There are going to be spoilers here that while vague and abstract might give a good hint about how the first season of the show develops.

Before I write what’s left in my memory about the new Twin Peaks I thought I’d write down about the “mythology” behind Dark, a recent miniseries on Netflix that I watched when it aired (so this too has been a while). I’m only writing on the mechanics of time travel.

The aspect I want to focus on is that Dark is built on the same conceptual mistake that can be found in “Arrival”. Both of these try to reach up for some sophisticate science/mythology that awes the average spectator, but that breaks completely down with careful analysis. When I saw Arrival I ended up writing SEVERAL walls of text to analyze it from every angle possible. This time, thanks to that heavy lifting I did back then, I’ll go straight to the point without being too pedantic.

Both Arrival and Dark (or Dark limited to its first season) are built on a fundamental principle of “time travel” that set itself apart from the tradition of time travel mechanics in fiction and movies like “Back to the Future”. In that case a modification of the past creates a new timeline, so the output of that method is a branching reality like a multiverse of possibilities. Every small change creates a brand new universe. And this way of seeing time travel is so widespread in popular fiction that all of us are able to conceptualize and understand it without any problem. It’s part of us now.

But Arrival and Dark use instead a new concept: time is a solid. That means that even if time travel happens, it only “causes” events to happen in that precise determined way. Change is always “apparent” because things are (pre)determined to go only in a certain specific way. Time as a solid means that time is fixed and unchangeable. In Arrival information can travel through time, from the future to the past, but only to make so that events happen exactly as they are “meant” to happen. Time as a solid means there’s only one timeline and it all happens “at once”. There effectively are no “loops”, and no branches and alternative timelines.

What happens in Arrival is that a woman starts experiencing events in the future the same way we would normally have memories of our past events. As if her memory stored past and future events both. Eventually even letting her reaching for information only available in her future to use this knowledge in her “present” time, effectively making that information travel through time. This of course possible because the concept at the foundation, as already explained, is that time is fixed. It can be “known” (hypothetically) because it’s already determined and so, in a certain way, always available.

This leads to a kind of paradox or counter-intuitive scenario where this woman would have in her “present” time a memory of a future event, and then when the times comes she would have to live again that event as if she was an actress tying to mimic exactly that scene the same way she remembers it.

Since thinking about this stuff can be very confusing and mind-bending, I’ve shaped an example that’s extremely simple and intuitive, and still retains all the features we’re examining here.


– Let’s reproduce the same scenario. The hypothesis that time is fixed, and there’s a woman who can see the future because that future is already determined.

A room, two chairs, me (just a normal being who can’t see the future) and this woman (who can indeed see and know the future). I simply ask the woman to decide and then say aloud between two options: A and B. Letting her know that if she says A, then I’ll say B. And if instead she says B, I’ll say A. (and that’s exactly what I want to do as soon she speaks)

Here’s the trick: before the woman makes this choice I ask this:
“This experiment is meant to prove to us that you can indeed see the future, and that the future cannot be changed. So I simply ask you, what is the next thing I’ll say, A or B?”

This is the experiment. It goes without saying that, if the thesis is right, then time is fixed and the woman knows EXACTLY the next thing I’m going to say. Time cannot be changed, so there cannot be any other option beside what she already knows. BUT, this experiment is built so that as soon the woman offers her answer of what I’m going to say next, I’LL SAY THE OPPOSITE. Because that’s exactly what I told her. If she says I’m going to say A, then I’m going to say B, breaking her prevision.

I’ve now offered this thought experiment to quite a number of different people to see if someone offered a new angle and prove what I’m saying has some kind of flaw. But the reaction is generally always the same. Usually people suppose there’s something wrong with the way the experiment is built, so they’d generally say, for example: she can’t answer because she knows that then it would produce a contradiction, so she’s in a position where she just will stay silent.

The problem with this explanation is that people want to cling to their intuitive model instead of realizing that the model itself is broken. This thought experiment has a solution, instead. The solution proves there’s a fallacy at the presumption the thought experiment is based on.


The paradox is easily solved. The concept of time as a solid is built on the premise nothing can be changed and so follows a complete description, set in stone. There’s nothing incorrect in this premise. The mistake is built on the next aspect: the presumption that the state of this system can be “known” from inside the system (like this woman who can see future events) without this knowledge producing any effect on the system itself.

What happens in this scenario, when built correctly, is that whenever the woman receives memories from future events, those memories are new information that is going to ALTER the system. This means, in ALL cases, that every information about the future WILL alter the future.

I repeat: if time is truly a solid there’s nothing wrong. But if time is a solid then it cannot be possible to take information from a future moment and give it to an agent (this woman) in a different moment leaving the system unchanged. This creates a recursion where information in the past has to account for itself in the future, then goes back in the past, causing the future to shift again, and so on and so on. In technical terms this system never closes and continues to grow without reaching a final state. So creating an infinite recursion where we will never obtain a fixed state. And so a system where future events can’t be known because the time is always shifting, which is the opposite of the premise “time is fixed”. It cannot be fixed if it can never reach a closure and so a final state.

Applied to the thought experiment above the result is that when the woman receives information from the future (for example that she says A, and I’ll say B), and then she correctly predicts and say B, by saying that she ALTERS the flow of time, so that I’ll instead say A. But this will alter again the future, so she’ll instead know I’m going to say A, and so she says I’ll say A, altering AGAIN the future and making me say B, which will change again her vision of the future, and so on and so on.

“Time is fixed” presumes there’s a final state, and that this state is then recorded and unchangeable. But what I’ve proven is instead that if you build this system under those rules what you obtain a system that is caught in a recursive loop similar to the concept of “infinite regress” so that this system can never possibly close, so denying the possibility of eventually reaching a fixed final state.

So you’ll ask, how does “Dark” fit in this picture? Dark (trying to not spoiler too much) shows characters who see themselves doing things in the future. Then the time comes, and they do EXACTLY what they previously saw.

It’s stupid. Because as I’ve explained here knowledge of the future necessarily changes it. In fact Dark seems built on the premise everyone’s an idiot. It cannot afford thinking characters because there’s no way to make it work that way. They have to somewhat wave all that away and “make believe” in a clumsy way and convenient Deus Ex Machina. That guy couldn’t make 1 + 1 and so ended up doing the same thing he tried to avoid. Because time is fixed? Nope, because he’s stupid and because if he wasn’t the plot wouldn’t work.

Both Dark and Arrival take a concept that is quite valid. The hypothesis that time might be “fixed” is a good one. That’s why people naturally accept it, and it’s already famous because it’s part of Nietzsche’s Eternal Return. The point here is that Nietzsche wasn’t an idiot and he didn’t make THAT mistake. The mistake of imagining time as fixed AND giving that information to entities that are part of the system without realizing that doing so creates an infinite regression.

If we imagine a system where time is fixed, all is correct. There’s nothing “paradoxical” about it. Just as long the information on how this system evolves can only be known when you observe the system without interfering with its process (like observing from outside). But if you take this information and you push it INSIDE the system, then this information HAS TO account for itself and alter the system. Because it’s brand new information that perturbs the system and sends it in a new state. And having done just that means that time isn’t anymore fixed: you created a recursion that never produces a fixed closed system.

Recursive systems are a bitch. Please handle with care, especially if you don’t know what you’re dealing with.

When I criticized the conclusion of “The Leftovers” TV show I relied on my own alternate theory and on the fact that the official explanation was instead brittle to the point of being objectively unacceptable.

So, in my mind I groped around to explain this concept. I knew what I meant, but I struggled to manifest it. Today, I found out that there’s a scientific concept that is built exactly on that idea. So I can finally explain concretely what I meant with a more universal evidence.

For me the show already went past a threshold and reached a breaking point with episode three of the very first season. There was something in that episode that was like a statement, a line being drawn on the ground that wouldn’t have allowed going back anymore. No matter how many more episodes and seasons there were going to be. Now I know that breaking point isn’t just an abstract, subjective idea, but a well known scientific concept that is instead quite concrete.

The thesis the finale completely relies on is that what is being shown has to remain “ambiguous”. That means that even the weirdest events that you see always have a “scientific” explanation and a more magical one. The whole show thrives on that ambiguity, keeping both paths open and never explicitly choosing one.

But as I said, I think instead that the show made a crucial mistake already at episode three. That means that instead of remaining ambiguous, the show actually made a “statement”, by showing something that I consider unambiguously impossible. That is: episode three shows something that can ONLY have a magical explanation. Hence, that episode codifies the rest of the show as something that only appears as ambiguous, but that has instead one solution only. Like a collapse of the wave function: those two superpositions collapsed into one, already with episode three.

What’s this breaking point about? It’s all about reverend Matt winning at the casino after following the will of the god. The show simply wants us to accept that outcome as a statistical but still plausible anomaly. But it is not. In my head this event was already way past the threshold of ambiguity because it was a lot more than an anomaly.

One thing is to consider the “anomaly” of red three times in a row related to the totality of the games happening in that casino. In this case “three times red” is going to happen relatively often. It’s far from impossible. But if a specific person “decides” at a specific moment that red is coming out three times in a row, and this does indeed happen right at that moment, then in my mind this statistical event is shot way beyond what can be considered plausible, and right into a magical realm. Because we aren’t more seeing an anomaly that is made possible by a large sample, it’s instead an anomaly right when it’s “desired”. That’s the threshold.

Today I found out there’s a scientific concepts to determine exactly that: a way to scientifically decide when en event just cannot have a rational explanation (to simplify):

I’m not an expert of that stuff, so I don’t know if my thesis is actually right. But now I know that it is possible to study that episode to determine if it’s actually true that Matt winning three time at that precise moment constitutes something that goes under the p-value. It can be objectively measured.

The concept of p-value works even in reverse: if we know the system isn’t rigged, and the result goes below the p-value, then it means that something “magical” happened (a relationship between the god and the winning). That there was an interference. That in this case is obvious: the writers of the show intruded in the fabric of that dimension. So, either you consider that as a “writing mistake”, or, as I did, a statement that “collapses the wave function”. That makes The Leftovers come out of its ambiguity and take one path explicitly.

I might be right, I might be wrong. But it can be calculated.

(p-value also needs more contextual evidence, if you read carefully, and the show provides plenty of it, even if you could ideally write that out as “poetic license”. The contextual evidence is that the number “3” is echoed explicitly through the whole episode. Providing more and more statistical anomalies that would contribute lowering the p-value.)

This was the first time for me, with Twin Peaks.

When it premiered over here it was like a huge wave. I didn’t watch it but the day after at school *everyone* was talking about it, so I was only caught in that hype and wave of interest that followed. For me it was more interesting because how everyone seemed enthralled by it, more than the murder story itself. No one was speaking of the more mysterious parts, probably because those were relatively hidden at the beginning.

But I had missed that train and of course I didn’t want to start watching it without the first episode. Some time later, probably even a year, the first episode was broadcasted again, and I was ready in front of the television. But for some reason I got interrupted after half an hour and missed the rest, so even this second train was missed.

Only many, many years later I caught it once again on television, deep in the night. But I think it was already somewhere in the middle of the story, maybe even the second season. It was pretty much impossible to follow what was going on, especially because I have already problems recognizing and remembering faces and names, and trying to understand Twin Peaks through some random episode is quite impossible. But I caught some sequences in the Black Lodge, enough to realize this had a broader vision than a straightforward murder drama. It had a haunted, dreamy atmosphere that set it apart. And at that time I already knew David Lynch quite well anyway.

Last June instead I went through both season 1 & 2, and it was essentially a fresh experience since my knowledge of the series still had been fairly limited. This means that for me Twin Peaks was an experience that followed LOST and X-Files, and, in some way, it was diminished because of that.

I absolutely loved the whole series and I haven’t really perceived that sharp dip of quality that people say is supposed to happen after episode 9 of the second season. And yet I watched carefully with my attention also focused on these aspects. My personal impression was that there was some kind of parabolic decline, a smoother downward curve, and whose seeds were planted already within the first season. I didn’t notice any sharp turns.

The major surprise for me was that I went in expecting something dense with its own mythology and mystery, instead I found a story that was surprisingly simple and straightforward. There wasn’t that much to speculate about, and those elements that were there seemed to have their own function in a relatively simple way. The whole thing was somewhat “transparent” to me. And actually it’s the second season that tries at least to toy around with the mystery, sometimes in a really clumsy way but at least more explicitly.

This is why my interpretation of the classic Twin Peaks, its concept, seems also different from how everyone else would probably describe it. For me Twin Peaks is firstly a blatant parody of an established genre, a parody of soap operas. Filled with improbable but still charming characters, doing quite silly things. Yet it elevates itself from a simple parody because it takes itself seriously, there are moments that are genuine and dramatic. But all the mystery is only an undertone, a vein of inspiration that runs through the whole thing, but that is never really the point. It’s still a joke, and the joke is about us, who are watching it and take it very seriously.

I’m not going to dissect the details, but what I noticed is that already early in the first season there were lots of implausible elements that simply couldn’t have a logical explanation. Some dead ends. These become more prominent as the show goes on, and especially with the second season, but this second season doesn’t introduce or twist anything that wasn’t already there and meant to go that way. For example one of the most ridiculous sub-lots is Nadine’s super-strength, and it’s all already there in the first season, it only gets exasperated in the second but the trajectory was already there, already defined. The second season is clumsy, but “correct”. For a show that relies so much on atmosphere and visceral reaction the execution matters a lot, and so this second season can still be seen as a failure, but it’s still Twin Peaks and still within what I perceive as its canon and its design.

Twin Peaks is parody, from my point of view. It plays directly on the audience’s expectations, it’s full of jokes and meta-fiction meant not for who’s watching, but for who’s behind the scenes. The audience is mainly the butt of the joke, the object of the parody itself. It’s David Lynch making fun of that type of seriality, bending it to his own purposes and internal dialogue.

Lynch said he never wanted to reveal who killed Laura Palmer, and he thought that the revelation is one of the reasons why the public abandoned the show. I’m actually glad instead the producers forced that reveal because I don’t think there was much to hide behind that mystery. It wasn’t worth it, and I also believe the public abandoned the show for other reasons. It moved away from the visceral and relatable story to explore its own quirks. That sense of realism that held it together was progressively lost.

For me, that’s one more concrete thing and one less vague mystery to distract from the rest. So what is that characterizes Twin Peaks and its concept, when it comes to its mystery? Coming from LOST and X-files, as I said, there isn’t much to work with. All the stuff about Major Briggs is itself just a parody that would then be taken seriously and developed in X-files, but the point is that in Twin Peaks it’s all a surface, all about going through the motions but without meaning deep down. The same for the other mythical elements, the ring, the Black Lodge, the obscure references, the Log Lady. It’s all infused by dream logic but I cannot see anything truly symbolic and meaningful. What you see is what there is. A silly story of magical possessions, military conspiracies and esoteric FBI. It’s well done and fun, but it’s still a surface that I can’t take seriously, and I don’t think it’s meant to be.

And then there’s the movie (Fire Walk with Me). I started watching it right after the second season, but after I saw the first hour I got sidetracked, then watched another 10 minutes in October, and the last part only in December… It took me half a year. The movie is much different. It adds a lot more substance to the mythological elements. It takes itself more seriously but without contradicting anything of the silly and parodist style that came before. It improved it and played competently on both sides of its own game. The movie puts even more emphasis on the dreamy atmosphere and it has some truly haunting sequences that push it to another level. But stylistically it’s still something that appears fairly simple to me. For example the movie uses heavily fade-outs and cross-fades. The idea I get is that dream overlaps with reality, the two worlds and planes of reality that blur together. Images are often superimposed, two different places that seem to merge, or share the same space even if they aren’t compatible. Mystery is an undertone, a pervasive, ethereal touch that can reach everywhere. The dream is present during daylight, it doesn’t retreat to the cover of the dark. And of course Laura Palmer. I know the movie got some mixed reactions and I suppose it’s because there are scenes that are really weird and absurd. Laura constantly overreacts to things seemingly quite normal, and yet she’s there screaming and making freaking faces and the people around her don’t even seem to notice. She’s disconnected from the fabric of reality. That’s again to me a sort of symbolic introspection pushed out. These aren’t “real” sequences, but scenes that are distorted by a dream. They are played externally as they happen internally, and so the “melodrama”, the excesses of the reactions. It’s an exasperation that I see as deliberate and meant to show Laura’s own internal landscape. Reality upside down. What is inside is pushed out, and reality itself submits to those emotions. Reality comes after.

There are also symbols and mysteries that I only caught by looking at the wiki, like corn/Garmonbozia. But that’s all stuff so vague that I don’t like to use energies to speculate about because I just cannot expect to obtain something of value and that is not simply subjectively imagined. The movie seems to close pretty much all the loose ends in the plot and from my point of view the whole Twin Peaks story can be closed there. It makes sense and doesn’t seem to have any missing part or unfinished businesses.

But there’s this third season now, and the third season changes the approach. It’s a third season that comes after the stuff that took inspiration from Twin Peaks, and Twin Peaks itself becomes more mature and deep. If all the mystery in the first two seasons and movie can be waved away without leaving a meaningful trace, the new Twin Peaks instead goes deep and makes the mystery its vehicle. Yet it doesn’t truly transform its own nature and is still faithful to the original “design”. It’s both a sharp turn as it is not.

I’ve rambled enough, I’ll write about the “new” Twin Peaks in a separate post and I’ll explain more in detail what’s my interpretation of it. After watching the 10th episode I thought there needed to be another six seasons to make sense of everything that was thrown at my face up to that point. I had very little hopes that it would make any sense by the time it was over, or even that Lynch would be generous enough to offer a “conclusion”. But I was surprised. In my opinion those last few episodes seem to close everything quite neatly and elegantly. I do believe I retain a fairly simplistic and limited vision of it, as it was for what came before and that I described here, but I continue to be persuaded that what I see is at least close to Lynch own genuine vision. I’ll write about all this later.

I was skimming a Tor article on this latest Cloverfield, skimming because I haven’t seen the actual thing yet:

There’s a line at the bottom that caught my attention.

populated by cardboard characters who are merely the victims of greater forces

…You mean as it happens in reality?

But no one seems to have liked this movie, so maybe the article still has a point.

EDIT: I’ve seen the movie now, it’s awful. But I still can’t see how “characters victims of greater forces” is a valid criticism. The cardboard part is true, but the totality of the movie is cardboard. The concept itself has a few small aspects that are interesting, but it’s all savagely sacrificed to the altar of Hollywood machine writing. At its best the movie is a truly bad and clumsy imitation of old sci-fi movies that do everything much better, including special effects.

I was really hoping to see “greater forces” at play, but there’s nothing of that sort. Even that aspect was disappointing.

I plan to focus more on being concise than complete but I’m still spread across too many things to make any decent use of this place, going forward.

I was about to start saying “a few weeks ago”, but now I notice the news came out in the middle of October. Time is ACCelerating.

I wanted to write down a few scattered and confused thoughts about the announce of the delay of the final book in the Kharkanas Trilogy, in favor of the planned trilogy that instead comes after the main Malazan sequence. Right now I’m 50 pages into the second book (Fall of Light) and slowly acclimatizing myself again to that story. Forge of Darkness remains for me the very best by far in the whole overall cycle, and every time I pick up the book to check something and re-read a page here and there I reconfirm that idea.

I was of course disappointed by this choice, though not surprised at all reading that this prequel trilogy sold badly. But I’ll put this discussion to the side, there are many reasons why the prequel trilogy didn’t get a lot of attention. It’s 2018 (now), I’m still at the beginning of Fall of Light, and I even have the last four books still to read in the main series, plus pretty much all of Esslemont. So it’s not like I need a book right now. A Walk in Shadow, the final book in this prequel trilogy, is not “canceled”, just delayed. Maybe to be written after this other trilogy is finished, or maybe to be written just right after the first new book. It’s up to Erikson.

My worry isn’t about an urge to have the book as soon as possible, my worry is that time affects and transforms things. It isn’t about having the book out in five years from now instead of next year, it’s that the delay will make it a different book. Maybe it’s already even too late for A Walk in Shadow, I would have hoped Erikson already deep into it in order to carry exactly the style and momentum and sharp, almost visionary focus that I admired in Forge of Darkness. My belief is that this time will transform the book, necessarily. Will Erikson be able to dive back in and make as if no time went by? Will it be the same book as if it was written now? So I worry that now this trilogy, that is the best Malazan especially for that style, tone and mythical vision, that specific mindset, is doomed to become somewhat “lopsided”, even in the case it will be completed later on. As with what I wrote about Sanderson, the risk isn’t about not completing the thing, but about being in that relevant mind-space (and one has to be honest, Sanderson is better, and has significant help, at keeping track of all his stuff).

I certainly won’t complain. I still hold Fall of Light, and Malazan has already delivered way, way more than one might ask. Even if the final book will never be finished, Forge of Darkness by itself makes a complete and satisfying statement.

But I also worry about this new “toblakai” trilogy. I’ve seen people in the forums being relatively excited and my opinion is pretty much irrelevant since I’ve yet to read the remaining books and I have no idea in what kind of place Karsa ends up, or what are the premises this trilogy is built on. I’m very skeptical about it, but I was also very skeptical about the prequel trilogy as well, and that turned out amazing.

I just wonder how it might work, and if it really could be more successful commercially. The prequel trilogy was a distillation of the very best Erikson, but “best” doesn’t mean “popular”. The idea of a sequel is always more alluring than a prequel, as it’s still a continuation of a well known story compared to the curiosity about flashing out details of a remote past. A prequel trilogy requires more dedicated commitment to go diving into those details. A sequel instead is perceived more as a mandatory read, for those who went that far. So there’s the potential for it to see better sales overall… But.

I’m uncertain about it being “Karsa’s trilogy”. I enjoy the character a lot, I enjoyed the beginning of House of Chains and I enjoyed the parts in The Bonehunters. I’m just not sure how far you can stretch that character and how you can make it the backbone of the whole thing. I do think Karsa works best in small doses, same as Icarium. Those are characters that bounce the ball back in a specific way. The backbone that truly sustained Malazan, I think, is about the Bridgeburners and the Bonehunters. That diversity. Everything else creates the tapestry, gives scope. But it works because it stays grounded, and what grounds it are the soldiers.

The beginning of House of Chains worked because it was a rediscovery of everything. It had layers upon layers of revelation and deceit (wheels within wheels within wheels). That arc was interesting for many reasons and Karsa grew as a character in that compressed sequence that tied back with book 2 brilliantly. But in a certain way these characters have a tendency to evolve when under the looking glass, to then fall back into their natural role. That’s fine. As I said I still liked Karsa a lot in The Bonehunters, but from my point of view he has become a more static character simply because he had to preserve his function. That’s a risk. You have these characters that are well done but fall in a certain “type”, built to embody a certain function in the fabric of the novel, so, when you have these large, sprawling stories, these characters work as cogs in a larger machine, in order to explore certain aspects of that story. The result is that they work as long they maintain that function, that role and that type, and the consequence is that they have to remain relatively static, or give the illusion of movement, or moving only to still fall back in a similar place. I think the same happened to Karsa. You can see the whole dramatic trajectory, and that’s stays meaningful, but in order to function Karsa ends up not so far from where he started: it’s the same war writ larger. So I wonder: is it enough to carry a sequel? Doesn’t emphasis risk being twisted into parody? Karsa and Icarium are strongly typified characters that function in a certain way and that are quite hard to “ground”. I just wonder if this can work in a series built all around that.

It is a problematic sequel because of all that came before. The main series was built on a pre-existing background, this time everything has to be built as if new. It’s a huge unknown, bigger than the prequel trilogy itself. Ideally a sequel demands the stakes to be raised, could Malazan even sustain that? Or will Erikson be satisfied writing a simpler side-story with a smaller scope that will serve as an epilogue? It might work, or might not. My preference would always be for daring and experimenting more, rather than being conservative, but I think even Erikson himself is persuaded than he can’t top the main series, and so, even commercially, the best choice might be to write something relatively more accessible to give that epilogue that some readers might enjoy. I don’t know. But wouldn’t that choice strip away the qualities that define and set apart Malazan from everything else?

I’m very glad I’m not the one making these choices.

Epic is who epic does.

I don’t think I’ve stressed enough the point I tried to make in my previous post about Sanderson and his foolishness.

Imagine being 30 years old, and deciding what you’re going to write when you’ll be 60. This is the thing. Epic isn’t the wordcount of the project, epic is the implausibility of the commitment. And acceptance of such commitment. It’s the work required to build an impossible human artifact. A dolmen of impossibility. A monolith. Or an “edifice”, like that other book telling the story of a guy who decides to build a church for no apparent reason. It’s all about seeing past and through what’s possible and sensible. A mission that has no sense, but yet you’re compelled to go through. A writer who isolates himself from the external world to build this artifact.

Another crazy project, but of a totally different typology, is “Horus Heresy”. A literary crossover that tells the story of a pivotal event in the setting of Warhammer 40k, the civil war caused by Horus (and so the titular heresy) versus the God/Emperor.

It’s somewhat like a comics crossover, where an editor has to do the ungrateful and impossible job of coordinating a bunch of writers so that everything makes sense and to build some overall bigger tapestry of events. But what’s surprising is that this endeavor has gone on now for ELEVEN YEARS. A crossover that spans more than a decade. The first book in this saga came out in 2006. We are now at 46 books already out, another out this December, a more planned. They say the end is now in sight, and the overall cycle should be done within 55 or so books.

55 books are a lot, and it’s just one story in the 40k mythos. In the meantime, for example, Black Library released another series of 12 books, already completed, telling another story and set after Horus Heresy itself. It’s called The Beast Arises.

Even Horus Heresy burst itself out of its main cycle. There are also 18 prequels planned (but these are also shorter), and they are actually interesting in the economy of the story, because every book focuses on one “Primarch”. There are 18 Primarchs (or 20, 2 are mysterious or whatever) and they are relevant because when the civil war starts they split in two factions of 9. So knowing the Primarchs before entering the war might give a certain perspective on the whole conflict. It gives the war its broader context, as a kind of convergence.

The average Horus Heresy novel is of course much smaller than Sanderson’s doorstoppers (and written by different writers specializing in their own sub-story-trajectory within the bigger event, and with a significant variance in the quality of writing) but on average we have novels that stabilize around 100k. Some are 80k words, some reach up to 120k or so. In a standard format that’s around 250 pages each book. It’s not much by itself, but now you have to multiply that for those 47 books of original material. And that means that by the time the series is over we’re looking at a grand total of more than 5 million words. It’s quite insane by itself.

And if 50+ books, plus 20 prequels aren’t enough, another publisher is ALSO contributing to the Horus Heresy mythology through pure lore-books + miniature battles, already 7 volumes out, 350 pages each in a big format and looking amazing.

This was all to give some context to the reason why this blog post exists. While looking onto all this stuff I spotted on ASOIAF forums some interesting comments about the significance of Warhammer 40k, under the surface:

Honestly, I think the Warhammer universe is underestimated for its world-building but I got started in roleplaying games before I became a major fan of fantasy so I have a higher tolerance for game-isms than most perhaps. I also think my literary tastes owe a great deal to Warhammer because it’s the system that gave us the word “grimdark” and all the wonderful descriptions it makes.

One thing I’d like to note, though is Horus didn’t ruin the Imperium. The Imperium was an authoritarian militantly atheist totalitarian violent dictatorship ruled by a master race of genetically engineered Psyker warriors. They’re a bunch of scumbags who destroyed innocent cultures, eradicated all Xenos they encountered (the Interax shows coexistence was possible with some), and conquered all humans who resisted the rule of Earth. Horus’ rebellion is karmic, IMHO, because it made sure the Emperor of Mankind didn’t get away with his mammoth amount of crimes.

Then again, I’ve never really been a big fan of Leto II God-Emperors.

Warhammer 40K is a fun setting really for getting into the nuts and bolts of fascism using a fantasy lens. It’s on the borderline between pure and entertainment and art but I think of it as every bit as useful as Marvel Comics X-men for talking about a sensitive subject in ways which the reader might be predisposed to have an opinion on that blinds them to undertones. For instance, with the X-men the issue of prejudice.

W40K, for me, is useful as a discussion of how reasonable people might come to believe militarism and xenophobia are justified by showing the comic extremes necessary to “justify” that kind of attitude in setting. By, essentially, making the ultimate grimdark setting, you expose just how hollow a lot of the justifications for unlimited militarism and absolute prejudice are.

Even then, the books do a good job of showing the justification of the Imperium is often hollow. Gaunt’s Ghosts are cannon fodder despite the fact they’re the most elite, talented, and intelligent group of scouts in the Sabbat Crusade. They’re used wastefully and all of their hopes are destroyed in the meat grinder of its corrupt leadership. Ciaphas Cain hates himself for being a coward and a fraud but he’s in a society which does not revere common sense or preserving the lives of your troops. “Cowardice” in the Imperium is courage to any sensible army.

The Imperium is better than the alternative, which is extinction, but if the better is being a bunch of Theocratic Space Nazi Feudalists (a trifecta of everything working class Brits hate) then how much better is it really?

It’s why, cartoony as it is, I consider W40K to be art.

Like the X-men.

And, a bunch of links that I used to quickly get a grasp of the overall mythos without completely lose my sanity (yes, it’s 4chan derived, yet still quite useful):,000_8th_edition

More than three years ago I bought “Words of Radiance” and made a blog post about it. No, not a review. I just rambled about the physical object.

Today my copy of “Oathbringer” arrived, so I’m keeping the tradition. This time I’m a week late because Amazon in Europe got much worse. They now have some kind of protectionist deal with the UK publishers so in the whole of Europe they don’t sell anymore American copies of the books until they are one or two months old. It’s ridiculous. So I had to order the Tor/American copy from a different shop, and that means it takes longer to deliver.

Let’s see what we have.

The most obvious change is the price of the book. The first two were $27.99, Oathbringer is now $34.99, so a +$7 increase that I don’t know if it’s due to prices being raised across the board at Tor, or just trying to milk this particular book.

The first two books had a higher quality binding with pages that are folded and sewed together into sections, then glued to the cloth spine. Instead this third volume goes with single pages simply glued to the cloth spine like a normal paperback (or the cheap hardcovers). As far as I know this costs quite a bit less to make.

So we got a +$7 and a reduction in binding quality. I read somewhere the publisher claimed it had to change the binding because the book was “too big”. I’m going to speculate it’s all bullshit. Why? Just remove the soft cover and look at the three books one next to the other. Oathbringer is actually the smallest in size of all the three, and *by far*. This isn’t due to the binding as they suggested: they are simply using a much lighter type of paper.

Oathbringer is about 150 pages longer than the previous book, but by making the paper much lighter they actually managed to have it smaller in size even compared to the first book. So they didn’t have any reason to change the binding as well, it’s just for the money. Sanderson might not be the best writer in the genre, but he’s surely and by far the best when it comes to nourish and grow his fanbase. He has become an “industry” built around himself, and so Tor has won its bet. They heavily invested into Sanderson, and now they are maximizing profits. Sanderson is now their golden boy.

…And he’s also insane. Malazan was insane as well, but the only way you can realistically plan a 10 book series project is the way Erikson did it. A book a year. Why? Because it can only be insane to plan your life around a project that takes more than ten years of continued work and dedication. You are making a promise to stay committed for so long, and that nothing will make you stray from this plan. And even then, how do you guarantee a continuity in the work itself? People change. Taking a deep breath and then diving for ten years might even work, but more?

I think Sanderson’s initial plan with this series was to release a book every couple of years. Book 2 was already late, but the excuse was that he was still busy writing the Wheel of Time. Now I think the plan is to have a book, roughly, every three years. Oathbringer comes more than three and a half years later. With seven more to go we’re looking at a project that will take another 20 years to see its end. And this is the BEST CASE scenario, with Sanderson keeping his output without a single hiccup, and living in a stasis. People might worry that the writer might die before the end, here the risk is that it will be human civilization to come to an abrupt end before this project is over. And of course this 10 book series isn’t even the totality of the project, because Sanderson’s plan stretches WAY beyond that.

I love insanity.

On the other hand, he was smart enough to plan this cycle in two parts. So we’ll have some sort of partial conclusion in book 5. The books themselves continue to be well received and it’s particularly important for two reasons. One is that it’s the middle point of a huge sub-series, so we are at what’s usually the weakest link. But this is what Sanderson’s knows best, being aware and avoiding the common pitfalls. He seems to know exactly what to do.

The wordcounts are crazy as well. The first book was 380k (I’m now using my own counts for all three), and it’s already almost a record for the first volume in a series. Then Words of Radiance was 400k, that represents some kind of mythic boundary that very few writers are able (or allowed) to pass. And now Oathbringer punches through at a rather impressive 450k. And that’s not even the full picture, because of course Sanderson wrote also a novella that is meant to bridge the story between book 2 and 3, and that comes at 40k. So we have Edgedancer + Oathbringer, and 10k short of a half million words.

Or, we are barely at volume 3 in a projected 10 book series, and already at 1 million 270k words. That’s around the same length of all Bakker seven volumes fantasy cycle, or all of Harry Potter, or Stephen King’s Dark Tower.

TL;DR, Oathbringer costs $7 dollar more, is about 50k/150 pages longer, but it also has worse paper and binding. I think between readers and Tor, it’s Tor that got the upper hand. Everything else is pretty much consistent. The pagination is the same. There are 21 illustrations inside, but one is taken from book 1, so 20 overall (and two printed in a way too dark tone), and it’s +1, since the other two volumes had 19 in total. There are also four illustrations for the ‘endpapers’, somewhat like the first book, and the colored map was moved to the back of the soft cover, that I think is kind of pointless. They changed the font of the title, but at least if you remove the soft cover the style remain consistent. I still bet some art director will mess it up before the series is over.

Oh, and they put a typo right in the index. Book Two: Oathbringer

Really? No one could notice that?

Sanderson still plays some weird game with the inner section titles (“New Beginnings Sing” matched with “Defy! Sing Beginnings!”, and “United” matched with “New Unity”), and the cover sucks again as it sucked for book 2. The illustration is slightly nicer but “woman in front of a wall” isn’t exactly my idea for a gorgeous cover.

But… Did you read it?

Nope. When I started “The Way of Kings” the idea was to follow only this series written by Sanderson and ignore all his other output because I’m not such a big fan, so even if I’m a slow reader it was reasonable to think I would read every book before the next came out. And in fact I think I started reading Words of Radiance right away. That was March 2014. I’m… at page 200. I picked it up again a couple of months ago but I couldn’t remember some details, so I decided to restart, and I’m around page 130 or so. Now I have Words of Radiance + Edgedancer + Oathbringer.

I don’t lack the desire to read. I still remember the first book rather well and the second book does what I like already in the prologue. What sparks my interest is this Kabbalistic or esoteric undertone I perceive, where the world Sanderson describes is not the way it appears, but it “conceals” some hidden dimension that overlaps. An hidden layer that looms (and he does this on two fronts, one historical, the other instead pervasive and about the fabric of reality itself). Maybe the depth I perceive is actually inch-deep, but it still carried my interest and in the end it actually fueled the story in a interesting way. I can see certain things coming, but the predictability of this development isn’t a problem. It’s possible that at some point it becomes trivial for me, but Sanderson still strikes a good balance between something accessible and welcoming for a broad public, as well filling it with something meaningful and not entirely shallow and trite.

The books might be insanely long in wordcount, but they are enjoyable. I don’t have problems with the pacing, I didn’t find parts that were slow or pointless. That’s again an aspect why I think Sanderson got so popular. The writing flows well and is lively, characterization is colorful. It’s always about striking that balance between an easy, enjoyable read without falling into the monotony of a commodified product that goes nowhere interesting. There are aspects of the characterization that are too trite and plain, for example with Kaladin, but there’s always something else at play that still carries the page and makes it worthwhile even when it goes through some “scripted”, default motions.

But I still didn’t read it, and I keep getting sidetracked. I recently bought a book pretty much no one heard about. I spotted it on twitter described as “a 600-page novel about matters theological”, so of course I looked into it. The first few lines of the description captivated me, and I already knew I was going to read it:

When Proctor McCullough decides to desert his comfortable London life to build a church on a clifftop, nobody knows what to make of it: McCullough is not religious. Is it a midlife crisis? Has he gone mad? Is he suffering a spiritual breakdown in a secular age, where identity is shaped by wealth and status? Or has he really been chosen by God for a new revelation?

As A God Might Be

It’s an unconventional setup. The man builds a church, but he’s not religious. And there’s this idea of committing to a project that doesn’t have a clear external purpose. But it is not a “mystery”.

I’ve now read about 30 pages and the writing is sublime. The characterization is magical. The dialogue is never declarative and always about some psychological underpinning. There’s a sense of harmony in every line, in every insight into characterization. It’s at the same time very light and profound, and it deals with the characters in a way that really does feel different to me. From just 30 pages I could take countless of quotes to prove the point, very easily, but I guess I’ll keep that to when/if I write specifically about it.

I was also planning to write about other stuff, but I never get to it. I wanted to write some comments about Erikson announcing that the final volume of the current trilogy is being postponed to begin early with the “sequel” trilogy. And I still have notes about stuff in the first few pages of Fall of Light that I wanted to write since the book was released. Maybe at some point.