Saturday, 16 January 2077

Support The Wertzone on Patreon


After much debate (and some requests) I have signed up with crowdfunding service Patreon to better support future blogging efforts. You can find my Patreon page here and more information after the jump.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Tad Williams Signing and Q&A Report

Last night Tad Williams was in London to do a signing at Forbidden Planet and also to take part in an interview and Q&A session. I had the pleasure of meeting him for the first time and it turns out he's a really friendly and nice guy.

New information from the signing: Tad confirmed that Empire of Grass, the second volume of The Last King of Osten Ard, is complete but needs to be edited. The publishers are mulling over when to release it: if they go for an early release (presumably in 2018), Tad will immediately start writing the concluding book of the trilogy, The Navigator's Children. If they decide to hold off until later, Tad will write the second short prequel novel, The Shadow of Things to Come, first. Unlike The Heart of What Was Lost, which was a bridging novel between the two trilogies, Shadow is a completely self-contained story with no connections to the latest work; in fact, it's more about Sithi and Norn characters from the first trilogy in the heyday of Sithi civilisation (Sithilisation?), so can come out before or after the trilogy is done.

Otherland remains under a film option but Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is not under any option at the moment, despite some vague interest from time to time.

Tad prefers writing his shorter novels like the Bobby Dollar books, which only took four to five months each to write rather than two to three years like his big epics. We may see more shorter books from him in the future.

When asked which of his fictional worlds he'd like to live in, he replied "The one with the best toilet facilities".

Video blogger Kitty G recorded the interview so keep an eye on her YouTube channel to see when it goes up.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

One of the greatest video games of all time is back on GoG

GoG has been re-releasing a lot of masterpieces from yesteryear recently. They've managed to secure another major coup by releasing the original Mafia in a new form that's readily compatible with Windows 7, 8 and 10.

Mafia, subtitled The City of Lost Heaven in the States, was a game from Illusion Softworks released in 2002. The game saw you play a young man named Tommy Angelo as he moves up from being a cab driver to a high-ranking member of the Lost Heaven mafioso. The game features a long and complex storyline in which Tommy is drawn inch-by-inch into the world of the mafia until he realises what sort of people he's aligned with, at which point he starts looking for a way out.

It's a familiar story, told before, but in this game it is told with tremendous skill, subtlety and atmosphere. The game is remarkable both for its high-octane action set-pieces and slightly comically slow car chases (the game is very true to its simulation of 1920s and 1930s vehicles), but also for its slower moments of characterisation, scoping out targets for heists and scenes of just hanging out and talking to people. Released the same year as the excellent (but extraordinarily dark) Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Mafia got a little lost in the mix but is frankly the far superior game, with less insane mayhem but far more nuance, character and a much better-developed storyline. It's also worth keeping an eye on the cast lists, with actors from both The Sopranos and the then-brand-new The Wire both showing up in surprising numbers.

This new release from GoG has a slight flaw in that the original, licensed music had to be removed from the game. However, there is a fan workaround to restore it available via the GoG Forums.

You can read my original review of Mafia here.

Two new Paul Kearney novels incoming

Paul Kearney is working on two new novels. The first is provisionally entitled The Other Side of Things and will be a sequel to his critically-acclaimed 2016 novel The Wolf in the Attic.

The Wolf in the Attic was an excellent novel, one of the top genre releases of 2016, and the news that we'll find out what happened next to Anna is most welcome. The Other Side of Things will likely be a 2019 release.

The other novel in the writing process is Calgar's Reckoning, a follow-up to Paul's Warhammer 40,000 novel Calgar's Siege. It's possible there will be even more novels from Paul in this setting, which is good news.

Unfortunately, it sounds like the copyright issues that led to his novel Umbra Sumus: Dark Hunters being put on indefinite hold are continuing. Don't hold your breath on seeing that in the near future.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Joe Abercrombie's next novel is named

Gollancz have confirmed that Joe Abercrombie's next novel will be called A Little Hatred and have a tentative release date of May 2019.

This is the first in a new trilogy in the world of The First Law, set some thirty years after the events of Last Argument of Kings. The story will feature some familiar characters from the first trilogy as well as some new characters and the children of old ones, as, once again, the Union is drawn into a conflict.

Abercrombie is drafting the entire trilogy, having recently completed the second book in the new trilogy, before rewrites and edits before publishing the series. The plan is to get the trilogy out relatively quickly, so expect to see (all being well) the second and third books in this trilogy out in 2020 and 2021.

RIP Julian May

Science fiction author Julian May has passed away at the age of 86.

Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1931, May became a fan of science fiction in her teens. She sold her first short story, "Dune Roller" (filmed as The Cremators in 1972 by Harry Essex) to Astounding Science Fiction in 1951; like many female writers of the period, she adopted a pseudonym, J.C. May. This may have proven unnecessary, as her first name meant she was often assumed to be a male writer anyway. She met SF editor and anthologist Ted Dikty in 1951; they married in 1953. Inbetween May chaired the 1952 Worldcon in Chicago, becoming the first woman to chair a World Science Fiction Convention.

May and Dikty had three children and May dropped out of the SF field after publishing her second short story, "Star of Wonder", in 1953. She worked as a prolific editor until the early 1980s, publishing more than 250 books aimed at children which explored topics such as history, sports and music.

She rejoined SF fandom in 1976, attending the Los Angeles Worldcon and writing a gazetteer of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian world (under the pen name Lee N. Falconer), and began planning a return to writing adult SF. The result was the Saga of Pliocene Exile (or the Saga of the Exiles), a four-volume series in which a group of people travel back in time from a future Earth to seek a simpler way of life in the Pliocene epoch, some five million years in the past. Upon their arrival, they are shocked to discover that the Earth of this era has been invaded by aliens who are interfering with the native species for their own ends. Conflict results. The series consists of the novels The Many-Colored Land (1981), The Golden Torc (1982), The Nonborn King (1983) and The Adversary (1984), as well as a reference work, The Pliocene Companion (1985).

The series sold well and attracted significant critical acclaim, with the first book winning a Locus Award. May returned to the setting with Intervention (1987) and a further trilogy consisting of Jack the Bodiless (1991), Diamond Mask (1994) and Magnificat (1996); the four books together are often called the Galactic Milieu Series. This series acts as both sequel and prequel to the Saga of Pliocene Exile.

May also wrote a shared world fantasy sequence, Trillium, with Marion Zimmer Bradley and Andre Norton. The three authors together wrote the first novel, Black Trillium (1990), with May alone contributing the second and fifth volumes, Blood Trillium (1992) and Sky Trillium (1996).

May also wrote the Rampart Worlds SF trilogy, consisting of Perseus Spur (1998), Orion Arm (1999) and Sagittarius Whorl (2001), as well as the Boreal Moon fantasy trilogy: Conqueror's Moon (2003), Ironcrown Moon (2004) and Sorcerer's Moon (2006).

In 2015 May was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame at the Spokane Worldcon. The same year, she confirmed that her Pliocene Exile/Galactic Milieu novels had been optioned for Hollywood, but no further announcement on that front has been made.

May's agent Russell Galen said:
"My client Julian May has died at the age of 86. She was a force of nature, a fighter, and a taker of no bulllshit, working right up to the last minute on a TV adaptation of her best-known work, the "Saga of Pliocene Exile" series. And she introduced me to single malt Scotch at her home on Bainbridge Island, WA years ago. Lifting a glass of Talisker in her honor tonight."

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 2, Episodes 17-18

B17: In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum
Airdates: 10 May 1995 (US), 23 May 1995 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by David J. Eagle
Cast: Morden (Ed Wasser), Sergeant Zack Allan (Jeff Conaway), Pierce Macabee (Alex Hyde-White), Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain)

Date: 24 September 2259.

Plot:    Following his recent vision of the destruction of the Icarus (B16), Sheridan has decided to finally sort out the belongings of his dead wife, Anna. Garibaldi comes along just as Sheridan is playing the crew roster from the Icarus and is shocked to see someone he recognises: Mr. Morden, Londo’s erstwhile ally. Sheridan is enraged that someone survived the Icarus explosion and no-one ever told him. Realising from entry records that Morden is on the station, he orders Garibaldi to find Morden and bring him in for questioning immediately.

Pierce Macabee arrives on Babylon 5. A representative of the newly-formed Ministry of Peace, he announces the founding of a new organisation called Nightwatch. Nightwatch’s job will be to help people in trouble, intervening in social problems in the way that military forces and the police cannot. Garibaldi’s second-in-command, Sergeant Zack Allan, joins up, although mainly for the extra 50 credits a week than out of any sense of civic duty.

A large number of Narns pass through Medlab, most badly wounded by heavy fighting. Franklin treats them, but is increasingly using stims to keep going without the need for sleep. Ivanova forces him to get some sleep and food.

Morden is placed in a holding cell and quizzed mercilessly by Sheridan. Morden agrees that he was on the Icarus, but was working EVA when the ship was destroyed. He was picked up by a passing transport and dropped off at the Vega colony. It was months before he could remember what happened. Sheridan tells him he is lying: there is no record of Morden ever visiting the Vega colony or reporting his condition to Earth. He promises to keep Morden in holding – even without charge – until the truth is revealed. Garibaldi, astonished by Sheridan’s abuse of the law, refuses to cooperate and resigns. Sheridan even refuses to listen to Ivanova. Vir tells Sheridan that the Centauri government is extending their diplomatic immunity to cover Morden, but Sheridan ignores that as well. He tries to get Talia Winters to scan Morden against his consent but she refuses. Sheridan arranges for them to pass in the corridor and Talia sees two dark, insectoid shapes rearing up next to Morden. She screams and almost passes out, confirming Sheridan’s guess that something is seriously wrong. Finally, Delenn and Kosh confront Sheridan and agree to tell him what he needs to know.

Millions of years ago races so powerful they make humans look like insects colonised the Galaxy. As the aeons passed they raised lesser races to positions of power and then passed beyond the Galactic Rim. These “First Ones” became embroiled in a war against one of their own races, a species known only as “the Shadows” and after a devastating conflict ten thousand years ago, most left the Galaxy. The Shadows and another race, the Vorlons, remained behind. A thousand years ago the Shadows returned and waged war again, but were stopped by an alliance of races led by the Minbari and guided by the Vorlons. The Shadows were defeated but not destroyed. They went to ground, going into hibernation to ride out the next millennia before arising again. Almost three years ago the Interplanetary Expeditions science vessel Icarus landed on Z’ha’dum, the Shadow homeworld. From what Delenn and Kosh can gather, they stumbled across or even directly awoke the Shadows, who in turn destroyed the Icarus and murdered the entire crew bar Morden, who agreed to serve them. Since then the Shadows have been moving, rebuilding their ships and marshalling their forces quietly, in secret. For the past year the Minbari have also been preparing, but are far from ready. Kosh and Delenn tell Sheridan that if he forces Morden to tell him the truth about his fate then the Shadows will attack now, before the Minbari and Vorlons are prepared to fight them, and billions will die.

Sheridan is unsure what to make of the story until he scans Morden’s cell with infra-red and ultraviolet sensors and catches a brief glimpse of two Shadow aliens guarding Morden. He has Morden released and Garibaldi returns to work. He then goes to Kosh and asks to be taught about how to fight the Shadows and how to kill them. Though Anna is probably dead, he will never rest easy until he knows for sure. One day, he promises Kosh, he will go to Z’ha’dum. Kosh tells him that if he goes, he will die. Sheridan says that if that is so, he will not die alone.


Monday, 16 October 2017

RIP Roy Dotrice

Roy Dotrice, a veteran actor of stage and screen who achieved a new level of late-life fame through his collaborations with George R.R. Martin, has passed away at the age of 94.

Dotrice was born in Guernsey, one of the British Channel Islands, in 1923. When the Germans invaded in 1940, he escaped in a rowboat to the south coast of Britain. Aged just 16, he entered the Royal Air Force as an AA gunner before being assigned as a gunner on board aircraft. He was imprisoned for three years in a German prisoner of war camp. Released at the end of the war he started acting almost immediately, appearing a play later in 1945 called Back Home about ex-POWs reintegrating into civilian life.

Dotrice cultivated an extensive stage career in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. He began appearing on television and in film in the early 1960s, but his heart remained with the stage: his one-man performance of Brief Lives, starting in 1967, eventually wracked up 1,782 performances and earned him his first Guinness World Record.

During the 1980s he gained renewed fame in the United States, first through appearing in Amadeus in 1984 in a celebrated supporting role playing the title character's father. He was then cast as Father, the mentor and leader of an underground community in New York City, in the urban fantasy series Beauty and the Beast. During his three-year stint on the show, he met and befriended George R.R. Martin, who worked on the show as a producer and writer.

After Beauty and the Beast was cancelled, Martin began working on a fantasy novel series, A Song of Ice and Fire. When the first book, A Game of Thrones, was published in 1996, he personally requested that Dotrice perform the audio book version. Dotrice agreed, voicing 224 distinct characters in the novel, earning him his second Guinness World Record. Dotrice returned to voice the audio books for each successive novel in the series; A Storm of Swords saw him break his own record for the largest number of distinct characters voiced. Dotrice was unavailable (due to ill health) to voice A Feast for Crows in 2005, but returned by popular demand. In 2014 he voiced the audio book version of The World of Ice and Fire.

Dotrice continued to appear in television and on film, including a recurring role on Picket Fences. He also wracked up other genre credits, playing Frederick Lantze in the Season 2 finale of Babylon 5, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce's overbearing father on Angel and Zeus on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.

Despite advanced age, he continued to act on stage and on screen. In 2011 he was cast in the role of Grand Maester Pycelle on HBO's Game of Thrones, the TV adaptation of Martin's Song of Ice and Fire novels. Ill health forced him to pull out of the role at the last minute; his friend and occasional colleague Julian Glover agreed to take the role over partially as a favour to Dotrice. Recovered, Dotrice did appear in the series as Pyromancer Hallyne in two episodes of Season 2.

A tremendously gifted and talented actor, with a career spanning a remarkable eight decades, he will be missed.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 2, Episodes 15-16

B15: And Now For a Word
Airdates: 3 May 1995 (US), 16 May 1995 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Mario DiLeo
Cast: Cynthia Torqueman (Kim Zimmer), Ronald Quantrell (Christopher Curry), Psi Cop (Granville Ames), Johnny (John Christian Graas), Mother (Leslie Wing), Eduardo Delvientos (José Ray), Lt. David Corwin (Joshua Cox)

Date: The ISN report is aired on Earth on 16 September 2259. It was filmed “recently”, presumably within a couple of weeks previously.

Plot:    ISN broadcasts 36 Hours on Babylon 5, an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the controversial diplomatic space station, with interviews with diplomatic staff, station personnel and Earth politicians who are uncertain about the future of the Babylon Project. The ISN team arrives during the middle of a fierce argument between the Narn and Centauri. G’Kar accuses the Centauri of transferring weapons through Babylon 5 in clear violation of interstellar law. Londo denies it, but points out that since all cargo transfers take place outside the station, ship-to-ship, B5 legally cannot intervene. Narn and Centauri cargo ships start firing on one another outside and Sheridan impounds the ships on both sides. Londo tells Sheridan that if any of the Centauri ships’ cargo holds are opened the Centauri government will not be pleased. Sure enough, a Centauri battlecruiser arrives and blockades the station until their equipment is handed over, unopened. Sheridan decides to call the Centauri’s bluff by sending an unmanned cargo ship through the jump gate. The Centauri do not fire and agree to reopen negotiations. At that moment a Narn heavy cruiser jumps out right on top of the station and fires on the Centauri cruiser. Taking the Centauri by surprise, the Narn manage to destroy the Centauri warship, despite taking heavy damage. However, when the Narn ship activates its jump engines the ship explodes. After the battle Sheridan confirms that the Centauri were shipping weapons of mass destruction though the station and the Earth Alliance files an official complaint against the Centauri government, although again it is insufficient to get Earth to take sides against the Centauri.

On Earth senior senators question the need for Babylon 5 and an especially arrogant senator claims that diplomacy is unnecessary, since recent developments in Earth technology means that even if another war with the Minbari took place Earth could win with ease (!). The ISN reporter questions Delenn on why she has changed her appearance and wonders how the families of those killed by the Minbari during the war will react to this apparent insult. Delenn is left speechless.

In a final interview Sheridan tells ISN that Babylon 5 is essential if Earth and the other worlds are to be brought together in peace.


Slugfest: Inside the Epic 50-Year Battle between Marvel & DC by Reed Tucker

In 1961 DC Comics was the biggest comic company in the United States. Its superhero comics - Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman - were the most popular in the world and it had absolutely no competition of note. But that same year Atlas Comics was branded Marvel and its editor Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby released a new comic called The Fantastic Four. Within a decade Marvel had displaced DC as the biggest comics company in the US and snatched away a lot of talent and critical acclaim that had gone to DC. DC fought back, starting formidable Superman and Batman movie franchises and releasing a series of artistic, critically-acclaimed comic books in the 1980s and 1990s from the likes of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. But in the early 2000s Marvel finally entered the movie scene in force with X-Men and Spider-Man, and never looked back.

This non-fiction book looks into the 50-year competition between DC and Marvel, the two titans of comic book publishing. Reed Tucker has exhaustively interviewed many key players involved and scoured the archives for interviews with those who are no longer with us. The result is a potential interesting book that examines the corporate battle between the venerable establishment figure and the plucky upstart newbie.

Or at least it's a potentially interesting book that tries to do that. The opening chapters expand on this, detailing how Stan Lee took over a moribund company and injected some 1960s inventiveness, irreverence and character development to win over young fans from the older, more moribund publisher. We're told that Marvel focused more on the characters' internal lives, on the distrust with which they are treated by the government (helping young readers identify with similarly confused and mistrusted characters) and gave their writers and artists much greater freedom to express themselves, throwing away the style guides DC saddled their readers with. Marvel also used real locations, particularly in and around New York, which excited readers more than stories set in completely fictional locales like Gotham and Metropolis.

All of this stuff is great, but Reed never really moves on from this basic assumption: Marvel was the plucky underdog with greater creative energy and freedom, and DC was the staid old man taken by surprise by what the youngster was doing and whose attempts to replicate it by "getting down with the kids" were embarrassing. That applies very well to the 1960s and the early 1970s. However, some of Reed's conclusions and anecdotage are questionable: he challenges the wisdom of DC poaching Jack Kirby from Marvel and putting them on the Jimmy Olsen comic book, but this was both Kirby's own choice (so he wouldn't cost anyone a job on another comic, as the Jimmy Olsen book didn't have a permanent artist at the time) and also allowed him to set up his own, more original books later on by introducing characters like Darkseid.

By the time the 1980s have rolled around, Reed is still expanding on Marvel being the plucky underdog beating the boring old figure of DC, but seems to contradict himself by then talking about DC's artistic achievements with books like Swamp ThingWatchmen and Sandman, as well as how Marvel had become the biggest-selling comic book company, making DC the underdogs. Aware that this is getting repetitive, he switches to studying the film business and how DC got some great movies made whilst Marvel flirted with moderately successful TV shows but otherwise couldn't get a decent movie on screen until twenty-two years later. This is interesting, with some great stories of bizarre behind-the-scenes battles and the film companies not "getting" comic books at all, but again it lacks depth.

The book is ultimately a bit constrained by its premise, and it's to Tucker's credit that he remains laser-focused on the interrelationship between Marvel and DC. It would have been very easy to get sidetracked in the internal history of the two companies and discuss more creative decisions, but Tucker stays on point throughout. This does mean the book veers towards the more corporate side of things rather than the creative one, which I think will be of less interest to those keen to learn more about the origins of superhero characters or how the books developed. But it has some value: this is an under-told aspect of the comic book story and Tucker keeps the story ticking over nicely.

Slugfest (***½) is a readable and intriguing book about the titanic competition between the two biggest comic book companies in the United States. It's also a bit on the repetitive side, with not as much depth as perhaps might be wished, and a lack of information on the creative choices as opposed to business ones. It's still a good story, well-told and interesting, but one for hardcore comic book fans only. The book is available now in the UK and USA.