Monday, 21 August 2017

A Song of Three Seasons: The SF Game of Thrones

It is a world where the seasons last for years, where summers can span decades and devastating winters can threaten to destroy civilisation altogether. In the warmth of summer, princes and kings do battle and play their games of thrones. But in the depths of the coldest winters, the humans seek shelter behind the walls of their castles and cities. Strange creatures appear our of the uttermost north and move south in great migrations which threaten humanity with extinction. This all unfolds on a world called...Helliconia?

Maps and charts of Helliconia, created by Brian W. Aldiss whilst writing his trilogy.

In 1982 Brian W. Aldiss published the novel Helliconia Spring. One of the grandmasters of science fiction, renowned for books like Hothouse, Non-Stop and Report on Probability A, as well as works of mainstream fiction and poetry, Aldiss had made the surprising decision to return to SF on a grand scale. For this trilogy he tapped a wellspring of local talent and expertise. Living in Oxford, with the university and its plethora of experts in every field of science imaginable at hand, Aldiss set out to create the single most detailed, expanse planet ever described in science fiction. And he succeeded. Helliconia remains the most remarkable feat of worldbuilding in SF history, outstripping even Frank Herbert's Arrakis (famously detailed in his Dune novels) for the vigour of its scientific plausibility.

At the heart of Aldiss's trilogy is an idea that modern fans of fantasy may find familiar: a world where the seasons last not just three months, but years and even centuries. But unlike George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, the seasons of Helliconia are rooted in real scientific principles.

Helliconia is an Earth-like planet approximately 28% larger than Earth but with a more pronounced axial tilt of 35 degrees. This results in the planet having enormous icecaps which are larger than Earth's, but the planet nevertheless retains as much surface area as Earth, extending over three continents: the northern polar continent of Sibornal, the southern polar continent of Hespagorat and the equatorial continent of Campannlat, which is linked to Sibornal by a land bridge.

More important is the make-up of Helliconia's star system. Helliconia orbits at G4 star Batalix (an orange dwarf, somewhat smaller and less bright than our sun) at a distance of somewhat less than 1 AU (so Helliconia receives slightly less solar output than Earth). Batalix, in turn, orbits the A-class blue supergiant star Frey in a highly elliptical orbit. At apastron, the moment of greatest separation, Batalix is 710 AU from Freyr (for comparison, Pluto at its most distant from the Sun is still only 49 AU away); at periastron, the moment of minimal separation, Batalix is 236 AU from Freyr.

The orbits of Helliconia and Batalix around the star Freyr (not to scale).

The result of this orbital dance is that Helliconia enjoys a "small year" of roughly 480 days, the time it takes to orbit Batalix once, and a Great Year of 1,825 small years (2,592 Earth years). During a Great Winter, when Freyr is so distant it becomes merely the brightest star in the sky, the great ice completely buries Sibornal and extends deep into Campannlat, forcing humans to live in a narrow habitable strip across the equator. During a Great Summer, where Freyr dominates the sky and the ice has withdrawn far to the north and south, there are great exoduses from the equatorial belt (where great fires consume the forests) in favour of the coasts and the arctic continents.

It is revealed later in the novels that this arrangement is, relatively speaking, new: Batalix was captured by Freyr's gravity during a chance encounter eight million years ago. Prior to that time Helliconia was permanently a much colder world, and it was the capture that allowed humanity to evolve from an earlier primate species.

This push and pull of civilisation across millennia is echoed by a more personal threat: Helliconia is also home to a second sentient species. The phagors or ancipitals are a race of fur-covered creatures similar to mythical minotaurs. The phagors are optimised for life in the cold and are stronger and more formidable than humans in personal combat; however, they are (arguably) less intelligent and have never developed technology beyond that of the hunter-gather stage. During the Great Winters the phagors are the dominant species on Helliconia, whilst humans gain the upper hand during the Great Summers and force the phagors back to the polar continents.


Aldiss uses this ebb and flow of the seasons and species to drive his story. In each of the three novels in The Helliconia Trilogy (Helliconia SpringHelliconia SummerHelliconia Winter) Aldiss uses the change of seasons to chronicle the rise and fall of kingdoms, civilisation but, more important, individuals, who change, grow and learn from the ever-changing world around them.

A Song of Ice and Fire can clearly be seen as the fantasy equivalent of Helliconia. Scientifically and astronomically-minded fans have spent large amounts of time coming up with maps and charts of how the seasons might work in such a star system, sometimes drawing on dark matter or invisible neutron stars to explain the required orbital eccentricities. They are sadly doomed in such attempts, for there is no such scientific explanation: George R.R. Martin has been constant in his promise that the reasons for the long seasons of Westeros and Essos are magical, not scientific.

Still, they might take comfort that, fourteen years before Martin published A Game of Thrones, another author took on the same concept with a scientific viewpoint and delivered one of the greatest works of science fiction ever published. The influence of Helliconia on A Song of Ice and Fire is speculative - Martin has almost certainly read the series given its prominence but has never mentioned it to my knowledge - but certainly the parallels between the two series are fascinating.

RIP Brian W. Aldiss

One of the titans of science fiction has left us. Brian Aldiss (often published as Brian W. Aldiss) has passed away at the age of 92.


Aldiss is one of the most fascinating authors in the science fiction canon, comfortable writing stories rooted in scientific ideas but much more interested in writing tales which experimented with language and character. He was arguably in the New Wave of SF two decades before the New Wave really took off, writing books fairly seething with intelligence and artistry. He was a friend and intellectual sparring partner of J.G. Ballard, and if Aldiss was not quite as adept as Ballard as crossing into the mainstream (his love of spaceships and alien worlds drawing him back into hard SF whilst Ballard firmly crossed over with his disturbing novel Crash), he was every bit his equal in terms of sheer writing ability.

To read an Aldiss novel is to drown in evocative prose and strange, compelling ideas, all transmitted through human, flawed characters. His first novel, The Brightfount Diaries (1955), was mainstream fiction, but his second, Non-Stop (1958), is a rightly-acknowledged classic of science fiction, one of the earliest books to explore the idea of a generation ship which takes centuries to travel between stars. Non-Stop is contemporary of early Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, but is set apart from them by its fantastic language and the way Aldiss mirrors the decrepit and failing nature of the Ship against that of humanity itself.


His second major work of SF was Hothouse, set on a future Earth beset by global warming where plant life has run out of control and the remnants of humanity are trying to survive in the ruins. The fact this novel was written in 1962 remains jaw-dropping; the prose is evocative and its grasp of human nature is assured. The imagery, of a vast banyan tree covering the entire Indian subcontinent and of immense webs linking the Earth to the Moon, travelled by creatures beyond human understanding, remains unrivalled in science fiction. The 1962 novel was assembled out of five pre-existing short stories; the science fiction fan community bent the rules slightly to collectively award the short stories the 1962 Hugo Award for Short Fiction at the third WorldCon in Chicago. In those days of less-sophisticated international communications, the first Aldiss knew of the award was when it showed up on his doorstep.

Works of profound science fiction power followed: The Dark Light Years (1964), Greybeard (1964), Earthworks (1965) and the intensely strange Report on Probability A (1967), in which Aldiss explores the uncertainty principle and the quantum notion of observer and observed about twenty years before most SF authors even thought of tackling it. Barefoot in the Head (1969) was Aldiss's most experimental novel, a nod at 1960s acid counterculture. Frankenstein Unbound (1973) was a more straightforward novel, a sequel to Frankenstein involving time travel. Roger Corman produced a film version in 1990.

Other major works proceeded at this time. Aldiss wrote the semi-autobiographical Horatio Stubbs trilogy in the 1970s, consisting of The Hand-Reared Boy (1970), A Soldier Erect (1971) and A Rude Awakening (1978). These novels were rooted in Aldiss's own experiences during the Second World War. The Malacia Tapestry (1976) was a triumphant return to science fiction, followed by Moreau's Other Island (1980).


Aldiss spent a large chunk of the late 1970s working with film maker Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick had fallen in love with Aldiss's 1969 novella Supertoys Last All Summer Long and asked Aldiss to collaborate on a film version of the same idea. Aldiss suspected that Kubrick was trying to replicate the success he'd had with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), on which Kubrick had collaborated with the altogether more straightforward writer Arthur C. Clarke. Aldiss worked on the project for a decade, going as far as writing two sequel novellas to the original short story (Supertoys When Summer Comes and Supertoys in Other Seasons) to extend the narrative to support the length of a film. Aldiss eventually left the project in 1989. It reached the screen in 2001 under the title A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, with Stephen Spielberg directing after Kubrick's untimely death in 1999.

In the early 1980s Aldiss wrote what many consider to be his magnum opus, a vast and sprawling trilogy set on a meticulously-detailed world where the seasons last for years and strange, threatening creatures threaten from the north. The Helliconia Trilogy (Helliconia Spring, Helliconia Summer, Helliconia Winter) is one of the most accomplished works of science fiction ever written, and certainly the pinnacle of SF worldbuilding, outstripping in its convincing detail even Frank Herbert's Dune and Kim Stanley Robinson's vision of Mars. The first novel in the trilogy won the BSFA Award and the Campbell Memorial Award.


Aldiss's later career continue to result in notable work: Seasons in Flight (1984), Man in His Time (1989), Dracula Unbound (1990) and White Mars, or the Mind Set Free (1999) are all strong works. Super-State (2002) and HARM (2007), the latter riffing on the War on Terror was remarkable power, showed his powers were undimmed in his later years. Walcot (2010), an accomplished 600-page-long family saga spanning the entire 20th Century, was published when he was 85. His last SF novel, Finches of Mars was published in 2012 and his last mainstream book, Comfort Zone, a year later.

Aldiss was not just a writer of science fiction, but had an academic interest in the genre; in 1973 he wrote Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. In 1986 he expanded the book as Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction (helped by David Wingrove), which won the 1987 Hugo Award for Best Related Work. Holding aloft the award - his first Hugo since Hothouse 25 years earlier - he yelled, "It's been a long time since you gave me one of these, you bastards!" to cheers and applause. He later wrote two autobiographies: Bury My Heart at W.H. Smith's (1990) and An Exile on Planet Earth (2012).

Aldiss's death has attracted tributes from fellow authors such as Neil Gaiman and Adam Roberts, whilst Blur guitarist Graham Coxon also paid his respects.

Brian Aldiss leaves behind a formidable body of work and a long shadow over the genre. His wit, his humour, his humanity and his words will be missed.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

I have a GAME OF THRONES article up at Variety

Variety, the US entertainment magazine and website, recently asked me to contribute an article on how the appeal of Game of Thrones has grown since 2009, when I met up with fans, cast and crew at an event in Belfast during the filming of the never-screened pilot episode. I was happy to oblige.


You can find the article in full here. You can also find my original reports of the event in Belfast from way back in 2009, here, here and here.

A History of Middle-earth Part 6: The Downfall of Númenor


Part 1 can be found here.

In the Second Age of Middle-earth, Sauron, lieutenant of the exiled Morgoth, tricked the Noldor smiths of Eregion into forging the Rings of Power. In secret, he crafted the One Ruling Ring, the means by which he intended to conquer the world. But his student, Celebrimbor, had also crafted three rings for the elven kings under the sky, which could thwart Sauron's ambitions. The stage was set for the greatest conflict since the War of Wrath.

Heirs of Númenor, by La Zona Artistica for Fantasy Flight's Middle-earth collectable card game.

The War of Sauron and the Elves
With Sauron’s plan revealed, he now moved quickly and begun breeding a vast army of Orcs to take the offensive. Mount Doom burst into flame, covering the lands of Mordor with smoke and ash, hindering any enemy who might try to strike him there, and Easterling allies were summoned to prepare for war.

In Eregion Celebrimbor realised his folly and made his own preparations. He sent word to Gil-galad, who in turn despatched a message to Númenor. Tar-Telperien did not heed the call to arms, but her nephew Minastir did and began assembling both a great army and navy to battle Sauron’s forces. This took time, but Sauron himself had been taken unawares by how quickly he had exposed his plans, and needed time of his own to prepare.

Soon enough Sauron launched his assault. In 1695 SA Sauron’s armies marched through the Gap of Calenardhon between the Misty Mountains and the White Mountains and turned north, laying siege to Ost-in-Edhil. Gil-galad sent Elrond with a great host to the relief of the city, but after two years Sauron’s forces gained the city and put it to the torch. Celebrimbor was slain, but the greater part of the civilian populace managed to escape under Elrond’s protection. Celeborn retreated northwards with Elrond to the hidden valley of Imladris and there they made a stand, but Sauron chose not to pursue, instead directing his forces westwards against Lindon itself.

Now the war entered its bloodiest phase. Free men who inhabited the wide lands of Eriador either allied with Sauron or took up arms against him. Gil-galad fortified the havens and sent as many troops as possible east against this threat, whilst Elrond and Celeborn attacked Sauron’s flanks as often as they could.

But all seemed in vain. In the 1,700th year of the Second Age Sauron’s armies crossed the open, verdant countryside east of the White Towers and drew nigh to Mithlond. But, as all hope seemed to fade, a great fleet sailed out of the west and landed at the Grey Havens. The army of Númenor marched forth, and so many were their soldiers that the earth rumbled, and even Gil-galad was amazed. Then it became clear that this was but part of Númenor’s strength, for another host had landed at ruined Lond Daer and further north at Tharbad, thus bringing Sauron’s host under attack from two directions. Even bolstered by the power of the One Ring, Sauron could not resist such a strength of arms as that which was now arrayed against him. His army was destroyed and he fled from Eriador with but a token of his forces intact.

Now Gil-galad, Círdan, Celeborn, Elrond and Ciryatur, commander of the fleet sent from Númenor, took counsel. Ciryatur could not maintain his army in Middle-earth and had to return it to Númenor, but certainly now the rulers of Westernesse would maintain permanent fortresses and settlements in Middle-earth lest the Shadow come forth again unchallenged. Elrond was commanded to permanently settle in Imladris and he began the construction of Rivendell, which in those days was heavily fortified, but after the Last Alliance was made more beautiful, more of a home than a fortress. At this time Gil-galad surrendered the Ring of Vilya to Elrond, but kept the other ring for himself.

At length Galadriel came over the Misty Mountains from Lórinand and debated with Celeborn about their own future, where they were to dwell. And for many long years afterwards they were wanderers, living sometimes in Imladris, sometimes in Lórinand, but they also desired the Sea and journeying far to the south came to the lands below the White Mountains. There at the mouth of the River Morthond they founded a new haven, Edhellond, and many elves dwelt there as they prepared to take ship for Valinor. But for Galadriel that path was not open until Sauron was defeated, and she and Celeborn built a tower where Dol Amroth in Gondor later stood, and for many years stayed there. But at other times they would depart for Lórinand, or for Imladris or for other lands unknown, and thus passed the Second Age.

The Downfall of the Dúnedain
Now, after the War of Sauron and the Elves the rulers of Númenor resolved to keep a closer watch on the affairs of the mainland, lest Sauron strike again before they could send aid to halt him. Fortresses and citadels they established all along the coasts of Middle-earth. They rebuilt Tharbad and Lond Daer even stronger than before and established a new fortress, Angrenost (Iron Fortress), in the Gap of Calenardhon. In 2280 SA the Númenórean fleet destroyed the navy of a kingdom of southern Middle-earth that was challenging their greatness and captured the capital of their realm, Umbar. By this time the Númenóreans were becoming empire-builders, stripping distant mines bare for their own enrichment and colonising parts of Middle-earth for their own protection, rather than that of their elven allies. Indeed, after a time the Númenóreans ceased to be concerned with the affairs of the elves, save only the Lords of Andúnië, who now called themselves the “Faithful”, and kept open the lines of contact with Lindon. In 2350 SA the Faithful volunteered their ships to colonise the mouth of the River Anduin, the Great River of north-western Middle-earth, and in this year established the fortress and city of Pelargir, which was kept forevermore as a bastion of the Faithful.

Now the Kings of Númenor grew proud indeed. During the reign of Tar-Atanamir (2029-2221 SA) they began to speak openly against the ban against travelling west to Valinor, but they did not dare too much, for they still feared the Valar. But the later Kings dared much more. Tar-Calmacil become King of Númenor in 2737 SA after winning great lands along the coast of the Harad and sending troops exploring up to the very borders of Mordor, encouraging Sauron to seek new conquests in the East. Tar-Calmacil became the first of the Kings to have his name inscribed in the tongue of Númenor, Adûnaic, rather than Quenya, although his Quenya name was still inscribed in the Roll of Kings out of tradition. In Adûnaic his name was Ar-Belzagar, and upon hearing this the Faithful were filled with despair, for in this mode the title of King of Númenor was changed to Lord of the West, but in the minds of the Faithful there was only one Lord of the West and his name was Manwë. Any other claiming that title was foolhardy indeed.

Then in 2899 SA the new King of Númenor, Tar-Herunúmen, openly ruled under the name Ar-Adûnakhôr, and those kings who followed him also proclaimed their names in Adûnaic, save only Tar-Palantir, who repented the ways of his insolent forebears. But Tar-Palantir had no sons, only a daughter, Míriel, and when he died in 3255 SA she was taken forcibly to wife by Tar-Palantir’s cousin Pharazôn, who claimed the title of King of Númenor and Lord of the West.

The Downfall of Numenor, by Ted Nasmith.

The Fall of Númenor and the Flight of the Faithful
After usurping the throne of Númenor, Ar-Pharazôn decreed that the time had come to put an end to the threat of the Dark Lord against the land of Westernesse and assembled a great army. This he put ashore at Umbar late in the year 3261 SA. Early in 3262 SA this army passed nigh to the pass leading from the verdant land of Ithilien into Mordor and prepared for battle, but in startlement the Númenóreans beheld a single figure alone coming forth. This was indeed Sauron, who surrendered himself to the custody of Ar-Pharazôn, claiming to have been overawed by the might of Númenor and to have seen the wisdom in serving the Lords of the West. Ar-Pharazôn was easily convinced this was so and he took Sauron in chains back to Númenor.

But once in Númenor Sauron did not long stay in chains, but whispered golden words in Ar-Pharazôn’s ear. And soon on the summit of Meneltarma, the great mountain of Númenor, Ar-Pharazôn had raised a great temple dedicated to the worship of Morgoth Lord of the Dark, and Ar-Pharazôn spoke openly of his rage against the Valar for banning the westwards passage to Valinor. At this the Faithful quailed in fear, not knowing what the King would do in his madness. But Sauron spread more poison in the ear of Ar-Pharazôn, telling him of the way through the Shadowy Seas to the mouth of the Calacirya, and of how Valinor was not able to withstand attack. And Ar-Pharazôn heeded those words and built a colossal fleet he named the Great Armament.

When this began, the Faithful knew the end of Númenor had come. In many ships they fled for Pelargir, which they made into their fastness, but Amandil, Lord of Rómenna and Chief of the Faithful, refused to leave whilst Númenor still survived, and he tried in vain to counsel words of wisdom to the mighty of Númenor, but they did not heed him, and indeed some reported him as traitor and craven to the King. Amandil then fled from Númenor to seek the western way to Valinor, so he might seek the pardon of the Valar for the sins of Ar-Pharazôn, and limit their vengeance to the King alone, and he bade his son Elendil take the Faithful to Middle-earth. Elendil agreed, but tarried off the coast for a long time, waiting for a sign from the Valar that Amandil had succeeded in his mission.

But the only signs that came were ominous, for many great Eagles filled the skies over Númenor and the great temple of Morgoth was destroyed by lightning. Enraged, Ar-Pharazôn borded his flagship and led the Great Armament westwards, and at this Elendil turned to the east and fled for Middle-earth as fast as his ships could go.

Ar-Pharazôn passed through the protective enchantments of Valinor thanks to the will of Sauron and landed his army at the mouth of the Calacirya. But, as they made to invade Valinor itself, Manwë pronounced the Doom of the Númenóreans upon them. Of what happened to Ar-Pharazôn’s army, only the Valar know, save that none of them ever came back out of the west.

The Valar opened a great chasm in the seas around Númenor, and a colossal earthquake shattered the island, destroying all the cities of the Dúnedain in a matter of hours. Hundreds of thousands died, Armenelos was destroyed and even Sauron the Deceiver was slain, but in his evil cunning Sauron had left the One Ring behind in Barad-dûr, and as long as it endured so did he. His spirit fled the Downfall of Númenor and took form again in the Barad-dûr, assuming the shape of a powerful warrior clad in steel. And his servants had not been idle, for the Nine Rings had corrupted the great Kings of the East into evil, ghostly figures known as the Nazgûl, or Ringwraiths. The Nazgûl had raised a great strength of arms and Sauron now planned his stroke against his remaining foes, the elves of the north-west, and this time there would be no Númenórean intervention to save them.


The Realms in Exile
Yet Sauron miscalculated, for out of the west, barely outrunning the great tidal wave generated by the Downfall of Númenor, a number of ships bore Elendil the Tall to the shores of Middle-earth. He and his kin landed at Pelargir, bastion of the Faithful, where there had gathered many of the valiant men of Middle-earth opposed to Sauron, and with the arrival of the Númenórean survivors they were numerous indeed. This was in the 3,319th year of the Second Age. Elendil marched with his sons to that point where the White Mountains drew closest to the Mountains of Shadow on Mordor’s borders and there founded two great citadels. Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun, was built on the eastern face of Mount Mindolluin and was encircled by tall and powerful walls seven times to make it impregnable to attack. Minas Anor Elendil entrusted to the care of his younger son, Anárion. Fifty miles away, opposite Minas Anor in the shadowed western pass of Mordor, Elendil built the Tower of the Moon, Minas Ithil, which he gave into the care of his eldest son and heir, Isildur. Between the two fortresses he built the great city of Osgiliath, City of the Stars, and announced the founding of the Land of Stone, Gondor, the South-kingdom of the Númenórean Realms in Exile. He then entrusted the rule of Gondor to his sons, and took ship for Lindon with another remnant of his people.

From Mithlond Elendil marched east, over the Hills of Evendim to the shores of Lake Nenuial. There, on the south-eastern shore of the lake, he founded the city of Annúminas and committed it as the capital of the Land of the King, Arnor. Further east, at the feet of the North Downs, he founded a smaller city and fortress, Fornost, and took counsel with Gil-galad and Elrond on the threat posed by Sauron.

For a century the Númenórean refugees had peace, enough time to complete the building of fortresses and raise great armies, for all knew that Sauron would now attempt to complete the destruction of his enemies.

The Last Battle of the Last Alliance, by Entar0178.

The War of the Last Alliance
Late in the year 3429 SA Sauron launched his renewed attack upon the free peoples of Middle-earth. His armies marched forth, led by the Nazgûl, and seized Minas Ithil by force of arms. Isildur escaped the fortress with most of his troops and led a fighting retreat to Osgiliath. His brother Anárion came forth from Minas Anor with great strength and there at Osgiliath a mighty battle was fought. Sauron’s armies were halted, though not destroyed, and Isildur resolved to go north and alert his father and the elves to the new threat posed by Sauron. Comitting the South-kingdom to Anárion, Isildur rode to Annúminas with great haste.

Elendil and Gil-galad now formed the Last Alliance of Men and Elves and raised their armies to march to the relief of Gondor, although this was a long task taking over a year. Many elves of Lindon joined Elendil’s host, and Gil-galad came personally to lead them. Elrond led a large force from Imladris, and many elves came over the moutains from Lórinand and North Greenwood as well. Elendil raised the hosts of Arnor and with great strength the Last Alliance set forth, but was much delayed in the passage of the High Passes, for savage men allied to Sauron assaulted them out of the land known as Dunland (by way of the Redhorn Pass and the Gap of Calendardhon), and many fell Orcs came forth from the Misty Mountains.

After the lengthy delay the host of the Alliance came down the east bank of Anduin, and skirting the Emyn Muil (Drear Hills) they came to the Dagorlad, which was after called the Battle-plain, and before the Black Gate of Mordor launched their assault on Sauron’s army in 3434 SA, for Sauron had comitted his greatest forces against Osgiliath and was late in sending his army north to meet this greater threat. Sauron miscalculated and his army was destroyed piecemeal by the Alliance, who forced the Morannon and the Isenmouthe and came down onto the Plateau of Gorgoroth. Then their armies surrounded Barad-dûr itself, allowing no entry or exit, but the fortress could not be stormed for it lay amidst a moat of lava, and its fortifications were strong. Anárion led the army of Gondor forwards and retook Minas Ithil and joined the Siege, and Sauron’s prospects now looked bleak indeed.

But Sauron held out for seven years. In the sixth year of the siege a missile was fired from the Dark Tower which felled Anárion, leaving Isildur as Elendil’s only heir. But then Sauron resolved to break the enemy, and comitted all his troops to forcing a way out of the tower. Sauron and his troops punched through the enemy lines and escaped south to Mount Doom, where they turned and stood, and thus begun the Last Battle of the Last Alliance.

In that battle the Alliance had the victory, for once the free peoples enjoyed the superiority of numbers, but Sauron himself came forth wielding the power of the Ring, and in that last battle Gil-galad was killed, and Elendil felled, and Isildur overcome. But ere Sauron could slay him, Isildur took up his father’s shattered sword, Narsil, and sliced the Ring from Sauron’s finger. And in that moment Sauron was vanquished, and the Nazgûl scattered to the shadows, and all Sauron’s armies filled with disquiet, and fled or were slain.

So ended the Second Age. The Númenóreans had their revenge upon Sauron, who they now considered dead entirely, and Isildur took the Ring for himself. But Elrond and Círdan were filled with disquiet, and bade Isildur take the Ring into Mount Doom and cast it into the flames, but Isildur refused, keeping the Ring in honour of his fallen kingdom and his slain brother and father. So, evil was allowed to endure.

Parts 7-10 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.

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


Credits
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.

MORE AFTER THE JUMP

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.

Location
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.

Population
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.

History
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.


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