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.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

A History of the Wheel of Time Part 6: After the Breaking

A map of the Ten Nations which endured between the Breaking of the World and the Trolloc Wars. Please click for a larger version.

After the Breaking
As the Breaking of the World entered its period of greatest intensity, many people living in the port cities fled on boats, planning to ride out the cataclysm entirely. Given the excellent construction and huge sizes of boats in the Age of Legends, and their relative lack of use in the War of the Shadow, they achieved this goal. Huge flotillas of ships gathered in the seas off the coasts, watching as the lands crumbled or new islands reared up from below. As the Breaking lessened and the storm clouds cleared, these people made landfall on the new islands that had appeared further south, on the equator. But, though they built cities here, their hearts had been lost to the sea, and it was to the sea that they returned. The great ships of the Age of Legends gradually fell apart, the secrets of their construction lost, and all eventually sank to the bottom of the ocean, but these island-dwellers built others made of wood, though smaller.

Thus began the civilisation of the Atha’an Miere, "The People of the Sea", more commonly called the Sea Folk. Theirs is the oldest civilisation in the whole world, forged during the Breaking itself. From their distant islands they spread to the ones nearer the continents, to the islands today called Qaim, Cindaking, Tremalking and the Aile Somera, Aile Jafar and Aile Dashar (though it seems that the Aile Dashar, lying to the west of the Blighted Lands, were later abandoned). The Sea Folk returned to the sea, trading with the mainland cities and exploring distant oceans, but some chose to remain on the islands, becoming known as the Amayar. A distinct race (usually shorter and fairer than the Sea Folk), the Amayar followed a semi-pacifistic code of honour known as the Water Way and came to believe that life was an illusion, a gateway to a higher plane. Despite their odd beliefs (to the Sea Folk), the Amayar also proved to be gifted craftspeople and made superb works of art out of porcelain, which they gave to the Sea Folk to trade.

On the mainland, the city of Tear grew in size and from it settlers emerged to found new towns and cities. Near the new west coast of the continent another great city was founded, Mainelle (now called Tanchico), which grew around three great peninsulas extending into the ocean.

As new cities and towns arose, the Da’shain Aiel made their way slowly eastwards. Within the first few decades After the Breaking (AB) they had reached a towering mountain range which the locals called the Spine of the World, or the Dragonwall. The locals gave the Aiel food, water and shelter, the first people in a long time not to curse them or spit on their name. The Aiel remembered their kindness, and vowed one day to repay it. The locals told them they planned to move further west, to the banks of a great river, and there found a city. This they did a few years later, forging the city of Al’cair’rahienallen. The Aiel, meanwhile, became divided as they crossed the mountains. One group, tired of the wandering, broke off and headed back into the new lands to the west. They remembered the One Song they had sung in the Age of Legends, and vowed to find it again. The other Da’shain disavowed them for breaking their oath to serve the Aes Sedai, and afterwards called them "The Lost". The exiles wandered back across the land, remaining true to the Way of the Leaf no matter what provocation was thrown at them. After a while they gained a new name, the Tuatha’an or "Travelling People". They travelled in multicoloured wagons and made a living fixing pots and pans for the villagers they visited. For this they gained the nickname "Tinkers".

As they travelled the Aiel began to become divided. Some forsook the Way of the Leaf and took up the spear to defend their people. To the east of the Dragonwall lay a vast, scorched land of burning heat and no rain. To survive in such a hard land, the Aiel had to become hard themselves. The Way of the Leaf had no purpose here. Soon those willing to wield the spear outnumbered those who remained faithful to the Way of the Leaf. These last remaining faithful Aiel became known as the Jenn Aiel, the True Aiel. The Aes Sedai travelling with them, the last Aes Sedai, it seems, alive from before the Breaking, despaired, but at last they reached what they judged to be a worthy location: a valley under a great mountain, which they called Chaendaer. In this valley they began building a huge city, Rhuidean, and within its walls they stored the ter’angreal they had brought with them from Paaran Disen, centuries ago. They also planted one of their chora cuttings, and the first chora tree since before the Breaking grew. They called it Avendesora, "The Tree of Life". In the Age of Legends chora trees lined every major avenue and street in every city in the world. Now only one was left, though many more seeds endured.

But the journey had been too tiring. One by one the Aes Sedai dwindled and died. Soon only two were left. Whilst the Jenn laboured on their city, the other Aiel had spread out, forming septs and then clans. These clans fought one another even as they fought outlanders, people who came across the Dragonwall to explore, or to trade. Then the last Aes Sedai summoned the Aiel leaders to them. They told them that within Rhuidean they had prepared special ter’angreal which contained the complete history of the Aiel race, from before the drilling of the Bore to the present day. Aiel warriors wishing to become clan chiefs, or Aiel women wishing to wield to become Wise Ones (both Aiel channellers and women of wisdom), would go into Rhuidean and enter that ter’angreal. Only when they had faced the truth and survived it could they take up their assigned roles. Before they died, the Aes Sedai left a prophecy behind them. One day a man would come from Rhuidean with the dawn at his back. He would be the Car’a’carn, the Chief of Chiefs. He would take the Aiel back across the Dragonwall, where he would forge them anew into one people, the strongest nation in the world. But he would then destroy them, shattering them on the bedrock of history forever. Yet, only under his rule would a remnant of a remnant of the Aiel survive to see the dawn of a new Age. The Aiel would know the Car’a’carn when he came marked with two dragon-serpents on his arms.

The Aes Sedai perished and, within a few generations, so did the Jenn. Rhuidean was never completed and never occupied, becoming a testament to the history of the Jenn and the Da'shain Aiel. The Aiel splintered into twelve clans which battled amongst themselves, but always they sent clan chiefs and Wise Ones to Rhuidean, so the true history of the Aiel race would remain with them, and they would never forget the oaths they had broken (though only the Wise Ones and clan chiefs knew this history; they did not share it with their fellows).

Meanwhile, in the lands to the west of the Dragonwall things were settling down. Separated by the Breaking, those women able to channel the One Power came together again in a great conference to decide on their fate. Around sixteen major factions of these "Aes Sedai" had formed and countless dozens of smaller groups as well. This conference took place in 47 AB (the earliest known definitive date we have access to). By the end of the conference these factions had melded together to become the ancestors of the modern Aes Sedai. The founding factions maintained their individuality by forming ajah, groups dedicated to one particular ideal or purpose. In the Age of Legends ajah were temporary voting blocs, but these ajah quickly became rigid and unflinching in their outlook on life. The first vote they took was the decision to build a new base of operations. By now they knew that Dragonmount marked the last resting place of the Dragon and, to remind themselves that one day he would be Reborn, they decided to build their new city in sight of the mountain. They quickly found an ideal spot, a two-mile wide, eight-mile-long island in the midst of a great river, the Erinin. They sent representatives to distant parts of the subcontinent, seeking stonemasons and builders of great skill to forge their city for them.

During the Breaking most, if not all, of the Ogier fled their stedding as the chaos and destruction grew. The longer they stayed away from the stedding, the more they felt a desire to return. Eventually this desire, the Longing, as they called it, began to kill them if not satisfied. In the end, they did rediscover the stedding before too many died, but now the Longing came upon them again if they left for too long, killing them if they did not return. After the Breaking the Ogier discovered they could carve stone almost as well as they could sing seeds or transform wood with their voices alone. Thus, when the Aes Sedai looked for builders for their city, they looked for the Ogier.

Half a century passed between the unification of the Aes Sedai and the beginning of the construction of their new base. During this period they tracked down other, smaller groups claiming to be Aes Sedai and joined forces with them, forcibly at times. On a few unfortunate occasions the false Aes Sedai resisted, and some were killed or stilled. By 98 AB the Aes Sedai were whole. Also by this time the sixteen original ajah had coalesced into the seven Ajah of the present day, the Blue, Green, Yellow, Brown, Grey, White and the Red. Respectively these Ajah were concerned with politics and causes, battling Shadowspawn, recovering Healing and other lost Talents, seeking out knowledge and wisdom, mediating disputes, dealing with problems using pure logic and actively tracking down men who could channel and gentling them.

By around 90 AB the Aes Sedai organisation was taking shape. Elisane Tishar had been selected as the Aes Sedai supreme leader, the Amyrlin Seat. She had a council of seven advising her, one from each Ajah, and this council was called the Hall of the Tower, since it had already been decided that the actual centre of Aes Sedai power would be a huge tower at the heart of the city, which they had decided to call Tar Valon. As more and more women joined the Aes Sedai, so the Hall of the Tower expanded, eventually reaching its present size of twenty-one, with three Sitters from each of the Ajahs.

Construction of Tar Valon began in 98 AB, with the first buildings erected meant to house the Aes Sedai and the girls they were recruiting for training. Whilst the Ogier built most of the city, they could not do everything by themselves and normal human workers were brought in to build two immense harbours at the opposite ends of the island, Northharbour and Southharbour. Using the One Power, the Aes Sedai aided the Ogier in constructing the White Tower, their planned headquarters. The White Tower is the largest building on our continent, if not the world (although the Seanchan boast of larger buildings in Seandar), stretching some 600 feet into the sky and being more than 300 feet wide at the base, tapering to the 200-foot-wide top. Two additional wings were constructed to serve as additional living quarters, whilst a separate library was built at the rear, soon becoming the greatest repository of knowledge and wisdom in the known world. The Ajahs were based in the top half of the Tower, whilst the Amyrlin Seat’s offices lay about the midsection. The lower floors served as teaching rooms, kitchens and meeting places.

The White Tower was completed by around 195 AB and Tar Valon itself was finished in 202 AB. Though not the first city to be raised after the Breaking - Tear and maybe Mainelle (Tanchico) predate it - it was certainly the most glorious. No city would arise to challenge Tar Valon’s beauty until Londaren Cor was built (reportedly by the same Ogier stonemasons) some decades later and even that is heavily disputed (most impartial judges still cite Tar Valon as the more impressive). But no one city has ever gained the sheer prestige and power of being the home of the Aes Sedai.

A map of the White Tower in Tar Valon. Please click for a larger version.

The Founding of the Ten Nations
Whilst towns and villages had emerged even before the Breaking had fully subsided, and cities within a few decades after that, nations and countries did not begin appearing until a full century later. The Breaking depopulated the entire world, of course, and it would have been some time before population growth and expansion meant that it was necessary to create new kingdoms. But, by 209 AB at least, ten countries had emerged on the new continent.

This new land, born out of the Breaking, was - and still is - bordered by the Aryth Ocean to the west, the Sea of Storms to the south and the Spine of the World mountains to the east. More ominously, to the north lay a poisonous waste called the Great Blight. This was the successor to the Blighted Lands, the corrupted wastelands that formed around Shayol Ghul during the Age of Legends. Shayol Ghul itself had remained standing throughout the Breaking and now stood alone and threatening, several hundred miles north of the jagged peaks of the Mountains of Dhoom. Myrddraal, Darkhounds, Trollocs, Draghkar and even jumara (now called Worms and, fortunately, incapable of transforming out of the pupae stage) had survived the Breaking and dwelt in the Blight, sometimes launching raids into the lands immediately to the south. However, the Shadowspawn had suffered just as badly as humans and Ogier in the Breaking and lay quiet, only a minor threat, for many centuries.

Off the west coast lay three island chains belonging to the Sea Folk, the Aile Dashar, the Aile Somera and the Aile Jafar. At some point the Sea Folk abandoned the Aile Dashar, presumably due to its proximity to the Great Blight. Off the south-western coast lay the huge island of Tremalking, the largest isle belonging to the Sea Folk (but not their capital, as it is often mistakenly called). To the east of this island lay two others, Qaim and Cindaking. Beyond the Dragonwall lay a vast, inhospitable wasteland inhabited by a strange warrior-folk called the Aiel. Thus, it became known as the Aiel Waste. The Aiel were quite efficient in killing all outlanders who entered the Waste (apart from Tinkers, gleemen and merchants), so it was unclear what lay beyond it. Eventually the Sea Folk admitted the existence of another land, larger than the Westlands (as the people of the east refer to our subcontinent), variously called Kigali, Co’dansin, Shibouya and Shamara, among others. The most common name was and remains Shara. Shara had apparently been quite efficiently unified into one nation shortly after the end of the Breaking, but had no interest in conquering the Aiel Waste or our land. The Sea Folk undertook trade with them and, eventually, the Aiel agreed to let peddlers and small caravans cross the Waste to trade with the Sharans as well. The Sharans limited their "exposure" to our influences, insisting that the Sea Folk only call at five specially-built ports along their southern coast and the Aiel and westerners trade at six custom-built trade towns along the tops of the towering Cliffs of the Dawn.

What lay beyond the Aryth Ocean and the Sea of Storms? Only the Sea Folk in their great ships could traverse these huge seas, and many were lost. Eventually Sea Folk explorers returned home with reports of a land far to the south where primitive savages slaughtered one another with the One Power and with blades. These people were hostile, maddened and, it seems, completely uninterested in trade or even peaceful contact. Only recently have the Sea Folk revealed the existence of this continent to mainlanders. The Sea Folk dubbed this land "The Land of the Madmen" and refused to return there. A few ships which returned from the west claimed that only the "Isles of the Dead" lay there, lands of darkness and war where hideous monsters roamed and fought one another and the few humans who lived there.

So, within our land it came to pass that ten great nations arose. These nations were: Jaramide and Aramaelle in the north, along the Great Blight; Safer and Aelgar, on the Aryth Ocean; Eharonand Essenia in the south, on the Sea of Storms; Almoren in the east, along the Spine of the World; Manetheren and Aridhol, to the east of the Mountains of Mist; and Coremanda in the centre of the subcontinent.

All of these nations grew from city-states. Sometimes the cities allied for mutual benefit, other times they conquered one another and grew stronger, eventually becoming countries. Eventually their borders met those of the other nations. A few small wars broke out (the most brutal between Safer and Manetheren), but the rapidly-growing Aes Sedai mediated such disputes and settled their conflicts.

In 209 AB all of the rulers of these nations travelled to Tar Valon for a conference hosted by the Aes Sedai. With the world finally free of the Breaking, the Aes Sedai suggested that humankind should attempt to recover the lost glories of the Age of Legends. This they could do only by working together and living in peace (under the guidance, if not leadership, of the Aes Sedai, naturally). Thus was signed the Covenant of the Ten Nations, also called the Compact and the Second Covenant. This bound the Ten Nations together in peaceful alliance and mutual trade.

The Covenant of the Ten Nations lasted approximately 1,150 years and enriched all ten of the nations. Borders were open and taxes were light. Social graces and the arts flourished without the near-constant threat of the Breaking of the World and the War of the Shadow before it. Under these peaceful circumstances the Aes Sedai made significant strides in recovering many lost Talents and forms of the Power from before the Breaking. It was during this period that the Aes Sedai started bonding Warders, that is using the One Power to bond themselves to warriors who would serve as bodyguards. The rulers of the Ten Nations had initially been unsure how they could trust the Aes Sedai; in response the Aes Sedai swore the Three Oaths, using a ter’angreal known as the Oath Rod. The Three Oaths were bound into their souls and could not be broken any more than they could stop breathing. The Three Oaths were (and still are): to speak no word that is not true, to make no weapon with which one man may kill another, and not to use the One Power to do violence except against Shadowspawn, in the defence of one’s life, the life of a Warder or that of another Aes Sedai.

Relations between the nations and Tar Valon were excellent. All rulers had several Aes Sedai advisors and on several occasions Aes Sedai actually ruled nations. Queen Mabriam en Shareed of Aramaelle, who signed the Covenant for her country and was apparently instrumental in convincing the other rulers to sign, was Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah. Several other Aes Sedai also ruled countries between the signing and the end of the Covenant. Other kings married their Aes Sedai advisors. Yet Tar Valon was careful not to be seen treating these women with any favouritism, or manipulating them in any way.

Due to the Tower’s friendly relations with all the nations, they saw that all were made aware of the Prophecies of the Dragon. These prophecies, collected in a book known as The Karaethon Cycle, foretold the return of the Dark One and the Rebirth of the Dragon to fight against it. These prophecies were taken mainly from Aes Sedai Foretellings, but some also came from Dreamings, from Aes Sedai who could walk in Tel’aran’rhiod, the World of Dreams, and see hints of the future. All rulers were made aware - sometimes forcibly - of these prophecies. Many nations, fearful of panic should this news leak out, banned or proscribed the book, but all rulers had to read it and be aware of the signs of the Dragon Reborn’s coming. These signs included the fall of the Stone of Tear to him and "The People of the Dragon," his seizure of a crown made of swords, his branding with the signs of two herons and two dragons, and his mending of "the forgotten sign." Most of these prophecies were vague and could be interpreted in many ways, but one thing was clear. Without the Dragon Reborn, the world would fall into Shadow. With him, it would be destroyed again in a new Breaking, but a few at least would survive.

Despite this unease, these centuries were mostly peaceful, but exceptions occurred. The northern nations of Aramaelle and Jaramide often fought skirmishes and suffered raids from Shadowspawn erupting out of the Great Blight, whilst on occasion the eastern nations of Aramaelle, Almoren and Essenia found themselves exchanging raids and counter-raids with the Aiel clans whose lands bordered the Spine of the World. But the first major conflict did not take place until 335 AB. In this year a man named Raolin Darksbane discovered he could channel the One Power. Unable to accept the fact that he was doomed to go mad and die pointlessly, he proclaimed himself the Dragon Reborn and won many followers to his side. He led an army to Essenia, planning to seize the Stone of Tear, but despite a lengthy siege he never did. The Aes Sedai realised he was an impostor and denounced him as a false Dragon. The Ten Nations rallied against him and he was captured, taken to Tar Valon and gentled. His followers attacked the White Tower itself in an attempt to free him, but failed.

Sometime during this period the first legends of the Horn of Valere appeared. The Horn of Valere baffles both Aes Sedai and historians. It is clearly closely tied to the Wheel of Time and possibly Tel’aran’rhiod as well, but it is not, as far as can be determined, an angreal of any sort. The Horn also does not appear in any records of the Age of Legends, suggesting it was made during the Breaking of the World or not long after. The Horn, it is said, can summon the dead heroes of the Ages back to the corporeal world for a while, to fight or to talk to the living. The Prophecies of the Dragon state that the Horn of Valere will be used at the Last Battle against the Dark One, though it is unclear whether the Dragon Reborn will be the one to sound it. The Horn loomed large in the legends of the city of Dorelle Caromon (which is now Illian). Rulers of the city, in Eharon and later Safer and now Illian, would periodically call "Great Hunts" to search for the Horn. These hunts would result in many legends and adventures taking place, but the Horn was never found. The last Great Hunt took place circa 600 NE.

The nations were at peace with themselves and one another and, for a while at least, it seemed that the glory and peace of the Age of Legends might be reclaimed. Alas, it was not to be.

Please note that Parts 7-8 of this series are also available to read now on my Patreon page and my other blog, Atlas of Ice and Fire, is currently running a Wheel of Time Atlas series.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs. The History of The Wheel of Time, SF&F Questions and The Cities of Fantasy series are debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read them there one month before being published on the Wertzone.

Microsoft (also) buys inXile Entertainment

Hot on the heels of the news that Microsoft has bought CRPG masterminds Obsidian Entertainment, it has also been confirmed that Microsoft has acquired fellow RPG studio inXile. Unlike Obsidian's acquisition, which was widely anticipated, inXile's is a surprise.

inXile Entertainment was founded in 2002 by Bryan Fargo shortly after he quit the company he founded back in the early 1980s, Interplay, after it fell into financial mismanagement involving outside investors. The company survived its first decade by making 3D console ports and then games for mobile devices.

In 2012 the company launched a crowdfunding campaign via Kickstarter for a new RPG, Wasteland 2 (a sequel to the classic Electronic Arts RPG Wasteland, which in turn had inspired the original Fallout). Released in 2014, Wasteland 2 was a significant sales and critical success. The company followed this up with Torment: Tides of Numenera (2017), a "spiritual successor" to the classic Interplay CRPG Planescape: Torment. Despite strong reviews, Torment sold poorly.

inXile's most recent game, The Bard's Tale IV (2018), attracted mixed critical notices and has also apparently not sold well. This pattern of low sales for their games and the reduced income from crowdfunding - although it should be noted that both Obsidian and inXile moving from the very-well-known Kickstarter platform to the obscure Fig system would not have helped - has likely made it necessary to consider selling the company.

inXile have almost completed work on Wasteland 3, which is due for release in 2019 and will now presumably be a Microsoft-branded game.

Intriguingly, both Obsidian and inXile started as Interplay and unusually (given the passage of 20 years) many of the same people work at both companies, raising the interesting prospect of them perhaps being merged to work on future projects, effectively recreating the "good old days" of Interplay in the 1990s.

Microsoft buy Obsidian Entertainment

Microsoft have bought Obsidian Entertainment, the veteran video game roleplaying game company. This comes a few weeks after the news was leaked into the media.

Obsidian Entertainment was founded in 2003 by senior staff working at Black Isle, the CRPG division of Interplay. Many of the founders had worked on Black Isle’s classic RPGs, including Fallout, Fallout 2, Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale and Icewind Dale II, as well as providing publishing support and assistance to BioWare on their Baldur’s Gate series.

Interplay was in serious financial trouble and the company was winding down. Various investors had been brought in to help right the ship, but their creative interference caused friction with the developers. Feargus Urquhart, Chris Parker, Darren Monahan, Chris Jones and Chris Avellone quit the company before it collapsed and established Obsidian Entertainment. Initially working out of Feargus’s attic, they scored a lucky early contract when LucasArts contracted them to make the sequel to BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic, a Star Wars RPG. Despite a buggy release, Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords reviewed well and sold extremely well.

Obsidian then worked on a Dungeons and Dragons video game, Neverwinter Nights 2 (also a sequel to a BioWare game) before they teamed up with Sega for two projects: an original spy RPG, Alpha Protocol (2010), which was highly promising but released in a very buggy state, and an Aliens RPG that was cancelled.

Bethesda Studios then asked Obsidian to develop a follow-up to their hugely successful CRPG Fallout 3, noting that several of the creators of the Fallout series were still working at Obsidian. The result was Fallout: New Vegas (2010), an immensely successful and critically-acclaimed game. They followed this up with Dungeon Siege III (2011).

The company was then – ironically given today’s news – contracted by Microsoft to develop a launch RPG for the X-Box One, Stormlands. Obsidian spent a significant amount of money developing a demo for the game, which would be their first AAA, high-budget title. However, Microsoft grew frustrated that they couldn’t implement their Kinect control system into the game and cancelled it in 2012, which nearly drove Obsidian out of business, with half the studio’s manpower fired in one go.

They were saved by the decision to go to Kickstarter to crowdfund an old-skool CRPG. Project Eternity raised $4.1 million. The game was finally released in 2015 under the title Pillars of Eternity and was a critical and sales success.

In the meantime, the company also developed South Park: The Stick of Truth (2014), Pathfinder Adventures (2016), Tyranny (2016) and Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire (2018). They are currently working on a new CRPG with Fallout creator Tim Cain in charge. The nature and current status of the game is unclear.

The sale of the company to Microsoft is on the one hand unsurprising: having existed hand-to-mouth for 15 years and nearly going bust once already, it’s clear the studio heads wanted greater financial security going forwards. However, it does seem to betray the ethos of the company as an independent studio, one of the few left in the business, and particularly seems to be at odds with its recent image as studio-of-the-people, funded by fans to make proper, old-skool CRPGs. Despite assurances, it is unlikely that Microsoft will allow them to keep making niche games for small audiences, especially after Pillars of Eternity II bombed in sales on release earlier this year.

More concerning is that Microsoft does not have a good history with its treatment of studios it buys, frequently mismanaging projects, giving conflicting information, lowering and raising budgets without warning and finally shuttering the studio in confusion (a fate most notably shared by Lionhead). Recently the company has vowed to do better and bought up a large number of studios, promising minimal interference. In this context, Obsidian makes a good fit for their model: a proven studio capable of working on both large-scale and small-scale games, and arguably have yet to prove themselves with the resources of making a proper, AAA, big budget RPG.

Unfortunately, this means it is now unlikely we will ever see a New Vegas II or Knights of the Old Republic III, but it does raise the intriguing idea of Obsidian developing a new Fable game or even a Halo RPG. Whether this happens or they’ll perhaps be allowed to make Pillars of Eternity III as a 3D extravaganza capable of going toe-to-toe with The Witcher 3 and the Dragon Age series remains to be seen.

Friday, 9 November 2018

NK Jemisin sells one millionth novel

N.K. Jemisin has sold over a million copies of her novels, as Orbit Books have announced via the following helpful infographic.

Jemisin published her first novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, in 2010. Since then she was published an additional seven novels and multiple short stories and novellas. She has won three Hugo Awards (including a record-breaking three in a row for Best Novel for all three books in her Broken Earth trilogy), two Locus Awards and a Nebula in her career so far, which is still in its early stages. It'll be interesting to see what comes next.

Jeremy Irons to play an iconic character in HBO's WATCHMEN sequel series

SlashFilm are reporting that Jeremy Irons will be playing an older version of the character of Adrian Veidt, aka Ozymandias, in HBO's currently-shooting Watchmen sequel TV series.

HBO's new series, produced and written by Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers), is set approximately 30 years after the events of the original Watchmen graphic novel (and specifically the novel, not Zack Synder's 2009 movie) and picks up on storylines and characters. Veidt was the antagonist of the novel, but one motivated by what he claimed was altruistic goals: achieving world peace by faking an alien attack on New York City in 1985, giving the United States and Soviet Union a common enemy to unite against. Famously, Veidt succeeded in his plan and was left alive at the end of the story to live with the millions of casualties he had unleashed in the process.

Jean Smart (Fargo) is also playing a character, an FBI agent with the surname "Blake", the same as Edward Blake (aka the Comedian, whose murder kick-started the original story). SlashFilm suggest she may actually be playing Laurie (aka Silk Spectre), the daughter of Edward Blake and a key protagonist of the original mini-series, but this is supposition (although supported by her age).

Season 1 of Watchmen has been shooting for several months and is expected to air on HBO in the summer or autumn of 2019.

Disney+ streaming service to launch with new STAR WARS and Marvel projects

Disney have confirmed that their new streaming service will be called Disney+ and will launch next year with both Star Wars and Marvel mini-series. 

Leading the charge will be a Marvel spin-off show focusing on the character of Loki, with Tom Hiddleston set to reprise his role from the Thor and Avengers films. It is believed that the show will be set some time before the events of Infinity War (and Thor: Ragnarok, which directly leads into Infinity War).

Also up in rotation is a Star Wars series focusing on the character of Cassian Andor from Rogue One, again with film actor Diego Luna reprising his role from the movie. The series will be (obviously) set before Rogue One and explore Andor’s background and presumably his early days carrying out missions for the nascent Rebel Alliance. Fans are hoping that Andor’s droid sidekick, K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) will also put in an appearance.

Disney have also already begun filming an ongoing live-action Star Wars TV series, The Mandalorian, for the network, helmed by Jon Favreau. Star Wars animation guru Dave Filoni is also resurrecting The Clone Wars for a 12-episode seventh season, some five years after the truncated sixth season aired.

On the Marvel side of things, Disney are also considering plans for a short-run mini-series focusing on Scarlet Witch, and a team-up series pairing Falcon with Winter Soldier. Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan are all expected to reprise their roles from the movies if these limited series go ahead.

Disney+ will also include most of the corporation's back catalogue of films and TV shows, including material from the Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm brands. Some material is currently under licence to other streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, and will have to wait until those licences expire. The first two Star Wars movie trilogies, for example, are under licence to Time Warner and will not be able to join Disney+ until 2024. Once Disney's acquisition of Fox is complete, it is expected that Fox's utterly enormous back catalogue of TV shows and movies will also start transitioning onto the service and (for R-rated material) the Hulu streaming network (which Disney acquired a controlling interest in from Fox).

Disney is planning to launch the service in late 2019, approximately a year from now.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

ALTERED CARBON anime in development

In somewhat surprising news, Netflix has confirmed that it is expanding its Altered Carbon commitment with a spin-off anime show.

To be written by Cowboy Bebop writer Dai Sato, the anime will take place in the same universe as the live-action TV series (the second season of which is currently in production), based on Richard Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs series of novels, and will expand on the universe and mythology of the setting.

A Pacific Rim anime is also in development at Netflix.

The news is part of a wider engagement by Netflix with Asian television, producing both original live-action series and anime for the network. Netflix is reaching saturation point in the American market and in order to continue growing, it will need to pick up more subscribers in Asia, Europe and elsewhere.

Altered Carbon's second season is expected to air before the end of 2019. The air date for the animated series is unknown.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Star Wars: Rebels - Season 4

The nascent Rebel Alliance has failed in its operation to liberate Lothal and has been forced to retreat to its new base on Yavin IV. General Syndulla's rebel cell remains committed to liberating both Sabine Wren and Ezra Bridger's homeworlds, but manpower and resources remain in short supply. Despite the apparently overwhelming might of the Empire, Ezra is determined to save his planet no matter the cost.

After four seasons and 75 episodes, Star Wars: Rebels has come to an end. The second Star Wars animated series produced under the auspices of Dave Filoni (after the well-received Clone Wars), Rebels holds the distinction of being the first piece of visual media released for the new Star Wars canon (preceding the release of The Force Awakens by a year) and also, arguably, the most consistently critically well-received part of it.

Season 4 opens with our heroes at a low ebb, having failed to retake Lothal but now motivated more strongly to help Sabine free her home planet of Mandalore. The first arc of the series focuses on Mandalore before the action moves back to Lothal, now a planet under brutal occupation with the Empire more blatantly engaged in strip-mining the world of its resources. Everything seems lost, but over the last few years Ezra has built up a large number of allies, people who owe him a favour and some unusual tricks with the Force, and now calls on every one of them to help free his world.

It's a stirring, classic Star Wars narrative, full of against-the-odds heroism, sacrifice, pulp adventure and pathos. Possibly alone out of the new-canon writers (barring maybe Lawrence Kasdan), Dave Filoni has found an excellent way of sticking to what makes Star Wars great, honouring its past and constantly coming up with new and fresh ideas to take the franchise into the future without burning down everything that went before it. The result is a genuinely interesting mix of familiar tropes and newer ideas, including the most comprehensive look at the Force and its questionable moral essentialism since the mighty Knights of the Old Republic II and Matt Stover's novels.

Being still primarily a kids' show (albeit one that adult Star Wars fans will get a lot of enjoyment from), the show doesn't get distracted too much by this stuff, but it's still good to see the universe getting fleshed out in greater depth. All of the characters get their moment to shine, especially Ezra as the mopey kid of the first season is now long gone, replaced by a mature and increasingly canny warrior who seems reluctant to fully embrace the ways of the Jedi but keen not to fall to the Dark Side either.

Continuity is also strongly pursued this season, as Filoni rounds off story arcs and character storylines stretching back to The Clone Wars. He doesn't get too self-indulgent in this, remembering that Rebels is primarily about its own cast of characters, but it's good to see long-standing storylines left dangling for many years finally wrapped up, sometimes tragically. But the focus is on our main cast of characters and the fact that they have to pass through the darkest moments possible before finding the light.

Complaints about this season are few. The awkward continuity of the show - which at one point has no less than three Light Side Force-users (technically not Jedi, but the distinction is thin) running around doing stuff for the Rebel Alliance less than a year before the events of A New Hope, but somehow no-one ever mentioned it to Luke - is still a bit unconvincing and the show's depiction of Grand Admiral Thrawn remains only a pale shadow of the Machiavellian, much more complex character of Timothy Zahn's novels. The "honourable rogue smuggler" archetype is also a bit worn out at this point, and having two such characters (Hondo and Vizago) playing major roles in the final season makes this a bit too obvious. Oh, and the loth-wolves becoming very major players in the final season comes a bit out of nowhere.

But beyond those minor issues, the fourth and final season of Star Wars: Rebels (****½) gives our band of heroes a worthy send-off and the hint that, some day, their adventures may continue (which sounds far-fetched until you realise a new Clone Wars series is indeed on the way). The season is available now in the UK (DVD, Blu-Ray) and USA (DVD, Blu-Ray).

Sunday, 4 November 2018

A History of the Wheel of Time Part 5: The Breaking of the World

Initially, at least, the Aes Sedai weren’t certain what had happened. Lews Therin and the Hundred Companions had set out on their mission and apparently succeeded. Certainly, there were no more sightings of the Forsaken and within days of the strike on Shayol Ghul the Shadow armies started collapsing, fighting each other even as they continued to battle the forces of Light

But something unforeseen had happened. A who managed to flee the Dragon Palace reported seeing him appear and start unleashing the Power chaotically, slaying those around him. The palace itself was partially destroyed and gutted. The Aes Sedai explored the palace and found the physical forms of the Seven Seals, apparently tossed aside like toys after Lews returned. The Aes Sedai took them to the Hall of the Servants for safekeeping. Then the first reports came in, of the Hundred Companions appearing and unleashing destructive waves of power, causing earthquakes and storms. Then male Aes Sedai reported that something was fundamentally wrong with saidin itself. It had become difficult and even dangerous to use. It seemed to be covered with something else, something slippery like rancid oil.

With Lews Therin dead Latra Posae Decume was elected First Among Equals. She was a formidable adversary of the Shadow, leading countless battles against the now-scattered armies. She became known as the Cutter of Shadow for her skill and hatred of Shadowspawn. Soon the aftermath of the War of the Shadow was over, the Shadowspawn scattered to the four winds. But by now other male Aes Sedai had begun to fall foul of the taint on saidin, and it became clear what had happened.

The male Aes Sedai who remained sane were fearful, but some took precautions. Many fled to Ogier stedding and hid there, sealed off from the One Power and insanity. Others worked alongside the females, trying to find a way of cleansing the taint. But it was useless; in the end, all men fell to the madness. And in that madness, they killed, and destroyed, and unleashed devastation and chaos.

How long it took for the chaos to spread across the entire planet is unclear, with some histories indicating that years may have passed between the actual strike on Shayol Ghul and the Breaking of the World getting fully underway. Certainly, time enough for those merely children at the time of the War of the Shadow to grow to adulthood and some semblance of maturity before the Breaking became unstoppable. Even by this period the Aes Sedai had not lost all hope for the men. A group of young male Aes Sedai, newly promoted, worked alongside the Aes Sedai in creating a tangible form of saidin and then successfully cleansing it, somehow, with saidar. This “reservoir” of the Power, as it became known, provided a finite but completely safe way of using saidin and saidar alongside one another. This source was used sparingly and had to be preserved no matter the cost. There may also have been an attempt to use the Choedan Kal to cleanse saidin, but there wasn’t a surviving sane male channeller powerful enough to use the male statue effectively.

Around this time one of the Aes Sedai, Deindre, had a Foretelling, a vision of the future. This vision showed that one day the Dark One would reach forth from its prison and plunge the world again into chaos and despair. The only hope for salvation was the continued survival of the Da’shain Aiel. This Foretelling also spoke that the Dragon would be Reborn to fight the Dark One at Tarmon Gai’don, the Last Battle. The surviving Aes Sedai ordered the Da’shain to depart from Paaran Disen forthwith. Knowing the Aiel would not go if they thought it was to protect them, the Aes Sedai gave into their possession most of their ter’angreal (including two access keys needed to control the Choedan Kal statues built by the Fateful Concord) and the remaining chora tree seeds and told them to take them to safety in lands far removed from the capital. The Aiel were reluctant, but eventually agreed. After their departure, the Aes Sedai gave the new reservoir of the One Power into the care of Someshta, the last surviving member of the Nym. They also gave into his care one of the Banners of the Light and one of the Seven Seals on the Dark One’s prison. Someshta departed the capital, taking his precious cargo with him.

The Aes Sedai now had one last matter to attend to: Callandor, the Sword That is Not a Sword. Callandor was a great sa’angreal, the most powerful ever made that could be used by itself. Apparently, it was made by Lews Therin Telamon (or maybe for him) as the ultimate weapon, but it had not been completed before the time came to strike at Shayol Ghul. Thankfully, he had been working on it in the Hall of the Servants and it had not been close to hand when he returned to the Dragon Palace to destroy his loved ones. The Aes Sedai now finished the sword and worked with the surviving male Aes Sedai in creating wards over it that could not be undone by any other hand than that of Lews Therin himself. A group of Aes Sedai carried the sword southwards, and out of history for a time.

Then the remaining Aes Sedai fled the city. Some caught up with the Aiel and joined their caravan as it made its way eastwards. Six others took the remaining Seals and scattered them to the corners of the world, though keeping a secret record of their location. The rest fled for their lives, for not long after a group of maddened male channellers came to Paaran Disen and destroyed it in a cacophony of fire and death.

According to sources of varying reliability, the Breaking of the World lasted no less than 239 and no more than 344 years. The chaos of this time is unimaginable to us today. In the course of these three centuries the entire world was devastated, shattered, broken and remade again. Most of the human and Ogier races were wiped out, along with most of the Shadowspawn. The continents were wracked by earthquakes and tidal waves. Old landmasses cracked and fell beneath the waves, whilst new lands arose. Mountains collapsed into plains overnight, whilst great steppes erupted into jagged mountain peaks. Wherever they went, the maddened male Aes Sedai tore apart what had been in order to make something new and chaotic.

As mentioned before, many male Aes Sedai sought refuge in the Ogier stedding and, for a time, were safe. But two threats arose to confront them. The most immediate was that, whilst immune to the One Power, stedding were vulnerable to shifts in the landscape around them. Many were torn apart by earthquakes or swallowed by the sea, whilst more still were suddenly lifted into the mountains or thrust into the middle of dark forests. Most of the Ogier grew fearful and fled for their lives. A few remained to watch over their Aes Sedai guests. But even seeing the chaos around them, the men grew restless and dissatisfied with their exile. For an Aes Sedai, channelling was as natural as breathing and almost as difficult to survive without. One by one, they departed, hoping against hope that the curse had worn off, or had been destroyed by others. But it was not so, and they also succumbed to the taint. Before they left, the Aes Sedai left a gift for their Ogier hosts. They created dimensional passages linking all the stedding together. Called the Ways, these passages allowed Ogier to travel the hundreds or even thousands of miles between stedding in a matter of hours or days. Though the physical positions of the stedding in the world shifted during the Breaking, the Ways remained stable and safe. The male Aes Sedai created the Talisman of Growing (presumably a ter’angreal) and left it with the Ogier Elders, allowing them to create new Ways as needed. Then they left, and soon went mad or were killed (or both).

As the Breaking continued the female Aes Sedai took to killing or gentling men whenever they found them, for as each male channeller died so the destruction lessened somewhat. Without Paaran Disen or the Hall of the Servants the organisation of the Aes Sedai had collapsed. Individual sisters could no longer communicate with one another. Curiously, most of the Aes Sedai alive during or before the War of the Shadow died during the Breaking, even those young enough to survive after it by four centuries or more. Latra Posae Decume, the last First Among Equals, died during this time. It seems that only the few Aes Sedai who joined the Aiel in their eastwards trek survived beyond the end of the Breaking.

The female Aes Sedai found young girls able to channel during their wanderings and taught them in the ways of using the One Power. Sometimes large groups would form, but often these would be broken up by natural disaster or attacks by roving bandits or Shadowspawn. During the Breaking all high technology was lost and people reverted to a semi-barbaric state, using first clubs and later swords and bows to defend themselves. Only the Aes Sedai preserved a true history from before the Breaking, but most people knew the name of the Shadow and the Dragon, and cursed them both, believing them in collusion for unleashing this destruction.

Eventually, however, the male Aes Sedai began to die off from the taint in vast numbers, alongside those killed or gentled by the female Aes Sedai. The storms began to die out, the earthquakes stopped, the tidal waves fell back into the sea and, generally, the chaos subsided.

During this period, the last few decades of the Breaking, the Aes Sedai who had been given possession of Callandor came to the south coast of their new continent. Here, at the head of a vast delta, they forged a huge fortress, towering up into the sky and looking like an artificial mountain. They called it the Stone of Tears, for the tears the world would shed when its purpose was fulfilled, and placed Callandor within, at the Heart of the Stone. These Aes Sedai then died, one by one, their purpose in life apparently fulfilled. The Stone was impregnable to assault and many people came to live here, eventually spilling over to form a city around it, a city they called Tear (the Stone would later become known as the Stone of Tear, of the city rather than referring to its destiny).

And then, one day, the last male Aes Sedai lay dead and the world heaved its last convulsion and settled. The Breaking was over, and the Age of Legends ended. A new age, the Third Age, had begun. It would be an Age of hope, for perhaps the glory of the Age of Legends could be regained. It was an Age of despair, for it had been Foretold that the Dark One and the Dragon would return to finish their war once and for all. Above all it was the Age of Prophecy, for what was to come had already been foretold and it cast a shadow of foreboding over all that was to follow.

Please note that Parts 6-8 of this series are also available to read now on my Patreon page and my other blog, Atlas of Ice and Fire, is currently running a Wheel of Time Atlas series.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs. The History of The Wheel of Time, SF&F Questions and The Cities of Fantasy series are debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read them there one month before being published on the Wertzone.