GRRM update on ADWD

Hello acronyms. But then whoever may be interested in this knows already what the title is about.

In this last update GRRM explains that when you mess with the timeline you’ll always get your ass handed back to you, whether you’re Erikson or Martin.

He says he doesn’t want advices, so I won’t give any, nor I’ve read AFFC yet but I know what the general public thinks and that’s what got me worried reading that update. The problem is that the longer the wait the more people expect a kind of payoff. That’s why these long series always improve on rereads when you don’t have to wait years from one book to the other. A relaxed and balanced pace is not bad, in a general context. But if you waited 5 years for that book, then every page you turn is one page less from whatever expectations you have. Without some sort of payoff you’ll finish the book with a big feeling of dissatisfaction even if the book wasn’t that bad. Preparatory work spread along 10 years of wait just can’t work.

In the case of AFFC we got a book that was criticized exactly because it seemed to go nowhere and was mostly about setting the pieces back up again. It was a valley after a peak. So if this following book, 5 years later, only fills the gap and doesn’t deliver anything special, the risk is that the already weakened balance breaks completely.

Taking back chapters to move them on the following book may be a disaster if those chapters make the plot move onward. Especially since the actual release of the next book is so remote that it may as well just not exist.

So my advice (to the publisher) is to think more about delivering the best book possible right now, than sparing the good stuff for later.

Martin Vs Erikson – My perspective on writing

In regards to the previous post, the author of the quote wants to make sure he’s not a Martin fanboy and that the first part of the phrase isn’t directly implying the second (even if it actually is). I’ll instead clarify that I simply extrapolate the quote to use it as a general example of a trend I sometime notice and don’t like. No idea if the author of that review is biased or not, fanboy or not, I just say that the quote implied certain things that are false and I used it as a general example.

Instead the other day I got an occasion on Malazan forums to elaborate on the differences in writing between Martin and Eirkson. These are things that I believe do exist and are not a result of my biased perception. In the end my preference goes for a particular style and I explain why. I’m not interested to see one of them triumph on the other, only that when a discussion takes place it follows certain rules of coherence and objectivity when it comes to objective elements. I respect every opinion, as long it is coherent.

I think the whole approach to flaws is different.

Whereas Martin would write 100 pages and then toss away everything that isn’t 100% working as expected, Erikson makes the process of writing part of the intent the novel is about. Erikson writes like a freeclimber. He knows exactly where he wants to go but the process of getting there is part of what you see on the page and his journey is your journey as a reader. Move after move. Sometimes you can’t go straight up as you wish and have to move sideways, a few times maybe you have to move backwards, but every move you make is essential and part of what you’re creating there and the final destination. Erikson is insanely ambitious in what he does and even when the task is quite hard to reach he doesn’t back off, he just gets more motivated. So the books are indeed “flawed”. There are parts that work better than others, some amazingly successful and some not quite reaching, yet this is what makes the books much more interesting to read for me. They are filled with experimentation on all levels and that’s what keeps my interest and lightens up the brain and the fun feedback.

Reading Martin I think makes easier to forget about the book itself and engage with the story and characters. Erikson instead requires a certain detachment and look at things from multiple perspectives (what he calls “layering” the writing, sometimes to insane levels). With Martin you get a final product that is perfectly crafted and ready to be enjoyed. With Erikson instead you have the process of crafting itself as part of what you are experiencing. So while what Erikson writes feels rougher, to me it also feels like he’s telling me something that is “true” and that offers me a lot more. And where Martin may respect all good rules that make a classic narrative without any slip of control or mastery, Erikson may as well go and break them all just because of his rebellious soul. You decide what you like better ;)

I’ll also point out this post that, while not quite to the point on Erikson, I think underlines well certain canons that Martin follows and make me say there’s not a whole lot of originality involved. He just picked certain canons that were not typical in “fantasy”.

On the merit of the legitimacy of battles between writers, as the title of this post would suggest, I say that there’s plenty of legitimacy in comparing things (or writers).

Where the thing breaks is when the intent is trying to have one being declared superior to another with a pretense of objectivity and absoluteness. Who can say who’s the better writer? A final judgment made on what rules? What is the canon everyone agreed upon as the ultimate judgment? The only real objective and usable canon is: “sales”. And sales will only declare which author is more accessible and able to reach a large public, leaving out everything else that belongs to writing. It basically tells nothing really useful beside the economic possibility of the book existing as a physical object and the writer being able to survive by writing as a job. We have no ultimate way to proclaim the better writer. So a discussion is only useful when it brings up characteristic of writing that are true and observable, so that the discussion helps to have a correct idea of the writer and his writing. Everyone will have a preference for something different. What is important is that the analysis is true to the writer and his style.

Martin fanboys, again

Everyone is entitled to have his own opinion, but it doesn’t mean that one doesn’t have to keep contact with reality.

So today I read this review of Best Served Cold and came to this part:

Where most authors dealing with multiple Point of View characters use a standard voice (grammar, structure and vocabulary) across all viewpoints, Abercrombie joins the ranks of authors like George R.R. Martin in his ability to reveal pieces of their personality through the way they tell their story.


Ok, I understand that some readers really love Martin’s series and have adopted it as a canon to judge all other fantasy, but the process of idolatry that is going on has trespassed all boundaries of plausibility of honest and earnest opinion.

George Martin has indeed a huge skill with characters, he makes them alive and sympathetic for the reader. That’s his greatest skill. Along with making dialogues relevant and effective. But there’s an aspect that was obvious to my eyes when I was reading the first book in the series and that has been praised by many readers: the prose is very good and even.

Martin writes very good prose, a pleasure to read. The book is accessible and engaging. But there’s no experimentation with language. Grammar, structure, vocabulary? If true that would be the antithesis of an even, flowing prose. It would mean switching styles for every POV and it’s definitely not something I saw happen in A Game of Thrones (especially with seven years old kids that would make any kind of adjusted use of vocabulary and structure extremely obvious).

So say that Martin is great at portraying multi-dimensional characters whose themes ring true and powerful. Say that he indulges in their minds, render wonderfully they thoughts on the page (plausible, faithful, consistent. Ok). But he does this through an even prose and style that represent constants through the book.

Doing true POVs that play with grammar, structure and vocabulary is extremely hard. It is rarely found in fantasy as it is rarely found in all genres of literature (Ulysses? Infinite Jest? House of Leaves? All examples of very simple and accessible books), and when you find it it’s almost always about gimmicky aspects that are easily isolated. When it happens it also often leads to extremely polarized reactions by the readers because you can really come to HATE certain habits of certain characters and certain parts of the book really hard to wade through. It leads to an uneven prose, text hard to follow and definitely not an accessible book that is aiming for the broadest audience possible.

If that claim was true Martin’s series would be nowhere as successful as it is. If it’s successful is instead because the book has the kind of competent and beautiful prose that represent a constant throughout the book and that makes it a pleasure to read.

I also think that Abercrombie’s style is completely different from Martin’s and that you’re really don’t do Abercrombie justice if you look at his work through Martin’s looking glass. It’s hard for me to think even something vague that they may have in common.

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Lost (TV) – The joke – Where Lost true meaning is revealed

This is quite fitting since I’m reading Infinite Jest and in the book there’s an experimental movie called, incidentally, “The Joke” that represents a metalinguistic experiment with an audience (where the audience isn’t simply spectating, but actually the object of spectation).

Now you expect I draw a parallel between what I’m reading and the TV show I’m watching, but the truth is that I only see even more evidently, and am convinced of having been right and to the point, what I write down after the very 1st episode I watched, back in 2006 when Lost began airing here. Comments particularly interesting because warning about “premature” judgment, and “giving it some time” in order to “be surprised” since “it’s not what you think it’s going to be”.

Four years and six seasons later I can now declare that I’m now even more convinced that: it’s exactly what I thought it was.

Actually during the show I started to think that maybe it was going to be something more than I thought, but now that the end approaches I’m more and more convinced that my first interpretation was the very best and more precise.

This is how I rephrased it even before going back to read the old blog post:

Was its worth 100% dependent on payoff?

Season 1 was a big metalinguistic joke about TV series. It was the american Battle Royale, filled with gratuitous spooks and illogical plot twists to show that you could make a good show out of nothing just through good execution of technique.

Then they saw it worked, grew attached to it, and decided to add a plot that would somehow give a sense to what was actually built for the purpose of being senseless.

Lost is basically an exercise to show how much writers can be in control and use their own audience as a joke that the show is ultimately about.

Quoting the 2006 post:
It has the exact same scheme and feel, the exact same use of narrative structure and expedients, like the mix of different characters that don’t know each other and then the use of neatly placed flashback to reveal part of their stories just before the character is involved into something in the main plot. Making the audience connect & sympathize a moment before something horrendous and life-threatening happens to them.

Basically there’s nothing original if not a nearly infinite list of stereotypes and references (across all forms of media). Borrowing hands down from sci-fi and horror expedients to “conceal” and keep up the tension. Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” is another one, the expedient to never let you “see completely” to build up the tension (also “Alien”) and the shaky camera + “close up” of a terrified face taken right from “Blair Witch Project” (the trick of not-showing, or seeing an horrified face but not seeing the object of horror).

So what’s the deal with the polar bear?

Not something brought there to be the object of some sort of scientific experiment, but just a dissonant note used to amplify the effect of a spook. “A polar bear in a tropical island”, that’s the correct way to see it. It’s something unsettling and mysterious that is shown not for a logic reason or external purpose, but solely for its properties of being unsettling and mysterious through the univocal act of being shown, so made to be, existing. Everything on screen in Season 1 (and the exact reason why each following season failed to recapture both the mood and the ratings) appears solely for its effect and never for its meaning. It’s use of (visual, cinematographic) language not for its meaning, but for what it is. It’s the use of language applied to language. So metalinguistic, or the property of the language to describe itself.

Put in another way: it’s a joke that the authors played on the audience. A game whose object is the audience itself and its reactions. Where the audience’s theories are part of the puzzle. A recursive game and sort of annular relationship between audience and showmakers. One feeding the other in recursive fashion of obsession.

It also says: we have the power of doing everything. We have control even when there’s NO control, because it is language that represents the perimeter of what can be experienced and it is through language that we can manipulate what is perceived/true, and change it, overturn it, every time we want. They tried to push this to the point that the relationship writers-audience was so bent that it was on the point of snapping: in Season 3 they introduced two new characters (the loved Nikki & Paulo) that have always been there but never seen, put in place through an elaborate ret-conning exploiting plainly the “perimeter of what can be experienced” represented by the limited and finished space that comprises a filmed shot. You can’t see what’s behind or what’s at the far margin. With the purpose of showing the audience that they could be shown everything and they would still fall for it. “Open wide and wait for the spoon”. Only that the relationship was so bent that this didn’t actually work out and the writers had to stagger back and reappraise the power of their egos.

This means that “Lost” is a study on language, its power and its effect on the broadest audience possible. A use of medium not to convey a message, but a medium that feeds on itself and is self-aware. A study on the production of meaning or its absence in favor of form.

Ultimately, whatever “plot” or “ultimate meaning”, that the show may or may not have, is entirely secondary and tacked on. That’s why up here I wrote: “Was its worth 100% dependent on payoff?” It’s not. The payoff is supplementary in order to not delude the audience and entirely break the relationship of love. It’s akin a spectacular action scene that serves no real purpose beside amusing & contenting (also called fanservice). But the truth is that the true experiment is involving the audience in the same way one Dharma experiment involved observers being observed. Which is exactly the type of mockery they love the most: they show you exactly what they are doing, in a slightly refracted context, and yet you fail to put the pieces together.

I think it worked perfectly.

Lost Season 6 – Men versus Nature (choice versus destiny)

We got the first two episodes that pave the road for the beginning of the end, and I tried to parse the elements while ret-conning them to the considerations I wrote at the end of season 5 (part 1part 2).

To begin with, Lindelof own words:

We will say this: season 6 is not about time travel. It’s about the implications, the aftermath, and the causality of trying to change the past. But the idea of continuing to do paradoxical storytelling is not what we’re interested in this year.

I’m rather glad about the first part of the show because the plot at the moment is extremely simple, and, especially, it is coherent with what I had written a year ago when the series closed.

After the finale a year ago I wrote:

If I have to guess the anti-Jacob is also the smoke monster, who is also evil-Locke. Jacob enjoys messing with people, while anti-Jacob is the one who prefers being left alone and would like as well to get rid of Jacob and enjoy a quiet life.

I think this is going to be a theme important to keep in mind. It’s Jacob who messes with people, who calls the boat the first time and who gets the losties on the airplane the second time.

The anti-Jacob instead is the one who now wants to “go home”. Whatever it means.

We also know that anti-Jacob killing Jacob means that the island (2007 version) isn’t anymore in the balance of power. But. It’s also possible that Sayid is now possessed by Jacob the same way Locke is now anti-Jacob (what is sure is that Jacob wants to keep Sayid alive and has sent a message to his “Others” faction through the message hidden in the guitar case that Jacob himself gave to Hurley).

It’s also interesting because the way things went had the result of solving the time paradox they created last season. Me again a year ago:

But before they (the losties) can save themselves, they all have to die. Those in the past in order to complete the plan and let their copies live. Those in the future because they are orphans of a timeline (the island blew up, so Locke and Ben can’t be on it, timeline-wise those scenes happen BEFORE what we’re seeing in the past).

There’s a problem, though. Sun has a picture of them in the Dharma initiative, and there’s also a sixth season to fill. So this hints that, if the future is their future as that picture hints, they won’t succeed in blowing up the island.

Lindelof again:

We knew that the ending of the time travel season was going to be an attempt to reboot. And as a result, we [knew] the audience was going to come out of the “do-over moment” thinking we were either going start over or just say it didn’t work and continue on. [We thought] wouldn’t it be great if we did both? That was the origin of the story.

My theory at that time (before the end of season 5) was that the entire timeline would be erased, because that future (Lock revived returning to the island with Sun & Ben) was strictly dependent on the past going the way it did.

So, either that timeline was “true” (hence losties not succeeding exploding the bomb) or it was going to be erased, so that, in order to trigger the “better world” (what we now see as flash-sideways) all of them had to be erased from existence. Meaning that in order to have themselves in the future have a better life, they had to sacrifice all they lived till that point. Also meaning that the whole TV series would be basically erased because they were successful in preventing the whole thing and triggering the reboot.

We now know things didn’t go that way. The bomb did explode and the (arguably) better future was triggered, but the “copies” of the losties weren’t “erased” and now persist in another timeline that goes to overlap exactly with the old 2007 version from season 5. Where anti-Jacob kills Jacob and now probably wants to take over the island in order to take off and return to Mars.

The big question in this series is about how the alternate timeline (2004) is going to fit in the context. Either it is there simply thematically to prove a point (that the new life isn’t that better) or it will have to collide again in some way (Widmore maybe?).


Thematically the theme has been already highlighted. Locke revived in this episode talks with Ben about the former Locke and says:

“He (Locke) was the only one who realized how pitiful the life he left behind really was.”

And this kind of commentary is mirrored by something similar that happened last season, but that referred to the exact opposite situation (the life they lead after the crash):

“It was not all misery.”
“Enough of it was.”

We have now these two realities: the 2004 reboot and the 2007 as we know it.

A few important things to keep in mind:
– The main point is that it is JACOB who has caused the bomb to explode and the new 2004 timeline to exist (this inferred by the fact that it’s Jacob himself who persuades most of the losties to return to the island. And if he’s not manipulating them directly for his own will, at the very least he is the one who gave them the “choice”).

This may lead somewhere if things are considered that way. We do not even know that anti-Jacob is aware that his timeline (the 2007) is now somewhat secondary. Jacob at this point is apparently successful. Anti-Jacob may be the one tricked and now trapped not in the island, but in the surrogate timeline.

It’s also possible that the two timelines will be personalized: Jacobs has the “white” 2004 no-crash timeline, while anti-Jacobs has the “black” standard timeline where he’s now free.

Also, let’s work with two archetypes. Jacobs represents white and progress made of men, and the will of men to alter destiny and have a role, and decide their own life and try in spite of all misery and failure and whatever. It’s a kind of positive, merciful drive that often fails but always tries.

Anti-Jacobs represents wild nature. Unmerciful, cruel. That doesn’t tolerate men messing up. That wants the island untouched, and wants it back, away from men. That also represents destiny as a self correcting fixed thing that has its own survival as first priority.

We know Lost is built through dichotomies, and the dialogue at the end of Season 5 crystallizes the contrast between Jacob and anti-Jacob:

anti-Jacob: “Still trying to prove me wrong, aren’t you?”
Jacob: “You are wrong.”
anti-Jacob: “Am I? They come. they fight. They destroy. They corrupt. It always ends the same.”
Jacob: “It only ends once. Anything that happens before is just progress.”

Which is also one of those broad themes about the human condition, and here’s a link to what Steven Erikson writes:

The Chain of Dogs had fallen at the foot of Aren. Pormqual’s ten thousand danced on trees. Leoman’s rebel army was destroyed at Y’Ghatan. It was clear — it could not be clearer — that for all there was to learn, no one ever bothered. Each new fool and tyrant to rise up from the mob simply set about repeating the whole fiasco, convinced that they were different, better, smarter. Until the earth drinks deep again.

This is where things stand now and the whole thing was fairly simplified as I expected. As for the last season we lack a lot: “motivations”. So the big mistery is how the two timelines are related, how they’ll resolve, and in particular what’s Jacob and anti-Jacob’s plan.