Friday, 30 April 2010

Ron Howard to direct DARK TOWER movie trilogy

Ron Howard, director of films such as The Da Vinci Code, Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind, has signed on to tackle a movie trilogy based on Stephen King's seven-volume Dark Tower sequence. According to the source, there is also the possibility of a spin-off television series being developed simultaneously.

The series, which sees a gunslinger named Roland making his way to the forbidding Dark Tower, is the unifying cosmological link between much of King's other work, although its sales have not been at the same level as his other, more stand-alone books. King is currently writing a new Dark Tower novel that falls earlier in the books' timeline.

J.J. Abrams and the writing team behind Lost, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, had previously discussed adapting the series as a seven-season TV series, but had changed their minds given the desire to have a break after the conclusion of the six-year Lost project.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

GAME OF THRONES update: Daenerys to be recast

Mo Ryan of the Chicago Tribune has posted an interview with George R.R. Martin at her Watcher blog. In the lengthy interview she confirms what has been rumoured for some time, namely that Tamzin Merchant has left the TV series and, as a result, the role of Daenerys Targaryen is being recast.

Martin also comments on ADWD and other projects, as he also does at this unusually frank podcast on the Dragon Page podcast posted today. Martin reiterates that the book is almost complete, but he won't be giving any guesses on when it will be released.

The Alien won't be in the new ALIENS movies (sort of)

Ridley Scott has commented that the familiar xenomorph from the Aliens film franchise will not appear in his planned two prequel movies. According to Scott, he feels that the design has lost its ability to scare by becoming too familiar. The new films will instead address earlier periods in the familiar creature's evolution and will answer long-held questions about the 'space jockey' and the aliens' origins, including addressing long-held fan debates about whether the aliens are a natural organism or a genetically-engineered weapon.

The first film will take place in 2085, thirty-seven years before the events of Alien, and will depict the discovery of a creature (possibly the proto-alien) on a planet called Zeta Reticuli. The second movie will take place five years before Alien and will likely address the events that led to the 'space jockey' spacecraft crash-landing on LV-426 with a hold full of eggs. Sigourney Weaver is not expected to take part, but Scott has stated that the main character in the first film will still be a woman. He also stated the new films will be 'tough', 'nasty' and will be in 3D to 'jump the bar' that Scott's friend and friendly rival James Cameron set with Avatar.

Scott's ambitions seem impressive, and there is no denying that the once-terrifying alien has become a little too familiar in recent years. Luckily, the aliens' tendency to alter characteristics depending on its host body gives a canon explanation for the reasons why the aliens will look different, alongside this notion that the aliens from the movies might be genetically-engineered from an earlier, different-looking lifeform. Still, the iconic and crowd-pleasing alien not being in the films is a bold move, especially since it is not clear if original designer HR Giger will return to work on the film.

Something very interesting in Scott's comments is that by saying the aliens were genetically-engineered in 2085, possibly by humans, he is immediately ruling the two Aliens vs. Predator movies (which take place in contemporary times) non-canon.

The Current Reading Pile

It was only a year ago that I never let the reading pile get beyond 20 books or so. At the moment it's 71 (all these here plus three more I couldn't find at the time).

Three of these are planned re-reads - the Helliconia Trilogy in the far right pile - and I have a load more planned (such as the first six Malazan books and Jack Vance's Lyonesse Trilogy). Plus I can't read Blood of the Mantis or Salute the Dark until I get the first two books in the series. And there's a bunch of books coming soon that would supplant any of these (Mark Newton's City of Ruins and Chris Wooding's Black Lung Captain, most notably). I was also surprised that the PR copy for Finch suggested that reading Cities of Saints and Madmen and Shriek: An Afterword first would be a good idea, so I might have to get hold of those as well.

Anyway, barring further big new releases arriving, that's a good six months' reading taken care of there. Will I catch up? Probably not. Expect this pile to have ballooned to even more epic proportions by this time next year.

Currently reading: Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
Currently watching: Ashes to Ashes Season 3, Doctor Who Season 31, Firefly (rewatch), Lost Season 6
Currently playing: Third Age: Total War

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

China Mieville wins the Arthur C. Clark Award

Topically, given the subject of my latest book review, China Mieville tonight won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel of 2009 for his previous novel, The City and The City. This is the third time Mieville has won the award, having previously won in 2005 for Iron Council and in 2001 for Perdido Street Station.

Mieville is reportedly 'absolutely gobsmacked' over the win. The other nominees were Spirit by Gwyneth Jones, Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts, Galileo's Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson, Far North by Marcel Theroux and Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding.

Update: China Mieville's acceptance speech.

Kraken by China Mieville

A giant, dead squid on display at the Natural History Museum in London goes missing, to the consternation of its curator, Billy Harrow, and that of the police officers of the FSRC (Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crimes unit). The police think Billy might be a link. So does the Church of God Kraken, which is unhappy with one of their deities being half-inched. Less happily, so do Goss and Subby, murderers and pain-merchants for hire. Half of London is out looking for the squid, for its disappearance is related to fevered dreams and portents of apocalypse. The squid must be found, or the world will burn.

Kraken is China Mieville's seventh novel, and probably his most barking mad book to date. Kraken is a total one-eighty from the measured, focused crime noir that was his previous novel, The City and the City, and shares many more elements from his young adult-aimed Un Lun Dun, such as the fantasised (much more lightly here) depiction of London and a whimsical sense of humour (not to mention the short chapters). Where Un Lun Dun stumbled slightly in its opening chapters with Mieville trying to be down with the kids a little too hard, Kraken aims its culture and pop references more clearly at geekdom, with multiple references to TV shows like American Gothic, Lexx and Battlestar Galactica ("The revamp, obviously,"), a number of Moorcock references and a number of plot points related to Star Trek. There's also some nods at Gaiman, particularly Neverwhere (which also inspired elements of Un Lun Dun and King Rat), with Goss and Subby coming over as worthy homages to the latter's Croup and Vandemar, only less pleasant.

For a book that's so satisfyingly bananas in places, it makes you work hard in others. Mieville gropes for a prose style in the opening hundred pages or so, meaning that the opening part of the book is delivered in short, staccato bursts, one moment enjoyable, the next annoyingly obtuse to the point of turgidness. Mieville has never been an easy read, but he's also never been one with problems of flow in his books, and Kraken presents the first issues with this that I've come across in his work. Luckily, once the book shakes off its jitters and gets down to business, these problems fly out the window as well-defined characters, enjoyably weird factions and an ever more engrossing plot come to the fore. Along the way we meet some fantastic characters and creations, from Wati the stone-bound spirit to the loathsome Goss and Subby to the monstrous being known only as the Tattoo, and events culminate in an ending that is satisfying, if a little predictable (and the "It's the end, whoops, no it isn't, here's another one, and one after that too!" nature of the multiple endings is slightly wearying). Previous Mieville novels have perhaps been overall more cohesive, but ending an extended narrative seems to be something Mieville has struggled with in the past (his short fiction is notably better at this, most notably The Tain). Here he shows some true flair in his ending.

Kraken (****) takes a while to get going but once it does, it fires on all cylinders until it reaches a solid conclusion. Frustrating and hilarious by turns, it is a novel that rewards commitment. It will be published in the UK on 7 May and in the USA on 29 June.

Patrick Rothfuss announces WISE MAN'S FEAR deadline

As widely reported elsewhere in the blogosphere, Patrick Rothfuss has announced his deadline for turning in the final version of The Wise Man's Fear, the second book in his Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy, following on from 2007's acclaimed The Name of the Wind.

According to Rothfuss, if he finishes the final draft of book (there are three existing drafts) by September 2010, the novel will be published in the United States on 1 March 2011. Obviously, if he doesn't, it won't.

Encouraging news from Rothfuss. If Scott Lynch also hits his dates for the final draft and revisions to The Republic of Thieves, we could see these two much-delayed novels coming out very close together.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

SEEKER cancelled plus BLAKE'S 7 remake and WHEEL OF TIME movie news

Legend of the Seeker, the ABC first-run syndication series based on Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series of novels, has been cancelled after two seasons. The series ran into trouble when the Tribune Network pulled out of funding for a proposed third year. ABC spent some time shopping the project to other stations and networks, but a lack of interest has seen the series cancelled. The series has proven controversial, with die-hard book fans unhappy with the significant changes to the novels' storylines and premise, although the series has also picked up its own loyal following.

A remake of the BBC's classic Blake's 7 space opera series, which ran for four successful seasons between 1978 and 1981, has been in development for several years at Sky. The production company has confirmed the project remains viable, with discussions currently underway on the show's format (ongoing series or mini-series). The original series - pretty much Star Wars meets Nineteen Eighty-Four - was set roughly a thousand years in the future and depicted a small band of freedom fighters struggling against a ruthlessly totalitarian government with the help of an advanced alien spacecraft they salvage. The original series was a big influence on J. Michael Stracznyski and Joss Whedon and some inspirations from Blake's 7 can be seen on their series Babylon 5 and Firefly, including the use of serialised storylines, ensemble casts and extreme ruthlessness towards characters. A properly-handled remake could be excellent, providing they get the right actors to play the critical roles of Avon and Servalan.

The would-be producers of the Wheel of Time movies have commented on Dragonmount that their likewise long-bereft-of-news project remains in development at Universal, and even suggested a possible release date of The Eye of the World movie for 2012. Given that they're still in the scripting stage with no screenwriter publicly announced, no director officially attached to the project and no official green light from the studio, we can safely say this isn't going to be happening. Even 2013 would be ambitious if they got the green light tomorrow. The plan for the film adaptation appears to be to make one film per book (which means losing 50% or more of the plot of each book, something that fans don't seem to have picked up on much as yet) for the first three, and then combine elements from the later books to make the later films. Curiously, Red Eagle don't even appear to have an outline for how many films that this will take (which I'd have thought would have been question #1 from any prospective studio), although we can safely say it won't be 14, or even half that.

Further news on these projects as it appears.

Saturday, 24 April 2010


Hot on the heels of the early draft of the American cover, we have the UK cover as shown in the latest Orbit catalogue (thanks to Jussi at Westeros for the reference).

Hmm. Dull, to be honest. Crossroads of Twlight and Knife of Dreams' UK hardcovers had similar art with just a different colour (red and jade-green), whilst The Gathering Storm had the same layout but a threatening use of clouds in the background. And you'd think they could change the cover quote for the first time in eight or nine books, just for variety's sake. Still, this could also be a mock-up and might not represent the final version (though I suspect it will).

Brandon Sanderson also read out the first paragraph from the book at JordanCon:

"The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose around the misty peaks of Imfaral. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning."

Interesting, as this is the first time that the 'wind' has risen on another continent, in this case around the city-fortress of Imfaral in the far north of the Seanchan continent, near the Lesser Blight. Imfaral is the second city of the Seanchan Empire (although only the sixth most populous) and the base of operations for Luthair Paendrag during his invasion of Seanchan's northern landmass before taking Seandar later in his war. Imfaral is the location of the titular Towers of Midnight, a prison complex consisting of thirteen towers where political prisoners are interrogated and executed. It appears that the actual Towers will be referenced in the book, although fans have also speculated that the title acts as a reference to the Tower of Ghenjei and the Black Tower, both of which are expected to figure prominently in the novel. It's also possibly as nod to Tolkien, as Towers of Midnight is the middle volume of its own trilogy, like The Two Towers.

The book is currently expected to be published in November 2010, apparently in both the UK and USA.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Corvus Atlantic release full schedule for CHUNG KUO reissues

Further to my previous post about the planned re-release of David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series, here is some more information from Corvus' latest catalogue, starting with the new cover art:

The cover blurb for Son of Heaven, the newly-written prequel novel to the series:

Britain 2085: two decades after the great economic collapse that destroyed Western civilization, life continues only in scattered communities. In rural Dorset Jake Reed lives with his 14-year-old son and memories of the Fall. Back in ’63, Jake was a dynamic young futures broker, immersed in the datascape of the world’s financial markets. He saw what was coming – and who was behind it. Forewarned, he was one of the few to escape. For 22 years he has lived in fear of the future, and finally it is coming – quite literally – across the plain towards him. Chinese airships are in the skies and a strange, glacial structure looms on the horizon. Jake finds himself forcibly incorporated into the ever-expanding ‘World of Levels’: a global city of some 34 billion souls, where social status is reflected by how far above the ground you live. Here, under the rule of the mighty Tsao Ch’un, a resurgent China is seeking to abolish the past and bring about world peace through rigidly enforced order. But civil war looms, and Jake will find himself at the heart of the struggle for the future.

The series, previously published as eight volumes in the 1990s, has now been 'recast' as nineteen volumes, named as follows:

Son of Heaven, The Middle Kingdom, Ice and Fire, The Art of War, An Inch of Ashes, The Broken Wheel, The White Mountain, Monsters of the Deep, The Stone Within, Upon a Wheel of Fire, Beneath the Tree of Heaven, Song of the Bronze Statue, White Moon Red Dragon, China on the Rhine, Days of Bitter Strength, The Father of Lies, Blood and Iron, King of Infinite Space and The Marriage of the Living Dark.

In addition to the all-new prequel, the 'new' books consist of re-written editions of the previous books, split into somewhat smaller volumes, as well as half a million new words of material making up several new books, slotted into the end of the series (the previous concluding novel to the series was heavily truncated due to publisher pressure; Wingrove has restored this section in line with his original intentions).

The nineteen books will be published over a period of forty-four months, running from 1 September 2010 to 1 May 2014.

The full cover design for the first book is as follows:

In summary, I have to say I'm impressed. Taking into account that the original books are still relatively obscure to modern genre readers, this publishing scheme is the equivalent of Robert Jordan completing all of The Wheel of Time before publishing a word, or Steven Erikson doing the same for his Malazan series, and then the entire thing being released over a very short period of time. It's a highly ambitious project and I wish David Wingrove and Corvus Atlantic all the best for it and will, of course, be applying for a review copy ASAP :-)

Update: Due to publishing difficulties, the release of the first volume has been put back to Spring 2011, and Son of Heaven itself has been revamped slightly and a second prequel novel introduced, Daylight on Iron Mountain, suggesting that this will now be a 20-book sequence.

US cover art for Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson's TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT

The team have Tweeted a picture from JordanCon of the tentative US cover art for Towers of Midnight, the thirteenth and penultimate novel in the Wheel of Time series, due for publication late this year. At a guess, the three characters on the cover are Mat Cauthon, Thom Merrilin and Noal Charin.

Okay, not actually that helpful, but it does appear to be superior to The Gathering Storm's depiction of Rand al'Thor having some kind of epileptic fit in front of the Addams Family house, even though it appears that Sweet is trading even more on past glories (this is no less than his twenty-first piece of cover art for the series by my count). This cover evokes his work on the Wheel of Time roleplaying game for Wizards of the Coast:

Based on this, I expect the full cover art to be released soon, hopefully followed by Orbit's UK artwork.

Update: More recent Tweets indicate that the cover art may actually be a different painting (although we heard this before for The Gathering Storm and they pretty much used what was in the rough sketches, just turning Rand around 180 degrees) altogether.

Update: a clearer image courtesy of Dragonmount:

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Specieswatch: The Daleks

This is the first in an occasional series which will look at some of the various alien or nonhuman species from various SF and fantasy franchises from multiple mediums. To start off this series I decided to go with arguably one of the most infamous and prominent nonhuman races in all of speculative fiction.

The original Dalek, as seen in Season 1's The Daleks (1964).

Fictional Overview

The Daleks are a race of cyborgs originating on the planet Skaro and are the mutated remnants of a humanoid race known as the Kaleds. The Daleks consist of an external, highly durable robotic shell and an organic creature inside. The Dalek creature evolves (or mutates) over the course of their history, and is sometimes capable of independent movement and action away from the shell (at least for a limited period) and at others is immobile within the shell and totally reliant on it for survival.

The Daleks are active in several distinct timeframes in the course of the Doctor Who fictional continuity, and at various points command a vast empire spanning hundreds of planets in multiple galaxies, a single city on their home planet, and indeed at one point were reduced to a single Dalek which barely survived and managed to recreate the species using Kaled genetic material. The Daleks evolve during the course of the fictional history of the TV series, with early-history Daleks being relatively slow, ungainly and vulnerable to explosives and missiles. Far future Daleks hailing from the post-201st Century are capable of flight, time travel, limited teleportation and possess personal defence forcefields.

The advanced Dalek used in the Russell T. Davies years (Seasons 27-30, 2005-09).

The Daleks are held to be the most dangerous lifeform in the Doctor Who fictional canon, and at one point are believed to have succeeded in destroying all other life in the universe. The Time Lords of Gallifrey averted this fate by sending an unwilling agent, the Doctor, to the moment of their creation to destroy them. Although he failed, he did retard their development and inadvertently ensured the survival of their creator, Davros, which later led to both a massive schism and civil war amongst the Dalek civilisation and a full-scale 'Time War' between the Daleks and Time Lords which led to the mutual and near-complete destruction of both species.

Fictional History
(note that this is my interpretation of the history of the race as given in Doctor Who based on the Daleks' changing levels of technology in the original and new series)

Skaro, homeworld of the Kaleds/Daleks and Thals (as seen in the 1996 TV movie).

The Kaleds were originally a humanoid species native to the planet Skaro, the twelfth world of its star. The Kaleds developed a technologically-advanced civilisation before becoming embroiled in a nuclear war with another race called the Thals (it is unclear if the Kaleds and Thals were genetically different species or merely different national or ethnic groups of the same race). During the long years of the war, which also involved the use of chemical and biological weapons, much of Skaro was reduced to a wasteland and much of its indigenous animal life was killed off or mutated. A brilliant Kaled scientist named Davros experimented on mutations of actual Kaleds. Publicly, he claimed his experiments were designed to ensure the future survival of their species in a life-support/travel machine even if the planet became too radioactive to support their continued existence. In private, he experimented on the mutants, removing such 'weak' concepts as fear, pity, empathy and tolerance of other races and beliefs, and turned the supposedly innocent travel machine into a war machine equipped with sophisticated weaponry. When the Kaled government, horrified at Davros' experiments, tried to shut him down, Davros leaked intelligence to the Thals that allowed them to destroy the last Kaled city before he released his prototype Daleks into the Thal city, wiping out most of the population. The Daleks turned on Davros and apparently exterminated him. However, the intervention of the Time Lord known as the Doctor apparently changed history so that Davros survived (the Doctor, under the threat of torture and death, revealed details of the future history of the Dalek race, including their extreme capability for duplicity and ruthlessness, to Davros, who apparently took precautions to ensure his survival) and the prototype Daleks were entombed in their original laboratory.

Davros confronting the Fourth Doctor in Season 12's Genesis of the Daleks (1975).

Centuries later, the Daleks had emerged, constructed an elaborate city and now appeared content to exist in peace on Skaro alone. However, they discovered that the Thals had also survived, now a race of peaceful pacifists, and attempted to destroy them. The Doctor, in what was by his own internal chronology his first encounter with the Daleks, prevented them from succeeding and helped shut down the city, destroying the Daleks present. However, it was later revealed that the Daleks had spread across the face of Skaro and founded other cities, and soon begun a new war with the Thals.

Events from this point forward are confusing and contradictory. The Daleks became a space-faring civilisation and, by their own internal chronology, had their first encounter with the humans of Earth in the mid-21st Century when they encountered an early human colony world, Vulcan. The intervention of the Doctor again ensured the defeat of the Daleks. The Daleks then invaded Earth itself in the mid-22nd Century and occupied the planet for several years. The Doctor assisted Earth in liberating itself and the planet was able to rebuild with help from its colonies. From this point forwards Earth was in a state of almost permanent war with the Daleks whenever they were encountered. Three centuries after this time the Daleks, allied with another Time Lord, the Master, almost succeeded in triggering a war between Earth and the Draconian Empire, but were exposed. The humans and Draconians launched a joint war against the Daleks which drove them from Earth's corner of the Galaxy (apparently including Skaro, which was abandoned). An attempted Dalek counter-attack using a vast army secreted on the jungle planet of Spiridon was defeated by a Thal guerrilla squad aided by the Doctor (who froze the 10,000-strong Dalek army), whilst a Dalek ship fleeing from the warzone was destroyed on the planet Exxilon.

Some time after this point the Daleks developed primitive time travel technology and sent an extermination squad in pursuit of the Doctor, hoping to kill him in his first incarnation and undo their previous defeats at the hands of his later incarnations. This plan failed and the Dalek squad was destroyed by a race of robots known as the Mechanoids.

Following their war with Earth and Draconus, the weakened Daleks came into another war, this time with a race of powerful androids known as the Movellans. The two races fought one another to a stalemate, with the two sides unable to break the impasse. A small team returned to Skaro and retrieved their creator Davros (now revealed to have been in suspended animation since the Daleks' creation, centuries or millennia later), banking on his knowledge of Dalek genetics and intelligence to create a solution to the impasse. Whilst they succeeded in rescuing Davros, the retrieval team was destroyed by a Movellan strike force and Davros was apprehended by humans and imprisoned in a penal facility.

Davros is rescued from the penal station in Season 21's Resurrection of the Daleks (1984).

Ninety years later, the Daleks stormed the facility and again rescued Davros, this time to find a cure for a Movellan virus that was wiping the species out. Davros, aware of the Daleks' capacity for betrayal, instead seized control of several Daleks in an attempt to create his own faction of Daleks completely loyal to him, although these were destroyed in battle with the 'real' Daleks. He escaped from the penal colony in an escape pod (having been adversely affected by the Movellan virus himself) and found his way to a human retirement colony, Tranquil Repose, where he used the genetic material of the residents to create a new race of Daleks. However, the 'main' Dalek faction led by the Dalek Supreme was alerted to Davros' plan and captured him, destroying Davros' Daleks in the process. Davros' fate after this point is unclear, but it appears that he escaped and succeeded in creating an army of 'Imperial Daleks' under his control. One strong theory is that he retrieved the 10,000-strong Dalek army on Spiridon left frozen by the Doctor and adapted these into a powerful army that the original Daleks, who had been severely weakened by centuries of warfare against the Thals, humans, Draconians and Movellans, could not withstand. The original Daleks became known as 'renegade Daleks' whilst Davros' faction became dominant and retook control of Skaro.

This marked the beginning of the Dalek Civil War, which raged for an indeterminate amount of time before it was ended by the Doctor tricking Davros into using the Hand of Omega, a powerful Time Lord piece of technology, to destroy Skaro and the Imperial Dalek faction once and for all (although Davros, once again, escaped thanks to a handy escape pod). The renegade Daleks survived, but went to ground for some considerable time to rebuild and recover.

Imperial Daleks suffer heavy losses in battle with renegade Daleks during the Hand of Omega gambit in Remembrance of the Daleks (Season 25, 1988).

The Daleks re-emerged over a thousand years later when they forged an alliance between several races in an attempt to destroy Earth and its allies using a powerful weapon known as the Time Destructor. As to be expected, the Doctor again thwarted this plan. Frustrated with the ability of 'inferior' species to constantly defeat them, the Daleks attempted to distill the 'human factor' of ingenuity and intuition and add it to their genetic make-up, but thanks to the inevitable intervention of the Doctor this plan failed and instead a number of 'humanised' Daleks were created. The two Dalek factions fought one another apparently to the point of mutual annihilation, but the humanised Daleks were eventually overcome and destroyed. After this the Daleks attempted to change their own history by ensuring their invasion of Earth in the 22nd Century was not defeated, a major violation of the laws of time (although the Doctor was able to help restore the original timeline).

After this point the Daleks appear to have vanished from the Galaxy for a long period of time, many thousands of years, becoming considerably more advanced and powerful in their long exile. Aware of repeated attempts to destroy them by the Time Lords, the Daleks launched the 'Great Time War' against Gallifrey which saw the destruction of many worlds and species with battles raging over all of time and space. The war turned against the Time Lords, who prepared a weapon of last resort that would destroy the Daleks but also possibly the entire universe. The Doctor prevented them from using the weapon and on the last day of the Time War was able to destroy both the Daleks and Time Lords, sealing the entire war out of the reach of time travel technology. Unfortunately, the Doctor was not entirely successful and several Daleks survived, one falling through time to Earth in 2012 where it was destroyed, another - the Emperor Dalek - proceeding to the 202nd Century where it rebuilt its forces. This force was also destroyed, apparently marking the final end of the Dalek race. Inevitably, this proved not to be the case as it was discovered that four other Daleks - the elite Cult of Skaro - had taken refuge in interdimenisonal space during the Time War to escape the destruction of the Time Lords and Daleks. The Cult fought the Doctor on two occasions and all but one member was destroyed. The surviving Dalek somehow breached the Time War to rescue Davros, who was able to use Kaled genetic material (cloned from his own cells) to recreate the Dalek race in a massive assault on Earth and several other worlds, but this was defeated yet again by the Doctor. A single ship escaped from this battle and took refuge near Earth during World War II. The three surviving Daleks lured the Doctor to their ship, where he triggered a failsafe device which resulted in the creation of five powerful new Daleks, the 'new paradigm'. These new Daleks, markedly superior to their predecessors, destroyed the old Daleks and disappeared, ready to undertake new plans to conquer the universe and leaving the Doctor with his old foes once again on the loose.

The 'new paradigm' Dalek Supreme from Victory of the Daleks (Season 31, 2010).

Behind the Scenes

When Doctor Who was launched in November 1963, the production team envisaged it as a show that would alternate between telling educational stories set in the past and more escapist SF adventure yarns, the logic being that the latter stories would keep the audience tuning in. Whilst this plan was eventually abandoned - savvy audiences felt that the historical stories were too boring and audience figures plummeted every time one appeared, recovering when the show returned to an SF setting - it did allow the production team to plan ahead and budget accordingly (the historical stories, which could use stock BBC sets and costumes, tended to be cheaper). With the very first Doctor Who serial, An Unearthly Child, being a story set in caveman times the production team knew the second would be a big SF story, and called in veteran TV writer Terry Nation to write it. Nation came up with the idea of an alien race which had survived a nuclear war (at the time a hot topic, due to the ongoing Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis of just a year earlier) but been forced to merge with machines in order to survive.

The production team responded well to the concept and the serial - then dubbed The Mutants, later The Dead Planet but more commonly now called The Daleks - was put into production. The all-important element of the Daleks' design was handled by Raymond Cusick (after the original slated designer, a certain Ridley Scott, dropped out) and a company named Shawcraft built the original props (four Daleks for £500, about £2,000 in today's money and a significant chunk of the show's budget at the time). The Daleks were destroyed at the end of the seven-part serial and a return appearance was not envisaged. Indeed, due to disappointing ratings for the opening Unearthly Child serial, it was assumed that Doctor Who itself would not last more than a few more episodes after this serial was concluded. Instead, the Daleks proved an immediate hit, with children impersonating them in playgrounds and the show's ratings more than doubling from the opening serial. The Daleks had saved Doctor Who, and public demand for their return rapidly rose. 'Dalekmania', a frenzy for Dalek-related merchandise, is a term usually given to the period from the Daleks' first appearance in 1963 to the bombing of the second Dalek movie, Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 AD, in 1966.

The Daleks returned frequently during the first four seasons of Doctor Who, namely in The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Chase in Season 2, Mission to the Unknown and the massive 12-part epic The Daleks' Masterplan in Season 3 and then in Power of the Daleks and Evil of the Daleks in Season 4. As mentioned above, they also appeared in two (relatively) big-budget feature films. However, by Season 4 the public had shown signs of tiring of the Daleks' regular reappearances. The second Dalek movie was a failure and the writers were keen to introduce other villains and monsters. Terry Nation was also trying to launch the Daleks in their own spin-off TV series, so it was decided to destroy the Daleks for good at the end of 1967's Evil of the Daleks.

The Daleks return after a five-year absence in Day of the Daleks (Season 9, 1972).

After the Daleks' disappearance, Doctor Who's popularity remained high as the show entered the 'classic monster years' of the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton)'s reign, with monsters such as the Cybermen, Ice Warriors and Robot Yetis (seriously) becoming very popular in their own turn. It wasn't until 1972, after Jon Pertwee had taken over as the Third Doctor, that the production team decided to return the Daleks to the series. Building on the five-year absence of the Doctor's deadliest foes, excitement was high for their return, and Season 9's Day of the Daleks was a big hit, so much so that the BBC decided to return to using the Daleks on an annual basis. Season 10 saw them return with Frontier in Space (in which they teamed up with the Doctor's other deadliest foe, the Master) and Planet of the Daleks and in Season 11 in Death to the Daleks.

However, again creative fatigue on the part of the producers and ennui on the side of the viewers meant that excitement for more Dalek adventures was starting to ebb. The producers took the decision to again temporarily retire the Daleks in Season 12's story. Looking to do something different, Terry Nation took the step of writing a story in which the Doctor is given the opportunity to destroy the Daleks at the moment of their creation, but fails. The resulting story, Genesis of the Daleks, is frequently cited as one of Doctor Who's single most popular stories and is notable for introducing the character of Davros, the Daleks' creator.

The Daleks returned briefly in Season 17's Destiny of the Daleks and for a cameo in Season 20's The Five Doctors, but regular reappearances did not resume until Season 21's Resurrection of the Daleks. Producer John Nathan-Turner had appeared hesitant to rely on old or established enemies, but after achieving a major success with reintroducing the Cybermen after a long absence in Seasons 19 and 20, he decided to do the same with the Daleks. Writer Eric Saward was fascinated by the character of Davros and resurrected him as well, and Davros and his machinations were the focal points for both Resurrection and Season 22's Revelation of the Daleks. Some fans objected to the sidelining of the Daleks in favour of their creator, although Saward did establish an interesting recurring storyline with Davros attempting to create a new race of Daleks loyal to him in both serials. Doctor Who's near-cancellation in 1986 and Saward's departure saw this story abandoned for a while before the Daleks were brought back in Season 25's Remembrance of the Daleks as part of the show's quarter-century celebrations. Writer Ben Aaronovitch ran with some of Saward's ideas, with the Daleks now revealed to have been split into two factions battling one another for supremacy and returning to Terry Nation's ideas of the Daleks being obsessed with racial purity and eugenics.

The Cult of Skaro in Doomsday (Season 28, 2006).

Doctor Who was put on 'indefinite hiatus' after Season 26 in 1989, and the show remained off the air for sixteen years. During this time the Daleks continued to appear in spin-off comics and occasionally novels (of dubious canonicity). When Doctor Who was restored in 2005, it was inevitable that the Daleks would also return, and so it proved. New producer Russell T. Davies made the Daleks an integeral part of the restored series continuity, in which the Time Lords and Daleks had fought a 'Great Time War' leading to their mutual destruction. Inevitably, the Doctor would encounter survivors, leading to Dalek appearances in Season 27's Dalek, Parting of the Ways and Bad Wolf, Season 28's Army of Ghosts and Doomsday, Season 29's Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks, Season 30's The Stolen Earth and Journey's End, and Season 31's Victory of the Daleks. These frequent reappearances of the Daleks would again lead to some fans complaining of overuse of the Daleks and boredom with their predictable reappearances (appearing in three out of the four big season finales, for example).

With Davies' departure, incoming new producer Steven Moffat decided on a broad revamp of the series, with the introduction of a new Doctor (played by Matt Smith), a new companion, a new TARDIS set and exterior prop, a new title sequence and new music. He also decided to revamp the Daleks, giving them arguably the biggest changes in their design in forty-seven years. He also decided that the Doctor constantly encountering the 'last surviving' Daleks who then somehow escaped (or were destroyed, only for yet more 'last surviving' Daleks to show up elsewhere) was getting repetitive, so had the Daleks restored as a race and force to be reckoned with in Victory of the Daleks.

The Daleks' return in Doctor Who is inevitable, though hopefully not in the too-near future (though the sheer cost of building the new Dalek casings means that the production team might decide to return to them in the currently-airing 31st season). The Daleks are an intriguing race, created when World War II and Nazism was still fresh in the mind, and a formidable foe for the Doctor whenever they appear. However, as the above shows, their threat level tends to diminish whenever they appear too frequently, and their seeming inability to kill the Doctor or even win once in a while reduces their credibility as villains. It is notable that, arguably, the single most effective use of the Daleks is in the 2005 episode Dalek, when one single Dalek wipes out dozens of people trying to destroy it and is defeated only by a fluke (contrived as that is) rather than the Doctor's ingenuity. That episode felt more tense and threatening than when hundreds of them were flying around in any of the big season finales. It will be interesting to see what Moffat and the rest of the new Doctor Who production team will come up for their next appearance.

Major Appearances
Doctor Who
The Daleks
The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964)
The Chase (1965)
Mission to the Unknown (1965)
The Daleks' Masterplan (1965-66)
Power of the Daleks (1966)
Evil of the Daleks (1967)
Day of the Daleks (1972)
Frontier in Space (1973)
Planet of the Daleks (1973)
Death to the Daleks (1974)
Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
Destiny of the Daleks (1979)
Resurrection of the Daleks (1984)
Revelation of the Daleks (1985)
Remembrance of the Daleks (1988)
Dalek (2005)
Bad Wolf (2005)
The Parting of the Ways (2005)
Army of Ghosts (2006)
Doomsday (2006)
Daleks in Manhattan (2007)
Evolution of the Daleks (2007)
The Stolen Earth (2008)
Journey's End (2008)
Victory of the Daleks (2010)

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The Story So Far...

I'm sure we've all been there. A new book arrives and is the latest volume in an ongoing series, the previous volume of which came out a year, or maybe two, or maybe five, years earlier. And yeah, you meant to do a reread, but life's too short to read all the books on your to-read shelf, let alone reread the previous two, or four, or nine, books in the series to remember what's going on.

So you start reading and you get that sinking feeling as you realise you don't recall who the hell anyone is, why they are doing what they are doing and then get even more confused when the plot suddenly turns on a subtle piece of foreshadowing laid seven books earlier that you last read during the Clinton administration.

I recently picked up a book and realised I only had a vague memory of what had happened in the previous volume in the series, although I'd only read it less than two years ago. Reading my own review helped jog the memory a bit, as did some speed-reading of the first book, but overall I found it pretty difficult to enjoy the latest volume until things finally clicked about a third of the way into the book. Even so, I imagine I missed out on a lot by not having reread the previous book immediately beforehand. However, with currently at least nineteen incomplete series on the go, rereading all the previous volumes in these series when the next book comes out is extremely impractical.

This is where a good 'Story So Far' synopsis at the start or end of a novel can be extremely helpful to a reader, but curiously very few authors include them. Off the top of my head, J.V. Jones, Tad Williams and R. Scott Bakker are the only authors who come to mind immediately who include detailed synopses of the previous volumes in their series. Paul Kearney also included such synopses in his Monarchies of God series during publication. Other authors, including newer ones only on their second or third book where such a synopsis would be fairly short, don't really seem to bother. I must admit that a synopsis for The Painted Man or The Adamantine Palace would have been handy at the time of reading their sequels, and I'm now eyeing my review copy of The Rats and the Ruling Sea with some nervousness, as the details of the first book (The Red Wolf Conspiracy) have now faded with time. With the final (sort of) Malazan book looming, hinting at answers to questions laid down over nine previous books and well over eight thousand pages, would a full series re-read be a good idea, even though it would take months?

Of course, with some authors such synopses would be impractical. The various Wheel of Time fansites' summaries of the salient points of previous books are prohibitively massive. My own attempt to create a general Wheel of Time synopsis before Book 11 came out got to 70,000 words and some 110 A4 pages, which is insane and obviously far too huge to include in the front of the books. A Song of Ice and Fire suffers from the same problem, whilst the very structure and make-up of the Malazan series renders attempts to do a synopsis almost brain-numbingly impossible. George R.R. Martin once said that he didn't want to include a story summary because he would feel compelled to highlight foreshadowing elements that some readers hadn't picked up on, and would highlight mystery elements that he'd prefer to remain subtle. Of course, these series are so massively popular that there are many fansites and even just the Wikipedia articles which contain effective, short summaries of the books which are helpful in this regard. Newer authors still establishing their fanbases don't have this luxury.

This is an interesting situation, as a common complaint of fantasy readers is that they don't have the time to reread the previous books before the new one comes out, and that when the new book is running say four years late (in the case of Patrick Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear and Scott Lynch's The Republic of Thieves) their chances of remembering all of the important points from the previous books are pretty remote.

So what do people think? Should more authors of multi-volume series include a 'story so far' section at the start of their books? Or should readers have to man up and reread the previous books before the next one appears anyway?

Brief update on Steven Erikson's THE CRIPPLED GOD

In a brief addendum to a longer blog post, Steven Erikson has revealed he has ten chapters left to write in The Crippled God, the tenth novel in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series and its climax (although there are more books to come in the same world, at least six from Erikson and four more from Ian Esslemont). That puts him well past the half-way point of the book assuming he keeps to the structure of the previous novels: Gardens of the Moon, Deadhouse Gates, The Bonehunters, Reaper's Gale, Toll the Hounds and Dust of Dreams all had 24 chapters apiece, and the others just one or two more.

The Crippled God has an aggressive release scheduled for August 2010, which sounds like it might be a bit tight, so don't be too surprised to see this fall back a few months. Ian Cameron Esslemont's third Malazan novel, Stonewielder, appears to be a lock for release in November 2010, however.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Lostwatch 10: Season 6, Episodes 7-12

Warning: spoilers up to Episode 12 of Season 6 of Lost

On the Island, the battle lines are being drawn between two factions. On one hand is the mysterious 'Man in Black', now posing as John Locke, and on the other, established heroes such as Jack and Hurley, following the designs of the mysterious (and now-deceased) Jacob. As the history of the Island is revealed and the factions prepare for the inevitable conflict, our protagonists are unaware that an alternate history is playing out in another reality, where Oceanic Flight 815 landed safely in Los Angeles. But are these two realities as separate as they appear?

As Lost's final season rumbles on, the stakes of the show are becoming clearer. Way back in the first season, an ideological conflict was established between the man of faith, John Locke, and the man of science, Jack Shephard, a conflict that has now been crystallised as a war to the death between Jacob (who appears to favour Jack as a potential successor) and his enemy (now taking the form, and in moments of high strain, the personality of the deceased John Locke). Both men seem to have been on the Island for a long time, centuries at least, with the mysterious 'man in black' a prisoner of some kind and Jacob perhaps some kind of eternal warden. It's a great set-up, ripe for many different kinds of story to spin off from it, but at the same time it's somewhat odd that it's emerging so late in the day (given how often the Losties traipsed over the Island in earlier seasons, them not stumbling over Jacob or the MIB until now is somewhat unconvincing).

Regardless of this, the show moves on and gives us some great episodes in this part of the show. Seeing Ben Linus as a decent human being in the Sideverse (where he is a history teacher) with occasional flashes of his Island-like ambition is fascinating, and Michael Emerson does great work in this episode. The next episode is less successful, but gets a bonus half-star for the brilliant idea of having Sawyer and Miles as buddy cops working in LA, which could be a viable spin-off TV series by itself.

Ab Aeterno has been touted for being disappointing for not giving us more answers and not living up to its billing as a big revelatory episode, but if you take that away the episode is very effective on its own merits and a great showcase for Nestor Carbonell, who plays Richard as a damaged, grief-stricken man given the chance for a new life on the Island brilliantly. His interactions with both Jacob and his enemy are fascinating and the revelation of the Island's true nature satisfying (if heavily foreshadowed by previous events, such as Season 2's main storyline).

The Package is a solid Sun and Jin episode, although it loses points for the silly contrivance of Sun taking a knock on the head and losing the ability to speak, which is a moronic plot device. Happily Ever After is a bigger success, as Desmond returns to the Island in a storyline that ties the main timeline with the Sideverse, with several Sideverse characters learning that their timeline shouldn't really exist. Henry Ian Cusick gives a typically strong, vulnerable performance as Desmond in this episode with a whole raft of unexpected cameos from other well-known Lost faces and which begins answering some of the bigger questions of the season. Finally, Everybody Loves Hugo starts off as another nice, funny, sweet Hurley episode before going a bit nuts towards the end, with regular characters being blown up, run over and sent plummeting into abysses. When even the requisite Hurley episode has to feature some major story arc-related movements, you know that time is running out for the show.

This batch of episode has been strong, with the structure of the end of the show now becoming clear. Some fans have expressed disappointment that the revelations haven't been bigger, but I think this is a result of there being six years of clue-seeding and pipe-laying leading up to this point. If big surprise answers were coming out of left-field every five minutes, I think people would be less happy. That we figured out Richard's backstory or the identity of the Whispers in the jungle years ago is merely a tribute to the fact that the writers had a plan and seeded clues to these elements in an intelligent manner that fans could pick up on. A mystery that the audience cannot solve is not much fun, and the fact that the audience has indeed solved a lot of Lost's mysteries themselves and is now merely getting validation and confirmation of these points is an inevitable consequence of this being a mystery show with such a huge fanbase.

Even in its closing hours, Lost remains interesting and entertaining television, although there are now only five episodes and six hours left before the show is gone for good.

607: Dr. Linus (****½)
608: Recon (****)
609: Ab Aeterno (*****)
610: The Package (***½)
611: Happily Ever After (****½)
612: Everybody Loves Hugo (****½)

GAME OF THRONES update (plus ADWD tidbits)

Another update on the state of play of the TV series.

Fan-made poster for the TV series

Filming is currently scheduled to begin in Belfast in late June. A location management website has confirmed that the production will return to Morocco, presumably for the Daenerys sequences on the eastern continent. Casting for the other roles from the first book/season is now ongoing in the UK and Ireland (I suspect there will be lots of announcements on this front in May).

At a convention in Chicago, George RR Martin has said that the faithfulness of the adaptation will be around the level of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. It will be faithful overall to the story, but some lower-profile characters will be missing, or be relegated to background detail. Some favourite dialogue from the books may also be missing. HBO do not have a problem with the three-way split of the storyline between King's Landing, the Wall and the eastern continent. There is a possibility that the one-season-per-book structure will change in the future due to the increased length of the second, third and fifth novels in the series, but at the moment A Game of Thrones will definitely make up the first season and A Clash of Kings probably the second.

HarperCollins Voyager cover for the UK edition of A Dance with Dragons

From the same link, Martin also gave some brief information on A Dance with Dragons (possible spoilers through the link, so exercise caution), confirming recent updates that the book is now 20% longer than A Feast for Crows. He is currently writing the book's epilogue (making it only the second novel in the series to have an epilogue, after A Storm of Swords) and after that has to take another swing at the famed 'Meereenese Knot' to finish the book off, after confirming earlier this year that two of the four troublesome chapters in this area had been brought to a successful conclusion. As usual, no timescale for the completion of this process was given.

Monday, 19 April 2010

The Passage by Justin Cronin

The year 2017. The USA is still embroiled in foreign military adventures, New Orleans has turned into a toxic wasteland and Blu-Ray has only just manged to become the dominant entertainment storage medium. A six-year-old girl, Amy Belafonte, is abandoned at a convent by her struggling mother. One of the nuns, Lacey, a former refugee from a war in Africa, realises that something is amiss with Amy, and that she is more than she first appears.

The United States government agrees. In the mountains of Colorado they have established Project Noah, an attempt to develop immortality ("So all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years,") using twelve death row inmates as guinea pigs. The final stage of the experiment requires the use of a young child, so the directors send FBI Agent Wolgast to collect Amy. But the experiment has gone catastrophically wrong, and whilst the first twelve experimental subjects have indeed become immortal, they have also become something else, something that cannot be contained.

Ninety years later, a teenage girl arrives out of the blue at one of the last bastions of civilised humanity in the world, a fortified town in California. Her arrival triggers a dangerous cross-country journey back to the source of the infection, and a series of revelations about the true nature of the threat they face, and how to combat it.

The Passage is still months away from publication, but is already a major success story. The publishing rights for the book and its two sequels were sold for $3.5 million, whilst the film rights were purchased by Ridley Scott's company for a cool $1.5 million for the first book by itself. Based on the book, this is understandable: I have rarely read a book that screams "Blockbuster hit!" as loudly as The Passage. Unusually, however, the book combines its mass commercial appeal with an impressive intelligence and a much stronger writing style than might be expected from a big horror novel (the Stephen King cover quote helps as well). The fact that the 'main' publishers rather than their SF&F imprints are publishing the book is also a sign that they are taking this book very seriously.

The Passage is an evocative novel that borrows and combines styles from other sources to terrific effect. The first third of the novel, in which the virus is released and civilisation falls, is reminiscent of the brilliant opening half of Stephen King's The Stand (although, unlike The Stand, Cronin doesn't badly fumble the ending). We then move ninety years further on to a world of crumbling freeways, unstable overpasses and weed-choked ruins which is much more in the vein of Cormac McCarthy's The Road (albeit nowhere near as sparse). We then get some thrilling battle scenes between humans and 'virals' set in a shopping mall and the surrounding countryside which is much more in the vein of the Fallout computer games (and possibly Dawn of the Dead), whilst the idea of humanity cowering behind walls from the threat beyond recalls Carrie Ryan's recent novel The Forest of Hands and Teeth and its sequel. Yet the book never feels derivative, more playing with the tropes of the post-apocalyptic horror genre in interesting and original ways.

"When all time ended, and the world had lost its memory, and the man that he was had receded from view like a ship sailing away, rounding the blade of earth with his old life locked in its hold; and when the gyring stars gazed down upon nothing, and the moon in its arc no longer remembered his name, and all that remained was the great sea of hunger on which he floated forever - stil, inside him, in the deepest place was this: one year. The mountain and the turning seasons, and Amy. Amy and the Year of Zero."

The novel has its own rhythm and cadence, based around rich descriptions of the environment and strong characterisation. The structure of the novel is also successful, with the first third forming an effective prologue to the remaining post-apocalyptic sequence. Initially this move appeared unwise, with Cronin abandoning the well-described situation and memorable characters of the opening of the book to start over from scratch, but the new situation and characters are just as effective, if not moreso (especially Alicia, a devastatingly effective viral hunter, and our main protagonist Peter). This does represent a shift in the pacing, with the first 250 pages rocketing by like a page-turning thriller, whilst the next sequence is more relaxed, but this is necessary to establish the new characters and situation. Then, once the journey into the unknown begins, the pacing and tension ratchet up again. In this latter sequence Cronin gives us a series of episodic adventures, such as the travellers stopping at another settlement built around a ruined prison where nothing is as it seems and a terror-filled journey across Las Vegas, which would make memorable horror novels by themselves, but here are merely smaller parts of a much greater whole.

The novel is but the first part of a trilogy, so whilst the book has definitive end-point and a series of compelling revelations about the setting and the world, there is also something of a cliffhanger ending which we will have to wait some time to see resolved (given it took the author over three years to write this first book, I assume the second is still a while off), which is just about the only negative thing about the book I can think of. Otherwise this is a page-turning, compulsive read.

The Passage (*****) is a superbly-written, well-paced and convincingly-characterised novel where the situation and characters remain in the imagination long after it is finished. This could be the start of something major indeed. The novel will be published on 8 June 2010 in the USA and on 24 June in the UK.

Sunday, 18 April 2010


Dave Lizewski, a teenage comic book fan, hits on the idea of dressing up as a superhero for real and ridding the streets of crime. Unsurprisingly, this turns out not to be a good idea and he proceeds to be hospitalised whilst trying to stop a car theft. With his nerve endings damaged in the incident, Dave discovers an enhanced ability to withstand pain, which assists his further crime-fighting attempts. As the activities of 'Kick-Ass' gain an online following, a father/daughter crime-fighting duo, Big Daddy and Hit Girl, decide to pool resources with Kick-Ass, but their much greater proficiency and use of lethal violence makes Dave feel out of his depth. When Big Daddy's nemesis, crime boss Frank D'Amico, mistakes Kick-Ass as being behind the disruption of his drug-dealing enterprise, Kick-Ass finds himself being targetted by a very dangerous criminal gang.

Kick-Ass is a movie co-written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, working in close collaboration with Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr (the writer and artist of the comic book of the same name). Work on the comic and film proceeded in tandem, with deviations in the story being carried out to better suit each medium (for example, Big Daddy is a darker character in the comic book whilst the movie doesn't have the time to spend on this storyline so drops it). This is Vaughn's third stint as director, following on from Layer Cake and Stardust and earlier producer credentials on Guy Ritchie's earlier (and decent) movies, and was almost entirely funded by the director and private investors after the studios balked at the film's levels of violence and profanity.

The result is a deeply impressive film, probably one of the strongest-ever 'superhero' films, certainly one of the best of the last decade or so, although certainly not flawless. Despite the American setting, the film retains a strong British sensibility with the presence of several excellent British actors (particularly Mark Strong as the villain D'Amico) and a lot of British talent behind the cameras. The result is more of a withering satire of American superhero films and comics, with an underlying cold cynicism which is surprising (the beating Dave takes on his first crime-fighting exercise is astonishingly brutal) and also darkly comic. The most prominent well-known American actor in the film is Nicholas Cage in a solid supporting role, channelling the sort of 'controlled-but-demented maniac' he used to be brilliant at but we haven't seen for some considerable time (his performance also has, brilliantly, a touch of Adam West as the 1960s Batman to him), whilst the younger performers such as Aaron Johnson, Chloe Grace-Moretz, and Chris Mintz-Plasse all deliver solid performances.

Much has been made of Moretz, who was only 11 when the film was shot, and her impressive array of swear words and her perchance for violence (she easily has the highest kill-count in the film of any character). Moretz gives an accomplished and charismatic performance, and the psychologically dubious treatment of her character by her father (who trains her in gun and knife combat) is given some discussion in the film, although the comic delves into this area in greater depth. This is one area in which the film could probably have done with some more development, as Hit Girl does come across as a bit more of a psychopath than perhaps the writers intended (the 'child soldier' element appears to be more prominent in the comic, where her father's motives are much more questionable). However, questions of the morality of this storyline seem to miss the point that this element was intended to be challenging and raise questions over the juxtaposition of children and violence, with The Daily Mail instead focusing its rage on the 'sexualisation' of the character (an angle notable in the film for being completely non-existent, raising the question of what on earth goes through the mind of Daily Mail film reviewers when they watch films like this).

The film's pacing, script and structure is all impeccable, the story unfolds in a logical manner and the film's use of music is absolutely brilliant, with a fantastic use of several Prodigy tracks and the movie breaking out the superb soundtrack from the 2007 movie Sunshine at one point for one stunningly-choreographed battle sequence. This is a movie that looks and sounds fantastic.

The movie's biggest problem is that it betrays its essential premise towards the end of the film. It starts off as a 'realistic' examination of what would happen if an ordinary 16-year-old kid tried to become a superhero but by the end of the movie when bazookas, miniguns and jetpacks are blasting away in all directions this angle has gone out the window. The movie remains relentlessly entertaining to the end, but this shift in emphasis (perhaps unavoidable if you don't want the main characters all to get killed in the big finale, which is what would realistically happen) is slightly jarring.

Kick-Ass (****½) is a ferociously violent, darkly funny, bitingly satirical and at times genuinely clever movie which subverts the superhero genre. The film betrays its early convictions towards the end which is a shame, but it remains constantly watchable. It is on general release worldwide now.

HOBBIT movie update

The ongoing oddball situation with the two movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit continues to unfold. Peter Jackson has told Movietone that they've only just submitted the first draft of the two movie scripts to the studio, no casting has taken place and, despite Ian McKellen's recent website updates, it's not going to take place in June and no actors, not even the ones from the Lord of the Rings trilogy expected to return (McKellen, Andy Serkis and Hugo Weaving; Ian Holm and Christopher Lee have indicated they are not returning), have been locked.

Jackson instead suggests a start date in the autumn, although oddly doesn't mention the major money problems going on with MGM that have also impacted on the production (MGM, the rights-holders for the books, are co-producing with New Line, who made the original trilogy). However, recent pictures from The One show that pre-production is underway, with construction of the Hobbiton hobbit-holes well advanced.

The first Hobbit movie is expected to be released in December 2012, with the second following a year later.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

New in the post

One of this year's biggest SF&F releases.

Looking forward to this one. About halfway through one of the year's other big releases, The Passage by Justin Cronin, so Kraken will be next up.

UK delay for WAY OF KINGS

Just a brief update from Gollancz. Whilst the Australian version of The Way of Kings will be a simultaneous launch with the US edition in August 2010, the UK edition is being held back to February 2011, to give Gollancz a little more time to prepare the book for release, as they see it as a major title. Slightly disappointing news, but given that the sequel is probably not expected until 2012 or later (with Sanderson having to deliver the last two Wheel of Time books on a tight schedule), not too much of an issue.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Joss Whedon to direct THE AVENGERS movie

According to Airlock Alpha, Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse and Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, has been recruited by Marvel to direct the long-gestating film version of The Avengers, slated for release in 2012.

(note to British readers: this is the American superteam consisting of lots of superheroes, not the classic British TV series about a guy called Steed fighting crime, which was made into a terrible movie about a decade ago)

The film is the culmination of a long-term plan by Marvel, which is building up to this movie through several groundwork-laying films, such as Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, this year's Iron Man 2 and next year's Thor and Captain America. These movies are all linked by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) showing up at some point to recruit the hero for a new team he is putting together. The Avengers will see the team going into action for the first time, teaming up the respective movies' stars.

Whedon has been looking to get involved with a major superhero movie for some time, after he departed from the Wonder Woman project over creative differences. His last-directed film was 2005's Serenity.

And yes, that's a lot of Big Damn Heroes.