Friday, 30 November 2012

Official: WHEEL OF TIME has sold lots of books

Tor Books have put up an interesting - if rather hyperbolic - video discussing the Wheel of Time sequence and its impact and influence on the fantasy genre. Obviously as a marketing release from the publisher, it's a bit of a fluff piece (the considerably mixed reception WoT has had in the wider world is not mentioned), but it does feature some interesting new info on the sales figures of the series.

Yup, the oft-quoted figure of 44 million sales, it transpires, refers to the United States and Canada alone, not a worldwide figure. This is surprising news and since it comes straight from the horse's mouth (in this case Tom Doherty's, the head of Tor Books), must be taken as fact. Given the normal ratio of North American sales to the rest of the world is about half of the total sales, that should put worldwide sales of Wheel of Time in the region of 80-90 million. Which is a lot, and considerably more than previously thought.

There's some interesting stuff in the rest of the video (which includes soundbites from Brandon Sanderson and Pat Rothfuss), although I think we can take the claim that 'lots happens on every single page' as a slight exaggeration of the amount of incident in the late-middle volumes of the series.

For comparison's sake, worldwide sales of A Song of Ice and Fire are closing rapidly on 20 million (of considerably fewer books) worldwide, whilst Terry Pratchett's Discworld series (which has considerably more) recently passed 70 million.

DRAGON AGE III will be a next-gen title

It's been claimed that Dragon Age III has been upgraded from a PS3/X-Box 360 title and will instead launch on the next-generation versions of both consoles. A date of (financial year) 2014 is given, tentatively giving credence to reports that the new consoles will launch before the end of 2013 and Dragon Age III may be a launch title for them.

Not entirely surprising news, especially given the rumours that BioWare may make Dragon Age III much more open and freeform than any of their previous titles (and more like Bethesda's RPGs).

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Graeme's Fantasy Book Review closes its doors

Graeme's Fantasy Book Review is sadly shutting up shop after almost six years of blogging on everything SF.

Graeme and Pat Rothfuss engaging in a terrifying stare-off. Pat might have won this round.

Sad news. Having enjoyed his blog for many years, met Graeme at quite a few signings and had many a great chat with him, it's a shame to see him hanging up the blogging gloves. Best wishes to him in his future endeavours!

MERLIN to conclude after Season 5

The currently-airing fifth season of Merlin will be the last, according to the BBC and the producers.

This news came as a bit of a surprise. When the show started in 2008 the producers claimed to have a 'five-year-plan' for the show which they would follow until its end. However, last year the producers also claimed to have ditched this plan in favour of the letting the show continue as long as it was popular, and were actively planning a sixth season and beyond.

The reasons for this about-face are unclear, but the BBC, actors and producers are all claiming that the show has come to a natural conclusion and it hasn't been cancelled. In fact, the show is still pulling in seven million viewers a week, which compares favourably to what Doctor Who does in the same timeslot.

The current favourite theory is that since the show was originally planned to last five years, the actors were only contracted for five years. When the producers decided to continue the show beyond that point, they entered contract re-negotiations with the actors. Since most of the actors (Tony Head and Richard Wilson aside) were complete unknowns when the show started, their resulting boom in profile has likely meant that they would be entitled to far more money for additional seasons, which may have made the series too expensive to produce.

Whatever, the situation, apparently the two-part season finale can effectively pull double-duty as a series closer as well. Here's hoping they knew about the end early enough to effectively close down the major storylines.

The production company are considering early ideas for a potential spin-off series, whilst the BBC are developing new dramatic projects to serve as a potential replacement next year.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

EMPIRE STRIKES BACK writer hired to work on new STAR WARS movies

It has been revealed that Lawrence Kasdan, the scriptwriter of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, will pen either the second or third film in the new Star Wars trilogy. Michael Arndt has already penned an outline for the whole trilogy and will be writing the script for Episode VII. The remaining film will be penned by Simon Kinberg.

Kasdan's involvement has excited fans, since The Empire Strikes Back remains widely regarded as the highpoint of the original trilogy and the entire Star Wars franchise to date. Return of the Jedi is less universally well-regarded, though the problems with the movie (such as the replacement of the planned Wookie army with Ewoks) are more often blamed on changes introduced by George Lucas himself. Kasdan's work since Jedi is less well-regarded, with his biggest hit being The Bodyguard. However, Kasdan's involvement does add some credibility for the fans hoping for a return to the form of the original trilogy.

Kinberg's track record is spottier, with concern being voiced over his position as scriptwriter for X-Men: The Last Stand, widely-acknowledged as the weakest film in the franchise to date. However, he did work on the better-received X-Men: First Class as a producer, as well as co-writing the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes. Kasdan and Kinberg will also produce the new films in addition to their writing duties.

Kinberg's links to Matthew Vaughn - who developed X-Men: The Last Stand before dropping out and later directing X-Men: First Class - have strengthened rumours that Vaughn will be working on one of the new movies as director.

Monday, 19 November 2012

GAME OF THRONES Season 3 teaser

A teaser trailer for Season 3 of Game of Thrones.

I believe the voice-over is by Tara Fitzgerald, who is playing the role of Selyse Baratheon.

The Sandman: Brief Lives by Neil Gaiman

Delirium of the Endless has resolved to find her missing brother, Destruction. She asks for the help of her family, but the only one to respond positively is Dream. Recently dumped by a mortal woman, Dream needs something to take his mind off moping and decides this quest is the answer. He and Delirium set out on what promises to be an adventure...until people start dying and Dream is asked the impossible by his son.

Brief Lives is the seventh volume in the Sandman series, picking up after the events of the Fables and Reflections collection. In particular, it expands on the story Orpheus in which Dream's son awoke the rage of the Furies and was left in a dire predicament. Dream, who has been changed more than he will care to admit by a century's imprisonment at the hands of a mortal, finds himself in a situation where he requires Orpheus's help but the price that is asked in return is dire. This in turn has grave consequences that will extend across the remainder of the series's run. This dark undercurrent gives Brief Lives a lot of weight for something that starts off as a light-hearted adventure (or at least as close as Sandman ever gets).

The collection has a number of memorable characters, such as Destruction's laconic talking dog Barnabas, but it's Delirium who receives the most attention and development. Delirium talks in non-sequiturs and apparently has the attention span of a five-year-old, but during the course of the story we learn more about her and how she sees the world. We also get interesting glimpses of her former life as Delight, before she changed (for reasons even the other Endless do not understand). The collection also delves deeply into the purpose and nature of the Endless, explaining who they are and what they do. Destruction's conclusions about the Endless are somewhat disheartening and led to his self-imposed exile, but Dream does not accept those arguments (although Delirium does...but still maintains her duties). Brief Lives is thus about lives and even how those measured in millennia still feel brief when the end comes. There's also the ongoing themes of redemption, responsibility and consequence that have formed the spine of the series since its beginnings.

As usual Gaiman's writing is accomplished and the graphic format forces him to conciseness (avoiding the problem of indulgence that has occasionally blighted his prose work, most notably in American Gods). Characterisation is deft, with Delirium getting the most attention but even briefly-appearing characters like Despair get moments of humanity that may force the reader to reappraise them. There's also some great comic moments, such as Dream's raven-who-was-once-a-man Matthew having to teach Delirium to drive (with chaotic results) and Dream, in full moping mode, conjuring a rainstorm just so he can go out and stand in it and look forlorn, to the amusement of his minions. The artwork is appropriately dreamlike, with artists Jill Thompson and Vince Locke nailing the surrealness of such locations as Delirium's realm. However, the artwork arguably works less well in depicting the real-world locations and Destruction, in particular, feels a little underwhelming after his larger-than-life first appearance (based on Brian Blessed in Blackadder) in the previous volume.

The only other issue of note is that the storyline featuring the tracking down of Ishtar feels a bit pointless. Gaiman raises the issues of femininity, empowerment and the suggestion that prostitution and religion (which were linked in ancient times in several cultures) were separated to prevent the rise of matriarchal power groups, all of which is fascinating, but also underdeveloped in the context of the story. Still, Ishtar's final dance is a powerful scene and one that has some resonance through the rest of the story.

Brief Lives (****) is a very solid instalment of The Sandman and is the one that proves the turning point of the entire saga (though this may not be immediately obvious). It is available now in the UK and USA. The stories in this collection are also included in The Absolute Sandman, Volume III (UK, USA).

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Brad Bird rules himself out from directing STAR WARS

Brad Bird, the favourite choice as director of Star Wars Episode VII, has ruled himself out of the running. He will be too busy filming 1952, an SF epic written by Damon Lindelof, to work on the film. He is also still working on bringing his San Francisco earthquake disaster movie, 1906, to the screen.

A number of other directors have also ruled themselves out, including Zack Snyder (so no slow-mo lightsabre fights then), Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams. Joss Whedon hasn't explicitly turned it down, but he is busy developing the new S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, after which he will start work on The Avengers II for release in May 2015. This will prevent him from working on Episode VII, which has been also slated for a 2015 release (with May 2015, the 38th anniversary of the original Star Wars, a likely date).

This reduces the pool of possible directors to just a few credible figures. Joe Johnston, who most recently helmed Captain America, is a possibility due to his old-school pulp credentials (as well as Captain America he also helmed the cult favourite The Rocketeer) and his strong ties with Lucasfilm, having worked on the first three Star Wars movies and the first two Indiana Jones. However, Johnston is also working on Jurassic Park IV and will likely direct, which would also rule him out.

Guillermo del Toro is still working on post-production on Pacific Rim, which will be released in 2013, and is working on a new version of Pinocchio but doesn't have a firm project lined up. This makes him a possibility, with recent comments suggesting he would be open to an approach and a discussion about it. In the same article, Quentin Tarantino firmly rules himself out and is skeptical about a Disney Star Wars project being worthwhile.

Jon Favreau has also expressed an interest in directing. A self-confessed Star Wars fan who has an excellent relationship with Disney and delivered two high-grossing SF movies with the first two Iron Man films, he has to have a solid chance.

The smart money at the moment, however, has to be on Matthew Vaughn. He's a popular director, having delivered popular movies such as Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class. He abruptly pulled out of the First Class sequel X-Men: Days of Future Past (which will now be directed by Bryan Singer) last month, leaving him without a project and fuelling speculation that he had already been in talks to handle the new Star Wars movie.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Colours in the Steel by K.J. Parker

Triple-walled Perimadeia is one of the richest city-states in the world, famed for its teeming markets and its impregnable defences. After decades of trying fruitlessly to take the city, one of the plains tribes comes up with an ingenious idea: send one of their own to get a job in the city arsenal and learn its secrets from the inside.

Even as an ambitious young chieftain's son plans the most audacious siege in history, life in the city goes on. Bardas Loredan, a former soldier, now works as a defence advocate. In the courts of Perimadeia cases are settled through swordplay and Bardas is very good at what he does...until a vengeful young woman hires the city's Patriarch to curse him.

Colours in the Steel was originally published in 1998 and was the debut novel by the enigmatic K.J. Parker. It's also the first in The Fencer Trilogy, although it also works quite well as a stand-alone book. It can be best described as a sort-of anti-epic fantasy. The trappings of much of the subgenre are present: swordfights, large armies, sieges, military manoeuvres, magic (more or less) and prophecies (kind of). However, most of this is window-dressing, with the focus being on Bardas Loredan and his troubled family life, and on young Temrai, the chieftain's son and spy who ends up plotting the genocide of a city he actually quite likes.

As with Parker's later books, Colours in the Steel has a cynical vein of black humour running through it. There are musings on the futility of revenge, the pointlessness of warfare and the quite insane meanderings of the military bureaucracy (there's more than a whiff of WWI incompetence to the leaders of Perimadeia and their military judgement during the siege). There's no glorification of warfare, with both sides suffering heavy losses and wondering if it's all worth it. However, there is also a distinct love of military hardware. In fact, Parker devotes pages to how swords are forged, how siege engines work and are built and on the best ways of defending a city under siege from a superior enemy. Colours in the Steel belies the tendency of much of epic fantasy to be pure escapism, instead educating the reader on matters mechanical and mathematical more effectively than most science fiction novels. Sometimes the deviations onto the best way to make a trebuchet work go on for a bit too long, but Parker's writing skill is enough to keep even the most detailed descriptions of gears and counterweights interesting.

Long-term readers of Parker will know that she(?) has little truck with gratuitous worldbuilding. There is no map and the legal system of Perimadeia seems to have been created more for dramatic effect than any desire to create something that would work on a practical level. There is no 'magic system' either, with the city's Patriarch cheerfully acknowledging that he has no idea about how magic (the Principal, which actually seems more like some kind of limited prophetic or telepathic ability) works. What does work quite well is the subplot where the Patriarch and his best friend try to lift the curse the Patriach put on Bardas (without understanding what was going on), only to find other forces getting involved. Parker doesn't spell out what's going on with this 'magical' plot and it's left to the reader to piece together what it all means, which shows respect for the reader's intelligence.

The book's biggest success is in its characterisation, although it has to be said that Bardas himself is painted a little too straightforwardly. Those who are familiar with the whole trilogy (particularly his actions in the second novel, The Belly of the Bow) will be aware that there are good reasons for this, but newcomers may find Bardas a little too obvious as a protagonist. However, the rest of the cast are painted well, particularly Patriarch Alexius and his friend Gannadius who spend a lot of the book as outside observers and commentators on what's going on before having to get involved. Bardas's brother, Gorgas, is also a fascinating and contradicted character. Whilst definitely being a nasty piece of work, he also has his own sense of honour and fair play. He doesn't play much of a role in this novel, but is set up well for the sequel.

Colours in the Steel (****½) is a striking debut novel. It has the requisite amounts of well-depicted carnage and military activity for an epic fantasy, but it's focus is much more on the characters, their motivations and the realisations they lead to. The book is also darkly funny. It's an excellent example of an epic fantasy novel that uses the tropes and limitations of the genre to say something a bit more interesting than normal. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Episodes 3-4 of BSG: BLOOD AND CHROME

The third and fourth episodes of the Blood and Chrome pilot have been officially released to YouTube:

Some interesting stuff, including our first proper look at a Colonial warship that isn't a battlestar. However, Blood and Chrome's insistence on reusing existing BSG actors is getting a little bit silly: the Osiris jump officer is played by Ty Olsson, who had a recurring role on BSG itself as Captain Kelly, the Galactica's third-in-command. And the commander he's reporting to was Gunnery Sergeant Hadrian in the first season of BSG. I know Vancouver doesn't have an infinite supply of actors to draw upon, but the constant re-use of the same actors in different roles supposedly showing up forty years part is not helping to suspend disbelief.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

HBO unveils GAME OF THRONES Season 3 poster

Early days, so not much info so far apart from the already-confirmed airing date:

The image has a few nice features to it. The three swords are clearly a reference to it being the third season and the reason for the swords as a motif is because the season is based on A Storm of Swords (or rather, the first two-thirds of it or so). The backdrop might also be a reference to the Wall, which will figure prominently as a destination this season (at least, if it goes by the book).

As for when we'll see the first footage, I'd put my money on a teaser of some kind after the finale of the third season of Boardwalk Empire, which airs in the USA on 2 December.

Terry Pratchett to pass DISCWORLD onto his daughter

In an interview with The New Statesman, Terry Pratchett has confirmed that his daughter Rhianna has received his blessing to work on additional Discworld projects after he passes away or is no longer capable (he is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's). He has already made her a producer and writer on The Watch, a new TV series based on his City Watch Discworld novels, and has give her permission to write new Discworld books once he has hung up his pen.

Rhianna Pratchett already has writing form. She has worked in the computer game industry for many years, originally as a writer for PC Zone magazine and The Guardian's computer games section before penning the storyline for the Overlord series and Mirror's Edge. Most recently she has worked on the new Tomb Raider game. This is appropriate as Terry Pratchett is a noted fan of the original games, once even considering writing a game called Tomb Stocker which would centre on the hapless minions who stock those tombs fall of traps and puzzles.

When this transfer would take place is not certain, with Pratchett noting that when he has to stop writing he'll be "incredibly angry." Pratchett also revealed that he suffered from a cardiac emergency whilst in New York on a signing tour last month, requiring CPR from his assistant to survive. He brushes off the incident, noting that, "I once heard it mentioned that signing tours can kill you quicker than drugs, booze and fast women. Some of which I haven’t tried."

The interview also hints at major news on The Watch to be revealed soon, as casting is now underway for the series.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

STARCRAFT 2: HEART OF THE SWARM gets a release date

Heart of the Swarm, the first of two expansions for StarCraft II, has had its release date confirmed. The Zerg will attack in force on 12 March 2013.

Staggeringly, this is almost three years after the release date of StarCraft II itself, which seems rather extreme for an expansion. The game will feature at least 20 new missions, with the storyline picking up some two years after the events of Wings of Liberty. The focus of the game will be on the character of Kerrigan and her attempts to regain control of the Zerg following her defeat at the end of StarCraft II itself.

Blizzard had previously claimed that Heart of the Swarm would be 'expansion pack-priced', which in the UK is about £19.99. However, the price currently listed for the title is £32.99, or about £3 more expensive than the typical cost of a full-price game in the UK. Blizzard have so far not explained the rather excessive discrepancy.

Ice and Fire by David Wingrove

2201. Chung Kuo, the world-girdling city ruled by the Seven T'angs, is caught in a struggle between two ideologies. The T'angs favour stability and stasis. The House, the bureaucratic body that rules City Europe in the T'angs' name, advocates change and progress, exemplified in their construction of a generation starship. The Seven are now faced with the choice of allowing their Empire of Ice to be swept away by progress or by launching a pre-emptive strike to win back control of the situation...but risk triggering a civil war.

Ice and Fire is the fourth volume in the 'new' version of the Chung Kuo series, picking up shortly after the events of The Middle Kingdom. As well as being a continuation of that novel (understandably, as Ice and Fire was originally published in 1988 as part of the original Middle Kingdom), it also contains a number of self-contained character and story arcs standing against the epic events unfolding from previously.

If Ice and Fire does have a self-contained theme, it's the hope of the young to bring a brighter future than what their elders have achieved, only for that hope to be eroded by cynicism and, in some cases, cruelty. The novel focuses on characters such as Li Yuan, the heir of one of the T'angs, who hopes to be an intelligent and fair ruler but is distracted by his love for his murdered brother's widow. Ben Shepherd is a highly intelligent, gifted artist who is also ruthlessly intelligent and able to see what others cannot. Kim Ward is a young boy from the Clay, the darkest, lowest levels of the world city, who has shown an aptitude for science and engineering. However, Kim has also discovered the Aristotle File, a document which exposes the lie that Chung Kuo is built upon.

Wingrove manages the character development of these individuals with surprising effectiveness, given the slimness of the volume (under 300 pages) and the large number of storylines that are in motion. There are also complex political machinations between the Seven and the House, whilst Howard DeVore (the series' main antagonist) is manipulating both sides to his own ends. It's a busy novel, somewhat less relaxed than its immediate predecessor, and is a fast-paced read.

The book suffers from two distinct weaknesses. The first is a result of Corvus, a small (-ish) publisher, picking up the series. Rather than publishing the series as ten 600-800-page novels (still a lot shorter than the individual volumes of many epic fantasy series) over three years, they have chosen to publish it as twenty 300-400 page ones over six. This has its benefits (each book is a concise and fast read), but it also risks frustration as each book stops just as it is getting going. There are also cost issues (buying twenty hardcovers, paperbacks or ebooks is simply more expensive than buying ten, whichever way you cut it). Ice and Fire is the first book in the series where it feels like this is a bit more of an issue, and it may well become more of one as the series continues to progress.

The other is a notable rise in the amount of sex and violence in the book, including a torture sequence which recalls the more gratuitous excesses of Terry Goodkind (fortunately this torture sequence only lasts five pages, not the forty plus of a Goodkind novel). The sudden increase in such scenes feels a bit jarring after the first three books, which certainly were not for children but did not contain as many scenes. Probably not an issue for some readers, but definitely an element of concern (and, based, on how the original series unfolded, something that might become more notable in later volumes).

Ice and Fire (****) is a well-written, fast-paced and page-turning read. It suffers a little from its shortness, with the story cutting off just as it's getting going, but otherwise this is another solid instalment in what is turning out to be an impressive SF epic. The novel will be published on 1 December in the UK, and American readers will be able to get copies from the Book Depository.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Fundraiser for the American Heart Association

Some of the guys at are organising a fundraiser auction for the American Heart Association and are looking for donations. These do not have to be ASoIaF or even SFF-related and anything will be considered.

You can drop a comment on the thread there or here if you don't have a Westeros account: if you include contact information it will not be published and I will pass it on to the organisers. This is a cool idea, as it is being held in memory of two valued contributors to the Westeros forums who passed away recently, both quite young, due to associated health issues.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Command and Conquer 4: Tiberium Twilight

2077. Fifteen years ago, after multiple lengthy, bloody wars, the GDI and the Brotherhood of Nod have formed an alliance to bring the spread of Tiberium under control. The plan was successful and the 'Tiberium Control Network' has made Tiberium a cheap source of energy. However, a Nod splinter group led by the enigmatic Gideon has turned against Kane and is trying to spark a fresh war. This is not helped by the emergence of GDI splinter groups convinced that Kane will betray them. A new commander is recruited to lead GDI's fight against the Nod splinter cell, even as Kane's sixty-year plan reaches fruition...

Tiberium Twilight is the fourth and concluding game in the Command and Conquer 'core' franchise, the Tiberium Saga. Released in 2010, fifteen years after the original Command and Conquer, it had to tie up a lot of outstanding plot points and conclude the storyline whilst also being a solid and enjoyable game in its own right. It would be fair to say it was not a great success on either front.

On the story side of things, Tiberium Twilight's designers decided that, rather than bring a sense of closure to things, they would come up with an enigmatic and strange ending which would leave the player free to interpret what happened. Suffice to say, given this is a fairly schlock action SF story with some very cheesy acting, not Twin Peaks, this was not the right decision. To have the story end in this way after a decade and a half felt half-arsed and, even worse, potentially sequel-baiting: despite some sense of resolution, a C&C5 is eminently possible. The storyline is also cliched and formulaic, even by this series's standards, with the acting being cheesier than normal, apparently due to people trying to take it all seriously (apart from Joseph D. Kucan, who as normal hits the right note of entertaining camp as Kane).

In gameplay terms, Tiberium Twilight is a bit of a disaster. The previous game in the franchise, 2007's Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, was unexpectedly great. It was a successful distillation of the game's traditional format and concepts combined with more modern RTS developments to create a compelling game experience. It wasn't the best RTS of all time or anything, but it was very solid. C&C4, on the other hand, appears to have been designed by people who have never played a C&C game before. Base-building is out. Instead, at the start of every mission you deploy a 'crawler', essentially a mobile construction yard. All of your units are built from the crawler, which can deploy and redeploy at will. This, in itself, is not a huge problem as it does introduce some fresh tactical options and considerations to the game. However, what is a problem is that there are three types of crawler, and you can only use one at a time. An offensive crawler builds tanks, walkers and heavy combat units. A defensive one builds missile and gun turrets, as well as infantry. A support crawler deploys aircraft and superweapons.

In practice what this means is that you can't build men and tanks at the same time, and if you want to build turrets to defend your crawler, you can't if you also want an offensive army. If you want to mix-and-match units, you have to literally blow up your existing crawler and deploy a second one (and you can only do this a few times per mission). This is a deeply stupid decision, as it prevents you from building a mixed army and forces you to jump through ludicrous hoops to do anything on the battlefield, a problem not experienced by any of the previous eight games in the overall franchise and their numerous expansions.

However, as stupid as it is, it ends up not mattering very much. It takes a couple of missions to hit on a very straightforward winning formula: build an offensive crawler, deploy some Hunter tanks and Titan walkers with a couple of Engineers to repair them (maybe a couple of anti-air units in the last couple of missions as well), destroy the offensive crawler and replace it with a defensive one, and have it wander behind the main army, dropping turrets to help in firefights whilst your main army fights on. As long as you have 2-3 Engineers and a modicum of common sense, your army is pretty much invulnerable (and all three crawlers can build Engineers to replace any lost in battle). The removal of Tiberium harvesting (you can now simply build up to your unit limit with no hindrance) also removes a large amount of tactical planning from the game.

There are moments when Tiberium Twilight (**½) does come to life: the assault on GDI HQ and the final battle at the Scrin Tower are both entertaining, and show how a 'baseless' C&C game might work a bit better. But for the most part the game is repetitive and formulaic, shackled to a cliched storyline and cursed with an unsatisfying ending (not to mention some ridiculous DRM). For one of strategy gaming's most venerable and famous franchises, this is not the ending it deserved. The game is available now on the PC in the UK and USA.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

The Lands of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin & Jonathan Roberts

Okay, this is going to be a bit of a non-review because you probably already know if you are going to be getting this or not. Basically, it's a collection of full-colour maps of Westeros and Essos, the two continents which form the setting for the Song of Ice and Fire novels by George R.R. Martin. Either you're going to go, "Hey, awesome! I'm all in!" or be running away screaming for fear of being infected with Nerditis.

The map collection comes in a smart but somewhat non-durable folder. Don't put anything on top of it for long, as it really cannot support much in the way of weight. There's a single pull-out piece of paper with marketing speak on it (more or less the same as the blurb on the back ) and that's it for any kind of textual accompaniment. Those familiar with John Howe's excellent Tolkien maps, or the maps accompanying Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, will likely find this disappointing as those maps were accompanied by small booklets packed with geographical information (and in the Pratchett case, new canon material on geography). As it stands, we will have to wait another year for The World of Ice and Fire to clarify some of the new locations on these maps, and even then only some will be covered.

There are twelve maps drawn by Jonathan Roberts, each measuring 61cm x 92cm in size. There is a large map of the known world, which then has three larger, blown-up versions accompanying it, dubbed 'The West', 'Central Essos' and 'The East'. There are then larger-scaled-still maps of Westeros, Beyond the Wall, the Free Cities, Slaver's Bay and the Dothraki Sea. There are city maps of King's Landing and Braavos, and rounding off the set is a map called 'Journeys', which tracks the movements of the major POV characters across the five novels published to date.

In general terms, the art design for the world and continent maps is decent, falling between the aesthetically-pleasing and the informative. A selling-point of the set is the brand-new maps of central and eastern Essos, including the far east. This is the first time that Ibben, Qarth, Asshai, the Shadow Lands, Yi Ti, the Jade Sea, the Summer Islands and other oft-mentioned lands and cities have been depicted on a canon map: the map accompanying the HBO website for the TV series is canon only for the TV series and is based on early drafts that George R.R. Martin later substantially revised. There are also new lands and locations not previously mentioned in the novels, such as a newly-revealed fourth continent (named Ulthos) and a new, huge island just off Qarth named Great Moraq which seems to be a centre of trade. This stuff is interesting, but also highlights a problem with the map set: Martin seems so keen to provide new information about Essos that Westeros feels slightly neglected. But since Daenerys has apparently already reached the eastern-most part of her journey (in Qarth), showing these eastern lands is nice but ultimately irrelevant for the books themselves.

Westeros itself is mapped much as in the novels, with little or new information of note. Indeed, it's even less well-fleshed-out than the maps and info in the books: the castles and towns on the Iron Islands apart from Pyke are not mentioned, and whilst the Quiet Isle is shown, the Whispers (also from Brienne's storyline) are not. Long-standing fan questions, such as where Stone Hedge and Raventree Hall (the seats of Houses Bracken and Blackwood) are located, remain unanswered, whilst the huge tributary of the Mander (which is almost as big as the Mander itself) remains resolutely unnamed. The map is nice - although not quite as nice as the infamous map by forum-member 'Tear' on the Cartographer's Guild website - but not particularly useful compared to the maps in the books or available for free online. Also, given the fact that we have a fairly reliable scale bar with the Wall (which is almost exactly 300 miles long), the refusal to put a scale bar on the maps is strange.

Of the city maps, King's Landing is curiously lacklustre. The mapmaker was going for a sort-of 3D depiction but seems to have given up at some point, with lots of the buildings being rendered as 2D squares sitting alongside more pictoral 3D depictions, which doesn't really make sense. It's the weakest map in the collection, though fortunately also the least essential: Green Ronin's far superior colour map of the city (for the roleplaying game) is easily findable online, as is the handsome black-and-white map from the Meisha Merlin limited edition of A Clash of Kings. The city map of Braavos, on the other hand, is pretty good and definitely worth keeping a hold of during future reads of Arya and Sam's adventures in the city. However, the decision to map Braavos and not, say, the more vital locations of Winterfell, Harrenhal, Dragonstone, Castle Black or Meereen is curious.

The journeys map is a nice idea, but ultimately impractical with just one image. Maybe one map for each book would have worked, but showing the journeys of some twenty characters across five novels simultaneously on one chart results in an image that is overloaded. It particularly breaks down in the Riverlands, which ends up almost buried under multiple layers of arrows and lines. Still, a nice idea and it does clarify the immense distances that Daenerys has travelled compared to other characters.

The quality of the paper used to print the maps on has come under some fire, with good reason. Unfolding and refolding the maps results in noticeable wear on the creases, with white lines and cracking noticeable after just a few viewings. This encourages keeping the maps on permanent wall display (that is, if you have enough space). However, the pre-folded nature of the maps means that they show visible creases which makes that not an altogether satisfactory solution either. Some fans have reported success in getting rid of the creases, though the results are apparently variable.

Is The Lands of Ice and Fire worth getting? Despite the problems, it's still a fairly handsome collection of maps. If fantasy cartography is your thing and you're a fan of ASoIaF, then it's a reasonable purchase. However, if you're more interesting in hard information about the setting you're better off waiting a year or so for The World of Ice and Fire instead. As it stands it's more of a curiosity and a gift idea for people who are fans of the books than anything essential.

A size comparison of fantasy worlds

Something that may be of marginal interest. A size comparison of various fantasy worlds that I created:

At top-left is Westeros/Essos (the HBO version of the latter) from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. Next to it on the top line is J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, with Ansalon from the Dragonlance world next to that. Below them is Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time map (which was tricky to get right, as the distances given in the books are sometimes contradictary). At bottom-right is Raymond E. Feist's Triagia (on the world of Midkemia), the setting for most of his Riftwar fiction. At bottom-left is Faerun, the principal continent of the Forgotten Realms world.

Something that is surprising here is how small Middle-earth is compared to these other, later-created fantasy worlds.

Friday, 9 November 2012

BSG: BLOOD AND CHROME released on the Internet

The fate of the Battlestar Galactica spin-off series Blood and Chrome has been up in the air for a while, with SyFy passing on the series option but sitting on the pilot episode for ages. The question of when they would air it has now been answered. You can watch it right now, on the Internet for free.

Or rather the first 12 minutes here:

And the next 11 minutes here:

Both vids are viewable in full HD as well.

Blood and Chrome's pilot has been split into ten parts which will be released over the next few weeks. SyFy will then air the whole episode in February. The DVD/Blu-Ray will be released on 19 February.

Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony

Luis Fernando Lopez has escaped from a life of drug-dealing to gain respectable work as a bar manager for Anthony 'Gay Tony' Prince, one of the most famous club-owners in Liberty City. However, Gay Tony's business is not going to plan and he has been forced into some shady deals to keep things afloat. Lopez's skills are called into use to help Tony survive a brewing crime war...and resolve the mystery of some missing diamonds.

The Ballad of Gay Tony is the second of two self-contained expansions to Grand Theft Auto IV and - as of this time of writing - is the most recent entry in the Grand Theft Auto franchise. As with The Lost and the Damned before it, The Ballad of Gay Tony pursues its own storyline whilst also being a supporting part of the storyline of GTA4. Several missions cross-over with the events of both GTA4 and The Lost of the Damned, so players will finally get the full story to what's been going on in all three titles.

As is standard in the GTA franchise, the game casts you in the role of a guy of dubious morality who must fulfil a series of missions to complete the game. These missions are given to you by various characters, some of whom you help willingly and others more reluctantly. Between missions you can chill out, drive around the city, watch a bit of TV or engage in social activities such as playing golf. Later in the game other activities are unlocked, such as base-jumping from buildings or engaging in multi-vehicle races. You also interact with other characters through your mobile phone, from being able to call in favours (such as having cars or weapons dropped off at your location) to socialising with them in bars or clubs. However, unlike GTA4 where it famously got rather annoying after a while, characters rarely call you to ask you to hang out.

The meat of the game, as always, lies in the missions. Tony has gotten himself into debt with several gangsters, and to help pay them off Luis has to do various jobs with them. In several cases this backfires badly, but Luis does make one genuine friend in the form of the ludicrously OTT Yusuf Amir (voiced with ridiculous enthusiasm by comedian Omid Djalili), the son of a multi-billionaire with a curious predilection for stealing unobtainable vehicles (a tank, a combat helicopter and a subway car, which he plans to turn into a submarine). As the game continues, the self-contained narrative with Luis trying to save Tony's business entwines with the story of the previous games, with the fate of the famous diamonds finally being revealed.

The Ballad of Gay Tony is great fun. After the previous two games were criticised for being, by normal GTA standards, po-faced and restrained, The Ballad of Gay Tony brings back the crazy. The game features missions involving shooting up the harbour with a helicopter and throwing a nasty blogger out of an aircraft and then base-jumping to rescue him before he hits the ground (I guess some of those critical GTA4 reviews hurt Rockstar's feelings). Those who've missed the series' more demented sense of humour will likely welcome the lighter, funnier approach to this game.

Unfortunately, despite being a bit lighter than previous entries to the series, the game is not as successful as The Lost and the Damned in integrating the optional between-missions stuff with the main game storyline. In The Lost and the Damned the gang wars and bike races linked in with the central narrative, but in The Ballad of Gay Tony there is a bit of a disconnect between the base-jumping and multi-vehicle races and the main storyline. More connected are optional sequences where Luis has to manage the club overnight, but these get rather dull and repetitive quite quickly.

As a result, The Ballad of Gay Tony is dependent on its missions to succeed and they are pretty decent, with some great voice acting. The game's biggest success is developing a genuinely warm relationship between Luis - a heterosexual Dominican-American - and the gay Anthony Prince without descending into the cliches the Grand Theft Auto franchise gleefully normally employs. This relationship is explored in some depth and is surprisingly effective. This is in stark contrast to the game's failure to employ any female characters of note in the game, which is a bit more inexplicable.

The Ballad of Gay Tony (***½) is a fun game with some unexpectedly good development of character and relationships. The missions are entertaining, although the optional game elements are a bit less successful this time around. Overall, however, it sees out the Grand Theft Auto IV era in style. The game is available now in a collected package with GTA4 and The Lost and the Damned on PC (UK, USA), X-Box 360 (UK, USA) and PlayStation 3 (UK, USA). Grand Theft Auto V will be released in mid-2013.

STAR WARS Episode VII finds its writer

According to Hollywood sources, screenwriter Michael Arndt has written a 50-page story treatment for Star Wars: Episode VII and is a front-runner to write the full script.

Arndt has previously written Little Miss Sunshine (which he won an Oscar) and Toy Story 3 (for which he was nominated for an Oscar). He has also written the scripts for the in-production The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Oblivion, a major SF movie starring Tom Cruise. He is also working on an as-yet-untitled Pixar movie for 2015.

Arndt is a logical choice for the role as he has lectured extensively on Hollywood scriptwriting, often citing the 22-second climax of the original Star Wars (between Han Solo destroying one of the TIE Fighters during the trench run and the Death Star blowing up) as the perfect emotional end to a film.

Apparently the treatment is currently doing the rounds of directors, with copies sent to Brad Bird, Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams. Spielberg and Abrams are far too busy with other projects to be able to helm Episode VII, but could handle either VIII or IX further down the road. Bird is a firm fan-favourite choice for the role of director on the film but may also be unavailable, with him having committed to the disaster picture 1906 and then a big SF epic called 1952.

At the moment it appears that Disney want to include Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford in the new films, possibly in extended cameos as the baton is passed to a new generation of characters. Apparently the new trilogy will form an all-new story, not based on any pre-existing Star Wars storyline.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

Elisa, Queen Regnant of Joya d'Arena, has defeated the invading armies of Invierne. However, she finds ruling her new nation difficult. An outsider from another land, her commands are not respected and she faces challenges from both the nobility and the masses, whose taxes must pay for the rebuilding of the country. Elisa must also face down a renewed threat from Invierne. Defeated on the battlefield, they now play a game of misinformation and intrigue, with assassins stalking the rooftops of Elisa's capital. In the midst of this Elisa discovers a vital clue to the origins of the magic of her Godstone, but dare she leave the capital in the hands of her rivals to pursue this quest?

The Crown of Embers is the sequel to Fire and Thorns and is the middle volume of a trilogy. Like its predecessor, the book is an easy, light read but is unfortunately rather less successful. Whilst the first book featured a solid, eventful plot which unfolded with focused conciseness (a relief from the too-many flabby epic fantasies around), this second book is comparatively uneventful and repetitive. There are several assassination attempts, which are foiled. Elisa angsts over how to rule her kingdom more effectively, to no conclusion. She angsts who whom she should marry for the good of the kingdom, to no conclusion. She moons over a potential love interest, even in the middle of a dire assassination attempt. Rinse and repeat.

These problems are confounded by regressive characterisation of the lead: Elisa evolved, in a standard but nevertheless reasonably-well-handled way, from coddled princess to warrior leader in the first book. In this second volume she seems to lose all of the confidence and skills gained in the first book and becomes a lame duck ruler, unable to assert her authority. This would be more convincing had we not seen Elisa already weld a band of desert villagers into a fearsome guerrilla army. No real explanation is given for Elisa's fall from competence in this volume save it was necessary for plot purposes. Some of the secondary cast get some decent character development (such as Tristan, one of Elisa's potential suitors), but overall the characters are less interesting than in the first book.

Where the novel does spring to live is in its depiction of the unusual magic system and the revelation that a lot of what is assumed about the world's backstory may be untrue. But these moments where character (and reader) assumptions are overturned are fleetingly brief. Otherwise for the bulk of the novel we are subjected to pretty standard YA fantasy fare, with the added irritation of an undercooked love story that utterly fails to convince.

The Crown of Embers (**) is a serious letdown after the first novel in the sequence. There are flashes of inspiration and interest, but overall this is a book that is content to rest on its laurels rather than build on the successes of its predecessor. It is available now in the UK and USA.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

ELITE 4 Kickstarter announced

David Braben and Frontier Developments have put up a Kickstarter page for Elite: Dangerous, the long-awaited fourth game in the Elite series.

In visual terms, this was 1984's answer to Crysis II.

The original Elite was released in 1984 on the BBC Micro and is one of the most famous, seminal and game-changing titles of all time. It was an open-universe game in which you took a spaceship and could trade and fight your way across eight galaxies and some 2,000 star systems, all in (wireframe) 3D. It was the first major 3D game and one of the first games to give you total freedom in how you approached playing it. The sequel, Frontier: Elite II was released in 1993 and featured filled-in 3D graphics, multiple controllable spacecraft, an even vaster universe (hundreds of millions of procedurally-generated star systems in a - somewhat - accurate recreation of the Milky Way) and the ability to land on planets. The third game, First Encounters: Frontier II was released in 1995 and was notable for the number of bugs present in the game, resulting in a lawsuit between the developers and the publisher.

Braben has been teasing fans with the possibility of an Elite IV for many years before announcing this Kickstarter project. Braben indicates that raising funds the traditional way has been difficult, and he's only been able to spare a few developers to work on the project in moments of spare time, hence the decision to go down the Kickstarter route.

So far, mixed feelings. On the one hand, Elite was a seminal, brilliant game, a total gamechanger and one of the biggest steps forward in the history of the form. Frontier was also a very solid game, even if its ambition exceeded its grasp. However, the Kickstarter page is scant on details about the proposed title: no graphics or videos have been posted, which is odd for a game that's been in development (even if at a low ebb) for several years already. So far the only hard info that's been released is that the game will have modern graphics (as you'd expect) and some form of multiplayer component (as you'd expect). Otherwise there seems little to distinguish it from the X series of space sims or Chris Roberts's recently-announced Star Citizen (or even EVE Online, though presumably Elite IV will have direct 'twitch' controls rather than the mouse-driven interface of that title).

Still, with 10% of the funding already raised within hours of the announcement and even the BBC running a news story on it, it looks likely that this will be funded. Certainly a project worth keeping an eye on.

Coldplay drummer joins GAME OF THRONES cast

Will Champion, the drummer (and also occasional guitarist, bassist and singer) of Coldplay, has joined the cast for the third season of Game of Thrones. Champion will have a small role as 'a drummer'. Other details about his role are shrouded in secrecy.

Champion is the fourth notable musician to work on the show. Former easy listenin' crooner Jerome Flynn has a recurring major role as Bronn whilst ex-Blockhead Wilko Johnson is Ser Ilyn Payne, of course, whilst the lead singer of Snow Patrol, Gary Lightbody, also has a cameo role in the upcoming third season.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Batman: Arkham City

Several months have passed since Batman defeated the Joker's attempt to take over Arkham Asylum. Unfortunately, the asylum was almost overrun by Poison Ivy's out-of-control plants in the process, rendering it useless. To replace it, a section of Gotham City's run-down docklands has been sealed off and converted into a new prison and asylum, with most of the city's most dangerous criminals incarcerated there. Appalled, Bruce Wayne enters politics in an attempt to shut down the facility, only to find himself arrested and thrown into the prison. He has to survive, find a way of resuming his Batman persona and bring down both those running the prison and defeat its array of inmates at the same time.

Arkham City is the direct sequel and follow-up to 2009's Arkham Asylum. Arkham Asylum was the game that, after dozens of failed attempts, finally 'got' the Dark Knight and made him into a credible computer game character. It did this by giving Batman a strong, dark storyline to follow, an array of gadgets to use (both in investigations and combat) and welding together the 'gritty' approach favoured by Christopher Nolan's movies with the more colourful and bizarre world of the Batman comics. It also had a great combat system and some solid stealth mechanics.

The follow-up is, inevitably, bigger and more epic. Arkham City sprawls across a much vaster area than the old asylum and is open to exploration from the very start (the asylum unlocked section-by-section as you went through the game and was more linear). The game is also divided neatly into both the main storyline and a series of side-missions, some of which are quite lengthy and involved in themselves. The main storyline involves Batman having to face (and, in some cases, work alongside) villains such as the Joker, Two-Face, the Penguin, Mr. Freeze and Ra's Al Ghul before taking on the director of the prison, the sinister Hugo Strange. However, a ton of other villains show up in the side-missions, including Deadshot, Zasz, Killer Croc (though only in a brief cameo), the Mad Hatter and Bane. Rather than feeling over-saturated, like almost any superhero movie with more than two villains, this gives the game the feeling of existing in an already-extant world, with a large amount of optional information available (via the Batcomputer) to fill players less-versed in the DC Universe on who these people are.

As with Arkham Asylum, the game involves tracking down clues to solve mysteries and beating a quite staggering number of thugs into unconsciousness. The game's setting also allows you to spend quite a lot of time perched precariously on building corners, gazing broodily into the night before spotting some passing thugs beating up a civilian and swooping down to deliver some vengeance. The setting allows you to 'be' Batman even more completely than Arkham Asylum, which is highly satisfying.

That said, the open world environment does offer some problems as well as some improvements over the first game. The first game benefited highly from its focused, linear structure that gradually opened up the asylum as you progressed (and allowing you to backtrack and reach previously-inaccessible areas with later-acquired gadgets). This second game sprawls flabbily in its opening sections, with the game taking a while to give you some sense of what you are trying to do. Once it does and you're alternating the main storyline with optional sub-missions the game kicks into a higher gear, but it's a slight disappointment that Arkham City isn't on fire from its opening moments the same way its predecessor managed.

The biggest surprise from the game is that the bigger setting doesn't necessarily translate into a notably different experience from the first game. There's about half again as much content (I completed Arkham Asylum in 11 hours and City in about 17) and a few more major locations, but the game's bigger canvas often translates in you taking three minutes of rooftop-swinging to move between locations rather than a minute of running as in in Arkham Asylum. The game - surprisingly - reuses the same locations several times over missions just as Asylum did in a clear cost-saving move, and after a while you realise that more than 90% of the buildings in the city cannot be entered or interacted with other than swinging from their rooftops. The much bigger location certainly gives rise to some new gameplay experiences, such as chasing down a serial killer on a time limit before he strikes his next victim, but it's not as transformative to the gaming experience as you might expect. In fact, after a while I was regretting the fact that we didn't have a full Gotham City game, with you being able to explore the city of Gotham as a whole and using vehicles to help complete missions as well as Batman's gadgets (which, a few minor additions aside, are pretty much the same as in the first game).

Still, if Arkham City is less of Grand Theft Gotham and more Arkham Asylum Redux, that's no bad thing. Combat is still physical and rugged, undertaken with impressive animations and combos. There's a greater variety of moves and opponents which makes the combat varied without becoming over-complex. The stealth mechanic is still enjoyable, with the game being at its best when you can take out a whole room of enemies with no-one realising where you are. The investigation side of things is still somewhat lightweight, but at least nods at Batman's detective origins. The story is decent and the voice-acting is as superb as its forebear, with Mark Hamill again taking top prizes for his gleefully deranged role as the Joker in what is his swansong appearance as the character. The scene where the Joker is taunting Batman only to get side-tracked into a puzzled analysis of the final episode of Lost is definitely the game's comic highlight. The game is, overall, a ridiculous amount of fun once you get over the slight hiccup of the start.

Arkham City (****½) is available now in the UK (PC, X-Box 360, PlayStation 3) and USA (PC, X-Box 360, PlayStation 3).

Sunday, 4 November 2012

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

The early years of the 22nd Century. North America is crawling with 'virals', creatures of superior strength and stamina who feed on human blood and flesh. Most are unintelligent, but they are controlled by 'the Twelve', the original death-row inmates who were experimented upon to create the virals. Standing against them is Amy, the Girl From Nowhere, and her allies, a military force based in Texas.

The death of one of the Twelve has also resulted in the destruction of the virals he created. This reveals the path to victory and survival: kill the Twelve and end the viral threat forever. But this is easier said than done. After five years of failed assassinations the military are ready to abandon the mission, and only one last attempt can be made.

With millions of copies sold, translations in forty languages published and the film rights bought for a very high amount, The Passage was one of the biggest success stories of 2010. The Twelve is the direct sequel and the middle volume of a proposed trilogy (the final volume, City of Mirrors, is due in 2014). However, Cronin has gone to some lengths to try to avoid 'middle volume syndrome' by giving the book a number of self-contained narratives and character arcs whilst also continuing the story of Peter, Alicia, Amy and the other survivors of the First Colony and their war against the Twelve.

The Twelve contains much of the same that made The Passage a good book: good characterisation, evocative descriptions and a rich atmosphere. It improves on it in several areas as well. It's a notably shorter (by some 200 pages), more concise and more focused book with every chapter building up to the conclusion. The Twelve does repeat The Passage's structure of having an opening section (in this case the first third of the novel) depicting the fall of civilisation before moving to the post-apocalyptic 'present day'. There are numerous self-contained stories in this section which are compelling reads, but initially appear a little disconnected from the post-apocalyptic storyline. However, Cronin eventually loops most of these storylines back to the main story and explains their relevance.

The biggest problem The Twelve faces, which is much more present than The Passage, is that of adhering to the traditional post-apocalyptic, 'big showdown' type of storyline whilst trying to surprise a reader familiar with the rules and tropes of such storylines. Now the rules of this particular type of vampire/zombie story have been set, Cronin shows a surprising inability to surprise or startle the reader any more. Things proceed pretty much as you might expect them to: some reversals, a few capture-and-escape sequences and then a big explosive finale (literally, with some huge explosions and shoot-outs) and something of a happy ending, until the inevitable final chapter which ends on a cliffhanger note leading into the final volume.

This predictability extends to the villains, with the rulers of the human/viral colony being rather rape-happy towards their prisoners. Whilst the issue isn't simply tossed in for the sake of it (as it would have been in, say, a Stephen King book) and is treated seriously, it's still a disappointing cliche to indulge in, especially as otherwise the treatment of the female characters is highly positive (three of the primary POVs - Alicia, Amy and Sara - are all female and are the most well-developed characters in the book).

The Twelve (****) is a very solid read, with Cronin's skills with character and prose being undiminished and even a tad improved from the first volume. However, the storyline is a lot more straightfoward, and the book shows a general decline towards predictability and cliche - though well-written - which is disappointing. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Cover art: Feist and Gaiman

Some cover art for upcoming books. First up is Raymond E. Feist's Magician's End (US version):

Normally I don't post much about Feist (that whole, 'Fourteen years since he last published a good book' thing tends to get in the way), but this is somewhat noteworthy as Magician's End concludes the entire 30-volume saga begun way back in 1982 with Magician, bringing to an end the cycle of riftwars and interdimensional chaos to plague the world of Midkemia. Feist plans to move onto other works and worlds (including an apparent SF series) for a while, which can only be a good thing for the quality of his writing. Magician's End will be published in May 2013.

Meanwhile, Neil Gaiman's first full-length-novel-for-adults in eight years, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, will be published in June 2013. Cover blurbage:
“They say you cannot go home again, and that is as true as a knife . . .”

A man returns to his childhood village seeking comfort in memories of his youth and the friend who long ago transformed his life.

Once upon a time in a rural English town, an eleven-year-old girl named Lettie Hempstock shows a little boy the most marvelous, dangerous, and outrageous things beyond his darkest imagination. But an ancient power has been disturbed, and now invasive creatures from beyond the known world are set loose. There is primal horror here, and menace unleashed—within the boy’s family and from the forces that have gathered to consume it.

Determined to have their way, these otherworldly beings will destroy a meddling little boy if he dares to get in the way. It will take calm, courage, and the cleverness of the extraordinary Hempstock women—Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother, to keep him alive. But his survival will come at an unexpected cost. . . .

Storytelling genius Neil Gaiman delivers a whimsical, imaginative, bittersweet, and at times deeply scary modern fantasy about fear, love, magic, sacrifice, and the power of stories to reveal and to protect us from the darkness inside—a moving, terrifying, and elegiac fable for every age.