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Frost Giant

Werthead's page

1,962 posts. No reviews. No lists. No wishlists.


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Harebrained Schemes have announced that a new BATTLETECH video game is in the works.

This game will feature turn-based strategy and RPG elements, allowing you to build your own mechs and take part in an open-ended campaign where you choose which mission to take on next (this feature is partially inspired by the MECHWARRIOR MERCENARIES games). There'll be a Kickstarter in the autumn.

The game is being made by the same team behind the SHADOWRUN RETURNS games (the last of which, HONG KONG, arrives on 28 August), including of course Jordan Weisman, co-creator of the BATTLETECH/MECHWARRIOR franchise. Based on the quality of SHADOWRUN RETURNS, this should be good.


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Just a few female SF authors and key works:

Nancy Kress: BEGGARS IN SPAIN and its (increasingly unnecessary) sequels. This book was based around what happens when you genetically engineer people to survive without sleep, and the unexpected consequences of that.

C.J. Cherryh: DOWNBELOW STATION is a political-military SF thriller set on a space station caught between two warring factions. There are many, many prequels and sequels set in a complex shared universe.

Ursula K. LeGuin: THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS is about a planet with gender-changing aliens and challenges gender assumptions. THE DISPOSSESSED is a (slightly) more traditional story about politics and cold wars between two neighbouring planets.

Jaine Fenn: PRINCIPLES OF ANGELS and several sequels are set in a coherent future universe full of bizarre technology and various alien threats. The first book is the best, coming off as China Mieville-lite, but the sequels are a bit more traditional.

Connie Willis: THE DOOMSDAY BOOK is a time travel story in which a research travels back to Medieval England during the Black Death whilst the society she travelled back from is battling its own futuristic plague.

I haven't read them, but Liz Williams and Elizabeth Moon seem to be well-regarded.


Just completed X-WING ALLIANCE using the ALLIANCE UPGRADE mod, which updates all the ships and visuals and applies an automatic widescreen update (you have to fiddle with the controls to make sure the cut-scenes stay at original res, otherwise they get stretched out hugely).

Still an excellent game, probably the best in the series. I know TIE FIGHTER gets a lot of love, but it pulls its punches too much (it never makes you do anything really dubious, missing the point of the "playing the bad guy" approach) and it gets ridiculously over-powered later on. Games are generally supposed to get tougher, but in the later missions playing as the TIE Advanced, Defender or Missile Boat (or even just the regular gunboat) you might as well have God Mode on. Nothing can touch you. XWA does get tougher as it goes along and the final assault on the Death Star II is just preposterously difficult. Still doable with some good strategy though. I also find XWA has the best AI, the biggest battles and also requires some deft command strategy as well as doing things yourself solo. The only real oddity is that Star Destroyers seem a lot weaker in XWA. It really shouldn't be possible to destroy them almost at will in a beat up old freighter.

I should pick up REPUBLIC COMMANDO. I only ever played the demo and by all accounts it's a great game.


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In-engine game trailer. Featuring Karl Franz laying down some pain on the greenskins.

Looks promising so far. Flying units and magic are going to certainly change up the TOTAL WAR gameplay.


The fact it isn't as good as HEIR TO THE EMPIRE we could expect. They knocked it out of the park with that book in a way no-on expected at a time when STAR WARS was dead. The same circumstances are never going to happen again.

However, not being anywhere near as good as even THE TRUCE AT BAKURA?

Owch. Didn't see that coming.


The Expanse #3: Abaddon's Gate

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A mysterious alien artifact - a gateway - has been constructed beyond Uranus's orbit. Its purpose is unknown. Representatives from Earth, Mars and the Belt are rushing to investigate, among them, reluctantly, Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante. The artifact holds the key to the future of the human race, an opportunity to spread mankind to the stars...but it is also a weapon that could incinerate the entire Solar system if it falls unto the wrong hands.

Abaddon's Gate is the third novel in The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey (aka Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), which is expected to run to nine novels (and "Will soon be a major television series"). This book picks up after the events of Caliban's War, although unfortunately some of the more notable characters from that book are missing. Instead, we have a number of new POV characters joining the returning figures of Holden and the Rocinante crew.

The book initially opens with the different factions racing to the gate with their own agendas and goals in mind. There's a murderous character plotting vengeance on Holden in a (not very convincing) way of getting him involved in the plot. There's tensions on the Belter command ship between the psychotic captain and his more reasonable executive officer and security chief. There's a religious-but-non-fanatical leader who couples pious morality with hard-headed practicality. And so on. It's all reasonable enough, until the crew arrive at the gate and pass through it into a strange sub-pocket of space where physical rules can be rewritten and an ancient intelligence uses the form of Detective Miller to speak to Holden.

At this point things take a turn for the bizarre and it feels like The Expanse is about to break out into a fully-blown hard SF novel. The "slow zone" of the gateway space feels like a nod to Vernor Vinge, and the limitations of slower-than-light travel when the laws of physics keep changing is the sort of thing that would earn an Alastair Reynolds nod of approval. It's all nicely set up for The Expanse to move away from its MOR space opera roots and turn into something more than explosions and gunfights.

Except that doesn't happen. The novel soon falls back into its comfort zone of explosions and gunfights, with the major characters all forced into choosing sides between the psychotic captain of the Belter command ship and his other senior crew. This would have more resonance if we'd had the mad captain set up a bit better, but he isn't. It just feels like he's there and mad and antagonistic because, well, the book wouldn't have any conflict without him.

The action set-pieces are generally well-handled, there's some very nice zero-gee combat scenes and Abraham and Franck don't let up on the pace until the last page. There is no denying that there's fun to be had here. But it also feels a bit shallow, and it reinforces the feeling that The Expanse is SF with the training wheels left on. Abaddon's Gate feels like it should have been allowed to make a turn into crazy hard SF weirdness, but instead it's shoehorned back into being an action story. A very nicely-done action story, but there is military SF around that does this stuff a lot better.

As it stands, Abaddon's Gate (***½) ends up being just another readable, fast-paced and entertaining instalment of a readable, fast-paced and entertaining series. Which is fine, but there is definitely the prospect here, between the authors' excellent worldbuilding and solid prose skills, of elevating things onto another level. Hopefully later instalments will deliver on the promise of the series, which is so far tantalising but unfulfilled. Abaddon's Gate is available now in the UK and USA.


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Release date: 28 August 2015

Excellent.


Behind-the-scenes on THE EXPANSE.

This sells it much better than any of the trailers. Love that shot of New York City.


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Even as a young teenager all those years ago I thought Sword of Shannara was terribly terrible. And when I unfortunately read the first Wheel of Time book I thought it was almost exactly like Sword of Shannara. Both were incredibly cheesy, color by numbers, trite and devoid of almost any creativity.

I don't think I got much further than the first book in either series.

Both get a lot better later on. WHEEL OF TIME in particular was a shame because Robert Jordan wanted to write a more autobiographical story about a war veteran who discovers much later in life that he's the "chosen one" and has to deal with that. Publishers convinced him that making everyone young and then a bit more LotR-like was a good idea. He rebelled against that massively after the first book and took a completely different path, fortunately.


Aranna wrote:
It may have been inspired by Lord of the Rings but it certainly isn't the same.

THE SWORD OF SHANNARA is a plot-by-plot, character-by-character knock-off of LORD OF THE RINGS. No-one, certainly not Terry Brooks himself, seriously argues with this and it is clearly the reason that SWORD is not being adapted.

The second book is reasonably different, which is why they've started with it, and they've played up the post-apocalyptic Earth setting (which is much more subtle in the books) to differentiate it from the usual fantasy cheese. I daresay they'll jump on the later books' leanings into proto-steampunk as well.

So to be fair, the complaint that SHANNARA starts off as a rip-off of LotR is completely accurate. However, the defence that it starts off that way but soon finds its own path is also accurate. The later books (or arguably just all of the books after SWORD) are certainly not ripped off from Tolkien or anyone. None of the books are very well written - Brooks is a cheesy, obvious writer a lot of the time - but there's certainly far worse fantasy around (some of it, like Goodkind and Paolini, already adapted for TV or film).

There are other reasons why they've chosen SHANNARA. It's one of the biggest-selling fantasy series of all time: only Middle-earth, Narnia, DISCWORLD, WHEEL OF TIME and A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE have sold more copies, and they're all tied up in rights disputes or have already been made. SHANNARA has sold roughly the same as Raymond E. Feist, David Eddings and R.A. Salvatore, so it's a big deal. It's also historically important, with SWORD being one of the first books to kick off the modern epic fantasy genre.


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I think the general idea is that a BG3 would not be a sequel to BG1/2, although there would be scope for characters to show up, but would be a new adventure in a similar vein.

In fact, Black Isle spent some time working on BALDUR'S GATE 3: THE BLACK HOUND (before Black Isle tanked and BG3 was cancelled) and it was a stand-alone, new adventure set in the Dalelands. I think there were hints that Minsc might show up but otherwise the links to the first two games were fairly slender.


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How much more is there in the books before we get into the unknown territory in which the producers will need to start relying on Martin's secret outline of the story's conclusion?

Arya: More or less caught up, save a couple of moments.

Bran: The books are a tiny bit further forward.
Jon: Caught up with the books.
Samwell: About a book behind, but I strongly suspect the show will skip most or all of his book story and may pick up with him much later.
Brienne/Pod/Stannis: Unknown, as their story is now totally different.
Jaime/Bronn: Also unknown, their story is totally different as well.
Theon: Almost caught up, but Theon's story is now going to be different due to Stannis's fate.
Yara/Iron Islands: Way, way behind the books. According to rumour, the Iron Islands plot from Books 4/5 will feature in Season 6 instead.
Daenerys: Caught up.
Tyrion: Appears to now be ahead of the books.
Cersei: Caught up.
Kevan/Pycelle: A little bit behind the books.


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So. VII remake. I vaguely recall reading somewhere that Square said, way back when, that VII wouldn't get remade until another FF game outsold it. Has that finally happened or did they just change their minds?

No, they said they'd make it when they felt satisfied they could do it justice and a new FF game came out that was better. I suspect they'll claim this for FFXV (regardless of its actual reception).


DeathQuaker wrote:

They have kept the "Van Buren" trademark.

but it could not be a Fallout game. Bethesda's fully got the rights to that. So all this means is they can make a game called "Van Buren." Per the article, Chris Avellone might work with inXile on whatever it is they want to do with it.

He has also, sadly, left Obsidian but I'm not sure, other than him saying he might help with this, if this is necessarily directly related. There's no news I could find that said he left BECAUSE of this, and he had already helped out on other inXile games while still working for Obsidian. (That indeed is really sad news for Obsidian, however.) He could have left for inXile, certainly, but I can't imagine it would have been a better deal given it's a smaller company.

As for Van Buren, I am not sure what they would use the trademark FOR, given they do not have rights to Fallout, and Bethesda has not historically been inclined to share. Wasteland 3, maybe? That would be a weird turn of events/going full circle, given of course the whole reason Fallout exists is because back in the 90s, Interplay didn't have the rights to Wasteland anymore so when they wanted to make a sequel they ended up with Fallout instead.

Chris Avellone leaving for inXile does make some sense. Avellone is one of the best-regarded CRPG writers in the world, but Obsidian's development slate right now includes games where he is doing nothing (such as the new tank MMO) or playing second-fiddle to Josh Sawyer (on PILLARS OF ETERNITY and the forthcoming DLCs and sequel). I get the impression that Avellone and Sawyer get on and work well together, but Avellone would like to head a project for a change. And given that his solo-led projects (FALLOUT 2, PLANESCAPE: TORMENT and MASK OF THE BETRAYER) have gotten way more acclaim than the Sawyer-led ones (ICEWIND DALE 2 and NEVERWINTER NIGHTS 2 basic) or their collaborative ones (ALPHA PROTOCOL, NEW VEGAS and PoE), I can see his frustration.

inXile, on the other hand, are finishing off TORMENT: TIDES OF NUMENERA, are planning WASTELAND 3, are making BARD'S TALE IV and now have VAN BUREN in the planning stage, although I'm of the opinion they are more likely to fold VB into WASTELAND 3. Getting the VB licence I think was only important because of the core idea Avellone developed which he never got a chance to use, the idea of there being "other PC parties", controlled by the AI, going about their business in the world and you run into them and either collaborate or become enemies or rivals. No other game has really done that. With inXile I think Avellone might see more opportunities to do interesting stuff.

Either that or he's finally going to write some novels, as some people have wanted him to do for years. Avellone go-founded Obsidian and funded most of the start-up costs, so if the others have bought him out, he's likely set up for life.


Book 10: Komarr

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Komarr, second world of the Barrayaran Empire, is slowly being terraformed over the course of centuries. Key to the terraforming effort is an orbiting soletta, a massive mirror which increases the amount of sunlight being directed onto the surface. When the soletta is damaged by a spacecraft collision, the future viability of the planet is put in jeopardy. Newly-anointed Imperial Adjudicator Miles Vorkosigan is sent to investigate whether this was an accident or deliberate sabotage.

Komarr is the first novel in the series to focus on Miles Vorkosigan in his new role as an Imperial Adjudicator. Bujold wanted to freshen things up by taking Miles away from his support network of thousands of loyal soldiers and a fleet of powerful starships and it's a move that could have been mishandled. The loss of most of Miles's supporting cast from the Dendarii Mercenaries (who only warrant cameo appearances and the occasional mention from now on) is a blow and it was initially unclear if Miles as a (mostly) solo investigator is a compelling enough idea to replace the military SF feel of the earlier novels.

Komarr lays those fears to rest. This a well-written, crisply-paced and masterfully characterised novel. Bujold develops a new POV character in the form of Ekaterin Vorsoisson, a young woman and mother married to a difficult husband involved in the terraforming project. Komarr has the reputation of being a "romance novel", with Ekaterin brought in as a serious love interest for Miles, whose relationships up until now have mostly been more like casual flings and friends-with-benefits arrangements. However, it would be a serious mistake to dismiss Komarr as a light or frivolous book because of this.

Instead, Komarr is a serious book about adult relationships, motivations and fulfilment, and it layers those themes into a thriller storyline involving betrayal, murder and intrigue. Bujold has said she enjoys writing about "grown-ups", and the romance in the novel is between two adults who have been through the wars (literally and figuratively) and find something in each other they like and respect, but have to overcome personal issues before they can turn that mutual attraction into something more tangible. It's an approach rooted in character that works effectively without overshadowing the SF thriller storyline, which has all the required twists and turns of a solid mystery before Miles and Ekaterin can resolve the problem.

Komarr (****) is a solid entry in The Vorkosigan Saga which sets the books on a new course and does so effectively. It is available now as part of the Miles in Love omnibus (UK, USA).


Release date: 8 September, which is pleasingly soon.


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Either due to a change in actors or to a faulty memory on my part, I failed to recognize the armored perv that caught Arya's attention this episode. Someone on her List, presumably?

Ser Meryn Trant, one of the Kingsguard. Amongst his claims to fame were beating up Sansa on Joffrey's orders and killing Syrio Forel, Arya's sword-fighting teacher in Season 1 (which is why she's particularly keen to avenge him).


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Overall XCOM 2 looks awesome. The only issue is that I would need a new computer for this (and Fallout 4).

I would say probably not. XCOM2 is using the original engine and doesn't look like it's been updated too far. Firaxis's attitude is that they don't see any reason to have hardcore, all-singing and all-dancing graphics and alienate half their player base, so the game will be playable on fairly old systems.

FALLOUT 4 is still using the Creation/GameBryo Engine. It's been updated a little bit with some fancier lighting, but that's about it from the look of it. If your system can handle SKYRIM with the settings fairly high, I suspect it can handle XCOM2 fine.


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Three Dog can't be on the radio, because I killed him. Multiple times, even!

They could either simply say that it's pre-recorded stuff from before his death, or canonically rule that he's still alive. Or was rebuilt as an android. Or had a twin brother.

There is a precedent for this, as the previous games all had to rule on what actually happened in FO1 and 2 (which both had many multiple endings), and it'll be hard for them not to confirm whether the water purifier was used or not in FO3 in FO4. The location means that what happened in NV shouldn't be too much of an issue.


As I said upthread: Joystick. Keyboard and mouse is passable, gamepad is solid, but joystick (with HOTAS if possible) is where it's at.


The Sword of the North

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The city-state of Dorminia has fallen to the forces of the Lady of Thelassa. Early celebrations at the fall of one tyrant become muted as it becomes clear that the people have merely swapped one yoke for another, to the fury of Eremul the Halfmage. Meanwhile, Davarus Cole labours in a prison camp and dreams of escape, whilst Brodar Kayne, the Sword of the North, must cross a thousand miles of wilderness to reach his homeland in the High Fangs.

The Sword of the North is the follow-up to The Grim Company, one of 2013's more interesting fantasy debuts. It's the middle volume of a trilogy in the Abercrombie mould, with hard and brutal events offset by occasional knowing nods and winks about the silliness of the genre (and the odd Skyrim reference).

On the negative side, it is definitely the middle book of a trilogy and falls prey to many of the classic problems of such a volume. The story doesn't really begin or end, instead just rotating the characters through a series of intermediary plot points, some of which feel vital to the overall story and others feel like they exist solely because they are expected to in a fantasy trilogy. Brodar Kayne's story involves a whole lot of walking, Eremul's involves a whole load of fairly unsatisfying politics and Davarus's involves a whole load of hanging out in a prison camp. As middle books of trilogies go, this is definitely one of the more standard.

The author, at least, recognises this and gives the book a more cohesive shape with the arrival of some new players, some substantial expansion of the backstory and a nice recurring flashback to Kayne's earlier life, which gives the novel a much-needed dramatic spine and sense of direction. There's nothing too excitingly original in these sections, but Scull's solid skills with action scenes and reasonable characterisation keep things ticking over nicely.

The Sword of the North (***½) is a reasonable successor to The Grim Company, although it lacks some of the more compelling storyline and character moments of the original novel. It sets things up nicely for the finale, but it suffers a bit too much from "middle book syndrome" to truly shine. But if you enjoyed The Grim Company, this follow-up should satisfy. The book is available now in the UK and USA.


The new POWERPLAY update in a few weeks will change mining. It adds drones which can recover minerals for you and better scanning options. It'll still be a niche activity, but at least it will be a bit more interesting than now. There will also be more varied missions with the greater focus on factions and sub-factions.


It wouldn't be impossible for them to do it themselves. The existing PILLARS OF ETERNITY worldbook created by Obsidian and published by Dark Horse is okay (if a little bit too deliberately "weirdly" written). The trick would be if they had the time/experience to do a P&P game proper justice.


Teaser trailer.

Not much, but it's nice to see the ships just flying through space. Their definition of the Warp is a bit too standard-FTL-glowy though.


There is a great ASoIaF/GAME OF THRONES mod for MEDIEVAL II: TOTAL WAR (the last game in the series that permitted total conversion mods), as well as the utterly brilliant THIRD AGE: TOTAL WAR (a LORD OF THE RINGS mod) which somehow did a lot of things the engine wasn't designed to do. WARHAMMER already has a great M2 mod (CALL OF WARHAMMER) and I believe CA has (unofficially) acknowledged it as an inspiration. Bizarrely, there's even a ZELDA mod for MEDIEVAL II which is apparently really good as well.

There was a WHEEL OF TIME mod in development for a few years for ROME I (!) and then MEDIEVAL II, but ultimately it was judged that it was too unsatisfying because they couldn't integrate the One Power and flying units like draghkar satisfactorily in the engine, so they avoided it.


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I must admit, the fact that Korhal somehow transformed from a burned-out radioactive desert to a Coruscant/Trantor-style world-girdling megalopolis in four years was rather more concerning to me lore-wise than the character portraits being updated.


GreyWolfLord wrote:
Perhaps Asians would be more interested if the novel and other categories included something by ASIANS (as in, from Asia...you know, that place which has Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior, a whole slew of Sci Fi shows and cartoons that Americans have never...

Worldcon 2007 took place in Japan. It was by all accounts a lot of fun, lots of Japanese fans came along and there was some good stuff going on, but almost no Japanese writers or artists made it onto the ballot that year or afterwards and the con lost a ton of money. The lack of impact of Worldcon on Japan or vice versa is one reason why the proposed Beijing Worldcon has only ever gotten a lukewarm response.

There are some more non-American/European writers doing things and getting noticed, like Zen Cho (Malaysian), Benjanun Sriduangkaew (Thai, and very controversial herself), Ramez Naam (Egyptian, raised in the USA) and Ashok Banker (Indian), but the pool should be pushed a lot more in the US and other western markets, and there should be more translations available.

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"Politically correct" was a term used by non- or anti-Stalinist lefties to make fun of the ever-changing line of the Communist Party USA and those who adhered to it.

It was later revived in the seventies by some on the New Left before it blossomed into the Culture Wars catch-phrase of the nineties.

In the UK, "politically correct" was coined in the 1980s and used to refer to the policies and ideology of Thatcher's government: anti-union, anti-worker, pro-bankers, pro-big business. It was later conflated with the rampant corruption and collusion with business that blighted the end of the Conservative Party's two-decade rule of the country. Those on the right started using it to mock Blair and his right-on attitude and there's been an attempt (as in America) to use it to excuse various 'ist' behaviour.


More than that, in an interview with EW he said clearly that he wants to get the book done by the end of this year so it can be published before Season 6 starts airing (in April 2016).

Whether that's actually achievable is another thing, but it's the first clear goal he's set since ADWD came out.


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Could be this used as a reasonable excuse for Mrs Jordan in court that due to the company legal issues she was convinced that rights reverted to the Estate?

I would assume so.


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I keep hearing that the combat is awful and your party members stand around doing nothing when they should be helping. Is this true?

No. In fact, the characters are pretty good at automatically engaging the next enemy once an enemy is killed, better than either the original BG games and certainly better than the recent DRAGON AGE ones.

Combat itself is pretty much the same as the Infinity Engine games, except that rather that using the D&D combat rounds, the game is fully in real time and 'turns' are limited by the characters' combat speeds, which vary depending on stats and the size and type of weapon they are using.


It's so good I even dropped £10 on the companion world setting book, which can double as a roleplaying sourcebook :)


New VORKOSIGAN novel for 2016.

The title is GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN and the book is set after CRYOBURN. It will focus on Cordelia as the main character, for the first time since BARRAYAR.

2016 is also the 30th anniversary of the series (SHARDS OF HONOUR, THE WARRIOR'S APPRENTICE and ETHAN OF ATHOS were all published in 1986) and apparently there'll be some other stuff going on to celebrate it.


RPS on the first half-hour of PILLARS OF ETERNITY.

They are under an embargo, so it's hard to parse their thoughts so far:

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I’m not able to tell you at this point if THE GAME IS REALLY GOOD or not. So you’ll just have to continue not knowing if IT’S DEFINITELY WORTH GETTING for a couple more days.


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I've kind of lost track, how much time actually passes in the series? The main characters are still pretty young by the end, right?

About two and a half years pass. The books start in spring 998 NE (New Era) and end towards the end of 1000 NE.


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Divinity: Original sin and Wasteland 2 will not run on an old netbook, though...

WASTELAND 2 really should, its graphics are at least 10 years old. However, it's engine is not very well optimised. It's a bit ridiculous that the game causes my graphics card cooler fan to kick in to overdrive when far better-looking like games like FAR CRY 4 and SHADOWS OF MORDOR don't even cause it to break out in a sweat.


I was going to say that the best thing to do is wait until Thursday and get PILLARS OF ETERNITY. It sounds like the exact thing you've been looking for.

SWORD COAST LEGENDS is out at the end of the year. But in the meantime there's also DIVINITY: ORIGINAL SIN, SHADOWRUN RETURNS and its two sequel-ish successors (DRAGONFALL, out now, and HONG KONG, out later this year), not to mention WASTELAND 2.


10 minutes of gameplay footage.

This looks okay. Not brilliant and the voice acting needs to be better, but pretty decent gameplay.


Book 9: Memory

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A horrendous error of judgement sees Miles Vorkosigan summoned back to Barrayar to face disciplinary measures from his superior, head of Imperial Security Simon Illyan. As Miles contemplates a future outside of the military, he becomes aware of a growing crisis in ImpSec. Things are going wrong and the cause may be to horrible to contemplate...

Memory is, chronologically, the tenth out of fourteen books* in The Vorkosigan Saga and marks an important turning point in the series. For the previous eight volumes Miles Vorkosigan as been masquerading as Admiral Naismith of the Dendarii Free Mercenaries, carrying out missions for the Barrayan military with total deniability. In Memory that abruptly comes to an end after Miles - suffering the after-effects of his death, cryo-freeze and revival in Mirror Dance - inadvertently slices the legs off a fellow agent he is supposed to be rescuing and then covers it up. The result is the most game-changing novel in the series. Such long-running series tend to do well out of stasis, maintaining the status quo and bringing readers back each time to enjoy the same cast of characters and the same format. Whisking that away can be creatively liberating for the author, but dangerous if the change does not go down well with fans.

In this case the change is well-judged, although it takes a while to execute. At a bit less than 500 pages Memory joins Mirror Dance as one of the longest novels in the series, but it's also a lot less active a book than its forebear. Mirror Dance had multiple POV characters, clandestine infiltrations, full-scale combat missions and a huge amount of character development packed into its pages. Memory, fitting its title, is more relaxed and reflective a novel. It gives Miles a chance to dwell on everything that's happened to him and what he is going to do with his life now his default position has been snatched away.

This reflective mode works well for a while, but it starts to bog down the book. As amusing as seeing Miles tackling getting a pet cat, hiring a new cook or going fishing is, it goes on for a bit too long. When the mystery kicks in and Miles is granted extraordinary powers by the Emperor to sort things out, it's a relief and soon the mystery is unfolding nicely. However, the longueurs at the start of the book lead to the investigation and resolution taking place quite rapidly and a little too neatly. There also isn't much personal jeopardy for Miles. This may be the point, as the book is more about Miles's growth and maturing as a character, but there is the feeling that this story could have been told a little more effectively as a novella. That said, it does bring about some dramatic changes in the set-up of the series and is among the best-written books in the series.

Memory (****) opens slow but finishes strong and succeeds in its task of resetting the series and giving Miles a new job to do. It is available now in the UK and USA.

* If you count Falling Free, which is set in the same universe centuries earlier but isn't part of the core saga.


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ALIEN: RESURRECTION did do one thing right: the rewrites and mishandled direction annoyed Whedon so much that he decided to revisit the "misfit space pirates in space" concept five years later, resulting in the creation of FIREFLY. So that was one positive outcome :)

ALIEN 3 is a pretty good movie. It's just not a very good ALIENS movie, and was a step backwards when the franchise should have been looking for another way forwards. The "Aliens loose on Earth" concept seems solid, but I've never seen a real way for that story to go that doesn't descend into lots of shoot-outs and then nuking the planet.

Also, Ridley Scott was right when he said that the alien was no longer scary. It's too familiar a force now, we know how dangerous it is and how to kill it. That limits its potential for true horror, although you can still make a good war/suspense film with it.


Might be one of the old ones. This one is now the most up-to-date and best one. It's the work of a poster called D'rek at Malazanempire.com but I moved the continents around a little and put the names on.


Assail by Ian Cameron Esslemont

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South of Genabackis and east of Korel and Stratem lies the mysterious continent of Assail. It is known for its inaccessibility and hostility, populated by tribes and mage-ruled kingdoms who slay outsiders on sight. Clans of T'lan Imass and companies of the Crimson Guard have disappeared on missions there. It has a reputation for being so unrelentingly hostile that even the formidable Malazan Empire has never tried to conquer it.

That has now changed. Across the world, massive ice floes are melting and new sea routes are opening up. Rumours of rivers of gold being found in the Salt Mountains of north Assail are spreading, luring thousands of adventurers, treasure-seekers and merchants to the continent. Converging on the land are the leaders of the Crimson Guard, the Summoner of the Imass known as Silverfox, ex-Malazan mercenaries and foolhardy treasure seekers from distant Lether. In the heights of the mountains they will find their treasure...and something far more dangerous.

Assail is the sixth and concluding book in the Novels of the Malazan Empire sequence by Ian Esslemont. Set on the world he co-created with Steven Erikson, Esslemont's latest book wraps up story and character arcs he set in motion with Night of Knives and Return of the Crimson Guard (written in the 1980s but only published a decade ago), as well as drawing on elements established by Erikson in his own ten-volume Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence. It's not the best place for newcomers to start, although the primary storyline of the book is contained within this one novel.

Esslemont has a tough job to do here. The continent of Assail is first mentioned in Erikson's Memories of Ice and is reported to be a place of ceaseless hostility where entire T'lan Imass armies are ground to dust in endless battle against remorseless, tyrannical foes. Repeated mentions in other novels only added to its mystique, with even gods and Ascendants urging avoidance of the continent at all costs. As it turns out the reality doesn't quite match up: there are extremely powerful, lethal sorcerers on the continent but they are indolent and not quite up to speed with the magical powers commanded by outsiders. There are fanatically xenophobic tribes who immediately attack outsiders on sight (or after a brief rest-break if they are sufficiently skilled) but who could probably be taken out by a determined-enough Malazan army. Amusingly, Assail not being as quite as lethal as previously hinted feeds into the narrative, with the fact that you can set foot on Assail without dying leading to overconfidence on the part of the invaders. There's also the late revelation that what lurks in the mountains is so potentially lethal to the entire planet that there's certainly a good enough reason to avoid the place.

In terms of longer-running story arcs, Esslemont does a good job here of wrapping up the storyline of Kyle and the Crimson Guard (even if their eventual destiny remains unclear), which has been a consistent thread throughout these books. However, other plot threads are left less clearly resolved. The Malazans now have a diplomatic toehold on Assail and there is still work to be done there, whilst the biggest unresolved plot element is the T'lan Imass. The Imass/Silverfox/Kilava storyline which Erikson kicked off fifteen years ago is still left unfinished at the end of Assail. Hopefully the Imass will return in Erikson's Toblakai Trilogy, otherwise their fate is both underwhelming and unsatisfying.

In other areas the book is a mixed bag. There is a lot of travelogue in this novel, with multiple characters crossing Assail from different directions to get to the Salt Range. However, several groups brave the Sea of Dread (noted for its somnambulist and lethal effects) and, as effective as Esslemont's descriptions of this dangerous route are, it does get a little repetitive. Fortunately, the characters are, for the most part, an interesting bunch. One character in particular, Jethiss, risks cliche by being an amnesiac Tiste Andii who is clearly an already-established character from earlier in the series. When he turns out not to be the character I thought he was going to be, there was a major sigh of relief. Erikson and Esslemont are both guilty of nullifying and cheapening previously powerful death scenes by resurrecting the slain character too easily and they dodged a bullet here by making sure the most iconic character in the series stayed in the ground.

The book ends in a massive convergence, as is traditional, which does two things. First, it establishes a reason for why the whole world has gone to hell in the last few years and how this can be resolved. This does explain what has been a weakness of the series, namely how with so many mages, races and elemental forces rolling around with continent-devastating abilities that the whole planet hasn't been blown up yet. This does suggest that the world will be a calmer place going forwards, at least until Karsa Orlong (not invited to the deal) decides to destroy everything a few years down the line. Secondly, the convergence explains the backstory behind the Crimson Guard's Vow and how they are so amazingly badass. The problem here is that everyone figured this out before Return of the Crimson Guard was done and Esslemont doesn't throw any curveballs into the mix, so this isn't hugely surprising. It also leaves the future direction of the Guard wide open, handy if the authors choose to revisit these characters later on.

Assail (****) is a mostly well-written, enjoyable novel that will satisfy Malazan fans for its resolution of long-running plot threads and its addressing of major backstory mysteries. What it definitely isn't (and it was partially billed as) is the grand mega-finale of the entire combined Erikson/Esslemont series which will out-climax Erikson's Crippled God. With at least three more post-Assail novels from Erikson on the horizon, it never could be this and I'm glad I always took this with a pinch of Salt (Range) as I'd have been more disappointed otherwise. Instead, we have a reasonably good book in the series, although not Esslemont's best. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.


It's out and pretty good. It's visually stunning and very impressive. Gameplay-wise, moving HW1 into the HW2 engine has resulted in a few minor issues (HW1 is a hell of a lot easier with strike groups) but they've maintained the atmosphere which is the key thing.


Book 8: Mirror Dance

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Mark is one of the most resourceful men alive: smart, cunning and trained in combat and subterfuge with a brilliant talent for information analysis. He is also weighed down by the knowledge that he is a clone of a more famous and more effective military commander: Miles Vorkosigan of Barrayar. Infiltrating the Dendarii mercenaries by posing as his 'brother', Mark embarks on a vengeful attack on the genetic laboratories on Jackson's Whole. This sets in motion a chain of events that will change his life, and that of his brother, forever.

Mirror Dance is, chronologically, the ninth novel in The Vorkosigan Saga and one of the most vitally important in terms of both the metaplot and character. It starts off in a rather traditional way for the series, with a mission for the Dendarii that appears to be straightforward and then rapidly becomes complicated. The difference here is that it is Mark who has set up the mission and it becomes painfully obvious that, for all his gifts, he is not Miles. Bujold plays a clever game here, since it would be implausible for the Dendarii (who know that Miles has a clone) to fall for Mark's deception so easily, so she has to set up a situation where they would plausibly go along with the plan in any case. Some dangling plot elements established as long ago as The Warrior's Apprentice are exploited ingeniously to do this.

The book opens with a structure that reflects the book's title. Chapters alternate between Mark trying to pull off his crazy scheme and Miles getting wind of it and trying to stop him. Events collide on Jackson's Whole, at which point the story takes a left-field turn that I don't think many readers were expecting. The scale of the book suddenly explodes, incorporating a return to Barryar, our first encounter with Aral and Cordelia Vorkosigan for many novels and some expert commentary on the changing state of Barrayaran society. Then there is a sprint for the finish, taking in explosive action sequences and an extraordinarily disturbing torture sequence that might even make Scott Bakker flinch (okay, probably not).

Mirror Dance is certainly the most epic book in the series to date, revisiting past plot points, characters and events on a scale not before seen (contributing to its unusual length compared to the previous volumes). But Bujold maintains a tight reign on the narrative and backs up the expanded canvas with some impressively nuanced character development. Around for the opening and finale, Miles sits out a large chunk of the novel as Bujold explores Mark's character in impressive depth. Even more remarkably, Bujold uses Mark to develop Miles and his shifting cover identities despite him not being around for a good third of the novel, and also to catch up on some characters we haven't seen for a while.

There's also the feeling of change in this book. The political situation on Barrayar, simmering in the background of many volumes, feels like it is now coming to a head with events in this novel confirming that the new generation - that of Gregor, Miles, Elena and Ivan - is coming into its own. The events of this novel seem to shake Miles's position as commander of the Dendarii, whilst the explosive changes on Jackson's Whole could reverberate across the galaxy. There's a feeling of Bujold loosening things up in this book, essential for any long-running series, and ensuring that readers will want to proceed into this book's direct sequel, Memory, immediately.

Mirror Dance (*****) is a remarkable book and easily the best in the series to date, more than deserving of its Hugo Award. It starts as another military SF adventure, turns into a combination of mystery and political thriller and then skews briefly into action overdrive before concluding with a bleak moment of horror that - apparently - is turned into a positive outcome. Bujold's enviable skills with writing and character make it all seem natural. The novel is available now as part of the Miles Errant omnibus (UK, USA).


I agree. One of the big problems with the gender stuff is that Rand, Mat and Perrin are presented as our primary protagonists when, looking at the whole series, it's actually Rand and Egwene who have the most cohesive and contrasting story arcs. In an adaptation, I'd make the story more about those two standing in for the gender stuff and put the other major characters (Mat, Perrin, Elayne, Nynaeve, Aviendha, Min) on a tier just below.

I'd also massively dial back the idea that the genders are at war with one another and show a much greater variety of relationships.


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If a book you love is going to be made into a movie, get ready to be disappointed. That's just how it is. With very few exceptions.

This used to be more true than it is now. Things like LotR (but definitely not THE HOBBIT) and GAME OF THRONES show it can be done very well indeed.

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I'm not sure about this, but I suspect that the series takes some inspiration from oriental cultures such as Buddhism and Chinese philosophy, so the theme of duality is very prevalent. For example, the symbol that represents the split source of power clearly resembles the Ying and Tang real world symbol. The duality of males and females is somehow related to that (I'm not deep enough in the series to know if it is ever explained or not).

The series is very heavily based on Buddhism and Chinese philosophy, with a massive dash of Hinduism and Japanese mythology as well.

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Not so much "transgender" as reincarnated into a body of the other gender. The metaphysical implications are that a person's soul, not their body, determines their connection to saidar or saidin; also that the soul has a gender independent of the body, but in the normal course of things the gender of the body matches the gender of the soul.

Jordan was asked about this and he confirmed it was down to the soul. He was also asked about someone being born male in one life being reincarnated in the next as a woman and said it was something that might happen, but it was a complication he wasn't going to be looking at (IIRC). Fan speculation was that channellers would be much more likely to remain the same sex due to their very connection to the Power.

One of the biggest problems in the whole thing is gender reassignment. Whilst the 'now' of the series is a medieval society, the backstory is set in the Age of Legends, a far-future, post-scarcity SF society (which gets blown up through hubris, returning everyone to the dark ages). This society is far more advanced than our own so things like gender reassignment should be more prevalent than during our time, but it never comes up. They don't spend a huge amount of time on the Age of Legends sequences, but there was missed opportunity there to complicate things.

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I very much doubt that the Source gauges access to the types of magic based on how a person dresses, feels, and behaves. So if someone in this story had a female gender, lived, dressed, and in all ways behaved as a woman, but had been born male-bodied, they would be completely unable to access the female type of magic. (Barring apparently the possibility that they have a "female soul"). That brings to mind the accusations transgender people face routinely of "not being real", but with the accusation coming from the universe itself.

Jordan definitely failed to address this point. It's worth noting that not everyone in the setting can use magic as a matter of choice: it's a simple genetic quirk whether you can use the Power or not, and less than 1% of the population even has the potential to use it (and something more like 0.1% are 'inborn', that is will develop the ability to use it whether they want to or not). So my guess that Jordan may have tried to have dodged the issue by saying it never came up.

But it's definitely been discussed many times over the years by fans, especially given the fact that Jordan did nod at the issue through the forced reincarnation of one character in another person's body (of a different sex).

Something that Jordan also left very under-developed is that there is a hint that the One Power is not actually initially a natural ability but the product of genetic engineering in our near future (the series as a whole is set thousands of years in our future, and events from our time period are occasionally mentioned as myths and legends). Exactly how that works is completely left up in the air.

Incidentally, I would recommened Mark Charan Newtorn's four-volume LEGENDS OF THE RED SUN epic fantasy series which has a trans character in the third and fourth volumes that has been received very well.

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It's quite possible it works that way in the series. It just doesn't come up because Jordan never brings up trans people - other than the one forcibly reincarnated into a body of the other sex. Which isn't quite the same situation.

There is a fair bit of discussion of other gender roles: Birgitte being a soldier and the later development of a female mercenary force, whilst the Aiel, Seanchan and Sea Folk all have considerably less (or none at all) restrictions on the roles women can pursue in their societies. In fact, the fact that only women can use magic does skew gender roles in the traditional medieval/Renaissance setting away from the norms. That's something Jordan does handle quite well.

What is interesting is that Jordan was very much a feminist (or feminist ally) in his own eyes, but that was from the POV of a middle-aged guy raised in the American South in the 1950s. He was probably seen as a progressive liberal by his contemporaries, but by other standards he did see things through a more traditional lens. Charitably you can say he was trying to present a revisionist take on epic fantasy where women are equal - or even superior in some respects - in society and he occasionally got it right, occasionally got it wrong. Definitely the early books suffer from the juvenile, junior school view of the sexes in constant opposition.

I think the story and concept is very strong, though. In fact, a TV show could improve upon it by having both male and female writers to show a more balanced perspective. And it would be interesting to see if they could bring more complications to the table.


They've done a lot of mobile games, so not much to judge on.

I'm interested that the lead director of DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS (who jumped ship in protest at the direction of DA2) and someone who worked on BioWare during the heyday of their classic era is at the helm for this game. That should be promising. Combat looks solid, graphics look pretty good since I'm guessing this isn't a high-budget project (the projected budget price backs that up) and it looks like a modern BALDUR'S GATE. Clearly inspired by recent KS successes like DIVINITY: ORIGINAL SIN and PILLARS OF ETERNITY.

I wouldn't expect too much from the game, it looks like it was made under a limited timescale and budget, but I'll certainly check it out. A new, proper, PC-only D&D game set in the Forgotten Realms and with some reasonable talent behind it shouldn't be sniffed at. I'm actually impressed they managed to restrain themselves from calling it BALDUR'S GATE 3 just to get more sales in.


And it keeps getting weirder.

Red Eagle's ability to operate as a legal company was suspended in August 2014, allegedly for tax issues in California. No-one's found any evidence that this status has changed recently, meaning they cannot legally sue anyone because they effectively do not exist. I guess that also means they can't have made this production and that the film rights have reverted automatically to the Jordan Estate.

I'm assuming that this actually isn't the case, otherwise the people behind Red Eagle are very daft indeed.

In addition, the actress who played Ilyena in the episode is Billy Zane's girlfriend, model Candice Neill. Either he's a huge fan of the books or he saw the potential in this going to series and decided to get on the action for the chance of an ongoing role or producer's pay-off later on.


That was Book 10. Even Robert Jordan, who was completely immune to criticism, later said it was 'misjudged', which was the closest he ever got to self-realisation.

To be fair, Book 11, which he wrote alone, was a huge return to form. Books 12-14 were excellent and did wrap almost everything up very well.

Anyway, new developments! Red Eagle are suing Robert Jordan's widow because, hey, there's a couple of fans they haven't alienated yet.

Passing over the dickery of the move, it's worth noting that:

1) Red Eagle made a ton of money on the deal. They bought the rights for $600K and sold them for at least $1 million to Universal (potentially as high as $9.9 million, but that's improbable).

2) The initial purchase was for The Eye of the World by itself. Presumably the later one was for the full series. If so, Robert Jordan got some bad advice as that was peanuts to pay for a series that had sold 40 million copies by that point. If not, Red Eagle can't adapt the whole series (and won't have made that any more likely due to their behaviour this week). This would go some way to explaining why no adaptation of the biggest non-adapted fantasy series on the planet has gotten off the ground whilst far less successful works are getting picked up all over the place.

3) The same studio that made Breaking Bad was interested in a deal, and may still be. That's pretty big news.


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The first legal shots are fired.

The outcome of the initial legal clash between Hasbro and Sweetpea (backed by Universal and Warner Brothers, respectively) was inconclusive. Both sides employed sharp lawyers, arguing that Courney Solomon has had twenty years to turn D&D into a movie franchise and failed and that Hasbro now deserves the rights 'back' (slightly inaccurately, as the movie rights were sold long before Hasbro bought WotC, or indeed before TSR was absorbed into WotC), whilst Solomon's lawyers pointed out they have a script in development with WB as a 'tentpole' project right now. The judge seemed rather annoyed by the whole thing and asked both sides to settle out of court, but that's not happened.

Both Universal and WB can see the big franchise potential here: a franchise that can generate not just big character films like the DC and Marvel things, but a whole universe where you can dramatically switch genres between films. Neither side are going to give up that potential - however remote of actually being successful - easily.


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Relax people. It was made for the same reasons (and apparently on the same budget) as the gleefully bad fantastic four movie: to keep the rights and nothing more.

Apparently it was a bit of a fail in that area as well. This was made internally by Red Eagle and aired in an infomercial spot on FXX. They paid FXX a substantial sum of money to show it.

On that basis, this doesn't fulfil the terms of the contract, which required an external studio/producer to fund the series and get it greenlit. Red Eagle doesn't have a legal leg to stand on.

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