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The Book Was Better: A Game of Thrones

This wasn’t really a book I expected to enjoy. Genre fantasy novels generally aren’t my cup of tea. I’ve tried a few, and frankly I think they’re pretty dull. However after finding myself intrigued, and then rather enthusiastic, about the recently concluded HBO adaptation of A Game of Thrones, I decided to give the source material a go.

What baffles me the most about A Game of Thrones, is how utterly boring it sounds when briefly summarized. There are no epic battles (at least not depicted on the page, really), no wizards or orcs or elves, no all-powerful force of evil in need of vanquishing, etc. Instead this novel (which, I should add, sits at around 830 pages, and is the first book in a planned series of 7–the fifth is due out this summer after a lengthy wait for fans) is at its core a political thriller spanning generations.
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The Book Was Better: The Road

[This is an ongoing feature in which we compare books with their A/V counterparts. Most of the time, but not always, the book is better than the movie or show. But that doesn't mean there's nothing to be discussed. Follow this feature here, and check out the rest of our ongoing features here.]

I really, really liked The Road when I first read it. It is a dark, emotionally hefty story about a father and son crossing post-apocalyptic America. It handles a lot of themes in ways I hadn’t come across much or at all before. It tells a unique and touching father-son tale so well that I actually gave my father a copy for Father’s Day that year, despite the generally unhappy-if-not-hopelessly-depressing mood of the novel. That is to say, the book made quite an impression on me. Moreover, I don’t particularly like Cormac McCarthy all that much (I’ve also read Blood Meridian and The Crossing, neither of which I’d readily recommend). Still, it was one of my favorite books of 2006.

I didn’t have much expectation for the movie. Much of the appeal of the book for me was how the narration betrayed very little detail of the world. That is, McCarthy did a phenomenal job of covering his world in a blanket of darkness. Reading The Road, you feel almost as if stumbling through a dark forest at night with a candle: when the flame flickers just right, you catch a glimpse of what’s ahead of and around you, but not enough to focus on anything, or rest assured in any sort of safety.
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The Book Was Better: The Walking Dead

[This is a new column in which we compare books with their A/V counterparts. Most of the time, but not always, the book is better than the movie or show. But that doesn't mean there's nothing to be discussed. Follow this column here, and check out the rest of our ongoing features here.]

I’ve never really been into comics. Every so often I’ll read and enjoy a graphic novel, but that’s about it. The one exception is The Walking Dead, written by Robert Kirkman and drawn by Charlie Adlard. Until Aaron’s first column a week ago, I had no idea what a “pull list” was and I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve been in a comic shop. But I’ve long been fascinated with zombies. I’ve seen more zombie flicks than anyone I know. Some say they’re played out; I’m not sick of them yet, though. There’s still room for some interesting stuff to be created. The Walking Dead is a great example of this, and I buy the collected volumes they put out every few months. Needless to say, I was pretty excited when I learned AMC was adapting it for television. But I had my doubts too.

Gore and campiness, the long-time staples of zombie movies, are fun enough, but the greatness of zombie plots lies in the universal pathos and the unique mythos that each develops. Unlike other monster stories and themes, the zombies aren’t the center of the show. They are a dark, looming presence, a threat that wrings the humanity and inhumanity out of the characters, a catalyst for dire, desperate action. These stories thrive in the murky grey areas of morality. Because of this, in a good zombie drama the zombie plague is the setting, not the conflict.
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