Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I Surrender (Also, Why I Will Be Shunned By My Fellow Geeks)

by Meghan B

Keep the damn throne, Ned. I don't want it.
I have been fighting an epic battle since mid-August. Every morning I would suit up for the field of war and attempt to fight my way deeper into enemy territory. Inch by inch I tried to carve my way into the black heart of my foe. My burden was heavy and my resolve great, but still I was beaten back by the huge army ahead of me.

In short, I was trying to read George R.R. Martin's first book in the mindbendingly epic Game of Thrones series. Carrying that big tome in my purse every morning weighed me down (over 800 pages!) and I was quite simply overwhelmed by, well, everything. After struggling through only 214 pages of the book, I have admitted defeat. Even worse, I found the TV show to be well made but boring and confusing.

Fellow nerds, I am ready for my shunning.

I have a problem. Every so often I try to tackle an epic fantasy or sweeping space opera novel. For a person who gets anxious when they don't finish a book, I have abandoned a high number of these genres. I hear about amazing plots or interesting characters and I give them a try, only to fail again. Every single time I feel almost sick with disappointment that I can't get through them.

Why can't I finish you?! *sobs*
In theory, Game of Thrones had everything I usually love in a fantasy novel. Weird omens (I still love saying "Winter is coming"), long family lineages, interesting conflict. It also had everything that turns me off in a fantasy novel. Long and confusing names, one character being known by four or five names (Eddard, Ned, Lord of Winterfell, who are you?! Don't even get me started on Daenerys!), confusing geography, etc. Most of the time, I couldn't tell any of the characters apart (the only Stark sons I can tell apart are Bran and Jon Snow). I just literally could not wrap my mind around any of them. I also hated every single one of them with the fury of a thousand winters.

I've heard this is the point of the books. Most characters are reprehensible human beings who do incredibly evil, fucked up things. I usually love a book that has some really messed up, evil characters but I just couldn't stomach the level of vile I encountered in the book. Part of me got bored with it and the other part of me was so messed up by it I couldn't continue (throwing Bran from a tower?! Selling Daenerys?! Sansa's direwolf?!). I quickly began to not give a damn about anyone in the series. The second I became attached to someone, something horrific befell them. What was the point in getting attached? If spoilers my friends have told me are any indication, it just gets worse for some of the characters I really liked (Nooo, Ned...).

Another issue I had was with GRRM's writing, which I found to be drier than the parts I had to skim just to finish Lord of the Rings. I started to not understand the motivations of some of the characters. I never felt fully immersed in the world he had tried so hard to create. I never got the hang of the geography and I was incredibly skeeved by the way he wrote sex. I think back on some of those scenes and just shudder.

One day you will play someone who has a good day, Sean Bean
A few people told me to try watching the HBO show and then trying to pick the book back up again. Again, this resulted in failure, as the show never pulled me in either (no matter how hot Sean Bean looked). It was beautifully filmed and casted, the costumes were gorgeous and the sets were beyond belief but it all still left me cold, My attention wandered as I tried to watch them and, again, I couldn't tell some people apart (seriously, are the older Stark sons all played by the same guy or something?). The show actually made me hate certain people even more than the book had. My extreme dislike of crazyass Viserys Targaryen become all out hatred and I couldn't stand to see him on screen. Don't even get me started on how I started to hear sirens ala The Bride in Kill Bill whenever I saw Cersei Lannister.

I wanted desperately to love Game of Thrones. I was prepared to be blown away. All of my friends have been obsessed with it, even my coworkers talk about it around the water cooler (we actually have a water cooler and people actually talk around it, it's bizarre). I really wanted to join in. I'm actually still pretty depressed that I couldn't make it through the book and have left my bookmark stuck faithfully between pages 214 and 215 in the hope that I may pick it up again. Maybe, if I give it time, my brain will finally be able to tell people apart or I may suddenly be grabbed by the writing. Instead, I look at the series sitting in a pile on my floor and just sigh sadly. I tried, honestly I did. I guess I'm just another casualty of the sadistic and cruel Lannisters.

I guess it's weird to feel sad about all this. I do feel sort of like the unpopular kid in school who has missed out on the big thing all the popular kids are talking about. Sitting at my little unpopular lunch table, in a corner, alone.

Readers, friends, if you love Game of Thrones, please tell me why. Give me a reason to get back up and resume my fight. Is it even worth it to keep going? What do you like about the series? I beg of you, give me some insight. Tell me something I may have overlooked. Or at least tell me your secret for telling everyone apart!
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  1. I actually like the series, but can't really disagree with anything you say here. I read these books back years ago when they came out and I think I had the feeling that the books would eventually resolve into at least a few people to root for - I mean, "game of thrones", someone has to win, right? And I know I loved arya and mostly read thru the other characters' chapters trying to get back to her. I eventually started liking Jon and Dany too. I decided to reread them all when A Dance With Dragons came out, and while I actually feel like I better appreciate a lot of the other characters better now, I am nevertheless sort of ok with him taking another 6 years to write the next book. I need a break! It's kind of wearing not to know who to root for. So if you are not liking it now, you probably never will. But I sympathize. I don't like the Lord of the Rings... And, maybe even worse, I don't love harry potter. I read all but the last book, and don't really care. (I did read all of LOtR, but when I was young and didn't understand it all. I couldn't reread it as an adult) In all three cases I like the film version better, because I don't mind feeling more distant from the characters in a film (tv) and I can just look at the pretty scenery/costumes/whatever.

  2. Psst...I haven't read it either...

    Game of Thrones is stting on my shelf, very lonely. Each time I almost grab it I think about how long it is and how many books I have to read to catch up and I read something else. I have to be in the right mood for it, and I do worry about becoming numb to the carnage (Fiona McIntosh's Percheron trilogy is beautifully written, but it was a bloodbath). Sometimes killing off beloved characters ups the dramatic tension and sense of danger, but too much and I stop getting attached to characters (and that leads to me not caring what happens next). It's a tough balancing act, and is probably why I don't read many war heavy epics.

  3. Thanks for making me feel better. I, too, had trouble with the first book of "Game of Thrones." Someone I was dating at the time thought I would like it. He was wrong. The few characters I could keep straight I hated. The pace was uneven and I found myself bored. I won't be picking up the rest of the books -- and Sean Bean (hothothot) would be the only reason I would ever watch the series.

  4. After checking out the TV series, I don't think I'll read the books. I don't mind a little bit of darkness in my books, but I can't handle so much depressing material. However, my hat is off to G.R.R. Martin for his challenge to the old fantasy tropes where everything works out perfectly. He definitely changed the landscape of fantasy fiction for the better.

  5. I didn't connect with the caracters too...
    And there are soooo many caracters in the damn book that i lost track of who was who.
    And the best scene was in the last page.
    Meh.. I think that a lot of people say they like game of thrones just to look smart..

  6. I have really loved the series, but I can sympathize with your position on this one. I really long epic fantasies so this one was kind of a no-brainer for me. I however will never read the Harry Potter series myself. I just can't get that into a bunch of children. It may be a good story, it may be well written, but it's not my thing.

    I personally like A Game of Thrones because I like the twisty-turny route of the story. I like not knowing who is going to come out on top as much as it drives me insane! It makes me want to continue reading. That being said, it is incredibly dark. This is a series that explores the darkest sides of people and delves into just how low people will sink for power. I saw a parody cover for A Dance with Dragons where the title of the book was changed to "Yeah,that Guy Dies Too!" Totally appropriate. I suspect that if you don't like the series now, you may never like it. Don't feel bad though; we all have our nerdy failings! :)

    Having said all of this, I hope he takes at least a year and half before the next one comes out. I need some time to read something a little more light-hearted after finishing A Dance with Dragons!

  7. I liked the show, but I took one look at that book and KNEW I wouldn't be able to finish it. I also figured it would be too convoluted for my minuscule brain to handle.
    I, too, hang my head in shame.

  8. The books are alright. I have read them 3-4 times. Mostly because when I want something gritty and realistic to read, there they sit. Kind of a peak of that kind of writing.

    The issue is, they are not fantastic. They are different. We read for different reasons, and some people like the writing GRRM does because it's more realistic.

    I prefer my fantasy to be fantasy. I want to emphasize with characters and not see them dashed against the rocks or built up for a thousand pages only to end with a one line, "oh and he had oil poured on him! He's gone"

    The books are well written by any kind of gramatical rule. But again, give me some fluffy bunnies because, gritty just doesn't feel like fantasy to me. They have fantastic elements, but it just feels like reading real medieval history.

    The show is a lot better done to me. But then it misses the mark because of how coarse the language is. It is really hard to get the gist of how one character woo's and seduces men, when she talks about fucking like she is the town whore.... It's too much in your face. GRRM's use of elements either makes it so sedated that you miss it or its so in your face you are choking on it.

    My 2 cents.
    Story IS actually good, but unlike Jordan, you feel quite little for things, your characters are not built up enough, and his gritty realism just breaks you out of fantasy.

  9. Checked it out of the library and got through the first ten pages before quitting. I need to be pulled in pretty early to keep up with a new book.

    It's okay.

  10. I got halfway through the second book before I put it down. I like the story but the writing really, REALLY meanders. I'll just watch the show, and maybe when the series is finished I'll try again to read it.

  11. This was the first gritty fantasy series I ever read, and I devoured it whole. I loved it, quoted from it, argued about it, wept over it -- your basic passionate love affair with a series. That said, I've read other series since then that I've liked as much if not more (Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicles, Lynch's Lies of Locke Lamora), but GRRM will always be the first author to take me through the ringer in that special way that only a gritty fantasy author can.

    That said, A Dance with Dragons was ... not good. Wretched, really. The last two books have been more chore than delight to read, and it's cooled my ardor for recommending the series without reservation to people. Doesn't make the Battle of Blackwater in book 2 or pretty much all of book 3 any less epic, though.

    Eh, different tastes are what makes the world go 'round, right?

  12. @Sara: Maybe my issue is that my first gritty fantasy was the Deverry Cycle by Katherine Kerr, and it was shown from the perspective of the lowliest dregs of the kingdoms (Jill, a dishonored mercenary's bastard daughter) instead of the highest echelon of nobility. After seeing that sort of thing go on through Jill's eyes, I find that I have very little patience for watching the noble born rearranging chairs and squabbling like children, and that's really the entirety of A Song of Ice and Fire so far. I was super excited about the idea of Winter coming and the Others sweeping down on them from the North but that hasn't happened. It's like, hey, call me when this show is less Melrose Place and more Night of the Living Dead.

  13. I've been reading the novels since the first one was published; I loved them straight off. For whatever reason, I had no trouble with his writing; I shamefully admit I had to skim through parts of LOTR because it bored the hell out of me, but for this series I was absorbed right from the start. Obviously though, different people prefer different things in their books - some like sweets, some like salty :) Here's why I like it:

    I can't say it was painless - I cried in parts, and I think that GRRM quickly establishes that there are no "safe" players in this story. In that respect, it made the series all the more visceral for me, because the characters I loved were in very real danger.. no sitting back and carrying on with the smug assumption that "it'll all work out in the end".

    That's why I like the series.. life can suck sometimes, and there are no guaranteed happy endings. We see these many characters, some that we have always known are small and helpless, and some that we thought at first were great powers and then we learn that they are just as caught in the tide as the children. They get twisted up in the bitter injuries and grudges of past generations, the machinations of the powerful few going on around, over and through them; the inscrutable and horrifying actions of an alien power and foreign cultures that seem almost as alien to them.. and on top of that, they have to deal with their personal tragedies as well, which often seem so great to them that it makes them forget the bigger picture.

    Throughout all of this, some are making fatal mistakes or choose the wrong path, some are making sacrifices that ARE sacrifices because we cared about them, unlike many books where some doomed person you never got attached to steps up to be the martyr. And the ones that we first dismissed as weak - kids, cripples, bastards, and pawns - they have been growing, blossoming into something more than their society wanted to mold and label them as.

    I keep reading because I hope to see these characters fulfill their potential and hopefully offer a better option for the future of their world.