Thursday, 17 August 2017

Season 2 of THE EXPANSE hits Netflix UK on 8 September

Apparently, Season 2 of The Expanse will land on Netflix UK on Friday, 8 September.

The second season of the show, which airs on SyFy in the US, originally aired from February to May this year, and was anticipated on Netflix in June. Bizarrely, the streaming service has held off on broadcasting the show, resulting in both significant levels of piracy and also people perfectly legally buying the already-released DVD and Blu-Ray box sets. The reason for the delay is unknown.

It's also unclear if the entire season is landing in one go (which you'd assume would be the case) or will be stripped over thirteen weeks like in the olden days.

Fortunately, Netflix's laxity has not damaged the success of the series: production of Season 3 began a few weeks ago and is now well underway, for broadcast in 2018. The Season 1 finale also picked up Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) at the recent Hugo Awards in Helsinki.

Next STAR WARS standalone movie will (probably) be about Obi-Wan Kenobi

Disney and Lucasfilm have quasi-confirmed that the 2020 Star Wars movie will be a stand-alone prequel focusing on Obi-Wan Kenobi, surprising exactly no-one but still pleasing a lot of people anyway.

The next Star Wars movie will be Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, directed by Rian Johnson and due out in December. This will be followed by a Han Solo-focused prequel move in 2018, currently still scheduled for May 2018 but after a chaotic shoot and the firing of the directors (and their replacement with Ron Howard), this may change. Episode IX is then scheduled to follow in 2019, directed by Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow. Disney had pencilled in a third stand-alone movie for 2020 but had not confirmed the premise, apparently considering competing ideas focusing on Obi-Wan, Boba Fett or Yoda.

The Obi-Wan movie originally sounded like the least likely of the three ideas, but Ewan Mcgregor enthusiastically endorsed the idea, pointing out that he's now the right age to play Obi-Wan mid-way between his exile to Tatooine in Revenge of the Sith and his return as an old man in A New Hope. The animated series Star Wars: Rebels, which also teased some ideas for Rogue One in its second season, seemed to back this up with a storyline featuring Obi-Wan on Tatooine, looking over Luke from afar and battling a resurrected Darth Maul thirsting for revenge (it's better than it sounds).

Lucasfilm are apparently in discussions with Stephen Daldry, the director of Billy Elliott and The Hours, to helm the film, suggesting they may be open to considering a more character-focused movie. Mcgregor is not yet officially attached, but I have a hard time believing that Disney wouldn't tap him for the project.

As for story ideas, whilst it's generally assumed that Obi-Wan spent nineteen years just hanging out on Tatooine, it is perfectly possible that he did take off for some solo adventures in that time, maybe keeping tabs on Luke through the Force or something. Basically, I don't care and just want to see Ewan Mcgregor playing Obi-Wan in a movie that isn't awful.

More news as we get it.

Pornographic website offers to fund future seasons of SENSE8

Adult entertainment website XHamster has offered to pick up Netflix's recently-cancelled TV series Sense8, in an apparently serious proposal to series showrunner Lana Wachowski.

Sense8's second season aired earlier this year to apparently disappointing viewing figures, especially compared to the show's lavish $9 million-an-episode budget (the second-highest on American television, behind only Game of Thrones). Netflix regretfully pulled the plug, but after an intense fan campaign, agreed to produce a two-hour finale movie so Lana Wachowski and co-writer J. Michael Straczynski could wrap up the cliffhanger ending the show was left on.

Now XHamster has stepped in, posting an open letter to the Wachowski sisters (Lilly Wachowski stepped back from Season 2 of Sense8 after co-producing the first season, but may return for the finale) in which they make a serious offer to pick up the series properly, presumably meaning they would fund the remaining three years of the planned five-season run. Obviously this would require Netflix licensing the property to an adult website, but given Netflix's own history of giving a new home to previously-cancelled series (like Gilmore Girls and Arrested Development), they may be open to the notion.

Certainly XHamster has the financial firepower to make it happen. The website is one of the biggest and most heavily-trafficked on the entire Internet, dwarfing almost every single news outlet and bringing in colossal revenues from advertising. XHamster doesn't have much of an outlay cost, since most of their own content comes from other companies or is, er, crowd-sourced, so they end up making stupendous amounts of money and not doing very much with it. As the XHamster statement says, they can easily afford to produce Sense8 at the same level as Netflix was able to, which is mind-boggling.

Whether this idea goes anywhere remains to be seen, but I'm pretty sure that fans of the show would be happy to see the full five-year story concluded according to the Wachowskis and Straczynski's vision. We await their official response - and Netflix's - with interest.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 2, Episodes 1-2

Season 2: The Coming of Shadows

“The Babylon Project was our last, best hope for peace. A self-contained world five miles long, located in neutral territory. A place of commerce and diplomacy for a quarter of a million humans and aliens. A shining beacon in space, all alone in night.
“It was the dawn of the Third Age of Mankind, the year the Great War came upon us all.
“This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2259. The name of the place is Babylon 5.”
  - Earthforce Captain John Sheridan

Regular Cast
Captain John Sheridan                                                Bruce Boxleitner
Commander Susan Ivanova                                        Claudia Christian
Security Chief Michael Garibaldi                               Jerry Doyle
Ambassador Delenn                                                    Mira Furlan
Dr. Stephen Franklin                                                   Richard Biggs
Lt. Warren Keffer                                                        Robert Rusler
Talia Winters                                                               Andrea Thompson
Vir Cotto                                                                     Stephen Furst
Lennier                                                                        Bill Mumy
Na’Toth                                                                       Mary Kay Adams
Ambassador G’Kar                                                     Andreas Katsulas
Ambassador Londo Mollari                                        Peter Jurasik

Creator                                                                        J. Michael Straczynski
Producer                                                                     John Copeland
Executive Producers                                                  J. Michael Straczynski & Douglas Netter
Script Editor                                                               Lawrence G. DiTillio
Conceptual Consultant                                               Harlan Ellison
Production Designer                                                  John Iacovelli
Constume Designer                                                    Anne Bruice-Aling
Visual Effects Designer                                              Ron Thornton
Visual Effects Producers                                            Foundation Imaging
Makeup Supervisor                                                    John Vulich
Makeup Producers                                                     Optic Nerve Studios
Music Composer                                                        Christopher Franke
Music Performers                          Christopher Franke & the Berlin Symphonic Film Orchestra

Between-Season Changes

A number of significant changes took place on Babylon 5 between the production of Season 1 and Season 2. The most notable was the change in lead actor: Michael O’Hare departed the show and was replaced by Bruce Boxleitner playing new character Captain John Sheridan. The change happened in such a way that O’Hare was unable to film a farewell scene, and J. Michael Straczynski had to explain the departure in the first issue of the Babylon 5 comic book instead

At the time, Straczynski said that Sinclair’s departure was a creative choice: with the mystery of the Battle of the Line to be resolved early in Season 2, Sinclair suddenly became a character to bounce exposition off and he had no actual stake in the new storylines that were becoming more important. Straczynski also indicated that O’Hare had the option to return to acting on stage in New York, which he missed. Straczynski claimed that he and O’Hare discussed the situation and, using a Lord of the Rings analogy, decided that Sinclair would leave the show like the Fellowship of the Ring splitting and then return later on to round off his storyline.

Some fans were sceptical of this choice, some believing that Warner Brothers wanted a better-known actor in the lead role and others claiming that the studio wanted O’Hare gone as they were unhappy with his performance. However, given that the first season had been a moderate success with O’Hare in the role, this seemed unlikely.

Many years later, after Michael O’Hare’s premature death from a heart attack in 2012, Straczynski agreed to reveal the truth. O’Hare had been suffering from mental health issues which gradually worsened over the course of the gruelling filming schedule for the first season. This manifested as paranoid delusions, with O’Hare convinced that people were out to get him or control him. Jerry Doyle, who played Garibaldi, confirmed this on his radio talk show and by the end of the season had effectively decided he couldn’t work with him anymore. Before that point, O’Hare confessed the severity of his condition to Straczynski and they agreed that O’Hare should leave the show for his own good. Straczynski did offer to delay production by a few months so O’Hare could seek treatment, but O’Hare did not want to endanger production or other people’s jobs. After leaving the show, O’Hare did manage to get the worst excesses of his condition under control and he returned for episodes B9 and C16-C17. Straczynski offered to keep the secret until his death but O’Hare suggested he keep it only until his death, as he felt that fans deserved to (eventually) know the truth and it might help people facing the same problem. Straczynski eventually revealed the truth at the Phoenix Comic-Con in 2013.

The change in actor resulted in some shuffling of the planned storylines for the opening episodes. Straczynski worked on creating a new lead character, someone who could have a direct tie to the unfolding storyline. This also involved shuffling events around in the opening few episodes. The planned opener, Chrysalis, Part 2 (although this was only ever a working title), was dropped back to second place and a new introductory episode was penned for the new character. This also allowed JMS to have a pause between two very intense, complex episodes (A22 and B2) to allow the viewers to catch their breath (especially since in the US the show moved straight into Season 2 after Chrysalis was aired for the first time). A number of actors were considered for the role of Captain John Sheridan, including relatively big names like James Earl Jones (the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars, a bomber crewman in Dr. Strangelove and Jack Ryan’s boss in Clear and Present Danger and Patriot Games) and John Rhys-Davies (Professor Arturo in Sliders, Salla in the first three Indiana Jones films and Gimli in the Lord of the Rings films), but it ultimately went to Bruce Boxleitner, best known for his leading role in Scarecrow & Mrs. King and the title role in the film Tron.

The other major cast change was that, between seasons, Julie Caitlin Brown (who played Na’Toth) decided to leave to pursue the chance to appear in films and also because she was developing severe allergies to the make-up used. Straczynski elected to recast Na’Toth and Mary Kay Adams (best known for playing the Klingon Grilka in two episodes of Deep Space Nine) was introduced to take over the role. Adams and Straczynski clashed over her “soft” interpretation of Na’Toth and she left the series after just two episodes. Straczynski later managed to convince Julie Catilin Brown to reprise the role for a single episode in Season 5.

A new regular cast member was also introduced, Robert Rusler as Lt. Warren Keffer. JMS needed someone to tie into the ongoing storyline in Season 2 as well as satisfy Warner Brothers’ complaints about the station commander always leading fighter missions in Season 1 when that just wouldn’t happen in real life. Straczynski resented this note and always planned to kill Keffer off as soon as possible.

Ex-Taxi and Grease star Jeff Conaway (Kenickie!) had become a major fan of the series during Season 1 and instructed his agent to get him onto the show by any means necessary. He landed the role of recurring security officer Zack Allan in episode B6 and remained with the series until the end.

JMS originally planned to have Ivanova narrate the Season 2 opening titles. The change in lead actor necessitated having Sheridan do it instead. Bruce Boxleitner re-recorded the narration from episode B4 onwards to make it stronger (and also because the title sequence was complete by that point, making the synchronisation of narration and visuals easier). A new version of the theme tune was also arranged by Christopher Franke. He ‘tweaked’ the music slightly from episode B4 onwards. The Season 2 opening credits were also altered from episode B3 onwards to show the new-look Delenn.

The Season 2 title sequence features a “5” logo appearing behind each character before warping the next character over the top. This was a very complicated effect to pull off in 1994 and was extremely time-consuming for the editors and the effects team, so Seasons 3-5 feature somewhat more straightforward title cards.

Episodes planned but not made for this season included The Customer is Always Right and Unnatural Selection (aka All Our Songs Forgotten) by D.C. Fontana, Expectations by David Gerrold and The Very Long Night of Susan Ivanova by Straczynski (he later repurposed the plot – but not the storyline – for Londo in Season 5). Additional attempts to bring Harlan Ellison’s Demon on the Run to the screen also failed.

Between seasons Foundation Imaging upgraded their computers again, resulting in more and more ambitious CGI. During Season 1 they were using a mixture of Commodore Amigas equipped with Video Toaster cards and PCs, but during Season 2 switched over to high-end PCs running early-generation graphic cards. This resulted in improved visual quality and somewhat faster turn-around times for shots.


Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Breq, the former starship AI-turned-military-officer, has secured the Atheok system and plans to wait out the civil war raging between the fragmented selves of Anaander Mianaai whilst investigating the ongoing mysterious events in the neighbouring Ghost system. But events will not wait for Breq and she soon discovers that the fates of everyone in the Atheok system may depend on what she does next.

Ancillary Justice was a refreshing, smart and interesting science fiction novel. Its sequel, Ancillary Sword, was a major letdown, a work that sprawled and felt at times that the author wasn't sure what direction to take the story. Ancillary Mercy, which concludes the trilogy, ranks somewhere inbetween. This is definitely a more directed, more focused work that rounds off the thematic elements of the trilogy more or less satisfyingly, but on a more prosaic plot level is less impressive.

On the character side of things, Mercy crystallises when Justice did so well and Sword occasionally struggled with: the interrogation of self, identity and self-realisation. Breq is a creation of the Imperial Radch, but she is not Radchaii and can view their culture from both outside and the perspective of one of its servants. The Radchaii believe they are civilised, but they are also intolerant and imperialistic, stamping their identity on the civilisations they encounter. They are baffled by the idea of ethnic and religious differences amongst their more newly-conquered subjects and resort to violence a little too readily. Breq - ironically - is a humanist who abhors violence when it can be avoided and seeks understanding and diplomatic resolutions to crises, which confuses a lot of her supposed "fellow" Radchaii.

This internal cultural examination is successful, but ultimately doesn't expand much beyond what we learned back in the first novel: the Radchaii should chill out and stop killing people, basically. Much more interesting is the examination of the nature of identity and the interrogation of the nature of both Breq and the other AIs. This leads to a bit of an unexpected plot twist that satisfyingly helps tie up the story at the end of the book.

That story, however, is not the story that many readers thought they were reading about: the war between the Anaander Mianaai clones. This doesn't really end or peak in the book, and carries on after the novel ends. On a thematic level this is quite understandable: the war has been going on clandestinely for a thousand years, so it being wrapped up neatly in three books covering a couple of years is unlikely. On a plot level, however, it can't help but feel that Leckie has left plot hooks dangling for future books (and more novels in the Radch setting are forthcoming), which is fine but feels perhaps a little disingenuous for a series marketed firmly as a trilogy.

At the end of the book there's a big climax and a smart and clever ending which makes the trilogy certainly feel worthwhile. It's an interesting, thought-provoking series. But it's also one that feels passive and inert for a lot of its time, with a huge amount of important stuff going on behind the scenes or resolutely off-page. It can make for a series that's hard to love but easier to admire and respect: Leckie is dealing with a lot of ideas here and doing so in a manner that's often quite subtle.

Ancillary Mercy (***½) is a worthwhile, humanist finale to the Imperial Radch trilogy, but it isn't the grand, epic and stirring ending that I think some people were expecting. It is available now in the UK and USA.

Provenance, the next novel in the Imperial Radch setting (but not a direct sequel to this trilogy), will be published on 26 September 2017.

Cities of Fantasy: Golgotterath

Many of the cities of fantasy are places which are, at worst, dystopias: places which might not be great places to live but at least people can survive there on a day-to-day level. The bastions of true evil – the Barad-dûrs and Skull Kingdoms and Shayol Ghuls – generally go unexplored in fantasy, being relegated to vague descriptions of off-screen badness.

In Canadian fantasy author R. Scott Bakker’s Second Apocalypse series, comprising the Prince of NothingAspect-Emperor and No-God sub-series, the primary bastion of evil goes by many names – Incû-Holoinas, Min-Uroikas, the Pit – but one stands out more than any other: Golgotterath, stronghold of the Unholy Consult.

A map of Golgotterath's exterior, by R. Scott Bakker.

Golgotterath is located in the far north-west of the continent of Eärwa. It is located in the midst of an arid landscape known as the Black Furnace Plain, contained with a vast impact crater known as the Occlusion, surrounded by the Ring Mountains. These are not true mountains, but massive heaps of rock and dirt thrown into the sky and then down again by the cataclysmic event known as Arkfall, the crash-landing of a multi-million-ton vessel which took place many thousands of years ago. To the north and west lies the colossal Yimaleti Mountains, whilst the south lies the Neleöst, the Misty Sea. Extending east from the Ring Mountains for several hundred miles to the River Sursa is a massive area of wasteland known as the Field Appalling, Agongorea. This land is desolate, with nothing growing at all. The ground won’t even accept footprints.

In ancient times the region was bordered by Cûnuroi (whom humans call Nonmen) Mansions, with Viri lying to the east and Ishoriöl to the south, beyond the sea. After the arrival of the Four Tribes of Men in Eärwa, human nations arose to the south (Kûniüri) and east (Aörsi). These nations were destroyed two thousand years ago in the savage war known as the Apocalypse. Since this time Golgotterath has stood alone, the nearest settlements being Ishterebinth (the modern name for the much-reduced Mansion of Ishoriöl), the secret Dûnyain redoubt of Ishuäl, and the human cities of Atrithau and Sakarpus, both more than a thousand miles distant. The densely-populated kingdoms of the Three Seas lie almost two thousand miles away to the south. The lands between, including the vast Istyuli Plains, are crawling with millions of Sranc, the foul and abominable servants of Golgotterath. Anasûrimbor Kellhus, the Aspect-Emperor of the Three Seas, has led the 300,000-strong army known as the Great Ordeal onto the plains with the goal of destroying Golgotterath, but the outcome of this expedition remains in question.

The Golden Horns of Golgotterath. Artwork by Jason Deem.

Physical Description
Golgotterath defies easy exposition. The area consists of a series of fortresses, a city (of sorts) extending above and below ground, and the most titanic walls ever built, extending for dozens of miles. But these complexes, which outshine anything in the Three Seas, are utterly dwarfed into insignificance by the Golden Horns of the Incû-Holoinas.

The Incû-Holoinas is a space-faring vessel. At some point in the past – claimed by some Nonmen to be eight thousand years ago, others maybe six thousand – the vessel crashed into Eärwa in a titanic roar which was heard as far away as the shores of the Three Seas. Defying rationality, the vessel was not destroyed but instead survived mostly intact, with more than two-thirds of its length buried underground. Only the rear-most projections of the vessel – the Horns themselves – extend above ground.

The two horns are gold in colour and covered in what appears to be a script written in the Cincûlic language, the ancient and indecipherable language of the Inchoroi species. One of the Horns was damaged in the crash and lists slightly to one side, thus their frequent depiction as the “Canted Horn” (the western-most of the two) and the “Upright Horn”. The Horns are titanic: during the Great Investiture, the siege by the combined armies of Kûniüri, Aörsi and Ishterebinth during the First Apocalypse, the mages of the Sohonc School spent years conducting exacting measurements of Horns by measuring their shadows and the occlusion of the Sun. They concluded that the Upright Horn measures over 13,000 feet – or over two-and-a-half miles – in height from its base to its tip. Nonmen records, curiously, suggest a height of almost twice this amount, suggesting either that the Ark is slowly sinking over the passage of time or that one or both of the two counts are highly erroneous. The function of the Horns is unclear, but the Inchoroi used to refer to them as the “Oars of the Ark”, suggesting they were involved in its propulsion through the void.

The two Horns meet the ground in a massive mound of stone and slag, known as the Scab. When the Golden Ark slowed to a stop, the heat of its arrival melted the surrounding rock down to lava. This came rushing in above the vessel and then slowly cooled and hardened. The Scab prevents access from the surface directly to the hull of the Incû-Holoinas; the vessel is only accessible via the Horns themselves. The Scab is rocky, hard to cross and drops away to the surrounding plain via a massive escarpment on all sides bar the south-western. Although the escarpment is effectively unclimbable, the Consult have raised tall walls (some rearing 90 feet above even the escarpment edge) above it, punctuated by watch-towers. On the south-western side, the toil of Inchoroi, Nonmen and men over millennia has cleared a path from the base of the Upright Horn, where the only accessible portal to the vessel is located, down to the plain. This stretch of land, modest in overall size, has seen more blood spilled than anywhere else in the history of the World. It is the grave of heroes.

This stretch of land begins outside the walls of Golgotterath, on the plain-within-a-plain known as Ûgorrior. This is the dead field that lies immediately before the gates of the fortress and is a kill-zone within easy missile range of the walls and fortresses. Titanic walls, taller than the walls of great cities like Momemn, Carythusal or Domyot, rise from the floor to seal the gap in the escarpment. These walls are hinged on the twin fortresses of Domathuz (in the south) and Corrunc (in the north). In the middle of the two is Gwergiruh, a pentagon-shaped gatehouse of huge size. Between the arms of the fortress lies the Ûbil Maw, the Extrinsic Gate of Golgotterath itself.

Beyond, the escarpment has been smoothed down into a series of tiered terraces, known as the Oblitus. Nine large terraces rise from ground level. The ninth and tallest terrace lies before another fortress, the High Cwol, which stares down at the plain below. Within the High Cwol is a bridge leading over an abyss at the base of the Upright Horn. The final portal into the Golden Horn, and into the Incû-Holoinas itself, lies at the far end of the bridge, the famed Intrinsic Gate of myth.

Golgotterath is a city as well as a fortress, with heaps of buildings, shacks and structures located on the terraces. Most of these lie in the so-called Canal, the ground level inside the walls beneath the First Terrace. Sranc, Nonmen and men in the service of the Consult dwell in these rude dwellings.

The Incû-Holoinas itself is allegedly inhabited. During the First Apocalypse, Anasûrimbor Nau-Cayûti and Seswatha, founder of the Mandate, stole into the Ark to rescue Nau-Cayûti’s concubine and retrieve the fabled Heron Spear. During their descent into the bowels of the vessel, they reported finding a cavernous hold (one of many, if Nonmen records are to be believed) in which a miserable and decrepit city of Sranc, Bashrags, men and other piteous servants of the Consult could be found.

The environs around Golgotterath, cartography by Jason Deem.

The population of Golgotterath is unknown.

It is known that only two Inchoroi have survived the passage of ages since Arkfall: Aurang, the Warlord, and his brother Aurax, master of the Tekne. Cet’ingira, the Man-Traitor, has brought many Nonmen into the fold, mostly Erratics driven insane by the passage of ages, but many of them were lost in the Apocalypse and, much more recently, the four-year assault on Ishuäl. Men, followers of Shaeönanra, the ancient Grandvizier of the Mangaecca who went over to the foe three thousand years ago, also serve the Consult, but in numbers unknown.

The foul creations of the Inchoroi are far more numerous. Largest of all is the population of Sranc, ancient and foul perversions of the Nonmen into ravenous and lustful savages. A tall, powerful breed known as the Ursranc are found within the walls of Golgotterath, whilst many thousands more can be found breeding in the Yimaleti Mountains. Far more still can be found to the west, on the Istyuli Plains, in hordes hundreds of thousands strong. Rarer and more formidable are the Bashrags, tall and broad doubled-headed monsters. Rarest of all are the Wracu, called dragons by men, sorcerous creatures of formidable power. Most of the Wracu were annihilated during the ancient Cûno-Inchoroi Wars, and several of the survivors were slain in the Apocalypse thousands of years later. It is unknown how many Wracu survive.

Arkfall, by Jason Deem.

Over six thousand years ago (and maybe closer to eight), the Incû-Holoinas came to the World. Within, it carried the Inchoroi, an ancient, foul and obscene race. The Inchoroi believed that they were damned, that upon death they would roil and burn for eternity in flames. They could only avoid this fate by reducing the population of their homeworld to 144,000. But, this achieved, they found they were still damned. Using their vast vessel, they travelled from world to world, raining death down on each on, reducing the populations to the same level. But still they found themselves condemned to the hells.

Finally, they stumbled across the Chosen World, the world on which the continent of Eärwa rests. Why this world was different is unknown. They prepared to cleanse it, but an accident took place (the details of which remain unclear). The Ark of the Heavens instead fell to the ground. The Inchoroi triggered the Inertial Inversion Field, a blast of energy which created a landing field for the Ark as well as dramatically slowing its descent. But this force was not as effective as it should have been. The Ark’s impact blasted millions of tons of rock, earth and rubble into the skies, sending a reverberating crack around the world. A firestorm scoured the land in all directions for hundreds of miles. The storm lashed even the walls of Viri, the nearest Nonman Mansion, killing thousands whilst earthquakes killed tens of thousands more in the deeps.

Inside the Ark, the impact was calamitous. The vessel survived, but many inside were killed instantly, more still being heavily injured. One of the two Horns, the great Oars of the Ark, became unhinged and canted, robbing the vessel of the motive power to take off again. Most of the Arsenal, the dread cache of weapons which had near-extinguished life on dozens or hundreds of worlds, was destroyed or rendered inoperable. It is unknown how many died inside the Ark, save that the Inchoroi put the combined death-toll of Arkfall (inside and outside the vessel) at over ten million. Eventually, it fell to one of the Inchoroi, Sil, to rouse his battered fellows. He loosed Wutteät, the Father-of-Dragons, the Wracu template and his greatest weapon, and flew from a portal high on the Upright Horn to observe the World. Inchoroi scouts left the vessel (borne from the high portal to the ground by Wracu, as the boiling cauldron of what was to become the Scab was fatal to even approach) and in time two of these were captured by the Cûnuroi scout and fabled warrior Ingalira. Unable to approach the vessel, Ingalira took the creatures back to Viri, now a conquest of the bold High King Cû’jara Cinmoi of Siöl. Cû’jara Cinmoi bid the creatures explain themselves, but the noises they made were without meaning. Dubbing the creatures Inchoroi, or “People of Emptiness”, Cû’jara Cinmoi put them to death (their ugly appearance offended him) and set a Watch on the Fallen Ark whilst he made war on the other Mansions.

The Inchoroi were masters of the Tekne, the art of machines and science. Discovering their lacked the biological ability to communicate with the Nonmen, they grafted Nonmen-like faces onto their own bodies and learned the Nonman language. A delegation of Inchoroi then slipped past the watchers and infiltrated Viri. There they contacted Nin’janjin, the former King of Viri, and offered him a deal: they would offer military support to him in ejecting the Siölan invaders in return for his help in achieving their goals. Nin’janjin agreed. Viri rebelled and a great host of Inchoroi and Viri troops gathered on the field of Pir Pahal, beyond the Neleost, to confront the armies of Cû’jara Cinmoi. However, many of the Viri objected to the Inchoroi’s obscene appearance and their practice of wearing festering bodies as garments of war. They rejected Nin’janjin’s command and declared common cause with Cû’jara Cinmoi against the creatures.

The Inchoroi took the Nonmen too lightly, trusting in their weapons – particularly their spears of light which could inflict horrific damage from heat over vast distances – too much. They had no knowledge of sorcery and were unprepared for the power of the Gnosis. Although they inflicted hideous casualties on the Nonmen, they were swept from the field and Sil, High King of the Inchoroi, was slain, his Heron Spear taken up by Cû’jara Cinmoi. Cinmoi was unable to complete his victory, instead having to confront rebellions in distant corners of his empire. A renewed Watch was placed on the Ark.
A century or more later, the Inchoroi sued for peace through their representative, the Traitor-King Nin’janjin. Cû’jara Cinmoi, by now aged and approached death, was amazed to see his once-vassal was untouched by the passage of time. Nin’janjin begged for peace and asked what boon the Inchoroi could provide to win their freedom. Cinmoi replied that he wanted the same gift that Nin’janjin had received, to be able to live forever and have the threat of death removed. The Inchoroi agreed, and administered the Inoculation, the treatment that rendered the Nonmen immortal.

Over one hundred years later, the depth of the Inchoroi plan was revealed. The Nonmen were immortal, but then the entire female half of their species fell ill, sickened and died. The Womb Plague killed over half of the entire Nonman species, millions upon millions of them. In utter fury, Cû’jara Cinmoi raised the forces of all nine High Mansions against the Inchoroi and fought them on the Black Furnace Plain before the Ark, which was now called Min-Uroikas, the Pit of Obscenities. The Battle of Pir Minginnial was long, hard-fought and filled with victories for both sides. But ultimately the battle was won by the Inchoroi, the Traitor-King Nin’janjin striking down and beheading Cû’jara Cinmoi himself. The Nonmen fled and for five centuries suffered setbacks and defeats. Great Scaldings blasted the walls of Mansions large and small, Wracu and newly-forged Sranc and Bashrags unleashed in their thousands and Tekne trinkets known as Chorae defying the Gnosis itself.

The Cûno-Inchoroi Wars ended, however, in defeat for the Inchoroi. Nil’giccas, High King of Nihrimsûl and Ishoriöl, raised a great host and defeated the Inchoroi at the Battle of Isal’imial, throwing down the gates of Min-Uroikas and finally storming the Golden Ark itself. The Inchoroi were massacred, the Sranc destroyed in such numbers that for centuries they were reduced to mere inconveniences scrabbling at the margins of Eärwa, and apparently the endless war was won. Though it took twenty years, the Ark was cleansed, passage-by-passage, room-by-room and chamber-by-chamber. All aside one.

Deep in the Ark lay the Golden Court of Sil, the throne-room of the Inchoroi King. In this chamber, there was also an artifact of unknown capability and origin: the Inverse Fire. Every Nonman who beheld this object went insane on the instant, declaring that the Inchoroi were right and that the Nonmen were damned to an eternity of fire and hell as well. This was the room which had turned Nin’janjin and countless Nonmen Qûya mages to the foe, convincing them to create the Chorae and betray their people. Nil’giccas sent his three greatest heroes, the warriors Misariccas and Rûnidil and the mage Cet’ingira, to investigate further. Misariccas and Rûnidil returned gibbering and raving, but Cet’ingira was silent. Nil’giccas demanded his report and Cet’ingira replied that his comrades had gone over to the foe and needed to be put to death, immediately. Nil’giccas complied. He then ordered that the Ark be evacuated and a sorcerous barrier, the Barricades, be placed over the remaining portal to prevent entry. The Ark could not be destroyed, so instead it was abandoned, sealed off and forgotten.

Thousands of years passed. The Four Tribes of Men invaded Eärwa through the Great Kayarsus Mountains, throwing down Siöl itself in the Breaking of the Gates. The Nonman Mansions fell, only Ishoriöl and Cil-Aujas surviving. The Norsirai, proudest of the Tribes, settled the North, raising towns and then cities along the Aumris River Valley and later the first kingdoms and empires. Peace was forged between Man and Nonman, Nil’giccas sending his greatest Qûya and warriors among the humans to teach them the ways of the Gnosis and bind them as allies. So began the Nonman Tutelage, and for the first time the words Incû-Holoinas and Min-Uroikas became known to men, albeit at first as legends and myths.

Cet’ingira was one of these teachers, a Siqû, and he found himself willing students and allies among the Mangaecca, a newly-founded Gnostic school of sorcery. He had lied when he had said he had resisted the Fire. Instead, he had been struck by its power but also retained his instinct for self-preservation. Now he told the Mangaecca of the location of the Golden Horns and soon they had located it. Basing themselves in the ruins of Viri and pretending to scour its depths for secrets, instead they put themselves to work on the Golden Ark. They raised the walls around the fallen vessel and rebuilt the fallen Extrinsic Gate. They then put themselves to the task of removing the Barricades, the construction of the fabled Artisan Emilidis, but could not succeed. The Barricades defied every attempt to remove them for almost four hundred years.

Then Shaeönanra, Grandvizier of the Mangaecca, and Cet’ingira combined their powers. They found a weakness and unravelled it. In the Year-of-the-Tusk 1111 the Barricades fell and they entered the Golden Ark. They found the last two surviving Inchoroi, Aurax and Aurang, and thus the Unholy Consult, the pact of damnation which would echo through eternity, was forged. Barely eight years later the Consult claimed their first victim. Shaeönanra and Aurang slew Titirga, Grandmaster of the Sohonc and the greatest sorcerer in history, and the greatest threat to their plans. A few years later Shaeönanra declared the Mangaecca’s discovering, claiming that within the Ark he had found a way of negating the threat of damnation that was the lot of every sorcerer. He was reviled and his school outlawed, its few remaining practitioners fleeing to the Incû-Holoinas, or as the entire complex was now known, Golgotterath. Shaeönanra survived, kept alive by a fusion of the Tekne and the Gnosis.

One thousand years later, the Unholy Consult finally achieved their goal. The Nonmen had an inkling of what was happening – an Apocalypse in the waiting – and warned their greatest ally, Seswatha of the Sohonc. Seswatha in turn raised the alarm to his friend Anasûrimbor Celmomas II, High King of Kûniüri. Celmomas assembled the greatest army in history, the First Ordeal, backed by the power of Aörsi and Ishterebinth, and marched on the Golden Ark. Two sieges of the vessel proved ineffectual. At one stage Seswatha and Celmomas’s son Nau-Cayûti stole inside the Ark to recover the Heron Spear, but the Consult allegedly slew Nau-Cayûti in response, defiling his grave afterwards. Furious, the armies of Kûniüri re-invested the Ark but just a few months later suffered the event known as Initiation: the birth of the No-God. The ferocious Whirlwind of the No-God, directing a horde of Sranc numbering in the hundreds of thousands, destroyed armies of Kûniüri on the Black Furnace Plain and then obliterated what was left on the Fields of Eleneöt. The Horde of the No-God ravaged Earwa, destroying the Meörn Empire, Akksersia, the Shiradi Empire and even fabled Kyraneas, the jewel of the Three Seas.

It fell to the remnants of shattered Kyraneas to engage the Horde of the No-God at the Battle of Mengedda. As the Whirlwind raged above, King Anaxophus V raised the Heron Spear he had salvaged from the Eleneöt Field and cast a beam of light into its heart. The No-God was killed, its horde scattered to the winds and the Consult forced to withdraw to Golgotterath.

For two thousand years since, the Ancient North has been covered in Sranc, preventing any expedition from striking out for Golgotterath and finally destroying it. The kingdoms of the Three Seas soon feel to internal bickering, religious strife and political chaos. It was only during the Holy War, the attempt by the Men of the Tusk to reclaim the Holy City of Shimeh from the heathen Fanim, that the Consult’s existence again made itself known, through the revelation of skin-spies and the arrival of Anasûrimbor Kellhus, first the Prince of Nothing, then the Warrior-Prophet and then the Aspect-Emperor of the Three Seas. Kellhus subdued the Three Seas and ordered the assembly of the greatest army in history. Their goal would be to cross the Istyuli Plains, circle the Misty Sea, cross the River Sursa and finally cast down the Horns of Golgotterath in ruin.

Thus began the Great Ordeal.

Origins and Influences
R. Scott Bakker conceived of The Second Apocalypse series whilst running Dungeons and Dragons campaigns for his brother and his friends in the mid-1980s. Initially he conceived the series as a trilogy, ending on a bold (but likely controversial) ending. This is the story that was eventually to make up the first seven books of the series, culminating in the soon-to-be-released Unholy Consult (July 2017). Later he decided this ending might not be entirely satisfactory, so expanded the series to include a revised ending and conceptualised the whole thing as a trilogy.

 He developed the world and the story over a period of about fifteen years before he started writing The Darkness That Came Before, which was published in 2003. It was followed by The Warrior-Prophet (2004) and The Thousandfold Thought (2005), the three books collectively known as The Prince of Nothing. Bakker had conceived the entire story as a trilogy, but the three books only covered the first third of the story. His original “middle volume” of the series became its own series, The Aspect-Emperor, expanding (after several unforeseen delays) to four volumes: The Judging Eye (2009), The White-Luck Warrior (2011), The Great Ordeal (2016) and The Unholy Consult (2017). A further series, The No-God, currently planned to be a duology, will conclude the entire saga.

The Second Apocalypse fuses real-life history, particularly that of the Crusades and Alexander the Great, to religious imagery and mythology, as well as drawing in a strong science fiction focus, with side-stories exploring everything from quantum physics to genetic engineering to Biblical numerology. But Bakker was also inspired by more obvious sources: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Frank Herbert’s Dune and (much later in the developmental process), George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. In particular, Tolkien resonated strongly with Bakker, whose own creation myths, immortal Nonmen and horrible monsters echo many elements found in the earlier work.

Bakker was also impressed by the idea in Dune of a messiah (Paul Atreides) arising and it initially appearing that he was the good guy, but later on it being revealed that he had inadvertently killed billions of people. Anasûrimbor Kellhus, the protagonist of the series, can be seen as a mixture of Paul Atreides, Jesus and the Mentats of Dune, human computers capable of computing the outcome of almost any circumstance. However, Bakker felt that Herbert had later sold out on the thematic ideas of the series as he added numerous and unnecessary sequels, and was determined not to do the same thing.

For the bad guys of the series, he settled on the Inchoroi: space aliens who didn’t just kill people, but used technology and pheromones to make them love them first, a horrible perversion of human emotion and spirit. And every race of Dark Lords needs it Dark Tower. The Inchoroi do things on a stupendous scale, so their base of operations similarly became huge and towering in scope: a crashed biotech spacecraft called the Ark of the Skies and the dark city that grew up around it, Golgotterath. For six novels our hero, the wizard Achamian, has dreamed of the Ark and its towering Golden Horns, using his sorcery-imbued visions of the First Apocalypse to explore it. But in The Unholy Consult, Achamian and the Great Ordeal will finally reach Golgotterath and discover the revelations that wait within.

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.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

David Tennant and Michael Sheen to star in GOOD OMENS

In possibly the best and most appropriate casting news ever, British actors Michael Sheen (Masters of Sex, Frost/Nixon, Twilight) and David Tennant (Doctor Who, Jessica Jones) have been tapped to play the leading roles in the Amazon/BBC adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's 1990 novel Good Omens.

Sheen will play the angel Aziraphale and Tennant will play his redoubtable friend, the demon Crowley. The story revolves around the end of the world and the emergence of the Antichrist, but as the forces of good and evil ready themselves for battle, Aziraphale and Crowley realise that actually the world is kind of fine as it is and join forces to stop the end of everything.

Pratchett's own Narrativia Productions, now run by his daughter Rihanna, will co-produce the series alongside Amazon and the BBC. It will be a six-episode mini-series.

A History of Middle-earth Part 5: Númenor and the Rings of Power

Part 1 can be found here.

To some, the Second Age of the Sun is a dark age from which few records have survived, at least of events in Middle-earth. This was the age of the domination of the Kingdom of Númenor, of the growing hubris of its kings and of the disastrous folly that ended its existence. The Second Age lasted 3,441 years from the end of the inundation of Beleriand to the desperate Last Battle of the Last Alliance on the slopes of the volcano Mount Doom, but although that battle ended a war, evil was allowed to endure into the Third Age.

"Annatar" and Celebrimbor seal their alliance during the Second Age. From the video game Shadows of Mordor.

The Dawn of a New Age

In the War of Wrath Beleriand was ruined utterly and slowly sank beneath the ocean. Only parts of Thargelion and Ossiriand survived above the waves and between these two regions the Ered Luin burst asunder, shattering the dwarven city of Nogrod, and the sea rushed into the lowlands beyond, forming the great Gulf of Lhûn.

Most of the elves now removed themselves to Valinor, but some remained. Celeborn of Doriath, who had not seen the Light of the Trees and had no reason to leave, remained, as did his kinsman Thranduil. Galadriel was torn between staying and leaving, but in the end elected to remain with Celeborn, whom she had wed in Beleriand, and she was told that evil had not yet totally departed Middle-earth and she would not be allowed to return to Valinor until it was finally vanquished.

Gil-galad also remained as High King of the Noldor, and Celebrimbor son of Curufin, who desired to stay in the mortal lands and make amends for the sins of his father. Then came Círdan, oldest of all the elves of Middle-earth, and claimed that he would not leave these shores until an end came to the elves in Middle-earth altogether.

But to Elrond and Elros, the sons of Eärendil, a different path was offered. They were half-elven, but could not remain so. They could become fully mortal and fully men, or they could become fully immortal and fully elven. Elrond chose to become a full elf, and was welcomed into the house of Gil-galad with honour, and Elrond became Gil-galad’s chief counsellor and his herald in times of war. But Elros was beloved by the surviving Edain, and chose to become mortal. He was then acclaimed Lord and King of the Edain.

The elves founded new kingdoms upon the newly-formed western coast of Middle-earth, most notably Lindon about the Gulf of Lhûn. Here Círdan founded the town of Mithlond, the Grey Havens, whilst Gil-galad established his capital at the northern haven of Forlond. Celeborn and Galadriel removed to the southern haven of Harlond. Celebrimbor also remained here a while, but Thranduil almost immediately travelled east. Beyond the great Misty Mountains he found a vast number of elves who had never seen the Light of the Trees and to whom the name of Morgoth was but a distant legend and remote fear. Travelling north and east Thranduil entered the great Greenwood the Great and selected for his kingdom the northern end of the forest, where in memory of lost Menegroth he built an underground hall, but it was a pale shadow of fallen Doriath.

For the Edain, who had proven their faithfulness to the elves in battle, the Valar created a great, star-shaped island in the midst of the Belegaer and named this Westernesse. Then the Edain travelled to the isle under their king Elros and became known as the Dúnedain, or Elf-friends of the West, and swore undying alliance and loyalty to the elves of Middle-earth, and upon Westernesse they built a great kingdom, and this kingdom grew mighty in legend and song. Númenor it was called, the Westland of the Dúnedain.

But evil had survived as well as good in Middle-earth. For in the War of Wrath it fell to Eonwë herald of Manwë to find and subdue Sauron, greatest servant of Morgoth. Sauron was defeated in combat and humbled, and Eonwë offered him pardon, but Sauron refused and fled, disappearing into the lands of the furthest east ere Eonwë could stop him. Several Dragons went with him as well, and a balrog, the last surviving one, but the balrog was injured and abandoned Sauron to seek solace in the deep places of the earth where it could heal. Thus, the last balrog fell out of story and song for almost six thousand years, until its long sleep was disturbed.

A map of Númenor, by Robert Altbauer.

The Founding of Númenor
As was related above, the Valar raised the island of Westernesse in the midst of the Belegaer, the Great Sea that lay between Middle-earth and Valinor. Elros led the Dúnedain to found the kingdom of Númenor early in the Age, but it was not until the 32nd year of the Second Age that Elros ascended to the throne in the City of Armenelos, capital of Númenor. He took the name Tar-Minyatur and began the tradition of handing down the Sceptre of the King as the symbol of kingship over Númenor. In the early years of his rule Elros sent ships to Middle-earth and regular communications were established with Lindon, but as the years passed Elros neglected these, for no threat seemed to be laid against the elves of Middle-earth, and Elros could enjoy his own land and his own people in peace. Still, although no more ships passed from Númenor to Middle-earth, occasionally a ship would come from Lindon, either on a special visit to Númenor or carrying elves bound for the Undying Lands, carrying news and tidings of greeting.

Elros died in the 442nd year of the Second Age and was succeeded by his son Vardamir Nólimon. However, although still hale, Vardamir was 379 years old and had begun to fade. Not wishing to rule for a short period only, he waited one year and then handed the sceptre to his own son Tar-Amandil. Thus begun the tradition that the King of Númenor should surrender the sceptre to his heir before the onset of old age and weakness of the mind.

Tar-Amandil ruled from 443 to 590 SA and passed the sceptre to his son Tar-Elendil. Tar-Elendil had three children, only the youngest of whom was male, and for a time it looked like a daughter would follow him, but it is often said that it would have been better had this come to pass. His eldest daughter, Silmariën, was born in 521 SA and her eldest son was Valandil, who was made Lord of Andúnië. Of his line issued, nigh on three thousand years later, Amandil, Last Lord of Andúnië, and his son Elendil the Tall and his sons Isildur and Anárion, whose names stand great among the Dúnedain. But Tar-Elendil did indeed have a son, Tar-Meneldur, who became King of Númenor in 740 SA.

Now, in the first years of Tar-Elendil’s reign rumour came of disquiet in Middle-earth. Hostile men, akin of the reviled traitor Easterlings of the First Age, were said to be growing in power in the east of Middle-earth and the elves had not the power to fully contain them, for even their new kingdoms such as Eregion were far from the centres of power for these enemies. Thus Tar-Elendil resolved to renew communications with Middle-earth and despatched his Captain of the Ships, Vëantur, to Mithlond. Vëantur arrived at the Grey Havens in the 600th year of the Second Age and was welcomed with great honour, for Gil-galad and his lords had begun to wonder if any Númenórean would again sail out of the West. Relations were improved, and after this ships from the west came often to the harbours of the elves.

The greatest mariner in Númenor’s history is often held to be Aldarion, later Tar-Aldarion, son of Tar-Meneldur. Tar-Meneldur disliked the sea, but allowed his captains to continue their voyages to Middle-earth. But from an early age Aldarion loved the sea, and in his twenty-fifth year undertook his first voyage to Middle-earth. Sailing along the coasts he found a good harbourage at the mouth of what the elves called the River Gwathló, though the Númenóreans called it the Gwathir, the River of Shadows. There Aldarion established a port called Vinyalondë, which in later years was called Lond Daer, and he often visited both this port and Lindon. At length his father despaired, for Aldarion was gone for years at a time, and married late, and father and son were often estranged. Aldarion wed a noble lady of the island, Erendis, but she did not understand his love of the sea at all, and after a long voyage they were estranged as well, and would not speak again.

By this time the first signs of the Shadow had fallen upon Middle-earth and all the elves felt disquiet from the east, moving Gil-galad to send a letter to Tar-Meneldur asking for his aid against the darkness should it come again, but Tar-Meneldur was a man of Númenor and knew little of Middle-earth, and in the end decided to resign the sceptre long before his time in favour of Aldarion, who knew better how to deal with this threat. Thus, Aldarion became King of Númenor in 883 SA, but was often gone on journeys to Middle-earth. His port of Vinyalondë was destroyed by hostile men (ancestors of the Dunlendings) and had to be rebuilt often, and after a time he sailed further upriver and established a bridge and crossing town at Tharbad, where he once met Galadriel and discussed with her matters of import. At this time, the Númenóreans sent what help they could to the elves, and their mariners kept an eye on all sea-traffic along the coast of southern Middle-earth and far to the east where the elves did not go. But Tar-Aldarion resigned the sceptre in 1075 SA and his daughter Tar-Ancalimë, the first ruling Queen of Númenor, neglected his policies, enraged at his lengthy absences during her childhood.

After this the Númenóreans again concentrated on their own concerns and the number of their ships crossing the Sea to Middle-earth dwindled, although never again did these journeys entirely cease. Eventually, rumour came of a growing darkness in Middle-earth during the rule of Tar-Telperien, the second Ruling Queen, but she did not heed it. It fell to her nephew Minastir to build a great fleet of ships and, when the call for help came from Lindon, she agreed to let the fleet be sent. This fleet it was which landed in Lindon and at Vinyalondë in the year 1700 of the Second Age and carried forward a great army to the relief of the elves who, as related below, were sorely pressed at this time.

An illustration by Alan Lee created as background art in Rivendell for the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. This piece is officially listed as a mural of Ost-in-Edhil, capital of Eregion.

The Rings of Power
In the West the power of Númenor grew mighty indeed, but the true danger was growing in the east, for Sauron the Deceiver had adopted a fair guise and gone amongst the rulers of far countries in eastern Middle-earth. He dwelt there a long time, becoming known as a friend of those peoples, and he often spoke of the power and riches of the elves who lived along the west coast of the continent, but he counselled those eastern kingdoms against war, at least just yet, for the elves’ power was still great.

Then, after nigh on five centuries had passed since the downfall of Thangorodrim, Sauron journeyed south and west and came to a desolate land which had once been filled by the Great Inland Sea of Helcar, of which only a small remnant survived as the Sea of Rhûn in the north. He found a deserted plain cradled between three great mountain ranges and, standing alone in the north-west of this plain, a single towering volcano, quiet for now but still active. He named this land Mordor (Black Land) in a fell tongue of the east and established his stronghold here, far enough from Lindon to avoid detection, but near enough to launch his own attack if necessary. At the feet of the Ered Lithui, the Ash Mountains, he began construction of a forbidding fortress. When completed it stood well over three thousand feet in height and was known as Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower, and in its construction Sauron employed evil men of the East and orcs, who he began breeding in preparation for war.

In Lindon, no tidings of this darkness came, only a faint feeling of foreboding. But around the seven hundredth year of the Second Age Celebrimbor led the bulk of the Noldor still living in Middle-earth eastwards to the foothills of the Misty Mountains. Here they found the West-gate of Khazad-dûm, greatest of the dwarven mines, bolstered by the exodus of the dwarvish kin from Nogrod, which had been destroyed in the War of Wrath, and Belegost, which had been abandoned. The elves disliked Khazad-dûm and called it privately Moria, the Black Pit, but at length they softened when they saw the wonders the dwarves had performed, such as the Great Hall of Dwarrowdwelf, the greatest feat of engineering the elves had ever seen, and the mining of mithril. Celebrimbor built a new city along the banks of the River Glanduin, which he called Ost-in-Edhil, and this became the centre of a new elven kingdom, Eregion, which men called Hollin, for it was a verdant land of holly trees. Ost-in-Edhil was completed in 750 SA.

Galadriel and Celeborn left Lindon and after a time came to Eregion, where they were welcomed as kin by Celebrimbor, but it is not known how long they remained there. Galadriel in particular was uncomfortable in Eregion for Celebrimbor harboured a deep affection for her, and after a time she learned from the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm of an elven realm on the other side of the Misty Mountains. She passed through the mines and emerged into the fair Dimrill Dale, and descending the Dimrill Stair came to the realm of Lórinand. This land had been settled by the Dark-elves who had long ago forsaken the Great Journey to Middle-earth and never passed beyond the Misty Mountains. Here Galadriel found an almost spiritual land far closer to the “heart” of Elvishness and far removed from the political strife of other lands. She dwelt here many long years, and in her heart named it Lórien, for the beauty and wonder of this realm was akin to the land of Lórien in Valinor itself.

Meanwhile, Sauron had grown disquieted at the moving of large numbers of elves into the lands east of the Misty Mountains, first in northern Greenwood the Great (where Thranduil still dwelt), then Lórinand. But it was Eregion, home to many battle-hardened Noldor of Beleriand, which attracted his attention most. Adopting his fairest guise, that of an elven prince named Annatar, he went to Eregion and there spoke long with Celebrimbor and the elven-smiths. Galadriel mistrusted him when she met him, and Celeborn also perceived something not right, but Celebrimbor was gladdened by this stranger, for he brought with great knowledge of craft and artifice far beyond that even of the Noldor in their alliance with the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm. many great works they embarked upon together, but the greatest was the Rings of Power.

Now Galadriel removed herself and her daughter Celebrían to Lórinand entirely, but Celeborn would not pass through the mines of Khazad-dûm, remembering too well the destruction wreaked upon Doriath by the Dwarves. Thus he remained, and watched with growing dismay the growing influence of Annatar upon the elven-smiths, and his awakening in them of desire to craft items of power.

Sauron and Celebrimbor together crafted the Nine Rings, which they decided would be given to the noblest Kings of men. The Nine had the ability to make their wearers invisible, but Sauron also adjusted their powers so that those who wore them would fall into a wraith-like existence which would make them servants of Sauron. Next, they crafted the Seven Rings of the Dwarves, but the properties of these rings was never made clear. Sauron left Eregion and returned to Mordor, but in secret Celebrimbor forged the Three Rings of the elves. He gave one to Galadriel, but sent the other two to Gil-galad, strongest of the elves of Middle-earth.

But, in secret, Sauron went into the fires of Mount Doom, and there forged the One Ruling Ring, the most powerful of the Rings of Power, which would have dominion over all the others. But when Sauron put on the Ring for the first time, in the year 1601 SA, Celebrimbor perceived his purpose through the Three Rings, and Sauron’s true identity and ambition was made clear.

Parts 6-9 of the History of Middle-earth Series are available to read now on my Patreon feed as follows:

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 and History of Middle-earth series are debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read them there one month before being published on the Wertzone.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

MISTBORN RPG video game cancelled

Video game studio Little Orbit have been working on a role-playing video game based on Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn novels for the past few years. Yesterday they confirmed that the project has been cancelled after a pair of publishing deals fell through.

Little Orbit announced the game as Mistborn: Birthright in 2012 and have spent five years developing a rule set and engine for the game. They took their time on the project, as Little Orbit is a relatively small company best-known for low-budget tie-ins with various properties but wanted to give this project more time and attention.

Unfortunately, Little Orbit appear to have been behind on the curve, preferring to work through publishers rather than releasing games directly to Steam or engaging in crowdfunding. When two publisher deals fell through in rapid succession, the company was forced to cancel the project and only barely survived folding altogether.

Although this is sad news, it does raise the intriguing possibility of a higher-profile company picking up the rights. The movie rights to the Mistborn series (as well as the rest of the Cosmere universe) were picked up a year ago and a writer was assigned to the first Mistborn movie back in January. If the film hits the big screen, expect to see renewed interest in the books and possible further spin-offs.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

A History of Middle-earth Part 4: The War of Wrath

Part 1 can be found here.

In the Elder Days of Middle-earth, the First Age of the World, the Dark Lord Morgoth stole the Silmarils, the greatest treasure of the Noldor elves. Morgoth took shelter in his fortress of Angband in the north of Beleriand, that long-vanished land west of the Blue Mountains, and there made war upon the elves and their allies, the dwarves and the late-arriving tribes of men.
The Noldor, defying the will of the Valar, arrived in Middle-earth and defeated Morgoth's forces, laying siege to Angband for over four centuries. In the Battle of Sudden Flame Morgoth breached the siege, but found the elven forces more resilient than expected, thanks to their new human allies. In the Battle of Unnumbered Tears Morgoth finally gained the upper hand through treachery and drove his enemies back in defeat, and began the long task of finally destroying the last resistance to his rule.

Maglor casts the Silmaril into the sea, by Ted Nasmith.

The Fall of Doriath
After learning of his son and daughter’s deaths and seeing his wife’s passing, Húrin went to Nargothrond and there encountered Mîm the petty-dwarf. Angered at the thief’s presence, Húrin slew him and took from the ruined halls the Nauglamír, greatest of the treasures of Nargothrond, the fabled Necklace of the Dwarves given to Finrod Felagund by the dwarves of Nogrod for his alliance with them. Then Húrin went to Doriath and gave the Nauglamír to Thingol as payment for Thingol’s protection of his family. Then Húrin knew his time had come at last and he travelled west to the shores of Beleriand and then cast himself into the Belegaer, knowing his time on Earth was done.
Now Thingol commissioned the dwarves of Nogrod to forge anew the Nauglamír so he might bear the Silmaril given to him by Beren and Lúthien upon it, but the dwarves were unhappy with the task, for they had given the Necklace to their friend Finrod, not to proud Thingol who yet mistrusted them and had never been their ally. After the Necklace was completed the Silmaril was placed upon it, and it awoke greed in the hearts of the dwarves. They slew Thingol were he stood and took the Nauglamír and the Silmaril upon it and passed out of Doriath, but the grey-elves were filled with wrath and pursued them, slaughtering them on the banks of the River Aros and taking the Nauglamír and the Silmaril back to Doriath. There Melian was filled with great grief and sent word to Ossiriand that Beren and Lúthien should return at once. Then Melian gathered herself together and departed Middle-earth forever, passing to Valinor beyond the Sea to dwell in the gardens of the Vala Lórien as she had in the years before the Stars. But when she left, the enchantment of the Girdle failed also and Doriath was laid open to its enemies.
Two dwarves escaped the vengeance of the elves and, coming to Nogrod, aroused the wrath of their kinsfolk. Then a great dwarven host came down the Ered Luin and invaded eastern Doriath. many elves and dwarves fell in lengthy battle and much of the forest was engulfed in flames, and blood was spilled even in Menegroth itself. But the dwarves at last won the day and, taking the Nauglamír and the Silmaril for their own, retreated towards the east.
In Ossiriand there still lived Beren and Lúthien, and with them dwelt their son Dior and his wife Nimloth, who was kinswoman to Celeborn of Doriath, husband of the Lady Galadriel, the only surviving child of Finarfin. All of these were present in Ossiriand when news came of the dwarves’ assault. Beren, Dior and Celeborn arrayed themselves for war and with a great host marched north to intercept the dwarves before they could return to Nogrod. There, at Sarn Athrad, the dwarves were slain and the Silmaril recovered. The few dwarves who survived the battle were caught by the Shepherds of the Trees, the Ents, and slain in the shadow of the Ered Luin. The treasures of Menegroth that the dwarves had stolen were emptied into the River Ascar, which henceforth was known as Rathlóriel, the Goldenbed, but Beren took the Silmaril back to Tol Galen and gave it to Lúthien. Then Dior and his wife Nimloth and their sons and their daughter Elwing returned to Menegroth and ruled in peace there for four years. Before the end of this time Beren and Lúthien passed on to the Halls of Mandos of their own free will, but before they went they delivered the Silmaril unto their son.
The Sons of Fëanor had thusfar let the one Silmaril outside Morgoth’s control be, for whilst it lay in the command of Thingol it was unattainable through the Girdle of Melian and taking it would have resulted in full-scale war between the Exiles and the far more numerous Sindar. But now the Sindarin were fading, with many fleeing to the Falas and Ossiriand after the sack of Menegroth, and the Girdle of Melian was gone. Then the Sons of Fëanor came to Menegroth and Dior ordered them gone, but they would not heed him. So took place the Second Kinslaying, with Noldor pitted against Sindar in the Thousand Caves. In this battle, at least Celegorm, Curufin and dark Caranthir were slain, but so fell Dior and his wife Nimloth. Their sons Eluréd and Elurín were left to starve in the forest, but Maedhros and Maglor, and Curufin’s son Celebrimbor repented this crime and sought them, but in vain. In the confusion of battle Elwing took the Silmaril and led her people south to Arvernien, the country surrounding the Mouths of Sirion, and there dwelt many long years.

Tuor comes to Gondolin, by Tad Nasmith.

The Tale of Tuor and Idril and the Fall of Gondolin
Whilst his cousin Túrin managed to evade the Easterlings of Dor-lómin, Tuor son of Huor was captured and made to serve in thralldom for three years. Escaping from the Easterlings, Tuor fled and dwelt alone in the wilds for many years, slaying Orcs as he found them, and in this his tale resembled that of his cousin Túrin, but Tuor was more honourable and not marked by a curse of Morgoth. Then Ulmo, Lord of the Sea, cast his eye upon Middle-earth and, like all the Valar, was troubled by the growing evil of Morgoth, but like the rest of the Valar he had to obey the law of Manwë, that only a combined plea of mankind and elfkin could win the alliance of the Valar against Morgoth. But no ban was set on helping individuals, and thus Ulmo filled Tuor’s heart with a longing for the sea.
So, following a call which he did not understand, Tuor passed from Hithlum into Nevrast, that country by the sea where many years before Turgon had dwelt, and there found in the shadow of Mount Taras Turgon’s old fortress of Vinyamar. Within the fortress Tuor found Turgon’s old armour and weapons, left here at Ulmo’s bidding when Turgon went to build Gondolin, and arrayed himself in this gear. Then Tuor gazed upon the Belegaer. To Tuor’s amazement, Ulmo Lord of Waters arose before him and bade him to seek out the Hidden Realm of Gondolin. Tuor agreed, but did not know the way. Then a ship sailed out of the east and foundered upon the coast, and it was piloted by Voronwë, the last mariner sent by Turgon west to seek out lost Valinor. Voronwë agreed to guide Tuor to Gondolin and away they went, but the spies of Morgoth marked their passing. Again, they failed to find Gondolin, but the search was narrowed to a particular set of mountain ranges in the south-west of Dorthonion.
Thus, it came to pass that Tuor came before Turgon, Lord of Gondolin and the mightiest of the remaining free elves of Beleriand. Tuor delivered his warning from Ulmo, that the doom of Gondolin drew nigh and its people should prepare to leave, but Turgon chose not to heed it, instead raising his troops and promising that if Morgoth’s legions should come, they would not find Gondolin unprepared. Moved by the valour of the Noldor, Tuor chose to remain with him. Tuor became mighty in warfare and was honoured by the elves, and thus Idril Celeabrindal, daughter of Turgon, fell in love with Tuor, and they married. But, as with the custom of Beren and Lúthien, Idril had to give up her immortality to remain with him, but she agreed to this and in the 503rd year of the First Age they had a son, Eärendil.
Also in Gondolin there lived the dark-elf Maeglin, a warrior of great renown, and he loved Idril, but she mistrusted him and would not love him back. Enraged when she took a mortal as husband, Maeglin sought to avenge himself upon Tuor. One day, in the 511th year of the First Age, Maeglin wandered out of Gondolin and was set upon by the servants of Morgoth. Borne to Thangorodrim, he agreed to reveal the location of Gondolin in return for Idril being given to him after her capture. To this the Dark Power assented, but only if Maeglin returned to Gondolin and weakened it from within. Maeglin agreed.
It came to pass that the armies of Morgoth at last learned the location of Gondolin, the Hidden Realm, after four centuries of searching. So as not to alert the elves to their peril, Morgoth sent his aerial troops of balrogs and dragons to attack the city from the sky. Thus took place the Fall of Gondolin, the most desperate and heroic of the great battles of Beleriand. Many are the tales of greatness in this battle, of how the great warrior Ecthelion duelled Gothmog Lord of the Balrogs before the great Fountain of Gondolin and slew the demon, quenching his flames with such force that even the other balrogs knew fear for the first time, but Ecthelion perished also. Turgon and his household fought a series of great battles against the balrogs and dragons upon the highest towers of Gondolin, delaying them so that their people could escape, and in this they were successful, for most of the populace evacuated by hidden, long-prepared escape tunnels. But at the end Turgon died and the woe of the Noldor was great for he, like Finrod, was among the most valiant and honourable of them all.
Tuor and a loyal band of warriors escorted the women and children of Gondolin from the city, but Maeglin assailed them, desiring Idril for himself, and Tuor slew him in wrath. Then they fled the city and came to the Encircling Mountains, but were set upon by Orcs and a balrog. Glorfindel, chief of the House of the Golden Flower of Gondolin, battled the balrog and both fell to their ruin in the abyss. Thorondor retrieved Glorfindel’s body and he was buried with honour, but his self-sacrifice moved even the Valar; in the Halls of Mandos he was allowed to remain and, a thousand or more years later, he was permitted to return to Middle-earth and re-enter the service of his people.
But for now the remaining refugees fled, and they were aided by Thorondor, who came forth with many Eagles and they assailed the attackers, and took many of the wounded by air to Arvernien. But the majority had to flee by foot, down from Dorthonion to Sirion and along its banks for hundreds of miles. The dwellers of Arvernien, led by Elwing, learned of their coming and sent boats upriver to help them after they passed the Falls of Sirion, and thus came more refugees to Arvernien.
But Gondolin, the Hidden Realm, was now in ruins. With the destruction of Doriath and Gondolin, all of Beleriand lay open to attack by the Dark Power.

The Shores of Valinor, by Ted Nasmith.

The Tale of Eärendil the Mariner
Now the hosts of night drew in, yet Morgoth was leisurely. The centres of resistance to him were gone, the great kingdoms lay in ruins, and all that was left of the elves and men of Beleriand were scattered remnants. The Falas was assailed and the great citadels of Eglarest and Brithombar were destroyed, and Círdan and Gil-galad removed themselves to the Isle of Balar. In Ossiriand the Green-elves began leaving, fleeing over the Ered Luin to Eriador, but Galadriel and Celeborn remained behind with other kinsmen of Doriath, including Thranduil.
But it was in Arvernien that the true strength was gathering, for here had come the refugees of Doriath and Gondolin, led by Tuor and his wife Idril, and by Elwing of Doriath. Knowing now that the defeat of Morgoth could only be achieved by the Valar themselves, Tuor and Idril took ship for Valinor, but did not find it. Eärendil, son of Tuor, wed Elwing, daughter of Dior, and thus was the first and only union of the Half-elven and the Half-elven. In time they had two sons, twins, which was a great blessing for elves, and these were called Elrond and Elros.
Now E­ärendil was a great mariner and many times sailed into the Belegaer searching for Valinor, but he could not find it. But such were his skills that he always brought his ship home again to port in Arvernien. Whilst he was away on such a voyage, the remaining Sons of Fëanor came to Arvernien and demanded the return of the Silmaril, now held by Elwing, but she refused and the Third Kinslaying took place, and Amrod and Amras were slain, and many others taken prisoner by Maedhros and Maglor. Rather than stay and be the continued cause of bloodshed, Elwing hurled herself into the sea, but the light of the Silmaril transformed her into a bird and guided by the Light of the Trees she sought out Eärendil at sea and was reunited with him. Then the Light of the Trees guided them westwards, piercing through the cloak of shadows the Valar had flung around the Undying Realm, and in the distance, they saw the peak of Taniquetil rising to the heavens. 
So they found their way to Tol Eressëa, but it was dark and empty, and passing through the Calacirya they saw no sign of life. At first their hearts were fill with despair, for surely nothing could have happened to the Valar themselves, but then they entered Valmar itself and understood, for before the Circle of Doom stood the assembled hosts of Valinor, the Valar themselves, their legions of Maiar servants and Ingwë Lord of the Vanyar, and Finarfin Lord of the Noldor who remained and Olwë Lord of the Teleri, and their followers besides. Then Eärendil and Elwing were brought hither to the Circle and bade speak for their peoples, for as half-elves they could speak for both men and elves. They pleaded for help in the hopeless struggle against Morgoth Lord of Darkness, before endless night came down upon Beleriand and all Middle-earth.
Then Manwë King of the Earth announced that he was satisfied by their plea, that the Doom of Mandos had been lifted and that the Valar must at last deal with their wayward brother. Then his herald Eonwë assembled such a vast assemblage of war that had never before been seen, and they went by sea and by sky to Middle-earth.

The Door of Night, by John Howe

The War of Wrath and the Ruin of Beleriand
In the 600th year of the First Age, true defeat stared the free peoples of Middle-earth in defeat, for Arvernien was destroyed, the great kingdoms obliterated, and the elves reduced to a few groups huddling on the Isle of Balar and in far Ossiriand, and the total victory of Morgoth seemed certain.
Then the western sky grew dark and ominous, and the island of Tol Eressëa was again returned to the shores of Middle-earth bearing upon it the countless hosts of the Maiar and the High elves from beyond the sea, and they were led by Tulkas Lord of Battle and by Ulmo Lord of Waters and by Eonwë, who came in Manwë’s stead (for it is the lot of Manwë and Varda never to leave the land of Valinor ere the Last Battle at the end of time). And at their head rode Eärendil, who had been given a star chariot as a vehicle of war. And in the War of Wrath which followed, when the hosts of Morgoth were battled to their annihilation, Eärendil cast down Ancalagon the Black and many other great dragons, and many balrogs fell also.
Then, when all seemed over, Tulkas the Mighty strode forth and uprooted Thangorodrim, shattering the triple-peaked volcano with such force that the entire land of Beleriand was cracked and broken, and flooded the deep dungeons of Angband. Then Morgoth came forth and battled Tulkas, but again Tulkas proved the victor, and chained Morgoth as he had once before. Then, leaving Beleriand smouldering and indeed sinking behind them, the Valar took Morgoth to the Sunlands at the far ends of the Earth and there thrust him through the Door of Night into the Outer Darkness, and set Eärendil as guard against his return. Then, their work done, the Valar returned to the Undying Lands.
But what of the Silmarils, may be asked? Maedhros and Maglor, last surviving sons of Fëanor, released their prisoners from the battle at Arvernien, including Elrond and Elros sons of Eärendil, and then took possession of the Iron Crown of Morgoth. They plucked the Silmarils from it, but were burned by their purity, for in their quest to recover the jewels they had become touched by evil and hubris. This they understood too late and they repented of all their crimes. Then Maedhros journeyed far into the lands of the east, and there found a great chasm of fire. He cast himself and the jewel into the flames, ending them both, but Maglor, whose crimes were less, contented himself by merely throwing his Silmaril into the sea. Of what became after him afterwards, none may say.
So ended the First Age of the Sun and the War of the Great Jewels, the hopeless struggle against the Great Darkness. But, though Morgoth was banished from the Earth, Mandos prophesised that at the Last Battle Morgoth would return, increased in power, and all the world would tremble at his coming.

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