Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

All The Points That Are Fit To Miss

Yesterday, the New York Times continued to disappoint by printing a poorly written review of the upcoming HBO series “Game of Thrones.” You can read the article here, but to sum up it’s dismissive of the genre of fantasy and can be considered insulting (or at least mildly annoying) to fans of the same. So I decided to send an email to the Times in respone:

I am writing in response to Ginia Bellafante’s “review” of the upcoming HBO series, “Game of Thrones.” It’s upsetting to see something like this in print, not because it’s a negative review, but because it gives two clear impressions:

1) She never bothered to watch the show, let alone with any sense of critical thought or having done some research before hand.

Nowhere in this article does she discuss the plot, characters, actors or anything else that goes into an episode of television. In doing so, she has not performed her job, plain and simple.

For example, the weather in Westeros is not some “vague global-warming horror story.” Had Ms. Bellafante done a smidgen of research, she would have known that is the norm for the setting, not an exception. What George R.R. Martin has with this series, in my opinion, is a thought experiment: “What would a feudal society be like if seasons were measured in years, and winter was coming?” If Ms. Bellafante cannot handle the concept of thought experiments combined with cold climates in works of fiction, I recommend she avoid reading Ursula K. LeGuin’s exemplary work “The Left Hand of Darkness.”

2) In not applying any critical thought to this write-up (I refuse to call it a review), Ms. Bellafante appears to be on a “literary high horse.”

This strikes me more as willfully ignorant and dismissive of genre fiction, and fantasy in particular. A viable and expansive market exists for this, lest we forget the success of the “Lord of the Rings” movies. “Game of Thrones” is not “boy fiction.” I can safely say that while reading these books I was repulsed by the way some of the women and children were treated. However, being of critical mind, I considered that this was how people lived in that era in our own history. It didn’t make it any less repulsive, but instead gave the story a very realistic feel that kept me reading. This is not a romanticized Arthurian fantasy, but a mirror held up to our own past.

What Ms. Bellafante also ignores is that in the writing of “Game of Thrones,” Martin takes many of the tropes and cliches of fantasy fiction and turns them on their ear. As going into depth on this subject would risk spoiling either the book or television series, I will just say that prophecies made can turn out to be abandoned, and grace both gained and lost can come in ways one might not expect.

While Ms. Bellafante may not have liked the show — and such is right and her opinion — showing such disdain for the genre shows a lacking in professionalism. While studying for my Master’s at Seton Hill University, I was made to read works from a variety of genres, including romance, horror, young adult and mainstream fiction. In that time, I made the discovery that good writing happens regardless of genre and deserves to be promoted and read.

In saying that the sexual content was “tossed in as a little something for the ladies,” Ms. Bellafante just comes across as insulting to any woman who has read and enjoyed fantasy. This was not added to the screenplay in an attempt to appeal to a market statistic — again, this is the sort of thing that happened in our own history. Ms. Bellafante gives the impression of ignorance in that regard as well.

I know many women who are avid fans of Martin’s work, and it’s not just for the sex. Politics, intrigue, dark powers, heroes, villains — all of these can appeal to any reader without regard to gender. In all honesty I don’t know what kind of point Ms. Bellafante is trying to make by referencing Lorrie Moore, an author I’ve never heard of, and whose list of credits appears rather thin. Perhaps if she tried referring to someone more prolific like Margaret Atwood (“The Handmaid’s Tale”, “Oryx and Crake”) or someone closer to the genre like Marion Zimmer Bradley (“Mists of Avalon”, The “Darkover” series) her intent would be made clearly.

Again, it is a shame that this made it into print. Like the series or no, “Game of Thrones” deserves better than this hackneyed dismissal.

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“The City & the City” by China Mieville

This is a difficult review to write, for some strange reason. I’m a fan of Mieville’s work, and I’ve yet to read anything of his that fails to satisfy. The City & The City is a well-crafted novel set in three acts and is very much a crime novel. The speculative elements within the novel are what make it stand out — while obscuring it.

Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad in the city of Beszel is called in on a homicide. His investigation takes him to the neighboring city of Ul Qoma, and by neighbor I use that term a little loosely. The two cities are not separated by geography — they exist in the same space but in what I can only describe as different phases. Parts of the two locales “bleed” into each other, or crosshatch to use Mieville’s own words. As a socio-political coping mechanism, citizens of either city are trained to “unsee” their counterparts should they pass through an area where they can see or hear one another. It’s a strange construct that is never fully explained, but it doesn’t need to be.

The act of “unseeing” along with the prevention of illegal passage between Beszel and Ul Qoma is enforced by a mysterious agency known as Breach. As a result it enforces a form of social ignorance. Insert whatever two¬†socio-political¬†constructs you will if you’re looking for an allegory. It’s not required to appreciate this novel, and I think that’s one of Mieville’s strengths. He can take that sort of tack without adding an agenda to his work or having an intended message dominate the work. The story is what matters, and he delivers on that here. He doesn’t answer anything outright in terms of the two cities, the Cleavage that divided/united them, or what Breach really is. That’s where the reader comes in, looking between the lines as much as little as desired.

Mieville uses a very different voice from something like The Kraken or The Scar in this novel. The language is more sparse than you’d expect has a very European feel to it. Given the setting and that it’s done in first person, I can’t see it working any other way. Borlu’s a skeptic, even as the events of the novel unfold around him and ensnare him. It matches that noir style of detective novel while taking on a life of its own.

I really can’t say much more than that — not without getting too opinionated. This is a novel worth reading and forming your own opinion and interpretation. The surreal quality of the two overlapping cities gives the book a unique perspective and adds another layer of complexity to this police procedural.