Sunday, 18 April 2021

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries

AD 3015. The Inner Sphere is gripped by the Third Succession War, with the great powers clashing for control of human space. With the regular armies of the Great Houses stretched, it's a time of opportunity for mercenary companies to make money and gain a reputation for themselves.


Is there much more we can ask from video games than the ability to jump in a giant robot and use the giant robot to destroy other giant robots and occasionally just smash up a city for the sheer hell of it? It could be argued not, and, since 1989, the MechWarrior series of video games has satisfied that urge in a very enjoyable manner.

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is the first single-player game in the series since 2002 and makes a ton of concessions for new players. It is set earlier in the timeline than any previous game and does not require foreknowledge of the wider BattleTech franchise. However, if you played the outstanding 2018 turn-based strategy game BattleTech (to which this is a real-time companion), you'll find a lot here that's familiar in terms of mechs, terminology, equipment and even UI, especially the menus and the systems for outfitting your mechs. MechWarrior 5 is also somewhat more forgiving than its brutally tough cousin, despite also being a lot more hectic.

MechWarrior 5 consists of two game modes. The first has you on board a Leopard dropship, where your mechs and mechwarriors are based. You can wander around the ship in first-person and explore the ship and inspect your mechs at the correct scale, which is very impressive. For certain campaign missions and story moments, you can also wander up to characters to engage in conversations which further the story. Using menus you can also select your next mission, move the ship to another system and engage in equipment and mech purchase, maintenance and selling. You can also hire and fire pilots or review your progress so far. This is similar to the metagame in BattleTech, although the ability to actually walk around the ship is cool for a bit; it later becomes a bit pointless and you can do everything through menus instead. There's also much less character here. In BattleTech you could talk to characters, even upgrade the social features of the ship to make your pilots happier. In MechWarrior 5 there's somewhat less to do other than selecting missions and maintaining your war machine.

Once you arrive at a star system with contracts available, you can choose which mission to take and then engage in negotiations with the faction in question. You can discuss pay for the mission, how much salvage you can claim and insurance for mech damage. There's some gambling here, since salvaging an enemy mech could net you several times the pay for the mission, but that only applies if you can disable an enemy mech without blowing its reactor, so upping the hard cash reward for the mission might be preferable. The more jobs you do for a faction, the more negotiating points you can get as your standing with them improves. However, sometimes a faction may direct you into combat against another faction, resulting in a corresponding drop in reputation with that faction, which might become a problem later on when you need that faction to give you more jobs. This system is fun and makes choosing which missions to take on and who to appease and who to annoy a rewarding and interesting system of choices.

Once a mission is locked in, the Leopard lands and deploys your lance of mechs into real-time combat: you can bring up to three fellow mechs into combat with you, which can be controlled by AI or other human players of your choosing. Sometimes the dropship dumps you straight into a mass firefight (with the dropship laying down impressive volumes of covering fire) but more often it drops you outside a combat zone and you have to head in, perhaps using the terrain for cover, going the long way around to take the enemy by surprise or just charging in all guns blazing.

Combat is fast, furious and frantic, but you have a good amount of feedback thanks to a radar and robust damage report models for your mechs plus the enemy and allied troops. You can be more tactical and hold back with a sniper mech to attack from a distance with gauss guns and long-range missiles, perhaps directing your more brawler-focused allies into close combat, or vice versa. Like a good space or air combat game, the game mixes real-time action and a more strategic element of commanding allies; MechWarrior 2 (the game that popularised the franchise) was consciously echoing contemporaries X-Wing and Wing Commander but in a giant robot, and MechWarrior 5 feels like a solid upgrade of that, feeling like a contemporary of Ace Combat 7 and Star Wars: Squadrons (but still in a giant robot). Combat is something the game nails very satisfyingly, which is important as you're going to be doing a hell of a lot of it.

The game provides context for what you're doing through three tiers of missions. The first is story missions, which propel the game's main storyline forward. The storyline isn't fantastic (and certainly not as good as BattleTech's) but it does have some solid voice acting from Elias Toufexis  (Adam Jensen from the Deus Ex franchise) and it does have some excellently-designed mission setpieces. These missions are triggered intermittently when you gain reputation levels. There are 15 such levels in the game and you gain rep from completing jobs for factions. Once you get to a new level, new story missions appear and you can get those underway.

The second tier of mission is quests, marked on the map by yellow circles. These are, effectively, side-quests with their own storyline and characters, along with unique dialogue, with quite large reputation and cash rewards. These questlines take you back and forth across an entire warzone with twists and turns in the story, and sometimes the ability to switch sides and work for the opposition who may contact you with a much better offer. Quests are not necessary to proceed, but bulk out the game in terms of giving you meaningful stuff to do.

The lowest tier are procedurally-generated missions which are simply infinite in number, randomly generating rewards, opposition and terrain and throwing you into battle. These missions are good for picking up salvage, cash and grinding smaller amounts of reputation, though for those who want to make faster progress, quests are a better bet.

These combine into a fairly compelling experience: you do missions to increase reputation, salvage and cash; you spend those resources to improve your pilots, mechs and equipment; and then you unlock the next part of the story and move on. You can complete MechWarrior 5 in around 30 hours (roughly half the length of a BattleTech campaign) but also expand it out for much longer than that as you track down rare mechs and equipment and exhaustively try to complete every quest chain in the game.

So, with great combat, the ability to co-op every single mission and solid upgrading and loot mechanics, it'd be easy to recommend the game unambiguously. However, there are a fair few problems with the game. None of these are massive by themselves but the accumulated array of them can be fairly vexing.

The first is how fresh enemy mechs are spawned mid-mission. Originally they appeared out of nowhere way too close to your lance, resulting in damage and mission losses for no apparent reason. Patches improved this by making the enemy appear a lot further away, but it's still a disconcerting experience that feels a bit weird. 

The second is that your radar works in the weirdest way imaginable, with it working based on line of sight. So you have to see something before your radar can lock on, with enemy mechs vanishing from view if they just pass behind a boulder for a few seconds. Even worse is the low range of your radar, with you sometimes able to see a bunch of enemy mechs a couple of kilometres away and even hit them with dumb-fire weapons (like gauss guns and plasma cannons), but not able to actually lock onto them with missiles until they're much closer. This is all pretty dumb, and a let-down on how radar worked in BattleTech, where you could use sensor abilities to target enemies from much further away and you could also use telemetry feeds, so one scout mech on a recon mission could allow all your troops to lock on from much further away.

The third is that AI in general could be a bit stronger. The enemy default stance is to bum-rush you, sometimes allowing you to wipe out what would be a formidable enemy force because their light mechs outrun their heavier support, allowing you to destroy them piecemeal as they arrive. Enemy AI also seems reluctant to use long-range weapons or jump jets. Allied AI can also be ropey, particularly in base defence missions where you allies sometimes careen through allied structures without a care in the world (resulting in amusing screams of rage from your employers) and happily discharge their plasma cannons and missiles at the enemy even if you're standing right in front of them (which can be fatal).

These problems are annoying and frustrating but - very happily - they've also mostly been fixed by MechWarrior 5's outstanding modding community. As I related previously, I installed a number of mods which fixed almost all of the above problems instantly. Better Spawns removes random mech spawns altogether and replaces them with an enemy dropship arriving and dropping the mechs manually. The AI fix mods make both allied and enemy AI much stronger, so your allies stop shooting you and blowing up allied bases and the enemy will use missiles and jumpjets from time to time. The 3D Hud dramatically improves weapons and damage feedback. Max Tonnage removes the very arbitrary-feeling weight limits on missions that feels nonsensical (given that enemy spawns seem to be based on your tonnage, this doesn't make the game a cakewalk either), and the JumpShip Animation dramatically speeds up the game by removing unskippable cut scenes. The only outstanding problem is the radar, which apparently will be addressed in the forthcoming expansions.

Without the mods, MechWarrior 5 (***½) is a great game beset by annoyances. With those mods, MechWarrior 5 (****½) becomes a rich, compelling game experience mixing fun mech management with satisfying, crunchy combat.

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is available right now on PC via Epic Game Store, which easily allows for modding, and on the Xbox Game Pass, which very much does not. The game will launch on Steam on 27 May alongside a new expansion, Heroes of the Inner Sphere, and an Xbox One/Series X version of the game.

Friday, 16 April 2021

RUMOUR: The first 1-2 seasons of LORD OF THE RINGS: THE SECOND AGE have cost almost half a billion dollars

The Hollywood Reporter has indicated that the upcoming Lord of the Rings prequel TV series, The Second Age*, has cost almost half a billion dollars so far. In fact, they put the figure at $465 million.

The Reporter is pretty reliable in these matters, but I've filed this under "rumour" because the source is the New Zealand government and they did not precisely break down the costs involved.

We know there are eight episodes in each of the first two seasons of the show, and the first two seasons have been commissioned together and completely written. There were also reports a while back that the LotR team were shooting up to 20 episodes in the first extended filming bloc (which began in February 2020 and is expected to continue for several months to come, although there was an extended break last year for writing), which some took to mean they were filming the first two seasons - 16 episodes - back-to-back, which makes sense. As a result, the cost may be spread across two seasons rather than one. This is backed up by a Reuters report where they learned that Amazon was earmarking $500 million for the first two seasons in combined production and marketing costs.

Back in 2017, it was widely reported that Amazon had paid $250 million to the Tolkien Estate for enhanced rights to J.R.R. Tolkien's books not previously covered by any prior deal, now believed to consist of all Numenor and Second Age-related material in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. Amazon had also tapped Warner Brothers and their subsidiary New Line to cooperate on the project, giving them access to the Lord of the Rings rights (used previously to make Peter Jackson's 2001-03 movie trilogy). It was reported that Amazon would be spending up to $150 million per season on five seasons of the series, for a total expenditure of $1 billion.

This new report indicates that that ceiling will be hit considerably sooner than expected. Assuming the costs are indeed divided between two seasons, that would make the cost of each season around $232.5 million, or $29 million per episode. The previous most expensive TV show of all time was either HBO's The Pacific, which cost over $20 million per episode, or Disney+'s currently-airing Falcon and the Winter Soldier, with a reported budget of $25 million per episode, although these are both classified as mini-series. The most expensive ongoing TV show of all time is HBO's Game of Thrones, where the budget reached $16 million per episode in the final season.

This would easily make Lord of the Rings: The Second Age the most expensive TV show of all time, if not quite by as much as some people are saying. However, if the original quote was correct and those costs are just for the first season, the first eight episodes by themselves, then obviously they would rocket up to insanity: $465 million for the season, or $58,125,000 per hour. Each of the three Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movies had a budget of around $90 million for three hours, for comparison.

Lord of the Rings Colon Undisclosed Subtitle is currently shooting in New Zealand and expected to air on Amazon Prime Video, probably in early 2022.

* My placeholder title to stop people constantly asking why they're remaking the movies, which they're not; not the likely final title of the series.

Cover art for Joe Abercrombie's WISDOM OF CROWDS revealed

The UK cover art for Joe Abercrombie's next novel, The Wisdom of Crowds, has been revealed.

The novel concludes the Age of Madness trilogy, which began with A Little Hatred and continued with The Trouble with Peace. The book will be released on 16 September this year.

Thursday, 15 April 2021

JV Jones releases sample chapter for new novel, SORRY JONES

J.V. Jones has released the cover art and a sample chapter from her new stand-alone novel, Sorry Jones.


Jones wrote the novel to get "back in the zone" after a long time out of the writing game. Since completing Sorry Jones a couple of years ago, she's written the majority of Endlords, the fifth and penultimate book in the long-gestating Sword of Shadows series. She hopes to complete Endlords this year for publication in 2022 or 2023.

Sorry Jones will be self-published in the near future.

Ser Criston Cole of the Kingsguard cast for HBO's HOUSE OF THE DRAGON

George R.R. Martin has announced the casting of a key character for House of the Dragon, the Game of Thrones prequel series due to start shooting imminently in the UK.


Ser Criston Cole is an honoured knight and a member of King Viserys Targaryen's Kingsguard. He is noted as a stalwart warrior who has a key decision to make in the rivalry between Princess Rhaenyra and Alicent Hightower.

In House of the Dragon he is played by Fabien Frankel. A relatively inexperienced actor, Frankel has so far played Theo Sipowicz (the son of Dennis Franz's character) in the recent NYPD Blue reunion pilot which did not proceed to series, but had a larger role as Dominique Renelleau in The Serpent. He also appeared in the 2019 film Last Christmas, opposite Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke.

Announced castmembers for House of the Dragon include Paddy Considine as King Viserys I Targaryen, Olivia Cooke as Alicent Hightower, Emma D'Arcy as Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen, Steven Toussaint as Lord Corlys Velaryon, Rhys Ifans as Lord Otto Hightower, Sonoya Mizuno as Mysaria and Eve Best as Princess Rhaenys Velaryon.

The series, which begins about 190 years before the events of Game of Thrones, charts the reign of King Viserys, an amiable and respected king, in the tumultuous days after the death of his wife. He names his daughter his heir, but this causes dramatic problems when he remarries later on, setting the scene for the bloodiest civil war in the history of the Seven Kingdoms, the Dance of Dragons.

Disney and Alan Dean Foster approaching settlement on royalties

Disney and SFF author Alan Dean Foster appear to have reached a mutually-satisfying resolution on a royalties dispute first reported last November.


Foster wrote the original novelisation of the first Star Wars movie (published in 1976, months before the film came out), as well as the subsequent original novel Splinter of the Mind's Eye (1978). He also wrote the novelisations of the first three Alien movies, in 1979, 1986 and 1992. Disney, which inherited the payment obligations for all of these works, had ceased payments to Foster in 2015. The SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) guild attempted mediation to no response. In late 2020 the matter was publicised, leading to widespread condemnation of Disney and several other authors noting similar issues with payments on older work.

Foster does not go into details, but notes on his webpage.
"The irritating imbroglio with Disney, which you may have read about, is moving towards a mutually agreeable conclusion. A formal statement will be forthcoming."
Hopefully the matter will now be resolved and Disney will agree to uphold their contractual obligations moving forwards with both Foster and all other impacted authors.

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

The King of Lancre has died of natural causes. As everyone knows, it is very normal and even traditional for a king to die naturally from a stab wound to the back followed by a swift plummet down a steep staircase. As is also traditional, the king's heir and his crown have mysteriously disappeared and it's no doubt only a matter of time before he grows up and returns to reclaim his birthright etc etc. Some things are Traditional. Unfortunately, the new king and his scheming wife aren't hot followers of Tradition and as a reign of terror falls on Lancre, it falls to three local witches, a psychotic cat and a Fool to take a hand in events...

Six books into his Discworld series, Terry Pratchett decided to take on Bill Shakespeare. Wyrd Sisters mashes together the plot of MacBeth with influence from Hamlet and a subplot about making plays (including a Shakespeare-ish analogue character). It's also the first time that Pratchett seems to have consciously built up an entire community of characters in a book, with a view to revisiting them later on.

Our leading protagonist is Granny Weatherwax, who previously appeared (in a simpler form) in Equal Rites. This time around she's one of a coven of three witches, alongside the matriarchal Nanny Ogg and the young and (misleadingly) wet-behind-the-ears Magrat Garlick. Effectively having three leads is a new idea for Pratchett and allows him to spread the story out a bit more, even if Granny does come across as the effective leader of the group. Pratchett's characterisation is splendid as always, with the realisation of Magrat's anger issues at being constantly underestimated making for fun scenes and Nanny Ogg highly contradictory character tics being oddly compelling: she's a kind-hearted and funny person who inexplicably likes making life miserable for her extended relations and harbours a strong relationship with a cat she thinks is a fluffy kitten rather than a homicidal threat to the peace.

The wider community of Lancre is also established, with its vertiginous geography, literally-minded inhabitants (at least 25% of whom seem to be related by blood or terrifying marriage into Nanny Ogg's clan) and local colour, becoming, after Ankh-Morpork, clearly Pratchett's favourite place to write about on the Disc. 

Those with a working knowledge of epic fantasy tropes, Shakespeare in general and MacBeth in particular can likely see where the story is going, which is something that Pratchett anticipates and has fun with, especially how he overcomes the issue of the witches not wanting to wait fifteen years for the Hidden Heir™ to make his unexpected reappearance, resulting in arguably the most impressive display of magic in the entire series (we'll perhaps ignore the apparent issues this causes with the timeline, as Pratchett subsequently does). 

There is a lot of great comedy here as Pratchett riffs off various ideas and tropes (not to mention some nods to the Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin), but there's also splendid use of a real-world theme, in this case propaganda. Words have power of their own, and can be a greater force than armies, and the deployment of the idea is intelligent and well-handled, and also done with relative subtlety, tying into the main storyline's use of a theatre troupe and their ability to create stories that are more memorable than real history.

Wyrd Sisters (****½) sees Pratchett evolving the Discworld setting even further away from the simple fantasy parody it started out as and into much more interesting territory, with a corresponding deepening and complicating of the worldbuilding and characters, whilst remaining funny. The novel is available in the UK and USA.

I wrote a previous review of the novel here.

As an added bonus, the 1997 Cosgrove Hall animated film version of Wyrd Sisters is freely available on YouTube.



Monday, 12 April 2021

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Baltimore, 1880. Seventeen years have passed since the dead on the battlefield of Gettysburg rose, sparking a plague that has torn America part. The Confederacy has surrendered and accepted equality...on paper. In reality, the southern states (and even some of the northern) have liberated former slaves only to turn them into soldiers, cannon fodder to fight the undead menace. Jane McKeene, trained at Miss Preston's School of Combat, is destined to become a babysitter for the wealthy and privileged, until she discovers that people in Maryland are going missing without explanation. Her investigation uncovers a conspiracy with far-reaching consequences for the fate of the Union, and for herself.


The American Civil War remains the bloodiest conflict fought in American history, its outcome still debated and contentious a hundred and sixty years later. It has been used before to spur SFF novels. Several of Harry Turtledove's novels have delved deep into "what if...?" scenarios where the consequences of a Southern victory are assessed (unsurprisingly, things do not go well), whilst the Deadlands franchise of tabletop games and novels has explored the consequences of a supernatural schism taking place on the same day as the Battle of Gettysburg.

Dread Nation starts from the very same premise and likewise explores a world where the full reckoning of the recent human catastrophe has taken a back seat to the supernatural menace, including the rapid onset of steampunk technology to aid in the fight against the undead. But the book has a different tone, as Ireland uses the premise to explore complex racial issues and politics whilst always keeping an eye on delivering a gripping narrative.

After a slightly slow start, Dread Nation quickly catches fire and never lets up. The book is fearlessly inventive in how it uses its alternative history and supernatural trappings to explore real sociological and historical issues whilst also delivering satisfying characterisation. Jane McKeene, our protagonist, is complex and has an interesting background, whilst also being intriguingly flawed. Jane is something of a hothead who has issues making short-term sacrifices for long-term gains, and the novel partially explores how Jane becomes more strategic in her thinking, both in how to deal with the undead but also the considerably nastier human foes she encounters during her adventures. The book has several other major characters, explored through Jane's eyes, such as her frenemy Katherine, a rival at school who reluctantly becomes an ally when they agree to team up to investigate a mystery.

The novel is a fine action story as well. There's satisfying fight scenes and some solid zombie killings (a full-scale battle between a town's worth of defenders and a zombie horde is the highlight here). Ireland solves the age-old question of "fast or slow?" by deploying both kinds, and there's some nice background on how America has adapted to the presence of the undead although, at least in this first volume, there is no explanation for the origin of the threat.

The richness of the novel is let down a little by its villains, who feel a bit "generic Stephen King bad guy," being corrupt sheriffs and fire-and-brimstone racist preachers. They get the job done in providing numerous obstacles for Jane and Kate to overcome, but occasionally risk becoming caricatures.

Beyond that minor hiccup, Dread Nation (****½) is a rewarding, fast-paced story which combines real history and events with zombies to create something that is compelling reading. The book is available now in the UK and USA. A sequel, Deathless Divide, is also available.

Friday, 9 April 2021

Harmony Gold and Studio Nue confirm collaboration for the continuation of the ROBOTECH and MACROSS franchises

Japanese animation companies Studio Nue, Inc. and Big West Co. Ltd. have announced a fresh collaboration with Harmony Gold USA. The three companies previously collaborated in the mid-1980s to bring Studio Nue and Big West's Macross anime series to American audiences, where it was re-edited and combined with two other shows (Southern Cross and Mospeada) to form an original SF epic called Robotech. The business relationship between the parties has been contentious ever since, with Harmony Gold blocking the release of the various Macross sequel and prequel series in the United States.


The new agreement was made confirming that the Macross animated series can now be released internationally, whilst the Japanese companies have dropped their legal claims that were casting doubt on the release of a planned live-action Robotech movie in Japan.

Harmony Gold previously reached a new distribution deal with Tatsunoko Productions, who worked on Macross with Studio Nue, in 2019 which helped pave the way for this agreement with the remaining stakeholders.

The most likely near-term consequence will be the release or re-release of the original Super Dimensional Fortress Macross series and its canonical sequels Macross 7, Macross Frontier and Macross Delta, and the prequel series Macross Zero, on physical media and streaming platforms.

The bigger deal will be that the planned film version could move ahead. Directors James Wan (Aquaman) and Andy Muschietti (IT) had both been attached to the film before it had gotten mired in development hell, with the Japanese companies objecting to the film's proposed use of Macross characters and mecha designs. This new deal removes those obstacles.

Other ideas that have been floating around for a while, such as a Netflix-produced total remake of Robotech in the vein of their recent Voltron series, are also made possible by this deal. Despite the franchise's name value, Harmony Gold themselves don't have the funding to make a new series (an attempt in 2006, via a straight-to-DVD movie called The Shadow Chronicles, was a failure), so will need to partner with external studios.

Given the ill feeling between the various entities that have existed for almost forty years, it is remarkable that an amicable solution has been worked out, which can only benefit the fans.

Paramount schedules mystery STAR TREK film for 2023

Paramount has set a release date of 9 June 2023 for the next Star Trek movie, but they have not yet revealed what that movie actually is.

Paramount have spent the five years since the release of Star Trek Beyond developing a large number of potential new film projects to no avail. A direct follow-up to Beyond, focusing on Chris Pine's Captain Kirk teaming up with his father, played by Chris Hemsworth via time travel, was in development for a time before being dropped over a pay dispute. The film was later put back into development again, and then paused a second time.

At the same time, Quentin Tarantino started developing new project. This was eventually revealed as a remake of the classic Star Trek episode A Piece of the Action, in which the Enterprise crew arrive on a planet that's developed into a parody of early 20th Century gangster movies. Tarantino was very enthusiastic about the project, even considering directing, but later committed only to writing and producing. Without Tarantino directing, Paramount's interest in the idea seemed to dry up.

Fargo and Legion showrunner Noah Hawley then committed to a new Star Trek movie idea, one which would apparently revolve around a whole new crew and a whole new story. With Hawley much in-demand for Hollywood projects, Paramount seems to have entertained the idea for a while before passing on it, due to a lack of an exciting hook to get people interested.

Finally, just a few weeks ago, Star Trek: Discovery writer Kalinda Vazquez was hired to put together a new proposal, the details of which remain unknown.

According to io9, this new project is not related to any of these ideas. The only thing that is known is that J.J. Abrams will be producing (but not directing) and to get it out in just over two years, they're going to need to put it into production shortly. Very mysterious.

Unrest at Sony as company re-focuses on AAA games at the expense of smaller titles

Jason Schreier at Bloomberg has a fascinating report on unrest and uncertainty at the Sony Studios group of video game developers.

Days Gone, a relatively well-received Sony exclusive from 2019. Sony have shot down plans for a sequel, but the game is getting a second shot at success via a PC release later in 2021.

Sony's PlayStation video game console has been the leading console in four successive generations of hardware: the original PlayStation (1994) emerged triumphant over the Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn, whilst the PlayStation 2 (2000) outsold the original Microsoft Xbox, Sega Dreamcast and Nintendo GameCube. The PlayStation 3 (2006) initially lost ground to the Microsoft Xbox 360 (released a year earlier), but clawed back the lead to emerge the more successful console, although both were outsold by the Nintendo Wii, which had pivoted to focus on younger gamers. The PlayStation 4 (2013) much more comfortably defeated the Xbox One and Wii U.

The PlayStation 5 was launched at the end of 2020, almost simultaneously with the Xbox Series X, with sales of both consoles being surprisingly comparable. There was a widespread expectation that the PlayStation 5 would, again, comfortably outsell the Microsoft rival. Sony's success is rooted in two factors: their utter market domination in Japan and other parts of Asia, where Xbox sales are almost negligible; and their catalogue of exclusive titles not available on other systems, including the Uncharted, Last of Us, God of War, Horizon, Gran Turismo, Tekken, Ratchet & Clank and Spider-Man franchises.

However, in recent years Xbox has deployed a formidable new asset to make their brand more attractive: Xbox Game Pass. Best summed-up as "Netflix for video games," the pass allows gamers to play a large catalogue of hundreds of games for a monthly subscription fee which is far less than the cost of a single video game. With many people buying a game, playing it through once and never touching it again, such a service is hugely more attractive than a much bigger, one-off payment for a title of limited utility. The Xbox Game Pass is also platform-agnostic, being available not just on the Xbox console but also on PC, tablet and smartphones. Microsoft has even offered to make the service available on competitor consoles, including PlayStation and Nintendo Switch, indicating they see the Game Pass as being the future of their video game strategy rather than constantly escalating (and ever-more-expensive) hardware battles.

Simultaneously, Microsoft has gone on an immense spending spree, buying up video game studios by the dozen, to bolster their exclusive games library. This is an area where Microsoft has struggled, with only a small number of popular, exclusive franchises such as Gears of War, Halo and Forza. Their recent acquisition of Bethesda has given them access to several massive franchises, including Fallout, The Elder Scrolls and Doom, as well as critically respected series such as Wolfenstein, Dishonored and Prey. Their acquisition of Obsidian and inXile Studios has also given them access to credible studios with an interest in making challenging RPGs with reactive gameplay.

These moves seem to have given Microsoft a leg-up over the previous generation, resulting in a much closer race between Microsoft and Sony this time out. In addition, both consoles are being negatively impacted by global chip shortages leading to a lack of stock being available, with Microsoft perhaps edging it slightly with console availability, giving Microsoft a chance to make a better case for their console.

None of these things are fatal for Sony - whose dependence on their PlayStation range of products has increased dramatically in recent decades as their former dominance in the TV and hi-fi sectors has collapsed - but clearly they have the company somewhat rattled, and looking for steps they can take to compete.

Sony have their own subscription service, PlayStation Plus, as well as a streaming service called PlayStation Now, which allows gamers to stream PS games without a console at all, but both services feel limited compared to Xbox Game Pass and Sony has shown limited enthusiasm for turning the services into a real competitor. This is because Microsoft have a lot of financial firepower coming in from other quarters and are happier to become platform-agnostic, whilst Sony's business model does rely on their hardware becoming profitable, at least in the second half of its shelf life. Still, the competition of Game Pass will likely force Sony to develop these services further.

Sony have also taken the unprecedented step of making some of their former exclusives available on other platforms. Horizon Zero Dawn had a successful launch on PC in 2020, and Days Gone will launch on PC this year. The real test will be if Sony brings out the Uncharted or Last of Us series on PC, or the much-requested 2015 PlayStation exclusive Bloodborne, but there is no sign of this as yet.

Based on Schreier's report, Sony's main response to Microsoft's growing momentum is to double down on the areas where they are already strong: exclusive franchises developed by strong teams. To do this, they are reducing the number of sub-AAA games they're making, apparently dropping "small games that only sell in Japan" (a market that they've probably lost out to the Switch on anyway) and prioritising AAA blockbusters, as well as tightly controlling costs. It sounds like Sony are becoming incredibly risk-averse, which seems like a bad idea when the next generation of video games will require innovation and out-of-the-box thinking, even moreso than normal. The result has been a brain drain as developers at several Sony studios have quit.

Schreier's report does reveal some additional information of note: a thorough Last of Us remaster/remake for PS5 is currently in the works at Naughty Dog, with a remake of the original Uncharted possibly to follow. A fifth Uncharted game is also early in development, with some reports it might be a prequel. A Days Gone 2 has apparently been proposed and turned down, with the development team responsible for that game working on a new project instead.

SAGA due to resume soon

Brian K. Vaughan has confirmed that Saga, the bestselling, multi-award-winning comic he's been working on with Fiona Staples since 2011, will resume in the near future.


54 issues of the comic were released between 2012 and 2018, when the title went on hiatus at what Vaughan claimed was the pre-conceived exact halfway point of the story. Originally the hiatus was planned to last around two years, but has been extended by various issues (including the COVID pandemic).

Vaughan and Staples report they have been hard at work on new issues, which hopefully should be available soon.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Sourcery by Terry Pratchett

There was an eighth son of an eighth son who became, as is right and proper, a wizard. But, in defiance of tradition, he also had seven sons. And then another one: a source of magic, a sourcerer. The Discworld hasn't seen a sourcerer in thousands of years, since the Mage Wars almost destroyed the world. Soon enough, the re-energised wizards of the Disc are engaged in all-out warfare and the Apocralypse - the teatime of the gods, the return of the frost giants and so forth - draws nigh, provided the Four Horsemen can get out of the pub in time. It falls to a wizard who can't do magic, a might barbarian warrior with three days' experience, a timeshare genie and a homicidal hairdresser to save the day.

Sourcery, the fifth Discworld novel, feels like Terry Pratchett engaging in a reaction against his previous novel, Mort. Mort was a narrow-field, focused and character-based tragicomedy, and easily the best Discworld book out of the initial quartet. It seems like Pratchett may have reacted a little bit against that and turned the subsequent novel into a widescreen epic, arguably the most epic Discworld has ever gotten, with various groups of mages fighting magical wars spanning continents and prophesised destinies being fulfilled.

There's a certain guilty pleasure to this. Pratchett is reasonably entertaining at large-stakes action, especially when it's delivered alongside a broad sense of humour. I suspect in the heart of many authors there's a yearning desire to break out vast magical towers that explode and mighty-thewed barbarian warriors smiting legion of disposable extras with a broadsword so huge it had to be forged with a gantry, and Pratchett does that with aplomb. The sly wit and intelligence of Mort has been sidelined here in favour of much more obvious jokes about barbarians and Grand Viziers twirling moustaches villainously (the sequences in Al-Khali - fortunately only briefly - flirt with Carry On movie levels of stereotyping).

The book adds surprisingly little to the greater Discworld mythos, which is weird given how massive and world-girdling the events are. A line at the end of the book that the memory of these events has been magically removed from the world feels a bit too cheesy; given the dangers the wizards unleash here, it's implausible they wouldn't be chased from civilised society (well, society at any rate), which is why I guess Pratchett decided to jump through some hoops to reset things to a status quo later on. The only lasting impacts are the fate of Rincewind - which sets up the novel Eric - and a larger starring role for the Librarian. We also get a bit more information on the Patrician and his pet dog, Wuffles, who recur later on, even though the Patrician is still a long way off from the peak of his characterisation.

Sourcery (***) is arguably the weakest of the first five Discworld books. It's Pratchett at arguably his broadest and least intellectually vigorous, going for surprisingly cheap laughs. There are some better gags (the One Horsemen and the Three Pedestrians of the Apocralypse) and Rincewind, never the deepest of Discworld characters, get some decent development here, but overall it's a fairly disposable book and not a patch on the novels on either side of it. The book is available now in the UK and USA.

I previously reviewed the novel here.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

WorldCon 2021 moves to December

The 79th World Science Fiction Convention - WorldCon - is moving date and venue. Previously slated for 25-29 August this year, the convention has confirmed a move to 15-19 December, still in Washington, DC. This will mark the first time a WorldCon has taken place in December.

The plan is to have a full, in-person convention, on the basis that the USA's accelerating vaccination programme should allow such events to take place with minimal or no restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel from countries where the pandemic is also getting under control, such as the UK, should also be possible from that point.

As well as the convention itself, the annual Hugo Awards will be held at the event as well. The actual venue has changed, however, from the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel to the Omni Shoreham Hotel.

The following WorldCon is scheduled for 1-5 September 2022 in Chicago.

Modding MechWarrior

I am currently several dozen hours into playing MechWarrior 5. It's a fun, hugely enjoyable action game where you sit in a giant robot and blow up other giant robots, buildings, vehicles and sometimes just the scenery for the hell of it. It's also a game which is, putting it as charitably as possible, not out-of-the-box, fit-for-mass-consumption due to a combination of bugs and questionable game design choices. Fortunately, it's also a game that's hugely moddable and a large number of the problems have been fixed by the fans. So here's the roster of mods that I'm currently running to make the game more palatable.

Unless otherwise noted, these mods can be natively installed via the Epic Game Store's mod page and hopefully will be available via the Steam Workshop when the game launches on Steam in May.

3D HUD

The heads-up-display in MechWarrior 5 is functional but that's about the most that can be said for it, with information presented dryly as lines of text and bars in the corner of the screen. This mod re-imposes the HUD on your pilot's visor, giving you a nice 3D feeling to the display. It also dynamically puts your weapon information (ammo, temperature, range) on a circular view corresponding to the location of your weapon hardpoints, giving you much more intuitive information on what's happening to your mech at any given time. This dramatically improves information flow mid-battle. 


Better Performance - FPS Drop Fix

MechWarrior 5 has an odd thing where it generates the sound of your weapon firing from the animation rather than just playing the relevant audio files when you hit the fire button. This means the frames-per-second drops noticeably whenever you fire your weapon, and this drop gets worse over the course of a mission. This mod fixes the problem by removing the direct link between the weapon fire animation and sound effect, keeping performance steady.


Enemy Mech Availability Date Fix

One of the cooler things about MechWarior 5 is how the timeline advances as your play the game. The game starts in 3015 and the months and years advance - sometimes quite quickly - as you fly between star systems and engage in lengthy campaign missions. Political borders change in accordance with in-game history, and sometimes missions are generated based on timeline events. These stop in 3049; although you can continue to play, major events are no longer reflected. Long-term BattleTech and MechWarrior fans know that in 3050, a huge event takes place that the game can't take into account, though will likely form the basis of any future expansion or sequel. One problem with this is that the AI sometimes spawns mechs that are not correctly available until much later on. This mod fixes that and keeps everything era-appropriate, hopefully resulting in a more smoothly escalating difficulty level rather than huge spikes caused by the early appearance of an Atlas X (or something).


MW5 Mod Compatibility Pack

Pretty essential, this mod smooths out some minor problems in the base game and makes mods play nicely without one another.


Prime8's Distinct Weapon FX and Weather Improvement Mod

An aesthetic improvement that makes lasers, missiles and autocannon shots all "pop" better, greatly improving visual feedback and information, as well increasing the variety of weather conditions you'll encounter. Plus, they looks really cool.

Remove JumpShip Animation

Like it's near-neighbour BattleTech, MechWarrior 5 likes to play a lengthy, unskippable animation of your dropship docking with a jumpship and making an FTL jump to the next star system. Which is fine, but you only ever need to see it once. This mod disables the animation, greatly improving in-game speed. The dropship animation remains, since the game loads data on the new star system in the background, but that's much shorter and much less of an issue.


Max Tonnage

Found on the Nexus. The game has a variable maximum tonnage allowance on missions, so missions will force you to bring smaller, lighter mechs on low-difficulty missions and only allow you to field a full lance of Assault mechs on late-game, tough missions. Although understandable from a game balance POV, it's pretty nonsensical from a story and lore perspective. This mod resets the max tonnage for all missions to 400 tons, allowing you to deploy four of the heaviest mechs in the game (the King Crab and Atlas) with no issue. Just don't be surprised if low-difficulty missions now become a bit too easy.


TTRulez Enemy AI Mod

This essential mod fixes the enemy AI, making enemy mechs more likely to use long-range missiles, improved swarming tactics and enemy mechs with jump jets will actually now use them.


TTRulez Lancemate AI Mod

This essential mod fixes friendly AI, making allied mechs much less likely to trash the base you're supposed to be defending and more flexible in how they choose targets. Allied AI will also now use jump jets and other ancillary abilities.

Better Spawns

Found at Nexus. The most essential of all mods, this completely rewrites MechWarrior 5's dunderhead spawning system, which sometimes has enemy mechs and vehicles materialising 200 metres away behind a rock (or, in extreme cases, out of thin air). All enemy mechs and ground vehicles now have to be either on the map at the start of the game or be brought on via dropship, giving players more time to notice and react to their arrival. Enemy aircraft are prevented from spawning right on top of you. Vehicles arrive in lance-style groups rather than piecemeal, so present a greater challenge rather than rushing in one-by-one to be cut to pieces by focused fire from your forces. This mod increases the challenge by making enemies arrive more smartly and (in coordination with the Better AI mod) use better tactics, but also evens things out by giving you and your lance mates more time and ability to manage the battlefield.

With these mods installed, the quality of MechWarrior 5 abruptly increases from "okay" to "very good indeed," and I would not recommend playing the game without them.

Monday, 5 April 2021

Paramount+ drops a ton of STAR TREK news

Paramount+ - the revamped version of CBS All Access - have dropped a motherlode of news about the upcoming Star Trek seasons via Twitter. There's a lot to unpack here.


First up, Paramount and Nickelodeon have unveiled the look for Kathryn Janeway in Star Trek: Prodigy. They also confirmed that Janeway herself is not appearing in the show. Instead, it turns out that Janeway is the face of Starfleet's Emergency Training Hologram, used to help civilians pilot a Federation starship if the crew are incapacitated. They also revealed that Star Trek: Prodigy takes place in 2383, five years after the USS Voyager returns to Federation space, but will be set in the Delta Quadrant, raising interesting questions about how the Federation starship (presumably the USS Prodigy) central to the story ended up there. We still don't have an air date for Prodigy, although it was originally targeting a mid-2021 release.

Second up, Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 will air in August this year and will see a return for Jonathan Frakes as Captain William Riker of the USS Titan, although given how Season 1 ended, that's not a major surprise. The producers have also confirmed that Lower Decks has been renewed for a third season, presumably to air in 2022. The trailer also indicates that at one point the team gets to pilot a Miranda-class starship (think of the USS Reliant or Saratoga).

Next, Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 (which wraps shooting soon) has a shiny new trailer and confirmation of a 2021 air date, probably in the autumn.

Finally, Star Trek: Picard Season 2 also has a new trailer and confirmation of a 2022 debut. Tantalisingly, the trailer (and a separate tweet) confirms the return of John de Lancie as Q in live-action. Q had a brief cameo appearance in Lower Decks but it's good to see him return to test his wits against Picard as well.

Saturday, 3 April 2021

Mort by Terry Pratchett

Death comes to us all. When he came to Mort, he offered him a job. Mort is taken aback to find himself a trainee Grim Reaper, and puzzled because Death does not seem likely to retire or, well, visit himself. But, it turns out, after several million years on the job, Death would like a night or two off to let his non-existent hair down. What could go wrong? Well, as it turns out...


A reviewer more fully embracing of cliche would, at this juncture, feel inspired to say "This is where the fun begins," or look moodily into the middle distance against swelling orchestral music whilst declaiming, "S--t just got real." Mort, the fourth Discworld book, is generally accepted as the book where Pratchett finally nailed it. For many years it was the most-recommended entry point to the series, whilst it's also (by far) the easiest of the books to put on as a stage play. In 2003 it was voted as the best book in the series by the UK's "Big Read" survey. It's also been optioned for film several times, although Pratchett was always dubious of the idea after the first Hollywood producer he met told him how much he loved the book, but perhaps they could find some way of removing Death from the story?

Mort is radically different in tone and feel from the first three books in the series (or the next few, for that matter). It's a hugely concentrated story with only a few major characters: Mort himself, Death, Death's adopted daughter Ysabell (expanding on her brief appearance from The Light Fantastic), Death's manservant Albert, and a small number of characters in the kingdom of Sto Lat, including Princess Keli and the wizard Cutwell. The plot is straightforward: Death hires an apprentice, but doesn't quite take into account that a mortal human's view of the process of ushering souls into the next life isn't going to be as philosophical as a millions-of-years-old, non-human anthropological manifestation and Mort, unsurprisingly, makes a Bad Decision and spends the rest of the book trying to fix or avert it before Death can find out.

The result is a book that is very funny - we learn that Death is a huge fan of cats and curry (not together, fortunately) and has a kind of wistful curiosity about mortal life - but also surprisingly melancholy. It's a book that's about, well, death, which means it's also about life and the transitory nature of it. Pratchett does gentle, melancholic and intelligent humour very well but it seems to be something that almost every single adaptation misses out on, instead focusing on the zany out-there fantasy shenanigans (and admittedly Pratchett can do that really well as well, but it's not his focus). On a first read Mort works well as a reflective, funny novel but it gains additional kudos if you've read Soul Music and Hogfather and know more about the fates of some of the characters in this book.

The book is lean and focused, and also has a really satisfying, poetic ending. Pratchett's endings so far have leaned towards widescreen spectacle because that's what's expected in a fantasy novel - the plucky heroes making a one-in-a-million gamble to try to avert gibbering horrors breaking through the walls of reality - but you get the sense his heart was never really in it. In Mort he goes for a much more personal, character-based ending that's much more appropriate. Oh, there is still a supernatural swordfight of course. Some things are expected.

If there are negatives, they are fairly limited. This is still Early Pratchett, without quite the best-in-class wordplay and more incisive humour and characterisation of later books, but he's definitely getting there at a rate of knots.

Mort (****½) is Pratchett stretching his creative muscles, trying a different tack and finding a mode of storytelling that's exceptionally fine. The novel is available in the UK and USA.

I previously reviewed the book here.

Friday, 2 April 2021

Del Rey resurrecting classic STAR WARS novels with new art and audio editions

Del Rey is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Lucasfilm by launching Star Wars: The Essential Legends Collection, a reprint of classic novels from the old Star Wars Expanded Universe line with new artwork and new audio editions.

The first three books in the range are Heir to the Empire (1991) by Timothy Zahn, Shatterpoint (2003) by Matthew Stover and Path of Destruction (2006) by Drew Karpyshyn.

Heir to the Empire was hugely important as the first Star Wars novel to launch the Expanded Universe fiction line (although a number of 1970s and 1980s-published novels were later retconned and in some cases rewritten into the line). The novel, set five years after the events of Return of the Jedi, introduced the iconic characters of Grand Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade, the Emperor's Hand, and introduced factions and ideas such as the New Republic and the city-planet of Coruscant. It was the first novel in The Thrawn Trilogy. The new cover art is by Tracie Ching.

Shatterpoint, sometimes cited as the best-ever stand-alone Star Wars novel, focuses on the character of Mace Windu and sees him tracking down his missing former padawan shortly after the outbreak of the Clone Wars. The novel was highly praised for giving more texture and depth to Windu than his fleeting appearances in the prequel trilogy films. The new cover art is by Jeff Manning, with a brand-new, unabridged audio adaptation by Sullivan Jones.

Path of Destruction, the first book in the Darth Bane series, tells the story of Darth Bane, the Sith Lord who restructured and reorganised the Sith following millennia of defeats into their later "Rule of Two" incarnation. The cover art is by Simon Goinard.

The three books will be published on June 15th. It is unclear if more books will be added to the range.

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS spin-off WELLINGTON PARANORMAL hits the UK next week

New Zealand TV show Wellington Paranormal, a spin-off from What We Do in the Shadows (the film, not the TV show, although the TV show is also a spin-off from the film and co-exists in the same universe with the movie and the spin-off), finally arrives in the UK and Ireland on Monday, via Sky TV and NowTV.

The show is set in Wellington, New Zealand and follows the hapless adventures of Minogue and O'Leary, the two easily-hypnotised cops who play a role in the original film. Minogue and O'Leary's close brush with the vampire and werewolf gangs of Wellington makes them ideally-suited to head up a new supernatural investigations unit headed by Senior Sergeant Maaka. Their investigations lead them into encounters with a body-hopping demon, an alien invasion, ghosts, creepy clowns, zombies and a sentient fatberg. Familiar faces from What We Do in the Shadows also crop up from time to time.

The series is executive produced by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, who also writes, directs and script edits. The first three seasons will be available from Monday 5 April on Sky TV and NowTV in the UK. The series is also launching soon on The CW in the USA, with each episode available on HBO Max the day after initial transmission.

The What We Do in the Shadows series recently began filming on its third season (delayed due to COVID), with a view to it airing on FX in the USA and the BBC in the UK later this year or early next.

Happy 50th Publication Anniversary to George R.R. Martin

This is actually a couple of months late, but probably close enough. George R.R. Martin recently passed the milestone of being a published author for fifty (50) years.

Martin's first professionally-published story was "The Hero," a story from his Thousand Worlds space opera setting. It was published in the February 1971 issue of Galaxy Magazine, though he'd written it in 1968-69 when he'd made his first serious push to become a published author. This period also resulted in "The Added Safety Factor" (eventually published in 1979 as "Warship"), "The Fortress" (eventually published in 1985 as "Under Siege," no relation to the Steven Segal movie), "And Death His Legacy" and "Protector." Martin's earlier writing had been for fanzines and comic books. In fact, his very first-published material of any kind was a letter to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby printed in Fantastic Four #20 (August 1963).

"The Hero," though, was the first of Martin's stories to see print and kick-started a run of early, promising fiction that eventually culminated in his Hugo Award-winner "A Song for Lya" (1974). Additional, multi-award winning fiction followed, including the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning "Sandkings" (1979) and Hugo Award-winning "The Way of Cross and Dragon" (1979), along with his novels Dying of the Light (1977), Windhaven (1981, with Lisa Tuttle), Fevre Dream (1982) and The Armageddon Rag (1983), the commercial failure of which triggered a sideways career movie into film and television scripts. Martin spent years working in Hollywood on TV shows including The Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast, whilst rebuilding his novel career through Tuf Voyaging (1987) and working as the creator-editor of the popular Wild Cards series of superhero anthologies (starting in 1987 and continuing to this day).

This year also marks the 30th anniversary of Martin starting work on his wildly popular Song of Ice and Fire book series (later adapted by HBO as the phenomenally successful if-controversially-ended TV show Game of Thrones). Although A Game of Thrones (1996) wasn't published until five years later, Martin began work on the novel in the summer of 1991 when he was struck forcibly by the image of a young boy being taken by his father to see a deserter being executed in the snow. At the time he had no idea whether this was the idea for a short story or a novel, and certainly no idea it would be the start of a magnum opus that would still be running three decades and just shy of 100 million book sales later.

So happy anniversary to George for a full half-century in the business.

Thursday, 1 April 2021

J.R.R. Tolkien novel sales pass 600 million

HarperCollins has released updated sales figures for J.R.R. Tolkien's books, acquired by Tolkien fansite TheOneRing. These sales figures have been unified in English for the first time because News Corp., which already owns HarperCollins (Tolkien's British publishers), has also acquired Houghton Mifflin, Tolkien's American publishers.


The figures indicate that sales of Tolkien's books have surpassed 600 million. Counting Tolkien's book sales have been notoriously difficult due to poor accounting, legions of unauthorised overseas editions and even pirate editions of the book being sold in the United States (most famously the Ace Books edition of 1965, which sparked an international outcry and helped catapult Tolkien to greater fame and success in the States), so even this is a conservative figure.

Sales of 600 million would put Tolkien comfortably in the top ten selling authors of fiction of all time, although (contrary to some reports) nowhere near the top. William Shakespeare's plays have sold over 4 billion copies, whilst Agatha Christie's novels have sold at least 2 billion and possibly closer to 4 billion copies. From there it's a steeper drop to Barbara Cartland, who has sold around 750 million copies of her romance novels, just ahead of Danielle Steel on an estimated 700 million. Harold Robbins and Georges Simenon are around 700 million apiece as well.

Tolkien's sales put him at approximate parity with Enid Blyton, Sidney Sheldon and J.K. Rowling, who are all between 500 and 700 million in sales, and comfortably ahead of the likes of Dr. Seuss, Leo Tolstoy, Jackie Collins, Dean Koontz and Stephen King. Tolkien's friend C.S. Lewis can only muster 200 million sales of his books.

However, although Tolkien may not be the biggest-selling novelist of all time, he may have the biggest-selling individual novel. The overwhelming majority of Tolkien's book sales come from The Lord of the Rings, which across all editions and both the three and one-volume versions of the text has sold almost half a billion copies. The Hobbit has sold over 100 million copies. The combined sales of all of Tolkien's other books, although still respectable, fall well short of those figures.

Among contemporary and recent fantasy authors, George R.R. Martin, Sir Terry Pratchett and Robert Jordan have achieved just short of 100 million sales apiece.

ETA: The One Ring has clarified their report as an "April Fool's" gag, a bit of a non-sequitur one since the figures are actually fully credible (if anything, on the conservative) side of things: Tolkien had sold over 400 million books by 2001, so an additional 200 million sales in twenty years, a period when Tolkien's popularity exploded beyond all recognition due to the success of the films (and HarperCollins were attributing a 50 million boost in sales as early as 2003), is pretty easy to believe.

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