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Frost Giant

Werthead's page

2,212 posts. No reviews. No lists. No wishlists.


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Just announced.

This one is going to be set in Colorado and a have a much more powerful engine. It will have vehicles and multiplayer co-op, along with fully voiced dialogue and cinematics.

The game has an interesting funding model. They've gone with Fig rather than Kickstarter, as Fig entitles people to a slice of the profits of the game rather than just a copy of the game, which they thinks will get people more interested.

They're also only crowdfunding about 25% of the game's budget. The rest will come from profits from Wasteland 2, which seems reasonable.


Tarkin first appeared in THE CLONE WARS TV series as a Captain in Season 3. He was promoted to Admiral at the end of the series (during Ahsoka's trial). According to the novel TARKIN he was then promoted to Moff about five years after REVENGE OF THE SITH. He was promoted to Grand Moff by eight years after REVENGE OF THE SITH. That would have made him Grand Moff long before the events of REBELS.

http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Wilhuff_Tarkin#Early_days


Cold Fire is the weakest book in the trilogy. It's a bit oddball and takes a detour from the main story, which gets going again in the last one.

What I do like about Elliott is how she changes things between series. This trilogy is very different from the CROSSROADS trilogy, where she basically tried to do a fantasy with no cultural touchstones from our world and more or less succeeded, and CROWN OF STARS, which is a more realistic take on a medieval fantasy series (and from the start of the medieval period rather than the end).


The Farseer Trilogy #3: Assassin's Quest

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Betrayed, tortured and left for dead, Fitz has survived the depredations of his mad uncle Regal and been taken to safety in the countryside of the Six Duchies. Plagued by nightmares and trauma, Fitz eventually recovers enough to swear himself to two tasks: the murder of Regal and the safe rescue of Verity, the long-missing true king.

Assassin's Quest concludes the Farseer Trilogy in a manner that I don't think anyone was quite expecting. The first two volumes of the Farseer series are traditional epic fantasies in many respects, but ones where more overt displays of magic and violence are rolled back in favour of a deeper emotional storyline and character development. Still, with their intrigue, battles, romance and betrayals (if separated by lots of long-winded introspection), there is much of the standard fantasy template within them.

Assassin's Quest is completely different. In fact, it's a very strange book. For most of the novel we are firmly in Fitz's head as he undergoes what can best be described as a PTSD-induced nervous and near-mental breakdown after the trauma he suffered at the end of Royal Assassin. Suffering severe depression and making awful judgement calls (as everyone calls him on but himself), Fitz has to first find himself and restore his confidence before he can embark on his long-delayed true quest, which is to find and rescue Verity. Eventually, after crossing (with agonising slowness and quite astonishing amounts of angst) the entire length of the Six Duchies, Fitz overcomes his demons and gets on with the story. The problem is that this happens some around page 500, meaning that the novel only then has 300 pages to wrap the entire trilogy up in.

You might imagine this means that those last 300 pages are full of incident and plot and character development as Hobb brings the story across the finish line? Not so much. Those 300 pages still meander, circling around major plot and character moments for dozens of pages before landing (and often exactly where the reader can see them going). Eventually, in the last few pages of the book, the author explains the background of the Elderlings, Forging, the Red Ship Raiders, the Skill and many other aspects of her world, but it comes so abruptly after almost 800 pages of slow-burning despair that it feels highly anti-climactic.

In some ways you have to respect Hobb for crafting such an utterly strange ending to a fantasy trilogy, one that shys away from convention and ignores every rule of plot structure and pacing. In many respects Hobb was writing a profoundly anti-epic fantasy, something similar to what Patrick Rothfuss appears to be doing with his trilogy (only with rather less humour), and in its sacrifice of plot and action and exposition for character and a realistic approach to how a real human mind might cope with the craziness of your average epic fantasy adventure, Hobb is clearly doing something different.

But different does not mean good and the thing about experiments is that they sometimes just don't work. Assassin's Quest has fine moments of characterisation (probably best exemplified in the relationship between Fitz and the Fool), some real moments of jaw-clenching terror and some very odd moments of real magical weirdness, but it is also a novel that unfolds with all the verve, pacing and tension of watching a lethargic snail travel thirty miles. The massive stakes and tensions raised over the course of almost 1,200 pages across the first two volumes are effectively handwaved away at the end of the novel: the Red Ship Raiders are defeated off-screen, the Fool remains resolutely unexplained and most of Fitz's friends and allies remain in complete ignorance that he is alive.

Obviously we know now there is more to come in the Tawny Man and Fitz and the Fool trilogies, but on its own merits Assassin's Quest (**½) is an altogether unsatisfying conclusion to the first series, languid to the point of unconsciousness until the too-rushed ending. There are some wonderful atmosphere moments and some occasionally effective dialogue, but overall it is a disappointing novel. Still, it is followed up by the far superior Liveship Traders trilogy. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.


This is back on tonight. Looking forwards to it!


Book 2: Night Without Stars

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Two hundred and fifty years ago, the planet Bienvenido was expelled from the Void, ending up orbiting a lonely star in intergalactic space, 23 million light-years from the Milky Way galaxy. The people of Bienvendio lost their Void-imbued telepathic powers but regained the ability to develop technology. They now go into battle against the alien Fallers using jet aircraft and primitive space rockets. And they are still, gradually, losing the war. The arrival of a child from the Commonwealth acts as a catalyst for the final showdown between humans and Fallers, a battle that the humans cannot afford to lose.

Night Without Stars is a more momentous book than it first appears. It's the second half of the Chronicle of the Fallers duology which began with The Abyss Beyond Dreams, but it's also the eighth and - reportedly - concluding novel set in the Commonwealth universe. Hamilton kicked off this setting with 2002's stand-alone, near-future novel Misspent Youth before taking it into far-future space opera territory with the excellent Pandora's Star. Night Without Stars draws an end to this sequence of books, which is both a cause for disappointment - it still feels like there's a lot of untapped potential to the setting - and also excitement, as Hamilton will be moving into a new milieu for his next project, a new trilogy.

Night Without Stars is, again, mostly set in Bienvenido, but it's no longer the same planet we saw in Abyss. Being expelled from the Void means that its people can now develop electricity and industry, meaning high-powered machine guns, aircraft, motor vehicles, spacecraft (based on Soyuz space capsules)...and nukes. Unfortunately, it also means losing their telepathic powers which provided a more reliable means of exposing Fallers, hostile aliens able to mimic human form. Although the better technology makes it easier to eliminate the Fallers when they are found and to destroy their orbiting spacecraft, it cannot do anything to expose the Faller nests on the planet itself and the Faller numbers are multiplying.

As is his wont, Hamilton sets up an enormous, complicated and multi-stranded storyline and a large cast of characters and then orchestrates events like Napoleon sending troops into battle. We flip between different locations, characters and events with rapid and enviable ease, the plot building up an irresistible momentum in the process. Hamilton's characters are fairly standard archetypes and that continues here, with no major breakout personalities like the irrepressible Paul Myo (who still manages to check in, despite being 23 million light-years from where the action is), but they're a likable bunch: the back-country isolationist warden who inadvertently is given guardianship of the most important item on the planet; the gung-ho astronaut whose curiosity gets the better of him; and one of the survivors from the previous novel who is functionally immortal and indestructible, but finds that is no help whatsoever in solving the Faller crisis once and for all.

Just as The Abyss Beyond Dreams melded hard, posthuman SF with steampunk, so Night Without Stars switches things up by introducing historical elements. Bienvenido's technology has reached the level of the 1950s or 1960s, which is a big improvement on where they were but still not good enough to stop the alien menace, putting our Commonwealth-born heroes used to instant teleportation and traversing the galaxy in weeks on the back foot. There's also the problem that Bienvendio's government is an effective dictatorship, but Hamilton clearly had his fill of ideological battles in the previous novel. This time around there are musings on whether the planet could survive as a democracy given the overwhelming threat of the Fallers, but overall there is less of a political bent to this novel than the previous one.

Where there is a tremendous, relentless sense of pace. The novel takes place in a period of about four weeks and once it gets going in the first few pages, it just does not stop. Catastrophes multiply, pages fly past and the book become fiendishly addictive. This is typical of Hamilton and if Night isn't quite as unputdownable as his finest novels - The Reality Dysfunction and Pandora's Star - it's still nipping at their heels. This is a 700-page hardcover novel that feels as tightly-paced and immaculately-structured as the finest 300-page thriller.

Some weaknesses do creep in. There is the feeling that the Fallers could really have won the conflict at almost any time since the events of Abyss and the timing of events is a little on the convenient side. There's also the sheer number of flukes of good luck our heroes have in finding a final solution to the crisis. The fact that our Commonwealth characters are functionally immortal - if they failed and all died then they would be re-lifed at some future point - does also remove some tension from proceedings even if human immortality is a core feature of the setting. Finally, the chapters set back in the Commonwealth feel like a slight indulgence. Understandably so, if this is indeed the final Commonwealth novel, but characters from as far back as Misspent Youth showing up does feel a little random without this knowledge. More seriously, it feels like the Commonwealth has become as immortal and unbeatable as Iain M. Banks's Culture at this point, and a bit more of an interrogation of the society's problems would be interesting beyond the occasional character musing it can be a bit boring.

But ultimately Night Without Stars (****½) is standard and classic Peter F. Hamilton: bursting at the seams with good ideas, unfolding with a relentless and unstoppable pace, and it's just a tremendously fun and smart piece of SF. The novel will be released next week in both the UK and USA.


The Farseer Trilogy #2: Royal Assassin

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Winter has fallen, bringing a brief respite from the depredations of the Red Ship Raiders. Fitz, returning to Buckkeep from the Mountain Kingdom, finds Prince Verity working hard to build ships and watchtowers to defend the coast, but everywhere the conniving Prince Regal is working to undermine his brother and pave his own way to the throne. When Verity embarks on an ill-advised quest to help save his kingdom, it falls to Fitz to try to hold everything together in his absence.

The middle volume of The Farseer Trilogy is Robin Hobb's attempt to avoid "middle book syndrome", that annoying situation where a book has no real opening or ending. As such, Royal Assassin tries to work as its own self-contained story in the structure of both the larger trilogy and the much larger Realm of the Elderling sequence beyond that.

In this endeavour, the author is mostly successful. Royal Assassin continues the storyline of Assassin's Apprentice, with FitzChivalry Farseer trying to overcome his status as the illegitimate son of a dead prince and a secret assassin to become a respected member of the court. He hopes to woo his childhood love, but King Shrewd wants him to marry for political advantage instead. Regal hopes to undermine and destroy Fitz, but Fitz's willingness to lead from the front and throw himself into battle against the Red Ship Raiders stymies him, as do Fitz's growing magical powers (in both the animalistic Wit and the telepathic Skill) and his canny support of Verity's bride, the Queen-in-Waiting Kettricken. Events boil over at the book's ending, which features a powerfully emotional moment of catharsis (arguably still the highlight of the entire sixteen-volume Elderling series to date) and setting the scene for the final confrontation in Assassin's Quest.

Hobb's facility with prose is enviable, creating a rich and engrossing fantasy world. Things may not move too far from the medieval fantasy norm and some of the worldbuilding doesn't entirely ring true (such as the vast size of the Six Duchies but the tiny size of its settlements and its apparently extremely low population), but for the most part the world of the Six Duchies is vividly and memorably portrayed. Her facility for characterisation also remains intact, with Kettricken, Patience, Burrich, Molly and Nighteyes all being well-drawn and convincing characters as well as Fitz himself.

Fitz has always been a problem for some readers, especially since the trilogy is told in the first person from his perspective. In the first volume Fitz was a little too passive and reactive and that problem persists into this second volume. However, in the latter half of Royal Assassin he does become more proactive in opposing Regal's plans. He even engages in some very mild political intrigue. It's no A Game of Thrones, but it does up the stakes a little at a key moment of the story.

Some of Hobb's key weaknesses as a writer do re-emerge in this volume, however. Her ability to conjure up the unfairness of life and the mountain of problems Fitz must struggle to overcome is remarkable, but there is also chapter after chapter where Fitz stews in the alleged utter misery of his life - as a favoured servant and assassin with a cool telepathic wolf companion and a beautiful, strong-willed girlfriend who loves him absolutely - whilst not really doing anything. It's still not as much of a problem as in later novels, but there is an interminable middle section to the novel and it feels like a comfortable 200 pages could have been shaved off the page count (already approaching twice the length of Assassin's Apprentice) without too much trouble.

Royal Assassin (****) is a bigger novel than its forebear and one with more political intrigue and action, at land and at sea. However, it's also overlong and suffers the same issues as its forebear but stretched over a longer page count: a plot that kicks into gear only intermittently and a protagonist too reactive for his own good. But Hobb's skills with character and emotion, and evoking her world in rich detail, continue to prove remarkable. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.


Wild Cards #2: Aces High

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The world has been divided by the wild card virus: the unaffected, the deformed "jokers" and the super-powered "aces". All have their own agendas, some darker than others, but all are threatened by the arrival of the alien Swarm. As Earth comes under concerted attack by the creatures, several of Earth's own alien allies (such as Dr. Tachyon) help lead a defence. But destroying the Swarm Mother may be impossible as a cult of sympathisers leap to her defence...

After the original Wild Cards focused on forty years of alternate history with the jokers and aces facing discrimination, political manipulation and questions over their loyalties, it's a bit of a tonal shift to follow that up with a full-scale alien invasion of Earth. Yet this kind of variety is what has kept the Wild Cards series fun and why it's still going thirty years after its creation. We know aliens exist in the setting - the wild card virus itself came from Takis - so it's fairly logical to see the aces and jokers joining forces to take on the menace.

There are of course complications. Unlike most superhero settings, Wild Cards doesn't hold much truck with big superteams. Aces tend to do their own thing, only joining forces when absolutely necessary. For most of its length, Aces High deals with several prominent aces and jokers (Tachyon, the Turtle, Jube the Walrus, Kid Dinosaur, Modular Man and Fortunato, with a few appearances by Croyd the Sleeper) tackling apparently unrelated issues relating to the Swarm and a Masonic cult before they realise how their individual threads link up, and there is the inevitable big showdown.

The stories that make up the book come from some of the bigger names in 1980s science fiction and fantasy: George R.R. Martin, Pat Cadigan, Walter Jon Williams, Melinda Snodgrass and Roger Zelazny are the big-hitters, but the rest are no slouches either. The stories vary from big, epic war stories as the Swarm invades in force to smaller-scaled tales of back-alley hustlings in Jokertown to things inbetween. They are all excellent, although it sometimes feels like you're only getting snapshots of the action. The Turtle gets a big, interesting storyline and then disappears off-page for a hundred-off page, during which time clearly some other stuff goes down, and suddenly he shows up for the big finale.

This is a recurring issue with these kind of shared worlds, the nagging sense that you are not getting the full story and having to infer that some big story-critical moments have taken place off-page. But it's not too distracting and is made up for the fact that each writer is clearly having immense fun creating and crafting their characters and taking their storylines forwards. The framing stories, "Jube" and "Unto the Sixth Generation", do a good job of keeping the larger over-arcing story on track.

The book builds to a big climax which is satisfying from an action and character perspective. But it's clear that although the aces have won a major victory over the Swarm Mother, they have neglected to account for her human minions. That's going to come back to bite them, quite hard, in the third book in the series.

Aces High (****) is a fine addition to the Wild Cards universe and a compelling follow-up to the original book. It is available now in the UK and USA.


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Based on some of the other early footage and screenshots, it looks like there will be both Asari and Krogans in the crew as well as humans.


GreyWolfLord wrote:
On that note, is Might and Magic any good. With it at that price, I might be tempted to get it.

It depends what you are looking for in an RPG. If you don't mind bad graphics (and they were bad when the games came out), no AI to speak of (enemies attack you in a straight line and you can get them stuck behind objects quite easily), a hugely repetitive grind, no real story progression and no characterisation, than the MIGHT & MAGIC VI-VIII trilogy is playable. I did have fun with them, wandering around with bows, swords, magic and (later) laser rifles killing demons and dragons, but I played them on their original release in the late 1990s. I tried to go back after playing the likes of BALDUR'S GATE, PLANESCAPE: TORMENT and ANACHRONOX and it was just impossible. The near-total lack of character and narrative interaction became unbearable.

MIGHT & MAGIC IX is unplayably awful, but the recent X has gotten some very good reviews and is a reboot of the series set on a new planet, so there's no prior need for familiarity with the series.


BMovieMonster wrote:
Unrelated by do you know of any games that act as spiritual successors?

Well, there's MIGHT & MAGIC X: LEGACY, which is the actual successor. It was pretty well-received but I haven't played it myself.

LEGENDS OF GRIMROCK 1 and 2 are more successors to the DUNGEON MASTER/EYE OF THE BEHOLDER school of grid-based, real-time dungeon crawlers. There's enough similarity that you might enjoy them as well.


Best episode ever? Crikey.

These would be in contention:

Better Than Life
Thanks for the Memory
Queeg
Backwards
Marooned
Polymorph
Dimension Jump
Meltdown
Inquisitor
Back to Reality
Gunmen of the Apocalypse (the one that won the Emmy!)

But pretty much all of Seasons 2-5 (and 6, to a lesser extent) are golden. Seasons 7 and 9 are absolutely awful, 1 and 8 are okay and 10 was pretty good.


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I also still don't understand that love of Obsidian, I thought NV was kind of blah.

Vastly superior writing, dialogue, characterisation and companion characters coupled with a much more reactive world, much greater freedom to go and do things your way and a multitude of ways to resolve each quest (many of them not involving violence). NEW VEGAS is a proper roleplaying game, FALLOUT 3 is an action game with some roleplaying moments and FALLOUT 4 is a straight-up FPS with occasional dialogue choices. Fun, but nowhere near as deep as FALLOUT 1, 2 or NEW VEGAS (all created by the same people).

NEW VEGAS's biggest problems were an underwhelming and confusing start compared to either of the Bethesda games and of course the release bugs, although they were resolved pretty quickly (and FALLOUT 3 and 4 were hardly bug-free either).


This book came out today in the USA from Scholastic and will be out at the end of the week in the UK and Ireland.


The Farseer Trilogy #1: Assassin's Apprentice

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The Six Duchies are troubled by internal strife. King Shrewd's eldest son and heir, Prince Chivalry, has fathered an illegitimate son. Riven by guilt and controversy, Chivalry abdicates his position and goes into into exile. His son, Fitz, is raised in Buckkeep and tutored in the ways of becoming an assassin. For King Shrewd, Fitz is a weapon he can use to further the cause of his kingdom. But all Fitz wants is a home and a place to belong.

Assassin's Apprentice, originally published in 1995, is the first volume in The Farseer Trilogy, the first of nine books focused on the character of Fitz and also the first book in a sixteen-volume series entitled The Realm of the Elderlings. For a book that launched an enormously successful series, it is relatively small-scale and restrained.

This is traditional epic fantasy, but one that is slanted a little from the standard. It's medieval faux Europe, but the land of the Six Duchies is based on Alaska (albeit a slightly warmer one) and the neighbouring Mountain Kingdom is more inspired by Tibet. There are existential threats - the Red Ship Raiders who ravage the coastline and the threat of civil war - but for the most part these are kept firmly in the background. Assassin's Apprentice is primarily the coming of age tale of FitzChivalry Farseer as he grows up, gains allies, masters the art of the assassin and encounters two forms of magic: the Skill, a form of telepathic communication and control, and the Wit, a bond of empathy with animals.

Robin Hobb's greatest strength is her deft hand with charaterisation and her naturalistic way of presenting the world. Her greatest weakness is a tendency to meander, to have characters sitting around talking about the plot rather than getting on with things and taking a hundred pages to do what a more concise author would do in ten. These weaknesses manifest much more strongly in the later volumes of the series, however. Assassin's Apprentice is, at 480 pages in paperback, relatively short and breezy by Hobb's standards with both a strong character focus and clarity of storytelling.

Much of your enjoyment of these books relies on your engagement with the main character, Fitz. Fitz is an introverted, introspective young man who spends a lot of time reacting to events rather than taking decisive action (this changes in later novels, in which he is a lot less passive). This can be frustrating, but it is also realistic: Fitz occupies a place less than nobility but more than being a peasant, and this dichotomy leaves him isolated and almost friendless, his position in the world uncertain and unreliable. It is only towards the end of the volume, when he visits the Mountain Kingdom and encounters people less concerned with rank and pomp, that he is able to come out of his shell a little. As it stands, Fitz is a mildly engaging but far-from-compelling central character. However, he does serve as an effectively unreliable narrator: the further things and events are from Fitz's perspective, the less reliable they are. This serves to upset reader expectations several times over the course of the trilogy. It's not exactly Gene Wolfe, but it is an effective way of getting the reader to share in Fitz's biases and ignorance before presenting them with the truth of events later on.

Hobb is a superior prose writer and a gifted communicator of emotions and atmosphere. Although it's not a primary focus of her writing, she is also a good writer of horror: the Forged, people with their morals stripped away to be turned into monstrous echoes of their former selves, are a truly disturbing fantasy creation. In terms of politics she stumbles a little. Concluding events in the Mountain Kingdom are highly implausible and the way that Fitz escapes retribution for the events people genuinely believe that he has committed is extremely unconvincing. Fitz should be dead three times over before the book ends and the fact he isn't stretches the suspension of disbelief to the breaking point.

But there's also a lot to enjoy here. Fitz's tortured upbringing, his relationship with Burrich and Chade, and his punishing tutelage under Galen are all vividly (and sometimes painfully) described. The Red Ship Raiders are an intriguing enemy and the Forged a horrifying creation. Certainly the novel leaves one wanting to move onto the sequel, Royal Assassin.

Assassin's Apprentice (****) is thus a conflicted book: extremely well-written with a interesting backdrop and a terrific atmosphere, but with a plot that is a bit start-stop and political intrigue that is rather undercooked. But in terms of emotional engagement and its use of an unreliable narrator, Hobb is a formidable writer. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.


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Shadowborn wrote:
I was intrigued. If this gets picked up for a season, I'll definitely be watching. I like how it's more strongly tied to the story and characters from the comic and the animated series. Jackie Earle Haley as the Terror cracked me up.

His angry eating of the kid's ice cream was the episode highlight for me.


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I liked Deus Ex HR but Thief was baaaaad. That said will I like this?

Yes. THIEF was done by a different team at Eidos Montreal. This is the same team that did HR.

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My grafics card seems to be too weak to handle this game. I have a Geforce GTX 570, and the game says that I should at least have a 660. Yay.

I played HR first time out on OnLive (!) which was weirdly appropriate. I then played it again on a PC with a 550ti and that was fine. MD is running okay on my new(ish) second-hand 770 with everything on second-highest settings.

Apparently there's a lot of moaning about the game not running well on Ultra on really powerful rigs, but the devs seem to have built in some serious future-proofing on the game (possibly as HR started ageing pretty quickly). Some of the graphical options are insane, I'm not surprised they're giving even Titans and 1080s trouble.


You only really need to play HUMAN REVOLUTION first (in the timeline, it's HR, MANKIND DIVIDED, then the original DEUS EX and then INVISIBLE WAR), but it's an interesting series. Although the gulf between DEUS EX and the new games is so large that I'm not sure it's possible to really buy they're still set in the same universe.


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This is out today (unlocks in seven hours) and I broke my rule to pre-order it. The reviews have been outstanding and the technical appraisals suggest it's very solid on PC. It's done by the same team who did the PC versions of both THIEF and DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION, so it should be absolutely fine.

I'm enjoying hearing there are no boss battles and a lot more options for stealthing and ghosting, although HR was pretty good on that already.


SmiloDan wrote:
Oh yeah? What were you nominated for? Congrats! :-D

Best Related Work (the shortlist which was completely locked out by the rabids, sadly, and thus got No Awarded) for my HISTORY OF FANTASY series.


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I was happy just to be nomin...er, longlisted. Of course, it would have to be in this year in the most heavily over-trolled category. Sigh.


It's possible they'll let it go at the end of Season 4, although the viewership has been okay and apparently it's doing reasonable business on downloads, media sales and international sales. But it's also quite expensive and they may want to replace it with something that's still Marvel but maybe cheaper.

Good catch on the HEROES FOR HIRE idea. That's quite an elegant solution, as although they're both good characters I'm not sure they have the legs to hold multi-season solo shows like DAREDEVIL and maybe JESSICA JONES can (and you could always roll Jones into a HFH series as well).


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Oh yeah, and fill out the form after watching as well.

I don't think we have to worry too much. Like THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE last year, it's absolutely crushing the opposition.


Netflix and Marvel's five-show deal allowed them to only put out two seasons a year on Netflix, presumably as Netflix was concerned about the Marvel stuff overwhelming their other products. In the light of how well their non-Marvel stuff has done and the appeal of PUNISHER, that's why they might make an exception for that show.

Marvel themselves want as many eyeballs as possible on their stuff, so they have no problem having many more shows than that on the air through other channels, so SHIELD will continue with ABC, they'll keep looking at other projects with them and RUNAWAYS will do fine on Hulu.


What's interesting is that this is a new deal not covered by the previous Netflix/Marvel agreement - which limited them to two seasons of stuff a year - so THE PUNISHER could crop up a lot sooner than otherwise would be the case (under the previous deal we wouldn't see it until 2019 at the earliest).


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The pilot is out now. It's magnificent.

Darker and more grounded? Kind of, I guess? The only thing I get from that is:

Spoiler:
That the first chunk of the pilot is from Arthur's POV, and he has this traumatic background about his father being killed by the villaint. Which is done in a really, darkly hilarious way. And I'm pretty certain Edlund is deliberately taking the mickey out of all the grimdark superhero films in this bit.

The second The Tick shows up, things get a bit looser and funnier.

Also, I thought Patrick Warburton not doing it - although he's still involved as a producer - was going to be a problem, but then they announced the brilliant, brilliant Peter Serafinowicz* as his replacement and he is excellent in the role. No problem there at all.

* From SPACED, SHAUN OF THE DEAD, THE PHANTOM MENACE (he was the original voice of Darth Maul), GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and his own British comedy series, not to mention the mastermind behind the SASSY TRUMP YouTube videos. He is a legit comic legend. Almost no other actor could pull off those Tick-style incredibly hyperbolic speeches as well.


There was a whole bit on that, but it took the review off-topic so I deleted it. We'll probably never get to 40 billion since we don't have the option of importing food and resources from offworld (same as with Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy, where Earth has the same problem). In addition, as societies become fairer and more equal, then people stop having so many children because they prefer to work and not lose large periods of time from their careers.

The question is where the topping-out will occur (I've seen figures from everything from a maybe bearable 9 to a probably intolerable 15 billion) and how badly that will affect the planet, and what impact it will have on a capitalist-driven lifestyle when the potential market is no longer growing but may even start contracting.


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Tuf Voyaging

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A thousand years ago the old Earth Empire collapsed. Most of its amazing technology was lost and the galaxy settled back into a period of decline. But one of the Empire's old seedships, the Ark, has been rediscovered. With its cargo of ferocious beasts and genetically-engineered plagues, the Ark can lay waste to entire star systems. Fortunately for the galaxy, its new owner is the morally-minded and fussy merchant Haviland Tuf. Accompanied only his crew of telepathic cats, Tuf sets out on a voyage that will take him to many worlds...and many problems.

George R.R. Martin began writing stories about Haviland Tuf in the mid-1970s. In the mid-1980s, following the disastrous performance of the novel The Armageddon Rag and his move into Hollywood, Martin was convinced to repackage the old stories with several new ones to make a "fix-up" novel, one book formed from several smaller tales. The result, Tuf Voyaging, sold reasonably and kick-started Martin's literary career again, leading to the Wild Cards series and, a decade later, A Game of Thrones. It might not be quite the book that saved Martin's writing career, but it certainly helped give it a bit of a leg-up when it was urgently needed.

The book consists of seven short stories (the first of which is long enough to qualify as a novella). After the first, "The Plague Star", which explains how Tuf came to possess the Ark, the rest relate episodes where Tuf has to use the Ark's amazing abilities to resolve a crisis or emergency. Three of these stories form a recurring narrative when Tuf has to visit the planet S'uthlam, one of the few worlds advanced enough to be able to repair and maintain the Ark. During his initial visit Tuf incurs a massive repair bill and he periodically has to return to satisfy his monetary debt to the planet and renew his personal friendship (as much as Tuf has one) with Molly Tune, the planet's dockmaster.

The stories often resolve around moral quandaries: "A Beast for Norn" sees Tuf recruited to help a planet which pits animals into gladiatorial combat against one another. Tuf is petitioned by each ruling house in turn to give them the most ferocious beasts. The result is a neat little morality play that wouldn't have been out of place on The Twilight Zone. "Guardians" sees Tuf taxed to the limit as he uses the Ark's capabilities to genetically engineer a solution to a planetary infestation of sea monsters, only to find some kind of intelligence working against him. "Call Him Moses" sees Tuf recruited by a planetary government that has been forced to surrender to an anti-technology religious maniac using the threat of plague to seize power. These are all clever stories, but also ones that have a common thread to them: rather than facing a naturally-occurring disaster, the problems Tuf encounters are the result of human hubris greed, stupidity and fanaticism.

The S'uthlam trilogy - "Loaves and Fishes", "Second Helpings" and "Manna from Heaven" - represents the book's high point as it gives Tuf a formidable foil in the form of Molly Tune. Each one of the stories sees Tuf confronted by the problem of S'uthlam's overpopulation: the planet's population is 39 billion and rising, outstripping its ability to feed itself. Each time Tuf presents a situation, carefully noting that it is a stopgap at best and the people of S'uthlam have to back it up by not breeding so uncontrollably and by carefully preserving their resources. And each time he is ignored, for religious or economic reasons. In the final story Tuf presents Molly with the final solution to the problem, one that will save her world from starving itself to death, but at the expense of her people's right to freedom and self-expression. It's one of the thorniest moral quandaries science fiction has ever presented to the reader, and the solution is grim.

The result may be George R.R. Martin's most resonant SF moment in his long career writing science fiction (before epic fantasy stole him away). In 1976, when the first Tuf story was published, the Earth's population was 4 billion. In 2016, it stands at almost 7.4 billion. The Earth's population has almost doubled the first story in this book was published. What was a theoretical concern when Martin started writing these stories is starting to look terrifyingly prescient, and the solution presented in these stories may be horrific but there are also a lot of people who would take the solution Tuf offers Tune in a heartbeat. This element adds a surprising amount of contemporary value to a book published thirty years ago.

Moving on from that aspect of the book, characterisation is excellent, particularly of Haviland Tuf himself (the reader may detect faint pre-echoes of Varys in his character and appearance) but also Molly Tune and the demented crew of space pirates who try to steal the Ark in the opening story (Rica Dawnstar may also be the best name for a space mercenary there ever has been). The writing style is a fair bit different from his prose in other books, being more whimsical, florid and witty. Martin's favourite author is the fantastic Jack Vance. Martin can't quite match Vance's supremely joyous command of the English language (frankly, no-one can) but he does come startlingly close on occasion. This is also a book that should appeal to all cat lovers, as Tuf's brood of felines grows, gets into antics, gets older and occasionally (and sadly) shrinks as the stories continue to unfold.

Tuf Voyaging (****½) is not quite up there with A Song of Ice and Fire and Fevre Dream as Martin's best work, but it a very well-written book packed with entertaining characters, moments of real comedy (it's Martin's funniest work, by a long way) and some unexpected moments of tragedy and pathos. It's also a book that's become more resonant over the years as real-life issues catch up to Martin's vision. The book is available now in the UK and USA.


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Hopefully it will turn up somewhere else or maybe I'll just have to wait for it to come out on DVD or something

Netflix shows take forever to come out on DVD or Blu-Ray (and this show looks so good that blu is the way to go). DAREDEVIL Season 1 is out in October, almost two years after it was transmitted, which is ridiculous.

I was also a Netflix sceptic for a long time, but they've built up a strong enough library of original content (DAREDEVIL, JESSICA JONES, SENSE8, NARCOS, BOJACK HORSEMAN) and a solid rotating library of other people's stuff that it's more than worth the fairly negligible cost per month. I'm in the UK so we've also got every single episode of STAR TREK ever made, the new seasons of ORPHAN BLACK and ARCHER and quite a few other things (PERSON OF INTEREST, for example) that make it a no-brainer.

Triphoppenskip wrote:
My one minor complaint. I really wish they went with more practical effects for the creature. The CGI wasn't horrible at least not as bad as some I've seen but it did detract from the whole 80's feel the rest of the series captured so well.

Apparently the creature was "mostly" prosthetics. There were a few times it was all CGI (like in the finale) and sometimes they just had a CG head and maybe arms painted over the prosthetic body.


Agreed. Universal did up the amount of money they spent on the option considerably over what SyFy alone paid five years ago, which would be a bit counter-productive if they didn't intend to do anything with it.

Melinda Snodgrass has been quite positive about the project on her LiveJournal and they're already talking about casting ideas.


Book 3: Ruin and Rising

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The Darkling has won a stunning victory, seizing control of Ravka and the Grisha. His agents now hunt the land for Alina Starkov and her band of rebels. But Alina has one chance to win back victory: she alone knows the location of the third amplifier, which will grant her the power to destroy the Shadow Fold and the Darkling both. But her growing power also threatens to overwhelm her morality and judgement. Saving Ravka may mean losing herself...

Ruin and Rising brings the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo to a close. This fantasy young adult series, riffing off YA and epic fantasy tropes and filtered through a Russian-inspired naming convention, has been engaging and energetic and this concluding volume continues along that path.

It continues the theme from the previous novel of Alina being torn between using her power to save her country and her friends, but worried that doing so will corrupt her absolutely. It's a powerful theme (if arguably overplayed in fantasy) but it's a little bit weakened here by the fact that it's clear Alina never would do anything so outright evil and the fact that defeating the Darkling is so important. Otherwise the book continues in a similar vein from the previous one, save that Alina and her friends are now on the run rather than working from the heart of Ravka's power.

The novel looses up a little and we have some stronger characterisation in the form of Alina's former arch-nemesis turned close associate Zoya, who has somehow convincingly become a friend and ally despite not really changing her character from a spoiled, overconfident aristocrat. This is a clever piece of character work that the author pulls off quite well. There's also more offbeat character tics, like the slightly demented Harsha (a fire Grisha who's a little too fond of fire) and his feline companion, Oncat. These add a bit more character and spark to proceedings.

There's also a nice twist where the spine of the novel, the search for the third amplifier, takes an abrupt turn that feels predictable in retrospect (it's well foreshadowed from earlier novels) but took me by surprise anyway. There's also the grand finale, which feels like it is riffing off the ending to a major late 1990s TV fantasy show, which I always thought was an excellent an unconventional way of ending a fantasy series about a Chosen One but hadn't seen replicated in literature until now. It certainly gives rise to a neat and suitable ending.

Some of the complaints about the series from the earlier novels remain in force. Sometimes things happen far too fast without proper appreciation for the consequences, travel time and distances are all over the place (Alina seems to allow her team maybe three days maximum to explore a whole, massive mountain range for a creature with no knowledge of its location) and the Russian influence seems to be limited solely to the names with little evocation of actual Russian history or culture: on that basis Peter Higgins's Wolfhound Century trilogy is altogether more successful in creating a faux-Russian atmosphere. Mal, although a bit more likable in this novel, also remains an unengaging and sometimes wooden protagonist.

But overall, Ruin and Rising (***½) is a fine and readable conclusion to what has been an entertaining and diverting trilogy, but it does feel like there is some unfulfilled potential here. It is available now in the UK and USA.


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The bard was excellent. Getting an actual musical comedian to play a bard is a great idea.

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"This is the song about five dead babies

Five dead babies
In the bottom of a like
This is the song about five dead babies
Five dead babies
That were bitten by a snake."

The same team did Great Minds with Dan Harmon, with GM Spencer as his assistant. It's quite amusing, with more Aubrey Plaza and added Jack Black.


I'm a bit more hopeful about this one because GRRM is rather more famous (putting it lightly) than when SyFy took out the option first time around. They've also renewed the option, which is a sign that the studio sees increased value in exercising it, and they've both moved it upstairs to the parent company (usually a sign they want to put more money into it) and assigned producers.

It still might not happen, but I think it's got a much better shot now.


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Which one? That doesn't narrow it down! :)

One of my favourites is "Our Man Bashir". The writer brought it in as a holodeck malfunction story and the DS9 guys went, "Nope, against the rules". And he went "Oh, how about the transporter malfunctions and the holodeck is absolutely fine, it just needs to store their patterns?" And the writers apparently liked that get-out clause so much that they bought the story on the spot (and nearly got sued by the JAMES BOND people but there you go).


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And here's my full review:

HarmonQuest: Season 1

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Fantasy roleplaying! A bunch of friends create characters - wizards, elves, thieves, dwarves, sorcerers and what have you - and make their way through a vivid world created and controlled by the Dungeon Master Gamemaster. Various attempts have been made to capture the fun of roleplaying and put it on the screen, but they've largely ended up being a bit poor.

HarmonQuest takes a different tack by combining fantasy roleplaying with improvisational comedy in the vein of Whose Line Is It Anyway? Just typing that makes me realise how blinding obvious an idea it is and why no-one thought of it years ago and cashed in. HarmonQuest features three regular players: Dan Harmon, the famous comedy writer (Community, Rick & Morty) and podcaster (Harmontown); comedian Erin McGathy; and actor Jeff Davis. Respectively, they play half-orc ranger Fondue Zoobag, elven barbarian Biaro Shift and goblin rogue Bone Weevil.

There is also a special guest slot which is filled in by a rotating cast of comedians and actors: Paul F. Tompkins, Ron Funches, John Hodgman, Rhea Butcher, Kumail Nanjiani (as a pathological gold and handjob-obsessed kobold), Matt Gourley, Steve Agee, Chelsea Peretti (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley), along with an excellent appearance by the immortal Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle). The greatest turn, arguably, comes from the mighty Aubrey Plaza (Parks & Recreation) as the randomly insane gnome Hawaiian Coffee. The in-joke is that the guest characters can't continue into the next episode, so they have to be introduced to the adventure, fulfil a vital story role and then be written out (usually killed off in a ludicrous manner, but a couple survive) in an organic fashion, all in an hour (the episodes are the edited half-hour highlights of each game session).

That's a tall order for any Dungeon Master Gamemaster, but fortunately HarmonQuest employs the impressive skills of Spencer Crittenden, a GM for the ages. His ability to let the crazy comedy play out when it should, reign in the insanity when it threatens to completely sidetrack the adventure and pushing the story forwards whilst adapting for his players' impressive improvisational skills is completely amazing. I feel a better Gamemaster for just having watched him in action.

The adventure itself is splendid, old-skool fun: Fondue and Bone Weevil's favourite village haunt is destroyed by an evil cult seeking to unleash a powerful manticore upon the world. Teaming up with barbarian warrioress Biaro, they try to stop the cult getting its hands on the three gems it needs to complete the summoning ritual. This doesn't entirely go to plan. Along the way they have to deal with Fondue's unresolved childhood issues and confused sexuality (Harmon basically making a one-man argument in favour of characterisation in roleplaying), Bone Weevil's need for respect and Biaro's tendency to hulk out in a barbarian rage. There's some excellent running jokes but it's the guest actors that really make the show, each one bringing a different sensibility and style to the story which mixes things up nicely.

The big trick in the bag is that each episode of HarmonQuest is partly animated, with the live-action shots showing the actors and players discussing what they want to do and animated segments showing the result of their plans. The animation is colourful, well-characterised and quite funny. This is HarmonQuest's ace in the hole which lifts it from being simply entertaining to occasionally bordering on genius.

It's all very, very funny, although some episodes are funnier than others: the first, fifth and last ones are the stand-outs but even the weakest installment still unleashes regular laughs. Interestingly, the actors who have serious Dungeons and Dragons fantasy roleplaying experience seem to be the least amusing, as they take it all a bit too seriously, whilst those who have never played seem to do the best as they don't worry about the rules, just having a fun time.

I'd be interested to see that audiences with no fantasy roleplaying background at all make of it, but the show pulls back on anything to do with the rules in favour of the story and laughs so it should be pretty accessible for everyone.

Season 1 of HarmonQuest (****½) is excellent, being clever, funny and featuring a surprisingly well-executed story. I recommend it very much.

You can see Episode 1 on YouTube (embedded above) but the remaining nine episodes are only available (right now) on the Seeso streaming service in the United States. I imagine there will be some kind of international release (Netflix? Amazon?) for those wanting to watch the show in other parts of the world.

Note: the fantasy roleplaying game that is being used is the excellent Pathfinder from Paizo Publishing and, as Harmon rather worriedly points out several times, absolutely not Dungeons and Dragons in any way, shape or form, and certainly not any that suggests anything even vaguely copyright-infringing.


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BigDTBone wrote:
Pan wrote:
I think the holodeck episodes might have been a symptom of having 24 episode seasons. Eventually you need to come up with some episodic filler. In the age of the 13 ep. season they will have less time for those shenanigans.
This is actually one of the things that makes me really sad. I miss 26 episode seasons. Some of the best episodes were one-off episodes that didn't necessarily tie into the larger plot. Sure some were bad, but others were fun, or campy, or truly exceptional. I wish they would bring back 20+ episode seasons.

You get a lot of bad episodes that way, sure, but you also get gems like "The Inner Light", "The Visitor" and "Far Beyond the Stars", which would never be made if they'd been filming tighter 13-episode seasons all along.


Book 2: Siege and Storm

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Alina Starkov is the Sun Summoner, able to wield tremendous powers of light. She wants to use this power to burn away the Shadow Fold and reunited the sundered land of Ravka, but is opposed by the Darkling, leader of the Grisha, a former ally turned mortal foe. Fleeing across the ocean to the continent of Novyi Zem, Alina hopes to find sanctuary. But the reach of the Darkling is a long one...

Siege and Storm is the middle volume of the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo and follows up on the ending of Shadow and Bone. The novel is divided into several distinct sections, the first set in Novyi Zem. I was looking forward to seeing Alina and Mal in a new environment where Grisha are rare and the rules of the land are different, but this lasts a bare handful of pages before we're scooting back across the sea to Ravka. One of the main appeals of this trilogy is that the author doesn't hang around and blitzes from plot beat to plot bear with impressive skill and speed, but this felt a little too abrupt.

After this point is a series of sea battles and some impressive use of Grisha powers to create new weapons and technology (such as Grisha wind summoners fuelling sky-skimming warships), as well as Alina gaining the power of a second amplifier to increase her magical powers. This also increases the risk of her being corrupted by her power the way the Darkling was by his, and the book manages to extract more tension than you'd expect from the notion that Alina might give in to her power and either turn evil or lost control of it. This is helped by the fact that the Darkling becomes more than a villain in this second volume, he also becomes a symbol of Alina's thirst for more knowledge and the power to do good.

It's a strong idea, but is undermined by the fact that Alina never really does anything too heinous with her enlarged powers and you never really buy that she's going to be slaughtering lots of innocent people.

The latter half of the book, in which Alina has to mobilise a Grisha army against the Darkling, is good fun as Alina recruits and retains Grisha warriors, has relationship angst with Mal and is drawn against her will into the political maneuvering for control of Ravka between two feuding brothers. It's all fun but played a little too safe. It's not until near the end of the book that we get some major moments of dramatic power and some action scenes. These scenes are certainly impressive, but they are set up in a rather contrived manner where one character doesn't tell the rest what's going on, because if he did the bad guy's plan would simply never work.

Siege and Storm (***½) is an entertaining and enjoyable read. Unfortunately the atmosphere of the book feels like it's taken a knock from the predecessor. The first novel, if only intermittently, channeled its Russian inspiration into the environmental descriptions and cultural details of the book. In this second volume it feels like it's been reduced to simple linguistic variations. In addition, the book feels like it's too fast-paced when it should slow down a bit (at the start) and then too slow-paced when it should pick up (in the latter part). The result is a book that's breezy and fun, but maybe a little bit more lightweight than it should be. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.


Season 11 of RED DWARF starts airing in the UK on 22 September.

Good news. Season 10 was pretty good so I hope they're continuing their return to form. Even better, Season 12 has already been filmed and will air next year!


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No scripts where every other line is a reference to another show? They won't bother mentioning Archer more than twice, given how badly that series bombed.

Given that even the latest big-screen movie referenced ENTERPRISE a fair bit, I think it's likely they will reference stuff in ENTERPRISE. More interesting would be if they had an inkling that the timeline had shifted. This new series is starting pretty much at the same time as the Abrams movies, just on the other side of the timeline rift.

I also don't think that a new 25th Century TREK show would suffer from the same problems as VOYAGER, as everyone knows what those weaknesses were. DEEP SPACE NINE did an excellent job of moving around the worst of the TNG/VOYAGER hippy future stuff and make it credible, such as having a ban on holodeck malfunction episodes and reducing technobabble.


The big reveal.

Disappointingly, the series will be set 10 years before the original series and will focus on crewmembers elsewhere on the USS Discovery than the standard captain/bridge crew dynamic. The "main character" will be a lieutenant commander in Starfleet, possibly with a complicated relationship to the Captain.

The series is inspired by a specific incident referenced in the original series but not shown. My guess is that this will either be a flare-up in the conflict with the Klingons, or something like the USS Farragut incident (which haunted Captain Kirk for his whole life afterwards).

Characters from the original series could show up in a second season or later, but Season 1 will focus on the new, original cast. Apparently Bryan Fuller wants to explore the character of Amanda Grayson - Spock's mother, played by Winona Ryder in the Abramsverse - further but it's unclear if it will be in the first season.

It sounds promising, and with Fuller and Meyer writing it should be, but it also sounds limited. Going to the prequel well yet again rather than actually boldly going where no one has gone before just doesn't feel really like STAR TREK.


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Book 1: Throne of the Crescent Moon

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Dr. Adoulla Makhslood is a ghul-hunter, a slayer of monsters who battles against the evil wizards who summon them. He is also in his sixties and feeling his age. Raseed bas Raseed is his protege, a holy Dervish warrior with legendary sword skills but awkward social graces. A new commission leads them to a chance meeting with Zamia, a desert tribeswoman with the ability to transform into a lion. As Raseed struggles with his vow of chastity, the band of adventurers learn of a great threat to the city of Dhamsawaat and have to join forces with a dubious thief prince to defeat it.

Throne of the Crescent Moon is the debut novel by Saladin Ahmed and the first novel in the Crescent Moon Kingdoms series. It's a rollicking, swashbuckling, grin-inducing romp of a book which takes inspiration from The Arabian Nights and never lets up in its ability to entertain.

The book draws on Arabian mythology and history, so the book immediately has a different feeling to most faux-European fantasy novels. Indeed, whilst reading the novel I was reminded of the immensely fun Al-Qadim roleplaying world (for 2nd Edition Dungeons and Dragons) from the mid-1990s, which featured bands of heroic adventurers and noble thieves tackling trickster djinn and corrupt viziers with nary an orc or elf in sight.

Throne of the Crescent Moon is definitely a romp with more than a passing nod to the likes of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, but it's also a wonderfully well-characterised novel. The characters are archetypes but also have tremendous depth to them. Making the central hero a fat man in his sixties who gets winded way too easily and is physically incapable of engaging in combat is a brave move, making Adoulla the brains of the operation but also an irascible and stubborn fool on occasion. Raseed is lightning-fast with his sword and almost unbeatable in battle, but is riven by self-doubts and struggles with his faith. His humourless martinet routine is the butt of many jokes, but his religious conflict is an important part of his character which gives him depth when he finally realises the world is a messier place than his strict morals allow. However, arguably the most interesting characters are Dawoud and Litaz, former adventuring buddies of Team Adoulla who have now retired from monster-fighting to run their own business. They are reluctantly drawn back into Adoulla's adventures, allowing for a detailed examination of the lives of a middle-aged couple against a fantasy backdrop.

Throne of the Crescent Moon does this - mixing the conventional and unconventional, magical and mundane - throughout its length and it's this blending of knockabout fun with fleshed-out, realistic characters which gives the book much greater depth and longevity than just being an action novel (although Ahmed's action sequences are first-rate). Ahmed also achieves a tremendous depth of worldbuilding, making Dhamsawaat (which is basically Baghdad by way of Lankhamar) a fully-realised location so vivid you can smell the spices and hear the merchants hawking their wears.

If there are criticisms, it is the book's length: at 260 pages (in tradeback) the book rushes some aspects, especially towards the ending, and the Falcon Prince feels a bit too remote and off-stage a character for the sudden prominence he gains in the grand finale. However, plot synopses for the sequel suggests he plays a larger role in that volume, which will be welcome.

Throne of the Crescent Moon (****½) is a breath of fresh air, a fiendishly addictive novel which is over way too soon and will leave readers begging for more. The novel is available now in the UK and USA. The sequel, The Thousand and One, is due for release later this year or in 2017.


As anticipated, SyFy has let the old WILD CARDS movie development deal lapse and there was a scramble of interest in picking up the rights to GRRM's Wild Cards series of books. Unexpectedly, SyFy (or at least a producer there) has reacquired them, alongside parent company Universal and its cable productions wing. This is interesting as it gives them more flexibility: the project may end up at SyFy again or it could go somewhere like USA or even Amazon (where Universal co-produces Mr. Robot).

George isn't directly involved (due to book commitments) but series co-editor Melinda Snodgrass will be an executive producer and potential showrunner on the project.

Interesting news, and the buzz this time is that this is probably going to happen, unlike the movie project which lost most of the people pushing for it at an early stage. I could imagine Universal and someone like Amazon being interested in an edgier, different take on superheroes.


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First gameplay footage. Also, some stuff on the lore and the background setting for the game.

For "super-pre-alpha" footage, the game looks quite smart already. They've got another year or so of work (maybe less) before launch, and it looks quite likely they'll hit that. At this point Harebrained just need to sit down with every other company trying to get stuff made through Kickstarter and show how they do it so right.

Apparently this demo will even be playable at Gen Con, so that's pretty cool if you're heading that way.


Book 1: Shadow and Bone

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The great nation of Ravka is troubled by war with her neighbours and by the Shadow Fold, a mysterious force of darkness which has cut off the west coast from the rest of the kingdom. Only the Grisha, the magic-wielding servants of Ravka, can cross the Fold in safety. A young mapmaker, Alina Starkov, is recruited to help such a crossing but she manifests the powers of the Grisha along the way. Recruited into the order, Alina discovers she has the power to summon light, the power to perhaps destroy the Shadow Fold forever...and a power that some will do anything to possess.

Shadow and Bone is the opening novel of Leigh Bardugo's Grisha Trilogy, a work of fantasy that is both familiar and different. Its core story, of a young woman who discovers she has powers and different forces in the world want to use or abuse those powers, is pretty standard. The setting, which borrows elements from Russian history and geography, is certainly unusual for the fantasy genre although not completely unique (The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia and Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins are recent genre works influenced by Russian culture and mythology).

Shadow and Bone has a number of negatives which I'll get out of the way first. It's pretty standard fare. Traditional fantasy tropes are deployed and explored with some flourishes, but no real originality. It's entirely possible you will predict every plot twist well ahead of time. The main character, Alina, is an orphan who turns out to have amazing powers. There's an unrequieted romance, a heated rivalry with a jealous, more aristocratic fellow student and a dangerous, spark-filled relationship with an older man. There's also scenes of Alina learning the arts of magic from an older mentor who deploys pithy sayings and unconventional teaching methods to get spectacular results. There are desperate betrayals, daring escapes in the night and magical battles. And so forth. Depending on how much traditional fantasy you have read in your life, you may not have a huge amount of time for yet more of the same.

But if Shadow and Bone is mostly standard and familiar fare, it is very well-written standard fare, delivered with pace and excitement. The Grisha, a magical order set up like an army with chains of command and different forces and disciplines within its ranks, is an original and memorable creation and the interaction between the different orders is quite well-established. The Shadow Fold is also an unsettling creation and the nature of the creatures within it (the volcra) is disturbing. The different types of Grisha and their abilities are set up but in this first novel we haven't seen too much of what they can do, which hopefully later volumes will rectify.

Characterisation is mostly strong, with Alina making for a likeable heroine and the Darkling (despite his emo name) an interesting and multi-faceted character. Most intriguing is Genya, a Grisha with an apparently limited skill (making people appear more attractive) which she deploys to strong effect. I get the impression she has an interesting story to tell and hopefully she will be more prominent in later volumes, along with her low-key love interest, David. Less interesting is Alina's unrequieted love, Mal, who is a pretty standard hunky soldier with elite tracking skills and limited personality, but hopefully he will develop more in later volumes.

Shadow and Bone (****) won't be winning awards for originality, but it does tell its story with verve and vigour, building up to an explosive climax. It's a very short novel (360 pages in paperback, but with a fairly genrous font size) but will leave you wanting to jump into the sequel, Siege and Storm, straight away. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.


The Expanse #5: Nemesis Games

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Several years of constant duty has left the independent frigate Rocinante damaged and in severe need of a refit. With the ship in a repair dock for several months of work, the crew scatters back to their homes to catch up with old friends and family. With humanity moving out to explore the new worlds beyond the alien wormhole gateway, it feels like a time of peace and opportunity. This abruptly changes when the largest terrorist attack in human history kills millions and suddenly the Solar system is plunged into chaos. The crew of the Rocinante have to regroup and stop the crisis from getting even worse.

Nemesis Games is the fifth of nine planned books in The Expanse series, carrying us firmly into the second half of the story. Co-authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (writing as James S.A. Corey) have structured this series in a very interesting way, using only Jim Holden as their ongoing POV character and swapping other characters in and out with every passing volume. The story has also evolved in an organic way, moving from a near-future thriller rooted in realism in Leviathan Wakes to much grander stories involving aliens and gateways, as well as frontier colonialism. This approach helps keep things fresh, especially when compared to the numerous military SF series out which go on year after year, getting more stale with each passing volume.

Nemesis Games is different to the preceding books in several ways. First off, it splits the POVs between the four crewmembers of the Rocinante. Holden still present, but Alex, Amos and Naomi now all get their own storylines and perspectives. This is a very welcome and overdue move, especially for Naomi who always clearly had more background and complexity going on than Holden (who is often somewhat dense, it has to be said) was able to discern from her. Focusing on Amos, a deeply violent man who requires external stabilising forces to keep himself from snapping altogether, is also a rewarding move which furthers his character more. Alex is the most straightforward crewmember on the Rocinante and this makes him arguably the least interesting, but Abraham and Franck throw in a crowd-pleasing move by teaming him up with Bobbie Draper, the fan-favourite Martian marine from Caliban's War, for most of his mission.

The rotating chapter structure keeps things ticking along quite nicely and at first it appears that our characters are all involved in completely different events. Links soon appear between them and suddenly everything comes crashing together when the terror attacks take place. This is a game-changing moment in the series when the powers and factions we have gotten used to through four previous volumes are challenged by the arrival of a new, more dangerous force and all the existing rules are thrown out. The abruptness of the catastrophic attack is brutally effective, even if the scale of the conspiracy required to bring it about is at times unconvincing: Abraham and Franck evoke a similar feeling of shock to the events of 9/11 but on a far vaster scale involving thousands of conspirators, but that makes the likelihood of the plan succeeding without being found out rather less likely.

Once chaos has been unleashed the authors slam down the accelerator. Nemesis Games moves rapidly between Alex and Bobbie on a desperate rescue mission to Holden's politicking on Tycho Station to Amos and Clarissa Mao trying to escape from a scene of utter devastation to Naomi reluctantly trapped on the inside of the criminal conspiracy. There's a feeling of doom-laden relentlessness to the book which keeps things moving along quickly. This is also the first time in the series where the authors haven't felt the need to tie up the primary storyline before the end of the novel, as they seem to consider Nemesis Games and the forthcoming sixth volume, Babylon's Ashes, as a duology within the framework of the larger series. The novel ends with the bad guys still at large, the catastrophic aftermath of the attack still unfolding and new threats emerging beyond the wormhole gateways.

There are flaws in all of this: Naomi is captured and spends the bulk of the novel imprisoned and trying to talk her captors down from their villainy. Although the authors change things up by having Naomi's captors being her friends from childhood, it still feels a little too much like a retread of Naomi's story in the previous novel in the series, Cibola Burn. The actual moment of the terror attack also feels a little undercooked, as we move from the villain declaiming that something huge is about to happen to seeing a news report on the aftermath. But the impact on the characters is immense and the way it restructures the story going forwards is quite well-handled. In addition, some readers may be disappointed that there is little to no expansion given for the protomolecule storyline and the mystery of what happened to its creators, but arguably after three books focusing on that to the possible detriment of the human story, that's not too much of a problem.

Nemesis Games (****½) finally fulfils the promise laid down by Leviathan Wakes five years ago and is the best volume in The Expanse to date. The novel is available now in the UK and USA. The next book in the series, Babylon's Ashes, will be published on 2 November 2016.


Book 3: Cold Steel

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Revolution has come to Europa. Radicals are urging the oppressed workers, born into clientage to the nobles and mage houses, to rise up and seize control of their own destiny. At the same time the Iberian general Camjiata has returned home, raised an army and invaded the Gallic lands. But these great events are of lesser important to Cat Barahal than finding her husband, Andevai, now a prisoner of her enigmatic father.

Cold Steel concludes the Spiritwalker Trilogy, Kate Elliott's skillful and intriguing blend of epic fantasy, the Napoleonic Wars, the Industrial Revolution, steampunk and, er, dinopunk, all told as something approaching a Victorian comedy of manners. It's a highly unconventional work from an author constantly seeking out new angles in the fantasy genre.

It's also the best book in the series. The first two novels set up a lot of complicated elements, such as the Wild Hunt, the mage houses, Camjiata, Cat's intricate family backstory, the magical abilities of her cousin Bee and the radicals, but then let them drop into the background in favour of Andevai and Cat's romance. With that now established, these other elements rise to the fore and the story becomes more epic and complete, moving between the difference storylines and characters with greater ease than in the first two novels. It helps that the fire mage James Drake is now promoted from middling annoyance to outright supervillain in this novel, giving Cat and her allies something more tangible to fight against than the mysterious Master of the Wild Hunt and the otherworldly courts he answers to.

The pace is crisp and effective, with the book not getting bogged down in side-elements as occasionally threatened in Cold Fire, and indeed some elements feel a little under-explored given their set-up in earlier novels (most notably the dragons, who get one spectacular scene but otherwise don't play much of a role in affairs). A very minor issue is that the book does become slightly obsessed with Andevai's wardrobe choices to the point of parody (although I suspect this is the point): I could certainly do with never reading the words "dash jacket" in a fantasy novel again.

Beyond that, Elliott fulfils in Cold Steel (****) the promise laid down in the earlier two, delivering a finely characterised, enjoyable and offbeat conclusion to an original and different kind of fantasy trilogy. It's less weighty and intense, and maybe less memorable, than her earlier Crown of Stars and Crossroads series, but it may also be more fun. The book is available now in the UK and USA.


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It's a completely original script they're using, but it's set in FR (specifically, Waterdeep, at least partially). Originally it was Universal/Hasbro and Warner Brothers/Sweetpea (who had the film rights from the terrible 2000 movie) fighting over the screen rights, with WB developing the CHAINMAIL idea. Hasbro seems to have ditched Universal and agreed to work with WB in return for retooling the project and keeping Sweetpea and Courtney Solomon involved as producers in name only.

Since WB/Sweetpea originally didn't have the rights to any of the individual D&D worlds, books or characters (only the most generic D&D concepts), it looks like they've thrown out the CHAINMAIL script and restarted again with a FORGOTTEN REALMS-set movie. Canny move by Hasbro, as if legal problems raise their head at a later date they can simply stop WB making any sequels by withdrawing the FR rights.

Hasbro/WotC also apparently want cross-media synergy (ergh) by keeping the film set in the most recent version of the FORGOTTEN REALMS so they can do some marketing with the P&P game and any upcoming video games, whilst a lore-appropriate CRYSTAL SHARD movie would be set in the past of the setting. They could simply re-set the story in the 5th Edition, most up-to-date version of the setting but there may be some confusion there. Legally I believe TSR and then WotC/Hasbro retained all film rights to the individual novels so they don't have to do a separate deal with the authors, but it's not entirely clear if that was the case for all of the books from the very beginning, in which case they might have to strike up a deal with Salvatore which would be expensive.


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OK, so it doesn't look like it's on track to earn back the marketing budget on its own, but it seems they're making a killing on merchandising.

If the film is successful purely on the strength of merchandising, does that merit a sequel?

I haven't seen much merchandising around, to be honest, but yes, they could do well out of it (even if some of the merchandising is going rather out of its way not to feature the cast on the boxes). And if a film makes loads on merchandising that can help it get a sequel. A revenue stream is a revenue stream, especially these days.


Grognardy Dangerfield wrote:
Enough about you kids and your forgettable realms, when is Blackmoor or greyhawk getting their respect???

I think when they've sold a few more tens of millions of books/video games/gaming materials. Or the movie is a big hit and they get their expanded universe stuff and they decide to do a weird avant-garde, low-budget side movie in the universe (and I think it's way more likely we'll see DARK SUN and PLANESCAPE first).

I think the first movie and maybe a couple after will be in FORGOTTEN REALMS and then we might see something in DRAGONLANCE or EBERRON.


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I briefly met him at a convention in 1996, the weekend after "Severed Dreams" aired in the UK. The show was at the height of its popularity (it was a reasonably big show in the UK, and I think relatively bigger than it was in the States) and the place was jam packed. Doyle acted as unofficial compere and stand-up, cracking jokes and telling stories about filming. He was a very funny and charismatic guy. He really grew as an actor on the show as well, being quite brash in the first season but then a lot more nuanced as an actor in the fourth season.

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