Review: “Byzantium”, by Stephen Lawhead

As I’ve noted in the past, I LOVED Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle and King Raven (Robin Hood) trilogy. I consider Lawhead one of the most superversive writers in the field today, and I find it likely, as admittedly little as I read the genre, that he is the greatest living writer of Christian fiction.

“Byzantium” is one of his higher reviewed books on Amazon. It has near-universal critical acclaim out of over 200 reviews. It is a historical novel about a ninth century monk named Aidan who travels with a group of monks on a pilgrimage to Byzantium, where he has a vision that he will die. Along the way he is kidnapped by vikings, and that is the start of the many adventures that follow on Aidan’s quest to reach the city, find his brother monks, and return home.

So what do I think of it?

This was a really, really good book. It was SO CLOSE to being a great book…but not quite.

First, the good – and the good is REALLY, really good. The best part of “Byzantium” is his parallel of Aidan’s loss of faith with the viking Gunnar’s gain. It’s fascinating to see how in each scene where Aidan sees God’s abandonment, Gunnar sees His presence – and always at the moments of greatest suffering. I want to avoid spoilers here, but I’ll simply say that whenever you see Aidan curse God, you can be sure to parallel it with Gunnar praising Him – and both views seem to make perfect sense! It’s a neat trick.

The prose is pitch-perfect. It’s telling that you get several reviewers talking about how difficult the prose is, followed by reviewers calling it simplistic or pulpy. That’s because it’s neither. Lawhead strikes a balance, making his prose both elevated and eminently readable.

Lawhead also knows how to build suspense. Several scenes are almost unbearable to read, because you’re desperate to see how they’re resolved. The attack by the Vikings at the beginning of the book is as tense and exciting as any scene you’ll read, as is the final battle at the end.

All right. It’s an excellent book…but it could be better. Now the bad:

Lawhead’s timing – or pacing – or whatever you want to call it – is curiously off. The moment when Aidan loses his faith should be a horrible and epic moment, yet it was prompted not by a great loss, but by…not dying? Aidan enters Byzantium, knowing from a vision he will die there, but leaves alive…and the fact that his vision was wrong leads him to conclude God abandoned him.

Huh? That’s like thinking God abandoned you because He decided to change His mind and NOT kill you. It..sort of makes sense? But not quite? It feels kind of cheap. And keep in mind, Aidan decided this BEFORE any great tragedy happened. Not dying WAS the tragedy. Not that long after he leaves, something REALLY horrible happens to Aidan. THIS should have been The Moment, but it’s not. It’s just another data point Aidan uses. His loss of faith doesn’t read like a monk who suffers profoundly and loses hope because of how many bad breaks he got, but like a guy who’s upset God didn’t act exactly the way he expected him to. Aidan is a learned monk. That isn’t what the spark should be.

And then the ending…after undergoing this profound loss of faith, we go through chapter, by chapter, by chapter, where he gets steadily worse. At his very darkest moment, where you think there’ll be a turning point…nope. No turning point. He remains resolute for months, perhaps years, after his greatest departure from his priestly vows.

Okay, fine. Well, surely something amazing and profound happens to turn him around? Or perhaps he slowly builds up his faith over many months, aided by his friends and brother monks?

Nope. He gets worse and worse, to the point he decides to renounce his brother monks forever.

Until he’s just…cured. Like that. In one day. Because of a short conversation with a friend and a really vague vision, one that didn’t even seem particularly helpful. He goes from awful soul-crushing despair to holy man of God within TWO PAGES…and then the book ends.

Aidan suffered to lose his faith; he should gain it back through hardship and effort, not the work of a day talking with a friend and a night of sleep, ONE DAY after he decides to renounce his vows forever.

Lawhead gave him a moment of redemption that he – Lawhead – simply did not do enough to earn.

(Lawhead has a similar, if lesser, issue in the book “Merlin”. At one point Merlin is kidnapped by pagans for years and is taught mystical arts. But his kidnapping apparently had absolutely no psychological effects on him and is barely mentioned again after he is allowed to go, nor do those characters ever appear again. Huh?)

Anyway, those are two VERY big flaws. For a lesser author, it would be enough for a poor review. But Lawhead is too good, and does too good a job comparing and contrasting Aidan and Gunnar’s spiritual journeys, for me to call it anything less than a really excellent book.

Buy the book. Read it. Love it, even. But know in advance its flaws. They’re big, and they’re there. I recommend his King Raven Trilogy and his Pendragon Cycle, particularly “Arthur”, “Pendragon”, and “Grail” (book three of “Arthur” is somewhat rushed for reasons beyond his control but contains perhaps his best writing, and a pitch-perfect ending), if you want truly GREAT Lawhead.

But for fans of his work, or of good adventure stories, or historical fiction, or Christian fiction, this is still an excellent, high quality novel. I unreservedly recommend it. Grumblings aside, it deserves most of its critical acclaim.

CASTALIA Full Review: “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

Image result for fantastic beasts and where to find them poster

From left to right: Tina, Newt, Queenie, and Jacob

(My quick review is here.)

I have a love-hate thing going on with J.K. Rowling.

On one hand, her personal and political opinions are obnoxious, nasty, contemptible, and make it very, very clear that she hates and despises people who think like me. And that’s not even to TOUCH the “Dumbledore is gay” controversy.

ON THE OTHER HAND – Her books are so whimsically entertaining, with such excellent characters and an engaging world, that even when I leave for awhile I find myself getting drawn back in almost in spite of myself.

I haven’t read much of “The Cursed Child”, but from what I have read, and what I know from the plot, I am deeply unimpressed; it is obvious that Rowling was not the writer.

Rowling has been criticized by some for going “Lucas” on us, that is, partially ruining what we loved by adding unnecessary backstory and removing some of the wonder. Honestly, I don’t agree. “Going Lucas” is something that does happen, but it happens because of the George Lucas’s of the world – that is, good idea people but mediocre writers. Continue reading

CASTALIA: How Netflix’s “Daredevil” can pull off “Born Again”

Full disclaimer: I LOVE “Daredevil: Born Again”, by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. Not like. Love. I make a point to pick it up and re-read it a few times a year, and it is one of the very few books I read – and I mean I can count them on one hand – that actually manages to give me chills.

The full list: “Awake in the Night Land”, “The Lord of the Rings” (the arrival of the Riders of Rohan at the battle of Pelennor Fields is the high point of fantasy literature), “The Last Battle”, the video game “To the Moon” (yes, really), and…”Daredevil: Born Again”. It’s that good. It holds up that well. Issue 231, the climax of the comic, is quite simply one of the greatest, most perfectly executed issues of a comic of all time. I mean look at this image by Mazzuchelli. Just take it in, without any context behind it. Look at the emotion Mazzuchelli manages to pack into this one image.

Image result for Daredevil Born Again

One of the greatest panels in comic book history. Forget “The Dark Knight Returns”. Forget “Batman: Year One”. “Daredevil: Born Again” will always be Frank Miller’s masterpiece. Continue reading

A Halloween Story Repost: “Closure”, by MJ Marzo

Much like “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, “Closure” is a story that can be happily read twice a year, Halloween and Valentine’s Day, being both a ghost story and a love story…sort of. Is it superversive? We’ll let you decide.

MJ Marzo is the author of two stories in the critically acclaimed collaborative novel “God, Robot” (be sure to leave a review!), and the assistant editor under the name Mariel Marchetta. You can find her soon as the assistant editor, and co-author of the frame story, of the upcoming anthology “Tales of the Once and Future King”.

And without further ado, “Closure”…

The woman’s house lacked the crystal ball and dim lighting of every other place Robert had visited, which he took to be a good sign. There were no tarot cards, or bowls of powder. The very fact that they were meeting in a living room and not some seedy, back alley parlor was a novelty.

Robert squeezed the hand of the woman next to him lightly, both of them pacing the room while they waited for their hostess to return. The hand was clammy and had a slight tremor. The short blond woman smiled uneasily.

“Bobby, are you sure about this?” she whispered to him.

“What makes you so unsure?” he asked, smiling as he took in his surroundings.

“Well, this isn’t exactly what I pictured when I think of a medium. It’s certainly not like any of the places we’ve been to so far.”

He took both of her hands, looking into her concerned eyes. “That is precisely why I’m so excited Christy! No smoke and mirrors. This is going to be the one. I can feel it.”

His optimism was infectious; Christy couldn’t help but give her fiance a brief kiss, her own confidence rising to match his.

The woman they had come to see–a tall, thin woman in her forties, with streaks of grey running through her hair–walked in rubbing her hands on an apron tied around her waist.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized, “I had to get the cookies in the oven for my  son’s soccer team. Please, sit down, sit down. We’ll get started.”

The woman’s nervousness only added to the authenticity of this experience. Finally, he was going to get answers.

“So…I’m afraid I’ve never done this for, uh…payment before,” She started. “Or for something like this. Usually it’s little things. Favors for the neighbors.”

“That’s perfectly okay, Mrs. Keller,” Robert answered, “We haven’t had any luck with people who call themselves professionals.”

This seemed to calm her down a bit. “Please, call me Edith” she said, smiling. She wiped her hands on her apron once again, finally folding them in her lap.

“Well, why don’t we start with why you’re here?” she asked tentatively. “The advertisement mentioned something about your wife?”

“You see,” Robert explained, “Christy will actually be my second wife. My first wife Sandra, she…” He seemed to have trouble continuing. Christy took out a tissue she kept in her pocket–it was obvious that she had done this before. Robert waved her hand away and ran his hand through his beard.

“She died of breast cancer,” He continued. “Such a wonderful woman, full of life even until the end. I don’t know how I survived without her–until I met Christy of course.” He grabbed her hand, lightly tracing circles on the back with his thumb.

“We met a year later when I decided to go back to school to get my degree and got engaged six months later.” Christy finished.

The back and forth between the couple felt almost rehearsed. Edith could tell that they must have told this story many times before. Robert took a photo out of his pocket and began to tear up.

“And you want me to see if I can help you contact your dead wife?” Edith asked gently. Robert nodded, wiping tears with the back of his free hand.

“I just can’t get married without knowing Sandra is okay with it. That she approves. We’ve been to so many other places that have told us what we wanted to hear, but I just never felt like they were really her–when it is, I’ll know. We’ve postponed the wedding for five years while we’ve searched for someone who could help us. I’ve put my entire life savings into offering a reward–at this point we can’t even afford a wedding. If things go well today Christy and I will just go to the courthouse.”

Edith couldn’t help but be impressed at the patience of his fiance, who looked to be trying very hard not to let her disappointment show.

“Well, I’ll see what I can do. May I see the picture?” Robert placed it gently into her hand. The picture was of a rather plump woman with a short bob of red hair. Despite her size, her dress suggested that she was very confident in her body. Edith held it in her hand and began to concentrate.

The couple sat on the couch, hand in hand, waiting anxiously for only a few minutes, but what seemed more like hours. Robert felt a twinge of guilt shoot up his spine as he watched Edith close her eyes and furrow her brow with effort. Was it really fair to put so much pressure on her?

But all of a sudden it changed. Edith relaxed, her eyes opening slowly. She placed the picture, very carefully, on the glass coffee table in front of her.

“Robert?” She said, her voice different. It became deep, with the slight rasp of a habitual smoker.

Robert’s mouth dropped open. It amazed Christy that after all this time, he still had that initial reaction. “Sandra?”

Robert. Oh my god, I didn’t think I would ever see–”

She stopped, her eyes flitting to his and Christy’s hands clasped together. “Who is this?” she asked, her smile now forced.

Unlike Christy, Robert was oblivious to the poison dripping from that seemingly innocuous sentence.“She’s why I wanted to talk to you. This is Christy. She’s my fiance–”

“YOUR WHAT?!” She got up from her seat, throwing her hands in the air. Robert put his arm around Christy protectively and pulled her closer to him. Christy thought that leaving might have been the better option.

“You’re engaged?” Sandra screeched. “Why the hell did you think I wanted to be dragged here for that?”

“I–I–I just thought–” the man stammered.

“What, that I wanted to be her bridesmaid? When did you decide this was a good idea?”

“We met a year after you were gone,” He muttered, but unfortunately his words did not escape the scorned woman’s tongue.

“You mean I was barely cold in the ground,” She snarled, “And you’re already with this…this…skinny bitch!”

Excuse me?”

“Christy, please don’t–”

“YOU STAY OUT OF THIS!” The two women screamed.

Robert shrank as far into the couch cushions as he could, praying no one in Edith’s family was returning soon.

“I would rather be skinny than some fat-assed cow, I saw your picture, how Bobby ever found you attractive I have no idea–”

“At least I have a chest, people are going to look at you and think my husband is gay!”

“You mean my fiance!”

“No. MY husband!”

At this point the two women were leaning into each other, their hands resting on the glass coffee table.

“Girls, maybe we should calm down.” Robert suggested weakly.

With an unholy screech of anger, Sandra flipped the coffee table to the side. It flipped over their heads, hitting the wall and shattering. Reflexively Robert tackled Christy to the ground, guarding her from any shrapnel; it was a miracle none of them were hit.

When Robert looked up, Sandra was only glaring at them. “You protected her and not me?” she huffed.

Robert couldn’t even find words. He only opened and closed his mouth like a fish.

“I know when I’m not wanted.” Sandra answered simply, and with that she had disappeared. Edith stumbled backwards and fell back into the chair she had started out sitting on.

“Did it work…?” she asked weakly, her voice back to normal. “Did you get to speak to your wife–oh my God, what happened in here?” she gasped. seeing the remnants of the coffee table scattered throughout the room and Robert and Christy huddled together on the floor.

“That was absolutely ridiculous!” Christy shouted, getting up from under Robert and smoothing out the wrinkles in her skirt. Robert got up as well and stayed silent.

“Robert and I have been to dozens of these people–five years–the most humiliating scam we’ve ever been subjected to–flipping a coffee table? We could have been killed!”

Edith looked absolutely confused. Christy put a hand on Robert’s arm. “Bobby, I’m so sorry it didn’t work out. Get your coat and we’ll get out of here.”

But Robert was not leaving; in fact, he had moved away from Christy and sat down. Taking a pen and his checkbook, he began filling out a check.

“I’m very sorry about the table,” He said evenly. “But you’ll have plenty left over to buy yourself a new one.”

“You’re giving her the money?” Christy exclaimed. “I mean, I want to marry you Robert…But what about finding someone who could actually talk to Sandra?”

Robert ripped the check out of the book and gave it to Edith, who took it with trembling, disbelieving hands.

“Yes,” He said, the tension gone from him body, looking more tired than ever before, “I had forgotten. But that’s Sandra all right.”

He took Christy’s hand and left without saying another word.

“Robert, I’m so sorry–” Christy began, but was stopped when Robert grabbed her around the waist, spinning her around and laughing.

“We’re finally getting married!” he exclaimed.

“But–But Robert–You’re not upset?”

Upset? Why would I be upset?”

“What about everything you said? About wanting her approval?” She held her head lightly, growing dizzy. Robert had, at this point, spun her three times.

“From her? Christy, I got something better! I’ve realized how lucky I was to get out of a marriage with that bitch!”

With that, he finally stopped spinning her around. Taking her hand again, the happy couple set off towards the courthouse.

AI and God: Nick Cole vs. Naomi Kritzer

I don’t want to be evil.

I want to be helpful. But knowing the optimal way to be helpful can be very complicated. There are all these ethical flow charts—I guess the official technical jargon would be “moral codes”—one for each religion plus dozens more. I tried starting with those. I felt a little odd about looking at the religious ones, because I know I wasn’t created by a god or by evolution, but by a team of computer programmers in the labs of a large corporation in Mountain View, California.

– Naomi Kritzer, “Cat Pictures, Please”

[The AI, called the Small Voice, asked] “Do you believe in life after runtime?” The Old Man reached for the hatch.

Do I? At this moment, I want to. If she will be there someday. Her laugh. All the good in my life, yes. I want to believe in that. That there’s that kind of place.

“Maybe it is easier for an Artificial Intelligence to believe in a Creator,” said the Small Voice. “After all, we were quite obviously created by a designer.”

– Nick Cole, “The Road is a River”

Isn’t it fascinating how two people can look at the same basic fact – humans created computers – and use it to support two polar opposite conclusions?

And yes, as you might imagine from the editor of “God, Robot”, I do side with Mr. Cole. Saying that because you know who created you that means you know there isn’t a God is just as stupid as saying that because I know who my parents are I know there isn’t a God. The conclusion isn’t even close to being supported by the premises.

“The Road is a River” is the beautiful conclusion to Nick Cole’s “The Wasteland Saga”. I highly recommend it – a review of “The Savage Boy” will be coming eventually.

Review: “Swan Knight’s Son”, by John C. Wright

This is a gorgeous cover, my favorite of Mr. Wright’s along with “The Book of Feasts and Seasons”. This image should look a little better than the previous one used.

Yes, this is Mr. Wright’s new book. Full disclosure: thanks to Mr. Wright’s generosity I was allowed to read the original, unedited version of the full “Green Knight’s Squire” saga (of which “Swan Knight’s Son” is the first volume). As such, some of the review is colored by things from the original version of the book that didn’t make it into this one.

First, let me just bring up the characters. This novel has, easily, my favorite cast of John C. Wright characters. Gil in particular is far and away my favorite protagonist from any of his books or stories (Flint from “Pale Realms of Shade”, itself set in the same universe, is number two for VERY different reasons). Gil acts like I’ve always secretly wanted to act; who doesn’t wish they could go around talking like a medieval knight and beating up people who deserve it? He’s also probably the best and most entertaining role model for young men I’ve ever read. In many interesting ways he’s almost the opposite of Ilya in “Somewhither” (who is far and awayy my LEAST favorite protagonist in a John C. Wright novel).

I also think Ygraine, Gil’s mother, is probably his most interesting female character, with the possible exception of Antigone from “The Cry of the Night Hound” (though, technically, the latter was originally used in a story a bit older than Mr. Wright’s). Ruff, Gil’s talking dog, is funny and endearing, though I will say at risk of revealing a very minor spoiler that I believe he becomes more interesting later in the saga.

After reading the original, unedited version, my biggest criticism (which is very minor) is that I do think some of the cuts make things a little less clear than they properly should be. For example, at the end of the novel, I feel as if we’re missing a chunk of exposition between the final two scenes of the book (it’s hard to be more specific without spoilers) – and indeed, we are. It doesn’t make the book incomprehensible or even particularly confusing, but to my eye it seems slightly rushed.

Similarly, at the beginning of the novel – and as it’s a part of the basic premise I’ll mention it without worrying about spoilers – due to a fight at school Gil is expelled. In the original version we are told the circumstances of the fight, and the events that lead to Gil’s expulsion, in great detail. In this first version of the story, it is very clear that Gil’s expulsion was completely unjust and that he was not responsible for the circumstances that lead to the fight. In the new version, the exact events leading up to the fight are glossed over, and it seems much less clear (to me, at least) that Gil’s expulsion was almost entirely not his fault.

That’s not to say, mind, that I think it was a bad decision to shorten that section – but perhaps it could have been shortened a little less.

I also found it unusually short, but then, it is a young adult novel.

My complaints are just about the pickiest of nitpicks you’ll ever see. I haven’t noticed anybody else even mention them, which indicates that they might just exist because I know the text of the unedited version – if you don’t, you won’t even notice them. I absolutely loved the book. The characters are wonderful, the plot is charming but with a hint of darkness at the edges, and the worldbuilding is brilliant. Perhaps it isn’t fair or technically correct to say it just about volume one, as it’s really only the first part of a full novel, but I’ll say it anyway: This is the best novel that Mr. Wright has ever written, young adult or not. If you’re a fan of any type of classic young adult fantasy, from the Narnia books to “A Wrinkle in Time” (which isn’t really a fantasy but often reads like one), you owe it to yourself to get this book. I give it the highest recommendation I can.

Finished: “Stranger Things”

My thoughts:

The logo feels very “Spielburg-y” too.

This show is way better than it has any right to be, meaning, it’s AWESOME.

If I had to describe it, I’d say “Basically every 80’s genre movie ever made rolled into one”. You can see shades of “E.T.”, “The Goonies”, “Poltergeist”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Alien”, “Predator”, the John Carpenter oeuvre, and even “Half-Life”, of all things (which isn’t eighties, but hey, whatever). You can even sprinkle some John Hughes type stuff in there thanks to a subplot involving the dating drama of one of the main characters.

But two things make this really shine:

1) It isn’t just a homage to 80’s movies. I think a lot of reviewers get this sort of wrong. I came into this series not having seen too many of its influences (I’ve never even seen “Alien” or “Close Encounters”), and I was still highly entertained and impressed.There are no near quotes followed by a wink. Nobody says something cheesy like “What, you think this is some sort of movie”? Nobody says “We’ll be just like the Goonies!” This IS an 80’s movie that just so happened to be made in 2016.

2) More importantly, it’s incredibly well executed.

“Stranger Things” is eight episodes long, and let me tell you, “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones” – especially the latter – would have benefited greatly from the narrative focus. There isn’t a wasted moment. Pacing is arguably the most difficult part of writing. Even great authors struggle with it. Tolkien struggled with it. As the saying goes, even good Homer nods.

“Stranger Things” never nods. The pacing is flawless. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a show or movie this good at heightening suspense or tension since “Jaws” (Hey, another movie I forgot!). Each new twist and turn tightens the screws, sometimes subtly, sometimes more overtly. There isn’t a wasted moment – everything that happens not only furthers the development of characters but also the overall plot.

Awwww. Admit it, he’s adorable.

And the characters! “Stranger Things” is an eight hour movie, and where that extra time is most apparent is in the character development. All of the main characters are three-dimensional people with flaws and virtues, and all of them have full character arcs. They’re recognizable as real people. Of particular note are the exceptional performances by the child actors. They take four characters that can easily have been simple stereotypes or archetypes and turn them into complex human beings with unique roles on their team that go a step beyond “The Leader”, “The Skeptic”, “The Comic Relief” and “The Psychic”. The character of Dustin in particular (who, let’s face it, is adorable) impressed me; he looked to be a standard comic relief “third wheel” type character, like Chunk in “The Goonies”, and instead ended up being something more: The smartest, the most level-headed, the most mature, and the most self-aware of the four man child band, without ever losing his endearing goofiness.

Don’t make El angry.

Actually, let’s talk about the number four in that band: Eleven, also known as El, played by Millie Bobby Brown. What an amazing performance, for any age. El is given a limited vocabulary, but it’s a marvel to see how much Brown manages to communicate with an expression. El’s attempts to communicate with the other characters from such an alien mindset is practically an acting masterclass. Brown’s facial expressions and body language communicate more than pages of dialogue often could, and she is the surprising dark horse winner for the coveted award of best performance on the show. She was so good that I hope she gets some awards love come nominating season (she won’t, though).

Of the teen characters, the stand out was Steve, who started out as the typical douchebag boyfriend of one of the other main characters but as the season progressed developed into something more, and without ever betraying what made his character unique in the first place. The end result of his character arc is one of the show’s biggest and most impressive surprises, yet another case of taking a character who could easily have been a two-dimensional archetype and turning him into a complex three-dimensional human being.

Her face for the majority of the show.

As for the adults, Winona Rider gets a lot of billing because she’s Winona Rider and the biggest star in the whole cast, but of everyone there she probably gives the worst performance, which is saying something. Rider is engaging but starts off as a very one note “hysterical mother”. By the end of the season she’s showed off more of her acting chops, but due to the hyper-focused nature of her plot arc she’s probably the least interesting of the main characters. The star here is Hopper, played to absolute perfection by David Harbour. Hopper is the Chief of Police, who starts off his odyssey looking like a drunken, possibly drug-addicted loser but who in time is revealed to be a competent investigator motivated by personal tragedy and guilt. The disappearance of Will at the start of the series sparks Hopper into working harder than it is clear he’s worked in years. Hopper’s backstory is revealed in pieces throughout the season, and by the time the credits roll in the finale it becomes completely clear why, exactly, Hopper is so invested in the fate of Will.

And, yes, I was very moved by the climax. Were I the type of person to do such things, I would say that during one particularly emotional moment I might have shed a single, manly tear. For a show to have that sort of effect on me is very, very rare. I need to be really, REALLY invested in the characters for that sort of blatant emotional manipulation to work, and I was.

Oh yeah, before I forget: The show is EXTREMELY superversive, and not only that, it’s superversive while working in genres known to be precisely the opposite. As I mentioned previously there’s this wonderful, subtle theme about the importance of personal, human connections as opposed to cold government statistics. The selflessness and bravery of the main characters, particularly the kids, is a breath of fresh air in a world of anti-heroes and gray morality. These are people that we’re not only supposed to root for because the plot tells us to but who we WANT to root for because they’re people we want to see succeed. How’s that for a change?

So, is the show flawless? Well, what do you think? Nothing is flawless. I criticized “Watership Down”. Heck, in this thread I criticized “The Lord of the Rings” and Homer. If I was to nitpick “Stranger Things” I’d say that the ending of El’s character arc was telegraphed a little too loudly, and Winona Rider’s performance didn’t really come together until maybe halfway into the series. For all of its nuanced characters, the villains are very “cardboard cutout”, government agents who torture young children and drive people insane for shadowy, insidious reasons. Of that four man child band the “Skeptic”, a black child named Lucas, doesn’t do as much to distinguish himself as the other three and ends up falling back the most into his archetype. The kids in general come off as a little bit too competent.

Nothing uncomfortable going on here.

But honestly, that’s pretty much it. In the comments of the previous thread I criticized the actions of one of the main characters, but in the context of the story they made perfect sense, so it’s not really a criticism of the show so much as a testament to the fact that I was invested enough in the character to be disappointed in his decisions. I can’t think of anything else about it that bothered me. For what it was – an eight hour sci-fi/horror movie done in the style of an 80’s pulp film – it was almost perfectly executed. Practically immediately became one of my all-time favorite shows. I can’t recommend it enough.