“What is the cost of lies?” A few quick thoughts on Chernobyl

Holy moly, this show.

As Game of Thrones wound its way to a wet fart of a series finale, I started thinking about what else I could use my HBO Now subscription for. (I frequently confuse the on-demand service with HBO Go, which is just for cable subscribers — which is probably intentional.) Besides an archive of good miniseries from years past, there was a new show that had really piqued my interest: a show about the Chernobyl disaster.

Jared Harris plays Valery Legasov, a chemist who was drafted for the initial disaster recovery and investigation following the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The show depicts Legasov’s descent into despair, exhausted by the magnitude of the task of mitigating the meltdown, and his increasing frustration with the Soviet bureaucracy that hampered the cleanup efforts and cost thousands of lives.

“What is the cost of lies?” He says in the first episode, a scene set after the events of the series. The cost, Legasov explains, is that lies and truths become indistinguishable, everything turning into just stories.

The show has an amazing ensemble cast: Stellan Skarsgaard, Emily Watson, and a roster of character actors playing everyday citizens living through a months- and years-long nightmare in the aftermath of the meltdown.

The show, as noted by many reviewers, has contemporary overtones: climate change denialism, the fabrication of facts by the current administration, a creeping despair among so many in my generation. I’ve also noted some parallels in my personal life with events in the show, but then again I’m drawn to thoughtful, quiet characters committed to the truth (see also: I, Claudius).

I highly recommend it, but be warned: there are depictions of gruesome deaths of both people and household pets.


Visiting the Barrens: A Narrative Review of It by Stephen King

This is, obviously, a work of fan fiction. The character “Erik” is my own; all other characters are property of Stephen King.

At first it sounded like a Redhill Crane.

I was taking a walk one hot summer afternoon in the woods outside my apartment complex. I had finished reading Stephen King’s novel It a few hours earlier, wondering what to make of this lengthy, thought-provoking book, when I heard it. I left the gravel road and headed into the scrub pine.


Fall of the House of Stark, Part 1: A Game of Thrones

(This is part 1 of an exploration of A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin.)

Before he began the mammoth series A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin wrote for television, penning episodes of the 1980s reboot of The Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman.  He also created and maintains the Wild Cards shared universe, editing anthologies of short stories set there.

So Martin was already adept at the long-form serial before he began Song of Ice and Fire.  Serialized storytelling is a hard art to master (one I’m frankly frightened of!), and I’m in awe of writers who can master it.  Dickens was one such master. The release of the end of Great Expectations to London by ferry was akin to the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, or the fevered watch parties for series finales of shows like Lost.

A Game of Thrones, the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire, belies Martin’s serial heritage in one important aspect: it is the first part of a much longer story, not a book self-contained with comfortable resolutions.  Chapters end on cliffhangers; the novel ends only with the longest breathing space Martin could create, a brief pause in the hell that is Westeros.

The form serial has two big strengths: ongoing character development and the exploration of themes at length.  Martin uses both to his advantage.

And oh, what characters!