Sunday 26 April 2015


The BBC has released a new trailer for its upcoming seven-episode adaptation of Susanna Clarke's novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

The series is set to begin on BBC1 (in the UK) and BBC America in May, with a DVD and Blu-Ray release planned for August.The series stars Eddie Marsan as Mr. Norrell, the last practising magician in England. With the Napoleonic Wars in full swing, the British government calls upon Mr. Norrell's magical aid. Norrell is soon contacted by Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel), a young, up-and-coming magician who wants to learn from Norrell. However, their relationship soon sours. In the meantime, the mysterious Gentleman with Thistledown Hair (Marc Warren) is inadvertently summoned to England and takes an unhealthy interest in events.

The novel was originally published in 2004 and was a massive best-seller on both sides of the Atlantic. Clarke published a related short story collection, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, in 2006 and has occasionally hinted that she is working on another novel in the same universe.

Wednesday 22 April 2015


Sega, Games Workshop and Creative Assembly have officially announced Total War: Warhammer, their new wargame which takes the Total War franchise into the fantasy arena for the first time.

The new game will depict a battle for control of the Old World between the forces of the Empire, Dwarves, Orcs and Undead, although if armies of Chaos don't show up halfway through the game, I'll be surprised. Creative Assembly have already said they are planning two major post-release expansions, so Bretonnian, Elf, Skaven and Lizardman fans can keep hoping.

No release date has been set, but I'd be surprised if we saw it before 2016.

Tuesday 21 April 2015

ORPHAN BLACK is given its end date

Orphan Black has just started airing its third season in the USA, but the producers have already disclosed that the show has a finite lifespan. Don't panic just yet, as we have another two years of the show to enjoy after this one.

Producers and showrunners Graeme Manson and John Fawcett have confirmed that Orphan Black will conclude after its fifth season, expected to air in 2017. That won't necessarily mean the end of the universe of characters, as they moot that a spin-off or sequel of some kind may be possible, but the story of Sarah Manning and her clones will end after the fifth season.

This is a good move, as the history of genre TV is littered with the corpses of shows that went on too long (hello, The X-Files) or were simply not coherently plotted out and ended in confusing and self-contradictory ways (neo-Battlestar Galactica). By going for five leaner seasons which are already planned out in some detail, Orphan Black's creators will hopefully be able to make for a much stronger and more satisfying story.

The third season of Orphan Black is airing in the USA and Canada right now, but oddly has not yet received a UK airdate.

KJ Parker's true identity is finally revealed

Seventeen years ago, Orbit Books published the debut novel by an author named K.J. Parker, Colours in the Steel. It was a modest success. Two sequels in The Fencer Trilogy followed: The Belly of the Bow and The Proof House. These books confirmed that Parker was an unusual writer, subverting genre expectations, killing off major characters or turning the 'hero' into a psychopath without warning. Interviews were few and far between, and the author never did book signings.

Some of those early interviews hinted that Parker was female, with the author discussing "being a tomboy" and preferring swords to dolls. Publishers seemed to perpetuate the confusion: at different times I was told by those "in the know" that Parker was both male and female. Fan speculation ran rampant.

During it all, Parker continued churning out critically-acclaimed novels at a steady clip. After two further trilogies, The Scavenger and Engineer series, Parker turned to stand-alones: The Company, The Folding Knife, The Hammer, Sharps and the forthcoming Savages (not to mention The Two of Swords, a serialised novel being published in five parts). Parker also won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novella for two years running, for A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong in 2012 and then Let Map to Others a year later.

Today, Pornokitsch dropped the exclusive news: K.J. Parker is none other than British humourist and comic novelist Tom Holt. A connection between the two authors had been established many years ago, with Holt interviewing Parker and claiming to be a friend. For a while, when Parker was thought to be a female author, fans speculated that the author was really Holt's wife Kim (the initials helped with that). However, it turns out that the initials K.J. referred to one of Holt's best friends and "Parker" because it's a pen name (groan). Holt is interviewed about the punnery and pen names on the Coode Street Podcast.

Holt published his first novel, Expecting Someone Taller, in 1987. He has published 33 comic novels and five serious, semi-historical books (as Thomas Holt) apart from his work as Parker. And I suspect a lot of Parker fans might be looking at Holt's work with interest and vice versa.

Pornokitsch will have a full, in-depth interview with Holt later this week which expands more on his work.

Sunday 19 April 2015

Lucasfilm reveal details about spin-off film STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE

Hot on the heels of the Episode VII trailer, Lucasfilm have revealed more about the first Star Wars stand-alone movie, Rogue One.

These films have been given the umbrella title Star Wars Anthology, indicating that they can be set at any time in the established Star Wars timeline. Confirming earlier rumours, Rogue One will indeed be set just before the events of the original Episode IV movie and will feature a band of rebel soldiers, led by a character played by Felicity Jones. The story will revolve around the stealing of the Death Star plans and getting them to R2-D2 and Princess Leia's ship, sparking the events of the original trilogy. This will be a mostly Jedi-free movie, focusing instead on soldiers and warfare. According to director Gareth Edwards, the Anthology movies can adopt different tones and styles to the existing films and Rogue One will drawn on more realistic movies like Zero Dark Thirty for inspiration (and indeed, the director of photography on Zero Dark Thirty is working on Rogue One).

Star Wars: Rogue One will be released on 16 December 2016.

Friday 17 April 2015

Second trailer for STAR WARS EPISODE VII

Disney and Lucasfilm have unleashed the second teaser trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

Some more information has also been revealed about the film's backstory. The film will take place 30-odd years after Return of the Jedi. The galaxy is divided between surviving remnants of the Empire, including the First Order (who appear to be the bad guys in the first movie) and the descendants of the Rebel Alliance, who are now calling themselves "The Resistance". The film follows the adventures of Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger who survives by (apparently) salvaging derelicts on the desert planet of Jakku. She crosses paths with Finn (John Boyega), a First Order stormtrooper who appears to be on the run for reasons unknown, and a hotshot X-wing pilot named Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Eventually their paths cross with the legendary smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford), his co-pilot Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and his sister Leia (Carrie Fisher). Arrayed against them are the First Order forces, apparently led by a Dark Side Force-user named Kylo Ren (rumoured to be played by Adam Driver).

The Force Awakens is released on 18 December this year.

Sunday 12 April 2015

GAME OF THRONES Season 5 Primer

Season 5 of Game of Thrones starts in a few hours in the United States and starts airing tomorrow night in the UK, so here's a handy quick look at the state of play as of the first episode.

The State of Play
The War of the Five Kings has raged for well over two years and brought ruin to much of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Tens of thousands of soldiers and smallfolk have died, banditry runs rampant in the Riverlands and many towns and great castles have been razed. The game of thrones has cost the realm dear, and it needs time to rebuild.

Unfortunately, it might not get it. The Lannister-Tyrell alliance smashed the armies of Stannis Baratheon at the epic Battle of the Blackwater, but Stannis escaped north to the Wall and has won a crushing victory there against the invading wildling forces of Mance Rayder. This has secured Stannis the reluctant support of the Night's Watch and stands him in good stead to ally with northern houses and sweep back south to take his crown.

Standing in his way are the Boltons, former vassals of House Stark who brutally betrayed them at the Red Wedding. Although the support for the Boltons amongst the northern houses is shaky, they have pledged allegiance to the Iron Throne, received some support from their fellow conspirators in House Frey and have retaken the ancestral Stark capital at Winterfell. Both Roose Bolton and Stannis Baratheon are canny, seasoned generals and their inevitable confrontation will decide who will rule the North...just in time for the victor to face the threat of the oncoming winter.

In the south things would appear to be more secure, but behind the scenes tensions are rising. The Lannisters have apparently won the war, with Queen Cersei Lannister's son Tommen Baratheon sitting the Iron Throne. However, the deaths of King Joffrey and Lord Tywin Lannister in rapid succession have left the family looking weak and vulnerable. The Lannister armies may have been victorious, but only after being bled in a series of successive defeats to the Starks and Tullys and they urgently need rest and reinforcing. On the other hand, the much larger forces of House Tyrell remain intact, almost unbloodied, and the Lady Margaery Tyrell, betrothed to King Tommen, has won great influence over him. The Tyrell-Lannister alliance is on shaky ground, and it would not take much to test it.

However, the two houses may decide to unify against a mutual threat. Twenty years ago, House Martell developed a feud against the Lannisters when Princess Elia Martell was brutally murdered by the Lannister vassal Gregor Clegane during the closing moments of Robert's Rebellion. The Martells burned for justice for decades until Tyrion Lannister won their allegiance by pledging the hand of Tommen's sister Myrcella to Prince Trystane Martell in marriage and promising justice. Instead, Ser Gregor defeated and killed Prince Oberyn Martell in King's Landing when he came to collect that justice. With Myrcella an effective hostage in Sunspear and the Dornish people - particularly Prince Oberyn's bastard daughters, the 'Sand Snakes' - clamouring for vengeance, the situation could yet escalate into open warfare.

Other threats are also on the horizon. The Iron Bank of Braavos has withdrawn its financial support from King's Landing, instead throwing its backing behind Stannis Baratheon. The rise of banditry has caused millions of smallfolk to renew their faith to the Seven, giving the septons and septas more power and influence than they have enjoyed for decades. The lucrative slave trade on the eastern continent of Essos is in danger of collapse, affecting markets and purses over thousands of miles. The Night's Watch is trying to forge an alliance with the surviving wildlings of Mance Rayder's army in the face of some greater threat to the north. And it has been reported that Daenerys Targaryen has conquered the cities of Slaver's Bay with an army of Unsullied and three dragons. Sooner or later, she must return to Westeros to claim her father's throne, and take vengeance on those who betrayed her family.

 Players in the Game

Houses Stark and Tully

Strongholds: Winterfell (fallen), Tully (besieged)
Leader: None

House Stark has been ruined by war and betrayal. Winterfell has been razed and is now being rebuilt by the Boltons. Eddard, Catelyn and Robb are dead, Bran and Rickon are believed dead and Sansa and Arya are both missing. On the Tully side of the family, Edmure is a captive of Walder Frey and Brynden 'Blackfish' Tully has escaped, his whereabouts unknown. The two houses are broken, but their names remain powerful and the return of some or more of their scions could spur a new war.

Houses Frey and Bolton
Strongholds: The Twins (Frey) and the Dreadfort (Bolton)
Leaders: Roose Bolton, Lord of the Dreadfort and Walder Frey, Lord of the Twins

At the Red Wedding, Houses Frey and Bolton turned on their lieges, the Tullys and Starks, and betrayed them in one night of infamy. Both houses have been richly rewarded by the Lannisters, being given overlordship of their former lieges' lands and full pardons for their earlier rebellions. However, both houses face resistance from their vassals, who are not best pleased by the manner in which they came to power. The Boltons, in particular, face major problems in trying to secure a territory as vast as the North in the face of the oncoming winter, opposition from rebellious houses and of course the newly-arisen threat of Stannis Baratheon at the Wall.

House Greyjoy
Stronghold: Pyke
Leader: Balon Greyjoy, King of the Isles

House Greyjoy acheived some stunning victories during the War of the Five Kings, seizing Deepwood Motte and Moat Cailin, raiding Torrhen's Square and even capturing Winterfell. However, it overreached, Winterfell was razed by the Boltons and Moat Cailin was retaken after Theon Greyjoy betrayed its garrison. The Greyjoys still hold Deepwood Motte, but between Stannis and the Boltons, it is likely to fall soon. The Greyjoys still maintaining a formidable fleet and strength of arms on the Iron Islands themselves, but with Westeros being consolidated under the leadership of Tommen it is unclear how they can prevail. Balon Greyjoy may be forced to sue for peace in the light of his numerical disadvantage.

Houses Lannister, Tyrell and Baratheon (under Tommen)
Strongholds: King's Landing (Tommen), Storm's End (Tommen), Casterly Rock (Lannister), Highgarden (Tyrell)
Leader: Tommen Baratheon, the King on the Iron Throne

House Lannister has apparently won a stunning victory in the War of the Five Kings, but that victory has come at a very high cost. The Lannisters suffered a series of devastating defeats (at the Whispering Wood, Oxcross, the Stone Mill and more) at Robb Stark's hands and faced further losses in retaking control of the Riverlands and at the Blackwater. Although far from spent, the Lannister armies have been bloodied and have spent too long in the field. In addition, the murder of Tywin Lannister by his own son Tyrion and the assassination of King Joffrey Baratheon have left the family looking weaker and more vulnerable than ever before. In contrast, the massive armies of House Tyrell are relatively unscathed by the war, Margaery Tyrell has seemingly won great influence over young King Tommen and the Tyrell heartlands in the Reach will prove an important source of food in the coming winter.

House Baratheon (under Stannis)
Strongholds: Dragonstone, Castle Black
Leader: Stannis Baratheon, the King in the Narrow Sea, the King at the Wall

Stannis Baratheon's sun apparently set on the Blackwater when his army was smashed by the combined forces of the Lannisters and Tyrells. However, Stannis surprised everyone by regrouping, winning vital financial backing from the Iron Bank of Braavos and then moving his army north to the Wall, where he defeated the invading army of Mance Rayder, the King-beyond-the-Wall. This move has won Stannis the support (if reluctant) of the Night's Watch and may prove influential as he seeks to win the northmen to his cause. Many of the northern houses are furious at the betrayal of the Starks by the Boltons. If Stannis can secure an alliance with them, defeat the Boltons and ride out the winter, he may be able to gain enough traction to make another play for the Iron Throne. But it will not be easy.

House Arryn
Stronghold: The Eyrie
Leader: Robin Arryn, Lord of the Eyrie

House Arryn chose a neutral course during the War of the Five Kings and has remained untouched by the fighting. As the war ended, Lady Lysa Arryn married Lord Petyr 'Littlefinger' Baelish only to suffer a mishap a short time later. Lord Baelish, acting as Lord Protector of the Vale, has moved to align the Arryns with the Lannister cause and secure Lord Robin's rule. However, the Arryns and their bannermen were closely allied to the houses of the North and the Riverlands during Robert's Rebellion and are less than thrilled to be forced into working with such dishonourable forces as the Lannisters, Freys and Boltons. What comes of this remains to be seen.

House Martell
Stronghold: Sunspear
Leader: Doran Martell, Prince of Dorne

House Martell sat out the War of the Five Kings, accepting neutrality in return for a betrothal between Princess Myrcella Baratheon and Prince Trystane Martell and justice in the form of the head of Gregor Clegane, the knight who murdered Princess Elia Martell during Robert's Rebellion. Myrcella has been an honoured guest at Sunspear ever since. Unfortunately, relations with the Lannister/Tyrell alliance have grown frosty since Prince Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper, was killed seeking justice for his sister. The cautious Prince Doran apparently seeks to avoid war, but the people of Dorne are less placid and the desire for revenge - especially from Prince Oberyn's bastard daughters, the 'Sand Snakes' - is growing.

House Targaryen
Stronghold: Meereen
Leader: Daenerys Targaryen, the Queen Across the Water

In not quite three years, Daenerys Targaryen has achieved a series of stunning victories. She has hatched the first three dragons seen in the world in two centuries, crossed the Red Waste, survived the machinations of the warlocks of Qarth and has now conquered the great cities of Slaver's Bay: Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen, where she now makes her seat. However, Daenerys is unwilling to abandon her new conquests for fear of them falling into anarchy, civil war and ruin. Instead she hopes to rule and establish a new government that will survive when she departs for Westeros. With insurgents such as the Sons of the Harpy striking against her soldiers on the streets, this seems a remote prospect. More dangerously, until now Daenerys has been protected by her dragons and by her mobility. With her dragons apparently too unruly to be controlled and with her forces bogged down in Slaver's Bay, it gives time and the opportunity for her enemies to unify against her.

Saturday 11 April 2015

A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE hits 58 million sales

Sales of George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series have passed 58 million, according to The Guardian.

In an article on how the commercial and critical success of the series has impacted the global fantasy market, The Guardian talks to George's publishers and some of his colleagues and friends, including Joe Abercrombie and sometimes-collaborator Lisa Tuttle.

Before 2011, when the TV series Game of Thrones began, sales of ASoIaF were estimated at roughly 5 million copies. In the year 2011-12, the series sold 9 million copies by itself and it would appear that sales have continued to increase at a formidable rate. Martin's total sales have exceeded the likes of Terry Brooks and are closing in on Robert Jordan and Terry Pratchett (authors with many more published novels) very quickly. It's no wonder that Martin's publishers are eager to get their hands on The Winds of Winter, the sixth (and hopefully penultimate) novel in the series.

Given that A Dance with Dragons dominated the bestseller lists in 2011 at a time when sales of the overall series were far lower, it's very likely that Winds will be the biggest-selling novel of the year if it does make it out in 2016 (as Martin recently revealed was his target).

Wednesday 8 April 2015

DEUS EX: MANKIND DIVIDED officially announced

Eidos and Square have announced the existence of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (formerly rumoured as Deus Ex Universe). This is the official sequel to 2011's superb Deus Ex: Human Revolution. They've put together a pretty snazzy trailer for it:

Mankind Divided takes place in 2029, two years after the events of Human Revolution. That game revolved around the growing schism between augmented humans - cyborgs and people with artificial body parts - and normal humans. The end of Human Revolution, which saw millions of augmented people killed or driven insane, has sparked this schism into open conflict. Security agent Adam Jensen, the augmented human who pretty much saved the human race in the original game, is once again called upon to help resolve the growing crisis.

Like its forebear, the new game is expected to allow you to control and develop Jensen's character as he resolves missions through means stealthy, technical, violent or some combination of the approaches (the trailer suggests homicidal ultraviolence will still be available as an option). Expect more between-mission angst and tactical deployment of built-in mirror shades at moments of maximum dramatic impact.

The spiel:
DEUS EX: MANKIND DIVIDED takes place in 2029, two years after the events of HUMAN REVOLUTION and the infamous ‘Aug Incident’ in Panchaea that resulted in the death of millions at the hands of those who had installed augmentations. This event has created a huge divide between those who have augmentations, and those who do not. Amongst this emotional turmoil are various factions looking to manipulate the public by twisting public opinion of augmentation to further their own agenda and hide the truth of what really happened.

As the social and political chaos reaches boiling point, super-augmented anti-terrorist agent Adam Jensen re-enters the fray. Empowered by brand new augmentations that bolster his formidable, strategic arsenal, Jensen will visit multiple new locations to uncover the truths that are hidden by a cloak of new conspiracies. With more choice at the player’s disposal than ever before, DEUS EX: MANKIND DIVIDED is the ultimate DEUS EX experience.

Adam Jensen may not have asked for this. But Adam Whitehead certainly has. The game is expected in late 2015 (but I wouldn't be surprised to see a slip into 2016).

Spanish cover art for THE WORLD OF ICE AND FIRE

This, it has to be said, is quite tasty:

Interestingly, for a book based firmly on the novel canon, they seem to have gone with an image inspired by the TV show...unless the artist knows something we don't?

Thursday 2 April 2015

Fargo: Season 1

2006. Chameleonic assassin Lorne Malvo passes through the town of Bemidji, Minnesota. A chance encounter with a put-upon, stressed-out salesman named Lester Nygaard unleashes a chain of chaotic events, culminating in multiple murders. The local police force is eager to sweep the chaos under the rug, but Deputy Molly Solverson realises that there is more going on than first appears. When a Duluth police officer, Gus Grimly, has his own close run-in with Malvo, the two officers join forces to bring the assassin to justice.

At first glance, a TV series based on the 1996 movie Fargo seems like a crazy idea. The film, directed by the Coen Brothers, is idiosyncratic, unique and offbeat. Turning it into a weekly TV series sounds like a lunatic idea, which is why the Coen Brothers initially refused to have anything to do with it. After seeing the first episode, they changed their mind and signed on as producers. It’s easy to see why. The first season of Fargo, the TV series, may be the most genius single season of television produced this decade.

The connections between the TV series and the movie are slim. The TV series uses some ideas and tropes from the film and echoes a few of its ideas, but in terms of actual connective tissue the only element used is a briefcase of money left in the snow in the film, which a character stumbles over in the TV show. If you’ve never seen the film it’s not important whatsoever. It’s also a relief to learn that Fargo, like True Detective, is an anthology series. Each season will take place in a different time period with a different cast (Season 2 will take place in 1979 in South Dakota, for example). The series is set in the same “universe”, so if you watch the whole thing you’ll notice all the little connecting details, but broadly speaking it’s not necessary. You can enjoy this as a single, ten-episode mini-series with no major dangling plot threads.

One of the benefits of these anthology series is that they represent a short-term commitment for major film actors who might balk at a longer stint on a TV show. The result is that Fargo’s cast is peppered with famous faces from film and TV: Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne and Martin Freeman as Lester are the main draws and most famous faces, but Colin Hanks also appears in the role of Gus and Breaking Bad’s Bob Odenkirk slotted in his appearance as semi-incompetent police chief Oswalt before filming Better Call Saul. Keith Carradine (Wild Bill Hickock from Deadwood and too many film appearances from the 1970s onwards to count) has a small but crucial role as Lou Solverson (a younger Lou will be a key character in the second season). The show also has time to turn up trumps with a new talent: Allison Tolman gets her big break as Molly and is absolutely brilliant, holding her own against the other actors and turning in a barnstorming mixture of resolve, frustration and not wanting to rock the boat but really going for it if she believes it’s the right thing.

Thornton gets one of the best roles of his career with Lorne, an assassin who likes to keep his targets off-balance with existential and literal-minded musings, an absolute absence of any kind of fear and a thousand-yard stare that has cops backing away from him at traffic stops. At different times he has to pose as other people, or go undercover for months to win over a target’s trust, and Thornton’s ability to spin his performance on a dime is astonishing. Freeman is also exceptional; inverting his usual performance as quiet nice guys to play a hard-pressed working man who initially wins the viewer’s sympathy, but by the end of the season has turned into a loathsome, murderous little weasel. Lester’s descent feels like watching all of Breaking Bad compressed into ten episodes, but never feels rushed or implausible.

What makes the show work is the way it channels the oddness of the Coen Brothers without feeling like a parody of it. Dialogue is written in the same slightly off-kilter way and there’s the same, understated and intriguing tone to the direction, occasionally punctuated by memorable set-pieces: Lorne’s one-man assault on a mafia-filled business is darkly hilarious, amusingly cost-conscious (they can’t afford the full shoot-out so we only hear it as the camera pans up the outside of a building, interrupted only by brief views of the carnage through windows) and extremely audacious. Not many directors or writers could take on the Coen Brothers and match them, especially over ten hours, but the team here manage it. It’s something that continues throughout the series, which is also not exactly reluctant to set up characters for episodes and hours on end and then kill them in off-handed, arbitrary ways that even Joss Whedon might balk at. This, coupled with the show’s short run time, adds a real sense of danger to proceedings which maintains the tension.

There are a few minor flaws. Some story points turn on the fact that the local police force and its new chief (counting the days to retirement) really don’t want to investigate the murders in too much detail, jumping on the most convenient story available to declare it closed. Whilst this closed-minded bureaucratic viewpoint is believable, it does get a little frustrating that supposed servants of the law seem to be extremely uninterested in finding out the truth if it is inconvenient to them. At the same time, it makes us empathise strongly with Molly as she also becomes incredulous at their intransigence, so it works on that level.

The first season of Fargo (*****) is, quite simply, brilliant. The writing is top-notch, the performances are flawless and the series can turn from being laugh-out-loud hilarious to gut-wrenchingly terrifying in the space of seconds. It’s offbeat, different and ambitious. You can get it now in the UK (DVD, Blu-Ray) and USA (DVD, Blu-Ray).