Hitman (1) The Hitman Universe by IO Interactive

Now as you are quite aware, this post isn’t about a book in particular but about a video game series. I thought it would be easier to have this post to set the scene for two books based on the universe in particular that will follow this post. Namely Hitman: Enemy Within by William C. Dietz and Agent 47: Birth of the Hitman a graphic novel by Sebala, Lau and Medel. I thought I would do this post first given the nature of video games and the revisions that have been given to the Hitman story and I like Hitman as a franchise (It’s my blog, I do what I want). As you might have guessed I’m not the best at writing about games I think it would be easier to do it as a video but here goes.

Hitman if you don’t know is a video game series by Danish developers IO Interactive. It follows a hitman with the name Agent 47, his story and the many contracts he has to do in his profession as a member of the International Contracts Agency. He is famous for his suits, his bold head, a barcode tattoo on the back of his head and figuring out different ways of killing his targets. What’s also good about 47 is that he’s cool calm and collected, nowhere near as corny as James Bond or as irritating as an action hero in a bad Hollywood film.

I wanted to look at Hitman from a story line perspective. With notable exceptions video game plots are not really truly groundbreaking, the story is there just to keep the game going. Hitman however has developed a well rounded story. Though not spectacular at first there was enough to peak your interest and the recent Hitman games have really developed the story quite well.

Hitman: Codename 47 (2000) the first game shows us how Hitman was created (essentially he is a genetically engineered clone) going after many targets that have a connection with him, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (2002) we learn about 47’s loyalties and get more of a sense of his personality, in Hitman Contracts (2004) we get to see some of the missions and contracts that 47 had taken in his life and in Hitman: Blood Money (2006) we follow 47 and his handler perform their standard contracts and take on a rival agency and a sinister organisation and in Hitman: Absolution (2012) follows 47 almost entirely in the USA where he turns against undesirable characters in ICA.

The later Hitman games form what is part of the ‘World of Assassination Trilogy’ (only two of them have been released so far) and though it looks at how 47 got into the ICA, we see 47 as the legendary hitman going against shadowy organisations who are using the 47 and ICA to take on each other. What’s more interesting with the later games is that we get more of an understanding of Diana, 47’s handler and her history as well as 47 himself and you get to go some nice locations.

From what I remember as far the the games were as games, Codename 47 was quite good, Silent Assassin was really hard but rewarding, Contracts was a lot like Silent Assassin, Blood Money was really good (although playing it recently, it does feel a little dated but I loved the levels) and Absolution was OK, but not my favourite because I thought it went too far away from what a Hitman game should be (being chased and hiding from the police, trying to kill of sexy assassins dressed as nuns for example).

The as of yet completed World of Assassination Trilogy games however I think are absolutely superb. Hitman (2016) and Hitman 2 (2018) you take on missions with huge levels which include scouting areas and figuring out which are the best ways to hunt your target. If you haven’t played it already, switch the ‘opportunity’ system off, it just makes the game too easy and almost ruins it a little bit. Do your own fact finding. The third of the trilogy as far as I am aware will come out in 2021. A

s we now live in the era of downloadable content there are more optional missions that can be taken and there is also a mission where you get to be a sniper. What I’ve also liked so far is there has been a shorter alternate story as well with Hitman 2 (The Game of The Year addition). The Patient Zero story is interesting in that it is about a killer virus that is contagious and can kill its carriers. That plot line does sound awfully familiar to something from our world, I don’t quite know from where but it does sound like I’ve heard it recently.

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization by Amanda H Podany (The Great Courses)

This is different to what I usually write about in that it is about solely an audio book. This is only a brief write up but I want to bring it to your attention none the less.

On my list of audio books on Audible one of my personal favourites is this one which is part of the The Great Courses series of lectures. It tells of the history of the peoples of Mesopotamia including how they lived, their culture and beliefs from the Sumerians to the Akkadians and Babylonians. We learn that they hold the achievement of being the first or at least the earliest known users of a written script and caused advancements in maths among other things. We also learn how this ancient script was deciphered in the more relative modern era along with discoveries and rediscoveries of the civilisations and cities that have been found by archaeologists. We get to learn of such notable people like Sir Leonard Woolley and his discoveries for example.

Unlike history books that can come across as a bit dry or encyclopedia entries that can be a bit matter of fact, Professor Podany puts her own personal touch in the lectures and talks about her own connection with the ancient peoples she discusses. Due to how ancients texts have been preserved (via clay inscriptions) she tells us of information about everyday people other than kings and warriors and such like and how she has felt linked with these people despite being thousands of years away from them. Her passion for her subject is evident in the way she presents.

We also get to hear a little bit about Podany herself and I’m not going to lie I fell in love with her a little bit. Talking about her love for her subject and how she became interested in it. What surprised me was that the student rock band she quit in college to concentrate on her studies became known as The Bangles… as in The Bangles.

This is a superb introduction to the topic and there are many more works from Padany and a number of writers out there so I recommend you give it a look. It’s interesting how although so faraway from us in distance and time and very much so culturally, there is a lot of the familiar about the Mesopotamian peoples.

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)

Most of the science fiction works I have read have been dominated almost entirely by Europe and North America so it would be nice from time to time to come across works of science fiction from other parts of the globe to see a different perspective. I had to look no further than The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu from China. The Three Body Problem is no space opera, it’s more of the hard science fiction you would get from the likes of Arthur C Clarke and even then you could argue it’s harder than that.

This is part one of a trilogy but I thought I would do the books separately on the grounds that each book appears different to the other and I have only skimmed through the third one.

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu. I was quite impressed by the English edition by Tor Books

The Three Body Problem starts during the Chinese Cultural Revolution but most of it takes place in the present day (2000s in this case). There is a number of characters in this book and things start to develop when one of the characters gets a job with the Chinese state and manages to make contact with aliens. What was interesting was that the first alien response suggests that the aliens are not a united force, they pretty much say ‘you shouldn’t of brought us to your attentions, some of us aren’t that nice’. After this occurs, over the years strange things start to happen.

I won’t go into too much detail about the story other than to say scientists start to die suspiciously, realities get manipulated (one person starts to see a countdown through his vision which he can’t explain). A weird MMORPG video game appears that has some link to the events and then once the cat is out of the bag the humans take sides on if we should welcome the aliens or not. Through reasons explained in the book, although the invasion is yet to occur, they are definitely on to the people of Earth and they admit to us that they will be on the way and it’s up to the humans to get ready for this. Already as I am explaining it to you, there is so much going on as the story progresses.

The Three Body Problem being a work of hard science fiction has some fascinating science that I had to look up to understand (The Three Body Problem itself being one of them) and I can understand for some readers that it may not be the most appealing thing but for me gave me some depth to the story. The dialogue in the story is intelligent and we get to see how some thoughts and opinions of characters are made. Though I don’t think this is for everyone, but for those who will like it will not be disappointed. We do not see the aliens in this book but we do see the results of their actions and the impending doom they wish to bring and how it affects everyone.

The Three Body Problem is a very intelligent work of Science Fiction and in noway does it insult its reader. Although part of a trilogy it could easily stand alone as being one good piece of work (arguably like the original space opera Star Wars) it can easily work on its own without the need of the others. I urge you to give this one a look if you haven’t done so already.

flOw

flOw is one of these relaxing games where you take control of a little creature and eat the rest of them whilst evolving up to another stage / creature. I have to say the game itself was a bit more stressful than relaxed. Having to control the creature(s) using motion controls was just not fun […]

flOw

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

The basis for any story has some key ingredients, there’s some sort of struggle, conflict, reflection, message. The Pale King is a little different to that. Written by David Foster Wallace but published posthumously and unfinished this work of fiction tells us about a number of people working for the American Inland Revenue Service although most of them are interlinked each chapter of varying length can pretty much stand on their own.

The Pale King looks at a number of these tax auditors, why they do the job they do and how they combat the monotony of their work. We have the character of Claude Sylvanshine who through looking at other people’s taxes and minor details, knows so much about people but has no context for it. We we have Leonard Steyck who went so far to be nice to people when he was younger that people hated him for it and we see how he reacted to this. David Wallace himself appears as a character and he tells you to read the small print of the book and we have the peculiar character who is harshly nicknamed the Iranian Crisis (this chapter made me chuckle, you’ll be doing a lot of that). My favourite character of the book is Irrelevant Chris Fogle. We get to read about what made him want to do the job that he now does. His story for me felt really personal and real.

The Pale King by Wallace

The Pale King is about getting things done by people who have to do it. Unlike the behemoth that is Infinite Jest with its look at people obsessed with distractions and satisfying their own addictions, this book is more about the people who do not wish to have such distractions, who acknowledge that they have a task to do. There’s a story for example about a worker who passes away on the job but nobody notices because they are too focused on their work. There is a little bit of us in both Infinite Jest and the Pale King and Wallace looks at both of these extremes.

The style of the Pale King will be familiar to fans of David Foster Wallace and you can see the development of his quality of work from his earlier novel Broom of the System and his earlier short stories. I of course love the book, Wallace makes what should be the most boring thing interesting to read. What I will say however, as with Infinite Jest, try and get a physical copy of the book over the digital format. It is easier to navigate as you will be also going through Wallace’s end notes which reappear in this book as well. Try to avoid the audio book as well if you want to know what is said in the end notes.

The Church of Fear: Inside The Weird World of Scientology by John Sweeney

So far the books related to Scientology I have read have been all written from the perspective of Americans as you’d expect with Scientology being what could be argued something that could only come out of America.

The Church of Scientology although today deemed to be relatively small in number do have a presence in other parts of the world. In Britain it has the base of Saint Hill in West Sussex for esample. After reading about how the Church of Scientology affected the lives of its own members and critics in the United States I wanted to know how people from outside the US perceived them. Should you ever look it up there are many commentaries and observations from other areas. It is the British perspective of Scientology that I would like to take a look at however, mainly for the reason that it is easier for me being British. It appears that for all the good intentions presented by the Church and its well known supporters, there seems to be many more critics. While I’m sure there have been people who have benefited from the Church (Tom Cruise being the most famous), it is hard to avoid the fact that there are many more people out there who have not benefited at all.

Church of Fear by John Sweeney. The cover has a reference to Hubbard’s Dianetics on the cover.

Among the British commentaries, there was a British interview (Links in the comments) of L Ron Hubbard himself done by Granada in the sixties. Louis Theroux made his own documentary about the Scientology and there has been writers such as John Atack who wrote about his time with Scientology.

There is however, one famous commentator from the UK who was made famous for shouting at a Scientology rep which was filmed and taken advantage of by the Church itself. John Sweeney when doing a documentary for BBC’s Panorama would have his own experience of what it would be like to confront the Church of Scientology. Sweeney’s book is remarkable in that though not at the same level as with Paulette Cooper, we read about the ruthless tactics used to scupper John Sweeney’s making of the documentary and the harassment he received. Other known commentators such Marc and Claire Headley, Russell Miller and Amy Scobee all feature in John Sweeney’s book (for those of you in the loop, these are well known critics/survivors of the Church)

The Church of Fear introduces readers to what Scientology along with how it was founded and how it has affected the lives of its victims. The most fascinating story being John Sweeney’s confrontation with the Scientology reps Tommy Davies and a certain Mike Rinder in 2007. As John would later mention in the book, Mike Rinder himself defects from the Church and becomes one of its biggest critics. There is even an albeit staged interview with a famous celebrity Scientologist who would later work with Mike Rinder on her show Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath of which John Sweeney would later appear. It is fascinating that in some way, Sweeney helped in Mike Rinder himself defecting

John Sweeney pulls no punches on what he thinks about Scientology, how they pestered him and there is a real feel that there is no love lost in Sweeney’s passionate style of writing and what he thought of his experiences. For any of you who are familiar with what Scientology is and what it does you will already have an awareness of things John Sweeney is referring to (Narconon for example and the RPF for example) but for everyone else it would be hard to believe that such an organisation with its celebrity followers would be how Sweeney describes them. If you can ever find a copy of John Sweeney’s documentary, give it a watch it will help in picturing what Sweeney is describing in the book.

What must be noted is that though John Sweeney is writing things that may come across as a bit far fetched about the organisation, it is not unprecedented and many more books have been written since that mirror Sweeney’s own observations. Take from that what you will. Although L Ron Hubbard created something at first that people could take solace in, it has become something if not different, incredibly domineering as it has been perceived by many observers.

Emily Dickinson (my favourite Somebody)

Poetry is an art form I’m embarrassingly not too familiar with, I know little about the technical terms used to construct a poem, I never liked studying them back in my school days. I like more famous poems like If by Kipling and a few others but I have no idea how the likes of Ibsen for example influenced poetry. There is one poet however, that I adore, not just her poetry but her as her person and the story of her life. I am of course referring to the American poet Emily Dickinson from the commonwealth of Massachusetts .

The Complet Poems, Faber and Faber publication.

In her lifetime (1830-1886) she would live through the United States expanding westward and the American Civil war, yet as far as we are aware she rarely left Amherst where she lived only ever venturing to Boston, Philadelphia and Washington DC and rarely leaving the family home. Despite this her writings and poetry introduced us to a unique style and although she rarely left her home town she definitely understood the world better than people who are well travelled even today.

One of the main reasons that I love Emily Dickinson’s poems is that for the most part they are relatively short easy to follow and understand, and have a personal feel to them, it’s like Emily Dickinson is actually writing to you in particular. Dickinson focuses on the little things and what she has studied and thought is also added in. Emily Dickinson had an interest in gardening, you can see this with some of her poems which have a focus on nature. It’s the personal touch that we see in her poems that I like the most. One of her more famous poems, Poem 288 otherwise known by the first line for example:

I’m Nobody! Who are you!
Are you – Nobody – Too?
Then there’s a pair of us

How dreary – to be – Somebody
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June
To an admiring Bog!

For me personally and I’m sure for many people out there, the want to be successful and to be recognised as such can cause a lot of anxieties within ourselves. In this poem Emily is telling us ‘oh come on now, you haven’t got it that bad’. Her father of course was a politician who as a so called somebody, would have had a lot of supporters and enemies. Among other things Emily would write other poems on what she thought on fame, she only had a small number of poems published in her lifetime the irony being after she died she would become one of the most famous poets in the English language, the ultimate somebody.

A younge picture of Emily on the cover of The Letters of Emily Dickinson edited by Mabel Loomis Todd. Todd would have her own connections to Emily’s family via Emily’s brother.

Emily was notoriously known for rarely leaving the family home where she lived. This was especially so in her later life. It is said that she even watched her father being buried (the cemetery being by the house from her window. Though Emily kept herself to herself she was in no way shy as can be seen by her poems and by her letters to her friends and relatives. As a woman from a well off family in the 19th century she relied on her father and later her brother for financial support so the idea that she could do something with her poetry must have felt liberating. Her father made sure she had a good education and she was not afraid to say what she thought. This was especially the case with her brother after it was found out that he had an affair. The affair that Emily’s brother had with Mabel Loomis Todd would cause another conflict after Emily’s death when there was a split between the Todds and the Dickinsons over the publication of Emily’s poems. Many decades later however, Emily would have her place as one of the greats.

Emily’s life has also been portrayed in film.

Her legacy can now be seen in the fact that she is studied in schools, her poems are still in print and there have been many books written about her as well as the publication of her letters.

More recently there is the film starring Cynthia Nixon, A Quiet Passion (mixed feelings on that one). I know she clearly wasn’t, but I always get the feeling in her poems that she was going across time and writing for me and this has probably how many have felt over time.

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

Something that appears to be as prescient and as a pressing issue to us today as it was in 1215 when the Magna Carta was created is the want of freedom and the fear of losing it. We have seen it in our history and it is has been covered by a significant of authors and thinkers, I don’t need to tell you this of course it has always been something that’s been part of our culture. We have had George Orwell and Aldous Huxley in the UK, Ray Bradbury in the US, Solzhenitsyn in Russia. When it comes to non fiction we have the biography of Nelson Mandela and stories from survivors in North Korea, there are many more out there and there will be many more to come. One such example I have been thinking about lately (if you’re reading this in 2020 put the news on, you’ll know what I’m going on about) is V for Vendetta.

V for Vendetta. Written by Alan Moore with David Lloyd doing the art.

The graphic novel V for Vendetta has had a significant cultural impact on our own world. V for Vendetta goes a bit further than other dystopian stories in respect to the fact that it’s not just about the horrors of a totalitarian government and the people who have to live under their rule, it’s also about how such governments come into power and how they are resisted by methods of which may not be desired if albeit appear effective.

The world of V for Vendetta is set in a late 20th Century Britain after the Cold War stops becoming cold and nuclear missiles are launched around the world. Britain however, survives the brunt of it after not wishing to take sides before the nuclear holocaust. The chaos and devastation does affect British life and out of the chaos for want of law and order, the fascist party Norsefire comes to power under the leadership of Adam Susan. Despite Norsefire ruling as they do we come across somebody who chooses to resist them who is the opposite to the fascists. An out and out anarchist. This character is V. V is clad in black and can be identified by his Guy Fawkes mask which has its own symbology (which would eventually stretch out into our own world).

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet David Lloyd, top guy.

In V for Vendetta we meet V in central London and learn about him along with a young (and at first naïve) girl called Evey. We learn about his reasons for being who he is along with his so called vendetta. V is everything the government isn’t. He lives among the banned works and forms of expression that the government does not like. He’s also intelligent, articulate and appears to be almost superhuman. V tells Evey that he thinks everybody is special, that everybody has a story which is the opposite to what the fascist state thinks. We witness V in his attempts to dismantle the leadership.

It is not just V and Evey we see in this world. There is also the leadership, mobsters and unfortunate souls who have to cross the path of these ruthless people who through some reason or another end up plotting against each other or at least seen as being undesirable in some way. They’re not all necessarily bad. The detective Eric Finch who has the job of trying to find V goes through his own journey and awakening.

Early on the government’s propaganda goes on about wanting to ‘make Britain great again’. Something that may sound familiar to some of you and the famous Guy Fawkes mask.

V reminds us how we put these people ruthless people into power, these ‘malicious incompetents who made your working life a shambles’ and in his own way tells us we can do something about it. Who V is under the mask is not important. We don’t even know his real name but that isn’t important. What he represents is.

The world of V for Vendetta is not that far away and we must remind ourselves, we can easily let the wrong type of people encroach on our own way of life to our own disadvantage and it is imperative that we check on such people.

The Passion According to GH by Clarice Lispector (translated by Idra Novey)

This is one of Clarice’s more famous works and a lot has been written about this book. For those of you who don’t know much about it, this post is for you. I could go on about all sorts of details about this book but I will try and be brief.

The Passion According to GH by Clarice Lispector.

My friends are aware of my Clarice fascination and to the ones that I have introduced her works to, they find this one to be somewhat puzzling, they find it for want of a better word, odd. What we do see is Clarice at her best when it comes to style, we know that this book ‘best corresponded to her demands as a writer’ (Clarice by Nadia Gotlib).

The Passion is not like many other books you will read and this is is the first Clarice book I’ve read (other than what is seen in her short stories at the least) that is written in the first person narrated by the character GH an artist specialising in sculpture, I was always amused by the fact that our initials are the same. There is another character in this story, an unfortunate cockroach.

I’ve heard people argue (my friends in particular) that GH comes across as a bit self indulgent and full of her self. GH is more complicated than that. When we first meet GH she has a comfortable life as an artist and is clearing out her former maid’s tidy room, she comes to the realisation that this maid did not like her, she finds that the maid (who she has little recollection of) had daubed pictures of a man, a woman and a dog on one of the walls. This realisation upsets GH which starts a shift in her mind, she has an anger attack, she sees the cockroach and attacks it, what remains affects the mind of GH and this is when GH tells us about how she is thinking and feeling. She questions her life, her relationship with God, her own existence in the world. We also read about the unfortunate cockroach and how GH’s existential experience affects it.

Within her meditations for example GH says,

‘Ah, at least I had already entered the Roach’s nature to the point that I no longer wanted to do anything for it. I was freeing myself from my morality and that was a catastrophe without crash and without tragedy.’

GH sees some of her former maid in the cockroach. I was reminded a little bit of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Gregor as the monstrous vermin is the cockroach, Greta is GH who after confronting the creature sees a change in her life. GH’s change comes originally from her fit of rage after associating the room and the cockroach with the maid who didn’t like her. Going on personal experience when you have a depressive fit of rage, how you thought a second before is gone and everything feels different so I could understand GH’s sudden shift in thinking if only to a certain degree.

A more seasoned picture of Clarice from what you see on the back of the English Penguin editions

This is seen as one of Clarice’s better works. It is definitely well contained and felt easier to read than The Chandelier and The Besieged City. I still think Near to the Wild Heart and her short stories is when we see Clarice at her best especially with character interaction. The Passion is a fascinating treatise on the mind of a human being. Although we read about GH’s passion, it is the cockroach that suffers more. From what I have seen in the world it’s those that are repulsed by others that seem to do the most suffering.

Before the story starts Clarice herself says that people with fully formed souls should only read this book. I definitely broke that rule I read it anyway. Read this book if you want something different from everything else you have ever read. Contemplate on what GH thinks. The only down side with a book is that you can’t debate with the characters. I would love to with GH.

Magna Carta by David Starkey

For all the flaws of Britain’s history there is also a lot of fascinating things to be proud of which are fascinating and still have an affect on our lives today, not just in the UK but in other parts of the world also. One of these things was the creation of the Magna Carta.

Magna Carta by David Starkey

The creation of the Magna Carta is fascinating in that we can still see its influence when it comes to lawmaking and the judicial process today.

David Starkey’s book on the the origins of the Magna Carta looks at the architects of the Charter and the people who had a certain degree of influence on its formation and what it became.

Magna Carta: The True Story Behind the Charter is a matter of a fact history of the creation of the Magna Carta if not an academic one, despite this we learn about the struggles that were gone through in order for it to appear. As well as this, David Starkey also dedicates a section in the appendix on how the Charter was revised in 1215, 1216 and 1225.

The good man himself was kind enough to sign a copy for me.

Again David Starkey’s book is not an academic text which you’ll easily notice in that it is easy to read and doesn’t assume you have a vast amount of knowledge on English history (I imagine so at the least, I personally find history fascinating and will read any form of book available about any period of history, within reason). It also assesses some of the myths that have arisen around the creation of the Magna Carta and facts that you may not have been aware of beforehand. For example King John did not sign into existence the Magna Carta because the chances are he couldn’t read or write, he stamped his seal of approval instead. Also the Charter was approved Runnymede because the local terrain would not allow for a pitch battle between King John’s men and the Barons at the time.

This book was released in 2015 marking the 800 year anniversary of its original formation. I actually met David Starkey when he was promoting his book in 2015 at the Chester Literature Festival, he did a talk about the Charter at the Chester Town Hall and his enthusiasm for the related topic really shone through, you’ll notice this when he talks about a desired part of history if you’ve seen him on the TV or in the Internet. He is also well known for not pulling his punches and not being afraid to say what he thinks. When I met him however, he was an absolute gentleman and was kind enough to sign a copy of his book for me. [Extra note 3rd July 2020: It’s been sad to hear he’s been in the news recently for some comments he made, despite this, it’s still a good book he’s written]

David Starkey writes in a clear non patronising way and he has something which I like to see in any history related book I read which is pictures and photographs. I know it is not wholly relevant but it always help in visualising the world in which is being talked about.