Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sing the Song of Ice and Fire.

For about half a year, since I am a very slow reader, I did a marathon session of the Wheel of Time books to get ready for the final installment three installments of that series....only to be majorly disappointed that the  14 and final book, A Memory of Light, won't becoming out until next year....seriously, I finished book 13, Towers of Midnight, and I could hardly stop myself from crying "I GOTTA KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!!!" up and down the house and the internet like the second coming of Christ was happening right outside my door, so please hurry up Brandon Sanderson before I and the rest of the fan base lose our sanity.

Anyway, I have a ridiculous amount to read already (like the final three books of Frank Herbert's Dune Chronicles and books 3-7 of Stephen King's The Dark Tower and Brandon Sanderson's own Mistborn trilogy and a crap load of others) so I don't lack for anything to read. It was more a question of what to read to fill the time. I was going to go back and pick up Chapterhouse Dune....and then I saw this on youtube:


And, remembering that I had a pre-HBO era copy of A Game of Thrones and its fourth squeal collecting dust on my shelf, I deiced to stop putting it off and give it a read...and today I have read books 1-4 in rapid succession and I am now working my way through book five.  
Now I'm not gonna sit here and review the entire series because A) George R.R. Martin has said quite clearly that he has at least two more monstrous books to write before it reaches its ultimate conclusion, and B) like I said, I am only half-way through book five. Besides, if the wait time for book five has told us anything, then it would be that everyone living today would be six feet under by the time Martin finally publishes the final two books. What I am gonna do is just give my honest thoughts on the series as a whole. And don't worry those of you who haven't read the books or have only seen the HBO series, I'll be as vague as I can.

Anyway, coming into A Game of Thrones, I wasn't expecting all that much. The prologue of the first book lead me to believe that this was just going to be another epic fantasy in the same vain that the genre has been in ever since Tolkien, just with blue-eyed zombies in place of Orcs and Wights in place of Ring Wraiths and all done with a modern twist to it....then the story starts and the unexpected happens, it turns into a brutally ultra violent, sexually explicit, f***cked up balls to the wall thriller (for lack of another term). And when I say brutal, I truly mean brutal. If you're expecting some form of escapism where everything is fair, bad people get their just rewards, magic is everywhere, evil is not going to win, white knights ride on majestic unicorns (or whatever) to save beautiful damsels in distress and all you need for everlasting peace is a good man to be crowned King....then you're going to be very, VERY disappointed, because there is NONE of that here. There is very little magic to speak of (at least at first), a good man is ANYthing but a good King, the bad guys win, all the unicorns and most of its brothers in fantasy creature are more or less extinct, Knights are (for the most part) corrupt government employees, the damsels are left to rot or die before they are rescued (hell women in general are treated as inferior to men), the gods don't give a damn and the only luck is bad luck. In other words, A Song of Ice and Fire's world of Westeros is basically what the real world was like during the European middle ages. Honestly, if it wasn't for the fact that it takes place in a fantasy world, there are Dragons, giants, blue-eyed zombies, Wight's and a supernatural threat looming over the plot like the long arm of The Revelation of John, I would be hard pressed to call this a fantasy story at all.  

But you know what the weirdest part about it WORKS. And it works not because the world is a brutally realistic (or more realistic) deception of medieval culture, it works because of the characters. While the series doesn't ignore the supernatural threat or troupes of the fantasy genre completely, it does force it to take a very distant back seat to the development of the characters. Out are the classic fantasy archetypes, and in are actual psychologically real people. Just to name one example, Queen Cersei Lannister, one of the main antagonists, is undoubtedly a power hungry evil woman,  but she's not evil just because she because she does bad things. She does bad things because she wants to protect her children from threats both real and imaginary. And she's willing to go to ridiculous and politically stupid extremes to do so.  And she also hates the fact that she cannot become a ruler in her own right, just because she's a woman. So once her young sons inherit the throne, she wastes no time in establishing her power base and will not give it up willingly. 
I don't have time to go into the massive list of characters, but suffice to say that they are all are fully realized and devoid of cliche. My personal favorites include Jon Snow, his tomboyish half-sister Arya Stark and the exiled Princess, and true heir to Westeros' Iron Throne, Dany Targaryen. But the one who steals the show is Cersei's dwarf (as in midget) brother, Tyrion "The Imp" Lannister (see video on the left). What makes him so great?  Where do I begin? He's witty, hilarious, frighteningly intelligent and a humongous pervert. But hardly anyone takes him seriously, thinking him stupid or a coward just because he's too small to wield a sword. But he doesn't need one, he uses his wits and his mind (and a sackful of gold when needed) to get himself out of trouble. He succeeds in being both sympathetic and being an asshole at the same time. I love this little bastard, I think he's one of the best characters in any fantasy series ever.

But as good as the characters are, they also seem to be the biggest flaw of this story. Not in the sense that they aren't fully realized, but in the sense that they're are too damn many of them. Mr. Martin, if by the non-existent chance you see this, let me just say this in the nicest way I know how: The cast is too BIG.
Seriously, there are so many characters and so many sub-plots going on that it slows the story down to a crawl, especially in the later books. Martin tells so many stories at once that half the time it feels like there's nothing happening, and the other half feels like mindless filler. I know that that's not the case and nothing is there to just fill a page, but to the casual reader that's what its gonna feel like. The pacing itself seems to be the biggest issue. not just in the overall plot, but with each individual book. By the time I finally did get to the end of the first book, I felt like it should have ended at least two or three chapters ago, but instead it just went on and on and on. Dear lord, I like long books but how long does it honestly need to be? The poor pacing is compounded In book two when events start to proceed in a non-liner fashion, in where Martin starts dedicating whole chapters to telling us what his other point of view characters were doing during the same event. This trend gets a little worse in book three, and by book four the story just stops and doesn't pick up again until, or so I've heard, the second half of book five. And while I personally have no problem following what going on, to the average reader it can be really, really confusing.

But is the Song of Ice and Fire series worth your time? Hell yes it is. Its the biggest leap forward  to legitimizing the fantasy genre to the mainstream since the Wheel of Time was first published in 1990. Martin looked at what was acceptable as "a fantasy story" and gave it the finger and then forced it to take the next step and the result is a turely original offering. I can't wait to finish the 5th book and I can't wait to get my hands on the 6th and 7th.

By now some of you are wondering what I think of the HBO series. Well I don't get HBO sadly, so I had to wait until the first season came out on DVD and then I got it as a birthday present back in May. I was a little worried about it at first, mostly because I think that this is one of those stories that just cannot be filmed. How wonderfully wrong I was. I think its a great show, its got intelligent writing that manages to capture the depth and complexity of the books. Its also very faithful to the source material, and the scenes they added just lines up with the scenes from the books wonderfully. The cast is great too, Sean Bean is great as Eddard Stark, and Emilia Clarke's performance as Dany is spot on. But just like in the books, Tyrion's the one who steals the show. While I personally don't think of Peter Dinklange when it comes to what Tyrion looks like, he's nonetheless perfect in the role, capturing the essence of the character as if he truly was Tyrion Lannister and not an actor playing a part. A friend of mine told me that she didn't like the show because she felt it wasn't faithful to the books, mostly because of the gratuitous amount of sex scenes in the show. Well admittedly there is more sex in the show then there ever was in the books, and a lot of it leave you scratching your head as to why they were included. But despite that, I still have to disagree with my friend, the show manages to stay as faithful to the books as they possibly could, so the extra sex scenes really shouldn't matter. Besides its the Home Boob Office (yeah i know that is supposed to be "Home Box Office"), and lord knows they can't seem to have a show without a woman's breasts hanging out and/or a man's nether regions dangling about at least once. It is what it is and I don't worry about it.

Anyway, weather its through HBO or if you pick up the books, this is one series that shouldn't be missed. If you're looking to find them the titles are A Game of Thrones, Clash of Kings, Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons.
If you can then definitively check them out.
See you all later.      

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