Game of Thrones Fatigue

So Season 2 is drawing to a close. What have we learned? Peter Dinklage is awesome (not that we needed to be reminded), this season is much less anchored without Sean Bean, and boobies solve everything.

Sean Bean Death Statistics

When will the madness end?

Awhile ago I wrote a post about prostitution in the first few books basically trying to come up with a possible explanation for the sheer volume of violent sex scenes, however, try as I might, I couldn’t come up with an explanation for the addition of even more violent sex scenes (almost exclusively against women) in the TV show other than more boobs = higher ratings = more money to roll around in. Sex may sell but the lack of male nudity is particularly vexing, at least balance it out HBO!

At the time I was planning to write a post reviewing each episode of season 2, I even mentioned it in the comments, because I was still caught up in the excitement of the New Big Thing. Way back in the distant past of last summer I was all for Game of Thrones (or GoT as all the cool cats are calling it). It was exam season so in an attempt not to study I turned to TV for a distraction. Actual real life TV, not internet TV (desperate measures for desperate times).

I watched all of season 1 as it aired and immediately bought the first four books off amazon. I read them all over the summer, the per cent read on my kindle crept up ever so slowly. I took breaks to read other books. Had one tantrum after a certain event and stopped reading for a while, got bored on several occasions and took holidays from Westeros. Then my cousin kindly lent me Dance with Dragons. I couldn’t hack it though, reading it in bed was a dangerous past time, one slip and I could have broken my nose. So I got the kindle edition instead. Some day soon murders will be committed with the hardback edition and bloodied copies will be held up in plastic evidence bags in courtrooms (just how George would have wanted it).

Overall the whole process of discovering TV show, getting really excited, reading all the books and getting sick of the whole thing took about 5 months(ish).

Now that push has come to shove as it were, I can’t bring myself to review each season 2 episode individually. I’ve tried watching and can’t. A few minutes into the second episode I found myself looking wistfully at the ironing and started tackling that instead. This is the only way they can keep me interested, if I watch them while doing something marginally less interesting; the flat has never been cleaner! I think I’m suffering from overexposure. After a summer long binge on slowly declining prose I’m sick of it (quite literally, in bed with a throat infection today, maybe I’m allergic).

The problems I have with GoT are x-fold (x because I can’t be bothered to count and I reserve the right to add more reasons as more books and episodes are released).

  1. It should have been a trilogy The first two books (in my opinion) are the strongest and the most action packed. Then they get gradually more dragged out as they fall into a wormhole and time is warped so that nothing happens for hundreds of pages. In Dance with Dragons sweet FA happens until the end, and even then, shocking deaths and gritty plot twists are no longer that shocking or gritty the 20th time they happen.
  2. Too much repetition this is really a sub-complaint from number 1 as I believe this is a consequence of the series being stretched over 7 books rather than a nice neat trilogy.  In every book one character is travelling across a continent. Seen one seen ’em all. I don’t mind reading about the few interesting things that happen on these journeys but there’s only so many campfires and tired voyagers I can take before it all gets a bit samey. A lot of stuff repeats itself in the series but I’ll stick with this example because (MINOR SPOILER INCOMING) by the time Brienne sets out on her journey to find Sansa (one of her many treks across the continent) the trope gets completely absurd. We know even before she begins that the whole thing is futile because, by virtue of Sansa’s POV we know Brienne is heading in the complete wrong direction! The whole way along we know that these chapters are pretty much pointless. Now semi-interesting stuff happens at the end of Brienne’s plotline but the entire thing drags out for ages beforehand telling us virtually nothing. Her whole plotline could have been compressed without loosing anything (/SPOILER)
  3. Gritty gets dull without substance The many deaths are no longer shocking. They get fairly predictable and they don’t stick. We know it’s coming so we’ve gotten over it before it happens and quite often once a character is killed they’ll be back later. A quick guide to GoT deaths: if you don’t actually see a character die – as in there is no way they can physically recover and the viewpoint character sees them actually take their last breath – then they’re probably not dead. And if they definitely are dead I’m going to bet by book 7 there’ll be a 50% chance they all come back as white walkers. It’s hard to mourn characters once you recognise this pattern. The last time a death surprised me was (one of the many) at the red wedding. Gritty ‘realism’ can only take you far. If your prose and characters can’t carry it then it becomes a gimmick like everything else and I believe Martin’s characters are less and less capable of picking up the slack. Also, having read a lot more of the books than I had when I wrote that last post, I no longer stand by my vehement defense of Martin’s use of sex as realistic, plot relevant and useful to explore characters. 

    A concise summary of books 1-5

  4. Too much is kept behind the scenes In a series where incresingly little happens – or as a former GM of mine said ‘events happen, but the general plot just trundles along at a snails pace‘ – Martin can’t afford to be coy and maddeningly obscure about absolutely everything. I’ll never complain that nothing happens in Westeros, I just get angry at reading more and more details of feast preparations, when these feasts largely serve as exposition to try and get me to memorise thousands and thousands of minor characters, while at the same time so much is actually happening just never described. Events at the tower of joy are only ever hinted at but in away that make them seem pivotal. Too much exposition (and sexposition) spaces out the interesting stuff until he finally adds insult to injury in Dance with Dragons when fascinating, exciting and plot essential events finally happen during a feast in Winterfell (when *spoiler* eats *spoiler*) and it’s barely referred to! The meal is described in the usual boring detail and it was only afterwards on the Westeros forums I learned all the details. Now one or two events like this are fine. This subtlety encourages speculation and keeps his fan base loyal and adds some much-needed depth. I don’t give a fiddler’s what they eat or wear but I want more than occassional hints at the bigger picture.
  5. We’ve Stagnated I’ve already gone on for longer than I intended but by the end of book 5 most characters haven’t moved very far and don’t look like they’re going to move any time soon. The next few books will either be incredibly exciting as he plays catch up to get all the characters in roughly the same place and to fullfill all the many themes he’s been setting up and plot events he foreshadowed then ignored. Or else they will continue in the way they have been going: with very little happening on-screen/page and a hasty wrap-up crammed into the last hundred pages.

Book Launch

My class is finally launching the print version of our anthology this Thursday. everybody is invited:

On the night there will be wine (lots of that), readings (plenty – everyone is reading a 2 minute section from their piece in the collection), finger food (some of that), and Paul Murray! (there can only be one)

Everything will be going down in the Printing House in Trinity College, which is very good at hiding in plain sight so here is a map:

And if you just can’t wait until Thursday our ebook is available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk for the very reasonable price tag of $4.91. My short story, “Mrs. Culann’s Dog”, is the first in this collection therefore the first half of it is free as part of amazon’s first chapter samples deal, so please give it a go.

Malling-Hansen Writing Ball

I. Want. One.

Side view of writing ball

                       Look How Pretty!

I just discovered the Malling-Hansen Writing Ball and I have never wanted something as much in my life. It’s so beautiful, and steampunk and just damn cool. It might take ten times longer but imagine writing a novel on a machine like this? It’s one of many unusual typewriters out there, but by far my favourite.

Rasmus Malling-Hansen was a Danish inventor in the 19th Century. He reformed the Danish education system for teaching the deaf, he invented the writing ball (for which he won first prize gold Danish merit medal in the Scandinavian exhibition in Copenhagen in 1872), did extensive research into the growth rates of children and revised the writing ball that could type in colour and included a paper platen (in 1888 the revised device won first prize at the Art and Industry Exhibition in Copenhagen).

Nietzsche even wrote a poem about it:

“THE WRITING BALL IS A THING LIKE ME: MADE OF IRON

YET EASILY TWISTED ON JOURNEYS.

PATIENCE AND TACT ARE REQUIRED IN ABUNDANCE

AS WELL AS FINE FINGERS TO USE US.”

(Friedrich Nietzsche, on February 16th 1882)

The Writing Ball in Action

Unfortunately I couldn’t find any videos of the writing ball in action, but imagine how cool would it be as a piece of art in your home, something to look at, be inspired by and, of course, something to play with. However after long hours of tracking it across the internet I could only find one for sale. Apparently it’s incredibly rare, so the one I saw was being auctioned for $39,000.

So, I either need to find a replica, figure out how to solder, weld and just generally overcome my incompetence with construction, or learn to live with my four year old Dell laptop (which is missing the ‘K’ key and the battery). I think I’ll have to stick with the laptop for now, but when I’m rich and famous…

I Quit

So I took part in the GoodReads Reading Challenge last year and without thinking I signed up again this year. It is only now, five months into it, that I realise exactly why I didn’t like it:

  • I already read quite a lot. I don’t need some pseudo pressure to read more
  • Gamification works for some things, such as study, exercise, things that aren’t traditionally fun (or at least things I don’t find fun). However, when I turn something I already enjoy into a game it sucks all the fun out of it. Instead of just enjoying what I’m reading I keep thinking ‘I must update my status now’ or ‘I’d better read quicker to catch up.’
  • It’s not an accurate measurement of how much you read. I could breeze through comic books at the rate of knots (or whatever the measurement is for speed of page turning) and add a few books a week. Or I could sit down to a behemoth like Ulysses or Atlas Shrugged and it would take forever and a day but still only count as one book.
  • I tend to read a lot of unpublished stuff. I read a lot of stuff for writer friends such as novels, poems and stories. These take up a lot of time because not only am I reading them because they’re awesome but I am also trying to help improve them in any way I can so I have to read slower, pay more attention. These cannot be added to the challenge because they are unpublished therefore do not have ISBNs.
  • I read a lot of other things that don’t count. I read poetry online, but it may only be one or two poems rather than an entire collection. I read lots of essays and journals, none of which count either.
  • In the process of editing my class’s anthology I read it in its entirety about seven times and I read lots of sections more often than that. This took up a lot of time and I don’t feel like spending more time on it adding it to the challenge seven separate times.

I didn’t make the target of 100 books I set myself last year because I was reading so many essays and journals for my finals. Today I saw I was 14 books behind the challenge this year (already) and I know I’ve been reading plenty. It annoyed me. I thought of all the books I had to read to catch up and it felt like a chore. And the day reading becomes a chore is the day I’m doing something radically wrong. So I quit.

Don’t get me wrong, gamification can be great technique if you’re trying to develop a new habit but it’s been a habit for me since I was old enough to read. So I’m going to continue reading for pure pleasure (over 90% of the time) and occasionally for research (which can also be fun, because I’m that boring). And, if I get really desperate I’ll divert my gamification efforts towards exercise instead.