Game of Thrones: Learning to Hope

(Spoiler alert, level yellow! If you haven’t seen it Season 6 of Game of Thrones, the ramblings below may be mildly spoilerish.)

battlebastards
All around me, people are rejoicing. On Twitter feeds, and at Monday lunch-breaks… “Go Starks!” “Yay Khaleesi!” “GoT #woohoo!”

If there’s one exclamation I never thought I would associate with Game of Thrones, ‘Woo-hoo’ might be it. What sound would I most associate with GoT? Probably a sharp intake of breath through clenched teeth. You see, up until this season, my first purview into the doings on Westerns came directly through George R.R. Martin’s ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ novels.

For me and millions of other fans, those five novels—those roughly 6,000 pages—have been an exercise in train-wreck spectacle and exquisitely postponed gratification. In all of those 6,000 pages, there’s been what?—maybe three pump-your-fist moments?

But now book fans have ran out of SOIAF books to read, just as producers of the HBO series have run out of plots to follow. Has the TV show faltered, now that the show-runners have to continue the stories on their own? No. If anything TV show has tightened up, quickened its pace, and embraced a fresh, new action-oriented tone. GoT’s Season 6 has shed off some meandering and unsatisfying plot-lines like a working-girl shedding clothes in Littlefinger’s brothel. And the show-runners are killing off the series’ most despised, and most plotting-obstructing characters. Troublesome characters are dropping like… like… well, like good guys in the first five seasons of the show.

Every Sunday night I’ve been watching these new episodes with my arms crossed and a Scroogish scowl on my face. Beside me, my wife hoots and cheers. She loves this new turn in tone. My general reaction has been ‘Everything is too easy.’

Before this season, I enjoyed the HBO adaption mostly because it reminded me of other HBO classics. The Sopranos and The Wire were byzantine pot-boilers—slow-moving and meticulous. They were absolutely brilliant shows with plenty of ‘water cooler moments’ between them, but I don’t think anyone would ever call them ‘crowd-pleasers.’ So I was disgruntled that the GoT TV show had transitioned so unabashedly into crowd-pleasing mode.

Then came the Battle of the Bastards. Good grief. Has there ever been a better-directed, better-directed 60 minutes on television? Forget Emmys. That episode deserves Oscars! Then that episode was followed up by the equally excellent season finale, and I realized: Why am I not opening my heart to this new way of (literally) enjoying these great characters and the thrilling world they live in? Our heroes are actually accomplishing things. They are actually on the move. And everything is spinning up to a huge 3-or 4 front climactic confrontation of Near-Evil vs. Pure-Evil. That’s thorny enough for me. Grab the popcorn, I’m there. And then there’s always the promise that ASOIAF Book 6 book will be here (eventually) to reward the most patient and masochistic fans of the books.

My only hope is the show-runners won’t forget that the Red Wedding is still the series’ most memorable, most quintessential moment. The ‘Game’ can’t end satisfactorily, unless it breaks our hearts, at least a few more times. Here’s hoping they kill off one or two of the characters we all love. And I hope they do it in the most unexpected, most unwarranted way possible.

(And, whomever it is, I hope they keep it permanent this time).

Another one of my GoT articles: Best Actor in a Suppurating Role

 

Sketchbook: Virginia Bridge

sketch072Virginia Bridge
Age: 22

Like many settlers, Virginia was born of Chinese and Latino descent. This shouldn’t be surprising, since the Idyll expedition was primarily populated by volunteers from the Sino-Pacific Partnership and the United Americas.

Virginia prefers to wear leafweave clothes, which are made from gene-modded plants. The preferred method to tailor leafweave clothes is to arrange the seedlings over mannequins so that the creeping ivy intertwines together. Some articles of clothing are created from fronds meshed in a herringbone pattern. Others are made of broad, felt-covered succulent leaves. Leafweave clothes are usually not green. Jackets, blouses, and skirts are often tawny brown, or very pale blue. Deep red or bone white. If you squint you eyes, you’ll probably see an ancient American-Indian influence to most leafweave fashions.

To learn more, read Idyll, or download a free sample today:
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Or check out the continuing story from Virginia’s perspective, starting with The Wilds.

I just read: The Vacationers

vacationesAbout halfway through Emma Straub’s The Vacationers. I realized I was reading the literary equivalent of one of those ensemble-cast family dramedies that come out every so often. I’m thinking ‘This Is Where I Leave You,’ or ‘Parenthood.’ I even started casting the book:

Dianne Weist is the urbane, yet wacky matriarch.
Jeff Daniels is her unfaithful, yet regretful husband.
Adam Driver is the lunk-headed son.
Taissa Farmiga is the cynical daughter, aiming to lose her virginity.
Derek Jacobi is one of the gay best-friends.
And so on and so on.

The basic gist of the story: The Posts are an upper-class, high-brow family from Manhattan who have some fairly big issues. They take a trip to the Spanish island of Mallorca. And over the course of the two week trip (and 320 pages) these issues are sorted out—to varying degrees of satisfaction.

Despite some fairly risqué passages, for the most part I thought this book was fairly safe. I thought the older couples’ storylines (Mom & Dad and the 2 GBFs) were a little too saccharine for my tastes.
The younger Posts’ stories were more unpredictable and complex, and I thought Straub did a good job of encapsulating some of the ennui that affects today’s younger generations, Millennials and post-Millennials.

Straub isn’t afraid to portray her Manhattanite protagonists in a less-than-flattering light. If you don’t like characters who are unabashedly self-centered or snobbish, this probably isn’t the book for you. Personally, those are some of my favorite types of characters. And there are several genuinely funny moments. If family dramedies are your thing, I’d say give it a try.

I Just Read: Fourth of July Creek

Fourth_of_July_CreekThe word ‘forewarned’—does it need to exist? Or is it an example of slapping an unnecessary prefix on a verb that was already functioning quite well on its own? In my opinion, the most annoying example of this is ‘preheat.’ I want to write a letter to Marie Calendar and ask her what’s the difference between preheating an oven and just heating it. Then I’ll end the letter with my patented catchphrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t prefix it!”

Anyhoo… Be (fore)warned, if you actively avoid stories about abused or neglected children, then you’ll probably want to steer clear of Fourth of July Creek. In my case, I was intrigued by a review of this book in Entertainment Weekly, and decided to check it out despite the depressing premise. The $1.99 price tag was also a big selling point.

The novel tells the story of a social worker, Pete Snow, who gets wrapped up in seditious happenings in the outskirts of Montana in the early 1980s. The book read like a modern Western to me, which was what I was hoping for. The beautiful descriptions of the Montana landscape, and the cast of brink-of-the-law characters helped to contribute to that feel. And the author, Smith Henderson, occasionally sidles in a stream-consciousness-through-choppy-waters style that made me think of a more narrative version of Cormac McCarthy.

Henderson also employs an interesting style while the narrative follows Pete’s daughter, Rachel. Her story unfolds in as a sort of Q&A that she’s having with herself.

“And does (her mother) keep Rachel home now, say for her to cut class and stay home?
Yes.
And do they watch TV all day and go for long drives and was it like they were always just waiting for Rachel to get old enough so they could be friends and tell each other everything?
That’s what her mother says.
And what is the everything Rachel tells, on the porch in the cooling of the evening?
Nothing. Her mother does all the telling.”

Appropriately unsettling, and there’s something about it that gives off a sort of rebellious teenage rhetorical style (navel-gazing, back-talking). Or is this a rendering of an interview that Rachel’s giving to another social worker, explaining how crappy her parents are?

The main character, Pete, is definitely a crappy parent—and a hard protagonist to root for in the traditional sense. He reminded me of George Clooney’s character in The Descendants. I’ve never read that novel, but during the movie adaptation I kept wanting to yell at his character, “Stop galavanting around Hawaii and help your daughters deal with the fact that their mother is brain-dead!” At least Pete’s flaws are obviously and unsympathetically presented, and Pete suffers and learns from his mistakes.

Overall, Fourth of July Creek is a bleak book, but I’m glad I read it. I think it will probably make my Top 5 reads of the year.

I Just Read: Annihilation

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeerA team of four women are tasked with charting the mysteries of an isolated coastal wilderness called Area X. Area X seems to irrevocably change any human who enters it (those who are lucky enough to leave). And Area X is spreading.

Reading the description of this book, I knew it fell squarely in my wheelhouse. The actual book fell obliquely; then skidded to a stop in a corner of my wheelhouse than I hadn’t expected, a secluded, Lovecraftian corner. (OK, I’ll drop the wheelhouse euphemism. What the Hell is a wheelhouse, anyway?) I expected to read something sparse and allegorically apocalyptic (The Road), but the book reminded me a lot of Albert Sanchez Pinol’s quasi-Lovecraftian novel, Cold Skin.

That’s not to say that this slim novel isn’t sparse and allegorical apocalyptic. Characters are only signified by job title or role, never by an actual name (the psychologist, the surveyor, the husband, etc.). The overall tone of the book is distant and clinical. The story is told in first person through the journal of a biologist. As a new writer, I’m always struggling with the yin and yang of showing vs. telling. First person POV seems particularly liable to lead to dreaded ‘telling.’ As I read each exceptionally crafted paragraph, it seemed to me that each chunk of prose was at least 60% exposition. But something about this narrative detachment—this fact-to-fact-to-fact storytelling—served to heighten the creep-factor, not buffer the reader from it. The book is punctuated by quite a few skin-crawling moments.

The biologist wanders pine forests and marshes (Man, I love me some maritime settings!) and encounters some typically Lovecraftian horrors of the indescribably monstrous variety. (You know the horrors are ‘indescribable’ because that’s always the first word H.P. Lovecraft used to describe them.) Toward the end of the book, the narrator shifts from detached observations of effed-up, unexplainable events to far-sighted hypotheses of what is actually happening, and that’s when the book takes a step backward. (Midi-chlorians, anyone?) This book is Part One of a three-book series, and I hope the next two books don’t shed too much light on this ephemeral mystery that Vandermeer has created.

One more thing: the covers of this series are kick-ass.