Saturday, 19 April 2014

ORPHAN BLACK returns to UK screens on 30 April

BBC-3 have brought forward the return of Orphan Black in the UK. The show's first season started airing in August last year, but building on the buzz for the second season the BBC will start airing it on 30 April, just a week and a half behind the USA.

Some sources are also reporting that BBC-3 will start Season 2 with a double bill, but digital planners are showing just the standard 45-minute slot so far. The move comes after the release of Season 1 on DVD and Blu-Ray was moved up from August to last week.

(I'm) Coming to America

I'll be making my first visit to the USA next weekend (and Canada, though that will consist solely of gazing moodily at Toronto Airport's tarmac for two hours). In my capacity as founder of the Game of Thrones Wiki, I'll be attending the C2E2 convention in Chicago and will be taking part in a fan forum discussion panel on Game of Thrones, with some fellow members of the Wikia network and Kristian 'Hodor' Nairn.

Hopefully I'll have time to see a bit of the city around the con, as it's going to be a flying visit (involving two transatlantic flights in less than 48 hours, which is going to give me some fun jetlag when I get home). And hopefully I'll see some other GoT fans at the event, which should be a lot of fun.

Col Buchanan's new novel gets release date

It's been revealed (via Amazon) that the third Heart of the World novel by Col Buchanan will be released at the end of this year. The Black Dream will be released in the UK on 11 September, following up on Farlander (2010) and Stands a Shadow (2011).

The first two books were released pretty quickly and it's not known why there's been a two-year delay for this volume. It also won't be the last novel in the series, with Buchanan projecting at least a fourth novel and possibly more.

I enjoyed Farlander but have been holding fire on reading the sequel until it was clear that the series would continue.

Monday, 14 April 2014

HOMEWORLD REMASTERED will include 12" light-up spaceship

Gearbox have confirmed that the special edition of their forthcoming re-release of the Homeworld games will include a 12" reproduction of the Pride of Hiigara, the Mothership from Homeworld 2. The spacecraft model will, via USB power, light up.

On the one hand, this is completely pointless. On the other hand, it also looks kind of cool. What is a little mystifying is why they have gone with the Pride from the second game, when the Mothership from the original Homeworld is regarded as being more iconic. The Gearbox Homeworld forums even show a clear preference for the model to be of the original ship.

Homeworld Remastered will be released in the autumn via Steam.

George R.R. Martin on A KNIGHT OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS and the future of Dunk 'n' Egg

George R.R. Martin has expanded on the forthcoming omnibus re-release of his three Song of Ice and Fire novellas featuring the adventures of the hedge knight, Ser Duncan the Tall, and his squire Egg.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is already available now in several countries, but Martin confirms that the UK and US releases have been delayed so they can be enhanced with artwork. Artist Gary Gianni is working on a substantial number of illustrations which will be added to The Hedge Knight, The Sworn Sword and The Mystery Knight for their omnibus appearance. The book is still expected to appear in late 2015.

Martin also clarifies what had been informally known for some time: that HBO do not have the rights to the Dunk 'n' Egg novellas and would have to buy them in a separate deal (the same is true for The Princess and the Queen, The Rogue Prince and historical material like Robert's Rebellion). However, HBO's Game of Thrones rights do include the screen rights to all material set in Westeros, meaning that Dunk 'n' Egg can't be made anywhere else either. Martin does suggest that HBO adapting Dunk 'n' Egg is a possibility, but not for some considerable time.

GRRM confirms that the next story remains the so-called She-Wolves of Winterfell, although that won't be the final title, to be followed by The Village Hero, set back in the Riverlands. Neither of these stories will be worked on prior to him delivering The Winds of Winter, however.

Firaxis announce that next CIV game will be a spiritual successor to ALPHA CENTAURI

Firaxis have announced they are developing Civilization: Beyond Earth, the next game in their veteran Civilization series. As well as being a follow-up to Civilization V, the game is a spiritual sequel to Alpha Centauri.

Alpha Centauri was Firaxis's first game, released in 1999 after Sid Meier and a group of colleagues had quit Micropose. Unable to use the Civilization licence, they instead developed a very similar (and non-copyright-infringing) strategy game which basically followed up on the question of what happened to the colonists who left Earth at the end of every Civilization game. Firaxis were later reunited with the Civilization licence thanks to Take Two's financial firepower, but in the process lost access to the Alpha Centauri rights (which remain with Electronic Arts). Civilization: Beyond Earth is therefore the official Civilization sequel that Firaxis wanted to make in the first place, just fifteen years later then planned.

The game will be a turn-based affair using hexes for movement that will allow players to build up their own civilisation and seize control of planets through diplomatic, economic or military means.

 Game features will include:
  • Seed the Adventure: Players will establish a cultural identity, select a leader and sponsor an expedition by assembling the spacecraft, cargo and colonists through a series of choices that directly impact starting conditions when arriving on the new alien planet.
  • Alien World: Exploring the benefits and dangers of a new planet filled with dangerous terrain, mystical resources and hostile lifeforms unlike those of Earth, players will build outposts, unearth ancient alien relics, tame new forms of life, develop flourishing cities and establish trade routes to create prosperity for their people.
  • New Technology Web: Reflecting forward progress in an uncertain future, technology advancement will occur through a series of nonlinear choices that affect the development of mankind. The tech web is organized around three broad themes, each with a distinct victory condition.
  • New Quest System: Quests are infused with fiction about the planet, and will help guide players through a series of side missions that will aid in the collection of resources, upgrading units, and advancing through the game.
  • New Orbital Layer: Players will build and deploy advanced military, economic and scientific satellites that provide strategic offensive, defensive and support capabilities from orbit.

The game will be released on PC, Mac and Linux this autumn.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Wild Cards, edited by George R.R. Martin

An alien species decides to use Earth to test a new bioweapon. An airborne criminal seizes the weapon and tries to use it to blackmail the city of New York. A former WWII flying ace tries to stop him. And, on 15 September 1946, the world is forever changed when the wild card virus is unleashed in the skies over Manhattan.

Ninety percent of those infected by the virus die instantly. A further nine percent develop crippling deformities or abnormalities, becoming known as 'jokers'. And one in a hundred of those infected develops a wondrous superpower. They become the 'aces'. As an alternative history of the 20th Century unfolds, the American government first tries to use the aces for their own ends and then, in a paranoid frenzy, turns against them, before they finally win some recognition for themselves. But for the jokers, forced to live in a ghetto in Manhattan, their road to recognition and respect will be much harder.

Wild Cards is the first book in the series of the same name, which of this time of writing spans twenty-one volumes with two more planned. This isn't a series of novels, but collections of stories written by many different authors. George R.R. Martin (of A Song of Ice and Fire fame) and Melinda Snodgrass provide editorial control, ensuring that each volume has its own narrative drive and point beyond just collecting random short stories together. The stories are set in their own milieu, with authors sharing ideas, using each other's characters and building up a consistent, coherent shared world.

The first Wild Cards book opens with a bang, with Howard Waldrop giving us the origin story for the entire setting in 'Thirty Minutes Over Broadway'. This is a terrific slice of fiction, with Waldrop fusing pulp energy with his own idiosyncratic style to give us something weird, resolutely entertaining and rather tragic in its own right. Roger Zelazny - yes, that one, the author of the Amber series and Lord of Light - then provides the origin story for Croyd Crenson, the Sleeper, one of the original aces whose powers shift every time he goes to sleep. Crenson's periods of hibernation provide a handy way of fast-forwarding through the immediate aftermath of the crisis, showing how New York, the USA and the world adapt to the arrival of the virus. Walter Jon Williams and Melinda Snodgrass then show us two sides of the same tale through 'Witness' and 'Degradation Rites', the story of the Four Aces and their betrayal by the American government. These opening four stories provide a quadruple-whammy of setting up this alternate history and doing so whilst telling stories that are well-written (superbly so in both Waldrop and Zelazny's cases, though the others are not far behind), finely characterised and as gut-wrenchingly unpredictable as anything in the editor's fantasy stories.

Later stories remain highly readable, though perhaps not quite on a par with this opening salvo. Martin's own 'Shell Games' is, perhaps unexpectedly, the most uplifting story in the book, the story of the bullied boy who becomes a superhero. Michael Cassut's 'Captain Cathode and the Secret Ace' and David Levine's 'Powers', two new additions for the 2010 edition of the book, are both decent, filling in gaps in the history. Lewis Shiner's 'Long Dark Night of Fortunato' introduces one of the setting's less salubrious characters and makes for effective, if uneasy, reading. Victor Milan's 'Transfigurations' shows how the anti-Vietnam rallies of the late 1960s and early 1970s are changed by the presence of the wild card virus (and gives us an ace-on-ace rumble that is particularly impressive). 'Down Deep' by Edward Bryant and Leanne Harper is probably the weirdest story in the collection (which in this collection is saying something), a moody trawl through the underbelly of New York (figurative and literal). It's probably a little bit too weird, with an ending that is risks being unintentionally comical, but is still reasonably effective.

Stephen Leigh's 'Strings' and Carrie Vaughn's 'Ghost Girl Takes Manhattan' (the latter being another new addition in this edition) return to the quality of the opening quartet. The former depicts the jokers' battle for civil rights, resulting in riots and chaos in Jokertown and New York that a shadowy figure is manipulating for his own ends. 'Ghost Girl' is a straight-up adventure with the titular character teaming up with Croyd Crenson to find her missing friend. 'Ghost Girl' could be a novel in its own right, with the battling criminal gangs and dodgy drug-taking rock bands providing a canvas that's almost too big for the story, but Vaughn's method of keeping the story under control and resolving it is most effective. Finally, John J. Miller's 'Comes a Hunter', in which a 'nat' sets out to avenge the death of his friend by going up against some criminal aces, is a superbly-written thriller which examines how 'normal' people can stand up against aces and jokers.

The book as a whole is excellent, with the stories entwining around real history and changing it in a way that is mostly organic and convincing. There are a few issues with plausibility here - most notably the way no-one seems particularly bothered about the proven existence of an alien race that has just tried to poison the entire planet - but for the most part the writers use the premise to tell stories about the changed history of the USA (from McCarthyism to civil rights to Vietnam) in an intelligent, passionate manner.

Wild Cards (*****) introduces the world, setting and many of its memorable characters through a series of well-written, smart stories. There isn't a weak card in the deck, and the best stories (those by Waldrop, Williams, Snodgrass and especially Zelazny) are up there with the best of their original work. The book is available now in the UK and USA.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Benioff and Weiss line up first post-GAME OF THRONES project

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have confirmed that they are planning their first project for when Game of Thrones wraps. They have made a deal with Fox to write, direct and produce Dirty White Boys, an adaptation of a 1995 novel by Stephen Hunter.

Recent statements by Benioff, Weiss and HBO have indicated that Game of Thrones will last for seven seasons, with HBO greenlighting the fifth and sixth seasons earlier this week. At launch events for the series it appeared that eight seasons was briefly back on the table, but Deadline are reporting that seven still seems to be the more likely option. Because of the all-consuming nature of working on GoT (with the writers moving from production to post-production to writing to pre-production without a break), the new film project will have to wait until the series is done. However, the news is a sign that Benioff and Weiss are starting to look at a post-GoT future.

SyFy greenlights THE EXPANSE TV series

SyFy has greenlit a 10-episode TV series based on James S.A. Corey's Expanse series of SF novels.

The Expanse consists of three published novels to date (Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War and Abaddon's Gate), with the fourth book, Cibola Burn, due in June. There are also several short stories and novellas available in the setting. The author, James S.A. Corey, is a pen-name for fantasy author Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, whose day is being George R.R. Martin's assistant.

Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (Children of Men, Iron Man) are attached as writers, executive producers and probably show-runners, with casting and the hiring of directors due to start soon.

"The Expanse is epic in scale and scope and promises to be Syfy's most ambitious series to date," Syfy president Dave Howe said. "Bringing this coveted book franchise to television with our partners at Alcon and the Sean Daniel Co. is a giant win for Syfy, reinforcing our overall strategy to produce bold, provocative and compelling sci-fi fantasy stories. The Expanse joins a killer lineup of high-concept, high-quality series, along with recently announced original projects Ascension, 12 Monkeys, the renewal of Helix, and the soon to premiere Dominion."
This is interesting news. SyFy's commitment to returning to proper SF after years of cheesy B-movies and pointless repeats of wrestling is welcome, although so far not exactly paying off: Helix in particular is a dreadful television series. But with the right cast and crew, The Expanse (with its budget-friendly claustrophobic starships and space stations) could be done very well. I'd like to see a more accomplished space opera series on screen, like The Night's Dawn Trilogy, The Revelation Space Series or The Gap Series, but those would all be bigger-budgeted propositions and will probably have to wait until someone with the resources of HBO (or even AMC, Starz or Showtime) decide they want their own big-budget SF series.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Six Seasons and a Hodor: HBO renews GAME OF THRONES for TWO more seasons

HBO has renewed Game of Thrones for TWO more seasons, carrying the epic fantasy series forwards to a sixth year. Whilst a fifth season was pretty much a done deal, the news that the show would be renewed for two years at once - something HBO has never formally done before for one of its big-budget drama series - came as a surprise.

Season 4's debut episode Two Swords, aired to 6.64 million viewers for a first-run audience, setting a new record for the show (triple the figure that tuned in for the first episode three years ago). Including the repeats, more than 8 million people watched on the first night. Consolidated figures, including viewings on HBO Go and further repeats, are expected to take the show up to around 14 million, rivalling the best figures achieved by HBO's biggest domestic hit, The Sopranos (Game of Thrones is already, by a very wide margin, HBO's most popular show ever outside the USA).

The fifth season is expected to cover most or all of the fourth and fifth books of the Song of Ice and Fire series, A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. Season 6 will almost certainly carry the show into material from the as-yet-unpublished sixth novel, The Winds of Winter.