Monthly Archives: June 2015

Starting on July 1st, a Promotional Price Diminishing

Howdy all,

On July 1st, and for two weeks, STRAGGLETAGGLE, my latest novel, will only be $0.99 with the lovely people at WeightlessBooks.

https://weightlessbooks.com/genre/fiction/novel/straggletaggle/

At just $0.99, this will be a huge steal, less than a lottery ticket for something that will entertain you far longer than a lottery ticket will, without the horrible letdown when you don’t win at the end, because you’ll have read a book, and reading books is never a let down.

On July 1st, then, there will be a price drop at Weightless Books. Go there, and purchase a book.

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Narrative Trumps Narrative: On Laudato si’

If most media outlets are to be believed, the Pontiff’s recent publication is a liberal clarion call to arms, against all the forces of conservatism, and an environmental rallying cry on par with One Straw Revolution.

I think it is very interesting to see this document filtered through the lens of American media. On the one hand, apparently the only environmentally-interested political actors must, by definition, be labeled “liberal” and not “conservative.” On the other hand, believing that climate science is actually real, and we should actually do something about it, is the “liberal” position. In other parts of the world, for example, Italy, conservative lawmakers do not posit that belief trumps reality. This is, in fact, the opposite of a traditional conservative value. Conservative values, if they ever made any sense, posited at their core a hard realism of economic and scientific reality. It is a symptom of an insane culture that “caring about the environment for future and current generations” and “Acknowledging that the scientific consensus about cman-made limate change is real” are both considered ideas that could never appear in a true conservative.

In fact, the document, itself, lays out a framework for conservatives to find the path to these sorts of ideas, again. The idea that our business and economics must be sustainable and provide the dignity of work to people in small businesses sounds like something that conservatives might, actually, say. The idea of centralized planning – a key component of modern agriculture with our complex crop subsidies and market protections – is not a net good regardless of whether the government is the one engaged in centralized planning or a corporation with a chokehold to the point of governance on the supply of necessary products, like seed. The real problems of the food chain are treated as the outgrowth of failed government intervention. And climate change? Well, admitting that reality is real is not only a recognition of God in the face of the natural world, but it is sinful to willfully and knowingly destroy god’s creation out of spite when we know better. Focusing on the family, and on traditional values, means respecting the land that will be passed down to children, and doing our part to make that world better.

These concepts all sound very conservative, to me. Heck, embryo’s keep showing up in the document as pro-life values actually mean being pro-life!

Neglecting to monitor the harm done to nature and the environmental impact of our decisions is only the most striking sign of a disregard for the message contained in the structures of nature itself. When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected. Once the human being declares independence from reality and behaves with absolute dominion, the very foundations of our life begin to crumble, for “instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature”.

Or consider this…

Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? 

It appears a lot. In fact, lots of conservative talking points show up. It is perfectly logical because only in an insane world do conservatives not care about the environment they are leaving to their children. The insane world is a corporate byproduct of a set of practices and levers that distill complex ideas and ideologies into buzzworthy headlines that lead to quick pagehits, and a quick distillation of the world into camps. FoxNews, for example, is so successful at creating a big tent of purist identity that they have to invent one for the other side of the political aisle to maintain their sense of focus and identity. And, to their discredit, the other side of the political spectrum is desperate enough to build page hits and monetized eyeballs that they often fall into the trap of reacting to what they see on FoxNews, and/or treating their side of the argument to the same hyper distillation that decimates nuanced discourse. In other words, the idea of media narrative has become so powerful that not even the Pope can step in to discourse without being twisted into a narrative. No one is spared. Everything and everyone must fall into one of the pre-arranged narrative arcs. It has been decided that this pope is very liberal; ergo, when he speaks and reasons to his outcomes through a very conservative ideological framework, he must still be considered a liberal, because the outcomes fit into our pre-existing narrative of what is liberal and conservative.

I found it very interesting to see many of the conclusions seemingly drawn from the work of Masanobu Fukuoka, a radical naturalist and Japanese farmer/prophet, reached through the logic and reasoning of a profoundly conservative, religious lens. Of course, most conservatives will tell you that they care about the environment. They may not demonstrate with their actions, but people don’t live in a vacuum of influences. We have to eat, get along in our society, and reach the goals we have for ourselves and others. We have competing influences that tell us different things. The environment is important, but so is the economy. And, I think the Pope’s critique of the economics of the largescale agribusiness that has taken over the world is both brilliant and depressing. On the one hand, it is brilliant to see him so clearly and with such conservative force decimate the idea that larger, American-style farms will feed the whole world, and big farms will get bigger and bigger with the destructive monocrop practices that have created deserts.

In fact, of the great threats to human civilization, climate change is probably number one. Number two is probably tied up in water usage and agriculture: desertification. One of the things that the Pope has no solution to address in his encyclical is one of the scariest that happens when the GMO industry arrives and starts selling chemicals and fertilizers. The land literally dies. The land that is farmed falls into such a ragged state that nothing grows. Desertification results. The work of Masanobu Fukuoka provides an insight into the process of desertification, and his natural farming techniques were inspirational. He was employed by the United Nations to go around the world to some of the distressed and impoverished parts of the world to try and educate farmers about ways to improve soil, instead of reducing soil fertility. His system was proven to work in Japan, at least. It is definitely not a system that is without its foibles, but it is so contrary to the modern agricultural and distribution network that it is almost impossible to imagine anything widescale happening in our current economic climate.

It’s sweltering, humid June in South Texas. The other day, I saw quinces in the store. These delicious fruits not only do not grow anywhere in the American south because of fireblight, a bacterial infection that is particularly bad where there is no hard winter to kill back the bacterias and insects that cause it. But, the fruits also do not make fruit in June in the northern hemisphere. They are a fall fruit. It was flown up from Peru to our grocery store in South Texas. It flew over the impoverished regions of South America, burning gasoline the whole way, as it rose up past the troubled regions of Mexico, and all the way up to a part of the world where the fruit would simply refuse to grow, at all. For hundreds of miles around me, you couldn’t grow a quince if you tried. The lack of quince in the store would make no difference to anyone, either. A quince is a delicate, and refined thing, generally not used daily because of the difficulty of processing and preparing it. It will not make or break our health, our nutrition. If the quinces of the world never left the villages and towns where they are grown, no one would suffer except the poor men and women who would suddenly be inundated with quinces!

This is the end of the world. We go to school, to work, to grocery stores. We are convinced that there is only one way to live, and anything else is just crazy talk by extremists. The pope is not an extremist. That’s the power of his encyclical: This is how it is possible to go through the logic and reasoning of environmentalism with conservative ideals. It isn’t based on hippy-dippy stuff, but the fundamental worth of life, the words of Christ, and the belief that our choices need to be based on what is real, not what is convenient. It is possible to escape the narrow confines of the pre-ordained media news narrative. It is possible to bring back nuanced political discourse. We all have to work together.

After you read the encyclical, and even if you don’t read the encyclical, read this book and get a grasp on desertification. Arable land is one of the most precious resources in the world, and if we turned it all over to human consumption, it would collapse because the wilderness is more important than we have ever truly known.

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Three Little Pieces

Recently, I have read and viewed some things that I don’t feel writing a full, in-depth review, but do want to point out a few thoughts for those that might be interested.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD – An excellent action movie that is either extremely feminist, or extremely not-feminist depending on one’s perspective and interpretation. The general consensus is one of feminism, but there are plenty of dissenting voices out there. On the one hand, very strong female lead deeply concerned about women’s issues at the end of the world. On the other hand, the very strong female characters must out-male the wicked men, with ultra-violence, and even the “Many Mothers” are warriors and bandits and killers. Many reviewers seem to find this as a feminist action masterpiece. It is certainly an action masterpiece, but I don’t know if it is a feminist movie, exactly. It is definitely better to end slavery and sexual slavery, yes. But, to do so by means of murder and mayhem is hardly a message of social justice. Still, it is the best action movie I have seen in years. The film is so intricately constructed, with a brilliantly-imagined post-apocalyptic landscape, and so kinetic, that it is impossible to get too deeply involved in anything but the thrill of the chase.

VERMILION by Molly Tanzer – Weird Westerns are so much fun. This one stands out in the field because of the character of Vermilion, herself. A cross-dressing, half-Chinese, half-British psychopomp, trapped in between worlds of the living and the dead, and two oppressive cultures. She is a fantastic character, and lots of fun to go on an adventure with. Once upon the adventure, there are some strange notes in the plotting of the text, wherein certain situations just seem too tidy and too perfect. That said, it is easy to overlook them in the fast-paced and interesting world constructed by Tanzer. The book is too much fun to criticize, and looks to be the beginning of an exciting new series of pulp-y adventures.

CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller – A beloved classic that is widely taught in schools is so clever, line-by-line that I found it hard to read again, as an adult. There was so much cynicism and dark wit, line-by-line, that it was difficult to follow anything happening in the text. I was surprised at how little I enjoyed it, when I loved it as a teen. As an adult, perhaps, I am happier and less cynical, and feel no strong desire to be reminded of the horror of bureaucracy and law and society seven times a page. Revisiting the books we used to love is not always a good idea, I guess. Some books are better for the young, some for the old, and some for the happy and some for the sad.

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Dogs destroying all things…

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Devices, Desires, Failed Feudalism, and Fun Reading

Recently, K.J. Parker has come clean of his pseudonym, and certainly it is no great scandal or surprise, as he, himself, predicted. A long and prestigious career in genre only made the pseudonym more meaningful than it had any right to be. A name is just a name. Most of us will never meet the authors whose books we put in our heads. I have already forgotten the true identity of K. J. Parker, and I would have to look it up. The signifier of a name is no more meaningful than the signifier of a pseudonym.

Reading Devices and Desires, the first book of a successful trilogy that made K. J. Parker’s career, I was struck with the meticulous machinery of the plot and characters. The brilliant, nearly inhuman engineer of the trilogy’s title that generates the momentum of action in the plot performs his role with a machine-like precision. Duke Orsenna, as well, something of a pathetic character, also performs his role with a machine-like grace, falling through the paces of his assigned role in the plot as precise and clean as a piston. The modus operandi of the world are war machines that only one nation ever builds, and they build them better than anyone else. Specifically, the plot hinges on “Scorpions” that function like oversized crossbows. The term we would use in our world is Ballista.

The world doesn’t really work as anything but an artifice. For example, the feudalistic trappings fail to include any number of women, who were a critical component of the patriarchy: The noble lord’s first and second duty involved an heir and a spare. There is only one woman in the book engaged in any meaningful action. The wife of the engineer is a mulligan, at best, and the daughter that is precious to him is as much a doll as the doll the engineer constructs to see her. The castle that is eventually besieged is, in fact, suffering from a flaw so glaring and obvious it does not quite work that the military tacticians of the neighboring kingdom never thought to exploit it, nor did any military tactician in the castle, itself, consider their own defenses with any length of time. The economics of the world are wholly irrational, as well. It is simply unclear how people in the Engineering city eat, go to work, go home, and live in their industrial system. After so many decades spent at war, it boggles reason that a timid Duke like Orsenna would be convinced to make war upon the most terrifying nation in the world without any meaningful direct provocation. The signifiers of feudalism are placed over the top of the world, and the signifiers of realism, but it is never quite a clean fit, and one is left peering at the edges, curious to make sense of the missing humans, there.

That said, it is wise to see past these criticisms as nothing more than a evidence of artifice on an entertaining and artful path. The book is a very enjoyable wind-up box fabricated upon the unreality of the machine of genre, that coils and coils and coils and bursts much like the machines of the engineering guild. The signifiers of genre appear in a new and refreshing way, though they are pushed to the edge of plausability, carrying with them the meticulous details of hunting, of seige weaponry, of early material production of seige technology. Hunting, in particular, for a non-hunter like myself, is a subject that was as mysterious to me as it was important to nobility in the feudal era. Reading the meticulously researched material with the more interesting characters in action was an informative way to spend an afternoon in pleasure reading. The prose teeters on the edge of greatness often enough that it is also a pleasurable read, line by line. One must simply allow the rules that constrain the text as part of a fabricated machine, a shadow play in a clockwork box that is never meant to be construed as truly realistic even as it gauzes all the research of realism over the text. The characters that are of great interest inside this machine, the Duke’s right-hand man that is betrayed, the cousin so fond of hunting who becomes an unstoppable force of death, and the mercurial Duchess, who attempts friendship with the ruler of the enemy and does not seem to care for her people much, are all well-drawn and suffer the grist of grinding through the machine constructed by the artifice. The book is a fine read for a summer day, and a testament to the power of storytelling that despite all the glaring creaky bits in the frame and the construction, that the machine of plot itself turns through its paces with a daring and sweeping grace. Lean back, and enjoy the wind-up toy.

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The Internet is a compelling argument against itself

One of the oldest conceits in American literature is the battle of good and evil set in a mock court room with an angel and a devil dueling for the right of a man or mankind to merit continued existence.  I imagine the same scenario, except with our virtual mankind on trial: the Internet. For all the wonderful things the Internet brings to our lives, it comes at a high cost of human bullshit. The daily death threats, rape threats, and anonymous trolling of all sorts pollute the zeitgeist into despair. As an occasional educator, I am horrified by the proliferation of absolutely terrible, cluttering words full of garbled ideas and half-baked info-linkbait. I often try to teach students why Google doesn’t just hand us all properly vetted sources for all our questions. Feeling lucky is not really going to be successful most of the time. The information is just terrible. And, it is addictive. The Internet constantly feeds little pellets of shiny newness, someone responding to a post or a topic, a wrinkle in news, a momentary search for a tiny, tiny piece of information that suddenly takes on the psychic gravitas of a theological controversy. Is it all worth it?

Some days, no. Some days, all horrible things occur, and the shiny pellets of new just make one feel awful, just awful. In the same sense that we as writers and readers of imaginative fiction are often challenged to invent a better set of political and economic and material conditions, we must invent a better Internet. In what we write and read, think hard and seek out the sort of system that will convince the judge in the clouds that we and our web of wires are worth keeping around, after all.

Today, I read multiple threads accusing Ursula K. LeGuin of not knowing the book publishing business based on her comments on the web about imagining a non-capitalist future as an alternative to the tides of BS. The ageism was vast and brazen. It was horrible.

today, the Internet is found guilty. Shut it down. Shut it all down.

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Angel Red

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The last of the blackberries

K iowa blackberries are delicious. In year 3, we got 4 pints, easily, off a single bush. Huge, delicious berries. With the rain and overcast weather, not as good as last year, but still very good, and HUGE!

Planted with a Natchez thornless, the birds went after the smaller fruiting, thornless one, which was fine by us because the fruit quality on the Natchez was inferior.

We also managed to propagate both into new bushes by bending down a good cane and burying it in the raised bed beside the first bush. So, expect more blackberries next year!

Kiowa blackberries are amazing and you should totally plant one in the fall!

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15th Century Netherlands + Lovecraftian Independent Horror Movies = The Folly of This World by Jesse Bullington

The meticulous research of medieval Europe done by Jesse Bullington in his work, to date, created some impressive bibliographies at the end of every novel. Fans of Bullington know that few foul-mouthed anti-heroes will be as funny, and as foul, as Bullington’s. The Brother’s Grossbart was a hilarious and violent romp, with two of the most charismatic anti-heroes of the blackest sort. When I read a Bullington novel, I expect copious greasy cursing of the most hilarious and inventive sort, and a blackguard that is both wholly and irredeemably awful but charismatic in that awfulness. Sometimes more than one! In this case, two! Jan and Sander are two sides of the same corrupt coin: lovers and monsters and possibly the resurrected clones of undersea monsters. Unexpectedly, in The Folly of This World, not only did I get a wonderfully foul blackguard of the blackest sort that I loved to root for throughout the book in Sander, who becomes Jan, sort of, but is always, always Sander, but I also got a well-rounded and believable woman character in Jolanda, initially recruited to be a swimmer but becoming so much more. Also, the blackguards were not only ultraviolent and macho, but completely and totally gay. The Folly of this World leaves nothing to the imagination regarding the sexual proclivities of the two blackguards at the heart of the action: They’re extremely and enthusiastically gay. They have loud and copious gay sex with each other, and with other men that happen to be around at the time and willing. The young woman, Jolanda, encounters this and initially can’t make sense of it with her feelings for Jan, but observes curiously from behind a keyhole while she i given a full-blown education in all manner of gay sex. The betrayal, when it comes, is unexpected by everyone, including the reader. One of the members of this unholy trinity will attempt to kill another, and it is surprising and believable that the third turns in the defense of the defenseless, solidifying that hilariously unwholesome figure as a hero worth rooting for in this flooded world.

So, reader, be warned: There are gay sex scenes in this book. They go into great and slippery detail. One never knows when gay sex might come up again, suddenly, because Sander is not shy about pursuing gay sex with people he meets casually.

Beyond my deep and abiding enjoyment of the main characters of this novel, the most interesting thing about it, I think, is how it can be read three different ways. This novel can be read straight, without any sense of the supernatural. Three adventurers plot and scheme to dive into a house in the great flooded plains of Netherlands to recover a signet ring that makes them nobility during the Cod and Hook wars. I think it would be a mistake to do so, but it is permitted in the text, and less-observant readers will still find much to enjoy, therein, with the charismatic blackguards and the elaborate and well-researched insight into 15th century Dutch culture, politics, and natural disasters. On one layer, one can read just this and enjoy the novel, with a few niggling mysterious details that can be construed away as hallucinations. Still, there is the second and third layer to consider.

Layer the second: Something rotten is up in the streets of the Netherland. Noblemen and women are at odds in the war of Hook and Cod, and at least one noble house is transitioned from Hook to Cod via the imposter adventurers and the influence of a charmingly dasterdly nobleman. In the waters outside the city walls, there the flood slowly peels back from the landscape, the headless bodies of children begin to appear and hint at greater horrors under the surface of things. There are taunting monsters in the streets, haunting the protagonists, and everyone seems to be living in fear of… something. No one quite knows what they’re afraid of. There is a darkness in the air that seems to take it’s form in the flesh when a character returns seemingly from the dead. There is murder and mayhem, and treachery beyond what Sander and Jan directly do. What evil walks the street? Identify it if you can, because I feel that careful reading reveals what is running amok. Doppelgangers walk the street. Each character could be real or not, and it is hard to say what is real in this hallucinogenic mire in the heart of the a flood. Who do you trust in the revolution? Hook or Cod? Whose side is who on, and who is killing the headless children?

The third layer: Fish people, and eels that dream of being men, and a reborn man who is too stubborn and too broken to know what he, himself is. Why did the land flood? What mysteries await where the terrified murderer is too quick with his sword to allow the truth about his own flesh to be spoken to him, though he takes no side in the ruin to come, the flood that rises to the walls, and the fish men, and the eels who dream of being Flemish kings. Hook or Cod, they say, but one side is something risen. There is a darkness in the water, a cause to the flood, and a cause to everything in the text to a careful reading.

It is reminiscent of the sort of horror films that often lean to Lovecraft, but have not the skill or budget to portray the flooded countryside of the Netherlands. These low budget horror films attempt to use cheap camera tricks, poor special effects, and the like, but lack the grace and style of Bullington’s skilled prose.

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Ice and Fire and Binge-Reading Ice and Fire

During the last couple weeks, I have been binge reading a very popular series of books that are, currently, incomplete to the consternation of many of the worst people on the internet who, famously, need reminding that George R.R. Martin is not their bitch.

I had mostly forgotten the first book in the series, the only one I had actually read. So, I binged through the whole thing written to date on Kindle – which promotes that style of reading by being imminently scannable and flippable and the lightest way to read such heavy books.

Reviewing the whole thing one book at a time seems unnecessary. I didn’t read it that way. I suspect future readers won’t either. We live in the age of binge-media. Modern tools make it easy to sit down with thousands of pages or hours of film and push through it all. No one will be reading this one book at a time anymore than anyone will be watching the HBO series one episode at a time, very soon. These long, episodic things beg for the treatment of a binger. It is probably part of the reason why I waited as long as I did to even bother finishing the series, to date. I needed to believe that George R.R. Martin will reach the end before I began. In episodic television, I remember the brilliant and exquisite first season of “Carnivale” only to be completely flabbergasted at the decline in quality and story in the adumbrated second season of the series. I was reading along to the Wheel of Time for a long while, in my youth, until I realized I was not reading for enjoyment, but for completion. I wanted to be able to say that I finished what I started. It is a very important lesson that life is short, and lack of enjoyment is a good reason to leave off with a series. Particularly with large, popular series, plenty of spoilers will be available to explain the ending. Relax, and let other people finish it for you. They can answer any questions you may have.

My personal rules for reading this massive series were simple: If I stopped enjoying it, I stopped reading it.

I went all the way through to the end, with only a few hiccups, and mostly enjoyed the experience. Martin is an expert at manipulating reader expectation and emotion. What I find, in fact, is that I will identify strongly with certain characters and care about them in part because I know how horrible it will be for them, having been on social media and paying attention and unafraid of spoilers. It probably ruined my reading experience of the Red Wedding to know it was coming, but it also helped me care more about Catelyn Stark, and her surviving children, when I was reading about them, because I knew the king of the north was doomed, with all his alliances.

Let’s talk world: What a bleak and inhospitable universe. Wow what a bleak world. There is no joy but wedding night and drinking. Even tournaments seem quite dull and tedious and an excuse for the training and equipping of warriors. The musicians presented are often rapists or attempted rapists, weaseling their way into court to make money, and are willing to turn false witness and commit all sorts of blackmail in the name of self-aggrandizement. The common man are often presented as vile and violent masses, again with the rape of Lolly, and the general threat of rape and violence that hangs over every interaction. Prostitution is the great past time of the world, even among nominally celibate orders like the men at the wall. Outside of the Seven Kingdoms, the world remains brutal and bleak. Slavery is rampant, with fighting pits and sexual abuse of women and boys even more rampant. This is a dark and joyless world, where powerful men (always men) have every whim and need met by the servants and lesser nobility all around them. Honor is just an excuse for propping up this terrible system. To the author’s credit, it is this understanding of honor that forms the fundamental breech in society that fomented the revolution that preceded the text, when the last Targaryan king was murdered by Jaime Lannister, a member of the King’s Guard. In fact, all of the “honorable” characters struggle with the realization that their definition of honor is suspicious, at best, and actively evil at worst, with one notable exception: Stanis Baratheon. But, yes, the bleakness of this world, where rape and prostitution and the rape of prostitutes seem to be major forms of entertainment, and whole power systems exist to promote and produce violence and warfare, and no place in the huge world seems to produce any society that even remotely desires social justice and general happiness. This is a world of horror, not fantasy, with a faint sheen of feudalism painted over it, for familiarity’s sake. It is dark. It is misogynistic. It is smart enough to realize it, mostly, but still fails to produce any meaningful redress for women trapped in this rapey, violent hellscape.

Let’s talk women: I think of my binge in two distinct parts. The first part is when Catelyn Stark is alive, a POV character, and an effective, powerful female adviser to her husband and son. The second part is after the wedding when no non-evil female character is powerful and effective in a clear place of authority in the society. Brienne of Stark is a welcome relief, when she appears, but her presence is mitigated by the knowledge that she is an outsider: a freak of nature in her world, and constantly pushing against the sad reality that her job is to go home, marry, and breed, and everyone keeps reminding her of it. Arya Stark, as well, seems to be a self-realized character only because she rejects the role society has placed upon her. Alas, she wanders off to Braavos, alone, abandoning all her friends and community, to lose her identity entirely in a death cult. So, that’s not hopeful for the role of women: They have to completely annihilate themselves in a cult – like the silent sisters who are another known cult of women – to achieve anything resembling self-realization. Cersei Lannister is an evil, manipulative woman, widely described as a bitch. I’d be okay with that if the author permitted her to be a competent leader. Alas, I am disappointed that this woman who begins beautiful and powerful is slowly stripped of all her power, ability, friends, and guile until nothing remains and she must walk naked and bald through the crowded streets in her act of contrition, thoroughly gelding her both as a political power, and as a force for change in the world. Her beauty and sexuality was her tool to power, and she has it all stripped away.

Without the powerful and competent mother of dragons getting ready to BLOW UP THAT MISOGYNISTIC HELLSCAPE, I don’t know if I could keep reading. She becomes the great hope not only for the world hoping for peace, but for the reader hoping to see a world where women get to be more than walking wombs. But, knowing that the dragons are coming, and that the character of Daenerys Targaryen is allowed to be powerful, beautiful, in control, and in control of her sexuality, permits me, as a reader, to push through. One could argue that the books feel disjointed, with the two battlefronts and two separate sets of revolutions that never truly seem to connect. I disagree. I know they will connect. And, without the mother of dragons on the horizon about to come and blow up the terrible seven kingdoms just like she did the terrible slave kingdoms, I don’t think I could keep slogging through the misery and despair. The dragons operate, in some sense, as a kind of fiery hope of justice and vengeance and earth-upending for readers. Their violence and unpredictability also beckon of a moment when they will fulfill the readers’ animalistic desire to light up the world and most of the horrible people inside of it. Without the dragons and Daenerys, I’d feel no need to keep reading much longer than the Red Wedding dashed away all hope of a balanced portrayal of women in Westeros.

Another change in the experience of binge-reading versus regular reading is the character of Jaime Lannister. An important early action that immediately marks him as a sociopathic monster is his casual and flippant tossing of Brandon Stark from a roof for the crime, hoping it will kill him, for the crime of witnessing incestuous adultery. Early on, Jaime Lannister is a very unlikable character. Binge-reading, I never really lose that sense of him as a total monster, even as he attempts to redeem himself and his honor by abandoning the influence of his sister and allying with Lady Brienne of Tarth to recover the lost children of Catelyn Stark. Had I not only recently encountered him in the early chapters tossing a child off a roof as casually as throwing a bone to a dog, I could be forgiven for forgetting that aspect of his personality in the years and span of time and characters that result, in which I might even be tricked into liking the one-handed swordsman who is attempting to recover some semblance of honor for himself and his surviving natural children, storming the remains of the wartorn Riverlands to negotiate peaceful settlements. He is almost likeable at the moment he storms off with Brienne to chase after the Stark daughters. Still, it is hard to forget the flippant, casual toss of a child from a roof. He has never dealt with his sins. He has never truly confessed and sought justice for all the terrible things he has done.

As enjoyable as it was to storm and stomp through this horrific landscape, and journey with Tyrion and Jon Snow and all the other characters that populate this place, there are niggling things that come back and come back. Often times, sidereal characters become little more than a catch phrase. “It is known” for example is often used by the loyal servants of Daenerys, echoing each other every time they are permitted to speak. Famously, Ygritte the Wildling that tempts Jon Snow keeps repeating, occasionally nonsensically, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” It is jarring to see such a skilled writer rely on such cheap tricks, and to see them failing repeatedly to be anything more than an annoyance. The description of fat characters, as well, borders on the comic so repeatedly that is hard to read about the larger men. They aren’t just fat. They are corpulant beyond belief, eating and eating. The peasants are not just peasants, but epic-level peasants who make peasanting seem like something beyond stereotype. Warriors who are not main characters are often described in terms of things like being the one with the pet monkey, or another Frey, or somesuch casual and flippant method of quickly and often comically portraying a character that may or  Anyone who is not a main character is going to be so poorly drawn,

Let’s talk confusion: I was very glad to be binge-reading long after the books have been published. It is very difficult to follow what is going on, sometimes. Particularly when another new character is introduced late in the book, or another quest happening in the complex mosaic of goals and ideals – let’s say the Dornish Prince, for instance, or the Onion Knight – the reader may have to stop and check up on some notes. The presence of copious on-line Wikis is perhaps the only reason one can successfully binge read. It is not a style of reading that promotes close, thoughtful reading. Certainly, the sheer and oppressive size of the individual books, regardless of the binge, makes close, thoughtful reading a challenge regardless. While binge reading, the problem is even worse. Without the presence of copious spoilers and notes available via Google, the reader would be floundering in confusion across more than a few of the complex storylines of the text, while binge-reading.

Binge-reading is the future. People have done it since Harry Potter novels. People will continue to do it. Particularly as large series books remain very popular, and become mainstream media artifacts, readers will come to the party late, and binge to catch up. I thought it was interesting to force the experience upon myself, and see how it differs from other styles of reading, and how it impacts the enjoyment of the text.

There is simply too much to say about the texts, themselves. You’ve heard it all before, I’m sure.

Oh the binge, the glorious binge and should we, as readers and writers, encourage it?

Firstly, one should only do this if the work is popular enough to inspire a lot of on-line discussion and notes, at a minimum, but extensive Wikis are better. It is easy to get lost while binging books. Books are a denser and more-thoughtful medium than television series. Secondly, large portions of the middle will not resonate as deeply or meaningfully as the very beginning books. In many ways, the opening sections not only set the tone, but create the momentum that makes binge-reading possible. Conveying as much critical plot backstory information as possible effectively early on – something Martin is very successful at achieving with Ned Stark and the world of Winterfell and the history of the rebellion – makes it possible for readers to push on like marathon runners into the sea of words. Reading so much so quickly, it can be too easy to lose threads and ideas and characters in the flood, and those early steps will set the reader up for success or not. Third, large casts of characters are very tricky. Constantly introducing new critical characters, as is done with all the new POV characters and important new twists in Martin’s series, is not recommended. For binge readers, it simply becomes a headache trying to hold it all in the head at once.

Have you binge read anything? What was it? Did you enjoy it, or did you mostly push through for the sake of pushing through? What do you look for when you consider binge-reading something?

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