Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Game of Content

Long time, amiright?

It's been hard to get some lucid content that isn't just trailers or funny short videos. Ideally, the rate at which I would like to be churning out content would be equal to the speed at which it is delivered over the interwebz, but frankly there have been a whole host of things that have diverted my mind elsewhere; ideally, all these new things are great for blogger contemplation, so for the sake of getting some much needed writing exercise, I thought I would do a stream of consciousness piece that would explore some of the things that have piqued my interest, and examine some of the things that have commanded  my attention.

The NBA Finals

On paper, these Finals are joke. As if the NBA couldn't have planned it any better for their commercial viability, the Miami Heat are finally at full strength. Any way you look at the current matchups with the Dallas Mavericks, there is just no way you can completely shut the Heat down; conversely, there are several ways to derail the Mavericks (double team Dirk down to 35% shooting and make their bench beat you) and it just so happens that Miami has also one of the quickest and most athletic defenses in the league that is up to the task.

Talent wise, watching the Heat is like watching a constant highlight reel that can pretty much score without any set play, while the Mavericks is like watching a bunch of cagey veterans flip through a book of plays and then have  to get into a half court set to free up their shooters and get any sort of offense.

Yep, it's pretty much like an unfair NBA Jam game.

I'll save my breath for the ref conspiracy theories, but I have already  witnessed some blatant no-calls that were going Miami's way in Game 1. If you look at it from purely a financial "bottom line," the NBA needs the Heat to win; David Stern wants LeBron to validate himself in the wake of last Summer's PR nightmare that was "The Decision," and ascend to the rank of our generation's "Basketball Jesus." The conflict that LeBron created was good for dialogue and selling tickets, but I am sure the NBA would rather the top player of an era be as loved as MJ was (even though he was kind of a dick). Honestly, even though these Finals will be predictable, I'll still watch because the talent in tandem of Wade and James is undeniably entertaining. Also, the last living Neanderthal named "Dirk" can shoot the "J," y'all!

Dirk shoot ball! Dirk happy!

My Dog has a Facebook!

I know what you're thinking : I claim to have no time to write, yet I created a Facebook Account for my dog? It was a dare turned fun little exercise, as trying to picture how "Gus" views the world has been an legitimate time-killer.

I am sure if everyone who owned a pet tried to analyze and synthesize each of their individual quirks, you would come to find that these creatures that live with us actually have quite robust personalities. My dog Gus, for instance, is mortally terrified of grates and sewer drains, and I can't for the life of me figure out why. The phobia  has gotten worse with age, yet he has never had a traumatic experience that would lend itself to the aversion or his behavior; hell, my parents' beagle/retriever dog is probably the smartest animal I know, and she has had a myriad of traumatic sprays to the face from skunks and never put 2 and 2 together that she probably shouldn't go sniffing that creature's ass.

It's funny, because while the fear Gus developed of vortexes he can't see into is completely instinctively rational, the behavior he exhibits is a little loopy : if I were on a normal sized residential street walking down the center, and there was a sewer drainage ditch to my right twenty feet away, and I took one step toward that ditch while he is on the leash, you would think that I suddenly was dragging him toward a pit of vipers the speed at which he puts the breaks on; he will desperately  run the other direction. However, if I were going down the middle of the street, and I released Gus from his leash while the ditch was in sight, he would actually run right over to it and stick his whole damn head down the hole sniffing and examining it. Clearly, the rationale is: human + leash + hole = puppy spelunking.

Nope, you're right Gus. Fuck that.

Meh, the kid's cute - so I put up with it.

One Series to Rule Them All

Back in April, I explored how awesome the existence of HBO's Game of Thrones  was, and how far fantasy as a genre had come that it could get such a big budget, hard-R adaptation. Having not read a lick of the novels the show was based on, I noticed several initial similarities that seem to be pervasive through almost all the popular modern fantasy series of the last 20 years, similarities to me that had become trite and predictable, and I hoped that this series would not follow a similar arc.

Crises fucking averted.

Three weeks ago I started George R.R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice series. Three weeks later, I am 3500 pages into the series, having finished  A Game of Thrones , A Clash of Kings , A Storm of Swords, and am currently blazing through A Feast for Crows - and finally officially at only the midpoint of Martin's epic.

Listen, I know many of you will only watch the show, so I will not spoil anything. I was peeved a few weeks back when it seemed that the show was vaulting ahead on some plot points faster than I could read, and was already spoiling material I hadn't gotten to in the books; now I am comfortably in a place where I can enjoy both the show and the books for what they are. I can only hope the show stays alive to do the major plot developments and characterizations justice (so far so good on that front), because everyone is in for an amazing treat (if I did a 1:1 comparison on how much ground the show covers in a week in relation to the books, I am at about episode 37).

Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice  is the series that shatters the fantasy paradigm established by The Lord of the Rings and the clones that followed. In Tolkien's LOTR, there is black and white - good and evil - with very few shades of grey in between. The bad guys are literal monsters, while the good guys are human or some dwarf or elf variation. It's probably shouldn't be a shock that one of the most memorable and deepest characters is the one that also diverts from the black and white formula s so prevalent in the series (and also happens to be literally grey) : Gollum. There are subplots to be sure, but it all serves to feed back into main story and theme. Yet, the language and history have always been the deepest, the characters the coolest, and the battles were epic.

For years, trudging through fantasy post-LOTR has been like reading lesser variations of Tolkien's masterpiece. No one really attempted to break away from the norm (save for introducing sex) that there exists Good and Evil, and the hero could be altruistic to a fault but still end up triumphing. Why? The stories were easy to churn out and accessible, the characters familiar and identifiable, but the plots became rote and predictable.

Then came A Song of Fire and Ice in the  90's. George R.R. Martin's initial novel, A Game of Thrones , was lauded by everyone in the business as a literary masterwork and technical achievement, yet it never reached best seller status until it was announced in 2008 that HBO would be adapting it. Not only have the four books that have been released since then (released 4-6 years apart from each other) achieved multiple literary awards, but inside the jacket of each book exists paragraph after paragraph of only the highest praise from the best-selling fantasy writers of our time. If you read between the lines of their praise, you would understand that THIS  was the series they wish they were capable of.

Again, how could something of this magnitude that insiders were raving about not achieve commercial success until the brilliant minds of HBO declared it worthy of throwing down damn near sixty million dollars?

Because it's a once in a lifetime genre-busting game changer. Everything that was comfortably established by Tolkien is gone. In A Song of Fire and Ice , the characters aren't easily identifiable - there IS no black and white, because only the grey can survive in this world. These characters are real  people with real motivations and very adult cravings acting as if they would have existed in a historical medieval setting where there just so happens to also exist fantasy elements;  Martin based the idea of the series on the historical machinations of the ruling families during the War of the Roses, and as a result the plot is probably the richest account of political intrigue in the entirety of the genre, one that at times is Shakespearean in its level of tragedy. 

In the fantasy world of the Seven Kingdoms, Westeros, there are no magic bullets or plot devices to save our heroes and defeat the perceived evil; you play the "game of thrones" or you die. Ancient family Houses position and reposition themselves with Machiavellian plots that are so complex that at any one time there could be up to 15 individual characters with their own motivations who are affecting the progression of the story. As kings fall, the lines of family succession and codes of conduct and morality are so complex that each novel comes with an almost 70 page appendix of names and descriptions of the Houses "Great and Small" and everything in between.

But wait, isn't this a fantasy novel? 3500 pages into the series and just now are some of the traditional threads of fantasy being woven in, albeit with sublime subtlety. Even if you are watching the show, there is nothing really overtly magical  happening. At the point I am at, there are so many characters who follow so many schisms of religions, one could guess that the gods are as diverse and morally grey as the characters that worship them; hell they too even could even be playing a "game of thrones" themselves. This fantasy elements are not forced, nor does they need to be to hold our attention - it is the richness and diversity of the characters who may emerge to the forefront, only to recede or die shockingly.

This is very much an adult series in every sense of the word (sexy wenches!), and readers are quick to learn that established characters' fates are highly unpredictable. Though the series seems on the surface to be about a few powerful people and families, Martin changes the script and establishes early on in the novels that it's not only kings that decide the fate of man, but also seemingly lesser individuals whose actions may have consequences that create ripples throughout the giant world they live in. What higher praise could be said of a story but that it captures the vulnerability of men and women, both great and small; they all may die, while those who live change. Through it all, the characters have life .

For all the political intrigue, I will say that my favorite story follows that of the Stark bastard Jon Snow and his snow-white direwolf "Ghost."  I won't say too much, but his position on the Wall guarding the north removes his character from the game of thrones that happens far to the south. If I would venture a guess, I would say that Snow has to also be Martin's favorite character to write about, as his adventures with Ghost follow a more traditional fantasy model, and Jon himself is in the vein of an archetypical fantasy hero. I have already learned to stop trying to predict the fates of characters as the series is far from over, but the stakes that exist for Jon are a little higher than winning a throne. There is a Helms Deep moment on the Wall that I will look forward to seeing on any screen.

Jon Snow = win!

I should be finishing up A Feast For Crows  just in time for the release of A Dance With Dragons  which comes out in June. Hopefully, I won't have to wait 6 years like some people for the next book, as I hope George R.R. Martin has a Stephen King like crises of mortality Dark Tower moment and churn out the two remaining chapters sooner rather than later.

Don't die on me, bro!

As the show concludes book 1, I will go over some important questions that the viewers should be asking themsleves.

In the future

After my upcoming  one-year anniversary with my lovely wife, I am hoping to catch up on some more writing. Look forward to a Bridesmaids Vs. Hangover  piece, an X-Men review, and some coverage and contemplation on what is to be revealed at the videogame expo, E3. Right now, I am going to go devour another 500 pages of A Feast for Crows  and wait on bated breath for it's follow up.

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