So the word has come down that HBO is officially looking to start forging its own path on the Game of Thrones TV series, since despite his five book lead on them, George R. R. Martin’s positively glacial writing pace means that while he might be able to squeak out Winds of Winter before the next season of the show comes out, realistically we have to expect that he won’t manage it this time around, and that it’s functionally impossible for him to deliver A Dream of Spring ahead of the show’s finale.
When I say glacial, incidentally, I mean that. George’s writing pace on A Song of Ice and Fire over the last fifteen years or so can be averaged out to about half a page per day. Or about 150-200 words. Per day. Given that the average glacier can move around three feet per day, one could argue that glaciers move substantially faster than George R. R. Martin.
Now, before someone trots out Neil Gaiman’s essay on the topic, let me assure you that I’m not necessarily complaining about it (mocking, I’ll admit to), but I do nurse the quiet suspicion that George has fallen victim to the classic novice Dungeon Master’s mistake.
He’s become obsessed with the story he’s trying to tell.
That can be a good thing, in moderation; that sort of obsession is what creates these epic works, after all.
But there comes a point where a storyteller can find themselves overwhelmed by minutiae, and that’s where the trouble starts.
In gaming, it typically manifests with the DM/GM putting a stranglehold on the players, forcing them to conform to his or her vision of what should be happening rather than focusing on how the players react to the story being told. Usually this winds up frustrating everyone involved until either one side submits, or the whole thing comes crashing down in flames.
Usually the latter. I’ve seen more games than I care to admit come to an abrupt halt because the GM simply cannot accept that the players have some measure of agency in the game and aren’t just characters in an already-written story. A good campaign is a work of collaborative fiction, with the GM setting the stage and the players filling in the details.
Now, geeky digressions aside, it can be harder to spot in more typical works of fiction, not so much because it’s hard to tell when an author is overly focusing on the insignificant, but that determining the motive for that focus can be a bit trickier.
Because let’s be honest: some authors deliberately stretch out a successful series to maximize the money they stand to make off of it. I may love David Weber’s Honorverse books, but I do recognize that if he milked that series any harder, he’d wind up tearing the teats clean off.
Personally, I don’t think George is milking the series, but I do think that he’s become unwilling to sacrifice his story for the sake of the story. That he can’t accept the notion that maybe there are parts that the audience doesn’t need to see, doesn’t even particularly want to see, and that will only serve to drag out the story to the point that it drives away readers rather than pulling them in.
The entertaining part for me is that if you look at his original plan (to not write Feast or Dance at all and simply have those events recalled in later books), it would have worked out better for all parties involved in the current situation.
Think about it; George might well be done his series and free to move on to something else. The fans of the book series get to see how it all ends. HBO gets a five year gap in which they know how things end up, and how some specific events play out, but they get to fill in everything else with their own material, and as such the fans of the TV series finally get something that the book readers can’t spoil for them.
Of course, in a year or two the shoe will likely be other other foot in the spoilers department, with the people watching the show lording it over the poor saps still reading the books. It’ll be interesting to see what the sales numbers on the next two books will be like if HBO blitzes ahead.
Though the inevitable, irrevocable schism of the fan base is something to look forward to, at least for me. I mean, think of it: You’ll have two versions of the same story, one of them arguably non-canonical but arriving first, the other the “original vision of the author”, but arriving years (and years, and years) later. Not only that, but the first version will be in the thoroughly plebeian (in the eyes of the readers) medium of… television.
It’ll be glorious. If you thought the nerd fights between Star Wars fans of the Expanded Universe and those who hew exclusively to Lucas’ version of events were bad, they’ll dwindle to insignificance before the oncoming storm of pointless outrage.
I’d lay odds that it’s only a matter of time before someone gets shivved at a convention over it with a replica Needle, mark my words.