Pulp Consumption: Hard Boiled

Okay, so HARD BOILED wasn’t my first exposure to John Woo’s style of film making[1], but if I have to name the one film of his I could not do without it is this, his swan song before he left Hong Kong to make movies in the USA.

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Give a guy a gun, he thinks he’s Superman. Give him two and he thinks he’s God.

A quick synopsis of the plot- Tequila Yuen (Yun-Fat Chow) is the hard boiled cop of the title. He’s not great at relationships and he’s terrible at following orders, but put a gun in his hand (or even better, two) and he’s a God among men. Alan (played by Tony Leung) is an undercover officer trying to dismantle a ruthless organized crime gang from the inside. At first thinking that they are on opposite sides, the two learn to work together to bring down the ruthless boss Johnny.

Okay, so what makes it pulp though? Is it the action sequences, beautifully shot and which act as a high water mark for heroic bloodshed, a subgenre of action movies featuring high amounts of gunplay, meticulously crafted action choreography, and well, blood?

Is it the seemingly black-and-white characters that get mired in the grey of reality? Where one character who is clearly the heavy discovers there is a line he will not cross when his boss takes a step too far? Where Woo acknowledges the chaos that can result in a running gun battle and that friendly fire might happen and what toll that might take on a character? Is it the core threads of honor and respect that some of the characters hold on to with both hands?

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Here are the things that make the movie work for me:

  1. The stakes are clearly defined throughout the movie. Tequila wants revenge for his partner getting shot. Alan wants to bring down the mob so he can come out from undercover work. Johnny wants to make money by importing as many guns as he can.
  2. The action is palpable and beautifully done. As a viewer you get sucked in and the way the cinematography is done blows you away.
  3. There are a few quiet moments in the film, some brief time in introspection. Particularly of note is Tequila’s conversation with a bartender (John Woo himself in a cameo). These function as periodic breaks to give the viewer a chance to catch their breath and prepare for the next bit of action… as opposed to being a never ending sensory barrage.
  4. The lines are clearly drawn, despite some of the moral ambiguity. The old mob boss is of a more respectable nature, while the up-and-comer Johnny is obviously a more reckless and dangerous element. Despite some of the actions Alan is forced to take while undercover, he shows obvious regret while still acknowledging that the work he is doing is important.

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HARD BOILED would receive a sequel of sorts in 2007 in the form of the video game STRANGLEHOLD, with the added bonus of Chow Yun-Fat reprising his role as Tequila, but if you haven’t seen the original… well, what are you waiting for?

[1] That would be HARD TARGET where Jean-Claude Van Damme is a merchant marine going up against rich people who hunt the poor for sport.

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Pulp Appeal: Tales from the Crypt

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Eeee hee hee hee hee hee hee heeeeeeee!

A couple years ago there was a rumor (which turned out to be correct) M. Night Shyamalan was resurrecting one of my favorite television series of all time: Tales from the Crypt. I was simultaneously ecstatic and revolted, as anyone who has followed Shyamalan’s career[1] has a right to be. I have a reputation among my friends and family of poo-pooing remakes and unnecessary sequels, but this is a series I would love to see revived, provided it is done correctly.

Before the era of the Comics Code Authority, comic books went through a growth period in which they embraced violence, blood, and horror, but no publisher pushed the boundaries of acceptability in four-colors further than William Gaines of EC Comics. After his father died, Bill took over and turned it from a fairly standard publishing house, Entertaining Comics, into the horror and shock masterpiece that marked EC Comics’ heyday.

Although writers and producers had been bandying about the idea of a Tales from the Crypt movie for years, the box office flops Twilight Zone: The Movie and Creepshow made that path untenable at best, but HBO was willing to get onboard with a tv series simply because of how much support the idea was getting from big name Hollywood types like Robert Zemeckis, Richard Donner, and Walter Hill. Zemeckis was a hot commodity at the time after the huge success of Back to the Future, Donner was the hitmaker behind Superman and The Goonies, and Walter Hill was the man behind the stylistic wonder The Warriors. With those three pushing for the series, it’s no surprise HBO backed the weird property.

Most of the show’s episodes come not from the title comic, Tales from the Crypt, but rather from The Vault of Horror, Shock SuspenStories, and The Haunt of Fear. The stories Gaines published were mostly those of bloody morality tales where deviants and murderers get their comeuppances in gory and frequently ironic fashions, and the tv series followed suit. Although the comics became the focus of Congressional hearings over decency laws, and eventually died out because of the strict censorship protocols of the Comics Code Authority, HBO didn’t have to fight those battles. As an independent cable network, they could show blood, violence, and nudity, most of which would be considered tame by modern standards[2].

Like a lot of pulp of the later era, there are clear morals in play in the Tales series. While earlier pulp magazines and stories of the 1930s and 40s played more in the gray areas, with heroic criminals and selfish heroes, the EC Comics stories were definitely starker in their divides. The villains were clear and they almost universally met tragic endings. 

RCO011_1464944405The tv series follows this formula, which is entertaining, if at times predictable and staid. That said, there are few duds in the long-running anthology, and the series was popular enough they even made a kid-friendly Saturday morning cartoon spin-off, Tales from the Cryptkeeper[3].

My all time favorite episode has to be the third episode of season 1, “”Dig That Cat… He’s Real Gone.” Joe Pantoliano plays a daredevil who thinks he has nine lives after a medical experiment, only to realize too late into his latest death-defying stunt that he’s miscounted and is about to be buried alive. It’s simple, not overly moralistic, and has one of my favorite character actors in a lead role.

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I also really like the episode from season 2 called “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy,” starring Bobcat Goldthwait (what has he been up to recently?) and Don Rickles. I think it’s partly because Rickles is one of my favorite stand-up comics, engaging as he does in insult comedy against his own audience. Anyone who knows me probably understands why. The reveal of who the ventriloquist’s dummy is remains one of the stupidest reveals in tv history, right up there with Newhart’s “it was all a dream” nonsense, and yet I love it because it’s so insanely campy.

Something I didn’t know until research for writing this article was the censored syndicated versions of the show that aired on Fox in the mid 1990s weren’t just cut, but rather used secondary shots. The producers had apparently planned for the show to reach larger audiences and double-shot most episodes so they could be recut for broadcast without being completely neutered by dialogue overdubs or pixelation.

Since the cancellation of the in-production revival this past summer[4], it appears our best hope for anthology television remains in the science fiction realm. While The Twilight Zone managed to split across scifi, fantasy, and horror genres in relatively equal measure, modern productions are having a harder time of it. Charlie Booker’s Black Mirror has been a hit, with a new season dropping sometime soon. Amazon is hitting back at Netflix with a science-fiction anthology series, Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, based on the work of one of the best science fiction authors of the mid-to-late 20th Century.

There is certainly room for a straight-up horror anthology series, something the world has been missing for over a decade. The last attempt[5] at a tv show was Showtime’s Masters of Horror, which had some really fantastic episodes, but lacked the longevity of Tales from the Crypt. There have been movies like V/H/S attempting to fill the void, but every one I’ve seen has been a pale imitation at best. While I was trepidatious and cautiously optimistic about a Shyamalan-helmed reboot of Tales from the Crypt, not having anything at all in the works is even more disheartening. I guess I’ll have to find my joy in Black Mirror and Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams. I just wish HBO would at least find a way to put Tales from the Crypt up on HBOGO.


[1] He has some made some of my favorite films, like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Split, and some catastrophic duds, like The Last Airbender, AfterEarth, and The Happening.

[2] Heck, even some broadcast network shows show more of the first two than Tales from the Crypt did, and while nudity is still censored outside of subscription cable services, some recent shows make Tales look positively prudish.

[3] Yup, that’s right – kid-friendly horror cartoon. Here’s the intro.

[4] Rights issues were apparently labyrinthine and no one could find an Alexandrian way of cutting that Gordian Knot.

[5] I am aware of Amazon’s Lore, but haven’t yet had the chance to watch it. Reviews have been mixed, so I’m in no rush, but maybe over winter break I’ll give it a go.

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Pulp Consumption: Mad Max: Fury Road

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Max and what’s left of his “Pursuit Special” 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT

In case you’ve been under a rock somewhere, Mad Max: Fury Road is the latest (as of 2015) installment in George Miller’s Mad Max series of films.

Yes, I know it’s another movie. Yes, I know it’s post-apocalyptic. Yes, I know it doesn’t fit into the “pulp mold”, whatever that might be.

Here’s why you want to watch it from a storytelling perspective.

The stakes are clear. If Max doesn’t escape Immortan Joe and his War Boys, he’s going to be bled dry as a source of clean blood. If Furiosa and Immortan’s brides don’t escape, Furiosa will be killed (most likely), and the brides will be subjected to sex slave status until Joe dispenses with them at which point the best they can probably hope for is being used as a milk source. If Immortan doesn’t recapture Furiosa and the brides, his power is diminished both in a material way (loss of the War Rig) as well as from a social standing (he looks weak for having one of his chief lieutenants defect, as well as losing the status symbols of having his “brides”). As a tyrannical despot, Immortan didn’t get to be in power, and keep that power, by being the type of guy to let things slide.

 

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Mediocre? I think not.

The story is action driven. From the first chase through the desert where Max is captured, through the citadel when he tries to escape, down to the extended chase through the wasteland, Fury Road is driven by action and with all of the characters taking deliberate actions to move the story along. It is one of those rare stories where the villain is being forced to react to the actions of the protagonists. The story wouldn’t happen if Furiosa hadn’t stolen the rig and tried to escape with the brides. Everything Immortan Joe and his forces do in the scope of the movie is in reaction to that theft.

The storytelling techniques used are also inspired. There are no long infodumps. Miller shows enough to establish setting and character with a few visuals and lets the viewer do the heavy lifting with the rest. There is no voice over describing War Boy culture, and it doesn’t detract from the film. We don’t get much of Furiosa’s backstory other than the sense she has done terrible things in Immortan Joe’s service and this act of rebellion might be her way of seeking a redemption of sorts.

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I considered cropping this image, but really, how could I?

One of the ways that it does fit the classic pulp structure is that there is a clear sense of good and evil. From the character designs down, there is a clear sense of the sides everyone is on. Even Max, who ostensibly starts off as neutral (all he wants is his car back and to be on his way) quickly realizes who he is better off with as he sides with Furiosa despite the odds stacked against her. The actions of Immortan Joe (along with the Bullet Farmer and People Eater), might seem over the top and evil, but they never spill over the edge into the realm of making it hard to suspend disbelief.  It is the type of story that wouldn’t feel out of place in a sword-and-sorcery setting, or even a retro sci-fi piece with some minor adjustments.

So if you are looking for inspiration for your own pulp stories, you can do a lot worse than looking toward Fury Road for inspiration[1].

Also, be sure to check out Cameron’s article last week where he discussed the original Mad Max. And don’t forget that you can join us on Facebook.


[1] This isn’t the first time Matt’s talked about Fury Road. If you want more of his insights, you can check out this episode of Hollow9ine’s “What Am I Watching?!”

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Pulp Consumption: Mad Max

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Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray cover

In 1979 something incredible happened: I was born. But seriously, that’s also the year of some amazing cinema, including Alien, The Amityville Horror, Apocalypse Now, and The Warriors, but the one I’m most enamored of is Mel Gibson’s second major film, and the one that rocketed him to stardom, Mad Max.

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Max during Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, arguably more influential and important to the look of Fury Road than anything in the original.

The Mad Max series rocketed back into cultural consciousness two years ago with Fury Road, but before Furiosa and Immortan Joe, before Tina Turner singing “We don’t need another hero,” before the ever-expanding desert and the gyrocopter and the weird kids-only cargo cult, we had Max Rockatansky, an Australian highway patrolman operating a pursuit vehicle at the ass-end of civilization as society breaks down around him. We aren’t given a specific time period, just “a few years from now,” and there are still vestiges of contemporary life, but the apocalyptic events that shape the world of the later Mad Max sequels are clearly ramping up.

Of course, that information all comes over the course of said sequels, and George Miller’s explanation of setting is not nearly so clear in the films themselves as it is in hindsight with audience interpolation and extrapolation. Miller chooses not to have a ton of voiceover, long expository scenes, minutes-long text scrolling, or characters all but talking to viewers, as some other, lesser films tend to do. Instead he packs every scene with visual cues, exhibiting an attention to detail that is rivaled only by the best directors in film history, people like Alfred Hitchcock, Walter Hill, Brian DePalma, Ridley Scott (before fame ruined his directorial focus), James Cameron, and Stanley Kubrick (when he wasn’t being a monstrous jerk to his actors).

At the beginning of the film, Max is called out to engage and bring to justice a motorcycle gang member known as Nightrider after Nightrider has killed a rookie police officer. After a high-speed chase in his now-iconic Interceptor (a 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT), Max manages to force a crash that kills Nightrider. Some later events regarding the lack of true justice for a rape committed by the same gang makes Max question the efficacy of law enforcement as the world begins to eat itself, and he tries to resign and make do with what life is left in the collapsing world. He’s convinced to take a vacation instead, but there are no Disneys in this world, and vacations aren’t exactly something that happens in the apocalypse.

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Max as he appears before the film hits high gear.

What starts out as a relatively straightforward action cop movie shifts gears and becomes a straight up revenge film as Max forgoes any objectivity or belief in justice after watching his wife and infant son run down and murdered by a biker gang. Far be it for me to spoil a 38-year-old movie, but Max gets his vengeance and leaves the last vestiges of his humanity behind him as he moves on to become the ultimate survivor we meet in the three follow-up movies.

This film absolutely fits into the pulp aesthetic, at least as far as I’m concerned. There may be room for some reasonable disagreement on this point, but revenge plots where main characters seek out their own personal justice against the people who have done them wrong are as pure pulp as exists. The sense of right and wrong is also pretty clear cut, which some of the pulp revolution crowd insist on when they describe pulp. I’m not so set on that, and any in-depth foray into Black Mask or Detective Fiction Weekly will put the lie to that idea. In any case, there is clear motivation, all the action is driven by character decision rather than authorial intrusion or outside circumstances, and the resolution is satisfying if morally gray, lending viewers a definite feeling that justice was served, but at a significant personal cost.

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The weakest of the films is also the one that establishes most of the mythology about the apocalypse and those who are surviving it.

To modern audiences, Mad Max might appear a tad slow, which I grok, as even for a fan like me it does seem to drag on at times. Compared to Miller’s newest sequel (or even its excellent immediate sequel Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior and the less-than-stellar-but-still-enjoyable mid-1980s trope defining Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) Mad Max seems positively glacial.

If your only foray into the world of the desert diesel-punk post-apocalyptic world that is Mad Max was 2015’s Fury Road, then you need to do yourself a favor and queue up the original, if for no other reason than to see where it all started.

In next week’s article, Matt will be discussing Fury Road, so stay tuned for more Mad Max love. While you’re at it, join us on Facebook. We just launched a group where we can engage more directly with fans of Broadswords and Blasters or pulp in general.

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Pulp Consumption: The Recursion Theorem

Earlier this year, we were given the unique opportunity to view “The Recursion Theorem,” an indie black and white film that would feel right at home in the Twilight Zone. It also claims inspiration from Asteroids (the classic video game), and Greek mythology. Yes, when I read that description I scratched my head as well. But bear with it, because it comes together well.

The story is simple enough. A man, Dan Everett, wakes up in a room, with no memory as to how he arrived there. In his exploration of his space, he discovers that he cannot escape the room, as no matter what point he exits, he reenters the room at the opposite point. With his physical movement so confined, what follows is his exploration of how he might have arrived there and what it will mean at the end.

While the special effects are impressive (especially for an indie), the stand out piece is Dan Franko’s performance as Dan and his descent into… well, if it’s not quite madness than it is at least a close cousin. At one point he has a conversation with his more reasonable half, proceeds to get drunk and devises a plan to escape that, well… that would be telling, wouldn’t it?

One thing I can say is that I wish the filmmaker had revealed a bit more as to what is going on, as all the viewer truly understands is about as much as Dan himself. There are hints strewn throughout the film as to what the possibilities are, but nothing is fully revealed leaving the viewer to guess at the nature of the room and whether Dan is justly imprisoned, cruelly being held captive, or perhaps the entire sequence of events is playing out in his head.

I’d recommend this to anyone who is a fan of the Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, or even Doctor Who for the themes explored… or just to people who enjoy what a single actor can accomplish in a limited space.

The Recursion Theorem is available on a pay-what-you-want at their website, has garnered a heap of well-deserved praise, and is a testament to what indie film makers can accomplish.

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Pulp Appeal: Zork, Metal Gear, Fallout, Bioshock

Matt talked about The Witcher last week, which got me thinking about other video game series that fit the pulp aesthetic. Rather than do a deep dive on one series, and because I am far more familiar with older video games than modern ones (LA Noire, for instance, is one that probably deserves a whole column, but I haven’t played it), I thought I’d do some capsule reviews of a bunch of different styles of games from various consoles and computer systems. No such article could ever hope to be even close to comprehensive, so I’m going to stick to four game series that I’ve played a lot of and loved immensely.

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Zork[1] Series – Zork is an interactive text adventure game that was first published in the late 1970s. Although Colossal Cave Adventure is recognized as the first interactive fiction game, it is little more than its name lets on. Zork is something more. It’s a mashup of genres set in a world not entirely dissimilar from our own. As the hero of the story, you “Get Lantern” and “Hit Thief with Sword” while you explore the Great Underground Empire, which starts below a white house with a mailbox in front of it. There is a lot of humor, but the game is essentially puzzles, fetch quests, riddles, and a few fights that move through a mixed sci-fi/fantasy land. Modern gamers would probably balk at a text only adventure, but I remember playing on an old Commodore 64 when I was a young teenager. There have been multiple other adventures including some 360° video exploration point-and-click games in the style of Myst. One of those, Zork Nemesis, is one of my favorite computer games ever made. It’s the story of star-crossed lovers, murders, and an investigation into their deaths. For a Zork game, it is strangely dark with some black comedy elements, including a joke-telling decapitated head. Clues are found epistolary style as the player pieces together a noirish story. The payoff leaves a little to be desired, but the darkly comic tale is certainly worth exploring.

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This cover is clearly inspired by Michael Biehn’s character Kyle Reese from The Terminator.

Metal Gear Series – Metal Gear was first written for and played on Microsoft-coded MSX computers before being ported to the wildly successful Japanese Nintendo Family Computer (Famicom) and American/European Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The game series, developed by the now famous and hugely influential Hideo Kojima, deals with the political, moral, and social ramifications of technology, genetic engineering, war and peace, and vengeance. At lot of the gameplay is stealth-based, where your character tries to sneak around guards in order to investigate the whereabouts of weapons and people. It has elements of spy noir as well as some definite action sequences. Kojima’s initial goal was to create a pastiche of 80s action movies, the pulp fiction of its day, but the series shed some of its tongue-in-cheek humor as it went on. While the original Metal Gear game seems positively primitive and cryptic by modern standards, it almost single-handedly created an entire genre of video games, with new games of the stealth-action genre being produced even now on modern consoles.

headerFallout series – Fallout is a computer game created for Windows computers in 1997. It’s an ostensibly open-world role-playing game system developed by Interplay that takes place in a post-apocalyptic landscape. Much of the fashion and references are to space-age science fiction of the 1950s-era cathode ray television and nuclear duck-and-cover style. The player takes the role of a Vault Dweller, a young man or woman who was raised in a nuclear fallout shelter that has begun to malfunction. Through exploration, diplomacy, and violence, the character looks for a Water Chip (or doesn’t, if the player seeks to go away from the main storyline) to fix the shelter. There are clear references to movies like Mad Max, to Atomic Age fears of mutant humans warped by radiation, and to old horror movies about rampaging giant insects, among other callbacks to golden age sci-fi and pulp. Some of the imagery is reminiscent of Flash Gordon, Blade Runner, WarGames, and Forbidden Planet, among other properties. More recent incarnations switched to first-person view and incorporated more shooting/action elements, which was polarizing for fans of Fallout, to say the least. In any case, the original and its first couple of sequels are games I still play from time to time today, each time trying to get through a different storyline.

1608-2K_BioShock-The-Collection_Bio1_Andrew-Ryan-Statue.0Bioshock series – Bioshock is a first-person shooter sci-fi horror series directly inspired by golden age pulp fiction and the free-for-all Objectivist writings of Ayn Rand. In the original game, the player takes on the role of a man whose plane crashes near a lighthouse that houses a secret. It’s actually the surface connection between regular civilization and the undersea city of Rapture, a city built on Libertarian ideals that has since fallen into warring factions because of genetic engineering gone awry. It’s a lot to unpack, and the game has a deep, engaging story of one man’s rise to power, and the corrupting influence that power has on him. Like many role-playing focused video games, it has epistolary elements, in the form of notes and audio tracks found all around the city. By injecting himself with some of the gene-editing cocktails, the character develops pseudo-magical powers, and also comes across a whole host of weaponry from wrenches to grenade launchers. Like Fallout, the visual aesthetic takes its cues from history and historical visions of the future. However, instead of taking inspiration from the 1950s, Bioshock reaches further back in time, to the 1920s—the era of art deco, jazz music, the Lost Generation, and the golden age of radio—when pulp was just reaching its audience. The first sequel takes place in the same city, following a different character, but largely hits the same notes. The second sequel, Bioshock Infinite, shifts locations to a floating cloud city, and takes its inspiration instead from the late 1890s. The main character in this game is a Pinkerton, as Dashiell Hammett was before being a writer, deepening the Bioshock connection to pulp and noir.

These are all action-oriented games that hit upon the political and moral concerns that much of the best pulp fiction does. The theme of the age of rayguns and nukes, of fears over science and the exploration of forgotten, hidden cities, runs through each of these series in various different ways. While they don’t necessarily scratch the same itch as a collection of Black Mask issues might, they are all indicative of the reach pulp fiction has. I’ve even seen it said recently that video games are the modern pulp fiction. There’s certainly evidence to point in that direction.

Incidentally, all of these games are still playable (though some may seem more like a chore than entertainment for modern audiences), and most of them are legally obtainable. Some need an emulator if you don’t have a console (like the MSX or NES), but the computer games can be purchased at places like Good Old Games (GOG) or on Steam. The original text-adventure Zork and its sequels, since they’re not at all code-heavy, are easy to find and playable in browser windows. If you like that and also tabletop roleplaying games, I recommend you check out Memento Mori Theatricks Parsely line of games, especially Action Castle.[2]


[1] Zork figures quite prominently in Ernest Cline’s book (and in-production film) Ready Player One. Kids who grew up in the 80s should definitely give the book a read. It is not the greatest science fiction book ever written (and it’s not really pulp), but it is fun. I actually recommend the audiobook version read by Wil Wheaton over the text version if you have Audible or a local library with good audiobook selections.

[2] A few years back, with permission from Parsely Games creator Jared Sorensen, I made my own free Creative Commons-licensed Parsely module called Adventure Quest Hero.

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Pulp Consumption: The Witcher

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Geralt of Rivia (perhaps best known from the Witcher series of video games) first premiered in a series of short stories penned by Andrzej Sapkowski back in the early ‘90s. Sapkowski would go ahead and pen a series of connected novels from 1994 to 1999[1].  They have only recently been published in English, with the final book in the saga being released in English this year.

Geralt is a witcher, a professional that deals with monsters. And he was engineered to do it. In the world of the witcher, where monsters are all too prevalent, your common person isn’t going to stand much of a chance against something that can move faster, regenerate from wounds, and decorate the nearby trees with what was inside of you. Enter witchers. They take boys, subject them to a horrible process that makes them faster, stronger, and able to withstand injecting horrible alchemical concoctions that make them even faster and stronger. They also study a limited amount of magic, and learn a tremendous amount of lore about the monsters they are supposed to fight. The process makes them immune to disease… and also renders them sterile. Traditionally, they only took young boys to train, though the central aspect of the saga is Geralt training a young woman Ciri.

The Witcher could easily stay within the concept of monster of the week. Geralt could show up, kill the local monster, and move on. He, however, lives by a witcher’s code. He won’t kill a sentient monster. He’ll only take a job for payment. The lie is that there is no codified “Witcher’s Code.” It is something Geralt refers to in order to keep people from asking too many questions, and it gives him an out in order to refuse contracts he disagrees with. Sapkowski does occasionally indulge in his characters discussing philosophy, and the fact that his characters use modern scientific terminology[2] might be disconcerting to readers who are used to more pseudo-medieval fantasy. The setting itself isn’t real world Earth, but does take place in a setting where different planes of reality have converged in the past, and this convergence is what resulted in monsters coming over into the world[3].

Geralt is a thinking man’s hunter. He’s not going to swing his sword first. He investigates. He asks questions. He prepares. And if at the end of the day he decides you are a threat? Then he’ll draw his sword. He is also well aware that a foul form can hide a fair soul, and vice versa. Even though he carries two swords, one silver for supernatural foes and one steel for more mundane threats, he acknowledges early on that both are for monsters. To be sure, the stories are bit more grey when it comes to morality than what you would expect from “classic” pulp, but there are many variations on the genre, and we’d be remiss to discount them out of hand.

All in all, I’m surprised that I don’t see the Witcher series end up on more sword-and-sorcery/grimdark lists, as if you have an interest in either genre, you’d be remiss in passing them up.

[1] In contrast, the first video game was released in 2007. There has also been a Polish tv series called The Hexer based on the property, a Polish tabletop game, and there is a forthcoming Netflix series in the works.

[2] Geralt is referred to more than once as a “mutant,” for instance. Magic as well is viewed from an empirical standpoint and behaves in a consistent fashion.

[3] It is heavily implied that humans are not native to this world either.

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