links for 2011-09-01

Continue Readinglinks for 2011-09-01

A Song of Ice and Fire

The HBO series A Game of Thrones starts tonight, and author George R. R. Martin responds on his blog to the off-base New York Times article by Ginia Bellafante claiming that the fantasy genre of literature is “boy fiction” and that his series attracts women by spicing up his novels with graphic sex. As he notes in his post, female fantasy fans all over the internet are enraged about the charge that fantasy isn’t for girls, and that Martin’s series attracts the women folk solely through sex.

I’ve read a lot of fantasy series, but have veered away from the genre in the last ten years because many of them are so formulaic – which I’ve complained about here before – many follow the Joseph Campbell tropes – orphan hero with royal heritage goes on travel quest guided by mentor to defeat evil lurking in the mountains to save the world – that is pretty misogynist and repetitively boring as well. One of the many reasons I enjoy Martin’s series is because it blows that annoying trope out of the water – there’s no “one true hero” – but many; a huge cast of characters, all with their own motivations, moving against and with one another advancing the plot in their own ways. Drawing comparisons, I’d say The Wire is the closest I can think of in story construction to Martin’s series. It’s fascinating to see so many characters viewing the same story from different angles, all with partial understanding of what’s really going on, and succeeding and failing without always knowing entirely why.

And Martin has strong female characters – who are strong in different ways from each other – and who are acting on their own agendas, which may or may not be related to men’s agendas. That is a huge appeal as well; to see women acting like actual women act and not like cardboard cutout princesses from some distant mythic fairy tale.

So I’m glad that there’s been an outcry about the characterization of the series, especially since Martin’s fandom has been pretty critical of him of late; he’s had writers block over the last several years and the recent installments of his novels have been delayed. It’s nice to see them fiercely defend him for once, instead of giving him a hard time. I’m looking forward to the series. And if I get around to it, I may need to re-read the novels.

A Game of Thrones (Song of Ice and Fire)

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2)

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3)

A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4)

A Dance with Dragons (Song of Ice and Fire)

Continue ReadingA Song of Ice and Fire

A Feast For Crows: worth the wait

I finished up reading George R. R. Martin’s long-awaited fourth fantasy novel A Feast for Crows today. I’m dying to find out what happens next. The fifth book (A Dance of Dragons) in the “Song of Ice and Fire” series is due out sometime this year, and if it does drop (Martin is notorious for taking his time writing) I may have to break one of my New Year’s Resolutions and buy it.

Every review I’ve read criticizes the fact that this book was split in half; the next installment was originally planned as part of this book, and Martin reworked the story to separate out some storylines in order to tame an unwieldy volume. It was a wise decision; this half is large and complex and I can only imagine what a book twice this size would weigh, let alone how hard it would be to work through.

I mentioned when I picked up the book to read it that I had a hard time getting my bearings and recalling the “who, where and why” of the numerous story lines as they pick up from the first three books (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords). Wikipedia wasn’t quite enough to help me and I ended up re-reading sections of the previous book to refresh my memory.

That was a frustration, but worth the effort. The Song of Ice and Fire series follows hundreds of characters as they live in and fight over the fictional land of Westeros, and the intrigue and machinations of the various families fighting for control of the land is fascinating. Some character’s motives are pure, some are not; some visions and desires are far-seeing and some are not. The chapters move from one character to the next, and the villain you’re despising in one chapter is the narrator you identify with in another. Only you get a glimpse of the big picture, and even then Martin obscures much of it from view. But the part that you can see is pure poetry, and has made me one of Martin’s faithful if impatient fans.

Continue ReadingA Feast For Crows: worth the wait

A Feast for Crows: starting the book

I started reading one of the books I bought with my Barnes and Noble gift cards, A Feast for Crows this week. It’s the fourth book in the fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R. R. Martin. I really enjoy this series because it turns many of the tired fantasy cliches upside down, or simply ignores them. There’s very little magic in the series, and what there is is subtle and in the background. There’s no “farmboy with royal lineage who discovers his personal journey to find the throne while battling a wicked magician who lives in far off mountains,” thank god. Wikipedia gives a better explanation than I could:

A Song of Ice and Fire is set in a fictitious world reminiscent of Europe in the Middle Ages, except for the fact that in this world, seasons can last as long as a decade. Driven by members of the Houses, great and small, the plot is recounted from the perspectives of more than ten main characters and takes place on the continents of Westeros and the eastern continent, the former being the locale of fierce power struggles between several aristocratic families after the death of king Robert Baratheon, who by lineage, marriage and personal relationships had united them all.

The model for the series was England’s Wars of the Roses, and the story follows several different richly-drawn characters on different sides of the struggle. The thing I found compelling was that I sympathized with characters on both sides of the war who would have been allies in other circumstances but who found themselves at odds due to family loyalties and conflicting religious beliefs.

A Feast for Crows is starting pretty slowly for me, because it begins by following some minor characters that I can’t quite remember from the previous books. The gap between the publication of the last novel and this one was large; I read A Storm of Swords in 2002 and am struggling to remember where the series left off. I read over Wikipedia’s summaries, though, and was able to get my bearings, so I have an idea of who and where everyone is.

Continue ReadingA Feast for Crows: starting the book