Janus Gift #4 – Finish Reading Things

This seems like the obvious of obvious. Particularly for a writer and avid reader. But I have about 12 books that I literally don’t want to finish – some I’m only halfway through. It’s not because I don’t like them, either – quite the opposite! I don’t want to finish them because then the story is OVER or PAUSED FOR YEARS and I don’t get any more progress of these characters I’ve so quickly grown to love.

That sounds weird. But it is true.

When it comes to my entertainment, I am character-focused. I’ll forgive a lot of plot fuckery if the characters’ arcs feel true. I will forgive odd/contrived/trope-filled/what have you choices up until the moment where I feel that the characters would NOT make these choices and would NOT move the plot in that particular way. (The Battlestar Galactica reboot is an example of a show for which I let a lot of stuff slide up until a fave character did something WAY unusual.) I’ll even enjoy stuff that is objectively horrible as long as I buy the characters.

The flip side of this is that if I really adore the characters, I don’t want to leave their stories. It doesn’t happen all that often, but it happens often enough that I have a little collection of books I haven’t finished. Sabaa Tahir’s “A Reaper At The Gates” is a terrific example. Laia and Helene, holy CRAP. I have been loving this rich, gorgeous series and I don’t want this 3rd book to end. (Even though I know there’s a 4th book, I STILL don’t want the 3rd book to end.)

But I also really want to know what happened. And the avid reader part of me deserves that sigh of satisfaction at the end of a story well-told.

So I am working on being okay with things finishing. I have promised myself I’ll complete “Reaper at the Gates” and N.K. Jemisin’s “The Broken Earth…”

…and hopefully I’ll get enough into it to be okay with reading Chuck Wendig’s “Vultures.” Which is supposed to arrive in a few days. *bites nails*

RIP Stan Lee

Many people have said all the things about this guy, better than I could. But there’s one aspect to Stan I haven’t seen mentioned explicitly yet, and want to get my take out there.

What always amazed me about Stan was how many amazing, sympathetic characters he created in collaboration with other creatives. I often think about how many more of his creations I identify with than other worldbuilders. (Even more than Le Guin, and that is really saying something.) I mean, sure, when I was very young and watching superhero media, I loved Wonder Woman more than any other icon. But she was aspirational. I actually identified more with the Hulk, because the Hulk was always messing things up for Bruce Banner, even though Banner tried really hard to keep things together.

Yeah. As a kid, that really hit home.

Jean Grey/Phoenix and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch were similar. I identified with them because even though they had a lot more power than nearly anyone else, they also didn’t have the best control of it. Shit could blow up, sometimes despite their best efforts. As a kid with poor hand-eye coordination and not great fine motor control, in a family who had both in spades, that was kind of a balm. Knowing that sometimes, even people who are super can fuck things up.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought these characters (and more) to me, and gave me a context to understand myself in a different way. Kirby was gone before I really had gotten my arms around my fandom, but Lee? I got to see him as separate from the comics, and for that I’m grateful.

Thanks for everything, Stan.

RIP Ursula K. Le Guin

I’m shaken. Tearing up. I thought she had more time.

Thank you, wonderful soul, for Arha/Tenar:

“A dark hand had let go its lifelong hold upon her heart. But she did not feel joy, as she had in the mountains. She put her head down in her arms and cried, and her cheeks were salt and wet. She cried for the waste of her years in bondage to a useless evil. She wept in pain, because she was free.”

Thank you, wonderful soul, for Therru/Tehanu:

“I think,” Tehanu said in her soft, strange voice, “that I when I die, I can breathe back the breath that made me live. I can give back to the world all that I didn’t do. All that I might have been and couldn’t be. All the choices I didn’t make. All the things I lost and spent and wasted. I can give them back to the world. To the lives that haven’t been lived yet. That will be my gift back to the world that gave me the life I did live, the love I lived, the breath I breathed.”

I will miss the books you never wrote.

TV’s Game of Thrones might be better than A Song Of Ice And Fire

Though after the 1st season, I never thought I’d say that. And until last night, I would still have held up the books as a better entertainment experience.

TRIGGER WARNING: I’m talking a lot about the sexual violence in the story and in the show.

I’m writing this after spending a lot of time thinking about the episode two weeks ago, in which a main female character endures a violating wedding night… and we get to witness it through another character’s eyes. And for a while, I was wondering “where’s my outrage? As a survivor, where’s my intolerance for this moment in the story?”

I realized very soon that my outrage had been used up in a few things:

  • I’d already started calling GRRM’s ASOIAF “A Tale of Rape and Food” long before the TV show. Seriously, the man can wax lyrical about the menu at a buffet or the body horror in a scene. I always wondered why he had to spend SO much time with the stuffed swans and the… well, I’ll leave that language out.
  • I was already insanely furious at the TV series episode in which Daenerys marries Khal Drogo, where their wedding night goes exactly opposite what the book says. In the show, we have the intense misfortune to actually witness it. In the book, Daenerys and Khal Drogo have a beautiful, extraordinary exchange which is short, but really encapsulates how she can quickly envision a life in which people are given choices, starkly (pun not intended) different from how her brother and his cronies had treated her. Khal Drogo treats her like a person, with her own opinions and preferences, and it’s a new experience for her. It is INSTRUMENTAL for her character. And we’re denied it, why? And we’re given what we’re given, why? What does it do for either character? NOTHING.

I stopped watching the show for two years after that episode. I didn’t want to know; I didn’t care. It was stupid, lazy storytelling. Where GRRM was “A Tale of Rape and Food,” GoT became “The Rape and Food Show.”

Then I read a news item that Emilia Clarke insisted she wouldn’t do nudity in the show anymore. And some time after that, I heard that the show was catching up to the books. That some storylines would be trimmed.

At this point, I had been waiting for Tyrion and Daenerys to meet as equals for ten years.

Yeah, ten years. That’s a long time to wait for two cherished characters to meet in a series.┬áIn the books, I always felt their arcs were very similar – unfortunate children finally given love and respect from an unexpected place, and that love taken away too soon. When I could see in Storm of Swords that the meeting was coming, I was on tenterhooks. I was incredibly disappointed when they weren’t in Feast for Crows. And after waiting 6 years? Soooo many “almost…ALMOST…nope!” teases in Dance with Dragons. The last scene in Daenerys’ arc in DwD was so infurating that I threw the book across the room. Tyrion’s scenes were, at best, a struggle to read. I wasn’t looking forward to whatever would happen in Winds of Winter.

Yet I still cared, a LOT, about these characters. That alone indicates how successful GRRM is in his writing, and before last night, I’d give him tribute for the world he built and the storylines he crafted in the 1st three books, despite still calling it a Tale of Rape and Food.

So when I heard the TV series was catching up to the books, I caved. I went back, with my spouse, to start watching season 4.

OH did I love Dinklage’s Tyrion.

And much to my surprise, I found both Cersei and Sansa (and Stannis and Tommen) easier to care about in the TV series.

I have also appreciated the streamlining, and Brienne sticking around, and I could deal with the issues of Daenerys a bit better.

But, and here’s the third factor:

  • There’s some sexualizing bullshit nearly every episode. I mean, prior to the wedding night violation in the same episode, there’s a scene in which a peripheral character is naked through the whole scene, and the important supporting character supposedly has sex with her on camera, but she is obviously VERY uncomfortable, and she’s in no position to withhold consent due to their history, his violent character and his place in a royal house.

That, my friends, is also a sexual violation, and I found THAT more uncomfortable because there was no easy way to distinguish between lack of consent and providing consent in a scene where the female character is visibly not happy with the situation. (see also: Cersei and Jaime.) It also wasn’t important to the motivation of either character at ALL; it was a scene like the one with Viserys in the bathtub, many moons back. It’s like the horrific Joffrey scene. It’s like all the body horror we’d seen so far. It’s like events in so many other episode when I wince and look away and think “Jesus fuck what was THAT for!?”

(Don’t get me started on how many times children are threatened with particularly nasty sexual violence. With weapons.)

With that in mind, not SEEING the event was a relief to me. I was like “fucking finally it’s behind the camera.”

I didn’t have any illusions that it was supposed to be a crux moment for the character who DID witness it. I didn’t think it was instrumental for anyone, and I knew that it was strictly done as a lazy-ass mechanism to escalate the “OH IT’S NOT JUST WORSE NOW IT’S DIFFERENT” moment of her story (hat tip to Chuck Wendig) and give her a supposed motivation to do something she didn’t want to do. Leading to more escalation and yadda yadda. Which of COURSE I agree was lazy and not important to anyone’s arc and could have been done a thousand times better and of course it was gross ….

but it’s grossness that the show has been slathered in for seasons upon seasons. It’s grossness the BOOK is dripping with. If you haven’t been noticing it, you’re ignoring the lesser supporting characters for the POV ones, and that’s another level of grossness in and of itself.

Given that, and given that I’d been so uncomfortable with the other scenes in this season – especially earlier in the episode, and given that I’d been uncomfortable with GRRM’s writings…and knowing that in a few episodes, I’d see the event I’d been waiting for for years? Yeah. No question I was going to wait it out.

Finally, after last night’s incredible ZOOM BANG of several storylines whipping along at breakneck speed? I am starting to wonder whether the abbreviated storylines have given us a better story experience with less overall sexual violence than the books. I’ll have to go back into the books and verify.

So, yeah. I think the show might be better than the books.

I reserve the right to change my mind if GRRM does something wonderful with Winds of Winter that allows me to ignore Dance of Dragons exists. ;)