Archive for February, 2012

‘A Game of Thrones’ by George R. R. Martin

February 10, 2012

This is a terrible book: every few pages (I exaggerate) something terrible happens to people you came to feel for. It’s a cold, bleak world — although there are bits of steamy romance as well … The coldness applies in a literal sense to Winterfell and the North of the continent of Westeros, but also in a metaphorical sense to many of the plot strands: there’s a whole lotta plotting going on, dirty Realpolitik and intrigues. It’s hair-raising, the things some people do here (especially to other people) — for love, for power, for revenge or even for fun. It gives you a strong impression of how ugly an age to live in the Middle Ages may have been.

Over time, this mediaeval world is described in so much detail that it acquires a very high degree of felt reality. I am reminded of The Lord of the Rings (of course — it’s fantasy: you have to compare it to The Lord of the Rings!), although I assume Martin didn’t invent whole languages and alphabets. At the time of writing, I have almost finished the 3rd volume (A Storm of Swords) of this series, A Song of Ice and Fire, so the accumulated effect is stronger than it was immediately after reading A Game of Thrones, the first volume. As a result, I am thoroughly addicted. This series of books is really one single colossal novel, where each volume is itself very long (but never tiring!): on the order of a thousand pages, give or take a few hundred (but that’s what ‘on the order of’ means).

Another possible point of comparison might be the Dune books by Frank Herbert (however, it’s been a long time since I read those; have to read them again some time): all these conspiracies and competing factions. I have briefly wondered whether Martin might have read The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker (which I have started reading a short while ago): Pinker writes about how violence has very much decreased over historical time (contrary to what one might naively believe), and starts with a few examples of how extremely nasty (and brutish and short) life was in antiquity and the Middle Ages. And Martin’s books are full of similar, if perhaps more vivid and colorful, examples. The brutality and cruelty in Martin’s books didn’t seem gratuitous to me, however — whereas they did so, a little, in Dan Simmons’ Ilium (otherwise an interesting book, though I liked his Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion more). Anyway, Martin couldn’t have read Pinker’s book, because the latter was published only in 2011, whereas Martin’s books appeared in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2005 and 2011, respectively.

Actually, I am not newly acquainted with George R. R. Martin: Ages ago I read (in German) and liked his Dying of the Light — although now I don’t remember much; and I read quite a few of the Wild Cards collections he edited. (At the time of writing this I have read the Prologue for the newly acquired 5th volume, A Dance with Dragons. Read them! The TV version is also good.)

‘Snuff’ by Terry Pratchett

February 10, 2012

The new Discworld book, a Commander Vimes novel about goblins. I liked it! Though maybe not as much as the earlier Vimes novels; I’m not sure what I was looking for and didn’t get.

“Radetzkymarsch” von Joseph Roth

February 10, 2012

Wieder (soll heißen, wie schon in Hiob) trübe Schicksale, schön beschrieben. Ich bin leider irgendwo auf halber Strecke steckengeblieben (das ist die optimistische Formulierung; pessimistisch formuliert müsste ich sagen, ich hab’s nur zur Hälfte gelesen; aber ich habe noch nicht ganz die Hoffnung aufgegeben, es in nicht allzu ferner Zeit zuende zu lesen), zugunsten spannenderen und unterhaltsameren Lesestoffs (siehe A Game of Thrones).

‘The Constant Gardener’ by John le Carré

February 10, 2012

Nice. Almost as entertaining as The Night Manager, significantly less depressing than the early spy novels (though it is a somewhat sad story). You learn about the sinister machinations of the global pharma giants.