Medieval Medley: First thoughts about The Wheel of Time, adaptations, and related stuff that I don’t want to write about separately (Part 1 because this is getting late and long)

All right, what to talk about tonight? Since I really haven’t dug back into Substack this holiday week, I might as well talk about what I have had on my mind, and most of that had centered around my growing interest in fantasy fiction. So, let’s dance around that for a while.

A Reading List

I probably mentioned it before, but before diving in to this bigger fantasy project, I’ve been taking a deeper dive into some of the fantasy I had read as a kid and getting into some books I thought were long overdue. I reread The High King by Lloyd Alexander (which held up far better than my middle-school memories had recalled) and started diving into The Lord of The Rings. Of the latter series, I’ve been pretty impressed, but I got started on it back when schools closed down back in the spring of last year. Sadly, I’ve been stuck somewhere in Part Two of The Fellowship of The Ring and always don’t find time to continue that. I even started to to a video review of it, but it’s been a long time since I posted one of those. I’m wondering if I can take those reviews, turn them into audio files, and convert them into this thing that right now is more of an experiment than a podcast.

One of the things I’m finding out about myself is that I find it tough to multitask, especially when I’m trying to fit in a full-time job on top of things.

Anyway, back to books. Over the past year, I’ve been casting around for another series to dive into, something more than my dips into Tolkien, GRRM, and Alexander. On the Reddit boards and some other places where books and fantasy were spoken of, I kept hearing about a massive fantasy series that seemed to loom over nearly everything else out there. It came up far too often for me to be a coincidence, or something that could just be ignored. That was the series The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.

The Wheel of Time

I’m going to be honest with you, I had no idea about this series, really, until last year. I had no idea until last month that they were planning to filming a television adaptation of the series.

For those not aware of such things, writing fantasy can be more than a little bit of a time commitment. As it turns out, Robert Jordan (real name James Oliver Rigney Jr.) had been planning this little tale for a while. He began planning and sketching out the series in 1984, back when I was still in elementary school. He actually published the first book Eye of the World (well, I guess his publishing company did that) in 1990. That was when I was in high school. By the time he died in 2007, after publishing 11 books and a prequel for just that series along, I was well into my 30’s and the father of two elementary kids. He spent time on his death bed getting things ready for another author, Brandon Sanderson, to continue on with the series. Jordan was thinking that it was going to be one more book to wrap up this epic story. That book expanded into three books and took Sanderson about five years to get done. But it did get done, 14 volumes of 4.4 million words, more than any other mainstream fantasy series out there at the moment.

As you can tell, fantasy can be a bit of a time sink.

That’s to be expected, honestly. You have to build a world, decide what past societies and cultures might be an influence, construct the very shape of your physical setting, design such things as magical systems, religions, and perhaps whole new species of beings. There’s all of that, and you have to build all of the regular stuff like characters, plots, themes, and all the like. It’s quite like science fiction in that way, actually.

So, on top of trying to dip my toe into self-publishing, figuring out how to reach out to prospective audiences, and all these other items, along with actually continuing to write fiction and this blog, I’m now going to try and fit this obsession into my life.

Like with Jordan’s work, this might take a while.

Sooo, this is my status as of now. I have purchased the e-book version of Eye of the World. (There’s no way I’d be able to fit in even 14 paperbacks in what I have for book storage.) It turns out my family already has Amazon Prime, so I’ve got access to the new television series as well.

As a result, I might start talking about my impressions of the book and the series, and get into a little bit about how I consume the books and television that I like. It might not exactly be a review, it might be more than a blog, and like the whole Wheel of Time series, it might take a little while to get through. The subject of spoilers might come up as well.

Anyway, that’s where I’m going to leave it for now. We’ll pick this up again soon. Take care, everyone.

Lord of the Rings Review: Chapters 5-7

I forgot to mention that I’m finally continuing my Lord of the Rings reviews. I realized that I needed to just read through them as quickly as I normally do and save the deep analysis for rereads. I remember it took me my 10th reread of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy before I even started comprehending all of the jokes.

Anyway, the review is here. Enjoy.

Lord of the Rings Chapter 1 and 2 review

Hi, everyone,

 

So, I decided to start a review/reaction for my first ever reading of Lord of the Rings. I’ve gotten through Chapters 1 and 2 and decided to do a video reaction to it on my Facebook author’s page, since my WordPress account doesn’t allow video hosting. Give it a look if you want.

 

Click here to see the review.

 

 

On Game of Thrones

OK, that was a ride, wasn’t it?

It’s been a couple of weeks since Game Of Thrones ended and I’m still not really over it. There have been arguments all across the Internets about whether the entire series is a failure or success based on the final season (or, in the case of some viewers, seasons 6-8 when the D&D team (I’m too fracking lazy to look up the full names of the Game Of Thrones showrunners) ran out of sweet sweet George R.R. Martin material to adapt).

In reviewing their concerns, they have laid their complaints squarely at the feet of the writing of D&D, and not anyone else involved with the production. There are at least a few brave souls online (mostly in the r/gameofthrones section of Reddit) that are attempting a straight-faced defense of Season 8 as a massive success in closing out one of the best series in TV history. And, there are a few people who are just online for the memes and fun (the r/freefolk section of Reddit).

For a couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to wrestle with how I feel about the series as a whole and Season 8 in particular. I’m in the (not surprising) position of wanting to argue a point but not to the degree that I have to put a massive amount of effort and research into the piece. (I’m just here to talk fantasy and writing, tbh, I’m not trying to put together the ultimate think-piece on GOT. If someone wants that, they can easily go to The Onion A.V. Club or i09 or Tor or wherever else they geek out about fantasy.)

What I am here to do is to talk about writing, which I personally agree with most of the commentators was the main problem with Season 8. However, if I’m going to label this series anything, the two words I would use to describe it would be: Flawed Masterpiece.

There’s so many aspects of this series that worked superbly throughout its entire run. The production design for GOT was never less than stellar. It always created a specific sense of place and culture, no matter where the action was. It did a great job of suggesting distinct cultures that were inspired by real-life culture but never exact copies of them – in fact, most of the time they would up being glorious remixes. The same goes for the costume, prop, and makeup departments.

The direction and cinematography of the series (notwithstanding Season 8 Episode 3’s darkness) were always top-notch. I loved how the action sequences were framed up and constructed from the beginning of the series to the end. Also, any stunt crew that can set records for longest combat action sequence on film and the most people on fire in a single shot are top of the line in my eyes.

Then there was the acting. Holy buckets, the acting was aces from the very first episode to the last. There were many different actors that had been there and done that (Sean Benn, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage) and some veteran actors I’d never heard of (Iain Glenn, Charles Dance). Everyone proved why they were top of the line. There was great young talent (Kit Harrington, Emilia Clarke, Alfie Allen, Richard Madden) that the producers took a chance on and they carried the show on their backs. (I have no idea how this season would have gone if Emilia hadn’t leveled up on her acting skills and sold her entire arc.) Then there were the kids, Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner chief among them, who grew up on set and I know are going to be the next biggest actors to have both superb child and adult acting careers (Roddy McDowell, Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, Kurt Russell, Jodie Foster, Drew Barrymore, and Ethan Hawke* among many others).

No, for me, if there were flaws in this series, it came down to the writing. And trust me, I know about flaws in writing. I make enough of them to be sure.

I don’t want to speculate about the reasons for the abbreviated seasons. People say D&D wanted to get it over with so they could start working on the Star Wars franchise, not that I’m probably going to watch anything regarding that except for maybe Episode IX. To be honest, I think the cast and crew could have easily been the ones saying they wanted to wrap it up after all that time on the job. The impression I got from the actor interviews was of a cast that both didn’t want to end things and yet felt it was getting to be time for the end.

So, let’s get into each of the episodes. I’ll spend more time on some than the others, but there’ll be something about them all and some side conversations as well.

  • S8E1 – I thought this was an acceptable intro to the rest of the season. It effectively showed the tensions between the Dragon Queen and her army and her new northern allies. Plenty of good reunions all around (especially those involving Arya), and the scene at Last Hearth was spooky as hell.
    The thing that bothered me on the rewatch – I got the sense that with the dragons flying over Winterfell for the first time, that Dany’s prideful reaction is intended to show how she seems to be overly enamored of showing her strength and just expecting people to follow her.
    Unlike many people, I was not opposed to the Mad Queen scenario. I could absolutely see Dany feeling entitled to wear the crown of Westeros because it was her destiny to do that, it was her destiny to free all of the peoples of the world. But they needed to do better planning for that. Yeah, I saw the hints looking back at the different instances where she was a cold-blooded killer. But they needed to do better prep for that, man. At minimum, they needed to tell Emilia what was up long before the final season. She did everything she could to sell this last season, and I honestly think she grew several levels as an actor as a result of that, but it would have been so much better to let her in on the action when you know it’s happening, you know that it’s going to be part of GRRM’s endgame.
    Just compare springing this on Emilia to what happened with Alan Rickman and the Harry Potter series. They let him in on what was happening from the beginning and it informed his performance throughout the entire series; it added so much weight to what eventually happened.
    (OK, I had to take a break and watch the “Always” scene in the Deathly Hallows 2 film and start crying at the heaviness of all of it. I DON’T CARE. There, now.)
  • S8E2: easily among the top five episodes in the series, bar none. Where do I even start? The home truths between Jaime and Bran, Jaime and Tyrion, Jaime and Brianne? Gendrya happening in a way that felt right? Everyone contemplating death? And the big reveal between Jon and Dany? Absolutely perfect.
  • S8E3: OK, not too much to pick apart here. I can see the Dothraki making a suicidal charge into the Army of the Dead. It doesn’t make sense for the soldiers to be in front of the barricades keeping the wights out of Winterfell. Also, I have no idea why the catapults were stationed outside the castle rather than inside. (My father has no military experience whatsoever, but even he wondered what the hell was going on.) And honestly, it would have made sense for the NK to take down Rhaegal during this episode rather than having some random Ironborn scorpions do the job (see S8E4).
    The rest of it, however, made sense, and I will always be a fan of Arya being the one that kills the Night King and passing into legend.
    I admit Jon screaming at the dragon was pretty silly.
  • S8E4: This is a contradiction of an episode. It is both possibly the worst episode of the series, and yet contains some of the best scenes.
    Good parts: The opening sequence of the funeral for all of the dead. Man, Kit killed that speech at the beginning, didn’t he? The reactions of all of the actors was spot on. Also, the feast that night was the bomb, wasn’t it? I didn’t realize how much Northerners of all types loved drinking and cutting loose.
    Bad Parts: Where do I fracking start?

    • The whole reveal of Jon’s identity with his family. Yeah, I get that you didn’t want him to repeat his story a half dozen times, but don’t you think how his sisters and brother take this is important in establishing his relations with them going forward? At the bare minimum?
    • The Arya brushoff was handled totally wrong. I think I should be able to correct that in my epilogue for the series, and I am going to consider that cannon from here on out; no one else is going to consider that otherwise.
    • Rhaegal’s death from random scorpion fire (see S8E3).
    • The Jaime/Brianne brushoff. I can perfectly see why Jaime would want to do this, and I’m not of the opinion that his decision “ruined his redemption arc.” I’ve heard enough stories about addicts to know that not every one of them redeems themselves. In the end, Jaime was a flawed man who could rise to the occasion when absolutely necessary but in the end fell into his old addiction (in his case, Cersei). Just a few additional lines of dialogue would have been sufficient to show the conflict Jaime had between his love for two different women.
  • S8E5: I loved the action in this episode and it worked out far better than what I feared it was going to be. (Full disclosure: I was pouring over spoilers for this series from the beginning. Some people hate spoilers with the power of a thousand suns; I am all for them.) My complaints for this episode:
    • Again, the problem with the Mad Queen situation. I am OK with what happened, but they needed to make it slightly clearer that they were going this route from the beginning of the series, at least more clear than they did before. (See the S8E1 complaints.) Despite everything, Clarke totally sold this transformation and I think it will help her grow as an actor.
    • The Jaime/Euron meeting was trash. (Also, D&D really junked Euron’s character; I felt so bad for the actor playing him.) I think a fight could have taken place, but not the way it did. I could picture Jaime and Euron clashing after they both sneaked into the Red Keep trying to find Cersei.
    • The rest of it, I didn’t have a problem with.
  • S8E6: The ending worked better than I expected. Kit and Emilia really pulled off her death scene well. I thought the fates of the other characters made sense. I had no problem with Bran becoming king – again, this should have been developed more (along with his powers and what he was doing as the 3ER, as well). There were some hints about this in the series, but the idea wasn’t developed as much as it could have been.
    (For those who are hoping that GRRM’s books will change the characters’ fates significantly, bury those thoughts in your backyard or garden. D&D are working from Martin’s outline and his desired ending. Hopefully he’ll develop those plots more thoroughly.)
  • The things that didn’t work for me:
    • I’m fine with Arya going exploring, but it doesn’t make sense for someone who believes in family so much to act like she’s never going to see her family again. Just adding something like “I’ll see you once I find out what’s west of Westeros” would have done the trick. Sansa agreeing to help her out (with a ship) would have filled in a couple of gaps.
    • The ever changing size of the Unsullied and the Dothraki drove me up the fracking wall. Did they all get killed off or NOT? If this would have stayed consistent, it would have solved one of the biggest plot holes in the entire episode – why the Unsullied and Dothraki were so willing to go along with the decision of the Westerosi council.
    • How it should have gone would be like this: The Battle of the Long Night reduces the effective force of Dany’s army severely. Let’s say there were less than 500 Unsullied left and maybe 1-2,000 Dothraki around. (Of course there might be more Dothraki left in Essos, but they wouldn’t come into play). If this force is surrounded by, say, a 30,000-50,000 person army of bannermen from throughout Westeros, the threat of destruction becomes very real. Now, the Dothraki might still want to take everyone on due to their blood oaths to their queen, but I can easily see Grey Worm stopping them because he wants to at least survive and keep his promise to protect Narth. This scenario would have made much more sense.
    • I personally believe that Sansa, Tyrion, and all of the Westerosi lords were gaslighting GW by saying Jon was going to the Night’s Watch when he was really going to go beyond the wall. This need to be made clear because the way it was laid out in the episode was the height of stupidity.
      Why does Westeros still need a NW when there’s no more Night King and the North are friends with the Freefolk? If it’s more of a general force to serve the whole realm (such as the French Foreign Legion), wouldn’t they have NW garrisons throughout Westeros (except for those sentenced to the NW; they could be sent to the Wall).
      Once this was clear, all they would have to do would be to slip in another statement or two during Season 8 from Jon along the lines of “Oh, in many ways I wish I was north of the wall instead of here; things were so much simpler then.” Then, during Tyrion’s last conversation with Jon, after he discussed sending him to the Night’s Watch, he could have added, “…so that’s what’s going to happen to you as far as everyone’s concerned. But we’ve got another plan instead…”
    • Not even giving the Dorne guy a name? Seriously?
    • Not even a look between Arya and Gendry in that last episode when they were on the same platform?
    • Queen Yara needed to remind Bran of the promise Dany had made to her that the Iron Islands would be independent. He could still do that and claim to be ruler of the Six Kingdoms. Come on, a promise is a promise.

In the end, I think the screenwriters/showrunners collided with some Writing Fiction 101 no-nos that could have been easily avoided. They include:

  • If your plot only works because your characters are too stupid to figure out better plans or courses of action, then your story is going to run off the rails and destroy any suspension of belief that you might have. It’s OK for some characters to be that stupid, but it’s infuriating for an audience to see characters of reasonable intelligence or even high intelligence wind up doing dumb and dumber things. This is related to the next problem.
  • You need to have characters take actions and demonstrate behaviors that are consistent with who they are. It takes time and craftsmanship to create those characters and their identities. You can’t have characters suddenly take actions that don’t make sense to them. That kills off the ability for readers or viewers to believe in the action, and it’s an insult to characters that they have invested themselves in.

So, that was my very basic, bare-bones assessment of Game Of Thrones. I have no idea whether I will watch any of the prequels/sequels that will come out, but I will always recommend the series to others, I will root for the GOT actors in all of their future endeavors, and I will always appreciate it for reaffirming my love for fantasy writing.

*Ethan Hawke is the greatest actor of my generation (Generation X). Try and prove me wrong (protip: you can’t).

Hello From The Road

Yeah, I promised I would be working on things – now I know what George R.R. Martin feels like. 🤣

I was on the road today to visit the new community my wife is going to be living in and where I’ll be moving to in a year or so. So, I thought that since I had some time sitting in the car, I’d let you know what’s been going on.

Although I haven’t done much on my upcoming projects, I have been writing – quite a lot, actually. I’ve talked before about my Game Of Thrones addiction; now, I’ve been busy on writing an epilogue to the series that, to me, wraps it up in a way that’s generally satisfying (in several ways) to the series and in my mind makes it canon.

I’ve been writing this thing for the past several days. I’m now over 8,000 words into it and I’m not nearly done.

😬 Yeah, that’s not what I expected, either. 🤷🏻‍♂️

I learn more about writing every time I do this. This week I’ve learned about true writing motivation. For the past week, I’ve been tapping on my cell phone writing something that I have no expectation or plan to make money on at all. (Plus, it would be a massive copyright © violation if I did.) I didn’t do it to prove anything to anyone, or as some sort of protest for how the last season worked out. I wrote it as s way to work out how I did feel about the series and the characters I fell in love with. I wrote it because writing that made more sense than worrying about any of the stupid things in life that can get you down for no reason.

Anyone who tells you that writing is just a profession is either a liar or delusional. If you’re serious about writing, it is a way of life. Money is an important thing, you know that you are a writer when you are so compelled to tell a story you can’t not do it. That was my lesson this week.

BLATANT SELF-PROMOTION HERE

Speaking of writing and talking about it, this is just one last reminder that I’ll be at the Rock Island (Illinois) Public Library at 2 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday) giving a book talk about my book, The Holy Fool: A Journalist’s Revolt, as well as a few things about my life as a writer. Here’s the event announcement if you want to see it. You know I truly care about this event because I’ll be missing the first part of the UEFA Champions League Final featuring my English Premier League team, Liverpool FC. I might have to run to the nearest sports bar to catch the rest of it.

BLATANT SELF-PROMOTION ENDS

As for the rest of my weekend not having to do with promotion, football, or life changes, I need to finish at least two book reviews for people and get active on my Goodreads doing reviews there. I’ll probably wind up posting some of those reviews on here, as well.

Coming up will be the regular weekly journal report on Sunday, and my Game Of Thrones reaction (as well as that epilogue I’ve been writing) maybe by the middle of next week. See you then.

Regarding How to Read and Consume E-books: Like I Have A Clue

It appears likely that I will be the author of at least one book, maybe more, that will be available in an e-book edition. As a result, I started considering how I should consume said e-books, because I’m not really doing that right now.

I was going to make this an in-depth study of e-book readers and formats, but guess what, I didn’t make the time to go ahead and research any platforms that I could use to read them. Instead, I decided to make this a quick piece about my (very brief) history with ebooks and the pros and cons I have with them.

Either my wife or my mom got my an ebook device who knows when from who knows what company. After a few years of sitting on my desk at home, I wound up stowing it in the big plastic tub where I store all of my old electronic stuff I no longer use but might remotely have a possible use for later. (All the kids out there, mine included: Don’t buy a lot of stuff. After a couple of decades at least half of it is going to either be in storage or cluttered junk, and you won’t remember most of it, anyway. Save your money and go on vacations instead.)

So, I’ll just list my pros and cons for each media, and let the chips fall where they will.

The Wood Books (just books)

Pros:

  • I can pick them up and read them anytime anywhere, except in the rain (naturally) or the dark.
  • No loading times.
  • Can be a nice decorating touch for a home office or library.
  • A pretty straightforward gift for people.

Cons

  • Heavy as hell and inconvenient to pack up and move.
  • Take up too much space once you get a whole bunch of them.
    • I might have mentioned before that I’ve had to get ruthless at culling my current collection, and I probably haven’t been as ruthless as I’ve needed to be.

The Metal and Plastic Books (ebooks)

Pros

  • Easy storage.
  • You can get a bunch of them and not break any of your shelves.
  • Portability is pretty nice, too.

Cons

  • No power, no reading.
  • Difficult to figure out all of the ins and outs of the programs.
  • Different formats – why can’t I buy one ebook and have it read on different platforms?
    • If any readers know if this is possible, let me know in the comments.

Well, regardless, I’m going to take another dive into this brave new world and see what is up with it. Wish me luck, and I’ll write more later.

 

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A Writer’s Biography, Volume I, Part 7: The Old Library

Yesterday was the last day that I checked out books from the library of my childhood.

 

It’s not like my community (Muscatine, Iowa) is losing a library, like too many others have in this country and others. In about two weeks, the current location you see above will be closed for four weeks. That’s why I decided to stock up while the getting is good – and got all of my library fines forgiven, as well! Classy move from the librarians. (I admit I am an inveterate book hoarder who has been fined by libraries in four different Iowa counties.)

Afterwards, the Musser Public Library will reopen as the HNI Community Center and Musser Public Library. (HNI makes stuff like office furniture, so if you work in a cubicle you might be sitting on or working on something they made.) This is what it’s going to look like:

HNI Musser Public Library

I mean, it looks classy, at least. HNI had an old headquarters building that was just sitting around and said why not let the city have it, since the older place was getting a bit run down. Here’s some info on the project if that kind of thing interests you.

I think there were things like roof issues, foundation issues, and some other things that required the old place to get retired. They first built the library that I used nearly 50 years ago. I mean, it looks ultramodern and slick from the outside, but it was built in the past century… like me.

Musser isn’t like a nickname for Muscatine or anything – it was the name of one of the old families here in town beginning in the 19th century that were some of the first to make some money – I think in the lumber business. The original library, build around the start of the 20th century, looked like this:

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If I went to libraries in Illinois and Texas when I was a young child, I do not remember them. I remember the first school library I had at Grant Elementary, a modest room overlooking the parking lot where I first started sorting for books. Central Middle School had a third-floor library, tucked away from everywhere else. I managed to plow through all the books they had of interest before I left.

The library of Muscatine High School, where I spent four years, was an ultra-funky layout that spoke to the building’s 1970’s origins. It was and is located in the center of the main building, on a mezzanine level between the ground and second floors. Back in the days when I went to school there, the sides of the library were open to the walkways of the ground floor below. A few years after I had graduated. apparently some students had thrown some smoke bombs from the library down below into those walkways to cause some consternation among the faculty. Well before the time I returned to the high school as a substitute teacher, they had walled off those open areas with paneling to prevent that from happening again.

However, it was the Musser Public Library that soon became my home. It’s a little difficult for me to recall how I first started getting there. I have to assume that my parents were willing to take me there as a child, to drive me there. After all, the location was catty-corner from the building where my engineer father spent the vast majority of his professional life as an engineer.

What I remember about those times, both before and after I started hauling myself to the library on a moped and then in a car, was how every topic I wanted to read about was there, open for me, at the library. That was where I was able to indulge my love of Stephen King, and, years later, Richard Laymon. I started learning about how good biographies could be, and how a book about building a castle could keep my attention until it had finished explaining how such a structure could be built. That’s where I learned about tourism guides and how they could become useful tools in my research. I believe that’s also where I learned about young adult writers like Julian F. Thompson, on Koertge, Paul Zindel, and others. I also got into Michael and Jeff Shaara and more historical fiction than I could shake a stick at.

I also remember the big comfy chairs, either over on the side or in the new additions area, where I hunkered down and started reading stuff. I would spend hours there, and had to make sure that I had enough quarters there to feed the meters or I would have to pay paring as well as book fines. (That didn’t always work out.)

That library was one of the main influences on wanting to write. I wanted to see if I could create something that could sit on the shelves along with all of the other works. I still might manage that.