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Frost Giant

Werthead's page

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Book 7: Brothers in Arms

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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

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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.

Woah.


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.


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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 :)

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).


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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.


Sanderson has made it abundantly clear that he would not be able to finish ASoIaF. His writing style is very different from GRRM's (it was much closer to Jordan's to start with) and he won't use graphic sex or swearing. In fact, apparently even aping Jordan made him uncomfortable at times, and Jordan didn't use those things much at all. With Jordan it wasn't too much of an issue, but ASoIaF finishing with two or three PG-13 rated novels after five or six 18-rated ones would be weird.

Martin has said, contrary to some reports, that if he had a medical condition and years of warning, like Jordan did, he would take steps to allow someone else to finish the series, either directly or by publishing his notes. And in either case, I think the most likely candidate is GRRM's friend, and fine fantasy writer in his own right, Daniel Abraham, possibly helped by Abraham's co-writer and GRRM's former assistant, Ty Franck (Abraham and Franck write the bestselling SF series THE EXPANSE as James S.A. Corey).

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Might you recommend some of those writers? I'm always on the loolout for good new stuff :)

Well, counting newer as authors debuting from 2006/07 onwards, I'd say Scott Lynch, Daniel Abraham, Joe Abercrombie, Kameron Hurley and N.K. Jemsin to start with.

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Just started Firefight, I don't think that world is a part of Cosmere.

It isn't. Earth apparently doesn't exist in the Cosmere (the human race originated on a planet called Yolen instead, where the DRAGONSTEEL series will be set) so if a Sanderson story is set on Earth it automatically takes place outside the Cosmere. That includes the RECKONERS series and the ALCATRAZ books, along with the WHEEL OF TIME books.


From the horse's mouth:

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DR: How much of a role did George Lucas play in shaping the series?

Lucy Wilson (Director of Publishing at Lucasfilm): George Lucas has been involved in all of the spin-off Star Wars publishing, but only on big concepts or plot points. The initial five-year NJO plot outline and early thoughts on who might die were sent to him in the form of a Q&A memo and subsequently discussed by phone.

Shelley Shapiro (Editorial Direct at Del Rey): I would characterize his role as limited but important. He's the one who said the alien invaders could not be dark side Force-users, that we couldn't kill Luke, that we had to kill Anakin instead of Jacen(we had originally planned it the other way around). Other than that, he occasionally answered some basic questions for us, but that was rare. Mostly he leaves the books to his licensing people, trusting them to get it right.


Book 2: Infidel

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Several years have passed since the devastating events of God's War. Most of Nyx's former team have taken refuge in regions distant from the ongoing war between Nasheen and Chenja, taking up new lives, starting families and trying to move on. Nyx herself is still working on the sly for the Queen of Nasheen. When Nasheen is rocked by a devastating attack on the capital city and it becomes clear that the bel dame assassins are fighting amongst themselves, Nyx is forced to travel across the continent to consult her former allies Khos and Rhys. But her arrival in their new lives has horrifying consequences.

Infidel is the second volume in The Bel Dame Apocrypha, following on from God's War and preceding Rapture. As with the first novel, it's a hard-arsed book fusing fantasy to science fiction by way of a whole lot of attitude and a lot more smarts. It's also the rare middle volume of a trilogy that builds and improves on God's War.

God's War was a great book, but one that ended up being a little too confusing for its own good, especially at the start. Infidel is much more coherently focused on its storytelling, building a parallel narrative contrasting Rhys's new, peaceful life in Tirhan with Nyx's ongoing life of mayhem. This structure worked well in God's War but is even better here, with the different locations and circumstances for the two characters allowing Hurley to even more strongly define them. The two strands are held separate for a large chunk of the book, building up tension so that when they come together the results are appropriately cataclysmic.

Hurley's writing is tighter than in the first book and also more empathetic, building up the new characters and relationships so that when the inevitable gut-wrenching betrayals and deaths come, they hurt. Infidel is a brutal book - more than the first volume - but one that earns its shocks rather than relying on them for a cheap emotional fix.

There are problems: the ending is extremely abrupt, an epic final confrontation over and done with in a blink of an eye. There's also the age-old trilogy situation of the first instalment being more or less stand-alone (in case it bombs) but the second volume being left wide open for the story to continue into a third book. Whether this is a bug or feature of trilogies is up for the reader to decide.

Infidel (****½) is an improvement over God's War, being tighter, more strongly characterised and with a better structure, whilst the 'bugpunk' weirdness is carried through and becomes even stranger. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.


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Sanderson is indeed a great guy. There's a couple of my blurbs floating around on his books and we've swapped emails and tweets a few times.

However, I think the main criticism stands: he comes up with cool magic systems and enjoyable worlds (although his planet-by-planet worldbuilding can be sketchy and variable, his universe-building is superb), but that's the window dressing. The main course has to be the prose, which in Sanderson's case varies from clunky to reasonable, and the characters, which in Sanderson's case rarely venture above the "okay". For lack of a better term, there's a missing link in his work to date which is the ability to pull the excellent settings together with better prose and characters and deliver something incomparably good.

His plotting is also fairly straightforward, he just tends to put in twists resulting from the magic system or from starting his narrative in a different place to where writers normally start, like for example MISTBORN being set on a world where the Dark Lord won and ruined the world. That's clever and to some extent original, but not quite as mindblowing as is sometimes claimed. He does seem to be getting better at it, though: the plotting and structure in the STORMLIGHT books is a lot better than in MISTBORN, even if the characters are less well-realised.

To follow up on the comparison, the Cosmere is indeed a much more fleshed-out and fully realised setting than GRRM's Thousand Worlds (although you'd hope so, with 8 big novels and several novellas compared to 1 short novel and a few short stories). But nothing Sanderson has written compares in terms of lyrical prose or memorably-defined characters to some of those Thousand Worlds stories like A SONG FOR LYA, SANDKINGS or THE WAY OF CROSS AND DRAGON.

It sounds like I'm down on Sanderson, which isn't the case. I think he's one of the stronger fantasy authors around at the moment, certainly a lot better than the likes of Peter Brett or Pat Rothfuss (Rothfuss is a somewhat better prose writer, but his glacial pace and inconsistent characterisation are much bigger weaknesses), and has an extraordinary imagination. But there are better writers around than him who don't get as much coverage.


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While I don't have the exact narrative at hand, IIRC this story was disavowed by the Del Rey editors after it came out.

The Del Rey editors themselves confirm the story in the interview published at the end of THE UNIFYING FORCE itself, so there's not much wriggle room for misinterpretation.


Sanderson has been planning his Cosmere mega-series for over 20 years, with early (and far more primitive) versions of many of his books written as far back as the late 1990s. So yes, his worlds, storylines and magic systems are impressive, but he's had a lot of pre-planning going on beforehand. It hasn't come up out of nowhere.


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It helps to see the NJO in the context of when it came out. For almost decade beforehand, Bantam had run the book franchise into the ground. They got off to a brilliant start with the Thrawn books, but then hired Kevin J. "Franchisekiller" Anderson who dealt a series of blows to the franchise with some beyond-awful novels. Allston and Stackpole did some good work, but the books descended into horrible, repetitive messes with rogue Imperial generals, Force-using bad guys and superweapons tougher than the Death Star showing up on a near-monthly basis.

When Bantam lost the licence, the new guys decided, supported by Lucasfilm and even Lucas himself, that they were going to shake things up. Lucas had decided that Eps 7-9 were never, ever going to happen so he gave the writers permission to really go nuts with the setting and do a really big story and they went for it.

In that context the NJO worked, at least to start with. It was different, it genuinely developed and changed characters and events rather than returning to a status quo at the end of every book, and it had some different and interesting ideas. It eventually went too far into grimdark territory, with the war against the Vong eventually killing dozens of times the combined casualties of the Galactic Civil War and the Clone Wars combined, which was totally insane. Some of the books were also really bad, though quite a few were pretty good.

Also, fun trivia: Mark Hamill's sole appearance as Luke Skywalker post-Ep. 6 and pre-Ep. 7 came in TV spots for the first NJO book coming out.

Also, the senior editor on the NJO was James Luceno, possibly better-known as one half of the writing team Jack McKinney who wrote the ROBOTECH novels. There are some very strongly ROBOTECH-like aspects to the NJO that are quite amusing to ponder, from the massive fleet battles involving thousands of ships to the fact that the Vong feel like being somewhere between the Invid and Zentraedi, and the Force occasionally feels treated like a less corporeal version of protoculture. The parallels are certainly interesting.

Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:
Matthew Stover's "Traitor" is worth the entire series all on its own, one of the best SW books written.

TRAITOR is one of the best bits of STAR WARS in existence. The only things batting at the same level IMO are KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC, EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and, on a good day, Ep 4. Ganner Rhysode's last stand is jaw-dropping stuff.

In fact, it's so good it even got George Lucas (who is apathetic about most of the EU) to hire Stover to write the Ep. 3 novelisation, which just about everyone seems to agree is vastly superior to the film itself.

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That said, it had some great books (both Allston books, the one by Stackpole, and Greg Keyes did one great book and one good one, both featuring the best young character of his generation, Anakin Solo (and Tahiri Veila, also a very good character). Whom then was killed off in the most stupid Star Wars editorial decision since, I guess, the Star Wars Holiday Special.

This was down to Word of Lucas. The original plan was to kill Jacen and keep Anakin. And then Lucas decreed that it was too confusing to have two Anakins running around (the NJO books came out alongside the prequel trilogy) and ordered him killed off. It apparently threw the plans for the series and the following books off-kilter, and it shows.


Cain isn't a coward at all by our standards, but his cautious tactical appraisals and reluctance to lead from the front are certainly cowardly by the standards of the Imperium. He definitely underrates himself, as Vail points out repeatedly in the footnotes. He's more likable than Flashman, certainly, but there is a similar riff in the fact that eventually his stellar reputation becomes so essential to his survival and identity that he actually can't turn down dangerous missions or run away from trouble because the resulting disgrace would be worse than death.

They're certainly great books. And I have to give a shout-out to Jurgen, Cain's bodyguard who is a cross between Gregor Clegane and Baldrick. Brilliant. Also, General Sulla, the psyochopathic, lunatic general whose crazy and incompetent career seems to have been accidentally launched by Cain's patronage, despite the fact he utterly despises her.

Oh, and the books reference an Imperial treatise on Orks which is called WAAAAGH! AND PEACE, which is the greatest 40K joke ever uttered.

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Are the books set in the universe good? like, actually good? Would reading them be advisable to someone with the portfolio I described above?

Sandy Mitchell - who writes the CAIN books - and Dan Abnett are both top-notch, good writers. They're both writing excellent SF war stories that just happen to be set in the 40K universe. If they took them out of the setting and used different races/backgrounds, they'd still be as good. Abnett is particularly impressive for mixing his styles, with the GAUNT'S GHOST series being solid military SF (think of the SHARPE novels in space) but his EISENHORN/RAVENOR/BEQUIN trilogy-of-trilogies being more hardcore SF noir, more like someone like Richard Morgan (just with less swearing and no awkward sex scenes).

Paul Kearney, an excellent, top-tier fantasy writer, is also releasing his first 40K novel in May. He should be a superb fit for that universe.


Doomed Hero wrote:
There are others who keep up that kind of pace. What sets Sanderson truly apart is his quality. The only person I can think of who is as prolific, and reliably great is Terry Pratchett.

Dan Abnett is also as fast, if not faster (counting his comics work actually pushes him ahead of Sanderson), and probably a stronger author overall. Steven Erikson was also faster and more prolific (and certainly better in several key respects) than Sanderson back in the day, but Erikson's dialled it right down now his main fantasy series is complete. Daniel Abraham isn't too far off, with writing three series in three separate genres simultaneously with a new book in each a year, plus lots of short stories, several comic books and now several episodes of a TV series each year as well. He's also a better writer than Sanderson.

I'm a fan of Sanderson's, but his speed does come at a price. The pre-planned nature of his books helps them come out faster, but they sometimes do feel a little too well-oiled and mechanical. He also has a problem with creating really good, compelling characters. Vin, Kelsier and Sazed are definitely up there, but the main STORMLIGHT cast are a bit dull by comparison. Wax and Wayne are more entertaining, and the non-pre-planned nature of that series (which was a short story that got completely out of control) might have contributed to that.


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Hama wrote:
I'm sure they'll honor their grandfather's wishes.

If anything, JRRT was a lot less maniacal about the books than his son was. Tolkien was up for different adaptations/alternative versions of the books and even fanfiction, as long as no-one tried to make money out of it.

Christopher has a strained reputation in Tolkien fandom because he hasn't done what JRRT said he wanted, the canon opened up for different people to take a look at.

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I gotta say not knowing where those goats came from just really ruined the movie for me.

The Extended Edition :) When Dain shows up some dwarven cavalry (!) on war-goats (!) are also supposed to be shown, so later on we know where they've come from. There's also supposed to be a longer sequence with Radagast and Gandalf where Radagast gives Gandalf his staff and there's more on Radagast going to recruit Beorn. Also, a funeral sequence with Thorin, and more of a reflection on what happens at the end.

I haven't been moved to get the EEs of the other two films, but this one sounds like it'll have a lot more stuff in it that's actually important and relevant to the story.


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Ed Reppert wrote:
Jackson may want a different timeline, but screw him. :-)

Different canons. The film canon omits the 17-year-gap between Bilbo leaving and Gandalf returning to kickstart the Ring quest. It all happens in a few weeks. Coupled with the 60-year gap to THE HOBBIT mentioned in FotR (it should be 60 until Bilbo leaves and 77 to the start fo the quest), that bumps Aragorn's age up by 17 years as well.

Apparently Aragorn was even going to have a cameo, but Viggo said no and that he didn't want to continue acting against tennis balls.

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For Christopher Tolkien...never going to happen.

For 90-year-old Christopher Tolkien, it's never going to happen. What happens after his time is up remains to be seen. Not to wish ill on him (my own grandfather is actually a lot older and still going strong), but this decision will be in another generation's hands at some point.


Successfully carried out my first clandestine smuggling run in Elite: Dangerous.

Normal trade runs in the early game will net you 2,000 credits if you're lucky and canny, so, since I have access to a super-fast Eagle ship (thanks to the pre-order), I decided to do a fast retrieval mission. I had to go grab some black boxes from a big battle around a remote star (picked up some nice extra cash for surveying the system at the same time) and then get them onto one of the big Federation stations. Not every ship is routinely scanned - the lore says that even the moderately busy systems still get upwards of 50,000 ships passing through every day, so it's impractical - so it's a case of having to avoid the spot checks. The station has Viper fighters on routine patrol, so I had to work out their routes and stay out of scanning range on the final approach. Then one of them closed to scanning range and started pinging me, so I screamed "F*********k it!", slammed on the afterburners and shot through the docking portal at 30kps, or about three times faster than is safely recommended. That got me out of scanning range (nearly ramming another ship in the docking tunnel in the process) and then I had to slam into reverse to avoid crashed into the interior hull of the station before pulling of a relatively graceful landing on my designated pad.

Slightly nerve-wracking but 12,000 credits made it worth it. Totally sweet.

C'mon, is no-one else here playing this?


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Been playing this a bit so far. The flight model is fantastic (a good blend of fully Newtonian and X-WING/FREESPACE-style space dogfighting), the spacecraft and space station designs are amazing and the game does a good job of updating the take-no-prisoners design of the previous games in the series with something more accessible. It's still not an easy game to get into though. You need to play the tutorials and get a feel for the vagaries of combat (particularly reverse and down-thrusting to get pursuers to overshoot) and supercruise, which takes an hour or so.

With a HOTAS set-up, the game is particularly amazing, although it is playable with a gamepad or even just the keyboard.


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Jackson can probably eke out another trilogy from the story of how Legolas loses weight between the events of THE HOBBIT and LotR.


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"Don't like the ball droid."

* Remembers Jar-Jar *

"Meh, can live with it."


yellowdingo wrote:

** spoiler omitted **

395 days.

Nope.

Spoiler:
Elba ain't in this film. The figure in black is either Adam Driver's main villain or Gwendoline Christie (probably the former).


Quote:
Even with a LOT of talent and very smart management decisions for the MCU, it still has it's ups and downs. With Star Wars I see very little of the wisdom Marvel has shown with it's management of their long term, steady output series. There is much more reason to be concerned than to be optimistic.

I disagree. Hiring Abrams to re-launch the franchise but just with one film and with Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt actually writing was a canny move. Getting Rian Johnson to do Episode VIII was even cannier and hiring Gareth Edwards and Josh Trank to do the stand-alones was smarter still. They're getting fresh, up-and-coming directors with a lot of creativity to do different takes on the franchise. Even if they fail, the intentions were pretty good.

There's also the prospect of some of the MCU directors coming over to do a STAR WARS movie. Joss Whedon or James Gunn directing Episode IX is something I know a lot of people would get excited about.


New X-wings are pretty awesome. The fanfare is a great moment as well.


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Quote:
Could have been worse. How about Michael Bay?

No word of a lie, the person who was working on the project before HBO swooped in and bought the rights was Roland Emmerich (INDEPENDENCE DAY, 2012, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, the 1998 GODZILLA movie etc).

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Well, Syfy are on the highway to being an actual SF channel, and if they can pull off even half of the ambitious shows they have lined up for the next few years, no reasonable person will have much to complain about. Of course, this is all a speculation about the future based on the present, which I do find appropriate when discussing SF ;)

Some of those projects seem interestingly weird, like ASCENSION. THE EXPANSE looks really, really good and it helps that it much more readily adapts to TV than other SF book series. And CHILDHOOD'S END and RINGWORLD will work as long as they stick closer to the books and don't try to wreck everything.

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Tangentially, I wonder if Foundation is one of those shows that George Martin helped HBO do in his role as a consultant . I mean, they did hire him, and we have yet to hear anything about that in a long time, so it seems to make sense.

It's possible he might take a look at the scripts or something, but Martin is not a huge Asimov fan. Of the Big Three, his favourite was by far Heinlein, and then his next favourite SF author was Zelazny. Actually, his favourite author of all time was Jack Vance. So if Martin was going to throw some classic SF at HBO, it'd be more likely something like DYING EARTH, DEMON PRINCES, THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, STARSHIP TROOPERS (the rights have to have expired on that by now, right?), THE CHRONICLES OF AMBER or LORD OF LIGHT.

I think what Martin was more involved in discussing with HBO (speculation only, no inside knowledge here) was his own projects. A TUF VOYAGING series was definitely discussed, but my personal guess is that HBO wants the WILD CARDS franchise. SyFy's option on it can't have much longer to run and then I'd be shocked if HBO didn't swoop on WILD CARDS like a bird of prey. Superheroes (remember that HBO's mission is to try something in every single genre), sex, messed-up and morally dubious characters and period piece flashbacks? HBO would be lunatics if they didn't grab it. It's right up their street.


It's the PC controls that are clunky, particularly on the menus. In combat it's not quite so bad, although not being able to rebind anything to Enter is a bit annoying. Hitting Space to select things is not very intuitive (for me, anyway). The tank controls are also a bit stodgy, but apparently this a common complaint about the game anyway.


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As for me I have yet to finish Dragon Age Origins OR Dragon Age 2... Is it just me or did the difficulty of combats in DA2 wildly vary? I had to restart that game too many times when I realized my builds sucked horribly and I became stuck on an impossible combat. Makes me wish easy mode really was easy... if just as a way to continue without starting from square one over and over again.

I didn't think it was possible to nerf your builds on DA2. Any deficiencies in your main character can be met by picking different companions.

To be honest, I'd put the game on "Casual" to get through it. The game was designed to appeal to people who aren't keen on combat and just want to enjoy the story (ME3 had the same thing), and combat is easily the weakest thing about the game so I'd recommend doing everything you can to minimise it.


Quote:
You serious? The combat was great. It was a semi-tactical RPG where the fights were tough (even on Easy they could get challenging) and the boss battles were f++@ing brutal. It was easy to control and swap between characters to coordinate attacks, and attacking and using Spells/Talents was fluid too.

They were mainly brutal because the game's healing mechanics were seriously nerfed, which made no sense given the high-magic setting. However, the biggest problem was the irrelevance of placement. Fighting a horde of enemies in a narrow corridor and want to form a chokepoint with your warriors whilst archers and mages attack from behind? Tough. The enemy will simply push past your soldiers or, in some cases, clip past them. You can't form lines and hold them because the game engine won't let you. That's just ridiculously stupid, especially as older BioWare games didn't have that problem. When a 2009 RPG has less interesting, less sophisticated and less tactical combat than BALDUR'S GATE II, released a decade earlier, there's a big problem somewhere.

At least they don't teleport right into your midst without any warning as in DA2. That was even more annoying.


The Holy Trinity of Underrated RTS Games:

GROUND CONTROL: for a game released in 2000, this still looks amazing. Fully 3D, tactics-based with no in-mission saving, the best artillery EVER seen in a video game and some genuinely brilliant mission design. It was also ridiculously hard. The sequel was almost as good.

HOMEWORLD: okay, not that obscure, but definitely not the big mega-hit it should have been. Brilliant atmosphere, terrific mechanics and gorgeous graphic design and music. Gearbox are releasing a special edition of both HOMEWORLD and HW2 (not CATACLYSM, sadly, as the source files are MIA) next year and there is a prequel game on its way from the original creators.

HOSTILE WATERS (aka ANTAEUS RISING in the USA): the one game I would like everyone on Earth to try out at least once. It's an RTS controlled in a completely different way to any other strategy game I've ever seen, it has the best AI of any strategy game I've seen (with individual AI personalities which are so distinctive you can see their effects on the battlefield) and it has some fantastic writing (courtesy of comic writer Warren Ellis). It also has an amazing voice cast, including Tom Baker (the Doctor!) as the narrator. Frequently named "the best game you've never played." It also has some of the best units I've seen in a game, particularly the helicopter equipped with a cloaking device and sniper laser (all the units are fully customisable with loadouts of your own choosing).

There's also ANACHRONOX, the greatest and funniest RPG you've never played ("I shall kill you...WITH DEATH!"), and the two FREEDOM FORCE superhero games which are almost illegally good fun.

Christopher Dudley wrote:
One I was just getting good at but never got to finish was called Midwinter. I still have the 3.5" isntall disks. I keep checking GOG to see if they have it, but so far, no luck. It was a future ice age scenario in which the local region had been taken over by a despotic ruler, and you had to fight in the resistance. Pretty fun game, but hard to master.

MIDWINTER was really amazing. There was a sequel as well, FLAMES OF FREEDOM.

Quote:
Grim Fandango. Besides being a fun and engaging game, you get lines like "This is my boss's secretary Eva. This is my boss's whipping boy Manny" or "Run away you stupid pigeons, it's Robert Frost!"

I'm looking forwards to the new edition out next year, complete with mouse controls and mildly updated graphics and sound.


Valkyria Chronicles is excellent. Well, the controls are clunky as hell, the sheer volume of cut scenes can be a bit grating (since you have to select each one at a time and play to advance, couldn't they have just run them all together?) and there is some standard weird gender stuff going on (women are soldiers like anyone else! Hooray! Their uniform includes a miniskirt! Wait, what?), but the combat is excellent, the characters pretty well-defined and the jarring tonal jumps from some more cutesy anime stuff to WWII-evoking horror are brutally effective. More importantly, the actual use of strategy and tactics is superb. On one mission in a forest I had to face down an enemy general in his super-tank with my own not-so-super tank. However, I simply held off from advancing into the enemy camp and flanked his position from a ridge overlooking the base with my anti-tank troops who popped up and shot him without him being able to retaliate, and forced him to withdraw with my own tank completely unscathed.

There was also a sweet urban battle which had a watchtower I could stick a sniper in to dominate the battlefield and knock out both tanks (thanks to handily-placed explosive barrels) and troops from miles away. The only problem was that I had to remember to get the sniper to bail out of the tower at the end of every turn otherwise he was zeroed by every tank and enemy sniper on the map on the enemy turn.

Great game. Surprised this did so poorly in sales on the PS3.


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Quote:
You can continue to avoid Dragon Age games for no good reason, but you're hurting no one but yourself.

Whilst I agree that it's highly improbable* that DA specifically caused the hard drive to explode, I think this response is overstating things a bit. It's not exactly 'hurting' anyone not to play DRAGON AGE. It's hardly the pinnacle of RPG design and in fact is probably the most overrated modern gaming franchise around.

The first game was above average, fun but cheesy and lacking either storytelling coherence or decent gameplay mechanics (the combat, which for some reason is lauded in some quarters, can go and die in a fire for its hideousness). The characters were fairly weak by BioWare standards and it used almost exactly the same storytelling structure every single BioWare game since BG2 used (only nowhere near as well), making the thing diabolically predictable. The end of game battle was underwhelming to the point of being anticlimactic and BioWare were so desperate to make the game 'long' that they poured in every bit of padding they could think of, resulting in a 50+ hour game that was at least 50% tedious fetch quests and even more tedious pointless combat. The worldbuilding was pretty good, but buried in codexes rather than displayed on screen (if you don't read the codexes and miss Sten, you have zero clue as to what the hell the qunari are which is unforgivably bad storytelling given their importance to the world). The game also did the bizarre thing of giving you a large number of characters to play with, but then only making two of them (Morrigan and Alistair) really important to the plot, making the narrative feel weirdly unbalanced if you played with anyone else.

DRAGON AGE II, on the other hand, had even worse combat, a tiny number of actual gameplay areas that were over-used to death and some story turns that made no sense. However, it had much more interesting characters (even if most of them were total twonks) and it did the worldbuilding a hell of a lot better, which is weird given how it's focused in one city. For a badly rushed, under-funded quickie project designed to help alleviate the crippling costs of the first game, DA2 was reasonably decent. But still hardly a top-tier roleplaying game.

I'll get DA3 eventually and probably enjoy it. But certainly not until I've finished D:OS and WASTELAND 2, and the price drops to something reasonable (£50, EA? I think not).

* Although it is possible for software to affect hardware: STARCRAFT 2 infamously caused certain graphics cards to overheat on release until Blizzard rushed out an emergency fix.


VALKYRIA CHRONICLES hits #1 on the Steam charts, Sega get very excited at the game smashing all of their sales expectations.

PC (and maybe non-handheld) ports of VC2 and 3 now at least vaguely possible?


Who's who in the WARCRAFT movie.
What the orcs will look like in the film.

Either they've got the best prosthetics people in the world, or that "We won't use CGI for the orcs," thing wasn't quite accurate. In fact, they are CGI but with lots of use of motion capture.


Final release date: 16 December. This year.

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