A Recollection For Readers

>> Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Here's how long I've loved George R.R. Martin's work: back in the 1980s, as a teenager, I had a treasured subscription to Analog, and I think it was the very first issue I received that had part two of a novella called "The Plague Star" by one Mr. Martin, concerning a cat-loving, morbidly obese interstellar trader named Haviland Tuf; a miscreant group of tomb-raiders who'd commissioned Tuf's freighter, and an enormously lethal mobile bioweapons factory parked in a long cometary orbit for generations since the last awful war.

It was fucking awesome. And while Analog's monthly contents, as with most anthology mags and pulps-in-particular, varied wildly, the periodic re-appearances of an increasingly-power-corrupted Tuf and his cats were treasures to be devoured until my subscription ended for whatever reason--it's possible I chose a subscription to the glossier, late and lamented Omni over Analog. (As much as I love pulps, the fact they sometimes are falling apart by the time they're in your mailbox is right there in the name, isn't it; Omni, with its slick glossy color pages seemed like the present/future and Analog, with its stinky newsprint seemed like a relic of the '30s, and yet Omni is gone and Analog remains proud and unbowed. Also--and I know this is a major digression, forgive me--the late '80s were when I was gravitating from SF towards Horror; one of Omni's virtues or flaws, depending on your point of view, was its willingness to engage wacky, fringe stuff--they even had a regular section, "Antimatter," dealing with things like ESP and cryptozoology: stuff that may have been horseshit but is still fun to think about.)

These were also the years Martin was a really noticeable presence on TV. In particular, he played a major part in the '80s Twilight Zone revival, especially during the show's golden first season.

Through college and law school, though, I didn't read a lot of GRRM. Then, I guess it must have been last decade, I came back to GRRM with A Song Of Ice And Fire. I was just getting into e-books at the time, and eReader.com had the first three books available in a bundle. An epic fantasy trilogy by an author I loved as a kid? Where do I click to download?

And they were great, or they seemed that way at the time.

The thing was, and nobody knew this at the time, disaster loomed near. At the time, every single plot twist, every new development, every coming cliffhanger had you at the edge of your seat, finger on the directional key or, if you were using a more traditional format, a finger on the corner of the page. These were the sorts of page-turners that had you warily eying the remaining pages in the volume, wondering how-or-if the latest stomach-lurching reversal would be resolved in the tome you held, would your favorite character of the moment last through the remaining 100, 50, 10 pages or suffer an abrupt-yet-completely-logical fate?

The third book ended on a cliffhanger, and everybody waited with bated breath for the fourth volume--the series had expanded from a trilogy to sextology (stop yer snickering). And then the fourth book came out--

Was it good news or bad news that the fourth book came with the announcement that it had really been broken into two parts and the series was now a septology? Martin promised that book five was coming soon--a preview chapter was included in book four along with an apologetic afterword. It was hard not to be disappointed in A Feast For Crows for all sorts of reasons, but the other half, A Dance With Dragons, was coming soon. In a year, maybe two.

This was five years ago. I don't know if anybody reasonably expects Martin to finish the series anymore. A Dance With Dragons has likely become a new generation's The Last Dangerous Visions, a book whose claim to fame will be that it was unfinished and unpublished, a stone around the author's neck and cause for anger and ire. (At least, in Martin's case, the only writer injured will be himself--part of the controversy swirling around Harlan Ellison over LDV are allegations that holds were placed on stories that in turn became unpublishable, freezing the original authors' rights... or, as time went on, the rights of their estates. In at least one case, there's an allegation that one LDV contributor's widow could have used the money and/or consolation from being able to include an unreturned LDV story in a complete anthology of her late husband's work.)

I suppose this requires me to say something about the anger of some fans towards Martin at this point. Various writers, including f'r'instance the glorious Neil Gaiman, have risen to Martin's defense--something that shouldn't have been required in the first place, since Martin's defenders are absolutely correct that GRRM doesn't owe anybody except his publisher anything. Fan anger and demands for a book or claims that GRRM shouldn't be working on various other projects is asinine. On the other hand, it also has to be said that some of Martin's defenders miss an equally vital point: Martin's readers, or perhaps former readers, don't owe Martin (nor his publisher) anything, either. If fan anger towards GRRM is undeserved, it also has to be said that if A Dance With Dragons is ever published and fails to sell as many copies as might otherwise be expected, GRRM should be unsurprised. (For myself: I'm not mad at Martin, but I'm also not enthused anymore. I suppose if he gets something on the shelf I might buy it eventually and read it, but, whatever, I have other things to do in the meantime, sorry, plus I don't even remember half of what happened last go-around and don't have the time to re-read the first four volumes. Maybe if/when all seven books are out, I'll buy and read the last three in a swell foop.)

But to tell you the truth, what brought all of this up was something else, and this wasn't exactly what I wanted to write about. But it's enough for today. I didn't want to write a piece about Martin so much as I wanted to write a piece about an interesting review of Martin, and some personal thoughts on writing. Ironically (considering the subject), I went off on a tangent that became the piece, or threatened to.

We'll get to the actual point tomorrow. Promise.


Jared Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 11:26:00 AM EDT  

Probably the most articulate consideration of GRRM's tardiness I've ever read. Most people immediately veer into a) "Dear George, stop starfucking the tv show and get back to your typewriter" or b) "Dear George, I wuv you and have named my firstborn Tyrion". Nice to see someone look at both sides (and discount them with equal vigor!).

Eric Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 11:58:00 AM EDT  

Thanks, Jared! I hope the rambling disquisition on plotting, etc. that this leads into will be worth reading, too.

mattw Friday, August 20, 2010 at 1:21:00 PM EDT  

I haven't read them myself, but you never know, he might go back to them.

I discovered Stephen King's Dark Tower series in '97 or '98 when he had the first four books published. I read through them, reading the second one twice at least (it's so good!), and then was disappointed when number 4 wasn't availble.

According to wikipedia, the first book in the series was published in '82, then '87, '91, '97 for the rest of the first four. Then in '03 number five came out, and the last two in '04. I read them all, and while the last ones were good, they weren't as good. I don't care for the way King's writing style has become; he's too familiar with his readers. And that's the way the rest of the series was, plus he wrote himself in as a character, which was weird.

Anywho, maybe he'll get around to it some day, and maybe he won't, but maybe that's not such a bad thing. Or, if he doesn't get to finishing it, but he has notes about the ending, maybe they'll commission someone else to pick it up and finish it like they did with Robert Jordan.

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