Thursday, March 17, 2011

Winter is Coming...(finally)

***Spoiler Alert*** 
The following contains some possible but somewhat vague spoilers

Book 1
Several years ago my good friend CT, recommended a book to me - A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin, he even loaned me his copy.  It was book one of an immense fantasy saga called Song of Ice and Fire.  I had seen it in the stores many times over the years but knowing nothing about it, it never really held much interest (there is so much bad fantasy out there, that I have a hard time justifying purchase of something I know nothing about).  I was big into knights and fantasy novels when I was younger (around seventh through twelfth grades) but hadn't really been able to get into much of anything in the genre since.  Even the DragonLance series where I devoured  probably 50+ books when I was young didn't hold any interest and I hadn't been interested in re-reading The Lord of Rings books since the movies came out (I liked the movies but they kind of ruined the imagination part of reading the books).

The book sat on my bookshelf for a couple months.  I finished the book that I had been reading and then went to look for something new...nothing sounded good to me.  I finally decided to start reading Game of Thrones...mainly because I felt guilty for having CT's book so long already.  I didn't go in with the best frame of mind, the first few chapters I was literally thinking "blah, blah, blah, sword, blah, blah, blah, king, blah, blah, blah, knight..."  The story was intricate and complex and soon enough I was hooked.  I even charted out characters, houses, and relationships since there were many and with complicated and detailed histories - just so I could help keep everything straight in my brain.

Book 2
But what really captured me the depth of the characters.  Characters weren't just good and bad, they all had varying amounts of each aspect.  I hated several 'good' characters and liked several 'bad' characters.  The characters surprise you in many ways.  A supposedly 'bad' character will show compassion and courage, and a 'good' character can be craven and betray everyone.  The character's actions, motivations, and emotions are complicated and realistic.  I was also drawn in by George RR Martin's lack of attachment to his characters.  You know that character that you have been reading about for the past 500 pages and that you figured was one of the main characters, if not THE main character of not only the books but the saga?  They chop off his head...and not as a climax either.  It just happens.  You sit there reading it and you are thinking "Really? REALLY?  WTF?" but the story continues.  Maybe this was planned all along and maybe it is not GRRM's lack of attachment to his characters, maybe he just doesn't care about our attachment to his characters.  It sounds horrible but it makes the books a very interesting read.  Anything can happen, no one feels safe.

Book 3
I read through the first and the second (A Clash of Kings) and started the third book.  Number Three (Storm of Swords) is a big book (1200+ pages).  I was a couple hundred pages in when I happened to leave it on the front seat of my car on an extremely hot summer day.  The glue in the binding melted and all the pages started to fall out.  It was big hassle trying to keep all the pages in order and make sure I didn't lose any.  I ended up reading another 100 pages or so before giving up on this copy.  I looked for a used copy but couldn't find one at the time, so after a couple weeks I had resigned to ordering one from Amazon.  Just as I was about to order, George RR Martin delayed the new book (this would be book five) in the series (to 2008)...which was strange since book four had supposedly been way too long for his publisher and had to be split in half.  So you would think that book five was all (or at least mostly) written.  I guess you would be I was.  After it was delayed again...or more precisely George hinted it would be a few months and more than a year later he still wasn't done, I made a decision.  I didn't want to be all caught up with the story and then have to wait forever for a new book, all the while forgetting details.  I put off finishing book three and four until a publishing date for the new book was announced.

Book 4
The release date changed several more times...and after the past 3-4 years, I grew more and more hesitant of re-starting book three: Storm of Swords.  Had I already forgotten too much?  Man, that is a big book.  Will I be able to get into it again?  When HBO announced the air date of their original series based on Game of Thrones, I knew I had to get going.  They were forcing my hand.  Although my brain was a little rusty with some of the details, I was soon back into the swing of things...although I forgot exactly how much it shocked me when he killed a main character...yes, he got me again.  I have had to change my notions of where the story is headed again...and each time this has happened, I have grown more and more uncertain.

Book 5
I am 80% done with Book Three and soon to start Book Four: A Feast For Crows.  Finishing right on time for Book Five: A Dance With Dragons.  Yes, a firm publishing date has finally been announced!  Book Five: A Dance With Dragons will be released on July 12, pre-order is set and I am now near giddy with excitement (even though I still have another entire book to read before it gets here).  Book Five, is only about 5 years after I originally expected it, but it is finally coming (although a very small part of me is expecting another delay).  I am highly looking forward to both it and the HBO series starting on April 17th (check out the trailer below).

Please don't die
But there is a problem...and it worries me greatly.  The problem is that there is still another planned three volumes to the story (at least)...which is great, but...  I've been told I sound morbid but I really (really, really) hope that he lives long enough to finish the series.  I mean think about it, this book was supposedly at least partially written in 2005, and it took George another 6 years to finish it.  George is not getting any younger and honestly doesn't look like the healthiest of people - sorry but it is true.  He is in his early sixties and if it takes him another five years per book he will be in his later seventies.  That is not unheard of, but then again people die all the time without completing their life's work.  Take half the characters in these books as a perfect example.  It might not even be a health issue...think about when Stephen King almost didn't finish the Dark Tower because he got hit by a car.  I had a huge pit in my stomach after that happened.  Luckily, Stephen King was able go on to wrap up the series (even though it wasn't as satisfying or as great as I hoped).  But it was close, he almost died and then he didn't feel like writing.  His tone changed in the books after the accident and it just wasn't quite the same...but at least there was some closure.  PS - did you see SK just announced a new Dark Tower book coming out in 2012?  I don't wish George harm certainly, and don't want to rush him...but we are dealing with some what of a time constraint (of indeterminate length).  George, I love the books, I just want to know what happens in the end.

Be sure to check out the HBO series A Game of Thrones premiering April 17th, 2011.  It looks pretty darn good.

And if you like complex, character driven stories where characters aren't black and white but all shades of grey: Read the books!  Even if you are not a fan of fantasy books, give them a try.  It is worth the time and effort.


Cameron Ted said...

I would go so far as to even say it is Fantasy "light", and more about Love, Family Greed, and most importantly Power. Those that have it, thoe that want it, and those that can take it. My favorite series of books I have read.

Michael said...

Definitely fantasy light...but I wasn't sure what else to call it.
Not my favorite, but definitely in the top 5, probably top 3.

kelly said...

The more time I've sat with the ending of Dark Tower, the more perfect I think it is. At the time it was frustrating, but after thinking back, you could see hints of it along the way. Ka is a wheel, after all. Round and round Roland goes.

As far as Fantasy, doesn't it have to have some sort of gay mystical creatures in order to qualify as such? Please tell me this doesn't have dragons or my interest level is zero.

Michael said...

Kelly - I agree with you on Dark Tower...I just didn't like the depiction of the Tower and the Crimson King. It was more than a little anti-climatic.

There are dragons, and wights, and mammoths in these books but they take up such a small part (so far) that they can basically be ignored. Literally they take up like .000002%. And that is also another reason I put off reading the books so long. I thought it would be another DragonLance. But it is not, it is character driven drama...and pretty awesome.

Shannonnicolle said...

Alright, you talked me into it. I had been on the fence since the HBO show was announced. Cam, can I borrow yours?