Today is July 12, 2011. An auspicious day for fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, which nonreaders may know better as the first-season-just-ended-to-great-acclaim HBO series Game of Thrones. The fifth novel in the (planned) seven-volume cycle, A Dance with Dragons, arrives today, after a wait of seven years.
The story’s author, George RR Martin, has created a bit of a monster with this series, and I think he’s beginning to realize it. A Song of Ice and Fire goes well beyond the normal fantasy trappings while managing to keep most of them in place. Inspired by the Wars of the Roses in fifteenth-century England, Martin has spun up a world and history so fascinating, so rich, so intricate, and so detailed that actually writing it has become almost impossible. With each novel weighing in at 1,000+ pages and the cast ballooning to over 200 major characters, reading them is no picnic either. The story and quality of writing is excellent, but it’s work – it really is! – to keep track of it all. In fact, if you want to get the most out of these novels, you should prepare to read them more than once. You will miss things otherwise, things that add such nuance and vibrance to the reality Martin has created that you’re doing yourself a disservice as a reader to miss them.
So work, but fun work.
As more and more years have passed between the release of each novel, Martin’s fans have divided into two camps: those who want the book but sympathize with the author, and those who want the book and do not sympathize with the author. I belong to the former group, for as much as I look forward to each new release in the series, I see it as something that’s being done for me, and I shouldn’t gripe too much. Even when people complained about the change in tone of the previous novel – A Feast for Crows, released in 2005 – I didn’t mind. Feast would be the hardest book in the series to write, as he’s essentially resetting the chessboard for the second half of the game.
My brother Marcus has pointed out that the entire span of his increasingly successful career as a novelist (five books, dozens of shorts, four movie options, a TV show, countless events and signings) can fit comfortably in the yawning space between A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. Marcus is also very strict about how he deals with fans, and at one point during the long wait Mr Martin committed what Marcus considers the cardinal sin: he lashed out, sarcastically and rudely, at those who’d been complaining loudest. At the time Marcus said “Not to the fans. Not ever.”
In this I side with my brother, even as I understand how frustration can get the better of you. It’s like emailing while drunk: don’t do it. You’ll regret it. Even if you don’t, you’re risking something.
Still, with all that said, and however you feel about George RR Martin for taking this long to pen the fifth book in the series, it is out now in much of the world and will be out soon in the rest of the world. My Kindle is sucking desperately at its little WiFi straw even now, so A Dance with Dragons will be ready when I am. Naturally the book arrived during one of the busiest weeks I’ve ever had. I have to work when really all I want to do is read my new book. Irony.
Of course, as Martin has noted, his fans read a lot faster than he writes… which means I’ll soon be done with Dance and the wait will begin anew…
Amazon claims that it is rushing my copy to my front door as I write this.
The gap between the last time we had any updates from characters such as Dany, Bran and Tyrion spans my entire professional career as a lawyer, which is almost 11 years. That is madness.
When I get home from work, I plan to retire to my bedroom (the only room in the house that has air conditioning and it’s ungodly hot out again today) and begin the “Dance” while my loyal hound, Aegon, sleeps at my feet (when he’s not begging for food or asking me to play with him).
My Kindle will slurp up Dance tonight and then I’ll start the entire series from the beginning. My reasoning: I’ll have burned down more time between Dance and the next book… or so I’ve convinced myself.
I’ve yet to dive in. Despite being a fan of good fantasy literature and being told by countless people that I should, I just haven’t. Books of that magnitude intimidate me for any number of reasons, many of them borne of my own experiences as a (self-professed, admittedly) fiction writer and eventual novelist hopeful. Same reason I never have (nor probably intend to) get into the late Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time.
Maybe someday I will. But I’m already swamped with other series I’m following – Shadows of the Apt, Temeraire – and suchlike. Too many books, too little time.
You reflect my feelings about this series, Steerpike. It’s work. I avoided it for a long time, then finally picked all the first four books up at once and plowed through them. Quality read all the way but I would have been happy with a much smaller scale, a tighter focus, fewer characters. All the jumping around tires me out after a few hundred pages. The older I get the less I like sprawling epics of epic epicness. Martin must have twenty helper monkeys locked up somewhere just to keep track of all the threads he has going in this thing. As for snapping at these mythical creatures called fans, I imagine a few are pretty fucking deranged at this point. Still, at the end of the day, fans write the checks that artists love to cash so snap at your peril. I’ll pick this one up when it hits paperback. Good to know there is a new one out there though.
I loved A Game Of Thrones, and it was only recently I discovered it was a book (no idea why I didn’t think it would be…it isn’t like TV execs have a brain to craft such works!) so I shall be picking up all of them.
I’m currently reading 4 books, so a 5th can’t hurt. 🙂
Brandon, my grandmother began reading the Wheel of Time series at age 75. It’s never too late to jump into something.
Why else would we all be hopelessly snapping up every 49 cent game on Steam?
No, no, no. Stay far away from Wheel of Time. Really. It’ll only end in tears.
WoT didn’t start out badly, but the wheels came off (see what I did there?) around book 4 or 5 and it’s been circling the drain ever since – Rand stayed angry and the girls kept tugging on their braids. As far as I know, the story hasn’t moved forward at all.
Well I, for one, am snapping up games on Steam because my PS3 got the “yellow light of death” over the weekend after more than four years of distinguished service. And just before I had time to dive into the inFAMOUS 2 mission editor, too.
The series is far better than The Wheel of Time (I’ll dangle the skinny branch and declare that two–I’m being generous–notches above dreck) but I’ve always wondered why this one has caught on the way it has.
I like it well enough but its massive crossover success I find utterly mystifying. Can’t put my finger on the trigger though it’s now a self-sustaining Occasion.
Frustrating when I can’t get people to even try other fantasy novels no matter how I praise ’em.
Not pooping on the series or the writer–I’ve always been one of the few defenders of Dying of the Light and have all his books & story collections (Tuf Voyaging, not recommended; Armageddon Rag, godawful; A Song for Lyla good but over-praised in its day).
[stage whisper] Read Book of the New Sun and follow it with Urth of the New Sun.
Hint: perfect recall doesn’t mean the narrating character can’t lie.
Or any damn thing Wolfe’s written. The Latro novels if you want a tough as nails but not exactly historical early Greece….
I like it well enough but its massive crossover success I find utterly mystifying.
I can’t comment too strongly on this point. Despite my love for fantasy and science fiction that has persisted for over 30 years now, I haven’t read that many fantasy novels. I read “Elfstones of Shanara” and the first six “Dragonlance” books when I was younger. I read the “Lord of the Rings” books and a few others here and there. Outside of comic books/graphic novels, of which I have far, far too many, I just don’t read all that much. I have tried some other fantasy books, but I have quit them early on. The writing just stunk and the characters simply too cliched.
“A Song of Ice & Fire” is the one series that totally grabbed me. I’ve read the first 4 books at least 4 times over. I can’t get enough of them. I love the world, the characters, the writing, everything about it. I just eat it all up. Sure it can seem like “work” at times, but for me, at least, it’s a labor of love.
I think the massive crossover success is a result of a few things. First, they are good books. Between the rotating narratives and cast of hundreds I think most reads can find at least a few “favorite” characters. Second, low fantasy. I think this is key in crossover success. A lot of people are turned off by the idea of elves, dwarves, orcs or many other fantasy elements. The low fantasy world Martin created is much more accessible to a wider range of people than a lot of the other books out there that have heavier fantasy or sci-fi elements to them.
I read “Shadow Of The Torturer” by Gene Wolfe. I really didn’t like it. I didn’t find any of the characters compelling and the world just seemed sort of odd and alien. There were a lot of very cool concepts, but the book and world created within just didn’t click for me.
I haven’t dipped my toe into the books yet – but the tv series is great. I like the casting choices, and even the children are good actors. I’d like to get stuck into the books, but life is too damned short!
Incidentally, I see there’s a Game of Thrones game on the way… http://www.pcworld.com/article/219791/take_your_first_look_at_a_game_of_thrones_genesis.html
Not the best, but far from bad; ending more abrupt than usual; one major story choice that I think is a bad idea to introduce so late; far too many descriptions of food. Still, thumbs up.