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Frost Giant

Werthead's page

1,934 posts. No reviews. No lists. No wishlists.


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

I would assume so.

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

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

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

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

New VORKOSIGAN novel for 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 minutes of gameplay footage.

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

Book 9: Memory


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assail by Ian Cameron Esslemont


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book 8: Mirror Dance


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it keeps getting weirder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The first legal shots are fired.

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

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

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

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

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

A Japanese company offered Robert Jordan a reasonable sum of money in the early 2000s to make an anime based on the books. However, they only wanted the rights to the first 3 and to turn the battle at the Stone of Tear into the Last Battle and end the story there. Jordan said no. Interest in an animated series ended at that point.

Later on, the money floating around the Universal deal got into seven figures. At that level, the chances of animation being the way forward go out the window. It simply won't make the return necessary.

My take on the sorry mess here. I've been following this story for a long, long time and there's a lot of different players involved. The major legal sticking point is that Red Eagle sold the film rights, with Harriet McDougal's approval, to Universal in 2008. The current project was not made under Universal's auspices and officially they couldn't re-sell the rights again without some sort of involvement from the Jordan Estate. That's likely going to be the sticking point that any possible legal action will hinge on.

Pretty good timing actually, as version 1.1 hits tomorrow. They've done seven minor updates since launch, but this is the first big one that has a load of graphical updates, some important stuff setting things up for later on (the addition of cities to planets, although you still can't land at them...yet), some rebalancing and a few new ships.

The game is playable with keyboard/mouse, certainly against NPCs, but if you're going to go up against other players I would recommend a HOTAS set-up. Gamepad will work in a pinch (the game's main designer actually uses a 360 pad, surprisingly) but I think a good stick set-up is the way to go. The Thrustmaster T-Flight HOTAS is cheap as dirt and very well made.

The starting difficulty could do with some tweaking. It's nowhere near as bad as EVE ONLINE, but the game doesn't do as great a job as it could of explaining things. However, the tutorials are reasonable, the downloadable manual is actually useful and YouTube pretty much covers everything else. The only thing that could do with an overhaul is trading, which is obtusely baffling, and happily version 1.1 is going some way to fixing that with a better galactic map and route-finding. That said, exploration and combat/bounty-hunting are viable alternatives to trading for making big money. Mining is terrible, but that's going to be fixed later.

Another good piece of advice is to keep an eye on the GalNet news and don't be afraid to fly over to a sector of space where stuff is actually going on. The starting area is cool with lots of interesting systems and some fun missions, but it's also a bit too stable. I took off to the Dulos system, which is in a civil war and is also located along the Federation/Imperial border (such as it is) with lots of intrigue. Today the system blew up in a series of full-scale combat engagements, leading to quite a few good missions.

At the moment I'd say the game is in a pretty good shape and will easily give out about 30-50 hours of solid gameplay before it starts to drag a little. The good news about the iterative releases (especially as it's free) is that if the game does get a little too staid you can play something, come back 2-3 months later and likely find things have changed a fair bit.

Elite: Wanted by Gavin Smith and Stephen Deas


The 34th Century. A routine bit of piracy goes badly wrong, leaving the crew of the Song of Stone wanted by both the authorities and the most lethal criminal gang in inhabited space. When a bounty hunter famed for being relentless and efficient gets on their tail, events rapidly spiral out of control.

The Elite video game series has always had a good relationship with its tie-in fiction. The original game, released in 1984, had very simple graphics so relied on the manual and flavour text to fit in a lot of the background. Key to this was The Dark Wheel, a novella written by Robert Holdstock (who won the World Fantasy Award the same year for his seminal Mythago Wood) which brought the setting to life with memorable characters and a focused storyline about revenge and family.

For the release of Elite: Dangerous, the fourth game in the series, a whole line of new books are being released from several different publishers. First out of the gate is Wanted, a collaboration between Stephen Deas (best-known for the Memory of Flames fantasy sequence) and Gavin Smith (Veteran, War in Heaven, Age of Scorpio). This novel focuses on pirates, bounty-hunters and the dividing line between the law and lawlessness, key features of the Elite games which can also be used to generate good stories.

Wanted has a simple but extremely effective structure: chapters alternate between Captain Ravindra of the Song of Stone and Ziva, pilot of the Dragon Queen and one of the most renowned bounty hunters around. The characterisation of these two leading figures is strong, with the authors setting up each captain's motivations (Ravindra's wayward son and Ziva's relationship problems) and using them to drive the story forward. For a tie-in novel the risk is always that the iconic setting will overwhelm the story and characters, but there Deas and Smith avoid that, putting the central characters front-and-centre.

That said, they do handle the setting pretty well. There's always been a conflict between the Elite universe being set so far in the future and the relative low technology of it all, with no artificial gravity and ship-to-ship combat being carried out at close range rather than with drones from thousands of miles away. The two authors do a good job of staying true to the game setting whilst throwing their own innovations and extrapolations of technology into the mix.

On the weaker side of things, some of the secondary cast could do with being fleshed out more. The motivations of the villains is also under-developed, especially as the maguffin the plot revolves around is never really explained. On one meta-level it's irrelevant, as it's simply the excuse for the story to happen, but on another it means that the stakes are never properly defined.

Still, Smith and Deas deliver more than what was expected here: a punchy, rip-roaring space opera with some clever bits of science, some nicely-handled character relationships and a book that leaves the reader intrigued to try both the game and the other books in the setting. Elite: Wanted (****) is out now in the UK and USA.

Martin's publisher merely said it wasn't on the schedule and people went ape for no reason. If the book was finished tomorrow (unlikely but not impossible), it would then go on the schedule and be out in 3 months, so it doesn't mean anything at all.

And yes, HBO now have a roadmap to the end to the series. GRRM sat down with the producers at his house over a year ago and they mapped out a path from the end of ASoS to the end of the series as a whole. He told them how it ends, what happens to the major characters, who lives and who dies, and they banged out an alternate which will in some respects mirror what happens in Books 4 and 5 (and later) and in others will go differently. According to the producers, there's no way they can tie this up in 6 seasons, but it can be done in either 7 or 8, and HBO seems to favour 7 at the moment. They can't do everything even in just the fourth and fifth books in seven seasons, so they're taking a different, more concise path.

Right now, it's looking like:

The ironborn/Euron/Victarion stuff is going to be cut down or even removed altogether. I suspect Balon lives longer and is succeeded by either Yara or Theon (after Yara rescues him) directly with no further complications relate dto Dany.

It also looks like the Oldtown subplot is going to be cut altogether. Word on the street is that Jaqen H'Ghar will meet Arya in Braavos and tutor her there. With no Jaqen in Oldtown, no casting for Sam's father and with it not looking Sam is going there either, that whole story is looking dead in the water at the moment.

It also looks like Quentyn, the Golden Company, and the Griffs are all gone as well.

On the basis, I think it's more likely that Tyrion (and Varys?) will go straight to Dany in Meereen and light a fire under her to get her back to Westeros in Season 6, possibly with Dorne simply supporting her from the get-go (I suspect Quentyn's death in the books will push Dorne into supporting the Golden Company, which will backfire badly and likely leave Dorne in a bad state when Dany does show up).

It also looks like Stoneheart is also gone, which leaves where Brienne and Pod's story goes next up in the air, along with Sansa and Littlefinger's.

OTOH, the stories of Jon, Stannis (with the addition of Davos), Cersei, Dany, the High Sparrow and his followers and so on are all going to go down at least somewhat similar to the books. The Dornish story is also going to be similar, but with Jaime on hand (so to speak) and the Sand Snakes and Ellaria standing in for Darkstar and Arianne.

Wild Cards would be problematic do to the sheer number of authors you'd have to negotiate with rights from as well as the copyright status of the work itself.

Nope, it's all covered. Martin was working in Hollywood at the time so made sure the series could be adapted if necessary. The WILD CARDS Consortium (which consists of all the 20-odd authors who have written stories) jointly owns the work and the copyrights, and Martin and I believe Melinda Snodgrass have controlling votes in the Consortium.

The main deal is that I think authors' characters can only be used by other authors with their permission. Zelazny gave that before he passed away so his characters can still show up.

The rights to the series have been bought before and are now with SyFy, who I think are only a few months away from losing them. If they go, I fully 100% expect HBO to make a play for them.

Yes, there's two versions: the DOS version and the 1998 Special Edition that uses the XvT engine. Simply select the DOS version and run that instead.

Book 7: Brothers in Arms


The Dendarii Mercenary Fleet has pulled off its most audacious operation yet, a mass prison break that has liberated hundreds of enemies of the Cetagandan Empire. The furious Cetagandans have pursued the Dendarii across the known worlds, forcing them to take refuge and resupply at one world even the Cetagandans hesitate to cross: Earth. For Miles Vorkosigan it's time to resupply his troops and check in with his day job as an officer in the Barrayaran military...but it also brings him into contact with rebels determined to destroy Barrayar and have a most unexpected way of doing it.

Brothers in Arms is the fifth novel by publication order (or eighth, chronologically) in The Vorkosigan Saga, Lois McMaster Bujold's award-festooned series following the misadventures of the genetically misshapen and crippled Miles Vorkosigan as he tries to rise through the ranks of the Barrayaran military. This latest novel expands on the Vorkosigan universe by taking us to humanity's homeworld.

The novel is divided into two sections. In the first Miles has to confront the problems posed by his actual job as an officer for Barrayar's navy and how this conflicts with his cover role as Admiral Naismith, commander of the Dendarii mercenaries. There not being too many prominent genetically-challenged dwarfs around, the rising fame of Vorkosigan in both these roles has led many to conclude they are the same person. With the value of the cover unravelling, Miles faces the unpleasant possibility of having to give up the Dendarii, a role he has come to thoroughly relish. Miles soon comes up with a bonkers plan to allow his cover to continue...which then becomes insanely complicated when it turns out that his randomly-conceived cover plan isn't too far off from the truth. The wheels-within-wheels plans, deceptions and machinations that Vorkosigan comes up are hilariously over-complicated (to the befuddlement of his friends and crew) and it's great to see them in action.

As well as the comedy and some very effective action set-pieces, including a memorable concluding battle at a supermassive SF version of the Thames Barrier, there's also some major steps forward in character development in this book. Miles realises how much the Dendarii have come to mean to him and several moments where he genuinely trips up on what role he is supposed to be inhabiting are quite powerful. Maybe he's in too deep? There's also the anguish over Miles's lack of immediate family, and when this appears to be rectified Miles latches onto it with horrifying lack of forethought, but moved by a powerful emotional need for peers to relate to. It's fairly straightforward stuff, but Bujold's ability to tell familiar stories through a fresh perspective serves the narrative well.

Brothers in Arms (****) is a very solid novel, with some good action and laughs framing a more serious story that does a lot to advance Miles's character and the overall storyline of the series. The novel is available now as part of the Miles Errant omnibus (UK, USA).

Book 1: The Abyss Beyond Dreams


AD 3326. Nigel Sheldon, the originator of wormhole technology and the person responsible for the creation of the Intersolar Commonwealth, is semi-retired and planning to leave this galaxy for a new one. However, his plans are interrupted by the enigmatic Raiel, the powerful aliens who guard the Milky Way from the expansion of the Void, the mysteriously growing mini-universe hidden in the galactic core. The Raiel need Sheldon to go into the Void and help recover one of their ancient warships. Sheldon agrees...but soon finds himself on the wrong planet in the wrong time and the only way out is to support a full-scale revolution.

The Abyss Beyond Dreams is the first novel in a duology, to be followed by Night Without Stars. This series, The Chronicle of the Fallers, is the latest work in Peter F. Hamilton's Commonwealth universe. Familiarity with the previous works in this universe (the Commonwealth Saga duology and the Void Trilogy) is recommended as this book contains spoilers for the earlier ones, but is not strictly essential.

As with the preceding Void Trilogy, this novel is divided into two sections and almost two distinct genres. In the opening sequence we have far-future SF, set thirteen centuries hence when humanity is immortal, can cross the galaxy in a matter of weeks and live any kind of life imaginable. The bulk of the book is set within the Void itself, where high technology does not work but the inhabitants gain the powers of telepathy and telekinesis. Whilst the Void sequence was set on Querencia, which was more of a fantasy setting, the Fallers books are set on Bienvenido. Unlike Querencia, where a lot of history was lost after the human refugees settled on it, Bienvenido has maintained more of a history and identify, as well as a slightly higher level of technology. This gives the novel more of a steampunk feel, allowing Hamilton to mix up some more genres.

The Abyss Beyond Dreams starts off by feeling a little bit too much like The Dreaming Void. One of our primary POVs is Svlasta, a soldier wounded in battle with the mysterious Fallers (hostile aliens who can assume human appearance) who soon becomes the architect of social change. The similarities with Edeard's story in the earlier books are uncanny. However, Hamilton is clever enough to subvert the reader's expectations and soon moves off in another direction. It's not long before we're meeting some clever (and very conscious) Russian Revolution parallels and seeing how all revolutions carry within them their own capacity for self-destruction.

As usual, Hamilton's prose is unornamented but highly readable. His characters are well-delineated, although they're all a little too prone to using British swear words and idioms. The book is structurally similar to the Void novels but this is deliberate and soon used to set up and then undercut expectations in an interesting way. There are a few complaints, however. One of these is how quickly the ending unfolds (bordering on the abrupt) and how rapidly one of our main characters descends into outright madness. Whilst foreshadowed earlier on, the actual transition feels a little too rapid.

Another is only an issue for long-standing fans. The Commonwealth universe is undeniably a fascinating place, but we've now spent four (out of a planned five) big novels on the subject of the Void. Given the size and variety of the Commonwealth, it would be nice to see more of it than this same bit of it. I can see the fascination, as it allows the author to experiment with different genres without having to fully abandon his SF roots to do it, but there is the feeling that it would be nice to wrap up the Void and move on. The next book in the series will hopefully do just that.

Otherwise, The Abyss Beyond Dreams (****) is a very solid Hamilton SF novel: big ideas, fun characters and affecting moments of gut-wrenching horror. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

Fey'lya's poltical career was essentially built on him saying to anyone who argued with him, "Many Bothan spies died so I could sit my backside here, and I'm not budging".

Not the best bit of the series (that was Ganner Rhysode in TRAITOR) but still a reasonable end to a character who'd been really annoying for about a decade by that point.

Gameplay video of both HW1 and 2.


Correction, the most expensive show ever made by SyFy :) Apparently it has a larger budget than THE WALKING DEAD, but still a fair bit short of GAME OF THRONES.

HOMEWORLD REMASTERED will be released on 25 February.

Looking brilliant so far.

a few good spots and an overall plot that was actually fairly decent were not in the end generally enough to counteract all of the bad writing it had.

Yeah, but a good plot and some cool scenes overcoming bad writing is pretty much what the entirety of STAR WARS is :) If superb prose and dialogue was a requirement to enjoying the franchise, the only things that people would like about it would be EMPIRE, KotOR II, maybe some of Zahn's stuff (although that's more good-pulp than actual good writing) and Matt Stover's TRAITOR, the finest piece of prose writing in the franchise. And of course, part of the NJO :)


What about every single intelligence agent that was involved in gathering the intelligence about them and bringing it to the emperor? did all of them die too?

I did not read the series but this is not an appealing explanation. Seems somewhat oversimplified.

There's actually an entire prequel-era novel - Greg Bear's ROGUE PLANET - which features information on this. It's not tremendously convincing, being a retcon, but the initial Vong scouting incursion was extremely limited and no-one believed the reports of some extragalactic fleet that was still decades away. For some reason Palpatine took it a bit more seriously and filed it away in his, "Things to look out for 60 years down the line" pile of things to do, firmly low-priority at that point.

The Republic military officer who was actually on hand for that limited encounter was, IIRC, Tarkin, which may explain why he was later able to convince the Emperor to go for the Death Star project. A couple of Death Stars running around when the Vong showed up would have made it a very different (and far shorter) conflict.

It depends on the model they are following. One suggestion I saw was that SyFy was treating this series more like a HBO model, where the whole series is written and filmed and the majority of post is done before they launch, allowing for a big marketing campaign and better writing and editing.

This is the most expensive series ever made, so it's certainly possible SyFy are doing something different with it. But yes, they could launch in the summer if they really decided to go for it.

Leads me to think the copy protection isn't what we'll have to worry about as it may be online only anyways (which is...basically...copy protection for these types of games).

The game will certainly have a singleplayer campaign. It's a TOTAL WAR-style affair with a turn-based campaign before shifting into a real-time battle mode.

Always online or not will be a different debate. Focus are usually not hugely restrictive on that, so I see no reason why it won't be playable in offline mode.

Honestly, this formula is getting old and tired. Why can't we see some of the other races of the universe? there are, like, a dozen, right?

Indeed, but I gather from sales of games based on the other races (particularly FIRE WARRIOR, which was Tau-focused) that the Imperium, Chaos, Eldar and Orks are the most reliably bankable. In addition, the game appears to be retelling the story of the 12th Black Crusade, aka the Gothic War, in which the Imperium and the forces of Chaos were in direct conflict with the Eldar and Orks getting involved on the fringes, so they are limited there by the source material.

Update: X-WING ALLIANCE, X-WING VS. TIE FIGHTER (including the essential BALANCE OF POWER expansion) and KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC II were released earlier this week. EMPIRE AT WAR (including FORCES OF CORRUPTION), ROGUE SQUADRON and SUPREMACY (aka REBELLION) were all released today.

JEDI KNIGHT: DARK FORCES II (probably including MYSTERIES OF THE SITH), STARFIGHTER and REPUBLIC COMMANDO will all be released on 27 January.

So very, very good games in there.

More here.

The game will feature the battle for the Gothic system. The Imperium will be defending against Ork, Chaos and Eldar invaders. The game will use a turn-based strategy mode where ships and fleets are built and deployed and a real-time combat mode where fighting takes place.

Captains and crew will have their own AI and grow and become more skilled, and ships can be upgraded. This will lead to situations where fleet commanders may choose to save ship crews (with escape pods) to fight another day and sacrifice the ship instead. On the other hand, badly-treated captains and crews may rebel or mutiny.

Captured/conquered planets in the system can also be cleansed through an exterminatus if necessary.

Sounds pretty promising at the moment.

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but the idea that the Vong could get that much intelligence on the rest of the universe without anyone else finding out and moving to counter it is a bit much for me.

The Empire did get wind of the Vong, although not the size of their invasion force or their true objectives. It was enough for the Emperor to prepare contingency plans. Unfortunately, he didn't tell anyone (possibly apart from Vader) so those plans were lost when he died.

there was nothing in story to suggest that the protagonists could do anything but constantly retreat and hope for a miracle before the Vong took over the entire universe.

That's not quite what happened. The Vong had limited military forces. They only succeeded as much as they did because they made use of conquered/allied forces, used blitzkrieg tactics and used diplomacy to keep the Empire and the Hutts out of the war. Once that failed and the Empire and Hutts entered the fight, the Vong became both seriously outnumbered and out-resourced economically. There was also the fact that the Vong were counting on a knockout blow. The heavily centralised Empire half-collapsed when the Emperor was killed and most of the reset followed when Coruscant fell and then Thrawn died. The New Republic, OTOH, was much more decentralised and Coruscant's capture did not have the same impact on the organisation, which the Vong were not expecting.

Ironically, the Vong's major advantage - their invulnerability to the Force - was completely useless because the number of Jedi and other Force-users around opposed to them was so tiny that it mostly fell back on traditional fighting, and in that arena the Vong's lack of numbers was always going to result in their defeat.

There's nothing to get excited or invested in because any solution was obviously going to come out of nowhere and when it did, the invasion would be over in the course of a single book (or at best, a half way decent trilogy) and the rest of the books in the middle had virtually no impact on the storyline whatsoever.

Again, that didn't really happen. STAR BY STAR, in the middle of the series when Coruscant fell, also showed the New Republic and their allies the way of fighting back. It was in that book that the Vong suffered a calamitous defeat and the Republic discovered that the Vong had lost over a third of their forces just getting to Coruscant, and then a hideous number more taking the planet. For much of the second half of the series the Vong are stalled because of their lack of numbers, allowing the new Galactic Federation to gain the initiative and then win. By the final couple of books, it's clear that the Vong are doomed, and Zonama Sekot showing up and convincing them to surrender simply prevents a final Gotterdamerung annihilation of the species (oddly similar to the Dominion's final defeat in DS9, actually).

Disclaimer: Bear's a friend of mine, but that doesn't change my opinion of her writing.

Cool. I've met her (and Scott) twice, seems like a cool person.

Probably Elizabeth Bear's ETERNAL SKY TRILOGY for Best Novel (after WHEEL OF TIME's inspiration last year, the whole trilogy is eligible). TV is a tricky one, as I'm torn between ORPHAN BLACK Season 2 and GAME OF THRONES Season 4.

That wasn't confirmed, that was just speculation because 1) Relic were making DoW 3 when THQ went down, 2) Sega bought out Relic and 3) Sega have just acquired the WH licence. DoW is also Relic's signature and biggest-selling series. So it's just a logical extrapolation :)

Some time this year. Showing a trailer now might mean in just a few months rather than September, which is what I was expecting.

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Well, at least a pilot, anyway. Amazon Prime have released it to see the response before going to series.

The good news is that the critical and popular acclaim for it has been universal, so it's quite likely to make it to series.

For those not in the know, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE is considered one of the greatest SF novels ever written. It's written by Philip K. Dick, who also gave us (by way of movie adaptations) TOTAL RECALL, BLADE RUNNER, A SCANNER DARKLY and MINORITY REPORT and is often said to be his finest novel (although this is disputed). The book is set in an alternate history where Germany and Japan won the Second World War (helped by Germany developing nukes long before the USA) and have occupied the United States, partitioning the country along the Rocky Mountains.

Based on the clips (being in the UK, I can't see the full pilot yet) it looks absolutely excellent. If this makes it to series, I'll be a day one viewer.

8km-long space cathedrals to shoot one another in space in a computer game.

Initial races will be Imperium, Orks, Eldar and Chaos, to be released by Focus Interactive in 2015 or 2016.

I'm not sure. The TV show looked pretty good in that it depicted the zero-G environments as being actually zero-G, instead of handwaving it. Even BSG and FIREFLY, with their nods to realism in other areas, completely shrugged off gravity as an issue. The last show which really made a thing about it was BABYLON 5, with the non-rotating Earth ships not having any gravity.

SyFy are certainly putting some serious money into this. Apparently it's their most expensive show ever, eclipsing any of the STARGATEs or BSG.

First Trailer. Looking good.

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The Creative Assembly have - rather accidentally - confirmed that their next game will be based on the WARHAMMER fantasy licence. It's the first game in the long-running strategy series to be based on a licence, and their first move outside real history.

The game will likely be released in late 2016.

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That the Vong knew the Republic better than the Republic knew itself plus needless infighting in the face of an enemy that really wants to destroy everything (I consider the type of biotechnology the Vong implement to be a form of scorched earth tactics) isn't even barely plausible to me.

Why? The Vong had been scouting the Star Wars galaxy for c. 60 years before the main invasion fleet arrived. The amount of intelligence they had gathered themselves was enormous, and then of course they captured Vergere and extracted a vast amount of info from her, particularly about the psychology of the various races working together.

It's also said, quite a few times in the series, that the Vong got lucky in that the New Republic was undergoing some serious democratic crises when they arrived (although some of them had been instigated by the Vong's agents). If the unified Empire had faced them, especially with a Death Star or two (to one-shot the worldships from millions of miles away, which would have made life a hell of a lot easier), the outcome would have been dramatically different. The Imperial forces smugly point that out a lot.

As for the infighting, that is completely plausible. Even in the face of overwhelming threats, vested interests continue to fight one another. You can see that right now, from nations shying away from dealing with terrorists or rogue states because they don't want to pay the price, or governments and corporations choosing to continue (or even accelerate) wrecking the planet in the interest of short-term monetary gain. Quite a few of the races in the NJO don't believe in the Vong until they're quite far advanced, and then consider themselves out of the firing line as they're too far away, or can barter with the invaders, or benefit whilst the invaders and the Republic fight one another to mutual destruction.

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