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Saturday, 19 October 2019

Live-action COWBOY BEBOP delayed by on-set injury

Netflix's live-action reboot of Cowboy Bebop is facing a potentially major delay after star John Cho suffered an on-set knee injury.

It's unclear how the injury was sustained, although it appears to have not been part of a stunt. The knee injury is apparently severe enough that filming for the new series will be suspended for at least seven and potentially up to nine months.

Netflix have confirmed they stand by the casting of Cho as main character Spike Spiegel and will not recast the role.

Apple TV+ to launch with Ronald D. Moore's new alt-history SF series

Apple TV+ is set to launch on 1 November, spearheaded by Ronald D. Moore's ambitious alternate-history drama For All Mankind.

For All Mankind starts in 1969 when mankind first reaches the moon...but the spacecraft that arrives is Russian, and it's the hammer-and-sickle of the Soviet Union that is erected first over the surface. The Americans do arrive, but a few weeks later.

Frustrated and angered by being beaten to the punch, President Nixon orders NASA to step up its efforts to beat Russia to the next milestones: a fully-functioning lunar base and the first man on Mars. The shock of the early landing also persuades Ted Kennedy to cancel his party on Chappaquiddick Island, putting his personal career - and the political trajectory of the United States - on a very different path. The Russians, buoyed by the success of their mission, pour more resources into space travel and technology rather than nuclear weapons, which also changes the destiny of the USSR. One of the consequences of the Russian advance and the need for more US astronauts is the reactivation of the Mercury 13, thirteen American female astronauts trained in a similar manner to their male counterparts as part of a physiological comparison programme in the early 1960s, to quickly (but controversially) provide NASA with much-needed extra manpower.

Moore, the executive producer, co-showrunner and writer of the second Battlestar Galactica and, more recently, Outlander, is serving in those capacities on the new series. The series stars Joel Kinnaman (Altered Carbon), Michael Dorman (Patriot), Wrenn Schmidt (Boardwalk Empire, The Americans, Person of Interest), Shantel VanSanten (One Tree Hill, The Flash, Shooter), Sarah Jones (Sons of Anarchy, Alcatraz, Vegas, Damnation) and Jodi Balfour (True Detective, The Crown, Primeval).

The first three episodes will be released on 1 November, with more episodes to follow on a weekly basis.

Other shows on Apple TV+'s slate include Lisey's Story (based on the Stephen King novel, adapted by King himself); Defending Jacob; Amazing Stories; Time Bandits (to be co-written by Taika Waititi, based on the Terry Gilliam movie); Servant (a new M. Night Shyamalan project); The Morning Show (a drama starring Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell); and Foundation, based on the Isaac Asimov novels. Apple TV are also considering picking up Lionsgate's Kingkiller Chronicle TV series, recently dropped by Showtime.

Friday, 18 October 2019

Jacqueline Carey's KUSHIEL series optioned by Lionsgate

All nine books in Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series of fantasy novels have been optioned by Lionsgate.

Art by Tran Nguyen.

Lionsgate have picked up the rights to the trilogy-of-trilogies with a view for developing them for film, TV or possibly both. The early announcement suggests a film (presumably of the first book in the series, Kushiel's Dart), but both options seem to be on the table.

The Kushiel series is set in a fantasied, alternate-reality version of Europe, principally in the kingdom of Terre d'Ange (a parallel history version of France). The series deals with complex worldbuilding, including a parallel version of Christianity which evolved in a very different form, not to mention a different version of Judaism. The series is also noted for its explicit sexual politics, which would seem to favour a TV adaptation rather than a movie (which would have to be rated R).

This is only an option for now and Lionsgate have been through some difficulties recently, including some setbacks to their Kingkiller Chronicle mixed TV-and-movie project. However, the Kushiel series has the benefit of being complete, which addresses the major problem with the Kingkiller project.

LORD OF THE RINGS: THE SECOND AGE adds a new castmember

Amazon's Lord of the Rings: The Second Age TV series has added a new castmember in the form of Maxim Baldry.

Baldry is best-known for playing Viktor Goraya in Years and Years, Russell T. Davies' dystopian drama series, and Liam Donovan on British soap Hollyoaks. He also appeared on Skins. American may best know him for, at the age of eleven, playing Caesarion in the second season of HBO's excellent Rome.

It is unknown what role Baldry will be playing on Lord of the Rings: The Second Age, although some commentators have suggested he might be good for the role of Sauron, whom in the Second Age went by the name of Annatar and lived among the elves of Eregion "in fair guise," to trick them into helping forge the Rings of Power. This is pure speculation though.

Lord of the Rings: The Second Age is in pre-production in New Zealand, with some filming believed to have already taken place (to satisfy a contractual requirement for the show to start filming before November 1st, or the rights revert to the Tolkien Estate). Shooting in earnest is expected to start in the spring.

More WHEEL OF TIME casting news: two Cauthons and an Aybara

Three new castmembers appear to have joined the Wheel of Time television series. As with the previous news of Naana Agyei Ampadu's casting, this comes from one of the UK casting agencies involved in the project who announced the news via their website and promptly deleted it, presumably as Amazon were not ready to announce the news themselves.

Christopher Sciueref is a British actor who has appeared in films including Skyfall, 300: Rise of an Empire and The Flood, and TV shows including Sons of Anarchy and The Last Kingdom. He is reportedly playing Abell Cauthon, the father of Mat Cauthon.

Juliet Howland is an actress and composer, best-known for roles in Colditz, Skins and Doctors. She is rumoured to be playing Natti Cauthon, the wife of Abell and the mother of Mat Cauthon.

More interesting is the news that Helena Westerman (Quota) is playing a character named Laila Aybara. From her surname, she is apparently  related to Perrin Aybara. Westerman was seen at the table-read for the first two episodes, sitting next to Marcus Rutherford who plays Perrin. There is some speculation that the TV show is changing things so we meet Perrin's family in the first episode; in the books Perrin is living in the Luhhan smithy and we don't meet any of Perrin's family until the fourth book. Establishing his family earlier on may be a better way of laying the groundwork for later storylines. Another unconfirmed and much more speculative rumour is that Laila may actually be Perrin's wife who is killed on Winternight, the battle that opens the series. This is a significant change from the books, where Perrin, Rand and Mat are unmarried and clueless about women, but it may also differentiate the three boys more and give Perrin a different focus to the other characters.

With filming on the show now in its second month, hopefully Amazon will confirm some of this casting news soon.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

HOMEWORLD tabletop roleplaying game coming from Modiphius in 2020

Modiphius are fast-turning into one of the most interesting companies in the tabletop RPG space. They're working on tabletop RPGs for the Fallout and Dune universes, and have now announced that an RPG based on the Homeworld video game franchise is on the way.

Homeworld: Revelations will allow players to create characters and take part in the epic voyage across the Whirlpool Galaxy that formed the narrative for the original game. The game will also allow players to take on the role of other races (presumably not the Bentusi, due to them being massive living starships) and play in other time periods, presumably including the era of the upcoming Homeworld 3, due for release in 2022.

Homeworld: Revelations will use the 2d20 system used by many of Modiphius' other games and will also feature an innovative Starter Box concept, where the game ships with a prepared adventure in envelopes which teaches the game simultaneously to both the GM and players with no setup time required.

Homeworld: Revelations appears to be tentatively targeting a 2020 release, but with an interesting scope and a possible crowdfunding campaign to come, it may slip to 2021.

You can buy the house where Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings

If you fancy owning a slice of literature history - and are also immensely rich - you can now buy the house where J.R.R. Tolkien wrote all of The Lord of the Rings, most of The Hobbit and a chunk of The Silmarillion.

The house is located in Northmoor Road, Oxford, and was where the Tolkien family lived from 1930 to 1947. The house will set you back a cool £4.5 million for a six-bedroom property with a significant amount of space surrounding it. The house was built in the 1920s as a residence for staff at Oxford University, so was pretty new when Tolkien acquired it. The house has been mostly left in the same state it was in when it was built.

Tolkien began writing The Hobbit in the late 1920s, although appears to have only started typing it up around 1930, and it was published in September 1937. Tolkien began writing The Lord of the Rings just a few weeks later, completing it in 1947 (although it took another two years to type up and edit, and a further five years to publish). Tolkien also did extensive work on The Silmarillion whilst living in the property.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Pre-production begins on Season 5 of THE EXPANSE

Pre-production is well underway on Season 5 of The Expanse, with the cast and crew gathering today for the table-read of the season. Actual shooting should start in the next week or so.

Season 4 of the show hasn't even aired yet, but Amazon renewed the show for a fifth season several months ago as part of a new policy meant to reduce the ever-widening gaps between seasons of premium TV. Shows like Game of Thrones, Westworld and Stranger Things have seen gaps of eighteen months up to two years between their last few respective seasons, a result of the need to see viewing figures, then shoot the series and then undertake the increasingly elaborate post-production work needed for these shows to look as good as they do. Amazon's new policy saw them greenlight a second season of The Boys before the first had aired, and there are signs that they will do the same thing for Wheel of Time and Lord of the Rings: The Second Age, now both in production in eastern Europe and New Zealand respectively.

Season 5 of The Expanse is expected to draw heavily on the fifth and sixth books in the series, Nemesis Games and Babylon's Ashes, and will air in late 2020.

Seasons 1-3 of The Expanse are airing now worldwide on Amazon Prime Video now. Season 4 will be released on 13 December 2019.

A History of Homeworld Part 3: The Anomaly in the Desert

In this series celebrating the franchise's twentieth anniversary (and the recent announcement of Homeworld 3), I look at the background lore of the critically-acclaimed Homeworld series of video games. This instalment covers the events of the prequel game Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, and contains spoilers for that title.

A map of the territory covered by Operation Khadiim, 1110 KDS.

In the year 1073 of the Kharakian Dating System, the Daiamid, the ruling council of the Northern Coalition, was given news most stark. The planet was dying. The oceans were drying up much faster than previously suspected, the desert was advancing on every front and the natural aquifers needed to grow crops were failing. In less than three centuries, Kharak would become inhospitable to Kushan life.

The Daiamid kept this news to themselves (to the point of quashing independent scientific reports hinting at the same), even as they began debating what action to take. For decades, the kiithid had been struggling with another scientific revelation, one made by geneticists from Kiith S’jet. DNA scans had revealed that the Kushan people had absolutely nothing in common with the native species of Kharak, with the very genetic makeup of the planet being unable to give rise to advanced, intelligent life. The evidence suggested instead that the Kushan people had come to Kharak from elsewhere, another world altogether. 

The Xenogenesis Theory proved controversial, especially as it seemed to back up the religious fundamentalist view that the kiithid had been banished to Kharak for committing a sin among the heavens. But it also now hinted at an escape route: if the Kushan had come to Kharak from another world, then, if that world still existed, they could return the same way. The Daiamid turned their attention to the metallic debris rings circling Kharak, believing that they might be remnants of whatever spacecraft were used to bring their ancient ancestors to the planet. If they could learn more, they might find a way of escaping the planet before the end.

Kiith S’jet, always the most scientifically vigorous of the kiith, turned its full attention to the task. Pieces of the orbital debris had been studied for decades, leading to massive breakthroughs in fabrication techniques and technological development. The kiith constructed an advanced orbital satellite network, Project Viin Cal (named for the ancient Kushan god of hunters), which was to scour Kharak’s orbital space outwards for millions of kilometres for the slightest hint of the technology that brought the Kushan to Kharak. The system went online in the year 1100 KDS.

For six years the satellites scoured near-Kharak space and found very little: some more debris, but nothing that would lead to a major breakthrough. The scientists grew more frustrated even as they felt time running out for their world.

In 1106 KDS, one of the Viin Cal satellites malfunctioned and spun off its axis, its scanning field turning to encompass Kharak. A technician named Leykab Jaraci was tasked with bringing the satellite under control. After struggling with the recalcitrant satellite for hours, Jaraci regretfully gave the order for the satellite to self-destruct. He then ran the last scan from the satellite.

The results briefly overwhelmed the data processing systems in mission control. Not just single pieces of metallic debris, but huge signals had been detected, larger than entire Kushan sandcrawlers or desert carriers. These signals did not come from space, but from the Great Banded Desert, from Kharak itself. And, at the end of the scattering of signals, deep in the heat of the desert, was one huge signal which was generating energy readings on a par with Kharak’s sun. Leykab Jaraci became, in Kharak’s scientific community at least, a superstar and his name was given to his discovery: the Jaraci Object. But as the scale of the signals became clear, it gained another: the Primary Anomaly.

The wreck of the carrier Ifriit Naabal upon its discovery at Hell's Gate.

Operation Skaal Brii
The Daiamid met in emergency session. The Primary Anomaly and the associated signals gave them a hope beyond anything they’d felt before, not just for breadcrumbs of ancient technology that might allow them to reach the stars, but possibly semi-intact technological items and maybe even well-preserved examples of the ships that brought their ancestors to Kharak in the first place!

Reaching the Primary Anomaly was going to be difficult. The location of the object was deep in the Great Banded Desert, thousands of kilometres from the nearest suitable landing site. Long-range aircraft might reach the site but would not be able to touch down. Even worse, the location was within the range of territory occupied by the desert raiders of Kiith Gaalsien. Any attempt to buzz the area with aircraft might lead them straight to the Anomaly.

The Gaalsien had retreated from the north at the height of the Heresy Wars, but they had not died out. Instead they had set up new bases of operations in the highlands of the Great Banded Desert, particularly the Beladin Formation, Sarathi Basin and Garaaki Highlands. Somehow, despite the unrelenting heat and hostility of the lands, they had prospered. Their technology had improved dramatically and they had mastered hover technology, allowing their vehicles to float above the particulate matter and sandstorms that confounded Coalition military forces.

The Gaalsien now presented a formidable military threat to the Coalition. In 1075, Kiith Naabal and Kiith Soban lured the Gaalsien into attacking the Stormbreaker Wall and then outflanked and ambushed the attacking force in the Night of Fiery Daggers (Siifar Kor’shesh). Ten thousand Gaalsien troops died in the battle, with no quarter given. The threat of the Gaalsien had been reduced for a generation, but it had also awoken a fierce hatred in the Gaalsien for the Coalition, and a yearning for vengeance.

After much discussion, the Daiamid agreed to launch an expedition to find the Primary Anomaly. The Ifrit-class heavy carrier Ifriit Naabal was adapted for a long-range, deep-desert mission using silent running to reach the Anomaly undetected. The Northern Coalition Military Council (NCMC) offered severe objections to the mission, noting that the Ifrit-class was old and outdated, and the few remaining carriers were being retired in favour of a new design, the in-development Sakala-class deep desert carrier. In particular, the Ifriit-class was not designed for long-distance missions far away from resupply for months at a time. They argued for patience and the adaptation of the new Sakala-class design for the mission.

They were overruled and the Ifriit Naabal was launched mere months after the discovery of the Primary Anomaly. With a complement of 1,256 and commanded by the capable Captain Deckhard Naabal and first officer Lt. Jacob S’jet, the Ifriit Naabal set out with high hopes for success.

All contact with the Ifriit Naabal was lost less than a month after launch. Attempts to locate the carrier from the air failed, and it was unclear if the carrier had been lost to accident or Gaalsien action. The NCMC after-action report was scathing, reiterating the point that the Ifrit Naabal was not suitable for the mission it had been given and blaming the loss of 1,256 personnel on impatience and lack of strategic planning.

A second mission was put into the planning stages, but this time it was going to be done with greater care, detail and planning.

The Gaalsien did not accommodate these plans. 

The carrier Kapisi departing Epsilon Base.

Operation Khadiim
The Sakala-class deep desert carrier was a formidable machine. Bigger and much more heavily armoured than the Ifriit-class, with a complement of 1,850 souls, the Sakala-class was designed to operate continuously without resupply and away from home port for months at a time. The original design had been for a spearhead force capable of punching through to the Gaalsien heartlands located several thousand kilometres to the south of the northern highlands, close to Kharak’s functionally uninhabitable equatorial band, but as it turned out this was just what was needed to reach the Primary Anomaly.

The taskforce would comprise five carriers: Kiith Siidim’s Sakala; Kiith S’jet’s Kapisi, Kiith Naabal’s Fiiskire (to replace the lost Ifrit Naabal), Kiith Hraal’s Akalon and Kiith Soban’s Amida. With each carrier capable of building its own attack tanks, aircraft and resource gatherers in the field, this was a colossal military force capable of handling anything the Gaalsien could throw against it.

Unfortunately, the plan required the carriers to be built and actually launched. The Gaalsien forestalled this plan by launching a steadily escalating series of offensives starting in 1107 KDS and continuing into 1110. Coalition Intelligence concluded that the Gaalsien had somehow intercepted plans regarding Operation Khadiim – or perhaps from the earlier Ifriit Naabal expedition – and were aware that a new operation would be launched to find the Primary Anomaly. One saving grace was that the Gaalsien had not located the Anomaly themselves, with satellite coverage continuing to show the area was free of Gaalsien occupation.

NCM Command ordered that the mission launch date was to be brought forwards by three months, but the contributing kiithid had already gone into overdrive to finish the carriers early. The Sakala was launched first and had already proven itself in several combat operations before the Kapisi rolled off the production line. The Fiiskire, Akalon and Amida were still not complete when the Gaalsien launched their main offensive in 1110 KDS, striking hard against the Stormbreaker Wall and the fortified main defensive wall surrounding the three primary NCM field bases: Charlie, Epsilon and Juno. Kapisi had to prove itself under fire as it fled the destruction of Epsilon Base and had to undergo its final desert refit at the Boneyard military base even as the installation came under attack.

Fortunately, the Gaalsien offensive had limited resources and, when part of the attacking force breached the Stormbreaker Wall and opened an attack vector to Tiir itself, they chose to focus on exploiting that advantage. In the chaos, both the Kapisi and Sakala were able to slip past their lines and begin the long journey into the Great Banded Desert. 

Tiir, capital city of the Northern Coalition, under attack by Gaalsien forces.

The two carriers rendezvoused at a point east of Cape Wrath, known as Hell’s Gate. Here they beheld a sobering sight: the wreck of the Ifriit Naabal. The carrier had been overcome by the desert sands during a superstorm that had wracked the planet for thirteen days. If had foundered barely a hundred kilometres from the edge of Coalition territory.

The two carriers planned to head east, holding a course north of the Beladin Formation and Garaaki Highlands before swinging quickly south to the Primary Anomaly. This would allow them to avoid most of the worst desert heat and the heart of Gaalsien territory. However, this plan was interrupted by intelligence gleaned from the Ifriit Naabal which identified a key point of interest at the “Kalash Site,” located due south in the Sarathi Basin. The Kapisi diverted to the site and discovered it to be a vast, wrecked spacecraft of unknown origin. Analysis of the wreck revealed many technological innovations to the Kapisi crew, who began retrofitting their carrier with the new technology. It also became clear to the crew that these wrecks were scattered all through the desert, and were the source of the Gaalsien’s technological advancement.

The Kapisi and Sakala turned east and punched through the Gaalsien lines, whilst news from the home front became direr: the Gaalsien main army had reached Tiir and launched a massive assault on the capital. The carriers then made a surprising discovery: a group of starships that had apparently materialised partially inside solid rock. Salvaging Gaalsien intelligence files, the Kapisi crew discovered evidence of “quantum waveforms,” a theoretical method of faster-than-life travel through a medium known as “hyperspace.” The alien ships had been traversing through hyperspace in the vicinity of Kharak when they had been forcibly dragged out of hyperspace near the planet, or in this specific case, inside it. The Kapisi crew realised that the Primary Anomaly might be the source of the hyperspace interference.

Unfortunately, during its offensive the Gaalsien managed to recover intelligence from Epsilon Base pinpointing the coordinates of the Primary Anomaly. The K’Had Sajuuk, the supreme religious leader of the Gaalsien, took a large fleet and made for the Anomaly, and would arrive weeks before the Coalition forces could reach the site.

The Coalition carriers passed through the Whispering Gallery, a long canyon in the Garaaki Highlands and an effective shortcut to the open desert beyond. Hounded by Gaalsien forces all the way, they eventually reached the flat Khashar Plateau, an effective natural runway which allowed resupply aircraft to land from Tiir. During this operation, Kiith Siidim betrayed its Coalition partners by ordering the Sakala to shoot down the resupply craft bound for the Kapisi, to try to starve it of resources. The Siidim, whose religious extremism from the Heresy Wars was not as moderated as first thought, believed that it was their destiny to find the Primary Anomaly and use to ascend to the stars…alone.

Fortunately, the Kapisi was able to recover enough material from the crashed craft to press on. The upgrades the carrier had installed from the alien wrecks also made it superior in battle to the Sakala. The Kapisi trapped the Sakala and destroyed it at Torin Crater.

It was also discovered that Lt. Jacob S’jet from the Ifriit Naabal had been imprisoned by the Gaalsien instead of being killed four years earlier. He had escaped and made his way to a wrecked ship in Torin Crater. Here he discovered that the ship had launched an orbital weapons platform before it had been pulled down to the planet’s surface by the Primary Anomaly’s quantum and gravimetric forces. Using the barely-functioning control systems on the ship, he was able to active the orbital platform, which now fired on any ground vehicle near the Anomaly, forcing the Gaalsien forces to retreat. This allowed the Coalition forces to regroup and reach the Anomaly.

At the same time, word came from Tiir of a great victory. The Gaalsien forces had erred in engaging in street-to-street fighting in the capital, as they had gotten bogged down in a war of attrition they could not win against the numerically superior Coalition forces, which had regrouped and counter-attacked. Tiir had been liberated and the Gaalsien forces thrown back in disarray.

Rachel S'jet becomes the first Kushan to lay eyes on Khar-Toba for almost twenty-nine centuries.

The Kapisi reached the Anomaly and discovered it to be a wrecked spacecraft far larger than any other they had discovered. Rachel S’jet, the expedition’s chief science officer, scanned the wreck and discovered the ruins of a vast city sprawling around the craft. Khar-Toba, the First City of Kharak. The legends were real.

In order to reach the Anomaly, the Kapisi had to deactivate the weapons platform (lest it fire on them). Once the Gaalsien realised this, they attacked in force. A final battle at Khar-Toba took place, but Rachel was able to fine-tune the platform to emit much narrower-beam blasts. In concert with the Kapisi’s augmented weapons, they were able to destroy the K’Had Sajuuk and end the threat from the Gaalsien.

The war had been costly, with tens of thousands of lives lost and the walls of Tiir breached. But the Coalition – battered by war and internal dissent with the Siidim (who now, weakly, proclaimed that the Sakala had been acting without their authority) – had won, and now beheld its prize. Khar-Toba was vast, sprawling for hundreds of square kilometres around the wrecked ship. It would take years to survey and explore the site. With the Gaalsien neutralised, resupply posts were established and soon scientific and archaeological teams were swarming over the site. The technology they recovered resulted in a near-overnight generational jump forward in Kharak’s knowledge and ability.

But far greater discoveries were to come.

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