The Wheel of Time comes to Amazon

Cue all the “At least this series is finished” snark.

Set in an epic world where magic exists but only women can use it, “The Wheel of Time” follows Moiraine, a member of the shadowy and influential all-female organization called the “Aes Sedai,” as she embarks on a dangerous journey with five young men and women across the world. Moiraine is interested in these five “because she believes one of them might be the reincarnation of an incredibly powerful individual, who prophecies say will either save humanity or destroy it,” Amazon said in a statement.

The series draws on numerous elements of European and Asian culture and philosophy, especially Buddhism and Hinduism.

It also… kind of sucks.

Robert Jordan was the American Tolkein before George R.R. Martin was so dubbed, and the Wheel of Time series starts with a bang. It’s a fully realized world with a sprawling backstory, and the idea that magic has two components: one male, one female, but the male half has been poisoned and unusable for millenia, is a neat hook to hang an apocalyptic battle on. The first book was great.

The second book was good.

The third book was… I don’t remember. Let’s say goodish?

The fourth book I remember better than the third book. It was kind of interesting.

I don’t remember the fifth book at all.

I don’t remember the sixth book at all.

I gave up partway through the seventh book.

There are fourteen books in the series.

Jordan’s problem wasn’t production. He dropped 700+-page novels every 2-3 years, regular as clockwork. The longest fans had to wait for the next volume was four years, because Jordan died and Brandon Sanderson finished the series from Jordan’s notes. Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire fans would give bloodleeches to Melisandre for that kind of predictability.

The problem was, for all that production, the story moved hardly at all. Whole books would be spent on a single narrative involving a single character, while other characters stayed in limbo. By the time I checked out, halfway through, the Wheels of Time were spinning in the mud.

This reached its culmination in Crossroads of Twilight, the tenth book in the series, which focuses on what every character but the protagonist was doing (mostly: nothing) while the main character, Rand al-Thor, did a big thing in the previous book. Rand is present for two chapters in CoT, mostly brooding. Or, as one of the thousands (yes, thousands) of negative Amazon reviews has it:

Here is a list of things that DON”T happen in this book.

Mat does not marry Tuon. Perrin does not rescue Faile or Alliandre or Morgase, Rand does not do anything. Elayne does not gain the Rose Throne. Egwene does not re-unite the White Tower. Elaida does not defeat the rebels. No darkfriends are unmasked. No black ajah are unmasked. Morraine does not come back from wherever she has been for the last 8 books. Savanne does not get what is coming to her. No Forsaken are unmasked. Mazrim Taim’s plans do not become clear. Logain’s plans do not become clear. The Seanchan don’t gain victory/defeat on any front. The Great Lord does not break free. Gawain does not join Egwene. I could go on.
What does happen in this novel? Elayne drinks lots of watery tea. Egwene has lots of headaches, Rand lies in bed with Min and wishes he were dead. Loail explains again why he is not ready to settle down. Aviendha wanders around in the buff again. Mat continues to not understand women. Aes Sedai and the Sea Folk, and the Kin continue to argue with one another about every little thing. We continue to get a fashion review of what every woman is wearing, and how much bosom she is showing (typically a great deal). That’s about it.

So, despite the “productivity”, both Martin and Jordan had/have the same unwillingness to finish. Whether this is from greed or simple logorrhea, Jordan could not bring himself to enter the series’ third act. In the end he did not, and another author finished the series for him.

This may be a risky series for Amazon to adapt. On the one hand, the sheer length of the thing begs for a long-form, serial treatment. TV can dig into the nuances of this in a way that movies can’t. But the showrunners will have to make smart choices, or the TV series will get bogged down in the same way the books did. Some of the fluff will need to be cut away, or around Season 10 the fans will be as frustrated and bored with the plot slows and the encyclopedic panoply of minor characters as the readers were.

The other problem is the characters. The world in Wheel of Time is much more intricate and realized than the characters are. The characters barely stand out at all, in fact. All the male characters are varying degrees of dim, and all the female characters varying degrees of shrewish. The symphony of confused grimaces and braid-tugging becomes a chore pretty early in the series, and it never relents. Rand al-Thor doesn’t have Jon Snow’s dogged rectitude, and Egwene lacks Danaerys Targaryen’s heroic passion. The sense of decisions that matter and shift the characters, the sense of life-or-death hanging in the balance, is peculiarly absent. The characters just seem to keep going, and they don’t ever seem to change.

Granted, I checked out half-way through. It may be that a TV series can move credibly through the vast scope of Jordan’s universe and give the characters distinct lives. But I’m probably going to wait on word-of-mouth.

I had no idea HBO was even doing this, and my instinct is to scrunch up my nose at it. I like the original graphic novel and found the film merely okay (among other things, they didn’t do the Comedian right). It was a provocative examination of super-hero tropes at the time, but I don’t know if it has any real purpose today. I mean, The Incredibles hit the same themes in a family-friendly Pixar flick. Do we really need to Subvert The Superhero more than we already have?

And I’m  a bit worried about HBO (and others) doing miniseries after miniseries based on existing hit IP’s. They’re going to start expecting everything to be Game of Thrones, and that’s not going to work for premium cable TV any better than it’s worked for Hollywood expecting everything to be Titanic.

The cast of HBO’s “Watchmen” pilot continues to grow. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Sara Vickers have both joined the project, which hails from Damon Lindelof. As with previous “Watchmen” casting announcements, HBO provided no details about the characters the two will play. They join previously announced cast members Regina King, Don Johnson, Jeremy Irons, Tim Blake…

via ‘Watchmen’ Pilot Adds Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sara Vickers — Variety

A Sci-Fi Series Based on “Heart of Darkness”

Crackle is developing a series reimagining of the Joseph Conrad novel “Heart of Darkness,” Variety has learned exclusively. The project is set in the future where Earth is a distant memory. It is described as an exploration of what it means to be human on a space odyssey where the survival of the human race hangs in…

via Crackle to Develop Sci-Fi Series Based on ‘Heart of Darkness’ (EXCLUSIVE) — Variety

I could be behind this. I blogged before about Heart of Darkness and the possibility of separating theme from setting:

I don’t think Heart of Darkness is actually about colonialism per se. The rapacious aspect of Belgian rule in the Congo is just the setting for the novel’s true theme: the collapse of human spirit under harsh conditions. The encounter between human societies at differing stages of development, and the inevitable mistrust and exploitation that follows, is a vehicle for this theme. But you could set it in any hostile environment and get similar results. If you can get a character from a place of idealism to a place of “The horror!”, then you can get what Conrad was going for.

Sci-Fi is custom-built for just this sort of re-imagining.

How ‘Stranger Things’ Got Passed Around Hollywood

In the midst of fisking the usual gang of idiots about raaaaaaacism, Larry Correia lets drop an interesting factoid:

For a long time entertainment tried to lump as many customers as possible into one big box to provide dumb bland mushy product to. To make a living at this stuff you needed to sell to everybody, including the easily offended. Now, you just need to appeal to one group of fans, and what appeals to them might not appeal to everybody, but screw those guys. You can make what you want. Technology has evolved so that you can get your product right in front of your target audience. It isn’t just books either. Stranger Things got rejected by something like 15 networks for being too weird, and now it is a hit on Netflix.

I double-checked to make sure that was true, and according to this article in Rolling Stone, Correia was low-balling it:

After they wrote the initial Stranger Things script, they never thought they’d have a chance at pitching Netflix; they thought it was only a place for established names like Orange Is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan and House of Cards producer, director David Fincher. Matt estimates the brothers were rejected 15 to 20 times by various networks, while other execs had balked at the idea that the show featured four kids as lead characters but that it wasn’t TV for children. “You either gotta make it into a kids show or make it about this Hopper [detective] character investigating paranormal activity around town,” one told them. Matt recalls replying, “Then we lose everything interesting about the show.” Some other people they knew in the industry understood their vision and helped connect them with Netflix. “There was a week where we were like, ‘This isn’t going to work because people don’t get it,‘” Matt says.

That’s the thing about the entertainment/content industry: they have to have product to connect with an audience, but they can’t know ahead of time what will, and there’s a cost factor with every bet. So if they gate-keepers don’t get it, viscerally, instantly, they assume that the disinterested masses won’t bother. Because the entertainment industry isn’t about connecting audiences and content, it’s about connecting audiences and content in such away that maximizing profit and minimizes loss. Thus, people are going to pass on things because they’re not getting it.

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Hating Fuller House is Like Hating Anchovies

No matter how much you do, there’s a market that doesn’t.

Good Article at the Daily Beast about why hating on the insipdidly-wholesome Netflix-reboot of the insipidly wholesome sitcom is probably more obnoxious than the show itself could possibly be:

Was Fuller House ever going to come back with sudden comic intelligence? Razor sharp dialogue? Angsty observations on the human condition? Was D.J. suddenly going to be cursing like Julia Louis-Dreyfus on a HBO series? Sex scenes featuring John Stamos (a person can dream)? A sudden allergy to Very Special Lessons set to twinkly music at the tail-end of an episode?

Of course not.

We keep asking for these reboots. What exactly are we expecting when they arrive?

The response to the above should mirror Tonto’s from the old joke: “What you mean, ‘we’, white man?”. And that’s the point: it’s not the critics who asked for Fuller House to be a thing, it’s a very specific audience that Netflix is catering to. And that’s okay. Because I don’t have to watch it just because it’s on Netflix. That’s how Netflix works.

So I don’t understand why anyone would write an entire blog about how Full House is the worst thing that ever happened and how it exposes the dark sick underbelly soul of America once you stare into its hideous maw long enough. Why would you do that to yourself? You aren’t going to convince anyone. You aren’t going to make anyone see the light. You’re just going to give yourself angst points for suffering under the tastes of the less-enlightened. And that’s a habit I find infinitely more tiresome than badly written sitcoms.

Game of Thrones Just Did That Thing It Does.

Killing the charactes we like, making us like the characters we hate.

{Warning: Contains spoilers. Also Swearing.}

At this point, we’ve been down this road so many times that some of us are starting to feel numb to it. This season has left a bad taste in many fans’ mouth, because the usual collection of horrible things had no balance with anything good happening. Storylines seemed condensed, rushed, or just pointless. Everything that happened in Dorne felt tired and very lazy, and contrived to build up to a entirely predictable shock ending.

Shock endings are what the showrunners have been accused of primarily trading in, to the exclusion of proper character arcs. I’ve heard this since at least the Red Wedding. At it’s getting hard to deny.

{More Spoilers below SERIOUS YOU GUYS DON’T READ}

Jon Snow’s death in the books comes after a last straw. He receives a threatening, cryptic letter from Ramsay Bolton, and decides to go off and fight him. This represents the total betrayal of what the Night’s Watch is, and could even threaten it’s continued existence (if say, the Boltons or Lannisters decided they were an enemy). So a group of guys who’v’e been mostly loyal to him, if uncomfortable with letting the wildlings through the wall, turn on him “for the Watch”. It actually makes sense.

On the show, it’s done because Ser Alliser Thorne and other grumpy bigots just have to hate on them wildlings (in the books, Thorne is away ranging when Jon is killed and has nothing to do with it), and it’s done via a goofy pretext about Benjen Stark that was designed to do nothing but trick the show audience via the “previously on” that appears before the episode. All misdirection and shock, no character growth or even continuity.

What does this mean going forward? More of the same. People will die, on minimal, flimsy pretexts, and we will be shocked by this. The people we hate now will get theirs, too, just as soon as we’ve lost any possibility of being satisfied by it (remember how much we hated the Lannisters? those were simpler times).

And at some point, one character or other will get the whole picture, and will have the means and the will to stop the White Walkers. I don’t know who that is yet, but in the meantime, anyone getting in the way of them is going to have to fall in line or be pruned.

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Game of Thrones Turns Us All Into Monsters

Reaction video to the lastest out-of-the-blue death in Westeros. Spoilers, obviously.

Basically, if you find yourself at a wedding there, RUN.

Who did it? The books explain it, but honestly, I’ve forgotten. In the final analysis, it doesn’t really matter. Nothing good will come of it. Well, some good, maybe, but really a whole lot of horrible. It will just be horrible that we will tolerate because it’s being visited on (mostly) the right people.

We are steeped so far in blood that sin will pluck on sin.

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