Thursday, 26 June 2014

Facebook and me

This is my Facebook life.

Minor differences. My life is even suckier than Scott's is in the video. I don't have a significant other or am I in relationship. My job has its dead end days - usually there are six of them every week.
But the video makes me wonder. Most of my friends on Facebook are my age, and they are in the two children, senior position at some company, and expensive vacations stage of life.
On this day, 26th of June, 2014, this is on my Facebook news feed.
  1. A post on frogs by a respected naturalist specializing in the little croakers
  2. One family photo of a friend in front of the Sydney Opera house at night, captioned "A Night at the Opera"
  3. One question from a quiz group a colleague enrolled me in
  4. One link from The American Conservative on the "Credibility Fallacy" in American foreign policy
  5. One link from the Atlantic titled "Children are taught too much about the importance of achievement and too little about the value of empathy"
  6. A post from Alan Moore saying that limited signed copies of his "Show Pieces" box set are available
  7. A link to a Kotaku story on bargain games
  8. A link to a Wired story on Google's new design language for devices
  9. A photo from a college mate's wife of their kids coddling in bed and watching X-Men
  10. Another classmate's post of a quote from Camus (""The absurd is lucid reason that sees its limits"), complete with a photo of Titian's Sisyphus
  11. A link to a Daily Show video clip
  12. A photo of two kids watching Frozen, taken by their father, an old schoolmate
  13. A video re-shared by an ex-colleague, showing two women shoplifting
  14. An old classmate's wife posts that she is watching a comedian perform at New York's Radio City Music Hall with her husband
  15. An old collegemate's selfie, eating doughnuts with his daughter
 So why am I even on this thing?

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Martin Hipsteria

I like Game of Thrones. I have the T-Shirts. I have a replica of the Iron Throne. I have the map of Westeros hanging on my wall. I am a member of - a lurker, but not a poster.
I've also discovered that I hate GoT fans.
Let me qualify that. I'm not talking about the ones online. Atleast, not all of them. Most of the ASOIAF people have read the books better than I have, and maybe better than I ever will. The  hive mind is amazing when it comes to reading between the lines, discovering hidden connections, highlighting parallels between characters and situations across books and even the obligatory crackpot stuff is great fun to read. (Is Euron Dario Naharis? Did Lyanna run away with Rhaegar because Brandon Stark tried to bang her? (!!!) Was Tywin Lannister already dying of a slow poison when Tyrion confronted him on the shit-pot?) Is the valonquar a Lannister valonquar or any valonquar?  Did the Faceless men begin the Iron Bank of Braavos? Will Cleganebowl happen?)
What irritates me is the people who land up at places like the Entertainment Store, wanting the GoT merchandise - rich self-I found confident know-it-all kids - the guys ooohing about how awesome Tyrion is or the women aahing over Jon Snow. I listen to them talk knowledgeably about Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister - and there usually is one person, the one who has read the books up till Dance, who self-importantly tells the Unsullied to wait for the last episode of the season.
Fandom is about kinship, but I don't feel any kinship with these people. It's probably the hipster instinct.

/************************************* begin self-indulgence *****************************/

Back in 1998, I discovered Pratchett. I worked my way through The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, but it was only after Equal Rites that things started moving. I read the first few books in sequence, until Eric - which I couldn't find a copy of. But it was only after Mustrum Ridcully became the Arch-chancellor and Edward D'Eath discovered the Gonne that I became absolutely rabid. I raced through the books - and was one of the first in line to buy The Fifth Elephant (a play on Surprise, the fifth element in the Discworld?). At that time, I would have loved to talk to people about my Pratchett love, but I was in a place where nobody seemed to read anything beyond Java 2.0 Swing Programming and the like.
As I ran out of Pratchetts - getting them in India wasn't always easy in the early 2000s, and even Landmark didn't always stock them all - I think Night Watch was the first hardback that I got from there, so I cast about looking for other fantasy series. I tried J V Jones - but found her stuff kind of off.  Tried Robin Hobb - that didn't click either. Went through Anne McCaffrey and Ursula LeGuin, but found them OK - not something I would chase after. Then there were the Conan Chronicles - great atmosphere, great characters, but somehow, I found the payoffs curiously unsatisfying. Read the Lankhmar stories and liked Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser (I'm delighted that I spelt Fafhrd right after all these years) - but there just weren't enough stories to go around.
Then I read The Eye of the World.
It took a bit to get going - and I could recognize the tropes even then (this was way before I discovered the timesink that was TVTropes was). There was the doomed hometown. There was the chosen one. There was the fighter/mage/thief combo of Perrin, Rand and Mat. It was slow going at first, but once the party got to Shadar Logoth, things really picked up. I was disappointed by the fact that nearly all of Emond's Field seemed to land up with Moiraine, and I fucking couldn't stand Nynaeve. By the time the gang got to the blight, everything was nice and moving along quickly, and the teaser for the next book, The Great Hunt, had me wanting more. Children of the Light. Baalzammon. Uncanny Valley Servants. The ballroom in the middle of nowhere for the Darkfriends social. Coool.
The series peaked with the next few books - The Dragon Reborn - where the Chosen One gets Chosen officially; The Shadow Rising - which introduced the Freme - I mean Aiel - and The Fires of Heaven, where we saw the first character death.
After that it was downhill all the way. And by the time I hit Knife of Dreams - the Last Jordan book, I was quite pissed-off. Okay, not exactly pissed-off, but tired. I wanted gore. I wanted the good guys to die. And I found most of Jordan's women completely unlikable. And most of his men, including Perrin and Rand. The only characters I liked were Mat, Tuon and Nynaeve.
I devoured most of the books in 2002-2003, in Sri Lanka, in Colombo. And then I was done. I think Winter's Heart was the last book out at that time and I went around looking for something else to read.
Those years were strange. I was drinking, heavily. When I left Sri Lanka after a year and a half, I had drunk Rs. 2 lakhs worth of vodka - based on the number of empty bottles in the spare room (I counted). This was supplemented by hundreds of bottles of cough syrup and endless cigarettes.

Then I found Martin.

I stopped drinking. I stopped smoking. I stopped the Corex. I went for long runs in the morning. I joined a gym.

Hah. I did none of those things. Well. I did some of those things, but reading back, it looked like I had found Jesus. And in a way I did. I bought my first Martin in around 2001 - and no it wasn't Game of Thrones. It was Fevre Dream, a book featuring a fat riverboat captain (who looked exactly like Martin, in my mind), the boat itself and battling vampire lords. I liked it. But I didn't really want to get into another saga, not after feeling let down by Jordan's books descending into 1000-page descriptions of women arguing and pulling their braids in displeasure.

It was one day in 2003, in the summer. I had gone down to Landmark - the one in Apex Plaza (its dead, but thats a memory for another day) - to escape from the sweltering கத்திரி that was Madras in May.  The airconditioning was heaven, and I lingered in front of the fantasy shelf, without intending to buy. There wasn't much choice. Tolkien was there, of course, complete with new covers featuring Orlando Bloom and Christopher Lee, as well as the old ones with the eye of Sauron encircled by runes saying (I imagine) "ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul". Then there were these two books by Martin. A Clash of Kings, a Bantam edition with a horrendous red cover - and A Storm of Swords, equally horrible in blue. I took one of them up, I think, and was reading the blurb when a woman spoke behind me.
Assuming that's Stannis, what the fuck are those creatures? Lion/goat crossbreeds? Winged goat-lion crossbreeds?  Mischimaerae? And why does Melisandre have a seagull on her wrist? Burn practice?
She was younger than I was.  I don't remember what she wore or how she looked, but she said "That's a brilliant book".
I think I said something like "Uh" or "Guk". I wasn't exactly used to strange women speaking to me. She gestured to the book I was holding and said "It's a really good book and the next one is even better. If you haven't read Martin already, you should buy them all."
I felt offended. I was a fucking great reader. I'd read Martin. Hadn't I read Fevre Dream? The Fantasy Masterwork edition? Didn't that mean that was the best thing Martin ever wrote? I tried to respond, angrily, but the only word that came out was "Guh?"
"It's better than Tolkien. And its much better than anything else on this shelf," she said.
Look. I'm not a great Tolkien fan. I liked Lord of the Rings, but Sam Gamgee grated on me with his devotion and I found myself screaming at Frodo to get a move on through most of The Return of the King, but I wasn't going to take this insult to Tolkien. I opened my mouth, hopefully to be more articulate, but the girl just flashed me an embarrassed grin and walked quickly away.

Well, I ended up buying both the books, but didn't read them for a while. Then one morning, I took Clash with me to the loo. (This was 2003, I didn't have a smartphone, and I still took books to help me draw out my dump) Began with Maester Cressen. Finished Maester Cressen. Finished the book by the next morning.
I went back to Landmark at 10:00 am that day, looking for A Game of Thrones. Couldn't find it. If this was a few years ago, I would have used Morpheus to download a pdf. But Morpheus was a bust in 2003 and I could never get a hang of Limewire. I'm not sure if BitTorrent was around then, but I didn't have any way of getting an ebook without risking a range of viruses. Anyway, went around to Higginbothams as well. No luck there either, nor at Landmark Spencers. Finally, I ordered it off Amazon UK.
Which basically means - I knew what the shocking twist in AGoT was. I was spoiled. But that kind of made me complacent. I was able to get an idea of what happened in the first book, though I didn't know the exact circumstances of Bran's crippling or how the direwolves were found or the tension between Catelyn and Jon.
So I started off on A Storm of Swords.

Jaime and Hoat.  Brienne and the bear. Arya and the Hound. "Is there gold in the village?" "Then we shall make new Lords" . Two weddings.  "The wall is yours, Jon Snow". The Red Viper. "Stannis! Stannis! STANNIS!" "Lord Tywin, in the end, did not shit gold." Mormont's raven and the arrowheads. "Only Cat." "Up and up and up"

So when Feast came, I read all the books, in sequence. Did that again when Dance happened. Spent endless hours on TV Tropes and

/************************************* end self-indulgence *****************************/

But it frustrates me to see so many copies of the ASoIaF books at Blossoms and elsewhere. It bugs me that all these fucking know-it-alls talk loudly about the books. They didn't have to wait for fucking six years for Dance. They didn't have to pay in fucking pounds to get a book shipped halfway across the world. They didn't have to slake their hunger with endless re-reads of favourite sections or Dunk and Egg.

I didn't feel like this about the Harry Potter fandom. The books were always available when I started reading - I started after Chamber of Secrets was published, and there wasn't too long a wait for Azkaban. By the time Goblet came out, my niece was reading the books, so it was fun to go with her to pick up a copy. (Malavika was interviewed about her HP love by some TV channel!) I didn't resent them the way I do the Martin fans.

Which takes me back to the girl who recommended them to me. And to Vets and Murali, who'd read the books well before I did, and with whom I had such good fun discussing Bran's visions and the ghost of High Hearts pronouncements - who first told me about R+L=J. I hadn't even worked that out, after several readings.

It's fucking irrational, I know, but it still makes me angry. Not only am I a hipster, I'm a hypocritster. But knowing that doesn't stop me from grinding my teeth whenever someone oohs about Tyrion at the Entertainment Store.