A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings
A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows
Then she gave me one of her boyfriend's favorites ... A Game of Thrones ... by George R.R. Martin ... and now I am having occasional lower back pain from reading at night in bed ... slouched-style. I read all four installments of his tome ... A Song of Ice and Fire ... in quick succession in about three months.
Now, I'm not going to go into details of plot and story here. This is more of a "praise page" than anything else for I certainly enjoyed each book in its turn and eagerly await the next installment. I'm not holding my breath though since the first four books took ten years to output. Quality work requires lots of time as well as ability and dedication.
What are these books about?
These are primarily works of characterization ... development and evolution of character. They concern interactions between viable characters under extremely stressful conditions. I could say these books are about Medieval times with knights and kings and ladies at court with a few dragons and a little magic thrown in ... but that would be like saying that a breakfast cereal could be most aptly characterized by the box it comes in instead of the Cheerios within. Mr. Martin is writing down the path taken by 19th century master wordsmiths, though, of course, his style is uniquely his own.
If this series of books were a movie, it would necessarily get an "X" rating for sex and violence (but not triple X). This is based on the quality of certain scenes. Based on the quantity of such scenes, it would rate a mild "R" rating. This is suitable for 17+ years of age. It is definitely not Harry Potter and was not meant to be. There are NO talking animals in any of the first four books ... but there are a few dragons ... that are portrayed as animals. There is some magic involved ... more on the order of the horror variety. The supernatural elements constitute only a seasoning to the meat of characterization. So, I don't mind it at all. It's not a turnoff for a realist (something like 98% realistic and 2% supernatural).
The story is set in an imaginary (but basically earthlike) land in a Medieval or even Dark Age. So, elements of our history can be used to flesh out the scenes realistically and very "organically". This is one good thing about setting your tale far in the past. The characters get dirt under their fingernails and don't bathe too often and ... don't care either. If you set it in modern times, you have too much technology competing with the characterization. The characters are no longer a visceral part of the environment. They are disconnected abstractions rather than animals with a tendency to think once in awhile.
There are several factions (sometimes as many as five at once) contending for power. So, it concerns warfare quite a bit and very realistic court intrigues. Expect lots of heavy swordplay, raping, pillaging, dismemberment, disfigurement, torture, illicit sex and references to gross bodily functions. The banter (at times comedic) amongst the characters is excellent as well.
Inexplicably, the author has given this era of knights, etc. ... a history that stretches back for 10,000 years. Mr. Martin does not actually depict this history, but rather, has his characters refer to it. Of course, this means that the civilization is impossibly stagnant and therefore bereft of technological improvements. Yet it has technological capabilities like ... the ability to build large castles and fortifications, there are siege machines, some chemistry and even some rational medical procedures ... yet there is no progress beyond this in 10,000 years. Perhaps there is a reason for this to be revealed nearer the end of the completed work.
There are hundreds of characters developed. Many are main characters but there is no "one" character who carries the entire tome. This means that you can do something here that other less extensive works cannot do ... you can kill off a main character. And Mr. Martin does just that ... not often ... just enough to prevent you from "knowing" the fate of a character who gets himself into a real bind. In fact, the few he kills off will piss off the reader for awhile because ... in a regular, one book, novel ... the author cannot kill off his main character in the middle of the book. Because, if he does, the reader (who has developed empathy for the gradually developed character) will not recommend the book to others as "worth reading" which results in "no sale" at the bookstore and the author has to get a day job.
Consequently, all successful novels require that a certain "form" be adhered to. You develop the character, he faces obstacles, he overcomes the obstacles and wins out in the end (high success probability) ... or ... he is overcome by the obstacles and dies or is defeated (good book say the critics - but people don't buy it). You can't kill off your characters in the middle of the book, so, outcomes can be fundamentally predicted. Hence, the reader can become complacent and even bored if he can't feel any anxiety for the characters. Mr. Martin can kill them off ... and does ... because he has many main characters and no one is absolutely indispensable. So let the blood flow and the reader is left in doubt ... without destroying the sale ability or integrity of the art work. To have many characters that the reader can care about, however, requires a very extensive work.
Mr. Martin word output in the first four books is on the scale of 1,200,000 words (around 3000 pages @ 400 words per page). And these are "integrated" words, meaning that the author has given much thought to the order and choice of words and to the order and choice of larger aspects of book writing. By comparison, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged has about 1,000,000 words written over a period of ten years and The Lord of the Rings probably doesn't go much past 500,000. I haven't read Lord of the Rings, but I shall do so presently because this is the archetype that Mr. Martin is competing with. Because of the movies, I suspect that it will have too much magic in it to suit me. Yet, it must be a good tale else it wouldn't get so much attention.
Can this be made into a movie?
Hmmmm ... many movies. If they tried, it wouldn't do as well as Lord of the Rings because it would necessarily get and "R" rating at best and they'd have to chop it to pieces to finish it off. If it were made into many movies, the actors would get old or die before they played their parts out. But a solution to this aging problem is on the horizon.
When CG characters can be made real enough to be accepted by moviegoers instead of flesh and blood actors ... then ... you could get the real actors and actresses to read the parts all at once over a period of a few weeks or months ... then ... let the animators loose for ten years to create the finished product. You could have whatever time you wanted and include everything ... even the "X" rated scenes. You could output two or three versions X, R, and even PG.
If you're looking for a good book ...
to curl up with at night, this is excellent. You won't learn anything new. You will just enjoy yourself as an intellectual being as an end in itself. It's a book for men or women. Many of the main characters are female (maybe half) ... several are even macho (but not lesbo). At twenty pages per day, you're set for about five months. The fifth book may be out in early 2007 and should be very hefty.
His Website pretty much sucks
Mr. Martin's homepage ... georgerrmaritn.com ... is a really terrible thing to behold for someone like me who takes pride in not squandering bandwidth or visitor's freetime. If you have a dialup, as I do, you may want to shave or read one of his books while you wait for the page to load. If you just want to find out how his next book is coming along ... A Dance With Dragons ... just click this link where you can see current info ... http://www.georgerrmartin.com/nextbook.html
George, please do your fans a favor and get somebody who can fix your site. You really don't have to change its appearance (though that would be advisable) ... but you do have to change the bandwidth it takes to display it ... principally ... all those unnecessary server trips to get tooooooo many little pics ... sheesh! It's not cute, it's just irritating.