‘The Rains of Castamere’, A Game of Thrones

Speaking of television these days, I am sure that A Game of Thrones is in the mind of many a people. It is quite a good show, and it has managed to captivate an audience that numbers in the tens of millions (based on HBO viewing in the States, I would assume that there’s at least as many outside the States).

This Sunday we got to a pivotal point in the series — at least, I would look at it as a pivotal point. I am afraid I will have to avoid mentioning what exactly happens in case anyone reads this before seeing that episode or reading that section in the books, but I would like to emphasize that I was quite happy in how the producers managed to portray the events.

Generally, there is a far higher level of compromise in filming a TV series if it is based on a book. Right now, there were only a few changes that I had to disagree with. Namely, having the Blackfish and Talisa both at the Twins: it will be interesting to see if the Blackfish pops up in the next episode for that will be the determining factor in how much the series will start diverging (at least, that is how I see it).

Otherwise, ‘The Rains of Castamere’ is an excellent song. The songwriters for the show and The National have done a really good job of building an enjoyable tune that captures the emotions present. The scene in one of the previous episodes where Cersei quotes the poem/song to Margaery is a decent example of this. ‘The Rains of Castamere’ is what the Lannisters are right now, and it does a good job of telling the story of how little they like being defied.

What I was most impressed by was the reaction to this last episode. I really enjoyed it, I think it was well done aside from the points mentioned above. I am not entirely happy with Bran’s storyline although he saw more action here than in the previous season combined. Daenerys’ time wasn’t too bad either — I could actually stand her scenes in this episode. Plus, lots of good combat skills displayed by her sturdy warriors.

However, I think that people were somewhat surprised by the events in this episode, and that is what prompted them to yell out in fury. But, I would keep in mind that these are George RR Martin’s characters and this is his story. His word is the word of god for A Song of Ice and Fire. And, yet, he did nothing that drastic here. Old men are notoriously grumpy and this is what we see in this episode. The characters had to continue like they did here for this is who they were: their personalities allowed for nothing else.

Also, I was pleasantly surprised by Roslin Frey. It does look that the people in charge of the show took their time in screening even the most minor of the characters.

Overall, I think we’ve had a good lead-in to the season finale which will no doubt (hopefully, at least) feature the next wedding (Joffrey & Margaery) as well as many other things. I hope they’ve put as much effort in as they did here.

The one question I do wonder about is whether we’ll have an epilogue next episode…

‘Game of Thrones’ [Season 3 Trailer]

There’s a trailer for the Game of Thrones soon-to-debut season 3, finally. It looks promising.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzI9v_B4sxw]

What makes me like the show so much is that they seem to have kept the majority of what is good in the books. In this trailer we see the best of that side by the philosophical saying that Bronn puts forward, and I am sure there’s plenty more to come in the episodes when they start. The best part about them: they’re memorable and true, generally. Maybe somewhat harsher than we like our truths, but that doesn’t make them any less true.

In addition to that, the soundtrack seems very good — I truly hope that song (from the trailer) is somewhere in the series.

There’s a beast in every man, and it stirs when you put a sword in his hand.

Quoting George R.R. Martin

The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real … for a moment at least … that long magic moment before we wake.

Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?

We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.

They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle Earth.

I have again come to quote George Martin. For some reason, so much of what he writes can be seen to come across as very refined…

This quote goes to my very heart — I know that a number of people consider science fiction and fantasy both most unrefined and uncivilized and they do not grasp why anyone would want to read about something that is “not real”. My response to that usually was that nothing read in books (assuming fiction) is real — it’s all someone’s mind and thoughts which has conjured up a world of some sort into which they have placed their story. It is just that some authors choose to place their stories into a world everyone knows, while others create their own world where anything can happen.

Note that I also consider that any science fiction/fantasy work is in a better position to criticize society although I should return to this to figure out why I believe this to be the case.

But, coming back to this quote: I agree with everything Mr Martin says and I enjoy the final sentiment. I love being lost in fantasy lands especially the ones where I can imagine endless forests and a hunter wandering in them or a dragon flying over the seas hunting.

So, yes…

They can keep their heaven.

Quoting George R.R. Martin

“Sleep is good, he said, And books are better.”

I noticed this amongst my liked quotes on Goodreads, and my one thought was that this is very true: I do like my rest even though on average I sleep five to six hours. However, not few are the days when I like the book I am reading enough to continue well into the early hours of the next day.

Take the attitude presented here, and make it yours!

On the Quality of E-Books

Whilst I generally prefer to live a peaceful life of which reading is an important everyday piece, I discover every now and then that there are a number of difficulties with this approach. Generally, everything works well or good enough and I do not have to regret the amount of monies spent or effort put into purchasing and reading books but there are also moments when I wish to say something of what is being done under the near-proper term of “digital publishing”.

Let me start first by insisting though that while the following will be true in a large number of cases, it has notable exemptions and I will bring out at least one that I have seen myself. Likewise, the problem does not exist only in digital books but at least with digital books the solution is simple.

Now, I have mentioned a problem but have not defined it yet. If I may: Customers are paying considerable sums of money for books in digital form for download to e-readers or other devices with similar functionality, and yet the final product that the customer receives is not always presented to them in a final form.

Namely, while in regular publishing there is a certain quality and level of spelling that is expected of anything sent to the press, in the digital word this same quality seems to have disappeared with the publishing houses seemingly content to upload anything without ascertaining its quality.

As the next step, I will clarify my own position: I own a Kindle (and have owned previous Kindles in the past) and I spend a reasonable amount on digital books. Digital reading, or e-reading, certainly forms the majority of books I read these days. I do not mind paying for reading anything that another person has written or published, but I do expect any product I receive to respond to certain standards of quality.

Let me bring a concrete example. Over the last few weeks I have read a number of books by Jack Campbell on my Kindle, all of which were priced between £5.50 and £6.00. This price was accompanied by an explanation that the books were approximately 300 pages in other versions, and that the file which included the book was between 300 KB and 700 KB in size. In other words, a very small file with an average-length book had been priced at the aforementioned sum. I’ll be very clear that had there been nothing else, I would not mind this price for it is clear that the good Mr Campbell needs to make his income from something.

However, there was “something else”. Namely, the books were readable but my enthusiasm decreased as I encountered more and more spelling mistakes and punctuation errors. One would think that a simple spell check can find solutions to problems like that, or that one read of the book can note that a word has been split into several pieces (say, “in def ens ible” comes to mind).

Can anyone say how this is a fair use of the money that the publishing house and Mr Campbell make off the people who are purchasing their products?

I remember that when I first read George RR Martin’s “A Dance with Dragons”, the same issue was present. I also know that is the only time a book on my device has been updated, but since I have not read it again thus far, I am not confident in how much has improved.

To get back at the main issue though: We, the customers, are receiving products that are seemingly at a stage where no self-respecting publishing house would release it as a paperback, and yet we pay a very similar amount as if we were buying a paperback. So, where’s the quality I was expecting?

Do I need to pay extra for the publishing houses to trouble themselves by reading through the works at least once?

What needs to change so that I would be able to buy a final product that I could read in peace?

Are the publishing houses deserving of the money I have paid for the titles if you cannot put in a small measure of effort to make their own creations presentable?

Now, I’ll note that digital publishing is not the only culprit. The one title I have from Forgotten Books’ “Easy Reading Series” is similarly full of spelling mistakes and riddled with bad punctuation, but at least I have a personal copy of the title which acts as a small measure of comfort for the similar price I paid towards it.

I am hopeful that this trend in digital publishing can change — I say this not only with the one example I brought in mind but also remembering a number of other items I have read which have been sub-par. However, I also think that we customers need to be more vocal about establishing some set of standards.

I guess the other option would be to set a price per kilobyte, and then the publishing houses can sell me whatever they want to with me going in there knowing that there is no massive profit lurking for these same entities behind the screen — very much unlike the present situation.

So, how do we go about establishing that what is sold to us is a book that we can read when we purchase it?

And until we have managed achieving some standards of quality, let’s make the issue more public!

‘A Song for Lya’, George R.R. Martin

I don’t really know whether ‘A Song for Lya’ is considered sci-fi or fantasy (knowing Martin, likely fantasy) but the border between the two is so fragile that I’ve listed it as both — which brings me immediately to one of the things I liked about this story. It was well written (though nowhere near as well as other works of Martin, namely the A Song of Ice and Fire) and contained an intertwined idea that took what most people hold important and turned it around; twisted it.

Love.

What is love ?

Martin has a partial answer of sorts for us in ‘A Song for Lya’ and for that, if for nothing more, this is a story worth reading. The concepts presented to us have had predecessors in the past, but at least the look is new and the handling of topics as well — not many of the better end of the spectra of sci-fi writers have written stories of love after all (Isaac Asimov might be the only though no doubt Clarke has lightly touched upon it as well). Aside from that though, as I already mentioned, the feeling that I was given by parts of the book was that it was not finished — or perhaps it is wrong to assume that all of Martin’s works would equal the well-known saga ?

But how much can human beings know each other? Aren’t all of them cut off, really? Each alone in a big, dark, empty universe? We only trick ourselves when we think that someone else is there. In the end, in the cold lonely end, it’s only us, by ourselves, in the blackness. Are you there, Robb? How do I know? Will you die with me, Robb? Will we be together then? Are we together now?

I guess that it is something many people think about — if not aloud for fear of being overheard (for who indeed would like their deepest fears to be known) then in their own minds. And if not “thought” then perhaps a thought, only a single one, has strayed there.

For indeed, if you accept that love is there, then the quantification given will also mean that it will end. The main characters are two people with ‘Talents’ — meaning that they can read either the emotions or thoughts of other people if they concentrate. An interesting power?

That said, aside from the two Talented, we’ve also got a rather interesting chap named Dino (completely unrelated to everyone’s favourite Dinosaur Soldier) who is the commander of the planet where the problems that the Talented — named Lya and Robb — are called to investigate take place. I have to say that Dino became my favourite character by the end of the book, mostly because I felt that at least on some level I could relate to him far more easily than to any of the others.

Unfortunately, there is little else to be said for while the ending can be guessed from the early beginnings then it is not declared out loud as in other books such as the ‘Master of Go’ — therefore I will avoid giving out details and instead finish on two thoughts : one of resemblance, the other a quote.

It reminds me of ‘Solaris’. While Stanislaw Lem’s book was a bit more thorough then the general gist remains the same (on a very broad level) : love. I do think that I’d rather reread ‘Solaris’ (though I hear that the English translation is not the best) than ‘A Song for Lya’ but it did have its charms. I am also inclined to think that with the passing of time, my opinion of the book will improve.

“Robb, that’s absurd, and you know it. You think the Shkeen have found the answer to the mysteries of creation. But look at them. The oldest civilized race in known space, but they’ve been stuck in the Bronze Age for fourteen thousand years. We came to them. Where are their spaceships? Where are their towers?”

“Where are our bells?” I said. “And our joy? They’re happy, Dino. Are we? Maybe they’ve found what we’re still looking for. Why the hell is man so driven, anyway? Why is he out to conquer the galaxy, the universe, whatever? Looking for God, maybe …? Maybe. He can’t find him anywhere, though, so on he goes, on and on, always looking. But always back to the same darkling plain in the end.”

‘A Dance with Dragons’, George R.R. Martin, Retake

Hmmh, the next day after posting the previous on the ADwD I remembered that I completely ignored a few characters who were in it, most notable Arya. Don’t know why it turned out that way, but it sure did, so this is just a recap to remind myself and others that we do get a POV in Braavos.

Also, keeping in mind a few discussions I’ve had on online boards it would seem that the overall reaction is just as negative as the first moments predicted, at least amongst the hardcore fans. As said, my own opinion is quite different (rating this either the highest or second highest in the series after ‘A Feast for Crows’) but it is not a total surprise for me.

What does strike me interesting is that the online discussions have greatly increased the appeal of one character to me — namely, Rickard Stark. Much has made me think of his political skill in the game, and if I had the wish I might even put a few lines on paper (is that a valid expression online ?) on it.

There have also been a few interesting discussions on the panthea of the world, with questions arising when we consider the Seven, the Old Gods, the Drowned God, R’hllor (spelling is likely wrong), and the God of Many Faces and all the other gods there… Which of the religions can be valid, and which ones of them not ?

My good dear anti-theist self has hoped for most of the religions to come out as fallacies (entirely possible given the developments in the series) with people’s own skill (or luck, as one of my friends puts it) the driving force between success and failure. Be it as it may, it would be interesting to know more and to get the information that so many people complained about in ADwD — for information is, above all, good.

I’ve also considered going for Martin’s Hedge Knight series but seeing that they were not easily available on the Kindle (not at all, I think) I decided that the ‘Song for Lya’ would be one of the next things that I’ll read. Hope it will be on par with the best of his other works.

‘A Dance with Dragons’, George R.R. Martin

Ah, now, I believe I’ve come to the point where the fifth A Song of Ice and Fire book is discussed here. I finished it this Monday, and contrary to the majority of forum posts I’ve read by ASOIAF fans, I loved it. In terms of the series, I’d rank it second after ‘A Feast for Crows’ though I do understand that the slow-moving pace (much as in Caprica, if we want to compare it to something) made people dislike it especially if they hoped that wonderful things would be discussed here.

Note: I’ve added a quote from most POVs after the name of the character or just after the passage describing them. They are quotes *from* the POVs, and not necessarily by the people whose POV it was. 

I have to say that I was especially pleasantly surprised in the middle of the book when I unexpectedly came upon a POV by Jaime — which I had originally understood would not appear in book five as the story in King’s Landing and the south in general was told in book four.

 Jaime: “That’s how it always happens, my father says. So long as men remember the wrongs done to their forebears, no peace will ever last. So we go on century after century, with us hating the Brackens and them hating us. My father says there will never be an end to it.”

Of the other point of view storylines, I found Jon and Barristan most likable in the book — Barristan’s episodes always made me think how they’d look on screen (especially given the memorable dismissal of him in the TV series which was so very well played — and which reminded that we should certainly have the chance to see more of Lord Beric Dondarrion on screen!).  For the first time I, however, felt that Daenerys was being a total idiot — her chapters were not the most pleasant to read and well, let’s just say that she could have done much better, which is a pity given that her developments in book three were reasonable. Then again, I did not appreciate her that much in ‘A Clash of Kings’ either so it might just be the same vibe echoing through.

Daenerys: “Man wants to be the king o’ the rabbits, he best wear a pair o’ floppy ears.”

Jon: “Laws should be made of iron, not of pudding.”

Barristan: “You kill men for the wrongs they have done, not the wrongs that they may do someday.”

Otherwise, Tyrion : less enjoyable (mostly because there was less jesting) chapters than previously but they achieved a new value — the first ones at least, where we saw him travel : quite brings to mind some other fantasy books with excellent descriptions on travels (and not only fantasy, for some of H. Sienkiewicz’s traveling chapters are also very well written). Tyrion definitely needs command of something though (if only sewers) so that he could make fun of others and amuse the readers…

Tyrion: “I think life is a jape. Yours, mine, everyone’s.”  ||

“There has never been a slave who did not choose to be a slave, the dwarf reflected. Their choice may be between bondage and death, but the choice is always there.”

Who else could we follow in ‘A Dance’? A wonderful chapter with Areo Hotah, who has to be one of the coolest guys in the area — I think there’s been a total of two chapters with him over the course of the series but I’d say that the two certainly outplay anything Daenerys has managed to offer. Especially since Areo’s view is somewhat closer to what ours might be, given that he is not a Westeros native.

Areo: “Tell me, Captain, is that my shame or my glory?” “That is not for me to say, my prince.” Serve. Protect. Obey. Simple vows for simple men. That was all he knew.

Then we had a chance of seeing Brandon in action again who seemed less well played than before, but might be just that my original dislike for his chapters kicked out — he certainly could be a bit more… innovative. Ask questions? Do something else besides what is *not* suggested? *sigh*

Bran: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” said Jojen. “The man who never read lives only one.”

The Lannisters — I believe there was a chapter on Cersei which was nice again though she was a bit more active in ‘A Feast’. Well, with good reason — I’m sure that she’ll rise again. And a surprise Lannister POV as well – Kevan. About time we saw a bit more of that man, I would say. Very much liked it again.

Cersei: “Women were always the cruelest where other women were concerned.”

Kevan:  “That is how it is when a man grows as old as Pycelle. Everything you see or hear reminds you of something you saw or heard when you were young.” ||

“But it did no good to brood on lost battles and roads not taken. That was a vice of old done men.”

As another surprise, of our wonderful King Stannis, we had the chance to see his Hand, Lord Davos in action, and that was almost as good as his original chapters in ‘A Clash’. A few plot-twists as well (and some which have created quite a buzz in the fora but that’s only natural — Davos seems to always both enter and leave on a very dutiful note, much like his King). The other Stannis POV was Melisandre though if anything, this raised the question to me what ‘Clash’s prologue would have looked like from Melisandre’s point of view.

Davos:  “So I ask you, Onion Knight – what does Lord Stannis offer me in return for my allegiance?” War and woe and the screams of burning men, Davos might have said. “The chance to do your duty,” he replied instead. That was the answer Stannis would have given –. The Hand should speak with the king’s voice. 

Melisandre:  “Devan was the fifthborn and safer here with her than at the king’s side. Lord Davos would not thank her for it, no more than the boy himself, but it seemed to her that Seaworth had suffered enough grief. Misguided as he was, his loyalty to Stannis could not be doubted. She had seen that in her flames.”

Added to this was a POV series by a Prince of Dorne (the title ‘Prince’ has to be one of the finest ones around). Quentyn Martell managed to utter his “Unbent, unbowed, unbroken” in a pleasant enough way, and endeared the Martell’s even more than before. His attitude managed to remind me of the Starks though, which is a wonder, but an interesting move.

Quentyn: “Men’s lives have meaning, not their deaths.”

A few of the Ironborn made an entrance as well : starting from the lovely princess Asha Greyjoy who had quite a few wonderful passages; continuing with the not-as-likable Theon, who by all rights should be dead by now but seems to survive and in a rather good shape. *sigh* Martin’s sense of justice isn’t what it could be, but it is sufficient for now, I’m sure that Theon will suffer in the future. The last Greyjoy to appear was Victarion : still brooding over his defeat a number of years hence, but have to say, the description we were given did quite establish that the commander of the Iron Fleet was an idiot and sailed into a trap. Aside from that, he was his good former self killing people left and right in the most pleasurable way conceivable. And, of course, I do like the concept of the Iron Fleet which is another plus for Victarion. 🙂

Asha: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend, men said, but the other side of that coin was, the enemy of my friend is my enemy.”

Theon: “A peaceful land, a quiet people. That has always been my rule.”

Victarion: “Life is pain, you fool. There is no joy but in the Drowned God’s watery halls.”

Also, another new entry by a fellow exiled from Westeros — namely, the former Hand, Lord Jon Connington. I did enjoy his chapters though he appeared a bit too brittle… We’ll see how he fares in the future.

Lord Connington: “Not every man is what he seems, and a prince especially has good cause to be wary … but go too far down that road, and the mistrust can poison you, make you sour and fearful.”

All in all, a very enjoyable book — certainly better than both ‘A Clash of Kings’ and ‘A Storm of Swords’ though likely bested in quality by both ‘A Game of Thrones’ and ‘A Feast for Crows’. This is my opinion though — I recommend everyone to read them all, and tell me yours!

‘A Voice in the Dark’

This song, being one of the few that Blind Guardian has bothered to turn into a video, seemed fitting to sum up some of the artistic talent gone into it. Make no mistake, however, the video for ‘War of Thrones’ would in my opinion be quite a bit more entertaining though they have done well for this one as well.

For anyone who does not comprehend it (for either lack of hints, or background) then this song is well related to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book-saga. I am confident that in the near days I will mention him again due to the fifth book that I am currently reading; right now, however, I am more interested in this song. Not as broad as the other ASOAIF track from that album, ‘A Voice in the Dark’ is related to the character Brandon Stark, but it would seem as if these lyrics are wise enough to tell something to us all.

In vain
Still I don’t understand
So talk to me again
Why do I fear these words?
What keeps holding me back?

Not necessarily these lines but the story of the boy (I hope that I will not spoil anyone’s existence, as long as you’ve read a few of the first chapters of the book or seen the first episode nothing that comes after should be a surprise) who fell is surely something that most people can relate to — being good (or rather, thinking that we are good) at something and then we are surprised, we fall, we withdraw into our shell.

Letting go of the things which have held us back should be a foremost goal; overcoming them a sign of strength and of the wish to become a better person. Turn outwards instead of inwards, and remember that mind is the only thing which matters in the end: “Too much mind. No mind.”

Free your mind

Learn to roam
Don’t look back”

‘A Song of Ice and Fire’

George R.R. Martin’s saga has been taken to TV now. I recently had the chance to see the first season of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ (TV title, ‘A Game of Thrones’) and I have to say that it is a rather pleasing conversion. I guess that is the added value of having the author of the literature working alongside the TV producers.

Besides watching that, I also re-read the novels — all four of them, in expectation of the fifth one coming out just this month. There’s much to say about the quality of Martin’s writing, but what struck me the best this time round was that all of the characters in the books evolved. They were, indeed, more human than the people most writers have in their  stories.

That in itself meant that the level of realism was deeper than elsewhere, and that the characters I enjoyed changed as they changed. People do see themselves more like a person during one period, and then later differently. It was interesting to see the same thing happening during the course of a few days which I took to read the books.

If I were to bring out a good example, then it would no doubt be Jaime. I didn’t like him all that much in the first book, but events in the third made him one of the most enjoyable characters that I could read about.  He just grew out of his cocky useless self into a person who has seen life — I don’t think I’m very much off the right track if I say that most people take decades to realize what he managed (due to the aforementioned events, which I will not write of in case it would act as a major spoiler) in a few months, years.

Aside from that, the fate of House Stark no longer seemed as tragic as it did when I first read the books — yes, they are not the luckiest people around, but the impression I got from them is that you reap what you sow (unless “We do not sow”). They are certainly the one most people can relate to easiest (which, I’d say is just as easily an irony of writing since they also present the qualities which are the hardest to emulate) but that applies most in the case of Eddard. For Robb et al., it is more a repetition of histories than anything else — in all, more sad than dramatic.

And the Night’s Watch — I did like their resolve. Made me think of some of the early Templar commanders (and wish I had my history of them with me over here). ‘The night is dark…’

Oh, and it would be injustice to not mention Lord Beric Dondarrion — a pity that he has only had around 10 seconds of screen-time up till this point in the TV show.