The Fence: A Revenger Mission Update

revengers_stolen-goodsThe following is a field report from Team One, the ones responsible for infiltrating the city’s underground market of precious artwork and artifacts. As part of our larger effort to crack the Tyrene Code, these members of our league were dispatched with a special purpose. First, they were tasked with finding Arthur Goehner and determining if anyone has tried to fence the Tyrene painting since the theft took place. Failing that, they were to extract whatever information Goehner knew about who might have stolen the painting in the first place.

Goehner is a man notorious for moving goods that do not belong to him or his associates. According to rumor, he comes from a long line of men who specialize in this profession, his father having been a Swiss national with strong ties to the Nazi movement before and during World War II. I was sure to our heroes know that they did not need to be gentle when handling Goehner. Men like him have a way of escaping justice and I had the feeling a little thumping was just what he needed!

Needless to say, what they found was something different than I think any of us anticipated. As point on the mission, Judgement was responsible for reigning the bastard in. He was backed by Bonfire and Freedom Fighter, and the three made quite a team this time around. Here’s how it happened:

*                    *                    *

The Craigflower Hill shipping district was quiet, on the outside anyway. Underneath it all, there was lot of ugly stuff, things that few could truly sense. In one corner, someone was considering killing his father for the insurance money. In another, a woman just saw her husband with another woman. She was getting ready to smash his car while he was still in the throws of adulterous passion.

Judgement sat still and took it all in on top of the area’s tallest warehouse, looking like a freaky gargoyle. He breathed in the night air as he breathed in its twisted energy, absorbing all the hate, anger despair. It was his power source, which he would soon send back at the people who made the city what it was. A disgusting hellhole, the place ripe for a little cleansing!

“Any sign of our target?” asked Bonfire.

“Not yet,” replied Judgement, trying to feel out their quarry. His energy was particular, the kind that only those used to thieving, conniving and lying for a living could generate. “But keep the home fires burning.”

Bonfire laughed and snapped his fingers, producing a small flames between them. The flicker momentarily lit up the smallest section of the roof, making Judgement a little worried they’d be seen. But he knew there was no sense in telling Bonfire off. The man was a live wire, an untamed flame. You couldn’t tell him anything!

Overhead, the faintest sound of air being cut by a fast moving object could be heard. For anyone below, they would not think twice. Just another passenger jet or trainer taking off the from the airport. But Judgement knew better. The sound of the subsonic object announced the arrival of the third and final member of their team.

“She’s here,” he said. “Be ready.”

“What’s the target’s name again?”

“Goehner,” Judgement said with just a touch of bitterness. “Arthur Goehner. People around here call him Art.” He tried not to chuckle at the irony in that. “You remember the plan from before?”

Bonfire hummed and affirmative and began reciting it. “I got the north end, lady Freedom takes the south. We start moving up stealthily, but if things go awry, we try to flush them up the middle towards you.”

“The others we let go. It’s Art we focus on.” Judgement nodded. Everything was set. It was time. “Let’s move.”

Bonfire left the roof first. Dropping down to the side alley, he began making the circuitous route that would take him to the storage facility at the north end. As he moved, Judgement could hear the streaks overhead that indicated Freedom was coming about and moving to the south end. That left only him, sliding down the roof to the muddy ground below.

Kneeling low, he stretched out with his sense again. There was plenty, to be sure. Greed, hostility, and a plethora of other assorted things that filled him with bile but gave him strength. He looked for the one he knew could only be Goehner. For him, greed was an especially powerful motivator, one unrestrained by dignity or other moral considerations.

He found the signature he was looking for before long. He could practically smell the trail it left, to the point of drowning out all those around him. He began moving slowly, keeping low and slow in case he came across a passerby. Until they found their target, there couldn’t risk anyone seeing them and making a racket.

Moving into a small alcove, Judgement looked onto the dock and spied the large cargo carrier that was moored alongside a series of tugs and . The ship had seen better days, its sides coated with rust and the upper hull turning a mottled shade of grey. He spied the number on the side, thirteen painted in large red letters. And the tail end, a Panamanian flag fluttered in the evening breeze.

“I’ve got him,” he said into the earpiece. “Warehouse, thirteen, big red letters on the front door.”

“I’m coming in,” said Freedom Fighter.

“On my way,” replied Bonfire.

Spotting the rail nearest him, Judgement jumped over the edge and grabbed hold of a lattice below. With careful ease, he swooped under the deck until he was directly beside the ship, able to sense the many people inside. He took a second to draw in more energy, and then made his move.

His feet struck the deck with a loud clang. Many faces turned to look at him and were tossed before they could utter a thing. First two, then three more; men in wool caps carrying small arms, Goehner’s hired thugs who protect his trading ship.

Someone else on the top deck looks down just in time and got a word off before he too was taken down.

“Freaks!” is the word he yells, followed by a loud bellow as he hits the rail stomach-first and falls over. Feet can be heard inside the ship as everywhere, Goehner’s men scramble and run. Their reputation is beginning to precede them.

The sound of more clanks against the deck signal the arrival of Freedom Fighter and Bonfire. Judgement turns to see them, as they currently drawing a great deal of attention to themselves. She had her sword drawn, burning brightly in the night. And Bonfire’s hands were ablaze with angry intent.

“Making friends?” Freedom asked.

Judgement shrugged. “Sounds like they know me. Called us freaks.”

“Here come more…” said Bonfire.

Judgement looked back in time to see the new arrivals, the ones with the heavier firepower. He smiled and looked to his comrades.

“Bonfire? Distraction play, please?”

“With pleasure,” he replied, spotting the rain barrels that lined the deck. Too bad they weren’t filled with fuel, he thought. But no one was that stupid. In a flash, he sent two streams of fire past the gunmen. They turned to cover their eyes, and were rewarded when plumes of superheated vapor went up in all directions, scalding whatever flesh they had exposed.

“Freedom! Ass-kick play!”

Together, they moved swiftly, smacking down every one who remained standing. Freedom’s blade flew, cutting down any arm that was raised against her, while Judgement relied on his fists or a simple kinetic shove to send him targets over the rail.

When it was all over, just a few shocked and awed bodies remained on deck, the rest either in the water or out to sea.

“We clear?” asked Freedom.

“Think so,” Bonfire reported, his hands still holding a small burning ball of light between them.

Judgement looked around for someone who still seemed cognizant enough to talk. With a simple kinetic lift, he raised the man up and waited for him to notice. His fear was intoxicating, forcing a smile on Judgement’s face.

“So friend… how do you want to leave here tonight? Alive and well, or in the back of an ambulance?”

“Wha-what do you want?” he cried.

“Goehner. Where is he?”

The man’s eyes look involuntarily behind him, to the door at the base of the ship’s superstructure. With all the bodies coming to greet them, they hadn’t noticed it was hanging open.

“Below decks?” The man emitted something that sounded between a squeak and whine. “Don’t show us, we’ll show ourselves.”

The man screamed as he was hurled across the deck and over the rail, splashing in the water below.

On their way down, they passed several groups of huddled, wailing people. All exuded fear, their faces contorted in dark looks illuminated by the lower decks faint lighting. Most kept low, afraid to look up as the “Freaks” crossed their paths. Some thought to run the second Judgement and his comrades cleared a doorway. Perhaps they had heard stories. He was just happy that they were making themselves scarce, lowering the chance of an unfortunate accident.

They found him in the rear, huddling in a room filled with all kinds of objets d’arts, sculptures and artifacts. He seemed to be trying to hide under them, and had made an impressive cover using some counterfeit silk blankets and a large framed painting. He looked like a homeless man taking shelter under a lean-to, or a kid in an improvised fort. In any case, he began to struggle when he saw them entering, his back to the wall and feet pushing futilely against the deck.

“Hello Goehner,” said Judgement, eating his fear and growing stronger for it. “We need to talk.”

“I-I- swear… I didn’t know she was…”

“Stow it, you coward! I have no interest in your other various crimes. I want to know if you know anything about a stolen painting.”

Judgement felt a tapping on his shoulder. He turned left to see Freedom standing by his shoulder, her face twisted in a sarcastic grin.

“I’ll think you’ll have to be more specific than that dear. He deals in those.”

“In this alone…” Bonfire added, shaking his head. They weren’t wrong, and Judgement did notice the many framed pieces and canvases that were crowded in this room alone. He sighed and raised his hands.

“Alright, Mr. Goehner. We need to know if you heard anything about a specific painting. One that was created by the late Mike Tyrene. Ring a bell?”

Goehner struggled for breath and wiped the sweat from his face. He nodded frantically.

“Good. Let’s talk.”

What follows is a bit ugly and a bit brutal. Clearly, Judgement doesn’t have a soft spot for men who’s father’s participated in grand theft and genocide. Luckily, from the after-action reports issued by him and his colleagues painted a pretty clear picture of what they learned. It seems Goehner did hear about the stolen painting, but was confused when no one approached him to make a deal. As the lone fence capable of moving precious artwork in the city, he would be the one to approach if they were looking to sell.

After a few days, he decided to put out feelers and find out who might have been involved. What he learned was inconsistent, but several of his inquiries came back saying that a team of men had pulled off the heist, real professionals who penetrated the museum’s security without leaving any forensic evidence. One inquiry turned up a name. The Alchemist. Apparently, the thieves left a calling card after lifting the painting. Some criminals just can’t resist!

From this, we can deduce two things. One, whoever we are dealing with is serious and committed, and has a certain predilection for children’s stories. And two, since they haven’t tried to sell the painting, they must know about the code it contains and are interested in cracking it. Good thing we have one of the three painting, and I expect we’ll have the other very soon. Now all we have to do is secure the other and find out exactly what it is this code is all about!

Oh, and I should report that Arthur Goehner is alive and recovering in Mount Sinai hospital. Authorities report he suffered multiple injuries when they found him, and that he faces multiple charges for grand theft, facilitation and trafficking in precious stolen items. I think it’s safe to say ol’ “Art” has retired!

Alchemy Symbols by sgtfarris
Alchemy Symbols by sgtfarris

 

Alternate Histories…

When it comes to science fiction, alternate histories are a special kind of sub-genre. They explore the what ifs of history, challenge our notions of inevitability, and open up whole worlds based on what could have been. They are a source of fantasy and speculation on the one hand, offering the reader a chance to explore endless possibilities, and realism on the other, showing how a drastically different world can be entirely plausible.

Some might ask why this sort of thing would be considered sci-fi at all. Why not simply file it under the heading of historical fiction next to all those recreations or Dan Brown novels (Ha! Take that, Brown!)? Well, the answer is that, like time travel novels, there is a scientific basis for this kind of story. I’m sure everyone’s familiar with the Multiverse or Alternate Universes hypothesis. In essence, these theories arise out of quantum mechanics as well as pure fantasy, positing that there may be an unlimited number of alternate universes in which all possible realities have been realized.

So really, creating a world where things unfolded differently from our own is not only fun and creative, its also a relatively scientific approach. Who’s to say that this world doesn’t exist somewhere out there, in a different dimension of the universe as a separate quantum reality? Hell, there may very well be countless such realities paralleling our own. And imagining how and why things unfolded differently in any one of them is what makes them fun!

All that being said, let me get into some prime examples of Alternate History and what was good about them. For starters, the classic tale by Philip K. Dick and the world where the Allies LOST the Second World War.

Man In The High Castle:
This story takes place in the US during the 1960’s where a different kind of Cold War is brewing between two superpowers. But unlike the world that WE know, in this world those superpowers are Japan and Germany. After losing the Second World War, the US was divided between these two powers, a loose federation of Midwestern states is currently unoccupied between them, and Jews, Africans and other “undesirables” have all but been exterminated. The rest of the world is similarly divided, falling into either the Greater German Reich, the Japanese Empire, the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, or the Italian Empire.

Man In The High Castle, Map

The reasons for this are made clear throughout. For one, the assassination attempt of FDR by Giuseppe Zangara’s in 1933 was successful. As a result, the US experienced a weak string of governments led by FDR’s VP John Nance Garner and then Republican John W. Bricker. Without FDR’s leadership, America never recovered from the Great Depression and was unable to offer military assistance to Britain and Russia or defend itself against Japan when WWII broke out. As a result, the Axis powers won and the US itself was conquered and divided by 1948.

In the world which resulted, the Mediterranean has also been drained, Africa has been sterilized through the worst manifestation of the Reich’s human experiments, and the Reich is sending people to the Moon and further into space. Technology has advanced quicker within the Reich, but at a tremendous cost in human terms, and the resulting impact on the Reich’s culture is evident everywhere. Madness and mass murder have become a permanent part of their psychology, which is part of the reason why they are planning on war again. The Japanese sphere is much more peaceful and phlegmatic by comparison, but technologically less advanced. In any coming conflict, they will be at a disadvantage and they know it!

Enter into this world a series of characters who represent the various facets of society. There’s the Japanese Trade missioner in San Francisco, Nobusuke Tagomi, Mr. Baynes, a Captain in Reich Naval Counter-Intelligence who poses as a Swedish Industrialist, Frank Frink, a secret Jew who is trying to start a jewelry business with his partner, Wyndam-Mason, an industrialist and the former boss of Frink, Robert Childan, an American antiquities dealer who sells his wares to Japanese customers who are interested in owning examples of pre-war Americana, and Juliana Frink, a Judo instructor and Frank’s ex-wife.

In the course of the story, we find that Baynes is traveling to San Francisco to meet with Tagomi, ostensibly as part of a trade mission, but really to deliver a warning. Germany is gearing up for war with Japan and plans on using nukes! Mason introduces the subject of the book known as The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, an alternate history that deals with the subject of how WWII could have been won. Frink and his partner begin manufacturing jewelry in the hopes of selling it through Childan, who does good business with antiquities but finds that innovative new things are not appealing to his Japanese customer base. And finally, we see that Juliana, after hooking up with a Reich secret agent, is traveling to middle America to find the author of Grasshopper, a man known by his signature – “Man In The High Castle”. The Reich wants this man dead, for obvious reasons.

By books end, Juliana kills the German agent once she discovers his identity and finds the man for herself. She learns that, in spite of the mystery surrounding him, he is actually a perfectly normal man who was inspired to create something groundbreaking. His inspiration for the book apparently came from the Oracle, an aspect of the I Ching which people use to ordain the future (and which plays a central role in this story). How he applies the Oracle to past events is never fully explained, but the point is clear. By book’s end Juliana realizes that they are living in the wrong reality. Germany and Japan were meant to have lost the war and the history was meant to unfold differently.

While difficult to follow at times, mainly because of the sort of stream of consciousness way PKD writes, this book was fascinating and is the perfect example of an alternate history. The plot device of the book, itself an alternate history, illustrates beautifully how history unfolded differently in this alternate universe and spares the reader from having to read through an intro that explains how it all happened. And aside from some debatable scenarios, like the draining of the Mediterranean, most of what goes on in it seems highly plausible.

Fatherland:
Another example of an alternate history in which the Axis once again won World War II, but did not conquer the New World. In addition to being a novel, it was a adapted into a TV movie starring Rutger Hauer, Miranda Richardson and Peter Vaughan. The author, Robert Harris, has done many works of historical fiction, including Enigma (also adapted into a movie), the Roman historical novel of Pompeii, and a trilogy centered on Cicero (Imperium, Lustra, and Conspirata). And though Fatherland does resemble Man in the High Castle in many respects, it is arguably more realistic and novel in its approach.

The story opens in the Greater German Reich in 1965 after a murder has taken place. Investigating this murder is Xavier March (played by Rutger Hauer in the movie), an investigator working for the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo). The victim is a high-ranking Nazi named Josef Bühler, and his death was meant to look like an accident. As he investigates further, he finds that Bühler’s death is linked to several deaths of high-ranking Nazis who lived through the war. In each case, their deaths are made to look like accidents.

At the same time, Charlotte “Charlie” Maguire, an American journalist, has come to the Reich to witness Adolf Hitler’s 75th birthday. This event is also being used by the Reich to heal the rift between the US and Germany, as there has been a state of detente between the two since Second World War. While in Germany, she is slipped a package from a stranger containing details about Bühler and begins looking into it herself. In time, March and Maguire meet up and begin exchanging information, hoping to discover the truth behind all the deaths.

In time, they come to uncover that the deaths are part of a cover-up conspiracy whereby the planners of the Holocaust are being eliminated one by one. This is being done in preparation for the meeting between Hitler and Josheph P. Kennedy (the president of the US in this story), basically to ensure that Germany’s crimes don’t get in the way of a new alliance. When the Gestapo get wind of their discovery, March is arrested and tortured, but Maquire escapes and heads for Switzerland with the proof they’ve found.

March is eventually freed with the help of the chief of Kripo, but quickly realizes his rescue was staged so he might lead them to Macquire. He instead heads for Auschwitz, which has been dismantled since the war, looking for some indication of what went on there. He soon finds bricks in the undergrowth, indicating the existence of old structures. Satisfied that it was real, he pulls out his gun and prepares for the inevitable.

The story not only does a good job of postulating what would have happened had Germany won the war (i.e. the Holocaust would have been covered up and disavowed by later generations in order to protect Germany’s reputation), but also on how this victory came to be. In addition to Reinhard Heydrich (the chief of Reich security during WWII) surviving his assassination attempt in 1942, the Germans also learned that the British had cracked their Enigma codes and changed them, thus being able to successfully cut off Britain with their U-boa ts and starve it into submission by ’44. In the East, the Germans also manage to defeat the Russians in the Caucasus in 42′, thus securing the Baku oil fields, cutting off Moscow from supply and finishing them off by 43′.

With victory in Europe complete, they then begin testing their own nuclear weapons and developing “V-3” intercontinental rockets by 46′. However, the US wins in the Pacific and drops their own nukes on Japan, ending the war there and leading to a state of Cold War between the US and Germany. Thus, in this alternate world, it is the US and Germany that are the global, nuclear superpowers rather than the US and USSR. The story also ends on a cliffhanger note, leaving the reader to wonder if war breaks out between the US and Germany and whether or not the main characters survive.

However, not all alternate histories revolve around WWII or even recent events. Some go much farther back in time, tackling pivotal events like the “discovery” of the New World, or the fall of Rome, or, in the case of Harry Turtledove, the outcome of the American Civil War. This is an especially good example of alternate history because of its apparent plausibility.

Guns of the South:
In this story, historian Harry Turtledove explores the very real possibility of what would have happened had the South won the war. It involves some South African ultra-nationalists (Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging) traveling back in time to supply Robert E Lee’s army with AK-47’s and nitroglycerine tablets (to treat Lee’s heart condition), thus ensuring a Southern victory at Gettysburg and in the 1864 campaign. The motives for this aid are made clear in the course of the story when Lee finally questions the helpful men who’s accents and technology they find strange and intriguing.

In essence, the leader of the time travelers (known as the AWB, the anglicized version of which is “America Will Break”) tells Lee that in 2014, where they have come from, white supremacy has not endured and that in South Africa by their time, blacks have eclipsed whites as the dominant power. They feel that the only way white supremacy will survive is if the American South won the Civil War, thus ensuring that it would have a home in the US in the future. Lee accepts their help, and the Confederates eventually win the Civil War and the Union, England and France are forced to recognize the CSA.

What follows this is not only intriguing but highly plausible. Lee becomes president of the new south and abolishes slavery, in keeping with his views and the reality of the post-war situation. Not only is slavery untenable from a moral standpoint in his view, Lee knows that forcing former slaves to return to the plantations will only lead to violence and spur on black guerrillas who are now operating throughout the Confederacy. At his inauguration however, men from the AWB attempt to kill him with Uzis and end up murdering his wife, VP and several dignitaries. Lee then seizes their HQ and finds many more things from the future (like lightbulbs and books about the marginalization of racism in the future). He then successfully uses these books to convince his congressmen that slavery is obsolete and must be condemned. Abolition is thus passed in the South without incident.

The story ends with the Union, angered by British recognition and support of the South, invading Canada. Also, Lee is made aware of the fact that they are developing their own version of the AK-47 in case of future war. However, he remains convinced that the CSA will maintain its technological advantage, and will in time catch up with the North in terms of industry and be able to defend itself if worse comes to worse.

Having completed this one volume, Turtledove went on to create ELEVEN more books in the series, drawing out this alternate history thread and creating a very plausible timeline in the end. To sum it succinctly, the US enjoys mostly peaceful relations with the CSA for about fifty years, but angry over England and France’s support of the CSA, aligns itself with the new power in Europe at the end of the end of the 19th century – The German Empire! As the alliances take shape in the early 20th century, it’s Germany, Austria-Hungary and the USA versus Britain, France, Russia and the CSA. Neat huh? One can see without much effort how this will shake things up!

In the US too, politics change as the Republican Party is blamed for losing the war. It disappears and Lincoln, himself despised, ends up joining the Socialist Party, the only rival to the Democrats. With America and Germany as allies, cultural changes occur as well, such as fine mustaches becoming all the rage. This is in reference to Kaiser Wilhelm who was renowned for having a bushy soup strainer on his upper lip!

But its the wars where the real change occurs. When World War I comes around, America is immediately involved and the stalemate of trench warfare is seen running across the Mississippi river and also between Canada – part of the British empire – and the northern US. The black former slaves of the Confederacy, freed by President Robert E. Lee in the 1880s but then left to rot, rise in a Communist-backed revolt in 1915 but are ruthlessly crushed. In the end, the US army conquers Canada in 1917 with the use of tanks and breaks through the Confederate lines in Kentucky and Virginia. Russia is similarly brought out of the war by a revolution in this timeline, but not a Communist one. The US navy then turns its attention to Britain and puts up a blockage with starves it into submission. The USA and Germany have won the war.

Also similar to real history, the victorious powers impose harsh peace terms on the losers, complete with territorial losses, “war guilt” clauses, reparations, and disarmament. Politics thus become radicalised in the defeated powers – Britain, France and the Confederacy – and fascist parties gain control in all of them. The Second World War then arrives on schedule after a demagogue who is voted in in the CSA who resembles Hitler, though his hatred is aimed not at Jews but at blacks. The war opens with a Confederate blitzkrieg into Ohio that almost cuts the US in half, but in time, the weight of numbers begins to swing the balance the other way. Much like in the real WWII, the death camps run by the Freedom Party to exterminate the South’s blacks continue to run full blast, even as their armies are in full retreat.

Both sides are also racing for nuclear weapons, and some are used in the end – but Germany and the USA have more of them than Britain and the CSA, so the victors in the First World War win once again. And this time, the Confederacy is fully occupied and formally abolished. The United States is reunited after generations of disunity, but a genuine reunification will not come for many generations, if at all.

Thus, while some small changes in historical events led to some rather cataclysmic changes in Turtledove’s story, things pretty much meet up with real history in the end and come to resemble the world as we know it today. Russia is not Communist, and the Cold War of the post-WWII era is markedly different, but the general outlines are the same. So in a way, his story is just like PKD’s and Harris’ in that things diverge in the beginning but come back to what we, the readers, interpret as the normal course of history in the end. Hmmm, one might construe that their is a point in all this, a lesson if you will. And in that, they’d be right!

The Lesson of Alternate History(?):
This humble narrator would suggest that if there is a lesson to be learned from Alternate Histories, it is that the force of history is a powerful, weighty thing and that while small changes can have a big impact, the general pattern reasserts itself before too long. At least, that is what the authors in question appear to be saying. In PKD’s Castle, the story ends with the character of Juliana Frink realizing that Germany and Japan lost the war and that the author of the alternate history book wrote it for just that reason. Fatherland ends with every indication that the Holocaust will be revealed and that the US and Germany will remain enemies. And Turtledove’s Guns of the South, though it takes about half a billion words to get there, ends with WWI and II playing out pretty much the same as they did in real life.

But as I’m sure someone wise might have said (might have just been me!), books tell us far more about the author than the subject. It could be that history is a chaotic arbitrary process and the idea that it will meet up with us or overcome obstacles that are artificially put in place is an illusion. For all we know, causation and inevitability are things we impose based on a false consciousness, that we believe we are where we are meant to be because we have to. That idea is often explored in alternate history as well, where the characters believe that their own timelines are the “right” one and that if tampering took place, it was for ill. However, the stories always seem to end with things going back to the way they were meant to be. Everyone’s happy, or at least, a sense of balance is restored.

Either way, it tells us much about ourselves, doesn’t it? We are creatures who like to tamper with things, who like to ask “what if” and experiment with the natural order. But in the end, we also depend on that order and want to know that it will unfold as its meant to. Whether its an illusion or its real, its one of the many things without which, we would be lost!

Sidenote: Shameless plug, but it so happens I wrote some articles on the subjects of the multiverse and alternate universes. They are available at Universe Today.com, here are the links:

Multiverse Theory
Altnernate Universe

V for Vendetta

Chances are, we all know people who are avid readers and swear up and down that a movie is never as good as an original novel. Man, those people can be annoying! However, as time goes on I find myself identifying with those people more and more. The difference between them and myself is, they read the books first and then see the movies. I, on the other hand, see the movie, listen to people complain about how “it wasn’t the same”, read the novel, and then join the chorus! Maybe this is a sign that I should read more, maybe its just dumb luck. But somehow, I find that with a lot of adaptations, I’m getting it all backwards.

The experiences tend to be pretty far between, but on the whole, I notice they are becoming more and more frequent. First, there was The Lord of the Rings, where I saw the first movie and then read the trilogy. By the time the trilogy was wrapping up, I was nitpicking all the omissions and changes with all the other Rings geeks! Then there was Fight Club, a movie I thoroughly enjoyed but then read the book and suddenly found reason to criticize. Then came Blade Runner, one of those rare instances where I liked the movie better. More recently, its been Game of Thrones – we’ll see how that turns out! – and, for the purposes of this review, V for Vendetta.

Yes, here too I saw the movie before I ever knew the source of inspiration. Then, having finally read it, I found myself having second thoughts about the movie. In truth, that’s not really fair, but it is kind of unavoidable. Regardless of what order you do it in, you can’t help but be very much aware of the fact that between the original story and the screen adaptation, things change. It might not always seem faithful, but a movie is not diminished simply because it’s different from the source material, nor can you fault director’s for taking creative liberties. And with adaptations that come years or even decades after the book was first released, you have to figure that changes will be made because they have to be. Things have happened between now and then, things which may make certain parts of the story impossible or at the very least unlikely. So with that in mind, let’s get down to V for Vendetta – the movie, the graphic novel, and everything in between!

(Background—>):
Since I knew in advance that V (the movie, not the sci-fi series) was based on an original graphic novel, I thought it only fair that I read it before giving the movie a review. After reading it, I was reminded of why I enjoyed Watchmen as thoroughly as I did. In both cases, Alan Moore was the creative mind, combining an obvious passion for politics, history and narrative depth with the usual subject matter of comic books (i.e. superheros). It was these same elements that Frank Miller would later emulate in order to create one of the best entries in the Batman franchise – The Dark Knight Returns. This is surprising, seeing as how V was apparently a side project of Moore’s, something he and illustrator David Lloyd did for fun more than anything else. The fact that it went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed series’ in history, eventually spawning a movie adaptation, was just a sign of its quality.

But of course, the graphic novel was released between 1982 and 89, covering events which took place towards the end of the 90’s. In it, a post-apocalyptic Britain has been spared the ravages of the nuclear holocaust, but then finds itself struggling to survive in a devastated world. It is then quickly taken over by a fascist government that uses the chaos of the outside world and the mentality of “Lifeboat Britain” to take power and justify its extreme policies. After many years of supposed peace and stability, a masked anarchist emerges who begins to slowly take apart the state, exposing its lies, secrets, and the crime that made him what he is.

Not only was this a chilling basis for a story, it also had an undeniably British flavor to it. The setting, the characters, and the mentality of it all just screamed Britain! In the movie, we get much the same feeling, but the elements are different. Rather than involving nuclear war, the plot revolves around the threat of terrorism and repression done in the name of security (something audiences in 2006 would find much more relatable). That, and a slew of other changes, made the movie more current, but also had the effect of watering it down somewhat.

(Content—>):
The movie opens almost exactly as the graphic novel does, except that for the sake of American audiences, the story of Guy Fawkes is first explained. Natalie Portman tells of the Gunpowder Treason, the man behind the plot, and the difference between ideas and the people who fight for them. However, the movie then moves to a near-future London at night, where both Evey (Natalie Portman) and V (Hugo Weaving) are getting ready to go out. In the background, the “Voice of London” – the regimes chief spewer propaganda – is delivering his latest spiel.

Evey then goes out for the night, on her way to meat her suitor and superior over at BTN (British Television Network) where she works. However, on her way she is intercepted by Fingermen (government spooks) who attempt to rape her. She is narrowly saved by a masked stranger who is in the habit of spouting poetry before wielding his knives and cutting his enemies to ribbons. He says his name is V, a name which he then cuts into one of the government’s posters. Thus begins Evey’s adventure with him, and the premise of the story.

He then takes Evey to the roof of a nearby building where a performance is about to begin. This “show” involves the destruction of the Old Bailey, the symbol of Britain’s justice system in London, done to the tune of 1812 Overture. During the display, he mentioned the 5th of November to her, and how that act, over 400 years old at this point, has been largely forgotten. As has the lesson. Through all this, we are made immediately aware that V is a revolutionary anarchist who has a score to settle with Britain’s fascist government. His theme: Guy Fawkes, and the Gunpowder Treason!

I should note that within these first few scenes, there are some notable differences between the book and movie. For one, Evey did not work in television, she worked in a munitions plant. And she was not out for a date, she was out trying to sell herself. Yes, this 16-year old (they never specified her age in the movie) had fallen on hard times since her job didn’t pay enough, was looking to make a little extra money and thought dabbling in prostitution might make up the difference. What’s more, in the movie V whooped the Fingermen’s asses but left them otherwise unharmed. In the book, he killed several, and used gas and an exploding hand, not knives!

What’s more, V did not blow up the Old Bailey in the opening scene, but Parliament itself! Much like the Old Bailey, this was an old government building that was no longer in use. Given the fact that the fascist party that had taken control had no need of parliamentary procedure, the building was essentially empty. But of course, it was the symbolic value that mattered. It was shortly thereafter in the book that V blew up the Bailey, but only after delivering an impassioned speech to the figure of Madam Justice on the subject of betrayal.

In any case, we then get a quick gander at the authorities who run Britain and their leader – the Lord High Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt). Much like in the book he is a totalitarian and runs Britain through several branches known as the Eyes, Ears, Nose, Mouth and Finger – video, audio surveillance, regular police, propaganda, and secret police (echoes of 1984 with its four ministries!). But whereas in the movie they are known as the Norsefire party (a clear reference to their Nordic beliefs and action platform), the Party was never really named in the book. Regardless, they are of course determined to find the masked vigilante, and put out a spin story about a controlled demolition to cover up the terrorist incident. Since this is a criminal investigation, it falls to inspector Finch (Stephen Rea) to find him.

However, their attempts at spin control prove futile when on the 5th of Nov, V marches into the BTN network headquarters with a bomb and forces them to broadcast a manifesto of sorts. In it, he declares that the people of Britain have been robbed of their freedom by the Lord Chancellor and his goons, and were of course complicit in the process. And that, in one year’s time, he will resurrect the Gunpowder Treason by blowing up Parliament, and invites the people of Britain to come and watch. In the course of his escape, Evey comes to his rescue and is knocked unconscious. Unsure of what to do, he brings her back to his lair and they become acquainted.

In the course of this, Evey begins to tell V her story, how her parents were political dissidents who were taken away when she was young. However, her sympathies are soon spent when she realizes that he is killing people and she hatches a plan to escape. She puts this into action when V asks for her help in killing Archbishop Lilliman (Eddie Marsan), a Party member who was the Chaplain at Larkhill – now the Archbishop of Canterbury – and who just happens to be a pedophile. She knows that running away is dangerous since the police now believe she is his accomplice, but can’t stomach what he’s doing. This is also different from the book, but more on that later.

Shortly thereafter, V enters into phase two of his plan, which Evey becomes involved in. This includes him isolating members of the Party that run Britain, key personnel in the regime, who he then murders. The first is the Lewis Prothero (Roger Allam), otherwise known as the “Voice of London” (Voice of Fate in the book). But whereas in the book, V goes through the process of kidnapping him and bringing him to Larkhill – where he destroys his prized dolls (which he collects), in the movie, V enters his apartment and kills him with a poisoned needle. I notice a subtle reference to the doll collection though; in his bathroom, Prothero had a small collection up on his wall.

In the course of investigating, Detective Finch (Stephen Rea) – head of the Nose – discovers that Prothero was once the Commandant of the camp. His other victims all have similar ties to the place, one of whom was a doctor named Delia Surridge (Sinéad Cusack), the one who conducted the camps’ experiments and was responsible for creating V. When she is dead, V leaves her journal, in which she kept detailed notes about her time in the camp, for Inspect Finch to find. It is from this journal and their own snooping that the Nose men begin to see what’s going on. Like V, they’ve stopped believing in coincidences and suspect that everything in this case is connected. And since things have escalated, the investigation has been taken over by Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith), head of the Finger, which is a blessing since it leaves Finch free to look into this conspiracy.

Things become increasingly desperate as things get closer to the 5th of Nov. The government, as predicted, begins to become more repressive, leading to increased resentment and backlash from the people. Into all this, V continues to point Finch and his investigators in the direction of the overarching conspiracy. This includes the creation of a biological weapon which the people of Norsefire unleashed on England in order to secure power and then pinned on some hapless Muslims as a terrorist incident. They realize that Arkhill was ground zero, and that V was a test subject who became changed as a result of the testing, then blew the place up and escaped! Whats more, they know that this can only end in bloodshed, and with the fall of the Party… unless they can find another way.

At this point, something crucial takes place. Evey, having run away from V, goes to stay with her friend Dietrich (Stephen Rea), who just happens to be the one she had a date with at the beginning. He is her superior over at BTN and takes her in, revealing that he too has secrets, being a liberal intellectual and gay to boot! He promises to jeep her safe. However, after an episode of his show that makes fun of Chancellor airs, the is taken in the night by Creedy and his men. Evey is forced to watch as he’s beaten and has a bag put over his head, thus reliving what happened to her parents. She tries to escape but is captured outside the house.

Afterward, she believes she is in a government camp, where she is tortured, interrogated, and locked in a tiny cell for weeks on end. During that time, she finds a note stashed in a rat hole written on toilette paper. The note is apparently written by a woman named Valerie (Natasha Wightman), a former actress who was an inmate on a count of her being a lesbian. Her story empowers Evey, and when asked to give up V, she refuses, choosing death instead. Her guards offer her one last chance, but when she again refuses, the guard says only “Then you have no fear any more. You’re completely free.”

Mystified by this statement, Evey leaves her cell and finds that she is still in V’s lair. It seems her conducted her torture and detainment as an elaborate ruse to help her come to terms with what happened to her parents, and to find the strength to fight the fascists and win. She is initially quite furious, but in time sees to see what he did as a good thing. It is at this time that he reveals that the woman Valerie was real, that she and V were both at Larkhill together, and he is doing what he’s doing to avenge her and everyone else they murdered. In fact, it was her love of roses that motivated V to use them as his calling card. Eve leaves, but she and V promise to see each other one last time before the 5th.

At this point, V makes a deal with Creedy to betray and kill the Chancellor. In exchange for overthrowing the man,
V will surrender willingly. Creedy agrees, mainly because he knows he’s not likely to be able to stop V otherwise, and that Sutler will have his head in that event. Meanwhile, Evey meets V one last time and he shows her the train that he’s loaded up with explosives and placed on a track that leads underneath Parliament, true to the original Gunpowder Treason! He leaves the controls to her, saying he must go do his final errand, and that she is to decide whether or not to blow up Parliament. She naturally tries to stop him, but he insists that he must go and leaves her.

Nearby, Creedy and his men show up, bringing the Chancellor with them as agreed. Creedy then shoots Sutler and demands V come with them, but V refuses. A gunfight ensues, but V is relatively unharmed and kills all Creedy’s men. He saves Creedy for last and then strangles him, but not before delivering one of the best lines of the movie. “Behind this mask lies more than flesh. Behind this mask lies an idea, and ideas are BULLETPROOF!” He then unstraps the metal vest that absorbed most of the bullets, but is still mortally wounded and lurches his way back to the subway. Once he gets there, he dies in Evey’s arms, and is followed shortly thereafter by Finch.

Not surprisingly, Finch does not stop her. He knows this must happen and lets her set the train off. Up above, the masses are converging on Parliament in anticipation for its destruction, each of them wearing a Guy Fawkes mask! Without orders and no word from the Chancellor or Creedy, the soldiers decide to do the right thing and stand down. The crowd is then in the perfect position to see the fireworks. And they do! The crowd whip off their masks, revealing everyone who’s been in the movie, even those who have died. This coincides with Evey explaining that V was every one of them, not just some masked vigilante inspired by Guy Fawkes.

(Synopsis—>):
Okay, now would be a good point to mention all the differences I had to skip over because believe me, there are a lot!
As I mentioned, the character of Evey was different in the book, being far more vulnerable and naive than she was in the movie. It was in this way that her transformation, which happened because of her contact with V, became all the more apparent. Making her character a stronger, more nubile and independent person who saves V at one point was clearly designed to appeal to post-modern audiences.

In keeping with this, she did not leave V during the commission of his murder of the Archbishop. In truth, he kicked her out shortly after this, thus forcing her to shack up with Deitrich, who was then murdered not by Fingermen, but by thugs. The reason for this was because in the book, Deitrich was involved in criminal activity and had nothing to do with broadcasting, nor was he gay. He and Evey had a sexual relationship for a time, and it was clear that Evey’s unresolved father issues had a part to play in that!

Moreover, the “Leader” (not Chancellor) did not work from some bunker and communicate with his lieutenants on some massive monitor. In fact, he worked from a central location called “The Head” where he was connected to all the other branches (Eyes, Ears, Nose, Finger, Mouth) through a computer named Fate. Strangely enough, he became increasingly obsessed and even enamored with this computer over the course of the story, leading to an eventual breakdown that led to the plot to overthrow him by Inspector Creedy. Speaking of which, the plot to overthrow was not spearheaded by V but occurred as a result of inter-Party politics, a lot of which was the result of Creedy’s wife who was scheming to make sure her lover the new Leader. V, of course, took advantage of all this and played the people against each other so that by the time the train was dispatched, they had all killed each other.

However, in another twist, this plot came to halt when the Leader was shot point blank by the wife of Creedy’s successor (Inspector Almond) during a parade. Her involvement was a side-story that was completely missing from the movie. As indeed was the confrontation that took place between Finch and V in the subway. Yes, in another change-about, that action scene at the end did not take place between V, Creedy and his Fingermen but between Finch and V alone. But similarly, it was this confrontation that caused V to be mortally wounded, right before he meets Evey for the last time and leaves it to her to dispatch the train.

But, as mentioned earlier, V didn’t blow up Parliament at the end, he’d already done that at the beginning. His target
was the Head, and Evey did not just send the train but adopted V’s persona and addressed the crowds of London before it went off. This, combined with a scene were Evey removes his mask and sees herself, her father, and many other faces (anyone but V’s true face) was meant to illustrate what V said: behind the mask is an idea. Behind the mask was anarchy and freedom, and it lives in the heart of all people. The Wachowski brothers illustrated this as well, but chose to have an entire crowd dressed up as V with Natalie Portman doing a voice over about how “he was all of us”.

But the biggest difference of all had to do with how England came to be a fascist state. In the book, WWIII takes place in the mid to late 80’s, England was spared a direct nuclear attack, but society goes to hell all the same. Then, in the early 90’s, the fascists took charge of the country, taking advantage of all the disorder and chaos. Once in power, they proceeded to round up all the political dissidents, minorities, gays, and placed them in concentration camps. And of course, they established a police state where everyone’s movements, words and actions were monitored.

And their slogan was “Strength Through Unity, Unity through Purity”, not Strength Through Unity, Unity through Faith“. Faith, after all, implies the presence of religion – i.e a state where religion and politics are not separate. Purity, on the other hand, implies a state that seeks singularity, which in the case of Fascism involves the active liquidation of minorities and other “undesirables”. This is in keeping with the fundamental character of the Party in the book, a ruthless, fascist organization that has no qualms about committing genocide. By contrast, the Norsefire party was somewhat more subdued, concerning itself with direct control and avoiding racial purity. Ironic, considering the fact that in the movie, they committed mass murder in order to obtain power!

Which brings me back to the different back story that was used in the novel, which I found far more realistic than the movie’s. With the movie, the Wachowskis needed to update things since the end of the Cold War pretty much meant that WWIII was no longer a likely event. And after Sept.11th and the advent of the “War on Terror”, what better angle was there than a government that turned totalitarian because of terrorism and the manipulation of people’s fear? True, it WAS more current, but it also a lot less realistic. The 9/11 Truth Movement’s opinions aside, are we really to believe that any government would be willing to commit mass murder just to get in power? And its openly alluded that the world outside was going to hell all same, even if it wasn’t specified from what (the US’s war is mentioned, but they do not go into detail). This alone would have been enough to create a the “Lifeboat Britain” mentality, why did they need to kill 80,000 people as well?

But aside from all this, the movie was quite faithful to the source material. And most of what was changed arose out of the need to shorten and condense the original ten volumes into a two hour movie. And dammit if they didn’t do a good job of it! Above all, the back story of V was treated faithfully. V being the Roman numeral for five, signifying the 5th of November, and also referring to the five V’s that make up “Vi Veri Veniversum Vivus Vici”, which is Latin for “By the power of truth I, while living, have conquered the universe”. This quote, which is attributed to Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, has immense symbolic value since V himself is the product of a Faustian deal, though it was the state who forced him into it. The deal he makes with Evey is similar, that in exchange for his help, he forces her to undergo a painful transformation.

And of course the movie has undeniable signs of quality that is typical of the Wachowskis at their peak. The colors are vivid (in the Matrix everything was green and black, here it’s red and black), the direction and cinematography are very good, and the writing was both cool and faithful. In many places, the Wachowskis took liberties but still managed to capture the essence of the story and the characters. And I musn’t forget to mention how much the movie benefitted from an all-star cast! Hugo Weaving was especially good at capturing the magnetic personality of V, John Hurt is sublime as the ruthless High Chancellor, Stephen Rea was spot on as the straight and fearful detective, and Tim Pigott-Smith was very convincing as the evil “Creepy Creedy”. And Natalie Portman, wow! Those scenes where she is being tortured and humiliated in prison were made real by her powerful performances.

In the end, I think I’d file this movie under the same category as the Dune Miniseries. In short, it was different from the source material, but was faithful nonetheless. I highly recommend both the graphic novel and the movie, the one is inspired and interesting, while the latter is highly entertaining!

V for Vendetta:
Entertainment Value: 8/10
Plot: 8/10
Direction: 9/10
Total: 8.5/10