November 26, 2022

Review: The Spare Man

The Spare Man The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is basically "The Thin Man" in space, as the title would indicate: a locked-room-spaceship murder mystery, with updated versions of Nick and Nora Charles for a new century. In this case, Nick is Shalmaneser Steward, newlywed spouse and recently retired private detective/reality show TV host who becomes embroiled in the murders. Nora is Tesla Crane, billionaire heiress to the Crane fortune who is attempting to travel anonymously on the ISS Lindgren, an interplanetary cruise ship, and who ends up having to keep her spouse out of the brig and solve the murder herself.

There's a third character who is a near-protagonist in her own right: Gimlet, Tesla's West Highland White terrier and service/support dog. Several years previously, Tesla was in an accident that nearly killed her and left her with a spine full of titanium screws, chronic pain, and PTSD. She has panic attacks and flashbacks that Gimlet's presence and training help mitigate. Gimlet is an adorable little dog that (almost) everybody loves, and this plays a part in the climax.

One's enjoyment of this book will depend entirely on how well they like murder mysteries, as the SF setting and the science of an interplanetary cruise ship is dealt with in a pretty perfunctory manner. It's nothing like the hard science of the author's "Lady Astronaut" series, which among other things is a love letter to NASA and its checklists. I'm not very much of a mystery aficionado myself, and clues and red herrings tend to fly over my head. The mystery seemed to unspool very gradually and suddenly speed up at the end. I don't know if it's overly convoluted per se, but let's just say that the final reveal of the killer and his motivation felt a little underwhelming, at least to me.

More interesting are the two main characters and their relationship. The author writes long-term relationships and married couples very well, and that continues here. The only reservation I have is Tesla's being a billionaire heiress. She tries to be aware of her privilege and not stomp all over people, but the circumstances here are such that she can't help but do that to an extent, which Shalmaneser points out. That thread seems to be shoved under the rug a little, and I wish the author had spent more time on it.

This was okay, but I didn't like it as much as the "Lady Astronaut" books. If you want a great read, check out The Calculating Stars. It's an alternate history of the space race, something along the lines of Apple TV's "For All Mankind," and it's terrific.

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November 24, 2022

Streamin' Meemies: Star Wars: Andor, Season 1

 


For the most part, I have enjoyed Disney's Star Wars series. Of course, the reigning cute couple is still Din Djarin and baby Grogu, but Boba Fett and Fennec Shand made an interesting quasi-mob-boss and sidekick, even if she was sorely underused. Ewan MacGregor returning as Obi-Wan Kenobi and an older Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader was a nice second look at those characters' dynamic, although the show was stolen out from under them by Vivien Lyra Blair as the young Princess Leia. Quality-wise, I would have said The Mandalorian would continue to reign supreme, especially with the show's upcoming third season set to explore Mandalore and Din Djarin's dilemma of having a Darksaber and a rulership he does not want. 

However, that was before I watched this show, which proceeded to blow all of them out of the water. 

There is nothing "kidsy" about this show. It is family-friendly in the sense that there is no nudity or graphic sex scenes (though the characters are shown to be having adult sexual relationships) but the themes are thoroughly adult. The characters grapple with the Empire's growing fascism, and the slow creeping clampdown on their rights and freedoms, until a character's speech in the finale strikes the spark of rebellion. (It's a testament to the strength of the writing that the moments remembered are Luthen Rael's, Maarva Andor's and Kino Loy's speeches, rather than the action scenes, although Luthen has a pretty good action sequence getting away from an Imperial cruiser.) The season finale, "Rix Road," ties up almost all of this season's character arcs and subplots and sets the stage for the next season, when Cassian Andor will be going all in for the Rebellion. 

Since this is a prequel to Rogue One, we already know what his fate will be. Still, there is a lot to be said on the journey there. I particularly loved how new and/or side characters are given their due, even if they only appear for a few episodes. Andy Serkis's Kino Loy, only seen in the "prison break" mini-arc of episodes 8, 9 and 10, is a fully rounded character who meets an ironic and tragic fate, and you feel for him just as much if he was the show's titular hero. (The final episode of the prison arc, "One Way Out," is tied in my mind with "Rix Road" as the two best episodes of the show.) Season 2 is supposed to take some time jumps to bring the characters up to the beginning of Rogue One, although from what I've read the plan is to follow the structure of this season by breaking it up into three or four mini-arcs.

However they do it, this season was some excellent, excellent television. Many of the comments I've seen on IMdb and elsewhere express surprise at Disney's being able to produce such a mature Star Wars show as this, and they're not wrong. Of course, there is a place for a wisecracking Han Solo as well, but that character isn't found here (or at least not yet). But when you have such great writing as this...

Supervisor Lonni Jung: And what do you sacrifice?

Luthen Rael: Calm. Kindness. Kinship. Love. I've given up all chance at inner peace. I've made my mind a sunless space. I share my dreams with ghosts. I wake up every day to an equation I wrote 15 years ago from which there's only one conclusion, I'm damned for what I do. My anger, my ego, my unwillingness to yield, my eagerness to fight, they've set me on a path from which there is no escape. I yearned to be a savior against injustice without contemplating the cost and by the time I looked down there was no longer any ground beneath my feet. What is my sacrifice? I'm condemned to use the tools of my enemy to defeat them. I burn my decency for someone else's future. I burn my life to make a sunrise that I know I'll never see. And the ego that started this fight will never have a mirror or an audience or the light of gratitude. So what do I sacrifice? Everything!

...and an actor of the caliber of Stellan Skarsgard to say it, I have to say I'm not missing the snark.

Please do yourself a favor and watch this. You won't regret it. 



November 22, 2022

Review: Soul Taken

Soul Taken Soul Taken by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the thirteenth book in one of the few long-running urban fantasy series still standing. I like the world and the characters, but I think this one suffered a bit from "too much has happened to understand" syndrome. If you haven't read at least the few previous books (back to number #10, Silence Fallen) you will be hopelessly adrift. I think an "our story so far" prologue would help the reader.

Having said that, this is an entertaining entry in the series, fast-paced and suspenseful. Mercy, a coyote shapeshifter (and daughter of the actual trickster god Coyote) goes up against an ancient artifact that steals people's souls. She has a nice relationship with her mate, the werewolf and Alpha of the local pack Adam Hauptman, and the author makes good use of the side characters, in particular Zee, the grumpy and dangerous Fae who is Mercy's partner at her garage. Mercy is not superpowered and nearly indestructible like the werewolves (although she can see ghosts and has a few other tricks up her sleeve), which means she has to use her wits to survive. This makes her a more relatable character.

I don't think this entry in the series is quite as good as some, particularly Silence Fallen, but it held my attention well enough. However, I do wish the author would provide a brief recap at the beginning going forward.

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November 20, 2022

Review: Undiscovered Country, Vol. 3: Possibility

Undiscovered Country, Vol. 3: Possibility Undiscovered Country, Vol. 3: Possibility by Scott Snyder
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've been continuing with this comic despite the batshit craziness of some (ok, a lot) of its worldbuilding. (Reviews of Volume 1 and Volume 2.) I guess that means the overall story is compelling enough to continue? That is probably true, but this is the first volume where I feel the writers deliberately pulled back from examining their story's premise in a way that would have added a lot more meaning and heft.

Nearly forty years in the future, when a group of people are trying to find their way out of a future America that has cut itself off from the rest of the world (never mind the global community/economy/information exchange is such that this couldn't happen; this is only one of the handwaves you have to look past to go with this), said group has reached the third of thirteen balkanized American zones: Possibility. As described in the comic:

Once populated by all the creatives responsible for the stories and myths and music and styles and culture that made America what it was to the world. The dream.

Out of all the zones, Possibility was tasked with making new creations that would redefine this land so that when the doors re-opened, the American dream would be renewed.


To pass through this zone, our group has to create a brand-new American masterpiece: a story, painting, sculpture, artwork--something that grapples with the myth/dream of America. Although one character immediately throws out a poem that works perfectly well for me:

Roses are red, violets are blue,
America's awful, and fuck you too.


I mean, this sums up the country in a lot of ways, past and present. But, y'know, if they had used that we wouldn't have a story.

The person who ends up being tasked to do this is one of the characters of color: Ace Zenyatta. He considers how to tell the American story and comes up with this:

Yes, I've been thinking about the quintessential American story. Immigration, assimilation, race, class...all part of it. But one story has captivated Americans since the beginning. Three words.

Rags to riches.

So many American stories follow that model. Someone comes from nothing and ends up on top of the world.


And I thought, really? The two white writers are having the black guy say this? Without mentioning America's history of slavery, genocide and Jim Crow, and how that plays into restricting who can actually achieve this rags-to-riches fantasy?

This would have been a very rich vein to tap if the writers had had the balls to really grapple with it. (Also, bringing in a writer of color might have helped.) As it is, they come close in a couple of places, but they end up pulling their punches and ducking away. This pretty much spoiled the impact of this volume for me.

Look, I'm sure many people read this comic just for its overall batshittery. It is pretty over-the-top compared to others. But it's disappointing that they come up with a storyline that is supposed to explore the mythology and dream of America--and they don't actually do it.

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November 15, 2022

Review: Ymir

Ymir Ymir by Rich Larson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cyberpunk is a relatively new genre of science fiction, generally agreed to have been started by William Gibson with his 1984 novel Neuromancer (with its classic opening line of "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel"--although that's a bit dated now, I guess). Since then there have been many different twists on the genre. This one combines cyberpunk with space opera, to middling effect.

Not that Rich Larson isn't an exciting new author. He turns out short stories like most authors do paragraphs (more than two hundred according to this book's Author's Notes) and I've read quite a few of them. His collection, Tomorrow Factory, is excellent. This is a novel-length expansion of those themes, with the addition of a frozen planet, an exploitative corporation, and ancient tech from a vanished race that has reawakened to spread havoc.

This is also supposed to be loosely based on Beowulf, but the only reference I can see is the name of the cyborg monster, called "grendel." Our protagonist Yorick is called back to the titular planet Ymir twenty years after he left to kill the grendel. Yorick carries all sorts of baggage with him, which is gradually revealed through the story. He is not a particularly likable character, although we come to understand him along the way. In the end, he does face up to the demons he left behind, and manages to sort of repair his relationship with his estranged brother.

This is okay, I suppose, but I didn't like it as well as other things I've read by the author. If you're just getting into Rich Larson, spring for the above-mentioned short story collection. That will give you a better idea of what he can do.

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November 11, 2022

Review: The Mountain in the Sea

The Mountain in the Sea The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first challenge of writing "hard" science fiction is of course getting the science right. The second is turning out a story instead of an academic lecture, complete with characters and stakes. I've never read Isaac Asimov, but his characters are famously paper-thin and his ideas carry the day. This book is stuffed full of big ideas--cephalopod intelligence, android intelligence, the definition of consciousness, culture and language, and more.

But for all the top-heaviness of the ideas and the philosophical discussions, it doesn't fall short as an actual story. To be sure, it's a bit slower than some might like, as there are places where the science and ideas take center stage. That's why it's good that there are two side storylines adjacent to the main storyline, as those side storylines are where the action is. All three stories and characters are neatly woven together at the climax. Some of the blurbs for this book call it a "thriller," and while I'm sure that was a good marketing tool, it's not really a thriller, at least in my estimation. It is, however, a very good look at a possible near future where humanity makes its first contact with an alien intelligence that's been right here with us, in the depths of the sea, all this time.

Octopuses are, from what I've read, one of the prime contenders for the next sentience to evolve on our planet. But there are big obstacles to their doing so, and this book discusses them in detail. This long excerpt sums it up:

"Look," Ha continued, "there are limitations that would keep them from ever being able to form a conscious, communicative life or a culture."

"Life span," Evrim interjected.

"Life span is one, yes. Not the only one, but one of the largest. They only live two years, in the larger species, and far less time than that in smaller species. Some live only a season. Down in the deeper parts of the ocean, there are octopuses who live longer--ten years or more. But those are cold-water creatures. They wouldn't be among the most intelligent octopuses: In the deep their lives are simpler--they are creatures of routine. Everything is slowed down. The smart octopuses would be the ones nearer shore, in environments that provide them with diverse challenges, problems to solve."

"Okay, but if they could overcome life span--what else would stand in the way?"

"A hell of a lot. Their mating patterns, for one. The males turn senescent and wander after mating until they die. The females starve themselves to death tending their eggs. And even if the parents survive, once the eggs hatch, the young of most species float to the surface and drift in the plankton before settling to the bottom at another location. That kills any connection to place or kin. There are species that live on the bottom in juvenile form--but it doesn't much matter, if their parents are dead soon after they hatch. There's no way to pass on learned experience. No culture to be born into. And since they are solitary, there's no group knowledge either--so there is no way for them to pass any knowledge from one generation to another, and virtually no passing of knowledge from one octopus to another in the same generation. Imagine where we would be if humanity had to restart its cultural progress with every generation. As intelligent as they are, each individual octopus is a blank slate. The only thing passed down to them by their parents to help them survive is their physical form, and the instincts written into their genes. Everything else they have to learn on their own, wandering the ocean floor."


But in this book, there is a group of octopuses that has overcome those obstacles, and this story is about their discovery and the efforts of the main character Ha Nguyen to communicate with and understand them. It's also the story of Ha and her companion, the android Evrim, to preserve them and keep them free from harm, protecting them against the corporations wanting to exploit them.

In this near-future (no dates are given, but it's several decades from now, at least), the oceans have been overfished to near extinction, and artificial intelligence has progressed to the point where self-driving cars, self-flying airplanes and helicopters, and self-propelled ships are commonplace (indeed, one of the previously mentioned side storylines takes place aboard the Sea Wolf, an AI-controlled illegal fishing boat). Another of the main characters, Evrim, is the world's first artificial intelligence/android proven to be conscious and self-aware, and humanity's panicked reaction to that results in its being banished to the Con Dao Archipelago, where the octopuses are discovered. The archipelago is owned by the tech corporation Dianima, the same company that created Evrim. These two things are not coincidental, and this plays out throughout the story.

As you can probably tell, this is a dense, layered book, and not a light read by any means. I found it fascinating, and the characters are well-drawn enough to keep the attention of those who might tend to be bogged down by the science. But make no mistake, the science and philosophical ideas found here are the focus of the story. If you want a fast-paced book full of action, there's no use even starting this. But if you want an absorbing story of alien intelligence (the octopuses presented here are far more alien and potentially deadly than anything moviemakers can dream up) and the human reaction to revelations that will shake the foundations of our world, then pick this up.



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November 6, 2022

Review: Furysong

Furysong Furysong by Rosaria Munda
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've had good luck with the series I've read so far this year, as in the final and/or latest book in the sequence has proven to be the best yet. That holds up with this book, which brings the Aurelian Cycle to an emotional, cathartic ending.

The book's acknowledgments refer to this series as "Plato's republic with dragons," and while I haven't read Plato to understand that reference, there has been a lot of twisty-turny politics and revolutionary fervor in this story. It was a little bit overwhelming in the last volume, but this one clarifies where our characters' loyalties lie, and what they will do to free their island of Callipolis from the tyranny of the dragonborn.

Classism lies at the heart of this story, as the dragonborn--the families who tamed dragons and trained their children to ride them and rule--view the serfs, which one of our protagonists Antigone sur Aela is one, as subhuman and undeserving of basic rights. The dragonborn were overthrown in a bloody revolution ten years prior to the opening book in the series, Fireborne, but in the second book they returned to oust their own conquerers, with the help of Princess Freyda from the mainland and her enormous dragon, called a "goliathan."

(And just having seen the monstrous Vhagar depicted on HBO's House of the Dragon, I have a pretty good mind-picture of how big Freyda's dragon is.)

In this book our two main protagonists and viewpoint characters, Lee and Annie, return along with two others: Griff Gareson on the island of New Pythos and his lover, Delo Skyfish. These four intertwining storylines are adroitly juggled and all the characters are given satisfying arcs. Indeed, this is the most emotional of the three books, with more than one section where the room got quite dusty as I was reading. The characters have matured and step up to free Callipolis from its conquerers, as well as tearing down the system that allowed the dragonborn to dominate and rule. There is heartache and sacrifice along the way, but in the end their world is remade and they are looking forward to a better future.

The dragons also get more time in this book, although some of the creatures' worldbuilding was a bit hinky--they have retractable fangs? Really?--and the phenomenon of "sparking" and "dousing" individual dragons seems to be more in service of plot demands rather than make any actual biological sense. Still, it was gratifying to finally get to know Annie's dragon Aela and Lee's mount Pallor a little better, even if a tragedy lay in store for Lee and Pallor. Lee's and Annie's romance also intensifies in this book, and it's handled in a refreshingly adult manner, with almost no angst.

This book steps up its game and brings everything to a satisfying conclusion. I would definitely recommend this book, and the entire series, as one of the best things I've read this year.

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November 4, 2022

Review: The Sandman Vol. 4: Season of Mists

The Sandman Vol. 4: Season of Mists The Sandman Vol. 4: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Note: Just before I started this, word came down that Netflix has renewed its Sandman series for its second season, which will presumably tackle this volume. Talk about serendipity.)

Dream of the Endless, or Morpheus, is sometimes not the main character in this comic, but in this volume he takes center stage. This is the rematch between Dream and Lucifer Morningstar, but it turns out not to be a fight at all. When Dream shows up in Hell to rescue the past love he condemned there ten thousand years ago (Dream apparently has spells of being a dick, and this was one of them), he finds Lucifer is kicking all the demons and dead out and closing up the place. And because Dream is there at the very last, he ends up unwittingly getting the key to Hell as Lucifer leaves.

This may be devilishly underhanded on Lucifer's part (see what I did there), although the story seems to indicate he really wanted to leave it behind. Ten billion years of supervising Hell can wear on anybody, I suppose, even a fallen angel. At any rate, Dream is now stuck with Hell and has no idea what to do with it. Worse, gods and goddesses from all the other pantheons hear about this and show up at Dream's doors, determined to get the key by hook or by crook.

(This will be an interesting part of the adaptation, seeing as Thor and Loki figure prominently in the comic. We're so used to the Marvel versions of these characters, it will be fun to see how they are depicted here.)

The solution to Dream's dilemma is an unexpected twist, and an even more dickish move on the Creator's part. It also leads to a rather unsettling ending to the story, as the new overlords of Hell are going to be worse, in an entirely different way, than Lucifer ever was.

Dream is set back on his heels a bit, and has one of the few instances of remorse and regret I'm sure he's felt in his long life. We also see more of the Endless, with a focus on the youngest, Delirium. This is going to be a fascinating story to bring to the screen, and I'm really looking forward to it.

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October 30, 2022

Review: The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us

The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us by Stephen Brusatte
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think Stephen Brusatte is one of the best science writers I've read recently. He has a great way of organizing information and writing about it in a manner that doesn't feel condescending to laypeople, all the while tackling some very knotty topics.

Those skills are on full display in this book. This is a good thing, as the history of mammals gets into deeper scientific weeds than his previous book, the excellent The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, ever did. As he reveals, the evolution of mammals goes further back than most of us ever suspected, and took some surprising twists and turns along the way. I learned more than I ever thought could be said about teeth and dentition and ankle bones, along with the many different classifications of early mammals. It's pretty deep stuff, even as well as he writes it. You definitely have to be a science nerd to slog through some of this.

After we get past the death of the dinosaurs and into the Ice Age, and thus into the more familiar territory of mammoths and sabertooth tigers, the book becomes a bit easier to read. The final chapter deals with human evolution, and adds a sad postscript: many of the Ice Age megafauna would likely be alive today, if it weren't for us.

It comes down to this: if our human species had not spread around the world, then a lot of the megafauna would still be here. Maybe not all of them, but probably most. Dinosaurs like T. Rex and Triceratops were felled by an asteroid. For mammoths and sabertooths, we were the asteroid.

There are many illustrations to accompany the eras and fossils being discussed, and endnotes that are almost as interesting as the main text. I don't think this book is quite as accessible as his first, but that's due to the complexity of the topic. If you like chewing over some meaty scientific concepts, this book is very tasty indeed.

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October 29, 2022

Streamin' Meemies: House of the Dragon, Season 1

 


Now that the first season of House of the Dragon is finished, I thought I would say a few words about it. I came to it from the point of view of someone who has never read any of George R.R. Martin's books or seen the original Game of Thrones (other than a few snippets on YouTube). To be sure, I had heard of the show, and had read enough about it (I've never been someone who gets all up in arms over spoilers) to pretty much keep up with what was happening, but I never felt enamored enough to pay out sufficient weregild to subscribe to HBO. 

Truthfully, the only reason I subscribed to HBO Max in the first place wasn't anything Dragon/Game/or Martin-related: it was to view the internet's favorite gay pirate love story, Our Flag Means Death. (Although my relatively recent realization that the service also holds the entire five seasons of the remastered Babylon 5, which I've been steadily rewatching, kind of sealed the deal.) But you know, at least for me, after I start paying for something a bit of inertia sits in. It's just easier to keep it (and this is very much a first-world problem) then to rouse myself enough to cancel it. So while I've also been looking forward to the upcoming The Last of Us, there was sufficient hype and for me, curiosity about the world of Westeros to give it a try.

I'm very glad I did. 

WARNING--SPOILERS AHOY!!!!!!!!!


First of all, this show looks gorgeous. I suppose the inevitable comparison is to Amazon's The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, on which Jeff Bezos & Co. spent more than twice as much money: $58 million per episode as opposed to Dragon's $20-25 million, according to the different reports I've seen. Of course, Amazon ended up having a great deal more CGI, as far as I could tell, as they had to construct countries and landscapes from scratch--Valinor, Numenor, the Southlands, Khazad-dum, and all the towers, ships, palaces, statues, and cities involved in the various storylines, as well as Mount Doom blowing its top (which really should have killed everyone in that village including Galadriel, but no matter) and the Balrog. Sure, the first season was shot in New Zealand--partly because they went down there to film just before Covid broke out and couldn't leave--but it sure didn't seem like they used a lot of it, at least to me. There just weren't that many shots of the stunning landscape.  As a result, as pretty as Middle-earth ended up being, it also felt more cold, computerized and sterile than Westeros. 

HBO, on the other hand, could re-use the sets and CGI programming already broadcast for Game of Thrones, with the additions of the vastly expanded and diversified ranks of the dragons (more about them later). King's Landing, the Red Keep, Driftmark and Dragonstone are as alive, vital and messy as the people who inhabit them. Rhaenyra Targaryen is a far more compelling character than Galadriel, at least the way the latter has been depicted so far. Amazon's show seems to be too huge and sprawling (and, I suspect, too chained to the demands of the Tolkien estate) to really grab the viewer, though it clearly tries its best--and nearly breaks through, with the bromance of Elrond and Durin. But even that simply doesn't stand up to the smoldering intensity of Daemon's romance with Rhaenyra--or Matt Smith's fantastic chemistry with both the younger version of Rhaenyra, Milly Alcock, and the older, Emma D'Arcy. 

The Rings of Power is also a more simplistic sort of show: the battle against the ultimate evil of Morgoth and Sauron. Black and white, good and bad. House of the Dragon is nowhere near that clear-cut, and that's what makes it the more fascinating of the two. Though I haven't read the source material, George R.R. Martin's Fire and Blood, I've seen enough articles here and there to grasp what's coming from the Dance of the Dragons, and it's going to be a messy, bloody Shakespearean tragedy. This first season is already showing that, with the arc of King Viserys as a mostly decent guy who had no business ruling the Seven Kingdoms, but who to the end of his life tried his best to keep his dysfunctional backstabbing family together. We also have the fundamental misogyny holding up the system of Westeros, in that, paraphrasing the Queen Who Never Was, Rhaenys Targaryen, the nobles of Westeros would "rather burn the realm to the ground than let a woman sit on the Iron Throne." (Which is at least one point in Amazon's favor: Galadriel may be a pretty bland character, but no one tells her she has to stay behind and pump out babies.)

(Pause for a grumpy nitpick. Really, George? Rhaenys, Rhaenyra, Rhaena? Viserys and Visenya? Laenor and Laena? Daemon and Aemond? At least give your characters some different nicknames, for crying out loud.)

This entire first season is background and context for the bloody fiery mess that is going to be the Dance of the Dragons, and covers about twenty years in the lives of the Targaryens and Velaryons. During the first five episodes, Rhaenyra Targaryen and Alicent Hightower are portrayed by the fantastic Milly Alcock and Emily Carey respectively, before the adult versions of the characters are taken over by Emma D'Arcy and Olivia Cooke. Since both of them have children along the way, and since said children play a major role in the conflicts to come, there are two time jumps in the season of ten and six years, with the kids recast both times. (Although one wonders why some of the more prominent male characters, namely Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen and Fabian Frankel as Ser Incel Criston Cole, don't also have younger versions. I guess one doesn't really waste the Eleventh Doctor, especially as Smith is so deliciously evil in the role. Paddy Considine, as King Viserys, doesn't have a younger version either, but that's because he has eight episodes to get sick with what is supposed to be leprosy, lose body parts--including part of his face and an eye, a gruesome sight revealed in Ep 8--wither and die. And he does such a fantastic job of it that if he doesn't get nominated for an Emmy, there is no justice.) The different kid actors are all pretty good, although the last time jump, with Ewan Mitchell taking over as Alicent and Viserys' second son Aemond, is almost a misfire: this guy looks at least 5-7 years older than his supposedly "elder" brother Aegon. But he also looks (and acts) a lot like Daemon....and with what Aemond's dragon Vhagar did in the last episode, and Daemon trying to lure out a huge, grumpy old beast named Vermithor from his hiding place underneath Dragonstone, also in the finale....I have an inkling of where those two characters are headed. 

Speaking of the dragons: there are quite a few of them, and they are where the show's VFX millions have obviously been spent. This is never more apparent than the finale, where Aemond Targaryen's gargantuan Vhagar is a big as a mountain, a freaking kaiju. (One wonders what on earth a monster that size would eat. A baby dragon is shown being fed a goat in an earlier episode, but for Vhagar/Godzilla, a goat ain't gonna cut it.) The dragons are different colors and designs, with the enormous Vhagar, Daemon's long-necked and snakelike Caraxes, and Rhaenys' bright red and horn-crowned Meleys. These are four-limbed dragons rather than the usual six-limbed (four legs and two wings), which means they walk, or rather waddle, almost like pterodactyls. 

The central theme of the series is the family fighting and ultimately devouring each other in their struggle for the Iron Throne, which only serves to drive home the point of Drogon's melting the damn thing in the Game of Thrones finale. (In fact, that scene, where he does so and then flies away with Daenerys Targaryen's body, really should have been the end of the series.) There is palace intrigue, betrayals, and backstabbing galore throughout the season, but we spend enough time with the characters to understand and sympathize with them, even though they are deeply flawed people and some of them are borderline (or outright) sociopaths. (As cruel as Laenor Velaryon's faking his death to run away with his male lover was to his parents, he was one of the few decent people we saw, and I was rather glad he got out of that Kings' Landing hellhole.) This is due to the show's high production values, deft directing and most of all the performances of the uniformly excellent cast. 

As far as I can tell, the series was a runaway hit for HBO, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if it garnered multiple Emmy nominations next year. For me, although I also watched and enjoyed The Rings of Power, House of the Dragon was the superior show in nearly every aspect. 

Long may it burn.