Thursday, July 21, 2022

ANTSAT

This is a short post promoting a short but great game. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge is a blast, perfectly evoking the classic beat-em-up games from the 90s. It lovingly rips off the feel and setting of those entries, particularly Turtles In Time, which was my favorite arcade game as a youth.

 

The core of the game consists of playing through levels, knocking out enemies and fighting a boss at the end. There are some minor new bells and whistles though, like an overworld map for moving between stages, hidden collectibles and characters, and challenges and achievements. A more significant update is character progression: you gain XP as you defeat enemies and complete bonuses, which increases your level. Each level gives some persistent upgrade to your character: maybe an extra health bar or a new dive attack or an additional use of your super attack. Those levels persist across game runs, but are unique per character, so you might want to stick with one to use their extra power, or switch to another to level them up as well.

 


The classic TMNT games offered the four turtles as playable, while this entry allows up to six people to play at the same time, with April and Splinter joining in the fun. I played the first few stages solo as Leonardo, then had some incredibly fun online co-op sessions with my brother where I played as Donatello. The co-op is a blast all around. It feels incredibly fast and responsive, not at all laggy even when playing far apart. The game design really rewards having multiple players: there are some challenges, like enemies carrying shields, that are extremely hard for a single player to pass but that are a breeze with a well-coordinated team.

 


We used Discord for voice chat, which worked great. I don't do much co-op play, so my only recent experience has been some casual group play in Minecraft, and my last experience before that was probably Mass Effect 3 multiplayer a decade ago. Anyways, we were both pleasantly surprised by how good the voice chat was. I had forgotten that I had previously configured my setup to be push-to-talk, but after disabling that, the output worked well, and we could hear each other great. This was good for casual chats, and also for coordinating action within the game. ("Let's beat up the pig first." "I'll take the right, you take the left.")

 


As others have reported, the game is short, but personally I view that as a feature and not a bug: I love being able to finish a thing and still live my life (and/or play other games!). We played for a couple of hours across two weekends to get from the very start to the very end. Since then we've replayed a couple of matches with Splinter and Michelangelo to level them up some and pick up some missing collectibles and challenges. It seems that only the host gets credit for completing a challenge during a given stage.

 


This has been a fantastic experience, and while I'm satisfied by the game, I'm definitely hungry for more! I could easily see some DLC being welcome, adding some more stages to this game and perhaps raising the level cap; the overworld design already lends itself well to this kind of extensibility. I'd also enjoy seeing a similarly loving treatment of the classic X-Men brawler, which was my other favorite arcade game of that era. And heck, maybe one of these days I'll finally get around to playing Scott Pilgrim vs. The World!

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Never Gonna Give You Up

I wasn't sure what to expect from Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go". It was a gift from my brother, and I haven't read anything from the author before. It turned out to be a really lovely book: intriguingly written, with a very natural style, a slow burn of discovery and revelation, and a heavy blanket of melancholy feelings resting over the whole thing.

 


The narration is probably my favorite aspect of the novel. It's told in the first person as a sort of ambling reminiscence. It feels a lot like how real conversations go: the narrator will start telling a story, then explain why that story is important, then go back to describe something that happened earlier and how that led to the current story, then mention how all of this contributed to some later event. It sounds messy, but it's easy to follow, and I never found myself lost. The description mostly progresses chronologically forward in time, but with a lot of whorls and eddies along the way, and as the narration draws closer to the presence, reminiscing itself becomes important to the story: how two people bond by recounting a shared experience from their childhood, or how irritation will flare when one person claims not to remember doing something before.

MEGA SPOILERS

The heart of the novel is the relationship between Kath, Ruth and Tommy. Kath and Ruth in particular feel especially real and relatable: they have a very intense friendship and rivalry full of bitter, hurt feelings and pride, interspersed with genuine affection. Ruth definitely comes off poorly as a whole: she gains and betrays confidences, can be very deceitful while carefully avoiding outright lies, and is powerfully controlled by jealousy. Kath in contrast seems perhaps overly naive and sometimes hold grudges, but overall is far more likeable. (That said, I do wonder what this story would look like told from Ruth's perspective.)

As a reader, it's pretty obvious from early on how Kath and Tommy feel about each other, but it goes unsaid for almost the entire length of the novel. That seems to reflect their own experiences as well, with Kath in particular maybe being afraid to even admit to herself how she felt.

It takes a very long time to learn exactly what the situation is with the students at Hailsham; while the tone of the book is very literary and slice-of-life, it is ultimately kind of a science-fiction book, with the exact nature of the sci-fi unclear for a long while. Part of this slow burn is the classic spec fic trick of everyone in the world taking something for granted so they never explicitly describe it, and we as readers only gradually infer it through the context. But the dawning revelation also matches the students' experience, where they only gradually and belatedly realize how the world works and what their role in it is.

The book as a whole is very odd to place in time. There are clones in this world, which is definitely futuristic; but the world also uses phonographs and cassette tapes, which are not. The novel was published in 2005, so CDs were already dominant by then and digital music was starting, neither of which were ever mentioned in the book. There are some references to decades, like a photo from "the 50s" and research done in "the 70s", and near the end there's talk about how things changed after "the war". The main thing I'm wondering is whether those references are to, say, the 1950s or the 2050s? If the former, then we're probably in an alternate timeline; I imagine this being something like HBO's Watchmen series, imagining what the world would look like in the presence if research in the past had focused on biological rather than digital topics, resulting in some areas being more advanced and other areas less so. If the latter, then this might be a byproduct of the system around Donors and Carers: deliberately keeping them away from connections to the modern world, and instead creating a kind of Potemkin country for them to experience growing up in.

END SPOILERS

This was a good read: poignant, thoughtful, affecting. While technically sci-fi it doesn't really feel like a sci-fi novel at all, just using it as a simple and devastating background that heightens the experiences of these young, hopeful children as they grow up in a challenging world.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Time For Socialism

Yep, I'm continuing to devour any and all of Thomas Piketty's books. I recently put two of his new ones on hold at the library; I need to wait a while longer for A Brief History of Inequality, but I almost immediately received Time For Socialism.

 


Unlike his other books that I've read, which I'd describe as tomes written from an academic background but oriented towards the general public, TFS is a compilation of monthly columns that Piketty wrote for Le Monde during the eventful years of 2016-2021. The book is subtitled "Dispatches from a World on Fire", which I'd say is a fairly accurate description of a period starting with Brexit and Trump and ending with COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter, all set against the ongoing explosion of economic inequality and rising ethno-nationalism that Piketty has worked against for decades.

Being newspaper columns, these pieces are shorter, though interestingly of rather variable length. Piketty is generally responding to major events of the last week or two, but contextualizing them in terms of broader trends, most notably the disaffection of poorer people with globalization. Like his major works, though, he makes excellent use of charts and graphs, plotting out how schisms have evolved over time or who benefits from certain policies. A lot of this is rather familiar, especially for those who have read Capital & Ideology, and some ideas are repeated across multiple columns, but it is helpful to have another set of concrete examples to refer to.

One cool thing about these columns is that they were written explicitly for French people living in France, unlike his books that are aimed at a broader audience. As a result, he spends a decent amount of time getting into the micro of France's particular issues. One example is the reform of their pension system; apparently, for decades it's been a very balkanized system, with different schemes based on whether someone worked in the public sector or the private sector or a non-profit or as a homemaker, etc. Of course, today most people will hold many jobs throughout their life, possibly across multiple sectors, and as a result nobody really understands what to expect from their retirement: the system as a whole is well-funded, but completely opaque. Piketty critique's Macron's vague proposal for modernization, and also makes a forceful push towards greater equity: both by requiring higher-income people to fund the system (as in the US, French people don't need to pay in anything after exceeding a certain annual income), and also by considering life expectancies and social class (poorer people tend to have shorter lives, so they spend fewer years in retirement, so even if they received the same monthly payments as wealthy people, their total payments over their life will be a transfer to the state, while a long-living wealthy manager will receive more than he paid in). Anyways, that's one of those hyper-local things that is unique to France, but also a nice concrete example that can be inspiring for finding similar inequities in our own systems.

As with "Capital & Ideology", Piketty's big fear is the political-economic realignment underway, with far-right parties courting lower classes with a mix of ethno-nationalism and promises of financial support, while left-wing parties are increasingly associated with the cultural and economic elites. You can tell that he has a healthy amount of disdain for Macron, who has exacerbated the dynamics by giving a massive tax cut to the wealthiest French citizens while proclaiming the virtues of globalism. Still, Piketty is always solution-oriented, and many of his columns contain concrete proposals for policy actions that could increase equality and lower the risk of reactionary revolt.

Along with France's interior concerns, Piketty also pays a lot of attention to Europe. He sees the formation and evolution of the European Union and its market as kind of the original sin that led us to the predicament we're in now: back in the 80s, international treaties liberalized the flow of money and people across borders, but did not set in place any kind of overarching budgets or accountability. This led to what he variously calls "fiscal dumping" or a "race to the bottom": since a billionaire can transfer his assets to any country with the click of a button, nations are heavily incentivized to slash rates as low as possible to persuade the wealthy to keep their wealth inside their borders.

That isn't at all to say that Piketty wants to abolish the EU; rather the opposite, he sees transnational cooperation as being essential to ensure equity and to tackle existential crises like climate change. But he believes that we badly need accountability along with freedom, with visibility into the flows of wealth and enforcement to pursue bad actors.

To that end, he champions several concrete proposals to reform the EU. One big item he frequently mentions is the Manifesto for the Democratization of Europe. This envisions a shift somewhat like the United States' shift from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution. In the current status quo, a tiny nation like Luxembourg can singlehandedly veto any reform supported by 99.9% of Europe's population. Piketty dreams of a new Europe with a representative assembly that is accountable to its constituents and empowered to create meaningful change, a powerful antidote from today's status quo where "Europe" makes decisions behind closed doors by unelected bureaucrats and national politicians can deflect any blame onto Brussels.

And, while Piketty is primarily focused on the eastern side of the Atlantic, he also behaves as an America-whisperer at times, seeking to explain our chaotic movements of the last six years in terms of long-term trends in the Western world, particularly where we are following in the movement of the  Belle Époque or where our history of racial conflict presages the rising racism in France. He recounts across several columns the seemingly bizarre reversal of the Republican and Democratic parties from the Civil War to the 1960s, explaining the incremental steps taken along the way and how they reflected the evolving cleavages in the electorate. He points excitedly to America's extremely high marginal tax rate in the middle of the 20th century and how it coincided with our greatest period of economic growth, giving the lie to the idea that lower taxes unleash growth. He makes a very persuasive argument that America's world-leading investment in education starting in the 1800s led the way for our dominant economic position in the 1900s. Anyways, it's interesting to see ourselves used as an example for other countries, much like it's interesting to see France used as an example for us.

All in all, another great little book from the author of great big books!

Monday, July 11, 2022

Portuguy

So, confession time: my last post on Europa Universalis IV was about a month old by the time I actually posted it. I had the whole thing written out and just needed to upload some screenshots; but whenever I went to do it, I thought, "Hm, instead of spending five minutes uploading photos, I could be spending those five minutes playing more Europa Universalis IV!" So I do, and have continued to do, hence this very delayed follow-up which will doubtlessly be even more delayed by the time it actually goes live on my blog.

Let's see, it looks like we last left off around the time I was fighting the Timurids for Hormuz, had vassalized Morocco, and created three colonial nations in the Americas (Cuba, Brazil and Columbia). Speeding through some highlights since then, probably sorted by geographical region:

 


At a high level, these days I'm operating primarily on three continents: the America, Africa and Southeast Asia. Early on I had a large army that I would shuttle back and forth; but the attrition for these voyages is pretty taxing, and it makes it impossible to quickly respond to an uprising or sudden attack, so I now (as of the mid/late 1500s) have three pretty significant armies of about 30,000 soldiers parked in each location. There are still some short hops, like around the Cape or between India and Indonesia, but for the most part each is in its own place.

Europe, by contrast, is a total ghost town. I've integrated northwest Africa and have direct control over that area. For a while Tunis and the Mamluks and I were staring daggers at each other, but it's all been very quiet for a while now. Spain and Tunis have fought a couple of wars, with Tunis drastically shrinking in power while retaining a decent landmass. Spain has actually been on quite a tear in the Mediterranean, integrating Naples and eating up a lot of provinces around Genoa. At least so far, this has been great for me, as none of the powers in Europe can even really see me behind Spain's bulk.

 

 

The Reformation started relatively late in this game (I think maybe around 1530 or so?) and has had a muted impact. Great Britain remained Catholic, and France hasn't experienced the Wars of Religion. Many minor Germanic states have become Protestant or Reformed, including quite a few Electors, but so far no great powers. All in all this has been great for me, as the Treaty of Tordesillas ensures that my American holdings remain unchallenged.

 


Big-picture, nothing too crazy is going on. Britain got a slow and weak start, but have since recovered, uniting Ireland and colonizing Canada. Muscovy has not yet formed Russia. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth has gotten big and powerful, and I think may be holding the provinces blocking Russia from forming; I'm hoping this situation continues indefinitely, as I'm still scarred from my experience in EU3 of suddenly encountering Russian power projecting through Siberia to challenge my Asian holdings. Austria recently lost the Emperorship for the first time all game, with Brandenberg taking over, and I'm unsure if that will continue. France is big but a latecomer to colonization, just starting their very first colony around the Ivory Coast area. Hungary is pretty large and the current front against a bulging Ottoman Empire.

Overall, the Great Powers as of roughly 1580 are, in order: Portugal, Spain, Ming, Ottomans, France, Muscovy, Commonwealth, Britain. I'm rivaling Muscovy, Commonwealth and Austria, mostly because none of them pose any threat to me or can even reach me. I'm being rivaled by Muscovy and Ming. I have a lot of Aggressive Expansion around the world, but virtually none in Europe, and so far no coalition has actually risen against me.

One of the more fun aspects to my game so far has been cheesing in a Strong Female Character. I had a Good King for quite a while, with stats like 3 / 3 / 5. He was followed by a mediocre heir with something more like 1 / 2 / 6. That heir came to power and immediately got a consort and an heir of his own. The heir was pretty decent, a 1 / 3 / 5; but the consort was AMAZING, a 6 / 4 / 6.

The problem is, consorts can't rule, especially not in a patriarchal monarchy like Portugal. But, they can advise and guide their heirs! I had my king join the military, hoping he'd die in a battle somewhere; the extra loss of Stability would hurt, but the additional Administrative Power could more than pay for it over time. I glumly watched as my king victoriously crushed all of his enemies on the battlefield and oversee successful sieges of their capitals. And then... poof! He just randomly tied in a training exercise one day. I was stunned, and delighted. The underage heir was unready to take the throne, but my amazing consort was willing to step in.

The wiki is a bit unclear on exactly how this works, making some vague comments about how certain events can allow a consort to stay in power. For me at least, the consort ruled uninterrupted until her son turned 15. A year before that, I got a message about the regency ending. In your Government tab, you can click a button to extend the regency for another 5 years. This costs some Legitimacy (I think 10? maybe 20?) but for such a great regent it's definitely worth the cost! I kept it going another 20 years, finally allowing my consort to step down in her early 60s (this being the pre-modern era, medical science and longevity leave something to be desired) and letting my heir finally ascend to the throne at the age of 34. I'm unsure what would have happened if the consort had died in office; if the heir would immediately take over, I might have risked another 5 years, but if it would mean a regency council or an interregnum then, uh, that would be bad.

I'm currently heirless and 36, but have three royal marriages so I'm cautiously optimistic about making it. My new consort is fine, something like 3 / 3 / 4, and as long as I get an heir before death I think I'll be fine during the regency.

I've noticed that my mana allotment seems to keep shifting throughout the game. For a while I was running a big surplus of Admin mana, during which time I created a ton of Jesuit Holy Orders. I was running really low on Diplomacy mana for a time, especially while integrating vassals and pursuing Exploration, so I set that as a National Focus before shifting back to Admin. I almost always have a surplus of Military power, and I think I've been the first to research every Military tech. For ideas I've completed Expansion, Exploration and Quantity. I'm currently more than halfway through the Religious idea. I have a lot of stacking bonuses for religion that makes it very tempting and powerful to convert everyone to Catholicism, basically eliminating any revolt risk once I'm done. The last few ideas aren't that exciting until I get to Deus Vult, so I'll probably pick up the next Admin Tech before finishing that Idea.

Moving south: I've kind of been working from west to east and then back west again. I grabbed the richest provinces while moving around the continent, including the Coast ones and the Cape. I created a vassal Ogadeen in the Horn of Africa and then started conquering my way south, tearing up Aljuraan and Haarat and others. In almost all of my wars, I try to directly take any provinces with Centers of Trade or Gold, and feed any other provinces to a local vassal. In this case I had a bit of a timer from some limited claims in a mission, then stretched a bit from those to grab some additional CoTs. Once I had those, I worked my way down the coast to Kilwa. I fought two wars against them, grabbing Zanzibar and some other coastal provinces at first, then more recently striking inland to take their gold.

 


In between those wars I pivoted back to the Ivory Coast to try and shore up my trading position in the Ivory Coast. By this point in the game I had a huge stream of ducats flowing back towards Sevilla, which is great, but also meant I was enriching other nations along the way. I've started looking into the Trade Node details to see what nations are most responsible for trade value remaining in the node, then fabricating claims or otherwise starting wars with them to take their CoTs. The big culprits here were Benin and Kongo. I had to colonize a 3-dev province in order to be in the range to fabricate on Benin, but it turns out that merely starting a colony is enough, so I didn't need to wait for it to finish. Kongo was a more deadly opponent, one of the few who matches me at Military Tech 14; as an extra hazard, I hadn't explored any of their inland provinces. Still, I had a large and well-drilled army by this point, and was able to grab the handful of provinces I needed.

There's still a little more work to be done - Madagascar in particular is siphoning off some trade in Zanzibar, Yemen is pretty big in the Gulf of Aden, and I might want to further lower Mali and Kongo's remaining trade in Ivory Coast - but overall I'm very pleased with my pipeline through Africa. I'm also in an exclusive position to colonize the inland provinces here; that's a very low priority for me since most of them are very poor, but it will probably be nice to have that option once I finish colonizing richer areas.

Speaking of which: I'm the only European power with a major presence in Asia. In the earlier phase, I was roughly splitting my colonists between the Americas and Asia, typically with 2 in each area. For Asia I was racing east to expand my range, grabbing the highest-dev provinces along the way. Now that I'm fully established, I've been whittling down the available provinces in the Indonesian region, from 10s to 9s on down; as of the 1580s I've finished the 6s and am about to start on the 5s. I also took a couple of Pacific islands to support transoceanic voyages; Micronesia is actually pretty great, but nothing else is really worth writing about.

 


Alongside my colonial expansion, I've also been poking away at my missions in the area. A lot of those are locked behind Indian expansion, which I haven't made much progress on yet: I got Goa for free, then fought a very long and expensive war to pick up two measly provinces. At some point I need to take on Bahmanis, who are a pretty huge nation with an army of about 95,000 soldiers; but they're also just at tech level 9, so I'm cautiously optimistic about doing well against them. I need to conquer five more provinces from five separate nations to complete this mission and unlock another five, though, which is a bit of a pain.

My fights on the islands are going much better. Those nations are more technologically advanced, but have miniscule armies, and often are missing forts. Typically these wars start out with a huge surprise naval assault (shades of Pearl Harbor) with me absolutely demolishing their sea power. This instantly transitions into a blockade, with big boosts to my war score. One especially fun thing about battles in this area are the large number of straits. I can trap an enemy on an island and keep them there while my own armies rampage in their homeland.

 


In this theater my vassal is Demak. Feeding them provinces is especially easy, since almost everything is coastal. I may have mentioned this before, but my technique for vassals looks like:

  1. Defeat an enemy and take at least one (ideally only one) province with a core from a nation that does not exist.
  2. Release that nation (from my own Diplomacy screen). They automatically will become my vassal with a high Opinion.
  3. Force my Religion on them. This makes them instantly 100% disloyal, but that seems fine; so far none have tried to get independence from me, and they won't stay mad at me for that long. I don't care at all about their overlord payments, and their military at this stage is so small that it doesn't matter that they don't help me.
  4. But this does mean that they will start converting all their provinces to Catholicism, which is great and will save me lots of time and money down the line. It also means a relations boost since we now share a religion, and is potentially another source for a Royal Marriage.
  5. In all future wars in the area, any time I conquer a province that isn't a Center of Trade or a producer of Gold, I'll transfer occupation to this vassal. In the peace deal, after I take any provinces I want for myself, I'll spend my remaining War Score feeding provinces to my vassal. This is a mix of good strategic utility for myself and them, bad strategic utility for my foe (especially if I can split up their landmass into non-contiguous regions), taking good trade goods, and so on.
  6. This also reduces their Liberty Desire.
  7. Whenever my Prestige would go over 100 (mostly when signing a peace), I'll Placate Local Rulers with my least-loyal vassal before taking the Prestige. After a little while, they'll become Loyal again.
  8. While all this is going on, the vassal is spending their Administrative Power to core new provinces, and their Missionary to convert them. They'll often also get Military Access to nearby lands, which transfers to me in wartime. Sadly they don't seem to ever Manufacture Claims.
  9. Eventually I'll spend a ton of Diplomatic Power to integrate them, getting all those cores for free.

I'm just now coming off a second battle against Malacca, finally taking Meleka to complete the mission. There's a ton of value in this trade node, and I'm now in a good position to send it directly to the Cape of Good Hope, bypassing the various Indian nodes and other routes to Europe that could diminish the value.

Now that basically all of the high-dev provinces in the world have been colonized, I'm mulling over whether to start colonizing Siberia from the east. Assuming Russia does form, it could be prudent to cut them off from the Pacific Ocean; and if I manage to make it far enough west, I may even be able to halt much of their Siberian growth. That said, those poor provinces would all give basically nothing of value to my empire, and I've already learned the hard way that getting involved in Asian land wars can be a death knell for empires, so I'm unsure whether to do it or not.

Speaking of colonies, though, my colonization of the New World has been a smashing success. For some reason Spain switched to colonizing random islands and inland south Africa instead of competing with me for provinces in colonial nations, ending up with basically just the eastern US and a non-sanctioned Caribbean. Each of my nations has gone somewhat differently.

Portuguese Cuba aggressively expanded alongside Spanish Caribbean, each grabbing islands and muscling up to each other on Hispaniola. They started as a Self-Governing colony, but were getting restless so I bumped them down to a Crown Colony. The entire Caribbean has now been colonized, which is awesome, since it means that I won't have to worry about the Netherlands or some other Protestant scum entering my turf. Cuba is now just growing its own provinces with its remaining settlers. I was slightly miffed to see that the Spanish Caribbean has crossed over into north-central South America and is expanding there; in retrospect I probably should have directly colonized the straits connecting the continents, as I wonder whether they would have made it across otherwise. Caribbean and Cuba strongly dislike one another, but as their overlords are allied they haven't actually started any trouble yet.

 


Brazil has always been pure Portuguese. I had to fight a couple of wars against primitive tribes in the early years, but now they are very strong in their own right, the strongest and wealthiest of my colonies. Unlike in the Caribbean, there is still a ton of unsettled land in Brazil, and they've been busily building 3 colonies at a time for well over a hundred years now. It still isn't enough: I really want them to finish the coastal provinces before Holland / the Netherlands start expanding in earnest, since their missions will give them major claims on me if they settle a single province in Brazil.

Rio de la Plata has probably been my most chill colony to date. I don't think any nation has attacked it yet, but it has cheerfully come to aid in quite a few military conflicts. As befitting its name, it does have a couple of Gold provinces, and is a welcome source of Treasure Fleets to boost my coffers. I ended my subsidies to them after a while, but they continue to poke away at growing their territory.

 


Peru has probably been the most unique colony to get going. Typically I'll settle five provinces, form a nation, then have them expand from there, either starting wars if necessary to grab key provinces or defending and grabbing territory or just peacefully blobbing. For Peru, though, virtually all the coastline and much of the interior is already settled by Incan nations. I went ahead and grabbed the two available (low-dev) coastal slots, then fabricated claims on a neighbor. I wanted to be careful and make sure that the final colonial nation would be Catholic, though, so even though I could have done everything in one wave I instead took two provinces in my first war, converted them to be Catholic, then took a fifth and final province in a second war. There was a lot more war after that, though! Unlike Rio de la Plata, Peru's neighbors were very unhappy with her presence. The standard sequence here is that a new CN is very small and weak and poor; the nearby enemies will see the weakness and declare war on it; I'll attempt to "Enforce Peace"; this will always fail despite my overwhelming strength; I'll crush the enemies, get to 99-100 warscore, and give a bunch more provinces to my colonial nation. I went through this sequence... hm, I think twice with Peru.  That did mean that they had a lot of unrest from overexpansion and religious disunity and conversions, so I stuck around for a while to help put down their huge revolts while their 3k army stood by helplessly and watched. That said, Peru has been one of my wealthiest nations once it got stabilized. I'm curious how typical this is, but for me, the income I get from treasure fleets is way higher than what I see from tariffs; tariffs will be like 2 ducats a month while a treasure fleet will be 220 ducats every year or two.

 


Columbia has been a strategically important colony, and I was thrilled when they finally finished expanding up the Panama isthmus to permanently link my North and South American holdings. Like Rio de la Plata, they've never been attacked, even when they were small and weak; I think the key may have been that they didn't have direct neighbors when they formed, and by the time they expanded to touch others' borders they had managed to build up a tidy little military and economy of their own. That said, I took advantage of my wars with the Incans to expand Columbian borders south, and similarly fabricated and declared to punch through a primitive nation to the east. I've recently been mildly irritated that they aren't aggressively expanding east to cut off the encroaching Spanish Caribbean nation, instead focusing on colonizing inland 3-dev provinces; but I shouldn't complain, they are at least consistent colonizers and did the most important work to ensure an open conduit between the continents.

Mexico has probably been the most active colony. It isn't quite as congested as Peru, but Mexico is very heavily settled when you first arrive, with few options for colonizing. I lost the Rio Grande to Spain, but colonized a few provinces immediately south of there, and a separate clatch in Honduras. This put the bifurcated nation in an uncomfortable position after forming, and honestly I think the AI is very poor at handling this admittedly difficult situation. After my experience with the Caribbean, I was absolutely determined to finish my fifth Mexican colony before Spain could start their fifth, hence I rushed coastal provinces rather than building out inland. That said, once it formed I was determined to link the northern and southern regions. This took a long series of wars, I think maybe four or so altogether. For many of my early wars, I would try to keep the enemies as small and focused as possible, rarely flagging co-belligerents. For Mexico, though, I wanted to conquer a ton of land as quickly as possible, and had a much more powerful and advanced military, so I took the opposite tack, calling in nation after nation in a grand melee. (This is mostly because taking provinces from non-co-belligerants is twice as expensive, and you get a truce with all participants regardless of their participation at the end, making it nearly impossible to re-declare for another decade or so.) I made extensive use of separate peaces in these wars, cashing out my high war scores for a lot more territory for Portuguese Mexico than I could take from just the war leader. It was during these wars that I came to recognize one of the key elements of war diplomacy: when you plan to annex a small nation, it's almost always better to declare on a larger ally and make the smaller nation a co-belligerant, so you can demand their 1-2 provinces without a massive malus for annexing the country. ANYWAYS, I've recently finished many wars and finally linked up everything: there are still plenty of neighbors around, but as long as I have my green highway open and have lots of gold I don't really mind.

 


I initially wasn't planning on colonizing California, but I was on a roll so I continued on up the coast. I felt weirdly happy to recognize the San Francisco Bay Area, which here is identified by its native population of Ohlone and Miwok tribes. Spain has a mission tree that kicks off with owning Miwok, so I grabbed that early to cut them off, then had a leisurely expansion outward. California is one of the smaller colonial regions, but it does have a decent number of gold-producing provinces, which I've come to realize is by far the most valuable aspect of any colony. Nobody has attacked California yet, although I dragged them into a war against the Zia Federation. I've continued subsidizing them longer than my other colonies, again out of personal bias.

 


I also wasn't planning on colonizing Louisiana. Many of these provinces belong to the Ohio trade node, which can never flow to Sevilla and so are pretty useless to me. When I first landed in the Caribbean, all the coastal provinces were owned by native tribes. At some point Spain took one of those provinces and I assumed that they would be colonizing inland, but sometime over the next century the natives took it back. During that same war against the Zia Federation I noticed that five of its provinces lay within the Louisiana region, which meant that I could build the colony militarily. As with Louisiana I carefully alternated coring and converting provinces so I could ensure my new nation would be Catholic. While I was doing this Spain fought its own war against Quizquick (sp?), taking provinces of its own and coring them. Fortunately I was able to complete it first and get the treaty of Tordesillas, but as with the Caribbean Spain's colony did get off the ground. I then had the opportunity to do something dastardly: Quizquick (sp?) attacked me, and after I enforced peace and handily defeated them, I took enough territory to completely encircle Spanish Louisiana, cutting off any expansion path. (But I did leave them some Quizquick neighbors to encourage future mutually destructive wars.) Overall Louisiana exists more to thwart Britain and Spain than to benefit Portugal, but it's still a happy part of my burgeoning empire.

And, yes, I am going ahead and starting a colony in Cascadia to complete my collection. Once complete, an army should be able to march all the way from the Bering Strait down to Tierra del Fuego, walking on Portuguese soil the entire way. So far no other power has shown any interest in the Pacific coast, so I'm just leisurely poking away at this, and should finish my fifth colony around 1700 or so.

Yes, there's a colony in Australia as well! I held off a little on starting this colony: the richest provinces are in the southeast, while the first ones to come into range are in the northwest. I had to deal with some big annoyances where I would dispatch a colonist who would take about two years to arrive, and a few months before showing up a migratory native tribe would move into that territory, kicking him back to Lisbon. This was mildly aggravating in the Americas, but the extremely long travel times to Oceania made it infuriating. I ended up giving up on some extremely tempting 11-dev provinces and built out my provinces in respectable-but-not-amazing land. Australia has been one of the most embattled colonies, maybe even more so than Peru, but I had anticipated this and have a smallish army permanently stationed there. The aborigines are some of the lowest-tech nations in the game, so even when we're numerically outnumbered we can easily stackwipe enemies, and after the first two wars Colonial Australia completely controls the southwest and is methodically colonizing counter-clockwise along the coast.

 



What does the future hold? I'm coming up on the Age of Absolutism and doing some initial preparation for that, based on my Wiki knowledge and various other tips. I've been aggressively seizing land for a while and am now hovering between 75-80%; I'm trying hard to stay above 75, so in wars I typically only take Centers of Trade and pass all other provinces to a vassal. Initially I was planning to annex my vassals around the time the Age hits; but on further reflection, this may tank my Crownland, so instead I'm leaning towards waiting until my Absolutism gets high to push my equilibrium higher. I haven't revoked any Estate Privileges yet, but will probably start that soon. My back-of-the-napkin math puts me around 75-80% max absolutism, which may be just a bit too low for the best outcome to Court And Country, and so I might need to endure an estate revolt or two to drive the absolutism a bit higher.

I've been hemming and hawing about taking on Ming. I got a cool event (not a mission) that gave me claims on the land around Macau; but they aren't permanent and will be expiring soon. From what I've read, the best strategy against Ming is to cause a lot of devastation and take money and reparations, which will drive their Mandate down, and then follow up with another war to actually take territory. But, I've dawdled too long and don't have time to do that before my claims expire. Of course, I could always fabricate claims on my own; but again, I'm not sure if I WANT to defend land in the Asian landmass. Their Mandate happens to be relatively low at the moment, so this could be a perfect time to strike and cut them down whether or not I have territorial ambitions there; but Ming is a very powerful foe, so if I start a war at them, the many weak nations that despise me will see an opportunity to make a formal coalition against me. So, we'll see!

As I write this, I'm sliding into a pretty intense competition with Holland. They started building a colony in Western Africa, which would put them within range of Brazil and the rest of the Americas. So I voluntarily entered my first European war of the game: they're part of a big alliance, including the Commonwealth and Mecklenberg, against Brandenburg (presumably in their role as the Holy Roman Emperor). I don't intend to actually win the war, but being at war allowed me to take control of their Grain Coast colony and seize ownership for myself. I don't think I'll be able to repeat this trick - there are a few other unclaimed provinces nearby - but at least for now it's nicely thrown them into the lurch. We'll see whether this causes disastrous consequences down the line!

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

The Spirit

The Spirit of Science Fiction is yet another enjoyable entry in Roberto Bolaño's repertoire. This one kind of reminded me of The Savage Detectives, although it's much shorter and with a far smaller cast of characters. It's set in Mexico City, primarily focusing on poets and the writers and artists and others who they associate with. The narrative is kind of loose and impressionistic, a collection of vignettes and fragments that orbit around a few key characters and concerns, leaving the reader to infer meaning.

 


MINI SPOILERS

This is yet another book of Roberto's, along with "Distant Star", with a title that sounds like it could be science-fiction but is definitely not. This title refers to the passion of Jan Schrella, a young Chilean author. Jan loves science fiction, but even more he seems to love the science fiction community: the constellation of authors, conferences, journals and magazines. Several of the "chapters" in this book consist of letters that Jan writes to his favorite science fiction authors, like Ursula K. LeGuin and James Tiptree. Those letters are pretty fascinating: lecturing, hectoring, condescending, pleading, bragging. Sometimes it seems like Jan is just writing for the sake of writing, with the act of communicating across the border more important than what he has to say. Other times he's passionately trying to convince the author to not just write, but to use their platform and power to take action that will help the impoverished poor, the dispossessed, outsiders.

We read these letters but don't get much insight into their writing. For a while I thought that they were sardonic, a cheeky avant-garde prank. Based on Jan's later conversations about science fiction, though, I now think that they're the opposite: deadly earnest, the kind of painfully embarrassing hauteur that only a seventeen-year-old-boy can write. Bolaño may be engaged in a sort of self-flagellation here, as the final letter from "Jan" is signed Roberto Bolaño.

I do love those letters. One of Bolaño's many gifts is how many novels he can write without conventional narration, instead stitching together other forms like encyclopedias or police reports or newsreel footage. Besides these letters, we also hear fragments from the poets' lovers, describing their nights and mornings together from another perspective, or sit in on poetry readings in airless university classrooms. These are intermixed with more traditional scenes, describing the exciting sprawling night at a house party and the intense feelings welling up in the narrator's chest.

There are a lot of feelings in this novel, and another thing I like is how few of them reconcile. Remo spends an evening listening to the poetry of an autodidactic motorcycle mechanic, filled with great unease and distress; we never really learn why he feels that way, but it's a genuine reaction that he can't articulate.

It's kind of funny to see the same tics continue to pop up in multiple of these books: yet again, we have  sisters who are both poets, one a virgin and one very much not, light and dark. I think this is maybe the fourth book with a similar pair of characters. I'm a little curious if they're based on a very influential acquaintance in Roberto's life, or just an idea that he really liked and kept returning to.

END SPOILERS

Apparently this was one of Bolaño's earlier books, and it doesn't yet have the audacity of The Savage Detectives or 2666, but you can definitely see him exploring concepts that he'll return to later. His skills are already in fine form, and I really enjoyed reading this wistful, curious, eager little novel.