It’s not exactly Vintage Science Fiction Month anymore, but just because I let this one slip last week doesn’t mean I’m not going to post a review of Poul Anderson’s Fire Time. As I remember it, I picked up Fire Time at a used bookstore a few years ago thinking it was a fantasy or sword and planet. It is not, being rather very much hard science fiction. (The High Crusade is the only other Poul Anderson I’ve read, but apparently Anderson wrote fantasy, space opera, and hard science fiction all.)
I’ve said before that John Maddox Roberts is neck-and-neck with Robert Jordan for best writer of Conan pastiches, but that he gets Conan better than any other writer of pastiches I have read. Conan the Valorous helps firm up my conclusion. Setting a Conan story in Cimmeria is a ballsy move, but Roberts is the right writer to pull it off.
Goodreads used to give you nifty little pie charts divvying up your books read in a year by genre or however you categorized your books in shelving them. Google (as Google does) discontinued the tool they used to generate the pie charts, though, and Goodreads never bothered to replace them. I didn’t get around to counting up my books by category until after I published my year-in-review. When I finally did get around to it, I was shocked to learn that I only read one(!) vintage speculative fiction book in 2021. That simply will not do. At least I have a book resolution for 2022 now. I kicked things off with A Fighting Man of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ seventh Barsoom novel.
(January, of course, is an ideal month to read vintage speculative fiction, because it is Vintage SF Month.)
Seven books in, and Edgar Rice Burroughs has still got it. A Fighting Man of Mars clocks in as my third favorite Barsoom book. Its plot doesn’t crackle with the same energy as The Gods of Mars, and it isn’t as wildly (and effectively) inventive as The Chessmen of Mars, but both plot and worldbuilding is superlative, with an immense amount of each squeezed into just 200 pages.
Our long national nightmare is over. 2021 has passed and 2022 begins. Only, on one hand, the word “over” doesn’t really fit when we are facing another wave of COVID, and, on the other hand, I actually had a really good year. Work is going well, my daughter continues to be the light of my life in the interstitial spaces between tantrums, we are getting settled into our new house, I am home in the mountains, and—for the really big news—we have a son on the way in the very near future.
What Friday would be complete without a Wheel of Time post? I’m not quite ready to give up on writing about the show yet. I recapped and reacted to each and every episode in basically real-time, but an episode-by-episode analysis and evaluation doesn’t necessarily line up with a whole-season analysis and evaluation. Sometimes a season is greater than the sum of its parts, sometimes it is less. I liked 6 of the 8 episodes in season 1, but I am sour on the season as a whole. Worse, I don’t have faith in the show team for fix its issues in season 2. Let’s break things down.
There are a couple primary problems with Amazon’s adaptation of The Wheel of Time. The first is a lack of respect for the source material. The second, and more serious, is that the show creators are not very good at making television. Outside of casting, there are deficiencies across the board. Maybe they will get better, and maybe pandemic disruptions are to blame, but this does not bode well for the series going forward.
SPOILERS abound below. Mostly for the first season of the show, but there will be book spoilers sprinkled in as well.
Changes in adaptation are inevitable. Making a TV show is a messy, collaborative process that demands endless tradeoffs. It’s an iceberg, because it happens almost entirely out of the public eye and, frankly, I know little about making talkies. But there is no reason to judge an adaptation any less critically than anything else. A careful viewer ought usually to be able to see why a change was made, whether or not they agree it was prudent. Far too many changes for the Wheel of Time show still baffle me. There are a couple of changes that seem minor, that are minor, but that nonetheless seem gratuitous, like an intentional shot taken at the source material. And choices have consequences. The biggest problems with episode 7 come from three dubious choices made in episode 6.
All that being said, episode 7 is probably the best episode of the season. It is a much better episode than episode 6. There are a couple of great scenes I have been waiting for all season.
SPOILERS abound below. Mostly for the first seven episodes of the show, but there will be book spoilers sprinkled in as well.
I’ve been pretty lenient with the book changes up to this point. A certain amount of leeway is necessary—the change in format requires changes in storytelling, and any creator worth their salt is going to put their own spin on things. But I have also watched the changes with deep concern—Robert Jordan wrote a series that has sold tens of millions of books; Rafe Judkins made Chuck. There is no reason to play blind trust in the latter, and if he approaches the project with vanity we should expect bad results. Game of Thrones is the model here: Benioff and Weiss did a great job adapting existing content but failed badly when forced to create their own.
My concerns remained muted through episodes four and five. Shifted forward exposition and worldbuilding can be justified, and the quality of the original and changed material was very high. After episode six, though, it is clear that Rafe is devoting far too little attention and time to the actual material from book one, and his original/changed material is markedly weaker than in the previous two episodes.
SPOILERS abound below. Mostly for the first six episodes of the show, but there will be book spoilers sprinkled in as well.
I couldn’t resist the premise of the Iron Dragon trilogy—using advanced knowledge to build a space program from scratch in Viking Europe. I very much enjoyed book one and book two. But those books tended to be heavier on human-human and human-alien conflict relative to the technical challenges of the Dark Ages spaceship program than I would have liked. The human and alien threats remain, but The Voyage of the Iron Dragon really focuses on the technical challenges. Finally!
The strident pleas of book hipsters and show apologists notwithstanding, after five episodes we have a sense of what we are getting from Amazon’s adaptation of a landmark work of epic fantasy. A high production value work that mostly looks gorgeous but retains occasional discordant notes. An adaptation that feels like the Wheel of Time and invests heavily in foreshadowing things that sometimes will not happen until far down the road, but that sometimes makes curious and unnecessary decisions to cut book material and maybe doesn’t really understand core themes of Jordan’s work. A show growing more confident in its storytelling but is more confident in original material than adapted material. I am pleasantly surprised by how much I have been enjoying the show, but I walked in with low expectations (and I do still have my gripes and concerns).
SPOILERS abound below. Mostly for the first five episodes of the show, but there will be book spoilers sprinkled in as well.
My posts will start with a recap then give a reaction. The fellowship is still (almost entirely) split, but I will keep my recap in show order this time.