Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Dance with Dragons - a ponderation

a dance with dragons

Plus my thoughts on the entire Song of Fire and Ice set of books and the HBO series Game of Thrones.

I was aware of George R.R. Martin's work, though I had never read any of it.  I was captivated, like a lot of people, by HBO's adaptation of the quadrilogy and decided to read up and get ahead so I could enjoy and kibbutz about their production.

I don't get a lot of time to read, unfortunately, but I do enjoy it.  And I'm one of those types who starts a book, then stops everything else in their life while they read it -- up to 2:00 in the morning night after night, dishes don't get washed, laundry doesn't get done, just come home from work and read into the wee hours.

For sci-fi stuff, I'm a Harlan Ellison kind of guy.  Plus I've naturally gone through the Dune trilogy, plus the after books, and the prequels written by Herbert's son and Kevin J. Anderson.

And for horror -- only Clive Barker will do.  Read The Great and Secret Show first, got caught up in a book that started in the dead letter office of the PO in Omaha, and it was love.  Imajica, Weaveworld, Everville, the Books of Blood . . . what amazing imagery!  And fantastic characters too!

I mention these to point out that I've been through more than a couple dedicated reads in my day.  But nothing like Martin's opus here.  The SoFI is so dense, so heavily leaden with detail and narrative that it can be overwhelming.  I saw some reviews that refered to the books as 700 page doorstops.  More like 1000 page doorstops to be honest!  But that's not a complaint.  They do at times read like a college kid filling out a word count on a term paper -- do we really need to know every ingredient of every dish at every feast?  But I appreciate Martin creating a total environment for the story.  You do get immersed into the story with all that dense narrative.

My sister, who is a book reading machine, could not get into the books, which is a shame as I had hoped to have someone to chat with about them.  But I wear my completion of the books so far as a badge of honor.

That all said -- I'm mildly disappointed at where we've left off after five novels.  I had hoped for some sort of resolution after 5000+ pages of narration, but we're essentially at the same point we were after the Iron Throne was emptied by Robert Baratheon's death.

I'm not going to do a bunch of spoilers here, but I warned my sister when she started the books, not to get too attached to any of the characters, because Martin shows an almost perverse glee in killing characters off or taking sympathetic characters and putting them in one lost cause after another.

When reading the third book -- A Storm of Swords, I reached a point halfway through and thought "That's it, I'm done." I wasn't going to finish the series because I was so disappointed in what Martin had done to several of the characters I felt were worth rooting for.  He rebounded with a fury towards the end of the book with some satisfying episodes and I thought "Okay, he's got me for the next book."

While reading A Feast for Crows, the fourth book, I began thinking I had finally broken through the dense storytelling and was more easily following Martin's narrative.  Turns out that while writing the book, he realized it was way too large to put in one novel, so he broke the story into two parts.  His choice was either covering all the characters with half their stories, or covering half the characters with all their story.  He chose the latter, which is why the book is so much easier to read than the ones published before it.

The fifth book, A Dance with Dragons, covers the remaining characters for about half the book, then melds into a sort of real-time story.  The title gives some clue as to a bit of the story, and I won't spoil it here for anyone, but like I said, 959 pages later (hardcover) and I'm just throwing my hands up.

Almost nothing is resolved.  No one seems to have made any progress, and what little progress has been made, seems to have regressed.  I can appreciate the fact that Martin isn't tipping his pitches here, not making the easy path to resolution obvious to the reader.  But come on, man!  The characters that got wiped out (at least it appears they've been killed, no telling for sure), the ones that are left, and a bunch of new players brought into the story in the final pages, a few brutal sequences with female characters . . .

Just terribly frustrating to this reader.  I'll buy the next one, to be sure, because I'm going to see this story through if it kills me.  But throw a reader a bone here George.  Please?

I'm wondering how many more books Martin is planning for this tale.  I read somewhere that it was looking like seven novels, which makes sense to me.  Because there's no way he can reconcile these storylines in one more novel, no matter how dense he makes it.

As to HBO's adaptation of the series -- I'm wondering how long they'll keep with it.  What's the lifespan for the cable series? I'm thinking five years, max.  And that's only if they can keep everyone interested.  Plus you never know with HBO.  Their blatant liberal political leanings have infested even this production as witnessed by the infantile gesture of using a mannequin head of George Bush on a spike in one of the episodes, then bragging about it like prebubescent schoolchildren in the dvd extras.  They'll be running their factually challenged movies like Game Change, Fair Game, and Recount in heavy rotation for the next eight years along with the laughable Newsroom and mean-sprited Veep as in-kind political donations.  But they may not want to clog their airtime with a long running series.

And there's the actor's aging problem as well.  Many of the characters in the book are very young.  And HBO has had to cast older actors in the roles to make it more palatable for the tv viewer -- who would be able to watch an 8 year old Arya stab that fat kid to death, or watch as a 13 year old Sansa be beaten by the Kingsguard on Joffrey's orders?  With the actress, Maisie Williams, cast as Arya already 15, it's going to be a stretch to have her stay true to the books when she's so much older than her character -- just can't picture Cat o' the canals as a 20 year old. Same with Bran.  The actor playing Hodor, is going to have a tough time toting around a full-grown teenager on his back.

On the other end of the spectrum -- Iain Glen who portrays Jorah Mormont is a little long in the tooth already, and it's going to be tough to have him appear to be a hulking, deadly swordsman 5+ years from now when he's pushing 60.

maisie williams & iain glen

It's going to take Martin a few years to finish off this story.  I just don't see HBO seeing it through to the end.  The critically acclaimed Deadwood only lasted two seasons.  The follow up movie never came to pass.  Rome, another of my favorite series, also only lasted two seasons.  And no dearth of history to stop production on that one.

So I think that those of us who are enjoying the cable adaptation of these books are going to be left hanging.  HBO hasn't hesitated to butcher Martin's story where they thought necessary -- Dany in Qarth, the attack on King's Landing, Jon's ranging beyond the wall, etc., so they may not hesitate to either rush this to some sort of conclusion in another season or two without waiting for Martin to actually write the story out or cut it abruptly off.  More's the pity.

That's what I think, anyway.

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