Category Archives: bookology

Dancing the Dance with Dragons – A Song of Ice and Fire Review

I finished the last instalment of the Song of Ice and Fire Series A Dance with Dragons just the other day and try to benefit from all the events still lingering fresh in my mind. So I’m about to review it to you, if you want it or not. And in case you didn’t know if you wanted it (or not): You do. Of course.

via wikipedia.org

I have mentioned it briefly in my last review of A Feast for Crows: both books were initially intended as one that should have been named A Dance with Dragons, but George R.R. Martin not only found that his concept of starting book 4 with a shift to 5 years later in story time not working to his liking, he also figured the whole thing would be way too long for only one novel. So he split them. Taking 500 pages of the manuscript he promised to deliver book 5 within a year (of 2005) and turns out he didn’t, it took him ‘til fall 2011 until A Dance with Dragons finally was published and fans were not only anticipating but also afraid – afraid of yet another series never coming to an end, especially in the light of the death of James Rigney a.k.a. Robert Jordan who left his epic fantasy series Wheel of Time unfinished, so that now another author (Brandon Sanderson) has to finish it.

This review is intended as a post-reading review. My intention with it is not to make you curious and get you to read it. I expect you have read it and know what is happening in the novel, so if not: MAJOR SPOILER ALERT. Because I will talk about the shit that goes down and might spoil the experience for you if you have not yet arrived at the last page of it.

via iO9.com

The things I L.O.V.E.D. about it:

The House of Black and White/The Faceless Men
It is indeed a creepy concept to keep the faces of dead people who came to your temple to take their last breath as leather masks, but my oh my, how awesome is this concept at the same time, and how wickedly cool is that temple? I mean, how ridiculously open-minded must a society be to accept a temple in their midst where people can go, drink from a pool full of poisoned water, crawl into some little niche below the statue/whatever symbol of their god of choice and DIE? Ah-mah-zing!!
And to be sure, that is some crazy magic going on right there. There is always the debate around Song of Ice and Fire, if there is too little magic, just the right amount, increasing levels of magic, yadda yadda, prevalent in the books, but this one clearly makes its case for all sorts of magic being permissible within Martin’s fictional universe. Put on the face and it is yours, but beware, so are the memories of the previous face owner. Ouch.
And all them chapters in the House of Black and White inevitably lead to one question: What will become of Arya? I feel like I’m not alone in always having kinda counted on Arya becoming this under-dog super-heroine who’s going to kick major ass and become queen of Westeros or at least Warden of the North in Winterfell or something. But with the path she is on, she could just as well become a master assassin who lost her identity and shifts through the world, looking for a purpose. Which also: Ouch.

Quentyn Martell’s journey
While the Martell saga leaves me kinda cold, so does the character of Quentyn Martell. And actually the whole story of crossing the sea and losing all the friends and how loyal those friends stay and finally making it to Daenerys etc. BUT what I absolutely and unconditionally love about it though is how it ends. This total subversion of the usual hero trope: Him dying a gruesome death. And for his own mistake really, cause just like über-confident princelings usually go, he thinks “yeah, some blood of the dragon, this might work just fine…” and BURN. He does. Where in other stories you’d expect him to come out next chapter walking a dragon on a leash, because whoa! surprise, it actually did work and his princeling-super-qualities kicked in, this story does tell you to suck it, ‘cause the hell no.

Barristan Selmy
His newly introduced POV was a nice insight into the developments around Daenerys’ character, and might I add, even more interesting than Daenerys’ own POV. I love how we get to have a glimpse on Mereen and the undercurrents of Mereenese court life from his perspective and some reality checking on what Daenerys does and thinks and says and what her role in Mereen really is. And of course he totally kicks ass. Duh.

Reek
So, Theon Greyjoy is back. And boy is he. Or rather not. Cause he is transformed into this other being, humble, shy, submissive thanks to the wonders of … flaying. It is cruel and horrible and I feel for him, but it’s also a damn cool storyline and one that creeps me out. Fascinated by the quasi love-affair between him and Ramsay in this sado-masochistic relationship where obviously Ramsay has much more need of Theon than Theon of him. Without both of them realizing it.
And I like how deep the submission goes, how deep it has been ingrained into his personality. Crazypants. I also really enjoy to read about his altered appearance thanks to the wonders of torture and general shit happening, right down to his pain when eating because of the smashed teeth. Not because that is what I wish for his character (which I don’t) but because it gives the whole narrative so much more realism than to have him just be a little submissive, get rescued and become a shining prince (he never actually was) again. Does not = me likes.

The snowstorm halting Stannis’ march on Winterfell
While it also makes the plotline come to a halt, the snowstorm chapters are interesting because all of a sudden what seemed to be a series of triumphs for Stannis becomes something that looks like his looming defeat. And by the end of the book, well, it seems he was defeated after all (by the Boltons, yuck) although I don’t buy it and rather think that Ramsey just made that up. However, I think we can all agree, that nobody expects Stannis to survive through to the end of the series and actually make it as the king of Westeros. Sorry, dear, but that just ain’t gon’ happen.

Tyrion’s journey to Volantis
Tyrion in general is of course a grand character, because he’s fun and sharp and such an underdog to root for that it’s not even funny anymore, but in this book I wasn’t entirely feeling all his chapters. The first ones though, especially the passage from Magister Illyrio’s house to Volantis was neat. Like extra neat. Because instead of focusing on what the actions and interactions of the characters in these novels are, it gave some more depth to the world the narrative takes place in. All with a historical sightseeing tour, some thoughts on illness and superstition and the revelation that not all stories fed to kingdoms in the west actually are true, especially when it comes to baby heirs to thrones. This was a neat little journey.

The return of Varys the Spider
Because: duh.

via thewertzone.blogspot.com

Things that I am CONFLICTED about:

Jon Snow is dead
That came as a tremendous shock and I must say … I liked that. I liked what it did to me as a reader and I liked how it grounded the story in reality again, because I did not believe the other guys on the Night’s Watch would put up with his plans. So they stab him and I am shocked and all. But then again, the whole thing feels stale, because it seems very certain that he is going to come back. Either Melisandre will breathe life into him again à la Thoros to Dondarrion or Dondarrion to Catelyn. Or she will do the burn-healing thing like Morroq for Victarion. Or he will continue his existence warg-style in Ghost’s body. Or become a zombie like being like the cold man who escorted Bran to the Three Eyed Crow. Or whatever, but I’d really rather have him stay dead.

Cersei
I wanted to write “Cersei Redeemed” but she is not really, is she? But good to have her back, though just like Theon, we get to enjoy a more submissive persona now. Not sure if I like it and not sure where that will take us. Frankly, the ending of Dance with Dragons kind of felt like we will not be seeing all too much of her in the future, which would be a pity, cause hate her all you want, Cersei is central to this story, and boy, is her trouble and bullshit fun to read about.

via thewertzone.blogspot.com

Things I DID NOT LIKE:

My Characters!
Yeah, an exclamation mark, y’all, cause this problem right here is really just me being all whiny and shit. I wanted more Sansa, I wanted more Sam, I wanted more Bran and I especially wanted more Brienne! But hey, we’ll eventually meet up with them again, so this complaint is really just me expressing irrational nonsense. But it needs a let-out, so, there.

Tyrion the slave
While some parts of Tyrion’s journey in the book are really awesome, others are, ermh, not so awesome. I didn’t consciously mind them, but in hindsight I realized how the whole meet-up with Jorah Mormont, the interaction with Penny, his time as a slave and his outsmarting sellswords (again) weren’t actually to my liking. I enjoy the character, and I liked parts of it (like the curiosity cabinet of Yezzan zo Qaggaz), but as a whole I am kinda dissatisfied, and I can’t even really tell you why. Maybe I hoped for another direction for his character? I guess so.

Victarion Greyjoy
Oh, the Greyjoy family. I can well deal with Asha and Reek Theon, but the rest of the lot really get on my nerves. Plus, I find that I actually don’t really care about them and their storylines and wonder why I’d be supposed to care about them. Like, what is going to be the significance of Victarion or Aeron in the grand scheme of things? My guess is: none, really. So I just kinda shrug. Oh and yes, I also do not approve of the leverage his newly healed hand gives to R’hllor.

Daenerys
Meets up with Khal Jhaqo’s Khalasar and this one is not pleased (oh btw Missandei? You fucking rule. Rule. RULE!). I was not unhappy about leaving the Dothraki and their depiction behind, not because I didn’t like them per se, but I did not like the racist imagery their portrayal feeds into, but hey, seems we’re at it again. The whole Daenerys gets kidnapped by Drogon and is lost in the wilderness thing feels a little forced. It sort of makes sense, and I appreciate what happens afterwards in Mereen, but it also seems like too convenient a plot device to get her the fuck away from Mereen and do we really have to go from queen to maybe bed-slave of a Khal again? Please no.

 

In conclusion I was very happy with A Dance with Dragons, although a few developments did not thrill me too much, but so did some in Game of Thrones and look how that has kept me from reading on and loving the shit out of this series. I also have to make honorable mentions of the names of characters who come from the East: all those Ys and Zs and Qs in their name – I just love it. Keep ’em coming.
I dread the prospect to have to wait years and years until the next instalment hits us, but hey, what can I do? Despair? An option that is, true.
Questions remain, however. Like: How much more awesome than before will Brienne be next time we meet her? How long will it take for her to become queen of the world? Will Rickon go supercrazy and slaughter everyone he knows? Will he return as a wight?
And even more pressing: What can we do to ensure that Jon Snow is really dead and remains so? When will Cersei’s crazy bitch-mode kick in full force again? How can we be happy about a novel that is centered around Arya alone and not miss Sam (or Brienne)? When will the final battle with the Others a.k.a. apocalypse finally hit us?
Maybe you have an answer, and if so, feel free to provide it in the comments.

Yes, this is the book I just read.

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Feasting on A Feast for Crows – Reviewing Book 4 of A Song of Ice and Fire

I kind of did not fulfil my promise to myself to review the Song of Ice and Fire novels shortly after reading them, because now it’s been a good few months since I read its fourth instalment A Feast for Crows and I am already well into novel no. 5. Can’t help that now but can certainly help not having a review of AFFC yet by, well, posting this very one.

via fantasyhotlist.blogspot.com

A Fest for Crows, of course also written by George R. R. Martin, is the fourth novel in the Song of Ice and Fire series and was published in 2005, after much delay and some shuffling of chapters, cause initially what is now book 5 (A Dance with Dragons) was set to be the title with the two volumes incorporated, which would have been way too long. As it stands, they are two separate books, with both of them covering some of the same in-story time, thus running parallel, although focusing on different characters in different locations.
I will stick to my drill of talking about the things that I really liked about this novel, about the things I didn’t like, about what left me going whatevs and provide some little why.
As usual, a SPOILER ALERT: I will be talking about everything that has happened until the end of this book no. 4, maybe even glimpse at events in book no. 5, so if you haven’t read them yet and intend to do so in the future I strongly recommend you to save the read of this review for later.

Really Good:

Cersei POV
I was positively surprised with the Jaime POV in the last instalment and I am ever more so positively surprised by the Cersei POV we get in this one. Plus, I’m also really digging that we now have both kinda side-to-side that give us a perfect insight into what is the deterioration of the relationship of Jaime and Cersei because a) Jaime continues to become a better person and an ever more likeable character, and b) Cersei continues to suck and it even grows worse, now for all of Westeros to see. The demise of Cersei is inevitable, but my bet is, that the big bang has yet to arrive in that plotline. I wonder if in the end there will be some insight on her part, but as of now, it is like a horrible car-crash happening in slow-motion and you just can’t look away. Painful to watch, painful to read her making up arguments as to why her actions are justified and right, but also oddly fascinating at the same time.
What I am not a super-fan of though is that apparently all the female characters have to have their share of lesbian sex and female admirers while the same is not happening at all on the male side, leaving me wondering: what in-story social conventions justify these occurrences, my answer being none, thus my suspicion being that the author gets to write out some fantasy of his. But hey, I might be wrong.

King Tommen
Oh, Tommen, you poor boy. Having to have Cersei as a mother and being king while having no clue really, but let us all just admit it: Finally, rid of Joffrey, he is kinda awesome, because he is so cute and might just become an awesome king, if there wasn’t, umh, his mother. But still, his love of putting seals on documents, his friendship with Margaery and his budding defiance of his mother: all pluses.

Lancel
Becoming all pious and shitting all over his Lordship? Sweet, actually. I can’t even really tell you why, because the whole pious/religiously-fanatic thing pisses me off story-telling wise a lot of times, but in his case it works to his favour as a character. And I respect him much more now.

Jaime
Ok, I am obviously on a Lannister roll here, but hey, we clearly cannot ignore them. Jaime continues his journey to The Side Of Awesome and restores order where he can, sees how vile and stupid Cersei is in what she does and ends a siege that was set to be a bloodshed bloodlessly. I am just speculating here, but we probably will read about more kick-ass-ness from Jaime and the future and frankly, whoda thunk that after Game of Thrones?

via thebookpeople.co.uk

Brienne
Jaime leads us of course to Brienne who continues to rule and does what Arya did before: give us eager readers insights into what it is like to live in Westeros as one of the common folk due to all her meeting-ups with guys and gals all over the riverlands, tracing the false hound (who deserves honourable mentions for extra-creepiness and appalling levels of violence) and connecting to people she’d never thought she had to and would connect with, which is, I guess, an ongoing theme now in Ms. Tarth’s life, and for the better. She also meets up with Catelyn again and that obviously does not go so well, but I guess it’s safe to say that the final verdict on her POV has not been spoken and we are probably all right in suspecting that she will be the one to get Lady Stoneheart back on the right track again.

The Tyrell’s at court
Well, Loras kinda sucks, but let us all see how his near-fatal wound plays out. But my oh my, Margaery? Gurrl is finger-snapping in Cersei’s face with every move she makes and does so very cleverly and skilled. Obviously, she has had some good teaching from her grandmother, but I am really liking the direction this is going. Busting Cersei’s ass and having her imprisoned by the Faith? Oh no she didn’t!

Arya
Reminiscent of Jaquen H’qar Arya enters the House of Black and White and dude, does that place seem to be creepy. I’m not the biggest fan of her having-to-go-out-in-the-real world shenanigans and would rather read more about what actually happens in this temple, but I admit to liking the encounter of Arya with Sam (who of course also continues to rule, because he is fucking Samwell Tarly), even though both of them did not realize whom they have just met. I am intrigued to learn about which direction Arya’s stay there will take. Will she really lose herself and become thus – what? A better person? A better assassin? A better queen? Or will it help strengthen her without ultimately having to give up her identity as a Stark? This is actually one of the storylines really keeping me on edge.

via fantasyhotlist.blogspot.com

Really Bad:

The Faith Militant
And shit is going to hit the fan.
Wow, not that we needed more religious fanatics going all nuts over everyone else in Westeros, now the insitutionalized Faith of the Seven gets back its rights to organize militarily and boy is that going to get shitty in the near future. No fun there. And having Cersei’s plan backfiring on her leading to imprisonment in the Great Sept, kinda nice, but then again, this is going to go horrible for her and I already feel kinda bad. I see Lord of Light and Faith Militant groups slicing each other up all over the continents, and I am not liking it. Plus, I feel cheated. The Seven seemed to have so much more potential as something myserious pitched against the Old Gods, now they are just being instrumentalized for military purposes. It is a pity, says I.

The Greyjoys
I don’t know why, they still leave me supercold. I like to read about Asha, because she is fun, but everyone else in that family? Assholes left and right. And their struggling for leadership isn’t exactly what I’d call endearing, so no, no love from me for the Greyjoys and their storyline.

via fantasyhotlist.blogspot.com

Really Undecided:

Lady Stoneheart
I still don’t know how I feel about Catelyn coming back as Lady Stoneheart, for several reasons. My major issue is that it diminishes the impact of her death-scene that hit me so unexpected and came as a real shock (probably the first real shock after Ned’s execution). My second issue lies with the leverage it gives R’hllor, that sick bastard of a God, cause we all know he’s being credited for her resurrection now. I like the idea of her being this corpse-like existence now (it’ll be fun to see that played out in the TV series), but I am not sure what I feel about her being only driven by vengeance. She was so before to a large extent, but with her humanity intact, and now that this is gone she is really just a hateful monster. Which diminishes the still-alive-Catelyn as a character IMHO. My guess for the wrap-up of that story-line is that she has to die for realz next time on the hands of somebody who loves her, my bets being on Brienne, but I also believe that we’re gonna see her wreak a lot more havoc on everyone’s asses until then.

Dorne/The Martells
The story of the Martells intra-family struggles to avenge the death of Oberyn Martell and seek vengeance for what happened to Elia Martell years past is a messy one. It is interesting, it is sad, cause the side we get to see does not succeed, but somehow I am not overly invested. I guess a lot of that has to do with the fact that these characters are just too new for me to care so much about them. I understand their rationale and their emotions, but I am just not very pro-Martell, wishing for them to get what they want, cause they all also seem like hot-tempered, scheming dicks, girls and boys alike. Nice to see them fight for gender equality, but it feels a little cosmetic to be honest.

The numbers reveal my stance, I guess, with seven points on the really good side against tow each on really bad and really undecided about. And yes, I loved it, but what do you expect. I would not go through the trouble of reviewing the fourth novel in a series if I didn’t like it (though wouldn’t that be fun? And masochistic?), so no real surprise that I am really invested in the story. Some strands of it make me fear that there’ll be events and plotlines little to my liking, but so far Martin has done an amazing job at subverting my expectations, especially my fears.
Maybe we should also start to speculate at this point, for there are several important questions that the series as a whole will have to answer.
Who is the three headed dragon to rule Westeros? Or rather, which three characters will be future kings/queens? I feel most people assume that Daenerys is a given, and so do I, but what if we are wrong? A lot of bets are placed upon Arya and let us be honest, it would kinda rule. And the third? Another stark? Jon seems like a candidate, especially with him potentially being the child of Rhaegar and Lyanna Stark, but as of now it seems more likely that he is set to defend the Wall. Bran maybe? Not unthinkable. Or someone totally else? Tyrion (though I doubt it)? Asha (though that would be a bit too much…but then again, an all female trio would be nice)? Or who knows, maybe even Brienne (which would be so freaking amazing, it hurts. Unlikely, though)? Who is your pick for future ruling trio?

Another major question is the Stark-kids business. How will they reconnect? Who will? Will Jon, Arya, Sansa, Bran and Rickon have a merry reunification at some point? Where the hell is Rickon, what is his role to play? Will Jon remain Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch til he dies? Will Bran become the messiah to some age-old religion? Will Arya become queen of Westeros? What will Sansa do? And how do their wolf-dreams play into this? They are obviously all Wargs (except for maybe Sansa), so what effect will that have and in how far will it ultimately be important to the story?

Well, I will it end it here. I know, I know. Questions over question over questions. And no answer in sight Maybe you would like to speculate in the comments?

Oh and you have to imagine a photo of me with one of the covers pictured above instead of this text here right now, because stupid me forgot to snap an effin’ picture before giving my copy away.

A Storm of Words – My humble review of George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords

I just mentioned the word humble in the title to lure you in. So, now that you’re here let’s get this review started.
Talking of course about the third (or third and fourth) novel in the Song of Ice and Fire saga by George R. R. Martin. Let’s keep this shit real: by now I am addicted to this series like Whitney Houston to crack. Only with more positive side effects.

via wikipedia.org

I guess I read the UK paperback issue, cause I read two books: A Storm of Swords – Steel and Snow and A Storm of Swords – Blood and Gold. Which tells us that the thing is long and which of course makes us giggle a little, cause heehee, we’re in on it, right? Steel and Snow, that’s like Jon SNOW on the wall (arms and all) and Blood and Gold, if that’s not referring to the Lannisters, to what else, asketh I. It is the third instalment in the series (my reviews of no. 1 HERE and of no. 2 HERE) and was published in 2000. I’ve already confessed my addiction to the saga, but nonetheless there is stuff that I liked and some that I didn’t, so keeping with trahdishion I give you a rundown of Minuses and Pluses with a little Could-Be-Both in between.

Janos Slynt
The whole “Jon Snow is a turncloak” and the ensuing election of a new commander of the Night’s Watch left me all a little underwhelmed. Granted, it wasn’t horrible, but it was a tad too obvious and Janos Slynt in combo with Alliser Thorne was just too bad a villain to be taken as a serious threat. So Jon Snow is Commander of the Night’s Watch now? How will that tie in with him being the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna and supposed future king…oops, just wondering about some theories there. Unfortunately he became a bit of an asshole, which is sad, cause he was a favorite character before.

Melisandre
Oh, the fuck with the whole Lord of Light business. R’hllor sucks, that’s what it is. As a god and kinda as a storyline. His whole Christian god yet not Christian god shenanigans get on my nerves and Melisandre better start bringing some kickass bad or she’ll be the blandest mysterious women all in red in the history of gods who set swords on fire. Can somebody just shoot her and make her go away?

R’hllor
I’m being a bit unfair with Melisandre here, cause my real issue lies with R’hllor and the potential storylines I see coming with him/her/it. But then again, Melisandre’s character is basically nothing but a spokesperson for team R’hllor, so there.
To my non-joy there is also the whole Dondarrion/Thoros fraction praising his ass and we don’t even wanna go into Lady Stoneheart territory.

The Ironborn
The whole Greyjoy family, well maybe for the exception of Asha, sucks, at least IMHO. I get it, we are supposed to get an insight into their plotting and we need a setup for Crow’s Eye and the havoc he is about to wreak upon Westeros and its political system, but – and I can’t even explain why – I just don’t like to read about them, least of all about the Drowned God and this whole bullshit. I remember being really pumped about the whole religious systems co-existing in Westeros in the beginning, with the Seven and the Old Gods, but now all we get is some Norse myth in masks and pseudo-Christianity and the fun of reading about religious underpinnings is gone. Can the Old Gods please make an appearance? Like, let all the weirwoods cry blood?

via best-selling-books-uk.blogspot.com

Handling of the wildlings
In my last review I bitched and moaned about how I didn’t wanna read about the wildlings cause I expected what, well, actually happened. That’s us being told that they’re all actually human and have their own sorrows and their own honor and alla that which is blurgh, cause: really? I could’ve told you three years ago. Having said that making them all just fodder for a mandatory epic battle that turns out to kinda not be so epic feels like betraying them and what they actually could have been and the threat they could have posed to the Seven Kingdoms. Now that they are gone as a storyline I kinda miss them, but most of all because of the potential they actually had as such.

Littlefinger
You know what, Littlefinger used to be such an entertaining and interesting character. And now he is just a vile manipulator that schemes his way into positions, Lysa Arryn’s bed and poor Sansa’s life and innocence. Argh, he really is the scrupulous fuck he always claimed to be and it ain’t half as much fun as thinking he might just be saying it and actually be an awesome kid.

Lysa Arryn
She sucks more from a meta-point-of-view in that she feels so totally like a constructed character that is there to serve a purpose that it makes it hard for me to believe her actions, words and supposed motivations. Also, despite the Eyrie probably being a really pretty place, all the shit taking place there since book one continues to cement its status as most dreadful places of them all in the Seven Kingdoms, complete with a caricature of a female ruler, which is really just a little pathetic.

-/+

Daenerys
What leaves me neither hot nor cold is once again Dany. Her storyline isn’t actually bad, the whole Unsullied business and freeing slaves all over the east (not to mention glimpsing at those ancient cities) is pretty neat, but then there is the whole “was Rhaegar really the greatest man in all of history I wonder” business mixed with the “Oh no, Ser Jorah betrayed me, and you too Ser Barristan whose name I just learned, but I forgive you” and the “cute, my dragons are like kittens, they hiss and fly and kill, heehee, cute” thing. Ermh, I don’t know, it’s all not terrible but it is also not great and reads rather like some teenage girl-grows-up-to-be-a-princess thing which, well, aren’t there other options?
But since we all know that by the end of this saga Daenerys is going to rule the entire world, let’s see if coming plot-twists will make her journey a tad more interesting.

via buecher.de

+

Ygritte
Admittedly, I wasn’t an Ygritte fan at first, but damn, girl grew on me fast. Her practical down-to-earth-ness and her keeping it real all the time with anyone made me give her my reading heart and also admittedly her tragic death kinda cemented that status.
You know nothing, Jon Snow. Nuff said.

Jaime chapters
What a shocker, we get to read Jaime’s POV. And even more of a shocker: it is actually really kinda awesome. Cause of course he’s an asshole-ish prick, but hearing about his motivations and learning about his outer and inner journey made me really appreciate him as a character. Plus of course, his totally seeing what goes wrong with his twin-sister and her attempts of keeping the peace.
I am also really really fond of him losing his hand and what it does to him in terms of finding the inner human being again. Not even mentioning the potential love-story unfolding here.
And how heart-wrenching is it that he lied to Tyrion all these years and finally admits it – only being lied to in return (and setting up some major future conflict here). Poor Lannisters, they just don’t know how to.

Brienne
Speaking of potential love-stories unfolding: How incredibly gorgeous is Brienne of Tarth as a character? Not only is she righteous and honest and dutiful, but girl is so out of the box for everyone and goes against anything that the Westerosi belive in that it chokes me with tears, because she is Samwell-Tarly-level of awesome in being the ugly duckling that is really just the mightiest of them swans in all of birds on water history. Can somebody please give her a little kiss on the cheek from me? Kthanx.

Tyrion
He ruled ever since, right? Everyone loves Tyrion and everyone should, cause he survives and he saves Joffrey’s reign (though he hates his guts), he is the most awesome unwanted husband anyone could ever have (Sansa, be grateful), he treats his favorite whore nicely (and she is being a dick in return) and ta-dah: he finally kills the super-villain that is his father and does away with his stuck-up-ness and frees us from the one on team evil that can actually hold it together and make evil work.
Wonder where he is and when he’ll show up. Miss you, Ty, come back soon, please.

via theinquisitveloon.blogspot.com

Arya and Sandor Clegane
Awww, the Hound, good old houndy Hound, how we always kinda knew you had a heart of gold and now that you’re with Arya who is cool in all the right ways (despite having to learn a lot and grow a lot and endure a lot and a lot of a lot else) you show all your true colors and we would all really like to hang out with you more and learn how to be such a scapegoat with a heart of gold. I’m kinda sorry that their time together was so short.

The Unsullied
Yeah, Daenarys, blah, but the unsullied, I mean, man. Man. M. A. N.
That is one rough existence right there. Wouldn’t wanna be in their shoes. Kill your puppy dog? Kill a baby? Castration? No wonder that don’t sound like the most appealing job description ever. So they become the greatest killing machine consistent of thousands but what makes them really awesome is the moment they go all like: we’ve hated this existence for like ever, we just didn’t let y’all know and kill the slave-masters and support Dany and her slave-freeing shenanigans. I mean, awww, man, fucking: AWWWW! Touched my heart right there.

Samwell
We cannot not mention him. From staying true to the Watch to freeing Gilly, meeting and helping Bran and ultimately of course him killing one of the Others, Samwell continues to be the favorite overweight clumsy young man in all of ASOIAF.

The Red Wedding
This book tries to bring some epic moments, but if there ever was one in this very instalment, it would of course be the Red Wedding that takes home the price. There we all were believing the Frey’s to forgive Robb and then – BAM – they not only kill him, but most of his host and unbelievably also Catelyn. And even though we are all well aware of Martin’s tendency to kill off major characters I have to confess that Catelyn’s death really was a blow (while Robb’s was anticipated, really) and left me with a few moments of disbelief. Now we know that there is a twist to Cat’s death, but let’s wait with judging that one.
Other than that, the whole set-up of the Red Wedding: super-neat. From both Martin on the meta-level and the Frey’s and Lannister’s on the in-the-story-level. Thumbs up for the chill, dudes.

So, I conclude this lil review here, knowing full well that I left a lot (like really a super lot: Davos, Sansa, Bran, Oberyn Martell) out and that, if you don’t know the novel, you have no fucking idea what I am talking about here. If you made it to this sentence nonetheless, kudos to you! What I hope you got from this rather eclectic review (note to self: review shortly after reading the book, not long after it, having already started subsequent novels) is that I really really really enjoyed the ride and can totally recommend you take it as well.

Winter is coming (now also officially here in Frankfurt, Germany. Thank you, the Starks).

Closing the book on my first read of A Clash of Kings

I just came to realize that it has been almost a year since I’ve read A Game of Thrones (my review is HERE), the first part of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Since then the series has experienced some (more) hype because of HBO adapting it as a TV series that is supposed to be rather decent (meaning: Alex has not seen it yet, kthanx). I meant to pick up the second volume named A Clash of Kings way earlier, but well, I did not. These past few weeks have been partly spent wandering and wondering through its 700+ pages and now I am here to review the shit out of it.

via amazon.com

First things first: I liked it a lot. More so than I like A Game of Thrones and exceeding the expectations I had about it massively. There’s a variety of reasons why that is so and since this is a review I’m going to give them to you. I will start with what I loved, continue with what I disliked and will finish with what made me shrug indifferently (aka room for improvement).
MASSIVE WARNING: I will be SPOILERING, so if you have not read A Clash of Kings or even A Game of Thrones yet and don’t wanna ruin your reading experience you should stop reading this review right now and come back to it later, cause secrets will be exposed. Just so you know.

Undying eternal love for:

Sansa
Gosh, how I hated on her in my last review and how I loathed reading her chapters in volume 1. But this time? Whole ‘nother story, folks. I’m kinda astonished myself, but this time around the Sansa chapters were really enjoyable, since she’s really come a long way from the pretty stupid thing in Game of Thrones. Mind you, she still is that, somehow, but there is a growing understanding of the world in her and it’s not all that cheesy I feared it would be. Plus, her character gets to interact with some of the most intriguing characters of the series, amongst them the Hound of course, but also Cersei and Joffrey, thereby providing a well developed focal point on crucial events shaping the whole saga. Thumbs up for Sansa!

Tyrion
Other than Sansa I loved Tyrion’s chapters in the first book and I continue to do. There is the big similarity in that Tyrion interacts with a bunch of very interesting characters like Cersei, but most of all Varys. The Eunuch is going to give us all some more good story, I tell ya. On top of that Tyrion’s character is of course tailor-made for instant identification. We all feel odd and ugly and out of place a lot of times, just like him, but he overcomes it with his incredible wit and cleverness and comes out on top of everyone trying to fuck with him. Except for maybe what happens in the final battle. To that I say: ugh, and: poor Tyrion. Ow.

Theon
Hello new POV! I cannot remember having Theon’s POVs in A Game of Thrones, but I might be mistaken. Nonetheless, here is one POV likely to aggravate you, cause his character is designed to make you hate him. Being a sexist prick totally in love with himself, witless and scrupulous, it is still fun to read. Admittedly I suppose that is because I am so hoping to see his inevitable fall. Which brings us to his maybe-death in Clash of Kings. Is he or isn’t he? My vote goes to he is not dead and I guess we’ll see him round, cause while Martin was happy killing major characters in book one, this time it is only characters like Stannis and Renly that had to get out of the way anyhow. And with Tyrion and Bran and Rickon we got some supposed deaths that turned out not to be, so I call bullshiz on this one.

Davos
Another new POV. Nothing particularly exciting about Davos, except for maybe his firsthand experiences of the dark powers of Melisandre, but nicely written and interesting to read anyhow. Won’t be seeing more of him though, I suppose.

The Stark tombs
Granted, the tombs of the Stark family have been interesting all along, but this time around with Bran and his bunch hiding down there? Wicked shit! All the namedropping made me wanna hear all their stories and the line “they reached the twisting stone stair that led up to the surface, and down to the deeper levels where kings more ancient still sat their dark thrones” made me instantly wish for another book solely consistent of their stories. We could also just call it worldbuilding at its best.

Arya
I semi-hated on Arya the last time, but much like Sansa her character improved by factor 1000. Loved her storyline and all her tribulations – and the dark path she is heading down. Slitting peoples throats? Oh my, gurrl. I was particularly in love with the whole Jaqen H’ghar plotline and can’t wait til we meet him again. Which I am sure we will. Yay!

The grittiness
People lose their guts and die of really ugly wounds to the head, women get raped, are threatened with rape or threaten to rape each other and a lot of dicks are touched, sucked, ridden and whatnot. And you know what? For the better. There is an undeniable appeal in A Clash of Kings’ grittiness, because it feels a lot more real than a lot of other fantasy sagas do thanks to not shying away from these topics.

Religion
Also interesting: To read about the various religious systems in Song of Ice and Fire. The whole thing with the godswoods, the Seven and the thing with the Lord of Light…. I feel this is going to become way more important and I am actually really looking forward to it.

Oh, really? eyerolling for:

Jon Snow and the Wildlings
The Jon Snow chapters were better in book 1. There, I said it. They were not bad this time, but a little underwhelming. Jon enters the North, leaves the wall behind and all we get is this? Come the fuck on. The Wildlings are also only humans, oh my, what a surprise. And from the look of it we’re going to get hundreds and hundreds of pages telling us how Jon manages to stay alive among them, struggles with his conscience all the while (cause of the Nightwatch, yawn) and gives us and insight into Wildling life. Puhleaze. It bores me already. I can see “we have our own honor” and “life is harsh beyond the Wall” conversations hitting us left and right and I really don’t want to hear about it. The plot twist of him having to join the Wildlings and having to kill Qhorin could be seen from a mile afar. Bwrah, sez I, cause there was more potential.

Bran and Rickon are dead? Or are they?
Theon definitely gets major a-hole points for killing random kids in order to make everyone believe that Bran and Rickon are dead, but as soon as the statement pops up it’s pretty clear that it didn’t really happen. The only thing that made it exciting is the memory of volume 1 where major characters were killed, so there was a little thrill in thinking: maybe they are really… But then: Nah, haha, they been cleverz y’all, and still alive. And I feel that I maybe shouldn’t think so, but I can’t help wondering if killing Bran and Rickon would have made for a more interesting story.

Wolf dreams
While I’m at hating Bran why not take it a step further and discuss the wolf dreams that bother the shit out of me. For once because it reminds me so much of Wheel of Time’s Perrin, right down to his reaction of refusing to embrace the wolfdream, though Bran admittedly is a little faster in accepting them. However, the whole “we’re all brothers and sisters, and not just the wolves but also the children who possess the wolves, and thus we can telepath back and forth” smells like the lamest plot device in the history of icy firesongs. I’m afraid I’m not going to like the developments in that department.

Things that felt a little blah was the whole beyond the wall scenery since I had expected so much more. Also the Melisandre and Lord of Light thing, mainly because I feel this is going to get a little Christian on our asses as we move along and I am not particularly fond of taking that route. Catelyn could kick more ass and doesn’t, which is sad. And Daenerys’ storyline didn’t really evolve, did it? Okay, the dragons grow, your people suffer, you’re yet again dependant on somebody else’s riches and continue to embody the young but mighty queen…kinda been there, done that. Something needs to happen there.

To wrap it up: really enjoyed it a lot. The pros outweigh the cons by a hundred tons, since so much of what I loathed the first book around grew on me due to believable character evolution. Also: Mention of a song of Ice and Fire. Ahaaa! There is the name-giving song mentioned in the very text. That will be one interesting thing to learn about, I guess. I am really excited to read on and see where the story takes us, which king will prevail in the end, and what wonders and horrors will descend upon the characters. It will definitely not take me another year before I start book 3.

In love with Katrin Streicher’s photography

A dear friend of mine, Katrin Streicher, who happens to be a photographer, is soon releasing her new photo-book entitled “In Between: Sibirien. China. Mongolei” and I don’t wanna spoil the excitement, but: it is marvelous! It consists of photographs she took when travelling through siberia, china, and mongolia with the Trans-Siberian Railway and basically exists to remind us all that we should totally do the same.

Katrin studied Visual Anthropology in Manchester and has had numerous exhibitions and features. Her new publication beautifully displays her strengths: capturing moments and their atmosphere and people in their distinct moods. (And yes, I would totally buy the first picture of that man with those horses as a poster.)

But not only does she take amazing portraits, she also has an amazing eye for landscapes, cityscapes and personal spaces, be they open wide or small and enclosed.

And don’t you dare think that I don’t notice how the two pictures right above (the lake and the kitchen interior) are totally super-inspiring for pastel fashion choices. Seriously, right now I am so planning on devoting an entire blogpost on how to dress in colors and shapes that match those two photographs, becasue my oh my would it be worth it and totally be a project that draws its relevance from its own wackiness.
And then there are of course those two pictures that say: Alex, you still haven’t been in Mongolia, what the fuck? Move your ass there and experience all the melancholy and joy of the bleakness yourself. Or something like that.

So, how to end such a post appropriately? Well, dear readers, if there is one thing that youtube has taught us it is that the internet was created to disseminate videos and pictures of cats and kittens and thereby satisfy the cravings of people from all over the world. Rest assured, Katrin’s book will even cater to this:

All images are of course (c) by Katrin Streicher. You can get to her website by clicking HERE or any of the above pictures, visit here facebook-site HERE, or visit the online presence of the publishing company Nimbus by clicking HERE.

My word for Word for World is Forest is not forest

I have already established elsewhere (well, HERE) that Ursula K. Le Guin is god, for a variety of reasons. Now, since she is not the Christian god or any of that shit she is not by definition infallible. Which is on the one hand a good thing, cause how could you argue against an author and one of her works if she’d be an infallible god? On the other hand it’s not such a good thing, because it means that UKLG’s works can also sometimes be less than stellarly awesome (gasp! I know…). And as of right now, I’d like to discuss one of those less than stellarly awesome works of hers: The Word for World is Forest.

via edisbooklighthouse.blogspot.com

So, long before that obscure Avatar rip-off Le Guin came up with the idea of a very forest-y planet herself, one that is inhabited by a humanoid species totally in tune with their environment and exploited by a humanoid species originating from our beloved planet Earth (sometimes also written Erth, at least in random Futurama episodes, but I digress (of course)). Those exploiting dudes are of course mainly the military types who do not favor communicating with the autochthonous population. respecting their wishes and livelihood. So yes, in principle, The Word for World is Forest presents the premise of the Avatar story, only that instead of some metal they need timber for Earth (cause there is none left) and the humanoids aren’t big blue cats, but little green-furred people who are absolutely non-violent. And there is no ridiculously unbelievable love-story. Ermh, well, not that kind, at least.

via sfmistressworks.wordpress.com

So, to get the shiz right out of the way, I should clarify why I think that this novella (novel, novelette, you choose it…though this story set in her Hainish universe won the HUGO Award for best novella in 1974) is sub-par compared to Le Guin’s other works. The primary reason being: it’s heavy-handed. It is well written, beautiful prose, there are interesting ideas, it is a fairly complex set-up, but it is nevertheless heavy-handed. And what makes Le Guin so awesome to read usually is her general un-heavy-handed-ness. So, there.
Every moral tale could of course be accused of heavy-handed-ness. But if your main antagonist (Davidson in this case) is so clearly a dumb-ass villain who does not listen to others and therefore wreaks havoc upon everyone’s heads and asses and ultimately upon himself, the moral tale becomes a little stale. The military dudes are asses, those who work with them might not be, but are corrupted by the structures, and the autochthonous population living in harmony with their environment (comprised mainly of forest, which is why their word for their world is the same as the word for forest) is totally super-awesome. That doesn’t read like complex characterisations and innovative storytelling precisely because it isn’t. And even though I wasn’t born in 1972 when the thing was published my guess is that even then a plot-progression of that kind felt like old news (despite then being a very current comment on the war in Vietnam). Oh, Ursula.

via goodreads.com

Well, mostly “Oh, Ursula” because Le Guin is such a terrific writer. And since she is, she can’t help but bring glimpses of awesome even in moments of mediocrity.
The biggest piece of awesome in this novel is of course the Athsheanean society. Not only because they look distinctly different from humanoids such as us since they are smaller and have green fur all over, but also because Le Guin, with a few well placed strokes, creates the impression of a fully formed society with very distinct patterns of human interaction. Not only are they non-violent in the sense of they don’t kill each other, but they have established a social system that channels anger, envy, and the like into singing contests and permits a maximum of physical interaction that is not sexually charged and thus not avoided but embraced as a means of communication. Furthermore Le Guin tries to establish interesting ideas on gender roles without hammering home a female utopia void of realistic inequalities and imbalances. She writes about a political system that is highly decentralized and offers most of the organizational power within the social structures to the women in society. However, Athshean men still have their Men’s Lodges, and since it’s them who claim to be the great philosophers (and Dreamers) of Athsheanean society, androcentric structures that favour male dominance are still discernible, even if decidedly less pronounced than in our society, but therefore still relatable to readers of our day and age who encounter androcentric structures and sexist practices on a daily basis.

(c) Eileen Gunn, via ursulakleguin.com

Then there is another thing I think is awesome about The Word for World is Forest, even though this is precisely why I am conflicted about it. Captain Davidson and his portrayal are on the one hand extremely stereotypical and his single-mindedness and unwillingness to question himself are a tad too convenient for getting across The Message. On the other it is an interesting instance of an author trying to create a character and his mindset in a way that helps us (who do not think like that) to understand or at least get and idea of why he does the things he does.
And she draws the character well. The more time we spend in his head, the more we realise how little his own inconsistencies and incongruence can become apparent to himself, since he subscribed to such an extreme method of compartmentalization, that basically everything relates back to him accepting things because he thinks of them as god-given (or rather genetetically pre-set) and therefore unchangeable. That he changes his own rules set up for others all the time cannot bother him, because he cannot see it. Athsheans are horrible because they do not adhere to Terra human rules, and Terra human rules are awesome because they are so functional, but he has to break Terra human rules in order to work for the greater good, otherwise Athsheans would break Terra human rules… etc. It’s a fascinating read to follow the circular (non-) logic of Captain Davidson and a successful undertaking in my opinion, however, I’m just not sure that that’s the way it is. As with the general plot heavy-handed-ness, this characterisation works well in terms of making it easier for me as a liberal (in the socio-political sense) reader to get an idea of why he does what he does and it resonates with stuff I’ve read and heard about extremists and terrorists and dictators and other shitheads in how they structure their worldview and justify what they do by applying standards they deny others. But exactly because it reads so well and seems a reasonable enough explanation it feels a little false, because if another liberal writes a character like that and liberal me reads it and finds it plausible, the real conservative wacko-mindset is totally out of the picture and only an imagined feature that bends to “our” liberal will. It’s kinda like saying “all homophobes are just closeted homosexuals” which seems to makes sense and sounds reassuring but which ultimately isn’t true (I think) and just picks out the general idea of homophobes having issues with sexuality (either other people’s and/or their own) and exaggerates that point. It makes for a neat little explanation from an outside point of view, but it nevertheless is just that, it never really amounts to the inside point of view.

via plodit.com

But there is the dilemma: I probably wouldn’t read and love Le Guin if she was some conservative dumbfuck (and if you are a conservative reading this, please reconsider your political stance before asking me to reconsider my statement) and actually thought like that. It might still just be the same. But because she is exactly not that I recognize that she sets out to make sense of the actions of people whose actions actually don’t make much sense. I applaud that, but at the same time it creates this disbelief-gap for me, cause I know she doesn’t think like that, and reading the thought of such a character knowing she doesn’t think like that makes me question the overall plausibility of that characterisation. And all of that is of course true for basically ever yother character in every other novel, however, since we are struggling with the issue of heavy-handed-ness of this highly moralistic tale this conservative-wacko-inside-view feels forced and cheap (and too convenient), despite its efforts and even despite is actual probability.

In conclusion I can just repeat that this is definitely not Ursula K. Le Guin’s strongest work. However, it is Le Guin, so it is still strong work compared to basically everything else. Ergo: Go read it!

One post to bind them all: Revisiting The Fellowship of the Ring

Ah, Lord of the Rings. So much has already been said about it, what could I possibly add? Hah! Never think I will not come up with an excuse. In this case: LOTR TFOTR. Cause, please, beginnings, dude_ette, everybody loves beginnings! It’s just that in the case of Lord of the Rings people are all like: uuh, Rohan, and uuh, Aragorn becomes king, and hell yeah, 2 and 3 made a shitload more money than the first movie (in case you wondered: this is going to be about the movie), yadda yadda alla that. But me sez: hell to the no, Fellowship of the Ring all the way! Gee, I distinctly remember seeing the trailer with my best pal Janine and we were all giddy with excitement, and then the feeling of deep-rooted content and happiness leaving the theater, just having seen this beautiful piece of movie art. It was heaven!

via mutantreviewers.wordpress.com

I’ve probably watched The Fellowship of the Ring about 25 to 30 times by now. I bought the expensive box set the day it hit the stores, for whatever reason. And I guess I just can’t really remember because the later instalments have thoroughly disappointed me and my LOTR enthusiasm that I’m still surprised by how much love I have for TFOTR every time I see it. So let us have a look at the YEAHs!, the BLAHs…., and the ARGHs!!!

The YEAHs
To approach this very scientific review from a technical rather than emotional side, I first have to give major shout-outs to the structure of the Fellowship of the Ring. I, for once, absolutely love the prologue and was really sad that we never got an epilogue at the end of Return of the King (as was promised in the TFOTR audio-commentary by Peter Jackson and pals on the DVD). I’ve seen a lot of people hating on it, but I love the overall feel of it and since I was a total LOTR newbie at the time the first movie hit German theaters, I felt thoroughly introduced to the concept of The Ring and the conflict that awaits us. But of course it’s not just the epic yet concise prologue, it is also the warm beginning in the Shire, where every human being in their right mind would want to live anyways (yeah, I just wrote that) and a lot of the credit has to be given to the adventuresque tour-de-force of the whole first movie. Basically we’re moving from expositiony intro to place A, run to place B, stop shortly at place C, solve a riddle at place D, escape to place E…. you get the idea. And it serves the movie tremendously, because, as IMHO the latter movies show, the characters and their relationships alone are too cookie cutter and stereotypical to carry plot and story. But since they’re all running all the time, this problem never really shows in TFOTR. Phew! I am also very happy about the decision to put Boromir’s death in the first part (can you imagine dragging that over into the second one?) and the ending that splits up the fellowship and creates the constellations that are so important for what happens afterwards.

via metalonly-forum.de

Following closely on the heels of overall structure is the pacing of the movie, which I think is fantastic, since I never get the sense that we linger too long at one particular point either in the story or on the map. There are a few moments of rest, and they are of course needed, but all in all this movie moves forward and gets us through the events without ever leaving me feeling: bwrah, another shot of XY and when do they finally leave this place Z?

So I give major credit to the pacing for enhancing the illusion of a vast world. Both structure and pacing create the sense of travelling through countries and landscapes, making the passage of time believable and bearable, which is a feature that the other two movies do not accomplish. They are plagued by having to move the Rohans to Helm’s Deep in ridiculous extras-stolling-the-plains-shots or by Aragorn meeting the ghost-army of neon-green ants in his little detour, both instances that feel strangely disconnected to the overall passage of time and distance in relation to other events. Once again, the structure is a major factor in that, especially when it comes to characters, because TFOTR admittedly has it easier in that it has all the main characters assembled and move together through Middle Earth, while part 2 and 3 have to jump back and forth between stuff happening at a variety of places. By picking up a few characters here and there or meeting important ones in places passed, the first one succeeds in introducing it’s sequence of locations and ground it in the narrative through the people we meet there and the things we learn.

via mittelerde-kurier.de

One of those instances is the whole segment taking place in and around Moria, where we solve a little riddle, fight a lake-monster, find out about the annihilation of a whole city of dwarves, meet Gollum and learn a little tinsy tiny bit about him, meet some Orks face to face and see Gandalf battling (and apparently losing to) the Balrog. While it is one unit in the film’s structure, there is a broad variety within it, it keeps moving and it excites me, even the admittedly sort of ridiculous scene on the staircase of horrors.

But the crowning jewel of all of that is, of course, Lothlorien. Awww, Lothlorien, how I love thee! Seriously, the forest is beautiful and it helps that they are major art-deco fans there, those elves, cause I’m a big fan of art-deco designs as well. But Lothlorien would only be half the fun without Galadriel, and yeah I better admit it now: I’m a huge Galadriel fan. I love the hilarious irrelevance of Celeborn (he gets a pompous intro just to be of no importance whatsoever), but I love the test that the Ring represents for Galadriel, and I love that she passes it. Since we’re in confession mode already, I got to say that the major fascination of Lord of the Rings for me lies in the power of the Ring itself. The notion that it is a tiny object with an own will that it can force upon those who possess it and turn them into its evil servants fascinates me, for it is somewhat of a metaphor for real-life concepts of evil doings in order to get either things or power. And it is of course particularly interesting to see characters being able to withstand that power. It is fascinating when Gandalf does, when Sam does, when Frodo ultimately fails, but what makes the moment with Galadriel so impressive for me is that she is this thousand year old super-wise being who already possesses a Ring of power and yet has to admit that she is tempted deeply and has to muster up all her courage and strength in order to withstand the power of the Ring. That of course makes it all the more gratifying that she actually succeeds in resisting.
All character-strength aside, I love how she seems to be this super-scary ice-queen bitch when she talks to Frodo at night, but then again seems to be mother earth with golden smiles for everyone later on, especially in the deleted scenes on the DVD, which features some more art-deco goodness to salivate on. Oh, and did I mention: Cate Blanchett. ‘Nuff said.

via ryetopia.blogspot.com

The BLAHs
Loving the power of the Ring so much, I have to mention Tom Bombadil of course. I only read the novels after seeing Fellowship of the Ring, so at the time I fell in love with it, I didn’t even know about Tom Bombadil’s existence. Having found out about it, I was sad to see him cut, cause I loved the scene in the book and of course the mystery he represents. Who is he, that he can easily resist the powers of the Ring? But I’m not super-sad, and I guess it’s rather just a BLAH than an ARGH because I’ve seen TFOTR before reading the book, so: lucky me!

And all the raving about Galadriel aside: While I really enjoyed her little power-rant the first time around, I can’t watch the scene anymore without grinning sheepishly at the tacky special effects employed there. They are really kinda ridiculous.

via tolkienlibrary.com

The ARGHs
The Uruk-Hai. Not only do they kinda suck in their crawling-out-the-mud-and-kill-the-Orks introduction (cause it’s ridiculous…”yeah, we’re born evil!”) but my oh my, those racist underpinnings. Let’s just revisit: The wise-beings who everybody loves and wants to be are tall, blond, white elves. The super-evil killer-creatures that everyone fears and does not want to get in contact with are built, black, and have dreadlocks. Ermh, yeah, what could possibly be wrong with that depiction? It perpetuates racialized stereotypes even further and acts all so what, how could that be a problem? AAAAARRRRGHHHH!! Really, I love TFOTR, but I’d love it even more if we had black elves with dreadlocks and the Viggo Mortensens and Sean Beans of this world as evil Uruk-hai. Dear everyone involved in the making of these movies: That is one horribly racist misstep that was really unnecessary.

via freude.li

Not to excuse the racist undertones of the movies, but the problem lies of course first and foremost with the books themselves. Middle Earth is not only highly racialized with its distinct categories of elves, humans, hobbits, dwarves, orks and whatnots, but it is also super-racist, cause the tall, blond, white guys are all super and yay, while all those who are smaller, darker, and supposedly uglier are stupid and of course evil. Yuck at that message. And the movie obviously never has any hint of intention to question that, celebrating their Orks as highly inefficient inter-racial (or even sub-racial?) beings (cause yeah, “mixing races” seems to be a horrible thing …*headdesk*) who are not only to be considered ugly but are also of course very stupid. Oh my. Don’t you also wish to just see the whole story retold from an Ork perspective? A la: The Great Story of Suffering of the People of Orkdom, or something? I sure would.

I could write a whole paragraph about the sexist structure of both LOTR books and movies. But I won’t go there now. It is there and I see it and I just do not want to discuss it right here. Apologeeeeez!

One minor issue that bugs me thoroughly (I mentioned it in my The Last Unicorn review) is the scene where Gandalf says to Frodo in Rivendell: “It’s October.” Red Zombie Rage! Srsly, elves and shit, outrageous places and the invention of new languages and then I’m supposed to believe that they just happen to use the same calendar as ours? With the same names for months? Every time people come with the “Tolkien’s worldbuilding is the most comprehensive and most impressive” argument I just roll my eyes because of this. October! What the hell?

via moviefanatic.com

Altogether, The Fellowship of the Ring is a movie that is firmly seated in the top 10 of my all-time favorite movies. There is a lot of goodness, but there is also enragingly stupid wrongness, and I guess my ongoing appreciation is less due to the fact that there are some great visuals and nice moments, but because as a movie it offers itself to closer scrutiny and fruitful critical readings. I can see that there are things wrong with it, but I can also say why and I can relate it to other issues of the movie and at the same time debate it in a wider cultural context. And yes, I think that is even more gratifying than sitting there being entertained and excited while gobbling down popcorn and hoping for Arwen to dump Aragorn’s stupid ass. So yay for cinematic criticism!

Yep, you better watch it!

The Last Unicorn is so rare, it has books and films written and made about it

Every Christmas here in Germany “The Last Unicorn” animation film is shown on TV (usually on crappy RTL2). I’ve grown up watching the movie, I know it by heart, and ever year I force my poor family through another screening of the thing. By now, I got my sister hooked, so I’m not the only one forcing it unto other members of my family. Just recently I read the book after years and years (and years) of not doing so, so I thought: Good time to write about one of my favorite movies in the entire world!

via wikipedia.org

The Last Unicorn was written by Peter S. Beagle and published in 1968. It has turned into a classic, although it initially wasn’t overly successfully apparently. By now more than five million copies of it have been sold and it has been translated into many languages, and I’d like to think a lot of that has to do with the movie. The movie has been produced and directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. for ITC Entertainment, and its screenplay had been written by Peter S. Beagle as well (who stated that he thinks the movie is magnificent). It has been released in 1982.

via wikipedia.org

There are a few differences between the book and the movie in terms of plot and characters. The main difference is the whole storyline about the town of Hagsgate that prospers and knows no death because the rest of King Haggard’s country has to suffer, and the whole connection that Prince Lír has to the village, the foretelling about him bringing down the king and his castle and his subsequent ascendancy to the throne. There are also minor differences like the four soldiers in King Haggard’s castle in the book, the extension of the scene of Schmendrick with the enchanted tree in the movie, and the physical description of characters (most notably when it comes to Mommy Fortuna). Apart from that a lot of the dialogue in the film is taken directly from the book and reading it I felt like watching the movie. I read the book in German, so I guess a lot of its beauty in English is lost to me (well, I can still go and read it in English another time), but the German version was well-written and didn’t read like a translation, so, no complaints there.
Would you ask me to pick I probably would go with the movie. Part of that is without a doubt me growing up watching it every year, but I also like the concise point it makes, more so than the book with the Hagsgate storyline (which is short, admittedly) that reads overly moralistic in a book that already asks a lot of moral questions. Then again, the film version has its own flaw: The musical interludes. Yep, sometimes the characters sing, and it is especially painful when Lady Amalthea (aka the Unicorn) and Prince Lír profess their love for each other in song. Argh, now that I think about it maybe I should rather pick the novel over the film. Bottom line is, they are both really good.

via animatedviews.com

So, what is The Last Unicorn actually about? Other than the plot of a unicorn finding out about being the only one and saving all the others.
The question is not that easy to answer, which has to do with the different characters and the different things they stand for, I guess. One possible answer is: happiness. A world without unicorns is a world without happiness. As much as King Haggard is portrayed to be the villain, he is also one to identify with: There is little that makes him happy, entertainment, money, power, they all do nothing for him, even human contact doesn’t. But to look at unicorns and feel the joy, that is what keeps him alive. But what then is happiness? Possessing beautiful things? Pets? Enslaving other creatures? Hardly. So we could dig deeper and ask what the unicorn potentially stands for, and obviously there is also a moral tale. The unicorn and its close relationship to the forest is a strong symbol for the unity of all living matter, the necessity of cooperation between creatures and nature to make things work, to create a beautiful and healthy environment. However, the unicorn also stands for magic, being a magical creature it is a symbol of human imagination, of the things and the beauty human beings can come up with when they dream. The novel does not endorse just any sort of dream though, because as it repeatedly makes clear: you have to be pure-hearted and kind-spirited to be able to recognize the unicorn for what it is.

via laidown.com

One thing the unicorn is, is immortal. And another major theme of both novel and movie is the relationship we human beings have with death. The unicorn cannot die and once it is trapped in a human body it feels the flesh dying, something it has never felt before. Now, we don’t exactly feel ourselves dying, but we feel ourselves getting older, and facing the reality of our own death is something we all eventually have to do.
The Last Unicorn presents and comments upon various concepts of dealing with death and decay. There is Schmendrick, a sort of antithesis to the unicorn, because he is a mortal who becomes immortal temporarily (which is a paradox, I know thankyouverymuch), but wishes to age and die, because for him immortality is not just a symbolic sign of stagnation and zero development, but actually a very concrete reminder of his own inability to use magic the way he is supposed to be using it.
Molly Grue as a character feels like people we all know I’d say: Someone who hasn’t aged well, not only in a physical sense, but also in a spiritual one, because she had dreams and hopes and nothing ever really came of it. “Where have you been?” she asks the unicorn, “how dare you come to Molly Grue now that I am old?” Which is touching, because I’ve seen people like that time and again. And I always think that those people should not give up, which is what saves Molly Grue in the end. She thought that she had reached a point where it was all that is to it, but then there is the unicorn, the ability to dream of magic, and adventures ensue, which for her really mean doing chores somewhere else, but also expanding her horizons, meeting challenges and forming intimate bonds with other people.
King Haggard on the other hand has obviously been around far too long. He doesn’t even want to live, and he knows it, but he isn’t strong enough to let go. He is a slave to the Red Bull and/or the Red bull is a slave to him, the relationship is so old that they both don’t really remember, I suppose. He has never been happy, and he probably never really will be, cause his greed has brought him only one thing: Loss. He lost the ability to enjoy what he has, to appreciate it, and the only time he remembers what it means to appreciate what you have is when he looks at something he possesses but doesn’t really have: the unicorns and their connection with all living beings.

via tvmovie.de

There is not much to comment on with Prince Lír. Other than his father he too experiences loss (the love of his life, no less), but he becomes a better person for it, grows because of it, instead of stagnating like his father. Captain Cully becomes a better person because of losing his wife and men, singing and touring across the countries. And yes, of course, the Red Bull himself … There is a lot he potentially stands for and just because I can, I leave this one untouched for now.
A pet-peeve of mine is inconsistency within fictional universes. Now, The Last Unicorn is clearly fictional, although there is the occasional hint at a connection to our world, like e.g. the whole Robin Hood scene that brings Molly Grue to Schmendrick and the unicorn. And I can accept that, that is mighty fine with me. But what bugs me, is the butterfly and his crazy talk which would be okay if it weren’t for him talking about events that happen in a time that is clearly in the future (at least in my head) for the characters within the story. Or are we supposed to think that the world in The Last Unicorn is set in the future of our world? Then there is no representation of noble deeds other than Robin Hood? C’mon, really? It’s like this point in Lord of the Rings when Gandalf says to wakening Frodo in Rivendell “It’s October” and I’m all like: Wait what? You invent whole languages for peoples populating this fictional universe and you won’t even come up with other terms for months? Or another system of counting time, a different sort of calendar? Can’t accept that, sorry. So, Mr. Butterfly, you get little love from me.

via brer-powerofbabel.blogspot.com

However, there is one part of the story I particularly like. In the movie even more so than in the novel, probably because that is really my image of the character. It is of course the part about Mommy Fortuna, how she captures the unicorn and Schmendrick, who we meet there for the first time, sets her free.
What I love about the whole passage is how it sums up so nicely what the rest of the story tries to convey: we are all mortals, trying to find a way to immortality, but we probably couldn’t even handle it.
Mommy Fortuna knows that she is a minor witch and will never become a great person that all humankind will remember infinitely. But she managed to capture two immortal beings, the unicorn and the harpy. She doesn’t say it in the book, but if I remember correctly says it in the movie: This is her kind of immortality. She might be long gone and forgotten by all other mortal beings, but the harpy cannot die, she is immortal and will forever remember the time she was held prisoner by Mommy Fortuna – and that is Mommy’s kind of immortality, being remembered forever by the harpy she humiliated by capturing. I love the brilliance of the concept, the sharpness of the honesty that Mommy Fortuna is able to tell herself that she isn’t made for greatness, but that the unlikely event of capturing immortal beings grants her a place in history that will be remembered longer than any history that human beings write down and pass on. And although I think we should not get stuck on dichotomies, I kinda really like the dichotomy of two immortal beings who are so very different from each other that one of them is willing to kill the other.

Okeyi, sum-up time. Needless to repeat it, but I do so nevertheless: The Last Unicorn, both novel and film, is a great story. It is grand exactly because it knows how to avoid mere gestures of grandness, the characters do not need to be stereotypical heroes and princesses, but they need to be flawed beings (even the unicorn, who has to learn that a mortal existence is no less of an existence than hers) in order to be able to achieve greatness and thus make the story grand and epic.

Get it, read it, watch it.

Ursula K. Le Guin kills another revolutionary – literally

The level of lameness I reach when trying to come up with pun-y headlines… You’re welcome! Of course the above statement is just to lure you in to another Le Guin centered review on this blog, but this time we won’t go for a novel, instead we’ll have a look at her short story The Day Before the Revolution, which is connected to her novel The Dispossessed which was published in the same year (1974) and is set in part on the same planet, cause both of the stories are connected to her larger Hainish-Universe. In case you have no clue what I am talking about: shame on you! So much for not alienating readers. (But really, it’s just a short short story. Go pick it up, read it real quick, and come back here for the review! See you in a sec!)

via goodreads.com

In The Day Before The Revolution (which won a Nebula Award in 74 for Best Short Story) we meet up with Laia Asieo Odo, an elderly woman that we previously encountered as a historical figure in The Dispossessed. Odonians, as they call themselves, derive their ideological foundation from the writings of Odo, who is referred to here in this story – unsurprisingly if you think about it, which we of course did not – as Laia, since it is her given name. And good old Ms Odo has a history of writing influential works on anarchism and anarchist society, since she’s been fighting for ending the oppression of those belonging to the working class (and underclass) on the planet of Urras. Her ideas and ideals, written down partially in prison where she spent years of her life have a distinctively communist touch to me (and I guess others), but it is anarchism, because it is an ideology that rejects any form of state, rule, authority, and hierarchies. In The Dispossessed we see that the ideal and the reality may very well clash, but in this story there she is: the woman who thought it all through, wrote it down, started revolutions and became an icon. She lives in a community-organized house (which used to be a bank, something that gives her satisfaction) and deals with age – remarking also, that the older she gets the less easy she finds it to adhere to all the principles and ideals she’s written about so famously.

via wikipedia.org

We follow her through one day. She wakes up and gets up, dresses, has breakfast, reads, remembers, contemplates, meets guests and goes out in the streets on a sudden urge, and ultimately returns, exhausted.
Because The Dispossessed is such a thoroughly political and also theoretical novel in many ways, it is fascinating to witness this other take on Urras and anarchism (I read it before The Dispossessed which didn’t diminish neither novel nor story, it rather enriched my reading of the novel), where we meet the principal thinker of the movement and encounter a brief narrative about old age. How Laia struggles with her own body, its faltering functionality, and also its ugliness, because she does not find herself pretty or attractive anymore. But she is no fool: Her appetite for sex is nothing she denies. In fact she’d love to have her young and attractive secretary look at her the way he’d look at an attractive woman these days, and finds her wishes to be in vain.
Living where she lives and meeting whom she meets she also sees the discrepancy between her writings, the celebration of her principles, and how reality plays out differently. Even though she spoke out against hierarchies and authority, people see her as an icon and treat her as one. And even though she perceives of this ideological gap she is also quite happy with the comfort it provides her with in her old age.

via amazon.com

The Day Before The Revolution is first and foremost a story about old age and the end of one’s own life. Laia/Odo has lived her life fully, we could say. She has known oppression and a precarious existence, but she has also known resistance, protest, further repression and the strength to survive it. And she has known love. And loss, and grief. In between the events of the day we witness  there are brief flashes of memory, when she remembers her time in prison and her deceased husband Taviri. And even though these glimpses are short, they are profound, bittersweet and melancholic, but also realistic. What is over is over, so what can you do? Le Guin is a supberb writer in many ways. Big shocking confession right here: I read it in German, not in English, translated by Gisela Stege. While I love Le Guin’s prose in the original, this translation reads beautifully and doesn’t diminish the effect. Le Guin’s art shines through: she is able to draw a character with a few lines and strokes, but round and full, because Laia here is believable in her insecurity and confidence, in her longing and acceptance, in her stubbornness and open mind.
Having made it back to the house she walks up to her room, slowly, dead tired, feeling the stroke coming. She will not survive this night. But we already know that the next day all hell will break lose, the revolution based on her influential thoughts will take off and lead to the settlement of another planet. But you don’t need to know about your own future glory to be a grand person.

Still haven’t read it? You gotta be kiddin’ me! Do so now!

Ursula K. Le Guin sends you empty-handed into your own revolution

Let’s just say it all together: Ursula K. Le Guin is god.
Damn, girl can’t help it, but when she writes Science Fiction she fucking writes masterpiece-top-notch-blow-your-mind literature. So thanks to you Ursula, cause your SF novels are awesome. Oh, and your Fantasy novels of course. And your short stories. And the way you handle issues of “race” and gender in your writing (most of the time). You totally deserve your own religion. Or something.

Anyhow, the tangled title of this very post is my lame attempt at cleverness, because I am about to review The Dispossessed, a SF novel by Le Guin that was published in 1974.

via harpercollins.com

For many people SF seems to be all about spaceships and aliens and questions of “is it not only escapism, because it has nothing to do with the real world?” That’s when my eyes glaze over and I wanna shoot the person uttering this abomination before god (who is Le Guin, of course). Cause in how far is any sort of fiction closer to reality? To whose reality anyway? And what does reality even mean in the context of SF? I’m ever so puzzled when people feel disconnected to characters and events in SF stories because the surroundings and the technology are not what they expect – since they obviously expect to find their world in a novel or story, or at least the idea they have of the world and the things they’d like to see in it. And it makes me wonder: isn’t that even a graver form of escapism? That characters and actions become so very irrelevant because the whole attraction boils down to only the physical surroundings?

Because great SF comes up with characters and developments that we in our conditio humana can relate to: Characters who are presented with dilemmas that inform our own existence and their ways to deal with said dilemmas.
In the case of The Dispossessed we are presented with a political dilemma of our times: what sort of society do we want to live in? Is capitalism a road to go down or does anarchism and its communal structure present a valid alternative? The narrative takes us on a journey that alternates between chapters set in the now, on Urras, a planet full of nations, many of which are capitalist, some democratic, others socialist and repressive. That is not to say that A-Io, the nation that protagonist Shevek finds himself in, and that is apparently democratic, would not be repressive. There are mass-demonstrations and the government shooting the demonstrators out of helicopters. There are privileged people and an angry underclass. And Shevek, brought up in a distinctly non-capitalist mindset, realizes that despite all the beauty and lushness of A-Io, capitalism does indeed produce a dichotomy: within society, but also within the personality. You need to think of yourself in terms of market value, and at the same time, perversely, your performance in the market determines your value as a person. And yes, this sounds all too familiar for a reason. People do demeaning jobs and accept humiliation and abuse, because the system produces positions that can only survive by putting up with the ugly side of things.

Anarres, the planet that Shevek originates from, is the antithesis to that. It is the moon to Urras (or Urras the moon to Anarres), and while Urras is rich in water, history, nature, cultures and people, Anarres is not, it is more like one huge desert with little vegetation and a constant challenge to those 20 million people who came to Anarres some 150+ years ago, because that way leaders on Urras removed the threat of an anarchist revolution. Those who adhered to the principles and teachings of Odo, an anarchist writer, were able to set up a society from scratch on Anarres, based on their anarchist thinking. That means that everything is organized communally, people do the job that they would like to do and unpleasant tasks are done by everyone on a rotational basis. There is no possession. The things you need are there for you to take, if you need a room or an apartment you ask if there is something free and you get to use it. You eat in dining halls where food is rationed for everyone.
But the wonderful thing about Le Guin is the ability to be critical about one’s preferences. There is no question that she sympathizes with the Odonian society where people share and have a responsibility towards one another, grounded in neither religion nor nationality, but in the simple acknowledgement that as a society, every human is part of it and profits from it, but also has to contribute. And while Shevek in the flashback chapters where we learn about his life’s story on Anarres sets out with an uncritical appraisal of Odonian society he comes to learn that much of the unity and civility comes from having to work together to sustain the people on the bleak planet of Anarres. He encounters hierarchies in his field of physics and in the society in general, even though the first rule of Odonian thinking is that there are no hierarchies, that everyone is the same, that there are no nations, states, and that all administrative bodies are open to anyone and are not to be understood as authorities. But as structures tend to do, they take root and habits and hierarchies develop, and over time Shevek learns that many people might claim that they are Odonians, that they carry the revolution in their hearts, but that in reality they are fundamentally opposed to having their conveniences and habits questioned and thus seek to protect their petty interests, masking it with anarchist rhetoric. And of course all of that too sounds familiar for a reason.

(c) Eileen Gunn, via usulakleguin.com

Late in the novel Shevek has an encounter with the Terran ambassador to Urras (yeah, she is from our Earth, y’all, only far in the future). By then humanity has pretty much overpopulated and destroyed beloved planet Earth and being impressed by the anarchist (or as she’d probably put it: communist) mindset of Shevek she remarks about Urras:

“To me, and to all my fellow Terrans who have seen the planet, Urras is the kindliest, most various, most beautiful of all the inhabited worlds. It is the world that comes as close as any could to Paradise. … Now, you man from a world I cannot even imagine, you who see my Paradise as Hell, will you ask what my world must be like?”

Just to remind you once more: Le Guin is god. And here’s why: Cause right and wrong is nothing set in stone, but is for 99.9 percent of the time a matter of perspective. And perspectives change and are pre-conditioned by how we are socialized and thus the rights seem very wrong to others while the wrongs might seem very right to others and all it boils down to is that it’s probably a little more complicated than we think and at the same time not, cause why not work with our differences, we’re all just human after all. Granted, there is a catch though, cause obviously despite all its flaws, Anarresti society based on Odonian principles of solidarity is much closer to take the individual as a being to be treated and met with respect and is therefore a pretty spot-on comment about what many people in our day and age (and before that and probably after us too) find wrong with capitalism and the permeation of society and state with capitalist thinking and pseudo-reasoning. However, a constant revolution does not mean invoking revolution through words, but make revolution happen in actions. When they are needed. And they are needed often, and going through a revolution is never easy. Especially not when you meet fierce resistance from those who claim to be living the constant revolution, when really, they’re not.

via blographia-literia.com

Ursula K. Le Guin has time and again proven her ability to create and construct believable political entities and situations, remarkably so in her novel The Left Hand of Darkness. But what she is also famous for, especially with the latter publication, is her ability to comment on gender issues and come up with thought-provoking takes on the whole thing.
In the case of The Dispossessed she does so too. The society in A-Io is divided strictly along gender lines. Women are not in politics and many of them are not supposed to be working at all (though in reality, they do, especially in the working class), and they do not attend universities. They carve out their own spaces nevertheless, though the worth of this remains questionable. Once more, this situation represents a heightened version of what we encounter in our Terran societies these days (and probably even more so back in the 70s when the novel was published). And again Anarresti society based on Odonian anarchist principles functions as a comment on the situation. Shevek falls in love, deeply and thoroughly, with a woman who is of her own mind, who, like all other women on Anarres, is equal to men in every respect. And the profound attraction stems from the fact that he can see her as an individual, as the character she is, rather than the societal position that she inhabits or the gender role she performs. Which is really a marvellous concept in terms of attraction and true affection.
Another interesting gender-subversion is Sheveks short-lived gay relationship with Bedap. The text clearly states that Shevek is heterosexual and that Bedap is homo, but Shevek, because he values the friendship moves in with him and even has sex, even though it doesn’t particularly excite him, but because he feels it to be a natural part of their friendship that is kind of a duty he meets, cause he knows that it is important for Bedap. It’s a peculiar construction within the novel, cause on the one hand I find it to be touching, this concept of deep affection within a friendship that leads one to perform sexual acts that don’t correspond to one’s orientation. However, it is also questionable to the extent that we may of course ask why even go there and have sex, when there is no real sexual attraction. And if there is, why not stick with the bisexual label instead of creating restrictive hetero and homo categories. I admit, the thing kinda puzzles me, because although I see the potential issues, I still think it is kinda heart-warming. Which probably has a lot to do with me not having any problem whatsoever with friendships that involve sex but are not romantic relationships, while, I guess, that does not meet a lot of understanding from other people.

Ah, ‘nuff said. The Dispossessed is a veritable classic, and IMHO anyone should have read it. Just like anyone should have read something by Le Guin (and praise her as god). There is a short story connected to this novel called The Day Before The Revolution, which is about Odo, the principle figure shaping the anarchist movement and society we encounter here, but it is less about her theoretical works and rather about her in old age and how she deals with it. All in one day and all right before the revolution that starts the settlement on Anarres. I’ll review it these next days. Until then: Go pick up your copy of The Dispossessed.

Didn’t you hear me? Go and read it!