George R. R. Martin – A to Z: G

G is for George R. R. Martin. Too much sex, too much gore, too much wanton violence, and yet it’s storytelling of the highest order. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, upon which the TV series Game of Thrones is based (named for the first book in the series, just to confuse everyone), is polarising yet awesome.

A Song of Ice and Fire

George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire

Among GRRM’s less endearing attributes are these (don’t worry, I’ll praise him further down the page as well):

  • He fills his book with explicit scenes (both sex and violence) that sometimes seem to be there more for the shock value than anything else. I’m sure many will disagree, but much of that could have been done more tastefully, in my opinion. (The guys at the “Finish the Book, George” blog don’t pull their punches like I’m doing when they point this out.)
  • He takes forever to complete the next book and has, in the past, made and broken many a promise about release dates. “You’re not getting any younger, George, don’t you pull a Robert Jordan on us!” If you look at the release dates of the five books that are out (1996, 1998, 2000… so far so good… 2005, 2011… really?), you have to ask yourself what he’s doing with his time. The aforementioned blog is known for sticking it to him for pursuing all sorts of interests and hobbies (cynics would point out that many of them are earning him money) while he could be writing and while his fans languish. Who are we to tell him what to do with his time? True, but then, an author has to have some responsibility to his fan base, doesn’t he?
  • He has no qualms getting his readers to identify with his characters only to kill them off with relish. (I actually don’t mind that one, personally, it keeps the readers on their toes.)

But, but, but, but… they’re still awesome books. I don’t want my writing to ever be that crude and explicit – I would feel smutty and cheap, and I’m neither squeamish nor prude – but I can overlook that fact for these positive traits:

  • The worldbuilding and the historical background of the world of Westeros and Essos is extremely detailed and makes the setting very believable, an achievement that only the top tier of fantasy authors manage, and to which I aspire. Partially based on the Wars of the Roses (the medieval conflict in England, not to be confused with the film The War of the Roses), it is not hard to imagine that greed to control the throne would drive the characters to do what they do.
  • The cast of characters is complex, but not for the sake of being complex, or because GRRM gets side-tracked in too many story threads as the late and great Jordan sometimes tended to do in the “middle books”. It suits the imaginary world they are in, and they all come with their own motivations that mean their actions make sense in the context of the story. So many of these characters are multi-faceted, that is, they aren’t all-good or all-evil one-dimensional gap fillers, making them very realistic. It is usually possible to find something sympathetic in the villains, and something to despise in the heroes, or at least to imagine that such a character could exist.
  • It’s not the type of fantasy that waves magic stuff in your face; as with most well-written fantasy, the magic that sets it apart from our own world is merely one of the aspects of the story.
  • Even though “not much happens” in many chapters, they are linked to the greater story in such a way as to maintain the reader’s interest.
  • It’s just a good read. It’s the sort of long fantasy series I enjoy getting into.
  • Even though major characters are getting killed left and right, and even though it seems like things get progressively worse, there’s always that hope that things will turn out right, that karma has to finally wake up at some point and give the characters you love to hate what’s coming to them (even though you know on some level that GRRM wants you to think that only to turn around and smite your hopes with a wave of his pen).

What do you think of GRRM’s writing, of A Song of Ice and Fire, or of the Game of Thrones TV Series (which, by complete coincidence, has just started season 4)? Do you agree about loving some bits and hating others, or are you a complete, unconditional fan, or think it’s tosh that shouldn’t be read by anyone? Let me know in the comments.

About Amos M. Carpenter

Web dev by day, author by night, and generally interested in (and opinionated about) way too many things.

Posted on 8 April, 2014, in A to Z Challenge, Books, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. My brother and I have joked that he’s taking so long to write the books because he doesn’t know how to end the series, so he’s hoping he dies before he has to deal with it. Terrible humour, I know.

    I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve read so far (1-4), but haven’t found time to get to A Dance with Dragons, even though I want to know what happens. I get frustrated with Fantasy books that are that long– I feel like I could have read three other satisfying stories in the amount of time it takes me to get through one ASOIAF (or The Name of the Wind, which I’m reading now), and that the same story could be told with a lot fewer words. That’s an issue of taste and preference, though, and I know a lot of people love the MASSIVE books. I do like the writing, and the sex and violence don’t bother me. The descriptions of feasts are a bit over-the-top for me, though.

    On another note… Am I the only one who reads his name as “George Railroad Martin”?

    • Haha, never thought of “Railroad” – I usually think of him as “Grimm” (sounding out the four initials). Loved The Name of the Wind as well as The Wise Man’s Fear, can’t wait for the third. I’m the opposite with long books though – I get frustrated when they’re over before I feel I had a chance to really sink my teeth into the world. The “feasts” bothered you? Hmm, now I’m trying to think back to when there were descriptions of feasts, but nothing stands out there at the moment….

      • I’m exaggerating. There just seems to be a lot of description that I skim over in that series (and it’s been a few years since I read them, so my memories of specifics are horrible). Again, personal tastes. I will say that the writing in The Name of the Wind is so beautiful that I haven’t been tempted to skip any descriptions. Almost gave up before I got to the real story, but it’s so beautifully written.

        I used to love longer books. Now I think my TBR list is just so long that I can’t relax into anything.

      • I agree, having to be picky with your list of what to read when there’s so much interesting stuff out there but you just don’t have time for it all… it sucks.

        You might want to stop by again on “P day” 😉

  2. I’ve never read any of the A Song of Fire and Ice novels, and it is unlikely that I ever will. I believe that GRRM is an excellent writer (I’ve read other things by him), but I don’t like over-the-top explicit sex and violence in anything I read.

    • I haven’t read anything by him outside of that series, so I don’t know whether it’s just part of his writing style or whether he just started being so explicit for ASoIaF. Like I said, I can overlook it, but it’s very in-your-face, so if that bothers you too much to enjoy the great story, then no, I wouldn’t recommend reading it. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Thomas. Enjoyed your post on genres earlier today!

  3. I’m a big fan, and I love both the books and the show. That doesn’t mean I love all the parts, of course. Several of the POV characters bore me half to death, and when I reread the books I literally just skip their chapters. I don’t mind the deaths so much — one thing I really like about the way GRRM kills off characters is that it always makes sense. If you betray someone devious, you’re probably going to end up dead. Although if Dany and Jon Snow don’t end up riding dragons into battle together and ruling Westeros, I’m going to be seriously ticked off.

  4. My friend loves this series of books, I have yet to pick up a copy, but I am really tempted to do so. I also have to admit I haven’t watched Game of Thrones 😀

    • I’d probably recommend reading the books first (of course that takes quite a while), although I have friends who have enjoyed the series without having read the books. The TV series is very well made, with many of the characters very close to how I imagined them from the books. Either way, get ready to be shocked in more ways than one and I hope I haven’t spoiled anything for you 😉

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