the daughter of the Indian ruler Chandragupta, which included a wedding present to Seleucus of several hundred elephants.

All the kings, as they now openly titled themselves, held great power. Cassander in Macedon had the critical resource of top notch Macedonian infantry. Ptolemy’s Egypt was brimming with wealth and very hard to invade. Lysimachus held the gateway between Europe and Asia. Seleucus ruled vast lands and had more elephants than the rest combined.

But it was Antigonus Monopthalmus and Demetrius Poliorcetes, co-ruling now that Antigonus was in his eighties, who were still predominant. If anyone could reunite the whole Macedonian empire, it was them.

And the others knew it.

At certain times in history, it’s remarkable just how idiotic leaders can be, or how one-sided a war can seem. This was not one of those times. All Alexander’s generals were ruthless, bold, cunning and extremely capable. And the other kings realised their salvation only lay in alliance.

Cassander, Lysimachus and Seleucus agreed to face Antigonus together, at the Battle of Ipsus. Ptolemy himself did not take part, perhaps preferring to keep his forces fresh to take advantage of the situation afterwards.

Demetrius was campaigning in Greece and was rapidly called back by his elderly father. Had Antigonus been younger, he probably would’ve destroyed Lysimachus’ forces, the first to arrive, but they managed to slip away from under his nose. Later, foot soldiers from Cassander and Seleucus’ men (as well as 400 elephants) completed the alliance army.

Even so, it was only an even match for Antigonus and Demetrius’ forces. The two armies lined up, and battle commenced. Demetrius led a strong cavalry attack and drove back the opposing horsemen (he was accompanied in this by Pyrrhus, a cousin of Alexander). But it was a trap. The retreating horsemen led Demetrius far from the battle, and when he tried to return, he founded Seleucus’ elephants arrayed against him. Cavalry, quite understandable, won’t charge elephants. Demetrius tried to find a way through as his father, on the other side of the battlefield, kept faith that his son would return to rescue the situation.

He couldn’t. Antigonus Monopthalmus died under a hail of javelins, and his son was forced to flee the field. Territory was carved up between Lysimachus and Seleucus, with Cassander regaining the parts of Greece that had succumbed to Demetrius previously.

Demetrius himself was eventually captured by Seleucus, and treated well, but ended up drinking himself to death. Unusually for this period, he had a very good relationship with his father, and it’s not hard to imagine how terrible he felt after the Battle of Ipsus. His descendants would go on to rule Macedon for generations to come, but the dream of reuniting Alexander’s empire had gone.

Antigonus, in his pomp, had almost all the advantages imaginable. Yet it wasn’t sufficient for victory. He didn’t make severe mistakes, and came very close to ultimate victory. But it was his very strength that led to his defeat because it forced his rivals, individually weaker by far, to unite against him.

To return to British politics, in 1997 Tony Blair won a historic landslide for Labour, and got a second in 2001. In 2007, Prime Minister Gordon Brown was contemplating a snap election and there was genuine speculation that the Conservative Party could not withstand another defeat. He did not call one. Now, the Conservatives are (if polling is accurate, and we know, from the 2015 election, the British public aren’t above fibbing for six months...) on the brink of increasing their majority and Labour look down and out.

Whether that makes you gleeful or despondent, it won’t last. Things can change quickly in politics, and they have.

If you liked the sound of the Diadochi era, I can recommend two books on the subject (links to reviews):


Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Grasping Power

Today, Theresa May (UK Prime Minister) announced a snap election. This came after saying for some time she wouldn’t do this, and just two years after the last UK General Election (UK terms are usually four to five years).

Obviously, it’s a big gamble, and on 8 June we’ll see how it pans out. Of course, it’s not the first such gamble in history.

The classic would be Julius Caesar, standing with his army on one side of the Rubicon. He’d been ordered back to Rome, without his army. Caesar had understandable reservations. The unofficial triumvirate that had dominated Roman politics had fractured. He was one member, and another, Crassus, had been killed whilst on campaign in Parthia. Pompey, the third member, had been married to Caesar’s daughter, but she had died.

Caesar and Pompey found themselves on opposing sides of Roman politics. The two men, previously allies, were now to fight for control of Rome (still technically a republic). Caesar had a choice to make. Obey the summons of his city and probably be prosecuted, or march an army into Italy.

He crossed the Rubicon, crossing the river with a loyal army at his back. It was a decision from which there could be no turning back (the phrase is still sometimes used today, and could well apply to the Prime Minister’s decision). Ultimately, it paid off. Caesar won the war and briefly ruled what was in effect an empire, until his assassination a year or so after the civil war ended. His adopted son, taking the name Augustus, won his own civil war and became the first emperor, reigning for decades.

It was not the last civil war the Roman Empire would see. Julian, appointed as Caesar (junior emperor) by his cousin Constantius II (largely on the basis he was the only surviving male relative the emperor had) to govern Gaul and protect it from the rampaging Germanic tribes, set about his task with surprising confidence for a man plucked from obscure academia. Julian was so competent, in fact, that his soldiers proclaimed him emperor, which put him in a tight spot. He could either accept, and embark upon civil war against the man who had appointed him in the first place, or decline, and risk getting murdered by his own men.

Julian decided to accept.

The two sides geared up for war, and Julian scored perhaps the most perfect victory in a civil war in the history of mankind. Before the armies met, Constantius fell terminally ill. On his deathbed, he named his cousin as his successor. Not a drop of blood was shed, and Julian the Apostate became emperor.

Of course, snap decisions to achieve sovereign power don’t always work out well, and rarely as well as Julian’s bloodless triumph.

Sir Roger Mortimer had been a relatively close friend of Edward II. However, the latter’s capacity for alienating others, not least at the behest of Hugh Despenser, gradually led to Roger becoming disaffected and then rebelling outright. The Mortimer, as then known, was imprisoned and destined for death.

However, he managed to escape to France, where he formed a political (and personal) alliance with Edward II’s wife Isabella. The pair returned to England, successfully overthrowing Isabella’s husband. Edward II was imprisoned, and Roger Mortimer became ruler of England.

This left Edward, Isabella’s son by her husband, in a very precarious position. He was effectively under house arrest and too young to exercise, or even try to assert, his authority. The youth became a young king, Edward III, when his father was (probably) killed whilst in custody. His uncle was also executed.

Things looked rather bleak. Edward III was nearing adulthood, and Mortimer, who was gathering vast power and endless titles unto himself, seemed unlikely to suffer a rival. However, hope was not lost. A small group of friends, young and intrepid fellows, sought to free Edward. A secret passage was unlocked, and the rescuers made their way into Nottingham Castle, where Edward, Mortimer, and Isabella were all living. Edward III was freed, Mortimer captured, and a rather sombre conversation had between mother and son.

Sir Roger Mortimer appeared to have won. The old king was dead, Queen Isabella was his mistress, and the young king his prisoner, to be dispensed with once the time was right. Yet despite all these advantages, his rapacious greed had made the nobility fearful, and the loyalty of his friends saved Edward III.

Those seeking power should beware that in the getting of it they don’t plant the seeds of their own destruction.


Friday, 14 April 2017

Review: The Jewish War, by Josephus

This had been on my to-read list for years, and I finally finished it this month. The Jewish War covers the build-up and events of the war that occurred when Judea was a Roman province and rebelled in the middle of the 1st century AD.

Josephus is a Jewish historian who also played a part in the war. You may think this made him a little biased, but actually he’s very biased. Fortunately, it’s usually quite obvious (his own role is secondary most of the time, and his dislike of John, son of Levi, eminently deserved).

The background that leads up to the war itself is extensive, and includes a fascinating depiction of Herod (he comes across rather better than he does in the New Testament) in his earlier years. Fighting alongside his brothers as a loyal, bold, brave and intelligent man, it’s intriguing to see his conduct in war (generally noble and wise), his relationships with Roman leaders (diplomatically malleable) and his kingship (quite good, if you leave aside heavy taxation and child killing…).

By the time we reach the preamble to the war itself, the scene is very much set. An unsuitably small garrison coupled with a greedy and malevolent Roman governor (not to mention persistent tension between Roman and Jewish Law) led to the rebellion of the Jews coming about. At first, there was some success for the Jews, but a combination of the competence of Vespasian and Titus (both of whom have their characters portrayed well, although Josephus was on good terms with them) and incessant, brutal Jewish infighting delivered Rome victory.

The description of the factionalism and cruelty is very well-done, and the latter days of Jerusalem (before its destruction) are very sad reading indeed.

In addition to the events in Judea, there are occasional diversions elsewhere, most notably when Vespasian contested mastery of the Empire in 69 AD (this happened in Italy). Comments on external events (Herod’s friendship with Mark Anthony, Cleopatra’s attempts to persuade Mark Anthony to give her Judea as a gift) tend to be made only when they had a clear impact on Judea.

Although Josephus is sometimes blatantly biased (not least about his own brilliance) he puts across the suffering and tragedy of the Jews, most of whom would have sued for peace had the Zealots not been oppressing the masses, very well indeed. The writing style is easy to read. Slight digressions (on terrain or the differing nature of Jewish sects) are usually interesting, but drag every now and then.

I would criticise, as always, the use of endnotes over footnotes. And there are many endnotes.

At the back of the book are the usual maps and six appendices, including (and I appreciate most people won’t be as interested in this as me) a Macedonian calendar, which was still used in that particular time/place (a hangover from Alexander’s empire).

Overall, a good book, an interesting history, and a vivid portrayal of the bitterness of factional infighting and the sorrow it caused.


Friday, 7 April 2017

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Across history and cultures, what’s deemed attractive has varied. There are a few constants. Being rich never scares off potential bed-warmers. To quote Blackadder, being a ‘thrice-endowed supreme donkey of the trouser part’ is also not harmful (that said, excessive endowment can be a problem, and one unlikely to yield much sympathy).

But most things do change. In the modern world a ‘healthy tan’ is appreciated by many people. A few centuries back, a tan meant you were a peasant working the fields, rather than a porcelain-skinned lady who lived in a lovely house and spent her day contemplating God and doing needlework.

Change can also occur very rapidly. Fashion varied wildly from the start to the end of the Tudor period. More recently, a few decades ago it was the norm for catwalk models to be unhealthily skinny. They’re hardly fat now, but the change is stark (a reaction to the rise of anorexia, as well as common sense).

Although this is changing, in parts of Africa women being of larger size is/was deemed attractive. The reason is pretty basic. Large size means plenty of food, means prosperity and security. Only a few generations ago “You’ve gained weight” was a compliment in the UK. When the world you live in has famines, diseases, poor medicine and occasional massive wars, a surplus of food is not seen as a bad thing.

But today, in the UK, where famine doesn’t really exist, diseases can be treated, medicine is much improved and wars tend to be small and overseas rather than existential and at home/just over the English Channel, the prism shifts. Excessive weight is seen not as a sign of success, prosperity and security, but as the symptom of sloth and greed, of lack of exercise and risking health problems.

And the reverse is also true. “Impiety has made a feast of thee” Shakespeare wrote in Measure for Measure (I think). This refers to one character greeting another who has lost weight. Huzzah, you might think. But in Elizabethan English, Shakespeare’s one-liner means the first character is asserting the second is skinnier because he’s been shagging so many prostitutes he contracted syphilis, which has caused his weight to drop.

Another old saying is that someone (this has been aimed at me) is just ‘skin and bone’. Don’t hear it much nowadays, but it does hark back to a time when bigger was better and skinniness was to be avoided.

Pox scars could help you get a job. I forget the precise time/place (I think it was the UK a century or two ago, during a pox outbreak). The scars only came after you’d survived, and once you made it through without dying, you became immune to the pox. So, the scars, whilst ugly, meant you wouldn’t die and inconvenience your company with paperwork and finding a replacement.

On a similar note, another type of disease (smooth-skin leprosy, if memory serves) often suffered by milk maidens made the skin, er, very smooth. No scars of disfigurement and probably helped milk maids achieve their fond folk memory of frolicking delights.

There’s also an element of, if not choice, elitism in attractiveness. To be well-rounded centuries ago required wealth. To be in great shape now requires the time, money or willpower to spend down the gym or running on the streets. The ‘healthy tan’ requires time to sunbathe and money to go abroad. Obviously, people are naturally blessed with glorious fingernails or stunning cheekbones, or cursed with bad breath or having one eye larger than the other, but the degree to which we’re attractive is, to a large extent, in our hands.

If we have the means to take advantage of it, of course.


Friday, 24 March 2017

Benevolent Dictators

Dictators have a bad name, but it was not always so. The word originally referred to a specific political office of the Roman Republic, which involved absolute power being invested in an individual (assisted by a deputy, called the Master of Horse/Magister Equitum) for a time-limited period.

This was done at moments of national crisis, and the holder of the office handed back the power and resigned when his task was done. (The major exception would be Julius Caesar who was appointed, perhaps not without his approving consent, dictator for life. However, Brutus et al. did manage to exploit the slight flaw in the plan by curtailing the lifespan of Caesar. It’s hard to be dictator when you’ve embarked upon an exciting new career as a human pincushion).

So, here are a few of the splendid dictators, whose excellence benefited Rome to a huge degree.

Marcus Furius Camillus

You have to be a pretty cool cat to get the nickname Second Founder of Rome, and so Marcus Furius Camillus was. He was made dictator a grand number of five times. His first stint was in a closely contested war with Veii, which was going quite badly. Camillus turned the situation around and utterly annihilated the adult male population of the city.

But, after another war (successful but with little plunder), Camillus was exiled from Rome by his political opponents.

Unfortunately for Rome, the Gauls then invaded, and crushed the Roman army before capturing Rome itself. It turns out exiling your greatest general just before your worst enemy invades isn’t terribly clever. Camillus organised his local militia and attacked the Gauls, who were drunkenly celebrating in their camp. As might be expected, he won a great victory, and was appointed dictator to give him full authority to ensure the Gauls were properly defeated. He then fought the Gauls besieging Rome, and rescued the city, earning himself the moniker Second Founder.

Titus Manlius Torquatus

Titus Manlius Torquatus was a very interesting chap. His father was an utter imbecile, and, because the young Titus had a speech impediment and was looked down on, sent him away to live almost as a servant. The same father then managed to piss off most of Rome when he held authority and was halfway through a trial when Titus returned to Rome, visited the prosecuting official, put a blade to his throat and made him swear to drop the case.

Whilst this is a questionable act of justice, it did earn Titus some credit for his filial loyalty, especially to a man who didn’t deserve it. Later, as a soldier, Titus fought a massive Gaul in single combat, slew him and claimed the torque from the corpse, earning him his new name.

Titus was a formidable general, as well as a soldier, commanding armies sometimes as a consul, and sometimes as a dictator. He was also extremely strict, and when it was agreed no man should leave his post on penalty of death, Titus was forced to execute his own son, whose youthful exuberance had outweighed his discipline.

Quintus Fabius Maximus

Rome had a problem in the Second Punic War. Its only battle tactic was to line up a lot of men, charge the enemy, and stab until the battle was won. Unfortunately, Hannibal Barca had repeatedly kicked their arse, most notably at Lake Trasimene. Tens of thousands of Romans were dead, hundreds of senior military and political officials were no more, and there were fears for Rome itself.

A dictator was called for. Quintus Fabius Maximus was the man selected, although his magister equitum, Marcus Minucius Rufus, was chosen for him, rather than by him. Maximus decided to adopt tactics that seemed strange, even cowardly, to Roman eyes. He didn’t try to fight Hannibal. Instead, he delayed, giving Rome time to build up his strength, harrying foragers sent by Hannibal (who was, after all, marauding in enemy territory). Moreover, his adversary was no fool. Although Hannibal was unable to ambush Maximus (and lost prisoners to the dictator), he left Maximus’ own estates untouched, creating feelings of resentment and even suspicion towards the dictator.

When prisoners were swapped (with the Carthaginians returning more Romans than vice versa), Maximus sold his estates to fund the extra compensation necessary to make up for the disparity in numbers.

Hannibal sought fresh foraging ground to the south, but Maximus realised this and recognised he could trap the Carthaginian in the mountains, fighting him where the excellent Numidian cavalry would be worth far less than on the plains of Italy. Hannibal escaped the noose by ‘attacking’ at night, using cattle with torches tied to their horns which sentinels mistook for an army, enabling the Carthaginians to slip away.

Maximus, who had acquired the not necessarily complimentary nickname Cunctator (Delayer), was annoying the Romans by his tactics. New consuls, Varro and Paullus were elected.

These two men brought (on a day of Varro’s command) matters to a head with a decisive attack on Hannibal, using a force four times the size of a regular consular army. The lessons of Maximus were thrown away, and perhaps the highest casualties recorded in Europe until the advent of machine-gun warfare in World War One was the result. The Battle of Cannae was a perfect military victory for Hannibal, and tens of thousands more Romans (including Paullus) were dead.

Later Roman generals took on the concepts of logistics and strategy emphasised by Maximus, notably Nero, Marcellus and, of course, Scipio Africanus.

If you want to read more on these fellows, and more besides, I can strongly recommend Livy’s Early History of Rome, Rome and Italy, and The Hannibalic War, as well as Polybius’ work on the Second Punic War.


Friday, 17 March 2017

Review: The Darkness That Comes Before, by R. Scott Bakker

I first tried reading this book perhaps a decade ago, and didn’t like it. To my surprise, I still had a copy, and following the insistence of a chap who was most enthusiastic, I decided to give it a second look.

And was disconcertingly surprised to find my opinion had changed drastically.

The Darkness That Comes Before is set in a fictional world that has suffered an apocalypse or two. The technology is medievalish, alongside which is magic, used by a variety of competing schools that are independent or semi-independent of the kingdoms and empire clustered around the Three Seas. One school of magic, the Mandate, sees itself tasked with preventing the next apocalypse, but the enemy (the Consult) hasn’t been seen for centuries, leading to them being the object of much ridicule.

There are two premises to the story: a Holy War organised against heathens, and the personal quest of Kellhus, sent south to find and kill his father (who was sent on a southerly mission of exploration and appears to have lost his way). In addition to Kellhus, the protagonists include a Mandate schoolman, his lover (unfortunately employed as a prostitute), the Emperor of Nansur and a few others.

The world has depth, and feels interesting and original. I like the way the history and contemporary set-up of the world has been put together, although, especially early on, it does feel like there’s too much skirt and not enough leg.

The book’s tone is quite dark. There isn’t an overdose of sex or violence or general grimness, although all have their places, and I think the author’s been wise not to make such things too commonplace as the moments of violence have more impact happening occasionally, rather than constantly.

However, there are still things I disliked. The pace is slow. Too slow. I don’t mind gradual unfolding of events, but there are areas where sections could be axed wholesale or little pieces cut from every sentence to simply speed things up a bit. Description likewise is excessive. It reminds me a bit [though it’s a long time since I read it] of Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn in that regard.

Overall, I enjoyed The Darkness That Comes Before, despite some drawbacks.


Friday, 10 March 2017

Review: Some Desperate Glory, by Edwin Campion Vaughan

As a rule, modern history isn’t my thing, but I was given this book, a British soldier’s diary from 1917, as a gift.

The author is a junior officer entering the war (and the trenches) for the first time. As well as being an enthusiastic, likeable fellow, Edwin Campion Vaughan is also a very engaging writer.

From January to August, almost every day has an individual entry. There’s a natural descent from the excitement at the prospect of doing one’s bit into the horrendous reality of one of history’s worst wars.

The sudden eclipse of anticipation by panic and fear is matched only by the touching humanity of Vaughan and the nightmarish latter entries. There’s a peculiarly persistent decency throughout regarding his view of the Germans. When he marches past a dead German being chewed upon by a cat, he has it shooed away, and when returning the same way and finding the mog returned has it shot.

The sheer arbitrary nature of death in World War One is brought home right from the off (Vaughan narrowly escapes death at a sniper’s hand when he slips and falls over, a bullet flying where his head should’ve been). Shells exploded where they may, machine-guns and snipers ever on alert. It’s a stark contrast (and, counter-intuitively), far worse than the ancient warfare I usually read about, where the enemy is often several thousand strong, in an army and fought at close quarters. In the First World War, death could come at any moment without a real chance to protect oneself.

Amidst the terrible conditions and danger, there are lighter moments, and it’s heartening to see that Vaughan and his comrades managed to keep their spirits up despite the horrors of their day-to-day lives. The part of France in which he found himself has been wrecked by years of warfare, riddled with shattered villages and the land scarred by shell holes (handy for shelter, in a pinch).

I found it very engaging, poignant and incredibly sad. If you’re seeking an unvarnished description of life in the trenches, with all the woe, levity and human spirit it entailed, this is the book for you.


Friday, 3 March 2017

Why Horses are Better than Cars, a guest post by Sir Edric

[As dictated by Sir Edric to his manservant, Dog]

It has come to my attention that many people in the United Kingdom, United States, and other minor nations, do not own horses. Even people wealthy enough to buy one.

Instead, the degenerate lunatics prefer carriages, of no horse drawn. These carriages, shortened by the vulgar to ‘car’, are a manner of metallic box, with a rubbery wheel at each corner. The wheels are driven by a belching demon of fire and brimstone that squats in the car and is fed oil in exchange for its diabolical service (although that doesn’t stop its constant grumbling, nor its toxic flatulence).

Whilst it is true a car is faster than a horse, that is a demented reason for preferring them. A man gets drunk faster by drinking pure alcohol rather than whisky (incidentally, do visit Scotland. The locals are strangely fond of skirts, but brew excellent beverages), yet you don’t see anyone but the suicidal trying it.

The horse has innumerable advantages over the charmless practicality of the car.

A man can reasonably own several dozen horses and select the best for a given task. A long journey necessitates a courser like Temper. Carrying luggage can be delegated to a nag like Churl. And charging into battle requires the services of a violent maniac like Moloch (assuming you can actually put a saddle on him without getting maimed).

Can you imagine charging a line of enraged Ursk in a 2CV? A preposterous notion.

Furthermore, horses are noble animals. Instead of poisoning the earth with their outpourings, they produce fertiliser which, Dog informs me, if used by the servants on one’s garden grows the most splendid roses. Try bottling the foul emanations of your nasty 4x4 and see how many flowers you can grow with it.

Horses, of course, are intelligent and trusty animals. The engine-demon is a fickle creature and responds as readily to a thief as a rightful owner. Try stealing Moloch and you’ll find yourself being scraped off the stable walls in the morning, assuming he hasn’t eaten you during the night. Not only that, but horses can be trained to respond to commands, which is damned useful when escaping from a bedroom window at short notice.

Have you ever heard of car therapy, where people with troubled souls feel better by stroking a car? Of course not. You’d have to be an imbecile to believe such a thing. Horse therapy, on the other hand, does exist, and can have a profoundly positive effect on unfortunate fellows who find themselves in need of reassurance.

Women find few things as irresistible as a man who can ride bareback at a moment’s notice. A stallion between one’s legs, obedient to the merest twitch of one’s thighs, makes the fairer sex friskier than a rabbit on Valentine’s Day.

Last, but by no means least, horses are an alternative to guide dogs. Whilst they are less likely to be accepted in restaurants, they do have superior longevity to hounds. Not to mention, you can’t ride a guide dog.

So, there we have it. Horses are heroic and magnificent animals, a boon companion for mankind. Cars are tedious boxes of demonic woe.

Sir Edric Greenlock, the Hero of Hornska