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.

Monday, 2 August 2021

Tamsyn Muir's LOCKED TOMB series Tad Williamses from a trilogy into a four-book series

Tamsyn Muir's Hugo-nominated Locked Tomb series has untrilogied into a four-book series.

Unlike the work of unrepentant detriloger Tad Williams, where the expansion is due to the original Book 3 reaching unfathomable sizes and having to be split, it appears the split here was down to character. Whilst writing the original concluding book in the series, Alecto the Ninth, Muir realised that another character's story had to be told first.

As a result, Book 3 will now be called Nona the Ninth and will arrive in late 2022. Book 4, still holding the title Alecto the Ninth, will follow in late 2023.

The first two books in the series, Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth, have attracted significant critical acclaim, being nominated for multiple genre awards.

Amazon reveals LORD OF THE RINGS TV show release date...but still no title

Amazon have revealed the release date for their upcoming Lord of the Rings prequel TV series. The show will launch on 2 September 2022, exclusively on Amazon Prime Television.

The date will be disappointing to those who had anticipated an earlier release; some credible rumours had been suggesting that Amazon was eyeing a release window between February and May of next year. However, this became a bit more unlikely as reports massed that Amazon are spending absurd amounts of money on the show and its vfx budget. Such a hefty amount of effects requires a lot of post-production time. With live-action shooting on the show wrapping today, this means that that show will spend over thirteen months in post-production before airing (not to mention the early vfx work done whilst the show was filming), a truly startling amount of time for a TV show.

Amazon did release the first-ever publicity image from the project, showing a figure in white standing in front of typically spectacular New Zealand Middle-earth scenery, with a great city in the background and, on the horizon, what appears to the infamous Trees of Light, the Gold Tree Laurelin and the Silver Tree Telperion. This image is fascinating because it is apparently from before even the First Age of Middle-earth's history, when the godlike Valar raised the Trees of Light in the great western continent of Aman to bring light to the world of Arda before the rise of the Sun and Moon. The city in the foreground might well be Valmar, the great city of the Valar in the land of Valinor (or possibly Tirion, the great Noldor city in the Calacirya, the Pass of Light). However, all previous material for the show indicated it would be set in the Second Age. Whether this was some kind of grand misdirection or just a hint the show will feature extensive flashbacks to earlier epochs is unclear.

One thing Amazon did not confirm was a title for the show. The assumption is that the series will have a subtitle so people can differentiate it from the Peter Jackson movie trilogy, with Lord of the Rings: The Second Age or even Rise of the Lord of the Rings (urgh) mooted, as the show is expected (or at least was, until this image was revealed) to at least partially tell the story of how Sauron forged the One Ring. That title remains unknown for now.

Hopefully Amazon will release some more information over the next thirteen months. Meanwhile, the team are gearing up to start shooting Season 2 of the series, which is expected to begin in January.

Sunday, 1 August 2021

J. Michael Straczynski volunteers to take over as DOCTOR WHO showrunner from Chris Chibnall

Noted American SF screenwriter, producer and showrunner J. Michael Straczynski has thrown his name into the ring to take over Doctor Who once incumbent Chris Chibnall departs at the end of 2022.

Straczynski is a noted Doctor Who fan of many decades' standing, having watched the show when it aired on PBS in the United States in the 1970s. Straczynski, a self-confessed Anglophile, was also a massive fan of The Prisoner and Blake's 7, and has frequently cited all three as influences on his classic space opera series Babylon 5.

Straczynski has also cast Doctor Who alumni on his showers: Guy Siner (Genesis of the Daleks) appeared as a Minbari on Babylon 5 and Christopher Neame (Shada) was a "Knight" on the same show, whilst Sylvester McCoy (the Seventh Doctor) and Freema Agyeman (Martha Jones) appeared on his later Netflix series Sense8.

Doctor Who has traditionally always been headed up by a British showrunner, although its original creator Sydney Newman was Canadian and the show's second showrunner (though the term did not exist back then), John Wiles, was South African. Even the producer in charge of the 1996 American Doctor Who TV movie was British, Philip Segal.

Furthermore, even if the BBC were willing to look beyond Britain for a new showrunner, they seem to have a specific antipathy towards American writers. Acclaimed SF and horror novelist Joe Hill pitched three scripts to Doctor Who with the help of Neil Gaiman and received a shocking reply from the BBC saying, "We have never let an American write Doctor Who, and if we were going to, we wouldn't start with you."

So the chances of Straczynski being considered for the role appear to be slim, despite the fact he's a very popular choice among both fans and more general viewers and would tick the boxes of being a strong SF writer of great experience, a very experienced showrunner and also a writer noted for tackling wide-ranging and diverse subject matter. It seems more likely that the BBC will be looking for a British (or, at the very least, non-American) producer instead.

STAR TREK executive producer Alex Kurtzman extends deal until 2026

Alex Kurtzman, the showrunner-in-chief of Paramount+'s Star Trek franchise, has extended his deal with the streamer for another five and a half years. Kurtzman will continue to create, produce and spearhead Star Trek shows for Paramount until the end of 2026, in a deal worth $160 million.

Kurtzman began his association with Star Trek as a producer and writer on the JJ Abrams-directed movies Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). He was recruited by new streamer CBS All Access (as it was then) to help Bryan Fuller and his team helm the first Star Trek television series in over a decade, Star Trek: Discovery (2017-present). Fuller left during pre-production, reportedly over budget and creative issues, and Kurtzman was promoted to showrunner. With Star Trek: Discovery a huge hit for the nascent streamer, Kurtzman has overseen the franchise's expansion to incorporate multiple spin-off shows: Picard, Lower Decks and the to-debut-shortly Prodigy and Strange New Worlds. CBS and Paramount merged last year, with CBS All Access being rebranded Paramount+. It seems that the new corporate overlords are happy enough with the franchise's popularity to retain Kurtzman's services.

However, Kurtzman has proved a divisive figure with long-term Trek fans, due to a relaxed attitude to continuity and a perceived focus on cutting-edge visual effects over character. A repeated criticism is that major character development too often happens off-screen, and sometimes audiences are asked to care about the fate of a background character who's barely uttered a line of dialogue on-screen. His plots are often incoherent and muddled. However, some of his work has been better received; Lower Decks, in particular, has attracted critical and fan acclaim for its respectful-but-fun take on Star Trek's mythos. It also sounds like Kurtzman is adopting less of a direct role in each show to focus more on the business of running the whole franchise, with individual writers and showrunners much more responsible for each show. It sounds like he's becoming more like Rick Berman once Deep Space Nine and Voyager launched, entrusting shows to individual writers whilst making more big-picture, financial decisions behind the scenes.

It also sounds like active development has resumed on several projects previously put on hold. Kurtzman had indicated that five shows was a "sweet spot" for Star Trek and he didn't want to put another one on the air until one of the existing shows - probably Picard, since Patrick Stewart (who recently turned 81) is unwilling to play the role for a long run - reached a natural conclusion. However, the article suggests that they have resumed development on the Michelle Yeoh-starring Section 31 and an unusual new take on Star Trek, focusing on the Next Generation/Deep Space Nine character of Worf.

According to ill-informed YouTube channels, Kurtzman has continuously been on the edge of being fired and his shows cancelled for the past four years. No doubt they will continue to report that this will be the case.

Fantasy author Michelle West dropped by publisher, switches to Patreon and self-publishing

Fantasy author Michelle West - a pen-name for Michelle Sagara - has been dropped by DAW following discussions between the publisher and distributor Penguin Random House.

Although DAW remains independently-owned, the company has a deal with Penguin Random House which provides it with office space, distribution and printing facilities, meaning that PRH has some say in the company's operations. PRH now seems to be saying that it will not expend resources on authors who are only marginally profitable.

Sagara's fantasy novels published as Michelle West seem to fall into this category. Under the West pseudonym, Sagara has published sixteen books in the Essalieyan universe, a series-of-series projected to contain at least four series in total. The published series are The Sacred Hunt (two books, 1995-96), The Sun Sword (six books, 1997-2004) and The House War (eight books, 2008-19). The sequence was set to conclude with End of Days, a four-book series.

Sagara had written 200,000 words for the first book in this series, Hunter's Redoubt, but editorial changes meant having to rewrite around half the material. During discussions with DAW, it appeared they could no longer publish the books as previously discussed and they would only be able to proceed if the novels were reduced in size. Sagara did not want to do this, finding the process of splitting the books into smaller volumes to be impractical.

Sagara's publishing career has been moderately successful, with early reasonable success giving way to lower sales in the 2000s and 2010s. Sagara notes herself that her books might be too long and have too many volumes (the middle two sequences alone span fourteen novels), which some readers may have found off-putting. The chronology of the novels is also potentially confusing, with the original Sacred Hunt duology actually taking place in the middle of the timeline, and those books not being as well-received as later volumes. In addition, her international profile is low (she has not had a UK or Commonwealth publisher) and based on her Goodreads profile, it appears that she has not succeeded in picking up many new fans in recent years, instead relying on her older, more established fanbase from the mid-1990s.

Sagara has now set up a Patreon and plans to bring the series to a conclusion through self-publishing. It sounds like her other long-running series, Elantra, will continue via Mira Books.

Saturday, 31 July 2021

Wertzone Classics: Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler

California, 2032. Lauren Oya Olamina has founded a community, Acorn, in sheltered mountains near the coast. Acorn is a home, a haven and also the wellspring of an idea: Earthseed, a humanist philosophy that will, Lauren hopes, one day carry humanity to the stars. But the chaos-ravaged United States doesn't want humanist philosophies, it wants strong and determined action. When the battered population votes into power a populist demagogue who preaches fire and brimstone and puts the blames for the country's ills on outsiders, non-Christians, and anyone with strange ideas, Lauren finds her ideals and her resolve will be tested more than she thought possible.

Parable of the Talents is the sequel to Octavia E. Butler's classic 1993 novel, Parable of the Sower. That novel was a more immediate apocalyptic novel, focusing on the societal collapse of the United States not from any of the usual suspects (nuclear war, a pandemic, climate catastrophe) but simple overload, assaults on its foundations of democracy and decency from almost too many directions to counter. Like the Roman Empire, the United States falls not from a single root cause but foundational cracks levered by the tyrannical and by opportunists into fissures. That book saw Lauren gathering a fellow band of survivors and setting out from the chaotic morass of Los Angeles (thematically sinking into chaos and literally starting to sink into the sea) to find a safe haven elsewhere. So far, so standard, though Butler's raw, poetic prose puts it much more at The Road end of the literary post-apocalyptic spectrum than the Walking Dead one.

Parable of the Talents picks up several years later with a more nuanced and interesting idea: riding out the post-post apocalypse. The world may feel like it's ended, but it's still here, and new societies will emerge out of the ruins of the old. In this novel the tension is ratcheted up between new movements wanting to take advantage of the opportunity to break with the dogma of the past, and those who believe that only be wholeheartedly and fanatically embracing tents of the past can they restore order...with themselves in charge, of course.

The novel has no interest in to being the first novel retrodden. This is a longer, more sophisticated book with a lot more going on. As well as Lauren's story, we have POV sections from decades further in the future written by her daughter, and some asides written by other members of the Earthseed movement. These reflect back on Lauren's life and achievements, and Butler does a good job of balancing this character reflection without spoiling the end of the book. The novel also varies its pace. The post-apocalyptic survival tale of the first book is here replaced by a book about surviving in civilisation, or what passes for it, when it is subverted by brutal fanatics. Sequences where the Earthseed community is overrun by the new President's more fanatical followers read like one of Stephen King's better horror novels. Later sequences, as Lauren's ideas take hold and civilisation fights back against the brutality of the new regime to put into place a new order, feel more like a Kim Stanley Robinson book.

The Earthseed philosophy and debates over its validity take up a fair bit of space in the book, more than in the first when the idea was still nascent and not fully-formed, and leads to intriguing and never-more-timely debates about whether humanity trying to become a spaceborne civilisation is a good idea when there is so much to do here on Earth. The counter-arguments - the technological benefits to civilisation from the space race and the importance on giving humanity, as a collective, a goal to aim towards lest it fall into decadence and regress - are interesting, if not hugely original. What is surprising is that the novel's structure means that it is mostly concerned with the immediate events surrounding the capture of Acorn. The larger, even cosmic themes of the novel unfold more through the looking-back framing device and through Lauren's long-term view of the future, as well as an epilogue that skips forwards through the decades.

Parable of the Sower was a post-apocalyptic masterpiece of raw emotion, intelligence and beautiful writing. Parable of the Talents (*****) might be even better, a story about human nature from its most brutal and repressive to its most hopeful and uplifting, centred on three-dimensional, flawed characters and eerily prophetic in its depiction of the early 21st Century being a less certain time then when it was written. The author considered writing a third book, Parable of the Trickster, to complete a trilogy but ultimately decided that the second book rounded off the story well enough, which is true. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

Thursday, 29 July 2021

Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall to depart DOCTOR WHO at the end of 2022

Doctor Who star Jodie Whittaker and showrunner Chris Chibnall have announced their plans to depart the series at the end of 2022.

Both Whittaker and Chibnall joined the show in 2018, with Whittaker playing the Thirteenth Doctor (succeeding Peter Capaldi in the role) and Chibnall taking over the creative direction of the show from Steven Moffat, who had helmed the show since 2011. Whittaker is the first woman to play the role of the Doctor since the character's inception in 1963, whilst Chibnall is the third showrunner to helm the series since its return in 2005.

Whittaker's departure after the forthcoming thirteenth season (of the reboot) was widely anticipated; no actor has played the role of the Doctor for more than three seasons since Tom Baker departed the role after seven seasons in 1981. However, Chibnall's departure is more surprising; barring the one-off 1996 TV movie, no other showrunner has done less than five years in the role since Graham Williams (1977-80) and Philip Hinchcliffe (1975-77). Traditionally, most showrunners have since 1980 have stayed on for the run of at least two Doctors whilst Chibnall will have done just one.

Their tenure on the show has been something of a mixed bag. Whittaker's energetic performance has mostly been praised and her first full season in the role was something of a relief, with more of a focus on historical stories and comprehensible storylines with clear stakes and more logical resolutions than the preceding seasons, which often relied on hand-waved solutions and variably comprehensible plotting. The season was also notable for not having any kind of over-arcing storyline, for the first time since 2005. However, her first season failed to produce an outstanding, classic episode of note and there was criticism of the decision to give her three companions, making for an overcrowded TARDIS and there not being enough story to service four regular characters plus the guest star of any given week. 

These problems persisted into her second season in the role, but were also accompanied by some backsliding into the fast-paced but nonsensical plotting that characterised the worst of both the Davies and Moffat eras. Chibnall also put into motion a planned story arc that would retcon the Doctor's backstory and origins, a decision that would draw a very mixed response from hardcore fans and seemingly baffled more casual viewers, for whom one of the main draws of Doctor Who is much less of a reliance on long-running storylines and impenetrable background lore compared to other SFF franchises. Viewers would seem to agree, with ratings (particularly first-night ratings, although these have been in global decline as people switch en masse to streaming and timeshifting) slumping by almost 50% over the course of the two seasons (although, once the the initial bump caused by Whittaker's arrival is factored in, ratings remained somewhat comparable to Capaldi's run).

Although Chibnall's writing and plotting attracted a number of complaints, some commentators offered other explanations: Doctor Who is about to air its thirteenth season in sixteen years, a relatively high rate of output for the BBC and British television in general. "Franchise fatigue" was blamed for the Star Trek franchise flaming out in 2005 (ironically just as Doctor Who was returning after sixteen years off-air), after seventeen years of continuous production and it might be that Doctor Who has simply become over-familiar and safe, with kids no longer excited about the show as they were during the Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant years.

Additionally, Doctor Who finds itself in a very different competitive landscape to when it relaunched in 2005. Back then, the BBC gave the show the budget to at least try to vaguely compete with procedural, network American series (Doctor Who reportedly was given a then-generous budget of around $1 million per episode, compared to the $2-3 million of an American network show like, say, Battlestar Galactica or Star Trek: Enterprise). Between 2005 and 2010 the show was given budget bumps to stay competitive, but it suffered budget cuts and freezes in the wake of the financial crisis. These have reportedly remained in place (especially as the amount of money the publicly-funded BBC spends comes under more scrutiny), which due to inflation means that the show has been effectively suffering continuous, annual budget cuts for the last decade.

These have resulted in the show taking increasingly obvious cost-cutting measures, including reducing the number of episodes per season and increasing the gaps between seasons to audience-infuriating levels. At the same time, the competition has started coming from streaming and premium cable, with shows like Star Trek: Discovery and The Witcher spending seven times the budget per-episode than Doctor Who. Amazon's even more expensive forthcoming Wheel of Time and Middle-earth shows could fund an entire season of Doctor Who for less than the cost of a single episode. Much like in 1989, when the BBC "rested" Doctor Who in the face of absurdly superior overseas fare, Doctor Who is looking increasingly threadbare compared to its contemporaries.

Officially, the BBC is saying that Doctor Who will continue and a new actor and showrunner will be announced in due course. Before then, the thirteenth season will air this autumn with six episodes (the lowest number in the show's history, due to COVID restrictions) forming one continuous storyline. Three TV specials will follow next year, airing on New Year's Day, around Easter and either at Christmas or New Year's Eve 2022, with the Fourteenth Doctor taking over at that point.

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Scott Lynch provides update on his writing process

Scott Lynch, the author of the long-percolating Gentleman Bastard series which began with The Lies of Locke Lamora (2006) has provided a substantial update on his current writing situation.

As is well-known, Lynch launched his career impressively with The Lies of Locke Lamora and its immediate sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies (2007). However, his proposed seven-book series seemed to stall after that point. The third book, The Republic of Thieves, was not published until 2013. The fourth book, The Thorn of Emberlain, has been hovering around the edge of completion for well over two years, since Lynch revealed he had completed a draft of the novel in early 2019. However, updates since then have been fleeting.

Lynch has faced a public battle with mental health issues, publicly speaking about delays caused by anxiety, bereavement and other problems in his life. A few years ago he noted that he was reasonably productive as far as writers go, but had crippling problems letting go of a work and sending the final version to the publishers.

In his update, Lynch confirms that this problem has left him in a situation similar to "Prince's vault," the analogy that the musical artist Prince completed entire albums and numerous, fairly expensive music videos and then shelved them in his vault for years and years on end, refusing to release them to the world (five years after his passing, the fate of much of that material remains unclear). Lynch confirms that in his "vault" are seven short stories, a novella, a novelette, a number of essays and even a whole novel (whether this is The Thorn of Emberlain is unclear, but one assumes so since he confirmed completion of that draft), which he wants to get out to the world.

To combat his anxiety issues, Lynch confirms he is now on anti-anxiety medication for the first time in his life and he hopes this will allow him to start releasing this material to the world. Obviously we wish him the very best and hope this helps him with his health issues, before any consideration of his writing career.

Friday, 23 July 2021

Hans Zimmer previews DUNE soundtrack with two tracks

Two tracks from Hans Zimmer's soundtrack for the new Dune movie have been unveiled.

Zimmer is a fan of the original Dune novel and has wanted to work on a film adaptation for years, even foregoing his usual collaboration with Christopher Nolan to work on the movie, and clearly brought his A-game to bear on this project.

Dune will be released in cinemas and on HBO Max (in the United States and several other countries) on 22 October.