The Hugo Awards: The Money Angle

I wanted to write something about the Hugo awards, but I don’t really know enough about them to contribute meaningfully to the discussion one way or another. I have never been to Worldcon, and as a self-published author who flies well below the radar I don’t expect to see any of my book up there anytime soon, nor do feel bad about that. I’m just here to write and entertain.

Personally I dislike both the extreme right, and extreme left getting involved in this debate. North American directional politics, fed by the twenty-four hours “news” channels and the pundit blogs, is capable of very little other than bringing rage and ruin to everything it touches right now. I hate to think that in the midst of the massive boom in genre fiction that this ugliness could turn people off, and possibly even stunt the growth of SF/F.

What interests me most about the whole debate is that none of the articles that I have read about the whole Kerfuffle, most of which are very good, none cover the economic aspect of winning an award.

I would not buy a book simply because it was a Hugo award winner. However, if I was on the fence about a book and saw that it won an award, that would make me more likely to buy it. An award is an indication of quality, at the very least.

Perhaps more importantly winning (or even being short-listed) an award acts as additional exposure acts for both the work and the author. It will not push a niche intellectual work to bestseller status, to be sure, but I am confident that winning an award, especially a prestigious award, will expose a book to new readers and elevate sales in almost all cases.

Many authors are ego driven enough to value the award above the sales that it generates. Some writers, however, are far more motivated by sales figures and really don’t care how they get them. Attaching “Hugo” to their name and book will get those extra sales and so they have an economic motive, regardless of what ideology they might be espousing to justify their actions.

So while there is an ideological battle here, which is very sad, there is also the simple fact that by gaming the system the Sad Puppies have gained publicity and increased sales. The people who are outraged by their actions are not in their intended readership and I suspect that they, or their publishers, know it. The very nature of their very public campaign, and the amount of publicity it generates for their works, win or lose, demonstrates that at least some of them are motivated by sales as well as ideology.

Making money is not a bad thing, of course, but while winning an award increases sales, battles like this can damage how people view the award, which degrades the value of the endorsement that the award represents.

Unfortunately, it is a hard problem to fix. Every system can be gamed, and as George RR Martin brilliantly stated changing the rules to stop this behaviour only feeds into the narrative of a liberal conspiracy at the Hugos promoted by the Sad Puppies. Incidentally this will get like minded people to buy more of their books as well. Readers will often support writers they feel are being persecuted, as I found out when this happened. After I complained, readers picked up on the attack and sales increased.

Which means that there is also a possible economic motive behind complaining about being persecuted, which can get people on your side and sell more books… 😦

P.S: I don’t like identity politics, but people who form factions to promote their works based on not being part of a certain clique are only engaging in reactionary identity politics.

James Bond Complex, continued (now with Dirty Harry and Ferguson)

dirty_harry_1

A year and a month ago, I posted an article called the James Bond Complex in response to the NSA revelations, in which I argue that spy fiction is likely more harmful than Fantasy because is is very, very hard to mistake the real world for a Fantasy world, no matter how many bad movies come out that say otherwise. Meanwhile someone who mistakes the world of a good spy thriller could do a lot of damage. Fantasy is not written to be realistic, even the most hard-bitten Grimdark is seriously removed from the real world. Mean while a good spy-thriller is usually meant to seem as realistic as possible. This is not a knock against spy thrillers, but rather the logic of people who attack Fantasy and Super-heroes as dangerous. Even children know better than to try flying after they watch a superman movie for the most part, but it seems increasingly possible that some powerful people, and even whole agencies are carrying out their James Bond fantasies.

Lets take the recent focus on Ferguson, Missouri. The spectacle of a heavily militarized police force confronting protesters shocked everyone who hasn’t been paying close attention to the post 9/11 use of force. Hell, even the Republicans came out as against the use of that level of force, at least before they were reined in and reminded where they stand on (non tea-party) protesters.

Ferguson has shed a light on police militarization in the US (among other places) in the same way that The Snowden Revelations (give em’ hell Ed!) demonstrated the pervasive perfidity of the spy agencies. Both groups have abused the post 9/11 homeland security zeitgeist to enrich themselves with new toys, new powers, and new mandates.

One of the more interesting statistics to come out in the spate of articles about Ferguson was that 62% of Swat Raids are drug-searches. This of course brings me back to the war on drugs, and the images and propaganda of my youth that painted junkies as incredibly dangerous, almost civilization threatening, instead of merely sad and problematic in most cases. And that reminds me of another fun fictional character: Dirty Harry.

In the same way that I can see that the NSA has a little bit of a James Bond Complex going on, I also think that some police forces have something similar going on with Dirty Harry.

In a fun coincidence Dirty Harry came out in the same year that Nixon coined the phrase “war on drugs”.

For those of you who are unaware of what I mean by Dirty Harry, take some time to watch it before I spoil it for you. The series is emblematic of a certain style of police movie in which a detective decides to act as a vigilante because the justice system does not stop crime and the only way to end a killer is with a bullet. Basically the usual ends justify the means as long as the bad guy gets it stuff. It is remarkable how similar Jack Bauer from the TV show 24 and Dirty Harry are, actually. Right down to the willingness to torture, as long as it might save an innocent.

Part of me wonders if it Dirty Harry and James Bond pass muster simply because they have been around for so long. The thriller may once have been controversial the way the first person shooter or D&D were, but gradually became dominant, but still controversial, and then just gradually became accepted. Perhaps movie audiences will soon look upon Spider Man as we would James Bond, and just judge the film on its merits instead of as a superhero movie… that might be kind of nice.

Still, I think Fantasy, Comic Books, and other Geek Chic fiction come out a little ahead because they cannot be mistaken for reality by most people. It is a simple point, but one that bears mentioning, especially when the old guard still occasionally looks upon gaming as dangerous, D&D as satanic, comic books as insanity inducing, and so on. Genre fiction that is obviously removed from reality is rarely mistaken for real.And here we are in 2014 and it seems that the “shoot first and ask questions later” ethos so heavily promoted by vigilante cop movies like Dirty Harry seems more alive than ever. Meanwhile, I still don’t see any ring wearing Hobbits stabbing anyone in the back…

Jack_Bauer

Also a questionable role model.

Thoughts on evil in fantasy fiction

“Great People talk about ideas, small people talk about other people.” Tobias S Gibson, paraphrasing an old saying attributed Eleanor Roosevelt (Ideas > Events > People) or maybe even Socrates.

The days when Fantasy fiction limited its portrayal of villains and heroes to purely black and white are long gone. While unfathomable evil still has its place, and we all love our elder gods and zombies, these are rarely the enemies that take centre stage in modern works. Instead we might focus on the high priest who dooms the world by re-awakening great Cthulhu or the compound of survivors who do unspeakable things to others after the undead uprising. Partly this is the maturation of the genre: the language has solidified to and extent that it no longer needs lengthy exposition (one barely needs to define what a zombie, and orc, or a spell are any more). Perhaps more importantly, modern entertainment is fixated on characters over story and setting, arguably more than ever before. We like complex, rich, interesting characters, and while the elder gods and zombies are awesome and very popular they do not have the greatest “voice” when thrust centre stage as main characters (though some books do just that).

Of course the best works of modern fantasy manage to layer a more complex set of ideology and commentary above the character level. The clash of ideas is truly elevating and interesting, and can work with almost any tale in the hand of a skilled writer. Of course, some writers have no desire to move beyond Jersey Shore Fantasy, focusing entirely on characters who have little meaning behind the interactions. Myself, I like putting characters in situations where grand, crumbling systems and powerful influences lurking behind the action act as the true villains. Evil still has a place in even the most down to earth Fantasy fiction, even if it is only a shade darker than the protagonist.

Here are a few of the better versions of evil in modern Fantasy and my thoughts on them:

  • Evil is the unknowable outsider: It used to be that the outsider as evil was uncomfortably close to racism. Orcs, savages, and barbarians raiding civilized peoples occasionally strayed uncomfortably toward certain world views about closed borders and nationalism. Now the Orcs and Barbarians are more often the hero and the outsider is presented as something well beyond our understanding or ability to communicate with, such as zombies. The Zerg from Starcraft and the Tyranids from 40k, are other favoured examples of unknowable evils — these are forces more akin to sentient natural disasters than understandable beings. This trope works well, but as I noted above an evil that is unknowable is best used as a background element, since it is by definition hard to characterize in a compelling fashion. Its not a bad trope, as long as one does not stray into xenophobia.
  • Evil is what is at the bottom of the slippery slope that begins with selfishness: Extreme selfishness, the hoarding of vital resources, the taking of what belongs to others, disregard for life and freedom, and so on harkens back to the a more traditional view of evil. This view of evil is fairly simplistic, but still capable of nuance. A thief that steals bread, for example, is far better than a rich man who takes food from others to control them. Again, if well done, this sort of evil can avoid entering mustache twirling land, but I think the author would have to work in some views of how the society and systems create the conditions for this kind of selfishness for it to catch my interest.
  • Evil is the apathy/indifference of good men: Apathy is one of the great modern evils. In societies where everything is compartmentalized it is easy for everyone to deny personal responsibility. After all, if someone is being murdered, that is a matter for the police, right? Of course, the denial of responsibility was used as a defence for people who ran the death camps in the Holocaust. “Just following orders,” turned out to be a poor defence when complicit in genocide. This is one of my favourite evils, but understandably it is very, very hard to work this into a character driven fantasy narrative. For one, apathy and indifference are usually boring qualities for a protagonist and not exactly exiting as forces to fight against. More power to those who can actually make this idea of evil actually work in their novels.
  • Evil is the purposeful promotion of ignorance: (rant warning) I despise Fox News and, to a lesser extent, the other 24 hour cable news shows. These channels purposefully promote large scale ignorance in order to simply push their ratings higher. In world of complex, fun, entertaining media from books to computer games it is really difficult to fill a channel with meaningful news 24/7  and get viewers to tune in. The truth of things is that beyond our areas of interest most of us are only interested in the news, beyond staying informed, when something important is happening. To compensate the 24 hour news channels overinflate the importance of almost everything. The worst of them purposefully obscure the facts or outright lie to get ratings. The same is true with climate change deniers funded by oil billionaires, men paying to obscure the facts so that they can continue to reap record profits. There are more examples everywhere, but the central idea here is that the people who promote great ignorance for their own ends are doing something evil. This is an idea I love seeing explored in genre fiction, because we can remove it from the hyper-politicization that characterizes modern discourse on most subjects, and examine the consequences of promotion of ignorance in an of itself.

In general, I think evil in modern Fantasy should remain on the idea level, influencing the actions of the characters. Characters who are evil personified are too simplistic for the most part, and readers who want complex characters are unsatisfied by that kind of characters, be they villain or hero.

Why I think Captain America: Winter Soldier is the best Marvel Superhero movie thus far (spoilers)

Watch this Movie

Watch this Movie

This post contains spoilers. The specific spoilers begin after the red text.

As a Canadian, I have never been a huge fan of cap. I don’t hate the character especially, but if I am honest the idea of a nationalistic superhero bothers me, no matter what the nation may be. Marvel manages to skirt around the issue quite well, especially post ultimates with cap acting as the man out of time, that ultimate allied soldier who is more of a representative of the distilled ideals of a generation than a particular country — you know those people who survived WWII and fought against the Nazis.

The First Captain America movie was entertaining, and much better than I expected it would be, but not on par with the Avengers or the first Iron Man. I went into the theatre for Captain America: Winter Soldier knowing very little about the plot and no spoilers. I came out of the theatre more pleased with the movie that I watched than I have been in a very long time.

In general the movie was good. The action scenes were crisp and varied. The banter was a nice mix of humorous and dramatic, with a surprising dose of heavy subject matter (more on that later). The effects were excellent. The acting was also very, very good, much better than I would ever expect from a comic book movie, even in the age of Robert Downey’s Iron Man. I would heartily recommend this movie to anyone at all, perhaps even those who do not like comic book movies.

Very specific spoilers begin here.

Here are five reasons why I think that Winter Soldier is not only worth watching, but actually kind of brilliant.

1) Black Widow: The marvel movies, despite bringing in Joss Whedon and some a-list talent to play female characters are not the best when it comes to female empowerment. I don’t blame comics for this, I blame the marketing department at the movie studios. I was happily that Scarlett Johanson’s Natasha Romanov got a lot of screen time with some serious action scenes, decent banter, and an integral part of the plot. I ma not the best judge of these things, but I did not find Black Widow to be overly ‘sexed up’. She wasn’t even involved in any romantic sub-plots. Which leads me to my next point.

2) No romantic sub-plots: There is a very tender scene in the middle of the movie where Cap visits the aging/dying Peggy Carter to talk about the past. It brought a tear to my eye, reminding me of recent visits with my grandparents who are part of the same generation as agent Carter, and suffering through the same, slow, brutal dance with age. That is the extent of the romance in the movie, and it is there to serve as a reminder of who Captain America is and what he values, not to titillate or tick off another item on the movies feature list. Cap does not date anyone and his only kiss in the movie leads Black Widow to make fun of him, with only a slight bit of sexual tension, if any. It is damned refreshing to have a movie this long with so little  attention paid to Romance. But then again, Winter Soldier is a damned serious movie.

3) The plot was predictable, but I didn’t care: Winter Soldier doesn’t really try to throw any curveballs. This is one thing I respect in most of the marvel movies. The writers know that the audience knows the source material well and aren’t watching for great new stories so much as to see their favourite characters and favorite stories retold on the big screen. The Winter Solider story, from Fury’s (fake) death, to the Winter Soldier being Bucky, to the various betrayals was not mean to surprise, but rather to emphasize the experience. The story, in the end, gives way to a discussion about philosophy, generational values, and the whole issue of security that is currently the western world, from drones to Edward Snowden.

4) The Winter Soldier has something to say, and it is fairly deep: I often feel that the politicians and thinkers who current dominate the Western world suffer from a James Bond complex. Security had become such a concern for some that it threatens the privacy, freedom, and quality of life for many. In the movie when Nick Fury and Cap argue about “neutralizing enemies before they become a threat”, I am immediately minded of the rhetoric that surrounds drone based missile strikes in countries like Yemen, where we redefine the dead as potential enemy combatants to avoid the sticky moral issues of killing people “who might be dangerous, but we aren’t really sure, and you don’t need to know about it anyways”. The movie wants you to draw this parallel, with huge carriers with automated weapon systems that can lock on to distant targets and eliminated them thousands at a time from on high, reducing the decision to destroy down to an algorithm and a moral view. In particular I found the use of Hydra to be quite good, as the people who take that ideal one step beyond where it is in reality and show us the naked possibilities of the slippery slope of the current security apparatus.

5) Generational Values: When Cap and Fury argue early on, Fury brings up the view that “The Greatest Generation”, which Cap belongs to is not necessarily as good as people seem to think. From then on, the interplay of generational values becomes a deep and resonant thread in the movie, tying in very neatly with the theme of security and freedom. Falcon and Black Widow are explicitly called out as millennials, making it interesting that Natasha has the final word on Shield while Fury sort of retires. It is something that I have been thinking about quite a bit lately as we slowly lose the Greatest Generation, and the millennial generations make themselves felt. Currently the world is dominated by the interests of the Boomers —  that whole James Bond complex is part of their zeitgeist in many ways, having its roots in the Cold War. It is certainly a deeper discussion and a deeper point than I ever expected from a comic book movie and it may lead the curious into those discussions, which I think need to be had. It is a complicated and difficult and messy issue, and it is amazing to see a pop culture movie actually did into it in a meaningful fashion.

In a way, the movie speaks to me. These are things that I think about a lot. I am deeply worried about the people who take our freedom in the name of protecting us. Who spy on us for our own good and kill people in far off countries in our name with remote controlled death toys. I see the roots of this conflict in the zeitgeist of past generations. I am worried about what will happen when it all boils over. It is nice to see  movie that isn’t afraid to go there, explicitly.

Pretty good for a silly movie about dudes in spandex.

PS: also kind of cool that they are willing to drop Shield. That has real ramifications.

Thoughts on my Nomads Project.

As I mentioned, last week’s Nomads will likely be the last, at least until I have had a while to think about the series.

Nomads began as an experiment. I did not start it to get page views. I’m not actually sure how many people read this blog since page views can be misleading, or if any of you are even interested in serial fiction. Mostly, I wanted to hone my writing skills, especially with first draft and writing in first person. The challenge I set for myself was to write a thousand words every week, with little preparation, as quickly as possible and to see if I could wrangle a coherent story from that. Here is my assessment of that project.

1) Draft Hard! I did find writing a serial in the raw to be great practice for writing better first drafts. One of my weaknesses as a writer (and game designer, actually) is that I love tinkering with a near finished product. I rewrote Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale seven times and would probably still be re-writing it to this day if not for the realization that it would never be perfect. Bloodlust: Will to Power only had two rewrites and most of the people I have chatted with feel it is a better work. I feel that the Nomads project helped me shape in this regard: I write faster now, and I am able to control my desire to re-write. 

2) Confidence: leaving a swiftly written story with minimal corrections up requires some bravery. 

3) A taste of first person: First person is an interesting writing style. I have pealed back a few of its layers, but much of it is still beyond me. It helps to a very strong sense of character, which is always worth working on. The  character’s perspective must be both understandable, and yet their voice must stand out. Exposition is a particular hazard, since most people do not think about the facets of their culture and surrounding that are familiar to them but might be very alien and exciting to the reader. Forcing this in first person is, if anything, more obvious than in third person. Yet another reason why I like The Name of the Wind.

4) The Serial Format: I have great respect for people who can write a serial and keep it going. I learned that it is best to end each episode on a question or some other hook. (not necessarily a cliffhanger) Not only does this help keep the story fresh in the reader’s minds, it also gives the writer something to work with for the next episode. For the same reason I prefer to leave an unfinished sentence on your novel when you are done writing for the day; it gives me an easy place to start when I get back to work.

The problems I encountered in writing the Nomads serial were not insurmountable by any means, but they did make it less fun. Here are my thoughts on the problems I encountered.

1)  Introduction woes: Nomads begins in medias res. The first line of Nomads was a recording from a Nomad who has just been gunned down, sent to Raven. We follow Raven as he investigates how Jessup died. The problem with this is that in a first person narrative it is imperative that you establish voice and character first. Putting the action first without establishing Raven’s personality and voice was a wasted opportunity. This becomes especially confusing since I have to convince the readers that they should care that this Jessup dude died, all at the same time. Bit of a disaster, really, but kind of fun nonetheless.

2) Raven: As a voice character, Raven was not particularly interesting. Firstly, he was lacking in any meaty defects or even super-spy suave. Secondly he was too neutral in his opinions, which is inappropriate when you have access to a character’s thoughts and perspectives. A subtle character is best left to masters of the form, I should have tried something simpler or bolder.

3) Military Setting: The Nomads were essentially an elite military squad, equivalent in many ways to modern special forces but with futuristic toys. The problem this created is that I really wanted to stay away from that kind of atmosphere. Oops. 

4) Documentation: I keep a lot of notes when I work on m novels. One of these a spreadsheet with details on characters, geography, terminology, slang, and any other world-building miscellany. Whenever I need to recall details, I refer to this spreadsheet first. It helps maintain consistency: you never know when a character’s eye colour might come up again. With Nomads I was constantly reading previous posts to look up names, callsigns, jargon, weapons, and suit types.

  • 5) Source of Enthusiasm: When I started writing the Nomads serial I was playing a game called Firefall. I enjoyed the armoured-suit style action. I went with the Nomads idea because Firefall was boosting my enthusiasm for that type of story. Low and behold, when I stopped playing Firefall, my enthusiasm for Nomads suffered. It would have been better to choose a longer standing interest as a base for a serial.
  • In the end I feel that the Nomads serial was a success. I learned quite a bit and I enjoyed it while it lasted. I will likely try the form again, or perhaps pick up and try to rescue Nomads, at some point. 

Grimdark, Grit, Uncertainty, Investment, and I, Claudius

The picture is based on a Roman sculpture. The Roman sculptors were not especially flattering.

Much ado has been made about a style of Fantasy called grimdark this year. While the original term is now useg in gaming as a descriptor or even a badge of honour, some critics used the term as a pejorative to describe gritty authors whose work they don’t like and thus tried to smear. Naturally this backfired, since those authors had a well established readership who like their books and thus felt pretty secure against petty attacks like that. Plus if you don’t like gritty, don’t read authors who are known and advertised as such 😉

In the wake of these criticisms, however, we were left with a very interesting discussion about grimdark fantasy. I have posted many of the articles by Joe Abercrombie, Sam Sykes, and Mark Lawrence, and others elsewhere on my blog. I also had the privilege to attended an author’s panel at Gencon this year, moderated by Brian Sanderson, where they attempted to define grimdark and discuss what people loved about that sort of book. Brian was an excellent moderator, in case you were wondering, but kept to his role, asking questions and adding details for the most part (I do wonder if he is thinking of trying a grimdark or dark fantasy series on the side though) . Lucy A. Snyder had the most cogent commentary out of all of the panelists, and really impressed me with her points about fear, risk, and unheroic people against horrifying odds.

I would have been content to leave the grimdark discussion be. It is a difficult sub-genre to pin down, and is best used to describe a style successfully adopted a handful of skilled authors (Many have tried, but few seem to get it right). Also I figured after three or four blog posts I’d milked the subject to death, right? Then my lovely and brilliant girlfriend handed me a book called I, Claudius.

Claudius was a Roman Emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty (Lived 10 BC to 54 AD, became emperor in 43 AD). He was cripple with serious infirmities who was thought to be unfit to rule and widely mocked.  Historians often overlooked the seemingly weak Claudius, but recent scholarship has shown him to be a superbly effective emperor who survived a brutal dynasty. He even managed to survive and succeed his infamous nephew, the mad and utterly debauched Caligula. That he managed to survive to the age of sixty three is quite miraculous; Caligula was killed at twenty-eight, and Claudius’ successor , Nero was driven to commit suicide at 30. It is a rather amazing bit of history that such a man could live for so long and even become emperor in a time when poison, coup, and assassination ruled Rome.

I, Claudius is a brilliant bot of historical fiction, written as the personal memoir of Claudius and recounting the trials and tribulations of the early empire and the vicious, vicious infighting in the Julio-Claudian empire during and after Augustus’ death. The author, Robert Graves, posits that Livia, the wife of Augustus was a deadly woman who ruled through poison and intrigue and plotted to secure her position and keep the right children on course for the throne. The machinations of the various characters are vicious, brutal, and utterly Machiavellian. Half way through, I was struck with a thought: what if George RR Martin, or Joe Abercrombie had written something like this? And that got me thinking about grimdark again.

Despite the extraordinarily harsh subject matter (it is hard to get grittier than Caligula, and if you do I’m not sure I want to read it…), I, Claudius is not grimdark in my mind. It is written in an autobiographical style, with Claudius looking back on his life. Thus as nearly everyone Claudius knows and loves is systematically murdered by ruthless bastards he hates the blow seems cushioned despite the enormous number of sympathetic characters getting offed. We know Claudius survives, and we know that he triumph in the end without being too tarnished. The writing style is more factual, and leaves out the gritty details. In addition because it is historical fiction, we pretty much know the constraints that the plot has to operate within. By comparing I, Claudius to modern grimdark I was able to deduce a series of characteristics that I think define the sub-genre pretty well. I’ll start with the three that made me think I, Claudius was grimdark (in green) and end with the three that it seemed to lack (in red).

  • Flawed characters: In I Claudius, the villains and the heroes are defined by their flaws. Claudius succeeds by using his infirmity to make him seem like less of a threat, the very last priority on the hit list. He is a weak man in a world of beefcake nobles, whose only real weapon is his mind. He reminds me a lot of a certain dwarf in Game of Thrones in this regard. Grimdark characters are complex, very human, and very flawed. Those that succeed tend to be cunning or outright brilliant.
  • Machiavellian Power Plays: In grimdark gaining power and holding onto power is a dangerous game. I, Claudius has this in spades. Cynical characters often have a tremendous advantage over more noble characters and a knife in the back is often far more effective than brute force.
  • Sex and Violence: Almost all grimdark has sex (exception: Space Marines) and the sub-genre is well known for both bodycount and brutality. I, Claudius has tons of both, including discussions of adultery and impotence, sexual humiliation, and so many nice people getting murdered while the cunning make their way to power.
  • Gritty and Graphic: Grimdark is very descriptive. It does not shy away from blood, the smell of death, or the bulging eyes of a boy king who is about to die from poison. I, Claudius, while grim and brutal, is written in a looking backward, academic style that lacks the graphic nature that I think defines the sub-genre. Treading the fine line between descriptively gritty and pointlessly grotesque is what I think makes a great grimdark author.
  • Investment: This year we were treated to the wonderful spectacle of everyone who had never read Game of Thrones, but watched the show suffer the shock of the Red Wedding. The collective outcry was impressive but also instructive. The lesson is this: if you care about the characters who are killed and have followed them for some time, it can have far more impact than offing them at the beginning of the book/show. Investment matters.
  • Uncertainty: Because it is historical fiction, we know how the story of Claudius and many of his friends turns out. This lessens the impact more than a little. Good grimdark authors are very good at keeping the audience guessing. No character is safe, and the ending isn’t always happy.