Tag Archives: Game of Thrones

Book or Show?

Dexter is DeadAt this writing, the book I’m reading is Dexter is Dead, the last volume in the Dexter Morgan series by Jeff Lindsay, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Dexter ends his career in the books as opposed to in the TV series.

Now, full disclosure here: I’ve only seen up through something like Season 4 of the TV series, but I know how far off the show veers from the books. Only Season 1 has any resemblance to the original material and, while I like what I’ve seen well enough, they don’t compare to the books. The show is like Dexter Lite, in my opinion. The dark humor isn’t there, the bitter irony, the idea that Dexter is a sociopath and that’s all there is to it. There isn’t a cure, and he doesn’t even view himself as being human. He just does his best to act like one to blend in.

Reading this got me to thinking about another book-series-turned-television-series, Game of Thrones. Like Dexter, Game of Thrones is getting ahead of the books. Dexter ended a couple years ago now, and Jeff Lindsay is only now ending it in his books. And of course, the frustration a lot of fans feel with George RR Martin is the fodder of a lot of websites—not to mention memes.

It think the frustration with GoT is a little more palpable because the show, until recently, stuck to the source material much more closely than Dexter did. From what I’ve read, Jeff Lindsay was a consultant to the show for all of one season—the first—and even that one didn’t follow the book exactly. In fact, it veered off in some significant ways.

I don’t expect shows to follow the book to the letter. As even Mr. Martin himself has said, they’re two different mediums, and things that’ll work in a book won’t necessarily translate well on the screen, and vice versa. Books are more contemplative, more able to put you inside characters’ heads, while shows can only approximate the thought processes of a character through action or, worse, the expressions and actions of the actor, which can be easily misinterpreted. And that’s just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Of course, one could argue that the recent divergence on GoT is worse because they have outlines from Mr. Martin as to where he intends the books to go, and he is an GoTexecutive producer on the show. Of course, outlines aren’t fleshed-out scenes with all their innuendo and flash. If it is that detailed, you might as well go on and write the scene itself and dispense with the outline.

I suspect the creators/producers of Dexter flinched—they didn’t think the darker Dexter of the books would appeal to a viewing audience. Maybe they’re right, though I’d argue the success of the books proves them wrong. Of course, there are a lot more people watching TV than reading books, and I have to wonder how many people who watched Dexter—or who are watching GoT, for that matter—picked up any of the books.

But for those of us who do read the books… well, we can get double enjoyment out of this trend. We get to see where the author took the original material, and compare it with how Hollywood treated their subject. Two what-ifs on one character—or characters, in the case of GoT.

Did not readThat can be good or bad. I understand the finale to Dexter was very unsatisfying to a lot of people, and I admit it’s got me wondering if I want to finish watching the series when the books are so much better and more satisfying.

And that’s the other good thing about all this: if we don’t like the show, we don’t have to watch it, especially when it’s on a pay channel like Showtime or HBO, as these two series are/were. We don’t have to buy the DVDs or devote more time to a show we no longer like if we don’t want to.

We can, instead, reserve that time for reading the books we already love.


Censoring Character Development

Sometime back, HBO’s Game of Thrones aired an episode that caused some controversy. Of course, this isn’t the first time the show has done this, but apparently some critics took it upon themselves to decide they knew what was in store for the show better than the writers do and decried an incident in the episode as unnecessary.

I haven’t seen the episode. I’m slowly catching up on this show, but it’s not easy. I’m catching up by checking each season out from my local library, and the waiting list is long. So I’m only now going to be able to watch season four after today (July 9). I haven’t read all the books, either, though I started on them way back when the first volume came out. If memory serves, it and the first volume of the Wheel of Time series came out about the same time, and since I love epic fantasy, I grabbed both up.

I long ago gave up on the Wheel of Time. Far too many books. I can’t sustain my interest that long, especially when he overemphasized the whole battle of the sexes thing, in my opinion. I gave up somewhere around halfway through Book Five. And no, don’t comment urging me to finish the series. Ain’t happenin.

scumbag-george-r-r-martin-memeOf course, the problem with the Song of Ice and Fire series is that George RR Martin has been writing them so slowly that it has its own form of frustration. Where Robert Jordan fluffed Wheel of Time with the battle of the sexes thing entirely too much, Mr. Martin seems happy to keep his fans waiting, all in the name of “getting it right.” As a writer, I understand that. But getting it a little wrong would be preferable to not getting it at all. Mr. Martin isn’t a spring chicken anymore, and he needs to keep that in mind.

End rant.

What I really want to talk about here, though, is the aforementioned episode. In it, Sansa Stark, eldest daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark, is raped off-screen. Now, as I understand it, Sansa is being groomed, or so many speculate, at least, to be the Queen of the North. I want you to keep that title in mind.

She’s being groomed, I’m assuming, not so much by any particular person or group—though I supposed that’s possible, considering the rest of her family is either dead or scattered to the four winds in a world rife with factions vying for the Iron Throne—but by life itself. She’s lost her father, her mother, her brothers, and her sister (as far as she knows). At the beginning of the series, Sansa is a romantic. When she has an opportunity to journey to King’s Landing, she sees it as an opportunity to meet princes and knights and take part in the wonders of court life, never dreaming of the rude awakening she has in store for her.

Sansa’s story is that of a journey not only from the cold of Winterfell to the warmth of King’s Landing, but her opposite journey from that of a warm, romantic girl to that of a cold, practical woman. Or, again, so I assume. Mr. Martin has a way of surprising us, as do the writers of the show, so who knows?george-r-r-martin-writer-cinema-producer-mass-killer_o_1996013

Of course, thanks to Mr. Martin’s slow pace at writing the books, the show is veering away from their course out of necessity. So the show’s writers might have a different idea in mind for Sansa than Mr. Martin does.

But whatever the case, the critics who raised the hue and cry over an off-screen rape really should keep their mouths shut. Their primary criticism seemed to stem from the fact that, in their opinions, Sansa has grown as much as she can as a character. She’s hardened, not at all the girl who traveled south from Winterfell, and having her raped after all the other things she’s been through was just too much. Besides, it was offensive. I have a feeling this last counted for more than their supposed critique of the forming of her character.

Unfortunately, that’s a little too much like the apocryphal quote attributed to Charles H Duell, Commissioner of the Patent Office in 1899, when he said Congress might as well close down his office as “everything that can be invented has been invented.” Nice thought, Mr. Duell, but a bit shortsighted.

I just want to tell them to get a grip.

Yes, it seems contradictory, but we must keep in mind that these are fictional characters, and yet we must make readers care about them as thought they were real. Will we, as authors, need to start putting a disclaimer on our stories that no real people were harmed in the writing of this book? Do the critics think the general population is so stupid they don’t know the difference between what they see on TV and what’s real?

my-feelings-towards-george-rr-have-changed-slightlyThe development of characters in a story, just as with us in real life, is a complex and daunting task. As writers, we owe it to our readers to make our characters as real and authentic as our skill allows us to do and then some. The world of A Song of Ice and Fire is brutal. It’s not the world of, say, The Princess Bride or a Disney movie. It’s brutal, and cruel, and the idea that Sansa could have her romantic notions even as she grew up in the cold north is something of a miracle in and of itself. That she could hang onto such fanciful notions in a world such as this means she’ll have to have some really nasty things happen to her in order to disabuse her completely of her notions.

Being the victim of rape—on top of all the other things she’s had to endure—is more of the writers forging of her new outlook in life. Now, the thing to me is, this could go one of two ways (and probably more, since others out there can see other outcomes for this): either Sansa Stark will become a cold, ruthless queen who will manage to bring Westeros—or at least the north—together in time to resist the Wildlings from beyond the Wall, or she’ll unite the nations when she remembers what it is to be a victim and she’ll be able to rally the common people behind her cause, thus winning enough support to protect the Seven Kingdoms.

Or, knowing George RR Martin, it could be some other outcome altogether. He’s good at surprising us, isn’t he?

Regardless of the final outcome for Sansa Stark, critics who have not seen the entire picture need to hold their criticisms until they’ve seen the end result of all this. Until then, they’re wasting my time and yours with their petty protests, and contributing in a small—or perhaps large—way to the censoring of creativity, because writers will fear taking their characters where they need to go out of concern of some uninformed opinion of their work.

And that would be a far larger offense than the rape of a fictional character.ef2205c9ecccef6fb26e57fef98accb3


High Fantasy

When you start getting into genres, sometimes you can find yourself quickly becpming overwhelmed. For instance, if you look into modern speculative fiction—the term I use to group sf and fantasy together—you’ll find several categories. In sf, you’ll come across military sf, space opera, hard sf, near space (i.e., set in our solar system), cyberpunk, and God knows how many I’m not even aware of.

Fantasy is the same way. There’s military fantasy, urban fantasy, magic realism, high fantasy, and, again, God knows what else.

If you’re familiar with both fields, you’ll see parallels. Military fantasy and sf are both pretty obvious. Cyberpunk and urban fantasy are rough equivalents. Space opera and high fantasy share many traits.

It’s high fantasy that I want to talk about.

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that I like high fantasy. This subgenre, along with its cousin space opera, tends to share a large canvas and multiple characters. The Lord of the Rings is high fantasy, as are the Deryni books by Katherine Kurtz and, a series that HBO has turned into, well, a series. The author of the books calls it A Song of Ice and Fire. HBO calls it Game of Thrones, which is more or less the title of the first book in the series.

If you haven’t seen/read it, the series is set in the Seven Kingdoms, and the Game of Thrones is the main plot line. It’s the same thing as the Great Game that was—maybe still is—played in Europe among its royalty. Jockeying for power, they hatch plots and counterplots against one another, always attempting to gain the upper hand. No character can trust another and, by extension, you as the reader aren’t always fully aware of what’s going on. That’s done to keep you turning the pages.

A Song of Ice and Fire—of which I’ve read the first three books, if I remember right—adds another dimension: author George RR Martin isn’t above killing off characters once you come to care about them. Ned Stark, one of the main characters in Book I, A Game of Thrones, is killed something like a third or halfway into the story, leaving you going, “WTF?”  I heard an interview with Mr. Martin a few months back in which he said he likes doing that because it’ll keep the suspense high. If you never know whether or not Character A is going to live through the whole thing, you’ll stay on the edge of you seat, turning the pages to find out.

I love these things. Trying to follow the twisting plots, hoping to divine just exactly what one character is trying to do to another, damn near takes a flowchart when it’s done right, and this series is definitely done right—both the show and the books. The production quality on the show is first-rate, and it’s good to get visual pictures of some of these characters—and even more important, in some cases, to hear their names pronounced. And, since Mr. Martin is an executive producer on the show, I have faith that the names are being pronounced as he intended, though I’m sure that most of them are English/Celtic/Gaelic in nature.

Watching these shows has me itching to read the books again, and even to find other high fantasy to read. High fantasy usually isn’t so much about the magical aspect of things as much as straight fantasy (if there is such a thing anymore) can be. In fact, I’m not sure if there are any exotic races in A Song of Ice and Fire—all the characters are human. There are magical things going on, of course. For instance, there used to be dragons in the world, but they’ve pretty much disappeared. You learn quickly, though, that there are a couple of characters hauling three dragon eggs around with them, waiting for the right time to hatch them. So, there are some mythical-type creatures, but even the dreaded Wildings are just humans who have lost a lot of their “civilized” traits—though, in honesty, that’s a matter of opinion. They have goals, too, and they plot to achieve them. They just tend to dress in animal skins and not have the same social niceties as the rest of the world.

Besides the plots, figuring out who’s good and who’s bad is something I enjoy about these stories, and Mr. Martin excels here, too. Not only are you kept turnin the pages wondering who’s going to die next, you also wonder what each character is going to pull next. Characters who just spent the last three chapters giving our hero hell might suddenly change colors and do something to help, and you’re never sure just why. Is it because it suits their own plans? Or was it a chance to do something—gasp!—good in among all this treachery? Maybe it was both. Or something else entirely that won’t reveal itself for 300 pages (these books are pretty big).

Another series that I tried reading was The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. This is also a popular series that deals with all kinds of plots and counterplots and adds in messianic story lines and the roles the main good guy/bad guy play throughout time. And, of course, we are now around to the final battle, the final turn of the Wheel.

At first, I loved these books. They’re rich in detail, and the different cultures are very distinct. As the characters go from one country to another, they encounter wildly different customs, some of which put them in great danger from time to time (of course). This kind of world-building is why I’ve never felt I was very apt at fantasy—I can’t come up with all these details. I think it’s partly because I’m too lazy to try, but there’s also trying to work them into the story without it sounding like some kind of lecture. Though I’ve been exposed to this kind of thing since I first read The Hobbit almost forty years ago, I just don’t seem to have the knack for doing it myself.

I still enjoy reading it, though. The problem I had with The Wheel of Time was that, after a while, I got tired of the Battle of the Sexes that was constantly going on. I realize that it’s a legitimate thing, but I felt that Mr. Jordan overdid it—at least he did for me. It seemed like every time I turned around, women and men were both of the opinion that the world would be a lot better place if only members of the opposite sex would get some sense. Realistic? Yes. But I don’t want beat over the head with it.

I also don’t want to read twelve books that average 600+ pages apiece—and most are close to 1000, as I remember—and have to deal with a stupid Battle of the Sexes every few pages while the world is falling apart around the characters. I finally gave up around Book IV or V because I found myself practically yelling, “Will you people just fucking talk to one another and get over yourselves?”

I’ve never gone back.

Mr. Martin doesn’t have some irritating theme like this in his books. I’d have to say that the most irritating thing is that he came out with the first three books—or maybe it was four, I don’t remember anymore—in relatively short order. But then he took ten years to come out with the latest one. In the same abovementioned interview, he said that he believed fans would appreciate it more if he took ten years to get it right than taking two years and putting out a piece of crap. Valid point but…ten years is still a long time to wait. Add in that Robert Jordan died before finishing his series, and there is the worry that Mr. Martin could kick off before his is completed.

So, anyway, if you like complicated plots and watching characters do their level best to stab one another in the back—along with a few good guys who genuinely want to see something positive happen in the world—check out some high fantasy. And, just because I became frustrated with The Wheel of Time doesn’t mean you won’t like it. There were lots of good things about that series. I just couldn’t overcome my objection the Battle of the Sexes thing. For me, it seemed so trivial and petty beside everything else that was happening.

And check out the Game of Thrones series if you don’t want to read these books—they are thick books, after all, and not everybody likes those.

Just keep in mind that if you read/watch Mr. Martin’s series, don’t get too terribly upset if your favorite character dies—or worse.