Saturday, 16 January 2077

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Saturday, 20 October 2018

A History of the Wheel of Time Part 3: The Collapse

As mentioned before, the Aes Sedai had thoroughly researched most possible uses of the Power by a couple of millennia into the Age of Legends and new uses were extremely rare in being developed. Scientists and Aes Sedai researchers began to bristle at the natural laws imposed on the One Power and looked for ways to circumvent them. Towards the end of the Age they concentrated their efforts on the True Source itself. 

The True Source – the vast and inexhaustible store of energy that turns the Wheel of Time and also supplies the One Power – is divided into two halves, saidar and saidin. Only women can use saidar and only men can use saidin (or so the catechism says). Yet, united together men and women could achieve far more than either working alone. A team of researchers based at the Collam Daan in V’saine focused their research on finding a way of combining the two halves or finding an undivided source of the Power and thus increase their achievements a thousand-fold.

There were various reasons for this. Boredom, possibly, played a part (paradise is only fun for so long), as did a genuine thirst for discovering new scientific frontiers and boundaries. Many of the scientists also craved recognition, since their field had not thrown up anything interesting or revolutionary in centuries, if not millennia. Certainly, the team leaders, Mierin Eronaile and Beidomon, wanted to add third names to their signatures. Exactly how many years was devoted to the project is unclear, though such a huge undertaking would surely entail tens of thousands of man-hours. The Sharom – the giant floating laboratory which dominated the skies above V’saine – and its abilities to delve deep into the Power were employed to help.

Mierin Eronaile was known as a beautiful, brilliant woman with a formidable intellect. However, she also desired recognition and prestige. During this period, she had a relationship with the First Among Equals of the Aes Sedai, a man named Lews Therin Telamon. When he left her, unsettled by her arrogance, jealousy and tantrums, she vowed to get even. A few years or decades later, when he married Ilyena Moerelle Dalisar instead, this resolve hardened into a cold obsession.

Eventually, after many false leads and frustrating dead ends, the researchers succeeded. Approximately one hundred and ten years before the end of the Age of Legends, they detected an abnormality in the Source. Further investigation revealed an apparently undivided source of the One Power, yet it was somehow sealed away by a vast flow of the normal Power. After some discussion the team decided to bore a hole through the barrier and thus be able to access the new source. They employed the full capabilities of the Sharom and used their most powerful channellers, augmented by angreal (devices that increased the amount of the Power one person could use) and sa’angreal (which increased the amount yet again, to truly staggering levels). Then, on one fateful morning, the experiment began.

Enough of the Power to shatter a small continent was channelled through the Sharom and into the obstruction. The invading blast of the Power reacted with the already-present wall of energy and a backblast erupted into the Sharom, blowing it apart upon the instant and killing almost everyone inside. Mierin Eronaile and Beidomon were among those who survived (presumably using Travelling to escape as soon as it became clear that something had gone wrong). The incident horrified the world, but was eventually written off as a particularly tragic accident and a costly lesson in pride. Mierin in particular was deeply affected, having lost some of her colleagues and the premiere seat of learning in the world just to test one of her theories.

Then odd things started to happen. The sport of “Swords,” which involved two athletes engaging in duels, had become exceptionally popular during the previous decades and suddenly those involved began refusing to take Aes Sedai Restoring when it was offered for the minor nicks and bruises that invariably resulted. Sometimes the two contestants would suddenly take it into their heads to fight to the death and refuse any Restoring at all, even at the cost of their own lives. Brutal crimes were committed and the perpetrators caught, but the Compulsion to not commit crimes again seemed to not take, with the perpetrators re-offending quickly. What would have seemed sick and perverted only a few years earlier had suddenly become fascinating and exciting. Incidents of violence – fights, riots and even murders – began taking place, at first sporadically and then more often. Some cities eventually became enclaves of terror, with murder and combat to the death being displayed in arenas and in people’s homes as sick forms of novelty.

The World Parliament was stunned and completely unprepared to act. It had no armies, no police forces and its normal methods of dealing with problems were totally ineffective, since they relied on the desire of the people to serve. Even the Aes Sedai seemed powerless.

Chaos began to spread to many parts of the world and no cause could be found. The greatest minds of the Age investigated. Elan Morin Tedronai was inarguably the world’s foremost philosopher and bent his mind to the problem at hand. His first conclusion was that after millennia of being dominated by all their positive instincts, people had spontaneously rebelled and begun investigating their dark sides. Logically, there had to be some kind of triggering mechanism for the outbreak of “evil” and he began looking for the root cause. He noted the destruction of the Collam Daan had taken place only a few months before the first reported outbreak of chaos, but upon visiting the site of the accident found no clue as to what had happened. He theorised that perhaps the experiment had destabilised the True Source itself, since Aes Sedai seemed to be falling to evil just as quickly as normal people, if not quicker, but that did not explain why non-channellers were also affected.

After further research Elan discovered something odd had happened mere hours after the accident at V’saine, namely that a previously quiet volcano on a cool, rustic island in the northern ocean had spontaneously erupted without warning. The island was mostly uninhabited and no-one died, but the eruption changed the landscape of the island. Some unknown malaise began killing off the plant life and, in some cases, perverting it, making previously edible fruits poisonous. The few thousand settlers abandoned the island as the rotting increased.

Elan Morin Tedronai headed for this island around twenty years after the destruction of the Collam Daan. He found the sea itself receding from the island, a horrible corruption extending outwards for many miles around it. He made his way into the volcano and found a huge pit of lava and flame. The sky above his head was not the sky above the island, but was instead chaotic and swirling with angry colours. Then a voice spoke to him in his mind, a voice so powerful it threatened to shatter his very skull. The voice identified itself as Shai’tan, a being of near infinite power. It claimed that it had been imprisoned since the Moment of Creation. The supposedly undivided source of the One Power that Mierin had discovered was in fact this entity’s own dark energies. Though it now had a foothold in our world through the Bore that had been drilled into its prison, it was still unable to break free. The being demanded that Elan make public the news of its existence so that it might gain servants to free it. Once free, it would then remake all of time and space in its own image and reward those who had served it.

Elan not only agreed, but swore himself to its service upon realising how much about the nature of reality he could learn from it. Elan journeyed to Paaran Disen, where a conference was being held about the growing crisis, and there announced his discovery. The Aes Sedai and most of the delegates were shocked and horrified, but some were intrigued and journeyed to the volcano to learn more. Others journeyed there to see if they could negotiate with the entity or find a way of closing the Bore. Such infiltrators never returned. Within a few months of Elan’s announcement, the evil entity had become known as “The Dark One”, for saying its true name seemed to attract its attention (causing bouts of nausea and sickness).

The century that passed between the drilling of the Bore and the beginning of the War of the Shadow was known as the Collapse, for the glory of the Age of Legends was marred and ruined during this time. The Dark One’s wish was granted and servants flocked to do its bidding. Most were just normal people and became known as Friends of the Dark. Those who could channel the One Power became known as Dreadlords and were taught how to use the Power as a weapon. The Dark One’s most favoured servant was the one who found it first, Elan Morin Tedronai. As Elan grew in strength and evil, he was given a new name: Betrayer of Hope, Ishamael in the Old Tongue. Ishamael embraced his new name, casting aside his old in contempt. The Dark One taught Ishamael in the use of the True Power, a massively corrupted form of the One Power, generated by itself. The True Power could be used for dark and horrific ends, but it invariably overwhelmed and destroyed its wielders, making flame gush from their eyes and mouth. It also removed all fear and sense of perspective from them, rendering them mad or near enough to make no odds. Ishamael used the True Power sparingly at first, but by the War of the Shadow was using it more than the One Power. Only Ishamael was entrusted with the use of the True Power initially, and the Dark One seemed loath to let others wield it (according to some barely-legible documents, only twenty-nine people were ever trusted with its use).

Lews Therin Telamon, the First Among Equals of the Aes Sedai, decided firm action was needed. He rallied the Aes Sedai to him, from the lowliest provincial Healer to the members of the high council. He persuaded them, after many months, to take firm action against the Shadow (as the Dark One’s minions became known). Originally, he did not countenance fighting them, instead overwhelming them and taking them away for Compelling as with all criminals. However, this didn’t really work. The Friends of the Dark and most especially the Dreadlords fought to the death rather than surrender. The few who were Compelled were then “uncompelled,” either by other Dreadlords or (possibly) by the Dark One itself. Eventually Lews Therin was forced to order those serving the Shadow to be killed. Many Aes Sedai balked at this; most simply refused to accept the need until it was far too late. Whilst the Aes Sedai and the World Parliament argued and prevaricated, the Shadow grew in strength and might. Around this time the Dark One chose to raise many of the most powerful and evil Dreadlords to the rank of “Chosen”. Until recently it was thought that there were just thirteen Chosen, or “Forsaken” as the forces of the Light called them, but recent revelations have confirmed that there were many more, possibly more than thirty. The thirteen famous Forsaken were merely the most powerful of this group and became its leaders. The nine most powerful Forsaken up to the start of the War of the Shadow, who in time became the most famous, were also given cursed names and Ishamael was set to lead them. The others at this time were Aginor, Balthamel, Rahvin, Asmodean, Be’lal, Semirhage, Mesaana, Moghedien and Graendal.

A few years after this Mierin Eronaile, bitter over Lews Therin’s spurning of her attentions, petitioned to join the ranks of the Forsaken and was granted a place. She was called "Daughter of Night", Lanfear in the Old Tongue, and with Ishamael plotted to turn Lews Therin Telamon himself to the Shadow, since he was the greatest threat to the Dark One’s plans. Beidomon, her former colleague at the Collam Daan, had committed suicide in horror as it became clear what he had inadvertently released into the world.

Little is known now about Lews Therin Telamon’s early years. It was clear that he was the strongest channeller of his time, though Ishamael and a few others were not far behind him. He was apparently raised to the rank of First Among Equals at a relatively young age. He was a charismatic figure, inspiring loyalty in his friends and followers. He dearly loved his wife, Ilyena, and doted on their children. He was an accomplished swordsman and writer, an idealist but also a pragmatist. It seems that his major weakness was that he held a guilt complex, blaming himself for not investigating the destruction of the Collam Daan more thoroughly and also for Mierin Eronaile’s turning to the Shadow. His second weakness, one fully exploited by the Shadow, was that he was almost physically incapable of harming a woman, even if she was a Friend of the Dark or a Dreadlord. As the darkness grew and as the cost in life increased, Lews Therin hardened and only Ilyena and his children could bring him out of his black moods. He had two close friends, Barid Bel Medar, who was a day younger and only marginally weaker than Lews Therin his strength in the Power and also in his accomplishments of writing and sword-fighting. His other friend was Tel Janin Aellinsar, the world-renowned athlete. Weaker than Lews Therin and Barid Bel in the Power (though not by much) and with no rhetorical ability at all, he exceeded both in swordplay.

As the Collapse continued the World Parliament eventually conceded that the chaos could only be stopped by direct military action. For the first time in millennia armies were formed and trained, minor skirmishes fought against the Shadow and things such as strategy and tactics relearned. Lews Therin, Barid Bel and Tel Janin all proved accomplished tacticians and generals. When the time came for the World Parliament to appoint a single overall commander for the war effort, these three men were the prime candidates. Eventually they chose Lews Therin, citing Barid Bel’s rashness and Tel Janin’s disregard for minor elements (like properly organising supply lines) for their exclusion. Both men were stunned, and angered. Both broke off their friendships with Lews Therin, finding little solace in the lesser field commands they were given.

Lews Therin began building his armies. Most human troops wielded swords and bows in combat (due to the lack of knowledge about weapons technology), but it seems that some energy weapons were developed. Jo-cars, hoverflies, jumpers and even sho-wings were fitted with weaponry and heavily armoured, able to support foot-troops and act as scouts. The most common high-tech weapon was the shocklance, a huge blade which discharged a massive blast of electricity into anyone in a certain arc of fire, killing them instantly. The One Power was used as a weapon by the Aes Sedai, many of whom voluntarily joined Lews Therin’s armies. Their job was to face the Dark One’s Dreadlords and even the Forsaken in combat. Even Ogier joined the war effort. The Nym were peaceful but not incapable of violence, but were kept out of the war simply because there wasn’t very many of them. The Way of the Leaf forbade the Da’shain Aiel from fighting or encouraging violence, but Lews Therin employed them as scribes, messengers and, with great reluctance on occasion, as scouts. He employed so many Da’shain - they were more reliable than other people and less prone to turning to the Shadow - that they became known as “Lews Therin’s People.” Later, after the war itself began, they were called “The People of the Dragon.” Lews Therin, it seems, deliberately used so many Aiel in his staff to raise their profile and remind people of the peace and contentment they represented, and what had been lost to most of the world.

After ninety-five years or so the world had degenerated dangerously close to the point of total economic and social collapse. The World Parliament finally declared martial law and surrendered control to Lews Therin Telamon for the duration of the crisis. But the Shadow was now almost ready to act. One of the Forsaken, Aginor, had been a skilled geneticist before he turned to the Dark One and now put that knowledge to good use. In great vats he fused animal and human DNA together to create a race of fierce, bestial creatures called Trollocs. Hulking humanoids, as large as Ogier if not bigger, the Trollocs had a variety of features. They usually walked upright, though some walked on goat’s legs or hooves, and had two arms, though a few ended in claws instead of hands (whatever they used, they could always wield weapons such as swords and battle-axes). But always was the head the head of the animal they had been bred from, including boars, bears, wolves, goats, wildcats, rams and eagles. Thousands, if not millions, of Trollocs were bred in great chambers underneath the volcano the Dark One used as its base of operations in this world, the volcano called the Pit of Doom, or Shayol Ghul in the Old Tongue. Once a few thousand had been created, they could breed amongst themselves.

The problem was that the Trollocs seemed to inherit the baser instincts of their origin animal as well as their facial features. They were undisciplined, almost as likely to turn on one another as on the enemy. Whilst most enjoyed using primitive weapons like axes and swords, or sometimes a bow, most found complex projectile weapons too difficult to use. The only way to get them to obey orders was frequently to kill a few as an example to the others. Aginor’s scientists almost gave up, until they suddenly discovered that every fiftieth Trolloc or so born was a mutant. Unlike the widely varying Trollocs, these mutants were all a uniform size and shape. All were six-foot-tall humanoids with black hair and lacked any sign of their animal stock. They also lacked eyes, but could see by some means unknown. These creatures were called Myrddraal, but were more frequently called Halfmen, Eyeless or Fades. Unlike the Trollocs, they were unswervingly loyal to the Dark One, skilled in the art of combat and highly disciplined. They also instilled a terrifying fear in Trollocs, forcing them to do their bidding. The Shadow had found its field commanders for the Trolloc armies.

Additional Shadowspawn were created, such as the Darkhounds (which never gave up a hunt once it was assigned to them), Grey Men (individuals who had sold their soul to the Dark One and could “fade” into their surroundings somewhat, making them ideal assassins) and Draghkar (winged humanoids with huge, black eyes capable of sucking a soul right out of its host body), but Myrddraal and Trollocs were by far the most common. By around a century after the drilling of the Bore, many hundreds of thousands of Shadowspawn were ready for battle.

In this year the Dark One’s minions moved en masse towards Shayol Ghul, planning to combine their strength and power to widen the Bore and allow the Dark One to enter this world in person. Lews Therin and his forces of Light had been anticipating such a move for several years and intercepted them, fighting a huge battle. The Friends of the Dark fled the battlefield. Lews Therin even briefly hoped that he had discouraged them for good, but within days reports arrived of monstrous creatures striking into the northern lands, overrunning towns and even eating the populace. This army seized the large town of Devaille and fed every living inhabitant to the Trollocs.

The forces of the Light attempted to contain the forces of the Shadow, but could not. Soon Friends of the Dark arose again in the cities, conquering them from within. Aes Sedai were attacked without warning by groups of Dreadlords Travelling into their homes, and the Forsaken demanded the surrender of the world to the Dark One.

The War of the Shadow had begun.

Please note that Parts 4-6 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.

LUKE CAGE cancelled by Netflix

In a surprise move, Netflix has cancelled their Marvel superhero series Luke Cage when a third season of the show was in pre-production. This comes just a week after they confirmed the axing of sister-show Iron Fist.

Netflix and Marvel have teamed up to produce six superhero TV shows (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders and The Punisher). These shows have done very well for Netflix in terms of critical acclaim and streaming figures, although the acclaim has started to drift recently (with the first season of Iron Fist coming in for a particular drubbing).

More of an issue is the fact that Disney (who own Marvel) are launching their own streaming service in 2019 which is seen as a major competitor to Netflix and a much greater threat than Amazon's streaming service. Disney are planning to launch the service with a new Star Wars TV show called The Mandalorian and at least two Marvel mini-series, one focusing on Loki and the other on Scarlet Witch, with Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen in talks to reprise their roles from the films.

Although the Netflix-Marvel deal allows Netflix to keep making these shows, the practical business decision of that may not make much sense, since Netflix are effectively producing tie-ins for a rival service. In addition, Marvel (and thus Disney) take a slice of the shows' profits and their sales on DVD, Blu-Ray and so on. Although the Marvel shows started performing strongly for Netflix, their recent performance has been less impressive and Netflix are looking to cut some of their under-performing shows to make way for new projects. On this basis, Netflix gradually shutting down all of the Marvel shows and perhaps looking elsewhere for superhero projects does make sense.

Deadline suggests that this particular cancellation was down to "creative differences" between Marvel and Netflix, with Marvel demanding major script changes and even a change in creative personnel, suggesting that Marvel also does have a script veto, meaning that they may also have the power to effectively cancel the shows (or logjam the process to force Netflix to cancel them).

Ironically, the news comes just after Daredevil Season 3 launched on the service to the strongest critical reception any Marvel Netflix season has enjoyed since the first season of the show.

Jessica Jones Season 3 and The Punisher Season 2 have already completed filming and are expected to air in early 2019. The fate of the Netflix/Marvel shows should become clearer at that time.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Season 3 of THE EXPANSE reported to hit Amazon Video on 15 November

Gamespot are reporting that Season 3 of The Expanse will be available to stream on Amazon Video for all Amazon Prime subscribers on 15 November.

The first two seasons of The Expanse exited Netflix in the rest of the world a few weeks back, after Amazon stepped into rescue the show following its cancellation by SyFy. It was expected that Season 3 would debut on Amazon but the date was a bit up in the air. Assuming Gamespot's information is accurate, fans will be able to enjoy the third season in the USA (and presumably worldwide) in under a month. Interestingly, it doesn't mention if Seasons 1 and 2 will be available at the same time.

Season 4 of The Expanse started shooting a few week ago and is expected to debut on Amazon Video in summer 2019.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Trailer for THE LAST KINGDOM Season 3

Netflix have posted a brief teaser trailer for the upcoming third season of The Last Kingdom.

Based on Bernard Cornwell's Saxon series of historical novels (which now extends across eleven novels and counting), the series is set in 9th Century Britain and explores the clash of cultures arising when Danish raiders (and settlers) arrive and clash with the native seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, the most powerful of which is Wessex. Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a Saxon child raised by Danish parents, is thrust into the middle of this conflict when he allies with Alfred, King of Wessex, soon to be known as "The Great" for his dream of unifying the island of Britain as one kingdom.

The first two seasons of The Last Kingdom were produced by the BBC and well-received, but the BBC cancelled the series due to mounting production costs. Netflix stepped in to save the show.

No release date has been set for the series, but it is expected to air on Netflix before the end of the year.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

In a remote future, the Earth's landmasses have been fused together into a supercontinent called the Stillness. The geological catastrophe which caused this event still haunts the planet, with frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions causing devastation across thousands of miles in titanic disasters known as Fifth Seasons. Many civilisations have risen and fallen, with the world currently dominated by the Sanze Empire from its grand capital of Yumenes.

A new Fifth Season has arrived, heralded by the opening of a vast volcanic rift below Yumenes. Chaos grips the Stillness as thousands takes to the roads to flee the devastation. Among them is Essun, an orogene, one who can use the powers of the earth to her own ends. Her son has been murdered by her husband, who has fled with their daughter. Essun sets out to find them, as all around her the world begins to end.

There is a long and honourable tradition of genre fiction set at the end of the world, when confused humans try to live their lives in the shadow of earlier, more ancient and glorious civilisations. Jack Vance arguably became its first champion, with his 1950 novel The Dying Earth and three sequels. This accomplished, erudite, witty yet melancholy series gave the subgenre of fiction its name and directly inspired arguably its most famous work: The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe, sometimes cited as the greatest work of science fiction or fantasy ever written. More recently the Dying Earth subgenre has gained increased fame from Monte Cook's excellent Numenera RPG setting (and its video game spin off, Torment: Tides of Numenera).

N.K. Jemisin's sixth novel fits nicely into this genre: it is, at the very least, tens of thousands of years in the future (possibly millions). Strange obelisks float in the sky for unknown purposes. The ruins of ancient, baffling civilisations lie everywhere. Recurring geological catastrophes seek to destroy humanity, but powerful humans known as orogenes seek to defy them. But the same orogenes who can stop the quakes can make them vastly worse, so other humans - "Guardians" - are appointed to guard them and, if necessary, kill them if it looks like they are going to be come a danger themselves. It's a world of terrible inequality, where people are born into castes and forced to stay there for their entire lives. Selective breeding experiments are commonplace, and orogenes are treated like animals by those who fear their power.

The Fifth Season is thus a novel about many things: humanity and bigotry, history and myth, life and death, and the unquenchable desire of human beings to survive and seek happiness. It's a book that's received a lot of critical acclaim, with the trilogy it opens winning no less than three Hugo Awards and a score of other awards. This acclaim and the book's literary qualities have, paradoxically, put off a lot of readers who prefer their fantasy more straightforward and predictable.

Which is a shame because The Fifth Season is also a rollicking good epic fantasy novel. There's massive and awe-inspiring displays of apparently-magical power. The "magic system" is given consistent rules and treated with as much respect and seriousness as in any Brandon Sanderson book. The worldbuilding is vigorous, original and well-thought-out. There's even pirates, and some nice action scenes on the high seas. There's moments of strange alienation at the discovery of awe-inspiring remnants of earlier ages, and moments of horror at some of the creatures and powers unleashed by the same.

The book's structure is also innovative: the narrative is split into three strands, and we follow each strand with a different character at the centre of it. Each strand is set in a different time period, and as the book continues the characters and time periods converge until the book's ending results in a moment of catharsis: less of a twist ending and more one of simple revelation that makes what you've been reading make sense. Each strand is also told in a different writing style (moving from second-person/present-tense to third-person/past-tense to third-person/present-tense) which I expected to dislike, but instead it worked extremely well. The different writing style acts as a consistent reminder of what part of the story and the timeframe you are reading at any given moment, and transitions did not jar at all.

It helps that Jemisin is one of the stronger prose-writers in modern SFF, consistently nailing great moments of dialogue and deploying formidable powers of description. The book's themes are big ones, taking in ecological and environmental issues, gender relations, sexuality (especially interesting when some of the far-future humans are evolved in some unexpected manners) and inequality, but the book never remotely becomes preachy or bogged down in some semantic political argument. Everything services the world and the story that Jemisin has created.

The book also has pace. This book is 450 pages of relatively big type, and the sequel is even shorter. This modest page count helps move the story along at a brisk clip, with the narrative rotating between its three POV characters like a well-oiled machine, until the book brings its various strands together in a satisfying manner that sets the scene perfectly for the sequel, The Obelisk Gate.

The Fifth Season (*****) is one of the best opening volumes to a science fiction or fantasy trilogy of the past few years, and is strongly recommended. It is available now in the UK and USA.

Fool's Fate by Robin Hobb

FitzChivalry Farseer has, reluctantly, re-entered the corridors of power in the Six Duchies. Posing as guardsman Tom Badgerlock, he has been assigned to journey with Prince Dutiful to the Outislands, where the Prince seeks to win the hand in marriage of the Outislander Narcheska, ending all enmity between the two nations. But there are other agendas at work. To win a lasting peace, Fitz must help his prince slay a dragon…and take a stand against his greatest and best friend.

The concluding novel in Robin Hobb’s Tawny Many Trilogy is something I was bracing myself for. Previously, Hobb’s form has been to write an exciting, busy opening volume in a trilogy and then have a slow middle volume which leaves the final book with a lot of heavy lifting to do to end the story, usually resulting in a third book which wraps up the story but with serious issues with structure and pacing. Ship of Destiny deal with the problem somewhat well, but Assassins' Quest really suffered from it. The relatively slow pace of The Golden Fool was also not a good sign.

Fool’s Fate, fortunately, rejects this issue. Whilst you could never call any Hobb novel fast-paced and action-packed, this enormous book (or rather the first two-thirds of this book) comes as close as she gets.

The book consists of a long sea voyage, an exploration of Outisland culture and then an expedition to the island of Aslevjal, where a dragon is said to sleep in the ice. These sequences of explorations on a glacier and survival in freezing temperatures with unknown dangers lurking in the dark are atmospheric and effective, with occasional scares reminiscent of Dan Simmons’ The Terror.

There is then an epic showdown and an appropriately grand finale…which takes place 200 pages before the book ends. The rest of the book is an extended epilogue in which everyone’s fate is revealed and – dare we say it – a couple of characters are even allowed to have happy endings. There is, however, enough material left dangling for both the Rain Wild Chronicles quartet and the Fitz and the Fool trilogy.

As with most of Hobb’s work, and this trilogy in particular, the book is deliberately paced and introspective, with Fitz ruminating on his mistakes a lot. Fortunately, he is also allowed to develop more as a character and even – gasp! – to actually make amends for past mistakes and move forward with his life rather than just moaning about his lot in life. The ending to Fool’s Fate is suspiciously uplifting, in fact, to the point I’m suspicious Hobb is just keeping her powder dry to make things even worse in later books.

There is also a sense of completeness to this book. It addresses outstanding elements from the Liveship Traders books and even finishes off a whole host of storylines left unresolved from the original Farseer Trilogy. The result is a book that works as a finale to one trilogy and an effective epilogue to two others, and is one of Hobb's strongest books to date.

As usual for Hobb, the characterisation is rich, the emotional storyline is impressive and, less usually, even the worldbuilding is impressive. It also brings enough closure to the story to make the trilogy stand alone. Fool's Fate (****½) is available now in the UK and USA.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

A History of the Wheel of Time Part 2: The Age of Legends

Exactly how long the Age of Legends lasted is unknown, but it was certainly many thousands of years. Whatever the figure, it was certainly an exceptionally long and prosperous period in world history.

Under the guidance of the Aes Sedai the peoples of the world came together in common interests. Before the discovery of the One Power a debating forum used by most of the nations had been in existence, but under the guidance of the Aes Sedai this became something greater, a single planetary government referred to as the World Parliament. Only one Aes Sedai representative, their spokesman, actually sat on the World Parliament and then only in an advisory position (although some national leaders were also Aes Sedai, but put loyalties to the Aes Sedai behind that to their homeland). Each of the world’s nations had a seat and a vote on the parliament. However, as time passed it seems that the notion of individual nations or states dwindled and passed, with the world becoming one single community.

The One Power was used to improve the standard of living and quality of life for the entirety of the human race. Droughts ended, natural disasters became rare and the human lifespan increased as the Aes Sedai researched both new medicines and ways of Healing injuries with the One Power. Exact figures vary, but some claim that as much as 3% of the total population could channel the One Power. The world population was reduced in the Age of Legends to a manageable level (by reliable birth control methods), but still this would indicate that the number of Aes Sedai at the height of the Age could be counted in the millions, if not tens of millions.

The nations of the First Age gradually disappeared, with the world becoming divided into townships or city communities. Each city, town and even village was largely independent, with locally elected councils dealing with local affairs. Local councils could call upon the World Parliament for greater resources if needed, and if a large area was affected by a particular event, say a new valley created by damming a river, then several councils would unite and work for the good of all their people, or call upon Aes Sedai assistance.

Pollution was unknown in this Age. Technology had developed to the point where anti-gravity devices could be constructed. Using opposing magnetic fields to suspend themselves in the air, jumpers and hoverflies were quick and reliable means of transport, moving along well-ordered highways. Other vehicles, jo-cars, could travel off the major roads to reach remote areas, whilst huge aircraft known as sho-wings could travel safely and quickly between the continents at will.

Power was provided by several means. The Sun itself generated a large amount of power, by a means unknown, whilst the energies buried far below the surface of the Earth were also harnessed. Coastal areas used the powers of the tide, and mountain districts placed huge windmill-like objects on the peaks, generating power by the very air that people breathed. Energy was disseminated through a worldwide grid through mechanisms no longer understood.

The weather was predictable and comforting, since it was controlled by the Aes Sedai. Ter’angreal - devices harnessing the One Power for one particular purpose - were built that could regulate weather patterns. Though it took dozens of such devices to affect even just one of the smaller continents, it was enough to do the job at hand. Rain could be made to fall on huge farms covering hundreds of square miles, providing enough crops to feed thousands of people. Additional food could be grown in greenhouses in the very heart of the cities, or deep underground in research establishments.

Most people in this Age lived in townships and villages; greatly improved communications meant that most people worked from home and thus had no need to travel or live in the great cities. It seems that by means of this communications technology a three-dimensional image could be sent straight into people’s homes even from the other side of the world. This technology was also used for entertainment, with plays being transmitted into homes for the amusement of the public at large.

Houses and indeed all buildings were self-regulating. Heat-exchangers maintained a constant, comfortable temperature inside regardless of the weather. Glowbulbs provided light and never needed to be changed or recharged. An unknown mechanism monitored the health of everyone inside the building and could even summon trained medical personnel should someone fall ill or have an accident. Clothing was adaptable to its owner, even altering shape and size to fit the wearer. Many materials were used, but only two remain known to us today. One, streith, changed its colour and texture to match the mood of its wearer. The other, fancloth, could blend in with its surroundings almost completely, providing a camouflage affect (this was considered fashionable at parties, where games such ‘search-and-find’ were apparently popular even amongst the adults). Fancloth is used for another, more practical, purpose today.

Medical technology was highly advanced, but in most cases was completely unnecessary. Aes Sedai specialised in the Talent of Healing – Restoring as they called it then – could cure any illness or injury bar death itself. Only extremely complicated neurological disorders could not be Restored and the few to suffer from such diseases were treated with compassion and generosity from birth to death.

Lifespans in this Age were greatly increased due to the elimination of poverty, disease and most forms of stress. Normal humans lived between 150 and 200 years. Aes Sedai, whose ageing was greatly slowed by regular use of the One Power, lived between 650 and 700 years. The death of an Aes Sedai from old age was mourned greatly in the region where he or her lived, whilst the death of an Aes Sedai in an accident was an event that caused considerable shock at all levels of society.

Whilst most people lived in smaller settlements, major cities did exist. The largest and most legendary of these cities was Paaran Disen. Paaran Disen was the location of the World Parliament Building and also the Hall of the Servants, the base of operations for the Aes Sedai. The Hall of the Servants was famed for its tall columns and was made of a material called elstone, which made the whole building shimmer in the light. The city itself was made up of tall spired buildings, some of which were seemingly made out of crystal. A great park lay at the heart of the city, filled with sparkling lakes and also with chora trees. Chora trees radiated peace and harmony which induced contentment in any who came near to them. Groves of these trees could be found in every city and most large towns in the world.

Outside of Paaran Disen other great cities endured. These cities, in descending order of importance and size, were M’Jinn, Comelle, Adanza, Mar Ruois, V’saine, Jalanda, Emar Dal, Paral, Halidar, Kemali, Tsomo Nasalle, Devaille and Tzora. Comelle was a great port clinging to the side of a mountain. Adanza was reportedly a wild carnival town many people went on holiday to, and then needed holidays to recover from.

V’saine was a university city. The university, the Collam Daan, was accepted as the premier seat of learning in the whole world. As a celebration of its great feats of the knowledge, the students and teachers at the university had a huge silver sphere known as the Sharom created and suspended above the university. A thousand feet in diameter and floating by means of gravitational and magnetic fields, the Sharom was used as a research centre for advanced studies of the One Power itself. Through the Sharom, great strides were made in researching the Power and the Wheel of Time.

Fast and reliable transport had made the world a very small place indeed. The legends claim that because of this, mankind had expanded beyond this world. One legend - surely a fanciful story - says that a great explorer named Lem travelled to the Moon in an eagle of fire in the First Age, and that by the Second there were people living on the Moon, and beyond as well. The same legend claims that even the distant stars could be travelled to by use of the Power, though at this point the extract ends, the rest lost to the ravages of time. It is unclear if people lived on worlds around these stars as well, or what their fate was later.

What is known is that the Aes Sedai had begun conducting experiments on objects known as Portal Stones. Portal Stones had been created in the First Age after the first channellers had appeared, but before the end of the Age. Why exactly so many of these devices were created – the remnants of dozens can be found in the Westlands alone – is unknown, but their purpose remains clear. Through the use of these Stones Aes Sedai could travel to what were called “parallel universes,” realities different to our own but also less substantial. Aes Sedai scientists concluded that Portal Stone worlds were “shadow dimensions”, weavings of the future begun by the Wheel of Time but then discarded. Despite their less-substantial nature, objects and even living beings from within these worlds could be brought back to our own with no ill effect.

It is possible that the Ogier came from one of these worlds. The Ogier were, and still are, a non-human race different to us but also resembling us. Ogier are around ten feet tall with large, tufted ears and wide, almost snout-like noses. They are a quiet, peaceful race, patient but also hungry for knowledge. They lived in special areas called stedding, large forested areas of peace and tranquillity. It is not clear if a normal area could be converted into stedding or if the Ogier somehow brought stedding with them from their enigmatic homeland. One of the stedding’s more unusual features was that within one the One Power could not be used at all. Despite millennia of Aes Sedai study, the cause of this remained unknown. Whatever the secret, it was clearly lost even to the Ogier themselves by the end of the Age.

The discovery of the Ogier led the Aes Sedai into experimenting with creating nonhuman races of their own. It seems that many Aes Sedai were wary of such experiments and after only one success they abandoned research in this department (publicly at least; we now know that research continued in secret by more amoral scientists). This success was the Nym. Nym were huge humanoid beings, fifteen to twenty feet tall, seemingly entirely composed of living matter. Most seemed to be made of grass and flowers, with insects actually living inside them, but they did not seem to mind. Despite their fragile appearance, Nym were monstrously strong, far stronger than even the Ogier. Nym, and to a lesser extent Ogier, were in harmony with nature and could manipulate the forces of nature around them.

To be able to channel the One Power was a great responsibility, but unlike today the Aes Sedai never gave up on teaching someone in the ways of the Power. If you could channel you were Aes Sedai and to be trained as such. Even if you never went to the Hall of the Servants or even ever wielded the One Power again, you were still Aes Sedai. This was purely for reasons of preservation: then, as now, three out of four women and half of all men with inborn ability to channel (as opposed to those who could learn) died horribly without training. Given that most settlements, from cities down to villages and even tiny hamlets, had a trained Aes Sedai resident, the vast majority of those able to channel were found and dispatched to training centres quite quickly. The Aes Sedai also encouraged people to periodically call at their local Aes Sedai to be tested for the ability. Tests were also carried out in schools and colleges. Girls manifested the ability to channel between the ages of twelve and twenty-one (again, as today) and as such were almost all identified whilst still in education. Men were more difficult to locate, since they manifested the power between sixteen and twenty-eight or thereabouts. Most difficult of all to locate were those who could be taught how to wield the One Power, since they did not display ‘symptoms’ as those with the inborn ability did.

Once identified, those able to channel were either apprenticed to their local Aes Sedai, sent to a training school in one of the major cities or, for the most powerful and those with the greatest potential, to the Hall of the Servants itself. It is not clear how long such training took place, but discipline was relatively relaxed, with a lot of the skill in using the Power developing from first-hand experience rather than in classes. Certainly, training never took more than a few years, a far cry from the one or two decades spent today in attaining the rank of Aes Sedai.

The organisation of the Aes Sedai was certainly less formal than it is today. This was because, unlike today, most Aes Sedai did not engage in internal politics. The Hall of the Servants was not the home of all Aes Sedai (as the White Tower is today), merely a meeting place and forum for debate. Likewise, the First Among Equals was more of a chairman than a unilateral leader (as the Amyrlin Seat is today). The First Among Equals, according to some records, sat on the High Seat, summoned the Nine Rods of Dominion and wore the Ring of Tamyrlin. The Nine Rods were regional governors, rulers of parts of the world who sought Aes Sedai advice frequently. A ruling council led the Aes Sedai, of which the First was the chairman, and the First also represented Aes Sedai concerns at the World Parliament. The Hall of the Servants’ primary job was to assemble teams of Aes Sedai to work on construction or mining projects, to train those able to channel as Aes Sedai and also to work out the rules and regulations for, say, hiring an Aes Sedai for a job. On rare occasions the Aes Sedai would become divided over an issue and committees would form to defend or criticise the matter at hand. Such factions were called ajah and were temporary organisations lasting only for a few months or years.

For those relatively uninterested in becoming deeply involved in the Aes Sedai hierarchy, it was in fact possible to only visit the Hall of the Servants once in an entire lifetime (when formally inducted into the ranks of the Aes Sedai). Indeed, the vast majority of the Aes Sedai pursued careers unrelated to the Power. A few jobs were forbidden to them, since their abilities would give them an unfair advantage over their colleagues (not even thousands of years of peace could totally change human nature), but most avenues of employment were still open. Aes Sedai could be writers, philosophers, bankers, clerks or shopkeepers without any problem whatsoever. With the cultural pressure to serve others, most gravitated to tasks they were most suitable for, namely as Restorers or using the One Power in construction projects or mining efforts. A large number of Aes Sedai also worked as researchers, using the One Power to augment a certain area of scientific or technological research. Some volunteered for the somewhat dangerous job of exploring the Power itself, developing new Talents and discovering exactly what could and could not be done with it. Sometimes accidents happened and people were ‘severed’, that is losing the ability to channel (gentling or stilling it is called today) after being overwhelmed by the Power. Some even died. Yet it seems by a few thousand years into the Age the limits of the One Power had been pretty firmly set and understood. The one thing the Power was not used for was as a weapon against other people.

The Age was totally peaceful, with even the word “war” becoming unknown to all but a few historians. Most petty crime was eliminated by cheap goods, high wages and an excellent standard of living. Those without work were supported by a generous allowance scheme which was low enough to encourage work, but high enough to ensure a fair standard of living at the same time. Occasional crimes of passion or jealousy took place, but these were few and far between. Psychoses leading to violence were identified at a young age and eliminated by a method of the Power known as Compelling, which eliminated certain negative urges. Very rarely such an individual might slip through the net and become violent in later life. Such individuals were thoroughly Compelled never to commit such crimes again. Tactical games, such as chess, were still played and fencing was taken up as an athletic hobby, but was never used for actual combat. The only time when it was necessary to fight was if someone was attacked by a wild animal, and in most cases tranquilliser weapons could be used to stun or knock out the creature rather than kill it.

Modern historians and philosophers have raised the question that the utopian nature of the Age of Legends may have only been possible because of Compulsion, that the entire human race had peace and goodwill imposed upon it forcefully by the Aes Sedai, at the cost of true free will and thus a denial of human nature. The fact that the Aes Sedai today ban the use of Compulsion outright suggest there may be some truth to this, but the point remains contentious.

Arguments that flared into fistfights still took place and violence was not totally removed from the world, but some particularly pious people believed that even this was too much and dedicated themselves to a life of complete and total pacifism. The exact origins of this movement are unclear, but it seems to have developed from a First Age religion that preached tolerance of all others and also seems to have been the first to believe in reincarnation. This religion also taught martial arts for self-defence and exercise, but this new movement exercised all such factors. The new movement called itself the Da’shain Aiel (“People to Peace Dedicated”). The Da’shain Aiel followed a philosophy they called the Way of the Leaf. It preached unbending pacifism, even in the face of certain death. Their faith afforded them a respect second only to that of the Aes Sedai. It became traditional – though the origins of the tradition have been long forgotten – for the Da’shain to serve the Aes Sedai. The exact nature of this service is unclear, but seems to have been in the form of assistants or helpers, perhaps even housekeepers though most homes were self-cleaning. Since there were fewer Da’shain than Aes Sedai, most Aes Sedai did without (and indeed did not need any), whilst very busy Aes Sedai, mostly researchers and scientists, often had two or three Da’shain to help them.

The Da’shain’s extreme pacifism somehow opened their awareness to the world around them. Some of them exhibited unusual traits. Some could speak with wolves. Others could see auras surrounding people that revealed their futures (these abilities may also have manifested in the general population). The most common ability was the one that allowed them to walk in Tel’aran’rhiod, the World of Dreams, and use it for their own ends. These abilities were unrelated to the One Power (i.e. most of those who possessed them could not channel).

A large number of the Da’shain Aiel could also manipulate nature. By a method called "Seed Singing" teams of Da’shain Aiel, Nym and Ogier would encourage growth in fields, increasing the productivity of a farm by five or six times. The Da’shain Aiel were very close to the Nym and Ogier and learned their ways as well as those of the rest of the world. A key difference between the Da’shain and the normal population was a general lack of ambition. The Da’shain were content to serve where they were, whilst most people were keen to rise to the top of their field of study, from where they could serve more effectively (and with more prestige).

Those who did reach the height of their field were granted a third name to identify them. Many people attempted to gain the prestigious third name, but most failed, held back by one factor or another. Many Aes Sedai, though certainly not all, gained the third name through their works.

This, then, was the Age of Legends, an Age of peace, harmony and contentment. An Age born out of the fires of chaos and war, and an Age doomed to die in it as well.

Please note that Parts 3-5 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.

IRON FIST cancelled by Netflix

Netflix have confirmed that they will not be proceeding with a third season of Marvel drama Iron Fist.

Netflix have six drama series set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe - Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders and The Punisher - and this is the first time they have cancelled one of the shows in progress. Iron Fist's first season aired to lukewarm reviews but got a very impressive number of streams. The second season has received much stronger reviews, but Netflix have not released any viewing figures for it.

Netflix and Disney/Marvel's deal allows for Netflix to continue airing five original drama series (with occasional Defenders team-ups), with The Punisher commissioned later as a separate spin-off of Daredevil. The Hollywood Reporter suggests that Netflix and Disney were unable to extend this deal indefinitely so decided to revert to the five-show original order. With The Punisher performing much better than Iron Fist, it was decided to continue with that show. In effect, The Punisher may have killed Iron Fist.

It is possible that this may also mark the start of the winding-up of the Netflix arm of the MCU: in late 2019 Disney launch their own streaming service and it is unlikely that they will want to continue making shows (the Netflix MCU shows are produced directly by Disney for Netflix, via ABC) for a rival service. Although it hasn't been formally cancelled, Netflix have also not yet formally greenlit a third season of Luke Cage either, although this apparently is now more likely.

A third season of Daredevil drops this coming Friday and a third season of Jessica Jones and a second of The Punisher are already in the can for release in early 2019. Some fans have called called for Luke Cage and Iron Fist to be replaced by new shows based on the Heroes for Hire (teaming up Luke Cage and Iron Fist) and Daughters of the Dragon (teaming up Misty Knight and Colleen Wing) comics instead, but it sounds like the Marvel/Netflix deal will not allow this to formally happen. An informal team-up in a future season of one of the other MCU shows sounds more likely.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

New trailer for SQUADRON 42 released

Roberts Space Industries have dropped a new trailer for Squadron 42, a new space combat game from the creators of the Wing Commander franchise.

Squadron 42 is one of two related games the company is developing, the other being Star Citizen, a massive multiplayer online space trading, exploration and combat game. Squadron 42 is a single-player focused version of the game using the same tech, with an in-depth, long story and a greater focus on narrative and characters. The story focuses on the United Empire of Earth and its attempts to retain control of a star system against the encroaching threat of hostile aliens and pirates.

As well as space combat, the game will feature sequences where you leave your spacecraft and engage in zero-gee combat, as well as first-person fighting on space stations and on planetary surfaces. The game will tell its story through elaborate cut scenes featuring motion-captured acting performances from some very big names: Gillian Anderson, Gary Oldman, Andy Serkis, Mark Hamill, John Rhys-Davis, Liam Cunningham, Henry Cavill and Mark Strong, among others. Hamill and Rhys-Davis previously worked with the same team on the Wing Commander and Freelancer games.

Star Citizen and Squadron 42 are crowdfunded projects. Over 2,100,000 backers have pledged more than $195 million to the development of the two games. Work on the games began in 2011, with the initial crowdfunding taking place in 2012. The lengthy development of the two games has attracted criticism; Star Citizen won WIRED magazine's "Vaporware" award in 2016 and some backers have sought refunds. However, the developers have continued to release sections of the game for early play and bug-testing to backers, and have released several lengthy gameplay videos showing what the game looks like in motion.

No release date is set for the first part of Squadron 42 (the game will be released in several episodes), but a firm release roadmap will apparently be announced in the near future. Star Citizen will follow some time afterwards.