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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Theories of collapse

Three rival theories seek to explain the decline and fall of GRR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.  If you haven't read the five books yet and are concerned about spoilers, don't read this.  The first book has been out for 16 years now, so I think it can safely be discussed in detail.
  1. Martin simply lost the plot and is unable to handle all of his characters and stories.
  2. The seed of Martin's nihilistic amorality finally blossomed into full flower.
  3. Martin made a foolish decision to change his approach to the story in mid-series and the structural changes that resulted have proven more than he can handle.
There is at least some truth to all three of these statements.  But which is the primary causal factor.  With regards to (1), that is more of an observation than an explanation.  He has lost the plot.  He is unable to successfully juggle all of his characters and stories.  But it doesn't explain why.  Is it his age?  Is it his health?  Is it simple lack of interest?  Perhaps, but authors in mental decline usually produce work that is simpler and shorter; Agatha Christie's last book has a vocabulary that contains 20 percent fewer words than her average novel.  NB: Christie cunningly avoided this being her last word on the subject by writing the final Poirot novel, and one of her best, Curtain, years ahead of time.  Since Dragons shows the same meandering bloat that first appeared in Crows, and since there are still flashes of excellence in both novels, I think a decline in Martin's mental acuity can be ruled out.

What about the idea that Martin's nihilistic amorality, always apparent, finally overtook the story, as per (2)?  There is some evidence of this.  The nihilism and amorality has certainly continued to increase as Martin kills off well-meaning Starks and replaces them with vicious new characters.  One reader claimed that the theory can't be true because it was the nihilistic amorality that made the first three books appealing in the first place.  Even if that is what set them apart, (and there is an element of truth to that; no one will forget the scene where Jaime chucks Bran out the window... for love), that appeal can't possibly explain the decline in the latter two books because Martin has undeniably cranked up the depravity in comparison with the preceding three.

The real problem with this idea is that we know all of this pointless viciousness is just a sideshow, filler for the events of the real story.  While it might explain why the filler is so nasty, it doesn't explain why it exists in the first place.  And that brings us to theory (3).

As most Martin readers know, the books were originally supposed to be a trilogy.  Then, after the first book turned into three, Martin faced a five-year gap, during which time the dragons would grow and Daenerys would gather the forces necessary to challenge for the throne of Westeros.  (One would think a wedding between Daenerys and Joffrey would have been the obvious solution to the situation inspired by the historical example of Stephen and Maude, but never mind that.)  Instead of simply writing 10 pages of "here's what happened in the intervening years", Martin went back to write what was intended as one book, then became two, and has thus created an even more difficult challenge for himself by adding all of the new characters, many of whose stories are of little to no interest to the fans of the first three books.

Instead of proceeding with the 9 living perspective characters from A Storm of Swords, Martin now finds himself saddled with 21.  This is a structural challenge, and if Martin somehow surmounts it to produce books that are on par with the first three, it will be an epic literary feat indeed.  But the very fact that Martin faces it tends to indicate that he is not up to the challenge of defeating it.

Unlike many Martin readers, I very much doubt that Winds and Dream will be as bad as Feast and Dragons.  After all, Martin is now returning to the story that he originally intended to tell, so he probably has a much better idea of what he wants to do.  However, the unnecessary structural challenge created by all the additional characters and their stories likely means the last two - or three - books will not be as good as they would have been had he not given in to the temptation to go back and fill in the blanks of the required five-year gap.  And that is an excellent object lesson for all writers: don't give in to prequelitis.  Look forward, not backward.  And don't hesitate to leave some historical blanks unfilled; indulge the reader's imagination rather than attempt to leave no stone unturned in explaining everything about everyone.

As for the theories of collapse, they may all be true and help explain each other.  The unfortunate decision to go back and fill in the blanks led to a long submersion into the depths of pointless nihilism, which ultimately proved as uninteresting to Martin as it did to his readers.

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52 Comments:

Anonymous VD December 19, 2012 5:58 AM  

Yikes, Koanic. I'm pleased you liked the book, but you simply can't put spoilers about ATOB like that on a post about Martin... or anywhere here, for that matter. It's one thing to discuss such things openly 16 years after publication, but not after two weeks. I mean, the people who preordered it just got it two days ago! Review it on Amazon, or on your own blog, but even there, you should know better than to reveal plot details to those who are potentially interested in reading the book.

Anonymous T14 December 19, 2012 6:12 AM  

Martin is a fat nerd from a blue-collar family in New Jersey. He knows nothing of strength and beauty. The Greyjoys should have taken over the whole of Westoros and held it through tyranny and power. Slothful Easterners be damned. The Dothraki welcome as useful if superstitious resource. Welcome to pillage Casterly Rock and the effete southern provinces as their own. Sturdy Notherners would have taken up the kraken flag long before this.

I don't recognize the supernatural elements as they are, as always, a silly addition.

Blogger Kyle In Japan December 19, 2012 6:38 AM  

These are all good observations Vox. I'm glad I'm not the only one who wishes Martin had done the time-skip and indulged in some brief exposition to fill in the gaps (have Varys explain the situation to Ilyrio or something like that.)

By the way, I really like the recent increase in writing and books-related posts.

Anonymous Weak December 19, 2012 7:06 AM  

Martin explains the collapse in his "Not A Blog" section of the website. He waxes on and on about the Jets & Giants; he obsesses over his poker-pun themed comics; he revels in the details of the casting and props of the TV series; and occassionally he bitches about how hard it was to write Dance or his troubles with Winds. He has made it quite clear that he has lost interest in the series. He has to finish it because he feels some duty to his fans, and because of the $$$ it brings in. But his interests lie elsewhere.

It's understandable. He likely no longer has the same passion for the story that he did two decades ago when he was forming it. And if passion for a project is lost, it's only natural that the quality will suffer.

Anonymous FUBAR Nation (Ben) December 19, 2012 7:27 AM  

Speaking of fantasy, did anyone here see the Hobbit and what did you think? I saw it and thought it was pretty good.

In regards to Martin, it's true that the story has gotten out of his control. All he needs to do now is write a thorough outline for the remaining books, kick the bucket, and let someone else take the blame for the terrible concluding books.

Anonymous VD December 19, 2012 7:30 AM  

It's understandable. He likely no longer has the same passion for the story that he did two decades ago when he was forming it. And if passion for a project is lost, it's only natural that the quality will suffer.

Sure. And that's why the decision to go quasi-backward rather than forward was so problematic. He'd be done by now and able to move on. Instead, he's facing even greater challenges than before and is no further along.

Anonymous scoobius dubious December 19, 2012 7:32 AM  

Isn't the real reason a lot simpler -- that it's statistically unlikely that anybody could keep a story with a nature like this interesting over the course of 5,000+ pages? That sounds like at least 2,000 pages more than anybody in the world really needs to hear about this subject, unless he was unusually brilliant about it. Shouldn't he just make up a new universe and try something different?

Do you mean to tell me that after all this time, the scary monsters north of the Wall still haven't invaded, and the characters are all still just a bunch of power-hungry thugs quarrelling over who gets the biggest piece of steak? That was what had me sort of worn down and tired after only season one of the TV show. None of the characters is concerned with good governance or any idea of the good. Even Ned Stark, who seemed like the most decent chap of the bunch, really had as his principle merely that it was wrong for Joffrey to be king because he was descended from the wrong set of thugs, and if the proper thug had been crowned, he'd be okay with it. There's nothing behind or inside of that. It was kind of like The Sopranos after a while; very well done, but I lost patience after a single season because even a compelling gangster is still just a gangster. (One nice thing about the show was that, mirabile dictu, it was possible to watch roughly ten hours of high-quality television without having to suffer through a single Magic Negro. I suspect that streak won't continue forever; presumably at some point Prince Objingwa from the far-off Southern Kingdoms will show up with his mad martial-arts skillz and a boomerang-dagger or something. Don't watch Cloud Atlas, it has the highest per-capita Magic Negro population of anything I've ever seen.)

If I wind up watching season two, it'll only be in the hopes that the hot blond dragon chick gets naked a few more times, or at least keeps strolling around in a skimpy leather halter-top; and in the hopes that the Italian sword-master survived his last battle, and has some more witty things to say. From the way you guys are talking, it sounds like the whole thing with the Wall and the monsters and the Nights Watch is just a big tease.

It would be nice if they did something cool with the pet dragons, but it is a TV series after all, not a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, so I don't know how they'd solve that one, budget-wise.

PETER DINKLAGE: (pointing off camera) Look at those dragons in the distance! They certainly look dangerous!
CERSEI LANNISTER: (also looking off camera) Yes, it's a good thing they're flying in the other direction, and not towards us!

Blogger Nate December 19, 2012 8:06 AM  

I favor the far simpler theory.

Martin never knew where he was going in the first place. He's a man that loves world building and characters and back stories.

So that is what he is doing. Creating characters and backstory.... over and over and over.

Its like watching Lost.

Blogger Nate December 19, 2012 8:12 AM  

" From the way you guys are talking, it sounds like the whole thing with the Wall and the monsters and the Nights Watch is just a big tease."

Its infuriating is what it is.

The Wall... Winter... its all a glorious concept.

and he is crapping all over it.

But hey... modern writers are so derivative... we can look forward to someone coming along and rewriting GoT... and it might actually go somewhere.

Anonymous Merle Haggard December 19, 2012 8:13 AM  

Sorry if this has been covered in a previous post. At one point does a writer cross the line between portraying a brutal, unfair world to nihilistic amorality? I believe Martin crossed the line in graphic depictions of violence and depravity that contributed nothing to story development. But is the execution of Ned Starks really indicative of nihilistic amorality, or is it a depiction of a tough world where good guys get shafted (which really isn't so different from our own). Thanks for any thoughts Ilk.

Blogger Joe A. December 19, 2012 8:16 AM  

"Look forward, not backward. And don't hesitate to leave some historical blanks unfilled; indulge the reader's imagination rather than attempt to leave no stone unturned in explaining everything about everyone."

This cant be emphasized enough, I think.

Anonymous Weak December 19, 2012 8:17 AM  

VD, why the focus on Martin's Ice & Fire series? Plenty of other writers have lost the plot over the years, or put out stinkers. Why single out Martin's Dance for so many posts? I didn't think you liked him that much in the first place.

Anonymous scoobius dubious December 19, 2012 8:37 AM  

If you ask me, they made a huge mistake in killing off the blond chick's loudmouth obnoxious twin brother. A sniveling resentful character like that can get up to all sorts of highly entertaining mischief, and would have made a great counterweight for the dwarf. (Is Tyrion also a dwarf in the books, or did they just make him one for the TV show because Peter Dinklage was so perfect for the role?) Martin had his very own Gollum in the making with loudmouth dragon-boy, and he just threw him away for nothing.

Anonymous VD December 19, 2012 8:39 AM  

I didn't think you liked him that much in the first place.

I've liked Martin since Sandkings. And I want to learn from his mistakes. I have nothing to learn from Jordan. Or Bakker. And I've learned what I can from Abercrombie. And I have no idea how I'd apply what I've learned from Erikson....

Anonymous Merle Haggard December 19, 2012 8:44 AM  

Apologies. Had not read the post on Illumination and Shadow and now I see the distinction.

People who have no hope are not likely to write hopeful stuff, and if they do it will come off as inauthentic.

Blogger vandelay December 19, 2012 8:50 AM  

he just threw him away for nothing.

That death scene was worth it.

Anonymous Josh December 19, 2012 9:21 AM  

Even given how far the series has fallen, it's possibly one of the best television series ever. Just goes to show the delta between typical television/film writing and actual writing.

Anonymous 43rd Virginia Calalry December 19, 2012 9:31 AM  

Collapse was caused by the massive debt incurred during the numerous battles and re construction.

Anonymous Stilicho December 19, 2012 9:39 AM  

I think Martin lost control in large part because, since before Crows, he has been focused primarily on the HBO adaptation. Lacking focus, his writing tends to wander and defaults to his basic nihilistic amorality to fill in the gaps.

Anonymous FUBAR Nation (Ben) December 19, 2012 9:39 AM  

Vox I have a serious question. How will the death of Jon affect the story in the North? (I know you can't stand Jon even though he's the bastard spawn of an arguably alpha male Ned Stark).

Anonymous VD December 19, 2012 9:58 AM  

Vox I have a serious question. How will the death of Jon affect the story in the North?

I doubt he is dead. Martin has shown a lamentable tendency to bring people back in one form or another. We haven't learned who his mother was yet, so I expect he has an important part to play.

Anonymous Daniel December 19, 2012 9:58 AM  

I simply got a chuckle out of the notion that there might be anything in Storm or Dance that might be affected by a spoiler. That's kind of like suggesting that a can of Surströmming has gone bad.

As much as I enjoyed the first three, I wish he'd closed it off with a more extensive epilogue in Storm, or at the very least struck the 9 down to 3 (by overlap or death). However, I very much think that the seeds of the series downfall are planted in the beginning, somewhere. The highest point in the series comes late in book 1. Clash is a very interesting aftermath, and Storm is a good conclusion. I honestly don't care what happens five years after that.

If nothing else, structurally, the first 3 books make a decent trilogy (fine, cheat and throw a long epilogue or appendix in at the end), and then books 6-9 could have been a second, separate trilogy (like Thomas Covenant) and books 5-6 could be awarded their vaporware Locus awards and then never show their faces in public.

However, the story will always, always, always be hobbled from greatness. The single-mindedness and singular dimension of most of the characters, combined with a weakness of essence can't be overcome by all the interesting plot movements and detailed intrigue in the world. There are only three characters that I find rich enough to carry the day (they are obvious, I think): I found myself racing through until they were back on the page, even in Storm.

I danced the Dance. I can't dance no more. Besides, winter's not coming.

It's here.

Anonymous O.C. December 19, 2012 10:01 AM  

Theory 4: The first book was aggressively edited. The rest weren't.

You can follow this arc in most long-running series -- or for that matter, in the career of Stephen King. Once it's established that the fans can't wait for the next book and will make it a bestseller the day it's released no matter what's inside the covers, the publisher quits wasting money on editing and the author is given license to bloviate.

Hey, that just means it'll be a longer book, so we can charge more for it!

Blogger vandelay December 19, 2012 10:02 AM  

How will the death of Jon affect the story in the North?

I know I'm not Vox, but...

I don't think we've seen the last of Jon. He's either not really dead, or they'll find a way of bringing him back to life, which the red priests and priestesses are apparently capable of.

Unless Martin's actually lost his mind, killing off Jon at this point serves no purpose at all, other than appeasing the Jon-haters out there.

The mystery of Jon's mother has been pushed from the start, and there's so much invested in that and in him that I just can't believe that Martin would throw away over a decade of build-up.

Yeah, He's killed off main characters before, but Eddard was only in the first book, Rob was a non-POV character, and Catelyn came back to life... sort of.

I'd actually bet a decent amount of money that he'll be back in some form by the end of Winds.

Anonymous VD December 19, 2012 10:15 AM  

Theory 4: The first book was aggressively edited. The rest weren't.

That's almost surely part of it too. Compare HP1 vs HP7. The bloat is grotesque. I doubt it's cost-driven, however, I think the publisher is afraid of telling the author what to do.

Anonymous Zek December 19, 2012 10:15 AM  

I just can't wait for him to continue the undead Cat Stark storyline, everybody loves zombies!

Anonymous Josh December 19, 2012 10:17 AM  

Theory 4: The first book was aggressively edited. The rest weren't.

Couldn't this also apply to JK Rowling and Tom Clancy?

Anonymous Daniel December 19, 2012 10:19 AM  

Nate
I favor the far simpler theory.

Martin never knew where he was going in the first place. He's a man that loves world building and characters and back stories.

So that is what he is doing. Creating characters and backstory.... over and over and over.

Its like watching Lost.


I want to disbelieve that, and would point to the above-mentioned Sandkings: Martin is capable of telling a hell of a good story, that is both tight and epic. I always wanted Martin to expand that concept into more stories and maybe a book series.

Now, however, I can't do anything but agree with you, and be thankful that Sandkings was restricted to magazine length. I don't think Martin would have seen a "higher" concept through very well.

But if you can find the original (long) short story Sandkings, pick it up. It appears to be in some published anthologies under Martin's name (I imagine it has his other short stories, but I haven't read those so can't vouch for their quality. Sandkings is worth 5 bucks on its own though). I read it in an Omni collection back in the 80s and did not connect it to the author of Game of Thrones for a long time.

Anonymous Daniel December 19, 2012 10:31 AM  

Merle Haggard
But is the execution of Ned Starks really indicative of nihilistic amorality, or is it a depiction of a tough world where good guys get shafted?

Tough world, shafted good guys. The problem Martin has is in the aftermath: Ned's death is emotionally powerful and shocking: it sends the plot of the series into all sorts of interesting territory. Everyone reacts to it: it changes the course of history. So, nihilism, per se, is not the problem with his death. I believe it and the immediate aftermath to be the high point of the series.

Where the nihilism causes a massive problem is in the theme: ultimately, from Martin's authorial perspective, Ned's death is, in every sense of the word, meaningless. There is no deeper meaning to Ned's life as he lived it, and no residual benefits from the inspiration or motivation or dread that affected characters might feel. In other words, in terms of the plot, it really didn't matter if Ned had been a good guy or an evil guy: the important thing was that he was an influential point of power whose elimination starts all sorts of marbles rolling. It was simply more shocking to make him a heroic figure so that the execution had an emotional effect.

Nihilism didn't kill Ned Stark. Nihilism rendered his good character and high quality irrelevant to the greater plot.

Anonymous Unending Improvement December 19, 2012 10:35 AM  

I have a theory on Jon Snow, although admittedly I didn't get past the middle of Game of Thrones before finding spoilers for the entire series.

Basically my theory is that Jon's mother is someone important, not a mere peasant. His mother could be a deceased member of the Targaryen's for all I know or even really care.

So Martin will bring him back, either he didn't die or he'll be brought back to life for whatever god awful reason they can come up with, and he'll be the one to gain the throne.

I mean look at Henry VII. He was nowhere near being in line for the English throne, but he brought up some slightly trumped up connection to the Lancastrian dynastic house and ran with it. It would also fit in with the general War of the Roses theme.

Anonymous Randy M December 19, 2012 10:51 AM  

I don't know how faithful it is, but I just watched the first Outer Limits episode (from about 10 years ago) which was an adaptation of Sandkings. It is on Hulu now.

Anonymous Matthew December 19, 2012 11:06 AM  

I thought it was obvious from fairly early on that Jon is not Ned's bastard, but is actually the child of Ned's dead sister, fathered by the Targaryen prince. Whether by rape or by "rape" isn't yet clear. Extrapolating, this would make Jon and Daenerys close relatives, destined to join in marriage and rule with dragon-power.

Anonymous O.C. December 19, 2012 11:14 AM  

@VD

> I think the publisher is afraid of telling the author what to do.

You misunderstand the author|editor|publisher relationship. Publishers routinely tell authors what to do and where to stick it.

Anonymous Stilicho December 19, 2012 11:36 AM  

We haven't learned who his mother was yet, so I expect he has an important part to play.

and this

Basically my theory is that Jon's mother is someone important, not a mere peasant. His mother could be a deceased member of the Targaryen's for all I know or even really care.

Um, we know perfectly well who Jon's mother and father were. While all of those obvious clues could have been an extremely elaborate bit of misdirection, I find it highly unlikely.

Now, a prequel involving Jon's father would be interesting. He's an intriguing character even with the little knowledge we have of him. Plus, Martin has written some truly entertaining prequel stories involving Aegon (Egg) and the hedge knight, so we know he has the talent to do so when he focuses on it.

Anonymous gwood December 19, 2012 11:44 AM  

How many books, fiction and nonfiction, have been written about WW2? Ten thousand? I don't know why ten good novels couldn't be written about an imaginary global war.

Anonymous ENthePeasant December 19, 2012 12:08 PM  

I have no idea what happened, but this is for sure. I like reading the theories on why the books turned so awful a lot better than reading the books. Every character I liked, save Jon (and maybe him), is dead, to be replaced by some vicious little freak of nature. I like the Wall and the Night's Watch, but WTF happened to that??? This series might be going somewhere but I doubt it. And if it does pick up the thread it's not like I'm going to read book five so I'm caught up. We should force violent criminals to while away their days reading GRRM (means GRIM) until they can't take it any longer and ask to be euthanized. I'm not a writer (although I've played one at times) and it's mildly interesting to see how this entire affair seems to stir the imagination of writers... but not for any reasons that would make me want to read more of this hopeless and mean world of no virtue. Admittedly I rarely read fiction. But when I do it's for entertainment. As I've already pointed out this is not entertainment, it's punishment.

Anonymous Daniel December 19, 2012 1:10 PM  

Randy M
I don't know how faithful it is, but I just watched the first Outer Limits episode (from about 10 years ago) which was an adaptation of Sandkings. It is on Hulu now.

Not faithful at all, to the point that I had no idea it was Sandkings until one particular scene, which was still not close to the book. However, that episode stood on its own: it was one of the best they did.

The differences were many: Sandkings didn't take place in the present day on earth, but in a very vivid distant planet with a colorful populace. There were four quadrants of Sandkings in the story, not two. If I recall, the teevee show had a "scientist too eager to play god" vibe that the story doesn't touch (the "hero" in the original Sandkings is a fairly repugnant, although socially popular sadist.)

The ending of Martin's story is really quite strong. The Outer Limits was good and creepy, but nowhere near as emotional and memorable as the story. You'll get the gist of the story from the show, though, but not much more than that.

My favorite part of the Outer Limits episode was that Lloyd Bridges and Beau put in some really good performances.

Blogger Nate December 19, 2012 3:31 PM  

"The mystery of Jon's mother has been pushed from the start, and there's so much invested in that and in him that I just can't believe that Martin would throw away over a decade of build-up."

Of course he would... because he doesn't see it as build up at all. He creates characters and toys with them till he gets bored then kills them off. There is no build up because there is no direction at all. Its just a process of time marching on. Its not even a story at this point.

Blogger Nate December 19, 2012 3:35 PM  

"Even given how far the series has fallen, it's possibly one of the best television series ever. Just goes to show the delta between typical television/film writing and actual writing."

No.

It shows that for once... hollywood's penchant for thinking they can improve source material may actually be correct.

Blogger vandelay December 19, 2012 3:43 PM  

Just wait til the show gets to adapting the later books. Season two was confusing enough for people who haven't read up. If Weiss and Benioff have any sense they'll avoid multiplying the POV's like Martin did and stick with the core of the story. Otherwise it'll be a fiasco. TV viewers have even lower levels of patience than fantasy fiction fans.

Anonymous VD December 19, 2012 3:55 PM  

Of course he would... because he doesn't see it as build up at all. He creates characters and toys with them till he gets bored then kills them off. There is no build up because there is no direction at all. Its just a process of time marching on. Its not even a story at this point.

I disagree. I think he's trying to build up to a Stephen and Maude deal. Or at least, he was. Remember, he's working off The Wars of the Roses. The fact that there is no story in the five-year filler doesn't mean there won't be a post-gap story.

Anonymous ENthePeasant December 19, 2012 4:07 PM  

"The fact that there is no story in the five-year filler doesn't mean there won't be a post-gap story.

Causing ever more confusion. Your best comment here was, "Or at least, he was", which comes awfully close to making Nate's point.

Anonymous Daniel December 19, 2012 5:44 PM  

The fact that there is no story in the five-year filler doesn't mean there won't be a post-gap story.

I hope you are right. I bet you are wrong, just based on the history of series fiction, if nothing else. I can't name a decent series (because that's what this thing is now, for better or worse) that went as far off the rails as Song has...and recovered. I honestly don't think, from his side of the desk, that he's even going to want to do the recovery work of a reset.

Yes, he's backfilled a bunch of stuff, but he's also saddled his next books (the original next books) with a bunch of pointless threads that he wouldn't have had if he had just made a clean break after the first three.

Imagine, if you will, that the Star Wars movies had been filmed in order.

Because of pre-existing threads, A New Hope ('77) would add:

1) A subtext of the formerly mysterious (is he a robot? why does he breath like that?) Darth Vader, as a sympathetic villain, inconsolable and seeking revenge for his wife's death.
2) A much younger Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Uncle Lars and Aunt Beru by an order of decades.
3) Sandpeople who avoid Skywalker kin like the plague.
4) A comic subplot by which C3-PO struggles with the memory wipe that caused him to forget Darth Vader.
5) A Darth Vader who recognizes and targets his childhood homebuilt protocol droid.
6) the removal of the "aged galaxy" effect.
7) References to the Old Republic wold be changed to the "Last Regime" or the "Former Republic", and an infant Empire would be in place instead of a broadly established one.
8) At least a reference or report on the Jedi genocide, and elimination of any reference to Jedis being a myth or fairy tales.
9) Hutts who are well aware of the presence and importance of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and a willingness to trade on the info.

...and on and on. Dance With Dragons says almost literally nothing and yet it saddles the forthcoming Winds with a jillion threads it would not have otherwise had.

But you are ever the optimist, and it would please me to know to discover your hopes were well-founded.

As for me, I think it's wrecked, and unrecoverable. We'll see. It would be nice to be wrong.

Anonymous ENthePeasant December 19, 2012 6:29 PM  

"I think it's wrecked, and unrecoverable. We'll see. It would be nice to be wrong."

I agree, but I loved the first book so much that we're all pulling for him to come back to the light. But he's so much older that I guess there's not much chance of that. He seems very proud of his ability to kill of his characters on a whim.

Blogger Nate December 19, 2012 8:39 PM  

"I disagree. I think he's trying to build up to a Stephen and Maude deal. Or at least, he was. Remember, he's working off The Wars of the Roses. The fact that there is no story in the five-year filler doesn't mean there won't be a post-gap story."

He started off working off the War of the Roses. But there is no way to get back to that... and tie up the dragons and Winter and still make a coherent story at this point.

Anonymous Matthew December 19, 2012 10:50 PM  

Nate's right. I do believe Martin had a well-plotted end in mind when he started, but he dropped below the event horizon when writing the monstrosity that became Feast/Dance.

Blogger Laramie Hirsch December 20, 2012 12:23 AM  

Evil is a novelty. People find Martin's evil characters charmingly fascinating because of their evil. But normal people get tired of that after about three books.


P.S. Vox, I would like a thread or some sort of discussion about what folks think of the Hobbit movie. Somewhere.

Anonymous Jack Amok December 20, 2012 2:52 AM  

I never started this series. Honestly Robert Jordan wrecked the serial SF/F format for me. I didn't even finish his first book (though I think my wife got through 4 or 5 before deciding it was a poor ROI reading it). By the time Martin's series came to my attention, I was so through with fantasy serials. I think because of the basic problem this thread is trying to diagnose - if the author starts publishing books before he knows where it's all going, things get out of hand.

LotR was not a trilogy. It was written as a single story, none of the books stand alone. The first and second don't have proper endings, and the 2nd and 3rd don't have proper beginings. Because of that it didn't drift off here and there, and the events of the earlier books drove towards the conclusion of third.

Since Vox mentioned her in his post, I read an article on Agatha Christie where an editor\confidant of hers claimed that she would write a story all the way through the second-to-last chapter without knowing who done it. Then she'd pick the most unlikely character as the villan and go back to make adjustments to the earlier chapters to make it work. Well, Christie's plots were frankly abysmal, her genius was in conveying a sense of place and character.

In all honestly I'd enjoy her books more if they weren't mysteries, if they were just ramblind vingettes like Patrick O'Brien wrote. Now there's an author who could write a series without worrying about losing the plot - he didn't have one, but hecreated such a vivid, inviting world that it was enjoyable just to be in it, to wander around in the company of likable characters without needing a plot to focus on.

Well, there it is maybe. Likable characters. I haven't read word one of Martin's work, so I'm guessing blind here, but are any of his characters likable? It sounds like at least parts of his world are interesting, but is it a place you'd actually like to be? If the Star Trek Holodeck was real, would you load up the SOIAF program just to wander around?

If not, then he really needs plot to carry the load, and I just don't think anyone can keep a plot coherent over that many pages.

Anonymous Cail Corishev December 20, 2012 6:42 PM  

[A]dding all of the new characters, many of whose stories are of little to no interest to the fans of the first three books.

That's the crux of it for me. The story started with the Stark children, and by the fourth book they've nearly disappeared. It's not that I expected it to be another fantasy epic about a young boy growing up to be king -- that's been done plenty and well already -- but if you're going to spend a book or two letting me get to know them, I want to keep following them. Don't build up my sympathies for Bran and then yank him offstage for a thousand pages or more.

The fourth book is still introducing new characters left and right, and while I might find some of them interesting in their own right, mostly I find myself resenting their upstaging of the characters I miss. The Onion Knight, for instance, is exactly the kind of character I love, but he's unnecessary in a story that was already extremely complicated. There are already too many fascinating characters for me to care about secondary ones like Dorne, the Iron Island folks, Stannis, and so on. Some of them might deserve books of their own, but they're clutter here.

The same thing is true of the supernatural elements. We already had the creatures from beyond the wall which were tantalizingly mysterious, but then they get forgotten and replaced by Melissandre's much less interesting demon or whatever. And the dragon queen stuff that's taking place in another part of the world seems like a completely separate story. Maybe it should have been published that way, with the dragon angle as a separate trilogy in the same universe.

Eddard's death was okay because it established that such things were possible in this world, and we weren't that invested in him yet anyway. As I recall, the description of it wasn't that brutal, either, compared to the language used in later books.

"Winter is coming" is one of my favorite short lines from any book. I love the sense of open-eyed foreboding and staunchness it implies, and try to use it in other contexts. So it's disappointing to think I may never bother to read the fifth book or beyond.

Anonymous Matt December 20, 2012 6:48 PM  

"I haven't read word one of Martin's work, so I'm guessing blind here, but are any of his characters likable?"

Yeah, he's not bad with character.

"It sounds like at least parts of his world are interesting, but is it a place you'd actually like to be?"

Not in a million years.

Anonymous ENthePeasant December 20, 2012 8:04 PM  

Cail, very well put. That's kind of what I was alluding to but never quite got there. Nice Job.

Anonymous Cail Corishev December 21, 2012 9:42 AM  

Jack, Westeros seems like it would have been a great place to live -- right up until the series starts. That's part of what "winter is coming" means: life has been good for a long time, long enough that people have forgotten what bad times are like, and they're about to get some harsh reminders. It's coming in a literal sense with the cold moving down from the north, but also in the sense of corruption infecting the courts and honorable (or at least decent) leaders being replaced by schemers and tyrants.

No, it's not a place you'd want to live.

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