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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

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Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

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In Which George R.R. Martin Sings His Song of Ice and Fire


Winter Is Coming


There are many great houses in The Song of Ice and Fire, American SFF writer George R.R. Martin's magnificent fantasy series. One house looms largest: House Targaryen. Over a thousand years ago, the Targaryens were expelled from Valyria by the Doom, a primitive environmental catastrophe.

With a full continent an ocean away full of natural resources, they desired the land, named Westeros, and resolved to dominate it. The place they wished to conquer looks like this:

A political map of Westeros. Look familiar?

The Targaryens waited 100 years to build their strength, and with three dragons and a small, loyal army, they conquered seven of the eight kingdoms on this continent. Westeros belonged to House Targaryen.

Flash forward 1000 years, when the events of A Song of Ice and Fire begin. What blood you are once meant something on Earth, and it still does in the seven kingdoms of Westeros. Blood is the guiding principle of everything in the Seven Kingdoms, and inheritance of rule is a tricky, dangerous business. So the author of the world of unparalleled magnificence, George R. R. Martin, called the first book (of a planned seven) A Game of Thrones.

Martin wrote fantasy and science fiction to varying levels of acclaim before A Song of Ice and Fire. (He also worked in Hollywood for years; now he lives a rich man in New Mexico.) Currently in the middle of writing his ultimate masterpiece, it's easy to look back on his earlier work and see how the kernels of genius were fermented.


Martin's talent for world-building was evident in his most honored work before A Song of Ice and Fire, the novella A Song for Lya, where two doomed telepaths navigate a shaky future. His novella Sandkings became the pilot episode of Showtime's version of The Outer Limits, and his vampire novel Fevre Dream proved he could handle horror as well as science fiction. It's amazing he finds any time at all to write as he's one of many SFF writers to keep an enthusiastic blog.

Other authors get bogged down in the intracacies of a society and forget the importance of the individual, or else their imagination is not sufficient for the characters they invest so much in. Martin balances the two with equal aplomb, cutting to the emotional core without getting bogged down in setting or plot.

Martin is at his best as a dabbler, putting his toes into the shallow ends of science fiction, fantasy, and realistic fiction. Though he had worked in both fantasy and science fiction before, Martin had never attempted something so vast. Since he's writing something complex, difficult and uber-successful, he has a greater challenge being put to him than those who laid the groundwork in the genre.

Tolkien was smart and inventive, but he could also be rather boring, like any good college professor. C.S. Lewis was too pious, and not very much of a writer. In fact, it's Martin's style that brings it all together, much like in Tolkien's more direct descendant, Robert Jordan.


James Oliver Rigney Jr. was a Vietnam vet who, writing under the name Robert Jordan, created a character named Rand al'Thor and dragged him around a richly detailed world of hard fantasy. As fine as The Wheel of Time series is -- it's a massive achievement -- on some level, it's not adult fantasy. Despite serious themes and evocative characters, there's little in the way of sex and protagonists rarely perish, especially in crowds. This is not the way of George R.R. Martin.

In Martin's world, the action begins after the trauma, the life after the death. Composing the most horrifying chapters of the series in the third (and best) volume A Storm of Swords, Martin has confessed that he put off the writing of them: they were the most difficult thing he ever had to set to paper. The problem anyone writing a fantasy today has is the issue of magic.


It's kind of the reason Tim Kring's Heroes turned into the most terrible show ever constructed - characters become too powerful, and they are just ciphers meant to do another cool thing.


The pioneer of using magic just right was Jack Vance, whose autobiography comes out later this year. Vance's Dying Earth novels were wildly ahead of their time, so much so that they inspired the entire Dungeons and Dragons system of magic. (Martin's taken a good deal of shit from his readers for working on an anthology of Vance-inspired writing instead of the long-delayed fifth novel in the series, A Dance for Dragons.)

As much as GRRM admires Vance, he's not so keen to make magical elements the center of his world. Some of his characters have abilities, but they are exaggerated versions of what lies inside real people. (He had to be convinced to include dragons in the final work, and we can be glad he did it in a most inventive fashion.)

In A Song of Ice and Fire, it does not really matter how big or small you are - you'll be cut down to size either way. Men are assassinated, dead in duels, in war, crippled, maimed, amputated, impaled. It is no good being a man, and since the women are the survivors of the catastrophe, it's no great shakes for them either.

While women dominate A Song of Ice and Fire - a turnabout that Robert Jordan experimented so successfully with the magical Aes Sedai - children are also key. GRRM has said they are the most difficult to write, but that is why they are so important here.

a detailed map of the capital city of WesterosA child is born in a world, any world, with a long history. His learning of that history is piecemeal, and he must decipher it completely to know how to live. For Americans, that is some other history, for the most part. But for the sons and daughters of Westeros, their lives depend on the facts of that past.

The parallels are obvious and many. We forget how frail life is, we forget that mere chance either keeps presidents alive or leaves the First Lady holding a lifeless body.


The Iron Throne is the seat of power in Westeros, and it is made up of hundreds of swords of dead men who fell to the Targaryens in war. With sharp ends poking out everywhere, the idea is that it should not be easy for a man to sit the throne. Here it is good and bad to be king, a lesson we'd do well to apply to our own chief executives, who spend as much time going to Bulls games as they do running the country.

1000 years later, with some 17 kings Targaryen having ruled Westeros, sworn knight of the Kingsguard Jaime Lannister slaughtered Mad King Aerys Targaryen to prevent him from burning the capital city of King's Landing to the ground. For the genocide he spared the city, Jaime will be known as Kingslayer until the end of his days.

Without ceremony, the line of Targaryen rule ends, and Robert Baratheon takes the throne.

In his shadow rise House Lannister and House Stark, the rough elements of York and Lancaster. This is a history lesson, in A Game of Thrones it's a lesson of a different kind than you're probably used to. It is events of twenty years before A Game of Thrones on which much of the actions turns. Martin has described what he shows to his readers as the tip of a larger iceberg. That iceberg is the events that brought about the end of the Targaryen reign in Westeros, called Robert's Rebellion or The War of the Usurper.

Twenty years later, Robert Baratheon is a blustering fool, but he is also still the King. He comes from the capital to the northern castle of Winterfell to ask Neddard Stark to be the Hand of the King, the man who carries out the laws of the realm and so forth. The last Hand, Jon Arryn, has recently died under mysterious circumstances.

This is just the set-up. A Game of Thrones is equal parts murder mystery and tragedy, comedy and epic. It is virtually everything you could want from a book and alternate universe. The future that awaits both Neddard and Robert is far from kingly, and in the ensuing bloodshed, the Stark children (the real protagonists) are thrown across Westeros to learn lessons they could never come to while waited on by servants. The oldest Stark is Robb, destined to take up his father's mantle. The others are permitted to live more interesting lives, some staying at Winterfell with their mother Catelyn, and others journeying along with Lord Stark to King's Landing.


Martin is doing the work of every good historian, except he is making it all up besides. He follows in the footsteps of another historical novelist who dabbled in both fact and fiction, Thomas Costain. This famous Canadian wrote lively action-packed histories of England, capturing the small details that answer the "why" of history better than the large ones. The past unfolds at an unrelenting pace, and few have wielded power as consistently as the monarchs of England.

A Song of Ice and Fire is a grayer version of events than you can find in the black and white world of most fantasy. There is no House Slytherin, no Shadow taking over the world. There are invaders from the North, but they are more dream than reality - heroes aren't required to put them down, just men with swords.

The Lannisters are the enemies when the series begins: represented by lions, with flowing blond hair and blue eyes. Their motto - a Lannister always pays his debts - evokes as much menace as it does honor. The Lannisters felt slighted by the Targaryens so their youngest and strongest joined the King's Guard and slaughtered a king. Simple irritation can change events entirely, one word could doom a kingdom, or seven of them.



It is these small little variations in life that create the history, and it is easy to say this or that is inevitable. A mere man's birth was enough to claim the lives of the majority of Europe's Jews. It was not going to happen. It did happen.

tyrion lannister in his sky cell

Even the faithful and moral Starks have flaws. Patriarch Neddard Stark sired a child out of wedlock. Some would toss their bastards aside, but Ned brought his back from the war. As was the custom of the north, the child took the surname of Snow. Rather than stay with a mother who despises her husband's indiscretion, or have the shame a bastard would in the court of King's Landing, Jon Snow chooses another path.

Any man may take the black of the Night's Watch, but any who does is permitted no wife and no children. Perched atop on massive wall of ice that borders the northern border of the continent, men of the Night's Watch man the Wall, which stands over 300 feet high. The dead are coming back to life in the North, and they bring winter with them. As the creators of the upcoming HBO adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire pitched the series to executives, this is The Sopranos in Middle-Earth.

This fall promises the release of A Dance With Dragons, the events of which run parallel to the last printed volume, A Feast for Crows. Until then we will have to satisfy ourselves with the collectible card game, the board game, the two prequels, and a realistic looking model sword.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here.



In Which Lost Violates Its Own Inner Chi

The Dumbest Professional Killer Alive

The dream. Every night it's always the same.

I'm a little boy walking through my hometown. My dick is super-huge, because in my dreams I'm always well-endowed. I'm trying to walk home, but I keep finding the same street at the end of wherever I go. A man finds me there. He's wearing a mumu and he smells like a skunk masturbating. He tells me that I'm going to be the vice president one day, and that I'll run the whole world. And then he shoots me in the face.

he can't say he didn't see this coming

This dream is reflective of reality: some enterprising hippie is always going back to try and save the future. But lately, it's not just hippies killing me in my dream. And no longer are people telling me I'll be the vice president one day.

setting the record for interminable press conferences...this guy

The people who kill me in my dream now say one thing: "If it wasn't for you, we wouldn't have elected him." "Who?" I say. "Obama," they answer. At first it was 60 Minutes. Then, he started guesting on Heroes and The Office. Pretty soon he was on television three times a week. Three times a week turned into every night.

Like Benjamin Linus, our president can't get enough of his own press. And someone is trying to travel back in time to ensure I never exist so that Obama won't get elected. It's the perfect plan.

I know what Sayid Hassan Jarrah is going through. I too have many lives on my conscience. Families without homes, because their president is addicted to watching himself on TV. I have half a mind to go back in time and prevent myself from ever existing. One thing and one thing only stops me: Faraday said you can't change the fucking timeline.

Where is Faraday? Who knows. He's probably doing yeoman time travel work. I half expected him to pop up during Adam Lambert's phenomenal rendition of Smokey Robinson's "Tracks of My Tears" on Idol last night.

"I brought you some chicken salad...unless you are planning to kill me later on perhaps?"

You can't change the timeline, and yet young Benjamin Linus sits dead somewhere in the jungle. There are only two possibilities. The first is that Linus somehow weathered a bullet to the heart, and is still alive. The second is the possibility that Linus dies in every version of the timeline.

"I'm doing a blond now"

Let's take possibility one. Having lived through these events, it's possible that the elder Linus made his way off his sick bed on the other island and was able to communicate with his young version of himself, and ensure that he wore some kind of protection from Sayid's killing bullet. This would allow him to live to a ripe old age.

The second possibility is that Linus dies. Since we meet Linus later on, it's possible that the two Linuses are not one and the same. We believed that the older man was Benjamin Linus, but he could be Henry Gale for all we know. We have no proof that the two are one and the same, except the show's POV storytelling. Taking Benjamin Linus' name and place within the Dharma Initiative would be a clever way for the hostiles to infiltrate Initiative if they knew what had occurred. With the Senior Linus dead, there would be no one to refute this.

Either way, one thing is for goddamn certain: you cannot change the timeline. (The next episode is even titled "Whatever Happened, Happened.")

Then again, Sayid always was one to learn things the hard way. This is approximately the 8,000th time he has slept with a woman on Lost only to find out she was deceiving him in some way. This time it was somehow more forgivable, because honestly who could believe that a bounty hunter could be that foxy?

In Dharmaville, things are getting a bit on the edgy side. LaFleur and Juliet had a good thing going, and the only one of the castaways who seems amply satisfied with his new digs is Hurley, and that's just because of proximity to the cafeteria.

the fucking tater tots here are out of this world you guys

Presumably Jin was driving the van around because he was finally looking for Sun. Once again instead of finding Sun he finds Sayid. The only screen time Jack Shepard can manage is when his wet hose is flailing around. His meek little firefighting smile is just about the saddest thing we've ever seen.

Where is all of this going? I'm going to put myself out on a limb and guess that when the Dharma Initiative gets dumped into a mass grave, it's the Losties writing the check. They're going to win this war for Benjamin Linus, and they're going to complete the Swan station. The only question is, what is going to motivate them to take the lives of Horace Goodspeed and Co.? What is going to end female fertility? What is going to put a premium on young children, and what is going to bring the Losties back to the future?

I have but one answer for you.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.


In Which Nobody Says I <3 Tokyo Even Once

City Porn

dir. Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, and Bong Joon-Ho

To attempt to label Tokyo! as the latest in the genre-franchise of city porn created by Paris, Je T'aime and the upcoming New York, I Love You is to miss the point. As an urban romantic, I was at looking forward to a similar production with Tokyo-fetishizing monologues or time-lapse scenes that exposed the "zany energy" of the Japanese capital. But Tokyo! delivered a different kind of love letter to its namesake through three surrealist vignettes that are actually more like breakup e-mails, simultaneously asserting independence and lamenting a looming loneliness. Perhaps this is because Tokyo is not an easy city to romanticize--at least not compared the the more obvious process of zooming in on the glossy grit of a New York or a Paris, or even a Mumbai. Tokyo's clusters of bright neon signs and otherwise slate-colored landscape are familiar enough that one can pick it out of a big-city lineup, but, let's be real, Sofia Coppola might be disproportionally to thank (blame?) for that. Also to thank/blame for my fantasy of just walking around Tokyo sullenly for a week like ScarJo did.

On the western pop culture objectification scale, Japan's capital city is quirky enough to be used as a plot point, yet impenetrably foreign enough to prevent all-out adoration. Tokyo! fits correspondingly in that same spot, and since none of the three films were made by Japanese directors, using that scale seems appropriate. (It's also worth noting that actual French filmmakers were wildly outnumbered by American ones in Paris, Je T'aime). 

Regardless, to watch Tokyo! is to realize that it's a far simpler task to idolize our cities all out of proportion than to truly try to understand their impact on us. In Tokyo!, all three directors seem to have silently agreed to this challenge. The film itself is not difficult to love--and it's taken me this long to mention that it's definitely really good--but its merits can only be measured once you figure out that it didn't take the easy way into the city's psyche. Either that, or Tokyo is just unavoidably depressing.

French directors Gondry and Carax and Korean Joon-Ho. "Interior Design," Gondry's short about transformations and new beginnings, is the film's most obvious draw. It is also the most cheerful of the three stories, but considering the protagonists of the following two shorts are a chaos-creating sewer-monster and a man who hasn't left his apartment for eleven years, the few hints of playfulness seem monumental in comparison. 

In "Interior Design," a young couple moves to Tokyo, he an aspiring filmmaker, and she of the much-relatable "not sure yet" category of 20-somethings who squat on a friend's tiny couch (which is tinier in Japan) while pretending to apartment hunt and actually just staying in and cutting pictures out of magazines all day (kind of like what everyone does on Tumblr!). 

The Japanese Lelaina Pierce?Curiously enough, "Interior Design" is adapted from Gabrielle Belle's Manhattan story, "Cecil and Jordan in New York," and yet it is the highlight of the film, either defeating the point or making it. I'm not sure which -- it is tempting to qualify it as an inherently Japanese tale with minuscule apartments and careers in origami gift-wrapping, but those are just the details. At the core is a universal identity crisis for which the city has no answer, and a transformation that takes her further away from its streets.  

Leos Carax's short "Merde! " is a take-it-or-leave it absurdist horror story about a crazy (caucasian) dude in a green suit who comes out of the sewers to terrorize Tokyo with grenades and face-slaps. My brother swears it's an allegory for the Rapes of Nanking, but I just fixated on how the monster reminded me of Heath Ledger's Joker.

I would argue that the city itself is most central in Carax's short, as the Japanese newscasters, protesters and lawyers unite in a fixation with this creature and in defense of their fellow citizens. (I don't like elaborating on movie plots because review spoilers bother me, so I won't go further into it).

Carax: Basically, it doesn't have much to do with Tokyo...I could've made it in any big, rich city in the world.

The final short is the most Haruki Murakami-like one -- really the only Murakami-like one, but I am limited to him in my Japanese author knowledge and so it is the comparison I must ignorantly make. "Shaking Tokyo" is about a hikikomori, an individual who lives in isolation and has completely withdrawn from an outside life, who gives it all up after a slight glimpse of a delivery girl's garter belt. 

It must be the opposite of love to retreat entirely from one's city, to reject it as a home and see it only as a place from which to hide. But ultimately it is Tokyo's own earthquake that literally and figuratively shakes the film's hermit out of his apartment cave, indirectly changing his life. 

While writing this, I almost forgot that there's actually quite a happy medium between the initial excitement visible in the title and the seeming widespread despair of the stories: the enjoyable viewing experience. Even deep in the characters' crises and confusion, the tone in all of the shorts is of half-joking, and there is never a sense that the filmmakers are taking the subject matter too seriously.

head hurting I put on the Lost in Translation soundtrack for inspiration, and after two loops, I realized it was making me want to kill myself. The spacey monotone of the music and the gray loneliness of Tokyo! were too much all at once. But I turned the music off, and screened the film through my mind yet again, realizing that what lacked in romance it made up in explicable magic that might not necessarily be optimistic but is still beautiful, and actually quite fun.

Fernanda Diaz is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan, and she tumbles here.


"Happy Up Here" - Röyksopp (mp3)

"I Love The Unknown" - Clem Snide (mp3)

"Girls" - Death in Vegas (mp3)

"Alone in Kyoto" - Air (mp3)