Wednesday, 28 January 2009

A Defence of Dragons, Part 1

Over on Suvudu, Shawn Speakman has presented a fairly lengthy essay on the ongoing wait for the fifth volume in the Song of Ice and Fire series. This wait has sparked a long-running and increasingly irate flame war between fans, 'antifans' and even exasperated people in the middle on numerous websites across the Internet. The article is an interesting piece which fairly accurately reflects many of the issues involved, although the author does miss out on a few factual points which could be of value.


For those not in the know, the situation is as follows:

A Song of Ice and Fire is an epic fantasy series written by American science fiction, horror and fantasy author George R.R. Martin (popularly known as GRRM). Prior to this series, he was well-known as the editor of the long-running and popular Wild Cards shared world superhero series (which began in 1986 and is still going strong today) and also as a scriptwriter, penning episodes of Beauty and the Beast (late 1980s Ron Perlman/Linda Hamilton horror/romance series) and The New Twilight Zone. Before then he had won a string of awards for his novels and short stories. This background is important because many epic fantasy series are written by newcomers to the genre, whilst for GRRM it was another, if much more ambitious, project embarked on after he'd already been a professional writer for over a quarter of a century.

GRRM started writing the series in 1991. Originally envisaged as a trilogy, the story proved to be much larger than the author had conceived and it was eventually expanded to seven volumes. Book 1, A Game of Thrones, took the better part of five years to write (although GRRM did write a TV pilot in the interim which was not picked up, taking out a year or so of that time) and was published in August 1996, although it was completed some months prior to that. Book 2, A Clash of Kings, was published in October 1998 and Book 3, A Storm of Swords - the longest book in the series to date - in August 2000. So far, so reasonable.

However, after this point problems emerged in the writing of the series. The original plan had Book 4 starting five years after the events of Book 3, but as GRRM tried to write the book he found that far too much had happened in the interim to be dismissed in flashbacks or narrative asides. In particular, he had sent one of the characters - Brienne - on a quest at the end of Book 3 that it seemed implausible would take five years to resolve. After much debate and trying to get the book to work for over eighteen months, he abandoned the novel in the summer of 2001, announcing at the Philadelphia Worldcon on 1 September 2001 that instead he would be writing a new book called A Feast for Crows, which would fill in the events of the gap. At the time there were some concerns over the move, as suddenly throwing a new book into the series and trying to course-correct in the middle of a complex narrative seemed to be a recipe for trouble. However, GRRM's judgement had proved sound so far and he was a professional editor as well as a writer, so the fans waited to see what would happen with the new book.


The new book took about three and a half years to write. Coupled with the time lost from trying to make the old book work, this meant that A Feast for Crows was published, possibly ironically, five years after A Storm of Swords, in October 2005. But during the writing process, again problems had crept in and the book had come in as being far too long to publish in one volume. The decision was apparently taken to split the book in two and publish the two volumes at one-year intervals. GRRM even put an afterword at the end of AFFC (and, bemusingly, it's still there even in the most recent reprints) to this effect, although he was careful to word this as a hope, not a promise. He also confirmed on his website that the second volume, now entitled A Dance with Dragons, was not yet complete and a lot of work would be required to bring it to completion, but he was hopeful that this would be doable within a year or so.

Obviously that didn't happen. AFFC, as it is published, was completed in May 2005, almost four years ago, and ADWD is still not with us. And, compared to the regular and detailed updates (complete with page counts) GRRM provided on the writing of AFFC, his actual updates on ADWD have proven infrequent. At the same time that his news on ADWD started tailing off, he also set up a blog on which he would post about merchandise related to the series, the development of HBO's TV adaption of the books and personal comments about football and politics. This is where a lot of the 'antifans' anger set in, with venomous attacks on the author on his own website becoming very frequent very quickly. The situation grew so bad that the semi-official forum dedicated to the series (of which I am a moderator) had to ban discussion of the issue to avoid major flamewars and having to ban people (on both sides), a move that was taken reluctantly given how tolerant the board is of constructive criticism of the author (unlike some other author forums out there).


One of the problems is that the pretty decent reasons for the delays on ADWD have actually been given (both by GRRM and his publishers) but have not really been collected into a single source before. These reasons can be summed up as:
  • 1. GRRM undertook 'structural changes' in the writing after AFFC was published. Whether this was to the series overall or to ADWD in particular is unclear. However, I strongly suspect it was to the series overall. GRRM appears to want to reign in the 'creep' that has seen the series expand from three to seven books, and I imagine that HBO are keen to keep the series to seven books as well, making it easier for them to adapt to television in a timely fashion. These changes likely took some time to implement, although their extent remains unclear.
  • 2. GRRM rewrote most, if indeed not all, of the material he had left over from AFFC. Pat's Fantasy Hotlist interviewed representatives from Bantam USA some time ago in which they confirmed this is the case and GRRM confirmed on his blog that all of Jon's material had been rewritten. In between two conventions, GRRM also rewrote the book's prologue, and keen-eared fans were able to compare the two versions (spoilers, obviously) and show the changes between them. The effective loss of the AFFC material, which would have made up over 35% of the published novel, therefore added months of writing time to the book.
  • 3. After putting in the note at the end of the AFFC manuscript, GRRM was asked by his publishers to undertake a book tour of the United States, Canada and the UK. This tour turned out to be extremely long and ambitious, and effectively removed six months from the writing of ADWD (actually meaning the chances of it coming out a year after AFFC were killed very early on, although unfortunately not early enough to pull the afterword from the fourth book). His Spanish and Portuguese publishers also asked him to visit Spain and Portugal in the summer of 2008 and he complied, losing an additional month. However, GRRM did turn down a request by his Chinese, Korean and Japanese publishers for an extended book tour of Asia on the grounds that that would take far too long out from the writing of the new book.
  • 4. GRRM is, by his own admission, prone to over-optimism.
Of course, if this was the whole story than the 'antifans' wouldn't really have much of a leg to stand on. Yeah, the author said he thought he couldn't get the book done in a year and he was wrong. It happens, and a lot more often than you might think. The substantially newer and younger authors Patrick Rothfuss and Scott Lynch have run into significant problems with the second and third volumes of their debut series, and both books will be published at least one-and-a-half years behind schedule, maybe closer to two. Literary SF fans have been waiting for Christopher Priest's occasionally-hinted new novel since 2002. Jean M. Auel fans wail at the decade-long gaps between the later volumes in the Earth's Children series. Melanie Rawn fans seem close to giving up on her Capital's Tower series ever being completed.

However, a key weapon in the 'antifans' arsenal is that whilst GRRM hasn't been able to bring ADWD to completion, he has been able to write at length on many other issues on his blog and, for reasons that have never been adequately explained, this provokes anger from them. After all, the time spent writing a blog is the time that would otherwise be spent writing the book instead, right?

Well, no. There are many people on the Internet with blogs (ahem). Most people who have them also have full-time jobs, and write their blogs in the evening when they are at home, or maybe in their lunch hour at work or at the weekend. In fact, since the computer GRRM uses to write ASoIaF is apparently powered by a steam engine (aka DOS) and is located in another room to his Internet machine, it's actually a pretty logical conclusion that he writes his blog in his spare time when he is not working on the book. As for what he chooses to blog about, that's entirely his decision. As GRRM himself has said, substantial news about ADWD will be posted on his website's Song of Ice and Fire update page, not on his blog. So, if you are totally uninterested in his other blogging subjects, unbookmark his blog and instead check his update page regularly. If it hasn't been updated, even for a year or more, then there's been no substantive news about the books in that time. Otherwise the author is free to write about what he wants to write about on his blog whenever he wants, as indeed I am or any other blogger is.


Some of the other popular complaints:

But no-one cares about Wild Cards!
False. Wild Cards has sold many hundreds of thousands of copies. It was a huge success back in the 1980s and the current 2000s revival is doing good business for Tor Books and attracting many new fans to the series. A lot of people care about Wild Cards and a surprising number of them consider ASoIaF to be a distraction from GRRM's work on that series. It was also Wild Cards' immense success that made publishers eager to pick up GRRM's new fantasy novel way back in the mid-1990s. Finally, with Heroes seemingly disintegrating under the weight of its own ineptitude, Hollywood seems to have taken an interest in the property (or at least possibly in Melinda Snodgrass' movie script based on the setting), so it's definitely doing something right.

He's abandoned ASoIaF to write other books!
Like what? GRRM's contribution to the enjoyable Hunter's Run was written in 1981, or fifteen years before AGoT was even published. Dreamsongs is a collection of his older fiction. Fevre Dream and The Armageddon Rag were published in the early 1980s.

But he spends all his time hawking tat on his website!
As mentioned earlier, what GRRM blogs about on his website is up to him. If you purely want info about ADWD than visit his Update page on his website, not his blog. Also check out the forum, because I can assure you that that second news of ADWD's completion makes it out, it will be posted and discussed there. Also, merchandise based on the series sells (otherwise it would stop pretty quickly) and lots of people are interested in it, so GRRM feels obligated to talk about it.

But he's editing other books!
That certainly is true. However, it's been true right through the entire series to date as well.

This post is getting long, so I'll leave off this subject for now. The next time I revisit it I will be discussing what actually the problems with ADWD could be from a series structural point of view, and why there is tremendous reason for optimism based on some of the more recent news to emerge about ADWD last year.

27 comments:

Patrick said...

ADwD will see the light this year. If it was nearing completion before GRRM left for his European promo tour, then I feel that a Fall 2009 release date could be within the realm of possibilities...

Trinuviel said...

It's very nice to see a voice of reason on this subject. I patiently await AdwD...

jamie said...

This was a very well considered piece, thank you for putting it together. I look forward to reading part two.

As for ADwD being published this year, I'm not even going to bother trying to be optimistic. I'm just assuming 2010 and trying (badly) to forget about it until then.

Adam Whitehead said...

Pat: Bantam and Voyager have moved the release date back to November 2009, so it's certainly doable for the book to come out this year. For GRRM to hit that date, assuming their 3-month-turnaround thing still holds, he can now finish as late as June or July. And if he finishes earlier the book may make it out earlier.

But until we get some news, an update or even an announcment of completion, that will remain speculative. If GRRM thought it wasn't going to be finished until the summer I would have expected a news update on his website, so maybe his continued radio silence is a cause for hope? Or I'm just seeing the glass as half full.

Anonymous said...

Adam

You are always seeing the glass as half full, now you are a pleasant fellow with a pretty interesting blog, but c'mon even you dont have to defend GRRM all the time.

Here's what is the major bone of contention for fans who LOVE the series but vehemently hate/dislike[pick whichever adjective u want] GRRM'S attitude:

1] his blog which he used to give out updates during the time of AFFC is still the same except that now it has become a trinket market.... buy this and buy that.... WHy cant he just give a decent update/ progress report, why the self denial???

2] If its a blog then every1's going to visit it and no matter what you say, people always have hope, thats the pole on which the world turns.... people always hope that maybe , just maybe GRRM will tell us something about the book and characters which we have been waiting to read since the last 9 years. and please no bullshit bout WILDCARDS.... ASOIAF is what made GRRM so popular, you dont hear about a BWB for WC do you, neither has it been a phenomenal bestseller than ASOIAF was.

So lets call it as it is, GRRM's much beloved work before ASOIAF... books which he loved and still loves but not the stuff which gave him the money and definitely not the books which made YOU, me & millions of others into GRRM fans

3] Shawn in his article prepared a detailed analysis on the delay and quite frankly it was the best article which I have ever read about GRRM's defense... Entertaining & informative but even he admited that all of us have a valid point about being disgruntled by GRRM's unprofessionalism of missing dealines and not deivering the book on time.

I'm not a person who jumps on any author for not delivering a book, I believe any author can be given a leeway period of upto 3 years between books... but atleast have the decency of acknowledging your fans and not just the sycophants.

Wooow I believe thats a real long post.... I still look forward to interesting articles on your blog and your defense of ADWD partII.... have a nice day Adam

Arcelor

Adam Whitehead said...

Arcelor,

1) His blog didn't exist during the writing of AFFC. All updates on AFFC were handed out via his blog's Update page and all merchandising information went out on his News page. The latter has now largely been transferred to his blog, whilst the former remains the primary channel for information about ADWD. As others have said, the main reason for the lack of news updates were the personal attacks on him by people whenever he did give these updates, so now they have ceased.

2) Actually, I've been a GRRM fan since watching 'Beauty and the Beast' in the early 1990s and reading The Hedge Knight in 1998 (although I suppose that's still ASoIaF). WILD CARDS has many fans, has sold hugely (if not as many copies as ASoIaF, and significantly less-per-book) and was the project that originally made GRRM a household name in the SF&F community. It's not as big as ASoIaF but it is still a successful, popular series in its own right. Also, as is mentioned in Dreamsongs, GRRM's pre-ASoIaF success was considerable and enabled him to have his own houses, journey round the world to Worldcons and so on. Just because you are not interested in it does not mean the same is true for all fans.

3) As I have frequently said, these points are inarguable. A date was given for the book and it didn't make it. From there stems all other disappointment. If GRRM hadn't set a date at all, as I believe he shouldn't given the significant structural problems that the split gave him in the series (to be covered in greater detail in Part 2), then the main cause for dissent by fans would disappear.

As for the unprofessionalism part, GRRM has indicated in the past when asked about this point that it would be far more unprofessional to release a work he was unhappy with or that was below-par than to delay the book by months or even years. Whenever this point is raised I feel compelled to point out that Robert Jordan chose to listen to his fans and released Book 10 of the Wheel of Time series rather than rewriting or ditching it, even though he was unhappy with it. The result was universal criticism and many people giving up on the series altogether.

ediFanoB said...

Our whole family is a big fan of ASOIAF.

Of course it is sad to wait for a book.

But we decided to be patient because I isn't healthy to upset.

Fortunately there are a lot of other interesting books to read in the meantime.

Iain said...

Good article Adam. I think the reason he is taking time to complete the next volume is that he wants to get back to the greatness of a Storm of Swords. Feast, once it had been split, was never going to be enough for fans of the series and as such suffered for that.

If he takes until 2011 to complete the book I don't care. I want him to deliver a polished, enthralling, time-devouring novel.

These anti-fans need to get out and work through the fantasy sections in their local book stores. There are plenty of excellent novels out there to keep them occupied until GRRM delivers.

Trinuviel said...

I came to Martin quite late. I was constantly encouraged to read the series and when I finnally did I was completely spell-bound. I do understand the frustration of the fans but sheer amount of acrimony towards Martin that I have witnessed only is unbelievable!

Like all Martin's fans I can't wait to see where's going to take this epic story but I for one will take a more polished and well-structured book over a rush job.

I am frankly getting very tired of all this bitching and moaning about delays and missed deadlines. I find it immature, disrespectful and sorely lacking in any real appreciation of literary quality. No author owes anyone (apart from his/her editors and publishers) regular updates on how their work is progressing. The fact that fans do feel entitled to this is a product of the fact that a lot of sf/f authors have an online presence.

There are plenty of wonderful books out there to be discovered and enjoyed so why not go exploring instead of wasting energy on being angry with a situation of which we as readers have no control.

Forgive me if the tone this post seem harsh but the internet flame-wars on ADwD's delay have become extremely tiresome. We get, you're disappointed but it is only a book!

Anonymous said...

Adam

Agreed that his NAB came up around the release of AFFC, but by then regular reports were still being given out.

All that I'm saying is that I would prefer an honest update/report other than so-called promises of ADWD being on top of the mountain in his work.

This is not the case, as with his other projects some of his time is being taken up, Now thats his choice and his means of relaxation/diversion.

How come sycophantic rambling/posts are always left and any honest non-rage filled queries about the books are deleted without any remorse, this is seriously the exact kind of behaviour which disgusts me and thousands of others.

Nice 2nd post btw, the structure is complex that itself is agreeable however all is moot if he cannot come up with ADWD after constantly repolishing it.... it will only get worse after that.

Take care & if possible would like to see some more Gemmell reviews as along with Jim Butcher book reviews

Adam Whitehead said...

I have the first two Jim Butcher books and will be getting to them at some point this year. They have been displaced by a few other books I wanted to get to first though. As for more Gemmell, it's possible and I do have a couple of his earlier books which I haven't read before. That's a bit lower on the priority list at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Now if we could just get him to stop attending every Convention on the planet and tie him to a chair he might actually finish it before I retire.

LOL

It is frustrating to wait and it adds exponentially the pressure on Martin to deliver the goods in the end. (Hell i've been waiting 16 years for David Gerrold to finish the Chtorr series)

As the hype builds so does the expectation of perfection. When it doesn't live up to that (nothing could) prepare for the backlash.

He probably wishes by now that the series was finished.

Taliesin said...

This defense of GRRM does not mention, for some reason, the fact that we have recently learned that GRRM, despite explicit promises that he would not do so in 2006 and 2007, has in fact been working on WRITING, not just editing other stuff. He has a new story coming out in the Vance anthology for instance, proof alone that he writes on more than ADWD alone. And he did say he would not do that. That's lying isn't it, no matter how much we turn it?

Adam Whitehead said...

"That's lying isn't it, no matter how much we turn it?"

I'd be interested to see the original quote to back that up. He's certainly said that ADWD would be his 'top priority' but he has also explicitly said that it would not be his only one and he would work on other projects at the same time, specifically mentioning the Vance anthology as one of them.

jamie said...

In addition he was writing the third Dunk and Egg tale from about 2007 to 2008 I believe; and he was never less than open in talking about his progress on it. I can't remember him ever saying he would exclusively be writing ADWD and nothing else, and why on Earth would he? Having to focus on one thing entirely for so long would be enough to drive anyone mad.

Adam Whitehead said...

Actually, I think about 75% of the third Dunk 'n' Egg tale was written whilst he was working on AFFC. It didn't take a huge amount of time to finish it, which I believe he did before Worldcon last year.

jamie said...

Fair enough. Again though, he mentioned the fact that he was writing it plenty of times on his blog, and I think that he might not have done so if at any point he had 'promised' not to write anything else.

I think that this is a gigantic straw man; he may be accused of tardiness and, to some extent, unprofessionalism (although that's not really for anyone but his publishers to say - we don't know the specifics of his contracts, so it's not our place to comment upon it), but outright lying about how he intends to use his time? I think as an accusation that doesn't hold a great deal of water.

Anonymous said...

I mostly agree with what you've said Wert, though I won't claim that frustration about the absence of aDwD has turned me off discussing the series on Westeros. Every post made in an L+R=J thread only reminded me how long it has been since we've had new material to discuss.
Also, however justified GRRM is in taking his time to finish aDwD, I cannot help but deplore his poor management of his fans. I'm not saying he's unprofessional or wrong, just plain ineffective.
He has managed to turn away some dedicated fans, and I can't help but think that had he handled things differently, he could have avoided the whole fracas.
You mentioned Jordan, and while CoT was undoubtedly a disaster, Jordan's (oblique) apology for its quality, and then of course, his open passion for his series during his long illness, kept the core of the fans still involved, however critical they were of his latest efforts.
Releasing a book prematurely because fans demand it should be avoided, but that doesn't mean the author cannot make a clean breast of his troubles. Would it have killed GRRM to mention the structural troubles the series is facing rather than expecting his fans to understand?
I'm sure everyone would sympathize with him if he said he's having to plan for the whole series, and the delay will ensure that the series as a whole has a much better quality.

Fionwe.

Adam Whitehead said...

Fionwe, check out GRRM's new blog post about ADWD in which he does refer to the troubles he has had on the book. However, as he also says, he is not keen on talking about specific issues (which would give away spoilers).

Anonymous said...

I just checked it out. And I'm satisfied. And so should anyone else who isn't criticizing GRRM out of habit.

Fionwe.

Ron said...

A well-written article with one large hole - its all conjecture as to what GRRM is up to with the new book and completion of the series.

I'm personally getting more than a little irritated. I've invested money and emotions into this excellent series. I don't want dude to pull a Robert Jordan on us. Right now, I'm ready to give up on the series. I make an emotional investment and I expect something in return - so news, some updates once in a while. I appreciate your patience on this, but what is really known?

It would be terrific if GRRM granted an interview with someone he trusts. Let that person publish the article. But we fans, the ones for who pay for his books deserve better than this.

Adam Whitehead said...

I'm not sure what parts you think are conjecture. The whole thing is based on GRRM's comments over many years, plus some from his editor and publisher. 'What is really known' is, well, quite a lot.

What is amusing is that both sets of fans use the term 'pull a Robert Jordan'. Some mean it by suggesting he might pass away before the series is completed. Others mean it by suggesting he might rush out a crappy book rather than do what should be done, which is take it away and rewrite it from scratch. This is also called the 'Crossroads of Twilight' approach.

So the problem is that if GRRM had kept his promise and delivered ADWD in late 2006/early 2007, people could very now be complaining instead that ADWD was a rushed and flawed novel that GRRM rushed out ASAP to appease the fans rather than take the time to make it better.

Anonymous said...

Lots of good points written by all.
As a reader and fan of this series and many others I would like to offer up my thoughts. Starting with AGoT it has been some of the best story telling and reading ever. Like the wheel of time series I feel some focus was lost and that GRRM got caught up in too many sub plots. I gave up on the wheel of time. It became too long and many of the later books seemed not to get anything accomplished. I felt I was like a car just spinning my wheels. I don't want to give up on ASOIAF.
As a fan and reader for better or worse an author has an obligation to his readers to finish his product. With the acception of health and family there is no reason for any author to make his reades wait 5 years for a new installment. I have enjoyed your posts and hopw we will all have some new reading ahead of us soon.

sue said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ryan said...

Ive been a fan of Martins for a long long time, both times he came to calgary I went to hear him speak and get stuff signed. I have first run editions of all of his books and bought every graphic novel of the hedge knight.

you gloss over the real complaint that many so called anti fans have and its one reason I stopped reading and posting at westeros,
George has a right to a life outside writing but hes been abusing that for several years, he SAYS "ill cut back on cons until im done" then proceeds to go to every nerdcon in the country, what he needs to do is buckle down and GET IT DONE.

My biggest complaint isnt that he watches football or likes to talk about it, its that he makes excuses and doesnt even try to make deadlines, that is annoying, its now 2010 and still no clue when he will be done.

What he needs is a firm editor and scheduler who will actually keep him on track, his side projects are becoming huge distractions.

Adrianna said...

I don't consider myself an Anti-Fan. I would just like him to finish the series before he dies. I don't think I could stand being left with just what's already been published. It might drive me crazy for the rest of my own natural lifetime. :)

Aigeec said...

I am just wondering of ther reason he is not able to finished the books is because of the decision he made around hwo he would split Feast?

All throughout the series has been chronological in nature with no overlaps. However the decision to split on a per character basis went totally against this and now we know things about characters that I assume will appear in Dance eg The Onion Knight. I could understand how this could stall the creative process if the whole thing was just not faithful to the rest of the books.

If (big if) this is anywhere near the mark, I think GRRM should just go back and rewrite Feast split it chronologically and then were off again.

Wonderfully over simplified. :)