Saturday 31 March 2018

The Rise and Fall of the Real-Time Strategy Genre

Real-time strategy is the name given to a genre of video games in which the player builds and maintains a large military force which he or she then takes into battle. The genre is differentiated from turn-based games by taking place in real-time, requiring fast reflexes and a good spatial awareness to keep track of multiple areas of the battlefield simultaneously.

The genre was codified in the mid-1990s by games such as WarCraft: Orcs and Humans (1994) and Command and Conquer (1995), although the earliest examples of the genre are generally held to be Carrier Command (1988), Herzog Zwei (1989) and Dune II: The Battle for Arrakis (1992). The genre was massively popular in the late 1990s, arguably reaching an apex with Command and Conquer: Red Alert (1996), Total Annihilation (1997) and StarCraft (1998). The genre subsequently struggled with a move into 3D and a series of commercial failures followed. The genre became significantly less popular in the following decade, although WarCraft III (2002), Dawn of War (2004), Company of Heroes (2006) and Supreme Commander (2007) all proved successful. Which the exception of StarCraft II (2010) and several expansions, the genre has not achieved any major sales successes in recent years. Popular wisdom has suggested that the genre has been supplanted by the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) subgenre, which evolved out of RTS games.

Command and Conquer: Red Alert II (2001, Electronic Arts/Westwood)


Friday 30 March 2018

Why You Should Read...Paul Kearney

Paul Kearney is a Northern Irish science fiction and fantasy writer who may hold the title for "most underread genre author." He published his first book twenty-six years ago and has now written twenty novels, most of them highly critically-acclaimed. Yet his sales remain modest and his profile in the genre is relatively low.

Kearney began his career with three stand-alone novels: The Way to Babylon (1992), A Different Kingdom (1993) and Riding the Unicorn (1994). Each novel was different in tone and feel, although linked by the same thematic device of someone from our world being drawn into a fantasy one. In The Way to Babylon an epic fantasy author is injured and finds himself in his own invented world, where the characters won't let go. In A Different Kingdom - partially an Irish riff on Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood - a young Irish man is drawn into a mystical alternate world. In Riding the Unicorn, a policeman finds himself in a more traditional epic fantasy world where mighty armies are clashing.

This last book saw a change in Kearney's writing. A keen historical reenactor and fan of secondary world fantasy, he began work on his own epic fantasy series, The Monarchies of God. The series spanned five volumes: Hawkwood's Voyage (1995), The Heretic Kings (1996), The Iron Wars (1999), The Second Empire (2000) and Ships From the West (2002). The books are notable for their Renaissance level of technology (complete with bombards and arquebuses) and their blending of epic fantasy, nautical action, military history and outright horror. They are also unusually short, with none of the books exceeding 400 pages and the last three all being well under 300 pages in length. Kearney would later attribute the disappointing sales of the series - despite heavy critical acclaim and the recommendations of authors such as Steven Erikson and Robert Silverberg - due to the low page count versus those of other epic fantasy series, plus the publisher letting the early books in the series go out of print before the last ones were released (note to publishers: never do this).

Kearney started work on a new trilogy, The Sea-Beggars, with the focus this time firmly on naval action. Monarchies had originally meant to be primarily focused on the story of Captain Hawkwood and his adventures at sea, but other characters had taken over the narrative and that had dropped back to a subplot. For this series, set in a new world, Kearney was determined that the naval action would remain front and centre. He kept this promise and The Mark of Ran (2004) was a well-received and somewhat successful novel. However, the sequel ran into problems. This Forsaken Earth (2006) was released with little marketing and a last-minute title change (it was known as The Stars We Sail By up until just before release) and sold poorly. The series was dropped by the publisher in the UK, but curiously the US publisher refused to let go of the rights (despite also refusing to publish the third book in the series, Storm of the Dead). The result was a legal logjam that, startlingly, remains ongoing, despite other publishers clamouring to re-release and finish the series

At this point Kearney's career seemed to be cursed: he had received immense critical acclaim for all his novels and had committed fans singing his praises online. He also had strong voices in his favour from the likes of Malazan author Steven Erikson (Kearney provided the introduction to Erikson's novella The Healthy Dead), but his sales were modest and the Sea-Beggars publishing fiasco was every author's worst nightmare, wanting to write a book and being prevented from doing so.

Fortunately, Kearney's fans extended to the editorial team at new imprint Solaris Books. They snapped Kearney up to write a new trilogy for them, an epic fantasy riff on the Anabasis by the Greek writer Xenophon (telling the story of a Greek mercenary army trapped behind enemy lines in the heart of the Persian Empire) and then the story of Alexander the Great. The Macht Trilogy, comprising The Ten Thousand (2008), Corvus (2010) and The Kings of Morning (2012), was a critical hit and also sold quite well. Solaris also reprinted Monarchies of God in two omnibus editions: Hawkwood and the Kings and Century of the Soldier, finally bringing the series to a wider audience (particularly in the United States).

Kearney's alliance with Solaris, at that time owned by the Black Libarary (the publishing wing of Games Workshop), also gave him the opportunity to write in the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 universes, a long-standing ambition of his. He started with short stories, penning "Broken Blood" (published in Death & Dishonour, 2010), "The Last Detail (Legends of the Space Marines, 2010) and "The Blind King" (2015) before writing a full-blown novel, Dark Hunters: Umbra Sumus, in 2015. Almost ridiculously, this novel also ran into publication difficulties. The American publishers of Sherrilyn Kenyon's paranormal romance series Dark-Hunters objected to the title, but the problems went beyond a simple title change (the Dark Hunters are a famous Space Marine chapter in WH40K and it was impractical to change their name). The novel is effectively on ice until Games Workshop can work out a solution to the problem.

As previously, however, Kearney bounced back strong with a new novel, The Wolf in the Attic (2016). Another major shift in his writing style, this time towards Neil Gaiman-esque modern fairy tales but with his typical grit intact, the book depicts the story of a young Greek refugee living in Oxford during WWII who falls in with a strange crowd (and also meets C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien). The novel received blanket critical acclaim when it came out, on both sides of the Atlantic, and sold very well. Proving his versatility, Kearney also finally managed to get a Warhammer 40,000 novel published. In fact, he got a whole trilogy: Calgar's Siege (2017), Calgar's Fury (2017) and Calgar's Reckoning (2018).

Kearney's next project is a sequel to The Wolf in the Attic, called The Other Side of Things. It is currently scheduled for publication by Solaris in 2019.

Paul Kearney's work is impressive. He writes in concerted, focused bursts where the prose, structure and characters all have exactly the time they need to work, never too much. Kearney does not do filler. He also writes vivid, impressive action scenes but does not glorify violence. His books may feature epic, impressive and exciting battles, but the pointless carnage and waste of life is always exemplified. His musings on heroism and cynicism recall David Gemmell at his best, whilst his sure hand with military action, history and politics are reminiscent of Bernard Cornwell. But Kearney's most formidable ability is how he can spin on a dime and write a mystical (almost magic-realist) fever dream like A Different Kingdom or a modern fable in The Wolf in the Attic. Few modern genre authors can shift prose styles and entire genres with as much ease or confidence, and do so well each time.

Paul Kearney is the best fantasy writer you've never heard of. I urge you to check him out.

Short Fiction
"Broken Blood" (2010, in Warhammer: Death & Dishonour)

"The Last Detail" (2010, in Warhammer 40,000: Legends of the Space Marines)

"South Mountain" (2014, in Dangerous Games)

"Dark Hunters: The Blind King" (2015, Warhammer 40,000 e-story)

Stand-Alone Novels
The Way to Babylon (1992)

A Different Kingdom (1993)

Riding the Unicorn (1994)

The Lost Island (2008, Primeval TV spin-off)

The Monarchies of God
Hawkwood's Voyage (1995)

The Heretic Kings (1996)

The Iron Wars (1999)

The Second Empire (2000)

Ships From the West (2002)

Hawkwood and the Kings (omnibus of Books 1-2, 2010)

Century of the Soldier (omnibus of Books 3-5, 2010)

The Sea-Beggars
The Mark of Ran (2004)

This Forsaken Earth (2006)

Storm of the Dead (forthcoming, on hold due to legal issues)

The Macht Trilogy
The Ten Thousand (2008)

Corvus (2010)

The Kings of Morning (2012)

Warhammer 40,000
Dark Hunters: Umbra Sumus (2015, on hold pending legal issues)

Calgar's Siege (2017)

Calgar's Fury (2017)

Calgar's Reckoning (2018)

Wolf in the Attic Series
The Wolf in the Attic (2016)

The Other Side of Things (2019)

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. 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.

Wednesday 28 March 2018

TITANCON 2018 memberships now available

The memberships for TitanCon 2018 are now available. TitanCon is a science fiction and fantasy convention held annually in Belfast, Northern Ireland since 2011 (with two years of informal events before that). This year's event will be held from Friday 24th to Monday 27th August.

TitanCon began as a Game of Thrones-focused convention, with numerous actors, extras and behind-the-scenes personnel from the show attending as guests. With Game of Thrones wrapping up production, the convention is transitioning to a more general SFF-focused event, with a big emphasis on books. Recent years have seen authors including Joe Abercrombie, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Sarah Pinborough, Pat Cadigan, Peadar O'Guilin, Ian McDonald and Peter F. Hamilton attending, along with local authors from the Irish SFF scene. There's also strong tracks related to artwork, sword-fighting and crafting.

If you're in Ireland or the UK and fancy coming along to a fun weekend with lots of activities and cool guests, I can heartily recommend TitanCon. You'll probably find me mooching around as well.

It's also worth mentioning that TitanCon 2019 will be hosting the annual EuroCon event and will take place one week after WorldCon in Dublin. We've already got quite a few hardcore con-goers from around the world staying on for EuroCon as well, and it should be quite a lot of fun. The details for that event can be found here.

BATTLETECH secures April 24 release date

Harebrained Schemes have confirmed that their new BattleTech video game will be available on 24 April.

The new game is a turn-based wargame following a bunch of mercenary MechWarriors as they help Kamea Arano retake her position as head of her family and ruler of her homeworld, having been deposed in a coup. The game unfolds through a dynamic strategic campaign, with you choosing which world to attack (or liberate) next and what missions to undertake, and then a 3D battle mode where you take your 'mechs into combat. You can buy new 'mechs and upgrade your equipment between engagements.

BattleTech has been created by team led by Jordan Weisman, who co-created the original BattleTech wargame back in the 1980s. 2018 is set to be a major year for the venerable mech franchise, with the pen-and-paper miniatures game and roleplaying games both getting a relaunch, along with a new instalment of the real-time, first-person MechWarrior spin-off video game series at the end of the year.

Trailers and airdate for the TV adaptation of China Mieville's THE CITY AND THE CITY

The BBC have released the first trailers and teasers for their adaptation of China Mieville's novel The City and The City. This is a trailer for the whole series:

This is an "orientation guide" for visitors to the twin cities:

There is also an article on how Dr. Alison Long created the language of Illitan (the language used in Ul Qoma) here.

The City and The City begins on Friday 6 April on BBC2 in the UK. I've already seen a preview of the first episode and you can read my thoughts here.

Monday 26 March 2018

Wertzone Classics: Firewatch

Shoshone National Park, Wyoming, 1989. A man named Henry takes up a post for the summer in a fire lookout tower in the park. His job is to watch out for wildfires and help visitors to the park. His only contact with the outside world is a walkie talkie which allows him to talk to his boss, Delilah, who is manning another tower five miles away. The two strike up a friendship over the radio. After warning off a couple of teenagers who have been littering and starting fires in dangerous dry tinder areas, Henry finds that odd things start happening, and he can't shake the feeling that something is very wrong in the park.

What is Firewatch? Well, it's a game where you watch fires. But it's a bit more than that.

Firewatch is an adventure game, from some of the same writing paragons who achieved the impossible with the first Walking Dead game from Telltale (still, hands-down, the best iteration of that franchise) and created a deeply convincing set of real, flawed and human characters put in difficult situations. You are directed between sets of puzzles - either traditional ones where you have to find your way past an obstacle or narrative ones based on dialogue - with each completed puzzle revealing a little more about the story, the characters and what's going on in this remote rural landscape. It's also been described as a "walking simulator", although that feels a little harsh, as walking simulators generally have very little gameplay in them aside from moving from one area to the next. Firewatch generally has you doing more than that, whether it's searching for rope, spelunking, searching for missing teenagers or outrunning a fire, with a fair lot of choice on what route to take through the game.

Firewatch is an open-world game. You can explore the park at your leisure at almost any moment in the game, pause to watch the beautiful sunsets and sunrises, stroll along the lake or hike up the mountains. The art design, produced by British artist Olly Moss, is fantastic: stylised and breathtaking at the same time. Just wandering around the game world listening to the exceptional soundtrack is fun. Critics may say there's not necessarily a lot to do in the open world - Far Cry or Fallout this most certainly is not - but it's a rare game that has confidence enough in its atmosphere to let plays chill out and enjoy it.

Firewatch is a character drama. You control Henry and the only person you can talk to is your boss Delilah, who is on the other end of the radio. You don't see or meet Delilah at the start of the game and only learn things from her that she lets you know. Despite this, the two characters form a powerful bond and nod to how people can form relationships without even knowing what the other person looks like. The game also allows you to determine Henry's personality through a clever, heartbreaking opening text section which explains why Henry is in the park in the first place.

Firewatch is a thematic game. It deals with issues such as heartbreak, loss, loneliness, paranoia, fear, hope and human connectivity. It doesn't over-egg any of these ideas and the game delivers its story and dialogue in a highly naturalistic fashion. The dialogue and voice-acting are some of the most convincing ever seen (or heard) in a game, delivered with conviction. The game's story also unfolds in other ways, through notes, scraps of paper, and books and magazines left lying around, which are stitched together to expand on what's going on (one rather weird side-story is only explained by paying careful attention to some documents you find near the end of the game, and which can be easily overlooked).

Firewatch is also a mystery. Why is there a locked gate where there shouldn't be one? Who keeps lighting campfires in defiance of warning notices? Odd events stack on one another until Henry and Delilah are convinced something weird is going on. But is it, or is it just the isolation of being two days from civilisation in a world with no cellphones and no internet?

Firewatch is not a perfect game. The concise length (about 5 hours) is to its benefit, as any more would be over-egging the pudding, but some may find that too short. The ending is divisive, but I thought it was excellent and appropriate. The game occasionally becomes a little obtuse with what you have to do next, although only once was I outright stuck (and the solution was almost comically obvious). I did have a repetitive crash issue at the start, but that was solved by downloading the latest patch beta. But the issues are so minor as to be negligible.

Firwatch (*****) is a thought-provoking, smartly-written, beautifully acted game about relationships, the need for them and the desire to escape from them. Like Journey and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, it's a game that comfortably works as a piece of art that is also fun and thought-provoking to play. It is available now on PC, PlayStation 4 and X-Box One and is very thoroughly recommended.

Saturday 24 March 2018

Cover art for Steven Erikson's REJOICE, A KNIFE TO THE HEART

On 18 October, Gollancz in the UK will be releasing Steven Erikson's first non-comedic science fiction novel. Entitled Rejoice, a Knife to the Heart, it's a story about first contact and survival. The cover art is below.

Erikson has previously written twelve novels and seven short stories in the epic fantasy Malazan Book of the Fallen setting, and is working on a new novel in that setting, The God is Not Willing, which will open a new trilogy, Witness, about the popular character of Karsa Orlong. He has also written an SF novella, The Devil Delivered, and a mainstream novel, This River Awakes, as well as three short comedic SF novels, the Wilful Child trilogy.

Thanks to Jussi of Rising Shadow for spotting this on

The Invasion by Peadar O'Guilin

The island of Ireland has been sealed off from the rest of the world by a mystical barrier. Technology cannot penetrate it. The people of Ireland, the division between north and south no longer mattering, are under constant attack. Every teenager is "Called", summoned to another realm where they do battle with the Aes Sidhe, the ancient rulers of Ireland before they were banished in a great war. The Sidhe have a day in their realm (three minutes in ours) to hunt down and kill the child, otherwise the victime escapes. Sometimes the Sidhe spare the victim, to return them home mutilated or "changed" in some horrific fashion. Most of the time, the Sidhe kill the victim.

Nessa has survived her Call, despite her deformed legs. Refusing to believe she could survive without betraying the Nation, Nessa's government imprisons her and subjects her to torture and interrogation. As Nessa tries to find a way of escaping, the last barriers between Ireland and the Grey Land begin to fail, and the invasion begins in earnest...

The Call was one of the genre highlights of 2016, a striking mash-up of Koushun Takami's Battle Royale, Terry Pratchett's Lords and Ladies and the TV series Skins, but elevated by O'Guilin's signature dark wit and his sure grasp of Irish mythology. The Invasion (formerly entitled The Cauldron) is the continuation of this story.

Picking up quickly where The Call left off, the concluding part of the tale (this is a duology with the overall title The Grey Land; no trilogies here) follows three separate narratives: Nessa's misadventures in prison as a suspected enemy of the state; Anto as a soldier on the front lines of the invasion itself and Aoife back in the school, helping pick up the pieces in the aftermath of the Sidhe's failed attack. These narratives develop in swift parallel, the relentless pace picking up as each group of characters finds themselves in jeopardy, but also moving towards finding a resolution to the crisis. This results in rapid-fire chapters as we switch between groups (with occasional, brief switches to other characters) and get a more thorough understanding of how the war is proceeding.

The Call was a dark novel, but The Invasion is darker and more gruesome still, despite ostensibly being a YA book. There's also frank discussions of sexuality and a lot of earthy humour. The Invasion gives its young target audience a lot of credit for their maturity and their intelligence.

If there is a complaint, it may be that the book ends a touch abruptly. Things build to a major climax and we get that, with the revelations expanding on what we learned earlier in the novel (or in the preceding one) but the story does feel like it moves from midpoint to endgame in the space of just a chapter or two. Or it might just be that O'Guilin does such a great job of keeping the narrative ticking that it all being over is disappointing. Still, brave to the author for keeping this story constrained and tight rather than expanding things to a trilogy (which, given the first book's success, must have been tempting).

The Invasion (****) is available in the UK and USA now.

Edit: I had a few people ask about this when the first book came out, so will reiterate it here: the term "Aes Sidhe" is the original Irish term ("Aos Si" is a more recent form) for a mythological species of fairies or elves who originally ruled Ireland before being defeated by men. The Book of Conquests (also The Book of Invasions or The Book of the Taking of Ireland) is an account of this conflict, dating back to the 11th Century but based on considerably older oral traditions.

Needless to say, the term massively predates the term "Aes Sedai", which Robert Jordan borrowed from the Irish for his Wheel of Time sequence beginning in 1990. O'Guilin is simply using the original term from Irish mythology.

Thursday 22 March 2018

German cover art for FIRE AND BLOOD VOL I by George R.R. Martin released

The German cover art for Fire and Blood, Volume I has been unveiled.

This book is the full and unedited text of the material that George R.R. Martin wrote for The World of Ice and Fire quite a few years ago now; GRRM was only supposed to write a few sidebars but ended up writing over 300,000 words of text for the project in the space of just a couple of months (fake history, it turns out, being far easier to write than prose). Elio Garcia, Jr. and Linda Antonsson had to massively edit down and summarise that material in The World of Ice and Fire itself, but Martin has released three excerpts of that massive block of material as stand-alone novellas: The Princess and the Queen (published in Dangerous Women), The Rogue Prince (published in Rogues) and The Songs of the Dragon (published in The Book of Swords).

This book contains all of that material and much more, telling in some 600 pages the story of the Targaryen dynasty from its days in ancient Valyria before the Doom through to the reign of Aegon III, with the bulk of the material believed to focus on the Conquest and the Dance of Dragons.

The remainder of the Targaryen reign will be covered in Fire and Blood, Volume II, which is as yet unwritten. According to Martin it will not be published until A Song of Ice and Fire itself is completed, presumably because the second volume would have to fully cover both the events surrounding the Dunk and Egg stories and how they end (particularly the Great Fire of Summerhall) and Robert's Rebellion, important revelation about which remain to be made in the novels to come. Of course, it would also be an incomplete history without knowing the ultimate fate of the last scions of the Targaryen dynasty, such as Daenerys.

The German edition of Fire and Blood will be published on 12 November 2018; the UK and US editions appear to be scheduled for October, so I'd expect to be seeing the cover art for those shortly.

Martin recently confirmed he is taking a social media break to focus on finishing the projects on his plate, including The Winds of Winter (the sixth and apparently-penultimate Song of Ice and Fire novel); although previous commentary suggested that he didn't envisage Winter being published before Fire and Blood I, he has also said that he could finish the novel within "months" (back in 2015, but still). Based on the turnaround time of the previous novels in the series, The Winds of Winter should be on shelves around three months after it is completed and handed in.

RIP Jan Kantůrek

Jan Kantůrek, a Czech translator of science fiction, fantasy and other genre novels and comics, has passed away at the age of 69.

Kantůrek began his publishing career in 1975, working for Artia Publishing in Prague, in what was then Czechoslovakia. In 1990 he switched to working for Aventinum Publishing's marketing department, which involved him using his English language skills. In 1992 he became a full-time translator. He gained early acclaim for his work on the Conan the Barbarian books by Robert E. Howard (and other authors, such as L. Sprague de Camp).

However, Kantůrek gained his largest success in adapting Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels into Czech. Pratchett's novels, which feature puns, wordplay and historical references which may be obscure outside the UK and US, are notoriously had to translate and early on Pratchett saw his translators as collaborators, seeking out the best-recommended in each language who could not only literally translate the books, but also find alternative references and historical nods that would make sense to those audiences. This required an extraordinary level of trust by the author. Kantůrek gained Pratchett's approval early on, and was allowed to supplant Pratchett's footnotes with his own commenting on the action from a Czech perspective.

The following lines are very painful, but they must be heard. Jan Kantůrek, one of the best domestic translators he gave in Czech life Terry Pratchett's Discworld, and the second chairman of Jules Verne Club, died yesterday. My condolences to the family and all his loved ones. Thank you so much for the amazing work, Master, and we still believe that one day turtles will learn to fly :(❣️

Condolences to Mr. Kantůrek's family and friends. The work of translating SFF is an oft-overlooked but essential part of the process, bringing authors' work to a much larger audience across the world. But all accounts, Jan Kantůrek was one of the best.

Tuesday 20 March 2018

SyFy release a teaser for George R.R. Martin's NIGHTFLYERS

SyFy has released a promo for their new series Nightflyers, based on the George R.R. Martin novella.

Nightflyers will debut on SyFy this autumn.

American Gods: Season 1

Shadow Moon is released from prison but finds his life is not what he thought it was: his wife has been killed in a car accident, driving with her lover. Strange things are happening across America and at the centre of it is the old man enigmatically known as “Mr. Wednesday.” When Mr. Wednesday offers Shadow a job, Shadow accepts and finds himself drawn into a struggle older and weirder than he can possibly understand. 

Based on Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel, American Gods is a lush, eight-part drama which adapts roughly a third of the book. Given the book is only about 500 pages long, this is fairly generous and results in the first season have a relaxed, even languid pace. This is one of the show’s strengths but also its Achilles heel.

There is much to enjoy about this series, including the absolutely fantastic cast. Everyone, from seasoned hands like Ian McShane and Gillian Anderson to relative newcomers, are exceptional. The direction is also unusually striking to behold. Visually, American Gods may be the most gorgeous-looking television show ever made. There’s some stirring and powerfully effective imagery, whilst the colour grading, the framing of the shots, the movie-worthy cinematography and the generous and frequent use of CG to enhance the story are all stunning, as is the clever and imaginative opening title sequence. The show’s use of music, both original and licensed, is remarkable and often inventive (also occasionally bombastic and sometimes drowns out the dialogue, most notably during the major climactic moment of the finale).

The writing and pacing is where the show falters. Many modern shows make the mistake of trying to be relentless and constantly in a rush to get anywhere, often falling short (especially if you’re a Marvel show on Netflix trying to stretch 6 episodes’ worth of actual plot across 13 hours) or achieving that at the expense of character development or atmosphere. American Gods goes the other way, devoting an entire hour to the backstory of one of the major characters, visiting major episodes from their life and establishing their backstory in admirable depth. However, later on it dedicates a second episode to the backstory of that character’s great-great-great-great (etc) grandmother, in a well-written and enjoyable segment which doesn’t seem to add much to the overall storyline. It’s nice that the show can take time out to do this sort of thing, but it saps the show of momentum and energy. Compared to most “binge-worthy” shows, I felt no need to consume American Gods quickly and instead watched it over the course of several weeks. Not every show needs to be a sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat or nail-biting thriller, but American Gods goes in the opposite direction and is so laidback that it keeps falling asleep.

The narrative structure is also unsatisfying. Adapting one-third of a novel means that the show has a great opening, but it constantly interrupts the story of Wednesday, Shadow and the other protagonists to pursue tangents (most of them interesting, some consequential, others not) and then peters out at the end. There is a major climactic moment, but it’s more of a pause than a cliffhanger. Fortunately, there will be a second season (probably airing in mid-2019) with a major creative and writing reshuffle that will hopefully address some of these problems.

Still, it’s hard to argue with a show that gives an actor as great as Ian McShane such fantastic material to work with and one that confirms Ricky Whittle as one of the rising stars of television (it’s entertaining as a Brit to see how far he’s come since his days on soap opera Hollyoaks). It’s also great to see Crispin Glover, Pablo Schreiber and Emily Browning on such good form as well.

The first season of American Gods (***½) is lush, beautiful to look at, well-acted and atmospheric. It’s also slow, occasionally so slow as to approach inertness, and lacks tension. This is a fine wine to enjoy slowly and surely rather than a relentless sprint to the finish, and a slightly confusing show which inspires many mixed metaphors. The first season of American Gods is available now on DVD (UK, USA) and Blu-Ray (UK, USA), and is also available on Amazon Prime Video in the UK.

Parks and Recreation: The Complete Series

Pawnee, Indiana. The Parks and Recreation department of the local government is pulled between two forces: the apathetic director, Ron Swanson, a staunch libertarian who is opposed to government spending, and the over-eager, hyper-confident deputy director Leslie Knope, who believes in the positive potential of government to make people's lives better. When local musician Andy Dwyer falls into a big pit on derelict land and breaks his legs, his girlfriend Ann Perkins inspires Leslie to turn the land into a new park...and starts a journey that will take numerous people to destinies they were not expecting.

Parks and Recreation is an American sitcom that ran for seven seasons and 125 episodes between 2009 and 2015. It started life as a conceptual spin-off from the American version of The Office, sharing writers and crewmembers with that show and also employing the same mockumentary format, but having its own distinct storyline, characters and theme. It was also conceived as a comedy vehicle for comedienne Amy Poehler (Mean Girls, Blades of Destiny, The Ex). After a rocky start, it became one of the most critically-acclaimed comedies on American television.

The show's first season establishes the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana and focuses on Leslie (Poehler)'s attempts to turn a local waste ground into a park, only to face the slow, soul-destroying gears of local government, apathy from her boss and opposition from those who want to turn the ground to commercial purposes. The first season is the weakest, mainly because it struggles to find a solid direction for the characters. The writers seem tempted at the start of the show to make Leslie well-meaning but bumbling and incompetent for easy laughs, which is sometimes funny but mostly tedious, and also feels like a retread of The Office. By the time the show moves into its second season, the writers have decided to make Leslie hyper-competent and good at her job, with difficulties and comedy arising from the opposition she faces rather than her own weaknesses. This immediately gives the show much more of an empathetic quality, with the audience rooting for Leslie and sharing her frustration at the increasingly ridiculous problems she has to overcome.

However, the main reason Parks and Recreation works is the fact that the cast and characters are simply excellent. Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), the show's breakout character, is a libertarian who hates government and believes in self-reliance, but he is also a man of honour whose taciturn exterior belies his affection for his frien...sorry, workplace proximity associates. He gets almost all of the show's best lines. April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) is a quiet and self-declared lazy rebel who tries to avoid work and emotion, but gradually over the course of the series becomes a committed, hard-worker with an affinity for animals. Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) is a dumb goofball who is also a surprisingly good musician. He also enjoys creating characters such as "Burt Macklin, FBI" and "Johnny Karate", a children's entertainer. Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) is a budding mogul who initially falls into a number of get-rich-quick schemes, but in later seasons develops real business acumen and becomes more successful. Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) is the straight man to Leslie's manic ball of energy, whose bemused reactions to the insanity of Pawnee act as a substitute for the audience. It's worth noting that almost all of these actors have gone on to good things since the show ended (Plaza in Legion, Pratt in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise and wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ansari in Master of None and Jones in Angie Tribeca).

Another way the show succeeds is the way it evolves as it goes along. Each season revolves around a particular challenge, project or obstacle which Leslie has to overcome, helped by her friends. Seasons 3 and 4, arguably the show's high point, sees Leslie having to help bring Pawnee back from the brink of bankruptcy, host a massive Harvest Festival, undertake a clandestine romance with a colleague and then run for the city council. Later seasons see characters leave the department and set up their own businesses or join other organisations, before Season 7 (set three years after the rest of the show) breaks up the gang altogether. Parks and Recreation is a show that enjoys character development and moving people around as they get new jobs and find new interests, contradicting the need of most shows (comedy or otherwise) to create a status quo that works and then milk that for all it's worth. Old characters leave, new ones come in and minor characters rise to major prominence over the course of time. Life can be a bit of a revolving door of experiences and people, and this is something Parks and Recreation celebrates.

Another part of Parks and Recreation's success is the town of Pawnee, Indiana. More than a few critics have said that Parks and Rec is the closest we've ever seen to a live-action version of The Simpsons, not for the core characters or style of humour (which are very different), but for the fact that Pawnee is as insane but impressive a fictional creation as Springfield, Misc. in The Simpsons. As well as the town's geography and businesses, it has a cast of bizarre, minor and regularly recurring characters which gradually accumulate over the course of the seven seasons to such a size that you could populate an actual town with them. These include porn star Brandi Maxxx, reporter Shauna Malwae-Tweep, local fortune heir Bobby Newport, Native American tribal representative-turned casino mogul Ken Hotate ("taking our money back from white people one quarter at a time"), exactingly literal chat show host Perd Hapley and Ron's recurring ex-wife and she-demon from hell, Tammy (Mk. 2). The constant way these characters (and dozens more) flit in and out of the narrative gives the impression of this being a living, real and quite astonishingly dysfunctional town.

There are some negatives. The first season takes a little while to get into gear, and there are a few moments (most notably in Seasons 5 and 6) when it feels like the show has run out ideas and spends a few episodes churning out running gags before hitting on a new direction. The character of Mark - who was set up as a straight man to the insanity of the rest of the cast - feels a bit redundant after Ann took over that role in Season 2 and his departure at the end of that season was a good move. Tom, arguably, doesn't start evolving into a more interesting character than just a selfish jerk until the third season.  But for a show that lasts 125 episodes, it has a remarkably high hit rate.

Parks and Recreation (****½) is a funny, thoughtful and warm-hearted show about friendships, the clash of ideology and reality and how people of different convictions can work together for the common good. Brilliantly cast and frequently hilarious, it shows again that Michael Schur is one of the funniest writers working in American television (having previously worked on the US Office and, subsequent to this episode, worked on Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Good Place). The complete series is available on DVD (UK, USA) and, in the UK, on Amazon Prime Video (which is the only way to see the show at the moment in HD).

Saturday 17 March 2018

The Dogs of Science Fiction and Fantasy

A couple of years ago, I took a look at The Cats of Science Fiction and Fantasy. However, dogs feel a bit overlooked in the SFF field. Mention cats and everyone immediately thinks of Greebo from Discworld, Jones from the Alien franchise or Spot from Star Trek. Dogs initially seemed a bit less prominent. Fortunately, a few social media appeals later and it turns out that there's a lot of dogs out there holding up the canine end in speculative fiction.

Note that this is a list of dogs only, not shapeshifting beings who take dog form or wolves (who could be a separate list altogether).

Huan battles Carcharoth, Hound of Sauron. Art by Ted Naismith.

The most powerful dog on this list (probably) is Huan, the Hound of the Valar in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium. Formerly the companion of Orome the Huntsman, he was gifted to Celegorm of the Noldor, the greatest of the elven hunters. He was an enormous dog, the size of a small pony, and a tracker beyond compare. When the Noldor betrayed the Ban of the Valar and pursued the fleeing Morgoth to Middle-earth, Huan went with Celegorm and committed many great deeds both on hunts and in battle. However, the years of war made Celegorm cruel and heartless. When he tried to subdue the elven princess Luthien during her quest to rescue her lover Beren, Huan betrayed his master and joined Luthien's quest. Many great deeds were then done, but Huan's crowning moment of glory came in the assault on Morgoth's prison, commanded by his lieutenant Sauron (yup, the same one from The Lord of the Rings). Huan defeated Sauron in combat, proving that the Fellowship of the Ring's mission would have been a lot easier had they brought a magical demigod/dog (demidog?) with them. Later, Huan did battle with his opposite number, the dark wolf Carcharoth, and saved Beren from the beast. Carcharoth was killed, but Huan was mortally wounded in battle. Using his little-used power of speech, Huan wished Beren and Luthien well before dying.

Huan appears in The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien. He was a very good dog.

Gaspode the (self-proclaimed) Wonder Dog is a flea-bitten mongrel living on the streets of Ankh-Morpork. Due to too many years spent fishing food out of the back alleys behind the magical Unseen University, Gaspode acquired the power of intelligence and speech, which he used to great advantage, most notably his trademark greeting of saying the word "Woof!", which confused passers-by into feeding him. Gaspode harboured his secret carefully, but from time to time people discovered the truth about him and provided him with food and shelter. At one point Gaspode was offered a warm new home with a living family, but found that he enjoyed living on the streets so much he didn't want to leave them and ran away again.

Gaspode was friends and allies with Laddie, a beautiful and impeccably-groomed dog with a nose for finding people stuck down wells or hanging off cliffs and rescuing them at the last moment. Laddie was charismatic, handsome, dumber than a box of frogs that had eaten stupid pills (even by dog standards) and generally credited with whatever heroic feat Gaspode had masterminded, to the latter's profound annoyance. Gaspode tolerated Laddie's presence mainly because it radically increased the quality of food he could cream off passers-by.

Gaspod was named after "The Famous Gaspode", a dog noted for lying by his master's grave and howling in despair night after night before dying of a broken heart. Or possibly because his tail was trapped under the headstone and he starved to death. As Gaspode would say, "That just goes to show."

Gaspode appears in the Discworld novels Moving Pictures, Men at Arms, Soul Music, Feet of Clay, Hogfather, The Fifth Elephant and The Truth. Laddie appears in Moving Pictures. They are both good dogs.

Krypto, sometimes called "Superdog", is an ally and sometimes-described "pet" of Prince Kal-El, better known as Superman. He was test-fired into space by Kal-El's father, Jor-El, to test the spacecraft technology that later brought Kal-El to Earth after Krypton's destruction. Due to a malfunction, Krypto's spacecraft did not arrive on Earth until many years after Kal-El's arrival. Because of their shared Kryptonian heritage, Krypto gained powers comparable to Superman, including flight and super-strength. Krypto also gained increased intelligence to near-human-like levels and had a superior sense of smell to Superman.

Technically Krypto is an alien dog-analogue, rather than a dog himself. However, Smallville gives Krypto a new origin as a terrestrial dog who gets his powers from a different source.

Krypto appears, of course, in numerous Superman comics, animated series and spin-offs. His first appearance was in March 1955 in Adventure Comics #210 and he continues to appear in the comics to this day, sometimes in his own title. He is a very good alien dog.

Dogmeat is the name given to a number of canines in post-apocalyptic Earth. The first Dogmeat was encountered by the Vault Dweller in a junkyard in 2161 and became his constant companion in his mission to save Vault 13 from running out of water. In 2241 the Chosen One met another dog called Dogmeat, ostensibly the same one despite the passage of eighty years.

A third Dogmeat was found by the Lone Wanderer in 2277 in the Capital Wasteland near Washington, DC, living in a scrapyard near the entrance to Vault 108. A fourth Dogmeat was found by the Sole Survivor in the Commonwealth surrounding the ruins of Boston. This last Dogmeat could be customised with armour and accessories to be more effective in battle.

All of the Dogmeats were loyal, fierce companions who aided their masters in battle, could sniff out supplies and identify threats.

Dogmeat, of course, appears in Fallout, Fallout 2, Fallout 3 and Fallout 4. They were all very good dogs.

Rex is a Mk. III Cyberhound, Leo Support Model, a fusion of canine and robot, living in the city of New Vegas, Nevada, as the pet/bodyguard of the King. During the war between Caesar's Legion and the New California Republic, the King allowed Rex to join the Courier during her battle to save the Mojave Wasteland. Rex was initially old and decrepit, but over the course of her adventures the Courier could upgrade and repair Rex's systems and restore him to full health.

During the Courier's visit to the Big MT she also encountered a similar Cyberdog named Roxie. Roxie and Rex later met, joined forces and constructed a litter of Cyberpuppies, a collection of Boston terrifiers that brought woe to their enemies.

Rex appears in Fallout: New Vegas as that game's stand-in for Dogmeat. Roxie appears in the New Vegas expansion Old World Blues. Both are, naturally, very good (cyber)dogs.

Dug is a golden retriever owned by Charles Muntz, capable of speech thanks to a special invention. He lives to find The Bird and is a Great Tracker. He is not keen on The Hole and dislikes being made to wear The Cone of Shame. He hides under The Porch because he loves you, even though he's only just met you.


Dug appears in the Pixar movie Up (after a cameo appearance in the preceding movie, Ratatouille). He is a very good dog.

Gromit is a beagle who is the best friend and pet of the cheese-obsessed eccentric inventor Wallace. Despite their master/pet relationship, Gromit is highly intelligent and a very capable engineer. He is also far better at thinking on his feet than Wallace and usually is the one to come up with a solution to the problems unleashed by Wallace's latest and most insane invention. Gromit shares Wallace's obsession with cheese, to the point of helping him construct a spacecraft to travel to the Moon to investigate claims of it being made of cheese (it was).

Gromit is also an accomplished pilot and driver, and has a taste for classical literature, philosophy and art. He is something of a Renaissance dog. He also has a NASA prototype rover named after him. He is also a good dog, despite his curious aversion to penguins.

Delirium, her sister Death and Barnabas. Art by Colleen Doran,

Barnabas is a dog adopted by Destruction, one of the godlike beings known as the Endless. Due to his lengthy exposure to Destruction, he gained the ability to speak and was known to have a taste for fine art that led him to being critical of Destruction's dabbling. When Dream and Delirium finally found Destruction after a long search, Destruction gave Barnabas to Delirium as a pet. Despite early misgivings, Barnabas came to love his eccentric new mistress, whilst he gave Delirium a focus and helped soothe her more troubled episodes.

Barnabas appears in Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novel series, first appearing in Brief Lives. He is a very good dog.

The Hounds of Darkness, Shadow and Light are canine-like beings native to the Warrens. They are incredibly powerful, savage and unreasoning in battle, but they are also focused on their objective and will generally not deviate from that to target innocents. The Hounds answer to the masters of their respective Warrens.

The Hounds of Shadow were servants of Shadowthrone (before he took control of the Throne of Shadow, they were agents in the service of the warren itself, and apparently allied to the mysterious being known as Edgewalker) and Cotillion. They numbered eight, two of whom were killed in battle with Anomander Rake. It was later revealed that they once answered to the Tiste Edur and refused to face them in battle, even when ordered to do so by Cotillion.

The Hounds of Darkness - the Deragoth - are believed to have originated as the D'ivers form of Dessimbelackis, the powerful human sorcerer and king whose downfall heralded the end of the First Empire. However, early reports of the Hounds suggest they were extant half a million years ago, long before Dessimbelackis was allegedly born. This paradox has not been addressed.

The Hounds of Light were servants of the arrogant and haughty Tiste Liosan, and may have been created by them in response to the creation of the Hounds of Shadow, due to the Tiste Liosan being terrible rip-off merchants. The Liosan managed to get most of the Hounds of Light killed in a foolish attempt to kill Anomander Rake in Darujhistan; the sole survivor turned on his former masters and allied with the Malazan wanderer Kiska for a time.

The Hounds appear in Steven Erikson and Ian Esslemont's Malazan novels. They are sometimes good dogs, but are powerful and unpredictable beings who should be best treated with caution.

Vincent is one of the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 when it crashes on the mysterious Island on 22 September 2004. The pet of Walt Lloyd, Vincent proved his value to his fellow survivors on many occasions, usually by sniffing out trouble or supplies.

After Walt's kidnapping by the Others (after which he never saw Vincent again), Vincent was looked after by several of the other survivors: Shannon and then (after Shannon's death) Claire and Hurley. After the Island was moved backwards and forwards in time, Vincent found his forever home with Rose and Bernard, who chose to remain on the Island (due to Rose's cancer, which the Island's powers halted from spreading).

Vincent, of course, is a regular character on the TV series Lost. Most notably, he appears in both the opening and closing scenes of the entire series, bookending the whole story. Vincent is the only character on Lost to appear in so many episodes but not get a flashback; a webisode named So It Begins is presented from Vincent's POV but is meant to be a prequel to the whole series, not a traditional flashback.

Vincent was definitely a good dog.

Porthos is a beagle belonging to Captain Jonathan Archer and a crewmember of the original NX-01 Enterprise. Noted for his love of cheese, Porthos was a surprisingly effective crewman, frequently spotting alien infiltrators and lifeforms before the human crewmembers did and facing down a Ferengi boarding party (who showed him respect due to his impressive ear size).

According to some reports, 22nd Century science allowed Porthos to live to be over a hundred years old and was present with his master when the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 was launched, although this historical fact is disputed, with some claiming that the dog in question was a descendant of Porthos's.

Porthos was a regular character on Star Trek: Enterprise and can be categorised as a very good dog. The universal translator was not effective on him.

Ein is a crewdog about the starship Bebop. He was recruited into the crew by Spike. Despite his traditional dog-like demeanour, such as his enjoyment of being petted and called a good boy, Ein possesses extraordinary intelligence. He is shown driving a car, using the Internet and plays shogi to an impressive level. He is also shown to be skilled in cyber-espionage, hacking into a complex computer system.

It's unclear how Ein become so hyper-intelligent, but he keeps his intelligence a secret from the rest of the crew. Only Ed and, later (in the manga only), Spike, become aware of his true capabilities.

Ein appears in Cowboy Bebop, both the anime and manga series, and is a very good dog.

Kemlo Caesar appears to be a humanoid dog or genetically-altered human, but in fact is an ordinary doberman who poses as a humanoid thanks to an elaborate exoskeleton (usually hidden by clothing). However, he does possess human-level intelligence and the ability to speak. A police sergeant in Precinct 10, he is noted for his kindness and trustworthiness, and often gets people to open up to him, possibly a result of the unconscious bond between humanity and dogs.

Kemlo is a recurring character in Alan Moore's comic series Top Ten. He is a very good, and surprisingly empathetic, hyperdog.

Kezef the Chaos Hound is one of the most feared canines in the Dungeons and Dragons multiverse. His precise origins are obscure, but he appears to particularly despise the Faithful, those people who venerate or extol one god above the others. Although the entire multiverse is his stomping ground, various events drew his attention to the world of Toril and the region known as the Forgotten Realms. Kezef caused tremendous damage in the Realms, including maiming the god Tyr, before he discovered his true nemesis: the god of thieves, Mask. Mask only defeated Kezef with the help of a tremendously powerful artefact, Houndsbane. Kezef is also the enemy of Gond Wonderbringer, who once imprisoned him for centuries through a ruse. Kezef also has a complex and unreliable history of alliances with the dark god Cyric the Mad.

Kezef appears in the Forgotten Realms novels Prince of Lies and Crucible: The Trial of Cyric the Mad by James Lowder, and is also referenced in numerous game materials. He is a bad dog.

The newest entry on this list, Midnight is a dog who gained the power of speech as the honourable ally of the superhero group known as the Flag Five. Midnight survived the destruction of the Flag Five by the villain known as the Terror and became a celebrity, both for his status as a talking dog but also for his struggles with his faith; his eventual embracing of atheism was related in a book and an accompanying book tour. He reluctantly allied with his former rival, Overkill, and the Tick to help defeat the Terror. After the Terror's downfall, Midnight warned the Tick and Arthur that certain forces would now be keeping their eye on them and to tread carefully.

Midnight is a brand new character in the Amazon Studios version of The Tick, although he was inspired by Speak, an animal rescued by the Tick in the 1990s animated series. After a mental episode exacerbated by hallucinogens in which he came to believe that Speak could talk and fly, the Tick discovered that Speak was in fact a misidentified capybara, the world's largest rodent. Midnight should not be confused with the Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs At Midnight. He is sort of a good dog, but also kind of arrogant and annoying.

Ambrosius is the canine mount of Sir Didymus, the illogically heroic knight who guards the Bog of Eternal Stench near the Goblin City for no immediately-obvious reason. Both are recruited by Sarah during her quest to enter the city, defeat the Goblin King and rescue her baby brother.

Ambrosius is cowardly and dislikes battle and danger, which makes him a suboptimal battle steed. Ambrosius has much better common sense than his master. Despite not being able to speak and is apparently subservient to Didymus despite them being the same species, Ambrosius is fairly intelligent.

Ambrosius appears in the film Labyrinth and is a very good, if slightly unreliable, dog.

Of course, there are many other dogs in speculative fiction. Honourable mentions must go to:

  • Astro from The Jetsons.
  • Seymour from Futurama.
  • Kazak the Space Hound from the novels Sirens of Titan and Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut.
  • Blood from A Boy and His Dog by Harlan Ellison (the inspiration for Fallout's Dogmeat).
  • Einstein and his 1955 counterpoint Copernicus, from the Back to the Future movies.
  • Cujo from the novel Cujo by Stephen King.
  • Rags from the Woody Allen movie Sleeper.
  • Bandit from Grant Morrison's graphic novel We3.
  • Cosmo the Spacedog from the Guardians of the Galaxy comics (with a cameo in the films).
  • Brain from Inspector Gadget.
  • Nosy, Fitz's first dog and Wit-bond in The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb.
  • Fluffy, the triple-headed guardian dog from the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling.
  • Toto from the Oz books by Frank L. Baum.
  • Ace the Bathound from the Batman comic books.
  • Toby the Ghost-Detecting Dog from Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London novels.
  • Mouse from The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.
  • Bear from Person of Interest.
  • The Dog of Tears from the novel Blindness by Jose Saramago and its film adaptation.
  • Rowf and Snitter from the Richard Adams novel The Plague Dogs.
  • D-Dog from Metal Gear Solid V
  • Snowy from the Tintin comics and graphic novels. Among other things, he was the first dog to fly to the Moon and successfully return to Earth.
  • The Littlest Hobo from the TV series The Littlest Hobo. Possibly slightly spurious as SF, but in one episode a scientist concluded that the Littlest Hobo had superior and possibly inexplicable super-intelligence compared to the ordinary dog.

The following are not dogs, but are dog-like or dog-appearing beings.

  • Muffit and his fellow Daggits from the original Battlestar Galactica. These are robotic dogs built to entertain the children of the Colonial Fleet, because this is a good use of limited resources. Muffit was, weirdly, played by a female chimp in a very uncomfortable costume.
  • K9, a robot dog built by Professor Marius in the year 5000. He is adopted by the time-travelling Gallifreyan Time Lord known as the Doctor. At least four distinct K9 robots have been built over the years, appearing intermittently in Doctor Who, a spin-off pilot called K9 and Company and The Sarah-Jane Adventures. A different version of the same character appeared in an Australian children's series, K9, in 2010.
  • Targs are the Klingon version of dogs in Star Trek, similarly serving variously as pets, hunting companions and (rarely) food. They first appeared in the movie Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and subsequently appeared or were mentioned in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Both Worf and Martok had pet Targs when they were younger. Martok's Targ was "accidentally" lost when his wife Sirella moved into his house.
  • Lockjaw was an Inhuman transformed into a gigantic dog by exposure to the Terrigen mists in the Marvel Inhumans series. Weirdly, despite his origins as a sapient being, Lockjaw seems to prefer being a dog and in no hurry to be transformed back. He's probably the best thing in the terrible ABC television version of the franchise.
  • Sirius Black from Harry Potter likes turning into a dog for his own amusement. To each his own.
  • Ravage and Nightstalker from Transformers and Beast Wars are sometimes misidentified as dogs, but they are in fact jaguars.

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. 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.

Amazon's LORD OF THE RINGS TV show is going to cost more than the films

Reuters have some interesting number-crunching and analysis of Amazon's foray into TV production, including some information on the upcoming Lord of the Rings TV show.

As related previously, Amazon is making a prequel television series, which will be set between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It is unclear if the TV series will be part of the movie canon, using a similar visual style, costumes etc, or will be a whole new screen adaptation of the series. We do know that, so far, Peter Jackson and his team have not been consulted about the new project at all, although New Line (who produced the original Lord of the Rings movie trilogy) and Warner Brothers (who own New Line) are involved.

According to the Reuters report, Amazon have paid $250 million for the rights (confirming the original reports) and are potentially budgeting £250 million for the first two seasons alone. This means that the set-up costs and the budget for the first two seasons of the Lord of the Rings show will cost more than the entire Peter Jackson movie trilogy, including marketing. Which seems insane. More bananas is that Lord of the Rings is expected to run for five seasons, so the budget for the entire series will be more than twice that amount.

So far, Amazon have not announced a showrunner, any casting or any writers for the new project. Originally it seemed that Amazon wanted the show to air to help combat the expect major launch of the new Disney/Fox streaming service in late 2019, which will be propelled by the first-ever Star Wars live-action show, but that now looks impossible, so LotR will likely not air until 2020 at the earliest.