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.

Friday, 16 November 2018

RIP William Goldman

The acclaimed novelist and screenwriter William Goldman has passed away at the age of 87.

Born in Chicago in 1931, Goldman joined the army after graduation and worked as a clerk in the Pentagon until 1954. He wrote short stories as a young man but was constantly rejected. He experienced doubts over his writing ability until he spent time living and working with his brother James, a playwright, and their composer friend John Kander. His confidence restored, Goldman wrote his first novel, The Temple of Gold, in less then three weeks. It was published in 1957.

Goldman began working in Hollywood in 1964, when he was asked to adapt Daniel Keyes' classic science fiction novel Flowers for Algernon into a movie. The film was eventually made as Charly (1968), although Goldman's script was ultimately rejected and replaced. In the meantime Goldman wrote the film Harper (1966), starring Paul Newman, which was a big hit and made his reputation.

Goldman had been fascinated by the true-life story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for years, but had resisted turning the story into a novel, feeling it would take a huge amount of research. He wrote the screenplay for a film version instead, selling it in 1968 for $400,000, a then record-breaking amount of money. The resulting film, released in 1969 starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, was both a critical and commercial smash.

Goldman continued to work in both novels and film. Arguably his best-known novel, the gently comic fantasy The Princess Bride, was published in 1973. He followed this up with the thrillers Marathon Man (1974) and Magic (1976). Marathon Man and Magic were made into films with Goldman penning the screenplays, released in 1976 and 1978 respectively. He also wrote the scripts for The Stepford Wives (1975) and A Bridge Too Far (1977).

In 1974 Goldman was asked by Robert Redford to write a movie script based on the Watergate scandal, drawing on the book All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. Goldman agreed, but ran into problems with the real-life journalists involved: Woodward enjoyed helping him research the project, but Bernstein was uninterested in the project and was unhelpful. Once the script was completed, Woodward decided it wasn't good enough and even tried writing his own material (ironically, after complaining about the artifice of dramatising the real events, the only Woodward material that made it into the movie was a scene the journalist completely made up). Goldman wrote further drafts which were eventually filmed, but loathed the experience and later said he'd have happily never taken on the project if he'd known how torturous it was, despite the movie's blanket critical and commercial acclaim on its release in 1976.

Goldman cooled slightly on Hollywood, focusing on novels and non-fiction. His 1983 Hollywood memoir, Adventures in the Screen Trade, included his most famous quote about making movies: "Nobody knows anything." After writing several more novels, he was drawn back to Hollywood. His script for The Princess Bride (1987) was well-received, with the movie becoming a beloved classic. Director Rob Reiner asked Goldman to write the script for Misery (1990), an adaptation of a Stephen King short story which was a huge success as well.

In his later career, Goldman worked as a writer and co-writer on movies such as Chaplin (1992), Maverick (1994), Absolute Power (1997), The General's Daughter (1999), Hearts in Atlantis (2001) and Dreamcatcher (2003).

Goldman continued to write non-fiction and speak widely about his career and life, as well as attending games for his beloved New York Knicks (holding a season ticket for all their games for over forty years) until recently. His passing was down to complications from colon cancer and pneumonia.

Goldman's career was remarkable, taking in both accomplished novels and screenplays in a wide variety of genres, including science fiction, fantasy, historical, thrillers, war stories and political dramas. His hit rate was astonishingly high: All the President's Men, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride and Misery are simply among the greatest Hollywood movies ever made, and Chaplin, The Stepford Wives, Marathon Man and A Bridge Too Far are also all excellent. The quality and consistency of his work may stand unmatched by any other Hollywood scriptwriter. His insights into writing and his constantly self-deprecating whit (describing his Butch & Sundance script and Princess Bride manuscript are being the only two things he'd ever written that didn't make him cringe with embarrassment) also made him an useful guide to the insanity of Hollywood film-making. He will be missed.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Hulu option WILD CARDS for television, put two series into active development

Streaming service Hulu have optioned the rights to George R.R. Martin's Wild Cards superhero universe and are developing two potential TV series based on the setting.

Image result for wild cards

Martin created the Wild Cards setting in the early 1980s, using the roleplaying game Superworld to develop the world and premise. Martin and his initial group of players, many of whom were drawn from his local Santa Fe and Albuquerque writers' groups, created the basic setting and many of the characters were their player-characters from the game. Following the failure of his 1983 novel The Armageddon Rag, Martin moved away from novel writing to focus on a burgeoning Hollywood scripting career but hit on the idea of turning the roleplaying game into a series of short stories and anthologies, a "shared world" as it was then termed.

The first book in the series, Wild Cards, was released in 1987 and promptly sold over 100,000 copies, making it a wild success. Martin and co-editor Melinda Snodgrass (Star Trek: The Next Generation) continued working on the series, bringing in new writers and soliciting new stories from older ones, throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Martin credits the series and its high sales with keeping his name in the eye of publishers, restoring his commercial reputation after The Armageddon Rag and helped pave the way for the publication of A Game of Thrones in 1996. There was a brief pause in the series in the late 1990s and another in the early 2000s as various publishers cycled through the series (which started with Bantam and moved to Baen and then iBooks). Tor Books picked up the series in 2008 with Inside Straight, the first in a "new generation" of books, and more have followed. As of November 2018, 27 books have been published in the series to date with sales in the low millions.

The premise of the series is that, in an alternative 1946, an alien virus is released over New York City. 90% of these infected by the virus die instantly ("Drawing the Black Queen"). 9% are transformed into deformed freaks ("Jokers"). 1% gain amazing superpowers ("Aces"). Smaller outbreaks spread the virus all over the globe. The bulk of the series takes place contemporary to publication date and explores the ramifications of a world where both superpowers and alien races are known to exist.

SyFy (who are launching their own GRRM adaptation, Nightflyers, next month) optioned the series almost a decade ago. Their parent company Universal re-optioned the rights with a view to both film and TV applications, and have now placed the project with Universal Cable Productions and Hulu. Andrew Miller (The Secret Circle) is to act as showrunner and executive producer, with Snodgrass and Martin to act as executive producers.

Martin has an exclusivity deal with HBO, which will be airing the final season of Game of Thrones in April 2019, so his role on the Wild Cards series will be hands-off, with Snodgrass expected to take more of an active oversight role.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018


Pedro Pascal has been cast in the lead role of the first-ever Star Wars live-action TV series, The Mandalorian.

Pascal is a Chilean-American actor who first debuted on American TV in 1999 (most notably playing a vampire in a fourth season episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). He hit the big time in 2014 when he was cast as Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper of Dorne, in HBO's Game of Thrones. Off the back of that role he was cast as police detective Javier Pena in Netflix's Narcos. He played the role in the first three seasons of the series, attracting critical acclaim.

Pascal is set to play a Mandalorian warrior in the new TV series, which is set seven years after the events of Return of the Jedi and twenty-three years before the events of The Force Awakens. Not much else is known about the series, although early set photographs suggest that the action will partially take place on a desert planet with architecture highly reminiscent of Tatooine.

Reportedly Pascal has not yet started shooting, although publicity images have already been released showing a Mandalorian warrior on set. Presumably this was done with a stand-in either for early shooting or expressly for publicity purposes.

Iron Man director Jon Favreau is writing and producing the first season with The Clone Wars and Rebels writer-producer Dave Filoni lending a hand (and directing the first episode).

The Mandalorian will debut on the new streaming service Disney+, probably in the latter part of 2019. Lucasfilm are also planning a prequel mini-series to the film Rogue One, with Diego Luna set to reprise his role of Cassian Andor from that film.

Monday, 12 November 2018

RIP Stan Lee

Stan Lee, the creative powerhouse behind Marvel Comics and the creator or co-creator of most of its most iconic characters, has died at the age of 95.

Born Stanley Lieber in New York City in 1922 and raised in the Bronx, he started working for Timely Comics in 1939, at the age of just 16. He initially worked as a runner and general office dogsbody, whose first responsibility was making sure the artists' inkwells did not run dry. He made his writing debut with the text-filler story "Captain America Foils the Traitor's Revenge" in Captain America #3 (1941). He harboured ambitions of writing the Great American Novel, so decided to use a pseudonym for comics: Stan Lee. Lee moved up to writing actual comic strips shortly thereafter, but his comics career was put on hold when he entered the US Army in 1942, serving in the Signal Corps.

After the conclusion of WWII, Lee returned to Timely as interim editor and worked at the publisher throughout the 1950s. However, in the late 1950s Lee had become disillusioned with the form and considered switching careers. He was saved when DC Comics, who were undergoing a creative dip, abruptly switched gears and revived the superhero genre with titles such as The Flash and Justice League. Lee's boss at Atlas Comics, as Timely had become known, asked Lee to come up with a superhero team to compete. Lee was dubious but his wife Joan urged him to "take a risk" since he was planning to quit anyway. Lee responded immediately, co-creating (with artist Jack Kirby) The Fantastic Four, whose first issue debuted in November 1961, just after Atlas Comics was rebranded as Marvel. This was rapidly followed by The Incredible Hulk (May 1962), Thor (August 1962), Iron Man (March 1963), the X-Men (September 1963), Galactus and the Silver Surfer (March 1966) and Black Panther (July 1966). Working with artist Steve Ditko, Lee created Doctor Strange (July 1963) and, with Bill Everett, Daredevil (April 1964). Lee also successfully resurrected characters from Timely's heyday, including Sub-Mariner and Captain America. In September 1963 Lee teamed up several of his characters as a supergroup called The Avengers.

In the midst of this period, Lee and Ditko created what would be their most popular and enduring character: in August 1962 they debuted Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15. The character was so popular and immediately iconic that he quickly got his own title, and was soon as well-known and famous as Batman and Superman. Lee's approach was to give his characters relatable lives, with them getting into trouble at school, having problems with their parents and having relationship problems, which young people could relate to, unlike the remote and less-relatable Batman and Superman. Marvel Comics also cultivated a rock and roll underground image, making them far "cooler" than stuffy DC. Marvel also had a friendlier, more informal image, encouraging fans to write to "Stan" rather than "the Editor" and sharing stories from the office to make fans feel part of the creative process. By the start of the 1970s, Marvel had overtaken DC and become an impressive creative powerhouse for both Lee's characters and those of other writers.

Lee's fecund imagination outstripped the time available to actually write the comic scripts, so he collaborated closely with the artists, who often came up with important characteristics of the characters and made important storytelling decisions through the art, with Lee coming in after the artwork was complete to add dialogue. Lee innovated by introducing detailed credit panels, making sure that the writer, editor, artist, inker and letterer for each story was clearly identified.

Lee took on the Comics Code Authority in 1971, a regular for comics which Marvel had run afoul of several times for its content. The story that caused the situation to blow up was a Spider-Man narrative in which a friend of Peter Parker's becomes addicted to pills. The story had a strong anti-drugs message, but the CCA refused to approve the story. Lee published anyway. The resulting strong sales made the CCA all but irrelevant, paving the way for the darker, edgier and more adult comics of the 1980s.

Lee's last major creations for Marvel, alongside Gene Colan, were Captain Marvel (December 1967) and Falcon (September 1969), the first African-American superhero. Following the comics code kerfuffle, Lee retired from active comics writing to focus on publisher and also on moving Marvel into film, although he did occasionally return to pen the odd issue.

Lee stopped working on the comics side of Marvel altogether in the 1990s, following Hollywood projects which had resulted in a solid Incredible Hulk series but disappointing versions of Captain America, Thor and Spider-Man. The TV movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989) was the first time that Lee appeared in a cameo role in a Marvel movie or TV show. In 1995 he had a significant role playing himself in Kevin Smith's movie Mallrats, using superhero stories to help advise on the protagonists' terrible love lives. It was in the first X-Men movie (2000) that the tradition of giving Lee a cameo in every Marvel-related project began, with Lee going on to appear in almost every Marvel movie and TV show put onto film.

It may have taken a while, but Marvel Comics finally hit the big time at the cinema with Blade (1998), followed by X-Men (2000) and then Spider-Man (2002), each film launching a successful movie series. Fantastic Four (2005) was less successful, but it was the arrival of Iron Man (2008) that had the biggest impact, kick-starting the Marvel Cinematic Universe. To date, the MCU has produced twenty movies collectively grossing more than $17.5 billion at the box office and more in video game and television spin-offs.

Lee's life was not without controversy. Jack Kirby disputed Lee's role in the creation of some of their most iconic characters and bristled at the tendency for Lee to hog the limelight and drown out the contributions of the artists. Lee was also engaged in multiple lawsuits over character copyrights and attributions, although most of these were eventually resolved.

Stan Lee was, arguably, one of the most influential and impactful writers of the second half of the 20th Century, challenged for that mantle only by George Lucas, J.R.R. Tolkien and Stephen King (and, depending on how you count it, J.K. Rowling). His incredible decade-long creative explosion at Marvel Comics resulted in the creation of dozens and dozens of the most iconic characters ever seen in the field of graphic novels, who have more recently switched to cinema and television, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe being the most successful and dominant movie franchise of the early 21st Century. Lee, alongside a collaborative group of exceptional artists, shifted the perception of comics as an art form and paved the way for writers from Neil Gaiman to George R.R. Martin to Alan Moore.

A titan of the field of comics, with a body of work that is impossible to ignore, Stan Lee will be missed.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

A History of the Wheel of Time Part 6: After the Breaking

A map of the Ten Nations which endured between the Breaking of the World and the Trolloc Wars. Please click for a larger version.

After the Breaking
As the Breaking of the World entered its period of greatest intensity, many people living in the port cities fled on boats, planning to ride out the cataclysm entirely. Given the excellent construction and huge sizes of boats in the Age of Legends, and their relative lack of use in the War of the Shadow, they achieved this goal. Huge flotillas of ships gathered in the seas off the coasts, watching as the lands crumbled or new islands reared up from below. As the Breaking lessened and the storm clouds cleared, these people made landfall on the new islands that had appeared further south, on the equator. But, though they built cities here, their hearts had been lost to the sea, and it was to the sea that they returned. The great ships of the Age of Legends gradually fell apart, the secrets of their construction lost, and all eventually sank to the bottom of the ocean, but these island-dwellers built others made of wood, though smaller.

Thus began the civilisation of the Atha’an Miere, "The People of the Sea", more commonly called the Sea Folk. Theirs is the oldest civilisation in the whole world, forged during the Breaking itself. From their distant islands they spread to the ones nearer the continents, to the islands today called Qaim, Cindaking, Tremalking and the Aile Somera, Aile Jafar and Aile Dashar (though it seems that the Aile Dashar, lying to the west of the Blighted Lands, were later abandoned). The Sea Folk returned to the sea, trading with the mainland cities and exploring distant oceans, but some chose to remain on the islands, becoming known as the Amayar. A distinct race (usually shorter and fairer than the Sea Folk), the Amayar followed a semi-pacifistic code of honour known as the Water Way and came to believe that life was an illusion, a gateway to a higher plane. Despite their odd beliefs (to the Sea Folk), the Amayar also proved to be gifted craftspeople and made superb works of art out of porcelain, which they gave to the Sea Folk to trade.

On the mainland, the city of Tear grew in size and from it settlers emerged to found new towns and cities. Near the new west coast of the continent another great city was founded, Mainelle (now called Tanchico), which grew around three great peninsulas extending into the ocean.

As new cities and towns arose, the Da’shain Aiel made their way slowly eastwards. Within the first few decades After the Breaking (AB) they had reached a towering mountain range which the locals called the Spine of the World, or the Dragonwall. The locals gave the Aiel food, water and shelter, the first people in a long time not to curse them or spit on their name. The Aiel remembered their kindness, and vowed one day to repay it. The locals told them they planned to move further west, to the banks of a great river, and there found a city. This they did a few years later, forging the city of Al’cair’rahienallen. The Aiel, meanwhile, became divided as they crossed the mountains. One group, tired of the wandering, broke off and headed back into the new lands to the west. They remembered the One Song they had sung in the Age of Legends, and vowed to find it again. The other Da’shain disavowed them for breaking their oath to serve the Aes Sedai, and afterwards called them "The Lost". The exiles wandered back across the land, remaining true to the Way of the Leaf no matter what provocation was thrown at them. After a while they gained a new name, the Tuatha’an or "Travelling People". They travelled in multicoloured wagons and made a living fixing pots and pans for the villagers they visited. For this they gained the nickname "Tinkers".

As they travelled the Aiel began to become divided. Some forsook the Way of the Leaf and took up the spear to defend their people. To the east of the Dragonwall lay a vast, scorched land of burning heat and no rain. To survive in such a hard land, the Aiel had to become hard themselves. The Way of the Leaf had no purpose here. Soon those willing to wield the spear outnumbered those who remained faithful to the Way of the Leaf. These last remaining faithful Aiel became known as the Jenn Aiel, the True Aiel. The Aes Sedai travelling with them, the last Aes Sedai, it seems, alive from before the Breaking, despaired, but at last they reached what they judged to be a worthy location: a valley under a great mountain, which they called Chaendaer. In this valley they began building a huge city, Rhuidean, and within its walls they stored the ter’angreal they had brought with them from Paaran Disen, centuries ago. They also planted one of their chora cuttings, and the first chora tree since before the Breaking grew. They called it Avendesora, "The Tree of Life". In the Age of Legends chora trees lined every major avenue and street in every city in the world. Now only one was left, though many more seeds endured.

But the journey had been too tiring. One by one the Aes Sedai dwindled and died. Soon only two were left. Whilst the Jenn laboured on their city, the other Aiel had spread out, forming septs and then clans. These clans fought one another even as they fought outlanders, people who came across the Dragonwall to explore, or to trade. Then the last Aes Sedai summoned the Aiel leaders to them. They told them that within Rhuidean they had prepared special ter’angreal which contained the complete history of the Aiel race, from before the drilling of the Bore to the present day. Aiel warriors wishing to become clan chiefs, or Aiel women wishing to wield to become Wise Ones (both Aiel channellers and women of wisdom), would go into Rhuidean and enter that ter’angreal. Only when they had faced the truth and survived it could they take up their assigned roles. Before they died, the Aes Sedai left a prophecy behind them. One day a man would come from Rhuidean with the dawn at his back. He would be the Car’a’carn, the Chief of Chiefs. He would take the Aiel back across the Dragonwall, where he would forge them anew into one people, the strongest nation in the world. But he would then destroy them, shattering them on the bedrock of history forever. Yet, only under his rule would a remnant of a remnant of the Aiel survive to see the dawn of a new Age. The Aiel would know the Car’a’carn when he came marked with two dragon-serpents on his arms.

The Aes Sedai perished and, within a few generations, so did the Jenn. Rhuidean was never completed and never occupied, becoming a testament to the history of the Jenn and the Da'shain Aiel. The Aiel splintered into twelve clans which battled amongst themselves, but always they sent clan chiefs and Wise Ones to Rhuidean, so the true history of the Aiel race would remain with them, and they would never forget the oaths they had broken (though only the Wise Ones and clan chiefs knew this history; they did not share it with their fellows).

Meanwhile, in the lands to the west of the Dragonwall things were settling down. Separated by the Breaking, those women able to channel the One Power came together again in a great conference to decide on their fate. Around sixteen major factions of these "Aes Sedai" had formed and countless dozens of smaller groups as well. This conference took place in 47 AB (the earliest known definitive date we have access to). By the end of the conference these factions had melded together to become the ancestors of the modern Aes Sedai. The founding factions maintained their individuality by forming ajah, groups dedicated to one particular ideal or purpose. In the Age of Legends ajah were temporary voting blocs, but these ajah quickly became rigid and unflinching in their outlook on life. The first vote they took was the decision to build a new base of operations. By now they knew that Dragonmount marked the last resting place of the Dragon and, to remind themselves that one day he would be Reborn, they decided to build their new city in sight of the mountain. They quickly found an ideal spot, a two-mile wide, eight-mile-long island in the midst of a great river, the Erinin. They sent representatives to distant parts of the subcontinent, seeking stonemasons and builders of great skill to forge their city for them.

During the Breaking most, if not all, of the Ogier fled their stedding as the chaos and destruction grew. The longer they stayed away from the stedding, the more they felt a desire to return. Eventually this desire, the Longing, as they called it, began to kill them if not satisfied. In the end, they did rediscover the stedding before too many died, but now the Longing came upon them again if they left for too long, killing them if they did not return. After the Breaking the Ogier discovered they could carve stone almost as well as they could sing seeds or transform wood with their voices alone. Thus, when the Aes Sedai looked for builders for their city, they looked for the Ogier.

Half a century passed between the unification of the Aes Sedai and the beginning of the construction of their new base. During this period they tracked down other, smaller groups claiming to be Aes Sedai and joined forces with them, forcibly at times. On a few unfortunate occasions the false Aes Sedai resisted, and some were killed or stilled. By 98 AB the Aes Sedai were whole. Also by this time the sixteen original ajah had coalesced into the seven Ajah of the present day, the Blue, Green, Yellow, Brown, Grey, White and the Red. Respectively these Ajah were concerned with politics and causes, battling Shadowspawn, recovering Healing and other lost Talents, seeking out knowledge and wisdom, mediating disputes, dealing with problems using pure logic and actively tracking down men who could channel and gentling them.

By around 90 AB the Aes Sedai organisation was taking shape. Elisane Tishar had been selected as the Aes Sedai supreme leader, the Amyrlin Seat. She had a council of seven advising her, one from each Ajah, and this council was called the Hall of the Tower, since it had already been decided that the actual centre of Aes Sedai power would be a huge tower at the heart of the city, which they had decided to call Tar Valon. As more and more women joined the Aes Sedai, so the Hall of the Tower expanded, eventually reaching its present size of twenty-one, with three Sitters from each of the Ajahs.

Construction of Tar Valon began in 98 AB, with the first buildings erected meant to house the Aes Sedai and the girls they were recruiting for training. Whilst the Ogier built most of the city, they could not do everything by themselves and normal human workers were brought in to build two immense harbours at the opposite ends of the island, Northharbour and Southharbour. Using the One Power, the Aes Sedai aided the Ogier in constructing the White Tower, their planned headquarters. The White Tower is the largest building on our continent, if not the world (although the Seanchan boast of larger buildings in Seandar), stretching some 600 feet into the sky and being more than 300 feet wide at the base, tapering to the 200-foot-wide top. Two additional wings were constructed to serve as additional living quarters, whilst a separate library was built at the rear, soon becoming the greatest repository of knowledge and wisdom in the known world. The Ajahs were based in the top half of the Tower, whilst the Amyrlin Seat’s offices lay about the midsection. The lower floors served as teaching rooms, kitchens and meeting places.

The White Tower was completed by around 195 AB and Tar Valon itself was finished in 202 AB. Though not the first city to be raised after the Breaking - Tear and maybe Mainelle (Tanchico) predate it - it was certainly the most glorious. No city would arise to challenge Tar Valon’s beauty until Londaren Cor was built (reportedly by the same Ogier stonemasons) some decades later and even that is heavily disputed (most impartial judges still cite Tar Valon as the more impressive). But no one city has ever gained the sheer prestige and power of being the home of the Aes Sedai.

A map of the White Tower in Tar Valon. Please click for a larger version.

The Founding of the Ten Nations
Whilst towns and villages had emerged even before the Breaking had fully subsided, and cities within a few decades after that, nations and countries did not begin appearing until a full century later. The Breaking depopulated the entire world, of course, and it would have been some time before population growth and expansion meant that it was necessary to create new kingdoms. But, by 209 AB at least, ten countries had emerged on the new continent.

This new land, born out of the Breaking, was - and still is - bordered by the Aryth Ocean to the west, the Sea of Storms to the south and the Spine of the World mountains to the east. More ominously, to the north lay a poisonous waste called the Great Blight. This was the successor to the Blighted Lands, the corrupted wastelands that formed around Shayol Ghul during the Age of Legends. Shayol Ghul itself had remained standing throughout the Breaking and now stood alone and threatening, several hundred miles north of the jagged peaks of the Mountains of Dhoom. Myrddraal, Darkhounds, Trollocs, Draghkar and even jumara (now called Worms and, fortunately, incapable of transforming out of the pupae stage) had survived the Breaking and dwelt in the Blight, sometimes launching raids into the lands immediately to the south. However, the Shadowspawn had suffered just as badly as humans and Ogier in the Breaking and lay quiet, only a minor threat, for many centuries.

Off the west coast lay three island chains belonging to the Sea Folk, the Aile Dashar, the Aile Somera and the Aile Jafar. At some point the Sea Folk abandoned the Aile Dashar, presumably due to its proximity to the Great Blight. Off the south-western coast lay the huge island of Tremalking, the largest isle belonging to the Sea Folk (but not their capital, as it is often mistakenly called). To the east of this island lay two others, Qaim and Cindaking. Beyond the Dragonwall lay a vast, inhospitable wasteland inhabited by a strange warrior-folk called the Aiel. Thus, it became known as the Aiel Waste. The Aiel were quite efficient in killing all outlanders who entered the Waste (apart from Tinkers, gleemen and merchants), so it was unclear what lay beyond it. Eventually the Sea Folk admitted the existence of another land, larger than the Westlands (as the people of the east refer to our subcontinent), variously called Kigali, Co’dansin, Shibouya and Shamara, among others. The most common name was and remains Shara. Shara had apparently been quite efficiently unified into one nation shortly after the end of the Breaking, but had no interest in conquering the Aiel Waste or our land. The Sea Folk undertook trade with them and, eventually, the Aiel agreed to let peddlers and small caravans cross the Waste to trade with the Sharans as well. The Sharans limited their "exposure" to our influences, insisting that the Sea Folk only call at five specially-built ports along their southern coast and the Aiel and westerners trade at six custom-built trade towns along the tops of the towering Cliffs of the Dawn.

What lay beyond the Aryth Ocean and the Sea of Storms? Only the Sea Folk in their great ships could traverse these huge seas, and many were lost. Eventually Sea Folk explorers returned home with reports of a land far to the south where primitive savages slaughtered one another with the One Power and with blades. These people were hostile, maddened and, it seems, completely uninterested in trade or even peaceful contact. Only recently have the Sea Folk revealed the existence of this continent to mainlanders. The Sea Folk dubbed this land "The Land of the Madmen" and refused to return there. A few ships which returned from the west claimed that only the "Isles of the Dead" lay there, lands of darkness and war where hideous monsters roamed and fought one another and the few humans who lived there.

So, within our land it came to pass that ten great nations arose. These nations were: Jaramide and Aramaelle in the north, along the Great Blight; Safer and Aelgar, on the Aryth Ocean; Eharonand Essenia in the south, on the Sea of Storms; Almoren in the east, along the Spine of the World; Manetheren and Aridhol, to the east of the Mountains of Mist; and Coremanda in the centre of the subcontinent.

All of these nations grew from city-states. Sometimes the cities allied for mutual benefit, other times they conquered one another and grew stronger, eventually becoming countries. Eventually their borders met those of the other nations. A few small wars broke out (the most brutal between Safer and Manetheren), but the rapidly-growing Aes Sedai mediated such disputes and settled their conflicts.

In 209 AB all of the rulers of these nations travelled to Tar Valon for a conference hosted by the Aes Sedai. With the world finally free of the Breaking, the Aes Sedai suggested that humankind should attempt to recover the lost glories of the Age of Legends. This they could do only by working together and living in peace (under the guidance, if not leadership, of the Aes Sedai, naturally). Thus was signed the Covenant of the Ten Nations, also called the Compact and the Second Covenant. This bound the Ten Nations together in peaceful alliance and mutual trade.

The Covenant of the Ten Nations lasted approximately 1,150 years and enriched all ten of the nations. Borders were open and taxes were light. Social graces and the arts flourished without the near-constant threat of the Breaking of the World and the War of the Shadow before it. Under these peaceful circumstances the Aes Sedai made significant strides in recovering many lost Talents and forms of the Power from before the Breaking. It was during this period that the Aes Sedai started bonding Warders, that is using the One Power to bond themselves to warriors who would serve as bodyguards. The rulers of the Ten Nations had initially been unsure how they could trust the Aes Sedai; in response the Aes Sedai swore the Three Oaths, using a ter’angreal known as the Oath Rod. The Three Oaths were bound into their souls and could not be broken any more than they could stop breathing. The Three Oaths were (and still are): to speak no word that is not true, to make no weapon with which one man may kill another, and not to use the One Power to do violence except against Shadowspawn, in the defence of one’s life, the life of a Warder or that of another Aes Sedai.

Relations between the nations and Tar Valon were excellent. All rulers had several Aes Sedai advisors and on several occasions Aes Sedai actually ruled nations. Queen Mabriam en Shareed of Aramaelle, who signed the Covenant for her country and was apparently instrumental in convincing the other rulers to sign, was Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah. Several other Aes Sedai also ruled countries between the signing and the end of the Covenant. Other kings married their Aes Sedai advisors. Yet Tar Valon was careful not to be seen treating these women with any favouritism, or manipulating them in any way.

Due to the Tower’s friendly relations with all the nations, they saw that all were made aware of the Prophecies of the Dragon. These prophecies, collected in a book known as The Karaethon Cycle, foretold the return of the Dark One and the Rebirth of the Dragon to fight against it. These prophecies were taken mainly from Aes Sedai Foretellings, but some also came from Dreamings, from Aes Sedai who could walk in Tel’aran’rhiod, the World of Dreams, and see hints of the future. All rulers were made aware - sometimes forcibly - of these prophecies. Many nations, fearful of panic should this news leak out, banned or proscribed the book, but all rulers had to read it and be aware of the signs of the Dragon Reborn’s coming. These signs included the fall of the Stone of Tear to him and "The People of the Dragon," his seizure of a crown made of swords, his branding with the signs of two herons and two dragons, and his mending of "the forgotten sign." Most of these prophecies were vague and could be interpreted in many ways, but one thing was clear. Without the Dragon Reborn, the world would fall into Shadow. With him, it would be destroyed again in a new Breaking, but a few at least would survive.

Despite this unease, these centuries were mostly peaceful, but exceptions occurred. The northern nations of Aramaelle and Jaramide often fought skirmishes and suffered raids from Shadowspawn erupting out of the Great Blight, whilst on occasion the eastern nations of Aramaelle, Almoren and Essenia found themselves exchanging raids and counter-raids with the Aiel clans whose lands bordered the Spine of the World. But the first major conflict did not take place until 335 AB. In this year a man named Raolin Darksbane discovered he could channel the One Power. Unable to accept the fact that he was doomed to go mad and die pointlessly, he proclaimed himself the Dragon Reborn and won many followers to his side. He led an army to Essenia, planning to seize the Stone of Tear, but despite a lengthy siege he never did. The Aes Sedai realised he was an impostor and denounced him as a false Dragon. The Ten Nations rallied against him and he was captured, taken to Tar Valon and gentled. His followers attacked the White Tower itself in an attempt to free him, but failed.

Sometime during this period the first legends of the Horn of Valere appeared. The Horn of Valere baffles both Aes Sedai and historians. It is clearly closely tied to the Wheel of Time and possibly Tel’aran’rhiod as well, but it is not, as far as can be determined, an angreal of any sort. The Horn also does not appear in any records of the Age of Legends, suggesting it was made during the Breaking of the World or not long after. The Horn, it is said, can summon the dead heroes of the Ages back to the corporeal world for a while, to fight or to talk to the living. The Prophecies of the Dragon state that the Horn of Valere will be used at the Last Battle against the Dark One, though it is unclear whether the Dragon Reborn will be the one to sound it. The Horn loomed large in the legends of the city of Dorelle Caromon (which is now Illian). Rulers of the city, in Eharon and later Safer and now Illian, would periodically call "Great Hunts" to search for the Horn. These hunts would result in many legends and adventures taking place, but the Horn was never found. The last Great Hunt took place circa 600 NE.

The nations were at peace with themselves and one another and, for a while at least, it seemed that the glory and peace of the Age of Legends might be reclaimed. Alas, it was not to be.

Please note that Parts 7-8 of this series are also available to read now on my Patreon page and my other blog, Atlas of Ice and Fire, is currently running a Wheel of Time Atlas series.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs. The History of The Wheel of Time, SF&F Questions and The Cities of Fantasy series are debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read them there one month before being published on the Wertzone.

Microsoft (also) buys inXile Entertainment

Hot on the heels of the news that Microsoft has bought CRPG masterminds Obsidian Entertainment, it has also been confirmed that Microsoft has acquired fellow RPG studio inXile. Unlike Obsidian's acquisition, which was widely anticipated, inXile's is a surprise.

inXile Entertainment was founded in 2002 by Bryan Fargo shortly after he quit the company he founded back in the early 1980s, Interplay, after it fell into financial mismanagement involving outside investors. The company survived its first decade by making 3D console ports and then games for mobile devices.

In 2012 the company launched a crowdfunding campaign via Kickstarter for a new RPG, Wasteland 2 (a sequel to the classic Electronic Arts RPG Wasteland, which in turn had inspired the original Fallout). Released in 2014, Wasteland 2 was a significant sales and critical success. The company followed this up with Torment: Tides of Numenera (2017), a "spiritual successor" to the classic Interplay CRPG Planescape: Torment. Despite strong reviews, Torment sold poorly.

inXile's most recent game, The Bard's Tale IV (2018), attracted mixed critical notices and has also apparently not sold well. This pattern of low sales for their games and the reduced income from crowdfunding - although it should be noted that both Obsidian and inXile moving from the very-well-known Kickstarter platform to the obscure Fig system would not have helped - has likely made it necessary to consider selling the company.

inXile have almost completed work on Wasteland 3, which is due for release in 2019 and will now presumably be a Microsoft-branded game.

Intriguingly, both Obsidian and inXile started as Interplay and unusually (given the passage of 20 years) many of the same people work at both companies, raising the interesting prospect of them perhaps being merged to work on future projects, effectively recreating the "good old days" of Interplay in the 1990s.

Microsoft buy Obsidian Entertainment

Microsoft have bought Obsidian Entertainment, the veteran video game roleplaying game company. This comes a few weeks after the news was leaked into the media.

Obsidian Entertainment was founded in 2003 by senior staff working at Black Isle, the CRPG division of Interplay. Many of the founders had worked on Black Isle’s classic RPGs, including Fallout, Fallout 2, Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale and Icewind Dale II, as well as providing publishing support and assistance to BioWare on their Baldur’s Gate series.

Interplay was in serious financial trouble and the company was winding down. Various investors had been brought in to help right the ship, but their creative interference caused friction with the developers. Feargus Urquhart, Chris Parker, Darren Monahan, Chris Jones and Chris Avellone quit the company before it collapsed and established Obsidian Entertainment. Initially working out of Feargus’s attic, they scored a lucky early contract when LucasArts contracted them to make the sequel to BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic, a Star Wars RPG. Despite a buggy release, Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords reviewed well and sold extremely well.

Obsidian then worked on a Dungeons and Dragons video game, Neverwinter Nights 2 (also a sequel to a BioWare game) before they teamed up with Sega for two projects: an original spy RPG, Alpha Protocol (2010), which was highly promising but released in a very buggy state, and an Aliens RPG that was cancelled.

Bethesda Studios then asked Obsidian to develop a follow-up to their hugely successful CRPG Fallout 3, noting that several of the creators of the Fallout series were still working at Obsidian. The result was Fallout: New Vegas (2010), an immensely successful and critically-acclaimed game. They followed this up with Dungeon Siege III (2011).

The company was then – ironically given today’s news – contracted by Microsoft to develop a launch RPG for the X-Box One, Stormlands. Obsidian spent a significant amount of money developing a demo for the game, which would be their first AAA, high-budget title. However, Microsoft grew frustrated that they couldn’t implement their Kinect control system into the game and cancelled it in 2012, which nearly drove Obsidian out of business, with half the studio’s manpower fired in one go.

They were saved by the decision to go to Kickstarter to crowdfund an old-skool CRPG. Project Eternity raised $4.1 million. The game was finally released in 2015 under the title Pillars of Eternity and was a critical and sales success.

In the meantime, the company also developed South Park: The Stick of Truth (2014), Pathfinder Adventures (2016), Tyranny (2016) and Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire (2018). They are currently working on a new CRPG with Fallout creator Tim Cain in charge. The nature and current status of the game is unclear.

The sale of the company to Microsoft is on the one hand unsurprising: having existed hand-to-mouth for 15 years and nearly going bust once already, it’s clear the studio heads wanted greater financial security going forwards. However, it does seem to betray the ethos of the company as an independent studio, one of the few left in the business, and particularly seems to be at odds with its recent image as studio-of-the-people, funded by fans to make proper, old-skool CRPGs. Despite assurances, it is unlikely that Microsoft will allow them to keep making niche games for small audiences, especially after Pillars of Eternity II bombed in sales on release earlier this year.

More concerning is that Microsoft does not have a good history with its treatment of studios it buys, frequently mismanaging projects, giving conflicting information, lowering and raising budgets without warning and finally shuttering the studio in confusion (a fate most notably shared by Lionhead). Recently the company has vowed to do better and bought up a large number of studios, promising minimal interference. In this context, Obsidian makes a good fit for their model: a proven studio capable of working on both large-scale and small-scale games, and arguably have yet to prove themselves with the resources of making a proper, AAA, big budget RPG.

Unfortunately, this means it is now unlikely we will ever see a New Vegas II or Knights of the Old Republic III, but it does raise the intriguing idea of Obsidian developing a new Fable game or even a Halo RPG. Whether this happens or they’ll perhaps be allowed to make Pillars of Eternity III as a 3D extravaganza capable of going toe-to-toe with The Witcher 3 and the Dragon Age series remains to be seen.

Friday, 9 November 2018

NK Jemisin sells one millionth novel

N.K. Jemisin has sold over a million copies of her novels, as Orbit Books have announced via the following helpful infographic.

Jemisin published her first novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, in 2010. Since then she was published an additional seven novels and multiple short stories and novellas. She has won three Hugo Awards (including a record-breaking three in a row for Best Novel for all three books in her Broken Earth trilogy), two Locus Awards and a Nebula in her career so far, which is still in its early stages. It'll be interesting to see what comes next.

Jeremy Irons to play an iconic character in HBO's WATCHMEN sequel series

SlashFilm are reporting that Jeremy Irons will be playing an older version of the character of Adrian Veidt, aka Ozymandias, in HBO's currently-shooting Watchmen sequel TV series.

HBO's new series, produced and written by Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers), is set approximately 30 years after the events of the original Watchmen graphic novel (and specifically the novel, not Zack Synder's 2009 movie) and picks up on storylines and characters. Veidt was the antagonist of the novel, but one motivated by what he claimed was altruistic goals: achieving world peace by faking an alien attack on New York City in 1985, giving the United States and Soviet Union a common enemy to unite against. Famously, Veidt succeeded in his plan and was left alive at the end of the story to live with the millions of casualties he had unleashed in the process.

Jean Smart (Fargo) is also playing a character, an FBI agent with the surname "Blake", the same as Edward Blake (aka the Comedian, whose murder kick-started the original story). SlashFilm suggest she may actually be playing Laurie (aka Silk Spectre), the daughter of Edward Blake and a key protagonist of the original mini-series, but this is supposition (although supported by her age).

Season 1 of Watchmen has been shooting for several months and is expected to air on HBO in the summer or autumn of 2019.