Saturday, 16 January 2077

Support The Wertzone on Patreon


After much debate (and some requests) I have signed up with crowdfunding service Patreon to better support future blogging efforts. You can find my Patreon page here and more information after the jump.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Off to WorldCon and EuroCon

I'll be in Dublin for WorldCon this weekend and then EuroCon/TitanCon in Belfast for the following weekend, so there'll likely be fewer posts than normal for the next two weeks or so.

I have three panels for WorldCon ("Space Opera" Friday 10am, "Narrative & the Dollar" Saturday 12pm and "Winter Came" Saturday 5pm) and will be pottering around at EuroCon, so feel free to say hi if you're about!

WHEEL OF TIME TV show confirms main castmembers

Amazon Prime Television has confirmed the primary cast for its upcoming Wheel of Time TV show.

Dutch actor Josha Stradowski is playing the role of Rand al'Thor. Stradowski's credits include the TV series Hidden Stories and the TV film Just Friends.

Australian actress Madeleine Madden is playing Egwene al'Vere. Madden's previous roles include TV shows The Moodys and Picnic at Hanging Rock, Netflix's Tidelanders and the live-action Dora the Explorer movie.

British actor Marcus Rutherford is playing the role of Perrin Aybara. Marcus's roles include the TV series Shakespeare & Hathaway and the film County Lines.

New Zealand actress Zoë Robins is playing Nynaeve al'Meara. Robins' previous roles include Power Rangers: Ninja Steel and The Shannara Chronicles.

British actor Barney Harris is playing Mat Cauthon. Harris's previous roles include The Hollow Crown, Clique and All Roads Lead to Rome.

These actors join the previously-announced Rosamund Pike as Moiraine Damodred.

Further roles to be cast for the first season are expected to include Logain Ablar, Thom Merrilin, Tam al'Thor, Lan Mandragoran, Loial, Elayne Trakand, Gawyn Trakand, Galad Damodred, Morgase Trakand, Gareth Bryne, Agelmar Jagad, Mordeth and Padan Fain.

Production on The Wheel of Time is expected to begin this month in the Czech Republic, to air on Amazon Prime in late 2020.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

STAR TREK franchise reunited for the first time in fifteen years

Viacom, the owners of Paramount Pictures, and CBS have completed their long-mooted re-merger. Amongst many other interesting side-effects (such as giving Paramount and their Hasbro master-partnership access to a new streaming TV service via CBS All Access), it means that the entire Star Trek franchise is once again reunited under one banner.

To back up, the original Star Trek was produced by Desilu Studios and aired on NBC. In 1967, during Star Trek's second season, Desilu was purchased by Paramount. Paramount produced the rest of the series, the animated series and all of the movies based on the property to date, from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) through Star Trek Beyond (2016). Paramount's TV division also produced Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-94), Deep Space Nine (1993-99), Voyager (1995-2001) and Enterprise (2001-05).

In 2005, just as Enterprise was ending, Paramount's owners Viacom decided to divest their television arm as it was losing a serious amount of money. The television arm, effectively the old Paramount Television and CBS, became the new CBS, whilst Viacom retained ownership of Paramount. Due to arcane back-room wrangling, this involved splitting Star Trek: the movies remained the property of Viacom and Paramount, and the TV shows ended up with CBS. This is why CBS was behind the remastering of both the original series and The Next Generation, despite not having anything to do the franchise originally.

This division became problematic as both companies began producing new Star Trek material, Paramount via its movie collaboration with J.J. Abrams which gave us Star Trek (2009), Into Darkness (2013) and the aforementioned Beyond; and CBS with Star Trek: Discovery (2017-present) and its forthcoming spin-offs Picard and Section 31, all on its unexpectedly successful CBS All Access streaming service.

The division created legal uncertainties over the ability of each company to use ship designs, music and footage from other media, and meant that the writing team under Alex Kurtzman had to tread carefully when referencing events from the films in the TV shows (particularly the destruction of Romulus in the 2009 Star Trek movie in their new Picard show). The re-merger means that all such legal uncertainties are now removed and there can now be much greater integration between the TV shows and any new films going forwards, such as Quentin Tarantino's much-discussed potential film project.

What this means going forwards - a Discovery movie or an Abramsverse TV show both seem unlikely at this point - is probably not too much of a change in how the franchise operates, but it does clear up some potential grey areas.

Friday, 9 August 2019

George R.R. Martin in London

I attended George R.R. Martin's talk in London last night and tweeted about some of the things he said, which, as is Twitter's wont, some people misinterpreted or misunderstood, so I thought it might be useful to clarify and expand on these points here.

The evening started with George being surprised by bigwigs from Nielsen, who gave him two special awards for sales of A Song of Ice and Fire in the UK, confirming that A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings have individually sold over 1 million copies each in the UK since the UK Nielsen Bookscan started in 2001. Given the UK's much smaller market than the US, that's a huge sales achievement.

Most of the interview (with historian Dan Jones) was standard stuff we've heard many times before: George's early career in short stories, working in television (bearing in mind we were in a church, it was surprising that George got so wound up by reminiscing over producers messing with his scripts that he dropped a couple of f-bombs), writing Avalon and getting the inspiration for Bran's first chapter etc.

George did expand on the writing of The Hedge Knight. Robert Silverberg got a ton of money to do Legends, an all-star anthology of the biggest names in fantasy. He'd recruited people like Terry Pratchett, Stephen King and Robert Jordan. Initially GRRM thought that he wasn't established enough in epic fantasy to contribute (as only A Game of Thrones had come out and he was deep in the writing of A Clash of Kings) but the money on offer was large and it was pointed out he'd get a good cross-pollination from other authors' fanbases reading his story and deciding to check out AGoT. George realised he couldn't write anything set during the series so did a prequel. When it was nearly done, George got a message from Silverberg telling him he'd heard that ACoK was going to be late and Legends couldn't be late for the marketing push it had been allocated, so Silverberg was going to drop George's story and had already commissioned a replacement. George ended up delivering his story on deadline, before several of the other authors had delivered theirs. That's why Legends has 11 stories rather than a more logical 10. George credits The Hedge Knight with helping massively boost the popularity of ASoIaF as a whole, as there was a very sharp increase in sales for ACoK compared to AGoT.

George noted that he had identified 12 possible stories/episodes from Dunk & Egg's life that could be expanded into short stories, including the 3 already published, so that's 9 potential further stories for the duo. From previous interviews we know that the next two - The She-Wolves and The Village Hero (both working titles) - are planned in some depth and The She-Wolves is partially or even mostly written, but GRRM wasn't sure what order to publish them in. Both are on hold until The Winds of Winter is done.

The first Game of Thrones spin-off TV show is still officially unnamed: Bloodmoon sounds like a codename (or - my supposition - the name of the pilot episode) and George still wants The Long Night (or, from another interview, The Longest Night). The pilot has finished filming and HBO will mull it over before pulling the trigger (or not) on a season order in a few months.

GRRM also repeated that the inspiration for the Red Wedding was the Black Dinner of Scottish history, in particular the more "colourful" account that the doomed clan leaders were serenaded with a death march song and had a black boar's head (the symbol of death) served to them at dinner before their execution, which most historians now seem to believe was a total fabrication ("But it sounded better"). His Red Wedding was the Black Dinner "turned up to 11" but the TV version was "turned up to 14."

Also a reiteration that Fire and Blood wasn't supposed to exist, it was supposed to be his contribution to The World of Ice and Fire in the form of sidebars that he wrote shortly after finishing A Dance with Dragons, but instead of 3,000 words he ended up submitting over 170,000 words (in earlier interviews he said closer to 300,000, but I wonder if the 170,000 is specifically the information on the Targaryens and the 300,000 includes all the info he contributed on the Empire of the Dawn, Iron Island history, etc, i.e. everything else in the book), as it had just all poured out of him in a few weeks (way back in the day he said it was around 2-3 months). His publishers were horrified, as it made World of Ice and Fire too big to be publishable. His co-writers Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson compressed almost all of it down and summarised it to fit into the book, leaving George with this big manuscript which he then chopped up to produce the three anthology stories (Princess and the Queen, The Rogue Prince and Sons of the Dragon). The motivation to publish Fire and Blood came when HBO started talking about prequel spin-offs and George realised the manuscript could be a potential source of new stories and information, although ironically the one HBO decided to proceed with had nothing to do with the Fire and Blood material.

Fire and Blood II is planned out - GRRM is relishing the chance to tell the story of Aegon IV and his mistresses - but not yet written, and can't be published until after ASoIaF as a whole is completed.

George did talk about his schedule in terms of the order of things he wants to publish things in. No dates were mentioned and the order sounded aspirational rather than set in stone:
  1. The Winds of Winter (natch)
  2. Dunk & Egg IV (either The She-Wolves or The Village Hero)
  3. A Dream of Spring
  4. Dunk & Egg V (either The Village Hero or The She-Wolves)
  5. Fire & Blood II
There will also be more Dunk & Egg short stories after the fifth one. As mentioned before he has twelve potential story ideas mapped out which will span their lives. He didn't mention Summerhall or how it would work scheduling the D&E stories versus F&B2, as presumably one of them will spoil Summerhall for the other, as his "constructive vagueness" over the events from World of Ice and Fire presumably won't fly again.

The schedule may sound "ambitious" given the long wait between ASoIaF volumes and indeed D&E stories, but if was suppose The Winds of Winter is closer to being done than not, take on board that The She-Wolves is mostly done and he effectively wrote Fire & Blood I in a few months, then the only question mark is really on ADoS, how fast it can be done and if it's really going to be the last book in the series. None of these questions came up, so I guess time will only tell on those.

George rounded off the interview by saying his favourite dragon in the series is Balerion, the Black Dread, and his favourite sword is Dawn, and dropped a hint that there is something unusual about the sword as it is forged from a meteorite.

Monday, 5 August 2019

BROKEN EARTH RPG in the works

Green Ronin are adapting N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth Trilogy as a tabletop roleplaying game for release this autumn.

Green Ronin already publish licensed RPGs based on George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series and James S.A. Corey's Expanse books, as well as tabletop version of BioWare's Dragon Age franchise.

Jemisin's Broken Earth series (comprising The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky) is one of the most critically-acclaimed fantasy series of the decade, selling over a million copies and winning an unprecedented three Hugo Awards for Best Novel. The series has also been optioned for television at TNT.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Stephen King writing a new ending for TV version of THE STAND

Stephen King has confirmed that he is rewriting the ending of his 1978 novel The Stand for TV.

The Stand depicts the collapse of civilisation when the world is ravaged by a "superflu" virus, and the subsequent battle between good and evil groups of survivors. One of King's biggest-selling and most beloved novels, it's also garnered a reputation for having a somewhat weak ending. The 1994 ABC mini-series retains this ending.

The new TV version will feature a revamped ending, penned by King himself, which will expand on the fate of key characters. Some versions of The Stand feature a different (and more depressing) ending, so it's unclear if King is drawing on this, or if he is just adding to the ending or rewriting the "deus ex machina" nature of the ending altogether.

The Stand is a ten-episode limited series for CBS All Access, starring James Marsden and Amber Heard. It starts shooting shortly, to air on CBS All Access likely in late 2020.

Empire of Grass by Tad Williams

The kingdoms of Osten Ard are in turmoil. A resurgent Norn threat in the north threatens Rimmersgard and northern Erkynland. The tribes of the Thrithings are in turmoil, a conflict that threatens to spill across the borders into Nabban and Erkynland. Hernystir is in danger of falling under the power of a dark cult. Civil war threatens in Nabban. The High King Simon and the High Queen Miriamele both try to tackle these issues, but the number of their reliable allies is falling and their grandson and heir is missing. But the threat is greater and closer than they think, as for the first time in thousands of years, the deathless queen of the Norns prepares to leave her stronghold.

The Witchwood Crown marked the start of The Last King of Osten Ard, a fresh trilogy picking up thirty years after the events of Williams' break-out work, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. It was a slow-paced novel but one that had to set up an awful lot of plot points, as well as revisiting characters from the first trilogy and introducing new ones. At the end of the book things kicked off, with Prince Morgan fleeing into the Aldheorte Forest, Unver beginning his unification of the Thrithings tribes, Miriamele setting off on a dangerous mission to Nabban and a band of Norns confronting a dragon.

Empire of Grass picks up on these plot points and expands on them, ticking along at a faster pace than the first novel (helped by it being a slightly shorter book), with us rotating between events in Nabban, the Hayholt, Aldheorte, the grasslands, Nakkiga, Naglimund and other locations quite rapidly. The key difference between the two trilogies is that Memory, Sorrow and Thorn was focused very tightly on Simon with occasional cutaways to other characters, but Last King is a broad-spectrum, multi-POV, multi-location, full-on epic fantasy series with a lot more going on in different places. The loss of tight focus may be bemoaned by some, but it does at least present us with a really epic story told on a huge scale.

Empire of Grass is also important in that it identifies the long-missing children of Josua and Vorzheva, whose identities and destinies have driven a lot of discussion by fantasy fans for well over a decade. We learn more about the twins and where their paths have led them, with a real sense of mythic power that both may hold the fate of the world in their hands, despite not being primary POV characters. We also learn more about Vorzheva, but Josua remains missing, with a hunt for him by agents of the crown forming an intriguing subplot through the novel.

As usual, Williams' gifts remain in atmosphere, with his stately worldbuilding and measured prose, and characterisation. I've seen criticism of the first book stemming from Simon's apparent lack of success in being king, but I see this as Williams simply furthering his subversion of epic fantasy tropes that began way back in 1988 with The Dragonbone Chair: it turns out that a kitchen boy with no background in statecraft might not be the best person to make king. It's made clear that the more experienced Miriamele is a far better ruler and the real power on the throne, which helps better explain why things get worse once she leaves for Nabban. The assumption that the guy who saved the world in the first series would automatically be a greater ruler who never did anything wrong is a bit odd, and is Williams' exploration of the question George R.R. Martin asked of Tolkien about Aragorn: yes, he may have been a great warrior, but does that mean has great insights into tax policy and crop rotation techniques?

If Williams does have a slight weak spot it's political intrigue: Nabban sets up the facade of being a hotbed of double-crosses and Xanatos gambits, but the final revelation of what's going on in Nabban is more than a little simplistic and lacking, with the villain explaining why they are doing everything and might as well have twirled a moustache in the process. There's also a decided lack of explanation as for why the powers in Nabban think they can win a multi-pronged conflict against multiple enemies simultaneously, which is what they seem to be setting up at the end of the book.

There's some great battle scenes, as the Norn invasion gets underway in full, and some excellent character beats (particularly among the Norns and half-Norns of Operation Dragon Retrieval, probably the best storyline in the new series). There's also some decided repetition stemming from Williams' decision not to expand the story to new geographical areas. The big battle takes place on the site of an already massive battle from the first trilogy, and seeing Morgan struggle through Aldheorte Forest for dozens of pages on end might have been more compelling if we hadn't seen Simon do exactly this in the first trilogy, even visiting many of the same exact places along the way.

Where Empire of Grass is most successful is furthering the themes that The Witchwood Crown explored so thoroughly: ageing, losing loved ones and the younger generation not listening to its elders and making the exact same mistakes all over again. There's a melancholy strain in this trilogy which recalls Tolkien at his best.

Empire of Grass (****½) is a somewhat tighter and better-paced book than its forebear, developing the first book's stories, characters and themes well, and setting things up splendidly for the final novel in the series, The Navigator's Children, which I would be expecting to be published in 2021. The novel is available in the UK and USA now.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Miryem's father is the village moneylender, but his kindness and gullibility means he isn't very good at his job. When Miryem takes over, she finds ways of turning silver into gold and getting those who have taken advantage of her family for years into paying up. Her skills are so great they even attract the attention of the supernatural Staryk, who make her an offer: turn silver into gold three times and she can become a queen. Miryem seeks to defy the Staryk, leading her into a very dangerous alliance...

Naomi Novik is a former video game designer turned fantasy author, best-known for her epic "Napoleonic Wars but with dragons" series, Temeraire, and her single-volume fantasy Uprooted. Spinning Silver is another stand-alone fantasy, a modern fairy tale which pits a young woman against the lords of winter with the fate of her homeland and her family in the balance.

The opening 100 pages or so of Spinning Silver are as fine a slice of modern fantasy as one could wish for, with vivid descriptions of the landscape, an excellent depiction of small town politics and life and a small but memorable cast of well-drawn individuals. Miryem's development from hapless young girl to accomplished businesswoman is well-handled and the transition from a straightforward rustic story to one of an emerging supernatural threat is compelling.

Where the book starts to falter is that decision that, rather than keep this a small-scale fantasy, the author decides to make the story more epic, bringing in events in the capital city, multiple new POV characters, a second supernatural threat, the emperor of the land, religion (the main characters are Jewish, although the setting is fictional) and other elements as well. And it has to be said this transition does not work quite as well as it should. Novik's strict, disciplined POV structure and tight writing does not handle the expansion in scale very well, and the story becomes diffused as too many new elements are added into it. I was put in mind of Peter Jackson in Hobbit Trilogy mode being asked to handle a fresh adaptation of Snow White and by the time he's done with it, it's a trilogy with a cast of thousands and an incongruous Orlando Bloom cameo.

This is not to say that Spinning Silver is a bad novel, just one where the strong elements are drawn out over far too long a page count and constantly interrupted by less-interesting characters, side-plots and, oddly, a lot of words spent on the economics of luxury apron trading. When the novel is firing on all cylinders, it's phenomenally atmospheric and richly detailed. When it isn't, it becomes a bit of a slog, not helped by an awkward POV device where we have to spend the first paragraph or two of each new POV shift trying to work out which character we're now with. This is fine in the opening hundred pages when we only have two POVs, but when we get to the end of the book and there's half a dozen in play, it's more of an issue.

Eventually the book ties together is disparate plotlines and we get a somewhat satisfying end, but it feels like the book has to take a lot of unnecessary detours to get there.

Spinning Silver (***½) is well-written with lots of great individual scenes and moments, but the overall pacing and structure is awkward and flawed. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

J. Michael Straczynski and Brandon Sanderson developing a new urban fantasy TV show

In very interesting news, SF TV writing legend J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5, Sense8) is working on a new urban fantasy project with bestselling fantasy author Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn, The Stormlight Archive).

A pilot for the prospective series is being written for the USA Network, with Straczynski promising to "turn the tropes of the genre on its head." Not much more information is available than that, but arguably the best SF TV scriptwriter in the business and one of fantasy's best worldbuilders joining forces is exciting news.

Straczynski, whose autobiography Becoming Superman is earning rave reviews this month, is also working on a novel for HarperCollins Voyager, whilst Sanderson is hard at work on his fourth Stormlight Archive novel.

Updated with Comments from Brandon Sanderson:

Hey, sorry I've been slow to reply to this thread. This is Dark One, the story I've talked about for years--and which I think I finally cracked open how to do a few summers ago. I wrote what I think is a pretty solid outline, but it was obvious to me it was paced more like a television show than a novel, so I went hunting some partners.
Basic premise is that a guy from our world finds out that a fantasy world has prophesied he'll become the next Dark One of their world, so they decide to assassinate him before that can happen. It's been fun to work with Joe; he's quite the character. We did pitches for this early in the spring, and got some good reactions and some nibbles from Hollywood. That's about all I can say right now, unfortunately, but hopefully Joe will be writing up a pilot soon and we can see where that takes us.