Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Four

Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Four

And I’m back with another entry in the Ten Day Book Challenge. I’ve been very bad at keeping up with these, but I am determined to share my choices for the top ten most influential books I’ve ever read. So what I lack in punctuality, I hope to make up in sincerity and selection :).

Okay, so as usual, here are the rules of this challenge:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why it was so influential to you.
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Thanks once again to RAMI UNGAR for the nomination, and you can find him at ramiungarthewriter.com. And here’s my third selection for the challenge, the post-cyberpunk classic The Diamond Age!

This book takes place in the 21st century after the world has been fundamentally changed by the introduction of nanotechnology. If Eric K. Drexler’s book The Engine of Creation was the authoritative treatise on how nanotechnology would change our lives, The Diamond Age was definitely the fictional counterpart. In this novel, Stephenson treated fans to his usual mix of weirdness, genius, historical and social commentary, education and growth.

For me, this book remains immensely influential, not because it introduced me to the concept of nanotechnology, but because it did so in a way that had such depth. Anyone who reads this is sure to feel that this book came along at exactly the right time to offer commentary on a concept that was slowly moving from the realm of science-fiction to science fact. And as this concept becomes more and more realized, I feel that this book will become required reading for people looking to understand the evolution of nanotechnology.

But, as I said, this book went beyond mere technological commentary, and contained some very interesting thoughts on social change, historical patterns, and the role of culture in development. While I didn’t agree with everything he asserted, it was interesting to see Stephenson detail how specific cultures may go about embracing technology differently, and how the pendulum of history can swing back and forth depending on the time and place and what means are available to people.

If nothing else, it got me thinking in a very serious way, like most of his works. And it was also delightfully fun to read and inspired me as a science fiction writer to take more risks and tackle issues I felt were previously inaccessible to me. Again, I highly recommend this book.

Okay, now for my nomination. This time around, I nominate the Tousled Apostle herself and a long-time friend and colleague of mine, Jamie A. Hughes!

 

The Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Two

The Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Two

Hello again, all. First, please forgive my tardiness in posting this. It’s been a busy weekend and an even busier year! I shall try to catch up over the next few days, though I can’t imagine life is going to get any less busy in the near future. Even so, I got plenty more books to talk about that have had a profound effect on me and influenced my decision to become a writer.

But first, here are the rules of this challenge again!

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why it was so influential to you.
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Again, I would like to thank RAMI UNGAR for the nomination, and you can find him at ramiungarthewriter.com. And for day two of the challenge, I would like to select the book that taught people to take science fiction seriously – Dune!

dune

Much like Lord of the Rings, this timeless classic was one I learned about growing up, but didn’t get around to reading until my 20s. And just like with LOTR, once I did read it, I could see why its influence has been so pervasive. While Frank Herbert wrote many science fiction novels during his lifetime, none have had the same impact as the first installment in his six-book Dune series. And while I myself read all six twice, the first book is arguably the best.

For starters, the story involved one of the richest, most-inspired and most-detailed universes ever created in the history science fiction. Based on the concept of a galactic empire where politics, the economy and all social norms are essentially combination of the futuristic and medieval, the setting of Dune would go on to inspire Lucas’ Star Wars universe. What’s more, many of the planets in the novel have been formally adopted by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) as place names for features on the Moon and Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

But it was the complex interweaving of real history, religion, environmentalism, resource dependency, and cultural and social commentary that blew me away and has ensured that this book is likely to be included in any top ten lists of science fiction books that you can find – not to mention one of the top ten books people pretend to have read. And to round it all out, it has a very deep plot that examines the enduring mystery of prophets and messiahs in human history, and the paradox of prescience. As Frank Herbert himself wrote, “to know the future is to become trapped by it.”

I could go on and on, but I’ve already reviewed this book more than once and don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. And if you’re one of those people who haven’t, get on it!

And now it’s time for me to nominate someone new. And so I call upon Lady Muse herself, Khaalidah Mohammed Ali!

Cover Art Reveal for the Future Days Anthology!

Behold! When the anthology drops, this will be the beautiful artwork that adorns the cover! This anthology is a collection of short stories by Castrum authors and is being released in advance of a number of new books by said authors (one of which is the second installment in my Formist Series – The Jovian Manifesto). My wife thinks there’s a strong resemblance between the child wearing the jet pack and yours truly. Yeah, I suppose I can see it too! 🙂

For those interested, my own contribution is the story Jericho, a story that takes a look at a generation ship that arrives at its destination many centuries from now. The colonists are what are known as Seedlings, people who use advanced nanotechnology to seed and terraform other worlds in advance of colonists. When they arrive, their homes, cities, streets, industries, and all the basic amenities are already built. All they need to do is take their places among the colony and get things working.

This story takes place in the same universe as The Cronian Incident, thought not the same time frame. Speaking of which, stay tuned for cover art for the second installment in that series, The Jovian Manifesto!

New Movie Trailer: The Martian

the_martianThe latest trailer for the The Martian has just hit cyberspace! And as you can see, its quite the doozy. Based on the novel by Andy Weir, The Martian tells the story of Mark Watney – a botanist and space engineer who is part of a manned mission to Mars. When an unexpected storm strikes in the course of that mission, Watney is lost during evacuation and presumed dead.

However, the crew soon learns that Watney survived the storm and has been living on the planet ever since. With a return mission expected to take years before it can reach him, NASA must struggle with a terrible dilemma – risk the lives of many astronauts to save one, or let Watney die alone on a distant planet?

I will definitely seeing this movie, but not before I read the original novel! And I can proudly say that after learning about this movie, I ordered a copy of the book a few weeks back and it now sits on my nightstand. I still got finish a few things before getting to it, but I plan to have it read before the movie comes out in October. There is no way in hell I’ll be waiting for this movie to come out on DVD or Netflix!

Featured Guest Post: “Contemporary Dystopian Novels Worth the Read” by Maria Ramos

dystopiaGood afternoon folks! Today, I have the honor of featuring a guest writer, something that I have never done before. Her name is Mario Ramos, a fellow writer that has been following storiesbywilliams and asked to add her thoughts about this contemporary dystopian literature craze. Take it away, Ramos!

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The teenage wastelands of The Hunger Games and Divergent have made their way to the big screen and people can’t seem to get enough of it. However, many others seem to think science fiction isn’t what it used to be. Despite the glut of novels and films catering to young adults today, there is still plenty of well-written dystopian novels (without teenaged love triangles). Although they do not fall into the same particular category of classics such as Brave New World, there are still worthy examples written in the past few years. Check out some of them below:

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood:

Christian fundamentalists stage a terrorist attack in America, allowing them to suspend the Constitution and install a patriarchal theocracy. This story follows Offred, a concubine for the elite class who undergoes a sexual awakening and joins a resistance movement against the fundamentalists. This critique of repressive religious fundamentalism has taken on added significance since the 9/11 attacks, showing us how a crisis can lead to authoritarianism. Because it speaks to these important issues, the novel remains relevant today. The book was adapted into a film in 1990 starring Natasha Richardson and Robert Duvall.

The Children of Men (1992) by P.D. James:

A global disease has made all men infertile, leaving the human race unable to reproduce. Without any hope for the future, English society collapses and falls under the control of a ruthless dictator. Criminals are dumped into prisons to kill or be killed and the elderly are compulsorily euthanized. This book is an admonition against the cynicism of our times. If we lose hope, we accept all kinds of callousness and oppression and lose sight of the human life’s value. In 2006, a film adaptation starring Julianne Moore and Clive Owen was released.

The Road (2006) by Cormac McCarthy:

A man and his son brave an ashy lifeless landscape populated by cannibals in the hopes of escaping the harsh black winter. Through their actions and words, the man and the boy constantly emphasize love’s power. No matter how bleak things get, the father always looks out for his son and encourages him to maintain hope no matter what. This powerful message resonates with many families, making this novel a contemporary classic. The 2009 film adaptation received critical acclaim with Viggo Mortensen’s excellent portrayal of The Man.

 The Windup Girl (2009) by Paulo Bacigalupi:

In 23rd century Thailand, a genetically engineered humanoid organism, an economic hitman and representative of a biotech mega-corporation, a crooked Chinese refugee, and a leader of an armed environmental enforcement agency cross paths in The Windup Girl. This novel tells a tale of intrigue that critiques environmental exploitation, reckless genetic engineering, the international sex trade, unfettered capitalism, and globalization. The Windup Girl combines a compelling story with dense thematic material, making it a quality science fiction read on par with the classics.

Ready Player One (2011) by Ernest Cline:

In 2044, people spend most of their free time in Oasis — a globally networked virtual reality that transports users to any world they can imagine — as a way of escaping a scrappy existence on an impoverished and depleted planet. The story follows Wade Watts, a high school student that embarks on a digital Easter egg hunt designed by the deceased creator of Oasis in order to inherit his vast estate. Ready Player One shows a world in which people alienate themselves through video games, instead of trying to solve the world’s problems.

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Despite recent films focusing on romance and teenaged angst, there are still many novels that generate conversation over our concerns about the world today. This subgenre of science fiction showcases our anxieties about the future and has raised questions surrounding the concepts of totalitarian governments, environmental catastrophes, and technological overreach. Many have become aware of these concerns and have been trying to positively change the way we impact our Earth. From companies making direct energy more accessible to NASA using advanced technology to help the environment, these dystopian fictions are helping save the world — one novel at a time.dystopian list

Accelerando: A Review

posthumanIt’s been a long while since I did a book review, mainly because I’ve been immersed in my writing. But sooner or later, you have to return to the source, right? As usual, I’ve been reading books that I hope will help me expand my horizons and become a better writer. And with that in mind, I thought I’d finally review a book I finished reading some months ago, one which was I read in the hopes of learning my craft.

It’s called Accelerando, one of Charle’s Stross better known works that earned him the Hugo, Campbell, Clarke, and British Science Fiction Association Awards. The book contains nine short stories, all of which were originally published as novellas and novelettes in Azimov’s Science Fiction. Each one revolves around the Mancx family, looking at three generations that live before, during, and after the technological singularity.

https://i1.wp.com/1a3kls1q8u5etu6z53sktyqdif.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Charles-Stross.jpgThis is the central focus of the story – and Stross’ particular obsession – which he explores in serious depth. The title, which in Italian means “speeding up” and is used as a tempo marking in musical notation, refers to the accelerating rate of technological progress and its impact on humanity. Beginning in the 21st century with the character of Manfred Mancx, a “venture altruist”; moving to his daughter Amber in the mid 21st century; the story culminates with Sirhan al-Khurasani, Amber’s son in the late 21st century and distant future.

In the course of all that, the story looks at such high-minded concepts as nanotechnology, utility fogs, clinical immortality, Matrioshka Brains, extra-terrestrials, FTL, Dyson Spheres and Dyson Swarms, and the Fermi Paradox. It also takes a long-view of emerging technologies and predicts where they will take us down the road.

And to quote Cory Doctorw’s own review of the book, it essentially “Makes hallucinogens obsolete.”

Plot Synopsis:
https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/0b/Accelerando_%28book_cover%29.jpg
Part I, Slow Takeoff, begins with the short story “Lobsters“, which opens in early-21st century Amsterdam. Here, we see Manfred Macx, a “venture altruist”, going about his business, making business ideas happen for others and promoting development. In the course of things, Manfred receives a call on a courier-delivered phone from entities claiming to be a net-based AI working through a KGB website, seeking his help on how to defect.

Eventually, he discovers the callers are actually uploaded brain-scans of the California spiny lobster looking to escape from humanity’s interference. This leads Macx to team up with his friend, entrepreneur Bob Franklin, who is looking for an AI to crew his nascent spacefaring project—the building of a self-replicating factory complex from cometary material.

In the course of securing them passage aboard Franklin’s ship, a new legal precedent is established that will help define the rights of future AIs and uploaded minds. Meanwhile, Macx’s ex-fiancee Pamela pursues him, seeking to get him to declare his assets as part of her job with the IRS and her disdain for her husband’s post-scarcity economic outlook. Eventually, she catches up to him and forces him to impregnate and marry her in an attempt to control him.

The second story, “Troubador“, takes place three years later where Manfred is in the middle of an acrimonious divorce with Pamela who is once again seeking to force him to declare his assets. Their daughter, Amber, is frozen as a newly fertilized embryo and Pamela wants to raise her in a way that would be consistent with her religious beliefs and not Manfred’s extropian views. Meanwhile, he is working on three new schemes and looking for help to make them a reality.

These include a workable state-centralized planning apparatus that can interface with external market systems, a way to upload the entirety of the 20th century’s out-of-copyright film and music to the net. He meets up with Annette again – a woman working for Arianspace, a French commercial aerospace company – and the two begin a relationship. With her help, his schemes come together perfectly and he is able to thwart his wife and her lawyers. However, their daughter Amber is then defrosted and born, and henceforth is being raised by Pamela.

The third and final story in Part I is “Tourist“, which takes place five years later in Edinburgh. During this story, Manfred is mugged and his memories (stored in a series of Turing-compatible cyberware) are stolen. The criminal tries to use Manfred’s memories and glasses to make some money, but is horrified when he learns all of his plans are being made available free of charge. This forces Annabelle to go out and find the man who did it and cut a deal to get his memories back.

Meanwhile, the Lobsters are thriving in colonies situated at the L5 point, and on a comet in the asteroid belt. Along with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the ESA, they have picked up encrypted signals from outside the solar system. Bob Franklin, now dead, is personality-reconstructed in the Franklin Collective. Manfred, his memories recovered, moves to further expand the rights of non-human intelligences while Aineko begins to study and decode the alien signals.

http://garethstack.files.wordpress.com/2006/12/url-3.jpegPart II, Point of Inflection, opens a decade later in the early/mid-21st century and centers on Amber Macx, now a teen-ager, in the outer Solar System. The first story, entitled “Halo“, centers around Amber’s plot (with Annette and Manfred’s help) to break free from her domineering mother by enslaving herself via s Yemeni shell corporation and enlisting aboard a Franklin-Collective owned spacecraft that is mining materials from Amalthea, Jupiter’s fourth moon.

To retain control of her daughter, Pamela petitions an imam named Sadeq to travel to Amalthea to issue an Islamic legal judgment against Amber. Amber manages to thwart this by setting up her own empire on a small, privately owned asteroid, thus making herself sovereign over an actual state. In the meantime, the alien signals have been decoded, and a physical journey to an alien “router” beyond the Solar System is planned.

In the second story Router“, the uploaded personalities of Amber and 62 of her peers travel to a brown dwarf star named Hyundai +4904/-56 to find the alien router. Traveling aboard the Field Circus, a tiny spacecraft made of computronium and propelled by a Jupiter-based laser and a lightsail, the virtualized crew are contacted by aliens.

Known as “The Wunch”, these sentients occupy virtual bodies based on Lobster patterns that were “borrowed” from Manfred’s original transmissions. After opening up negotiations for technology, Amber and her friends realize the Wunch are just a group of thieving, third-rate “barbarians” who have taken over in the wake of another species transcending thanks to a technological singularity. After thwarting The Wunch, Amber and a few others make the decision to travel deep into the router’s wormhole network.

In the third story, Nightfall“, the router explorers find themselves trapped by yet more malign aliens in a variety of virtual spaces. In time, they realize the virtual reaities are being hosted by a Matrioshka brain – a megastructure built around a star (similar to a Dyson’s Sphere) composed of computronium. The builders of this brain seem to have disappeared (or been destroyed by their own creations), leaving an anarchy ruled by sentient, viral corporations and scavengers who attempt to use newcomers as currency.

With Aineko’s help, the crew finally escapes by offering passage to a “rogue alien corporation” (a “pyramid scheme crossed with a 419 scam”), represented by a giant virtual slug. This alien personality opens a powered route out, and the crew begins the journey back home after many decades of being away.

https://storiesbywilliams.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/d622e-charles_stross_accelerando_magyar.jpgPart III, Singularity, things take place back in the Solar System from the point of view of Sirhan – the son of the physical Amber and Sadeq who stayed behind. In “Curator“, the crew of the Field Circus comes home to find that the inner planets of the Solar System have been disassembled to build a Matrioshka brain similar to the one they encountered through the router. They arrive at Saturn, which is where normal humans now reside, and come to a floating habitat in Saturn’s upper atmosphere being run by Sirhan.

The crew upload their virtual states into new bodies, and find that they are all now bankrupt and unable to compete with the new Economics 2.0 model practised by the posthuman intelligences of the inner system. Manfred, Pamela, and Annette are present in various forms and realize Sirhan has summoned them all to this place. Meanwhile, Bailiffs—sentient enforcement constructs—arrive to “repossess” Amber and Aineko, but a scheme is hatched whereby the Slug is introduced to Economics 2.0, which keeps both constructs very busy.

In “Elector“, we see Amber, Annette, Manfred and Gianna (Manfred’s old political colleague) in the increasingly-populated Saturnian floating cities and working on a political campaign to finance a scheme to escape the predations of the “Vile Offspring” – the sentient minds that inhabit the inner Solar System’s Matrioshka brain. With Amber in charge of this “Accelerationista” party, they plan to journey once more to the router network. She loses the election to the stay-at-home “conservationista” faction, but once more the Lobsters step in to help by offering passage to uploads on their large ships if the humans agree to act as explorers and mappers.

In the third and final chapter, “Survivor“, things fast-forward to a few centuries after the singularity. The router has once again been reached by the human ship and humanity now lives in space habitats throughout the Galaxy. While some continue in the ongoing exploration of space, others (copies of various people) live in habitats around Hyundai and other stars, raising children and keeping all past versions of themselves and others archived.

Meanwhile, Manfred and Annette reconcile their differences and realize they were being manipulated all along. Aineko, who was becoming increasingly intelligent throughout the decades, was apparently pushing Manfred to fulfill his schemes to help bring the humanity to the alien node and help humanity escape the fate of other civilizations that were consumed by their own technological progress.

Summary:
Needless to say, this book was one big tome of big ideas, and could be mind-bendingly weird and inaccessible at times! I’m thankful I came to it when I did, because no one should attempt to read this until they’ve had sufficient priming by studying all the key concepts involved. For instance, don’t even think about touching this book unless you’re familiar with the notion of the Technological Singularity. Beyond that, be sure to familiarize yourself with things like utility fogs, Dyson Spheres, computronium, nanotechnology, and the basics of space travel.

You know what, let’s just say you shouldn’t be allowed to read this book until you’ve first tackled writers like Ray Kurzweil, William Gibson, Arthur C. Clarke, Alastair Reynolds and Neal Stephenson. Maybe Vernon Vinge too, who I’m currently working on. But assuming you can wrap your mind around the things presented therein, you will feel like you’ve digested something pretty elephantine and which is still pretty cutting edge a decade or more years after it was first published!

But to break it all down, the story is essentially a sort of cautionary tale of the dangers of the ever-increasing pace of change and advancement. At several points in the story, the drive toward extropianism and post-humanity is held up as both an inevitability and a fearful prospect. It’s also presented as a possible explanation for the Fermi Paradox – which states that if sentient life is statistically likely and plentiful in our universe, why has humanity not observed or encountered it?

According to Stross, it is because sentient species – which would all presumably have the capacity for technological advancement – will eventually be consumed by the explosion caused by ever-accelerating progress. This will inevitably lead to a situation where all matter can be converted into computing space, all thought and existence can be uploaded, and species will not want to venture away from their solar system because the bandwidth will be too weak. In a society built on computronium and endless time, instant communication and access will be tantamount to life itself.

All that being said, the inaccessibility can be tricky sometimes and can make the read feel like its a bit of a labor. And the twist at the ending did seem like it was a little contrived and out of left field. It certainly made sense in the context of the story, but to think that a robotic cat that was progressively getting smarter was the reason behind so much of the story’s dynamic – both in terms of the characters and the larger plot – seemed sudden and farfetched.

And in reality, the story was more about the technical aspects and deeper philosophical questions than anything about the characters themselves. As such, anyone who enjoys character-driven stories should probably stay away from it. But for people who enjoy plot-driven tales that are very dense and loaded with cool technical stuff (which describes me pretty well!), this is definitely a must-read.

Now if you will excuse me, I’m off to finish Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow’s End, another dense, sometimes inaccessible read!

Game of Thrones, Season Four – What Went Wrong?

got4

(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!)

Just the other day, I saw the finale for season four of Game of Thrones, and it got me thinking. While the episode was hailed by some critics as the show’s best finale so far, others raised the obvious point that Thrones geeks did not fail to miss. That being the absence of Lady Stoneheart from the proceedings. In the novel, A Storm of Swords, which provided the material for seasons three and four, things ended with the appearance of a resurrected Lady Catelyn Stark, who now went by the name Lady Stoneheart.

Like most GOT geeks, I felt surprised and disappointed, a sentiment that has been echoing throughout this season. In fact, though I felt that the finale was the best episode of the season, I also had to conclude that season four was the worst season to date. And the reasons for this seemed to be pretty clear after ten episodes with some pretty consistent mistakes. So I thought I might go over them…

1. Pointless Changes that don’t go Anywhere:
One of the biggest annoyance for me this season was the fact they made some rather drastic changes to the storyline, ones which would have altered the plot significantly if they had been allowed to truly unfold. However, not wanting to get terribly off-script, the writers were then forced to tie these divergences up by making sure they didn’t have any lasting effect. As a result, we were left with sequences that were truly pointless.

Ramsay-406The worst of the lot had to do with Theon. In the novels, Theon was presumed dead after A Clash of Kings after he was betrayed and defeated at Winterfell. He didn’t appear again until book V (A Dance with Dragons) where it was revealed that he had been Ramsay Snow’s prisoner the entire time. At this point, he is compelled by his father to use Theon to persuade the Ironborn to leave Deepwood Motte and other captured territories.

But in the show, Ramsay decides to openly advertise that he has taken Theon prisoners and is torturing him in order to persuade the Iron Islanders to leave the North. This prompts Asha Greyjoy (renamed Yara) to sail up the river and mount a rescue. This made little sense, since the Dreadfort is not reachable by river, but the real fault was in how things turned out. After finding Theon, Asha and her men are quickly dispatched when Ramsay decides to unleash his hounds.

Asha retreats, claiming her brother is dead. Not long before, she claimed that rescuing her brother was a matter of honor and an injury to him was an injury to all Ironborn. But after seeing him terrified and brainwashed, and frightened by Ramsay’s dogs, she decides to leave him to his fate. Not surprising, since there really was no other way this thread could have been resolved without seriously altering the plot down the road. But this only made the whole attempted rescue seem pointless.

la_ca_0327_game_of_thronesAnother pointless change that was clumsily resolved was Jon Snow’s mission to Craster’s Keep to kill the mutineers. In the novel, Jon only real concern at this point was the Wildling army riding to the Wall, not to mention the Wildling raiding party that was making its way towards Castle Black. The mutineers were all suspected of being dead, which made sense since Mance’s army was practically upon the Wall at this point.

Another thing, Jon did not know that Bran and Rickon were alive. And so, he didn’t venture out to Craster’s Keep in part because he figured they would be stopping here on their way further north. As a result, there was no close shave where Bran very nearly met up with Jon but then didn’t. What’s more, the fact that Jon was willing to ride out and risk running into Mance’s invading army, but would not ride south to engage Tormund and Ygritte’s raiding party made even less sense as a result.

got4_aryahoundAnd last, Brienne’s encounter with Arya was something that never happened in the books, and therefore necessitated that it end in a way that didn’t violate the plot. This one they actually did pretty well, in my opinion. Not only was the fight between Brienne and the Hound well executed, but it even made a bit of a sense that Arya would choose not to go with her and slip off, for fear that Brienne was working for the Lannisters. Still, it was a made up addition, and one which has to be included since it necessitated a contrived resolution.

2. Padding/Mining:
At the same time, there were additions to the story that never happened in the books and were pure filler. And in just about all cases, it involved the same threads – Theon and Jon Snow in the North, Daenerys in Slaver’s Bay, and Stannis and co. at Dragonstone. In just about all instances, the writer’s were scrambling for stuff for these characters to do because their storylines were exhausted at this point in the book and did not come upon again until book V, which required that material from that book be brought forward and used.

For instance, Roose Bolton did not concern himself with the whereabouts Bran, Rickon, or Jon Snow upon returning from the Red Wedding. His only concern was cementing his rule by having his son marry a Stark and be declared legitimate, which meant that he never sent Locke to the Wall to find them and kill anybody. And so, Locke’s attempted murder of Bran, his death at the hands of Hodor, and the plot to kill the last of the Starks was entirely made up.

GOT4_mereenMuch the same holds true for Daenerys entire storyline after the sack of Mereen. Having proceeded to cover her sack of Slaver’s Bay in a very speedy and topical way, the writer’s of the show were now left with a very important thread where the characters essentially had nothing to do. As a result, they mined material from book V to keep her busy, or just threw in some added material that never happened in the novels and really accomplished nothing.

In the former case, this included Daenerys’ affair with Daario Naharis and her learning that Drogo has killed a herders child, thus prompting her to lock her dragons up beneath one of the city’s pyramids. In the latter, it involved the relationship between Grey Worm and Missandei, which makes little sense seeing as how he is an Unsullied and completely castrated. But to confound this, the writer’s decided that Missandei was suddenly unclear as to whether or not the Unsullied’s castration involved both the “pillar and the stones”.

Much the same held true for Stannis’ thread this season. After being defeated at the Battle of Blackwater, very little was heard from Stannis until his forces appeared in the North and overran Mance Rayder’s Wildling army. However, to ensure he had something to do, the writer’s added many superfluous scenes where we simply see him and his people droning on about very little. And, similar to what they did with Daenerys, they even mined material from book V where Stannis meets with representatives from the Iron Bank.

GOT4_6_2In the novels, the representatives came to Stannis only after he had come to the Wall and routed Mance’s army. The reason being, Lord Tywin was dead, Cersei was in charge of King’s Landing, and she had made it clear that they would not be making payments to the bank just yet. Ergo, the Iron Bank was backing her enemies to ensure that whoever won would make good on the Thrones massive debts. So basically, they took material that happened later, changed it, and moved it forward to keep Stannis’ story going.

The same held true for Stannis’ decision to sacrifice a child of royal blood so Missandre’s could divine the future. This wasn’t to happen until he reached the Wall, and involved entirely different people than Gendry (who was gone from the story at this point). Here too, the material was moved forward and altered just so the character remained in the show.

3. Boring and Superfluous:
Something else that kept popping up for me this season was the endless array of short scenes with pointless talk, the prolonged scenes with pointless talk, and the scenes that tried to be dramatic but were just filled with superfluous stuff. This I generally filed under the heading of “filler”, and there was some crossover with stuff in item two. Still, I felt that it deserved its own category since there was quite a lot of it.

For example, the episode The Mountain and the Viper was one of the most anticipated of the season, and the fight scene that provided the climax was quiet awesome. However, everything leading up to it was some of the most boring material I’ve seen in years. This included Missandei and Grey Worm carrying on like teenagers, Tyrion talking endlessly before the fight about his simple cousin for no apparent reason, and a slew of other scenes in the North or Slaver’s Bay.

OberynMuch the same was true of Daenerys’ siege of Mereen in episodes five and six. What was essentially a major undertaking in the books was covered in three short scenes in the show. It begins with the fight between Daario (it was actually Strong Belwas in the books) and Mereen’s champion, which ended far too quickly. Then the siege itself which involved them throwing barrels filled with broken chains in, and then a quick sneak attack that opened the next episode.

Speaking of which, episode five, Breaker of Chains – what can you say about an episode where just about the only scene of consequence is a rape scene? Seriously, what were the writers thinking with that? It was completely different from what happened in the books, was ugly and unnecessary, and was the only point of interest in an episode that had nothing but after-the-fact dialogue and a slow, plodding pace to it.

4. No Stoneheart!:
But by far, the biggest inexplicable change this season was the absense of Lady Stoneheart (aka. Catelyn Stark) at the end of the season. Not only was she introduced at the end of the third book to preview what was coming in the next two volumes, it also provided a surprise ending that shocked readers and gave them hope. After getting away with bloody murder, it now seemed that the Freys were going to pay for their crimes! But first, a little explanation as to how Catelyn was up and walking again…

Basically, Catelyn became Stoneheart after she was murdered at the Red Wedding and her body cast into the river to float downstream, where it washed up and was found by the Brotherhood Without Banners. There, Beric Dondarion begged Thoros of Myr to use his Red Priest magic to bring her back to life, as he had done with Ser Beric so many times now. However, Thoros was tired of playing God and refused, which led Beric to kiss Lady Catelyn on the lips and pass his life force to her.

Stoneheart_2Tired of being brought back from the dead, he decided he would let the magic which had resurrected him many times bring her back. Ser Beric died on that riverbank, and Lady Catelyn came back – albeit in a scarred, muted form. Not only did she have a hideous scar on her throat and a bloated face, she was also functionally mute. And she was some pissed, and sought revenge against the Freys for their betrayal. As such, she now led the Brothers through the Riverlands to find all those who had betrayed her family and execute them.

So the question is, why was she left out? Well, Alex Graves, who has directed several pivotal episodes of show, commented on this and other issues after the final episode of the season aired:

They [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] have such a challenge adapting the books into a really focused television experience. It’s very hard, it’s very complicated, it’s much harder then they’ve been given credit for, I think — and they do a brilliant job. But to bring back Michelle Fairley, one of the greatest actresses around, to be a zombie for a little while — and just kill people? It is really sort of, what are we doing with that? How does it play into the whole story in a way that we’re really going to like? It just didn’t end up being a part of what was going to happen this season. And finally one [more] reason: In case you didn’t notice, a lot happens this season … To add that in is something they opted out of. But what’s funny is that it was never going to be in the season, yet it took off on the Internet like it was going to happen.

Wait, so they didn’t want to show Catelyn as a zombie and because they were too busy with other things? Well okay, except that she’s NOT a walking corpse, she’s a reanimated, living being, who just happens to look a bit the worse for wear. As for the latter explanation, that they were busy, this sort of makes sense since they chose to change things in the final episode where Brienne and the Hound fight it out. But as I said, that never happened in the books and it also served little purpose.

GOT4_briennehoundSo if Graves is saying they chose to forgo a major plot point to focus on something that, while fun to watch, really didn’t effect the story, I would have to check my BS meter. As for whether or not Lady Stoneheart will be appearing in the next season, the director basically said that this was up to the writers and they were not being forthcoming on that point:

As somebody who’s worked deep inside the show, begged to have an answer and wants more than anybody, I have no idea. They won’t tell me. They’re very good at being secretive.

Hmm, so Lady Stoneheart may or may not be making an appearance in the next season, huh? There’s just one problem with that. SHE HAS TO! She’s an integral part of the plot as far as the next chapter in the story – A Feast for Crows – goes. To leave her out would be to leave a big, gaping plot hole where Brienne and Jaime’s story threads are concerned. I mean, its one thing to not bring her back just so she won’t be appearing for a few minutes at the tail end of a season. But to leave her out entirely when her character is central? That’s just plain weak.

But that wasn’t the last thing Graves commented on as far as this season’s finale and future shows were concerned. Fans also wanted to know if that semi-tragic scene involving the Hound was in fact his stand. Graves was strongly suggested that it was:

As far as The Hound, as I told the story … he’s gone. How is he going to survive that? The real point of it was that she walks away, it wasn’t that it’s left open ended.

Yet another problem. In the original novels, when Brienne came to the Riverlands and began tracking down leads, she was told that the Hound had been spotted and was carrying a Stark with him. Initially, Brienne thought it might be Sansa, but later learned it was Arya that was with him, and that she left the Hound to die underneath a tree on the Trident. But later on, reports began to circulate that the Hound was in fact not dead, and had been spotted on the move once again in the Riverlands.

GOT4_hounddeadHonestly, Graves’ guesswork on these topics makes it sound like he really isn’t familiar with the source material. But to be fair, only Martin knows for sure if the Hound is coming back, so announcing things either way at this point would be premature.

Summary:
Of course, its easy to pass judgement of television writers for making changes from original material. And Graves was right when he said that the writing team have their work cut out for them and are working hard to bring George RR Martin’s novels to life. But the problems this season seemed to stem from one central thing: they split the book in half. While this seemed logical since it was clear they couldn’t possibly make all of A Storm of Swords fit into one season, the decision to split it into two meant they didn’t have enough materiel for this season.

After all, ASOS is one of the most eventful and shocking installments in the series, and ten episodes simply wasn’t enough to cover the Red Wedding, Joffrey’s Wedding, Tyrion’s trial and escape, the battle at Castle Black, Mance’s assault on the Wall, Stannis’ assault on the North, and Daenerys’ sacking of the cities of Slaver’s Bay. But twenty episodes was too much, which meant the writers had to make stuff up, take stuff from the next books, or just expand what they had to make it fit.

And the result was a season with some bad parts to it. Still, there were plenty of highlights too. Joffrey’s wedding and his death scene was some pretty good viewing, Tyrion’s trial did not disappoint, the fight between Prince Oberyn and the Mountain was badass, the battle at the Wall was hectic, and the Hound’s (supposed) death scene was quite well done. And the finale was one of the better episodes in the series, and perhaps one of the better finales as well.

And the additions, though they went nowhere, weren’t all bad. In fact, the only thing I would say was done poorly this season was the entire Daenerys thread, which gravitated between boring and superficial. I mean, the woman’s leading an army through the entire Slaver’s Bay and conquering cities! Why did they skim these things so quickly and then give her nothing but boring administrative duties for the rest of the season? Budgets? …ah, maybe.

In any case, I will be watching next season, and look forward to what they will be doing with it. Thanks to how George RR Martin wrote books IV and V (A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons), we will be seeing aspects of both books presented simultaneously, but there will be enough material for two seasons this time. Which is good, seeing as how Martin needs time to produce book VI – The Winds of Winter – which will inevitably provide the basis for season seven.

Yeah, the man’s wheels grind slow, and exceedingly bloody! Until next season folks…