I’ve just learned how to gossip.
I mean, not *just* now; in the last few months. I was never much for gossip when I was pupating, because I didn’t really get the point. I guess I still don’t…not *really*…I mean, talking about one another and being concerned about one another is a way to strengthen our pack, certainly. But when that chitchat becomes snippity or mean-spirited, we do serious damage to one another, and that just weakens the shit out of all of us.
And I guess I kind of still feel that way. I’ve learned, however, that most of the time when you tell me something about someone else, I forget it almost immediately. We can have an excellent conversation about so-and-so’s tryst with such-and-such, or X being nabbed for stealing pens (or underpants) from Zellers. But if someone else came up to me after and asked whether you’d said anything about so-and-so, I’m more likely than not to just stare blankly and offer a weak “they’re…very…nice?”
So. Gossip is fun, but I’m just really, really terrible at it.
I have to look at this, though, because there is a point I want to make, but it won’t happen for a couple of paragraphs at least. Why do we do this? I mean, sure, on the surface, gossip is a kind of way to share, which on the surface, like I said, can strengthen our pack. But the seedy underbelly of having a pack at all, or a social network if you will, is that we sometimes find it very, very difficult not to be …well… not to be cunts to one another. And not the good kind of cunts, either. The kind with teeth inside that just rip everything to shreds. (Seriously, if you haven’t read “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson, go do that now. I’ll wait.)
Back? Okay. So this really boils down to the age-old question of why do we hurt one another? What is it that’s built in to our calcined little souls that makes us forget that we’re better than monkeys and lions and talk show audiences? I suppose you can argue that because we are animals, we are *hard-wired* (some would say “predestined”) to the fight or flight response, to a social pecking order…some would say that we do it to protect ourselves and our delicate psyches. We hit back first, in other words.
Any real or perceived threat is handled with a swift and brutal strike, meant to disable or destroy. We say that those with low self-confidence tend to lash out in this manner; that we are horrible to others close to those we’re close to because we feel in some way inadequate, and that we have to establish a place for ourselves in the social strata by tooth and claw. I mean, I think that’s absolute balderdash, but I hear it bandied about all the time.
The truth of the matter is that aside from the blessing of existence (which I suppose you can argue isn’t really a blessing because if we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t know we didn’t have it because we wouldn’t exist and therefore it’s not something that is either good or bad, but instead is simply something that *is*)…aside from existing, humans get to think. We *get* to. This is something we are born to. And thinking is powerful business. We can think ourselves into and out of misery and joy. We can think ourselves into and out of war and love. **We get to choose our own density**. (Yes, I mean destiny.) There is no *mystery* here. Cause -> effect. And why people insist on being surprised when their own actions cause …things… to happen is, frankly, shocking.
ANYWAY. Point one: let’s stop being douchecanoes to one another.
Point two: This is the *actual* point of this post…
I am about a third of the way through George R. R. Martin’s “A Dance With Dragons”, the fifth in his EPIC FANTASY “A Song of Ice and Fire” SERIES about…well…epic fantasy stuff. There are dragons, and dwarves, and castles, and wights, and liches, and krakens, and lots and lots of sex. Oh, and swordfights and battles and jousting and lots and lots of sex. Also, the stories are pretty damned good.
I’ve discovered something.
Reading books four and five (“A Feast for Crows” and “A Dance with Dragons” respectively) is akin to sitting in the kitchen in the church hall after coffee/lunch and listening to the church ladies talk about EVERYONE EVER INVENTED. Seriously. Or go sit with a bunch of seventeen year old girls at a sleepover. YOU WILL HAVE THE SAME EXPERIENCE.
George Martin can be an amazing writer, and this fantasy world he’s made is utterly engrossing. He does that thing that’s awesome where he doesn’t try to coddle you in to believing in this setting; he just goes right ahead and assumes you’re bright enough to figure it out. And you are, of course. So Yay, George Martin! The first two books were a boxer with a speedbag. The last two books are an out-of-shape sixty-year-old who’s strung up his old hockey bag stuffed full of couch cushions thinking that feeble attempts at using a heavy bag are going to either help him deal with his effed up life or get him back into shape. The *intent* is there, and there are story threads that do weave their way through the narrative, but it’s couched so securely in dialogue that you need to be a goddamned spelunker to find it sometimes.
THIS IS NOT TO SAY I AM NOT ENJOYING THE BOOK. I am.
And it’s not about, as they say, “purple prose” (which is a phrase I loathe, by the way. Most people use the phrase to mean “descriptive”, and that’s incorrect. Descriptive is GOOD. You NEED descriptive. But when you’re searching your thesaurus for yet another word for ‘red’, you might be getting so flowery and so effusive that your writing’s pancreas is dying. When your writing’s pancreas dies, you’re using purple prose. Go look up Baron Bulwer-Lytton if you’re unsure about what, exactly, “purple prose” is.). Martin’s writing is descriptive. In a very good way. IT’S FREAKING FANTASY, people.
No, my problem is that Martin is so goddamned good at action and plot that when he’s lounging around stirring the whiskey in his snifter with his finger, it’s irritating as all get-out. As I was driving to work and listening to the (at least) eightieth PREVIOUSLY UNINTRODUCED CHARACTER IN A CAST NUMBERING IN THE FRIGGING THOUSANDS, I started banging my head against the steering wheel and moaning.
Please, Mr. Martin.
Well, first, please don’t die before you finish this series. Second, finish the damned series. Third, your setting and cast is rich enough. Really. It’s quite good. Extremely good, in fact. One might say “brilliant”. IT CANNOT GET BETTER JUST BY ADDING MORE STUFF.
Books are not stew or soup. The flavour doesn’t necessarily improve by adding seven different kinds of sea salt and two related, but genetically distinct, kinds of celery. In fact, even in stew or soup, more than one kind of sea salt is just ridiculous. Now, far be it from me, a lowly reader and erstwhile writer, to criticise someone who has written, to critical and public acclaim, more things than I can count. Well, okay, more things than I am *willing* to count at the moment. But I’m doing it anyway.
The series is MORE than worth my time, and yours. I just really want him to focus on what’s been set up rather than getting up some steam on a good long straight bit of track and then hauling us off to fricking Bruges for no good reason. Not that there’s anything wrong with Bruges. I hear it’s all fairy-tale and shit.