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George R. R. Martin Confirms the Great Fork
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A-Game-of-Thrones-Bantam-Spectra I’ve been talking about A Song of Ice and Fire as long as I’ve been blogging. I purchased the first book as a paperback in December of 1998 because of the cover and some blurbs from authors that I found credible (Tad Williams?). In 2000 I ordered the British edition of A Storm of Swords because it came out earlier than the US one by a few months. So in a little over three years I read the first three books of A Song of Ice and Fire. Over 15 years later we’ve gotten through the next two books!

Back when I read Usenet I recall someone observing that there was something like Egwene’s rule in the Wheel of Time novels of Robert Jordan. Basically as the series progressed Egwene and her entourage moved toward the White Tower of the Aes Sedai at slower and slower pace, so World_of_Ice_and_Fire_cover that it was as if Jordan was trying to illustrate Zeno’s Paradox in his plotting often(I stopped reading after book six). I hate saying this, but Martin may have out done Jordan in that his books four and five had less narrative progress (Martin’s characters and world-building exhibit much more verisimilitude, so I cut him some slack; Jordan admitted that all the primary female characters in his books were extrapolations of his wife). Instead of a gradual exponential decay A Song of Ice and Fire crashed after 2000.

And now we have the television shows, to the point where I almost wrote A Game of Thrones to label the series, as the show is named after the first book, though its narrative arc covers the whole series. Yesterday George R. R. Martin explained on a blog entry that his books were going to definitely be outpaced by the HBO series. For years there were those of us who read the books who ignored the television series, or at most laughed and rolled our eyes as people who watched the HBO depiction without prior exposure were shocked, appalled, and amazed. Sean Bean’s Eddard Stark will always be Boromir to me! Martin confirms now that the shoe is on the other foot. But, he does note that the show and books will diverge in many ways. Because the television series will go first I can not but now wonder if it will influence the trajectory of the books (e.g., Martin might consciously or unconsciously deviate from the HBO series in future installments in ways he might not have otherwise done so). Honestly the whole situation strikes me as worthy of a short story, as it’s really unprecedented. Books are turned into television shows or films. Or, shows or films are novelized. What is going to happen now is a synthetic hybrid process.

 
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  1. I believe that another synthetic process is 2001. Kubrick and Clarke collaborated on writing “it,” but in the end produced two final products. But that was not a serial where the audience could see the divergence over time.

    • Replies: @timothy
    Yeah, at times Clarke would finish writing portions of the novel and, maybe a week later, he would get to see rough-cut footage of what he had just written. What a surreal way to write a novel.

    A major divergence is that in the film the spacecraft travels to Jupiter, while in the book it travels to Saturn. But Clarke tacitly admitted that Kubrick's film had bested him, because when he wrote the sequel he retconned the storyline so that the craft had gone to Jupiter after all.
  2. The plot for sure slows down around Books 4-5 and there are a number of decisions there I found to be highly questionable (e.g. UnCat?), but comparing it in any substantial way to what happened with WoT is ridiculous.

    The writing itself continued to be superb, if anything exceeding the level of the earlier books, whereas RJ only ever went downhill from Book 7 at the very latest. From then on he was only ever artificially stretching the series out with all the hair twitching and braid pulling and skirt adjusting and female-on-female BDSM and that is indeed what happened until Brandon Sanderson put WoT out of its misery. In contrast, GRRM has compensated the slowdown in plot progression with actual worldbuilding and, most critically, character development. I for one enjoyed Tyrion’s odyssey, and depiction of Cersei in Book 5 as a human villain is on a level that I frankly cannot recall being matched in any other work of fantasy.

    Most importantly, whereas it was clear by mid-series in WoT that the plot was going nowhere, in ASoIaF things have clearly and neatly been arranged to enable a whole swathe of climaxes to happen in Winds of Winter in quick succession from the fantasy version of Battle of the Ice to the Battle of Mereen and the Return of the Queen.

    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    and depiction of Cersei in Book 5 as a human villain is on a level that I frankly cannot recall being matched in any other work of fantasy.

    j. carey's sundering duology were an attempt to write tolkien from the perspective of the "evil" side. not perfectly executed, but worth a read.
  3. @Anatoly Karlin
    The plot for sure slows down around Books 4-5 and there are a number of decisions there I found to be highly questionable (e.g. UnCat?), but comparing it in any substantial way to what happened with WoT is ridiculous.

    The writing itself continued to be superb, if anything exceeding the level of the earlier books, whereas RJ only ever went downhill from Book 7 at the very latest. From then on he was only ever artificially stretching the series out with all the hair twitching and braid pulling and skirt adjusting and female-on-female BDSM and that is indeed what happened until Brandon Sanderson put WoT out of its misery. In contrast, GRRM has compensated the slowdown in plot progression with actual worldbuilding and, most critically, character development. I for one enjoyed Tyrion's odyssey, and depiction of Cersei in Book 5 as a human villain is on a level that I frankly cannot recall being matched in any other work of fantasy.

    Most importantly, whereas it was clear by mid-series in WoT that the plot was going nowhere, in ASoIaF things have clearly and neatly been arranged to enable a whole swathe of climaxes to happen in Winds of Winter in quick succession from the fantasy version of Battle of the Ice to the Battle of Mereen and the Return of the Queen.

    and depiction of Cersei in Book 5 as a human villain is on a level that I frankly cannot recall being matched in any other work of fantasy.

    j. carey’s sundering duology were an attempt to write tolkien from the perspective of the “evil” side. not perfectly executed, but worth a read.

  4. @Douglas Knight
    I believe that another synthetic process is 2001. Kubrick and Clarke collaborated on writing "it," but in the end produced two final products. But that was not a serial where the audience could see the divergence over time.

    Yeah, at times Clarke would finish writing portions of the novel and, maybe a week later, he would get to see rough-cut footage of what he had just written. What a surreal way to write a novel.

    A major divergence is that in the film the spacecraft travels to Jupiter, while in the book it travels to Saturn. But Clarke tacitly admitted that Kubrick’s film had bested him, because when he wrote the sequel he retconned the storyline so that the craft had gone to Jupiter after all.

    • Replies: @Dave Pinsen
    The movie switched Saturn to Jupiter because showing the rings would have been too difficult F/X-wise.

    Really, the most obvious difference between the novel and the movie is that the movie leaves out a lot of the exposition. For example, Clarke explicates why the monolith on the moon emits the radio signal at the precise moment it does, whereas the movie just suggests it. Similarly, the final act is explained in the book, whereas its left to the viewer to piece together in the movie.
  5. I bet he will make a conscious effort to keep close to the show. He has got a good commercial sense (three movies coming?) and won’t want to alienate viewers just to show independence. But the story is his baby and he’ll put in any plot twists he finds cool enough, even if the show has already gone another way. And HBO has shown not to care about consistency.

    I look forward to reading about how it all happened, when they are done. In 2036.

  6. It’s a fork only if Martin actually publishes AWOW, something that he seems to have lost interest long ago.

  7. I’m of the opinion that there’s a good chance tWoW will never be published by Martin, and that A Dream of Spring is an impossibility. I started reading these books when the paperback of SoS was first issued, and read the first three about a dozen times apiece over the years. While I’m invested in the story, it’s clear Martin has lost interest, and is valiantly trying to finish for his fan’s sake and his legacy.

    If he had any sense at all, he’d give up and enjoy his remaining years. No sensible person could begrudge him that.

  8. For the books I read, the current record is held by sf writer David Gerrold. His “War Against the Chtorr” series looks like this:

    A Matter for Men (1983)
    A Day for Damnation (1985)
    A Rage for Revenge (1989)
    A Season for Slaughter (1993)
    A Method For Madness (not yet published)

    To add to the difficulty, Gerrold retcons the entire series every time he publishes a new one. So, I own book 1, books 1b and 2, books 1c, 2b and 3 and finally book 4, because I don’t even want to look at the others.

    The rumor is that he got into a fight with his publisher, who owns the right of first refusal, so the series is likely dead. But Gerrold is still alive, where there’s life there’s hope, but as always valar morghulis.

  9. I liked how Sanderson ended the WoT series. Once you adopt his writing style, which he adequately shapes after Jordan (I don’t know if that’s how it is or if he adopted for the WoT books), the conclusion seemed very worthwhile to me. Fortunately, you don’t really miss much from books 6-9 and Wikipedia would fill you in. Books 10 through whatever bring the series back to being enjoyable.

  10. @timothy
    Yeah, at times Clarke would finish writing portions of the novel and, maybe a week later, he would get to see rough-cut footage of what he had just written. What a surreal way to write a novel.

    A major divergence is that in the film the spacecraft travels to Jupiter, while in the book it travels to Saturn. But Clarke tacitly admitted that Kubrick's film had bested him, because when he wrote the sequel he retconned the storyline so that the craft had gone to Jupiter after all.

    The movie switched Saturn to Jupiter because showing the rings would have been too difficult F/X-wise.

    Really, the most obvious difference between the novel and the movie is that the movie leaves out a lot of the exposition. For example, Clarke explicates why the monolith on the moon emits the radio signal at the precise moment it does, whereas the movie just suggests it. Similarly, the final act is explained in the book, whereas its left to the viewer to piece together in the movie.

  11. I got interested in GOT after family members alerted me to the HBO series, which started out pretty great. I immediately bought the audio versions of the books, and listened to them all – with steadily decreasing interest.

    The endless meanderings of initially interesting characters like Arya Stark & Brienne of Tarth just got more & more pointless & boring, as the story, or lack thereof, went on.

    At this point, I think it’s pretty clear that GRRM, unlike JRRT, was never a serious artist – just a talented story-teller with no real vision.

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