Saturday, 16 January 2077

Support The Wertzone on Patreon


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

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Sales of THE WITCHER books pass 15 million

Based on publicity information released by Gollancz, the Witcher books by Andrzej Sapkowski have now passed 15 million worldwide sales.

The previous available figure indicated that the series had sold around 6 million copies by the middle of last decade. The massive jump in sales in just a few years is down to two factors: the immense success of the Witcher video game trilogy by CD Projekt Red (the last of which has now sold around 30 million copies by itself) and the success of the Netflix television series based on the books, which debuted last December. As we saw with Game of Thrones on HBO, a successful and well-received TV adaptation can massively drive sales of the books; the Song of Ice and Fire novels sold 9 million copies in 2012 alone and have sold around 80 million extra copies since the TV show debuted in 2011. Whether The Witcher can match those kind of sales remains to be seen.

The first Witcher book - also called The Witcher - was published in 1990 and was a collection of short stories. It was later revised and reissued in 1993 as The Last Wish. A second story collection, Sword of Destiny, was released in 1992. The five-volume "proper" novel series followed: Blood of Elves (1994), Time of Contempt (1995), Baptism of Fire (1996), The Tower of the Swallow (1997) and The Lady of the Lake (1999). A stand-alone prequel, Season of Storms, followed in 2013.


The latest Star Trek series has gotten an airdate. Star Trek: Lower Decks launches on CBS All Access on 6 August 2020.

Lower Decks, which takes its name and premise from the Season 7 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation of the same name, is the second animated series in the Star Trek franchise, following on from Star Trek: The Animated Series, which aired for two seasons in 1973-74. The series follows the crew of the California-class USS Cerritos in the year 2380, just after the events of the film Star Trek: Nemesis. The series will focus more on the junior crew of the starship, the crewmen in at the deep end in dealing with crises whilst the bridge crew make the important decisions.

The USS Cerritos is a "second contact" ship, whose job is following up on civilisations who have already had their more glamorous first contact with the Federation and working out trade deals, whether the newly-contacted civilisation wants to join the Federation and so on.

The show is expected to have a lighter and more humorous tone than the other Star Trek series. It will air on CBS All Access in the United States and CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada, but no European broadcaster has yet been announced.

Season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery is expected to arrive in the autumn. Production of the next batch of Star Trek shows - Season 2 of Star Trek: Picard, Season 1 of Section 13 and Season 1 of Strange New Worlds - are currently on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. A further animated show aimed at a younger audience is also in co-development at Nickelodeon; it is unclear what stage of development this show is at.

Scott Lynch and Elizabeth Bear named in SFF misconduct allegations

Author Alexandra Rowland has accused fellow writers Scott Lynch and Elizabeth Bear (who are married) of abusing them, claims which they have vigorously denied. This story follows several other accusations of harassment in both the SFF lit field and in video gaming over the past two weeks.

This is a developing story and one facts are in some dispute. However, there has been enough discussion of it in the public sphere that at least a bald recounting of the events and claims is possible.

On Friday 26 June, author Alexandra Rowland wrote a blog post in which they accused fantasy author Scott Lynch and Elizabeth Bear, of abusing and grooming them for several years. Their full post can be read here. To summarise, Rowland contends that, in 2015 and at the age of 25 (twelve years younger than Lynch), they were propositioned by Lynch into having a relationship with him on the basis that he was talking his wife into having an open relationship. Rowland agreed but this subsequently triggered a series of hostile confrontations with Bear, who (in Rowland's contention) put the blame for the event on Rowland and not Lynch, and they subsequently walked away from the situation and cut all contact. Rowland also contends that this kind of problem has happened before with several other young writers (there have been several anonymous allegations of this type supporting Rowland's claim, but no other writer has come forward publicly).

Scott Lynch's initial response was angry and threatened legal action. A subsequent and more measured response rejected the claims in greater detail, although agreeing that he had a consensual relationship with Rowland with his wife's knowledge. Lynch rejected any notion of this being a pattern of behaviour on his part and he has had no contact with Rowland in three years.

Elizabeth Bear also gave a lengthy response (after Lynch's initial response but before his second) in which she categorised Rowland's behaviour as part of a pattern of inserting themselves, unwanted, into other people's spaces and not respecting boundaries. Writers CD Covington, Arkady Martine and Devin Singer provided some support for this assertion.

Writer Kurt Panakau also claimed that Rowland is acting in bad faith, and posted screenshots confirming a similar event happened with another married author three years before the Lynch relationship took place. It should be noted, of course, that bad things can happen to the same person twice. The other married author has not yet been identified.

An anonymous Twitter account provided support for Rowland's account of events, alleging that Lynch behaved towards the account-holder inappropriately at a convention.

Elizabeth Bear has further posted a claim that this issue has reignited long-standing Twitter feuds dating back a decade to previous clashes between SFF writers over other issues (particularly the RaceFail controversy of 2009-10), and anonymous accounts may be posting false information to further their own agenda and even scores. Other commentators have accused this of being deflection.

Many of the previous stories of abusive behaviour and taking advantage of power dynamics in the SFF field have had multiple witnesses and the alleged perpetrators have owned up to their own bad behaviour. This story is much more contentious and contended, and involves multiple allegations and denials on both sides, which is why I was more reluctant to cover it versus other allegations since the facts are in much more dispute. However, the story has become dominant in the SFF field in the last few days.

For my part, I have met Scott Lynch three times and Elizabeth Bear once (briefly on all occasions), and have had positive but brief online interactions with both. I have reviewed some of their books positively in the past. I had not heard of Alexandra Rowland prior to this story breaking.

Further developments are expected.

The Breadwinner

Kabul, Afghanistan. Parvana is an 11-year-old girl living in a city under the control of the Taliban. She helps her father sell his wares at the market every day, but when he is arrested and taken away Parvana is left as the family's sole breadwinner. Unable to go out on the streets alone and unescorted, she cuts off her hair and poses as a boy. As times become leaner, she is forced to work harder and take more risks to ensure her family's survival. To keep them entertained, she tells them stories of the distant past, when Afghanistan was part of Parthia and heroes fought elephant kings in order to protect their people.

The Breadwinner is a 2017 animated film from Irish studio Cartoon Saloon, based on the 2000 novel by Deborah Ellis. The film is set in the capital city of Afghanistan was it was still under Taliban control. This resulted in an oppressive atmosphere with informers on every street corner, limited food supplies and women forced to cover themselves from head to foot and not allowed out on the streets without a male relative accompanying them. The story asks a simple question: what happens when the sole male breadwinner for a family is arrested and taken away, leaving the women behind, effectively trapped in their house?

The result is a story that's both relevant to the time it was written in, but also timeless: the family's young daughter has to disguise herself as a boy, Aatish, in order to work to afford food and get water for her family. This results in both tension - Parvana is at constant risk of discovery - but also liberation. Parvana has spent much of her young life under Taliban rule, so the sudden freedom to go where she wants and do what she likes (within reason) is liberating, to the point of risking overconfidence.

As the film's main narrative unfolds, where Parvana tries to help her family and discover her father's ultimate fate, so too does a secondary story which Parvana is telling to her baby brother every night, the story of a young hero who seeks to confront the Elephant King who has stolen his village's crop seeds. Parvana finds herself drawing on the story for comfort and solace, as it teaches her resilience and fortitude even in the face of insurmountable odds.

The film uses two styles of animation, one for each narrative strand and both are impressive. The Elephant King story takes on a storybook tone, with the animation suggesting paper figures animated in a more fairy-tale quality, whilst the "real world" material is still stylised, but more realistic. The voice actors, most of them Afghan, are also excellent, selling a story which can be both grimly bleak but also optimistic for the future.

The film is also successful in depicting life under the Taliban with nuance: many people, even ostensible Taliban soldiers, are clearly doing what they are doing under coercion and fear and take no real joy in oppressing others, whilst others are bullies taking delight in being given the freedom to exert their brutal authority. Some fight against the system, a few openly and a few through some acts of kindness for others. The film does not extend into the post-2001 civil war period, so we never find out how Parvana's life changes after the Taliban in Kabul are driven out, but the film does sound several notes of hope that things will improve, at least in part for these characters.

Instead, The Breadwinner (*****) remains anchored firmly with the characters, showing them adapting to life under difficult circumstances and finding ways of surviving and finding hope. There are no easy answers, but there is optimism to be found here in the depiction of human courage. The film is available now in the UK and USA.

Saturday, 27 June 2020

New definitive LORD OF THE RINGS 20th Anniversary edition in the planning stages

Digital Fix has acquired information indicating that a major re-release of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movie trilogy is in the planning stages for late 2021.

December 2021 will - somehow, terrifyingly - mark the 20th anniversary of the release of The Fellowship of the Ring. To celebrate, Peter Jackson's team has been working on a new 4K remaster of the original trilogy and a 4K version of the Hobbit trilogy. Both the original cinematic cut and the extended editions of all six movies are expected to be available. It's unclear if the behind-the-scenes extras will also be remastered; one criticism of the previous HD release of the movies is that the extras were not upgraded as well.

It's unclear if previously unseen material will be available. It's been known for years that extensive footage was shot of "the roads not taken," such as a version of the trilogy where Arwen led the elves at Helm's Deep, but very little of this material has ever been seen. It is likely there will be a new documentary looking back at the legacy of the trilogy, and perhaps some kind of tie in with the Second Age television series currently in production and expected to debut in late 2021 or early 2022.

Friday, 26 June 2020

SFF field rocked by multiple allegations of improper behaviour and abuse

Over the last 48 hours or so, the science fiction and fantasy literature field has been rocked by multiple accusations of multiple authors of improper behaviour, abuse, gaslighting, racism, misogyny, sexual coercion and authors using their platforms to engage in dogpiling and bullying.

The number of accusations has been almost overwhelming. Genre Grapevine is currently running a list of the allegations where the facts of the matter are not in dispute. Authors Paul Krueger, Myke Cole and Sam Sykes have been accused of inappropriate behaviour (Cole has subsequently been dropped by his publisher and agent, and Krueger by his agent) and others of enabling that behaviour.

Two other authors have also been accused of inappropriate behaviour but in their case they deny the claims vociferously and have been supported by others with knowledge of the events that the initial accusations were untrue, but the initial accuser has also received some support. This matter continues to develop.

The incident comes a week after the video games industry underwent its own such events, resulting in writer Chris Avellone and voice actor Cas Anvar both being accused of inappropriate behaviour. Avellone's work at a number of venues was subsequently cancelled; Anvar's future on hit SF TV show The Expanse remains unclear.

It should go without saying that these allegations are deeply disturbing and the end result is hopefully a more inclusive and safer space for all people in SFF fandom.

Thursday, 25 June 2020

CD Projekt Red unveil new CYBERPUNK 2077 trailer and announce Netflix tie-in series

CD Projekt Red have unveiled a new trailer for Cyberpunk 2077, their upcoming science fiction roleplaying game (note, contains swearing).

The trailer is part of a media blitz for the game taking place today, which also includes a gameplay stream and multiple outlets previewing the title via a special preview build of the game, with more reactions expected this evening. This kind of coverage is unusual given the game is still five months from launching, but is a display of CDPR's immense confidence in the project.

The game is set in 2077 in Night City, a new metropolis that has grown up on the Californian coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The game followers a central character named V who gets in over their head (the character is fully customisable). The game will feature remarkable reactivity, with the first several hours of the game dramatically different depending on what character background you choose, and the player able to exert tremendous influence over how the story unfolds.

The game was announced in 2012 and has been in full-time production since 2015.

CDPR and Netflix also announced that they are collaborating on an animated TV show, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners. The series is expected to debut in 2022.

Cyberpunk 2077 will launch on PC, X-Box One and PlayStation 4 on 19 November 2020. The game will also be backwards-compatible on the X-Box X and PlayStation 5, which are expected to launch around the same time.

Marvel announce first WARHAMMER 40,000 comic

Marvel and Games Workshop announced last year that they were joining forces to release a line of Warhammer comics and now they've confirmed the first title.

Warhammer 40,000: Marneus Calgar will tell the origin story of Marneus Calgar, Chapter Master of the Ultramarines and one of the most storied characters in the Warhammer 40,000 lore. Some of Calgar's most famous battles have been related before in two novels by Paul Kearney, Calgar's Siege and Calgar's Fury (a third book, Calgar's Reckoning, is on its way), but this new comic series will reveal more about Calgar's early days as a Space Marine. Kieron Gillen, feted for his recent Star Wars work about Darth Vader, will be writing the new comic series.

More series are in the planning stages, including more Warhammer 40,000 fiction and very likely a line based on the Age of Sigmar fantasy setting.

The best space combat game of all time has a new modding portal

Freespace 2, originally released in 1999, remains the finest space combat game of all time, with impeccable pacing, story, combat and, for the time, visuals. Thanks to the developers, Volition, releasing the source code, modders have run riot for twenty years, constantly developing new mods doing everything from updating the graphics to adding entire new campaigns, some based on properties such as Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica.

A new portal, named Knossos (appropriately, after the giant space portal in the game) has been launched to make modding for Freespace 2 easier than ever.

To use Knossos you need an install of Freespace 2. The game is available free, because the source code was released, but for convenience you can get a copy from GoG very easily.

Probably the best place to start is with the FreeSpace Port MediaVps mod, which upgrades all the graphics, models and lighting to the latest standards, and then FreeSpace Port, which updates the original Conflict Freespace: The Great War and its expansion, The Silent Threat to modern standards. Then dive into Freespace 2 itself before checking out the other material.