Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Three Theories about “Westworld”

Time is scarce this week, but with episode three of Westworld in the rear view mirror, I thought I’d touch on three theories about the show that are whirling around the web. Note, while these are just theories, they could become *SPOILERS* if any prove to be true.

Who Is The Man in Black?

One of the first and most intriguing fan theories I’ve read speculates that the Man in Black is actually William, the guest we’re introduced to in episode 2. The premise behind this theory is that the scenes with William and his friend Logan are flashbacks from 30 years ago, a time when the Man in Black told his captive, Lawrence: “You don’t understand Lawrence. Been coming here for thirty years. In a sense, I was born here.”

Last week’s episode, however, seems to have put this theory to rest. At the end of the episode, after Delores’ consciousness begins to emerge and she kills one of the hosts in the barn, she wanders into Williams arms. This suggests William is living in the present, though I suppose this could be a writer’s trick, and that the episode’s very last scene was a flashback again. But I doubt it. 

Another theory is that the Man in Black is really Arnold, Dr. Ford’s friend and fellow programmer who wanted the android hosts to become self-aware. Ford tells Bernard that Arnold died in the park, but what if he was just pulling an Obi-wan to Bernard’s young Skywalker? Might Arnold and the Man in Black be like Anakin and Darth Vader? Again, doubtful.

First, it’s clear the techs have the Man in Black on surveillance, and I suspect they might question why a supposedly dead employee is wandering around Westworld. Second, the Man in Black seems fixated on the Maze, whatever that is. You would think that Arnold, being one of Westworld’s creators, would already know the answer to that question. Lastly, I really don’t think the Man in Black wants the androids to be become self-aware. If so, they might remember the horrible things he’s done to them. In Elsie’s words, he’d be f-cked.

A final theory is that the Man in Black is actually one of the androids. That would sure explain his comment about being “being born here.” But is doesn't explain why the techs are letting him run amok (unless he's part of some violent storyline), nor does it explain why the android’s bullets don’t hurt him. Also, if the androids like Delores are the real heroes of the story, it’s only fitting that the chief villain be one of the humans who has been making their lives a living hell.

Is Someone Sabotaging the Androids?

Last week, Bernard offered this theory as the simplest explanation for why the androids have been misbehaving. Then this week, we learn about the mysterious programmer Arnold, who was trying to make the androids self-aware. We know this began to happen when Delores’ father told her, “These violent delights have violent ends.” One of the best theories I’ve read is that this line may have been part of Arnold’s code:
So Ford’s partner died in the park after becoming too close to the hosts. The only thing that remains from Arnold’s programming are the verbal command codes. So here’s a theory for the rest of this paragraph (potential spoiler): I’m thinking the “violent delights” phrase is one of Arnold’s original command codes opening up host consciousness. Perhaps Arnold died in the park after using that phrase himself to unlock the hosts, and one killed him. But even if this is true, the bigger mystery still remains: Who started the hosts down this path now, 30 years later? Dr. Ford seems like an unlikely suspect given his strong feelings about host humanity. Bernard is allowing Dolores to awaken but also seems genuinely confused as to the full story. Perhaps Lee Sizemore or Teresa Cullen, who have anti-Ford agendas, started this? Or perhaps the Reveries that Ford introduced simply revived that bit of code?
The theory comes from EW’s excellent recap of episode 3 written by James Hibberd. You can read the whole piece here. His theory doesn’t answer the question of who may be the saboteur, but it provides plenty of food for thought.

Where is This Place?

This question is another hotbed of fan theories, ranging from “Westworld is on an island” to “Westworld is on another planet.” I’ve even read one theory that Westworld could be under a giant dome at the bottom of the sea. Here’s some more from EW:
Back to the show: Bernard goes into this pod to Skype home to talk with his wife. It’s impossible to not be distracted by the clues we’re getting here to the location of the park. Bernard references “how difficult it is to get an open line out here.” Even as a senior member of the staff he has to use this shared pod to communicate home. This once again suggests they’re on another planet — or, possibly, that Westworld is on Earth… but everybody else has moved to another planet (does Westworld take place in Jonathan Nolan’s Interstellar universe where Earth became largely uninhabitable?). Then again, Bernard at another point during this hour notes that evolution was responsible for all life “on this planet,” suggesting they are indeed on Earth. 
Fortunately, EW, which has some of the best Westworld coverage out there, did a Q & A with showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. Here is what Nolan told EW:
I remember when [executive producer J.J. Abrams] called after watching the original film. In my memory I conflated that hovercraft sequence when they arrive in the park with the space-hotel with 2001. And I said to J.J., “Is that park even on this planet?” The important thing for us was, when you come to the series you have no idea where you are. Disneyland is in a parking lot in Anaheim, but it’s spectacular and you forget where you are when you’re inside. By the end of the first season, if you’re paying close attention, you will know where it is.
You can read the rest of the EW Q & A here.

That’s it for now, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Which of these Westworld theories do you think might be true?

* Images courtesy of HBO

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Dialogue of “Westworld”

Westworld is turning out to be everything I’d hoped for and more – a multilayered story that is vintage Michael Crichton with a little J.J. Abrams mixed in for good measure. The show’s creators, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, are killing it, and the show’s dialogue is one reason why. Here are just a few examples.

“You can’t play God without being acquainted with the devil.”

These are words of Dr. Robert Ford, the genius scientist who created the lifelike androids that populate Westworld. His quote is in response to Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), who tells Ford, “You taught me how to make them, but not how to turn them off.”

Ford knows he made a mistake or two with his androids, some of which seem to be malfunctioning in potentially dangerous ways, but he doesn’t seem to care. Bernard, however, fears someone may be sabotaging their creations. “It’s the simplest solution,” Bernard says. 

Ford’s reply is classic: “Ah, Mr. Occam’s Razor. The problem Bernard, is that what you and I do you is it so complicated. We practice witchcraft. We speak the right words, and we create life itself out of chaos. William of Occam was a thirteenth century monk. He can’t help us now Bernard; he would have us burned at the stake.”

Both men are up to something, but the show has yet to reveal precisely what that is. It’s just one of many mysteries so far on Westworld. Yet with Bernard, episode two has given us some more clues.

Bernard has been having secret conversations with Delores, the park’s first android, but warns her not to mention the things they’ve been talking about. 

“Have I done something wrong?” she asks. 

“No,” he says, “but there’s something different about you, about the way you think. I find it fascinating, but others may not see it that way.”

Then Dolores asks, “Have you done something wrong?”

Bernard’s expression turns cold. “Turn off your event log please. Erase this interaction.”

She confirms the interaction has been erased, and he walks away. 

“Everything in this world is magic except the magician.”

Ford speaks these words after manipulating an android rattle snake with the wave of his hand. He is walking through a wasteland accompanied by a boy android who has become lost – just another sign that all is not right in Westworld. Ford has a new storyline planned for this wasteland, as he tells Bernard later in the show, but he has yet to explain what it is. It’s becoming clearer, however, that Ford sees himself as the author of a grand story, like the creator of a novel – or a video game transformed into real life. The problem is that the characters in his story are beginning to think for themselves and remember what’s been happening to them.

“You got anything to tell me Lawrence?”

That’s the question Ed Harris’ man in black asks a cowboy he is dragging around Westworld by a hangman’s noose. “The real world is just chaos,” Harris says. “It’s an accident. But in here, every detail adds up to something. Even you, Lawrence.” 

“What do you want from me?” Lawrence asks.

“The maze. How do I find the entrance?”

Last week I speculated that the man in black might be a devil-like character who will expose the androids to free will. He’s evil for sure. In fact, right before he guns down Lawrence’s wife and cousins, he says “this is exactly why I come.” But I no longer think he’s a serpent in the garden. In fact, Westworld in the antithesis of Eden. For the androids, it’s a living hell. 

It took me an episode to fully appreciate that Westworld is a videogame made real. The players can rape, pillage, and do whatever they want without any consequences because their victims are not human, even though they’re become more humanlike by the day. The man in black relishes this. “When you’re suffering,” he tells Lawrence, “that’s when you’re most real.”

After the carnage, Lawrence’s young daughter tells the man in black: “The maze isn’t meant for you.”

The man in black smiles. “What did I tell you Lawrence, there’s always another level. I’ll take my chances, sweetheart.” He’s looking for a hidden level to the game, and once he finds it, he’s never going back to the real world.

“These violent delights have violent ends.”

Though originally from Shakespeare, those are the words Delores’ father, Abernathy, speaks to her when he begins questioning their reality. The words seem to have triggered something in Delores, for she’s beginning to remember the terrible things that happen in Westworld. And when she tells these words to the brothel worker, Maeve, she too begins recalling her violent past – at the hands of the man in black, no less. 

Earlier in the episode, Elsie, one of the Westworld techs, warns Bernard, “If this is not a dissonant episode, then whatever Abernathy had could be contagious, so to speak.” It seems as if Abernathy’s Shakespeare is beginning to spread like a disease, and later in the episode Elsie foreshadows the enormous problem with this.

A fellow tech asks her: “Do we make them dream?”

“What the f-ck would be the point of that?” Elsie says. “Dreams are mainly memories. Can you imagine how f-cked we’d be if these poor assholes ever remember what the guests do to them?”

For anyone who recalls Crichton’s original Westworld, Elsie’s words are prophetic. These violent delights have violent ends. And the pistol Delores digs up at the episode’s close – one that I suspect might work on the human guests – may just be the beginning of those ends.

* photos courtesy of HBO

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

HBO’s “Westworld” Gets Downright Biblical

HBO’s Westworld premiered last Sunday, ending our languishment in the TV wasteland that has existed since the season’s end of Outlander and Game of Thrones. What HBO has delivered is vintage Michael Crichton, and more. There’s even a biblical element to it, if I’m not mistaken.

Westworld is based on a 1973 movie written by Michael Crichton, the creator of Jurassic Park and one of the finest science fiction novelists of our time. If you’ve read Jurassic Park, you know that Crichton was concerned with the dangers of pushing the limits of science. Westworld proceeded Jurassic Park by 17 years, but it has a similar premise: an amusement park for adults populated by human-looking androids (instead of dinosaurs) that turns deadly when the androids begin to think for themselves. 

The theme of robots and artificial intelligence posing a danger to mankind is not new. We’ve seen it in The Terminator, The Matrix, and even the fears of real-world scientists who worry about the potential dangers of A.I. But Crichton was among the first modern authors to really do this theme justice, and HBO looks like they’re about to make something special out of Crichton’s source material. 

To start, we have Anthony Hopkin’s character, Dr. Robert Ford, the creator of Westworld – literally the god of this reality. The lifelike androids of Westworld are his creations, but in making them he admits that he’s made mistakes. One of these appears to be a programming update that seems to be giving his creations a form of free will, or at least the ability to remember their past lives, as the androids are repurposed from storyline to storyline. A bit like the biblical Creator, Ford has made a world where its inhabitants are perfect so long as their programming holds. But with the introduction of free will, it looks like paradise is coming to an end. As one character puts it, “kids all rebel eventually.”

To stir this rebellion, Westworld has given us a devil in the form of Ed Harris’ character, the man in black. I thought he was based on Yul Brynner’s character from the original Westworld, the android that runs amok and begins killing all the guests. But in a twist, Harris’ character is human. He’s a guest who’s been visiting the park since it opened, and is wicked to the core. And, like the serpent in the garden, I suspect he’s also about to inject some chaos into Ford’s Eden, and we all know how that tale ends.

Which brings us to Delores, the show’s heroine and, perhaps, the Eve of our tale. She is the android who is beginning to think and remember. And I bet Harris’ man in black will begin to push her toward a greater understanding of the nature of good and evil. This is not to say that HBO is giving us a Sunday school morality tale. There are many other themes built into this complex story, including those of slavery, freedom, and human nature. But ultimately, I would not be surprised if it’s about a man who tried to play God, and the consequences of creating and trying to control beings who exhibit free will. Add to this a little Chaos Theory in the form of the man in black, and I think we’ll have a rich tale that is vintage Crichton, with even a little more to ponder as it unfolds.

Based on the first episode, we have a winner here. And for that, I could not be more pleased since we have three months before Black Sails returns and all will be well in the world again.

* photos courtesy of HBO

Friday, September 23, 2016

“Dead Man’s Reach” – Historical Fantasy in Colonial Boston

I recently finished Dead Man’s Reach by D.B. Jackson, the fourth book in his Thieftaker series. The book turned out to be another excellent installment in Jackson’s historical fantasy tale set in Colonial Boston. Here’s my review.

The story presents another mystery for Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker whose job involves hunting down thieves and retrieving the stolen goods for his clients. Kaille, however, is also a conjurer, or “speller” in the world of these books, who can wield magic by summoning a ghost-like spectral guide. And it’s within the realm of magic that the novel’s mystery unfolds.

The Colonial Boston setting is one of the things I love most about the series, and this time the story takes us through the events of the Boston Massacre in March of 1770. Tensions are smoldering between the British soldiers occupying Boston and the citizens who oppose them, including Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty. But when the protests begin turning violent, Kaille discovers that a conjurer is using magic to fan the flames. Even more, he suspects the conjurer may be one of his old foes – one that Kaille thought he had put in the grave.

The mystery drives the story, but it’s the history and the characters that make this such a fun read. All the regulars are back: rival thieftaker Sephira Pryce, his girlfriend Kannis, Kelf the bartender, his good friend Diver, and all the real historical characters who lived during this time like Sam Adams. But my favorite among them is Kaille. In fact, after four books Ethan Kaille is becoming one of the iconic characters of historical and fantasy fiction, like Roland Deschain, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, and Elric of Melniboné.

The story’s villain hits Kaille close to home in this book, and for a moment I feared we were headed toward the end of this series. But after the last chapter, I don’t think that’s the case. Jackson has been slowly building his tale toward the Revolutionary War, and Paul Revere is already a minor character. I really hope we get to experience Revere’s Midnight Ride before the series ends, and if so, I’ll bet Ethan Kaille will be right in the thick of it.

Thanks to Amazon you can read a preview of the book here.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Will “Westworld” Tide Us Over Until “Black Sails”?

I’ve written a lot about the TV wasteland we’ve lived in since the season finale of Game of Thrones. Seriously, an entire summer has gone by and what have we had? The Olympics? (Okay, we did have The Night Of, which was awesome, but not the right genre for this blog).

So, on October 2nd, HBO will finally give us Westworld. The drama is based on a 1973 movie written by Michael Crichton, the world-class author who gave us Jurassic Park, Sphere, The Andromeda Strain, and so many other great stories. I remember seeing the 1973 film on TV (sometime after 1973, but not too much after), and I loved it, even though I found it scary. Some of the scenes, such as Yul Brenner as the gunslinger stalking his prey, are still burned in my mind. (Maybe my parents shouldn’t have let me see it; I bet I was about 8 or 9.)

The premise is similar to Jurassic Park. In fact, I think this was Crichton’s warm up to his most famous novel. It involves an adult amusement park where customers can live out their fantasies in settings such as the Wild West or the Middle Ages. The park’s inhabitants are all androids that appear entirely human. But when something goes wrong – just like in Jurassic Park – the androids get lethal and all hell breaks loose.

My major criticism of the film adaptation of Jurassic Park is that Steven Spielberg turned the book's villain, John Hammond, into a kindly, doddering old man. This eliminated the story’s antagonist and really screwed it up, in my opinion. Based on HBO’s trailer for Westworld, however, it looks like Anthony Hopkins is well prepared to play the role Crichton intended. The trailer looks amazing, and I’m looking very forward to ending this TV drought.

Black Sails won’t return until January, and Game of Thrones is postponed until the summer of 2017. So let’s take what we’ve got and enjoy some Westworld!

* Image courtesy of HBO

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Post-Labor Day Sale for “Enoch’s Device”!

As I work on editing the sequel, the Kindle version of Enoch’s Device is going on sale for the next seven days. If you've read the novel and enjoyed it, now is a perfect time to tell a friend! Here’s what the book is about: 

Nearly a thousand years after the birth of Christ, when all Europe fears that the world will soon end, a young Irish monk, Brother Ciarán, discovers an ominous warning hidden in the illuminations of a religious tome. The cryptic prophecy speaks of Enoch’s device, an angelic weapon with the power to prevent the coming apocalypse. But a heretic-hunting bishop has arrived at the monastery, willing to kill to make sure the weapon is never found.
Pursued by the bishop’s men and supernatural forces, Ciarán and his freethinking mentor journey to the heart of France in search of the device. There, they rescue the Lady Alais, a young widow accused of witchcraft because she holds a key to the prophecy. Together, the trio must race across Europe to locate the device, which has left clues of its passage through history. But time is running out, and if they don’t find it soon, all that they love could perish at the End of Days. 
Enoch’s Device is a fast-paced medieval adventure steeped in history, mythology, and mysteries from a dark and magical past.
Here are excerpts from the book’s reviews:
Author Cate Peace of Indie Books R Us called Enoch's Device “a refreshing twist on the religious thriller, and one that will have you turning pages from cover to cover as fast as you can.” 
In other reviews, Stephen Reynolds of SPR called Enoch's Device “a wonderfully imagined, vividly described, alternately lyrical and violent romp of a novel that should give lovers of historical fantasy just the kind of fix they're looking for.”
And Marty Shaw of Blog Critics wrote: “If you enjoy tales of magic and adventure that are perfectly blended with reality and history, ‘Enoch’s Device’ by Joseph Finley will be an exciting read for you.”
I gave an interview to Ms. Peace, where I revealed a bit more about the upcoming sequel – you can read it here. Also, you can read more about Enochthe Fae, and the Paladins of Charlemagne in my interview that appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer here

And, thanks to a new feature that Amazon is offering, you can read a free preview here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


I’ve been off the blog for twelve whole days. I’ve never been away for that long, and here’s why, I suppose . . .

No, I haven't been sailing near the Rock of Gibraltar . . . 
For one, I’ve realized I tend to blog more these days about historical or fantasy related television shows like Game of Thrones and Black Sails. But, alas, we remain in a desolate TV wasteland right now. I don’t mean all current TV is bad. I just finished watching The Night Of on HBO, and loved it. But it’s not the right genre for this blog. I also write book reviews, but I’m in the middle of a book right now, and it will be a week or so before I finish. (It’s Dead Man’s Reach by D.B. Jackson, and so far it’s damn good.)

But the #1 reason I’ve been away is that in my free time I’m dealing with this:

Not the wine, I finished that. Rather, that’s the 154,000 word (“cough*) sequel to Enoch’s Device that I’ve started editing. I swear on all that is good and right in the world, the final product will be shorter. Let’s just say, I’m killing a lot of my “little darlings” before this gets to my editor. Dealing with this beast is turning out to be a formidable task, but also a fun one. I like the way the story ended up, and the revised version should be even better.

I will try to blog more regularly. But if I don’t, it likely means I’m trapped within that giant stack of pages, trying to make the story sing. Wish me luck.