Sunday, 8 December 2013

A Game of Thrones: Perpetual Motion Machine

A Game of Thrones generates stories like mad. The characters are so numerous that the death of even key characters gets absorbed easily by the machinery that generates the crises, both personal and political, that beset George R. R. Martin's invented world of the Seven Kingdoms. The potential for storytelling is massive in this kind of scenario, but the centre of the storyline is empty. That emptiness is reminiscent of video games, which are full of melodrama and action and the trappings of realism but really are simulacra of realism, the realism of people who have no grasp of history and thus of what underlies daily life.

As a result, who lives and who dies seems determined by a roll of the dice. Some prophecies come true, some don't. Some good characters succeed, some don't. Battles that seem destined to fail end up routing the enemy, while reasonable plans collapse after sudden defections or bad luck. Just as the loyalties of the different family factions shift, so must the reader's. Getting attached to any particular character doesn't yield any rewards. That character may die at the whim of the many mad, bad warriors and kings, or fall ill, or die after a wound goes bad. Petrified dragon eggs are not actually petrified, cruel warlords are loving husbands, loving children actually hate their parents.

The wight of Waymar Royce
Do zombies have to be in everything?
This kind of storyline mimics the military histories of many nations, but if I wanted to read a long narrative about the military history of a nation, I would read a history of a nation. At least I could put those events in the context of the now. The real world has no dragons, no zombies, no magicians, no Seven Kingdoms.

This book is a soulless Lord of the Rings. In that series, people seemed to be fighting for a reason, and that reason keeps the narrative going. This book has no reason but to produce narrative. The quixotic plot twists bored me, as did the shallow characterization of most characters (save one or two characters I ended up liking, one of whom dies for no good reason). Political intrigue are the actions of insane or angry or sad people taking bloody vengeance on one another (the emphasis being on the bloodiness).

I suspect that the violence and sex is what attracts people to the novel and TV series.The slaughters and betrayals and rape scenes and incest and prophecies do not titillate me or even shock me. I've read Beowulf , the Nibelungenlied, Wagnerian opera, Shakespeare's history plays, and yes, The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, among other literary texts, not to mention books on early European history.  I have read enough of this kind of revenge story already to have wanted something new from Martin's novel, and after 400 pages, I realized I wasn't going to find it.

If the series were shorter, and if I hadn't had as much reading experience under my belt as I have, I would have more patience. But the series goes on for four more books, and it seems likely to be four books of the same damn thing. I don't have time for this kind of repetition.

I have The Shack left to read as well as the TBA bestseller on the Globe and Mail bestseller list left to read. I have also acquired a copy of Must Read: Rediscovering American Bestsellers, which I hope to bring to bear here in the near future.

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