Saturday, April 30, 2011

Book Reviews-Game of Thrones, Hit Me Fred, The Big Book of Pulps

A Game of Thrones
By George RR Martin
I finished this book, thankfully before the HBO series completed. Some people have compared it to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (LOTR). I enjoyed LOTR. However Tolkien minimized the ability of lust and greed to motivate people.

For example, when Aragorn arrives to claim his kingdom, the last King had been missing for about ONE THOUSAND YEARS.  At the story's end the Steward eagerly hands over rulership. While such unwavering duty, honor and loyalty was indeed the ideal of the Anglo-Saxon, Finnish, Celtic and Norse myths that inspired Tolkien, real life events were messier.  Were Tolkien more realistic, the Stewards would have declared themselves Kings ages ago. If Aragorn showed up, the current King would have arranged a very quick execution for Aragorn and his supporters.

The noted sci-fi/fantasy author Michael Moorcock once referred to LOTR as "Epic Pooh". I think that is too harsh but lust is not mentioned in LOTR. By contrast, the concept as lust as one of the deadliest sins is central to Malory's "King Arthur". Arthur is of course conceived by rape and later is tricked into impregnating his half-sister, who raises a son, Mordred, who will kill his father. How's that for family values? In LOTR Aragorn is away from his betrothed for decades and never seems to seek out feminine companionship. Right....

A Game of Thrones leans towards the Moorcock/Malory side of fantasy. Unlike LOTR, in which women are offstage or unattainable goddesses (exception of Eowyn), the women in A Game of Thrones are central to the story line. Whether they exert power themselves, through male relatives, or via the most traditional of methods, they're people who can't be underestimated. What makes A Game of Thrones enjoyable is that, just like real life, the "right thing to do" is not always clear.

Do you tell your best friend that his wife is unfaithful, knowing that he believes in capital punishment?  Did the Bolsheviks make the right decision executing all the Romanovs-including the children- reasoning that if the line wasn't eliminated, then eventually there would just be another royalist led war? What does a "good" person do if he or she discovers that like it or not, "evil" is usually a more effective tool?  Martin explores these questions.

In this book, magic and fantastic elements are in the background. Most people scoff at them. There are no non-human races. The story starts in the far North of the World. There, a noble family of legendary rectitude and martial spirit, the Starks, is presided over by their leader Eddard Stark (Ned) and his wife Catelyn (nee Tully).

Ned is a somewhat puritanical man who fiercely loves his family but demands responsibility from everyone regardless of age or gender. The Starks are the first line of defense against supposed evil creatures that exist North of the Wall. Years ago, Ned helped lead a revolt against the former King Targaryen ,a mad and murderous man who raped and murdered Ned's sister. This revolt ended with Ned's friend and would be brother-in-law Robert Barratheon taking the throne. Ned returned to the North to be left alone with his loved ones-his wife, their children and Ned's illegitimate son whom he has raised as equal to his other children.

But storm clouds gather. The King's wife, Queen Cersei Lannister, is an ambitious woman. Her family was closely allied to the previous regime but switched sides. The deposed King's remaining children have escaped across the sea where they seek to raise a foreign army to retake the land. King Robert's 2nd in command died under suspicious circumstances and now Robert asks -commands- Ned to take his place. Ned, a rigidly righteous man, will find that his King has disturbingly more pragmatic ideas about right and wrong now that he wears the crown. And while Ned is skilled beyond measure on a battlefield, he discovers that his bluntly honest style does not work in palace intrigues. Catelyn gets news that some of her relatives have met with untimely accidents.

This is a VERY adult book and I don't mean just for the sex or violence-of which there is plenty. I mean that these characters-with few exceptions- are not superheroes nor are most of them archetypes for good or evil. Most of them are various shades of gray.  Even the most "evil" people are still recognizable as human. In real life we have had leaders who murdered or slept their way to the top. We have had leaders who have had odd sexual tastes/practices. The history of kings and queens is pretty bloody and perverse. Martin turns this up to 11 in some aspects. However, again, in real life, there was an English Queen Isabella, called the the She-Wolf of France. She didn't get that nickname by having tea with her enemies, of that you can be sure.
One of the best written characters is Ned's and Catelyn's tomboyish daughter Arya, who seems to take after her father in terms of believing in right and wrong and after her mother in standing up for herself. This book will appeal to women as well as men. All the noble Families have words they are supposed to live by. The Stark words are Winter is Coming. This is not only a reminder to themselves to constantly prepare for hard times ahead but also doubles nicely as a bada$$ boast and battle cry.

""And I am Daenerys Stormborn, Daenerys of House Targaryen, of the blood of Aegon the Conqueror and Maegor the Cruel and old Valyria before them. I am the dragon's daughter, and I swear to you, these men will die screaming."

Now that is a boast.

Hit Me Fred: Recollections of a Sideman
by Fred Wesley
This book was written by legendary trombonist Fred Wesley. Wesley played with such stars as Ike and Tina Turner, Hank Ballard, Count Basie, Bootsy and the Rubber Band, George Clinton &Parliament-Funkadelic, EWF, Curtis Mayfield but of course is most famous for his work with James Brown on such tunes as "Doing it to Death", "Hot Pants", "Say it Loud(I'm Black and I'm Proud)" and many many others. Wesley also was Brown's primary arranger and musical director as well as co-writer on a few songs.

Wesley states that he does not hate James Brown but didn't always like being around him. There's definitely some score settling here as Wesley pulls back the curtain and shares information of both a personal and musical nature that may make some look at Brown in a different light.

Wesley also points out that for better or worse Brown was like a musical father and made Wesley a better person, despite the fact that Wesley did not then and does not now agree with Brown's methods. Wesley also admits that whatever it had to take to be a star Brown had it while Wesley didn't- despite Wesley's musical knowledge. And Wesley is as hard on himself as he is on Brown and other people with whom he did not always get along.

This is really a fun read and gives a tour of the rock-and-roll, soul and funk scenes from the fifties thru the eighties. It was published a few years before Brown's passing.

"James Brown's organ playing was just good enough to fool the casual listener and just horrible enough to make a real musician sick"...Fred Wesley.

The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps
Listen up dames and palookas this here book is the real deal. It's got dozens of stories written by Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Harlan Ellison, Paul Cain and lesser known writers set in a bygone time when men were men, women were women and there was nothing that couldn't be settled with either hot lead or a cold drink.

So don't be hinky about what I'm telling you. Run over to your local bookseller and get your mitts on it. It's about twice the size of the telephone book so it'll take you a while to get through it. For the slow readers there's even a comic about a detective twist named "Sally the Sleuth", that seems to get herself in all kinds of trouble.
And like I said, it's often entertaining writing. I'm on the square. I'm not just stringing you along for a sucker. So don't be a weak sister on this. Wise up and make sure that if you like old school crime stories you check this out. If you don't, I'll get sore. Savvy???
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