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.
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.