Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Surrounded by Friends for the Holidays

From the post that follows, don’t imagine that I’m lonely for human companionship. Far from it. Lana is here. I’ve spoken with my son and should see him and his wife, Heidi, and new son (my beautiful grandson Silas) soon. I’ve been on the phone and visited with friends and family. I stay in touch with many on facebook. But today, I’m posting about a different kind of friend. Some might call them the imaginary kind, but if you’re a reader you’ll know it’s more than that.

Joe Lansdale is just off to my right as I type this. T. Chris Martindale, Robert McCammon, David Morrell are close by. Well, their books are; their characters are. I’ve never met these writers, but their books and characters like Hap and Leonard and John Rambo are long-term friends and companions. Shirley Jackson and Charlee Jacob are there. These two writers themselves are sadly gone, but the books remain my friends—although Charlee’s works are not exactly the kind one brings home to mother. Even H. P. Lovecraft is there, a curmudgeonly uncle if there ever was one.

To my left sits Robert E. Howard and the single largest collection of lit-friends. As I look at them now, I reach for a book or two to share a nod with Kull and Bran and Dark Agnes. But Edgar Rice Burroughs and his creations are calling from behind. John Carter, Tarzan, Jane, David Innes, Dejah Thoris, Carson Napier loom larger than life at my shoulders. And right next to them are Dray Prescot, Delia of Delphond, Elric, Druss the Legend, Raven, Croaker, Eric John Stark, and a hundred others—Brak, Kothar, Kyrik, Thongor, Aldair—you know I could go on.

I can go around the room and name them: Poul Anderson’s Flandry of Terra, the Witch World characters of Andre Norton, Hammer’s Slammers and the Dorsai, the Lost Regiment of William Forstchen, Paul Atreides and Captain Blood, Repairman Jack and all the magnificent characters of Thieves’ World. The Traveler and the Destroyer and the Survivalist. The Shadow and Spider. Dumarest of Terra, Doc Savage, and Blade (more than one by that name). Harry Potter and Hermione. The Sacketts and all their kin. Some aren’t even human—The Black Stallion, Flame, Desert Dog, Big Red, White Fang, Buck, Old Yeller, Kalak.

There are plenty works by writers I have met and can call friends: James Reasoner, Sidney Williams, O’Neil De Noux, James Sallis, David Lanoue, Candice Proctor, Rexanne Becnel, Shauna Roberts, and others I know well enough that it feels like we’ve met even if we haven’t—Paul Bishop, Richard Prosch, Bruce Boston, Danette Haworth, Charles Nuetzel, Seth Lindberg, David West, Chris LaTray.

And these days, there’s even some of my own literary children in the mix: Ruenn MacLang, Trenton Banning, Thal and Krieg and Bryle, and three little foxes named Emris, Lyder and Flis. It’s a pretty full house for the Holidays. I’m happy.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Game of Thrones: An Ending

Lana and I just finished watching the final season of Game of Thrones last night. It seems like everyone else in the world has already shared their disappointment with the finale, so I’ll do my take. Warning: Spoilers ahead.

I had zero interest in Game of Thrones when I first heard of it. I hadn’t read the books and hadn’t been in the mood for what I thought would be “High Fantasy” for years. But Lana, my wife, was captivated. She kept telling me I’d like it, and at some point I sat down and watched an episode. I was immediately hooked. It wasn’t High Fantasy, but some semi-historical combination of High Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery. There are folks who’ve told me they don’t like Game of Thrones. They’re entitled to their opinion and I’m entitled not to care.

The settings, the characters, the ambience were all excellent. The acting was terrific. There was tons of intrigue but it never got in the way of moving the story forward. I quickly developed strong attachments to the characters. Some I empathized with and came to love, like Tyrion Lannister, and some I came to hate, like Cersei Lannister. Some went from one extreme to the other, and sometimes back again, like Jamie Lannister, Arya Stark, Sansa Stark and Grey worm.

Then came Season 8. I certainly empathize with the writers who had to try and bring this sprawling epic to a satisfactory close. They were working without a net by now, having gotten ahead of the books by George RR Martin, and there were numerous plotlines to bring together. Many viewers have described season 8 as feeling rushed, and I agree. There was so much to get done and some of it did not get its due. This is one reason I was particularly irritated by some of the “wasted” time in the final season. There were long, long scenes of characters mourning, of characters waking up and trying to figure out where they were, of characters staring in shock. The mourning scenes and shock scenes were necessary but far too prolonged, and this time could have been better used.

The most difficult part for me to deal with in season 8 was the change in some of the characters. Tyrion suddenly becomes a bumbling, love-sick fool, Daenerys Targaryen—an awesome character—takes a 90 degree turn into viciousness, Jon Snow seems to periodically lose his spine. Oh, there was some justification given for all these changes, but it felt very cosmetic and…contrived. I think the problem was, in large part, that they killed the Night King fairly early in season 8 and then needed another villain. Cersei was available but her movements were constrained, and so they had to make Daenerys a villain—or felt they had to. (See my last paragraph here for another possibility.)

Despite these complaints and the somewhat ham-handed forcing of the characters into awkward actions to close the storyline, I thought there was quite a bit of good in the final season. For example, Arya using an assassin’s trick to kill the Night King was perfect. I heard one critic say it should have been Jon Snow, and Jon was used poorly in the end of that episode, but it was right to have Arya do it. It should have been Jon clearing the way for her to reach the Night King, however. In addition, the ending of the Hound in conflict with his brother was spot on, I thought. And I thought it appropriate for Cersei and Jamie to die together, buried by rubble in the depths of the castle that Cersei had ruled for so long and so monstrously. I thought the end of Jon’s story was also right, even though it was emotionally painful for the viewer—at least this viewer. He was kind of a Moses character in some sense and thus could never quite reach the promised land. I liked Arya sailing off to chart new lands. I liked the bantering and bickering among the new King’s council near the end. It sounded just right to me.

And finally, Daenerys’ end. It seems to me that Game of Thrones was her story. She was truly a doom-driven hero, and her descent into madness was perfectly suited to drama, even if it was both hard to watch and so rushed as to make it hard to believe. In the end, having Jon Snow kill her the way he did was the only choice left to these characters. And to have her carried off by her last surviving dragon was a nice touch. So, I watched Game of Thrones. I don’t regret it. It won’t be easily forgotten in the years to come.