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.

Monday, 25 September 2017

STAR TREK DISCOVERY: first impressions

The first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery have aired in the US and are now available on Netflix in most other countries. Here's my thoughts after watching both episodes.

CAUTION: SPOILERS FOR BOTH EPISODES


First up, the first two episodes, The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars, are a single two-hour episode, and really should have been presented as such. Dividing the two episodes doesn't help either half (and shutting the second episode behind a paywall in the US is a really bad idea). Secondly, the two episodes combined are a prologue to the rest of the series. We know that the premise of Star Trek: Discovery is that it will cover the adventures of the USS Discovery during a time of renewed Federation/Klingon hostilities, ten years before the events of the original series. These first two episodes establish the reason for the renewal of hostilities, but the Discovery itself and Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) are both MIA, which is a weird choice. At the end of these two hours we may have gotten to know a couple of the characters but we really don't know how the series itself will play out week-by-week.

Instead the two episodes focus strongly on Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), a Starfleet officer who had been been raised on Vulcan after her parents were murdered in a Klingon border skirmish. Burnham is a mass of contradictions, her human emotions straining against Vulcan logical training and conditioning, which leads to a couple of bad choices which stain her reputation. Burnham is the executive officer of the USS Shenzhou, serving under Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), who has mentored Burnham extensively and considers her now ready to step up as a captain in her own right, just before a crisis gives her an opportunity to show those skills...and she fails. The two-parter ends with Burnham being court-martialed for mutiny and imprisoned.

There's a lot to unpack here and a full review will have to wait until the season (or at least the first half, which is airing as a discrete mini-season with a break over Christmas) is complete. It's a brave idea to show such a flawed central character in Star Trek and have them disgraced and having made several bad calls before the pilot is over. It's even odder to have them making those decisions for stupid reasons. Sarek reveals that the Vulcans would attack Klingon ships on sight, attacking with overwhelming force until they had earned the Klingons respect. With the Shenzhou already outgunned and then, seconds later, massively outnumbered by the Klingon reinforcements, this option - logical under other circumstances - is clearly not viable, but Burnham pursues it regardless of the change in circumstance. I'm hoping this is a well-thought out character flaw - Burnham's need to win Vulcan respect results in her pursuing courses of action through dogma which even Vulcans would reject - rather than bad writing, but I am not hopeful on that point.


Performance-wise, the episode is a strong success. Doug Jones is exceptional as Lt. Commander Saru and Martin-Green gives an excellent performance, especially compared to her less-developed role on The Walking Dead. Michelle Yeoh is, of course, utterly superb. The Klingon actors fare less well: the new Klingon makeup is incredibly restrictive and inhibits emoting. The need for all the Klingons to speak Klingon all the time also massively restricts their performance. Whilst the TNG-era Klingons could be theatrical and OTT, they at least got across their passion and the actors could go to town with the roles. The Klingon actors here might be doing exceptional work, but with both the make-up and language choice constraining them, we can't really tell. This is something they need to address moving forwards, otherwise the Klingons are going to be a pretty tedious enemy.

Effects-wise the show is quite impressive, with tons of ambitious tracking shots and full-on space battles. Things aren't as hectic and nonsensical as with the Abrams movies and some of the shots are breathtaking. However, there's less attention paid to things like strategy in the space battles, which devolve into lots of ships flying around firing at things randomly. Ship design could also be better: the Shenzhou is derivative of earlier designs (particularly the NX-01 Enterprise and Akira) and the Klingons are a baffling mish-mash of random designs which don't follow very logically on from established Klingon designs.

Discovery's connections with the rest of the Star Trek canon are questionable: Spock having an adopted human sister he never once mentioned ever seems...unlikely. The Shenzhou looks more advanced than Picard's Enterprise-D, let alone the Constitution-class Enterprise which (according to the timeline) is already in service at this point in Star Trek history (with Spock on board) under Captain Pike. And the less said about the awkward new Klingon design the better.

As the two-parter draws to a close, it has certainly set up an interesting paradigm that is worth exploring further. In terms of effects, casting and performances the show is very promising, but the writing needs to be better, the characterisation more coherent and the show really needs to start paying attention to the canon and stop trying to change things just for the sake of change (if you're going to do that, why even make a Star Trek show in the first place?). Based on this evidence, Discovery still has it all to play for and The Expanse is in no danger of losing its title as "Best Space Opera Show Currently on Air" just yet.

Star Trek: Discovery airs every Sunday on CBS All Access in the States and every Monday on Netflix in most of the rest of the world.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 2, Episodes 9-10




B9: The Coming of Shadows
Airdates: 1 February 1995 (US), 4 April 1995 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Janet Greek
Cast: Ambassador Jeffrey Sinclair (Michael O’Hare), Centauri Emperor (Turhan Bey), Centauri Prime Minister (Malachi Throne), Lord Refa (William Forward), Security Aide Zack Allan (Jeff Conaway), Kha’Mak (Neil Bradley), Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain), Ranger (Fredric Lehne), Narn Pilot 1 (Kim Strauss), Narn Pilot 2 (Jonathan Chapman), Customs Guard (Bryan Michael McGuire)

Date: Mid-April 2259.

Plot:    On Centauri Prime the Emperor of the Centauri Republic is preparing to depart on a state visit to Babylon 5. His Prime Minister objects due to the Emperor’s ill health, but the Emperor insists he must go, now, before it is too late. On Babylon 5 Ambassador G’Kar objects to Captain Sheridan in the strongest possible terms. The Emperor of the Centauri Republic being allowed to visit Babylon 5 is an insult against the Narn government. Sheridan points out that the current Emperor has actually gone out of his way to appease the Narn and is genuinely interested in peace. When Sheridan confirms that the Emperor will be allowed to visit Babylon 5, G’Kar storms out.

Lord Refa (from episode B3) arrives on Babylon 5 to consult with Londo. Refa tells him that the Emperor is sick, old and frightened. Without an heir, when he dies it will fall to the Centaurum to decide which nearest relative succeeds him. Refa wants Londo to make a speech to the Emperor outlining what has gone wrong recently with the Republic and predicting what will go wrong next. The meeting will be recorded. When the “predictions” come true, the Emperor will be seen as shortsighted, whilst Londo and Refa’s faction will appear to have their eye on the future. When the Emperor dies, they will determine who will follow him. Londo agrees to make the speech, although reluctantly. Vir disapproves strongly.

A human arrives on the station and immediately starts looking for Garibaldi. He finds him, but chooses to follow him rather than confront him directly.

G’Kar contacts Narn and is informed that the Kha’Ri has approved G’Kar’s plan to assassinate the Centauri Emperor. G’Kar records a last will and testament confirming that his government had no role in the attack and prepares to strike at the reception. He plans to leave his copy of The Book of G’Quan to Na’Toth in the hope of her future enlightenment.

The Centauri flagship arrives at Babylon 5 and the Emperor is welcomed on board. An official reception is organised and G’Kar turns up, unexpectedly. The Emperor is about to arrive when he suffers a massive heart attack and is rushed to Medlab. The Emperor is in a fragile state and might die at any time. He gives Franklin a message to deliver to G’Kar and the doctor agrees. Franklin tells G’Kar that the Emperor came to apologise to G’Kar for everything the Centauri did to the Narn during their occupation of the Narn homeworld and formulate a new peace treaty between their worlds. G’Kar is shocked and surprisingly moved.

Londo and Refa anxiously discuss what repercussions the Emperor’s premature death could have on their plans. Refa states they need to do something “spectacular” to assert their faction over the opposition and Londo recalls Morden’s promise to help him (B2). He tells Refa to have their allies in the Centauri Navy send a few ships to Quadrant 14, site of the largest civilian Narn colony. He then has Vir go and find Morden. Vir tells Londo not to do this, not to go down this path, but Londo’s mind is made up. Londo has a nightmare in which he sees his hand reaching out of the sun (as prophecised by Elric in B3) and images of dozens of huge, dark ships covering the sky of Centauri Prime. He sees himself as an old man, sitting on the throne of the Centauri Republic, dying with G’Kar’s hands wrapped around his throat (as previously related in episode A1). He wakes up, realising that he has just set himself unavoidably on the journey that will lead to his death. It is too late to change anything.

The Narn Regime’s largest civilian colony is located on a planet in Quadrant 14 with more than 250,000 inhabitants. A massive space station is in orbit, along with dozens of fighters and a heavy cruiser. Three Shadow warships appear and in their first salvo destroy the station and the warship. The fighters counter-attack, but lack the heavy weapons needed to damage the Shadow ships. They are annihilated and the Shadows bombard the colony from orbit before departing. On Centauri Prime agents of Refa murder the Prime Minister.

On Babylon 5 Garibaldi notices the man following him and has him arrested. The man agrees to tell him what he wants, but only if can speak to Garibaldi alone. Garibaldi agrees to talk to him later. Elsewhere, G’Kar meets with Londo and offers him a drink in salute to his honourable Emperor. A shaken Londo accepts the drink, realising that he unleashed the dogs of war at the moment a lasting peace could have been forged. At the same moment, a Centauri flotilla reaches Quadrant 14 and finds the colony in flames. As they begin to send down troops a Narn patrol arrives and opens fire on the Centauri ships, believing they carried out the attack.

Ambassador Kosh arrives to see the Emperor and answer his wish to see a Vorlon before he dies, although Kosh doesn’t reveal his true form. He tells the Emperor that the situation between the Narn and Centauri can now only end in fire. The Kha’Ri contact Babylon 5 and tell G’Kar about the attack. They send the news on an open frequency so that the B5 command crew overhear. G’Kar goes insane with rage and sets out to kill Londo, but Sheridan manages to stop him. Londo and Refa are summoned to Medlab to see the Emperor die. Just before he expires, he damns them both, but Londo lies and says that the Emperor has blessed the new Centauri military expansion.

Garibaldi’s prisoner delivers a data crystal to him and Garibaldi plays it. To his surprise, it contains a message from Sinclair, now on Minbar as the Earth Alliance Ambassador. Sinclair tells Garibaldi he has a greater purpose on Minbar than just representing Earth and tells him he is in charge of a group known as the Rangers, consisting of both humans and Minbari. Their job is to patrol the frontier, watching out for unusual signs. Sinclair tells him a great darkness is coming and that the Minbari have been waiting for it for a long time, but is not yet able to tell him everything. Garibaldi goes to Sheridan and tells him what he can, namely that the Centauri are in contact with the same alien race G’Kar was talking about a few months ago (B2). These aliens must have overwhelmed colony’s defences to allow the Centauri to slip in and conquer the planet. Sheridan realises they can use this information to their advantage.

A full meeting of the Babylon 5 Advisory Council is convened. Londo refuses to allow the Narn civilians who survived the attack to leave the planet, promising they will be “taken care of”. Sheridan tells him that Earth will send observers to make sure the Narn are well-treated. The observers’ will also determine what new weapon the Centauri used to take out the defences so quickly. Londo refuses to risk the bluff and agrees to let the Narn civilians return to the homeworld after all. However, this is not enough for the Narn. The Narn Regime declares war against the Centauri Republic, vowing not to let the Centauri overrun them again. Babylon 5’s mission has failed: the Centauri and Narn are now at war.

Refa leaves Babylon 5, telling Londo that the Emperor’s nephew has risen to the throne, a young man who feels as they do about the future. Vir is surprised that Londo has not asked for a reward like being named to the Royal Court himself, but Londo insists that he will work from behind the scenes only. It is much safer that way. The Ranger also leaves, promising to supply Garibaldi with the information he needs to keep track of the war. Meanwhile, Delenn also receives a message from Sinclair...

MORE AFTER THE JUMP

Saturday, 23 September 2017

A History of Middle-earth Part 10: The War of the Ring, and After

The forces of good in Middle-earth had won great victories through the founding of Rohan, the re-founding of the dwarven kingdom of Erebor and the slaying of the dragon Smaug. But in the years that followed it became clear these victories were transitory: Sauron the Dark Lord, lieutenant of the once-great Morgoth, had returned to achieve dominion over all the lands of Middle-earth.

The Black Rider, by John Howe. 

The Return of the Shadow
By 2944 Sauron had returned to Mordor and began the reconstruction of Barad-dûr. The loathsome Gollum had left the mountains to search for "Bagginses", whom he was now convinced had stolen his magic ring. Over the next seven years Sauron built up new armies in Mordor, reinforcing Minas Morgul, rebuilding the Black Gate of the Morannon and sending new emissaries into the Harad and Rhûn to win the allegiance of those peoples.

In 2951 Mount Doom burst into flame once more. Sauron declared himself openly and sent three of the Nazgûl led by Khamûl to retake Dol Guldur. Less than two years later a new meeting of the White Council was called to meet this threat. Saruman declared that he now believed that the One Ring had been swept downriver and into the sea, much to Gandalf’s disbelief. Saruman now only believed that victory could be achieved by strength of arms, but with both Gondor and Rohan suffering from raids and war, Gandalf did not believe this to be a likely event. With Saruman’s unhelpful attitude now becoming clear, Gandalf recruited the aid of Aragorn, now a man grown and aware of his heritage. Aragorn agreed that they needed to cultivate allies among the Rohirrim and Gondorians and, posing as a warrior named Thorongil, aided both countries in their wars over the next twenty years.

A valiant effort to win another victory for good was made in 2989 when Balin, one of the heroes of the Quest of Erebor, led a large force into Moria. They drove out the orcs and found no trace of the balrog. However, in 2994 the balrog re-awoke and emerged to slay Balin and his followers.

In the 3,000th year of the Third Age, Saruman employed the palantír of Isengard to try to locate the Ring, but instead awoke the interest of Sauron, who had come into possession of the Ithil-stone of Minas Morgul a thousand years earlier. Sauron forced Saruman to kneel before him and swear allegiance. Saruman began amassing his own army at Isengard to keep Rohan out of the coming war, whilst Sauron was able to accelerate his own plans to amass large armies in Mordor to strike at Gondor directly.

By now Gandalf had come to suspect that Bilbo’s ring was the One Ring. In 3001, during his 111th birthday, Bilbo decided to leave the Shire and retire to Rivendell. With some difficulty, Gandalf persuaded Bilbo to leave the ring with his other possessions to his young cousin Frodo, whom Bilbo had raised after the deaths of Frodo’s parents. Bilbo agreed and departed the Shire.

Gandalf made it his goal to find the creature Gollum and discover where he had acquired the ring, but Sauron got there first, his servants finding Gollum by chance lurking in the pass of Cirith Ungol in 3015. They tortured Gollum for two years before the loathsome creature’s will broke. It was revealed that, roughly about the year 2463 TA (at the end of the Watchful Peace and the forming of the White Council), Gollum, or Sméagol as he was then known, had been a Stoor hobbit living in the Gladden Fields area of the Vale of Anduin. Sméagol was fishing with his kinsman Déagol, who fell in the river. He emerged, sodden and damp, clutching the One Ring in his hand. Sméagol promptly murdered Déagol and took the Ring for himself. His family guessed he had killed Déagol after noting his descent into madness and outcast him. Roughly seven years later he hid in the tunnels under the Misty Mountains and let the Ring consume him. During the torture he finally capitulated and mentioned “Shire” and “Bagginses”. Sauron summoned together all nine of the Nazgûl and told them it was their duty to find this “Baggins” and recover the One Ring at all costs. Simultaneously, Gandalf found in the records of the White Tower of Minas Tirith a scroll that revealed a test could be performed to ascertain the legitimacy of the One Ring. He returned to the Shire in a hurry, reaching it in April of the year 3018 Third Age, whilst the Nazgûl were still tarrying in Minas Morgul. At the same time, Aragorn located and captured Gollum, who had been thrown out of Mordor in disgust, Sauron too bored with the wretch even to kill him. Aragorn bore Gollum north to Thranduil’s realm and learned much of interest from him. He left Gollum in the care of Thranduil’s son, Prince Legolas, and headed west to confer with Gandalf.

On 20 June 3018 the armies of Minas Morgul assailed the crossings of Osgiliath, held by Faramir, younger son of the Ruling Steward Denethor II. They took Osgiliath, but then retreated when Faramir’s brother Boromir brought up reinforcements from Minas Tirith. Under the cover of the attack, the Nine had crossed the river and headed north for the Shire. This battle marked the official beginning of the great War of the Ring, last conflict of the Third Age of Middle-earth.

The Dark Tower, by John Howe.

 The War of the Ring

Gandalf rode to Bag End, arriving there on 12 April 3018, more than two months before the Nazgûl forced a crossing of Anduin. He tested the Ring and confirmed that it was the One. For once, Gandalf miscalculated, believing that Sauron would stay his hand until the following spring at least, as he had not completed the assembly of forces from the Harad and Rhûn in Mordor. He allowed Frodo time to prepare to leave the Shire, acting out the pretence he was moving to Crickhollow on the eastern edge of the Shire to be nearer his closest remaining family members, the Brandybucks of Buckland. Gandalf decided the best course was to consult with Saruman and departed the Shire immediately, leaving a message for Aragorn to meet him in Bree and aid him in getting Frodo to Rivendell, where an additional course of action could be decided, although Gandalf had privately decided that only the destruction of the Ring in the flames of Mount Doom could halt Sauron’s forces in their tracks. He sent word to Elrond to host a great gathering of the wise in Rivendell so the matter could be decided.

The attack on Osgiliath came and went and Denethor, previously doubtful about the value of his elvish allies, agreed to send his eldest son Boromir to the council. However, Gandalf discovered that they had been betrayed. Saruman had been seduced to Sauron’s cause, transformed Isengard into a mighty fortress and was breeding an army of orcs to attack the Kingdom of Rohan. After some weeks in captivity, the Windlord Gwaihir rescued Gandalf and bore him to Rohan. After subduing the great horse Shadowfax, Gandalf rode at speed for the Shire, only to find Frodo gone. Frodo, accompanied by his gardener Samwise Gamgee and cousins Meriadoc Brandybuck (“Merry”) and Peregrin Took (“Pippin”), had fled the Shire with the first appearance of several of the Nazgûl. They made it to Bree and met up with Aragorn, who bore them to Weathertop. They were attacked by the Nazgûl and Frodo was injured. Only after an arduous further journey did they make it to Rivendell, just in time for Elrond to heal Frodo. Elrond and Gandalf aroused the wrath of the River Bruinen and the Nazgûl were washed downriver in a tremendous flood.

The Council of Elrond was held and Frodo agreed to bear the Ring south and east to Mordor. Pippin, Merry, Sam, Gandalf and Aragorn elected to join the quest and they were joined by Boromir of Gondor, Gimli son of Glóin who had been one of Thorin’s thirteen of the earlier quest, and Legolas, son of King Thranduil. Legolas bore dire news: Gollum had escaped, last seen heading south and west towards the Misty Mountains. The nine companions became known as the Fellowship of the Ring and departed Rivendell on 25 December 3018, heading south.

The Fellowship attempted to cross the Pass of Caradhras, but was forced back by severe weather and a wolf attack. Against Gandalf’s better judgement, they decided to brave the mines of Moria. Balin, another of Thorin’s companions from the Quest of Erebor, had entered Moria some years earlier to establish a new dwarven outpost and the last report was that he had been successful. However, it was confirmed that Balin and his companions had all been slain by orcs. The Fellowship made it to the far side of Moria before coming under sustained attack by orcs. However, the balrog which had lain dormant in Moria for many years had been awoken by the commotion and came forth to confront the Fellowship at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm at the eastern end of the mines. Gandalf stood against the balrog and slew it, but was himself apparently slain in the process. The remaining members of the Fellowship escaped to Dimrill Dale and thence to Lothlórien, where they were given shelter by Celeborn and Galadriel. They proceeded by boat down Anduin to Parth Galen, a pleasant wooded land beside the great lake Nen Hithoel, there to decide their route. However, Boromir had become consumed by a lust for the Ring and tried to take it from Frodo by force. Aware that the remaining members of the Fellowship would also be consumed by the Ring if he remained, Frodo took a boat and crossed the lake. At the last moment, he was joined by Sam.

Meanwhile, a raiding party of uruk-hai (powerful orcs in the employ of Saruman) attacked the remaining members of the Fellowship. In a mighty struggle Boromir was slain, having atoned for his actions by saving Merry and Pippin from death. The two hobbits were taken captive and borne westward to Isengard. After much debate, Aragorn decided against pursuing Frodo and Sam. With Legolas and Gimli, he chased after the orcs into the countryside of Rohan. However, the orcs were intercepted and slain by a part of Rohirrim commanded by Éomer son of Éomund, Marshal of the Mark of Rohan and nephew of King Théoden. Pippin and Merry escaped into nearby Fangorn Forest, a dark forbidding place. Aragorn and his companions were surprised to be confronted by Gandalf when they attempted to enter Fangorn! Gandalf revealed that his mortal body had been slain in the battle with the balrog, but had been sent back (from Valinor) to complete the struggle against Sauron. Gandalf took the companions to Edoras, capital of Rohan, and drove out Gríma Wormtongue, a spy of Saruman’s who had corrupted the king with foul draughts. Gandalf restored King Théoden to his full health and won Rohan to the cause of defying Sauron. Aware that Saruman meant to destroy Rohan, Théoden and Aragorn agreed to make a stand at the great northern fortress of Helm’s Deep and set out. Gandalf headed out to round up those Rohirrim who had broken away from Théoden’s rule as he sunk further under Wormtongue’s influence.

Meanwhile, Merry and Pippin met Treebeard, oldest and wisest of the Ents, the great tree-herders of the forest. After much debate they convinced Treebeard and the other Ents that Saruman would not rest until he had destroyed all potential enemies, including the Ents. The Ents readied for war. Saruman’s army of orcs and uruk-hai launched a massive assault upon Helm’s Deep but a stalwart defence directed by Aragorn, Théoden and Éomer managed to keep the fortress long enough for reinforcements under Gandalf and Elfhelm to arrive and turn the tide of battle. The oldest and most ferocious Ents – the Huorns – made a forced march by night to intercept and destroy the remainder of Saruman’s armies as they retreated from Helm’s Deep. At the same time Treebeard led a main force of Ents in attacking Isengard, slaying the orcs present and imprisoning Saruman and Wormtongue in the tower of Orthanc. During a parley between Gandalf and Saruman, Wormtongue cast down the palantír of Isengard in the hope of smiting Gandalf, but he missed and Gandalf recovered the item. Pippin stared into the device and Sauron became aware of him. Believing him to be the Ring-bearer, Sauron saw that he was far from Mordor, where he would be a threat. Gandalf grabbed hold of Pippin and rode for Minas Tirith, capital of Gondor.

Frodo and Sam made their way south through the tangled rocks of the Emyn Muil. They were pursued by Gollum, who made an attempt to grab the Ring. Overpowered, he reluctantly agreed to serve them as a guide. He took them through the forbidding Dead Marshes to the Black Gate of Mordor, the Morannon, but they found it guarded by hundreds of orcs with thousands of Haradrim and Easterling troops arriving. Gollum told them of another route and guided them south through the once-fair country of Ithilien. Here they were intercepted by Faramir, brother of Boromir, and his Ithilien Rangers. Faramir proved less susceptible to the power of the Ring and guided them to the entrance of the Morgul Vale, the eastern way into Mordor. However, Frodo and Sam were betrayed by Gollum, who led them to the cave of Shelob, a great spider-demon. In the ensuing melee Shelob was killed, but Frodo was taken prisoner by orcs and dragged to the Tower of Cirith Ungol. Sam pursued and rescued Frodo and they began the hazardous descent down the far side of the pass into Mordor itself.

Gandalf and Pippin arrived at Minas Tirith to find the city unprepared for war. Denethor had sent out a call to arms for the armies of Gondor to defend their capital, but few had responded. The southern coastal provinces were wide open to attack from the sea, for the Corsairs of Umbar had called their banners and were marshalling for an attack on Gondor, so the provincial lords had kept their armies at home to defend their own lands. Only Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth had managed to muster his levies from the province of Belfalas and marched to the relief of Minas Tirith. However, this still only left 5,000 defenders for the city against Sauron’s countless legions. The Red Arrow – a symbol of emergency and aid – was delivered by a rider of Gondor to King Théoden of Rohan, but many Rohirrim were still unsure of the King after his recent influencing by Sauron. When assembled at Dunharrow, the Rohirrim army numbered only just over 6,000 riders, less than half of Rohan’s potential strength. Aragorn was surprised to be joined by Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Elrond, and a host of Rangers of the North. Together with Legolas and Gimli they formed the Grey Company and battled their way through the hostile White Mountains and the Paths of the Dead under the mountain known as the Dwimborberg. The spirits of oath-breakers of Gondor arose around them and followed Aragorn to the Stone of Erech, where he pledged to release them from their oaths if they fought for him. They agreed and descended in a fury on the city of Pelargir, which had been captured by the Umbarians. The pirates were slaughtered by the vengeful spirits and Aragorn was able to gather the armies of the southern fiefs onto the ships.

By now a vast host of arms had crossed the Anduin, destroying the garrison at Osgiliath (and wounding Faramir in the process). Led by the Witch-King of Angmar, chief of the Nazgûl, the vast host began battering at the gates of Minas Tirith with a huge ram named Grond. The defenders of the city inflicted terrible losses on the enemy through the use of archers and catapults, but it was not enough. The gates were breached and enemy troops poured into the city’s lower level. Sauron’s forces were completely taken by surprise when 6,000 Rohirrim heavy cavalry smashed into them from the north whilst Prince Imrahil led a sally from inside the city, turning back those forces within the walls and pushing them back onto the great Pelennor Field they surrounded the city on three sides. A devastating battle erupted, but the tide swung back in the favour of Sauron when he deployed the mûmakil, giant war-oliphants of Harad, and when the Witch-King slew Théoden of Rohan. Unexpectedly, Éowyn, niece of the King, emerged and, taking up her uncle’s sword, slew the Witch-King with the aid of Merry. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields was finally won when Aragorn’s forces disembarked their ships at Minas Tirith’s harbour, turning the southern flank of Sauron’s army and forcing it to withdraw back to Mordor. The battle was over but many thousands of defenders, including Denethor himself, had been slain.

Aragorn and Gandalf assembled the remaining strength of the armies of Gondor and Rohan and led a force of some 6,000 to the Black Gate, where they issued a challenge to Sauron of Mordor. As they had hoped, this drew Sauron’s gaze from Mount Doom at the precise moment Frodo and Sam were making the perilous ascent of the volcano. At the last moment Frodo was consumed by the power of the Ring and Sauron hurled his army of tens of thousands against the armies of Gondor and Rohan in the Battle of the Morannon, but it fell to Gollum to (inadvertently) rescue the situation. He seized the Ring of Frodo and, whilst celebrating his good fortune, tumbled into the flames of the volcano, taking the Ring with him. Sauron promptly died, the Barad-dûr crumbled to dust and Sauron’s terrified forces were either killed in a torrential eruption of Mount Doom or a simultaneous earthquake that cracked all the lands around. The Great Eagles had arrived during the battle to lend support and Gandalf employed them to fly to Mount Doom and rescue the stranded Frodo and Samwise from the mountainside. By now other armies Sauron had sent against Lothlórien (from Dol Guldur) and against Erebor, Esgaroth and Thranduil’s realm had also been defeated, though not without considerable cost.

All now seemed well. Aragorn was proclaimed King Aragorn Elessar Telcontar of Gondor and Arwen, daughter of Elrond, was wed to him. Éomer became King of Rohan and his sister Éowyn came to love Faramir, Steward of Gondor and Aragorn’s right-hand man in the rule of the new kingdom. The Fellowship was regretfully broken and the companions travelled back home, but along the way stopped at Isengard and learned that Saruman and Wormtongue had escaped. The four hobbits at length returned to the Shire to discover, much to their horror, that Saruman had conquered it and turned it into his own private fiefdom! The hobbits roused their fellows and met Saruman’s ill-trained ruffians in the Battle of Bywater. The hobbits won a great victory. Enraged and demented, Wormtongue stabbed Saruman to death before himself being shot by hobbit archers. Thus ended the War of the Ring on 3 November 3019 Third Age.

Gandalf the Grey, by John Howe.

The End of the Third Age and the Dawn of the Fourth
Although the Great War of the Ring marked the end of the Third Age, it was held that the Fourth Age did not begin until 29 September 3021. On this day Frodo, Bilbo, Elrond, Gandalf and Galadriel departed Middle-earth in a ship sailing from the Grey Havens, bound for Valinor. Sam, Merry and Pippin returned to the Shire, whilst Celeborn assumed lordship of Lothlórien. He extended Lórien’s borders into Greenwood, as it was again called, whilst Thranduil extended his rule much further south. For a time, the two elven realms enjoyed a time of peace and plenty, but now was the waning of the Eldar upon Middle-earth, and before too many years had passed Thranduil and Celeborn and all their peoples eventually sought the Grey Havens and the passage to Valinor.

Legolas, meanwhile, had established an elven outpost in fair Ithilien, and often journeyed to Minas Tirith to speak with Aragorn. His friend Gimli rode to Aglarond, the Glittering Caverns behind Helm’s Deep, and there established a dwarven fortress which was ever-after in alliance with Rohan and Gondor.

This was the age when men grew mighty indeed. In the year 14 Fourth Age King Aragorn came north and restored the great city of Annúminas on the shores of Lake Evendim, and proclaimed the re-founding of the North-kingdom of Arnor. He made the Mayor, Thane and Master of the Shire into offices of the North-kingdom and exempted the Shire from taxation as a reward for the hobbits’ stalwart support in the War of the Ring. Many years later he also extended the Shire west to the Tower Hills, increasing its size considerably. Bree was also incorporated into the new kingdom and the old city of Fornost was also rebuilt, but both Rivendell and Lindon were held apart from it.

Gondor and Arnor were proclaimed the Reunited Kingdom of the Dúnedain upon Middle-earth and their power grew mighty, dominating the north-west of Middle-earth for many centuries. King Aragorn’s rule was just and wise. In his time the lost heirlooms of Gondor returned to their rightful place, save only the palantír of Minas Ithil, lost in the downfall of Barad-dûr. The Elendilmir, great treasure of Númenor lost in the Battle of the Gladden Fields and the death of Isildur, was found in a treasure chest in Isengard, having evidently been found and kept by Saruman many centuries earlier, and Aragorn took possession of it.

In the south Rohan and Gondor’s friendship grew mighty and their peoples numerous. King Aragorn Elessar and King Éomer Éadig led many expeditions into the south and after at time won peace with Umbar and destroyed many of the hostile tribes of the Harad, though his realm was never entirely free of the threat of the defeated forces of east and south.

In 61 Fourth Age Mistress Rose Gamgee, wife of Samwise, died and Samwise rode to the Grey Havens. For his support of Frodo in the great Quest, he was given a place on an elven ship departing Middle-earth for Valinor. Two years later King Éomer of Rohan died, but not before Merry and Pippin journeyed to Edoras to see him one last time. They then went to Minas Tirith and passed their last few years in the company of King Aragorn and Queen Arwen. When they too passed, they were laid to rest in Rath Dínen, the Tomb of Kings.

Finally, on 1 March 120 Fourth Age, King Aragorn died of advanced age. He was 210 years old. With news of his passing, Legolas built a fair ship in Ithilien and sailed down Anduin and passed over sea. With him, it is said, went Gimli the dwarf. Thus a final end came to the Fellowship of the Ring in Middle-earth.

The years passed and Gondor and Arnor grew great and powerful under the rule of Aragorn’s son and heir Eldarion and his heirs after him. But the numbers of elves grew fewer and fewer, until the last of their kind departed Middle-earth forever, led by Círdan the Shipwright. After that time, the Straight Path to Valinor could no longer be found.

The fate of men and dwarves and hobbits remains unknown; the dwarves delved deep into the bowels of the earth and some say after a time they were simply not seen again. Hobbits endured much longer, and some say they endure still, but in secret, remote places of good earth and fine living, far from the troubles of the world. And men inherited the Earth, building greater and vaster kingdoms, falling into terrible wars but always rising again afterwards to rebuild. Their story continues, but it is not in the scope of this history to tell more.

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 Cities of Fantasy and History of Middle-earth series are debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read them there one month before being published on the Wertzone.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Damon Lindleof's still-unnecessary WATCHMEN reboot for HBO moving forwards

Three months ago, it was revealed that Damon Lindelof was planning a frankly unnecessary TV version of Alan Moore's graphic novel Watchmen. Now it's been confirmed that HBO have greenlit a pilot, which will go into production next year.


Lindelof has also been given permission to start recruiting writers and develop existing scripts so the series can go into production quickly after a go order is given. This is a sign of HBO's trust in Lindelof, still best-known as the co-creator and one of the main writers on ABC's hit series Lost. After Lost's brilliant early seasons gave way to a somewhat muddled finale, Lindelof's reputation entered a strange stage where everything he wrote or co-wrote - including the 2009 Star Trek movie and the 2012 Ridley Scott movie Prometheus - was critically panned but was financially successful.

However, Lindelof regained his critical cachet with the supernatural drama series The Leftovers for HBO. The series executed a constrained three-season arc, with the recently-aired finale attracting a strongly positive reaction. HBO is keen to exploit its relationship with The Leftovers on a higher-profile project.

Zack Snyder, who directed the perfunctorily satisfying 2009 movie and been rumoured to produce the series, is no longer involved with the project.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

American Vandal: Season 1

Oceanside, California. High school student Dylan Maxwell is expelled after twenty-seven cars in the school parking lot are vandalised with phallic images, Dylan's trademark graffiti style. Whilst Dylan usually admits and boasts of his pranks (and even films them for his YouTube channel), in this case he vehemently protests his innocence. Fellow student and budding documentary-maker Peter Maldonado identifies several discrepancies in the account of the crime and, inspired by web series Serial, sets out to prove Maxwell's innocence with a thorough and painstaking examination of the evidence.


American Vandal is a mockumentary which merges the familiar Spinal Tap/What We Do in the Shadows format with the recent emergence of high-profile, true-crime documentaries such as Serial and Making a Murderer. At first glance it's a dumb comedy where the crime isn't a bloody murder but a kid vandalising a few cars for kicks, with a lot of early humour mined from the differing techniques for drawing male genitalia and the use of ludicrously elaborate CGI reconstructions of the crime. However, the show quickly changes tack and moves into a slightly more serious examination of high school, relationships, social media, memes and how decisions made at a young age can affect someone's entire life.

The central conceit is that Maldonado and his friends Sam Ecklund and Gabi Granger are filming a documentary about the crime both as a project and also a way to prove Maxwell's innocence. They don't particularly like Maxwell, but the pedantic Maldonado in particular seems irritated that the biggest problem with the idea that Maxwell committed the crime - that he's dumb as a box of frogs and couldn't possibly blank the security cameras covering the parking lot - doesn't seem to have registered with the teachers who are all too eager to get rid of a known troublemaker. A lot of easy humour is mined from the fact that Maxwell is not a particularly bright guy, but this blows up later on when he sits down to watch the documentary, when it becomes suddenly and searingly painful to watch.

American Vandal is an odd show in tone: it's very funny, with usually several stand-out comedic moments per episode. It's also, bizarrely, quite gripping: the central mystery is mind-bogglingly inane but the reconstructions of the crime, the painstaking character analysis of each person involved and the way new evidence is discovered just as leads seem to be drying up, leading into the next episode, gives the series a strong moreish quality. Most successfully, it's got some very well-written characters, portrayed by some extremely talented young actors. Most successful spoofs have to be as good as the thing they are spoofing, and American Vandal is certainly that.

Weirdly, I was often reminded of the novel and movie Battle Royale whilst watching this show: that story was about a bunch of high school students forced to fight one another to the death on a remote island, but if you ignored the trappings it was really about school relationships, the intensity of youth (when everything is Vitally Important and social status is everything) and how societies remain the same even in wildly different circumstances. American Vandal does the same thing, with its examination of the crime also exposing the social conflicts across the school, amongst both the students and teachers. Relationships, ambitions, hopes and darker secrets emerge over the course of its eight half-hour episodes. The silly banter of the kids and their rather under-developed senses of humour ring true, and the show strikes just the right balance of authenticity; only the hyper-elaborate CGI scenes don't really fit in, although you can perhaps accept them as having been added later after Maldonado's project goes viral and gets picked up by a network.

There are several twists and the final episode is pretty stunning: it inverts some of the places you expect the characters to go and you realise just how good some of these actors really are, especially two of the actresses in supporting roles who out of nowhere deliver powerful, screen-dominating performances when the story intensifies towards the end. Of the two central questions in the series, one is definitely resolved but the other is not (although Maldonado hits on a theory that he feels is "90% convincing" and probably is the answer, but with just enough doubt left behind), which feels appropriate.

American Vandal's first season (****) starts off as a dumb high school comedy mockumentary - American Pie by way of Making a Murderer - but very quickly outgrows that to tell a series of stories about a group of high school students that are alternatively funny, tragic, sweet and dramatic. By the time you get to the end, you could probably care less who "drew the dicks", but you will want to know more about these characters. The show is available now on Netflix. A second season is in the planning stages but has not been commissioned yet.

Bryan Cogman joins GAME OF THRONES spin-off team

The Game of Thrones spin-off development team has expanded even further. In addition to the four previously-announced projects in development, it's been confirmed that a fifth project is in the works, to be helmed by Bryan Cogman.

Bryan Cogman, Executive Story Editor/Writer.

Cogman is a writer-producer on Game of Thrones itself, having written ten episodes of the series to date (more than anyone else bar producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss). He's also been the informal "keeper of the lore" on the series, keeping track of changes between the book and TV canons and having a hand in many of the worldbuilding featurettes on the DVD and Blu-Ray box sets. He's the only person currently working on Game of Thrones to be given a shot at working on the spin-off.

George R.R. Martin has confirmed that he's worked with Cogman on developing some ideas for the spin-off. Intriguingly, Martin has said that Cogman's project will be an "adaptation", in contrast to the other four series which are all original ideas.

Martin has previously ruled out a series based on Robert's Rebellion, saying it would just be "joining the dots" and all the major plot revelations from the war will be revealed in the books or TV series. He has also ruled out a series based on the Dunk & Egg prequel novellas, since he has only written three of a possible twelve (maximum) stories in the series and wants more in print before he commits to a TV deal.

On the surface this really only leaves one potential other possibility: a TV series based on the Dance of Dragons and the lead-up to it, previously explored in Martin's short stories The Princess and the Queen and The Rogue Prince. This story has several possibilities for drama: it tells the story of the deaths of the original Targaryen dragons and the near-ruin of the house. It features a major civil war and political scheming, and several exciting and unpredictable plot twists. There are heroes and villains on both sides of the war, as well as huge battles and several major dragon-on-dragon fights (which would be something different from Game of Thrones itself). Although the budgetary considerations would be daunting, Season 7 of Game of Thrones shows that HBO are willing to spend big to get big results. If they use The Rogue Prince as the basis of the start of the story, they could also start quite small and then build up to the start of the war over one or two seasons to gauge interest before committing the big bucks.

It is also possible that Martin has given Cogman are sneak-peek at The Sons of the Dragon, the novella about Aegon the Conqueror's sons Aenys and Maegor that will appear in next month's Book of Swords anthology. Of course, if GRRM is using the term quite loosely, then an "adaptation" could apply to almost any story or episode from The World of Ice and Fire or the upcoming Fire and Blood, Volume I, which expands the potential sources for the story quite widely.

HBO continue to develop the five projects and will likely select one or two to move to the pilot stage next year. HBO hopes to have a show ready to go within a year or two of Game of Thrones concluding in late 2018 or early 2019.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 2, Episodes 7-8





B7: A Race Through Dark Places
Airdates: 25 January 1995 (US), 21 March 1995 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Jim Johnston
Cast: Bester (Walter Koenig), Rick (Brian Cousins), Lurker (Gianin Loffler), Man (Eddie Allan), Bartender (Kathryn Cressida), Psi Cop (Judy Levitt), Shooter (Christopher Michael), Telepath 1 (Apesanahkwat), Telepath 2 (Diane Dilascio), Jason Ironheart (William Allan Young)

Date: 13 March 2259.

Plot:    At Psi Corps’ secret base at Syria Planum, Mars, a rogue telepath is interrogated by Psi Cop Bester (last seen in A6). Bester knows there is an “underground railroad” of rogue telepaths being shuttled through an unknown sorting area before they are sent on to neutral space. He kills the rogue telepath whilst tearing the information from his brain but it doesn’t matter: he knows the sorting centre is on Babylon 5. He leaves for the station immediately.

On B5 Ambassador Delenn arranges to have dinner with Sheridan. She is intrigued by human social customs and wants to learn more about them. Despite the lack of a common frame of reference, they quickly become friends and Sheridan starts to appreciate her intriguing view on the universe.

Bester arrives on Babylon 5 to a less than warm welcome from the command staff, but Bester invokes his authority to have Garibaldi and Talia Winters help him track down the rogues. The rogues, knowing the danger he represents, try to kill Bester but he manages to escape. Talia, however, is captured and taken to their secret hide-out in Downbelow. There they tell her why they are running from Psi Corps and tell her all about the illegal experiments run on them, the abuse of their basic human rights and the deaths of many of their friends due to Psi Corps’ willingness to expend lives as long as it serves the “greater good”. After hearing their stories - and scanning many of them to confirm they are telling the truth - she agrees to help them. Sheridan receives word that the rogue telepaths are willing to talk to him and he goes to meet their representative, but is shocked to find it is Dr. Franklin. Franklin explains that the clinic he set up last year in Downbelow (A21) is a cover to help rogue telepaths escape from Psi Corps. Sheridan is forced by law to report the rogues’ presence, but Talia points out that if Psi Corps stopped their search than Sheridan wouldn’t have to report the matter and could allow them to leave peacefully. Sheridan agrees and Talia and the telepaths use their combined mental powers to create an illusion in Bester’s mind of him and Talia killing all the rogues. The leader of the rogue telepaths used to be a friend of Jason Ironheart’s and realises he did something to Talia: a normal P5 shouldn’t have been able to deceive a Psi Cop like that. Bester leaves the station, none the wiser, and the rogues leave the station peacefully.

Earthforce orders Ivanova and Sheridan to being paying rent on their quarters since they need the extra money and their quarters are bigger than necessary. Furious, Sheridan uses money from the combat readiness budget to pay the rent, on the logic that he cannot be ready for combat without a good night’s sleep beforehand.

MORE AFTER THE JUMP

Saturday, 16 September 2017

The Compleat George R.R. Martin Bibliography

As part of a discussion on the works of George R.R. Martin, and specifically what works of his are not currently readily available in print, I ended up compiling this list of everything that GRRM has ever published (and almost everything that he's publicly admitted writing), which I'm now releasing here because, why the hell not?

This list is inspired by Leslie Kay Swigart's "George R.R. Martin RRetrospective Fiction Checklist", originally published in GRRM: A RRetrospective (2002, later reprinted as Dreamsongs in 2006) but is expanded to both include GRRM's unpublished work and also the work that has followed since.

Obviously, if I've missed anything, let me know and I'll update the list.


Novels

Dying of the Light (1977)
Martin's first novel, set in the Thousand Worlds milieu of much of his short fiction. Dying of the Light was originally called After the Festival and was serialised under that title in the April through July 1977 issues of Analog. The book was retitled with a Dylan Thomas quote. It was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1978, but did not win. The book mentions an alien race called the githyanki, a name "borrowed" by Charles Stross for a Dungeons and Dragons race, an association Martin did not learn of until twenty years later.

Windhaven (1981, with Lisa Tuttle)
Martin and Lisa Tuttle met in 1973 and became fast friends. They decided to collaborate in 1975, resulting in the novella The Storms of Windhaven, which won the Locus Award for Best Novella in 1976 and was also nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula. They followed this up with a sequel, One-Wing, in 1980, which was also nominated for the Hugo. At this point a deal was signed for a "fix-up novel" made up of the two stories and a specially-written third part, The Fall, which followed in 1981, along with the book version itself.

Fevre Dream (1982)
This was George R.R. Martin's first big success, a novel about vampires on the Mississippi. This was his first horror novel and was his most commercially successful novel until the publication of A Game of Thrones fourteen years later. The book was nominated for the Locus and World Fantasy Awards but not the then-famously-fantasy-avoiding Hugos.

The Armageddon Rag (1983)
This was the book that nearly destroyed Martin's writing career, bombing heavily on release (despite a World Fantasy Award nomination) and making publishers wary of touching any of Martin's other work. The most notable casualty was his then-in-progress novel, Black and White and Red All Over, which his agent couldn't sell and Martin left unfinished (the completed portion eventually appeared in the Quartet collection in 2001). However, publishing's loss was Hollywood's gain; Phil DeGuere optioned the novel for film and, although it was not made, it did bring DeGuere and Martin into contact and DeGuere remembered Martin which it came time to resurrect The Twilight Zone in 1985.

Hunter's Run (2007, with Gardener Dozois and Daniel Abraham)
Hunter's Run began life as Shadow Twin, a novella co-written between Martin and his long-time friend Gardener Dozois. Dozois and Martin worked on the novella in 1982 but eventually couldn't come up with an ending, sticking it in a drawer. Twenty years later Martin came up with the idea of giving the story to Daniel Abraham to finish. Abraham did so, very successfully, and it was published in 2004. Abraham then revised the entire story as the novel-length Hunter's Run, published in 2007.


A Song of Ice and Fire

A Game of Thrones (1996)
A Clash of Kings (1998)
A Storm of Swords (2000)
A Feast for Crows (2005)
A Dance with Dragons (2011)
The Winds of Winter (forthcoming)
A Dream of Spring (forthcoming)

You may have heard of this one.


A Song of Ice and Fire Universe

The Lands of Ice and Fire (2012, with Jonathan Roberts)
Also known as "A Big Box of Maps", with Martin drawing all of the original maps himself as line drawings and these being transformed into beautiful full-colour pieces by British cartographer-general Jonathan Roberts.

The World of Ice and Fire (2014, with Elio M. Garcia & Linda Antonsson)
The big companion book for A Song of Ice and Fire, originally called The World of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire before the publishers pointed out that this could not be fitted onto any book spine in the known universe. Martin wrote a bit too much material for this book (as in about 200% more words than originally budgeted), which he then mined to produce the novellas The Princess and the Queen, The Rogue Prince, Sons of the Dragon and...

Fire and Blood, Volume I (forthcoming)
...this book, which acts as a history of the first half of the Targaryen regime. Already complete, it is planned for release in 2018 or 2019.

Fire and Blood, Volume II (forthcoming)
This second volume, covering the rest of the Targaryen regime, is completely unwritten at the moment and, according to Martin, will not be published until after A Song of Ice and Fire is complete and possibly more Dunk & Egg novellas are published, since it'll be very hard to produce a detailed history of the reign of Aegon V with spoiling those stories.


Unpublished Novels

Black and White and Red All Over (started 1983)
This was Martin's in-progress work when The Armageddon Rag bombed. Martin's agent had been shopping the book around to publishers, but the Rag's failure saw them turn it down with a vengeance. Martin was disheartened, abandoned the book and spent some consolatory time playing roleplaying games (which wasn't a total waste, leading as it did to Wild Cards). The completed portion of the novel was published in the Quartet collection in 2001.

Avalon (started 1991)
Martin was 100-odd pages into writing Avalon, a big SF epic set on one of the most notable planets in his Thousand Worlds setting, when he was distracted by an idea he'd had about a deserter being beheaded in the snow, watched by a young boy and his family. That led to a tangent which, over a quarter of century later, remains unfinished. It's unclear if Martin seriously plans to finish Avalon once A Song of Ice and Fire is completed, but it's also notable that Martin has never published the material he had completed for the book (unlike his other unfinished novel, Black and White and Red All Over), suggesting he may have some plans for it in the future.


Short Stories, Novellas and Novelettes 

For the first two decades of his career, Martin was known predominantly as a writer of short stories, novellas and novelettes (the distinctions between which are really not worth worrying about now) and this is where he won his first awards. This list of stories is, as far as I can tell, exhaustive. Stories which are known to take place in the Thousand Worlds setting are noted with "TW", those published in the massive Dreamsongs: A RRetrospective collection with "DS".

Fanzine and Comic Work
The very first professionally-published work of Martin's was a letter to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, published in Fantastic Four #20 (August 1963). He followed it up with a few more letters over the years, began corresponding with other fans and even attended the very first Comic-Con in New York in 1964. This led to Martin's first published writing, produced for a stream of comic fanzines on a very casual basis with very small distributions. It'd be fascinating to see if any of these stories had survived anywhere. Later on, starting with with 'Only Kids Are Afraid of the Dark', the stories have indeed survived. Three of these stories, written in the 1960s, did not appear in print until GRRM: A RRetrospective (aka Dreamsongs) got its first printing in 2003.
  • 'Garizan, the Mechanical Warrior' (written 1964, lost)
  • 'Meet the Executioner' (1965, comic, published in Ymir #2)
  • 'The Isle of Death' (1965, comic, Ymir #5)
  • 'The Strange Story of the White Raider' (1965, comic, published in Batwing)
  • 'Powerman vs. The Blue Barrier!' (1965, text, published in Star-Studded Comics #7)
  • 'Only Kids Are Afraid of the Dark' (1965, text, published in Star-Studded Comics #10 DS)
  • 'The Sword and the Spider' (1965, comic, published in Dr. Weird)
  • 'Only Kids Are Afraid of the Dark' (1966, comic version of the text story, published in Dr. Weird)
  • 'The Coach and the Computer' (1966)
  • 'The Fortress' (1968, revised for professional sale as 'Under Siege' in 1985, DS)
  • 'The Added Safety Factor' (1968)
  • 'The Hero' (1968, revised for professional sale in 1971, TW)
  • 'And Death His Legacy' (1968, DS)
  • 'Protector' (1968, revised for professional sale as 'Warship' in 1979)

Professional Sales
Martin made his first professional sale in 1971 and basically never looked back, churning out dozens of stories through the 1970s and 1980s, winning several awards. In the mid-1980s his short fiction career slowed as he switched to working in Hollywood, editing Wild Cards and then commencing work on A Song of Ice and Fire; startlingly, for a prolific writer of the form, Martin has only published four short stories unrelated to A Song of Ice and Fire since 1991.
  • 'The Hero' (1971, TW, DS)
  • 'The Exit to Santa Breta' (1972, DS)
  • 'The Second Kind of Loneliness' (1972, DS)
  • 'Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels' (1973)
  • 'Night Shift' (1973)
  • 'Override' (1973)
  • 'A Peripheral Affair' (1973)
  • 'Slide Show' (1973)
  • 'With Morning Comes Mistfall' (1973, DS)
  • 'F.T.A.' (1974)
  • 'Run to Starlight' (1974)
  • 'A Song for Lya' (1974, Hugo Award winner, TW, DS)
  • 'And Seven Times Never Kill Man' (1975, TW, DS)
  • 'The Last Super Bowl Game' (1975)
  • 'Night of the Vampyres' (1975)
  • 'The Runners' (1975)
  • 'The Storms of Windhaven' (1975, with Lisa Tuttle, revised for Windhaven)
  • 'A Beast for Norn' (1976, revised for Tuf Voyaging, TW, DS)
  • 'The Computer Cried Charge!' (1976)
  • 'Fast-Friend' (1976)
  • '...For a Single Yesterday' (1976)
  • 'In the House of the Worm' (1976, TW)
  • 'The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr' (1976, DS)
  • 'Meathouse Man' (1976, DS)
  • 'Men of Greywater Station' (1976, TW)
  • 'Nobody Leaves New Pittsburgh' (1976)
  • 'Nor the Many-Colored Fires of a Star Ring' (1976)
  • 'Patrick Henry, Jupiter, and the Little Red Brick Spaceship' (1976)
  • 'Starlady' (1976, TW)
  • 'This Tower of Ashes' (1976, TW, DS)
  • 'After the Festival' (1977, serialised version of ''Dying of the Light'', TW)
  • 'Bitterblooms' (1977, TW, DS)
  • 'The Stone City' (1977, TW, DS)
  • 'Weekend in a War Zone' (1977)
  • 'Call Him Moses' (1978)
  • 'Sandkings' (1979, Hugo and Nebula Award winner, TW, DS)
  • 'Warship' (1979)
  • 'The Way of Cross and Dragon' (1979, Hugo Award winner, TW, DS)
  • 'The Ice Dragon' (1980, revised as a children's book in 2006, DS)
  • 'Nightflyers' (1980, revised for ''Nightflyers'', TW, DS)
  • 'One-Wing' (1980, with Lisa Tuttle, revised for Windhaven)
  • 'The Fall' (1981, with Lisa Tuttle, written for Windhaven)
  • 'Guardians' (1981, revised for ''Tuf Voyaging'', TW, DS)
  • 'The Needle Men' (1981)
  • 'Remembering Melody' (1981, DS)
  • 'Closing Time' (1982)
  • 'In the Lost Lands' (1982, DS)
  • 'Unsound Variations' (1982, DS)
  • 'The Monkey Treatment' (1983, DS)
  • 'Loaves and Fishes' (1985, written for Tuf Voyaging, TW)
  • 'Manna from Heaven' (1985, written for Tuf Voyaging, TW)
  • 'The Plague Star' (1985, written for Tuf Voyaging, TW)
  • 'Portraits of His Children' (1985, Nebula Award winner, DS)
  • 'Second Helpings' (1985, written for Tuf Voyaging, TW)
  • 'Under Siege' (1985, revised version of 'The Fortress', DS)
  • 'The Glass Flower'' (1986, TW, DS)
  • 'The Pear-Shaped Man'' (1987, DS)
  • 'The Skin Trade' (1988, World Fantasy Award winner, DS)
  • 'Black and White and Red All Over' (1983, published 2001, unfinished novel fragment)
  • 'Shadow Twin' (1982, revised in 2004 with Gardner Dozois and Daniel Abraham, revised again in 2007 for Hunter's Run)
  • 'A Night at the Tarn House' (2009, in Songs of the Dying Earth)

Wild Cards
George R.R. Martin created the Wild Cards superhero universe for a roleplaying game in the early 1980s, fleshing it out (aided by many writers, but most notably John Jos. Miller, Walter Jon Williams and Martin's co-editor, Melinda Snodgrass) for a shared world anthology series that currently clocks in at 27 volumes (and counting). Martin edited the entire series, but specifically wrote the following stories:
  • 'Interlude One' through 'Interlude Five' (1987, in Wild Cards)
  • 'Shell Games' (1987, in Wild Cards, DS)
  • 'Jube: One'' through 'Jube: Seven' (1987, in Wild Cards: Aces High)
  • 'Winter's Chill' (1987, in Wild Cards: Aces High)
  • 'Hiram Worchester' (1988, in Wild Cards: Jokers Wild)
  • 'From the Journal of Xavier Desmond' (1988, in Wild Cards: Aces Abroad, DS)
  • 'All the King's Horses' (1988, in Wild Cards: Down and Dirty)
  • 'The Great and Powerful Turtle' (1990, comic strip in Wild Cards #3 for Epic Comics)
  • 'Jay Ackroyd's Story' (1990, in Wild Cards: Dead Man's Hand)
  • 'The Great and Powerful Turtle' (1992, in Wild Cards: Dealer's Choice)
  • 'Jay Ackrod's Story' (1995, in Wild Cards: Black Trump)
  • 'Crusader' (2008, in Wild Cards: Inside Straight)

Novella-length excerpts from A Song of Ice and Fire
  • 'Blood of the Dragon' (1996, Hugo Award winner)
  • 'Path of the Dragon' (2000)
  • 'Arms of the Kraken' (2002)


The Tales of Dunk & Egg (prequels to A Song of Ice and Fire)
  • 'The Hedge Knight' (1998, collected in A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, DS)
  • 'The Sworn Sword' (2003, collected in A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms)
  • 'The Mystery Knight' (2010, collected in A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms)
  • 'The She-Wolves' (forthcoming, working title)
  • 'The Village Hero'' (forthcoming, working title)


Other Song of Ice and Fire-related stories
  • 'The Princess and the Queen' (2013)
  • 'The Rogue Prince' (2014)
  • 'The Sons of the Dragon' (2017)



Collections
  • A Song for Lya (1976)
  • Songs of Stars and Shadows (1977)
  • Sandkings (1981)
  • Songs the Dead Men Sing (1983)
  • Nightflyers (1985)
  • Tuf Voyaging (1987, collection of linked stories)
  • Portraits of His Children (1987)
  • Quartet (2001)
  • GRRM: A RRetrospective (2003; reissued 2006 as Dreamsongs)


Editor
Science Fiction Anthologies
  • New Voices in Science Fiction (1977)
  • New Voices II (1979)
  • New Voices III (1980)
  • New Voices IV (1981)
  • The Science Fiction Weight-Loss Book (1983, with Isaac Asimov & Martin Greenberg)
  • The John W. Campbell Awards, Volume 5 (1984)
  • Night Visions 3 (1986)

Wild Cards
  1. Wild Cards (1987)
  2. Aces High (1987)
  3. Jokers Wild (1987)
  4. Aces Abroad (1988)
  5. Down and Dirty (1988)
  6. Ace in the Hole (1990)
  7. Dead Man's Hand (1990)
  8. One-Eyed Jacks (1991)
  9. Jokertown Shuffle (1991)
  10. Double Solitaire (1992)
  11. Dealer's Choice (1992)
  12. Turn of the Cards (1993)
  13. Card Sharks (1993) (Book I of a New Cycle trilogy)
  14. Marked Cards (1994) (Book II of a New Cycle trilogy)
  15. Black Trump (1995) (Book III of a New Cycle trilogy)
  16. Deuces Down (2002)
  17. Death Draws Five (2006)
  18. Inside Straight (2008)
  19. Busted Flush (2008)
  20. Suicide Kings (2009)
  21. Fort Freak (2011)
  22. Lowball (2014)
  23. High Stakes (2016)
  24. Mississippi Roll (forthcoming)
  25. Low Chicago (forthcoming)
  26. Texas Hold 'Em (forthcoming)
  27. Knaves Over Queens (forthcoming)

Collaborations with Gardner Dozois
  • Songs of the Dying Earth (2009)
  • Warriors (2010)
  • Songs of Love and Death (2010)
  • Down These Strange Streets (2011)
  • Old Mars (2013)
  • Dangerous Women (2013)
  • Rogues (2014)
  • Old Venus (2015)


Film
  • Nightflyers (1987) - original story
  • Sharknado 3 (2015) - cameo appearance as himself


Television

The New Twilight Zone
  • The Last Defender of Camelot (1986) - writer (teleplay)
  • The Once and Future King (1986) - writer (teleplay), story editor
  • A Saucer of Loneliness (1986) - story editor
  • Lost and Found (1986) - writer (teleplay)
  • The World Next Door (1986) - story editor
  • The Toys of Caliban (1986) - writer (teleplay)
  • The Road Less Travelled (1986) - writer (story and teleplay), story editor (DS)

Max Headroom

  • Mister Meat (1987) - writer (unproduced)
  • Xmas (1987) - writer (unproduced, eventually staged in 2017)


Beauty and the Beast
  • Terrible Saviour (1987) - writer
  • Masques (1987) - writer
  • Shades of Grey (1988) - writer
  • Promises of Someday (1988) - writer
  • Fever (1988) - writer
  • Ozymandias (1988) - writer
  • Dead of Winter (1988) - writer
  • Brothers (1989) - writer
  • When the Blue Bird Sings (1989) - writer (teleplay)
  • A Kingdom by the Sea (1989) - writer
  • What Rough Beast (1989) - writer (story)
  • Ceremony of Innocence (1989) - writer
  • Snow (1989) - writer
  • Beggar's Comet (1990) - writer
  • Invictus (1990) - writer


Doorways
  • Doorways (pilot) (1993) - writer (story and teleplay), creator (DS)


Game of Thrones
  • Series - writer (story), producer
  • Pilot (2010, unaired) - cameo background performer
  • The Pointy End (2011) - writer
  • Blackwater (2012) - writer
  • The Bear and the Maiden Fair (2013) - writer
  • The Lion and the Rose (2014) – writer

Z Nation
  • The Collector (2015) - cameo appearance as himself

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 Cities of Fantasy and History of Middle-earth series are debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read them there one month before being published on the Wertzone.

A History of Middle-earth Part 9: Victories for the Light

In the Third Age of Middle-earth, the great kingdoms of men and elves faced mounting threats from all sides. In a time of defeats and danger, the forces of good cried out for victories against the mounting threat of the Shadow.

The Oathtaking of Cirion and Eorl, at the founding of Rohan, by Ted Nasmith.

The Founding of Rohan
In 2510 TA the Gondorian army under Ruling Steward Cirion marched north to meet

the barbarian attack. However, it was a trap. A host of orcs descended from the Misty Mountains and defeated the Gondorian forces, driving them in disarray towards the Field of Celebrant and the waiting Balchoth. All seemed lost.

In the northern Vale of Anduin a people known as the Éothéod had lived for some centuries, but their people had grown too numerous to remain in these lands. The Balchoth were among their foes. Their king, Eorl the Young, noted that departure of the Balchoth to the south and gathered a large army. Thus, when the Balchoth confronted the Gondorians at Celebrant, they were not expecting the massive assault on their rear by the Éothéod. The Balchoth were utterly destroyed and Gondor was saved. In gratitude Cirion gave to the Éothéod Calenardhon, the north-western Gondorian province stretching from the Gap between the Misty and White Mountains to the Anduin and the mouths of the River Entwash. The Éothéod, who had renamed themselves the Eorlingas in honour of their great king, accepted. Thus in 2510 the Riddermark was founded, the land known as Rohan, with its capital at the hill fortress of Edoras. Great friendship there was between Rohan and Gondor, and Rohan’s founding secured Gondor’s northern flank from attack. By 2698 Gondor felt secure enough to rebuild the White Tower even larger and grander than before.

However, Rohan itself would soon be plauged by great troubles. In 2754 King Helm Hammerhand slew Lord Freca, a troublesome lord whose lands lay along the River Adorn in the far west of Rohan. Freca’s son Wulf declared vengeance against Helm. He fled Rohan and made common cause and alliance with the Dunlendings, the semi-barbaric inhabitants of the hills of Enedwaith who for some years had also held the old Númenórean fortress of Angrenost, which all now called Isengard. Four years later, when Wulf learned of a massive assault on Gondor by both the Corsairs of Umbar and the Haradrim, he convinced the Dunlendings to attack Rohan, certain that Gondor would not be able to come to Rohan’s aid. The attack took the Rohirrim by surprise, but they were able to hold the Dunlendings at bay long enough to evacuate their forces in two groups. One, led by King Helm, took refuge in the ancient fortress of the Hornburg in the valley everafter known as Helm’s Deep. The other, led by King Helm’s nephew and heir Fréaláf, evacuated to Dunharrow south of Edoras. The Dunlendings besieged both fortresses and Wulf took up residence in Edoras.

However, this was the same year that the fell Long Winter afflicated all of western Middle-earth. Flash floods off the White Mountains inundated the Dunlendings and fever and sickness swept through their ranks. By the spring many had died and those who remained were unable to hold the Rohirrim at bay any longer. Fréaláf led a sortie from Dunharrow, aided by a loyal band of stalwart warriors. They broke through the Dunlending lines and put them to rout. They then retook Edoras and slew Wulf. Although victory was theirs, the news from Helm’s Deep was greivous, as King Helm had been slain. Fréaláf took the throne, beginning the Second Line of the Kings of the Mark. Gondor had likewise managed to survive the attacks of its enemies and by spring 2759 had restored its boundaries across the Anduin in Harondar and Ithilien.

With Edoras secure once more, King Fréaláf led a punitive sortie against the Dunlendings. He besieged and liberated the circle of Isengard and the tower of Orthanc that lay at its heart and pushed the Dunlendings all the way back into Enedwaith. Satisfied, the King returned to Edoras, but was surprised to meet the wizard Saruman who had come forth to speak to him. Saruman had long wandered in Middle-earth, but now desired permanant residence. Confident that Saruman’s wizardry would keep any enemy at bay, Fréaláf glady surrendered control of Isengard to Saruman the White.
An Unexpected Party, by John Howe.

The Quest of Erebor
By the end of the Second Millennium of the Third Age, the elves and men of Middle-earth had suffered greivous defeats in their war with the various evil forces of the world, but the dwarves had remained relatively immune to the ravages of war. In their holdfasts in the Blue Mountains and Iron Hills they continued to delve deep into the earth and forge great riches, unconcerned with the affairs of the outside world. Khazad-dûm, their greatest and most ancient hold in the Misty Mountains, grew rich and powerful indeed.

Then, in 1980 TA, the dwarves of Khazad-dûm delved too deep, exposing a great crack that led to the bowels of the earth. From this fissure emerged a terrible demon of fire and death: a balrog of Morgoth, the last survivor of its kind. The balrog slew King Durin VI and put the dwarves to rout. King Dáin led a stand against the balrog and was slain also. By 1981 the dwarves had abandoned Khazad-dûm in its entirety and it became known to all as Moria, ‘The Black Pit’, as the elves had already long called it.

A thousand years later, many dwarves hoped to reclaim Moria, believing the balrog to have died or left in the meantime. However, the defeats of the dwarves continued. In 2770 the dragon Smaug descended from the Withered Heath and assailed Erebor, the Lonely Mountain south-east of the Grey Mountains. The dragon captured the mountain and made it his lair, displacing King Thrór and his kin. Thrór knew he could not defeat the dragon but hoped that perhaps Moria could be reclaimed instead. In 2790 he entered Moria but was slain by orcs. Enraged, his kin gathered for war and three years later launched a massive assault against the orcs of the Misty Mountains. They avoided Moira, but struck at Goblin-town in the High Pass of the Misty Mountains, the large orc city of Gundabad and other locations throughout both the Misty Mountains and Grey Mountains. The War of Dwarves and the Orcs lasted for seven years and concluded with the Battle of Nanduhirion before the East-gate of Moria, in the Dimrill Dale. The dwarves emerged victorious, having reduced orc numbers by so much that for nearly a century they did not trouble the mountains again. King Dáin Ironfoot returned to the Iron Hills in victory, but the dwarves themselves had suffered greivous losses for their success.

In 2802 Thráin II, heir to Erebor, settled in the southern Blue Moutains near the ruins of Belegost with his son Thorin Oakenshield. Pondering long the fate of his homeland, Thráin departed for Erebor to see if Smaug remained in residence. However, servants of Sauron had identified Thráin as the holder of the last of the Seven Rings. In 2845, after hounding him for four years the length and breadth of northern Middle-earth, they finally imprisoned him in Dol Guldur and seized the ring.

Five years later the wizard Gandalf, tiring of the speculation about who might be in control of Dol Guldur following the end of the Long Peace, stole into Dol Guldur by secret. He learned that Sauron had indeed returned. He also came across Thráin, who surrendered the key of Erebor and a map of the mountain to the wizard before dying. Gandalf also learned that Sauron’s minions were searching for the One Ring, and were also looking for word of Isildur’s Heir.

The White Council was convened in 2851 and Gandalf urged an assault on Dol Guldur, but Saruman thought the venture too risky, although by now Saruman wanted the One Ring for himself, believing he could use it to destroy Sauron and secure liberty for all of Middle-earth.

Frustrated, Gandalf could only watch as over the next ninety years Sauron’s servants grew stronger. Ithilien became dangerous to travel as orcs multiplied in the Mountains of Shadow, and in 2885 the Haradrim captured the crossings over the River Poros. An alliance of Gondorian and Rohirrim troops drove them back, but it was clear that, in the long term, the forces of evil were slowly beginning to win the upper hand. With the ruining of Tharbad in the Fell Winter of 2911, the main trade routes from Lindon and the north to Rohan and Gondor were no longer secure, and contact between the two regions began to fade and become more doubtful.

In 2933 Arathorn II, Chieftain of the Dúnedain Rangers of the North, was slain in battle. His wife Gilraen took their son Aragorn, then only two years old, to Rivendell and Elrond agreed to raise Aragorn as his ward. Gandalf took an interest in the boy, “Isildur’s Heir” as his father was before him, but by now had determined that a victory was needed to rally the forces of good against Mordor.

In 2941 an unexpected opportunity presented itself. Gandalf was in the lands west of the Shire, having gone to confer with Círdan of Lindon. He met Thorin Oakenshield on the road and they conferred for a time. He gave Thorin the key and map of Erebor and Thorin immediately saw this as a sign that the time had come to retake Erebor. Gandalf also believed the time was ripe to slay Smaug and deny Sauron a new ally in the coming war. They raised a force of twelve battle-hardened dwarves from the Blue Mountains and headed east. Whilst traversing the Shire Gandalf suggested employing a nimble-fingered hobbit to steal his way into Erebor as a scout. Thorin was at first doubtful, but in time Gandalf convinced him. They changed their course for Hobbiton and Gandalf recruited Bilbo Baggins to the quest. Bilbo was doubtful about going off on a big adventure, but eventually agreed.

The Questors passed eastwards to Rivendell, avoiding being attacked by trolls along the way, and from there crossed the High Pass over the Misty Mountains. However, the party became divided during an orc attack and Bilbo was left alone. Wandering the mountain tunnels, he chanced upon a ring left on the ground and picked it up. He was soon confronted by a loathsome, strange creature named Gollum who tried to murder him. By chance, Bilbo discovered that the ring made him invisible when worn and employed this to escape.

Reunited, the party headed east, but Gandalf left them to head south. The elves of Lórien, waylaid several times by orcs passing out of Mirkwood, had resolved to attack Dol Guldur and Gandalf and a strangely reluctant Saruman had agreed to lend their aid to this attack. However, Sauron withdrew before them and fled back to Mordor. Meanwhile, the Questors were imprisoned by King Thranduil, lord of the North Mirkwood elves, for failing to ask his permission to cross his lands. Bilbo employed the ring to rescue the others and they came at last to Erebor. Bilbo, again using the ring, spoke with Smaug, who could not kill him without seeing him. At last, enraged and frustrated, the dragon rashly attacked the nearby settlement of Esgaroth (“Laketown”) and was promptly shot down by the legendary archer Bard.

Now King Thorin took up his seat in Erebor and sent to King Dáin of the Iron Hills for reinforcements. However, both Thranduil of the elves and the men of Esgaroth led armies forth to reclaim riches stolen from them by Smaug. Thorin was unimpressed by their forces and sealed the doors to the fortress. It seemed that violence might erupt with the arrival of the dwarven reinforcements, but at this moment the goblins and wargwolves of the Grey Mountains launched their own attack. A mighty battle, the Battle of Five Armies, erupted. The elves, men and dwarves emerged victorious, aided by Gandalf and the Great Eagles of the Misty Mountains, led by Gwaihir the Windlord, who came late to the battle. Thorin was slain and Dáin became King-under-the-Mountain. In the spirit of their victory, Dáin returned to the elves and men their stolen riches and a new three-way treaty of alliance was concluded between Thranduil’s kingdom, Esgaroth and Erebor. Well pleased, Gandalf departed and Bilbo left for home.

Part 10 of the History of Middle-earth Series are available to read now on my Patreon feed as follows:

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 Cities of Fantasy and History of Middle-earth series are debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read them there one month before being published on the Wertzone.