April 19, 2011

A song of feis and ire

Am I the only one in the world who is not interested in the new HBO miniseries "Game of Thrones," and the multi-part series of novels upon which it is based? Can anyone explain to me the attraction of this piece of media?

Here's the way I see it. "A Game of Thrones" is the first of four novels published by George R. R. Martin as the "A Song Of Fire And Ice" trilogy. Yes, you read that right. Martin was writing a trilogy. There are four books. So far. There are, according to published reports, at least three more novels to come in the saga. Publication dates for the fifth novel have come and gone multiple times now, with each successive date, including the latest one, being touted as absolutely the real deal. To date, there are still only four novels available.

Anyone who has read the four novels currently extant will gush about them ad-nauseum. Their list of positive attributes includes, as far as I can tell: a long, rambling plot that leaves narrative threads dangling at inopportune moments, and then doesn't return to them until the next book, or possibly even the one after that; a cast of characters so extensive it requires a large Excel spreadsheet to keep track of them; a propensity to kill off main characters at the drop of a hat; and a use of language so exotic and arcane as to require one to keep the Kindle dictionary loaded in the background at all times. I'm afraid to ask readers what they didn't like about the books.

My wife read the first four books, and did nothing but grumble, moan, and complain all the way through them. She then proceeded to recommend them to me. Did she forget that I was sitting right there beside her while she read them?

So, aside from the fact that I can't find the silver lining in anything anyone I've ever spoken to about the books has said about them, I'm not really interested in picking up a series of books so epic even the author doesn't know how many there are going to be in the end. Especially considering the fact that the guy's sixty-something years old, and might not live to complete the work. No, really, think about it. The first three novels were published in increments of two years. It then took five years for the fourth book to come out. If - and that's a pretty big if, I'd say - if the sixth book comes out according to the latest pie-in-the-sky prediction of July 2011, that'll be a span of six years since the last one. On that schedule it could be anywhere between twelve and twenty years from now before he finishes. Did I say he's sixty-something?

Listen, I'm the guy who's read the First and Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant five or six times each, and still won't buy any of the books of the Third Chronicles until Donaldson has finished them all. He's got one more to go, but I'm not buying the first one, even in paperback, until I can be assured that I can read all the way to end of the series uninterrupted.

So, seriously, can someone explain all this to me? Because I just don't get it.


Shelly said...

I haven't read the books. I was thinking about it, but they're very long and I have other books I want to read first. So I decided to watch the show and I was entranced. It was great, and it got renewed already, so there's no danger of not seeing how this season ends. The characters are fully realized, the acting is great, the production values topnotch, and the writing is sharp. There's intrigue and danger and sex and lots of other stuff. Yeah, I'm hooked. :)

Astaryth said...

I've never read the books (although I -have- looked at them). They seem to be my kind of story, but man, they are loooong and I have other books I want to read first.... BUT, I did get to see the first episode on HBO (only because it was a free HBO weekend), and was surprised that I really liked it. Given the chance, I would probably watch the series, but it didn't entrance me enough to actually -pay- for HBO LOL!

Alec said...

Well, I've read the books (twice actually) though I'll try not to gush too much!

The long wait times between books are hard to bear...because I really do want to know what happens next. I certainly wish Martin well and obviously hope he is able to complete the series himself, but I've little doubt the story will be finished one way or another. That said, if long wait times bother you, holding off until they are all out is probably a good plan.

Unlike many of my favourite novels, I can't argue that there is anything especially deep in terms of themes or meaning to Martin's books. He isn't a Guy Kay or LeGuin or Gaiman in this regard.

However, in terms of writing that is simply exciting and keeps me turning pages, he works for me. His is one of the only epic series of overly-thick books (and the fantasy genre is certainly full of them) where I'm still as interested after the latest book as I was with the first.

Pretty much everything you say about the books is true: there are many characters, you'll often go long spans between their stories, and you can't bet on anyone being safe. If these are deal breakers for you, then again, it's probably true these books aren't for you.

(The only thing on your list I can't say I experienced was the language being anything especially tedious or exotic)

So what's the attraction? Simply put, it's the characters (in their multitude, yes) and their story arcs. They're interesting, engaging, make you love them and hate them (sometimes both for the same character).

I'd make a comparison here to a soap opera,a reality tv show, or even your favourite sports team. None of these has anything particularly deep to them (OK, maybe baseball), but if you get caught up in the drama and lives of the characters it's hard to walk away--and to those looking in from the outside (or who give it a try but aren't engaged by the characters) the whole thing invariably seems silly and confounding.

This isn't meant to be me trying to convince you to read the books, but it's how I frame his appeal.