Movie Quibble’s first character playthrough of the long-awaited Fallout 4 is as a reincarnation of the (possibly) mythical 19th century railway ‘steel driver’ and workers’ rights icon, John Henry. Here is an ode to the legend of John Henry’s hammer, updated and informed by 96 hours spent smashing up sentry bots and synths in the Bostonian Wasteland.
John Henry raises his Super Sledge, the Steel Driver 2.0, high above his head, so far that it taps the back of his heels, drawing in a deep long breath as he does so. Then he lets loose, bringing that glowing metal hammer down like an atom bomb on the Synth Strider that committed the system error to cross him, leaving little but sparking circuitry on the dry, cracked ground. A few crackles here and there when the blow struck, then nothing. For the machine, there was no pain in death, just as there was no feeling or emotion in its binary existence, a cheap imitation of human life. John Henry stands up for humanity though, one of the few willing to do so. In a world corrupted by digital dependence, a world on its knees following a nuclear war brought about by humanity’s bottomless greed for technological superiority, John Henry bravely fights for the values that computerised puppets have been seeking to permanently erase.
A reincarnation of the post-civil war American folklore hero of the same name, John Henry continues to carry his ancestor’s message to this devastated but still salvageable world. John Henry, who represents the thousands of captive or exploited labourers who died at work when building the great steel pathways which paved the way to the industrial revolution of America – African Americans, Chinese, Natives, European immigrants, and countless other helpless or uneducated or unempowered members of that free and glorious nation that were ground up in a giant cogwork nightmare, when they were simply trying to be a part of it. That John Henry, the mighty mountain of a man that famously challenged and beat the gargantuan steel drill which had been conjured to replace he and his steel driving team. He sweat and swore as he swung and thrashed that big clunking piece of junk and did double what it could in half the time.
But though he won the race, he expired from the exertion, for he was doing it alone and he took no rest. Many thousands had come to see this battle of man against machine, and the symbolism of the victory was clear: we should not work for machines, for what purpose have we if we must answer to our own creation? It is proper to work, but not for the sake of work alone. The lesson was not learned well enough, or perhaps it was purposely sabotaged by those of vested interests, because eventually humanity was led unwittingly down the path of technological consumerist obsession that led to its atomic annihilation. Resources ran out, countries warred, unity was broken, and bombs fell. And for what?
The old John Henry worked tirelessly to promote the value of the labouring man; his great(x50)grandson has now emerged from the underground vaults of post-atomic war and is equally devoted to continuing that work by stopping the dreaded Institute from replacing man with synth, using every cunning trick and twisted deviation in the big book of bio-science. Man cannot become god nor outsmart evolution – that’s what John Henry believes. The human condition is terrible yet beautiful and worth fighting for. Automotons should never have free will. To give them immortality, plus the capacity to usurp us as the Earth’s overlords, is to design our own doom. Therefore, they must be destroyed.
Hefting his retrofitted sledgehammer across the wastes, this steel driving man struggles to reunite his species while smashing his robotic opposition into a messy pulp of wiring and vacuum tubing. The Institute tries and fails to bring him down, but none of their foul machinations are capable of breaking his will. John Henry has not erred from his righteous path. He wanders from this place to that liberating the downtrodden, teaching them how to farm and fight and fend for themselves; where they thought there was no hope in resisting the unknowable, all-knowing Institute and its army of replicated men, they now have courage and strength and endurance. (Not as much as John Henry though, whose base S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats had his strength and endurance at 9/10).
Many competing factions in this heavily irradiated, new fangled, bombed-out Boston landscape are, whether they know it or not, striving towards the same goal. The Brotherhood of Steel abhor the mutated abominable subspecies that fill up the land like so many cancerous tumors, while the disorganised Minutemen wish to rise above the nuclear muck that makes it nigh impossible to walk so that they can be free to farm the land and tend the two-headed rabbits just like Lenny in Ghoul Milton’s of Molerats and Men. They just want to earn their keep off the sweat of their own backs. And that’s pretty rad.
As for the Railroad, they want to build a railroad, which was the original John Henry’s actual sole job, so they’re right on track too. No foe, no matter its firepower or how many sheets of exterior reinforced metal it has protecting its artificial internal organs, scares John Henry. For this steel driving man carries a fire within himself. His lethal array of destructive pre-war weaponry assists in the heat of battle too, to be sure, but his human will is what wins out the day – machine shall bend to it, not the other way around.
With his Steel Driver, his iron fist of power, his double barrelled shotgun, his army-issue fragmentation grenades, his rail spike rifle, his rocket launcher, and his bare fists, John Henry clears out the Commonwealth of any and all synthetic scum, electronic devilries, nuclear fueled android freaks, and the malingering sub-human leftovers of society that have decided to take up arms under the rule of machines, slave to them as were the proletariat to Stalinists or the abductees of the British and American forefathers of modern ‘civilisation’. Smash them all, that’s what John Henry does, and what he intends to continue on doing until he draws his last hammer-sucking breath. He will die with that hammer in his hand. Yonder, there’s a steel driving man. There, wanders a steel driving man.
Stay alive a while longer a proper full length review of Fallout 4 in the regular style, which should come once I actually complete it. Now enjoy these wonderful ballads about the legendary John Henry by Johnny Cash and Van Morrison.