Comment from Reader Frognot about my dismissive post on the end of the awful Game of Thrones TV movie:

Given your historical distaste for any kind of fantasy, Kim, I’m not sure why anyone would give much credence to your opinion of a fantasy TV series. That’d be like getting a folk-rock fan’s opinion of, well, non-folk rock. Which I’d perfectly valid for folk-rock fans and of little use for anyone else. I know you’re only presenting your own opinion, but by this standard, wouldn’t practically any movie that ended with the hero’s death be a bad movie if the bad guys survived? Braveheart had any number of flaws, but since it ended the same as the 1st of 8 seasons of GoT did, did that make it awful on that basis alone? It seems to me that whether or not your favorite character survives the first ~10 hours of GoT (7 more seasons adding up to a whole lot more time)? Hint: the worst of the bad guys got deaded, some of the better ones survived. If that’s different from realistic storytelling, I’m curious as to how?

And if you’re opposed to realistic storytelling (within the limitations of human experience plus the milieu the story is set in), then I truly don’t understand your visceral dislike for fantasy (and possibly SF, but those posts were long ago, well before you went dark due to Connie’s illness).

I understand people who dislike swords and sorcery (as you once did, IIRC) and prefer past-to-current murder mystery (as my wife does), SF (as a friend does), or historical fiction as others do (but that’s an oxymoron if there ever was one), but I have trouble imaging why you’d have ever watched any of GoT, and why you’d think your hero would survive the first 1/8?

Take a look at the War of the Roses, or the reign and aftermath of Henry VIII, or most any contentious period of human history. Just because it offends your sense of stories doesn’t mean it’s not a good story. The Peloponnesian War had the best of both sides die before it was over, often pointlessly. Even if modern audiences weren’t historically illiterate, that hardly means a long multi-season series covering it would be automatically bad. That’s just a romantic idea of how stories should go, which in many cases, is just a lie in a better costume.

I’m disappointed, all in all. At least disclose your dislike of (much) fantasy right off the bat, while disclosing your preference for a different kind of fantasy (Hays Code good always wins, evil never prospers). Though evil didn’t prosper by the end of GoT, and some who turned to evil redeemed themselves before the end. Oh well. Didn’t happen by the first 1/8 of the tale, therefore … awful. I’ll be the first to admit the writing slipped badly in seasons 7 & 8. It was hasty, cut short, and not well laid out. It was explicable with much discussion with the wife, but when 3 and then 4 episodes are slashed from the last 2 seasons (almost 1/3), it’s damned hard to tie all the loose ends up, let alone adequately explain some actions of characters. Whatever.

As heartfelt a comment deserves an answer all to itself.


I remember once being dragged to a Ronnie Millsap concert — dragged  because I’ve never really been a big country music fan — but despite my dislike of the music, I came away in total awe of Millsap as a pianist:  he was one of the greatest percussive pianists I’ve ever heard, and I’m not sure that I’ve heard his equal since.  My “ignorance” of the music couldn’t stop me appreciating the musician’s virtuosity — just as my dislike of the fantasy genre can’t stop me from calling out terrible writing when I see it.

My dislike for GoT had therefore little to do with the genre, and a lot to to with the storytelling itself.  (Contrast my distaste for GoT with my outright admiration of the Harry Potter fantasy movies, and you’ll see where I’m going with this.)

Comparing fiction with history is dangerous, because history is written in stone — King X died in the opening campaign, what he might  have achieved belongs to speculation, and that’s the end of it.  Braveheart  was a crap movie not because of its ending but because its ending was the only actual historical event in the movie which actually happened:  prima nocte  was never enforced by Edward I, William Wallace’s wife wasn’t murdered by the English, the battle of Stirling Bridge wasn’t fought on an open field but on, as the name suggests, around a bridge, Wallace never bonked the future Edward II’s wife… and I can list about half a dozen more examples of the movie’s ahistoricity.  Braveheart  wasn’t historical:  it just acted as though it was.  (Frankly, if Mel Gibson had ended up fighting a duel with Edward I and his wussy heir, killed them both and married Longshanks’s daughter-in-law, that would have been more like a decent action movie with a Hollywood ending.  I bet the studio brass would have signed off on it, too.)

Fiction, however, is a different thing altogether, not just for the author, but for the relationship with his audience.  And like it or not, fiction readers are looking for an acceptable outcome — much as the author may wish it otherwise.  (My own first novel, Vienna Days, was rejected by a host of publishers because it ends with the suicide of the principal character — despite my telegraphing of the likely outcome in the very first sentence  of the book.)

Readers want to form a relationship with a fictional work’s characters — like it or not — and when there is no reason to do so, they switch off.  Unsympathetic characters are the death of any fictional work;  dead ones equally so.

Which is what happened to me with GoT.  Without any bond with the characters (because they were all being killed off), I was left with only the fantasy aspect of the story;  and as you correctly pointed out, that isn’t my favorite genre (to put it mildly —   dragons and such are not my preferred plot device).  And my distaste for Martin’s writing was reinforced after the Red Wedding  episode, where the only remaining identifiable principal characters were slaughtered.  The shocked response of GoT  fans to Red Wedding  was well documented:  I was just amused, because what that meant was that the writers were going to have to start at Square One to rebuild the audience’s bond — only this time, there would be a well-founded skepticism because… well, why form a bond with a character when Martin’s going to kill him or her off at any time?  (As he did, time and time again — and I howled with laughter when I heard that the Jon Snow character had been resurrected after a brutal death — that was A Death Too Far for the audience, and the writers’ scramble to bring him back to life was risible.  (It ranked right up there with the equally-silly resurrection of Patrick Duffy’s dead character in Dallas.)

The audience’s bond with a character is critical, in fiction.  From a writing perspective, there is a reason why Star Trek  remained as popular as it was:  Spock wasn’t killed off in episode 24, and Kirk didn’t die halfway through the series either.  Nobody cared about the appalling death rate of the red-shirted crew members — somebody  had to die or else the stories would have contained no drama — but sacrificing nonentities runs no risk of alienating the audience.  Imagine what would have happened to Firefly‘s audience if Nathan Fillion had been snuffed out after the first season.  There would have been  no second season.  It’s also a good thing that J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books, or else Hermione and Ron Weasley would never have made it past The Half-Blood Prince.

Had Martin stuck to killing off Third Knight From The Left, Lord Nobody or Whore With The Big Tits (the GoT  red-shirt equivalent), the whole series would have been an epic, rather than a series of “start-again” plot arcs.

When an author doesn’t care about his audience, I think it’s a major fault.  (Annie Proulx, by the way, stands similarly condemned, as do a number of other modern writers.)  That contempt is very much a post-modern construct in literature, when the writers, bereft of plot, use the rejection of accepted form to make their writing different, in the name of “realistic” writing.  There’s nothing realistic about fiction, by definition.  But the forms and structures  of fiction are important — in fact, they’re essential.  Ignoring them is a sign of immaturity, and willful disregard is contemptuous and arrogant.  You have to be an extraordinary writer to pull it off — ever wonder why Finnegan’s Wake  has never been repeated? — and Martin isn’t an extraordinary writer, despite his volume of work.

And that, as I said, is my major beef with George R.R. Martin:  he’s contemptuous of his main characters and therefore of his audience.  That’s fine, it’s his work after all.  I just don’t have to put up with his shit storytelling.  And the genre has nothing to do with it, either.

I’m sorry you were disappointed.  But I write them as I see them.

Auctions vs. Pleasure

It’s not often that a newspaper story leaves me convulsed with laughter, but this one did:

Red-faced auction house chiefs are forced to look for a new venue after bidders are put off by ‘screams of pleasure’ coming from swingers club upstairs

You have to read the whole thing to get the full Monty, so to speak, but I started giggling just at the thought of a staid-looking commercial building inside which both of these are going on simultaneously:

Yeah I know, I’m a sick and twisted man… and don’t even get me started on “Greedy Ladies Day”.

Wrong Kind Of Heroes

Charles Lindbergh was the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air non-stop, in 1927.

Wrong: the first nonstop crossing of the Atlantic by air was by John Alcock and Arthur Brown, some eight years earlier.

Yet while we all remember Lindbergh, Alcock and Brown aren’t acknowledged often, not even by their own country on the centenary of their achievement:

Two WWI heroes made the first transatlantic flight fuelled only by sandwiches, a flask of coffee and raw courage to win £10,000 Daily Mail prize. So why 100 years on is Britain doing nothing to remember these magnificent men?

Oh, please.  I can think of several reasons.

  • White men
  • Worse yet, heterosexual  White men
  • War veterans mongers
  • Didn’t even try  to recruit female- or POC crew members
  • Leaving from a country stolen from the native peoples by colonialist oppressors
  • Using an aircraft once used as a weapon of war to bomb helpless civilians
  • Burning countless gallons of fuel, i.e. a leaving a massive carbon footprint
  • Showing up less brave, less able people by a pointless act of so-called “heroism”
  • Their sandwiches contained meat, and their coffee wasn’t “Fair Trade”.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.  I’m just surprised that their existing monuments haven’t been destroyed by now.

Fuck You, Regs

Longtime Readers will be familiar ad nauseam with my constant bitching against modern automotive design and how homogeneous the cars of today appear.  While a lot of it is driven by things like “wind-tunnel” performance, I’ve never bothered to talk about exactly why  car makers are so obsessed with streamlining and what have you, because I’d always thought people knew why they’re thus obsessed.

Allow me then, to address this shortcoming by pointing you to this excellent article, a snippet of which reads as follows:

It hasn’t happened all at once. It’s been a bit at a time, taking place over four decades in the name of safety and the environment. The whole thing began in 1966 with creation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, followed by the Environmental Protection Agency and dozens of others. Every regulator wanted a piece of the car.
Each new regulation seems like it makes sense in some way. Who doesn’t want to be safer and who doesn’t want to save gas?
But these mandates are imposed without any real sense of the cost and benefits, and they come about without a thought as to what they do to the design of a car. And once the regs appear on the books, they never go away.

Truly, this cries out for explanation. So I was happy to see a video made by CNET that gives five reasons: mandates for big fronts to protect pedestrians, mandates that require low tops for fuel economy, a big rear to balance out the big fronts, tiny windows resulting from safety regulations that end up actually making the car less safe, and high belt lines due to the other regs. In other words, single-minded concern for testable “safety” and the environment has wrecked the entire car aesthetic.
And that’s only the beginning. Car and Driver puts this as plainly as can be: “In our hyper-regulated modern world, the government dictates nearly every aspect of car design, from the size and color of the exterior lighting elements to how sharp the creases stamped into sheetmetal can be.”
You are welcome to read an engineer’s account of what it is like to design an American car. Nothing you think, much less dream, really matters. The regulations drive the whole process. He explains that the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards with hundreds of regulations — really a massive central plan — dictate every detail and have utterly ruined the look and feel of American cars.

Here’s my suggestion to the Trump administration:  wherever the so-called “Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards” reside, go in there and take out 75% of them – I don’t care which ones, but I bet a random sample of my Petrolhead Readers would take care of the problem.

Here’s the money shot quote from the article:

No one set out to wreck the diversity and beauty of our cars. But that is precisely what has happened, as the political and bureaucratic elites have asserted their own value systems over the values of both producers and consumers. They are the masters and we are the slaves, and we are to accept our lot in life.

Maybe not.  This is a hill I’d be glad to die on — just for the sake of automotive beauty.  Here’s one example of a car that couldn’t be made in the U.S. today because regs, and we are the poorer for it:

More about Bizzarrini.

The title, by the way, is a play on a line of dialogue from Cheech and Chong’s Big Bambu  album.

Day 1

On May 28, 1986 I arrived in the United States to start my new life as a born-again American.  Of course, New York City was my initial port of entry:

I just knew that I’d fit right in…and then I went on down to Texas to stay with friends while my paperwork was being processed:

…and then I really  felt like I’d come home.

Birth Year II — The British Saloons

Last week we looked at the sports cars that were buzzing around the city streets and country roads during 1954.  Now we’ll be featuring the saloon cars of that era. First, let’s look at some British cars that take my fancy for various reasons (it’s not  a comprehensive list):

Bentley Continental R Fastback

Rolls Royce Silver Dawn

Alvis TC 21/100

Daimler Conquest Series II

Sunbeam Talbot 90

Jensen 541S

But those are luxury  cars.  The commoners (hoi polloi) drove cars that were far more modest and prosaic:

Rover P4-110

Wolseley 4/44

Austin A40 Cambridge

Hillman Minx Mk VII

And if you were the lowest of the polloi, you drove things like this:

Morris Minor Series II (my Mum had one)

Austin A30

Other than the Bentley or the Jensen, I wouldn’t be caught dead in any of them.  That said, my grandfather drove an Austin A40 (in the early 1960s), my Mum drove a Morris Minor, and my buddy’s mother used to drive us to primary school in an Austin A30…

One of the downsides of being a British colony in the 1950s.

Next week, the Europeans.