Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Why It Works

The season premiere of Game of Thrones last Sunday was a fine example of how good the show is at sucking one into its highly detailed world. I have tried to read each of the first three novels in George R.R. Martin's series and each time gotten bored after about 150 pages, yet I have enjoyed the show as a superbly produced piece of entertainment that I have no emotional investment in. This piece by John Lanchester is a good argument for why the show and the books work,and it raises the question of why more people aren't willing to read fantasy. (One possible answer is the length of the books.) I see Martin still isn't getting a break from his fans. Read at your own risk, this article contains spoilers.
There’s one more point to be made concerning instability and unpredictability. That is the issue of how long it’s going to take Martin to finish the books. After getting hooked via the first TV series, and before starting out on the books, I did something I hardly ever do, and looked up Martin’s Amazon reviews, to see how far he was into the series and how long he had to go. The world of Amazon comments on Martin is, even by the standards of Amazon-comment-world, peculiar. (My single favourite fact about Amazon-comment-world: Newt Gingrich’s Amazon reviews, which I unironically recommend for anyone interested in his core field of geopolitical history, says he is ‘the’ Newt Gingrich, with inverted commas around the ‘the’.) Everyone loves Martin’s books, which have hundreds of maximally favourable ratings, but that’s not what you’re likely to encounter first when you look him up. Instead you’re greeted by dozens of posts with headings such as ‘Do not buy any product by George R.R. Martin’ or ‘Do not read this book’ or ‘Warning! Avoid!’ This fan ire has its basis in the fact that Martin hasn’t got closer to finishing the series. That’s a trifle harsh, one might think, given that he has written several thousand pages so far – but the fans’ point is that the rate has been slowing down. A Game of Thrones came out in August 1996, A Clash of Kings 27 months later, A Storm of Swords 21 months after that, but then the gap between the books grew: A Feast for Crows took five years and then A Dance with Dragons six years more. Half a decade is a long time between books in a work that is conceived and published as a series. At the current rate, even if the sequence doesn’t expand any further, he won’t be finished until 2020. It’s also the case that the narrative momentum of the series has slowed in books four and five, and the exploration of Westeros feels more leisurely and expansive, with the books’ stories in many cases overlapping and simultaneous.

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