The Trouble with Targaryens

This blog post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So my novel writing hasn’t quite been proceeding at the pace I would ideally like, and HBO is to blame. I am currently in a froth of excitement about Game of Thrones season 3, and have been spending a lot of precious time in re-watching the first two series on DVD to bring myself back up to speed with events – since it boasts a plot of such Byzantine complexity that even someone who has already read the books (twice) can struggle to keep up with who everyone is and what they are all doing. I have been enjoying the show more second time around, perhaps because I had forgotten a lot of the details of the books, so I am less bothered about things like the precise identity of all the members of the Kingsguard. It has some flaws, admittedly – the most distracting one being the large amount of ‘sexposition’, leaving Ros the pros the best-informed woman in Westeros. But overall it is very well scripted, acted and filmed. And I love the credit sequence showing the locations as little clockwork machines.

Many fans reckon they are actually aunt and nephew. But hey, don't they look hot together?

Many fans reckon they are actually aunt and nephew. But hey, don’t they look hot together?

But, if I’m perfectly honest with myself, I have to admit that the best thing about the television show is the prospect that it might plausibly catch up with the fantasy book series on which it is based. A Song of Ice and Fire has been going for about two decades now and shows no signs of ending any time soon. Author George R. R. Martin (nothing to do with The Beatles) has claimed there will be seven books in total, of which he’s currently writing the sixth, but since he previously claimed it would be a trilogy, and then revised that to a pentalogy before settling on the heptalogy, I’m not entirely convinced that it won’t end up as a dodecalogy. Given his age and corpulence, there has been a lot of fear in geekdom that he will ‘pull a Robert Jordan’ and expire before the book series is finished. Quite a few fans are worried that they will never find out who ends up ruling the Seven Kingdoms, and if Jon Snow really is the bastard son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. Leaving aside the question of how pressing a concern this really is, the good news is that if HBO re-commission the show enough times, sooner or later the screenwriters will have to come up with an ending: whether it’s based on the books, based on Martin’s notes, or made up out of whole cloth.

Not only will they have to finish it off, I’m also hoping that they may speed things up a bit. The gaps between books in the real world have lengthened exponentially even as in-universe time has slowed to the pace of a dead snail. Martin seems to have great difficulty in ever tying off any of his myriad plot strands, preferring instead to just keep on weaving in new ones, until it feels like he won’t be happy until he has told the whole life story of every single person in his imaginary world. At this rate, it is going to take approximately forever for the ice zombies to reach King’s Landing, and even longer for Daenerys to show up, zap them with her dragons, then marry her own long-lost nephews*. With any luck, impatient viewers and executives will dictate a snappier pace for television. Okay, so the events of the third book, A Storm of Swords, are being told across two seasons of the show, rather than the one-season-per-book format used up to now. But if you’ve read it, you’ll know that most of the best characters get killed at various weddings. Then nothing very much happens in the fourth and fifth books, so really, the show could probably just cut straight from Joffrey’s death-rattle to the zombie-toasting (via a bit of sexposition) and everyone would be happy.

For all I complain about the tedious pacing of Martin’s more recent books, there’s no denying that he has created a compelling world, and that every aspiring fantasy writer today has to consider his legacy and influence, in the same way that a previous generation looked to J.R.R. Tolkien (note to self: need to incorporate double-R initials in pen name). I just hope we get to find out how it ends, one way or another.

*well that’s my prediction, anyway

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Don’t feed the trolls

Having set myself up with an online presence, I have been thinking a bit about the phenomenon of trolling. Fortunately I am still far, far, too obscure to attract any trolls myself, but you can’t be on Twitter, or read any comment thread, or just spend any time anywhere on the internet really, without coming across them. Ignorant, offensive, poorly spelled comments are all over the place, inflaming wars of words on any given topic. Are the trolls actually as stupid and/or sociopathic as they seem? Are they trying to be amusing but misjudging the tone? Are they just bored and trying to wind everyone up? All of the above? Nobody knows – and the usual suggested approach is to simply ignore them – ‘Don’t feed the trolls’.

The traditional troll is an anonymous poster on a message boards, hiding behind an avatar. But one of the interesting things about the internet is the way it breaks down the barriers between ‘normal’ people and professional writers – and exposes the fact that many mainstream journalists can produce stuff ‘above the line’ that’s just as trollish as what’s below, albeit usually better spell-checked. And why do they do this? Because controversy generates readers. The Daily Mail – as per the graphic – is particularly good/bad at this, but it’s by no means unique: two recent articles which attracted the ire of some of my friends were Giles Coren being rude about comic book readers in The Spectator and Julie Burchill being even ruder about transsexuals in The Observer. Now I personally didn’t get particularly hot under the collar about either of them. Coren’s piece I found actually quite funny, plus I thought his underlying point (that comic books have no need to be included in pompous literary prizes) was sound. Burchill’s was just surreal and incoherent, like watching someone who’s too drunk to stand up straight rant about how much they hate alcoholics. Having said that, I don’t think Coren needed to express himself in quite the way he did, and Burchill should probably have just written something else altogether. But whether I found the articles offensive or not isn’t really the point: the only reason I read either of them in the first place is because of links which were posted by people who did find them offensive.

So, taking a step back, we find that these articles are getting traffic directed to them, by people who hate them. Hmm. I’m not sure this is an ideal situation. This sounds a bit like buying a copy of a print book for the bonfire: you’ve still bought it, and the author is crying all the way to the Bahamas. Perhaps, on reflection, it would be better to try to restrain the outrage, and not give bile-filled rubbish extra publicity. Perhaps it would be better to post links to blogs and articles which are actually thoughtful, well-written and informative. Or, if they don’t exist on a particular topic, write them. Perhaps we should just try to treat all trolls the same, whether the picture by their work is a squiggly avatar or a professional photograph : don’t feed them.Image