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Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Black KkKlansman

1972. Ron Stallworth is hired as the first black police officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Facing discrimination from his coworkers and becoming disillusioned, Stallworth finds his faith restored when he meets local activists and realises he can do good work from inside the police department. He promptly sets about infiltrating a local chapter of the Klu Klux Klan by telephone, which succeeds a bit too well and he is invited to a face-to-face meeting. He recruits fellow officer Flip Zimmerman (a white, Jewish man) to be his "face" and, together, they set about exposing the local chapter for what it is.


There many histories of the United States of America, but by far the most painful and difficult one is that of race relations. The US was a slave-owning nation at its birth, only gave up slavery through a bloody civil war and more than half a million deaths, but never escaped its shadow. Oppressive laws and a hostile environment for ethnic minorities plagued parts of the country for another century until the civil rights movement of the 1960s ostensibly equalised laws, but systemic racism and bigotry remains ingrained in parts of the nation to this day.

Spike Lee is one of the best explorers of this dichotomy at the heart of the United States, a country where simultaneously anyone can aspire to be anything, but a huge part of the population is still judged by the colour of its skin over the content of their character. Since the mid-1980s he's been finding stories to tell of an America that many people don't see, or actively ignore, and finding ways of doing that through humour, shocking drama and canny characterisation.

Black KkKlansman is the most successful of his films for many years. It is, bemusingly, a true story. A black police officer infiltrated a chapter of the country's most infamous racist organisation and set about blow it open from the inside, helped by a fellow white officer to act as his public face. The operation was extremely dangerous for all involved, and was also very complex, since the two officers had to know everything about one another, so they couldn't be caught out if cross-questioned.

Lee gives the story a little embellishment - the real Ron Stallworth refused to identify his white collaborator in fear of endangering his life, so Flip Zimmerman is a total fabrication, as is his love interest - and sometimes veers away from the investigation to provide more historical context to the time period, but mostly the story sticks to the facts, which are bananas.

As a film, it is hugely accomplished and ranks among Lee's strongest work. Lee's latter career has been patchy, most notably his ill-advised remake of Oldboy, but Black KkKlansman is excellent. It has a superb central cast, with John David Washington blowing the roof off in his measured performance as Stallworth and Adam Driver (currently enjoying the "literally showing up in everything you watch" phase of his career) doing some of his career-best work as Zimmerman. Laura Harrier (Spider-Man: Homecoming) also does great work as the activist/love interest. Topher Grace has the hardest and arguably most thankless job in playing Klan leader David Duke, but pulls it off with sometimes hard-to-watch aplomb.

The movie works because it balances, on a knife edge, a study of race relations with comedy. The situation that Stallworth and Zimmerman are in is inherently ridiculous and that comes through in the plot, but it's also extremely dangerous. Sometimes the movie spins from a genuinely funny gag to a moment of genuine fear on a dime and then back again. There's more than a few hold-your-breath moments of tension in the film, which serves as a timely reminder what a master craftsman of cinema Spike Lee can be when he really goes for it.

The film has some issues. The problem of systemic racism within the police force is raised at the start of the film, and again when Stallworth has to undergo a "random" stop-and-search whilst undercover with a group of activists, but it pivots pretty quickly and pretty hard to the Klan storyline. Saying "the Klan are racists and a problem" is a very easy thing, whilst the issue of how to address police racism is much more complicated and difficult to deal with. Fair enough that that's not the story Lee wanted to tell, but it does arguably leave a more nuanced and difficult (and timely) story on the table. At two and a quarter hours with a somewhat slight (if powerful) story, the film also does start to threaten to outstay its welcome, but Lee always finds a good character scene or moment of humour (or horror) to bring the story back on track.

Black KkKlansman (****½) sees Spike Lee back on form and doing what he does best, using real events to craft a compelling film that works as both pure entertainment and also a social commentary. It is available now in the UK and USA.

Blogging Roundup: 13 April to 1 June 2020


The Wertzone
News
Michael Moorcock rules out an ELRIC TV show or movie in the near future, citing similarities to THE WITCHER
A legal dispute may have confirmed the ELDER SCROLLS VI subtitle
Henry Cavill to resume his role as Superman
Cover art for new Joe Abercrombie book revealed
LORD OF THE RINGS: THE SECOND AGE given greenlight to resume filming in August
Original DRAGONRIDERS OF PERN trilogy to get first UK audiobook release
A first look at CBS's unexpectedly topical adaptation of THE STAND
AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER returns to Netflix
CBS greenlights STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS, featuring Captain Pike
George Miller locks in a MAD MAX: FURY ROAD prequel as his next project
Bethesda updates STARFIELD website for the first time
MAFIA, one of the best video games of all time, is getting a full remake this year
Katee Sackhoff to join THE MANDALORIAN
Square Eidos selling 53 great games (and DAIKATANA) for peanuts
Temuera Morrison to return as Boba Fett in THE MANDALORIAN
DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS movie gets yet yet another creative shake-up
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA 3.0 gets its showrunner, confirmed to be yet another remake
Taika Waititi signs with Lucasfilm to direct and co-write a STAR WARS film
Frontier Developments developing a WARHAMMER: AGE OF SIGMAR real-time strategy game
Games Workshop revives original WARHAMMER setting in completely unforeseen development
Amblin Entertainment developing a film version of THE FIRST FIFTEEN LIVES OF HARRY AUGUST
Chris Wooding confirmed to be a writer on ASSASSIN'S CREED: VALHALLA
New DISCWORLD TV adaptations announced, unrelated to THE WATCH
UK cover art for Brandon Sanderson's RHYTHM OF WAR revealed
Rockstar only "early in development" on GRAND THEFT AUTO VI
New Daniel Abraham epic fantasy novel confirmed for 2021
A brand new XCOM game is coming out this month
More images released from the new DUNE movie
Our first glimpse of Denis Villeneuve's DUNE
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Monday, 1 June 2020

Michael Moorcock rules out an ELRIC TV show or movie in the near future, citing similarities to THE WITCHER

Michael Moorcock, creator of the infamous sword-wielding albino Elric of Melnibone, has reported (via Ansible) that TV and film interest in his creation has dried up due to the success of Netflix's The Witcher and HBO's Game of Thrones.


"Heard today that some companies are turning down Elric project because it reminds them too much of GOT and The Witcher. A pretty irony. So much for “homages”...."

Elric's creation first appeared in the 1961 novella The Dreaming City, as a nobleman of a doomed empire cursed to wield the soul-feasting, intelligent sword Stormbringer. Elric went on to appear in numerous short stories, novellas and novels (most notably Stormbringer, published in 1965), the most recent of which was published in 2010.

Elric may be counted as one of fantasy's single most influential and important characters, inspiring a character of the same name in the television series Babylon 5, the rather blatant homage character of Anomander Rake in Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen and, indeed, Geralt of Rivia. However, Geralt is similar to Elric only superficially: both are white-haired and have the nickname "the White Wolf," but Geralt is not a sickly albino and his day job, killing monsters for coin, is much lower-profile than Elric's stories which normally see his homeland, the entire world or, on occasion, the entire universe in peril.

Although Geralt and Elric are very different characters, that superficial similarity seems to shut Hollywood's interest in the character, although I suspect such interest was relatively low to begin with: the Elric stories are hugely important in the history of SFF, but are much less well-known these days than either Sapkowski or Martin's work. An Elric movie has been mooted since the 1970s and never taken off, long before The Witcher or GoT came on the scene. The Elric stories are pretty grim and almost nihilistic in a way that even GoT at its grimmest is not, and they also lack a well-developed, large supporting cast that a TV show or even a movie would really need to work. The production budget would also need to be enormous.

We may yet see some of Moorcock's other work on the screen, though. The BBC are still developing a TV series based on Moorcock's four-volume History of the Runestaff fantasy series.

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Space Force: Season 1

The United States military has inaugurated its latest service arm: Space Force. Newly-promoted four-star General Mark Naird is appointed as Space Force's first commanding officer, operating out of a base in Colorado. Disappointed at not getting command of the Air Force, Naird nevertheless throws himself into his new role with gusto, determined to fulfil the US mandate to "put boots on the Moon" in the next four years.


Space Force comes with impeccable credentials and impeccable timing. It's the latest creation from American producer/writer Greg Daniels, a long-term writer from Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons who is also the co-creator of King of the Hill, The Office (USA) and Parks & Recreation. Daniels is teamed with his old collaborator Steve Carell, the star of The Office (and numerous films). The show also launches on the exact same weekend that, for the first time in a decade, American astronauts are launched back into space by an American spacecraft, a fortuitous bit of timing.

Space Force is, of course, rooted in the widely-derided decision to create a new branch of the US military dedicated to space supremacy. Once the slightly amusing name and Star Trek-esque insignia are out of the way, though, the idea has some merit, not least because other nations are pressing ahead with their own plans to militarise orbital space. The show gets the mockery of the basic concept out of the way in the first few minutes and then plays the job itself mostly straight, with the comedy arising from the characters and their workplace misadventures, not helped by increasingly impossible demands from the Twitter-obsessed POTUS (whose identity is pretty clear, but never formally identified in a clear case of hedging the writers' bets against the results of the November 2020 election).

Carell stars at General Naird, a competent US military office put in charge of a service about which he knows pretty much nothing. Naird is likeable, mostly efficient and a firm believer in the American Dream, and fortunately nowhere near as hyper-incompetent as Michael Scott. Carell plays him as a gruff, no-nonsense type with moments of humanity (such as a tendency to sing 1980s pop hits to relieve stress). The show is rooted in his dynamic with chief scientist Dr. Adrian Mallory, who is played with formidable skill by the legendary John Malkovich. Mallory is a typical scientist, with some comedy mined from his commitment to the use of space for peace until he is insulted by a Chinese rival, at which point he becomes unexpectedly more belligerent.

The rest of the ensemble is made up of Ben Schwartz (Parks & Rec's monstrous Jean-Ralphio) as "social media director" Tony, Tawny Newsome (Bajillion Dollar Propertie$) as astronaut Angela Ali, Jimmy O. Yang (Silicon Valley) as Dr. Chan  Kaifang (Mallory's number two) and Diana Silvers (Booksmart) as Naird's teenage daughter, Erin. It's a fine cast who rise to the occasion admirably, although viewers may be confused by what happened to Lisa Kudrow as Naird's wife Maggie, who is set up as a regular member of the cast and is immediately demoted to an occasional recurring character instead (in a subplot that is never really fleshed out). There's also a larger recurring cast who come and go through the episodes, led by Noah Emmerich (The Americans) as Naird's arch-rival General Grabaston, normally a Very Serious Actor who clearly relishes the chance to do something fun and runs with it with aplomb. Fans of comic legends Diedrich Bader and Patrick Warburton will also be happy to see them back on the screen, but perhaps bemused that they have so little to do. There is also a note of sadness in the cast, as the late Fred Willard makes his final screen appearance as Naird's father, playing an ailing old man but one whose comic timing and delivery are as sharp as ever.

The cast is top-notch, but not always best-served by the scripts. The show lurches from outstanding, genuinely amusing gags (a whole sequence with a space "chimpstronaut" in the second episode gets ever more preposterous and ever more funny) to moments that fall much flatter, such as the ongoing gag about the blatantly obvious Russian spy (which the show gives up on halfway through and abruptly vanishes). The tone is also variable, with Veep-style political lunacy mixed in with much broader toilet gags, and Office-like observational work humour. At one point the show goes quite dark when Naird's daughter is put in a genuinely sketchy situation, and at another the show has a surprisingly nuanced and progressive take on relationships which is interesting but feels a bit out of keeping with the rest of the series.

The other problem the show has - and this is a rare one these days - is that it is too short. At just ten 25-30 minute episodes, the pacing feels shot to hell, with the team going from barely being able to get into orbit to landing a lunar base on the surface of the Moon in just a few weeks. There are character interrelationships which feel promising from a characterisation and comedy perspective (particularly the odd-couple pairing of Chan and Angela, or the semi-romance between Erin and a base security guard, or the awkward opposites turning into a bromance arc of Naird and Mallory) which are simply not given time to breathe or develop naturally, and sometimes feel like they lurch forwards between episodes. With 20 or even 14 episodes, it feels like these storylines could have been advanced a bit more naturally.

Still, although the first season of Space Force (***½) is rarely outstanding, it's also rarely awful. It has tremendous production values, a surprisingly committed attitude to the science (the chimpstronaut sequences even briefly recall Gravity's discussion of orbital mechanics and space physics), an absolutely excellent cast and a steady, if not constant, stream of low-level laughs. It's certainly not disgracing itself when compared to the also-patchy first seasons of The Office and Parks & Recreation, and the foundation is in place for a stronger run later on. Space Force is available worldwide on Netflix now.

Thursday, 28 May 2020

A legal dispute may have confirmed the ELDER SCROLLS VI subtitle

A legal tussle between Bethesda Softworks, their owners Zenimax Media and a small-press publisher may have inadvertently given away the subtitle of their next Elder Scrolls video game.


Bethesda filed a trademark claim for the name "Redfall" over a year ago, prompting a response from BookBreeze, the publisher of author Jay Falconer. Falconer had written a series of post-apocalyptic novels under the Redfall banner title.

After the threat of legal action, Zenimax and BookBreeze reached an out-of-court settlement (read: money exchanged hands) in May 2019 which appears to allow both Zenimax to use the title in the future and for BookBreeze to continue publishing books under that name.

The story has resurfaced in recent weeks due to a series of alleged leaks about The Elder Scrolls VI, most of which later turned out to be false. However, the "Redfall" title tussle is one of the view hard pieces of information we have about the game. Based on the very brief teaser released two years ago, it is widely expected that the game will take place in the provinces of High Rock and Hammerfell, the home of the Redguards, who loom large in Elder Scrolls lore. There is also the matter of a side-quest in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011), which hints that a "red plague" is currently loose in High Rock and a character is headed back there (Bethesda had previously lined up Skyrim with repeated references to that province in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion back in 2006).

The Elder Scrolls VI: Redfall or Whatever will very likely not be released until the middle of the next decade, as Bethesda are still hard at work on their epic SF CRPG Starfield, as well as further expansions to online survival shooter Fallout 76.

Henry Cavill to resume his role as Superman

In a surprise move, Henry Cavill is in serious talks with Warner Brothers about resuming his role as Superman in the DC Movie Universe.


Cavill first played the role in the risible Man of Steel (2013), although Cavill himself was fine in the role, his role was just badly written and indifferently directed. He reappeared as the co-lead in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), alongside Ben Affleck's Batman, and then in a supporting role in Justice League (2017). Multiple discussions over a new Superman solo movie stalled and the fate of the DC Movie Universe was thrown into doubt after Affleck quit as Batman. However, with several more films in the setting doing extremely well (Wonder Woman, Shazam! and Joker, although the latter's place in the extended universe canon seems debatable), it appears that Warner Brothers have decided against a full reboot as yet and are keener to retain the services of one of their big hitters.

Cavill's growing stardom outside the role has also likely played a role. Cavill picked up great notices for his appearances in films such as Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) and Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018), as well as the TV series The Witcher. Cavill has also gained a lot of "geek-cred" for his social media appearances discussing his love of video games and painting Warhammer miniatures (to the point where a character based on Cavill is appearing in next month's Total War: Warhammer II update), which DC would like to tap into.

Apparently Warner Brothers are still cool on a new full solo Superman movie, instead envisaging Superman's role going forwards as a bit like the Hulk's in the MCU, as a solid supporting player. Indeed, Cavill was meant to appear in Shazam! in a brief cameo, but his appearance was pulled late in the day. It sounds like Warner Brothers are now keen to bring him back into the fold and see how he does, with a view to revisiting the solo movie option further down the road.

Pacific Rim: Uprising

2035. Ten years have passed since the destruction of the dimensional rift, through which an alien race was sending biological war machines - kaiju - to weaken humanity's defences. Although Earth appears to be safe for now, humanity has not rested on its laurels and has rebuilt the Jaeger programme, giant war mecha capable of taking the fight to the aliens. Jake Pentecost, the estranged son of the late Stacker Pentecost, is drafted back into the Jaeger programme to help teach a new generation of students, but moral is low when it is revealed that the the Pan-Pacific Defence Corps are developing a new generation of drone Jaegers that do not need human pilots. When a rogue Jaeger attacks a PPDC conference, Pentecost realises that the aliens are not the only enemy...


The original Pacific Rim is one of favourite movies of the last decade on the level of being a purely entertaining action flick. It didn't make a colossal amount of sense and the story was hardly deep, but Guillermo Del Toro made the "big robots fighting big monsters" story he'd always wanted and had a huge amount of fun in the process, making sure that viewers joined in with that fun.

Del Toro spent years trying to get the sequel made and, unfortunately, by the time the wheels were turning on it, he'd already moved on to other projects. Stepping into the breach - so to speak - was Steven S. DeKnight. DeKnight is hardly on the same level of reputation as Del Toro, but is also no slouch, having been a writer-producer-director on shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and the first season of Daredevil.

Unfortunately, the loss of Del Toro was only the first setback for the movie. It was quickly followed by the discovery that leading actor Charlie Hunnam was also going to be unavailable. With several of the other leads of the original Pacific Rim having been killed off in that movie, it left the sequel with a lot of storytelling void to fill. Still, the movie rallied by casting hot man-of-the-moment John Boyega (Finn in the Star Wars sequels) as the new lead and setting up a strong new story about the Jaegers becoming obsolete. The movie also undercuts expectations by leaning into a human-vs-human struggle based around Jaeger technology and kaiju bio-technology. This makes the movie feel a bit "smaller" than the first movie, with less of an omnipresent sense of dread and instead more of a mystery angle. I quite like it when a sequel goes cleverer rather than bigger for a sequel and was pleasantly surprised when Uprising took that route.

I was even more surprised when Pacific Rim: Uprising decided to also double down on characterisation compared to the first movie, which painted its characters with a fairly broad (to the point of transparent) brush. Uprising spends far more time setting up its characters and their motivations, particularly in the key subplot about a new team of cadets where all the characters are established in more detail compared to the first movie (where we didn't even learn the names of some of the Jaeger pilots). Again, no great shakes here (stereotypes and cliches abound), but the fact that I could tell which character was which and why they were doing what they were doing was an improvement over the original film.

Part of the problem with this approach is that it's perhaps a little wasted: Pacific Rim was a film about giant robots fighting giant monsters, not an in-depth character study, and it wasted no time in telling that story. Uprising's greater character focus proves to be structurally problematic, meaning we're 45 minutes into the movie - almost half its runtime - before the stakes and main storyline become clear. The second it does become clear, the movie slams the accelerator down and bombards the audience with a series of impressive set-pieces, including mecha-on-mecha battles in Sydney and in the Siberian wastes, and a truly impressive daylight slugfest rampaging through the streets of Tokyo before the movie ends at under the two hour mark (a clear twenty minutes shorter than the first movie). This makes the film feel a bit lopsided: the first half is a little too slow, the second half a bit too fast, especially when several plot twists (and the old plot twist that is itself then twisted five minutes later) undercut expectations superbly, but a little confusingly.

Still, Uprising ended up being far better than its mixed reception had led me to expect. Del Toro's defter hand on the directing tiller is missed, but DeKnight does reasonably well (even if he's a bit too in love with slow-mo action shots). I actually cared about the characters a bit more than in the first movie, although the somewhat brusque offing of some of the first movie's characters (on and off-screen) felt a bit off. In terms of plotting, the movie was surprisingly clever, adding meat to the fairly thin worldbuilding of the original and setting up a lot of plot directions the franchise can take in the future. The script had a fair few clunkers, sharing with the original an often inappropriate-feeling level of humour, but then this was never going to be an Academy Award-troubling film. The performances are all fine to good - John Boyega is clearly enjoying himself immensely - and the action sequences satisfyingly chunky.

Pacific Rim: Uprising (***½) is an enjoyable and fast-paced sequel to the original. Like the original, it's a B-movie with a huge budget and, on that level, delivers what it set out to do, and in some areas (like plotting and characterisation) is actually better than the first flick. Unlike the original, the pacing is not as strong and DeKnight, although perfectly solid, lacks Del Toro's directorial confidence, meaning the film occasionally flags a little when it should be ramping up and goes too manic during moments when it could do with slowing down. Still, a surprisingly decent sequel.

Pacific Rim: Uprising did not set the box office on fire on release and a third movie is unlikely at the moment, but the franchise is continuing with an animated Netflix show, due to air in late 2020.

Cover art for new Joe Abercrombie book revealed

The UK cover art for Joe Abercrombie's new novel has been unveiled.


The Trouble with Peace is the follow-up to last year's A Little Hatred and is them middle volume of the Age of Madness trilogy, itself a sequel to his earlier First Law series.

The cover summary:
Savine dan Glokta, once Adua’s most powerful investor, finds her judgement, fortune and reputation in tatters. But she still has all her ambitions, and no scruple will be permitted to stand in her way.
For heroes like Leo dan Brock and Stour Nightfall, only happy with swords drawn, peace is an ordeal to end as soon as possible. But grievances must be nursed, power seized and allies gathered first, while Rikke must master the power of the Long Eye . . . before it kills her.
The Breakers still lurk in the shadows, plotting to free the common man from his shackles, while noblemen bicker for their own advantage. Orso struggles to find a safe path through the maze of knives that is politics, only for his enemies, and his debts, to multiply.
The old ways are swept aside, and the old leaders with them, but those who would seize the reins of power will find no alliance, no friendship, and no peace, lasts forever.
The Trouble with Peace will be published on 15 September this year. It will be followed by The Beautiful Machine (although Joe is mulling a title change to The Wisdom of Crows at the moment).in September 2021.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Mahit Dzmare has been appointed as the new ambassador from Lsel Station to the homeworld of the vast Teixcalaanli Empire. The previous ambassador has gone silent under unusual circumstances and Mahit's job is to find out what happened to him and why he failed to return home for fifteen years prior and how he has maintained Lsel's independence. Mahit's mission is complicated by a malfunctioning implant containing the memories of her predecessor (fifteen years out of date) and by an internal web of politics within the Empire which threatens to undermine Lsel's position...whilst factions on Lsel itself are interfering with her work from afar.


A Memory Called Empire is the debut novel by Arkady Martine and the first part of a loosely-connected duology (a second book, A Desolation Called Peace, will be published in early 2021). It is a far-future, science fiction epic revolving around the Teixcalaanli, a civilisation that fuses cyberpunk technology (though with a proscription against brain implants) and Aztec and Mongol cultural influences.

As is always handy when introducing an alien new culture, our POV character is herself an outsider. Mahit hails from a much more practical, pragmatic society based inside a space station, a self-regulating habitat which is totally technology-dependent with no single points of failure. Every time someone dies, their memories and something of their personality are implanted in a successor, who gains access to their lifetime's knowledge and experience and can start building on it. As such every life is inherently important, as it contributes materially to the development of the culture and society as a whole. This is the inverse of Teixcalaanli, where brain implants are seen as anathema and the society is much more inherently conservative: with access to amazing technology which could be used to create entertainment, their primary cultural obsession remains poetry.

There's a lot of clever ideas floating around in A Memory Called Empire. The philosophical concept of identity and how it is built from memory and cultural influences is a key part of the text, but one this explored subtly and intelligently throughout. There is also a fair bit of worldbuilding of the Teixcalaanli and their homeworld, which is mostly achieved through plot developments and action. Infodumping is occasional but fortunately rare. Characterisation is strong, as Mahit expertly chooses which sides of herself (and her culture) to show to the Teixcalaanli, and is not above preying on their instinct that she is an uncultured barbarian from a society with nothing to offer.

A few people have drawn similarities in tone to Ann Leckie's 2013 debut, Ancillary Justice. I think there are a few such comparisons to be made, mainly down to the idea of a technology-driven identity crises, but A Memory Called Empire is also a stronger book, and in particular it does a much, much better job of laying pipework for a sequel whilst being a complete novel in itself (Ancillary Justice was very much a strong stand-alone somewhat undermined by two lacklustre and unnecessary sequels). I think comparisons to the work of Lois McMaster Bujold and to China Mieville's SF novel Embassytown can also be drawn, with regards to how identity, history and language are interrelated concepts which can define people as individuals and a culture.

If I did have one complaint it would be that the ending feels a little neat (I'm not sure if a symbolic gesture would be really enough to get a determined enemy commanding a vastly superior army to surrender) and abrupt, but Martine does enough good work here to make the semi-sequel an immediate buy.

A Memory Called Empire (****½) is a striking debut novel which muses on big questions and wraps them around a compelling story that is part identity crisis and part socio-political thriller. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.