“You Win or You Die: The Ancient World of Game of Thrones” by Ayelet Haimson Lushkov


Season 7 of HBO’s Game of Thrones just wrapped up, but the speculation and commentary still rages on. A few weeks ago, I reviewed a book about medieval warfare in Game of Thrones. This time, I take a look at You Win or You Die: The Ancient World of Game of Thrones by Ayelet Haimson Lushkov, Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin. This book analyzes Game of Thrones from the perspective of Greco-Roman literature, showing how ancient epics from our own world can help us better understand Westeros.

Continue reading ““You Win or You Die: The Ancient World of Game of Thrones” by Ayelet Haimson Lushkov”


“Game of Thrones and the Medieval Art of War” by Ken Mondschein

52239536Like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings mythology, George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones is set in a world that looks like – and is clearly inspired by – our Middle Ages, but isn’t actually set in Europe between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance. Instead, Game of Thrones takes place in a fantastical world in which winters last a generation and magic is real. However, given the similarities between our Westeros and Medieval Europe, it’s natural to wonder how much Game of Thrones accurately reflects our own history. In Game of Thrones and the Medieval Art of War, Ken Mondschein, an expert on medieval warfare, looks at how Martin’s books – and, to a lesser extent, HBO’s adaptation – depict medieval warfare. Continue reading ““Game of Thrones and the Medieval Art of War” by Ken Mondschein”

“Star Trek: DS9” & International Development

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star TrekPopMatters is running a series of articles about the franchise. I wrote a piece about Deep Space Nine and the politics of international development. I argue that the show takes a surprisingly nuanced approach to foreign aid. Some of what I discuss is based on my experience working for democratization projects in Southeast Asia. Check it out here!

What’s wrong with the economics of sci-fi?

Does Emperor Shaddam IV look like he cares about economic growth?
He who controls the spice, controls the universe!

Economist David Berri has an article in Time criticizing the depiction of economics in science fiction. In particular, he argues that sic-fi stories frequently depict technologically advanced galactic empires despite the fact that, in the real world, autocracy sniffles economic growth. Historically, empires have seized private wealth, making citizens more reluctant to invest in technology and innovation. By contrast, inclusive governments, such as democracies, allow people to reap the rewards of their investments, thereby encouraging investment in technologies that stimulate economic growth.

I know something about both political economy and science fiction, and unfortunately Berri gets both wrong.

Continue reading “What’s wrong with the economics of sci-fi?”

“Robocop” (1987)

robocop__1987_movie_poster_by_lelmer77-d5cdbn2I finally saw the RoboCop reboot a few months ago, so I decided to rematch the original 1987 RoboCop by director Paul Verhoeven and writer Edward Neumeier.

Much has been made of Verhoeven’s social commentary in the film. As is typical of 1980s sci-fi films, the villain is a cabal of corporate executives and gangsters obsessed with profit. Through its use of fake TV infomercials, RoboCop pokes fun at excessive capitalism and its intrusion into everyday life. In the film, capitalism dehumanizes people, both figuratively, by treating them as mere consumers, and literally, when Omni Consumer Products takes police officer Murphy’s body and places it in a mechanical suit. Continue reading ““Robocop” (1987)”

“The Hobbit Party” by Jay Richards and Jonathan Witt

UnknownLast month, I reviewed The Hobbit Party by Jay Richards and Jonathan Witt for the Signum University Newsletter. The book purports to be an analysis of politics in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings from a libertarian perspective. However, as much as I admired the authors’ goals, I found that the analysis sometimes overlooked important parts of the text. You can read the full review here.

Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” coming to HBO!

Isaac Asimov_1951_FoundationIsaac Asimov’s classic science-fiction series Foundation will be coming to HBO soon! The books focus on the use of psychohistory to predict and account for historical events in order to prevent the collapse of galactic civilization. The website io9 has more on the news, as well as an in-depth summary of the first few novels.

I admit I’m not a Foundation fan. I read the first book and found it had not aged well. I can certainly understand how the concept of psychohistory would have impressed readers in the 1950s. However, as a social scientist myself, I just don’t believe that we will be able use social science to predict specific political events hundreds of years into the future. Social sciences can help us analyze political trends, but fare less well at prediction.

I also found some of the characterization one-dimensional. That said, given HBO’s track record with Game of Thrones, I’m actually not worried about this. Good acting can really bring characters to life. HBO will also likely find ways to add more depth and personality to the characters (though hopefully not too much gratuitous sex and gore).

Still, I might just try to read the sequels Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation, before the TV show airs.

Battlestar Galactica and International Relations

In honor of Glen A. Larson’s recent passing on November 14, 2014, I am running several reviews about books related to Battlestar Galactica, his most famous and greatest creation.9780415632812

In academic literature about popular culture, scholar-fans have to strike a delicate balance between analyzing the work through a scientific lens  and appreciating the work as art. I suspect most potential readers would not read Battlestar Galactica and International Relations just to learn basic international relations concepts (there are plenty of good IR textbooks). However, readers also expect the academic discipline to provide new insights into the show. Fortunately, most of the chapters in this book pass the test; they both enhance my enjoyment of Battlestar Galactica and raise thought-proking questions about politics.

Continue reading “Battlestar Galactica and International Relations”