Poldark: In Print and On Screen


I have Aprilynne to thank for introducing me to Poldark, the PBS/BBC program based on the Winston Graham novels of the same name. At first I was skeptical, figuring it was just eye candy for the ladies. (Again, that’s on Aprilynne. This was the first thing I remember her sharing:

So yeah.)

But then a bunch of my other friends got into it, and I did a little homework, and with Aprilynne giving me the final nudge, I decided to try it out back in November. After the first episode, I was hooked.

Poldark is about a fictional man, Ross Poldark, from Cornwall, England. It takes place in the late 1700s, right at the close of the American Revolution. Ross was a soldier for England, having joined up to avoid prison after the law caught up with him back home. When he returned to Cornwall three years later, he finds his father dead, his estate in ruins, and his One True Love engaged to his fop of a cousin.

So things aren’t going great for Ross.

In 8 short episodes, the show covers a span of about 4 years, so things move pretty dang fast. In episode 1, Ross (Aidan Turner, you might remember him as The Dwarf Who Loved The Hot Elf Chick In The Hobbit And Died in the Third Movie) is rescuing a scum-class street urchin woman, Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) from a band of hooligans, hiring her to be his kitchen maid, and then beating up her father when he comes looking for her. By episode 3, he’s marrying her.

As all of this is going on, he’s trying to get his family mines back in business, engage in a cloak-and-dagger battle with the local banker (a complete bastard by the name of George Warleggan, played to bastardly perfection by Jack Farthing), deal with the marriage of Elizabeth (Heida Reed) to Francis (Kyle Soller), and try to take care of the poor broke peasants who work for him all at the same time. (For any number of reasons, be it starvation or greed or shortsighted idiocy, lots of these twits can’t seem to stay out of trouble.)

There are a number of things that impressed me about the show, which caused me to blitz it in a week (half of which happened all in one night as I had to camp out on a job site in town.) In no particular order, here they are:

Period Piece

Winston Graham is said to have meticulously researched the time period when he wrote these books. ROSS POLDARK was published in the 1940s, some 160 years removed from its setting, and yet nothing about the book (or the show) feels like a present-day story that just happens to be set in the past. There are details here and there, whether they are geographical considerations, character behaviors, or habits of everyday life, that pop up all over the place to remind you that you don’t know everything about this time or setting…but the characters do, and you need to pay attention to what they’re doing and why.

Clashing Characters

This isn’t just Ross’s tale. Everyone has their motivations, and you’re either rooting hard for a character to succeed, or else crossing your fingers and hoping they get horse-kicked in the mouth. Ross wants to do well by his inheritance, and the people that depends on his mines for survival; Demelza wants to fit in with the upper-class folk, and is eager to please those few in her new ranks that are kind to her; Francis is dissatisfied with his dwindling wealth and the lack of ease in his life after his father passes away; George is a greedy bastard who greeds, and has a silent, calm, still way of taking people apart and profiting from their misery; Verity lives a life of love and service to everyone, and her one chance at romance is smashed apart by her horrible family.

Immense Intrigue

In fact, it is the combination of Verity and Demelza, perhaps more than any two other characters, that drives the culminating conflict at the end of the first season. For six or seven episodes I thought I was just watching interesting characters do interesting things, hoping their individual storylines might neatly resolve themselves somehow in the 8th episode. Then, in one simple scene, you realize that you’ve been watching a crazed man set up a line of dominoes, and his finger quivers as he flicks the first one in line, watching with the zeal of a three-year-old as they all come falling down.

No Punches Pulled

I was mistaken to think any aspect of this show would wrap up with a clean, happy ending. It’s a little more true to life, without being nihilistic or cynical.

Again, this comes back to Winston Graham getting the period right. Whether I know anything about Cornwall or not, this production feels like an accurate representation of life in a time and place that had to have been hard for living. England in the late 18th century was a broken empire, crumbling at the edges with increasing momentum, broke from the effort of so many far-flung wars, taxed beyond all hope of relief and with no end in sight, and these stories take you right to the ground level of what it must have been like for the people who were left to bear it on their backs.

And not just the financial hardships, or the hunger, but the dying cries of the rich and fat, who ferociously resisted the waning of their power and comfort, and oftentimes took their frustrations out on those who couldn’t fight back.

As always, there were plenty of differences between the book and the show. I missed the second season as it aired, and despite really liking the show, I don’t want to cough up $20 to watch it on Amazon when it will be free on Prime next summer, so I gave the first book a listen on Audible. It yielded even more insights into the time period, the characters’ motivations, and the nature of their relationships. The changes between the show and the book were pretty self-explanatory, and while both media were good, I elected not to read the next book until I’ve watched the next season. I enjoyed the show so much and I know I wouldn’t like it if I watched it with foreknowledge of the story’s developments.

Long story short, I highly recommend watching it if you get a chance, and give the books a try when you’re done. I’m glad someone suggested I try it out, and I’m looking forward to more.


My Best Books of 2016

Here it is! The year-in-review. I read 42 books in print and listened to 50 books via audio. Here were my favorites (and as usual, links go to Amazon):


I joined the realm of Stirlingite Fandom back in 2014, having heard her music before, but not having really appreciated it until then. Once aboard, I was all-in. I picked up this book when it came out in January, and listened to the audio version whilst at work. I’m glad Stirling read it herself, as it’s such a personal story that her own voice was the only one that could tell it and have it hit you right in the heart like it should. Very inspiring, and I found it was great fuel for my own dreams of creative success.

A NIGHT DIVIDED by Jennifer A. Nielsen

I was reading this one as I wrote 2015’s best-of list, and since I hadn’t finished it, I didn’t include it, but this definitely crosses the threshold. Nielsen is a fantastic middle grade writer, and she brings all her talents to the table in this book about a family that was on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall as it went up, and how they tried to get back together.


I’d heard of this but hadn’t read it. Glad I finally did, and I want to keep up with the rest of the series. It’s a great graphic novel bursting with color, fun characters, and an exciting story. I really got into it.

MORNING STAR by Pierce Brown

This is the third installment in the Red Rising sci-fi trilogy, about a Roman-esque empire 700 years in the future, which has terraformed and colonized most of the planets in our solar system. When I first read RED RISING, I didn’t get all crazy about it the way everyone else had, but I decided to give GOLDEN SON (book 2) a chance, and it was a big improvement. When book 3 came around, I couldn’t stop listening to it, so much so that I re-listened to 1 and 2 afterword, and both were amazing. So much so that I’m not sure why I didn’t love RR in the first place. Nevertheless, the error has been rectified 🙂

Content warning on this one, there’s a lot of violence, a fair amount of language (F-bombs pop up in book 3) and sexually suggestive stuff in it. (Like I said, space Romans.)

EX-ISLE by Peter Clines

The fifth in his Ex-Heroes series, which is about superheroes during a zombie apocalypse. I won’t link to all of the previous installments, this was just another great book in a highly entertaining series. (Content warning here, similar to the content of the Red Rising books.)

LADY MECHANIKA by Joe Benitez, and contributors

Wow. I hadn’t heard of this comic until I was looking up steampunk clothing pictures for my Engines of Liberty trilogy. A picture popped up of some woman cosplaying as ‘Lady Mechanika’. Naturally curious, I followed the link and discovered Benitez’s work, and was floored at the greatness of it. Lady Mechanika is an amnesiac steampunk woman who’s equal parts special forces/secret agent, like a Victorian Jane Bond. Or maybe Jason-ette Bourne. Either way, the stories are great, the science is interesting, and the artwork is superb. Both omnibus editions made the list this year.


I wanted to work more non-fiction reading into my annual consumption, and I had this one on the shelf from my brother, so I lugged it around to work. It touched on a ton of stuff that was taught wrong in public school, and included a bibliography of sources that I’ll want to look into in order to expand my understanding. As I said on my Goodreads review, I wouldn’t suggest that it be a forced replacement for any history class, but rather a complement to it, because public school textbooks do not get it right, on purpose.


Cole is an author whose book was actually, literally banned by a publisher (as opposed to the sensationalist marketing tactic of calling something “banned” because it didn’t get published.) Naturally this piqued my curiosity, so I read up on it to learn why, and decided to try the  book out. It’s a prequel to his already-established post-apocalypse novels, so you don’t need to know anything going in. The hook of the story is about how an AI monitors human behavior, sees how a slightly-ahead-of-us human generation is so obsessed with a reality TV show that it becomes, in effect, the world religion, and when a character on the show opts to have a convenience abortion, the AI learns that it’s okay to end a life if it’s an inconvenient obstacle to your own plans. Chaos ensues. Entertaining, well-written chaos. (And a mild content warning for the prologue: it’s delicate in its descriptions, but nevertheless deals with sex on a reality TV show, so yeah.)


Another excellent comic, not unlike LADY MECHANIKA, about a faerie woman who is inducted into a secret society that keeps paranormal stuff under wraps around the world. Delicious, superb artwork, and a really intriguing story. I hope Johnson writes more.

THE REVENANT by Michael Punke

Eventually I’ll see the movie, but I wanted to read the book first. Just wonderful. I thought it might do what many literary books do, and drag on and on about the boring parts, but this thing moves, like Elmore Leonard or a good Louis L’Amour. (L’Amour drags on in some of his books, but not all of them.) Anyway, I really want to see the flick, about a mountain man left for dead after getting mauled by a bear, only to survive, heal, and go on a revenge bender.


I’ll be here all day if I gush about this hilarious, HILARIOUS graphic novel series. The cartoonish art is perfect, the humor is unique and original, and the dialogue is just ace. It’s a fearless, mind-bending series that isn’t afraid to be weird, and is smart enough to be good at the same time. This one was simply the final collection in the series.

MEDITATIONS by Marcus Aurelius

With the electoral climate being what it was in the USA all throughout the year, I wondered what kind of philosophy would be prudent for all Americans to embrace regardless of political values. Plenty of people suggested Stoicism, so I looked into it, starting with Aurelius’ MEDITATIONS. I grabbed a free edition off of Gutenberg.org (free public domain ebooks) and loved it. Some of the stuff grated with my own beliefs, but was presented in such a way as to be approachable in a discussion. America really needs this book, these writings. As a side note, I recommend THE DAILY STOIC by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, which also incorporates the writings of Seneca and Epictetus, who were Stoics like Aurelius.

THE CREEPING SHADOW by Jonathan Stroud

Another flawless installment in the Lockwood & Co series, about teenaged ghost-hunters in modern day London. Every fall, Stroud releases one of these books, and I devour them in their perfection.


On the religious front, I picked up Lund’s piece on revelation. After having heard him give a conference on the subject in February of 2005, I was interested in reading more, and this book goes into great detail about how revelation works, how it doesn’t work, and how we can recognize when God is communicating with us. I found it very enriching.

GLITTER by Aprilynne Pike

Up-front confession: Aprilynne is a friend of mine. That said, I’m friends with a lot of writers, and they publish once or twice a year, and after a quick scroll-up through this list, only one other had a book that made it, and that’s Jennifer Nielsen. Books make this list because they deserve it, and GLITTER is no exception. Branded as a mashup of Marie Antoinette and Breaking Bad, it’s set in a futuristic France, where the Palace of Versailles is equal parts historical landmark and corporate headquarters. In an act of corporate hostility/palace intrigue, our heroine Danica is suddenly engaged to the young King, and desperately wants a way out, so she starts dealing designer drugs mixed with makeup. Aside from knowing that this can only go horribly wrong, the story is pretty unpredictable from there (at least it was for me, I don’t watch Breaking Bad). This book did what I want books to do: it pulled me in and made me want to keep reading, so I did, and you should too. (Minor content warning, there are a few PG-13 words in the book, and part of the intrigue centers on non-explicit sexual blackmail.)


Available in audio only, narrated by Adam Baldwin (aka Jayne Cobb, from Firefly.) If you’re familiar with Larry’s blog, you’ll get a lot of the inside jokes in this wacky, wacky, wacked out wacky story. If you’re not familiar with the blog, you’ll still laugh at this crazy funny tale, which wraps up at just the right point in its wacky progression. I hope more writers do funny crazy stuff like this as a palate cleanser, because Larry scratches an itch with it.


“Spectral” on Netflix is an amazing three-star effort.

All the way back in 2012, I heard of a movie in development with the working title of Spectral. The premise–a militarized anti-ghost squad battles a sudden swarm of ectoplasmic visitors–sounded an awful lot like my then-work-in-progress, Specter Cell. I even emailed my then-agent in a fit, screaming that once again the frigging Idea Gnomes had broken into my house while I slept, and that it was time to start sleeping with tin foil nightcaps again.

With all of her trademark good judgment, Joan told me not to worry about it, so I got back to work. Specter Cell never got picked up by any of the fifteen publishers that looked at it, and Spectral got booted back from its 2013, 2014, and 2015 release dates.

Then, last month, a trailer finally surfaced, along with an announcement declaring that Spectral would be a Netflix-only release, and I soon saw why. Plotwise, it didn’t look all that more complex than something you’d see on SyFy at 2AM, and the leading cast members weren’t exactly A-listers. An IMDB search reveals that James Badge Dale’s biggest role was as Right Hand Man Henchman #1 in Iron Man 3. Max Martini, the rugged military character, was best known for his semi-side role as Hercules Hanson in Pacific Rim (as well as just about every TV show ever.) Emily Mortimer, the female lead, was in Shutter Island in 2010.

None of these actors are bad, they’re just never top-billed material, nor are they near the top. That said, they all put on solid performances for their characters, especially Dale, who was the Science McGyver of the flick.

The premise is simple: Dale plays a scientist who developed some high-tech specs for the military. When an Eastern European battle zone starts running a high casualty rate, the military geeks notice strange apparitions on the recordings from the soldiers’ specs, and they call in Dale to analyze. Soon they realize that the battlezone is overrun with ghosts, phantoms that can kill you just with a touch, and none of the military’s weapons can touch them.

So in true sci-fi/horror flick fashion, it’s a race against the clock to figure out what the monster is, figure out how to kill it, make something that can kill it, and then kill it.

That said, I’m pleased and surprised to report that the science-babble and methodology behind the ghosts (what they were, how they worked, why they were there) was interesting and even somewhat sensical, beyond “ooooh it’s paranormal magic, so whatevs.” There were pieces of dialogue all throughout the movie that reminded you just what you were watching, interspersed with dialogue and moments that slightly elevated it above what it truly was.

If you’re not all that jazzed about what’s on your Netflix watchlist, I’d suggest sitting down one night with Spectral and giving it a try. I think it’s cool that the studio not only finished their project, but admitted to themselves what they had, and released it via a channel that would be good for them, good for the platform, and good for the product.

There certainly are worse “kill ghosts with high-tech laser weapons” movies that hit the screen this year.