Saturday, 16 January 2077

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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.


Sunday, 19 August 2018

Steven Erikson releases original MALAZAN maps

Over on his Facebook page, Steven Erikson has begun releasing images of his original Malazan maps, including maps created for the novels and for the original roleplaying campaign (beginning in 1982) where the world was created. That map and a cleaned-up version I created are as follows (click for larger versions):



First up is his original world map. This map was created some time before work on the novels began in earnest (so probably late 1980s/early 1990s) and does not reflect some changes made for the books. The major differences are as follows:

  • Quon Tali is much bigger on a east-west axis. This was reduced for the novels.
  • Korel and Stratem were given over to Ian Esslemont to redesign in greater detail, hence why Korel doesn't look much like the map in Stonewielder.
  • Similarly with Assail and Jacuruku, also though they at least kept their general shapes (the cities noted on Erikson's map are not present on the book maps though).
  • Genabackis, especially in the north, was significantly redesigned for the books, and may have already been redrawn by this time (as noted in the errata section on the right).
  • Jacuruku appears to be too close to the east coast of Kolanse, and probably should be more central in the White Spires Ocean.
  • Reacher's Ocean was moved to the stretch of sea between NW Assail, SW Genabackis, NE Korel and eastern Quon Tali (where "Seeker's Deep" is marked now).
  • Seeker's Deep was moved up to between Genabackis and Seven Cities.
  • The Ilbain Ocean was renamed the Dryjna Ocean.
  • The Bager Sea was renamed the Sea of Kaltepe Kadesh.
  • The Cragg Sea was moved north-east to near Falar. The Horn Ocean was introduced in its stead.
  • Drift Avalii in the books is much, much smaller.
  • Lether appears to have been stretched somewhat on an east-west axis. There isn't enough room for the Wastelands and the Glass Desert on this version of the map.
  • Spelling: Shal Morzin became the Shal-Morzinn Empire, Cabil became Cabal, Leathers became Lether and so forth.

New and probably still-canonical information from this map:

  • There is a south polar continent, with a possibly-habitable extension moving up towards Assail.
  • The location and shape of the island kingdoms of Genostel and Umryg.
  • The shape of the far south and west coasts of Seven Cities.
  • The location of Shal-Morzinn, Perish, Nemil and Cabal.


Erikson has also posted the first map he used for a roleplaying campaign involving the Bridgeburners. This campaign took place in north-west Genabackis, in and around Blackdog and Mott Wood.


More maps are to come. It is interesting to note that the world maps D'rek created for the Malazanempire forum (and modified by myself) are very close to the original:


I recently covered the Malazan world in a series of maps over on Atlas of Ice and Fire. I get the sense I'll have to revisit these maps very soon.

Friday, 17 August 2018

HBO greenlights Damon Lindelof's frankly unnecessary WATCHMEN TV series

HBO has greenlit Damon Lindelof's frankly unnecessary Watchmen TV adaptation, having been impressed by an internal pilot filmed earlier this year.

...BUT MAYBE IT SHOULD?

Lindelof's new take on Alan Moore's graphic novel is actually a sequel to the original graphic novel, catching up on the world in the wake of the events of the original story. However, this TV show will not have any relation to Zack Snyder's faithful (possibly too faithful) 2009 feature film version, with new actors taking up the roles from the graphic novel and new characters coming on board.

Although Snyder's film had some merit to it, such as solid casting and some good imagery - it's still easily his best film - it was also slavishly overly faithful to the graphic novel but also revelled in the violence. If anything, a fresh adaptation that was both slightly looser and also had more time to tell the story properly might have some merit.

As it stands, a TV show set thirty years after the events of the original story, presumably with the original characters missing or very old, feels a bit pointless.

It might be that the show has merit: Lindelof, for all the much-deserved criticism he gets for his handling of the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies and Prometheus, did write some very good episodes of Lost (even if the last season had some issues) and his recent HBO project, The Leftovers, had an excellent critical and popular response. But it does feel that either an original, deconstructionist take on superheroes could have been attempted, or maybe a superhero property that hasn't had a relatively recent adaptation (such as Wild Cards).

As it stands, the purpose and appeal of this project remains somewhat head-scratching. HBO seem to planning on hitting the ground running on this project though, with the show planned to hit the screens before the end of 2019.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY casts Mr. Spock

Star Trek: Discovery has cast its own version of Mr. Spock, announcing that Ethan Peck will be playing the role in the upcoming second season of the show.


Peck will be the third actor to play the role in a major way, following Leonard Nimoy's 49-year-stint (from The Cage, filmed in 1964, to Star Trek: Into Darkness in 2013) and Zachary Quinto's portrayal in the J.J. Abrams-produced reboot movies starting in 2009. Quinto was expected to reprise the role in the upcoming fourth movie in the reboot series, but pay issues have put the future of that project in some doubt.

It was unlikely that Quinto was going to reprise the role in Discovery, partly because being set in different timelines may confuse audiences if the same actors play the same role, but mainly because the film and TV rights were split between Paramount and CBS over a decade ago and the two companies have been in competition ever since. With Quinto contracted to play the role for Paramount, it was inconceivable that they would release him to work for what they see as potential competition (especially as their movies have struggled financially, whilst CBS All Access has credited Discovery with a large boost in their subscribers, with Netflix also reporting solid international numbers). This was seemingly confirmed when Anson Mount was cast as Captain Pike, a role played by Bruce Greenwood in the reboot movies.

Peck is the grandson of Gregory Peck. His highest-profile role to date was playing Patrick Verona on 10 Things I Hate About You. He has also appeared on Gossip Girl, That '70s Show and Madam Secretary. To win the role of Spock, he had to meet with and win the approval of Leonard Nimoy's family, including his director son Adam (who is also married to former Deep Space Nine actress Terry Farrell).

Star Trek: Discovery's second season will start airing in early 2019.

Cover art for KELLANVED'S REACH, the next MALAZAN novel

Bantam Press have released the cover art for Kellanved's Reach, the next novel in Ian C. Esslemont's Path to Ascendancy series, set in the Malazan universe he co-created with Steven Erikson.


The book is the third in a prequel series, so far consisting of the well-received Dancer's Lament (2016) and Deadhouse Landing (2017). Esslemont and Bantam signed a three-book contract for the series but have indicated it may go longer, especially since the titular Ascendancy doesn't happen until around 100 years after the events of the next book and the series has sold very well.

The cover blurb:

The incessant war between the bickering city states of Quon Tali rages. So engrossed are the warring lords and princes in their own petty feuds that few notice that an upstart mage from Dal Hon has gained control of the southern seas. But some powers are alarmed. And in the meantime, as Purge and Tali indulge in what seems like a their never-ending game of war, a mercenary caught up in the fight between the two states suddenly refuses to play along and causes all sorts of chaos. Simultaneously, a pair of escapees from Castle Gris make their way across this ravaged landscape of flame and butchery. Their intention to seek out the legendary Crimson Guard.
And then there's Kellanved who could not care less about any of this petty politicking or strategy or war. Something other and altogether more mysterious has caught his attention and he - together with a reluctant and decidedly sceptical Dancer - traverse continents and journey through the Realms in pursuit . . . But this ancient mystery that has so captivated Kellanved is neither esoteric nor ephemeral. No, it is of an altogether darker and more dangerous hue. It involves the Elder races themselves, and more specifically - certainly more alarmingly - the semi-mythic, and universally dreaded, Army of Dust and Bone. 
Surely no one in their right mind would be so foolish as to embark on a journey from which none have returned? Well, no one except Kellanved that is . . . 
Returning to the turbulent early history of what would become the Malazan Empire, here is the third awesome chapter in Ian C. Esslemont's new epic fantasy sequence.

Meanwhile, in other Malazan news, Steven Erikson is working on The God is Not Willing, the first novel in The Witness Trilogy, which is set after the main Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence and focuses on what happens when Karsa Orlong finally returns home to northern Genabackis, along with following up events in Darujhistan. I'd wouldn't expect this book much before 2020.

In the meantime, The Second Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach will be released on 20 September (yes, next month). This collects the Malazan novellas Crack'd Pot Trail, The Wurms of Blearmouth and The Fiends of Nightmaria into one handy volume.

Monday, 13 August 2018

RIP Michael Scott Rohan

News has unfortunately broken that Scottish fantasy author Michael Scott Rohan has passed away at the age of 67.

Related image

Rohan was born in Edinburgh in 1951, apparently in the house next door to one where Robert Louis Stevenson resided. He attended Oxford University, where he started reading English but switched to Law, and got involved in an SF group. His first published work of genre interest appeared in the group's SFinx magazine. His first published story was "Fidei Defensor" (1977) in the anthology Andromeda 2 (edited by Peter Weston), which attracted praise from no less a personage than Ursula K. Le Guin ("an absolute knockout!"). A writer with widely varying interests, he co-wrote (with Allan Scott) a nonfiction study of the Viking era, The Hammer and the Cross (1980), and also wrote reviews for Opera Now. He also developed an interest in the home computing scene and wrote an introduction to the field, First Byte (1983), and sang and played guitar in a folk band.

His first novel was Run to the Stars (1983), a hard SF story, which was followed by a switch to fantasy with The Ice King (1986, with Allan Scott). The same year he published The Anvil of Ice (1986), the first in the Winter of the World series, which remains his best-known work. Five additional novels in the sequence followed.

Rohan returned to SF with The Spiral, a four-volume series set in a series of interconnecting parallel worlds, featuring such ideas as computer programs that can be used to empower magical spells.

Possibly Rohan's finest novel is The Lord of Middle Air (1994), a stand-alone which melds the history of 13th Century Borders Scotland with a fictional faerie realm.

Rohan's writing career was abruptly curtailed after the publication of the sixth Winter of the World novel in 2001, after he had been diagnosed with an incurable disease. He decided to dedicate the rest of his life to his family and to travelling, including visiting both Antarctica and the Arctic. Occasionally his publishers hinted that he was writing another fantasy novel, but alas none appeared.

This is sad news. Michael Scott Rohan wrote with skill and a poetical flourish, and showed an enviable proficiency across the fields of criticism, science fiction, fantasy and historical fiction. He will be missed.


Bibliography

Run to the Stars (1982)
The Ice King (1986, with Allan J. Scott)
A Spell of Empire (1992, with Allan J. Scott)
The Lord of Middle Air (1994)

The Winter of the World
The Anvil of Ice (1986)
The Forge in the Forest (1987)
The Hammer of the Sun (1988)
The Castle of the Winds (1998)
The Singer and the Sea (1999)
Shadow of the Seer (2001)

The Spiral
Chase the Morning (1990)
The Gates of Noon (1992)
Cloud Castles (1993)
Maxie's Demon (1997)

Nonfiction
The Hammer and the Cross (1980, with Allan J. Scott)
Fantastic People: Magical Races of Myth and Legend (1980)
First Byte (1983)

Saturday, 11 August 2018

New STAR TREK movie in difficulties over pay

The fourth film in the Star Trek reboot movie franchise (which began with J.J. Abams' 2009 film) has hit a major snag in development. Star Chris Pine - who plays Captain James T. Kirk - and guest star Chris Hemsworth - who played Kirk's dad in the first film and is returning in this one, presumably as part of a time travel story - are both claiming that Paramount has reneged on their previously-agreed pay deal and have refused to commit to the project until their previous pay package is honoured.

Chris Pine and Chis Hemsworth are part of the current Chris Movement in American cinema, a period exemplified by a profusion of Chrises in major blockbuster film franchises. Peak Chris began in 2018 when Evans, Hemsworth and Pratt co-starred in The Avengers: Infinity War and will conclude when its sequel is released in May 2019.

To rewind, the reboot Star Trek franchise began with Star Trek in 2009 and continued with Into Darkness in 2013 and then Beyond in 2016. Even before Beyond was released, producer J.J. Abrams (despite being busy working on the Star Wars movies) had apparently pitched and won early approval from Paramount for a fourth film featuring Kirk meeting his father, and early deals for the regular cast and Hemsworth were put in place.

However, a major snag then developed: Star Trek Beyond, despite positive reviews and being widely credited as the best of the reboot movies (and possibly the best Star Trek movie since the release of First Contact in 1996), did not do well at the box office. It returned $343 million against a budget of $185 million, a drop of $120 million compared to Into Darkness (which had an identical budget). It only just scraped into profit via home media sales and streamings.

Paramount's interest in a new film cooled - possibly not helped by Abrams' decamping from the franchise to work on The Force Awakens (2015) - and they began exploring other takes on the series, including possibly an R-rated film directed by Quentin Tarantino, to the bemusement of fans.

However, with Abrams making himself available again after The Force Awakens and Tarantino deciding to fit in another film before the Star Trek project, Paramount decided to push forwards with the fourth Star Trek film earlier this year, possibly buoyed by the success of Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access. Abrams' 2016 pitch was dusted down and put into development with new director S.J. Clarkson on board.

From the news reports, it sounds like Paramount wanted to renegotiate contracts on the basis of Beyond's underperformance. This would help lower the budget and reduce the cost of the movie compared to its forebears. Apparently the rest of the cast, including well-known (and healthily-remunerated) faces such as Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg and Zachary Quinto, had agreed to the adjustment to help get the film made. However, Chris Pine has recently established himself in the Wonder Woman movie franchise and Hemsworth has starred in six of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films as Thor (including this year's $2 billion-grossing Infinity War) since his previous Star Trek appearance, and neither are willing to drop their price tag.

Negotiations are apparently now suspended, although the film's development is continuing, which is usually a sign that the studio expects negotiations to resume and the problems to be overcome. Solutions would include dropping Hemsworth's character from the film altogether and adjust the script, recasting Hemsworth (which may be viable as his character was in the first film for about five minutes), recasting Pine (much less likely) or simply meeting their pay requests, or making a new pay deal somewhere between the two stools, although this may go down badly with other actors who have already agreed to pay reductions.

Whatever the outcome, it is likely the Star Trek movie franchise will continue. In the meantime, CBS All Access has doubled down on the success of Star Trek: Discovery by commissioning a series focusing on Patrick Stewart's character of Jean-Luc Picard at an advanced age.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Henry Cavill expresses interest in playing Geralt of Rivia in Netflix's WITCHER TV series

Henry Cavill, who currently plays Superman in the DC Universe movies, has expressed interest in playing the role of Geralt of Rivia in Netflix's upcoming Witcher TV series.

Fans are already on the case (Source: Bosslogic on Instagram)

Cavill has declared himself a huge fan of the franchise, having played the video games (recently completing a second playthrough of the enormous Witcher 3: Wild Hunt) and read the novels by Andrzej Sapkowski.

Fans have put forward many names for the role of Geralt in the TV series, with suggestions ranging from Black Sails and The 100 star Zach McGowan (who has also expressed an interest in the role) to Mads Mikkelsen, possibly as an older version of the character. Given that Sapkowski is Polish, the mythology of the series is informed by Polish sources and that the show will shoot in Poland, Polish actors have also been put forward, most notably Marcin Dorociński.

With casting reportedly getting underway in the next month or two, Witcher producer Lauren Hissrich may find herself with a bit of a queue of known Hollywood names forming, which is an nice problem to have.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

CBS All Access commissions STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION sequel starring Patrick Stewart

CBS All Access has commissioned a new Star Trek: The Next Generation sequel project starring Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard. This will mark the first time that Stewart has returned to the role since the film Star Trek: Nemesis in 2002.

Patrick Stewart with Star Trek: Discovery star Sonequa Martin-Green.

Although firm plans have not yet been confirmed - such as the name of the series and if it will be an ongoing series or a one-off mini-series - CBS and Stewart himself have confirmed that the project is moving forward. The new series will be set approximately 20 years after the end of Star Trek: Nemesis and will catch up with Picard's situation at that point in time. This will also be the first project to revisit the Next Generation "era" (which also includes spin-off shows Deep Space Nine and Voyager) since Nemesis.

Stewart has indicated that Picard will no longer be a captain, which is quite likely as Stewart is now 78 and, assuming the new series is set exactly 20 years after Nemesis in the year 2399, Picard would be 94 (humans in the Star Trek universe live significantly longer than now). Previous Star Trek novels and TV episodes featuring glimpses of the future have suggested that Picard might have been promoted to Admiral, served in a mentorship or leadership capacity at Starfleet Command and then become a Federation Ambassador, or possibly left Starfleet to pursue his love of archaeology.

It is also unknown if other Next Generation actors may appear in the new series, although Jonathan Frakes (who played Commander Riker) is involved in the new Star Trek projects at CBS All Access as a director, and may return for this new series.


According to Stewart, the writers haven't yet produced a script and they are still at the brainstorming stage. On that basis we may not see this new series air until 2020.

Wertzone Classics: Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson

A dark shadow has fallen across eastern Genabackis: the Pannion Domin, an empire of madness and death whose coming has been heralded by poison and chaos in the warrens of sorcery. The Domin's armies are now marching against the small city-state of Capustan, defended by an army of doubtful skill and the Grey Swords of Elingarth, a religious order of soldiers. Aware of this threat, the outlawed Malazan 5th Army - Onearm's Host - has allied with their former enemies: Caladan Brood's mercenaries, the Rhivi tribes, the Tiste Andii of Moon's Spawn and the city-state of Darujhistan. Their goal is to relieve Capustan and destroy the Pannion Domin. From the south comes another force, the punitive army of the Seguleh (consisting of an unprecedented three of the greatest warriors in the world). But the Pannion Domin is no mere mortal empire and three impossibly ancient, terrifying forces have joined together to spread its evil across the world, an evil which will challenge all that face it.


Memories of Ice is the third novel in Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen, returning the action to the continent of Genabackis, the setting of the first novel in the series, Gardens of the Moon and taking place simultaneously alongside the second, Deadhouse Gates. Memories of Ice is a direct sequel to Gardens of the Moon, so whilst is possible to start reading the Malazan series with Deadhouse Gates, it is not really possible to do so with Memories.

Like Deadhouse Gates, Memories of Ice consists of four major storylines proceeding in tandem. In the first, Onearm's Host has to ally with its former enemies to march against the Pannion Domin. This storyline follows the awkwardness of the former bitter enemies working alongside one another. In the second storyline, the entity Silverfox (created during the events of Gardens of the Moon) has summoned the undead T'lan Imass legions to undergo the Second Gathering, which will determine the future of the species and their endless (and increasingly pointless) war against the Jaghut, which has now spanned a quarter of a million years. In a third storyline, Toc the Younger and Onos T'oolan (both from Gardens of the Moon) find themselves on the other side of the continent, where they meet and ally with the Seguleh punitive army (all three of them) and the enigmatic sorceress Lady Envy. In the fourth, we join the Grey Swords as they strive to defend Capustan against utterly overwhelming odds. Numerous subplots - such as the fate of the Mhybe, Silverfox's mother whose lifeforce is inadvertently being consumed by her daughter; the journey of a T'lan Imass emissary with news of a desperate war on the distant continent of Assail; the misadventures of two necromancers and their long-suffering servants; and the story of Gruntle, a caravan guard who suddenly becomes something more - abound.

As with Deadhouse Gates, Memories of Ice is an epic and sprawling novel but which benefits from rotating its storylines on a regular basis to give the novel an impressive sense of momentum, so that it's 1,100 pages fly past at an impressive rate of knots once the story gets underway. That does take a little while, though. Memories opens slow, with the various forces gathering, and there's perhaps a couple too many intense strategy meetings near the start of the book as characters gather and discuss the plot. This is quite refreshing - the primary criticism of Gardens of the Moon is that Erikson fails to explain what's going on, whilst Memories of Ice is lot clearer on the stakes and what's happening - but it does mean that it takes a while for the story to start picking up.


Once it does, things don't let up until the end of the book. The storylines build towards a convergence (to use a favoured term of the author) in the city of Coral and it's fascinating to see the players moving towards this meeting. It's also interesting to see how our protagonists deal with having an unusual preponderance of force on their side, unlike the previous novel where the Chain of Dogs is up against superior odds all the way through the book. The combination of the Tiste Andii, the Bridgeburners, Caladan Brood, the Rhivi, the Barghast and, later, the Seguleh and the T'lan Imass give them an immense advantage over the Pannion Domin. This is later reversed when see what other forces the Seer can bring to the field, not to mention infighting within the alliance that threaten to shatter it, but it's unusual in epic fantasy to see characters realising the overwhelming power they have at their command and the moral responsibility this entails.

The Malazan series has always excelled in sometimes avoiding or inverting epic fantasy tropes and sometimes playing them straight, but always interrogating them. There is a lot of blood-letting, duels, battles and sorcerous enfilades in the series, but the cost of such violence is always laid bare. The core themes of the Malazan series (and one that I think belies its occasionally-claimed status as grimdark) are compassion and the moral cost of whatever conflict is to be fought. Actions result in consequences, some of which can stain the soul, and Memories of Ice is the novel that most directly, painfully and tragically deals with this cost, particularly through the moving story of Itkovian, the soldier who volunteers to carry the guilt and trauma of thousands on his own shoulders. The Malazan Book of the Fallen is a tragedy and Memories of Ice is perhaps the novel that most dramatically embodies that, through the awe-inspiring finale (still one of the finest in all of fantasy fiction) at the city of Coral.

There are a few minor issues. In terms of pacing, the book takes a little longer to get going, so in that sense it's not quite as tight a novel as Deadhouse Gates (which is a clear 200 pages shorter as a result). Whilst the central conflict - the battle against the Pannion Domin - is resolved in this novel, the book is also a little more plugged in to the story arcs that will span the rest of the series, most notably the saga of the Crippled God. It's highly arguable - fans have been arguing about it for seventeen years so far - but it's also debatable that a late-novel act of profound treachery was set up a bit too obviously and supposedly intelligent characters should have picked up on that earlier and stopped it, but this feels a little bit too pedantic a complaint and one reliant on hindsight.

Memories of Ice (*****) almost matches the dramatic power and intensity of Deadhouse Gates, perhaps falling a little short in structure and tightness but making up for it with the sheer scope of the tragic (and traumatic) final battle. This is a fantasy novel about compassion, forgiveness, war, peace, sacrifice and everything inbetween, related through a huge cast of interesting and sympathetic characters. (Very) arguably, the Malazan series will never quite reach these heights again, but will often come close. One of the strongest books in the series and one of the very finest fantasy novels published this century. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.