Wheel of Time: The Gathering StormThis weekend I finished reading the new Wheel of Time novel, The Gathering Storm. Now that I’ve read it, I can definitely say that Brandon Sanderson was a good choice to finish the series from Robert Jordan’s notes, and that splitting the final book into three was the right approach. It may be a doorstopper, but it would be difficult to cut more than a tiny amount without diminishing the impact of what remained.

No spoilers unless you don’t want to know which characters appear in the book. In which case, stop reading now. It focuses primarily on Rand, Egwene, and their respective entourages, though most of the other major characters make appearances. If I were to guess, the next book (Towers of Midnight) will probably focus mainly on Rand and Mat, and maybe Elayne. Katie reminded me that the title is a Seanchan reference, plus there’s another mission — well, quest, really — being built up involving a tower. (Not to mention the White Tower and Black Tower, of course!)

As in Knife of Dreams (and unlike Crossroads of Twilight), things happen in this book! There’s a growing sense of urgency throughout the novel, and everyone who can is pushing hard to have everything in place for the coming apocalypse. For some characters it’s a personal journey. For others it’s political. And for some, it’s simply geographical.

As far as meshing with the rest of the series goes, the only thing that stood out for me was that points of view would switch in the middle of a chapter more often than I expected. It’s not that Robert Jordan never did it, but I remember it being rare outside of the prologues. Brandon Sanderson is more likely to take what would have been two shorter, thematically linked chapters and combine them into one. Katie also noticed one spot early on that one character from Tarabon didn’t speak with the Taraboner dialect — but only the one instance, and one in which the phrasing would have been awkward. It still reads like a Wheel of Time book.

I wish Robert Jordan had been able to finish his epic himself, but it looks like we’re getting the next best thing.

The first episode of Flash Forward is one of the best-constructed pilot episodes I’ve seen in a long time, especially of an arc-driven series. (I’ve been trying to think of the last show I saw where I didn’t feel like it took the cast or story a few episodes to get up to speed, and all I can come up with is Firefly.) In one hour, it managed to introduce a slew of characters, show the major world-changing event that sets the arc in motion, pose serious questions (both story-wise and philosophically), force characters to change, set up conflicting agendas and points of view, establish a mystery or two, and find a thematic conclusion to the episode that doesn’t feel like it’s just the first hour of a two- or three-hour show.

Most shows would take two hours to do all that, or pick and choose to cram it into one. (They even found time for a car chase.)

One of the things that really impressed me was that, just using one episode’s worth of characters, they showed the beginnings of so many totally different ways of looking at humanity’s glimpse of the future, whether through hope, fear, or simply confusion. From what they said at Comic-Con, one of the ideas is to be able to expand this to theoretically anyone in the world.

The extended preview of upcoming episodes (a flash forward to Flashforward!) seemed to be making a great effort to say that yes, they’ll be answering questions, and no, you won’t have to wait 3 years to find out what the heck is going on (unlike that other show with Sonya Walger, Dominic Monaghan, and Oceanic Airlines).

There were a couple of moments that I thought were forced, though the only one that really stands out was the immediate juxtaposition of the “we’re being punished” and “this is a gift” reactions.

Adaptation

They did a good job of taking the source material, Robert J. Sawyer’s novel Flashforward (I’m getting really confused as to whether the TV series has a space in the title or not, but the book definitely doesn’t), and making something that’s recognizably the same idea, but telling a new story with it. It has the benefit of all the thought he put into it:

  • What are all the consequences of everyone blacking out for two minutes?
  • If everyone experiences his or her own future at the same instant, what about people who are asleep at that time?
  • How do you determine whether people are seeing different possible futures or the same future?
  • How do you determine whether the future can be changed? (It’s a common enough storytelling trope, but how would you scientifically prove it?)

And so on. But they can tell a larger story, with more characters…and still surprise people who read the book. I don’t know whether they plan on using a similar explanation for what caused the event, or whether the TV version will come down on the side of “The future is not set” or “You can’t fight fate” (though I expect it will be the former, for storytelling reasons). And there was a moment a few minutes before the end that just came out of nowhere and left me thinking, “Wait, what???

The book is definitely worth reading, especially if you like science fiction of the “what would happen if…?” variety, and it looks like it probably won’t spoil much.

Earlier this month I read Robert J. Sawyer’s novel, Flashforward. It’s about what happens after, during a scientific experiment, the entire population of the world blacks out for two minutes and sees a vision of what they will be doing twenty years from now. It focuses on the question of free will, and looks at the different ways people might react to learning exactly what their future has in store.

Like most of Sawyer’s stuff, It’s a good, fast read that makes you think. It’s also been in the news lately, since ABC is developing it as a TV series to pick up the Lost audience as that show wraps up, and they’ve been announcing casting for the pilot.

I’ve posted a review of Flashforward at Speed Force (update: moved to Kelson Reviews Stuff).

The Born QueenWe’ve both finished reading The Born Queen, the conclusion to Greg Keyes’ The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone. Yesterday we spent the day reading in tandem on the couch: I read book 3, Katie read book 4, and finished within an hour of each other. Determined to catch up, I read 100 pages last night and spent this morning and afternoon reading the final book.

It was well worth the wait.

The series is set two millennia after humans, led by Virginia Dare (explaining where the lost Roanoke colonists went), overthrew the demonic race that had kept them as slaves for generations. Virginia had discovered how to harness the sedos power, essentially magic. The last of humanity’s oppressors warned them that the sedos would eventually destroy their world. Of course, no one believed him.

2200 years later, this corner of the world is not unlike Europe in the early Renaissance. Except that the church is based on the sedos, in the person of saints, and its priests walk the paths to harness the sedos powers.

The world is also beginning to rot. Things of nature are dying, human alliances are crumbling, and terrible creatures thought to be myth are walking the earth. There are several factions who claim that they want to save it, but their true goals are suspect, and their methods differ greatly. The various viewpoint characters are thrust into the middle of things without any real sense of what’s going on: a holter, a princess, a novice priest, a knight, a swordsman, a composer and a queen.

One of the things I find so fascinating about this series (as I mentioned when I first read The Blood Knight) is the fact that everyone is acting on partial information. This makes them screw up, sometimes mildly, sometimes horrifically. And there’s a curveball that comes about 1/3 of the way into The Born Queen that turns everything on its head.

I don’t think it’ll give too much away to say that one of the key struggles in this book is for control of the sedos. Even 100 pages from the end, I wasn’t sure which faction would give the world a better chance of surviving.

Music also figures importantly, starting with the second book, where it’s learned that certain combinations of sound can have a profound effect on the human psyche. I found myself wondering whether Keyes had someone set any of the songs to music.

By the end of The Born Queen, most of the major questions about what’s really going on have been answered. Of course, they’re answered in pieces, by different characters with different agendas. The major characters’ arcs reach (mostly) satisfying conclusions, with some finding what they want, some finding what they need, some doing what needs to be done, and some getting what they deserve.

It’s weird to finally be done with the series, which started around the same time as this blog. The first post that I made that wasn’t “Hey, look! I have a blog!” was a review of The Waterborn and The Blackgod, Greg Keyes’ first novel and its sequel. In it, I mentioned looking forward to The Briar King when it came out.

Justice League New Frontier DVD.One of the highlights of WonderCon this weekend was the premiere of Justice League: The New Frontier. I really liked Darwyn Cooke’s original mini-series, DC: The New Frontier, and I’d been looking forward to the animated adaptation. Overall, I’d say the film succeeds.

The story links the dawn of the Silver Age of comics, and the formation of the Justice League of America, with the dawn of the Space Age, set against the political background of the Red Scare. It focuses most heavily on Green Lantern-to-be Hal Jordan and on the Martian Manhunter, but touches on Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and the Flash as well.

What Works

Cooke’s drawing style and the 1950s retro look to the artwork both translate well to the screen. Continue reading