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Stockholm and Archipelacon Report

Ah, the days of Glasgow and Anaheim, when I spent my time hurriedly writing notes, making audio or video recordings, etc. These days, it's all I can do to remember when the next panel is (that includes whether it's one of my own panels -- another change from those days of yore).

However, I figured I could try to quickly scrawl some stuff...

So, first, Stockholm and Livrustkammaren: I am told there will be a video of the event there, where George, Linda, and I sat in front of an audience of about 100 (and I don't know how many more in SF Bokhandeln in Malmö, Göteborg, and Stockholm, where it was livestreamed). George's reading -- the Tyrion I chapter -- will not be included in that video, however. It's a chapter which will likely provide a few extra thoughts on cyvasse for those who try to puzzle through the rules (but George again rules out ever actually selling the rights to a game which is supposed to be as deep and rich as chess). Lots of atmosphere, too, with passages punctuated by the thumps of trebuchets periodically letting diseased corpses fly...

The first panel of note is the Fear and Lothing in Hugoland panel, which concerned the current business with the puppies. George was in the audience and at the end spoke up to make an impassioned plea for those in the audience to get their supporting memberships and to vote while they still could.

George's first big event was the Life in Fandom panel with Parris and others. Good stuff about fandom being a way of life, about friends and family, about conventions as family gatherings, etc. Parris shared the story of the tradition that she and some friends started a tradition at a DC area con (Disclave, I think) of sneaking onto the grounds of a nearby hotel, climbing a fence to get at the pool and go skinnydipping. This continued to 1974, when they climbed the fence, proceeded to strip, and some were even in the pool (Parris noted she was one of those) when a bunch of Secret Service men arrived to break it all up. Turned out that the new VP Nelson Rockefeller had taken up residence in a couple of floors of the hotel. Oops.

The next big event for George was his reading of Barristan I, which he prefaced with a long description of the situation up to this point, with a strong emphasis that this chapter features events and characters that have never appeared in the TV series, focusing on the vast number of differences between show and books as time has passed. Fortunately, I have a somewhat dodgy audio recording of the Q&A that followed! I need some time to square some things away and then will go through it -- it's almost 30 minutes long -- to pick out interesting nuggets, but the two items I remember in particular are at the start.

1) George was asked what options female criminals had to avoid execution -- they can't take the black, but was there an accepted thing they could do otherwise? George did mention there were "various" female orders of septas and the likes, and then he focused in particular on the silent sisters, which he specifically called them a "mystic order" who take vows of silence and tend to the dead. Then he switched to discussing the fact that of course Jon had now garrisoned some of the castles with women (spearwives) for when the Others attack. "So we'll see how that works out", he concluded.

2) Asked if Ned ever used Ice in battle. George points out it was a greatsword, very large and cumbersome, a ceremonial sword for beheading people more than a fighting sword, so he suggests that it was "probably too heavy and clumsy" to use unless you're the Mountain. So, I think that's a pretty clear "no". I admit, I was tempted to point out that it was Valyrian steel, not regular steel, so why would the weight matter so much in this case? In particular when the likes of Randyll Tarly and Arthur Dayne are clearly said to have used their own Valyrian/Valyrian-like swords in battle? Tarly is not described as particularly powerful -- in fact he's called lean (doubtless strong and fit, but still, lean) -- and we're told he killed Lord Cafferen with Heartsbane. So... I take this as a firm "no", Ned never used it in battle, but I think George's off-the-cuff explanation doesn't quite fit the facts.

3) A budding young writer asked George how to handle such a large cast of point of view characters. "My main advice would be to not have such a large cast. It's really, really hard." He mused that there are days when he wonders if five kingdoms wouldn't have been easier than seven kingdoms. Keep careful records, he added, and work on a computer, because the search function is absolutely indispensable. Also... "you know, bring in Elio and Linda early in the process, so they'll remember all this crap and then you can just call them up and ask 'What color were this guy's eyes?'" Much laughter. He concluded that there's no easy answer, that it's tough, and that when he started the novels were shorter, standalone, and so he could easily keep all the details in his head but the sheer size of ASoIaF makes it impossible.

4) George was asked if he ever re-reads his own books. He says no, not straight through, but he'll read the last chapter -- sometimes last three-four chapters -- of a POV character when starting their next POV chapter to help recapture the voice. He doesn't re-read his own work for fun, of course. The audience member then asked about the changing atmosphere in the books, and George said that yes, it changes with the action in the books, and the changing situations of characters.

5) Asked why his dragons are so similar to other, traditional dragons, when so much else in his work is a departure from the mold of previous fantasy, and George pondered that for a moment and then decided that whenever he makes any decision, it's about what he likes at a particular moment, and what he thinks will work. It's art, not science, and there are aesthetic choices. He wanted to make it a more realistic fantasy than some others had done, to bring it closer to historical fiction, but he didn't want to write historical fiction. He also felt that the lower level of magic was a part of that, because a lot of magic can overwhelm a story in his experience.

6) Asked if Tolkien influenced the story of whatever happened with Rhaegar and Lyanna through the tale of Beren and Lúthien, George said he had a lot of influences, that Tolkien was certainly among them, but the fact is that there's a lot of historical influences -- the Wars of the Roses, the Hundred Years War -- and then Arthurian legend had some influence, the legends of Charlemagne had some influence (but not much, he doesn't know them so well), the Crusades and the Albigensian Crusade. He reads widely, basically, and he's influenced by all he's ever read.

7) Does the TV show affect his image or voice of characters? It has no effect on the characters in his head -- he's been writing the series since 1991, and had been living with these characters in his head for 16 years before the show as event a "glint in HBO's eye." He knows many will think of Peter Dinklage as Tyrion when they read it, but no, not really an issue. And again he focused on the divergences between the books and the show, that characters are increasingly different between the two mediums.

8) Was Ramsay inspired by any real people George knows? Laughter from the crowd, and then, "No, not really," from George. More laughter.

9) Asked about a sequel to Tuf Voyaging, George said he has so many ideas he'd like to do. He'd like to write more eventually -- he wants to do things like Tuf, a Wild Cards novel, a sequel to Fevre Dream, etc. -- but he has to finish ASoIaF, the Dunk and Egg stories, the history of the Targaryen dynasty that he wrote half of already... So there's a lot of things. And he has lots of new ideas, all the time. Ideas are easy but it's hard to turn them into stories. Somewhere in his notes, though, he has notes on a novel called Tuf Landing. Who knows what will be the case 5-10 years from now, etc. "I write one page at a time, that's all I can do."

10) Asked if he reads academic works or fan discussions about his work. George says he does about the academic ones, that to some extant he does. He repeated how he started visiting Dragonstone early on, very flattered that a whole website was dedicated to his novel, but he swore off it eventually because it took too much time, and he saw dangers in fans coming up with theories that were right and it did create a desire to change things but he said "that way lies disaster" because you're going to mess it all up because those mysteries are things you planned from the first, laid the groundwork, etc., and you can't just change it midstream. He compared it to a mystery novel where the writer changed his mind part way through, and all the clues that came before were simply wrong and went nowhere. And then George added that sometimes fans were coming up with ideas there he thought were interesting, but he couldn't be helping himself to fan ideas because "fans could like sue me and shit." Laughs there. So he backed away after that. He knows there's many other websites that have gone far beyond Dragonstone, citing Westeros as the leading one. He's also familiar with Sean T. Collins' Boiled Leather.

Every once in awhile, a loyal minion or Parris will tell him something particularly important or interesting, or Linda and I may contact him about something, but there have now been academic journals and such about his books, and people writing their thesis and such. He finds it very flattering and has looked at some of those and they're often very good, in-depth literary analysis and so on: "It's useful for me to find out what the hell I'm doing. I'm really smart! I can tell because that's what these guys are telling me!" You can imagine the laughter and humor in that, from George and the audience both. Then he went on to add that sometimes there's an essay or even a series of essays that "really gets it right". He specifically cited the difficulty he had with the Meereenese sections of ADwD, trying to figure out the POV, and he called it the "Meereenese Knot." He admitted being annoyed when some turned it into "the Meerenese Blot", but someone made a series of essays with that title. "I read those when someone pointed them out to me, and I was really pleased with them, because at least one guy got it. He got it completely, he knew exactly what I was trying to do there, and evidently I did it well enough for people who were paying attention." Of course, he added that some other essays depress him when people get everything wrong, and when people get everything wrong, well, whose fault is it? It could be his fault because he didn't write it well enough, but who knows?

So when he's done with ASoIaF, he may read more of the analysis type stuff to read about how brilliant he is, perhaps when he's taking his long vacation in Tahiti while sipping piña coladas on the beach.

11) The lack of language variation in Westeros was brought up -- lots of cultures, like the Dornish, the ironborn, the northmen -- but everyone speaks the common tongue. George admitted it wasn't very realistic, but he admitted he stole the idea from Tolkien. He admitted he could have more languages, but the books are in English and so he'd create more nonsense words to represent languages and then have to "translate" them anyway. He admitted it'd be more realistic to have seven or eight -- or even fourteen, or twenty-three -- languages, but also Tolkien was a genuine linguist, a brilliant one. He went through how many languages Tolkien made for LotR, and he says that sometimes he says when reading the books he just wants to strangle Tolkien because of how many great names he'd have, and how he could give the same thing four different names (in various languages) that all sounded great. He added that the vast majority of fantasists are in the same boat as him. Then he recounted the anecdote -- which he's recounted before -- of someone mistaking him for a Tolkien type and wanting his grammar and glossary and the like of Valyrian, and George admitting that Valyrian was seven words, and when he needs an eighth he'll make it then.

Of course, he then added that with HBO having created Dothraki through the work of David J. Peterson, he feels like now if he wants to have Dothraki (and Valyrian as well) he'll have to refer to Peterson's work to get it "right", or ask Peterson himself how to say something in Dothraki.

That ended that.

The Lion and the Rose episode was aired, I went up stage to do a quick FAQ (Tyrion is his favorite character, etc.) and to tell people to try and focus on the episode and GoT. Asked about characters doing anything that surprised him, he said yes, happens all the time, but he doesn't buy the mystical stuff of characters talking to him and acting of their own volition; he knows it's his subconscious or something such, but anyways, yeah. Asked about how he says characters are like his children, and sometimes they're disobedient, George admitted that he did have disobedient children and he sometimes kills them. He emphasized the process of working, that he gets a rough outline of what they want in an episode and he writes as they tell him, though he has obvious input. Like for that episode, he had fought to drop all the non-KL scenes, that he just wanted a focus on and around the wedding, but it wasn't possible because they have so much to do. He did say again that although he knows it's impossible, that he did wish the show had 13 episodes a season. I'm sure there was more, but failed to get that recorded and it's a bit of a blur.

Next, there was an academic's more fannish talk about changes in the TV series from the books, and the nature of adaptation and such. She would have a separate, more academic presentation the next day, but this was more generalist and fannish. George came in part way through and sat in the audience, to her shock and brief speechlessness -- she was reading from her notes, looked up, did a double take and went, "Oh, wow," and took a moment before continuing on (with good confidence, I may add!) George offered only one observation when a fan asked about why the white walkers are referred to as such, and not as the Others. George stated that it was early in the development process when they all agreed that Lost, having used the term for the mysterious island tribe, had sort of made it impossible to use that word without possible confusion and such.

Finally, there's the WoIaF panel where George joined us. I admit, this one I had thought I had managed to record, only to discover that the recording app crashed before it was done and I lost the audio. And actually being a part of it, I have to admit it all sort of blurs together... However, I'll point to this post in which I report on George referring to the book as "authoritative" while indicating at the ongoing ASoIaF series (and, come to think of it given his thoughts on Summerhall, Dunk & Egg) are of course the "supreme canon" because that's where he may reveal that details in earlier works are in fact deliberately mistaken and so on.

Since it's a hot-button topic, I commented to George about how some were bothered by what they see as "cultural appropriation" in the novels, citing in particular his presentation of Yi Ti with its obvious influences from Imperial China. George first addressed the term "cultural appropriation" by saying that "it's bullshit." He went on to discuss his own heritage, an American mutt with bits of Italian, German, Irish, etc. in his background, so does that mean he has special rights or ability to write about Italian culture? Of course not. He said that history belongs to everybody, and that the accident of blood or birth doesn't give one any special rights. As to Yi Ti, he discussed it in terms of fleshing the eastern regions out. I noted that I thought that it was quite fascinating, and I think (someone correct me) I pointed out how Yi Ti is this civilization older than that of the Seven Kingdoms, seemingly grander and more advanced, so it wasn't as if it was a negative "appropriation."

Lots of other things kind of cover ground that George or we have already discussed -- the genesis of the project as something publishers suggested to him, his inviting us to work with him on in it 2004 because we had already shown our knowledge and had collected so much information, had been writing essays on history and other aspects of the setting, and he had looked at it and thought we'd be great collaborators for it. There was also discussion of how the Lands of Ice and Fire lead to the great expansion of how Essos looks, and that then kind of required expanding the Other Lands section. We also discussed the historiographic aspect, the way that I enjoyed the way that we had multiple sources conflicting, and so on. George really liked the maester conceit as it allowed him to obscure things he wanted to obscure, and also it was just terrific fun to play around with conflicting accounts. In particular, the Dance of the Dragons material was the longest he wrote, and it was in part because he really enjoyed the conflicting accounts of Septon Eustace, Mushroom, and the third source ... which he expanded on (and this is a bit I'll share in particular because it features details never before published).

So, the third source is Munkun's True Telling, but as we're told in WoIaF, Munkun is based on Grand Maester Orwyle and George noted that his account was written up while he sat in a prison cell uncertain if he was going to end up executed or not and wanting to lay down "his side" of the story to try and paint himself in the best possible light. (Yep, Orwyle actually has quite an interesting little story that unfortunately we really had trim almost entirely out of the world book. Definitely will be one of the many highlights of Fire and Blood, IMO.)

I also then made the point about the various pressures in which Maester Yandel, the actual "writer" of most of the text, was working under, and how he had his biases as well. I noted to the audience that in particular Yandel starts to get quite careful when he writes about events in which various important, influential, powerful, and (most of all) still living people had a role. He has an interest in keeping his head on his neck. Ned and Stannis practically disappear from the account of the rebellion because Yandel has cut out his original account of the rebellion after Robert's death, Eddard's execution for treason, and Stannis and Renly proclaiming for the throne, and hastily did a revised and more politically acceptable one. At that, George asked us where we imagined Yandel was at the time of the novels, and if maybe he's getting beheaded (with a bit of a laugh and a wicked glint in his eye, I'll add.) I explained that in my own head, Yandel is in King's Landing, clutching his book, showing up each day for an audience with the king... and each day being told perhaps the next day. Except on those occasions where, you know, they tell him the king's getting married today, and then whoops, Joffrey is dead, etc.

I also noted that of course, given how he wrote about the reign of Aerys and and the rebellion, that if Aegon or Daenerys take King's Landing he may indeed end up having his head chopped off... George seemed interested in the idea, I think. :P

Also a lot of discussion about Summerhall and the idea of the inkblot spilled all over the page to obscure it, but that Anne told him that they'd get thousands of returns because people would think it was a printing error.

I asked him about the dangers of world-building, if it could just become too fun to just expand the world, and look beyond the next horizon. George admitted it could in fact be really fun, that the urge to explore and see beyond the next hill drove him a lot, especially in the other lands section, but obviously that can be dangerous too. He mused that had he lived in the Middle Ages, he might have wanted to become the Lomas Longstrider (or the Marco Polo) of his day, wanting to know what was beyond the next village, and what was beyond that, and so on. It was quite affecting, I thought, he had a genuine passion for that.

Anyone else who was there is welcome to add any additional details I didn't remember!

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