T and A

Critical Reviews of ASOIAF

39 posts in this topic

4 hours ago, chrisdaw said:

Because that assumes that human advancement is an iron clad blueprint for how it must happen, which is baseless.

No, designing an entirely separate world that's an expy of 13th century England assumes that human advancement is an iron clad blueprint for how it must happen. There's no other plausible reason that a world would end up at the same place if they weren't following the same path. Two random walks across that many dimensions are just astronomically unlikely to get that close unless there's something constraining them to be that close, and you should assume those constraints will hold.

And that's even more true for Westeros, where not only is it a lot like 14th century England, it's even got a close parallel to William's invasion 300 years ago and a close parallel to the Anarchy a few decades after that, and the language has a similar history to English, and so on.

And it's even more true when you consider that this isn't just a coincidence, it was designed by the author to be that way.

Let me give you an analogy. If I have a sequence with 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, how is it going to progress from the 1400th to the 1500th number? Well, that's the Fibonacci sequence. Or maybe it's samples from one of the many natural processes that closely approximate the Fibonacci sequence. Either way, it's going to grow roughly like the exponential of the golden ratio.

Sure, there are other possible sequences with the same run. You can find a few on an OEIS search.  But I'm not going to give you those numbers when my sequence is Fib(n) % 1000 (aka A248740)  unless I'm deliberately trying to mislead you.

Of course there are a lot of fantasy worlds that are a lot like 14th century England in almost every way except that they're completely static in technological and social advancement rather than being similar to 14th century England in technological and social advancement. But that's because a lot of hack fantasy writers have limited imaginations, not because that's a believable world.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
25 minutes ago, falcotron said:

No, designing an entirely separate world that's an expy of 13th century England assumes that human advancement is an iron clad blueprint for how it must happen.

That's just comically ridiculous. No it doesn't in any way, besides differences in the cultures of invention (one being basically non existent), external competition forces and a system/culture of education, that an historical period and an imaginary world have a similar technology level at one point does not mean it must have got there or continue on in the same way as the other, or at the same rates That a sample size of one concludes the only timeframe of advancement is a myopic concoction.

One may prefer a more technologically dynamic history and world in their expansive stories, and that would be reasonable thing to say. But to claim the text is flawed because it doesn't strictly mirror human advancement, as though there's a right or wrong to it that writer's must adhere to is stupid. It is not the point of the story, it is part of the setting to be tailored to suit the story. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
43 minutes ago, chrisdaw said:

That's just comically ridiculous. No it doesn't in any way, besides differences in the cultures of invention (one being basically non existent), external competition forces and a system/culture of education, that an historical period and an imaginary world have a similar technology level at one point does not mean it must have got there or continue on in the same way as the other, or at the same rates

It's not just a "similar technological level".

Late Gojoseon Korea and Hallstatt C Europe had a similar technological level, but they didn't have nearly identical tools and weapons in every category, the same kind of social organization, the same hospitality and politeness rituals, the same migration history, etc. They're very different cultures, so of course they advance differently.

Generic Fantasy Medieval Setting and the author's favorite century and location in medieval Europe, on the other hand, don't just share a similar technological level, they share exactly the same tools and weapons (to the extent that the author did his research), the same rituals, etc. There are minor differences for whatever the author wants to explore (usually, magic is real, and there's a polytheistic religion with completely different dogma from Catholicism that nevertheless acts in most practical ways the same), but otherwise, it's the same culture, so why should it advance differently?

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 12.10.2017 at 9:35 AM, Jedi Exile said:

There are plenty of fantasy authors who claim to be doing something different with the genre. Ironically, they often write the most predictable books of all, as evidenced by Goodkind and Paolini. Though I'm not sure why they protest so much--predictability is hardly a death sentence in genre fantasy.

The archetypal story of a hero, a villain, a profound love, and a world to be saved never seems to get old--it's a great story when it's told well. At the best, it's exciting, exotic, and builds to a fulfilling climax. At the worst, it's just a bloodless rehash. Unfortunately, the worst are more common by far.

Perhaps it was this abundance of cliche romances that drove Martin to aim for something different. Unfortunately, you can't just choose to be different, any more than you can choose to be creative. Sure, Moorcock's original concept for Elric was to be the anti-Conan, but at some point, he had to push his limits and move beyond difference for difference's sake--and he did.

In similar gesture, Martin rejects the allegorical romance of epic fantasy, which basically means tearing out the guts of the genre: the wonder, the ideals, the heroism, and with them, the moral purpose. Fine, so he took out the rollicking fun and the social message--what did he replace them with?

Like the post-Moore comics of the nineties, fantasy has already borne witness to a backlash against the upright, moral hero--and then a backlash against the grim antihero who succeeded him. Hell, if all Martin wanted was grim and gritty antiheroes in an amoral world, he didn't have to reject the staples of fantasy, he could have gone to its roots: Howard, Leiber, and Anderson.

Like many authors aiming for realism, he forgets 'truth is stranger than fiction'. The real world is full of unbelievable events, coincidences, and odd characters. When authors remove these elements in an attempt to make their world seem real, they make their fiction duller than reality; after all, unexpected details are the heart of verisimilitude. When Chekhov and Peake eschewed the easy thrill of romance, they replaced it with the odd and absurd--moments strange enough to feel true. In comparison, Martin's world is dull and gray. Instead of innovating new, radical elements, he merely removes familiar staples--and any style defined by lack is going to end up feeling thin.

Yet, despite trying to inject the book with history and realism, he does not reject the melodramatic characterization of his fantasy forefathers, as evidenced by his brooding bastard antihero protagonist (with pet albino wolf). Apparently to him, 'grim realism' is 'Draco in Leather Pants'. This produces a conflicted tone: a soap opera cast lost in an existentialist film.

There's also lots of sex and misogyny, and 'wall-to-wall rape'--not that books should shy away from sex, or from any uncomfortable, unpleasant reality of life. The problem is when people who are not comfortable with their own sexuality start writing about it, which seems to plague every mainstream fantasy author. Their pen gets away from them, their own hangups start leaking into the scene, until it's not even about the characters anymore, it's just the author cybering about his favorite fetish--and if I cyber with a fat, bearded stranger, I expect to be paid for it.

I know a lot of fans probably get into it more than I do (like night elf hunters humping away in WOW), but reading Goodkind, Jordan, and Martin--it's like seeing a Playboy at your uncle's where all the pages are wrinkled. That's not to say there isn't serviceable pop fantasy sex out there--it's just written by women.

Though I didn't save any choice examples, I did come acrossthis quote from a later book:

"... she wore faded sandsilk pants and woven grass sandals. Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest . . ."


Imagine the process: Martin sits, hands hovering over the keys, trying to get inside his character's head:

"Okay, I'm a woman. How do I see and feel the world differently? My cultural role is defined by childbirth. I can be bought and sold in marriage by my own--Oh, hey! I've got tits! Man, look at those things go. *whooshing mammary sound effects* Okay, time to write."

Where are the descriptions of variously-sized dongs swinging within the confines of absurdly-detailed clothing? There are a set of manboobs (which perhaps Martin has some personal experience with) but not until book five. Even then, it's not the dude being hyperaware of his own--they're just there to gross out a dwarf. Not really a balanced depiction.

If you're familiar with the show (and its parodies on South Park and SNL) this lack of dongs may surprise you. But as Martin himself explained, when asked why there's no gay sex in his books, despite having gay characters, 'they’re not the viewpoint characters'--as if somehow, the viewpoints he chooses to depict are beyond his control. Apparently, he plots as well as your average NaNoWriMo author: sorry none of my characters chose to be gay, nothing I can do about it.

And balance really is the problem here--if you only depict the dark, gritty stuff that you're into, that's not realism, it's just a fetish. If you depict the grimness of war by having every female character threatened with rape, but the same thing never happens to a male character, despite the fact that more men get raped in the military than women, then your 'gritty realism card' definitely gets revoked.

The books are notorious for the sudden, pointless deaths, which some suggest is another sign of realism--but, of course, nothing is pointless in fiction, because everything that shows up on the page is only there because the author put it there. Sure, in real life, people suddenly die before finishing their life's work (fantasy authors do it all the time), but there's a reason we don't tend to tell stories of people who die unexpectedly in the middle of things: they are boring and pointless. They build up for a while then eventually, lead nowhere.

Novelists often write in isolation, so it's easy to forget the rule to which playwrights adhere: your story is always a fiction. Any time you treat it as if it were real, you are working against yourself. The writing that feels the most natural is never effortless, it is carefully and painstakingly constructed to seem that way.

A staple of Creative Writing 101 is to 'listen to how people really talk', which is terrible advice. A transcript of any conversation will be so full of repetition, half-thoughts, and non-specific words ('stuff', 'thing') as to be incomprehensible--especially without the cues of tone and body language. Written communication has its own rules, so making dialogue feel like speech is a trick writers play. It's the same with sudden character deaths: treat them like a history, and your plot will become choppy and hard to follow.

Not that the deaths are truly unpredictable. Like in an action film, they are a plot convenience: kill off a villain, and you don't have to wrap up his arc. You don't have to defeat him psychologically--the finality of his death is the great equalizer. You skip the hard work of demonstrating that the hero was morally right because he's the only option left.

Likewise, in Martin's book, death ties up loose threads--namely, plot threads. Often, this is the only ending we get to his plot arcs, which makes them rather predictable: any time a character is about to build up enough influence to make things better, or more stable, he will die. Any character who poses a threat to the continuing chaos which drives the action will first be built up, and then killed off.

I found this interview to be a particularly telling example of how Martin thinks of character deaths:

"I killed Ned because everybody thinks he’s the hero ... sure, he’s going to get into trouble, but then he’ll somehow get out of it. The next predictable thing [someone] is going to rise up and avenge his [death] ... So immediately killing Robb became the next thing I had to do.


He's not talking about the characters' motivations, or the ideas they represent, or their role in the story--he isn't laying out a well-structured plot, he's just killing them off for pure shock value.

Yet the only reason we think these characters are important in the first place is that Martin treats them as central heroes, spending time and energy building them. Then it all ends up being a red herring, a cheap twist, the equivalent of a horror movie jump scare. It's like mystery novels in the 70's, after all the good plots had been done, so authors added ghosts or secret twins in the last chapter--it's only surprising because the author has obliterated the story structure.

All plots are made up of arcs that grow and change, building tension and purpose. Normally, when an arc ends, the author must use all his skill to deal with themes and answer questions, providing a satisfying conclusion to a promising idea that his readers watched grow. Or just kill off a character central to the conflict and bury the plot arc with him. Then you don't have to worry about closure, you can just hook your readers by focusing on the mess caused by the previous arc falling apart. Make the reader believe that things might get better, get them to believe in a character, then wave your arms in distraction, point and yell 'look at that terrible thing, over there!', and hope they become so caught up in worrying about the new problem that they forget the old one was never resolved.

Chaining false endings together creates perpetual tension that never requires solution--like in most soap operas--plus, the author never has to do the hard work of finishing what they started. If an author is lucky, they die before reaching the Final Conclusion the readership is clamoring for, and never have to meet the collective expectation which long years of deferral have built up. It's easy to idolize Kurt Cobain because you never had to see him bald and old and crazy like David Lee Roth.

Unlucky authors live to write the Final Book, breaking the spell of unending tension that kept their readers enthralled. Since the plot isn't resolving into a tight, intertwined conclusion (in fact, it's probably spiraling out of control, with even more characters and scenes), the author must wrap things up conveniently and suddenly, leaving fans confused and upset. Having thrown out the grand romance of fantasy, Martin cannot even end on the dazzling trick of the vaguely-spiritual transgressive Death Event on which the great majority of fantasy books rely for a handy tacked-on climax (actually, he'll probably do it anyways, with dragons--the longer the series goes on, the more it starts to resemble the cliche monomyth that Martin was praised for eschewing in the first place).

The drawback is that even if a conclusion gets stuck on at the end, the story fundamentally leads nowhere--it winds back and forth without resolving psychological or tonal arcs. But then, doesn't that sound more like real life? Martin tore out the moralistic heart and magic of fantasy, and in doing so, rejected the notion of grandly realized conclusions. Perhaps we shouldn't compare him to works of romance, but to histories.

He asks us to believe in his intrigue, his grimness, and his amoral world of war, power, and death--not the false Europe of Arthur, Robin Hood, and Orlando, but the real Europe of plagues, political struggles, religious wars, witch hunts, and roving companies of soldiery forever ravaging the countryside. Unfortunately, he doesn't compare very well to them, either. His intrigue is not as interesting as Cicero's, Machiavelli's, Enguerrand de Coucy's--or even Sallust's, who was practically writing fiction, anyways. Some might suggest it unfair to compare a piece of fiction to a true history, but these are the same histories that lent Howard, Leiber, and Moorcock their touches of verisimilitude. Martin might have taken a lesson from them and drawn inspiration from further afield: even Tolkien had his Eddas. Despite being fictionalized and dramatized, Martin's take on The War of the Roses is far duller than the original.

More than anything, this book felt like a serial melodrama: the hardships of an ensemble cast who we are meant to watch over and sympathize with, being drawn in by emotional appeals (the hope that things will 'get better' in this dark place, 'tragic' deaths), even if these appeals conflict with the supposed realism, and in the end, there is no grander story to unify the whole. This 'grittiness' is just Martin replacing the standard fantasy theme of 'glory' with one of 'hardship', and despite flipping this switch, it's still just an emotional appeal. 'Heroes always win' is just as blandly predictable as 'heroes always lose'.

It's been suggested that I didn't read enough of Martin to judge him, but if the first four hundred pages aren't good, I don't expect the next thousand will be different. If you combine the three Del Rey collections of Conan The Barbarian stories, you get 1,263 pages (including introductions, end notes, and variant scripts). If you take Martin's first two books in this series, you get 1,504 pages. Already, less than a third of the way into the series, he's written more than Howard's entire Conan output, and all I can do is ask myself: why does he need that extra length?

A few authors use it to their advantage, but for most, it's just sprawling undifferentiated bloat. Melodrama can be a great way to mint money, as evidenced by the endless 'variations on a theme' of soap operas, pro wrestling, and superhero comics. People get into it, but it's neither revolutionary nor realistic. You also hear the same things from the fans: that it's all carefully planned, all interconnected, all going somewhere. Apparently, they didn't learn their lesson from the anticlimactic fizzling out of Twin Peaks, X-Files, Lost, and Battlestar. Then again, you wouldn't keep watching if you didn't think it was going somewhere.

Some say 'at least he isn't as bad as all the drivel that gets published in genre fantasy', but saying he's better than dreck is really not very high praise. Others have intimated that I must not like fantasy at all, pointing to my low-star reviews of Martin, Wolfe, Jordan, and Goodkind, but it is precisely because I am passionate about fantasy that I fall heavily on these authors.

A lover of fine wines winces the more at a corked bottle of vinegar, a ballet enthusiast's love of dance would not leave him breathless at a high school competition--and likewise, having learned to appreciate epics, histories, knightly ballads, fairy tales, and their modern offspring in fantasy, I find Martin woefully lacking. There's plenty of grim fantasy and intrigue out there, from its roots to the dozens of fantasy authors, both old and modern, whom I list in the link at the end of this review

There seems to be a sense that Martin's work is somehow revolutionary, that it represents a 'new direction' for fantasy, but all I see is a reversion. Sure, he's different than Jordan, Goodkind, and their ilk, who simply took the pseudo-medieval high-magic world from Tolkien and the blood-and-guts heroism from Howard. Martin, on the other hand, has more closely followed Tolkien's lead than any other modern high fantasy author--and I don't just mean in terms of racism.

Tolkien wanted to make his story real--not 'realistic', using the dramatic techniques of literature--but actually real, by trying to create all the detail of a pretend world behind the story. Over the span of the first twenty years, he released The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, and other works, while in the twenty years after that, he became so obsessed with worldbuilding for its own sake that instead of writing stories, he filled his shed with a bunch of notes (which his son has been trying to make a complete book from ever since).

It's the same thing Martin's trying to do: cover a bland story with a litany of details that don't contribute meaningfully to his characters, plot, or tone. So, if Martin is good because he is different, then it stands to reason that he's not very good because he's not that different. He may seem different if all someone has read is Tolkien and the authors who ape his style, but that's just one small corner of a very expansive genre. Anyone who thinks Tolkien is the 'father of fantasy' doesn't know enough about the genre to judge what 'originality' means.

So, if Martin neither an homage nor an original, I'm not sure what's left. In his attempt to set himself apart, he tore out the joyful heart of fantasy but failed to replace it with anything. There is no revolutionary voice here, and there is nothing in Martin's book that has not been done better by other authors.

However, there is one thing Martin has done that no other author has been able to do: kill the long-running High Fantasy series. According to some friends of mine in publishing (and some on-the-nose remarks by Caleb Carr in an NPR interview on his own foray into fantasy), Martin's inability to deliver a book on time, combined with his strained relationship with his publisher means that literary agents are no longer accepting manuscripts for high fantasy series--even from recognized authors. Apparently, Martin is so bad at plot structure that he actually pre-emptively ruined books by other authors. Perhaps it is true what they say about silver linings . . .

Though I declined to finish this book, I'll leave you with a caution compiled from various respectable friends of mine who did continue on:

"If you need some kind of closure, avoid this series. No arcs will ever be completed, nothing will ever really change. The tagline is 'Winter is Coming'--it's not. As the series goes on, there will be more and more characters and diverging plotlines to keep track of, many of them apparently completely unrelated to each other, even as it increasingly becomes just another cliche, fascist 'chosen one' monomyth, like every other fantasy series out there. If you enjoy a grim, excessively long soap opera with lots of deaths and constant unresolved tension, pick up the series--otherwise, maybe check out the show."

 

I really enjoyed reading your analysis. Thank you. A very accurate description of GRRM' s ASOIAF. But forthermore, also a very interesting analysis of GRRM's writing, and his problems to finish the series. I have read a lot of coments why the series takes so long, but never have I read such a brilliant descriptions of the underlying problems.

A friend of mine, who also reads the series put it that way in our last discussion:

"GRRM may be a gardner. But that is not the reason why the series got so out of controll. He is a gardener who has forgotten in which garden he is working and visits everyday a new garden to work".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 11. 10. 2017 at 1:08 AM, Spilledguts said:

Characters feel ''human'' as opposed to most fantasy / fiction where a person is either a Jedi or a Sith.

Which Jedi do you mean, grey or dark ones? Or Jedi turned Sith (and on some occasions, turned back Jedi again)? Light Sith? 

But you're right that this is what GRRM does really well - good guys commit terrible fuckups, bad guys can have tender streaks... I never thought I might ever sympathize with someone like Cersei, but when we got her PoV, I could really see that terribly lonely woman, the mother whose son died in her arms, the sobbing, shattered victim covered in blood and dirt, and not think "you deserved that, bitch".

Where GRRM fell into the trap of his own making is the scope. Too many players, too many motivations, and to cover them all, the books get bigger and bigger to cramp in all the exposition and foreshadowing and what not, made even worse by his attention to detail. Plus, some of the newer PoVs are not very convincing - while the main-storyline characters like Jaime or Sam work fine, the ones established only to provide a glimpse into the events where none of the established characters are present feel like fillers. IMHO, it's something that GRRM didn't think through ahead very well - he started to tell the story as character-driven but currently needs an event-driven one, which requires new and new PoVs to cover the events where none of the already established PoVs are present, and this is dragging the story down immensely. You can't really return to slow exposition when you're half-way through the story and there is no time to become attached to the plenty of new PoVs in the same way we have to the old ones. Chasing too many hares is the saying, right? 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@Dragonsbone That is a very popular negative review taken from AGoT's goodreads page. The guy who wrote it (all the way back in 2007) didn't even finish the first book, let alone the series, but he felt entitled to make all-knowing comments about George's style, plotting and ability to finish the series based on interviews and hearsay. I wouldn't take him seriously...

Around the same time he was bashing AGoT he was giving high praise to the incredibly overrated and obnoxious piece of garbage that is Perdido Street Station, so he was clearly in a "style over substance", edgy kind of phase (I actually remembered him for his AGoT burn, so after I read Perdido and I was desperately looking for scathing reviews in an attempt to cleanse the taste of intellectual vomit from mind I checked goodreads and it really made me scratch my head that he hated Martin's book but liked that one).

In any case, I highly doubt @Jedi Exile is J.G. Keely, so he should have at least credited the article.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, The Coconut God said:

@Dragonsbone That is a very popular negative review taken from AGoT's goodreads page. The guy who wrote it (all the way back in 2007) didn't even finish the first book, let alone the series, but he felt entitled to make all-knowing comments about George's style, plotting and ability to finish the series based on interviews and hearsay. I wouldn't take him seriously...

 

Ok. Good to know. As I read it, I did not know that he has not read the books. Which really is weird, since his analysis is pretty detailled and in my own opinion very accurate. But thanks for the clariffication. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12 hours ago, Ygrain said:

Where GRRM fell into the trap of his own making is the scope. Too many players, too many motivations, and to cover them all, the books get bigger and bigger to cramp in all the exposition and foreshadowing and what not, made even worse by his attention to detail.

I think he could have avoided that if he'd spun off more thing like D&E and F&B. The side stories allow him to expand the scope even more broadly than anything that can fit in the main novels, but at the same time don't get tangled up with the main threads and make them harder to weave.

It's like having a bunch of separate garden patches instead of one big everything garden—much easier to manage.

Of course I could be completely wrong. Maybe he can't just throw all those cool details in his head into an outline for a spinoff to write later without feeling compelling to sit down and write that spinoff now, so the main series would be even more delayed than it is.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
20 hours ago, Dragonsbone said:

Ok. Good to know. As I read it, I did not know that he has not read the books. Which really is weird, since his analysis is pretty detailled and in my own opinion very accurate. But thanks for the clariffication. 

Well reading the review is confusing on that side of things. On the one hand it's said:

Quote

It's been suggested that I didn't read enough of Martin to judge him, but if the first four hundred pages aren't good, I don't expect the next thousand will be different. If you combine the three Del Rey collections of Conan The Barbarian stories, you get 1,263 pages (including introductions, end notes, and variant scripts). If you take Martin's first two books in this series, you get 1,504 pages. Already, less than a third of the way into the series, he's written more than Howard's entire Conan output, and all I can do is ask myself: why does he need that extra length?

Which would imply that they didn't even finish GoT. Yet earlier in the review they make reference to something not being present until book five (man boobs, of all things). So it's pretty contradictory reading on that front

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 10/14/2017 at 2:01 PM, HelenaExMachina said:

Well reading the review is confusing on that side of things. On the one hand it's said:

Which would imply that they didn't even finish GoT. Yet earlier in the review they make reference to something not being present until book five (man boobs, of all things). So it's pretty contradictory reading on that front

The reviewer mentioned doing a few edits in the comments, but goodreads doesn't explicitly state when the last edits were made. However, the book is still marked as abandoned as of 2016, and the text still implies that he stopped reading after 400 pages. There's also no review by Keely for ACoK, so he probably picked up the information from comments, interviews, and other reviews.

To understand a little better where his criticism is coming for, here's a quote from his review of Perdido Street Station, where he opens up a bit more about his views on fantasy:

Quote

It's often been noted that I'll give at least four stars to any fantasy from the Italian Renaissance, and yet rarely give more than two for anything written since the nineteen-sixties. Some have accused me of a staunch prejudice in period, but lo! it is not so.

I really love the fantasy genre, but the corollary of this is that I hate most fantasy books, because of how they mistreat that which I love.

George is pretty much anathema to the kind of fantasy he likes, so he feels the need knock him off his pedestal. Reminds me a little of the critic from Birdman - "I don't need to see your work, I'm going to destroy it anyway because I hate what you represent"... Which is absolutely fine, of course, as long as it doesn't pretend to be anything more than personal taste, but it must be taken with a grain of salt by others.

In my opinion, the flaws he sees in the series are either minor issues or misguided interpretations.

 

The "male gaze" is probably the most objective. I noticed it as well in a few instances, particularly on re-reads. But then again, it's not that pervasive and it is compensated by pretty complex and compelling female characters. I'm not a connoisseur of fantasy from the Italian Renaissance, but I doubt classic fairy tales challenged gender roles much, so I don't know how much not mentioning tits count for.

And I wouldn't even say the example he used is particularly good. The quote is cut from a larger paragraph that read as follows: 

Quote

If the Milk Men thought her such a savage, she would dress the part for them. When she went to the stables, she wore faded sandsilk pants and woven grass sandals. Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest, and a curved dagger hung from her medallion belt. Jhiqui had braided her hair Dothraki fashion, and fastened a silver bell to the end of the braid. "I have won no victories", she tried telling her handmaiden when the bell tinkled softly.

Jhiqui disagreed. "You burned the maegi in their house of dust and sent their souls to hell."

Sure, a prudish mind can say that mentioning the breasts and/or their size is gratuitous, but the scene isn't as sexual as the selective quoting would make you believe. Breasts moving freely beneath the vest is just part of her trying to look like a savage... But of course the reviewer didn't know that, because he didn't take the quote from the book, he took it from an article filled with general outrage and entitled 5 ways modern men are trained to hate women.

 

His arguments that George's story isn't realistic are also rather weird. He complains that gritty and violent doesn't automatically equal realism, and that's true. but that's also not why ASoIaF is realistic. ASoIaF is realistic because actions and circumstances have believable consequences, because the world and the rules that define it are consistent and because all the events depicted hold up very well on re-reads. The twists surprise you the first time around, but once you go through the series again you can see the events that lead to them in the subtext. Even less popular plot lines, such as the Dornish Master Plan, are consistent with the overall events of the series. "New" villains such as Euron were set up as early as ACoK, etc.

And on top of that there is the political (and geopolitical) dimension, which is not often seen in fantasy (at least not to my knowledge).

Keely quotes George saying that he killed Ned and Robb because he wanted to subvert fantasy tropes and he concluded that he's wasting characters pointlessly for shock value, but he fails to realize that those deaths are the results highly believable circumstances and they both end very beautiful, thematically powerful tragic arcs. Quite the opposite of what the reviewer claims:

Quote

He's not talking about the characters' motivations, or the ideas they represent, or their role in the story--he isn't laying out a well-structured plot, he's just killing them off for pure shock value.

^Again, he draws that conclusion without reading the #^@$ing text...

Sure, George wanted to kill Ned and Robb from the start, but that doesn't mean he didn't build a good story around it, like that hack Shakespeare did when he decided to write a love story and kill the main characters at the end.

The criticism reads as if it was addressed to superficial fan interpretations of the series treated like they were actually true rather than the series itself.

 

The last major point he makes (I'm not going to discuss the bit about originality because that doesn't really have much to do with quality) is that George manage do.... "kill the longrunning High Fantasy series".

This is a sort of idea that no doubt emerged during the long wait for ADwD, after the unfairly but perhaps predictably poorly received AFFC. Does it hold any water now? Hell no! Even without TWoW, this series is an insane cash cow. I can't imagine publishers being afraid to take in fantasy series because of Martin. After all, standalone books are just as risky as the first book in a series (which doesn't need to be marketed as such, if there are concerns about it), but with the added bonus of more predictable sales for sequels.

Even if ASoIaF is never finished, I don't think it will kill serialized fantasy (or, indeed, its own popularity)... Not more so than all the series out there that have rushed and disappointing endings.

If you look at things from a consumer's perspective and make a comparison with TV series, unfinished shows (like Firefly, Twin Peaks, etc) tend to become cult classics, and there are many series with longer than usual waits between seasons that are highly acclaimed or beloved (Fargo, Rick and Morty). It's all the crap out there that declines in quality in later seasons because writing teams don't have the time to recharge their creative juices (Lost, Dexter... GoT, as it will sadly be the case) that undermine the concept of serialized TV. Why wouldn't it be the same for novels?

Edited by The Coconut God

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, The Coconut God said:

If you look at things from a consumer's perspective and make a comparison with TV series, unfinished shows (like Firefly, Twin Peaks, etc) tend to become cult classics, and there are many series with longer than usual waits between seasons that are highly acclaimed or beloved (Fargo, Rick and Morty).

I mostly agree with you in general, but for this last point I think it may just be that America isn't used to those gaps. In the rest of the world, and especially the UK, it's perfectly normal for shows to have multi-year gaps. In America, no producer can get away with doing that unless their show is so groundbreakingly popular that they can do whatever they want. And meanwhile, if they do, because it's so rare, the audience notices and it just adds to the anticipation. If American TV had decades of serviceable but generic shows like Butterflies or About Face taking multiple gap years over their runs, it probably wouldn't be associated with quality any more than it is in the rest of the world.

On the larger point, I can see some effect on publishers. It's not that ASoIaF is a failure—far from it. It's that ASoIaF actually is the big one they'd been waiting for, that they've hoped for every time they signed an epic fantasy series, but it still didn't clock a new record-breaking bestseller every other year the way, say, Harry Potter did. I don't know book publishers nearly as well as I know TV and music people, so I could be wrong about how they think, but I suspect that to most of them, this proves that there's a limit to what they're ever going to get out of "traditional fantasy", so if someone comes in with a new traditional fantasy series (as in not modern fantasy, and not aimed at the youth market) they'll be wary of signing on.

That being said, ASoIaF ha definitely mainstreamed fantasy enough to benefit all the smaller publishers who care about the difference between selling 75000 and 5000. So this may just mean that the new great fantasy series starts off with a smaller publisher and only moves to one of the big guys after it's blown up. Which I don't see a problem with. That might deter a writer with GRRM's experience and salary history, but what are the odds the next great fantasy series is going to come from a guy with multiple series that almost crossed over into mainstream plus decades of TV under his belt? But again, I don't really know the book publishing business, so I could be way off here.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@falcotron With TV series it's easier to keep up the pace because they use a team of writers instead of a single author. If they work well together. This can be a huge advantage during the plotting stage, because they can encourage and stimulate each other, keep bad ideas in check and bring a more diverse array of ideas and perspectives to the table. And when it comes to the actual work, each of them will write 2 45 minutes episodes over a period of 4 or 5 months, which is not that much. We could eventually see a fantasy series written by a team of authors (it wouldn't be the first time in commercial literature), but it's probably a lot harder to write prose as a team than to write a script.

I don't know how publishers think either, but expecting the next Harry Potter in any genre sounds like hoping for the Moon. Not even Harry Potter was expected to be the phenomenon it was, it's very unlikely that the next big thing will be recognized as such before it gets on the market. And in the mean time they have to publish something, or they'll go out of business. A publisher that specializes in fantasy has to keep delivering new material even if it's not bestselling or groundbreaking, otherwise he will lose brand recognition and the next Harry Potter may not even be brought to him, but to a smaller publisher like you suggested.

Long-running fantasy series will die out only if people lose interest in reading them... which can happen if the already existing series oversaturate the market (i which case George can't be held personally accountable) or if ASoIaF (or any other series, really) will end up being so good that the rest of the market pales in comparison and readers lose interest in it (but that's not really a bad thing).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 10/17/2017 at 3:45 AM, The Coconut God said:

@falcotron With TV series it's easier to keep up the pace because they use a team of writers instead of a single author. If they work well together. 

A traditional writer's room, especially with a head underneath the execs, can be a great thing, but it seems like most of the "new golden age of TV" dramas aren't relying on that as much (including this one HBO show that seems kind of relevant here, where the two execs do almost everything, except that they parcel out two episodes per season to a trusted subordinate). Obviously it's still a lot more collaborative than writing a novel, but it doesn't seem to be like 90s TV.

On 10/17/2017 at 3:45 AM, The Coconut God said:

I don't know how publishers think either, but expecting the next Harry Potter in any genre sounds like hoping for the Moon

… 

A publisher that specializes in fantasy has to keep delivering new material even if it's not bestselling or groundbreaking, otherwise he will lose brand recognition and the next Harry Potter may not even be brought to him, but to a smaller publisher like you suggested

But publishers that specialize in fantasy are the smaller ones. ASoIaF doesn't come out on Tor like Sword of Truth, it comes out on Bantam, publishers of a bunch of mass-market stuff from Tom Robbins to Stephen Hawking. Of course when they signed GRRM, they weren't looking for the next Harry Potter yet, they were only looking for the next Discworld—but that's still hoping for the moon.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@T and A

I am going to be much less eloquent here than some of the other people in this thread who I basically agree with:

That review was horrible and the person who wrote it is a fucking idiot. Find a better review to inform your research. :P 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
10 hours ago, falcotron said:

A traditional writer's room, especially with a head underneath the execs, can be a great thing, but it seems like most of the "new golden age of TV" dramas aren't relying on that as much (including this one HBO show that seems kind of relevant here, where the two execs do almost everything, except that they parcel out two episodes per season to a trusted subordinate). Obviously it's still a lot more collaborative than writing a novel, but it doesn't seem to be like 90s TV.

I wouldn't say that. Most of the good shows I know have 5 to 7 writers working on them, especially in the later seasons. Breaking Bad had 6 writers for the second half of season five, one for each episode. It had 7 for the previous ten.

GoT is by no means a positive example. I think most people on this forum agree the writing has been pretty bad since at least season five. I won't get into specifics because show spoilers aren't allowed here, but there are a lot of poorly executed character arcs, confused plot lines, continuity errors, awkward thematic shifts, impossible travel times and other logistical errors. The fact that the two producers  do 70% of the writing themselves (on a very tight schedule instead) of coordinating a larger team is probably the main reason we have these flaws.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 10/16/2017 at 3:56 PM, The Coconut God said:

 

And on top of that there is the political (and geopolitical) dimension, which is not often seen in fantasy (at least not to my knowledge).

 

His political and geopolitical scope is actually generic for this type of fantasy. The map, people, culture and world-building are not a high point of the series. 

 

On 10/16/2017 at 6:29 PM, falcotron said:

I mostly agree with you in general, but for this last point I think it may just be that America isn't used to those gaps. In the rest of the world, and especially the UK, it's perfectly normal for shows to have multi-year gaps. In America, no producer can get away with doing that unless their show is so groundbreakingly popular that they can do whatever they want. And meanwhile, if they do, because it's so rare, the audience notices and it just adds to the anticipation. If American TV had decades of serviceable but generic shows like Butterflies or About Face taking multiple gap years over their runs, it probably wouldn't be associated with quality any more than it is in the rest of the world.

On the larger point, I can see some effect on publishers. It's not that ASoIaF is a failure—far from it. It's that ASoIaF actually is the big one they'd been waiting for, that they've hoped for every time they signed an epic fantasy series, but it still didn't clock a new record-breaking bestseller every other year the way, say, Harry Potter did. I don't know book publishers nearly as well as I know TV and music people, so I could be wrong about how they think, but I suspect that to most of them, this proves that there's a limit to what they're ever going to get out of "traditional fantasy", so if someone comes in with a new traditional fantasy series (as in not modern fantasy, and not aimed at the youth market) they'll be wary of signing on.

That being said, ASoIaF ha definitely mainstreamed fantasy enough to benefit all the smaller publishers who care about the difference between selling 75000 and 5000. So this may just mean that the new great fantasy series starts off with a smaller publisher and only moves to one of the big guys after it's blown up. Which I don't see a problem with. That might deter a writer with GRRM's experience and salary history, but what are the odds the next great fantasy series is going to come from a guy with multiple series that almost crossed over into mainstream plus decades of TV under his belt? But again, I don't really know the book publishing business, so I could be way off here.

It only become mainstream because of the HBO series. Before that, it was mainly big fans of epic fantasy. There is a chart somewhere online that I cannot find currently which shows sales AFTER the series came out and they jumped quite a bit. As a comparison,  ASOIAF has 60 million copies sold, Discworld has 70 million, the Wheel of Time has 80 million. Twilight like 120 and Harry Potter 450. 

The point the reviewer is making is that many publishers will no longer take such a high risk of having either very large gaps in-between books or an unfinished series. So instead of high and epic fantasies for adults, we are getting more Terry Brooks type stuff in the fantasy genre for the past 10 years or so. The high epic fantasies coming out are series that were mostly finished, so the gap is shorter but it is more diffcult for the author.  

On 10/17/2017 at 6:45 AM, The Coconut God said:

@falcotron With TV series it's easier to keep up the pace because they use a team of writers instead of a single author. If they work well together. This can be a huge advantage during the plotting stage, because they can encourage and stimulate each other, keep bad ideas in check and bring a more diverse array of ideas and perspectives to the table. And when it comes to the actual work, each of them will write 2 45 minutes episodes over a period of 4 or 5 months, which is not that much. We could eventually see a fantasy series written by a team of authors (it wouldn't be the first time in commercial literature), but it's probably a lot harder to write prose as a team than to write a script.

I don't know how publishers think either, but expecting the next Harry Potter in any genre sounds like hoping for the Moon. Not even Harry Potter was expected to be the phenomenon it was, it's very unlikely that the next big thing will be recognized as such before it gets on the market. And in the mean time they have to publish something, or they'll go out of business. A publisher that specializes in fantasy has to keep delivering new material even if it's not bestselling or groundbreaking, otherwise he will lose brand recognition and the next Harry Potter may not even be brought to him, but to a smaller publisher like you suggested.

Long-running fantasy series will die out only if people lose interest in reading them... which can happen if the already existing series oversaturate the market (i which case George can't be held personally accountable) or if ASoIaF (or any other series, really) will end up being so good that the rest of the market pales in comparison and readers lose interest in it (but that's not really a bad thing).

There are already quite a few series with several authors. Some began as board games like the Malazan series, which I highly recommend. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 minutes ago, Spilledguts said:

His political and geopolitical scope is actually generic for this type of fantasy. The map, people, culture and world-building are not a high point of the series. 

Politics and geopolitics do not resume themselves to the map on the front page and cultural templates. It's more about the interactions and dynamics that exist within the governing structures of the kingdoms as well as between the kingdoms themselves as political entities. These interactions and dynamics are very interesting compared to fantasy in general.

11 minutes ago, Spilledguts said:

It only become mainstream because of the HBO series. Before that, it was mainly big fans of epic fantasy. There is a chart somewhere online that I cannot find currently which shows sales AFTER the series came out and they jumped quite a bit. As a comparison,  ASOIAF has 60 million copies sold, Discworld has 70 million, the Wheel of Time has 80 million. Twilight like 120 and Harry Potter 450. 

The point the reviewer is making is that many publishers will no longer take such a high risk of having either very large gaps in-between books or an unfinished series. So instead of high and epic fantasies for adults, we are getting more Terry Brooks type stuff in the fantasy genre for the past 10 years or so. The high epic fantasies coming out are series that were mostly finished, so the gap is shorter but it is more diffcult for the author.  

And the HBO series became popular on the back of George's writing. Of course the series was more popular (and subsequently led to an increase of book sales), TV is easier to market and is consumed quicker and easier, so people are less likely to be held back by the required time investment.

The point the reviewer is making is ridiculous, long gaps between books are not a "risk" for the publisher. The publisher has ways to compensate for that if the series is popular and still make money (did you not notice the release of TWoIaF, the Dunk&Egg collected illustrated short stories, the illustrated anniversary edition of AGoT, that little book with Tyrion quotes, etc.?).

The risk is only from readers, since readers dictate what will and won't be in demand, and readers are just as likely to abandon the fantasy epic because of disappointing endings to popular series (which is already a bit of a trend) as they are to do it because ASoIaF is taking a long time to write. It is an extremely hypocritical argument with no correct answer except the highly unrealistic "write fast and really well".

28 minutes ago, Spilledguts said:

There are already quite a few series with several authors. Some began as board games like the Malazan series, which I highly recommend. 

I read 9/10 of Erikson's initial series, didn't bother with Esslemont, nor will I.

Erikson is a very interesting case, and I find it ironic that you would recommend him in the context of this discussion, because he is a perfect example of the disadvantages of rushing your books.

When he's good, Erikson is excellent, and I remember some very memorable scenes from that series. The problem is, he rarely keeps it up. He's writing books like a Bangladeshi textile worker, in a mad dash to complete 1.000 pages a year, so he doesn't have time to smooth his work, and you can literally feel his bad days in the text.

You also can't possibly like the Malazan series and at the same time agree with Keely's review. You know all the stuff he said about chaining false endings, about killing characters and burying their plot arcs with them? About adding more characters that spiral out of control? Yeah, that's the definition of Malazan, minus the extreme care Martin has for continuity and interconnected plot lines. It even introduces an entire new continent midway through the series, come on! At least judge everything by the same standards...

Martin can only be accused that he introduced the Martell and Greyjoy characters later in the series, but The Martells and The Greyjoys, Dorne and The Iron Island, as geopolitical actors were introduced from the start in highly memorable ways since Book One (via the Greyjoy Rebellion and the deaths of Elia Martell and her children). The irony is expanding these nations and giving them a major role in the story was always a requirement if the series was going to be any good.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 10/19/2017 at 7:54 PM, The Coconut God said:

Politics and geopolitics do not resume themselves to the map on the front page and cultural templates. It's more about the interactions and dynamics that exist within the governing structures of the kingdoms as well as between the kingdoms themselves as political entities. These interactions and dynamics are very interesting compared to fantasy in general.

Actually, interactions and dynamics between the different kingdoms is what I thought was the weakest point of his worldbuilding. Compared to the differences of the different races and cultures in say, Lord of the Rings, Wheel of Time or even a YA like Sword of Truth. The whole, everyone is named Lord as to not confuse anyone seemed very lazy to me. Westerlands have mines, the Reach has food and the Stormlands have storms and warriors = generic at best. 

On 10/19/2017 at 7:54 PM, The Coconut God said:

The point the reviewer is making is ridiculous, long gaps between books are not a "risk" for the publisher. The publisher has ways to compensate for that if the series is popular and still make money (did you not notice the release of TWoIaF, the Dunk&Egg collected illustrated short stories, the illustrated anniversary edition of AGoT, that little book with Tyrion quotes, etc.?).

The risk is only from readers, since readers dictate what will and won't be in demand, and readers are just as likely to abandon the fantasy epic because of disappointing endings to popular series (which is already a bit of a trend) as they are to do it because ASoIaF is taking a long time to write. It is an extremely hypocritical argument with no correct answer except the highly unrealistic "write fast and really well".

Well, sorry to say but what the reviewer said was true. It has been a complaint in the fantasy genre for several years that high fantasy manuscripts are no longer being accepted by large publishers... The business has changed but is it GRRMs fault though? Hard to say. 

 

On 10/19/2017 at 7:54 PM, The Coconut God said:

I read 9/10 of Erikson's initial series, didn't bother with Esslemont, nor will I.

Erikson is a very interesting case, and I find it ironic that you would recommend him in the context of this discussion, because he is a perfect example of the disadvantages of rushing your books.

When he's good, Erikson is excellent, and I remember some very memorable scenes from that series. The problem is, he rarely keeps it up. He's writing books like a Bangladeshi textile worker, in a mad dash to complete 1.000 pages a year, so he doesn't have time to smooth his work, and you can literally feel his bad days in the text.

You also can't possibly like the Malazan series and at the same time agree with Keely's review. You know all the stuff he said about chaining false endings, about killing characters and burying their plot arcs with them? About adding more characters that spiral out of control? Yeah, that's the definition of Malazan, minus the extreme care Martin has for continuity and interconnected plot lines. It even introduces an entire new continent midway through the series, come on! At least judge everything by the same standards...

Martin can only be accused that he introduced the Martell and Greyjoy characters later in the series, but The Martells and The Greyjoys, Dorne and The Iron Island, as geopolitical actors were introduced from the start in highly memorable ways since Book One (via the Greyjoy Rebellion and the deaths of Elia Martell and her children). The irony is expanding these nations and giving them a major role in the story was always a requirement if the series was going to be any good.

I mentionned Malazan as an example of series written or inspired by more than one person. I recommend it because the world-building and magic system is very fun and well constructed. Also, the marines are freaking hilarious and entertaining. 

Which death in Malazan buried a plotline? All the Bridgeburners are technically still around, sorry if this is a spoiler. All the deaths were important, unless it was a throaway character. Some were epic and some were tragic. The Malazan world / cast is large to the extreme, but it is far from out of control. 

Also very funny you say that about Erikson when he is PRAISED by his fans for "keeping it up" in each installment while still writing fast. His books all have the same ratings except the one that took the longest to write. From what I know, the Letheri plotline is also the most popular amongst fans. 

However, I do not recommend Erikson's Kharkanas stories nor Esslemonts first few books until Dancer's Lament - mostly because I find the Crimson Guard a bit less entertaining and dislike the andii - damn they boring. I stil read them because I like the setting, just like I would not recommend ADWD but still enjoy it because of the setting in Planetos. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 10/21/2017 at 5:36 AM, Spilledguts said:

Actually, interactions and dynamics between the different kingdoms is what I thought was the weakest point of his worldbuilding. Compared to the differences of the different races and cultures in say, Lord of the Rings, Wheel of Time or even a YA like Sword of Truth. The whole, everyone is named Lord as to not confuse anyone seemed very lazy to me. Westerlands have mines, the Reach has food and the Stormlands have storms and warriors = generic at best. 

I disagree with you here, and I also think you missed my point... To you, good worldbuilding means imaginative diversity. Tolkien has a bunch of culturally different races, Erikson has... a ton of stuff, Mieville has a visually rich and innovative world as well... But all of this is static. They don't automatically translate to good interactions and dynamics.

There's no juicy history in LotR, there's only mythology (you have the "way back then" and the "right now", as opposed to Martin, where the events of Robert's Rebellion are deeply connected to the current story, both causally and dramatically). There's no political complexity to situations that by all accounts should be political (such as Aragorn returning to the throne of Gondor, and even the decision to send Frodo to Mordor with the Ring). I get it that Keely likes his fantasy that way (and perhaps you do as well). but such a story has very little value for a modern, politically literate reader. The morals don't apply to real world situation and the plot is transparently unrealistic.

I can appreciate the concept behind highly imaginative and rich worlds like Erikson and Mieville created, but when these worlds are ultimately filled with inconsistencies, contradictions and weak characters, the good concept isn't going to save them in my eyes.

The Malazan series has so many larger than life threats and characters, so many things that can destroy towns and armies (and maybe more) that you start asking yourself "Why are there any towns and conventional armies in this world?". There are so many random people that turn into gods and goddesses, so many eldritch powers that fizzle out without achieving anything, so many characters that die and are resurrected and die again (don't ask me for examples because it's all a blur to me) that you can't take anything seriously. It's like a soap opera or long-running anime series with high magic - all flare and dazzle but no depth. Overall, this mishmash undermines the bits and pieces that are actually cool (such as Coltaine's March).

Similarly, Mieville starts Perdido Street Station with the premise of an oppressive, 1984-esque Government that has spies everywhere and holds the town in an iron grip, but later introduces so many things that are outside this government's knowledge, or beyond its control, that the entire premise becomes pointless... and indeed it doesn't serve any thematic purpose, it is merely one of a series of concepts the author rolls in and out of the story to showcase his imagination. But in the end each of these concepts is weakened by how poorly it connects with the rest.

As for your complaint about ASoIaF... Again, it boils down to geography and language nitpicks. And really, the geography is fine, they all have grains, mines, soldiers and everything else, it's just that kingdoms are known for what they are best at, the same way you identified France with wines, Germany with warriors and beer, Italy with art and religion, Great Britain with bad weather and colonialism, breadbasket countries (Ukraine, Romania, etc) with fertile lands and peasants, etc. As for the language, everyone in Westeros is descended from Andals and First Men, and these two came from the same region of Essos, so it's realistic that they would have similar languages that blended into one (and in Dorne, where there was a later Rhoynish influence, there are different titles, such as Prince and Seneschal).

On 10/21/2017 at 5:36 AM, Spilledguts said:

Well, sorry to say but what the reviewer said was true. It has been a complaint in the fantasy genre for several years that high fantasy manuscripts are no longer being accepted by large publishers... The business has changed but is it GRRMs fault though? Hard to say. 

If this is indeed happening, it is much more likely due to market saturation. There's already such a thing as a Top 51 Best Fantasy Series (!!!), which means if you read an average of one series a year, you're already set for most of your adult life. Unless a drastic jump in quality happens in fantasy writing (particularly the quality expected by readers in order to keep buying), or fantasy based on different cultures and time periods than medieval Eurasia become more mainstream, there's little need to invest in new series. As a new reader, you can pick one of these and you don't need to wait, and as a publisher you can just keep reprinting them.

If anything, Martin could open the way for a wave of more complex, less pulpy fantasy, but first he needs to prove that such an approach can have a satisfying ending.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now