Carnival of souls: Bestselling writers, Kate Beaton, Shane Black, Game of Thrones criticism for beginners, more

* Heidi MacDonald takes the 2011 comics sales chart wonkery ball and runs it into the end zone. The picture that emerges is of an industry revolving around the equivalent of a really killer Entertainment Weekly panel at San Diego, basically: Bendis, Johns, Morrison, Kirkman, O’Malley, and to an extent Millar. Heidi also puts everything together in a way that makes me a lot more open to the notion that creator-owned comics, or certainly at the very least creator-driven comics, are the star attraction of the market right now.

* Kate Beaton signs to Drawn & Quarterly for a Hark, a Vagrant! collection in Fall 2011. Kudos all around.

* Corey Blake wins Headline of the Day: “Archie leads the digital comics revolution”.

* Frank Santoro and Dan Nadel have the details on that Santoro exhibition that was teased a few days ago. It’s Santoro vs. Greco-Roman mythology, and thus sounds awesome.

* I’m not as big a Shane Black person as many commenters around here seem to be, mostly because I tend not to care for slam-bang action comedies, but I could certainly handle the writer of The Monster Squad being tapped to write and direct a live-action American Death Note adaptation.

* And I’m not quite interested enough in either project to post them here, but there are pictures of the new Spider-Man and Captain America movie costumes out there, and they both look pretty good. I would also like to take this opportunity to note that Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies weren’t very good.

* Curt Purcell has posted another piece on Battlestar Galactica, focusing on Starbuck. He objects to the character’s resolution (a good deal more reasonably than many such objections, I should note); I disagree in the comments.

* The Onion AV Club’s Scott Tobias tackles Real Genius, which I think me and most of my friends took as more of an instruction manual than an actual movie. Chris Knight, Discordian Saint.

* I’m not sure if the drawings in this Josh Cotter post titled “Ben Clark: Inks” are by Cotter or not, but they’re lovely.

* I think the Westeros crew’s review of the Game of Thrones sizzle reel shown to the press over the past week is the best-in-class effort. It drives home a few points I’ve seen in other reports quite clearly: HBO is using the plot to grab people rather than resting on “It’s a fantasy TV show” (compare and contrast with AMC’s strategy for The Walking Dead), Michelle Fairley and Emilia Clarke are apparently really impressive in the key roles of Catelyn Stark and Danaerys Targaryen respectively, and the Wall looks incredible. (Cf. Myles McNutt’s fine review, and James Poniewozik’s as well; both via this Westeros post.) Their quibbles seem reasonable to me as well: Jaime Lannister isn’t quite as impressively roguish as they’d expected, for example. (They refrain from naming the character with whom they have the most concerns.) If you’re as starved as I am for good GRRM/GoT/ASoIaF talk, these are all places you should be visiting.

* Elsewhere, Winter Is Coming serves up an in-depth report on the press roundtable with showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff. It seems primarily concerned with bouncing the show off things to which it will be compared: the books themselves, The Lord of the Rings, other big HBO shows, non-fantasy fans’ preconceptions of the genre, and so on.

* Finally (via McNutt), if you’re interested in Game of Thrones but haven’t read the books, Alan Sepinwall is the TV critic for you: He plans on going into the show without reading them and without consuming any press materials that give away plot points. Sepinwall can be a very insightful critic when he’s working with strong material to which he brings few preconceptions, so this could be good.

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11 Responses to Carnival of souls: Bestselling writers, Kate Beaton, Shane Black, Game of Thrones criticism for beginners, more

  1. Curt says:

    Without giving too much away, can you maybe hit a few bullet-points about what sets SONG OF ICE AND FIRE apart from other similar fantasy series? It sounds so run-of-the-mill, even when people gush about it. What am I missing that would make me want to read it?

    • Curt, I’m such an enthusiast for this material that I don’t know if I’ll be any good at expressing or explaining why. (I’m also emotionally and physically exhausted due to all sorts of off-blog goings-on this past week and am not at my most cogent.) But I’ll take a shot at running down some of the series’ distinguishing characteristics.

      1) The fantasy elements are surprisingly minimal, particularly at first. Now, I can’t imagine that’s really a selling point for a guy like you, and I know that I don’t care about that one way or another either (except insofar as this is tied to one of the more unique aspects of Martin’s worldbuilding and historic/cultural constructions). I also have surprisingly little experience with post-Tolkien Medieval Europe-type high/epic fantasy series — basically zero, unless you count the Prydain Chronicles which you probably shouldn’t as they’re for kids — but I imagine the lack of overt magic or monsters or non-human creatures struck many readers immersed in your Robert Jordans and Mercedes Lackeys as refreshing. It’s also a big part of how HBO’s getting it over.

      2) Similarly, there’s cursing and graphic sex and violence. I hadn’t seen that in a high fantasy either, although like I said, I’m not well-read in the genre. And it’s not for shock’s sake, as I’ll sort of articulate in a later item.

      3) The structure of the narrative is highly addictive. Each chapter focuses on a particular character, whose name serves as that chapter’s title, and the characters rotate throughout the book(s). This has the effect of embroiling you in a particular character’s situation or storyline, then immediately popping you over into another’s, so that you find yourself racing through the chapters to get to the next one starring the person you’re interested in — and then getting interested in the ones you’re reading in the interim, and repeating the process over and over. It’s rather brilliant.

      4) Just in terms of sheer plot mechanics it’s engrossing stuff. There’s a dynastic struggle that encompasses a murder mystery, a conspiracy, shifting and secret alliances, political machinations — and then brewing underneath it all, two major external threats. You find yourself wanting to get to the bottom of it all, and how.

      5) I think Martin’s a pretty strong prose craftsman. There are a few groaners in there, especially in the first book, but let’s just say that my dayjob sees a lot of SF/F pass across my desk and some of it is embarrassingly badly written. Martin knows his way around the typewriter.

      6) Nearly all of the conflicts and problems arise from complicated and totally relatable human emotions and desires. Love of family, loyalty to one’s friends, the innate irrational dislike you can sometimes develop for a person, plain old greed and envy, guilt, the unintended consequences of well-intentioned actions…there’s very, very little “it is your DESTINY,” and that makes it easier to get inside the heads of “heroes” and “villains” alike.

      7) Big surprises, as shocking and powerful as any I’ve read or seen in any work of narrative fiction ever. You want to stay as spoiler-free as possible about these books, that’s all I’ll say. Like, if you start reading them, don’t even read the back-cover or inside-flap blurbs. (Seriously, DON’T.)

      8) This is hard to articulate, but suffice it to say that having read all four currently existing volumes, I’m ENORMOUSLY impressed with the loooooong game Martin’s playing. I don’t want to say too much more, but when you’ve read enough to start getting a sense of where it may head in the final three volumes, it’s kind of stunning in scope.

      9) There’s basically nothing glorious whatsoever about violence as portrayed in these books. Most great fantasies don’t skimp on the emotional consequences of being enmeshed in these great struggles — the scouring of the Shire and Frodo’s departure are obviously the beating heart of The Lord of the Rings just for starters — but I don’t think I’ve ever read a heroic fiction that so relentlessly drives home how war and violence immiserate and degrade everyone who participates in them. There’s a haunting flashback in the first volume that in other hands would have been a depiction of some great and glorious last stand, but Martin imbues it so thoroughly with a sense of great sadness and loss and waste and terror. It’s beautiful and really humanistic. Now, I know Tom Spurgeon, who’s no dummy, STRONGLY disagrees with me on this — he thinks it’s Mark Millar’s Ultimate Lord of the Rings — but as he’ll also tell you, he’s in a very small minority on this.

      10) That said, when there is action and violence, it’s really strong and really heart-pounding. And when there is fantasy, it’s exciting and strange and awesome.

      Well, are you sold? Because in all seriousness, I recommend these books without hesitation or qualification, and have to readers ranging from my Destructor compadre Matt Wiegle to the fiftysomething mother of two grown children who works in the cubicle next to me, all of whom are basically over the moon for them.

      • Wintle says:

        A few years back I worked on a project where A Game of Thrones was required reading. I got about 70 pages in before giving up. Your case for the series has almost convinced me to give it another shot, but I didn’t see any of that in what I read. Too much of a long game for me, I suppose.

        • Well, hey, not everything’s for everybody. I would usually advise people to give the first volume 70 pages or so before deciding at any rate, so maybe you simply made the right decision for you.

          • Wintle says:

            Yeah, nothing against anyone who enjoys the series. Too many people I respect love these books for me to completely dismiss them. The main point I wanted to make was that your list was convincing enough to make me consider giving them another try.

        • Saso Alauf says:

          The first book can be a bit tough through the first few chapters. At least for me it was, since there’s a million characters with names that you can’t remember yet and don’t know who goes where. And to make it worse the point-of-view chapters confuse you since you can’t really tell who is evil or good in the usual fantasy sense. But after you get through those chapters, when you read about a character for the second or third time and you remember who he is and what he’s about, it becomes (in my humble opinion) the best story ever told. I actually feel a bit offended when people don’t even want to try to read because it’s marked as “fantasy”. Not to mention that Martin, to me, is the kind of writer who could probably write a completely boring story and it would still read like quality prose. And this is far from boring and unbeliveably unpredictable. If you only read 10 books in your entire life, let 7 of them be from this series.

  2. Thanks for the kind words about our write-up, Sean! If you haven’t seen it, we finally posted our more in-depth impressions here.

    Great rundown of why the series is worth reading, BTW!

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