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The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

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War is raging for control of the Legion, a fleet of organic world-ships travelling on a journey so long nobody can remember when it started or what their destination is. The amnesiac Zan, a soldier of the world-ship Katzyrna, is told she must lead an assault on the Mokshi to claim it and its secrets, but the Katzyrna is also at war with the world-ship Bhavaja, whose ruler is playing their own game. As the rulers of the Legion scheme and feud with one another, Zan finds herself outcast and having to make her own way home...and discover who she is at the same time.

The Stars Are Legion is a stand-alone novel from Kameron Hurley, the author of the excellent Worldbreaker Saga and the even more excellent Bel Dame Apocrypha. Like the Bel Dame Apocrypha (which, it occurs, could take place in the same universe), The Stars Are Legion mixes elements of science fiction and fantasy. The setting, the space battles and elements such as genetic engineering all borrow from SF, but the journey through a grotesque land of the bizarre and the ultra-advanced technology which seems indistinguishable from magic borrows much more from fantasy.

Although the worldbuilding is strange, the set-up is fairly standard: we have an amnesiac protagonist who finds her surroundings as whacked-out as we do, and through her we learn more about the world than if we were joining the action in a more traditional manner. Zan's chapters alternate with those of Jayd, Zan's friend and lover who still has her memory intact, allowing us to start piecing together what is going on from incomplete information. Early on it's clear that Zan is a fighter and grunt of unparalleled resourcefulness, with a slightly reckless streak, whilst Jayd is much more a strategist and tactician, with a remarkable gift for planning ahead, although she also tends to underestimate others' own strategic skills and reacts less well to new developments.

Our two protagonists are both interesting figures whose differing natures are highlighted by circumstance: Zan is cast into the depths of the world-ship Katzyrna and has to make her way back home through mysterious locations, a clear parallel to Orpheus returning from the Underworld (or Jack Vance's Cugel the Clever making his way back from the edge of the world...twice!), whilst Jayd has to play a much more cautious game of politic intrigue and deception between powerful warlords who could kill her in an instant, if they didn't crave the power she possesses.

The unusual setting - the organic technology which powers everything from weapons to ships to recycling systems is quite spectacularly revolting - is rich and evocative, and the plot ticks along with a nice sense of pace. Hurley's gift is a furious sense of character and atmosphere, and the The Stars Are Legion contains plenty of examples of that gift. However, as the book ticks down to its well-executed ending, it does feel like the book lacks just a little bit of the extra exposition needed to establish the setting a bit better. After her first two fantasy series, it's clear that Hurley isn't a huge fan of the infodump school of exposition, but those series also had the time over multiple volumes to establish their worlds in greater depth. The Stars Are Legion can't do that, and I finished the book with a broad understanding of what happened but some worldbuilding elements still felt a bit fuzzy. Some complaints I've seen that the Legion's origins and destination aren't explained at all (although a children's storybook hints that the Legion may have originated on a planet like ours, many thousands of years earlier) I didn't feel were particularly valid, though. The setting is perfectly adequate to the story being told.

The Stars Are Legion (****) lacks the epic scope of Hurley's other work, but makes up for it with a great sense of focus and pace. The novel is available in the UK and USA now.


The Witcher #1: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

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Geralt is a witcher, a hunter of monsters in return for coin. He wanders the northern kingdoms with a trusty steed (always named Roach) and mingles with everyone from kings and generals to sorcerers and vagabonds. Several times Geralt's path crosses that of the powerful, from saving the daughter of King Foltest of Temeria who has been turned into a monstrous striga to resolving a delicate matter for Queen Calanthe of Cintra. But Geralt's destiny is changed when he demands a strange price from Queen Calanthe and makes the acquaintance of a powerful sorceress, Yennefer.

The Last Wish (1993, a re-edited version of The Witcher, 1990) is the first book in Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski's Witcher series (which currently runs to eight volumes), although it is not a novel as such. Instead, it is a closely-linked series of short stories, related by Geralt as he recovers from a pitched battle with a striga. The stories work well as stand-alone adventures, but they are also useful in establishing Geralt's character and the tone and nature of the world he inhabits. There is also much scene-setting for the later books featuring the character.

Geralt's world is tough, cold and brutal, drawing more directly on European folklore, fairy tales and mythology than the norm. It's also a world of grudging honour, well-earned fellowship and occasional heroism. Geralt is an entertaining protagonist, being taciturn, cynical and world-weary but also has a wry sense of humour, an enjoyment of good ale and a well-hidden yearning for romance.

The stories themselves vary in tone but the quality is pretty consistent. There's an undercurrent of whimsical humour in the stories that is very reminiscent of Jack Vance. Like Vance, Sapkowski successfully creates a world where his characters feel totally at home. This world is a mix of the traditional Dungeon & Dragons landscape of elves, dwarves and evil wizards, and of darker fairy tales. In this manner the stories' tone and atmosphere is very similar to that of Vance's superb Lyonesse Trilogy, although Sapkowski is not as continuously and unrelentingly funny as Vance; he also lacks Vance's gift for intricate wordplay. That said, when the book is funny it's very funny indeed. The comic highlight comes when Geralt and his sometimes travelling troubadour companion Dandillion are confronted by some kind of bizarre goat-man entity whose preferred method of combat is to pelt attackers with iron balls. Under strict instructions not to kill anything in the area, Geralt has to engage the goat-man in a particularly preposterous wrestling match. Sapkowski also employs Vance's melancholy aspect, such as Geralt's musings on a world where the fantastical is dying and the mundane is taking over.

The translation appears to be adequate, although Polish commentators seem more dubious, and the general feeling is that David French (who translated the later books) does a better job than Danusia Stok (who translates The Last Wish and Blood of Elves, the first and third books in the series). There's occasional awkward moments (the noble Hereward's rank changes from Prince to Duke at random; sometimes words are repeated very close together) but the stories come through feeling very fresh and energetic. Sapkowski is very good at creating interesting, imaginative characters with unusual levels of depth to them, not least Geralt, whom people are consistently underestimating. Early stories feel slightly repetitive, with Geralt unleashing bloody mayhem to win the day, but in the second half of the book there is a shift in tone with Geralt employing more imaginative methods to overcome the obstacles in his path. There is a great deal left unsaid in the stories in the book: we see the start of Geralt's relationship with the sorceress Yennefer but not its later development, and have to put together what happened with the help of Geralt's thought processes in the framing story. This helps make the book more immersive and less reliant on exposition.

The Witcher series also consists of a trilogy of well-regarded and very high-selling video games. Players of the games will appreciate the background to the characters provided here (although Sapkowski does not consider the books to be canon).

The Last Wish (****) is an enjoyable book full of stories both melancholy and comic, establishing a world and cast of characters that is very intriguing. The novel is available now in the UK and USA. A Netflix TV series based on the books is expected to debut in November 2019.


John Mechalas wrote:
This one gave me chills! I am even more psyched about this mini-series than I was before.

Mini-series? It's three seasons of eight episodes each, to adapt the entire trilogy. They just finished shooting the second season.


Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng

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In the 1840s, the British Empire has expanded to encompass much of the globe and established embassies in many other lands upon it...and one off it. Laon Helstone is a missionary to the realm of Arcadia, also called the Faelands, which lie beyond the world of science. Having gone missing, his sister Catherine embarks on a perilous journey to find him. Her path leads to the castle Gethsemane, a building of shifting rooms and corridors whose inhabitants are both a help and hindrance. Catherine also uncovers evidence of the fate of the previous missionary, and embarks on a journey of discovery about both this unusual land and her own past.

Under the Pendulum Sun is the debut novel by Jeanette Ng. Published in 2017, it won its author the 2019 Astounding Award (formerly the Campbell) for best new writer; her impassioned acceptance speech was the main reason the award changed its name. It's easy to see why the book made such an impact: it's an impeccably-crafted, constantly inventive and continually surprising work of the fantastic.

The premise is that the land of the Fae is real and was contacted by the British Empire, resulting in a mutual exchange of ambassadors, ideas and commerce. Changelings now live in London and British merchants and missionaries now dwell in Arcadia. However, the Fae are difficult to deal with, tricky and ambiguous. Humans have to constantly salt their food lest they fall under the Fae's control and the Fae have a limited interest in human motivations such as money, lust or religion. They do understand such concepts, however, and use them to manipulate people to their own amusement.

The book is told in the first-person by Catherine Helstone as she searches for her brother in Arcadia. This search leads her to Gethsemane, a sprawling ramshackle mansion where the corridors and rooms do not seem to quite coexist as architectural logic demands. Ng notes in her afterword that she was influenced by the Gothic school of 19th century literature and there's a strong element of those books (not to mention Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy) in the exploration of this strange, rambling house and its eccentric grounds.

There are relatively few other characters, at least to start with, but halfway through the book the cast dramatically expands with the arrival of the court of Queen Mab, a Fae noblewoman who holds the key to the secrets of Arcadia, secrets which Catherine has become obsessed by. This results in a change of pace, from the tight, almost claustrophobic focus of the opening chapters to a larger story with greater stakes and more intrigue. This change of pace helps the novel avoid the fate of so many other "modern fables," which tend to start fresh and imaginative but become staid as they dragged out for too long. Under the Pendulum Sun, on the other hand, keeps the ideas, the revelations and the surprises flowing.

This is a novel of psychological tension, haunting imagery (such as the moon being a sinister fish swimming through the sky, and the sun being a pendulum suspended from a clockwork mechanism) and unravelling mysteries. There are a few moments where the pace flags a little bit, where elements of the story verge on the obtuse, but it's not long before the book gets back on track.

Under the Pendulum Sun (****½) is a striking and powerful debut novel, well-written and characterised, with a strong undercurrent of weirdness and an effective surprise ending. I await the author's second novel eagerly. The book is available now in the UK and USA.


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Quark Blast wrote:
The movie needs to be PG-13 and, if for some reason they go with the DL setting, I'm going to have to picket anything invoking Tinker Gnomes, Gully Dwarves, or Kender. Those may work well in a book but I can't conceive they could translate to a movie and be anything less than retching.

The animated movie version of DRAGONS OF AUTUMN TWILIGHT did show that the "no sense of fear," "constantly being pretty happy" and "fully prepared to engage in combat" traits of the kender combine to make something that's pretty psychotic-looking, like a murderous death-hobbit who knows no fear but is still pretty cheerful. It wasn't the look I think they were going for, but it certainly made kenders more interesting (and terrifying).


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Dragonlance's 'party' is huge. Tanis, Caramon, Raistlin, Riverwind, Goldmoon, Flint, Tasslehoff, Sturm, perhaps Laurana and Tika?

I'm not sure I want a starter movie to go quite that large (nor to necessarily be so dude-heavy or melee-heavy or human-heavy). OTOH, it's a great story, and could make a great LotR-style trilogy.

True, but the party splits early on, Fellowship-style, and then you have the sub-parties doing several different things for ages until they regroup near the ending. Fairly classic structure.


Book 1: A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie

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The fires of industry are smouldering. The Union, the great federation of kingdoms centred on the island of Midderland and the city of Adua, is industrialising and modernising at a frightening rate. Great factory districts, squealing with machinery, now sprawl for miles as they pump out vast quantities of goods. It's a brave new world, one in which the little person is at risk of being crushed. Seething discontent at joblessness and the new order threatens to erupt into outright rebellion. As the Union tries to strangle the nascent revolution in its crib, another crisis erupts in the North when the armies of Scale Ironhand invade the Protectorate, controlled by the Union's allies.

As war and revolution threaten the Union on every front, the fate of the Circle of the World falls upon a handful of unlikely figures: Savine dan Glokta, the daughter of the royal inquisitor and a shrewd investor; Crown Prince Orso, a wastrel and drunkard; Vick, a young woman in the Breakers, the would-be working class revolutionaries; Gunnar Broad, a military veteran trying to get his life back; Stour Nightfall, a Northern warrior with a ridiculous name and evil ambition; Rikke, daughter of the Dogman, blessed (or cursed) with the magic of foresight; and Leo dan Brock, the Young Lion, a brave and reckless warrior who cannot see the big picture.

It's been - somewhat startlingly - seven years since Joe Abercrombie last visited the world of his First Law saga with Red Country. Since then he's been moonlighting in YA (with the Shattered Sea trilogy in 2014-15) and short fiction (with the Sharp Ends collection in 2016), but his return to the First Law world with not just a novel, but a full trilogy (entitled The Age of Madness) is welcome news.

A Little Hatred is very much just what most readers are expecting from an Abercrombie novel. It's fast-paced, violent, lusty and intelligent. Not keen on resting on his laurels, the novel also sees Abercrombie moving into new territory with a lot of socio-economic musings. A Little Hatred is a novel about a world in turmoil, not just from war or religious schisms but from its own Industrial Revolution. This isn't totally new ground for fantasy, with Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels and China Mieville's Bas-Lag series both delving into industrial chaos, revolutions and modernisation, but it's still an under-explored idea for the genre.

The book is also concerned with the next generation, the children of great characters growing up in the shadow of their famed parents, whilst those parents face the truth that the great exploits of their youth haven't led to long-lasting peace and happiness. The North and the Union are still at each other's throats over the North's conquest of Angland and the Protectorate, whilst (in the wake of the events of Best Served Cold) the Union and Styria have fought three bloody wars to no satisfactory outcome. Even the collapse of the Gurkish Empire, removing a key threat to the Union's southern flank, has caused its own problems as hordes of refugees flee to Midderland, sparking a wave of racist xenophobia. A Little Hatred is about a world in change, not from the typical epic fantasy stand-bys of ravening monsters and evil sorcerers, but from the changing page of history itself.

Characterisation is a key strength of Abercrombie's and he gets to exercise that skill with aplomb here. Most of the protagonists are complicated people, with admirable and detestable traits, and it's to Abercrombie's credit that he makes them all interesting and compelling, even when you want to smack them for making dumb decisions. Focusing on new characters is a good idea, as it makes the book an easier entry point for new readers. The book is certainly improved if you've read the seven previous First Law books (The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, Last Argument of Kings, Best Served Cold, The Heroes, Red Country and Sharp Ends), but they are not strictly necessary given that the novel does a good job of establishing the situation and characters.

The book is excellently paced. Abercrombie's never written huge doorstoppers, but some of his previous books have been quite big. At just over 400 pages in hardcover, A Little Hatred is focused, fast-paced and furious, taking in revolutions, battles, betrayals, stabbings, flights through the countryside and political intrigue at the highest levels, with a reasonably large cast. The pace never flags and leaves the reader eager for more.

If there are weaknesses, they are minor. The Union's industrial revolution is impressively vivid and impeccably-researched, but some may feel that it's also hugely unrealistic, given that in the First Law series the world was more like a 15th century late medieval/early renaissance setting. It jumping forwards about 300 years of technological development in less than 30 years feels a little like a contrivance so the author can have fan-favourite characters still showing up rather than dealing with a whole new generation. However, this bug is also something of a feature: as the novel ends, it becomes clear that this massive, rapid progress may be explained by other means, which opens more questions for the sequels.

As it stands, A Little Hatred (****½) is vintage Abercrombie, being smart, funny, brutal and compelling reading. It is available now in the UK and USA. The second book in the series, The Trouble with Peace, will be released in 2020.


This week's free games on Epic are all three BATMAN ARKHAM games from Rocksteady (omitting ORIGINS as that was made by Warner Media): ARKHAM ASYLUM, ARKHAM CITY and ARKHAM KNIGHT. Well worth $0.


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The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

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A band of friends meet at the Inn of the Last Home in the town of Solace. Five years ago they went their separate ways, searching for evidence of the lost gods. Their findings were inconclusive, but their reunion is interrupted by the news of vast armies allied with dragons on the march and the arrival of strangers bearing a crystal staff...and the long-lost power of healing. The continent of Ansalon is riven by war and it falls on this band of heroes to save it from destruction.

The Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy is one of the most famous works of epic fantasy of the 1980s. Published in 1984 and 1985, the trilogy and its immediate sequel series (The Dragonlance Legends) have together sold almost 30 million copies, making them one of the biggest-selling series of that decade. Millions of fantasy readers started out in the genre by reading these novels.

The question arises, then, is it a good idea to revisit these works as an adult and risk ruining nostalgic teenage memories in the process?

The answer is mixed. The paradox at the heart of enjoying the Dragonlance Chronicles is what age group it's actually aimed at. The generally jovial tone (even when quite dark things are happening), the casual dialogue (this is a trilogy where medieval fantasy characters say "Yeah!" a lot) and the extremely breezy pace make this feel like a series aimed at children. I don't mean YA, I mean 7-10 year olds. The prose is simple and easy to read, and it feels very much like a work aimed in writing style at the same kind of audience as The Hobbit. There's moments of whimsical humour, stirring action and intriguing worldbuilding which do withstand comparison with Tolkien's work, despite the less-accomplished writing.

However, there are moments when the series abruptly goes much more adult. There are several sex scenes (albeit mostly of the "fade to black" kind) and female characters are threatened with sexual assault on a fairly regular basis. Tanis Half-elven also can't even meet a stranger on the road without carefully explaining how his mother was assaulted by a human man, leading to his conception and outcast status from both communities. The trilogy is also painfully 1980s in how it tries to have both strong female characters (Laurana, Tika, Kitiara, Goldmoon) and then gets them into situations of undress, or wearing revealing armour or clothes (Tika, at least, gets to make some wry observations on this that makes me suspect Margaret Weis was rolling her eyes as she wrote to market requirements). There's also a quite spectacular amount of violence, including characters being beheaded, turned to stone or set on fire on a fairly regular basis, and some psychological horror in the form of Berem, who is cursed to die and live again so often that he is going insane.

If you can overcome the tonal dissonance - the gap between the lightweight, juvenile writing and sometimes darker, more adult content - then it's possible to enjoy the Dragonlance Chronicles as a fast-paced, popcorn read. The trilogy does have another key feature (or bug) which is that it is an attempt to adapt no less than twelve Dungeons & Dragons adventure modules into a coherent story. Several times the narrative cuts away from our heroes embarking on another side-quest only to come back to them after that quest is completed, leading to the heroes thinking wistfully back on adventures that the reader never experienced (such as the journey to Ice Wall Castle, or Raistlin's completely out-of-nowhere return to the main story in the closing pages of the third book). This does make the story feel somewhat incomplete. It also means that the stories are extremely fast-paced: the Chronicles trilogy features a bigger story and more characters and events than The Lord of the Rings in about 50,000 fewer words. Some will enjoy the breakneck pace, others may lament the lack of character and plot development this results in.

The Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy (***) is fast-paced, fun and easy to read. It's also simplistic, juvenile in tone and has not aged fantastically well. Truth be told, there's much better options available for both adult and children fans of fantasy these days. But if you can overlook the issues, there is still some fun to be had in revisiting Tanis, Raistlin, Caramon, Flint, Goldmoon, Riverwind, Tas, Kitiara, Sturm, Laurana, Gilthanas, Lord Soth and the rest of this memorable bunch of archetypes. The trilogy is available now in the UK and USA.


Vidmaster7 wrote:
all hopes: Watchmen now Doomsday clock later....

The TV show is a sequel to the original graphic novel, but draws on Doomsday Clock for inspiration. Some Doomsday Clock characters are in the TV show.


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Thomas Seitz wrote:

I mean...he SORT of looks like Lan...I just never imagined him as Asian.

The Seanchan sure. But not Lan.

The Borderlanders are pretty much Asian (or Asian predominating over the mixed ethnicities that populate the WoT world). The Shienarans are Japanese, the Saldaeans are possibly Chinese and the others are somewhere in between. I know some fans saw Malkieri more as Tibetan, but Korean also works.

The Seanchan continent is utterly gigantic and contains a vast range of ethnic groups, including European-like areas and African-like areas. Tuon is basically equatorial African, for example.


Release date: 2 November 2019 in the UK (on BBC1), a day later in the US (on HBO).


Lan Mandragoran cast.


Book 1: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

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3 March 1952. A sizeable meteorite crashes into Chesapeake Bay, obliterating most of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. As the USA reels from the disaster, which kills millions, the resulting ecological damage threatens to start a runaway greenhouse effect which will make the planet uninhabitable within a century. The world's nations rally to begin a crash space programme to colonise the Moon and Mars to save as many people as possible.

The Calculating Stars (which has just won the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Novel) is the first novel in the four-book Lady Astronaut series, which takes place in an alternative history where a meteorite strike in 1952 threatens the future of the human race. The title refers to the main protagonist, Elma York, a WWII transport pilot and mathematician who finds herself at the forefront of the mission to save the human race. This effort involves a multi-national effort via a trans-national space race involving thousands of people.

Numerous issues are raised and explored by The Calculating Stars, including an exploration of the Space Race starting earlier, using less sophisticated 1950s technology; a confrontation of sexism and racism in the setting; the damage caused by the meteorite and resulting climate change, complete with deniers refusing to believe anything bad will happen; and an exploration of the intersection of science, societal change and technology.

This multitude of plot points contributes to the book's length. At over 500 pages, it's a fair bit longer than most SF novels tend to be these days, but the sheer amount of material that needs to be explored means the pages fly by. The Calculating Stars is also written in an extremely easy-to-read manner, with prose that lacks artistry but also doesn't get in the way of the story. In this sense The Calculating Stars feels like an old-fashioned Hugo Award winner, like Spin or Rendezvous with Rama, eschewing stylised prose and in-depth characterisation to instead focus on the plot and the high concepts.

The book does adopt a more modern outlook by tackling 1950s issues of sexism and racism head-on. An interest social point from World War II is that women were able to take on a multitude of roles, from working in bomb factories to flying non-combat aircraft (apart from in Russia, where they were able to serve more freely on the front lines), but the second the war ended they were expected to go back to being housewives and mothers. The meteorite crisis means that once again women have to take a front line role as mathematicians, programmers for the very early computers and in other roles that a lot of men are unhappy with. Some have suggested this problem is overstated in the book, but if anything it probably undersells it (if anything, Elma's husband being a paragon of equality-supporting hunkness who supports her every decision feels a bit convenient, but given everything else going on it's an understandable approach), and not tackling the issue would be highly unrealistic.

Months and sometimes years flash by in chapters and the sheer scale of the effort to save the human race is impressively depicted. The novel does not shirk away from the darker side of human nature in the time period, but it also highlights its good points, such as the much greater acceptance of scientific discovery and exploration. Some may question the realism of us being able to get to the Moon more than a decade earlier than in real life, but Kowal's afterword provides some compelling arguments.

The Calculating Stars (****) is both a traditional, even classic-feeling SF novel and a modernist, revisionist take on a fascinating time period, celebrating the human spirit in full. As others have said, it is an enjoyable mix of The Right Stuff and Hidden Figures. It is available now in the UK and USA. It is followed by The Fated Sky and the forthcoming The Relentless Moon and The Derivative Base.


Thomas Seitz wrote:
So no one thinks there should be an evil cabal of of notable D&D villains from across the Multiverse doing stuff to be evil?

The Sothicide Squad?


Primary cast announced: Rand, Egwene, Perrin, Nynaeve, Mat.

Mostly unknowns, as expected, although the actress playing Nynaeve is a former Power Range, which is kind of cool.


JoelF847 wrote:
I hope they realize that you need to start planning that from the first movie though and not just throw a bunch of stuff at the wall, see what sticks, and jam things together later on.

I think with D&D all you need to do is create a good first movie and worry about other things later on. With the MCU they started with Iron Man and Hulk and the crossover between them was absolutely minimal, and it took four years before they really got this idea going of doing a big crossover film. Certainly in 2008 they weren't thinking of Thanos and the Infinity Stones.

So you need to do some planning (more than, say, the new Star Wars trilogy) but you don't need to go overboard in planning things and lose track of the individual movie you're working on in the moment (one of several reasons the DCU movies didn't work well, to start with at least)


Lord Snow wrote:

Finished listening to Children of Time (Adrian Tchaikovsky) and started on The Selfish Gene (Richard Dawkins).

** spoiler omitted **

Have you read Tchaikovsky's SHADOWS OF THE APT series? Very unique and interesting fantasy series (and long at ten books, but completed) mixing standard epic fantasy, steampunk and kind-of bugpunk. Very good and underrated.


Planpanther wrote:
I think the big part of the draw problem with D&D is that, despite folks thinking the novels are wildly popular, they are not popular enough to be a significant draw. Look at Rice's Mars series, which sold millions, bombing at the box office.

The Mars/Barsoom books have sold millions, sure, but decades and decades ago. They were not a still-bestselling series with millions of fans, like the first two Dragonlance trilogies or Drizzt (which have sold about 30 million copies). That's a massive amount, for context about three times (each) more than ASoIaF had sold before HBO adapted it as GAME OF THRONES. Or, more to the point, more than all the copies of all the D&D rulebooks ever sold (possibly even combined with PATHFINDER).

D&D is really two things. The first is a mechanism to tell stories which it's hard to make a movie about, unless you do a Gamers/HarmonQuest/Critical Role/Stranger Things thing and have people both playing the game in the film and then we see the events in the fantasy world. That would be fun for a one-off movie, but you couldn't sustain that across a franchise (and yes, Hasbro are completely going after a franchise here).

The second is a multiverse, a place where different worlds and characters exist side by side. That, I think, is what Hasbro wants, the ability to make say a Forgotten Realms movie or a Dragonlance or Eberron movie or maybe even a Dark Sun movie and have it do well by itself, but also feed into some kind of shared world setting. And also sell tons of spin-off merchandise and more copies of D&D itself, of course.

What everyone is hoping is that Hasbro have also cottoned on that this worked for Marvel not because they made a bunch of movies in a connected multiverse, but they made a bunch of (mostly) good movies in a connected multiverse. If they can nail that, the rest can follow.


Empire of Grass

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he kingdoms of Osten Ard are in turmoil. A resurgent Norn threat in the north threatens Rimmersgard and northern Erkynland. The tribes of the Thrithings are in turmoil, a conflict that threatens to spill across the borders into Nabban and Erkynland. Hernystir is in danger of falling under the power of a dark cult. Civil war threatens in Nabban. The High King Simon and the High Queen Miriamele both try to tackle these issues, but the number of their reliable allies is falling and their grandson and heir is missing. But the threat is greater and closer than they think, as for the first time in thousands of years, the deathless queen of the Norns prepares to leave her stronghold.

The Witchwood Crown marked the start of The Last King of Osten Ard, a fresh trilogy picking up thirty years after the events of Williams' break-out work, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. It was a slow-paced novel but one that had to set up an awful lot of plot points, as well as revisiting characters from the first trilogy and introducing new ones. At the end of the book things kicked off, with Prince Morgan fleeing into the Aldheorte Forest, Unver beginning his unification of the Thrithings tribes, Miriamele setting off on a dangerous mission to Nabban and a band of Norns confronting a dragon.

Empire of Grass picks up on these plot points and expands on them, ticking along at a faster pace than the first novel (helped by it being a slightly shorter book), with us rotating between events in Nabban, the Hayholt, Aldheorte, the grasslands, Nakkiga, Naglimund and other locations quite rapidly. The key difference between the two trilogies is that Memory, Sorrow and Thorn was focused very tightly on Simon with occasional cutaways to other characters, but Last King is a broad-spectrum, multi-POV, multi-location, full-on epic fantasy series with a lot more going on in different places. The loss of tight focus may be bemoaned by some, but it does at least present us with a really epic story told on a huge scale.

Empire of Grass is also important in that it identifies the long-missing children of Josua and Vorzheva, whose identities and destinies have driven a lot of discussion by fantasy fans for well over a decade. We learn more about the twins and where their paths have led them, with a real sense of mythic power that both may hold the fate of the world in their hands, despite not being primary POV characters. We also learn more about Vorzheva, but Josua remains missing, with a hunt for him by agents of the crown forming an intriguing subplot through the novel.

As usual, Williams' gifts remain in atmosphere, with his stately worldbuilding and measured prose, and characterisation. I've seen criticism of the first book stemming from Simon's apparent lack of success in being king, but I see this as Williams simply furthering his subversion of epic fantasy tropes that began way back in 1988 with The Dragonbone Chair: it turns out that a kitchen boy with no background in statecraft might not be the best person to make king. It's made clear that the more experienced Miriamele is a far better ruler and the real power on the throne, which helps better explain why things get worse once she leaves for Nabban. The assumption that the guy who saved the world in the first series would automatically be a greater ruler who never did anything wrong is a bit odd, and is Williams' exploration of the question George R.R. Martin asked of Tolkien about Aragorn: yes, he may have been a great warrior, but does that mean has great insights into tax policy and crop rotation techniques?

If Williams does have a slight weak spot it's political intrigue: Nabban sets up the facade of being a hotbed of double-crosses and Xanatos gambits, but the final revelation of what's going on in Nabban is more than a little simplistic and lacking, with the villain explaining why they are doing everything and might as well have twirled a moustache in the process. There's also a decided lack of explanation as for why the powers in Nabban think they can win a multi-pronged conflict against multiple enemies simultaneously, which is what they seem to be setting up at the end of the book.

There's some great battle scenes, as the Norn invasion gets underway in full, and some excellent character beats (particularly among the Norns and half-Norns of Operation Dragon Retrieval, probably the best storyline in the new series). There's also some decided repetition stemming from Williams' decision not to expand the story to new geographical areas. The big battle takes place on the site of an already massive battle from the first trilogy, and seeing Morgan struggle through Aldheorte Forest for dozens of pages on end might have been more compelling if we hadn't seen Simon do exactly this in the first trilogy, even visiting many of the same exact places along the way.

Where Empire of Grass is most successful is furthering the themes that The Witchwood Crown explored so thoroughly: ageing, losing loved ones and the younger generation not listening to its elders and making the exact same mistakes all over again. There's a melancholy strain in this trilogy which recalls Tolkien at his best.

Empire of Grass (****½) is a somewhat tighter and better-paced book than its forebear, developing the first book's stories, characters and themes well, and setting things up splendidly for the final novel in the series, The Navigator's Children, which I would be expecting to be published in 2021. The novel is available in the UK and USA now.


Spinning Silver

Quote:

Miryem's father is the village moneylender, but his kindness and gullibility means he isn't very good at his job. When Miryem takes over, she finds ways of turning silver into gold and getting those who have taken advantage of her family for years into paying up. Her skills are so great they even attract the attention of the supernatural Staryk, who make her an offer: turn silver into gold three times and she can become a queen. Miryem seeks to defy the Staryk, leading her into a very dangerous alliance...

Naomi Novik is a former video game designer turned fantasy author, best-known for her epic "Napoleonic Wars but with dragons" series, Temeraire, and her single-volume fantasy Uprooted. Spinning Silver is another stand-alone fantasy, a modern fairy tale which pits a young woman against the lords of winter with the fate of her homeland and her family in the balance.

The opening 100 pages or so of Spinning Silver are as fine a slice of modern fantasy as one could wish for, with vivid descriptions of the landscape, an excellent depiction of small town politics and life and a small but memorable cast of well-drawn individuals. Miryem's development from hapless young girl to accomplished businesswoman is well-handled and the transition from a straightforward rustic story to one of an emerging supernatural threat is compelling.

Where the book starts to falter is that decision that, rather than keep this a small-scale fantasy, the author decides to make the story more epic, bringing in events in the capital city, multiple new POV characters, a second supernatural threat, the emperor of the land, religion (the main characters are Jewish, although the setting is fictional) and other elements as well. And it has to be said this transition does not work quite as well as it should. Novik's strict, disciplined POV structure and tight writing does not handle the expansion in scale very well, and the story becomes diffused as too many new elements are added into it. I was put in mind of Peter Jackson in Hobbit Trilogy mode being asked to handle a fresh adaptation of Snow White and by the time he's done with it, it's a trilogy with a cast of thousands and an incongruous Orlando Bloom cameo.

This is not to say that Spinning Silver is a bad novel, just one where the strong elements are drawn out over far too long a page count and constantly interrupted by less-interesting characters, side-plots and, oddly, a lot of words spent on the economics of luxury apron trading. When the novel is firing on all cylinders, it's phenomenally atmospheric and richly detailed. When it isn't, it becomes a bit of a slog, not helped by an awkward POV device where we have to spend the first paragraph or two of each new POV shift trying to work out which character we're now with. This is fine in the opening hundred pages when we only have two POVs, but when we get to the end of the book and there's half a dozen in play, it's more of an issue.

Eventually the book ties together is disparate plotlines and we get a somewhat satisfying end, but it feels like the book has to take a lot of unnecessary detours to get there.

Spinning Silver (***½) is well-written with lots of great individual scenes and moments, but the overall pacing and structure is awkward and flawed.


Pan wrote:
Looking forward to Meachwarrior 5 later this fall!

It's been delayed until December.


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Worth noting that the only things on the resume of the writer of CHERNOBYL were instalments of the HANGOVER and SCARY MOVIE franchises, and the director had pretty much only done music videos.

So you can have a poor track record and then do brilliantly when the right project comes along.

I'm more constantly befuddled why they're not adapting one of the multi-million selling novels in the universe, which would bring in a much bigger fanbase and get people more excited, rather than constantly risking things on the random writer's idea of what D&D should be. That hasn't worked out well so far.


Full cast list.


baron arem heshvaun wrote:
Possible Re-release of A New Hope ‘unaltered’

They did release the original, "unaltered" films on DVD somewhere back around 2002 or 2004 (IIRC), but only as a very limited edition. I believe the prints were also not in fantastic shape, but certainly watchable.

If there is a new, remastered pristine film print of OG ANH doing the rounds, you'd assume they wouldn't have gone to that trouble - and by all reports it would have been considerable, since the original prints were altered in the creation of the Special Edition and they'd have to "unadjust" them - if they weren't going to do something more with them.

ETA: Oh wait, that's the master film cuts. Yeah, they could just take one of the several thousand 1981 prints and just clean it up really carefully and it'd be fine, which would be a lot easier.


Full creative team revealed.


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Hama wrote:
I wanna see a Predator remake with a bunch of guardsmen being stalked by a lictor through a jungle and if they don't get to a dropship, they're gonna die when the navy glasses the planet.

Ah, you've played some LOST PATROL then?


THE EXPANSE renewed for a fifth season at Amazon.


Knoq Nixoy wrote:
small scale? imagine the cost of the Thracian Primaris triumph, but I guess they picked the best story to adapt

Well, "relatively" small scale compared to most of the stories.

Quote:
I'm really not sure how you could ever adapt a universe on the scale of WH40K to television without it looking ridiculously underbudgeted to fans of the franchise. Unless someday realistic CGI becomes dirt cheap, which it ain't now.

This is something of a concern, although much more if they were adapting the Heresy or the Tyranid invasion of Ultramar or another bigger-scale story. For Eisenhorn they shouldn't really have a problem.


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Black Widow
1 May 2020
Directed by Cate Shortland
Starring Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow and Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova
Also starring David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, O.T. Fagbenie and Ray Winston.

The Eternals
6 November 2020
Directed by Chloé Zhao
Starring Angelina Jolie as Thena, Salma Hayek as Ajax, Don Lee as Gilgamesh, Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo, Brian Tyree Henry as Phasots, Lauren Ridloff as Macary, Richard Madden as Ikaris and Lia McHugh as Sprite.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Autumn 2020 on Disney+ (6 episodes)
Starring Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon, Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier, and Daniel Bruhl as Helmut Zemo, with Emily VanCamp reportedly in discussions to reprise her role as Sharon Carter.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
12 February 2021
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton
Starring Simu Liu as Shang-Chi and Tony Leung Chiu-wai as the Mandarin. Also starring Awkwafina.

WandaVision
Spring 2021 on Disney+
Starring Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff, Paul Bettany as Vision and Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau.

Loki
Spring 2021 on Disney+
Starring Tom Hiddleston as Loki

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
7 May 2021
Directed by Scott Derrickson
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange and Elisabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch

What If?
Summer 2021 on Disney+
Starring Jeffrey Wright as The Watcher, Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger, Sebastian Stan as Winter Soldier, Josh Brolin as Thanos, Mark Ruffalo as Hulk, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Haley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, Karen Gillan as Nebula, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, Neal McDonough as Dum Dum Dugan, Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark, Sean Gunn as Kraglin, Natalia Portman as Jane Foster, David Dastmalchian as Kurt, Stanley Tucci as Abraham Erskine, Taika Waititi as Korg, Toby Jones as Arnim Zola, Djimon Hounsou as Korath the Pursuer, Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster, Michael Rooker as Yondu Udonta and Chris Sullivan as Taserface.

Hawkeye
Autumn 2021 on Disney+
Starring Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye

Thor: Love and Thunder
5 November 2021
Directed by Taika Waititi
Starring Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Natalie Portman as Jane Foster and Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie

Blade
Date and director to be confirmed
Starring Mahershala Ali as Blade.

Confirmed Projects in Development
Captain Marvel 2
Black Panther 2
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Fantastic Four

Previously Mentioned But Not Discussed Today
Hulk mini-series
Thunderbolts
Ant-Man 3
Avengers 5
Power Pack


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Don Johnson is playing Chief Judd Crawford, the chief of police in Tulsa. He could be a retired Nite Owl, but it feels like becoming police chief would mean extensive background checks which would expose his true nature.

Jean Smart is almost certainly playing Laurie, having changed her surname to Blake. I'm going to guess in her case she was recruited by the FBI specifically because of her skillset and past.

Spoiler:
They've also confirmed - as the trailer does - that Dr. Manhattan does play a role.


CapeCodRPGer wrote:

New Trailer

I wonder if it's the original actor playing cards with Picard at the end.

Yes, that's quite obviously Brent Spiner, albeit under a bit more makeup than back in the day, and he attended the Comic-Con panel.

As well as Seven and B4, who play a larger role, the panel also confirmed that Hugh Borg, Riker and Troi will also be back, although it sounds like Riker and Troi might just be a cameo.


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I'm sure this will go down well.

Short version: Harmony Gold and Tatsunoko have reached a new agreement which renews Harmony Gold's ownership of the rights related to the ROBOTECH franchise and its constituent sub-series (MACROSS, SOUTHERN CROSS & MOSPEADA) for a considerable number of years to come (some reports are saying up to thirty).

As part of the deal, Tatsunoko and Studio Nue will receive a more prominent credit for their role in creating the original series that make up the franchise, and will work more closely with Harmony Gold in the future on new projects.

The first impact of the deal is that both the ROBOTECH and original Japanese versions of the series are now available on streaming services FilmRise, Vudu and Roku (US only at the moment). This is the first time, I believe, that SOUTHERN CROSS and MOSPEADA have ever been released in their original, non-ROBOTECH incarnations.

This deal also clears up any lingering issues with Sony's planned live-action film adaptation of the franchise, and allows them to continue with the project. However, with their preferred directors (James Wan and Andy Muschietti) having moved on to other projects, it's unclear if they are going to wait for those guys to become available again or will start looking for a new director.

The mooted but not-actually-proposed-yet Netflix remake of the entire series would also now be able to proceed, if they so chose.

As part of the deal, HG are apparently open to releasing the various MACROSS prequel and sequel series in the West, although I believe this has been said in the past and nothing has happened.


Souls At War wrote:
The "no mod support" might end up hurting them, the changes from the 2018 E3 demo are already making people question if they will buy/play it.

I think we can safely say this will not happen, or it will not happen in any significant numbers. The number of people picking up the game after the Keanu demonstration probably eclipses that of the people saying they're going to drop it for...what?


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Pan wrote:
No I meant too bad about another Thor flick while something new and refreshing is shelved.

A remake of a 36-year-old property which is already being remade in a different medium is not exactly new and refreshing. Although I would still love to see Taititi's take on AKIRA.


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Woah.

Fran Spotnitz of The X-Files and The Man in the High Castle is developing a TV show based on the Eisenhorn saga by Dan Abnett, set in Games Workshop's Warhammer 40,000 universe. This is the story of an Imperial Inquisitor rooting out heretical cults and followers of Chaos who is forced to embrace the weapons of the enemy to defeat them, and ends up in a precarious situation. There are eight books so far in the series with two more to come, so they have plenty of material to work with.

This series in particular was probably chosen because of the relatively tight focus, small scale and small cast of characters, all of which make this more practical than some of the other stories in the setting.


Well, that got real, fast.

Apparently Waititi had script concerns over AKIRA, despite Warner Brothers agreeing to completely revamp the film according to his design. So the movie was back in Neo-Tokyo and Warners had agreed to let Waititi cast the film with Japanese actors. However, the script wasn't ready for the pre-production period which would have had to have begun imminently to hit the May 2021 release date.

As a result, Waititi has instead committed to THOR 4 after Marvel put a huge offer in front of him. He's taken the gamble that Warners won't make AKIRA with another director - because in thirty years they've never found another director willing to really tackle it - and will wait for him. Apparently, although Warners were a bit narked by the news he'd gone back to Marvel, they still want him to direct so are putting AKIRA on hold and will reassess with Waititi once THOR is done.

My guess is that Waititi will work on the script in the meantime.

The release schedule for THOR 4 is likely to become clearer at the Comic-Con Marvel panel this weekend, where the Phase 4 release schedule should be confirmed. That will also let us know when AKIRA is likely to get back on track.


They can't, as CP2077 isn't launching with any kind of modding support, and I doubt they'll have everything in handy and easy-to-fix .ini files. They'll have modding support 6-12 months after launch.


First picture of Roach in the show.


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CYBERPUNK 2077 will have three radically different prologues to the game, which will vary depending on your "lifepath" choices.

Shades of DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS there.


Regards the ending:

Spoiler:
I think it's clear that Hopper survived and is "the American" in the Kamchatka jail at the end.

How he survived is unclear, but he may have jump through the portal into the Upside Down and then been pulled out through the experiments in Russia, along presumably with the Demogorgon. Although if the Upside Down does match 1:1 with the real world, that's a hell of a long distance.

The NPC wrote:
So, what are the chances that Will is asexual?

It's possible and would be interesting. Apart from Varys in GoT, I can't think of another prominent character on a hit show who is asexual. I think they're leaving the door open on that or him being gay.


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As well as the live-action movie for 2021, the original film is getting a 4K remaster for release next April. More excitingly, there is also going to be a brand-new TV anime which will faithfully adapt the manga to the screen. Sunrise is working with the original writer on the new show.


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CapeCodRPGer wrote:

Saw it, loved it. But I do have a concern.

** spoiler omitted **

Negatory.

Spoiler:
The writers of ENDGAME have said that Banner is not a moron and would have accounted for this. People who were on airplanes, boats, in cars etc would reappear in their homes - even if they'd been resold - and he ensured that people did not materialise where other people were already standing etc.

More interesting is that the basketball game shows the people disappearing in some pain, like Parker, but rematerisalising instantly, in some cases still playing their instruments. That suggests that Banner also erased people's memories of their "deaths," instead having them reappear with no cognitive awareness or memory of dying, which probably saved several billion in psychiatrists' fees right there.


Queen Abrogail Thrune I wrote:
I had high hopes for American Gods but season 2 proved less than awesome: it was too vague and all over the map, trying to catch up with the fact that not enough worldbuilding/fluff/lore was provided in the first season. As for Good Omens, it was great, but did feel a bit like there was too much hand-holding/narration going on there (i.e. too many writer's notes in the script's margins, perhaps?)

Gaiman was much more closely involved on AG Season 2 than 1, so I was surprised when he seemed to be suggesting he wasn't that closely involved after all.

He also has this development deal with Amazon, which I assumed would prevent him working for Netflix, but apparently not. It would seem to be a non-exclusive deal.


Where the next film goes on what they do with the mid-credits sequence.

Spoiler:
My sense is that it was a nightmare, and Parker wakes up in the next movie absolutely fine. I otherwise can't see how they overcome the issue of the whole world knowing that Spider-Man is Peter Parker.

The other option is that it's true and Parker spends Spider-Man 3 trying to deal with it, but in the end can't, so flees to another timeline where his identity is safe, thus allowing him to exit the MCU if Sony decide to pull the deal.


Big update.

J.A. Bayona (THE ORPHANAGE, THE IMPOSSIBLE, A MONSTER CALLS, er, JURASSIC PARK: FALLEN KINGDOM) will direct the first two episodes.

Gennifer Hutchison (BREAKING BAD, BETTER CALL SAUL) has been added to the writing room.

After a huge battle between Scotland and New Zealand, New Zealand has emerged victorious and the new show - with the working title LORD OF THE RINGS: THE SECOND AGE - will shoot in that country once again. However, production will be based in Auckland rather than Wellington as in Jackson's movies.

Also some clarification: Bryan Cogman has joined the show as an advisor and producer, as he was added to the project when writing for the show was already at an advanced stage. He may have an expanded role for Season 2.


Fumarole wrote:
Hopefully Gaiman gets as much say in the series as he did with Good Omens. He's not the writer, though, so that's not a good sign in my eyes.

I think he's under an exclusive writing contract to Amazon Prime, so I don't think he can write for this series.


Hama wrote:
Ciri kinda sorta looks good too. Yen is a travesty.

How so?


It's not made by the BBC, it's made by FX in the States and is a sequel to the 2014 New Zealand film written by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, and directed by the latter. Waititi directed 3 episodes of the TV show and Clement wrote or co-wrote most of the episodes. The movie characters also show up as part of the Vampire Council in a later episode.

The film was brilliant, the TV show is almost as good but can't quite sustain the same level of quality (episodes 2 and 9 in particular are a bit poor), but it still has fantastic moments.

There's also another TV show based on the same property, WELLINGTON PARANORMAL, which follows the two hapless New Zealand cops from the film as they investigate other supernatural goings-on in and around Wellington.


I started replaying the original, after applying the Remako mod. Very impressed by this.

The main limitation on remastering FF7 has been the low-res scans of the backgrounds. You can replace the 3D character/battle/minigame models all day long (and people have), but without being able to do anything about the backgrounds, the game will remain looking very antiquated.

Remako's technique uses an AI-driven clean-up process. It takes the original art and FMV and reproduces it at 4x the resolution, effectively by taking educated guesses at how many pixels to add to an art element. As it goes through the game it gets better at doing it, and the modders can adjust things it gets wrong.

This is a cutting-edge technology and has worked excellently. There's also some other possibly exciting applications (like taking old video and blowing it up to HD or even 4K, which is otherwise impossible), but for this it's worked like a charm and makes the game look much more modern and more playable. Very impressive.

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