Friday, August 30, 2013

[Re-read] Jon III: An Inadequate and Insecure Hero


I began this post by complaining about just how little time I have for hobbies such as blogging these days, but then I decided to scrap it because you know - the world doesn't need more bitching and complaining. Especially not from people who really shouldn't complain. The world does need more awareness concerning environmental issues, though, that's for sure. When will the scales finally tip? How long can the west sustain its self-destructive overconsumption? These are questions I often ponder. And I find myself so small, so unable to help save the world, unlike the heroes in my favorite kind of literature, you guessed it, fantasy. Although, strangely perhaps, my favorite fantasy books all seem to have in common that there's no world-saving hero in it. Not yet, I hear George RR Martin say, chuckling to himself. Obviously Ice and Fire will give us world-saving heroics (probably through Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister and / or Daenerys Targaryen), but we're not there yet. So far, heroics in Ice and Fire are shown on a smaller scale: Tyrion's guts to stand up to, well, everyone else and save King's Landing from the wrath of Stannis Baratheon; Jaime rescuing Brienne from the bear; and I am sure there are even more heroics displayed in the series. Daenerys is the one whose role is most "messiah-like" perhaps in the way she goes about liberating slaves and trying to institute a more modern view of slavery in Essos; it could be argued that this may foreshadow her liberating the world from the Others. Enough digression, there's a chapter to digress digest. And what do you know, it's a chapter from the point of view of Martin's most hero-like character (in terms of archetype): Jon Snow. If only he was as cool as his name (pun not intended actually).

The chapter opens darkly, and I mean that in the literal sense as the night is black and moonless. Jon Snow tells the Thenns he's going to look for Ghost, and they let him pass. Trudging up the slopes through "pines and fir and ash" he looks at the stars and is caught in a moment of wonderment. This, of course, allows Martin to slip in some world-building, in this case about the stars that Jon knows. It's probably unnecessary information, but I do like it when Martin builds up his setting with short snippets like this (no, not overlong "snippets" as found in the latter books). We learn that the sky is divided into "twelve houses of heaven" with rulers for each (I wonder who they are?), there are "seven wanderers" sacred to the Faith (which is telling me there are seven other planets orbiting the same sun, though one or more of them could be asteroids); there are stars with names like Ice Dragon (a reference to Martin's children's novel The Ice Dragon I suppose), the Shadowcat, the Moonmaid, and the Sword of the Morning (hey, is this a hint that Arthur Dayne's sword was made of material from the skies?); however, Jon reflects how Ygritte has entirely different names for the same stars. This in turn leads him to change tracks (in his train of thoughts), beginning to think of Ygritte; when he reflects on her stubbornness, he once again distracts himself, now thinking of his little sister Arya who was also stubborn. 

He finds Ghost atop a hill; something draws the beast to the heights, as if he's looking for something (or waiting for someone?) - it's a curious little detail this, that I haven't really registered before. I have to look out for any resolution to this particular question: What is drawing Ghost to the heights? Jon tells the wolf that tomorrow is the day they have to part; I can imagine this scene as a tearjerker in the TV series if only they give Ghost some more screentime so that the audience will care (they did care about Lady though so maybe...) He tells Ghost to go to Castle Black and wait for him there. The text does not make clear whether Jon believes the direwolf actually understands him in any way. Then, suddenly, Ghost's ears prick up and he bounds off - Jon wondering if the wolf's caught scent of a hare, or if he's already following orders and going to Castle Black. There's some thinking about warging and how he feels an inadequate warg, but this feels mostly like the author reminding us that Jon has some innate abilities not yet developed, read along dear reader, more to come. 

Next is a short paragraph giving us an update on Mance Rayder's movements (they are somewhere between Shadow Tower and Castle Black) and some landscape description to enhance the images in our minds, before we get a paragraph where Jon thinks of the Seven Kingdoms on the other side of the Wall; Jon is struggling with his loyalty at this point, wanting to warn the Night's Watch before he arrives with the wildlings, but finding no good option to do so. He regrets not having killed Mance Rayder when he had the chance, and tells himself he slept with Ygritte to play the part of a turncloak proper - however, his thoughts betray him to us readers - it seems evident that he also slept with Ygritte out of pure lust: "His body had played the part eagerly enough." A breast is mentioned, as par for the course, and there is sopping wetness obviously, but Martin doesn't go overboard the way he may do in other (not all) sexual scenes. Martin perfectly displays Jon's inner turmoil, though. Like a colleague said the other day, "sex complicates everything, every time".  I don't remember why this was said, but I assure you I had nothing to do with it. Slynt is a chaste man (unless it involves Lady Slynt, of course; then Slynt becomes promiscuous as it were).

Funny how Jon vows to himself that it will never happen again. Yeah right. Oh, we don't even have to wait for that idealistic goal to fail: "It happened twice more that night, and again in the morning." Like a true hero, then, Jon is an enduring fellow. Aaand there's more ruminations. What have I done? Oh, gods old and new, what have I done

So Jon is basically standing on the hill thinking for himself when a guard arrives telling him to come along; the more lore, this time about Gorne, a former King-beyond-the-Wall, and we're treated to some lore about hundreds of interconnected caves beneath the hills and mountains of the north, reminding me somewhat of the Underdark (in the Forgotten Realms - by description only, of course, I don't suspect the caves beneath Jon's boots to be full of dark elves and spider goddesses); Martin spends a good deal of words on this legend - leading me to suspect that we might see Gorne's Way, a tunnel deep beneath the wall, now lost; but since Martin gives it all an air of myth, he doesn't have to (re)introduce it Chekov's Gun - style. Still...Ygritte's tale of Gorne and Gendel...could it be we'll see some characters traverse the depths of the world, Moria-style? We can only wait and see.
Magnar of Thenn wishes to see him. It is good to get some exterior action after dwelling long in a character's thoughts. Inside a huge cave, fantasy-style, they have camped, well hidden from Night's Watch scouts. There's some explanation / exposition on who's who in the cave which I find rather clumsily written to be honest; he belongs to the lady who is the sister of that one which makes him kind of a brother-in-law somehow (slightly paraphrased). The Magnar is a bit more direct, asking Jon to tell him about Night's Watch patrols. Jon notes that there is some internal strife among the wildlings (all attentive readers take note). Jon reveals the necessary patrol information (without a conflicting thought, it seems, perhaps made obvious because he's so thoughtful earlier in the chapter), we're given a short bit of lore on Arson Iceaxe (great first name) and as a reader we get to learn just how things are done at Castle Black - a tactical overview, if you will. Ah, Jon does try to lie by adding a few hundred men to the defense, but Jarl sees through him, unfortunately. Exposition on the Thenns follow, before Jon goes off to find Ygritte. Mmmm I wonder what that could, possibly, lead to. Even

Aaaand breasts are bouncing and Jon is pulled out of mythology and straight into sex. Obviously. Also, forgetting all vows and honors at the sight of her nakedness, Jon begins to shower her in rosy words, showing us that not only is he one horny son of some Stark, he also loves her. And, in case you thought it happened only in the TV show, Jon does go down for a furburger, what do you know. Afterward Ygritte realizes that Jon was a virgin before her, learns that oral pleasure is something she can live with, and through it all we have restless undercurrent, Jon's conflicting feelings and thoughts about his loyalty to the Night's Watch and his loyalty to, not the wildlings, but Ygritte. 

Perhaps unintentionally funny, Jon is worried that Ygritte has slept with a guy named Longspear. Our Jon is a little insecure. Aaaand they have sex again. Ah, youth, brimming with energy. The chapter ends here in the darkness of the cave, with Ygritte saying she doesn't ever want to leave (as in, "I love you too and would like to stay here with you instead of doing anything else"). Oh yes, Slynt remembers his own youth and how completely enraptured he could become, not wishing to let go, so enthralled. What I am trying to say is that I buy Jon and Ygritte's arc here. It's how young people can behave. But it also, of course, sets up the tragedy to come. First, Martin paints their love as a bliss, a rush, a strong desire, the rest of the world be damned, youthful and powerful; it will sharply contrast a future chapter (he said, of a book released in 2000) in which, as I guess we all know by now, their love ends. Rather abruptly.

Yeah what can I say? Not a terribly interesting chapter on the tenth read, but a more thoughtful chapter (literally speaking), and a development of Jon and Ygritte's relationship. And without that stuff, obviously, these books wouldn't feel as good and grounded as they do. 

A bit more over the top, perhaps, is Daenerys Targaryen and her story, to which we return in the next re-read post. Until then, may you be kissed by fire. Uhm...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Witherscape

I almost never write about music on this blog since it's more about you know fantasy stuff. I should be blogging about it, it's a big passion. Today however I just have to blog about the debut album "The Inheritance" by Swedish duo project Witherscape

Swedish multi-instrumentalist Dan Swanö is the mind behind the recently released debut (released in July over here, August in the US), and he's a man I've been following for a large part of my life - the first album I bought where he was involved was "Unorthodox" by one of my all-time favorite bands, Edge of Sanity, which I bought before Christmas in 1992 (!) - so I've "known" Mr. Dan for twenty-one fricking years! That is actually shocking and a little sad. Sad, because I still listen to "Unorthodox" routinely. Some people would say that's sad, at any rate. Me, I don't believe in "outgrowing" music (or fantasy for that matter). Anyway, that's an entirely different topic. As is my love for Edge of Sanity's zany all-over-the-place music.

Thing is, I'm positively infected by Witherscape's "The Inheritance", it's such a wonderful venture intoace.
Dan Swanö in concert
wonderful music and it's an album that maybe could interest other people as well (by other people I mean those who don't listen to glorious glorious metal). As a concept album, it features interconnected lyrics telling a dark and sad story (which isn't unusual for the genre), but the music is generally uplifting. I found myself rocking out in the kitchen while doing the dishes to third track 'Dead for a Day', which in a fair world would be an international hit. Combining melodic death metal (yes, there's growling - and Dan's growls are among the greatest) with progressive rock elements and a healthy dose of atmosphere, this is the kind of song that really gets Slynt going. Sometimes I like my music to be a bit more aggressive and extreme, and sometimes I like it to be simpler and more in-your-face, but generally, this song has a lot of elements in it that I value highly; the interplay between clean vocals and the gurglier sort, the groove, the melodies...Love at first listen. Opener "Mother of the Soul" is a similar exciting piece of music, energetic, varied, and interesting all the way through, and second track "Astrid Falls" too - yet they are all distinct after a listen or two (this is music that requires a few listens for it to settle properly and deep love to emerge...lovingly); these three songs are now regularly heard in the house, well at least by me. I have to use headsets to get my daily music fix. Somehow other family members do not appreciate my musical tastes and affinity for loudness. In the face. Metal remains, for me, in the words of many an Englishman,

The rest of the album is still growing on me, so there's still a lot to enjoy. Small discoveries of sound now and then, adding to the tapestry of the rich, atmospheric music. This could be an album that I could tire off quickly because it is so saturated with melodies, and melodies tend to wear out first, but as of now, I am quite certain that "The Inheritance" is the musical experience of 2013 A.D. Every month, hundreds of new metal albums are released - seriously, it's a huge genre, much bigger than most people realize I suppose. I wondered back in '88 whether there could ever be a great metal album again after Metallica's "...And Justice for All". I wondered the same in '91 after Morbid Angel's "Blessed are the Sick". And again, and again the genre has kept on giving. This year, "The Inheritance" tops my list (so far), but there have been many, many gems already, and it is amazing really how long this genre has been stable and how much creativity it has fostered. This year I've enjoyed so many new releases by such diverse bands as the increasingly popular Ghost, Immolation, Soilwork, The Fall of Every Season, In Vain, Watain, Darkthrone, Caladan Brood (yes, they're named after the Malazan character), Leprous, Amorphis, and many many more. 

Metal! It's brilliant most of the time, and also cheesy a lot of the time. Like fantasy then. They're kind of siblings, in my world. Next post will be about fantasy, though, no worries. Or maybe I'll dive into the world of cheese. 

Here's the lyric video for 'Dead for a Day'. No excuses, give it a chance.


And as a special one-time treat (:p) here I am with Dan the Man himself, back in 2008 when I saw him with his progressive rock project Nightingale. What a night, folks! What a night. If Witherscape is too extreme for you because of the guttural vocals you could try out Nightingale which leans closer to prog rock with no growling involved, but otherwise somewhat similar (check out the song "Revival", it's a gem).

Seeing this, I realize I don't look as hard-rockin' as I should.

Mangeek

Wow I know I'm a geek but today I've been working hard hammering a floor for the attic. I thought it would be quick and easy but after seven hours and a lot of sweat and curses, I have only finished 1/6th. But so manly. Using noisy equipment and all that. Still, since it's an attic, it is rather dusty and cramped. And outside the sun has been shining all day. Oh well I'd probably be inside anyway, trying out 'Might & Magic X: Legacy', or reading, or playing 'Skyrim' or 'Neverwinter Nights 2'. Oh man now I realize I have wasted the day. Maybe the evening will provide opportunities. I'm inclined to write a little bit, perhaps finish some rpg stuff, play one game or the other in which swords are wielded and spells are hurled (they really are the most appealing computer games), and perhaps flip a few more pages in the latest literary acquisition, 'Wolf Hall'. Speaking of literary loot, I now officially have no space left in my bookshelves :/
Fortunately I haven't read it all yet but still it is a bit disturbing. I do have ebooks but the real thing can't be beaten since it is so hard to display the glorious collection otherwise. I do so love to peek at the spines, dreaming myself away for a moment when I can.

Friday, August 23, 2013

[Re-read] Davos III: How the World is Made



This post contains vaguely described yet major spoilers for A Dance With Dragons.

Hello and welcome to the second part of my re-read of Davos Seaworth's third chapter in A Storm of
Never have I photoshopped so well before.
Swords.
You can find the first part of this re-read right here. So, Davos is still hanging out in his cell somewhere below Dragonstone, and Melisandre just arrived to give him a lesson in biology, physics and chemistry. And other stuff that relates to how the world is made. Let's see what Davos thinks of her lessons. Can Martin deliver the feels (my new favorite expression these days). The feels, you know Heh. Enough digression, let's dim the lights for atmosphere, eat a rat for mood, and get cracking on the last half of Davos III. It's going to be enlightening, I tell thee. What carnage has Rh'llorr wrought, He of the Unwriteable and Unpronounceable Name, the Lord of Light, who keeps the darkness at bay? Or so they say? All I know is He held sway over Blackwater Bay, but not today, Stannis, not today. That battle went the Lannister way. Uhm. Where the hell did that come from ?!?!!!?

This is bad for you mmmkay?
Oh my, how long has that weird digressive introduction existed as a draft? The last two weeks have just flown by, with an average of ten minutes a day where I could geek out. That's not much for someone who could geek out twenty-four seven. Oh well. At least I finished Richard Awlinson's final novel in the Avatar Trilogy, "Waterdeep". I know, I said I probably wouldn't bother reading it but then I found myself needing to know how it concluded and if it could get better, which it didn't, in fact it got worse. It's so bad I should really reproduce a few of its pages here with commentary, just to show you how awkward it is. Seriously, it reads like a weak first draft. Everything that makes a novel good is absent. I could go on about it, and but I'll rein myself in and get back to business, the reason I started up a blog in the first place - not Davos Seaworth particularly, but you know, A Song of Ice and Fire. Fasten your seat belts.

All right, we have Davos and Melisandre chit-chatting, with the latter trying to convince the former that Rh'llor is the god to venerate (she already her opinion kind of known when she had Stannis burn the statues of the Seven - lucky they had wooden statues of the gods! On Dragonstone!) -- seat belts fastened? All right, diving back in.

And I'm diving back in by looking at a point Martin seems to make (intended or not, I do not know); Davos"Why cling to these false gods?" The question itself is loaded as it is, and makes me think of the state of the world as it is today. Religion and politics are muddled up in many nations, and adherents of a religion each claim to worship the 'true' god; it shows us how narrow-minded Melisandre is, not able to conceive of any other deity possibly being "the one" (I suspect though that, if the gods indeed do exist within the setting, they are many and R'hlorr could be one of them). Davos' reply to this is equally interesting with regards to the real world: "I have worshiped them all my life." Is Martin trying to point out that your outlook and your religion are inherited from parents or whoever made you look in the same direction as they did? If so, I applaud the subtlety, and hopefully it makes people think, for it is nothing but truth; your religion, absolutely more often than not, decides what you yourself will believe. Born in a Muslim country? You praise Allah. Born in Italy? Most likely a Catholic. And so on and so forth. Born in southern Westeros? Yay for the Seven. Born in the northlands? Go Old Gods. Born on the Iron Islands? Three cheers for the Drowned God. Of course, this being a fantasy, Martin has the opportunity to make these deities both exist metaphorically and/or physically. However: Since magic is on the rise, and there has so far not been any clear connection between magic and the gods (excuse me if I'm wrong here), we could also interpret Melisandre's "evidence" of Rh'llor's powers as Melisandre misinterpreting magic, believing it to be the power of her god, but in actuality being her manipulation of the forces that have grown in the wake of the birth of Daenerys' dragons. In other words, believing something doesn't make it true, and sometimes you alter your perception of reality to accommodate your beliefs. Yup, this is Slynt the Atheist trying to make sense fantasy world religiosity (I have no idea where Martin stands on the faith issue, by the way, he was raised something-something but of course many people abandon their religion if they are not continually being fed a particular religion).
refuses to be a part of Melisandre's machinations - and she asks,

"Open your eyes," Melisandre pleads, and Davos wonders what it is she would have him see - the way the world is made. What she seems to forget is that she's asking, 'Let me show you how I believe the world is made.' To her, it is the one and only truth, and she cannot comprehend seeing life from any other angle. The hallmark of a zealot, then. The only problem I have with this, story-wise, is that it becomes a bit muddled when we, as readers, are not (yet) aware of the realities of Westeros as defined by its author. In, say, The Malazan Book of the Fallen, we know for sure that the gods exist; some of them are even vital to the plot as actual characters. In Abercrombie's worlds, the gods are mostly absent and treated as ideas and concepts for the most part (again, excuse me if I'm wrong in this; been a while since I read The First Law). In A Song of Ice and Fire, the gods are more ambiguous; there are hints of their existence but Martin also throws us hints that they are man-made concepts of worship. I think the "rise of magic" bit is the vital clue here - but then, we have seen some strange things in Bran's POV that suggest the Old Gods may just exist in one form or the other, but perhaps they are not gods in the traditional sense. Beings of greater power mistakenly taken for deities? Reminds me of cargo cults in a way.

And here comes Melisandre's treatise on how the world is made - I'm trying to keep my head on.

"The truth is all around you, plain to behold. The night is dark and full of terrors, the day bright and beautiful and full of hope. One is black, the other white. There is ice and there is fire. Hate and love. Bitter and sweet. Male and female. Pain and pleasure. Winter and summer. Evil and good." 

There can be no doubt Melisandre's world-view is pretty black-and-white; a duality with no refinement, yin and yang. Is Martin's world, after all, just as banally divided in two sides as Tolkien's Middle-earth? Good and evil? The statement feels unfitting for the rest of the story, at least at first glance; Martin has spent three novels deconstructing that particular trope. Interestingly, if you dare click that link, you'll find that it is headed by an actual quote from A Clash of Kings by, you guessed it, Melisandre. She is used to exemplify black-and-white morality so I may be on to something here. Is Martin using her as a kind of contrast to the grey morality found in most other chapters of the series? Almost confusing, Martin does his best to make us change our point of view on characters like Jaime Lannister and Sandor Clegane, then with Melisandre he goes the other way and gives us a black/white character.

When there is no room between opposites, you get into trouble. That's when you get the "us versus them" mentality. No nuances. However, when Melisandre continues, she gives us this:

"The war has been waged since time began, and before it is done, all men must choose where they will stand."  (Note the all men must... phrase in there; Valar Choosis?) The two opposites Melisandre presents are, in one corner of the ring, the great R'hllor (there! I finally spelled it right), the Lord of Light, the Heart of Fire, the God of Flame and Shadow, and against him the Great Other, the Lord of Darkness, the Soul of Ice, the God of Night and Terror. I believe (that doesn't make it true!) that this is the first mention of a "great other" and it obviously ties to the Others, but then you start thinking, "Is Martin pulling one here?" and is he deliberately trying to make us think that the Great Other is some sort of god for the Others? Could "the Great Other" simply mean "the Others"? Could R'hllor be another way of saying "dragons", misinterpreted by the Red Priests for millenia? Is Martin twisting the myth, so to speak, to emulate how real-world myths and religions have shape-shifted over the course of centuries and millenia? It seems to me that the story points toward an epic confrontation between the Others and the Dragons, and that they are indeed the ice and fire Melisandre speaks of? Say one thing about this chapter, say it makes my head hurt.

Davos, at first stoically telling her he swears to the Old Gods, finally admits to being "full of doubts"; a sign that Melisandre has begun to convince him (not only is indoctrination an actually effective way of forcing people to think like you do, it probably helps that she can see things in flames and give birth to shadow babies of the assassinating kind), or have her glamours (not that we have seen this word being used yet, but it turns up later) begun to convince him?

Eventually Melisandre asks Davos why he tried to kill her, which is all kinds of interesting as the very question implies she could not see it in her flames, and yet in the same breath she tells him that she has the power to see through falsehoods - for me, at least, its a warning signal from the author - she claims power but at the same time reveals that she at least is not all-powerful. I wonder what went through Martin's mind when he wrote this chapter. Did he analyze it all beforehand to make sure it all fit together, or did he simply oversee the apparent contradiction in Melisandre's statement? Gah! Nobody knoooows. 
When Davos asks her why the battle on the Blackwater was lost, she replies that Stannis had surrounded himself with unbelievers. There wasn't enough faith on those ships. Personally, I'd say it was Tyrion's strategies and tactics with the unexpected aid of his lord father and the Tyrells that did it, but you know. The faithful will twist any event to make it match their vision. Which is precisely what Melisandre is doing here.

If the chapter isn't confusing enough already, Melisandre throws in a prophecy too, one that we will see fulfilled in A Dance with Dragons. It is the prophecy that, when fulfilled, will finally make us realize that Stannis wasn't the Lord's chosen, the "warrior of fire". Here, in this chapter, Melisandre misreads the prophecy; in one of the last (was it the last?) chapters of A Dance with Dragons, we see it come to pass albeit in a different way:

"When the red star bleeds and darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be reborn again amidst smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone."

Now, this lends credence to my suggestion that R'hllor and the Great Other are merely aspects / metaphors for the Others and the Dragons - why? Because Jon Snow has Targaryen blood by Rhaegar Targaryen (is there anyone out there who still refuses this theory as valid?), hence he is a "warrior of fire". I suppose we'll get back to this in 2232 when I've come to that chapter and Martin receives a Hugo for The Winds of Winter.

After her sermon (complete with blazing eyes, now that's cool), she leaves him in the dim light of a torch to reflect and ruminate and ponder. And also contemplate, cogitate and wonder. He wonders what she meant when she told him he had already served R'hllor and would do so again, and you know, I was wondering just the same thing. Something I missed?

Doubting Melisandre, he still knows what he saw beneath Storm's End crawling out from between Melisandre's legs, and he futilely tries to peer into the torch flames maybe to get a glimpse of something, but nothing happens - another hint that Melisandre's powers are not divine.

Three days later, Alester Florent, the Lord of Brightwater, is thrown into Davos' cell by Axell Florent, his brother. See, that's what religion can do to people - brother against brother, all in the name of ideas. They have a chat in which Davos reverts back to the Seven by means of a silent prayer to the Father and the Mother, and in which they tell each other what they have lost. Alester's loss of valuables pales in comparison to Davos' four sons, obviously. We are reminded of Ser Imry who we saw during the battle, turns out he was Alester's nephew. Apparently, Alester no longer agrees with Stannis' war for the Iron Throne and has therefore been cast down into the darkness of the Dragonstone dungeons.

What we're really getting here is exposition. A prisoner of noble birth is conveniently placed in Davos' cell (as opposed to any other unoccupied cell Dragonstone surely possesses) so that Martin can feed us an update on the status of Stannis' forces. Stannis has lost most of his fleet, most lords have bent their knee to Joffrey or died, and only House Florent's strength still supports House Baratheon (or what remains of it). Alester wants to talk peace with the Lannisters, which is considered treason by iron Stannis. He's basically thinking like Davos does, that their chance has come and gone, except Alester seems to have sworn his allegiance to the Lord of Light as well. Alester did write a letter to Lord Tywin so it's perhaps no surprise that Stannis got a bit riled up about that. In the letter, Alester suggested that if Stannis gives up his claim, maybe he can be accepted back into the king's peace and confirmed a Lord of Dragonstone and Storm's End. Sneakily, he also suggested he might keep Brightwater for himself as before. Obviously. He's trying to salvage what he can. Finally he offered to marry Shireen to Joffrey. And Davos thinks it all good, and Alester begins babbling about dragons (where did they come from all of a sudden into the conversation) and we get the oh-so-annoyingly-cryptical "Did we learn nothing from Aerion Brightfire, from the nine mages, from the alchemists? Did we learn nothing from Summerhall? No good has ever come from these dreams of dragons (there they are!)". 
What happened at Summerhall? Some experiment with fire, I suppose. See, R'hlorr and the dragons seem linked. But it's a bit vague, innit. Wait. Summerhall. I have to check out what info we have on it. Ah, what I thought I remembered; some failed experiment with dragon-breeding. But why mention this in the same breath as Melisandre and her fiery god? But what did the Ghost of High Heart mean when she 'gorged on grief at Summerhall'? Apparently she was at Summerhall. What the heck was she doing there? All those questions and more I would very much like to have answered because they are gnawing at me whenever I read a chapter. This, more than entitlement or any other ludicrous suggestion from die-hard defenders of Martin's work ethics, is why I so passionately wish for The Winds of Winter to come out. Yesterday.

Oh. Yeah. The talk of "stone dragons"; there's your link to dragons. Waking a stone dragon. Still. Weak? The chapter kind of ends on a downer with Alester weeping and Davos suggesting that Stannis will rather go down in flames (aha) than yield to the Lannisters. In that regard Stannis and Melisandre are a good match. Do or die. Black and white.

It's all very much more in the vein of traditional fantasy literature, isn't it, with lords of darkness and prophecies and a hero and dragons and all that. And it keeps taking over from what I deem, perhaps unfortunately, is the series' greatest strength, namely the grey characters and the intrigue and the warfare and the medievalism, but that is due to taste, I suppose. Which is how I ended up with Wolf Hall last night, first chapter. From the first page it's all grim and violent and medieval (a character is beaten to within an inch of his life by his father) but as it is a Tudor-area novel there will be no magic/fantasy at all and I do like some of it to spice it all up (and in some cases an abundance of the supernatural works too, like in Steven Erikson's works). Sometimes I wonder if the series of ice and fire would be better if the magic was kept more subdued all the way through. Better for me personally, I mean. And sometimes I wonder...I wonder about it all, the story, its characters and their motivations, and where it is going and if it is going. One can wonder endlessly as long as the story is so multi-layered, and remains unfinished. Can every loose thread be resolved? Will the series, in the end, be a story of good versus evil after all? And is the world made of opposites? 




Thursday, August 15, 2013

Back from the mistress of Bohemia

Wow. Wow. I have been there before, but I am still as wowed by the city as I was the first time. I am talking about the heart of Europe, the City of Hundred Spires, a symphony of stone, the Golden City, the mother of cities - Mater Urbium Prague.

The first time I visited Prague (that would be in the Czech Republic), I spent most of my time exploring and investigating the city's abundance of medieval towers and cathedrals and churches and other buildings, diving into the city's history with glee, and it inspired me to write a role-playing campaign that is still running (I was there in 2005); a real cultural treat, then.

This time I was barely aware of it all as I traveled with a lot of fun people whose main interest lay in clock tower; considering my fear of heights and generally unstable condition due to tasting the many and varied - and delectable - brews available in the city, I am quite proud to have stood (albeit with shaking knees) and looked out over my favorite city; I am sure if George RR Martin has been there, he loves it too. It feels a little bit westerosi kind of, with murals depicting banners and knights, statues of much epicness, grand facades and, you know, narrow streets, dwarfs performing on the streets (well at least one that I saw), horses pulling carriages around to transport tourists around...all very stimulating. I felt so relaxed being there, just enjoying the parties, shopping a little bit (gifts for the family; at no point did I buy anything remotely geeky, sadly, unless you count the novel Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel as a geeky book - another one for the great pile).
the city's many pubs. Still, I managed to crawl out of the stupor for a few hours here and there to climb the famous

And then it was back to everyday life and work. Suddenly I am not relaxed, but stressed; once again I face a mountain of things to do (while I secretly daydream of being around a table playing RPGs or writing a novel or playing computer games or the guitar, or playing on the floor with minislynt # 2); once again I feel overwhelmed and wonder what the heck am I doing? Why do we spend our lives working? I know the answer, of course. And once I'm in the groove it will all be nice. But boy, do I hate that transition from summer holiday to autumn pressure. And I miss Prague already. If you haven't been there before, I heartily recommend it. It's - for a Norwegian at least - dirt cheap, beautiful, inspiring and offers more than you can handle. Fantastic place.

On a more Ice & Fire - related note, Leigh Butler of TOR has reached a rather brilliant chapter in A Storm of Swords, the one in which a certain boy king bites a certain pie. Another one bites the pie. It's a fun read, her reactions and way of writing is, if short, thoroughly entertaining. Note that she is reading it for the first time, which is half the fun of course for a jaded fellow fan of the series.

All right, time to check out on George. I feel like I've been away for a while, but of course I've only been away for just under a week, but you never know. Maybe there's something worthwhile going on.
*checks*

  • Amazon exclusive blu-ray/DVD set of Game of Thrones season three. Where would I put that ugly thing? Sorry, but that box just doesn't feel right to me. Looks like a tombstone. Daenerys' perhaps? I'll go with a normal box I can put beneath the hologram projector thank you very much. Nice to be reminded that it is a LIMITED edition. So limited you can only buy two. 
  • George's cinema. What can I say? He's got a cinema where he can show people Forbidden Planet. Can't say I blame Martin for blogging about it, he must be pretty excited about it and all. I mean, I would be if I bought a cinema so I could watch The Empire Strikes Back and Fellowship of the Ring and Raiders of the Lost Ark in an infinite loop while chewing popcorn. But I am looking for news on The Winds of Winter so...
  • Another post on the cinema. Long weekend. Something something.
Maybe next year then.
Once I'm rolling I'll be throwing up the second part of my Davos III re-read (it's almost a promise!) but now I have to get my act together and do something useful for society, like I don't know, plan for the return of the students come Monday.

Peace out. 


Thursday, August 8, 2013

When it rains

August is a month I consider a "summer month", but so far it's been feeling more like a slightly warmer autumn. Bah. The rain keeps falling down; but ooh-la-la rain is also considered (by some) gaming weather, and as such there's been some sky-rimming, fantasy rpg book reading, but mostly changing diapers. Heeeheeh. And nary a thought for Ice and Fire, I have to admit. Not that I expect massive news, we're in a dry spell again aren't we? I'll get back to Davos and Melisandre next week when I return from a holiday involving medieval architecture and art and a whole lot of ale.. Yay!!!1

Friday, August 2, 2013

Two Movies in Two Days

By accident (or the alignment of the stars, or the will of your favorite deity) I've been to the cinema twice this week, and one of them wasn't even a movie for the kids.
On Wednesday, me and a neighbor took our boys to see Despicable Me 2, which, like the first one, is fun for both young and old, although this second movie was even wayer over the top. More gags too, though. The kids laughed, the old guys chuckled. Entertained all the way through, cute and dense and tense and silly.

The next day we decided to go and see a film without the kids, which ended up being The Wolverine in 3D. Now, I've never been a fan of superheroes but as a kid I did enjoy reading The Amazing Spiderman because the character was witty, and I liked the X-Men well enough. Later I found I liked the Nolan Batman films and the X-Men films. So I expected to like The Wolverine as well, which I kind of did - I was entertained throughout, but the film itself has a very and I mean very flawed script. I haven't read the story / comic this particular movie is based on, but the story in the film was very weak, with a few glaring plot holes, weak characterization and a number of uninspired scenes (countered by some very inspired scenes though). They could have simplified the motivations of some characters so streamline the story, and made a few things clearer. In the end, the main villain's nefarious schemes are as incomprehensible as Senator Palpatine's in The Phantom Menace. A shame, really, because Hugh Jackman is awesome as Logan / Wolverine, when I walked out of the theater I kind of wished I was more like him in the coolness / muscles department. The other actors did a fair enough job with what they were given but most secondary characters were woefully underdeveloped. Still, I was entertained by the spectacle, especially the train sequence which took that classic bit of fighting on train wagon roofs to the next level action-wise. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Return of Shadows

For too long have I been idle. Months, maybe as much as a year, has passed in which I've stayed inside my modest abode of Breezehome, next to the smithy in fair Whiterun. But a few days ago, I decided I had to get back in action. I flipped open my tattered journal book in which I note all the things I want to do, and found it full of promises to the people of Skyrim that I had not fulfilled.
I looked at my armor and my weapons, and decided it was time to sharpen the steel and hammer out the kinks, and get back on the path of the Dragonborn.
With dragon blood in my veins, I cannot sit idly by, can I?

I am Shadows, my real Dark Elven name withheld for reasons my own. I wield the sword, spells of fiery destruction, and I occasionally chuckle as guards complain about arrows in their knees. After it became a meme and then a roll-your-eyes-heard-it-before-thing, that particular complaint stands out like never before. I am a jack of all trades. I can be a warrior, fighting with sword and shield in the fray. I can be a thief, sneaking through forgotten dungeons to plant arrows in my enemies. I can be a mage, hurling fire and healing myself. Above all, I am Dragonborn.

And so I went to Riften, finding myself in the underground tavern where I finally found Esben who could helpmy story is beautiful, magnificent. My horse died, slain by two winter wolves, but I persevered, finding myself in a variety of adventures over the last couple of days, reacquanting myself with the cumbersome inventory, re-learning how the Shouts worked, I have picked up again my hobby of blacksmithing, and I have rearranged the bookshelves in Breezehome to accomodate for more volumes of lore.
me continue the main quest. Inbetween, I fulfilled a few other promises to folk. I rode into the Karthspire canyon, fighting the wicked Forsworn in a battle so memorable I wish it was filmed. This is epic material, an experience few other computer games can match. The way the game bends to suit

Many a foe have fallen before my bow and arrows, my ebony sword and my recently acquired Dragonbane sword. And more will have to fall ere I can defeat the mighty Alduin. I am back in Skyrim, and they shall tremble.

I am still supporting the Imperial legions, but unbeknownst to them I have decided to slit the throats of their leaders for what they did so long ago when the first dragon attacked. For now, I will comply to their commands, but one day, Shadows will execute them all. But first, catching butterflies for some potions.

Also, I have tested out my Elven Bow which I have made 'exquisite' at the forge, and now I am running through the Draugr like never before, arrows flying like I was Legolas' evil brother. What a game, folks, what a game! So addictive once you're "back in". Dangerous, and interesting, how a game can be so compelling. Right now all I'd like to do is go back and finish exploring the dungeon I'm in, but real life calls. Ack.