Friday, May 18, 2012

Death, And The Epic Fantasy Series

A friend, appealing to the bookseller within me, asked me if I'd recommend George R.R. Martin's Game Of Thrones series over Robert Jordan's Wheel Of Time. Having read neither, my recommendation would be based on cover art — advantage: George R.R. Martin.

My friend said he asked because he was keen to read something absurdly epic, something that would take him a year or more to complete, something that would hold his attention and reward him for the effort. “Well,” I said, “Jordan's series is slated for completion this summer. Martin apparently has two more books to go. They're likely to be over 1,000 pages each, and he is a notoriously slow writer, getting slower with age. At 63 it's anybody's guess if this thing will reach a satisfactory conclusion.” Advantage: Robert Jordan.

That last advantage is critical, I think. I have no appetite for epic fantasy, but if I did, nothing would peeve me more than reading 4,197 pages of sword and sorcery, only to be denied the closure the author kinda-sorta had fixed in his mind, but couldn't get down on paper because, well, he reached an age when plans and grand literary trajectories get scuttled by the fella in the bright nightgown.

The posthumous completion of The Wheel Of Time is an interesting story, by the way. Jordan took the epic's closure very seriously — which you'd have to, if you were going to hammer out 12 phone-book sized tomes, with the intention of adding at least two more to bring the story to its end. When it became obvious his declining health would not permit him the honour, Jordan wrote the concluding paragraph and worked backwards from there. When he was too weak to write, he narrated his plans to his family, who recorded him. And when he finally died, his wife sifted through the best candidates for the work ahead, and settled on a 31-year-old Mormon missionary, who was a fan. You can read how that happened, here.

In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Martin shrugs off that scenario. He's 63, in apparent good health — expects to be around for two more decades, in fact — and he intends to write those damn books himself. So how far along is he?

“Not as far as I'd like. It's going to be another 1,500-page book, and I have about 200 pages done.”

Here's hoping his fans have a more religiously jaded, sexually obsessed version of Brandon Sanderson ready to fill his shoes.

George, starting at the beginning.


Joel said...

Ive not read Game of thrones, but I've gotten very addicted to the TV series. Watched 6 hours in one go the other day, just could not stop watching.
But if you were to ask me why I like the series so much, I would have a hard time explaining it. What is the appeal of watching made up history and politicking from people and countries that don't actually exist?
If you try and put the appeal into words, I think it just sounds like a waste of time. And perhaps it is. But why can't I stop watching?

Whisky Prajer said...

The RS interview is interesting stuff (and not available on-line, alas). Here's a bit that pertains, I think, to your question:

You know, I think about the purposes of fiction sometimes, and how what we remember becomes part of our lives. I have a few pictures of my third-grade class; I recognize myself and a couple of my close friends. But who the hell are these other kids? I don't remember their names.

I never saw the green light at the end of Daisy's dock or the parties on Gatsby's lawn, but they seem more vivid than things that I actually lived. If we are the sum of our experiences, as I believe we are, then books are a more important part of my life than my actual life. That's what I try to do with my own fiction: fill the stories with imaginary people who will become more real to my readers than the people in their lives.

This stuff might be "made up," but it must also be exploring the grammar of human experience, to be so compelling.