Wordplay: The never-ending story

Hello!

Apologies for the tardiness of this latest letter: my sister's wedding was this weekend: it was a lovely time, and I ended up spending the weekend seeing relatives (hi Aunt Dot, Aunt Gin!) that I haven't seen in a while.


This weekend marked the end of HBO's Game of Thrones, and it's been a pretty remarkable journey. George R.R. Martin's fantasy epic first came out in 1996, and it certainly wasn't the surefire success that it's become. (Martin noted that during signings for that first book, he was outdone at a signing by Clifford the Big Red Dog — three people came to visit him, Clifford got hundreds.)

[Some spoilers ahead]

The show has come a long way since it premiered in 2011, and I'm still thinking through how this season turned out. Without going too much into detail, the last couple of seasons have been flying close to the ground, without the help of Martin's existing works to guide them, except from his broad guidance. Martin's famously behind on book 6, The Winds of Winter, and has apparently not begun book 7, A Dream of Spring. When he finishes those books, I wouldn't be surprised if he continues to write additional works, but not another series set in the same world.

The finale, however, made it pretty clear that we're going to see more of the world. The Stark children embark on their own adventures or duties, and there's even the cryptic hint of a check-in 10 years down the road — I wouldn't be entirely surprised if we see HBO revisit Westeros in 2029 with a direct sequel of some sort. The network already has three spin-off shows in the works. That makes sense! Westeros as a franchise is big business for HBO, and while they have additional projects to check out in the meantime, like Westworld and Watchmen, people gravitate towards what's familiar.

This past weekend saw another nerd-ish milestone: the 20th anniversary of the release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and I wrote a retrospective looking back on the film's release. One of the things that I particularly wanted to surface out of this is the following:

While Star Wars came ready-build with a lived in world with a long track record of continuity across mediums, The Phantom Menace helped demonstrate that Lucas’s world was bigger than anyone could have imagined.

And:

Ultimately, Lucasfilm’s grand experiment prefigured where the film industry has ended up: studios largely don’t invest in just single films: they invest in worlds. When Disney purchased Lucasfilm, it didn’t do so with the intention of making a couple of films: it bought the company’s vast and deep troves of intellectual property: thousands and thousands of characters and stories that it will undoubtedly mine for decades.

I've written about this before, and the Star Wars franchise is the foremost example of this: a story franchise mashed up with the sensibilities of an MBA graduate. Disney and HBO in these instances both demonstrate that they're more interested in big worlds with plenty of potential, rather than individual stories that simply can stand alone on their own.

This obviously isn't new in the SF/F world. Doubleday famously enticed Isaac Asimov back to science fiction to pen a sequel trilogy for his Foundation series, and authors like Arthur C. Clarke and Frank Herbert followed suit, expanding their worlds with additional stories. And certainly, sequels have long been big business for years. I certainly don't begrudge them the effort, especially with science fiction TV and films generally getting better and better in quality.

There's certainly other books out there ready to be mined for television or film. I'd love to see a take on Brian Staveley's Unhewn Throne series, Allen Steele's Coyote, or Linda Nagata's The Red series. All would make for excellent source material for a series.

But still, I do miss stories that are a bit more self-contained, which aren't cynically extended for years and installments simply because consumers are willing to pay out. Films like Moon, Prospect, and Gravity are some of the more interesting stories that I've seen in recent years, and they stand up nicely on their own. (Okay, Prospect's world would be fascinating to see more of, and the less we say about Duncan Jones' Mute, the better.)

Sometimes, a story just needs to be a beginning, middle, and definitive end.

Further reading

I've come across a couple of really interesting stories that you might enjoy. The first is an excellent review of Ted Chiang's Exhalation, his latest collection, from Constance Grady at Vox.

Chiang is thoughtful about the rules of his imagined technologies. They have the kind of precise, airtight internal logic that makes a tech geek shiver with happiness: When Chiang tells you that time travel works a certain way, he’ll always provide the scientific theory to back up what he’s written, and he will never, ever veer away from the laws he’s set for himself.

The next is a neat look at Donald J. Sobol, the author of the Encyclopedia Brown books, which were probably some of the first books I took to reading (before moving on to The Hardy Boys). Craig Pittman writes about him over at CrimeReads.

And, Isabella Kapur has a great read over on Polygon: Fandom under fire: how fanzines helped sci-fi survive the Blitz and beyond:

For the past six months, as part of the exhibition As If: Alternative Histories from Then to Now at The Drawing Center, a small art museum in New York City, I have explored illustration, novels, and posters as well as fanzine materials from as far back as the 1940s. Zines were hard for fans to get their hands on, as they were printed and collated in school clubs or at the dining room table, sometimes mailed out to subscribers and contributors one by one. And yet, these publications formed the backbone of what would become modern fan culture, not just a reflection of media but a reimagining of reality.

Over on The Verge, I've got a couple of pieces you might be interested in:

Currently reading

I finished Stanley Chen's Waste Tide, which was really good — it reminded me quite a bit of Pablo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl. I'm hoping to review that soon. I'm currently working on a couple of books: Elizabeth Bear's Ancestral Night, which is a really fun space opera. I've also started reading Rebecca Roanhorse's Storm of Locusts, which is turning out to be just as good as its predecessor. On deck, Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron, Finder, and a couple of others.

That's all for now — my laptop battery is about to die. As always, let me know what you think and what you're reading!

Andrew