Thursday, 5 May 2011

Opinionated Speculations | A Deal With The Devil?


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 TimeThe 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 DreamDreamsongs 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?

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Source: The Guardian

54 comments:

  1. 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.

    That is absolutely right up until the moment they start writing an open-ended serial with the deliberate aim of making more money. In which case you become a business and your subscribers are perfectly entitled to ask where the hell there product is. Martin didn't invent the commercialisation of fantasy but he certainly played along with it so artisitic freedom goes out the window.

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  2. If an author starts a story I don't think it's unreasonable for the reader to want to know how it ends.

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  3. Niall, you're making the rather large assumption that Martin doesn't actually enjoy writing the series. He said he has a million other ideas and lots of short stories but he still might be getting a kick out of writing these books. I don't know, has he ever stated he doesn't want to write these books anymore?

    To be clear I feel no entitlement. If he said tomorrow that he would do no more books in the series I'd be immensely disappointed, but so what? As you say there is a lot of variety out there and plenty more stories to get involved in. He owes me nothing, I'm just along for the ride. I think the poster above is wrong to say we are subscribers. We buy one book at a time and that's the end of it. We aren't paying him by the hour to sit and write. The readers are entitled to ask about the next book, but Martin is just as entitled to say "it's done when it's done".

    I'd just say I think you're making a bit of a leap, Niall, to make out Martin is trapped in this whole thing. You're coming from a position of not having read the books so it's easy for you to not mind about their conclusion. Which is fine, but don't make out we're holding an author back by investing ourselves in these books. Just because I want a conclusion doesn't put me in the same bracket as those fans baying for blood.

    -Richard

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  4. A couple authors come to mind in regards to your post: Neil Gaiman and Brandon Sanderson. Both, I think, provide an example of what you're writing about.

    Gaiman doesn't do series. He has his fingers in dozens of different projects and mediums, including the short stories GRRM would love to write more of, and each of his novels is standalone. He seems to be doing just fine in terms of commercial and media success.

    Sanderson on the other hand has done standalone, series, and some short fiction, but the reason he stands out in this discussion is this: on his blog he writes about the immense value to him in writing outside of the primary series he’s working on. Way of Kings? Completed and released between Wheel of Time volumes. His Alcatraz series? Written as a diversion from other, larger projects. Even his upcoming Alloy of Law, while set in the Mistborn series, was a side project to attain some breathing room from Wheel of Time.

    Even Patrick Rothfuss wrote on his blog that his epic poem about beer in Clash of the Geeks was a refreshing break from The Kingkiller Chronicles that gave him the necessary distance to jump back in and finish priority number 1. Dabbling doesn’t seem to have hurt the quality of what these authors produce. In fact, they would argue that it has made their priority projects better.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I want to read the end of SOIAF as much as the next guy, but if we cut the dude some slack and give him space to write other smaller projects, maybe we’ll see better versions of the last SOIAF novels and maybe we’ll even see them sooner.

    Just a few thoughts for what they’re worth.

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  5. I'm with Martin, in the comments above. It is a deal with the Devil, but it is also a deal. And, to be honest, it isn't like his commitment to the series has stopped GRRM from playing around with a dozen different pet projects as well... none of which would've done half as well if it weren't for the popularity of the series.

    I suppose, for better or for worse, my gut response is pretty much, "well, it's your job". He can always choose to throw in the towel on the "high reward, low satisfaction" stuff in order to gun for the "risky reward, higher satisfaction" stuff, but then, I can choose not to throw my fiver into his paycheck. I'm not sure what his contact situation is. I suspect that if he chose not to finish the series (or dragged his feet on it unnecessarily), he'd have to explain himself to the publishers who paid him and negotiated royalties based on a (completed) series and not the much-less-valuable incomplete fraction thereof.

    I think Richard is also very right that GRRM is NOT grumbling about his situation. If he were, it'd be thoroughly tactless of him, and, frankly, I'd feel justified in a bit of yelling. However, he's not whining. He is just saying he has lots to do and he wants to make sure he does all of it. At least, that's my interpretation. He even sounds a bit apologetic for taking so long with the last one.

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  6. A series is not like a stand alone story. When I start a series, I expect that the author has an ending. It's the same as when I start a book - I don't expect it to end mid scene in the middle of the rising action. Now, I don't think there's a time frame on this. It's fine if he wants to write short stories or what have you. But if he announced that ASOIAF was done and that he was going to be writing something else, I would be furious, no matter how good that something else looked. And this is coming from someone who thinks that much of Dreamsongs is nothing short of a master piece.

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  7. I think Martin's comments (commenter #1, not the author) above are dead on. If you're going to write an epic saga, be prepared to put the time and dedication in to finish it. I've never read GRRM, and I probably won't unless the series is finished. I don't like the term "pulling a Jordan" - that's just wrong. On the other hand, I want an ending. I would have never invested time and money to read The Wheel of Time had I known that the story would never be finished. Luckily Sanderson has done a fine job in picking up the pieces and putting that thing to bed.

    Sanderson is able to tackle different projects because he is a prolific wordsmith - two Wheel of Time novels at 700-800 pages, Way of Kings is over 1000 pages, then throw in Alcatraz and Mistborn books - the guy can crank out quality material. I will always read his books, because he is committed to giving the story closure.

    I can see the appeal of wanting to work on other things, and a writer should be able to write what he or she wants...unless you make that deal with the devil and go for the epic saga. If you want to talk about fairness, all the people that bought your books and made you successful deserve an ending to the story. They spent money, they invested time...you owe it to the reader to pay off that investment.

    My suggestion would be if you want to write something else, follow the Sanderson model, and be more efficient at cranking out material.

    hippogriff.wordpress.com

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  8. This is a very common situation: a writer gets into working on a large project and at some point reflects it might be nice to do something else, since virtually all authors find that starting a project is much easier than finishing and in the midst of a complex narrative taking some time out to do a short story or stand-alone novel can be appealing.

    For example, whilst deeply immersed in the 'screwed-up timelines' portion of WHEEL OF TIME, Robert Jordan began planning a new series, INFINITY OF HEAVEN, set in a whole new world with new characters and ideas. This idea and his discussion of it seems to have coincided with his renewed determination (during and after the writing of KNIFE OF DREAMS and into A MEMORY OF LIGHT) to bring the WHEEL to a close so he could work on the new series, and it's a shame we'll never see what he had in mind. Of course, Jordan didn't actually break off from the WHEEL to tell this new story, and the one time he did take some time out to write new material for the NEW SPRING prequel, the fan reaction was no negative he decided not to do it again.

    Another, more negative example, is David Milch, the very talented scriptwriter who created the extremely popular and highly-praised Western DEADWOOD. Milch got itchy feet after three years on the show and decided to put together a new project, JOHN FROM CINCINATTI. HBO agreed to fund the new project, but didn't want Milch to abandon DEADWOOD (Milch seemed to want to leave DEADWOOD on ice for a year and come back to it after CINCINATTI had been started). There were delays, contract expirations and so on, and DEADWOOD was duly cancelled with no resolution to its story, whilst CINCINATTI bombed. In that case, taking time out to work on a side-project backfired badly.

    For Martin, he's said that he loves writing A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, but he also loves WILD CARDS, which predates ASoIaF by a decade. In addition, he justifies his work on WILD CARDS since that is a collaborative project in which many writers are involved: effectively he employs those writers and likes to do so to give them money and a creative outlet, and feels responsible for them. Since editing a WILD CARDS book is a work of weeks and may not clash with his work on ASoIaF (fans argue about this a lot, especially since GRRM's comments about the division of workload between editing and writing are somewhat vague), he sees no issue in pursuing both projects simultaneously.

    Of course, not having access to the parallel universe where WILD CARDS never existed, it is impossible to tell to what degree his work on that franchise affects or delays work on ICE AND FIRE. It may not affect it at all or without it ADWD may have come out two years earlier. We'll never know.

    However, the risk that is run in bailing on a long-running series to do something new is that a writer may develop an aversion, or even extreme apathy, to the original series. Melanie Rawn lost a family member who served as first reader on her EXILES trilogy and found the prospect of tackling the final volume in that series without their feedback too horrible to contemplate. She decided to write a second series as a way of cartharsis and dealing with the situation, which fans accepted since she had indicated she would then return to finish EXILES at a later date. However, when her new series bombed and was also left unfinished, she announced a whole new trilogy unrelated to EXILES. She rejected any suggestion she should finish EXILES, and fans even found apparent digs at their 'entitlement' in her last-published book. Needless to say, this has not endeared her to the fanbase of the EXILES books.

    contd...

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  9. Similarly, Patrick Tilley departed his AMTRAK WARS series after the sixth of twelve planned volumes. His plan seems to have been to take a break to write a stand-alone comic novel as a break from the war-heavy AMTRAK series, but crippling writing block delayed the stand-alone for five years. And in the sixteen years since then, he has not published another book, despite occaionally stating that he does hope to return to the AMTRAK series to finish it off.

    So it's an interesting issue, one that seems to be much more of an issue now than back in the 1960s and 1970s, when the likes of Jack Vance would have several series ongoing at a time and would skip back and forth between them on a whim, even if that meant leaving his DYING EARTH series on a cliffhanger for sixteen years. Or Frank Herbert interspersing several stand-alone novels between each DUNE book. The market now just seems to take a very dim view of that, though it was once the norm.

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  10. When you begin a series, you make a contract with the reader. The writer tells the reader to make significant investments of time and money for the ultimate payoff that comes in the final book of any series. When you delay a book, you are, in a sense, violating a clause of that contract. I'm all for writers working on other things during a series, but a reasonable time frame for the release of books needs to be set and adhered to. If Martin or Rothfuss (who also is prone to delays) would promise to release a book in their series every four years, I would more readily accept that than to promise a book in two and delay it another two.

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  11. "When you begin a series, you make a contract with the reader."

    Only if you say, in the book itself, or maybe on your website, that the series will be completed by such a date in so many volumes. If the author does not say this anywhere, then no contract and no clauses exist to be invoked. You certainly cannot invoke precedent: the SF and fantasy genres are littered with the corpses of series abandoned due to poor sales, the author wandering off to do something else, writer's block or the author dying. In fact precedent should tell any reader of a new series that anything can happen. Scott Lynch is a good example of a young, hungry, talented author at the start of his career who gets a totally unexpected series of personal life knock-backs and health issues that hugely delays his series from continuing in a timely fashion.

    That said, this argument has some truth when applied to Rothfuss and Martin: Rothfuss told us explicitly that his trilogy was completed when Book 1 was published and only minor editing work was required to bring Books 2 and 3 out at 12-month intervals. Instead the second book took four years and there are indications Book 3 may take two or more years. Criticism of Rothfuss for contradicting himself in that situation was thus originally warranted, especially since the one-book-per-year promise was explicitly made to get more sales from people who'd otherwise be tempted to wait until all three books were out.

    With Martin, he expressed a hope in the infamous AFFC Note to deliver Book 5 a year or so later, though not a guarantee. However, he nevertheless gave a ball park figure and then took 500% the time to finally deliver the book. Criticism for that is also to be expected.

    In both these cases the authors gave us a time frame for the next book and broke it, quite spectacularly. In a situation where no such time frame has been given, I don't think the 'contract' parallel can be drawn at all.

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  12. I'm totally applying this whole "subscriber / business" attitude from now on with all the male escorts I don't use. I mean, I'm not a consumer in that corner of the entertainment industry, but if I *was*, I'd totally adopt this ethos.

    Yeah, I'd pay for four dates in which I take this pretty rent boy out for dinner and he makes like he's my boyfriend, then he gives me an awesome blowjob at the end of the evening. I wouldn't call him a rent boy to his face, of course... not at first. I'd call him an "escort," no matter if I *thought* of him as my fucking bitch-slut of a boy-whore. I'd be paying him for that whole "relationship" thing, see, an ongoing affair.

    OK, sure, I'd be paying him for each individual date, not giving him a weekly retainer to come at my beck and call, but think of the *investment* I've put in! The time and effort involved in developing that ersatz relationship! I'll be so looking forward to the eighth and final date with its angry sex bust-up! Shit, the better he is at blowjobs and faux-boyfriendery, the more I'll be chomping at the bit for each next date! Not that I'll treat him with more respect for it. Hell, no!

    No, I'm gonna have those four dates and be *totally* impatient for the fifth. When he says he can't make it this week, I'm not gonna give a shit about why, yanno, whether he has shit going on in his life he doesn't want to talk about with me, whether he's planning something spectacular for that date and taking time to get it right. No, I'm just going to brood about it petulantly, bitch about having to delay gratification. When he keeps me waiting for two, three, four weeks, I'm gonna start getting downright fucking surly.

    I'm gonna start calling him up then, saying, where's my fucking fifth date, bitch? We've got a fucking deal. I'm a regular john, a fucking *subscriber*. You got into bed with me in the first place, motherfucker, so you're my boy-whore now. I'll go round to his door, irate at being kept waiting. I'm horny and you're a fucking slut, I'll say, so get your fucking coat on cause you owe me my fifth date. Now. No date-raping stalker boorishness will be too low for me in my contempt.

    I'll take no fucking protests. Bitch went into the whole ersatz relationship thing with the deliberate aim of making money. So I'm fucking entitled to ask where the hell my date is... no matter if I only paid for each date as and when it happened. It's that "investment" thing, remember. I mean, I'll have been *investing* all this time and energy. I'll *still* be investing all this *interest*, all this *care*, all this desire for fulfilment. My *demand* for satiation is my *right* to it, motherfucker.

    I mean, let's face it. That bitch-slut of a boy-whore didn't invent prostitution, but he certainly went along with it, so fuck his freedom not to get on his knees before me and suck my mighty cock. I have every right to harangue and heckle him until that fucking whore gives me the service he's unofficially contracted to.

    Yeah, I'm gonna be a fucking contemptuous and contemptible cunt of a human being, and a self-righteous prick about it to boot.

    And then I'm going to apply that attitude to every fucking art-whore.

    Now, gimme my fucking pony, motherfucker!

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  13. I think Hal's just given us the replacement for Gaiman's "Not my bitch!" spiel :-)

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  14. I'm really just turning it around in the hope that people *might* just see the point via the "abusive john" corrolary.

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  15. @Hal, but that would be referring not to series models but to stand alones. If KJ Parker or Alastair Reynolds or whomever decided that they were done writing, I would certainly be sad, but they don't owe me anything. It's their decision. The difference is that, in a series, it's like you're setting up an eight date plan ahead of time. You're only paying for them as they come up, but you're going into the first date with the knowledge that, in the future, you're going to get that finale. If I don't, I wouldn't go so far as to say that I didn't get my money's worth - after all, I did presumably enjoy the book itself - but I wouldn't trust that author(/escort service) enough to, in the future, do another long term commitment with them.

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  16. @Nathaniel: You can agree to an eight date plan beforehand, but the reason we have *actual* contracts is to establish who really owes what. And if you're not stumping up a retainer, the contract is this: you maintain the right to abandon that ersatz relationship because it doesn't go your way; the escort maintains the right to set their limits on what they'll do for you, as they see fit. If they don't want to satiate your scat fetish, that is their prerogative. If you think you have a *contractual right* to be indulged by them in every respect, you're one step away from rape. The service worker decides what services they're willing to provide. Cash in your wallet does trump consent.

    Schedule is no different. If they make you wait five weeks for the double-headed dildo that's gonna make date #5 extra special, you can walk away or deal with it. If they make you wait ten weeks cause... *something* happened but it's none of your fricking business what, you can walk away or deal with it. If you think you have a contractual right for them to offer it up as and when, you're wrong. If you act on that belief, you're an abusive john.

    You're either going into that first date *respecting* that they're a human being and a freelance artist/craftsman, and allowing them leeway as such, or you're going in with no respect for the craft as a craft, no respect for the escort as an artist of emotional and sensual delights, and no respect for them as an individual whose life does not revolve around your desire.

    If you want to walk away and never trust that escort again cause it all went south, well, that's the way it goes. You just have to accept that what they were doing was a whole lot more complex than just offering their ass up for you to fuck, and that means they couldn't just be your menial minion, dropping their trousers mechanically every Friday at 6. All I'm saying is that those who can't/won't accept that craftsmanship comes with uncertainty... where they lash out at the escort with vitriolic hectoring, they deserve the contempt meted out to any abusive john.

    The contract is actually very simple. If you're not gonna be a good john, go elsewhere. The bad johns can stick with the cheap hustlers who'll suck it when they say... and then they can bitch to their heart's content about how that slut ain't really satisfying them with his shit-smeared stinky assholes and his utter inability to play boyfriend with any degree of skill. They can try and find an escort who'll kowtow to their abusive bullshit *and* actually satisfy them with the quality of his service. That bad john might even be lucky. It won't change the fact they're an entitled arse.

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  17. No, you aren't going to buy the first book thinking you are going to see the finale.

    Unless you already know you will like the first book, and then like what comes next (for example, lots of Jordan fans were disappointed with some of his later books), you don't know that you will see the finale.

    As it's obvious you can't know in advance what you'd like...

    Like it or not, you buy a book- you are entitles to have the whole of that book, but just that book.

    The only contract there is between the author and the publisher- the reader only comes when it is time for the publisher to pull the plug on the series or not.

    I can understand the 'trust' thing, but i really feel it comes down from seeing Authors as machines that don't live, don't die, and aren't influence by other factors.

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  18. Hal:

    I don't agree with Martin's contract analogy, but even more than that I disagree with your stance. Every time I see an author echo Neil Gaiman's "GRRM is not your bitch" I start looking askance at them, because if they can be so disrespectful to someone else's readers, what must they think of their own?

    There isn't a legal contract between Martin and his readers, and an artist isn't a worker for hire. But there has been an implicit promise, and there is a moral debt. Martin's readers have made him rich and famous, showered him with praise and adulation, and what have they gotten in return? A half-finished story that, rather than converging towards its ending, seems to be diffusing away from it, and whose progress keeps slowing. Hell yes, George Martin owes his readers the conclusion to ASoIaF. Hell yes, they are entitled to expect it from him, and to be angry when their expectations repeatedly fail to be met. That any author can fail to recognize the depth of Martin's betrayal is something that I find impossible to understand.

    Of course no reader - and probably no publisher - can compel Martin to write anything but what he wants to write, and at his own pace. It never ceases to amaze me that people saying this expect it to calm, rather than further enrage, Martin's fans.

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  19. "Hell yes, George Martin owes his readers the conclusion to ASoIaF. Hell yes, they are entitled to expect it from him, and to be angry when their expectations repeatedly fail to be met."

    But Martin's position is that for him, quality must trump speed. He could have released a new SoIaF book in 2007 or 2008 or whenever, but his argument is that it wouldn't have been very good. Since no-one will care about The Wait once the book is out but will definitely care if the book is rubbish since it stays rubbish forever (Robert Jordan learned this lesson the hard way), logically ensuring the quality of the book must come first over hitting a schedule. Whether GRRM himself is being ludicrously over-perfectionist, and maybe he could have gotten a great novel out in 2007 but caved in to self-doubt, is a different issue.

    It's his story and his judgement, and we have to respect that.

    "That any author can fail to recognize the depth of Martin's betrayal is something that I find impossible to understand."

    If this statement was any more hyperbolic it would be in orbit. And all the more amusing since if Martin had released a book on schedule and it was rubbish, people would have spent the last six years moaning about that instead.

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  20. In all fairness, I have no thoughts regarding the quality of the books. I read the first one several years ago, found it profoundly mediocre, and haven't bothered with any of the others. The difference between good and bad Martin would probably escape me completely.

    But that's not my point. I'm happy to assume that if it were in Martin's power to publish the books more swiftly he would have done so, and whether the fact that he didn't stems from laziness, lack of skill, short attention span, perfectionism, or loving to watch his readers suffer is neither something that I can know nor something I care about very much. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that Martin has failed. He has betrayed the trust placed in him by his readers. And yet those readers are derided and criticized for their entirely legitimate anger - sometimes with justification, because some responses to Martin have been appalling, but it's become completely acceptable to tar all of Martin's fandom with the same brush, and treat every angry response as comparable to sending abusive messages directly to Martin.

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  21. I don't feel that I'm entitled to a completed series, but by that same token, neither is an author entitled to my money, the time it would take me to read their work, or positive reviews. If an author abandons a series, it's not unreasonable to assume that they will alienate readers. How they handle large times between books and/or abandoned series can also alienate readers.

    Take the example of Melanie Rawn's Exile trilogy mention by Adam Whitehead above. It's not so much that completion of the series has been delayed/abandoned that has put me off ever investing my time or money in her work as it is how Ms Rawn has handled it. Back in 1999 (give or take) when I read the first two books, her website said something to the effect of "Publisher is delaying Book 3 until Other Book is published." Fast forward to 2010, and I find out that book 3 is not written and asking if or when it may be written is frowned upon. A simple "I'm sorry, I don't know if I'll ever be able to write the book" would go a long way with me, but, to my knowledge, Ms Rawn has never said that.

    In the case of GRRM, I'm actively avoiding any of his project until such time as ASOIAF is complete, not because of the delay between AFFC and ADWD, but because he was very visibly working on other projects while not commenting on ADWD. Whether that active avoidance continues after the completion of ASOIAF depends on how any further delays are handled.

    I don't need full disclosure; I do need something from an author if they expect to maintain my interest. Authors don't write in a vacuum, and expecting readers to dutifully hand over their money regardless is as unrealistic on the author's part as demanding a series be completed, installments timely, or contents tailored to their whims is on the reader's.

    I wouldn't start a series knowing that it would never be completed. I don't think I'm alone in that, but I also don't assume that's true for everyone.

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  22. "Martin's betrayal"

    Wow. Using that word in the context of all this is just amazing to me. I'm sorry but I just couldn't disagree with you more and I can't understand your point of view at all.

    All I can do is repeat what I said above. Martin owes you nothing.

    This is a very tired and worn out argument, though.

    -Richard

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  23. @Hal: the "eight date plan" is not something that I've thought up in my head to confuse our poor escort friend with. My copy of A Game of Thrones mentions that it's book one right on the back cover, and some covers - according to a quick google search - go so far as to say "the series begins" right on the front. That's more like if our neighborhood prostitute has a huge sign above his entrance about the eight date plan. Yes, there is no actual contract. I do not have a right to sue our escort friend for breach of contract (assuming that one would get far with a prostitute suit anyway...). But if one of us is unable to live up to our sides of the implicit deal, as you said:

    "And if you're not stumping up a retainer, the contract is this: you maintain the right to abandon that ersatz relationship because it doesn't go your way; the escort maintains the right to set their limits on what they'll do for you, as they see fit."

    then why should the other party walk away feeling satisfied? It's not illegal for the guy to stand me up for Exciting Night Out #3, but I think I still have every right to be pissed if he does. There are perfectly logical reasons to be unsatisfied with someone that do not include a legal failing.

    @Abigail: I would not say that Martin has yet violated his promise. If he goes off to write Fevre Dream 2, and says that ASOIAF is just too much damn work, than I would feel betrayed. Time, however, isn't the crux of it for me, as, while the books do say they're the beginning of a series, they do not give the publication date of the next volume. (The exception to this is obviously the A Feast for Crows note - I'll admit that, were I reading at the time that that blew up, I might have a different take on this.)


    @ Arithonne: There's a difference between something that had to be left unfinished and something that was willingly abandoned. I don't hold Wheel of Time against Jordan, and I started Firefly just last month.

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  24. "He has betrayed the trust placed in him by his readers."

    I'm not sure what this 'trust' would be. That he deliver the best book possible or that he gets the book out ASAP? The two do not have to be in conflict - other authors get very large novels published yearly which are pretty good - but specifically over this one book (due to problems in the writing process of this and previous volumes in the series that Martin has been clear about) it's clear that the two are incompatible in this specific instance.

    Your stance seems to be that there is an objective time period in which an author is expected to get a book out and if they exceed that period then anger and furore is justified. I'm not sure how this can be argued given that books are different lengths, written at different periods in an author's life and different circumstances surround their writing.

    "because he was very visibly working on other projects while not commenting on ADWD."

    Ah! We've somehow come back to Niall's original post. So is the position that writers engaged in a long-running series cannot write other projects whilst that series remains incomplete? Why? Why is that the situation now when it clearly wasn't thirty years ago?

    In the last decade or so, we've seen some fans go ballistic when Jordan took three months off from the main WHEEL OF TIME novels to re-work a short story into a short prequel novel, when Scott Lynch started writing an online serialised novel with REPUBLIC OF THIEVES still incomplete and even when Pat Rothfuss released a kid's book between his first two novels.

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  25. I wonder how many of the people bitching about GRRM's delays are the same people who bitch about the decline in quality of the Malazan Book of the Fallen after the halfway mark as meeting his commitment to a book a year took a toll on him.

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  26. I'm not really following your point Mr. Duncan, with all due respect (I mean that sincerely). Are you intending to say that Mr. Martin is the male escort in your comparison? Sorry, but it just doesn't wash, although the colorful language is likely to get some manner of over-reaction going, it doesn't really add anything to the discussion, I think. Quite simply, Mr. Martin wrote a book, and from the very start marketed and sold it as part of a series. There are legitimate business reasons (and obviously personal reasons as mentioned in comparisons to Lynch and Rawn), but "I want to do something else" or "I've lost interest in finishing this series" isn't a bona fide reason to fail to follow through on an author's end of the bargain. Obviously in Mr. Martin's case, that isn't the real situation, and the lengthy delays don't merit the type of attacks directed his way - he's trying to craft the best book he can, and he has every right (actually he has a professional obligation as well) to put out the best story he can write. BUT, to pretend that any author who sets out to write a story, signs a contract to do so, and markets the story to readers in that fashion doesn't actually owe those readers his best efforts to actually write the entire series, is a pretty thin argument. No, Mr. Martin is not anyone's bitch simply because I bought his first four books, that doesn't mean he doesn't "owe" me an effort to finish the tale. He does.

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  27. Abigail:

    My attitude isn't disrespectful of Martin's readers -- as if they were a choate entity to be criticised en masse. Nor does it have any bearing on my attitude to my own readers, not one of whom has hit me with that sort of reaction. And it's not about frustration, dissatisfaction -- which I wholly respect. I've had readers who loathed my books and stories beyond all measure, and that's fair enough. Readers who've got x pages into Vellum and thrown it across the room in disgust are entitled to rant across the entire interwebs at my failure to satisfy. But the truth is, no writer can guarantee satisfaction, so if a disgruntled reader chose to show up at my blog and talk of "betrayal" -- not failure, but *betrayal* -- well, I'll make allowances for the intensity of adverse reaction, but I will not be accused of breaching an agreement I didn't make -- wouldn't make because *I cannot guarantee satisfaction*. And I'll happily stand up for other writers when if that shit comes down on them.

    I cannot guarantee complete satisfaction. Sorry. Read the reviews, check out the first few pages, ask friends, but do not imagine I have the rampant audacity to be promising, in the height of arrogance, that I can offer every single potential You out there from now until the end of time the awesome reading experience they're hoping for. No can do. I'd be a fucking liar and/or a fool if I believed in such a conceit, if I was tacitly agreeing to an unofficial contract with any reader who picked my book off the shelf. I cannot make that promise. That's why such "tacit agreements" just can't be presumed.

    But I can't even spell that out without the suspicion of disdaining my readership? Awesome. No, it's nought to do with snooty disregard. I'm bullish about it, sure, but it's simply that as much as I will take my lumps if *anyone* is churlish enough to show up on the virtual doorstep of my blog, complaining that for all they loved Vellum, Ink was a complete let-down, as much as I'll grin and bear the simple rudeness of someone, figuratively speaking, dissing the decor as a guest in my house, I think there's a line to be drawn where failure is cast as betrayal, treachery, *moral* transgression.

    So, what? I write a book you don't like and I'm a criminal because you think it sucked? Martin writes a series that "rather than converging towards its ending, seems to be diffusing away from it, and whose progress keeps slowing," and that's not a case of aesthetic failure, but of wicked fraudulence? If the series is spreading out into such a tangle of plot threads that it's taking Martin longer and longer to produce a subsequent instalment that doesn't read as an unmitigated disaster, the moral imperative to satiate *one set of* readers' demands for it to be available trumps the moral imperative to satiate *all* readers' demands for it to be readable? Not only that, but the first moral imperative is some "tacit agreement" the writer is doubly damned for having breached?

    Hell, even if a writer was bugfuck insane enough to promise in writing a magic pony every year for the next eight years, expecting them to follow through on that like it's some magazine subscription is blind unreason. I can't speak for Gaiman, but the reason I'm weighing in on this so ardently is that it's just gobsmacking to me that this notion has taken root so deeply. It's not about calming the outcries. It's about laying down the realities from a writer's perspective because if this notion persists I'm gonna end up whipped as a dog at some future point for failing to fulfill expectations I *can* never and *will* never promise to fulfill.

    There's no promise, no contract, no agreement, tacit or implicit or unwritten. There cannot be.

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  28. "Why is that the situation now when it clearly wasn't thirty years ago?"

    Easy access to technology is why. There were no conventions, message boards, blogs, Amazon reviews, author websites, etc. Expectations and hype blow things out of proportion because passionate fans have access to information that 30 years ago didn't exist, and can form a unified front. They have a place to voice their opinion and be heard. Thirty years ago, a reader was on an island. Not any more.

    I see Hal's point, and he makes a pretty good one. Awesome response! My point was made purely as a hypothetical answer to Niall's question...I don't equate it to GRRM or anyone else.

    If a writer is writing an epic series, starts 500 plot threads, wraps up about 100 of them and then give the readers the finger and walks away because the writer want to do something else, what do you expect the reaction to be?

    You won't promise satisfaction. Readers won't promise not to have expectations.

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  29. @Nathaniel Katz
    Yes, there's a difference between had to be left unfinished and willfully abandoned. That's where communication comes in. "My publisher decided to cancel the series" is understandable and will not prejudice me against an author. Creator death is understandable and sad. It doesn't change the fact that I don't want to start something I know is never going to be finished.

    I also don't understand your examples. The Wheel of Time is being finished by Brandon Sanderson (though the completed series may not conform exactly to the original vision), and my understanding was that Serenity provided an ending to Firefly, though I haven't seen either to confirm that myself.

    @Adam Whitehead
    I don't have a problem with authors engaged in long-running working on other projects, so long as they give the occasional shout out that the are still working on the series. I have no problem, for instance, with Brandon Sanderson saying "I need some time off from The Wheel of Time so that I can deliver the best end product."

    I think the difference between now and 30 years ago is the speed of communication and easy access to information. There's also the possibility that fan's bad reactions are just that much more visible now, or that some people forget to use their manners filter when posting on the internet.

    Since AFFC was published, I've checked GRRM's website a handful of times for updates on ADWD. The updates have been years apart. I haven't looked for information in any other place or about any other of his projects, but I still know that HBO's A Game of Thrones was in production for several years and GRRM was involved in the process, there was talk of a graphic novel version of ASOIAF, and GRRM's edited at least one anthology.

    Hearing "working on other stuff is part of my process" or "I'm stuck and at least if I'm working on other things I'm not letting my skills stagnate" or something, anything, else is far better (to my mind) than hearing nothing.

    For GRRM in particular, there was also (at least on my part) the expectation that since AFFC and ADWD were originally supposed to be one book, that part of the material that would comprise ADWD was already done, so GRRM's taken more time to write less. Also, if my memory serves, the ADWD update from several years ago said something to the effect of "writing an update to say that I'm still not done takes away time I could be spending on finishing". So in this particular case, the time visibly spent elsewhere was particularly infuriating.

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  30. Nathaniel:

    The customer has every right to walk away *pissed off as fuck*. But that eight date plan is not just whipped up in a half hour by an escort who farts magic ponies out his peachy ass. It can't be. Each date may well take a week in the planning (as a conservative estimate for some,) and has to follow on perfectly from the last and lead perfectly into the next. The escort can aim to keep to schedule, but the art of emotional and sensual delight isn't bricklaying. And escorting is a tricky business, where any manner of untoward circumstances might pop up to fuck that schedule up completely. One trip to the clinic, one bad test result, and you can be off the game for as long as the treatment lasts. Christ, the intellectual STDs of depression and addiction are so stock in trade for the actual service workers in question that they're clichés.

    Hence, all I'm saying is that the escort cannot be presumed to be making a promise everyone should know they simply may not be capable of keeping. And while their practical aesthetic failure is a perfectly valid thing to rail about, stalker/date-rapist style contemptuous aggression about not producing what they "owe" is illegitimate castigation for such a failing, treating it as a fraud that cannot be. And in so far as such vitriol is underwritten by a refusal to recognise the outright *likelihood* of dissatisfaction -- because the difficulty involved means all such endeavours will fail to some degree, the only question being how much -- it's a response that binds contempt for failure to an oxymoronic disdain for the craft.

    That's what makes a writer talk of "entitlement." I get that the unavailability of the work means *so, so* much to some readers; but I can't get how a reader feeling that way can have so little respect for the creative toil in making a craftwork they prize so highly as to imagine it some mechanically extruded product we can swear a solemn oath to squeeze out on schedule, like all it takes is a strong enough bowel movement.

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  31. Where are the reviews? Scotsman you have made an implicit promise, and you have a moral debt to provide me with reviews, not this meaningless fanboy/girl paparazzi bullshit. Don't force me to start a "Where are the Reviews, Scotsman" website.

    Remember this disgruntled fan?:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5OlolbLXvw

    Bob

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  32. @Hal: I'm not talking about a time element. It's fine if the escort delays our third date. After all, he/Martin didn't give me a schedule when we started this whole thing. It's also fine, if annoying, if he's unavoidably waylaid by testings, death, or a publisher smacking his (date) series with the hand of god. I won't be happy, but I won't blame the escort/writer. My problem comes in when the escort/writer decides to not come to our third date, though he has no other commitments and there is nothing external preventing him from going. A change of heart is not enough, in my mind, to exonerate our high-promising escort/writer friend, even if the man is all clear in a legal sense.

    @Arithonne: my comment on Jordan was referring to Niall's talk about "pulling a Jordan" in the article. As for Firefly, I haven't yet seen Serenity, so I can't answer that.

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  33. Just because you want something really badly doesnt mean you have the right to be complete pricks about it. Maybe in the time between his books you could find something else to do or, heaven forbid, read. This really seems like a juvenile thing to be debating. grow up - it will get here when it gets here - and it will be awesome, or it might not be. who knows.
    It never fails to make me laugh at the extreme poor manners and self-righteous anger that so called fans demand. If I was GRRM I would tell you all to get fucked

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  34. To be honest here, I am not that offended by the pull a Jordan phrase. I do see it as the sign of an underlying worry from fans of a work. To put things in perspective, you need to remember that quite a few of fans of other series have seen their author dying before they could even finish their work. Jordan comes in mind, but to give you an example outside the US litterature, I'd point you to Kaori Kurimoto, the author of Guin Saga, a japanese sword and sorcery series that have influenced Berserk. Guin Saga started back in 1979 and spanned over a stunning number of 130 volumes. And guess what happened? Kaori Kurimoto had shown signs that she was struggling with cancer since 2007 until she eventually passed away in 2009, leaving her work unfinished. As for Berserk, fans are equally worried that Kentaro Miura may not finish his work either, which is a quite horrifying thought. And who can forget Tolkien who had stated that his work on the Middle Earth is never truly finished? Now, as tactless "Pull a Jordan" is, you need to understand the worry of the readership of A Song of Ice and Fire, because few things are more tragic in the world of litterature than dying before finishing his/her work.

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  35. Adam:

    I'll be honest, part of the reason I'm so strident on this issue is that, looking at it from the outside, I truly don't believe that Martin is going to finish the series. Not because I think he's going to "pull a Jordan," which I agree is an offensive turn of phrase - though less because it's an unreasonable concern as because no one's death, either Jordan's past one or Martin's hopefully far-off one, should be discussed so callously - but because it seems as if he's bitten off more than he can chew. He's repeatedly blown past deadlines and submission dates. He keeps proliferating characters and plotlines instead of tying them together. Even the forthcoming book is actually the second half of the last book, meaning that the cumulative page count of all the PoV characters' plotlines in the series's latest installment is something in the area of 3,000 pages.

    This, to me, suggests an author who has lost control of their material, and the fact that Martin seems more eager to write other projects only strengthens this impression. When I look at Martin, I see Chris Carter, or the guys from Lost. Absent the financial and social pressures that writers of successful television are under (who, by the way, absolutely exist in a setting in which an artist is a worker for hire who must deliver on schedule) Martin is more or less free to let ASoIaF fester. Sure, it might be that having cleared this hurdle he'll get back to writing the series on a reasonable schedule - a book every three years, as suggested above, or something like that - but given his past behavior this seems like a bit much to expect. It seems far more likely to me that Martin will pull a Jane Auel - get bored with the series, wander off for twenty years, then write some concluding volumes for a fandom that no longer gives a damn.

    Hal:

    Your use of "dissatisfaction" is so disingenuous that I hardly know what to make of it. You are, I'm certain, clear on the difference between disappointing readers by writing something they don't care for, and disappointing them by not writing at all. If I loved Vellum and was disappointed by Ink, well, that's the risk one takes as a reader. If I loved Vellum and then you announce that you just don't feel like writing Ink, I think I'm thoroughly justified in feeling that you've behaved rather badly (and Vellum and Ink aren't even particularly plot-driven, as opposed to ASoIaF). If you truly don't believe that a writer who starts a story has made an implicit promise to their readers to finish it, then remind me never to buy the first volume of anything you write in the future.

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  36. "the fact that Martin seems more eager to write other projects only strengthens this impression."

    In the 15 years since A GAME OF THRONES was published, Martin has written a grand total of two short stories set outside the Seven Kingdoms, so when I hear about the 'lots' of other projects he's writing unrelated to A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, I am forced to scratch my head and ask, "What projects?"

    Sure, he's co-edited a few other books, but that's not the same thing and requires a rather different skill-set than writing a 1,500-page novel. The amount of time this takes away from writing ASoIaF is something that is debatable (but probably ultimate unquantifiable), but I doubt it's the major factor in the delay.

    Your comments about the series sprawling out of control are well-taken, since this has happened to many other writers (Jordan most notably, but even Erikson seemed to be struggling a little in the second half of his series and ultimately left a lot of subplots unresolved for another writer to pick up, or for sequel books down the road), and I think a careful analysis of the writing of the series suggests this was a real problem for the fourth book in the series, which was introduced at the last minute and written on the fly with little to no forethought. However, the problem with the fifth book seems to be that Martin is trying to 'reign in' the sprawl and get the series refocused on a conclusion and drawing together storylines: Book 5 looks like it will wrap up about a third of the major storylines in the series, and in fact has to if this series is to be finished in seven volumes.

    In fact, the timing of this article may have been off. If Niall had posted it after ADWD was released, we'd have a much clearer idea of the ultimate fate of the series and if it was going to be pulled together for a triumphant conclusion or was sprawling in all directions with no end in sight. It may be worth revisiting the topic in say three months then.

    As for Auel and her writing time (which makes Martin look almost insanely fast), the final book in her series hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list, which indicates that the fanbase really did give a damn.

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  37. the art of emotional and sensual delight isn't bricklaying.

    This looks like it is the nub of our disagreement. No, Martin is not a bricklayer but nore does he inhabit a realm of pure emotional and sensual delight. It seems very disengenuous of you to pretend that these two extremes are the only options when there is clearly a continuum from art to commerce and what we are discussing here is Martin's deliberate decision to move himself further towards commerce on the spectrum.

    You haven't published a novel since 2007. If I loved The Book Of All Hours and dearly want more, do I have the right to complain that it has taken you four years to produce your next novel? Do I get to demand the type of novel you produce? No, of course not and any sense of entitlement I might have would be grotesquely inappropriate. As you put it, you are not a machine for shitting art. Martin, on the other hand, has promised to shit on command for a delighted paying audience. If he gets constipation then that is his own fault for, er, biting off more than he can chew (my metaphor has gone awry). Maybe he should hire someone to shit for him.

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  38. "Martin, on the other hand, has promised to shit on command for a delighted paying audience."

    When, exactly, did he do this?

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  39. Wait, so now we're talking about poop?

    Oh internet...

    Speaking of which, do excuse the slight comment - I've only just now gotten online again, after my routed spent a day inexplicably shitting data into the e-ther. And I've still a mass of comments to catch up on, despite having buried my nose in my phone yesterday to try and keep on top of things. So this is mostly a wave. But soon!

    In the meantime, I don't know... you guys have held down the fort mighty fine in my absence. But maybe we could try a few other, less yicky metaphors on for size?

    Just a notion.

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  40. Where ethics enters into this, it's the ethics of fair dealings in trade, and that does not involve you or me turning justified frustration at aesthetic failure into self-righteous condemnation for breach of a contract that does not exist. By the sounds of it your judgement of Martin as losing control of his material bigtime seems perfectly fair, to be clear. And if "dissatisfaction" is an inadequate term for the level of ire at a bodged compromise and the excruciating delay in the salvage/completion of this apparently crumbling narrative, it's not meant to downplay it. No matter how intense the utter exasperation, I have zero beef with good old-fashioned venting. It's only when that fury warps into this "betrayal of implicit contract" argument that I challenge it as entitlement -- because it *is* literally a claim that the reader is ethically entitled to services beyond the actual contract. There's some awesome writing in TV and comics, but by Cock, those work-for-hire, deliver-on-schedule contracts are crass exploitation, so if readers are now going to argue that print writers in the serial form are ethically bound within the same strictures, only with those readers as the other party in the contract and our "recompense" for indenture being the privilege of pleasuring them... yeah... awesome.

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  41. Damn it! Incomplete comment. Let's try that again.

    Abigail:

    I think we're talking at cross-purposes to some extent. While Niall's original post tackles the question of outright abandonment, it's Martin's support of the "subscriber" right to demand timely delivery I was picking up on, and my response to yourself was focused on the similar basis of treating Martin's failure to deliver on schedule as an ethical transgression. Parsed in those terms, maybe in part because I'm coming at this as a service provider, I'm deeply uncomfortable with rhetoric that obfuscates a very simple system of transactional relationships and sets obligations on writers that are part of a wholly different business model, not least when they do so without setting the complementary obligations on the other side.

    Basically, I'm not objecting to the expectation of completion as wildly unreasonable (I'll come back to the "implicit promise" notion there,) but to the imposition of an annual magazine's obligations to fully paid-up subscribers on the author of an ongoing series, in the total absence of any real buy-in comparable to an actual subscription from those claiming said obligations. I'm objecting to the presumption by one party in that relationship (or portions thereof, at least,) that they can simply write extra clauses into the contract, committing the other party to sundry additional services (e.g. periodical-style regularity in schedule) without their consent. And I'm objecting to the positively twisted notion that the interest "invested" in a series by a reader -- which is to say, the extent to which the service is effective on and valuable to the reader -- constitutes the payment to the writer which obliges them to provide those un-negotiated services. Note that the TV writers you mention who work-for-hire and deliver on schedule have all contracted to do so. Formally. On paper. And with the companies that produce their work, not all the punters out there who really loved Lost. That contract is why they are obliged to work the way they do, not the fact you or I bought all X seasons of Whatever on DVD, so we're owed season X+1 in the Fall.

    Where ethics enters into this, it's the ethics of fair dealings in trade, and that does not involve you or me turning justified frustration at aesthetic failure into self-righteous condemnation for breach of a contract that does not exist. By the sounds of it your judgement of Martin as losing control of his material bigtime seems perfectly fair, to be clear. And if "dissatisfaction" is an inadequate term for the level of ire at a bodged compromise and the excruciating delay in the salvage/completion of this apparently crumbling narrative, it's not meant to downplay it. No matter how intense the utter exasperation, I have zero beef with good old-fashioned venting. It's only when that fury warps into this "betrayal of implicit contract" argument that I challenge it as entitlement -- because it *is* literally a claim that the reader is ethically entitled to services beyond the actual contract. There's some awesome writing in TV and comics, but by Cock, those work-for-hire, deliver-on-schedule contracts are crass exploitation, so if readers are now going to argue that print writers in the serial form are ethically bound within the same strictures, only with those readers as the other party in the contract and our "recompense" for indenture being the privilege of pleasuring them... yeah... awesome.

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  42. [Contd.]

    Ambition outstripping abilities can be disastrous, and disastrous fiction can be infuriating, not least when it comes after a presumably awesome start, but to claim that the writer of serial fiction has an ethical duty to *succeed* at the level "promised" by that start, an ethical duty to do so regularly and wholly -- i.e. with the completion of the work -- is plain folly, slapping a moral imperative on pragmatic uncertainty. The only way a writer can genuinely *be* ethical in that system, making a promise they know they can keep, is to curtail ambition, to lower aspirations sufficiently below ability even to allow for unforeseen circumstances. This is an arse-backwards demand for a *sacrifice* of artistic integrity to churn out trivial and derivative product -- because at least if you promise shit from the offset, you know you can deliver it and that'll make you a an ethical writer compared to GRRM, with his criminal failure to maintain the high bar he set.

    When it comes to completion, plain and simple, finishing what you set out to do... well, I do think this is a reasonable expectation on the reader's part, but there are, I think, still questions of pragmatics and aesthetics and even ethics that place limitations on how absolute any "promise" can be. Pragmatically, we can only expect an artist to do their damnedest to finish what they started. Aesthetically, we can only expect them to bring it to completion if it is completeable. (Which is to say, I think a work can genuinely become unsalvageable, with one of the reasons I'll likely *never* write a serial like GRRM's being precisely that once you have X volumes out, you can't rip it up and start from scratch.) And ethically -- for me at least, in my own personal ethos -- I will only expect an author to write as long as it's not destroying them. (Which is to say, all manner of aspects to the craft and the industry can fuck you the fuck up, to the point where I won't condemn someone for letting self-preservation take over.)

    In other words, as much as I'll embark on stupidly ambitious projects myself with a commitment to finishing them, as much as I think it's not unreasonable to *expect* serious commitment, there are caveats I'm never going to elide with a starry-eyed promise that, yes, absolutely I can and will complete X, Y or Z, no question, no doubt. And ultimately, I'll cut other writers a lot more slack than myself. I won't personally condemn another writer for abandoning a project whether I think I know the reasons or not; I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, assuming that even an apparently flighty reason may mask something totally valid which is simply none of my fricking business.

    I see no reason to get on a moral high horse in such cases. I mean, how many of us were waiting a whole lot longer for Delany's The Splendour and Misery of Bodies and Cities than anyone has been waiting for A Dance With Dragons? It was promised on the back of the copy of Stars in My Body Like Grains of Sand that I got back in 1986. It never happened. I don't know why, but I don't need to, don't demand to. So it goes.

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  43. Writing is, like it or not, mining the subconscious. All a writer's skill and tools are only effective if they have the raw material of story to work on it with.

    All this talk of investment and contracts seems to miss out on this simple fact. Martin found a huge vein of story, and his skill and experience have so far allowed him to extract some pretty valuable stuff. But that vein could peter out tomorrow, folks, or become more difficult to extract. There is not guarantee, only educated guesses.

    Shorter: Creative writing is not flipping burgers, so quit stomping your feet when your happy meal doesn't get to you fast enough for your liking.

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  44. Otay this linkbait has run it's course and our next review is...

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  45. Outcasts, the short lived BBC sci-fi series, since you asked.

    And maybe something awesome on Tuesday, too.

    But please: as to the linkbait thing, that's really not very generous of you, Bob. In polite society we call these discussions. Whether or not they interest you.

    Anyway, it's over now...

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  46. I can somewhat appreciate Hal's comments, now that they've been elaborated further from the original, nastily confusing metaphor. It's stuff like this that irks the folks on the Abigail side, I think, and obscures the true point...I much prefer George's own more respectful stance of rueful regret mixed with firm quality control. Personally, when I have my copy of Dance with Dragons signed, I intend to thank George for taking the time to keep the quality up.

    That said, I tend more to somewhere between the above (what I'll call the Wertzone, if you will :))and the Abigail side. If George wants to write what he wants to write, then fine, but don't promise me as a loyal reader and dedicated fan that I'll have lots of Westeros goodies to chew on and then give me nothing. I think George himself knows and regrets this, hence the rue.

    To Adam's question of where this came from, I think it's the more sophisticated marketing mechanisms in publishing and the 'net itself. I doubt that Jack Vance published The Dying Earth amidst a flurry of interviews, etc. that declared it was the first of a four book series. I rather suspect he wrote them as they came to him and let it go at that. Now we have Rothfuss declaring that he's got a trilogy, and Sanderson's blogging about his intended ten book series, and Abraham's releasing a new book that is the first of five...etc. and etc. Nothing particularly wrong with this, but now these guys have created, if not a contract, an expectation that they have to perform to or face reasonable disappointment.

    In the end, if authors don't want this kind of pressure, then don't commit to delivering like this.

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  47. Yes that was unkind of me about the linkbait remark, I'm just so goddamn sick and tired of hearing about GRRM across the blogosphere I could rip out a sheep's pluck and eat it. In order to make up for it I promise to nominate you for a Hugo next year instead of that Tony C. Smith guy.

    I'll be constructive, here are a couple web sites worth a few chuckles, especially their Encyclopedia_GRRuMbliana_e3.pdf

    Is Winter Coming? (http://www.iswintercoming.com)

    Finish the Book, George (http://grrrm.livejournal.com)

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  48. Matt cavanagh7 May 2011 at 20:25

    I think Gaiman's GRRM is not your bitch comment was in response to the avalanche of personal abuse GRRM was getting as was both finishing his latest book - not though merely a bit peeved.

    The point for me as a reader is the only contract is for the current book - if its good I'll read more if not I move on. If a writer honestly found themselves focusing on a completely new idea that has captured their immediate attention who are we to say - no hang on a mo do x,y and z instead.

    This isnt a legal or even a moral contract its someone making their personal bit of art be it - poetry, film, TV or music. It may not be to ytour own taste or how you feel they should be focusing their talent but occasionally life has a bit of disappointment

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  49. I'm embarrassed to show up so late to this party, but the topic was too interesting to pass up. I completely agree that it would be wonderful to read something other than the Ice and Fire series from George, as I have read and loved Dreamsongs and Dying of the Light (and looking forward to getting around to Armageddon Rag and Fevre Dream), and if that's what George wants to do, then so be it.

    He owes us nothing. I can appreciate the ethics discussion/debate, and as a fan of this series in particular, I can appreciate wanting to see it to the end, but he has no ethical obligation to finish the series if that isn't what he wants to do. We pay for a book, he gives us a book; the discussion ends there. He is no more obligated to deliver the rest of the series than you are to buy it. And I think the fact that he's continuing on in spite of his other interests is something he should be applauded and thanked for.

    But this undeserved sense of entitlement has us bullying and harassing him, instead, and that behavior is abhorrent. As much as I love the series, if he says tomorrow that he's had enough, then I'll be crushed, but I'll also be excited to see what he comes up with next.

    I think we forget that he's not some one-trick pony. He's actually one of the finest genre writers of his generation, and there's a damn good chance his next (hypothetical) project would knock our socks off. Has anyone here read The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr? Sandkings? Meathouse Man? Martin is a frakkin genius, and he's been a genius since long before he ever dreamed up the Stark family.

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  50. I think it all boils down to how much one can empathize with the writer's point of view.

    It's absurd to talk about readers betrayed, readers who have invested time, money and emotions in Martin's series, when it's glaringly obvious that Martin's investment is at least a hundred times greater.

    He wrote 5 books in 15 *years* that any fan of the series would read in 15 *days*. As for the "numerous" other things he's done meanwhile, there are literally hundreds of novelits' testimonies that taking breaks (even extensive ones) is *necessary* in order for the book(s) to be written at all. I would believe that this is especially true for something that would be pushing 8000 pages in its entirety.

    By Martin's own testimony, he wasted almost 2 years trying to have a 5 year gap between the events of Book 3 and the events of Book 4. Such false-starts are a part of the creative process. Who knows how many of these he's had, on a smaller scale (say, on the level of the chapter, or the scene).

    And even if Martin *does* enjoy writing the series, I'm almost certain he enjoys more the feeling of not having to write it and only it all the time - as any writer would.

    If anyone thinks that a 6-year gap between books in a commercial publishing field (it's only fat fantasy, how long could such a book take to write?!) is unconscionable, then one is tacitly painting oneself just a hungry fanboy/fangirl, thereby tumbling quite comically from his/her own high horse. And if this really is one's attitude, then one could just as easily get satisfaction from the hundreds of other regularly-scheduled fat fantasies on the market and forget about ASOIAF altogether.

    Joe

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  51. Hal:

    First I want to back down and apologize for my tone in earlier comments. As you can see this topic is one that infuriates me - perhaps unreasonably given that I have no particular interest in the books themselves - and I tend to go a bit overboard in discussing it.

    As I said, I think that Martin (Lewis)'s analogy to a subscription is a poor one, not so much because it implies a schedule of delivery - one can have a subscription with an irregular delivery schedule - as because it implies, as so many people in this thread have pounced upon, a formal contract between artist and reader. Clearly there isn't any legal obligation on Martin to complete the series on schedule or indeed at all, which is why I think your formulation of the issue in ethical terms is more useful. As you go on to say, once we start applying that ethical obligation and expecting Martin to govern his behavior according to it, we end up paying in quality, which is why I think that formulating this discussion in terms of what Martin should or shouldn't do is unproductive. I agree with Cody that his expression of regret is probably the most that can be expected from him.

    What matters to me about this issue is the willingness to deride fandom for what seem to me like entirely legitimate response. That derision is rooted, of course, in bad behavior on the part of some of fandom, but I think the reason that it has persisted has more to do with the star power of people like Neil Gaiman, who leapt to Martin's defense as only someone who feels that the ravaging hordes are bruising the feelings of their dear friend can do, and along the way completely discarded the complexity of the issue. In his zeal to decry - with utter justification - those who harass Martin, he normalized the attitude that any expression of dissatisfaction with Martin is illegitimate and indicates "entitlement." Compare this, for example, to the attitude the press took to J.K. Rowling's fans during the three year gap between the Harry Potter series's third and fourth books. Though there were instances of bad behavior in that fandom as well, neither Rowling nor the press treated the fans' eagerness for the new book as anything but reasonable and legitimate.

    I'll also say that I'm not sure the difference between Martin and a TV writer is as great as you suggest. Or if it is that it's one of temperament rather than working conditions. Anyone who makes it as a professional TV writer is obviously capable of delivering good or at least passable work on a schedule, which is a skill that a prose writer might not feel the need to develop - more's the pity, in this case. Which is not to say there aren't colossal failures in TV, as my example of Lost and The X-Files shows, but again, in that environment, fans' disappointment at a writers' inability to wrap up the story they've started is treated as a great deal more acceptable than Martin's fans' has been.

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  52. "he normalized the attitude that any expression of dissatisfaction with Martin is illegitimate and indicates "entitlement."

    I took Gaiman's article and GRRM's most strident criticism to be directed to the people whose behaviour was *really* unacceptable: those who spammed GRRM's blog with porn links and sexually harrassed female fans posting on the blog via LJ personal messages, and those who only value GRRM's work on ASoIaF and have no interest in anything else he does (though many would argue his finest work is probably still in his earlier short stories). I've certainly seen people saying to George directly at signings, "What's up with ADWD?" and George giving long and involved answers to that question, or even people mentioning to him that they had issues with AFFC and getting into interesting discussions about it.

    That said, I think everyone can agree that GRRM's PR is not as polished as perhaps it could be and sometimes overzealous moderating on his blog has deleted perfectly reasonable questions about what's going on with the next book. But when you learn exactly more about the lengths some people have gone to to 'punish' George for making them wait longer for a book, to the degree that one of the 'critical sites' linked above was kicked off its server because the server admins thought they could get sued over it, a degree of paranoia and suspicion on GRRM's part is not entirely unreasonable.

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  53. Abigail:

    No apology necessary. As I say, I understand the intense frustration. And it's certainly fair to criticise writers if you think they're being contemptuous of readers in general. I just don't think that's where most writers who voice support for Martin are coming from.

    Aside from that one barbed comment, Gaiman's actually quite restrained, saying simply, "look, bear in mind that writing is not mechanical production, you have not personally contracted him to write work-for-hire to a serf's schedule, and..." well, that's it. He discusses the difficulty of serial fiction a little from his own perspective as a sometime comics writer, but it's pretty measured and explanatory, I'd say, boiling down to a statement on how it's "unrealistic" to think they've been "let down" by Martin's sloth, which I read as "pragmatically wrong to think that an obligation has been shirked." (*Unreasonable* to *feel* "let down" would be another matter. Ire is understandable, it's just that not understanding is... not understanding.)

    The bitch comment *is* a rhetorical strike at the ethical dubiety of the "you owe me" attitude engendered, the surrender to unreason, but it's a specific and true point, like telling some male friend, "your girlfriend is not your mother," when you think he's treating her as such with illegitimate complaints. You're not dismissing all his criticism of his girlfriend ever. You're making a specific dismissal of *unjust* foundations for grievance.

    It's possible he's leaping to his buddy's defence, but as someone who doesn't know Martin from Adam, I read him as coming from the same place as me -- facing up to the fact that there's a perilous misperception of the service on offer, an attitude common enough to be an issue because of the way it affects how people treat service providers. As I see it, he's/we're addressing that misperception because the question has been raised (by a reader's query to Gaiman or by this thread) and to leave it unanswered would be cowardly (avoiding fallout from aggravated readers,) foolish (because it gives the misperception its head,) and ultimately irresponsible (because who else is best positioned to clarify what exactly writers are offering?)

    Think of it as a meal at a restaurant with friends, one of whom is a waiter. Service goes wrong, with the main course taking an inordinate length of time to arrive, and most of the people at the table are rightly pissed off. The waiter may be less so or more so, may cut the staff slack or judge them harsher as wholly unprofessional. But this is a step on from that. This is where a few at the table flip to an aggressive and abusive attitude that becomes questionable in and of itself. This is afterwards, in fact, when there's a question from someone as to whether those individuals crossed a line. "Yes," says the waiter. "The line is *this*." The waiter may be firm, may even be caustic, but it's not about demonising irate customers or defending a poor waiter friend with hurt feelings; it's about identifying the unreason that makes certain behaviour unreasonable. Because some people will not just act like royal asses to waiters but will obfuscate the *pragmatic abilities* of a waiter, never mind their professional obligations, in order to say, "They deserved it." It behooves the waiter to say, "No, look, X is something we *can't* do, and Y is something customers have *no right to demand*."

    And I dare say some might phrase it as, "Your waiter is not your serf."

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  54. So I don't think it's fair to judge Gaiman's comment on a disparaging attitude and partisan motivation. I have to say I also don't think it's fair to judge it on effect -- as closing down argument. Rather I reckon his point is one that tends to be shut out of the discourse *by* such judgements.

    To judge Gaiman as normalising the attitude that dismisses all Martin criticism... to be honest, I think that puts any writer in an unjust double-bind. It's to take a response that's actually meta, asserting a simple boundary to legitimate criticism -- i.e. where it's based on misperceptions that a) fiction writing is mechanical and b) a reader's emotional investment equates to a writer's ethical obligation -- and condemn it for a perceived *impact* in dismissing *all* censure. The writer can't make a legitimate challenge to the misperception, in this logic, because to do so is to set a convention rejecting any negative judgements. But if the writer doesn't make that challenge, the misperception persists and all writers are faced with readers who'll feel ethically betrayed by aesthetic failure. Whichever path they choose, the writer will end up accused of treating the reader contemptibly.

    It's such a patent double-bind, I'd say, that I'd posit it as a discourse emerging and persisting precisely because it suppresses the corrective to the misperception. Again, I'd compare a "your girlfriend is not your mother" corrective given to those complaints of a male friend that are rooted in misperception. To criticise Gaiman as normalising a dismissive attitude to all Martin criticism is like, I think, saying such a comment equates to, leads to, or somehow underpins a blanket invalidation of all possible grievances that guy may have against his girlfriend. In other words, it's like the response of "So I'm not allowed to criticise her at all?" that might well stop you from saying what needs to be said. Consider how that plays combined with an assumption that you're taking her side because you're her friend too and female to boot. Or with a suspicion that voicing such a sentiment betrays a disdain for all men rather than just how that male friend is treating his girlfriend on this occasion.

    What we're talking about is not remotely comparable to misogyny in importance, of course -- I'm not suggesting that for a second, and I'm totally open to arguments that the analogy is invalid because the misperception doesn't exist (i.e. that Gaiman and I are simply wrong in saying, "this is what you're assuming, but this is how it is,") -- but I do think the double-bind effect is a recogniseable... feature of discourse mechanics, I guess. And in truth, I think it's usually a good indicator of discourse soiled by entitlement, that there's an unreasonable moral stance throwing up defences against reason -- here, an equation of the "should" of desire and the "should" of duty, I'd say.

    What I mean is, you have one writer faced with misperceptions that, as they see it, are being used to justify treating another writer as the reader's "bitch" (and in the parallel I'm drawing that term becomes even more pointed.) But if that first writer wants to challenge those misperceptions, they'll likely face charges that they're denying the right of free opinion, acting out of partiality, revealing a contempt for readers. *That* is how you normalise an attitude that an expression of dissatisfaction is illegitimate, because only the mouthy bastards among us will speak out regardless. That's how you sustain the unreason in which one party's capacities and consent are denied because the other party deems their desire paramount. The latter claims the relationship is essentially so, and casts any dispute by the former as bad faith. Given entitlement is the belief in one's own privilege, it's not a wild fancy to see comparable defences in the discourses, right?

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