So the press were all over George R. R. Martin in advance of HBO's hugely anticipated of A Game of Thrones, and needless to say, after starving for years on occasional tidbits of news from Not A Blog, when it rained, as the pilot's airdate approached, it poured.
In fact it poured such that a few comments well worth further discussion were rather lost in the downpour provoked by certain provocative pieces, which I'll comment on no further than to say: what utter bloody nonsense.
To wit, then, an incidental bit from The Guardian's chat with the man who would be king.
"Hopefully, the last two books will go a little quicker than this one has, but that doesn't mean they're going to be quick," says Martin. "Realistically, it's going to take me three years to finish the next one at a good pace. I hope it doesn't take me six years like this last one has. I have a million ideas. I have some other novels I want to write. I have a lot of short stories – I love the short story. But I've got to finish this first and then I'll decide what I'm inspired by at that point. If I'm not in some old folks' home." And if he is, no doubt his fans will be haranguing him even there.
I've bolded what particularly interests me from that paragraph. Which is to say, George R. R. Martin wants to be writing other things than A Song of Ice and Fire. And oh, how I wish he could!
Because it's a deal with the devil, isn't it? The series. The saga. On the one hand, real breakthrough success in speculative fiction only seems to come with multi-volume opuses like The Wheel of Time, The Malazan Book of the Fallen and The Kingkiller Chronicles. What is, for some, and will be for others, a lifetime's work. Rarely does a book from a mere trilogy hit The New York Times' list of bestsellers, after all, and still less often will you see self-contained science-fiction or fantasy sell half as well. For speculative fiction to stand a chance of such widespread success, all indicators point to volume seven or eleven of such and such a series being a more likely prospect for bestseller status than even new China Mieville... for what is really no better reason than inertia, as I see it.
Though I expect some might take me to task on that.
Anyway, whatever the cause and effect, that's a pretty darned shady state of affairs. Variety is the spice of life - surely we can agree on that - and while one understands that the industry must supply as demand dictates, the import it puts on sequels and series, and so the dispersal of the same marketing dollars that might help elevate a standalone novel to the realms of runaway success... that over-valuation, and not just on the part of the publisher, serves to stifle innumerable other avenues of genre literature.
Take a minute and think of all that could have been.
What, for instance, might J. K. Rowling have written if she hadn't spend a decade and change on Harry Potter? Or Robert Jordan if The Wheel of Time hadn't taken over his writing life?
Loathe though I am to even mention Robert Jordan, I do so for a dual purpose: both to illustrate the question I'm asking here - shouldn't authors be able to write what they want rather than what readers are seen (and indeed heard) to want? - and equally to demonstrate what happens when an author doesn't acquiesce to the demands of certain elements of his or her readership. For instance when an author has the gall to "pull a Jordan."
You've heard the phrase said, haven't you? Needless to say it's disgusting; absolutely sickening. For the innocents out there, it means to die before you've finished telling your tale, and I'm with George R. R. Martin on this, when he says in The Independent (via a message board post on Fantasy Faction) that "anyone who uses that phrase... is an asshole."
But for all that, it's used often enough. In fact of late, and here we come full circle, it's been put to the aforementioned author as regards A Song of Ice and Fire, a series which George R. R. Martin has spent 15 years of his life writing as is. And of course the guy's getting on - what of it?
It's a credit to the gent that he's as dedicated as he is to the series in question. "I have a million ideas," he writes. "I have some other novels I want to write. I have a lot of short stories – I love the short story. But I've got to finish this first." The long and short of which is, he's 62, it's taken him five years to write the last two volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire, and he's prioritising this one narrative over all the others he'd like to write largely to satisfy the unfathomable sense of entitlement certain very vocal readers feel. Because "nothing is as savage as a horde of starved fantasy fans."
Well, I say: the hell with them.
We all know I've not yet read A Game of Thrones - though I'm loving the HBO series based on the book thus far - but I have read, and adored, Fevre Dream, Dreamsongs and many of Martin's recent anthology contributions. Perhaps I'd feel differently if I'd spent several years on tenterhooks, waiting to see what Winter finally brings, but... you know, I doubt it. All stories are created equal. That these days some stories seem more equal than others is perhaps a truth, but a harsh truth, and a sad one - symptomatic of a very specific problem in a very specific area of very specific era and we're going to need to get over it quick smart, guys. Because it's just as wrongheaded as heads come.
Or are we - I shudder to think - thus entitled? Was that the bargain struck?
Clearly, I don't think so. I believe authors should be able to write what they want when they want rather than writing to a timetable dictated by the whims of what a particular sphere of readers are seen and indeed heard to want. Surely this pressure George R. R. Martin feels should not exist. Surely the vitriol he's been on the receiving end of, simply for taking a little longer than usual to put out A Dance With Dragons, is as outright unreasonable a thing as getting angry at scientists for not curing cancer a bit quicker.
What do you think?
One the one hand you have your sequels and sagas, which come hand in hand with the shot at mainstream success apparently inherent in such things, and on the other you have the freedom to write whatever you please on your own timetable, to no guarantee of sales or even much in the way of support from your publisher. Are these trade-offs fair? Or do I sound like a child here, worrying about what's fair and what's not?
In short, is this particular deal with the devil worth the paper it's written on, far less the blood price of signing the hellish thing?
Source: The Guardian
Source: The Guardian