Alexandra Oliva's thriller
The Last One!
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Alexandra Oliva's thriller
The Last One!
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If you love dystopia with a splash of horror, then Alexandra Oliva's reality-show-turned-survivalist-apocalypse The Last One is the book for you.
"Maybe I'm not even going east. Maybe sunrise and sunset have been reduced to parlor tricks. Maybe my compass is rigged, and my magnetic north is really a remote-controlled signal easing me into an oblivious spiral.
Maybe I'll never make it home."
It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens—but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it man-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show's producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game.
I recently got the chance to chat with Alexandra Oliva about her novel, The Last One, the first book I read in 2018. And what a read it was! Equal parts clever and harrowing, The Last One tells the story of a reality show on the eve of a catastrophe, and bends the perception of reality for character and reader alike. Please join me in the first installment of a series of author interviews and welcome Alexandra.
Grete: So I guess the obvious first question is, what's your favorite reality show?
Alexandra: The Great British Baking Show, hands down. I love how non-confrontational and sincere it is—while still being oddly intense. Plus, the other day I walked into a local bakery and I got to be like, "A princess torte! I know what that is!" I used to be really into a bunch of survivalist shows—my favorite was a Discovery Channel show called The Colony—but I'm kinda over those now. After designing my own show for this book, I was ready to move on to other things.
G: Rewrites and redevelopment are part of a writer's reality. During the course of writing the book, did any of the characters end up vastly different from how you first imagined them?
A: Brennan gained a lot of depth over the course of revisions. Although his scenes are all written from Zoo's perspective, I needed to make sure everything he said and did made sense, so I had to imagine every scene from his perspective as well. The ending of the book was pretty tricky to write, and deepening my understanding of his character and his perspective was key to getting it right.
G: Who surprised you the most?
A: Exorcist—simply by being in the book. When I was designing my cast for the show, I knew I needed a wild card character, but I wasn't sure who he was going to be. Then I came across a book someone had left on the sidewalk; it was an exorcist's memoir. I was like—yes, that's my wild card right there. I never actually read the book I found, but that's where Exorcist got his start, and I'm so glad things happened that way. Writing Exorcist and his antics was incredibly fun, and it provided a nice counterbalance to getting lost in some of the darker parts of the book.
G: Who is your favorite character in The Last One?
A: I identify most strongly with my main character, Zoo, but I also have a special place in my heart for Engineer. He's so sincere and well-meaning, and his reasons for going on the show are just so pure.
G: Naturally I now have to ask: If pressed, which one would you vote off the island?
A: If I were a contestant on the show, I would want Exorcist gone ASAP. He'd annoy the hell out of me. If I were making the show, I'd get rid of Biology because she ends up being more bland than the producers had hoped.
G: I found the double narrative structure of The Last One especially engaging. How did you select this story-telling method? Did you try to tell the story a different way originally?
A: Thanks! I had the idea for The Last One while I was revising and trying to find representation for another project, so even though I knew I wanted it to be a novel, I started out by writing it as a short story. The short story was essentially a condensed version of Zoo/Mae's journey home after everything went to hell. For the novel, I loved the idea of weaving in a narrative of the show itself with an expanded version of the narrative I already had. I think I found this so appealing in large part because it allowed me to explore two extremes of Zoo's personality—the bubbly animal-lover cast on the show for her chipperness and the hardened, struggling survivor who's just trying to make it home. How—why?—did she shift from one extreme to the other? To me, that question forms the heart of the novel.
G: What was the craziest research you did for this novel?
A: A two-week-long wilderness survival course in Utah. It was so intense, I lost nearly twenty pounds over just those fourteen days. More importantly, I learned about bow drills, skinning animals, and what it feels like to be starving and exhausted and to have to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
(Want to know more about Alexandra's wilderness survival experience? Check out her essay on LitHub and Waterstones blog post!)
G: There is understandably some harsh material in this book. Were you afraid you might lose readers because of any of it? Have you gotten any flack in response?
A: I didn't think about the book's audience much at all, honestly—at least not until after the book was sold. Then I was worried I might be asked to change things to make the story more palatable to a wider audience. I wasn't worried about any of the gruesome stuff—plenty of fiction contains horrific scenes—but my main character is an atheist who doesn't come to believe in God, and in a wider sense the book is an exploration of the blindness of chosen belief, and there are plenty of people who have a problem with this (just look at my one-star reader reviews). Thankfully, my editor wasn't one of them. That part of the book is very important to me, and if some people decide my writing's not for them because of it, I'm okay with that. Not every book is for every person.
G: What strategies would you most recommend to a new or up-and-coming author?
A: Take a deep breath, enjoy the highs, and try not to take the lows personally.
G: What was the most difficult aspect of getting The Last One published?
A: Probably the nine years of rejection that I went through with two other novels before I wrote The Last One and met my agent. It's so hard to accrue rejection after rejection and it's even harder to put a 100,000+ word project into a drawer to never be seen again, even if the reason you're doing it is because you know you can do better. I'm glad I went through all that, though—my practice novels (as I now like to call them) were key stepping stones to my finally being able to write a novel worthy of being published.
G: And finally, because I'm always on the lookout for an excellent read: Can you tell me about your favorite book? Why is it your favorite?
A: I love too many books to pick a favorite, but I recently read The Power by Naomi Alderman, and I highly recommend it. It's a fantastically ambitious novel about what might happen if girls worldwide suddenly gained a huge amount of power—the ability to discharge electric shocks. It's a premise that could easily get out of hand or come across as campy, but Alderman executes it so incredibly well. It's awe-inspiring, really.
Alexandra, thank you for letting me pick your brains about a book I enjoyed so much! I wish you all the luck on your next project.
If you are interested in purchasing The Last One, please visit
Oh my gawd, I read so many books last year...
Way more than I normally do. Which is on top of the fanfic I also read, so if you think about it, this is probably just half of the total.
But ANYWAY I have recs for you!
(Note: If a book I read last year was not recced, it doesn't mean I didn't like it. I liked a LOT of books on my list last year. It just means I had to choose one for each rec category.)
My recs of what I read in 2017 (aka, The Year of World Craziness):
If you like...
May I please direct you to: Uncommonly Tidy Poltergeists by Angel Martinez
My thoughts: This was delightful. An easygoing read featuring a little bit of otherworldliness, a little bit of fumbling, a lot of lovely description, and a main character who is asexual. A cozy nighttime snugglebook, pairs well with a cup of cocoa.
May I please direct you to: The Call by Peadar O'Guilin
My thoughts: Arrrrrggggh, my FAVORITE type of horror: the kind that comes out of your dreaming subconscious. This is a YA about fairies. Real fairies. We're talking Rawhead and Bloody Bones here.
May I please direct you to: Fifty Shames of Earl Grey by Fanny Merkin (aka, Andrew Shaffer)
My thoughts: Oh lordy, this book. I read it on a plane. I was lucky no one badgered me to stop snort-laughing.
(TIP: Follow this guy's social media. He's hilarious.)
May I please direct you to: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
My thoughts: Wahoo, a heist book! It's rare that I like every single character, but I liked Every. Single. Character. The pacing is excellent, the story engrossing, the magical element ingenious, and the resolution well-executed. Of course, now I need to read the sequel...
**BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR**
It is with wild excitement and great joy that I direct you to:
Red Rising and the sequel, Golden Son by Pierce Brown
My thoughts: HOT DAMN. Holy shit. So, Dune has a baby with Gladiator and then, being conscientious parents, immediately volunteers it as tribute. Best thing I have read in years. My reading goal this year is not to read 30 books, but to make 30 people read these books. Flawed and complicated characters, fantastic plotting, a HUGE scope, a well-executed cause-and-effect of action and motivation, and lo and behold... the sequel was just as good! Warning: after the first 1/3 of either of these books, I had to stop reading at bedtime; the tension just kept hyping me up!
So that's it from me for 2017. Let me know what books you liked in your reading year and, most importantly, read on, my friends!
One question for you, show, and I guarantee, if you can answer it, it will solve all your problems:
Let's really think about this for a moment. Why did you choose Jack the Ripper as half of your main draw, and then utterly fail to utilize the unique, paralyzing horror of him to drive your plot? Raise your stakes? (All you people concerned about spoilers, do not fear; I only lasted ten minutes into the pilot. Which brings me back to my nitpick...) You have to grip me right from the get go. Hell, you already have me! I'm one of THOSE people, the kind that owns books like Ripperology and movies like From Hell, watched all of Whitechapel the tv series, and is unduly fascinated by the history of Whitechapel's most notorious serial killer. I know a whole lot more about it than I should.
Takeaway: You had me at Jack. And then you lost me because YOU didn't have Jack.
I mean, in the same amount of time, you've got HG Wells down: he writes, he's smart, he's got an effing time machine... He might not be like he was in real life, I don't know, I don't study him. But I'm interested, as far as the character goes. But with Jack, you introduce him with a murder that needs to encapsulate the monster he was... and you don't. Like, at all. Don't mistake me: it's a horrible murder. But it isn't Jack's. There is a reason he was the scariest sumbitch in the area and you did not even remotely capture that.
So I ask again: Why. Jack.
Because you're name dropping? Make up your own murderer then. Because you want the thrill without the actual baggage that goes with it? Make up your own murderer then! Because it would be a bad fit for the somewhat humorous tone you're trying to set? Well, hell. If you're trying to be funny, maybe JtR isn't the guy you need. (Incidentally, is this a kids' show? If so, I repeat: maybe JtR isn't the guy you need.)
So. WHY JACK?
I'm done. I need good time travel stories. Where did 12 Monkeys get to...?
I just bought this: How to Write a Book Proposal.
The story of how I got my agent is pretty unusual. I was straight out of my Masters degree, and feeling for the first time that actually selling what I wanted to write was possible.
(I went abroad and into some niiiiice debt for my degree. I love ya, America, but sometimes your educational system gets really snobby about what is acceptable reading fodder. The Great American Novel is not actually what everyone wants to read, ye ken? It's not actually the highest selling genre either, and it doesn't make you an amazing writer just because you wrote it. Thanks for brainwashing and demoralizing writer-hopefuls for years, but it's time to end that shit. You know how people always go, "But what are you going to DO with your writing degree?" It's time we all start answering, "Well, I am going to WRITE." /rocketscience)
ANYWAY. I first spoke to my agent because I was suddenly optimistic! OMG, you mean people will actually buy my romance and horror? I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS. I turned to a friend and writing buddy, Diana Copland, and with much apology and profuse promises that I wouldn't poach her agent, I asked Diana if she could get me in touch with said agent so I could grill her about the publishing industry.
Saritza Hernandez, kind soul that she is, let me yammer at her for a good hour with all my "HOW" and "WHATSIT" and "WHEN" and "WHEREFORE" and "I LIKE WRITING SLASH" and "AND SOMETIMES ALSO THE HORROR KIND". She answered everything in great detail, thereby making me even more optimistic. She put it within reach, which for years I had been taught to believe was a pipe dream.
She asked what I was working on.
I said I had a second-person POV male/male romance short story.
She said, "Diana highly recommends your writing."
I blubbered around a bit and probably made little sense but I know I said thank you.
She said, "I'm not accepting submissions right now, but why don't you send me the story anyway?"
Look, I get it. I get that I did not match up with my agent in the usual way. And I REALLY get it now, when I find that I have no experience writing a pitch. Point in fact, I'm about to start pitching my next project as a thriller series, and I'm like, shitshitshit, synopsis, is this a good synopsis? What the hell do you mean, 1-2 pages? Effing log lines, IT'S ONLY ONE LINE HOW CAN IT BE STOMPING ON MY HEAD LIKE GODZILLA? But I like all my characters, I can't just describe two! How does this make no sense to you?? It makes perfect sense, you just have to read the novel!!
Hence, the purchase.
My match with my agent was primarily through networking. A very important part of marketing, that, and one that I still have to practice. But I unknowingly sidestepped so many horror stories: authors who went through four agents, authors whose book deals folded right at publishing, authors who got scammed out of their burgeoning baby manuscripts. Looking back, it's frightening: I never saw what I was being spared. Complete fool's luck. I count myself extremely lucky and privileged to have found Saritza the way I did.
Now I have to pick up the slack of my good fortune. Buckle down. Learn a thing or sixty.
But hey, maybe this research will balance out the file the NSA has, documenting all my inquiries into scalpels, landmines, plagues, psychoses, handguns, the FDA, and the city of San Francisco. >_>
Alright, so you’re an author and you’ve just discovered: Horror of horrors! There are people out there WRITING FANFIC. They are borrowing YOUR world! Puppeting YOUR characters through plots you DO NOT condone! How very disrespectful, not to mention theftful. Is that a word? Theftful should be a word. We could totally convince the public that it’s a word.
Anyway, it probably feels like someone has rifled through your intimates drawer or sat in all your chairs or picked your kids up from school and taken them to the super cool theme park down the road for a day of awesome that you didn’t know existed.
Or maybe a week of awesome.
Wait, it’s been a year. ARE PEOPLE STILL DOING THIS TO MY BRAINCHILD???
Okay, let’s take some deep breaths here.
Whatever you’re thinking about these grabby-handed fanficcers, I guarantee you it’s been said before. There is so much negativity tied to fanfic already. So much. For the biggest naysayers, it’s all about destruction, violent deconstruction, and unlawful appropriation, not to mention lack of creativity. We’re just butting our heads over the same damn material again and again.
Therefore, authors, in the spirit of creation instead of demolition, I present you the following challenge (You like challenges, don’t you? You wouldn’t be writing if you didn’t…):
Instead of blaming the ficcers (who exist whether you bitch about them or not), let’s tackle the only thing you actually can control: Yourself. Your mindset. The way you look at what’s being done with your work. Because there is indeed a flipside to this grotty, devil-spawned sewer-dwelling coin you’ve been smacking repeatedly with a stick.
THE MISSING SCENE
(aka, that time when you wrote about two characters who drove from Place A to Place B, and then someone went and actually wrote the conversation they had in the car! The one that you skipped! Because of Reasons!)
Rude! I left that conversation out because it wasn’t necessary. Everything that could be gleaned from it is implied later, duh. Fanficcers must be unobservant sots.
But Wait... They are observant as hell. In fact, they are so observant that they needled through all your carefully placed clues and REVERSE MANUFACTURED how that conversation might have gone so that the characters ended up where they needed to. They cared enough about your writing to start analyzing it. They cared enough about your story to poke at why and how you could have pushed a character through it.
(For the record? That bolded bit in there is the lesson I want you to take away from this.)
'Legitimized' Missing Scene fic: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard, aka, the missing (and slightly whacked) scenes of two side characters in Hamlet.
Huh. That’s... kind of flattering. But wait, what about:
THE SLASH FIC
(aka, that time when your characters were not banging each other and then someone went and wrote them banging each other! They are not gay! Straight! Pan! Whatever!)
Rude! Excuse me, my characters are NOT interested in each other like that. They are too busy having a plot. They are not focusing on sex. They don’t look each other that way!
But Wait... …Do they look at each other that way? Author, my most hearty congratulations: your story officially has subtext. Yes, I said subtext, that elusive underwater ripple that enriches every amazing plot ever. Your readers were so invested, so riveted in the interplay between your characters that they saw something there that deserved further exploration. They cared enough about your characters’ fates to wonder if they would ever walk down such a path.
'Legitimized' Slash Fic: A Study in Lavender: Queering Sherlock Holmes, an anthology of stories exploring the possibilities of queer relationships between a multitude of Holmesian characters.
Well, okay, that’s pretty nice, people caring about my characters. But hang on, sometimes they add a completely new character:
THE MARY SUE (or GARY STU)
(aka, that time when your characters met an awesome exchange student who is way too sweet and lovable and self-sacrificing and has all the answers and looks exactly like the fic writer and shows up just in time to kick ass, take names, and fall in love with the protagonist. What the hell, you have to fix my story by solving everything through a non-entity??)
Rude! Earth to Reader: if I wanted Poorly Concealed You in my story, I would have added Poorly Concealed You to the story, and cleared the copyright issues with Real You first. My characters can solve their own problems. They don’t need an interloper with perfect hair.
But Wait... Earth to Author: your reader loved your world so damn much that they wanted to live in it. Serious compliment.
'Legitimized' Mary Sue/Gary Stu: Lost in Austen, wherein Random Modern Girl switches places with Elizabeth Bennet, gets Darcy to jump in a lake, and finds out that Austen’s story is more complicated than she thought.
Alright. It still makes me roll my eyes, but I guess that makes sense. But wait a sec, what about:
THE MODERNIZED AU (that’s Alternate Universe, btw)
(aka, that time when your characters were snatched out of Regency England and plopped into 20th Century America with absolutely no explanation and given cell phones and driver’s permits and fashion computer programs and wait, that’s Clueless, right?)
Rude! The reason I wrote this story in said time period is because this story takes place in said time period. You can’t just move everybody to a new era and call it a brand new story! The same shit’s going on to the same people, you haven’t created anything.
But Wait... That’s because they adapted everything. Guess what? Your story has staying power. Your story is thematically sound in any time. Your story was so strong that even transposed into another era with other values and other daily occurrences, it still means something. The lessons it contains still hold water. Readers still identify with your characters. YOUR STORY IS STILL RELEVANT. Yowsers, that’s like, Shakespeare or Homer or Marquez or Conrad or Gibran or Hughes or Achebe or Austen or Tolstoy or Bronte.
'Legitimized' Modernized AU fic: Sherlock (TV series, Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle), Bride and Prejudice (Bollywood movie, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen), Gankutsuou (anime, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas), West Side Story (Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare)… Look, just Google “modern adaptations of classics.”
Wow. I really do want my work to have staying power. But come on, why do they have to write:
THE POV SWITCH
(aka, that time when you wrote a story from one character’s POV and then someone wrote the same story from the other character’s POV instead.)
Rude! Hello. I chose that specific perspective for a reason. If I wanted to write multiple POVs, I would have. You got everything you need for the plot from listening to the one character. You don’t need to rehash it through the other one’s eyes.
But Wait... But what if they were struck so hard by that scene that they had to re-imagine it? What if they get that all confrontations are multi-sided and they respected your characterizations so much that they wanted to give the other person a chance to speak? What if they were curious about your other character? What if they just wanted to explore what that person might have thought while speaking whatever was spoken? Your character motivations are dense, layered, mysterious, and engaging to your reader.
'Legitimized' POV Switch fic: The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (aka, what happened to Rochester’s first wife)
Yeah, okay, but that’s not what they do. Sometimes they change the entire conversation!
(aka, that time when you wrote your characters starting and finishing a conversation and then someone wrote them starting the same conversation and ending up in outer space)
Rude! This is the only way this conversation with these characters could have gone. They each have a fatal flaw that leads them here. You are changing who they are.
But Wait... Your characters are well-developed, ergo they are layered, ergo they make choices, ergo they have complex personalities. Ergo, what if they’d said this instead? How might the entire plot have re-spindled off of this one pivotal moment that YOU came up with? Trust me, if someone is remixing your work, they are complimenting its depth and potential.
'Legitimized' Remix fic: Pretty much all of Penny Dreadful. Also, every time any anti-hero or antagonist ever got to tell the other side of the story.
Well, I definitely like knowing that my characters have depth and potential worth exploring. But seriously, do they have to write:
THE BACKSTORY FIC
(aka, that time you wrote a character at age thirty and then someone else wrote that character at age thirteen.)
Rude! I already know their backstory! I cut it out because the real story doesn’t start until much later! When they’ve grown! When they already have all their fatal flaws! When they are actually interesting!
But Wait… What about your character’s formative years do you not think is interesting? Maybe not marketable. Maybe even not important. But interesting? Hell, ficcers wouldn’t be fanficcing the backstory if they weren’t interested! Your ficcers are treating your characters like real people, exploring their agency and motivations. Why? Because you have already written the important story and in so doing, you gave consumers someone they could relate to.
'Legitimized' Backstory fic: Wicked by Gregory Maguire (how the Wicked Witch of the West ended up taking the ultimate fall)
Fine! Whatever. I guess it doesn’t hurt, since they got some of it right anyway. But that’s no excuse for:
(aka, that time you ended a story and then someone picked it up again when everyone was thirty years older.)
Rude! DO I EVEN NEED TO ADDRESS THIS? I ENDED THE STORY BECAUSE IT WAS THE END.
But Wait… Even you know that life doesn’t just end at the culmination of a character arc. Unless that character arc ends with the falling of an axe or the explosion of the planet or some other nonexistence-inducing situation, people still go on to live the rest of their lives after they marry/defeat the baddie/meet their parents/come back from war/etc. Again with the character love: your readers want to watch these people grow old together!
'Legitimized' Futurefic: Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James (Elizabeth Bennet actually has a life after she and Darcy get married! Who would have ever suspected!) or Hook (Peter Pan actually grew up!)
I could go on.
My point, author, is that fanfic exists and remains popular (and will remain popular no matter who jumps up and down on a grouch pogo and shouts down the mountains) because it allows its creators to further engage with, interpret, and celebrate the original works they love. Even more important, it allows these beloved works to be resurrected for modern readers, in whichever year “modern” happens to be.
There is no binary here. Fanfic exists alongside original canon. It does not change original canon. Your beloved baby still lives on in its pure form, to be discovered and rediscovered by still more consumers, who will want to engage with and celebrate it themselves and make it mean something to them, too.
Therefore, instead of expending so much energy on the negative, adopt the positive: try recognizing and accepting all the compliments fanfiction pays you and your canon every day.
Trust me, you’ll be happier and less stressed.
(For some help with 'legitimized' titles, much love and thanks go to bookshop for her wonderful post: I'm done explaining why fanfic is okay. I put legitimized in quotes to indicate that it has been made legitimate by publication or other 'socially acceptable' recognition. In my opinion, fanfic is legitimate, full stop.)
I am posting to apologize for a comment I made during Leviosa's Sunday panel on Adversarial Relationships. In response to the topic of canon HP characters currently being re-imagined as people of color and/or marginalized sexual and gender identities, I attempted, poorly, to discuss the ways this might make fandom experience difficult for individuals who use fandom as a way to set aside the weighty societal issues they face every day. I don't remember the exact wording of what I said and won't attempt to recreate it here, but after extensive soul searching and discussion with a close friend, I realize to my shame that my comments were entitled, naive, insensitive, and inappropriate.
The comment was supposed to be about the fans who don't want to view their fandom activities through the lens of social or political justice, who want to leave all of it outside when they go in, for whatever reason. But it definitely didn't come out that way. Instead it sounded as though I think issues of race, identity, and under-representation don't belong in fandom at all. Issues of discrimination in any form belong in the fandom, full stop. They are already there. People's discomfort with such topics is unimportant because discomfort doesn't dictate what must be acknowledged, and also very important because it is this inherent discomfort that must be addressed. It was not my intention to insult anyone, but that doesn't really matter either: as a white cis woman, I had no place making such a point in this way.
I wanted to discuss the importance of fandom as a safe and enjoyable space, which it is for me, but that really is the kicker, isn't it? As long as discrimination and under-representation are ignored in fandom, it isn't a safe and enjoyable space for everyone. The weighty social discussions keep getting shunted aside. We keep fostering ignorance of the problem.
I love fandom and I want it to be a place people want to be a part of. The re-imagining of canon characters is exciting, and the added bonus is that it brings societal discussion easily into the "safe space" fandom has created, rather than allowing it to continue to be viewed as a threat to the fandom experience. The more fans are exposed to something they fear or distrust, the faster they learn that they don't need to fear it, and the faster we bring it back home into everyone's safe space. Which is where it has always belonged anyway.
I made a mistake, and I'm very sorry for my comments. I'm trying not to shy away from these discussions because avoidance is currently the norm, and I don't think it's a good idea to avoid these topics. This dialogue needs to occur so that a lasting and constructive understanding can also occur.
But obviously I need more practice in how I approach the discussion. So I will continue to work at it. Thank you for your patience with me
Silliest stuff I've heard so far regarding #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend:
Concerned Citizen: Why do you have to change the comics?
Me: Uh, all those comics you used to read? Are staying the same. As in, not changing. As in, No Difference. As in, THERE WILL BE NO EDITS PERFORMED BY ANY EDITORS ANYWHERE.
Concerned Citizen: How could you do this? Think of the children!
Me: We are. You're the one who's making them think Captain America with a boyfriend is a bad thing.
Concerned Citizen: You can't just negate his relationship with Peggy Carter by making him gay!
Me: So your current relationship has officially wiped all your previous relationships from existence? That's impressive, I can think of a few friends who'd like to learn that trick...
Concerned Citizen: I said, YOU CAN'T JUST NEGATE HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH PEGGY CARTER BY MAKING HIM GAY.
Me: Who said he was gay? Going with girls AND guys, who may or may not be cisgendered themselves, that's not gay. Get a dictionary and stop thinking in binaries.
Concerned Citizen: I have logged onto social media and thus will now cease to think critically. Boop boop beep boop byooooop.
Me: Yeah, same ol', same ol'.
If you’re anything like me, your evening on April 3, 2016 was spent staring incredulously at the television with one thought running through your head (or maybe you even yelled it out loud):
What the eff did I just watch?
Usually this is a great response to a season finale. Television producers around the world hope and pray and make sacrifices on altars for this kind of reaction. Unfortunately for the television show The Walking Dead, the crickets chirping in everyone’s TV room at the end of the episode were not the backdrop to speechless amazement. They were covering a very loud, very dismayed “Oh, HELL no.”
Many fans are… well, let’s be diplomatic about it and call them ‘unhappy.’ Let’s say they felt much more manipulated than usual. Loyalty of the ilk TWD celebrates is hard enough to come by; the merest misstep can send half the group over the wall toward friendlier pastures. And when the collective screaming gets too loud, the other half might just follow them, in search of a little peace and quiet.
I tell you, there was definitely collective screaming.
That said, and despite the events of April 3, I feel like The Walking Dead is not quite dead yet. The Walking Dead does not deserve to be thrown to the Wolves. The Walking Dead—well, let’s let the show speak for itself. Take a quick trip back with me through the years so I can remind you why you should (still!) watch the show:
(MINOR AND VAGUE SPOILERS AHEAD. Read at your own risk.)
Season 1: Yay! Great start. At a total of six episodes, it’s snappy, shocking, and full of disgusting zombies. (My favorite is that half-woman crawling through the park, because slow and steady wins the Rick.) Characters are skillfully introduced and developed... as far as they can be before the show sets its tone by unexpectedly offing a third of them. The season ends in a bad place for the characters but a good place for the rest of us by establishing that this narrative won’t be about curing the new world, it will be about surviving it.
Awesome episodes in Season 1: That would be... huh, all of them. At six episodes, there’s not much room for lazy material. But my favorite is Vatos, because of the sweet high, the painful low, and that bit where Jim Is Digging.
Season 2: Okay, nice. The pace does drop from 100 mph to a shuffling 30, but it’s not actually boring. The character development is off the charts, helped along by painstakingly built emotional tension and a breathtaking mid-season shocker. You don’t necessarily like where everyone is going, but damn it, you understand why they get there. This is the young adulthood of this show, where it’s trying to sort out the moral code it wants to live by. Also, we get the Family Greene: a definite plus.
Awesome episodes in Season 2: What Lies Ahead, which gets things going with a literal bang, Save the Last One, Chupacabra, and my personal favorite, that middle episode Pretty Much Dead Already. Yowzas.
Season 3: Meh. Enter the Governor. This is the season that really dragged for me (like a one-legged water-logged corpse), not because the episodes weren’t good, but because it took so long for everything to happen. Lots of exploration of humanity and ‘life’ after death, but wow, are there some sluggish spots. For the first time, I couldn’t ignore that the filler bits were filler. Thank god for David Morrissey, marvelous as the villain, and for the writers’ commitment to making difficult choices with challenging consequences. Upon further reflection, I feel like this is the season that was awesome to watch the first time as it built beautifully to climax, but it’s also the season I skip whenever reruns come on: Now that I know the destination, I don’t feel motivated to travel the road again.
Awesome episodes in Season 3: My first thought is that I don’t have any outstanding episodes to point out, just a nice handful of outstanding sequences (i.e., Andrea and the Governor’s cat’n’mouse in the warehouse, the Brothers Dixon in the woods, the interrogations at Woodbury, Rick’s war council with the Governor). But it turns out I do have favorites: Clear, where we find out what happened to Morgan, and Killer Within. If that ending doesn’t get you, then don’t bother with the rest—this show’s not for you.
Season 4: BAM, THERE IT IS. My favorite season. This is the one that embraces the show’s full potential for horror, grief, hope, love, and sacrifice. It steps back from the zombies and gives us a chance to observe humans actually trying to live in this landscape. We’ve got an unexpected adversary of the microscopic variety, another wham-bang of a mid-season finale, and tangible dread as our protagonists make their way to their final stop of the story arc: the aptly named Terminus. The plotting of Season 4 is subtle and effective, with hints of things to come flickering in and out of each episode. If you’re not watching carefully, you might miss something, but catching it heaps big rewards by the end. The mini-arcs are tightly woven. The sequence of events takes place organically: there’s no other way things could go. Finally, this is the point where you realize you are feeling so hard for these people that if ANYTHING happens to ANY of them, you’re seriously going to brain someone.
Awesome episodes in Season 4: Since basically all the episodes are gold, let’s talk arc instead. Whatever fever strikes the group, bringing it into the story is genius. It forces characters to play hands they might not have, and preps everyone beautifully for the return of Somebody, whose own character mini-arc is kind of horribly fascinating. Then everyone splinters, and we get to see the deterioration/formation of the family unit in multiple forms. Can I please just bring up how spectacular the Carol-Lizzie arc is? Or maybe just the Carol arc alone? Can I talk about the guys that Daryl unwillingly falls in with? Can I please mention the look on Michonne’s face when she peeks in a certain window, or the night when Rick’s feral side really comes out to play? NO, because that would SPOIL ALL THE THINGS. But please know that this season is the one where I felt everything they felt, where my heart tripped in time with theirs and my back bristled and I Got Mad at the end right along with Rick.
Season 5: Oh, Bejeebus, I can’t even, why. This season was a little different for me. I wasn’t in a good head space when the first episode aired, and that particular fuckery took me down for the count. I ended up mainlining the season later in preparation for the finale. Turns out that first episode is the most dangerous of the bunch, but I didn’t know that at the time. It’s also one of the best. This season is Rick at his most impressive, Carol at her most frightening, and Daryl at his most vulnerable. The intro to Alexandria really works because Rick & Co are just coming off of the worst assault on their humanity yet. The viewer is just as paranoid, just as distrustful as they are, and watching Rick flirt with becoming the monster this time around is awesome. In this season, I was most frightened of the group itself.
Awesome episodes in Season 5: Like I said, the opener No Sanctuary is riveting, with an incredibly moving ending. Other notable episodes are Them, Remember, and my favorite (possibly in the entire series) What Happened and What’s Going On.
Season 6: OMG THIS IS AMAZ—Blah. Dear show runners: Broke my heart, you did, because hot damn, that first episode was killing it. And then the second episode killed it again. And then the third episode racked the tension further. And then... I don’t even know. This season has been described by others as “uneven”, and I have to say, that’s the perfect word for it: From there, things went a little bonkers.
Awesome episodes in Season 6: Since I already talked about the three episodes that hit it out of the ballpark (First Time Again, JSS, Thank You, and hell, let’s add Start to Finish to the list because TWD is so good at the mid-season finales), let’s discuss where things went so seriously sideways. And I don’t mean plot-wise because by the end, life for the group has most definitely gone sideways. That’s not the issue.
I am a writer, and (you may have noticed) I tend to concentrate on this series from a plot development and characterization perspective. Both suffer noticeably during this season. I found myself questioning again and again the intelligence of various decisions by both writers and characters: WHY must they keep sending their entire warrior class out of the compound at the same time? WHY are they constantly stopping to have heart-to-hearts in the woods? WHY are they not doing more recon before attacking other groups of people? WHAT HAPPENED TO STRATEGY??? Then there are the writing misdials: WHY drag out To Glenn or Not To Glenn for weeks? WHY are you letting characters with rare skill sets out on walkabout where they can be stabbed, shot, bitten, run over, or just plain deserted in potential munitions factories? WHY are these zombies standing around allowing people to have heart-to-hearts? Are they a different subspecies? WHY did you inject a diabetic character with insulin when she’s most likely suffering from rock-bottom blood sugar? WHY did every single person manage to forget about the grenade launchers at the same time? WHAT HAPPENED TO MY BELOVED CHARACTERS???
By the end of the season, my beloved characters are absolutely up shit creek with their mouths wide open. And that would have had more of an impact if they hadn’t got there by making Poor Life Choices. Which they don’t usually make.
(Incidentally, is part of the Saviors’ attack strategy to spike the water supply with Idiot Pills? If so, it’s genius, because it worked.)
What I Think Happened: The show runners were excited to introduce Negan. And who wouldn’t be? Already I can tell he’s a force of nature. But Season 6’s biggest Achilles’ heel is actually a surplus of amazing characters. This season alone, we get the joyous Jesus, the delightful Denise, and the nasty as hell Negan. This only becomes a problem when there are so many people that there’s no longer time to develop Carol believably, or to make not one, not two, but three new romantic pairings work effectively. And speaking of, it becomes a problem when the necessary twists and turns in the plot are sidelined because there’s just too much side stuff going on. I fully believe that we could have reached Negan organically, but instead the issue was forced through a series of senseless choices that don’t reflect the characters I have come to know.
Ergo, the end arrives, Lucille starts winning friends and influencing people, and I am not invested. Just resigned.
As I said at the beginning, A LOT of fans are expressing their disappointment. Whether it’s over the cliffhanger of doom, the Monologue With No End In Sight, the Carol doppelganger, or just the season in general, people are upset. People are actually filing for divorce from Daryl. Daryl. People are wrapping their tweets in barbed wire and swinging away.
But let’s step back for a second. Is this really grounds for knocking the show over the head and feeding it to Gareth?
We’ve had five good seasons, and at least three of those were great seasons. There are numerous members of the Awesome Episodes Club, and Season 6 was not excluded from that number. The show runners tried something new. They took some risks and unfortunately those risks did not pay off. But they also took risks with characterization and plotting in Season 4, and again in Season 5, and those were slam dunks. They messed up this time around, don’t get me wrong. The manipulation became too obvious. They played with their audience too often, all in search of a few thrills.
I am not ready to sign off on this entire show because of it. If the entire season had been a bust, I would reconsider, but it wasn’t. It started off very well indeed. I have faith that these writers can step it up again, and I think that they will.
Don’t abandon the compound just yet. The walls haven’t fallen.
"Great Scott, Holmes!" I ejaculated. "This is when my Jezail bullet migrated from my shoulder into my leg!"
Title: The Sign of Four
Status: First time reading!
Spoilers in this post? Yes
Ah, The Sign of Four. One of the most popular of the mysteries, and not having read it grew in my mind like a giant "WTF, you call yourself a Holmes fan??" until I was convinced I was missing a zillion pop culture references because I HADN'T READ IT. Turns out, I was right and wrong: I had missed references. But thanks to pop culture, I knew all the Holmesy info in the story already, as evidenced by the...
"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?" (For the record, he says it two times in this story alone.)
"My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere." (aka, should I ever become truly bored, THAT is when you should press the red button.)
"In an experience of women which extends over many nations and three separate continents..." (Watson, you dog.)
"It is cocaine, a seven-per-cent solution. Would you care to try it?" (Holmes, you dog.)
"No, no: I never guess." (Three points if you know who says that.)
While The Sign of Four has not displaced The Hound of the Baskervilles as my favorite of the Holmesian novels, it does, as its main character says, have its points of interest. For instance, in a beautiful case of evolving language, it is here in Ch. 6 that Sherlock Holmes gives a demonstration and John Watson first ejaculates.
Verbally. Shame on you, get your minds out of the gutter.
It is also here that Sherlock Holmes utters the following words: "Ah, of course. I had not thought of that."
Seriously, take a picture. It won't happen again until we get to Norbury. And finally...
IF YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT WATSON'S LIFE STORY, SPOILERS AHEAD.
This is the one where Watson gets married!!! Yay, what a momentous occasion! Finally Watson has found the one person that he-- what? Three marriages? And that's not including Sherlock, right?
John "Three Continents" Watson (and thank you, fanfic writers, for that beauty of a tag) had not one, not two, but three legally recognized spouses. One might wonder why Holmes didn't ever investigate the Case of Watson's Disappearing Wives. Perhaps it was too close to home. Perhaps he'd already solved it and rated it 'dull.' Perhaps that was an unpublished draft, crammed into an accordion folder next to The Case of the Doctor's Traveling War Wound.
First in the shoulder, now in the leg. I love this canon.
On a more sober note, The Sign of Four takes place when Great Britain still owned just about everything, and London had become a hub for people and practices from all over the world. Additionally, we're working within the Victorian Era, when exploration was cooler than sliced bread and there was a thirst for any kind of newness: in science, in literature, in industry, everywhere. Darwinian theory was huge. People didn't have to travel to see the exotic: it came to them in expos.
There are, therefore, some less than PC characters and references in this novel. The most notable is of course the inclusion of a pygmy man from a cannibalistic tribe off of Myanmar, who is described in appearance as almost inhuman. However, there are also several prominent colorblind relationships and loyalties portrayed, which was a pleasant surprise.
It is interesting to note that the criminals seem to be the ones of the enlightened mindset here. Nobility and loyalty are not strictly relegated to the white male characters trying to catch the murderers.
Quotes that should be memorable:
"You can... never foretell what any one man will do, but you can say with precision what any average number will be up to." (Holmes to Watson, spot-on description of mob mentality.)
"Like all humankind, they flitted from the gloom into the light and so back into the gloom once more." (Watson's PTSD isn't ever named as such, but it comes through pretty clearly in observations like this. He has seen a lot of evil and a lot of death, and still he strives to be a good person. His character is really very well and subtly developed in these stories, thanks to Doyle's lovely writing.)
"So we stood hand in hand like two children, and there was peace in our hearts for all the dark things that surrounded us." (Beautiful and poignant.)
"You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid." (Holmes, obviously, to Watson, obviously, on the merits of descriptive writing, obviously. I cackled out loud.)
"Holmes declares that he overheard me caution [Mr. Sholto] against the great danger of taking more than two drops of castor-oil, while I recommended strychnine in large doses as a sedative." (Again with the laughing out loud. Why Watsons should never be distracted by pretty Marys and, again, why Holmes should seriously have investigated those vanishing wives.)
Next up: On to the stories!
Hello! My name is Grete and welcome to my writing blog! I am a writer or romance, horror, and general observation