Everyone Wants to Be the Next ‘Game of Thrones’

7 July 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

Who will survive the Game of Clones?

The hunt is on for the next epic fantasy to fill the void left by the end of “Game of Thrones,”the HBO hit that averaged 45 million viewers per episode in its last season. In television, film and books, series that build elaborate worlds the same way the medieval-supernatural saga did are in high demand.

“There’s a little bit of a gold-rush mentality coming off the success of ‘Game of Thrones,’” says Marc Guggenheim, an executive producer of “Carnival Row,” a series with mythological creatures that arrives on Amazon Prime Video in August. “Everyone wants to tap into that audience.”

There’s no guarantee anyone will be able to replicate the success of “Thrones.” Entertainment is littered with copycats of other hits that fell flat. But the market is potentially large and lucrative. So studios are pouring millions into new shows, agents are brokering screen deals around book series that can’t get written fast enough and experts are readying movie-level visual effects for epic storytelling aimed at the couch.

. . . .

Literary agent Joanna Volpe represents three fantasy authors whose books now are being adapted for the screen. “‘Game of Thrones’ opened a door—it made studios hungrier for material like this,” she says. A decade ago, she adds, publishing and TV weren’t interested in fantasy for adults because only the rare breakout hit reached beyond the high-nerd niche.

. . . .

HBO doesn’t release demographic data on viewers, though cultural gatekeepers say they barely need it. “You know what type of audience you’re getting: It’s premium TV, it’s educated, it’s an audience you want to tap into,” says Kaitlin Harri, senior marketing director at publisher William Morrow. By the end of the series, the audience had broadened to include buzz seekers of all kinds with little interest in fantasy.

The show based on the books by George R.R. Martin ended its eight-year run in May, but it remains in the muscle memory of many die-hard fans. “I still look forward to Sunday nights thinking that at 9 o’clock I’m going to get a new episode,” says Samantha Ecker, a 35-year-old writer for “Watchers on the Wall,” which is still an active fan site. The memorabilia collector continues to covet all things “Throne.” Last week, she got a $15 figurine of Daenerys Targaryen sitting on the Iron Throne “since they didn’t let her do it in the show.”

. . . .

“Game of Thrones” has helped ring in a new era in fantasy writing, with heightened interest in powerful female characters. Authors generating excitement include R.F. Kuang, who soon releases “The Dragon Republic,” part of a fantasy series infused with Chinese history, and S.A. Chakraborty, whose Islamic-influenced series includes “The Kingdom of Copper,” out earlier this year.

For its fantasies featuring power struggles that might appeal to “Thrones” fans, Harper Voyager uses marketing trigger words like “politics,” “palace intrigue” and “succession,” says David Pomerico, editorial director of the imprint of HarperCollins, which like The Wall Street Journal is owned by News Corp.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

Are Colleges Friendly to Fantasy Writers? It’s Complicated

29 June 2019

From Wired:

In an increasingly competitive publishing environment, more and more fantasy and science fiction writers are going back to school to get an MFA in creative writing. College writing classes have traditionally been hostile to fantasy and sci-fi, but author Chandler Klang Smith says that’s no longer the case.

“I definitely don’t think the landscape out there is hostile toward speculative writing,” Smith says in Episode 365 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “If anything I think it’s seen as being kind of exciting and sexy and new, which is something these programs want.”

But science fiction author John Kessel, who helped found the creative writing MFA program at North Carolina State University, says it really depends on the type of speculative fiction. Slipstream and magical realism may have acquired a certain cachet, but epic fantasy and space opera definitely haven’t.

“The more it seems like traditional science fiction, the less comfortable programs will be with it,” he says. “Basically if the story is set in the present and has some really odd thing in it, then I think you won’t raise as many eyebrows. But I think that traditional science fiction—anything that resembles Star Wars or Star Trek, or even Philip K. Dick—I think some places would look a little sideways at it.”

That uncertainty can put aspiring fantasy and science fiction writers in a tough spot, as writer Steph Grossmandiscovered when she was applying to MFA programs. “As an applicant—and even though I did a ton of research—it’s really hard to find which schools are going to be accepting of it and which schools aren’t,” she says. “The majority of them will be accepting of some aspect of it—especially if you’re writing things in the slipstream genre—but besides Sarah Lawrence College and Stonecoast, when I was looking, most of the schools don’t really touch on whether they’re accepting of it or not.”

Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley warns that writing fantasy and science fiction requires specialized skills and knowledge that most MFA programs simply aren’t equipped to teach.

“I would say that if you’re writing epic fantasy or sword and sorcery or space opera and things like that, I think you’d probably be much happier going to Clarion or Odyssey, these six week summer workshops where you’re going to be surrounded by more hardcore science fiction and fantasy fans,” he says. “And definitely do your research. Don’t just apply to your local MFA program and expect that you’re going to get helpful feedback on work like that.”

Link to the rest at Wired

The Land Where the Internet Ends

25 June 2019

From The New York Times:

A few weeks ago, I drove down a back road in West Virginia and into a parallel reality. Sometime after I passed Spruce Mountain, my phone lost service — and I knew it would remain comatose for the next few days. When I spun the dial on the car radio, static roared out of every channel. I had entered the National Radio Quiet Zone, 13,000 square miles of mountainous terrain with few cell towers or other transmitters.

I was headed toward Green Bank, a town that adheres to the strictest ban on technology in the United States. The residents do without not only cellphones but also Wi-Fi, microwave ovens and any other devices that generate electromagnetic signals.

The ban exists to protect the Green Bank Observatory, a cluster of radio telescopes in a mountain valley. Conventional telescopes are like superpowered eyes. The instruments at Green Bank are more like superhuman ears — they can tune into frequencies from the lowest to the highest ends of the spectrum. The telescopes are powerful enough to detect the death throes of a star, but also terribly vulnerable to our loud world. Even a short-circuiting electric toothbrush could blot out the whisper of the Big Bang.

Physicists travel here to measure gravitational waves. Astronomers study stardust. The observatory has also become a hub for alien hunters who hope to detect messages sent from other planets. And in the past decade, the town has become a destination for “electrosensitives” who believe they’re allergic to cellphone towers — some of them going so far as to wrap their bedrooms in mesh in hopes of screening out what they believe to be harmful rays.

. . . .

In theory, I could achieve this kind of freedom anywhere by shutting off my cellphone and observing an “internet sabbath.” But that has never worked for me — and I suspect it doesn’t for most other people either. Turn off your phone and you can almost hear it wheedling to be turned on again.

To experience the deepest solitude, you need to enter the land where the internet ends.

. . . .

I wanted to find out what it was like to disconnect in the quietest town in America, so here I was, hiking down a dirt road behind the Green Bank observatory campus. I wandered through a meadow and into an abandoned playground. The rusted swings creaked in the wind.

. . . .

In the distance, the largest of the Green Bank telescopes reared up over a hill like a shimmering apparition, with its lacy struts and moon-white dish. The telescope is so freakishly huge that it looked completely unreal, as if it had been C.G.I.-ed into the sky.

But the quiet was even eerier. Not just radio quiet, but the kind of silence that I hadn’t heard in years: no buzz of the highway, no planes overhead, just the rush of wind through the grass. That — along with the lonely playground — made me feel as if I had stumbled onto the set of an apocalyptic TV series.

. . . .

I peppered Mr. McNally with questions. Did he own a cellphone? He told me he never had. But, he said, lately whenever he ventures outside of the quiet zone, “people tell me you have to get one.” Recently, at a hardware store a hundred miles from here, he tried to pay with a credit card that he hadn’t used in years. That must have tripped some security alert, because the store clerks said that they needed to verify his identify by calling the phone number listed on his account. “They wanted to call me to make sure that it was really me,” Mr. McNally said. He tried to explain that his phone wasn’t in his pocket. It was back in Green Bank, because it was a landline. The clerks couldn’t seem to grasp this.

. . . .

At twilight, I parked near a long, low laboratory building and walked through the gates of the observatory, beyond which no gas-powered cars are allowed (because spark plugs). I passed the row of telescopes and found a dirt path into the woods. The darkness dropped, and the outlines of my body disappeared. Baby frogs — peepers — chirped and creaked, filling the air with their own static. Deer crashed around the brush or scooted across the path in front of me, invisible in the dark but for their white tails.

My fingers twitched for the cellphone that wasn’t there. And then I remembered a moment years ago, maybe in 2011 or 2012, when I first switched from a “dumb phone” to a smartphone and brought the internet with me into the woods.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Terraforming Ourselves

24 April 2019

From The American Interest:

In 1903, the aging Jules Verne—famed French author of the 54 adventure novels in the Voyages extraordinaires series—was asked to compare his body of work to that of his upstart English competitor, H.G. Wells. Verne, who prided himself on the strict scientific accuracy of his tales of exploration and discovery, found the question offensive. “No, there is no rapport between his work and mine,” Verne snapped. “I make use of physics. He invents.” Verne cited his From the Earth to the Moon, which featured characters travelling to the Moon in an aluminum bullet fired from a giant cannon, contrasting it with Wells’s The First Men in the Moon, in which the lunar-bound spaceship is made of gravity-defying “cavorite.” Verne had based his space cannon on the latest technological discoveries of the time, even doing rough calculations on the necessary dimensions of the muzzle. He explained in an interview:

I go to the moon in a cannonball discharged from a cannon. Here there is no invention. He goes to Mars [sic] in an airship which he constructs of a metal which does away with the law of gravitation. Ça c’est très joli…. But show me this metal. Let him produce it.

In this put-down of one of the “Fathers of Science Fiction” by another, we see the future of the field. Long before anyone coined the terms “hard sci-fi” and “soft sci-fi” or used them as badges of pride or disparaging slurs, long before the “holy war” between old school pulp and the ’60s era New Wave, we have this demand from the cranky old school to the squishy new school: “Show me this metal.” Wells, whose social activism permeated his fiction, would no doubt claim that Verne was rather missing the point. But what becomes clear from a survey of science fiction’s history is that, if there’s one thing these authors love more than cosmic wonder and terror, it’s petty fights about what constitutes “real” science fiction.

Not, of course, that these science fiction fights aren’t proxies for fights about science or society itself. Science Fiction: A Literary History, recently published by the British Library and edited by Roger Luckhurst, chooses to forego defining the genre in order to discuss the sociopolitical stakes behind some of those “Whose Science? Which Fiction?” debates. Each of its contributors seems to have his or her own position on that definitional question, anyway. The eight chapters by different sci-fi scholars cover topics from “The Beginning, Early Forms of Science Fiction” to “New Paradigms, After 2001.”

. . . .

The best definitions of science fiction are evocative rather than exhaustive. Ray Bradbury, in the introduction to the 1974 collection Science Fact/Fiction, wrote, “Science fiction then is the fiction of revolutions. Revolutions in time, space, medicine, travel, and thought. . . . Above all, science fiction is the fiction of warm-blooded human men and women sometimes elevated and sometimes crushed by their machines.” Bradbury is onto something here: Revolutionary change, often but not exclusively technological, is one of the most vital subjects for science fiction. Confronting that change might be the core of the story, as in first-contact narratives from Wells’s War of the Worlds to Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life” (the basis of the film Arrival)Or the revolution might have occurred in the narrative’s past, with the story examining how and if people can live in their brave new world. This is often the set-up for novels of utopia and dystopia.

One of the most interesting things Science Fiction: A Literary History reveals is how difficult it is to write utopias. Surely the point of the exercise is to paint a picture of a world readers might want to live in. And yet for every author’s utopia, there’s a coterminous dystopia for the reader with eyes to see. H.G. Wells painted a parallel world called Utopia in Men Like Gods, in which enlightened and technologically advanced humans live in harmony with one another and the natural world, whose climate they have adjusted to a uniform Mediterranean tranquility. The Utopians are intrigued to discover our Earth, in a sister universe “a little retarded in time” compared to theirs. Utopia’s many advances include a eugenics program, for Utopian science can “discriminate among births” to weed out the “defective people” such as the disabled, the criminally inclined, and even “the melancholic type” and those of “lethargic dispositions and weak imaginations.”

Link to the rest at The American Interest


Tolkien Estate Disavows Forthcoming Film

23 April 2019

From The Guardian:

The family and estate of JRR Tolkien have fired a broadside against the forthcoming film starring Nicholas Hoult as a young version of the author, saying that they “do not endorse it or its content in any way”.

Out in May, and starring Hoult in the title role and Lily Collins as his wife Edith, Tolkien explores “the formative years of the renowned author’s life as he finds friendship, courage and inspiration among a fellow group of writers and artists at school”. Directed by Dome Karukoski, it promises to reveal how “their brotherhood strengthens as they grow up … until the outbreak of the first world war which threatens to tear their fellowship apart”, all of which, according to studio Fox Searchlight, would inspire Tolkien to “write his famous Middle-earth novels”.

. . . .

On Tuesday morning, the estate and family of Tolkien issued a terse statement in which they announced their “wish to make clear that they did not approve of, authorise or participate in the making of this film”, and that “they do not endorse it or its content in any way”.

. . . .

John Garth, author of the biography Tolkien and the Great War, said he felt the estate’s response to the film was “sensible”.

“Biopics typically take considerable licence with the facts, and this one is no exception. Endorsement by the Tolkien family would lend credibility to any divergences and distortions. That would be a disservice to history,” he said. “As a biographer, I expect I’ll be busy correcting new misconceptions arising from the movie. I hope that anyone who enjoys the film and is interested in Tolkien’s formative years will pick up a reliable biography.”

Tolkien’s estate has been careful to protect his legacy. In 2011, it took legal action over a novel that used the author as a central character, months after his heirs settled a multimillion-pound lawsuit over royalties from the Lord of the Rings films. In 2012, the estate also took legal action over gambling games featuring Lord of the Rings characters, saying that it was “causing irreparable harm to Tolkien’s legacy and reputation and the valuable goodwill generated by his works”.

Link to the rest at The Guardian


Tolkien’s Art: Full of Color & Magic

21 April 2019

From The National Review:

Casual observers probably think of elves, rings, and large glowing eyes when they hear his name. Literary enthusiasts know him through his most famous books, collectively known as The Lord of the Rings. Diehard fans know both these and his lesser-known but equally beautiful tales, including The Silmarillion and The Father Christmas Letters. If you take your undying love for J. R .R. Tolkien just one step further, you’ll walk right into a compact room on the second floor of New York City’s Morgan Library. And it is here that you will discover a new and enchanting side of this master storyteller and begin to understand his dedication to the world he spent his life creating.

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth is a carefully curated collection of the author’s artwork, maps, manuscripts, and memorabilia — the first exhibit of his work to take this particular angle. From a visitor’s perspective, the detail and care taken in the presentation of this exhibit show the intense planning and forethought given by the museum’s curators. Every aspect is intended to help immerse the viewer in Tolkien’s imagination.

. . . .

Each stage of Tolkien’s life is well marked, by placards with dates but also by the wall color. Nothing distracting, but decidedly distinct. Furthermore, a few of Tolkien’s more detailed images from his Lord of the Rings trilogy — such as Bilbo encountering Smaug and a bird’s-eye view of Hobbiton — were enlarged to cover walls. This gives viewers a chance to see detail on a different scale, and then enjoy it in miniature when they see the original a few moments later.

. . . .

Each display is unique and delightful in its own way, from Tolkien’s doodles and designs on newspaper clippings to drafts of his dust-jacket design for the first edition of The Hobbit. (He originally drew the sun on the front in bright red, but his publisher covered it in white and wrote “no red” because of the added expense.)

. . . .

Dust jacket design for The Hobbit, April 1937, by J. R. R. Tolkien. Pencil, black ink, watercolor, gouache. (Bodleian Libraries, MS. Tolkien Drawings 32. © The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937.)

Link to the rest at The National Review


What’s in a Name? Authors on Choosing Names for Their Characters

16 April 2019
Comments Off on What’s in a Name? Authors on Choosing Names for Their Characters

From The Guardian:

According to series creator Bruce Miller, the third series of The Handmaid’s Tale, soon to be on our screens, is going to be a “lot more rebellious”. “I think June’s taken a lot,” he says, “it’s time for her to give back some.” But close readers of Margaret Atwood’s feminist dystopian novel in which the Emmy-winning drama is rooted will know that June Osborne, played by Elisabeth Moss, is never given that name in the book. Her character, struggling to survive in the Republic of Gilead, is referred to simply as Offred.

One of the many reasons Atwood’s modern classic has proved so enduring is her inventive use of names. “This name is composed of a man’s first name, ‘Fred’, and a prefix denoting ‘belonging to’, so it is like ‘de’ in French or ‘von’ in German,” Atwood has written, “Within this name is concealed another possibility: ‘offered; denoting a religious offering or a victim offered for sacrifice.” While Atwood, whose sequel The Testaments will be published in September, never intended Offred to have any other name, she accepts that readers now use June. “Some have deduced that Offred’s real name is June, since, of all the names whispered among the Handmaids in the gymnasium/dormitory, ‘June’ is the only one that never appears again. That was not my original thought but it fits.”

From Atwood’s handmaids to amoral A&R man Steven Stelfox in John Niven’s Kill Your Friends (and recent follow up, Kill ’Em All) and Ian Rankin’s much-loved Inspector Rebus, authors often choose names to signpost a character’s traits or position in society. Think of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, surely made more memorable by a name that rhymes with cannibal. And it can’t be coincidence that Thomas Harris’s FBI recruit Clarice Starling’s name makes her reminiscent of a small bird, finding her way in the world.

Rankin has explained his choice of character name: “I was studying literary theory when I wrote that book, and I liked the notion of stories as games played between author and reader. Later I was told Rebus is also a Polish surname – so I now occasionally mention that he has Polish roots.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

I Want to Lose Myself in an Epic Series This Spring

13 April 2019

From The Guardian:

Q: I am keen to get lost this spring in a long, epic series of books. What can you recommend? (I loved both The Lord of the Rings and Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, for example). 

. . . .

A: Author and critic Amanda Craig, whose latest novel, The Lie of the Land, is published by Abacus, writes:
Whether it has swords and dragons or gangsters and husbands, the feeling of entering an alternative reality is something we all need. Fantasy and realism are not mutually exclusive. The demands are the same.

. . . .

What we seek in the best epics is what we have always found: a heightened sense of life’s struggle, the consolations of justice, the fidelity of friends and a wonderful story.

You may already be familiar with Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea novels, where magic is controlled through language. These are among the finest ever written, being, at one level, about a young man’s adventure into manhood, and, at another, about the artist’s quest for mastery.

Less familiar, perhaps, is Sebastien de Castell’s Greatcoats quartet, concerning a band of fighting magistrates now working as mercenaries in the land of Tristia. Funny, fast paced and romantic, and the narrator Falcio is wholly beguiling.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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