THE OLD ADAGE ABOUT IRISH PLAYS IS THAT THEY COULD END AT ANY POINT IN THE STORY AND IT WOULDN’T MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
WE OFFICIALLY HAVE THE IRISH PLAYS OF FANTASY LITERATURE.
FIRST OFF, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS, THE FIFTH BOOK IN GEORGE R.R. MARTIN’S SONG OF ICE AND FIRE SERIES, IS MUCH, MUCH BETTER THAN ITS PREDECESSOR A FEAST FOR CROWS. BUT IN THE INTEREST OF BEING A COMPLETE DICK, SO ARE MOST THINGS.(1) BUT THAT OKAY. HULK WILL TAKE A MARKED IMPROVEMENT OVER REGRESSION ANY DAY OF WEEK.
PERHAPS THE SINGULAR REASON THE NEW BOOK SO MUCH BETTER THAT WE NOW BACK WITH ALL THE GOOD CHARACTERS: DAENERYS, TYRION, JON SNOW, THAT OTHER GUY(2), AND HEY THEON’S BACK! YOU REMEMBER ALL THOSE CHARACTERS, RIGHT? THE ONES WITH PERSONALITY AND RANGE OF EMOTION AND THE STUFF THAT MAKES US WANT READ THINGS. FUCK, EVEN BRAN HAS SOME NICE PARTS IN THIS ONE.
BUT MR. MARTIN GOES ONE BETTER THAN MERELY BRINGING THEM BACK AND ACTUALLY GIVES THEM STUFF TO DO! HE EVEN HAS THE GALL TO MAKE CHAPTERS HAVE RELATIVE POINTS, FURTHER DEVELOP HIS CHARACTERS, AND ADVANCE THE PLOT. SERIOUSLY! HULK KNOW! AFTER THE CROWS DISASTER HE ALMOST MAKES THE CONCEPT OF NARRATIVE FEEL REVOLUTIONARY.
FOR INSTANCE, THE BEST PART OF DRAGONS THAT TYRION’S JOURNEY = AN ACTUAL JOURNEY. EACH ONE OF HIS CHAPTERS FOCUS ON NEW PART OF HIS TRAVELS, OFTEN WITH NEW, INTERESTING CHARACTERS BEING INVOLVED. THERE CONSTANT THREATS TO HIS PERSON YET EACH CHAPTER FEEL UNIQUE IN WAY THAT MAKE THE WHOLE THING WORK. AND THE INCLUSION OF PENNY EVEN SEEMS TO ORGANICALLY CHANGE HIS CHARACTER’S STUBBORN AND SELF-CENTERED VIEWPOINT… A BIT. (3) BEST YET, EACH ONE OF HIS CHAPTERS IMBUED WITH REAL NARRATIVE DIRECTION. IT BY FAR THE BEST PART OF THE BOOK.
THEN THERE DAENERYS(4) WHO AT THE END OF A STORM OF SWORDS STAYED TO RULE MEREEN AND NOW WE GET TO SEE WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED WITH ALL THAT. HULK WAS HONESTLY EXCITED ABOUT PROSPECT. DANY’S TRANSITION FROM HER MEEK START IN A GAME OF THRONES THROUGH HER RISE TO GLORY AT THE END OF SWORDS BY FAR THE BEST THING ABOUT THE BOOKS. HER CHARACTER HAVE THE BEST ARC OUT OF ANYONE AND IT SUPER-DUPER COMPELLING.(5)
BUT REALLY WHAT WONDERFUL HOW MUCH DANY’S CHAPTERS SET HER APART FROM WHAT MARTIN DID WITH CERSEI’S RULE IN CROWS. DANY’S RULE LITTERED WITH INTRIGUE, THREATS, DEATH, AFFAIRS, BABY-EATING AND OTHER INTERESTING STUFF. PLUS, IT A SURPRISINGLY NICE TAKE ON THE COMPLEXITY OF RULING POLITICS. MEANWHILE, CERSEI’S RULE PRETTY MUCH JUST COMPRISED HER SAYING BITCHY THINGS IN HER MIND AND NOT REALLY DOING MUCH OF ANYTHING. THEN WE JUST WATCH THAT IDIOT TUMBLE IN SLOW MOTION AFTER A SERIES OF BORING, REALLY STUPID HIRES/MOVES. HULK COULD BUY ALL THIS AS WAY OF SHOWING HOW DANY COMPETENT AND CERSEI NOT, BUT THAT A BIT OF A STRETCH (THERE’S NO JUXTAPOSITION AND NO ECONOMY). AND BEST OF ALL, WHEN DANY’S RULE STARTS TO BLOW UP IN ALL SORTS OF DRAGON-Y GOODNESS, SER BARRISTAN WHIPS OUT HIS HUGE GONADS AND STARTS TAKING CARE OF SHIT. IT GREAT.
JON SNOW HAS SOME NICE POLITICKING AT THE WALL TOO. HULK ACTUALLY HUGE FAN OF HIS MOVES ON THE WALL, UNDERSTANDING THAT THE WILDLINGS HAVE TO COME OVER BECAUSE EVERY LIVING BODY ON THAT SIDE OF THE WALL JUST A WIGHT/ENEMY WAITING TO HAPPEN. SO HULK LIKED IT ALL HONESTLY. THE GIANTS. THE WILDINGS. THE BANK GUY. HIS PLAN WITH MANCE. THE RESENTING MEMBERS OF THE NIGHTS WATCH. AND THEN… WELL… WE’LL GET TO HIS ENDING LATER.
AND THEON! THEON’S BACK EVERYONE! REMEMBER THEON! THAT IMPORTANT CHARACTER WHO ALL BUT FUCKING DISAPPEARED FOR SOME REASON HULK CAN NO EVEN REMEMBER? WELL, HE BACK! AND HE NUTS. NOT LIKE NUTS = AWESOME, BUT LIKE NUTS = CRAZY PERSON. TURNS OUT HE BEEN LEFT IN DOWN RAMSEY BOLTON’S DUNGEON TO STARVE AND BE FLAYED AND ALL SORTS OF OTHER HORROR. HE MISSING FINGERS AND TEETH AND THINGS. ANYCRAP, HE NOW RETURNED TO BE AN INTEGRAL PART OF ALMOST EVERY SINGLE THING GOING ON THIS BOOK… IT SORT OF WEIRD.
OH, AND THEON ALSO GETS TO HAVE THE OBLIGATORY STUPID, REPETITIVE GEORGE R.R. MARTIN-ISM THIS GO-ROUND WITH HIS WHOLE “REEK, REEK, IT RHYMES WITH ____” THING … IT ANNOYING BUT AT LEAST IT NOT ABOUT NIPPLES.
EVEN BRAN DOING STUFF! THERE ACTUALLY A PRETTY GNARLY WIGHT ATTACK AND THEN HE GET TO DO SOME PRETTY COOL THINGS IN A CAVE WHERE HE SEE THE WORLD NOW THROUGH A BIG TREE… HULK SERIOUS. HE HOOKIN UP WITH THE CHILDREN OF THE FOREST AND IT ALL TIGHT + ECONOMICAL + MYTHOLOGY-INVOLVED. PLUS HE GETS MOMENT THAT REMINDS HULK OF THE BEST ONION BY-LINE EVER WRITTEN.
AND DAMMIT IF THE RE-INTRODUCTION OF VARYS ISN’T THE BOOK’S SAVING THROW.
PLUS THERE A BUNCH OF OTHER PEOPLE! LIKE THE TOAD-LIKE MARTELL PRINCE WHO SORTA DUMB AND SWEET, BUT HAS ONE REALLY, REALLY, REALLY BAD IDEA. THEN ANOTHER TARGARYEN HEIR SHOWS UP. AND HE WITH SOME COOL, OLD GUY CALLED THE GRIFFIN. PLUS THERE BUNCH OF OF PEOPLE FROM LAST BOOK WHO SHOW UP: STANNIS HAS REALLY NEAT IDEA TO ROUND UP THE HIGHLAND CLANS FOR HIS WAR, BUT THEN THINKS HE CAN MARCH THROUGH A BLIZZARD. ARYA GOES THROUGH THIS BLINDNESS TEST, STARTS TO GET HER WARG ON, GETS EMBRACED BY HER FACE-CHANGING CULT, AND THEN KILLS A DUDE. AND JEYNE POOL GETS A REALLY, REALLY, REALLY AWFUL COMEUPPANCE FOR PRETENDING TO BE ARYA. PLUS SOME OTHER STUFF!
AND THAT WHY HULK REALLY FELT THIS ONE AN IMPROVEMENT OVER LAST ONE. STUFF HAPPENS! IT A LOT OF IT = SIGNIFICANT, IMPORTANT, INTERESTING, AND GOOD.
THERE STILL THE BIG PROBLEMS…THE KIND OF PROBLEMS THAT ENSURE THAT A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE WILL ULTIMATELY JUST END UP A ZERO SUM GAME.
LET’S FACE IT FOLKS. THERE NEVER GOING TO BE A COHESIVE NARRATIVE TO THIS FUCKER. MARTIN KEEPS ARRANGING ELEMENTS WHERE WE GO “COOL! NOW THIS SET UP NARRATIVE TO ALL CLASH TOGETHER AND CREATE INTERESTING CONFLICTS.” BUT NO. THAT NOT HAPPEN. THINGS NEVER LINE UP. OUR CHARACTERS NEVER GET TO FACE THE CONFLICTS THEY SEEK. THINGS FIZZLE OUT. SOMETHING COMPLETELY RANDOM COMES IN THE WAY. AND AS RESULT ALL DRAMATIC TENSION RELEASED.
THEY STORIES SOMEHOW MANAGE TO BE COMPLETELY MYOPIC (HE SO FOCUSED ON DIVING INTO THE SCENE AT HAND THAT HE LOSE TRACK OF THE NARRATIVE STEAM HAPPENING ELSEWHERE IN THE STORY) AND YET HE ALSO AIM FOR SOME REALLY STRANGE LONG-FORM REVEALS. HULK GUESS HE JUST TRYING TO RAM HOME THE LENNON-ESQUE BELIEVE THAT “LIFE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU’RE MAKING OTHER PLANS.” OR WAIT, WAIT. HULK GOT ANOTHER ONE THAT BETTER: “IF YOU WANT TO MAKE GOD LAUGH, TELL HIM YOUR PLANS.” …OR SOMETHING… BASICALLY IF YOU EVER MAKE ANY SORT OF PLAN FOR LIFE IN THIS THINGS YOU’RE FUCKED.(6)
SO MAYBE MARTIN JUST TRYING TO PROVE THAT LIFE COMPRISED OF NOTHING BUT RANDOM, NON-STOP HORRIBLE-NESS… FINE. BUT THE WAY THESE ACCIDENTS STRUCTURED REMOVE ALL SENSE OF WEIGHT FROM THE NARRATIVE. WHICH MEAN IT NOT THAT LIFE HAS NO TRUE PURPOSE, BUT THAT THE ARC HAS NO TRUE PURPOSE. EACH EVENT IN THE STORY ULTIMATELY JUST MEANS THE SAME THING AS ANY OTHER DULL EVENT. IT JUST LIKE THE IRISH PLAYS. BAD THINGS KEEP HAPPENING AND THEY GO ON AND ON AND ON AND THE “ENDING” SEEMS JUST AS RANDOM. KNOW WHY EVERYONE LIKE DANY SO MUCH? BECAUSE SHE A CHARACTER WITH A JOURNEY AND ARC. THAT PRETTY MUCH IT. ALMOST EVERY OTHER CHARACTER BASICALLY BEEN SLOGGING THROUGH NONSENSE FROM THE START OF THE SECOND BOOK, WITH NO REAL SENSE OF ENDING AND BEGINNING, NO PUNCTUATION MARKS… IT THE IRISH PLAYS OF FANTASY.
HERE’S WHY THAT SUCH A BIG PROBLEM: IF THIS THE GOAL OF THE BOOKS TO PROVE THAT LIFE IS A RANDOM, NON-STOP HORROR, THEN IT STILL FAILING AT EXHIBITING THAT. WHY? BECAUSE THERE STILL A WAY TO SHOW THAT NEGATIVE WORLD VIEW IN A DRAMATIC WAY. FOR EXAMPLE, THERE’S THE WIRE. WHILE THAT SHOW FAR MORE CONCERNED WITH THE CAUSE/EFFECT OF PERSONAL CHOICES AND THEIR EFFECT ON OTHERS (THESE BOOKS SEEM TO SAY IT MUCH MORE RANDOM) THE SHOW STILL EXPOSED A WORLD OF CYCLICAL INSTITUTIONAL HORRIBLE-NESS. LIKE MARTIN’S BOOKS, THERE WERE THOSE WHO WERE WELL-MEANING AND THOSE WHO WERE DESTRUCTIVE, BUT BECAUSE THE SHOW INTRINSICALLY UNDERSTOOD THE PRINCIPALS OF DRAMA, THEY MADE THE THEMES + STORY FUCKING ENTHRALLING.
NEED PROOF THESE BOOKS NO UNDERSTAND DRAMA? LET’S GET SPECIFIC. DANCE WITH DRAGONS CONFIRMS ALL THE BIG PROBLEMS IN SERIES MAY NOW JUST PLAGUE THEM FOREVER. FOR EXAMPLE… ACTUALLY… YOU KNOW WHAT?
THERE MAY BE BETTER WAY TO APPROACH THIS…
IT SEEMS LIKE A GOOD TIME FOR AN INTERVENTION WITH GEORGE .R.R. MARTIN. WHAT YOU SAY? WE ALL CARE ABOUT HIM, RIGHT? THERE ENOUGH GOOD STUFF IN THIS SERIES THAT IT WORTH SAVING. HECK, WE ALL FEEL LIKE FRIENDS AND FAMILY HERE, HAVING GOTTEN A GOOD LOOK INTO MARTIN’S MESSED-UP PSYCHE. AND HULK THINK MR. MARTIN REDEEMABLE FOR SURE. ALL PEOPLE ARE. SO HERE GOES…
HEY GEORGE! HULK KNOW YOU STILL MAD AT HULK ABOUT THAT LAST ARTICLE. HULK SORRY. BUT HULK REALLY PROUD THAT YOU START TO TURN THINGS AROUND WITH THIS BOOK. THE PROBLEM THAT HULK STILL WORRIED ABOUT YOU AND THE DIRECTION OF THE SERIES. SO TO ADDRESS THIS, HERE ARE SEVEN PIECES OF ADVICE:
1) STOP RESOLVING NARRATIVES SO LATE THAT NO ONE GIVES A FUCK.
WHO COULD FORGET THAT NEAR-ABSURD MOMENT IN SWORDS WHERE SUDDENLY WE TREATED TO THE REVEAL OF WHO GAVE THE DAGGER THAT WAS USED TO TRY AND KILL BRAN? IT WAS SUCH AN AMAZING “HULK COMPLETELY FORGOT ABOUT THAT” MOMENT, SOON FOLLOWED BY ANOTHER REVEAL OF WHO KILLED JON ARRYN. TWO MYSTERIES FROM THE FIRST BOOK, FINALLY DEALT WITH IN THE THIRD, AND DONE SO IN THE MOST UNDRAMATIC WAY POSSIBLE. SADLY, THIS KIND OF REVEAL HAS BECOME COMPLETELY PAR FOR THIS SERIES.
FOR INSTANCE, IN THE LAST HALF OF DRAGONS, MARTIN SUDDENLY START OFFERING UP ALL THE PSEUDO-CONCLUSIONS TO THE STORIES LAID OUT IN CROWS. WHICH, YOU KNOW, COMPLETELY ROBS THEM OF ANY NARRATIVE WEIGHT SINCE THEY ARRIVE AFTER THE SENSE OF TENSION BEEN LIFTED OUT OF THEIR STORIES. REMEMBER HOW THAT BOOK CAME OUT FIVE FUCKING YEARS AGO? YEAH. CERSEI’S WALK OF SHAME WOULDA BEEN MUCH MORE RESONANT/CATHARTIC/HARROWING AFTER SUFFERING THROUGH ALL THE CRAP DECISIONS IN HER RULE. IT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE CLIMACTIC POINT TO A STORY THAT TOOK HUNDREDS OF PAGES TO TELL. AND THEN THERE THE MATTER THAT MOST PEOPLE FORGOT ARYA WOKE UP BLIND AT THE END OF LAST BOOK, SO IT DIDN’T MATTER HAVING IT FINALLY BE ADDRESSED. AND POOR BRIENNE, WHOSE STORY STILL UNRESOLVED AFTER THIS NEW BOOK AND WHO APPARENTLY DOING ALL SORTS OF INTERESTED THINGS ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF THE NARRATIVE. UGH. AND SAMWELL? HE NOT EVEN MENTIONED. THAT OTHER GUY, DAVOS? HE GET INVOLVED IN SOME KIND OF COOL PLAN WITH MANDERLY AT WHITE HARBOR THEN PROMPTLY DISAPPEARS FROM THE BOOK. SANSA? IN CROWS WE LEFT WITH A COOL PLAN AND THE INCLINATION FOR A GRAND REVEAL, BUT IT STILL NOT EVEN CLOSE TO HAPPENING. AND WHAT HAPPENED TO THE CROW’S EYE? HE GOT PRETTY BAD ASS INTRO IN LAST BOOK AND HE NOT IN THIS AT ALL. THESE DECISIONS ALL DEEPLY PROBLEMATIC FOR THE DRAMA OF THE STORY.
AND GOOD GOD, THEON. THE REINTRODUCTION TO THEON ACTUALLY STARTLING AND RATHER WELL-DONE, BUT DUE TO THE LENGTH WHICH HE BEEN GONE IT END UP PUTTING READER IN REALLY WEIRD EMOTIONAL PLACE. THE SHIT WITH WINTERFELL FEEL LIKE HAPPENED SO LONG AGO THAT THERE NO LONGER ANY CONFLICTED RESENTMENT. YOU JUST BASICALLY FEEL AWFUL FOR HIM. HIS TURN-CLOAKING ON OUR BELOVED CHARACTERS HAPPENED SO LONG AGO THAT WHO GIVES FUCK? AND LOOK, HULK TOTALLY UNDERSTAND THAT WE SUPPOSED TO FEEL AWFUL FOR HIM BECAUSE HE BEEN THROUGH HELL WITH RAMSEY, BUT DRAMATICALLY-SPEAKING WE SHOULD BE COMING AROUND ON HIM. INSTEAD, IT BEEN SO LONG THAT WE JUST INSTANTLY FEEL BAD FOR HIM RIGHT FROM THE START. IT COMPLETELY WRONG TONE. A TOTAL MISFIRE.
2) STOP TRYING TO DEFY EXPECTATIONS ALL THE TIME
AND HERE THE REAL RUB ABOUT #1, ALL THOSE NARRATIVES THAT YOU PUT ON THE BACK BURNER? MOST OF TIME THEY WILL NEVER GET ADDRESSED.
HULK GET WHY YOU TRYING TO DEFYING EXPECTATIONS ALL THE TIME. DOING SO GAVE YOU THE SIGNATURE MOMENT OF THE SERIES (NED’S MOMENT AT BAELOR), BUT YOUR INCESSANT NEED TO KEEP DOING IT WITH EVERYTHING SINGLE PLOT TOTALLY RUINING THE SERIES. KNOW WHAT MAKES DEFYING EXPECTATIONS SO GOOD? THAT IT UNEXPECTED. SO WHEN IT HAPPEN IN EVERY PLOT-LINE IT THEN BECOME, YOU KNOW, EXPECTED. WHICH BASICALLY MEAN YOU TAKE PROVERBIAL DUMP ON THE CONCEPT OF DRAMA BECAUSE WE ALREADY KNOW THINGS ARE LIKELY GOING TO GO TO SHIT AT ANY POSSIBLE SECOND. WE READ THE ENDLESS SLOG AND JUST SITTING THERE WAITING FOR THE OTHER SHOE TO DROP.
BUT INSTEAD OF WORRYING ABOUT HOW TO INJECT DRAMA, YOU WORRY ABOUT FINDING NEW WAYS TO DEFY-EXPECTATIONS WITH CHEAP MANEUVERS. LIKE IN THIS BOOK WE SUDDENLY INTRODUCED TO A NEW TARGARYEN OFFSPRING. HE DEALT WITH ECONOMICALLY AND HULK GUESS IN SOMEWHAT INTERESTING WAY TO BE INTRODUCED (SORT OF), BUT ALL OF A SUDDEN HE THE ONE WREAKING HAVOC IN WESTEROS WITH SOME OTHER GUY new CALLED THE GRIFFIN. EXPECTATION-DEFYING? SURE. BUT IT SO NEW AND NOT BUILT ON ANY SORT OF DRAMATIC FOUNDATION THAT IT HAVE NO REAL MEANING TO US… IT JUST SORT OF THIS THING THAT HAPPENING.
AND DON’T EVEN GET HULK STARTED ON FACT THAT ALL THE DRAMA HAPPEN OFF-PAGE. ROOSE BOLTON TAKES DOWN STANNIS’ HOST AND WE FIND OUT IN A LETTER (MAYBE, YET ANOTHER ONE OF THE ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES OF FAKE OUTS, BUT LET US ASSUME IT TRUE). IT COMPLETE OVER-COMMITMENT TO CATCHING THE READER OFF GUARD INSTEAD OF MAKING THINGS DRAMATIC. WOULDN’T A SCENE OF BOLTON GETTING STANNIS BEEN WONDERFUL TO READ AFTER ALL THE BUILDUP? HULK FUCKING SURE OF IT. AND IT NOT LIKE MARTIN CAN’T WRITE THESE SEQUENCES (FOR A GUY WHO USES VERY LITTLE ACTION, HE ACTUALLY VERY, VERY GOOD AT WRITING ACTION). AND IT NOT EVEN NEED ACTION, JUST A TENSE MEETING.
IT THE CORE FUNDEMENTAL ASPECT OF DRAMA: SHOW DON’T FUCKING TELL. AND YET IN ORDER TO CONSTRUCT THESE LAME, BLUNT “SURPRISES” HE JUST TELLS THE MAJOR-MOMENTS OF THE STORY OFF-SCREEN AND AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. (6B) IMAGINE IF NED’S MOMENT WAS RELAYED IN A LETTER!
AND JUST SO YOU KNOW GEORGE, HULK NOT EVEN TALKING ABOUT THE TIMES YOU TRY TO SHOCKING US (THAT A LATER POINT).
SOME MAY ARGUE HULK BEING PUNY-MINDED AND NOT SEEING THE BIGGER PICTURE OF HOW INGENIOUS MARTIN IS AT TELLING HIS STORY. THAT HE PLAYING HULK PERFECTLY AND HULK TOO CAUGHT UP IN CONVENTIONAL DRAMA AESTHETICS. THAT MAYBE HULK CAN JUST NO TAKE IT WHEN AUTHOR “NO DO SOMETHING HULK NO LIKE.”
SERIOUSLY? THAT WHAT YOU THINK GOING ON HERE? BULLSHIT. THESE BOOKS CONSTRUCT THE DRAMA BEYOND POORLY. END OF STORY.
3) DON’T MAKE EVERY CHAPTER EXACTLY 18-20 PAGES
THERE THIS WEIRD THING YOU DO WHERE ALMOST EVERY SINGLE CHAPTER EXACTLY 18-20 PAGES IN EVERY SINGLE BOOK. IT PRETTY BIZARRE (NOTE: IN THE HARDBACK EDITIONS WITH BIGGER PAGES IT COME OUT TO 16 OR SO, WHICH 18-20 IN THE PAPERBACKS). IT NOT NECESSARILY INDICATIVE OF AN INHERENT PROBLEM AND IT KIND OF NICE GETTING TO KNOW THE CHARACTERS BY SPENDING SO MUCH TIME WITH THEM. BUT IT DEFINITELY LEADING TO MOST OF THE STORY BLOAT GOING ON HERE. MOST OF THE TIME IT JUST SEEM LIKE YOU FILLING IN GAPS BEFORE YOU GET TO THE POINT OF CHAPTERS. SOMETIMES IT WORK OUT WELL, LIKE WITH THE TYRION CHAPTERS WHERE A LOT HAVE TO HAPPEN IN ORDER TO GET FROM POINT A TO POINT B. BUT MOST OF THE TIME IT JUST COMPLETELY ANNOYING. THE VAST MAJORITY OF THE CERSEI CHAPTERS CAN BE 8 PAGES AT MOST. AND BETTER YET, BREAKING UP THE CHAPTERS WOULD GIVE YOU BETTER OPPORTUNITY TO PLAY WITH FORM AND TIMING A BIT. A CHANCE TO LAYER THE NARRATIVE AND ACTION IN MORE CONSTRUCTIVE WAY. IT WOULD PROBABLY ALLOW YOU TO INCLUDE THE PARTS YOU WANT TO WRAP UP TOO. SO QUIT THE O.C.D. NONSENSE AND STOP MAKING EVERY CHAPTER 18-20 PAGES BECAUSE YOU’RE RUINING THE STORY.
4) STOP DOING CLIFFHANGERS
YOU WRITE 1000 PAGE BOOKS. NOT WEEKLY SERIALS. YOU UNDERSTAND THE BASIC DIFFERENCE RIGHT? AFTER A READER SLOG THROUGH 1000 PAGES OF HEDGE NIGHT NAMES AND IN-DEPTH NIPPLE DESCRIPTION THEY DON’T WANT INCONCLUSIVE WTF GARBAGE TO CAP THE STORY. THAT STUFF WORKS AT THE END OF TRUE BLOOD. IT NOT WORK AT THE END OF YOUR HALF-DECADE-LY MINI-OPUSES. AN 1000 PAGE BOOK THAT COMES OUT EVERY 6 YEARS SHOULD, BY SHEER REQUIREMENT, BE REGARDED AS A SINGULAR AND SATIFYING EXPERIENCE ONTO ITSELF, EVEN IT IT PART OF A LARGER STORY. THERE JUST NO SENSE IN USING A CLIFFHANGER BECAUSE YOU LOSING THE ONLY THING THAT VALUE . HULK WILL COME BACK TO A SERIES 6 YEARS LATER BECAUSE IT GOOD, NOT BECAUSE HULK WANTED TO KNOW WHATEVER THE FUCK HAPPENED TO SO AND SO.
THINK ABOUT IT. THE BEST TV SHOWS KNOW THAT CLIFFHANGERS WORK GREAT IN WEEK-TO-WEEK EPISODES BUT COME OFF ENRAGING IN SEASON FINALES.(7) THE BEST SEASON FINALES RESOLVE THE MAIN ISSUES AT PLAY AND YET LEAVE THE VIEWER WITH A TASTE OF THE PROBLEMS TO COME IN THE NEXT YEAR. WHICH, YOU KNOW, EXACTLY WHAT YOUR AWESOME FIRST BOOK DID (AND LO AND BEHOLD IT WORKED GREAT IN THE TV SERIES). THINK ABOUT IT: IF CLIFFHANGERS WORK REALLY POORLY IN SEASON FINALES, THEY WORK EVEN WORSE IN 1000 PAGE BOOKS THAT COME OUT EVERY 6 YEARS… SO STOP IT.
5) STOP DOING PROLOGUES THAT BRING UP NEW STORY ELEMENTS THAT ARE NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN.
REMEMBER THE PROLOGUES FROM THE FIRST FEW BOOKS? THE PROLOGUE IN THRONES FANTASTIC. IT INTRODUCE THE WIGHTS AND THEN LONE SURVIVOR IMMEDIATELY KILLED BY NED, WHICH INTEGRATES THE STORY IMMEDIATELY. BETTER YET, THE SURVIVOR’S WARNING NOT HEEDED. SO WHEN JON SNOW WENT TO THE OH-SO-DANGEROUS WALL WHILE THE REST OF THE KINGDOM SQUABBLED, IT WORKED BEAUTIFULLY IN TERMS OF DRAMA. IN A CLASH OF KINGS, WE INTRODUCED HAUNTINGLY TO STANNIS AND MELISSANDRE (WHO CARES ABOUT THE SPELLING) AND THEIR CRAZY LORD OR LIGHT FANATICISM, ALL OF WHICH MAJOR PARTS OF THE STORY. IN SWORDS WE INTRODUCED TO SOME NIGHT’S WATCHMEN PLANNING TO DESERT AND KILL SOME MAIN CHARACTERS, A PLOT WHICH LATER COMES TO CLIMAX LATER IN THE BOOK.
AND THEN FOR SOME REASON, THE PROLOGUE FOR CROWS HAVE THIS WEIRD THING ABOUT OLDTOWN AND THE MAESTERS AND A KID WHO DIES FOR SOME STRANGE REASON. THEN THE BOOK ENDS JUST BY REINTRODUCING THIS KID WHO WE GUESS ABOUT TO DIE OR BE IMPORTANT OR SOMETHING, BUT THAT LITERALLY ALL THAT HAPPEN. WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT MEANT. AND THE THE NEXT 1000 + PAGE BOOK FOLLOWS AND IT STILL NOT ADDRESSED WHATSOEVER. AT THIS POINT HULK COULD HONESTLY CARE LESS ABOUT WHAT IT MEANT. AND LASTLY, THERE THE PROLOGUE IN DRAGONS WHERE WE INTRODUCED TO A WILDLING WE BARELY/DON’T REMEMBER, VARAMYR SIXSKINS, AND HE DIE AND GO INTO SOME WOLF BUT THIS NOT REALLY RELEVANT TO ANYTHING IN ANY WAY. AT LEAST THAT WE KNOW OF SO FAR. ONE FRIEND TRIED TELL HULK THAT IT SETTING UP WHAT HAPPENING WITH BRAN, BUT ALL THE WAYS WARGS WORK ALREADY BEEN ESTABLISHED. THERE NO NEW INFORMATION. SO UNLESS THE WOLVES PLOT BECAME PART OF THIS BOOK IT JUST NOT RELEVANT. MAYBE IT WILL COME BACK NEXT BOOK BUT GUESS WHAT? HULK NOT REALLY CARE BECAUSE WE LIKE 9 YEARS AWAY FROM NEXT BOOK.
SO HOW ABOUT A PROLOGUE BEING BROUGHT BACK INTO THE SAME BOOK IN AN INTEGRAL WAY?
6) STOP WITH THE OBLIGATORY SHOCK VALUE
THIS, PERHAPS, THE BIGGEST ONE. HULK KNOW THIS ISSUE TIE INTO THE DEFYING EXPECTATIONS AND CLIFFHANGER PIECES OF ADVICE, BUT THIS COMMENT VERY SPECIFIC TO YOUR COMMITMENT SHOCK. AND YES, HULK MOST DEFINITELY TALKING ABOUT THE STABBING OF JON SNOW. ON ONE HAND, YOU COULD SUPPOSE THERE SOMETHING OF MERIT TO THE ACTION. HE HAD MADE SERIES OF ONGOING UNPOPULAR DECISIONS. HE HAD INSULATED HIMSELF AND SENT HIS BEST FRIENDS AWAY. HE HAD INVITED GIANTS INTO CAMP. AND HE ALWAYS EXPLAINED HIS REASONS FOR DOING SO VERY WELL INSIDE HIS HEAD, BUT NEVER THAT WELL TO HIS MEN (YOU KNOW, THE ONES HE HAD TO CONVINCE). SO YES, THESE ARE ALL THESE CONCEPTUAL REASONS THAT YOU COULD SUPPOSE A MUTINY WOULD MAKE SENSE.
BUT IT FELT LIKE YOU ONLY WROTE THE STABBING BECAUSE A) YOU WANTED TO SHOCK US OR B) YOU’RE SO IN ON “SHOCKING US” AT THIS POINT THAT YOU FELT LIKE YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO… BOTH OPTIONS HERE SUCK.
HULK MEAN, YOU COMPLETELY DESIGNED TO COME OUT OF NOWHERE, TO REPLICATED HOW IT FELT FOR JON HULK GUESS? UGH. THERE A CRUCIAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A READER BEING UNAWARE AND A CHARACTER BEING UNAWARE AND HOW THOSE ARE UTILIZED MATTER EXCEPTIONALLY. AND WORSE, HULK WENT OVER HOW IT WRITTEN, LIKE, FOUR TIMES AND IT ALL VERY VAGUE. YOU NOT EXACTLY SURE WHO DOING IT AND WHY. IT LIKE THE WHOLE THING DESIGNED TO MAKE US GO “OH NO! NOT JON!” AND NOTHING MORE. AND THIS OBVIOUSLY NOT THE FIRST SHOCK OFFENSE IN THE SERIES. THERE THE RED WEDDING (WHOSE AFTERMATH HANDLED PRETTY NICELY, BUT WHOSE BUILD-UP NON-EXISTENT). AND THEN THE DUMB FAKE-OUT KILLINGS OF ARYA, BRIENNE, ETC. LIKE THE DEFYING EXPECTATIONS, YOU SO CAUGHT UP IN TRYING TO SURPRISE THE READER COMPLETELY INSTEAD OF DRAMATIZING IT AND THEN SURPRISING US WITH A TURN.
SEE WHAT MADE THE NED STARK MOMENT SO GREAT THAT IT NOT RANDOM IN THE SLIGHTEST. THE WHOLE SCENE PLAYS OUT BEFORE US. WE HANG WITH THE MOMENTS OF TENSION. WE WONDER WILL IT/WON’T IT HAPPEN. BUT WE HAVE FAITH THAT IT WON’T, NOT BECAUSE IT NOT IMPOSSIBLE, NOT BECAUSE YOU’VE MISLED US, BUT BECAUSE WE WANT IT TO WORK OUT FOR NED. AND OUR WANTS ALWAYS WORK IN COORDINATION WITH THE ESCALATION OF CONFLICT. AND IN THE SCENARIO OF ACTUAL DRAMA THE BAD THINGS HAPPENING BECOME A TURN, SOMETHING WE EMOTIONAL AND SAD ABOUT, BUT STILL FEELS EARNED AND RESONANT. WHAT IT NOT IS A COMPLETE FUCKING SURPRISE.
BUT NO. INSTEAD YOU THINK THAT BECAUSE WE LOVED THE AUDACITY OF THAT NED STARK MOMENT THAT WE JUST SEEKING THE SAME HIGH. SO THE ONLY WAY TO RECAPTURE THE INTENSITY TO MAKE THE CRAZY MOMENTS OF KILLING OFF BELOVED CHARACTERS EVEN MORE EXTREME. THEY OCCUR AS COMPLETE F-ING NONSENSICAL SURPRISES AND THEN YOU JUST EXPLAIN THE HOWS LATER. IT ABSURD.
THINK ABOUT IT: WHAT IF YOU HAD THE MEN CORNER JON? IF YOU HAD THEM BUILD UP THE TENSION BEFORE THE STABBING HAPPEN? YES IT MIGHT BE LESS SURPRISING, BUT IT WILL BE DRAMATIC AND RESONANT. IT WOULD FEEL LIKE A CLIMAX OF A DRAMA YOU BUILT UP AND NOT A CHEAP SHOT.
AND REMEMBER THAT EVEN IF YOU DO IT WELL THERE STILL ONE INESCAPABLE FACT: IF THE HORRIBLE, RANDOM THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN LIFE MAKE US NOT CARE ABOUT OUR OWN LIVES, THEN THE HORRIBLE, RANDOM THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN YOUR BOOKS ARE NOT GOING TO MAKE US CARE ABOUT YOUR BOOKS.(7B)
LASTLY, 7) OWN YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES
GEORGE R.R. MARTIN, YOU ARE THE FOLLOWING: A PLEASANT, AUDACIOUS, BEARDED FAT GUY WHO LIKES MASTERBATING TO YOUR OWN WRITING. AND THAT OKAY!. REALLY. HULK THINK EVERYONE ACCEPTED WHO YOU ARE. THEY ALSO ACCEPT THAT YOU MIGHT BE A CRUEL AND VINDICTIVE BASTARD WHO LIKE ROBBING YOUR READER OF ANY HAPPINESS. AND THAT OKAY TOO! WE CAN CHALK THIS UP TO A WORLD-VIEW IF WE HAVE TO AND DEAL WITH IT.
BUT WE WILL NOT ACCEPT YOU DEFLATING THE OVERALL STORY INTO LUKEWARM, INEFFECTUAL GARBAGE.
HULK WILL PERSONALLY NOT ACCEPT THIS.
WHY? BECAUSE YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE YOU ARE MR. MARTIN? A GOOD (ENOUGH) WRITER. YOU SHOWED HULK WITH DRAGONS THAT YOU DIDN’T FORGET THE CONCEPT OF NARRATIVE STEAM AND HAVING POINTS TO CHAPTERS. WE EVEN KNOW THAT YOU CAN WRITE OUTSIDE OF THE WEIRD MYOPIC-FOCUS YOU’VE HAD GOING ON THESE LAST TWO BOOKS. WE KNOW THAT BECAUSE WE REMEMBER THE FIRST BOOK IN THIS SERIES. WE REMEMBER HOW THRONES HAD A TIGHTLY WRITTEN PLOT AND STORY ECONOMY. WE REMEMBER HOW YOU DIDN’T GET BOGGED DOWN IN DIVERSIONS. WE REMEMBER HOW IT PRETTY FRIGGEN GREAT.
BUT HULK NOT SURE YOU REMEMBER. INSTEAD OF ADHERING TO THOSE INITIAL PRE-FAME PRESSURES TO DELIVER A TIGHT STORY, YOU TOOK THE EXACT WRONG LESSON FROM THE BOOK’S SUCCESS AND GOT HUNG UP ON THE TANGIBLE DETAILS THAT BECAME THE BOOK’S TALKING POINTS: THE SHOCKING PEOPLE. THE SEX.(8) THE CRUELTY. THE UNSEEN DANGERS. AGAIN, HULK KNOW THESE ELEMENTS PART OF YOUR NATRUAL INCLINATION, BUT YOU SHOWED SUCH UNDERSTANDING OF DRAMA IN THAT FIRST BOOK. YOU CLEARLY UNDERSTOOD HOW TO MAKE HULK CARE IN THE FIRST PLACE AND NOT WITH MAKING THINGS SHINY OR HAPPY, BUT WITH WRITING A GOOD STORY. AND THAT THE WRITER’S RESPONSIBILITY.
SO IT TIME TO CARE ABOUT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY. HULK WILL ACCEPT THESE TWO BOOK FOR ONE UNEVEN FAILED EXPERIMENT, BUT IT TIME TO FOCUS DOWN THE STRECTH. THE CONSECRATION OF THE OVERALL NARRATIVE COMES FIRST. THE SHOCK AND INCLINATIONS MUST COME SECOND.
AND LOOK, HULK LIKE THAT YOU TAKE YOUR TIME AND NO RUSH. RUSH JOBS ARE EVIDENT AND HORRIBLE TO READ. BUT YOU TOOK SIX YEARS TO WRITE THIS BOOK AND IT STILL LITTERED WITH KIND OF STORY CONSTRUCTION PROBLEMS YOU FIND IN RUSH JOBS. SO LET’S FACE IT. THESE BOOKS ARE NOT, NOR WILL EVER BE MASTERPIECES THAT TRANSCEND THE FANTASY GENRE. NOR SHOULD THEY STRIVE TO BE, BECAUSE THEIR CORE-IDENTITY = LONG-WINDED, MASTURBATORY FANTASY BOOKS WITH SOME GOOD CHARACTERS, A NICE SENSE OF POLITICAL INTRIGUE, AND THE WILLINGNESS TO GO DARKER THAN A LOT OF COMPARATIVE FANTASY. IT GREAT THAT YOU TRIED ADD THAT REALISTIC ELEMENT, REALLY, BUT YOU NOT TRYING TO DOCUMENT THE REALITIES OF MEDIEVAL LIFE. YOU TRYING TO WRITE EFFECTIVE FANTASY BOOKS.
YOU NOT TRYING WRITE THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL.
HULK KNOW YOU WILL PROBABLY NEVER TAKE THIS ADVICE AND FIX THESE ISSUES, BUT HULK JUST THOUGHT HULK WOULD OFFER. HULK NOT WRITING THIS STUFF NOT OUT OF HATE, OR SPITE, OR BECAUSE HULK THINK YOU OWE HULK ANYTHING. HULK FULLY REALIZE HULK COULD JUST STOP READING AND THE PROBLEMS GO AWAY FOR GOOD. HULK DOING THIS BECAUSE THERE REALLY A LOT TO LIKE UNDERNEATH THE BIG PROBLEMS. AND BECAUSE MOST OF ALL, HULK WANT SEE YOU PROVE HULK WRONG AND KNOCK THE ENDING OF THIS SERIES OUT OF THE FREAKIN’ PARK.
A DANCE WITH DRAGONS PROVED TO HULK THAT YOU NOT A TERRIBLE WRITER.
BUT YOU MAY HAVE PROVED THIS WILL BE A TERRIBLE SERIES OF BOOKS.
(1) HERE’S THE LIST OF THINGS BETTER THAN A FEAST FOR CROWS: HATE CRIMES. YOUR HARD DRIVE CRASHING. “MY MOTHER THE CAR.” GOUT. GOING TO THE DENTIST. WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU NEVER GO TO THE DENTIST. GETTING PUNCHED IN THE KIDNEY. OJ SIMPSON. YOUR LIFE BECOMING THE SUBJECT OF A DANNY BOYLE MOVIE. EVERY SINGLE THING ABOUT LOTR BOOKS. PEANUT ALLERGIES. MTV REALITY SHOWS. SEEING YOUR PARENTS DO IT. DYSENTERY. TSUNAMIS. AND WHATEVER IS THE WESTEROS EQUIVALENT OF AIDS.
(2) THAT OTHER GUY ALWAYS = DAVOS. HOPEFULLY THEY GOT A GREAT “THAT GUY” TO PLAY HIM IN THE SHOW… WAIT… HULK GOING CHECK… HOLY SHIT! THEY DID! LIAM CUNNINGHAM! SWEET!
(3) IS IT HULK OR IS PENNY WRITTEN LIKE WHATEVER THE MINSTREL VERSION OF MIDGETS IS?
(4) CAN ANYONE ELSE NEVER SPELL HER FUCKING NAME RIGHT? THAT WHY HULK GO WITH DANY.
(5) HULK MADE WEIRD COMPARISON OF DANY ON TWITTER. ANYONE ELSE WATCH ON COMMUNITY? THE TRANSITION OF BRITTA PERRY FROM WHAT WE THOUGHT SHE GOING TO BE ON THAT SHOW INTO WHAT SHE TURNED OUT TO BE WAS ONE OF MOST GLORIOUS TV COMEDY TRANSITIONS EVER. AND IT VERY SIMILAR (IN TERMS OF OUR AUDIENCE EXPECTATION) TO WHAT HAPPENED WITH DANY… BUT REALLY THE COMPARISON KINDA STOP THERE… UM… THEY BOTH BLONDE?
(6) ALSO TRUSTING PEOPLE… TRUSTING PEOPLE APPARENTLY FOR SUCKERS.
(6B) “IT’S ALMOST LIKE (S)HE GETS OFF ON BEING WITHHOLDING.” REMIND YOU OF ANYTHING?
(7) HULK UNDERSTAND THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MEDIUMS AND THAT TV CAN GET AWAY WITH THINGS DIFFERENTLY. THIS TRUE AND HULK AWARE. STATEMENT STILL STANDS.
(7B) AND YES HULK KNOW JON SNOW COULD TOTALLY BE FINE. WHICH MAKES THIS EVEN MORE POINTLESS.
(8) HULK JUST REALIZED. FOR ALL THE SEXUAL RANGE OF CRAZINESS IN THESE BOOKS IT SEEM LIKE THEIR AN UNPROPORTIONAL LACK OF BLOWJOBS. ANYONE ELSE NOTICE THIS? JUST HULK? FINE. HULK’S THE WEIRDO. HULK JUST CURIOUS WHY THE GUY WHO FANTISIZES ABOUT EVERY CONCEIVABLE SEXUAL SCENARIO HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO FANTISIZING INTEREST IN GETTING A BLOWY. IT WEIRD DAMMIT. MOVING ON!
RANDOM ENDNOTE #1: HULK REALIZE HULK BEING ASSHOLE IN THIS ARTICLE. SOMETIMES HULK DOES THAT. IT OKAY. AS LONG AS YA’LL UNDERSTAND IT NOT THE DEFAULT SETTING.
RANDOM ENDNOTE #2: HULK THINK THE ONLY REASON HULK STILL READING THESE BOOKS IS BECAUSE HULK THINK THE TV SERIES = MUCH, MUCH BETTER AND JUST WANT HAVE SENSE OF HOW THEY ADAPTING IT. PLUS IT FUN TO ANTICIPATE HOW THE SERIES GOING PLAY OUT BEFORE THEIR EYES. THE TRUTH IS A LOT OF THESE NARRATIVE PROBLEMS CAN BE ADAPTED TO TV SO, SO, SO, SO MUCH BETTER. PARTICULARLY THE AFOREMENTIONED SEX ELEMENT…
37 thoughts on “HULK READ ANOTHER BOOK! WHY A DANCE WITH DRAGONS BOTH A VAST IMPROVEMENT AND YET UTTER PROOF THE BOOKS WILL NEVER BE GOOD AGAIN”
Well, Hulk, I don’t read Martin’s books (and I don’t feel I have to, after reading your reactions to them), but I do have this to contribute: my freshman year of college, the theater department put on Cripple of Inishmaan, and I took to it so strongly that I hunted down everything McDonagh’d written, and I continue to do so to this very day. Naturally, I totally lost my shit when I heard about In Bruges for the very first time.
Thanks, as always.
GOOD TO HEAR. HULK ARGUE MCDONAGH SHOULD ABSOLUTELY BE WORKING IN FILM. THE PROBLEM WITH WRITING UBER-DARK COMEDIES THAT YOU’D BE SURPRISED HOW OFTEN THEY TRANSLATED “STRAIGHT” IN THEATER.
McDonagh’s new film is “Seven Psychopaths,” with Colin Farrell.
Great posting on Martin’s latest book!
Sir_Roco Sir Roco
@FilmCritHULK N1! I wonder which Fantasy Book (Series) you consider “Masterpiece” and why. Maybe you could write about it, as good example?
GREAT QUESTION. HULK WILL ANSWER HERE.
HULK NOT REALLY A “FANTASY GUY,” DESPITE READING A FAIR SHARE. FOR HULK, LOTR = THE OBVIOUS STANDARD, BUT THERE A SERIES OF BOOKS HULK THINK “MASTERPIECES” IN THEIR OWN WAYS. HULK’S TOP CHOICE PROBABLY PULLMAN’S DARK MATERIALS TRILOGY, WHICH HAS A LOT OF PROBLEMS WITH ABSTRACTION AND VISUALIZATION, BUT IS AN UTTER TRIUMPH OF SEMIOTICS. FOR SOMETHING MORE TRADITIONAL HULK LIKE ERIKSON’S A TALE OF MALAZAN. HULK REALLY LIKED KAY’S TIGANA. HULK THINK ROBERT JORDAN’S WEEL OF TIME SERIES HANDLES BLOAT A BIT BETTER THAN MARTIN DESPITE THE FACT THERE TECHNICALLY “MORE” OF IT. HULK LOVES BURROUH’S JOHN CARTER STUFF. AND YES, THE HARRY POTTERS ARE UTTERLY FANTASTIC AND ARE UBER-POPULAR FOR GOOD REASON.
Please Hulk no smash me when I report typo—I wouldn’t say anything but it made my brain bleed while trying to figure it out. In intervention point 2 you write “TAKE PROVERBIAL DUMB ON THE CONCEPT OF DRAMA”, I believe DUMB should be DUMP?.
Hulk no smash!?
HULK NO SMASH. DUMP IT SHALL BE… THAT WAS SORT OF DUMP OF HULK.
I bloody LOVE The Cripple of Inishmaan! Good reference. And excellent blog.
There were several blow j’s I recall. Or at least referenced. Dany reminisced about giving one to Drogo. And she later tried to wake him out of his coma with one.
Theon got one from the daughter of the Capatin of the ship he took back to Pyke.
Shae was often cited as putting Tyrion “in her mouth”.
I really think you’re being way to harsh with your criticisms of the sex in the book. It’s not nearly as crass or perverted as you make it out to be. Well, aside from the incest parts. And the fact that no one is older than 15.
HULK LAUGH. GREAT COMMENT.
HULK’S PROBLEM IS MORE THE WAY THE SEX IS WRITTEN AND THE PERCEIVED REASONS FOR DOING SO AND LESS THE ACTUAL CONTENT.
It definitely reads as crass to me, because there never seems to be a reason for it other than Martin’s obsessions with body fluids and the size and color of women’s nipples. For example, in Book 5, Asha is having violent sex with a man I’ve either never heard of before or don’t remember. There’s no emotional OR dramatic connection, and it doesn’t seem to matter to what comes next. Of course, this is true of a lot of what Martin does, so maybe it’s unfair to single out the sex. But I really get tired of the pointless crude treatment of women’s bodies. We already got that there was a lot of rape and torture going on in Book 2….
I know this is an old article, but I just finished reading Dragons and have been wanting to read this take on it (since i liked your take on Crows), so I’m just going to go ahead and comment.
I think Martin’s big problem is structural, as you’ve hit on already. The tight, riproaring pace and structure of Thrones has really been lost. Which makes sense, I guess, because the story has gotten so much bigger. But there’s got to be a way to fit it all together better. At the same time, it begs the question whether or not the story should be this big. I get the whole world building thing, but there’s no reason Martin can’t write some novellas that explore other parts of the world while keeping the main Ice and Fire narrative tight.
An interesting comparison that you’ve already made is with The Wire. In the Wire you get a big sprawling narrative with multiple characters, many of whom show up late in the series, but one key thing The Wire did (apart from the great characterisation) well is that they always kept a reign on how many characters you had to follow. Marlo emerged in the wake of the Barksdale collapse, we didn’t meet the 4 schoolkids until after Stringer was gone, once the port story was done with, it was left alone and we never knew anything about the newspaper room until the last season. In other words, the relative size of the story stayed the same even though many new people and places were introduced.
Martin, on the other hand, for all the deaths and destruction, has not brought to a close any narrative thread at all. The story has just grown exponentially and you can’t keep track of it properly. He kills characters, but not story lines.
I get the feeling Crows/Dragons would have worked better as a slimmed down single narrative and I expect the TV show will do that should it last that long. There’s enough stuff between the books to make some dynamite TV, I think. If the TV show improved on the first and best book of the series, I have high hopes for what it can do with the rest.
Turns out that’s a fairly lengthy post. Oh well, it matches your articles.
HULK LAUGH. NO, THAT A VERY VERY GOOD COMMENT. HULK PARTICULARLY LIKED THE POINT OF HOW THE WIRE KNEW HOW MANY PLOTLINES TO FOCUS ON. AND EVEN IF YOU LOSE SAY A CHARACTER LIKE NICK ZOBOTKA THEY KNEW HOW TO BRING HIM BACK AT A MOMENTS NOTICE AND CAPTURE HIM PERFECTLY (LIKE WHEN HE SHOWS UP SCREAMING OBSCENITIES AT THE DOCK DEVELOPMENT PROJECT). SAME GOES FOR HOW THEY CAME BACK TO RANDY IN THE FIFTH SEASON AND HE WAS ALL JACKED AND HATING ON THE POLICE AS A SURVIVAL MECHANISM. TOLD YOU EVERYTHING IT NEEDED TO SAY. THE WIRE WAS SO DAMN GOOD AT ECONOMY…. MARTIN IS NOT. BUT WHO KNOWS, SOME OF THESE PROBLEMS MAY BE CORRECTED IN THE TV SERIES. BUT APPARENTLY THEY’RE ALREADY PLANNING ON SPLITTING “SWORDS” INTO TWO SEASONS. WHICH IS UTTERLY ASININE. HECK, HULK THINKS YOU COULD MAKE CROWS/DRAGONS INTO 1 SEASON AND BE BETTER FOR IT.
I found myself thinking the exact same thing that you propose partway up — that this whole thing would have worked much better as a series of standalone novels or tight trilogies (like, three books of 300-400 pages each, not three books of 1000 pages each) set in the same world, where he collects a bunch of these arcs into standalone stories. They would overlap, sure, and I think that would have actually been cool, but it also would have allowed us to focus on a much smaller subset of the storylines and experience them in a much more concise manner, and to avoid the thing where you hear about a character, get kind of interested, then they disappear for so long that you totally forget about them by the next time they come up.
Great idea, though Martin also needs to get over the idea that we all share his obsession with heraldry, dismemberment, privies and what people had for breakfast.
Interesting. Basically bringing comic book style continuity into a novel format. Hell, you could even do them as monthly short stories, make Martin’s obsession with cliffhangers more bearable.
I just finished reading these books and posted my thoughts on them last night. One of the points I made which inspired someone to link me to your reviews was that I felt that Martin was *too* willing to make big, sudden, unexpected changed such that I no longer felt like I could trust anything to pan out sufficiently. As background, I’m a very slow reader. I spent… I don’t actually have a record of when I started reading the Song of Ice and Fire books, but it was earlier at the beginning of this year or late last year. So I’ve spent nine months to a year reading these books. That’s a big investment. It also means that reading the individual bits and pieces of the story takes a lot of time for me. So when I feel like suddenly everything I’ve worked so hard to absorb gets thrown out the window to no end, it’s hard not to mourn all the time investment that went into that. I don’t think everyone’s plot has to end *well* — just that it has to satisfyingly justify the work put into it. And as Martin has confounded that again and again, I read slower and slower because i become less and less invested in the idea that all the slogging is going to be worth it. (I have to admit that I’ve started to develop a pretty good ability to just auto-skip anything where he talks about people’s clothing, the dishes served at a meal, or the exact composition, heraldry and histories of large groups of characters, most of whom we’ll never encounter again, so that’s picked things up a little.)
Okay, so agreement out of the way, my theory about the Varamyr Sixskins prologue and Jon’s killing is that Jon’s last thought having been “Ghost,” and Bran becoming who Bran is presumably becoming, that Jon’s human body will die but his consciousness will shift into Ghost.
HAHA. HULK THANK. HULK’S SORT OF LEARNED NOT TO PRESUME ANYTHING WILL HAPPEN WITH THE STORY. EITHER BECAUSE SOMETHING ELSE WILL COME UP FOR BECAUSE IT WILL TAKE SO FREAKING LONG FOR IT TO HAPPEN THAT HULK WON’T CARE BY THE TIME IT DOES.
Jon’s “death” was a great example of a scene that had nothing like the emotional resonance it should have. I had to flip back to figure out who was doing the stabbing and why I should care. Obviously, it was meant to be an “Et tu, Brute” moment…. My big fear (and it seems like the only possibility) is that we will have another Beric Dondarrion on our hands, and Jon will be revived by Melisandre (whose red eyes, red ruby and draperies I’m already sick to death of, as she’s already such a cliched Seductive Enchantress) only to die and die again…. And he was one of the few lead characters with some real humanity. It really says something that I have read 5,000 pages without being moved to tears even once.
Despite having the fact that my head hurts from having to translate Hulk-speak, I probably agreed with at least 99% of your comments and your analysis of why this series has broken down so irretrievably after such a truly riveting first book. I don’t know if it helps or hurts that I began the series in July and finished Book 5 a week ago (having been led by the false promise of Book 1 into thinking the series was a good way to spend a birthday coupon). If I hadn’t ploughed straight through, I’d have forgotten even MORE of the hideous array of awful minor characters – you were so spot-on about the “hedge knights and nipple descriptions” – and cared even less about the unresolved cliffhangers and dramatic letdowns. I could go on and on (and have tortured my boyfriend for hours with this – he says he’s never hated a book so much he hasn’t read and never wants to) but you have already said it for me in eloquent detail.
Ok, make that two people who got the Cripple reference. Big high fives for you. High fives also for this commentary, which I think gets at a lot of my vague dissatisfaction with where the series has been going in a MUCH more coherent way than I was ever able to express it.
I’ll still gladly gobble up the next 8 books probably, because I am a sucker for fantasy doorstop books.
NEXT 8 BOOKS? YOU GOING TO LIVE ANOTHER 48 YEARS? MORE IMPORTANTLY, WOULD MARTIN?
MORE AND MORE THE WHOLE GAP BETWEEN THE BOOKS THING BOTHERS HULK. MARTIN HASN’T EVEN STARTED THE BOOK YET. AGAIN, WITH ALL THESE MEANDERING NARRATIVES AND FALSE STARTS AND CLIFFHANGERS IT WOULD BE SOMEWHATE GRATING FOR EVEN WEEK TO WEEK TELEVISION. BUT FOR TWICE-A-DECADE ENTRIES IN A BOOKS SERIES? IT ALMOST UNTHINKABLE. NAY, UNCONSCIONABLE.
BUT YEAH HULK WILL BUY THEM TOO.
Well, I sure plan to (though you never know), but you probably have a point about Martin. I have to say, the waiting hasn’t bothered me yet because I didn’t start reading the series until, oh, about a year ago. So for me the gap between books was pretty negligible. Even then, though, the moments I remember best (Ned’s beheading, the Red Wedding, Dany’s dragons hatching) are in earlier books, which supports your argument. Those moments had more emotional resonance because they were effects of causes that were a shorter distance away, and because the characters’ arcs hadn’t been diluted at that point.
I think the problem is really editing, or lack thereof. I can totally understand the urge to write meandering narratives and random storylines that peter out and so on, because I’m guilty of it right now. But I fully intend to go back, edit, and get rid of all that crap. I’m writing backstory that I know, as I’m writing, will never see the light. Since I’m not famous, I can take all the time I want. It seems (of course I don’t really know) like Martin’s not totally sure where he’s going with this, so he takes all this time writing himself into corners and then can’t edit himself back out, and the pressure of getting something out to market means no one else can or will, either.
Huh, cool. A blog I read occasionally, but whose author I don’t know, used one of my images, to express an opinion I share; entirely by coincidence.
Frankly, the narrative structure of the series fell apart near the end of book three. Other than the viewpoint chapters from Jaime, Tyrion, Sansa, Arya, and Cersei, most of the chapters in books four and five are simply boring. Placeholding, timewasting, not advancing the plot etc…
Yes, I understand it’s for the sake of worldbuilding and background depth etc… etc… It’s still boring.
Tolkein did the same thing, though frequently better (of course, frequently even more tedious). Robert Jordan did something similar, but to even less point.
I found myself speeding through books four and five, not because the narrative was so absorbing, but because I could speedread through entire chapters, as there was no actual story or anything of consequence on any of the pages.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love the series, and the parts that are actually interesting are VERY good… I’m just waiting for him to stop marking time, and start getting on with things.
It’s funny that you mention Jordan as handling the bloat better–he was more successful with traditional arcs (and less interested in shocking deaths; I don’t think any of the main characters have died, at least not permanently), but he suffered from Martin’s tendency to pull in more and more subplots, until it was nearly impossible to keep track of everything and so much time was spent on checking in that there was little space for actual forward motion. But hey, at least it’s in the end game now. (And Brandon Sanderson has been doing workmanlike, but solid, job of tying everything up.) I just think this is always going to be a problem with long-running fantasy series. It’s nearly impossible to have the control and discipline required to sustain a tightly structured narrative over multiple books, especially considering you can’t go back and edit things if you suddenly realize in book 4 that you royally screwed yourself over in book 2. Even Rowling, who did better than most, fumbles some with Deathly Hallows, and she had the benefit of working (for the most part) with the same basic plot style–let’s follow Harry and friends over the course of a school year–from beginning to end.
I think the reason Martin is taking so long between books isn’t a matter of ambition or delusion; I think he’s just got himself in a position where it’s very hard to know what happens next. Which sounds facile, but the very points you criticize in Crows and Dragons (the lack of effective dramatic resolution and the constant obsession with undercutting traditional fantasy arcs; one of the reasons Jon Snow worked in the first few books was that his was one of the few storylines which was actually really predictable in fantasy terms, the callow youth who has to prove himself worthy of command, and that made him a spine for the rest of the craziness to jut out from. At this point, the closest to dependable is Arya’s story, because she’s still heading in the same direction she was roughly heading in book 1) suggest, to me, a writer who just barely has the thread of his narrative. He spoke of struggling with one plot-line in Dragons (the Myranese knot, or something like that) for years, and that’s the sort of thing that happens when inspiration flees and you’ve got yourself in neck deep without much momentum or arc to guide you. (And it’s weird, right, that we met the Others in book one, and here we are at the end of Book 5 and they _still_ haven’t become a major threat. Plus, the Others are a faceless, anonymous evil, which isn’t really something Martin seems to have much interest in, so it’s going to be really weird when they become the baddies.) At this point, I’m just hoping to get some bad-ass scenes in the last two novels, and enough material that the TV show can find some way to pull it all together.
…this was a very long reply to a nearly year-old post, but I’m trying to avoid work. Which is also writing a review for something, so I guess I’m not really doing myself any favors.
George’s oft-complained about “mereenese knot” (sp?) is one of my biggest grudges with the man, and the first moment I started to realize that he’s not actually a very good writer. He complains that there’s this knot of storyline to undo, so that he can have everyone arrive in a place in the right order, and then he gives it a clever name with classical allusions. Except he forgets the point of the classical allusion:
The Mereenese Knot obviously refers to the Gordian Knot, a massively tangled ball of string that all kinds of ancient Greek VIPs allegedly tried to undo, only making it more tangled. Alexander the Great comes along, and the rulers of Gordium say, “Hey, if you’re so special, how about you try and undo our impossible knot, ha ha ha.” Alex walks up to the tangled disaster, draws his sword, and cuts the knot apart. It’s a story about lateral thinking, and simple/unconventional solutions.
Alas, Martin missed the point. He’s been trying to undo this (and every other) knot in his story by hand, when he should have taken his authorial sword, sliced the knot apart, and moved on.
WHAT A WONDERFUL COMMENT. THAT’S A GREAT POINT. HULK SINCERELY THANK
How is cutting the knot with a sword lateral thinking? It’s like solving a Rubiks cube by taking it apart and putting it back together in the right positions. It’s a sham solution, but since history is written by the winners, so it gets passed off as some kind of master stroke.
The point of the story was that the knot was a waste of time. A futile gimmick of a problem, which an alternate solution removed as an obstacle. To take your Rubiks cube analogy (which is flawed, because Rubiks cubes are meant to be solved and it is unclear whether the knot was at all solvable), Gordium was a jerk with a Rubiks cube, who kept saying “oh, you can’t be great, you haven’t solved our cube, if you were really special, you could make our cube work;” Alexander’s response was “Here. Cube nicely aligned. Now shut up and leave me to conquer the known world.”
The knot was in the way–whether of Alexander or Martin. And the futile (and unsuccessful!)* effort to manually untie it keep stretching on and on and on. Maybe it’s time to get out the sword and get the frak on with the story rather than an irrelevant side detail.
*Unsuccessful: is everyone who needs to team up in the East at Mereen yet? Are they in any kind of contact? No, you say? Well, I wonder if they ever will be, in 6 years or however long it takes the Old Man to write the next chapter. (Assuming he doesn’t die before that. Which he probably will.)
I loved both of these reviews and you bring up very similar points that I thought myself, but maybe mine were not as critical.
Greatest thing about your Hulkishness is that after reading your blog for a few hours now, reading regularly written text with the correct pronouns and filling words seems weird and unnecessary.
We all need a little Hulk in our everyday lives, I think.
AND THAT COMMENT MADE HULK SMILE A LOT! CHEERS FRIEND!
The funny thing Mr Hulk is that I agree with so many of your other pieces, and for the exact same reason I feel you’ve completely missed the point with George RR Martin’s ASOIAF.
The quote that comes to mind is “When all you’ve got is a hammer (or hulk smash), everything looks like a nail”. Your hammer is your exceptional knowledge of what makes good narrative structure, and so you criticise the later books of ASOIAF on a number of narrative structure levels.
The point you’ve missed, which I think GRRM has made abundantly clear in both the books (“life is not a song child, someday you may learn that to your dismay”) and interviews (the whole story about why he got out of writing tv screen plays) is that he understands what “good” narrative structure is, but dislikes the “song-like” quality of narratives in which every single event or piece of dialogue is required to serve a structural purpose or build character. The irony is that your terms of reference for criticising his work are things which he has made clear he has no interest in conforming to. He likes his dead end plots and extraneous details because that’s what real life epic stories feel like! If you listen to Wagner’s Ring Cycle the same way you listen to other (sub one hour) symphonies you’ll be bored beyond belief by the end of it. Examining these sprawling epics need different terms of reference.
Now if in fact he does go and fuck up the ending, I’ll probably have to eat these words, but I do take courage from the way he has gone on record criticising the ending of the Lost series. I’m all but sure he does have a big picture in mind which involves tightening the focus for the last two books, and he just has to execute. My analogy for the larger structure would be that of a river that goes through phases of being tight and fast running, over rapids and waterfalls, and more expansive, slower moving sections of lakes so large you may not even see the other side (books 4&5). It remains to be seen, but I feel the only way you can generate a waterfall as big as Niagra is to have tremendous volume of water preceding it.
To continue the Gordion knot imagary (and I agree – the point of the knot was that it couldn’t be solved and was a big time waster that Alexander had the sense to cut through), too many of us have followed Martin’s knot-like intricacies only to find them end in shredded bits of string. At this point, I not only don’t remember what’s going on with the characters, I see no reason to care. (Even Tyrion just straggles on….)
I’m old enough to have been thrilled by books or films where I thought in all seriousness “I hope I live long enough to read/watch the final installment.” In this case, when I heard there was another book due soon, my only reaction was a tired sigh.
Never mind the descriptions of meals, tortures, sigils, minor characters who appear only to disappear, the real issue is that Martin has managed to kill, maim, make un-dead, or damage the soul (if he even believes in souls) of every single character to the point where no triumphant ending is possible. This isn’t a Greek or Shakespearean tragedy where you can leave the floors strewn with bodies and the audience with a sense of catharsis after a few hours of emotional commitment. (Even the Ring Cycle can be experienced in days. Even Homer could be recited in a week.) And if Martin thinks he is creating an epic, he seems to have missed why the great epics have lived and created characters WE STILL CARE ABOUT.
Why call it a song if he doesn’t like songs?
If you don’t see how Varamyr’s bit is relevant then I can’t trust your opinion on these books at all. It is at least easy to miss that Jaqen shows up in the pro&epilogue of Crows, but with Varamyr there’s no excuse. Have fun.
I agree that it’s very easy to miss that Pate in the feast for crows prologue is actually murdered by Jaqen H’ghar (who then assumes his face in the same process that Arya undergoes later in the book). This might increase the chapter’s relevance somewhat but also might add to Hulks points about the issues with leaving cliffhangers over six years and resolving mysteries several books after the point that the mystery lost dramatic tension. Martin is depending on the reader to remember the exact description of H’ghar after his transformation (right before he disappears from the story) from two books before to even get what the hell is going on.
YEAH. MARTIN IS WRAPPING UP THINGS THAT WE DON’T EVEN CARE ABOUT ANYMORE BECAUSE THEY LACK “NARRATIVE VALUE” IF THAT MAKES SENSE?