The Wheel of Time adaptation is looking good

As I’ve explained before, I read all of The Wheel of Time books but they always annoyed me. I wanted to read a commercially available multi-book epic fantasy genre (i.e. one where you could reliably find the next volume in a book shop) and it was what was available. I can’t recall when I started reading it but it was by the point that there were several books available (being smart, I thought I’d start a series that might be close to being finished and was punished for my presumption).

I think it is fair to say that the books are a meandering mess but not so terrible that they didn’t end up with a huge readership. I can’t think of a set of books that hit that spot where I was annoyed by them and yet still kept reading them. Like I said, availability was a big part of it particularly in a period in my life where I was shifting between countries.

A TV adaptation of the books is an interesting idea. In many ways, the books already felt like a TV show that kept spinning its wheels on the overall plot because the show had to keep going but the premise (an inevitable final conflict with the forces of evil) would end the show. Good books can make for bad dramatic adaptations but conversely, mediocre books can be elevated by a visual medium. I found a lot of Robert Jordan’s written world and characters to be a bit flat — particularly in later books with the huge cast split across a continent that all felt very much the same. A dramatisation could fill out the flaws.

So far, the adaptation is doing that. A strong cast gives the characters more weight and also pushes them closer to how Jordan intended them to be (from context) rather than how they come over in the books. Nynaeve in particular is clearly meant to be a strong-willed character in the books but comes over as just whiny and annoying (your impression may differ) in Jordan’s dialogue. However, the show’s Nynaeve is a really compelling character played by New Zealander Zoë Robins, full of intensity and suspicion of what she (correctly) perceives as a hostile world.

It’s not without flaws. Along with the baggage it brings from the books (from cliched fantasy Romany-like people to gender essentialism), the first episode introduces a pointless fridging of a character that the plot doesn’t really know what to do with. It’s a very diverse cast but there are some potentially dubious choices in villains early on.

Some great magic scenes though and the Aes Sedai as maybe-TERFy Jedi is actually an interesting choice given the dubious nature of the group in the books as a whole.

Anyway, so far, good fun with dark doings, big scenery and a big mystery as to which of the five young characters from the village is the Dragon Reborn. I wonder which one it is! OK, we know already but they are playing that angle well currently even if the actual choice is the obvious one.

Susan’s Leftover Pumpkin Pie Salon: November 28/29

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Please use the comment section to just chat about whatever you want. Susan’s Salon is posted early on Monday (Australian Eastern Standard Time, which is still Sunday in most other countries). It’s fine to be sad, worried, vaccinated, unvaccinated-yet, angry or maybe even happy (or all of those things at once).

Please feel free to post what you like (either troubling news or pleasant distractions) in the comments for this open thread. [However, no cranky conflicts between each other in the comments.] Links, videos, cat pictures 🐈 etc are fine! Whatever you like! 😇

Interim, spoiler-free, review of Doctor Who: Flux

The 2021 Doctor Who season is four episodes into a six-episode season. Scaled-down because of covid, this is going to be the last full season under Chris Chibnall but with some movie-length specials to come next year.

While I’ve liked Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, the Chibnall period has been weak and often infuriating. There have been some goodish episodes but a lot of stories with strong ideas have fallen flat. The idea of having more of an ensemble cast sounded promising but then what was delivered in previous seasons has been scripts that didn’t actually make much use of the three companions. So would season 13 be particularly unlucky or would the show regain its spark?

The invention (sort of) for this season is a stronger plot arc. The initial promise is that all six episodes would be a single story. That’s not entirely true. The four episodes have been partly like stand-alone Doctor Who stories (e.g. episode 2 is the Crimean War but with time-meddling Sontarans) but with at least part of the plot tied into a universe-wide catastrophe called The Flux and two super-villains called Azure and Swarm.

Overall, I think so far it has been pretty good. Like previous Chibnall seasons, there’s no stand-out 100% future-classic episode but he is leaning into his strengths. Those strengths include a good sense of the aesthetics of “good” Doctor Who episodes (but not the substance of it) and longer story arcs. Rehashing classic villains isn’t a great way of moving the series forward but Chibnall’s attempts at new ideas previously have largely fallen flat, so…I think I prefer him playing it safe.

The other profound weakness of Chibnall’s period has been endings. Stories like 2018’s Kerblam! that had all sorts of interesting ideas fizzled out before the episode ended. The structure of Flux has allowed Chibnall to dodge the issue of how to wrap up a story. That does suggest that Episode 6 (in a couple of weeks) will be a disappointing, horrible mess but in the meantime, the four episodes we’ve had have been fun. Still not great but not disappointing or dull and with sparky energy and atmosphere that make me look forward to the next episode.

Yas (Mandip Gill) has had a better role as a companion than she had previously. Script wise, in previous seasons it felt like she kept being sidelined, even in episodes like Demons of the Punjab that nominally centred her as a character. I was suspicious of the casting of Liverpudlian comedian John Bishop as an additional companion but he’s largely been entertaining.

Having been rude about Chris Chibnall’s past attempts at innovation, another feature of this season has been the introduction of a partially separate non-Doctor storyline. In the first episode, the character Vinder was introduced as a generic Doctor-Whoish future space soldier who first detects the planet-destroying power of the Flux. His role was initially as a normal side character. However, he’s gained more of a plot since then. In addition, the character Bel has her own story starting from episode 3. Played by Thaddea Graham who was brilliant in the otherwise flawed Netflix Holmes pastiche The Irregulars, she’s added another level to the broader arc, including giving an ongoing sense of a universe-spanning catastrophe.

Like I said, the chance of this kitchen-sink’s worth of stuff all coming together in a sensible way by the final episode is low. It is a big mess but largely a good big mess that is enjoying itself and has largely got the balance of weird ideas, humour, bad-CGI, sci-fi and tea-time appropriate moments of deep horror right.

I’ll post something more spoilery in a couple of weeks when the edifice has all come crashing down.

Debarkle Afterword: Dramatis Personae

Through this saga, several key figures have been highlighted during the narrative. In this final chapter, we will see where each of them landed at the end of 2021. People and organisations are presented in the order that they appeared in the text.

Worldcon and the Hugo Awards: The famous convention was scheduled to be held in Washington DC in 2021. However, to minimise the disruption from the pandemic the convention was rescheduled to December. Attendees were required to be vaccinated and wear masks. The Hugo Awards were also rescheduled to December. At the convention, the voting for the site selection for Worldcon 2023 went to Chengdu, China. The Hugo Award ceremony was embroiled in controversy when the weapons & space technology company Raytheon was announced as a sponsor. The sponsorship led to a social media storm because of Raytheon’s connection to civilian casualties in the ongoing civil war in Yemen.

John Scalzi: the author continues to enjoy commercial and critical success and is still published by Tor Books. His Interdependency Saga was a finalist for Best Series in the 2021 Hugo Awards. His blog Whatever is still going and has included posts from his daughter Athena Scalzi. Athena appeared on the longlist (nominees who didn’t quite make enough votes to be finalists) of the Hugo Awards for the Best Fan Writer category.

Vox Day: Day never formally gave up on Qanon but he quietly stopped mentioning it during 2021. His main blog content has been promoting his web-comic platform and posting anti-vaccine propaganda. In 2021 his blog was shut down by Google leading him to re-opened it on a WordPress site but without a comment section. The movie version of his Alt-Hero comics was not released. He ended his feud with alt-right social media site Gab. He has yet to finish his epic fantasy saga.

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America: The SFWA is still going and its current president is Jeffe Kennedy, a romance and fantasy author.

Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden: Teresa is still a consulting editor and Patrick is still the Editor-in-Chief at Tor Books. Making Light still operates as a blog with a community of commenters.

Baen Books and Toni Weisskopf: Baen is still publishing a wide range of science fiction. In 2019 Discon III (the 2021 Worldcon) announced that Toni Weisskopf would be a Guest of Honour at the convention[1]. The official web forum of the publisher, Baen’s Bar, continued as a site for discussion but over the years had become less active. Nonetheless, in the wake of January 6, 2021, Capitol Riots, some threads on the Bar were actively discussing armed “resistance”[2] including calls by author Tom Kratman for Trump to form a militia wing of his supporters. An investigation into extremist violent rhetoric on the Bar by fan-writer Jason Sanford highlighted the extent of the radicalisation on the web forum[3]. To manage the subsequent media attention and amid fears that Internet Service Providers might take action against Baen’s websites, Weisskopf temporarily closed Baen’s Bar[4]. In turn, Sanford was subject to social media harassment by supporters of the Bar, as well as more reasoned push-back from Baen authors such as Eric Flint and David Weber[5]. Amid the controversy, Discon III announced that Weisskopf had been removed as one of the Guests of Honour which generated its own controversy[6]. After the 2021 Hugo Awards were announced, the voting statistics showed that Weisskopf had received enough votes to be a finalist in the Best Editor Long Form category but had declined the nomination.

Larry Correia: Correia continues to produce popular books and in 2021 he won his fourth Dragon Award for his science fiction book Gun Runner, co-written with John D. Brown. He retains a contentious relationship with Facebook.

N.K.Jemisin: In 2020, Jemisin was awarded a $625,000 MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grant[7]. In 2021 she was listed in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World[8]. The film/TV rights for her multi-Hugo award-winning Broken Earth series was bought by Sony Pictures in 2021 for a seven-figure sum with Jemisin herself set to adapt the books for the screen[9].

Sarah A Hoyt: Hoyt bought back the rights to her Darkship series from Baen books and is currently re-editing them so she can publish them independently. She has recently moved from Colorado.

The Mad Genius Club: The lineup of the Mad Genius Club had shifted only a little. After the Puppy campaigns, the focus of the site returned to giving advice to aspiring independent authors with minimal politics but a lingering suspicion of traditional publishing. Dave Freer is living a self-sufficient lifestyle on an island off the coast of Tasmania where he is engaged in a dispute with the local government.

GamerGate: The more famous names attached to GamerGate have long since moved on but if you say “Gamergate” three times on social media, the lingering mass of true believers will appear to explain how they were all misunderstood.

Mike Glyer: File 770 remains a popular source of news and gossip in fandom including coverage of the latest disputes and controversies at Worldcon.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew: Has published several novels and short fiction since 2015.

Brad R. Torgersen: In 2019, Torgersen won the Dragon Award for Best Science Fiction novel for A Star-Wheeled Sky. For a brief period in 2021, his Wikipedia page also listed his military medals which included the Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon awarded to officers “who have completed a prescribed leadership course at an NCO training school”[10].

John C. Wright: Wright withdrew the rights for several of his novels published by Vox Day’s Castalia House and republished them with Russell Newquist’s Silver Empire.

Tom Kratman: Can be found on Quora arguing about historical wars.

Castalia House: Has largely stopped publishing new science fiction

Marko Kloos: Kloos has been a finalist four times for the Dragon Awards. Two of his short stories were adapted for the Netflix animated sci-fi anthology series Love, Death and Robots.

Kary English: English is still writing stories and remains involved in the Writers of the Future Contest.

Michael Z. Williamson: Having multiple Facebook accounts in slightly different names allows Williamson to argue against masks and vaccines despite regular temporary Facebook bans.

The Sad Puppies 4 Website: Ownership of the domain name was lost by the former Puppies and the site has been adopted by various owners in the years since. For a while, it was a website promoting Italian slot machine websites and a site linking to audiobook versions of the Quran. It is currently being used to display an example blog (about carpet cleaning) for a WordPress template.

The Dragon Award: Dragon Con has not published detailed statistics on the voting of the awards. The level of participation in the awards is not known.

Declan Finn: Despite several efforts, Finn has not been a Dragon Award finalist since 2017. He has not made a return visit to Italy.

Richard Spencer et al: The deadly Unite the Right Rally of 2017 in Charlottesville led to a civil case against the organisers of the rally by nine victims of the violence. 12 individual defendants and five white nationalist/supremacist organisations were found guilty on multiple charges. The jury awarded $25 million in damages to the victims[11].

Jon Del Arroz: The case Del Arroz had filed against the 2018 Worldcon lasted until June 2021. Most of his claims against the convention were dropped during the litigation leaving only one claim for defamation. The organisers of the 2018 Worldcon settled this final claim rather than continue the case any further and paid Del Arroz an undisclosed sum and made a public apology for implying he was racist[12]. In August 2021, Del Arroz was permanently banned from Twitter for violating their rules against “hateful conduct”[13] although he has been seen on the site since using a different account.

Comicsgate: Jon Del Arroz, Ethan Van Sciver and Vox Day are no longer feuding. The mix of culture-war rhetoric to promote crowdfunded projects continues.

Qanon: On November 2021, a sub-group of Qanon followers gather in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas with the expectation that John F. Kennedy would appear. He didn’t.

20 Books to 50K: Remains an active Facebook group helping aspiring authors. Their 2021 Vegas conference featured a panel with Toni Weisskopf and Larry Correia discussing social media strategy.

Camestros Felapton: Intends to redirect his efforts to shorter and more poorly footnoted posts. The proportion of typographical errors will be unaffected.

Timothy the Talking Cat: Despite many requests, Timothy did not appear or contribute directly to this project[14].


Footnotes

Debarkle: Conclusion

Worldbuilding is an important part of all fiction, the creation of imagined reality within which characters can interact and a plot unfold. While worldbuilding has a role in all genres, it is of particular importance within science fiction and fantasy where the departure from genuine reality is expected to be more profound and overt. If you read this far into the Debarkle (and haven’t simply skipped ahead to the final chapter) I can assume you are conversant with the idea of imagined realities but I want to describe an imagined reality now not to provide a setting for a piece of narrative fiction but to help describe some real-world events. We will call this imagined reality the Unnatural Alliance.

Continue reading “Debarkle: Conclusion”

Debarkle Endgame Update

So two chapters and a hell of a lot of typo fixing to go.

Here’s the plan:

  1. A conclusion: tieing everything together. No new events of facts, just what the point of the whole exercise demonstrates, sort of.
  2. Dramatis Personae Afterword. Basically where all the major characters/players ended up by the end(ish) of 2021. If you are wondering where the Baen’s Bar stuff from the start of the year is going to appear, it will be here. No thematic connection, just how things turned out one way or another.

Then the blog version of Debarkle is complete. After that…

  1. Fix up the typo backlog
  2. Publish the Volume 3 ebook version (parts 5 & 6) [available only for a limited time!]
  3. Read through the whole non-blog combined version, make some terminology conistent etc
  4. Publish the Complete Debarkle ebook
  5. And all before the end of 2021!

Susan’s Pumpkin Pie Salon: November 21/22

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Please use the comment section to just chat about whatever you want. Susan’s Salon is posted early on Monday (Australian Eastern Standard Time, which is still Sunday in most other countries). It’s fine to be sad, worried, vaccinated, unvaccinated-yet, angry or maybe even happy (or all of those things at once).

Please feel free to post what you like (either troubling news or pleasant distractions) in the comments for this open thread. [However, no cranky conflicts between each other in the comments.] Links, videos, cat pictures 🐈 etc are fine! Whatever you like! 😇

Debarkle Chapter 74: Meanwhile…Election 2020

[content warning: discussion of violence and murder]

Robert Heinlein’s “crazy years” were a period in his extrapolation of history into the future where rapid technological change would accompany a period of cultural and social decline. The idea resembles aspects of accelerationism[1] and the sense of galloping technological change and social unrest is one the world has been grappling with culturally since at least the nineteenth century. Among science fiction writers, and particularly science fiction writers with an interest in the Campbellian “Golden Age”, Heinlein’s “crazy years” were an apt metaphor for contemporary social ills.

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 74: Meanwhile…Election 2020”

Farewell Star Trek Discovery

So non-US fans of Star Trek Discovery were surprised by the sudden policy change yesterday. Within the USA, the show had originally been used as a way to entice people to sign-up for the streaming service CBS All Access which was later rebranded as Paramount+ but in much of the rest of the world, it was shown on Netflix. With Paramount+ having a broader international roll-out in 2022, the Netflix deal is over which means that in the US Discovery starts soon in November 2021 but internationally it won’t be released until 2022.

The later release date is so that it will be a drawcard for European audiences when Paramount+ kicks off there. Interestingly Paramount+ is already available in Australia but the show also won’t be shown there until 2022.

So, hmmm. Another streaming service? I can’t justify that. I’ve enjoyed Discovery more than many people but it really isn’t much-watch TV. It has progressively improved and developed a more consistent tone and episode quality but it has always been stuck between two stools. Is it a classic Trek show or is it something new? Should it follow the normal broadcast TV show style of story-of-the-week or go for the streaming style big binge-able story arc. Season 3 did a lot better at managing those contradictions but it still failed to make good use of an ensemble cast.

Additionally, Season 3 ended with what was a reasonable end to the whole series. The Discovery had ended up in the future and was now a proper part of a renewed Federation and Michael Burnham was now captain. And they all lived happily ever after except for that shuttle pilot from season 1.

I don’t know. I might change my mind in January but as another one of my motives to watch it was to write reviews and hence be part of the general chatter about the show, doing that months later is also not compelling. I’m not angrily cancelling Discovery, the decision makes sense for Paramount+, particularly given that the raison d’être of the show existing was to promote a streaming service. The timing was particularly poorly done but that’s a different question.

So for the time being at least, I’m drawing a line under Discovery.