Friday, September 28, 2012

Game of Thrones vs. American Politics



I'm not quite sure whether I would sign Renly and Santorum as a pair; besides the smirk, there isn't really much there (although Midwesteros is a great joke). Balon and Ron Paul are great, and Tyrion and Colbert as the great pranksters also work for me. Daenerys and Palin is really evil, but considering the latest chapter in ADWD and Julianne Moores performance in "Game Change", it might come true. The Clinton/Gore comparisons are harmless and let me smile a bit, but not more. So, that's me, what's your opinion? Have at it! 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

What's culture, anyway?

When you try to analyse works of popular culture, be it the "Song of Ice and Fire" or "Battlestar Galactica", "Breaking Bad" or "The Walking Dead", you can be sure to get only a sneer by those who are sure that anything of cultural value can be enshrined only by the covers of two books. Preferably, old books. It is something that continues to drive me mad. I started to hate the phenomenon when I studied German literature (a subject I'm currently teaching). At university, a universal ruleset seemed to form itself, at least to me:
1) Only books can be precious and "culture". 
2) The fewer people understand the given text because of its complicated structure, the better it must therefore be. 
3) The less entertaining a text is, the better it is. Only fools and jesters aim at entertaintment, the real artist bores his audience to death. 
4) The older the text is, the better it must be. 
Of course, this is a very bitter and exaggerated ruleset. You read contemporary texts, too, but this violation of rule 4 is almost always compensated by restraining the choice of text to rules 2 and 3. I am ashamed to say that back in school and when I started studying at university, I prided myself of liking this sort of stuff and even tried to write "sophisticated" texts of my own, just to prove how long my literary penis was. About halfway through university I came to hate it more and more. Today, I still love to read and to analyse, but I sure as hell also love to watch stuff and analyze it. I have broadened the definition of what is worthy of analysis, so to speak. This leaves the question of what exactly belongs to "popular culture" and what doesn't, and what measuring instruments I use to decide the question.
He's long dead, so his work must have been great!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Playing for keeps

Warning: Contains spoilers for the second season of Battlestar Galactica. 

When the Battlestar Galactica encountered the Battlestar Pegasus in the vastness of space, the joy soon turns bitter for the crew of the Galactica, as they have to face that the Pegasus is something like a jagged, dark mirror image of their own. Pegasus is what would have become of Galactica if Adama would have had his way back in the pilot episode, where he wanted to go to war against the Cylons and was only persuaded by President Roslin that he needed to protect what was left of humanity. Pegasus went through this initial thought and forced everything under a very narrow interpretation of military needs, going so far as to putting people against the wall and shoot them to force valuable personell to leave their families to die in ships stripped for valuable parts. Admiral Cain, the commanding officer on Pegasus, sees herself as fighting a war, and in war, the needs of the few must submit to the needs of the many. Unfortunately, there are not that many left, but Cain acts under the illusion that there were and that humanity needs to, somehow, strike back and bring the fight to the Cylon. If you would ask her why, she would tell you something about war and how war works, but the truth would be that she doesn't know. The logic of war has swept away all other considerations. 

Just one Battlestar between salvation and oblivion.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Flight of Links

- Borderlands 2 is out, and the Escapist reviews it.
- Marvel really does make "Guardians of the Galaxy", starring a racoon and a tree. I'm really excited to see how this turns out.
- Yahtzee shows you how to make a game in which you play death interesting.
- Germany in numbers, for those interested in my homeland, provided by the Guardian. 
- Steven Spielberg still cashes revenue from "Star Wars" because of a stupid bet of Lucas'.
- If you're intelligent, you don't support Conservatives. Thanks for clearing that up, Rick Santorum.
- A German posse over a pirate politician's book whose publisher prosecutes pirating has reached The Escapist. The story isn't exactly right as depicted, but be that as it may. 
- This new BBC series just looks great. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Under the bleeding star

Warning: Contains heavy spoilers for all books from "A Song of Ice and Fire" up to and including "A Dance with Dragons".


Note from the editor: On October 13, our first essay book, Tower of the Hand: A Flight of Sorrows, goes on sale at Amazon for $5.99. The ebook contains eight original essays about A Song of Ice and Fire, written by Tower of the Hand editors and contributors, and our frequent collaborators. All of us have worked hard these past few months assembling a collection of essays that are original, fun, and revelatory. There's something in this book for everyone, from first time readers to the most hardcore fans of George R. R. Martin. If you enjoy the essays we offer here on Tower of the Hand, we're sure you'll appreciate A Flight of Sorrows just as well. Here's an exclusive look at one of the essays that will be included in the book, written by Stefan Sasse.

Under the Bleeding Star

On the role of prophecy in songs of ice and fire
"You wear your prophecy like a suit of armor. You think it keeps you safe, but all it does is weigh you down and make it hard for you to move." Littlefinger (paraphrased)
If there is one topic that really engages fan speculation, it's the subject of prophecies. They can be found in the books as early as A Game of Thrones, when the Dothraki dosh khaleen prophesizes the arrival of "The Stallion Who Mounts the World" in the incarnation of Daenerys Targaryen's son, Rhaego, and they stay with us until the long-awaited pages of A Dance with Dragons, where Quaithe makes another appearance and a red priest named Moqorro utters dark phrases to anyone who listens. One of the most memorable scenes of Dany's whole character arc, the House of the Undying, is littered with prophecy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Series I stopped watching

Warning: Contains spoilers for Dexter, The Tudors, Jericho, Supernatural, Smallville, Heroes, Prison Break and others.

I have watched quite a bit of series. Some of them I stopped watching in mid-season. I don't like to stop watching something, as I don`t like stop reading something. Not only do I then not know how it will end - which in some cases really doesn`t matter that much - but my inner demon tells me that then everything before will be wasted time, and who wants to waste time, right? Nonetheless, there is some stuff I didn't finish, and now I will take the time to tell you why, and you may stop reading anytime and consider what you've read up to this point as wasted time. So, here we go.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A vision of an emancipated world

Warning: Contains mild spoilers about Battlestar Galactica. 

There are quite many Fantasy and Science-Ficion-settings that claim to show a world that has moved beyond the discrimination of the female gender. Especially role-playing games often do this; sometimes it's regarded as especially progressive to turn the table and simply mirror role models, which usually makes for a shortcut into the uncanny valley. I know only one show and setting that ever convinced me with its vision of an egalitarian world. This show is, you might have guessed, Battlestar Galactica. This may sound a bit strange because the show surely is no stranger to show boobs and slender female bodies in order to appeal to a certain audience, but there are several elements in it that contrast the show from other comparable settings. Or better, there are certain things lacking in BSG that can be found on other shows. 

May I present the kind of character they chose not to introduce.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Flight of Links

This will be the first link-collection post. I plan on doing them every Monday, so let's see if I can live up to that. If you find any interesting articles fitting the blog, by all means, post them in the comments or mail me.

- The Internet Meme Database has some WWII-style propaganda posters for social media for you.
- The Escapist offers a review of the astonishing mod "Day Z" which basically seems to take all my critizism from last week to heart.  
- Dirk Benedict really is kind of a self-centered jerk.

Friday, September 14, 2012

"A Flight of Sorrows" revealed!

For the past seven years, ToweroftheHand.com has prided itself on being a premiere source of A Song of Ice and Fire analysis, information, and speculation. There has been nearly a metric ton of essays, forum posts, and encyclopedia entries logged at the site to date, all designed to give the hardest of the core fan the most rewarding experience possible while reading George R.R. Martin's seminal novels.
And now the editors are taking all those years of mastery and applying them to an ebook.
Tower of the Hand: A Flight of Sorrows takes five of the site's most prolific authors - including its two founders - and draws out their best, most in-depth work yet. Unlike other Ice and Fire compendiums, the focus of these essays is on the narrative, character, and thematic elements of the story itself, as opposed to the literary aspects surrounding the books.


A Flight of Sorrows is coming out a month from today, and to celebrate, we’re letting you all in on a little secret: the book’s complete lineup (which, we’re delighted to finally share, includes a few more friendly faces from the Ice and Fire community). Here we go:
    - Foreword – Phil Bicking, editor-in-chief of WinterIsComing.net And Now It Begins… 
    - Introduction – Marc N. Kleinhenz, editor All along the Watchtower 
    - “Under the Bleeding Star” – Stefan Sasse, essayist at Tower of the Hand and co-host of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour On the role of prophecy in songs of ice and fire 
    - “Daggers in the Dark” – Miles Schneiderman, essayist at Tower of the Hand The ultimate fates of protagonists, from A Game of Thrones to A Dance with Dragons 
    - “The Prince That Illyrio Promised”- Alexander Smith, co-founder of Tower of the Hand Exploring the identity of – and the aim of the conspiracy around – Aegon Targaryen 
    - “A Game of Beds” – Amin Javadi, co-host of A Podcast of Ice and Fire Marital infidelity, adultery, and fandom theories in A Song of Ice and Fire 
    - "Every Case Is Different, Every Case Is Alike” – John Jasmin, co-founder of Tower of the Hand Investigating murder investigations in Westeros 
    - “You Win or You Sit the Bench” – Douglas Cohen, author and former editor of Realms of Fantasy magazine Power ranking – NFL style – the top contenders in the game of thrones 
    - “The Narratives of Winter” – Marc N. Kleinhenz, editor Discerning the structure of Martin’s saga and teasing out its final act 
    - “The Telltale Knight” – Mimi Hoshut, co-host of A Podcast of Ice and Fire The narrative parallels and foreshadowing of the Tales of Dunk and Egg 
    - Afterword – Chelsea Monroe-Cassel, co-author of InnattheCrossroads.com and A Feast of Ice and Fire Just Desserts 
    - Appendix I: What’s a Game of Thrones without the Tower of the Hand? 
    - Appendix II: The Creaking Door of House Manwoody
As you can see, it’s a packed house, and we’re excited to squeeze you into the nerdfest, as well. (Note: the two appendices are previously published material – one at Corona’s Coming Attractions, the other at Tower of the Hand itself – that interviews the respective braintrusts behind TOTH and A Podcast of Ice and Fire. It’s collected here to heighten the reader’s enjoyment of these two wacky-but-popular ASOIAF staples.)
A Flight of Sorrows releases on Saturday, October 13th, 2012 at the price of $5.99. It will be available exclusively at Amazon.com and is edited by Marc N. Kleinhenz, a freelance journalist who has written for 19 sites, including IGN, Comic Related, and Westeros.org. Other books he has written or edited include It Is Known: An Analysis of Thrones, Vol. I, another travelogue to Martin's novels and television series, and the upcoming Green Switch Palace: A Year in the Life of Nintendo Fandom.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Why video games often suck at storytelling

Warning: Contains mild spoilers for Modern Warfare 2.

When a video game attempts to tell a story that's worth to be called that, you will usually lighten up in joy. When it does tell its story in a coherent, capturing way, you are just opened a clam and found a pearl inside, or in other words, witnessed an event that's not bloody likely. Most video games tell sketchy and clicheed stories at best. They don't even try to do something else. Picture, for example, the "Modern Warfare" franchise. The games do a great job at providing great scenes that feel like a Hollywood Blockbuster happening with you in the middle, but if you waste even one thought about the story holding these scenes together, you will go in cathartic shock due to sheer dumbness.

I mean, seriously, look at the storyline of "Modern Warfare 2", where a terrorist attack on an Russian airport where the body of an American was conventiently found prompts not only the Russian government to invade the US in what is basically the better version of the "Red Dawn" remake we will soon suffer through. No, the American allies don't help them because it's basically their own fault. This story is so dumb that I currently hold the screenwriters of said "Red Dawn" remake in high regard for letting freaking North Korea invade the US by use of a EMP superweapon (or something along the line).

America has Thor, though, so fat chance, North Korea!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Baltar decision

Warning: Contains spoilers for the first three seasons of Battlestar Galactica. 

There was a moment in Gaius Baltar's life when all the ego-trips and selfishness hit the wall. After being elected president at the end of season 2 and giving the order to settle on a gastly heap of rocks dubbed "New Caprica", the people happily left their ships to breathe unfiltered air again and to feel some real ground beneath their feet. In the beginning it was all great, but the climate wasn't exactly a good one, and living in a tent becomes tedious after a time. Additionally, people got demanding, felt entitled and even founded a union. All that stuff made Baltar as unpopular in the span of just a year as George W. Bush after Katrina hit New Orleans. But then came the defining moment of his life, when his image of the weirdo scientist turned president went just out the window. Would "Battlestar Galactica" have been written by George R. R. Martin, everyone would refer to Baltar as "Gaius Turncloak", but bereft of such eloquence they had to settle to pronounce his name with real disdain. After that one year, the Cylons came back. 

Vote Baltar for benevoltent occupation.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Coming home again

My father never understood how I could watch a movie twice. "Didn't you understand it the first time?" he used to tease me. Reading the same book more than ten times (as I easily pile up my rereads of "A Game of Thrones") would have left him only shaking his head. The same is true for writing about issues like the ones this blog is dedicated to. When I mentioned my essays about the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series to a personell manager in an application, all I got was an incredulous "And people read that?!" She was totally perplexed. It didn't hurt me, by the way, the application was succesful besides the Nerd label it earned me. But really, most of you will be able to tell a story like that of their own. Some relative, perhaps, or a friend who isn't that much into fiction. After all, who signs up to internet forums to discuss whether or not a person in a book was in truth fathered by a person which didn't even appear in the damn book and exists only as brief mentions by other characters? 

I of course would never do such a thing.
We Nerdstreamers do. We like to watch a well made series multiple times. We take books in our hands that are already tattered from reading. But why do we do this? My point is that we do it because it generates a feeling of homecoming, again and again, every time we take upon our beloved stories. It's not like these clichee creatures who can't differentiate between reality and fantasy anymore and imagine themselves to be a space warrior or a fantasy princess. It's not like that. To quote Old Nan: 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Was Walter right for once?

Warning: Contains spoilers about the second season of "Breaking Bad". 

So, I got into a little Twitter argument with theMAC last night, regarding the question of whether or not Walt was right when he let Jane die in that faithful night in bed with Jesse. theMAC's point was this: 

It is a good question. Did I hate him for that? No. In season 2, I didn't hate Walter for anything he did, yet. This got along only in season 4 and strongly so in season 5. And really, I mean, look at the girl.
Can these eyes hint at future insanity? Possibly.
So, now, let's have a look at what happens. After keeping the drug money from the first deal with Gus for safekeeping, Jesse kind of settles with the thought of getting himself killed without half a million dollars. Jane pushed him to blackmail Walter into giving him back his money, planning a total pipe-dream of moving to New Zealand, where Jesse imagines himself to be a pilot for firefighter planes. Yep, they're in that stable a condition. So, with his back against the wall - where Jane kindly and with just the right pinch of insanity in it put him - he gives Jesse the money and decides to do the most reasonable thing, aka go drinking in a bar.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Walking Dead video games

Warning: Contains minor spoilers for the beginning of the first episode.

If you see this, you are in sore need of guns
 "The Walking Dead" is a brillant series in its own right. It does everything right what you can do right about a zombie story, mainly not making the story about zombies and humans running mindlessly before them, but to examine the deeper layers of humanity that are tested by an extraordinary event such as a zombie outbreak. Now, knowing the average zombie video game, and knowing the average video game adaption of popular movies and series, one could expect an uninspired shooter, a bad version of "Left 4 Dead" with some name-throwing for good measure. The quick dollar, as done so often. But "The Walking Dead", which is available on Steam, promises something else: in five episodes, released in the weeks and months to come, it wants to tell a developing story affected by the player's choices. The focus is promised to lay on the characters, not on the gore and violence. 

There is much to be said for this approach, but one is sceptical. After all, no game has yet managed to get the "your decisions affect the game" thingy right. Most of the time, it's just trying to optimize the benefits that certain decisions will bring you, which ruins the point of all those moral systems that are thrown onto games these days. It's not really a morality issue anymore when one choice throws new abilities at the player character while the other does simply nothing of the sort, and the only "consequences" these choices have are slightly altered dialogue lines. So, my hopes weren't exactly high, and seeing the graphics for the first time I felt like I was beta-testing "Borderlands", but without the guns. 

So, what's the Nerdstream? And who are you, anyway?

Serious and silly can be told apart by breasts-per-minute, surely?

In the beginning, there is a name. So what is the Nerdstream, and why is it an era? Everyone knows what a nerd is. A fat boy, sitting in his parent's basement, with thick horn glasses and pimples. Certainly virgin. His walls covered with posters from a lot of nerdy stuff, from animé to video games. Something like this. The clichee has become a dominant narrative structure, so dominant in the public sphere that another transformation has not yet really been acknowledged: that nerdy themes and topics have seeped into the mainstream and transformed it into something we haven't seen for a while. I call the phenomenon Nerdstream, a mixture of Nerd and Mainstream. 

But what exactly am I getting at here? How can something be nerdy and mainstream-y at the same time? Yeah, well, that's just it - it really can't. Look at one example we will certainly stumble over many more times as this blog progresses, George R. R. Martin's famous Fantasy series "A Song of Ice and Fire". When the thing started, it was part of a rather obscure genre that consisted mostly of Swords&Sorcery stuff for exactly the target audience I described above. But since 1996, when "A Game of Thrones" hit the shelves, a dramatical shift has taken place. The HBO series, starting in 2011, is one of the most succesful series' ever and acclaimed by critics. People who never had anything to do with Fantasy before got into it, totally hooked up.