Recent TV: The Witcher

Like many people, I recently inhaled the first season of The Witcher. I enjoyed it a lot, even if in some ways I think it’s a bit of a mess?

One part of the messiness is that the show does not do an excellent job of communicating to you off the bat that the various plotlines are not all happening at the same time. I found that out because I looked at a summary of the first episode after I watched it (which I did because often either the actors are not great at enunciating the names, or the sound editor is not great at making sure those moments are loud enough, so I was having trouble figuring out what anybody or anywhere was called), and there are a few hints here and there about the non-simultaneity, but I think it’s entirely possible not to realize what’s going on until Geralt meets up with some characters you saw die several episodes ago in someone else’s plotline.

And the structure is kind of choppy in general. Lots of Geralt’s plots are basically monster-of-the-week deals which appear to be drawn from short stories, and while they do end up echoing forward in a few places, it means he doesn’t have a lot of through-line except “I’m a monster hunter and I wander around being paid to kill monsters.” I’m told the second season and onward will be more cohesive, with the central characters interacting more frequently, so that will probably help.

Finally, the ending . . . kind of isn’t. An ending, I mean. It’s a stopping point with some amount of cliffhanger, but — if you’ve watched Nirvana in Fire, you know how the episodes there often seem to go to the credits at absolutely arbitrary points? It feels a bit like that. There’s not no payoff, but if you’re expecting a clear narrative shape to the season (as I was), you won’t really find it here.

But! Having said that, I still enjoyed the heck out of it, and that is about 98% due to the characters, dialogue, and performances. I am much more willing to put up with a main character who is stoic, grim, and frequently cynical when there’s no shortage of other characters ready and willing to take the piss out of him at every opportunity — and many of those characters are women. My impression (from those who know the source fiction and/or the games) is that this is largely an innovation of the TV show; certainly the presence of characters of color fits under that header. I’m glad of both things. The first episode alone has four women playing significant roles in the plot, and that’s before Yennefer shows up to be a protagonist. And while there’s a lot of nudity, most of it female, the show (mostly) isn’t nearly as exploitative about that as it could be — I could have done without Stregebor’s illusion of naked women wandering around his garden. They do put Geralt naked in a bathtub not once but twice, though, plus a number of shirtless scenes.

Also, Jaskier is hilarious. Geralt’s “rarr I don’t have friends rarrr” attitude means we don’t get as much of him as we might otherwise; hopefully he’s returning for season two. Even if he has earwormed us all with “Toss a coin to your Witcher.” 😛

Fair warning: do not start a drinking game that involves taking shots when somebody says “destiny” or when Geralt says “hmmm.” Not unless you want to court liver failure. Taking a shot when Geralt looks at something for a moment and then delivers a deadpan evaluation of “fuck,” though, might be entertaining.

The show is very violent, and like I said, the overall narrative structure isn’t all that hot. But I find it very pretty — the costumes are way better than on Game of Thrones — and fun on the level of smaller plots, and I’m looking forward to what future seasons do now that the component pieces are in place.

The best and worst of the Star Wars sequels

Opinions on the Star Wars sequels have been polarized from the start, and from what I’ve seen, that’s no less true of Rise of Skywalker. I don’t see much point in wading into that — if you liked it then you liked it (I did), and if you didn’t you didn’t (I’m not liable to change your mind) — so I thought I’d post about something different. Instead I’d like to step back and evaluate what I consider to be the strongest and weakest narrative decisions made overall.

Spoilers for Rise of Skywalker, since both of these things play into the final episode.


Scholarship in antiquity

I know I have at least a few people reading this journal who know a bit about this topic. 🙂

Scholars in the ancient world: what exactly did they do? What sorts of things did they write? “Commentaries,” according to the references in the things I’ve read, but what exactly was the content and purpose of those things? What other kinds of works did they produce?

What sparked this question was thinking about the Library of Alexandria and the scholars who used it, but I’m also interested in answers from other parts of the world (since the purpose to which I’d be putting this is not historical fiction). Ancient Confucian scholarship, ancient Vedic scholarship, those and more would all be interesting to know about, too.

The kinds of things I ask about . . .

I belong to an online writer’s group where I can post research questions. For my own entertainment, I made a list of the things I’ve asked about in the last two years. Some of these are for works that are out now (e.g. Turning Darkness Into Light, The Endless Knot, “Vīs Dēlendī”); others are for works I have written but not yet sold; others are for back-burner projects.

Some are more about soliciting suggestions of things of a certain type:

  • Mythological thefts (for the good of humankind)
  • Perfume blends
  • Near Eastern tales and myths
  • Folksongs
  • Archaeology-based plots
  • Celtic battle music recs
  • Slavic music recs
  • Card games played with non-numerical decks
  • Words that fit a specific pattern

But others were more about getting references or facts:

  • Scholarship in antiquity
  • 1930s British university structure
  • Life on a Saturnian-type moon
  • Bronze forging and casting
  • Probabilities for a card game
  • Ancient Roman magic
  • Length of the lunar day and orbital mechanics considerations for launch
  • Historical Chinese cuisine
  • Jewish religious law and literary genres
  • Short-term cons to build trust
  • Treasonous activities
  • Social models of friendship
  • Charting a horoscope
  • Basics of lunar landing
  • Lunar calendar based around two moons
  • Moons and tidal mechanics
  • Punishments for Buddhist monks
  • Tattoos
  • Latin gerunds [I wanted somebody to check my grammar]
  • Putting gold inside clay
  • Fire scenario: starting it, dealing with it, and fighting it
  • Russian-to-English grammatical quirks
  • Cuneiform

. . . apparently I’ve been thinking about moons a lot lately? Oddly, though, those questions are for three completely unrelated projects. Anyway, it’s an amusing cross-section of some of the things I’ve been researching over the last two years, and I’d say it’s a fair snapshot of what my fiction is like in general!

A different short fiction resolution

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times here, in both 2018 and 2019 I set myself the goal of writing six short stories. I came up one short in 2018, and then in 2019 succeeded despite making a mess of that count with flash fiction and a novelette that wasn’t intended for the submission treadmill and etc. etc. etc.

I’ve decided to change my goal for 2020.

My reasons are threefold: First, I have quite a lot of novel work pending for this year, which is going to eat a fair bit of my time and energy. Second, I rather expect politics will send me into at least a few mental tailspins before we ring in 2021, and allowing some slack for that seems like a good idea. And third, the best way to head my overachiever tendencies off at the pass before they can tell me I Have to Write Even More Than Last Year is to deliberately aim lower.

So my goal for 2020 is actually just three stories — but three specific(-ish) stories. See, a few years back I sorted my short fiction into groupings based on subgenre, and discovered that basically every grouping was either in the range of 30-40K words, or could reach that easily if I got off my duff and wrote some of the ideas that had been hanging around unwritten for years. Three of those — Maps to Nowhere for secondary-world fantasy, Ars Historica for historical fantasy, and The Nine Lands for stories in that setting — are out now. A fourth, the urban fantasy collection, is on the road to publication later this year. (Monstrous Beauty and Never After are a different ballgame, being micro-collections rather than novella-sized.)

That leaves me with three within striking distance of completion: one for folksong retellings, one for stories inspired by other kinds of folklore and mythology, and (in a surprise speed-run) another secondary-world collection, because I’ve accumulated nearly enough since publishing Maps to Nowhere in 2017 to hit that topic again. All of these are still pending the sale of multiple stories — with the exception of Never After, which was a special case, I’m only collecting reprints — but more to the point, they also each need me to write one more story for them to be complete.

Ergo, that’s what I’m going to focus on this year. My goal is not merely to write three stories, but to write stories that fit the following parameters:

1) One story based on a folksong. I have a song in mind; I just need my subconscious to cough up some interesting answers to the questions the song leaves me with. Technically I only need this to be 620 words long to get myself across the self-imposed 30K bottom limit, but I’d like a full-length story, since there are already two flash pieces in here (and those are why, despite writing two new pieces, this collection still isn’t complete). Given the song in question, though, and what I feel like the story it produces might be, I don’t think that will be a problem.

2) One based on Near Eastern mythology. This technically isn’t necessary, since the collection’s currently at 33K. But the story I unexpectedly wrote before Christmas left me in a situation where the regional groupings within the collection have four stories each, with the exception of the Near Eastern one, which has only three. So dangit, I want one more. Not sure what, though — so hey, if there are any Near Eastern myths or bits of folklore you think are crying out for poking at in fiction, feel free to suggest them in the comments!

3) One secondary-world. This is wide open; it could be anything, as long as it’s at least 3700 words long. (Which usually isn’t a problem for anything that requires me to do worldbuilding.) I have an idea I originally thought might go here, but further thought made it apparent to me that it’s going to be at least a novelette and maybe a novella, so . . . probably not? Because my imagination is fun of playing annoying and self-inflicted games, my inclination is to not have the additional story be a repeat in any of the settings currently slated for the collection, even though I have multiple ideas in that direction. I might take a crack at the story that’s the sequel to “Love, Cayce,” but that presumes I can figure out a way to write it without the sequel-ness being an obvious barrier to entry. But on my way to bed last night I realized I could take the opening incident of a potential future novel that currently has nothing but an opening incident and turn that into a stand-alone story — what I think of as a “proof of concept” story, poking at a setting and a character in short form before attempting a novel — so despite being a brand-new concept, right now that’s leading the pack.

Those are my goal. Let’s see if I can make ’em happen.

Book View Cafe’s Boxing Week Sale!

As we’ve done for the past several years, the authors’ publishing co-op known as Book View Cafe (of which I am a member, and which hosts my Patreon essays) is running a Boxing Week sale! From now through the end of the year, everything in the store is 25% off — no coupon needed. You can browse by author, or check out the different genres in the sidebar; we publish everything from science fiction and fantasy to romance, mystery, horror, and nonfiction on a variety of topics. Check it out!