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100 Things I learned about George R.R. Martin and „Game of Thrones“… from reading his entire Blog

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I’ve read George R.R. Martin’s entire blog / livejournal: grrrm.livejournal.com

About 1000 entries, written from 2005 to June 2017.

I learned tons of things about his writing process, his politics, his passions, grievances… and his tone, style, personality.

Here’s a huge list I’ve made: all TV, movie and book recommendations from his blog

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I’m a Berlin journalist, and I write mostly in German. Deutschlandfunk Kultur, an NPR-like station, invited me to talk about Martin’s writing progress.

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While reading the blog, I marked quotes and passages that resonated with me. I want to collect them here:

It’s pretty parasitic of me to just copy’n’paste these huge masses of his text. It took me three days to read, edit and sort out all of this, so it’s still an effort on my side – but I could understand if he’s annoyed or wants me to delete it. For now, I ask you to PLEASE visit his blog, and take my own list as a mere appetizer.

If you know little about Martin, read the Wikipedia page and the biographical section of his web site (Link).

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The very basics? George Raymond Richard Martin

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  • …was born in 1948 and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • …loves sci-fi as much as fantasy
  • …has been publishing sci-fi, horror and fantasy since 1971.
  • …has studied and taught journalism.
  • …was a TV writer in the 80s, for „Twilight Zone“, „Max Headroom“ and „The Beauty and the Beast“
  • …has been writing scripts for „Game of Thrones“, too – and is pretty involved in the production.

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  • „A Song of Ice and Fire“ was supposed to be a trilogy.
  • The first book was published in 1996. In 2009, HBO filmed a pilot movie for a series.
  • 7 books are planned. 5 of them are published already. The „Game of Thrones“ show overtook the books in Season 6.
  • „Game of Thrones“ will end in 2018, after season 8. Currently, scripts for five different TV prequel shows are being written.

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99_His blog is called „Not A Blog“:

I’m calling this „Not A Blog.“ I mean, I don’t have time to do a weblog. I don’t have the energy to do a weblog. There’s just no way I could do a weblog.

98_His home is bursting with books:

My unread shelf alone filled twenty-two boxes. (And those are just MY unread books, Parris has her own).

97_He studied and taught journalism – and he’s annoyed about misleading articles:

Clickbait journalism is to journalism as military music is to music.

96_He watches Marvel movies – but he doesn’t read many comic books:

My first published words were letters to Stan [Lee] and Jack [Kirby] in the pages of THE FANTASTIC FOUR and THE AVENGERS. My first published fictions were prose superhero stories in fanzines like HERO and YMIR and STAR-STUDDED COMICS. I was a member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society. I once won an Alley Award (though I never got it). Decades later, I was a guest of honor at San Diego Comicon and won an Inkpot. That was a long time ago, however. I fear I no longer follow mainstream comics much. I still love the stories and heroes I grew up, Silver Age Marvel and DC (hell, even Charlton, the Question and Blue Beetle were great), but there have been way too many retcons and reboots and restarts for my taste. I don’t know who these characters are any longer, and what’s worse, I don’t much care.

95_His writing doesn’t come easy:

Some writers enjoy writing, I am told. Not me. I enjoy having written.

94_Christmas is stressful to him:

My least favorite holiday of the year, and it is already bearing down on us like a freight train. Sorry, I have no Xmas spirit. Bah, humbug. Every year, for decades now, Christmas finds me stressed out like nobody’s business, trying to complete some script, story, or novel that I have promised to someone „by the end of the year“.

93_Often, his projects pile up:

The time is going by so fast. I grow ever more pessimistic, but I can’t think about dates and deadlines now. My mantra remains the same. One chapter at a time, one page at a time, one sentence at a time. [2008]

92_He loves tiny knight figurines:

You know about my passion for collecting 54mm toy knights and medieval miniatures. I attended the Old Toy Soldier Show in Schaumburg (the world’s best toy soldier show, and always great fun, when I can find the time to attend it.)

91_He’s known Parris, his second wife, since the 1970s. They became a couple when…

When I finally got together with Parris again, it was the 80s, I was divorced, and she was living in Portland, Oregon and waiting tables at a lesbian feminist restaurant called Old Wives‘ Tales, where she was always getting in trouble for playing politically incorrect music. [more here: georgerrmartin.com/life/parris.html]

90_He often reads new chapters at conventions, or publishes them online:

When A FEAST FOR CROWS came out, I realized that something close to half the book had already been out there in one form or another — website samples, readings, promotional giveaways, excerpts in magazines, and so on. That was too much.

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89_He writes chapters out of order:

I don’t always write these chapters in the order you read them. The epilogue will close the book, but it won’t be the last chapter written. For instance, the last chapter written on A STORM OF SWORDS was the Red Wedding).

88_Sometimes, chapters take years to turn out right:

Well, I finished a chapter of the DANCE this morning. Which ordinarily would not be occasion for comment, but this was a Bran chapter that I’ve been struggling with for something like six years. Bran has always been the toughest character to write, for a whole bunch of reasons

87_He sees no shame in revising, editing, reworking his books over and over again:

Some day, maybe, some student of fantasy literature may want to peruse all of these partial manuscripts, and document how A DANCE WITH DRAGONS changed over the years. Every time I printed out a copy to send to my editors, I made a second and sent it to the Special Collections at Texas A&M University, where my papers are kept. Maybe someone will get a master’s thesis out of my struggles with this book. [2011]

86_Here’s what happens once a manuscript is „done“:

Since finally completing A DANCE WITH DRAGONS some weeks ago, and announcing it here, I have been working on… drum roll, please… A DANCE WITH DRAGONS! That’s the way it goes with books. You finish, and breathe a sigh of relief… and then you get back to work. There’s always more to be done. Your editor reads it and gives you notes. You make revisions, corrections. A copyeditor goes over the text, finds errors, points out contradictions and inconsistencies, raises queries. You fix some, stet others. Friends and fans gulp down the book, and find mistakes your editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders all missed. You fix those too, as time allows. [2011]

85_He oversees a lot of merchandising and does a lot of consulting for GoT books, video games, figurines, swords etc.:

Mark Twain never sold Huckleberry Finn action figures, and F. Scott Fitzgerald never licensed the rights to make THE GREAT GATSBY into a board game. I remembered the words of my old boss, Ron Koslow, who created the tv show BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and always kept a tight rein on what subsidiary rights he would allow to be sold. He wanted Vincent to be a mythic figure, he always liked to say, and never wanted to see him on a lunchbox. I can understand that point of view. […] On the other hand, long before I was „the American Tolkien,“ I was a comic book fanboy… one of the ORIGINAL comic book fanboys, thank you very much, the ones who started comics fandom. And the comic book fanboy thinks that games and cards and miniatures and all that stuff is hot shit.

84_He hates tax season and blogs about it nearly every year:

As a good liberal, I don’t actually object to paying taxes (although I would rather they spent more of my money on schools and health care and the space program, and less on bombs and tanks and Halliburton)… but I hate having to deal with all the record keeping.

83_During his childhood in New Jersey, he was rather poor:

I love old cars (our family never had enough money to own a car when I was a kid, so I walked and rode the bus and assembled plastic models of cars when other kids were building fighter planes).

82_The 1996 book tour for the novel in his „A Song of Ice and Fire“ series, „A Game of Thrones“, didn’t go great:

Reviews were generally good, sales were… well, okay. Solid. But nothing spectacular. No bestseller lists, certainly. I went on a book tour around that same time, signing copies in Houston, Austin, and Denton, Texas; in St. Louis, Missouri; in Chicago and Minneapolis; and up the west coast to San Diego, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Portland, and Seattle. Turnouts were modest in most places. The crowds didn’t reach one hundred anywhere, and at one stop (St. Louis, if you must know), not only was attendance zero but I actually drove four patrons out of the bookshop

81_His 2011 book tour went better:

My book tour, by the way, was astonishing. More than a thousand people at every appearance. Close to two thousand in New York. And such great people too… unfailingly cheerful and friendly and enthusiastic, despite having had to wait in line, in some cases for many hours. I have the best fans in the world.

80_He’s been writing and selling stories since 1971:

My career did not begin with A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE. Truth be told, I had been a professional writer for twenty years before I typed the first lines of the as-yet-untitled story that would grow to become A GAME OF THRONES. I had published four novels and half-a-dozen collections, won the Hugo and the Nebula and the World Fantasy Award, written science fiction, horror, and high fantasy. Most of it in the form of short stories.

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79_He’s annoyed by Republican voter ID laws:

When I was a kid, we always felt free and superior watching World War II movies, where those evil Nazis were forever stopping the heroes and demanding to see „their papers.“ That would never happen to US, we knew. We were Americans. We did not have to carry „papers.“ Yet now there’s talk of a national ID card, and the driver’s license has become almost that by default.

78_He hated George W. Bush’s presidency. In early 2008, he wrote:

Obama and Edwards both interest me. I am lukewarm about Hillary. I wish she had come out stronger against the war. The best thing about this election, no matter who wins, is that come 2009, we will finally be rid of the worst president in all of American history, that malignant moron George W. Bush.

77_When Donald Trump won the 2016 election, he posted:

President Pussygrabber. There are really no words for how I feel this morning. America has spoken. I really thought we were better than this. Guess not. Trump was the least qualified candidate ever nominated by a major party for the presidency. Come January, he will become the worst president in American history, and a dangerously unstable player on the world stage.

76_In 2015, he hoped that Santa Fe – where he lives and writes – could take in Syrian refugees:

Donald Trump and thirty-one governors have it wrong, wrong, wrong. The Syrian refugees are as much victims of ISIS as the dead in France. Let them in. Santa Fe, at least, will welcome them.

75_In 2016, he pointed out that immigrants made America great:

The vast majority of you reading this are descended from immigrants (aside from those few who are Native American). I know I am. My paternal grandfather came over from Italy as a child. My maternal grandfather was Irish-American, a Brady whose own ancestors hailed from Oldcastle in County Meath. My paternal grandmother was half German and half Welsh. My maternal grandmother had French and English ancestry. I am a mongrel to the bone. In short, American. Wherever they came from, and whenever they made the crossing, all of my immigrant ancestors faced hardships, poverty, and discrimination when they came here. They came looking for freedom, they came looking for a better life. And they found it, or made it… and in the process they stopped being Irish or Italian or German and became Americans. The process is still going on today. Men and women dreaming of a better life still look to America, and cross oceans and deserts by whatever means they can to find that better life. They face hardships and discrimination as well. Not everyone welcomes them. Some talk of walls, of keeping people out, of sending them back. My ancestors faced the same sort of talk. So did yours. It’s an old old story, as old as our republic. Millard Fillmore is dead and forgotten, but the Know Nothing Party is alive and well today, under other names. They still know nothing. But some of us remember where we came from. Some of us remember that it was the immigrants, those tired poor huddled masses, who made America great to begin with.

74_He hates flying, because of invasive security checks:

I have always hated airline „security.“ Step by step, year by year, the TSA and its predecessors have taken away more and more of our freedoms, subjecting millions of perfectly innocent travellers to searches and interrogations and other hassles in the vague hopes of catching hijackers (in the old days) and terrorists (these days). Even if it worked, the price would be too high, but of course it does not work. It has never worked. All of the 9/11 killers strolled through airport „security“ without a problem, yet little old ladies in wheelchairs are pulled from line and patted down.

73_He loves road trips… and roadside attractions:

As much as I hate flying… or rather, what flying has become, thanks to the airlines and the TSA… I love long drives. Seeing the country as you pass through it, rather than just flying over it. Road trips are especially great if you can get off the Interstates. Stopping to eat at little mom & pop eateries, taking in the small towns, visiting the roadside attractions (the weirder, the better).

72_By 2012, he had three assistants, and affectionately called them ‚minions‘:

It’s always nice to be back in Santa Fe, with Parris, the cats, and the minions. And to escape the LA heat as well. But the amount of crap that has piled up in my absence is daunting. There’s just too damn much. Even with three assistants, I am falling further and further behind, and more and more stuff keeps getting dumped on my plate. Somehow just walking back into my office after a trip sends my stress level ratcheting up to ten. [2012]

71_If he doesn’t post updates, his writing is going well:

I was away from my computer three days, and 450 emails accumulated in my absence. Sigh. When my webpage isn’t getting update, that’s usually a sign that I’m lost in my writing, with no energy left at the end of the day for much else. So that’s good. [2008]

70_He doesn’t blog that much about his writing:

Sorry, but I’m never going to be one of these writers who blogs daily about how many words they produced today. I don’t like to talk about the good days for fear of jinxing myself (all writers are superstitious at heart, just like baseball players), and I don’t like to talk about the bad days… well, just because. Writing is like sausage making in my view; you’ll all be happier in the end if you just eat the final product without knowing what’s gone into it.

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69_He’s not looking for storytelling advice from fans and readers:

I really do not like talking about questions I am still wrestling with on a work in progress. It never helps. Art is not a democracy, and these are problems I need to solve myself. Having a few hundred readers weigh in with their thoughts and opinions — which seems to be what happens whenever I post here about DWD — does not advance the process. I’m sorry, but that’s true. I know that many of you would like to help me, but you can’t. I have editors and I have two capable assistants, and that’s sufficient. I’m the only one who can dance this dance.

68_When „A DANCE WITH DRAGONS“ was delayed in 2009, he blogged:

Since the very beginning of this series, I have been guilty of being over-optimistic about how long it would take me to finish the next book, the next chapter, or the series as a whole. I cannot deny that. I have always been bad with deadlines… one reason why I did my best to avoid them for the first fifteen years of my career. That’s an option I no longer have, however. Or at least will not have until A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE is complete. That’s the main reason why I no longer want to give any completion dates. I am sick and tired of people jumping down my throat when I miss them.

67_Everyone has an opinion on how he should spend his time:

I have to admit, the rising tide of venom about the lateness of A DANCE WITH DRAGONS has gotten pretty discouraging. Emails, message boards, blogs, LJ comments, everywhere I look (and lots of places where I don’t), people seem to be attacking me, defending me, using me as a bad example of something or other, whatever. Some of you hate my other projects. You don’t want me co-editing WARRIORS or the Vance anthology or STAR-CROSSED LOVERS or any of the other projects I’m doing with my old friend Gardner Dozois, and you get angry when I post about them here. For reasons I don’t quite comprehend, the people who hate those projects seem to hate WILD CARDS even more. You really don’t want me working on that, „wasting time“ on that, and posting about it here. Some of you don’t want me attending conventions, teaching workshops, touring and doing promo, or visiting places like Spain and Portugal (last year) or Finland (this year). More wasting time, when I should be home working on A DANCE WITH DRAGONS. After all, as some of you like to point out in your emails, I am sixty years old and fat, and you don’t want me to „pull a Robert Jordan“ on you and deny you your book. [2009]

66_Don’t give him unsolicited advice:

These are the kinds of things I grapple with. No comments necessary, really. I am not looking for advice, and in fact I seldom talk about such issues precisely to AVOID unsolicited advice. These sorts of things are best resolved by me and my muse, sometimes assisted by my editors. Just felt like rambling a little. [2010]

65_Some „new“ chapters that he posts online have been polishedand revised for years:

The new chapter is actually an old chapter. But no, it’s not one I’ve published or posted before, and I don’t even think I’ve read it at a con (could be wrong there, I’ve done readings at so many cons, it all tends to blur together). So it’s new in that it is material that no one but my editors (well, and Parris, and David and Dan, and a few others) have ever seen before, but it’s old in that it was written a long time ago, predating any of the samples that you have seen. The first draft was, at any rate. I’ve rewritten it a dozen times since then. Anyway, I’ve blathered on about it long enough, I will let the text speak for itself. Chapter title is „Mercy.“ [2014]

64_He DOES enjoy posting „Things are finally done!“

This is for those who complain I never blog about my work. (I do, but not often. I prefer to announce when something is finally done, rather just endless reiterations of „I am working on X, I am working on Z,“ and I am never going to be one of those „I wrote three pages today“ writers. Sorry, that’s not how I roll). [2012]

63_Early on, he wrote stories for fanzines – but he does not like fan fiction:

Don’t write in my universe, or Tolkien’s, or the Marvel universe, or the Star Trek universe, or any other borrowed background. Every writer needs to learn to create his own characters, worlds, and settings. Using someone else’s world is the lazy way out. If you don’t exercise those “literary muscles,” you’ll never develop them.

62_He has written stories about another writer’s pre-existing characters. But he asked for permission first:

It it does bother me that people hear I wrote fan fiction, and take that to mean I wrote stories about characters taken from the work of other writers without their consent. Consent, for me, is the heart of this issue. If a writer wants to allow or even encourage others to use their worlds and characters, that’s fine. Their call. If a writer would prefer not to allow that… well, I think their wishes should be respected.

61_He liked fantasy writer Terry Pratchett – but didn’t know him well:

Terry was one of our greatest fantasists, and beyond a doubt the funniest. He was as witty as he was prolific I cannot claim to have known Terry well, but I ran into him at dozens of conventions over the decades, shared a stage with him a few times, and once or twice had the privilege of sharing a pint or a curry. He was always a delight. A bright, funny, insightful, warm, and kindly man, a man of infinite patience, a man who truly knew how to enjoy life… and books. [2015]

60_In 2014, he was annoyed that the Emmy Awards don’t much care for fantasy and sci-fi:

This was the 66th annual Emmy Awards. 66 years, and no science fiction or fantasy series has ever been honored. Many have been nominated, yes. None have ever won. [„Game of Thrones“ was awarded „Best Drama“ in 2015 and 2016.]

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59_He loves WorldCon, the science-fiction convention where the Hugo Awards are awarded. He’s overwhelmed by San Diego Comic Con, though:

I attended the very first comicon ever held, incidentally. It was all in one room too, in a Greenwich Village hotel in 1963. Steve Ditko, Fabulous Flo Steinberg, and twenty or thirty high school kids, myself among them. If we only knew where it would lead… […] San Diego Comicon pretty much filled up the entire city of San Diego. Huge, overwhelming, exhausting, a bit scary… one runs out of adjectives. The concom took very good care of me, however, and I had a great time signing, speaking, sweating (it was bloody HOT in San Diego), and tromping up and down the length of the San Diego Convention Center, past hundreds of booths and displays, a giant Lego Batman, and other sights too numerous to mention. There was a very hot Wonder Woman wandering around one day, and an equally hot Mazda RX-8 on display at the Top Cow booth, both of which I lusted after. [2008]

58_He loves giving speeches at Worldcon:

None of us [writers] are exactly strangers to public speaking. Some writers have a standard speech for all occasions, a one-size-fits-all sort of talk. Others write a new speech every year or two. Some wing it. If you are really hard up and/or lazy, you can even take questions from the audience, or ask to do an interview instead of a speech. I confess, I have resorted to all those dodges in my time, at one con or another. A worldcon is different, though. It’s the biggest honor most of us will ever get, unless the Pulitzer Fairy or the Nobel Prize Santa Claus should somehow take note of us, and it requires a real speech.

57_He’s been to nearly every Worldcon since 1971:

I attended my first worldcon in 1971. Noreascon I, in Boston. By then I was already a „filthy pro,“ with two — count ‚em,two– short story sales to my credit, and another half-dozen stories in my backpack that I thought I could show to editors at the con. (Hoo hah. Doesn’t work that way. The last thing an editor wants is someone thrusting a manuscript at him during a party, when he’s trying to drink and flirt and dicuss the state of the field. What can I say? I was green. It was my second con, my first worldcon). In those days, the Hugo Awards were presented at a banquet. I did not have the money to buy a banquet ticket (I was sleeping on the floor of a fan friend, since I did not have the money for a hotel room either), but they let the non-ticket-holders into the balcony afterwards, and I got to watch Robert Silverberg present the Hugos. Silverbob was elegant, witty, urbane, the winners were thrilled, everyone was well-dressed, and by the end of the evening I knew (1) I wanted to be a part of this world, and (2) one day, I wanted to win a Hugo. Rocket lust. I had it bad.

56_His first novel was sci-fi. It came out in 1977:

DYING OF THE LIGHT was first published by Pocket Books back in the dawn of time (that’s 1977 to you young punks), when Jimmy Carter was in the White House, and I was a college journalism instructor with dark brown hair. I had already been writing and publishing science fiction for six years, many of the stories set against the same future history, a very loose background I later named the Thousand Worlds. Novels were long and scary, but I finally decided I was ready to tackle one in 1976. I wrote the entire thing start to finish before giving it to my agent to sell. My title was AFTER THE FESTIVAL. Pocket, after winning the auction against three other publishers, decided that wasn’t science fictional enough and made me change it. I didn’t mind… much. DYING OF THE LIGHT fit the book just as well. By any title, it was a Thousand Worlds book, probably the culmination of that phase of my career. A melancholy, romantic, elegiac sort of novel it was, but then I was a melancholy romantic myself in those days.

55_He took his time with this debut novel:

I wrote my first novel, DYING OF THE LIGHT, without a contract and without a deadline. No one even knew I was writing a novel until I sent the completed book to Kirby to sell. I wrote FEVRE DREAM the same way. I wrote THE ARMAGEDDON RAG the same way. No contracts, no deadlines, no one waiting. Write at my own pace and deliver when I’m done. That’s really how I am most comfortable, even now.

54_He moved to Hollywood and wrote for TV dramas in the mid-to-late 1980s:

My life and career have developed a frightening momentum. I remember once, when I was out in Hollywood, someone described working on a weekly television series as being akin to madly laying rails as the locomotive roars full steam up the tracks just behind you. I’m not in Hollywood anymore, but life still feels like that some days. Lose a day here and a week there, and suddenly that damn train is rolling over you.

53_He likes to encourage and promote other writers:

Robert A. Heinlein once said he could not possibly pay back all those who helped him when he was starting out, so he believed in paying forward, and helping those who came after him.

52_But he’s bad at saying „no“:

I really really really need to learn to say No. No, I will not come to your convention, thanks for asking. No, I will not read your manuscript/ galley proof/ book, but good luck with that. No, I will not write a story for your anthology, I am a year behind writing stories for my own anthologies. No, I will not write a preface/ introduction/ foreword for your book. No, I will not do an interview. [2012]

51_One of his earliest and darkest stories was recently adapted into a graphic novel:

MEATHOUSE MAN the graphic novel is the work of the amazing and talented Raya Golden, my sometime assistant and all-around minion, and long-time friend and quasi-goddaughter, based on a novelette that I originally wrote for Harlan Ellison’s THE LAST DANGEROUS VISIONS back in the dawn of time (well, mid-70s) and eventually published in Damon Knight’s anthology ORBIT 18. Written at one of the lowest points of my life, the novelette „Meathouse Man“ is probably the darkest and most twisted thing I’ve ever written, a story so personally painful to me that I can hardly stand to re-read it even now… that Raya chose this tale, out of all my stories, to adapt and illustrate as a graphic novel, producing a work capable of earning a Hugo nomination… well, that’s just bloody incredible, and a real testament to her dedication, her talent, and her madness. Bravo! [2014]

50_He loved organizing the party for every nominee who did not win a Hugo Award:

In 1980, at Noreascon II, I committed the ultimate sin for a Hugo Loser by winning two Hugos. When I turned up at the party with them in hand, Gardner was waiting with a spray can of whipped cream. He nailed me instead the door, turning my head into a sundae. He even had a maraschino cherry to put on top. (Sadly, no one seems to have taken a picture). (I did get my revenge years later, when Gargy began winning Hugos every year). That double win had endangered my status as a loser, Gardner warned me, but I returned to his good graces the next year at Denvention II, when I lost again, this time to Gordy Dickson. And I’d been so confident of winning that I’d even rented a tuxedo.

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49_In 1985, his life accelerated:

In 1985 I went out to Hollywood to work on TWILIGHT ZONE, and I no longer had the time or energy to organize worldcon parties. I don’t recall exactly how or when the torch was passed, but it was. The parties went on, but I was no longer the one doing them. I believe it was sometime in the 1990s when the Hugo Losers Party somehow became a quasi–official worldcon function, and a tradition arose — don’t know how — of each of them being hosted and run by the following year’s worldcon. [2015]

48_He’s not a fan of retcons and reboots in comic books, and was annoyed when he heard about the 2008 „Spider-Man“ storyline where Peter Parker’s marriage was razed from continuity:

I was puzzled recently when one of my readers emailed me to ask what I thought about what Marvel had done to Spider-Man. I didn’t know what Marvel had done to Spider-Man, but I was curious enough to Google, and pretty soon I found out. Bloody hell. I hate this, and judging from the discussions I am seeing on various blogs, I am not alone. Retconning sucks. Leave the goddamned continuity ALONE, for chrissakes. What happened, happened. Take an old character in a new direction, fine, cool, but don’t go back and mess around with the character’s past. It’s a breach of trust with your audience, as I see it. The DC universe has never really recovered from the Crisis on Infinite Earths, despite all the Crises that have followed, and I think the Marvel universe, and Spidey in particular, will be a long time recovering from this decision. So that’s my two cents. In a nutshell: boo, hiss, shame on you, Marvel. If I had a rotten tomato, I would throw it. [2008]

47_2009, when „A Song of Ice and Fire“ was turned into a pilot for HBO, he was involved in the actors‘ casting:

I’ve met Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner (and their charming moms). They’re terrific, bright and beautiful and bursting with enthusiasm, excited to be a part of this.And now I’m having pangs of guilt about all the horrors that they’re going to have to go through in the months and years to come, thanks to me. I’m going to have to rewrite the books so only nice things happen to Arya and Sansa. Might change the story some.

46_He watched lots of audition tapes at home:

The auditions for the part of Ser Ilyn Payne are the strangest I’ve even been witness to. Ser Ilyn has no tongue and no lines, of course, so the actors just have to stand there and look mean & scary, reacting to the dialogue of other characters being read to them by the casting assistants. No words to work with, just their mouth, eyes, facial expressions. Talk about challenging. I know there are aspiring actors and actresses reading this. You guys have all my empathy. It’s a tough, tough profession you’ve chosen. Good luck to all of you. [2011]

45_He was thrilled about Peter Dinklage, Tyrion:

And playing Tyrion Lannister will be Peter Dinklage, who was almost everyone’s „dream casting“ for the role (he certainly was mine).

44_He loved that, for the TV show, linguists fleshed out his fictional High Valyrian language:

A few years ago, I got a very nice email from a reader who wanted to know more about the vocabulary and syntax of High Valyrian. I blush to admit that I had to reply, „Uh… well… all I know about High Valyrian is the seven words I’ve made up to date. When I need an eighth, I’ll make that up too… but I don’t have a whole imaginary language in my desk here, the way Tolkien did.“The same was true of Dothraki. Lots of characters speak the language of the horselords in my novels, and I did pepper the text with a few Dothraki words like khal and arakh… but for the most part I was content just to say, „They were speaking Dothraki,“ and give the sense of what was said, playing with the syntax and sentence rhythms a bit to convey a flavor.

43_He enjoyed writing the first season episode „The Pointy End“

I actually met a deadline. I turned in the first draft of my script for episode eight of A GAME OF THRONES to David and Dan on the day it was due. Today, as it happens. It’s too long and too expensive, but that’s true of every first draft teleplay and screenplay that I ever wrote.

42_He wrote a complete script. Does that mean: the entire episode?

In a series like this, scenes sometimes get moved from episode to episode, so not everything you’ll see tonight will be mine(except in the sense that is all based on my books, of course). F’rinstance, the bit in the previews, with Tyrion and Bronn in the Mountains of the Moon, that was originally meant to be in episode seven, and was moved into „The Pointy End“ during editing. So that scene, and the encounter with the clansmen, was written by David and Dan. Kind of fitting that „The Pointy End“ airs even as I am working on my season two script, „Blackwater.“ [2011]

41_He visited Ireland and Morocco when the TV pilot was shot. He has met most actors, and likes Sibel Kekilli:

I’ve met some wonderful people through GAME OF THRONES, and Sibel is one of them. What an amazing, talented, courageous young woman. And yes, I confess it: her Shae was better than my Shae. [and, 2014:] We have the best cast in television, and Sibel is a big part of that.

40_For the German program THROUGH THE NIGHT, Martin showed Kekilli Santa Fe. He later came to Hamburg for a reading, and she returned the favor:

Some highlights: Touring MiniatureLand in Hamburg. Wow. Biggest toy train set in the world, but the landscapes and miniatures dwarf the trains. Very glad my hosts took me to see this. Hanging with Sibel Kekilli and her boyfriend, and my German publicist, Sebastian. Sibel fed me Turkish food and showed me some of Hamburg’s nightlife, to reciprocate for the tour of Santa Fe I gave her on INTO THE NIGHT. Hamburg stays up later than Santa Fe, you will be surprised to learn, but chile con queso is nowhere to be found. We drank White Russians while huddled under blankets in an outdoor cafe. Took a canal boat tour as well. [2015]

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39_His writer friend Melinda Snodgrass had trouble with a German robot:

Melinda had STAR COMMAND, her own SF show, which filmed in Germany (ask her about the robot than ran amuck and smashed the set) and should have been picked up for series, but wasn’t.

38_A fictional death that he took hard – and that made him call foul? The second „Alien“ movie is about saving a young kid. When the kid died at the beginning of „Alien 3“, Martin was done with the franchise.

I have never seen the third ALIENS movie. I loved ALIEN and ALIENS, but when I read the early reviews of ALIENS 3, and learned that the new movie was going to open by killing Newt and… what was his name, the Michael Biehn character?… well, I was f*cking outraged. I never went to the film because I did not want that sh*t in my head. I had come to love Newt in the preceding movie, the whole damn film was about Ripley rescuing her, the end was deeply satisfying… and now some asshole was going to come along and piss all over that just to be shocking. I have never seen the subsequent Aliens films either, since they are all part of a fictional „reality“ that I refuse to embrace.

37_He was glad about Obamacare:

Many of you reading this blog today are presumably science fiction and fantasy fans. It would probably shock you to know how many of your favorite writers have no health insurance whatsover. Most midlist writers struggle to get by even at the best of times; lean times can be lean indeed. For a self-employed individual, even one who can afford the premiums, insurance can be very hard to find and obscenely expensive when you do find it… and god help you if you have a pre-existing condition, because the insurance companies sure won’t. [2010]

36_He’s liberal, but likes to read Republican and conservative colleagues:

Whenever I make one of these political posts, I always get a rush of emails. Lots of „right on, you said it, I agree“ mails from those who share my views, a couple of reasoned and thoughtful dissents (which I value), and a handful of „I am never going to read your books again“ screeds. (Those last just make me sad. Not because I have lost a reader, but because such people seem deliberately intent on closing their eyes and shutting down their minds. I grew up reading Robert A. Heinlein, after all, and still have been known to read works by Orson Scott Card, Dan Simmons, Larry Niven, and others whose political views are worlds away from my own. It’s GOOD to read things that challenge your own opinions and preconceptions… or so I have always believed…. [2012]

35_He did object to the Vietnam War, but he’s fascinated by wars and warrior culture:

I was never a warrior. I served in VISTA, not the Army or Air Force, and I opposed the Vietnam War. But I have written a good deal about war and warriors, and read even more about those subjects. Together with Gardner Dozois (a Vietnam era vet), I edited WARRIORS, a mammoth anthology of stories about war and the men and women who fight them. The glories and horrors of war lie at the very center of A SONG OF ICE & FIRE. [2014]

34_He is passionate about the politics and inequalities of TV production:

Let me banish all reality shows from the air! And these ‚talent‘ shows too! Instead of shows where assholes and audiences mack mock of wannabees who cannot sing and dance, let’s bring back the variety show and feature really GOOD singers and really GOOD dancers. Oh, and you movie studios… no more replacing screenwriters at the drop of a hat. It should as hard to replace the writer as it is to replace the director. And that „a film by“ credit at the beginning of pictures should include the name of BOTH writer and director. The film is by both of them, not just one. And every TV series should be required to take X amount of pitches from freelancer writers and beginners. That used to be mandated by the WGA, and way back when it was how a lot of newcomers got their foot in the door, but these days most shows find ways around it, and breaking in is harder than ever. [2014]

33_He lives in New Mexico, but isn’t too familiar with Old Mexico:

Strange to say, although I have lived in New Mexico since 1979, I have never really visited Old Mexico. Oh, I attended a Westercon in El Paso a few years back, and spent an afternoon in Juarez with some other fans and writers. And I spent a few hours in Tijuana back in the late 80s, I believe, while attending Comicon in San Diego. But that hardly counts. There’s a lot more to Mexico than the border towns. My first real visit to Mexico starts tomorrow, when I jet down to Guadalajara for the Guadalajara International Book Fair. [2016]

32_He bought and re-opened a local cinema in 2013. He often blogs about the movies, and he invites writers and artists like Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman to give readings. During these nights, he’s on stage, hosting and asking questions.

The Jean Cocteau is a small Santa Fe art house, with a single screen and 127 seats. It was built in the early 70s as the Collective Fantasy, became the Cocteau later in that decade, went through several local owners who ran it well, and finally became part of the Trans-Lux chain. They closed it in April, 2006, when they shut down their entire chain of theaters. I saw a lot of movies at the Cocteau between 1979, when I moved to Santa Fe, and 2006, when it closed. I like the idea of bringing it back, better than ever. I will not be doing it myself, of course. So please, readers, fans, don’t get nuts. I am a novelist and a screenwriter, not a theatre manager, it won’t be me standing at the concession stand asking if you want butter on your popcorn.

31_He was enraged with Sony pictures when North Korea tried to ban the US comedy movie THE INTERVIEW.

I mean, really? REALLY?? These gigantic corporations, most of which could buy North Korea with pocket change, are declining to show a film because Kim Jong-Un objects to being mocked? The level of corporate cowardice here astonishes me. It’s a good thing these guys weren’t around when Charlie Chaplin made THE GREAT DICTATOR. If Kim Jong-Un scares them, Adolf Hitler would have had them shitting in their smallclothes. Even Sony, which made the movie, is going along. There are thousands of small independent theatres across the country, like my own, that would gladly screen THE INTERVIEW, regardless of the threats from North Korea, but instead of shifting the film to those venues, Sony has cancelled its scheduled Christmas rollout entirely. I haven’t seen THE INTERVIEW. I have no idea how good or bad a film it is. It might be hilarious. It might be stupid and offensive and outrageous. (Actually, I am pretty sure about the ‚outrageous‘ part). It might be all of the above. That’s not the point, though. Whether it’s the next CITIZEN KANE or the next PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, it astonishes me that a major Hollywood film could be killed before release by threats from a foreign power and anonymous hackers. [2014]

30_He bought a huge space for a local Santa Fe artist collective.

Yeah, I bought a bowling alley. Except… well… not really. I bought the former Silva Lanes property on Rufina Circle, a block off Cerrillos Road in south Santa Fe. But there hasn’t been any bowling there since 2009, when Silva Lanes went bankrupt. And, indeed, all the lanes and interior furnishings were ripped out several years ago by a previous „buyer“ who then failed to follow through with the purchase. So essentially I bought a huge empty derelict building (some 33,000 square feet) and a big parking lot. The building, instead, will be used for art… not a traditional gallery, now, but a very exciting and innovative interactive art space. The exhibits will be designed and installed by Meow Wolf, a collective of forty-odd (some very odd) artists here in Santa Fe who have been doing some amazing things over the past decade, but have never had a permanent home before. [2015]

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29_He’s friends with lots of sci-fi and fantasy writers and he often meets them at conventions.

Connie Willis and David Gerrold are both friends of mine. I have known David since the early 70s, Connie since the late 70s. Connie, actually, is avery goodfriend of mine. (Don’t be fooled if you have seen us ripping on one another at cons. That’s the George and Connie show.) [He’s also friends with Diana Gabaldon, and likes the OUTLANDER TV show.]

28_If a writer dies, he thinks the best way to honor them is to buy their books:

Kage Baker has died. Check out her books, if you’re not familiar with them. Flowers and donations and tributes are all well and good, but I’ve always felt that the best way to remember any writer is to read their work. Kage’s work deserves to be read and reread for many years to come. It’s sad to think there won’t be any more of it.

27_It’s easy to suggest nominees for the annual Hugo Award, so he blogs personal suggestions and recommendations every Hugo voting season.

Sadly, no, STATION ELEVEN did not get a Hugo nomination. The reports of my vast power and influence within the field seem to be greatly exaggerated. So far as I can tell, my effect on the Hugo nominations is exactly nil. But I’ll keep recommending good stuff anyway. I’m stubborn

26_To him, the Hugo Awards are huge:

There has been much debate of late about the value of a Hugo. Whether or not it has actual monetary value, whether it can boost a writer’s career or lead to larger advances. Back in 1953, no one was thinking that way. Look at those first awards, and you can see what the rocket is all about. The Hugos are an „Attaboy! You did good.“ They are SF thanking one of its own for enriching the genre, for giving them pleasure, for producing great work. Also, they come with a really cool trophy. Bottom line, that’s what matters.

25_In 2015, conservative and right-wing sci-fi fans organized their Hugo nominee suggestions, so right-wing titles dominated the Hugo ballot. They called themselves „Sad Puppies“, „Angry Puppies“, „Rabid Puppies“, and Martin became involved in blogging about the whole „Puppygate“ turmoil:

If the Sad Puppies wanted to start their own award… for Best Conservative SF, or Best Space Opera, or Best Military SF, or Best Old-Fashioned SF the Way It Used to Be… whatever it is they are actually looking for… hey, I don’t think anyone would have any objections to that. I certainly wouldn’t. More power to them. But that’s not what they are doing here, it seems to me. Instead they seem to want to take the Hugos and turn them into their own awards. [2015]

24_He’s unhappy about the puppy’s notion that the Hugos „exclude“ straight white male readers by „pushing a Social Justice Warrior agenda“:

Straight white men are being excluded. Really? Really? C’mon, guys. Go look at the last five, ten years of Hugo ballots. Count how many men were nominated. Count how many women. Now count the black writers and the Asian writers and the foreign-language writers. Yes, yes, things are changing. We have a lot more women and minorities being nominated than we did in 1957, say, or even 1987… but the ballots are still way more white and way more male than not. Look, I am hardly going to be in favor of excluding straight white men, being one myself (and no, I am not a fan of Tempest Bradford’s challenge). I am in favor of diversity, of inclusion, of bringing writers from many different backgrounds and cultures into the field. I don’t want straight white writers excluded from the ballot… I just don’t think they need to have ALL of it. I mean, we’re SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY FANS, we love to read about aliens and vampires and elves, are we really going to freak out about Asians and Native Americans? [2015]

23_This debate is not about free speech:

My own politics are liberal… which means I lean left, but not way over to the fringe left. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to dissent, all of that has always been central to my political attitudes. The freedom of the artist to create should be absolute. I have always been against censorship, silencing, McCarthyism. (The McCarthy period, a particular fascination of mine, was one of the blackest eras in American history. The Time of the Toad, Dalton Trumbo called it; Trumbo was one of its victims). ((It should be noted, since idiots always misunderstand this point, that freedom of speech does not mean you can say whatever you want wherever you want. If you want to proclaim that you are the new messiah or call for ethnic cleansing of Martians or even promote your new book, I think you should be able to stand on a soapbox in the park, or start your own website, and do just that. I don’t think free speech requires me to let you into my living room to give your speech, or into my virtual living room here on the internet)). [2015]

22_He spoke up against the puppies‘ misogynist attacks against female writers:

Laura Mixon is a „Social Justice Warrior“ if ever there was one. Unlike me, she might even accept that label. She cares about social justice. She hates sexism, racism, misogyny. She wants our field to be more inclusive. She has fought her own battles, as an engineer writing hard SF, and being told that women could not write hard SF. Laura is well to the left of me. She’s also a kinder, gentler, and more forgiving person than I am. And yet she did this, devoted months to it, uncounted amounts of efforts… because someone had to, because lives and careers were being ruined, because people were being hurt. I hope she gets a Hugo. For herself, and for all of Hate’s victims. [2015]

21_But the discussions left him worn out:

Yes, I know that THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER named me „the third most powerful writer in Hollywood“ last December. You would be surprised at how little that means. I cannot control what anyone else says or does, or make them stop saying or doing it, be it on the fannish or professional fronts. What I can controlis what happens in my books, so I am going to return to that chapter I’ve been writing on THE WINDS OF WINTER now, thank you very much. [2015]

20_To finish up the Puppygate discussion, he posted this link:

I want to single out the postings of Eric Flint. The latest, at http://www.ericflint.net/index.php/2015/06/09/a-response-to-brad-torgersen/, is a devastating point-by-point deconstruction and refutation of the latest round of Puppystuff from Brad Torgersen. Flint says what I would have said, if I had the time or the energy, but he says it better than I ever could.

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19_He writes his novels on an old word processor.

What do I know about this Interweb thingie? I still tie messages to the legs of ravens

18_No one has EVER asked him who his favorite „Song of Ice and Fire“ character was.

On some of the foreign trips, I did entire days of interviews. They would park me in a hotel suite, usher in a journalist or a film crew, we’d talk for a half hour, then my hosts would escort that reporter out, and bring in a new one. Some of the journalists were very sharp. Some… ah… weren’t. (A few made me wonder what the hell has happened to the standards of the profession that I once got my degrees in, back at Northwestern.) Sitting around a hotel room talking doesn’t sound so hard, but it can be grueling. Especially when they all ask the same damn questions. (Tyrion is my favorite character. Okay? OKAY? Can we PLEASE put that one to rest?? [2014]

17_He enjoyed working on the companion source book THE WORLD OF ICE AND FIRE.

Which we’ve been working on (along with many other things) lo, these many years. ((And yes, yes, it’s late, what else is new? Please do not blame my faithful collaborators, Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson. They finished their part ages ago, and tossed the ball to me. What can I say? I remain as slow as ever. And I added a lot.)) [2014]

16_He likes that HBO doesn’t have strict time constraints:

Tonight the Season 4 finale of GAME OF THRONES on HBO. Longest episode of the season. One of the things I love about HBO is that you can take as long as you need to tell your story, you’re not locked into the rigid 46-minutes-and-change-to-the-second of the broadcast networks. [2014]

15_He’s fine with nudity.

GAME OF THRONES is often slammed for showing too many breasts. As are other cable shows. And of course you can’t show them at all on broadcast television. Only in America. Why do so many people in this country go mad at the sight of a nipple?

14_He enjoyed the GoT essay collection BEYOND THE WALL.

As the subject of these essays, I will be the first to admit that I have a skewed perspective here. Nonetheless, I think [James] Lowder put together a strong, balanced, and diverse collection of essays, and the quality of writing here was distinctly higher than in some similar volumes. I think I would have enjoyed reading this one even if it WASN’T all about me myself and I. Read it for yourself, and decide.

13_His former assistant/minion Ty Franck is one of the two novelists of THE EXPANSE, a series of sci-fi novels that recently got a TV adaptation.

THE EXPANSE: This is the show that fandom has been waiting for since FIREFLY and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA left the air… a real kickass spaceship show, done right.

12_He enjoys „Westworld“ on HBO. [So I assume he’s fine with Westworld’s many, many Emmy nominations in 2017.]

How many of you have been watching HBO’s big new drama WESTWORLD? If not, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s intriguing. The old Yul Brynner / Michael Crichton movie was just the seed, this one goes way way way beyond that. It’s gorgeous to look at, and the writing and acting and directing are all first rate.

11_He’s executive producing a new TV show for HBO:

Yes, HBO is developing Nnedi Okorafor’s novel WHO FEARS DEATH as a series. Yes, I am attached to the project, as an Executive Producer. I am pleased and excited to confirm that much. I met Nnedi a few years ago, and I’m a great admirer of her work. She’s an exciting new talent in our field, with a unique voice.

10_He has several other TV projects:

I have three shows in various stages of development under the aegis of my overall deal with HBO. There’s CAPTAIN COSMOS for HBO (scripted by Michael Cassutt), there’s SKIN TRADE for Cinemax (to be scripted by Kalinda Vasquez), and there’s a third project in the very early stages that I am not allowed to talk about yet. There’s also WILD CARDS, but that’s at a different studio and I am not involved with it, except to license rights, sign the check, and distribute funds to my writers. Oh, and on the movie side, we seem to be moving toward production on IN THE LOST LANDS, an adaptation of three of my old stories.

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09_There might be even more upcoming movies and TV shows:

When I say, „my plate is full,“ I don’t just mean with WINDS. I am still editing the latest Wild Cards volume, HIGH STAKES. I have an overall deal with HBO, and three new television concepts in various stages of development, with a variety of collaborators and partners. I am consulting on a couple of videogames. There’s the Wild Cards movie at Universal, where I’m a producer. [2015]

08_He’s not sure if HBO would conclude GAME OF THRONES in a series of feature films:

I see that this new crop of stories also raises, once again, the notion of concluding the series with one or more feature films. And in some of these stories, once again, this idea is wrongly attributed to me. Let me state, yet again, that while I love this idea, it did NOT originate with me. It was a notion suggested to me, which I have enthusiastically endorsed… but since I was the first person to raise the possibility in public, somehow I am being seen as its father. Sure, I love the idea. Why not? What fantasist would not love the idea of going out with an epic hundred million feature film? And the recent success of the IMAX experience shows that the audience is there for such a movie. If we build it, they will come. But will we build it? I have no bloody idea. [2015]

07_He wants to write more DUNK AND EGG stories.

It has always been my intent to write a whole series of novellas about Dunk and Egg, chronicling their entire lives. At various times in various interviews I may have mentioned seven novellas, or ten, or twelve, but none of that is set in stone. There will be as many novellas as it takes to tell their tale, start to finish. But only the three mentioned have been published to date. [20014]

06_He’s not worried that the TV show overtook the novels:

How many children did Scarlett O’Hara have? Three, in the novel. One, in the movie. None, in real life: she was a fictional character, she never existed. The show is the show, the books are the books; two different tellings of the same story. There have been differences between the novels and the television show since the first episode of season one. And for just as long, I have been talking about the butterfly effect. Small changes lead to larger changes lead to huge changes. […] we hope that the readers and viewers both enjoy the journey. Or journeys, as the case may be. Sometimes butterflies grow into dragons. [2015]

05_He enjoys the differences between the TV show and the novels:

Jhiqui, Aggo, Jhogo, Jeyne Poole, Dalla (and her child) and her sister Val, Princess Arianne Martell, Prince Quentyn Martell, Willas Tyrell, Ser Garlan the Gallant, Lord Wyman Manderly, the Shavepate, the Green Grace, Brown Ben Plumm, the Tattered Prince, Pretty Meris, Bloodbeard, Griff and Young Griff, and many more have never been part of the show, yet remain characters in the books. Several are viewpoint characters, and even those who are not may have significant roles in the story to come in THE WINDS OF WINTER and A DREAM OF SPRING.

04_He’s annoyed that THE WINDS OF WINTER isn’t done.

Unfortunately, the writing did not go as fast or as well as I would have liked. You can blame my travels or my blog posts or the distractions of other projects and the Cocteau and whatever, but maybe all that had an impact… you can blame my age, and maybe that had an impact too…but if truth be told, sometimes the writing goes well and sometimes it doesn’t, and that was true for me even when I was in my 20s. And as spring turned to summer, I was having more bad days than good ones. Around about August, I had to face facts: I was not going to be done by Halloween. I cannot tell you how deeply that realization depressed me. [2016]

03_But he has lots of side projects and passions:

And yes, before someone asks,I AM STILL WORKING ON WINDS OF WINTER and will continue working on it until it’s done. I will confess, I do wish I could clone myself, or find a way to squeeze more hours into the day, or a way to go without sleep. But this is what it is, so I keep on juggling. WINDS OF WINTER, five successor shows, FIRE AND BLOOD (that’s the GRRMarillion, remember?), four new Wild Cards books, some things I can’t tell you about yet… it’s a good thing I love my work. [2017]

02: Wait – five successor shows?

Some of the reports of these developments seem to suggest that HBO might be adding four successor shows to the schedule to replace GAME OF THRONES. Decades of experience in television and film have taught me that nothing is ever really certain… but I do think it’s very unlikely that we’ll be getting four (or five) series. At least not immediately. What we do have here is an order for four — now five — pilotscripts. How many pilots will be filmed, and how many series might come out of that, remains to be seen. [2016]

01: He’s nearly 70 and calls himself „fat“ – but his health is quite good. His only major hospital stay was in 2010:

I’ve just lived through the Christmas from hell. Most of it was spent in a bed in St. Vincent’s Hospital in Santa Fe. Parris took me in to the hospital emergency room on the morning of Christmas Eve, and they admitted me almost immediately after diagnosis. It seems I had a raging e-coli infection of my urinary tract. Urosepsis, they called it. […] I don’t want to trivilize what I’ve just gone through. I’m a generally healthy guy, and this was the most serious bout of illness I have suffered in decades, and the first time I have seen the inside of a hospital (emergency room visits aside) since 1973. But I am on the mend now, and I expect to be back to my old self by the end of the month at the latest, and back to work well before that. [early 2011]

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my final, 100th observation:

He’s been remarkably silent or one-note on „Wonder Woman“ and „Harry Potter“. I don’t think he likes them much. But he’s been REALLY quiet about „Star Wars: The Force Awakens“ and „Rogue One“. He has been watching J.J. Abram’s „Star Trek“ reboot and did not like it at all.

Saw the new STAR TREK movie last night. No spoilers here, just a resounding thumbs down.

In 2009, he wrote about „Lost“:

I sure hope those guys doing LOST have something better up planned for us. Though if it turns out to be They Were All Dead All Along I’m really going to be pissed.

I know that by that point, J.J. Abrams wasn’t very involved with „Lost“ anymore. But I still suspect that Martin has some issue with Abrams‘ writing or storytelling, but is polite enough to not elaborate on it.

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[looking for more of my work in English? Here’s an interview with author Ayelet Waldman, and here’s one with Saleem Haddad. Und, auf Deutsch: Notizen zur ersten Staffel „Westworld“.]

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„Westworld“: Empfehlung & Kritik

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Vom 7. bis 12. Dezember 2016 sehe ich die erste Staffel von „Westworld“…

…und werde zu jeder Episode kurze Ideen, Anmerkungen, Fragen bloggen. Ich bin Kulturjournalist und schreibe meist über Literatur. Doch ich liebe gute Serien (Favoriten: „Six Feet Under“, „Willkommen im Leben“, „Mad Men“, „Girls“, „Neon Genesis Evangelion“) und blogge hin und wieder ausführlich über Serien und Filme, z.B.

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Über „Westworld“ – Michael Crichtons Drehbuch/Grundidee, den Film von 1973 und Staffel 1 der HBO-Serie von 2016 – spreche ich auch am 15. Dezember auf Deutschlandradio Kultur, im Magazin „Lesart“.

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Links zur Serie:

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1_01: Solide Kulissen, tolle Landschaften, ruhige und übersichtliche Kamerafahrten, grandiose Lichtstimmung! Ich fühle mich in dieser Erzählwelt wohl. Nur der „Kampfstern Galactica“-Look hinter den Kulissen stört: Seit über 20 Jahren sehen futuristische Anlagen fast immer gleich aus. Wollen (oft kreative) Mitarbeiter*innen so arbeiten – in dunklen, sterilen, monotonen Labors? Und müssen die Lagerräume und Sublevels immer aussehen wie in „The Pretender“ oder Michael Crichtons „Coma“: super-creepy?

1_02: Die Hosts sind mir bisher, im Rahmen ihrer Möglichkeiten, sympathisch. Doch Tonfall und Stimmung in der Zentrale machen mich kirre: Zu viele fluchende, paranoide, grundlos gehässige Kollegenschweine, die aufeinander einhacken. Ich denke a) an „unReal“, eine Soap über gnadenlose, bitchy Produzent*innen eines Reality-Formats, aber b) auch an die vielen Berichte über den Stolz, Perfektionismus und die übertrieben gute Stimmung der Menschen, die Disney-Parks betreiben: „Imagineers“. Im „Westworld“-Team wird mir der Conflict Ball zu hart, hämisch geworfen. Jeder sägt am Ast von jedem anderen? Das wird schnell unfreiwillig komisch.

1_03: Mich freut, dass der einzige Mensch, bei dem Libido, Begehren, Sexualität wichtig sind, queer oder lesbisch sein könnte: Elsie (Shannon Woodward). Und ich mag, wie gemütvoll und versponnen Bernard denkt, arbeitet, reagiert. Ich kann mir vorstellen, dass er der größte Sympathieträger wird. Oder, interessanter: für immer mehr Schwierigkeiten sorgt, Menschen in Gefahr bringt.

1_04: Shakespeare-Zitate? Uff. Immerhin: Mal sehen, ob Gertrude Stein zitiert wird/wichtig bleibt, und, ob „Westworld“-Fans deren Bücher durchsuchen. Trotzdem ist mir das drei Nummern zu… gravitätisch. Bei „Lost“ nervte mich schnell, wie sicher sich vor allem die beiden alten Männer Locke und Ben sind, Hauptfiguren in einem großen, metaphysischen Spiel zu sein. Anthony Hopkins (als Robert Ford) und Ed Harris (als Gunslinger) raunen, schmunzeln, spielen, monologisieren im selben Stil… und gehen mir schon im Pilotfilm auf die Nerven: Ich weiß nicht, wieso Harris glaubt, es gäbe ein tieferes Level, eine versteckte Spielebene. Ich weiß nicht, wieso Hopkins nur darauf wartet, dass die Hosts ihre Schöpfer überflügeln. Doch ich fände schöner, klüger, subversiver, falls die beiden Männer nicht Recht hätten, und ihr metaphysisches Gewäsch… Gewäsch bleibt. (Schön an Harris: In echten Bezahl-Spielen sind reiche Geldgeber, „Walfische“, sehr wichtig – und ich glaube, über das Entitlement und die Illusionen von alten Männern, die viel Geld ausgeben, um in einem Spiel zu Göttern zu werden, kann man interessante(re) Geschichten erzählen. Toller Text z.B. über den Spiele- „Walfisch“ Stephen Barnes.)

1_05: Mir scheint, das Hinter-den-Kulissen-Team hat bisher ein, zwei Figuren mehr als nötig. Muss jemand sterben oder gehen? Wer sind die Cylons, Maulwürfe, Betrüger? #balance

1_06: Wie lange dauert ein Narrative Loop, ein Erzähl-Durchgang im Park? Im Pilotfilm sah es aus wie ein Tag – doch die meisten Besucher*innen sind, denke ich, viel länger zu Besuch, und gute Storylines brauchen viel mehr Zeit. Wer räumt auf, wäscht die Kostüme, repariert die Kulissen? Und: Wann? Müssen Besucher*innen z.B. nachts für ein paar Stunden bestimmte Sets verlassen? Oder wird immer nur am Ende jedes Loops geputzt?

1_07: Wer genug Geld hat, um sich von anderen tagelang bedienen zu lassen, ist oft grausam, distanziert oder überraschend ordinär. Mir gefällt, dass das Produktionsteam Westworld als einen Ort beschreibt, in dem reiche Menschen Indianer töten wollen – weil das viel über Feindbilder sagt, Klassenkampf, Rassismen, Klischees. Ich wünsche mir viel mehr Szenen mit Besuchern: Was wollen sie kompensieren? Funktioniert die Illusion, für sie? Sobald im echten Leben Leute erzählen, warum sie MMORPGs spielen, in Disney-Parks reisen, Kreuzfahrten buchen, lassen ihre Gründe tief blicken. Mehr davon hier, bitte: Wie banal, wie rassistisch, wie plump muss der Park sein, damit Menschen dort gern ihr Geld lassen? Bisher z.B. scheinen mir die Gangster/bösen Hosts flach, schlecht geschrieben – was aber zu meiner Befürchtung passt: Ich halte Lee Sizemore (der Brite, der einfallslos flucht und die Storyline der Hosts entwarf) für einen Stümper. Und ich glaube, die Zielgruppe des Parks will eine eher flache Geschichte.

1_08: Dolores ist programmiert, um keiner Fliege etwas zuleide zu tun. Sie tötet die Fliege – und der Pilotfilm endet. Freund M.: „Das hätte nebenher gezeigt werden müssen, in einer beiläufigen Geste. Nicht als finaler Schock. Die Serie erzählt zu langsam, plump.“

1_09: Ich denke an Liverollenspiele – in denen sich Spieler*innen treffen und gemeinsam verabreden, eine Illusion aufrecht zu halten – und wünsche mir, dass a) mehr Besucher*innen die Illusion des Parks als Herausforderung verstehen, daran rütteln, die Roboter und Erzählmechaniken bewusst trollen, sich verhalten wie in einem Luzidtraum; und b) die Serie selbst zeigt, wo die Park-Illusion an ihre Grenzen gerät und, ob extreme Nähe zur Wirklichkeit gut für den Spielspaß ist… oder eben: gerade nicht. Dass im Saloon „Paint it black“ von den Rolling Stones läuft, halte ich für ein gutes Zeichen: Den Machern des Parks ging es offenbar nicht darum, Geschichte (History) nachzubauen… sondern um eine möglichst mitreißende Oberfläche, Spielmechanik. Grundsätzlich also: Alles, was bisher zu schmuddelig, düster, hart war, um in den Holodeck-Episoden von „Star Trek“ thematisiert zu werden? Hier ist Platz! Bitte erzählen, bitte hinterfragen!

1_10: Der Vorspann langweilt mich schon beim ersten Ansehen. Es gibt kaum HBO-Intros, die ich gern mehrmals sehe (vielleicht „Game of Thrones“, weil je nach Episode neue, andere Locations gezeigt werden; vielleicht „True Blood“, wegen Sound/Tempo/Dynamik). Doch bei „Westworld“ denke ich an „Six Feet Under“, 2001: Wenn man bei HBO lange Intros noch heute wichtig/sinnvoll findet… will ich bitte etwas sehen, das ich nicht bereits 2001 sah. (Aber: Das sind 3D-Drucker, oder? Ich bin gespannt, ob die Serie noch etwas Interessantes/mir Neues zeigen wird, über z.B. das Drucken von Fleisch und Fasern.)

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2_01: Zu viele Serien starten mit einem Neuankömmling und seinen ersten Schritten durch ein ihm fremdes System. Im Pilotfilm erschien Teddy kurz als diese Sorte Figur – ein Gast, unterwegs zu einem weiteren Urlaub mit Dolores? Mich freut, dass Folge 1 dann anders verlief; doch Folge 2 trotzdem zeigt, wie neue Besucher – William und Logan – den Park erleben. Auch Maeve (Thandie Newton) hatte im Pilotfilm kaum Raum. Gut, dass offenbar nicht jede Folge vor allem um Dolores, Ford, Bernard kreisen wird.

2_02: Ich bin gesichtsblind – aber kann die „Westworld“-Rollen recht gut unterscheiden, durch Kostüme und die Trennung Park/Zentrale. Ein kleineres Problem sind Stimmen: Spricht Bernard mit Dolores – oder hört sie auch Fragen von Ford? Ich brauche noch Zeit, um das treffsicher zu hören. Den nackten Teddy im Säuberungs-Glaskasten erkannte ich nicht. Die Köpfe in Fords Büro sagen mir so wenig wie die Halle der Gesichter bei „Game of Thrones“. Und ein Problem für mich als Deutscher: „Fackeln im Sturm“ ist lange her. Jedes US-Kind erkennt eine Konföderierten-Uniform; weiß wohl bereits, welches Jahrzehnt der Park nachbildet, wie Mexikaner, Schwarze, Nord-, Südstaatler und Native Americans hier zu- und gegeneinander stehen. Ich weiß es nicht.

2_03: Weniger Panorama- und Luftaufnahmen: In Folge 2 wirkt alles enger, etwas billiger inszeniert. Doch ich bin froh um den modernen Shuttle-Bahnhof, und habe hoffentlich bald ein wenig Überblick, wie die (grundlos düstere) Zentrale aufgebaut ist. [Trotzdem erinnerte mich der Bahnhof an z.B. das tiefste Level des Berliner Hauptbahnhofs. Ich denke oft: Hätte Deutschland noch mehr Geld – alles sähe bald so aus. Nur: mit mehr gebürstetem Stahl.]

2_04: Ich mag, wie viele Handlungsstränge parallel ablaufen. Aber wünschte, alles würde sich schneller, interessanter überschneiden. Meist haben Serien drei Stränge pro Episode. Ab vier parallelen Storylines wird es oft etwas träge. „Westworld“ bleibt langsam, einfach, eher schlicht erzählt – doch durch die sechs, sieben Stränge hatte ich angenehm viel zu denken. Mein Partner hätte Park und Zentrale dagegen lieber kennen gelernt, indem pro Folge nur eine Figur genau verfolgt wird: ein Host, ein Gast, eine Mitarbeiterin wie Elsie, dann Bernard oder Ford… doch mir gefallen die schnellen Brüche, Abwechslungen, Kontraste. Aber: Serien mit vielen Strängen haben oft besondere Episoden, in denen von Anfang an oder plötzlich, mittendrin nur noch eine einzelne Figur ins Zentrum tritt. Deshalb: Bleibt die Struktur? Wirklich in jeder Folge?

2_05: Bei Maeves Flucht durch die Zentrale dachte ich erneut an Michael Crichtons „Coma“. Body Horror (Körper, mit denen etwas *überhaupt* nicht stimmt) und Rape Culture (Frauen als Objekt, Sex als Machtspiel) sind in fast jeder Szene Thema (wie in vielen HBO-Serien, durchgängig) – doch bisher sehe ich nicht, dass „Westworld“ daraus interessante Fragen zieht: Stumpfe ich ab, wenn alle 15 Minuten eine Frau/Maschine/Puppe vergewaltigt wird? Der ganze Park scheint auf Mord, sexuelle Gewalt, „Hier darfst du mit Unterlegenen, die sich nicht wehren können, ohne Angst vor Strafe alles tun“-Versprechen zu setzen: ein recht simples Menschen-, Kunden-, Spieler-Bild. Gibt es NUR Gäste, die Westworld als Western-GTA-Sandbox genießen – und keinen, der das sinn- oder trostlos findet? Und: Werden jetzt zehn Folgen lang einfach nur Tabus verletzt, Verkommenheit gezeigt? Gibt es z.B. Kinder-Roboter, die für Sex bereit stehen? (Nebenbei: Trotz so vieler geschundener, manipulierter Körper wird bisher nichts über Behinderung erzählt.)

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3_01: Online-Freund Gabriel Yoran las meine Fragen zu Folge 1 – und stutzte, warum ich nicht auch z.B. nach dem narrativen Raum frage: „Wo ist da eigentlich was?“ Jetzt, während Folge 3, überlegte ich tatsächlich dauernd: Wie werden die Hosts – z.B. Dolores für ihre vielen Verhöre – hinter die Kulissen transportiert? Warum brauchen Elsie und Stubbs Stunden, um den verirrten Host zu finden? Ist die Zentrale so schlecht überwacht, dass Maeve minutenlang flüchten kann – ohne, dass Sensoren Alarm schlagen? Sobald sich alles weiter zuspitzt, werden wir bestimmt auch Hubschrauber, Hovercrafts, absurde Technik mitten im Park sehen – dramatische Anachronismen. Und was liegt außerhalb der Anlage? Wann spielt das? Bernard führt einen simplen Video-Chat mit seiner (Ex-)Frau – doch sagt (lügt? witzelt?): „You know how hard it is to get an open line out here.“ Wir wissen nichts über die Welt jenseits des Parks – und solche Auslassungen sollen, denke ich, späte Überraschungen, Schockeffekte, möglich machen. Doch ich würde lieber jetzt schon sehen, wie sich Park, Zentrale und Außenwelt/politische Gegenwart gegenseitig bedingen.

3_02: Dolores‘ Kleid, Frisur, Haarfarbe: Alice im Wunderland. Ford lässt sie holen – und sie ist nackt. Bernard lässt sie holen – und sie bleibt angezogen. Ich mag diese Verhöre/Diskussionen (und bin meist überrascht, wie lange solche Szenen dauern, ohne, langweilig zu werden), doch ich habe Angst, dass eine menschliche Figur unsterblich werden wollte/sollte, und jetzt als Virus in den Hosts steckt: Arnold? Oder Charlie, Bernards toter Sohn?

3_03: Schön, wie schnell „Westworld“ Leitmotive, Arc Words, Grundfragen und Gegensatzpaare etabliert. Sprechende Ortsnamen – Escalanto, Pariah, Sweetwater, die „Ghost Nation“. Wiederkehrende Sätze wie „There’s a path for everyone“ oder „Not much of a rind on you“ (Body Horror!). Ich mag, dass übers Träumen gesprochen wird, doch überraschend selten übers Spielen oder über Schuld/Unschuld, oder über Kunst/Künstlichkeit – als Gegenteil zu Natur/Natürlichkeit. Ich mag, dass Ford eine Pyramide entwirft und die Spitze nicht kennt. Ich mag, dass das Labyrinth eine besonders interessante Mitte hat, doch der Park selbst nach außen hin komplexer, attraktiver, reicher wird… und, dass die Serie gern mit Kreisen arbeitet statt mit simpleren Modellen wie „oben vs. unten“, „innen vs. außen“, „hinten vs. vorne“. Beginnt jede einzelne Folge mit Dolores? [Spoiler: nö.] Und wiederholen sich bedeutungsschwangere Sätze nur, weil Menschen/Künstler den Hosts Skripte schrieben – oder gibt es (wie z.B. in „Lost“) auch Wiederholungen, die suggerieren: Das ganze Universum hat hier eine gewisse Symmetrie, Sinnhaftigkeit, höhere Ordnung – nicht bloß der künstliche Park? Mich würde freuen, wenn der Park voll literarischer Motivketten steckt – doch die Zentrale, die echte Welt gar nicht. #realismus #zufall

3_04: Zu viele Szenen im Park sind nur spannend, weil wir nicht wissen, wer Host ist, wer Besucher. Auch Dolores‘ Pistole ist für mich v.a. interessant, weil unklar bleibt, ob sie auch Menschen verletzt. Ich dachte erst, Besucher lassen sich erkennen, weil Leute im 19. Jahrhundert anders fluchten – doch für mich klingen fast alle Figuren gleich (…albern): Der Ton in der Zentrale bleibt zickig, lächerlich überspannt. Und auch im Park wird ständig „Fuck“ gesagt. Will „Westworld“ zeigen: Reiche Menschen sind triebgesteuert, vulgär? Die Technik wird sophisticated – aber der Mensch bleibt plump? Ein fauler Gast mault: „We should have done the Riverboat thing“ – und dieses „Riverboat Thing“ klingt wie eines der fadesten, abgeschmacktesten Angebote im Park: Ich bin gespannt, ob wir die Flussfahrt später noch sehen. Überhaupt wünsche ich mir mehr Besucher, die alles behindern, aus der Rolle fallen, scheitern. Mehr Theme-Park-Kritik und -Parodie-Momente!

3_05: Ist „Buffy“ eine gut geschriebene Serie? Um das zu wissen, achte ich lieber darauf, wie sorgfältig ein secondary character wie Cordelia gearbeitet ist – nicht Heldin Buffy selbst. Ich bin besonders glücklich, wenn selbst tertiary characters wie Anya sorgfältige, liebevolle, intelligente Charakter-Momente haben. In „Westworld“ schaue ich deshalb gern und genau auf kleine Rollen wie Elsie, Stubbs, Clementine, vielleicht auch Teddy: dass Anthony Hopkins und Evan Rachel Wood hundert kluge Sätze sagen dürfen bis Folge 10, ist keine so große Autoren-Leistung. Bitte zeigt mir, dass auch die Randfiguren keine Pappkameraden, Klischees sind! Ich mochte die Meta-Gespräche über Nebenrollen, hier in Folge 3, und warte ab, ob es sich „Westworld“ als Serie so leicht macht wie Sizemore als Autor und a) viele tragische doomed Sidekicks einbaut und b) Frauenfiguren wie Maeve stärker und attraktiver machen will, indem die Autoren beschließen: „So. Aggression und Bitchiness um 20 Punkte erhöhen.“

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4_01: „You think the grief will make you smaller inside, like your heart will collapse in on itself, but it doesn’t. I feel spaces opening up inside of me like a building with rooms I’ve never explored.“ Schönes Bild – und sympathisch, wie schnell Bernard fragt, wer solche Sätze für Dolores geschrieben hat, mit welcher Absicht. Trotzdem: Bisher hat „Westworld“ nichts besonders Kluges über Schmerz, Verlust, Trauma erzählt. Da muss mehr kommen! (Bitte auch zum Begriff „Freiheit“.)

4_02: Gehören alle Native Americans im Park zur „Ghost Nation“? Sind alle in Decken gehüllte Bankräuber, die Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro) begleiten, Hosts? Hat Wyatt die Kontrolle über die als Büffel-Monster verkleideten Schlächter; oder treten auch Besucher seinem Todes-Kult bei? Was tat Lawrence, um am Galgen zu enden? Noch immer sind mir alle „bösen“ Hosts zu eindimensional – und ich wünschte, es gäbe mehr Native Americans und mehr Gäste, die bei ihnen leben. (…was aber vielleicht daran liegt, dass in Deutschland Indianer fetischisiert werden. Ich glaube, vor allem Ostdeutsche würden tausendmal lieber einen „Der mit dem Wolf tanzt“-Freizeitpark besuchen als einen Cowboy-Park.)

4_03: Folge 4 [Update: und 5, und alles aus 6 bis auf die lange Szene mit Maeve und Radioheads „Motion Picture Soundtrack“] ist für mich der trägste, schleppendste Teil der Staffel; vor allem der Western-Stränge wegen: teuer inszeniert, doch mit seichten Hosts in simplen Abenteuer-Szenen, ohne besondere Dringlichkeit, Spannung. Die Erlebnisse von William/Logan und von Ed Harris‘ Gunslinger wirken auf mich wie Sidequests, Holodeck-Lappalien. Für Folge 4 schrieb Ed Brubaker, einer meiner Lieblings-Comicautoren (große Empfehlung: „The Fade Out“, 3 Bände), am Drehbuch mit. Doch für mich kippt die Serie hier von „sehen!“ zu „weniger frustrierend als ‚Lost‘, ‚Galactica‘, ’24‘ – doch oft genauso halb-durchdacht und schleppend.“ Oder, um Logan zu zitieren: „I don’t have time for this color-by-numbers bullshit.“

4_04: Arnolds Schnitzeljagd zum/durchs Labyrinth wirkt recht… konventionell, bisher. Mich verwirrt, dass Ford und die Parkleitung nichts über das Symbol zu wissen scheinen, obwohl es an mehreren Stellen offen auftaucht; und, dass Ed Harris erst nach 30 Jahren Urlaub im Park diesen Indizien folgt. Schade, dass Armistice – die Frau mit dem Schlangen-Tattoo, gespielt von Ingrid Bolso Berdal – ein Host zu sein scheint: Bisher haben wir keine Besucherin länger im Park erlebt. [Edit: Doch. Ich dachte, Armistice und Marti seien die selbe Rolle.]

4_05: Theresa wirkt steif, etwas humorlos (eine Sorte Frau, die Zuschauer meist ablehnen), und, in fast allen Gesprächen, überrumpelt (eine Sorte Figur, von der Zuschauer schnell sagen: „Wie sinnlos. Sie stört nur!“). Romantisch, dass Bernard ihr riet, die Arme nicht zu verschränken – doch etwas patronizing. Dramatisch, dass Ford sie auf der Hazienda bedrohte und einschüchterte – doch: super-patronizing. Ford wirkt cartoonhaft böse: Entweder, er ist übermächtig, kann alles kontrollieren, wissen (…bis runter zur Klapperschlange). Oder, er überschätzt sich, und die Figur ist – genau wie Sizemore – eine Kritik an Hochmut/Hybris. So oder so: Die Menschen der Zentrale werden greller, plumper, langweiliger, mit der Zeit. Nicht: interessanter.

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5_01: „Your mind is a walled garden.“ Bisher überzeugen mich die Metaphern für Bewusstsein und Erinnerung, die Ford und Bernard so lieben, nicht – und auch die Umsetzung solcher Bewusstseins-Prozesse und -Glitches in filmische Bilder könnte mutiger, origineller sein. Beide Männer sprechen viel über Eleganz – doch betreiben eine Kunstwelt, in der „Eleganz“ oft nur die plumpsten Ventile/Angebote für Gewalt und Sex maskieren, rechtfertigen, aufhübschen soll. Wie „elegant“ ist „Westworld“ als TV-Serie… und sollen wir „Eleganz“ hier als echten Wert, Leistung verstehen (Kunst! Zivilisation!) oder als Kosmetik, Oberfläche, dekadente (Selbst-)Täuschung: eine Rechtfertigung/Ausrede, um Gewalt auszuüben…?

5_02: Sind Lawrence und El Lazo die selbe Figur, in zwei verschiedenen Loops? Oder nur der selbe Roboter, aber mit einem neu aufgesetzten/eingespielten Rollenprofil? Falls Host-Körper nur noch „Trägermedien“ für ein digitales Bewusstsein sind: Könnte jemand (Arnold? Dolores?) durch andere Hosts huschen, in sie überspringen? Oder sie fernsteuern? Gibt es Hosts, die zeitgleich mehrere Körper kontrollieren? Kann man Bewusstsein kopieren, auf separate Roboter aufspielen, kann sich eine Host-Persönlichkeit zeitgleich in zwei Körpern entwickeln, spalten: digitale Zwillinge? Oder gibt es umgekehrt – wie bei den Borg – ein Hive-Mind, einen Schwarm?

5_03: Bei „Lost“ nervten mich mysteriöse Tiere – weil dort jedes Wesen, das sich seltsam verhielt, sofort die Frage nach einer höheren Instanz („Ist die Erzählwelt von ‚Lost‘ übernatürlich?“) aufwarf, oder nach einem tieferen Sinn („Sind den Autoren von ‚Lost‘ Motivketten so wichtig, dass sie den Realismus der Erzählwelt opfern – um durch seltsame Tiere ein paar literarische Effekte zu setzen?“). „Westworld“ dagegen darf das – denn wenn sich ein Tier im Park seltsam verhält, denke ich: „Was verrät das über das Design des Parks, die Agenda von Ford oder Arnold?“, nicht: „Zeigt sich in dieser Anomalie ein Gott innerhalb (Mystik!) oder außerhalb (Autoren!) der Erzählwelt?“ Trotzdem: Fords Klapperschlange, Fords Windhund, Felix‘ Vogel? Bisher wirken diese Tier-Spielereien beliebig. [Update nach Folge 7: Hat Ford gelogen – und die Katze und/oder den Hund als Kind selbst getötet?] #intelligentdesign

5_04: Ich mag, wie genussvoll sarkastisch Elsie den „necro-perv“ Dustin in die Ecke treibt, und denke an Veronica Mars‚ Schwung (und Hass). Schlimm nur, dass fast alle Menschen (größte Ausnahmen: die zwei ungesunden Sentimentalos William und Bernard) die schmierigsten „Männer sind Schweine“-Klischees bedienen. Sieht jeder hier die Hosts als „Dolls“ und „Fuck Puppets“? Will „Westworld“ Sympathie für Hosts schaffen, indem die Menschen immer tiefer sinken? Und: Als Arnold vor 30 Jahren fast den Park zerstörte – war das ein Akt der Gewalt gegen Hosts? Oder gegen die Besucher und das Management? #roboterrechte #hostsalsbesseremenschen

5_05: „William doesn’t want to sexually engage with the hosts. How much of that is him being moral and how much of it is him being scared of his own desires?“ Eine wichtige Frage, aus einem sympathischen Interview mit Darsteller Jimmy Simpson: Jede „Westworld“-Figur, die glaubt, das „Gute“, „Richtige“ zu tun, wirkt dabei etwas… platt. Absichtlich? Sollen wir Dolores feiern, wenn sie sagt „People come here to change the story of their lives. I imagined a story where I didn’t have to be the damsel“? Ist es so leicht, sogar fürs Hosts – sich aus der Unmündigkeit zu befreien? Dass Dolores jetzt Hemd und Hose trägt, gibt mir noch kein „Yeah! Strong Female Characters!“-Hochgefühl. Als Zuschauer aber freut mich, wie unklar, ambivalent das bleibt. Ich will das mögen. Doch mag noch mehr, dass mich die Serie immer wieder daran erinnert, was genau ich da mögen will/soll: eine Kette von inszenierten, sentimentalen Erzähl-Effekten. 

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6_01: Es gibt zwei… Komplexitäts-Regler, an denen die Serie beliebig drehen kann. Die Autoren können psychologisch fragen: „Wozu ist jede Figur fähig? Wie tief, weit kann sie sich entwickeln, wie klug können Gegner ihr widersprechen, welche geheimen Absichten, Widersprüche lauern in ihr?“ (Ford, Theresa, Logan – sogar Sizemore?) Oder die Autoren fragen nur technisch: „Welche Backdoors, Rätsel, Programme, Bewusstwerdungsprozesse schlummern in den Hosts?“ (Dolores, Teddy, Maeve – sogar Clementine?) In beiden Fällen geht es um Figuren und ihr Potenzial. Doch Variante 1 braucht Psychologie, Debatten. Variante 2 vor allem Schocks, Science-Fiction-Bla, drastische Twists. Ich fürchte, das ist der Serie wichtiger. Statt „Huch: diese Figur hat viel mehr Tiefe als gedacht!“ setzt jede Folge auf „Whoa: In diesem Host laufen noch drei, vier weitere geheime, unbewusste Sub-Routinen!“ Buh!

6_02: Das für mich größte Problem der Serie: Wie wenig die Zentrale sieht, bemerkt. Ich verstehe, dass der Park weitläufig ist. Ich verstehe nicht, warum die Hosts keine Kamera im Auge haben. Warum Felix und Sylvester nicht überwacht werden. Warum keine Karte in der Zentrale live Alarm schlägt, sobald jeder Mensch und jeder Host in Park oder Zentrale atypische Bewegungen macht. Logan und der Gunslinger waren mehrmals in Gefahr, in Außenbereichen des Parks. Wie viel Gewalt Hosts ausüben dürfen und, wie schnell und effektiv jemand in der Zentrale darauf reagieren kann, scheinen die „Westworld“-Autoren von Fall zu Fall zu entscheiden – oder selbst nicht genau zu wissen. Buh!

6_03: Ich kann nicht fassen, dass ich noch immer sehnsüchtig an die Soap/Satire „unReal“ denke, sobald in der Zentrale gestritten wird: Das ständige „Shit! What the fuck?“ geht mir (besonders bei Elsie) auf die Nerven. Szenen wie zwischen Sizemore, Theresa und Charlotte Hale sah ich vor 20 Jahren in „Verbotene Liebe“. (Nochmal: Warum erfinden die eitlen, von sich selbst überzeugten „Westworld“-Schreiber einen so platten, eindimensional satirischen Autor?) Schwitzende Büromenschen, die erschreckt auf Bildschirme starren und in alle Richtungen lügen, sah ich vier Staffeln lang in „24“ (…dann hatte ich genug). Das „gruselige“ Theater und das „gruselige“ Sublevel wirkten albern. Und ich verstehe Elsie, wenn sie zischt: „It’s like everybody around here has got some kind of fucking agenda except for me.“ Statt Tiefgang: Gifteleien, Wassertreten, künstliches Drama, Scheinkomplexität. Shenanigans, unwürdig für eine scheinbar raffinierte, „elegante“ Serie über raffinierte, hochintelligente Profis. Buh!

6_04: Ich schrieb im Tagesspiegel, wie viel Respekt ich vor Nacktszenen, öffentlicher Entblößung habe. Dolores sollen wir als Zuschauer, glaube ich, schwierig oder tragisch finden. Thandie Newton dagegen hat eine heroische, gewollt sympathische, schlichtere Rolle. Einfacher geschrieben – doch großartig gespielt: verletzlich-aber-bedrohlich, schnippisch-aber-ratlos, zynisch-aber-empathisch. Maeve als Heldin der Serie. Wow.

6_05: Vor knapp zehn Jahren wollte Autor Dwayne McDuffie mehrere schwarze Held*innen ins Ensemble des „Justice League“-Comics aufnehmen – doch wurde von seinen Vorgesetzten bei DC Comics an die „Rule of Three“ erinnert: Zeigt ein Plakat, Heftcover o.ä. drei schwarze Figuren, glaubt das Mainstream-Publikum „Nichts für mich: Das ist ein Nischen-Produkt für Schwarze.“ Mich freut, dass – trotz des Western-Settings – in fast jeder „Westworld“-Szene Figuren of Color wichtige Rollen spielen. Und, dass bisher kein Gegner ihre Hautfarbe als Vorwand nutzte, um sie herabzusetzen (…bis auf Arschloch Sylvester, als er seinen Kollegen Felix „Ding Dong“ nennt).

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7_01: Für fast jede Szene in Folge 7 spricht eine Figur über ihre Vorgeschichte und/oder Sehnsüchte. Theresa fehlen leider solche Szenen. Und Dr. Ford wirkt eher noch eindimensionaler, mit der Zeit. Ich denke an Robert Loggia in einer meiner Lieblingsserien, „Wild Palms“ (5 Folgen, 1992). An Dennis Hopper als Bowser im „Super Mario“-Kinofilm (1993). Und an mehrere – besser geschriebene – Walt-Disney-artige Theme-Park-Leiter in Naoki Urasawas Manga „Billy Bat“: Hopkins ist keine Katastrophe. Doch seine Mimik nervt, und Fords philosophische Fragen, Ideen scheinen mir immer zwei Levels weniger klug/verstörend, als sich die „Westworld“-Autoren das wohl vorstellten. #knappvorbei

7_02: Mir geht zwar nahe, wie Maeve oder Dolores mit ihren Sinnkrisen, ontologischen Brüchen, Bewusstseins-Problemen umgehen. Welche Haltung sie zur Welt, ihren Rollen und den anderen Figuren finden, in einer verwirrenden Gegenwart, nach einer traumatischen Vergangenheit (oder mehreren traumatischen Vergangenheiten!), als meist machtlose Frauen. Die recht flachen, schematischen Vorgeschichten von z.B. Ford (real), Bernard (erfunden) oder Teddy (erst idealistisch-aber-seicht, dann, mit seiner neuen Rolle in Wyatts Massaker, geändert zu zynisch-aber-seicht) sind mir dagegen zu Schema F, sentimental. Das ist wohl Absicht: Dass „Westworld“ beim Effekte-Setzen immer auch zeigen will, wie leicht es sich viele Serien, Geschichten darin machen, Effekte zu setzen und Freudian Excuses für ihre Figuren zu bauen. Aber: Zugleich die Idee „Serien sind voller Kitsch, weil Menschen Kitsch brauchen!“ zu behandeln UND fünfmal pro Folge Kitsch zu liefern, in der Hoffnung, dass wir Zuschauer rufen „Hach. Wie traurig und bewegend!“… ist eine Gratwanderung, die, finde ich, hier oft misslingt.

7_03: Delos will 30 Jahre Nutzer- und Besucherdaten aus dem Park schmuggeln. Ich bin gespannt, was solche Daten wichtig macht, wem Westworld heimlich nützt (oder nutzen sollte, gegen Fords Willen). Als Facebook-Nutzer denke ich, klar, erstmal an Persönlichkeitsprofile, Targeting. Als jemand, der sich bei Sci-Fi oft langweilt, an Supersoldaten oder „Matrix“-artige „Wie lässt sich Wahrnehmung manipulieren, um Menschen ruhig zu stellen?“-Pläne. Im Großen aber bin ich positiv überrascht, dass „Westworld“ bisher niemals metaphysisch wurde: kein Roboter-Pinocchio, der endlich echter Junge werden will, kein toter Charlie als Geist in der Maschine, keine Replacement Goldfishes und – trotz Maeves Storyline – auch keine KI, die sich als besserer, reinerer Mensch versteht, oder nächste Stufe der Evolution. Alles, was bisher metaphysisch, religiös hätte wirken können – Dolores‘ „Erwachen“, Arnolds Spiel, Bernards Reveries – passierte nur, weil Programmierer es absichtlich so programmierten. Kein Twist der Serie wollte bisher zeigen: Maschinen überflügeln uns durch spontanes, unerklärliches Eigenleben; Menschen waren Götter/Schöpfer, doch jetzt sind ihre Schöpfungen plötzlich bessere Schöpfer. Sondern nur: Niemand weiß genau, was Ford und Arnold diesen Maschinen erlauben, möglich machen. #keingottkitsch

7_04: Schön, dass Bernard am Krankenbett das selbe Outfit trägt wie in der Zentrale. Schnellere Menschen denken wohl gleich: „Eine gebaute Erinnerung. Bernard ist ein Cylon!“ – doch ich sah es nicht kommen. Auch Theresas Tod überraschte, schüttelte mich – gute Arbeit! Nur, dass [Spoiler:] William und der Gunslinger/Man in Black identisch sind, weiß ich leider schon seit Folge 2 – weil ich Williams Namen googelte und sofort Schlagzeilen zum „Westworld“-Finale gezeigt bekam]. Ich bin träger, langsamer als viele Netz-Nerds und freue mich, wenn mich eine Serie austrickst, überrumpelt: Williams… Situation hätte ich aber frühestens hier, in Folge 7, in Betracht gezogen, während des Gesprächs im Zug: „[Logan] wanted to see what was at the end of all this. And yet, here you are. Your friend didn’t make it this far. Maybe you’ve got more of an appetite for this than you think.“ (Wichtig nur, weiterhin: an den äußeren Rand zu gehen ist Roberts Vorstellung vom Ende der Westworld-Erfahrung. Arnolds Vorstellung sieht vor, in die Mitte zu gehen, ins Zentrum des Labyrinths. Das sind zwei verschiedene Ideen davon, was eine Geschichte und ein sinnerfülltes Leben ausmachen, und ich hoffe, beide werden von der Serie noch gut zu Ende gedacht und kontrastiert.)

7_05: Ist die große Lektion von „Westworld“: Das Leben hat keine Bedeutung – doch Bedeutung zu schaffen (wie Robert, als Schöpfer), lohnt sich…? (Falls ja: Warum ist Robert dann so fürchterlich, in jeder Hinsicht?) Wohl eher nicht: Das Leben hat keine Bedeutung – doch Geschichten durchaus, und sie bis zum Ende zu lesen, durchzuarbeiten (wie Ed Harris), lohnt sich…? Wohl leider auch nicht (obwohl ich das persönlich glaube): Das Leben hat keine Bedeutung – doch selbst mit läppischen „Spielfiguren“ sollte man ordentlich umgehen (wie William – wobei ich mich frage, ob er Dolores noch als Figur sieht, oder wir als Zuschauer vor allem denken sollen: „Mist! Er projiziert. Was für ein Träumer, was für ein Tölpel“…?) Nachtrag, nach Folge 10: Die tatsächliche Lektion [Erst Leid macht uns zur vollständigen Persönlichkeit] war mir zu seicht – doch mich freut, wie klug und deutlich das „Westworld“-Finale alle Lektionen, die ich hier aufliste, als Fehlschlüsse/zu-kurz-gedacht zeigt.

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8_01: Theresas Geschichte scheint vorbei – und ich bin unzufrieden. Eine ältere, markante, vermeintlich kompetente Frau, die sieben Folgen lang nur reagieren konnte… doch kaum Kontrolle, keine Chance hatte, zu zeigen, wofür sie steht und, warum sie ein Gewinn ist, in ihrer Rolle/Position. Das ist für mich Captain-Janeway-Feminismus: Wer diese Sorte ältere, autoritäre, ‚kalte‘ Frau respektiert, freut sich kurz. Doch wer solche Frauen nervig findet, hat keinen Grund, nach sieben Folgen zu sagen: „Doch – interessante Figur. Und gut, dass sie so nüchtern blieb und viel Verantwortung trug!“ (Ich denke an Chefin Erin Driscoll in Staffel 4 von „24“: auf den ersten Blick stark – doch dramaturgisch ein Witz.)

8_02: Erst jetzt verstanden: Das schwarze Gebälk des Kirchturms in der Wüste ist der Turm, den Ford in Folge 2 „White Church“ nannte; die Kirche war außen nur weiß verkleidet. Ich weiß nicht, ob „Westworld“ hier clever mit Schwarz-gegen-Weiß- und Unter-Weiß-ist-Schwarz- und Weiß-und-Schwarz-nehmen-sich-nichts-Kontrasten spielt? [Und: Ist Arnold in diesem „Die Hosts lernen tanzen“-Dorf gestorben, damals?] Könnte man Figuren sogar paarweise anordnen, je zwei Rollen, die auf den selben Konflikt „hell“ (idealistisches Menschenbild) oder „dunkel“ (zynisches Menschenbild) reagieren? William und Logan, Arnold und Ford, Bernard und Theresa, Dolores und Maeve, Sylvester und Felix? Ist Stubbs ein Gegenpart zu Elsie? Wer vertritt die gegenteilige Weltanschauung von Charlotte? […erst später verstanden: Das Dorf mit der weißen Kirche war nicht nur ein namenloses „Testdorf“/Beta Village für den Park – sondern Escalante, aus Teddys/Wyatts Backstory.]

8_03: Ich hoffe, Williams‘ und Dolores‘ Reise an den Rand des Parks ist trotz Logans Rückkehr noch nicht um – und, dieses „Ende“ des Park-Erlebnisses wird uns zeigen, wie Ford als Erzähler denkt: Wie er sich die Spitze, das Fazit, die schwerste Stufe, Quintessenz eines Parkbesuchs vorstellt. Glaubt auch Ford, der Park soll den Besuchern zeigen, „wer sie wirklich sind“? Ich mag den Rand der „Truman Show“ und hoffe auf eine visuell interessante Lösung.

8_04: Schön auch Dolores‘ Kohlezeichnung des Tals – die nur funktioniert, so lange das Leintuch NICHT glatt und gerade hängt. Ich weiß nicht, ob das als Metapher gedacht war und für welches Sinnbild das stünde – doch der Effekt wird mir lange im Gedächtnis bleiben: ein einfaches Gemälde, ’schief‘ auf eine völlig unebene Oberfläche aufgetragen, die irgendwelche unwichtigen (?) Gegenstände überdeckt, deren Form/Kanten trotzdem jeden Strich bestimmen. The past is never dead – it’s not even past? Man kann nur ‚gerade‘ zeichnen, indem man völlig schief zeichnet und all das verdeckte Zeug untendrunter mitdenkt?

8_05: Ein großes Fass – vielleicht das größte der Serie – ist die Frage nach Gewalt als Agency. Ich schrieb schon weiter oben, dass ich als Besucher/Spieler im Park am liebsten gar keine Gewalt ausüben würde. Weil das ein Spiel, in dem ich selbst nicht sterben kann, interessanter, raffinierter macht. Und, weil ich – wie William, anfangs – glauben will, dass es sich lohnt, als Mensch das Richtige zu tun statt das Einfache/Bequeme. Mein Partner mag „Westworld“, doch ist angewidert, wie viele Messerwunden, zerschossene Köpfe, Gewaltorgien in jeder Folge gezeigt werden. „Das ist eben HBO. In fünf Jahren sehen wir Serien, in denen Frauen nur noch nackt durch Blut waten, 60 Minuten lang“, witzelte ich. Aber im Ernst: „Westworld“ ist eine Serie, in der es dauernd Gewalt gibt – doch bisher habe ich (anders als in z.B. „24“, in vielen „Batman“-Filmen und -Comics, in den meisten Krimis) noch keine einzige „Westworld“-Szene gesehen, die mir zu vermitteln schien: „Gut so. Manchmal ist Gewalt nötig.“ Ich bin gespannt, was mit Maeve und ihrer Armee passiert, und ob die Serie uns dazu verführen soll, sie als feministischen, kick-ass Terminator zu feiern, sobald sie zurück schlägt. Sylvesters Kehle durchzuschneiden kam mir nicht wie ein „Hurra! Die unterdrückte Frau hat Agency! SO sieht Stärke aus!“-Triumph-Moment vor. Niemand, der bisher irgendwen erschoss, erschlug, kalt stellte, schien von der Serie dafür als Held gelobt zu werden. #pazifismus #idealismus

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Bei Romanen weiß ich oft schon nach der Hälfte, ob sie funktionieren.

Bei Serien aber ist oft das (Staffel-)Finale entscheidend: Manchmal zeigt erst die letzte Folge, ob die Autor*innen wussten, was sie tun – oder einfach vor sich hin erzählten. Gleich sehe ich Folgen 9 und 10. Vorher noch: Fragen – an deren Antworten sich zeigen wird, ob „Westworld“ eine Zwischendurch-Serie ist… oder ein (kleines) Must-See:

  • Gibt es „Geister“ im Code der Hosts?
  • Machte sich Arnold unsterblich – lebt er in z.B. Dolores weiter?
  • Ist der heutige Arnold, die Stimme in z.B. Dolores‘ Kopf, ein „echter“ Mensch, der sein Bewusstsein digitalisieren konnte und jetzt als Programm lebt – oder nur der digitale Abdruck eines Menschen, angefertigt von ihm selbst, zu Lebzeiten?
  • Wie sehr werden Maeve und Dolores für ihre „Menschwerdung“ gefeiert: Ist das Ziel, möglichst menschlich zu werden – oder sind Hosts die besseren Menschen?
  • Wie menschlich können Hosts, wie unsterblich können Menschen in „Westworld“ werden?
  • Beneiden Hosts die Menschen… doch beneidet kein sterblicher Mensch stattdessen die Hosts – und wünscht/kauft sich digitale Upgrades?
  • Will die Serie (kitschig) zeigen: Geist, Herz, Liebe, Menschenwürde können aus einem biologischem oder aus einem künstlichen Bewusstsein entspringen – sie haben den selben Wert, sind gleich „echt“, gleich „tief“?
  • Die ersten Folgen zeigten viel Milch. Kommt da noch was?
  • Teddys Rolle blieb recht sinnlos: Wertet das Ende die Figur noch etwas auf?
  • War Sizemore nur eine harmlose Witzfigur?
  • Lebt Elsie noch? [Spoiler]
  • Und Stubbs?
  • Wo ist Maeves Tochter?
  • Und Lawrences‘ Tochter – die das Labyrinth in den Staub zeichnete: Gehört sie, wie Dolores, zu einer Sorte Hosts, die von Arnold „erweckt“ wurde?
  • Gibt es Hosts mit mehreren Körpern?
  • Wozu braucht Charlotte die Daten?
  • Sehen wir die Außenwelt – und wird diese Welt besser oder schlechter, falls es Charlotte gelingt, die Daten dort zu benutzen?
  • Sehen wir Fords neues Narrativ, und erzählt es (…auch: auf einer Meta-Ebene) davon, was am alten Narrativ nicht klappte?
  • Wird Staffel 2 grundsätzlich anders erzählen? Wird Staffel 2 so erzählen, wie sich Ford ein besseres Park-Narrativ vorstellt? (…oder, meta: Wird Ford erklären, was an der Erzählweise von Staffel 1 problematisch war?)
  • Wie spiegelt das Finale den Pilotfilm? Haben sich viele Storylines und Machtverhältnisse in der Zentrale am Ende nur im Kreis gedreht – will „Westworld“ zeigen, dass auch echte Menschen oft in einem Loop leben, oder einem „Pfad“ folgen müssen?
  • Gibt es eine Möglichkeit, den Park als Besucher besser, ganz anders durchzuspielen als William und der Gunslinger? Fragt Staffel 2 (und/oder: Fords neues Narrativ) nach anderen, positiveren Spielweisen anderer Besucher – oder sind Park und/oder Narrativ und/oder Hosts bis dahin eh kaputt, unspielbar?
  • am Wichtigsten:Sehen wir das Zentrum des Labyrinths, und hat es damit zu tun, wie Arnold starb? Teddy erklärte in Folge 5: „The maze is an old native myth. […] at the center, there’s a legendary man who had been killed over and over again countless times, but always clawed his way back to life. The man returned for the last time and vanquished all his oppressors in a tireless fury. He built a house. Around that house he built a maze so complicated, only he could navigate through it. I reckon he’d seen enough of fighting.“
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    Ich muss an Fords creepy Roboter-Familie denken und frage mich, ob wir im Zentrum des Labyrinths ein vergleichbares Haus von Arnold sehen – oder: eine abstraktere Idee davon, was sich Arnold unter „Zuhause“, „Heimkommen“, „Nicht-mehr-Kämpfen-Müssen“ vorstellt.

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9_01: Zwei „Westworld“-Konzepte, zu denen ich mir Fanpages, Texte, Apps wünsche: Das 20-Punkte-Persönlichkeitsprofil der Hosts. Candor, Vivacity, Coordination, Meekness, Humility, Cruelty, Self-Preservation, Patience, Decisiveness, Imagination, Curiosity, Aggression, Loyalty, Empathy, Tenacity, Courage, Sensuality, Charm, Humor, Bulk Apperception. Und die Idee, dass jede Host-Persönlichkeit auf einer (traumatischen) „Cornerstone“-Erinnerung fußt. Was ist deine Cornerstone-Erinnerung? Die Szene, aus der sich alles weitere erklärt?

9_02: Jedes „Dr. Quinn“-TV-Westerndorf hat einen Arzt und einen Prieser. Dass solche Standardfiguren in Sweetwater keine Rolle spielten, freute mich – aber hätten Dolores und Maeve bei ihren ersten Zweifeln, Aussetzern die Ratgeber, Ansprechpartner gehabt, die echte Frauen in den 1880ern in ihren Städtchen hatten… hätten sie ihre Welt weniger schnell und grundsätzlich in Frage gestellt. Dass jetzt, kurz vor Schluss, plötzlich Kirche und Beichtstuhl wichtig werden, lässt mich nochmal grundsätzlicher fragen: Schön, dass fast alle Figuren Atheisten sind (oder ihr Vertrauen jedenfalls in andere Faktoren legen als in Gott). Doch „Gott“ ist in „Westworld“ nur noch Synonym für „Die Person, die am schnellsten denkt, am meisten Macht und Gestaltungsraum hat.“ Das ist zu wenig.

9_03: „I want to love Westworld. I go into every episode of the show hoping that this will be the week the games get put aside so Nolan and Joy can start telling the real story, but with each passing week it feels like the games are the real story„, klagt Alan Sepinwall in seinem besten Text zur Serie – der Kritik zu Folge 9. Ich stimme zu…

9_04: …denn alles, was die Figuren und ihre Standpunkte ausmacht, kann/soll in dieser Erzählung dauernd geändert, verdreht, zurückgenommen werden, möglichst dramatisch. Bei den Hosts sowieso: Wer kann sagen, wer Teddy, Maeve, Dolores „wirklich“ sind? Doch auch bei Logan, William, dem Gunslinger und den Figuren in der Zentrale: Charlottes Andeutungen, Fords beredtes Schweigen etc. machen mir keinen Spaß – denn auch nach neun Folgen weiß ich kaum, wofür diese Leute stehen, und fürchte auf weitere Enthüllungen, die wieder alles umwerfen. Am schlimmsten ist für mich Arnold. Eine Figur ohne Gesicht, deren Weltanschauung, Privatmythologie entscheidend ist für unser Verständnis vom Park, dem Menschenbild hinter den Hosts, Haltung und Philosophie der kompletten Serie. Bernard ist eine Marionette, Ford ein Rätsel, Arnold eine körperlose Stimme, Theresa tot, Sizemore ein schlechter Witz, William macht sich vermutlich etwas vor, der Gunslinger lässt sich nicht in die Karten sehen, und Maeve, Teddy, Dolores sind nur wandelnde Fragezeichen. Das sind keine Figuren, die kluge Standpunkte klug diskutieren. Sondern Chiffren, die hin- und hergeschoben werden können, nach Belieben.  

9_05: „Wer ist die Frau mit dem Ronja-von-Rönne-Gesicht?“ …war alles, was mir zu Angela einfiel. Erst später, online, habe ich verstanden, dass ich den Host hätte erkennen müssen, dass Angela zu drei verschiedenen Momenten drei verschiedene Rollen spielt. Die Western-Storylines bleiben halbdurchdacht, leben von Vertröstungen: El Lazo, Teddys Rolle in Wyatts Massaker, die „Ghost Nation“… immer sind Hosts und Spieler unterwegs, stoßen dabei auf vielsagende Namen, bedrohliche Andeutungen – doch alles bleibt nur hastiger, lästiger, nichtssagender Zwischenschritt, und hinter jedem großen, vermeintlich wichtigem Namen verpufft die selbe Sorte Wegwerf-Bösewicht. Vielleicht ist das Methode – denn auch Hectors Safe ist leer und damit nur MacGuffin/Mittel, die Geschichte voran zu treiben. Als Zuschauer machen mir solche Szenen keinen Spaß, und je länger ich über sie nachdenke, desto ärgerlicher und unlogischer scheint mir alles. Warum z.B. glaubt Hector sofort, in einer Kunstwelt zu leben? Er weiß, dass Maeve die Safe-Kombination kennt und den Safe hätte leeren können. Der Sex im brennenden Zelt, am Ende: Trash.

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10_01: „We have now basically arrived at the plot of the original movie — theme park robots violently escape the shackles of their programming — only in a circumstance where we are rooting for the robots to wipe their tormentors from the face of the planet, is intriguing. That is a show I reckon I could have fun watching, provided it’s not the same overconfident, antiseptic puzzle box that too much of this season was — especially since it all seems to be a prologue for what the actual show will be about“, fasst Alan Sepinwall zusammen. Mich freut – immerhin – dass Staffel 2 ganz andere Konflikte und Hierarchien zeigen muss. Ein paar Ideen zu Season 2, bei TV Tropes.

10_02: Ich denke oft an „The Dark Knight Rises“ von 2012. „The Dark Knight“ (2008) fand ich großartig – doch die Fortsetzung steckte voll riesiger Sätze, Fragen, Konzepte, bei denen ich bis heute vermute: „Das sieht nur aus wie eine Idee. Das klingt nur wie ein großer Satz.“ (z.B. die Bezüge zur Occupy-Bewegung.) Auch bei „Westworld“ gibt es solche Nolan-Sätze, unvergesslich: „A metaphor.“ – „You mean a lie.“ – „Yeah.“ Entweder, Jonathan Nolan hat sehr, sehr lang über solche Sätze und die riesigen Fässer, die sie öffnen, nachgedacht… oder doch: viel zu kurz.

10_03: Arnold trauert um seinen Sohn und bringt sich (mit Dolores‘ Hilfe) um, damit die Investoren Roboter für eine Gefahr halten und den Park nicht öffnen. Ford sind alle Menschen egal – er bringt sich (mit Dolores‘ Hilfe) um, um den Hosts Kontrolle über den Park zu schenken? Ich verstehe ungefähr, was beide Männer am Park stört. Doch ich verstehe nicht, was diese Selbstmorde dafür so zwingend macht – oder erzählerisch zu einem großen Gewinn. [Seltsam auch, wie steif, roboterhaft alle Delos-Aktionäre wirkten, am Strand und während der Gala.] #lapidarerabgang

10_04: Tessa Thompson spielt toll – und ich hoffe sehr, dass Charlotte Hale überlebt. Doch folgende Sätze glaube ich ihr nicht: „But for all of Ford’s obsessing with the hosts‘ verbal tics and convoluted backstories, most of the guests just want a warm body to shoot or to fuck. They would be perfectly happy with something a little less baroque.“ Hier lässt „Westworld“ die Antagonistin (?) sagen: „Tiefgang/barocke Erzählwelten sind Ballast.“ Als sollten wir als Zuschauer denken: „Nein! Barockes Erzählen ist großartig, und ‚Westworld‘ beweist es!“ Doch für mich ist die Serie als Serie kein überzeugendes Argument dafür – und mich stört, dass die Autoren hier so tun, als würde jeder, den „Westworld“ nicht überzeugt, stattdessen einfach nur nach „a warm body to shoot or to fuck“ verlangen. #strawmanargument

10_05: Das selbe Problem, deutlich größer: Ich hätte als Parkbesucher Mühe, mich zu motivieren. Denn wollen Gäste wirklich einen Park, in dem sie nie sterben, ihre Taten kaum Konsequenzen haben? Fast alle Gamer, die ich kenne, suchen herausfordernde Spielwelten. Folge 10 tut so, als hätte sich Delos geirrt, und Ford müsste der Park-Spielmechanik (bzw. den Hosts) ein überfälliges Geschenk machen: die Fähigkeit, zurück zu schlagen. Auf der „Menschenrechte für Roboter“-Ebene verstehe ich das. Doch so zu tun, als wollten alle Menschen alle Hosts 30 Jahre lang nur verlieren sehen – weil Menschen nunmal so sind? Ich glaube das nicht.

10_06: Das selbe Problem – so groß, dass es der ganzen Staffel schadet: Fords Pyramide und Arnolds Labyrinth sind das selbe System. Man wird in mehreren Stufen/Schritten zur Person: 1) Memory, 2) Improvisation, 3) Self-Interest, 4) Suffering. Wenn Maeve sagt, dass sie die Erinnerungen an ihrer Tochter behalten will, wenn Bernard von Cornerstones spricht, wenn Dolores ihre toten Eltern nicht hinter sich lassen will… sollen wir diese Figuren (Hosts!) reif und menschlich finden. Aber: Ich sehe keinen Grund, dieser (netten, aber flachen) Idee erst Strahlkraft zu geben, indem man behauptet Park-Besucher, normale Menschen etc. tun fast immer alles, um Leid oder Widerstände auszublenden. Die „Lösung“ des Labyrinths wirkt groß, weil 08/15-Menschen in „Westworld“ viel zu klein, schwach, unreif wirken.

10_07: Arnold ist Bernard. Arnolds Sohn ist Bernards Sohn. Dolores ist Wyatt. Dolores hört Arnolds Stimme. Doch eigentlich hört sich Dolores, im bicameral-mind-Modell, selbst: Dolores ist Arnold ist Dolores ist Dolores (…und, klar: William ist der Gunslinger; und Teddy fragte sich kurz, ob er selbst Wyatt war): Folge 9 und 10 tun so, als seien all das besondere, kluge dramaturgische Kniffe. Mir wären ein gut gespielter, präzise ausgearbeiter Arnold, ein Wyatt mit klarer Haltung, deutliche Unterschiede zwischen Arnold und Bernard etc. lieber gewesen statt eine Gleichung, bei der jede unbekannte Variable wurstig „erklärt“ wird mit „X? Das ist ein Teil von Y. Und Y ist eigentlich Z. Und Z war mal X.“

10_08: Schön, dass das Finale – wie die ersten vier Folgen – mit Dolores begann. Schön, dass mehrere Bögen geschlossen wurden (z.B. das Foto von Julia, am Times Square). Trotzdem freut mich, dass „Westworld“ keinen großen Loop erzählte und alle Figuren mit ganz neuen Konflikten und Rollen zurück lässt: Dolores als Tyrannin? Maeve als militanter Freedom Fighter? Empathiker Bernard, der sich die ganze zweite Staffel fragen kann, welche Rechte Menschen haben und, ob der Zweck die Mittel heiligt…?

10_09: James Marsden spielte in vielen Liebesfilmen den Romantic False Lead – ein netter Kerl, den die Hauptfigur später für Mr. Right verlässt. Ich hätte mir für Teddy eine bessere, halbwegs stimmige Geschichte oder Entwicklung gewünscht – doch freue mich, dass „Westworld“ bei keiner Heldin zeigt: „Hier ist ein Mann – und er kann dich retten.“ Besonders William erscheint mir (während der 30 Jahre zwischen „Ich suche Dolores“ zu „Ich vergewaltige sie in der Scheune“) als selbstmitleidiger, schäbiger, nutzloser Fuckboy: eine narzisstische Knalltüte, die „Liebe“ liebt – doch seine Partnerin hängen lässt.

10_10: „Die Serie hat ein plattes Menschenbild: Der Park soll zeigen, wer Leute wirklich sind – doch enthüllt bei William, dass er ein weinerlicher, leerer Soziopath ist? Warum sind alle Menschen in dieser Serie im Grunde ihres Herzens Müll?“, klagte ich nach dem Finale. „Nein“, widersprach mein Partner: „Ich glaube, Williams Storyline soll einfach zeigen: Der Park macht krank. Jeden.“

10_11: Elsie küsst Clementine. Besucherin Marti schläft mit Clementine. Logan liegt mit zwei weiblichen und einem männlichen Host im Bett. Nach drei, vier Folgen aber verschwinden alle queeren Momente. Besser als nichts? Oder, wie Buzzfeed findet: deprimierend wenig?

10_12: Toll inszenierte Szene – doch für mich Tiefpunkt, Widerspruch: Wir sollen den Ausbruch von Hector, Armistice, Felix und Maeve sexy, kathartisch, „Matrix“-mäßig großartig finden – oder? „Westworld“ zeigte neun Folgen lang: Leere, selbstzufriedene Gaffer wie Logan lechzen nach Gewalt. Die Serie tat so viel, um mir jede Lust auf explodierende Köpfe zu nehmen. Wozu dieser Schritt zurück? Massaker sind okay, wenn die Hosts gewinnen? (Aber: Es gibt mehrere Parks? „Samurai World“? „Shogun World“? Vorfreude!)

10_13: Ich tue mich ähnlich schwer damit, zu klatschen, wenn Dolores den Gunslinger im Finale durch die Kirche schleift, wie er sie im Pilotfilm Richtung Scheune schleifte: Die Serie hat eindringlich und engagiert gezeigt, wie schnell Frauen, Minderheiten, Schwächere Gewalt erleben können und, wie machtlos sie sind. Aber der… recht billige „Your time is over, trauriger alter Mann!“-Feminismus im Finale langweilt mich – und ich habe Angst, dass Staffel 2 ähnlich plump nach Parallelen suchen wird zwischen Maeves Kampf und z.B. der schwarzen Bürgerrechtsbewegung.

10_14: Der größte „Autoren? Das ist nicht so gesellschafskritisch, clever, wie ihr hofft“-Moment (hier wirklich: „A metaphor? You mean a lie.“), schon in Folge 9: „We humans are alone in this world for a reason. We murdered and butchered anything that challenged our primacy. […] Do you know what happened to the Neanderthals, Bernard? We ate them. We destroyed and subjugated our world. And when we eventually ran out of creatures to dominate, we built this beautiful place.“ …erklärt Dr. Ford – vor einem Indianer-Federschmuck, der vergessen in der Ecke hängt. 

10_15: Maeve sieht Mutter und Tochter im Zug – und steigt wieder aus. „Gut, dass sie umdreht“, sagt mein Partner: „Statt nur sich selbst in Sicherheit zu bringen, will sie den anderen Hosts helfen. Die Revolution muss von innen kommen! Draußen hätte sie sich verstellen müssen, um nicht als Host aufzufallen: Das selbe traurige Versteckspiel wie kurz davor im Park.“ Das stimmt – doch falls es so gemeint war, hätte es klarer gezeigt werden müssen. Ich sah nur „Oh: Sogar bei Robo-Mamis bestimmen Muttergefühle alles.

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(Freund O. wirft ein: „Du hast bei Maeves Ende etwas übersehen: Bernard macht klar, dass Maeve eben nicht frei war – sondern nach einem Programm gehandelt hat, dessen nächster Schritt „outside infiltration“. Indem sie sich – getrieben von der Erinnerung an das Trauma, ihre Tochter zu verlieren – aber tatsächlich entscheidet, zu bleiben, bricht sie zum ersten Mal die Programmierung. Klar kann man sich darüber beschweren, dass es jetzt grade die „Muttergefühle“ sind. Aber ich finde, es geht weiter als das.)

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  • Autor Michael Crichton schrieb 1990 den Roman „Jurassic Park“ (verfilmt 1993) – über einen Vergnügungspark voller Saurier, die außer Kontrolle geraten. Schon 1973 schrieb er das Drebuch „Westworld“ – über einen Vergnügungspark voller Roboter, die außer Kontrolle geraten.

 

  • „Westworld“ ist ein charmanter, sehr geradliniger und simpler Actionfilm. Immerhin aber: trotzdem eine überraschend deutliche Kritik an Menschen, die bei einem Park voller Roboter zuerst denken „Toll: Marionetten, die ich töten oder sexuell missbrauchen kann!“

 

  • Crichton war kein sehr kunstfertiger Autor (oder Regisseur); er starb 2008. Trotzdem hatte er einen sehr genauen Blick auf Technik und Arbeitswelten, z.B. als Produzent von „Emergency Room“. Vor „Westworld“ schrieb er v.a. Groschenromane unter Pseudonym; nach „Westworld“ Klassiker wie „Coma“ und „Jurassic Park“.

 

  • 1976 gab es einen zweiten Kinofilm, „Futureworld“, über den Versuch, Politiker durch Klone/Roboter zu ersetzen, und 1980 eine kurze, erfolglose TV-Serie, „Beyond Westworld“, über Undercover-Roboter, die Terrorakte begehen: beides entstand ohne Crichtons Beteiligung.
  • Ich dachte lange, „Westworld“ sei eine Romanverfilmung. Aber:
„It [Westworld] didn’t work as a novel, and I think the reason for that is the rather special structure of this particular story. It’s about an amusement park built to represent three different sorts of worlds: a Western world, a Medieval world and a Roman world. The actual detailing of these three worlds—and also the kinds of fantasies that people experienced in them—were movie fantasies, and because they were movie fantasies, they got to be very strange-looking on the written page. They weren’t things that had literal antecedents, literary antecedents. They were things that had antecedents in John Ford and John Wayne and Errol Flynn—that sort of thing. In some ways, it’s a lot cleaner as a movie, because it’s a movie about people acting out movie fantasies. As a result, the film is intentionally structured around old movie cliche situations—the shoot-out in the saloon, the sword fight in the castle banquet hall—and we very much tried to play on an audience’s vague memory of having seen it before, and, in a way, wondering what it would be like to be an actor in an old movie“, schreibt Crichton auf seiner Website.
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“In that usual Michael Crichton fashion, he never wrote anything that was just a film-there was always a massive world behind it that could be mined.” – Jonathan Nolan [Showrunner der HBO-Serie]

“Crichton wrote this as an original screenplay and then directed it. There’s no book. What you feel in the film is there’s this larger world that he barely has time to explore. It leaves you breathless. Westworld goes from one f-king massive idea to the next. At one point in there, he references why the robots are misbehaving. He describes the concept of the computer virus. When they were shooting the film it was the same year, or the year before, the appearance of the first actual computer virus. This is why Crichton was so brilliant. He knew so much about the technologies that were about to emerge, spent so much time thinking about how they would actually work.“ – nochmal Jonathan Nolan, Zitat ebenfalls via Michaelcrichton.com

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„Westworld“ (1973) ist also weniger ein Film darüber, wie es sich anfühlen würde, im Wilden Westen zu leben – als darüber, wie es sich anfühlt, in einem (plötzlich, nach Fehlfunktion der Roboter: sehr brutalen und existentiellen) FILM zu stecken.
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„Westworld“ (2016) tut das selbe – doch zieht stattdessen vor allem Videospiel- und Liverollenspiel-Vergleiche: Wie fühlt es sich an, in einem Action- oder (frauenfeindlichen) Sex-Spiel zu stecken?

Und: Wie fühlt es sich an, eine fremdgesteuerte Nebenfigur (ein Non-Player-Character) in einem solchen Spiel zu sein… und das allmählich zu begreifen?

Das Feuilleton vergleicht teure Serien oft mit Dickens etc.: ein modernes Epos, der Roman des 21. Jahrhunderts. „Westworld“ zeigt eine Welt, in der statt Serien ein Western-Spiel diesen Rang einnimmt: Es gibt viele Diskussionen der Park-Macher, -Autoren, -Manager darüber, wie sich das „Narrativ“ des Parks entwickeln soll.
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So wird „Westworld“ zu einer Art… Meta-Kommentar darüber, was solche Serien heute mit ihren Zuschauern machen, was sie uns über uns selbst spiegeln.
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Trotz dieser vielen technischen Gespräche über Erzählkunst, Identifikation, sich-in-Fiktionen-Spiegeln, Empathie, Rollenmuster usw. ist „Westworld“ aber auch eine konventionelle, typische HBO-Serie: krasse Gewalt, minutenlange Nacktszenen, alberne Cliffhanger, übertriebene Wendungen, allerlei abgeschmackte Sentimentalitäten. Die Serie versucht, gleichzeitig sentimental zu sein und zu zeigen: „Schau, wie sehr Menschen sich nach solchen sentimentalen Rollen sehnen!“

Das wirklich Neue daran wurde mir klar, als ich den Film von 1973 sah: viele Motive wurden von 1973 übernommen. Die FORM dagegen stammt komplett aus dem 21. Jahrhundert: ein… recht gnadenloses, enges Erzähl-Korsett, das wir erst seit ca. 15 Jahren kennen – aus Serien wie „Lost“, „Kampfstern Galactica“, „Game of Thrones“. Ich sah noch nie eine Serie, die mir die Erzählform „teure US-Prestige-Serie voller Wendungen, Sex und Gewalt“ SO deutlich als Konstrukt/Schema vorführte. Zugleich als mitreißende, oft überzeugende Serie… und als Meta-Kommentar über solche Serien: „Schau, welche immer gleichen blöden Zahnräder ein Uhrwerk namens ‚anspruchsvolle Serie‘ bilden.“

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In der Serie selbst sind alle Roboter-Persönlichkeiten jeweils um eine Verlusterfahrung, ein Trauma, eine wichtige Erinnerung herum gebaut – die „Cornerstone Memory“. Das heißt: es gibt EINE Geschichte, aus der heraus sich deine Persönlichkeit verstehen lässt – meist eine leidvolle Verlusterfahrung. „Westworld“ erzählt dann…
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a), zynisch: …wie schnell und billig man mit solchen rührseligen Backstories überzeugende Figuren und Erzählungen bauen kann.
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aber auch b), etwas rührselig-buddhistisch… dass Leid eine Person erst zur Person macht – Menschen wie Roboter – und ein Leben ohne Prägung durch Leid und Widerstand kein Leben wäre: Wir werden erst durch Reibung zu Personen, und ich muss mir eine Narration über mich selbst erzählen, um mich selbst begreifen zu können.

Ich kenne keine Serie, in der so viel über das Erzählen (und Erinnern, und Spielen) gesprochen wird. aber: all das stammt aus dem 21. Jahrhundert, nicht aus Crichtons Ursprungs-Vision: eine TV-Serie aufgeschnitten/seziert als Erzählform über das Erzählen von Erzählformen. Erzählen… am offenen Herzen einer Erzählung. #meta
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Als Zuschauer fand ich den Pilotfilm großartig und die Welt des Parks und der Roboter sehr faszinierend. Insgesamt kann ich die Serie auch empfehlen. Aber: So vieles kennt man schon aus anderen Serien, und so viele abgeschmackte Elemente werden hier als abgeschmackte Elemente vorgestellt/ausgestellt, doch dann trotzdem in vollem Ernst benutzt, dass ich an zu vielen Stellen dachte:
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Boah… ja. Wie sentimental und kalkuliert. Typisch HBO-Serie!
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„Girls“ (HBO) – Season 2

girls 2x09 colour montage.

I just finished Season 2 of Lena Dunham’s „Girls“ (HBO).

I liked Season 1. I’m even happier about Season 2.

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Best episode? „Bad Friend“ (2×03)

Worst episode? „Video Games“ (2×07)

Best scene? Marnie’s passive-aggressive, angry, scary Kanye West cover in 2×09:

Worst scene? The final scene of the finale, „Together“ (2×10)

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Overall, Season 2 was faster, less structured and tried out lots of different approaches and storytelling experiments. Many worked. Some did not (at all), and I understand friends who say that these 10 episodes of 2013 were a mess.

I did watch episodes 2×05 to 2×09 over two days – and got very, very sad. Nobody died, and there was no HUGE melodrama. But most plots points, scenes and twists were so sombre, bitter and intense… it was the most affecting TV experience for me since „Six Feet Under“.

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What worked? (Spoilers!) Marnie, Elijah and Hannah – three truly horrible, fascinating protagonists. The brownstone / Patrick Wilson episode. Charlie’s character arc. Shoshanna and Ray’s dynamics. All of Adam’s late-season storylines. Bit characters (most parent, bosses, neighbours, galerists etc.). The music. The bathtub / snot rocket scene. All of the acting (even though I understand if people make fun of Allison Williams).

Also: I liked most sets / colours / the overall late-summer atmosphere. Much improved atmosphere compared to the grey, dusty look of Season 1.

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What did not work? The OCD (yet. Maybe this will gain complexity in Season 3). The Jessa episode, „Video Games“, and her CW-like, kitschy daddy issues. Donald Glover (mere window dressing / lip-service). Many underwhelming scenes with Hannah’s parents.

I wish there could have been more… Shoshanna. Ray. Charlie-without-Marnie. Booth Jonathan, Thomas-John (Jessa’s husband). Scenes of the characters actually working / making money. (Natalia is an underdeveloped character, too.)

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If you haven’t started watching: Here is the trailer for Season 1.

DVDs, in German: Out in late April 2013, for a hefty EUR 33,99 (Link, Amazon).

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Links / much more „Girls“ texts, worth your time:

must-reads:

sets and costumes:

actors and behind-the-scenes:

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debate / criticism / discourse / angry chatter:

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bad sex? or rape? (Adam / Natalia)

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end-of-the-season wrap-up stuff (heavy spoilers!)

I also love THIS photo of Lena directing:

http://instagram.com/p/Omif4gi1Bm/

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more?

Interview: Ayelet Waldman – author of „Bad Mother“ and HBO’s new „Hobgoblin“

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In 2010, when her essay collection „Bad Mother“ (Link) was finally published in Germany, I had the opportunity to interview Ayelet Waldman for a big German weekly, Die ZEIT.

We spoke on the phone, for about 40 minutes, and before I translated and shortened the interview for the – much quicker / condensed – German version (Link), I did a lengthy transcript… colloquialisms, warts and all.

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Ayelet Waldman (Link: Wikipedia) was born in 1964. She studied law at Harvard University and lives in Berkeley with her husband, Pulitzer-winning author Michael Chabon (Link), and their four children. In the last decade, Ayelet Waldman has started to publish mysteries, literary fiction and personal essays – and she’s quickly growing into one of the most outspoken and relatable US intellectuals when it comes to questions of motherhood, domestic life and the conflicts of women in the professional sphere.

In 2011, Chabon and Waldman developed a new HBO drama, the supernatural period piece „Hobgoblin“ (Link). During our phone conversation (in October of 2010), Waldman explained the development and pitching process and the early stages of script development.

Here’s our interview! Enjoy!

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Stefan Mesch: Thank you for having me! I’m nervous – this is my first transatlantic interview!

Ayelet Waldman: Don’t be nervous! I’m like a little machine: You just ask me a question, you turn me on and I will RUN!

Stefan Mesch: Awesome! So you are… an accomplished novelist and just published „Red Hook Road“ this summer, you’re an essayist, you’re a mom, you’re the wife of a Pulitzer-winning author – and you’re addressing all these issues: contemporary parenting, gender roles… How do you see yourself? What’s your place in life right now

Ayelet Waldman: It’s a funny question to ask because I think that in this stage of my life, my head has been down for so long… just looking down, working so hard – I haven’t lifted it up take a more macro look at what I’m doing. It’s more about getting from minute to minute, you know?

But I have been thinking lately that it is time to figure out the greater question of what I’m going to do professionally. When I try to imagine my career having an arc, I’m still figuring out what that arc is. Recently, I had agreed with my publisher to try a second book like ‚Bad Mother‘, a kind of hybrid, essayistic form… but I found myself really resisting doing that and I found that I didn’t have anything that I wanted to say right now. I needed to take a minute to ask myself: ‚What do I want to do next?‘

Not: ‚What is going to sell the most?‘ Or: ‚What is likely to make me the most money?‘ But: ‚What do I really want to do next?‘ And there is a novel idea that I had been working on whenever I had the time. So – that’s what I realized that I actually want to do right now, and it’s what I’m doing: Embarking on another novel project.

I wrote the essays for ‚Bad Mother‘ (Link) in the middle of ‚Red Hook Road‘ (Link), but for this next novel, this will mean a couple of years of quiet. I probably won’t be writing articles! I still have a small public presence via Twitter (Link) and Facebook (Link) – but I think that after this coming election is over, I won’t be having a lot to say about politics.

Stefan Mesch: That’s sad – but I can see that…

Ayelet Waldman: I will write this next book; focus on that instead of having this kind of public persona. I’m also at the stage where my children are old enough that they don’t want me to write about them! They really don’t want me to write about motherhood! So I need to take a more quiet approach: My two oldest are teenagers and I don’t think they even like to hear my name in their house.

Stefan Mesch: So were there… repercussions in your family circle?

Ayelet Waldman: There weren’t really – but I think there would be if I kept writing the kinds of essays that I’ve been writing. If I kept going, I think there would be.

Stefan Mesch: What is making you worried, specifically?

Ayelet Waldman: It’s not so much about being worried. The children now have very independent identities. They are developing stories about their own lives, they’re creating their own narratives. My daughter is fifteen, and she’s entitled to express her feelings herself and not have to see it through the lense of her mother’s thoughts, her mother’s ideas, whether they’d be personal… psychological… or political.

Stefan Mesch: I can see that. And the prospect of another novel sounds great. Were you happy with [this summer’s family novel] ‚Red Hook Road‘?

Ayelet Waldman: I was happy for about fifteen minutes, and that’s how it always is: There’s nothing as horrible as re-reading a book you’re already finished with, so every time I open it up all I see now is places that I could have trimmed! [‚Red Hook Road“s] boxing match? All I wanted to do is go back and cut out the repetetive moments of it – go back and trim and cut and re-write. But you know: I think that happens to every writer.

Red Hook Road“ was a huge step forward for me on a literary level and I worked on it harder than I’ve worked on any book before: I am really proud of that. The quality of my prose took a loop forward. Now, I’m writing on this new novel and I once wrote a book that I loved but that I ended up throwing away for all different sorts of reasons and I had promised myself that I would harvest bits and pieces of it in this new, different work.

I thought: ‚I have this perfect chapter in this book that I wrote (called ‚The Bloom Grows‘) and I’m going to go and use that, change it a little bit and insert it here in the novel!“ Then I went and trimmed it out and I got it into the new novel… and I realized that the prose wasn’t good enough. It seemed clichéd, it seemed hackneyed, it seemed sort of… bulky, it didn’t flow well enough… you know, I wrote it probably seven years ago and it wasn’t good enough anymore!

Stefan Mesch: You could actually see your own progress?

Ayelet Waldman: Yeah – that is what keeps people going from book to book: The idea that you’re making progress, that you’re learning and you’re getting better.

Actually, I don’t remember how many years ago this happened, but it was before I wrote [my novel] ‚Love and other Impossible Pursuits‘ [published in 2006, Link]:

I’ve always straddled this line between being a commercial writer and being a literary writer and I kind of wavered back and forth, and I was whining to my husband about that, and he said: „You know, your problem is that you don’t read like a writer, you read like a reader. You love to read and you grab a lot of books, but you need to make much more conscious decisions what you read and you need to read much more analytically. Once you do that, you’ll find that your prose gets better!“

Initially, I sort of tried to defend myself. But almost immediately, I realized that he was right and that I had been reading too voraciously and too quickly and just for the love of reading. Now I have a much more critical approach to a lot of my reading, and I think you see that in my writing, too: One of the reasons that my writing has gotten better is that my reading has gotten better. Although I still haven’t managed to make it through Proust, which may be a sign that there’s only so far I am going to go.

Stefan Mesch: I was impressed with „Red Hook Road“… so please continue whenever you’ll find the time! What about your timetable, though? Do you see yourself as a mom with a half-time job, or… what’s your… ‚identity‘?

Ayelet Waldman: I don’t know – because whenever I’m not working, I feel like I’m procrastinating. But realistically, I’ll only write a few hours a day. Then, there’s all the other stuff that’s part of the job, like talking to you. So it IS very part-time in the sense that when I was a lawyer, I was working twelve-hour days. But it didn’t feel… you know – I’m probably a full-time a writer.

Because there are writers who claim that they write twelve hours a day, but the only one who really does is Joyce Carol Oates. Everyone else is lying! I certainly produce as much as some full-time writers. But it’s hard to think that when your job is kind of… amorphous and it kind of expands and contracts depending of where you are on your projects, it’s hard to think of yourself as „half-time“ or „full-time“.

I like to think of myself as part-time-everything: part-time writer… I certainly think of myself as a part-time mother because I’m always feeling so guilty that I’m not spending enough time with the kids and as a part-time writer because I’m always feeling guilty that I’m not spending enough time writing… and then there are these long parts of the day where I feel like all I’m doing is things on the internet.

If there wasn’t an internet, I’d be a full-time writer AND a full-time mother and I would do everything beautifully and with incredible focus: I blame the web for all my woes.

Stefan Mesch: When you were an attorney, you were working full-time, and then you switched to being a full-time mom, so basically, fifteen years ago, you still thought of yourself as someone who did things full-time. And then something happened. So… was it a growth process? Or did you just feel like you were falling apart? Was it a crisis? How did this switch happen?

Ayelet Waldman: You know, it had a lot to do with envy: I was working really, really hard and I would get these wonderful e-mails… no, wait, this was before the days of e-mail! I would get phone calls from Michael who would spend all this time with our daughter, playing. He was working at night, but his days were free; he would have these long, languid days and he joyfully put her into one outfit after another to take her photograph – they would spend hours doing that, you know? Taking pictures of the baby.

They would go for walks! They would go to bookstores and just have these lovely days with her that I was jealous of. I was jealous of him spending time with her, but I was also jealous of her because she got to spend all this time with him, and I had this idea that if I came home, we would be able to travel and we would all be together and it would be wonderful and it would be easy.

Working full-time and taking care… it’s exhausting to just do it all, and I had this idea that it would be easy and languid and marvelous. So when I quit, I had in the back of my had the idea that it was going to be short-term, and I couldn’t just walk away from one job, so what I did was I got a part-time job teaching at a law school. When I left my job as a public defender, I would still do SOMETHING – but that was very part-time, it was a single class and it was in the evening and it never… it felt like I was a full-time mom with just this little side thing, teaching law school.

I mean: It wasn’t a mistake. I don’t think it was a mistake to leave my job in the public defender’s office because I ended up writing and that has been a very satisfying carreer for me. But the mistake was thinking that I would ever be able to tolerate being a full-time mother. That was not me!

Stefan Mesch: Because you plunged into depression.

Ayelet Waldman: Yeah. I mean: Something about the monotony of suddenly not BEING someone, you know, not having an independent identity, I just thought it was boring – boring, boring, boring. And I became profoundly depressed. And you know, I taught for a year, and then we moved up to Berkeley and when we came here, I still had another very part-time teaching job, but then I really was a mother… for three years… with two kids, one in pre-school and one home full-time.

And the one who was home full-time was sort of a constant round-the-clock nurser, a VERY good baby, you know, but it really was a very difficult time in my life.

Stefan Mesch: Did you feel guilty that you didn’t enjoy it more? Did you KNOW that you were depressed, or did it really take time to acknowledge the fact that you’re not getting as much out of it as you thought you would?

Ayelet Waldman: I knew that I was depressed, certainly. But I also felt so much shame for not enjoying it… it was awful to not love every minute of it, but it was almost like I couldn’t convince myself. But then I still insisted on doing it because I not only felt that I had to do it, I had to like it. I felt like I was failing.

Stefan Mesch: And what was the turning point? Was there a moment when you stood up and said: „Okay – something needs to change!“?

Ayelet Waldman: I had begun to toy with the idea of writing while I was still teaching. I was writing a lot of legal protocol, and then I started to sort of flirt with the idea of writing this murder mystery. Initially, I had no expectation of being published. It just seemed like something I could be doing. And then I just worked away on that – not working very hard on it, just once a day, during nap time -, but after a couple of years of that (you know: babies sleep a lot!), I had a book.

And THAT was the turning point when I sent the book off to my husband’s agent and she accepted it and sold it and suddenly… it wasn’t like I was happy the next day, it took a lot of time for me to admit that I was writing, and that that was a carreer, too, and to treat that as a real thing, to value it, you know, a long time I was thinking that I was on maternity leave and not that I was acutally writing silly little murder mysteries (Link).

Stefan Mesch: Did you actually tell people around you or was it something that you did in private for a while before you told people that you were working on a manuscript?

Ayelet Waldman: I kept it a secret, I was terrible about that. It seemed so much like I was ‚the writer’s wife‘, ‚working on her own little novel‘, I felt like I had heard that story before and that it made me feel sorry for the woman: ‚Oh, really? Of COURSE she is! Isn’t that cute? Writing a book. Ooooh!‘

I didn’t want to be that person. You know, I’d had this really independent identity, so that suddenly doing something that was so clearly in his shadow, I was emberrassed about it.

Stefan Mesch: Were you emberrassed in front of your husband, too? Did you have to ‚come out‘ to him?

Ayelet Waldman: Yeah! You know, I had made a toast on our wedding. Michael’s first wife was a poet who had never been published, or very rarely, and that was part, I think, of what was wrong with their marriage, so on our wedding, I made this toast on how I’m never going to be a writer and I was always going to have health insurance for him and I was always going to support him and nobody had to worry about us… blah, blah, blah – and than, lo and behold, two years later, I said: „Oh, I’m writing a novel!“

I was horrible about that, so I kept it a secret for a long time. And then, when I gave it to him, I said: „Look. If this is garbage, I want to know. I don’t want to be working on something that is stupid, and I don’t want to be one of those idiots struggling with something they’re bad at, so tell me, tell me if it’s bad!“

And he said: „This is great. Keep going!“ And I wouldn’t hear it. I said: „No. Look: I don’t want to hear it’s great. Tell me the truth!“ And he just kept going „It’s great. Just keep writing!“ And finally, I listened to him and I kept going. And there it was.

Stefan Mesch: But you didn’t write when you were a teenager or when you were in law school?

Ayelet Waldman: No! You know, I was always very good at writing brief. My briefs were always very good briefs and my bosses did rely on me to write these pizzazz-y briefs. I never wrote the typical dry legal prose, I always wrote with a little bit of style because I knew that that’s what I like to read, so I wanted to give… I knew the judges, they were readers, too, and I knew that I could better convince them if your brief is worth the read. But did I ever write fiction or anything? No.

But you know? I was a criminal defense attorney: Much of my writing was telling the stories of my clients and trying to convince the judges to be lenient. And WHAT is that – if not fiction? „Your Honor, this guy is so wonderful – let me tell you about the ways that he is wonderful. Really. I promise! He’s not a bad guy!“

Link to the German version, ZEIT Online: Link

Stefan Mesch: What are you reading right now? Not as in „this very moment“, but you’ve said that you always need to read something to become a better reader.

Ayelet Waldman: I’m reading on three tracks right now. The first track is stuff that I’m reading very specifically for a novel that I’m writing, and that ranges from a lot of Hungarian history – part of the novel is set in Budapest in about 1900 -, so I keep reading and try to find Hungarian fiction which you can’t find a lot translated into English. And I’m expanding to stuff about Vienna in the earliest part of the 20th century, and that’s non-fiction, mostly, although I do still look for novels, too, because those give you a great sense of… you know, if you want to know what people are eating and wearing, it’s good to read fiction from that time period. So the struggle with the book is that so little Hungarian literature has been translated specifically from that period – so I’m reading that kind of stuff.

I am reading for a project that Michael and me are working on together, I’m reading about spycraft and magic…

Stefan Mesch: That sounds awesome – can you elaborate, please? The fanboys will go crazy…

Ayelet Waldman: I can’t say much about the project, but the last book I’ve read was called „Operation Mincemeat“ by Ben Macintire (Link) and it was about this deception perpetrated by MI6 on Hitler’s „Der Adler“ – they tried to convince them that the invasion of the mediterranian was going to come through Greece rather than through Sicily, so they created a very faboulous fake corps with fake letters and all that stuff… I’ve read that.

And then, I always read fiction that I think will inspire… fiction that feels like the novel I am working on. Not likely from the same period or anything like that, just writers who write with a kind of voice that feels right for what I’m doing, that feels like it can help me, so for example when I wrote „Red Hook Road“, I’ve read some Anne Tyler (Link), I’ve read some Elizabeth Strout (Link), I read a bunch of Alice Munro, read and re-read AND re-read Alice Munro (Link)… so for THIS book I’ve just re-read a book by an American writer named Julia Glass called „Three Junes“ (Link) because one of the things I am trying to do is three sections of the book that work independently but also work together, they’re all part of the same novel, but they have different characters. So I just re-read that to pick apart how she does it.

Also, I re-read some Ian McEwan (Link) because of the way he writes about period. „The Innocent“ (Link) is a book that takes place in post-war Berlin and I read the book because I wanted detail on post-imperial culture, I just wanted to take a look on how he dealt with period.

And I have been reading some Coetzee (Link) because there’s a kind of distance he has in his prose. There’s one book in particular, „Summertime“ (Link), that I’ve just read – especially about the way he draws you into the story, he’s so sparse and so precise.

I tend to have sort of a florid tendency and he’s a good antidote for that. There are writers whose work I enjoyed who, if I read them right now, would be really bad for me: If I read Nicole Krauss (Link) right now… she has this same kind of florid tendency that I have. And that wouldn’t work for me right now, so I can read and enjoy those books when I’m working on something else, but right now, I think that would be bad for me – I need writers that are much more strict. I’m always kind of imitating who I’m reading at the moment, and it’s good for me to imitate, so right now, I should do my best to do a pale approximation of Coetzee.

Stefan Mesch: Did this love for reading translate to all members of your family?

Ayelet Waldman: Wouldn’t that be nice? Actually, one of our children said „I hate reading. It’s SO boring!“, and my husband and I promptly just stabbed one another in the heart. No, a couple of them read: Our littlest is an avid reader, but what’s most exciting is that when he picks up a book, he gets sucked into it almost immediately; you can actually see it happening: his face is buried in the book and you can’t pry him out. That’s nice to see.

And our younger daughter, the one who’s dyslexic, also just loves, loves, loves to read, so THEY are readers, our older kids less so, although our [older] daughter, she’s very excited about books she likes, she reads a lot but she also listens to a lot of [radio shows] „This American Life“ and Sarah Vowell, David Rakoff (Link).

And she’s doing this amazing project with Dave Eggers – Dave Eggers has more energy than anyone on the planet. Every year he does this project with high school students where they publish a book. It’s called „Best American Nonrequired Reading“ (Link) and they read, the harvest all those short stories and essays and publications from around America and they put out a book, and she’s on that project this year. I don’t know how that man actually… he must not sleep. But she meets with him and this group once a week and she’s been reading fabulous stuff for that, and I think it’s turning her into an even more devoted reader.

Stefan Mesch: Does that mean she’s part of the editing process? She’s reading all these other peoples‘ texts?

Ayelet Waldman: Exactly, and it’s giving her this great editorial eye, so that’s good for the future, I think – we can ALWAYS use more editors around here (laughs). And it’s so funny because they always have an opinion. I was pitching a TV series to ABC. I did a pitch at the dinner table, and my youngest one, at seven, he said: „Yeah. It’s missing some sha-whoa!“ And I said: „What?“ And he said: „No, it misses something – you need a little sha-whoa!“ And he was totally right, it WAS missing something. I’m not sure what sha-whoa is, but whatever sha-whoa is…. it was missing it.

Stefan Mesch: Is the project still in development? Are you still shopping it around?

Ayelet Waldman: This one died a sad and lonely death, as does most stuff in Hollywood, but I always have some iron in the fire. You know, in America, our lives are basically defined by our desperate need for health insurance, and writers don’t get health insurance and we don’t have any… you know, it’s a complete hysterical, panic-ridden struggle particularly in my family: we’re Jewish, devoted hypochondriacs, so we have all these illnesses real and imagined, so we’re ALL desperate for health insurance, and Hollywood is the only way that writers can get… that WE have found, so we can get insurance, so we always have something in the fire so I can go to my psychiatrist, so I can go to my gastroenterologist… do all those things that your basic neurotic jew must do.

Stefan Mesch: Good luck with these pitches! So… what’s the biggest misperception about motherhood? Do you feel like there’s some big, collective lie?

Ayelet Waldman: Yes – that it’s a constant joy, and that if you’re not full of joy, something is wrong with you. I think that’s the biggest lie. Or… you know what else? There are so many! Another lie is that it can only be done… that it MUST be done in a certain way and that our children do better if we hover over them and manage every moment of their existence, and I actually think that the real truth is that our children, what they need from us, is exactly the opposite, they need from us our inattention, they need to be on their own and they need to be bored and they need to learn to navigate the world, without the… this has been a terrible lesson for me to learn, but kids need to learn to navigate the world without my constant interference! And it’s hard for me to learn that.

You know, I still find myself… just the other day, my son was ill and I was e-mailing with his teacher about the make-up excam, asking when he was going to take it know, but then I thought „He’s thirteen! He can decide! He can find a date for his own damn make-up­-exam, he doesn’t need his mommy doing that for him!“ So I think that’s one of the biggest… I think we all need to learn to let go a little bit more. I mean – I don’t mean to say „Leave your toddler alone, while you go off…“, but…

Stefan Mesch: It’s about giving kids a free range.

Ayelet Waldman: You don’t have to go on every play-date! I don’t know if you have this phenomenom in Germany, the play-date…

Stefan Mesch: Yeah. We have.

Ayelet Waldman: So I can’t tell you how many time these mothers have come to my house and then I’ve suddenly realized ‚Wait a minute, this is… they’re STAYING! This is a play-date for all of us. I have to spend time with these… lovely women.‘

I don’t want a play-date! I want to sit and read the New York Times. I don’t want to play with you! The children will be fine. They’re better off if we’re not playing with them.

Stefan Mesch: So who do you think has an interest to create this kind of image of the happy, fun-loving, easy-going mom? Where does that come from? Who gains by that public idea?

Ayelet Waldman: Who gains? I loved how you said „The happy, fun-loving, easy-going mom“ – wait! Where is she? I want to be her! I think that the current expectation that mothers are ever-present and entirely self-obligating is a curious phenomenom because JUST when women have entered the workforce in greatest numbers these past few decades, three things did happen simultaneously.

One: motherhood suddenly became this thing that you needed to do with all your focus and all your attention. See, my mother used to open the door and said „See you tonight“, but now, suddenly, motherhood demands this constant effort, you must attend the children’s playdates, you must bake the cookies, being a mom becomes this MUCH more demanding, rigulous enterprise… and at the same time, WORK has become this much more demanding, rigulous enterprise. So when I was a young girl and the train pulled into the station from New York City, while this was in suburban New York, all the daddies got off the train at 6.30 at night, you know? Now the train pulls into the station and nobody gets off that train at 6 or 6.30, people get off the train at 8 or 8.30 because work has suddenly expanded and a full-time job is no longer 40 hours a week, it’s much more demanding.

So three things have happened: Women have entered the workplace and SOMEHOW, coincidentally, the workplace has become much more demanding AND their expectations of their role as mothers have become much more demanding, so suddenly, it has become impossible to do both.

So if you’re a conspiracy theorist, you’ll say „Well, this is certainly the patriarchies‘ way of defending it’s hegemony“, right? So now, you’re in a worse place because you might have managed it to work full-time in 1960 and be at home in 1960, but it isn’t. But then, I’m not necessarily a conspiracy theorist: So maybe the answer is just that this is what we have. There’s no point in whining about it. And what we need to do is do our best to change it. I think the most effective way to change both work and home is to demand male participation in the home life because as soon as men realize there are – and I think European men are way ahead of American men in this thing, they are actually spending more time at home and going on paternity leave and all that – but as soon as they realize the rewards and the challenges of being intimately involved in the domestic sphere, they will demand changes in the public sphere that are necessary.

So I have my hope that that will happen. I used to think my job was to raise strong-willed women who will demand that their husbands – if they are heterosexual – can grasp the domestic responsibilities, but now I realize that the much more important job is to raise men who expect to do that, too – as opposed to see this role as a woman’s role.

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After a 40-minute conversation, our interview ended: Ms. Waldman had to get burritos for the ‚burrito day‘ at her son’s school. To finish up, we had a short final exchange by e-mail:

Stefan Mesch: When you wrote „Bad Mother“, did you ever feel like you were over-sharing or outside of your comfort zone? How did you feel about breaching the ‚taboo‘ that still surrounds a lot of domestic problems by adressing your loved ones‘ more personal issues?

Ayelet Waldman: The things that felt like oversharing got edited out! Actually, it’s always funny to me that I’m accused of oversharing. There’s so much people don’t know. And there are so many things I’d simply never say. For example, I don’t think there’s a single time where I’ve ever written about an argument my husband and I have had. Now, obviously, we argue. All couples do. But the nitty gritty of those arguments? That’s not something I’d ever share.

Stefan Mesch: In „Manhood for Amateurs“ (Link), your husband writes about a lot of the same issues – but he makes it sound a little more… whimsical and easy going. Childhood is an adventure, fatherhood is a blessing… does he have a different outlook – or is he in a better place than you?

Ayelet Waldman: Funny. It comes down, I think, to the fact that fatherhood is simply less fraught than motherhood. To receive accolades for being a good father it’s enough, quite simply, to show up. Anything more and you’re a paragon of virtue.

Stefan Mesch: There is a „culture of confession“, with memoirs, talk shows, blogging… but still, your book got so much attention and seems like a rather singular concept: Is there STILL a void that needs to be filled? Is there STILL a need for more *personal* accounts of these kind of first-world struggles?

Ayelet Waldman: Let’s hope so! I’ve got four children to send to college. In all seriousness, I enjoy reading nonfiction and essays that speak to my own experience, and I enjoy reading essays and nonfiction that illuminate the experiences of others. I think that will always be true.

Stefan Mesch: One theme of your writing are control issues and the influence other people’s expectations have on people’s decisions. „Red Hook Road“’s Iris is a very micromanaging mom who wants to shoulder ALL the problems of her family. Do you find these urges inside yourself? Or is it more like some kind of… cautionary tale about helicopter parents?

Ayelet Waldman: Absolutely. Iris is in some ways my worst self. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that she’s the self I’m most afraid of being.

Stefan Mesch: Thank you so much! This was one of the nicest interviews I’ve ever had. Please let me know if I can get you some iTunes or Amazon gift card-thingy: You’ve went out of your way – and I’d like to say thanks!

Ayelet Waldman: OF COURSE NOT. It was an absolute pleasure.

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„Bad Mother“ at Amazon: Link

„Red Hook Road“ at Amazon: Link

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Related Links: Interviews (English)

  • Interview: Sally Pascale – feminist, suburban mother… and the world’s most passionate ‚Green Lantern‘ fan (English, Link)
  • Interview: CEB, author of Collected Editions (English, Link)

Interviews, German: