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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.

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.

Why George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice Novels Suck

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I’m talking about the George R.R. Martin novels, not the terrible campy TV show that hipsters watch in soccer bars. That’s just Deathstalker the 100 million dollar TV show with a better class of actors, slightly less nudity and more gay references than a season of South Park.

I liked Game of Thrones. I liked Clash of Kings. By Storm of Swords, I was having my doubts. By Feast of Crows, the problems were too obvious to ignore.

 

1. A Song of Fire and Ice depends on soap opera gimmicks, not consistent plotting

Think of 24. The show’s plot was incoherent but it kept you watching by constantly throwing in twists and turns. An entire season made no sense but it didn’t matter because you were watching for the suspense and the shocking turn. The Following does the same thing now.

The Game of Thrones novels are a novelistic version of 24.

George R.R. Martin depends on gimmicks to make up for what he lacks in plotting. His original novels, Dying of the Light, Armageddon Rag, were big on atmosphere, but their plots made no sense. That’s still true in Game of Thrones, but Martin spent enough time working in television to borrow its plot gimmicks.

Characters are killed unexpectedly. Characters seem like they’ve been killed off, but they’re actually alive. (Martin has at least twice shown the body of a character only to reveal that he’s alive. Or is that three times?)

Some characters rise unexpectedly and then fall equally unexpectedly. There’s a name for this. Soap opera.

And just like on a soap opera, the gimmicks worked for a while until they became repetitive.

How many times have you seen this one? A character with no real battlefield experience, Robb, Daenerys, Tyrion, suddenly turns out to be Napoleon until they suffer an unexpected setback and lose everything.

All this furious activity disguises the fact that the novels are going nowhere and readers have figured it out. A lot of the frustration isn’t just because Martin isn’t writing novels, it’s because he isn’t moving the story forward. He knows he can’t move it forward. All he has is a bag of tricks. And he’s repeating them too often.

George R.R. Martin’s final trick is to sell the lack of forward motion and consistent plotting as gritty and realistic. Peel away all the gritty medievalism and it’s as gritty and realistic as Days of Our Lives.

 

 

2. Martin is good at Character, Bad at Endings

Do you know what Martin’s early novels all had in common? Botched endings. If you’re waiting for A Song of Fire and Ice sequel that gives you what you want, don’t wait. Martin isn’t capable of it. He’s a good writer, but a bad novelist.

Think of Lost. The show was great at telling the stories of individual characters. It just couldn’t do anything with them in a story. The character sketches were compelling. The story went nowhere. The ending was a disaster.

After five novels, Daenerys is the only character with a meaningful arc whose story has been advanced. Tyrion has a meaningful arc but his only job is going in circles. The less said of the rest of the crew, the better.

In Game of Thrones and Clash of Kings, Martin builds the equivalent of Lost’s early seasons. But once that’s done, like the show, he has nowhere to go. He’s bad at plot and he doesn’t care about it. Like the Lost writers, he just wants to play with character sketches. He doesn’t want to do anything more with them.

Like Lost, Martin randomly kills off characters. He brings in new compelling characters. But the real goal is a status quo in which the setting continues and nothing gets resolved.

Lost wasn’t a mystery about a secret island. Viewers just thought that. It was a way of letting the writers play with a bunch of characters. A Song of Fire and Ice is about letting Martin play with characters. It’s not about big battles or figuring out the mystery of what lies beyond the wall or how the dead can walk again. Readers just think it is.

They’ve been wrong all along.

 

 

3. George R.R. Martin isn’t Tolkien

The Game of Thrones novels are promoted by claiming that George R.R. Martin is the American Tolkien. There are writers who might deserve that honor, probably Robert E. Howard, but Martin isn’t one of them.

There’s very little original worldbuilding in Game of Thrones. Most readers never realize that because the books are told intensely through first person immersion that create a sense of unearned reality. The world seems like it exists, even though it’s very thinly sketched.

Also most of them have never read Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series. The similarities are so heavy that if Williams had the guts he could put “The Series that Inspired Game of Thrones” on the reprints and dare Martin to do anything about it. And while Williams isn’t as good at the characters or the intrigue, his world is more realized than Martin’s poor copy of it.

The pseudo-medieval European religion and history are far more realized in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Martin just tosses them out there inconsistently. He doesn’t create a compelling fantasy universe the way that Williams does. George R.R. Martin creates compelling characters. That’s a lot, but it’s not great fantasy.

Martin’s early novels and stories did do some compelling worldbuilding with the Manrealm. It could have been one of Science Fiction’s great universes. But Martin dropped it and did a lot of television. And television is the only thing he can do.

The HBO series Game of Thrones bastardized Martin’s novels, but before it did that, Martin bastardized other people’s work to create A Song of Fire and Ice.

 

 

4. Martin is a good writer, but he never learned to write novels

George R.R. Martin has written some amazing short stories and novellas, but he never learned to write novels. Instead he gave up and went into television. He still doesn’t know how to write a novel.

A Song of Fire and Ice is popular because he used television writing gimmicks to disguise that fact. But the novels stretch on indefinitely because it’s all gimmicks and filler.

Martin can’t end the series because he’s never successfully ended a novel before. Each new novel in the Fire and Ice series just drags on even more. By Dance with Dragons, Martin wasn’t even bothering to pretend that he was ending a novel. And he didn’t. It’s just a chapter in a serial. And the serial can go on forever if the audience doesn’t notice that it’s going nowhere.

Kill a character. Bring him back to life. Up. Down. It’s all an attempt to avoid another failed ending.

If Martin really wants to do right by his audience, he needs to take a break from the universe, which he’s been doing anyway, and write a separate unrelated novel, and not one of the Cards universe collections, plot it out and end it successfully. Then he can take what he learned and apply it to the series.

Not that he will. The HBO cash and all the associated merchandising money keeps flowing in. Martin has become ridiculously famous. He can keep cashing in without delivering. By the time the HBO series ends, he can copy whatever it did with the elements he laid out or he can drag it out for another ten years.

But whatever he does, A Song of Fire and Ice will be mostly forgotten in a generation. The novels are not going to stick around because Martin can’t deliver and soap operas have limited rereadability.

I wouldn’t be too surprised if Martin, like David Gerrold, never releases a final chapter, but just basks in the fame until it goes away.

 

Is Science Fiction Fandom Hopelessly Polarized?

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This isn’t just about Larry Correia and Vox Day. Or Jonathan Ross. Or Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Or Mick Resnick. Or all the rest of it. The bitter accusations and counter-accusations. The outrage and counter-outrage and counter-outrage-outrage.

Science Fiction, like a lot of publishing, rests on more than ever on writers marketing themselves over social media. That’s why we pretend that Scalzi is a good writer, when he’s actually a bad writer and an entertaining blogger.

It’s what he has in common with some other recent big names.

We have less of a fandom of writing now and more of a fandom of writers and causes. Followings of writers who are the best at online presence because they polarize and mobilize.

The Hugos have been worthless for a while, but the 2014 finalist list shows how easy it is to rig them. After Vox Day’s appearance on the list, I don’t see why any writer would even want to be associated with them.

But it’s all about the marketing. And the marketing is now all about the politics.

It’s easier to market yourself as a writer if you have controversial political views. It’s much harder if your views are ordinary, boring or if you don’t have any.

A bad writer with an entertaining and controversial online presence. A dramatic online presence. Beats a good writer with little online presence.

In a fractured marketplace where that same audience is buying movies, video game and a dozen other things, politics pulls people together. Fandoms built around writers with a commanding online presence have more power because fandom is a pale twisted shadow of what it once was.

Science Fiction is polarized because that’s what stands out in a crowded and mediocre marketplace. You can’t set yourself apart from the latest 40 urban fantasy series or Martin imitators who are growing out their beards, but you can set yourself apart by being loud and obnoxious.

Maybe this is what’s happening with our politics, but it is what’s happening with our Science Fiction. And then everyone is outraged and outraged by the outraged and no one can hear themselves talking because they’re screaming talking points at each other.

And you pick a side, any side, join in, because that’s fandom now.

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King book review

The Wind Through the Keyhole takes place between the events of Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla, the worst and best novels of the Dark Tower series. But The Wind in the Keyhole isn’t a Dark Tower novel, no matter what the book cover says, it’s three nested stories, one taking place in the Dark Tower “present” of our gang traveling on to their next destination, one that Roland tells while waiting out an ice storm, the Starkblast, and a children’s story that his younger self tells in the story to a child.

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None of those stories are very good on their own. The present frame is very brief and nothing much happens in it. Roland’s past story is the best of the bunch, but it gets tossed aside for the children’s story and once that’s done, it ends quickly and abruptly. The children’s story isn’t that good. Stephen King starts out trying to channel fairy tales but tells it in such detail and with his usual tics, abused women, evil con men, random references to 20th Century America in a fairy tale setting, that it never passes muster as a children’s story. Tim’s story is strong in places, but once the tiger and Maerlyn come on the scene, it turns into a parody of a fairy tale.

But with all that, The Wind Through the Keyhole works. It’s better than the last two Dark Tower novels, not because of its plot, but its charm. The stories aren’t very good, but they have enough world building and enough fantasy to make up for it. When he wants to be, King is still a good writer and the Dark Tower was a fantasy series that had real potential once upon a time. But King couldn’t figure out what he wanted to do with it and The Wind Through the Keyhole suffers from that same problem.

Stephen King might have turned The Wind Through the Keyhole into a full-fledged Dark Tower novel and jettisoned the Tim tale that takes up nearly half the book. It would have made for a better version of Wizard and Glass. But King already finished the Dark Tower series and trashed it while doing it. And I get the feeling that it’s really the Tim story that he cared about and that all the Roland nested stories were just a way of publishing it and selling it to a large audience.

The Wind Through the Keyhole is not the worst example of a writer selling his shopping list. It’s a pleasant book in its own way and fans of the series will want it. But what The Wind Through the Keyhole really does is remind you of what the Dark Tower series could have been and might still be.

Viewpoints Critical by L. E. Modesitt book review

Reading an L. E. Modesitt story is like sitting down on a bus next to another passenger who suddenly begins talking to you. At first it seems like he might have some interesting ideas, but then you realize he’s actually the most boring person in the world.

There are good writers and there are bad writers. Then there are mediocre writers. L. E. Modesitt is a mediocre writer. He doesn’t L. E. Modesitt viewpoints criticallack for ideas. There are plenty of ideas in Viewpoints Critical, some that are even intriguing. He’s even good enough as a world builder. He can put one word after another and even introduce the occasional stylish flourish into the mix. But his characters are cliches and his plots are dead on their feet.

Reading an author’s short stories can give you some insights into his writing. Viewpoints Critical, a collection of L. E. Modesitt’s short stories does that. And the insight is that L. E. Modesitt is a hopelessly mediocre writer. Some of his early Science Fiction stories have promise. They even read like watered down Heinlein. But that’s all that L. E. Modesitt ‘s writing ever has. Promise. Potential. And then nothing.

L. E. Modesitt is not a storyteller. There are writers who are and are deficient in everything else, but they can tell a story. L. E. Modesitt  approaches a story the way that a carpenter approaches a building project. He sets it up and builds it and it’s functional, it holds things up, but it’s also soulless, bland and boring. Give L. E. Modesitt a fantasy setting and within a 100 pages it becomes a task list with the protagonist working his way up through barrel-making (I wish I was joking) or being a police officer. Occasionally he’ll kill a bunch of people and resolve a political problem that way. Then he’ll go back to what he was doing before.

The stories in Viewpoints Critical are not that bad, but they share the same symptoms of mediocrity. Forced to set a story in the present day, strips away L. E. Modesitt ‘s worldbuilding skills and leaves him with the bland characters and the checklist. L. E. Modesitt ‘s default mode is didactic. Even when the stories don’t directly preach at you, they’re a task list of another kind. There’s no sense of wonder or surprise. Just the dull knowledge that the author has set out to do something and by the time he’s finished, it’s done.

Not all of the Viewpoints Critical stories are this bad. Some of the earlier stories have that sense of potential, but it’s very brief. L. E. Modesitt is comfortable with the didactic. Everything from the politics to the magic to the tools works in a very limited way and the story consists of him telling you how they work at great length.

There’s something to be said for that, but mostly it’s like sitting on a bus while the passenger next to you tells you in great detail what it’s like to work at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Every book and story that L. E. Modesitt writes seems to be another excursion to the Fantasy or Science Fiction version of the DMV.

Crack’d Pot Trail by Steven Erikson book review

Crack'd Pot Trail Steven EriksonBoiling down Steven Erikson’s megaword Malazan novels to something more novella size might have seemed like a good idea, but it’s an old idea bogged down by one note characters and even older lectures on the meaning of art.

Despite the cover, Crack’d Pot Trail is not a story of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, unless you count a novel where they only appear on the last page as being a story of them. It is a story of several sets of stereotypes journeying together through the wasteland and stabbing each other in the back or eating each other along the way. And I’m making it sound more interesting than it is.

Erikson introduces several poets going off to a contest, depicts them as broad stereotypes, as talentless hypocrites and parasites of various flavors, so we don’t particularly care what happens to them. Then two broad parodies of heroes, self-righteously vicious religious sociopaths. And an assortment of characters who matter less. Along with a narrator who serves as a mouthpiece for Erikson’s views.

The setup is that the group has run out of food for some reason and has begun eating the artists, deciding who to eat through an impromptu contest to decide who will be eaten. It’s a decently ghoulish premise, but Erikson doesn’t bother to credibly set it up, and while the butchery is going on, there’s a wagon driven by mules that nobody really seems to mention as potential dinner.

Erikson doesn’t care much about the credibility of the setup, because it’s only a vehicle for him to make his points about art and they aren’t very good points.

A story in which characters meet and exchange stories has potential, it’s been done many times before, but Erikson doesn’t bother much with the stories part. Brash Phlucker (yes that’s a character’s name and it should give you some idea of the nuance Erikson brings to the table here) delivers comic relief poetry. A second poet goes on about eggs as some sort of metaphor for being out of ideas. A third tells a long and overwritten love story ending in cannibalism. The narrator tells the story of the trip in Erikson’s own horribly overwritten prose.

Erikson gives us every indication of an unreliable narrator, so the twist isn’t much of a surprise. It’s just not a twist that makes much sense, since while the narrator does sic the heroes on the carriage, there was no real probability of it ending in death until some random events took place.

As a novella, Crack’d Pot Trail wouldn’t be quite adequate, as a novel it ranks with publishing your own shopping lists.

Imager’s Intrigue by L.E. Modesitt book review

Imager’s Intrigue by L.E. ModesittAs a writer Modesitt is an impressive human factory rattling off one book after another. The whole Imager series was a fairly obvious attempt to diversity his offerings after the Recluse series, but despite its early variations in the art scene and the fantasy French setting, by Imager’s Intrigue the books have hopelessly converged back to their Recluse origins with the same trajectory.

Sure all the books are basically the same. The brash youthful main character learns the study of magic, copes with a distant and uncommunicative mentor, finds a girl and marries her, and then gets down to working at some sort of job or running a business while developing skills that the other characters find ridiculously superhuman. But some still manage to be entertaining, which is more than you can say for Imager’s Intrigue which finds the main character, name long forgotten, working at his police job, married and with a kid or two, until the villains of one of the previous novels, evil capitalists, shell the Imager academy forcing him to root them out.

This sounds exciting, but really isn’t. The first third of Imager’s Intrigue reads like a log with the character getting up, going off to work and doing nothing much there. Then coming home and eating dinner with his family. The book picks up a bit after that, but not by very much. The villains are still the same old capitalists who want to overthrow a monarchy and this time there aren’t any wild cards.

By the end the main character commits genocide against them, wiping out millions of people, without even yawning. The author doesn’t find this too awful either. And even that moment happens off-screen while the main character is doing such exciting things as eating breakfast and checking in with the local police. The banality of evil would apply here, because it’s banal and evil. But mostly banal.

Heart of Veridon by Tim Akers book review

Heart of Veridon is three things blended together, steampunk, a fantasy universe and gangster noir. It’s not hard to guess which of these heart of veridon tim akersthree doesn’t fit.

Akers excels at world building, spinning out an ancient civilization with a completely different technology that dangles somewhere between magic and technology, he effortlessly populates the world with people, social classes and a working city. And then his characters open their mouths and sound like Edward G. Robinson on a bad day.

But the noir element provides the impetus for a plot that sends Jacob Burn, a thug and scion of a noble family, scrambling to uncover the secrets of his civilization. It works mainly as an excuse for taking us through the complex construction of Veridon, but it’s a poor fit with the universe.

Does Heart of Veridon make sense? Not the technology, in a universe where you have to surgically alter pilots to fly zeppelins, but the fantasy element, undeveloped as it is, holds it together. And even Born becomes tolerable after a while. The most compelling element in the book though is the theology and politics intersecting in betrayal and war.

Everything Wrong With Stephen R Donaldson’s Covenant Books in One Sentence

“In con­trast, the grass stains on her jeans had nev­er felt so fa­tal. They dragged at her steps like omens or ar­cane stig­ma­ta.”

Against All Things Ending

This probably isn’t the worst line in the book, people make lists of those, but it also captures the slow degradation of the Covenant novels until they reach this level of complete ridiculousness.

The grass stains on her jeans felt fatal? Seriously. The original three books for all their emotionalism still worked somewhat as high fantasy, and the next three books, aside from the ridiculous One Tree, worked on some level despite the extended therapy sessions. But the last three books are all One Tree. They’re not about anything except the characters agonizing and the characters are running out of things to agonize about.

Donaldson has gotten to the point where “the grass stains on her jeans had nev­er felt so fa­tal” makes sense to him as something you would want to put in a book instead of an emo song. The last three Covenant novels starring Linden are just completely indefensible. Maybe they were all hard to defend, but finally Donaldson took everything wrong with The One Tree and focused on getting it even more wrong. And there’s no point to it even.

The original books were somewhat compact, but here it takes an entire chapter for Covenant and Linden to go somewhere after he’s first summoned. Every character’s expression and interaction with other characters is described even when they don’t say anything every few pages. It’s like somebody describing a play to a blind guy and it’s so repetitive and irritating that there aren’t even words for it, except maybe carious frangible sequestery.

I’ve barely gotten three chapters into Against All Things Ending and I’m already sick and tired of it.

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