I recently finished watching the most recent episode of the long-anticipated Wheel of Time on Amazon, and felt compelled to write about it. I also will get into another long-awaited series, Foundation on AppleTV. I suppose I should say “spoiler alert!” because I will mention some plot points without giving too much away, but in truth, the main issue I have is that the stories themselves are spoiled.

Now I’m well aware of the difficulty of translating the written word into a film. Books can go into much more detail, tell us what the characters are thinking, provide background information and so on, while films must rely on things like the nuances of the actors and the overall look of the production – not to mention time limitations.

I also accept that changes are sometimes needed, and those changes may make for a better show. A good example is Stephen King’s The Shining. An excellent book, and a great movie. This is despite the fact that a character dies in the movie that lived in the book, there was no hedge maze in the book, in the book the hotel burns to the ground, and so on. Nevertheless, Stanley Kubrick managed to stay close enough to the feel and tone of the book to create something that could be enjoyed by those who had never read the book as well as the fans.

The same can be said for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. He took some liberties with the story, combined a character or two, skipped over a few events – but nonetheless produced a stunning visual version of a series of books loved by millions.

Game of Thrones on HBO also did an excellent job, until of course they ran out of source material. Once they had caught up to the books in print, they lost their way and seemed in a hurry just to wrap things up quickly and move on.

The point is, although it is difficult, and no doubt expensive, it is possible to bring a story from print to film without perverting the author’s work.

Which brings us to these two recent series.

I applaud the idea of both producers to create a series rather than movie. The Wheel of Time after all is told in 14 very long books – not counting the prequel book and two companion books. Similarly, although the original Isaac Asimov classic Foundation is told in just three books, that’s not the full story - in his later years the Good Doctor endeavored to merge his famous robot books and short stories along with his other galactic-based work into the Foundation universe. For example, in Prelude to Foundation we learn that the positronic robot R. Daneel Olivaw, who appeared in three mystery novels working with Earth detective Elijah Bailey and later in novels that continued the original Foundation trilogy, is still around 15,000 years later. As Prelude to Foundation begins he is posing as Demerzel, an advisor to the Emperor, hiding his true robotic nature from everyone. All in all, the Foundation universe encompasses at least 18 short stories and another 18 novels.

But while recognizing the difficulties of telling these sweeping tales over a series that might stretch over several years on TV, in my humble opinion, that is no excuse for what these two new shows have done to these works.

Let’s start with Wheel of Time. Full disclosure, Robert Jordan is not one of my favorite authors. I think of him as the Dan Brown of the Fantasy/Epic genre. His prose can be quite pedantic, and his female characters, although rightly praised for being strong, are also constantly pulling their braids, smoothing their skirts, casting steely glares or frosty looks, given haughty sniffs and even the occasional snort.

He also has a habit of taking several paragraphs to describe clothing, jewelry, hair styles, colors of wagons, and so on. This in itself is not a big deal, except he also will spend 200-300 pages writing about how characters are fretting and plotting as they slog through mud, snow, etc. towards some epic battle or confrontation - which is then either barely described at all when it finally occurs, or worse, suddenly we shift POV from the conflict about to start to one of the characters reflecting back on the battle after it is over.

That said, it is still a complex tale with many fleshed-out characters and lots of complicated plots and subplots. It’s estimated the series has sold 90,000,000 copies worldwide, so many readers have found it entertaining.

Enter Amazon, who decided to take on the daunting task of bringing this story to the screen. During production, they proudly announced they were sparing no expense in re-creating the fantasy world. They built an entire village for initial scenes, and completely destroyed it filming the first major action. They assembled a fine cast, including Academy Award winning Rosamund Pike as Moraine, a major player in the first few volumes.

For the first five episodes of this first season, I was actually pretty impressed. The overall look of the show was excellent, they did a good job showing the magical elements without relying too heavily on special effects, and the writing and acting were also top notch.

True, they took some liberties. One main character accidently kills a wife he didn’t have in the book. It didn’t detract from the story, but didn’t really add anything either. An important non-human character, called an Ogier, was not nearly as large as he should be nor did he resemble much the character as described on the page. Still, he was obviously not human, and I could respect that they didn’t want to resort to a CGI character or bother with forced perspectives and short body-doubles, á la LoTR.

They did the usual shortening and combining of a few scenes and split up the five main characters a little earlier and in different combinations, added some events that never occured, but still managed to introduce several key plot points in the process. Also, they presented a same-sex love affair between Moraine and Siuan, the leader of her group of magic-wielding women. This seems to be a trend in streaming series these days. Riverdale, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,  and Batwoman to name just a few have all injected LGBTQ+ or gender fluid characters, I suppose just to show they are totally cool. Doesn’t really advance the plot for any of these shows, but again, doesn’t really hurt them either.

But the end of sixth episode of the series threw away all of the good work up to that point.

Some background first:

I am currently on volume 10 of this opus, so I do not know how things end in the final confrontation between Light and Darkness. However, the basic epic story of conflict between good and evil, whether it be WoT, GoT, LoTR, Sword of Shannara, or even the original Star Wars trilogy, all follow a basic formula.

Some seemingly average person(s) living a simple life somewhere out of the way have their lives disrupted by someone who arrives from the outside world bearing news that changes their lives forever. They must leave their homes for some noble cause or cataclysmic threat, and face many hardships along the way. They usually join a group of unlikely friends/partners who at some point get separated and go off on their own story arcs, learning their own lessons and/or discovering their own inner abilities/skill/strength/courage.

Those that survive their ordeals eventually either all come together for a final confrontation with Evil, or at least each play an important role in the success of the main protagonist whether at the actual battle or not.

Most of the ten books I have read so far deal with these struggles among the main characters, plus others introduced along the way. I assume the next three and most of the last book also deal with these issues, and in the end they will either stand or fall together, and confront the Evil One in his lair.

To put things very simply, at the start of the written series, the Dark Lord has been locked away for centuries, but is slowly breaking free. Some of his minions are already loose in the world, wreaking havoc and preparing the way for him. There is a fount of almost unlimited power called the One Source that has both a female and male component. The Aes Sedai are women who can channel and use this source. Before he was imprisoned, the Dark Lord managed to taint the male component of the One Source, so that men who can use it go mad and become destructive.

Some men are from time to time able to channel, but these “false Dragons” are hunted down and cut off from the Source before they can go mad. The forces for the Light are pinning their hopes on “The Dragon Reborn”, or a prophesied man who can channel the male side of the One Source, much more powerfully than the women, and maintain control enough to face the Dark Lord in a final apocalyptic battle before he goes insane or destroys himself. One of the Aes Sedai, Moraine, has found the Dragon in Rand al’Thor, and seeks to train and protect him.

Much of the basic storyline through the books is based around that man, Rand al’Thor, and his struggles with the power inside him as he rises to promenance in the world by conquering territories and making alliances. His friends from the small village of Two Rivers – Mat, Perrin, Egwine and Nynaeve – also face many obstacles and have their own challenges and victories that will become important in later volumes.

Now, back to Season 1, Episode 6. Amazon has apparently decided to take a shortcut. In their version, no one knows which of the original five from the small village of Two Rivers might be the Dragon. Rand has shown no signs at all yet of having any ability. All five are reunited waaaaay earlier than in the books, with many key events left out or compressed. Heck, there are several main characters that have not been introduced, kingdoms and realms ignored, and a whole continent of people (the Seanchan) vital to the plot of the series are not even mentioned.

In spite of the written word, the TV series has Moraine telling the five they must all now use the Ways, a travel network outside of space/time that will let them move quickly to the Dark Lord’s prison, and attack him now before he becomes too strong. They still don’t know who the Dragon is, but she tells them they all must go and implies they all may die, even if they win. It ends with four of the five (one chickens out) entering the portal.

Obviously, I don’t know where they plan to go with this in the next episodes or next season (assuming there is one) since they are now completely off the map, but this is an egregious edit job that cuts out the heart of the whole story created by the author.

Imagine if Peter Jackson had decided that in The Fellowship of the Ring, as soon as Frodo has the One Ring they will immediately all hop on a flock of those giant eagles, fly to Mordor, and chuck it in the volcano.

BTW, an aside here. If you were Sauron, and there was only one place in the whole world where your power could be destroyed, wouldn’t you perhaps place a guard or two hundred at the entrance? Or install a gate? Maybe at least put up an “Authorized Personnel Only” sign?

But I digress.

Maybe it was all a marketing thing, and they wanted a way to wrap it up in two seasons if the numbers weren’t good. Perhaps if they have the ratings, they will somehow manage to merge back into some sort of semblance of the source material. Who knows, maybe we’ll find out the One Source is just an effect caused by George Lucas’ midi-chlorians. But for now, I can’t help but feel that 90,000,000 fans are somewhat perturbed at this gross distortion of a well-loved series.

Which brings me to an even worse abomination currently streaming on AppleTV, a show they claim is “Based on the Foundation Novels of Isaac Asimov". I have already whined on Facebook that the opening credits to Foundation should be changed to "Based on what this drunk guy our writers met in a bar once who read the books thirty years ago told them what he could remember about the first one, plus a bunch of crap we made up just for the heck of it while looking at a picture of Asimov".

It’s hard to know where to begin on this monstrosity. Yes, the visuals are beautiful, and yes, they have done some wonderful things with special effects and world creation. I can’t even fault the acting or the dialogue. But the show thus far has been an incredible disappointment, and an insult to the source material.

I know it is hard to tell a story that stretches over five hundred years or more and would require new heroes and villains in almost every episode. But to get around this, the producers decided to create an entirely new plot, introducing an Emperor who clones himself to extend his rule. It would have made more sense to base it around a character who already existed in the text and is central to the whole story – positronic robot R. Daneel Olivaw. He could possibly been used as a narrator who slips into the action in one guise or another from time to time. But no, instead they do have Daneel appear as imperial advisor Demerzel as per canon, but for no apparent reason made him a female robot that the Emperor is aware of, rather than a servant of humanity working in secret behind the scenes.

Not that changing the sex of a character alone is necessarily a bad thing. In some cases, it can even enhance the story. A good example is the early-2000’s reboot of Battlestar Galactica. The writers took the campy, stereotypical macho-man fighter pilot Starbuck from the original series and transformed it into top fighter ace female character Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, greatly improving the role and opening new plotlines and backstories for the show.

Also, Asimov was not one to have a lot of female characters central to his stories (which he moved to correct with Bayla, her granddaughter Arkady, Gladia, Vasilia, Dors Venabli – come to think of it, a female was key to the invention of positronic robots backing his stories written in the 50's, so maybe not quite so bad as that), so I have no real objection to Apple deciding to also make Gaal Dornick or Salvor Hardin female. Doesn’t affect the plot.

However, Gaal Hornick is supposed to lead the Second Foundation, whose secret location they have casually changed from Trantor (the capital of Empire) to Hari Seldon’s home world, Helicon. For those who have not read the series, this alone destroys most of the plot lines in the second and third books of the trilogy, as well as a few subsequent novels.

They also present Salvor as a fighter in the protective force of Terminus. In the book, he was Mayor of Terminus, and achieved success through political maneuvering, not through capturing a lost star cruiser or fighting and killing invaders.

I could go on and on here with things that would mean little to those not familiar with the source material. The misrepresentation of the Time Vault and what it is all about, the invasion of Terminus that never happened, and many, many, more. Perhaps worst of these “minor” flaws is that Seldon is supposed to live to be a very old man, confined to a wheelchair. Instead in the series he is stabbed and apparently killed by Raych, a boy he adopted as his son and who is presented in the book as someone who loved Hari deeply and is one of his biggest admirers and supporters.

All of these terrible aberrations fade to insignificance however in the face of one glaring alteration that goes to the very heart and soul of most of Isaac Asimov’s stories. As I mentioned, Apple made R. Daneel Olivaw, a positronic robot, female in the show and present him as Demerzel. They never mention the name Daneel, but it is made clear that (s)he is a robot. The problem is not that he is female. Over the 15,000 years of his secret quest to guide and protect humanity, he no doubt masqueraded as countless personas, both male and female.

Even those who have never heard of Isaac Asimov may have heard of “The Three Laws of Robotics”, which he created back in the 50’s and carried on through all of his robot tales. They have been picked up or referenced in many sci-fi works. Even Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation mentions them as gospel. These laws are described as mathematical pathways burned into the brains of all robots that cannot be removed or altered without destroying the robot. This is canon, and central to many a tale.

The First Law is stated as “A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm”.

This law is sacrosanct. It cannot be violated. (Note: It is true that in one novel, Solarians had programmed their robots to redefine human as “Solarian native”, but this was a rare exception and decried by all who learned of it). A robot who attempts to do so will burn out its positronic pathways and cease to function. Even discussing harm to a human will cause them to stutter or stumble. Robots have suffered harm from merely witnessing injury to a human they are unable to prevent – even just observing an injured or dead human after the fact causes them operational difficulty. Asimov has written tens of thousands of words exploring the possibilities and conflicts that could arise out of the working of the Three Laws. It is at the heart of many of his best-loved works.

A positronic robot absolutely cannot harm, much less kill, a human. Done deal.

Apallingly, AppleTV has ignored that  dictum. Demerzel (Daneel) in the TV show has killed two people so far. It is true some may argue about the first murder, “Well, the robot didn’t actively kill her, it just had poison on its skin that transferred to the victim”. Sorry, but by allowing her to touch the poison, that violated the "or through inaction allow" clause.

Anyway, in a direct middle finger to the First Law in the second murder, the robot, while hugging someone she is supposed to be sworn to protect, suddenly grabs the human’s head and twists it sharply, breaking his neck.

Oops? Minor glitch, so sorry, all better now?

It is impossible to overemphasize how blasphemous and outrageous this is to the average Asimov reader. Imagine if a movie about Mahatma Gandhi decided he would fund his fight for independence for India by operating a barbecue pit beef franchise.

If I were in charge of the Asimov or Jordan estate, I would be suing the living daylights out of everyone involved in these travesties. This is the legacies of the authors they are perverting and distorting in the pursuit of milking cash from the millions of fans around the world.

And that’s what it comes down to for me, as an author myself. While I’m a big fan of Asimov and merely meh about Jordan, I am outraged that the work they both devoted much of their lives to creating, that they poured so much of themselves, their dreams, and their hearts into, can be so callously defiled and discarded by those seeking to make money off of their reputations.

Shame on Amazon and AppleTV for strip-mining two favorite classics for short-term profits.