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:
https://www.tor.com/2018/02/06/the-cloverfield-paradox-movie-review-cloververse-franchise/

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):

https://1d4chan.org/wiki/Warhammer_40,000_8th_edition
https://1d4chan.org/wiki/Horus_Heresy
https://1d4chan.org/wiki/God-Emperor_of_Mankind
https://1d4chan.org/wiki/Roboute_Guilliman
https://1d4chan.org/wiki/Age_of_the_Dark_Imperium

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.

I was keeping editing the previous entry, so I decided to keep it separated without cluttering that messy post written across a few days and so already kind of inconsistent in its flow.

What I wanted to add is that the strong statement the show makes, as I explained there, is to crown uncertainty by using that ultimate mystery, and the story Nora tells, as the principal way to deliver that symbolic ambiguity. One ambiguity to rule them all.

The big problem here is that this statement and this type of ambiguity are FALSE. And we are even outside of the dichotomy between fiction and reality I used in my mythological explanation. The message here is directly ludicrous and wrong (and it’s a mistake specific to the TV show since the book doesn’t make it).

It takes the first 20 pages of John Fowles’ “The Aristos” to make a much better statement, without even the need to conjure any “character”. But the nature of our reality isn’t ambiguity or uncertainty. That’s human condition, that’s the observer, not the observed. It’s not reality, it’s us. Whereas in The Leftovers it’s the world itself that declares itself ambiguous. It’s a world embodied into Nora’s story. A world fashioned. Because we receive that ambiguity, but that ambiguity isn’t factual, since Nora knows the answer about whether or not she lied, and Nora is just another human being. So we aren’t facing an ultimate mystery as the nature of our existence. We’re facing a man made one. It’s such a basic epistemic mistake, to confuse a limit we have with a limit of the world.

Here’s a quote from LessWrong, that reads as an answer to The Leftovers, and pertinently titled “Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions”:

ignorance exists in the map, not in the territory. If I am ignorant about a phenomenon, that is a fact about my own state of mind, not a fact about the phenomenon itself. A phenomenon can seem mysterious to some particular person. There are no phenomena which are mysterious of themselves. To worship a phenomenon because it seems so wonderfully mysterious, is to worship your own ignorance.

The Leftovers (the show) made that ignorance into an idol to worship. I can’t see this as a positive message.

Well, that was 100% unexpected.

While I was watching the season 2 finale I was thinking it was really good. Then I checked and noticed there was a whole chunk left to see, the whole final part. I was satisfied even without that one. So this time I made sure to never check how much was left. And when it was over my reaction was… What? …That’s it?

I’m not a completely cold-hearted guy, there are stories that move me. But even the emotional side of this one felt flat to me. Analyzing, it’s probably because it didn’t ring true for most of it, so there wasn’t enough time for me to connect. Like Nora, I couldn’t believe Kevin arrived in that place at random. But unlike Nora I couldn’t trust the narrative either. I didn’t know if it was just bad writing or if there was an explanation within the story.

So in the end for me it was mostly honest curiosity driving my experience, more than emotional connection. But anyway, that emotional side of the story doesn’t look particularly meaningful to me. Kind of banal? But not in a genuine way either. Too coated in rhetoric even when it tries to be raw and honest. That’s the feeling I have about this whole season. It was interesting and with plenty of good ideas, but it lost most of the genuine emotional side that fueled season 1. It lost authenticity.

I thought I was going to be writing about mythology here, but is there anything to say? I was expecting the finale to make some very wrong move, and be enraged by that, or it to make a brilliant, inspired one, and be awed by it. It was neither. The mythology and mystery just fell off. The finale was not a finale. Well, I’ll be cynical after all. It was sentimental banality. Too gamed to be true, needlessly convoluted too.

But it wasn’t absence of mythology either. There’s the rest of the season to account for, and it’s a gaping hole. Really. This went back to The OA levels of missing footholds. It’s completely arbitrary and pointless, nothing to work with and leading nowhere meaningful. (in fact the always enlightened Jeff Jensen calls it “anti-theology”, it works the same as “anti-mythology” and it’s exactly what we have here, more or less deliberately, where for “deliberate” I mean the intention of not giving anything solid to speculate about, a deliberate absence being built)

What was the point of Kevin’s resurrection powers? Everything else? The theme vanished from the finale. We got one big “answer” as a way to check that one box about what most people wanted to know. But only to show how what most people want to know is utterly pointless. You got your answer. It obviously leads to a complete lack of satisfaction. It’s the most underwhelming revelation ever. And that’s fine, because that really wasn’t the point. It correctly shows that what most people attention is on, is pointless. It’s a good, correct message.

But the rest? It’s all put aside and gone unaddressed. The finale has no suggestive suggestion, no statement either. It just moved on and everything fell away. The OA at least was inspired. This one was carved empty.

Well, it cannot compare to LOST. Despite its mistakes LOST tried to soar high. The Leftovers has lots that is good in it, but most of it is contained in season 1. This was a finale where the stakes are massively lowered instead of raised, maybe for the fear to disappoint, or to stay on what is familiar and proven. Season 2/3 were fun rides with good ideas, but in the end leading to nothing meaningful. Sidetracks. The parts being better than the sum, because the sum disperses what was being built. There’s no arriving place, and, retrospectively, no meaningful journey.

The ambiguity in Nora’s story

Reading now other people’s reactions I notice that some think the finale (and it’s bogus answer) is ambivalent: Nora might be lying. All her story is just a story we/Kevin are supposed to believe, or not. This is seen by people as a way to answer this final question in a kind of open way, because maybe this is just a story she tells us. It’s not ultimately verified. But well, okay? I fail to understand why this ambiguity can be seen as relevant. It doesn’t seem to make any difference to me. It doesn’t seem a meaningful dilemma to think about?

And thinking about it more, I also cannot find any good reason why Nora would lie. Lies and truths are meaningful because of their implication, but it seems nothing is implied here. We have a finale where Nora and Kevin are back together, a starting point, ending on a positive note. It would seem quite pointless if this reunion begins with a big lie, especially because Kevin and Nora’s relationship started on the basis of hiding nothing. So, to me it seems that the overall narrative leads me to “believe” Nora, exactly as Kevin does. In a way, the whole journey has the purpose to lead to trust that story without the need to question it, because of what we’ve been through. We arrived at a point where we don’t need a proof. Then nope, this aspect of the finale isn’t ambiguous. The story the way I received it tells me Nora wasn’t lying, because she couldn’t be lying at this point in the story.

The only good reason to motivate that Nora lied is that her story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (why wouldn’t anyone else come back, then? That they all live happier is kind of silly, even if it seems to be validated by the fact that when Nora returns she decides to live in a “technologically light” kind of town, supposedly similar to how those people live on the other side. Aka: technology is bad, you feel better living the good olde ways, yeah). Heh, might be just the best story the writers came up with and whatever implausibility has to be ascribed to that. The problem isn’t whether or not *I* believe the story, the problem is that the choice of making her tell that kind of story that way feels contrived. The whole thing of these two possibilities to preserve and reinforce this ambiguity is contrived.

She could still be lying, it remains a possibility even if it doesn’t make a narrative sense to me. But the important aspect is that it really makes no difference. Either she found out the world was split, or she doesn’t. Neither case has any explanatory power, or is compelling to consider. It’s dry speculation without consequence.

So why again? No images being shown, as a writing choice. Faithful to the ambiguity that runs through the whole show and that instead of being solved is made into a foundation. THIS is the statement. It rings a bit hollow and artificial, but that’s how I read it. The purpose driving it is the choice the writers made: to crown ambiguity. To keep it open ended. To leave that doubt not as a thing to solve, not as a complex mystery encoded in the story and hard to unveil, but as the ultimate statement. To leave human beings uprooted, ungrounded, nowhere to go beside doubt. Lacking information to be able to choose. But while this is praiseworthy as an ultimate goal, I think this specific theme was handled badly, and it’s one of the weaker parts of the whole show. So making it as the theme that connects and builds the whole thing, well, it’s weak.

Let’s at least discuss what little mythology is there. In the case Nora’s lying, well, we don’t have much. As I said we aren’t juggling real alternatives, so if Nora’s lying we just have nothing in our hands. No theory is offered in the show beside the hidden and unfathomable hand of god. If Nora’s lying it’s because she’s ashamed that she couldn’t go all the way. She’d feel a coward and so she’d close herself from the rest of the world, as we’ve seen. We’re left with nothing in the way of answers to what happened. But if Nora’s saying the truth, then we have a little something, at least indirectly.

In my own schematics I always analyzed this in terms of the boundary of fiction. The threshold. The “event” being seen like a gap that opens and then closes. This is all in accord with the transcendental theme. I imply an inside and an outside. The hand of the god comes in from outside, and the departures go to this outside. But Nora’s story changes all this radically. If that story is *true* then it means the departures only went to some kind of parallel world, not an outside. This perspective changes everything because the parallel world, conceived in this way, is still part of an “inside”. It just became more complex, more differentiated, but still “inside”. It’s a scientific possibility. The event itself becomes normalized. A new event for science, but not outside science. We didn’t break through the “dome”, we just found out another place, still within it. The story is still encapsulated and not breached. Ideally, as in Nora’s story, we can build machines that let us walk between one place and the other. We didn’t move into spirituality or into an afterlife. We just moved into an parallel universe, and that’s well within the potential of science.

In this case the idea that the hand of god comes in, takes some people and moves them to a parallel universe, well, it is kind of silly and far-fetched. Far more plausible would be some rare physical event that created a fracture on the timeline. Something spontaneous but with an ultimate scientific explanation. The god of this world would be identical to ours. An hidden hand, not an explicit one. The idea that god permeates reality, but doesn’t intervenes directly, or tampers with it. It’s the occluded god of Kabbalistic tradition.

It opens a problem, though, and it’s where the whole show has to be questioned. This finale wants to make a statement about ambiguity and uncertainty, as I said, but that ambiguity is what the original book was about, the main theme. And that story was already fully contained and really well adapted through the whole first season. I have commented how season 2 and 3 expanded that story and introduced a new layer. The magic and mystery were featured more prominently, it seemed that the show was leading somewhere else, that it wanted to make a jump. That’s why the finale was a disappointment. In the end season 2/3 didn’t really add anything. The mystery and magic fell off, the theme disappeared and for the finale we simply went back to restate what season 1 already delivered with much more precision, meaningfulness and depth. We got a very long, very interesting sidetrack that ultimately lead nowhere if not backwards. A detour that was fun, but pointless in the Grand Scheme of Things.

In the end The Leftovers denied its own statements. The conflict was solved without producing something new. What worked well was the tension between two writers. In Season 2 we saw Lindelof seizing control, to push the story toward this new place, to embrace more fully its mystery. Season 3 is even more liberating, in the sense that we move further onward into Lindelof territory. But then comes the finale. It’s like there’s a missing piece. It’s like there’s a world between episode 7 and 8, and it’s like during that implied war between Perrotta and Lindelof, the latter lost (LOST). Or better, he surrendered.

This hypothesis is directly validated here:
http://www.vulture.com/2017/06/leftovers-finale-behind-the-scenes-exclusive.html

Lindelof actually pitched early on that they should show the mirror world – which received support, except from book author Perrotta.

“He made it so f**king compelling,” says Perrotta, “and everybody in the room is going, ‘Yeah!’ And I’m sitting there going, ‘No!’ ” Lindelof, comparing his writers’ room to 12 Angry Men, says that “Perrotta became Juror No. 8” — the lone dissenter who brings the room around. Perrotta gave a version of his Leftovers stump speech: “It was always just a given for me that there is this mystery, the same mystery of where do we go when we die, and the idea that there’s one authoritative answer seems palpably ridiculous to me.”

Lindelof was seducing the writing room. The same as season 2 and 3 were seducing the public with its mysterious, magical and crazier elements. Boiling and bubbling up as the seasons progressed. He was winning the war until Perrotta claimed control again.

Lindelof clearly lost. He left while still trying to make a dent, throughout season 2 and 3, but ultimately the finale restates Perrotta’s book without even a little change or addition. It still backpedaled. And I tend to think that Lindelof lost simply because he once again was chasing a trail that he didn’t know what was actually about, and that meant he couldn’t produce good arguments to win that war. That trail lead nowhere, and the show ultimately led nowhere if not back to what was known: the beginning. Restating something that is only superficially convincing and that more than give a closure, it DISTRACTS from closure.

This is my opinion on The Leftovers. A show that was a tension between two writers. Two different perspectives. That is creatively fueled and enlightened by that conflict but that ultimately fails to produce a synthesis or something new. An imperfect work that tries to arrive to a balance, but failing. It’s still immensely interesting, of course, or I wouldn’t write about it here. Maybe third time’s a charm.

My explanation of The Leftovers’ mythology remains valid. The finale didn’t prove it wrong, but it made it pointless. What was the premise for a mythology, even if weak, became a statement for an anti-mythology. The finale not only didn’t produce answers, but ultimately made the questions themselves irrelevant. The answer to mystery is pure doubt. Theories and systems, that are the premise to build a mythology, were made impossible.

Of course you should check out Jeff Jensen’s take, because he always makes things better than they are.