Saturday 29 September 2018

Rumour: Amazon passes on CONAN THE BARBARIAN TV series

Although not confirmed, there are indications that Amazon Studios have passed on Ryan Condal's proposed Conan the Barbarian TV series and the project is now out to tender for another network to pick up.

Back in March Amazon had announced that Ryan Condal (executive producer of the well-received dystopian drama Colony) had been drafted in to develop a TV version of Robert E. Howard's titular hero. Three previous movies had been made based on the Conan character, two in the 1980s starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and a more recent movie starring Jason Momoa. However, all of these films had used original scripts and been criticised for not using the original source material.

Condal got fans excited by confirming that his series would directly adapt the Robert E. Howard short stories, with the pilot being an adaptation of The Frost Giant's Daughter, the earliest-set story in the Conan mythos, about Conan as a callow teenager having only just left his homeland of Cimmeria. Writer Ashley Edward Miller (Fringe, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Black Sails), a noted Conan fan and expert who hosts a podcast about the the character and had read Condal's pilot script, tweeted last week that the project was now dead at Amazon and was being shopped to other networks. Condal did not confirm this, but did like the tweet and posted a somewhat cryptic reply (an image of direct John Milius holding Conan's sword on the set of the original Conan the Barbarian movie).

One interesting bit of information to emerge was that the working title for the series was actually Conan the Cimmerian, an interest title change.

Amazon haven't confirmed that the project has been dropped, so treat this as a rumour for now. With Amazon firmly committed to their massively expensive Lord of the Rings prequel TV series and apparently moving forwards with the Wheel of Time TV project (which has recently begun hiring new staff, a sure sign that it's been at least "amberlit"), it seemed a bit ambitious for them to also start developing a third fantasy show as well.

Where else the project might end up is questionable, with HBO overflowing with genre projects and Netflix developing two live-action fantasy shows (the in-production The Witcher and the just-commissioned live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender), but given the name recognition of Conan I'd be surprised if someone else didn't at least take a look at the project.

More news when it breaks.

Friday 28 September 2018

Where to Start: The Revelation Space Chronology (updated)

It's been nearly ten years since my first crack at a chronology for the Revelation Space series of novels and short stories by Alastair Reynolds. Since then some new books have come out and comments on the original article have revealed a couple of discrepancies which - hopefully! - have now been fixed.

Chronological Order

AD 2205: "Great Wall of Mars" *
2217: "Glacial" *
2230: "A Spy in Europa *
2358: "Weather" *
2427: The Prefect (aka Aurora Rising)
2428: Elysium Fire
c. 2500: "Diamond Dogs" **
c. 2511: "Monkey Suit" ***
c. 2513-40: "Dilation Sleep" *
c. 2520: Chasm City
c. 2540: "Grafenwalder's Bestiary" *
2541: "Turquoise Days" **
2524-2567: Revelation Space
c. 2600: "Nightingale" *
2605-2651: Redemption Ark
c. 2675-3000: Absolution Gap
2303-40,000: "Galactic North" *

* Story in Galactic North
** Novella in Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days
*** Story in Deep Navigation

Best Reading Order

Chasm City
Revelation Space
Redemption Ark
Absolution Gap
Galactic North
The Prefect (aka Aurora Rising)
Elysium Fire

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.

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Thin Air by Richard Morgan

Bradbury City, Mars. Hak Veil used to pilot ships through the blackness between worlds, acting as a highly-trained combat operative. After a few things went wrong, he's wound up abandoned on the Red Planet, trying to find a way of getting back to Earth. His unique abilities allow him to find work in the most unlikely of places and his new job is a doozy: playing bodyguard to a pen-pusher, one of a team sent to audit the colony's finances on behalf of the colonial authorities. But things soon start going south and Veil finds himself on the line, with the promise of a ticket home being the only thing keeping him going...

Rewind a decade or so and Richard Morgan was one of the hottest new voices in science fiction. His Takeshi Kovacs trilogy (now a Netflix TV show under the title Altered Carbon) was a vital, angry work of cyberpunk meshed with hard-edged, military SF. Market Forces was a corporate thriller with an SF angle and the even angrier, dirtier Black Man (Thirteen in the US) was a gripping and increasingly prescient story of nations collapsing amidst a tidal wave of rising social discontent.

Morgan then took a hard-right turn into the grimmest end of the fantasy genre (albeit SF-tinged) with his Land Fit For Heroes trilogy (The Steel Remains, The Cold Commands, The Dark Defiles), an accomplished work but one where, it turns out, his sensibility was perhaps a little too familiar, with writers like Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence achieving greater success in that end of the market. Morgan's voice and sensibility felt a little redundant in that field at that time, despite his obvious writing chops.

Morgan is now back in the field of science fiction and it feels like the return of one of SF's prodigal sons. SF is ready for a new, scintillating book that tears the genre a new one and does fresh, exciting things.

Thin Air is not that book. That is not to say that Thin Air is a bad novel, as Morgan's skill with prose, with ideas and with violent action remain undimmed. It is, however, a novel that is not so much in his comfort zone as it is one clad in a Richard Morgan dressing gown and slippers. We once again have an ultra-competent, alpha-male protagonist with near-superhuman technological abilities whom everyone underestimates repeatedly, whom women want to have sex with and men want to have a beer with, who is constantly living on the edge of either death or bankruptcy (despite his clear and unique skillset), who gets in over his head but comes out on top through his superior skills and intelligence and ability to murder literally everyone in a room in seconds. When Morgan did that with Takeshi Kovacs, it was fresh and exciting. When he did that with Carl Marsalis, the racial angle added something fascinating to the mix. When he did that with Ringil, the fact he was an angry and unapologetically gay man made that work. With Hak Veil, it's starting to feel a bit less fresh and a bit more like a retread.

It doesn't help that there isn't really a great hook in the story. Mars is being audited and some people are unhappy with that and that's really kind of it. The Martian angle is also not tremendously distinctive either, the odd mention of the weaker gravity and the tall walls of Mariner Valley aside, the book could be taking place in pretty much any SF metropolis on or off Earth. Kim Stanley Robinson's position as the author who has brought Mars vividly to life as its own place better than any other remains unchallenged. Also, most of the characters are distinctly unlikable and the plot makes frequent pit stops for increasingly non-sequitur random sex scenes (rather more than in most of Morgan's prior novels, in fact, including the distinctly late-Heinleinian use of the phrase "pneumatic breasts").

On the plus side, Morgan's writing crackles with kinetic energy and no-one does a brutal turn of phrase better than him. If this novel is Morgan-by-the-numbers, it at least brings the author's talents as well as his weaknesses. There's some pretty good action set pieces, Veil putting together the clues to the mystery is fun (even if, as with his previous novels, there's zero chance of the reader solving the mystery themselves) and there's a wry sense of humour that occasionally surfaces. Whilst virtually all of the characters are unlikable, they're also mostly at least interesting and well-drawn (the major exception being Veil's stripper neighbour whom he also has a no-strings relationship with) and the novel's finale features an appropriate amount of clever plotting and visceral carnage that makes for an explosive ending to the story, even if the stakes never feel hugely engaging prior to that.

Thin Air (***) is a fairly solid Richard Morgan novel. It's far from his best, but certainly readable and it's nice to see him back in the science fiction thriller genre. But it feels like he's capable of far more. Readable, engaging but ultimately perhaps a little too ordinary a novel for an author who should never be ordinary. The book will be published on 25 October 2018 in the UK and USA.

Monday 24 September 2018

RIP Al Matthews

Actor Al Matthews has passed away at the age of 76.

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1942, Matthews served for six years in the US Marine Corps in Vietnam. He was promoted to sergeant and was given thirteen combat awards and decorations, including two purple hearts.

Matthews moved to the UK and worked for a time as a folk singer, even making a minor hit, "Fool", which hit the UK Top Twenty in 1975. He became BBC Radio 1's first black DJ in 1978. He also became interested in acting and started appearing in small screen roles in the late 1970s, including films such as The Omen III and Superman III, and TV series such as Grange Hill.

In 1986 Matthews landed his biggest and what remains his best-known role, when he was cast as Gunnery Sergeant Al Apone in James Cameron's Aliens. Matthews' charismatic performance, drawing on his own US military experience, became iconic and he landed several of the film's more iconic lines. Matthews also took up the role of an unofficial military advisor to Cameron and the rest of the film's cast, teaching them how to move, hold weapons and respond to orders in the field. Cameron regretted both killing off the character so early and not giving him more to do.

Although his character was killed off in the film, he reprised the role for the video game Aliens: Colonial Marines (2013). The character of Avery Johnson in the Halo franchise was created in homage to Matthews' performance as Apone.

He continued to act regularly until the late 1990s, appearing in movies such as Tomorrow Never Dies and The Fifth Element, before retiring to Spain. He passed away at a retirement home in Alicante.

RIP Gary Kurtz

News has broken today that Gary Kurtz, the extremely influential producer of movies such as Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and The Dark Crystal, has passed away at the age of 78.

Gary Kurtz (left) with George Lucas.

Kurtz was born in Los Angeles in 1940 and entered the film industry at a young age, working his way up through the ranks to become a production assistant. His career was briefly interrupted when he served in Vietnam in the US Marines, but resumed as soon as he returned home in 1969. A couple of years later he met George Lucas and helped Lucas sell his script for the movie American Graffiti. Kurtz worked on the movie as a producer and he and Lucas found themselves a good team, Kurtz giving Lucas the ability to shoot and cut with freedom, whilst Kurtz reigned in some of Lucas's odder ideas, ran interference with the studio and helped liaise with the actors.

The collaboration was immensely successful, yielding numerous Oscar nominations for the film, so Kurtz and Lucas decided to work together on Lucas's next movie, Star Wars, which proved a more daunting and logistically complex affair. Despite problems in shooting and visual effect production, the movie proved to be an immense success, rewriting the laws of Hollywood movie production.

Lucas and Kurtz collaborated for the final time on The Empire Strikes Back. Lucas chose to take less of a role on this movie, appointing his old mentor Irvin Kershner as director and spending more of his time locked in battles with the studio (especially as the film went over-budget). Kershner proved a far better hand at dealing with the actors and got much stronger performances out of them. Lucas regretted the amount of control he ceded on this film, and took a stronger hand for the third movie in the trilogy, Return of the Jedi.

Kurtz and Lucas fell out during planning for the movie, Kurtz particularly objecting to the re-use of a Death Star as the primary threat (which he felt was repetitive) and the replacement of a slave chain gang of grizzled Wookies with the cute and marketable Ewoks. He also disliked Lucas changing his mind on many promising original story ideas, such as only Vader dying and the Emperor surviving to become the main enemy in three further films, and the Millennium Falcon (and Han Solo) being lost in a desperate attack on the Empire. Kurtz left the project before production could begin.

Kurtz went on to work on the films Return to Oz, Slipstream and The Dark Crystal, the latter two reuniting him with Mark Hamill and Jim Henson respectively.

Gary Kurtz is often credited with helping get Star Wars made in the first place, his much greater experience (acquired over a decade of working in Hollywood previously) putting the studio at ease when entrusting George Lucas with $10 million. He gained a reputation of being one of the few people prepared to say "No," to Lucas when he came up with an idea that was too silly or impractical, and Lucas respected him enough to list. The breakdown of that relationship after Empire Strikes Back (primarily motivated by Kurtz's feeling that the third movie had been transformed from an epic climax to a war movie to instead an advertisement for toys) is most regrettable.

A skilled producer and a player of the Hollywood game, Kurtz helped create the most formidable franchise in movie history. He will be missed.

Michael Chabon to write new Captain Picard TV series

Michael Chabon, often acclaimed as one of the greatest living American novelists, has joined the writing team for the new Star Trek TV series focusing on Captain Picard.

Chabon joins a writing team consisting of Akiva Goldsman, Kirsten Beyer, Diandra Pendleton-Thompson and James Duff. Chabon has already broken his Star Trek teeth by penning one of the Short Treks, a series of self-contained mini-episodes that will be released before the second season of Star Trek: Discovery debuts in the New Year.

Chabon's novels include Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Gentlemen of the Road, Telegraph Avenue and Moonglow. He has won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, the Hugo and the Nebula Award. He has also worked in Hollywood, penning a - so-far - unfilmed script for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and doing script doctoring work on films such as John Carter.

The new Star Trek series will catch up with Jean-Luc Picard some 20+ years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis. At this time, none of the other Star Trek: The Next Generation actors have been asked to return.

Saturday 22 September 2018

Unseen Westeros is a cool exhibition in Berlin for GAME OF THRONES and SONG OF ICE AND FIRE fans

Some of the concept artists from HBO's Game of Thrones have put together a new exhibition showcasing 50 locations from the wider world of Westeros and Essos that haven't appeared in the TV show (and, in some cases, the books).

The exhibition runs from 23-27 January 2019 at the Umspannwerk Reinickendorf in Berlin. The exhibition is free, but the organisers are running a Kickstarter to assist with covering costs.

The images used in the exhibition are striking, including images of Volantis, Braavos and a version of Harrenhal that's somewhat more epic than what we got on TV. There's also this cool map:

If this maps looks familiar, it's because it's based on the (definitely non-canon) world map I created for my Atlas of Ice and Fire blog a few years back. Although the map should not be taken as definitive, it is cool to see it redrawn by professionals like this.

The exhibition looks really interesting. Hopefully we'll see the artwork in another venue for a wider audience (a book featuring the artwork is part of the Kickstarter, hopefully that will get a wider release later on).

Friday 21 September 2018

Telltale Games closing down, second GAME OF THRONES video game series (and others) cancelled

In surprising news, Telltale Games, the studio behind the Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and Wolf Among Us adventure game series (among others), is closing for good.

Telltale was founded in 2004 by ex-staff from LucasArts, the formidable studio that in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s had created some of the greatest video games ever made, from Monkey Island 2 through TIE Fighter to Grim Fandango. The studio's goal was to bring back the adventure game (a narrative-focused game where puzzle-solving and conversation is key to completing the game, rather than combat and explosions) from the abyss, overcoming issues with long development times by breaking their games into episodic "seasons" with each 2-4 hour "episode" released a few weeks or a couple of months apart. Their early games were patchy, with Sam and Max Save the World (2006) and Tales of Monkey Island (2009) - both direct sequels to LucasArts games - being moderately successful but games such as Back to the Future (2010) and Jurassic Park (2011) having a much more mixed reaction.

The studio's fortunes had a massive boost with the release of the first season of The Walking Dead in 2012. A massive critical and commercial success, selling over 28 million copies of the five episodes, The Walking Dead was praised for its focus on characterisation and storytelling over violence, especially given its zombie apocalypse setting. Telltale underwent a major expansion and its next game, The Wolf Among Us, was even more critically praised, although it did not sell as well.

However, internal dissent at the studio soon saw much of the creative team behind The Walking Dead leave and set up a rival adventure game studio, Campo Santo. Their debut game, Firewatch (2016), was an even bigger critical success than The Walking Dead and their sales were extremely strong.

Telltale released what can only be called a glut of games over the next few years: The Walking Dead - Season 2 (2013), Tales from the Borderlands (2014), Game of Thrones: The Adventure Game (2014), two seasons of Minecraft: Story Mode (2015), two seasons of Batman (2016) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2017). Although some of these had a strong critical reception, sales were somewhat disappointing for all of these games bar the Minecraft adventure titles. In early 2017 four of the studio's design leads quit simultaneously, creating a leadership vacuum that was never filled.

The studio's commitment to releasing a lot of product also alienated gamers. First, the sheer quantity of material released saw many gamers giving up trying to follow it all. In addition, the studio insisted on using the same, increasingly decrepit game engine for all of their titles. The engine was looking a bit creaky already when The Walking Dead was released, but the strong writing and voice acting overcame the problem. However, with the transition to the X-Box One/PlayStation 4 generation, the fact that the games weren't looking any better than on the X-Box 360 or PlayStation 3 irritated a lot of fans.

The release schedule also caused enormous problems in the studio. Most video game studios develop games over a period of 2-4 years, entering a period known as "crunch" in the final 3-6 months leading up to release where a lot of overtime is necessary to get the game out of the door. With most studios, the release of the game allows for a rest-and-regrouping period of at least a few weeks before work has to begin on the next title in earnest. Telltale's release schedule meant this was not possible and the studio existed in a state of "permanent crunch", with no downtime for developers to regroup before making the next game, leading to a spate of departures.

Telltale's closure means that several announced titles have been cancelled. These include second seasons of The Wolf Among Us and Game of Thrones and an ambitious Stranger Things tie-in and co-production with Netflix. What is unclear is the status of The Walking Dead: The Final Season. The first episode was released a few weeks ago, a second episode is due next week and several more beyond that. A wrapping-up crew are still working at Telltale for the next couple of months, but it is unclear if they plan to finish the season or not.

The closure of a video game studio with the resulting hundreds of job losses is always sad news, especially one that had done much to resurrect a beloved, half-vanished genre. However, the company's toxic work environment and the pressure to keep delivering quantity of content over quality appears to have helped run it into the ground. The good news is that many other companies are already snapping up Telltale developers via a Twitter campaign, and with Valve (and their formidable financial resources) recently buying Campo Santo, one wonders if they could have plans for expansion there.

Gratuitous Lists: Ten Great SFF Title Sequences

The job of a good title sequence is to hook you into the story straight away and also keep you watching whilst the contractually-mandated right names are ticked off at the bottom of the screen. For a while it looked like title sequences were going the way of the dodo, with some TV shows preferring very brief title cards (the likes of Lost and Heroes), but the rise to fame of premium cable and streaming shows, with variable episode times, has made this less of an issue. Here then - not in numerical order! - are ten great title sequences from genre TV shows.

American Gods
(2017 - present)

The most recent show on this list has an unusual, dreamlike title sequence and musical score. The title sequence mixes traditional religious imagery with modern-day objects, a clear homage to the theme of the old gods versus the new. So we have a Hindu-like statue surrounded by modern drugs, the internal combustion engine and the space shuttle being treated as religious icons and, dominating all, a somewhat threatening version of the American eagle. An impressive work of art in its own right.

Babylon 5

J. Michael Straczynski's space opera magnum opus was supposed to be the TV equivalent of Lord of the Rings or Dune, a vast epic story set in a thoroughly-realised setting, with each season acting as a separate book in a series of novels. In that sense he was thoroughly successful. This required each of the show's five seasons to have a different title sequence, each setting up an increasingly complex story. Composer Christopher Franke also had to come up with not just one, but five different theme tunes (he did cheat a little and repeat some motifs to great effect). The result is a title sequence and theme tune that sets each of the five seasons apart and adjusts to the changing tone of each season, moving through the worsening situation and outbreak of war in Seasons 2 and 3 to the hopeful, post-conflict tones of Season 5.

Batman: The Animated Series

There have been several Batman TV series, ranging from the 1960s camp-fest starring Adam West to current crime-fighting odyssey Gotham, but the finest remains this animated series from the early 1990s. Drawing on the Tim Burton movies, the animated series is Batman in arguably its purest and most distilled form: the Caped Crusader (with occasional allies) taking down criminals mundane and super-powered. The show's art deco-inspired title sequence may be the greatest summary of what the character and his stories are all about.

Blake's 7

This cult British space opera show was far, far ahead of its time (and way ahead of its budget). An adult, dark and bleak vision of the future (albeit one with fantastic hairstyles and bizarre fashion tastes), the show was about a band of freedom fighters trying to bring down a despotic government and all too often drifting over the moral border into terrorism and murder. The ground-breaking title sequence mixes live action, animation and electronic elements to depict the mix of Orwellian future dystopia and star-spanning adventures. It was revisited several times as technology improved over the course of the show's four-season run.

Cowboy Bebop

Generally praised as one of the greatest animated series of all time, Cowboy Bebop ran for just one season and 26 episodes back in 1998, the creators at Sunrise Studios keen not to milk the product by promptly walking away and never looking back. In those 26 episodes the crew of the Bebop got involved in everything from farcical comedies to nail-biting dramas built on suspense and even horror, all to a funky soundtrack from the obscenely-talented Yoko Kanno. Okay, let's jam.

Doctor Who
(1963 - present)

Unsurprisingly - since it has run for 36 seasons across 55 years - Doctor Who has had more title sequences than any other genre show in history. No less than 17 title sequences and variations on the theme tune have introduced the show since it's began. It's more remarkable that these sequences have carried forward the same certain motifs - the chaotic swirl of the Time Vortex - even since the first one. The 1980s version notably becomes a bit more electronic and the 1987-89 version (during the Sylvester McCoy era) introduces a new recurring idea, that of the TARDIS flying past the camera, which remains a key part of the sequence into the new era. Next month we'll see the 18th version of the title sequence and music to usher in the Thirteenth Doctor, and it'll be interesting to see what they do with it.


From the longst-running show on the list to the shortest, Firefly ran for only 14 episodes back in 2002. Fox TV didn't understand Joss Whedon's vision, was confused by the mash-up of SF and Wild West ideas and prematurely canned the series (eventually realising their mistake when the DVD box set sales came in). The title sequence combines spaceships, action, horses and an Old West-style theme song to perfectly nail the show's atmosphere.

Game of Thrones

HBO was understandably nervous before launching Game of Thrones in 2011, their first foray into fantasy fiction. Based on the most critically-acclaimed epic fantasy book series since Tolkien, with a pre-launch hype that has not been matched since, the show was clearly going to do well. But having one of the most striking title sequences of all time certainly helped, along with Ramin Djawadi's incredible theme music (which is definitely going through your head right now).

Star Trek

The original Star Trek title sequence may be the most iconic in television history. Pretty simple and straightforward, with Captain Kirk telling us this is going to be a journey to the final frontier and lots of shots of the USS Enterprise flying quickly past the camera. Star Trek: The Next Generation remixed this title sequence quite effectively before Deep Space Nine brought in a new, more stately approach.

True Blood

True Blood won't be fondly remembered as one of the great genre TV shows, but it did have a pitch-perfect title sequence which combined Southern Americana, religious fundamentalism, blood and sex, setting the tone of the TV show perfectly. The choice of theme song (Jace Everett's "Bad Things") ties in with this very well as well. This intro set up the show (more specifically, its first three seasons before it became a self-parodying soap opera) perfectly and may be the most HBO of all of HBO's title sequences.

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.

RIFTWAR TV series in early development

Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Cycle has been optioned for television by production company BCDF Pictures. Kurt Johnstad (300Atomic Blonde) is writing a script based on the first novel in the series, Magician, which would presumably serve as the first season of the series.

It should be noted that there is no director attached and no studio has picked up the project yet. BCDF Pictures has mostly succeeded in getting low-key, low-budget movies made like Liberal Arts and Higher Ground, so this would be quite a departure for them.

The Riftwar Cycle spans 29 novels (divided into ten smaller series), 3 short stories, a novella, a companion book and two video games, all published between 1982 and 2013. The series was based on an earlier series of roleplaying game products from Midkemia Press, released in the late 1970s. The series has sold more than 25 million copies to date, although the first novel, Magician, is by far the biggest-selling and most popular individual book in the series. Raymond E. Feist wrote 23 of the novels by himself, co-wrote 3 novels with Janny Wurts and 3 more books were written by other authors based on Feist's ideas. There have apparently been multiple attempts to option Magician over the decades, but Feist has rejected them because he found them not to be faithful enough to the series.

Magician tells the story of the Kingdom of the Isles, a nation on the world of Midkemia, which is invaded via dimensional portals by forces from the Tsurani Empire, located on another world. Later books in the series expand the setting to bring in demons, dark gods, chaos magic and other elements. Presumably no TV series would try to adapt all 29 books (especially since the latter half of the series was pretty much phoned in compared to the first), so it'll be interesting to see what the masterplan is for the project.

More news if it develops.

Luke Cage: Season 2

Harlem is in the grip of a crime wave, with councilwoman-turnged-gangster Mariah Stokes Dillard orchestrating things from behind the scenes. The police can't touch her and all Luke Cage can do is put out fires and try to fight crime on his own (whilst dealing with his own social media fame). Events take a turn for the worse when a Jamaican criminal named "Bushmaster" arrives, hellbent on vengeance against the Stokes family.

The first season of Luke Cage may rank as the weakest of the Marvel/Netflix collaborations so far (despite strong competition from the first season of Iron Fist): an excellent first half, with a strong villain (Mahershala Ali's Cottonmouth) giving way to an absolutely awful second half with a weak antagonist (Erik LaRay Harvey channelling William Shatner levels of ham in his one-note performance as Diamondback), with maybe seven or eight episodes' worth of plot stretched over thirteen hours.

Season 2 of Luke Cage, annoyingly, manages to take these problems and magnify them. The season is far from a complete write-off, with the actors all being great and some of the storylines and character arcs having promise, but none of it cohering very well. The villain problem is at least alleviated, with the always-splendid Alfre Woodard stepping up as Mariah and Mustafa Shakir (The Night of, The Deuce) giving a charismatic performance as the ridiculously-named Bushmaster. The show also adds some good new acting talent in the form of Reg E. Cathey (The Wire) as Luke's father. Sadly, Cathey passed away shortly after filming of the season was completed.

But the negatives are huge. This time around there are maybe four episodes' worth of plot stretched across thirteen hours. Not just entire episodes, but entire blocks of episodes simply exist to spin their wheels and take neither the plot nor the characters anywhere. It doesn't help that the writers seem to not be on the same page as one another: in early episodes Luke apparently has an anger problem, but this immediately vanishes and is never mentioned again. In another episode recurring secondary villain Shades (Theo Rossi) appears to have genuine remorse (to the point of crying about them) for the deaths of innocent civilians he's caused, and in the next is gloating maniacally about them. Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) is just dropped from the season when the writers run out of things for her to do. The first episode has a great joke about villains always trying to shoot Luke when they know he can't be hurt, which is undercut by the same thing happening again and again throughout the season. There's also a team-up with Danny Rand/Iron Fist (Finn Jones) which is surprisingly great, but then Rand just disappears from the story with no explanation.

There's a lot of frustration here, mainly because the actors are great when they're given good material to work with, but all too often they're left going round in circles and talking about things we already know about ad infinitum. As a 4-6 episode mini-series, the second season of Luke Cage (**) could have been excellent. As a 13-hour season, it's an all-too-often soulless grind, with bright moments separated by hours of tedium. Easily the weakest season of the Marvel/Netflix collaborations to date. The season is available now on Netflix.

Wednesday 19 September 2018

The Dragon Prince: Season 1

The humans of the Five Kingdoms and the elves of Xadia have long existed in an uneasy peace, their lands separated by a river of lava guarded by the King of the Dragons. Now human assassins have slain the Dragon King and destroyed his last surviving egg. Elven assassins have been dispatched to slay King Harrow of Katolis in retaliation. But one of the assassins, Rayla, finds herself forming an alliance with Crown Prince Ezran and his half-brother Callum when they make a discovery that could avert war and restore peace to the continent.

Image result for the dragon prince

The Dragon Prince is a Netflix original animated series that comes with an impressive pedigree. Written by Aaron Ehasz and directed by Giancarlo Volpe, two of the main creative forces on Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Dragon Prince is aiming for that same action-adventure vibe with a cast of colourful, complex characters and a story that both adults and children can enjoy.

In this respect the first season is a near-unqualified success. It’s funny and serious by turns, the voice acting is excellent and the characterisation is first-rate. The villains – if they can even be called that – are treated as human characters with their own foibles and strengths (and a sense of humour) and a firm belief that what they are doing is right. Even secondary characters, like the deaf General Amaya, are well-fleshed-out individuals. The show also has great music and effective worldbuilding, albeit of a slightly more traditional nature than Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra.

The show does have two issues. The first is that the series employs a curious mixture of 2D animation and 3D CG graphics. The two styles don’t mesh entirely well, resulting in somewhat undetailed faces for some characters. Due to technical issues, some shots have also had to have their frame rates reduced, resulting in distractingly jerky animation. Fortunately this is only an occasional issue. At other times, particularly anything involving fast action or magic, the animation is gorgeous.

The second issue is that nine 25-minute episodes is barely enough time for the show to clear its throat. The story is only really just getting underway, there’s a startling plot twist in the finale and potential new regular characters Ellis and Ava have joined the party, and suddenly it’s all over. Hopefully Netflix renew the show and put a second season on the fast track, because this is a more-than-worthy heir to Avatar: The Last Airbender, although it is not quite on the same quality level just yet.

Season 1 of The Dragon Prince (****) is available to watch worldwide on Netflix right now.

Disney planning Loki and Scarlet Witch TV mini-series to launch new streaming service

Marvel and Disney are looking at two limited-run mini-series starring popular Marvel characters to launch their new streaming service.

Image result for loki and scarlet witch

Disney have been developing their own streaming service for some time now, planning to launch it in late 2019. The new service, as yet unnamed, will compete directly with Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, but will have a lower price point. The current plan is to have both original content on the service as well as providing customers with access to the formidable Disney back-catalogue of TV series and films, including material produced by American network ABC. When Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox is completed, this will also allow Disney to transfer Fox’s colossal back-catalogue of TV series and films to the new service as well. This will be a long-term process, however, as many of these shows and movies are currently licenced to Netflix and other services, and will only be able to be moved as those deals expire.

Disney are planning a big-budget Star Wars TV series, to be helmed by Iron Man director Jon Favreau, to launch on the service in 2020. A live-action version of The Lady and the Tramp is also being planned for the service, and a TV version of the popular movie series High School Musical. Disney also promised new shows featuring Marvel characters to run on the service.

The first and higher-profile project under discussion is a limited-run series which will see Tom Hiddleston reprise his fan-favourite role as Loki, which he has played in five of the Marvel movies (all three Thor films and The Avengers, where he was the primary villain, as well as a brief appearance in The Avengers: Infinity War). It is unclear if the series will be set before or after the events of Infinity War.

Disney and Marvel are also considering similar a limited-run mini-series for Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who has appeared in four movies to date (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War and The Avengers: Infinity War). If successful the format could be expanded to characters who are not big enough to headline their own film but too big to appear in an ongoing show. Presumably characters like Falcon, Bucky/Winter Soldier and Iron Machine could fall into that category as well.

Meanwhile, the long-term fate of the six TV series that Marvel produces with Netflix remains unclear. These shows – Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Punisher and The Defenders – are produced by shot and produced by ABC but are funded by Netflix and air on that platform, which Disney is planning to directly compete with.

Tuesday 18 September 2018

Netflix greenlights AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER live-action TV series

In a move that redefines the word "unexpected", Netflix has greenlit a live-action TV adaptation of the classic animated fantasy series Avatar: The Last Airbender, which aired between 2005 and 2008 on Nickelodeon. Alongside the announcement, they have also released a piece of concept art depicting Avatar Aang and his flying bison, Appa.

Original showrunners Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko are also serving in that capacity on the live-action series, which will be a co-production between Netflix and Nickelodeon. There was a previous attempt to translate the story to live action, resulting in the movie The Last Airbender (2009) by M. Night Shyamalan. The movie was rightly reviled for its awful writing and direction and the controversial "whitewashing" of the core cast of characters (who hail from a mixture of Tibetan, Inuit and Asian analogue settings). DiMartino and Konietzko throw shade at the movie in the press release for the new show, confirming that the ethnic makeup of the original characters will be maintained.

The new Avatar: The Last Airbender will enter production in 2019, presumably for a 2020 debut on Netflix. This marks the networks's second major epic fantasy project, following on from The Witcher (which starts shooting next month for a late 2019 launch). According to Netflix and the producers, they have been planning this project for a long time.

Netflix is also producing a new animated series, The Dragon Prince, by Avatar writer Aaron Ehasz and director Giancarlo Volpe, with Season 1 released last week. I'll have a review shortly.

BLADE RUNNER TV series in development

A Hollywood gossip column has suggested that a Blade Runner TV series is currently in the works, although it lists no studio or creative talent as being involved.

According to the column, the producers of Blade Runner 2049 were disappointed by the film's poor box office performance, but were buoyed by the blanket critical acclaim so are moving ahead with a continuation on the small screen, apparently focused on the characters of Deckard, Ana Stelline and K escaping the situation at the end of 2049.

The creative team behind Blade Runner 2049 are unlikely to return: Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford will be too expensive and director Denis Villeneuve is currently prepping his two-part adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune.

With no creative talent or studio attached and the movie not being a huge success financially, I think this project sounds very unlikely to come off, but you never know.

Sunday 16 September 2018

American Vandal: Season 2

In 2016, high school student Dylan Maxwell was expelled from his school in Oceanside, California for drawing genitalia on twenty-seven staff cars. Amateur film-makers Peter Maldonado and Sam Eckland proved his innocence through a thorough video investigation, although they unearthed a lot of secrets about their school, friends and teachers in the process.

Eighteen months later, having been made famous through the Netflix series based on their exploits, Peter and Sam are back. A devastating prank known as the "Brownout" has taken place at St. Bernadine Catholic School in Bellevue, Washington. A student, Kevin McClain, has been found guilty and expelled, but his friend Chloe believes he was coerced into giving a false confession. Peter and Sam are soon on the case, and finding new secrets in a new school.

American Vandal's debut season was one of the unexpected highlights of 2017, a show with a juvenile premise (a guy spray-painting phallic imagery on cars) which quite unexpectedly turned into an insightful analysis of life in the modern American high school, with cliques, the popular kids, the ignored ones and the posers, all brought together by the power of social media.

The second season is, even more unexpectedly, better. The investigation is more serious, more epic and more involved: there are actually three crimes and the criminal remains at large, even taunting Peter and Sam through Instagram as the trail grows colder and warmer. In the first season Peter and Sam were part of the story (and, briefly, suspects), insiders who knew everyone involved. In the second season they are minor celebrities but outsiders who can come into the school with no pre-conceptions, which both helps the investigation (they can consider suspects everyone else immediately rejects) and hinders it (people are less likely to open up to them). This shift in format works quite well and leads to a more interesting investigation.

That said, it's an investigation that opens with a somewhat graphical account of what can only be described as an explosive faecal decompression on a large scale. Getting through the first episode or two may require a strong stomach (and don't repeat my mistake of watching the first episode whilst tucking into a curry) and a relatively high tolerance for toilet humour. Once this is out of the way, however, the story opens up and goes in interesting directions. The finger of guilt moves from Kevin (a great performance by Travis Tope) to basketball star DeMarcus Tillman (an outstanding turn by Melvin Gregg), allowing the show to make some interesting comments on class, race and the insidious nature of sports funding in American high schools, all with a tremendously light touch.

Like the first season, the story starts off as a comedy and moves into more serious areas as it proceeds, upending friendships and brutally exposing the insecurities and secrets of the characters. Unlike the first season, which ended on an ambiguous note with the identity of the graffiti cast only being (strongly) alluded to but not confirmed, the second season has a very definitive resolution, and the crime turns out to be far more elaborate than first though with multiple layers that expand American Vandal from being just about pranks to wider and more serious crimes. This leads the show into a thorough and effective exploration of digital relationships in the modern world. The first season touched on it a bit, but the second season eviscerates it and raises a whole load of interesting, disquieting questions.

But then it comes back to the poop, and as one of the characters says, "Poop is funny." American Vandal is a multi-layered show working on a lot of levels and exploring some serious topics, but always with a laugh a few moments away, whether it's a sharp line of dialogue or a strong visual gag or, indeed, scatological humour. I think a lot of people will pointblank refuse to watch the show because of that lowbrow premise when they would otherwise really enjoy the more serious turn the show takes in the last two episodes, and that's a shame.

For those with stronger constitutions, American Vandal's second season (****½) is an improvement over its already strong-predecessor and uses lowbrow humour as a way of exploring really relevant and interesting modern sociological phenomenons and how it impacts on young people, and in a far more entertaining, subtle and less-exploitative way than shows like 13 Reasons Why. It's a smart and intelligence show, albeit one built on gross foundations. It is available to watch now on Netflix.

Saturday 15 September 2018

Amazon signs development deal with GAME OF THRONES writer Bryan Cogman

Amazon Studios has signed a long-term exclusive development deal with Game of Thrones writer/producer Bryan Cogman. Cogman has worked on the show since Season 1, writing ten episodes so far, and is considered to be the "keeper of the lore" for the show, with his episodes notable for featuring more references to worldbuilding details than those by producer-showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.

The deal is an exclusive one, meaning that Cogman will not be able to develop further a pilot script he wrote for a potential Game of Thrones spin-off show for HBO. This script was one of three (out of five) shelved by HBO early in the development process, but kept on standby in case HBO decided not to proceed with the front-running project, The Long Night, or the backup choice, a rumoured Valyria-focused series.

Cogman's scripts rank amongst some of the finest written for Game of Thrones (particularly The Broken Man, starring Ian McShane in a memorable guest shot), so it'll be interesting to see what he brings to Amazon's table. It sounds like he will be working on new projects, but there may be scope for him to work on some of Amazon's other in-development genre projects such as Wheel of Time, Conan the Barbarian, Culture or the Lord of the Rings prequel show.

I've spoken several times to Bryan over the years and found him to be a pleasant and knowledgeable writer. Congratulations to him for the next phase of his career.

Thursday 13 September 2018

Production of AMERICAN GODS Season 2 in turmoil (again)

The troubled production of the second season of American Gods has somehow managed to get even more troubled.

To rewind a little, Fremantle Studios bought the rights to Neil Gaiman's 2001 novel American Gods several years ago. After developing the project at HBO with Gaiman involved as head writer, HBO chose not to proceed (surprisingly late in the day). Fremantle took the script to Starz. Starz greenlit the project, managing to win the services of the much-in-demand Bryan Fuller and producing partner Michael Green to work as showrunners and head writers on the project. Gaiman continued to be involved closely as an active producer.

Early tensions apparently emerged when it became clear that Fuller and Green had their own vision for the project, which was not quite in keeping with Gaiman's. Gaiman wanted a close adaptation of his novel, whilst Fuller and Green wanted something slower-paced and more like a magic realist fable, with complex visual dream sequences and flashbacks, some incorporating elements from Gaiman's other stories in the same setting and others completely original. Starz, who were funding the project to the tune of $7 million per episode, sided with Fuller and Green, and Gaiman and Fremantle's preferences were shut out. Executive producer Stefanie Burk, however, was able to keep the two factions talking to each other.

Despite this tension, the production of the first season of American Gods went relatively smoothly until fairly late in the day, when Starz began to get alarmed over the rising costs. They slashed two episodes from the season's length in an effort stop the overruns. Once filming was concluded, they allowed Fuller and Green to complete post-production, at which point it became clear that the season had gone $30 million - the equivalent of over four full episodes - over-budget. This may rank as one of the biggest overspends in television history, but fortunately Amazon swept in and saved the day by spending a huge amount of money on buying the international broadcasting rights to the series, dwarfing the overspend and putting Starz back into profit.

Apparently a meeting was held where Starz agreed to keep Fuller and Green on board, with the firm understanding that such a cost overrun could not happen again. A second season was ordered, this time for 10 episodes, and the budget was increased to $10 million an episode, making American Gods the third-most-expensive show on air (after only Game of Thrones and The Crown). Not long after this agreement, however, Fuller and Green presented the scripts for the first six episodes of the season to Starz and it was clear this budget was going to be insufficient. With Fuller and Green refusing to make needed cuts, they were fired from the show.

Jess Alexander was brought in to replace them as showrunner and head writer. Alexander was a close friend of Neil Gaiman's, but had also worked closely with Fuller on Star Trek: Discovery and Hannibal. Although he wouldn't be on-set (as he was showrunning the Good Omens project in the UK), Gaiman agreed to take a more direct involvement on the second season, making bigger decisions. The general feel was that Gaiman and Alexander would hew the TV show closer to the novel whilst maintaining the spirit and feel of the first season but without breaking the bank. To this end, they also dumped Fuller and Green's scripts for Season 2, preferring to start from scratch.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, trying to wear all these caps simultaneously proved impossible. Actors complained of the quality of scripts compared to the first season, with actor Ian McShane apparently coming up with better dialogue by himself on set (leading to alleged "screaming matches" with Alexander). Starz demanded hefty rewrites to Alexander's scripts. To make things worse, actress Gillian Anderson had quit over Fuller's firing and producer Stefanie Burk had left the company altogether, removing a key moderating influence on set.

To try to salvage things, Starz have slashed the episode count (again) to eight and have reportedly now sidelined Jesse Alexander after being hugely unsatisfied with his script for the season finale, promoting supervising producer Chris Byrne and line producer Lisa Kussner to the showrunning position as an interim measure (to put two junior producers into such a role is extraordinary).

Exactly how Starz will get the show back on track remains to be seen. They have, however, indicated that the media reports are overblown and are promising to drop a trailer for Season 2 in a few weeks to restore some faith in proceedings. Star Ricky Whittle, meanwhile, has also said that reports of chaos on set are in error.

American Gods is expected to return to the screen in early 2019, one way or another.

ALAN WAKE TV show in development

Contradiction Films has teamed up with Remedy Entertainment to make a TV drama series based on the latter's 2010 video game Alan Wake.

The story is set in the town of Bright Falls, Washington, and sees horror novelist Alan Wake trying to track down his missing wife. As the story unfolds, he gets involved in increasingly weird events. Strongly influenced by The X-Files, Twin Peaks and Stephen King novels, Alan Wake was a commercial and critical success for Remedy, selling over 4.5 million copies.

Peter Calloway (Cloak & Dagger, Legion) has written a pilot script for the show which is being shopped around various studios by Contradiction. The TV show will partially adapt the game's storyline, but will have the freedom to move beyond the constraints of the game (which remains focused on Alan at all times). In particular, the TV series will explore some of the secondary characters in the world.

Remedy Entertainment have long harboured plans to make Alan Wake 2, but despite the first game's success they have been unable to do so: their then-publishing partners Microsoft instead convinced them to work on an original game for the X-Box One's launch, the splendid (but under-performing) Quantum Break, and have not had an interest in publishing a sequel to the older game.

Remedy's next game, Control, will be released in 2019.

HBO joins the BBC and New Line to produce HIS DARK MATERIALS

HBO and the BBC have reached a deal to collaborate on the latter's production of His Dark Materials. This deal has taken place later in the day than is usual for such agreements, with the first season of the show already in production in Wales.

The deal will see His Dark Materials air on HBO in the United States and on various subsidiaries and partner channels worldwide. HBO will also co-fund later seasons of the show; the series is expected to last for five seasons of eight episodes apiece. The HBO deal is likely why the BBC felt confident enough to greenlight a second season of the series earlier this week.

This move will also allay budget concerns - even with New Line's help, this is one of the most expensive TV shows ever made by the BBC - and should also allow the show to follow a more aggressive production timeline. Actress Dafne Keen, who is playing lead character Lyra, has just turned 13 and is expected to star in all five seasons, meaning she will be 17 by the time the final season finishes shooting assuming a one season-per-year schedule (Lyra goes from 12 to 13 in the course of the novels). This will be exacerbated if the show goes 18 or 24 months between seasons.

The first season of His Dark Materials is expected to air before the end of 2018.

Wednesday 12 September 2018

Rejoice, a Knife to the Heart by Steven Erikson

A Canadian science fiction writer is abducted by a UFO from the streets of Victoria, British Columbia. The world shrugs and dismisses it as a social media hoax. Days later, mysterious forcefields start appearing around wilderness areas in danger of human encroachment. Fracking sites are cut off, animal migratory routes disrupted by human civilisation restored and fishing boats are unable to cast their nets. Then people find themselves being forcibly prevented from hurting one another. An Intervention has taken place.

Far above the Earth, an alien presence has arrived. Its mission is to repair and restore the biosphere of the planet but it is conflicted over what to do about humanity, who have been abject failures in their role as custodian of the planet's welfare. Fortunately, they have another job in mind for humanity, one that merely requires them to completely transform the very paradigm of their existence, forever...

Steven Erikson is best-known in genre circles for his Malazan Book of the Fallen fantasy sequence, consisting of ten brick-thick novels packed with battles, sorcery, comedy, tragedy, drama and musings on compassion, morality and ethics. The Malazan series is both an epic fantasy and an inverted interrogation of epic fantasy. His forays outside the field into science fiction have been less noteworthy, consisting of three Star Trek pastiches and a post-apocalyptic novella.

Rejoice, a Knife to the Heart is therefore his first serious, full-length science fiction novel and it's probably going to take people by surprise. It's relatively short (400 pages of quite large type), focused and a bit of a throwback to SF's golden age, consisting of story development through sequences of conversations between core characters. It feels like something Clarke or Asimov would have written in the 1950s, except with far superior character development.

Integral to the story is the fact that people can no longer hurt or kill one another, which means that the good old genre stand-bys - shoot-outs, nukes, battles, chases, character deaths - are unavailable to the author. This feels like a challenge Erikson has set out to himself and he meets with relish. The wit and erudition of the Malazan series is still present here, but seriously pared back to more human and witty levels. Rejoice, a Knife to the Heart is, surprisingly, Erikson's most approachable and accessible novel to date.

It's a novel that asks big questions about the future of humanity and what our fate will be, self-destruction (either in war or from societal collapse resulting from environmental disaster, dwindling resources or simple exhaustion of the human spirit) or enlightenment, discovering means of abolishing scarcity and moving into a truly utopian existence, and how that will impact on a species conditioned by centuries of exposure to free-market capitalism. To that end, those expecting "Malazan, but in space," (at least in terms of sheer scale) will be disappointed. But those up for a stimulating, question-raising, intelligent SF novel which explores ideas of scarcity, postcapitalism, paradigm shifts, fake news, populism, climate change, Big Dumb Objects and environmentalism, all done in a concise manner, this book is for you.

Challenges abound in the novel, most notably how to build tension when it's literally impossible to have any kind of military confrontation or action resulting in injury or death. Erikson does this with a great philosophical debate: the mysterious aliens spare humanity for a specific reason, because there's something we can do they cannot, and this central mystery is gently teased out over the course of the book in a manner that's compelling. It's also not quite resolved in the space of this one novel: sequels are not strictly necessary, but would be welcome to explore some of the mysteries left unexplained in this book.

This is also a novel which may be tapping SF's golden age, but it's also a very timely novel. There's nods to the #metoo movement and almost all of the movers and shakers in the story are based on real people. It's pretty obvious which US President the fictional one is based on, and spotting the fictional equivalents of the Koch Brothers, Elon Musk and Rupert Murdoch is amusing. The book also has a very human side, and the key theme of the Malazan series - compassion and empathy - rears its head here as well. There's also a few touching tributes to SF authors who have passed away in the novel, which may make a few lower lips quiver.

Rejoice, a Knife to the Heart (****) is going to be a divisive book, I feel. I suspect some will be bored by a novel which consists almost entirely of conversations between people without a laser gun battle in sight (there are a couple of small explosions though), but for those who read SF for ideas, for intelligent observations on the world around us and explorations of what humanity could be if it could throw off the shackles of inequality and exploitation, this is a fascinating work. It will be published in the UK and USA on 18 October 2018.

WHEEL OF TIME TV showrunner hosts Q&A

Wheel of Time showrunner Rafe Judkins has hosted a Q&A on Twitter, where he invited fans to pitch him questions about the show. Given that the project is still in an early stage of pre-production, a lot of questions couldn't be answered, but some interesting tidbits were dropped about how he sees the project moving forwards.

The current status of the project:

Judkins confirmed that the show is in development at with Amazon (via, as we know already, Sony TV Studios) but it has not yet been formally greenlit, either for a full first season or a pilot. As such, things like production timelines, timetables for casting and when we might get to see the show all remain up in the air.

Judkins notes that he is now able to talk about the show in a way he couldn't a couple of months ago, and that indeed something has changed to facilitate this.

The show's format and duration:

Judkins sees the show as lasting no less than 5, but no more than 14, seasons. The episodes will be around 1 hour each. He does not see the show necessarily mapping as one book per season or two books per season, but will be somewhat malleable. This sounds similar to The Expanse and the BBC's in-production version of His Dark Materials, which are both adapting books across seasons with no direct correlation between the two (i.e. the first Expanse novel is covered across all of Season 1 and four episodes into Season 2, then Book 2 starts etc).

Hello Rafe, Do you anticipate Season 1 taking up eye of the world and season 2 being The Great Hunt?

"Yes and no."

How faithful the show will be to the novels:

"I am telling the story of the books, but as with any adaptation to a different medium, there will be differences. Otherwise, what will people have to scream about after each episode? #ladystoneheart4ever"

"I actually think TV is a perfect format for these books. You can tell a hell of a lot of story per season!"

"We have freedom to do what we want, but what I want is to stay true to the books!"

"I mean let's all be honest, I'm gonna be condensing in the latter middle section of books."

What is the heart and soul of the story?

"To me, and the way I've pitched it since I first became involved, is that even though the world is incredible, the magic system one of the best in fantasy, and the gender dynamics are so fresh feeling, the thing at the heart of this are the characters."

On LGTBQ+ representation:

"I think that gender is such a key theme of the books, and discussing gender without a full representation of LGBTQ+ people would be a disservice to that discussion. Rest assured, their will be pillow friends out the wazoo."

"WoT is controversial regarding how it handles gender/sexuality/mental health. My audience at WoTTalk has expressed concern on how these topics will be handled. Would you mind commenting on these concerns/how you plan to approach these topics?"

"I think the explorations of these topics is something important and I'll be using a lot of advisors and writers around me to make sure that we tackle them thoughtfully."

"Rafe, will Rand's romance plot remain close to the books? I mean, liking one girl at first but ending up with three in the end?"


On whether Billy Zane will be resuming the role of Ishamael from the Red Eagle informercial:


How would you ideally want to handle the Shadowspawn? (CGI, practical effects, etc.)

"I think trying to do practical as much as you can is always the right choice."

What's THE central/key/core conflict of the series?

"I think most people would say light vs. dark, but I'd actually say balance vs. imbalance."

"Will you show us who killed Asmodean when it happens or leave it as a WAFO to torture those that haven't read the books?"

"I love to torture people with a WAFO, so... WAFO"

What is your all time favourite moment of the series?

"Egwene’s final scene."

Hey @rafejudkins! How would you like to handle the prologue of EOTW, and the prequel 
scenes from New Spring?

"I have plans for both of these, but you'll unfortunately have to wait for the show to see"

Which storyline is the most difficult to bring to the screen?

"Tel’aran’rhiod is an exciting but difficult challenge."

How do you visualize the threads and weaving of the One Power on screen?

"This, as with most things, I want to stay true to the books. I think this can be done in a really cool way, but will hold on a firm answer until I've discussed more fully with a director."

Will you be keeping Min, Elayne and Aviendha as separate characters each with a role in the show and their relationship to Rand intact?

"That one you’ll have to WAFO."

"Rigid Mars-Venus gender division etc- troubling aspects of books. Plans to update/improve these? WoT’s gr8 to discuss gender but it isn’t without problems."

"I’m a feminist and it’s very important to me that the show is feminist in today’s context. So a lot of those things will be changing."

Will each "season," assuming there are multiple seasons, cover 1 book or will they be split up based on storyline?

"It’ll be dependent on book/season and not the same throughout."

Given free rein, how many seasons would you make in order to tell the story properly? "36. But that seems untenable."

"In an ideal world what real world locations would you use for the various settings of the the first book?"

"This’ll really depend on base of operations. But we hope to be going all over the world. Things that look different and fresh to me are important."

Are there any minor character/plot point/locations you are in love with but know you’ll have to cut for time? Non spoiler because I said minor right?
"We lose a lot of Cenn Buie, and I like his grumpy old manness."

"Considering all the fan questions Jordan, @BrandSanderson, and #TeamJordan have answered about the #WheelofTime over the years, have you studied that mountain of data not found in the books? If not, what’s your strategy to make sure you get all the details right?"

"I'm in communications with everyone on #TeamJordan, and will be even more so once we are further down the line. They've lived this and will be invaluable to me. I'm also the kind of writer who values all the data I can get, and then let it inform but not direct my decision making."

With the importance of Padan Fain to the series, do you plan to disguise his "true-self" in the show better than his introduction in the book for those who haven't yet read the series?


Hi Rafe, in regards to special effects, what are you envisioning for weaving the one power on screen.

"Again, director dependent but I think it’ll be great. I loved how it looked in Doc Strange."

Aside from the books themselves, what other TV shows or movies come to mind when you think about how you want the show to feel when viewers experience it?

"LoTR of course and GoT, but also not Shanarra (sic)."

Who are your favorite and least favorite characters from the series?

"Faile. But I promise she’ll be awesome on the show."

How many seasons you think the series would take in tv format? And how many episodes per season?

"This one I imagine will be malleable as we go. More than 5 but less than 14."

Will there be braid tugging and dress smoothing?

"Less than the books."

Confirmed characters (at least at this stage):
Rand, Egwene, Cenn Buie (if less than in the book), Logain (in an expanded role), Tam, Bela, Padan Fain, Faile, Mat.

More news on the Wheel of Time TV series as it comes in.