Factions in Technology that Made a Difference: e-Readers and Self-Publishing Companies

            Last Christmas, I received an e-reader and I found myself to be both excited and anxious. I say this because I was happy someone (I won’t say who) knew me well enough as a reader to get me such a gift. At the same time, I was not sure what I would read that I did not already have in hardcopy. And yet, for sometime I was annoyed that some electronic books were cheaper than their other formats. Suddenly, I wanted to see what was available for me to read on my new e-reader.

            After purchasing some classics, some bestsellers, and some short stories (I really, really wanted to read Rick Riordan’s crossover tales), I went searching for novels available under $5 on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com, and I was amazed at the selection. Of course, I already knew about “Smashwords” and “Draft2Digital,” but I never realized how many texts those sites made available for anyone who was interested in reading them. As many of you know, I enjoy reading fantasy, but some of what I started reading on my e-reader I probably would never have looked at once inside a bookstore. These writers were emerging as authors thanks to those self-publishing companies. A lot of their novels, which I bought and read, were creative and engaging with well-developed characters. Also, I was enjoying these stories to the point where I was staying up late reading chapter after chapter wanting to know what happens next.

            After I had read the fourth book in a series—within 3 days—I began to wonder if, whether or not, any of these authors would have had the chance to publish at all if it were not for the self-publishing companies. I am not saying that it is because of e-readers that such writers have had the chance to publish their works. Actually, e-readers have made reading more compatible and more accessible. It is due to these self-publishing companies online that we are able to read such stories. And, thanks to Amazon, iBooks, and BarnesandNoble.com, the ratings and the comments let others who are interested in the novels to be aware of whether or not each book was worth our time and our money. Seriously, what are the other publishing companies looking to publish? However, thinking back, none of the larger companies originally wanted to publish J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. A smaller company decided to take a chance on the series (in the U.K.). Yes, there have been a few online authors—most notably Amanda Hocking—who eventually earned a publishing contract due to the success of their stories, but those are the large publishing companies who move to make these offers. Are any of the ‘independent’ publishers interested at all? These e-book writers should be admired for their determination and their productions (no, I am NOT an independent author, yet).

            I have always tried to read books from every genre of fiction, but now I am definitely paying more attention to what I read because my e-reader can only hold so many books. The authors I have been reading are some emerging fantasy and paranormal authors: Heather Killough-Walden, Lisa Kumar, B.C. Burgess, and James Maxwell (he is one of the rumored who is to receive a publisher’s contract). Some of the bestsellers I purchased at a reduced price include: Room, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Plain Truth, Still Missing, and Looking for Alaska. Then there are the recommended books such as: Ready Player One, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, A Lesson Before Dying, and Kindred. I believe I am reading more across genres now than I was before I received my e-reader. However, I still have no interest in reading 50 Shades of Grey so do NOT ask me about it.

            Does this mean I am suggesting that everyone buy e-readers and/or we should pay more attention to what ‘everyday writers’ put out? —No, to the former, and yes, to the latter. When Winds of Winter and The Blood of Olympus are released, I plan on purchasing the hardcopy formats. Sometimes there is nothing like reading a (hardcopy formatted) book on your couch. Books cannot and should not fade out the way most newspapers and magazines have because of e-readers and the Internet. The emergence of popular print books by popular authors proves that as long as the books are good and contain what people want to read, there is no fear of either e-readers or independent authors. It is definitely more convenient to carry an e-reader, especially when one is traveling. Sometimes, it is better to travel lighter, but exceptions can always be made.

            Who, or what, do you read on your e-reader?

The Theories and the Hints Hidden within Ice and Fire (Part I)

(Note: Spoilers from A Song of Ice and Fire series are found within this essay.)

            George R.R. Martin is the latest author who has been bombarded constantly with questions and assumptions as to when his next novel—notice I did NOT say publication—will be released. Most have us have experienced the long waiting period when it comes to the next in a series; movies and television shows traditionally top that list. However, with the previous successes of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, as well as other literature series, and movies series such as Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, A Song of Ice and Fire is now one of the hottest items in the publishing and entertainment industries.

            What does this mean? Obviously, fans are driving the author crazy asking about possible release dates and/or sample chapters. And, while he has provided us with some of the latter, he is officially fed up with questions surrounding the former. It has gotten to the point where other authors—such as Neil Gaiman—have had to make public statements defending the extremely busy writer. Between working on a T.V. adaptation and writing novels for his other series, Martin has been able to work on Winds of Winter like we all want him to. Yes, I want it to be released within the next year, but I would prefer if the novel were good rather than rushed.

            Although George R.R. Martin has been working on his latest novel, he has not left his readers with nothing to satisfy their fascination with his fantasy world. He has published several novellas and short stories about Westeros. Most of us have read about Sir Duncan the Tall and recently, about ‘The Dance of the Dragons’ war. Some of us have even gone far as to listen to podcasts whom discuss everything related to these stories, just to receive a better understanding of them (A Podcast of Ice and Fire and Cast of Thrones are excellent ones!). At the same time, Martin is giving us more insight into the history of his world, and possibly giving out hints about some of the characters in the main series.

            There are several theories about the characters within the plot of the series—besides Jon Snow’s mother and the Tyrell Conspiracy—and many of them have yet to be mentioned thoroughly. One popular theory is that Mad King Aerys did bed Joanna Lannister at some point and he might be the father of Tyrion (a few fans believed he might have fathered the twins as opposed to Tyrion) because the Mad King was always infatuated with Tywin’s wife. This is one of many reasons Tywin never liked Tyrion. Is there a chance that Tyrion is a ‘secret Targaryen’? He might not be the only one. There is a theory about the Blackfyres—the bastard line of the Targaryens—who ended up starting the “Golden Company” in Essos (across the Narrow Sea), and which one of the ‘Great Bastards’ might be (is) the “Three-Eyed Raven” who is mentoring Brandon Stark in the ‘Land of Always Winter.’

            Let’s look into the stories of Dunk and Egg (The Hedge Knight, The Sworn Sword, The Mystery Knight). Sir Duncan the Tall (Dunk) meets a young Aegon Targaryen (Egg) and the two of them travel Westeros together as knight and squire. Since Aegon Targaryen looks like a traditional Targaryen—white blond hair and violet eyes—he shaves his head so no one will recognize him. One of his older brothers (Daeron?) does not have this problem because he looks more like the Martells—dark hair and dark eyes—so he can travel throughout the kingdom unrecognized. This leads me to a theory about Varys. His motives for supporting the Targaryens are unknown, he keeps his head shaved, and he tells everyone that he supports ‘the realm’ and not any particular House (I doubt the last one). Is it possible that Varys is descended from the Targaryens, the Blackfyres, or maybe even another House of Valyria (i.e. Velaryon)? It would explain his appearance. We don’t even know the color of his eyes, and I don’t think he has eyebrows (read up on the Mona Lisa for an explanation). Who exactly is Varys?

           This leads into the popular theory surrounding Sir Duncan the Tall. According to the history of Westeros and of the Targaryens, Aegon V and Sir Duncan the Tall died in a fire at Summerhall. However, it is believed that the two decided to leave the ‘royal life’ and return to their simple life of traveling up-and-down the continent like they used to. This would explain Brienne of Tarth and her origins. For instance, a shield matching the description of the one used by Duncan the Tall is located in the armory of House Tarth and Martin has said that there is one living descendant of the famous Kingsguard who would be featured in A Feast for Crows. Just like how dwarfism is found within the Targaryens, high height (not giant like the Cleganes) is found within the descendants of Dunk.

            I have a few theories of my own surrounding Martin’s fantasy series (some of which A Podcast of Ice and Fire mentioned in one of their episodes—thank you!). One, after reading the events of “The Dance of Dragons” from The Princess and the Queen, I am convinced that there are more dragon eggs hidden across Westeros and Essos. This is proven when one of the dragons and its rider leave Westeros for ‘unknown lands,’ and that there may or may not be a dragon’s egg in the House of Black and White, which would explain how Jaqen H’ghar ended up meeting Arya Stark, and who may or may not have killed Balon Greyjoy on orders. In addition, the story was written to give fans an idea as to how the future war will be fought once the dragons (and their dragonriders) make their way to Westeros.

            Two, the Citadel and the Faith were responsible for the death of the dragons during “The Dance of Dragons.” Remember the scene with the mob? There is an unidentified man who preached to and convinced the crowd to kill the dragons while they were in the pit. Plus, a maester tells Samwell Tarly (in A Feast for Crows) that the maesters were responsible for the death of the dragons over one hundred years ago. So, you have the return of dragons in one continent and a group of people who do not want them to return in another continent. Why else would the author mention the extinction of the dragons in one novella and then hint at what might have caused that extinction in one of the novels?

            My third theory is that if this series does reflect the ‘War of the Roses’—as mentioned by George R.R. Martin and defended by yours truly—then, whom is Daenerys Targaryen going to marry in the end? Daenerys is the only known surviving member of the Targaryen dynasty, but she also must marry in order to continue that dynasty. It makes sense for her to marry another Targaryen, but which one? As of right now there are three possible candidates: Jon Snow (if he is proven not to be the son of Ned Stark), Tyrion Lannister (if he is the son of the Mad King), and Stannis Baratheon (he is descended from the Targaryens). Yes, Aegon Targaryen could be the ‘lost son’ of Rhaegar, but then there are theories that he might be a Blackfyre. So, yes there might actually be four candidates for ‘husband/king.’ These four men may or may not have the ‘blood of the dragon’ but we have two more novels (and four more television seasons) before we get the answer to that question. Unless, there are more Valyrian Houses, this is what I am standing by.

            These are both the obvious and the not so obvious theories surrounding what could happen in the later novels and what have been taken from all of the tales released by George R.R. Martin. There are some theories that other readers have all agreed upon, and there are others that might be more of a thought than a theory. Harry Potter fans correctly guessed some of the theories and hints found within the series, so it has been done before. However, please note that the author already confirmed some of these theories as truth. There is more than enough proof within the stories that some theories are more than just a theory. There are still many unanswered questions that await answers, and only George R.R. Martin, David Benioff, and D.B. Weiss know them. I welcome any comments and any rebuttals to what I have mentioned.

 

 

Why I Enjoy…the Harry Potter Series

           In honor of Harry Potter’s 34th birthday, I wish to discuss my experiences with this very popular fictional character. Like many readers, I grew up with the Harry Potter series and I even recall the first time I saw the books in a bookstore. It was the late 1990s and the first two books were available for anyone to purchase and to read. I was still reading the Animorphs series, and while I was curious enough to read the blurb on what the first book was about, I was unsure whether or not I would enjoy this series. No, I did NOT get the book that day, but keep in mind, I just started my adolescent years and I still wanted to read The Babysitter’s Club and Goosebumps.

            After my junior year in high school, Harry Potter caught my attention again when someone recommended the books to my younger sibling. By then, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was published and the plot of that book caught my attention. Keep in mind, I was still unsure if I should read the novels or not. However, one of my childhood best friends—I am still friends with this person—explained to me both the plot and the subplot of the series, and that it was more than the traditional stories of witches and wizards we read as younger children. Then, I asked if I had to read the books in order (most children’s series do not have to be read sequentially) because I wanted to read the third book first. My friend told me that I had to read them in order because of the references made to the previous books in the current ones. My friend understood my eagerness to read Prisoner of Azkaban—my friend enjoyed that one the best as I did—but warned me against skipping Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets. I had my secondary exams that year (both college and high school), so I had to read them during summer vacation.

            The books were not just about the protagonist’s identity and school life, but learning about what to do with yourself when faced with a decision. Harry, Ron, and Hermione make decisions in which they can get killed, or expelled, but they do so because they believe them to be the best choices at the time. Most of the time, they are the better decisions: going after the teacher who is trying to steal the Stone, going into the Dark Forest to gather information, making the decision on who to trust based on what everyone else believes or what you alone know. Plus, these books read more like mystery novels rather than fantasy because readers were not sure what the “big secret” was and/or who the “betrayer” is within the magical world. Keep in mind that these people did not have to be tied with the main plot of Lord Voldemort in order to go against Harry and Albus Dumbledore. Remember how Harry gets treated by everyone at Hogwarts when it is believed that he was the “Heir of Slytherin” and when the Triwizard Tournament begins? And, Harry gets shunned by the entire community when he attempts to warn the other witches and wizards about Voldemort’s return. Let’s face it, just about everyone was ignored by their classmates and friends at school for something we did or did not do. It was then up to us, as an individual, either to stick with that one decision, or to change our views to reflect what everyone else (wanted to) believe.

            The Harry Potter series allowed readers to grow up with the characters as well. As the characters grow from children to adolescents, we see the changes they go through because we were currently going through those phases ourselves. Indeed, J.K. Rowling went further and included a little of everything a student could go through while growing up, and not just with the main characters. We learn that Hagrid’s mother left him when he was very young and his father died while he was at Hogwarts, Severus Snape’s parents divorced when he was a kid, and Neville Longbottom is raised by his grandmother because his parents are hospitalized (in the mental ward). Then there is the issue of balancing school and homework with after school activities. Hermione helps Harry and Ron with their studies and she has to learn to balance her own school schedule (one can only take so many classes). Friendships and romance begin to merge as they decide whether or not you want to date one of your best friends or a classmate. Then, we witness the losses that occur during the school year. Classmates and relatives die during the school year due to accidents and/or murder. 

            This brings me to the end of my senior year in high school. After I finished the last of my exams (they were in May), I picked up Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and almost dropped the book after reading the first chapter. Even now, I cannot think of any children’s and/or teenaged fiction I’ve read—except for the ones where the tragedy occurred before the beginning of the novel—where someone, anyone, dies that quickly into the novel. Then, there are the other two deaths; yes, there are two more, read the book again! I think it is safe to say that the surprising, and somewhat expected, deaths in Harry Potter prepared me for when I started reading A Song of Ice and Fire series. And, numerous characters get killed off in that series too! Once, I completed that novel, I was floored by everything that had taken place, and I was already checking the internet for when ‘Book 5’ was to be released (thank you mugglenet!).

            Between book release parties and the midnight showings of the movies, Harry Potter introduced another level of fandom to the world, and this time it was for children and adults. These events gave me something to look forward to with my friends and my relatives (my mother is a fan too!). In addition, it introduced me to popular culture on a larger scale, especially the merchandising (DO NOT EAT THE VOMIT FLAVOR JELLYBEAN!!!). My father is a huge James Bond fan and I thought it was always weird how he would get excited for the next movie and watch the movie marathons on T.V. like it was no big deal. Ironically, he did not understand anything about Harry Potter and for a time believed them to be ‘silly kids’ books.’

            By the time Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince were published and released, I came up with my theories as to who was going to die and what the latter part of the titles were referenced to (one of my college buddies correctly guessed the identity of the “Half-Blood Prince”). And, by the time Deathly Hallows was released in 2007, Harry Potter was fixated into everyone’s minds everywhere. Those ten days of celebrating Harry Potter—between the fifth movie and the seventh book—had everyone, everywhere anticipating their releases. Not that everyone was interested in reading the books and watching the movies, but people knew that it was a pretty big deal.

            The main reason I enjoy Harry Potter as much as I do is because one, it made reading thicker books cool. Since the series was extremely popular, no one cared that the later books were over 600 pages long. In fact, I remember classmates and coworkers asking if the series were worth reading. Another reason is because unlike The Chronicles of Narnia and A Wrinkle in Time Quartet, you were not sure whether or not your favorite characters, including the protagonist, were going to survive to the end. In most children’s novels, even if they were in danger, you knew that the characters were not going to die. Last reason is because the “Harry Potter Universe” was supposed to take place within the actual ‘Muggle World;’ thus, elements of the real world must be written into the fictional series. It made that magic world more realistic and on the same level within human society.

           J.K. Rowling wrote a fantasy series for children and adolescences that included adult themes which served as an emergence into adulthood because the child characters grew up as the story continued. So, the aspects of growing up and seeing the world for what it really is like, and learning how to control magic within the boundaries of our world, the real world, makes this series on equivalence with the real world. Some muggles know about the existence of magic and they have different reactions to this knowledge, some like it and others do not like it. And, what happens when both worlds collide? This we saw in Half-Blood Prince. Except for maybe Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy, I am not sure as to what other children’s/adolescent fantasy series reflects our reality that well.

            So in honor of both Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling, I want to wish them ‘Happy Birthday.’ And, to J.K. Rowling, thank you very much for sharing both your story and your creativity with the rest of the world. I will continue to read all of you works (except maybe Causal Vacancy) and watching all of the Harry Potter movie marathons.