Thursday 31 October 2019

THE WITCHER gets trailer and release date

Netflix's adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski's Witcher novels will arrive on Friday 20 December.

The eight-episode first season is a partial adaptation of elements from the first three Witcher books (The Last Wish, Sword of Destiny and Blood of Elves) and will focus on the adventures of Geralt (Henry Cavill), professional monster-hunter, as his path crosses that of Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), a powerful sorceress, and Ciri (Freya Allan), a princess who goes on the run when her kingdom is attacked by an expansionist empire.

The TV series is not based related to or based on CD Projekt's best-selling Witcher video game trilogy, although the studio that provided high-quality CGI cut-scenes for the games is also working on the show in an effects capacity.

Production for the series was based in Budapest and featured extensive location filming in Hungary and Poland, Andrzej Sapkowski's home country where the books have been huge bestsellers for over 25 years.

Wednesday 30 October 2019

Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Northern Kingdoms are flush from their great victory at Sodden Hill, when they defeated the Empire of Nilfgaard after it had conquered the nation of Cintra. The allied rulers now scheme to liberate Cintra, and to this end attention has fallen on the missing princess of that nation, Ciri. Agents scour the land for Ciri, for purposes noble and nefarious, unaware that she is in safekeeping in the great witcher stronghold of Kaer Morhen, where Geralt the White Wolf attends to her training. The arrival of an old friend, Triss Merigold, spurs Geralt into taking Ciri to another place of safety, but brings him face to face with those searching for her.

Blood of Elves is the third book in the Witcher series (following on from The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny) but also the first full-length novel, the first of five which collectively tell the story of Geralt, Ciri, Yennefer and the destiny of the Northern Kingdoms.

For those used to Sapkowski's tight and economical writing in the two story collections, Blood of Elves is something of a surprise. The novel sprawls almost indulgently, with much of the book being taken up by conversations, a lot of which consist of rather unsubtle exposition about the state of the world and politics. This stuff is interesting but overdone. The storyline itself should have a lot more tension, as Geralt takes Ciri from one potential refuge to another, staying ahead of pursuit, but the lengthy infodumping tends to dissipate the effect.

The book does come alive in its latter part, as Geralt does some traditional Witcher stuff (fighting off a sea monster, getting embroiled in intrigue with Dandilion and some sorcerers, fighting off assassins on the streets of Oxenfurt), and it's fun to meet a bunch of important new characters, such as Triss, Vesemir, Dijkstra,  and Lambert. Players of the Witcher video games will particularly find a lot of things to enjoy here, as The Witcher 3 in particular has a lot of callbacks and nods towards this book.

The book's key weakness is that not a huge amount happens: it's mostly set-up. Well-written, enjoyable set-up, but nevertheless an extended prologue for a much longer narrative. It does feel like it might have been better to combine this book with the following one, Time of Contempt, to create a more complete narrative. As it stands, Blood of Elves whets the appetite but cannot satisfy it on its own.

Blood of Elves (***½) is a solid instalment of the Witcher series, but is not as tight and varied as the two story collections. It does leave the reader keen to read on, but it feels a bit too slight in itself. It is available now in the UK and USA.

HBO upgrade second GAME OF THRONES to full series order, gets title

Not resting on their laurels, HBO have upgraded their order for the second Game of Thrones spin-off from a single pilot to a full 10-episode season order and also given it a title: House of the Dragon.

Produced by Ryan Condal, who showran and wrote Colony and was behind Amazon's recent attempt to bring a direct adaptation of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian stories to the screen, House of the Dragon delves deep into the history of House Targaryen, drawing on George R.R. Martin's 2018 book Fire and Blood. The series is expected to start off by focusing on the Dance of Dragons, the great civil war which wracked the house some 170 years before the events of the series, but given the title and scope of the series it could expand to incorporate other time frames.

HBO skipping the pilot stage in favour of a full series order is surprising, given their decision to cancel the first proposed spin-off, The Long Night, yesterday. However, The Long Night was commissioned under the previous regime at HBO. The new management seemed more lukewarm towards the project and were not impressed by the Jane Goldman-produced pilot episode. The tepid reaction to the White Walker storyline in Season 8 of Game of Thrones may have also played a role in the decision.

House of the Dragon will be a much more expensive series, focusing more on dragons and large-scale battles. To this end, veteran Game of Thrones "battle director" Miguel Sapochnik will co-produce and co-showrun the series alongside Ryan Condal.

House of the Dragon will shoot next year to debut in 2021 on HBO.

Tuesday 29 October 2019

GAME OF THRONES: THE DANCE OF DRAGONS gets official pilot order at HBO

As per Hollywood insider Michael Ausiello, HBO has low-key given a formal pilot order for a second Game of Thrones spin-off series. Earlier today it was confirmed that the first spin-off, The Long Night, had been dropped after an unsatisfying pilot was produced.

This second spin-off is based on the Dance of Dragons, the civil war within House Targaryen for control of the Iron Throne, set about 130 years before the events of Game of Thrones. Unlike The Long Night, which was a lower-budgeted character drama set in a much more primitive setting, The Dance of Dragons (not confirmed as the final title) will be a full-blown war epic, featuring pitched battles, political intrigue and several significant dragon-on-dragon battles and duels.

The new project draws heavily on Fire and Blood, George R.R. Martin's history of the early Targaryens, which was published in 2018. Ryan Condal (Colony) is serving as showrunner, executive producer and head writer on the new project, which is expected to shoot in 2020.

David Benioff & D.B. Weiss part ways with STAR WARS

In surprising news, former Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have parted ways from Lucasfilm after being announced as writing and possibly directing the next Star Wars movie after The Rise of Skywalker, due for release in 2022.

Benioff and Weiss signed with Lucasfilm and Disney eighteen months ago to develop a fresh Star Wars film series that would be set in a time and location far-removed from both the nine-part main "Skywalker Saga" and the stand-alone spin-offs. Director Rian Johnson is also developing a trilogy with an eye to setting up a new setting and cast of characters for the films. According to other reports, either setting may be a revamped version of the popular Knights of the Old Republic setting, with writer Laeta Kalogridis developing early concepts for the idea, including possible direct adaptations of the popular video games.

Benioff and Weiss's departure appears to be due to their massive $200 million development deal with Netflix for new TV series and projects. It is unclear what these new projects will be, or if the money was well-spent; Benioff and Weiss experienced a critical drubbing this week after an interview in which they seemed to suggest they didn't know what they were doing with Game of Thrones, ignored the primary themes of the novels and admitted they were more interested in adapting set-pieces and stand-out scenes than the story as a whole. Benioff and Weiss's former partners at HBO also seem to have distanced themselves from the producers, refusing to even bid with Netflix to retain their services, quietly dropping their Confederate TV pitch into a dumpster after the negative publicity it received and pivoting hard to supporting and working with George R.R. Martin on other projects.

The critical opprobrium and disdain may be overstated - Benioff and Weiss did bring the books to television and made it the most popular contemporary fantasy series in the world, as well as giving HBO it's biggest-ever TV hit - but it seems that the industry has certainly cooled towards the writing team who, just a couple of years ago, could do no wrong.

The news won't help the headaches over at Lucasfilm either, who have been experiencing a lengthy run of directors dropping out or even getting fired on Star Wars projects. They will now have to either accelerate plans for Rian Johnson's next Star Wars movie or they will have to find a new team to step into Benioff and Weiss's shoes to bring the next film to the screen.

GAME OF THRONES spin-off THE LONG NIGHT cancelled at HBO

In not-entirely-unexpected news, the Game of Thrones prequel spin-off series tentatively called The Long Night has been cancelled after the pilot stage.

The show, developed under the working title Bloodmoon, was set approximately 5,000 years before the events of Game of Thrones proper and would have explored the origins of the White Walkers, the titular Long Night (the generation-lasting ice age that plunged the world into darkness and almost certainly introduced the unusually long seasons) and the distant ancestors of the great houses from the main series, including the Starks. Executive produced by Jane Goldman, the pilot assembled an impressive cast led by Naomi Watts, Miranda Richardson and John Simm.

However, the lukewarm reception to the ending of Game of Thrones and, in particular, the critical disdain shown for the conclusion of the White Walker storyline may have affected HBO's plans. In addition, part of The Long Night's appeal was its relatively low budget compared to Thrones itself; it turns out that a low-fi show set in the ancient Bronze Age of Westeros may have been a little too unspectacular given HBO's recent spending spree on expensive, premium dramas such as Watchmen (which launched last week to critical and commercial praise) and Joss Whedon's upcoming The Nevers. According to Deadline, HBO's initial reaction to the pilot was lukewarm, and not improved by a re-cut version.

Although The Long Night is dead, HBO is proceeding with more Thrones material. A second pilot has been ordered from producer Ryan Condal, this time for a show set during the Dance of Dragons, the desperate civil war within House Targaryen that saw dragons fighting dragons in the skies of Westeros some 170 years before the main series. With many more recognisable families, locations and, of course, dragons, this series would seem to stand a much better chance of getting greenlit. The pilot will be shot next year.

Monday 28 October 2019

A History of Homeworld Part 4: The Guidestone

In this series celebrating the franchise's twentieth anniversary (and the recent announcement of Homeworld 3), I look at the background lore of the critically-acclaimed Homeworld series of video games.

The Guidestone, recovered from the Khar-Toba Observatory and providing a three-dimensional vector from Kharak to Hiigara.

The discovery of Khar-Toba changed Kushan overnight in fundamental ways. It proved that the Kushan people had once been far more advanced and powerful than they were now, and it provided tremendous backing to the Xenogenesis Theory.

With the defeat of the Gaalsien, who had been forced to scatter into the deep deserts, and the establishment of runways allowing relatively fast air transit to the northern cities, the scientific and engineering communities of the Coalition descended on the site. Soon it was abuzz with activity, the ancient city once against becoming inhabited after near three millennia of abandonment.

The wrecked spacecraft was not huge (although it was still many times larger than the largest object the Kushan had ever put into space), but the abandoned city of Khar-Toba was gargantuan. The site was unnaturally well-preserved. After three thousand years, the desert sands should have completely buried the site under metres of sand, but instead it remained open to the elements. Rachel S’jet, now a senior figure in the attempt to understand the site, attributed this to the same quantum force that had dragged alien spacecraft out of hyperspace and entombed them in solid rock.

Locating the source of the quantum interference was prioritised, but overlapping signals and the sheer size of the site made it impossible to find quickly. Early discoveries included ancient records and inscriptions that gave archaeolinguists a head start on decoding the languages of their ancestors, as well as rapid advances in metallurgy, engines and weapons gained from studying the Khar-Toba and the other wrecked ships discovered along the way, not to mention the now-disarmed orbital weapons platform.

Two years after the discovery of Khar-Toba, the explorers finally found the source of the quantum disturbance: a large piece of engineering technology. Oddly, it was not located in the ship’s own engineering or power system, but hidden in remote corner of what they believed was the ship’s hold. The artefact became known as a Hyperspace Core, and scientists and engineers alike were baffled by its fundamentals. But, gradually, they began to experiment with the Core and learned how to modulate its energies to open brief gateways into another dimensional realm, hyperspace, which could be used to circumvent the speed of light in normal space.

The Hyperspace Core and the ship’s great fusion power plant were both moved to Tiir, along with many of the most prominent artefacts of interest. After several years, the exploration of Khar-Toba fell to archaeologists alone, as the technological and scientific interest fell elsewhere. Exploring the ancient city proved challenging given the climactic conditions, especially since, with the removal of the Core, the site began to fall prey to the encroaching desert sands.

In 1135 KDS, twenty-five years after the city’s discovery, the archaeologist Mevath Sagald found inscriptions pointing to a location known as the “Observatory Temple.” The temple lay outside the city bounds of Khar-Toba, in an area buried under the sands, but careful excavations confirmed the presence of an underground structure. In the carefully-sealed inner chamber of the temple, she found a curious, large chunk of rock, sitting alone on a raised plinth. The rock had been smoothed over and chiselled into. Carved into its face was a map of the entire galaxy. A line extended from a position on the outer spiral arms, representing Kharak, to one near the Galactic Core. Numbers along the line provided three-dimensional vector coordinates. Next to that dot was inscribed one word in the ancient Kushan tongue: “Hiigara.”


The Scaffold in Kharak orbit.

The Project

Mevath Sagald presented the Guidestone to a stunned meeting of the Daiamid, the ruling council of the Northern Coalition (by now, the de facto government of the entire planet of Kharak). The Guidestone was subjected to scans and tests confirming it was more than three thousand years old and made of a form of rock completely unlike anything on Kharak. The Guidestone swept away the last vestiges of doubt: the Kushan people had originated on another planet, Hiigara, and had come to Kharak for reasons unknown. With Kharak three centuries away from being unable to sustain Kushan life (and that was being generous), they had both the means to escape the planet and directions to follow.

In 1155 a global plebiscite was held to decide what to do with the information. With the knowledge that Kharak was dying, the result was almost unanimous: the kiithid of Kharak would join forces as never before to build a large starship capable of making the journey to Hiigara. The ship was to ascertain the status of Hiigara and then, if circumstances permitted, begin a planetary evacuation.

For four years, the greatest engineering and scientific minds on Kharak met to plan the expedition and design the ship. Using the latest scientific advances gleaned from the wreck of the Khar-Toba, they were able to make firm plans for a huge vessel, kilometres tall and capable of holding hundreds of thousands of people in cryo-stasis. As technological understanding of the technology from the Khar-Toba site – particularly the invention of Phased Dissembler Arrays (PDAs), which made stripping resources from asteroids and reconstituting them into manufactured goods possible in just hours – grew, so the plans for the ship grew more ambitious.

In 1159 the design for the ship, to be known as the Mothership (the Daiamid failing to agree on a more artistic name), was finalised. But before construction could begin, the resources needed for the project needed to be amassed (which took twenty years by itself) and a massive construction space station, the Scaffold, needed to be assembled (which took another ten years).

In time, the cryo-stasis technology needed to take the population to Hiigara was also perfected. The plan was for the Mothership to be large enough to take half a million people in each trip, but for the ship to be large enough to hold the required living quarters and food for so many people, it would be too big to actually move. Instead, the people would go into stasis and be backed into the ship in tight racks which would allow them to be moved en masse. To test the technology, pilot Rei Magann was placed in stasis and his ship was set on a six-month circular flight path around the Kharakian system. At the end of the journey he was revived with no ill effects (other than some vivid dreams).

Support vessel Khar-Selim.

By 1204 KDS construction of the Mothership was well underway. The Gold List, a list of candidates for the first, pathfinding mission to Hiigara, had been assembled. Six hundred thousand people were on the list – none under the age of 17 and none over the age of 50 – and began entering cryo-stasis a full dozen years before the estimated date of launch. Two years later, the support vessel Khar-Selim left Kharak on a ten-year voyage to the outer system, with the plan being to rendezvous with the Mothership when it undertook its first hyperspace test flight and make sure the hyperdrive was working properly.

Of all the pieces in this immense puzzle, the Hyperspace Core caused the engineering and scientific teams the most consternation. The artefact was immeasurably ancient, apparently even at the time of the founding of Khar-Toba, but still seemed to be operating at maximum efficiency. Even after ninety years of testing, its properties and underlying principles were only vaguely understood. It was known that to function at its full potential – which would allow it to traverse the entire width of the galaxy, more than 125,000 light-years in a single jump – would require vastly more power than the Mothership was remotely capable of generating. After a great detail of work, the Kushan were able to deliver enough power for it to operate at 2% of its total potential, allowing the Mothership to jump 2,500 light-years each time, although the Mothership was required to recharge the system afterwards.

Another problem was that the Mothership was so immensely complex that even the most advanced computer systems on Kharak were unable to process the vast amounts of data pouring through the system. To avoid information paralysis, a direct neural interface was built and a human brain was connected directly to the system. Karan S’jet, a neuroscientist and one of the greatest minds of her generation, volunteered for the procedure and was directly connected to the Mothership Core, becoming Fleet Command.

As the Mothership drew near completion, so attention turned to the prospect of the voyage itself. More than 50,000 people would crew the Mothership during the voyage, from fighter pilots to potential capital ship crews to engineers to medics. The existence of numerous wrecked ships across the Great Banded Desert has been classified by direct order of the Daiamid, but it confirmed the existence of alien life. Some of these ships, such as the one at Torin Crater, were heavily armed, suggesting these aliens might be hostile. As a result, the Mothership was also designed to defend itself from possible attack.

Technical readout and specifications of the Kushan Mothership (source).

The Mothership itself was equipped with point defence weapons (mostly built around mass-driver principles), but to defend the ship it was decided a fleet of ancillary vessels was required, including fighters and frigates. Massive PDAs were built which could assemble capital ships as required, as long as they were fed with resources. The Mothership wasn’t just a colony ship, but a mobile shipyard and a flagship as well.

Some in the Daiamid voiced concerns that, without the Hyperspace Core providing its protective shield around the entire system, Kharak would now be open to potentially hostile ships arriving in orbit. As a result, an elaborate orbital missile defence system and orbiting fighter squadrons were also built.

The Guidestone provided a three-dimensional vector to a spot near the Galactic Core, but the precise location of the Homeworld was still ambiguous, not helped by over three thousand years of galactic drift and rotation. The Guidestone provided the coordinates of a relatively small area which the Mothership would need to comb in search of Hiigara. It would be helped in this by the unique composition of the Guidestone itself, which would help narrow down its system of origin.

Finally, in 1216 KDS, one hundred and six years after the discovery of Khar-Toba, the Mothership was completed. The 600,000 “sleepers” were loaded onto orbital cryo-trays, but these were not yet loaded onto the Mothership (for fear of a cataclysmic mistake which would destroy all of them). Instead, the Mothership was launched from the Scaffold, aligned on the beacon of the now-distant Khar-Selim, and made its first hyperspace test-jump.

The second the ship jumped, the hyperspace shield which had surrounded the Kharak system for three thousand years vanished, and the powerful surge of energy from the activation of the Second Core tripped a series of warning satellites surrounding the outer edge of the interdiction field, alerting the Taiidan Empire that the Kharak system was now vulnerable.

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THE WITCHER likely to hit Netflix on 17 December

Netflix have been pretty quiet about exactly when their TV adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski's Witcher novels is going to hit screens. A flurry of marketing activity last month pointed towards a mid-November launch but, if that was the case, clearly Netflix have changed their minds.

The new likely release date is 17 December. Netflix's official Dutch Twitter account inadvertently gave the game away and that's now been backed up by news that the show will have its official world premiere in London on 16 December.

It's a reasonable date, since the previous one looked like it was going to pitch The Witcher directly against the other big secondary world fantasy series of this year, His Dark Materials (which debuts on Sunday 4 November). Opening up a bit more of a gap between them is a reasonable move.

Season 1 of The Witcher is eight episodes long and adapts several short stories from the first two Witcher books, The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny, as well as adding some new material and setting up elements from later in the book series.

Sunday 27 October 2019

Blogging Roundup: 10 September to 27 October 2019

The Wertzone
First teaser released for COMMAND & CONQUER REMASTERED
Jared Harris to play Hari Seldon in Apple's adaptation of Isaac Asimov's FOUNDATION
RED DWARF TV movie commissioned for 2020
Live-action COWBOY BEBOP delayed by on-set injury
Apple TV+ to launch with Ronald D. Moore's new alt-history SF series
Jacqueline Carey's KUSHIEL series optioned by Lionsgate
LORD OF THE RINGS: THE SECOND AGE adds a new castmember
More WHEEL OF TIME casting news: two Cauthons and an Aybara
HOMEWORLD tabletop roleplaying game coming from Modiphius in 2020
You can buy the house where Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings
Production begins on Season 5 of THE EXPANSE
Production begins on COWBOY BEBOP live-action TV series
New trailers arrive for STAR TREK: PICARD, DISCOVERY and THE EXPANSE
Some more WHEEL OF TIME casting news
Red Dead Redemption 2 to hit PC in November as an Epic Store exclusive
Michael McElhatton cast in WHEEL OF TIME TV series
Filming of Terry Pratchett's THE WATCH begins
Netflix officially renews STRANGER THINGS for a fourth season
Games Workshop and Marvel join forces to make WARHAMMER comics
Suzanna Clarke's second novel to be published in 2020
Trailer for the BBC's THE WAR OF THE WORLDS released
THE WITCHER likely to hit Netflix on 8 or 15 November
Head of Marvel Studios to develop a STAR WARS movie
The world's greatest space combat sim is available for free
WHEEL OF TIME showrunner shares first picture from the set
Kate Elliott's BLACK WOLVES series dropped by publishers
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA reboot to be rebooted
Showtime passes on the KINGKILLER CHRONICLE TV series
HBO to order second GAME OF THRONES pilot about the Dance of Dragons
HIS DARK MATERIALS TV series to debut on 2 November
First cast picture of the WHEEL OF TIME TV series released
Alexander Skarsgard cast as Randall Flagg in Stephen King's THE STAND

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley
Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski
The Leftovers: Season 2
Community: Season 6
The Boys: Season 1
The Last Kingdom: Season 3
The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley
The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng
A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie
The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

SF&F Questions: What became of the Targaryen crowns in A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE?
A History of Homeworld Part 3: The Anomaly in the Desert
A History of Homeworld Part 2: The Exile
A History of Homeworld Part 1: The First Time
Happy 20th anniversary to SPACED
Gratuitous Lists: Ten Shows That SHOULD Be Rebooted
Updated timeline and map from Joe Abercrombie's FIRST LAW world
RIP Aron Eisenberg

Atlas of Ice and Fire
A New Map of Westeros
Stellar Cartography: HOMEWORLD

SF&F Questions: What Became of the Targaryen Crowns in A Song of Ice and Fire?
A History of Homeworld: The Guidestone
A History of Homeword: The Anomaly in the Desert
A History of Homeworld: The Exile
A History of Homeworld: The First Time
SF&F Questions: Does human religion still exist at the time of STAR TREK?


Adam's Wheel of Television: A Fandom Reborn
Adam's Wheel of Television: Table Reads & Crafty Castings
Adam's Wheel of Television: Shooting Begins...but where is the gleeman?

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs. The Cities of Fantasy series is debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read it there one month before being published on the Wertzone.

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

The Big Six - the mega-corporations that rule Earth - are at war with the colonists on Mars, who have rebelled and unleashed a horrendous attack on Earth that has devastated an entire city. Thousands of the young and dispossessed are recruited into the corporate armies and transported by FTL to Mars and other places on Earth to fight the enemy. But for one recruit, Dietz, the war they are fighting is not the same as everyone else. The jumps send Dietz backwards and forwards through the conflict at random, but the question is if they can change the future and stop the war?

If there's one constant about science fiction, it's the acknowledgement that in the future people will still have to go to war and fight wars of varying degrees of pointlessness. The weapons and technology may change but the horror and loss will remain the same. SF has a fertile backlog of novels which have looked at war through the prism of new technology: Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers (1959), Harry Harrison's Bill, the Galactic Hero (1965), Joe Haldeman's The Forever War (1974), Hiroshi Sakurazaka's All You Need is Kill (2004, filmed in 2014 as Edge of Tomorrow) and John Scalzi's Old Man's War (2005) are among the most notable. Each takes a different approach - Harrison's is satirical, Haldeman's is tragic - to the same basic idea of people fighting and dying for causes both noble and foolish.

The Light Brigade is Kameron Hurley's contribution to this subgenre. It is her second stand-alone SF novel (after the fine The Stars Are Legion) and the first which moves away from seeking out brand new ideas and settings to adopting a more classic SF approach.

The result is an unbounded triumph. The Last Brigade is Hurley's finest novel to date, a fast-moving, intelligent science fiction war story that reflects on the pointlessness of war, the evils of unflinching jingoism and the cynicism of corporate culture. It's also a remarkable character piece, all the more remarkable because the book hides a lot about its protagonist, peeling back the layers one light-jump at a time as we learn more about them and the war as they are experiencing it.

As with her previous work, this is a book that feels angry, with the characters trapped in situations beyond their control and trying to find a way out. Dietz is resourceful, courageous and occasionally hot-headed (although not as much as some of Hurley's previous protagonists) and as bewildered as the reader at what is going on, and it's interesting to see the character putting the pieces together at the same time the reader does. The reader comes to understand the story even as Dietz does, and also understands their own nature.

The book is fast-paced, with a relentless pace, but which also breaks up the action into distinct episodes as Dietz finds themselves in a new time period and has to work out how events in this time period are relating to those previously experienced. The book asks some interesting questions about control and volition and the first half of the novel can feel a little passive, as Dietz is reactive to events, but this changes in the second half as Dietz is grounded in several of the time periods and is able to spend months at a time working on ideas to see if the future (or the past) can be changed. The result is that the book is thoughtful and action-packed by turns, with a strong ending that succeeds in making sense of all that came before.

The Light Brigade (*****) is a superlative SF novel of science and war and Kameron Hurley's finest novel to date. The book is available now in the UK and USA.

Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

Geralt, the witcher, continues his journey through the Northern Kingdoms. He kills dangerous monsters for coin but also finds his path entwining with that of the mighty, of powerful sorceresses, generals and kings. But his journey is also a circle, leading him back to a promise he exacted six years ago from the Queen of Cintra and a price he demanded, but is no longer sure he wants paid.

Sword of Destiny is the second book in the Witcher series, following on from The Last Wish. Like that book, this is a collection of short stories and novellas linked by Geralt and several other recurring characters, such as the bard Dandelion and the sorceress Yennefer, and also by a thematic element: the growth of Geralt as a character and the realisation that he has a destiny he is unsure he wants fulfilled but may not have any control over.

Several of the stories are concerned with Geralt's relationship with Yennefer, and the fact they love one another but also cannot be together, and how they both handle the issue. "A Shard of Ice" at first appears to be an amusing love triangle story, with Geralt and a sorcerer squaring off over Yennefer's favour, but it soon becomes powerfully bittersweet and even a little tragic. The opening story, "The Bounds of Reason," feels more like a traditional Geralt romp with the witcher called in to help neutralise the threat of a dragon, only to find matters complicated by politics.

"Eternal Flame" may be the most fun story in the collection and sees Geralt visit the great city of Novigrad and have to deal with a doppelganger. A smart and funny story, this is the one that arguably feels the closest to the video games, particularly The Witcher 3, which has a quest which is a direct sequel to this story. "A Little Sacrifice" is a story about mermaids and thwarted romance which takes an interesting turn towards the Lovecraftian and becomes one of the more foreboding stories in the series. "The Sword of Destiny" takes the witcher into Brokilon Forest and a confrontation with his destiny, the child Ciri who will become so important in the remaining books.

Arguably the highlight of the collection is the concluding story, "Something More," a disjointed story which unfolds in different time periods as Geralt recovers from a serious wound. The story jumps back and forth in time, revisits numerous characters, hints at Geralt's parents and history, and introduces the threat of the Empire of Nilfgaard and its first invasion of the Northern Kingdoms. A surprisingly lyrical and effective mood piece, this may be the best narrative Sapkowski has written to date, remarkable for its effectiveness despite its brevity.

The result is an extremely strong collection which develops the characters and world in tandem. There aren't many negatives, except that Sapkowski hails from the "make it up as you go along" school of worldbuilding, so the failure by anyone to mention the Nilfgaardians or their devastating war before the final story feels a bit odd. There are also issues with the translation: David French feels a lot stronger a translator than Danusia Stok (who translated the first and third books in the series), but there's occasional awkward phrasing, such as the use of the word "jacket" rather than a more era-appropriate alternative ("gambeson" seems to be a better choice), although this may also be seen as reflecting Sapkowski's preference for modern terms and language.

This is more than answered by the book's successful exploration of the overall themes of war, loss, romance and hope. Sword of Destiny (****½) is a surprisingly melancholy and thoughtful work which is a very rewarding read, and represents a big improvement over The Last Wish. It is available now in the UK and USA.

Thursday 24 October 2019

First teaser released for COMMAND & CONQUER REMASTERED

Electronic Arts and Petroglyph have released the first trailer for Command & Conquer Remastered, their remake of the first game in the Command & Conquer series.

The teaser confirms that this is going to be a deal like StarCraft Remastered, remaking the original game with somewhat higher-fidelity graphics and higher-quality audio but not touching the controls or user interface.

The current plans are to remake and release Command & Conquer and Command & Conquer: Red Alert, with their respective expansions included in the remastered releases. If those are successful, presumably the team will consider moving onto Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun (1999) and the 3D era of the franchise, which began with Command & Conquer: Generals (2002).

No release date has been set for the project, but it should be noted that September 2020 would mark the franchise's 25th anniversary and would be a logical time to release the game.

Tuesday 22 October 2019


Joseph Mawle has been cast as a villain in the upcoming Amazon fantasy TV series, The Lord of the Rings: The Second Age.

Mawle, best-known for playing Benjen Stark in HBO's Game of Thrones, will be playing a character named Oren. Oren appears to be the main protagonist, and will be opposed by Beldor (Will Poulter) and Tyra (Markella Kavenagh). Maxim Baldry is playing an undisclosed role.

Amazon have been playing the cards very close to their chest on the new Middle-earth series, which will certainly be the most expensive TV show ever made. It is known that the show will take place in the Second Age of Middle-earth, c. 5,000 years before the events of The Lord of the Rings, but its precise setting remains unclear.

Fans have speculated that the series will follow the story of the forging of the Rings of Power in the elven kingdom of Eregion and the subsequent rise to power of the mighty island kingdom of Numenor, but this remains unconfirmed.

Provisional shooting for the series is believed to have been undertaken already (to satisfy a contractual requirement for the series to be shooting before November) in New Zealand, with full production set to begin in spring 2020. The show is expected to shoot two seasons (possibly back-to-back), with the first to debut in 2021.

Jared Harris to play Hari Seldon in Apple's adaptation of Isaac Asimov's FOUNDATION

Apple+'s TV adaptation of Isaac Asimov's Foundation novel series is moving forwards with Chernobyl star Jared Harris in the lead role.

Jared Harris, also late of The Expanse and The Terror, is playing Hari Seldon. Seldon is the mathematician who creates psychohistory, a statistical formulation which allows for a modelling of future events by applying statistics to history. Seldon's idea is dismissed as nonsense except for the fact that one of its predictions is coming true: the Galactic Empire, which has endured for twelve thousand years, is showing signs of imminent collapse. According to Seldon's formula, humanity will be plunged into many millennia of darkness before it rises again. In desperation, a band of scientists and politicians create the Foundation, a body which will guide humanity out of the dark ages in a mere single millennia.

Lee Pace (The Hobbit) is playing Brother Day, the current Emperor of the Galactic Empire. Intriguingly, there is no such emperor during the Foundation novels; the emperor of Hari Seldon's time is Cleon II. This suggests that the adaptation will be a rather light one of the books, given the relative lack of continuing characters in the early volumes.

David Goyer (co-writer of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy) is the showrunner of the project. Production is set to begin soon for a late 2020 or (more likely) early 2021 debut.

SF&F Questions: What became of the Targaryen crowns in A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE?

After a discussion with ASoIaF superfan Nina, the question arose of what happened to the seven crowns of the Targaryen dynasty in A Song of Ice and Fire. This is an interesting question because at one time George R.R. Martin went into considerable detail about the crowns, but their eventual fates are largely a mystery. We can, however, come to some educated guesses about their fates.

The Seven Crowns
The sixteen ruling Targaryen kings (and one ruling queen, arguably) of Westeros wore seven crowns between them, as follows:

  1. Aegon I, Maegor I, Aegon II, Daeron I: a circlet of Valyrian steel embedded with square-cut rubies. Presumed lost or destroyed when Daeron I was cut down and killed during his attempt to retake Dorne.
  2. Aenys I: an elaborate and gaudy crown of gold. Not worn by any other king.
  3. Jaehaerys I, Viserys I, Rhaenyra: a simple gold band inset with seven gemstones. After Viserys I's death, the crown passed to his oldest child, his daughter Rhaenyra, but her younger half-brother Aegon II disputed the succession. Rhaenyra was forced to sell her crown at one point to buy passage on a Braavosi ship back to Dragonstone.
  4. Aegon III, Viserys II, Aegon V: A slender gold band with no ornamentation. This crown was lost in the Great Fire of Summerhall, where Aegon V lost his life and the summer palace of the Targaryens was burned to the ground in an ill-fated attempt to hatch dragon eggs.
  5. Baelor I: a simple crown of actual flowers and vines. Actually multiple crowns, probably renewed every day or two.
  6. Maekar I, Jaehaerys II: a crown of black iron and red gold, sharply pointed. This crown's fate is unknown; Jaehaerys II died of natural causes, so the crown was presumably retained in the Red Keep or on Dragonstone.
  7. Aegon IV, Daeron II, Aerys II: a huge and heavy crown made of red gold, each of its points a dragon's head with gemstone eyes. Worn reluctantly by Daeron II to make a point that he was his father's son, given that rumours of his true parentage dogged his life and triggered the civil war known as the Blackfyre Rebellion. This was also the crown of Aerys II, the Mad King, and fell from his head when Jaime Lannister slew him at the foot of the Iron Throne.

Fate of the Crowns
It should be noted that the ultimate, canonical fate of none of the crowns has been 100% firmly established in the books. However, we can make strong and educated guesses. The first crown was lost in Dorne and, as far as we know, was not returned to the Iron Throne when Dorne joined the realm. Given that Daeron I died in an ambush with a relatively small number of combatants, rather than the chaos of a full-scale battlefield, we can reasonably guess that the crown survived. Whilst it could have been knocked over a ravine or lost in some fashion, most likely it was recovered from the battlefield and secreted away, possibly by a common Dornish soldier but much more likely by a nobleman. The Martells having secured the crown and kept it hidden for generations is quite possible.

The second crown sounds quite hideous and the fact it was never worn against suggests it was probably melted down, broken up, sold or destroyed, possibly on Maegor the Cruel's orders.

The third crown was sold to a Braavosi merchant, so it was likely again broken up, sold on or destroyed for its parts.

The fourth crown's fate is the closest we have to being certain: it was likely utterly destroyed during the burning of Summerhall.

The sixth crown (the fifth doesn't really count, being effectively shrubbery) is the one most likely to have survived intact in the Red Keep or back on Dragonstone. Assuming Robert didn't destroy it, it may simply be on display somewhere, or locked in the treasury, or perhaps "liberated" by Varys for some future royal head?

The seventh crown was the one worn by Aerys II, the Mad King, and it was very likely destroyed by Robert Baratheon, who had a terrible hatred of the Targaryens in general and the Mad King in particular, and would have not let it survive as a symbol for Targaryen loyalists to rally around.

On this basis, both the first crown - the one worn by Aegon the Conqueror himself - and the sixth are likely to have survived in some fashion, and may yet find their way in the possession of a future claimant to the Iron Throne.

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RED DWARF TV movie commissioned for 2020

A two-hour Red Dwarf TV movie has been commissioned for release in 2020.

Red Dwarf is probably the longest-running sitcom in the world, in terms of the time from its commissioning without ever being formally cancelled: it was commissioned in 1987, aired its first two seasons in 1988 and its most recent season - its twelfth - in 2017. The show has also spun off a best-selling series of novels and a huge amount of merchandise.

Co-creator Doug Naylor spent many years during the show's longest hiatus (between its eighth season in 1999 and its ninth in 2009) working on a feature-length movie version of the story, several times bringing it close to filming only for funding to disappear. It is unclear if the new film is based on the same script.

The cast's growing age and commitments to other projects (which has frequently stymied reunion plans) has led to some speculation that this movie may mark the end of the Red Dwarf saga. This remains to be seen. For now, there will be some new Red Dwarf on screen in 2020.

Sunday 20 October 2019

The Leftovers: Season 2

On Departure Day - 14 October - 120 million people vanished with a trace, disappearing from all over the Earth. The people left behind are shellshocked, confused and mystified as to how it happened. But in one place it didn't happen at all. The town of Jarden, Texas did not lose a single person, which is statistically impossible for a town of its size. Now nicknamed Miracle, the town has become a mecca for the dispossessed, the grieving and the traumatised...including the Garvey family.

Season 2 of The Leftovers picks up a few months after the events of the first and throws a hard, hard curveball at the viewer. A large chunk of the regular cast have relocated over 1,500 miles from Mapleton, New York to Jarden, Texas. On first viewing this feels massively contrived, with the Garvey family, Nora, Matt and his still-comatose wife all finding reasons to make the move and less-interesting characters from Mapleton unceremoniously dropped. Once in Jarden the show also focuses on the Murphy family, who are undergoing their own woes and difficulties.

This shift in location is quite a lot to get used to, and at first it feels less like a continuation of the first season than the start of a spin-off series. However, we eventually touch base with Meg and the Guilty Remnant, what Tom and Jill are up to and a few more dangling storylines left unresolved from the first season, but it takes a while. One upshot of this is that rather than getting a few disconnected scenes with other characters in other places a few times per episode, we instead get a large, focused amount of time for these other characters instead, which makes the individual episodes stand out a bit more.

Instead the season introduces a new mystery: three young women, including one of the Murphys, disappears in the middle of an earthquake. The Garveys, who befriend the Murphys on their first day in town, help out in the search but subsequent events re-open old wounds in the family, particularly Kevin's tendency to go sleepwalking and "lose time." Other storylines involve the Murphys' own marital problems and how Matt is coping with the routine of looking after his wife.

In broad terms, the second season is certainly very strong, but it does suffer from several minor problems compared to the first. The complete change in setting means we spend several episodes spinning wheels a bit as the show has to introduce a new batch of supporting castmembers. Showrunner-writer Damon Lindelof also borrows a couple of tropes from his Lost playbook, most notably playing around with time and dedicating the second episode to showing the flipside of events in the first and then doing something completely different in the third episode. This means that we're four episodes into the season, almost halfway through, before the story starts moving forwards again.

Once the story does kick into a higher gear, it quickly becomes irresistible. The fifth episode, No Room at the Inn, is possibly the finest episode of the series so far, with an absolutely outstanding performance by Christopher Eccleston as Matt starts to lose his cool with his routine of looking after his wife and hoping for her recovery. Subsequent episodes (particularly the bizarre International Assassin) then take a step into the weird, spiritual and surreal, but the phenomenal performances anchor the story even as it takes a step further into the odd. The final two episodes then, rather smartly, bring together all the storylines from Season 2 and a few unresolved elements from Season 1 into a surprisingly effective and well-conceived grand finale.

The second season of The Leftovers (****½) starts slow and takes a while to circle around and get to its point, but when it does it suddenly becomes richly compelling television. It is available via HBO in the United States, but in the UK and other territories you're probably going to have look for an imported Blu-Ray set (the Scandinavian one is compatible with UK players) to get the show in HD.

Community: Season 6

Jeff Winger is firmly ensconced in his new role as a teacher at Greendale Community College, but times are changing. Shirley has moved away to look after her sick father and the college is still in danger of closure. The Save Greendale committee is reinforced by the arrival of consultant Frankie Dart and old-skool computer expert Elroy Patashnik, who have to help the few remaining old students save the day.

It's ironic, but also a relief that Community, a show which hovered perpetually on the edge of cancellation for its entire 110-episode run, was allowed to end on its own terms. The show had been picked up by Yahoo after NBC terminated it at the end of the fifth season and Yahoo were keen to allow it to continue for at least one more season, but showrunner Dan Harmon decided to quit whilst he was ahead. His reasoning was that too many of the original regular cast had left and the show was no longer working with the same energy.

This is clearly visible on-screen. Community now feels like a very different beast. Although many of the episode plots were driven by the antics of Jeff Winger, Senor Chang or the Dean's latest crazy college activity (all of which remain intact), in many ways it was Troy and Shirley who were the heart of the show. At least Troy got a farewell in Season 5 but Shirley's extremely abrupt between-season departure is clearly an unplanned event that left the writers reeling to try to overcome it, and they don't really succeed.

This is no slight against Paget Brewster (Frankie Dart) or Keith David (Elroy), who both do very good work. It's just that they're being held to the very high standards of the characters who came before them, who had an unmatched chemistry with the rest of the cast. A sense of continuity is also not maintained due to the inexplicable departure of both John Oliver and Jonathan Banks from the Season 5 recurring cast.

The result is a season of Community that feels like it's running a little with its wings clipped. Episodes are a little less inventive than previously and Abed particularly feels limited as a character, as he no longer has Troy to riff off. This is a shame because many of the episode ideas feel like vintage Community: Honda sponsoring a ridiculous number of product placements at the college, a suddenly-famous Chang leaving midway through Abed's video shoot (forcing him to recycle the same brief clips into an entire movie) and the revelation that the paintball game has not ceased as previous seasons indicated, but instead moved underground.

The show is still funny, there's still some laughs and some more emotional beats, but there's also a sense of unbalance, of something missing. This is a subdued version of Community, one that's certainly still worth watching and is still a lot of fun, but also not running with the energy of earlier seasons. One moment where the show does rise to the occasion is the finale, which is bittersweet, poignant and genuinely funny, whilst retaining the metacommentary creator Dan Harmon is best-known for.

Community's sixth and final season (***½) is available now in the UK and USA. The much-promised movie has, alas, not yet appeared.

The Boys: Season 1

Superheroes are real and have made the world a safer place...and a far more profitable one for their employers, Vought International. Hughie Campbell also learns how powerful that Vought can be after his girlfriend is killed in a collision with the super-speedster A-Train and they try to buy him off. Furious, he joins forces with vengeful vigilante Billy Butcher, who plans to expose the "supes" for what they are. Meanwhile, the gifted Annie January is offered the chance to join the biggest superhero team in the world, the Seven, but rapidly discovers that the real face of the superheroes is very different to the one they show the world.

The Boys is based on Garth Ennis's 2006-12 comic of the same name. The comic was a searing takedown of the superhero mythos. Ennis, rather infamously, is not a fan of superhero titles and feels that in a more realistic setting, superheroes would be corrupted by their power and lack of accountability, becoming indistinguishable from the villains. This resulted in a ruthless, morally ambiguous and at times shocking title that attracted considerable attention for both its violence and its clear hatred of the superhero genre.

The Amazon TV adaptation of the comic is, mercifully, not quite as dark and grim. There's still a lot of violence, shocking gore and unexpectedly unpleasant events, but the TV series is not quite as reliant on it as the comic could be. Instead, the TV show focuses more on characterisation and the exploration of its world through the dual POVs of Hughie (Jack Quaid) and Annie (Erin Moriarty), with a lot of useful exploration being provided by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) and Madelyn Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue) on both sides.

The cast is exceptional, with everyone delivering good work, especially Urban as he masterfully overcomes a genuinely dreadful British accent and Antony Starr as Homelander, this universe's equivalent of Superman (if Superman was suffering from a battery of truly worrying psychoses). Starr has a lot of different types of characteristics to play as Homelander undergoes a number of shifts in attitude and personality over the course of the season, and pulls them all off quite well.

The relatively modest episode count of eight episodes helps keep the story tight and focused, and the generous budget allows for some genuinely spectacular visual effects sequences. The Boys actually feels like a comic book TV show, unlike say the Netflix Marvel shows which felt like more ordinary TV shows which just happened to be based on comic books. There's also a dark sense of humour to the series, with the most outstanding sequence being one where Billy weaponises a super-powered baby to his own ends.

With high production values, a tight story focus and good performances, The Boys is never less than watchable. It does have some negatives, however. This is a relentlessly grim series, which is occasionally alleviated by the moments of dark humour but never for very long. The show is not just grim, it's cynical and it often feels like it's verging on the misanthropic, with almost every character revealed to be selfish, amoral, or even outright evil. There's also a glee to some of the character deaths and violence that feels unsettling. That certainly seems to be the intent, but it often verges into the gratuitous.

The show also suffers from comparison with its fellow Amazon superhero show, The Tick. The Tick actually did a lot of the same things - right down to its deconstructed failure of a Superman analogue and a corrupt superhero organisation - but did it with much more flair, genuine humour and optimism. If, as some may feel, Amazon had a choice between which of two graphic-novel-adaptations-helmed-by-a-former-Supernatural-writer to proceed with, the conclusion at the moment is that they probably chose the wrong one.

The first season of The Boys (***½) is impeccably produced, well-acted and with a strong narrative momentum. It's also so dark that at times it verges on the miserable, and its relentless cynicism and belief that almost all human beings are scum becomes wearying. It is available to watch now in the UK and USA.

Season 2 of The Boys recently finished shooting and will air on Amazon in 2020.

The Last Kingdom: Season 3

AD 899. King Alfred's health is failing and his grand vision to unify the seven kingdoms of England under Christian rule has not yet been fulfilled. His son Edward stands to inherit the throne of Wessex but he is callow and untested, and the troublesome Prince Athelwold is again pressing his claim to the throne. To secure his dynasty, Alfred asks his greatest warrior, Uhtred, to pledge his sword to Edward for life. Uhtred refuses, yearning to set out on his long-planned quest to retake his ancestral home of Bebbanburg. Their quarrel turns violet and Uhtred finds himself banished from the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms...just as the Danes prepare their boldest plan of attack yet, and seek his support.

The Last Kingdom is one of the most enjoyable programmes on air, a (mostly) historical romp through the life and times of Alfred the Great and his heirs, who seek to unify England as one kingdom whilst facing constant pressure from the heathen Danes. Bernard Cornwell's novels are great fun and the TV adaptation is mostly faithful, although occasionally compressing events or characters for clarity.

The third season loosely adapts the fifth and sixth books in the series, The Burning Land and Death of Kings, and follows an over-arcing plot where the various tensions between Alfred and Uhtred that have built up over the series explode, bringing them to blows and seeing Uhtred banished from his new home. Uhtred is ensnared in the machinations of the alleged sorceress, Skade, and is convinced to join an alliance of Danes against Alfred, to the disquiet of some of his men who are still loyal to Wessex. The result is ten episodes of political intrigue, action and character development as the various agendas of the factions involved are put into conflict.

For a show in its third year, The Last Kingdom still feels fresh and ambitious. The show has moved from the BBC to Netflix with a notable budget increase, so battles and sets are suddenly a lot bigger and more impressive than before. This is also why we get ten episodes this season rather than eight. The extra episode-per-book is a good idea, as it allows the story a bit more room to breathe. That fast and furious pace for the earlier seasons was good, but did sometimes feel a bit rushed. This time around, there is more time to digest what is going on. This is especially useful as the story is now unfolding on many fronts simultaneously, with Alfred, Uhtred, Beocca and Brida each getting a fair slice of the action.

The regular cast are on top form, with the show getting its finest dramatic moment when Alfred and Uhtred finally abandon their formal stations and speak honestly to one another about their interlocking lives and destinies. Alexander Dreymon and David Dawson do superb work in this sequence.

There are some weaknesses. The Skade storyline is somewhat dull, not helped by Thea Naess not being the strongest actor in the show's line-up, and it's somewhat merciful when it is resolved mid-season, allowing for a lot more interesting drama revolving around Uhtred and his torn loyalties in the build-up to the excellent season finale.

The third season of The Last Kingdom (****½) represents a show still on top form, with excellent writing, performances and better pacing than previous seasons. It is available to watch on Netflix now.

A fourth season recently finished filming and should air on Netflix in 2020.

Saturday 19 October 2019

Live-action COWBOY BEBOP delayed by on-set injury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 18 October 2019

Jacqueline Carey's KUSHIEL series optioned by Lionsgate

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

Art by Tran Nguyen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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