TV: What I’ve Been Watching

Been watching a bunch of different shows in the sci-fi/fantasy vein lately. Rather than spamming my blog with half a dozen different review posts, I thought I’d throw together a list of my quick and dirty thoughts on each. Presented in no particular order:

The cast of Glitch season twoWu Assassins, season one:

Cheesy kung fu show that’s fun if you don’t think about it too hard. I mostly enjoyed it, but it did falter a lot in the later episodes.

I’m really getting fed up with how ridiculously short most TV seasons are becoming these days. Among other problems, it leads to very rushed stories, and Wu Assassins is a particularly egregious example.

There’s about three seasons of good story here, but it’s all crammed into ten episodes, and it just becomes a mess. Stuff just happens without any explanation of how or why. Characters change sides or evolve into completely different people without any foreshadowing or natural development. Interesting new plot threads are over before they start.

The fight scenes are good, and it’s got a certain kitschy charm, so I’d probably watch a second season if it gets made, but boy this show wasted so much of its potential.

Killjoys, season three:

Dutch and D'avin in KilljoysIt had been so long since I watched Killjoys that I’d forgotten most of the plot, but it doesn’t really matter because there isn’t much of a plot to begin with. Upon being reacquainted with the show, I was once again reminded of how spectacularly mediocre Killjoys is.

The last two seasons are available for me to stream, but I’m not sure I’ll bother. It’s clear by now this show is never going to get any better. In fact it’s slowly getting worse as they continue to gradually write out all the secondary cast members, which were the only thing memorable about the show.

The fact Killjoys survived and Dark Matter didn’t is just tragic.

Disenchantment, part two:

I was a bit disappointed with part two of Disenchantment.

The trade-off of Disenchantment is that it’s got fewer jokes than The Simpsons and Futurama, but it makes up for that with an engaging ongoing plot and good character development. But fully half of this season is standalone episodes that don’t contribute to either. They’ve very forgettable.

A promotional image for Netflix's DisenchantmentOn the plus side, the episode in hell is great, and the cliffhanger is pretty good. Also Jerry is the best.

Glitch, season three:

It had been so long since season two of Glitch that I kind of assumed it had been cancelled. Then one day boom there’s season three on Netflix. I didn’t realize until the last episode this is also the final season of the series.

The good news is that season three is more akin to the second season than the first. It’s well-paced and advances the plot at a good clip, without wasting too much time on soap opera style angst. The acting and character development continue to be outstanding, with Kirstie once again being a particular standout.

The bad news is that it’s a great season right up until the ending, which is a serious disappointment. Glitch’s ending is a complete copy of the ending of a fairly famous video game, and I didn’t like that ending the first time, let alone the second.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, season one:

I remember enjoying the original Dark Crystal movie when I was a kid, but I’d all but forgotten about it as an adult. I rewatched it before jumping into Age of Resistance, but I have to say it didn’t really hold up from a grown-up perspective.

A promotional image for The Dark Crystal: Age of ResistanceFortunately, Age of Resistance is a more mature take that preserves the brilliant world-building of the original movie while fleshing out the story and characters into something much more meaty and satisfying.

It is not without its stumbles. Like Wu Assassins, it suffers from trying to cram way too much story into just ten episodes, leading to a lot of rushed and unsatisfying story-lines and character arcs. In particular a lot of wins by the heroes come too soon and feel unearned.

While I’m usually a defender of prequels, in this case I do feel knowing how the story ends hurts Age of Resistance. We know the Gelfings ultimately lose, so it’s hard to get excited about their budding revolution. I think it would have been better to sell this as a reboot rather than a direct prequel to the original movie.

On the other hand, the depth of the world-building and the visuals to support it are spectacular, the characters are mostly endearing (Deet is a treasure and she deserves all of the hugs), it hits a nice balance of being both heartwarming and tragic, and the season finale is one of the most spectacular bits of television I’ve seen in a long time.

I definitely want to see a second season, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Review: Echoes of the Fall, book one: The Tiger and the Wolf

Nestled within the pages of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Tales of Apt short stories collection was a bit of a bombshell: It revealed that his other fantasy series, Echoes of the Fall, also takes place within the same world as Shadows of the Apt, merely on a different continent.

Cover art for Echoes of the Fall, book one: The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian TchaikovskyI’d ignored Echoes of the Fall until now, as it sounded a bit cliche, but now that I know it’s part of the Apt universe, the completionist in me compels me to check it out.

Book one, The Tiger and the Wolf, is a decidedly mixed experience. There is a lot I like about it, but also a lot that really bothers me.

The Tiger and the Wolf is mainly the story of Maniye Many Tracks, the miserable and abused daughter of the chief of the Winter Runner Wolf tribe. Maniye’s mother was the queen of the Tiger tribe, and her father hopes to use her to bring the Tiger under his control. Maniye herself bucks under his authority and finds herself torn between her twin heritages, the Tiger and the Wolf.

I’m willing to bet any long time fantasy reader involuntarily rolled their eyes a bit reading that. Yes, it as exactly as cliched as it sounds.

To be clear, Maniye is by a comfortable margin the worst thing about this book. She is a deeply uninspiring protagonist for reasons even beyond how unoriginal her story is.

My biggest issue with Maniye is that she is entirely reactive. She has no plan, no ambition beyond escaping her father. She spends the entire book reacting to the actions of other characters, usually by running away. She has no true agency; she does not drive the plot in any way.

Her meek attitude is perhaps best encapsulated by the subplot dealing with her twin souls. As a daughter of two tribes, Maniye has two souls — Tiger and Wolf — and they are at war within her. Eventually the conflict between them will drive her mad, so she has to choose one or the other, but she doesn’t want to.

And that’s it. She just doesn’t want to. It’s made clear that while half-breeds like Maniye are rare, they are hardly unheard of, and it is standard practice for such people to choose one soul or the other once they come of age. It’s a difficult and painful choice, but entirely doable. Maniye simply refuses to make the choice.

I get that both souls are crucial to her identity, and for her to find the choice painful makes sense, but when you try to wring a few hundred pages of drama out of the protagonist simply refusing to make a decision, you start wondering why you should even care.

If Maniye were the only character, this would not be a book worth reading. The good news is the rest of the cast is a lot stronger. Maniye recruits a number of allies along her journey, and they are all likable and interesting characters in their own right. It’s worth it for them.

One in particular is a standout. Unfortunately I can’t say much without spoiling things, but their story is both a genuinely surprising twist and one of the richest pieces of characterization I’ve seen in a long time. Not everyone in this book is who they seem to be at first glance.

The setting of The Tiger and the Wolf, like the cast, is a mixed bag.

As always, Adrian Tchaikovsky puts tremendous effort into his world-building. If I hadn’t already known this series shared a universe with Shadows of the Apt, I’d probably have guessed. The idea of the separate cultures based on totem animals is pretty much the same in both. The only difference is now it’s vertebrates instead of insects, and now instead of Ancestor Art each tribe can shapeshift into their totem animal.

Even if it feels a bit samey relative to Shadows of the Apt, it’s still a cool idea, and I like seeing how each tribe’s culture is influenced by the temperament of their totem, from the majestic cruelty of the Tiger tribe to the patience of the Crocodile Nation.

However, I do have one big problem with the cultures in this book: They’re all terrible. With only one apparent exception (the Horse Society), every single tribe and nation in this book seems to be built on human sacrifice, rape, cannibalism, slavery, and any other kind of brutality you care to name.

Given this setting is so obviously inspired by native American cultures, the fact that they’re all savages — there’s just no other word for them — feels more than a little problematic to me. Very surprising given what a progressive person I know Adrian Tchaikovsky to be.

Tales of the Apt raised the grim spectre of colonization by the insect-kinden, which seemed deeply chilling at the time, but honestly, after reading this book, I’m not sure I care. Tthere’s nothing the kinden could do to these people that would be any worse than what they do to themselves.

I will probably read the rest of this series, but it’s definitely a very inconsistent experience. It’s frustrating because with a few changes — a better protagonist, a few tribes that aren’t just brutal thugs — it could have been something truly special. As it is, it’s just okay.

Overall rating: 6.9/10