George R R Martin: Genius or Hack?

3 Feb

One of the most popular multi-volume fantasy epics of modern times is George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire – a popularity which has been magnified tenfold by the success of the recent HBO adaptation, Game of Thrones. Martin’s immense saga, which spans five books and around four thousand pages already, with a further two volumes (at least) to come, has been a fixture on the bestseller lists since the first volume was published back in 1996. Overall, the series has sold more than seven million copies in the USA and more than 15 million copies worldwide, winning genre awards in the process. Critically and commercially acclaimed, the series was untouchable in fantasy circles until the turn of the millenium. It was only when the fourth book was published after a five year delay that the dissenters began to appear, starting a trickle of criticism that eventually became a flood by the time of the fifth book’s publication just last year. By this time the intervals between volumes had begun to get longer – it had gone from the two years separating each of the first three books to five years between A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows, then six years between that book and A Dance with Dragons. We have titles for the sixth and seventh books in the series – The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring – but no timetable as to when they will appear. In a sense, however, the delays only appear to be part of the problem and the last two entries in Martin’s saga have been criticised for being slow-paced, filled with padding, unnecessarily introducing lots of new characters and not sufficiently advancing the main plot. Are these criticisms justified and, ultimately, is this a series that is worth following and one that will stand the test of time?

First, the background. The setting for the books is the continent of Westeros, in a world both like and unlike our own, where the seasons last for years and sometimes decades. As the first volume opens, the reader learns that three noble families had conspired to depose their insane king and take control of the kingdom. The Lannisters, the Baratheons and the Starks all exist in an uneasy truce that is soon broken when the current king, Robert Baratheon, asks Ned Stark to come down from the northern city of Winterfell and help him to rule, giving him the coveted title of Hand of the King, which makes him the second most powerful man in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Ned’s efforts to solve the murder of his predecessor in that role soon embroil him in conflict with the queen and her brothers. The balance of power among the great families is thus unsettled. As the ‘game of thrones’ grows deadly, even more sinister forces are stirring in the north, behind the great ice-wall that protects all the realms of men. A civil war threatens to sweep the land when the Lannisters attempt to seize power, opposed only by the Starks and Baratheons. Meanwhile over the sea in the eastern continent of Essos, Daenerys, heir of the insane king and last of the royal Targaryen bloodline, is seeking allies and an army to help her to reconquer the Seven Kingdoms. The succeeding volumes depict the unfolding and resolution of the terrible many-sided conflict that racks this troubled world.

A truly groundbreaking and well-written series, it was not long before A Song of Ice and Fire became one of the most successful, popular and highly-regarded fantasy sequences of all time. What set Martin’s saga apart from many of the identikit fantasy novels which had been appearing until the mid-1990s was its greater use of realistic elements. While many fantasy authors appeared to be inspired by mythology (when they weren’t just copying Tolkien), A Song of Ice and Fire was more clearly influenced by medieval and early modern history, most notably Jacobitism and the Wars of the Roses. Martin wrote frankly of sex and violence, gleefully threaded his novels with strong language and took even greater pleasure in routinely subverting and kicking over audience expectations. As such Martin is often seen as one of the forerunners of a new wave of ‘gritty’ epic fantasy authors that followed, including Joe Abercrombie, although in truth he didn’t do anything in his novels that hadn’t been done before by masters such as Poul Anderson and David Gemmel. Martin’s achievement in this regard really stemmed from the scope and vision of his novels, which in the field of fantasy are only rivalled in their depth and complexity by Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. A veteran author who had for years before he turned his hand to A Song of Ice and Fire written for stage and screen, Martin excels at dialogue and juggling multiple plots and characters. This can be seen in the televised version of Game of Thrones, which is striking for how little has been changed in terms of plot and dialogue (contrast this with the Lord of the Rings movies, which feature much more adaptation of Tolkien’s work). In fact the most notable thing about Game of Thrones for those who have read Martin’s novels is that the extra scenes added by the director really do stand out as being of much poorer quality than the author’s original work.

So what could there possibly be to complain about? Well, unfortunately for Martin, quite a lot. Martin originally intended the series to be a trilogy and it really shows by the time you get to books four and five. Despite each being almost a thousand pages long, the first three volumes are tightly-plotted and fast paced. Not a word is wasted and as a reader you get the feeling that the author has been working to a well-thought out plan. Character arcs are advanced, plot seeds grow to fruition and there are a dozen little pay-offs and set-pieces. Whilst Martin’s gift for vivid dialogue and characterisation remains undimmed in the fourth and fifth books, his grasp on the plot seems to go AWOL. To take one example, the ominous phrase ‘winter is coming’ is threaded throughout the very first novel in the series, giving you the strong sense that the resolution of the supernatural threat in the north plotline is imminent. Five books later, however, we are still waiting, without having seen any really major developments in this regard. In one sense Martin may well have made a rod for his own back because – without wanting to give away any spoilers – a number of his major characters die. This inevitably means that there are fewer sympathetic characters for the reader to invest in by the time you get to A Feast for Crows and, to move the story along, Martin has had to introduce lots of new characters. Whilst some of the scenes involving the new cast – in particular the Viking-like ironmen of Pyke – are fun to read, you just never end up really caring about them in the same way as you do with the ones whom you first come across. This may well partly be because you become cautious about investing in characters given Martin’s penchant for brutally killing them off, which is perhaps another problem that he has made for himself. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against a few short, sharp shocks here and there but, after four thousand pages of that happening non-stop it starts to get a bit old!

Martin has suffered for his approach. Although A Feast for Crows reached the top of the bestseller lists and garnered positive critical reviews, reader reviews on Amazon were very mixed, with 3 stars (out of five) earning it the lowest rating of any book in the series to date. A Dance with Dragons gained similarly mixed reviews and was greeted by a somewhat lukewarm reception from fans of the series. In particular, Martin’s idea of splitting the books so that, in his words, they told the whole of the story for each set of characters rather than half the story for all of the characters, fell flat. Martin further alienated many of his readers by working on other projects during the intervening years between the release of the latest novels, leading some to believe that he wasn’t really interested in A Song of Ice and Fire any more. To his credit, Martin has gone on record to say that the delays stem more from the fact that he wants to make each book as good as he can rather than for any other reason (and I believe him). It remains to be seen whether the success of the HBO series will have an adverse or beneficial effect on the speed at which the remaining books in Martin’s series are produced. I for one hope that they do appear sooner rather than later because in my view Martin is genuinely one of the very best authors in the fantasy field today – a field which would be all the poorer without A Song of Ice and Fire in it. My only hope is that he learns a lesson from the mistakes of the past and that the conclusion of the series sees a return to the majestic form of the first three books.

74 Responses to “George R R Martin: Genius or Hack?”

  1. IntrovertedAnalyst February 3, 2012 at 7:33 am #

    Pick me, I know this one! 🙂 I think as regards the whole genius/hack thing, the answer’s in between. For my money, he’s a good writer, but not a great one. He’s got a lot of intriguing ideas, but seems to struggle putting them on the page. He can write some characters that are very compelling and others that sort of fall flat. If I had to theorize on why his later books aren’t quite up to par, I think the best one is that in between Storm of Swords and Feast for Crows he read too many of his own reviews (“Gritty!” “Adult!” “Groundbreaking!”) and got a bit too caught up in his own hype. That’s my own theory, for what it’s worth. But he’s definitely had a major influence on the genre- I wonder how long it will take for similar “gritty fantasy” imitators to crawl out of the woodwork.

    • ashsilverlock February 3, 2012 at 7:44 am #

      A very sound theory 🙂 I have a dreadful feeling that those imitators have started appearing already though…

  2. kalyrical February 3, 2012 at 7:57 am #

    Oh wow, I’m so glad I read this! I thought it was just me significantly disliking the fourth book because I did not think to read reviews on each of the books! Actually I didn’t really any reviews on any of them. I did NOT know that it was intended to be a trilogy, but it makes sense when you pointed out how the first three books were laid out.
    I was definitely late to check out this series, but I am still glad I did! George R R Martin writes beautifully…well that’s my opinion on the matter so far anyway. Still only around halfway through the fourth book and I am forgiving what a change from the first three it has been..but only time will tell if my patience will wear out 🙂

    • ashsilverlock February 3, 2012 at 8:08 am #

      Thanks, and yes, you’re definitely not alone 🙂

  3. verityjes February 3, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    As someone who saw the TV show without reading the books, or knowing anything about them beforehand, it was completely, utterly shocking when a major character dies in the penultimate episode. But if Martin makes a habit of killing off major characters, you’re right, it will definitely get old after a while.

  4. MJ February 3, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    I’m holding out until the sixth book to form an opinion. Martin’s said a few times that he never intended to write a lot of the things that happened in four and five, but rather show them through flashbacks or conversations. I’m hoping this means that, when he gets to the sixth book, he’ll be back on more solid footing plan-wise and will produce a pretty decent continuation of the series.

  5. grosenberg February 3, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    I love Song of Ice and Fire tho admittedly the last two were not as good as the opening trilogy.
    Martin’s writing has consistently blown me away from the time I read “A Song for Lya” when it came out back in the 70’s. As the writer of Armeggedon Rag and Fever Dream and the Editor of the WIldCards series, all personal favourites, he’s grown in my esteem. I definitely hope the next two books will follow quickly

    • ashsilverlock February 3, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

      Thanks, GRRM’s earlier work never seems to get enough attention, although admittedly ASOIAF does cast a long shadow!

  6. atleastimhousebroken February 3, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    I may be one of the few, but I found myself highly enjoying books 4 and 5 as much as the first 3. The plot may not move as fast as the 1-3 but the characters and settings are just as strong and that is my main draw to reading this series. The focus on the Iron Islands and Greyjoys and Dorne and the Martells was awesome in AFFC as both lands families are very interesting and getting to know the Boltons better in ADWD was harrowing. I wouldn’t mind him delving more into the other lands (more from Danyland). If he has to write another book or two more than planned to flesh his world out even more, than I’m all for it.

    • Meathouse Man November 4, 2013 at 9:26 pm #

      I agree. I thoroughly enjoyed books 4 and 5. I think the issue for some might be the stage in the story. It’s actually pretty typical in George’s work to have a tense, sort of lost, stage 3/4’s through, e.g. Lya’s disappearance, Joshua York’s hiatus in Fevre Dream. I think this part of the story is supposed to be tense and upsetting. We should expect to feel the characters’ anxiety and less the epic battles and action. There’s still some of that, but the characters’ inner workings, I think, will be more the focus. It’s hard to be sure, as this is by far the longest work he’s ever attempted. But with winter waxing, I wouldn’t expect too much fun for a while (if by fun you mean action). And, if we really take a look back at George’s other works, the ending will likely be bittersweet as well. Honestly, though, I think that just makes it better. Life’s like that, ya know…?

  7. aahabershaw February 3, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    Martin’s a solid author, but he doesn’t like writing action sequences very much (much of the real meat of the action in this series happens off-stage) and greatly enjoys inner monologue (which he happens to be very good at). The result of this, as you multiply characters across a multi-volume story, is the pace is necessarily bogged down by everybody staring at their navels and wonder what to do next and, when the doing occurs, it is often left out and summarized later.

    As for the story itself, my problem with it is that the focus for the story has shifted from the Starks and Lannisters to other places. Since I was mostly only engaged in the first three books *because* of the Stark/Lannister feud, the fact that it is essentially at an end has made me disinterested in continuing the series. I could never quite invest myself in caring about Daenerys and she has been taking such a long time to do what we all need and want her to do, that I’ve pretty much given up waiting.

    On the whole, I feel like a woman who’s been waiting for her man to propose for years and has, finally, given up and gone off to find someone who will really be interested in closing the deal. Life is too short to read stories about characters you don’t care for.

  8. Kim February 3, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

    Think martin has the tension wound a pinch too high. he wants to have a “resting and regrouping” portion of the series… but people get frustrated, wanting things to Happen!

  9. Noelle Campbell February 3, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    I got tired of the use of the word cock. I don’t read fantasy to be exposed to the foul language used by sailors. I can get that at Walmart just listening to people on their cell phones.

    I think he must have written this knowing it would be on hbo and it’s not an hbo show without tits n cocks. Pardon my language but if you read the book you already heard it.

    • Nicola March 9, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

      I don’t mind the foul language (because heaven knows I can have a foul mouth at times!) but the amount of rape really turned me off the series. I’m OK with most violence in fiction, especially in fantasy, but the sexual violence is just over-the-top and, in my opinion, unnecessary.

      Other than that, I loved the first two books, but found it harder to keep my interest as of the third one and am stuck midway through A Storm of Swords Part II.

      • Meredith May 29, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

        I’m glad I’m not the only one! I have to admit to not even reading a full book- I was completely put off by the way he described women (we don’t actually need to know the breast size of every single female character) and the rape. I’m not saying that people should not write about rape, just that for me it felt like every few pages I was having sexual violence thrown in my face and that he did not seem to be trying to say anything about it and it wasn’t artistically justified.
        This actually makes me sad, because other than that it seems like the kind of series that I would absolutely love. As it is I’m watching the series, which I mostly enjoy.

  10. D. D. Syrdal February 3, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    I got through the first two, but nearly a year ago, set #3 (Storm of Swords) aside and have not yet picked it up again. Martin has gotten a lot of praise for the fact that none of his characters is wholly good nor wholly bad. Frankly it’s left me wondering why I should care about any of them. I guess I need a good solid hero to root for. This is like watching a pageant of history, and yeah they can all be total sh*ts at times, but what’s the point of it all? Where’s it going? I’ve watched a few of the episodes on HBO, and frankly, I am underwhelmed. It feels rushed. I know it’s hard to squeeze so much into a one-hour episode, but maybe they shouldn’t have tried to cram a whole book into one season?

    • ashsilverlock February 3, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

      That’s a very good point and may well explain part of my own personal antipathy towards books 4 & 5 in particular

    • mqallen December 20, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

      Hi D.D., your comment on “watching a pageant of history” really struck home for me. I haven’t invested in this series; I gave it up in the first third of the first book. At the time, it was because it didn’t seem to have many fantasy elements to me. But I think what really turned me off on it was that it really does feel something like another take on Earth history.

      As an avid reader of real history who enjoys a good narrative history (I’m reading Barbara Tuchman’s Distant Mirror for the n-th time at the moment), I don’t really find a pseudo-historical or heavily historically inspired series all that interesting. If I want Middle Ages, I’ll read about the real period or perhaps some historical novels where I can find real life humanity in all its sordidness and ambiguity. For fantasy, in addition to magic, I’d really like to find something a bit more elegant. So no gritty fantasy for me 🙂 Brutal massacres, rapes, untimely death, bad marriages, insanity, inanity: I get enough of that from the real world, past and present.

  11. Samir February 3, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

    Hey Ash,

    Thanks for the detailed insight into this series. I have ‘A Game of Thrones’ sitting on one of my shelves for many years now. Every time I tell myself it’s time to read it, I pick it up, read the first two paragraphs then put it back. Strangely enough, I loved reading fantasy as a kid but after a while, the formula grew old and the excitement was repetitive. Somehow, I stopped enjoying the genre even though I want to read a good fantasy book once a while. I guess I’m always worried I’ll be disappointed after investing all that time and energy.

    I’m curious to read the first book because everyone swears by it, but then there are all these negative reviews as the books progress… I just don’t know.

    • ashsilverlock February 3, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

      On balance I’d say it’s worth persevering but I have to say that ASOIAF is a fantasy series that I’ve only re-read once (I tend to read books I REALLY like about a dozen times!)

    • D. D. Syrdal February 3, 2012 at 10:43 pm #

      I will say I devoured the first book in about a week (which is really fast for me). I’d say give it a try since you already own it anyway.

  12. Diane Tibert February 3, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

    I haven’t read any of these books and from the details here, I won’t invest any time in them. Crude language used to shock and awe and sell books doesn’t impress me. I don’t mind strong language when appropriate, but I easily tire of foul language used repeatedly. Last fall I read a book that used the f**k word several times. The first two times, it did was it was supposed to do: surprise me and make me laugh (since it was used in that context), but after that, it was as if the author used it just to impress me. She failed.

    Killing favourite characters all the time is also a turn off for me. Kill the one I’m most attached to and I become a little detached. Kill another and I read slower. Kill another and I might wonder why I’m reading the book and who should I connect with who won’t be killed. Kill another and the book gets put down and forgotten about. I’ve lost all connection with characters with is why I read in the first place.

    • ashsilverlock February 4, 2012 at 8:28 am #

      What makes ASOIAF so disappointing for me is the fact that, reading the first book, I really thought that this might be the ‘one fantasy series to rule them all’. I wonder if later seasons of the Game of Thrones TV series will attract as much criticism as the later books…

  13. jishifruit February 6, 2012 at 11:55 pm #

    You don’t know how many times, I’ve shared this article to my friends because you voiced some of my sentiments on the series. I haven’t finished the series yet but I will 😀

    I keep reading through your archives and I love it! I’ve nominated you as well for the Versatile Blooger Award 🙂

    • ashsilverlock February 7, 2012 at 8:29 am #

      Thanks, that’s very kind of you 🙂

      • jishifruit February 7, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

        Kindness has nothing to do with it. 😉 I’m in love with your blog. 😀

  14. OttoChick February 12, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    This is a great post, I’ve been feeling much the same. I raced through the first three books of this series, only to become frustrated with the fourth book. Many favorite characters were either dead or just not in it! I found myself flipping ahead to look for them, and I know my mother went through the same thing. I have yet to pick up the fifth book, but that’s mainly because I needed a break from all the death and danger and I surely will pick it up again. I still have to know how it all ends.

    • ashsilverlock February 12, 2012 at 9:05 am #

      Thanks and yes, that’s probably the main reason I keep reading too!

  15. Rocket Dog (Ergo Proxy) March 23, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    I tried reading Game of Thrones but gave up after page 6. It was too slow for me, but the show was great.

  16. storiesbywilliams April 13, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    I would be inclined to agree with much of the criticism leveled at him of late. I’m well into the fourth book, and I was already feeling like the plot was dragging on needlessly and taking detours that didn’t need to be taken. Now in book 4, it feels like he’s really taking the opportunity to delve into everything but the main plotline. Frankly I can see a dozen ways in which the plot could have been wrapped up succintly in the first three volumes.

  17. From the Hatchery April 16, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    Thanks again for this post. I read it back in February and again today, after finishing the first season of the HBO Game of Thrones via Netflix. I wonder if the HBO series will take advantage of its opportunity to streamline the later books?

    What saves the series (of books) for me is the basic question they set out to ask: What happens AFTER the rebellion? When being king is no longer fun? When you’ve hit middle age and you’re wondering what the point of it all is? I know these questions revolve around Robert (who doesn’t make it past the first book) but I find it interesting/refreshing that Martin could have written about the rebellion and all its fantastic glory (kidnapping, torture, betrayal, war on an epic scale) but instead focuses on the aftermath.

    It might be a long wait but I, like thousands of others, am still very curious to see what happens next!

  18. Lauren June 1, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    Excellent article! I’m glad I found your blog (and thanks for visiting mine!). I’ve only read the first two books of this series, but despite being deeply impressed I’m already concerned (and sometimes confused) about the large number of characters and myriad plot strands. Finding out that it only gets more complicated, while major characters die and winter fails to come, is disconcerting. Nevertheless, I think I could stay committed to the series through my sheer determination to see how it’s all resolved.

  19. staticsan June 8, 2012 at 9:16 am #

    I feel a bit late to the party, but I identify with the “gritty fantasy” comment. However, I usually call it “hard fantasy”, as an analogue to “hard science-fiction”. I prefer to write harder fantasy as it becomes a way to connect better with readers. Perhaps it isn’t quite the same as “gritty”, as authors like Katherine Kerr have been writing fairly “hard” fantasy for years.

    I haven’t read much of Martin’s epic work. In fact, my bookmark is sitting at the start of Chapter One of the first book and has been for weeks! There was something about the prologue that struck me as “the writing should be better”. I just found it a bit of a chore to read – it just wasn’t like the effortless style of (say) Eddings or Feist. Maybe it is a case of good story will rescue poor writing better than the other way around.

    That said, I do intend to read it. Eventually.

  20. reflectionsinapuddle June 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    Great review! I agree with most of it. I couldn’t finish the Dance with Dragons, for a simple reason that I indeed found it pointless investing into any of his major characters because they are all brutally killed sooner or later. I got so annoyed with the lack of action and general darkness of the fifth book as well. I don’t think I am going to read any of Martin’s books in the future, unless i hear they are super-brilliant. There are plenty of other fantasy authors around.

  21. mtthwgrvnnthr June 16, 2012 at 6:34 pm #

    Reblogged this on the naturally estranged naked ape.

  22. Matt June 28, 2012 at 5:48 pm #

    For me the easiest answer is that he is both a hack and a genius. He was/is a talented author that’s stayed with the same series for too long in an effort to make as much money as possible. You see it all the time with Television shows that just won’t die, book series that were groundbreaking and earthshaking (Ender’s Game comes to mind) and then slowly degraded into dull dribble. It’s not that people like Orson Scott Card and Martin aren’t amazing author’s, it’s just that they all too willingly gave into the capitolist zeal that ruins so much great art these days. In my opnion, Martin would be best served abandoning it and moving on to something fresh and new so that he can show everyone once again that he can write, and does have interesting ideas.

  23. mqallen July 27, 2012 at 9:13 pm #

    I haven’t read enough of him to say either way. His first book didn’t hook me when I started it a few years ago. I’m itching for a good, long fantasy read and was checking it out again on Amazon a few months ago. The reviews of his last two books convinced me not to invest in the series. Sure everyone says the earlier books were great but when it comes to multi-volume fantasy, I tend to be very reluctant to commit until the whole series is done (or at least a good part of it- seemed like with as with a Song of Fire and Ice).

    Enjoyed the blog.

  24. Valerie Francis July 28, 2012 at 1:38 am #

    Ash, thanks for following my blog! You’ve got lots of interesting stuff on your site – I’ll be coming back often! Always wonderful to hear from a fellow fantasy writer.

    All the best!

  25. davidcgardner August 24, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

    Thanks for following my blog, Ash! I’m thinking of Tolkien every time I paint for a Lucky Charms commercial, believe it or not, so I’m looking forward to following your blog!

  26. Wyrd Smythe September 7, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    I’ve only experienced the HBO series, but nothing I’ve heard about the books makes me want to try them. Even your own essentially favorable article seems to confirm to me that they probably aren’t something I want to invest time in.

    Based on the HBO series, it seems to be about some rather unpleasant people in a medieval setting doing a lot of back stabbing and betraying. With some ‘shocking’ sex thrown in. And very little actual fantasy. In the two seasons of the HBO series, I’ve seen a few hints of dragons (usually as season-end teasers) and a little bit of basic magic, but it’s mostly medieval battle and betrayal. Just not my cup of tea. (I do get a huge kick out of Tyrion, though. Dinklage is about the only thing that’s kept me going for two seasons.)

    My sister, who’s not at all into science fiction, loves the series and the books, and I think that says something. These are more mainstream books for mainstream readers. It would be interesting to see what percentage of the series’ fans are long-time SF and fantasy readers and which are not. I’m guessing the balance shifts heavily towards not.

    When I consider the enduring love most of us have for LOTR, the contrast is striking. Loaded with fantasy elements, loveable characters, and he had the good sense not to kill off Gandalf. (For me, killing off Eddard Stark was a fail. It vastly reduced the small set of characters I liked.) Even Jordan’s WoT series seemed more for experienced SF & F readers (although I lost interest somewhere around book 8 or 9 after realizing I’d just read an entire (huge!) novel that hadn’t advanced the plot at all).

    Anyway (didn’t mean to go on and on), just take this as a data point from the both thumbs down side. I enjoyed your article; it was good to read a balanced look at both sides! 😉

    • George Mulberry March 14, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

      Don’t make the mistake to judge the novels for what you see on the TV series. Even HBO has budgetary limits that mean nothing to a writer. For example, the novels show more of both the dragons and the direwolves than the series has been able to manage, and several amazing scenes have been altered completely (the House of the Undying being the most notorious example). The fantastic elements in the books begin fairly subtle, true, but they are increasing exponentially with each volume, which seems to point at a truly pyrotechnic ending. Also, the “sexposition” scenes that plague the HBO show do not exist at all in the books: don’t take me wrong, there’s sex in the books, but nothing like what it is shown on TV.

      Regarding Eddard’s death, in my opinion it drives home the message that the story is not about the generation that rebelled against the Mad King, but about their descendants, who have to cope with the consequences of their actions. The story is not centered on Eddard, Robert, Aerys or Tywin Lannister, but on their children.

      In short, my advice is to give the novels a fair try and decide on their merits or flaws as an independent work. You might be surprised!

      • Wyrd Smythe April 7, 2013 at 11:35 pm #

        Might be; anything is possible. I don’t feel much urge to try, though. All the royal skullduggery just doesn’t interest me. Humanity at their worst isn’t a reading topic I enjoy unless the writing is absolutely extraordinary (Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Convenent series, for example, I find utterly compelling.)

  27. David Halliday January 2, 2013 at 7:29 pm #

    My wife loves all these books. I couldn’t get through the first chapter of the first book. I don’t think the guy is a great writer. But I love the TV series.

  28. Prinnie Dood February 14, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

    The guy is in between, the two extremes, as most folks are. It’s been a good number of years since I read the first three books, but I remember having two very particular issues – the way he handled female characters, and the way the titles got dumb way fast in order to conform to the “A [Blank] of [Blank]s” theme. Though I can no longer cite any examples, I always wanted him to improve the former and ditch the latter – you’re famous, dude! Live a little!

    • Prinnie Dood February 14, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

      I wonder where that extra comma in my first sentence came from …

  29. albert hecker February 26, 2013 at 9:21 am #

    populist hackmeister.
    twilight.hunger games for slightly more grown-ups

  30. Tim Rigney April 22, 2013 at 2:35 am #

    I think one of the “core principles” of good Fantasy writing (and to an extent, Science Fiction…) is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. He achieved a certain level in the first three books and then just had some fun with it. And I’m fine with that. It’s his “Magnum Opus” after a long career. On a certain level, one would certainly *hope* he’s gotten good at this by now. But also, I’d say “Hey, you’ve accomplished something – so it’s okay, go nuts, let’s have some FUN with this.” And “so what if it isn’t perfect or runs a little long.” That’s my take on it, anyway. Shakespeare is still readily-available in the same libraries as “A Song of Ice and Fire.”

  31. MK March 25, 2014 at 8:13 pm #

    “Yes, let me just come up with a semblance of a promise of a plot for a book and then procced to derail that plot for decades until I litarally die. People will eat it up.”

    – Millionaire writer George R. R. Martin

  32. Acidhedz May 3, 2014 at 3:45 am #

    I first heard of this series from an article about Jason Momoa who played Ronin in the series Stargate Atlantis, which I enjoyed. I ended up getting into an argument over whether he would be better remembered for SG or the character he played in GoT. Prior to this my feelings about the series was that is was just another of HBO’s porn operas (porn soap opera), which is the only thing they seem to air any more.

    Once I looked the series up, and the books, I had an extreme visceral reaction to everything I found out about them. The more I have found out, the more disgusted I feel. Enough so that I not only hate the show and books, but also the people who watch/read them.

    I had the same reaction to a movie called Very Bad Things. A visceral feeling that this was sick and degenerate, and only the sick and degenerate could partake of it.

    I will say that I view the role of fiction to be entertainment. That’s it. People that get emotionally invested in books or tv shows need to go outside and get a life, and I say that even as a lifelong lover of books and someone who writes fiction. I don’t want to make people feel anything, I just want to tell them a story. Likewise I don’t like it when writers or movies/tv shows try to make me feel anything other than enjoyment. Fake things should not provoke real emotions, especially not negative ones. Good emotions I will excuse because that is pleasurable, but only the sick minded could enjoy being made to feel horrible.

    And yet, that seems to be what the fans of GoT love the most. I have never liked tragedies and find the whole genre to be nothing but weep fest trash. Romeo and Juliet? Great, I just sit through all this just so they can die. yay. I wish I would have just watched a documentary about a war so at least it would be something real bringing me down.

    I don’t like whangst. I don’t like grimdark. I don’t like soap operas. I don’t like turgid bloat fests. I don’t like convoluted, rambling nonstories. All of which are GoT.

    Martin is a hack. He is a mechanical, rote writer that has one talent, which he learned working on soap operas, and that’s making characters that feel real. Mainly because he spends forever writing about all the stuff other writers leave out because it’s boring and banal. He has no imagination at all, having ripped off history for every single character and event he uses. He has one trick. Using his soap opera writing to get people hooked on a character, then kills them off. Usually with a twist which he learned working on The Twilight Zone. He is a sick, perverted old man.

    • Jake Masters May 3, 2014 at 9:08 am #

      As a LIterature major and Ph.D. student, as well as a genre writer myself, I can say that this is one of the most shallow, narrow-minded, short-sighted and utterly insulting approaches to fiction I’ve ever read. For a self-proclaimed “lifelong lover of books ” and fiction writer, you sure know nothing about literature.

      Fiction -or good fiction, in any case- does a lot more than entertain. Writing about depravation does not make the author depraved, in the same way that an actor does not need to be a murderous sadist in order to play the role of a murderous, sadist villain. It’s fiction, man. The characters’ thoughts and actions are not necessarily shared by the author or the readers. Judging and hating people that differ with you in their reading tastes? Presenting Shakespeare’s tragedies as a “weep fest trash”? You just disqualify yourself.

      You have the right to your opinion, of course, but it is one thing to say that you do not enjoy personally a work of fiction or you even dislike it, or “hate” it, as you put it. Stating that those who write or enjoy that type of fiction are sick, degenerate perverts is quite another entirely.From this to book-banning or burning is a very short distance.

      • mqallen May 3, 2014 at 3:32 pm #

        While Acid was a bit over the top, I actually share some of the fundamentals of his post. And I didn’t realize Martin was a soap opera writer, that explains a lot.

        I do read about depravity and don’t mind it in fantasy where it serves the story (Tolkien describes some terrible events although he leaves much more to the imagination.) But I don’t like it when it feels like it’s main purpose is just to shock, just like I don’t watch gorefest movies.

        I read a lot of history and because of that, I don’t care for thinly veiled historical prototypes for settings and characters: I recognize the prototypes and generally find them better than the story treatment. Plus, reality gives me plenty of horror, depravity, ambiguity and arbitrary death (read any first hand account of battle for starters). I don’t look to fantasy for that stuff, I look to fantasy for an escape. So, Martin’s approach doesn’t really work for me, personally, although it surely works for many.

        But the other thing that bothers me about Martin is that he seems to be of the ilk of fantasy writer that starts creating characters and sub-plots with abandon without a thought to conclusions. Heck, why even have an idea (at start) of how to conclude them until you need it? I haven’t read far into the series so maybe he is better than most at this due to the soap opera experience but I do know that “Winter is coming” has become something of a joke. “It is? When?” Toss it out there. Worry about it later. Much later.

        Again the ‘many threads’ technique is wildly popular but for me, having experienced all too many authors and shows (Twin Peaks is a classic in that regard) where the writer tossed a bunch of stuff out there without any idea of how to resolve it, I don’t trust it any more. I’m willing to invest in a multi-volume opus but not until it is complete and I can read the reviews to see if the author tied things up in a reasonable way or, as is much more often the case, all those threads just made an ugly tangle of string.

        But I’m goal oriented. I read for the end more than the journey. Although I must confess, I still enjoy Stephen King’s IT. The journey was so good I didn’t mind the silly space spider at the end. But I think that was a classic case of an author starting things off without having a good idea of how to end the story. Better to know your ending, then write the middle, even if the ending changes by the time you get there. Otherwise, the story becomes the analog of someone trying to push a wet noodle. It flops around all over the place.

      • Acidhedz June 5, 2016 at 1:29 am #

        You misunderstand far too much…

        1. Appeal to authority. Your little piece of paper means nothing. You are no more qualified as a writer, or critic, than before you spent all that time and money.

        2. Anecdotal. Your personal take on what I said is irrelevant. You spent a lot of time and money getting that piece of paper, which makes you inherently biased. Your ego is involved.

        3. Proof? What I know is that people who go to a school to learn to be a writer, are always pretentious hacks.

        4. Does it? Can you prove this? Any book will have a portion of people who have an extremely negative reaction to it, a portion who feel it changed their lives, while the majority will fall somewhere in the love – apathy – hate spectrum. Unlike… say a doctor. Once a doctor has learned to handle an illness. Because knowledge has an inherent value. Fiction does not. Therefore no book, or game movie or tv show, has any inherent value beyond entertainment.

        5. False Equivalence. An author spends FAR more time with the subject matter than an actor, therefore at some level the author must WANT to write about said topic matter. An author CHOOSES what to write about. In the case of Martin, it’s always the worst. Saying his tripe is realistic is like saying the nightly news is a realistic depiction of everyday life. But then you would have to take a hundred years worth of the worst news, and cram it into a couple of decades.

        6. Strawman. They still CHOOSE to write/read it.
        Life is a varied and dynamic thing. Choosing to only write about the bad, is just as childish and myopic as only choosing to write about the good. I would say it’s actually more childish, in an emo ‘I’m middle class living in comparative luxury… but life is pain’, sort of way.

        As for most of the praise Martin get’s. It’s nonsense.
        It’s easy to kill characters when the story isn’t actually about anyone or anything.
        It’s easy to make people feel like characters are realistic when you’re willing and able to rote write chapter after chapter from the point of view of a character that you intend to kill from the start. It saves you actually having to give them dimensions and making them into proper characters.
        He isn’t realistic at all. Just grimdark and nihilistic.

        7. Shakespeare’s genius was in his use of language. If you actually know anything about him, he didn’t write a single original story. He rewrote ones that were already popular. His plays were popular entertainment of the day. It wasn’t until modern times that he got appropriated by the “high brow” crowd.
        And yes, all tragedies are made to push the same buttons as any soap opera. Hamlet I may give a pass to, but Romeo and Juliet is just any given soap opera of fast forward, with a really downer ending.

        8. I have the right to logic, reason and facts to form arguments. You have the right to an opinion, which I have the right to not care about, since they have nothing but your emotions behind them.

        9. Again, if they do enjoy it, at some level they are those things.
        I used to really like the Hellraiser movies. Very “disturbing”. So much so that one cannot take them seriously.
        SAW on the other hand, is not over the top. It is specifically made to be realistically horrible. Torture or Gore porn being the usual description.
        There is a line between entertainment and safe voyeurism. Game of thrones crosses that line. It is Schadenfreude. If most fantasy is heroic porn… Game of thrones and the books it’s based on are… misery porn, and perhaps power trip porn as well.
        If you find your pleasure in misery, there is something wrong with you.

      • Nexium June 5, 2016 at 4:52 pm #

        Long rant, two years in the making, and you still weren’t able to solve your fundamental contradiction. You’re the guy who wrote “I not only hate the show and books, but also the people who watch/read them”, and that “people that get emotionally invested in books or tv shows need to go outside and get a life”. In the same post.

        Dude, hate is an emotion. A negative emotion. And you quite obviously are emotionally invested enough to reply to years-old posts with your own anti-intellectual, GRRM hate-mongering rants. So maybe you should listen to your own advice and, you know, get a life.

        Seriously, man. Hating people for enjoying something you don’t? Considering an author sick and degenerate for writing something that don’t appeal to your poorly-informed tastes? Disregarding higher education as wet paper in order to not feel so inadequate at debate? Shakespeare’s greatness is only due to his use of language? Dismissing other people’s opinions as based only on ego or opinions while claiming yours is based on “logic, reason and facts”? Making blanket statesments such as “people who go to a school to learn to be a writer, are always pretentious hacks”?

        You, sir, are either a typical internet troll, or the worst kind of egotistical blowhard full of himself who thinks he is in possession of the One True Way. I sincerely hope, for the sake of your professional career, that you are better as a musician than as a debater.

    • Acidhedz July 28, 2016 at 4:32 pm #

      That isn’t a contradiction. I am not emotionally invested in them on their own, I care because of what they are, and what they represent. Although largely it’s because I’m sick of you pretentious fanboys that feel a need to justify your sadistic misery porn by acting like it’s something it’s not.
      It’s not even fantasy. At most it’s sword and sorcery, but even that’s dubious because the ice zombies and dragons are the only supernatural elements, and they haven’t done anything.

      How is anything I said anti-intellectual? Proof? Just because you assert something, doesn’t make it true. Clearly you don’t know how debate works.

      Perhaps if you Martin fanboys weren’t all such pretentious cunts I wouldn’t be so bothered by you, but here you are showing precisely why I can’t stand you. It’s not just that you’re all addicted to misery, it’s that you think that addiction makes you special. And you feel a need to place yourselves up on a pedestal above anyone who doesn’t care about it. You all started it, but I’m better at it.

      “Hating people for enjoying something you don’t? Considering an author sick and degenerate for writing something that don’t appeal to your poorly-informed tastes?”
      I’ve always said idiots are oblivious to irony and hypocrisy.

      How does pointing out that 99.9% of people who get degrees in writing, never amount to anything, have anything to do with debate?
      That’s called a strawman, along with an appeal to motive fanboy.

      Yes. Shakespeare’s genius was in his use of language. Anyone who actually understands his work, instead of caring more about trying to sound like an intellectual because they’ve read his stuff knows that.

      Yes, you see an opinion is subjective. A position, or argument, is supported by logic, reasoning and facts. I have given mine. You, for example, like all fanboys, think asserting something is all it takes. Because you are so arrogant you think something has to be true, just because you’ve said it.

      Yes, they are. Because people who are writers go to school to learn how to get better. People who go to school thinking they can learn to be creative, to write, from teachers never amount to anything. But they have to justify spending all that time and money, so they become pretentious and act like

      Ad hominem.

  33. robert May 12, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

    One problem with fiction authors who set out to write sagas longer than their original plan is that they don’t know how to end their story. He or she may get caught up in the achievement of having created a fantasy world, but has forgotten that is only a means to an end.

    As you see with this series, it has a great beginning and is now all middle. By killing off his original major characters he has forfeited his end game. The latter books become more like “The News from Westeros” than the ribald tale he set out to tell. Frankly, who has the time to read another news magazine?

    • J Admiral June 2, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

      I totally agree with the thoughts on your comment expressed. I do think if you want to talk “Genius,” think about the Genius of starting a really good tail/story/ book—creating that total story w/ good ending is tough, but I think plenty of people could start great stories (again stress, just start them). Some others above in the comments, have expressed these similar sentiments as well. All being said, I think Martin could move past this (questioning of his “genius”) if he can “tie” the story up/ and come up with a good ending. There are still plenty of interesting characters left, but the question is “what now?” Also there have been some themes, comments, mysteries, and characters that Martin came on so strong with, who somewhat have fallen by the wayside. If the other 2 books (last 2 ?) can’t incorporate some or at least (to a minor extent) resolve some of these mysteries, plotline, etc. and Martin just ignores these or writes them off with little explanation, I think it is ultimately a testament to the “whole series,” not being that good. One other final thought, when I think about more, the first 3 books do stand on their own much better (meaning if you tried to read book 4 or 5 – without the background, they would painful— I think that’s one way to gage a good writer; i.e. their writing quality should stand on its own; enough on its own without the support of the past writing in terms of 3 large novellas).

  34. J Admiral June 2, 2014 at 9:25 pm #

    I enjoyed the post. Thanks blogger for some interesting info and thoughts. Also, I read many of the comments above. After reading the series (I have also watched/ watch the HBO stuff), I don’t think Martin is a very good stylistic writer. He also does focus waaaay too much on the details, which seem to not add a whole lot (except to prolong the number of pages). However, that being said, I have enjoyed the over plot. Thus, I have appreciated his ability “to tell a story/ style”. I also like (although somewhat annoying when all the fans repeat this over and over again), how Marin has tried to do something not “typical” or unusual –re: in this sort of fantasy writing. Moreover, I am intrigued at the length he has gone to provide mystery to the ending/ storyline and some of the over-arching themes, which does keep me interested or going (here the depth and details do works in combination with some of the recent “unreliable narrator” techniques). Anyway, what sparked my interest with this blog post (well, not only is it well written), but the concept is fitting—is Martin a “Hack.” Well, no, I don’t think so… Especially when you consider the sum total of his work… I think it clearly shows he is capable. But… In terms of “Hack” status for a “Song of Fire and Ice,” I think the JURY is still OUT… My thought is that over the next 2+ ? books, he better wrap the story up solidly, bittersweet or not; because I don’t think his “style of writing” will carry the series alone, without a strong conclusion to include (his ability) to let the readers fess out more of his themes, etc. If the ending falls flat, I don’t think the whole story of “Game of Thrones” will be considered to have any lasting potential; with ultimately and strangely the HBO series outshining the writing (i.e. if Martin is unable to wrap this up well). One other thought, I thought book four was such a derailment, but I liked a “Dance with Dragons”—I wonder if he had somehow condensed book 3 and 4 (back in time here), while releasing it sooner, if he wouldn’t have absorbed so much criticism (e.g. if you edited out 3 and some of 4, you have a good book—I think). But, telling from some of the posts, it seems many people do not hold “A Dance with Dragons,” in high esteem.

  35. Siri November 10, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

    I haven’t read the books, but I am a fan of the HBO series. I like the complexity of the plots. However, I cant seem to understand where the final plot is going. I absolutely love poltics surrounding the iron throne, but then the supernatural element of the whitewalkers puts me off. They haven’t been shown much and I seriously do not their significance and how it helps the story.

    • Acidhedz June 5, 2016 at 1:34 am #

      It’s a soap opera. There is no plot.

  36. ianbrettcooper May 30, 2015 at 11:26 am #

    Personally, I find George R.R. Martin to be an unfortunate mix: he writes great plots – epic storylines and characters, but his dialogue is godawful. It’s like he has a genius idea, but whenever his characters interact it’s like a 12 year-old takes over his pen. I keep wishing he’d hand over the actual job of putting his ideas onto the page to someone else.

    • Acidhedz June 5, 2016 at 1:33 am #

      He steals all that stuff from history.
      So… like a 12 year old with a few history books is a good way to describe his work.
      Also, his characters are not good. They have no actual dimensions, he’s just willing to spend a lot putting you in their head. Up until he kills them, which is easy because he’s a soap opera writer and like all soap operas it isn’t about anyone or anything. It’s just there to waste your time.

      • ianbrettcooper June 6, 2016 at 12:43 pm #

        Sure, he steals a lot from history, but that’s not a bad thing. I wish more writers would do it, and lend themselves the air of realism that GRRM’s stories have. Also, I think you are overly critical regarding his writing abilities. While I don’t think GRRM is the genius some of his fans claim he is, I don’t think he’s as poor a writer as you seem to make him out to be either. Personally, I just find his writing style mediocre, which is okay for a genre pulp fiction writer, which is what he is. I can’t force myself to read it, but there are obviously lots of readers out there who can. The best thing about GRRM is that his books were picked up by HBO, which has managed to turn his mediocre and unreadable (IMO) prose into a compelling drama show.

      • Acidhedz June 7, 2016 at 4:39 am #

        Just because he steals all his plots from history books, doesn’t make his crap any more realistic. There is nothing realistic about it. Saying it’s more realistic is like saying the nightly news is an accurate representation of daily life.
        Myopically focusing on horrible things, then rewriting them even worse, isn’t realism.

        It’s not fantasy, it’s a grimdark sword and sorcery soap opera. Mixed with historic fanfic. Because that’s really what Martin is, a fanfic writer.

        Everyone who’s hooked on a soap opera calls it compelling. End of the day, you’re still just addicted to a tv show.
        A show that’s nothing but misery porn.

  37. Ron October 17, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    No one seems to have read his pre-Game Of Thrones fiction. He *can* be a really good writer and this is borne out in novelettes like “A Song For Lya” or “Sandkings”, both of which most SciFi fans should read.

    However, he had his share of disasters like his first novel “Dying of the Light”, which is unremarkable and has literary pretensions (just consider the name of the book, taken from Dylan Thomas’ “Do not to gentle into that good night”). “Fevre Dream” is absolutely dreadful, with riverboat gamblers and vampires, done very, very badly (no, it’s worse than you think).

    I love GOT and can’t wait to read the final volume, but he is a *very* uneven writer.

  38. Acidhedz June 5, 2016 at 1:38 am #

    Martin’s greatest accomplishment has been conning people into thinking his historic fanfic, grimdark, sword and sorcery soap opera… is fantasy in the first place.

  39. voxnulla June 19, 2016 at 11:33 am #

    GRRM is an overrated screenwriter with delusions of grandeur. People are generally fooled into thinking his world is large and complex because of all the random story arcs and POV switches, which generally is seen as poor style. But somehow people today are awe-struck by meaningless convolution.

    In itself that is not such a big deal. People like pulp, and that is fine but the fact that GRRM thinks his work so great that he rips on fan fiction fans who write in “his” world makes him hypocrite and an asshole. His works is nothing but medieval English fan-fiction. Take the war of the roses, add dragons, rinse and repeat.

  40. Ed July 2, 2016 at 11:59 pm #

    Art is man’s metaphysical mirror; what a rational man seeks to see in that mirror is a salute; what an irrational man seeks to see is a justification—even if only a justification of his depravity, as a last convulsion of his betrayed self-esteem.

    Between these two extremes, there lies the immense continuum of men of mixed premises—whose sense of life holds unresolved, precariously balanced or openly contradictory elements of reason and unreason—and works of art that reflect these mixtures. Since art is the product of philosophy (and mankind’s philosophy is tragically mixed), most of the world’s art, including some of its greatest examples, falls into this category.

    Is the universe intelligible to man, or unintelligible and unknowable? Can man find happiness on earth, or is he doomed to frustration and despair? Does man have the power of choice, the power to choose his goals and to achieve them, the power to direct the course of his life—or is he the helpless plaything of forces beyond his control, which determine his fate? Is man, by nature, to be valued as good, or to be despised as evil? These are metaphysical questions, but the answers to them determine the kind of ethics men will accept and practice; the answers are the link between metaphysics and ethics. And although metaphysics as such is not a normative science, the answers to this category of questions assume, in man’s mind, the function of metaphysical value-judgments, since they form the foundation of all of his moral values.

    Art (including literature) is the barometer of a culture. It reflects the sum of a society’s deepest philosophical values: not its professed notions and slogans, but its actual view of man and of existence.

    • ianbrettcooper July 3, 2016 at 10:14 am #

      What a load of word salad bollocks.

      • Ed July 3, 2016 at 1:12 pm #

        If multisyllable words and complex philosophical concepts confuse or frighten you, by all means stick with fantasy literature, the go-to art source for adolescents young and old.

      • ianbrettcooper July 3, 2016 at 1:55 pm #

        If you think word salad is evidence of complex philosophical concepts, by all means keep reading Ayn Rand, the go-to source for psychotic nonsense.

      • Ed July 3, 2016 at 2:55 pm #

        “Word salad”: concepts I don’t understand, therefore I mock.

        Don’t fret, Ian. You have something in common with 99% of all internet chatters.

  41. Art August 21, 2017 at 7:32 pm #

    I stopped reading after third book, how many times does he has to write about feeding animals, favorite wine, banners, armors and maidens? he is not a genius, it’s inspired by Tolkien, he mixed fantasy elements with Europe’s dark age politics.

    My main problem is that he is repetitive, he has this formula of introducing new characters kick them out of their home undress them and kill them some brutal way, so he could introduce more stupid characters and this shit goes on forever, he is just too afraid to conclude any story, so he fills up pages with pointless and endless details, everyone is constantly traveling and killing someone, there is no good character, Unlike Middle Earth Westeros is quite pointless it’s neither fantastic nor real, it’s just a hack feeding his ego, the hack took everyone on a ride and stupid boors clap and danced all the way.

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