I've now finished the first series of Game of Thrones. Now I just have to pray that my wife doesn't push me into having to watch the second.
I think what I dislike most about it is that it is almost everything I hate about fantasy literature, yet with lavish production and good acting. I watch the carefully constructed scenes, and I feel no sense of being transported to another world. Rather I feel I am watching some tableau -- especially in the case of the stagey crowd scenes. Over and above that, I feel no sense of wanting to know more about these people. Sod the lot of them. The only one in which I have a shred of interest is Lord Tyrion. And that isn't enough to make me eager for another sustained bout of gory misanthropy.
A deeply, deeply annoying episode of Game of Thrones last night. In it, there was a character whose sole functions were to a) teach Arya how to use a sword and b) remind the viewer of Inigo Montoya, from The Princess Bride. Having achieved these two functions, he was then thrown away in a style bad even by the standards of a piece of fiction which seems to revel in the way it throws characters away.
This man, who is such a brilliant swordsman that he can defeat four fully-armoured opponents with a wooden sword, dies by the sword of the fifth for no other reason than that he is too stupid to pick up one of the steel swords of the men he has defeated. He has plenty of time to do so while he indulges in a little 'My character is about to be thrown away Arya, so you must leave the room so my death scene can be rendered more poignant by being experienced by you at a remove' conversation.
What annoyed me most about this is that for the last couple of episodes I've been saying to myself that this was going to happen: that this peerless swordsman would probably be killed, in a scene that demonstrated that, despite what the diegesis was telling us, he was crap. I was rather hoping that the show would prove my low expectations misplaced...
I've been watching the first season of Game of Thrones. Yes, I know it's a little late in the day, but what can I say? I live in Japan.
After the first five episodes I've finally found one good thing to say about it:
'At least there aren't any races of elves and dwarfs.'
Just to try to keep some momentum (having done two posts in as many days), I thought I should mention that although I'm going to be trying to include more about my Bao stories on this blog, what I actually spend most of my spare time writing is academic treatises about fandom. This is something of a novelty for me, even though my academic career was kick-started by two articles in fan journal Interactive Fantasy. But I've been writing about 'culture,' and 'literature,' and 'language pedagogy' for so many years now, frankly I'm sick of it. And to be honest, fandom is something I know a little more about.
I have a paper appearing in the (fascinating) online Journal Transformative Works and Cultures in September, and I'm working on a number of others. Some of the spillover may appear here. I am very interested in responses on this, as it is, after all, research. I've been arguing in some of my papers that blogs, and other online forums, effectively represent the mass expression of fan activity, made possible by technology. I am not original in suggesting this.
I have also recently been looking at derivative works. What's the difference between a piece of fan fiction based on Dempsey & Makepeace, for example, and the recently published Dead To Me, an authorised novel based on Scott & Bailey? Or, for a more personal example, a parody of Fighting Fantasy by, say, me, and a 'real' Fighting Fantasy book by me?
You can see why I'm interested in this. I'm writing 'derivative' stories about Judge Bao. I've written gamebooks based on the Robin of Sherwood TV show (based, in turn, on an established character).
'The author is dead,' Barthes famously wrote. But in the modern world, 'authorship' has been conflated with 'ownership' and the owner is, decidedly, not dead.
Living up to my name, I have spent much of the last year asleep.
Now I've woken up a bit though, I can finally announce that I will be putting half of my novel up (probably on Scribd) in the near future, for anyone who wants a look at it. I reread it recently, and I enjoyed it, so clearly I have followed that cardinal rule of writing something you'd like to read yourself.
The novel is a detective story set in China 1000 years ago, and featuring the real historical official Bao Zheng (as well as a couple of other historical characters).
Let me know if you're interested, and I will hurry up and get it up there. I'm not going to be able to do the whole 'get a buzz going on Twitter' stuff, for the simple reason that I avoid Twitter. And Facebook. I am one of those selective Luddites, I know.
I always expected the next big earthquake here to be the one that's due to hit us. The Tokai earthquake is a biggie that has a large chance of striking soon (85% in the next 30 years). So the 9.0 Tohoku quake is truly a surprise: a once in a millennium event.
One thing it has shown clearly: Japan is very well prepared against earthquakes. However, there simply isn't any way of being adequately prepared against tsunami.
It has also demonstrated that those people who mocked me for walking around with Potassium Iodide pills in my pocket were fools. Look at Fukushima. And then turn your attention westward, to the likely epicentre of the Tokai earthquake... and the Hamaoka Nuclear Plant that stands there.
On one level, nuclear power is 'safe'. Look at the number of deaths, and the damage to health from, say, coal. Or oil.
On the other hand, there is something about a large area being irradiated, about food supplies being rendered inedible. Something that the pro-nuclear lobby dismiss as 'hysteria', but which taps into a very deep well of fear.
It doesn't help matters that the nuclear industry in this country is evidently corrupt and incompetent.
I wonder how much worse Fukushima will get? If you go back and look at what we were being told a week ago, you realise that most of it wasn't true. It is evident that at least one reactor has been breached, and radioactive material is leaking, into the air, and into the sea. Now they are saying that returning the nuclear plant to a stable condition will be a matter of weeks if not months. And does that mean nuclear material will be leaking all that time?
Fukushima simply takes attention here away from the calamity wrought by the tsunami. The number of deaths, and the continuing crisis among the survivors, don't bear thinking about. And many of these people are now living in areas with significantly elevated levels of radiation.
The tsunami was nature at its most ferocious. The Fukushima disaster, however, was man-made. And there are criminals who are responsible for it: the ones who falsified safety documents, the ones who stored double the appropriate amount of spent fuel at the site, the ones who ignored warnings from those involved in building the plant of precisely this current danger. What is the chance of them ever seeing justice?
Well, I'm now in a new house. Moving is not an experience I want to repeat in a hurry, but then it's unlikely I will need to. Japan doesn't really have a 'property market' in the same way as the UK, so it's unlikely I'll be able to afford to sell this place and buy another.
So far, though, I have to say that it is nice to be living in a house, especially one with a proper Japanese bathroom. The removals company impressed me overall with their efficiency, and certainly with their dedication. The two poor girls who were sent to pack our stuff in boxes had been told that they'd probably finish in a morning. Instead they were still working hard in the evening, so we ordered them a pizza. They said that in the past they'd had colleagues who'd had to carry on until 2am. And needless to say, who were expected to report to work as normal the next morning!
At present I'm just finishing off the cleaning of our previous accommodation: two apartments (one above the other). We hand over the keys on Tuesday. At nearly 20 years there I am apparently the longest-serving resident of the block ever.
With one exception (the twat from the company that made the house, who cocked up the wiring) the people who've worked on this move have been really good. NTT came to connect up the optical line (for phone, TV and Internet). On the phone I'd been told that all they would do was set up the connection to one point in the house. In fact, the incredibly friendly engineer, when told we wanted an internal LAN, and had ducts built into the walls, said he happened to have some LAN cable in the van, went and fetched it, and promptly set me up with the wired connection to my office that I'd wanted, and had pencilled in for 'when I get around to it'.
Also, having taken gifts to my neighbours, I am now, after 20 years, something of a resident of Japan, in that I am properly connected to my local community. The organisations at a grass roots level in Japan are what make the society tick. Of course, they can be oppressive and intrusive. But they get things done, and offer support. That's probably what David Cameron would like to claim for the 'Big Society', rather than the hot air he is in fact blowing.
I should mention that my identity here is 'Sleepyscholar' because that is the Chinese pseudonym I decided I'd try to adopt if my novel ever got published. It's short for 'The Sleepy Scholar of Zhenfu'. 'Sleepy Scholar' is a nod to the pseudonyms used by famous Chinese poets. Zhenfu is the name of the area I live in, which is actually named after a Chinese Buddhist monk.
Trouble is, I'll be moving in February, so it looks like I'll have to change my name to 'The Sleepy Scholar of Shentian'. I'm not sure I like that as much.
I may post something at a later date about the peculiarities of buying a house in Japan. Then again, I may be too busy desperately chucking things out so that there's room for me to live in the one I've bought!
Vietnam: a Television History is a US documentary originally broadcast in the 1980s, but which has recently been re-released. I would like to ask any Americans to look at that title, and reflect on why people in other countries might find it offensive. (For reference, the series concerns itself with events from 1945 until 1975, and episode titles are:
Roots of a War: 1945-53
America's Mandarin: 1954-63
LBJ Goes to War: 1964-65
America Takes Charge: 1965-67
America's Enemy: 1954-67
Vietnamizing the War: 1969-73
Cambodia and Laos
Peace is at Hand: 1968-73
The End of the Tunnel: 1973-75)
(For further reference, Vietnam is a nation in South-east Asia which has gone by that name since 1804, but which has existed as a nation since the 10th century. I teach a Vietnamese student. Nice bloke: he's a Judo champion, and he already has a degree, but he's doing another one at my university.)