Saturday, June 8, 2019

Problems For Danaerys Even If She Did Become Queen...

One of the more tragic elements of Game of Thrones Season Eight is that Danaerys Targaryen, who starts out as a young teen pimped to a barbarian warlord by her dirtbag brother but grew to become the commander of a powerful army and the liberator of hundreds of thousands if not millions of slaves, helps save humanity, and wins the war for the Iron Throne, ends up loses the peace. Or more specifically, at the moment of her victory, due to a conga line of personal tragedies all happening at once, she loses it, torches a city full of civilians, descends into unrepentant vicious megalomania, and ends up getting put down by her own family (Jon Snow is her nephew as well as her boyfriend) and her prime minister who by his own admission is in love with her.

(Here she is just after making the "we're going to liberate THE WORLD Eternal War Lenin" speech.)

I personally found her descent into madness rather ridiculous--it's like the show was written to set her up to fail in an immensely unsubtle way, probably for the benefit of a less talented and less interesting male character. I thought it would be Jon Snow, but it turns out it was Bran. And although the show established that Danaerys could be vicious to people who betrayed her and/or refused to obey, so were the male characters and nobody claimed that made them tyrants. Seriously, Jon Snow hanged a ten-year-old and nobody claimed he was inevitably going to turn into a madman even though he has the same Targaryen crazy genes. And I don't recall her engaging in atrocities toward non-combatant civilians at all, especially since she explicitly ordered the Unsullied to not harm children when she took Astapor.

One explanation for the situation I'd heard was that the show was supposed to be ten seasons of ten episodes and the creators rushed to finish up the planned storyline in eight seasons, one of which was a lot shorter. If Danaerys had a full season or two to fall into despotism, it would be a lot more convincing.

So here are some ideas I had on obstacles Danaerys would face even if she hadn't burned King's Landing and lived to take the Iron Throne:

*During her time in Essos, she sacked the city of Astapor, a city heavily dependent on slavery, and set up a council of educated former slaves to run it in place of the obliterated master class. Said council was soon overthrown by a demagogue who misgoverned the city and it ended up getting destroyed by armies from the other Free Cities eager to re-establish slavery. She forced the city of Yunkai to free their slaves and they re-enslaved them as soon as she was far enough away. She tried to govern Meereen herself to avoid those disasters, only to face an insurgency of former slave-holders and issues with slaves who didn't know how to live as free citizens, to the point at least one former slave (a teacher for a rich family) even asked to be re-enslaved.

In her defense she does come up with a way around this (former slaves could work for their masters on a contractual basis), but my point is that she has a reformist agenda that won't sit well with the local elites. A former Targaryen queen forced the nobility to abandon the right of First Night, but she was in a much stronger position with a dragon of her own and the ear of her husband, the king of all Westeros who commanded more. Danaerys has only one surviving dragon, her most loyal troops are foreigners (Unsullied and Dothraki), and she has minimal experience as a (successful) ruler. She might get a lot more pushback on any attempts to "break the wheel" she undertakes, especially in areas where the pre-war political structure hasn't been utterly destroyed. I'm reminded of Simon de Montfort, who led the English barons against the king in the name of protecting their rights against an overbearing king, but lost the support of the barons because he defended the rights of the commoners and low nobility against overbearing barons using the same logic. He was also heavily reliant on foreigners--in this case the Welsh--which didn't help.

*The murder of Ned Stark by the Lannister regime and Robb's military victories reignited Northern separatism and even though "the Kingdom of the North and the Trident" was ultimately defeated, this separatism continues under Ned's daughter Sansa. Although a lot of the Danaerys/Sansa friction came off to me as a bunch of "I don't like my brother's girlfriend" high-school catfighting (remember in-story the surviving Starks and Danaerys herself are in their late teens or very early 20s), there're very real political concerns there even if they weren't expressed as coherently or intelligently as they could've been.

*Based on Danaerys' speech to Jon on Dragonstone she isn't religious and even seems disdainful of the idea the gods or a God (i.e. R'hllor) had any role in her success. If she doesn't tone down the hubris and at least pretend some piety, that's going to alienate the Faith of the Seven (i.e. the religion of most people). And if she does adopt a religion for political ends, it's probably going to be the Faith like her Valyrian ancestors did, not the Old Gods. Even though neither faith is exclusive of the other (oaths are sworn "by the old gods and the new"), this could be an issue with Danaerys' Northern subjects, who are already skeptical of outsiders to begin with. They could see the woman whose most successful Westerosi supporters practice one religion adopt the faith practiced by her least successful supporters (Tyrells, Martells) and outright enemies (the Lannisters, Tarlys). Politically that would be the wise thing to do, but that doesn't mean people won't be annoyed, especially if they're looking for reasons to be annoyed.

*Cersei wooed Randyll Tarly to her side by appealing to his xenophobia. If she engaged in a wider attempt to undermine Danaerys by telling everybody she's a dangerous foreigner who'd let her Dothraki warriors rape women and would turn all the men and boys into Unsullied, much of the population would be inclined to resist her rule even if she's the most well-meaning person in the world. Just because something is wrong doesn't mean people won't believe it. It's my understanding many Russians viewed Napoleon as the Antichrist, even though Napoleon's government ended a lot of feudal repression in Western Europe.

*Danaerys granted the Ironborn independence under Yara Greyjoy. Yara is later part of the council that makes Bran king so that might not have lasted very long (the Iron Islands probably lost most of their fighting-age population in Balon and Euron's various schemes), but if the Ironborn remain independent or even autonomous, well, the Ironborn have a very bad history in Westeros and more recently Balon raided the North and his brother Euron was one of Cersei's powerful allies. People might not like like a people who have a history of being Westeros's predatory mad dogs getting a longer leash, let alone getting off the leash entirely. They might speculate Danaerys gave the Ironborn independence so they could serve as a threat to keep the rest of Westeros under her control or even engage in ribald theories about Danaerys and Yara.

*Jon has a better legal claim than Danaerys and is more popular among the Westerosi, something the post-victory celebrations at Winterfell make clear. Tyrion was already planning a dynastic union between the two back when everyone assumed Jon was simply Ned Stark's only surviving (non-disabled) son and in his conversation with Varys after learning of Jon's true parentage seemed to think this would still be a good idea, but upon learning Danaerys is his aunt, Jon is unwilling to sleep with her. Even if Jon decides to take one for the team and marry her to secure the realm (given how Westeros is based to a large degree on medieval Europe and was historically ruled by a dynasty that engaged in even more incestuous practices, this probably wouldn't be unusual), this isn't going to be a happy situation for him and Danaerys--whom to her credit legitimately loves Jon--is probably not going to be happy about his being unhappy. And if Danaerys' mental stability starts to slip, she might come to view him as a threat by virtue of his not enthusiastically putting out enough.

*Gendry, the late King Robert's illegitimate son, is raised to the lordship of Storm's End by Danaerys, making him one of the highest-ranking nobles in the realm. However, he's uneducated--he might not even be literate--and might face a lot of resistance by the remaining nobility of the Stormlands even if he is Robert's son. In the books Davos feared Stannis's lords would never obey him because of his common origins and lack of education and I did come across an "after the war" fan-fic where some distant born-noble relative of King Robert rebels against Gendry. Between nobles who resent having him around, period, and nobles who only support him because they think they can manipulate him, the Stormlands might not be a pleasant place even after Danaerys wins.

So putting all these different factors together, here's how Danaerys could more believably overreach and need (or "need") to be put down in a hypothetical Season Nine (or Ten, if the war with Cersei is dragged out)...

As the new queen, Danaerys might be able to rule the Crownlands-Reach-Stormlands core in the way she'd like by installing her own people that she's better able to control simply because the local nobility have likely all been obliterated (and Gendry in the Stormlands and Davos in the Crownlands, having risen from poverty themselves, might be sincere allies in "break[ing] the wheel"). However, the North, Westerlands, and the Vale are comparatively intact and their nobility likely retain significant power. If Danaerys meddles in their local government--and especially if she uses non-Westerosi like Grey Worm, "upjumped" commoners like Gendry and Davos, or people who transgress societal norms like Brienne of Tarth to do it--that's going to spawn resentment.

Given how, at least according to Roose Bolton, the First Night is still illegally practiced by at least some Northern nobles, I could imagine Danaerys taking issue with that both due to its illegality and her own history as a victim of sexual abuse by her brother, by her rough husband (at least at first), and by the "Dothraki dudebros" who would have raped her if she hadn't set them on fire. Her investigating that could be (or is seen as by others as) as a pretext to meddle in the affairs of a region already chafing against the Iron Throne, even if a Northerner is Danaerys' consort. An offended Sansa, who already dislikes Danaerys, uses this as a pretext to declare independence and other regions, whose leadership is fearful of losing their own prerogatives, join in. Gendry will likely support Danaerys, but would face unrest at home. Between her family's own history of mental problems and with her marriage souring, Danaerys is not in a good mood and she deals with the situation overly aggressively with her army of foreigners, Southerners (possibly including emancipated serfs who bear particular grudges against nobles), and Ironborn. That aggravates the situation, especially if her supporters engage in war crimes. If Sansa is the leader of the revolt (and Danaerys in her twitchiness blames Sansa and Northern sensibilities in general for her own difficulties with Jon), Danaerys might bypass the Vale and go for the North. Drogon burns Moat Cailin and Danaerys threatens to do the same to Winterfell itself. At this point Jon has had enough and to save his sisters and childhood home, he kills Danaerys.

(Even though marital problems with Jon are a contributing factor to this whole mess, she might not see this coming--she didn't seem to see this coming in the series finale, even though she knows he's rejected her romantically and that he's objected to her torching King's Landing and ordering her soldiers to kill prisoners.)

This would also set the stage for the elective monarchy at the end--the Targaryen dynasty fails due to madness, the Baratheon dynasty fails due to incompetence, and then the restored Targaryen dynasty fails due to madness (or what is perceived as madness--a totally sane but less competent monarch could still end up in this pickle). If Jon is killed in the process of taking out Danaerys or soon after (Drogon should've done it rather than torch the Iron Throne), the nobles might choose a new dynasty completely--and if they're afraid that a too-absolutist government might threaten their privileges, they might deliberately pick a weak new ruler. In that case you could still have King Bran, or if his magical abilities are viewed as too weird or threatening, a well-meaning non-entity like Edmure Tully. Tyrion, assuming he doesn't get killed earlier (Danaerys killing him could prove--or depending on what he does "prove"--that she's gone too far) could be the architect of this plan, just like in the show.

So what do you all think? I'm not planning on writing a fan-fic, although I've sent some of my ideas to the author of the Danaerys-rules story "Break The Wheel."

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Some GAME OF THRONES Fan-Fiction For Those Still Vexed About S8

As my regular readers probably know by now, I was among those people who didn't like the ending of Game of Thrones. I was so disappointed in the characterization of Danaerys Targaryen and some of the decisions she made in the next-to-last episode that I didn't even watch the series finale--and from what I read about it, the season finale trashed her character even more before engaging in even more silly storytelling decisions.

Well for those who think they can do better than the people who made the creative decisions, there's always the option of fan-fiction. In addition to Alice Shipwise's Season 8 spec scripts (written before the season premiered, so they're not fan complaints), here are some other projects that either play the what-if game or explore the canonical outcome in ways the showrunners may not have anticipated.

Break the Wheel-Danaerys orders Drogon to torch King's Landing in a fit of anger at all the catastrophes (the death of Ser Jorah, the death of Rhaegal, the death of Missandei, Varys' treachery, and Jon's rejection of her romantic/sexual overtures) she's suffered in the last few days. Drogon, however, has other ideas, much to her surprise. She decides to just roll with it, sparing King's Landing and focusing her attention only on the Red Keep.

Things are going pretty well so far, although I do have my criticisms (mostly wording issues I describe in the reviews--I don't know if English is the author's first language). However, if Danaerys still has the radically reformist (although hopefully less warmongering, imperialist, and megalomaniacal than her speech to the Dothraki and Unsullied before Jon kills her) agenda, that could lead to all sorts of drama with Westeros's remaining nobility. I messaged the writer suggesting she look into Simon de Montfort to see what this might look like in a medieval social context and the possible problems Danaerys might run into. Meanwhile, Varys has been spreading word about Jon's parentage, Sansa and Arya aren't exactly fans of the Dragon Queen, and the xenophobia indicated by Randyll and Dickon Tarly's refusal to bend the knee after the defeat at the Gold Road might have gotten beyond two cranky noblemen. Given how the story tagline suggests Danaerys will have "a reign of fire and blood," Westeros might be in for a bumpy ride.

The Raven King-This article suggests that Bran's actions in S8 make a lot more sense if he's evil. This story goes into reasons why. It's canon-compliant and it's dark.

The Last War-This is another alternate universe story, but it diverges from canon at the beginning of S7, not at any point in S8. Drawing on characters and situations from the books that weren't included in the television show (for starters, Tywin's sister Genna, who was married to a member of House Frey, looks like she's going to play a large role and she has Edmure Tully under her control to boot), it goes deeper into the politics of both Danaerys' and Cersei's political coalitions. And the House of Black and White hasn't forgotten about Arya. It looks like it might end up in the same place the TV show did, but much in a much more justified and better thought-out fashion.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Guest Post: The Heist in the Mulberry Garden By Luis F. Salcedo

The production of silk was one of the closely-guarded secrets of ancient China, as it was a major export item and source of wealth, but a group of Byzantine monks managed to steal the secret by smuggling silkworm cocoons out hidden in their beards. What if the story were a comedy? What if it starred...Seth Rogen?

What follows is the pitch for this movie from Luis "Lou" Salcedo...

The Heist in the Mulberry Garden

It’s The Interview meets the sword and sandal in the Far East. I took some historical liberties with the dates and character but it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Xander (James Franco) and Stavros (Seth Rogen) are two Christian monks leading a mission by the Patriarch of Constantinople to evangelize to the Chinese Emperor and his royal court. Stavros tries to convince the elderly Emperor Wu to convert. Xander meanwhile is busy seducing the Emperor’s granddaughter Liu Jingyan. Xander is caught by the girl’s father Liu Yan. Both Xander and Stavros are imprisoned and sentenced to be executed but luckily escape in the chaos generated by the Eastern general Hou Jing seizing power. The other missionaries under Xander and Stavros’ leadership are not so lucky.

It takes them several years to return to Constantinople in one piece.

The Patriarch of Constantinople is none too pleased. He wants to have them sentenced to do missionary work in Northern Europe (a death sentence!) but the Emperor Justinian (Jesse Eisenberg) gets him to back off when hearing about Xander’s misadventures with the Chinese princess in the mulberry garden. He wants them to go back to China and steal some of the Emperor’s silkworms. Justinian’s marriage to his wife Theodora (Jennifer Lawrence) is on the rocks and there are rumors that she is having an affair and might leave him. The silkworms would come in handy in showing that he is worthy of her love or something like that.

They agree only because the alternative is risking a chance experiencing the blood eagle. The two plan to outwit Justinian and immediately escape to India when the opportunity arises. The Roman emperor, suspicious as he is, puts them under the supervision of his commander Flavius Belisarius (Rupert Friend). They set out from Constantinople, leading an expedition of one thousand, including several hundred Hun mercenaries. They plan on going to China via the steppes.

The Roman expedition is betrayed by the Hunnic commander Dengizich mid-journey. The expedition is additionally almost wiped out by a band of angry Tibetans but Xander, Stavros, Belisarius and part of the expedition reach the border. They are greeted by the general Wu Mingche and his subordinates Pei Ji and Huang Faqu.

The current Chinese ruler, Emperor Xuan of Chen is unimpressed by the Roman expedition and believes them to be spies sent by the Northern Zhou and Qi. Then well…I got nothing else at the moment but you know where this may go.

The final scene would be something along the lines of Seth Rogen and James Franco’s characters sitting alone on a Chinese junk sailing down the Yellow River. Maybe the whole junk is filled to the brim with silkworms.


James Franco as Xander
Seth Rogen as Stavros
Jesse Eisenberg as Emperor Justinian
Jennifer Lawrence as Empress Theodora
Ian McKellen as Patriarch Menas
Rupert Friend as General Flavius Belisarius
Daniel Henney as Dengizich
Hasan Minhaj as Ramagupta
Kevin Hart as Rosco

James Hong as Emperor Wu
Henry Golding as Emperor Xuan
Li Bingbing as Lady Qian
Fan Bingbing as Lady Liu Jingyan
Chen Jianbin as Liu Yan
Andy Lau as Wu Mingche
B.D. Wong as Pei Ji
Daniel Wu as Huang Faqu
Liu Xiaoqing as Zhang Yao'er
Jackie Chan as Hou Jing
Ian Chen as Chen Shubao
Chen Shubao

The idea for this movie would be either a giant $100 million dollar money sink that gets torpedoed due to public pressure mounted by a combination of woke social media activists and nationalist elements in the Chinese government who would see the film as insensitive. Expect some whining about cultural sensitivity coming from state media. Or it becomes a moderately successful, acclaimed movie that no one likes to acknowledge except for the rare movie contrarian on Reddit.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Alice Shipwise's GAME OF THRONES Season Eight Spec Scripts

Once upon a time, I was a lot more interested in working in film and television than I am now and learned about something called "spec scripts." Basically if you want to get into television writing, you write scripts for shows similar to the show you'd like to write and pitch them.

Well, a television writer named Alice Shipwise wrote a bunch of spec scripts for Game of Thrones Season Eight not long after Season Seven ended. She doesn't seem to have even seen Season Eight (she explicitly asks people to avoid spoilers when discussing her episodes), so they weren't written as a critique of the canonical season. However, in light of all the criticism the season has gotten from fans (the Night King getting deal with too easily, Jaime's failed redemption, Danaerys' madness, King Bran), there seems to be a lot of interest in them.

For the record, I think if the canonical series was based on these scripts instead, it would be a much better show. Some highlights:

*Although I didn't really think anything was particularly wrong with Danaerys torching Randyll and Dickon Tarly when they wouldn't kneel to her--Ned, Robb, and Jon have all killed men for disobeying them and Jon hanged a child--killing defeated nobles instead of ransoming them, holding them hostage, or sending them to the Night's Watch (as Tyrion advised) is something that would cause political problems in a chivalric society (killing is for commoners, dontcha know), especially given how her insane and tyrannical father was particularly known for burning people. In this version it's clearer that Sam is mourning his brother Dickon more than his abusive father Randyll and the ethics of Danaerys' "Tarlyque" (I wish I'd come up with that) get discussed between Jon and Sam and Jon and Danaerys.

*Speaking of Jon, his reunion with Arya--the fellow outcast of the family--is a bit more bittersweet once he learns what kind of murder machine his tomboy kid sister has become.

*Tyrion is the delightful smart-ass he always was. His revelation to Danaerys that he knows her and Jon have become lovers (much to her discomfort) is pretty funny and I could see Peter Dinklage delivering those lines.

*Danaerys and others learning that Jon is really the son of Prince Rhaegar and Lyanna Stark--and thus has the superior legal claim--is handled much better by everybody involved.

*The Faith of the Seven isn't forgotten after the destruction of the Great Sept. Medieval Catholicism wouldn't vanish if some Roman nobles or even the Holy Roman Emperor blew up the Vatican and the Pope. Despite her iron-fisted rule over King's Landing, Cersei has some religious problems to deal with. And religion is a potent political weapon for aspiring queens too. :)

*We see Danaerys "pressing flesh" with her new Northern subjects, starting with Arya Stark and eventually including the commoners, rather than holding herself aloof. And it's actually kind of adorable. It's more in the vein of Danaerys in the earlier seasons where she mingled with the freed slaves (up to and including crowd-surfing, which for the record I thought was ridiculous) and in the books where she cares for plague victims herself despite her advisers' pleas. If Danaerys had been a bit friendlier with the Northern public, perhaps it would've helped with the girl-drama between herself and Sansa and Arya. Speaking of Arya, the scene where Jon introduces them and Arya asks if she can ride Drogon (much to Jon's embarrassment) is pretty funny. :)

*The defense of Winterfell against the White Walkers is handled much better from a tactical perspective. Seriously, as has been discussed in a thousand think-pieces, the military strategies depicted on-screen were abysmal. What Ms. Shipwise came up with instead was pretty clever. And the Night King remains a long-term threat. :)

*There's a new character named Hodorro, a Dothraki horseman who's built up as a battle buddy for Jorah Mormont. One of the "woke" criticisms of Season Eight was that the Dothraki, in addition to their getting deployed absolutely horribly at Winterfell, was that there weren't any developed Dothraki characters. Hodorro is used to show rather than tell the evacuation of the Northern villagers from the path of the Night King and shows the limitations on the Dothraki--in the open plains they're lethal but they're not good for fighting in forests. And they have no conception of snow. :)

Although this is a vast improvement over the actual Season Eight we got, not everything in here is perfect. There's more "your dad isn't who think you think" drama beyond Jon's parentage that's kind of randomly dropped in there. And the character Tristifer Botley, who in the books come off as a bit of a clingy Nice Guy (TM) but is still loyal to Asha/Yara unto oblivion (and kind of acts as her one-man brain trust), is depicted in a much darker fashion. Oh well. Nothing's perfect.

Between the fact that a lot of the actors are outraged over the fans complaining about Season Eight and the lack of available funds (personally if I were HBO I'd permit the creation of "alternate S8" if the whiny fans were willing to put their money where their mouths were and crowd-fund it), seeing this on-screen isn't going to happen. However, it's entertaining as fan-fiction and were I a TV producer, I'd definitely be giving Ms. Shipwise a call.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Better "Bittersweet" Ending(s) for GAME OF THRONES

Once upon a time noted fantasy author George R.R. Martin told fans to expect a "bittersweet" ending for A Song of Ice and Fire. He specifically said that once a quest is completed one can't expect everything to be perfect. Although Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire are often contrasted with each other, that comment reminded me of the LOTR ending in which the hobbits return from Mordor to find Saruman had ruined the Shire and even after it's rebuilt, Frodo leaves for the Undying Lands because having taken the One Ring to Mordor and surviving a continent-spanning war in the process, this world is no longer bearable for him.

Well, now the Game of Thrones television series on HBO is over. Going in I was already extremely annoyed with how the series piled on a conga line of contrived tragedies to break Danaerys and drive her crazy, culminating with the gratuitous destruction of King's Landing even though the city had already surrendered. I was thinking they were destroying a powerful female character they'd basically set up to be the messiah for the last decade in favor of Jon "Fail Upward" Snow, (and I wasn't the only one to think that--I most definitely was not). My students' graduation was that night so I didn't see the finale, but although the recaps do describe a "bittersweet" ending, some of the stuff they describe sounds absolutely stupid.

Danaerys: I expected there to be consequences for torching King's Landing, but I didn't expect her to go even more crazy before they came. Her ordering everybody who fought for Cersei down to the common soldiers to be killed and advocating an eternal war to free all enslaved people (and for her to basically rule the entire world) is ridiculous. Her goal from the beginning is the Iron Throne--where does world domination come in? She left Slaver's Bay for her ex-boyfriend Daario to rule without any intention of coming back, even though it would have made a good logistical base or source of funds for a continued war in Westeros.

If she needs to die, there was no need for her to get progressively more of a megalomaniac to make the viewers agree this was necessary. If you wanted a sad ending that does justice to her earlier humanitarianism, have Jon find her sitting on the Iron Throne having a total guilt-driven breakdown, remorseful for the havoc she wreaked when she went psycho but unable to be trusted not to do the same thing (or worse) again if she gets stressed out enough. Jon mercy-kills her no matter how much he hates to do it for the good of everybody, which seems to be something the series finale got right. Think Carol's "look at the flowers" execution of the unstable Lizzie from The Walking Dead.

(There's actually a GOT meme based on this, although I'd have said "look at the Iron Throne, Dany.")

The series finale (and the burning of King's Landing before it) sounds like the writers were just trying to beat Danaerys' alleged insuitablity to rule into the viewers' heads, much like they had Varys crap on the idea of a dual Jon-Danaerys monarchy that would be the obvious solution to Northern separatism, Jon's superior legal claim vs. Danaerys' superior military one, etc.

Bran: Bran has demonstrated even less interest in ruling (he refuses to be Lord of Winterfell even though he's the legal heir with Robb dead) and has vastly less experience in governing than Jon. And not only is he disabled (probably bad enough in a medieval world), but he seems disabled to the point of being unable to father children. Depending on where the spine break is, paraplegia can also cost one bladder/bowel control and sexual function, although there's nothing in the books or show to indicate Bran has to wear a diaper. Given the political instability (the dynasty that united the kingdom falls, the successor dynasty implodes in less than twenty years, and there's a prolonged civil war by rival dynastic claimants afterward), I would think the lords of Westeros would want a familiar, stable system. An elective monarchy in a continent that's never had that (outside of occasionally on the Iron Islands and at least one Great Council to select among Targaryens) this isn't. And then there's his becoming increasingly weird and inhuman in the process. Jon for all my issues with him would be a more realistic in-universe choice for king.

Arya: It's been established from the beginning Arya didn't want to be "a proper lady" at all, so her turning down Gendry's marriage proposal (especially the way he worded it with "be my lady") made sense. But when did she ever show any interest or aptitude for sailing? When has "what's west of Westeros" ever been an interest of anybody since Brandon the Shipwright, who I don't think is ever mentioned in the show? And why wouldn't Yara kill her at sea for publicly threatening her like she had earlier in the episode? I would imagine she'd be something like Dune's Master of Assassins for King Bran (Six Kingdoms) or Sansa (the North).

EDIT: A friend pointed out that in an earlier season she did say that she wanted to see what was "west of Westeros." My mistake. I'm keeping this entry here to retain what I thought might've been a better course of action and to show my fallibility.

Edmure: Why is Edmure offering himself up as the new king? The books establish him as a good peacetime lord who legitimately cares for his people, but he's a poor commander and the TV show emphasizes his incompetence with that whole "ignite Hoster Tully's funeral barge with an arrow" farce. After all the stuff that's happened to him, I could easily imagine that he knows this. And given his continued loyalty to his Frey wife (this is more in the books than in the show), he's going to have enough problems with the Riverlands. Is this just an excuse to have Sansa publicly humiliate him for a laugh?

Drogon: He didn't kill Jon why? Hell making Bran king would make sense if that happened.

However, it's easy to complain. Here's how I would have handled the last couple episodes to provide a "bittersweet" ending that's much less ridiculous.

*Make it more obvious that Cersei's propaganda campaign against Danaerys as a foreign invader has taken much deeper root among the elites and the common people. We see that in Season 7 with Randyll and Dickon Tarly, but that's just two nobles. If Cersei's nonsense had spread more widely, the armies moving south could find that the people simply do not trust Danaerys. If there are any incidents where the Dothraki rape and pillage, that would make things worse. These would be against Danaerys' orders, but that doesn't really matter where PR is concerned.

The fact that most people view the White Walkers as "grumpkins and snarks" means the fact that Danaerys' dragons saved Westeros from the Night King doesn't cut any ice (hee hee)--they think it's all made up. Varys sees this and between the likelihood the leader of the coalition would not be able to rule an increasingly xenophobic land and his own doubts about Danaerys' sanity (maybe we still get a "destiny" rant from her when he points out the PR problem she's having) starts spreading word around about Jon. Between that and a more obvious poisoning attempt, Varys gets executed in a situation that some viewers might think is a sign Danaerys is turning into her father.

*When Danaerys attacks King's Landing (provoked like in the show by Missandei's gratuitous murder), make the destruction of the city an accident. The bells are ringing and the Lannister main army is routing, but there might still be scorpion fire from the Red Keep from Cersei's die-hards. Danaerys attacks the Red Keep and accidentally triggers her father's wildfire stashes, utterly destroying the city to her shock and horror.

*Danaerys returns to her allies and they discuss that as word of this spreads, it will confirm forever in the eyes of both the elite and commons that Danaerys is the new "Mad Queen" and the rest of the continent will rise up against them. Danaerys could rule by terror via the Unsullied, the Dothraki, and Drogon, but that would require untold cruelty that would be too much for her and wouldn't really work in the long run. The Dornish held off the Targaryens via guerrilla warfare and there's always poison or other forms of assassination. Danaerys is stubborn (giving the viewers more worry that she actually IS the Mad Queen) but the guilt from the obliteration of King's Landing finally pushes her to agree to make Jon the new Targaryen king (even though he emphasizes he DOES NOT WANT IT) and return to Meereen with her loyalists. Danaerys has saved the kingdom from the White Walkers and the narcissistic tyrant Cersei, but she's lost the throne due to Cersei's dishonesty and the accidental destruction of the city confirming the "truth" of this in the minds of ignorant people.

So Jon is left mopier than usual on an Iron Throne he doesn't want and Danaerys retreats once more into exile. Perhaps someday there could be dynastic unification of the "Bay of Dragons" and Westeros with a marriage of Jon and Danaerys' children (or Jon and his heirs get the chunk of Essos Danaerys ruled by default if Danaerys really can't have children), but strongly imply this isn't likely to happen. Jon and Danaerys will have to marry other people, no matter their love for one another, for political reasons and to reduce the likelihood of future Targaryen insanity among their descendants. Very sad for everybody, although I could easily imagine Daario being happy to see her again.

*Alternatively, the PR situation hasn't gotten that bad (enough of the allies' leadership and common soldiers recognize the wildfire for what it is), but between the still severe backlash and Northern separatism epitomized by Sansa and all those skeptical peasants, it's still politically impossible for Danaerys to rule the Seven Kingdoms despite her military superiority. Jon resumes his rule from Winterfell, presumably with a dynastic marriage of his own (to someone from the North or perhaps the Vale), while Danaerys marries that new prince of Dorne (I'm guessing some distant member of House Martell since Doran and his son are dead) to stabilize her rule in the south and replaces the obliterated elites of the Reach and elsewhere with sellswords like Bronn, common soldiers who've fought well enough to be knighted, Dothraki (if they can adapt or if there's enough wasted land that can be left as pasture for their nomadic lifestyle), Northerners seeking better opportunities, etc. There're plans to eventually have Jon's children (and hers if she ever has them) marry to reunite the realm much like how Dorne joined the Seven Kingdoms through marriage, but imply with the Northern proto-nationalism that this isn't going to happen even though it worked before by making the ruler of Dorne a prince in his (or her) own right.

*Bran and Arya go with Jon, with Bran as the near-omniscient Master of Whispers and Arya as his enforcer. If Jon becomes the new king of Westeros, the Northern separatists are bought off with Sansa being elevated to Princess of Winterfell in the Dornish fashion. Tyrion, recognizing his multitude of mistakes as Danaerys' Hand, returns to Casterly Rock and Davos becomes Jon's new Hand either in the North or in King's Landing. If Danaerys stays in the south, perhaps Edmure Tully is brought in to become her peacetime Hand to buy off the Riverlands. There'd be an understanding that Grey Worm would have the military responsibilities so Edmure can focus on making a better life for the regular people, as one would think Danaerys based on her characterization early in the show would like.

*Ghost shows up, either having followed Jon south the whole time (Nymeria seemed to be doing pretty well in the Riverlands) or waiting for Jon in Winterfell when he returns. And he gets his pets. :)

What do you all think? This is a "bittersweet" ending that makes Jon and Danaerys suffer both politically and personally despite their victory, but at the same time it avoids the showrunners' character assassination (or rushed "character development" if you wish to be charitable) of Danaerys, along with the other bizarre character choices I listed above. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the eventual fate of the Federated Commonwealth from BattleTech--the best hope for human unification under rulers who respect human rights is thwarted by the villains' treachery and heroes' bad decisions even if said villains are ultimately beaten.

If anybody wants to do fan-fiction based on this premise, go ahead. I've already seen post-"Bells" fan-fic out there and this would certainly be better than petitioning HBO to re-do the final season.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Gun Show Mk. 2.0 Results

In May 2018, I sold books--The Thing in the Woods and The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2--at a large Eastman Gun Shows event held at the Infinite Energy Center, formerly known as the Gwinnett Arena. Although given the themes of my work and the general demographics of the gun-enthusiasts crowd a visit to the gun show made sense, in terms of profitability the event itself was a bust ($10 profit on 16 hours or so of work, less than a dollar an hour). This was due to my failure to anticipate the participants' preference to use cash rather than credit cards and not yet knowing that events made the perfect place to collect e-mail addresses for my newsletter for making one-off readers into fans.

(That said, the event eventually proved profitable in the long run because it allowed me to re-establish contact with Nightmarescape author T. S. Dann, with whom I split tables at Days of the Dead this past January and the event I'm discussing in the post, increasing my profit margins at both quite a bit.)

So I digested what I learned--lots of cash, actually try to talk to passers-by, and don't bother with a candy tray--and applied the lessons to the Gem Capitol gun show held this past weekend at the Atlanta Farmers' market. Although I sold 15 books to last year's 20, the splitting the table cut my fixed costs to $30 and not needing to drive so far meant gas was negligible. I made around $80-85 profit on around 14.5 hours of work (this is only slightly less profitable than my March visit to the Atlanta Science Fiction and Fantasy Expo in which I profited $98), translating to around $6.50 per hour. I also got 20 e-mail addresses for my newsletter, although four bounced the welcome message. Some people in the crowd seemed interested in my upcoming novella Little People, Big Guns from Deadite Press slated for this November and my probable-indie sci-fi novel Blood on the Border slated for the summer or fall. I also re-established contact with Bob Burden, creator of Flaming Carrot and Mystery Men, who intends some prose fiction in the near future and whom I'd met at a couple previous events in Atlanta but kept losing his contact information.

(Maybe he'd be willing to split a table with me at future comic events? That crowd loves print books and he's a comic celebrity.)

In my last post on selling books at gun shows, I figured this event would be the deciding factor in whether to sell at gun shows in the summer and fall (i.e. before Little People Big Guns). As referenced by my profit margins it's a significant improvement over the first visit to the gun show and more profitable than some of my lower-performing bookstore events and appearances at community festivals. Although Atlanta hosts lots of gun shows (including a bunch this coming summer that promise to be a lot better-attended than this one), I'll need to make sure I don't overdo it. At the SFF Expo I ran into people who'd bought The Thing in the Woods when I visited the year before and I didn't have anything new to sell them and some people at this gun show recognized me from the Eastman show. If one visits the same event more than once without new items to sell, diminishing returns starts to kick in.

Fortunately both Gem Capitol and Eastman have gun shows in December, when I'll have LPBG ready to go. :)

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Democratic Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang Visits Piedmont Park

Andrew Yang, businessman, philanthropist, and Democratic presidential candidate, stood on a podium at the Promenade at Piedmont Park in Atlanta and said something that one doesn't expect in these days of political polarization.

"Donald Trump got a lot of the essential problems right," he said. He said that Trump pointed out many problems facing modern America, to which the Democrats simply claimed everything was fine. This, much more than Russia, Facebook, or the FBI, was the reason that Trump won the election and Hillary Clinton didn't. However, although Trump diagnosed the problems, his solutions were all wrong. "It's not immigrants," he said about the losses of jobs. "It is technology."

Millions of manufacturing jobs in the Midwest had been automated in recent decades. Once prosperous blue-collar communities had been hollowed out as workers were replaced by machines and it's not going to stop with industrial work. He cited the case of malls and other retail outlets closing due to competition with Amazon, something that's a real problem given how retail workers represent the majority of American jobs. He also pointed out that advances in artificial intelligence would put call-center workers and truckers out of work as well. Although convoys of self-driving automated trucks would be more efficient and save lives (no drivers to fall asleep at the wheel after long drives, for example), millions of truckers would be out of work and towns that provided lodgings, food, maintenance, etc. for truckers would wither. This is what he called "The Fourth Industrial Revolution."

The solution, Yang advocated, is a universal basic income (UBI) like Alaska's. However, instead of oil funding what Thomas Paine called a citizen's dividend and what Martin Luther King Jr. advocated in Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community, it would be funded by technology. This "trickle up economy" as he called it would set the economic wheels spinning as people spent their money and would encourage entrepreneurship. This dividend, which Yang said would be $1,000 per month, would solve many of the problems Democrats talk about. Many women, for example, remain in abusive or exploitative jobs or relationships because they lack the financial means to get out. Democrats talk about empowering poor people of color and this dividend would accomplish that.

In addition to UBI, Yang advocated "Medicare for All" and thanked Bernie Sanders for making the idea mainstream. He rhetorically asked how "Medicare for All" would be paid for and said that the existing private insurance system is a network of middlemen who don't add value. He also advocated legalizing marijuana and what (to me) sounded a lot like forgiving $1.5 trillion in student-loan debt. This way young people can get out of their parents' basements and buy houses, start families, etc. He also criticized the idea of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the best measure of American progress. Although robotic trucks would increase the GDP they'd be bad for humans. He also cited how his wife's care for their two sons, one of whom is autistic, isn't measured in GDP either. He advocated for what he called "human-centered capitalism" and suggested an "American Scorecard" would be better to measure the well-being of the country.

Yang joked that as an Asian who liked math he was the opposite of Trump and ended his speech by citing his support from different factions in American politics. He said he had Trump supporters (a few made their voices heard) as well as Libertarians (these were louder). Louder still were those who identified themselves as "progressives."

"It's not left, it's not right, it's forward," Yang said, capping off his speech.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Digital Fiction Publishing's Great December 2018 Publishing Binge

As most of you all know, I have a Lovecraftian horror novel out called The Thing in the Woods through a small press called Digital Fiction Publishing, which has also published (or re-published) many of my short stories. Late last year I sent them the sequel, The Atlanta Incursion. Although I haven't gotten an official yes or no on it, the boss did like the stock art I sent him to use for the cover, so I'm optimistic. There's not really a regular release schedule, but last December the company went on a binge. Six books, more if you count the fact that a whole series got released (or re-released).

(In the interest of full disclosure, the company operates on a revenue-sharing pool, so I benefit whenever somebody purchases one of these. That said, I haven't read any of them yet, so I'm not slanting things one way or the other.)

The Invisible City by Brian K. Lowe: This is the first in a series of three books--the whole series was ultimately released by DFP and you can get the whole box set here. Basically in a future where humanity has been conquered by aliens, a man ends up getting transported one million years into the future. As one might expect, trouble ensues. Several of the reviews compare it to the John Carter books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, although I haven't had the chance to read it.

Home by Carson Buckingham: A woman inherits a farmhouse and upon taking possession of it, begins to mutate. And things seem to get weirder from there. I haven't read it, but based on the reviews there's a good bit of Irish mythology in there (perhaps in the vein of Raymond Feist's Faerie Tale, which is a pretty good book) and one of the reviewers even puts it on the same level as Stephen King.

Disappearance by Trevor Zaple: The Rapture (or something very similar) happens, but instead of a Christian end-times scenario coming to pass, instead we end up with the remaining powerful people o the pre-apocalypse world fighting over the remains. Shades of Avengers Endgame perhaps? It looks a bit more like Dean Koontz's The Taking, if the aftermath was the main focus rather than the apocalypse itself.

Invasion at Bald Eagle by Kris Ashton: Hippies! A sex cult! An alien invasion! This book has it all, and it sounds like a comedy. Once I clear out my KU library (more on that below), I think I'll definitely check this one out.

The Evil in the Tower by Debra Robinson: Ghost stories, possessions, and a lengthy feud between two families. Haunted-house stories aren't my cup of tea usually, but it does have a good-looking cover. I'm getting a bit of a Crimson Peak vibe off the whole thing.

Samurai by Timothy Manley: I've read the beginning of this one. It looks begins like an alien-invasion novel from the perspective of a Native American-level civilization encountering a spacefaring society, but based on the cover art and broader description it seems like a space opera. I'm reminded of the novel Scythian Dawn, which features extraterrestrials deliberately preventing the development of urban civilization on Earth...until some steppe hordes manage to steal one of their ships. :)

I've got a Kindle Unlimited account so I can read these novels without buying them outright, but KU only lets you borrow ten books at a time and I've got 10 already. One of the ten is Powerlines, another monster-in-the-woods story that's also from DFP. I'll definitely check some of these out when I have more time, especially Invasion at Bald Eagle.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Book Review: Blood Street (2018)

My Lovecraftian horror novel The Thing in the Woods was published by Digital Fiction Publishing, a small press headquartered in Canada. DFP went on a roll late last year, releasing a whole bunch of books in a relatively short amount of time. One of the most recent ones is called Blood Street, written by Carl Alves.

(In the interest of full disclosure, DFP pays its writers as shares from a common pot based on word count, so more sales from any DFP novel benefit me financially. However, this is an honest review.)

I checked the novel out via Kindle Unlimited and burned through it pretty quickly. How did I like it? Well, here's the review.

The Plot

A member of a Philadelphia crime family is killed (not just killed, but straight-up butchered) and his mob boss starts hunting for the killer in order to make them pay. There's one small problem--the killer isn't human. The killer is in fact the reckless and arrogant vampire Alexei, part of a clique of bloodsuckers who've taken up residence in Philadelphia. Soon the FBI gets involved, as do other vampires who don't want Alexei's idiocy to jeopardize their secret existence.

Shenanigans ensue (as author Mary SanGiovanni's cosmic horror podcast would put it) as blood runs in the streets and alliances are formed and broken. Who will live and who will die?

The Good

*I like the overall concept. I'm only aware of one vampire story involving the Mob--the film Innocent Blood, which I've never seen. This story, however, is much more complex, with Mafia, federal, and vampire factions all pursuing their own agendas and working with and against in each other in different combinations of alliance and betrayal.

*The book is a quick and entertaining read. I definitely enjoyed it. And there's room for more stories set in this universe if Mr. Alves chooses to go that route.

The Bad

*Since Alves holds to a tight third-person POV, other characters are well-described in terms of their appearance but the POV characters themselves are much less so. I'm not sure what a lot of them look like.

*The ruler of the vampire brood and the Mafia boss both don't seem particularly decisive in dealing with dangerous or idiotic subordinates. A lot of trouble could be avoided if they were a bit more ruthless with their underlings.

*A character makes a fairly drastic decision toward the end of the book, but it's not well-foreshadowed. And there's another character involved in said decision--their role in this decision doesn't really gel well with his characterization earlier.

*Per the above, the ending felt a little bit rushed.

The Verdict

A fun Kindle Unlimited read. Very absorbing. 9.0 out of 10. I would definitely recommend it.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Giving Gun Shows Another Spin This April

Last May, I attended one of the Eastman gun shows in Gwinnett County to sell books. Although I sold fourteen print copies of The Thing in the Woods and seven print copies of The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2 (and likely sold at least some e-books with my cards), I didn't make too much profit owing to the high costs of the table, underpricing the books for lack of small bills, and not yet knowing how to best attract people to my table. I also wasn't yet aware of the importance of getting e-mails for the mailing list, reducing my long-term profit opportunities from the event. I decided to lay off gun shows until Little People, Big Guns (more obviously a "gun book" with the cover and repeated reference to "Stand Your Ground" laws) or The Atlanta Incursion (the sequel to Thing that people might buy with it) was published and focus on science fiction conventions in the meantime based on the $160 profit I made at The Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo the previous March.

However, after ordering a lot of books to ensure I was adequately stocked for a planned summer of sales, I found myself with many books and a lot fewer venues than I'd anticipated. Although I'm definitely going to the Northwest Georgia Comic Book and Collectible Toy Expo, I'm on the waiting list for Augusta Toy and Comic Show and the "standby list" for the Atlanta Comic-Con (where I made an absolute killing last year and was hoping to sell lots this year) and I don't know when the next Atlanta Comic Convention (where I made a decent profit last December splitting the table with Robert Jeffrey) will be. I intend to work shifts with the Atlanta Horror Writers of America chapter and the Atlanta Writers Club at the Decatur Book Festival Labor Day weekend and I've queried MultiverseCon and am considering Monsterama, but those are farther out. Based on how people at this year's Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo remembered me from the last convention and how I didn't make as much money as I anticipated, I'm worried that I might be "tapping out" the Atlanta SF/F/H crowd with Thing and HFQ.

(Little People, Big Guns won't be released by Deadite Press until November 15 and I doubt I'll get Blood on the Border done over the summer like I planned. And only two books doesn't really justify out of state travel--I lost money on last year's Lizard-Man Festival and that was with convenient relatives to crash with. Although I'd probably have better luck with events in big cities like Charleston and Columbia, I'm a high school teacher and most of the South Carolina events seem to be during the school year. The Soda City Comic-Con might work, since it's close to relatives I can stay with and it's before the school year starts and it seems to be a much bigger deal attendance-wise than the Lizard-Man Festival.)

So I've decided to give gun shows another spin, taking into account the reasons I didn't make much money the last time. I'm going to the Gem Capitol show in the last weekend in April that's got cheaper tables than the Gwinnett show. I'm also splitting the already lower cost with T.S. Dann, who is a gun enthusiast and an artist with lots to display in addition to being a writer. I'm going to make sure to have lots of small bills to make change and try to be more engaging with passers-by like I was at Atlanta Comic-Con. I'm also going to collect e-mail addresses this time, to build my fan-base much like Larry Correia did. Even if I sell the exact same number of books as last time, I'll make significantly more profit due to lower costs and a higher per-unit price. I'm feeling a bit more optimistic and less naive this time. :)

If this works out, there are plenty more gun shows in metro Atlanta and Georgia this year. Eastman is having events in Marietta/Cobb in later June, July, and December. And if it doesn't work out, then it's back to the original plan of waiting for LPBG and TAI so I've got more to sell.