Wednesday 30 December 2020

Modipihius reveal FALLOUT tabletop RPG cover art and release window

Modiphius Entertainment has confirmed a release window for their long-gestating Fallout tabletop roleplaying game, based on the video game series from Interplay, Black Isle and Bethesda. The game will launch in Q2 2021 (April-June).

The tabletop game will use Modiphius' 2d20 game engine (used in other games such as their Star Trek and Dishonored RPGs) and will launch with a core book, dice set, GM toolkit and a collector's edition.

Modiphius are already publishing a Fallout tabletop wargame, Wasteland Warfare, which has a roleplaying-focused supplement. I imagine it will also be possible to use the Wasteland Warfare miniatures with the 2d20 roleplaying game.

Modiphius are readying to ship their Dune: Adventures in the Imperium RPG, which should hit shops by April. Later in 2021 they hope to release a Homeworld-based RPG as well, with rumours circulating that they are also working on an Elder Scrolls tabletop roleplaying game to accompany their Call to Arms miniatures line for that setting.

Ty Frank rules out a James S.A. Corey-penned continuation of A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE

Over on Twitter, Ty Franck, one-half of gestalt SF author James S.A. Corey (the creative team behind The Expanse) alongside Daniel Abraham, has ruled himself out from being involved in a continuation or conclusion of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.

The news is not entirely a surprise: Franck and Abraham are close friends and collaborators with Martin on other projects, and Martin has made it clear over the years that he plans to complete A Song of Ice and Fire himself, come what may, so they are respecting his wishes. However, some fans have expressed some hopes that, should the concluding volumes of the series continue to frustrate Martin's creative juices in a timely manner, he might consider bringing in other people to at least help map out a plan for him to execute.

This kind of collaboration has become commonplace in modern fantasy. Brandon Sanderson, who is writing both his own huge fantasy series with The Stormlight Archive (four of ten planned books completed after a decade) and a much larger multiverse of interconnected series, has a huge array of beta and gamma readers who provide detailed feedback, as well as various experts in fields like geography, geology and military tactics, whom Sanderson can call on for advice as needed. The two authors of the Malazan series, Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont, can call upon one another for plot or character advice. Before he died, Wheel of Time author Robert Jordan had a number of fellow writers and assistants (including his wife Harriet, who was also his editor and an editor on other fantasy series like The Black Company) he could call on for assistance when stymied by a story point.

In fact, Martin has already collaborated with Daniel Abraham to some degree on A Song of Ice and Fire. In 2005, when the manuscript for the fourth book had ballooned out of control, it was Abraham who sat down with Martin, assessed the situation and recommended pulling the completed story arcs out of the manuscript to create a smaller fourth book focused on one geographical area. This led to the splitting of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. Although not a universally satisfactory or popular decision, it did at least clear the logjam at that point and allowed the series to continue (although other logjams did emerge later on). In more recent years, Abraham has been working on the graphic novel adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire and has received some information from George about the planned ending to the books so he knows what novel stories he needs to follow closely and which can be jettisoned for clarity.

Martin himself has also reversed his once-firm stance that he would not create outlines to follow, feeling that they inhibit the spontaneity and invention of writing. In 2013 he sat down with Dan Weiss, David Benioff and Bryan Cogman to create an outline of the rest of the saga that could be used in crafting an ending to the TV show Game of Thrones (it remains unclear to what extent this outline was followed in crafting that ending, with Benioff and Weiss confirming a number of story points were 100% their invention whilst others came from Martin). Whilst that outline was oriented around the TV show (so probably doesn't address the facts of characters the show had already decided to ignore, like Arianne or Aegon the Maybe-Pretender or Jon Connington), it does mean that some forethought has gone into the ending.

Franck's statement indicates that at one point, he and Abraham would have considered working on such a project - only with Martin's express permission, approval and consent, obviously - but that has now past. 

GRRM's highly reasonable response to questions over his mortality.

Of course, the question has also arisen in the event that Martin suffers Early Existence Failure before the series ends. Martin considers - quite rightly - the question to be gauche and in bad taste. He has indicated that currently his estate is under firm instructions not to let anyone else finish the series, especially after seeing what happened to his friend Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber sequence when another writer decided to pen a subpar continuation of the series (not to mention the fate of Frank Herbert's Dune series, which some feel has been demeaned by the addition of poorly-conceived and badly-written prequels and sequels). He has, however, expressed admiration for the work of the late Christopher Tolkien, who spent many long years carefully presenting J.R.R. Tolkien's complete and incomplete manuscripts about Middle-earth, with editorial commentary.

Martin began writing A Song of Ice and Fire in the summer of 1991, publishing the first three volumes in relatively short order: A Game of Thrones in August 1996, A Clash of Kings in October 1998 and A Storm of Swords in August 2000. The pace of publication has since slowed, with A Feast for Crows following in 2005 and A Dance with Dragons in 2011. The sixth and penultimate volume, The Winds of Winter, is currently underway (and with recent positive and encouraging updates about progress) but with no release date set. Martin has also produced three novella prequels to the series: The Hedge Knight (1998), The Sworn Sword (2002) and The Mystery Knight (2010), and the novel-length history tome Fire and Blood (2018), as well as co-writing companion volume The World of Ice and Fire (2014).

The fifth season of the TV series based on James S.A. Corey's The Expanse is currently airing on Amazon Prime. The ninth and final novel, in the Expanse novel series, Leviathan Falls, is due out next year.

Tuesday 29 December 2020

BABYLON 5 joins HBO Max in the US on 26 January

Classic science fiction series Babylon 5 will join HBO Max in the USA on 26 January.

The show has bounced around several different streamers in the last few years, most recently finding a home on Amazon Prime before being pulled a year ago. It's unclear if this version of the show will be the somewhat-nominally "remastered" version that's been cropping up on paid services recently, but it seems likely.

I have a recommended viewing order here for those planning to jump on the show for the first time.

Friday 25 December 2020

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS movie to start shooting in old GAME OF THRONES studios in the new year

The long, long-gestating new Dungeons & Dragons film is to start shooting in the Titanic Studios (aka Paint Hall Studios) in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the new year.

Paramount have leased the facility as the primary production base for the film, which will presumably also avail itself of the local impressive scenery. Obviously it's not the first fantasy project to be filmed at the studios. In July-November 2009 it played host to the best-forgotten fantasy comedy Your Highness, and from October 2009 all the way to July 2018 the studio served as the primary production base for HBO's Game of Thrones. A pilot for a proposed spin-off show was also shot there in 2019, but HBO elected to drop that project in favour of another idea, House of the Dragon, which is instead using the Warner Brothers Studio at Leavesden, outside London.

Plans to make a new D&D movie have been underway at Hasbro for a decade, with multiple studios, writers and directors involved at different times, as well as a punishing legal battle. With all the obstacles removed, the film now looks set to genuinely start shooting early next year, presumably to debut in 2022 or 2023.

The film is written and will be directed by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Game Night). Chris Pine is in talks to star.

Tuesday 22 December 2020

HIS DARK MATERIALS renewed for a third and final season

The BBC and HBO have confirmed that His Dark Materials will be returning for a final season.

The news came after the finale for the second season aired, which engendered a largely positive critical reception but a more mutated commercial one. First-night viewing figures in the USA were half what they were for the first season, although UK figures broadly held firm. However, it appears that HBO regards a complete package as a more valuable and appealing property in the long run. Given the nature of the project as a co-production, and its relatively low budget compared to most HBO properties, the financial outlay was seen as worthwhile in return for a complete story.

The third season will adapt the third book in the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, the longest and most ambitious of the novels, and sees Lord Asriel and his army of misfits and rebels mounting their offensive against the Authority and its servants, the Magisterium.

Early development work on a third season has been underway for months, with the plan being for the season to consist of eight episodes, six of which have already been fully written by Jack Thorne. An idea floated much earlier in development, of adapting the final novel across two seasons to help offset vfx costs, has apparently been abandoned.

Dafne Keen, Amir Wilson, Ruth Wilson and James McAvoy are expected to return for the final season.

Philip Pullman is currently writing the third and concluding novel in The Book of Dust, a sequel trilogy to His Dark Materials (following on from La Belle Sauvage and The Secret Commonwealth). Some elements from the sequel trilogy have been brought into the TV series, with the possibility of them being more formally adapted at a later date.

Monday 21 December 2020

His Dark Materials: Season 2

Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry, both citizens of Oxford but in different worlds, meet in an abandoned city alien to them both. They find respite from their individual travails, but their journey is not yet done. Destiny guides them to an encounter with the mysterious Subtle Knife, which has the power to change the fates of universes, but the Magisterium and the enigmatic Ms. Coulter are on their trail.

The first season of His Dark Materials was a reasonably solid adaptation of Philip Pullman's novel Northern Lights (retitled The Golden Compass in the US). It took advantage of its eight-hour running time to deliver a more in-depth, thoughtful and resonant version of the story than the perfunctory 2007 movie, although it may have also had a little bit too much time, with some issues with pacing. The season also suffered from a surprisingly subdued performance by Dafne Keen as the spirited Lyra (a problem of direction, not the actress, it should be emphasised) and a distinct lack of daemons in scenes which should have had lots of them in evidence.

Season 2 is an improvement on every single level. With seven episodes to adapt the second book in the trilogy, The Subtle Knife, the pacing is punchier and works better. Keen is more energetic and more in keeping with the Lyra from the books, and the show is positively awash with daemons when necessary. HBO came on board the project whilst the first season was filming, so it looks like their cash injection helped the second season overcome some of the budgetary constraints that were a little more evident in the first season (despite reports of this being one of the most expensive BBC dramas ever made). 

The second season is also more expansive. As well as the main story being more evenly split between Lyra and Will, there's also hefty storylines for Lee Scoresby, the witches, Ms. Coulter, the Magisterium leaders back on Lyra's world and dark matter scientist Dr. Mary Malone. The sense of scope and scale is matched by the production values, which convincingly depict multiple worlds and the action transpiring in them, and the superb set design for the city of Cittagàzze.

Some complaints may be unavoidable ones from the book: the abrupt jettisoning of much of Season 1's supporting cast feels a little jarring (especially the near-total absence of Asriel), and Pullman's intellectual approach and thematic ideas sometimes makes this a story more told from the head than the heart. But the escalating tension and increasing ruthless streak (especially from Ms. Coulter) also make the season more tense and unpredictable, at least to those who have not read the books.

The second season of His Dark Materials (****½) improves over the prior outing on almost level, being more epic, better-written and more impressive in scale and scope. It is available to watch via the BBC iPlayer in the UK and HBO in the United States.

A third season, depicting the final book in the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, is in the planning stages but has not yet been greenlit.

Saturday 19 December 2020

Neil Gaiman to write a story for THE LAST DANGEROUS VISIONS

J. Michael Straczynski has confirmed that Neil Gaiman is the first current author to pen a story for the release version of The Last Dangerous Visions, Harlan Ellison's long, long-gestating anthology project.

As discussed previously, The Last Dangerous Visions was the third in a series of anthologies Ellison planned to publish in the 1970s, as the ultimate word on the scale and scope of the SFF field at the time. The project was immensely delayed, ballooning to enormous size, and eventually seems to have been shelved, although Ellison vowed to eventually release it. After his passing in 2018, the project was taken up by Straczynski, now serving as the executor of the Ellison Estate.

The project has been somewhat reconceived (in line with Ellison's oft-stated intentions) with the idea to include a number of new stories by modern authors in the contemporary SFF field, along with up-and-comers and even one debut author. The project is planned to be submitted for publication in 2021.

Straczynski is providing additional information on the project over on his Patreon page.

Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman end legal case against Wizards of the Coast, promising "exciting news"

Dragonlance authors Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman have ended their legal case against Wizards of the Coast. The two authors were suing the company for $10 million for breach of contract after attempting to terminate a book deal for a new Dragonlance trilogy when the authors had already completed almost half the work.

Legal filings confirm that Weis and Hickman themselves ended the case and on Twitter, Weis promises "exciting news in the weeks to come." From the tone of this, it sounds like an amicable settlement has reached and the project will likely see print after all.

Confirmation of that news when it is confirmed.

AVENGERS: ENDGAME writers and directors teaming with STRANGER THINGS star for THE ELECTRIC STATE

Joe and Anthony Russo are re-teaming with Marvel writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely to produce a film based on Simon Stålenhag's book, The Electric State. Stranger Things actor Millie Bobby Brown is to star.

Simon Stålenhag is a Swedish artist who rose to fame with his atmospheric paintings merging 1980s nostalgia and hard-edged SF technology, forming a coherent universe in the art books Tales from the Loop (2014) and Things from the Flood (2016). This universe was adapted for television by Amazon earlier this year, and is also the source of a popular roleplaying game.

The Electric State (2018) takes place in a new setting and follows a young girl and her robotic companion traversing the fictional, near-future, somewhat post-apocalyptic state of Pacifica. It's not a novel as such, instead telling the story through static pictures. This gives the adapting team a lot of leeway in how to translate the images to the screen.

Joe and Anthony Russo are, of course, the directing team behind Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, The Avengers: Infinity War and The Avengers: Endgame. Markus and McFeely are the writers of the same films. Universal are producing the film with a guaranteed theatrical debut.

Star Wars: The Mandalorian - Season 2

The Mandalorian has reluctantly embraced his new role as the guardian of "the Child," a youngster belonging to the same species as Jedi Master Yoda. Deciding he needs to track down the Jedi to return the Child to them, he embarks on a journey across the galaxy, encountering allies new and old and enemies familiar and unfamiliar. His epic quest will lead him to a fateful meeting with former Jedi padawan Ahsoka Tano, agents of the New Republic and soldiers of the Imperial Remnant. However, his movements are being tracked by Moff Gideon, who seeks the Child for his own ends.

The first season of The Mandalorian was a winner, an epic space Western playing out on different planets which tapped into the soul and spirit of Star Wars in a manner not seen in live action for many years. Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, veterans of the Star Wars animated series The Clone Wars and Rebels, successfully delivered a series of episodes full of action, adventure, warmth, wit, character and, in the form of "Baby Yoda," even charm.

Following up on that breakout season was always going to be tough and the second season of The Mandalorian at times struggles with the format. With Season 1 ramping up from an episodic format at the start of the season to a more serialised feeling at the end, Season 2 reverting to a more monster/planet/villain-of-the-week format for its first few episodes feels a tad jarring. Fortunately these episodes are pretty good: Mando and Cobb Vanth (Deadwood and Justified's Timothy Olyphant) teaming up to take down a krayt dragon and Mando teaming up with Bo-Katan Kryze of Mandalore (Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff) to take out an Imperial enemy. An intermediary episode, where the Mandalorian and a random alien frog get stuck on an ice planet full of ice spiders, is weird but somewhat amusing (and gives us some solid X-wing action).

The back half of the season is really strong though. Things kick off with the long-expected debut of Rosario Dawson in the fan-favourite animated role of Ahsoka Tano in a gripping, strongly Kurosawa-influenced tale of confrontation and conflict (with some stunning individual images). Things continue with the Mandalorian forming an unholy alliance with Boba Fett (a returning Temuera Morrison from the prequel movies) and reteaming with Season 1's Migs (Bill Burr) to infiltrate an Imperial base, before an all-action finale awash with cool moments and character cameos.

The Mandalorian's strength so far has been tapping into George Lucas's original idea of Star Wars as a series of matinee pulp adventures and delivering that to the hilt. Performances are solid (especially Pedro Pascal as the taciturn hero), the visual effects among the finest ever created for television and the sense of pacing is strong. Quite a few episodes of The Mandalorian come in at well below the traditional 60 minutes (some scraping in at around 35 minutes), and although more would be nice, it's hard to deny the relentless, fierce sense of purpose this gives the show.

The finale also gives a nice moment of closure to the story that began in the debut episode of the series. Clearly, the adventures of the Mandalorian will continue (a third season has been confirmed, and three direct spin-off shows focusing on the New Republic, Ahsoka and Boba Fett are in the planning stages) but this first storyline is now given a reasonably satisfying sense of closure.

The second season of The Mandalorian (****½) continues in much the same vein as the first, delivering an adrenalin shot of pure Star Wars action right to the heart. It is available to watch worldwide now on Disney+.

STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS to arrive in the UK on 22 January

Animated series Star Trek: Lower Decks will arrive in the UK on Amazon Prime on 22 January.

The animated show launched in the USA in August, but its release was brought forwards due to scheduling issues with the COVID-19 pandemic and the decision to delay the third season of sister show Star Trek: Discovery. As a result, negotiations for the show's overseas sales had not been undertaken.

After negotiations and discussions with several partners following the show's highly positive reception, Amazon Prime agreed to pick up the show as a companion piece to Star Trek: Picard. The classic Star Trek shows and Discovery all air on Netflix in the UK and most other overseas territories.

In addition to the UK, Amazon Prime have picked up the rights for Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and India.

Season 2 of Lower Decks is due to air in the US, and now presumably overseas via Amazon Prime, in 2021.

Friday 18 December 2020

SF&F Questions: Do the new STAR TREK shows really take place in the Prime Timeline?

Star Trek is one of the most popular and prolific live-action science fiction franchises of all time, spanning some 795 episodes (as of January 2021) across nine distinct television series (with three more in pre-production) and thirteen theatrical movies. Entering production in 1964, the franchise is the work of hundreds of writers, directors and actors. Unsurprisingly, ensuring a consistent, coherent canon and vision for the Star Trek universe that respects its immense backstory whilst also being accessible for new fans has proven extremely difficult.

In particular, there was a significant “break” in production between the final season of Star Trek: Enterprise airing in 2005 and J.J. Abrams’ movie Star Trek being released in 2009, with a new cast replacing the original actors and a new timeline – the Kelvin Timeline – being created for this series of films to take place in. When Star Trek: Discovery began airing in 2017, the creators officially stated that their new series was taking place in the original or “Prime” Timeline. However, very quickly they began making changes in the areas of visual design, continuity and backstory that seemed to contradict this. Even casual viewers who didn’t pay close attention to such things were confused as to where and when the show was taking place. The question is therefore worth asking, do the new Star Trek shows really take place in the Prime Timeline, given the evidence to the contrary?

Left: a Klingon based on the designs used between The Motion Picture (1979) and the conclusion of Star Trek: Enterprise (2005). Right: the Discovery version of what is apparently the exact same species.

Word of God

This is pretty straightforward. Alex Kurtzman is the executive producer of the new wave of Star Trek shows, which includes the in-production Discovery, Picard and Lower Decks (plus their associated Short Trek stand-alone minisodes), as well as the in-pre-production Section 31, Prodigy and Strange New Worlds. He is the effective successor to Gene Roddenberry (the creator of Star Trek and showrunner of the original series and the first season of The Next Generation) and Rick Berman (who oversaw all the shows produced between 1987 and 2005). Kurtzman has unequivocally started all of these shows take place in the Prime Timeline, the same timeline that The Original Series, The Animated Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise took place in.

Some evidence backing this up has been shown. Picard was presented as a direct sequel to both The Next Generation and Voyager, featuring characters and actors from both shows and some flashbacks to events in those shows. Discovery used shots from The Original Series in a “story so far” sequence, and featured scenes from a Next Generation episode as a historical recording in its third season. Lower Decks has featured characters from the earlier shows, such as Q, Captain Riker and Counsellor Troi, voiced by the original actors.

So, the official word is simple: the new shows are set in the Prime Timeline. There is, however, significant evidence that disputes this.

The Discovery iteration of the Constitution-class starship is 432.9 meters in length, some 50% larger than the 288.6 meters of the Constitution-class in prior incarnations of Star Trek, despite this supposedly being the exact same ship that appeared in the Original Series.

Contrary Evidence

The amount of contrary evidence is impressive:

The Starfleet of 2256 exhibits significant technological superiority to not just that of 2266, as depicted in The Original Series, but even the 2360s and 70s as presented in TNG, DS9 and Voyager. Most controls involve holographic interfaces, communications are accomplished by holographic projection, and forcefields are rigid, constantly-visible structures. Federation starships of the era are significantly larger and faster than their Original Series counterparts (even ostensibly of the same class, with Discovery's version of the Constitution-class being 50% larger than the TOS version), with far larger rooms. Klingon vessels show extreme variants from their Original Series versions (although designs more faithful to TOS do start appearing in the second season). Federation shuttles now seem capable of high warp speed, unlike their TOS counterparts which required special “warp sleds” to travel at moderate warp velocities. The USS Discovery itself sports a “spore drive” allowing instantaneous travel anywhere in the Milky Way Galaxy, a drive far more advanced than anything seen in previous series where it took (circa Voyager) a year to travel 1% of the diameter of the galaxy.

On a character level it is revealed that Spock has an adopted human sister, Michael Burnham, who has not previously been mentioned in any prior iteration of the franchise despite playing a significant role in events, including sparking a war with the Klingons.

In the most notable difference, the design of the Klingons has been radically changed, with the Klingons now sporting immense curved skulls completely different in shape and size to anything seen before, and most of them are hairless (although there are some attempts in Discovery’s second season to change this, with some shown growing hair). The Klingons show a distinctly different attitude to honour and glory than their previous incarnations.

In another notable difference, the Constitution-class USS Enterprise NCC-1701 which appears in Discovery’s second season and is due to return in Strange New Worlds features significant design differences from both the original starship as it appeared in TOS, TAS and the refitted version from the films, including being half again larger. Confusingly, flashback material to the TOS pilot episode The Cage, which takes place two years before Discovery (and eleven years before the rest of TOS), depicts the original Enterprise, suggesting on a literal level that the starship was heavily modified and increased in size before its appearance in Discovery and will, at some point, be heavily modified back again, which I think we have to assume is not the case.

Supporting In-Show Evidence

In Star Trek: Discovery’s third season, the “Kelvin Timeline” of the three J.J. Abrams-produced movies (Star Trek, Into Darkness and Beyond) is specifically identified as an alternate timeline completely separate from the Prime Timeline which the other shows take place in. This appears to be an attempt by the writers to put the issue to bed. In addition, Discovery’s third season also depicts the planet Vulcan as still being extant but the planet Romulus having been destroyed, whilst in the Kelvin Timeline the status of the two planets has been flipped (Vulcan is destroyed and it is implied that the Romulans, forewarned of the destruction of their world by the Hobus Supernova in the Prime Timeline, will be able to save their world).

It would appear that the combination of in-show evidence and the “word of God” of the showrunners places the new Trek shows firmly in the original Prime Timeline, despite the significant evidence to the contrary.

The Guardian of Forever, one of several entities capable of changing time and history.

A Brief Guide to Time Travel in the Star Trek Universe

This, however, is not necessarily a contradiction. In fact, repeated and well-established precedent in Star Trek has the existence of parallel universes and alternate timelines being a relatively rare phenomenon in that setting. The Original Series introduced the Mirror Universe as an alternate timeline which it was possible to travel to and then back again, an idea revisited in Deep Space Nine and Enterprise. The Next Generation episode Parallels then confirmed the existence of a multitude of parallel universes, formed by branching decisions and alternate events playing out to that in the Prime Timeline. The Kelvin Timeline is yet another parallel universe, believed to have been created by the travelling of a Romulan mining ship into the past (although given that significant changes to the timeline had already occurred by the time of the mining ship’s arrival, such as Federation starships like the USS Kelvin showing differing designs and being much larger than ships in the Prime Timeline, it has been argued that the Romulans and later Ambassador Spock had merely travelled to a pre-existing reality, reached only due to the deployment of red matter).

However, virtually every other episode of Star Trek featuring time travel does not involve a parallel universe or splinter timeline being created. Instead, the Prime Timeline itself is dynamically rewritten to take account of the changes. There are almost too many examples of this to list, but a short number of highlights follows:
  • The Allies failing to win WWII and never achieving interstellar flight capability due to the success of Edith Keeler in keeping the USA out of the Second World War, instead of being killed in a car crash in 1930. When Keeler’s death as reinstated in the timeline, history returned to normal (TOS: The City on the Edge of Forever).
  • When the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-C was removed from the timeline and transported forwards twenty-two years, it dynamically re-shaped history to plunge the Federation into a war with the Klingons which it was losing. When the Enterprise-C returned to its own time, saving a Klingon outpost from Romulan attack and inspiring the signing of a new peace treaty, the timeline dynamically reverted to its prior configuration (TNG: Yesterday’s Enterprise).
  • During an accidental sojourn to the year 2024, the crew of the USS Defiant were inadvertently responsible for the premature death of Gabriel Bell, who was supposed to be killed by police forces, triggering riots which would result in one of the world’s biggest, sweeping social justice reforms. Bell’s premature death caused alterations to the timeline causing the Federation to cease to exist. Captain Sisko impersonated Bell and falsified information to show he had been killed, causing the timeline to return to normal (DS9: Past Tense).
  • Captain Sisko’s death in a warp core overload caused the future history of the Alpha Quadrant to play out extremely differently; fifty years later, his son Jake found a way of reversing the overload and allowing his father to survive. Sisko’s presence caused history to unfold very differently (including apparently the Dominion War, which did not take place in the previous iteration of the Prime Timeline). This is unusual in being a reset or permanent change to the Prime Timeline overwriting the original and being allowed to stand, rather than being reverted (DS9: The Visitor).
  • The Borg launched a massive assault on Earth but were halted when their main ship was destroyed by a Starfleet battle group. At the last moment a secondary Borg vessel travelled back in time to 2063 to halt First Contact between Earth and Vulcan, and call in the Borg of that time to assimilate both worlds. This resulted in the Prime Timeline dynamically shifting to a state where Earth and the entire Federation were overrun by Borg. The USS Enterprise-E travelled back to 2063 and destroyed the Borg incursion, once again resetting the timeline to its former state (Star Trek: First Contact).
  • The USS Voyager, lost in the Delta Quadrant, returned to Earth after twenty-three years. Ten years later, Admiral Janeway, discomforted by many aspects of the long trip home, went back in time and changed history so Voyager returned home after only seven years in the Delta Quadrant, with many more of its crew intact. This change to the timeline was also allowed to stand (Voyager: Endgame).
As these and many more examples show, the usual outcome of time travel in the Star Trek universe is the alteration of the Prime Timeline, not the creation of splinter or divergent timelines.

A deus red machina, yesterday.

A Possible Solution

Therefore, it is possible to create a solution which satisfies both the “Word of God” that the new Trek shows take place in the Prime Timeline whilst also taking accounting of the exceptionally large number of discrepancies that appear to contradict that.

In Star Trek: Discovery we learn that Michael Burnham was adopted as a young girl by Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan and taken to live in his home on that planet. Shortly after arriving, she was nearly killed by a vicious predator that lived in the vicinity and was only saved by the intervention of her own mother, using the time-travelling "red angel" exosuit (Discovery: If Memory Serves). Logically, the timeline would have been adjusted back and forth by these events.

This means that in one version of the timeline, Burnham would have been killed by the predatory animal just a few days after arriving on Vulcan. In this case, Spock would have never thought of her as his adopted sister, it being a regrettable and sad event taking place several decades in the past and not an event he would have any cause to mention to his later comrades (or if he did, only as a trivial anecdote). Burnham’s deletion from the timeline would mean that the Klingon War of 2256 would have likely never taken place, in keeping with previous versions of the Star Trek timeline (in which clashes and lower-key conflicts with the Klingons had been reported prior to TOS but a full-scale war which brought the Federation to its knees was never mentioned). In turn, the war never taking place means that Section 31’s advanced intelligence AI, “Control,” was never prematurely activated and never became an existential threat to either humanity or the galaxy at large.

Similarly, without the outbreak of war, there was no reason for Starfleet to pour resources into the highly dubious and fringe experiments being conducted by Doctors Paul Stamets and Straal, meaning the Spore Drive would never have been invented.

Thus, Burnham living or dying creates a massive shift in the Prime Timeline which explains most of these discrepancies in one go. The butterfly effect would mean apparently completely unrelated events would also take place, resulting in more and more tenuous changes (such as relatively minor design shifts in the Federation’s Constitution-class starship design programme). The changes to the appearance of the Klingons would not be impacted by Burnham’s survival, however, and can only be explained by other, as yet unknown time-travel adjustments to the Prime Timeline.

Fortunately, such other adjustments have clearly taken place. In the 30th and 31st Centuries, humanity and numerous other races engaged in a Temporal Cold War (later heating up into the Temporal Wars) which reached back and forth across centuries and was fought on many fronts. Voyager hinted at such a conflict and Enterprise confirmed it. The war threatened the cohesion of the timeline, and by the early 32nd Century the powers of the Star Trek galaxy have voluntarily destroyed their time travel technology to protect themselves. Constant time travel conflicts and adventures taking place post-Voyager and pre-Discovery could have easily resulted in the rewriting of the Prime Timeline in numerous ways, further explaining discrepancies such as the appearance of the Klingons.

Answer: The new Star Trek shows do take place in the Prime Timeline, but a version which has been rewritten or adjusted by time travel as shown as possible in Star Trek many times before, and these revisions can explain all of the discrepancies seen in the show.

Oh dead, I've gone cross-eyed.

Behind-the-Scenes Concerns

Obviously the real reason for the differences is that the writers and producers of Discovery and its successors wanted to create a new visual aesthetic different to what had come before, and far more spectacular (although also massively and somewhat inexplicably over-designed, but that's what we have to go with). Fans have been somewhat annoyed by this because it contradicts what has come before.

In the early TNG era, it was unclear if the show would respect the visual continuity of The Original Series. In the second episode of the series, The Naked Now, a visual of Captain Kirk's Enterprise appears on a monitor seemingly depicting its appearance during Season 1 of the original show (specifically during the events of The Naked Time) and the movie Enterprise is shown, not the original ship, leading to speculation that TNG was going to pretend that the movie Enterprise was the ship's appearance during the original show rather than its more primitive, original form. TNG also used the movie Klingons rather than the original design. DS9 initially seemed to go the same way, even bringing in specific Klingon characters from TOS now wearing the movie-style makeup (in the DS9 episodes Blood OathThe Sword of Kahless and Once More Unto the Breach, and the Voyager episode Flashback).

However, the producers changed their mind. The TNG episode Relics recreated the original Enterprise bridge on the holodeck, down to the big buttons and 1960s-style colour scheme, and later DS9 episodes such as Trials and Tribbleations depicted the original ship and sets faithfully, with character discussions on the classic, retro stylings of the time period. Enterprise, in its fourth season as recently as 2005, reconfirmed this by reusing the original show's visual design in its episode In a Mirror, Darkly. Both DS9 and Enterprise also acknowledged the visual change in Klingon makeup design and the latter even provided an explanation (not a particularly convincing one, but still).

Thus, when Discovery decided to completely jettison all previous visual continuity in favour of its own designs, it seriously irked fans who felt it was a totally unnecessary complication that could have been easily avoided by, for example, setting the far-more-advanced-looking Discovery a long time after the TNG era, a conclusion that the producers themselves reached by removing the Discovery and its crew to the 32nd Century in the show's third season. Unfortunately this reprieve to the canon is only temporary, with the forthcoming Strange New Worlds likely to cause yet more headaches.

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Lucasfilm and Disney confirm a further STAR WARS spin-off TV series to debut in December 2021

Lucasfilm and Disney have confirmed that a Boba Fett TV series, entitled The Book of Boba Fett, will debut on Disney+ in December 2021.

This show is in addition to the slew of new projects recently announced by Lucasfilm. The announcement was made in a surprise, post-credits sequence to the Season 2 finale of The Mandalorian, which sees Boba and associate Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) join forces to take over a familiar crime operation from the Star Wars movies. It is assumed the series will focus on Fett's new role as a crime lord.

It has so far not been confirmed if Ming-Na Wen will be a regular in the series as Fennec Shand, although the finale implies as match. It's also so far unconfirmed if the series will follow, precede or run alongside the third season of The Mandalorian.

The Mandalorian's other direct spin-off shows, Rangers of the New Republic and Ahsoka, are not expected to debut until 2022 at the earliest. Disney are already filming Rogue One prequel mini-series Andor and in pre-production on event series Obi-Wan Kenobi, and are also developing a Lando Calrissian-focused series and The Acolyte, an original series set 200 years before The Phantom Menace. Disney are also developing animated series Visions and A Droid Story, and deep in production on The Bad Batch, a Clone Wars sequel series expected to air in 2021.

RIP Jeremy Bulloch

British actor Jeremy Bulloch, best-known to millions of people worldwide for originating the role of Star Wars antihero Boba Fett, has passed away at the age of 75.

Born in Market Harborough in 1945, Bulloch began acting at a young age, appearing in commercials before making his film debut in the classic 1958 disaster movie A Night to Remember, playing a young boy jumping into the sea from the sinking Titanic. He made his TV debut two years later. He had recurring roles in TV shows such as Billy Bunter, The Newcomers,Agony and Robin of Sherwood as well as appearing in films including Summer Holiday, Carry On Teacher, Mary, Queen of Scots and The Devil's Agent. He continued appearing regularly on screen until 2009, when he unofficially retired.

His SFF credentials kicked off with appearing in the 1965 Doctor Who serial The Space Museum. He returned to the show in 1973, playing the prominent role of Hal in the Jon Pertwee adventure The Time Warrior. He later had a recurring role on the series Starhyke.

He was cast in the role of Boba Fett in the 1980 movie The Empire Strikes Back, playing his role behind a mask. Like fellow British actor David Prowse (who passed away a few weeks ago), his vocal performance was replaced by another actor, in this case Jason Wingreen. Unlike Prowse, who never quite got over this move, Bulloch accepted it with equanimity, returning to the role in Return of the Jedi and maintaining good relations with George Lucas. He also played an Imperial officer in The Empire Strikes Back and Captain Colton, the commander of Bail Organa's personal transport Sundered Heart, in the film Revenge of the Sith.

A fan-favourite on the convention circuit, Bulloch made many friends with fellow performers and fans, and was noted for his professionalism, unfailing politeness and good humour.

He will be missed, but the role he established will live on: one day after his passing, Disney confirmed that Boba Fett will finally get a starring role in his very own TV series, The Book of Boba Fett, due to air in December 2021.

Thursday 17 December 2020

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Season 4

2372. The threat of the Dominion has created an atmosphere of paranoia and distrust across the Alpha Quadrant. The Cardassians have sealed their borders, the Federation is increasing security on Earth and the Klingons, after a century of peace, have gone on the offensive to strengthen their empire's borders. With the Federation-Klingon Alliance in jeopardy, the fate of the quadrant will be decided at Deep Space Nine.

The fourth season of Deep Space Nine marks a notable shift in the tone of the show. Prior to this season it had been well-regarded, but perhaps a little underrated by viewers. Star Trek: Voyager, which started halfway through DS9's third season, had attracted a huge amount of attention for the launch of a new starship heading into genuinely unexplored territory, whilst there was a perception that DS9 was a little stale, especially with another space station show, Babylon 5, picking up greater contemporary critical acclaim and awards. This perception, which was not really fair, had been addressed by DS9 upping the ante in its third season, introducing a new starship to help defend the station and telling more serialised stories about the rising threat of the Dominion.

Still, Paramount wanted to shake up the show and bring in some new storytelling opportunities. The DS9 writers hit on the idea of bringing in Lt. Commander Worf (Michael Dorn) from The Next Generation and making the always-popular Klingons a recurring feature of DS9. With these changes on the way, the team were asked to make Season 4 something of a "reboot" for the series, a jumping-on point for new viewers.

This explains why Season 4's movie-length opener, The Way of the Warrior, is a little bit bizarrely expository in telling us things we already know: Odo's background and capabilities as a shapeshifter are once again explained and there are lengthy recaps of the Bajoran Occupation, the threat posed by the Cardassians, Garak's background as a spy, Dukat's haphazard career trajectory, Quark's semi-criminal background, Dax's nature as a Trill and so on. This leads to quite a few scenes feeling completely redundant: this show has already aired 72 episodes (one less than the entire run of Game of Thrones and rather more than the complete runs of shows like Breaking Bad, The Wire and Orphan Black) and reintroducing the characters and concepts as if it's the first time feels a bit weird.

Once you get past that, the episode is pretty good. Shaking up the Federation-Klingon Alliance, which had gotten a little too cosy over seven seasons of The Next Generation, is a good move and bringing Worf over to DS9 makes sense. Worf's angst-ridden, constantly-conflicted backstory and nature were sometimes an awkward fit on the comfortable Enterprise-D but are much more at home on the station. The absolutely massive space battle at the end of the episode is one of DS9's most impressive action set-pieces (even as you can feel the technology of motion-controlled models creakily hitting its limitations) and the episode features several outstanding character and humour pieces among all its explosions, such as Garak and Quark's morbid realisation they are not fans of the Federation but are reliant on it for survival, whilst Quark's determination to defend his bar with a non-existent disruptor is one of the show's funniest moments.

The season goes on much as it started (mercifully with less recapping of well-established plot points). The second episode of the season, the Hugo-nominated The Visitor, holds a strong claim to being Deep Space Nine's best episode and one of the best episodes of Star Trek ever made, an exploration of family, parental relationships and obsession spanning decades and lifetimes with an outstanding performance by guest star Tony Todd.

The season seems to enjoy setting up paired episodes which explore ongoing ideas. The Jem'Hadar get more exploration in Hippocratic Oath, in which Bashir tries to free them from their addiction to the ketracel-white as a way of robbing the Dominion's power over them (despite the risk it may also turn them into uncontrollable, all-conquering monsters), to O'Brien's extreme disquiet. Later in the season, To the Death explores more of the Jem'Hadar's nature and reveals that, although they do have a very extreme, odd code of honour, they are still extremely dangerous adversaries. This episode also marks the outstanding debut of the Vorta Weyoun, one of Star Trek's best-ever villains, played with charisma, skill and charm by Jeffrey Combs.

Meanwhile, Dukat gets a lot of character development in Indiscretion, in which he and Kira form an effective working relationship and we learn that Dukat has a (somewhat) nobler side to his character, which is then developed in Return to Grace. These episodes also introduce a new recurring character in the form of Dukat's half-Bajoran daughter, Ziyal, whose very existence provides a huge amount of emotional angst for the character (as well as helping Kira's developing sense that some Cardassians can be redeemed and become allies...just never Dukat).

We also learn more of Bashir, with his lighter and more frivolous side coming to the fore in Our Man Bashir (a James Bond parody that landed the production team in hot water with Paramount's legal department, who received threatening letters from MGM) and his more obsessive, arrogant side come out in The Quickening (as well as Hippocratic Oath). Meanwhile, the Rom/Quark relationship gets a lot of development in Little Green Men, Bar Association and Body Parts (the latter two also seeing the return of "Brunt, FCA," also courtesy of the magnificent Jeffrey Combs), which go a long way to fleshing out the Ferengi as a serious (ish) people with their own culture and beliefs.

New (to DS9) character Worf also gets a lot of development though episodes like The Sword of KahlessRules of Engagement and Sons of Mogh, which all do well to flesh out Worf and also give him more stuff to do other than just getting beaten up by the alien guest star of the week to show how tough they are.

Elements which had been much more key to DS9's identity in previous season are reduced to almost token appearances here. Accession is the season's sole contribution to the Bajoran spirituality/Emissary storyline, where Sisko gratefully relinquishes the title of Emissary to a Bajoran who's been trapped in the wormhole for three centuries, only to discovery the new Emissary is a hardline religious conservative who wants Bajor to return to outdated cultural practices from centuries ago. Sisko ends up having to fight for the very title he's wanted to get rid of for three years. Similarly, the Maquis get a sole episode about them in For the Cause, where the Maquis cleverly try to use the beating the Cardassians are receiving at the hands of the Klingons as a way of securing their political goals. There's also only one "let's torture O'Brien" episode, with the superb Hard Time. Shattered Mirror is the season's signature Mirror Universe episode and is a fun piece with an excellent space battle. The season also has only one episode focusing on Odo's unrequited love for Kira, Crossfire, but it's an outstanding piece of character drama with magnificent performances from Rene Auberjonois and Armin Shimerman, and one of the best low-key episodes in all of Star Trek's history.

Even the Dominion get a low-key season. Starship Down sees a badly-crippled Defiant playing cat-and-mouse with two Dominion warships in the atmosphere of a gas giant, in a tense submarine-style movie. It's tremendous fun, with a great guest performance by James Cromwell (just ahead of him going off to shoot the movie First Contact). The two-parter Homefront and Paradise Lost at first glance looks like a Dominion show, but it's actually a story about paranoia and how the Federation allows distrust and fear to get loose on Earth, with almost catastrophic results without the Dominion even having to lift a finger. The finale, Broken Link, is a great character piece which explores more about the Founders.

The most notable thing is that virtually all of these episodes are great. There are some small flaws along the way - Little Green Men is a bit too comedic, Rules of Engagement loses its main character in Worf for long stretches of the episode - but the season only has one mediocre episode, The Muse, about an alien who gets its power by...watching Jake Sisko write? It's a weird concept that never really works, although a subplot about Odo having to rescue Lwaxana Troi with a dramatic declaration of romantic intent is surprisingly more enjoyable.

The result is that 24 out of the 25 episodes this season are good to excellent, incorporating one of the greatest Star Trek episodes of all time in The Visitor and multiple other compelling pieces. These all give the fourth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (*****) a good claim to being its strongest year. The season is available on DVD in the USA and UK, as well as on CBS All Access in the States and Netflix in the UK.

Note: I previously reviewed DS9's third season as part of a wider review of the third through fifth seasons twelve years ago. That review can be read here.

Tuesday 15 December 2020

RUMOUR: FIREFLY reboot under consideration for Disney+

Several less-reliable genre sites are reporting that Disney are considering resurrecting the 2002 space opera Firefly for their Disney+ streaming platform.

Disney acquired the Firefly IP when they bought 20th Century Fox last year. Firefly, created and showrun by Joss Whedon, ran for fourteen episodes in 2002 and a sequel movie, Serenity, was released in 2005. Although the show was cancelled due to disappointing ratings, it picked up a long tail on DVD and Blu-Ray, and Fox several times subsequently noted that cancelling it had been a mistake. Fox had considered resurrecting the show, but these plans seemed to fall through given the company's complex relationship with Whedon (especially after Fox developed, made and cancelled another Whedon show, Dollhouse, a few years later) and the patchy availability of the show's stars, most of whom have gone on to successful careers elsewhere.

The franchise has continued through comic book series and a superb board game, but a full-blown revival has seemed unlikely for some time.

However, the rumours suggest that Disney is considering rebooting the series from scratch as a somewhat more family-friendly show, perhaps in the vein of The Mandalorian, and tapping the same vein of space adventure. As a result, the rapist-cannibal enemies, the Reavers, are unlikely to appear and the prominent character of Inara, a courtesan, likely to be eliminated (or retrained in a different role).

I find this rumour dubious for multiple reasons. The first is that Firefly's fanbase remains, despite the passage of almost twenty years, both voluble and passionate. Rebooting the show from scratch and dropping the previous actors and continuity would go down very badly. The second is that Firefly's universe was designed from scratch to be slightly more morally murky and complex, and that's part of the show's appeal. Making it more PG (or PG-13, if you're in the USA) seems pointless. Also, whilst Firefly remains a cult hit, it's still very much not a mainstream show. The people who will be most excited about a Firefly reboot are Firefly fans, so alienating them by ditching the previous storylines and cast and crew is particularly self-defeating.

If the show was to return, bringing it back as a next-generation continuation in the same continuity with as many of the actors returning as wanted to, but with new characters doing the heavy lifting, would seem to be a much more sensible idea. This kind of project would probably not be suitable for Disney+, but could be a good match for Hulu or FX, where Disney's other non-kid-friendly properties are headed.

That said, Disney are clearly going to want to take advantage of their vastly-expanded portfolio of IPs, and Firefly would be a reasonable choice if they were looking for a science fiction franchise that hasn't already been over-exploited to the hilt. Disney might also feel that, with Joss Whedon's credibility and reputation at an all-time low, they can get away with a reboot without his involvement at this time, which was not the case a few years ago.

I'll keep my ear to the ground on this one, but I put it in the "possibly but unlikely" category for now.

Peadar Ó Guilín's superb BONE WORLD TRILOGY back in print

Peadar Ó Guilín has reissued his excellent debut Bone World Trilogy, putting the entire trilogy in print in a unified format for the first time.

The trilogy comprises The Inferior (2007), The Deserter (2012) and The Volunteer (2014), and tells the story of a Darwinian struggle for survival between tribesfolk and monsters in a harsh world. As the story develops, it brings in SF ideas and unexpected plot twists that remain fresh and inventive.

Ó Guilín won plaudits for his recent YA dystopian duology, comprising The Call (2016) and The Invasion (2018).

The Bone World Trilogy is available now in ebook via Amazon and Smashwords. Paperbacks will follow in the New Year.

Chris Pine in talks to join DUNGEONS & DRAGONS movie

Chris Pine is in negotiations to star in Paramount's upcoming Dungeons & Dragons movie.

The film, which has been through multiple writers, directors, legal battles and potential stars in the last seven years, now appears close to getting the full green light. Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, who wrote and directed Game Night and wrote Spider-Man: Homecoming, are tapped to write and direct the film for Paramount, Hasbro and eOne.

David Leslie Johnson, Rob Letterman and Chris McKay were previously involved in development, whilst Ansel Elgort was tapped to star back in 2016. At that time the film was set in the Forgotten Realms world with the story revolving around the Yawning Portal Inn in the city of Waterdeep. Reportedly, Goldstein and Daley threw out those ideas and started from scratch with a new idea developed by writer Michael Gilio when the project moved from Warner Brothers to Paramount.

Pine is best-known for his role as Captain Kirk in three Star Trek movies (Star Trek, Into Darkness and Beyond), which he may yet reprise, and for starring in the two Wonder Woman films from Patty Jenkins.

Hasbro are also developing a Dungeons and Dragons TV series as an additional project.

Sunday 13 December 2020

RIP Phyllis Eisenstein

In sad news, science fiction and fantasy author Phyllis Eisenstein has sadly passed away at the age of 74.

Eisenstein was born in Chicago and began publishing fiction in 1971, with "The Trouble with the Past" (a collaboration with her husband Alex) in New Dimensions 1, edited by Robert Silverberg. She was nominated for the Hugo twice: for her novella In the Western Tradition (1982) and the novelette Nightlife (1982). She was nominated for the Nebula three times, for In the Western Tradition, "Attachment" (1976) and The Island in the Lake (2000). She also won a Balrog Award for Born to Exile (1980) and was a British Fantasy Award finalist for Sorcerer's Son (1980).

She only published six novels in her career: Born to Exile (1977) and In the Red Lord's Reach (1989), in the Tales of Alaric the Minstrel series; Sorcerer's Son (1979) and The Crystal Palace (1988) in the Book of Elementals series (published in an omnibus under that title in 2002); and the stand-alones Shadow of Earth (1979) and In the Hands of Glory (1981). She completed two further novels, The City in Stone (an addition to the Book of Elementals sequence) and The Walker Between Worlds (the start of a projected new series, The Masks of Power). The former was left unpublished when the publisher, Meisha Merlin, collapsed in 2007, and the latter because she wanted to complete the entire trilogy first.

She did issue a short story collection, Night Lives: Nine Stories of the Dark Fantastic, in 2003 in collaboration with her husband, and edited several anthologies. The bulk of her short story output remained uncollected, however.

Eisenstein was also active in critiquing work by friends and colleagues. Arguably the most influential of these moments came in 1991 when her friend George R.R. Martin passed her the first few chapters of a novel he was working on set in an imaginary world, but featuring no SF, magical or fantastical elements at all. He was struggling with what to do with the story. Aware of his admiration for writers like Tolkien, Zelazny and Howard, she urged him to "put the dragons in" and turn it into a broad work of epic fantasy. Martin complied, resulting in the novel A Game of Thrones (1996). Martin acknowledged Eisenstein's influence by dedicating the third volume in the series, A Storm of Swords (2000), to her.

She passed away after a short illness and is survived by her husband.

Saturday 12 December 2020

GAME OF THRONES prequel series HOUSE OF THE DRAGON gets three new castmembers, including a former DOCTOR WHO

Game of Thrones spin-off/prequel show House of the Dragon has added three new castmembers to its roster. Joining the already-announced Paddy Considine as King Viserys Targaryen are Olivia Cooke as Alicent Hightower, Emma D'Arcy as Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen and Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen.

Olivia Cooke is an English actress best known for starring as Emma Decody on Bates Motel for five seasons. She also played Becky Sharp in the 2018 ITV mini-series version of Vanity Fair. She also played one of the leads in Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One. Other roles include Modern Love, Blackout, Sound of Metal, The Quiet Ones and the frankly superb credit "Voice of the Loch Ness Monster" on Axe Cop.

Alicent Hightower is the intelligent and cunning daughter of Lord Otto Hightower, Lord of Oldtown and the Hand of the King. The ambitious Lord Otto advises his daughter to help comfort the widowed king and befriend his daughter Princess Rhaenyra, only a few years younger.

Emma D'Arcy is an English actress who started her career by making waves on stage, particularly for her role alongside Ben Whishaw in Against. Regular and recurring roles have followed on Wanderlust, Wild Bill, Hanna and, most recently, a more complex-than-it-first-appears role on the Nick Frost semi-comedy Truth Seekers.

Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen is the only child of King Viserys I Targaryen. Male primogeniture is the preferred method of inheritance in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, but King Viserys has raised Princess Rhaenyra to be his heir, teaching her the art of rule and statecraft, inviting her to small council meetings and learning military strategy. Despite some grumblings from traditionalists, the king's decision has been accepted...whilst he still lives. Like many of the Targaryens of this time, Rhaenyra is a dragon-rider. Her dragon is called Syrax.

Matt Smith is an accomplished English actor best-known for his starring role on Doctor Who. He played the Eleventh Doctor for four years between 2010 and 2013, winning two National Television Awards for his performance. He remains the youngest actor to ever play the role. His other performances include Jim Taylor in the BBC adaptations of Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart Mysteries, Danny in Party Animals, Skynet in Terminator: Genisys (2015) and Parson Collins in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016). In 2016-17 he played Prince Philip in the first two seasons of The Crown, for which he was nominated for an Emmy.

Prince Daemon Targaryen is the younger brother of King Viserys, both grandsons of the Old King, Jaehaerys the Conciliator. Whilst Viserys is diplomatic, restrained and thoughtful, Daemon is fiery and prone to action. He is intelligent, but also hot-tempered and passionate, who sometimes feels his brother acts too little, too late in response to provocations from the Seven Kingdoms' enemies. For his part, the king despairs of what he sees as his brother's inability to see the big picture and restrain himself in the short-term for future long-term benefits. Daemon would be his brother's heir if he had not named Rhaenyra, something he struggles with despite his general affection for his his niece. Daemon rides the immense dragon Caraxes, a fearsome beast and the largest of the Targaryen dragons apart from Vhagar (the only surviving dragon of Aegon the Conqueror's original three).

Based on the age of the actors being cast and the information released by HBO, it sounds like the series will start some time before the beginning of the Dance of Dragons, maybe as much as twenty years earlier (roughly 190 years before the events of Game of Thrones), when King Viserys is still relatively hale and trying to keep his brother under control whilst also training his daughter to follow him onto the Iron Throne. I suspect the timeline will either be compressed in the series or there'll be some hefty timeskips to take us into the Dance of Dragons by the end of the first season.

Update: The mostly-reliable Redanian Intelligence has indicated from casting material that the show begins in 105 AC with the death of Queen Aemma, and thus with King Viserys recovering from the shock of her death and Princess Rhaenyra from the loss of her mother.

Deadline is also reporting that Danny Sapani (Black Panther, The Last Jediis being considered for the role of Corlys Velaryon, the "Sea Snake," a superior sailor and naval commander who has become immensely wealthy by sailing to the ends of the earth and bringing him immense treasure.

House of the Dragon is currently in pre-production and is expected to start shooting in England in early 2021. It should air on HBO in early 2022.

Friday 11 December 2020

BioWare release teaser trailer for DRAGON AGE IV and a return to the Milky Way for MASS EFFECT 5

BioWare and EA have released teaser trailers for new games in the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series.

The Dragon Age IV teaser hints that the game is still set in the mage-realm of Tevinter and will focus - once again - on a new hero arising to stand against the forces of evil, backed by familiar characters like Varric. The trailer ends with the name "Dragon Age," hopefully just a placeholder and not an indication that BioWare are going to rename the game just Dragon Age to confuse people. The game has been in development for some years, although the team was co-opted to help finish both Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem. The game now appears to be in full development at BioWare, but no release timeframe has been given.

The Mass Effect trailer features as Asari walking through a snowy wasteland with a destroyer Reaper in the background, after a camera pans across wreckage and the ruins of a Mass Relay, hinting that the game will take place after the events of Mass Effect 3 rather than following up on the other-galaxy shenanigans of Mass Effect: Andromeda. This new Mass Effect game is very early in development.

The move is hoped to restore confidence in the fanbases of both games after the heads of both franchises resigned from BioWare last week.