Saturday, 16 January 2077

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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.

Saturday, 25 March 2023

RIP Eric Brown

News has sadly broken of the death of British science fiction writer Eric Brown at the far-too-young age of 62.

Brown was born in Haworth, Yorkshire in 1960 and began writing in the 1970s. He travelled extensively in the 1980s and began his SF publishing career with the novelette Krash-Bangg Joe and the Pineal-Zen Equation in 1987. He first acquired a wider audience with his first story collection, The Time-Lapsed Man, in 1990, followed by his debut novel, Meridian Days, in 1992.

Brown produced a significant amount of accomplished work over the next three decades, including the Bengal Station, Starship Seasons, Helix, Virex, Weird Space, Telemass, Multiplicity, Binary, Kon-Tiki and Enigma series, as well as an impressive number of stand-alone novels. He worked in space opera, cyberpunk and first contact stories in particular, as well as drawing on his travel experience to tell stories set in non-Western locales.

Brown was also a noted SF critic, and frequently wrote reviews of science fiction works for The Guardian, among other venues.

Despite critical acclaim, Brown never achieved the global ubiquity of contemporaries like Peter F. Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds. However, he had a solid audience, especially in the UK SF scene, and wrote right up until his death; he published three works in 2022 alone.

Brown died on 21 March from sepsis. He is survived by his wife Finn and daughter Freya. Condolences to his family, and he will be missed.

Friday, 24 March 2023

Reservation Dogs: Season 2

The Rez Dogs have split up. Elora has taken off for California without the rest of the crew, who are dealing with their own hardships. Her inevitable returns sparks both joy but also anger and jealousy. The crew also have to deal with wayward curses, the need for full-time employment, family bereavements, an energetic Native conference, Bear's unreliable spirit guide and a sinister "Catfish Cult" up to no good in the woods.

Reservation Dogs' first season was a perfectly-formed unit of television. It set out to do what it wanted to do - combining comedy, drama and fleeting moments of horror on a modern Native American Reservation - and executed it flawlessly. 

Annoyingly, because I'd already maxed out the score-metre on the first year, the second season establishes a new goal - all of the above, but better - and then executes that flawlessly as well.

The season opens with the gang scattered after the Season 1 finale, and it takes a couple of episodes for everyone to reform. Even when they do, the shadow of mistrust lies heavily on the group and it takes some cathartic emotional releases (thanks to a family bereavement and a pair of deranged social media influencers with a horrible line in cultural appropriation) for them to regroup properly.

A new theme then develops and it's hard to suppress a groan at the cliche even as it's written down: the gang has to grow up. They're out of school, the older members are now in full-time work and are struggling as they mix their new-found adult friends with the existing group. These are all familiar tensions and they've been done to death, but Reservation Dogs treats them like they're the newest ideas in town.

The show also continues its fine line in sometimes just rolling in an anthology story for the sheer hell of it. One episode revolves around Bear's mother and her friends as they attend a Native conference, both to discuss Native affairs but, more importantly, to party and look for prospective boyfriends. Another episode follows local cop Big as he inadvertently teams up with junkyard owner Kenny Boy, even more inadvertently takes a lot of drugs and then finds himself up against a sinister cult in the woods.

As I said about the first season, Reservation Dogs' mix of drama, comedy, occasional horror and pathos is unlike anything else on television apart, maybe, from network-mate Atlanta. In this second season, the show adds a little bit more heart. If the first season ultimately drove the group apart, this second year brings them back together and things like forgiveness and cooperation are a lot more in evidence. The show hasn't gone all gushy or overly sentimental, but it's definitely a warmer show this time around, culminating in the gang joining forces for a major road trip. The season's ending is surprisingly final, to the point that I wondered if the writers had been told to wrap things up for good, but a third season has since been commissioned.

Reservation Dogs' sophomore season (*****) is outstanding television, being smart, funny, occasionally biting and always compelling. The show is available to watch on FX and Hulu in the United States and on Disney+ in much of the rest of the world.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods.

Friday, 17 March 2023

RIP Lance Reddick

In shocking news, it has been announced that actor Lance Reddick has passed away at the too-young age of 60. The actor was known for his contributions to a multitude of major TV shows, including The Wire, Fringe, Lost and Bosch, as well as the John Wick movie franchise and the Horizon and Destiny video game series.

Reddick was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1962. His first love was music, and he pursued a musical academic career. He switched to acting in the early 1990s and attended the Yale School of Drama. He started being cast in minor roles in both film and on TV in the mid-1990s and achieved his first breakthrough roles for HBO, by playing Johnny Basil on prison drama Oz (2000-01) and Marvin in The Corner (2001), based on David Simon and Ed Burns's book about the Baltimore drugs trade.

A year later Reddick re-teamed with Simon and Burns for The Wire (2002-08), often cited as the greatest TV show of all time. He was cast in the key role of Cedric Daniels, a promising police officer whose career had been thrown into jeopardy by suspected wrongdoing in a unit he was part of, although he managed to avoid direct punishment. Throughout the series Daniels is torn between playing the career game - which requires politicking, turning a blind eye to some things and knowing the right people - and listening to his conscience and backing his subordinates (particularly wild card Jimmy McNulty) to actually do some good in defeating the criminal gangs in the city. In the series finale, he is unable to square the circle any more and retires from the police force to pursue a career as a criminal defence lawyer. Reddick appeared in more episodes of The Wire than any other actor (58 out of 60 episodes).

His appearance in the critically-feted The Wire made him an in-demand actor and he cropped up in numerous American TV shows of the 2000s and 2010s, usually whenever a serious, authoritative figure was required. As well as numerous guest roles, he co-headlined the reality-hopping thriller series Fringe (2008-13), playing the role of Phillip Broyles across all five seasons. He also had a recurring role on Lost, playing the enigmatic Matthew Abaddon in four episodes in 2008 and 2009.

After Fringe's conclusion, he was cast as Deputy Chief Irvin Irving on Bosch (2014-21), appearing in all seven seasons. He did not return for spin-off/sequel series Bosch: Legacy, which started in 2022. He was also a regular on sitcom Corporate from 2018 to 2019, and voiced the antagonist Thordak in the second season of The Legend of Vox Machina. He also played Albert Wesker in the Resident Evil TV series from Netflix.

In film he mostly played in supporting roles, but won over new fans by playing the role of Charon in all four John Wick movies.

Reddick also built up a cult following with his popular video game roles. He played Commander Zavala in every installment of the Destiny franchise, and both voiced and provided the appearance for semi-antagonist/sometimes-ally Sylens in both Horizon Zero Dawn (2017) and Horizon Forbidden West (2022). He also played Martin Hatch in Quantum Break (2016), which combined live-action TV material with a video game.

Reddick was a prolific performer, and had numerous projects in the can at the time of his passing. He will be seen in the upcoming White Men Can't Jump remake and John Wick spin-off Ballerina, as well as the Disney+ Percy Jackson and the Olympians TV series. Reddick had also recorded both voice and motion capture the expansion Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores, due out next month.

According to early reports, Lance Reddick passed away of natural causes.

A highly talented actor with tremendous screen presence and gravitas, whose serious screen roles sometimes belied the actor's sense of humour (more readily expressed on his social media channels), Lance Reddick will be very much missed, and has gone far too soon.

Friday, 10 March 2023


With the release of the full cast list for the Dungeons & Dragons movie, Honor Among Thieves, it's been confirmed that Game of Thrones actor Ian Hanmore is playing the iconic role of Szass Tam, Zulkir of Necromancy in the Forgotten Realms world.

Hanmore played the character of Pyat Pree, one of the Warlocks of Qarth, in Season 2 of Game of Thrones, where he infamously kidnapped Daenerys' dragons but then came to a flaming end. Hanmore has been a stage and screen actor for more than thirty years, chalking up appearances in Doctor Who, Life on Mars, Shameless, Outlander and Carnival Row among many other performances.

Szass Tam is one of the oldest and most notable characters in the Forgotten Realms world. He was created by Ed Greenwood, the creator of the Realms, as a primary villain in that world and was first mentioned in a short story Greenwood penned in the late 1960s. He first appeared on-screen, as it were, in a short story Greenwood wrote in the late 1970s, around the time he started contributing to Dragon Magazine. Tam is mentioned in Dragon articles of the early 1980s and the original Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (1987) before getting a more prominent role in the sourcebooks Dreams of the Red Wizards (1988) and Spellbound (1995). In between he debuted in the novel Dragonwall (1990) in a cameo before getting an expanded role in Red Magic (1991). He would go on to appear in numerous Forgotten Realms novels up until Neverwinter (2011). He also made cameo appearances in the Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights series of video games.

In the fiction, Tam is a Red Wizard of Thay, an ambitious organisation seeking to use magic to conquer the world. Tam rose through the ranks to become Zulkir of Necromancy, one of the eight rulers of Thay, and in the process converted himself into a lich, a powerful undead sorcerer. Tam is noted for labyrinth, ruthless schemes designed to further his own power or that of Thay (which he sees as the same thing). He is highly cunning, and also not above striking alliances with outsiders (which, oddly, he mostly honours) to achieve his objectives. Tam's weakness is his hatred of being constrained in power, sometimes by the other Zulkirs of Thay who see him as too dangerous and ambitious. This sometimes reaches comical ends, with a bold Thayan plan who increase its power being derailed by adventurers hired by Tam who simply did not want a political rival to achieve a success.

Tam is one of the most popular D&D villains of them all and Hanmore is an accomplished actor who should play the character well.

RED DWARF rights split between its original creators

In an interesting move, it's been announced that the rights to venerable British SF sitcom Red Dwarf have been split between its two creators, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, as part of a legal agreement. This clears the way for the return of Red Dwarf to television and possibly its debut in other areas.

Red Dwarf celebrated its 35th anniversary last month. The live-action sitcom started airing in 1988 and depicted the misfortune of Dave Lister, probably the last human being alive in the universe. Lister is put into stasis as punishment for smuggling a pregnant cat aboard his mining ship, the gigantic Red Dwarf. Unfortunately, during his confinement the ship's crew are killed by a lethal radiation leak and the vessel's sentient AI, Holly, orders the ship out of the Solar system to prevent further contamination. Unfortunately, it takes three million years for the radiation to disperse and for Lister to be released safely. As well as Holly, Lister is soon joined by a holographic recreation of his dead superior officer, the mind-numbingly tedious and arrogant Arnold "Judas" Rimmer, and the last survivor of a humanoid species which evolved from his cat. Later seasons add Kryten, a service mechanoid rescued from a derelict spacecraft, and occasionally Kristine Kochanski, Lister's ex-girlfriend whom, in a parallel universe, survived instead of him.

The show aired six seasons in rapid succession from 1988 to 1993, becoming one of the biggest shows on British television. Co-creators and co-writers Grant and Naylor split up their partnership after Season 6, and Naylor returned (first with other collaborators, then solo) to produce two additional seasons in 1997 and 1999. Naylor was then side-tracked into trying to make a movie which never came to fruition, so returned with a three-part special in 2009, followed by new, full seasons in 2012, 2016 and 2017. The latest bit of Dwarf to air was a TV movie, The Promised Land, in 2020.

In 2021 it was revealed that Naylor had either been fired or forced to resign from Grant Naylor Productions, the production company he had set up with Rob Grant to produce the show. Although Grant had left in 1993, the show had continued with his permission as a co-director of the company. The reasons for Naylor's departure were disputed, with Naylor claiming he'd been forced out and Grant claiming that work had been underway on two further TV specials with Naylor slated to write. Grant subsequently confirmed that he was planning to return to the franchise to write for the first time since a 1996 spin-off novel.

Today's agreement suggests that both Naylor and Grant will proceed with different Red Dwarf projects, potentially both involving the original castmembers. The cast themselves, now all in their late fifties and sixties, have expressed doubt on how long they can keep playing their roles, leading to speculation that the future of Red Dwarf may lie in a possible reboot, maybe on a streaming service. A previous attempt to adapt Red Dwarf to the American market in 1993 resulted in two pilots which never made it to series, but the show's longevity and the increased American demand for streaming product may tempt them to revisit the idea.

Whether this means that the two previously-planned TV movies involving the original cast can now go ahead is unclear.

Wednesday, 8 March 2023

STARFIELD acquires (probably) final release date

Bethesda Game Studios has confirmed the (probably) final release date for Starfield, their massive space-based roleplaying game. The game will launch on 6 September 2023.

Set in the early 24th Century, Starfield will see the player take control of a space pilot recruited by Constellation, the last human organisation interested in large-scale, interstellar exploration. Some unusual artefacts have been discovered on the outskirts of known space, sparking the possibility of contact with intelligent alien life. But to discover the secrets of those artefacts, the player will have to navigate interstellar politics, mine barren moons for resources and align (or fight) against myriad factions.

Similar to the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series, Starfield will feature a vast open world to explore, this time expanding across 1,000 planets and moons in more than a hundred star systems. Players will be able to explore, mine, build their own settlements, engage in combat and travel from planet to planet on a starship that they can customise or replace. Players can even design new ships from scratch and then fly them into combat. Companion characters acquired through the game can serve as crewmembers on the ship. The game will also feature the traditional epic main quest and a plethora of side-missions and randomly-generated objectives. The game should play like Fallout 4 bolted onto a somewhat more limited version of Elite: Dangerous.

The game will launch on PC and Xbox Series X/S.

Saturday, 4 March 2023

New ALIEN movie starts shooting next week

A new Alien movie starts shooting next week, which is kind of surprising given how little fuss has been made about it.

The new Alien film is being produced by Ridley Scott, but it will actually be directed by Fede Alvarez (the reasonably well-received 2013 Evil Dead remake) from a script by his usual collaborator Rodo Sayagues. The two also worked on the 2016 horror movie Don't Breathe and last year's Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot.

The film stars Cailee Spaeny (Pacific Rim: Uprising, Mare of Easttown) and Isabela Merced (Dora and the Lost City of Gold), with David Jonsson, Archie Renaux, Spike Fearn and Aileen Wu also on board.

Remarkably, we know almost nothing about the film, such as where it fits in the Alien timeline. The plot synopsis is decidedly vague:

"In this ninth entry in the immensely popular and enduring film series, a group of young people on a distant world find themselves in a confrontation with the most terrifying life form in the universe."

That does seemingly confirm the film has no crossover with Noah Hawley's incoming Alien TV show, which is set on Earth, possibly after the events of Prometheus but before Alien itself.

The synopsis is also interesting for listing eight prior Alien films: Alien (1979), Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), Alien: Resurrection (1997), Aliens vs. Predator (2004), Aliens vs. Predator 2: Requiem (2007), Prometheus (2012) and Alien: Covenant (2017). In its recent licensing and canon announcements, the two Aliens vs. Predator films were omitted from the Aliens canon (as suggested by Prometheus, which seemingly contradicts the events of the AvP movies) and Fox have indicated that regard the Aliens, Predator and AvP franchises as three distinct timelines and continuities.

The synopsis does sound a little disposable as a story concept, but it will be interesting to see what comes of it. The film is presumably targeting a 2024 release window.

Friday, 3 March 2023

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY to end with fifth season in 2024

CBS and Paramount+ have announced that streaming show Star Trek: Discovery will end in 2024 with its fifth season.

The news is not a huge surprise, with Paramount+ moving to cut original programming budgets in pursuit of greater profitability, and the show having a fairly hefty price tag attached to it. The show kicked off in 2017 with a reported budget of $7 million per episode and costs have only increased since then. The show was at the vanguard of a whole new generation of Trek shows, with live-action series Picard (also ending after its currently-airing third season concludes) and Strange New Worlds following, along with animated series Lower Decks and Prodigy.

The show had a difficult genesis, with co-creator Bryan Fuller originally envisaging an anthology show that would dramatically shift locations, casts and even time periods from season to season, extending across different eras of the Trek universe and timeline. However, when that idea was shot down for cost reasons and Fuller's responsibilities to American Gods increased, Fuller chose to move on, leaving co-creator Alex Kurtzman to put together a new writing team (ironically, Fuller was later dismissed from American Gods due to massive budget overruns).

The early critical response to Discovery was somewhat tepid, but improved over its first four seasons. The show's position as a prequel set some ten years before the time of the original Star Trek series, but looking centuries more advanced, was contentious amongst fans, as was its embracing of both a darker and more emotional aesthetic than previous Trek shows, and problems fitting into established continuity. However, the show did nab a Hugo nomination for an early episode and the critical assessment of the show did improve after it moved a thousand years into the future.

The show was also a commercial success, being cited for almost single-handedly driving impressive subscriber growth for the CBS All Access platform in its early days, before its recent rebranding as Paramount+.

It also appears that the decision has been made to delay the final season into 2024, with some reshoots due to take place later this year, possibly an indication that the decision to end the series after five seasons was made late in the day and these reshoots will turn a season finale into an overall series finale.

With Picard also ending, this leaves the Star Trek franchise with one sole live-action show on air. Apparently other shows are under discussion, two live-action projects apparently under series consideration. One would pick up after the events of Picard and would feature a mix of new and established characters in the early 25th Century, and could draw upon characters from Picard, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager. The second is unclear, but could be either the much-discussed Section 31 series starring Michelle Yeoh (which may be complicated by Yeoh's much higher profile following a series of successful movie roles) or a Starfleet Academy series, possibly set in the Discovery time period of the 32nd Century. It is believed that there have also been discussions around a new series or mini-series featuring the return of Kate Mulgrew as Captain Janeway. She has already returned to voice the character in Prodigy, but is apparently keen to explore the character again in live-action.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds will air a second season later this year, with Lower Decks also getting a fourth season in 2023 and Prodigy expected to start airing its second at the end of the year. The timescale for any new shows joining the stable is unclear.

Thursday, 23 February 2023

Embracer Group strikes new deal with Warner Brothers to make new LORD OF THE RINGS movies

In a fairly neat solution to what was threatening to become a legally complex entanglement of rights, Lord of the Rings movie rights-holders Embracer Group have forged a new deal with Warner Brothers and New Line Cinema to create new feature films derived from the novel.

Not Amazon but you get the idea.

The Lord of the Rings film rights were acquired from the Saul Zaentz Company by New Line in 1997 to create a feature film trilogy based on the novel. Peter Jackson directed this trilogy to tremendous acclaim, which was released from 2001 to 2003 (New Line's parent company is Warner Brothers). Warner Brothers teamed up with MGM, who owned part of the film rights to The Hobbit, to produce a prequel trilogy based on that novel ten years later. Last year, the film rights were set to lapse, reverting back to the Saul Zaentz Company. Warner Brothers had put an animated motion picture, War of the Rohirrim, into production and claimed this was enough to satisfy their legal requirement to get a film into production before the rights were due to lapse. The Saul Zaentz Company disagreed.

Whilst legal arguments were being thrashed out, the Saul Zaentz Company suddenly sold their Lord of the Rings-related rights to the Embracer Group, the Swedish multimedia mega-corp which has been hoovering up various comic book, video game and board game companies for the past decade. Exactly why Embracer would step into such a legal minefield before it had been resolved seemed unclear.

Except, of course, it is now clear. Embracer simply created a new deal with Warner Brothers and New Line, immediately resolving all legal questions and allowing everyone to move forwards with new projects.

What those projects might be is unclear. Today's statement includes a note that the companies have no interesting in mounting a remake of Peter Jackson's seminal movie trilogy. There are also rights complications with The Hobbit (MGM, now owned by Amazon, retain some of the rights to the project) and also a question over TV rights, since Amazon struck a separate deal with the J.R.R. Tolkien Estate to launch their first TV show, The Rings of Power, which launched last year to a mixed reception. There has been some suggestion that Warner Brothers might be able to create a Lord of the Rings-derived TV series as long as it stayed within even stricter legal boundaries than Amazon, but it's not been clarified what those could be.

Any further projects will have to derive from The Lord of the Rings alone, and probably in the cinema. It's possible that film-makers will tap the Third Age for more ideas of a show, maybe focusing on ides like the settling of the Shire, the war with the Witch-King of Angmar, the adventures of the young Aragorn or possibly picking up a story with some of the surviving film characters several decades on from the movie trilogy. Such projects will have to survive the withering scorn and cynicism of fans watching out for a cash-grab exploitation of Tolkien's material.

In the meantime, The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim hits cinemas on 12 April 2024, whilst Amazon's Rings of Power is currently shooting its second season for a 2024 debut.