Tag Archives: Game of Thrones

Build Your Own Language

The Art of Language Invention

Every year sees the publication of dozens of new books about the charming, quirky little nuances of the English language, and they’re all crap. They’re. All. Crap. Crap, I tell you! Because while they purport to offer a thoughtful, revealing study of the subtleties of our language, they actually reveal nothing beyond the writer’s own social prejudices and pet peeves. “Down with the Oxford comma!” “Up with the non-gender-specific pronoun!” Give me a fucking break. This is how certain bored old white people try to re-assert their precarious hold on a certain echelon of society. It’s like quibbling over neckties at a country club.

And then, on the other hand—finally, for fuck’s sake—we have The Art of Language Invention by David J. Peterson. Peterson is a linguist (linguistics is that other way of thinking about language, the one that’s actually scientific and informative) and he’s a conlanger, which means he creates constructed languages (“conlangs”) for fun. For fun! For fun he sits around and puzzles out new ways of communicating, using the tools that are common to all languages. I’m not talking about Oxford commas. I’m talking about ergativity, semantic bleaching, phonological erosion, the pragmatics of intonation, and the reification of gender. You know, the real stuff.

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The Boomstick Film Club: Headhunters


The Boomstick

Watch it with us: Netflix streaming

Headhunters (2012) has been on my radar for a while now, partly because it’s a slick, stylish foreign thriller and that’s kind of my jam, and partly because it involves a few people who went on to achieve much greater notoriety. These include the director, Morten Tyldum, who also helmed last year’s The Imitation Game, and costar Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, better known as Jamie Lannister from Game of Thrones.

It begins as an art-heist movie: Roger (Aksel Hennie) uses his position as a headhunter for a large corporation to scout his potential targets: wealthy executives with expensive art lying around. There’s a humorous sequence at the beginning in which Roger brags about the expensive piece of art on the wall behind him and challenges the worth of his client’s art collection. When the client retorts that he owns an even more valuable piece, all Roger has to do is ask a few follow-up questions about the client’s personal life to find out if anyone’s likely to be at his home during the day.

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How to Write Like George R. R. Martin

George RR Martin

Authors of genre fiction like George R. R. Martin have a lot to teach me and other aspiring writers, regardless of what genre(s) we find ourselves belonging to.

Here are three brilliant lessons I learned from A Song of Ice and Fire.

1. Keep it simple. Then build.

Martin has a big task with the opening of this series. He must introduce a huge cast of characters while giving readers enough tension to keep them moving forward. The first events in A Game of Thrones accomplish this in a very straightforward manner. We open with a scene that sets up a familiar fantasy world: a spoiled noble doesn’t listen to the experienced veteran. The party meets their untimely end, but the author breaks away from this glimpse of the Others and uses the reader’s wave of interest to introduce the Stark family and Daenerys. We get sketches of the main characters, then some obvious foreshadowing with a direwolf who’s been killed by a stag. Martin builds on our familiarity with the Starks and uses it to give context to the next big event: a visit from the entire royal entourage. Martin has introduced a source of tension (Others) and 20 or so main characters within the first five chapters. Soon after he gives us the next sources of tension (Bran’s fall, Khal Drogo) which carry us through more world-building and character development.

PninCompare this with a more traditionally literary work, like Nabokov’s Pnin. While Nabokov’s cast is significantly smaller, he uses a similar technique of providing multiple small sources of tension to introduce us to the world and the character. Professor Timofey Pnin deals with a number of problems in the opening pages. He’s on the wrong train, he’s missing an important paper, he misses a bus, he’s lost his bag. Each problem is solved and then the next is introduced, one right after another. These problems propel the reader forward, but they also allow Nabokov to provide significant background information. The important paper is Pnin’s notes for the lecture he’s on the way to. His luggage contains his belongings, a description of which gives us insight into his character and where he’s come from. Pnin’s difficulties navigating the transit system set up his overall difficulties in America as a Russian refugee.

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In the News: Wolf Hall Sequels

THE GUARDIAN UK IS REPORTING that Hilary Mantel is writing not one but two sequels to her Booker Prize winning “Wolf Hall.”

Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, her dazzling, utterly absorbing invention of the inner life of Thomas Cromwell, will have not one sequel, as expected, but two. Mantel is now planning a Tudor trilogy: a new novel, Bring up the Bodies, to be published by 4th Estate in May 2012, will focus on the downfall of Anne Boleyn; and a third book will keep the title the author had already announced for the sequel, The Mirror & the Light, and will continue Cromwell’s story until his execution in 1540.

It was roundly agreed that “Wolf Hall” was excellent, including here at TPB.  It’s kind of like a real life “Game of Thrones.” And though it’s no longer available for trade, winter is coming, and along with it, the holidays.  Put it on your list, or treatyoself and get it today for whatever traveling you have to do.

Our original (short) review below.


Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Mantel earned the Booker Prize with this one.
Status: Currently seeking reader

“WOLF HALL” IS ALSO SET IN ENGLAND, but takes place roughly 450 years prior to “Black Swan Green.” Henry VIII is pushing through his divorce and remarriage via (re)formation of the Church of England, a process largely overseen by his unlikely adviser, Thomas Cromwell. Despite being at the center of this British lit, Cromwell’s story feels distinctly American: the poor son of an abusive father, he rises to the King’s court through cunning and aptitude. He is respectful but unbowed by title, humane in his judgments and progressive in the democratization of faith that enables King Henry to have what he wants. (N.B: This interpretation may have to do with my current reading on Alexander Hamilton, another impoverished, polymath upstart who found himself the closest adviser to the head of state during another time of tumultuous change.) The story’s episodic structure and the fact that so much happens offstage keeps readers at arm’s length from Cromwell, who is nevertheless an engaging and sympathetic not-quite-narrator.  The effect is important to the overall effort, but is difficult for Mantel to sustain over 600 pages. That’s the worst thing I can say about this book, the second-worst being that when I finished I felt instantly like I needed to read it again right away.

Do you want to trade paperbacks?

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