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…

Game of Thrones – Season Four, Episode Seven

got4More of Season Four of GOT – or three-point-five, as I like to think of it. This week, we had more development and more buildup to what is to be the season’s climax. And judging from all the tidbits ventured this week and in previous episodes, this will all come down to an assault on the Wall involving Mance Rayder at one end and Ygritte and Tormund at the other, and Tyrion’s fate being decided in a trial by combat. Those are the main big ticket items are they are set to be exploding in the coming two weeks!

As for the lesser plot points, Arya is either going to make it to the Eyrie with the Hound or strike out and finding her own path. Sansa is going to be stuck with and hit upon by her creepy-uncle figure Petyr and try not to vomit. Brienne is either going to find her and her sister or get lost in the woods with Podrick (and maybe find out what the whores in King’s Landing already know!), and… something involving Daenerys and Stannis. Not a lot of promise there yet, but whatever…

Mockingbird:
GOT4_7_3The episode opens in King’s Landing, where Tyrion and Jaime discuss his demand for a trial by combat. Jaime tells him he cannot fight for him since the loss of his hand, and Tyrion asks that he find Bronn for him. Jaime then lets Tyrion know that Cersei plans to call on Ser Gregor Clegane – aka. the Mountain – to be her champion. We then see him in a yard slicing through prisoners before Cersei comes to his side and thanks him for answering her call.

Bronn comes to Tyrion and tells him that he’s now married, and that Cersei arranged it. He declines the offer to be Tyrion’s champion since the odds of winning are slim, and because Tyrion can offer him little. Prince Oberyn arrives later, telling Tyrion of how he was at Casterly Rock after Tyrion had been born and how Cersei had been horribly cruel to him even then. He then tells him that he intends to seek justice for his family, and that he will be Tyrion’s champion so he can kill the man who murdered his sister and her children.

GOT4_7_2Farther north, Arya and Sandor Clegan come upon another burnt out hut and a dying villager. After telling them of his woe, Sandor stabs him in the heart to end his pain. Two men then jump him, one biting Clegane’s shoulder before he manages to snap the man’s neck. We then see that it was Biter and Rorge, two of the prisoners Yoren was taking to the Wall before. Arya recognized Rorge and remembers how he threatened to rape her. After learning his name, she stabs him through the heart, and Sandor congratulates her for learning.

At the Wall, Jon Snow returns from his mission to Craster’s Keep to kill the muntineers. A council is held to discuss what to do about the impending Wildling attack, and Jon Snow advices that they block the gates with rocks and ice. He is overruled by Bowen Marsh and Janos Slynt, both of whom mistrust Jon due to his time amongst the Wildlings. To add insult to injury, he and Sam are given the night’s watch until the next full moon.

got4_7_4In Mereen, Daenerys finds Daario in her chamber offering himself to her, which she accepts. In the morning, Mormont comes around and learns of what has happened. He counsels Daenerys not to trust him, but she replies that she doesn’t, which is why she has sent him to liberate Yunkai and kill all the masters. Mormont cautions her that her actions will only lead to more suffering, and advising mercy. As a compromises, she decides to send Hizdar zo Loraq with Daario to caution the masters into obedience.

In the Riverlands, Brienne and Podrick set down at an inn for the night and enjoy some kidney pies – which, as it turns out, which cooked by Hot Pie. They meet him while taking their meal, he sits down to chat. She lets him know they are looking for Sansa Stark, and that they intend to bring her home. He confides that he knew Arya, and that she was in the company of the Brotherhood Without Banners, and that the Hound was with them too. From this, Pod suggests that Arya would likely be heading to the Eyrie, and that Sansa may be there as well.

got4_7_5In the Eyrie, Robin finds Sansa in the courtyard playing in the snow. She has built a snow castle of Winterfell, which Robin accidentally damages. This prompts an argument, Robin throws a tantrum and kicks down the castle, and Sansa slaps him. He runs off, and Petyr comes in and tells her not to worry. She asks him why he really killed Joffrey, and he confesses he did it to avenge her mother because he loved her. He then kisses her, which her aunt sees.

Afterward, Lysa summons her to the throne room and asks her to stand beside her at the Moon Door. She accuses her of kissing Petyr, flies into a jealous rage and threatens to throw Sansa out. Petyr then enters and calms her down by promising to send Sansa away. She lets Sansa goes and begins to cry. Petyr them takes her in his arms and says he’s only ever loved one woman, her sister, and then shoved her out the Moon Door.

Summary:
Overall, not a bad episode! And a nice surprise after last week’s bomb-fest. There were the bits and pieces I was expecting and looked forward to – including Oberyn becoming Tyrion’s champion, the presentation of the new Mountain (once again recast, and played this time by Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson), and Petry shoving Lysa out the Moon Door. Other than that, not much happened, but not much was meant to. There’s plenty going on before the season finale, and this episode needed to set much of that up.

That being said, there were some bits that seemed kind of dumb. As usual, this had to do with the ongoing storyline in Dragonstone, where they usually cut to whenever they need some pacing. The only difference was, this time around they at least hinted at something significant, which appears to be that Melissandre wants Selyse (Stannis’ wife) to sacrifice her daughter to the Red God. And while I can’t complain about seeing Melissandre naked, it was admittedly unnecessary – much like Daario dropping his pants!

Speaking of which, Daenerys’ parts were once again filler. First, we have her bedding Daario (which is something that doesn’t happen until book V) and then sending him off to recapture Yunkia (something that didn’t happen in the books at all). I tell ya, they are just trying to keep her storyline going since they did a rush job on all those sieges! A Storm of Swords, which this season and last are based on, ended with her seizing Mereen. But with that done, they now have nothing for her to do but deal with the travails and travesties of ruling. BORING!

But other than that, things were pretty good. I really do enjoy what they are doing with Oberyn, who is being very well played by Pedro Pascal. When it was initially announced that he would be playing the role, some fans were critical since they didn’t think he looked the part. In fact, the word “whitewashing” was used. However, I think he’s done a magnificent job in the role. And Kate Dickie really killed it as the irrational and insanely jealous Lysa Arryn. Too bad Petyr killed her 😉

And let me take this moment to say that I am glad they’ve recast a few roles. Daario Naharis, as played by Ed Skrein last season, didn’t look a DAMN THING like he is described in the books. Michiel Huisman, who plays him this season, might not fit the role to a t, but he’s way closer than that braided-haired, beardless pretty boy. And after replacing Conan Stevens in season one with Ian Whyte in seasons two, I’m glad they have an actor again who captures The Mountain’s true appearance and nature.

So now, things are all set for next week’s showstopper – the fight between Prince Oberyn and Ser Gregor Clegane. It is appropriately titled “The Mountain and the Viper”. And no spoilers, but it’s gonna be epic and very… George RR Martinesque!

British Columbia Map Recreates Game of Thrones

british-columbia-as-game-of-thrones-westerosWhat would your town be if it happened to fall within the A Song of Ice and Fire universe? That’s the question British Columbia resident Andrew Cuthbert asked himself when he created a map trying parallel the geography from Game of Thrones to his (and my) home province. Specifically, the map has been repitched using locations from Westeros, the setting of much the story, with townships that bear the greatest geographical and cultural resemblances becoming their Westerosi equivalent.

For example:

  • Vancouver (BC’s largest city, though not the capitol) stands in for King’s Landing, the seat of power in Westeros
  • Victoria, the true provincial capitol and second largest city, is Highgarden, the regional capitol of the lush and fertile land known as “The Reach”
  • Fort Nelson, the last stop on the long road to the Tundra, becomes Castle Black – the last stop before The Wall and the frozen wastelands of the north in the series
  • Kelowna, a town of well-to-do people, becomes Lannisport, home of the “rich as a Lannister” Lannisters
  • Kamloops, a town in the “Riverlands” of BC (where it sits at the mouth of two arms of the Thompson River) becomes Riverrun
  • Osoyoos, a town surrounded by desert and some damn good vineyards, becomes Sunpsear, the capitol of Dorne (the desert region of Westeros)
  • Prince Rupert, the gateway to the northern Pacific and a salty city, becomes Pyke, the seat of the Ironborn
  • and Whistler, a place famous for rich people, leisure, and riding things, becomes Dragonstone

As Cuthbert was sure to admit during an interview with CBC Radio’s Rick Cluff on The Early Edition, his comparisons are entirely tongue-in-cheek. As he put it, “The whole map is supposed to be a joke, so it’s meant to be taken in good faith.” Hard to imagine anyone would be offended by something like this, but I certainly understand his point. When it comes to matters of city comparisons and civic pride, one must tread carefully.

And his timing couldn’t have been better, since season four is set to premier in just under two weeks time! After last seasons blood bath, fans are hoping for something a bit more cheerful no doubt. Too bad they won’t get their wish 😉 And I do hope to see more maps like this in the near future. In fact, here’s hoping it becomes a full-fledged meme, with people drawing up maps that compare their home province, state, or territory to the geography from Game of Thrones!

Source: cbc.ca

2014’s Master To-Do List

Colourful 2014 in fiery sparklersWith this year in full swing and the events of 2013 now a memory, I thought it was high time to take stock of everything I need to do in the coming twelve months. As always, I got a lot of projects in the works and plenty of things I want to get done, some of which I was supposed to be finished with already. And I seem to recall mentioning a few of these items in the course of my New Year’s resolutions…

So here goes…

1. Finish Editing Papa Zulu and Release It:
Now this is one I’ve been letting linger for quite some time! Originally, I had hoped to have this book ready a year ago, but editing has proven to be a more arduous process than previously expected. However, I got my trusty and professional editor (hi Leslie!) in my corner, and she’s editing both it and Whiskey Delta. So sometime before the Spring season hits us, I plan to release the one and re-release the other. It will be a kind of one-two, launch/relaunch combo!

2. Edit Fast Forward and Release it:
Back in April of 2013, I penned a number of short stories for the A to Z Challenge. Since that time, I’m coalesced the best stories, added a few extras from over the years, and created a volume of futuristic tales that I named “Fast Forward”. And with my membership over at Shutterstock.com, I also prepped a new and eyepopping cover that I think will get some attention once its published. But before that can happen, I need to go through it again and make sure its all cleaned up.

FlashForward_2

3. Bring Yuva Anthology to Completion:
Khaalidah and I – a friend and fellow indie writer over at Writer’s Worth – started this anthology of space travel and colonization two years ago. At first, we found ourselves joined by several friends and respected colleagues who also wanted to see the project come to fruition. But after several months of initial progress, things began to slow down and linger.

But I’m pleased to say that in the past few weeks, things have really picked up again. Owing to a full-court press to recruit new talent, we have just about all our stories accounted for and I’m waiting for drafts from all the participants. It would be really nice if we could get this book – a tribute to Ray Bradbury and a tale that is more relevant than ever now – finished by the end of the year.

Yuva_cover

4. Finish Reading List and Review Them:
Yeah, my reading list is, as always glutted and filled with stuff I was supposed to have finished a long time ago. It seemed to take me forever to finish reading World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks. And now that that’s finished, I am hoping to finish the last three books that I have started but not finished, and then move on to the many other novels on my nightstand.

These books include Accelerando by Charles Stross, a story about this century that is required reading for anyone trying to write about the Technological Singularity; We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, the quintessential dystopian tale about social engineering, failed utopias, and the inspiration behind such classics as 1984 and (arguably) Brave New World. And last, but certainly not least, The Quiet Game: Five Tales To Chill Your Bones by Rami Ungar.

we_zamyatinAnd when I’m done all those books, which I’ve been reading simultaneously and in bursts, I can move on to Ready Player One, The Giver, and Back To The Front, an account of one man’s walking tour of the battlefields of World War I. Hey, I don’t just deal in science fiction, you know!

And with all that done and put away with, maybe the wife and I can finally find a bigger place, which is something we’ve been working on for some time. And of course, there will be the walking tour that we will be doing with my family this coming April. I need to do some research to prepare for that, and you can bet your bottom dollar you’ll be hearing about it too!

So yeah, 2014 is shaping up to be an eventful year. I hope it proves to be as productive and enjoyable as I hope, and that you all get what you want from it as well. Take care and Happy New Year!

Isaac Asimov’s Second Foundation – A Review

foundation_coversAt long last – after a year of reading it in small snippets between reading, writing and editing – I finally completed Second Foundation. As the third novel published in the Foundation series, it effectively ended the series, though it was followed up by two sequels and several prequels that expanded on the universe further.

However, given that it would be roughly 30 years until Asimov produced another Foundation novel and pressure from the fan community (and a hefty advance from the publisher) were the only reasons for it, many fans come to see Second Foundation as the final installment in what was effectively a trilogy.

I am one such person. And now that I’ve finished Second Foundation, I feel that the series is complete. And I’m rather dying to do a review, seeing as how the books been with me so long and it’s been months since I reviewed an actual novel. On top of all that, its taken me so long to finish this series that I feel a little embarrassed. Thank God the international society of sci-fi geeks doesn’t actually exist, or they’d kick me out for sure!

Sidenote: Before I begin, note the cover art that is featured at the top there. Over the years, many different covers have been produced, and the current cover for Second Foundation is the one you see below. However, I wanted to feature these ones since they give such a wonderful representation to the original trilogy.

In the first, you see Seldon sitting in front of the Imperial City of Trantor in the days before its decline. In the second, you see the Mule playing his instrument, sitting before a Trantor that lies in ruins. In the third and final, you see Arkady Darrel standing on a Trantor that has reverted to its natural state centuries later, the aged ruins lying well off in the distance. Once you read the full trilogy, you can see just how picture-perfect these representations are.

Plot Synopsis:
second-foundationMuch like Foundation and Empire, the book is divided into two parts, with the first dealing with the Mule’s ongoing search for the Second Foundation. This part opens a few years after the Mule’s trip to Trantor, during which time, his identity was revealed and his attempts to find the answer in the Imperial library were narrowly foiled.

Now in charge of a vast empire centered on the world of Kalgan, he sets out again, sending his fleet in all directions to locate and destroy this last challenge to his power. Knowing the a confrontation is inevitable, the executive council of the Second Foundation meets and decides to allow the Mule to find them, “in a sense”.

The search begins when Bail Channis, an officer recruited by the Mule because he exhibits an “unconventional mind”. He is sent out with Han Pritcher, an officer the Mule knows to be loyal but fears has been ineffective due to his own influence over the man. Together, they travel to the remote world of Rossem where, following clues left behind by Seldon (that the Second Foundation is at “Star’s End”), Channis believes they are hiding.

foundation_muleWhen they arrive, they find a backward, agrarian world where the locals are hospitable, but very little appears to be happening. Suspecting a trap and that Channis is in fact a Second Foundation agent, the Mule travels in secret to Rossem and reveals himself, thinking he has caught Channis and the Second Foundation off guard. However, he quickly realizes it is he who has stepped into a trap when the First Speaker emerges to save Channis.

The two do battle but in the end, the First Speaker emerges victorious by altering the Mules psyche, which prompts him to return to Kalgan and live out the rest of his days as a benevolent ruler. The story ends with another interlude in which the Executive Council celebrates their victory and now plots to get the Foundation back on track.

Part II takes place sixty years later, and fifty-five years after the death of the Mule by natural causes. The members of the First Foundation, led by Dr. Darrel, are now aware that the Second Foundation is out there and secretly discuss how they are exerting influence over their world. This is demonstrated by conducting electroneurology scans, which shows that key members of government have had their minds altered.

second_foundation_warMeanwhile, the Foundation is also embroiled in an ongoing conflict with the new ruler of Kalgan, who wants to reclaim the glory of the Mule by reconquering the Foundation and subjugating it to his will. Their fleet meets with early success and managed to cordon off Foundation space, but their fortunes soon change when the Foundation fleet surrounds them in a major battle.

In the midst of the war, the Foundation decides to send an emissary – Homir Munn, a noted Mule memorabilia collector – to Kalgan to investigate what the Mule learned about the Second Foundation in his final years. Darrel’s daughter, Arkady, sneaks aboard his ship to accompany him, since she is fascinated by the subject of the Second Foundation and Seldon’s plan, and because she is tired of being kept out of the loop by her father.

secondfoundation_arkadyIn the end, Munn is taken prisoner and interrogated by the Kalganian commander, but gives up nothing beyond stating that his purpose was to find clues to the location of the Second Foundation. Arkady is forced to flee, and on the advice of the Commander’s mistress, heads for the spaceport and flies with a family back to Trantor. To her surprise, she realizes that the mistress is a member of the Second Foundation, and that they are manipulating things on Kalgan.

From Trantor, she sends her father a message and tells him the Second Foundation are on Terminus. Once again going by clues left behind by Seldon, that the Second Foundation was at “the other end of the Galaxy”, she tells him that a circle has no end. Ergo, she concludes that they must have been on Terminus all along, where they could monitor the Foundation and Seldon’s Plan up close. In the midst of this, the Foundation fleet outflanks the Kalganians and wins the war.

With the war over and the Foundation victorious. Munn then returns to Terminus and tells them the Second Foundation could not exist. Darrel rightly then reveals that he has suspected all along that Munn has been manipulated by the Second Foundation, and conducts a brain scan to prove it. He then reveals that his work has yielded a telepathic jamming device, which they then turn on.

foundation_seldonThe 50 or so Second Foundation agents that are on Terminus are thus revealed and arrested. Reasoning that they are now neutralized, and with the war over,  the Foundation is now free to expand and build the Second Empire. However, in a final twist, another interlude takes place where the First Speaker is conversing with a student, where it is revealed that everything has proceeded by their design.

After neutralizing the Mule, the Second Foundation knew that Seldon’s plan was hanging by a thread, hence they manipulated things to ensure that it would proceed on track again. This included pushes the Kalganians into war with them, and then seeing to their defeat, and letting the Foundations find some of their agents and presume to have neutralized with them. It’s also revealed that they had a hand in grooming Arkady Darrel, and that Trantor is the real home, with Star’s End being a veiled reference to the old Imperial saying “all road’s lead to Trantor”.

Summary:
I can honstly say that after many years of stalling and waiting, finishing the original trilogy was quite the relief. And for the most part, I enjoyed the third installment in the original three-act play. However, there were some weaknesses that did not go unnoticed, and some of Asimov’s little idiosyncrasies which I’ve come to expect over the years.

For example, the first story is somewhat dry. Rather than there being any real intrigue and action, the entire section consists of a sort of final, half-hearted act made up of mind games. This certainly feels like the case when during the final chapter, where both Channis and Pritchard, followed by the Mule and the First Speaker, are embroiled in a type of mind war. It’s a constant case of “I got you”, “no, I got you!” kind of thing.

foundationAnd this is how the Mule is defeated and the greatest threat to Seldon’s Plan is neutralized. After being portrayed in the second book as the one factor that Seldon did not plan for, a titanic force that was overwhelming the Foundation and its armies, his ultimate demise seemed rather undramatic. Granted, this was something that needed to be secretive and behind-the-scenes, but it felt it rushed and kind of forced.

The second story is much better, containing plenty of intrigue, action, and crisis. And the story flowed quite nicely, beginning at a time when the Foundation feels secure in itself, but a small band of specialists understand that this is not the case, and then culminating in a war and a big reveal. And here, the twists serve a better purpose, showing how the Foundation thinks they’ve neutralized the threat, never to learn that they’ve been helpfully misled.

foundation_forwardBut once again, there was a sense of things being forced and rushed. Towards the end, people are once again revealing that they knew things all along, were better prepared than they had any right to be, and could solve everything with the push of a button or a last minute decision. This time around, its the First and the Second Foundations involved in a case of strategic and mental Jiujitsu, and it feels like there’s a few too many reversals.

However, that doesn’t detract much from the ending, which feels like a good completion to the series. After establishing the Foundation in the first book and showing to the progression of Seldon’s Plan, to throwing it into disarray in book two, by this final act, it now appears that the Plan is fully restored and all the principal actors have done their part.

hari_seldonAnd as the book states by quoting the Encyclopedia Galactica, the war between Kalgan and the Foundation would be the last major conflict before the rise of the Second Empire. Ergo, it would smooth sailing from here on in. As I said already, Asimov claimed that the remainder of the series was motivated by pressure from fans and the publisher, so I tend to think of these three books as the series in its entirety. And I think the way he ended it here was effective and satisfying. No need for sequels or prequels beyond this point!

So if you haven’t read this series yet, I recommend you get on it. While it may have some flaws and apparent idiosyncrasies, it remains a classic of science fiction and one of the most brilliantly original series available. Hence why I felt I needed to read it, and why you should too. Especially if you consider yourself any kind of sci-fi fan or geek!

The Ender’s Game Controversy…

endersgame3If you’re the kind of person for whom science fiction is irrelevant, or if you’ve just been living under a rock for the past few months, it might come as a surprise that there are people who are looking to boycott the release of Ender’s Games. Granted, Card has been an opponent of gay marriage for some time, but its really only been with the release of the movie adapted from his 1984 novel that this has become an issue.

In response to the upcoming release, groups like Geeks OUT! have started the campaign called “Skip Ender’s Game”. Citing Card’s views, and his involvement with the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) – which supported the Defense Of Marriage Act – Geeks OUT and others like them are hoping to prevent Card from benefiting financially from the movie’s release.

enders_game_1Of particular concern is a statement made by Card in 1990 in an essay entitled “The Hypocrites of Homosexuality”:

Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.

In 2009, he stated that homosexual individuals “suffer from tragic genetic mixups,” and that the term “homophobe” is used in order to imply that opponents of the “homosexual activist agenda” are mentally ill. Card stated in 2008 that “[t]here is no branch of government with the authority to redefine marriage.” On July 8, 2013, Card wrote in Entertainment Weekly that the gay marriage issue is “moot” due to the Supreme Court decision on DOMA, and that eventually, gay marriage would be legal in all fifty states

enders_game_2All of this has generated its fair share of controversy and has led to some degree of distancing and disavowal. For starters, Lionsgate Films – the studio responsible for the movie – announced that Card would not be taking part in the Ender’s Game film panel at San Diego Comic Con in July 2013 with the other principal cast and crewmembers of the film.

In addition, hoping to dampen the flames of controversy, Lionsgate released the following statement:

As proud longtime supporters of the LGBT community, champions of films ranging from GODS AND MONSTERS to THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER and a Company that is proud to have recognized same-sex unions and domestic partnerships within its employee benefits policies for many years, we obviously do not agree with the personal views of Orson Scott Card and those of the National Organization for Marriage.  However, they are completely irrelevant to a discussion of ENDER’S GAME.  The simple fact is that neither the underlying book nor the film itself reflect these views in any way, shape or form.  On the contrary, the film not only transports viewers to an entertaining and action-filled world, but it does so with positive and inspiring characters who ultimately deliver an ennobling and life-affirming message. Lionsgate will continue its longstanding commitment to the LGBT community by exploring new ways we can support LGBT causes and, as part of this ongoing process, will host a benefit premiere for ENDER’S GAME.

This is an argument that many have made, that since Card’s views on homosexuality don’t appear in the book itself, that it is not relevant to either it or the movie.

EndersGameAnd Card himself even made a statement in response to the proposed boycott, claiming the his story and his stances on gay marriage are two entirely separate issues:

Ender’s Game is set more than a century in the future and has nothing to do with political issues that did not exist when the book was written in 1984. With the recent Supreme Court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot.  The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state. Now it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.

Once again, Card has declared the issue open and shut and has asked for tolerance for his past stances. Personally, I can’t help but feel that the studio has missed the point entirely, and the Card himself is taking a rather hypocritical stance. Asking for tolerance for your opinions and beliefs are one thing, but he and his colleagues actively campaigned to deny equal rights to others.

enders_game5And though plenty of people have questioned whether or not a boycott is even likely to be effective, the issue seems to be snowballing. Not only is the studio taking notice, but Card’s own statements have only seemed to add fuel to the fire. And of course, a studio needs to reach beyond fans of the franchise and genre when doing adaptations, but given the way the controversy is growing, it’s not unreasonable to suspect they will have a hard time drawing people in.

And I admit to being heavily conflicted. While Card’s views were known to me before the movie was announced, his involvement with NOM and the many statements he’s made, not to mention his perception of the issue as being “moot” and over with, have led me to seriously reevaluate my opinion of the man. Like many sci-fi readers, I read and enjoyed Ender’s Game thoroughly. Had I know where the man stood at the time, would I have still bought it or enjoyed it nearly as much?

orson_scott_cardNot an easy question to answer, and it raises the uncomfortable specter of multiple, overlapping issues. Amongst them are censorship, free speech, hate speech, endorsing intolerance, and precedent. Personally, I think I’m going to skip the movie now. Too bad too, I was interested in seeing what they did with it. And as you can see, I can’t resist posting some of those stunning visuals! But on certain matters, I am just not flexible where intolerance is involved.

And given the way Card espoused tolerance and humanity in his classic book, even towards one’s enemy, I think it would be reasonable for him to reconsider his past involvements. After all, tolerance is about accepting the things you don’t approve of. If you expect people to extend that acceptance to you, you better be willing to show some yourself.

Sources: blastr.com, (2), IO9.c0m, skipendersgame.com

A Musical Tribute to Game of Thrones

Game-of-Thrones-game-of-thrones-20131987-1280-800For fans of George RR Martin, there are few things more controversial about his work than his tendency to kill off beloved characters. From King Robert, to Ned Stark, to Khal Drogo, to the Red Wedding – and that’s just what’s been showcased by the miniseries thus far – it seems no one is safe, regardless of how much we may like them.

As such, it seems fitting that the ladies of Not Literally are back with another pop culture-parodying video honoring those characters who died in GOT season 1. Set to the tune of Goyte’s “Somebody that I Used to Know”, they address their grievances to George RR Martin through a musical row known as “A Character I Used to Know.”

And really, they’ve only covered season 1 here. Now that the Red Wedding has been shown, I’m sure these ladies are off fashioning the remix of the song, angrier, longer, and more angst-ridden! Either that or they are curled up in a ball somewhere, rocking back and forth and sucking their sums to the tune of “The Rains of Castamere”.

Enjoy!