So we hear from the blog that is not a blog that The Winds of Winter isn’t going to be finished before HBO launches its sixth season this April and decidedly outpaces events in the books.
This should not have come as a surprise and here is the graph – so far as I can tell originally posted last year on /r/dataisbeautiful – that demonstrates why:
Accoring to the graph, the anticipated date of The Winds of Winter was 2017. So getting it finished by the beginning of 2016 was always going to be a longshot. It is however the case that Books 4-5 were marked by an artificial delay due to timeline consistency problems, so we can still be reasonably optimistic for delivery sometime this year. (If I had to make a New Year-style prediction on it I would say 60%; and 80% by 2017).
You don’t any particularly convoluted (Great Forks) or pessimistic (he lost interest) theories to explain why this is happening.
First, the books George R. R. Martin writes are BIG. The original A Game of Thrones is also the shortest at 704 pages, the latest A Dance with Dragons is 1056 pages in the mass paperbacks. It is also worth mentioning that both The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring are projected to be 1,500 pages in length, or more than 50% bigger than the average ASOIAF novel to date.
Second, they are extremely complex from a narrative perspective, made all the more so by writing each chapter from the perspective of individual characters. Balancing timelines must be a nightmare, especially since GRRM is a “discovery writer” who doesn’t tend to plan his books in detail beforehand. But he does have a high regard for consistency which forces him into a lot of revision and rewriting. It is clear that this started taking a toll from the third book onwards. But it appears that this is something that afflicts the vast majority of fantasy series, including much simpler ones like J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter (which incidentally moved forwards barely any quicker nonetheless!). The only big exception I can think of is Brandon “Robot” Sanderson. But then again even he has for the most part only stuck to trilogies to date.
Comparisons to Robert Jordan, such as the recent by Razib Khan, are premature. From the time of his “inflection point” by Book 6-7, not only did the pace but also the quality of his writing started degrading fast as plot was replaced by endless skirt smoothing and braid pulling and female on female BDSM until Branson Sanderson came along to put The Wheel of Time out of its misery. To be sure, GRRM’s plot has also slowed down drastically. But crucially, it was not replaced by any decline in worldbuilding and characterization; I for one enjoyed Tyrion’s odyssey in Essos, and the depiction of Cersei in A Feast for Crows as an evil female is on a level that I frankly cannot recall being matched in any other work of fantasy. In contrast, due to Robert Jordan’s mediocre characterization skills, The Wheel of Time without a plot was but an empty husk.
Moreover, whereas it was clear by mid-series in The Wheel of Time that the plot was going nowhere, things in the past two books have been clearly arranged to enable a whole range of climaxes to happen in Winds of Winters in quick succession, from the fantasy version of Battle of the Ice in which Stannis the Mannis will show up Show!Stannis for the preposterous imposter he really is, to the Second Battle of Mereen and the Return of the Queen.
There are two additional concerns that I will also take the opportunity to address now.
The Show will Overtake the Books
Like it or not but realists have always viewed this as being a near inevitability.
But for all intents and purposes these are now two separate works. As GRRM himself said (and I agree), the butterflies have become dragons as of Season 5.
MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW
I am not a “bookfag” by any means. I even think the show got some things better. Having Arya interact with Tywin. Letting Cat continue to RIP. The Faith Militant. Others it got a lot worse, such as the absurd Dorne adventure, not to mention the cucking of Stannis.
For better or worse, these are now two very significantly separate narrative streams and the potential for cross-genre spoilage is now very limited.
GRRM Will Never Finish the Books
Many people question whether GRRM is capable of finishing the books from a… let’s just say demographic perspective. “He is getting old.” “He’s fat.”
Naturally, GRRM doesn’t much appreciate that:
I find that question pretty offensive, frankly, when people start speculating about my death and my health. So fuck you to those people.
But it’s a legitimate enough issue, especially considering what happened with Robert Jordan, so it’s something worth addressing in a serious way if only to lay the less informed (and at times nastier) speculation at rest.
George R.R. Martin is currently 67 years old.
Let us look at the actuarial tables.
As of 2013, the chance of death at this age for US males ov er the course of a year is 1.7%. Thus, giving him the benefit of the doubt on his drive and enthusiasm (and as I showed above there is no reason not to), it is almost certain he will live to finish The Winds of Winter.
According to the graph, we can expect to see a A Dream of Spring by 2023, by which time he will be approaching 75 years. That gives an 82% chance of seeing it published. Assuming to a more pessimistic 2025 date, it drops to 76%. Still much more likely than not.
Regrettably, some people suffer through a period of debilitating illness before their death, which makes productive work impossible. (Known as the “healthy life expectancy” concept). Even assuming one that lasts 5 years before death – for Robert Jordan it was a single year – that still leaves a 66% chance of completion.
There are of course some additional aspects to consider – to what extent can we treat him as an average American man?
- The most obvious negative thing is his obesity, which is negatively correlated with life expectancy.
- On the other hand, he is obviously highly intelligent. This is correlated positively with LE.
- He is not a low-income White, the big group for whom demographic outcomes have been in stagnation in the US since 1990. I am assuming he is not addicted to painkiller prescriptions and his now extraordinary wealth will enable him to afford the most advanced medical treatments should the need arise.
All things considered, I suspect the latter two factors more than cancel out the first. It also needs to be borne in mind that medical technology continues to improve so (all else equal) GRRM should benefit from that, although truly radical breakthroughs are very unlikely to come by within his remaining lifespan.
Incidentally, this is all the more reason to support transhumanism and radical life extension, so that we don’t have to worry (and deny worrying) about such issues.