October 13, 2011

All The Pissing

I'm finally setting down to read George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons, the fifth book in his seven part (please, let it only be seven) A Song of Ice and Fire series.

I write mostly crime fiction, but fantasy was my first love. As a kid I devoured fantasy novels, reading the good stuff (Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock) and the shit (the Dragonlance series and R.A. Salvatore's Drizzt Do'Urden books). I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. I made maps of make-believe worlds and played amateur linguist.

I grew out of fantasy. Discovering Andrew Vachss and Shane Stevens helped, but it was also because as I matured I realized that 99% of the fantasy genre is utter and complete shit. Just badly-written Tokien rehash after rehash. Very little of it is imaginative. And there's a subtext to "high fantasy" that I find repellant, much like the vast majority of "military SF". Whenever I thought I had found a new savior for the genre, they always disappointed me.

Like Robert Jordan.

I remember reading the first three books in the Wheel of Time series and being excited. Here we go, I thought, here's something a little different. Here's something that's got some character focus! Holy hell, there's female point of view characters and they're not just hot chicks in chainmail bikinis! And there's no elves or dwarves or goblins! This is awesome!

Then it started...

The number of planned books lept growing and growing and growing. From 3 to 5 to 10 to whatever the hell it is now even though Jordan is dead. Next came the fantasy writer bloat--800 pages and wait for it...nothing happens. That's right, you just read 800 pages and you could count all the plot events on one hand. (Only if you're generous with your definition of "plot events.") Oh, and those female points of view you were excited about? Yeah, well, turns out the female characters are all the same and will spend the remainder of the series acting like 16 year old girls fighting over the same cute boy.

I stopped reading those books years ago. At this point, I don't really care whether Rand Al-Thor goes crazy or which woman he hooks up with. I don't care who's writing it now. Even if Tor hired a group of necromancers to summon Jordan's spirit from beyond the grave to finish the series himself, I wouldn't care. I told myself when I turned my back on Jordan that I wouldn't pick up another series. (Why is it always a series? Why can't fantasy authors write a single novel with a self-contained narrative?)

Then came Martin...

Everyone kept telling me I needed to read this Game of Thrones series. I don't want to, I told them. No, no, they said, it's so good. It's fantasy for adults! It's character driven! It's exciting, well-plotted and it's only supposed to be like three books and two of them are out already!

I thought about it...Well, fantasy for adults, huh? Only three books? And I do like Martin. His Wild Cards series was pretty cool and Beauty & The Beast was one of my favorite television shows. Why the hell not?

They were right.

There's a lot to like in the first three books. Good writing. Engaging characters. Strong women. Lots of schemes and machinations instead of a single big, epic quest to drop some item in some cave/chasm/volcano. Multiple view points connected to a larger, single plot arc that left you excited to see how everything would come crashing together. War protrayed as hellish and terrible without any of the whitewash most fantasy writers give it. And, thank god, none of that annoying info dumping: Yes, I know you really want to see our intrepid heroes reach the Castle of Nevermore, but instead I will give you 50 pages of landscape descriptions and 75 pages of history lessons on the line of Tramaldian Kings...

I was excited reading those books. I was! This was a genre I used to love and here was someone doing it right. It doesn't get any better than that.

Until Martin started doing what every other fantasy writer does...

Book I came out in 1996. Book II came out in 1998. Book III came out in 2000. A two year gap between books is a little longer than I'd like, but still not too annoying. Besides, there's only supposed to be three books--scratch that--now it's seven books. Because you know, the story just can't be told in three, and so Book IV comes after a five year wait.

I remember thinking, Are you serious? Five years? There are people who could write ten novels in five years...Well, maybe it's just a really badass and complex book? You know, it'll be where the shit hits the fan and just so fucking awesome you won't care you waited five years and had to re-read the previous books to remember who's who in the constantly growing number of POV characters.

Nope.

With Book IV, Martin shifts to a different part of the world and spends most of the book focusing on a whole new series of POV characters. Even after five years you'll still have to wait to see what happens to all the people you've grown attached to over the course of the series...and you'll have to wait for anything to really, you know, actually happen.

I tried to tell myself that, well, five years between books will mean the next one should come pretty quick and we'll get back to the people we know and we'll get some plot events that will move things forward.

Nope.

At least not so far.

Instead: six years between books four and five have gotten me a travelogue, info dumping, description after description of food, at least one POV chapter from a character I don't remember anything about, and lots of inner thoughts with very little dialogue or action. Oh, and pissing. Let's not forget the pissing. There are lots and lots of descriptions of people pissing. It seems like when people aren't eating, they're pissing, which is just the icing on the cake, isn't it? A six year wait for multiple paragraphs of people pissing.

Woot!

You know, watching the first season of the HBO adaptation I was wondering how they were going to adapt the later novels in the series, the 800 pagers. Returning to Westeros and reading the new book answered my question--easily. I mean, what's four actual plot points in a 12 episode season? Plus, it's HBO, so maybe if we're lucky we'll get to see all that pissing.
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