Saturday, 27 May 2017

ART IMITATING LIFE: The Vantage Point of Aliens

Game of Thrones is a historical fantasy telling the story of the warring families on the continent of Westeros. Hard to be a God sees a group of scientists who travel to Arkanar to try and instigate a renaissance on a planet stuck in the middle ages. Both take place in a medieval-European setting, and both take place on unnamed planets that are distinct from Earth.

The success of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire book series, and the TV show, has lead to a plethora of theories as to how it is going to end, and many of them are exciting because the series seems so much like our own. Much has been said about its basis on the real life War of the Roses, as well as other bygone events and technologies, like Damascus steel and the Glencoe Massacre. Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's 1964 novel Hard to be a God, adapted into film by Aleksei German, revels much more in the literal shit and muck of a society uneducated on hygiene, mainly because they suppresses progress by murdering the "smart-arse" intellectuals, but only because they are superstitious and untrusting of change.

However, there is much more to these stories then their historical parallels, and like any good sci-fi, they say something of our current times in their speculative worlds. To the lands of Westeros and Arkanar, we are the aliens, and aliens always have a vantage point to the bigger picture. In Hard to be a God, Anton (an alien to Arkanar) becomes frustrated that he is ultimately unable to stop the killing of intellectuals, and any influence from his own world will just cause more suffering. Game of Thrones' aristocratic battles are but a red herring to the real enemy, the Others (aka the White Walkers). As Jeor Mormont says to Jon Snow when he becomes distracted by his brothers war; "When dead men and worse come hunting for us in the night, you think it matters who sits on the Iron Throne?"

These shows talk of bigger issues in our own world and lives. The Strugatsky brothers were known for their social criticism, and Hard to be a God draws connections to the Stalinist method of expelling intellectuals, therefore strengthening a totalitarian regime. A Song of Ice and Fire, although not finished yet, is speculated to be a metaphor about global warming and the anthropocene, with the White Walkers being a disruptive force which the lords of the land pretend doesn't exist. 

We as aliens to these planets find it easy to see what is going wrong, and lament the irrational killings and ignored warnings. We on the other hand, on our own blue dot called Earth, are concerned only with our own microcosm, and disregard our place in history, past and future. If Game of Thrones and Hard to be a God can teach us anything, its that we need to recognise these comparisons and think what it says about us that we've ignored them. 

Read Layla's review of Hard to be a God here.

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