Time for the Yearly George R.R. Martin Abuse Post

Every now and again, because I do not learn, I google the phrase “winds of winter”, the title for the next book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series (remember Game of Thrones?). I do this because, nine years ago, I did this for “A Dance With Dragons” and happened to catch a blurblet that Martin’s publisher was expecting the book in a short time, or that it was mostly finished, or that it had indeed been turned in, or something like that.

When I did this today, I caught recent news. More specifically, an article in the Daily Express entitled “Winds of Winter progress: George RR Martin shares cryptic Winter is Coming image and more”

Click on it, to bring yourself to a vision of the nadir of journalism.

George RR Martin’s latest blog update arrived this week headed by an image saying “Winter Is Coming”. It’s not clear if this is the 72-year-old’s way of teasing that he’s approaching the finishing line, but the rest of his post may provide some clues nonetheless.

UK Daily Express, “Winds of Winter Progress”

Every journalist who uses the word “may” should be beaten with a tire iron and left in the desert. Spoilers: this article provides no clues, nor does the blog post it’s using as a source. That’s right, a newspaper that’s been around since 1900, is now farming clickbait out of George RR Martin’s pseudo-livejournal. It’s over, guys. The Matrix won.

But don’t take my word for it, I’m just a regular blogger and writer. I haven’t made millions shoving Robert Howard tropes into high fantasy and then left my fans twisting in the wind. Look at it yourself: Not-a-Blogging

Way back when on LiveJournal, when I started this column or journal or whatever it is, I called it my “Not A Blog,” because I could see that regular blogging was a lot of work, and I didn’t think I had the time to devote to it.   I was late on a book even then, though I do not recall which one.  I figured I would just make posts from time to time, when I had an important announcement, when the mood struck me, whatever.

People this is news to: 0

Number of words: 85

I might be starting to understand the problem.

I am hugely behind right now, and the prospect of trying to catch up is feeling increasingly oppressive.

After nine years of waiting for you not to complete, but just to organize the third act of this series, following a year the entire world spent inside, this is not what anyone wants to hear. Yeah, it must be tyranny itself to have to find ways to balance time writing against time spent on that day job you don’t have or taking care of kids you don’t have. Maybe an hour less swimming in your pile of money like Scrooge McDuck? I don’t wanna mess with your flow or nuthin’.

My life has become one of extremes these past few months.   Some days I do not know whether to laugh or cry, to shoot off fireworks and dance in the streets or crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head.   The good stuff that has been happening to me has been very very very good, the kind of thing that will make a year, or a career.  But the bad stuff that is happening has been very very very bad, and it is hard to cherish the good and feel the joy when the shadows are all around.

Gotcha, good is good, bad is bad.

Tell me more about how Tolkein’s universe is morally simplistic.

If any of you read the stories about me on the internet, you will know my good news.   I have a new five-year deal with HBO, to create new GOT successor shows (and some non-related series, like ROADMARKS) for both HBO and HBO Max.  It’s an incredible deal, an amazing deal, very exciting, and I want to tell you all about it… although it seems the press has already done it.   There are stories in all the trades.   You can read about it there.    (These days I almost never get to break any news about myself, the Hollywood press is always ahead of me.   Some of their stories are even accurate).   I will blog about it, I expect, but not today.

Good for you on your continuing exploitation of a series that a) is still unfinished, b) led to a show whose ending retroactively tainted the entire enterprise. I can’t tell you how excited I am to discover that there will be GoT prequels for nerds to get even madder about. Zippity. Do. Dah.

Also, why not blog about it? The hell else are you doing?

On the other side of the coin… well, I am now fully vaccinated, hurrah hurray, that’s good.   However, I have now lost six friends since November.  (Only a couple to Covid.   Alas, I am old, and so are many of my friends.   Valar morghulis, I guess).   And a seventh friend, a very old and dear friend who has been a huge part of my life for a long time, is in the hospital, very sick, recovering from surgery… at least we hope he is recovering.

Sorry for your loss.

That’s all. I’m not a ghoul.

Honestly, it is hard to dance in the streets even for the deal of a lifetime when another loved one dies every two/ three weeks, and that has been going on for me since November, when my longtime editor Kay McCauley passed away.

True, true.

If only there were some large project you could channels your energies into.

There’s lots more going on as well.   Meow Wolf stuff.   Railroad stuff.   Beastly Books has reopened, but the JCC is still shuttered.   The Jets traded Sam Darnold away.   I am going to be leaving my cabin in a couple of months.    I am close to delivering  PAIRING UP, a brand new Wild Cards book.

I don’t know what Meow Wolf is. It sounds like a joke I don’t want to get.

I don’t know what Beastly Books is. I’m guessing it’s a store. I live on the other side of the country from you, so I don’t care.

I don’t know what the JCC is.

You are the only man on earth who cares about the Jets.

I wish I had a cabin. You know what I would do there? WRITE BOOKS.

And he has to close with the one bit of news guaranteed to Red-Wedding the hopes of anyone mildly intrigued by the direwolf sigil that appears on top of the post (which The Daily Express found so interesting). Every time George R.R. Martin blogs about Wild Cards, a Stark child dies at the hands of his enemies. So good to know that in between mourning his friends and signing his checks, Martin finds the time to edit the latest entry in a series 0.00000000000000011% of his audience cares about. I’ll bet if I had those kind of customer appreciation strategies, I’d be a bestselling author, too.

I will tell you about some of this, I guess.   But not today.

What a Cliffhanger, you guys! I’ll just have to subscribe to your notablog so I can get the hot insights about the next derivative HBO series I won’t watch or dithering analysis of the Jets lineup or what glorified Funko-Pops based on GoT characters are now available. It’s a good thing the only reason I ever read this meandering tripe isn’t because I’m waiting for you to announce that you’ve finally finished the book you’ve been working on since my tween daughter was a zygote. I might be mad.

Some of you might be thinking, you know, I think he actually is mad. You know what, you’re right. I’m mad that this guy can’t ever scribble on his blog without reminding us that he doesn’t want to have a blog and then demonstrate why he shouldn’t. I’m mad that this guy vomits this non-tent and the media acts like a new layer of the Rosetta Stone just got unearthed.

Basically, I’m mad ’cause I’m jealous. Which is a low, unworthy emotion, speaking more about me than anyone else, that I will forthwith remove from my soul.

You know what would help?

Fine patrons of artistic merit taking a chance on a little magazine that could.

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Movies are Short Stories, TV Shows are Novels

This is going to seem counterintuitive, but it’s true.

A “Feature Length” film is one 60 minutes or longer, according to the Screen Actor’s Guild. Most movies are somewhere between 80-120 minutes, although some popular films, such as nearly all the Star Wars movies, are longer (The Last Jedi, the longest one, is 152 minutes, or 2 hours and 32 minutes).

So to watch a movie is to take 1-3 hourse out of your day. And that’s usually done in one sitting. Very rarely do you watch a movie, stop halfway through, and then finish the rest later. Halfway through a movie, you’re usually invested in the story, and want to watch the rest. Movies are dense, quick-structured, A-B-C storytelling. They have to be to get you to sit through them.

Short stories, are stories less than 7,500 words. That is a quick read, giving an author not very much time to:

  • Establish setting
  • Establish character
  • Establish conflict
  • Build conflict
  • Resolve Conflict

Hence, short stories are dense, leaving as much unsaid as said, and stripping everything down to the meat. There is no more description, dialogue, or anything else, than their needs to be. Raymond Carver is the exemplar of the form for this reason.

Hence, these are the forms of efficiency. You strap in and you take the ride. You expect the story to reward your attention with immediate payoff. Movies are short stories.

TV Shows, on the other hand, are episodic. An Episode is a self-contained story that takes place within a larger context. Each successive episode reveals more about the characters, because the pressure of writing demands it. Even a TV show that intends to repeat a situation ad infinitum – a “situation comedy”, for example – finds that in cannot. Each episode adds to the character.

In times past, this growth was largely incidental, a process of creating new scenarios for the characters each week. This had more in common with the old penny dreadfuls, in which new chapters were published each week, and writers paid by the word, increasing the incentive to drag out the story and add new characters. TV Shows are kept on the air until their audience starts to leave, then they are given a hurried ending that most people find unsatisfying. See everything I’ve written about How I Met Your Mother for further elucidation.

So the production of TV shows still leads to dragging plots out, but the rise of “prestige” dramas and “concept” comedies yields the concept of an overall arc over a show or a season. The whole of a TV program can now tell one long story, and the episodes are mere chapters. The advent of streaming, and therefore binge-watching, a show, correlates to this phenomenon.

The best way to think of something like Breaking Bad or Maniac is as a visual novel. The problem with this metaphor is that, unlike modern novels produced and sold as a discreet unit, TV shows are ordered by-season. This is a function of cost. A book publisher is willing to take the risk on a print run, because that’s peanuts compared to funding the batallion necessary to produce a TV show. Hence, while a novel is always finished, a TV show will only continue so long as it maintains an audience. There’s a tension between immediacy and narrative built right into the structure.

This explains the aforementioned habit of TV Shows to screw up their finales. Most of the time, as with Seinfeld, a show has nothing particular to say, and so a finale is simply a process of saying good-bye. But when there’s a concept, an overall narrative and arc, the need to give an ending reflecting an audience’s emotional commitment becomes paramount. But it’s impossible to give proper attention to everything, and the longer a show goes on, the more true this becomes. This is why the last season of Game of Thrones felt so rushed, why fans left it so unsatisfied (The tendency to gloss over realities from the published world of the books did not help). There were so many threads left hanging, so many interesting things that they could have done, but which were not.

Thus, my current mood with regard to TV shows. I’m more in a movie mood, so I can enjoy narratives properly built and executed, rather than meandering their way and then getting cut off like a sausage. I’ve born disappointments enough from the attempts to transcend the structure.

John C. Wright on the Canon of Fiction

An Essay in the form of series. Part 1 and Part 2, and a footnote.

The question is, can fanfiction – sub-writings in a fictional universe, by fans – become Canon, i.e. officially a part of the story?

I myself would err on the side of “no, not really”, without making a categorical claim on it. But more important than the answer to that question is whether a story, any kind of story, follows its own structure consistently.

My last podcast was a discussion of sequels that did not respect established lore. Not fanfiction, mind, but canonical sequels. When people talk of “respecting the fans”, they really mean “respecting the lore” – i.e., not ignoring what has been previously established in order to Subvert Expectations. You can’t just give Bran and Sansa crowns because that feels good and completely ignore the political realities in the published Song of Ice and Fire canon, for example. So for me, the greater question than “can fanfiction become canon/” is “can sequels become canon?” or even “can the later series of a TV show avoid destroying its own canon?”

Wright discusses the points of internal consistency in Part 2 of the essay.

George R.R. Martin is Seriously Starting to Bore Me

In the last issue of UJ, I penned an essay about how I felt regarding the end of Game of Thrones. In that essay, I argued that the spirit of Martin’s work is essentially pagan, and the influence of Robert Howard is far more present than that of Tolkein, who filled his work with a Catholic ethos. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: Beowulf is at least as pagan as it is Christian (anyone who argues that it’s basically a pagan worldview with Christian seasoning won’t get much argument from me), and it’s a rich epic. But it ends on a down note, one of death and fear and cold. So does Game of Thrones, which has its one incorruptible hero cast aside like trash, basically so the show could pull one more sucker punch.

And here’s Martin, in his notablog, barbering on about this years Hugo awards, as if anyone cares:

I am not a believer in any afterlife, and I don’t think that Gardner was either… so as nice as it would be to think that he was looking down on us from the Secret Pro Party in the Sky, I can’t.

And there you have it, really. Death is a sleep. The Void is King. Jon Snow was always going to become Nothing, because there’s nothing out there to become.

Which makes me start to doubt about his commitment to finishing. Especially since he’s teasing his fans as to the damn prequel series for HBO. In some part of his mind, A Song of Ice and Fire is already finished, and the idea of putting in the work to actually finish it feels like a gigantic slog. This whole thing was over the minute the series overtook the books.

Garbage Pseudo-Psychology? Possibly. Despair? Definitely.

Doesn’t mean I’m wrong, though.

Bran Stark is Hosed – A Reasonable Prediction From the End of Game of Thrones

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The Kingdoms of Bran the Broken is neither a Kingdom nor is it Bran’s. Discuss.

This analysis, from A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry, argues that the introduction of Elective Monarchy to Westeros, and especially the election of Bran Stark as its first elected king, is doomed to failure. The reasons are as follows:

  1. With the exception of the Iron Islands, which are at best inconsistent with the practice, nowhere in Westeros has ever practiced elective monarchy. Indeed, every one of the Six Kingdoms has a tradition of primogeniture (the eldest son of the king is the next king, girls only succeed in Dorne), with families that have held power for 300 years at the shortest, and some of them go back to pre-history. These constituent kingdoms will all have more power than Bran, and will have every incentive to keep the central monarchy weakened.
  2. In pulling out of the Seven Kingdoms, Sansa Stark left her brother with no power base to fall back on. Had Gendry Baratheon been elected king, he would have one of the Seven Kingdoms, the Stormlands, in his pocket, providing him with an army he could call upon at will. Had Tyrion been elected, he would have the Westerlands, Edmure Tully, the Riverlands, Robert Arryn, the Vale, etc. But now that the North has backed out, Bran has nothing but the lands around Kings Landing – the Crown Lands – which aren’t much.
  3. Bran is unable to fulfill several of the expectations of being a king in Westeros. He cannot be a fighter; he has shown no interest in leading armies, and has been a character people find more off-putting than admirable.

The article includes a discussion of how the Holy Roman Empire and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, two historical elective monarchies, worked (and didn’t work). Read the Whole Thing.

When You Need the Tropes – Game of Thrones Edition

I spent a day angry about the Game of Thrones finale. I won’t go into the why, because I’m going to write something larger on that topic later on. Put me in the group of fans that found it highly unsatisfying and leave it at that.

Many of those same people have been saying that the series has dropped off since they left the part that books covered (and really, before that. Season 5 was a mess – the Dorne plot was ridiculous).

The other complaint for fans of this saga is that we’ve been waiting for the next book for seven-and-a-half years (or as I like to call it, the entirety of my eldest child’s lifetime). And since Martin hasn’t given us anything like a meaningful update in at least half that time, we’ve gone through cycles of denial and bargaining and anger and are coming to accept that we may never see the end.

And Megan McArdle has the explanation for that.

In trying to create a world where anything could happen to anyone at any time, he may also have created expectations that could never be fulfilled. We loved surprises such as the carnage of the Red Wedding, because that made the whole thing more believable. But in the end, a good story must deliver something that reality rarely does: a clean narrative arc.

Which meant that despite the illusion that anything could happen, most plausible things actually couldn’t. One way or another, the Starks had to win the battle for humanity, and Westeros, because otherwise why did we spend all those years following them around? Making that feel realistic in a world that isn’t governed by cosmic justice is, well, a heroic task.

You can only deconstruct the tropes of fantasy so far before it becomes an exercise in misery porn. Which is what HBO series tend to trade in (Chernobyl anyone?), but which is not the reason fantasy epics exist. You tweak the tropes to update the genre, not to destroy it.

Too many people would rather it be destroyed because of their own cultural-warfare reasons. It’s enough to make a body disinterested in what the establishment offers us for entertainment.

What Came to me Watching Last Week’s Game of Thrones

Anger be now your song, immortal one

Akhilleus’ anger, doomed and ruinous

that caused the Akaians loss on bitter loss

and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,

leaving so many dead men– carrion

for dogs and birds; and the will of Zeus was done.

-The Iliad

Below the fold, the climactic scene in the episode, with Black Sabbath in the background. Obviously, *SPOILERS*. This has also been done with AC/DC, and Metallica, but I like this way better. And seriously, this stuff is R-Rated; it’s incredibly violent.

And Now, Idiots Write Stupid Things About Game of Thrones

This post, which is full of SPOILERS, has been inspired by Ace dumping all over the doubleplus goodthinker who’s mad about the ethnicities of the fictional characters who took it in the shorts in the recent battle with the hordes of undead zombies in front of Winterfell.

It’s literally: “Zombie Apocalypse, Immigrants Hardest Hit”

I guess all those pasty wildlings who died at Hardhome don’t count. Whatever.

{Also, if you want to tout the virtues of immigrants, maybe DON’T connect them in people’s minds a violent horde of pseudo-Mongol cavalrymen who love murder and rape.}

Also, I’m thinking of the brainiac who had to mount the soapbox because no one gave Melisandre the “redemption” that Theon Greyjoy got (and of course takes the opportunity to shoehorn in something about Brett Kavanaugh, because he’s the Villain of the Year). This sort of nonsense is largely self-refuting, because in no way has Melisandre been as central to the story as Theon has. His entire arc of fall, punishment, escape, and redemption has been connected to the main plot and a massive fan favorite. Melisandre has always been a character half-off screen, representing forces larger than herself. It was those forces that gave her the power to do dark and terrible things, and those forces that made her the enemy of the Night. Davos watching her collapse into nothing, her race run, her battle won, was not the obvious Stark-forgives-Theon redemption, but it was something deeper. It was a kind of grace.

Not that I’d expect a dim ideologue to understand that, or if she did, acknowledge it. Her purpose is not to consider such nuance, but to blurp out screaming clickbait and turn everything into a reflection of her religion ideology by ham and by fist. So really, these first two aren’t that bad. They’re obvious and predictable and so far off-base from the show they’re ostensibly critiquing that they aren’t even wrong.

No, I’m talking about the rest of you.

The fans.

The ones who, 8 seasons in, are still SURPRISED when this show doesn’t do what you think it will do.

The ones who are mad at the way the Battle of Winterfell turned out, because in your head it was going to go a completely different way. Because in your head, you had it all figured out. Just like you totally saw the execution of Ned Stark, the rebirth of dragons, the Red and Purple Weddings, Tyrion’s Trial, and everything else coming. Yup. So transparent, this show is.

The Game of Thrones subreddit is full of whining salty tears because the WHOLE SEASON IS RUINED NOW. That whole plot was The Plot. That Villain was T*H*E Villain. It was *SO* obvious, you guys.

And yet, it isn’t. And yet, something else is happening.

When the story is over, you can critique structure, methods, character and purpose. But the story is the story. The Night King is dead because that’s the story in the hands of the showrunners. And it’s folly to complain about what happens in the books because a) the show has been deviating from the books for several seasons, and b) the books are unfinished, and likely to remain so for some time. So any expectations built off of the books are doubly irrelevant. The show is speedrunning to its own conclusion.

And of course, reserve the right to be disappointed by that ending when it does come. Reserve the right to critique everything once we have a complete saga. That’s legitimate. What’s not legitimate is confusing the show as it exists with the one you’re imagining in your head.

Lost in Westeros

So a friend of mine texted me yesterday with the words “New Game of Thrones book out 11/20.” And I got all excited and stuff. Because I’d pretty much given up on ever seeing Winds of Winter this year. And that’s a day before my birthday. Serendipity, right?

RIGHT. TWOW CONFIRMED. GET HYPE!

Oh.

No, winter is not coming… not in 2018, at least.   You’re going to have to keep waiting for THE WINDS OF WINTER.

You will, however, be able to return to Westeros this year, as I suggested  back over on Live Journal.

Archmaester Gyldayn has at last completed and delivered the first half of his monumental history of the Targaryen kings of Westeros, FIRE & BLOOD, and Bantam Spectra and HarperCollins Voyager will be releasing the hardcover on November 20, I am thrilled to say.

This is… not… what I wanted.

And I knew this was happening. I’d read Martin’s blog at the end of last year when he teased that Fire and Blood was happening. And it would be unreasonable to expect the man to get two whole ASOIAF-related books out in one year. So that’s fine. More details of the lives we already explored in World of Ice and Fire. The nerdery is endless.

That’s not what annoys me.

What annoys me is the certainty – the surety – that Winds of Winter will not be published at any point in the eight remaining months of 2018. This is now seven years since A Dance With Dragons. And I know. I know. He Doesn’t Work For Me. He Doesn’t Owe Me Anything. And really, I’m okay with that. You spend enough time on r/asoiaf and the misery at the Long Watch becomes palpable enough to ruin your afternoon. I’m fine with letting the man write. I really am.

Still, though.

The hell are you doing over there, George?

This is the third act of the story, or close to it. This should get easier. You should have this. After seven years, you should have this.

So why doesn’t he?

Ultimately, no one who isn’t Martin knows. But I have a theory.

Here’s a website calling itself “A Winterfell Huis Clos” devoted to analyzing and theorizing the Winterfell plotline in A Dance With Dragons. Details that I had missed from these chapters despite several rereads are brought to the surface and thrashed around, sifted to form patterns that answer certain questions, such as “Who is the one murdering Frey and Bolton men in Winterfell?” (the answer is provocative, and well-argued). There’s a novel’s worth of discussion on this one plotline in one of Martin’s novels.

Here’s a theory, based on the infamous “pink letter” Jon Snow receives at the end of A Dance With Dragons:

The presence of heads above the walls of Winterfell is not quite Ramsay motus operandi. In Moat Cailin, the defeated ironmen were flayed and put on post along the kingsroad. Ramsay brings up the flaying tradition over and over, to the point of carrying a flaying knife assorted to his sword at all times. The heads above the walls of Winterfell seem like Roose Bolton’s behaviour. We never saw Roose flay anyone in the story. When Roose conquered Harrenhal, he did display the heads of the people he had executed.

Now, all of this could be wrong. The pattern may not be aptly read. But the level of detail, and the patterns they suggest, indicate how much is involved with creating this narrative, and the world that sustains it, and the characters that inhabit that world. We can see the difference between a dark character (Roose Bolton) and his psychopathic son (Ramsay), and make inferences accordingly. It’s all there, if you read close enough.

The effort involved in creating such must be staggering. The effort in tying it all together, more staggering still. This gets harder with every word Martin writes, probably.

If we ever see the remaining books, I will be thankful.

Winter is Leaving – A Lament on the Unfinished State of Game of Thrones

wow

Because I actually go so far as to purchase HBONow so I can watch Game of Thrones, because A Song of Ice and Fire is the only fantasy series I’ve gotten my wife to read, because I’m a fan, I occasionally check Wikipedia to see if there’s any rumor of Winds of Winter, the long delayed sixth book in the series. That’s how I got warned about Dance With Dragons, the fifth book, so superstition will have its sway. But I don’t read Martin’s blog (which he calls a “notablog” out of some esoteric contrariness that is no longer funny, if it ever was), because I’m never in the mood to read about what he’s blogging about (Football, the Hugos, and Wild Cars, all the time). And I stopped reading the Song of Ice and Fire subreddit, because the misery in that place is just overwhelming. But I do care. I do want to read the rest of the series, when it’s out.

I try not to complain about George R.R. Martin’s lack of progress. I don’t, for a couple of reasons:

  1. Complaining is a closed-circuit loop of misery. The aforementioned subreddit is a rhetorical minefield of whining. Why anyone would take the time to obsess over something while pretending not to obsess over it and complain on every aspect of its production continues to elude me. I suppose that’s why I’m not a hardcore sports fan. Until we get the books, nothing else will satisfy us, so there’s no purpose to speaking about it. There just isn’t.
  2. Complaining won’t make the books come any faster. It doesn’t matter if we think George is a great artist struggling with a massive work or a lazy old fat bastard who’s coasting on his laurels. It doesn’t matter how we speculate for reasonable time frames and estimates, and then get angry when they aren’t met. It doesn’t matter how righteous the backlash is. Nothing the fans do will bring the book one day closer. Nothing.

Larry Correia has a good discussion on the proper relationships between fans and authors on his web site. In a nutshell, the proper role is as follows:

  • Authors: Do the Work. Get it done. Don’t mess about, or your fans will desert you. And they’ll be right to.
  • Fans. Shut your pieholes about what you think you’re “owed.”  There is no “moral obligation” to write a book. You have no claim on anyone else’s time. See the 13th Amendment for further elucidation.

All that said, I just… want to know what’s taking him so long. I want to know that there will actually be a series to finish reading. I don’t want to abandon this the way I abandoned Wheel of Time (Because that series got self-indulgent and boring, not because of production delays). And I’m afraid I’m going to have to.

I guess I just better write my own series, then.

(Does this mean I’ve decided what to work on when The Sword is finished? Maybe.)