Sunday, April 6, 2014

Game of Who Cares?

Or as the Iron Sheik might say, "Game of Who Gives Fuck? More like Game of I Fuck You and Break Your Neck Like the True Bubba." He gets a little carried away but you get the idea.

I've read all the books AFAIK. I'm pretty sure the appearance of a new one would be big enough to get through the wilderness to my own private hermitage. Remember this series was started something like twenty years ago. To be honest I can't say for sure why I read through them all. Something about Martin's voice and the pacing was compelling, I guess. That got me past the first chapter. And the characters I found to be pretty solid, mostly. They aren't super-complicated but they're not cardboard cut-outs either, so that helped keep me going through literally thousands of pages. That and Martin's refusal to use most of the tropes of so-called "High Fantasy" fiction, instead modelling it on midieval history, and his willingness to put everyone at risk, but those are things most readers wouldn't give a damn about. They just put him in the history books.

But I just can't care about the show. I can't remember what season it was but I gave up before they had the big naval battle. Somehow the show, even though it pays close attention to the books and has Martin as a close consultant and even writer (which I think is great), manages to highlight only the flaws of the books. I guess, when you look at my list up there, most of it is about the quality of the writing (NOT the storytelling), so I think that's why.

And the books do have many flaws which are carried over very well to the TV show:

1) Scene-chewing dialogue that Shatner would feel silly saying

2) Just about every really interesting or compelling character is destroyed in one of the following ways:
2a) killed
2b) extremely minor involvement with the overall plot
2c) gets put "on the bus" and is gone so long you no longer care about them
2d) is measured against the dwarf Tyrion and looks less awesome as a result

3) There is no hero. Books like this need heroes. Protagonists if that's a loaded word for you. Everyone you want to root for dies, except Tyrion. Yeah that's kind of  "realistic", it also means by book 57, "Dead Body Booglaoo", no one gives a damn because by that point Tyrion has to have died. More on that later. Everyone left behind doesn't have the muscle to carry the plot around or isn't hero material as their scope and interests are too limited. Killing off the characters people like is a cool trick that made for a shocking ending to the first book, but it's a trick that Martin keeps pulling out of the bag. And like a guy who cuts off a finger as part of his act, you're blown away, but at some point he runs out of fingers, and by the time he gets to the other hand you're over it.

4) Martin's sheer balls, while his greatest strength, are also his handicap, because he takes a lot of chances and not all of them come up winners for him. Flashbacks, things going on simultaneously that take many many pages to describe, switching POV every chapter, etc etc.

5) Exposition is hard and boring, but must be done when you have such a massive plot with so many moving parts. Martin's only tricks for this are having characters discuss things over overly-described dinners. The show turns this into "sexplanation" or "sexposition". Titties are nice and yes we do need to know some of the history but a tighter focus would've meant we need to know less of it.

6) The usual fantasy book claptrap. Stupid names for things that don't need them just to make the world sound foreign and historic. Clunky book titles like "A Song of Ice and Fire" that sound generic to the point of being computer-generated. This is par for the course and Martin succeeds despite these needless burdens.

GOD DAMN I'M OPINIONATED FOR A NOBODY!

(Yeah, there are counterpoints to some of these, I'm talking about the flaws here).

If I had been this guy's editor, I would have totally ruined these books, because let's face it, as they are they are mighty successes and I should be so lucky to get to eat the salty peanuts out of Martin's shit. That having been said, here's what I think:

The hero should obviously be Tyrion. Everyone loves him, and why not? He's an underdog, everyone hates him but he comes out a winner most of the time, his dialogue is the best, his education and physical deformity make him very easy to identify with for the average fantasy novel reader. My memo to George would've started with making Tyrion the main character and sticking with him throughout. What he doesn't see, we don't necessarily need to know about, but if we do it won't take much time before we're back to him.

I will get interested in this show when it gets beyond the books, which seems likely. Even then I don't have much hope, but at least it will be some shit I won't be reminded of reading.

You guys realize that Tyrion pretty much has to die, right? Did he already? I can't remember but I don't think so. But yeah. Remember what I said about Martin's balls, about his willingness to put EVERY character at risk? I could be wrong, of course, but Martin is at a decision point here. Either he realizes the dwarf is the hero and gets more traditional  ... or Martin's balls will overwhelm him with hubris and he will pull the trigger. This to me is the central question and is most interesting and debatable.

SPOILERS!

I really need to do a thing on spoilers.

Monday, March 31, 2014

What I've Been Up To Lately

In keeping with my resolve to avoid posting on wastes of time like Facebook as much as possible, here instead is the kind of stuff I would put there. Mostly what it says in the title.

Last weekend I watched an awesome movie, Rigor Mortis. Its original Cantonese title is "geung-si", literally "stiff corpse", translated to English as "Hopping Vampire". Chinese aren't great with snappy titles, if you didn't know. While they are rightly famous for the poetry, literature, art, music, etc., they also tend to give places names like "Big Mountain" and "Southern Lake" and title movies the same way. I think this is why when they get brought to the US/UK market the titles tend to get crazy since the localization team can pretty much make up whatever the hell they want (viz. "Wheels on Meals", "Half a Loaf of Kung Fu", and the infamous "Fists & Guts").

Anyway,  James Newman tipped me off to this one a while back so thanks for that. This movie is awesome. It's a bit meta as the star, Anthony Chan, was in the original Mr Vampire movie and is one of those HK character actors who was "Man With Beard" or something like that in tons of HK classics in the 80s and 90s, and in RM he plays an out-of-work actor who moves into an apartment after getting left by his wife, with the plan of killing himself. Not a spoiler since he hangs himself in the first five minutes of the movie and spoilers are dumb anyway. He's rescued by a dude in a bathrobe who kung-fu leaps to cut our hero down. Bathrobe dude reveals himself to be a former Taoist priest and vampire hunter and the movie kicks off from there and never really stops. If it gets to a slow part, pay attention because it's still important.

I think horror fans here in the US would like it as the movie gets pretty damn gory, and if you haven't seen a Chinese horror movie and you're into the Japanese, Korean, Thai etc. stuff I think you should check it out. My interest is in folklore, tradition, superstition, and of course kung-fu action.

Kung-fu wise the choreography is not what I prefer but appropriate for the movie, since our hero is an out-of-work actor and only gets skills when possessed by spirits (not a good thing), so it ends up being mostly grappling/brawling type stuff with a bit of Chinese flavor to it. The stunt work, however, is top-notch, particularly when the vampire gets loose and beats the hell out of a woman in a brutal scene. The spirits are the usual creepy girls with long hair who crab-walk everywhere but it's done pretty well so that I didn't think it was that dumb, but then I don't watch a lot of modern horror movies.

I think it helps to have SOME background in Chinese folklore to enjoy the movie - for example, the hero moves into apartment 2442, which is a REAL BAD apartment number (you can Google it, or for a concise explanation read HBVK, it's a plot point). Overall though this stuff is not too heavy as the Chinese are moving away from their superstitions (slowly, I'd point out, but still), I also suspect that maybe the government still disapproves of occult shit even though there won't be another Cultural Revolution anytime soon. I can't really prove that, though, but it fits, especially with the depressing ending. If you think the concept of the "hopping vampire" is ridiculous I think you should check this movie out as it might change your mind, since they are pretty much nothing like Western vampires and instead of the usual boring vampire crap we actually, because of the folklore, must confront things like how people grieve, death and loss, all that good stuff, instead of, you know, how damn sexy vampires are and how being immortal is awesome yet COMES WITH A PRICE of being awesome.

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I've been sorting through my book collection. I'm one of those hard-core people who will spend two hours rooting through the bargain bin of a used bookstore, and I'm a sucker for free books (which for some reason I don't see much anymore -- the free book table used to be a staple of used book stores). But let's face it, they're kind of obsolete unless you're planning for the apocalypse or something, and even then I think that would be a fairly small shelf. So I'm getting rid of everything I can get in an e-book version except keepsakes and out-of-print stuff. Feels good. Please spare me the comments about how you think paper books are awesome, though. I get it. I do. I have a near-complete set of  Dumas' Celebrated Crimes that I'm keeping even though they're so moldy you could lick them to cure a sinus infection, since they're still legible.

Don't be impressed, by the way, I only picked it up after a reference made to those works in a (admittedly awesome) video game, and that was a random encounter at a garage sale. I gotta say, though, between that and namedropping The Golden Bough that was one educated motherfucking game.

The point is, books are not ipso facto awesome. They are just objects containing information. Every one of these tryhard posts on the Internet from people saying things like "I love the smell of books" ... agh, alright, look. Stop acting like a crappy paperback copy of The DaVinci Code that you got at the Friends of the Library sale for a quarter is the book from THE  NEVERENDING (goddamn) STORY. They are not equivalent. And I still have my treasures, like my signed stuff, or books that have special memories attached to them, or the aforementioned classic and forgotten works, and of course I can't resist keeping trashy 60s and 70s paperbacks like my Mickey Spillane collection. But, say, a battered paperback of The Hunt for Red October? INTO THE FURNACE WITH YOU! OK, Goodwill. But still. APAGE, LIBRIS!

We'd all like to think an apocalypse will happen and we'll be the keepers of the lost knowledge, but 1) it ain't gonna happen and 2) even if it does, no one will give a shit about stories. Sorry, they just won't. Oh, you can tell stories? Stand over here and wave your arms around and tell a story while we wait back there in the bushes. You are a very important part of this operation and we value you, too bad we don't have an extra gun for you to hold, try telling the raiders a story or something, storyteller. Here's a story: bang bang, you're dead and I take your boots and your rifle. The End.

People don't give a shit about knowledge NOW. You think they will when they're highly concerned with where their next meal is coming from?

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I know what you're saying. "But Jim, you don't..." WATCH THIS FUCKING SPACE. I meant what I said.

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I have not done much else for entertainment. I've read some books. Maybe I should update my Goodreads page. Other than that, no TV or video games really. I miss them both but I am busy using my limited free time to write. I really only get 4, maybe 3 days a week to do it, because I suck and am not a pro. Like I said, I am an amateur. So pat yourself on the back for how much better you are at writing than me, you've earned it.

That having been said, I like where this new project I've been working on is going. I basically had to start over after slamming out about 45k words of it, but that's OK, I'm able to re-use some of it. What's that? Outline? Remember the part where I said I was an amateur? I just go where the characters tell me, and when they don't know where to go I give them a break. I think outlines are boring and suck all the fun out of writing, make it too much like editing. I'm wrong, of course, but I'm also stubborn in addition to being lazy, so walk on by.

(Warning: video contains DEEP SOUL)


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A thought.

My problem with writing these blog posts is that I hold very strong opinions but don't really have the cred to back them up.

I read, write, listen, Pay Fucking Attention (PFA, it's like my version of TCB, which I also use but of course don't own), no one will give a shit until I am receiving my Please Fucking Die Already Award from the Association of Asshole Writers. DOUBLE CANES, BITCH. I'M USING TWO CANES.

I'm sure most would count this a sign of total ignorance. They'd be right to do so except I'm correct in my thoughts most of the time. Doesn't matter, of course. If correct opinions were all you needed it would be too easy. Anyone can have the right opinions, though many don't. Not good enough.

To stretch this out a bit more, here's a random quote from The Andy Warhol Diaries, which is a great bathroom book and/or substitute for libromancy if you don't want to touch the Bible for whatever reason:

Tuesday, December 28, 1982 -- Aspen, Colorado

At 8:30 Barry Diller invited us to have cocktails with Calvin Klein and Marina Cicogna and Diana Ross. Diana came in and she had just bought a cowboy hat and big white shoes and she was out for action.

We all got in cars and followed Barry, he's a bad driver. Then Barry invited us out to dinner to Andre's. The food there was disgusting. Jon lost part of his Kieselstein-Cord belt. Diana was dancing on top of the table and everybody wanted to dance with her and she said, "I'm dancing with all of you!" That was a great line.

Food for thought.