Thursday, 10 October 2019

The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

War is raging for control of the Legion, a fleet of organic world-ships travelling on a journey so long nobody can remember when it started or what their destination is. The amnesiac Zan, a soldier of the world-ship Katzyrna, is told she must lead an assault on the Mokshi to claim it and its secrets, but the Katzyrna is also at war with the world-ship Bhavaja, whose ruler is playing their own game. As the rulers of the Legion scheme and feud with one another, Zan finds herself outcast and having to make her own way home...and discover who she is at the same time.

The Stars Are Legion is a stand-alone novel from Kameron Hurley, the author of the excellent Worldbreaker Saga and the even more excellent Bel Dame Apocrypha. Like the Bel Dame Apocrypha (which, it occurs, could take place in the same universe), The Stars Are Legion mixes elements of science fiction and fantasy. The setting, the space battles and elements such as genetic engineering all borrow from SF, but the journey through a grotesque land of the bizarre and the ultra-advanced technology which seems indistinguishable from magic borrows much more from fantasy.

Although the worldbuilding is strange, the set-up is fairly standard: we have an amnesiac protagonist who finds her surroundings as whacked-out as we do, and through her we learn more about the world than if we were joining the action in a more traditional manner. Zan's chapters alternate with those of Jayd, Zan's friend and lover who still has her memory intact, allowing us to start piecing together what is going on from incomplete information. Early on it's clear that Zan is a fighter and grunt of unparalleled resourcefulness, with a slightly reckless streak, whilst Jayd is much more a strategist and tactician, with a remarkable gift for planning ahead, although she also tends to underestimate others' own strategic skills and reacts less well to new developments.

Our two protagonists are both interesting figures whose differing natures are highlighted by circumstance: Zan is cast into the depths of the world-ship Katzyrna and has to make her way back home through mysterious locations, a clear parallel to Orpheus returning from the Underworld (or Jack Vance's Cugel the Clever making his way back from the edge of the world...twice!), whilst Jayd has to play a much more cautious game of politic intrigue and deception between powerful warlords who could kill her in an instant, if they didn't crave the power she possesses.

The unusual setting - the organic technology which powers everything from weapons to ships to recycling systems is quite spectacularly revolting - is rich and evocative, and the plot ticks along with a nice sense of pace. Hurley's gift is a furious sense of character and atmosphere, and the The Stars Are Legion contains plenty of examples of that gift. However, as the book ticks down to its well-executed ending, it does feel like the book lacks just a little bit of the extra exposition needed to establish the setting a bit better. After her first two fantasy series, it's clear that Hurley isn't a huge fan of the infodump school of exposition, but those series also had the time over multiple volumes to establish their worlds in greater depth. The Stars Are Legion can't do that, and I finished the book with a broad understanding of what happened but some worldbuilding elements still felt a bit fuzzy. Some complaints I've seen that the Legion's origins and destination aren't explained at all (although a children's storybook hints that the Legion may have originated on a planet like ours, many thousands of years earlier) I didn't feel were particularly valid, though. The setting is perfectly adequate to the story being told.

The Stars Are Legion (****) lacks the epic scope of Hurley's other work, but makes up for it with a great sense of focus and pace. The novel is available in the UK and USA now.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Production begins on COWBOY BEBOP live-action TV series

Filming started this week on Netflix's live-action take on classic anime Cowboy Bebop. Netflix shared the news via a short video, which also confirms that they have cast the ship's dog Ein with an actual corgi.

The clip also uses music from the original anime, although it is not clear if original composer Yoko Kanno is involved in the new project.

Cowboy Bebop is expected to air on Netflix in late 2020.

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

Geralt is a witcher, a hunter of monsters in return for coin. He wanders the northern kingdoms with a trusty steed (always named Roach) and mingles with everyone from kings and generals to sorcerers and vagabonds. Several times Geralt's path crosses that of the powerful, from saving the daughter of King Foltest of Temeria who has been turned into a monstrous striga to resolving a delicate matter for Queen Calanthe of Cintra. But Geralt's destiny is changed when he demands a strange price from Queen Calanthe and makes the acquaintance of a powerful sorceress, Yennefer.

The Last Wish (1993, a re-edited version of The Witcher, 1990) is the first book in Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski's Witcher series (which currently runs to eight volumes), although it is not a novel as such. Instead, it is a closely-linked series of short stories, related by Geralt as he recovers from a pitched battle with a striga. The stories work well as stand-alone adventures, but they are also useful in establishing Geralt's character and the tone and nature of the world he inhabits. There is also much scene-setting for the later books featuring the character.

Geralt's world is tough, cold and brutal, drawing more directly on European folklore, fairy tales and mythology than the norm. It's also a world of grudging honour, well-earned fellowship and occasional heroism. Geralt is an entertaining protagonist, being taciturn, cynical and world-weary but also has a wry sense of humour, an enjoyment of good ale and a well-hidden yearning for romance.

The stories themselves vary in tone but the quality is pretty consistent. There's an undercurrent of whimsical humour in the stories that is very reminiscent of Jack Vance. Like Vance, Sapkowski successfully creates a world where his characters feel totally at home. This world is a mix of the traditional Dungeon & Dragons landscape of elves, dwarves and evil wizards, and of darker fairy tales. In this manner the stories' tone and atmosphere is very similar to that of Vance's superb Lyonesse Trilogy, although Sapkowski is not as continuously and unrelentingly funny as Vance; he also lacks Vance's gift for intricate wordplay. That said, when the book is funny it's very funny indeed. The comic highlight comes when Geralt and his sometimes travelling troubadour companion Dandillion are confronted by some kind of bizarre goat-man entity whose preferred method of combat is to pelt attackers with iron balls. Under strict instructions not to kill anything in the area, Geralt has to engage the goat-man in a particularly preposterous wrestling match. Sapkowski also employs Vance's melancholy aspect, such as Geralt's musings on a world where the fantastical is dying and the mundane is taking over.

The translation appears to be adequate, although Polish commentators seem more dubious, and the general feeling is that David French (who translated the later books) does a better job than Danusia Stok (who translates The Last Wish and Blood of Elves, the first and third books in the series). There's occasional awkward moments (the noble Hereward's rank changes from Prince to Duke at random; sometimes words are repeated very close together) but the stories come through feeling very fresh and energetic. Sapkowski is very good at creating interesting, imaginative characters with unusual levels of depth to them, not least Geralt, whom people are consistently underestimating. Early stories feel slightly repetitive, with Geralt unleashing bloody mayhem to win the day, but in the second half of the book there is a shift in tone with Geralt employing more imaginative methods to overcome the obstacles in his path. There is a great deal left unsaid in the stories in the book: we see the start of Geralt's relationship with the sorceress Yennefer but not its later development, and have to put together what happened with the help of Geralt's thought processes in the framing story. This helps make the book more immersive and less reliant on exposition.

The Witcher series also consists of a trilogy of well-regarded and very high-selling video games. Players of the games will appreciate the background to the characters provided here (although Sapkowski does not consider the books to be canon).

The Last Wish (****) is an enjoyable book full of stories both melancholy and comic, establishing a world and cast of characters that is very intriguing. The novel is available now in the UK and USA. A Netflix TV series based on the books is expected to debut in November 2019.

Note: I originally reviewed The Last Wish back in 2007, before I played any of the video games or read the rest of the series.

Monday, 7 October 2019

A History of Homeworld Part 2: The Exile

In the second of a series celebrating the franchise's twentieth anniversary (and the impending arrival of Homeworld 3), I look at the background lore of the critically-acclaimed Homeworld series of video games.
Kharak in ancient times.

At this point it may be instructive to consider the social structure of the Hiigaran people and their exiled descendants on Kharak, the Kushan.

Each Hiigaran family unit is part of a larger clan or house, known as kiithid (singular: kiith). Each kiith can contain dozens, hundreds or thousands of families. Each kiith has a different focus, ideology or religious belief; although each kiith will have a wide variety of opinions and beliefs, these will ultimately support the kiith’s primary ideology. Those who feel unable to follow the kiith’s path can apply to leave the kiith and be adopted into another. Some kiith have formed out of those who felt out of place in other kiith, and are looser arrangements. Kiith can break apart, merge or dissolve with the passage of time.

The most powerful individual family within the kiith is known as the Kiith-Sa. This title is also appended to the name of the leader of that family, and thus the entire kiith. Each kiith may have its own way of nominating or securing a leading family or individual, but in past epochs it was the most experienced or senior member of a kiithid who took this position; after the Dark Ages of Kharak there emerged a disturbing tendency for the richest or most politically astute of a kiith (who was often not the wisest or most intelligent) to gain the post.

As the centuries passed, the kiithid became more democratic, with internal referenda held on decisions of great import rather than the Kiith-Sa being left to decide for everyone.

Khar-Toba seen from above. The small white object at the centre is the crashed starship itself.

Age of Khar-Toba
The Kushan people made landfall – somewhat roughly given the status of the starship wreckage found on and above the planet – on Kharak in Galactic Standard Year 6510. The First City, Khar-Toba, spread out around the ruins of the largest-surviving ship. How many people survived the journey to Kharak is unknown, but given the sheer size of Khar-Toba and the other transports, it appears to have been in the hundreds of thousands.

At least six kiithid are known to have been represented in Khar-Toba: Kiith S’jet, famed for its scientific discipline; Kiith Somtaaw and Gaalsien, the religious kiithid; Kiith Naabal, famed for its industry; Kiith Paktu, a kiith of farmers; and Kiith Manaan, the kiith of artists and orators. It appears for a time that the six kiithid worked together to survive the harsh conditions on Kharak.

Kharak was already an ancient world, more than six billion years old. At one time it had been pleasant and temperate, partially covered in vast seas. But the seas had retreated, possibly as solar radiation from its star had slowly increased with age. At the time of the Kushan arrival, there were only three small salt seas near the north pole and a larger ocean surrounding the south pole. The lands inbetween were a mixture of desolate wastes and dune-covered deserts. The Great Banded Desert, which girdled the planet along the equator, was fiercely hot and barely habitable. During the height of summer, temperatures could approach 100°C, the boiling point of water (and human blood), making it impossible to venture outside. Khar-Toba’s location, barely nine hundred kilometres north of the equator, was decidedly suboptimal.

For a time, survival was possible thanks to the surviving reactors and power generators from the crashed ships. These were adapted to cool the city, recycle water and allow some semblance of civilisation to continue. However, they gradually began to fail. Without the underlying technological base from Hiigara, it was simply not possible to fabricate the components needed to keep the technology functioning. The Kushan attempted to rebuild a technological base, but were stymied by their lack of resources. Metals were also scarce.

At some point, perhaps a century or two after the landing, the power systems failed altogether and the Kushan people had no choice but to abandon the First City altogether. They left the city in the winter, most striking north for the rocky plateaus and mountains which offered some respite from the stifling heat of the Great Banded Desert.

Kharak as seen from orbit.

The Dark Age of Kharak
For a period of almost eighteen centuries, little is known about the Kushan people. The loss of high technology was a serious blow, forcing them to fight with spears and swords and farm only with the most primitive of tools. The loss of data recording devices meant that their history had to be written down, or related orally. At times it appears that serious cataclysms – storms, plagues, war – struck the kiithid, which they barely survived. Knowledge of their history dwindled and then vanished. Only a few garbled legends survived, including the reverence of the Great Sajuuk as a god, and the myth that the gods – perhaps including Sajuuk – had cast down the Kushan people onto Kharak as punishment for an ancient wrong.

Eventually, though, the Dark Ages ended. New languages came about and new histories were written. Better farming techniques allowed larger populations to form. 1,784 years after the landfall on Kharak, in the Galactic Standard Year 8294, a new Kharakian Dating System (KDS) was implemented. At this time, it was clear that the kiithid had prospered and grown larger; as well as the original six kiithid, many smaller ones had formed, including the religious Kiith Siidim.

By 100 KDS, the kiithid had penetrated deep into the northern polar regions, to the areas abutting the Seas of the Three Sisters, three small saltwater seas located near the pole. Kiith Gaalsien gained respect among the kiithid for its bold explorations of this region, helping open up the area for settlement. However, over the next 175 years Gaalsien’s influence waned compared to more innovative, less conservative kiithid. Ironically, this caused Gaalsien to retreat even more into religious dogma.

Also, by 100 KDS, Kiith Somtaaw had claimed the peaks and valleys of the Khontala Mountains as its main stronghold. The walled cities of Hameln and Gydeo were built, the latter on the slopes of Lungma Jin, the tallest mountain on Kharak. In 178 KDS the Somtaaw founded the Shimmering Path, a pilgrimage route leading from the Oracle of Tala (on the desert plain of the Kasaar, at the feet of the mountains) to the Temple of Mysteries, located at the very peak of Lungma Jin. The Star-Metal Scrolls, sacred artefacts written by Jakuul (a Somtaaw variant name for Sajuuk) himself, were placed on display in the Temple of Mysteries. In total, thirty-three shrines and temples led from the Oracle of Tala to the Temple of Mysteries. Other named temples were the Purifying Flame, Silent Wayfarer, Truth Seeker and the Dome of Heaven, the latter located within Gydeo’s walls. The Somtaaw opened the Path to all seekers of wisdom.

In 416 KDS, Kiith Soban, the warrior kiith, was founded by the warrior-general Soban the Red when his original kiith refused to take vengeance against a rival kiith for a dishonourable attack. Soban led his people beyond the Sparkling Desert to take vengeance and then sold their services to other kiithid for a price.

Inter-kiithid cooperation was common at this time, as the kiithid had plenty of space to spread out and settle. But as the years passed, populations grew and resources grew scarce, so disputes between the kiithid began to increase. The most damaging move came in 462 KDS when Kiith Siidim issue a proclamation that it was the only true kiith of “divine origin”. All of the other kiithid were formed on Kharak and no more than “Gritiidim” or “sand people,” subhuman in Siidim eyes. Particularly offensive to the Siidim were the Paktu, the kiith of farmers and hunters. Although they fulfilled a valuable function, the Siidim considered them particularly dirty, grubby and unclean. Starting in 488, the Siidim began driving the Paktu from the territories adjoining their own.

The Paktu, who had been facing persecution elsewhere, responded boldly. In the winter of 490 KDS almost fifty Paktu families set out from the northern plain of Albegiido. Using great wooden ships propelled over the sands by the winds of the seasonal storm, the Chak m’Hot, they crossed the Great Banded Desert from north to south in the space of a few months. The crossing was hard, especially when they reached the titanic Hunon Mountains and had to find a way through the peaks. Eventually they reached the far side and glimpsed the Majiirian Sea, the largest on Kharak. The Paktu established a new settlement on the shores of the sea and, thousands of kilometres from the other kiithid, prospered. In 493 an expedition returned to the Paktu lands in the north and led to a mass exodus of all the Paktu into the far south.

The Siidim’s orthodoxy and fanaticism soon found other targets. In 513 KDS they made war upon Kiith Manaan, proclaiming the Manaani to be hedonistic, corrupt and godless. They conducted a great slaughter of the Manaani at their own holy site, Ferin Sha, the Dancing Grounds. The Manaani retaliated, launching a series of devastating raids into Siidim territory that caused great loss of life. In 520 the Siidim widened their war to target their most powerful rivals, the Gaalsien, over differences in dogma, particularly the reason why the gods exiled their entire people to Kharak in the first place. This conflict widened into a war that dragged most of the Kushan people into its blood-letting, the Heresy Wars.

Religious iconography of Kiith Gaalsien, the most fanatically religious of all kiithid. The Gaalsien are devoted to the worship of Sajuuk the Great Maker, He Whose Hand Shapes What Is. In Gaalsien lore, Sajuuk exiled the Kushan people to Kharak for a great sin. If they ever try to leave, the Kushan will be slaughtered by fire.

The Heresy Wars
The wars are often described as a Siidim-Gaalsien conflict, which is inaccurate. The wars allowed many ancient, old arguments between the kiithid to flare up and be addressed. Some kiith chose a path of neutrality, such as Kiith Somtaaw which was able to fortify its mountain strongholds and defend the passes (which had the unfortunate effect of forcing them to effectively close the Shimmering Path in 675), but most engaged in the conflict on one side or another. The Siidim even launched three massive military expeditions across the Great Banded Desert, seeking to claim tribute from the Paktu, but were defeated each time. By 656 KDS the Manaani had dropped out of the war, having inflicted significant damage on the Siidim, to focus on trade. They also allied with the Paktu, who allowed them to build a new Dancing Ground in the southern polar region.

In 698, the Gaalsien launched a major assault on the Paktu but were defeated in the Battle of the Majiirian Sea. The military offensive used up a lot of Kiith Gaalsien’s spare capacity, and over the next twenty years they suffered a series of devastating reversals. In 717 the Gaalsien destroyed their own temple city of Saju-ka (killing thousands of pilgrims from other kiithid) and withdrew into the central desert wastelands. Before leaving they uttered a prophecy that the northern kiithid had offended the gods and their decadence would one day bring down the wrath of Sajuuk. The following year, the other kiithid declared the Gaalsien outlaws for their actions.

In 789 Kiith Somtaaw discovered rich iron deposits below the Red Creek Valley in the Khontala Mountains. They began their transition from a religious kiith to a mining one. They sold metals to all sides in the conflict. In 800 Kiith Hraal was founded by five families from other kiithid, united in surviving the chaos of the wars.

In 810 KDS, Kiith Naabal emerged from an isolated mountain valley where they had been dwelling for centuries. A kiith dedicated to engineering, technology and the pursuit of power through technological advancement, they had made many gains unknown to the other kiith. They had developed advanced metallurgy, refining techniques, advanced explosives and steam power. Naabal was willing to share its discoveries with the other kiithid in return for peace. A great summit was held at the hidden Naabal city of Tiir, marking the end of the Heresy Wars. It was also agreed that the kiithid would send representatives to meet in a great council, the Daiamid, to adjudicate disputes before they could descend into all-out war. By 830 KDS the Daiamid had been established in Tiir, which was now acknowledged as the de facto capital of Kharak.

The Stormbreaker Wall under attack by the forces of Kiith Gaalsien.

The Age of Reason
For the next two hundred years, the people of Kharak underwent an industrial and technological revolution. Rapid advances were made, which saw the development of first steam engines and then primitive aircraft. Jet technology followed, along with the first primitive computers. In 1024 KDS the Coalition of the Northern Kiithid – as those kiithid loyal the Daiamid had become known – launched its first manned spaceflight. The decision to go into space was controversial, and religious extremists tried to destroy the spacecraft. One religious leader even managed to penetrate to the launch platform and martyred himself by standing under the main engine when it activated.

This was a period of great innovation, which some kiithid adapted to better than others. In 1012 Kiith Hraal underwent an internal schism when an ambitious subfaction, eager to capitalise on space technology, seceded from the rest of the conservative, old-fashioned kiith. These secessionists allied with like-minded discontents from Kiith Liir to found Kiith LiirHra. Oddly, this was also the name of an ancient kiith from Hiigara; it is unclear if this was just a coincidence or if the new kiith had taken the name deliberately. There was some precedent for this, with Kiith Soban taking at least the sigil of a kiith from Hiigara that had become extinct during the Dark Ages.

Contact between the northern kiithid and the southern was limited, but in 1026 KDS the Coalition Intelligence Arm surprisingly found itself in contact with the Gaalsien over a common threat that had arisen: the Khaaneph. The Khaaneph were not a kiith, but a loose alliance of rebels, heathens and raiders who did not believe in any religion or ideology. They had utterly rejected the kiithid system itself, and now acted as anarchies and agents of chaos in the desert wastes. They fortunately never became numerous enough to become a true threat to the Coalition, but remained a major irritant for centuries to come (even moreso to the Gaalsien).

In 1057 the Northern Coalition embarked on its boldest project: Project Stormbreaker. A giant ridge of sand baffle walls was built along the entire southern face of the Barrier Mountains. A kilometre wide and thousands of kilometres long, the wall was mean to break up storms as they passed overhead and to hold back the encroaching desert stands. The wall was also fortified, becoming a key defensive bastion against Gaalsien raids out of the south. In 1074 the Gaalsien attacked the wall but were halted by an alliance between Kiith Naabal and Kiith Soban. Ten thousand Gaalsien soldiers were killed in the Night of Fiery Daggers (Siifar Kor’shesh), a major setback that it took the Gaalsien a full generation to recover from.

Four years later, a manned space mission into high orbit made a startling discovery: metallic debris. The atomic composition of the debris was like nothing seen on Kharak, and it gave clues to Kharakian industry that allowed them to make great strides in metallurgy and manufacturing, as well as the development of fission and fusion power plants. In 1068 Kiith Naabal launched Siila’s Eye, a new generation of environmental satellites.

These satellites made an environmental assessment of Kharak that was startling and sobering. In 1073 the final report confirmed that Kharak was dying. The desert was spreading ten times faster than previously thought. The Seas of the Three Sisters were drying out, and would be gone in 200 years. The natural aquifers which fed the Coalition irrigation systems were also shrinking six times faster than previously projected. The final conclusion was that in less than 350 years, Kharak would no longer be able to support life. The records were shared with the rest of the Daiamid under top secrecy, but not the general population for fear of causing panic. The Kushan had three and a half centuries to find a way off their planet, but there was nowhere to go. No other planet in the Kharak system could support them. The Kushan were, it seemed, doomed.

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Sunday, 6 October 2019

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng

In the 1840s, the British Empire has expanded to encompass much of the globe and established embassies in many other lands upon it...and one off it. Laon Helstone is a missionary to the realm of Arcadia, also called the Faelands, which lie beyond the world of science. Having gone missing, his sister Catherine embarks on a perilous journey to find him. Her path leads to the castle Gethsemane, a building of shifting rooms and corridors whose inhabitants are both a help and hindrance. Catherine also uncovers evidence of the fate of the previous missionary, and embarks on a journey of discovery about both this unusual land and her own past.

Under the Pendulum Sun is the debut novel by Jeanette Ng. Published in 2017, it won its author the 2019 Astounding Award (formerly the Campbell) for best new writer; her impassioned acceptance speech was the main reason the award changed its name. It's easy to see why the book made such an impact: it's an impeccably-crafted, constantly inventive and continually surprising work of the fantastic.

The premise is that the land of the Fae is real and was contacted by the British Empire, resulting in a mutual exchange of ambassadors, ideas and commerce. Changelings now live in London and British merchants and missionaries now dwell in Arcadia. However, the Fae are difficult to deal with, tricky and ambiguous. Humans have to constantly salt their food lest they fall under the Fae's control and the Fae have a limited interest in human motivations such as money, lust or religion. They do understand such concepts, however, and use them to manipulate people to their own amusement.

The book is told in the first-person by Catherine Helstone as she searches for her brother in Arcadia. This search leads her to Gethsemane, a sprawling ramshackle mansion where the corridors and rooms do not seem to quite coexist as architectural logic demands. Ng notes in her afterword that she was influenced by the Gothic school of 19th century literature and there's a strong element of those books (not to mention Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy) in the exploration of this strange, rambling house and its eccentric grounds.

There are relatively few other characters, at least to start with, but halfway through the book the cast dramatically expands with the arrival of the court of Queen Mab, a Fae noblewoman who holds the key to the secrets of Arcadia, secrets which Catherine has become obsessed by. This results in a change of pace, from the tight, almost claustrophobic focus of the opening chapters to a larger story with greater stakes and more intrigue. This change of pace helps the novel avoid the fate of so many other "modern fables," which tend to start fresh and imaginative but become staid as they dragged out for too long. Under the Pendulum Sun, on the other hand, keeps the ideas, the revelations and the surprises flowing.

This is a novel of psychological tension, haunting imagery (such as the moon being a sinister fish swimming through the sky, and the sun being a pendulum suspended from a clockwork mechanism) and unravelling mysteries. There are a few moments where the pace flags a little bit, where elements of the story verge on the obtuse, but it's not long before the book gets back on track.

Under the Pendulum Sun (****½) is a striking and powerful debut novel, well-written and characterised, with a strong undercurrent of weirdness and an effective surprise ending. I await the author's second novel eagerly. The book is available now in the UK and USA.

Saturday, 5 October 2019


A trio of hot new trailers for upcoming SF TV shows has arrived.

First up is Season 4 of The Expanse, which arrives on Amazon Prime Video worldwide on 13 December this year. The fourth season of the show - probably the finest drama currently airing - draws on the fourth novel in James S.A. Corey's book series, Cibola Burn, but also elements of the fifth, Nemesis Games. The Expanse has already been renewed for a fifth season.

Star Trek: Discovery has also revealed the trailer for its upcoming third season. Following the events at the end of Season 2, Discovery and her crew have been blasted forwards to the 33rd Century to find a very different galaxy, where the Federation apparently no longer exists. As a few viewers have noted, this premise is rather similar to Gene Roddenberry's pitch for a post-apocalyptic Star Trek series he developed in the 1980s, which eventually reached the screens (with a change of setting) as Andromeda (2000-05). Discovery isn't expected to air until after Picard, meaning it'll be down for a likely Spring-Summer 2020 debut.

Star Trek: Picard's first season arrives on 23 January. It will air on CBS All Access in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK. It sees Patrick Steward return as Star Trek mainstay Jean-Luc Picard, now a retired Starfleet admiral living on his home farm in France. A mysterious young woman turns up asking for help, which sees Picard recruit a crew of humans, Vulcans and Romulans and, with some help from Voyager's Seven-of-Nine (Jeri Ryan) and his old executive officer William Riker (Jonathan Riker) and former counsellor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), sets out for another adventure.

Friday, 4 October 2019

Some more WHEEL OF TIME casting news

Another revelation from the recent Wheel of Time cast read-through is that British actress Naana Agyei Ampadu has joined the cast.

Naana Agyei Ampadu has a recurring role on the TV show GameFace and also appeared in a minor role in Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One.

Ampadu was seen at the table read-through and her agency confirmed the news via Twitter, although they hurriedly deleted the tweet (presumably as Amazon had not given the greenlight for them to release).

It's unclear what role she is playing on the show, with the possibility of a resident of the Two Rivers or Baerlon being most likely.

Meanwhile, production is continuing with the cast and crew filming at the Great Soča Gorge in Slovenia.

Red Dead Redemption 2 to hit PC in November as an Epic Store exclusive! (for a month)

Rockstar Games' Red Dead Redemption 2, the most successful horse-riding simulator of all time, is heading to PC on 5 November after a year as  a console exclusive. The game will also launch exclusively on the controversial Epic Store, although in this case the exclusivity period is a modest one month rather than the 6-12 months some other games have been locked down for.

The game has sold over 25 million copies on X-Box One and PlayStation 4, with the PC version expected to add significantly more impressive graphics and more varied control options, as well as more missions and activities. Red Dead Online, the game's multiplayer component, will also be included.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Michael McElhatton cast in WHEEL OF TIME TV series

Amazon have released a video of the first cast read-through for its Wheel of Time TV show. As well as giving us our first sneak glimpse of dialogue from the show and the actors at work, it reveals at least one new castmember: Game of Thrones' own Roose Bolton himself, Michael McElhatton.

McElhatton, who was most recently seen as a Russian general in HBO's Chernobyl, is seen with the cast but doesn't speak, so it's unknown what role he is playing. However, as it's the first episode, the most likely candidates are Tam al'Thor (whose presence in the TV series is confirmed by showrunner Rafe Judkins), the peddler Padan Fain or the gleeman Thom Merrilin, the latter of whom's casting has been the subject of much debate. More remote possibilities include Geofram Bornhald (if he's introduced earlier than in the book, perhaps in Baerlon) or Ba'alzamon, if they get to the first dream sequence.

Judkins has confirmed that the prologue from the book, set in the Age of Legends, will not be used to open the show (it may be used later as a flashback), which makes it much less likely that McElhatton is playing Lews Therin Telamon or Ishamael as he was during the War of the Shadow.

Monday, 30 September 2019

Filming of Terry Pratchett's THE WATCH begins

Shooting has commenced on the BBC America TV series The Watch, "inspired by" Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels revolving around the Ankh-Morpork City Watch.

The new TV series will be a reinterpretation of the City Watch books (Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, Night Watch, Thud and Snuff), featuring some of the same characters but, in some cases, in dramatically different circumstances. The TV series will also not be directly adapting the books, instead creating original stories.

Fan reaction to the news has been mixed. Some of the casting, particularly Richard Dormer (Game of Thrones' Ser Beric) as Captain Sam Vimes, has been highly praised, but other casting decisions have been criticised, particularly the decision to turn the middle-aged and stout Lady Sybil into a young, Catwoman-like vigilante.\

The Watch is expected to air on BBC America in late 2020.

Netflix officially renew STRANGER THINGS for a fourth season

Netflix have officially confirmed that Stranger Things will return for a fourth season, although that's no surprise as they inadvertently confirmed it way back in July when they booked the studio space for filming.

The fourth season is part of a much bigger deal negotiated by Netflix with the show's creators, the Duffer Brothers, said to be worth at least $100 million. This deal will include exclusive development deals for new TV shows outside the Stranger Things universe as well as first-look rights at film ideas.

It is as yet unclear if the fourth season will be the final one, with the Duffer Brothers previously saying they felt that four seasons might be too short but five might be too long. There is also the possibility of a fourth season and then either a shortened fifth season or a film to wrap up the story. According to a short promo released by Netflix, more of the fourth season will be set outside the series' traditional setting of Hawkins, Indiana.

Production of Season 4 of Stranger Things is set to begin in October, with a likely air date around Halloween 2020.

Games Workshop and Marvel join forces to make WARHAMMER comics

Games Workshop and Marvel Comics have joined forces to produce a range of Warhammer comics.

Games Workshop and its publishing arm, the Black Library, have published Warhammer comics and graphic novels in the past (sometimes in collaboration with Titan), but Marvel's much greater worldwide distribution network and reach will give them access to a much larger market.

The official statement is a little terse, but it sounds like Marvel and GW will be publishing at least one Warhamer 40,000 title and another based on Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. The first comics are expected to arrive in late 2020.

Susanna Clarke's second novel to be published in 2020

The second novel by Susanna Clarke, the author of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, will arrive in 2020, to be followed by a third book.

Clarke started her career with short fiction, garnering a small but dedicated fanbase that included Neil Gaiman. She started work on Jonathan Strange in 1993, at the same time she began work as an editor for cookbooks. The novel was finally released in 2004 and was an immediate bestseller, going on to sell in the region of five million copies which puts it neck-and-neck with Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind as a claimant to the title of the biggest-selling fantasy debut of the 21st Century (to date).

Clarke followed up the novel with a story collection, The Ladies of Grace Adieu (2006), and reported that she was working on a sequel to Jonathan Strange focusing on the character of John Childermass. Progress was slowed, however, by illness: Clarke is a long-term sufferer of CFS (sometimes called ME), which is one of the reasons the first novel took over a decade to be published.

Jonathan Strange was adapted as a well-received BBC mini-series in 2015.

The new novel is called Piranesi and seems to be an original novel, not related to the Jonathan Strange universe. The book focuses on the inhabitants of a vast, strange house and what happens when they uncover evidence of the world outside. The title seems to be a nod at the artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-78), whose strange, pre-Escher-esque images of haunted landscapes and buildings seems to be an inspiration for the novel.

Bloomberg have confirmed that Piranesi will be published in September 2020. A third novel, which may or may not be the Jonathan Strange sequel, will follow.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

A History of Homeworld Part 1: The First Time

In the first of a new series celebrating the franchise's twentieth anniversary (and the impending arrival of Homeworld 3), I look at the background lore of the critically-acclaimed Homeworld series of video games.

The galaxy during the First Time.

The Rise of the Bentusi
Attend carefully, for the mysteries of the past hold many clues for the future and events to come. Wisdom can be gleaned from studying the ancients, their triumphs and their mistakes.

In the most ancient of days, the First Time, there arose the Bentusi, a race great in scientific knowledge and engineering prowess. They built great ships to explore the gulfs between the stars, and delighted in learning new knowledge and contacting new races. They were among the first of the modern races to travel from one star system to another, traversing the galaxy through advanced drives that propelled them at close to the speed of light.

But as they explored the galaxy, the Bentusi found the ruins of an even more ancient, stranger civilisation. Tens of thousands of years before the Bentusi reached the stars, another race had gotten there first. They had built an empire spanning thousands of systems, plumbed the very mysteries of hyperspace to exceed lightspeed and built megastructures that defied easy understanding or comprehension, even for the enlightened Bentusi. Their power had appeared supreme, commanding fleets of intelligent starships and constructing utterly vast space habitats thousands of kilometres in length.

These “Progenitors” were overthrown and destroyed almost overnight. The vast ruins at Karos and Tanis stand testament to the fact that they encountered something that could not be resisted, and they were destroyed or forced to flee the galaxy altogether. The Bentusi, unnerved, could find no evidence of whatever fate had befallen them.

The Great Harbour Ship of Bentus, the flagship of the Bentusi Fleet and the carrier of the First Hyperspace Core for millennia.

What they did find, hidden in a Progenitor derelict, was something remarkable. A hyperspace core of tremendous power, with the ability to allow extremely large starships to cross thousands of light-years in a single bound, to Far Jump. Despite their best efforts, the Bentusi could not replicate the Core. Markings on the derelict suggested that the core might be one of three, but the fate of the other two was unknown. Instead, the Bentusi designed and built the largest starship in their history, the Great Harbour Ship Bentus, and attached the First Core to it.

For millennia, the Bentusi presided over a galaxy at peace. They forged the Outer Rim Trade Routes, allowing dozens and then hundreds of spacefaring races to trade together in peaceful cooperation. The Bentusi identified promising races and gave them the gift of “normal” hyperdrives (derived from the technology of the First Core), allowing them to Short Jump across dozens of light-years at a time. As the centuries passed, the Bentusi became creatures of space, merging with their starships to become “Unbound,” not limited to a single world or system.

During this time many thousands of Progenitor ruins and artefacts were uncovered by numerous races. Progenitor records were almost non-existent, with no histories or detailed accounts left behind to explain their origins or their fate. But a few symbols were found that could be translated. These eventually gave rise to the myth of Sajuuk, the Great Maker, He Whose Hand Shapes What Is.

Chief among those races who were found and helped by the Bentusi were two humanoid species. One originated on a world close to the Galactic Core known as Hiigara. The other, relatively nearby, was located on a world called Taiidan. Both the Hiigarans and Taiidan were civilised and grew rich from trade, but both races also grew resentful of the Bentusi’s overwhelming power, and in particular their ability to Far Jump, leaving the “lesser races” standing still in comparison.

Hiigara, the homeworld of the Hiigaran people, as seen from space.

Sajuuk’s Wrath
Some five centuries after Hiigara and Taiidan became interstellar players, the galaxy was rocked by a series of military conflicts, which in turn spread more conflict and chaos across the stars. These conflicts revealed that even the Bentusi could not be everywhere at once, and by the time the Bentusi had restored peace (forcibly, in some cases), dozens of powerful confederations had formed, chief among them the Hiigaran and Taiidan empires. Acknowledging the new reality, the Bentusi proposed the founding of a Galactic Council as a forum for peaceful debate and discussion between the new powers. The Hiigarans and Taiidan eagerly agreed and were among the Council’s sixteen founding states.

The Hiigarans and Taiidan may have cooperated to reduce the power of the Bentusi, but they were also rivals. Their empires were approximately equal in power, with between forty and fifty major planetary systems each under their control. Their military technology was roughly matched and their empires located in a similar region of space, the Hiigarans claiming a wide swathe of the Shining Hinterlands around the Galactic Core and the Taiidan slightly further out, towards the Inner Rim. Border conflicts erupted, including several major enough to be called small wars. The Council stepped in each time to negotiate an end to the conflict, but the Hiigarans came to believe that they were being treated badly, with each resolution seeming to favour the Taiidan side. In particular, the imposition of a thirty light-year-wide “buffer zone” between Taiidan and Hiigaran space which encroached strongly into territories claimed by the Hiigaran Empire was seen as a move directly benefiting the Taiidan. The Taiidan were accused of using bribes or blackmail to coerce the Council into making decisions in their favour, a claim outright rejected by the Council. Decades of simmering resentment from the Hiigarans to the Council and to the Taiidan began.

During this period, the Hiigarans made a shattering discovery. In a derelict starship in a remote system, they located the Second Hyperspace Core of the Progenitors. Extracting it, they gained the same ability as the Bentusi, to Far Jump across thousands of light-years in an instant. Like the Bentusi, they had to design and build a special starship to use it. This they named Sajuuk’s Wrath, as the Hiigarans came to believe that Sajuuk himself had forged the Three Hyperspace Cores for a greater purpose.

The Hiigarans’ purpose was more straightforward: survival. Over the preceding decades, the Taiidan had grown more powerful, eclipsing the might of Hiigara. Their empire had grown larger and the Galactic Council continued to make judgements in favour of the Taiidan. The Hiigarans feared that they would be overwhelmed and annexed by the Taiidan gradually over time. To avert this fate, they put into motion an audacious plan.

Every Hiigaran military ship gathered in the skies above Hiigara. The Sajuuk’s Wrath activated its Far Jump capability, opening hyperspace portals to deep inside Taiidani space, far behind their defensive lines. The Hiigaran fleet passed through and annihilated everything in sight. The fleet then jumped to the next defensive strongpoint, destroying everything they could find, and then again. Their jumps were so vast that they outran the warnings that Taiidan tried to send back to their leaders. The first the Taiidani central government knew of the danger was when the Hiigaran fleet emerged out of hyperspace above their homeworld.

The Sajuuk’s Wrath led the armada in bombarding Taiidan from space, destroying its orbital defences and then targeting the surface. According to Hiigaran records, the fleet expertly and surgically targeted military installations and government facilities only, ignoring civilian targets. Taiidan records suggest a more general bombardment that killed millions. The government was annihilated and the Taiidan military decapitated in a single blow.

The Hiigaran fleet returned home approximately sixty-seven hours after departing on its mission. In that time, it had laid the Taiidan Empire low. In the following days, the Hiigarans mounted a widespread offensive along their frontier, retaking dozens of worlds lost or ceded to the Taiidan over the preceding centuries.

The Hiigarans believed that the Galactic Council would, as normal, dither and prevaricate in the face of overwhelming, resolute force, as the Council had often done in the face of Taiidan aggression. However, the Council saw the Hiigarans wielding the Second Core as an existential threat to the galaxy. They feared that the Hiigarans would conquer all of known space, and they issued them with an ultimatum: to surrender the Second Core, to withdraw from all conquered worlds and to stand down and scuttle the bulk of their fleet in the buffer zone between Hiigaran and Taiidan space.

The Hiigarans agreed, but only on the condition that they would surrender the Core to the Bentusi. This was deemed acceptable, but the gambit was a ruse. The Hiigarans launched a sneak attack on the Bentusi using the Sajuuk’s Wrath. They very nearly succeeded, with the first shot coming close to disabling the Bentus’s hyperdrive. But ultimately, they failed. Bentus used its Far Jump drive to summon a vast fleet of reinforcements and in short order the Hiigaran fleet was annihilated. The remnants fled back to Hiigara, the Bentusi in pursuit. The commander of the Sajuuk’s Wrath rejected the call to surrender and instead triggered the ship’s hyperdrive, making a jump directly into the gravity well of the Angel Moon, Hiigara’s largest satellite. The Wrath crashed into the surface of the moon, exploding impressively. The Wrath was gone and – apparently – the Second Core with it.

The Bentusi supported the claim that the Core had been destroyed, a claim in itself suspicious, as the Bentusi had wielded the power of the First Core for millennia. They knew (as we do now) that the Cores, as products of Progenitor technology, were nigh on indestructible and almost invulnerable to physical harm, and the Second Core had almost certainly survived. Yet they made no move to retrieve the Core, a decision which remains a topic of fierce debate.

The Hiigarans offered unconditional surrender. Their empire was dismantled, their conquered worlds liberated and their fleets scuttled. They were left with barely a token defensive flotilla. For the Bentusi, the war had sapped much of their morale and reserve. Sickened by the violence they had unleashed, they renounced their role as the galaxy’s peacekeepers. They remained on the Council but now dedicated themselves to peaceful trade and exploration only.

The Taiidan were not so merciful.

Looking towards the Galactic Core from the Outer Rim.

The Exiles
Admiral Riesstiu, the highest-ranking surviving member of the Taiidan Navy, had committed himself to the rebuilding of the Taiidan military. The homeworld had been decimated, but dozens of other planets survived with an enviable industrial output. Fleets around the edge of the Taiidan Empire, the forces the Hiigarans had jumped past to achieve total strategic surprised, remained intact. A vast armada was assembled. Riesstiu used advanced technology to extend his lifespan by first decades and then possibly centuries. Declaring himself the Emperor of Taiidan, he led the fleet on a war of retribution against Hiigara. Hiigara’s colonies were overrun and conquered in a matter of weeks. The Taiidan fleet closed in on the near-defenceless homeworld and stood poised to incinerate it from orbit when Riesstiu stayed his hand. The Galactic Council and the Bentusi had made a plea for mercy and Riesstiu was aware that the Taiidan’s moral superiority would be lost if they behaved even worse than the Hiigarans had. He announced that the Hiigaran population would be spared. Their planet would become the new throneworld of the Taiidan Empire and the Hiigarans would become slaves of the Taiidan.

The Hiigarans balked at this last point, preferring death to servitude. The Taiidan may have granted them their wish, but again the Council requested clemency. Keen to maintain his authority with the Council, Riesstiu agreed to instead send the surviving Hiigarans into exile on the very fringes of the galaxy. They would take no weapons with them and would leave all of their most advanced technology behind. A fleet of large bulk freighters was assembled, enough to carry millions of people across the galaxy, albeit in some discomfort and with only marginal capacity for food and water.

The Hiigaran people set out on their journey, which would be long, arduous and fraught with danger. Only capable of Short Jumps, the fleet took generations to reach its destination, spending vast amounts of time crawling at sublight whilst their antiquated jump drives recharged. Ships were lost due to malfunctions, mis-jumps and mutiny. Several vessels abandoned the fleet within the Great Nebula, a vast region of star formation on the Outer Rim, preferring to settle the hidden region of Kadesh rather than carry on to their designated destination. But eventually, several surviving ships made planetfall on a remote desert world on the outermost fringes of the galaxy, 35,000 light-years or more from Hiigara. The largest surviving ship became the nexus for a great city, “Khar-Toba” (the First City). The desert planet was named “Kharak,” and the Hiigarans adopted a new name for themselves, the “Kushan.” One of the mightiest empires in the history of the galaxy had been reduced to a handful of survivors in a single city on a barren world.

But they did have one advantage left to them. Before the flight, Hiigaran engineers had secretly landed on the Angel Moon and recovered the Second Core from where it had fallen years earlier. Powered down, it was secreted in the hold of the lead refugee ship and taken with them to Kharak.

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Trailer for the BBC's WAR OF THE WORLDS released

The BBC has unveiled its trailer for its forthcoming mini-series based on H.G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds.

Unlike most adaptations, such as the classic 1953 film and the 2005 Tom Cruise vehicle, this new series hews much closer to Wells' novel and is set in the same time period as the book. Apart from the little-known (and terrible) Pendragon Pictures film (also released in 2005), very few adaptations have actually tried to adapt the book in the particulars of plot and setting, so it will be interesting to see how this attempt fares. Certainly the trailer looks impressive and the cast, including Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting) and Rafe Spall (Hot Fuzz), is promising.

The mini-series is set to air in the UK this autumn.

Friday, 27 September 2019

THE WITCHER likely to hit Netflix on 8 or 15 November

Netflix have still not set a release date for their TV series based on Andrzej Sapkowski's Witcher novels, but there's a big clue that either 8 or 15 November is the most likely date.

Both Orbit in the United States and Gollancz in the UK are releasing new editions of the first Witcher book, The Last Wish, with artwork inspired by the TV show. The UK edition lands on Thursday 7 November and the US edition on Tuesday 12 November.

As Netflix mostly release their shows on Fridays, that makes either 8 or 15 November the most likely date to release the first season.

More news as we get it.

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Head of Marvel Studios to develop a STAR WARS movie

Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios and creative directory of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is to collaborate with the team at Lucasfilm on a new Star Wars movie.

The news is surprising because Feige has a pretty busy slate on his hands, with numerous films and TV shows in development in the MCU. However, Feige is also a huge Star Wars fan and with an opening in his schedule (presumably related to the Sony/Marvel Spider-Man break-up), it appears he wants to help out the Lucasfilm team with their slate of upcoming TV shows and films.

There's no word yet on the nature of the project, although at the moment it sounds like a single film and that it will be part of the "new era" of Star Wars films set to follow the release of The Rise of Skywalker in December, which will conclude the story of Rey, Kylo Ren, Poe Dameron and Finn that began with The Force Awakens in 2015. The film will also reportedly end the nine-part, "trilogy of trilogies" extending back to the release of the original Star Wars in 1977.

Disney's handling of the Star Wars franchise has had mixed results, with a well-received TV show (Rebels) and movie (The Force Awakens) followed by The Last Jedi, which had very mixed results, and the animated show Resistance, which has been cancelled after just two seasons and poor reviews. Of the spin-off films, Rogue One did very well but Solo became the first-ever Star Wars film to lose money at the box office, despite a positive critical reception.

These results have led to Lucasfilm delaying the release of the next Star Wars film (after Rise) to 2022. Former Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are developing a multi-film series, whilst The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson is committed to a trilogy of films. Both series are apparently set in a new period of time and a part of the galaxy distinct from previous worlds. Rumours persist that the new wave of Star Wars films - presumably including Feige's - will be set in the Knights of the Old Republic time period, but this remains unconfirmed.

The next Star Wars project to hit the screens will the franchise's first-ever live-action TV show, The Mandalorian, which will help launch the Disney+ streaming service on 12 November this year. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker hits cinemas on 20 December.

The world's greatest space combat sim is available free

GoG are running a literal giveaway where you can pick up a copy of Freespace 2 for exactly nothing. The giveaway is running for the next two days.

The giveaway is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of Freespace 2 on 30 September 1999. Freespace 2 is, succinctly put, the greatest space combat game ever made, achieving some kind of towering apotheosis in the genre that caused it to effectively implode shortly afterwards. The slightly different space trader genre continued (via Freelancer, the X: Beyond the Frontier series and the recent Elite: Dangerous) but after a few noble efforts (Starlancer, Tachyon: Beyond the Fringe) the space combat genre spluttered out of existence. Attempts to resurrect it have had mixed results, with the first big challenger likely to be Squadron 42 (part of the wider Star Citizen project), which does not have a scheduled release date at present.

The game's strength is in its instinctive flight model, it's still-impressive graphics and its moody, atmospheric storyline, which pits humanity and an allied alien race against the enigmatic Shivans and a fifth column of human traitors. The game is a sequel to Conflict: Freespace - The Great War (1998) and its expansion, The Silent Threat (1998), both playable in the Freespace 2 engine via mods. The game's mod scene is phenomenal, updating the graphics, adding new campaigns and allowing players to play total conversion mods, including one set in the Battlestar Galactica universe.

For absolutely nothing, the game is well worth picking up.

WHEEL OF TIME showrunner shares first picture from the set

Wheel of Time showrunner Rafe Judkins has shared the first image from the Wheel of Time shooting location. Note: non-spoiler.

Disappointingly, the sheep actor and their past credentials have not yet been identified, although there was a brief Twitter storm of "goat or sheep?" before Judkins confirmed that the actor was in fact a sheep.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Happy 20th anniversary to SPACED

Spaced, the greatest sitcom about science fiction and fantasy fans ("geeks," if you will), turns 20 years old today.

Created by Jessica Hynes, Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright, Spaced is set in London and sees the twenty-something Tim Beasley (Pegg) and Daisy Steiner (Hynes) as flatmates who pretend they're a couple to secure an astonishingly reasonable London flat from their ex-rock groupie landlady Marsha (Julia Deakin). The other regular characters include Tim and Daisy's pretentious artist neighbour Brian (Mark Heap), Daisy's fashion-obsessed friend Twist (Katy Carmichael) and Tim's best friend Brian (Nick Frost), a disgraced member of the Territorial Army who was kicked out after commandeering a tank and trying to invade Paris before being distracted by EuroDisney and subsequently apprehended on Space Mountain. Recurring characters include Tim's sworn nemesis Dwayne Benzie (Peter Serafinowicz) and his comic shop owner boss, Bilbo (Bill Bailey), who at a key moment is forced to fire Tim for hurling over-the-top abuse at a young customer for trying to buy Jar-Jar Binks merchandise (Tim's subsequent boss then fires Tim when he discovers his dislike of Babylon 5).

The show's storylines revolved around the characters' interpersonal relationships, such as Brian and Twist's growing romance, and also around pop culture references. This included episodes inspired by everything from Resident Evil 2 to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to The Matrix to John Woo. However, the series maintained a strong comedic edge, mining the laughs from the characters and situations they found themselves in so even non-geeks could enjoy the show (the cast used Julia Deakin as their litmus for this, as the only geek reference she got was a Close Encounters of the Third Kind mashed potato gag). This also helped the show age gracefully, even though a number of shows and movies the series referenced have since fallen into obscurity.

Spaced only aired two seasons in 1999 and 2001, totalling fourteen episodes, but of course its impact was seismic. Hynes, Serafinowicz, Wright, Pegg and Frost reteamed for the movie Shaun of the Dead in 2004 (which by coincidence celebrates the 15th anniversary of its US release today) and the latter three then went on to make Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World's End (2013). Pegg also played Scotty in JJ Abrams' Star Trek movies and most recently appeared in Amazon's The Boys, whilst Frost recently had a regular role on Into the Badlands. Serafinowicz recently starred in Amazon's The Tick and Hynes had a starring role on Years and Years. Wright has also had a successful directing career with the critically-acclaimed movies Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Baby Driver and the forthcoming Last Night in Soho. He has also worked as a writer on movies including The Adventures of Tintin and Ant-Man. The show also featured before-they-were-famous turns by British comics from David Walliams to Ricky Gervais.

Spaced remains the finest sitcom about pop culture, challenged only by Community (Dan Harmon had never seen Spaced, but after viewing it had to admit there must have been some kind of weird shared cultural osmosis). It never looked down or sneered at SFF fandom, instead promoting the idea of fans as creative and warm-hearted individuals. The show also still looks incredible, Wright's fast-cut editing and dynamic camera moves making it look like a film. Why more sitcoms (British or otherwise) have not taken their cue from this show remains a mystery.

So far, the creators are resisting the urge to create a new series (although acknowledging they have talked about it), instead preferring to leave these characters as we last saw them: happy, optimistic and ready for the future. If you haven't checked out Spaced, it's well worth catching up with now.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Gratuitous Lists: Ten Shows That Should Be Rebooted

We live in the age of reboots. It feels like we can’t go a week or three without someone announcing a remake of a beloved, older property. From Ghostbusters (twice!) to Gremlins to Charmed to a third iteration of Battlestar Galactica, reboots are all the rage, many of them unnecessary or premature. 

But what about franchises that have been left fallow which should be rebooted, where a new version would be welcome because the original is very old, or because it was cancelled ahead of time, or because it never got enough recognition in its time? Here are ten shows which I think could rise again and be done interestingly.

Note that by the term reboot, I mean "a relaunch of an older franchise in a new form." This can be either a continuation of the original series but in a new viewer-friendly format – such as the 2005 Doctor Who and 2017 Star Trek “reboots,” and Sam Esmail’s recently-announced Battlestar relaunch – or a complete, from scratch remake of the original, such as Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica or the recent version of Charmed. Or even the rare franchise which attempts both (such as, arguably, J.J. Abrams’ 2009 take on Star Trek).

Space: Above and Beyond

Originally airing for just a single season in 1995-96, this space opera series focused on the Wildcards, the 58th Squadron of the United States Marine Corps Space Aviator Cavalry, as they engaged in warfare with the alien “Chigs.” Set in 2063, the series depicts a human race who is on the ropes, their extrasolar colonies destroyed and their fleets forced back to the Solar system. It also doesn’t help that humanity also has an ambiguous relationship with the Silicates, humanoid artificial intelligences who have rebelled against their creators, and “In Vitroes,” genetically-engineered humans grown in tanks to help fight both the Silicates and the Chigs.

Space: Above and Beyond wears its influences on its sleeves – particularly the Wing Commander video game series – and, it has to be said, left much to be desired in terms of writing, acting and worldbuilding, particularly the fact that the main characters are simultaneously both elite fighter pilots and experienced ground combat troops. But there are some very good ideas in the show, with the murky three-way relationship between the humans, Silicates and “tanks” providing some interesting drama and contrasted against the alien invaders. Coming from some of the same creative team as The X-Files, the show also started exploring murky conspiracies which added some interesting depth to the show just before it ended on a huge cliffhanger. You’re also not going to forget the appearance of David Duchovny as an android pool shark in a hurry.

Some may feel that the revamped Battlestar Galactica has rendered a Space: Above and Beyond reboot pointless, as that show had a far superior grip on the nuances of space fighter pilots and where the desperate premise gave a better grounding for the idea of the pilots as multi-purpose troops, but there’s something interesting of the purity of a show which focuses so much on humans versus aliens, but has some added complexity to spice things up.


This Channel 4 mini-series aired in 1998 to immense critical acclaim and limited viewing figures, but has enjoyed a cult audience to this very day for several reasons. One of them is that it provided the first major role for Idris Elba, who plays supporting character Vaughn. Another is that it took the slightly barmy premise – vampires are real and such a threat to society that a secret government taskforce has spend decades hunting them – and treated it with earnest seriousness. The result is something that feels closer to The X-Files or a spy thriller than a traditional horror series or Buffy, with fantastic writing and direction from Joe Ahearne.

The cast was exceptional, with a pre-Pirates of the Caribbean Jack Davenport and a pre-True Blood Stephen Moyer leading a spectacular roster also including Elba, Susannah Harker and the fantastic Philip Quast (as the morally ambiguous leader of the taskforce), and with the vampires treated more like a disease or force of nature than forces of handsome temptation…at least until the last two episodes, which do much to make the premise and the nature of the enemy more questionable. An attempted American reboot of the show in 2000 failed to go beyond a pilot, although it did introduce Elba to American casting producers and set the scene for his casting in The Wire two years later.

This feels particularly ripe for a reboot. We’ve had a whole string of slightly campy and funny vampire shows in the last decade or so, but nothing with the menacing energy and total conviction that Ultraviolet had, and it’d be interesting to see it go beyond the first season into the more apocalyptic tone the series seemed to be setting up at the end.


I mean, no list like this is going to be remotely complete without at least mentioning the great “missed opportunity” of 2000s space operas, Firefly. Joss Whedon’s much-admired (if thematically-challenged; why are we rooting for the Space Confederates again?) space western lasted only 14 episodes in 2002 before Fox managed to kill it through a combination of corporate politics and inept scheduling, but immense DVD sales saw it brought back as the moderately successful movie Serenity in 2005. Comics, a roleplaying game and a very successful board game have kept the name alive, with both Fox and several streaming services saying they’d be happy to consider a new iteration of the series.

Whedon himself is busy at HBO with a new project, The Nevers, and most of the cast is in demand elsewhere, so this is probably off the cards for a few more years, but it’d be interesting to revisit the ‘Verse. A remake seems unnecessary, given that the original cast was mostly pretty young when they made it (Jewel Staite and Summer Glau are still only in their 30s, Morena Baccarin only recently turned 40), so a relaunch sent 15-20 years after the events of Serenity with a presumably very different ‘Verse in play would be the way to go, perhaps a “getting the crew back together” story when a new threat arises. Moreso than a lot of the shows on this list, there's unfinished business here.

American Gothic

No, not the weak-arsed 2016 show, but the terrifying semi-supernatural drama which aired for one, memorable season in 1995-96. Created and written by Shaun Cassidy, produced by Sam Raimi and starring a frankly disturbing Gary Cole (keen to fight back against his “cuddly dude” image from Midnight Caller), who may or may not be the devil, or a servant of the same, American Gothic was a glorious mash-up of Southern Americana and Stephen King on steroids.

Cole played Sheriff Lucas Buck, the seemingly easy-going sheriff of Trinity, South Carolina who collects favours from the townsfolk in return for his help, and then collects in a brutal and often-unexpected fashion. As the season continues, the serialised story evolves into a war for the soul of Caleb Temple (Lucas Black), a young orphan boy with unusual powers. Buck tempts him towards evil, but reporter Gail Emory (Paige Turco) and Dr. Matt Crower (Jake Weber) try to keep him on the side of good. The townsfolk find themselves caught up in the struggle, which starts as a slow-burning, subtle struggle before becoming more apocalyptic as the season goes on.

Way ahead of its time, some of American Gothic’s Southern-drenched horror atmosphere resurfaced in HBO’s True Blood, although that show arguably overdid the camp and humour to negate much of the dramatic impact of the premise. If someone brought back American Gothic with just the right tone, this could be a huge hit.

Dark Skies

As The X-Files ground its way through the 1990s and it became increasingly clear that the writers were making stuff upon the fly with no pre-planning, fans began to wonder what would happen if it had been written by Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski, famed for his mastery of foreshadowing and setting up plot points years ahead of time to make a much more cohesive storyline.

Dark Skies attempted to answer that question. Written by occasional Straczynski collaborator Bryce Zabel (along with Brent Friedman), the show had a pre-planned five-season arc that was going to unfold across decades. The first season spans almost a full ten years, from 1961 to 1969, and focuses on FBI agent John Loengard (Eric Close) and his wife Kimberly Sayers (Megan Ward) as they uncover evidence that the Roswell incident was real, and the beginning of a clandestine alien attack on Earth by the so-called “Greys.” Top-secret US agency Majestic-12 was formed to fight against the alien invaders, led by Frank Bach (a magnificent J.T. Walsh), but the long war has made the organisation ruthless and paranoid, trampling over civil rights and the Constitution.

As the season progressed, it pitted Loengard and Sayers against the aliens, their possessed human slaves and into an ambiguous relationship with Majestic-12, sometimes as allies and sometimes as enemies. Halfway through the season there was something of a rejig of the premise, with Kimberly being taken over the aliens and it being revealed that the Greys are just a front, with the real enemy being a parasitic species called the Ganglions, who have taken control of most of the Greys and use them as slaves. Towards the end of the season there was also an unexpected alliance formed between Majestic-12 and its Russian counterpart, with Juliet Stuart (a pre-Voyager Jeri Ryan) joining the team as a liaison, and the intriguing hint that the Cold War was actually just a feint created by the US and Soviet governments to believe that humanity was weaker than it really was.

The plan for future seasons was fascinating, with the second season expected to cover the period 1970-76, the third season 1977-86 and the fourth season in 1987-99, culminating with a full-scale Ganglion invasion. The fifth season, set in real-time (2000-01) would have depicted the fight back against the invaders. Obviously, these never happened.

With its rich period detail and a much greater sense of narrative direction than The X-Files, it’s a shame that the show was dismissed as just a knock-off. A remake of the same premise now would be extremely interesting.

Babylon 5
Speaking of Babylon 5, it’s entirely possible that J. Michael Straczynski’s own magnum opus, which aired five seasons from 1993 to 1998, could be due a reassessment. With its complex, rich five-year storyline and its cast of impressive, flawed protagonists, Babylon 5 certainly felt at least twenty years ahead of its time and was seriously underrated during its time on the air.

Some may argue that remaking Babylon 5 is redundant: the show completed its storyline (unlike most of the shows mentioned here) and aired 110 episodes, seven TV movies and half a season of a spin-off before wrapping up. B5 has also been influential on the current run of space operas, particularly The Expanse (Daniel Abraham has acknowledged his huge love of the show). But whilst that’s true, it’s also true that getting modern audiences to watch the original series is increasingly difficult. There’s no sign that Warner Brothers are interested in a HD remaster, and in many respects the show has not aged as well as it might have done. The first and last seasons are both very rough, and the guest cast could be particularly ropey. The original cast was, of course, fantastic but a sadly astonishing number have passed away very young, making a sequel series or continuation almost impossible to consider.

At its heart Babylon 5 was an epic space opera custom-designed for the small screen. A reboot handled in the right, respectful way (with Straczynski’s involvement and reusing the original cast in new roles where appropriate) could become the Game of Thrones of science fiction (and it’s worth nothing that George R.R. Martin was a huge fan of Babylon 5). Unfortunately, it sounds like Warner Brothers are not interested in the idea, at least for now.


Back in 1982, Studio Nue and Shōji Kawamori created a hugely influential animated show: Super Dimension Fortress Macross. The show depicted an alien spacecraft crash-landing on Earth in the South Pacific, alerting the planet (then on the cusp of a Third World War) of the existence of possibly hostile alien life. Humanity rebuilt the starship, the Super Dimensional Fortress (or SDF-1), but when they reactivated the hyperdrive, they gave away the ship’s position to the Zentraedi, who were searching for it. After a pitched battle, the SDF-1’s hyperdrive misfired, delivering it (and 70,000 refugees from a nearby island) to the orbit of Pluto. With the hyperdrive apparently burned out, the ship had to head back to Earth on normal rocket power, which took two years.

During this period the crew fought numerous battles with the Zentraedi, who wanted to capture the ship intact and thus were constantly fighting with one hand tied behind their backs. The story featured both soap-opera-ish developments among the humans of the SDF-1 and within the Zentraedi fleet, as well as epic battles and huge revelations about the nature of the fortress, humanity and the aliens. A final pitched battle sees Earth mostly destroyed and the surviving humans and Zentraedi forced to work together to survive in the aftermath.

In 1985 the series was bought by Harmony Gold in the USA, but they deemed it too short for syndication. It was combined with two other unrelated-but-similar-looking shows (Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada) to create a whole new show, Robotech. Drawing mostly on the Macross material for its backstory, Robotech expands the storyline to some thirty years after the original series, giving the Zentraedi a new master race (the Robotech Masters) and their own nemeses (the Invid) and exploring further conflicts with these two races. There was also an aborted spin-off, The Sentinels, depicting the original Macross characters taking the fight into space (and explaining their absence from the other series).

Macross itself also gained a large number of spin-off series in Japan, including the non-canonical Macross II, the prequel series Macross Zero and various sequels, including Macross Plus, Macross 7 and Macross Delta. Due to legal disputes between the Japanese companies and Harmony Gold, these latter series have not been released in the west. However, thanks to a new deal signed between the companies in 2019, there are plans to perhaps remedy this.

Both Macross and Robotech have their hardcore fans, and of course modern anime fans consider it sacrilege to rewrite and re-edit original Japanese material, so any reboot of the series would likely be contentious, whether it was a redoing of Macross or Robotech. But given Netflix’s success with relaunching Voltron and given the end of the long-running legal dispute between the US and Japanese creators, this project must be on their radar. With the much-mooted live-action version of Robotech apparently on the backburner (having gone through two directors in rapid succession), it might be time to see the SDF-1 and its crew back on the small screen again.


HBO’s epic retelling of the story of the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire to replace it was one of the most lavish TV shows ever made, with colossal sets, rich costuming and fantastic casting. It feels very much like a practice run for Game of Thrones, sharing a lot of DNA with the latter show in terms of brutal writing, graphic violence and, if anything, even more sex.

It was also short and curtailed. HBO aired two seasons in 2005 and 2007, but were left high and dry when the BBC bailed on cofunding a third season. HBO panicked at the show’s huge budget and dropped it, only to later recant after huge DVD sales and increased viewing figures through the second season’s run. By the time HBO felt ready to remount it, the moment had passed and the in-demand cast (including Kevin McKidd, James Purefoy and Polly Walker) had scattered to numerous other projects.

There are various options for a rebooting of the show. One idea might be to simply remake the original with a new cast (and perhaps a bit more fidelity to actual history, such as using Clodia rather than Atia and depicting the Battle of Philippi as the complex, multi-week campaign it really was), since the stories of Julius Caesar, Augustus, Mark Antony and Cleopatra are of course timeless.

A more interesting idea might be to pursue the notion that HBO themselves had five or six years ago which never took off. The original Rome was going to have a time-jump in the fourth season to the time of Jesus, with the descendants of Timon (Atia’s Jewish hatchet-man in the original show) playing a key role in events. However, after the show was cancelled HBO instead considered a fresh adaptation of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius and Claudius the God, previously adapted as a prestige BBC mini-series in the 1970s. Using the Rome sets (most of which are still standing in Italy, although some were damaged by fire in 2007), the story could be rejigged as a Rome sequel, with many characters returning in their later years of life.


In 1970, Gerry Anderson was best-known as the creator of a series of puppet shows for kids with insanely elaborate production views: Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (among many others). UFO was his first live-action project, combining real actors with his trademark elaborate sets and visual effects, courtesy of the late, great Derek Meddings.

UFO remains an outlier among Anderson’s work. It was adult, strange, paranoid, dark, grim and occasionally barking mad. If Anderson’s other shows (excepting maybe Captain Scarlet) reflected the colourful, optimistic tone of the 1960s, UFO reflected the dark side, musing on drug abuse, the PTSD of war and the paranoia that comes from fighting a secret war against an alien infiltration force.

The premise is that Earth is under attack by alien forces. Under great secrecy, an international organisation named SHADO (Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defence Organisation) is established to defend the planet. The defence network consists of Interceptors, space fighters launched from Earth’s moon; Skydiver, a sub-launched aerial combat craft; and rapid-response ground troops deployed from APCs. The series mostly follows operations from SHADO HQ (hidden under a film studio), where Colonel Straker (Ed Bishop) masterminds the fight against the aliens. Other characters include Colonel Foster (Michael Billington), SHADO’s newest recruit; Lt. Ellis (Gabrielle Drake), Moonbase commander; Colonel Freeman (George Sewell), SHADO’s second in command; Colonel Lake (Wanda Ventham), SHADO’s computer specialist; and Captain Carlin (Peter Gordeno), the principle Skydiver pilot.

If this all sounds a bit familiar, this may be because Julian Gollop “borrowed” elements of the premise for his 1993 video game UFO: Enemy Unknown (released as X-COM: UFO Defense in the US), which kick-started the X-COM video game franchise. This series was relaunched in 2012 with a new game, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and continues today.

UFO was way ahead of its time in being dark, rather pitiless in how it killed off characters and rather realistic in how characters were promoted, reassigned or fired, with the cast moving around a lot in roles in a mere 26 episodes. As the show drew to a close, there were interesting revelations about the nature of the aliens and hints that some of the aliens wanted peace. A modern reboot of the show could be very interesting. 

Blake’s 7

At the top of almost every SF fan’s wishlist for a show to be rebooted is Blake’s 7. Created by Doctor Who writer (and creator of the Daleks) Terry Nation, the show ran for four seasons on the BBC in 1978-81. At its height it was – briefly – the biggest show on UK television, even defeating the super-popular soap opera Coronation Street in a ratings war (albeit for the series finale). This was remarkable given that Blake’s 7 was an unabashed, low-budget space opera, complete with wobbly plastic spaceships, even more wobbly sets and rudimentary visual effects.

What made Blake’s 7 work was its utter ruthlessness. The show started off with idealistic crusader Roj Blake (Gareth Thomas) and amoral computer genius Kerr Avon (Paul Darrow) joining forces after being imprisoned by the totalitarian Terran Federation, a blatantly evil version of Star Trek’s Federation (to the unsubtle extent of the Federation’s symbol being the Star Trek symbol turned all the way to the extreme right). Avon and Blake escape with a motley crew of criminals and chancers, find an advanced alien starship called the Liberator and then embark on a war of retribution against the Federation. So far, so Robin Hood.

However, the show had no truck with black and white hats and clearly-drawn lines of good and evil. Blake starts off as a hero, but becomes morally compromised as he becomes more and more willing to accept civilian casualties as “justified” in the battle to pull down the Federation. At a key moment in the series, he is asked if he can accept the hundreds of thousands and probably many millions of deaths that will result from destroying the Federation’s central control computer on Earth, disrupting food and water supplies. Blake says, rather quickly, yes, “because it’s the only way I’ll know I was right.” The moral lines become even more confused when a hostile alien race from Andromeda invades the Federation at the end of Season 2, forcing Blake into an alliance of convenience with his enemies to ensure that humanity is not just wiped out altogether.

In Season 3, Blake disappears and Avon takes control of the Liberator. Initially planning to use the ship for his own selfish ends, Avon constantly finds himself drawn into idealistic struggles and loses his own sense of identity, becoming a hero against his better instincts and loathing himself for it, as he knows he is a fraud. By Season 4, Avon is clearly suffering from paranoia and possibly a personality disorder as he can no longer determine his own motivations. The series ended with what is arguably still the most shocking finale of all time, as the entire regular cast is brutally gunned down by Federation troops, just before Avon – having just murdered a returned Blake after mistaking him for a traitor – makes a futile last stand of his own, leaving his fate ambiguous.

In truth, that finale was more of a happy accident. Another season was planned, which would open with the revelation that the crew had only been stunned and imprisoned, not killed, but the BBC decided to cancel the show on a high, leaving the bloodbath finale as the show’s last word.

Plans for a relaunch have abounded for years, including a Sky One project a few years ago that seemed to fundamentally misunderstand everything about the show and was fortunately abandoned in the planning stages. Many of the relaunch plans revolved around a “next generation” story where a band of new rebels arises, inspired by the legend of Blake and Avon. Paul Darrow would have returned, sometimes in a mentorship role to the new heroes and sometimes as an enemy, having ascended to high office within the Federation. However, the sad passing of Paul Darrow earlier this year seems to have put paid to such talk, making a full remake more likely.

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