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Sunday, 8 July 2018

A Song of Ice and....Ribos?

Basic setting. A world which has extreme summer and winter seasons, with the story set during one of its prolonged winters. The world is home to a Medieval civilisation that has yet to discover many of the higher sciences modern humanity takes for granted, and whose people are influenced by prophetic shamans and believe in icy monsters that take unsuspecting intruders. During one particular winter, one of the northern capitals is the setting for political machinations, a little slight of hand, and great tragedy as people begin to die according to the shaman's foretelling.

Now you may think I've just described a very basic version of the universe of A Song of Ice and Fire, a series of books by George R. R. Martin which began their creation in 1993. But you'd be wrong. What I just described is the basic scenario of The Ribos Operation, a serial from the 1978-79 series of Doctor Who written by Robert Holmes, starring Tom Baker as the titular alien time traveller and Mary Tamm as his new Time Lord companion Romana. When I first saw The Ribos Operation on DVD, I had heard nothing of A Song of Ice and Fire, and thought it was a nice and fairly novel setting for a somewhat bland narrative It wasn't until many years after I'd heard of both that the similarities struck me.

Of course one could look and see any amount of minor details that don't match up, the largest being the world itself and its context. The explanation of Ribos's status is given in some detail due to outsiders appearing from off world; its seasons are caused by the planet's highly elliptical orbit, and is classed by outsiders as a Grade 3 planet with a protected low-technology society that could not reach the more advanced Grade 2 - and consequently be open to alien contact - for "many thousands of years". The main narrative for The Ribos Operation revolves around the character of Graff Vynda-K, an exile alien tyrant whose goal is to reclaim his lost provinces. This makes him easy prey for a pair of human con artists to sell him a fictional mine of a powerful space age fuel. In the middle of all this, the Doctor and Romana are trying to find one sixth of an important cosmic artefact, and naturally can't help getting tangled up in the schemes of both the Graff and the con artists.

There are far too many plots to count in the current run of A Song of Ice and Fire, but the basic gist revolves around dynastic and international politics between multiple nations spread across several large and small landmasses. It's also incredibly violent in places, with main characters dropping like flies when compared to similar fantasy sagas.

In many ways, the two are as dissimilar as chalk and cheese, but the similar setting and tone suddenly clicked. It just goes to prove, nothing's new when it comes to fiction.

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