Sunday, 19 June 2016

A History of Eärwa Part 3: The Apocalypse

The man known to history as Seswatha and to the Sranc as "Chigra", "Slaying Light", was born in Year-of-the-Tusk 2089 in Trysë, the son of a caste-menial bronzesmith. Whilst still a child, he was identified as one of the Few, those that carry the mark of sorcery. He was taken to Sauglish to study with the Gnostic School of Sohonc, at the time the largest and most powerful of the sorcerous schools. Seswatha was a prodigy, his grasp of the Gnosis subtle and strong. Circa 2104, at the age of fifteen, Seswatha would be proclaimed a sorcerer-of-rank, the youngest in the School's history.

Eärwa in Year of the Tusk 2089, the birth year of Seswatha. The Three Seas were home to great powers, the mightiest of which was Kyraneas which dominated the lesser nations of Shigek and Amoteu. The Shiradi Empire controlled the eastern Three Seas. But the true powers were in the Ancient North, dominated by great Kûniüri.

During this period Seswatha befriended Anasûrimbor Celmomas, the heir to the imperial throne of Kûniüri who was studying with the Sohonc. The same age as Seswatha and both intrigued by history, they became fast friends and allies. As Seswatha grew in power and authority through the ranks of the Sohonc, so Celmomas became famed as a warrior, general and scholar. Their great friendship was tested, however, when Celmomas's most beloved wife Suriala ("Suiyela", according to Mandate sources) gave birth to their son Nau-Cayûti. Celmomas knew that Seswatha and Suriala shared a mutual affection and became concerned that Nau-Cayûti was not of his blood. But such was his love for his friend - and his inability to conclusively prove the truth of the matter - that he did not have him rebuked, merely withdrawing his friendship for a time.

Seswatha was a master sorcerer but also a keen politician. He befriended Anaxophus, a young prince of Kyraneas, and treated with Nil'giccas, the Nonman King of Ishterebinth (the "Exalted Stronghold"), as Ishoriöl was now more frequently called. Seswatha's insights were keen, his mind sharp, his sorcery formidable and his manner one of ease, all formidable attributes that saw him rise to become Grandmaster of the Sohonc in his early thirties.

What happened next remains a matter of great debate. According to legend and The Sagas, Seswatha received a delegation of Nonmen in Sauglish. History refers to them as Siqû, indicating they were there as teachers and advisors, not just as emissaries. Although the Nonmen Tutelage was not reinstated, Seswatha had nevertheless forged closer ties with Ishterebinth than had been seen since those times. According to some accounts, Nil'giccas rewarded Seswatha's friendship with intelligence which was not so much disquieting as downright alarming.

It had been long known that the School of Mangaecca had fled Sauglish to seek refuge in Golgotterath. Its dark leader, Shaeönanra, survived thanks to Inchoroi knowledge and his own sorcerous research. By the 14th Century, he had even been given a new name: Shauriatas, "Cheater of Gods". The Mangaecca had not been seen since, but their hand, and that of their Inchoroi overlords, was suspected in the Great Sranc Wars, a series of strikes by hordes of Sranc out of Agongorea against Aörsi to the east which had sorely tested that nation and led to the construction of a major stronghold, Dagliash, on the Urokkas (in fact, atop the very ruins of ancient Viri). But in those days Sranc were not a numerous, constant threat blanketing the North. They were mostly confined to Agongorea and the Yimaleti Mountains, and although their numbers were concerning, they were not as inexhaustible as in later centuries. Or so it was supposed.

The Siqû warning was stark: the Mangaecca yet lived within the golden halls of the Ark and they had formed a forsaken alliance - an Unholy Consult - with the surviving Inchoroi princes, Aurax and Aurang. Worse still, their delvings and explorations of the Ark had uncovered ancient secrets and disturbing ways of using the Tekne, the ancient art of science and engineering that the Inchoroi had once employed to create weapons such as their staffs of light and creatures such as the Wracu and Sranc, but had seemed to lose more and more knowledge of with every passing year.

The Siqû warning convinced Seswatha that a threat was building in the pits of Golgotterath and that, left unchecked, it would eventually destroy the world. This threat was given a name by the Nonmen, one that Seswatha held close and only told those closest to him: No-God.

Seswatha took this knowledge to his old friend, who know ruled as Anasûrimbor Celmomas II, High King of Kûniüri, the greatest nation in all Eärwa, and lay the facts before him. Celmomas may have been inclined to distrust his old friend for the alleged betrayal with his wife, but he also respected his judgement. In the end, Celmomas was convinced that Golgotterath remained a threat to the world and that threat needed to be destroyed before it could unleash a horror that would bring about the end of everything.

The opening battles of the Apocalypse: 1. Sursa (2125). 2. The Great Investiture (2125-32). 3. Dagliash (2133). 4. The Burning of the White Ships, in Aesorea (2134). 5. Shiarau (2136).

In Year-of-the-Tusk 2123, Anasûrimbor Celmomas II called for the Great Ordeal, the assembling of a vast host of armed and sorcerous might to be cast at Golgotterath, to bring down and end the threat of the Consult and the Inchoroi once and for all. Aörsi, which lay in the shadow of the Golden Ark, rallied to the call almost immediately. King Anasûrimbor Nimeric contributed many tens of thousands of warriors already hardened in battle against Sranc and Bashrags and the use of his fleet for transport and resupply across the Neleöst. Nil'giccas sent Qûya mages and Ishroi warriors from Ishterebinth, and Kyraneas sent a detachment of troops, reflecting Seswatha's friendship with Prince Anaxophus (the prince himself was still only fourteen, and it is unclear if he took part in the Ordeal at such an early age or had returned to Kyraneas).

In 2124 the Great Ordeal crossed onto the plains of Agongorea but was engaged by a host of Sranc and Bashrags. The resulting battle was indecisive and the Ordeal withdrew across the Sursa to winter in Dagliash. Celmomas renewed the offensive in the early spring, fording the Sursa before the Consult could prepare a defence. They were forced to retreat to Golgotterath and allow the Ordeal to encircle it. The Great Investiture lasted for six years but failed to starve the Consult into surrender.

This period was marked by squabbling and petty jealousies erupting between the commanders of the Ordeal, along with military disagreements on how to proceed. The Investiture was complete, but the Consult seemed able to resupply. The Ark was too well-defended for any conventional assault to succeed, and the Consult mages were capable of resisting even the combined might of the Qûya and Sohonc. Several raids on the Ark ended in disaster. In 2131 a more serious dispute erupted between Celmomas and Nimeric, resulting in Celmomas withdrawing the Kûniüri contingent of the Ordeal, to the disbelief of Seswatha.

A Gnostic sorcerer battles a Wracu of Golgotterath.

A year later the Consult went on the offensive. Employing passages reaching under the Black Furnace Plain and into the Ring Mountains, the Consult launched devastating assaults into the Ordeal's rear and flanks. Much-reduced by the absence of the Kûniüri forces, the Ordeal's army almost collapsed. Qûya and Sohonc sorcery allowed at least a small part of the army to escape, but Nil'giccas was so enraged to learn of the deaths of at least two of his sons that he recalled the Cûnuroi contingent of the Ordeal altogether, leaving Aörsi to fight on alone.

In 2133 Dagliash was taken by the Consult, allowing their armies to cross the Sursa in force. Western Aörsi was overrun and Nimeric withdrew his forces to his capital, Shiarau. Celmomas realised his folly and rallied Kûniüri to rejoin the war in 2134, but it was too late. The Aörsi fleet fled across the Neleöst to seek shelter in the Kûniüri port of Aesorea, where it was promptly destroyed by enemy agents in the event known as the Burning of the White Ships.

In 2135 Nimeric took a mortal wound during the Battle of Hamuir, dying soon afterwards. In the spring of 2136 Shiarau fell, and with it Aörsi itself. Kûniüri stood alone.

The latter course of the Apoclaypse: 6. Ossirish (2137). 7. Shiarau (2137). 8. Dagliash (2139). 9. The Second Investiture, ending in the Coming of the No-God (2142-43). 10. The Fields of Eleneöt (2146). 11. Trysë (2147). 12. Sauglish (2147). 13. Eämnor (2148). 14. The Fords of Tywanrae (2149). 15. Kelmeöl (2150). 16. Inweära (2151). 17. Kathol Pass (2151). 18. The Betrayal of Cil-Aujas (2152). 19. Shir (2153). 20. Sumna (2154). 21. Mehtsonc (2154). 22. The Battle of Mengedda and the Fall of the No-God (2155).

The situation seemed bleak, but in 2137 Anasûrimbor Nau-Cayûti, Prince of Kûniüri, won a stunning victory over the Consult at the Battle of Ossirish. The armies of Kûniüri had been hard-pressed by a Consult offensive, but Nau-Cayûti rallied his men by facing and slaughtering the Wracu Tanhafut the Red in direct combat, a feat undreamt of since the Cûno-Inchoroi Wars. Nau-Cayûti then led the victorious army to rout the Consult at the ruins of Shiarau, driving the remnants back across the Sursa by the end of 2138. In 2139 he recaptured Dagliash before launching several major raids across Agongorea, designed not to reinvest Golgotterath but simply slaughter Sranc and Bashrags.

In 2140 the Consult abruptly switched tacks and kidnapped Aulisi, the beloved concubine of Nau-Cayûti, bearing her to Golgotterath. Infuriated, Nau-Cayûti may have decided on a rash assault (possibly the rationale for the act) but was talked down by Seswatha. Seswatha proposed something else instead: a raid on the Incû-Holoinas, such as that undertaken by some of the Nonman heroes of old. Many historians consider the story of the raid that followed as being apocryphal due to sheer unbelievability, but Seswatha's descendants in the School of Mandate have confirmed (thanks to their sorcerous ability to relive Seswatha's life) that it is true.

Nau-Cayûti and Seswatha entered the Golden Ark, descending through chambers and passageways that had been desolate and empty for well over two thousand years, since the Cûnuroi had sacked the vessel from top to bottom. But, deep in the vessel's cavernous hold, they did find a city of horrors, guarded by Sranc and Bashrags. They failed to find any trace of Aulisi but they did find something that abruptly changed the fortunes of the war: Suörgil, the Shining Death, the Heron Spear itself.

"I lied. Because I couldn't succeed, not alone. Because what we do here is more important than truth or love. We search. We search for the Heron Spear." - Seswatha (The Thousandfold Thought)

They bore the weapon back to Sauglish in great triumph, but this turned sour when Nau-Cayûti died soon after, allegedly poisoned by his wife Iëva (some say out of jealousy over Nau-Cayûti's infatuation with Aulisi, and the fear the other woman would supplant her). Iëva insisted on Nau-Cayûti being buried rather than burned, as this had been his wish during life.

The Consult resumed the offensive in 2141, perhaps hoping for a loss of Kûniüri morale following Nau-Cayûti's death. This hope proved false. General En-Kaujalau soon destroyed a Sranc horde at the Battle of Skothera. In 2142 General Sag-Marmau inflicted a very serious and debilitating defeat on the Consult (according to some legends, Aurang himself took the field but was forced to withdraw) and again drove them back to the Ark. Anasûrimbor Celmomas II began the Second Investiture in the fall of that year.

The No-God's Carapace under construction in the depths of Golgotterath, before he became animate.

Then something happened, an event second only to the original Fall of the Ark in importance and dread.

To this day no-one knows exactly what transpired, save that in the pits of Golgotterath the Consult finally achieved what they had been attempting to do for some considerable time, sparking the very warnings that had led to the Ordeal in the first place. They completed the construction of the Carapace, a sarcophagus of Tekne origin, fused with eleven Chorae to render it immune to sorcery. Inside the Carapace they created - or unleashed - an entity of supreme and terrible power. This entity went by many names: Tsurumah ("Hated One" in Kyranean), Lokung ("Dead-God", by the Scylvendi), Mursiris ("Wicked North", by the Shiradi) and Cara-Sincurimoi ("Angel of Endless Hunger", by the Nonmen), as well as the Great Ruiner and World-Breaker. But his most famous title was the one first bestowed upon him: Mog-Pharau in Ancient Kûniüric, "No-God".

The No-God first drew breath in the spring of the Year-of-the-Tusk 2143. The instant he did so, every unborn child in the world was stillborn, and no woman fell pregnant afterwards (leading to the period known as the Years of the Crib). A feeling of dread fell across all humanity, drawing their eyes to the northern horizon. Sranc, Bashrag and Wracu, including some who had escaped taking part in the wars so far, were compelled to answer his call and descend on the Black Furnace Plain and Golgotterath.

The host of Sag-Marmau was destroyed utterly. But the Horde of the No-God did not march immediately, instead waiting as vast hosts of Sranc gathered and bred. This gave Kûniüri a very brief space in which to cry for aid. Eärwa answered, the armies of Ishterebinth marching under Nil'giccas and Kyraneas sending a significant army to lend support. Other nations began to muster but the distances were too great and time ran out.

Anasûrimbor Celmomas II led the so-called Second Ordeal into battle against the Horde of the No-God on the Fields of Eleneöt in 2146, the fields that in a previous age had been called Pir Pahal, where Cû'jara-Cinmoi had slain Sil and won the first great victory over the Inchoroi.

No such victory came this time. The Horde engulfed the Kûniüri army. Celmomas knew the only hope was to use the Heron Spear against the No-God. However, although the vast Whirlwind that symbolised the No-God's presence gathered on the far horizon, the entity itself refused to give battle, letting its vast army of minions do the work for it. Celmomas is said to have thrown himself into battle with a rare fury and slain dozens of enemies, only to be mortally wounded. Seswatha led a rallying force to retrieve the High King, who lived long enough to impart a prophecy: that an Anasûrimbor would return at the end of the world. Then he died.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, his son Anasûrimbor Ganrelka outlived him, becoming the High King of Kûniüri. According to popular legend, Ganrelka also died on the Eleneöt Fields, but in reality he survived thanks to four brave Knights of Trysë. Ganrelka escaped home, gathered his household, and marched west into the Demua Mountains. In the remotest peaks, protected by both geography and utter secrecy, the Kûniüri High Kings had built a stronghold and a shelter, Ishuäl. Ganrelka took up residence there, but disease followed and wiped out most of the for Ganrelka's bastard son, the last living blood of House Anasûrimbor. He and his line fell out of history for two thousand years.
The No-God, protected by the ever-present Whirlwind.

By the end of 2147 all of Kûniüri was overrun. The great river-cities of the Aumris Valley were obliterated. Trysë fell the hardest, the great Ur-Throne of the Kûniüri High Kings lost. Seswatha was captured by the Consult during this battle and borne to Dagliash, where he was pinned to the Wall of the Dead and tortured by Mekeritrig for knowledge of the location of the Heron Spear. But the Spear had been lost at Eleneöt and Seswatha did not know its resting place. He did take heart, however from the knowledge that the Consult had not found it. Seswatha soon escaped, but was not able to save the rest of the Aumris Valley cities, which fell one after the other. The destruction of Sauglish was particularly horrific, the Wracu Skafra leading a flight of dragons to drive the Sohonc sorcerers from the sky before the hordes of Sranc and Bashrags swept into the city and put the Great Library to the torch.

The Nonmen of Ishterebinth retreated over the Demua Mountains to their Mansion, but the No-God chose not to pursue. Instead, he turned south and destroyed Eämnor (although sparing its capital, Atrithau, due to the complications of attacking a city raised on anarcane ground and immune to sorcery) in 2148. Akksersia was destroyed in 2149 following the epic Battle of Tywanrae Fords, where Consult sorcrers burned hundreds of soldiers as they tried to cross the river. The Meöri Empire collapsed in 2150, despite a hardy defence, sending hordes of refugees both south (into what is now Thunyerus) and south-west (into what is now Galeoth). Inweära was cast down in 2151, although the Horde chose to spare Sakarpus to instead rush the Kathol Pass - the gateway to the entire Three Seas - before it could be fortified.

The Battle of Kathol Pass, fought in the autumn of 2151, was an unexpected victory for the forces of men. A retreating army of Meöri warriors led by the great hero Nostol ran into an advancing force of Nonmen out of Cil-Aujas, led by King Gin'yursis, a powerful wielder of the Gnosis. They made common cause and successfully repulsed several waves of attacks from the Horde on the pass, buying the Three Seas and the world another year of respite. Shockingly, the Meöri turned on and betrayed the Nonmen, slaughtering their army and then sacking Cil-Aujas. The reasons for this are unclear, but may be related to the rising levels of religious fervour amongst the Norsirai refugees (perhaps hoping that the Hundred Gods would intercede and destroy the No-God for them), including the commandment to destroy the False Men. It is also possible that the Meöri believed they could use Cil-Aujas as a refuge should the No-God advance further south. Gin'yursis's death saw him curse the Meöri for their betrayal, a curse sometimes used to explain the famous fractiousness of the men of Galeoth (founded by the Meöri descendants), although Gin'yursis's curse had in fact been reserved for all of mankind.

During this period the populous and packed cities of the south cried out for succor and divine intervention. They prayed to the Hundred Gods, but received no answer. The people begged their priests to explain why the Hundred had not interceded and the priests could not answer. Many years later, confused records of this time suggest that the priests had in fact petitioned for help and gotten only bizarre responses: the Gods could not see the No-God, only the destruction that followed in his wake, which they blamed solely on humanity itself. The Hundred could not intervene because they could not even perceive the problem in the first place (and it may be that that this nullification of divine perception is one of the reasons the No-God was named as such).

In 2153 the Horde of the No-God destroyed the Shiradi Empire and turned west to invade Kyraneas. Anaxophus, Seswatha's old friend now ruling as King Anaxophus V, led his nation with skill and cunning. The Scylvendi, the long-established pastoralists living beyond the mountains to the north-west, had unexpectedly declared for the No-God and invaded Kyraneas's flank, threatening to trap the kingdom in a vice at the Battle of Mehsarunath. Anaxophus evaded the trap and escaped to the south. He chose not to defend either the royal capital at Mehtsonc or the holy city of Sumna (from where the Tusk was evacuated by sea to Nilnamesh) instead choosing to fight a war of irritation and attrition, testing the flanks of the No-God's horde and withdrawing when the enemy attempted to respond.

Anaxophus V, the High King of Kyraneas, unleashes the power of the Heron Spear against the No-God at the Battle of Mengedda in 2155.

Kyraneas was effectively overrun and destroyed by the end of 2154. But Anaxophus V and his army, and Seswatha, survived. They withdrew through the mountains to the ruined, ancient city of Mengedda. The city had once been a trading post between Shigek and the cities of the Kyraneas Plains when the age of man was young, but innumerable battles had been fought there over the past two thousand years. The blasted landscape and ruins provided Anaxophus and his army with cover and defences. More importantly, the long, attritional warfare favoured by Anaxophus had helped reduce the size of the Horde to one where victory by sheer weight of numbers was no longer certain.

Anaxophus's gamble worked: to ensure victory and the destruction of the last enemy who may be any threat, the No-God took the field directly, the terrible Whirlwind moving towards the Kyranean lines and asking, as it had done all along, "WHAT DO YOU SEE?" This allowed Anaxophus to do what he had been planning ever since his knights had secretly seized the Heron Spear from the Fields of Eleneöt eleven years previously: he used the weapon directly against the No-God.

As the Apocalypse began in doubt and uncertainty, so it ended with a clear victory. The Whirlwind burst asunder, the No-God was destroyed and his armies were routed. According to some reports, the Carapace itself was destroyed and reduced to ashes, ashes which were carried by the winds to all the corners of the Three Seas where they caused the Indigo Plague. However, Mandate scholars insist that the No-God's body (if it could be called that) was saved by Consult sorcerers and borne back to Golgotterath.

The end of the war was draped in controversy, for the knowledge that Anaxophus had stolen the Heron Spear and kept it secret for a decade as the Ancient North and the Shiradi Empire (Kyraneas's great rival to the east) was overrun and destroyed did not endear him as the saviour of mankind, has perhaps should have been the case. However, Anaxophus claimed that the disaster of the Eleneöt Fields had happened because the Heron Spear had been deployed prematurely before the No-God had engaged, and that he had no choice but to wait - no matter the cost - for the No-God to show himself before he could risk using the weapon. This tactical claim has been supported - although not altogether wholeheartedly - by the Mandate.

The end of the war resulted in the infamous Indigo Plague, which caused great misery and suffering around the Three Seas, but also in a regrouping of civilisation. Seswatha gathered together the few surviving Gnostic sorcerers and founded the School of Mandate, based at the fortress of Atyersus on an island in the middle of the Three Seas. Seswatha knew that the No-God had been destroyed and the Consult defeated, but the Inchoroi Princes yet lived, the Consult sorcerers yet survived and the hordes of Sranc and Bashrags (and even a few surviving Wracu) only dispersed. But most damning of all was the prophecy given to Seswatha by his friend and ally Celmomas at the moment of his death:
"Did I ever tell you that my son once stole into the deepest pits of Golgotterath? How I miss him, Seswatha! How I year to stand at his side once again. I see him so clearly. He's taken the sun as his charger, and he rides among us. I see him! Galloping through the hearts of my people, stirring them to wonder and fury! He says such sweet things to give me comfort. He says that one of my seed will return, Seswatha. An Anasûrimbor will return at the end of the world!" - The last words and prophecy of Anasûrimbor Celmomas II (The Darkness That Comes Before)

The First Apocalypse was over. Now the Mandate had to prepare humanity for the Second.


All of the artwork for this article was created by Jason Deem, known as Spiral Horizon, and used with his permission. You can find more of his spectacular work here. The maps are from Scott's website, adjusted by myself.

The Prince of Nothing Wiki was helpful in providing spelling checks and putting the timeline of events in better order.

Unlike the first part, I didn't request any new information for this third installment, so any errors or confusion are on my part.

Scott Bakker wrote the Second Apocalypse novels, for which this history is merely the backdrop and the scene-setting that comes before. Those novels are:

The Prince of Nothing
The Darkness That Comes Before (2003)
The Warrior-Prophet (2004)
The Thousandfold Thought (2005)

The Aspect-Emperor
The Judging Eye (2008)
The White-Luck Warrior (2011)
The Great Ordeal (2016)
The Unholy Consult (2017)

The Lost Reviews: Part 17 - Season 4, Episodes 9-12

Welcome to the Lost rewatch project. I am currently rewatching all 121 episodes of the TV series which aired for six seasons from 2004 to 2010. This is very much a rewatch thread, with the show watched with knowledge of what is to come in later seasons. If you've never watched Lost before, you definitely do not want to read this blog series.
This blog post covers the first eight episodes of of Season 4. During the filming of Season 3, showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse struck an unprecedented agreement with ABC to both allow them to set an end date for the show and also to shoot fewer episodes per season. The original plan had been to conclude the series 42 episodes after the end of Season 3, with three seasons of 14 episodes. However, the 2007-08 Writer's Strike affected the writing process, resulting in two episodes being dropped. The final two seasons were slightly increased in length to compensate for this.

I am using the Lost plot summaries from Wikipedia, sometimes fleshed out. I'd previously written each one myself but to be honest the time it was taking to do this had become unsustainable. Wikipedia permits the re-use of such material if the original source is linked as follows: The Shape of Things to Come, Something Nice Back Home, Cabin Fever, There's No Place Like Home.

Without further ado, let us continue after the jump.

Ben makes the biggest misjudgement of his entire life.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

The 100: Season 3

The survivors of the Ark have formed a tentative alliance with the native Twelve Tribes, or "Grounders", in the wake of their victory over the inhabitants of Mount Weather. However, a schism threatens to open on the fate of Mount Weather's science and technology. Adding to the chaos, when a long-separated group of survivors from the Ark manage to regroup with their fellows after months of fighting the Grounders, they are horrified by the idea of the alliance and seek to undermine it. At the same tribe, the Ice Nation tribe also seeks to break the treaty and destroy the Ark. The only person capable of speaking to both sides, Clarke, has gone into exile. Meanwhile, the superintelligent AI which unleashed the nuclear war in the first place is still active...and has plans for the remnants of humanity.

The 100 is a fast-moving, intense show. It's covered an enormous amount of ground in just two seasons and the third season continues this trend. When so many shows are capable of sitting back for two or three episodes in a row and not do very much, The 100 can cheerfully tear through a season's worth of plot twists and character deaths during that time. As a story it's relentless, and perfect for binge watching one episode after the next.

The third season is very much a story of two halves: the first half focuses on the Grounders and their internal dispute with the Ice Nation, and the citizens of Arcadia (as the crashed Ark, now being converted into a city, is called) and their own rift on how to proceed with the alliance. The former plot is understandable, as the Skykru (as they are known) have killed a lot of Grounders. The latter is, however, completely ludicrous. The few hundred survivors of the Ark in their single valley with limited bullets and supplies are no match at all for the Grounders, who seem to number in the hundreds of thousands and (as this season reveals) controls most of the Eastern Seaboard of both the former US and Canada, and the notion that any intelligent person would demand to go on the offensive against this unbeatable enemy is fundamentally unconvincing.

Fortunately, this plot becomes moot as the ruthlessly amoral AI known as ALIE begins to take over both Grounders and people from Arcadia, aiming at total subjugation to a vision known as the "City of Light". Survivors from both sides, scarred by their previous conflicts, have to join forces to take on this mutual threat.

The plot structure is pretty standard but The 100 does good things with it. It's also built up enough of an enormous main and supporting cast that dividing them against one another and making them fight (often to the death) is a viable way of telling the story (and cutting actor salaries!). The show also hasn't forgotten about previous conflicts and storylines and some very long-running stories reach their pay-offs this season as well.

Unfortunately, the storytelling is often hampered by plot twists that feel more belaboured than natural. Behind-the-scenes drama led to the early exit of one very popular character, whose death feels cheap and pointless. It's also hard not to feel that the first half of the season is rendered completely moot by the second, although the finale does hint at some more story to come in that area. The show also continues its curious trend of having some pretty good actors in the like of Henry Ian Cusick and Paige Turco and proceeding to not having them do very much. Bob Morley also has to work overtime in his role as Bellamy, who inexplicably switches sides several times for no apparent reason.

For the most part, performances are good (Richard Harmon's world-weary, constantly-expecting death attitude as John Murphy becomes a lot of fun this year) even if a few of the cast are firmly at the cheesy overacting end of the scale. But The 100 does a great line in sneering villainy and pulp action, so it's not inappropriate. The writing could be stronger in places, but the fast-moving plot and ruthless attitude to character deaths makes for a series that is frequently more gripping and interesting than it feels it should be. The cliffhanger, which raises the stakes dramatically to the global level, certainly left me keen to see what will happen next year in the fourth (and potentially final, given the so-so ratings) season.

The third season of The 100 (****) maintains the quality from the second, with a couple of brief dips due to implausible plot twists and a few cheap character deaths that feel more motivated by a producer's annoyance than story requirements. But overall it's still a watchable, fun and sometimes genuinely morally interesting show. The season will be released on 26 October on DVD and Blu-Ray.

ORPHAN BLACK renewed for a fifth and final season

Orphan Black has been renewed for a fifth and final season of 10 episodes, due to air in 2017.

The show recently concluded its excellent fourth season on a series of major cliffhangers, so it's good to know that they will be resolved. More impressively, co-creators John Fawecett and Graeme Manson had planned a five-year arc for the series at an outset, so they will get to end the show on their terms and in the way they'd wanted all along.

The show has also done well to hang onto star Tatiana Maslany, who has been festooned with awards and nominations for her challenging role playing a multitude of different clones on the series. I suspect she has a bright career ahead on other TV shows and in Hollywood.

All four seasons of the show are currently available to watch on Netflix in the UK and Ireland, for those who haven't caught up yet.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Star Trek at 50: The End of an Era

In May 2001 Rick Berman and Paramount Pictures announced that the fifth live-action Star Trek TV series would be called Enterprise - and just Enterprise with no Star Trek or colon - and would star Scott Bakula as Captain Jonathan Archer. It would be a prequel series set a century before the events of even the original series, and would feature a very low-tech version of the Star Trek universe. The show would be set before the Federation is even founded, with Earth and Vulcan in a tenuous (and unequal) alliance and races like the Andorians and Tellarites causing mischief before they can be brought into the fold. The Klingons and Romulans are barely-rumoured threats on the horizon and the very first starship Enterprise is a primitive vessel lacking transporters or shields.

The cast of Star Trek: Enterprise.

Fans rejoiced. It sounded like the bold reinvention the franchise needed, a move away from the near-magical tech of the late 24th Century and a return to a time when even the systems close to Earth could harbour surprises and dangers. But such hopes were, if not dashed, then soon muted. The transporter is pretty much working as intended by the end of the pilot episode. Space battles would refer to "Armour buckling!" rather than "Shields failing!" but otherwise be pretty similar. Trundling around at Warp 5 maximum wasn't too different from trundling around at Warp 9.9. And the stories that were being told were soon becoming predictably Star Trek-by-the-numbers. Even the Borg - somewhat incongruously - soon showed up. Oh, and there's the theme song, which may be the worst piece of music ever used in the franchise.

That said, Enterprise was never quite as terrible as Voyager at its worst. The actors gelled a bit better and Scott Bakula made a strong leading actor. There were some pretty decent episodes in the opening couple of seasons and the show did learn from Deep Space Nine by bringing in multi-episode arcs, long-form storytelling and a recurring sometimes-ally in the shape of Shran, played by DS9 veteran Jeffrey Combs. The ending of Season 2 set in motion a new story arc in which the Enterprise has to enter a remote region of space in search of an alien race which has fired a devastating superweapon at Earth.

Season 3 was dominated by this storyline, and saw an uptick in quality as new writer Manny Coto came on board and made the show his own. At the end of the season he was promoted to showrunner, and spearheaded a fourth season which was driven by short arcs establishing elements of the Star Trek universe to come, as well as making good use of the Mirror Universe. Although some issues remained - the average episode quality was still patchy and some of the explanations for things in the Star Trek universe (like the human-looking Klingons of the original series) were deeply stupid - the show was clearly headed in the right direction, creatively. Reviews improved and there was clearly a fresh energy working behind the scenes.

But these improvements were not translating into good ratings. And whilst Enterprise was getting better, it would be hard to argue that it still looked tired compared to the storming and intense new Battlestar Galactica mini-series, which aired in 2003 ahead of the regular series beginning a year later (with ex-Star Trek writers such as Ronald D. Moore, Michael Taylor, David Weddle and Bradly Thompson on board). There was also fierce competition from the StarGate franchise, with StarGate: SG-1 feeling breezy and fun compared to Enterprise. And of course there was the disastrous box office and critical run of Star Trek: Nemesis in late 2002 and early 2003. If Nemesis hadn't killed the Star Trek franchise, it had certainly brought it to its knees.

The NX-01 experimental Enterprise. Not a Starfleet or Federation starship, which is why it was not counted or mentioned in previous Star Trek shows. Cough.

On 2 February 2005 Paramount announced it had cancelled Star Trek: Enterprise (the title and colon had been reinstated in the third season). Production ended on 8 March 2005 and the show's sets were struck and taken down. It was a historic moment. For the first time since mid-1977 - when Star Trek: Phase II entered pre-production only to be cancelled and replaced by Star Trek: The Motion Picture - there was no standing Star Trek set on the Paramount lot, and no in-production Star Trek project, either film or television. It was a sobering moment, but one that was almost ignored due to the controversy that erupted when Enterprise's final episode aired on 11 May 2005.

These Are the Voyages... was meant to show the impact of Archer's crew and their adventures, showing the founding of the Federation and the birth of the Star Trek universe. It did try to do these things...but in the context of a holodeck recreation created by Commander Riker and Counsellor Troi on the Enterprise-D during the events of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The last ship we see on Enterprise isn't the trusty little Enterprise NX-01 which gives the show its name, but the Enterprise-D, a ship that had been blown-up on screen eleven years earlier. Critics slated the episode, fans (even TNG fans) criticised the move as being disrespectful and the regular Enterprise actors felt insulted.

It was a low moment in the history of Star Trek. The franchise was effectively dead in the water. No-one was interested in making more Star Trek, the term "franchise fatigue" had become a mantra at Paramount and that seemed to be that.

Well, almost. Eighteen days after Star Trek: Enterprise ceased production, the BBC broadcast the first episode of Doctor Who in sixteen years. Battlestar Galactica had come back from the wilderness after twenty-five years and become successful, winning coveted Peabody and Hugo Awards and plaudits from serious critics. Star Trek wasn't dead forever, it was just resting. It just needed a fresh idea and someone willing to tackle the job of bringing it back...and that wasn't going to take as long as anyone might have thought.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

MGM options J. Michael Straczynski's RISING STARS

MGM has optioned Rising Stars, a comic book series created by Babylon 5 creator and Sense8 writer J. Michael Straczynski.

The comic book originally ran from 1999 to 2005 (although only 24 issues were published due to huge delays between issues, resulting from difficulties between the publishers and Straczynski). It charts what happens when a meteor explodes over an American town, somehow imbuing 113 children in utero at the time with special powers. They grow up to become the "Specials", monitored by the US government. Years later, someone starts murdering Specials, resulting in their powers being redistributed amongst the other Specials and making them all more powerful. This poses a problem when some of the Specials want nothing at all to do with their abilities.

Straczynski himself with write the script, with a director to be announced.

Bethesda confirm that ELDER SCROLLS VI is in development

Bethesda have confirmed that a sixth game in their Elder Scrolls fantasy roleplaying saga is in development, surprising absolutely no-one. However, they have stressed that this is not a formal announcement of the game, merely the fact that they are working on it. The setting, title and what kind of game it will be all remain to be seen.

The previous Elder Scrolls game, Skyrim, was released in 2011 and was enormously successful, selling tens of millions of copies. A new version of the game, with upgraded graphics, will launch this October on PS4 and XB1. Bethesda's last game, Fallout 4, was released at the end of 2015 and has also been a huge success. Partner company Zenimax Studios released The Elder Scrolls Online two years ago which has been more of a moderate success, and panicked some fans into thinking we weren't going to get a new single-player Elder Scrolls game. This announcement fortunately confirms that this isn't the case and a new CRPG in Tamriel will - eventually - arrive.

According to Bethesda, their plans for the new game are extremely ambitious and rely on technology that is still in development. This suggests that Bethesda may - finally! - be working on a new engine to power the game. They have also said that the game is a long, long way off. I suspect we'll be lucky to see it this side of 2020.

Bethesda have also confirmed that they are working on two other "large projects", and we may hear more about these before The Elder Scrolls VI is officially announced.

PHOENIX POINT announced, a major new strategy game from the creator of X-COM

Julian Gollop should need no introduction to hardened strategy game players. Back in the late 1980s he developed Laser Squad and Lords of Chaos, highly popular and influential strategy games. But he really hit the big time with UFO: Enemy Unknown (aka X-COM: UFO Defense), released in 1994 and frequently cited as one of the very best video games ever made. He wasn't involved in the sequel, X-COM: Terror from the Deep, but did return for the third game in the series, X-COM: Apocalypse, in 1997.

More recently Gollop has been involved with Chaos Reborn, a reboot of Lords of Chaos, and has been providing advice to Firaxis on their XCOM reboot games, Enemy Unknown, Enemy Within and XCOM 2, all of which have been excellent. Clearly Gollop's been re-inspired by these games because he's now announced a new game which clearly draws on both his original series, the reboots and - slightly unexpectedly - survival horror for inspiration.

Phoenix Point sees the world being inundated with a "mist", a plague released from the permafrost which kills a lot of the population and provides cover for a mysterious invasion of mutated creatures. The survivors are divided into dozens of widely-scattered factions with wildly varying agendas. The factions are as likely to fight each other as team up against the monsters, and resources (weapons, food, vehicles etc) will be extremely scarce. The game will also feature a dynamic campaign with events unfolding regardless if your faction is getting involved or not. If you want, you can hold back to see if other factions can weaken the enemy for you before wading in, but you then risk them also getting more loot and equipment in the process.

Particularly fascinating is that the turn-based combat mode will feature not just procedurally-generated levels, but procedurally-generated monsters, assembled from a vast array of body types and equipment. There is also a strong focus on an analytical AI, with the enemy reacting to your tactics. Specialise in snipers, for example, and they will develop counter-snipers or fast-moving creatures who can close before you can fire too many times. You will also have to contend with the mist, which forms a barrier and method of concealment on many missions.

The game is not due out until late 2018, but already looks amazing. Gollop is working on the game with a studio and is looking for a publisher. Given his already-excellent relations with 2K and Firaxis (he notes that the faction diplomacy is inspired by Firaxis's Alpha Centauri as well as his own X-COM: Apocalypse), it'd be cool to see the game end up there but I suspect there'll be a lot of interest in this game from other quarters. Part XCOM, part Stephen King, part H.P. Lovecraft, it looks absolutely great, even at this early stage.

A History of Eärwa Part 2: The Age of Man

Eärwa is seen as the cradle of civilisation, the home of the Cûnuroi and the greatest nations in the history of the world. But it is not the only continent known to exist. To the south, beyond the Three Seas, lies the desolate desert land of Kutnarmu, dominated by vast deserts and untraversable wastes. To the east, beyond the vast Kayarsus Mountains, lies another land: Eänna, the Land of the Uplifted Sun.

The Five Tribes of Men and their initial distribution into Eärwa after the Breaking of the Gates (the location of "The Gates" is speculative).

Little is known of Eänna, even today. Explorations of that continent have revealed mountains, deserts and plains, populated sparsely. Such explorations have not progressed far before turning back for lack of supplies, or have not returned at all. But we know that the earliest tribes of independent men dwelt in Eänna. Even as their western brethren were enslaved by the Cûnuroi, becoming the Emwama, the men of Eänna were building the rudiments of civilisation. Over time they became divided into five distinct tribes: the Ketyai, the Norsirai, the Satyothi, the Scylvendi and the Xiuhianni. The Tribes warred against one another but were also united by religion. The Tribes came to believe in the Hundred Gods, a hundred distinct, individual spiritual entities who responded to their prayers and intervened in the affairs of men.

Their religion, the Kiünnat tradition, was given form and structure through the Tusk. A colossal bone-artifact, the Tusk was inscribed with the holy words and stories of the Five Tribes. It was gifted to the Tribes by strangers who journeyed out of the west. The age of the Tusk is unknown, save it far predates the Breaking of the Gates, which took place (according to tradition) 4,132 years before Anasûrimbor Kellhus's Great Ordeal marched onto the Istyuli Plains.

 The Tusk, the most ancient and holiest item in both the Kiünnat and Inrithi traditions, and the most unholy in the Fanim. It was installed in the holy city of Sumna shortly after the Breaking of the Gates and has remained there ever since, save a brief period during the Apocalypse when it was evacuated to Nilnamesh.

The Tribes of Men dwelt in the wilds of Eänna for centuries. They fought their own wars there and, long before the Tusk, suffered a religious schism between the Shamans (sorcerer-priests who worshipped the one God of Gods and were of the Few) and the Prophets (priests of the Hundred Gods, given direct access to the Hundred and imbued with special powers). The Prophets won, resulting in the outlawing of sorcery. Partially due to this disadvantage, the forays of men into Eärwa were met with enslavement or death at the hands of the Cûnuroi, whom the Tribes soon came to curse as the Oserukki, "Not Us", the Nonmen. It was a hard existence in a hand land.

Despairing of the lot of men, Angeshraël, a priest or holy man of the Tusk, climbed to the peak of Mount Eshki, fasting and praying to the Hundred for guidance. At length he descended from the mountain and found a hare to skin and eat. Once he had his fill, he was joined at his fire by a man, at first glance a traveller of the wastes. But Angeshraël recognised the man as the god Husyelt, the Holy Stalker made manifest, and fell to his knees. Husyelt asked why he did not throw his face into the earth as homage demanded, so Angeshraël did as he bid, even though this meant bowing his head into his fire. Angeshraël burned his face, but the god acknowledged his faith. They talked for a time before Husyelt left him. The experience ended the time of Angeshraël the man and began the time of Angeshraël, the Burned Prophet.

 Angeshraël, the Burned Prophet, who is said to have led four of the Five Tribes of Men into Eärwa.

He went amongst the Five Tribes, declaring that beyond the western mountains lay a land of bounty and gift which was the rightful birthright of the Tribes. It was held by an accursed race of False Men whose extermination was called for by the Tusk itself. The False Men wielded great powers, but when the Tusk was delivered unto the Tribes certain "gifts" had come with it, metal spheres which would render these powers useless. Angeshraël's words spread amongst the Tribes and soon found great favour. He urged those who would follow him to gather on the slopes of Mount Kinsureah.

There Angeshraël made his final case, arguing for the Five Tribes to cross the Great Kayarsus and claim the Land of the Felled Sun, Eärwa, the promised land. There was tremendous doubt and discussion. One of the Five Tribes, the Xiuhianni, rejected his words and left, scattering back into Eänna. But Angeshraël convinced the rest by performing a great sacrifice, slaying his son Oresh as a sign of his conviction.
The Breaking of the Gates, the destruction of the Nonman Mansions and fortresses guarding the passes through the Great Kayarsus Mountains. This event marks the beginning of recorded human history.

The four remaining tribes agreed to follow the Burned Prophet. In their multitudes, they swarmed through the Gates of Eärwa, which the Nonmen had fortified in ages long past. The Tribes threw down the gates in ruin, an act immortalised as the "Breaking of the Gates", the beginning of recorded history and also the beginning of the Second Age, Far Antiquity and the Age of Bronze.

The four tribes swept across Eärwa from the north and east, throwing down the great High Mansions one-by-one. Siöl, the most powerful mansion, was destroyed early in the invasions, for it lay under the Northern Kayarsus themselves. Nihrimsul followed, and then the remnants of Viri and far Illiseru. Only Ishoriöl and Cil-Aujas survived of the great mansions. The rest fell. The Cûno-Halaroi Wars were fought over generations but ended in the defeat of most of the Cûnuroi in Eärwa. However, during this war men were forced to relearn the art of sorcery in order to defeat the Nonmen Qûya. Although judged necessary to survive, they were damned and cursed even as their powers paved the way to victory.

Once secure in Eärwa, the tribes found new homes. The hardy Norsirai settled the north, particularly the lands to the south of the Sea of Neleöst along the fertile River Aumris. The Scylvendi settled the lands further south, between the Atkondras Mountains and the Hethanta Mountains, on the Jiünati Steppe and the lands south as far as the inhospitable Great Carathay Desert. The Ketyai, the most numerous tribe, made their home on the rich Kyranae Plains and the lands extending north and east around the Meneanor Sea and Sea of Nyranisas, as far east as the Southern Kayarsus. The Satyothi went to the far south-west of Eärwa, beyond the Atkondras range and Carathay Desert, settling the lands to the west of the Hinayati Mountains as far as the Great Ocean itself.

The human nations of Eärwa circa 570 years after the Breaking of the Gates.

The first human nations arose soon after. The Satyothi, isolated from the rest of Eärwa by geography and distance, established a kingdom known as Angka, a forerunner of modern Zeüm. The Ketyai established the kingdom of Shigek, the first nation of the Three Seas, around the broad delta of the River Sempis. Another Ketyai kingdom was established at Nilnamesh in the far south, beyond the Carathay Desert. The Scylvendi disdained the trappings of civilisation, preferring to remain pastoralists dwelling on the steppes and plains.

But it was in the Ancient North that human civilisation first truly took hold in Eärwa. The River Aumris and the surrounding region became the focus of such settlements, with the great cities of Trysë, Sauglish, Etrith, Lokor and Ûmerau founded in relatively short order. Controversially, these city-states disdained the command of the Tusk to exterminate the Nonmen and began trading with the Cûnuroi of Ishoriöl to the north-east, to their mutual enrichment. The power of the Aumris River cities grew quickly. Somewhere in the 4th Century after the Breaking of the Gates, Cûnwerishau, the God-King of Trysë, made a pact with Nil'giccas, the King of Ishoriöl. He received a copy of the Isûphiryas, the chronicle of the history of the Nonmen prior to the Breaking of the Gates and the oldest extant work of literature in the world.

By 430 the God-Kings of Trysë had been overthrown and Ûmerau had became the primary power of the Aumris River Valley. By 500 the Ûmeri Empire had formed, the first truly great empire of men, extending along the full length of the Aumris River and extending across the lands to either side. This also coincided with the growth in power of the Ketyai to the south, with the Seto and Annaria tribes colonising the length of the River Sayut and the Secharib Plains.

In 555 the Nonman Tutelage began. The Cûnuroi, mostly of Ishoriöl, formed an alliance with the Norsirai of the Ûmeri Empire and began teaching them in arts both mundane and sorcerous. Most notably, the Nonmen Qûya imparted to the Norsirai Anagogic sorcerers the secret of the Gnosis, the most powerful form of sorcery known to exist. It was also around this time that the subtle Cûnuroi game of benjuka was also taught to men. Those Nonmen who went to live amongst humans and serve them as teachers were called Siqû.

The next three centuries saw the Ûmeri Empire flourish thanks to this alliance. In 560 the Great Library of Sauglish was founded by Carû-Ongonean, the third Ûmeri God-King. Ten years later he founded the fortress of Ara-Etrith, "New Etrith", which would later be called Atrithau.

Gin'yursis, a Cûnuroi of Cil-Aujas exiled from his home mansion, travelled to the Ancient North and undertook tutoring of men in the arts of sorcery. In 668 he founded the Gnostic School of Sohonc. His student Sos-Praniura would then founded the Gnostic School of Mangaecca in 684. The power of the Ancient North increased thanks to these schools of learning and sorcery.

In 750 the Heron Spear, Suörgil ("Shining Death"), seized from the Inchoroi King Sil by Cû'jara-Cinmoi himself, vanished from its place of safekeeping, deep in the heart of Ishoriöl. Unbeknown to the rulers of that mansion, a powerful Qûya named Cet'ingira (later "Mekeritrig", "Traitor of Men") had arranged the theft. After the end of the Cûno-Inchoroi Wars, Cet'ingira had been sent into the Golden Court of the Incû-Holoinas on the orders of Nil'giccas. He returned sane and whole, but his companions who had accompanied him had been driven mad by something called "the Inverse Fire" and were put to death. However, it now appeared that Cet'ingira had surrendered his allegiance to the Inchoroi, two of whom had - somehow - survived the twenty-year purge of the Ark. Cet'ingira delivered the Heron Spear to the environs of Golgotterath (some reports say it was taken inside, but this is unclear as the Ark was still cloaked in a Nonman glamour that rendered it inaccessible). In 777 Cet'ingira set about the corruption of the School of Mangaecca, revealing to them the existence of the Golden Ark and the Inchoroi in great secrecy.

In 809 the great city of Cenei was founded on the Kyranae Plains, soon establishing itself as the greatest Ketyai power north of Shigek. Just two years later the great kingdom of Akksersia was founded on the northern shores of the Sea of Cerish, with its capital at Myclai.

In 825 the Nonman Tutelage ended with a crime most foul, committed by the Siqû Jiricet against Anasûrimbor Omindalea, the daughter of Sanna-Neorjë, a ruling noble of the Ûmeri Empire. When Ishoriöl refused to hand over Jiricet for trial, the Empire expelled all Cûnuroi from within its borders and ended the alliance. Omindalea would die bearing Jiricet's son, Anasûrimbor Sanna-Jephera, known as "Twoheart". Holding the child blameless for the sins of his father, Sanna-Neorjë made Sanna-Jephera his heir.

By 850 Akksersia had sent colonists south of the Sea of Cerish, founding the city of Kelmeöl on the southern shores of the sea. The people of this region soon became known as the Meöri. By 1104 the single city-state had expanded into the Meöri (or Meörn) Empire, extending south to the River Wernma.

 The major powers of Eärwa circa 1,110 years after the Breaking of the Gates.

In 917 the Ûmeri Empire collapsed, overrun by the Cond tribesmen of Aulyanau the Conqueror. This leads to a second period of domination over the Aumris Valley by Trysë. In 927 the Cond conquered Ara-Etrith and settled several tribes in the region.

In 1086 Shaeönanra was born in Ûmerau. He was the son of a treasurer and showed tremendous aptitude for sorcery. He was taken in by the Mangaecca and became the school's most promising student. By the 1110s he had already become the Grandvizier of the Mangaecca and had learned forbidden knowledge about the Incû-Holoinas, including its location. Aided by the Cûnuroi traitor Cet'ingira, Shaeönanra set about tearing down the glamour surrounding the Golden Ark, finally succeeding in destroying it and making contact with the last two surviving Inchoroi, Aurax and Aurang. In 1119 Shaeönanra and Aurang defeated Titirga, the Grandmaster of the Sohonc, after luring him into a trap. In 1123 Shaeönanra announced to the world that he had discovered a means of saving the souls of those damned by sorcery, but was promptly denounced for impiety. The Mangaecca were outlawed, fleeing Sauglish for Golgotterath.

Titirga, the Grandmaster of the Sohonc, confronts Shaeönanra, Grandvizier of the Mangaecca, whilst wielding the fabled Day Lantern, a gift from the Nonman hero Emilidis.

By the end of the 13th Century Akksersia had become the most powerful Norsirai nation, extending north from the Sea of Cerish onto the Plains of Gâl. At the same time the city-state of Shir on the River Maurat had conquered the tribes of Set-Annaria and founded new empire, Shiradi, trading with the Meöri to the north. However, the Aumris Valley and the area around Atrithau had fallen under the yoke of the Scintya, a new migratory group of Norsirai tribes. By 1381 Atrithau had liberated itself from the Scintya and founded a new nation, Eämnor, which rapidly became one of the pre-eminent powers of the Ancient North.

In 1408 Anasûrimbor Nanor-Ukkerja I, the Hammer of Heaven, defeated the Scintya once and for all, driving them from the Aumris Valley in abject defeat. He then seized the Ur-Throne in Trysë and declared himself the first High King of Kûniüri at the age of just thirty. Kûniüri rapidly became the largest and most powerful empire of men in Eärwa, extending north to the Yimaleti Mountains, east to the shores of the Cerish Sea, south to Sakarpus and west to the Demua Mountains. Kûniüri was careful to maintain good relations with Eämnor to the west, the Meörn Empire to the south-east and Akksersia to the north-east. These four powers soon became immensely rich on trade and cooperation, particularly against the Sranc who had begun to trouble the North in worrying numbers.

Anasûrimbor Nanor-Ukkerja I died in 1556 at the age of 178, the result of Nonman blood in his veins. Upon his death he divided the empire between his sons, creating Aörsi (in the north, between the Neleöst Sea and the Yimaleti Mountains) and Sheneor (in the east, between the seas of Neleöst and Cerish) in addition to Kûniüri itself.

In the 15th Century, the Shiradi Empire was conquered by Xiuhianni invaders from Eänna, who had crossed the southern Kayarsus in the vicinity of Jekk. The city of Shir was destroyed, but the imperial dynasty was able to relocate to Aöknyssus and, after twenty years of warfare, managed to defeat the Eännan invaders. By 1800 the Shiradi Empire had been firmly re-established and bolstered by the presence of the Surartu, an Anagogic school of sorcerers (forerunners of the modern Scarlet Spires) based at the river fortress of Kiz in the city of Carythusal.

In 1591 the long, uneasy period of dominance by Shigek over the Kyranae Plains came to an end. The Shigeki Empire had spent centuries gradually being sapped by internal rebellions and clashes with Nilnamesh far to the south, particularly by Nilnamesh's attempts to colonise the Middle-Lands of Amoteu on the Three Seas between their empires. The native Kyranae plainsfolk managed to overthrow and defeat Shigek at the Battle of Narakit. This was a precursor to the rise of the kingdom of Kyraneas itself, with its capital originally at Parninas but later at Mehtsonc. Kyraneas defeated and conquered both Shigek and Amoteu, forming a large empire stretching south along the western coast of the Three Seas.

In 1896 Anjecis, who would soon be famed as the father of syllogistic logic and algebra, as well as a philosopher of unsurpassed repute, was born in Mehtsonc. He would die in 2000, at the age of 103, having written Theophysics, The First Analytic of Men and The Third Analytic of Men, three of the most renowned works of human knowledge and wisdom.

 The major powers of Eärwa in 2089 Year-of-the-Tusk, the birth-year of Anasûrimbor Celmomas II and Seswatha of Trysë, two of the great heroes of the Apocalypse.

This was the age of great men, of warring cities and clashing empires. The lives of humans were brief but passionate, the rapid rise and fall of empires likely bewildering to the long-lived and slower-burning Cûnuroi. But there were also signs of growing maturity, with men like Anjecis (and his philosophical Kûniüri sparring-partner, Ingoswitu) seeking true wisdom and larger, more stable nations forming such as Kûniüri. What would have become of the great, vast civilisation of the Ancient North and its neighbours in the Three Seas is fascinating to speculate, but events meant that this was not to be.

In 2089 Anasûrimbor Celmomas II, the future High King of Kûniüri, was born. In the exact same year was born Seswatha, the son of a Trysëan bronzesmith. These two men would stand history upon its end, for they were fated to live in the time of the Apocalypse.


All of the artwork for this article was created by Jason Deem, known as Spiral Horizon, and used with his permission. You can find more of his spectacular work here. The maps are from Scott's website, adjusted by myself.
The Prince of Nothing Wiki was helpful in providing spelling checks and putting the timeline of events in better order.
Unlike the first part, I didn't request any new information for this second installment, so any errors or confusion are on my part.
Scott Bakker wrote the Second Apocalypse novels, for which this history is merely the backdrop and the scene-setting that comes before. Those novels are:
The Prince of Nothing
The Darkness That Comes Before (2003)
The Warrior-Prophet (2004)
The Thousandfold Thought (2005)
The Aspect-Emperor
The Judging Eye (2008)
The White-Luck Warrior (2011)
The Great Ordeal (2016)
The Unholy Consult (2017)

This history also covers the events of the short story known as The False Sun, which can be read on Bakker's website here.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Star Trek at 50: Torpedoing the Box Office

With both Deep Space Nine and Voyager over and a new series in the planning stages, the custodians of the Star Trek franchise turned their attention to a new movie starring the Next Generation crew. They made the decision that they wanted a clean break with how things were done in the past, with a new behind-the-scenes crew to inject some new blood and excitement into the films.

This, it turned out, was not an altogether successful decision.

Released four years after the previous Star Trek film, Nemesis was going up against The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Die Another Day at the box office. In retrospect, moving it might have been a good idea.

To make the tenth Star Trek movie, Rick Berman and Paramount decided to bring on board a new writer and a new director with no previous Star Trek credentials. Berman in particular was aware of how this had worked splendidly well for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, when producer/writer Harve Bennett and director Nicholas Meyer came on board and saved the franchise from oblivion. His hope was that a similar creative approach could yield similar results.

To write the movie, Paramount called on the services of John Logan. Logan was hot property in Hollywood, having just come off the tremendously well-received Gladiator and Any Given Sunday. His later movies would include the well-received The Aviator, Hugo and Skyfall, so clearly he was a talented screenwriter. He was also a major fan of Star Trek and was a friend of Brent Spiner's, who got him up to speed with the rest of the cast. Logan was keen to explore the Romulans, feeling that for such a classic Star Trek race they'd been grossly overlooked by the franchise, and there was a feeling that they could make both an epic action story and a more personal story about the characters and their fates (Picard's relationship with his young clone and Data's relationship with his android predecessor, B4). All of the pieces were in place for a strong movie. Paramount just needed to choose a good director.

 Tom Hardy was generally praised for his role as Shinzon, and has gone on to become a Hollywood superstar.

For reasons that are still a bit fuzzy, they went with Stuart Baird. Baird was a highly experienced and acclaimed editor who had recently moved into directing, helming the moderately well-received Kurt Russell/Steven Seagal vehicle Executive Decision and the so-so U.S. Marshals. Paramount could have gone with Jonathan Frakes, who had helmed First Contact and Insurrection, but Frakes was finishing up another movie (Clockstoppers) and Paramount chose not to wait, even though it was down to a matter of a couple of weeks on the schedule. It was hoped that Baird would, like Meyer twenty years earlier, bring a fresh and new perspective to the franchise. This was undone by the fact that, unlike Meyer, Baird refused to watch any of the TV episodes, was allegedly derogatory about the franchise to other people and jarred badly with the castmembers, getting LeVar Burton's name repeatedly wrong and making quips about his character being an alien. In more recent years the castmembers have called the director an "idiot". Paramount also insisted that the Voyager character Seven of Nine be inserted into the movie against the writer's wishes, an insistence that only went away when Jeri Ryan herself turned the proposal down, calling it idiotic. Kate Mulgrew was instead hastily written in with a cameo appearance as Admiral Janeway on a viewscreen.

Still, the movie that resulted wasn't too bad, at least if reports of the assembly cut are to be believed. There were impressive action sequences between the Enterprise-E and the Reman battlecruiser Scimitar, some interesting scenes musing on life, death and rebirth and the casting department knocked it out of the park when they turned up a young, hard-hitting and intense British actor named Tom Hardy to play the main villain, Shinzon. The effects team did great work and the script struck a nice balance between action, comedy, drama, tragedy and pathos. Baird's direction ranged from poor to mediocre, but the script and certainly the performances could have turned things around if Paramount hadn't received the cut of the movie and taken a chainsaw to it.

 The space battle between the Enterprise-E and the Scimitar wasn't too bad, but did miss the point from The Wrath of Khan that having two evenly-matched ships is more interesting than some super-vessel we know is going to get beaten anyway (Into Darkness makes this mistake as well).

Star Trek: Nemesis's initial cut was close to three hours long. This was, clearly, far too long for a Star Trek movie and there was scope for some of the scenes to be deleted. But Paramount had devised a - highly questionable - strategy for the film. They were going to launch it directly opposite the second Lord of the Rings movie, The Two Towers, and use its much shorter running time to pack in more performances and pick up more viewers from people who couldn't get in to see The Two Towers. As a result they hacked Nemesis down to barely 115 minutes, removing numerous scenes of character development or reflection in favour of action, explosions and violence.

This strategy was an unmitigated failure. As it turned out, The Two Towers wasn't the only game in town. There was also the new James Bond movie, Die Another Day, and the second Harry Potter movie, The Chamber of Secrets, to contend with. Released in December 2002, Nemesis simply couldn't stand up to that level of competition and retired from the cinema having taken a catastrophically low worldwide box office of $68 million against a budget of $60 million. With marketing costs factored in, the movie was an abject failure, the first Star Trek movie to actively lose money at the box office. The film's critical reception was also horrible, with the movie getting the worst reviews since at least Generations, if not The Final Frontier.

Wil Wheaton was to make a cameo appearance as Wesley Crusher, but his material was all cut from the final edit of the movie. Fortunately, a few years later Wheaton would reinvent himself as a cult geek figure by appearing on web series The Guild and on sitcom The Big Bang Theory.

Fortunately, the film was saved by the DVD release. The movie shifted over 1.1 million DVDs in its week of release, with strong sales for several weeks afterwards. Like most of the Star Trek franchise it developed a very long tail. Thanks to the DVD release, the film was pushed firmly into profitability, but it was far too close for Paramount's comfort.

The film's reception resulted in several things happening. A sequel script, which would have been the last Next Generation movie designed to send off the TNG crew altogether, was cancelled.  All further development of the Star Trek franchise in the cinema was halted. A proposed reboot projected helmed by Rick Berman was politely rejected. Paramount had a new buzzword floating around and that word was "franchise fatigue." Star Trek had reached the point of burn-out and it was time to put it on ice.