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Frost Giant

Werthead's page

1,799 posts. No reviews. No lists. No wishlists.


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Melee works, but only if you really focus on it to the exclusion of everything else (most other character types you can divide into two focuses, like stealth/archer, but diverting attention from pure melee to anything else seems to just gimp melee). It also doesn't really fit in with the ethos of using the environment or terraforming the environment mid-battle with magic, since then you're just going to splatter your melee character with the enemy.

I use my archer to soften up the enemy at range (and Ricochet to deal out multiple hits) whilst my main mage slows them with oil slicks and then blows up said oil slick with fire (which can also slow them down), then my secondary mage (Jahan) shocks them with lightning. For fire-based enemies I switch to a Rain/Lightning combo which has the same effect, or just free them. Medora I keep in reserve for when the enemies reach the party, which hopefully is rarely. Also having her stand out front means she acts like a damage soak, with potions and the two mages able to keep her going.

The toughness of this game cannot be overestimated. It's suggested that you do everything you can in town before leaving (they recommend getting to Level 3, but at 3 this only reduces the threats outside town to 'rage-inducingly difficult' than 'totally impossible') and they are not kidding. Killing two zombies (named 'Rob' and 'Zombie') within sight of the town gates with four characters was a bit touch-and-go, and dealing with five orcs at once a bit up the beach (one of them a shaman) is still apparently beyond my party's ability. Instead have plundered the town cemetary and descended into the lesser-undead-infested catacombs underneath, which are more manageable.

I also encountered a dog whose owner had died and he was sitting next to the grave Greyfriars Bobby-style. However, when I talked to him the dog reported this wasn't out of dumb loyalty but because the smell from the grave is wrong. It turns out the original body has been stolen and replaced with a sheep corpse! A fresh mystery and quest awaits!

Oh yeah, in other news I found a mystical stone that opens the gateways between universes and has given me access to an interdimensional base of operations from where I can commune with a woman representing the entire tapestry of time and history, who has suggested that my characters are the reincarnations of once-powerful guardians of all of creation and it is our destiny to seal off the Void that is threatening to consume everything. But whatever, I'm still trying to help out the cat romance thing and now this dog quest has come up as well.

Definitely get the Pet Pal talent, the game is so much more fun with it. I found a clairvoyant bull ("Bull") who could foretell the future but when I asked what my future held, it screamed and tried to run off. It's friend ("Bill") helped him get over the shock and advised I give him time to recover.

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Been doing odd jobs in Cyseal, got another level in and recruited my two NPC party members. My current quest is trying to set up the inn's tomcat and the mayor's rare-breed feline who are desperately in love but tragically divided by class inequality.

Also saving the world from a gateway to oblivion that is threatening to destroy the universe, but the cat thing is my top priority at the moment.

Encountered a sentient clam on the shores of the sea.

"Call me Ishamashell..."

I booted it into the sea.

Game of the Year.

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I've printed out this guide from Kotaku (it's 11 A4 pages with the images and comments taken out). It's not quite as hardcore as some of the guides out there and covers the bases without spoiling everything.

The game has that thing that XCOM has of almost encouraging you to mess up first time out to learn more stuff for your 'proper' playthrough. Which is great if you have 200 hours to spare on the game, not so much if you don't. The Kotaku guide is useful for pointing out basic things so you don't completely gimp your party to the point of unplayability before the game even starts (which is quite possible without any advice). For example, you can pick up a tank character and a water/air mage pretty quickly in the game, so the Kotaku writer focused on an earth/fire mage who doubles as the main party spokesperson and trader, and a sneak-oriented bowman and crafter as their primaries.

Crafting seems to be vitally important, as your equipment degrades in the game (bows more than anything else). Being able to fix stuff is vital. It's also a great idea to find a spade ASAP as a lot of loot is buried and the game is ridiculously frugal with spades later on. It's also a good idea to get the invisibility stealth skill for the aforementioned painting thefts and the Pet Pal skill to talk to the animals. This sounds bizarre, but apparently there's a ton of side-quests and potential ways to finish other quests by talking to animals and getting them on your side. It's also hilarious.

It's also worth noting that the game's UI is rather unintuitive. Each character actually has 3 hotbars. There's tiny little arrows to the left of each hotbar which cycles through them. Also, you inventory is bigger than you think and scrollbars will appear when you reach the bottom of the grid. You can also press 'Alt' to highlight usable things on the screen (a bit like Ctrl in the Infinity Engine games) which can be quite useful.

Important safety tip: blood conducts electricity. So if a fight's been going on for a while and everyone's splattered with blood, letting off a lightning bolt is a really bad idea.

This is a weird idea. Harmony Gold are way past their glory days, but you'd assume they could still raise the funds to do this themselves. Asking the fans to do it seems a bit cheap of them. If they can't get the interest to do it privately, maybe it's because ROBOTECH's time has passed?

The miniatures wargame Kickstarter at least made more sense because it was by a small company and was a massive initial outlay. This, not so much.

Miller is 48 and Thomas Jane is 45, so it does work out. A lot of the publicity pictures the websites are using are from when he was in PUNISHER, which was over a decade ago, or HUNG, which was half a decade ago. He looks suitably more grizzled now.

PACIFIC RIM 2 will be released on 7 April, 2017. There will also be an animated spin-off series.

The Producers said they cut the LS storyline because they don't know what to do with it yet.

I believe there's still some discussion about what's going on with it, which is why they couldn't tell the director what was happening.

The current theories are:

LS, along with the ironborn storyline, may be dependent on the show going seven or eight seasons. In the case of eight, LS can be included and the ironborn plot can also appeared, although likely in a truncated form (as the Dorne plot sounds like it will appear in a more restrained form). In the case of seven, LS and the ironborn can be dropped altogether, maybe with a briefer storyline focusing on Yara and not bringing in Euron and Victarion (Balon presumably must still die due to the leeching scene, though).

I suspect harder discussions on that are happening now, with everyone leaning towards seven as the magic number due to recent comments.

The only problem with all of this is that without LS, Brienne's storyline for next year would seem to be lacking a decent ending, unless they decide to make stuff up out of thin air.

Each of the 3 LotR novels is substantially less than 200K words long (187K, 155K, and 131K, respectively).

LotR is one novel but originally published in three volumes due to the cost of paper in the UK post-war. But it was written and executed as one book and only divided into volumes long after completion.

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Rynjin wrote:

It's not longer than any of his contemporaries.

Er, they are, by a fair bit. The only fantasy novels published in the last decade to come even close are THE WISE MAN'S FEAR and WORDS OF RADIANCE, and even they are 20-30,000 words shorter.

The only fantasy novels in existence that are longer than the longest ASoIaF books are LotR and Tad Williams' TO GREEN ANGEL TOWER.

I'm of the opinion that if Robert Jordan can put out a novel every 2 years or so, of similar length (if not more!) on his deathbed, GRRM should be able to do it given 3-4 at least.

RJ's longest novel was THE SHADOW RISING, which was still 40,000 words shorter than A STORM OF SWORDS or A DANCE OF DRAGONS, and written a long time before RJ died. RJ was getting up to 2-3 years each for his last four books, each of which was around 250-320,000 words. And, much as I enjoyed TWoT, let's not kid ourselves those books compare even to GRRM's last two books.

Also, RJ never wrote a book on his deathbed. He was diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis after Book 11 - his last one - came out and after some very early work on the next book had been done. He spend time writing notes and outlines, but not much actual fiction.

And I'm quite certain Tolkien wouldn't have taken ten years on LotR if he'd had a computer.

The primary reason for Tolkien taking that long was his infamous procrastination, self-doubt and not touching the manuscript for months (and at one point a year) at a time. He may have written a bit faster with a computer, but that was not the primary cause of the delay.

At least they were COMPLETE, and bad, instead of HALF FINISHED and bad.

Incorrect. Books 8 and 9 were supposed to be one book, and 10 and 11 were supposed to be another. RJ kept splitting them up rather than delete the inconsequential filler chapters (which in the case of Book 10 was pretty much the entire novel).

Also, whilst AFFC and ADWD have issues, they are in no way comparable to the problems Jordan had. Even AFFC's most tepid chapters tower most convicingly over the finest moments from PATH OF DAGGERS or CROSSROADS OF TWILIGHT in terms of characterisation and thematic development (even if plot progress was not as strong as might be wished).

Raise the difficulty buddy.

The poor hub design changes if you raise the difficulty level? I can only imagine that doing that would make the combat even worse than it already is, which the game definitely doesn't need.

It's Harry in the books, and he only has a claim to the Vale, not the whole Seven Kingdoms. And yes, it's likely Harry won't be in the TV show at all and they'll simply use the idea of a Sansa-Robin betrothal instead.

The fact of the matter is, he has an obligation as a PERSON, not a writer, to keep to his promises. If you can't keep a promise, don't MAKE a promise.

It's worth noting that at no point, ever, did GRRM 'promise' to deliver the fifth book a year after the fourth. Even in the afterword he says it's a hope, as the fifth book is "nowhere near done." People read a bit more into that than the author ever intended.

I also find it bemusing that an author taking five years to write books that are five times longer than the average novel (80-100,000 words) is in any way controversial. It may be worthwhile criticising the author for not planning things better to have tighter novels, or for being overly optimistic when the situation behind closed doors is not great (certainly the case on ADWD, especially in the first couple of years), but raging at someone for not being able to churn out 420,000+ words in a few months is quite unrealistic. ADWD is almost as long as LotR in its entirety, and it took Tolkien 10 years to write (and 17 to produce in total) that novel.

Playing THIEF right now. On Chapter 3, so less than halfway through the game.

Initial thoughts:

Contextual jumping works okay but needs more signposting: it's often very unclear when you can jump and when you can't. It's also a bit random on what walls you can jump up and which you can't. It makes navigating the city a bit of a nightmare. In fact, getting across the city is a pain in the backside. The hub area is very, very small but they confuse the geography so much that it takes ages (and often traversing people's homes) to get anywhere. This puts me off doing the side-missions as traipsing around the hub just isn't any fun.

Generally, the stealth is well-done and the relatively high cost of supplies encourages you to steal everything in sight. I also like it that if Garrett spots some sweet loot he'll forget above everything else to grab it (and grumble if you leave without it), which reminds you that he is just an opportunist at heart. Combat is awful, which is just as well as it encourages you to avoid it.

The atmosphere and setting leave a lot to be desired. Is it steampunk or not? Clockwork robots, explosives and gas lights say yes, but no guns (at least so far), swords and coshes everywhere and the general level of peasantry seem to say no. The story is also poor and so far the characters have been absolutely non-existent.

Almost every moment of playing the game has been accompanied by me thinking that it's an inferior knock-off of DISHONORED, which given that the original THIEF games inspired DISHONORED is definitely not right.

So far, it's okay but needs to step it up a little bit and give me more of a reason for caring about what's going on.

An article I wrote for Gollancz (who are publishing the ELITE: DANGEROUS tie-in books) about the dangers of docking in the original game.

Syrio Forel was more inspired by Montoya, but Oberyn's catchesism was a bit of a reference as well. Martin is a PRINCESS BRIDE fan.

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There could be another one on its way: a LOCKE LAMORA TV show in the works.

This would be based on the GENTLEMAN BASTARD series of novels by Scott Lynch, which are very, very good. They're about a group of rogues and con-men (and women) operating on a world littered with the crystal ruins of a long-vanished alien species. Magic is extremely difficult to make work and there's a larger socio-political crisis unfolding in the background that will lead to civil war.

No word on network or timescale, but Ryan Condal (who recently adapted the weird west comic THE SIXTH GUN for NBC as a pilot, before they passed on it) is writing the script.

LOCKE LAMORA TV show in the works.

It's also looking like THORN OF EMBERLAIN is going to be delayed (not the biggest surprise in the world), but right now only to March or so.

There's nothing that bounces a new customer away like staring at a bookshelf full of incompatible books that all say "Dungeons and Dragons" with no visible indication which ones will be a waste of their $50.

The recent books are edition-agnostic and (theoretically) can be used with 5E, so that shouldn't be a problem. WotC will also likely have big standee things at first for just the 5E stuff. They'll likely encourage retailers with back-stock of older editions to put them in a different area as well. I know they did with my local game store when both 3E and 4E came out. Everything else went back to WotC or onto the bargain shelves.

Another extract from THE WORLD OF ICE AND FIRE.

This section tells the story of the war between the Rhoynar and the Valyrians. Incensed with the Valyrians colonising the riverbank, slaughtering the great turtles and engaging in river piracy and trade wars, the Rhoynar raise an army 250,000, augmented by powerful water wizards, to destroy the Valyrians once and for all. After a series of stunning victories, the Rhoynar march on Volantis, only to find that the Valyrians have (inevitably) deployed dragons against them. Three hundred of them.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman


A middle-aged man returns to his home for a funeral, only to be drawn back into the long-forgotten events of his childhood, when he travelled through an ocean, visited another world and brought back something that did not want to leave.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is Neil Gaiman's first novel for adults for eight years. It started off as a novella and grew larger than he first intended, though at 250 pages it's still on the short side for a novel. This is a book that touches on a number of themes, such as nostalgia, memory (and how it is mutable) and how a child's perception differs from that of an adult's. The book also ties in with some of Gaiman's other work, bringing in the Hempstock family from Stardust and The Graveyard Book. This is a novel that operates primarily as a mood piece, evoking the feeling of a childhood idyll and then darkening it with a nightmarish intrusion from another place. It's a classic trope, taking the idea of childhood as a sacrosanct time of warmth, fun and protection and then violating it with a force of darkness and evil.

That said, it's a story that Gaiman seems to shy away from exploring fully. Our unnamed protagonist has a rather capable of group of allies in the form of the Hempstock family, who know everything that's going on and have a solution for every problem that arises. It's difficult to build tension when your main character has a group of powerful magic-users on speed dial (effectively) to call upon at every turn. The book's structure is also odd: the novel is short, but it's quite a long time before the evil force arrives and it departs some time before the end of the book. It's almost like Gaiman wanted to write a moody piece about childhood but then decided he needed some sort of existential threat to be introduced and defeated because, well, it's a fantasy novel.

It's all well-written, as you'd expect, and there's some very nice moments of humour, characterisation and even genre-bending (the Hempstock occasionally evoking atomic physics and dark matter to explain magical events). But it's also a slight novel, with an odd structure and some fairly straightforward plotting. Gaiman seems to have always struggled a little with plotting in his novels, oddly as it's something he does very well in his comic and TV work, and Ocean doesn't address that issue.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (***½) is a readable, enjoyable and, ultimately, disposable book. It passes the time but does not lodge in the mind the way Sandman or Neverwhere did. So, the wait for the undisputed Gaiman masterpiece novel continues. Ocean at the End of the Lane is available now in the UK and USA.

Regarding Coldhands:

One of the actors confirmed that Coldhands will not appear this season. And probably not at all, if his primary role was to guide Team Bran to the Three-Eyed Crow.

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Abyssal Lord wrote:
About Universal Healthcare in other countries like France and Japan. Do the French and Japanese pay higher taxes for universal healthcare?

Frane and Japan have universal healthcare but not single-payer healthcare, which means that people's employers and other bodies are also responsible for paying into the healthcare pot. So the individual does not necessarily pay a lot in direct taxation from their own income.

The UK has a single-payer system based around direct taxation (both from the main tax pot and a secondary tax system called National Insurance, which puts aside some of your tax against future healthcare needs and future bouts of unemployment). But even we don't pay as much as Americans do as a percentage of tax.

This is the point I was making earlier on: we pay less in direct tax and get a pretty good national health system out of it. Americans pay more but then have to pay for health insurance on top of that, and all too often the insurance companies wriggle out of paying so they then have to fork out the full cost of the treatment.

From the outside-the-US perspective, you guys look like you're getting fleeced.

Novella 3: Borders of Infinity


Miles Vorkosigan, in his guise as Admiral Naismith of the Dendarii Mercenaries, has been captured by the Cetagandans and imprisoned on a remote moon, along with thousands of other POWs. Vorkosigan finds a camp in the grip of chaos, with different groups of prisoners fighting amongst themselves and the strong preying on the weak. He has to somehow unite the prisoners before any breakout can be attempted...which is difficult to do when you have bones that shatter easily and no incentives to use.

Borders of Infinity is another short novella featuring the character of Miles Vorkosigan, this time back with the Dendarii (after a break of several stories and books, in chronological order anyway) before being imprisoned by the Cetagandans. It's a fairly straightforward and entertaining story, basically involving Miles trying to set up a prison break but being confronted by problems with asserting his authority and making enemies who want to kill him, even if it means they never escape.

The story's slightness works against it, as does a muddled tone. Funny scenes - Miles being forced to walk around naked and working with a crazy religious nut to try to win over the soldiers - are contrasted against some of the darker and more brutal scenes that Bujold has written to date. Making such a juxtaposition work is possible, but Bujold fails to achieve it here.

There's also the problem of the story being bigger than its word count. The story could easily have been twice as long, but just as it's getting started it abruptly ends, and in a rather straightforward manner as well (although the fallout does at least get novel-length coverage, in Brothers in Arms).

Borders of Infinity (***) is readable and passes the time, but is again a fairly short and slight story that feels like it's a novel that's been truncated almost to the point of non-existence. A story that's more important for what it does (setting up Brothers in Arms) than what it is, then. It can be found in the Miles Errant omnibus (UK, USA).

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The TV show is better than the books in a few areas: Robb's relationship was better depicted on-screen than off (even if it was cheesy), the Red Wedding was that bit more brutal on-screen (even if we lost all the fan-favourite supporting characters who bought it as well), some of the pacing is better and there's more focus on existing characters than constantly bringing in new ones. Characters like Margaery, Osha and Shae are also a lot more interesting on-screen than in the books.

However, the books are better than the TV show in the overwhelming majority of cases. Most of the characters are better (Loras is much more interesting and complex than the gay, occasionally effeminite fop the TV show has reduced him to; Sansa has a bit more depth and Littlefinger is vastly subtler and less obviously villainous) and Stannis is vastly superior. It's a tribute to Dillane's acting that he can still get people's sympathy, but the book version of the character is so much richer and more interesting:

He's an excellent example of a character being defined by POV: Cressen and Davos don't think Stannis has a sense of humour, so the reader also doesn't think he has one. But then as the books progress you realise he does, it's just incredibly dry, laconic and only comes out at certain moments. Jon spots it in an unguarded moment so his assessment of Stannis and subsequent relationship with him is rather different to those other characters'.

It's rather worrying that Benioff and Weiss have said they don't like him very much and see him as more of a villain than the ultra-grey, ruthless but occasionally heroic figure of the books. A shame as 'Blackwater' (not written by them, notably) seemed to get him so much better than any episode since.

Wait a minute. You're telling me that a given writer can actually use "It's Magic, I don't have to explain s***" as an excuse if people like their book enough?

Nope, the writer has said, "It's magic but there is a logical explanation for it and it will be given in one of the later books in the series." Which I think is fair enough. We can moan about it later if the explanation turns out to be rubbish :)

GRRM did okay or order every major character death (and there are a few along the way). Apparently his first experience with getting angry fan letters about character deaths came in the first triad, when even briefly-set up characters who died very quickly triggered complaints. I think one character who died only had one line, "Where's the cheese?" before buying it.

He experienced the same thing later in ASoIaF of course, not to mention working on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (although that was a bigger deal, being one of the series leads).

SyFy were developing a film version, to be scripted by Melinda Snodgrass (the - often uncredited - co-editor of the WILD CARDS books, frequent writer on the series and a former producer on ST:TNG). The problem seems to be that SyFy wanted to do it as a big-budget 'proper' film in co-operation with a big studio, and then the big financial crisis happened and no big studio wanted to risk it.

I've got a feeling that GRRM would be very happy for the rights to lapse so he could take it to HBO. If HBO ever wanted to do a superhero series, WILD CARDS would be right up their alley. Hell, it's more HBO than ASoIF ever was ;-)

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The problem is that it's expensive. Fantasy takes place mainly outdoors and outdoors filming compared to a climate-controlled set with reliable weather is VERY expensive, even before you add in any effects or prosthetics work. The reason GAME OF THRONES costs c. $7 million per episode (more than three times the cost of a regular network American TV show) is the mind-boggling amount of location filming required per episode (in 3-5 different countries, depending on the season) on top of the sets, the enormous cast and the effects.

If you look at MERLIN, they were only really able to make that show because they were fortunate to have a huge French castle which let them film it there relatively cheaply (they realised, correctly, they'd get a huge increase in tourism instead) and a controlled number of surrounding forests they could use with impunity. Which sounds great until you realised in Season 5 you could start recognising individual trees because they'd been reused so much. XENA and HERCULES did something similar (substitute bits of New Zealand for France).

If you look at an SF show like BSG or the ST series, they had big standing sets they could use and just let some effects and a couple of guest actors pick up the slack, and every few episodes they could then afford a big blow-out. And of course regular shows can get their costumes and props off-the-peg.

Every third book in the series is a mosaic (where each story is basically a chapter in a single story). The rest are linked anthologies, where each story stands alone but some threads and ideas continue through them (and characters guest-star in other writers' stories). The first one is the most diffuse, as it spans 40 years (the rest all seem to span just weeks, days or, in the case of the third book, hours), but even that has elements carrying on from one story to another.

I still have to finish the BLACK COMPANY first :)

Wild Cards #1: Wild Cards


An alien species decides to use Earth to test a new bioweapon. An airborne criminal seizes the weapon and tries to use it to blackmail the city of New York. A former WWII flying ace tries to stop him. And, on 15 September 1946, the world is forever changed when the wild card virus is unleashed in the skies over Manhattan.

Ninety percent of those infected by the virus die instantly. A further nine percent develop crippling deformities or abnormalities, becoming known as 'jokers'. And one in a hundred of those infected develops a wondrous superpower. They become the 'aces'. As an alternative history of the 20th Century unfolds, the American government first tries to use the aces for their own ends and then, in a paranoid frenzy, turns against them, before they finally win some recognition for themselves. But for the jokers, forced to live in a ghetto in Manhattan, their road to recognition and respect will be much harder.

Wild Cards is the first book in the series of the same name, which of this time of writing spans twenty-one volumes with two more planned. This isn't a series of novels, but collections of stories written by many different authors. George R.R. Martin (of A Song of Ice and Fire fame) and Melinda Snodgrass provide editorial control, ensuring that each volume has its own narrative drive and point beyond just collecting random short stories together. The stories are set in their own milieu, with authors sharing ideas, using each other's characters and building up a consistent, coherent shared world.

The first Wild Cards book opens with a bang, with Howard Waldrop giving us the origin story for the entire setting in 'Thirty Minutes Over Broadway'. This is a terrific slice of fiction, with Waldrop fusing pulp energy with his own idiosyncratic style to give us something weird, resolutely entertaining and rather tragic in its own right. Roger Zelazny - yes, that one, the author of the Amber series and Lord of Light - then provides the origin story for Croyd Crenson, the Sleeper, one of the original aces whose powers shift every time he goes to sleep. Crenson's periods of hibernation provide a handy way of fast-forwarding through the immediate aftermath of the crisis, showing how New York, the USA and the world adapt to the arrival of the virus. Walter Jon Williams and Melinda Snodgrass then show us two sides of the same tale through 'Witness' and 'Degradation Rites', the story of the Four Aces and their betrayal by the American government. These opening four stories provide a quadruple-whammy of setting up this alternate history and doing so whilst telling stories that are well-written (superbly so in both Waldrop and Zelazny's cases, though the others are not far behind), finely characterised and as gut-wrenchingly unpredictable as anything in the editor's fantasy stories.

Later stories remain highly readable, though perhaps not quite on a par with this opening salvo. Martin's own 'Shell Games' is, perhaps unexpectedly, the most uplifting story in the book, the story of the bullied boy who becomes a superhero. Michael Cassut's 'Captain Cathode and the Secret Ace' and David Levine's 'Powers', two new additions for the 2010 edition of the book, are both decent, filling in gaps in the history. Lewis Shiner's 'Long Dark Night of Fortunato' introduces one of the setting's less salubrious characters and makes for effective, if uneasy, reading. Victor Milan's 'Transfigurations' shows how the anti-Vietnam rallies of the late 1960s and early 1970s are changed by the presence of the wild card virus (and gives us an ace-on-ace rumble that is particularly impressive). 'Down Deep' by Edward Bryant and Leanne Harper is probably the weirdest story in the collection (which in this collection is saying something), a moody trawl through the underbelly of New York (figurative and literal). It's probably a little bit too weird, with an ending that is risks being unintentionally comical, but is still reasonably effective.

Stephen Leigh's 'Strings' and Carrie Vaughn's 'Ghost Girl Takes Manhattan' (the latter being another new addition in this edition) return to the quality of the opening quartet. The former depicts the jokers' battle for civil rights, resulting in riots and chaos in Jokertown and New York that a shadowy figure is manipulating for his own ends. 'Ghost Girl' is a straight-up adventure with the titular character teaming up with Croyd Crenson to find her missing friend. 'Ghost Girl' could be a novel in its own right, with the battling criminal gangs and dodgy drug-taking rock bands providing a canvas that's almost too big for the story, but Vaughn's method of keeping the story under control and resolving it is most effective. Finally, John J. Miller's 'Comes a Hunter', in which a 'nat' sets out to avenge the death of his friend by going up against some criminal aces, is a superbly-written thriller which examines how 'normal' people can stand up against aces and jokers.

The book as a whole is excellent, with the stories entwining around real history and changing it in a way that is mostly organic and convincing. There are a few issues with plausibility here - most notably the way no-one seems particularly bothered about the proven existence of an alien race that has just tried to poison the entire planet - but for the most part the writers use the premise to tell stories about the changed history of the USA (from McCarthyism to civil rights to Vietnam) in an intelligent, passionate manner.

Wild Cards (*****) introduces the world, setting and many of its memorable characters through a series of well-written, smart stories. There isn't a weak card in the deck, and the best stories (those by Waldrop, Williams, Snodgrass and especially Zelazny) are up there with the best of their original work. The book is available now in the UK and USA.

GAME OF THRONES renewed for TWO more seasons. Because that's how HBO rolls.

Look, GRRM hasn't even said, maybe the planet's not spherical at all, maybe it's got more of a Pratchett shape to it.

Actually, he has. People asked this years ago and GRRM said it was a spherical planet, and possibly slightly larger than Earth.

I might be mistaken here, but I'm pretty sure that the seasons are ONLY wobbly in Westeros, so the concept of the "year" comes from elsewhere in the world.

Nope, Essos suffers from them as well. The winters are just not as noticeable as Essos is located further south. But if you read the latest book, there's reports of canals freezing over and the grass of the plains starting to die.

Hitdice wrote:
(How do people who live on a planet without regular seasons even invent the concept of a year? You'd have to ask GRRM himself.)

They simply count the number of times the moon circles the planet: twelve times makes one year. The jury's out on if this means their year is slightly shorter than ours or if Martinworld's lunar orbits fit the year more exactly than ours do.

Another great episode. Anyone know the exact timeline when Jaime/Robert etc took the throne and when the story takes place now. I dont remember Jaime's age coming up in the books but i would have to assume its been 20 years?

In the TV series, Season 1 is 17 years after Robert's Rebellion. Season 3 is two years later, so 19. Season 4 is still 19 until we hear otherwise, but yeah, getting on for 20. Tywin is also probably rounding up a couple of years for Jaime's age.

In the books, the first novel opens 15 years after the Rebellion and by the end of ADWD between two-and-a-half and three years have passed.

As far as government tax revenue goes, the money has disappeared off the face of the earth

In individual circumstances of waste or corruption, yes. In theory, it shouldn't. It should go on spending for the military, public services, the cost of governance, police, schools etc, all of which provides a tangible return for everyone in society.

The response to a government wasting money shouldn't be the abolition of taxes (which is basically a call for the abolution of the nation-state, a curious desire), but for the government to become more efficient and less wasteful. How you do that when the tendency of any large government is to become less efficient with the more people it has to deal with is altogether less clear. The USA and the EU certainly seem to indicate that there are severe limitations to how efficient a government can be when dealing with 250 million+ people. OTOH, the experiences in Scotland and Wales in the UK, where government spending has been much more succesful and transparent, seems to suggest devolution and putting those spending decisions in the hands of smaller authorities may be an answer.

I'm sure Elio would have namechecked Douglas Adams for the deadline comment, which is where that one came from :-)

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Now I'm not saying our system is the best in the world, nor am I saying that America sucks, it does many things better than where I am from. But healthcare is not one of them. You pay more for a system that does not cover everybody and generally offers inferior care to most people.

Yup. And what's really ludicrous is that Americans pay more of their taxes towards healthcare than we do. But we get a free health service out of it and they have to go off afterwards and spend huge amounts more on medical insurance. Then, when the insurer wriggles out of paying for an operation because the small print says they don't have to pay for operations on days ending in a 'y', they have to go and find the money to cover the full cost of the procedure.

This is a situation that that is quite blatantly ludicrous, and it's beyond me why anyone - left or right - puts up with it. There are solutions from both sides of the political spectrum which would be preferable to the current one (either full social health care or fully private health care which is not subsidised by taxes).

There is no reason that having a national health service should automatically make a country socialist, any more than having a national crime-fighting service or a national fire service or a national army should. It's just about where you draw the lines on what you consider to be a basic human need that government (either local or nationa) should fulfil. For many people around the world and many countries, few if any of which would call themselves socialist (apart from Cuba, of course, which happily owns it), health service is definitely something that counts as a basic need that private corporations should have absolutely no hand in whatsoever.

The UK currently has the most right-wing government it's had in thirty years and despite a lukewarm government attempt to sabotage the NHS through constant interference and cost-cutting (although some cost savings are essential), the NHS is still here and still works just fine. It's certainly overly-simplistic to say that a British NHS that works means an American NHS would as well (the two countries, for all their similarities, have vastly different methods of funding public services), but the simple fact that many countries have public healthcare and don't 1) explode or 2) turn into Commie dictatorships indicates it is at least possible.

One question that comes to mind that if we accept that the American federal government couldn't find its backside if it used both hands and thus shouldn't be put in charge of looking after people's kidneys (although it appears to be fine ot let them look after enough nuclear weapons to burn off the surface of the planet down to the bedrock), is there no mechanism whereby the individual states could institute their own public healthcare systems? Presumably massive states with low populations couldn't make it work, but it looks from over here that places like California, New York and Texas certainly could without letting the federal government have to take oversight.

Novella 2: Labyrinth


In his disguise as commander of the Dendarii mercenary fleet, Miles Vorkosigan is dispatched by Barrayaran intelligence to rendezvous with a defector on the anarchic world of Jackson's Whole. However, it isn't long before Miles is up to his neck in political intrigue between three feuding houses, with the defector, a mutant and a werewolf to worry about...

Labyrinth is a short novella featuring Lois McMaster Bujold's signature character of Miles Vorkosigan, once again up to his neck in trouble after a simple mission goes wrong (as they usually do). It's a fun little piece, featuring lots of Miles getting captured, smart-talking his way through interrogations and then escaping whilst throwing an entire world into turmoil but retaining deniability for Barrayar.

Whilst it's good, it's slight. There's some interesting stuff about genetic engineering, not to mention the first appearance in the Miles timeline of the quaddies, people who have had their legs replaced with arms to better cope with life in zero-gee. Between the quaddie, the werewolf (actually a genetically-altered super-soldier), the dwarf (Miles) and the hermaphrodite (recurring character Bel Thorne), the novella can be said to be about people who are outcast from some societies due to unthinking prejudice. Unfortunately, the novella's short length prevents Bujold from exploring any of the issues in any real great depth, especially as the fascinating sociological stuff is put on hold for most of the story as we instead follow Miles trying to break out of a prison.

That said, Labyrinth (***) is a fun read which cracks along fairly smartly and packs a fair amount of character development and action into a short page count. It's just a shame that Bujold didn't flesh the story out into a full novel, as it feels like the characters and issues being explored could have warranted it. Without that exploration, the novella ultimately feels too slight and disposable. The novella is available now in the UK and USA as part of the Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus. Oddly, it is also reprinted in the Miles, Mutants and Microbes omnibus as well.

My father-in-law is from England and has told me horror stories about the government run healthcare in the UK.

The NHS, when it is properly funded and overseen, is excellent. When it is improperly funded, as is usually the case under Conservative governments (who want to privatise it due to ideological dogma, but cannot because the British public overwhelmingly supports it because we see the horror story alternative of the US insurance system, so first they must make it fail), it can turn into a mess. When it is improperly overseen, as was the case under the overly-bureaucratic New Labour period, it can become too expensive. The problem we have right now is that it is suffering from both, with some hospitals on the verge of bankruptcy.

Despite all of that, the quality of the service you usually get is pretty good, and waiting times are a small fraction of what they were in the 1990s when people died on waiting lists on a regular basis. There is no real practical or viable alternative either: any government which told people they'd have to get private insurance instead (at a higher cost) and then spend months battling insurance companies on each claim would be thrown out of office so hard they would bounce, and would remain unelectable for generations.

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One occasionally-mooted suggestion is that Noah two representatives of every animal type on the ark, rather than every single species and subspecies. However, I believe it's been pointed out that this merely reduces the number of animals on the ark from millions to a still-impractical several thousand.

The Stormlight Archive Book 2: Words of Radiance


The world of Roshar is under threat. A mysterious assassin is slaughtering the rulers of the nations. In the east, the armies of Alethkar and the Parshendi are clashing on the Shattered Plains. Signs are appearing that the evil voidbringers are returning to bring about the Desolation, the destruction of the civilised world. But there are also signs that the Knights Radiant, humans empowered with amazing abilities, are returning to stop them.

Words of Radiance is the much-delayed second volume in The Stormlight Archive series (expected to last for ten volumes) and the sequel to 2010's The Way of Kings. Brandon Sanderson's work on this novel was delayed by his commitment to completing Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time sequence. With that accomplished, Sanderson is now free to focus on his own mega-epic and bring out future novels in a more timely fashion; the third Stormlight novel (working title: Unhallowed Stones) will likely follow before the end of 2015.

Like much of Sanderson's work, the novel balances traditional epic fantasy tropes with highly original and interesting worldbuilding, logically well-thought-out magic systems and hints of a much grander plan lying behind everything. Whilst only the second book of The Stormlight Archive, this is also the eighth novel set in his Cosmere universe (following on from Elantris, Warbreaker, the four Mistborn novels and of course The Way of Kings). Whilst previously the Cosmere links were fairly subtle and mostly of interest for Easter Egg hunters, in this series they are much more overt. Hoid (aka Wit), who only appeared in minor cameos in the other books, plays a much more important role here.

Words of Radiance is also big. At over 400,000 words, it's the longest epic fantasy novel published since George R.R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons, approaching 1,100 pages in hardcover (so yes, the UK paperback will be split for publication next year). It's an immense novel, not because an enormous amount happens but because Sanderson lets events unfold at a fairly relaxed pace. We only have four major POV characters (Shallan, Kaladin, Dalinar and Adolin) and a whole host of minor ones in remote parts of the world that we flit between. The minor POV chapters are highlights, with Sanderson crafting each one almost into a separate short story set in the midst of a grander tale. The story about the trader who has to make a bargain with a bunch of people who live on the back of a vast creature dwelling in the sea is effective, as is the story of a young burglar who turns out to be more than she appears. Whilst these stories are enjoyable, they also feel a little random sprinkled throughout the longer book, especially since their consequences may not be explored in full until the second half of the series.

The main narrative, unfortunately, is much slower. After we spent most of the first, 1,000-page volume on the Shattered Plains we then proceed to spend most of the second, even longer, volume in the same place. The first book had the advantage of introducing the location and its weird alien landscape, but by at least a quarter of the way through Words of Radiance the setting has lost a lot of is lustre. Fortunately, the end of the novel suggests that we have left behind the Plains and won't see them again, which is well past time. The interludes show that Roshar is a fascinating, well-designed and evocative location and getting to see more of it in future volumes rather than just one broken landscape will be a relief.

Whilst the story is slow to unfold, it does at least move things forward significantly. More Knights Radiant appear, we learn more about the world, its history and its cultures and there are some surprising and shocking deaths (although at least one of them turns out to be a disappointing fake-out). Readers of the other Cosmere books will also have a head start in working out what's going on, which is good for them but possibly a little unfair for more casual readers. Up until now - even arguably including The Way of Kings - the Cosmere stuff has been optional background only, with it not being necessary to read every book in the setting to enjoy the next one. Words of Radiance is the first time I felt like being familiar with the Cosmere was necessary to fully appreciate what the author was doing. This is made clear in no uncertain terms when the novel ends with an event which will won't make much sense unless you've also read Warbreaker.

On the character side of things, Sanderson is definitely improving novel to novel. Shallan, the least-developed character in the previous novel, takes centre stage here and becomes a much more rounded and interesting figure. Her forced humour and defensiveness, which was previously just annoying, is fleshed out a lot here as we get to know the reasons for it. Given it's not something he's known for, Sanderson successfully turns Shallan's story into an effective and unexpected tragedy. Adolin also graduates from 'heroic buffoon' to a slightly darker, more complex character (though not until quite late in the novel). Kaladin's unrelenting emoness continues unabated (despite his transformation into a fantasy version of Neo from The Matrix), but he's a much less dominant character this time around and he does lighten up as the book goes on, which is a relief. More problematic is the dialogue, which often feels clunky and sometimes incongruous. Roshar isn't Earth or even particularly reminiscent of any of our own time periods, but the use of modern language and terms ('awesomeness', 'upgrade') may be distracting for some readers.

Sanderson's signature magic systems are present and correct, though it's possible he's gone overboard in the Stormlight books. There are something like thirty magic systems on Roshar (even if they are variants on similar themes) and the relationships between Surgebinding, Lashing, Truthspeaking, the Old Magic and so forth are not very clearly defined. It also doesn't help that some of the magic systems of the other Cosmere worlds are also alluded to (one character is even a Misting from Scadrial, the setting of the Mistborn novels, though he barely appears). Whilst previously Sanderson has outline his magic systems with clarity, here it feels like he's been taking some lessons from Steven Erikson and just decided to drop the reader into a confusing maze which they have to work their own way out of.

Words of Radiance (****) is a good book beset by minor problems: dialogue issues, a languid pace and often irrelevant-feeling (though often individually fun) side-chapters. At the same time it features much-improved characters, superior worldbuilding and some impressive action set-pieces. I don't think Stormlight is ever going to be as era-defining an epic fantasy as The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire and The Malazan Book of the Fallen are, with Sanderson sometimes definitely 'trying too hard' to match those stories for scale and scope and missing their strengths with character and plot, but it's still a readable and fun series. One thing I think Sanderson definitely needs to do with future volumes is make them smaller, trim the fat and give a more focused story each time. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

A much longer (18 minutes) video showing navigation, docking, hyperjumping and combat.


Bear Simulator is a game that simulates you playing - wait for it - a bear.

That's right: a bear! You can go fishing, beat up pigs and crush butterflies for no discernible reason. You can engage bees in mortal combat and pick berries.

And the end of the video suggests there may be a more to it than that...

It's out, but was released as an exclusive for the A World of Ice and Fire app from Random House (which also includes a big update which includes all of the official world maps and information on the new locations).

I suspect it'll be an exclusive for a while (3-6 months?) and then we'll see it on GRRM's website.

PILLARS OF ETERNITY will now be published by Paradox.

This doesn't affect anything at all - it's a partnership, not a subordinate thing - apart from the fact that ETERNITY will now have more of a marketing campaign and Paradox can push the game on their huge European fanbase a lot more, as well as Obsidian being able to target Western markets. The game will be released via GoG and Steam as planned (a physical release hasn't entirely been ruled out either) and backers will still get a copy of the finished game plus their other rewards.

Good news all around, I think. The game is still due to come out in late 2014.

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Then again, we have to consider Robert Jordan as well -- in which case there is no finished product.

Apart from...the finished product?

Sanderson finished the series off, but based closely on Jordan's notes and with a fair bit of Jordan-written material scattered through the conclusion (including the very last chapter). So that's not a terrific comparison.

you would be waiting a long time. As of now it 17 years since he wrote the first book. It took Tolkien 12 to finish his series and that was during the war.

18 years since the first book came out. 23 years since he started writing the series (in July 1991).

The comparison to Tolkien is a little weak. THE LORD OF THE RINGS, the whole thing, is only slightly longer than A STORM OF SWORDS and A DANCE WITH DRAGONS by themselves. On pages-written-per-year, Martin is way ahead of Tolkien who often took months on end off because he didn't know what to do next with the story. And of course Tolkien took 66 years to write what turned out to be a relatively short 450-page book (THE SILMARILLION), published after his death.

I truly believe he wont finish the series. He doesnt seem to be in the best of health

GRRM is in pretty good health. Obviously, he's overweight (though he was actually at his biggest around the time AFFC came out, and is down on his weight since then) but that doesn't mean he's going to drop dead tomorrow. GRRM is, obviously, hugely wealthy and has a very good health plan. He and his doctor also monitor his weight (and he points out on his blog that he makes efforts to lose weight, which are hampered by his job, which is not conducive to it).

There certainly isn't a 50% chance he's going to die in the next two years! I have family members who were larger than George who happily made it into their late 80s and passed away from totally unrelated causes. Gene Wolfe is a bit on the rotund side and is now in his early 80s. Jack Vance was fairly big (not as big as GRRM though) and made it to 96. You also had Robert Jordan, who spent quite a few years overweight and then lost most of it on a strict diet, only to almost immediately develop a totally unrelated cardiac condition and pass away at 59. Or Aaron Allston, who appeared to be in good shape before having a series of heart attacks and dying at 53.

For a trilogy i would think a 5-7 year window wouldnt be unreasonable.

That depends on the size of the books. Three 300-page books are a very different prospect from three 1,000-page ones.

If i were the publisher i would require updates throughout the year, place limits on other activitys and extend if needed. Sure theres creativity involved but at the same time publisher has deadlines as well.

GRRM sends each chapter, as it is finished, to his editor who edits it and requests changes on the spot before it is finalised. So the process isn't that the whole book is done in one go, edited in one go and then published, but a constant, ongoing back-and-forth between the writer and editor.

she never promised another novel, and she published a bunch of short stories to appease the hardcore fans like me, so maybe that's a poor analogy.

Clarke did say that she was writing a sequel focusing on less-prominent characters almost as soon as JS&MN came out, and there has been no word on it since.

In contrast, Jack Vance wrote the Durdane triology in two years, and the third volume was, if anything, infinitely superior to the first. The 4-volume Tschai series took two years, and the 3rd book is the highlight. Lyonesse took him 6 years total, and Cadwal 5. His 5-volume Demon Princes series is the oddball, having been completed on a random basis from 1964-1981.

Well, there's also DYING EARTH, which was written over a period of 40 years, with a fairly substantial cliffanger between Books 2 and 3 that was left hanging for 16 years (and Vance even allowed a desperate other author to resolve it as a stopgap through official and published fanfiction before he continued the series).

Ok, so available when?

It was supposed to be April, but that's not happening now. I think there's a feeling it might be the autumn, if not early 2015. It's difficult to say because they're going quite a few weeks at a time without showing anything, and then suddenly whacking us with multiple videos, blog updates and an already-playable alpha (now in its third release).

I think end of the year is certainly possible at this stage.

Sanderson is a solidly entertaining writer. He is very creative, with a tremendous imagination, but he does seem to focus a little on worldbuilding and magic systems over characterisation, prose and dialogue. The latter aren't bad, they just tend more towards the functional end of the spectrum.

I'm actually very hesitant about starting Stormlight Archives, since it is planned at a 10 book series. I don't think I'm willing to commit to reading such a long series when only 20% of it are done so far. I don't want to start another open wound like A Song of Ice and Fire...

Congratulations, you have fallen for the Sanderson Gambit :) He has tricked you into reading four volumes of what will be a 36-40 volume 'megaseries' comprising numerous sub-series set on multiple planets. So at this point you might as well dive in.

Especially as a plot point from WARBREAKER re-emerges in importance in WORDS OF RADIANCE.

Also, STORMLIGHT is a 10-volume series that has been divided into two five-book arcs. Sanderson's plan is to focus on finishing the first arc off, which will have a natural break point, before writing the MISTBORN II trilogy. The rest of STORMLIGHT will then follow.

I think in tone there is a comparison to the CAINE books, although Stover is a better and more ambitious author.

In terms of plot/setting/character, they are very different however. They're even focused on different genres (CAINE is SF with a fantasy twist, whilst the THORNS books are epic fantasy with occasional nods at SF).

The EW article is brand new, the interview happened the day before it was posted. The Vanity Fair interview is about a month old, maybe more. It's clearly a decision HBO and Weiss and Benioff have reached just in the last week or so. GRRM hasn't commented on that story since it broke.

Not happening. They still have the rights, but the development deals (first with a New Zealand TV company, then SyFy) have been shot down. The fan reaction was universally negative as well, after it became clear they were seriously toning the show down (Blake being framed for the murder of his wife rather than being a child molestor) and making the setting way too close to the present day (the reboot is only set 150 years in the future, as opposed to the 900-odd years of the original).

A new B7 would be a great idea, but so far these guys have shown they don't understand the property at all.

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