The Power of Good Storytelling

The Witcher has finally taken Televisionland by storm.

I find the story of the story of The Witcher to be one of the testaments to the power of a good story.

It started off as a collection of short stories, original written in Polish by Andrzej Sapkowski.  Then the collection became a series and a runaway hit in Poland.

The books became one of the most popular video games in recent history, then finally got picked up for television.

That was when Henry Cavill, gamer and fantasy fan, strong armed his way into the production and the role.  Thank the stars for that, I say.  He was freaking amazing in the role.

I am not a big fan of fantasy.  I find a lot of it derivative, for I was hooked on Lord of the Rings when I was very young, and nothing comes near it in my estimation.

I much prefer science fiction, which is defined by new ideas.

I’m currently working my way through the most recent season of The Expanse at the moment, and thoroughly enjoying it.

But The Witcher caught me by surprise.

I inhaled the first season in two or three days.  It’s the first time I’ve binge watched anything in years.  I had no trouble with the convoluted timeline that many others have complained about (although you have to pay attention when you watch, because there’s no road signs, just hints and throwaway lines that let you stitch the timeline together).

So why is the story so powerful?

What grabbed me in the first episode, and I’m sure it was deliberate, was one of the coolest sword fights I’ve seen in years.  It was unique.  Thoughtful.  And bloody.

I was totally hooked.

But that’s television.  The story itself lasted through two separate iterations before it reached the small screen.  And I think it lasted that long because at the heart of it is a singularly interesting character.

Geralt of Rivia barely speaks even in the books (where dialogue is often far more wordy than on the screen).  But he’s a complex guy, all the same.

I’ve just started reading the books, too–I wanted to see how different they are.  Not much, as it turns out.

But one thing that came through in the books was that the writer, Andrzej Sapkowski, has a deep and profound understanding of the power of myth and fairy tales.  I recognize quite a few of the storylines running through the tales for their classic elements, and I don’t mind at all, because the story still feels fresh and interesting…and very adult.

Have you ever been gripped by a story outside your preferred reading matter?  What was so good about it?  What elements hooked you?

Also, a small reminder that we’re only a few weeks out, now, from the release of Hammer & Crucible, book one of the Imperial Hammer series.

Here’s a snippet for you:


The deck was cramped. The five deck crew manning the controls all rested casually against newish-looking shells which they didn’t need. The modern shells were smaller, yet there still wasn’t a lot of room on the deck.

This deck was a donut model, all control dashboards facing the center, where the screens could display any view needed, plus schematics, and clear headshot views of the other members of the deck, if needed.

Newman beckoned with his fingers, as I paused at the entrance to the deck.

I made my way around the back of the shells. No one bothered to glance at me. They were busy, now we’d emerged from the hole. There was plenty to do between now and docking.

Newman pointed at a screen. “You said leaving New Phoenicia would be the end of your woes.”

I looked. The screen showed a long view of the Devonire station. It was as small as I had guessed from Juliyana’s quick research. The three landing bays were ranged on this side of the station, facing the gates where all the traffic came from.

An old-fashioned cable setup hung from the bottom of the station, trailing down to the planet’s surface. “Haven’t seen one of those in years,” I murmured, watching the glasseen pod rise up into the underside of the station.

“Check the bays,” Newman said. “We’ve been cleared for the portside.”

The portside bay was empty. The station was one of the old kind, where a ship had to nudge up against an outside port and couple with it. I hoped they didn’t use molecule tunnels to hook up with the ships. I didn’t like walking along a ramp which had nothing between me and fatal vacuum except for a thin membrane of invisible, coherent molecules acting as a shield. They said the molecule barriers simply couldn’t fail because of the nature of the interaction between molecules and vacuum. If that was the case, then why didn’t more people use them? They’re cheap enough.

I’m guessing too many people felt the way I did, including those who made decisions about a station design.

The surprising aspect of the station was that both other landing bays were in use. “The Queen is supposed to be the only ship arriving for a week,” I said.

Newman pulled at the softer skin below his chin. “Recognize either ship?” He tapped the keyboard. The view pulled in tighter upon the two ships snuggled up to the station.

Glasseen connector tunnels. Thank the stars.

I focused upon the ship at the starboard landing bay. It was a thick, blunt design, solid all the way through, with no projections or spindly extensions which could be snapped off or sheered away. There were regular shapes all over the hull, and all of them would have a purpose, too. The ship had that sort of spare, elegant design about it. Nothing for show or decoration. Just utilitarian efficiency. Despite the blocky shape and sparseness, there was an elegance to the dimensions.

“Can you focus on the starboard side?” I asked Newman.

He tapped. The lens shifted and the view expanded.

Now I could see details. Big reaction engine cones—very big in proportion to the size of the ship. That sucker would move under that sort of impetus.

The hull itself was strangely colored. The standard subdued glow of gray carbon steel showed here and there. Carbon steel was the material most external hulls were made of these days. Everywhere else, the hull was a matte ochre red. I frowned, peering at the mottled color, wondering what that was about. Then it clicked.

“Rust,” I breathed. “How the fuck does a ship get rusty in space?”

“Good question,” Newman said. “You don’t know the ship, then?”

I took in the four rail guns mounted top and bottom of the ship and shook my head. “Independent party, I guess. I don’t know them, sorry.”

He nodded. “It’s the other one I wanted to ask you about.” He nudged the lens. The screen dissolved into a mash of pixels, then resolved once the lens stopped moving. The lens focused on the big ship which took up the center bay. The center bay was the big one. The ship had got this bay because it wouldn’t have fit either of the other two.

I traced the lines of the ship. The entire ship was matte black, a non-reflecting material which in space would make the ship virtually invisible, except for the negative space it would make from blocking the stars behind it.

Two long, independent arms ran forward from the body of the ship, both of them three times longer and nearly half the width of the body. They were independent troop drop ships, which would detach from the main ship to get infantry to the surface…or mechs, or armed crawlers, or whatever was required down there. While attached to the ship, their front end cannons could be aimed and fired by the main flight deck weapons officers.

I swallowed. “An Imperial Ranger armed carrier.”

Newman was watching my face. “Friends of yours?”

He was being ironic, yet for all I knew, I did have friends on the ship. Only, the way Newman meant it was also true. I pushed my hand through my hair. “That’s a combat vessel. The combat battalions have no interest in me.” Which was true as far as I knew.

“Meaning the police battalions do?” Newman rasped, looking unhappy.

“They’re not here for me,” I assured him. “It’s a coincidence. No one knew we would be on this ship and…” I plunged on, “…and no one knows what names we’re using.”

Newman considered this, his old eyes narrowed.

“Fifty minutes out, boss,” one of the crew said softly.

“I wouldn’t bank on no one knowing you’re here,” Newman said. He pointed at a tiny woman frowning at her screens. “LeOnde says the ship’s security feeds were raided before we made it into the hole.”

LeOnde nodded and looked up. “It wasn’t subtle. They accessed the footage showing the cargo ramp, in the last three hours before we left.”

I stared at her unhappily. “The footage shows our faces as we came on board,” I guessed. Even though we were traveling under false IDs, a smart AI could still go through visuals and match faces to ours on file.

LeOnde gave me a taut smile and went back to her dashboard.

Newman was back to tugging the flesh beneath his chin. “The heavy hand meant they didn’t care if we knew. It usually means some sort of official agent, with the authority to raid private feeds. And lo, the Rangers are here.” He waved his hand at the screen.

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