Space Ramblings

Here’s a Suggestion for Galavant Season 3, Kill Galavant

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Seriously. Kill Galavant. Kill Isabella. Kill Sid.

Galavant does evil characters well. The best moments of the season focused on Richard, on Gareth and on Madalena.

After two seasons, the show developed a meaningful romantic relationship, not between Galavant and Isabella, but between Gareth and Madalena. And a heroic growth narrative arc, not for Galavant, but for Richard.

The season finale worked because it focused on Richard.

Villains are just more fun. And Galavant can only write them well anyway. Galavant is barely tolerable. Isabella is nails on a chalkboard irritating and always will be. Same for Sid. They’re insipid, irritating heroes. So get rid of them.

Season 1 wasn’t good. Season 2 dived into desperate gay jokes and parodies and fourth wall breaches like a drunken sailor. But it did get Richard, Gareth and Madalena right. So why not just stick with it? This is an unconventional show anyway. Make it a little more unconventional and make it a musical fantasy comedy about villains.

There’s precedent. Lots of precedent.

Surprise, the X-Files is Still a Confused, Unwatchable Mess

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Nostalgia is a hell of a drug.

The passage of time convinced a whole bunch of people that bringing back the X-Files would somehow reset it back to the show it was originally and not the confused, unwatchable mess it became in its later seasons.

How was that supposed to work anyway?

Nostalgia filtered out the terrible mess that the X-Files had become and people remembered the good stuff. But they brought back the zombie corpse of the X-Files to shambling life. Instead of the good stuff, they got more of that final season in which nothing made sense and nothing mattered and everyone was just phoning it in.

Is there any universe in which that wasn’t going to happen?

Star Trek got a second act in movie theaters because it acknowledged the passage of time, brought in new people and switched mediums. Without that, you got Star Trek the Motion Picture or Star Trek Phase II or the first season of TNG. The TNG movies were just more of TNG’s terrible final season made by most of the same people.

The X-Files just picks up where it left off. And where it left off was terrible. That’s the way it is for most shows that drag on for too long and lose whatever energy and craft made them work.

But don’t worry. The good folks at ScumCo Inc. will just reboot the X-Files just like they’re doing to 24 because audiences are so retarded and studios are so nervous that every intellectual property has to be rebooted so it can be kept around for all time.

Or at least until Generation X finally dies.

Paramount and its Stupid Star Trek Axanar Lawsuit

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I always wondered when a Star Trek fan film would become successful enough to draw a Paramount lawsuit. Why did Paramount go after Star Trek Axanar and not Star Trek Renegades?

Both are high profile productions. Renegades had more Star Trek cast members. Axanar made headlines for raising Kickstarter money. But it really is more of a fan film than Renegades which feels like an Abrams Trek effort to cash in on the franchise by trying to use it as material for something hipper and edgier that isn’t Star Trek.

Axanar isn’t stepping on Paramount’s turf. Paramount’s idea of Star Trek is to use it as fodder for a bunch of blockbuster action movies from the writers of Transformers.

Not a whole lot of overlap with Axanar.

But CBS/Paramount/Viacom/Whatever also decided to launch some kind of pay-per-view online Star Trek TV series and they may have decided to clear the deck of fan productions on YouTube.

But are the execs really stupid enough to think that fan series, which usually have bad acting, writing and effects, but give fans the kind of Star Trek they like, are competition for a pro series that will have nothing to do with Star Trek?

Suing fan films is stupid. Those fan films keep a fan community around. Abrams Trek and Abrams Wars make tons of money, but don’t create new fans. And the existing fans help pay the bills the rest of the year when there are no movies in theaters. They also like Star Trek content that’s more Star Trek, which Paramount doesn’t do anymore.

Paramount has been smarter than Lucas. It hasn’t gone after fan content because execs knew that fandom created unprofitable content that maintained fans who might buy things licensed by Paramount.

Although the plaintiffs have allowed ample cosplaying over the years and even permitted other derivatives like amateur Star Trek shows to circulate, the lawsuit illustrates that there is a place where no man has gone before, where the entertainment studios are not willing to let be occupied: crowdfunded, professional-quality films that use copyrighted “elements” like Vulcans and Klingons, Federation starships, phasers and stuff like the “look and feel of the planet, the characters’ costumes, their pointy ears and their distinctive hairstyle.”

That covers all the cosplaying, comic strips, parodies and every fan film ever made.

Paramount picked a really bad time for this. Abrams Trek Into Darkness and Skinny British Khan was hated by everyone. The Abrams Trek Beyond trailer is being booed. A Star Trek series needs a lot of goodwill from fans and suing a kickstarted fan series also pisses off everyone who donated to it. And with $1 million raised, that’s a lot of angry fans.

Paramount and CBS gave us this joint statement after the posting of our original article: “Star Trek is a treasured franchise in which CBS and Paramount continue to produce new original content for its large universe of fans. The producers of Axanar are making a Star Trek picture they describe themselves as a fully professional independent Star Trek film. Their activity clearly violates our Star Trek copyrights, which, of course, we will continue to vigorously protect.”

Treasured franchises don’t get canceled. Treasured franchises don’t get turned over to the writers of Transformers.

The X-Files is a treasured franchise. So is Star Wars. Paramount never treasured Star Trek. It ignored it. Then whored it out.

Why do fan films exist? They keep Star Trek alive.

A struggle over the U.S.S. Enterprise’s past and future helped sour J.J. Abrams on the “Star Trek” franchise and may have contributed to his decision to take on the “Star Wars” universe.

Yet this marketing assault pales compared to the one that Abrams and Bad Robot once envisioned for “Star Trek” and now plan to construct around the new “Star Wars” films.

Much to the dismay of Bad Robot, CBS’ merchandising arm continued to create memorabilia and products based on the cast of the original 1960s series and market them to Trekkies.

TheWrap has learned that Bad Robot asked CBS to stop making products featuring the original cast, but talks broke down over money. The network was making roughly $20 million a year on that merchandise and had no incentive to play nice with its former corporate brother, the individual said.

Paramount wanted to help J.J. Abrams kill Star Trek. But CBS was making too much money from the merchandising.

Did some Paramount exec decide that Axanar posed a brand confusion threat to some multiplatform rollout?

 

 

Dragon Age Inquisition – What Went Wrong?

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On paper, Dragon Age Inquisition was everything that Dragon Age II wasn’t. It was huge, massive and epic. It had original characters, a road story and a traditional fantasy quest.

No one could accuse it of just reusing the same bunch of locations. The Frostbite engine brought Dragon Age Inquisition close to something resembling an open world (though still with no day and night cycle) and many of them were stunningly beautiful. Even more gorgeous were the interiors of castles and fortresses. The Elven and Orlesian art were particularly amazing.

There was also an epic story. You weren’t poking around doing fetch quests in the same city for 5 years. Instead you were doing fetch quests across a vast landscape. But there was also the traditional struggle between good and evil.

So what went wrong?

1. Icon vomit – EA decided that the future was Assassin’s Creed. So all games must be AssCreedified. Bioware didn’t suddenly decide to listen to fans. They were under orders to make their own Assassin’s Creed game. And they did.

Dragon Age Inquisition was much better than the Assassin’s Creed games. You never have to follow around eavesdropping on an NPC. But it was full of the traditional AssCreed icon vomit.

DAI went crazy for collectibles. Collect tiles, collect shards, solve puzzle maps, collect gears, collect collectibles, collect icons. Worst of all, the shards and gears were door keys. And door keys were a design gimmick that died with Doom.

Some of these were voluntary, some were required to gain access, but even voluntary icon vomit is still icon vomit, it changes how the game is played and gets in the way of the story. If your landscape is filled with icons to clear, it’s not a magical place.

2. Story fail – The original Dragon Age had a good balance between a personal story and the larger struggle. Dragon Age II mired players in a boring personal story with no larger struggle. Dragon Age III is all larger struggle.

DAI had plenty of characters but most of them felt bland and lacking in depth. The central character is defined by his leadership of the Inquisition. And that means constantly being complimented to death. Personal growth is meaningless. The choices are between being polite or rude.

Worst of all, DAI Mass Effects you, dumping you at the center of a huge organization (while still having to do all the work, including micromanaging it) with strongholds you can get lost in. It’s epic, but also epically boring.

Between the icon vomit and micromanaging all the social and political tasks of the Inquisition, Dragon Age Inquisition doesn’t feel legendary. It feels like a job. CEO meets RPG.

Does anyone really want to play a game running an organization like The Inquisition?

And the story itself feels cut and pasted from a hundred other RPGs. It’s practically the story of Elder Scrolls Oblivion right down to rushing around shutting down portals to the demon realm. You’re even playing the “Chosen One”. Bioware throws in all sorts of twists and turns, but it’s not really enough.

3. None of It Matters – You can shape the Chantry or the Orlesian Empire, though you don’t much see the impact of that, and this time your choice between mages and templars actually matters. Somewhat.

The enemy is purely evil and insane. Even when it isn’t, you’re not allowed to talk your way out of misunderstandings. Instead you have to fight.

Bioware likes to pretend it gets gray areas, but all the story gray areas don’t change that you’re not allowed to play the game in shades of gray. Instead you go from pointless fight to pointless fight to cutscene. It doesn’t matter what’s in the codex if the only acceptable solution is to cut off the other guy’s head. That was the problem in Dragon Age II.

It’s still the problem.

The judgement scenes are a nice idea, but the original Dragon Age did it much better by just forcing you to confront the question of how to deal with nuanced villains. It made the game feel like a paperback fantasy novel.

Dragon Age Inquisition doesn’t feel like a story. It feels like a great engine with a lot of disconnected attachments that take you out of the story. And it gives you very little access or control over the story.

Dragon Age asked you to make personal decisions about how to save the world. Dragon Age Inquisition sets out to do the same, but somewhere along the way it again abandons player agency. Instead it flatters your ego and throws you into a simplistic story full of job tasks and fetch questions, pointless customizations and empty exchanges, instead of real decisions with consequences.

And it was a close thing.

Corypheus was always the wrong villain for the game. Solas was the right one. Instead he’s being reserved for a possible sequel. But Solas is the kind of personal nuanced villain Dragon Age Inquisition needed. Corypheus is the classic unhinged villain, a ranting egomaniac who wants to destroy everything to get his way. He has to be destroyed. But Solas wants to reshape the world while committing terrible crimes along the way.

A better game would have asked you what crimes you were willing to commit to stop him.

Unfortunately Dragon Age Inquisition wasn’t that game.

The Force Awakens is Bad Billion Dollar Fanfic

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Star Wars The Force Awakens is the same movie as the first AbramsTrek, a well-acted and well-directed jumble of fan service and incoherent story. J.J. Abrams and his team are good at milking nostalgia for the characters and look of a classic franchise. But all those callbacks and character moments are just paint on the hood of the same exact disposable incoherent CG fest that everyone else is making in which nothing makes sense and nothing matters.

The Force Awakens is a remake pretending to be a sequel. And it’s not a good remake. The Force Awakens marries the incoherent meaningless stories of the Star Wars prequels with a better class of acting and direction. If you ever wanted to see what the prequels would have looked like if they were made by a good director who panders to franchise fans, instead of tossing them aside for kiddie merchandising, the Abrams Wars movie is it.

And that’s all it is.

Harrison Ford is swapped out for Leonard Nimoy, doing his duty by passing the torch. But he’s just there to watch the brash young cast go through the motions of playing around in a theme park recreation of classic sets and moments.

The stories for Abrams Trek and Abrams Wars are so bad that they could be fanfic. But normal fanfic usually makes more sense. In Star Wars and Star Trek, the characters served the story. In Abrams Wars and Abrams Trek, the stories is just an excuse to bring characters together to remind fans of the original movies and shows.

It’s not all Abrams’ fault. But he somehow keeps making the same soulless movies that have no substance except to exploit the nostalgia and goodwill of someone’s else work.

The only thing that sets their stories apart from bad fanfic is the money and the cast. J.J. Abrams uses both to the maximum, squeezing out callbacks and references even when they don’t make any sense. And especially when they don’t make any sense. But he isn’t recreating Star Wars. He’s the kid who comes home from the theater after seeing Star Wars and makes up a Star Wars-like story in which there’s an even worse Death Star and a lamer Darth Vader, built on the biggest cliche in Star Wars fanfic and even its Expanded Universe, and some kids fighting to stop them.

And while Abrams’ fan service and callbacks look like shows of respect, they’re the prelude to covertly trashing a franchise. Abrams Trek I climaxed with the destruction of the entire Star Trek canon. Abrams Wars is moving toward those same objectives.

Abrams movies conceal their hatred for the original material they’re looting with a facade of respect right before they slip the knife in. Underneath all the flattering tributes is jealousy. As a director, J.J. Abrams hasn’t created anything new. He mashes up other people’s work and adds incoherent updates. He wants to be Spielberg, but he has no storytelling skills. He’s a good visualist, but like Zach Snyder and many other younger directors, a terrible conceptualist. He can capture the look of Star Trek or Star Wars, but not its substance. His movies play with big toys, but there’s no story behind them. There are character moments, but they don’t add up to anything bigger than the individual moment.

J.J. Abrams can bring in money for studios, but all he’s doing is turning bad fanfic into cutscenes for some video game that will never be made.

Can Justin Lin Make Abrams Trek into Star Trek?

The strange thing about the Star Trek Beyond trailer is that it actually looks like TOS. Justin Lin has talked about watching the original series and you can see it on screen.

It’s the first movie since Insurrection and ST6 that isn’t obsessed with an attack on Earth. Instead the crew crashes on a bleak planet. There are strange aliens, conflict and resolution. That’s a whole lot of TOS episodes right there.

Just having a movie focused on an alien planet, instead of another race to save Earth is already closer to Star Trek.

I don’t know the plot so maybe I’m completely wrong. But with Abrams back to his first love of Star Wars and Simon Pegg doing more of the writing than Transformers hack Roberto Orci, Star Trek Beyond might actually be closer to Star Trek than to Abrams Trek.

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is Lazy and Shitty Pandering. That’s Why it’s a Success

Ready_Player_One_coverErnest Cline’s Ready Player One is a YA Novel for middle aged men about a horrible dystopian future in which cities are being nuked and everyone lives in a giant MMO run by Will Wheaton, Cory Doctorow and the ghost of a dead Steve Jobs knockoff while listening to songs from the 80s.

Cline, a “spoken-word artist”, is a professional geek. Like Will Wheaton and Cory Doctorow. That means he’s a medium talent hipster frantically pandering to other hipsters who work in advertising, but buy Star Wars toys that they play with while drinking craft beers.

Hipsters are earnestly cynical. That’s Ready Player One, a pile of shameless fan service that starts its pandering on page one and never stops.

Ernest Cline panders to pals who can help him promote his novel. Will Wheaton and Cory Doctorow run his future MMO where most of the book takes place. John Scalzi is listed as one of the greats of Science Fiction between Roger Zelazny and Jack Vance.

He’s equally shameless about pandering to his audience. Ready Player One is mostly set in a giant virtual reality holodeck that’s equal parts D&D, EVE and World of Warcraft. It’s named OASIS and in this future world, which is cyberpunk without the punk, everyone spends their time leveling up. Unless an evil corporation named IOI or OIO or something stupid like that gets its way and makes everyone pay a monthly fee to play the game.

Cline could have just left it at that, but then Ready Player One wouldn’t have been a hit. Pandering to teens who think that a WOW fee hike is the worst thing in the world doesn’t get you a Spielberg deal. So even though Ready Player One is a YA novel complete with a whiny teen protagonist who lives on his own, is unpopular at school and has a crush on a girl, Ernest Cline took aim at the manchild demographic by dumping in 80s nostalgia.

If you know anything about Ready Player One, you know it’s all about 80s nostalgia. Ernest Cline does the least bit of work on worldbuilding that he can get away with. (Everyone’s poor, except the rich, there’s climate change, also cities getting nuked, now let’s reference three 80s movies.)

The plot has the inventor of OASIS, a Steve Jobs knockoff whom Cline admits in the book is a Steve Jobs knockoff (you know you’re derivative when you not only copy a character, but your description all but admits he’s derivative) run a contest to let anyone who solves his puzzles inherit his company and all of OASIS.

Since Jobs 2.0, a guy named Halliday, is obsessed with the 80s, The puzzles require watching War Games, playing classic arcade games and recognizing 80s references.

Cline describes Halliday as autistic and into geeky things, but he’s much more into John Hughes movies and generic 80s pop culture. Probably because Cline is. So Halliday becomes an obsessive nerd who collects SF and fires employees who don’t recognize a cartoon, but is also into Duran Duran, John Hughes movies and Heathers. He even lectures the protagonist on spending less time on the internet and getting out more.

(It’s a YA novel, even if it’s targeted at middle aged men, so it has to end with the main character learning and growing.)

The plot is predictable. He panders ruthlessly at every opportunity and the worldbuilding is hardly there. Even when he reveals the identity of Aitch, the character’s best friend, she’s a black lesbian because Cline has to check as many fake social awareness boxes as he can in one character.

And Cline is bad at characters. He’s bad because he doesn’t even try. Everyone is one note. The villain, Nolan Sorrentino, a game designer working for the evil IOI or EIO or IOO, could have been drawn as a more compelling villain with a little subtlety. Instead he twirls his mustache and acts like the dumbest hammiest villain in a bad movie.

The evil corporation brought back slavery and controls so much of the country that it can kill anyone who gets in its way, but will honor the results of an internet contest.

It’s all like that. The teen heroes are aided by a Wozniak knockoff. The main character falls in love with Art3mis because she’s a girl. There’s zero subtlety or depth.

OASIS, the center of the book, is a ridiculous mashup of the internet and an MMO. GSS, the good corporation running it, makes users pay to travel beyond its portal. The heroes are fighting to protect a system where you have to pay to visit websites. People put on goggles and gloves to visit chat rooms. It’s all lazy, stupid and played out.

But while Cline may not get worldbuilding or any other aspect of writing, he does understand pandering, which is why Ready Player One is such a hit. It’s bad SF wrapped around a YA novel wrapped around a ton of 80s nostalgia making it the perfect BuzzFeed book.

Don’t think of Ready Player One as a novel. Think of it as fourth wall fanfic, a book about people mentioning the things you like. It’s unboxing the novel. It’s BuzzFeed lists with more of a plot. It’s that guy linking to people more popular than him in softcover.

It’s absolutely shameless. And that’s why it’s successful.

Did Lester Del Rey’s First Story in 1938 Predict Hiroshima?

“I, too, went out to war, driving a plane built for my people, over the cities of the Rising Star Empire. The tiny atomic bombs fell from my ship on houses, on farms”

The Faithful, 1938, Lester Del Rey

Astounding-Science-Fiction-38-04Lester Del Rey wrote his first story to win a bet with his girlfriend. She claimed he had no right to criticize writers as a fan since he couldn’t do what they did. He proved her wrong by selling a story to John Campbell’s Astounding.

The Faithful isn’t a very good story. It’s about genetically engineered dogs trying to work with genetically engineered apes to replace man in a world where humanity is extinct. The writing is worse than the idea.

But there, early in a 1938 story, is Hiroshima.

It’s obviously not WW2. There are genetically engineered dogs flying planes in the future. But Rising Star is an obvious substitute for Rising Sun. And atomic bombs dropped on Japan eventually lead to the extinction of mankind.

That a bored fan living in a tiny three dollar a day room, working research projects, wrote to prove a bet to his girlfriend.

In 1938.

Thanks for Bringing Back the X-Files So We Can Remember How Much We Hated It

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Heroes Reborn helped remind us how much we all hated Heroes. But that’s nothing compared to bringing back the X-Files so we can remember how much we all hated that.

Chris Carter talks like the X-Files was prematurely killed off by an unappreciative corporation.

Reality check. FOX did everything it could to keep its stinking carcass going short of running the X-Files logo for 43 minutes between commercial breaks.

The X-Files ran for nine horrible years. Its producers got to launch more failed spin-offs than Aaron Spelling.

The show was only canceled because the cast wanted out. Viewers wouldn’t watch their replacements. Like the Simpsons, the X-Files spent half the time making fun of itself. The first movie came out and reminded everyone of why they stopped watching the X-Files. The second movie came out and no one watched it.

So it must be time to bring back the X-Files, said no one.

Look at the shiny trailer. Scully has a cell phone. Mulder almost grew a beard. Drones. Terrorism. Other topical stuff from ten years ago.

Shadowy hallways. Half-baked conspiracies that never pay off. The last ten conspiracies were fake. This conspiracy about shadowy elites using alien technology to bring back the X-Files will pay off. Or your six hours back.

We’re closer than ever to the truth. Mysterious phone calls. Creepy music. Shadowy informants. Total horseshit.

Hey, X-Files was fun. Early on. Like Lost, it had a lot of atmosphere. You thought it might go somewhere. It never did. But at least Lost went away. It even gave a really stupid explanation of what was going on. The X-Files was all atmosphere and no payoff. Nothing made sense and nothing was stupid enough to make sense.

You know where we can go to get that feeling today? The YouTube channel of some guy who has been stalking Bigfoot in his backyard for two years while getting high. It’s like the X-Files, but real.

I know X-Files has a fandom, but it’s mostly the real life versions of the Lone Gunmen (and they smell much worse in real life) or 50 year old women who named their cats Mulder and write fanfic in which aliens make Mulder and Scully do it.

These are not the viewers you are looking for. These are not the viewers anyone is looking for.

The truth is out there. Mulder is an obnoxious asshole whom aliens have been screwing with because they think it’s funny. Scully has a martyr complex and has been empowering him. Their kid will be taken away by child services.

And then the X-Files IP will be rebooted with Benedict Cumberbatch as Mulder and Amy Poehler as Scully with a crossover with Heroes Unborn as part of the Complete Shite Cinematic Universe and the skies will weep blood and the aliens will come to take us to a better planet on which none of this ever happened.

Why Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant Books are the Real “American Tolkien”

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Every generation a new American fantasy writer gets dubbed the “American Tolkien”. Few of them deserve it.

George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice books are popular thanks to the terrible HBO series, but Martin is the least deserving of the title. Martin is a great short story writer, but a poor novelist and his world building is terrible.  Tolkien would have hated Game of Thrones and everything that followed.

Stephen R. Donaldson is the only writer who got called the American Tolkien and deserved the title. Not because Donaldson is a better writer than Martin. He’s much worse than Martin in almost every department except epics.

And that’s the one that counts. But there have been plenty of better epic fantasy novelists than Donaldson.

What makes Donaldson deserving of the title is that he didn’t just try to copy Tolkien. Copying Tolkien was a booming industry. Stephen R. Donaldson tried to comment on J.R.R. Tolkien’s ideas.

The Thomas Covenant books are not a series about fighting orcs. Neither is Lord of the Rings. They’re about the ethical impact of the decisions we make.

Donaldson is one of the very few writers who captured the environmental scope of Lord of the Rings. The forests and plains and mountains are characters in the Covenant books the way that they are in Lord of the Rings. Both series use the environment to give the books epic scope.

But Donaldson takes everything Tolkien did to an extreme. The Lord of the Rings books are not fond of industrialization. Donaldson creates an anti-industrial society where no one even chops wood or injures stone. Instead they’re so in harmony with nature that they figure out how everything fits together. It’s very seventies, but it’s developed so that it’s the magic system and the mythology of the books.

Tolkien’s characters are conflicted about power. They worry that using it might be more dangerous than not using it. Donaldson turns that up to the highest pitch by making his main character a man who is terrified of using power and certain that it will corrupt him. Thomas Covenant makes Frodo look like General Patton.

In Lord of the Rings, the right thing isn’t what succeeds, but what is morally right. Killing Gollum would have been the smart thing to do, but not doing is what saves the whole quest and Middle Earth. Covenant spends most of the books not killing his own Gollum no matter how much harm and suffering it brings.

Donaldson often shamelessly copies Tolkien, but sometimes he effectively condenses him. Covenant’s first dialogue with Saltheart Foamfollower about the ring works much better than the similar scene with Tom Bombadil. Not to mention that splitting up the Ents into Giants and Forrestals works a lot better. And Tolkien’s own initial ideas had focused on someone from our world traveling back in time to another age, but he could never make it work.

The Thomas Covenant books are wildly eccentric, but so is Lord of the Rings. There’s no comparison in terms of quality. Tolkien is far better. But Donaldson is probably the best at closely copying much of what he achieved. The Covenant books take the same material to extremes and Tolkien would probably not have liked the results, but he would have recognized them right down to the religious influences.

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