Sprinklers in the Rain Blog

Selling Your Soul for HBO

HBO is pulling all the stops to get people and keep people hooked on the massively expensive Game of Thrones series. Between the food vans and free ride Iron Thrones rolling through the streets, I don’t think anyone didn’t know this show was coming. And I really have to applaud HBO for it. I can’t help but wonder how a few other shows would have fared in the past, if only their network put this kind of dedicated force behind their marketing. Firefly, anyone?

Alas.

More recently, they’re offering an opportunity to watch the seventh episode of the series directly after the sixth airs in exchange for signing up for their HBO GO service. HBO GO is basically their version of Hulu Plus, which allows you to stream movies, shows and clips after they air via your iPad, iPhone, video game console or computer. Unfortunately, this service is only available to HBO subscribers.

Which brings me to what I’m less happy with HBO over, and subscription based networks in general.

The entertainment industry is moving forward, embarking on new and exciting territory to settle ground on the internet. More and more readers are making the leap to e-book devices every day. You can stream movies from the comfort of your own couch with services such as Netflix, Playstation Network, and Xbox Live. And with Hulu Plus, you can watch your favorite basic network TV shows the day after they air. The draw for all of these services, funnily enough, isn’t being able to watch TV on your smartphone. People are paying for the freedom to choose what they want to watch, when they want to watch it.

In February 2011, Borders announced the liquidation and closing of 226 stores. (Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg)

In February 2011, Borders announced the liquidation and closing of 226 stores. (Image: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg)

Companies who aren’t keeping up are going to… well, be left behind. Hollywood Video went out of business, and Blockbuster is struggling. Barnes & Noble is seeing success with their Nook device, while Borders is filing Chapter 11.

 

Will HBO find itself among the casualties of the on-line revolution? I don’t see it happening any time soon, but if they continue to stubbornly cling to a dated format it will happen. HBO GO is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. I know that I’m not the only one that cut my “cable ties” years ago. I watch everything on-line, and I gladly pay for Hulu Plus, Netflix, and I would jump at the opportunity to subscribe to HBO GO. But I will not purchase a digital cable package – full of channels I will never watch – to subscribe to HBO and additionally register for GO. Even if I did choose to do that, it feels to me like a deal with the devil: I get my Game of Thrones streaming whenever I want, but I’m supporting an archaic system that I feel should be left in the past. Is that really something I want to do?

HBO, I’m begging you. Step outside of the box and make GO available to those without cable service. I guarantee your ratings will shoot through the roof for it. Locking everyone out isn’t bringing you new business – it’s encouraging piracy.

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UR and Gerald’s Game, by Stephen King

Stephen King is an author I’ve never been particularly fond of. While I’ve enjoyed a number of movies he’s been involved in – either directly or as the source material – most of the actual written work I’ve read seemed really hit or miss to me. Some good short stories, some really unmemorable ones. Dreamcatcher. The Gunslinger. Overall, my impression of Stephen King has been that he’s a bit of a self-absorbed author that enjoys writing himself into his work a little too much. Any author’s life is going to affect how and what they write about, and I think him being such a high-profile person actually works against him. I know why this story is set where it is, and I know why that character was hit by a van and almost died. Instead of picturing the main characters, I find myself picturing King there instead and my knee jerk reaction is, “Dude, get over yourself.”

So after The Gunslinger, Dead Zone, and Kingdom Hospital sequentially unimpressed me, I avoided the name Stephen King.

A few weeks ago, however, I was looking for something quick to read and stumbled across a novella he wrote exclusively for Kindle. Having nothing better to suit my mood, I decided to give it a whirl.

And I didn’t move from my seat for a good three hours, until the novella was done.

In UR, a college professor orders a Kindle out of spite after his girlfriend pokes fun at his old-fashioned reading habits. He receives an ugly, hot pink thing, and reluctantly explores what he can do with it. Eventually, he finds that – not only does it download books from Amazon – it can purchase books from something called “The UR.” And not just one Ur, but thousands of them. Millions. In exploring the various Urs, the professor finds that he has access to libraries from endless alternate realities. Realities where classic writers such as Shakespeare, Hemingway, or Poe may have lived just a little longer and released more work (six novels, in the case of Poe). Or realities where they released a different sort of work entirely, such as Hemingway’s murder-mysteries.

The story escalates when he realizes that the UR also has access to newspapers from these realities as well as his own, and eventually ties into The Dark Tower. The actual relevance of this went over my head, but regardless, I found UR a fascinating read and had my imagination running wild.

Of course, there was some obvious product placement, which I found unnecessary since it’s a Kindle exclusive anyway. “The Amazon Kindle automatically remembers where I left off, and lets me purchase books within seconds anywhere I go!” Yeah, I know. I have one.

That aside, the audience targeting for this story really works: anyone enthusiastic enough about books to purchase a Kindle is likely just as excited about the device as the main character, and the very premise of the novel is like a wet dream for literary fans of that sort.

Amazed that something was able to hook me enough to get me reading more than I did all last year, I went on the hunt for my next read from Stephen King, hungry for more. I selected:

Gerald's Game, by Stephen King

Gerald’s Game begins with a couple getting away to their vacation home near a lake during an off-season. Wasting no time, they immediately tear off their clothes and embark on Gerald’s little sex game. He cuffs her to the bed and, just as he begins to get started, Gerald has a heart attack and falls off the bed. Dead on the floor, with her still cuffed to the bed in their cabin in the middle of nowhere.

After a few failed attempts to escape, Jessie finds herself with nothing left to do but to think. It’s not long before she begins to die of thirst and, in the middle of the night, she wakes to find that she’s not alone.

Fuck that shit.

I did enjoy this book, a lot more than I did my previous efforts at King. It’s an excellent character study, and has some really chilling moments (“I don’t think you’re anyone! You’re only made of moonlight!”). Throughout the whole thing, I kept thinking about how much it reminded me of Dolores Claiborne – not realizing that Dolores Claiborne was based on a Stephen King novel. I later found out that the two stories are indeed connected, and were originally intended to be part of a single volume.

Which brings me to my primary complaint about the novel: it’s fascinating yes. But there’s only so much you can do with your main character chained to a bed the whole novel. I think this story would have worked much better with either a hundred less pages or as a novella preceding Dolores Claiborne. There are points where King gets needlessly wordy, rambles off into the past and the story drags. But then it picks back up again, and I forget that I was ever bored.

My second and only complaint is more about the Kindle edition rather than the novel itself (I think): this book is littered with embarrassing typos, line breaks from out of nowhere, and suffers from a general lack of editing. I don’t have the physical version of the book with me to compare, but I’m assuming this is an issue with the digitalization process. Just a word of warning.

All in all, I would recommend Gerald’s Game to more patient readers looking for something character driven. If you’re not into a lot of internal dialogue and flashbacks, you’re not going to enjoy this at all. This would make a great movie for that sort of reader. If only it didn’t involve a woman splayed out naked the whole time…

Does this mean that I’m suddenly a fan of Stephen King? I’m not sure. What I can say is that for the last few years, it’s taken me months to finish anything and I blew through these in a couple days. That’s a pretty nice change of pace for me, and if Stephen King is the man to make it happen then I may be in for quite the marathon…

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Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris

This book amazed me for so many different reasons, I don’t even know where to begin.

  • How did this get published?
  • What was Alan Ball smoking when he read this book? How much of it did he have to smoke before he said, “Wow, this would make a great TV show”? And where can I get some?
  • How can a TV show that follows the book so closely be so much better?
  • How did I make it to the end without attempting suicide?

Spoilers within!

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The Rain Wild Chronicles, by Robin Hobb

This is one of those reviews I feel is pretty redundant: it’s Robin Hobb. I’m a Robin Hobb fanboy. Chances are, if I know you I’ve already been frothing at the mouth in front of you over it. And if you’re reading this, you probably know me. Regardless, posting a review is half the fun in finishing a book for me so I’m doing it anyway. I will do my best to keep this spoiler free.

Upon the release of The Dragon Keeper, a little over five years had passed since last we visited the Elderlings saga in Fool’s Fate. Yes, five years. I had to go back and triple check those numbers. And it’s been even longer since we visited Bingtown and the Rain Wilds specifically, so this is a welcome return for some of us.

When reading Keeper, it’s important to remember that these two volumes were written as one stand-alone novel. I read a lot of negative reviews in various places complaining of a lack of climax in the first volume, no resolution and in general a lot of getting started without really going anywhere. The main reason Hobb tends to write in trilogies is because she sprawls. I think she is incapable of writing a standalone novel. Combined, The Rain Wild Chronicles amounts to 1,136 hardcover pages, which is quite a bit more than most publishers are comfortable with any more. So it was split in two volumes, and sadly 99% of the action happens the moment the second volume begins. This is something I fault the publisher for more than the author, and I think the least they could have done was release the two volumes closer together. Personally, I waited until both volumes were available to really get rolling and went from one directly into the other. I understand the disappointment readers may have felt having only the beginning without any middle or end a year ago, but I urge such people to pick up Dragon Haven because it’s worth it.

We do see some old friends from The Liveship Traders again, though this is not their story and as such they serve only a minor role. As usual, Hobb’s characters and their personal plights take center stage, but in the end their world as a whole is changed by their journey. It’s a very worthy addition to the saga, and I’m excited to see what direction the series goes from here.

It’s not without it’s faults – I’m beginning to wonder what is going on with Hobb’s editing staff. There is a typo in the very first sentence of Keeper, and a few more pop up along the way. Such things have plagued her books for some time now, since her Soldier Son books, if I recall correctly. I don’t recall ever encountering this many typos with any other author, and it’s a bit jarring when you run into it considering her typically graceful flow of writing.

And as much as I love the characters, their complete ignorance does get frustrating. Everyone seems to know what’s going on except the one character it would matter most to, and even when someone sits them down directly and tries explaining to them what’s going on they still fail to grasp it. It’s Fitzism at it’s highest, and it’s annoying. Denial and having a blind eye is understandable to a certain point, but I can only go so long before wanting to throttle people.

But these are minor complaints. I enjoyed the books as a whole, and I highly recommend them to fans of the series.

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The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie’s debut fantasy novel, The Blade Itself was quite the hit among genre fans a few years ago, and all the hype drove me to find out what all the fuss is about. Yes, I’ve owned the book for about two years. I’m a slow reader.

“Jezal’s heart sank. A deep voice, she sounded like a fat one. Jezal couldn’t afford to be seen walking about the Agriont with a fat girl on his arm. It could ruin his reputation.”

The Blade Itself is the first in Abercrombie’s trilogy, The First Law. The story jumps between various characters, but focuses primarily on four characters: Jezal, the dashing and entirely assholeish nobleman; Glokta, the crippled inquisitor; Logen Ninefingers, a barbaric warrior from the north; and Bayaz, a mysterious wizard who seems to be behind more than he lets on. Cliché, cliché, cliché… oh yeah, and cliché. So it seems.

Surprisingly, Abercrombie’s greatest strength is breathing new life into these fantasy stereotypes, and wastes no opportunity to poke fun at them. In fact, fantasy clichés are littered throughout the whole novel and shamelessly made fun of. As the novel goes on, these characters really begin to grow on you, and you can’t help but love even the worst of them. Their snarky comments and unique insights are enough to carry even the most boring of scenes.

The book has also been tauted for it’s intense and violent fight scenes. The battles are wonderfully written, though I wouldn’t say this book is quite as brutal as others claim it is. I blame this on George RR Martin torturing spoiling me, but really, when the characters have so many funny things to say it can really take the edge off the bloody scene you just read through.

Speaking of George RR Martin, it’s clear that Abercrombie is a fan. At times, the book felt so much like an imitation of A Song of Ice and Fire that it came off almost as a parody. This comes through in Glokta’s character especially, the bitter and scheming cripple who reminded me a little too much of our favorite imp, Tyrion Lannister. In fact, I found Martin equivalents in nearly every character in the book, and sad but true… Martin wrote them better.

Then we come to the story: I really couldn’t tell you what this damned book is about. 527 pages and nothing happened. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. At least two things happened. We’re just not sure what they were yet. There’s something going on up in the north, some guy’s brewing a war, some other people are preparing, but overall nobody seems to care all that much. Except that one guy. A few scenes left me hopeful that something was about to go down, but the following chapter always let me down.

I understand that this is only the first in a trilogy, and many fantasy authors use such a book as a simple introduction to the world and characters. The Blade Itself does well in that regard, but I prefer some sort of climax and/or closure in whatever book I read, regardless of it’s position in a series, and I just didn’t get that here. Even the amazing characters, whom I grew to love very dearly, weren’t enough to motivate me to keep reading a lot of the time, and as a result I can’t agree with a lot of the hype surrounding this book.

Will I pick up the next book? I’m not sure. I don’t have a clear enough idea of what’s going on in the story to care very much, but I am somewhat curious where Abercrombie’s road will lead Jezal, Ardee, Glokta, and all the others.

The rest of you: pick it up for a light and fun read. Check it out at the library if you can. But if you have a high pile of books to read, I wouldn’t say this book is quite worth bumping to the top of your queue.

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