Saturday, 16 January 2077

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Saturday, 7 December 2019

The Legend of Korra - Book II: Spirits

Korra, the new Avatar, has saved Republic City from the evil Amon. A new problem arises when dark spirits start attacking ships belonging to the Southern Water Tribe and Unalaq, the leader of the Northern Water Tribe, declares that the south has lost its spiritual identity. When the Northern Tribe annexes the south, Korra is placed in a difficult situation.

The three seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender constitute one of the finest epic fantasy narratives of all time, and the first season of The Legend of Korra was a fine spin-off which went in a different direction with story and atmosphere whilst remaining part of the same world. The second season of Korra delves into more familiar Avatar material, such as the Water Tribes, the Spirit World and the Great Library, as well as establishing more backstory and lore. It's also, unfortunately, a messy and unfocused season which gets very silly at times.

Things start promisingly with the split in the Water Tribes risking civil war, with Korra's parents caught up in the conflict. This gives us recognisable stakes and an emotional connection to the storyline. However, Unalaq is too obviously a villain and Korra's decision to trust him even after he invades the Southern Tribe is implausible. It also doesn't help that in character and even design, Unalaq almost confusingly resembles the similar character of Tarrlok from Season 1.

The story then shifts from a political struggle to more of a spiritual one, as we learn that the Avatar was created by the merging of the a human with a "spirit of light" ten thousand years ago, and Unalaq plans to release a corresponding "spirit of dark" from its prison and become a "dark Avatar." There's some potential in this storyline but it's not really realised very well. A flashback episode to the creation of the first Avatar is well-realised, with a different art style to the rest of the series, but there are major lore contradictions to the established backstory (remarkable enough that even Avatar uber-fan and occasional voice actor Serena Williams complained about it). The visual design of the two spirits - as sort of flapping things that look like flags or something - is also fairly risible. At the end of the season there's a huge battle between the two Avatars which I think is trying to be a homage to Japanese anime tropes but instead looks ridiculous. The ending also doesn't really make much sense (given that the spirit of light is reborn out of the darkness five minutes after its apprent defeat, it's unclear how defeating the spirit of dark doesn't cause the same thing to happen to it).

There's also the odd decision to make the inhabitants of the Spirit World look like fluffy cuddly Pokemon and have them flip from being good or evil based on who's in the vicinity, which again feels out of keeping with Avatar, which established the spirits as being much more vague and mysterious. This season over-explains the Spirit World to the point where it loses any ambiguity and thus becomes less interesting.

Elsewhere things are better. Bolin has an amusing relationship with the psychopathic Eska (magnificently voiced by Aubrey Plaza) and new character Varrick, an eccentric billionaire industrialist, is entertaining. Tenzin's children get more to do, particularly Jinora, and the introduction of Tenzin's siblings Bumi and Kya allows the writers to explore some interesting family drama and dynamics. Something Korra does very well is show that our heroes from Avatar continued to have interesting lives after defeating the Fire Lord, sometimes with major downs and reversals, but ultimately coming through. In the middle of an otherwise weak season, it is a reminder that there are more interesting stories in this world that could be explored.

The second season of The Legend of Korra (***) is watchable with some solid character development and good subplots, but in terms of structurally and pacing it's a mess, and the main story is confusing, contradictory and grandiose but without much depth. Easily the weakest season of the Avatar/Korra franchise, things thankfully improve markedly in the following season. The season is available now as part of the complete series box set (UK, USA) and on Amazon Prime worldwide.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Four new castmembers for THE WHEEL OF TIME: Thom, Logain, Fain & Loial

Amazon have confirmed the casting of four more major characters for their Wheel of Time TV series, currently in production.

Thom Merrilin is a gleeman, or travelling bard, story-teller and information-broker. He travels between villages sharing news of import in the world, and becomes a key mentor to the young people from the Two Rivers, who have barely left their home villages before. 

Thom will be played by Alexandre Willaume, a Danish actor best-known for playing Kjartan, one of the main antagonists in the first two seasons of The Last Kingdom. He has also appeared in Home Fire (2015), Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) and the latest Tomb Raider (2018).

Padan Fain is a peddler, a merchant who travels the worlds buying and selling goods between small villages. Like gleemen, he also picks up on news and information from afar.

Fain will be played by Johann Myers, who rose to fame playing Sonny in the acclaimed British drama State of Play (2003). He has since appeared in dramas including Criminal Justice, Luther, Black Mirror (in the acclaimed episode The National Anthem) and Silent Witness.

Logain Ablar is an ambitious and prideful man who discovered at a young age that he could channel the One Power. In the world of the Wheel, this means madness and death for a man. He has raised the standard of the Dragon Reborn, claiming to be the chosen one who will save the world from destruction, and gathered an army to his name. When the story opens, his forces are on the move and a coalition of other nations led by the Aes Sedai (female channellers of the One Power) are mobilising to face him.

Logain will be played by Alvaro Morte. A Spanish actor, Morte has appeared in TV series including The Head, Money Heist, The Pier and Love in Difficult Times.

Loial is an Ogier, a non-human race of giant but learned, gentle and wise artists and builders. The Ogier are famed for their knowledge and artistry, but are sometimes underestimated; when roused to anger, they are a formidable foe. Ogier live in harmony with nature and are rarely seen outside of big cities and their homes, the stedding.

Loial will be played – presumably with numerous prosthetics and/or CG enhancement – by Hammed Animashaun. Animashaun has appeared frequently on stage and in TV shows including Pls Like, Black Mirror and Flowers.

The casting news will come as a relief to Wheel of Time fans who were starting to fear that Thom and Loial had been cut from the series due to a lack of early casting news. However, it is likely that these actors will be recurring for Season 1 rather than regular castmembers, explaining the relatively late announcement.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

RIP D.C. Fontana

Sadly, news has broken today that science fiction screenwriting legend Dorothy "D.C." Fontana has passed away at the age of 80.

Fontana was born in 1939 in New Jersey. In 1960, at the age of just 21, she sold her first script for television, for the Western The Tall Man. This led to other opportunities to work on other shows, such as The Lieutenant, which had been created by Gene Roddenberry. Roddenberry encouraged Fontana's career, as she was one of very few women scriptwriters in the television industry. Her early scripts had been published as Dorothy C. Fontana, but she adopted the gender-neutral name "D.C. Fontana" after suspecting some scripts had been returned unread because of her name.

After The Lieutenant was cancelled, Roddenberry began developing his space opera series, Star Trek, and invited Fontana to work on the project. Fontana wrote the teleplay for Charlie X (based on Roddenberry's outline) and Tomorrow is Yesterday, as performing script editor tasks on This Side of Paradise. Her work on the latter impressed Roddenberry enough that he promoted her to full-time script editor on the series.

Fontana wrote or co-wrote episodes including Journey to Babel, Friday's Child and, most contentiously, The City on the Edge of Forever. She rewrote Ellison's initial draft (to Ellison's displeasure) but Roddenberry then made further changes. The final screen version became arguably Star Trek's most critically acclaimed episode.

Fontana left as script editor at the end of Season 2, but returned in Season 3 with several freelance scripts, including The Enterprise Incident and That Which Survives. Fontana's writing won praise from Leonard Nimoy, who felt that she understood Vulcan characters much better than most writers and also credited her with including female characters who weren't just love interests.

Fontana continued to work in television on shows such as Then Came Bronson, The Fantastic Journey, Logan's Run, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Streets of San Francisco and The Waltons. In 1987 she re-teamed with Roddenberry to work on Star Trek: The Next Generation, where she became a producer and co-wrote the pilot episode, Encounter at Farpoint. Partway through the first season, she quit in a dispute over credits and the work she was putting into the show in other areas which she wasn't being paid for.

Fontana did return to Star Trek with Deep Space Nine, where she co-wrote the episode Dax which explored and set up some of the ideas for the Trill species that recurred through the show's lifespan. She also created the storyline for the Star Trek video games Secret of Vulcan Fury, Star Trek: Legacy and Star Trek: Tactical Assault. She also worked on the fan series Star Trek: New Voyages.

In 1994 Fontana began working on Babylon 5, alongside fellow Star Trek alum David Gerrold. Fontana worked closely with creator J. Michael Straczynski and developed the early script The War Prayer. After getting more of a feel for the characters, she asked to pitch a story idea rather than developing one of Straczynski's loglines in the series bible. Straczynski was sceptical but allowed her to do so, but loved her idea so much he commissioned it on the spot. This led to Legacies, not only one of the best-regarded episodes of the first season but one that catalysed a number of major plot movements in later episodes, despite not being in Straczynski's original plan for the series. Fontana also wrote the episode A Distant Star for Season 2.

Following her Babylon 5 experience, she worked on ReBoot, Earth: Final Conflict and Beast Wars: Transformers.

Fontana passed away on 2 December 2019. A formidable writing talent, she helped blaze a trail for women scriptwriters in Hollywood television and established many key parts of the Star Trek mythos. Highly respected and regarded in her field, she will be missed.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Blogging Roundup: 27 October to 30 November 2019

The Wertzone
Chaosium Inc to adapt RIVERS OF LONDON as a roleplaying game
RED ALERT: SPACE FLEET WARFARE on a massive discount in the UK and US
Classic Amiga game developers Bitmap Brothers bought out by Rebellion Studios
Season 2 of THE WITCHER to start shooting in February
VIKINGS to get sequel spin-off series on Netflix
Fourth STAR TREK reboot movie to be directed by FARGO showrunner
Valve to release third full HALF-LIFE game in March 2020 (but not the one you want)
Netflix announces episode titles for THE WITCHER: Season 1
LORD OF THE RINGS: THE SECOND AGE renewed for a second season
More cast announced for Terry Pratchett's THE WATCH TV series
AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER live-action remake to start shooting in February
Tor Books bringing John M. Ford's books back into print
New actor announced for WHEEL OF TIME TV series
THE WITCHER renewed for second season at Netflix
The BBC's new WAR OF THE WORLDS adaptation gets an airdate
Mark Lawrence's BROKEN EMPIRE trilogy optioned for TV
Disney+ to hit the UK on 31 March
Joss Whedon's HBO show THE NEVERS won't air until 2021
Anthony Ryan's BLOOD SONG optioned for television
THE DRAGON PRINCE gets Season 3 trailer and release date
THE WITCHER gets trailer and official release date
HBO upgrade second GAME OF THRONES spin-off to full series order, gets title
GAME OF THRONES: THE DANCE OF DRAGONS gets official pilot order at HBO
David Benioff & D.B. Weiss part ways with STAR WARS
GAME OF THRONES spin-off THE LONG NIGHT cancelled at HBO
THE WITCHER likely to hit Netflix on 17 December (almost right!)


Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Search by Gene Yang and Team Gurihiru
Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapkowski
Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise by Gene Yang and Team Gurihiru
The Outer Worlds
The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli & Alicia Zaloga
Into the Badlands: Season 3
Pokemon: Detective Pikachu
Salvation Lost by Peter F. Hamilton
Archer: Seasons 7-10
Time of Contempt by Andrzej Sapkowski
Disenchantment: Season 1
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski


SF&F Questions: Will we ever see HALF-LIFE 3?
Franchise Familiariser: Avatar: The Last Airbender
Monstrous Development: The Controversy of BBC America's THE WATCH
She Saved the World...a Lot: A BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER Retrospective
A History of Homeworld Part 8: The Vaygr War
A History of Homeworld Part 7: The Beast War
Happy 56th Anniversary to DOCTOR WHO
Franchise Familiariser: Warhammer 40,000
Where to Start? - Guy Gavriel Kay (updated)
The Power and the Glory: A ROME Retrospective
The WHEEL OF TIME video game turns 20 years old!
A History of Homeworld Part 6: The Reconstruction
A History of Homeworld Part 5: The Homeworld War
A History of Homeworld Part 4: The Guidestone

Atlas of Ice and Fire

SF&F Questions: Will We Ever See HALF-LIFE 3?

The Basics
The Half-Life series of video games is one of the most influential, critically-acclaimed and biggest-selling in history. More than 30 million copies of the two core games in the series have been sold, and many millions more of the various expansions, DLC and the popular Portal series of spin-off games. However, the core storyline begun in the original Half-Life (1998) stalled in Half-Life 2: Episode Two (2007), which ended on a massive cliffhanger. In the twelve years (and counting) to date, that cliffhanger has not been resolved.

Concept art for Half-Life 2: Episode Three from around 2008.

The Story So Far
Ex-Microsoft employees Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington set up Valve Corporation in 1996. They began development of their first video games, an all-out, first-person action title called Quiver and a moody, story-driven science fiction epic entitled Prospero. After a few months in development they realised they didn't have enough manpower to develop both games, so combined them into a new title: Half-Life.

Released in late 1998, Half-Life was almost immediately acclaimed the greatest video game ever made (at least on PC) and sold millions of copies. Expansions followed, Opposing Force in 1999 (which launched the career of Gearbox Software) and Blue Shift in 2000. Valve and their fans in the modding scene developed a number of spin-offs from the engine, including the popular multiplayer games Counter-Strike and Team Fortress, before beginning work on a full sequel.

When Half-Life 2 was released in November 2004, it was not only also immediately acclaimed the greatest PC game ever made, it was also hugely controversial for requiring online activation and validation on Valve's propriety online store, called "Steam." A lot of people were furious with Valve for this move, but the overwhelming critical acclaim given to the game saw them give in and join the services. Half-Life 2 also sold millions of copies, as did its expansions Episode One (2006) and Episode Two (2007) and a related spin-off game, Portal (2007).

Half-Life 2: Episode Two ended on a massive cliffhanger, with a major character dead and the fate of the rest of the characters in severe jeopardy. Valve assured fans they were working on Episode Three. However, several years passed in which little news was released. In the meantime Valve continued making well-regarded games, including Team Fortress 2 (2007), Left 4 Dead (2008), Left 4 Dead 2 (2009), Portal 2 (2011) and Dota 2 (2013).

Also during this time period Steam went through a massive explosion of popularity, becoming the default online PC games portal and making Valve billions of dollars in pure profit. As of this year, there are more than 90 million regular Steam customers and over one billion accounts in existence.

The Half-Life franchise's main protagonists, Gordon Freeman (left) and Alyx Vance (right).

So what happened to Half-Life 3?
Shortly after the release of Half-Life 2 in 2004, Valve confirmed it was working on three "episodes," each one of which would be about one-third the length of Half-Life 2. The idea was that the episodes would form a full sequel to Half-Life 2, and delivering them incrementally would mean that fans would not have to endure another six-year wait such as that which fell between the first two games. Episode One and Episode Two duly followed (split by an eighteen-month gap) in 2006 and 2007, with Episode Three estimated for arrival in mid-2009.

Valve's public statements about the episode were brief and not particularly useful, although they confirmed that the game would pick up on story elements left dangling from Episode Two, particularly the revelation that Dr. Mossman had discovered a key to defeating the Combine on board an old freighter lost in the Arctic, the Borealis. In 2011 the game Portal 2 featured some tie-ins to Episode Three, including the player discovering the drydock the Borealis was launched from. There were also some hints that Episode Three might unite the Half-Life and Portal franchises in some fashion.

By 2012 the Internet had officially grown bored of the wait and a huge number of memes about the missing game had been amassed. Valve boss Gabe Newell made a brief (if coded) comment that the game was in development but said little else about it. Over the following four years there was again little sign of life in the franchise, except a few comments and apparently internal T-shirts at Valve which suggested that Half-Life 2: Episode Three was dead and the story would only continue in a full Half-Life 3 itself.

In 2016, Marc Laidlaw, the main writer on all of the Half-Life games, quit Valve unexpectedly. A year later, he revealed the working outline of Episode Three and how the story would have unfolded (it would have ended on another cliffhanger, if of a lesser magnitude). It was also confirmed around this time that Valve had not seriously been working on Half-Life 3 or Episode Three for many years. This battery of news, following the news that other Half-Life alumni had quit Valve over the years, seemed to confirm to the Internet that Half-Life was finally dead.

Until this week, when Valve unexpectedly announced a full-length, brand-new Half-Life game which wasn't a sequel to Episode Two. Instead, Half-Life: Alyx is an "interquel" set between Half-Life and Half-Life 2, and will be a VR exclusive. It's the latest, unexpected twist in a story that constantly defies explanation.

A pre-release screenshot for Half-Life: Alyx, a new VR game.

So why on Earth has Valve never just made Half-Life 3?
This is the hundred million dollar question. On the surface, Half-Life 3 would have been a licence to print money. The franchise has sold tens of millions of copies and made hundreds of millions of dollars in profit (maybe more). They had momentum from making Half-Life 2 and the two episodes and a team in place ready to roll on.

The reasons why Valve lost that momentum now seem more obvious in retrospect. Steam was a much bigger, much wilder success than anyone ever expected. Valve take home around $4 billion in profit a year from just running a games store, which rather handily eliminates any question over their financial security. Valve are currently the most profitable-per-employee company in the United States and have rejected offers to be bought out by both Electronic Arts and Microsoft, each offer allegedly northwards of $20 billion.

In addition, Valve seemed to struggle with the idea of a central mechanic to hook Half-Life 3 around. Half-Life was built around the all-encompassing idea of a realistic 3D environment; Half-Life 2 was built around physics and the ability to manipulate everything in the world via the Gravity Gun. What new tech Valve could use to direct Half-Life 3 seems to have been something they struggled with for some time; the "Episodes" format even seems to have been a way for them to try to get around that by not requiring a new mechanic for the smaller games, but that didn't work out either.

There's also the risk of diminishing returns and impossible expectations: Half-Life and Half-Life 2 were both deemed the greatest game of all time on release, but by the time of Episode Two's release, the critical acclaim had ebbed away somewhat and the expansion got only middling reviews, with most of the acclaim going on its contemporary spin-off release instead, Portal. One of the reasons for pulling Episode Three is likely that the Source Engine technology it was relying on was going to be too old hat in 2009 (when it was originally due for release) and Valve didn't want to overhaul the engine to the extent required to make it more of a cutting-edge release (although they eventually did for Portal 2 two years later). This inspired the move from Episode Three to Half-Life 3, but the project never seemed to get off the ground, probably due to this issue over not having a central new mechanic. Valve seem to have developed a perfectionist streak and the determination that Half-Life 3 could not be released unless it was guaranteed to re-make the wheel again, which is a huge (and likely impossible) task to set yourself.

The other issue with not making Half-Life 3 is one of age. This year Half-Life turned 21 years old. Half-Life 2 celebrated its 15th anniversary a fortnight ago. An entire generation of gamers has grown up who are completely unfamiliar with the franchise, which is a problem for Valve.

Another pre-release screenshot for Half-Life: Alyx, due for release in March 2020.

Does Half-Life: Alyx put Half-Life 3 back in play?
In a word, yes. Half-Life: Alyx appears to be a gimmick, another attempt to push VR technology on a sceptical gaming audience. But it should be remembered that in order to make Alyx, Valve have had to completely revamp their engine technology and their art. As the game is set in City 17, it will feature new, HD and 4K assets and textures of locations we have already seen in previous games, as well as new lighting technology, better water and so on.

These are all elements that can be fed back into not just a Half-Life 3 but also a Half-Life 2 Remastered. Remasters are all the rage and Half-Life 2 has benefited from minor tech upgrades over the years, but it hasn't had the full remaster treatment yet. With the technology developed for Alyx, it should be relatively simple for Valve to completely remaster Half-Life 2 and its two expansions, all ready for re-release on the next generation of PC and console hardware. And of course, if you can do that then you're most of the way to building expectations for a Half-Life 3.

We saw this recently when Gearbox Software acquired the Homeworld licence, released Homeworld Remastered and then a stand-alone prequel game, Deserts of Kharak, and then based on their success have started work on Homeworld 3. And that franchise was (and remains) very obscure compared to Half-Life.


Valve have not so far made a Half-Life 3 due to a combination of having total financial security from their Steam service instead; not having found a central technology or mechanic to hook the game around; declining interest in the franchise as it gets older; and utterly unachievable expectations set by the fanbase which only get worse with every year.

However, Valve creating and releasing Half-Life: Alyx suggests that they have overcome some of these objections and also developed technology and assets that could be used to make Half-Life 3. This doesn't mean it'll happen, but it puts the idea back in play as a serious possibility for the first time in many years. Of course, if Alyx is an unexpected success it does raise the possibility that Half-Life 3 itself may a VR game. And that would be an interesting situation to watch unfold.

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Saturday, 30 November 2019

Chaosium Inc to adapt RIVERS OF LONDON as a roleplaying game

Chaosium Inc., best-known as the creators of the classic Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, has licensed Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London urban fantasy series for a new pen-and-paper RPG.

The game will use Chaosium's own rules set, customised to reflect the magic used in the books.

The game is at an early stage of development, so I'd be surprised if we saw it this side of 2021. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are also developing a TV series based on the books.

The Rivers of London series so far spans Rivers of London (2011), Moon Over Soho (2011), Whispers Under Ground (2012), Broken Homes (2013), Foxglove Summer (2014), The Hanging Tree (2016) and Lies Sleeping (2018), as well as related novellas and graphic novels.

RED ALERT: SPACE FLEET WARFARE on a massive discount in the UK and US

The absolutely superb - but very expensive - board game Red Alert: Space Fleet Warfare currently has a huge discount going on at both its UK and US stores.

In the UK, Red Alert normally goes for £100 but is currently discounted to £40. In the US the game normally retails at $130, but is currently discounted to $52. The game's numerous small expansions are also discounted very generously.

Avatar: The Last Airbender Franchise Familiariser

Netflix are producing a live-action television series based on an earlier animated show called Avatar: The Last Airbender. Alongside The Witcher and The Chronicles of Narnia, Netflix are betting on Avatar being the next big fantasy epic on TV. But what if you are unfamiliar with the series and its premise? Time for a Franchise Familiariser course!

The main cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender: from left to right, Sokka, Toph, Aang, Katara and Zuko, with Appa in the background.

The Basics

Avatar: The Last Airbender is an animated fantasy television series set in a fictional world where both magic and politics are divided by the four elements: Water, Air, Earth and Fire. Four distinct ethnic-political groupings have emerged: the two Water Tribes (one at each pole), the Air Nomads (who dwell in and around four great mountainous Air Temples), the enormous Earth Kingdom and the technologically-advanced Fire Nation.

Magic-users in this world are called “benders” because they can bend the elements to their will. Almost all benders only use one element each and this will be determined by their bloodline and where they are born (firebenders don’t appear in the Water Tribes and Earthbenders are never born in the Fire Nation, for example). The sole exception is the Avatar, one person in the whole world who can use all four elements simultaneously. The Avatar is both a very powerful individual but also serves as a bridge between the Spirit World and the material world. The Avatar is also reincarnated at the moment of death, transferring from one kingdom to the next.

Avatar: The Last Airbender takes place in a medieval-ish world which is starting to develop into a more steampunk kind of setting. It depicts the reappearance of the long-missing Avatar and how he and his friends and allies overcome the threat of the power-hungry Fire Lord.

The Legend of Korra is a sequel series to Avatar, set seventy years later. It depicts the adventures of the next Avatar when she arrives in Republic City, a teeming metropolis which has grown up in a world without war, and what happens once chaos and imbalance threaten the world once again.

Avatar was made for children, but the generally high quality of the writing, the depth in which the themes are explored and the impressive animation have seen it gain a huge adult, global fanbase as well. The Legend of Korra deals with more adult themes than its forebear.

The six (so far) canonical graphic novels which take place after Avatar: The Last Airbender and set up the events of The Legend of Korra.

The Canon

The Avatar: The Last Airbender canon consists of two television series and a long-running series of comics and graphic novels.

Any rumours of a live-action Avatar movie directed by M. Night Shyamalan in 2009 are illusory, and should not be pursued.

The canon consists of:

Television Series
Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-08): 61 episodes released over three seasons, subtitled Water, Earth and Fire.

The Legend of Korra (2012-14): 52 episodes released over four seasons, subtitled Air, Spirits, Change and Balance.

Graphic Novels 
Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Lost Adventures (2011): a collection of one-off and short-run comics previously published between 2005 and 2011. 

The Promise (2012): This and the following graphic novels form a direct sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender, picking up immediately after the events of the TV series.

The Search (2013)

The Rift (2014)

Smoke & Shadow (2015-16)

North and South (2016-17)

Imbalance (2018-19)

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Team Avatar Tales (2020): a second collection of one-off and short-run comics previously published between 2013 and 2015.

The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars (2017-18): a direct sequel to The Legend of Korra.

The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire (2019-20)

Video Games
Avatar: The Last Airbender (2007): an action game from THQ

Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Burning Earth (2007)

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Into the Inferno (2008)

The Legend of Korra (2014): a beat ‘em up by PlatinumGames.

The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins (2014): a strategy game for the 3DS.

The Backstory
For centuries the Four Nations have lived together in peace, harmony and balance. The balance was upset approximately one century ago by Fire Lord Sozin, who used the appearance of a comet which could bolster the power of firebending to wage war on the other nations. The Fire Nation conquered part of the Earth Kingdom, using it as a base to launch further attacks and raids on the main continent, and also wiped out the Air Nomads as part of an attempt to kill the Avatar when he was just a child, ending the line forever. The Avatar, a 12-year-old boy named Aang, disappeared and it was presumed the Fire Nation had succeeded. However, the Fire Lords knew they had failed and over the coming years sent many agents and assassins to search for the Avatar.

No new Avatar appeared in the interim and the world lost hope. The Fire Nation spent three generations waging war on the rest of the world, seizing and colonising vast stretches of the Earth Kingdom and dragging the Water Tribes into the war as well. The war bogged down under Fire Lord Azulon, who seemed content with a long stalemate, but Azulon’s brutal and more dynamic successor, Ozai, has prosecuted the war with much greater vigour since becoming Fire Lord.

The series begins when two young members of the Southern Water Tribe, the waterbender Katara and her brother Sokka, find Avatar Aang frozen in an iceberg. They thaw him out and he realises he has to save the world. Matters gain urgency when it is revealed that Sozin’s Comet is returning in just under a year and, on the day it passes closest to the world, Fire Lord Ozai will use its power to destroy the last resistance to his rule. The Avatar, who usually spends years mastering each element in turn, has only months to master water, earth and fire before facing his destiny.

Avatar: The Last Airbender
The original animated series tells the story of Aang and his quest to defeat the Fire Lord. The story is broken up into three seasons or “books.”

In Book I: Water, Aang learns waterbending from Katara, but she is also still a novice and they decide to travel across the entire hemisphere to the larger and more powerful Northern Water Tribe to find a teacher. They undertake the journey on Aang’s flying sky-bison, Appa, who was frozen along with him in the ice. They are joined on their journey by Sokka, Katara’s non-bending brother, and a flying monkey-lemur named Momo. They are pursued relentlessly by Prince Zuko, the Fire Lord’s son whom he exiled for cowardice, who seeks to regain his honour by capturing the Avatar. Zuko is advised by his wise, tea-loving uncle, Iroh, but rarely takes the advice he is given.

In Book II: Earth, Aang seeks out an earthbending teach and finds one in Toph, a young blind girl whose visual impairment seems to have enhanced her ability to sense the earth. As Aang gains knowledge of earthbending, he is struck by personal tragedy when his oldest friend, Appa, is kidnapped. The gang travels to the Earth Kingdom capital of Ba Sing Se with a bold plan to defeat the Fire Lord during a solar eclipse, but find trouble at the pinnacle of Earth Kingdom power. Meanwhile, Zuko and Iroh are forced to become desperate refugees after betraying the Fire Lord, and Zuko’s sister Azula, a master of lightning-bending, is sent to arrest him and destroy the Avatar.

In Book III: Fire, Aang and the gang travel to the Fire Nation. As their allies prepare to invade the Fire Nation capital, Aang and the team go undercover and learn how the Fire Lord has been abusing his own people. The friends and allies Aang has recruited over the years amass for the final battle, and Zuko is forced to choose his loyalties for the last time.

The Legend of Korra
The sequel series tells the story of Aang’s successor as the Avatar, Korra of the Southern Water Tribe. Unlike Avatar, which tells one story over three seasons, Korra depicts four separate struggles which take place in sequence.

In Book I: Air, the new Avatar, Korra, masters waterbending, earthbending and firebending but is unable to master airbending, since almost every airbender in the world was wiped out during the Hundred Year War. Frustrated, she runs away to Republic City and recruits the aid of Master Tenzin, Aang’s son, in learning airbending. Republic City is then thrown into chaos by Amon, the leader of the “Equalist” movement which plots the destruction of all benders and has gained the power to remove a bender’s powers.

In Book II: Spirits, Korra has to intervene in a growing dispute between the two Water Tribes, with the Northern Tribe (long the more numerous and powerful) threatening to “unify” the two by force. A series of events see a permanent change in the connection between the Material and Spiritual Worlds.

In Book III: Change, the world is recovering from an event which has seen the Spirit World merge with the Material. This has included the forced return of airbending to the world en masse, with the ability manifesting in tens of thousands. A criminal, Zaheer, becomes an airbender and plots to use his new power to conquer the world.

In Book IV: Balance, Korra’s powers are put to the test when civil war erupts in the Earth Kingdom. A new, brutalist “Earth Empire” arises on a populist wave to replace the Kingdom and plots to conquer Republic City.

The world of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Click for a larger version and check out more maps over on my Atlas of Ice and Fire blog.


The setting for both Avatar and Korra is a single planet located in the Material World. The Spirit World, the source of magic, spirits and possibly souls, is also explored in some detail.

The Avatar world is spherical but only one hemisphere has been explored; the other is believed to be almost entirely covered in water. The major nations include:

The Earth Kingdom: the largest and most populous nation, but the one with the lowest percentage of benders in the population. The Earth Kingdom occupies the main continent and several immediately adjacent smaller islands and subcontinents, although several of these in the far north-west have been conquered by the Fire Nation. The Earth Kingdom is ruled from Ba Sing Se, the largest city in the world, by the reclusive Earth King.

The Fire Nation: the most technologically-advanced nation in the world, the Fire Nation occupies a very large island or small continent in the ocean to the west of the Earth Kingdom, and also spreads along an extensive island chain to the east. The Fire Nation occupies several holdings along the coast of the Earth Kingdom, the most significant being colonies in the far north-west, some of which have existed for a century.

The Northern Water Tribe: located at the small northern polar continent, the Northern Water Tribe is relatively large and numerous, and far more technologically advanced than their southern kin. The Northern Tribe has largely sat out the war, defended by its capital’s enormous walls and the climate which the Fire Nation finds difficult to operate in.

The Southern Water Tribe: located at the even smaller southern polar continent, the Southern Water Tribe is more nomadic and primitive than their northern cousins. Despite this, their bravery is unquestioned and over the course of the war they have sent countless warriors to help support the Earth Kingdom against the Fire Nation.

The Air Nomads: the Air Nomads occupied four large Air Temples located in the four corners of the world. However, they were the victims of a multi-pronged sneak-attack ordered by Fire Lord Sozin, who was determined to destroy the Avatar in one fell swoop. All four temples were sacked and every last airbender apparently killed. Although the Air Nomads are considered extinct, some members of the other nations still honour them and their spiritual ways.

The United Republic of Nations: a new nation established some years after the events of Avatar. It was formed out of the former Fire Nation colonies in the north-western Earth Kingdom and became a nation where members from all of the other kingdoms could come and live in peace. Its capital, Republic City, rapidly became one of the largest and most advanced cities in the world. The United Republic and Republic City are the primary settings for The Legend of Korra

Korra bending fire and water.


Magic – known as “bending” in the Avatar world – is the manipulation of the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. Benders can only manipulate one element apiece and the ability appears to be somewhat genetic: the child of two benders is far more likely to be able to bend him or herself. The ability to bend is somewhat random, however and can skip several generations; Katara’s brother, mother, father and grandmother are all non-benders.

If benders of different disciplines marry, their children may be of either discipline as well. For example, the brothers Mako and Bolin are the sons of a firebender and earthbender, and Mako is a firebender whilst Bolin is an earthbender.

Waterbenders can manipulate water. They can freeze it, turn it into cloud or turn it into a razor-sharp weapon. They can push water back to create bubbles of air underwater. As the series continues, waterbenders discover two other forms of bending: healing is using the spiritual form of waterbending to repair tissue damage and injury, and bloodbending is the manipulation of water content in the human body and blood. This can turn people into puppets, or cause blood to congeal or flow in unnatural and dangerous ways. Bloodbending is considered extremely dangerous and is outlawed. Fortunately, very few waterbenders have the skill to become bloodbenders.

Earthbenders can manipulate the power of the earth itself. They can turn earth to mud, encase themselves in rock armour, cause rocks to erupt out of the ground and can kick or throw rocks with tremendous force. Toph, arguably the greatest earthbender to have ever lived, also developed a new form of the art called metalbending, using the earth content in metal to manipulate it. Metalbending is difficult as it requires a supreme effort of will to master. Lavabending is another sub-skill.

Firebenders can manipulate the raw element of fire. They can shoot fire out of their fingers, feet and mouths and can manipulate natural sources of fire. Particularly skilled firebenders can also become lightningbenders, although this is extremely difficult (and dangerous) to pull off correctly.

Airbenders can manipulate air and the wind. They can fly, create devastating hurricanes and create shields of air. Sky bisons are natural airbenders.

The Avatar is the one being in the world who can manipulate all four elements. The Avatar gains their power from the Spirit World and they can enter “the Avatar State”, which their power grows exponentially (although this also makes them vulnerable to being killed permanently). The Avatar line has continued unbroken for over ten thousand years; when one Avatar dies, his or her soul is transferred to the new one immediately, with the soul moving between earthbenders (like Kyoshi), firebenders (Roku), airbenders (Aang) and waterbenders (Korra) in that order repeatedly.

The main cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Top row from left: Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, Appa. Bottom row from left: Momo, Suki, Ozai, Iroh, Azula.

Notable Characters of Avatar: The Last Airbender
Aang is the Avatar, an airbender raised at the Southern Air Temple. At the age of 12 he ran away from home with his flying sky-bison Appa, was caught in a storm near the southern continent and forced to freeze himself in an iceberg to survive. One hundred years later, he is thawed out by Katara and Sokka. Learning of the Hundred Year War, he vows to help end the war for good. Aang is kind-hearted, generous and moral, but also occasionally impatient and impetuous.

Katara is a 14-year-old waterbender of the Southern Water Tribe. Katara is compassionate, patient and kind, but has limits which trigger her frustration and anger (limits that her brother Sokka inevitably tests on a daily basis). With her father gone to war, her mother passed away and her grandmother elderly, Katara had to act as a surrogate mother to the youngsters in her tribe.

Sokka is a 15-year-old warrior of the Southern Water Tribe. His father went to war three years ago and left Sokka behind to protect the village. Despite his youth and his awful sense of humour, Sokka is a surprisingly capable warrior with both the sword and boomerang, although he often finds himself out of his depth with “bending stuff.” As time passes, Sokka shows a surprising affinity for science, technology and military strategy.

Toph is a 12-year-old earthbender from the Earth Kingdom. Born blind, she learned how to earthbend from badgermoles, particularly their ability to sense more deeply to make up for their visual blindness. Toph is an earthbending prodigy and possibly the greatest earthbender in history, which makes her a worthy teacher to Aang. Toph is also matter-of-fact, self-reliant sometimes to the point of isolation and believes in extremely harsh training techniques. She is also the inventor of metalbending.

Appa is a huge flying sky bison and Aang’s oldest friend. He is a friendly (if sometimes grouchy) creature and serves as Team Avatar’s main mode of transportation. He is an airbender in his own right with various powers at his command. Despite being mostly friendly, Appa is not above using his intimidating size to scare off would-be enemies.

Momo is a flying monkey-lemur who joins Team Avatar at the Southern Air Temple. Momo is a cunning and wily creature, which sometimes leads people to think he’s rather smarter than he actually is.

Zuko is a 16-year-old firebender from the Fire Nation. He is also the son of Fire Lord Ozai. Zuko is intelligent and shows a keen interest in military strategy, including the conservation of lives and resources; a challenge to a senior general who planned a war of attrition saw Zuko attract the wrath of his father, who challenged him to single combat. When Zuko refused, Ozai burned Zuko’s face and exiled him from the Fire Nation. Despite this abuse, Zuko continues to respect his father and sees capturing the Avatar as a way of returning home.

Iroh is Zuko’s uncle and Fire Lord Ozai’s older brother. Iroh was once a great general, the Dragon of the West, and the original heir to Fire Lord Azulon, but the death of his son Lu Ten in battle saw Iroh become a broken man. The mantle of Fire Lord instead passed to Ozai. Iroh has since rallied and now pursues a more relaxed, spiritual path as Zuko’s mentor and advisor. He worries for Zuko, whom he treats as a surrogate son, but Zuko rarely heeds his measured advice. Iroh’s friendly, peaceful nature sometimes causes people to severely underestimate him, particularly his formidable (but rarely-deployed) firebending powers.

Azula is a 14-year-old firebender. She is the younger sister of Zuko and, since Zuko’s disgrace, has been regarded by her father as his heir. Azula is cruel, lacks empathy and is capable of tremendous manipulation of both friends and enemies. She has mastered lightningbending, an extremely advanced and dangerous form of firebending. Azula is often accompanied by two friends and allies, Mai, a master of knife combat, and Ty Lee, an acrobat and martial artist specialising in paralysing attacks. Azula’s overwhelming confidence is her weakness: she does not cope well when her carefully-laid-out stratagems collapse.

Ozai is the Fire Lord, supreme ruler of the Fire Nation, younger brother to Iroh and father to Zuko and Azula. He is ruthless, amoral, cunning, utterly without remorse and dedicated to his own power. He is the main antagonist of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Suki is one of the Kyoshi Warriors, a martial arts sect dedicated to the teachings of Avatar Kyoshi. She meets Aang early in his adventures and becomes a firm friend and ally, as well as sharing a romantic interest in Sokka. Suki and her warriors rejoin Team Avatar several times during their adventures and prove honourable friends.

Jet is the leader of a band of Earth Kingdom freedom fighters dedicated to destroying the Fire Nation. Initially friendly and apparently honourable, it is revealed that Jet has become increasingly cynical about the war and is now prepared to sacrifice innocents if it serves “the greater good.” He acts as both an ally and an antagonist to Team Avatar.

The main cast of The Legend of Korra. Top row from left: Korra, Mako, Bolin. Bottom row from left: Asami, Tenzin, Lin.

Notable Characters of The Legend of Korra
Korra is a 17-year-old from the Southern Water Tribe. She is the Avatar after Aang and, unlike Aang, was identified as the Avatar at a very young age when she spontaneously manifested the ability to bend water, earth and fire simultaneously. She learned from master teachers (including an elderly Katara) but failed to master airbending until she moved to Republic City to learn from Tenzin, Aang’s son. Korra is a prodigy of bending and fighting, but struggles with the spiritual side of being the Avatar, and is extremely impatient. She also tends to dwell on defeats and setbacks more than is healthy.

Mako is an 18-year-old firebender from mixed heritage. He is also a lightningbender. He is a member of the probending sports team, the Fire Ferrets, alongside his brother. Mako has a strong sense of justice and is a bit of a romantic, although occasionally tends to brood.

Bolin is Mako’s 16-year-old brother, an earthbender and, it is later revealed, a lavabender. He is also a member of the Fire Ferrets. Bolin is much more outgoing, lively and fun than his brother, but has a tendency to get himself in trouble.

Tenzin is the 51-year-old son of Avatar Aang and Katara. He is a formidable airbender, but he is also serious and sometimes stuffy. He is married to the nonbender Pema and has three children: Jinora, Ikki and Meelo, all benders. Pema is pregnant with their fourth child, whom she desperately hopes is not a bender.

Asami Sato is the 18-year-old daughter of Hirosh Sato, the inventor of the Satomobile (automobile) and the head of Future Industries. Sato cannot bend, but she is a trained and accomplished engineer, pilot and driver. Her father’s company sponsors Bolin and Mako’s probending team.

Lin Beifong is the 50-year-old chief of Republic City’s police. She is also an expert earthbender and metalbender. She is the daughter of the earthbending prodigy Toph Beifong. She is somewhat humourless, but she always tries to do what is right.

Avatar: The Last Airbender co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.

Conception & Development
Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino were American animators with a shared pedigree working on shows like Family Guy, Mission Hill and King of the Hill. In 2001 they decided to collaborate on a new project together and started brainstorming ideas. Konietzko had drawn a sketch of a balding older man and then regressed him to a child; DiMartino had been watching a documentary about exploring Antarctica. They hit on the idea of using elemental magic, with the bald kid being an “air guy” helped by some “water people” at the South Pole, with “fire people” as the bad guys.

Despite the vagueness of the concept, they pitched the idea to Nickelodeon just two weeks later and got a series order. They spent most of 2002 on development before starting active production of the series in 2003. It got its debut via a trailer and teaser reel at the 2004 Comic-Con before premiering on 21 February 2005.

As the series developed, Konietzko and DiMartino hit on the idea of taking the traditional Western epic fantasy template, specifically how it is applied in Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, and recasting it through the lens of Japanese anime, Hong Kong action and kung fu cinema, yoga and Eastern philosophy in general. This led to the show’s art style – which is influenced by anime despite being American in origin – and the decision to base the four ethnic groups in the show on Asia (plus the Inuit nations), with no Western analogues at all.

The Fire Nation was primarily influenced by Japan, although the creators were aware that they did not want to present the idea of Japan as the “bad guys.” They instead incorporated other Asian influences (such as Chinese clothing and architecture) for the Fire Nation and made it clear that although Ozai, Azula and other senior Fire Nation figures are evil or corrupt, the people of the Fire Nation themselves are the same mixture as any other group in the world. The Earth Kingdom was also based on Chinese influences, particularly the Great Wall for the massive defences around Ba Sing Se and the Forbidden City in Beijing for the Earth King’s palace. The Air Nomads incorporated Buddhist and Tibetan influences, whilst the Water Tribes were based on both the Inuit of Canada and Greenland and the Sirenik of far eastern Siberia.

The show’s emphasis on Buddhist philosophy and Eastern martial arts allowed the creators to incorporate action but also avoid killing; in Avatar’s 61-episode run, only eight people are ever shown to definitively die (although some off-screen fatalities are likely to have happened).

Other influences included the Studio Ghibli films of Hayao Miyazaki, particularly the influence of spirits (inspired by Spirited Away) and the idea of a living creature as a main "vehicle", with Appa inspired by the Catbus of My Neighbour Totoro.

Although DiMartino and Konietzko created the show and served as executive producers, they left much of the day-to-day direction of the show to Aaron Ehasz, who developed some of the fine detail of the world and how it worked. Dave Filoni also proved instrumental in the development of the show’s look and style in the first season, before he left to work on Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars CG show.

The original plan was for the show to last for three seasons and DiMartino and Konietzko developed a fairly detailed bible and story arc, with characters such as Toph and Azula always on the drawing board. However, the original plan for Toph was a tough adult male character who’d have trouble fitting into the group. It was Ehasz who changed the idea to a young blind girl, a notion which was enthusiastically adopted.

In 2007 the show was optioned as a live-action film project and DiMartino and Konietzko took time out to work on that project with director M. Night Shyamalan. During this period Nickelodeon requested a pitch for a fourth season, so Ehasz developed a storyline focusing on Aang dealing with the aftermath of the discovery of “energybending” in the series finale, the search for Zuko’s mother and a redemption arc for Azula. However, after further consideration it was decided this might be anticlimactic after the final showdown with the Fire Lord and the original plan to end the show after Season 3 was left in place.

The show was a huge international hit, garnering an enthusiastic fanbase of both children and adults, including Serena Williams, who got so heavily into the show that she ended up tweeting about a possible contradiction in the lore.

With the live-action film an unmitigated failure, DiMartino and Konietzko worked with Nickelodeon on a sequel concept, which became The Legend of Korra. The show was originally conceived as a one-off mini-series for the 2012 season, but when Nickelodeon renewed the show for several seasons, it left the team scrambling to come up with new material (explaining the rushed and disappointing second season, before the far superior final two seasons). Ehasz was not available to work on the series, having moved to Riot Studios to work on video games. Ehasz later founded his own animation company, Wonderstorm, and joined forces with Netflix to produce a new fantasy animated series, The Dragon Prince.

In late 2018 it was announced that Netflix would be producing a live-action reboot of the entire Avatar: The Last Airbender series, with DiMartino and Konietzko attached to write and produce the series. The show is expected to start shooting in February 2020 to debut in early 2021. The future for the Avatarverse looks bright, at least for now.

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Monstrous Development: The Controversy of BBC America's THE WATCH

BBC America are currently shooting the first season of The Watch, a new fantasy TV show based on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, specifically the “City Watch” sub-series which begins with Guards! Guards!

This is not the first time the Discworld has been depicted on-screen. In the 1990s it was adapted as three video games (Discworld, Discworld II and Discworld Noir) and two animated series from Cosgrove Hall, Wyrd Sisters and Soul Music. In the 2000s four of the books were adapted by Sky One in the UK as live-action dramas: Hogfather, The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic and Going Postal. The quality of these projects was “variable,” ranging from okay to disappointing.

The Watch is different. It has a far higher budget and it’s an ongoing show meant to last for multiple seasons. It aims to bring the city of Ankh-Morpork to life in detail and with a large cast of characters. What it is not planning to do, however, is adapt the books.

Instead, The Watch is “loosely inspired by” the novels and will instead create and tell original stories involving characters based on – to varying degrees of fealty – Pratchett’s characters, but not actually meant to be them. Based on the information we have so far, the storyline borrows elements from Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms and Night Watch, but will craft an original story by mixing and matching elements from those books together.

Fans are, it has to be said, baffled and increasingly angry over the direction the adaptation is taking.

This is not new ground for BBC America. In 2016 and 2017 they aired a two-season adaptation of the Douglas Adams novel series Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. This was likewise “inspired by” the books, not a direct adaptation. However, in this case the “loose inspiration” idea made more sense. Dirk Gently has been adapted to the screen and to radio several times previously, so a direct adaptation was not really necessary and may have indeed been redundant. In addition, the show was being shot and made in the United States, so an all-new story set in the States (whilst keeping Dirk as a slightly mad Englishman) made casting a lot easier. The first episode even includes a namecheck of the events of the first novel, positing the TV show as a sequel to the books, although Dirk in the show is a much younger character and has a different backstory to Dirk in the books, but this is not an outrageous change.

Of course, that show got away with it because Dirk Gently is relatively obscure, only consists of two very short novels, has a small cast of characters (of whom only Dirk appears in the show) and is relatively thin on backstory, lore and worldbuilding.

Discworld, on the other hand, is one of the biggest-selling fantasy series of all time, with over 90 million books sold worldwide. It has an ardently passionate fanbase who have been waiting for an ongoing Discworld TV series for almost forty years, and its worldbuilding, backstory and cast of characters is utterly immense. Whilst Dirk Gently needed bulking out to work as a TV show, Discworld very definitely does not.

The Books

The City Watch prominently feature in eight of Pratchett’s forty-one Discworld novels: Guards! Guards! (1989), Men at Arms (1993), Feet of Clay (1996), Jingo (1997), The Fifth Elephant (1999), Night Watch (2002), Thud! (2005) and Snuff (2011). Watch characters also play prominent roles in several of the other novels set in Ankh-Morpork, including Moving Pictures (1990) and Raising Steam (2013), as well as Monstrous Regiment (2003).

The City Watch of Ankh-Morpork are something of a joke, lacking real power and mostly just keeping themselves to themselves. Its commanding officer, Captain Sam Vimes, is a drunk who just tries to have a quiet life. The Watch are invigorated by the arrival of Carrot Ironfoundersson, a human raised by dwarfs who may also the long-missing, uncrowned king of Ankh-Morpork (something that interests him not at all). Carrot’s straightforward approach to dealing with crime – such as trying to arrest the head of the Thieves’ Guild – bemuses Vimes but also reminds him that his job has serious responsibilities. When a crazed religious cult unleashes a dragon on the city, it falls to Vimes, his motley crew of constables and a new ally, Sybil Ramkin, an expert on dragons, to save the city. When he succeeds, he is rewarded with more responsibility by Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork.

Over the subsequent books, the Ankh-Morpork police force becomes a huge force for good in the city, stamping out crime, eliminating threats to the Patrician and ensuring order (to what degree this was unintended or part of a long-gestating masterplan by the infamously devious Patrician is open to question). Every time a threat arises, Vimes and his team are able to defeat it, if not without great cost. The City Watch becomes larger and more diverse, inducting vampires, zombies and trolls into its ranks, and helps the city become the thriving, semi-Victorian steampunk metropolis it is by the final few books in the series.

The TV Show
The information we have from the TV show is incomplete so far, but it does have several significant changes from the books.

The first is that many of the later recruits to the Watch are present from Day One: in fact, Cheery the dwarf and Angua the werewolf are already in the Watch when Carrot arrives. Angua is assigned to mentor Carrot and show him the ropes, which is a change from the books (where the reverse is true).

There’s also a curious line that “crime has been legalised,” which is not quite accurate. The Thieves’ Guild is licensed but has to operate within strict rules or face punishment. Freelance thieves and criminals remain illegal, so there’s still plenty for the Watch to do. This may have been a simplification of the plot in the books for a TV audience, or a sign of a major change to the worldbuilding.

In the biggest and arguably the most outrageous change, it’s been revealed that Lady Sybil Ramkin is no longer a formidable, somewhat rotund woman in early middle age, but now a younger, athletic “vigilante,” which has sparked some comparisons with Batman. Lady Sybil in the books is impressive as a character who operates within society rules but is also able to achieve results. She is also a rare example of a fantasy heroine who is middle-aged, not stunning attractive but still brave, capable and resourceful. Turning her into Batman in order to further "empower" the character feels derivative and lazy.

In a similar note, Cut-Me-Own-Throat-Dibbler, a street informant usually found selling dubious meat products to crowds watching whatever chaos is unfolding, has now been recast as some kind of intelligence agent with an army of freelance spies and thugs at his command, sort of like a working-class Varys from Game of Thrones. This is the absolute inverse of the repugnant character from the books.

Another concern is the publicity line confirming that the TV series will not be directly adapting any of the books but instead being inspired by them to create an original storyline. With the greatest of respect, this is always an act of stunning hubris by TV scriptwriters. The main writer of The Watch, Simon Allen, does not have a particularly distinguished CV, having written episodes of the BBC’s indifferent Musketeers show and light, disposable fare like New Tricks. I think it’s fair to say that he is not a good a writer as Sir Terry Pratchett, one of the greatest fantasists and satirists of all time. Thinking you can improve on Pratchett is extremely unwise.

It’s frustrating because the casting has, so far, been interesting. Richard Dormer (Ser Beric from Game of Thrones) as Sam Vimes is superb casting, and the formidably talented Anna Chancellor as a gender-swapped Patrician Vetinari is a fantastic notion, one I think Pratchett would have approved of. Some fans have expressed disdain for gender-swapping or race-changing characters, but given Pratchett's own views on the subject (and Ankh-Morpork's bustling cosmopolitanism) I suspect he would not have given a flying toss about any of those kind of changes.

The changes to the themes, characters, storylines and the very morality of the Discworld books are much more concerning, and I suspect would have set alarm bells blaring for the author.

Why buy the rights and then not adapt the books?
This is the question I suspect a lot of people are asking right now. Peter Jackson didn’t option The Lord of the Rings and turn it into a movie where Frodo Baggins is a ninja and Aragorn rides a Harley Davidson (no matter how interesting that might have been). Even Benioff and Weiss didn’t option Game of Thrones and turn it into a relationship drama about Ned and Cat’s marriage, and before the HBO show Martin’s novels were – especially compared to Pratchett – relatively obscure. Benioff and Weiss of course ran into trouble when they ran out of source material and had to create original material of their own, but that wasn't entirely in their control (although they should have still done a better job and not severely rushed the last two seasons, to be clear).

It feels like there isn’t an answer to the question that really makes sense. Simply adapting Guards! Guards! and maybe Men at Arms as the first season, maybe with some stand-alone new episodes thrown into the mix, is a fantastic idea. You can do some interesting casting if you want – seriously, Chancellor should kill it as Vetinari – but taking some of the strong, interesting female characters Pratchett created and turning them into clichés is pointless and insulting.

Even worse, the rumblings of discontent by Discworld fans is something you really don’t want to happen. Just as Game of Thrones did everything right (at least in the early production phase) and won a lot of support from book fans who spread word-of-mouth about the TV show and helped turn it into the biggest thing in television, The Watch is actively annoying and angering the millions of Pratchett fans who wanted a more faithful adaptation, and there are far, far more of them then there were fans of Martin before the show launched. This is something that could actively backfire in BBC America’s face when the show launches late next year.

Could it be that The Watch ends up being a pretty good piece of television? Maybe. But if writer Simon Allen wanted to create an original fantasy police TV show, he should have gone and created his own one. Optioning Terry Pratchett's fantastic novels and then refusing to use the stories in them the way the author intended is baffling and disrespectful.

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