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.

The Longest SFF Novels of All Time

With the recent news that Brandon Sanderson's Oathbringer is going to be very big indeed, I thought it'd be interesting to look at the longest SFF novels and series.

These lists are not exhaustive and consistency of reporting these figures can be quite variable. I have opted for word counts as the most accurate way of estimating length, as page counts can vary immensely based on page margins and font sizes.

Longest Novels

1. Varney the Vampire by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest
667,000 words • 1845-47

This long novel was serialised in "penny dreadfuls" of the mid-19th Century and chronicles the adventures of Sir Francis Varney, a vampire. This book's genre credentials have been disputed (with the suggestion that Varney is actually a madman rather than a real vampire), but there seems to be a general acceptance that the book is a genuine work of the fantastic, and the longest SFF work ever published in one volume (which it was in 1847). The book was also influential on Bram Stoker's later Dracula (1897) and introduced many of the tropes of vampire fiction, including the "sympathetic vampire" protagonist.

2. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
645,000 words • 1957

Highly debatable as a genre work rather than a political novel, although the story is partially set against a dystopian background and genre historian John Clute identifies the novel as SF (plus it inspired the very SF Bioshock video game series and fantasy Sword of Truth series), so okay, we'll count it.

3. Jerusalem by Alan Moore
615,000 words • 2016

Alan Moore's prose magnum opus is a massive, dizzying and baffling journey into the surreal. It's so huge that it is available in a two-volume edition in a nice slipcase.

4. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
545,000 words • 1996

Infinite Jest has primarily literary allusions, although the book's setting - a North American superstate consisting of a unified Canada, USA and Mexico - is a futuristic dystopia. The book could have even been bigger, with 250 manuscript pages trimmed for length by the publishers.

5. To Green Angel Tower by Tad Williams
520,000 words • 1993

The concluding volume of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is bigger than the first two novels in the series (The Dragonbone Chair and Stone of Farewell) combined. A titanic, shelf-destroying novel, it is only available in mass-market paperback in two volumes, subtitled Siege and Storm.

6. The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon
502,000 words • 2001

The fifth volume of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander historical romance series, spiced up by a time-spanning culture clash, is absolutely gigantic.

7. A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
501,000 words • 2005

The sixth volume of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander historical romance series doesn't quite match its predecessor.

8. Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle
500,000 words • 2000

Mary Gentle's novel is a dazzling mix of SF, historical drama, fantasy, alternate history and generaly bizarrity. The novel was published in one volume in the UK, but the American publishers released it as four in the USA.

9. Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson (estimated)
495,000 words (estimated) • 2017

The final word count could go up or down, but Brandon Sanderson has estimated that the third volume of The Stormlight Archive will be 25% longer than the already-huge second volume.

10. The Stand by Stephen King
472,376 words • 1978

Stephen King's biggest novel in a single volume, notable for also foreshadowing The Dark Tower series. The above word count is for the expanded and revised edition.

11. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
470,000 words • 1954-55

This book needs no introduction. The most influential fantasy novel ever written, often incorrectly cited as the biggest genre novel of all time. Due to paper shortages after the Second World War, the book was released in three volumes, inadvertently creating the classic fantasy trilogy at the same time.

12. The Naked God by Peter F. Hamilton
469,000 words • 1999

The biggest space opera ever written, even more remarkable because it was the concluding volume of an even bigger trilogy, The Night's Dawn.

13. It by Stephen King
445,134 words  1986

Arguably Stephen King's most famous single novel.

14. Sea of Silver Light by Tad Williams
443,000 words • 2001

This is the concluding volume of Tad Williams's fantasy/cyberpunk mash-up Otherland. Williams likes to end big.

15. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
422,000 words • 2000

George R.R. Martin started his Song of Ice and Fire series being somewhat concerned about the word count and went to great lengths to keep the first two books down to a friendly 300,000 words or so apiece, dropping chapters back into the next volume if necessary. However, with Martin planning a five year time-jump after this book, he had no choice but to write the story to its natural conclusion. The result was a book that pushed the UK publishers to the limits of what they could publish in one volume. The paperback version, in fact, was released in two volumes.

16. A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
420,000 words • 2011

The difficult-to-write fifth volume in A Song of Ice and Fire ended up being somewhat longer than A Storm of Swords, but Martin cut it down to slightly shorter in the final sweat and edit.

17. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
415,000 words • 1999

Neal Stephenson's first gigantic book, but not his last (although this remains his longest book) is an interesting romp through WWII history, cryptography and weirdness. A stand-alone, but it also acts as a thematic prequel (and actual sequel) to his later Baroque Cycle.

18. An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon
402,000 words • 2009

The seventh Outlander novel is huge, but feels quite modest compared to the longest books in the series mentioned above.

19. Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon
401,000 words • 1996

The fourth Outlander novel. Given the several books in the series that are just under 400,000 words, I can only assume that the author gets through a lot of keyboards.

20. The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
400,000 words • 2011

Patrick Rothfuss's sequel to The Name of the Wind is considerably larger. It remains to be seen if the final volume of The Kingkiller Chronicle, The Doors of Stone, will be bigger still.

21. Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
400,000 words • 2014

The second volume of The Stormlight Archive is about to lose its record-setting status as Sanderson's biggest novel and the biggest novel in the series to Oathbringer. But it's still pretty big.

Below 400,000 words, the number of fantasy and SF novels in that size bracket shoots up massively. So rather than try to come up with an exhaustive list, here's some notable SFF novels with their word counts:

  • Lord of Chaos is the sixth and longest Wheel of Time novel, clocking in at 395,000 words.
  • Toll the Hounds is the eighth and longest Malazan Book of the Fallen novel, reaching 389,000 words.
  • Maia, by the late Richard Adams, is 379,130 words.
  • Magician, by Raymond E. Feist, is a relatively breezy 313,410 words (about 330,000 words in the 1992 extended edition). Which makes the decision to publish the novel in two volumes in the United States (as Apprentice and Master) all the weirder.
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell is 309,000 words.
  • Temple of the Winds, the longest Sword of Truth novel, is a modest 307,520 words in length.
  • The Order of the Phoenix, the longest Harry Potter novel, is 257,045 words in length. That's over three times the length of the shortest novel in the series, The Philosopher's Stone
  • The Sword of Shannara, the novel that gave birth of the modern fantasy genre, is a relatively modest 228,160 words. It's also still Terry Brooks's biggest novel, by far; none of the other Shannara novels top 200,000 words and only three top 150,000 words.
  • SF is generally a lot shorter than fantasy, but the fact that Frank Herbert's seminal Dune is only 188,000 words - shorter than three of the Harry Potter books! - might be surprising.

The Longest SFF Series

This is a much more debatable list, since some series are more diffuse than others. The Riftwar books, for example, form nine distinct series, but also have narrative elements spanning all twenty-nine books in the series. The same is true of the Shannara series. The Discworld books I haven't even attempted to fit on here for this reason. This list is therefore a bit more speculative.

  • The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson (15 volumes): 4,360,000 words.
  • The Shannara Series by Terry Brooks (28 volumes, incomplete): 3,865,000 words.
  • The Riftwar Cycle by Raymond E. Feist (29 volumes): 3,831,670 words.
  • The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson (10 volumes): 3,274,000 words (5.5 million including all related works by Erikson and Ian Esslemont).
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (8 volumes, incomplete): 3,227,000 words.
  • The Cosmere by Brandon Sanderson (11 novels/1 anthology, incomplete): 2,971,940 words.
  • The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind (11 volumes): 2,761,170 words (3,643,650 including the sequels).
  • The Wars of Light and Shadow by Janny Wurts (9 volumes, incomplete): 2,600,000 words.
  • The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson (10 volumes): 2,062,000 words.
  • The Belgariad/Malloreon by David & Leigh Eddings (12 volumes): 1,861,000 words.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin (5 volumes, incomplete): 1,749,000 words.
  • Worm by John McCrae (30 "arcs"): 1,680,000 words.
  • Crown of Stars by Kate Elliott (7 volumes): 1,622,720 words.
  • The Solar Cycle by Gene Wolfe (11 volumes): 1,368,000 words.
  • The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson (3 volumes, incomplete): 1,275,000 words.
  • The Dark Tower by Stephen King (8 volumes): 1,256,000 words.
  • The Night's Dawn Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton (3 volumes): 1,247,000 words.
  • Otherland by Tad Williams (4 volumes): 1,189,000 words.
  • The Second Apocalypse by R. Scott Bakker (7 volumes, incomplete): 1,172,000 words.
  • Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams (3 volumes): 1,126,000 words (1,542,440 including The Heart of What Was Lost and The Witchwood Crown).
  • The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson (3 volumes): 1,125,000 words (1,540,000 including Cryptonomicon).
  • Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (7 volumes): 1,084,170 words (1,183,370 including The Cursed Child).
  • Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (6 volumes, incomplete): 1,077,560 words.
  • The Elenium/Tamuli by David Eddings (6 volumes): 1,006,000 words.
  • The Sword of Shadows by J.V. Jones (4 volumes, incomplete): 945,047 words.
  • Dune by Frank Herbert (6 volumes): 839,000 words.
  • The Expanse by James S.A. Corey (6 volumes, incomplete): 834,000 words.
  • The Acts of Caine by Matt Stover (4 volumes): 768,000 words.
  • The First Law by Joe Abercrombie (3 volumes): 618,000 words (1,216,000 including the stand-alone sequels).

Why Page Counts Vary

It's remarkable what difference shifting a margin over by a few millimetres can make. One-volume editions of The Lord of the Rings, for example, can vary from 750 pages (for tiny-font editions on onion paper) to the better part of 2,000 (for large-print versions for readers with bad eyesight). Back in 2001 Pan Macmillan were able to squeeze thepaperback of The Naked God (469,000 words) into almost the exact same page count as its predecessor novel, The Reality Dysfunction (385,000 words) despite being significantly longer, just by manipulating font sizes and margins.

This is why page count is a poor guide to working out a novel's true length, and word count is more reliable indicator.

Word counts can also differ, depending on the programme used (most modern word counts come from the ebook editions) and how they count punctuation. Some counters will also include cast lists, footnotes and appendices, others will disregard them. The publishers may even give differing word counts because they did a count before the last edits were finalised, or they forgot that the new edition has more stuff in it.


SFF blogger Abalieno has been keeping tabs on book lengths over on Looping World for many years and some of these figures come directly from there. Excellent work from him there.

Reading Length is a great site which extracts book lengths from multiple sources and then works out how long it will take to read the book. It tends to the conservative, so some of the above figures may actually be less than what is actually the case. However, it does make mistakes: its word count for Dune, for example, is for the 50th anniversary edition which includes several hundred pages of bonus material which isn't part of the novel.

Novel Word Count doesn't seem to be as exhaustive as it was planned to be, but its Stephen King page is pretty good.

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.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Philip Pullman to publish HIS DARK MATERIALS sequel trilogy

Philip Pullman has - surprisingly - announced that he has written a sequel trilogy to His Dark Materials, and the first book will be published on 19 October this year.

Philip Pullman published his critically-acclaimed His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy (Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) for young readers between 1995 and 2000. Regarded as darker and more challenging than the contemporary Harry Potter series, the trilogy has sold over 22 million copies and spawned an unsuccessful movie adaptation, The Golden Compass, in 2007. Since completing the trilogy he has published two further stand-alone novels, The Scarecrow and His Servant (2004) and The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (2010).

Over a decade ago Pullman started working on a Dark Materials companion volume, called The Book of Dust. He made it clear this was not going to be a fully-fledged sequel, but a companion book expanding on some of the worldbuilding elements in the original trilogy (most notably, the nature of the substance "dust"). Pullman has occasionally mentioned it in interviews as something he was tinkering with, not giving any impression it was a major project.

That, it turns out, was a bit of an understatement. The book has ballooned into a fully-sized sequel trilogy, The Book of Dust, which will take place in two different time periods. It will incorporate elements from Lyra Belacqua's childhood as a prequel to the main trilogy, but it will also explore the life and times of a grown-up Lyra some thirty years later. Pullman confirms that other Dark Materials characters will also appear, making this simultaneously a prequel and sequel to the original trilogy.

David Fickling Books will released Book 1 - still to have its title confirmed - in October. It's unclear if Pullman has completed the entire trilogy (you'd hope so, given the length of time it's taken), but the publishers have said it won't take seventeen years for the next volume to arrive.

Excellent news. Although His Dark Materials lost its way towards the end (when people in gyrocopters started shooting down angels with miniguns), the trilogy was weird, offbeat and challenging. Here's hoping the pre-sequel is in a similar vein. And has more armoured polar bears!

Meanwhile, the BBC and New Line Studios have teamed up to produce a new TV series based on His Dark Materials. The series is expected to unfold over four eight-episode seasons. Casting is currently underway with production due to start in Wales in the next few months for a likely 2018 debut.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Brandon Sanderson may have written the second-longest fantasy novel of all time

Brandon Sanderson has confirmed that his new book, Oathbringer, the third volume in The Stormlight Archive, is very, very big.

In a Reddit update, Sanderson says that the novel is 25% longer than Words of Radiance, which came in at 400,000 words. That suggests that Oathbringer will be 500,000 words in length.

This would almost certainly make Oathbringer the second-longest fantasy novel of all time. The #1 spot is held by To Green Angel Tower (520,000 words), the third volume of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams. The #2 spot is disputed, but probably goes to Ash: A Secret History, which clocks in between 493,000 and 500,000 (depending on if you count the notes or not). Two of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander novels also exceed 500,000 words, but the genre these novels occupy is highly questionable (since they are historical romances with a time travel element).

The Lord of the Rings, often cited as a very long epic fantasy novel, is a relatively breezy 470,000 words in length.

Oathbringer will be released, presumably in a very small font, in November this year.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Vikings: Season 3

Ragnar Lothbrok is now the King of Kattegat, ruling over a host of lesser earls. He has also forged a strong alliance with King Ecbert of Wessex, enjoying more power and influence than any Viking king before him. Aware that his people still yearn for conquest and raids, Ragnar turns to his loyal Christian friend and advisor Athelstan, who tells him tales of a fabled city to the south called Paris. Ragnar becomes obsessed with tales of this city and soon has marshalled the might of the Viking nation against it. But his obsession comes at a very high cost.

The third season of Vikings does not hang around. Having chronicled the (allegedly) reluctant rise to power of Ragnar Lothbrok over two previous seasons and nineteen episodes, the third season asks a more interesting question: what is he going to do with that power now he has it? We know that Ragnar wants to be more than a brute and a warmonger, he wants to be a statesman, a builder and a farmer, the man who brings his people out of their rocky homeland to a warmer place where the soil is better. But he is also not a fool, and knows his people still like to raid and to fight.

The result of this is a clever two-pronged strategy. Invoking the alliance forged with Ecbert last year, he plans to set up a Viking colony in Wessex. He also plans to appease his more combat-hungry troops by mounting an assault on Paris and carrying off its immense wealth. It's a clever plan which, you'll be shocked to hear, doesn't entirely pan out.

This season sees Viking at its most expansive. There's scenes in Kattegat, several other Scandinavian locations, Wessex, Mercia and in Paris. As well as Ragnar and his extended family and allies, there's also the royal families in Wessex and Mercia to deal with, and a whole new cast of characters in Paris to get to know, including the weak-willed King Charles the Simple, the more formidable Count Odo and the strong-willed Princess Gisla. The rising scale is handled well by the show. The producers deftly interleave a whole series of complex storylines (including a subplot where a very strange man shows up in Kattegat and causes chaos) with verve and skill.

The show also continues to comment on larger-scale historical forces, religion and culture through some very personal character stories. There's the ongoing religious turmoil of Athelstan (and Ragnar's fascination with Christianity) and how this interacts with Floki's growing anger that the threat posed by Christianity to the Norse way of life is being ignored. There's Ecbert's ongoing clash between his acceptance of other cultures (there's a terrific and cynically honest exchange between him and Ragnar) but knowing that his priests and lords will not accept many concessions to the heathens.

The result is a rich tapestry of a show, with more going on than just the endless cycle of betrayal and counter-betrayal in the previous season. The last few episodes of the season then take things to the next level by depicting the full-scale Siege of Paris in all its glory. With lengthy, massive battle sequences that easily match anything in Game of Thrones, this season sees Vikings gain a scope and epic reach to match its already-impressive character work.

Season 3 of Vikings (*****) sees an already-impressive show become even better: grander, more epic, more brutal but also more human, more intimate and smarter. It is available now on Blu Ray (UK, USA) and DVD (UK, USA).

The Magicians: Season 1

Once upon a time there was a writer named Lev Grossman, who worked for TIME Magazine and had literary ambitions. In 2005 he gained some attention when he called George R.R. Martin "The American Tolkien" in his review of A Feast for Crows. A few years later, having covered more SFF books, he decided to write his own. Faced with the daunting task of creating an original setting, cast of characters, themes to develop and trying to do something new, he gave up and instead mashed together The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter. For added literary street cred he threw in some rich, good-looking New York kids whose lives were painful and agonising because of their wealth and having to attend college lectures a couple of times a day and having to tiresomely have sex with other rich, good-looking people. The result was a success! The novel, The Magicians, sold a lot of copies and he was able to stretch his thin narrative out across two sequels.

Now, and slightly inexplicably (given the number of actually-good SF and fantasy novels still stuck in development hell), it's been turned into a TV show. I imagine Grossman had in mind that the show would be adapted by a massive cable company like HBO and filled with top-tier actors, with high-level production values and the best scriptwriters in the business on the job. Instead, SyFy have turned it into a quick-turnaround popcorn show whilst their main talent is working on the infinitely superior The Expanse instead.

The Magicians, as in the TV show, is quite spectacularly awful and incompetent on a scale you just don't see on TV very much these days. Some modern shows can be boring, or not appeal to a wide demographic, or have structural or tone issues, but in the Golden Age of Television it's rare to see incompetence on this scale. The Magicians has almost no redeeming features whatsoever and borders on the unwatchable.

For starters, the script is awful. No attempt is made to make these characters even remotely sympathetic or interesting. The worldbuilding is thin to the point of non-existence. How the wider magical world works, what happens to evil wizards, why more people don't know about the existence of the other worlds despite magic being around for thousands of years etc is stuff that simply hasn't been thought through (unlike, say Harry Potter). The pacing is dreadful and the structure, which follows two separate storylines that are meant to hook up later, is constantly undercut by the characters from each story constantly bumping into the others, making the world feel claustrophobic and small.

Characterisation is something that happens in other series, not this one. I have no idea what motivates these people. Quentin, our main character, is whiny, weak-willed, selfish to the point of lunacy and tone-deaf to anything going on around him. I get he's suppose to be a difficult college kid, but usually these kind of characters have a redeeming feature, such as being smart or charismatic or funny, or they have unexpected skills. That never happens with Quentin. He's just a self-centred incompetent who spends most of the show whining about things.

Most of the other characters are likewise despicable, or treated with contempt, such as Alice. In the books she's a terribly-written, shy-but-ridiculously-hot cliche (even down to wearing glasses to show she's intellectual, but when she takes them off she suddenly turns into a sex bomb), which remains the case in the TV show. Crassly, the character in the novels is often referred to by her bra size and, jaw-droppingly, this continues in the TV show as well, along with many of the female castmembers appearing in states of partial undress throughout the show (Arjun Gupta, the show's sole good-looking male character, gets the same treatment as well in a vague nod towards equality). For a show made in 2017 it's oddly regressive in this area.

The acting veers from terrible to baffled: many of the cast seem really stymied on character motivation and what exactly they're suppose to be doing. This extends to the more experienced and otherwise dependable hands, like Battlestar Galactica's Rick Worthy as the show's Dumbledore analogue, who also seems to not have a clue what he's supposed to be playing. The sole exception to all of this is Esme Bianco as Eliza. Previously known for playing Ros in Game of Thrones, a very small role that usually required her to appear naked and not much more, Bianco is a bit of a revelation as Eliza, putting in a very charming and charismatic performance. If one actor emerges from this wreck of a show with improved career prospects, it should definitely be her.

The show's production values are also terrible, with some very poor CGI for the magical effects. Things are not improved when the show moves to Fillory. A magical and otherworldly realm, instead it across like the deliberately terrible fantasy world that Angel spent four episodes in, only worse.

It is instructive that shows like this and The Shannara Chronicles (although that may be harsh; for all its problems, The Shannara Chronicles is more entertaining) exist. We live in the so-called "Golden Age of Television" with so many rich and compelling TV shows around that it's not physically possible to watch them all. It's easy to forget the sheer amount of work that goes into making these shows so good, and they don't just roll out of a production line of awesome somewhere. The Magicians shows that if you don't stay on top of this work, it is easy to produce something that is so sub-par it wouldn't have passed muster thirty years ago, let alone now.

The first season of The Magicians (*) is an absolute train-wreck. The casting is weak, characterisation feeble, the script and dialogue are execrable and the production values shockingly poor. Avoid.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

In 2002 Chris Columbus achieved one of the more notable achievements of modern Hollywood film-making. He started filming the second Harry Potter movie, The Chamber of Secrets, a fortnight after the first movie came out. He shot the entire movie, edited it and completed visual effects in time for it to come out a year later. By modern standards, where usually an entire year is given over to post-production and visual effects alone, that's an incredible achievement.

It was also clearly one that cost the film-makers dear, and it's unsurprising that the studio switched to an eighteen-month turn-around time for the later movies in the series. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is by no means a disaster, but it is the weakest film of the series.

The biggest problem with the film is the length. At 2 hours and 40 minutes it's the longest film in the series but it has the slightest plot. The book suffers from its relative slightness as well - being more important in establishing backstory than in telling its own story - but on screen the problem is more pronounced. The film runs out of steam a good half-hour before the undercooked epic finale is reached.

There are also some structural and plausibility issues, such people really thinking Harry might be a murderer and Dumbledore being removed from the school for no really convincing reason to try to inject fake drama into the series.

Moving away from that, there are many positives in the movie, but by far the most important is that Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint have all improved immensely as actors since the first film. They are more confident, more naturalistic and more relaxed. There's also been a major uptick in the quality of the effects. The Quidditch match is far better-realised than the first movie. Creatures also sit in the environment more convincingly. The film actually benefits now from being viewed as its own beast, whilst on release it was a bit more obvious that the film's effects were disappointing compared to The Lord of the Rings (most notably that Dobby, although effective, was simply nowhere near as good as Gollum as a CG creation interacting with human actors). The dialogue is also less grating, since the writers can get on with the story rather than having to unload huge amounts of exposition.

There's also some superb new additions to the cast, such as Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart, Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy and Shirley Henderson as Moaning Myrtle, who expand the cast with charisma and skill.

The result is a bit of an odd film. In many ways a more relaxed and technically accomplished movie than its forebear, with more confident performances, but also one that is far too long for the story it is telling.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (***) is a watchable movie, but it's neither as charming as its predecessor nor as well-paced and constructed as the later films in the series. It's fun but ultimately too long, and too reliant on unconvincing plot turns. The movie is available now in the UK (DVD, Blu-Ray) and USA (DVD, Blu-Ray) as part of the Complete Harry Potter Movie Collection.

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY set photos hint at all-new Klingon look

A leaked set photo from Star Trek: Discovery suggests that the show will feature yet another radical redesign of the Klingons, everyone's favourite psychotic-but-honourable warrior race.

The Klingons first appeared in the original Star Trek in 1967, in the first season episode Errand of Mercy, and were portrayed as humans with dark make-up. They appeared in six further episodes of Star Trek in a similar vein.

The Klingons as they appeared in the original Star Trek episode Day of the Dove (1968).

Realising this was a little cheap, they were redesigned for their brief appearance at the start of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979 and gained their familiar forehead ridges and long hair. This look was confirmed in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock in 1984 and remained a constant design all the way to the end of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005. However, both Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-94) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) refined the look of the race further with numerous different forehead designs and hairstyles.

The Klingons as they appeared in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). With minor refinements, this look would remain constant until the end of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005.

For Star Trek: Into Darkness in 2013, J.J. Abrams gave the race another makeover, giving them a more symmetrical skull shape but overall still a refinement of the established look.

The Klingons in Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013).

The "new" Klingons appear to be hairless, with extensive ridges along the skull that go right round the head and sides, along with elongated and near-conical heads. They really don't look much like Klingons at all. This has led to speculation that these are either new aliens or a servitor race or sub-race of Klingons (something theorised in spin-off fiction but not the main series).

If they are Klingons, it is a baffling choice to redesign them. Much has been made of the fact that Star Trek: Discovery is set in the original or "Prime" timeline, ten years or so before the events of The Original Series. Using either of the first two designs would make sense (CBS do not have the rights to any designs from the Abramsverse movies, so would not be able to use the Into Darkness appearance), but redesigning them so they don't look like Klingons any more is both unnecessary and does little but alienate a fanbase already sceptical of the new show's poor design sensibilities and status as yet another redundant prequel.

Hopefully the producers will confirm what's going on soon.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Terry Pratchett documentary airing tonight in the UK

The BBC are airing a new documentary about Sir Terry Pratchett tonight in the UK. Entitled Back in Black, the documentary will explore his battle against Alzheimer's as well as his larger life story. Pratchett was in the middle of writing his autobiography when he passed away in early 2015 and sadly never got to finish it, so this documentary will instead explore his life in greater depth.

The documentary airs tonight (11 February) at 9pm on BBC2.

DEEP SPACE NINE fans crowdfund a new documentary

Fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine have crowdfunded a major new documentary about the series.

Ira Steven Behr, the executive producer, showrunner and lead writer on the show from its third season through to its end, has created a new documentary called What We Leave Behind (named after the DS9 series finale). The film will delve deeply into the show's origins, writing and creation and will feature contributions from all of the major players on the creative team and all of the actors, bar Avery Brooks (possibly for availability reasons).

One of the most interesting things about the film is a related, separate roundtable with the DS9 writing team, including Behr and Ron Moore, where they brainstorm a theoretical eighth season of the show.

Behr and his team asked for $150,000 to help finish and edit the film. They've now raised £215,000 and added extra stretch goals, including a live musical score and the possibility of adding extra interviews (hopefully including Brooks).

It's also been pointed out that the level of interest in the project this crowdfunding exercise raises could be used to bolster the case for remastering Deep Space Nine in high definition. CBS has so far remastered The Original Series, The Animated Series, all of The Next Generation and several movies (Enterprise was made in HD in the first place), but has held fire on DS9, citing disappointing sales of the TNG remasters. However, if the documentary raises a very large sum of money, that might convince CBS to take a look and may test-remaster a few select episodes (like they did ahead of TNG).

Dan Abnett's THE WARMASTER confirmed for December release

The Warmaster by Dan Abnett, the fifteenth novel in the highly popular Gaunt's Ghosts series, has been finally scheduled by Black Library for release in December this year.

The book is the third of four novels in the Victory sub-arc (to be followed by a novel provisionally entitled Anarch), itself apparently the penultimate series in the much larger Gaunt's Ghosts series, with possibly two novels in the final series (subtitled Archon) to wrap up the saga. However, these plans may have changed.

The Warmaster was originally scheduled for release in 2013. The reasons for the lengthy delays are unclear: Abnett was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2009 which delayed his work on the Horus Heresy series as he adjusted to medical treatment, but apparently the problems caused by this are years in the past. Abnett has also been working for Marvel Comics, his work in demand since he created the modern iteration of the Guardians of the Galaxy series (which the two movies are based on). However, Abnett has always produced a prolific amount of comics work alongside his novels without issue in the past.

More likely is the fact that Black Library and its parent company, Games Workshop, have been going through numerous convulsions and changes in the last few years. They have nuked their classic Warhammer fantasy setting, lost several high-profile authors and, bizarrely, deleted the omnibus editions of their novels and reprinted the individual books for a higher cost than the omnibuses, which has gone down like a lead balloon with fans and has put off potential new readers. Games Workshop's release schedule has slowed to a crawl recently with very few novels put out, the Horus Heresy series still nowhere near a conclusion after eleven years and forty-one books and the company seemingly focused on finding ways of selling existing material rather than producing new work.

Anyway, the good news is that The Warmaster is coming out and hopefully we will see the remaining books in the Gaunt's Ghosts series quite quickly afterwards. Abnett is also working on Penitent, the second novel in the Bequin trilogy (ending the storylines begun in the excellent Eisenhorn and Ravenor trilogies), which is likewise eagerly awaited by fans.

There will also be a companion novel to The Warmaster. Matthew Farrer has written a stand-alone Space Marines Battles novel called Urdesh which will take place simultaneously with The Warmaster, but it will not be necessary to read both to enjoy either novel.

Meanwhile, there is no word on Paul Kearney's Warhammer 40,000 novel Umbra Sumus. The book was pulled from release in 2015 when its series title, Dark Hunters, was ruled as infringing the copyright of Sherrilyn Kenyon's urban fantasy series Dark-Hunters. GW has yet to announce if the book is going to be renamed and reissued. Kearney has recently released a new Warhammer 40,000 novel in the Space Marine Battles line, Calgar's Siege, however.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Fox open to FIREFLY reboot

In a somewhat surprising statement, David Madden of Fox Entertainment has said he is open to resurrecting Joss Whedon's TV show Firefly, but only if Whedon was involved.

Firefly ran for fourteen episodes on Fox TV in 2002 before being cancelled due to disappointing ratings. It was resurrected in 2005 for a one-off feature film, Serenity. Both the TV show and the film have gone on to be cult successes, selling millions of DVDs and Blu-Rays, as well as being successful on streaming services.

Whedon was upset with Fox's decision to terminate Firefly after they aired the show out-of-order and provided insufficient marketing for the series, vowing he'd never work with the network again. However, he later relented and returned to Fox for the series Dollhouse, which ran for two seasons in 2009-10 before being cancelled, having lost half of its viewership. Whedon was more accepting of that show's fate, feeling that Fox had given it a fairer shot. Whedon subsequently directed the hit movies The Avengers (2012) and The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), as well as co-writing and producing the sleeper hit Cabin in the Woods (2012) and directing a low-budget version of Much Ado About Nothing (2012).

Whedon has ruled out further work for Marvel Studios, citing insufficient prep time for Age of Ultron, and has been writing a new film script which is reportedly a historical drama. However, he has also said he would consider returning for a Black Widow stand-alone movie.

Whedon's attitude to Firefly is more complex, having pointed out that, fifteen years later, it would be hard to simply make a second season of the show as the passage of time would have disrupted the storylines left hanging from the show and movie. Previously Whedon has also said that there is a problem that some of the Firefly actors were busy on other shows and projects, although Firefly's leading star Nathan Fillion recently became available following the cancellation of his long-running comedy drama, Castle. Jewel Staite, Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau and Sean Maher also appear to be available, but Morena Baccarin and Gina Torres have ongoing series roles at present, on Gotham and Suits respectively.

Whedon has not yet responded to the overture, but it sounds like this was a very serious offer from the people who own the rights to Firefly, and may be the most positive news in some time for the show. The question now is if Whedon is willing to consider a return to the series.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

TORMENT: TIDES OF NUMENERA story trailer released

inXile Studios have released the story trailer for their roleplaying game Torment: Tides of Numenera. This is the "spiritual successor" to the classic Black Isle CRPG Planescape: Torment, set instead in Monte Cook's Numenera roleplaying setting.

A billion years into the future, a man strives to escape death by transferring his consciousness from body to body. However, each time he leaves a body, a new consciousness is born within. At first he embraces these entities as his "children" but as time passes he becomes colder and more remote, more willing to cast off these offspring. Until he transfers to his last body, and a new being is born...you.

Colin McComb, who co-designed and developed both the Planescape roleplaying game and Planescape: Torment itself, is the project lead on the game. Chris Avellone (CRPG demigod and lead developer of Planescape: Torment back in the day) has contributed quests and characters to the game, as has fantasy novelist Patrick Rothfuss (The Name of the Wind).

Torment: Tides of Numenera will be released on 28 February.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

RIP Richard Hatch

Richard Hatch, an actor and writer best-known for his work on the Battlestar Galactica franchise, has passed away at the age of 71 from complications related to pancreatic cancer.

Born in 1945 in Santa Monica, California, Richard Hatch began acting in the Los Angeles Repertory Theatre in the 1960s. He broke into television in 1970 with a regular role on the soap opera All My Children. He left after two years and became a reliable guest star, appearing in TV shows such as Cannon, The Waltons and Hawaii Five-O. In 1976 he gained some acclaim and notice for his season-long recurring role on The Streets of San Francisco.

In 1978 he played the role of Captain Apollo in Glen A. Larson's space opera Battlestar Galactica. He played the serious straight man to Dirk Benedict's more flamboyant Lt. Starbuck, setting up a strong leading man double act. Hatch identified with the character strongly, as well as the epic story Larson was trying to tell. He was bitterly disappointed when the show was cancelled despite very strong ratings and declined to return for the heavily-derided, low-budget spin-off Galactica 1980.

Hatched continued to appear as a recurring guest star throughout the 1980s on shows such as Dynasty, Santa Barbara and Fantasy Island. In the 1990s he turned his attention back to Battlestar Galactica. Glen A. Larson had struck the terrible Galactica 1980 from the canon and planned a comeback series which would feature Apollo, and thus Hatch, in a leading role (effectively replacing his character's father, Commander Adama, after the death of actor Lorne Greene in 1987). Hatch wrote or co-wrote seven Battlestar Galactica novels in support of this effort.

In 1999 Hatch financed a trailer called Battlestar Galactica: The Second Coming as a proof-of-concept for a revival of the show. Universal, who then held the rights, decided to reject both The Second Coming and a pitch by Larson focusing on the missing Battlestar Pegasus for a complete, fresh reboot project from Star Trek writer Ronald D. Moore. The rebooted Battlestar Galactica launched with a TV mini-series in 2003 before becoming an ongoing series lasting from 2004 to 2009.

Unlike co-star Dirk Benedict, who was critical of the show's diverse casting and the recasting of his role with a female actress (Katee Sackhoff, whom Benedict later admitted was good in the role and met her for a coffee and photo-op in, appropriately, Starbuck's), Hatch was more open-minded about the reboot. To his surprise, he was offered a role in the series in the recurring role of former terrorist-turned politician Tom Zarek. Relishing the character, who was multi-faceted and complex, Hatch committed to the role and appeared in all four seasons of the ongoing show. He was written out in the final season, but criticised some of his character's final decisions as being uncharacteristic and bizarre (a view echoed by many critics), a shame after the much more nuanced portrayal of the character in the first three seasons.

Subsequent to his final appearance on BSG in 2009, Hatch created a new space opera franchise called The Great War of Magellan, consisting of a roleplaying game and comic book. He also appeared in the Star Trek fan film Prelude to Axanar as a Klingon general and was due to reprise the role in the full-length follow-up before this was canned by CBS and Paramount's legal department.

Richard Hatch was notable for his strong involvement with fandom and winning fan support for attempting to resurrect the Battlestar Galactica franchise. Although his project failed, it certainly helped contribute to the momentum that led to the franchise's return in 2003. Hatch also gave an excellent, layered and nuanced performance as Tom Zarek, a role that challenged him much more than the straightforward hero Apollo of the original series, showing that he was a much more capable actor than perhaps some had first thought. He will certainly be missed.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Twenty years ago, a children's book about a young boy fated to become a wizard was published. Along with its six sequels, it went on to sell half a billion copies and created one of the biggest film franchises in history. Reviewing it is only marginally less futile than reviewing oxygen, as you'll have likely watched this film years ago or already decided to never watch it at all. But the biggest fantasy franchise of the last generation is certainly something that should be up for review and criticism.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Sorcerer's, if you're of an American persuasion) was released in 2001, adapting the first book in the series. That first novel in the Harry Potter series is also the shortest, meaning that the film had to make very little alterations or changes to fit the entire story into one movie. This is something in its favour over the later films: as the novels got longer and longer, the films had to make more and more substantial cuts and alterations to maintain a coherent story on screen.

This first movie follows the book closely. We're introduced to Harry Potter, an 11-year-old potential wizard raised by his non-magical (or "Muggle") aunt and uncle after the murder of his parents at the hands of the evil wizard Voldemort during a magical war. Potter survived, somehow deflecting the spell that Voldemort tried to use to kill him back at its wielder, leaving a strange scar on his head. Voldemort hasn't been seen since and is presumed dead. Potter is rescued from the negligent care of his aunt and uncle to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where the reputation of his parents (and his own involvement in Voldemort's ultimate defeat) precedes him. At the school Harry makes friends with classmates Hermione and Ron and ultimately gets drawn into a disturbing series of events culminating in a showdown with a powerful magical foe.

The structure of the story is an extremely strong one. In the original novel Rowling set up Harry's world with skill and economy, establishing backstory, motivations and carrying out a fair bit of worldbuilding whilst also getting across a fairly intricate story, all in a very limited page count. The film does the same, with scriptwriter Steve Kloves and director Chris Columbus letting the story unfold with verve and economy. Columbus, a rather hit-and-miss director in his other work, knows when to let the story breathe and the camera linger on a magical moment and when he needs to get on with business and maybe cut some minor ancillary material from the book to accomplish that. Major set pieces from the book, like the Quidditch match, are fast-paced and exciting and the encounters with the shadowy figure in the forest and the final confrontation are effectively creepy. The highlight might be the life-sized wizard chess match, which is surprisingly brutal.

In terms of atmosphere and tone, Kloves and Columbus do mostly good work. In terms of acting and dialogue, the film is a bit less successful. Exposition is the order of the day and much of the dialogue, especially in the first half of the movie, tends to the clunky. The movie breaks the "show, don't tell" rule a few times, although it is able to deploy flashbacks to spice things up a bit. The adult actors also seem to start off struggling with their dry dialogue, with the notable exception of Alan Rickman who just commits 100% from his first appearance on screen, before getting to grips more with it later on.

Where the film lives and dies is on the performance of the three leads. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint were all very young and inexperienced, and certainly give rough and unpolished performances. But they also have a huge amount of energy for their roles, making up in raw enthusiasm what they lack in experience at this stage.

The film is sixteen years old, so the CGI and effects have definitely dated, in some cases (particularly the troll, centaur and some of the actor replacement in the Quidditch match) quite badly. But for the most part it holds up well and the sets and overall production value remain impressive.

The biggest success of the film is that the film-makers recognise that the novels work because Rowling combined childhood whimsy with some very well-constructed worldbuilding and brief-but-effective moments of terror and action. This is a children's story, but one with some character and story depth to it.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (***½) is at times a rough movie with clunky dialogue and stilted performances, not to mention some cliched British story tropes (like the elaborate private boarding school). But once it relaxes and gets underway, the story becomes more enjoyable and the performances more nuanced. A long way from being a perfect movie, it's certainly an entertaining one that opens the series very well. The movie is available now in the UK (DVD, Blu-Ray) and USA (DVD, Blu-Ray) as part of the Complete Harry Potter Movie Collection.

Cities of Fantasy on Patreon: Sigil

My second post for Patreon backers has gone live.

This is the first part of the Cities of Fantasy project and explores the city of Sigil, the bizarre and wonderful (if dangerous) city that lies at the very heart of the multiverse, originating from the Planescape setting for Dungeons & Dragons.

This will be exclusive on Patreon for one month and will then be reposted in full here on 7 March.

This article drew on research from my earlier Worlds of D&D fantasy series from 2009, particularly the article on Planescape that can be found here.

Cover art for THE WITCHWOOD CROWN unveiled

Tad Williams has revealed the American cover art for The Witchwood Crown, the upcoming first volume in his Memory, Sorrow and Thorn sequel series, The Last King of Osten Ard.

As with the original trilogy, The Witchwood Crown's cover art is by genre star Michael Whelan. It depicts Hjeldin's Tower in the Hayholt, the great castle around so much of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn revolved.

The new book picks up thirty years after the events of To Green Angel Tower and the recent bridging novel, The Heart of What Was Lost. The novel will be released on 27 June.

Monday, 6 February 2017

STRANGER THINGS Season 2 teaser

To celebrate the arcane American ritual of the Superb Owl, Netflix have released the first teaser trailer for the second season of Stranger Things. Actually, it's a bit longer than a teaser but certainly isn't a full trailer.

The trailer does confirm that the show will not premiere until around Halloween, so there's still a good seven months to wait until we see the gang (including Eleven, apparently) back in action.

New DEUS EX games "on hold" after "disappointing" sales

Square Enix have put the Deus Ex video game series on indefinite hold following disappointing sales of the latest game in the series, Mankind Divided.

The official reason is that Square has signed a massive, multi-million dollar deal with Marvel to develop a series of new games based on their superheroes, with a major new Avengers game being the first out of the gate. Square has moved the Crystal Dynamics team (responsible for the latest Tomb Raider games) over to The Avengers and reassigned Eidos Montreal from the next Deus Ex game to pick up the next Tomb Raider title, provisionally entitled Shadows of the Tomb Raider, instead.

This move has attracted controversy. Unlike the previous Deus Ex game, Human Revolution, Mankind Divided was supposed to be the opening title in either a two or three-game series that would have completed the story of Adam Jensen and the rise of the world seen in the original Deus Ex games. Although the primary storyline of Mankind Divided is resolved in that game, there some dangling plot threads that were due to be picked up in the next game. Indeed, Eidos Montreal were several months into the development of the next game when Mankind Divided was released, suggesting the millions of dollars of work may have now been abandoned already.

However, Eidos Montreal does have two teams; their second team was working on the Thief reboot whilst the first was working on Mankind Divided. The possibility that one of these teams could continue working on Mankind Divided II has unfortunately been shot down: the second team is now working on a Guardians of the Galaxy game, part of the same Marvel deal.

Given the titanic money involved in the Marvel deal and the disappointing sales of Mankind Divided, it seems unlikely that we are going to see a new Deus Ex game in the near future. This is disappointing, but nothing new to fans of the franchise, which previously had an eight-year hiatus between Invisible War and Human Revolution. The game universe and fiction is compelling enough that, even if Adam Jensen's story is over, we will likely see it return at some distant point in the future.

It's also unclear if Mankind Divided's sales were disappointing, in that Eidos and Square lost money, or didn't meet unrealistic sales expectations. Apparently Square felt that the performance of the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot game was disappointing despite selling over a million copies in its first months on sale, which by any sane metric is actually very impressive. Mankind Divided's sales have been described as a bit less than Human Revolution's in a comparable time period, but harder figures have not been released.

In the meantime, dystopian SF RPG fans are holding out hope for CD Projekt Red's epic Cyberpunk 2077, although that is not expected for a couple more years.