10 December 2011

Books: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (1996)

Why, fifteen years after its publication am I finally getting to A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R.R. Martins epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire? After all, I’ve been a fan of epic fantasy for nearly 30 years. I’ve read so much of the genre, why not this?

As I’ve written before, part of the reason I’ve sort of abandoned the genre is due to its length, and the number of years between volumes. It started with Robert Jordan and his Wheel of Time series. Begun in 1992, Jordan said the series was to be seven volumes- I’m of the opinion that most series should be only three volumes. Anyways, after a year between books, the publication dates got longer and it became clear Jordan had no intention of making the Wheel series 7 books. And tragically, Jordan would never live to see his series end, as he passed away in September of 2007, even though he was –supposedly- one volume away from finishing it. When Brandon Sanderson was chosen to finish the series, using Jordan’s copious notes, he realized that it could not be done in only one volume. Yes, the final book would be split into three.

But even Sanderson ran into some problems finishing it. The first volume was released in November 2009, the second a year later with the last planned for November 2011. But now the final volume will be released in March of 2012 -20 years after it began. 

That, to me, is way too long to wait for a conclusion. 

And I think, Martin’s series will take just as long, but will only be (supposedly) seven volumes. Between 1996 and 2005 he put out 4 books in the series. It took 6 more years for book five, to finally  find its place on the bookshelves, which was released this past July. With 2 more books to go –and Martin recently said he’s at work on book six, and is estimating it will be about 1,500 pages- and even if it takes him another five years between each, he’ll finish them in 2021, some 25 years after it began. 

Again, that is way too long to force fans to wait. 

Of course, the HBO series based on the first book also spurned an interest to finally begin this series. I’ve yet to see it, but I thought this first book was good, and I’m kind of excited to see. After all, the series has gotten a lot of praise, including a few Emmys. But here lies a problem. Season two, which launches in 2012, is based on book two of the series. A third season, while not confirmed with HBO, is already in the works for 2013. If the cable net wants to continue to the end, theoretically, season 4 would air in 2014, season five in 2015, which means Martin would need to get book six out by 2015 -just four years from now- to be ready by 2016. And the span between book 6 and 7 gets shorter to be ready to air on HBO by 2017. It's all speculation, for sure, and interest of viewers have a tendency to wane, so who knows if HBO will want to finish the novels.

So, A Game of Thrones is well written, despite its length and 500,000 characters you are desperately trying to remember (this was what eventually caused me to put Jordan’s series down) and the multiple names of Gods and objects. If anyone has watched The Tudors, this series is just like it – except it’s a dysfunctional family multiplied by 7 kingdoms. Everyone is out for power, for glory and will kill as quickly as they breathe. It’s extremely violent, with enough spouting blood to fill a few Stephen King novels.

But that being said, Martin has created a very real world of say 13th Century England. It’s not a pleasant place to live, and treachery, faith and great river are never far away. But he balances the violence with humor –the character of Tyrion appears to be Martin’s favorite (and the fans love him, and actor Peter Dinklage won an Emmy for portraying him as well). 

So book two looms next, though I might skip it to finish Tad Williams Shadowmarch series.

No comments: