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An Interview with Derek Taylor Kent, author of Kubrick’s Game

A few weeks ago, we put out a review of Derek Taylor Kent’s Kubrick’s Game, a puzzle-based adventure thriller that focuses on an elaborate mystery hidden within filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s greatest films.  The book was highly entertaining, and will entertain everyone from die-hard Kubriphiles to veritable Kubrick laymen.  We were fortunate enough to have a chat with Mr. Kent about his new novel, and a few other things.

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4LN – To help our readers get better acquainted with you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started as an author?

Derek Taylor Kent – My name is Derek Taylor Kent. I’ve been an author and filmmaker since I was 15 years old. I started out writing children’s picture books, later transitioned into writing middle-grade novels, and have now transitioned into writing grown-up novels. Won’t go into it all, but you can see all my books, scripts, web series, theater work at DerekTaylorKent.com

 

4LN – What writers/novels had the biggest impact on you as an author?

DTK – When I was 15 years old, I become obsessed with Dr. Seuss, and for the next ten years I was writing picture books in a very Seuss-ian style. I used his distinct meter, but was writing epic stories similar to Lord of the Rings and Wizard of Oz. In retrospect it was not a smart choice as picture books are only supposed to take about five minutes to read but mine were waaaay longer, so nothing ever happened with those. During college my next obsession arose, which was Harry Potter. I decided to put the picture books aside and focus world-building novels like those for which I wasn’t dependent on illustrations like with picture books. I don’t have any drawing talent so it might it quite difficult. My first foray into novel-writing didn’t land a book deal, but a spin-off of it led to the Scary School series, which got a three-book deal with HarperCollins. I was focused on writing those books from 2009-2015. Book 4 of that series just came out last year. In 2011, I read Ready Player One and it became my latest obsession. I made me want to write a puzzle-adventure based on my own passions, my biggest being director Stanley Kubrick since high school, which became Kubrick’s Game.

 

4LN – The puzzle found in Kubrick’s Game is incredibly complex. Not only do you weave clues throughout Kubrick’s movies, but you also include different fan theories, conspiracy theories, and cryptology. I can’t imagine what went into making this into a reality, and since I can’t imagine it I have to ask you: How much time and research went into making this enormous puzzle?

DTK – There was a bout a year and a half of solid full-time research, plus several months of dedicated puzzle-creation working with the puzzle mavens of Fantastic Race. I read every single book ever written about Kubrick and his films, read every single online essay/theory/analysis, and of course watched the movies frame by frame many times. It was the biggest creative undertaking of my life by far. When I do signings, I set up a display that shows how I compiled all of my research into a 1000-page tome so I had everything I needed in one place. Now, we’ve begun a whole new part of the process by creating a real life treasure hunt that accompanies the book. I once again worked with the puzzlers from Fantastic Race and created a very fun quest for everyone to play. It’s already underway, but there is still plenty of time to get into it. You can get started at DerekTaylorKent.com/the-game – you don’t have to read the book to play the first round, but you may find it helpful.

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4LN – Your cast of characters is extremely diverse and each one uniquely versatile. Was it easy to craft such an eclectic cast, or did you struggle at all writing their personalities and attributes?

DTK – It wasn’t terribly difficult as most of characters were based on people that I’ve known. UCLA is a very diverse campus, so I felt like I was reflecting the reality of the environment rather than making any conscious choice to be diverse. For instance, the character of Wilson is based on an African-American former child star who closely resembles Jaleel White (Urkel), who also happened to attend UCLA film school while I was there. You’ve previously written several picture books and middle-grade books.

 

4LN – What inspired you to make the leap into writing books geared towards adults, and what is different about the process?

DTK – Making that transition was the most difficult part of the process. I had to adjust my style from being one that an 8-year-old would have no trouble reading, to one in which even the most sophisticated readers would feel challenged and in competent hands. I had trained my brain to write short sentences with a minimal vocabulary and had to retrain myself to write longer, more complex sentences and use vocabulary and metaphors that an adult would relate to. There was a lot of work in the editing process that took about another year after the book was written, but I think it ultimately came out as well as I could have hoped for a first effort.

 

4LN – What advice would you give to an aspiring author looking to break into the industry?

DTK – First and foremost is to read and write as much as possible. That’s the only proven way to become a better writer. If you’ve finished a novel, make sure you give it to unbiased readers and editors before submitting to any publishers and agents and spend many, many months working on it. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but should be in much better shape than your first draft. The submission process is enough to teach 3-day seminars about, which I’ve done, but have fun with it, write an awesome query, and get it out to everyone who might be into it.

 

Lightning Round (short questions, gut answers)

Favorite Kubrick Film

2001: A Space Odyssey

 

Favorite non-Kubrick Film

Back to the Future

 

Last book you read

Cake in Bed by Sheri Fink.

Currently reading Infomacracy by Malka Older

 

Favorite book of all time (at the moment)

Maus: Parts I and II by Art Spiegelman, Breakfast of Champions by Vonnegut, HP: Deathly Hallows

 

Finally, You just started to realize you are in a Truman Show that’s centered on you. What do
you do now?

Take off all my clothes and never put them back on. Also put on the movie The Truman Show and play it on a loop to make my show very meta.

 

I want to send a huge THANK YOU to Derek for chatting with me! Make sure you check out his website, read the first chapter of Kubrick’s Game here, and pick up the whole book right now!

4LN Book Review – Kubrick’s Game, by Derek Taylor Kent

Summary from the Amazon: “What if Stanley Kubrick left behind more than just his classic films? What if he also left behind an elaborate puzzle cleverly buried within his films, which would lead the player toward a treasure that could change the course of human history?”

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To be honest, I was slightly hesitant to start this book.  I mean, I have seen a majority of Kubrick’s films, but I was not an Kubrick junkie (do Kubrick fans have a nickname? I will try a few out throughout this review).  I also usually have a pretty good idea what I am getting myself into book-wise.  Generally, I like to do some research on the book before I buy it – what can I say… I’m cautious.  However, having received an advanced reader copy, I dove in feet first (I know headfirst is proper form, but I’m not a great swimmer).

Kubrick’s Game fits squarely into the unique genre that Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One made so popular.  I’m not entirely sure there is name for it, maybe adventure/thriller, but it involves a high-stakes puzzle laid out by a genius at the top of their craft, and includes life/world changing reward (also, Spielberg gets referenced).  All in all, it’s sort of like the Da Vinci Code for pop culture geeks.  The main difference that Kubrick’s Game has with Ready Player One is that the puzzle is laid out by Stanley Kubrick and involves almost all of his biggest blockbusters (most notably Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001, and A Clockwork Orange).

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Derek Taylor Kent

When most books have the phrase “page-turner” emblazoned on the cover, I generally take it with a grain of salt.  That being said, Kubrick’s Game is legitimately a page-turner, and I am not even a Kubritch.  The puzzle the Kubrick leaves behind is inSANEly detailed, and while it starts innocuously enough, the stakes get higher and higher.  After finishing the story, I can’t imagine how much time and effort went into developing Kubrick’s puzzle, but I imagine it was quite a lot.

The book centers of Shawn, an autistic film student, his former child-actor friend Wilson, and Sami Singh.  I really like that the author’s main protagonist was autistic.  It was interesting seeing Shawn work through the puzzle, while also working through his own obstacles throughout the course of the book.  Along the way, Shawn and his cohorts face multiple trials that test not only the bonds of friendship, but their resiliency.  The dialogue held my attention pretty much the entire time, and the shadowy organization trying to steal the prize is sufficiently malevolent.

What made this book even more enjoyable was the fact that I had no idea what was going to happen from page to page.  That’s not necessarily rare, as I generally try to just enjoy the flow of the story, but this book was particularly mysterious.  Again, I would like to emphasize that I am not Kubro by any stretch of the imagination.  I have seen a handful of his movies throughout my life – never more than once or twice – and I still had an awesome time reading this book.  Kudos to Mr. Kent for writing an enjoyable adventure for both Kubrickians and us lay persons alike.

Kubrick’s Game was written by Derek Taylor Kent, who previously wrote the middle-school series Scary School, and is available everywhere as of September 26, 2016.  I encourage everyone – from people looking for a good fall read to legitimate Kubriphiles – to head down to the their local bookstore/online store and pick up their copy today!

Fantasy Books to Read While Waiting for Game of Thrones Next Summer

The sad news, though it’s been expected for awhile now, is official: Game of Thrones will only run seven episodes next season. And thanks to the appearance of winter (finally!!) in the story line, producers will start shooting later than usual. That means our usual April start date for a new season is getting pushed back to sometime next summer.

So what do you do this extended offseason while waiting for Game of Thrones’ delayed return? How about sinking your teeth into a solidly written fantasy book series.

Here’s a couple of exceptional works to check out while enduring the long wait for Season Seven:

1. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss

Kingkiller Chronicles

Patrick Rothfuss, a modern day fantasy writer whose received much acclaim from George R.R. Martin himself, wrote the first “Kingkiller Chronicle” book, “The Name of the Wind” in 2007. The story follows a great adventurer named Kvothe as he recalls the story of his life over the course of three days (each book representing a different day).

Much like Tolkien, Rothfuss really focuses on detail, emphasizing the mundane parts of Kvothe’s journey as well as the landmark events. And though the world in “Kingkiller” has political complications similar to Westeros, Rothfuss exposes the reader to situations through the eyes of someone of “low birth” as oppossed to the members of noble families Martin uses to tell his story.

Now much like Martin, Rothfuss has been slow to get his third book finished (A Wise Man’s Fear was released in 2011). But at least “The Kingkiller Chronicle” is likely to be finished before Lionsgate makes a film/tv version of the series.

2. The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson

Stormlight Archives

“The Stormlight Archive” follows the Martin style of alternating third person perspectives as Brandon Sanderson presents a world coming to grips with both a looming threat and the reemergence of mystical powers lost thousands of years before.

But while Sanderson’s world has as similar scope to Martin’s, he centralizes it on a hand full of characters in one central location instead of bouncing around all over the map. This makes his story easy to follow, but (at least at this point) lack some of the “punch in the gut”moments that make Martin’s work so special. He also does a nice job anchoring his story with a flashback arc for one major character that provides insight into why they think and act as they do in the present.

Sanderson has currently released two of his books: “The Way of Kings” and “Words of Radiance.” The third book of five (with a possible ten if a second set of five books goes on as planned), “Oathbringer,” has a tentative release set for sometime next year.

3. Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

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Yes, the artwork on the covers of these books is really cheesy. But the story absolutely is not. It also takes two books for the story to really establish itself. But once it does, “The Wheel of Time” is very hard to put down.

Robert Jordan focuses mostly on a group of central characters who begin the story together (much like Tolkien’s “Fellowship of the Ring”) only to take distinct paths as the story progresses. And like Martin, Jordan’s world is full of distinct political alliances and situations. But while Martin bounces back and forth between all these different areas, Jordan mostly uses the central characters to introduce and update us on the conditions of these diverse locations.

The downside to Jordan’s books is they are a long haul. The series is comprised of 14 books and 1 prequel book. In fact, Jordan died before the series was completed. So Brandon Sanderson (the author of the previously mentioned “Stormlight Archive”) stepped in to finish it.

But if 14 books is not too large a commitment for you, I strongly recommend Jordan/Sanderson’s masterpiece.

4. Read the Classics

Martin vs. Tolkien

Or you could just stick with GoT’s source material. If you haven’t read “A Song of Ice and Fire,” jump on Martin’s series first. Though Martin’s books can be just as long as the previously mentioned authors, they read much quicker. And the experience is a distinctly different one than the TV series, so don’t let the spoilers you already know from the show discourage you from reading the books.

The same goes for J.R.R. Tolkien, the father of modern fantasy. Yes, it is a chore to get through the first half of the first “Lord of the Rings” book, “Fellowship of the Ring.” But if you’re willing to see it through, Tolkien rewards you with, arguably, the best work of fantasy fiction of all time. And much like Martin’s work, the books are a much different experience than the movies.

And if you’ve been through all of Tolkien’s works (including “The Hobbit”), check out “The Silmarillion,” the Middle Earth origin story that is much darker than Tolkien’s previous works. 4LN’s Cam Clark wrote this piece about the Silmarillion. He also recently did a brief history of Middle Earth using “The Silmarillion” and other works by Tolkien.

I’m currently working my way through the Wheel of Time series. And I’m also hopeful “The Winds of Winter” will be available before Season Seven starts (though I’m not holding my breath on this). What are some other works you’ve been reading or plan to read while we wait on the next season of Game of Thrones?

A Brief History of the First Age of Middle-Earth as Found in the Silmarillion and Other Writings

In the beginning, eons before the first star was born, there dwelt a divine being known as Eru Ilúvatar. In his infinite wisdom Eru Ilúvatar stretched forth his hand and created the Ainur, the Holy Ones. Together they would create a Great Music that would form a vision of what could be, weaving together the very fabric of the universe. And so it came to be that light filled the void and Eru brought this vision to life by forming Eä, the “World that Is.”  While a great many of the Ainur remained in the Timeless Halls created by Eru Ilúvatar, a number of the Ainur were so enamored with this creation that they elected to depart and journeyed forth to Eä.  Those that made the decision to cross over into Eä would become the Valar, as well as the less powerful Maiar. The Valar and Maiar would reign as gods to those that would come to inhabit the land, which they called Arda.

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Ainulindale by Alassea Earello

The Valar and the Maiar worked in tandem to form a perfect world, but there was discord and war broke out amongst them. This was called the First War.  Eventually Almaren, the first kingdom of the Valar, was formed.  It was during this time that the two great Lamps were created to light the world, one placed in the North, the other in the South. This marked the beginning of the era known as the Age of Lamps.  However, the greatest of the Valar named Melkor, who would later be named Morgoth, revolted against the others. In his wrath Melkor laid waste to the kingdom of Almaren and extinguished the light of the Great Lamps.  In response to this devastation, the other Valar, led by Manwë, the Wind Lord, fled West and created Valinor, a land that was said to be even fairer than Almaren.

During this time the Valar dwelt in Valinor and enjoyed a period of blessedness known as the Ages of the Trees, for in Valinor there grew two magical trees from which their light the day and night were measured. During the Ages of the Trees the Valar created many diverse races, such as the Ents, guardians of the forests, the Eagles, magnificent winged rulers of the sky, and Dwarves, delvers of the deep and master craftsman, before awakening the Elves during the Age of Stars.  From thence Middle-earth entered into the Ages of Darkness and of Stars. Meanwhile back in Arda, Melkor ruled from his dark stronghold Utunmo, and his devotee, Sauron, ruled in Angband, a second stronghold. The race of Elves caught Melkor’s eyes and over time he sought to corrupt them, which lead to the return of the Valar to Middle-earth and ushered in the War of Powers. Many battles took place and when the dust settled the walls of Utunmo were felled and Melkor was shackled in unbreakable chains.  Without the corrupting influence of Melkor, the Elves prospered in Middle-earth and many traveled to the Undying Lands to dwell with the Valar.

Silmarillion

For ages peace reigned, until Melkor was brought before the Valar for judgement.  Manwë, believing Melkor to have repented of his past sins, released Melkor from his bonds.  Alas, Melkor’s deception ran deep and while appearing reformed he planted the seeds of discord amongst the Elves, and made a secret alliance with Ungoliant, the ascendant of Shelob.  United in dark purpose, Melkor and Ungoliant destroyed the Two Trees, killed Finwë, High King of the Elven Noldor and creator of the precious Simarils which gave light to the trees, and fled to Middle-earth with Simarils in hand.  It was here that Melkor, now called Morgoth meaning “Dark Enemy” or “Black Foe” in Sindarin, attacked the Elves of Doriath, who drove him back to his dark fortress of Angband.  This marked the first of many battles within the Elvish kingdoms of Beleriand.

Enraged at the death of his father, Fëanor and his kin the Noldor, swore an oath of revenge on Melkor.  The Noldor raced eastward seeking the famed ships of the Teleri.  However, when the ships were not given freely the Noldor set upon the Teleri and wrested their ships from them by force, slaying many in the process.  With vengeance on his mind, Fëanor set off at once, leaving many of his own people to make a long and treacherous journey to Middle-earth by foot.  Once they made land, Fëanor and his host drove back the forces of Morgoth at Angband, but in their victory Fëanor was slain by the dreaded Balrogs.

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From “The Silmarillion” Illustrated by Ted Nasmith

Many wars were waged between the Elves and the forces of Morgoth, and eventually all of the Elvish kingdoms of Beleriand fell.  It was not until Eärendil, the Half-elvin, sailed the Aman and persuaded the Valar to return to Middle-earth that Morgoth fell.  The Valar, alongside the Maiar and Vanyar, descended upon Angband, destroyed Morgoth’s armies and fortress, and cast Morgoth out of Arda and into the void.  So vast were the scars of war that ravaged the land of Beleriand from the fierce battles that took place that eventually it was swallowed by the sea, forever changing the landscape of Middle-earth.  Thus ended the First Age of Middle-earth.

(Editor’s Note: This piece was co-written by Josiah Po’e, Muindor)

4LN Book Review – A Hundred Thousand Worlds, by Bob Proehl

A Hundred Thousand Worlds hit the bookshelves June 28, 2016, or, right when I needed something to read that was a little more portable than my giant 50th Anniversary, one-volume copy of The Lord of the Rings. I had been seeing the title popping up in different newsletters and Goodreads recommendations over the last few weeks, and decided that, even though I knew next to nothing about it outside of the setting (a road trip hitting several comic conventions across the US), I should give it a shot.

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Bob Proehl, bobproehl.com

Summary from Penguin Random House:

Valerie Torrey took her son, Alex, and fled Los Angeles six years ago—leaving both her role on a cult sci-fi TV show and her costar husband after a tragedy blew their small family apart. Now Val must reunite nine-year-old Alex with his estranged father, so they set out on a road trip from New York, Val making appearances at comic book conventions along the way.

As they travel west, encountering superheroes, monsters, time travelers, and robots, Val and Alex are drawn into the orbit of the comic-con regulars, from a hapless twentysomething illustrator to a brilliant corporate comics writer stuggling with her industry’s old-school ways to a group of cosplay women who provide a chorus of knowing commentary. For Alex, this world is a magical place where fiction becomes reality, but as they get closer to their destination, he begins to realize that the story his mother is telling him about their journey might have a very different ending than he imagined.

A knowing and affectionate portrait of the geeky pleasures of fandom, A Hundred Thousand Worlds is also a tribute to the fierce and complicated love between a mother and son—and to the way the stories we create come to shape us.

Let me start by saying that even though this is Bob Proehl’s debut novel, it was packed full of emotion, beautiful descriptions of the ordinary, and multiple plotlines that interweave into a fantastic, heartfelt story.  Oh, and it is also stuffed with references, Easter eggs, and nostalgia that only a fan of nerd culture could spin together.  It’s the kind of book that is hard to describe while you are reading it, but impossible to put down.

The story centers on nine year old Alex and his former TV star mom Valerie Torrey as they road trip across the country making stops at various comic conventions along the way.  Val starred in the show Anomaly, which is a stand in for popular shows like X-files or Firefly, and is stopping to make appearances on their way to LA, where her ex-husband/former costar still lives.  Along the way, they meet indie-artist Brett who works for Black Sheep (think Image or IDW), Gail, a writer for National Comics (DC), and a pack of professional cosplayers.  Proehl uses these side-characters to explore the inner workings of the comic industry, and fandom in general.

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Like most good novels, A Hundred Thousand Worlds is tinged with a little sadness.
It is full of measured tension, but broken up with up with nostalgia and comic relief.  Proehl does a good job with Alex as a protagonist.  He is wise for a nine year old, but never seems too wise for his years.  His burgeoning friendship and “co-mission” with Brett is a fun side-story, and his commentary on life in general is fascinating.

In the Acknowledgements section, Proehl describes A Hundred Thousand Worlds as a love-letter to a medium that has been dear to his heart since he was a kid, and it really shows.  Proehl’s commentary on the culture of fandom is unique and interesting, and his story is one that will resonate with people.  Few books leave me with a book hangover, but this one certainly did.  I wholeheartedly recommend A Hundred Thousand Worlds to anyone looking for a captivating summer read.

A Song of Ice and Fire vs Game of Thrones: Which is Better?

For the last two seasons, “Game of Thrones” the TV Show has taken a fairly drastic departure from it’s source material, the “Song of Ice and Fire” novels by George R.R. Martin. Just how drastic is that departure? Well, until Martin (finally) gets the long awaited next installment of his series out, we won’t really know. But over sixty hours of television content and thousands of pages of Martin’s work do give us enough material to evaluate the clear distinctions between the two entities.

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(From left to right) DB Weiss and David Benoiff, producers of Game of Thrones, posing for a picture with “A Song of Ice and Fire” author, George R.R. Martin.

Now before I move forward, I’ll go ahead and make clear that I will not be directly answering that question I started the article with. I do not think one piece of creative material is necessarily better than the other. But I do think there are many things Martin did a much better job with than the HBO show based on his work. And (contrary to what some book purists will tell you) there are things the show did a much better job developing than Martin did. So first, here’s five things Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” did better than the show, followed by five things the show did better than the source material.

(Of Note: I will not be including any characters or arcs that were present in one, but not in the other. Though feel free to include those items in your comments)

What the Books Did Better


1. Jamie Lannister

Books vs Show Jamie

Martin’s transition of the Kingslayer from hated villain who pushed a young boy out a window to awesome anti-hero is one of the best I’ve seen represented in literal fiction. Using the loss of Jamie’s hand and his relationship with Brienne, Martin transforms the arrogant Lannister into someone we actually sympathize with. We see a man who’s been forced to choose between multiple oaths that left him no choice but to betray at least one of them. And by the last time we’ve seen Jamie in the text, he’s masterfully negotiated a siege at King’s Landing, channeling his father Tywin for the first time.

The television show tried to follow this arc. But a poorly directed scene where Jamie rapes Cersei in the Holy Sept, a worthless excursion to Dorne, and a lack of any real development from the character in Seasons 4 and 5 left something lacking when the Kingslayer negotiated a peaceful end (well, for everyone except the Blackfish) to the siege at Riverrun. I mean, it was still a great scene watching Jamie “influence” Edmure to take back Riverrun. But Martin did a much better job moving Jamie to the point where he was a shrewd negotiator, while the show seemed to bring Jamie’s sudden diplomatic capabilities out of left field.

2. The Wall Battle

Books vs Show Wall Battle

Season 4’s “Watchers on the Wall,” featuring the Night’s Watch defending Westeros from a Wildling invasion, is one of the best episodes the show has ever done. But while the production value of the episode is superb, the buildup and logistics of the actual battle leave much to be desired.

Martin splits the assault on the Wall up into three different attacks. The first was from the crew Jon was with that climbed the Wall and tried to take out the Night’s Watch from the Westerosi side of the Wall. After that attack was stymied, two more invasions at different times happened that the Night’s Watch was able to repel before Jon was sent out to negotiate with Mance Rayder.

The show, on the other hand, chose to save this battle for its showcase ninth episode. The problem was they did nothing over the course of season 4 to build up to this Wildling invasion. Instead, the Night’s Watch sat around the Wall waiting for the Wildlings to arrive. And the man leading the largest Wildling invasion of the North, Mance Rayder, did not appear until after the battle was over. How can you not at least show one scene of the Wildlings marching toward the Wall in Season 4 before that ninth episode? And by turning three separate invasions into one, the show confused non bookreaders as to why the Wildlings were split up into two separate forces.

So while I understand the decision to make the Wall Battle the ninth episode and the budgetary reasons for making it one battle instead of three, those decisions also made the show’s presentation of the events lack the cohesiveness Martin’s did.

3. Euron Greyjoy

Books vs Show Euron Greyjoy

Euron Greyjoy in the books: The brother of Balon Greyjoy is banned from the Iron Islands for sleeping with his brother’s (not Balon, Victarion, one of two Greyjoy brothers not included in the show) wife. Known as the Crows Eye, he goes pillaging and raping the coasts throughout the lands of Essos and beyond. He reappears after Balon’s death, is crowned King of the Iron Islands, and becomes a terror throughout the West Coast of Westeros. He sets his sites on the Iron Throne and sends his brother Victarion to secure a marriage alliance with Daenarys and her dragons.

Euron Greyjoy in the show: He shows up. He throws his brother of a rickety bridge. He wins the Kingsmoot, becoming King of the Iron Islands, and means to build a thousands ships (entirely from rocks) and ride them to make his alliance with the Mother of Dragons in hopes of ruling Westeros one day.

Which one of these characters seems a greater threat to the throne of Westeros? Benoiff and Weiss only used Euron to get Theon and Yara to Meereen. Martin appears to have a much larger plan for the character, and his development was way stronger in a “Song of Ice and Fire.”

4. Loras Tyrell

Books vs Show Loras Tyrell

In the books, Martin creates a multi-dimensional character who is a brave warrior with exceptional skills and a confidence/arrogance only rivaled by Jamie Lannister before he lost his hand. The part of him being gay is never directly confirmed, but is heavily implied.

In the show, Loras is Margaery’s brother who is gay. That’s pretty much it. Yes, characters talk about his abilities as a fighter. But the only combat we ever seen is Loras’s ability as a jouster in the first season. After seeing the one dimensional treatment the Tyrell heir (which he’s not in the books) receives on the show, I developed a much greater appreciation for the multi-faceted book character Martin created.

5. Doran Martell

Books vs Show Doran

Now, many would include the entire Dorne plot on their personal lists here. But I personally didn’t think Dorne was a strength of Martin’s books either. When his books should be moving towards an end, he opened up a whole new front in the southern part of Westeros that I believe is one of many reasons “The Winds of Winter” is taking so long to be released. Yes, he did Dorne better than the show did. But meerkats at a zoo could’ve accomplished that.

Books vs Show Meerkats

Adorable meerkats debating what went wrong with Dorne in Season Five.

But I did love Doran Martell’s character. In a world filled with people who act first and think later, Doran is a character who hides his manipulations behind his weak physical condition. Every move he makes is calculated and every one who tries to usurp his authority as Prince of Dorne is found out and dealt with immediately by forces loyal to Doran.

And while some of the plans he comes up with look a little too far in the future to be relied upon, he has prepared a plan b and moves quickly to it once his previous plan goes awry.

I believe the show was planning on moving Doran towards this character arc in season 6. But when reality set in of just how disastrous the Dorne storyline was in Season 5, the producers decided to cut their losses and the character Martin created was a victim of that.

What the Show Did Better

1. The Whitewalkers

Ranking the Seasons 5 Night's King

Martin established in the very first chapter of his series that the Whitewalkers were going to be the most significant threat to all those in Westeros. How many times in the books have they shown up since? Twice. Both times were with Sam in the third book, “A Storm of Swords.” But where were the Whitewalkers in books four and five? The gravest threat to all of Westeros did not appear in either Martin’s most recent works.

The show, on the other hand, has built-up this growing threat at least once a season. Not only did we have Martin’s opening scene and Sam’s run-ins with the Ice Zombies. We also have a pair of “Where Whitewalkers come from” scenes. And most importantly, we have Hardhomme: the most dominant showing of Whitewalker power to date.

So while Martin may be holding back his ultimate build up of the Ice Zombie army for “Winds of Winter,” it’s the show that to this point, has made a far more convincing case of just how bad ass the Whitewalkers are.

2. The Red Wedding

Books vs Show Red Wedding

This one is a little unfair to Martin. His portrayal of the Red Wedding in “A Storm of Swords” is just as much the gut punch the show’s version was. The problem for Martin is he’s restricted to his chosen medium, which forces him to simply list all the things that are happening at the Twins as the carnage ensues.

He can tell you the “Rains of Castemere” is playing in the background. But he can’t use the editing techniques of television to start the song as the doors are locked and show Catelyn Stark’s face as she suspects something is up. He can describe the brutality of everyone being slaughtered. But to truly appreciate just how awful an event the Red Wedding was, seeing and hearing the events is far more effective.

So while both portrayals of the Red Wedding were excellent in their perspective mediums, the show version packed a greater punch because of the multiple senses the medium of television can appeal to.

3. Margaery Tyrell

Books vs Show Margaery

Martin used the daughter of Mace Tyrell and the pride of Highgarden as a pawn in the “Great Game.” At least, that’s the impression we are given from the various characters we hear about her from. She’s never a Point-of-View character in any of Martin’s five books, so we only get to hear about her character and actions from others. And considering one of those POV characters is Cersei, you’re not always left with a favorable impression of Queen Margaery.

But the producers of the show saw a chance with Margaery to include a savvy game player who kept all the key figures in King’s Landing on their toes. I personally can’t imagine the last five seasons with a diminished role for Margaery Tyrell. It also helped that Natalie Dormer was the actress portraying Margaery. And the last place for someone of her quality is in the background.

4. Daenarys Meets Tyrion

Books vs Show Dany meets Tyrion

Everything was building in Martin’s last installment (“A Dance With Dragons”) to this encounter. Tyrion and Jorah were in Meereen, in reach of the Queen of the Dragons so this epic encounter could happen. But instead, Daenarys flies away on a dragon. Tyrion gets caught up in some politics involving the numerous sellsword companies in Slavers Bay, and the book ends.

To build up to that encounter only to have it taken away was a bit cruel to readers (yes, that is a Martin trademark, but still). The show recognized this and made this meeting happen before Daenarys flew away in Season Five. I’m sure this epic meeting is coming somewhere in “Winds of Winter” after Daenarys returns. But I loved how the show placed this first meeting where it did so these two characters can feel each other out. It really makes no sense for Tyrion to be named “Hand of the Queen” if they hadn’t met previously.

Now of course, Martin may be going in an entirely different direction with Tyrion’s role after he meets Daenarys. But I still like this meeting happening where the show placed it instead of making readers wait five more years (at least) before seeing this happen.

5. Winding Down the Story

One of the strengths of the first three books was the way Martin took his centralized story and expanded it, organically introducing new players and new stories to the larger narrative as he moved towards the exciting conclusion to the third book, “A Storm of Swords.”

But then, Martin followed his third book with “A Feast for Crows” and “A Dance With Dragons,” two books that decentralized his story even further. The story has spread so far out that it took Martin five years to write “Dance” and we are at five years and counting waiting on “Winds of Winter.”

The television show made a clear decision with season six that they were going to move towards a conclusion. If that meant beloved characters and story lines were taken out, then so be it. And I know many disagree with some of the plots and characters who were not included at all or were taken out prematurely by the show’s producers.  But these decisions have all come with the central goal of moving the narrative to its conclusion, the fruits of which were clear after seeing the Season Six finale.

Episode 10 Dany on her way

Daenarys finally boarded the ship to Westeros in the season six finale. Will Martin have her doing the same in “Winds of Winter?”

Now, I hope Martin brings a similar effect to the book story with “Winds of Winter.” But while Martin has yet to prove he can move his story to its conclusion, producers David Benoiff and DB Weiss left no doubt after season six they can.

What are the things you think the show has done better than the books? What have the books done better than the show? Also, if you haven’t done so already, check out some of the other season wrap-up articles from the past week.

Monday, June 27th: Season Finale Recap

Wednesday June 29th: Obituaries Part 1 and Part 2

Thursday, June 30th: Why was Lyanna in the Tower of Joy?

Saturday, July 2nd: Ranking the Seasons

Today: Book vs Show: Which is Better?

 

Why Was Lyanna in the Tower of Joy?

 

The Tower of Joy in Game of Thrones Sixth Season was a glorious moment for most of us who’ve read the books and were anxiously anticipating the big reveal of whether one of the most accurate fan theories in the history of fandom was true.

But if you are just a show watcher, the reasons for Lyanna being in that tower in the first place may have you a bit confused. Yes, Game of Thrones has mentioned the events that put Lyanna in that tower. But remembering all those references over the course of six years can be difficult, especially when most of them happened in the first season.

So here a brief synopsis of the events that led to Ned Stark finding Lyanna and a baby Jon Snow at the Tower of Joy.

Rhaegar and Lyanna

The Tourney of Harrenhal

Prince Rhaegar was Daenarys brother and was married to Elia Martell (“you raped her, you murdered her, you killed her children”) when the Tourney of Harrenhal took place about a year before Robert’s Rebellion. Rhaegar successfully won the jousting tournament, defeating Barristen Selmy and three other knights of the king’s guard to claim the championship.

At the end of the tournament, the winner was given the duty of crowning a “queen of love and beauty.” Rhaegar put the crown (made of blue roses) on the head of Lyanna Stark instead of on the head of his wife.

Lyanna’s “Kidnapping”

A year later, Rhaegar “abducted” Lyanna and took her to the Tower of Joy, a tall tower in the mountains of Dorne. Lyanna may have been abucted. She may also have gone willingly. We still don’t know for sure. Ser Arthur Dayne was one of the Knight’s of the Kingsguard that assisted in taking Lyanna to the Tower. This event was the first of several that led to Robert Baratheon (the man betrothed to Lyanna), with the Starks, Arryns, and Tullys, rebelling against the Mad King.

Tower of Joy Arthur Dayne

Ser Arthur Dayne accompanied Prince Rhaegar to the Tower of Joy and was still there when Ned Stark arrived to find his sister.

The Trident

Robert’s forces scored numerous victories during the early part of the Rebellion. When word of Robert’s progress made it to Rhaegar, he decided he needed to take action. Leaving Dayne behind with orders to guard the Tower, Rhaegar left to lead the Targaryen forces in open combat at the Trident (where the Rivers in the Riverlands meet). It was there that Robert defeated Rhaegar, striking him down and killing him in single combat.

Ned Seeks His Sister

After King’s Landing was taken with the help of the Lannisters, Ned went to end the siege at Storm’s End and find his sister. But Arthur Dayne and the other King’s Guard who had been assigned to protect that tower stood true to their oaths and fought Ned to their deaths. Only Ned Stark and Howland Reed survived the fighting at the Tower, but Ned found he was too late to save his sister, who was already dying when he found her.

Lyanna’s last words to her brother were “Promise me Ned,” words thatd invoke the vow Ned would take from that day forward: to raise Jon Snow as his own son (Robert would likely have killed him if he’d known Jon was a Targaryen) and protect him.

Ned holding a baby Jon Snow as Bran looks on.

Ned holding the baby Jon Snow as Bran looks on.

The confirmation of Jon Snow’s true parentage is a wonderful moment for book readers and show watchers alike. But I think it’s pretty obvious this information will have a significant impact on events going forward.

Questions Going Forward

-Will Jon’s Targaryen blood give him a claim to the throne of Westeros? I doubt the current queen is beloved by many after blowing up so many in the Holy Sept. But discovering that “The White Wolf” has dragon blood and the support of the entire northern region could make him a popular choice to usurp the throne from Cersei.

Episode 10 Baby Jon

Jon Snow after he was born in the Tower of Joy.

-What will Daenarys think if/when she discovers another in Westeros has dragon blood? But there’s already a dragon queen on her way to take out the Green Queen. Does she voice support for her nephew (that’s right, Jon is technically Dany’s nephew) and look to unite Westeros together? Or does she see him as a threat to her claim to the throne of Westeros?

-What about Jon’s claim to the throne in the North? Lyanna Mormont’s fiery speech voiced her support for Jon because he had “The blood of Ned Stark in him.” Well, technically, that’s true. But everyone in the North assumes Jon’s a direct male heir to Lord Eddard. Do they question their allegiance if/when it’s revealed that Sansa actually has a more direct line? I suspect Littlefinger, who already has suspicions about Jon Snow’s true parentage, to use this very piece of information when attempting to drive a wedge between Sansa and Jon Snow.

-If it is revealed, who will be responsible for revealing it? As I mentioned earlier, only Howland Reed and Bran Stark know the truth. But one of those is crippled, will need to be carried to Winterfell, and brings the risk of a Whitewalker invasion with him if he’s to reveal that information. And the other has yet to appear on the show. There’s also Meera, who doesn’t know at the moment. But I don’t imagine Bran holding that juicy information from her for long. Maybe she finds a way to get the information to Jon Snow and the rest of Westeros.

So while we can’t be for sure the reveal of Jon Snow’s parentage will make it beyond Bran’s visions, I really don’t see how it doesn’t. It has to be used in some way to move us towards the end game. The question is how. Who delivers this information? Who do they deliver it to? And what will everyone’s response be once Jon’s Targaryen blood is revealed?

It should be a lot of fun to sort out in season seven. As far wrapping up season six, I’ve got two more articles until I disappear into my own personal Tower of Joy for awhile. Saturday, I’ll be ranking all six seasons of Game of Thrones from worst to best. Be preparing your list and see if you agree with me.

June 27th: Season Finale Recap

Yesterday: Season Six Obituaries Part One

Also Yesterday: Season Six Obituaries Part Two

Today: Why Was Lyanna in the Tower of Joy?

Saturday: Ranking the Seasons

Monday: Which is better: The Show or the Books?

 

 

Pop Culture & Philosophy: An Interview with Author and Professor William Irwin

Professor William Irwin is the creator and editor of the “Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture” book series.  When I was in college studying philosophy, there was one class I was having a particularly hard time understanding.  I was reading through my copy of Star Wars and Philosophy in preparation to write my senior thesis when I stumbled across an essay that explained the very concept I was having trouble grasping.  Seeing it explained through the lens of one of my favorite obsessions made it much easier to understand.  That’s the beauty of the “and Philosophy” series – if you are a fan of any number of things found in popular culture, there is most likely a book that pairs that subject with philosophy.  We recently sat down with Professor Irwin to talk about the “and Philosophy” series.  Please enjoy!

11-23-2015_william_irwin

4LN – Can you tell us a little about your background, and what led you to write this series?

William Irwin – I’m a philosophy professor at King’s College in Pennsylvania. I’ve always loved movies, TV, music, and pop culture in general. So the connection between pop culture and philosophy has always seemed natural to me. The books began because, as a new professor nearly twenty years ago, I watched many of the same movies and TV shows that my students watched, and I used to reference them in class. Students found it fun and helpful. By networking with friends and colleagues at other colleges, I discovered that other philosophy professors shared my fondness for pop culture and saw the pedagogical value of using it to explain philosophy. So, to me, it seemed like a good idea to take this beyond the classroom by putting it in book form.

 

4LN – What went into seeing this project become a reality?

At first it seemed like an oddball idea, and not everyone was interested in it or appreciated it. But with time and persistence philosophy-and-pop-culture has become a recognized genre, occupying lots of shelf space in the philosophy section of major bookstores.

 

4LN – Some of the entries cover some pretty high level philosophy while others are more “Philosophy 101.” How do you decide what makes it into the books?

We really want the books to be readable for smart fans of pop culture. No background in philosophy is assumed. Because the books all include contributions from a variety of authors, the level of accessibility tends to vary, but we work hard in the editing process to make each chapter as accessible as possible. No topic in philosophy is out of bounds, but some are easier than others to discuss, adapt, and interpret.

 

4LN – How would you say using pop culture helps people learn philosophy?

The British philosopher Mary Poppins said that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. That’s the basic idea with these books. The pop culture makes the philosophy easier to swallow and digest. The books meet readers where they are, as fans of pop culture, and take them from there into the realm of philosophy. Of course, there is something inherently philosophical about much of the pop culture we interpret, and so we are often building on something very interesting and insightful that is already there in the pop culture.

 

4LN – There are so many books in this series that it’s probably hard to choose, but which would you say is your favorite?

Well, I’m a huge fan of old school heavy metal, so my own personal favorites are Black Sabbath and Philosophy and Metallica and Philosophy.

Promo-Filosofia-600x445

4LN – What advice do you have for someone contemplating a philosophy class or degree? Aspiring philosophers, if you will.

Go for it! You can do anything with a philosophy major. It’s an ideal major for smart, motivated people who have a vision of what they want to do in life. The philosophy major provides a true education, rather than mere training. Most on-campus interviewers are interested in interviewing “all majors.” This is because most employers seek smart people who are able to think critically and respond positively to changes and problems.

 

4LN – I remember reading once that some things get so pervasive in society (in this case they were talking about the Star Wars franchise) that they eventually not only reflect culture, but help generate culture. What are your thoughts on that?

Certainly that’s true. Gangster fiction comes to mind. I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve heard that during episodes of The Wire actual conversation on wiretaps for drug dealers would decrease because they were watching the show. And plenty of real life gangsters have referenced and mimicked The Godfather and Goodfellas.

4LN – What plans do you have at this time for any future “and Philosophy” books?

We always have new books in the works. The ones I can mention at the moment are Star Trek and Philosophy, True Detective and Philosophy, Wonder Woman and PhilosophyAlien and Philosophy, and Lego and Philosophy.

 

4LN – Finally, what would you say is your favorite nerd-culture icon?

I was lucky to be of the generation who grew up seeing the original Star Wars trilogy in the theaters. So Yoda is my guide.

I personally want to thank Prof. Irwin for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk with us.  If you would like to learn more about the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series, head on over to his website – ANDPHILOSOPHY.COM – or to your local bookstore’s philosophy section.

4LN Book Review – “The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories” by Ken Liu

Title: “The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories”
Author: Ken Liu
Publisher: Saga Press

Summary: A publishing event: Bestselling author Ken Liu selects his award-winning science fiction and fantasy tales for a groundbreaking collection—including a brand-new piece exclusive to this volume.

With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie. This mesmerizing collection features all of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).

A must-have for every science fiction and fantasy fan, this beautiful book is an anthology to savor.

Recently, a Scottish man recommended to me a particular brand of Scotch, and I figured if anyone knows Scotch, it’s a Scot.  I also have a certain affinity for a particular translation of the Bible because a man dressed as Elvis claiming to be the son of Elvis told me that this translation would be the one his daddy would want me to have, and, let’s be honest, who would be comfortable not buying something a man that’s most likely delusional asked you to buy?  Anyway, the point I am getting at is this: sometimes someone suggests something to you that is outside of your norm, you partake of whatever is suggested, and you end up liking it.  That is what happened to me with “The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories.”

I am not generally a reader of short stories, but when this book was suggested to me I read the summary (shown above) and thought it sounded interesting.  I didn’t know what to expect when I cracked open the book, and I was pleasantly surprised to find some really intriguing stuff.  Some stories, particularly ‘The Regular’ and ‘The Perfect Match’ are as captivating as they are unnerving, while the titular short story, ‘The Paper Menagerie,’ is heartbreakingly beautiful.

‘The Regular’ is a futuristic crime thriller that oscillates between a private detective and an escort murdering serial killer.  The deeper I got into this story the more uncomfortable it got.  The crimes are disturbing.  It was fantastic.  ‘The Perfect Match’ was unnerving in a completely different way.  This short story follows Sai as he comes to terms with just how invasive technology has become in everyone’s life.  Tilly, the AI interface, is always in the ear of almost everyone making suggestions about everything from date ideas and suggested talking points to… well, basically every aspect of everyone’s life.  It’s like social media, Google, and HAL 9000 all rolled into one (less murderous) entity.  There is always something unsettling about AI, at least for me, and this story sets the creep-bar pretty damn high.

Overall, Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories” is a fantastic read that spans an enormous range of emotions.  If the girl from Pixar’s “Inside Out” read this book the five anthropomorphic emotions would be going haywire.  If you are in any way a fan of science-fiction, “The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories” has something for you.

“The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories” is available in bookstores and online stores today, with an audiobook version also available!

Dr Gangrene’s Tales From Parts Unknown

Nashville Horror Host, and good pal to 4LN, Dr. Gangrene has just released his new book “Tales from Parts Unknown”, and for the rest of today (Wed. 3/2) you can get a digital copy for FREE through Amazon!

 


From the Dr’s Press Release:

“FREE ebook – Award-winning Nashville horror host Dr. Gangrene has released a collection of 14 stories of the weird, strange, and macabre – all written by his alter-ego, Larry Underwood – and ithe ebook version is available FREE on Amazon Kindle for the next 3 days, March 1st-3rd. The stories range in theme from the weird wild west to the far-flung future, and everything in between.
Grab yours now before this monster escapes from the lab!”

Follow the link below to check out this great book!

http://www.amazon.com/Dr-Gangrenes-Tales-Parts-Unknown-ebook/dp/B01BP1E0NA/ref=zg_bs_7588837011_f_7