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Saturday, 26 December 2015

Review: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

Warning: This review contains spoilers so if you have not seen the film yet please do not read.

After many months of anticipation The Force Awakens has finally been released! I grew up watching Star Wars and playing Star War: Battlefront so I was very excited to see this film. Luckily I managed to keep both my love for Star Wars and my nostalgia under control, which I may have failed to do for Jurassic World giving it too high a rating. Before I start the review I just want to say it does contain some spoilers, I've managed to cut out most of them but there are still a few so please do not read if you have yet to see the film.

Plot
Thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi the remnants of the Galactic Empire have formed the First Order led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) who is locked in combat with the New Republic as well as looking for the Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who has vanished. A new Sith Lord Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is trying to find Skywalker while renegade Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and the mysterious scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) must try and find him first. Most of the criticisms that I've seen of the film and which I have myself is how similar the plot resembles that of the original installment. A small band of rebels learning about the force while avoiding a masked Sith Lord taking orders from a shadowy figure and destroying planets is almost a direct copy of the original film. Here I felt J.J. Abrams and the other writers were too cautious opting for a story that we all know and love instead of trying something new. It was also a perfect opportunity to introduce the stories from the Expanded Universe rather than going for a tried and tested plot.

However the plot is still good nevertheless. It is clear that Abrams took inspiration from the original film but the plot is not a rehash of the original. Events have new meanings, characters are vastly different from their original counterpart (Rey for one is a much stronger character compared to Luke in the original film) and there are countless plot points added which both make the film exciting and unique. We have to remember though how similar the plots to Star Wars and Return of the Jedi are (Luke saving a friend with Leia/Han, seeing a Jedi Master who trained him die with Obi Wan/Yoda, the Alliance going into a space battle to destroy the Death Star as Luke goes one on one against Vader in either a X-Wing or lightsaber). The Force Awakens does have a downside that it bears more resemblance to the original film but it has so much new content for us to overlook this.

Characters/Acting
My biggest worry for the film was going to be the acting ability of Daisy Ridley and John Boyega due to this film being their first major film. They portrayed some of the best acting in the film. Boyega effectively portrayed someone who is finally free from oppression after years as a Stormtrooper while simultaneously portraying someone tormented by military combat. One scene in a canteen when he describes to Rey why he is running it felt like I was watching a gritty Vietnam War film. His effortless shift from a quasi-comic relief to a tormented veteran was fantastic. Daisy Ridley equally became her onscreen character and stole the film in my opinion. Her character is especially well written and combined with Ridley's acting Rey became a strong willed character with a mysterious past which we want know about. Quite often in films the 'mysterious past' trope can become repetitive but Rey's well written character and Ridley's acting allowed this trope to become engaging once more. As stated earlier Rey is a far stronger character than Luke Skywalker in the original film and is comparable to Luke in Empire Strikes Back. Also the fact that Rey is the main character is a bonus as the sci-fi genre has a stark lack of female main characters (with possibly Serenity being the most notable sci-fi film to have a female lead) so Rey being so well acted as well is a good point for the film. A final point to make about Finn and Rey is that a actually liked the will-they-or-won't-they plot point. Normally I hate this in films, with the exception of Pacific Rim where they didn't, but it seemed natural thanks to their acting ability (and the writing) so it managed to revitalize another dying movie trope.

Now for what we all wanted in the film: the original cast. Harrison Ford was excellent as Han Solo. His acting in this film was far better than the acting in Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. It felt that he had just come back from doing Return of the Jedi rather than his acting in Indiana Jones where he had to portray Dr Jones but old. Likewise his interaction with Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) seemed natural. When he said 'Chewie. We're back' it actually felt that they were truly back. Carrie Fisher as Leia was very good as well. It felt that she portrayed Leia as an actual rebellion leader who has had years of fighting against the Dark Side. I like how she is called General Leia this time showing that she has actual authority and a direct role in the rebellion which I must give Abrams credit for. Finally we have Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker. He is not in the film for very long and criticisms of the film that I've seen largely talk about how little he is in the film. I disagree with this. His little screen time in the film fits perfectly with his role as a mysterious Jedi Master. Hamill though is still very good as an elderly Skywalker, he uses his little time on screen effectively and manages to show with facial expressions that he does have power. He felt like Alec Guiness as Obi Wan in the original film.

Finally we have the villains. Domhnall Greeson as General Hux is quite formidable. He captures the essence that Peter Cushing had as Grand Moff Tarkin and made it his own. He effectively plays a radical with too much power and the ability to wield such power. I eagerly await seeing him in future installments. Serkis is good at playing Snoke however he felt too much like the Emperor. Whether it was writing or the small amount of screen time that he had to flesh out his character Snoke just felt to be a computer generated version of the Emperor. Serkis however has to be commended for actually creating this effect to begin with. Adam Driver is most of the time good as Kylo Ren. While he has his mask on he portrays an aura of menace and power. He honestly feels intimidating. Not as intimidating as Vader but he does feel like a true antagonist which is always good. However when he takes off his mask his acting dips somewhat. By no means bad it feels weaker compared to the other actors and when he has his mask on. He seemed nervous (likely due to the other actors having the benefit of going through the entire film lacking a mask) and it sometimes shows in his performance. It does have some good points (a possible spoiler ahead). His confrontation with his father is moderately well acted and subtly done which works well. It is far better compared to Hayden Christianson as Anakin Skywalker in the prequels and considering this is Driver's first major role he has to be commended for not ruining the performance by overacting. 

Effects
The effects are possibly the best effects in a film of this year with only Mad Max: Fury Road competing with it. My biggest issue with Jurassic World was it basically a CGI movie. Abrams for The Force Awakens combined CGI with practical effects. He knew when it was right to use CGI and when it was right to use practical effects. Chewbacca, R2 D2, C-3PO and Admiral Ackbar are men in suits instead of computer generated images. The image above was done through animatronics. Several ships were large props. This injected a sense of believability into the atmosphere of the film helping the audience engage further. It is far easier to get caught up in a world where practical effects are used compared to one entirely created thanks to a computer. Abrams experience with the Star Trek franchise paid off here also as by balancing the CGI/Practical effect ratio when CGI was used it was engaging. The CGI itself was breathtaking. TIE Fighter and X-Wing dogfights as well as a dogfight between the Millennium Falcon and TIE Fighters made it seem as if we were there. Overall the effects department created a believable galaxy far far away.

Atmosphere
This film felt much more like a Star Wars film than any of the prequels. Focusing more on plot than flashy effects Abrams managed to recreate the Galaxy. Also the effects mirrored that of the originals with some added polish so we honestly felt that this was a continuation of the Star Wars universe. George Lucas has stated that he imagined and tried to make the Empire like a fascist state. Abrams captured this idea perfectly. The First Order felt like a totalitarian state (even with the name) and their purge of the village at the start of the film felt like footage from the Second World War of Nazi atrocities. Greeson's portrayal of Hux felt like I was watching a Nazi leader and at one part he gives a speech in front of red flags with Stormtroopers saluting. Abrams perfectly captured the fascist element of the Empire. Likewise Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo and Chewbacca being almost folk heroes, with Skywalker going as far as to be a legend, fits perfectly in with the atmosphere. It makes sense that their feats would earn them so much reverence and Skywalker being the last Jedi it makes sense to make him a legendary figure. Finally the use of special effects made it feel that we were in the Star Wars universe.

Overall I enjoyed The Force Awakens. The most zealous critics I've seen of the film can be roughly characterized into three groups: less open-minded people (who immediately disliked the film due to Finn and Rey being the main characters), original elitists (who immediately disliked the film because of a rose-tinted view of the original and animosity towards Disney) and sci-fi haters (this one was identified by a close friend of mine who I agree with. The people who have not seen the franchise a immediately hate on the film due to it being 'nerdy'). Of course all the other critics (in fact over 90% of them) do not fit into any of these categories and their criticisms are very valid such as the increased humor, repetition of the original plot and certain plot points and these criticisms do weigh down the film. I find it a shame that the zealous critics now have silenced the level headed critics of the film as now it is harder for them to give across their views. I would give this film 8/10. It effectively captured the feel of the Star Wars universe with well written characters and fantastic effects. 

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 18 December 2015

World History: Introduction and Human Evolution

Welcome to the first edition of World History. In this series I will be going through major events, ideas and landmarks in world history. Each successive post will have no specific day to which it will be published and we might even go a whole month before the next post gets published. By the end of the series we would have gone on a journey that will cover every corner of the globe, see the rise of religions, the fall of empires, the birth of nations and the setting of the foundations for our current world. It is a series which will encompass history, archaeology, paleontology, anthropology. paleoanthropology, biology and climatology. We will also wonder whether human civilization has actually progressed at all. Before we start it is necessary to discuss why all of this is important.

Why is knowing the past important?
As a student of history and archaeology people have occasionally questioned the purpose of my subject. They sometimes argue that other subjects are more important: biology gives us understanding of out body while chemistry creates the medicine to keep our body healthy, maths helps us create stable buildings and manage our accounts, engineering creates almost everything that we use around us and if I list all the benefits physics bring us we shall be here for a long time. History (and archaeology) is very important in our lives. Award winning author Michael Crichton once said: If you don't know history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know that it is part of a tree. History allows us to understand who we are. It is integral to our culture and our society. Every year Americans celebrate Independence Day, the French celebrate Bastille Day and the British celebrate Bonfire Night just to name a few holidays with their roots in history. History allows us to understand why this is so important. History creates a shared heritage for people. Knowing history allows stops it being corrupted. People in the past have, and will continue to do so, to try and change history to suit their own needs. Knowing history stops this from happening. History defines our culture, religious beliefs, politics, society, how we speak, how we interact and what we enjoy. History's benefits may not be as prevalent as that of engineering, maths or physics but it is there nevertheless. Now to start our journey through history with someone called Toumai whose photo is below.
Coming down from the trees: 7-4.2 million years ago
The photo above is of Toumai, a Sahelanthropus tchadensis, who lived 7 million years ago in Torro-Menalla, Chad. When Toumai was alive the Earth was going through drastic climate fluctuations. From using sediment lines dating from that time climatologists have discovered that the planet was becoming both cooler and dryer. Hence forests started to become replaced by grassland. Although only his skull is known to us Toumai shows a major evolutionary adaption to this changing environment: he has a foranum magnum close to the back of the skull. The foranum magnum is a hole where your spine connects to your brain. In chimps this is close to the center of the skull. Although Toumai's foranum magnum was not at the back at the skull it was very further back compared to a chimp leading to one possibility: Toumai was partially bipedal. Chimps and apes can walk bipedally but not for very long; Toumai's skull orientation allowed much longer bipedalism. Toumai is possibly the oldest known hominin (humans and their ancestors). We now cut to the Tugen Hills, Kenya 6.2 million years ago with another ape named Orrorin tugensis. Only a few bones are known but the two femur (the thigh bone) found were longer compared to chimps and apes. This suggests a bipedal stance for Orrorin. As Orrorin was going extinct (5.8 million years ago) a new species had evolved in the Middle Awash Valley, Ethiopia: Ardipithecus kadabba. Not many bones of this species have been found but the position in what was once a forest indicates that bipedalism must have developed in forests instead of the open plains. This would have given hominins a greater ability to survive than if bipedalism had evolved in grasslands and in forests they could still use trees for cover. 4.4 million years ago Ardipithecus ramidus roamed the land but we have more fossils of this species which gives us a better insight on hominins. This species was bipedal but the ape like toes allowed the gripping of branches with ease. Ardipithecus was hence both bipedal and a tree dweller.

Australopithecus and Paranthropus: 4.2-2.5 million years ago
4.2 million years ago in Kenya and Ethiopia a new genus of hominin evolved: Australopithecus. Australopithecus anamensis lived in what is now called the East African Rift Valley (southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya) and although they still lived in trees the position of the foranum magnum suggested it was mostly bipedal. However, it is Australopithecus afarensis which most interests paleoenthropologists. This species has been made famous by the discovery of 'Lucy' , a near complete skeleton around 3.2 million years old. She showed signs of both bipedalism (such as relatively flat feet) and her ape ancestors (like a prognathic face which is a face with a protruding jaw). At Laotoli. Tanzania a series of footprints have made by Australopithecus afarensis have been found dating back 3.6 million years. They were made by three hominins (the youngest walked in the footsteps of one of the elder ones) and are pictured above. It is important to note that the footprints could only have been made by a hominin walking upright. This family unit has been described as the first nuclear family. Australopithecus was very successful as another species, africanus, was discovered in South Africa and were more robust and taller than afarensis. Both species however have been found to have used stone tools to smash bones for the marrow inside (although they mostly ate fruit as found by wear on their teeth, as discovered by Pat Shipman). Chimpanzees do this although an archaeologist named Tote has discovered that while chimps will carry the tools for only a few meters Australopithecus would carry them over 14km! Around 2.7 million years ago Australopithecus started to diverge into two paths. Australopithecus garhi from the East African Rift Valley is a prime example of this. Between 3.3-2.4 million years ago there had been a second wave of climate fluctuations creating drier environments. It is likely this which spurred Australopithecus to adopt bipadlism to better survive in savannas which were replacing forests. Living 2.5 million years ago it had a prognathic face and strong forearms but simultaneously had long femurs and human like teeth. We shall discuss one branch of the Australopithecus first: the robust Australopithecus or as they are now known as Paranthropus.  

The earliest known Paranthropus was Paranthropus aethiopicus who lived between 2.7-2.3 million years ago. They had a bony ridge (called a sagittarel crest) across the upper jaw which were used for creating a strong pressure perfect for chewing. Parantropus had diverged from the other group of Australopithecus to become adapted at eating vegetation like modern day gorillas. There were two more species of Paranthropus, boisei and robustus, who both went extinct 1.2 million years ago. The intense climate fluctuations meant that forests, and hence vegetation, were shrinking in Africa so a specialized hominin like Paranthropus could not adapt. However, the other group Australopithecus evolved into a genus much more adaptable.

The first members of the Homo genus: 2.4-1.4 million years ago
As Paranthropus became specialized in eating vegetation another group of Australopithecus became adapted in a different way at Olduvai Gorge, Ethiopia. 2.4 million years ago our direct ancestors Homo habilis had arrived. This species was taller than Australopithecus at 1.3m (quite tall for the time) and were more intelligent with a brain size of 650 cubic centimeters. They still had many similarities with their Australopithecus ancestors with a prognathic face and thanks to analysis done by Pat Shipman on their teeth their diet consisted mostly of fruit. However there were increasing similarities to our species. They had increased meat in their diet. At Olduvai Gorge there have been butchered bones of an extinct elephant called Deinotherium which was originally used to show that our ancestors had started hunting by 2.4 million years ago. Recent analysis has found that they had actually scavenged with archaeologist Robert Blumenschine hypothesizing that in the wet season they would eat fruit while in the dry season they would scavenge. Homo habilis also created tools which have been called the Oldowan tool industry. It consisted of chipped stones which could be used for a variety of means such as cracking open bones or chipping other rocks to make tools. When Homo habilis lived the Earth started a phase of climate fluctuations which went from extremely dry to hot and wet. The Earth's orbit even changed in what is called the Milankovitch cycle which caused mass fluctuations with world temperatures. Due to Homo habilis's varied diet, tool usage and the ability to move long distances thanks to longer legs they thrived while the Paranthropus dies out. Leslie Aiello and Peter Wheeler have suggested that the addition of meat to the diet allowed the development of a bigger brain; less time was devoted to digestion of tough plant matter giving more time to allow brain development. The upright stance also allowed the development of sweat glands and a more spread out digestive system making adaptation to fluctuating climates easier.

Homo habilis lived for the most part with another species, Homo rudolfensis. This species found at Koobi Fora lived from 1.9-1.8 million years ago and were both taller and smarter than habilis with a brain size of 775 cubic centimeters. This year it has been announced that at the Rising Star Cave system in South Africa a new species has been discovered: Homo naledi. It is difficult to determine the age of naledi due to the main dating techniques (radiocarbon and potassium-argon dating) not being applicable in this instance. They have been put at around 2.8-2.5 million years ago. Unlike habilis they had more ape-like features such as the shoulder blades. 

Homo erectus: 1.89 million years ago-143 thousand years ago
In east Africa 1.89 million years ago lived the Nariokotome Boy. He was a member of the new species Homo ergaster which has now been discovered to be the same species as Homo erectus which shall be used here. Homo erectus was an immensely successful species and managed to inhabit Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Georgia and possibly even southern Spain. Homo erectus had a brain size of between 875-1000 cubic centimeters and had many similarities with modern humans. They had a hip like we do, femurs which were longer than their upper arms and flat feet. They also had larynxes which were further down the throat. In chimps the larynx is high but in humans it is low (which enables us to speak) and Homo erctus had a larynx close to where a human larynx is. It is possible that erectus had some form of language. Homo erectus also had a wide range of technological advances. First there was the Acheulean hand axes, instead of the Oldowan choppers they had axes created by chipping stones. 800,000 years ago they may have tamed fire. At Gasher Benet Ya-aqov, Israel the earliest known hearths have been found. 1.2 million years ago a hominin using Oldowan tools with a brain size of 1000 cubic centimeters lived in Gran Dolina, Spain. Some claim it is a new species of human named Homo antecessor while others claim it is Homo erectus. Whichever species it is they were very successful managing to trap small animals like rabbit and deer for food. However human bones have been found cracked open scattered among the animal bones which some have suggested shows signs of cannibalism...

The successors of erectus: 700-200 thousand years ago
While erectus were around a new species evolved solely using Acheulean hand axes. Originating in Africa they soon spread to Western Asia and Europe. They were called Homo hiedelbergensis. They were very smart at 1200-1325 cubic centimeters and were fairly close to our species in looks. They had a flat face with a chin forming and had noticeable brow ridges. In England they hunted deer with spears, built temporary shelters and saw immense cognitive development. At Twin Rivers, Zambia 250 thousand years ago they had used stones smeared in pigment to rub onto other stones to communicate and at Atapuerca, Spain they may have even buried their dead! 200,000 years ago they had vanished entirely. The population in Europe and Asia however evolved into a species that we all know: Neanderthals.

Neanderthals evolved 400,000 years ago and are nothing like the brutes commonly depicted in the media. They were smart with a brain that was even larger than our species (although we have greater cognitive abilities), they were the first species to create clothing and they are known to have cared for one another. Trinkaus and Zimmerman did research on a Neanderthal buried (showing at least some care for their dead) in Shanidar, Iran. He had a short right arm from possibly a childhood nerve damage and a blow to his right eye which left him blind in that eye. He lived many years after both of these injuries. This shows that Neanderthals cared for one another. The fact that he was buried as well shows that they must have some knowledge of an afterlife. Neanderthals were also adapt at making tools, called Mousterian which had axes and flints flaked off with a stone already specialized to do such a task. They made jewelry out of shells and would hunt by leading prey like mammoths and rhinos off of cliffs or into ravines where they would be stoned to death. Neanderthals were remarkably similar to humans in physiology bar a few differences. They had large noses to breath better in the cold Ice Age climates, they were shorter, had little sexual dimorphism, stockier and incredibly muscular. The average Neanderthal had the same physique as the Rock or Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1980s. They also led violent lives, an average Neanderthal had as many injuries as a rodeo rider and few lived past thirty. Meanwhile in Kenya 200,000 years ago a new hominin had arrived: us.

Sapiens: 200,000-10,000 years ago
200,000 years ago Homo sapiens had evolved. Our specific species (Homo sapiens sapiens) would not arrive until 150,000 years ago when the other type of our species (Homo sapiens idaltu) went extinct. Despite almost going extinct around 90,000 years ago our species went out to conquer the world. There are contriving theories about how this happened: some argue that all humans evolved in Africa and then left, others argue we all evolved independently from erectus and hiedelbergensis, others that we hybridized with local human species while others say we assimilated with local humans. Regardless of what happened Homo sapiens spread outwards. By 60,000 years ago they had reached Asia and within the next 20,000 years they had dispersed into Indonesia, across the Sahul land bridge into Australia, Africa and Europe. Burials at Lake Mungo in Australia 40,000 years ago shows by that time they had integrated themselves. In Europe they had came into contact with Neanderthals and have been known to breed with each other thanks to a young hybrid found at Vindya, Croatia. However 40,000 years ago the climate was changing causing the animals that Neanderthals hunted to vanish and through competition with Homo sapiens (who had better technology and possibly even domesticate dogs as hypothesized by Pat Shipman, although this is tenuous) they could not adapt and vanished. 17,000 years ago the recently discovered Homo floriensis in Indonesia likely vanished for the same reason. There is considerable debate about when humans dispersed into the Americas but we know it has to be before 10,500 years ago. Through DNA cross-referencing of a Native American child who died thousands of years ago there is some traces of genetic similarity with modern day Siberians indicating that they must have come over the Bering strait while it was one continuous land mass. These early Americans would be the ancestors of the Clovis people characterized by their bifacial points (see the image below).

Our species around the world went through a massive leap in behavior and technology. As early as 35,000 years ago at Chauvet Cave our ancestors were painting extremely detailed paintings whose meaning we still have no clue about, bearing in mind the more famous Lascaux paintings were done 15,000 years ago. Earlier still at Apollo 11 Rock Shelter, Namibia 60,000 years ago permanent painting was done on the walls. 35,000 years ago in Europe (called the Gravettian) at Dolni Vestonice, Czech Republic the famous Venus figurines were being made which many have assumed to have religious significance and roughly the same time at Hohlenstein-Stadel an anthropomorphic lion statuette had been carved out of ivory possibly indicating a deity. As human technology and cognitive ability increased so did their curiosity about the world. Eventually they would start taming wild animals and planting seeds. After conquering all the world from the Amazon to Australia to Egypt to China humans would start doing a practice which many have defined civilization by since: agriculture. 

Thanks for reading. Next time we'll be talking about the origins of agriculture and how the concept of civilization is a more tricky concept than we generally believe it to be. The sources which I have used (and which you might want to read) are as follows: http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-evolution-timeline-interactive, Exploring Prehistoric Europe and The Human Past by Chris Scarre, The Prehistory of the Mind by Steven Mithen, Images of the Ice Age by Paul Bahn and Jean Vertut, People of Earth: An Introduction to World Prehistory and World Prehistory: A Brief Introduction by Brian Fagan, In Search of Neanderthals by Clive Gamble and Chris Stringer and Prehistoric Venuses: Symbols of Motherhood or Womanhood? by Patricia Rice (1981) in the Journal of Anthropological Research, Vol. 37, Article 2. Now I'll leave you with some art made by our ancestors.
The lions of Le Cabinet des Felines from Lascaux, 15,000 years ago
An auroch and other animals from Lascaux
The Lascaux unicorn
Rhinos from Chauvet cave, 35,000 years ago. In firelight the way they were painted would resemble movement.
Figures from Bradshaw rock, Australia, 17,000 years ago
The Hohlenstein-Stadel Lion Man

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Comics Explained: Apocalypse

Earlier this week the trailer for X-Men: Age of Apocalypse was released depicting the struggle between the X-Men in their early days and the new villain Apocalypse. Although Apocalypse was made last minute as a new villain for X-Factor #5 in 1986 (he only was seen in shadow in this issue but he would make his full appearance next issue) he quickly became one of Marvel's signature villains. Holding a vast array of powers including flight, superstrength, bio-molecular alteration and basically immortality he has plagued not only the X-Men but all of human life. Today we'll look at the life of Apocalypse.

Origin

Like many of Marvel's villains much of Apocalypse's backstory occurs years before his first appearance fighting the X-Force in X-Force #5. A child was born 5000 years ago in what is now Aqaba, Jordan but due to his grey skin and blue lines running across his face he was abandoned by his tribe. Soon after the leader of a band of nomadic raiders, the Sandstormers, called Baal of the Crimson Sands found the child and seeing potential adopted him. He named him En Sabah Nur meaning 'The First One' (his name actually means 'Good Morning' through an unintentional grammar error). Over the years En Sabah Nur grew to be stronger, smarter and more agile than the rest of the Sandstormers and was universally despised thanks to his skin by all except Baal. The ideology of the Sandstormers of survival of the fittest would leave a huge lasting impact on En Sabah Nur. The new pharaoh named Rama-Tut (who was actually the time travelling villain Kang the Conqueror) wiped out the Sandstormers except for Nur and Baal as he knew who Nur would become. Baal escapes with Nur to a cave where they find the remains of Tut's ship but Baal dies. However, before he does he tells Nur that he believes Nur is the one in a prophecy who would overthrow Tut. Nur became a slave in Tut's court vowing revenge against Tut and his vizier Ozymandias for their role in Baal's death. While a slave he hid his face and fell in love with Ozymandias's sister, Nephri. When she rejects him after seeing his face he loses control over his powers and goes to take his revenge. Tut tried to reason with Nur (hoping that Nur would become his protege) but he instead fled to the future and Nur threw Ozymandias into the remains of Tut's ship which altered the molecular structure of his body. Ozymandias turned into a sand like being who could see glimpses of the future after that and was enslaved by Nur, now calling himself Apocalypse. Apocalypse and his offspring created Clan Akkaba creating a new age for Egypt. After centuries he left, following endless war against Alexander the Great and later Rome, where he formulated plans for world conquest.

Early History
 Apocalypse would travel the world using his infamy to become a god in various cultures spaning the entire globe.
In 1150 A.D. he would travel to Mongolia hearing that an alien ship had crashed. After defeating the ruler who had claimed the ship he claimed it for himself. The ship was a Celestial ship and he infused himself with the technology of the Celestials. During the 15th Century he created his Four Horsemen, beings who he had given great power to who would be his most loyal servants. The ferocity of their warfare earned them a place in folklore. In 1459 Apocalypse and his Horsemen defeated Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler) in single combat which forces Vlad the Impaler to become a vampire. In Victorian England, 1859 he would meet Dr Nathaniel Essex who would give Apocalypse a reason for his immortality and other powers. He was possibly the first member of the new stage in human evolution: a Mutant. Seeing potential in Essex he offered him a choice, a chance to expand his research and gain powers using Celestial technology in return for a life of servitude. Essex agreed and was transformed into the villain Mr Sinister. After a battle with Dracula he would go into hibernation to recover until the modern age...

Apocalypse in the Modern Age
Apocalypse would wake from his hibernation following the birth of Nathaniel Summers to Madelyn Pryor (explained later). Seeing that the mutant population had skyrocketed and that the Mutant Registration Act had been passed he decided to capitalize on it. Forming the Alliance of Evil out of angry or blackmailed mutants with their powers increased by his technology he decided to take on the X-Force. However, the X-Force defeated the Alliance and Apocalypse abandoned them assuming them weak. He would reform his Four Horsemen, including making Angel of the X-Men into Death by augmenting him with Celestial technology, and became a new threat for the X-Men. After several events this brings us onto the Sins of the Future arc in Cable vol. 2. It transpired that Mr Sinister created a clone of telepath and X-Men member Jean Grey called Madelyn Pryor so that she would have a child powerful enough to defeat Apocalypse. This son turned out to be Nathaniel Summers, the time-travelling Cable, and Apocalypse realized infant would later be partially responsible for his existence. He kidnapped the infant, injected him with the Techno-Organic Virus (thus creating the paradox which would create Apocalypse's need to hibernate) and tried to eject it over New York. This failed. Following this he would become a recurrent enemy for not only the X-Men, mainly Angel who tries to break ties with his former master.

Age of Apocalypse
The title of the new movie X-Men: Age of Apocalypse derives from an alternate reality story (which may feature as a part of the film's plot). Professor X's son Legion decides that to end the human-mutant fighting is to kill Magneto, who he saw as causing the animosity, before he could come to any form of power. However, when he travels back in time he arrives at the time when Magneto and Professor X were still friends. As Legion tries to kill Magneto Professor X stops him resulting in his death and Legion being wiped from time. This shift in time allows Apocalypse to wake years earlier than he did in the normal timeline and begin his campaign for dominance. Without the existence of the X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four or Spider-Man he is met with little successful resistance and manages to conquer North America and start his genocide of humanity. Canada and the United States became divided by Apocalypse and his supporters, Central America has disappeared, South America is referred to as 'The Atrocity Zone' and Brazil is known to have been destroyed by nuclear bombs and Japan and the Middle East was destroyed also by nuclear bombs. Europe and Africa have become the last surviving refuges for humanity and anti-Apocalypse mutants. Magneto now leads the resistance against Apocalypse using the X-Men to fight him and liberating humans from concentration camps.

I hope you enjoyed this post and look out next week for the start of a new series!

Sunday, 6 December 2015

What is the Krampus?

Earlier this month the Christmas horror film Krampus released by Legendary Productions brought the attention of the folkloric demon to a wider audience. In Austria and Central Europe every year the Krampus pays a visit as a demonic version of Father Christmas. What exactly is the Krampus though and how did he come about?

Who the Krampus is
The Krampus is a half-man, half- goat creature with a long forked tongue, horns, one human foot and one goat foot (in traditional images of him) and carries a bundle of birch sticks. On December 5, Krampusnacht, he would go to the homes of children who have been bad, whip them with the bundle of birch sticks that he carries and puts them in a sack so he can take them to Hell for a year. On December 6, Nikolaustag, Father Christmas would come and give the good children presents. A National Geographic article (the link to it can be found below) claims that Krampus is believed to be the son of the Norse goddess Hel who presides over the dead realm of the same name.

Evolution of Krampus
Krampus can find its roots in pre-Christian Germanic folklore and Norse traditions as well. His possible mother being Hel from Norse mythology shows that his role in folklore originated prior to Christianity in Central Europe. His integration with a Christian festival has many parallels across Europe (and later the world) such as how the holiday of Samhain merged with Christian festivities to become Halloween and how Christmas celebrations took much inspiration from various winter solstice festivities. As Father Christmas started to become a popular figure in association with Christmas so did Krampus. This was particularly easy considering that many cultures already had a figure similar to Krampus. Germany for example had Knecht Ruprecht who was an old man with a beard who would visit children and get them to recite Christian catechisms. If they did it successfully he would give them gingerbread men but if they failed he would give them coal or put them in a sack and throw them in a river.  

During the 1800s Krampus became a widely distributed image around the Christmas season. Krampuskartens (like the images above) were widely distributed throughout the 1800s as greeting cards. In some areas he even usurped Santa Claus as the gift giver he became that popular. However, Krampus started to get a bad press with him being deemed too scary for children by parents and even the Catholic Church. He was even banned briefly in Austria! In 1934 fascists managed to take power under Engelbert Dollfuss and they banned Krampus. Austrian fascists aimed to ban anything deemed not to be Christian enough and with his origins in Norse and Germanic folklore this meant that celebrating Krampusnacht was banned. The Social Democrats (the socialists who were in power before being ousted by the fascists) had supported the celebration of Krampus so this was simply a further nail in the coffin for Krampus. After the Second World War the ban on Krampus was lifted.

Krampus remains a popular figure in Central Europe with many people each year dressing up as him and taking to the streets for a night of drinking and celebrating called Krampuslauf. Over the last few years in the United States Krampus has been making an appearance as an alternate celebration to the traditional Saint Nicholas. With the recent film portrayal of the 'Saint Nicholas's shadow' it is likely that many more people will be interested in celebrating Krampusnacht.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Marvel Civil War: The sides explained

This week the first trailer for Captain America: Civil War was released for the public. Following the events of Avengers 2 the Sokovia Accords issued by the UN are making superheroes and superpowered beings become accountable to a governing body. This causes a divide in the superhero community leading to a civil war. The Civil War story arc (see here: http://historyandgeekstuff.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/comics-explained-marvel-civil-war.html) was a major part of the Marvel universe and still remains a major part. This post will deal with what exactly the different sides of the civil war wanted, who supported them and who stayed neutral. Note: this only deals with the comics Civil War and not the upcoming film version.

Pro-Registration
The pro-registration faction are the superheroes who are willing to register their secret identities with the US government (in the comics only the United States passed the Superhero Registration Act). The general consensus held by these heroes is that by working with the government they can easily save more lives and restore trust between the public and the superhero community. Prior to the passing of the Registration Act a group of young superheroes called the New Warriors tried to fight a powerful group of villains leading to the destruction of Stamford, Connecticut. The Hulk had also caused considerable damage to Las Vegas in his anger and Scarlet Witch had depowered 90% of Earth's mutants. Through all of these reasons several superheroes viewed registration as being the wisest option. Tony Stark aka Iron Man became the de facto leader of the pro-registration forces who would later use his immense fortune and technology to help other pro-registration heroes. The Fantastic Four, Hank Pym, She-Hulk, Ms Marvel, Black Widow and Spider-Man all joined the pro-registration forces. Spider-Man even revealed his secret identity to the public. 

During the course of the Civil War the pro-registration forces had been using the Thunderbolts (a group of former supervillains trying to fight for redemption) to help fight the anti-registration forces. When the government started offering pardons to any villain who joined the Thunderbolts quickly many villains joined looking for a way out of prison rather than redemption. These included Venom, Green Goblin and Lady Deathstrike. After the death of Goliath by the robotic clone of Thor made by the pro-registration side several figures joined them including Cable although other heroes did leave to join the anti-registration forces.

Anti-Registration
The anti-registration forces are the heroes who refuse to subscribe to the Superhero Registration Act and they quickly rally behind the first person to oppose it, Captain America. Captain America opposed it on the principal that it made superheroes little more than government stooges ordered to fight for what the government thinks is right and not what they think is right. Unlike Iron Man's forces many non-powered heroes, vigilantes and younger heroes join the anti-registration side. These include Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Cloak and Dagger, Falcon, the Young Avengers and Daredevil. However Hercules and Goliath are two of Captain America's main fighters until Goliath's death by the hands of the Thor clone. Unlike the pro-registration forces whose primary aim is to arrest heroes not conforming to the Registration Act the anti-registration forces continue to fight villains despite being outlaws themselves.

Following the course of the Civil War membership fluctuates between heroes. With Goliath's death several heroes such as Cable and Nighthawk left to support the pro-registration forces. However, simultaneously the Human Torch, Invisible Woman and Spider-Man joined Captain America in opposing the act. Briefly even the Punisher joined Captain America with the vigilante seeing the pro-registration forces as betraying the ideals of being heroes by siding with the likes of Venom and the Green Goblin. Quickly he was ousted from membership after he shot two villains seeking redemption and was beaten to a pulp by Captain America. In the final battle several heroes that had remained neutral (discussed shortly) joined Captain America. During the battle Captain America saw the damage that they were doing so surrendered to the authorities. Afterwards Luke Cage became the de facto leader of the anti-registration forces.

Neutral

 Several figures did manage to remain neutral during the fighting. Dr Strange for example (pictured above) fasted throughout the war to determine whose side to join and inevitably chose to side with neither. The X-Men were publicly neutral due to them already being registered with the government being the last mutants. The reason for this to both highlight the similarities between the Superhero Registration Act and the Mutant Registration Act as well as stop anti-mutant zealots from having an excuse to attack the last mutants. Although individual X-Men did participate in the war. Cable joined the anti-registration and switched sides, Bishop joined the pro-registration and Wolverine initially was neutral but joined the anti-registration forces. Storm as Queen of Wakanda remained neutral alongside T'Challe aka Black Panther as it was an American and not a Wakandan war. However both showed animosity towards the idea of registration and would join the anti-registration forces following the death of Goliath. Namor the Sub-Mariner too was neutral only being concerned in getting revenge for his cousin, Namorita, who was killed by Nitro but in the final battle he joined the anti-registration forces. Although against registration Jessica Jones chose not to fight moving to Canada while the Thing moved to France in anger over the death of Goliath. Both would later return, the Thing in the final battle to help civilians and Jessica as a way to find her husband (Luke Cage) registering her identity simultaneously. 

I hope that has made understanding the comic version of the Civil War somewhat easier. I hope to see you next time.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The World of The Man in the High Castle

On Amazon Prime the adaptation of Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle has been released. For those who may not know Philip K. Dick is one of the best, if not the best, science-fiction authors of at least the 20th century. His novel The Man in the High Castle is one of my personal favorites of his and focuses on a dark alternate reality following an Axis victory in World War Two. Due to the series being released and this blog focusing heavily on alternate history I thought it would be appropriate to look at the dystopian world that Philip K. Dick has created. 

How the Axis win
The point of divergence occurs on February 15, 1933. In our world an assassination attempt on the soon to be president Franklin Roosevelt by Guiseppe Zangara failed but in Dick's novel the assassination attempt succeeds. John Nance Garner, who in our timeline was Roosevelt's vice-president, becomes president but the USA does not manage to recover its economy through a Roosevelt style New Deal. The Great Depression is not resolved and in 1941 the Democrats lose to Republican John W. Bricker who also fails to resolve the economic crisis while simultaneously keeping the USA out of international affairs. When war breaks out in Europe without financial and arms assistance from the USA Britain and, later the USSR, falls to the Axis. Through excerpts from the novel the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill became desperate in the last few months of the war with him ordering elite troops to garrote German and Italian troops in North Africa and it is implied that the Nazis completely destroyed London due to Churchill's will to resist. It was reported that the Thames 'was on fire'. As the USSR starts to fall Japan bombs Pearl Harbor however in this timeline the majority of the US navy is in the harbor at the time. As a result virtually the entirety of the US navy is destroyed in one day. The Japanese Empire steamrolls southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Australasia and Hawaii and invades the west coast while the Germans invade the east coast. Due to Canada being an independent nation free from Axis control it is assumed that they must have made peace with the Axis before this occurred. Following this the United States put up a fight against the Axis powers, one character mentions how they even almost won the war, but by 1947 the United States surrenders.

The Axis world
Following the war almost all of the world is divided among the Axis powers. Japan holds a sizable empire on mainland China while Germany conquers or puppets most of Europe. Italy meanwhile holds an empire along the Mediterranean but many Italians feel that they are subordinated by the Nazis. The United States is split into three: the Pacific States of America (PSA), a Japanese puppet consisting of the west coast, the United States, a Nazi puppet state consisting of all of the USA east of the Mississippi, and the Rocky mountain States which acts as a buffer state between the two. In the PSA Japanese rule is decentralized with it being ran through the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. Although still an empire Japan has started to liberalize as a new generation replaces the pre-war generation although there is still some indifference to the indentured Chinese population. After the war there was considerable Japanese migration to the PSA changing the demographic and in the scenario the country has a culture that is a mix of Japanese, Chinese and American culture. Multiple characters regularly refer to the I Ching to guide their lives and the new generation of Japanese people living in the PSA have a fascination of pre-war American artifacts in the same way how Americans had a fascination with Native American artifacts. At one part in the novel an antiques dealer sells a Micky Mouse watch to a young couple for this reason. Americans in the PSA are however glad that they lost the war seeing the Japanese being benevolent rulers and that an Allied victory would mean a communist victory although this was largely down to propaganda. One character alive before the war mentions how initially he wanted to revolt against Japanese rule but soon came around.

In Europe, Nazi dominated America and Africa however the story is much different. Hitler's plan for lebensraum has succeeded with the Nazis draining the Mediterranean converting it into acres of farmland as well as violently murdering the ethnic Slavs in Russia, Poland and eastern Europe. This alternate history saw a mega-Holocaust in Europe and Nazi occupied America with there being a mass genocide against Jews, Slavs and anyone who Hitler disliked. Russian and Slavic culture has been completely destroyed by 1962 with the Eastern Orthodox church being completely eradicated. Millions of people were murdered by the Nazis with virtually all European Jews being murdered and the few Slavic people who remain being forced into a nomadic lifestyle in Siberian reservations. In America any remaining Jews try to seek refuge in either Japanese occupied America or the neutral buffer zone. The Nazis extermination policy is also widely known by 1962 with people openly acknowledging how the Nazis were rounding up Jews, left-wingers, clerics and eastern Europeans to be deported to death camps. Leading Nazi Arthur Seyss-Inquart in this scenario is leading the Nazi colonization of Africa as well as the extension of the Holocaust to Africa. It is implied that slavery has been reintroduced in Europe and America thanks to this. 

Thanks to German science the alternate 1962 is far more technologically advanced. Rockets have replaced regular planes for international travel and the Nazis have already colonized the moon. The novel also states that the Nazis have also started to colonize Mars. Canada is implied as being a hotbed for dissidence with Bob Hope making jokes that Goring plans to start a Holocaust against Martians from the safety of Canada. Some time in the fifties Hitler is hospitalized due to his syphilis and Martin Bormann replaces him as Fuhrer. By the time of the novel Bormann is close to death and there is a power struggle between Reinhard Heydrich, Hermann Goring and Joseph Goebbels to replace him. Tensions between Japan and Germany also arise during this time and a Cold War has set in.

The Grasshopper lies Heavy
Throughout the novel characters read an alternate history novel by Hawthorne Abendsen called The Grasshopper lies Heavy. It is a novel where the Allies won World War Two so the Nazis have banned it but it is popularly read in the neutral countries and the Japan/the PCA. The book's scenario has Roosevelt surviving his assassination attempt and recovering the USA's economy. In 1940 he steps down from the Presidency and is Rexford Tugwell becomes president. He gives aid to the Allies and keeps the navy out of Pearl Harbor so when the Japanese attack most of the navy is spared. Britain quickly becomes strong again, defeats Rommel in North Africa and enters the Caucasus aiding the Soviet Union in winning the Battle of Stalingrad. Italy switches side and attacks Germany while the British and Red Armies invade Berlin. The Nazi elite are captured and tried for war crimes with Hitler giving a speech in his own defense. His last words were a copy of Martin Luther's 'Deutsche, heir steh'ich' (Germans, here I stand). Churchill remains Prime Minister which becomes a position for life and Britain starts exercising considerable control over the world. The US establishes trade with Chiang Kai-shek's China after defeating the communists as Britain starts becoming both expansionist and racist. America bans the Jim Crow laws leading into direct conflict with a racist Britain and a Cold War escalates into a war for global hegemony.

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Comics Explained: Jessica Jones

On the 20th November Marvel's Jessica Jones will be getting her own series on Netflix. Jessica Jones since her debut in Alias #1 in 2001 has quickly become a major player in the Marvel Universe. From Marvel's darker MAX imprint to starring in the mainstream New Avengers publication Jessica Jones is now a key character who deserves a greater spotlight.

Origin
Jessica's backstory was explained over the course of the Alias series and the later The Pulse series. As a teenager returning home from a trip to Disney World with her family their car was hit by a truck containing radioactive chemicals. Her family was killed and she went into a coma only to reawaken when the Fantastic Four fought Galactus. She was adopted by the Jones family and went to the same school as Peter Parker a.k.a Spider-Man. Quickly she found out that the chemicals had given her superpowers and after seeing Spider-Man battle the Sand Man she decided to become a superhero. 
Under the pseudonym Jewel she started a career as a superhero.

Early career
Her initial career did not start off well with her being mentally controlled by Zebediah Killgrave a.k.a The Purple Man. For eight months she was mentally controlled by Killgrave to use as a weapon when the time was right. When a newspaper report angered him he sent her to kill Daredevil and anyone who tried to stop her. However, after so long being influenced by his mental powers her mind started to become disoriented when she left him. When arriving at the Avenger's Mansion instead of attacking Daredevil she attacked Scarlet Witch which snapped her out of Killgrave's control. After being attacked by the Vision and Iron Man she was sent into rehabilitation where Jean Grey of the X-Men who would help her resist future mental attacks. In the final issue of The Pulse it was revealed that she gave up her Jewel identity and became a darker superhero called Knightress. After defeating a meeting organised by supervillain the Owl she gave up being a superhero and formed a relationship with Avengers member Luke Cage.

Alias and The Pulse
During the Alias publication she opened a private eye service specifically targeting clients with superpowers. This series was part of Marvel's MAX imprint which dealt with much more serious subjects and during her time as a private investigator Jessica Jones had to deal with many dark topics including domestic abuse and saving a young mutant girl from a town built on prejudice. During this time she also inadvertently video taped the identity of Captain America and became involved in the solving of a murder of one of her clients. During the Alias publication her relationship grew with Luke Cage and it became romantic. Her and Luke even became Matt Murdock's bodyguards when it was outed that he was Daredevil; they even fought Typhoid Mary together to protect him. Eventually she came across Killgrave again where he tried to use his mental powers to get her to kill one of her friends (all of whom happened to be Avengers members). This backfired and she savagely beat him thus closing a chapter on her life. In the final issue it is revealed that she is three months pregnant with Luke Cage's baby and their relationship became more committed as a result.
Starting with The Pulse #1 Jessica moved in with Luke Cage and became a vigilante analyst for The Daily Bugle. Working with Daily Bugle journalist Ben Urich each week they release the article The Pulse dealing with costumed heroes and vigilantes. After publishing an article critical of Norman Osborn (the identity of the Green Goblin) the Green Goblin attacks her resulting in a mid-air battle between the two. Luke visits Jessica in the hospital after the battle relieved that the baby is okay. On their way back to their apartment after visiting the hospital a mysterious woman blows up their apartment sending Luke into a coma. What follows is the outing that Nick Fury had convinced Luke Cage to help him overthrow the government of Latveria (a fictional country where Dr Doom once came from) who had been selling high-tech gadgets to supervillains and the blast was a means of retaliation. Luckily Luke Cage made a full recovery and would join the New Avengers. In The Pulse #13 Jessica gives birth to  daughter, Danielle Cage, and leaves The Daily Bugle after J. Jonah Jameson starts a smear campaign against the New Avengers. In the New Avengers Annual #1 Luke and Jessica would get married with Jessica keeping her family name. 

Civil War and After
During the events of the Civil War story arc, where superheroes fought one another when forced to reveal their secret identities to the government, like Luke she opposed registration and went to Canada to avoid it. Following the Skrull Invasion she went into hiding in the USA alongside Luke and various other superheroes as Norman Osborn became the head of SHIELD, now called HAMMER. During the Dark Reign story arc when Osborn's 'Dark Avengers' invaded Asgard she became Jewel once more and fought against Osborn. Since she has remained a major character in the Marvel Universe being one of the mediators between the X-Men and the Avengers during the X-Men versus the Avengers story arc and has been a member of the Mighty Avengers.

Jessica Jones is one of Marvel's most interesting characters and her addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the Netflix series highlights how she has become one of Marvel's most noteworthy characters alongside Dr Strange, Black Panther and Luke Cage.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

What If: The October Revolution had not happened?

The October Revolution broke out on November 7 1917, Russia was still using the Julian calendar so the date there was 25 October 1917. The communist Bolshevik party overthrew the government of Alexander Kerensky and installed a regime that would change world history. History would be drastically changed if the Bolsheviks never gained power so what would this alternate world be like? This is one possibly scenario but before we look at what if the revolution had failed we have to look at why it happened.

Background
The above picture is of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia who ruled the Russian Empire from 1894 to 1917. His reign was characterized by political repression, such as the Bloody Sunday (1905), Jewish pogroms, a costly war against Japan which he lost and a fractious relationship with the Duma, a Parliament formed in the wake of the 1905 Revolution. His alliance with Serbia made matters worse in 1914 when it drove Russia into war with Austria and Germany. Russia was grossly unprepared for the First World War and thanks to military failure, widespread famine and political discontent the Russian people got mad. In March 1917 (February in the Julian calendar) in Petrograd protests turned to riots and the troops sent to quell the riots mutinied. Losing control the Tsar abdicated his throne in favor of his brother who refused the throne as well. A Provisional Government was set up with socialist Alexander Kerensky soon becoming a dominant figure. However, Kerensky's insistence on continuing the war effort greatly upset many people who were driven into the arms of more radical politicians. The Germans wishing to destabilize Russia sent an exiled revolutionary back to Russia by train. He was Vladimir Lenin. After an initial failure to seize power he used his party, the Bolsheviks, to support worker riots in July. Eventually the Bolsheviks managed to strengthen their power by stopping a coup, supporting worker protests and using propaganda revolving around the failing war effort which enabled them to lead a successful revolution. Lenin seized power and the Russian Civil War broke out when 'White Russians' attacked the Bolsheviks to restore the monarchy. After several years of fighting with atrocities committed by both sides, including the execution of the royal family in 1918, the Bolsheviks kept hold of their power. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was declared and world history changed.

Divergence from real events
The government of Kerensky was weak facing many issues. However, many of the reasons why it was weak and why people were dissatisfied with it was thanks to the war effort. Military failures allowed already strong political parties to undermine his rule, food shortages were made worse by shipping supplies to the front, people wanted out of the war and soldiers were defecting en masse. All members of the Provisional Government were against ending the war effort until Germany was defeated. In this timeline however the Provisional Government calls for a cease fire with Germany until a peace treaty is made. The Germans fighting a war on two fronts accept. Russian Foreign Minister Pavel Milyulkov is told to stall at negotiations thus allowing no official peace to be signed. With the war de facto ended Kerensky could move soldiers away from the front with Germany. Thanks to the war apparently being over public support for the government increases and thanks to the reduction in fighting food can be better distributed. Due to the war coming to a close Germany does not send Vladimir Lenin to destabilize Russia which allows the Provisional Government increasing control over the Soviets. After US entry into the war the government may even get food supplies, monetary funding and armaments to bolster the Russians who would still be stalling in negotiations. By the end of 1917 the German government capitulates as war starts to reignite with Russia over who gets to rule Poland. Unable to face France, Britain, the Commonwealth, the US and Russia Germany surrenders.

The 1920s
Due to the alliance with the victorious Allies Russia would be able to attend the Treaty of Versailles. At Versailles Russia, alongside France, would be one of the main representatives wanting to keep Germany down for good. Likely reparations would be paid to Russia, around 3 billion rubles, who would also annex German lands in Poland. A post-war Russia would be the antithesis the our post-war Russia. For one without a Civil War the economy would be much better. In our timeline in 1921 pig-iron production was at a fifth of its 1913 level, coal 3%, livestock a quarter, cereal deliveries less than two fifths and railways had half of the locomotives that they once had. With this, and the increased trading with Russia no longer being an international pariah, the economy would rise and the 1921 famines would not kill the 2 million people that it once did. Slowly the government would increase the shift from agriculture to industry which had started under the Tsar but would greatly improve thanks to foreign investment. British, French and American companies would greedily purchase the great resources in Russia such as the oil in Siberia and coal in the Urals and Poland. Politically Russia would be very different. The Provisional Government upon its founding issued a decree of freedom of speech, abolition of national class distinctions, universal suffrage, the abolition of the death penalty, elections and less persecution of homosexuality. Although women and homosexuals would all be heavily repressed in Russia. To a 21st Century observer this may seem to be an almost perfect political system. However, like Weimar Germany the Provisional Government would be fractious politically. The initial governments were a coalition of strong left-wing parties including the socialist Mensheviks and the Socialists Revolutionary Party. These parties would still dominate Russian politics and create indecisive governments. Likewise a recalcitrant aristocracy would resist government attempts to distribute their land and remove their old powers, even forming their own parties. Unlike Weimar, Russia would be stronger. By 1917 the aristocracy had become vilified by the public unlike in Germany where they were well supported after the war and the government was made largely of large left wing parties. Coalitions in Germany became ineffective as they were made of multiple small left and right wing parties, Hence Russia would be politically stronger.

There would be instability in four main areas: Finland, the Baltics, Ukraine and Poland. Finland had been given semi-independence under Tsarist Russia and had even held elections to decide its government. Likewise in this scenario Finland would still have its autonomy but would want full independence. This would divide the government with a more liberal half allowing for Finnish independence while a more conservative half would want Finland to remain a semi-autonomous state. Eventually in 1923 Russia would grant Finland its independence seeing no point in creating another issue for the divided country and today they would have very positive relations. The large Cossack and Ukrainian population in Ukraine and the Polish, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians would serve problems for the government. All had declared their independence in 1918, (the Bolsheviks managed to re-annex Ukraine), and were ethnically and linguistically distinct from Russians. The problem of Poland, the Baltics and Ukraine would be an even more divisive issue for the government, especially as, unlike Finland, they lacked some form of sovereignty. Likely by the mid-1920s they would be given a form of Home Rule like what Ireland had until its independence in 1922.

Worldwide
The international repercussions for no October Revolution would be difficult to estimate. The idea of a class struggle had intensified after the revolution with there being fears of a communist uprising aided and abetted by the Bolsheviks, such as the Red Scare in the USA and the British government's almost complete destruction of unions following the 1926 General Strike. In Germany there would be a fear of this due to an attempted communist takeover in 1918 with the Spartacists (pictured above). Overall more social welfare programs would be put in place around the world and trade union membership would rise. This would be because of there being no fear of workers emulating the Bolsheviks. Mongolia would remain part of China as it was the Soviet Union who invaded and created a puppet regime there. Whether the Communist Party of China could survive repression from the Chinese government it is hard to grasp as they would not have the safety of the Soviet Union to rely on. However the decentralized nature of China would allow many party members and revolutionaries to escape persecution. In Germany Hitler would still come to power. Although much of Hitler's rhetoric was targeted at the fear of the Soviet Union he would still get to power. The Great Depression would still happen, he would still be anti-Semitic, he would still be anti-communist (although relying solely on home grown communism instead of international) and he could vent anger at Russia who annexed Germany's land in Poland. 

1930s onward
As stated in the preceding paragraph the Great Depression would come regardless if there was a Soviet Union or not. Without the isolationist actions of Stalin Russia would be badly affected by the Depression. Reliant on foreign loans and trade the economy would slump and the Socialist Revolutionary Party would lose the election. As most of the parties making up the coalition were socialist or center-left they would become discredited and right wing parties would become more popular. The only popular ones would be conservative parties due to the Russian people associating fascism with the authoritarianism of the aristocracy. A few parties may call for the restoration of the monarchy but they would be fringe groups. A less socialistic party would likely come to power to put in place more capitalistic measures by utilizing the latent Russian industrial resources and increasing the shift away from agriculture. Unlike under Stalin this shift would not be forced and we would not see the devastating starvation, killings and pollution associated with the multiple Five Year Plans. Likewise Stalin's 'Russiafication' program would not be implemented and today there would be a greater population of ethnic minorities in the west such as Crimean Tatars who were ruthlessly purged under Stalin.

It would be difficult to tell if there would be a Second World War as the events of the war were put into place by Hitler and Stalin's desire to tear apart an independent Poland. No Stalin and no Poland means that World War Two could have had a drastically different course if it even would happen at all. On thing for certain is that there would be no Cold War. No USSR equals no Cold War. As a result in countries which opposed the USSR like the USA, UK, France and Japan there would be more 'socialist' programs as the stigma of soviet sympathies would not be there. The USA for example might even have a nationalized health care system. Today's Russia would be greatly different. Russia is still handling the shift to democracy so with a full democracy being created in 1917 we would see a more democratic Russia. Whether states such as Ukraine, Poland and Estonia would exist by 2015 would be a mystery thanks to the increasing uncertainty created by the lack of a USSR. 

Thanks for reading. Did you agree with this scenario? What other alternate history scenarios would you like to be seen done? 

If you would like to see where I got my information from I would strongly advise reading: Cold War by Jeremy Isaacs and Taylor Downing, The Age of Extremes: 1914-1991 by Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire: 1871-1914 by Eric Hobsbawm. The Penguin History of the World by J.M. Roberts, Post War by Tony Judt and the documentary The Russian Revolution in Colour.