Saturday, 16 January 2077

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After much debate (and some requests) I have signed up with crowdfunding service Patreon to better support future blogging efforts. You can find my Patreon page here and more information after the jump.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

The X-Files: Season 10

For a decade, FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully investigated the paranormal. They encountered many strange people and situations, but they found absolute, verifiable proof of the existence of paranormal activity hard to find. Many years later, they are tempted out of their new lives to investigate claims by an internet talk-show test and conspiracy theorist.

The X-Files ran for nine seasons between 1993 and 2002. At its height it was a pop culture phenomenon, drawing in enormous viewing figures and turning its two leads, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, into global stars. The presence of both well-crafted, well-written stand-alone stories and a long-running, intricate story arc attracted a passionate fanbase. Unfortunately, as the show went on producer and showrunner Chris Carter became more interested in spinning out the storyline than actually providing any hard answers. The audience grew bored and drifted away, as did the stars. Duchovney quit the show in its penultimate season, returning only for a bitty and unsatisfying finale. Two spin-off movies failed to resolve anything either.

Fourteen years later, Fox have resurrected the show for a six-episode mini-series, hopefully to lead into a recurring series. Laudably, they chose not to remake the show with a new cast, instead tempting back Carter, Duchovney and Anderson for new stories. Less laudably, the show builds on the tedious and unsatisfying storyline elements from the last two or three seasons of the original series, by which time a lot of the audience had checked out. The result is a bitty and unsatisfying mini-series which does manage to occasionally evoke the magic of the show at its best, but not consistently enough.

The first episode casts Joel McHale (Community) as Tad O'Malley, a right-wing conspiracy theorist with a talk show and a large audience. Despite being a tinfoil nutjob, O'Malley has stumbled across hard evidence of a wide-ranging government conspiracy that began with the Roswell crash in 1947. This is like catnip to Mulder, who is soon embroiled in his usual shenanigans, which involve constructing elaborate theories out of thin evidence (to Scully's eye-rolling disgust), running around dark buildings with flashlights and exasperated exchanges with his boss, FBI Deputy Director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi, who does not appear to have aged a day in the intervening years). It's all very silly, deeply tedious and, in the more credulous modern days, falls horribly flat.

The second episode is better, featuring weird deaths caused by high-pitched sounds. It's nothing special, but is fine as a watchable, "standard" episode of The X-Files.

The third episode, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-People, is outstanding. Written by the original show's finest writer, Darin Morgan, this episode deconstructs The X-Files brilliantly, is beautifully written, laugh-out-loud hilarious and really brings Duchovny and Anderson to life after some fairly restrained performances in the previous two episodes. Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-People may be one of the best episodes of The X-Files ever made, and by itself justifies the existence of this reboot.

The fourth episode is another solid, okay, mystery-of-the-week episode. It does gently revisit one of the more significant but forgotten story points of the original series, namely that Mulder and Scully had a child together who they gave up for adoption, but doesn't advance the storyline very far.

The penultimate episode of the season, Babylon, is weird. The tone is light and self-mocking, with elements include a young, next-generation version of Mulder and Scully (making the originals feel self-conscious) and scenes involving Mulder tripping balls with a vision sequence which is quite amusing in isolation. But the episode as a whole is about a suicide bombing carried out by Muslims in an American town, an event which in real life would raise tensions and be a serious, game-changing moment in the national consciousness. To see it featured as the catalyst for a comedy episode is serious tonally jarring, leaving the episode feeling off as a result.

The final episode of the season is supposed to be a big, epic moment representing the culmination of the "syndicate" storyline that slowly percolated over the course of the entire original series and the first movie, with the United States struck down by a devastating virus. But although Fox has clearly given this reboot a lot of money, it's not enough to sell the idea that the entire nation is on the brink of disaster. As a result there is no tension and the writing is dreadful. Just when things threaten to turn interesting, with the return of original recurring character Monica Reyes, the episode ends on an eye-rolling cliffhanger which may not be resolved for another year or two.

The return of The X-Files is, on one level, welcome. Duchovny and Anderson both still have a warm chemistry and charisma, although it takes a couple of episodes to resurface. The stand-alone episodes confirm that The X-Files is at its best when giving its two leads a puzzle to solve and watching how they unpick it from their two differing perspectives, and this remains fun. But times have moved on from the mid-1990s. Mulder's open-minded enthusiasm now comes across too often as tinfoil ranting (not helped by often being proven wrong) and Carter's insistence on picking up on storylines no-one cared about in 2002 means an awful lot of time is wasted on the exact same uninteresting waffle that lost the show its original viewership and saw it cancelled. If anything, the overwhelming success of Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-People highlights how silly and tedious these elements are. Whilst reducing The X-Files to a comedy show would be a shame, its over-earnest tone, which was getting a bit much by four or five seasons in, feels very overwrought today.

The tenth season of The X-Files (***, but ****½ for the third episode) works as a proof-of-concept, showing there is life in the old show and some ways it could come back on a more permanent basis and be watchable and interesting. However, it also highlights how other shows - most notably Lost and Fringe - have picked up the gauntlet thrown down in the interim and done similar things, only more consistently and with a higher level of quality (and not outstaying their welcome to anything approaching the same extent). Season 10 of The X-Files is available now in the UK (DVD, Blu-Ray) and US (DVD, Blu-Ray).

Patrick Stewart officially retires as Professor X

Patrick Stewart has announced that, at the age of 76, he has retired from playing the character of Professor Charles Xavier in 20th Century Fox's X-Men series of films.

Stewart debuted in the role of Professor X in the movie X-Men (2000). He reprised the role in X2 (2003), The Last Stand (2006) and Days of Future Past (2014), as well as brief appearances in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and The Wolverine (2013). His final role as Professor X comes in Logan (2017), which also marks the final appearance of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine (although Jackman hasn't completely ruled out a comedic cameo in a future Deadpool movie, given his online banter with Ryan Reynolds).

Stewart's decision to leave the role is unsurprising. Given the events of X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) and the ongoing rewriting of the X-Men film continuity over the last few films, as well as Jackman's decision to retire, it's clear that Fox will taking future X-Men films in a different direction, perhaps leaning more on the new cast with James McAvoy playing the role of a somewhat younger Professor X, or even contemplating a full, from-scratch reboot after twenty years of the current, increasingly convoluted continuity.

Stewart was given the role by director Bryan Singer in 1999 following a fan campaign to have him cast in the role. It gave Stewart his second popular Hollywood role following his performance as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation from 1987 to 1994 and four spin-off films: Generations (1994), First Contact (1996), Insurrection (1998) and Nemesis (2002). During the making of the X-Men films Stewart met Ian McKellan and the two distinguished actors formed a strong "bromance" that has continued ever since (with McKellan officiating at Stewart's wedding).

Although Stewart has departed the role of Professor X, he will continue working as an actor on screen, on stage and in voiceover work. His next role will be as, er, Poop in the animated Emoji Movie.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

More information on Stephen Donaldson's new fantasy trilogy

Way back in 1977 Stephen Donaldson helped shape the modern fantasy genre with Lord Foul's Bane, the first book in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. He has completed three series in the same setting, totalling ten books, as well as an additional fantasy duology (Mordant's Need) and an excellent five-volume space opera, The Gap.

Donaldson is now working on a new fantasy trilogy, The Great God's War. The first novel in the series, Seventh Decimate, now has a cover blurb:
The acclaimed author of the Thomas Covenant Chronicles launches a powerful new trilogy about a prince’s desperate quest for a sorcerous library to save his people.
Fire. Wind. Pestilence. Earthquake. Drought. Lightning. These are the six Decimates, wielded by sorcerers for both good and evil. 
But a seventh Decimate exists—the most devastating one of all...
For centuries, the realms of Belleger and Amika have been at war, with sorcerers from both sides brandishing the Decimates to rain blood and pain upon their enemy. But somehow, in some way, the Amikans have discovered and invoked a seventh Decimate, one that strips all lesser sorcery of its power. And now the Bellegerins stand defenseless.
Prince Bifalt, eldest son of the Bellegerin King, would like to see the world wiped free of sorcerers. But it is he who is charged with finding the repository of all of their knowledge, to find the book of the seventh Decimate—and reverse the fate of his land.
All hope rests with Bifalt. But the legendary library, which may or may not exist, lies beyond an unforgiving desert and treacherous mountains—and beyond the borders of his own experience. Wracked by hunger and fatigue, sacrificing loyal men along the way, Bifalt will discover that there is a game being played by those far more powerful than he could ever imagine. And that he is nothing but a pawn...
The novel will be published on 14 November 2017.

AMERICAN GODS gets an airdate

The TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman's American Gods has now gotten an air date.

The eight-episode first season debuts on Sunday 30 April on Starz in the United States. It will air the following day on Amazon in the UK.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Chris Wooding completes latest novel

SF and fantasy author Chris Wooding has just finished (about six hours ago) his latest novel.

Wooding has written science fiction, YA dystopias and fantasy dieselpunk (in his excellent Tales of the Ketty Jay series), but his only overt work of secondary world fantasy to date was the excellent Braided Path trilogy, which was inspired much more by Asian history and trope. His latest work is different: a much more "traditional" epic fantasy series where he can play around with the tropes of the established genre.

On a Reddit AMA a couple of months back, he described it thusly:

The new book is my first attempt at doing, er, I suppose you'd call it 'traditional' fantasy. I grew up on Shannara, LOTR, Dragonlance and that kind of thing; they were the books that got me into fantasy. And I realised in almost 20 years of writing I'd never actually tried a fantasy story in that kind of world: the kind of pseudo-European environment that most readers identify as fantasy. My big series were always set in weird environments: in Broken Sky everyone had a 'superpower' through their spirit-stones; The Braided Path was Oriental flintlock fantasy shading into science fiction; Ketty Jay was dieselpunk fantasy. This new one, I'm not throwing out all the tropes at the start as I usually do. I want this one to feel like a fantasy, like the books I loved when I was a kid. And then I'm going to tell a story working within that format, and try to make it all fresh and new, using all the ensemble casting and characterisation skillz I honed during the Ketty Jay books. It's not going to be like the fantasy of the 80s and 90s, with its black and white morality and clear-cut heroes and villains; nor is it going to be grimdark. It's a pretty lo-magic setting. Beyond that, all I can tell you is that I'm having a total blast writing it. There's a certain freedom in being able to employ the assumptions and traditions of fantasy fiction and concentrate on story and character, instead of starting everything from scratch.
The book will likely be published in 2017 or 2018 (2018 may be a touch more likely at this point, but we'll see). Given the quality of Chris's previous work, I'll be checking it out ASAP.

Filming of the young Han Solo movie begins

Filming began yesterday of the second stand-alone Star Wars prequel movie. This film, as yet unnamed, focuses on the young life and times of Han Solo and takes place roughly halfway between Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One/A New Hope.

The movie is directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie) and written by father-and-son team Lawrence and Jon Kasdan. Lawrence Kasdan has been working on Star Wars for almost forty years, having worked as a writer on The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. This film will apparently be his swansong on the franchise.

The film stars Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo, Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian, Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton and Phoebe Waller-Bridge co-star.

The film is set for release in May 2018, although a delay to December seems quite possible.

Meanwhile, the next Star Wars movie is The Last Jedi, the sequel to The Force Awakens, which will be released this December.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

JV Jones breaks silence, joins Patreon

Fantasy author JV Jones has joined Patreon and restarted her Twitter account, breaking over three years of total silence.

Jones is the author of the superb Sword of Shadows series, consisting (so far) of A Cavern of Black Ice (1999), A Fortress of Grey Ice (2002), A Sword From Red Ice (2007) and Watcher of the Dead (2010). A fifth book, Endlords, has been promised, with the series overall expected to last for either five or six volumes. The Sword of Shadows is a sequel to her earlier Book of Words trilogy, consisting of The Baker's Boy (1995), A Man Betrayed (1996) and Master and Fool (1997). She has also written a fine stand-alone fantasy novel, The Barbed Coil (1997).

Jones reports that the last few years have been very difficult but she is now getting her writing career back on track, with finishing her current novel in progress (presumably Endlords) a priority. She is also planning to release blog entries and articles via Patreon.

This is excellent news. It's good to see Ms. Jones back writing and hopefully we'll be seeing the end of the story she started over twenty years ago soon.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs.

Friday, 17 February 2017

HARMONQUEST returns for a second season

Dan Harmon's fantasy roleplaying/improvisational comedy show HarmonQuest is returning for a second season.

The first season of the show was one of the unexpected highlights of last year. It was very funny and revelled in showing the fun that people can have playing a pen-and-paper RPG. The season ended in an epic battle (where the regular crew were joined by Nathan Fillion) against the forces of evil and were triumphant, but at the cost of one of their number being sucked into a portal into an other dimension. It was a bit of a cliffhanger, which I assume will be addressed in the new season.

Guest stars this season will include Harmon's Community buddy Gillian Jacobs, Elizabeth Olsen (late of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Scarlet Witch) and comedian and actor Patton Oswalt.

The second season will air on Seeso in the summer.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Neil Gaiman working on a NEVERWHERE sequel

Neil Gaiman has confirmed that he is working on a sequel or successor to his 1997 novel Neverwhere (itself an adaptation of the 1996 BBC mini-series). In an interview with the UK's Channel 4 News, he says he was sparked off by the idea of including refugees in the world he created. Gaiman spent some time last year in a refugee camp in Jordan.

Gaiman did not provide much more information than the following:
“I’m working on a new novel. For the first time in twenty years I’m going to go back to my novel Neverwhere. For me it’s taking not only the dispossessed, not only the homeless, not only those who fall through the cracks, but also the refugees. Also, people who are fleeing war, fleeing intolerable situations, barely getting out with their lives and then what happens to them next."
Neverwhere started off as a BBC TV series, developed with comedian Lenny Henry, before transitioning to a novel the following year. In 2013 it was adapted for the radio, starring James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sophie Okenedo, Sir Christopher Le and Anthony Head, In 2014 Gaiman wrote a long-promised spin-off novella, How the Marquis Got His Coat Back, for George R.R. Martin and Gardener Dozois's anthology Rogues. This in turn was adapted for radio last year.

The new novel will be called The Seven Sisters. No date has been set for publication.

Neverwhere was hugely influential on the development of modern urban fantasy. China Mieville cites the novel as a major inspiration for his novels King Rat and Un Lun Dun.

Gaiman was speaking ahead of the launch of his new TV series, American Gods, which will air in the USA on Starz in April.

Gaiman is also writing the script for a TV adaptation of his collaborative novel with Sir Terry Pratchett, Good Omens. After almost twenty-five years in development hell, this has finally been greenlit for production by the BBC and Amazon.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs.