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Friday, January 27, 2006

Everything under the sun


Watching SuperGirlfriend in the early morning of a workday when she's running late is interesting. The stress pushes her onto a click on her dial where she has HyperSonic Speed, and there are after-images everywhere. Since she's a lovely woman, this isn't a bad thing, but it's a little unsettling, because you never know which one of them might be the real her. ;)

As I only own the first two seasons of ANGEL, and the fifth, she's used them all up now and reluctantly switched to BUFFY. She thinks BUFFY is okay, but it's not ANGEL. I'm hoping as she moves more fully into the second season, she'll get more into it, as, of course, the second season is pretty much all about Angel and his back story, as well as being arguably the best season of BUFFY there is. Having said that, ANGEL is the more adult themed of the two series; a great deal of the teen age high school angst in BUFFY can be tiresome to grown ups who aren't particularly nostalgic for that era of our lives.

Although I said I wouldn't do it until at least A DANCE WITH DRAGONS was out, I couldn't stick with it. I broke down and started reading A FEAST FOR CROWS a few weeks ago. On the positive side, although it looks like an absolutely slender volume compared to its preceding installment, A STORM OF SWORDS, it's actually quite lengthy, weighing in at 547 pages of new text, I think.

On the negative side, though, well, it's not finished, goddamit. As I'm seeing all over the Web at this point: "Martin has explained that the book was becoming too long, and could not be published as a single volume, so he decided to tell the full story of half the characters, rather than half the story of all the characters. The remaining plotlines will form the foundation of A Dance with Dragons, which is now half-completed."

There's only one problem with that oft bruited bit of paraphrasing; it's all horseshit. This book doesn't tell the full story of anyone. It ends with every single character in it at a cliff hanger... a cliff hanger we now know will not be resolved until Martin finishes, not the next book in the series, but the one after that. And since it takes Martin five years to finish a fucking book, well, we're looking at somewhere around 2016 before anyone gets a chance to find out whether Brienne actually got hung by outlaws or not, whether Cersei or Margaery (or neither) gets out of the clutches of the Church Militant alive, and what Jaime does about Cersei's summons to be her champion. Not to mention getting any more on Sam, seeing any more of the Mage heading off to join Danaerys, or receiving any kind of explanation for why the hell Pate is apparently still alive when we saw him die at the start of this book.

That may give you an idea of just where it is that this fantasy series has gone so badly wrong -- it simply has too many characters, and all of them are fascinating and three dimensional, and they all have their own very intricate, often interacting storylines. The back of the current volume contains 64 PAGES of appendices, all of which do nothing except list by name and very brief description all the characters we've seen so far in the book. SIXTY FOUR GODDAM PAGES OF BRIEF CHARACTER NOTES. When, in all honesty, the only characters we really care about all that much are the Starks and the Lannisters, and shit, there are too many of them, too, despite Martin's noble attempts to thin the herd a bit over the course of his story.

The worst part of all this is that Martin clearly has no ability to impose discipline on himself or his story, and none of his editors are willing to, either. This series has made Martin a force to be reckoned with in the realm of fantasy publishing; A FEAST OF CROWS has been fifteen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. When you can pull down those kind of sales figures, you have the ability to simply tell your editors to shut the fuck up, and most editors, realizing this, will simply sit there more or less happily and wait for the next book, no matter how long it takes, because by now this series has a guaranteed audience numbering in the hundreds of thousands so there's a big payday whenever Martin manages to get a new volume out, regardless of how little he actually manages to advance his plot in 500 to 600 new pages.

So, with no one to tell Martin "Hey, George, you really don't need to open your latest installment by introducing half a dozen brand new characters when you already have about a thousand on the boards", well, he's going to just keep making the shit up as it occurs to him to do so... and in all honesty, I get the very bad feeling that Martin himself has no idea what he's going to do with all these fascinating fictional people and plot threads. Brienne with Jaime's sword Oathkeeper? That has to be going somewhere, right? Theon must still have some part to play in all this, yes? That ancient cracked horn Sam Tarly is carrying around with him as he wanders the earth is going to be an important plot element at some point, surely? What about the enormous trumpet that supposedly summons dragons that the new King of the Ironmen has? We're going to do something with that, right? And the way Jon Snow switched the two kids up on the Wall, that must be important. And... well...

This is the problem. Martin is throwing story elements and possible plot devices out like a deranged boiler worker shoveling coal into the furnace, and I find it impossible to believe that he actually has more than the vaguest idea where all this is going to end up. I wouldn't mind so much him creating all this cookie dough if I thought it was all going to get baked by the time the series finally finishes, but I have little faith it will. Even assuming Martin lives to finish the series (and recent photos of him don't show a guy who exactly looks hale and hearty), I have a bad feeling that a lot of this stuff is simply going to get forgotten, dropped off along the way side, or peremptorily tossed out.

For the immediate future, then, life is bleak once again in Westeros, at least, for those of us who like to live there part time. Martin's site has a post no more than a few days old indicating he's less than half done with the next book (which is, in fact, the other half of this book). That means, regardless of how optimistic he wants to be, that it will be probably three years, at least, before we see A DANCE WITH DRAGONS, and then another five, at least, before THE WINDS OF WINTER, and then another five or six after that before A TIME FOR WOLVES, which hopefully will be the last of it, and, if the title holds true, the best of it as well, as whichever members of the Stark family still survive by that time finally emerge triumphant over their many enemies.

It should be noted, I suppose, that A FEAST FOR CROWS is as good as any of its preceding installments, but dammit, I'd like a time machine so I could skip ahead to 2040 or so and pick up the entire boxed set.

Although that would be depressing, too, because the music will suck worse than it does now, everyone will be wearing filter masks, we'll be living under a constant Code Orange terrorism alert, and George W. Bush will still be the Commander In Chief, 'pending the end of the War and the resumption of temporarily suspended elective procedures'. And I'll probably have to steal a copy of the boxed set, anyway, since I won't have a Federal I.D./Citizen's Work Credit Card, and thus will have no way to make a legal purchase.

Hmmm. Maybe I need to get in that time machine and head back to 1999, instead... with enough newspaper headlines and videotaped evidence to convince Ralph Nader to stay out of the election.

12 Comments:

At 9:15 AM , Anonymous The always esteemed Scott said...

Okay, I had to skim though this entry carefully, because I'm just finishing up STORM OF SWORDS for the second time before picking up FEAST. All the same, since I'm currently immersed in this world, I did want to comment.

I get the very bad feeling that Martin himself has no idea what he's going to do with all these fascinating fictional people and plot threads.

I started to get that feeling about half way through CLASH OF KINGS - Martin simply has too many balls in the air, and I can't imagine that some of them won't get dropped. And yes, introducing a bunch of new characters (the Prophet, Brienne) isn't going to help.

I'm beginning to suspect that whatever conclusion this story eventually reaches (assuming Martin and I both live long enough to see its conclusion) I'm going to be disappointed.
I'm already not too happy with what's been done with Tyrion, for example, and I'd much rather have had that annoying twit Sansa killed rather than Robb, if one of the Starks had to die.
But I'm hooked, and I'll keep buying the damn books (probably in hardcover) as long as Martin keeps publishing them.

 
At 10:45 AM , Blogger SuperFiancee said...

You should at least warn your readers that you have some spoilers in here. I'm glad you're enjoying (?) the book, but wish it wasn't frustrating you so.

 
At 1:13 PM , Blogger Highlander said...

Scott,

The problem, as I’ve analyzed it, is that Martin is writing at least three epic fantasies at once here. The Starks vs. the Lannisters is one of them, and the core of it, since Wikipedia indicates that the whole fantasy is based on the historical War of the Roses. To this central narrative, he’s tacked on Danni and her dragons, returning from across the sea to put the Dragonlords back on the throne of Westeros, which is a story worthy of its own epic, and then we add in all the supernatural stuff going on with the rise of the Undead and all that fascinating stuff happening up beyond the Wall.

Each of these stories would be massive on their own. By stirring them in together, Martin is creating a truly epic tapestry with thousands of strands. I don’t know if he’s good enough to pull it off satisfactorily; I do know that no mortal man can possibly type it all fast enough to satisfy us.

Baby,

Yeah, I’m bad about giving spoiler warnings. I just don’t think of it, especially if something has been out for a while. I should try to be more considerate.

As to my frustration, well, there are hundreds of thousands of us, and it’s not a new phenomena. People got just as frustrated back in Dickens’ time, waiting for the latest chapter of whatever potboiler he was working on. It’s just, then they were waiting a few months, while we are aware that, given how many books are projected and how long the author takes writing them, we are waiting for a decade or more.

Also, generally when a new chapter comes in a serial, the previous cliffhangers are resolved. Since Martin can’t get control of his own narrative, and he therefore made this appalling and disastrous decision to publish half of an installment instead of the whole thing, we’re now in the position of waiting, not just three years for the next installment, but eight years or so, for the installment after the next one, in which we will once more find out more about the characters in THIS installment.

It’s madness, and as far as I know, it’s unprecedented madness, but we’re stuck with it.

Still, for the most part, I am very very happy in my life, so don’t worry about it. ;)

 
At 4:18 PM , Blogger MJ Norton said...

As I'm at a far, far earlier spot in all this, I haven't read the bulk of your post on this.

I know that I read and enjoyed A Game of Thrones around the time A Clash of Kings was released - I remember you mentioning being slightly envious that I was coming in at a point where I could finish one and have the next part available, having waited the full measure between installments. Heh. And that was when he was cranking them out at mere two-year intervals. At the moment I'm uncertain of whether or not I got to Clash -- but then, as is often the way with these things, it fell off my screens.

It was amusing, though, to realize how much came flooding back when you hit the first paragraph of your response to Scott, and touched on the core elements of each of the three tales being told. Obviously it was something I enjoyed overall, though at this remove some of the elements and most of the characters are blurring in memory.

Knowing that the story(ies) are unfolding at a relatively glacial pace, I'm content with my having put the considerable remainder (thusfar) of this off.

If nothing else, I doubt I'll be reading Feast until at least A Dance of Dragons is close at hand.

 
At 12:38 PM , Anonymous The always esteemed Scott said...

Martin is writing at least three epic fantasies at once here. The Starks vs. the Lannisters is one of them, and the core of it,
Is it just me, or has this storyline been pretty much abandoned? Lord Tywin is dead, Joffrey is dead, Eddard and Robb are dead, Catelyn...well, I'm not sure what state she's in, Jon is Lord Commander on the wall, Bran is beyond the wall with Coldhands, and Rickon is not really even part of the narrative. Sansa seems destined to be abused by Littlefinger and Arya is heading toward Braavos. It looks as if Martin got bored with this story about halfway through SWORDS, and killed off everybody involved, and took the story off in another direction.
Maybe CROWS revives the feud, but I don't see how, since the major players are all dead.

we are aware that, given how many books are projected

How many books *are* projected, anyway?

 
At 3:47 PM , Blogger Highlander said...

According to the Wikipedia entry I found on it, there are at least three more to come -- A DANCE WITH DRAGONS, THE WINDS OF WINTER, and A TIME FOR WOLVES.

A general reminder to all: Anonymous commenters start on thin ice. You don't have to give your real name (God knows I don't, generally) but if you can't be bothered to have some kind of consistent identity from one comment to the next, well, you'd better be posting something awfully interesting, that contributes something positive to whatever discussion is going on. Mean spirited crap and ad hominem attacks out of nowhere will generally be deleted anyway; such nonsense posted anonymously will be trashed in a heartbeat as soona as I find it.

And, yes, there was an anonymous comment underneath Scott's pertinent query, which I've already dealt with on its own merits.

 
At 3:49 PM , Blogger Highlander said...

Scott,

Oh, yeah, and your first question -- there's a little more on the Stark/Lannister feud in FEAST. Not a lot, but Petyr seems to be scheming to restore House Stark... kinda sorta.

 
At 4:36 PM , Anonymous The always esteemed Scott said...

And, yes, there was an anonymous comment underneath Scott's pertinent query, which I've already dealt with on its own merits.

What merits?
Seriously, that reminded me of that guy (was it Gandalf, or anonymous?) who was giving you a hard time about falling for SuperGirlfriend and how you weren't being ''consistent" or some such nonsense. Same guy?

Petyr seems to be scheming to restore House Stark... kinda sorta.

I wouldn't have chosen Sansa to be the one to restore House Stark, that's for sure.

According to the Wikipedia entry I found on it, there are at least three more to come

Christ. I'll be a grandfather by the time it's done.

 
At 6:16 PM , Blogger Highlander said...

Scott,

I don't know who it is. Someone who is apparently so obsessed with me that they're willing to waste a great deal of their finite lifespan posting nonsense few people would read even if I left it up, and who is, in addition, too gutless to sign any kind of name to their blind, obsessive hostility. Fuck 'em. They put stuff up, I delete it. I never get tired of this.

As to who one would choose to restore House Stark, well, Martin doesn't generally go in for happy endings, so I'll be surprised if House Stark comes out at all well in the end. If they did, though, I can see fairly easy ways to make Jon Snow the new Lord Stark. Bastards have been legitimized and raised to a noble station before.

But it's not like dead people actually stay dead in this book. Maybe Robb will come back. I'd say 'maybe even Ned', but, well, he was beheaded, so it seems unlikely. Nothing's impossible, though.

 
At 11:24 PM , Anonymous S.M. Stirling said...

Well, George is a friend of mine and I sort of watched this saga firsthand...

Yeah, George had a lot of trouble with this one. I can assure you the publisher didn't wait "silently", though... 8-).

George is a genius and he works very hard. But he's a very instinctive writer.

The reason he has trouble cutting is that it's not a matter of cutting bad stuff; everything is great. It's just that there's too much there -- he's got this huge world in his head, nearly as detailed as the real one, and it wants to get out.

He loves what he does and that makes it (as I can attest from personal experience)hard to take anything out.

It won't take him five years to do the next one, though!

 
At 8:21 AM , Blogger Highlander said...

One of the things I fail to note when I post here, far too consistently, is that this blog is a place where I vent, among other things. That being the case, my tone towards George R.R. Martin has probably been more disrespectful than it should be, as he is in the process of creating something that, should it ever be finished, will stand as one of the finest works of sword & sorcery fantasy that has ever been done.

It's just that, right now, looking down the line at a probable decade before I can reasonably hope to see how things, not resolve, but simply continue from this current point, for characters I am desperately interested in, well, I get frustrated. The frustration comes through, but I should point out more often than I do that the 'desperately interested' bit is due to Martin's absolute brilliance as a writer and a world creator.

Still, as a writer myself, and one who has studied the craft intently and I hope insightfully for more than twenty years now, I can see that much of the frustration that Westeros fan are currently experiencing is unnecessary. Martin is obviously enthusiastic about his project, and that shows, but he badly badly needs to focus.

Now, if, thirty years from now, when the final book is finally finished, it eventuates that every single apparently wandering plot thread and inexplicable story element and amazingly cool character has, in fact, been essential to the ultimate resolution of this vast and epic saga, then, well... I don't know... I guess that would be okay (or even great) for future generations who can buy the whole series in one gigantic beautifully cased set and then either read it at their leisure over the course of their childhood, adolescence, and adulthood into early middle age, or just launch it into space towards some threatening alien globe where it will fall like a planet killing meteor and smash that world's burgeoning invasion fleet to flinders.

However, I will still have spent the previous thirty years gulping antacids and becoming steadily more grey and twitchy as I wait to finally find out what the fuck happened to Bran and Coldhands and Jon Snow and Tyrion, goddamit.

And, alas, that tormented exasperation will have, more often than not, colored my posts about the various installments of the series I have devoured wolfishly as they have dribbled niggardly out to the audience over the decades.

Having gone on and on, one more comment -- I understand loving your own prose; I love mine, and have a great deal of trouble editing myself. But when it's been necessary, I've learned to be ruthless. Mr. Martin is a far far better writer than I am, and somewhat more experienced at being a professional author than I am (that's irony; he's actually VASTLY more experienced) and he should have long since mastered this difficult art as well.

He does write beautifully, especially about Westeros, and I'd have a very difficult time cutting anything he's written out... it would seem nearly blasphemous. But if he can't do it, his editor should be.

 
At 8:25 AM , Blogger Highlander said...

I should also note that in addition to his comment, S.M. Stirling also sent me a private email of support and an offer of any help he could provide in my current condition of troll-itis. And I appreciate that greatly, as well. I suspect keeping comment moderation up will cure this particular strain of the virus; trolls thrive on attention, and this troll is a particularly loveless, twisted, churlish, desperately needy variant of even that generally loveless, twisted, churlish, desperately needy ilk. So when his stuff stops appearing, even momentarily prior to me deleting it, he'll dry up and blow away.

In the meantime, all my more reasonable and civil commenters will have to put up with a delay before their stuff shows up in the thread, and I deeply regret that, but a blogger's gotta do what a blogger's gotta do.

 

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