‘Halo 5: Guardians’ Team Slayer Beta


Impressions of 343i’s New Arena Multiplayer

I once had the rare pleasure of watching a rough, unfinished cut of a film I’d very much been looking forward to—Alexandre Aja’s 2013 adaptation of my favorite novel, Horns, by Joe Hill. This was on a television hooked up to the author’s laptop, which Hill and our writing workshop used to play the DVD that had been burned for his personal review. The disc, as it turned out, was scratched to the point that you had to skip certain scenes in order to watch it all the way to the end, and none of the medium-budget special effects had been painted in yet. The film that landed in theaters and video-on-demand services this past Halloween only partially resembles the unpolished movie I previewed two summers ago.

The Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta is a bit like that. But you’ve got to hand it to a studio that’s so willing to open their doors to longtime fans of the venerable Halo franchise and listen to their feedback, with enough time left between now and its fall 2015 release date to incorporate significant changes before the real fine-tuning and performance testing happens.

In the course of an hour spent playing the Halo 5: Guardians Slayer beta—roughly sixty minutes of realtime, not game-time—I had to manually quit the application two or three times and reinitialize in order to get matchmaking to function properly. It actually crashed, in a full and sudden cut-to-black, on me once, although the “Prerelease Software” disclosure at startup does warn players to expect these kinds of glitches from this early build of the game.

They’re not kidding. This is a zero draft: the rough cut.

But despite the jagged edges and bugginess, there is a lot to love about what we’ve seen so far from Halo 5. The DMR, for instance, was a weapon that I adored in the series’s last installment, but which never quite seemed to live up to its potential—in the Guardians Slayer mode, so far as I can tell, it is really going to shine. The Battle Rifle feels similarly powerful, its burst-fire speed as quick and merciless as ever. And the submachine-gun, or SMG, that first debuted in the now-legendary Halo 2 has been given an unexpected makeover both functional and cosmetic; in tight quarters, it’s a powerhouse, unexpected but welcome. The Sniper Rifle feels like capital-C “Classic Halo” to this week-one, ’01 fan, and is poised to become a harbinger of victory.

Other weapons, however, such as the iconic MA5D Assault Rifle and M6-series Magnum, feel criminally underwhelming—especially given that these comprise the universal starting loadout for all Spartans entering the Team Slayer arena. While I’m glad to see some of Halo 4’s Call of Duty-era changes scrapped for this new, back-to-basics approach to the game, I confess to seeing a lot more of Halo: Reach’s DNA in the beta than I’d expected.

For example, the thruster pack is a practical addition to the core Spartan armor, offered in lieu of past titles’ variety of preselected armor abilities, like Promethean vision and active camouflage. But the game’s clunky physics are going to require a lot of tweaking in order for dedicated Halo players to warm up to the variety of playstyles and running speeds this will introduce, given that it’s now the new standard.

Did somebody say “clunky”?

Oh, yeah. Let’s take a moment to discuss the new control scheme in Halo 5: Guardians, which comes hot on the heels of related first-person shooters like Destiny and the just-released Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which features an impressive control scheme labeled “Universal Default (Recon).” While Bungie’s Destiny—and its Crucible mode in particular—shares a common ancestry with all things Halo, I’m shocked to find that the current build of Guardians sports a controller layout that’s more akin to Destiny than 343i’s own Halo: MCC. This wouldn’t be such odd thing, except that most franchise diehards have recently spent untold hours revisiting the four classic Halo campaign modes, for which I found the new Universal Default scheme to be a smooth, superb blend of the familiar that never felt like a compromise.

Why couldn’t that same configuration have been imported into the Halo 5 beta? As it stands, the Guardians controls make it near-impossible to make proper use of either the melee or thruster-pack abilities, given how jarringly their positions have been reversed. And while I’m not entirely opposed to the sprint and crouch controls being located at the LS and RS buttons, respectively, I do think it makes for an awkward, clumsy transition to go from Destiny to The Master Chief Collection and finally to the Halo 5 multiplayer beta. Why no sense of haptic continuity, 343i?

I’m not sure whether it’s due to the oafish feel of the control scheme or the baseline physics of the standard-issue Spartan player object, but I could never shake the sense that I ought to be moving faster. This feeling never left me, even when coupled with the added momentum of the thruster pack. And using the once-named “Sword” common among Covenant Elites, now referred to in-game as the Prophets’ Bane, really, really suffers as a result. The clambering capability, by contrast, feels natural and unobtrusive when compared with other changes; it just seems like a natural extension of the sprint function. And the aim-down sights, especially given the tasteful use of futuristic augmented-reality sighting for guns that lack a proper scope, like the Assault Rifle or Magnum, add an upgraded, modern feel to Halo’s classic combat system—without cluttering too much of the player’s field of vision.

The gunplay remains, as ever, the crowning achievement of Halo’s arena-multiplayer experience. Timeless classics like the Battle Rifle and Sniper live up to their Combat Evolved and Halo 2 legacies, while a wholly reinvented SMG shakes up close-quarters combat in a way that feels fresh and kinetic despite the lack of agility dialed into the Spartans’ next-gen Mjolnir armor.

Given the right care and attention, and constructive community feedback like the impressions I’ve done my best to convey here, I see little reason why Halo 5: Guardians shouldn’t boast the finest multiplayer experience the series has delivered since Halo 2 shattered the console-gaming mold in ’04.

Sincerely, 343 Industries: Thank you for sharing the drawing board with us.

About the Author

Alex Kane lives in west-central Illinois, where he works as a freelancer, plays too many first-person shooters, and blogs about culture and technology in his spare time. A graduate of the 2013 Clarion West Writers Workshop, his stories have appeared in Omni, Spark, Digital Science Fiction, and the YA anthology Futuredaze, among other places. Follow him on Twitter @alexjkane.

Trailer Breakdown: ‘The Force Awakens’


We live in a cultural moment of extremes, with the West’s systemic lack of justice and empathy in all matters of race on one bloodied hand, and the obscene consumerism of faux-holidays like Black Friday emptying the other. There’s no comfort to be found in the kinds of conversations folks are having in America right now. It seems these days all we can do is work hard, speak up when we have something worthwhile to say, and enjoy great art. Even if we’d rather drink ourselves stupid and watch The Lord of the Rings or play Destiny, it’s more important than ever that we do our best to remain informed and not allow the media to quietly slit our throats.

Because we’re all bleeding, whether we want to see the truth of it or not. One minute, all art is a vessel for the grimdark doomsayers who see the previous century creeping forth for an encore; the next, we’re exposed to a lot of playful nonsense seemingly calibrated to numb us to whatever truths may have seeped through the fictions of our time and into the public consciousness.

In pop culture, and particularly in film, we see this jarring dichotomy manifest itself in competing properties like Interstellar and Big Hero 6. Perhaps a more obvious contrast can be seen between films like Joss Whedon’s The Avengers (2012) and The Dark Knight (2008), also directed by Interstellar‘s Christopher Nolan, whose works I admire beyond measure but who is rightfully called out for being, at times, humorless.

Films like Guardians of the Galaxy, so masterfully executed by all involved parties, from the script by newcomer Nicole Perlman to James Gunn’s unabashed willingness to allow his audience a bit of escapist fun, present a creative middle ground from which to forge new narratives and a more balanced, humanistic tone for Western cinema. And I, for one, have long hoped that the Star Wars trilogy of tomorrow—helmed by J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson, two very different but vital voices in 21st-century sf film—might bring a bit of similarly healing magic to the conversation of big-screen fantasy adventures.

So it’s my goal, then, to try and be as objective as possible in my discussion of the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). I want to avoid fannish sentimentality and all the more personal feelings that go along with this IP in relation to my life, my childhood, my dream of telling stories set on worlds other than our own. Can I succeed in this? Who knows. But let’s take a look at what we’ve seen of the new film so far: What does it tell us about the future of Lucasfilm’s flagship saga?

(This is where I paused to watch the trailer. Note the change in tone.)

Well, as I’ve mentioned to folks on Twitter, it’s pretty damned exciting and important to think about the fact that the next generation of children are going to see this film, in which the two key heroes are a young woman and a young racial minority. “The most un-Disneylike thing imaginable,” I added, “yet there it is.” John Boyega’s character is particularly interesting because he appears, as the teaser begins, to be running from someone while wearing (most of) an almost-classic Stormtrooper uniform. Who is he running from? I keep asking myself, but it seems obvious that his journey will be a pivotal part of this new trilogy. A fan online said, “I wonder if he’s a Jedi?” To which I ventured a reasonable guess: “I’m imagining that he begins as a Stormtrooper and becomes [one].”

Daisy Ridley’s character must have a similar arc, although she is ostensibly the more seemingly familiar Star Wars protagonist, bearing an obvious resemblance to the early concept paintings of a pre-Luke, female “Starkiller” hero who later became the Mark Hamill character we ended up seeing in the 1977 original. Despite her more traditional place among the Tatooine dunescapes, riding a hoverbike reminiscent of Skywalker’s landspeeder and wearing the kind of desert-dweller garb we saw so much of in The Phantom Menace (1999), I’m thrilled at the idea of having a young woman in the central role of this new era in the series.

Without getting into too many spoilers, it’s worth noting that there is little in the trailer to dispel the various plot rumors that have been floating around online for months. Oscar Isaac’s role is the most pleasantly surprising, based on initial speculation and assumptions I had; my mind immediately cast him as some sort of political figure—a member of the new Republic Senate analog, perhaps, essentially replacing the role filled in earlier films by Princess Leia, Mon Mothma, and General Jan Dodonna. (If you don’t recognize one or two of those names, you probably went on a lot more dates than I did in high school, whatever, it’s not important.)

Anyway, the new X-Wing looks good on him. Really good. Take in that wide shot where they’re skimming along the water, friends.

It also appears that the color palette is going to match The Empire Strikes Back somewhat—lots of darker sets and bluish camera filters, by the looks of it. I am perfectly okay with this. Empire is the best the franchise has to offer, at least until December of next year, and given the big names involved in the sequel trilogy’s production, it makes sense that Abrams and Kasdan would aim to hit the same kinds of notes.

As beautiful as the trailer is, it’s equally important to note what we’re not shown, I think. Lupita Nyong’o, Adam Driver, Gwendolyn Christie, and Max von Sydow are all absent. Unless you suspect—as I do, you betcha—that Driver is the lightsaber-wielding Sith glimpsed in the teaser. And where are the original cast members? What of Han and Leia’s uneasy romance? It seems important that we aren’t shown the folks who’re piloting the Falcoln, which looks freaking amazing to this geek’s myopic eyes. All of these things are Abrams-esque enough, calling to mind the minimalism of the marketing for films like Cloverfield and Super 8.

But: I’d advise staying away from rumor-mill sites declaring “spoiler alert,” like Making Star Wars, unless you really, honestly want to know the story, because so far everything their sources have alleged seems to be more or less confirmed by this early teaser trailer. Me? I’ll probably keep reading and then wonder which claims are true and which are false, because that’s half the fun of being a nerd in the age of the inescapable retweet.

Chuck Wendig on ‘Exigencies’


Just got a sneak peak at the foreword for Exigencies, edited by Richard Thomas, which contains my short story “Fragile Magic.” I’m thrilled to be sharing a table of contents with so many longtime friends and fellow travelers: Usman T. Malik (Clarion West 2013), Rebecca Jones-Howe, Kenneth W. Cain, Damien Angelica Walters, Sarah Read, Amanda Gowin, Bill Johnson — damned if it isn’t a stellar lineup.

Chuck Wendig, author of The CormorantBlightborn, and The Kick-Ass Writer, had some kind words to say about the book. This is an excerpt from the introduction:

. . . the stories in this anthology possess beauty, too. They are told with great care, the narrative given shape and grace, the darkness given form and face and motive . . .

Nootropic Software Blues


Hutch left Manchester with a uni degree and a broken heart, took the vac shuttle southward across the sea into Egypt, then wound up homeless and hungry in the Cairo souk, only half-listening as a large woman in a pink headscarf tried to interest him in her wares.

The glasses were Oakley-Samsungs, used and overpriced, but Hutch felt he had to have them.

“Four-fifty,” he said, in Arabic.

The Cairene woman held up her palms and then shook her head, almost imperceptibly. The card on the table read, LE 1,000.

“My watch, too,” Hutch suggested, pointing to the Fossil timepiece on his wrist. A gift, and an antique, but the thing no longer kept time accurately anyway. What the hell, he thought.

“Five hundred,” she said, eyebrows raised, “and the watch. But it’s not a fair deal.”

“This thing is a collector’s dream,” Hutch said as he unfastened the watch and handed it over, forcing a smile.

The merchant scanned his card for the five hundred, slipped the specs into a cloth carrying sleeve, and gave them to him.

At last, connection with the whole of the world.

He’d been offline for most of the past three years, studying philosophy and then painting at a largely antitechnology institution, and in the meantime had somehow lost touch with who he was, his sense of identity.

Hutch slid the glasses back out of the sleeve and examined them in the sunlight, then tried them on. They self-adjusted to subdue the glare of the midday sun. “Thank you,” he said, and bade the woman farewell.

The whispered caress of wind and sand hastened him on down the street, toward the mosque at the corner of the nearest intersection.

The number one recommended app was a hybridized workhorse: memory extension, cloud data analysis, and cognitive enhancement courtesy of algorithmic game theory. Its developers had dubbed the program Empyreal.

Installation was quick enough. Silent in the midst of a bustling crowd, Hutch kept near the walls to avoid colliding with the sea of worshipers as he calibrated the unfamiliar software.

He wouldn’t go so far as to say that a certain level of aimlessness had landed him here in the Middle East; no, more like . . . an illness of the mind. Obsession, perhaps.

Agatha, the young woman he’d pledged his love to at the university, the first girl to ever hear the word pass his lips, had been killed the week of graduation. Days before she would’ve received her diploma in politics and gone on to face the world and its troubles.

Various associations between the places that surrounded him in the United Kingdom and the memorable events of their affair had for some time rendered Hutch agoraphobic, utterly crippled by depression.

Whenever someone asked, he attributed his anxieties to a newfound sense of the fragility of life, but he knew that there was more to his pain. He had glimpsed the horrifying truth of the universe: Chaos and randomicity were the forces that ultimately drove all life, progress, and motion.

There had been no plan for Agatha. No predetermined path.

So now here he was, riding the ripples of the tragedy ever outward and taking every whimsical detour that presented itself, hoping to one day wash ashore someplace sane.

Hoping to forget.

Much to his amazement, the authorities didn’t disturb Hutch after tourist hours were up. He just sat with his back against the cool stone wall, his legs spread out before him on the smooth marble, and tried for a moment to apprehend the wisdom of the shadows that crept about the mosque after sunset.

Hutch shuddered, felt the too-familiar warmth softening his face. A dull ache in his chest that warned of the coming implosion. He took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. An amateur Buddhist at school had once tried to teach him meditation, to center the mind and focus on an object or place of serenity. But for Hutch, the idea of peace now meant the increasingly distant past; it was becoming elusive, almost unimaginable.

His mind raced. Fragments of the underlying anguish, like an iceberg knifing its way through his consciousness. He donned his new spectacles, and their lenses amplified the scarce moon- and starlight, drenching his sight in a glow of surrealistic blue.

While the night passed in a series of windstorms that rattled the streetlamps and signposts outside, he went to work dictating the gaps in his life’s story for the glasses and organizing other personal data into a coherent narrative for the web of social media he’d ignored for so long.

The digital universe asked, and he answered. What better way to pass the time?

His new pair of Oakley-Samsungs worked better than any tablet he’d ever owned, and their interface was surprisingly intuitive. A small camera behind the bridge tracked eye movement for navigation, while neurofeedback sensors along the temple arms responded to the affirmative or more complex commands with a mere effortless thought.

Based on the data he inputted, and the web’s autonomous extrapolation of it, the glasses fed him a continual stream of suggestions for improving his quality of life.

First, they noted that his mental health had been in steady decline following his departure from the University of Manchester. Second, Hutch had three options, given his dwindling account balance: seek counseling and drug therapy at a licensed tranquility clinic, and thereby cure his anxiety disorder; remain in Cairo, seek entry-level employment at the city’s growing medical complex, and risk further emotional deterioration; or enlist for two years of voluntary service in the Egyptian Army, which in all likelihood — ninety percent, the specs estimated — would just exacerbate his situation. Or get him killed.

He amended his public resume to reflect the specifics of his education, including his double-major in philosophy and fine arts, and the glasses displayed an amendment of their own: His option to seek employment in the medical field was no longer viable.

It was either war, or the clinic.

The luminous alphanumerics rearranged themselves to fill his field of vision with these two remaining choices, and Hutch stood up and walked out into the Cairene night and its flow of shuffling denizens beneath a glittering blue-black sky.

She looks to be a few years younger than he, sitting alone on the campus lawn with a pouch of water and a print copy of Dandelion Wine, her feathered pixie cut gleaming in the afternoon sun. Her eyes flick upward from the yellowed pages, and she catches him staring.

“Bradbury, is it?” he says.

There’s a long pause. “He’s the best.” She lifts her head, squinting against the sunlight.

“Certainly one of the best. I’ve always preferred Something Wicked, myself.”

She bites her lip, then says, “That’s probably the only book of his I’ve never read.” She indicates the grass beside her with an upturned palm. “You can have a seat, if you’d like. I left room in my schedule today for strange boys to come by and bother me.”

He can only laugh. Her honesty and sense of humor are attractive enough, to say nothing of her physical beauty. The gravity between them draws him closer, and he sits down next to her.

“I’m Agatha,” she says, offering her hand.

He shakes it, taking great care to be gentle. He can’t help but notice the softness of her skin. “Hutch.”

She laughs, as if it’s the funniest thing she’s ever heard.

“Finals giving you hell yet?” he asks.

“Oh, yes.” She sets her book aside and sits up, elbows on her knees. “That’s why I really should be studying. But of course reading that isn’t assigned by a professor is so much more . . . well, you know how it is. I like to come outdoors to get away from my roommate and catch a breath of freedom. That’s my dorm,” she says, nodding toward the centuries-old brick building over her shoulder.

He smiles and nods, genuinely interested. “What are you studying?”

“Politics. With a Religions and Theology minor.”

“So,” he jokes, “you’re an Orthodox Christian . . . with a gun enthusiast for a father.”

She wrinkles her nose, but fails to hide the smile in her eyes.

“Not quite,” she says.

“All right, then. You tell me about yourself.”

The nurse rolled up his sleeve a few inches, and sterilized the skin on the side of his arm. The smell of alcohol stung his nostrils as she drove a syringe into his triceps.

Hutch felt no pain from the injection itself. The fluid — an engineered cocktail of PKMzeta inhibitors — was transparent, but the dosage looked to be at least ten milliliters. He grew lightheaded as it spread through him like a cool venom; then drew in a slow, deep breath to keep from fainting.

“The first treatment will hit you the hardest,” the nurse explained, in careful English. “You may have trouble sleeping, or even weird nightmares. It’s normal. But the second and final doses won’t affect you much at all.”

He let out the breath he’d been holding. “How many counseling sessions, after today’s?”

“Two. Same drill each time: blood test, drug administration, and then you tell Doctor Sedki your story as best you can.”

“Sounds reasonable,” he said, satisfied. His heart was beating faster. Probably just nerves.

“Take care of yourself,” the nurse said, and then smiled at him. “The therapist will come get you in a moment, if you’ll just head back to the waiting room.”

Hutch stood up and reached for the door.

“Oh,” she said, “and please leave your phone or any other electronic devices at the receptionist’s desk.”

He’s walking back to the dormitory with Duncan and Finlay, and a couple girls they just met at the pub, and the rain is weighing him down like a lead blanket. Too much to drink, he realizes. Way too much.

Finlay’s got a cigarette hanging from his lips, trailing noxious smoke, and as they enter the building and part ways halfway up the staircase, where the second-floor hallway begins, his mates wave goodnight and shuffle down the corridor without a word. He waves back to them, pivots with a squeak of his heel, and staggers up to the third floor.

No one is in his room, so he collapses in a graceless heap without bothering to lock the door. The earth seems to shift beneath him as he falls, and the void opens up inside his head. . . .

She didn’t answer his call, so they went to the pub without her. Just him and the mates. He wonders whether she’s ignoring him intentionally, or if maybe she’s involved with some campus organization he doesn’t know about. Another guy, even. Nothing would surprise him; she is a total mystery, and that is why he thinks of her every moment of every day since the first time he saw her, reading Bradbury on the lawn like some impossibly lovely sprite born of his dreams.

How can a girl like that not have a boyfriend already? As far as he’s concerned, she is utterly perfect.

Hutch can’t quite shake the dizzying confusion. He remembers that two, possibly three faceless girls were with them at the pub — so was she in fact there with him the whole time, and too many pints of Guinness have just burnt her out of the memory?

Yet he does recall a face, pixelated and two-dimensional; a talk via the campus’s spyware-monitored vidphone network. A pair of glossy pink lips mouths something about uni being infested with needless, unwanted chaperones.

And there’s another distant image: an expanse of bare flesh stretched out beneath him in the semidarkness, like some vast snowy landscape viewed from an airship’s cabin. She’s whispering in his ear — half-remembered promises about the world they’ll see together, the one they’ll create — and he’s saying that he loves her and he can’t believe anyone could be so lucky.

This all comes in a blur as he lies drunk and alone in the shadows, ill with the ebb and flow of uncertainty. Wondering whether she was ever there at all.

A moment later, he realizes he’s been humming the melody from a Beatles tune without explanation, something saccharine and hypnotic, but before he can identify which one he falls asleep.

Having examined your revised medical documentation, the specs reported in scrolling neutral blue text, it is clear that the therapy sessions are improving your state of mind. But note the risk of omitting your relationship with Agatha Lee in your global public empyreal.net profile: If there is no record of your love for her, save in your own memory, there exists the possibility that you may forget her entirely. That is what the drug therapy is intended to do, after repeated treatments.

Hutch removed the glasses, and massaged the bridge of his nose.

“So, you’re saying . . . that’s their goal. That’s what Sedki’s hoping for?” He read the lenses without putting them back on, as if they were a dim, unfocused LED screen.

Technically, the doctor is seeking only an improvement in your mental health. And your continued satisfaction with the stress elimination therapy. His data indicate a solid financial and moral standing, and therefore you have no reason to expect anything but the most humane care from him.

Hutch nodded, and took a sip of coffee that scalded the tip of his tongue. He winced.

“Say I don’t,” he whispered. “What then? If I just leave my relationship history with Agatha incomplete forever.”

Then there is a ninety percent probability that you will have no recollection of her whatsoever, pending results from your final session at the tranquility clinic.

One more time, he reflected. Then he would be free of the agony that threatened to tear him apart.

The waiting room doors slid open, and the nurse entered with a smile on her face, but didn’t make eye contact with him. Just said, “Doctor Sedki is ready for you, Mister Hootchins.” He didn’t correct her for butchering his last name.

Instead he told her, “Thank you. I’ll just be a second.” And then set to work trying to find a way to restore the Oakley-Samsungs to their factory-default settings and uninstall Empyreal.

He is standing outdoors by himself in front of the campus library — he doesn’t know why. He faces the road.

Perhaps there’s someone he knows en route to the nearby bus stop; perhaps he’s waiting for them. Driverless cars speed by on shushing tires. Double-deckers trundle noisily past, obscuring entire buildings on the opposite side of the street.

A book he’s been reading on and off for weeks illuminates the tablet in his hand. He sits down on the stone wall encircling the lawn and finds his place in the text.

No more than a heartbeat later, he hears a university coach screech to a stop at the curb across the street. Students in red-and-white attire of various fashions file out onto the sidewalk, each headed toward his or her own destination.

His eyes are drawn involuntarily to one girl in particular: feathered pixie cut, gilded in the sunlight; dressed in a white tunic and black jeans; carrying a tattered paper book, the cover of which he doesn’t recognize.

For a moment their glances meet, and then she steps out to cross the road in his direction.

But she can’t see past the enormous bus beside her as a car swerves to miss it and — before she can even begin to react — crashes into her side, tossing her skyward and striking her a second time in the temple.

The car’s windshield splinters from the force, and her blood traces the cracks. . . .

She falls, helpless, and then disappears behind the vehicle’s globular front end.

After a quick check for more oncoming traffic, Hutch runs into the street, driven by a sudden fierce urgency, and collapses at the young woman’s side.

Blood flows from a gash in her forehead, and her back arches in the first of several violent convulsions. Hutch places his hand gently on the girl’s shoulder, to let her know that she is still among the living. That she’s not been left alone to die.

She fights to lift her head forward, and gazes up at him. Into him. There’s a glimmer of recognition in her pale oceanic eyes, as though she has seen him once or twice before.

The thought unsettles him, cuts at some raw nerve deep in the innermost chamber of his thundering heart. Whoever you are, he thinks, you’re someone’s daughter. Undoubtedly you’re also someone’s lover; maybe the would-be mother of his children.

And she is beautiful, even as she heaves short, quick, panicked breaths.

Hutch reaches down for her hand, seizes it, and she reciprocates his thoughtless grasp. It’s as if she fears the pavement underneath her might fall away at any moment, and he is her only hope for hanging on to the world. But of course she isn’t thinking that; she no longer fears anything.

Shock has rid her of the pain of her injuries, and he feels the strength leaving her fingers.

Her eyes turn away, as if looking heavenward, and despite this Hutch admits to himself that he has never beheld a sight so hellish. So — so final.

Whoever she is, she is gone and will never love or feel or dislike anything, or anyone, ever again. Whoever she might have been . . . will never be, at least not on this plane of existence. Not on this coolly uncaring earth.

He can’t summon the strength for tears, or the breath for words. Instead he vows silently never to forget this moment. To preserve the tragic sense that for the time being he is alive, while others suffer and fight and fade forever from being according to the chaotic whims of all matter and motion, from one fleeting instant to the next.

What I wouldn’t give, he thinks, just to have known you.

About the Author

Alex Kane lives in west-central Illinois, where he works as a freelancer, plays too many first-person shooters, and blogs about culture and technology in his spare time. A graduate of the 2013 Clarion West Writers Workshop, his stories have appeared in Omni, Spark, Digital Science Fiction, and the YA anthology Futuredaze, among other places. Follow him on Twitter @alexjkane.

This story originally appeared in Spark: A Creative Anthology, Vol. IV, Brian Lewis, ed., Empire & Great Jones, January 2014. If you enjoyed it, please consider paying what you wish for it via a PayPal tip to alexkanefiction@gmail.com.

Like Tears in Rain


An essay on Ridley Scott’s 2007 rerelease of Blade Runner: The Final Cut on Blu-ray

You can almost smell the rain, feel it hammer the leather of your trenchcoat. Hear the harmonic buzzing of blue neon all around you. You can taste the Tsingtao, bubbly and cool on your tongue. If there’s a single flaw worth noting about the Blu-ray transfer of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner: The Final Cut (’07), it can be only the opening expositional crawl—an almost quaint artifact of its time, given the 2019 date it supplies—which is still valuable for its brief explanation of the “replicant” as a genetically-engineered, rather than mechanical, variety of android.

Blade Runner is a film valued for its stunning visual representation of the future, the relative diversity of its cast despite the quasi-Aryan villain Roy Batty, and the undeniable success of its all too human drama. But what makes it so timeless, a box-office flop that has been elevated to classic status over the years due to its cult audience, is its unpretentious use of metaphor: The replicant serves as a mirror for the countless ways in which humanity draws arbitrary divisions among its numbers, and the horrific conditions those who are labeled as subhuman, or as “the other,” are subjected to through various sociopolitical machinations.

It’s only shocking if you choose to ignore our history.

For example, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a twenty-first-century bounty hunter—an officer of the law contracted to hunt and kill rogue “skin jobs” amid the golden age of extraterrestrial colonization. Having previously quit the force, he appears reluctant in the film’s beginning to return to his role as the titular blade runner; the expression on Ford’s face as he is briefed on the Nexus-6 synthetics running loose in Scott’s future Los Angeles shows the inner turmoil he faces he each time this sort of work comes his way.

His investigation leads him to the headquarters of the all-important Tyrell Corporation, where he’s greeted by the first of the film’s true stars: the replicant Rachael (portrayed by newcomer Sean Young, who is mesmerizing beyond reason in the role)—a Nexus-7, most likely, designed to be virtually indistinguishable from her human counterparts. And the first of her kind to go undetected by the Voight-Kampff test, which is intended to scope out telltale signs related to human empathy, or a lack thereof.

Her unique situation, however, is compounded by her creator’s having kept her replicant status a secret. Due to false memory implantation, and sheer ignorance regarding her true origin, Rachael manages to answer “well over a hundred” empathy-based questions without Deckard at last reaching a conclusion as to whether or not she’s human.

She is, for the audience, a symbol of the superficiality which is so often used in distinguishing one human being from the next—and one of many clues that suggest Deckard himself may be a replicant, especially given how little we’re told about his past.

Setting aside the romantic subplot—and the fact that they end up together, their uncertain fates entwined in the end—the scene in which Deckard reveals to Rachael what she really is, that she’s a living, organic work of human artifice, with few memories or experiences to call her own, is a testament to Scott’s brilliance as a director. This brief exchange also highlights, I’d argue, just how perfect Sean Young is for playing the part of a replicant ripped from the safety of her genetic cradle and told face-to-face what she truly is.

When Deckard sees how hurt she is by the revelation, he tries to take back his words, to assure her that it was all a terrible joke. But her innocence is lost in light of the man’s knowledge; he pours a drink, and they make love, all to an incredibly beautiful, spacious piano track by Vangelis.

In a later scene, our conflicted blade runner examines photographic evidence while sitting near the piano in his apartment, sheet music laid out in front of him, and daydreams unexpectedly of a white unicorn: a symbol that comes back to haunt him near the film’s end. Left as a calling card by Detective Gaff (Edward James Olmos), Deckard discovers a piece of metallic origami suggesting that the mythic animal of his dream may be a programmed archetype, not unlike the content of Rachael’s own implanted memories. . . .

But it is Rutger Hauer’s unforgettable performance as the fierce and relentless Roy Batty, whose ruminations on the ephemerality of time and experience serve as the film’s thematic backbone, that represents the film’s true gift to the realm of science fiction cinema.

“If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes,” he muses, while trying to extract information about the Tyrell Corporation and its leader from a geneticist who specializes in growing cultured eyeballs.

Much of the conflict driving the film’s intricate plot stems from the widespread manufacture and sale of genetically-engineered, “artificial” creatures, from snakes to owls to the humanoid Nexus-model replicants. Creations tell of an implicit creator, and Scott seems in this film, as with his more recent effort, Prometheus (’12), to explore the intelligence-design argument for God’s existence: Close examination of organic tissue reveals serial numbers beneath a microscope’s lens; android dreams act as windows into the Jungian interconnectedness of creation and the decidedly social human mind, at least metaphorically.

The film presents again and again the dilemma of those seeking in vain for their divine creator, only to find that true divinity is more often found in the mortal subjects of such a cosmic being’s creation. Batty himself is a servant to the undeniable beauty to be found in each passing moment, and the uniquely subjective nature of experience. He reflects throughout the film on the tragedy of both consciousness and memory as fleeting, intangible impressions; he’d no doubt prefer the preservation of his experiences through the relative permanence of, say, art—or even a technology such as the Internet—over the simple act of dying and being ultimately forgotten.

His search for the key to extending his Nexus-6 lifespan, limited by his maker to a mere four yours, acts as a constant symbol for the cruel fact of our own impermanence, the finitude of existence. One can’t help but feel for him, and share his pain, even as we strive to fully comprehend Deckard’s.

As malevolent as the script forces Batty to become in terms of both his inner anguish and violent methodology, we see in him our own basic fears and insecurities reflected back at us: the basic undesirability of death, despite its inevitability; the harshness of a life spent in servitude; and the oft-perceived futility of revolution against an unjust ruling class.

“It’s not an easy thing to meet your maker,” he tells his father-figure creator, Dr. Eldon Tyrell.

And Tyrell asks, “What seems to be the problem?”

Death,” Roy Batty replies.

His irreverence toward Tyrell suggests that although death comes to everyone at one time or another, there is a certain moral failure in coming face to face with God (figuratively or literally) and demanding His mercy—in demanding the ageless but elusive prize of immortality. And Batty, much like pioneering corporate investor Peter Weyland, of Scott’s Prometheus, finds that such demands are ultimately fruitless. That, like the biblical Job, a mortal man can find comfort and peace only in the acceptance of his own mortality; and God’s intentions, if indeed there is a god at all, are neither to be known nor questioned.

Blade Runner, then, is most successful as an allegory of human beings divided by false social stratifications but united in their universal struggle with the sheer brevity of life. Just as moments glimpsed in the great river of time are invariably washed away—“like tears in rain,” as Batty puts it in the famously improvised monologue that ties the film together near its completion—so, too, are human lives transient and finite.


Alex Kane lives in west-central Illinois, where he works as a freelancer, plays too many first-person shooters, and blogs about culture and technology in his spare time. A graduate of the 2013 Clarion West Writers Workshop, his stories have appeared in OmniSparkDigital Science Fiction, and the YA anthology Futuredaze, among other places. His reviews and criticism have also been published in Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction, The New York Review of Science Fiction, Amazing Stories, Bookgasm, and SF Signal. Follow him on Twitter @alexjkane.