The Dangers of Fan-casting

On Sunday after the Wimbledon Men’s Singles Final the BBC will reveal the identity of the next Dr Who. In many respects, it would make more sense to write this afterwards but the final decision is not really what I want to address – it is fan-casting. For any who are unfamiliar with the term ‘fan-casting’ it’s etymology seems a little shaky. As I understand it the original idea was ‘fantasy casting’; the idea like with fantasy football that you could pick your dream cast for a film or TV show regardless of financial restrictions, contracts, scheduling etc. This idea has been very popular for a while now particularly in the field of adaptations from books and comics. Fans say who they want for roles and the favoured choices then become talked about over and again. In this way fan-casting has evolved from ‘fantasy casting’ into actual ‘fan casting’ where fans of a series, franchise or book try to influence the casting through the internet.

This is where things get problematic. It is completely understandable that fans can have an actor in mind who they think is perfect for a particular role and in some cases these actors have ended up getting the part. Everyone is happy, right? After all, it is arguable that many fans are more invested in and have a better appreciation of the object of their 1319033604d96695b390c6049da4186d--the-simpsons-beautiful-ladiesfandom than the TV or studio execs trying to turn it into a film. You can bet that the fans are more invested in a ‘faithful’ rendition than the show runners and sometimes than the creators. An example of this would be the ‘Jack Reacher’ series. Tom Cruise is physically completely unlike the character in the books (a foot shorter for a start) and pretty much everyone I know who is a fan of the books can’t bear to see Tom Cruise represent him. The author, who is clearly aware of the lack of resemblance, is reportedly less concerned. Although it is tempting to think of the McBane/Wolfcastle defence here.

In general, I have a certain amount of sympathy for fans trying to defend the purity of the source material. My only problem with it is when it becomes dogmatic and ignores what an actor can bring to a role. Like Tom Cruise, Hugh Jackman is completely the wrong height for a role. It’s not talked about much now but when Jackman was first cast many fans of the comics were enraged that a guy who was 6’3 was given the part when Wolverine is meant to be shorter-than-average stature. If fan-casting had had it’s way Jackman would still be on Broadway and the cinematic Wolverine we know would never have existed.

The trouble with fan-casting becoming too rigid really comes to the fore when a fanhood starts to consider their casting as somehow canon. What happens if that actor is unavailable? Now, instead of whoever is chosen being revealed and given a chance to prove themselves on merit, they begin their tenure with a sense of disappointment hanging over them. That may not stop a good actor making the role their own but there are some who will never forgive them for not being someone else.

This becomes more problematic still when the fandom’s canon is actually not faithful.Pedro_Pascal_in_The_Miracle_at_Naples,_2009 Most people I’ve talked to think Elijah Wood looks exactly like Frodo and are surprised when I say I think he was miscast. In this case the fandom has edited out the fact he is too young for the role. This is easy enough to live with because this is more people being happy with the result than trying to influence casting in the first place. For Pedro Pascal the process was quite different. Many who read ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ seemed to have misread or ignored the description of Oberon Martell from the books and enthusiastically fan-cast Naveen Andrews in the role. When Pedro Pascal was cast these fans were left horrified and accompanied their disappointment with cries of ‘racism’ and ‘whitewashing’.

I’ve no wish to trivialise either of those issues but those accusations were inappropriate in this case. Expecting sympathy from George Martin, some of these fans were then horrified when Martin explained that this was what the Martells were supposed to look like. By any estimation, the source material suggests someone far more like Pedro Pascal than Naveen Andrews. At which point, this vocal part of the fandom then switched approach and claimed they’d fan-cast Andrews because it was an opportunity for greater racial diversity on the show. There’s nothing wrong with wanting that but demanding show-makers follow a particular political agenda opens up a whole multi-pack of worm-containers.

For the most part, TV and film-makers want to be seen as liberal and progressive. There is a good case for this too. If you are holding up a mirror to life then it should be a mirror that reflects in technicolor and not in monochrome. Likewise, values are promoted through our culture and there is a case for ensuring those values are consistent with the kind of society you want to embrace.

Fan-casting to an agenda, however, is a no-win situation. Either the agenda is appeased and or it is denied. Both outcomes will piss people off. Current thinking is that the most likely choice of Doctor will be either Phoebe Waller-Bridge or Kris Marshall. Sunday may prove these predictions completely wrong but whatever happens there will be grumbling and that is because pushing for a female Doctor has become an agenda. If those pushing for it get what they want, others will feel it was forced and will feel alienated from the show. Not only is this bad for the show it’s really unfair of Waller-Bridge or any other female actor who might get the part. Rather than embracing the qualities she will bring to the part, she will have a cloud of ‘political correctness’ hanging over her.

The alternative is that Kris Marshall (or another man) gets the role and the people pushing for a female Doctor feel let down or even that their wishes have been explicitly rebutted. Marshall (or whoever) will also start the role with an unwanted cloud, as if now they are the representative of the patriarchy, reinforcing the glass ceiling. None of this would happen if not for fan-casting. Of course, whoever is chosen may still have been a disappointment to someone but at least it would be on the basis of their acting and not something over which they have no control.

Now, you might argue it is still worth all these problems because the agenda is important. That may be true and works very well as long as TV and film-makers are on board with your agenda. What happens if and when a fandom with a different agenda gets what they want? You might think this is fine as long as their is a range enough of art for everyone and herein lies the rub. Fan-cast in your head all you like but remember what is canon for you isn’t for someone else even if other people on the internet seem to agree with you. In the end, it is better that these decisions are made on an artistic basis.

Finally, whoever is cast as Dr Who, good luck to you. That baton is going to feel especially heavy this time round. tardis

It’s all about the antagonists

Here’s a quick question for you; who is the most important character in the Harry Potter series? The answer is obvious, right? It’s the Harry Potter series; every book is called Harry Potter and the…It has to be Harry, surely? I would argue not: it’s Voldemort. That’s not to say Harry is some dull empty vessel who’s only purpose is to be he reader’s eyes into the world. On the contrary, Harry is a great character. He’s far from being a Luke Skywalker, true blue hero who is less interesting than the folk around him. Harry is wounded and sympathetic and occasionally flawed (although I’m not sure you’d get all this by just watching the films). Harry has many qualities but he is not the main mover of the narrative: that is Voldemort.

voldyThink about it. The book begins with the apparent first defeat of Voldemort. Harry is only famous because of the fame Voldemort bestowed on him by being unable to murder him. Likewise, the Harry potter series finishes with the final defeat of Voldemort. His absence is what tells us it is all over. Harry has a life after this but the series doesn’t continue to follow him in his life without Voldemort. Sure, there may be Cursed Childs and whatnots to come but they are addenda to the story of how Voldemort was defeated.

Speaking of Luke Skywalker. How interested are we in his life when there is no big bad around? The main story finishes with the death of Darth Vader. We don’t rejoin him until the reboots have another antagonist to throw at us. Likewise, it’s no surprise that we leave Middle Earth with the demise of Sauron.

I’ve been thinking about antagonists recently while reviewing the Defenders’ respective series. The broad consensus seems to be in terms of quality they go; Jessica Jones, Daredevil and then, someway behind, Luke Cage. Is it just merely a coincidence that while Jessica had David Tennant’s brilliance as Kilgrave and Daredevil had the grinding fury of Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin, Luke Cage had to contend with the short-lived and nonthreatening Cottonmouth and then the silliness of Diamondback?

I’m only halfway through Iron First but the major problem so far seems to be the lack of a good antagonist. All of which makes me think, maybe it’s all about the antagonist after all. At least when it comes to sci-fi and fantasy. Other genres have other considerations. Detective novels while benefiting from good antagonists are more about the protagonist.So what is it about sci-fi and fantasy that make antagonists so important? Partly, it is that a lot of sci-fi and fantasy is about conflict against an exceptional threat. If the threat is not sufficiently threatening then defeating it is less compelling.

Another reason is sci-fi and fantasy is often (though not always) less morally ambiguous. In a fight between good and evil the only way the evil is going to be defeated is through terminal justice. There will be no accommodation or settlement. The bastard needs to die and we need (for the most part) to be ok with the bastard dying. Therefore, their death must be both utterly necessary and morally and narratively satisfying.

joffYou might argue that some fantasy is not so black and white, A Song of Ice and Fire, for example. While there may be some truth in this, the series does also provide us with some genuine hate figures for whom we will endure all kinds of suffering to our heroes just to see them get what is coming, like Joffrey and Ramsay. Equally, the Ice and Fire overarching it all pretty unambiguous. Those white walkers/Others have to be defeated.

Ah, that’s fantasy but sci-fi is different, you might argue. Sometimes there is an accommodation in sci-fi, like in the Matrix and Mass Effect. In the case of the Matrix films, they clearly cottoned on to the fact that we were more interested in an antagonist battle so they made it more about the recognisable Smith than the amorphous Matrix itself. While Mass Effect 3 has one of the worst endings ever, so let that be a lesson about deviation from the template.

Other examples? Look at Star Trek. What are considered to be the best Star Trek films? Generally, people say Wrath of Khan, Undiscovered Country and First Contact. For which we have Ricardo Molteban’s Khaaaaaaaan, Christopher Plummer’s Shakespeare quoting Klingon and, arguably the greatest Star Trek villain of all, the Borg.

For that matter, look at the series. What turned around DS9? The introduction of proper antagonists in the form of the Dominion. What was often the difference between a good Babylon 5 episode and a cringe-worthy one? Did it have the Shadows in it? In the same vein, I never really had much interest in Star Gate but I bothered with Stargate: Atlantis because the creepy Wraiths seemed like a genuine threat. Oh and lest we forget, what’s the surefire way to up the stakes in any series of Dr Who?I give you everyone’s favourite demented space nazis wailing EXTERMINATE!

It’s a lesson to all of us when we write. While we all want to give the world the next brooding hero who will show us complexity, humour and virtuoso fighting skills so far uncontemplated, make sure there’s someone out there for them who is capable of killing them and and shaping the narrative of the world they wish to terrorise. As much as heroes, villains have a challenge to answer. Let us hope they rise to the occasion.

loki

 

 

 

 

Hey, they’re not supposed to die!

First up….MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR ANYONE WHO HAS NOT SEEN GoT 6 08/READ DANCE WITH DRAGONS.

Ok, we’re happy now, yes? You realise what’s coming? Great.

Here’s some names off the top of my head (I’m sure westeros.org  has a much more comprehensive list) S1  – Mago, s2 – Irri, Xaro Xhoan Daxos, Rakharo, s3 – Greatjohn Umber, s4 – Grenn, Pyp, Jojen Reed, s5 – Stannis, Shireen, Mance Raydar, Barristan Selmy, Myrcella s6 – Doran Martell, Trystane Martell, Areo Hotah, Brynden ‘Blackfish’ Tully, Shaggydog, Osha, Summer, Hodor, Jorah Mormont (arguably), Roose Bolton and Walda Frey.

What do all these characters have in common? They are all (as of 608) dead in the TV show Game of Thrones and (as of Dance with Dragons) still alive in A Song of Ice and Fire. This is curious because of any criticism one might make of George RR Martin’s fantastical world, that he doesn’t kill of enough of his characters is not one. Why the disparity and what effect does it have on the story?

It’s fair to say of this list not all are equally inexplicable so (based purely on my own speculation) I’m going to separate them into different categories; dead men walking, not like this, herd thinning and bodycounters.

Dead (wo)men walking or It is known

These are the characters who we haven’t seen (in an imaginary sense) die yet in A Song of Ice and Fire but who will likely meet their end much the same as on the show. The first name that leaps to mind in this group is Hodor. When I saw that play out I thought it had Martin’s fingerprints on it and duly that was later confirmed. I would also just about put Jojen Reed in this group too as I think narratively speaking he will die in pretty much the same place, if not the exact same manner.

Just about sneaking into this bracket I would also include Shireen Baratheon. I’m not sure that in the books it will be by Stannis’s order but I think she is for the flames nonetheless. However, if it is not under her father’s command then she should be pushed into the next category for reasons that will become clear.

There’s not much to write about the It is Knowns because their role is much the same. Some would say they constitute spoilers, I tend to think at this point anyone watching the show hoping that nothing of the books is going to be revealed is probably deluding themselves.

Not Like This

Insert your Matrix gifs here.

This group is of characters I expect to die but not in the way it is shown on GoT and why the different ending makes a difference. The least important of these is probably Mago. Do you remember him? Khal Drogo ripped out his throat in Season 1. It was someone else in the book and Martin is insistent that Mago is due to have a significant role in future instalments. My guess is that he will play the same role as Khal Jhaqo’s bloodriders in the current season and this is simply a case of giving a different name to a character. I could be wrong but until I know otherwise I’m happy to let this one go.

Stannis I would include in this particular category. For the story to advance, Stannis has to die and it seems likely it will be in the North. However, I’m pretty damn certain Martin’s battle won’t consist of charging a load of weary infantrymen in loose formation against the riders of the Rohirrim who have suddenly and inexplicably flocked to the Bolton banner. Likewise, I’ll be shocked (and not in a good way) if Brienne conveniently arrives to deliver Stannis his death blow. I could be wrong but that felt more Hollywood than Westeros, where neat vengeance is rarely delivered. In Martin’s world, punishment is usually meted out by those with no claim to deliver it. Think Ramsey on Theon and Vargo Hoat (Locke on TV) on Jaime.

Whatever fate lies in store for Stannis I imagine it will be a little more complex. If it turns out not to be him who orders Shireen to be burnt then that would reinforce my suspicion that he was made responsible for that so viewers would be OK with killing off a major character in a fairly summary fashion. Certainly they did seem to rush to the end of his storyline.

Myrcella is another whose fate will almost definitely play out very differently. If we accept that the prophecy about Cersei’s children is true then Myrcella will die at some point. That is where the similarity likely ends. Everything Dorne post-Oberon has been horrifically misguided. The Sand Snakes are miscast and badly written. Ellaria has had a complete personality transplant and the whole plot line makes no sense whatsoever.

The result is Myrcella won’t die on a ship with Jaime because Jaime was never supposed to go to Dorne. It makes zero sense for the Sand Snakes to kill her because they were trying to make her Queen. Even if later developments that were never shown on TV pan out, she would still be betrothed to their cousin. In short, I expect little to no resemblance to what we have seen on our screens.

This matters because having Ellaria/Sand Snakes kill her is what led them into the current storyline where  having gone directly against his wishes they would have to be executed or be in open rebellion against Doran and…well, we’ve seen how that turned out.

I’m just about persuaded to put Jorah Mormont and Barristan Selmy into this group. In Jorah’s case, he’s been such a major character that I can’t think the showmakers would give him a death sentence unless he had no more role to play. The fact that they’ve cut and pasted John Connington’s fate onto him means that should he die it will definitely be in a completely different manner.

Similarly, while Selmy may or may not be long for Martin’s world it is clear that he won’t die at that point because he is still alive way beyond it, partaking in vital acts in the defence of Mereen. In his case I feel the premature departure has had a negative effect. Another senior figure in Mereen would make it look a bit less like everything is being done by three people in an empty pyramid. The only reason I don’t put Selmy into the herd-thinning category is that if he is to die in the books it’s probably fairly soon.

Lastly, I’m just about persuaded to put Roose and Walda in this group. Like with Stannis, Roose has to die for the plot to move forward and in A Song of Ice and Fire, people are rarely merciful to the families of the deceased. I’m not convinced his end will be as mundane as being stabbed in the stomach by Ramsey after dropping huge hints that he means to set him aside.

Herd Thinning aka We have a budget

The deaths I would describe as herd-thinning are where a character is killed on the TV show and there is no particular reason to think that character is about to die or their death was at least premature for no good in-world reason. These deaths are better explained by budgetary constraints, actor schedules and a general desire to keep the cast numbers in check both for cost and simplifying things for the viewer.

Rakharo (who seems to be an amalgam of Jhogo and Rakharo from the books) seems to have been killed off because the actor had a scheduling conflict. Presumably, if not he would have remained as the visible representative of the loyal Dothraki going on. It may have been the same with Clive Mantle (Greatjohn), although his lines and personality were fused on to the Blackfish from Season 3 onwards.

On the matter of the Blackfish, given that he is explicitly still alive and active in the books beyond the siege of Riverrun I can only think the showmakers considered him an expense they could do without (unless he is to take the place of Un-Cat).

Herd-thinning is the only reason I can think of that would explain the terrible plot decisions of the Dorne storyline. By killing off Doran and Trystane they have closed the door on a number of developments in that region, which to me says they wanted to give the viewers a reason to think Dorne is out of the picture now. Areo Hotah is just more collateral damage in this sense.

Last but by no means least in this group are the direwolves Summer and Shaggydog. They may die in the books but given how much they’ve been shoved to the side because CGI is expensive it’s hard to discount the possibility that this was a motivating factor in killing them off.

Bodycount

The last group includes Osha, Gren, Pyp, Irri and Xaro Xhoan Daxos. Each of these characters was killed not because they are set to die imminently but simply because of the drama their death would give to particular moments. In the case of Pyp and Gren this works. Pyp’s end heightens Sam’s jeopardy while also showing how far he has come as a character and Gren takes the place of a character not seen in the show. His death was done to make people care about a moment that deserves to be cared about.

Irri was killed to heighten the sense of danger in Qarth and in this case it didn’t work at all. The stolen dragons storyline was a major misstep and killing Irri to enable it was a waste of a character and an actress. It also cut much of Dany’s link to the Dothraki and made her entourage too light subsequently. It’s arguable that her role is filled by an aged-up Missandei but they are very different personalities and I can’t see that Irri’s presence wouldn’t have added more.

At the other end of the dragon theft storyline is Xaro Xhoan Daxos. Given that he’s a completely different character on the show to the book version his loss isn’t that important and probably preferable. The presence of the changed character was more problematic as it was integral to the deviations that undermined Dany’s season 2 arc.

Finally, Osha. She might die but I hope if she does it’s handled better than on the show. Another knife stabbing with little build up and zero reflection afterwards. She might as well have been a guest appearance. It’s possible that she was taking the role of one of the spear wives from the book but that doesn’t seem like a great reason to kill her.

Does it matter?

As with most questions, it depends. In the first group not at all. In other cases, as a book reader every time one of these deaths happen you see future storylines and scenes dying before your eyes. That is easier to take some times than others. Not including Arianna Martell is one thing. Bringing in Dorne then changing its course completely is quite another.

When you know you’re not going to see something you’d hoped to see it’s important that you’re given it in such a way that you can accept its loss. When things are edited for content you can always think it happened it just wasn’t shown. So in the Lord of the Rings films, for example, the scouring of the Shire could have happened (in the cinema release version), Tom Bombadil could have happened, the appendices could have happened; we just didn’t see it. There’s no way to undo aberrations like Osgiliath, unfortunately.

For the show watcher who hasn’t read the books and never plans to you can argue that it doesn’t matter at all. After all, if they had no expectations then there is no loss. However, as with any death if it is done without good reason it notices. I generally watch Game of Thrones with non-book readers and when a death doesn’t seem part of the story they tend to be taken out of their suspension of disbelief, frown and ask ‘does that happen in the books?’. They also ask this with stuff that’s in the books but usually after the end of the episode because they are still invested.

I appreciate that Game of Thrones doesn’t have an unlimited budget and my complaint isn’t with that. In fact, if I have a complaint it is directed at TV and film in general. Deaths of established characters can be very effective in drama. It’s important that it is never used cheaply and when that character has more stories to tell that will now never see the light it is all the more important the reasoning is sound.

 

 

Interview with JW Whitmarsh – Author of The Book of Water

Book of watereditNexus Fiction: Here we are again in the interrogation chamber of the Nexus castle. As we write our author JW Whitmarsh is being chained down by a team of obedient fomorii and told no food will be brought until all our enquiries are satisfied. So, with no further ado let us begin.

NX: How are you doing?

JW: Fine. I’m not sure how secure these manacles are though.

NX: We got them on the cheap.

JW: You mean you went to the adult store instead of the hardware store?

NX: It’s so much closer. Anyway, trilogy edition is out next week and since we haven’t interviewed you about Enchantress Destiny it seems a good point to talk about the final part of Caleigh’s journey.

JW: Won’t that be spoiling for those who were waiting for the trilogy edition?

NX: Be circumspect. Let’s discuss the books generally. Do you see the story as three parts or as one long tale?

JW: When I wrote it I definitely wrote it as one tale. I have or had a certain blindness slash ignorance of how long it was until it came to publishing. I thought I’d written something like a 600 page book. Long yes but not so long it needed to be partitioned.

NX: And then we told it’s 1,000 pages. A trilogy seemed like the obvious thing.

JW: Knowing what I know now I would have written it differently. Nonetheless there are distinct phases and tones throughout the story. Awakening is a coming-of-age journey. Apprentice is a quest. By the time we get to Destiny it is more of an all-out war.

NX: Less discovery and more resolution.

Destiny serpent2JW: Yes. I spent a long time gathering all the pieces and putting them into place. In the last volume we see how that unfolds. I noticed this in particular writing the dramatis personae for each part. By Destiny there aren’t so many people to introduce any more and so it is subsequently much briefer than the others.

NX: We’ve talked before about how some characters are ‘meta’ and some are ‘organic’. Can you expand upon that?

JW: Meta characters in storytelling terms are the ones who are required to be there by the plot and at certain points they will do certain things that are necessary to advance the narrative. In Dr Who terms they are fixed points that cannot be altered.

Organic characters, by contrast, do not need to be anywhere or do anything in particular but are grown out of the logic of the story or setting and evolve and act according to their personality.

NX: Can an organic character end up changing these fixed events?

JW: Organic characters can certainly influence how things play out and can create story-lines that would not have existed otherwise. That said, some fixed points are hard to get around.

NX: Can an organic character become meta and vice versa?

JW: Short answer, yes. The overarching story has a number of fixed events; the rest is fluid. Some characters started off as organic in Enchantress Awakening and have later become meta.

NX: So someone who started off as incidental can later have an important fate?

JW: Exactly. And the reverse can be true. Once all their fixed events have passed a meta character becomes organic. Almost everyone who was meta in The Book of Water is now organic.

NX: What would be the breakdown generally? Do you start with a set number of meta characters and let the rest grow around them?

JW: It’s hard to remember exactly what I was thinking ten years ago. I would say a handful of characters began their life as meta characters and others became so in the writing process.

NX: And all those who survived The Book of Water are now organic?

JW: No. A few remain or have become important to much later events. Without giving too much away I will say as an illustration one character who started off life as an organic character now has a key role in the end of the entire series.

NX: That’s quite a meta leap. Can you give an example of someone who is an organic character and how they came into life?

JW: I think the most non-spoilery example I can give is Ellie. She was not part of the overriding narrative but as soon as I created Caleigh it was natural for her to have a friend of the same age. I don’t think I intended for her to be as involved as she was in the end but her relationship to Caleigh kept bringing her back into the narrative. It kind of mirrors how she feels about her role in these great events. She’s surrounded by all these wizards and heroes yet time and again she finds herself being useful to them. Now I think about it there’s an argument to say she’s the real hero. Maybe one day I’ll write the story from her perspective.

NX: She’s quite popular with the readers so we’d be happy for you to write it. Do you ever find you have different reactions to things than your readers?

JW: Haha. Yes actually. One reader reached out to me to tell me they found the story really funny. It was not the reaction I was expecting.

NX: There’s a lot of irreverent humour in the books though. You must have realised that writing it.

JW: Yes, absolutely. It’s just it’s not something I made a point of inserting. Humour between friends seems like a natural form of interaction and life’s absurdities are impossible to avoid altogether, even if it were desirable to do so.

NX: Have you encountered any drastically different interpretations from readers so far?

JW: Not as yet. Obviously, everyone has their preferences. Some say there’s too much sex others say they want more. Some don’t like fantasy generally but like the characters, others would like it to be more fantastical.

NX: In what way?

JW: I think one reader asked if I would do a human-centaur relationship.

NX: I almost dread to ask but will we see that?

JW: You’ll get to see centaurs.

NX: Now, you’ve written The Book of Water as volumes 1,2,3. Will the rest of the elements follow suit?

VlakyriegoldJW: No. I always intended for the narratives to shift and merge. The Book of Earth and The Book of Fire run more or less parallel to each other and intersect at points.

NX: How do you decide which bits go where?

JW: It’s a matter of narrator mostly. If we are reading Valeria’s story it will be Earth, if it is Marcus and Junia’s it will be fire.

NX: Are there any characters who will intersect across the all the Elements?

JW: Two for definite, and I don’t think this is giving much away; Loreliath and the Beast.

NX: Of course. The Book of Water is now finished. What sort of timeline can we expect for the books to come?

JW: In terms of in-story events or release dates?

NX: Let’s start with the latter.

JW: Book 4 – Valkyrie Rising (Part One of The Book of Earth) is written. Book 5 – Mars Fallen (Part One of The Book of Fire) is maybe 85-90% finished. I expect Valkyrie Rising to come out in the summer and Mars Fallen somewhere between late summer to early autumn.

FallenstraightenedLike with 4 & 5, Books 6 & 7 (A Clash of Gods/Venus Ascending) take place more or less concurrently and I expect I’ll write them as such. I hope to bring both out next year.

NX: And beyond that?

JW: Let’s see. I don’t want to get into soothsaying or making unfulfillable promises. When is ‘Winds of Winter’ coming out, by the way?

NX: Nobody knows, least of all George RR Martin. You’ll just have to keep us well read in the meantime.

JW: A heavy responsibility. Just don’t expect too much twincest from me.

NX: Dragons?

JW: There is always a dragon eventually.

 

Am I getting more childish or has childish got more mature?

I went to see Captain America: Civil War last night. Nothing wrong or strange in that by itself, but then I thought about the last few films I’d seen at the cinema. Before this it was Deadpool and before that it was Star Wars. Two comic book adaptations and a family film. Going back further, the last film I saw that wasn’t a comic book film or a family film was The Martian, a sci-fi film.

Still nothing wrong with this. Thanks principally to the cost of a visit I don’t visit the cinema very much any more so when I go, I want to be guaranteed to be entertained. Seeing something that may challenge me or not be to my tastes is more of a risk when there’s the best part of £20 on the line.

So then I thought about TV. Currently, the two shows I’m watching most are Game of Thrones and iZombie. Again, both somewhat genre. Over the last few months, I’ve also eagerly consumed Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Gotham – three more comic book conversions. Bear in mind this is from someone who is not a comic book reader (send your hate mail to no1 Noteveryonehastolikeeverything). That same description can be levelled at many of my friends who have also enjoyed these shows. So what, one might ask, is up?

I think the answer is partly about me and partly about what is is we consume. I’ll address the first first because it’s easier. I’m something on an expert on myself.

When I was in my late teens studying English literature at A-Level, I voluntarily tried to read a number of classics. I switched genres and read things out of my comfort zone. At the same time I was happy to go to art house cinemas and watch indie films about a dysfunctional family in the mid-west (as I write this I’m not entirely convinced that wouldn’t have bored me then but the point stands). Scenes of actors looking out silently at the landscape seemed to hold meaning for me then.

Now in my thirties when I’m supposed to be sensible and mature I just don’t have the patience for this any longer. I tried to watch the much-critically acclaimed The Master a few years ago and was almost to the point of tears for the lack of plot or action. Cohen brothers’ films seemed to send me to sleep. As for challenging documentaries, I can honestly say there’s enough depressing stuff in my head already. In short I have become a total pleb.

These days entertainment is paramount in my entertainment and this is one of the reasons genre films appeal. They don’t waste my time, usually. They have a plot and they have action and, most of the time, they have a resolution. I don’t have to spend time afterwards wondering about the meaning of what I just saw or interpreting what the message was. My post-game analysis focusses on whether I enjoyed it or not. In a sense, in a life with a job and worries and writing as my creative outlet I can only spare so much brain-space for films as well.

With TV I think it is slightly different. In a post box-set revolution world of binge-watching streaming services, TV has changed. TV has become more like novels with long narrative arcs and plenty of time for reflection. Actors can now stare out into space because they’ve got another 9 hours to do the action stuff. Contrary to films, it doesn’t feel like eating up valuable time.

TV has also become emboldened and a lot of what we’re watching now just wouldn’t have been made previously. Budgets weren’t forthcoming as they now are and this is another reason I think we have so much genre TV now. Fantasy used to look naff and cheesy on TV because they hadn’t paid for it to look otherwise. The acting was hammy because good actors couldn’t be lured to do it. It’s less embarrassing to watch Game of Thrones than Hercules, principally, because it’s a much higher quality product.

Now we are in a virtuous cycle for genre pieces. They get more money and make something good, because it’s good it gets more credibility; with credibility more quality actors, directors, writers etc get drawn to these projects and they are consequently better, starting the cycle again. That’s why, my decreasing maturity notwithstanding, I’m not alone in watching about dragons and superheroes.

Is there a downside to any of this? Simon Pegg wrote an interesting piece a while ago about how as adults we are having our childhoods sold back to us to keep us infantilised. There’s a lot of truth in this. Many things that used to be for kids now successfully populate the adult world. You see people who were once considered too old for it getting excited about Dr Who, lining up to watch the latest Star Wars film and openly discussing which superpower they’d have. The average age of a gamer is 35 not 15, as all non-gamers would love you to believe. People proudly instagram themselves at conventions, where before it might have been a guilty pleasure. Fear of being labelled a nerd isn’t what is used to be.

All this might be more concerning if genre pieces were cheap and unthinking. Fortunately, this is increasingly not the case. If you see a number of films this year, the dumbest one you see won’t be a genre piece in all likelihood. Increasing success has led to increasing confidence and genre TV shows and films are more prepared than ever to ask deep questions. Having a costume doesn’t mean you can’t have the same existential trials as someone in a beret and turtle neck.

What if this is the only place people are finding this though? Is it not a bad thing if we are substituting real intellectual rigour for their slick, simplified versions in entertainment? Yes, thinking a little should not be a substitute for thinking a lot but I’m not sure it works that way. Most the people I know who love genre are also highly-engaged, informed and politically active. Ultimately, if dumb fun becomes a little less dumb then that’s a good thing. After all, I was never going to watch a documentary tonight anyway.

What kind of wizard are you? – A Quiz.

Ever wondered what kind of wizard you would be? No, we not talking sorting hats here, we’re talking about how your personality and power would come together. In the Book of Water (Enchantress Trilogy) by our author JW Whitmarsh there are four different kinds of wizard; enchanters, illusionists, seers and druids. Each have distinct approaches and perspectives but, ultimately, it is the person inside who shapes how the wizard comes to their power.

After a quick word from the author find out where you would sit

Nexus-Fiction: We’re trying to decide what kind of wizard people would be if they were born gifted in the world of the Elemental Cycle. Maybe we should start with some famous examples.

JW Whitmarsh: OK, but bear in mind this would mean they would have to be limited by the lore of my world. You can’t really dump a character from another world into a distinct fictional construct cohesively.

NX: Indulge us.

JW: Very well.

NX: Right. Let’s start with a biggie. Gandalf?

JW: Difficult. I think you’d have to treat Gandalf the Grey and Gandalf the White differently. Gandalf the Grey seems to have an affinity with fire magic principally, which says enchanter, but he also does defensive wards and shields in the manner of a seer. I’m going to say seer with exceptional skills in elemental charms. Gandalf the White on the other hand is all about light magic and in the Elemental Cycle world he’d probably be a summoner like Loreliath, but that’s not an option in this test.

NX: Alright, Merlin?

JW: The recent TV Merlin on BBC seemed to be a seer mostly but if we’re talking about the Merlin of legend he would definitely be an illusionist.

NX: Prospero?

JW: He is quite controlling and gets others to do his bidding a lot so I’d say he’d be an enchanter.

NX: Who’d be a druid?

JW: Radagast the Brown would fit very comfortably into the druid role, I think. Or Herne the hunter.

There you have it. Now it’s your turn to decide what you would be.

Question 1: If you had to face one of the following, which would you LEAST want?

  1. Going blind
  2. Losing both hands.
  3. Losing sense of taste and smell
  4. Going deaf

Question 2: It’s raining hard outside and you want to pass the time. Pick the game that would amuse you best.

  1. Poker
  2. Chess
  3. Blackjack
  4. Dominoes

Question 3: Your bedroom is drab and spartan. You can cheer it up with one thing, which would you choose?

  1. A teddy bear
  2. A plant
  3. A ceiling painting of the stars
  4. An encyclopaedia

Question 4: You have to go onstage and entertain a crowd for a short time. What is your act?

  1. A Stand-up routine
  2. Juggling
  3. Magic tricks
  4. A poetry recital

Question 5: Which danger sign would most likely adorn your workshop.

  1. 1024px-Flammable-symbol.svg 2. electricity 3. 2000px-WHMIS_Class_D-1.svg.png4. 2000px-Danger_radiation.svg

Question 6: You’re worried about security for your home, which do you invest in?

  1. A state-of-the-art alarm system
  2. Beefing up the neighbourhood watch
  3. A guard dog
  4. Hidden traps

Question 7: Which of the following phobias bothers you LEAST

  1. Crowded places
  2. Spiders
  3. Heights
  4. Snakes

Question 8: You’ve got some time to relax, what do you want to do?

  1. Take a walk in the park
  2. Visit an art gallery
  3. Listen to classical music
  4. Have a massage

Question 9: You have to commit a bank robbery and want to use as little violence as possible, how would you go about it?

  1. Fill the bank with smoke and set off the fire alarm to get all the employees out first.
  2. Hack the security cameras so you can pass by unseen.
  3. Convince the bank manager that you have his family hostage
  4. Pump a sedative into the air conditioning to send everyone to sleep

Question 10: You are in fear for your life, how will you protect yourself?

  1. Find a vantage point from where you can see anyone approaching.
  2. Escape to deep within the forest
  3. Surround yourself with the best guards you can find
  4. Retreat into a cave network that you know intimately

Answer Time.

Add up the following scores for each question. Pens and pencils ready.

1: 1)d  2)b  3)a  4)c        2: 1)d  2)c  3)b  4)a    

3: 1)b  2)a  3)d   4)c       4: 1)b  2)c  3)d  4)a

5: 1)b  2)c  3)d  4)a       6: 1)c  2)b  3)a  4)d

7: 1)b  2)d  3)c  4)a       8: 1)a  2)d  3)c  4)b

9: 1)d  2)c  3)b  4)a        10: 1)c  2)a  3)b  4)a

Mostly As Click Here     Mostly Bs Click Here    Mostly Cs  Click Here     Mostly Ds Click Here

 

But it was cool when… – times adaptations got it right

Earlier, I wrote a blog called ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if’ … – the modern curse of Sci-fi and fantasy where I argued against taking liberties in adaptations for the sake of a cool (but unjustified) moment and one reader asked me if I ever thought adaptations could be better.

I feel I need to respond to this for a number of reasons. First of all, adaptations per se are not the problem. My problem is with WIBCI moments that wreck the story around them/the characterisation of those involved. As I wrote in that article, they are by no means limited to adaptations they just have worse consequences when they are.

Still, it’s fair to ask if I think there are times when TV/film can do better than my beloved medium of text. There are many writers who are dismissive of visual media and as a result are often far less outraged by bad adaptation than their readers. To them the definitive version (theirs) will always exist no matter what goes on elsewhere.

There are others who think TV/film is always better or at least the only form people care about and while I can’t agree with them on that, there is a  tiny nugget of annoying truth in that. Adaptations can’t and shouldn’t be dismissed, as for many people this will be their first introduction to the story. A poor adaptation may stand in the way of the author getting their true vision across.

There are others still who say there are two versions and you can’t really compare them. As reasonable as this position is, I can’t agree with that either. One begat the other and for the reasons mentioned before, the other often stands as the former’s representative in the world of mainstream awareness. Note George RR Martin being called on to justify Sansa-gate when he didn’t even write that. The two are and always will be linked.

This matters to me because I don’t dismiss TV/film. I always hope for good adaptations because when I read a book I can see the potential. As a novelist, there are tools available to TV/film which I envy; most notably the performance of actors and a soundtrack and I think these are two ways in which the original story can actually be enhanced for the readers.

So after that long pre-amble here follows some examples of when TV/film really added something. Since this site is primarily focussed on fantasy I’ll stick to famous examples from that but it’s only fair that I shout out Fight Club as an example of a film that deviated to good effect. There are a number of times when minor characters are replaced with Tyler and the ending is totally different. In both cases I think this is an improvement on what is a very good original story. Ok, back to fantasy…

Robert & Cersei, Game of Thrones Season 1, episode 5 ‘The Wolf & the Lion’.

All of season 1 of Game of Thrones is pretty much a definitive guide on how to adapt a book faithfully. Most of the changes are editing for content (which is perfectly acceptable especially when there are budget limits) and where they are not they are fleshing out characters who we didn’t see so much of in the books.

This works because all the books in A Song of Ice and Fire use the POV structure meaning there is much that happens that we (as the readers) just don’t ‘see’. The Robert and Cersei scene in episode 5 is an example of something that ‘could have’ happened off-camera from the POV characters in question.

The two of them talk and in doing so answer some questions that we wouldn’t have known the answer to otherwise and flesh out our understanding of them .In the scene both remain ‘in character’ even when they show a side to their character you might not have expected. Some purists might take umbrage that Cersei is depicted as having loved Robert initially but I think it shows them both to be more human (albeit horrifically flawed humans).

Lighting the beacons, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Ok, the set up is a bit laboured and unnecessary. Denethor in the film is a bit less ambiguous than in the book so he actively tries to stop this sensible measure leading Pippin to have to show some initiative. But once that is out of the way we are treated to one of the stand out sequences of the film. The soaring soundtrack of the Gondor theme playing over the glorious New Zealand scenery passing hope from mile to mile with every burst of firelight. In the books it is mentioned but, much as we try as writers, this is the kind of thing where film has us beat.

The battle of summer and winter, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

Now it’s been a fair few years since I’ve read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but as I recall the battle is not described in a huge amount of detail. The film-makers really used the opportunity to give a scene that embraced the otherworldliness of the creatures involved; the griffins (superbly, character-fully animated incidentally) swoop in and throw rocks, the phoenix creates a fiery barrier and best of all is the moment when the big cats can’t restrain themselves any more and outstrip the rest of the cavalry while on the other side polar bears and loping werewolves run to meet them. For once, really running with an action set-piece really pays off here.

Of course there are many other examples than this (mentioning all the times an actor made a character more sympathetic is a blog in of itself) but I think in all of these cases the TV/film-makers have managed to add something without taking anything away. There is no car-crash or unravelling, simply they have taken what was there and added their own artistic flourish in in a way that remains true to the original story.

 

 

Interview with the author II (continued again)

Here follows part 3 of our second interview with JW Whitmarsh author of Enchantress Awakening

AwakeningcoverblueNX: Ok. So in the previous parts you gave fan fiction and RPGs as examples of fantasy with adult interactions. Now we’re going to talk about Game of Thrones.

JW: You’re making it sound like these are separate interviews.

NX: It’s a page space thing.

JW: Right. It just makes me seem like I have endless free time. I do work sometimes, for the record.

NX: I’m glad to hear you don’t consider this work. So, Game of Thrones. That’s definitely intended for an adult audience.

JW: Exactly. Given how controversial all the sex is you’d think it would drive away viewers but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The world of A Song of Ice and Fire is one that embraces it’s earthy side. There’s very little fading to black there, Theon’s emasculation notwithstanding.

NX: Yeah, I’m kinda glad they didn’t show that.

JW: Yes completely, but it is strange in a way that a literal dismemberment is something we as viewers find harder to absorb than a beheading. Your quality of life after a beheading is somewhat worse, I hear.

NX: The sex in Game of Thrones is quite different than in the Elemental Cycle, isn’t it?

JW: Yeah. In most of George RR Martin’s writing there is some kind of twisted dynamic taking place, a power play or an expression of a character’s psychosis. Jon and Ygritte’s storyline somewhat stands out for it’s lack of creepiness.

NX: And it’s a storyline that people really invested with. It’s probably the only one that would fit comfortably into the Elemental Cycle. Could you see yourself writing a relationship like that?

JW: Absolutely, but if that relationship happened in the world of the Elemental Cycle, Ygritte would probably be the protagonist.

NX: So you wouldn’t have killed her off?

JW: Anyone can be killed. Being a protagonist doesn’t make you safe necessarily.

NX: Do you have a safe-list of characters who will never be killed or is everyone in danger?

JW: The correct answer here is to insist that no-one is safe. In reality, stories demand certain things and some roads are just more interesting than others. I don’t think surprising your readers is reason enough by itself to kill someone. There should be a storytelling logic. On the other hand, sometimes the logic is that it is simply not believable that everyone you like will survive simply because you like them.

NX: Have you ever thought of reprieving anyone or dooming someone you had planned to spare?

JW: I would say the fate of most characters is often in flux. Only a minority have fixed fates for good or ill.

NX: Is that another way of saying even you don’t know who is going to survive to the end?

JW: Yes. But considering what lies ahead for our heroes the chances that they will all make it are pretty slim.

Thanks to all who’ve read through to the end. We will try to fit in the last of the three interviews about Enchantress Awakening in the next week or so. Next time we will be discussing the role of magic.