Default and Deviation in a Storm of Swords *SPOILERS*

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I don’t think I’ll be reading any more in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by GRR Martin, at least not for a while. The first book was okay, the second did a fairly good job in making me want to read the third, but this third… I’m having trouble stomaching it. Strangely, though, it’s not because of the usual complaints.

It’s just that Martin depicts a “norm” for his world, or a “default” regarding culture and roles in his books, but doesn’t do a very good job deviating from it when depicting things from different cultures or different worldviews. Westeros is the default society, and everything else seems to follow its lead without much variation, if any at all.

Take, for example, the various clans north of the wall. There are only minor details that deviate from Westeros and its way of doing things, when life beyond the wall should deviate wildly (pun not intended) just by virtue of the fact that they have a major landmark separating the two for several thousand years. From the small, insignificant tidbits of information we get from the narrative about the wildlings and their way of life, they live in villages (some are called cave-people, though it’s not clear if they actually LIVE in caves), practice animal husbandry and agriculture (the latter puts up a pretty big question mark in my head), have very similar relations between men and women (why Jon Snow is so confused by women being “stolen” as opposed to “given away” is beyond me, since the objectification is the same), they speak the EXACT same language, and they all unite behind a guy who they call a king (ooh, so they don’t KNEEL to him? Big difference there).

I mean, when there is an all but IMPENETRABLE wall between two populations for as long as it says in this series, I should think that the differences between their cultures should be more than superficial.

Then there’s the exaggeration on the slave trader society. In this example, Martin has only emphasized details in this society that would make it absolutely repugnant to the reader. They create super soldiers by torturing them mercilessly and having them kill puppies and babies since age five (neither of which seems to have the psychological effects it would actually have on these people in a realistic sense. Also, supposedly only very few of these “Unsullied” actually make it through their training without dying or being killed by the slavers, so since the training stretches all the way to adulthood, it seems to me that this process would be a very bad investment with a very LOW return.), they put boys in bear pits and bet on which one of them will be eaten first, and they eat dog fetuses apparently (note how this is not just a cultural quirk, but is framed in a negative context to pull at the reader’s heartstrings and get them to hate them even more). Not to mention, the slaver, when he believes that Danaerys cannot understand him, is very rude and abusive in his language toward her and his translator.

Now, for someone who is praised as a much as Martin is for his in-depth world building, I would have expected this sort of thing to be more… subtle. It was so blatant that he was trying to make his readers despise this society as a whole so they would approve of Danaerys slaughtering whole cities to free slaves, and STILL think of her as essentially good. There was LITERALLY nothing good or even neutral about the customs of these cities so that there would be no ambiguous zone where you could want certain traditions or parts of the culture to be salvaged. They were the evilest evil that ever eviled and needed to be wiped out by Danaerys and her dragons.

This was so very different from other instances in the story where good and evil are blurred or nonexistent that I am doubtful that GRR Martin was incapable of writing this other culture more nuanced (after all, even the Dothraki were presented in a less biased and hateful way than this). It was just obvious that he needed there to be no doubt that you should side with Danaerys on this front, which was disappointing, to say the least.

Even small deviations within his own default society he has trouble depicting with any sort of fairness, though. He sacrifices an obvious payoff to an even more obvious setup in one of his chapters, for reasons I’m still unsure about. When Jaime goes back to Harrenhall to rescue Brienne, it was stated in the beginning of the chapter that he has a sword and dagger on him, though he can’t use them because of his severed hand. But when he drops down into the bear pit to put himself between Brienne and the bear, ever so gallantly, the sword isn’t noticed by Brienne. It is clear from previous scenes that she knows how to use a sword, and could have taken it to slay the bear herself, but for some reason, she is utterly helpless in this scene.

If she had taken that sword, the scene would have been more meaningful. It would have reinforced the idea that she IS a warrior, that she IS a capable knight, and that she and Jaime have a relationship that is much less stereotypical. Instead, I’m led to believe with this scene that even when a woman is capable of taking control of a situation (even when it’s assisted, in this case), she can’t when a man is around to save her. Thanks for undercutting Brienne’s entire character with one scene, Martin. You really had me going there, thinking you could write a character like Brienne fairly.

All in all, I have to say I was disappointed with this book. It was too on-the-nose with its comparisons and contrasts to the norm he’d set up, and it lacked the nuance that would have made it a much more enjoyable installment. I’m kind of afraid to read on to the fourth book, because I hear it’s half a backtrack to cover stuff that couldn’t be covered in number three, and the other half stuff that others have had a hard time caring about. I may read it eventually, but for now, I can’t make the effort it would take to get over the disappointment A Storm of Swords was.

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Imagination

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Can someone please tell me what I can do to make my life and the lives of those I love stop spiraling out of control? What do I have to do to have some stability and security in my existence? What does everyone around me have to do? Is there just not enough contentment in the world to go around, or are we just undeserving in some way, shape, or form?

I cannot put into words what horrible thoughts pass across my mind for the world right now. Such vile hatred of my own life I have never known. There’s just no reprieve. No relief. I turn a corner to find the alley blocked. Every action in my life has a more violent negative reaction. Life, why you no do physics right???

Continually cycling through jobs and watching my family fall apart around me, along with their sanity, is eating away at any hope I ever had of chasing my dreams. They pull farther ahead of me as I’m weighted by the chains of limited funds, a clinging significant other, and my fragmented support system. Sometimes I wonder if I’m even moving forward at all, despite how much harder I’ve been working than ever before.

Everyone knows the feeling of wanting to drop into a fantasy world, where people act in a predictable, rational manner, and you’re in complete control. I want it now more than I ever did in those turbulent adolescent years. I want it now more than I did as a child with limitless imagination. I want to leave all the accumulated rubble of my increasingly unsuccessful life behind me as I enter a portal to a different world where I can always count on things to work out, even when it’s hard.

Because it’s not that my life is hard right now that’s the problem. It’s that I can’t overcome what my life has become. The only thing left to me now is imagination, and how I can escape from reality into it.

Throw A Rock At It!

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I just finished playing Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Again, I know I’m behind the times. I tend to be a bit of an anti-hipster when it comes to popular things. I don’t get into them until LONG after they’ve stopped being edgy and popular, so anyone reading this will see much of this blog consumed by relatively retro stuff that I’m only just discovering.

Regardless, on its merits, I can really see why Amnesia became such a phenomenon in the first place a couple of years ago. Despite its outdated graphics, it has an engaging atmosphere and story, proving that graphics are not everything. I loved the voice acting, the design of the castle (the Choir was absolutely BEAUTIFUL as well as TERRIFYING), and the Lovecraftian elements in it was well-thought-out.

There were a couple of things I dwell on, though. First was the pages of Daniel’s diary lying around. This isn’t necessarily a weakness. I’m just not sure what to think about it. Did Daniel leave them for himself to find? I don’t think that makes a lot of sense, honestly, because Daniel took the amnesia drink in order to wipe his slate clean and make a fresh start. So was it actually Alexander messing with him? I suppose there was a small flashback in the guest room where Daniel wonders what “they” would want with his diary, and Alexander was particularly invested in keeping Daniel busy with remembering his own misdeeds so that he could get the portal working in the meantime. Maybe I just answered my own question, but perhaps someone else could shed some light on this with something they noticed that I might have glossed over.

Strangely, I also was a little disappointed that we never learned who Alexander’s “love” was throughout the game. Again, this is not a failing of the game itself. After all, why should that have been elaborated on? It’s not like Alexander’s “love” was a particularly important part of the game, or the ritual that would get him home. Perhaps his love was even his home itself, as I don’t think I saw any clue that there was someone in particular in the world that he missed. It’s just something I keep thinking about despite myself.

There’s one thing I think IS a failing of the game. The puzzles are entertaining most of the time, but some of their solutions rely too heavily on… rocks. I quickly developed a strategy for solving puzzles while going through the game: if I was stumped, I threw a rock at it. Even when it didn’t make sense, I threw a rock at it. When I was escaping from the prison cell and I couldn’t make that hole in the wall bigger with a hammer and chisel, or even the iron bar from the cell, I threw a rock at it, and it worked! When I was trying to stop the gears that kept the barrier in front of the Inner Rectum – I mean Sanctum – the iron bar didn’t work on those either, but a gigantic rock did. Seriously, I’m not entirely convinced I couldn’t have just thrown a rock at every puzzle I came across and solved it somehow.

Can you throw rocks at the monsters to make them go away too?

Anyway, despite the one thing that frustrates me, the game uses the parts that make you wonder to its advantage, and I love it for that. It’s just so intriguing, and I can’t help but be a tad obsessed with it. If you’re one of the few people who haven’t played it yet, I’d recommend it. Just be sure to play with a friend.

Brainwashing Woody

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An analysis on the “brainwashing” defense Woody Allen has put forward concerning the allegations Dylan Farrow has brought against him again. I’m in full agreement that there’s plenty of evidence to suggest he did a fair amount of brainwashing and manipulation himself.

Excremental Virtue: Lili Loofbourow's Big Face of Pretended Learning

Well, Woody Allen’s statement is out. As expected, it aims to depict Mia Farrow as a deceitful, manipulative, hate-mongering witch who brainwashed his children. His case, as he frames it, rests largely on the assertion that she is a liar and he tells the truth. To prove that he is not a liar, he cites the fact that he took a lie detector test (though not the one the Connecticut State Police asked him to take). Mia, he says, refused. The implication is that one is a liar and the other is not.

I’ve avoided writing about this case because it’s so terribly sad, and plenty of good stuff has already been written (I recommend this and this). But I’ve been driven to add yet another piece to the flood by something that seems to me to have been overlooked so far, namely, the surprising fact that Mia…

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Westeros World News!

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I’m reading A Clash of Kings, the second book in the Game of Thrones series. I know, I know, I’m late to the party. Such is the consequence of having to be poked and prodded to partake in the series to begin with. The most common word people used to describe it seemed to be “disturbing” and that put me off of it for a while, admittedly. Now that I’ve read some, though, I can safely say that’s not how this comes across to me at all.

It’s hard to describe in regular terms just what I feel about the two books I’ve read so far, in fact. I must admit that I’ve had trouble identifying the plot or end game for such a soap opera, which is something I’ve never struggled with before when it comes to the literature I’ve read. I think it might have something to do with how the way the chapters are arranged and written that makes me think less of a narrative, and more… Well, let me illustrate.

WARNING: Spoilers for A Clash of Kings ahead!

Reporter #1: Hi folks! We’re live at King’s Landing with Tyrion Lannister! What’s happening here Tyrion?

TL: Everyone hates me because I’m a dwarf and I’m ugly! But I’ve been trying to scheme out a way for King’s Landing to stay in the hands of my horrible nephew and sister, and keep other people from taking the throne, because my family may be shitty, but at least they kept me alive with their influence and gold this long!

R#1: That sounds rough! Cersei Lannister, your rebuttal?

CL: I miss my hot brother! He made my vagina feel good!

R#1: … Riiiiiight. Let’s switch to our correspondent in the South! What’s up with Dany?

R#2: Well, she managed to expose all of her followers to a harsh desert environment, killing about one third of them. No one seems to care about all the people they lost, though, or even almost dying themselves. There’s speculation about how it might have something to do with the author having a crush on her. She’s now in a magical labyrinth castle being mindfucked by immortal wizards. Also, Jorah Mormont wants her pussy. What’s happening in Winterfell?

R#3: It’s cold all around. Bran Stark appears to have the power to run around vicariously through his pet direwolf Summer, and this is revealed by a kid who has prophetic dreams. Theon Greyjoy recently took over the castle, because he wanted to prove to his daddy that he could be a prince. When he’s not whining about how he had to be “prisoner” of the Starks for 10 years (this reporter happens to know quite a few prisoners that would have LOVED to trade places with him), he’s thinking about fucking all the ladies. I suggested to him that he might become a male prostitute, since that seems to be the only thing he’s good at, and he stabbed me with his penis. How’s Stannis Baratheon’s force faring?

R#4: Could be a lot better considering he has a sorceress in his ranks that can give birth to deadly shadows and kill his enemies long range. One has to wonder why she hasn’t just killed Joffrey and everyone else standing in Stannis’ way too. Heck, why not kill Stannis and become supreme overlady herself? Why can she not pull this off? Unfortunately, my inquiries into the matter have been met only with threats of pain and death. Finally, let’s go to our correspondent beyond The Wall.

R#5: THERE ARE WHITE WALKERS EVERYWHERE. WE’VE HAD TO BURN ALL THE BODIES OF OUR FALLEN COMRADES. WHY ARE WE PAYING THE SLIGHTEST BIT OF ATTENTION TO ALL THIS OTHER PETTY STUFF WHEN THE DEAD ARE LITERALLY GETTING UP AND TRYING TO KILL US? THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE HERE ARE AMASSING AN ARMY AND MARCHING SOUTH. WHY IS NO ONE PAYING ATTENTION TO THIS? Also, Jon Snow got laid. Back to you, King’s Landing.

R#1: *SNOOOOOOOORE* Wha- What? Uh, yeah… Right. Sounds fascinating. *Yawn* Back to you, Tom.

So, there it is. It’s like I’m watching the news, not reading a comprehensive story driven by a plot. Ah, well. At least it’s easy to get through about a hundred pages a day. Next up is Dracula. Wish me luck.

Reviews I Wish For

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I’ve been posting my manuscript on the internet for a few years now, and there is one thing I’ve learned: you’re never going to get the response that you want. There’s never a person who notices what you want them to, or laughs at a joke you wrote, or sees your writing the way you would prefer. It’s hit and miss all the time, and while someone might give you an abundance of one element to your perfect review, another element might be completely neglected.

I feel I must be an awkward communicator for this reason. I view my writing as a dialogue between the reader and myself, and I really wish reviews read more like dialogues instead of formulaic rattling. I’ve gotten a stream of criticism from one reviewer, and while I was grateful for some of it, they sounded like they were trying awfully hard to push their own agenda onto my idea, especially when they started being critical of storylines for characters that were wholly mine. On the flip side, I’ve gotten streams of praise from another reviewer who didn’t give me any indication as to what it was that they were so pleased about.

There’s a delicate balance that I mourn the lack of in my review section, though it is sparse to begin with. Complaining is not my goal, here, though, so much as putting out in words what I would most like to see. It’s my way of getting the thought out of my head so that I won’t be so preoccupied with what I’m not seeing, and I can focus on more prudent issues, like getting my ideas onto the screen in front of me.

It should be noted that while I appreciate criticism, I do not appreciate a reviewer to continue to question my decisions for the story after I have explained to them why the decision makes sense within the context. I have had many arguments about characterization, but they were all trivial and based entirely upon a notion of the character being almost infallible and incapable of making irrational decisions. It seems like that’s all I ever did with my critical reviewer; I spent most of the time trying to explain to them why Sango might be irrational in any of the situations I put her in, and I got the distinct impression that they were hopelessly obsessed with Sango, even though she is not a central part of the story.

It should also not escape anyone’s attention that I do enjoy praise, but not knowing what I’m being praised for, not understanding what was so good about my writing, is only going to frustrate me. I would like to know about all the things I’m doing right, and have a discussion about why the reviewer thinks they’re special. It would make me feel good to know what it is about what I’ve written that resonates with my readers.

I think what this all boils down to, as I said before, is having a dialogue. I want to speak to my readers, and I would like them to speak back. I would like my writing to be a forum for discussion instead of a passive lump of words that some people happen to think is well-crafted. I wish for reviews that want to engage me as a person, rather than just the producer of a story. I started the story not only to write my ideas down, but also to have others examine them with genuine interest. I don’t want someone to simply sit there and look for things that they don’t like, but I also don’t want people to sit there and applaud my writing without the slightest indication as to what I’ve done that pleases them.

Criticism appears to always be too specific and based on minor personal issues, while praise always seems to be generic and based on a desire to leave as few indicators that you even read the material as possible. I hope a review that exists somewhere in the middle of these two extremes exists in my future. If not, I suppose at the very least I have wishes.

Random Gifts

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This year the presents were lacking. Nonexistent really. My family had just enough money for stocking stuffers, and I think we might have even spent too much money on those. Of course, I would rather eat a nice dinner than have a new television, but my mother feels quite bad that she couldn’t buy more. Even when I told her that I couldn’t afford presents for anyone this year either, she still felt terrible that she couldn’t provide shiny new stuff under the tree.

This season always puts too much undue stress on her, being the sole breadwinner for her immediate family. Her employers don’t really give her substantial raises, even though she’s been working hard for them for the past seven years. I’m not convinced that her situation is more dire than a lot of a lot of others, though. A bad economy is a difficult thing to overcome for those starting in the best of places, so it can be a difficult time of year for everyone.

That’s partly why I haven’t been participating in holidays or birthdays much in the past few years. Sure, I’ll call things birthday or Christmas presents when they’re close to the actual dates, but usually I buy presents because I was browsing the store and happened to see something that reminded me of some person somewhere. If people don’t get presents on those allotted days, they usually understand that I’ll get them something when I see something really worthy of them.

So I suggested that my mother just do that for me from now on. She looked at me as though I had grown another head, but hopefully she considers that. I would much rather her do that than struggle to find me something expensive and generic at certain special times of the year.

Any opinions? Have you ever just tried to give your gifts randomly throughout the year instead of sticking to the seasons? How has this worked for you and your family? Would you be willing to try?

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