I've been reading the Song Of Ice And Fire series. It's so grim, brutal, and full of sex (occasionally for erotic effect, but usually for shock and horror) that it reminds me of Caligula, but unlike Caligula I'm enjoying the story. Two brief notes about the series:
First, I'd bet a lot of money its author, George RR Martin, read the Assassin series by Robin Hobb. Both feature a scheming queen unworthy of her king, whose violent, psychopathic, sadistic child becomes the next king, despite having no valid claim to the kingship. Both feature zombies and Vikings, and the ruins of a much greater ancient empire. Hobb's series takes place in a land called the Five Duchies; Martin's setting is called the Seven Kingdoms. Each series features protagonists who share a psychic bond with a wolf, and dragons who, in times past, fought in service to the king, but have since disappeared from the world. Both series give attention to the role of bastards in the medieval-like societies of their settings. Both series have castles filled with secret passageways, unsavory characters who lurk in those passages doing terrible things for the good of their respective kingdoms -- or for their own advantage -- and marriages of political expediency.
In short, I think Martin read Hobb's series and decided to do his own version.
This is not such a bad thing. I sometimes think the same thing about the relationship between Inception and The Matrix -- that maybe Christopher Nolan saw The Matrix and decided to make his own artistic answer to it. In fact I like to think of Inception as the sequel that The Matrix always deserved but never got.
One reason I think this whole phenomenon of an artistic answer to a previous work is totally cool is because Martin's remake expands on the scope of Hobb's original to a degree which is so extraordinarily detailed, and realized in such depth and detail, that it makes JRR Tolkien look like a lazy stoner who never did his homework. Which brings me to the second note. If somebody came to me and said, "I need to learn Rails, what should I do?", I would tell them that they could do worse than to build an application which allowed the user to document the world of A Song Of Ice And Fire.
The series keeps track of a staggering number of noble families, each with very detailed family trees. Each family has its own heraldry, castles, counties, warriors both noble and common, and feuds both recent and ancient. Every member of those families has their own distinct characteristics, including sexual history, style of clothing, favorite food, names, nicknames, and distinct reputations at local, regional, and in some cases even global levels. Regions have gods, customs, dialects, and even hairstyles, for fuck's sake. It came to me that developing a plain vanilla Rails app to track all that shit would be a great exercise in object-oriented design when I asked myself what George RR Martin's writing space must look like. I hope it features outlines, graphs, timelines, maps, and family trees all over every wall, but the thought that terrifies me is that maybe, just maybe, he keeps the whole damn thing in his head.