Saturday, 16 January 2077

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Wednesday, 26 June 2019

The Expanse: Season 3

The Solar system is on the brink of war, with the numerically superior forces of the UN-controlled Earth and the technologically superior forces of the Martian Congressional Republic poised to unleash their ships and weapons. The crew of the starship Rocinante race to Io to expose the protomolecule conspiracy which has brought the Solar system to the brink, but face serious opposition. Meanwhile, the protomolecule fragment that landed on Venus has not been idle, and beneath the impenetrable clouds of the planet something is taking shape.

The first season of The Expanse was good. The second season was superb, the best season of space opera television since (at least) the second season of the newer Battlestar Galactica. The series, based on the novels by James S.A. Corey (aka Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), paints a picture of a near-future Solar system riven by competing corporate interests, political tension and the dangers of unrestrained technological development. As well as the compelling main storyline, a host of finely-judged character arcs unfold, with the whole thing hinging on a (relatively) realistic depiction of Newtonian physics and space travel.

Season 3 continues in this vein. It is divided into two strands. The first six episodes round off the events of Caliban's War, the second novel in the series, and focus on the political showdown between Earth and Mars, which goes further than it does in the book. The latter seven episodes have the steep challenge of adapting the third novel in the series, Abaddon's Gate, in full. This breaks up the season quite nicely, with the first half being more of a political and war story and the second being more of a hard SF mystery, complete with multiple Big Dumb Objects to investigate and some excellent use of the laws of physics to provide obstacles to the characters.

There are also new characters this season, particularly Anna Volovodov, played with aplomb by genre veteran Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost), and the highly morally ambiguous character of Klaes Ashford, played with charisma by David Strathairn (Lincoln). Both are excellent additions to the cast. There is also a significantly expanded role for fan-favourite character Drummer, played by Cara Gee, a recognition of her superb performance.

On a thematic level, the show continues to contrast politics, science, war, expediency and ideology as clashing ideals, with even Holden's idealism and desire to "do the right thing" being scrutinised as not always possible (or even logical). Sometimes the good guys do bad things for the greater good (summed up by Amos's chilling, "I am that guy," in possibly the season's best single scene), sometimes people make what appears to be perfectly reasonable decisions which have horrendous consequences (the look on Errinwright's face when Earth's defensive railguns fail to shoot down a Martian nuke is priceless, and horrific) and life is messy and chaotic, with arguing over the way forwards. If anything, the show makes a case (through Avasarala) for political compromise and negotiation, no matter how boring, as it is preferable to people dying as a result of nationalist propaganda. There's a powerful message of hope in The Expanse which sometimes wins out over the cynical, morally murky manoeuvrings elsewhere in the story.

There's also the idea of the mystery, with the protomolecule and its later creation, the Ring, being the implacable Unknown which humanity is struggling to understand, and only doing so imperfectly and through its own morass of selfish, competing viewpoints. The Unknown hits back several times, reminding humanity of just how tiny and insignificant they are in the universe, something which gains added traction in the cliffhanger, which seems to be going for Arthur C. Clarke levels of awe and wonder.

Season 3 of The Expanse (*****) continues the show's streak of being the best SF series on air this decade, with outstanding production values, pacing, effects and acting. It is available to watch now on Amazon Prime (UK, USA). Filming for Season 4 is already complete and should air later this year, also on Amazon Prime.

Schitt's Creek (Seasons 1-5)

Entrepreneur Johnny Rose has built a vast fortune after becoming one of the most successful video store chain owners in history. Unfortunately, his accountant was somewhat less honest and has absconded with the tax money. As a result, the Rose family are made destitute and have to relocate to the one asset they've been allowed to keep: the town of Schitt's Creek, which Johnny once bought on a whim because he thought the name was amusing. Forced to start again from scratch, Johnny, his wife Rose and grown-up children David and Alexis move into the Creek's motel and try to rebuild their lives.

Schitt's Creek is one of the beneficiaries of the new age of streaming media: a small-scale Canadian sitcom which slowly built up a small cult following over several years before finally exploding thanks to Netflix buying the international rights, bringing the show to a much wider audience.

The series is built on a classic sitcom conceit, that of "riches to rags," a formerly successful family reduced to nothing and forced to start again from the bottom. Previous sitcoms have played with this idea, such as To the Manor Born and later episodes of Only Fools and Horses, although Schitt's Creek engages with it with head-on directness, reducing the central four characters to living in adjoining motel rooms in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. As usual with Canadian shows trying to appeal to an American audience, there's some ambiguity about the setting, with not even the state/province or country being mentioned, but that really doesn't matter.

Central to the show are the Rose family: hapless patriarch Johnny Rose, played with exasperated, masterpiece comic timing by Eugene Levy (American Pie); his wife, a former soap star named Moira, played with impeccable vocal stylings by Catherine O'Hara (Home Alone, Six Feet UnderBest in Show); his son David, played by his real-life son Dan Levy (who is also the showrunner and executive producer of the show); and his daughter Alexis, played by relative newcomer Annie Murphy.

Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara's formidable experience and comic firepower brings a lot to the series, but Daniel Levy and Annie Murphy more than hold their own, and the four quickly develop a real chemistry and rapport that is frequently hilarious, and captures the bickering of families quite well. This is important because the show's set-up - in an attempt to avoid cliche - establishes both the Rose family and the people of Schitt's Creek as oddballs who are not always likeable. Whilst this avoids cheesy arcs like the salt-of-the-earth Creekers teaching the Roses the meaning of friendship, it does risk the show not giving viewers a good enough reason to tune back in. In particular, the gratuitous self-obsession of David and Alexis can be a little over the top in the first three or four episodes.

Fortunately, things calm down before the first season is even halfway over, with the viewer siding with the family over the bizarre behaviour of the Creekers (particularly the oft-inappropriate activities of mayor Roland Schitt, played with jovial annoyance by Chris Elliott) and then with the Creekers over the more delusional activities of the family, who sometimes forget they are no longer multi-multi-millionaires. Character growth is an important part of this, as Johnny's initial despair over being made penniless soon turns to a kind of delight at the prospect of having to prove himself again, this time in older age (which leads to people underestimating his business acumen). Moira's dislike of no longer having the rich and famous on speed dial likewise translates into a growing appetite to dominate the town's cultural and political scene, but also a growing humanity and desire to help her newfound friends improve themselves. David's selfishness is rapidly overcome by his friendship with hotel receptionist Stevie (a magnificently cynical Emily Hampshire), which helps him become a more selfless person. Arguably, it's Alexis who takes the longest to develop as a character, but a perfectly-judged arc in which she comes to realise the consequences of a horrendous relationship mistake she made in the first two seasons and tries to reverse it sees her also become a more interesting figure later on.

The show is divided into both individual episode storylines, in which, say,  Moira jumps on a chance to rebuild her acting career by appearing in a tacky winery advertisement, or Johnny and Stevie try to organise an alliance between the hotel and a local golf course, and longer season-spanning arcs, revolving around the opening of a new business or an impending election or wedding. These give each 13-episode season (of just 22 minutes each) a narrative impetus that is often lacking from sitcoms, making it more binge-worthy than most. The way the characters evolve on-screen is also very well-done, giving the show an overall direction and arc that's very satisfying.

The first five seasons of Schitt's Creek (****½) evolve from a somewhat creaky start into a compelling comedy show, featuring laughs, drama and occasional pathos. This is a hidden gem that's well worth catching up on ahead of the show's sixth and final seasons, which will start airing in Canada later this year and on Netflix internationally next year.

WHEEL OF TIME Season 1 to shoot for nine months in Croatia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic

Industry site KFTV is reporting that Amazon's Wheel of Time series will start shooting in Prague in September.

This news was already known, but KFTV go on to confirm that there will be additional shooting in Croatia and Slovenia. The production team under showrunner Rafe Judkins was also recently scouting locations in Denmark, but if it is unclear if they have committed to shooting there as well.

The shooting dates are also interesting: September 2019 to May 2020, a nine-month shoot which is quite impressive (and longer than that for Seasons 1-6 of Game of Thrones, for comparison purposes). With the likely requirement for a lengthy post-production period, this makes it unlikely the show could air much before the very end of 2020, if not the start of 2021.

At the moment it is unknown how many episodes will be in the first season. Six have so far confirmed, but more are likely.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Year of the Rabbit: Season 1

London, 1887. Detective Inspector Rabbit is a hard-drinking copper who hates playing by the rules. However, his rowdy behaviour and the odd tendency of his heart to stop beating at inopportune moments encourages his boss to assign him a new partner, the young, posh and unstoppably chipper Strauss. He is also joined (initially unofficially) by Mabel, who harbours ambitions to become the first female police officer ("fopper...lady-filth?") in London. The trio tackle a series of serious crimes, unaware that they are involved in a much more serious and large-scale operation which may imperil all of the East End.

2019 may not be the technical Year of the Rabbit, but it may be the Year of the Berry. Matt Berry has been a British comic institution for well over a decade, due to his memorable appearances on everything from Gareth Marenghi's Darkplace to The IT Crowd to Toast of London. This year that has stepped up a notch with his appearance on the What We Do in the Shadows TV spin-off, which has brought his madcap comic genius and impeccable vocal gesticulations to a wider international audience, as well as this new sitcom for Channel 4.

Year of the Rabbit is a period comedy with decent production values, recreating the streets of Victorian London with impressive skill. The cast is also exceptional. As well as Berry as Rabbit, up-and-comers Freddie Fox and Susan Wokoma play Strauss and Mabel with gusto and conviction. Elsewhere, more veteran hands can be found in the form of Alun Armstrong as Rabbit's long-suffering boss, Paul Kaye as his arch-rival detective Tanner, Keeley Hawes as recurring semi-villain Lydia, Ann Mitchell as tough innkeeper Gwen and Sally Phillips as a Princess of Bulgaria (with a truly outrageous accent). There's also blink-and-you'll-miss them camoes from Berry's new Shadows bosses Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi.

The behind-the-camera firepower is also impressive. Andy Riley and Kevin Cecil are veteran comic writers who've had a hand in The Armstrong and Miller Show, Black Books and HBO's Veep, and are more than capable of delivering great comic lines.

It's therefore a shame that Year of the Rabbit doesn't quite live up to its billing. There are usually several good laughs per episode, but there's also a lot of jokes that don't really land. There's also a curious overreliance on swearing. Swearing can be funny when deployed judiciously, especially combined with some great use of Cockney slang (one of the show's better gags is that whenever a new piece of technology is introduced - the telephone, electric street lights - a group of Cockneys must gather to decide on the appropriate slang term), but in Rabbit it often feels like it's trotted out whenever the writers run out of ideas, which is a dismaying several times per episode. There's also a couple of running gags that don't really work, especially an odd one about Rabbit's eyebrow that I thought was a setup for some kind of grand revelation, but nope, at least not in this season.

The season does generally improve after the opener, which can best be described as mildly diverting rather than required viewing. The series also goes quite a long way on Berry's rich voice booming out ridiculous declarations, albeit this time in Cockney. Hawes's superb ice-cold villainy is also excellent, and the show does get a lot of mileage out of the horrendous conditions of the time, slipping through a surprising amount of period detail in the gags, such as characters pondering if they've been struck by love when in fact they're sniffing in mercury fumes from a poorly-ventilated shoe factory.

Ultimately, the first season of Year of the Rabbit (***) feels a bit undercooked. The premise is excellent, the acting talent is certainly there, but the writing needs to be tighter with less reliance on the old stand-bys of swearing and tired running gags. There's enough solid jokes to make viewing worthwhile, but it's not, at this stage, essential viewing.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Miles Morales is navigating high school and the expectations of his parents, including his police officer father. When he is bitten by a radioactive spider, Morales gains powers similar to those of his idol, Spider-Man, and he decides to seek out the web-slinging superhero and ask him to be his mentor. However, archvillain Kingpin is unleashing havoc on New York City. As part of his plan, the walls between realities is breached and multiple "spider-people" from different timelines arrive. Morales has to negotiate an alliance between the dimensionally-maladjusted group if Kingpin is to be stopped.

Into the Spider-Verse is the (count 'em!) seventh Spider-Man movie to be released this century, and, as with the character's addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which is giving us a second live-action Spider-movie, Far From Home, just next month), some may be feeling a bit Spidered-out by this point. However, Into the Spider-Verse overcomes the danger of franchise fatigue to emerge as one of the best movies featuring the character to date.

Of course, it helps in keeping things fresh that Into the Spider-Verse isn't really about Peter Parker, who here is an experienced, veteran superhero who's been saving people for many years. Instead, our protagonist is Miles Morales. Morales had previously appeared in both comics and animation, but this is arguably his most significant moment as he is introduced to a much wider audience. Unlike Parker, whose status as an orphan with only one living relative is a key part of his motivation, Morales has much more of a traditional family background, even an extended one as his rebellious, graffiti artist uncle is a role model of his (to the disapproval of Morales' more straight-laced cop dad). However, Morales is struggling with making friends and getting a girlfriend, as is traditional in these types of coming-of-age stories.

In fact, Into the Spider-Verse does relatively little that drifts from the archetypal norm (save a willingness to perhaps kill a few more sacred cows than you'd expect, as the film revels in the fact it is not part of any previous continuity or canon) and many of the story beats are fairly predictable. Why that doesn't matter is because the film is a stunning, vivid and at times breathtaking piece of animation.

Into the Spider-Verse is a colourful, inventive and wild explosion of colour and form, the film fairly exploding off the screen with constant visual experimentation. The film's not quite so wild as to induce headaches, but for a film focusing on one of Sony's most lucrative characters, it's amazing how much freedom they allow the artists. You can pause the movie on almost any frame and it'd be a desktop-worthy masterpiece of an image. The visual splendour of the movie cannot be overstated.

This extends to the action, which is visceral and convincing, and is matched by the voice acting, which is uniformly outstanding. This is a film where every department gives 110% and it ends up on screen.

It is not a flawless, masterpiece, though. The film has no less than six different spider-protagonists, but really only gives three of them (Morales, Parker and Spider-Gwen) a lot to do; the other three characters have some funny moments and a few nice scenes, but otherwise feel like they're there to make up the numbers, and receive much less development as a result. The film may have been stronger by holding off on featuring a couple of the other characters until the inevitable sequel. Also, the film's fairly standard plot trajectory is on one hand a boon (the visual richness of the film applied to a convoluted plot may have ended up being a bit too much) but on the other does mean that the ending can mostly be spotted a mile away.

These should not detract from the fact that Into the Spider-Verse (****½) is exceptional fun, the closest we've come yet to seeing the spirit and ferocious energy of a comic book in motion, and arguably the strongest Spider-movie to date. It is available now in the UK and USA.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Angel: Season 4

Angel is trapped in a coffin at the bottom of the ocean. Wesley, feeling betrayed by his friends, has turned into a hard-bitten, demon-killing mercenary. Cordelia is missing and Lorne has relocated to to Vegas. Connor, Fred and Gunn are carrying on the good fight, but outnumbered and outgunned there are limits to what they can do. As the gang set out to gather their friends, a much greater threat is gathering force and is about to unleash an evil upon the world that nobody, not even the demonic law firm Wolfram & Hart, are prepared to deal with.

The fourth season of Angel is the most polarising. It's the show's darkest season, at times seemingly delighting in finding ways of sending characters already in dire straits to an even lower and more depressing state. However, it's also the most serialised season and the writers spend a lot of time delighting in one-upping one another with ever more elaborate and challenging cliffhangers and dramatic plot twists, most of which (just about) hang together.

It helps that the previous seasons established both this tight-knit group of characters and their enemies in Wolfram & Hart so well, so when the show rolls hand grenades into both camps in the form of "the Beast" (a seemingly unstoppable killing machine) there's a lot of good drama to be mined. Previously-established secondary characters are killed off at a rate of knots, and the show has to draft in some heavy guns from previous seasons (not to mention Buffy) to help tackle the threat, which makes the story feel genuinely high-stakes.

This year also benefits from better pacing than the third season, with a more heavily serialised arc split into chapters separated by stand-alones (which nevertheless further either characterisation or subplots related to the main arc). There's also a lot to do, from rescuing Angel to getting Wesley back on-team (or at least on speaking terms again) to identifying the Beast and formulating a plan to deal with it. More than most Buffy and Angel seasons, it earns its 22-episode running time.

Although the pacing is excellent and the general storyline very good - arguably the strongest season arc Angel ever tackled - some characters suffer, a lot. Behind-the-scenes shenanigans led to Cordelia's character being effectively thrown under a bus for most of the season and then shuffled off to Ambiguous Coma Land. Given Charisma Carpenter's excellent performance in the third season as she changed Cordelia into being the show's strong, moral centre, that's a bitter disappointment. Even worse is what happens to Angel's son, Connor. Connor is a moody teenager, which automatically makes him hard to like, but whilst the similarly-initially-unpopular character of Dawn on Buffy was allowed to change and grow and eventually earn her place on the team, Connor stays a mopey teenager all season. He also ends up being everyone's patsy, played like a fool by multiple enemies. His late-season redemption isn't enough to save the character and the producers have to shuffle him off the show in the most embarrassing way possible once they realise they can't redeem the character.

The fourth season of Angel (****) is divisive, being both a compelling rollercoaster of interesting storylines, and a sustained character assassination which renders at least two major characters unlikable for no real particular reason. It is available now as part of the complete series boxed set (UK, USA).

Love, Death and Robots: Volume 1

Love, Death and Robots is a series of short animated films, mostly based on short fiction published by established science fiction and fantasy authors, and marks a collaboration between Netflix, David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en) and Tim Miller (Deadpool). There are eighteen short films in total, marking the first time that SF stalwarts Peter F. Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds and John Scalzi have seen their work adapted for the screen.

Sonnie's Edge, based on a Hamilton short story from his Night's Dawn universe (and available in A Second Chance at Eden), is a hyper-violent thriller set in late 21st Century London. It depicts a battle to the death between two genetically-engineered monsters, controlled by human "operators" via the affinity gene (which plays a much larger role in the novels). It's a short, simple story with a killer twist that survives the translation to the screen, although the visceral nature of the violence is quite startling.

Three Robots, based on a Scalzi short, is arguably one of the best films in the collection, and easily the funniest. Three robots land on a post-apocalyptic Earth to take a tour guide of the ruins of human civilisation. There's plenty of paths and comedy, along with an amusing ending. It makes the other two Scalzi offerings, When the Yogurt Took Over and Alternate Histories, feel amusing but slight, short and inoffensive in comparison.

The Witness, written and directed by Alberto Mieglo (one of the visual consultants on Into the Spider-Verse), is one of only two originals in the collection and it is comfortably the worst of the stories by quite a margin. The SF nature of the story is only implied and otherwise the episode is an excuse for an extended chase sequence through some very sleazy locations for no readily apparent reason. The animation style is quite breathtaking, but that doesn't help the short survive when it is in the service of a story this thin.

The other original story for the series, Blindspot (by Vitaliy Shushko), is fun with some good character interplay, but it also ends up feeling a bit underdeveloped. It might have been better to have given these two slots to other modern SF authors to adapt more stories (I could see one of Kameron Hurley's Bel Dame Apocrypha short stories being exceptional in this kind of adaptation, for example).

Suits, based on a Steven Lewis short, is another of the strongest films in the series. The story feels like it takes inspiration from the original StarCraft, with hard-working homesteaders defending their crops from a rapacious alien horde with some impressive battlemech suits. There's some deft characterisation and some great action sequences in this story, although the "twist" ending is a little rudimentary by SF standards.

Beyond the Aquila Rift is the first Alastair Reynolds story to make it to the screen, and they chose a good one. A starship drifts off course due to a warp jump mishap and arrives at a remote space station, with remote chances of rescue or escape. The captain tries to adjust to life, especially after an immense coincidence means he knows one of the people on the station. A brooding sense of mystery ends in outright existential horror. This would be one of the strongest stories in the series, if it weren't for a number of totally superfluous sex scenes which eat up the screen time to no dramatic benefit. The other Reynolds short, Zima Blue, is also very good, but suffers a little dramatically from being a story that's more told than shown.

Ken Liu's Good Hunting, a sort-of cybernetic fairy tale set in a chronologically ambiguous Hong Kong, is another one of the strongest stories in the batch, a fever dream melding fantasy, technology and romance.

The Dump, by Joe Lansdale, is impressively animated but otherwise feels a little pointless. His other story, Fish Night, is more obtuse from a plot perspective, but it is visually beautiful and amusing.

Another three strong stories in the series follow military personnel: Marko Kloos's Shape-Shifters is about werewolves openly serving in the US Army in Afghanistan; Lucky 13 (also by Kloos) is a terrific story about the bond between a pilot and her dropship (there's a distinct Aliens colonial marines vibe to this story which is cool); and David Amendola's Secret War is a terrific story about Soviet soldiers who uncover a horrifying secret in the Siberian wilderness. All three stories are a little bit "video game cut scene CGI," but the character work and action in all three stories is remarkable.

Ice Age, based on a Michael Swanwick short story, is the only one of the set to use a live-action framing device. A young couple, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Topher Grace, discover than a entire civilisation exists inside their freezer in a time-accelerated state and became witnesses to the civilisation's rise and fall over time. It's a fun story.

Sucker of Souls by Kirsten Cross is an enjoyable but fairly standard horror story. Helping Hand, by Claudine Griggs, is a much stronger, hard SF story. Feeling a bit like an addendum to the movie Gravity, it features a maintenance worker who gets into trouble in Earth orbit, and is a terrific slice of classic, old-skool short SF.

Overall, the series is successful in that it brings some genuinely innovative and interesting SF ideas, crafted by some of the strongest writers the genre has at its disposal, and gets them on screen with arresting and often breathtaking visuals. Some of the stories don't work - The Witness is particularly pointless - and one might wish for a broader range of authors (do we really need three Scalzi stories?) but for the most part, the first season of Love, Death and Robots (****) is a success. A second season has been commissioned.

Anarch by Dan Abnett

Ibram Gaunt is now the First Lord Executor of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade, the adjunct of Warmaster Macaroth. His unit, the Tanith First and Only, is now among the elite forces defending the forge world of Urdesh from the invading Chaos troops under the command of Anarch Anakwanar Sek. Urdesh has become the crucible for the entire war, with both Macaroth and Sek in-theatre and determined that only one will walk away. But the battle for Urdesh marks another flashpoint, the awakening of a threat that has been growing within Gaunt's own ranks for decades...

I imagine the pitch meeting for Anarch went a bit like this:

"You know the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones?"
"How about that, but..." *leans forwards* " an entire novel?"

Anarch is a book that takes absolutely no prisoners, preferring to slice them into a thousand pieces of screaming blade death instead. The fifteenth Gaunt's Ghosts novel and the concluding book in the "Victory" arc takes a whole host of character arcs, subplots and storylines that have been percolating across the entire series (a long time; the first novel, First and Only, was published twenty years ago) and sets about tying them off with utterly ruthless, remorseless efficiency.

The story unfolds on several fronts. In the first, one of the First's most veteran soldiers, Mkoll, has been taken prisoner by the Archenemy and subjected to interrogation. This storyline follows Mkoll as he endures the trials of captivity and tries to find a method of escape. In another, enemy troops who infiltrated the capital of Urdesh in the previous novel, The Warmaster (to which this is less of a successor and more of a direct continuation) set about attacking Imperial forces whilst a special, elite unit tries to steal back the vital artefacts seized in Salvation's Reach. Different companies of the First have to blunt both attacks, which is where we get a lot of "classic" Ghosts action: last-ditch plans with little chance of success, heroic holding actions, brave last stands, improvised defences etc. This is all stirring stuff, although the body count is higher than some may be expecting.

Where the book goes cheerfully nuts is in the supposedly impregnable Imperial compound itself, when Abnett reveals a hitherto unknown talent for full-on, Event Horizon levels of body and existential horror. Not only is the battle in the undercroft of the palace utterly horrific and surprisingly visceral, but it's also ruthless on a scale we've not seen before in this series. Gaunt's Ghosts has occasionally played into the long-running military series cliche of killing off barely-named recruits and background soldiers whilst major players live to see another, lucrative day, with the occasional major death to keep things fresh. Anarch cheerfully says to hell with that and starts scything down major, long-running characters with at times almost wild abandon.

Killing characters for the sake of it can be rather pointless, but here Abnett gives almost each death meaning and resonance, concluding storylines stretching back as far as the first novel but particularly from the third, Necropolis (to the point where a re-read of Necropolis, or at least reading through a detailed plot summary, may be advisable to refresh the memory). Not only do some old favourites bite the bullet in this book, but some other characters, long missing on side-adventures, reappear and rejoin the team in this novel, which at least helps balance things out. Still, things will never be the same again for the Ghosts after this book, always a relief in a long-running series where the temptation to not shake things up and keep playing it safe must be strong.

Anarch (****½) is one of the finest novels in the entire Gaunt's Ghosts series, being atmospheric, foreboding, horrific and fantastically-written, as well as featuring Abnett's signature excellent action set-pieces and strong characterisation. It brings the entire series to a climax but not a conclusion; the Crusade is not yet victorious and more battles lie ahead. Abnett is busy helping finish off the Horus Heresy mega-series and then his own Bequin trilogy, so it may be a few years before we rejoin the Ghosts, but Anarch leaves the series on a fine - if bittersweet - note. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

Friday, 21 June 2019

RIP Peter Allan Fields

Veteran and Hugo Award-winning television scriptwriter Peter Allan Fields has passed away this week. Fields enjoyed a 34-year career in Hollywood, but is best-known for his contributions to the Star Trek franchise.

Having trained as a lawyer, Fields switched to television writing and began his career working on The Man from UNCLE in 1965. He went to work on many shows in the 1960s and 1970s, including The Six Million Dollar Man and Man from Atlantis.

In 1991 he began his association with Star Trek: The Next Generation, penning the Lwaxana Troi-centric episodes Half a Life and Cost of Living. In 1992 he co-wrote the episode The Inner Light with Morgan Gendel, which remains one of the most highly-regarded Star Trek episodes of all time (if not the highest-regarded). He won a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation for his work on the episode.

He also worked on The Next Generation as script consultant for Seasons 5 and 6 but soon accepted an offer to jump ship to work on the spin-off show, Deep Space Nine. His scripts for the series included Duet and In the Pale Moonlight, episodes almost as well-regarded in Trek lore as The Inner Light. After Deep Space Nine ended in 1999, he retired from scriptwriting.

Fields passed away on 19 June. One of the best and most human writers to work on the Star Trek franchise, he will be missed.