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Friday, 29 May 2015

Extinction Wildlife Sanctuary: Dodos and Moa

With the upcoming release of Jurassic World and the increase in popularity around dinosaurs I have designed this series to run every fortnight. It will be a story (with a few of my friends starring in it) revolving around how you could actually look after an extinct animal as well as their lifestyle and speculated behavior. I hope you enjoy!

All that could be heard was the constant whirring of the helicopter's engine and its rotor blades which merged together to form a never ending circular blur of black. If he (Seth Matthews) hadn't been wearing his headset it would have been impossible to speak to his fellow passengers and soon to be workmates. They were all roughly his age (give or take a year). On his left was Tom Brown, around 5'7'' with short brown hair, and Ross Reid, taller with a large brown beard, who would be the IT Technicians at this wildlife sanctuary that they were going to work out. Sitting in front of him was Joe Fretwell (Fretwell), 5'8'' with naturally spiky hair and blue eyes, who would be the Deputy Engineer at the sanctuary and on Fretwell's right was Dan Bell, spiked black hair with a short black beard and glasses, who would be one of the two chief engineers for something that their employer refused to elaborate on. The other was sitting on Seth's other side, Jordan Wagstaff (Wagstaff), short brown hair and eyes with glasses. Nestled in the corner was the sanctuary's manager and daughter of the owner (he had heard though that nepotism had not come into effect during employment) Tayatami Nobuko. She had long wavy black hair which rested lightly on her pale skin.

"My father is very pleased that you all accepted the position," Nobuko said chirpily although they had to strain to hear over the whir of the engine despite the headseats. "Lewis with father to get you hear..."

She trailed off looking upset. His own stomach gave an awful twist. Lewis Twiby had been his friend in university and the others sitting next to him had also been his friend before then. After graduating he had gone all over the world from Darfur to Donetsk to Bogota for Al Jazeera but it was when he was doing his occasional piece for BBC Modern History magazine when he met Tayatami Sato, the CEO and founder of Shinchoku Corp where they created what seemed to be a lasting friendship. Sato hired Lewis as a journalist to help with publicity for his wildlife sanctuary and even got him to suggest staff members. Hence why himself and the others sitting here had been hired after Sato looked at their credentials as well as the Russian scientist Vadim Krasin who he had interviewed for a piece about politics and science. It ended in tragedy when Lewis was killed by a drunk driver. He would have been here with them now.

"Why does your dad want a museum in his sanctuary?" he asked. Sato had told him that he wanted to build a museum of natural history somewhere in his extensive wildlife sanctuary and needed a paleontologist to oversee it. Hence his employment. He lazily looked out of the Airbus EC175 helicopter and into the dark blue sea of the Pacific. It was oddly calming seeing the deep blue ocean. Everyone thought it was strange that noted environmentalist had chosen the Kokkaku islands to build his wildlife sanctuary. Exactly 700 km south of Osaka in the middle of the Pacific Ocean the seven islands that comprised the Kokkaku island chain were desolate. Although the largest island was 800 km squared in size no life had managed to take root on those rocky islands whether it be bird, fungi or flower had colonized the islands. With a large ring surrounding them in the ocean made of volcanic pumice and rocks churned up from long extinct volcanic activity millennium ago it deterred even coral from seizing the coast. Until Shinchoku Corp started installing coral in the sea and flora on the land only the occasional fish and sea bird no animal life could be found past the ring of rock. Lewis had told him that Germany claimed the islands in 1897 and built a naval base but quickly left them after they found that the islands had no resources and that only occasional earthquakes would deal serious damage to the infrastructure. After 1918 Japan took over and found the same issues. The US annexed them in 1945 but never tried doing anything with the islands until Shinchoku Corp bought the islands for US $110 million.

"He's a dinosaur nut!" Nobuko laughed "Ah here we are!"

Ominously in the distance the helicopter was edging towards a large craggy ring of rock. The way it stuck out from the sea made it look like giant teeth of a titan. A fairly large gap in the teeth could be seen which the helicopter edged towards. Everyone held their breath as they passed through the gap between the skeletal teeth. You could faintly see a few white birds darting through the rocks. 

"You've done amazing things here!" Dan said in amazement. He had to agree. The islands were covered in lush green vegetation instead of the bleak lifelessness that previously dominated the seven islands. Faintly you could see buildings on the two most closest islands. 

"I hope my stuff didn't get lost on the way," Ross laughed. Their possessions had been moved to one of the islands just a few days prior. Nobuko raised her hand to alert them to the helicopter descending onto a tarmac square nestled among the flourishing green trees. There was a thud and the black circular blur of the blades became independent legible shapes. Nobuko slid open the door and cheerily waved for them to step out. Immediately they were hit by a wave of humidity and beads of sweat dripped down their faces. 

"Over here!" a voice yelled. Tayatami Sato waved at them in a grey suit. He had a short goatee which was going grey to match his receding hair. Like an excited child he shook hands with them just as other people arrived which he introduced to them. A nearby giant of a man with bulging muscles, a thick grey beard and hands like baseball gloves turned out to be renowned scientist Vadim Krasin, a woman from Kenya with long braided hair and a roundish smiling face was Kioni Omondi who was the Head Keeper and had worked at the Tsavo Nature Reserve for the last decade overseeing the anti-poaching campaign  there, a short bald man with some stubble was the Chief Engineer Jon Fresnow who had made his debut Ramat Gan Safari in Tel Aviv and had made countless devices to aid in making zoos, safari parks and nature reserves safe for animals all around the world. A tall Australian woman with short red hair, bright blue eyes and quite tanned skin was called Judy Wright and had become the sanctuary's architect after designing animal oriented exhibits for places in every country, a medium sized man with a grey mustache and piercing brown eyes was Kalil Jain and had worked as chief veterinarian in the National Zoological Park in New Dehli and later London Zoo. He grasped them firmly and hugged them to show his affection. The final person was just a few years older than they were and was the animal behaviorist called James Bronson from Ireland.

"Well before we do anything else I need to show you something," Sato said to the new arrivals "James, Kioni could you come with us?"

They all headed off following the owner of the island chain. Seth noticed that something was strange. He looked around and saw the same type of dark blue macaws. He nudged Jordan who thought it was strange as well. They were all the extremely rare Hyacinth Macaw.
As they walked through the slightly humid forest he and Wagstaff counted at least fifty. How did they get so many of these endangered macaws? Sato turned a corner to the edge of what seemed to be an exhibit with the clumsy wooden fencing tied together with rope. Quite possibly whatever was inside wasn't a big escapee. Kioni unraveled some rope revealing a gate and ushered them in.

"Wait to you see this," she whispered excitedly.

"What's going on?" he heard Fretwell ask Dan. Had they fallen into some eccentric ploy of a billionaire with an overactive imagination? They were standing in a small forest with a thin canopy allowing beams upon beams of golden sun rays through the branches. They all cocked their heads then. Approaching them was a noise which sounded like a pigeon coo but different. It sounded like it was going 'do do do'.

"Oh my god!" Tom gasped. Several plump grey birds with a white tuft and a long hooked beak were flapping towards them. They were dodos!
One large Dodo walked up to them and gave one of their strange coos. It looked inquisitively at them and started eyeing their hands.

"They like to be hand fed," Kioni said handing them some fruit which looked like a peach and some small crabs "Take either these tambalacoque fruit, they ate these in the wild, or some of these crabs. They can use their beaks to open shells to eat both shellfish and fruits."

"Be careful!" Kalil laughed as a fairly large dodo with a long beak snapped its hooked beak at Wagstaff "The bigger males have a nasty bite. They're friendly but..."

He held up his hand showing a plaster attached around every other finger.

"They're greedy things," Dan commented as his nearest dodo waffled down the fruit in his hand.

"During the wet season they eat a lot so in the dry season they have enough fat reserve in the dry season," Seth replied. He couldn't believe! He was feeding a dodo! "They ate gizzard stones as well to help digestion. Have you been giving them stones?"

Sato burst into a smile. "Lewis said you knew your stuff. Kioni be sure to give them some stones to eat. Thanks goodness you lot have arrived when you did. We needed a paleontologist for this reason. Just in time for our new arrivals."

Sato waved at them to follow him. They all left the dodos and Sato took them to the entrance to a whitewashed building. Compared to the lush green nearby it juxtaposed the scene rather oddly.

"Mr Tayatami what is this place?" Dan asked inquisitively.

"Please Dan call me Sato," he said excitedly opening the door to the building "Senshijidaino! A wildlife sanctuary for the extinct! Two years ago I had a device similar to a 3-D Printer made to synthesize cells to generate food for the hungry all over the world. Then Lewis introduced me to Vadim..."

He opened another door revealing a series of large computers in front of them. A particularly large computer which had a blue screen glowing brightly was attached to another machine in a walkway a few meters below the walkway with the computers on. However it was mostly obscured by a clump of thick trees. Vadim and the others waved at them. It seems that it was these computers that Tom and Ross would be working with.

"I wanted to stop extinction," Sato reminisced "I had the ultimate supercomputer made which could trace a genome extremely quickly. Using Vadim's expertise on biochemistry (lucky we got a physician and a biochemist in one) we could instantly trace a genome and create that species. Vadim was so good that we could recreate any scanned animal as well as slightly change the DNA sequence to create biodiversity! We've managed to create a sustainable population of Hyacinth Macaws on these islands; they are exactly like wild ones. Then I thought what about the ultimate way to end extinction? Fossils you see are bone turned to rock so Vadim hypothesized that you could use the computer to scan a fossil's genome. We tried with an ammonite and it worked!"

"You've decided to create a wildlife sanctuary for extinct animals," Tom said in amazement.

"Yes. Of course I have another hatchery in Kenya to create sustainable populations of modern day animals easily but that's beside the point. At Senshijidaino I plan to make the make extinction itself extinct! 99.9% of all fauna, flora, fungi and other forms of life have gone extinct. That means 99.9% of all life can be brought back!"

The computer connected to the obscured machine made a beep. Vadim patted Wagstaff on the shoulder which made his glasses fall down his nose to get him to come over to the computer.

"Behind those trees the incubators are removing excess fluid," Seth heard Vadim said proudly in a very broad accent about his machine which could basically play god "We can create adults. Easier see to prepare for them. Of course the time taken to create an animal depends on the complexity of the organism, size, age and intelligence for the brain neurons."

"You mean you've created something else now?" Wagstaff asked in excitement.

"Indeed," Sato replied with a grin on his face "Later I plan to loan fossils from museums but now I'm just buying the fossils themselves. I have managed to purchase the skull of a Dinornis novaezealandiae."

"The North Island Giant moa!" Seth exclaimed in awe. There were nine species of moa from New Zealand and this one that they were going to see was by far the tallest at 3 meters max. Roughly in 1440 the last of all moas went extinct through hunting by humans and the introduction of rats, pigs and dogs which ate their eggs. It would make sense for Senshijidaino to bring back this species.

"Look I can see one!" Fretwell said quietly to avoid scaring the giant bird. There was a low sqwuark and a beak poked out from the green trees. It then came into view.
It was covered head to toe in pointed red-brown feathers like an emu except on the legs which were featherless. The moa gave a low call and one scaly foot rang out on the metallic surface as it walked forward. Another stepped out from the trees and the other waved its neck in the direction of the other in a form of greeting. The two shook their necks left and right, left and right to greet the other. A third came from the trees and another three. Six Dinornis novaezealandiae had been brought back from extinction. They even walked like emus but with their necks horizontal as they walked. Nobuko looked at them oddly.

"I thought they walked with their necks up vertically?" she asked.

"Victorian museums often stretched their necks up to sort of emphasize their size," Seth said looking down fondly on the moa "They could stretch up their necks vertical to browse on higher trees but they had it like this most of the time because it was more comfortable."

As if to show this one raised its neck up vertically to peer at the humans on the walkway. Fretwell gently stroked the feathered neck of the moa and Seth thought that it seemed to be enjoying it.

"Is this one a male or female?" Fretwell asked.

"It looks to be about 3 meters," Seth replied with a nod of confirmation from Kioni "Female. In this species the females are much larger. Males can only grow up to 2 meters tall."

Suddenly there was a thin beam of light as two hidden doors opened wide. Orange sun beams swept into the dark room with a HGV parked there. Two trailer doors opened at the back of the HGV and some people dressed in blue polo necks and black combat trousers at either end of the trailer. Eager for their first look at sunlight the moa ran quickly like an ostrich to the HGV and up the ramp. The doors closed and the HGV set off.

"If you guys want to follow me," Kioni said. They followed her to an exhibit nearby. Unlike the dodo exhibit it did not have fencing except for a small area that the HGV had reversed into. A bright blue moat separated the forest from the rest of the sanctuary. They saw the six birds ran out of the back of the HGV which soon drove off. Before the gate could be closed Kioni ushered them into the exhibit full of dew covered ferns, the white trunks of kauri trees and smaller hardwood trees.

"You'be put the right things in for them," Seth said impressed to Judy as he watched a moa snap of a particularly large fern. Moas primary diet consisted of native New Zealand foliage.

"Why thanks," she said happily "I'll get some gizzard stones for these guys."

"What's that over there?" Dan asked pointing to a large structure nearby. It looked to be a large dome but made of some sort of meshing.

"Ah the boss has remains of what ate these guys!" Judy said "Haast's eagles. We're waiting until their genomes scanned and their aviary is done. Can't wait."

"They must be massive," Tom said impressed looking at the size of the moa. It must have been big to hunt moa.

Meanwhile Nobuko was with her father in front of a shipment that had arrived round back of the hatchery. She wanted to be with the others observing their new moa birds but when her father said it was urgent.

"Dad Mr Fresnow thinks that the eagle aviary will be done by the end of the week," she told him. Surely he can't have called her over to hear the progress on the eagle aviary?

"Excellent my angel," he said to her. He opened the box and inside were some fossils. She had wondered about what the next animal would be after Haast's eagles. Maybe a Tasmanian Tiger or a Passenger Pigeon. She gasped. A skull was inside. With effort her father got the skull out and placed it on the desk. In the box there were fossils of other members clade, herbivores and carnivores from all over the world. She couldn't believe it. It was inevitable but she didn't expect it this soon...

Friday, 22 May 2015

[Redux] What if: The Axis won World War Two? (Part 1)

This week is the first anniversary of History and Geek Stuff and I thought it would be good to remake one of my older alternate history scenarios. An Axis victory during the Second World War is one of the most popular alternate history scenarios with books such as The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick being written about it and the video game Wolfenstein: The New Order being centered around freedom fighters in a world dominated by the Nazis. With it being such an interesting subject I've decided to give this scenario and other go so let's start!

The Blitzkrieg and Dunkirk
By the 27th May 1940 Hitler's Blitzkrieg tactics had caused the armies of Poland, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to collapse and was on the verge of destroying the French. Thanks to a halt in the German advancement the Allies managed to evacuate 192,000 soldiers from Dunkirk and to the safety of Britain. In this scenario Hitler does issue the Halt Order as asked by Field Marshall Gerd von Rundstedt and the Chief of the Luftwaffe Hermann Goring. With great effort and heavy casualties from the Royal Air Force (RAF) the 2nd Panzer Division attacks Dunkirk before the Allies manage to dig themselves in and the almost evacuated soldiers are forced to fight. Churchill gets the Commander of the RAF Hugh Dowding to send more planes to help defend Allies troops in Dunkirk from Panzer attacks and bombing from the Luftwaffe. However the RAF would lose many more planes than it did and the 192,000 soldiers evacuated during our Dunkirk would either be killed or captured by the Nazis. In our timeline following the Dunkirk evacuation there was something called the 'Dunkirk Spirit' where the British people became determined to resist Hitler but in this timeline with so many people's relatives being killed at Dunkirk the public would be demoralized. Churchill's speech in the House of Commons following Dunkirk would be more somber compared to the notes of hope in his 'Blood, toil, tears and sweat' speech that happened in our timeline. The Battle of Britain would follow as in our timeline where Hitler would use the Luftwaffe to establish air superiority over Britain (just as Italy entered the war invading France). With many planes and pilots being shot down at Dunkirk the Luftwaffe would have an immediate advantage although Britain's radar system and cycling of pilots (pilots would be given periodic time to rest in the RAF whereas the Luftwaffe didn't let their pilots have this opportunity) would mean that it would be an intense battle with the Luftwaffe losing hundreds upon hundreds of planes. However the loss of those few planes at Dunkirk would prove to be devastating and the final Spitfire would be shot down in the October of 1940. Germany had won the Battle of Britain.

Sea Lion and another change
The German navy would begin preparations for an invasion of Britain in Operation Sea Lion. This was Hitler's actual plan to invade Britain in our timeline that ended with the defeat of the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain. In the December of 1940 Sea Lion comes into effect with hundreds of amphibious vehicles guarded by Nazi U-Boats and the Luftwaffe sets off from Belgium and Normandy to invade Britain. There we would see the greatest naval battle in history with U-Boats and British battleships and submarines turning the English Channel into a boiling mess of torpedoes. Many U-Boats and amphibious vehicles would be sank but following the sinking of HMS Thames among others the British would fail to stop the Nazis. In Devon and Cornwall Panzer divisions would land and start heading towards London and other cities of major importance. By the end of the month London would have fallen and by January the British forces in the British Isles would surrender. Italy would start bombing Malta as well as invading Egypt from Libya and inspired by the Nazis and Mussolini the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco would invade Oran and Gibraltar. Although resolute fighters would continue to resist the invaders in Gibraltar, Malta and Egypt. In the USA Roosevelt would be unable to pass the Lend-Lease Act. This was an act which allowed the President to lend supplies to any nation that was deemed necessary to ensure the safety of the US. A major reason for this was the admiration the US public felt for the British following Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain and Hitler's bombing campaign (called the Blitz) so without the British winning these battles there would be no support for Lend-Lease. A second point of divergence would then happen here as Roosevelt succumbs to polio and his vice-President Henry Wallace would become President. Wallace too would try to pass the act to aid the Chinese in the hope that it would counter the Japanese in Asia who had been steadily increasing their empire at the expense of the Chinese since 1931 (in 1937 Japan even invaded China it what has been called the Rape of Nanking and had led many people to believe that 1937 is the true state date for World War Two). Pressure from isolationists would mean that Wallace would have to abandon this and with an agreement with Japan halt the embargo on Japan with the promise that the Japanese would leave US interests alone. This will drastically change the war.

Occupied Britain and the collapsing empire
During the invasion of Britain the royal family would flee to Ireland and then to Canada. Hitler would most likely visit London as he did Paris (especially as Hitler can be considered a major Anglophile) where he would visit the sites such as Parliament, the British Museum and Buckingham Palace (offering criticisms of the architecture as he did when he visited Paris). Members of the coalition government including Winston Churchill himself, deputy Prime Minister and leader of the socialist Labour party Clement Attlee, Churchill's protege Anthony Eden and the person who could have been Prime Minister instead of Churchill Lord Beaverbrook would all have been arrested and sent to camps where they would be murdered by the SS. Quite likely some leaders of the armed forces such as Hugh Dowding would join them. Leader of the British Union of Fascists Oswald Mosley would be made Prime Minister and he would gladly sign a peace treaty with Hitler. The abdicated King, Edward VIII, who had sympathies with the Nazis would be returned from the Bahamas and made King again with his spouse Wallis Simpson as Queen. The Nazis would arrest the Polish cryptographers who had helped in our timeline to crack the Enigma Code as well as the English cryptographers although it is likely that they would summarily execute Alan Turing after finding out that he was homosexual. A purge of Britain would then begin. The Labour party would be banned and its leaders arrested, left-wing papers banned, prominent Jews and left-wingers arrested including author of The War of the Worlds H.G.Wells, suffragist Sylvia Pankhurst and novelist Virginia Woolf. Freemasons halls and synagogues would be ransacked, libraries ransacked for book burnings (including the works of Oscar Wilde and Leo Tolstoy being thrown on the fires) and resistance leaders arrested (including Free French leader Charles de Gaulle). The occupation would only see these levels of violence though as not to insight revolution in the occupied British. Many Jews who had fled Europe were already held in camps by the British (including the father of the until recently leader of Labour Ed Milliband) so they would not fair too well. Slowly Jews, anti-fascists and others deemed to be 'unteremensch' (sub-human) would be rounded up in secret by the Gestapo. Ireland would be seen as a safe haven for left-wingers, Jews and other enemies of the Nazis especially as Hitler gives Ireland the north as a sign of good faith. This does not mean though of an Irish-German alliance as explained later. In Asia Japan would invade and steamroll Hong Kong, Indochina, Burma, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea as in our timeline but there would be no Pearl Harbor bringing the US into the war. Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in retaliation for the US oil and goods embargo which had crippled the Japanese war effort so with the accords with Wallace there would be no Pearl Harbor and no US entry into the war (the US greatly aided in the defeat of Japan). Through overextension  of forces (even without the invasion of US owned Philippines) and strained resources fighting Australia and New Zealand the expansion would halt here. In Africa and the Middle East the Nazis would join Mussolini in defeating the Allies in Egypt securing the Suez Canal allowing Axis domination of the Allied mandates in the Middle East and Reza Shah of Iran could safely declare his allegiance to the Axis without being ousted by the Allies. In Northern Africa Italy would dominate (ceding Oran to Spain though) by controlling the former British and French colonies while Hitler reclaims Cameroon. In West Africa the British are defeated in Kenya and Hitler reclaims Tanzania although advance stops as a new nation is invaded.

In 1941 Hitler launched the largest invasion in history when he invaded the USSR pitting himself against Stalin. A year later in this scenario (during March) autocrat and autocrat would go up against each other once more with devastating results for Stalin. This would be widely applauded by the German public enticed by the victory over those who crippled them after World War One and after years of propaganda from Joseph Goebbels would be eager to see the end of the USSR and communism. Like in our timeline his purges of many leading generals would leave the Red Army disorientated allowing Goring to steamroll the Soviets. Again like in our timeline the Nazis would indiscriminately kill Russians just because they could as village after village, town after town and city after city is ruthlessly destroyed by the Nazis. Quickly Kiev, Minsk and Sevastopol falls. However without using troops to fight the British (now consisting of fragmented freedom fighters) the Nazis make more gains and with an alliance with Iran they can invade the Caucasus immediately seizing the vital oil fields. Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary would assist in Barbarossa with Italy invading Yugoslavia to build a Baltic empire. However to succeed this time Hitler would have to listen to his generals more (something he didn't do in our timeline as he viewed himself as history's greatest military leader). This would include not instantly going for Stalingrad (modern day Volgograd) and actually occupying Leningrad (modern St Petersburg) instead of starving the citizens to death which gave time for backup. Invading earlier in the year would assure the Wehrmacht wouldn't have to face harsh Russian winter which proved to be Hitler's undoing in our timeline which greatly aids the war effort. Without the Mediterranean Campaign led by the British which forced Hitler to send troops to Italy and the Balkans Hitler could devote more troops to the Russian front. By the summer of 1942 Leningrad would have fallen under the boot of the Nazis as they quickly encircle Moscow in a pincer tactic. Stalin would as in our timeline order harsh treatment for deserters having most of the Red Army shot as they flee from the advancing German army. Japan would also invade the crippled USSR (something they were reluctant to do in our timeline because of the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact) disregarding their pact to secure their power over Mongolia (invaded in late 1941) as well as too seize Sakhalin and areas in the far east. In the September of 1942 the Nazis start taking Moscow street by street from fierce opposition from the Red Army. As Panzer tanks approach the Kremlin Stalin would kill himself to escape Hitler's fury. Although with major cities crushed the war would continue well into the summer of 1946. This would be due to the difficulties the Axis would face fighting the Soviet forces performing guerrilla tactics east of the Ural mountains.

The war elsewhere
A large naval war would happen between the Nazis and Canada in the Atlantic although the strength of the Canadians and the amount of energy taken to actually take the war to the Americas would mean that there would be no invasion of Canada and colonies in the Caribbean. Ireland however would provide assistance to the Canadians by secretly shipping arms to Canada as well as refugees fleeing from Britain. As the Nazis invade Iceland following the defeat of Britain Canada would take Greenland to ensure no Axis invasion of that island. In the Pacific there would be a major war between the Australians and the New Zealanders against the Japanese with in 1944 Australia succeeding in invading and reclaiming the lower half of Papua New Guinea but the strength of Japan using anti-imperialist troops from occupied areas would halt the advance. Japan would in turn have to fight a guerrilla war against anti-imperialist forces as they would see them as being just as bad as the Europeans; particularly groups like Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh offering continuous assassinations of generals and sabotages of Japanese vehicles while they were in Vietnam. In Africa the Axis powers would be halted by South Africa and troops from colonies such as Rhodesia and the southern Congo seeing the racism of the Nazis as being worse than the discrimination of their current masters. The Axis advance would stop at the Congo river, especially following the invasion of Russia. In South Africa though the start of Apartheid would be halted as everyone banded together to repel the Axis although they would be unable to stop a Nazi invasion of Madagascar due to the Axis control over the Suez Canal. In 1944 when the Nazis push past the Urals they would send troops to take India (the Japanese leaving India for the Nazis as they had agreed in a treaty). Initially some groups would treat them as liberators until they arrest one person: Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi would offer passive resistance against the invaders as he did the British seeing those who welcomed the Nazis as letting in the wolf when they had got rid of the tiger. To stop him the Nazis would arrest him where he would die at the hands of the SS. However this would create a catalyst uniting a region divided by caste, religion and ethnicity against the Nazis. Despite the famine that had struck Bengal leaving 4 million dead the people of India would force the Germans from India declaring a united independent India based on Gandhi's ideals when the war finally ends. In 1943 though Hitler would send troops to aid Mussolini as the Greeks turn out to be a bigger challenge than had been anticipated. The Greeks would force the Italians into Albania but would be pushed back by Panzer divisions taken from an occupied Caucasus. It would be a tough fight claiming the lives of thousands of Greek soldiers and civilians with just as many German troops but eventually Greece would be subdued. 

The Final Solution
Like in our timeline the Holocaust would happen but it would be even more deadly. With areas conquered by Hitler that was never conquered in our timeline millions more would be sent to the camps. Alongside the original victims would be others taken from Britain and even more resistance fighters would be added to the camps not to mention Russians from an almost completely conquered Russia. 11 million people died in the Holocaust but in this version it could be as high as 20 million with even more dying as they are sent to the frozen lands of Siberia to die in villages away from the new German Reich. How many would lose their lives to this even more deadly Holocaust it is hard to imagine.

The end
In 1946 the last troops of the Red Army would surrender. Following this Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa would sign a peace treaty ending the war. However in 1943 Wallace agrees to start the Manhattan Project after seeing the work of the Axis conquering half the world. When he wins the 1944 election by continuing with Roosevelt's New Deal reforms (even managing to improve civil rights by desegregating the government) the quest for a nuclear bomb continues. In 1947 the United Indian Republic is declared after throwing the last Wehrmacht forces from their borders. 1949 then sees the detonation of the first nuclear bomb forcing the Nazis to hurry to make their own. As Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito are declared heroes for creating the Greater German Reich, New Roman Empire and Japanese Empire the stage is set for an alternate Cold War...

On the 5th June I will do the second part featuring an alternate Cold War in this Axis ruled world. Next week will be the first part though of a new story idea based off of Jurassic World... I hope I see you then!

Friday, 15 May 2015

What If: Franklin Roosevelt was assassinated?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was the 32nd President of the United States and during his four consecutive terms as President he organised the New Deal reform program to improve the situation for poor Americans during the Great Depression, helped improve civil rights with the Fair Employment Practice Committee, put women in major roles for the first time in US history and led the USA through the Second World War while all the time fighting polio. However just over a month before he was inaugurated as President (winning the 1932 election easily) he was almost assassinated by a man called Giuseppe Zangara. What would have happened if Zangara had succeeded in assassinating FDR? This was the first point of divergence in the brilliant The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick although this one differs heavily. This could be one way history diverged if Zangara shot FDR.

The assassination- Giuseppe Zangara was an angry, discontented person who felt angry at the government for his poor condition and his acute abdomen pains started to drain his mental health. On the 15th February 1933 before he was inaugurated FDR was going to give an impromptu speech from the back of an open car in Miami, Florida. Zangara decided to take his rage out on FDR by buying a pistol. Zangara took his seat where Roosevelt was going to give his speech but due to his short height he couldn't see over the hat of the woman in front of him. He stood on his chair, which was wobbly, and his five shots all missed Roosevelt. A woman wearing a hat saved the life of FDR. In this scenario that woman (Lillian Cross) does not wear a hat so with a clear shot Zangara shoots FDR. The President elect dies of his wounds on the way to hospital. Like in our timeline Zangara is executed to death on the 20th March (in our timeline he shot the Chicago mayor Anton Cermak who was travelling with FDR). On March 4th instead of Roosevelt being inaugurated his would be vice-President John Nance Garner is sworn in as President.
A New Deal?- Roosevelt was famous for being the architect of the New Deal, a program of reform projects with the aim of helping the poor and ending the Great Depression. However the way US electorate works it is very easy for a President and vice-President to be elected when they could have very different ideologies. Where Roosevelt pushed for the New Deal legislation Garner was against it. As President Garner would be very against installing the quasi-benefit system that the New Deal legislation brought in so most likely Garner would not install this legislation. His ideas were more similar to that of his predecessor Herbert Hoover where ideas of 'rugged individualism' and laissez-faire economics would continue although the banks most likely would be liquidated in order to remove their debt. Roosevelt declared an eight day bank holiday to ensure that the banks had some time to rectify their situation after hundreds of people withdrew all of their money causing the banks to close. Garner's liquidation of the banks would lead to many more people losing most of their savings if not all of them. More emphasis would be put on the stock market rather than improving the banks, employment and monetary reform with Garner keeping the gold standard. Deflation would continue to drain the economy as the rigid gold standard would cause the value of the dollar to continue to drop. With deflation making the dollar becoming more and more worthless unemployment would rise as protectionism (coupled with the Depression) stops a demand for US goods abroad and the public would simply be unable to afford the goods. In 1933 unemployment was just over 20% so as the first term of Garner drags on this rate would rise dramatically. Garner at least was for prohibition repeal so the economy could benefit from not enforcing prohibition and taxing alcohol.
 Civil rights, labor rights and foreign policy of Garner- Garner was not pro-labor rights (but more pro-labor than Hoover) so we would not see a National Industrial Recovery Act which would later issue in better protection for labor unions. With the continuing strength of industrialists and no protection of unions or no recognition of their right to collective bargaining unions would be in increasing decline. Union membership was at only 11.6% of the workforce in 1930 and as the 1930s go along this would drop and possibly the largest union federation, the American Federation of Labor, would dissolve. We would also see increased federal action in ending strikes which Garner supported. Meanwhile African-American, Hispanic, women and Native American rights would remain the same as in the first years following the Wall Street Crash. All these groups of people benefited thanks to the New Deal, such as the Social Security Act helping poorer families through welfare benefit and the Indian Reorganization Act giving more power to Native American tribal courts as well as improving the conditions on reservations so much that Native American birth rate increased at a much more rapid rate than other citizens. Roosevelt also worked closely with the NAACP to help civil rights (although he never introduced standing legislation to aid them) and he installed many women into high profile roles such as Nellie Tayloe Ross as director of the US Mint and Frances Perkins as Labor Secretary. No New Deal meant that all this would not have happened but Garner himself was not pro-civil rights, Garner even suggested a poll tax to force the disenfranchisement of African-Americans. This would definitely rule out any talks with the NAACP so weakening it and delaying the civil rights movement. The idea that the USA was isolationist is an overstatement. Yes it was against intervening in the affairs of Europe, and to an extent Asia, but it was interested in influencing the affairs of American nations. Roosevelt had a 'Good Neighbor Policy' which meant that he would stop intervening in Latin America but quite likely Garner would not follow this policy. Garner would increasingly send US soldiers abroad to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Panama to enforce US power in those areas.
1936-1941- As Garner's Presidency turns into a disaster through longstanding deflation and unemployment the Democrats would be split into two. One side under conservative Democrats supporting Garner while more liberal Democrats supporting Louisiana Senator Huey Long. As the 1936 election draws closer Long would split from the Democrats and run as a third party candidate. The Republican candidate most likely would be Alf Landon as in our timeline. In our timeline Roosevelt won 60.8% of the vote but this alternate election would be much closer with the Republicans edging out through the split in the Democrats although Long most likely would still be assassinated as in our timeline for his constant harassment of his assassin's family (Dr. Carl Weiss). Still this would not save Garner and Alf Landon would become President with a narrow margin (roughly 51% of the vote with the rest split between the Democrats and Long's flailing party). Landon would still be ineffective to rescue the nation from economic woes. Being seen as a puppet for the Republican Party he would do marginal reform that would slightly improve the situation. This would include abandoning the gold standard to reduce deflation and try to reduce taxes on businesses in a trickle down economics pattern. The economy would slowly start to improve but it would be nowhere near as improved as the one in our timeline (although in our timeline unemployment and poverty was still widespread). Labor rights would continue to be poor with no National Labor Relations Board which in turn would mean that A Philip. Randolph's Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Maids (BSCP) would remain a small union and would collapse in 1940.
World War Two- In 1940 the Democrats under Henry Wallace would win the election but unlike the Presidency of John Nance Garner Wallace would be more interested in the progressive ideas of the New Deal and during the war unemployment levels would drop as acts similar to the Social Security Act and Tennessee Valley Authority (aiding the poor farmers in the Dust Bowl who would be suffering still) would be passed although they would be heavily diluted. Congressional elections would allow more Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives which would block too much reform legislation while Democrats in the Senate would block acts which would benefit African-Americans. Wallace was a much more adamant pacifist compared to Roosevelt so as war broke out in Europe and Asia Wallace would try and steer the US out of confrontation. Inevitably no Lend Lease Act would be passed and Wallace would avoid the oil embargoes that Roosevelt placed on Japan. This in turn would mean that there would be no Pearl Harbor (for Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in retaliation for the US embargo). In Europe the war would remain the same with Soviet Russia storming Berlin but in Asia the Japanese Empire would dominate. The main reason why Japan invaded Hong Kong, Burma and Indochina after Pearl Harbor as they were fearful that the US would intervene if they did beforehand so with a still economically weakened US declaring neutrality Japan would likely invade these areas regardless. The US was the main fighter in Asia against Japan so the Japanese Empire would be far stronger and would conquer Burma, Eastern China, Indochina and Indonesia (leaving the Philippines to US rule) but war exhaustion and overextension would halt the conquests there. With no US entry into the war and a pacifist President would mean that there would be no Manhattan Project so nuclear weaponry would not be created until years later which could spare the lives of thousands in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Another positive from no US entry into the war would be that 110,000 innocent Japanese-American citizens were evicted from their homes and their loss of employment following Executive Order 9066. This is commonly seen as Roosevelt's biggest and darkest action (alongside not supporting an anti-lynching bill and doing nothing to help Jews during the Holocaust) where thousands of Japanese-Americans were forced into internment camps because of their heritage following Pearl Harbor, many never having been to Japan or having little support for the empire. It is scary how a man who helped so many people doomed so many others to internment camps and squalor.

Post-war era- Japan would remain the major power in Asia following the war having puppet nations in China, Indochina and Indonesia as well as conquered land in the Pacific. Quite likely the US would grant the Philippines its independence in order to keep independence movements from siding with the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (an economic unity of Asia countries under a Japanese empire that never came to fruition in our timeline). Post-war Europe would resemble our timeline except Germany would be split directly between France, Britain and Germany although with slightly altered spheres of influence which would form East and West Germany following Cold War tensions. A form of NATO would be made to challenge the perceived threat of the USSR but Britain and France would be the main players. Similarly Britain and France would embrace their former enemy of the Japanese Empire as the Cold War escalates. The USSR would detonate its first nuclear bomb in 1948 with Britain, France and Japan detonating their own by 1953; something that the USA would also copy in the 1960s as it starts to branch out of its traditional sphere of influence of the Americas. The Cold War in Europe, Africa and the Middle East would remain the same but in Asia Japan would be facing guerrilla warriors fighting for total independence who will be funded by Britain, France and later the USA fearing that some like Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh would want to install communist states. However with Japanese influence on the mainland Mao Zedong's communist guerrillas would take until the eventual collapse of the Japanese Empire in the early 1970s to install a people's republic while Mao's bitter rival Chiang Kai-Shek would die in exile in the USA.

Domestic USA- As there was no four consecutive terms for FDR there would be no 22nd Amendment limiting a President to two terms. Wallace would be seen as a mediocre President serving two terms and minor social reforms but with an abysmal foreign policy record by allowing the USA to be sidelined by two empires (Japan and Britain) and communists (the USSR) on the world stage. Civil rights though would be pushed back decades. Although FDR did relatively little for civil rights with legislation because he was either disinterested or had his hands tied by a reluctant Congress his impact greatly aided civil rights. The Indian Reorganization Act allowed Native Americans some brief respite while Eleanor Roosevelt's actions helped increase awareness of the rights for African-American and women. Roosevelt creating the National Labor Relations Board helped A. Philip Randolph lead the civil rights movement by propelling him to cultural significance and through him there was Martin Luther King's March on Washington in 1963 (King got the idea based on an abandoned march idea that Randolph had). It was Randolph who pressured Roosevelt into creating the Fair Employment Practice Committee to end employment discrimination in the government and FDR's talks with the NAACP undoubtedly strengthened it. No FDR meant no Truman who desegregated the army and FDR appointed more liberal judges to the Supreme Court (although originally he tried to put more judges in the Supreme Court to get what he wanted passed) which set off a trend of pro-civil rights verdicts such as Gaines v. Canada which let an African-American go to a white school. The US involvement in the Second World War let Dwight Eisenhower later to be easily made the Republican candidate and when he was President he made Earl Warren Chief of the Supreme Court who helped civil rights such as with Brown v. Board of Education which declared education segregation unconstitutional and Miranda v. Arizona which created the Miranda rights. Eisenhower even enforced desegregation at Little Rock, Arkansas by using the National Guard to escort African-American students into a white school. When Lyndon Johnson becomes President whether the Jim Crow laws are downed in one fell swoop with the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which would have to include transport, education and army desegregation) or whether each Jim Crow law had to be challenged individually it is hard to tell.

What do you think the world would be like if FDR was assassinated? Do you think the world would be better, worse or the same? Do you think I'm talking rubbish and are fawning over FDR or is some of what I'm saying seem somewhat plausible? Please leave your opinion and next week it'll be the first anniversary of the blog! I'll be doing a redux of one past alternate history scenario. I'll give you a clue about what it's about: a series of unfortunate events allowing a homicidal racist with a mustache to crush the world under his boot...

Friday, 8 May 2015

History in Focus: V-E Day

Today the British news has been dominated by the results of the general election but worldwide it is 70 years since V-E Day; the day where Nazi Germany officially surrendered to the Allies and ended the Second World War in Europe. Although the war would continue until September 2nd when Japan surrendered as well. Today though I will not only discuss V-E Day but also the result of the general election which has a few stark similarities to the aftermath of V-E Day. To start with how did the Allies manage to cause the collapse of Hitler's 'Thousand Year Reich' after just short of six years of fighting?

The beginning of the end of the Axis in Europe- For the first few years of the Second World War Hitler and the Wehrmacht had successfully managed to conquer most of Europe. By 1941 Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Low Countries and France had fallen to the Blitzkrieg tactics (using the Lutftwaffe to bomb enemy lines followed by tanks to wipe the rest out and infantry coming after to mop up the survivors). If not for the British Royal Air Force (RAF) managing to defeat the Luftwaffe in aerial combat Britain could have been on this list as well. On the 22nd June 1941 Hitler in the largest invasion in the history of warfare invaded the Soviet Union and had managed to capture Minsk, Kiev, Sevastopol as well as lay siege to Leningrad (modern day St Petersburg) and Stalingrad (modern Volgograd). On the 2nd December 1941 the 258th Division reported that they were so close to Moscow that they could see the spires on top of the Kremlin. However then things started to go bad. Hitler's egomania had made him believe that he was the greatest military commander in the history of the world and that he was chosen by providence to lead the German people to greatness. He simultaneously tried to fight the British, Soviets and Americans following their declaration of war on Japan following Pearl Harbor which drastically overextended his forces. In North Africa Field Marshal (Generalfeldmarschall) Erwin Rommel's Africa Korps were given few resources with most of it diverted to the Eastern Front. His defeat at the Second Battle of Al Amein in in the November of 1942 can be seen as the beginning of the collapse of Hitler's empire. With Rommel defeated the African front collapsed and the Wehrmacht started to see more defeats. However many historians see the Battle of Stalingrad as the main turning point against the Axis in Europe. Hitler wanted Stalingrad destroyed for it bore the name of his hated adversary Joseph Stalin. In the February of 1943 with the German 6th Army and elements of the Romanian army surrendered to the overwhelming forces of the Red Army. After five months of bloody fighting and a bitter winter which led to many dying of the cold the 6th Army was destroyed or captured with the Axis suffering 850,000 casualties to Soviet casualties of 1,129,619 and 40,000 civilians. The Wehrmacht slowly started to be pushed from Soviet lands.

The noose tightens- In January of 1943 the Prime Minister of Britain Winston Churchill, President of the United States Franklin Roosevelt and leading generals of the Free French Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud met at Casablanca and stated that they would only accept 'unconditional surrender' of the Axis forces. What followed was a bombing campaign against German industrial areas across the Rhineland from Allied forces and an invasion of Italy. Churchill described Italy as 'the soft underbelly of the Axis' and thought that by going through Italy they could take Germany off guard thanks to their efforts in Russia. Hitler counteracted by invading Italy as well as Yugoslavia and Greece to counter the Allied invasion. However things were going badly for Hitler in Germany. Popular discontent from food shortages and anger at the Nazi high command for getting them into a war that was clear that they were not winning. Groups such as the Edelweiss Pirates intentionally sabotaged Gestapo efforts and handed out Allied propaganda while White Rose led by Hans and Sophie Scholl handed out leaflets and asked for peaceful resistance against the Nazis. Unfortunately they were captured and beheaded by the Gestapo; they were only in their early twenties. In the Soviet Union the Red Army was pushing back the Wehrmacht so by 1944 they had pushed the Axis out of Ukraine while the Western allies made a series of daring attacks at Monte Cassino. On June 6th 1944 in Operation Overlord but more commonly known as D-Day in what was the largest amphibious invasion 156,000 Allied troops landed in Northern France. By August Paris had been liberated with Charles de Gaulle riding triumphantly into the capital. Soon the Allies were determined to destroy the Nazis after the discovery of the concentration camps. Following 1942 the SS and Gestapo had been rounding up Jews, Eastern Europeans, Romani, homosexuals and left wingers to name just a few and placing them in camps such as Dachau and Auschwitz. By 1945 around 11 million had been murdered in the camps with half of them Jews. Reports started to drift into public knowledge in and out of the Third Reich turning all against the Nazis who found out.

The end- Soon the Allies started to think of a post-war Europe with Poland decidedly to be a Soviet client. This explains why Stalin ordered the Red Army not to enter Warsaw to aid the rebelling Polish fighters; waiting until the Nazis had put them down before sweeping in. On the 20th July 1944 Operation Valkyrie came into effect. Wehrmacht officials including Claus von Satuffenberg placed a bomb in Hitler's bunker in an attempt to assassinate him. He narrowly survived and the plotters were executed. In 1945 the bombing campaign escalated including the tragic fire bombing of Dresden which claimed up to 500,000 lives and still remains a controversial issue between Germany and Britain for Dresden held no strategic industries or of any strategic importance. The same month that Dresden was bombed Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt met in Yalta in the Crimea determined to see the destruction of the Third Reich and divide it into zones of occupation to ensure that after the war militant groups could not come to power as they had done following World War One. It was now bleak for Hitler. He was confined to the Fuhrerbunker in Berlin which was constantly being bombarded by bombings and he was ordering the movement of divisions which no one had the nerve to inform him had been destroyed. Inflamed by the horrors uncovered in the concentration camps in both the east and west the Allies continued to fight. Soon the Low Countries, Norway and Denmark had been liberated (on May 2nd) and the Soviet Union had crossed the Oder River and was bearing down on Berlin. On the 28th April in Italy Benito Mussolini and his mistress were gunned down by partisans and hung from street lights. Two leading Nazis, Hermann Goring and Heinrich Himmler who had been influential in the Holocaust, tried to surrender to the Allies and were quickly arrested. On the 29th German forces in Italy surrendered. Hitler did not wish to suffer the same fate as Mussolini so married his longtime partner Eva Braun as the Red Army waged war in the streets of Berlin. He shot Eva Braun and then himself. His Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels was made Reich Chancellor and Admiral Karl Donitz Reich President. The Part Chancellor Martin Bormann tried to flee Berlin but was killed and Goebbels had his children poisoned before he shot his wife and himself. The Soviet Union in triumph flew the hammer and sickle over the Reichstag and on May 8th Donitz surrendered to the Allies. War had ended in Europe.

Aftermath- At Yalta Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill had agreed on making Europe safe for democracy with free elections in Germany. At Potsdam however matters were different. Roosevelt had succumbed to polio and had passed on leaving Vice-President Harry Truman as President. Churchill's bravado of now descending on Japan with no social reform upset the British public who wanted reform and an end to fighting so in the 1945 General Election Labour won making Clement Attlee (who was Deputy Prime Minister during the war) Prime Minister. Thus the anti-communist Truman and paranoid Stalin bickered at Potsdam. Churchill even saw the Soviet Union as a threat and created a plan before he lost the election to rearm Germany and battle the Soviets in what he nicknamed Operation Unthinkable. Truman informed Stalin that he had a new weapon to end the war quickly. In September that new weapon was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki taking thousands of civilian lives, poisoned hundreds more and wiped both cities off the map. They were nuclear bombs. Stalin instantly pushed forward his project and started establishing communist governments in Poland and Eastern Europe. The Cold War had begun. In France de Gualle briefly was Head of the Provisional Government but resigned for the first elections issuing in a new era for French politics. In the rubble of post-war Europe a new age was beginning.

Relation to the 2015 election?
First both elections saw the first time that a new generation could vote in turbulent times. In 1945 a wave of politically minded people could now vote who went through the uncertainty of economic turmoil that plagued the 1930s and the devastation of war while the politically minded generation who could vote in the 2015 election (including myself) grew up in the uncertainty of a post-9/11 world with the turbulence caused also by the 2008 Banking Crisis. The 1945 election also saw one party (Labour) come out of a coalition and dominate the election with Labour gaining 239 seats while the Conservatives lost 197. The election also saw the place where I live, Doncaster, first elect Labour as the MP and ever since it has voted Labour with Doncaster currently being Labour's base. In the 2015 election we saw the Conservatives dominate their former coalition members, the Liberal Democrats, who now only have 8 seats. What can be certain though is that there will be great change. Following 1945 Clement Attlee issued in a wave of reform including installing in a benefit system for the needy, a nationalized health system (the NHS) and the start of decolonization with Indian independence in 1947. This election will be the first time the Conservative Party has been in power by itself since 1997. With the Conservatives on their own in Downing Street they will change Britain but whether for better or for will we will have to wait and see.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Warning: Contains Spoilers
Last week in Britain and yesterday in America Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron was released and I was very excited to see it; especially as the antagonist Ultron is my favorite Marvel villain. After a week of collecting my thoughts and notes here is my review of Age of Ultron with one or two spoilers so please do not read if you plan to go see the film.

Plot and relation to the comics
Age of Ultron starts after the other Phase II Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films (Iron Man III, Captain America: Winter Soldiers etc.) where the Avengers are tracking down the last of Hydra's bases after the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D in Winter Soldier. There they discover that Hydra has been experimenting on humans and two twins (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olson) have superpowers. After a brief battle the Avengers find Loki's staff (from The Avengers) and after testing Tony Stark a.k.a Iron Man (played once again by Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner a.k.a the Hulk (played by Mark Ruffalo) find it has an energy source inside which can create artificial intelligence. From this Stark plans to use the staff's ability to create the 'Ultron Program'; an artificial intelligence defense program to safeguard the world from terrors such as Hydra and the Chitauri. However Ultron becomes sentient, rebels against Stark and plots with the twins to destroy the Avengers bringing in a new world order. Initially I was hesitant about the plot as the Age of Ultron storyline, in my own opinion, was one of the best storyarcs in the last five years for Marvel and when they announced that the plot to the film would not resemble this storyline this made me hesitant. However the film's plot was very good considering with thrilling action, quite tense drama and good pacing. The writers managed to put in enough time to help build up the characters personalities but still devoted enough of the film to keep it a thrilling action film. Despite the increased amount of darker scenes compared to other MCU films it still managed to keep the charm and friendly atmosphere at times that characterized other MCU installments. However the film could have benefited much more from more darker scenes. I personally went into the film expecting a darker film compared to the first Avengers but got a relatively light film (although not necessarily a bad thing). The darker parts of the film such as Black Widow (played by Scarlet Johansson) reliving her assassin training and the twins telling Ultron why they hate the Avengers were done very well and one or two more scenes like that would have been good. Of course too many darker moments would have made it too much like Man of Steel or The Dark Knight which would lose the MCU's identity.
A slight criticism that I have as well is how they didn't explain how Tony Stark managed to get his Arc reactors to power his suits following Iron Man III but again this is largely nickpicking. I thought the relation to the comics was also done well despite the constraints the MCU had for the origin of Ultron and Vision (explained later). They managed to make their origins fit well for the MCU which actually did not differ from their comic counterparts. Now looking at it doing an exact plot translation of Age of Ultron would have been unlikely considering how some major players are owned by different companies (such as Sony owning Spider-Man and 20th Century Fox owning the Fantastic Four and the X-Men) and some others haven't been introduced yet (such as Luke Cage, She-Hulk and Red Hulk) so they did a very good job in making it their own. Although I think from now on we might have to think of the MCU as something independent of the mainstream comics, the same as we might see the Ultimate comics, where they make it their own but keep overarching ideas and themes that the original had.

The recurring characters of Iron Man, the Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye (played by Jeremy Renner), Captain America (played by Chris Evans), Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth) and Nick Fury (played by Samuel L Jackson) are once again done very well. This most likely is due to them playing the characters together multiple times (in the case of Robert Downey Jr this being his sixth time playing Iron Man) so this definitely helped them feel like a team. Each made their character their own and it felt natural they way they spoke where they even had a recurring joke of making fun of Captain America for saying 'mind your language' to Iron Man (a joke my friends unanimously tired of quickly). Also I quite enjoyed the character development for Hawkeye and particularly Black Widow; seeing her dark past allowing us to create a bigger bond with her character. I similarly like her relationship with the Hulk where it is a romantic relationship with Banner but a mother/child relationship with the Hulk. Hopefully in future MCU films, including Infinity War and Civil War, they will continue what they started with this film.

Now the main subject: Ultron.
 Ultron is voiced (and at times offering the movements for) by Jeremy Spader in this film and he truly captured the essence of Ultron. A friend of mine saw the film before I did and told me that they changed Ultron's personality for this film although unlike the change to my second favorite Marvel villain, the Mandarin, in Iron Man III this proved to be a positive. In the comics Ultron grew his own sentience from taking the dark emotions created through Hank Pym's schizophrenia where he was formal and serious but narcissistic with huge egotism of his own purity. In Age of Ultron Spader masterfully portrays Ultron as a dark Tony Stark; like Stark he is informal and will crack jokes (although he does remain much more formal than Stark) but he is also filled with his own self importance that Stark has. Spader has voiced him like a master and he truly created a hypnotic but threatening villain and I much prefer him to Loki. Director Joss Whedon described Spader's voice as 'eerily calm and compelling' and this is definitely put across here. Near the start of the film when Ultron becomes sentient he looks through the internet and learns human history and the Avengers which makes his urge to wipe out the Avengers more fitting; Ultron is designed to save the Earth but sees the collateral damage from the Avengers fighting as endangering the Earth itself. Similarly by looking at the internet at human history he would see how inherently flawed we are and how we are our worst enemy such as with the Cold War where we almost brought our own destruction. Whedon made Ultron seem to be obsessed with improvement and evolution which would fit with his personality and views; for humans to be safe they have to evolve. This 'survival of the fittest' idea I thought was perfectly shown when he's talking to a captured Black Widow and in the middle of his conversation the new and improved Ultron tears apart the older model. I really liked what they did with Ultron.

Then there's the new characters. First off with Vision (played by Paul Bettany) and I liked what they did with him. Having an existing character become the Vision in human form with his characterization that he finally has his own mind and body gave a great alternative to the bleak and self-righteous view that Ultron has. Of course Bettany gave a great performance which allowed it to be more believable and I quite like the joke they had regarding Vision and Mjolnir. I also enjoyed seeing the interaction between Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and am glad that they starred together in Godzilla before Age of Ultron. They seemed to be some form of sibling affection which seemed believable. Especially as we see their evolution from bitter allies of Ultron to loyal allies of the Avengers. However at times the balance between acting with other characters and keeping their generic Eastern European accent made their acting be less believable at times; especially as sometimes the fake accent was a bit off putting at times. Nevertheless quite often both of their acting was done very well, especially with Olson portraying Scarlet Witch as being mentally unbalanced from past traumas, and I hope in future MCU films Olson can improve her acting as Scarlet Witch. Although I was not expecting Quicksilver's fate. I just hope though Olson can use less of a broad fake accent to focus on acting.

Like the other MCU installments the CGI was fantastic. I saw Age of Ultron in IMAX and it's the first film that I've ever seen in IMAX but the CGI blew me away. It looked realistic and it felt that the CGI was actually needed in the film rather than being shoehorned in to make a blockbuster. The effects on the Hulk and Ultron were done very well. It was easily possible to tell the emotions that Ultron was feeling (even if you couldn't tell from Spader's acting) and the capturing of Mark Ruffalo's face for the Hulk was perfect. You could see the rage of his face as if it wasn't created by a computer. One thing that I must mention is the Hulkbuster fight. For those who don't know the Hulkbuster armor is a suit that Iron Man wears over his normal suit to purposefully fight the Hulk and was introduced in the World War Hulk storyline. In the film we find out that Bruce Banner and Tony Stalk made it to stop the Hulk if Black Widow couldn't calm him down. I was originally dreading the fight as I was going to imagine it to be like the fights in Michael Bay's Transformers films where putting it bluntly it is an indiscriminate mess of CGI shapes. Other than having better CGI than Bay's Transformers the Hulkbuster fight showed Bay how a CGI battle of titans should be. It was clear to see, the effects looked both impressive and realistic and it was thrilling to watch. This whole section could be devoted to the best parts alone in the fight although there was a part that was very impressive involving the Hulk being thrown through every floor of an empty skyscraper under construction. In a similar sense the final battle between the Avengers against the hordes of Ultron droids was again impressive against a backdrop of a floating city that will wipe out humanity (linking back to Ultron's view to stimulate human evolution through a dinosaur like extinction event). The destruction of the city as Ultron lifts the city such as the crumbling buildings and the twisting of a bridge was impressive to see. Though I believed that the final battle in The Avengers was a more impressive spectacle compared to this one. Despite this the effects were very impressive and hopefully the magnitude of the battles can be realistically replicated for Civil War and Infinity War and not be like Star Wars Episode I.

First off Stan Lee's cameo. It was highly amusing seeing him in a brief drinking game with Thor while he drunkenly spouts his catchphrase (Excelsior!) for the first time in a live action film. Product placement however wasn't subtle at all and it is a pet peeve of mine. It is slightly distracting seeing Bruce Banner calm down while listening to Beats by Dr Dre, Quicksilver pulling Addidas trainers from Tony Stark's wardrobe and seeing Korean Airlines right next to Ultron's head as he makes a speech. Saying that this again is nitpicking and saying that it is relatively subtle placement compared to other films (Man of Steel and World War Z being prime examples). The after credit scene (which I will not spoil) is a very good hint about the future in regards to the Infinity Gems which will change the MCU indefinitely. My final point is the reference to other heroes. There was one major one and it happens to be one about my favorite Marvel hero: Black Panther. There is a huge reference to Wakanda with Ultron using one of Black Panther's archenemies, Klaw being played by the excellent Andy Serkis, to take Vibranium for upgrades. With Black Panther making his cinematic debut in 2017 I am grateful for the reference.

For great CGI, pacing, acting and character development but for not so subtle product placement, lack of darker scenes and at times the mixed reaction to fake accents (even then I am nitpicking) I would give Avengers: Age of Ultron 8.1/10. I would gladly watch it again and if future MCU films are at this standard we will be in for a treat.