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Trash fantasy time ends after 2, 698 pages.

What that means, actually, is that I read all four books of George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. Well, three books, I guess. I read the paperbacks, which means I haven't read A Feast of Crows, and it also means that the third book, A Storm of Swords, was divided in half due to its one thousand page plus page count. Personally, I felt a little ripped off by that. It's not like a big thousand plus paperback can't be made, and since the first book doesn't even pretend at making a climax, you end up switching to that second book five minutes later to just keep going with the story line. Still, it's not like anyone had a gun against my head, so I've only myself to blame.

I don't know how you begin to explain Martin's series. It's probably not fair to call it trash fantasy, since it's actually of quite high quality in terms of writing and characterisation and plot. But, on the other hand, it's really just one long soap opera where occasionally characters take up swords and die. Other times they get maimed or married. There's quite a lot of maiming and marrying going on in these books, actually.

At any rate, in an attempt to explain the series in a simple way, it is the chronicle of the breakup of the kingdom that was conquered and forged together by King Robert after he and his buddies took it away from the mad King Aerys. His surviving children have been on the run, and his youngest daughter, Daenerys, will be sold at the age of thirteen to a horse lord by her older brother, Viserys, in the hope of securing an army to take back the kingdom. Meanwhile, in the Northern stretches of the country, the Wall, a giant wall of ice dividing those of the kingdom and those that are called Wildlings, and which is manned by the black clad brothers of the Night Watch, a last stop for the disgraced and murderous, an exile in the cold, has come under attack by wights and the free folk themselves, trying to escape the cold of the home.

If that sounds like three books, then that's because it is. The worse part is that by the second book, the storylines start getting larger, and more characters and kingdoms are bought into it. The scope is really quite impressive, and it will be a miracle if Martin is able to bring it together in a final book without having to merge the separate threads into one singular storyline. By the end of the third book, he's showing a small sign of doing this.

The handle, however, for the reader when approaching Martin is to use television as the guide. No, I'm not mocking. I'm quite serious. Put aside what you know of traditional fantasy novels. It's not going to help you here. Instead, take a season of Lost or Deadwood or whatever it is that you like on television, and apply the principles to building a giant soap opera tv series, and you pretty much know what to expect out of Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. Look at each book as a new 'season' and you'll be better off than if you were looking at it as a traditional epic, wherein conflict and resolution work itself out in the traditional fantasy beat. That being that there's a band of heroes, they move towards a final goal, they combat evil, collect this, do that. Deadwood works best as an example, I think, because Deadwood works hard are pushing aside the common held beliefs of what a western should do, and instead turns it into a conversation about America's formation as a nation, and the rise of technology at the time. Martin's series isn't working that--it feels, instead, to be trying to create a sort of historical based Empire story akin Rome--but it's clear that if you view each book as a season, you'll be better off.*

I've got to admit, though, that once I figured out this, I was pretty cool with the books.

I liked them a fair bit, though they didn't rock my world. I got the same joy out of them that I got when watching Angel, or another soap opera tv show. (That year I spent watching the Bold the the Beautiful, for example. Ah, trash, you're always there when I finish a thesis.) But I have to be honest that, midway through book two, A Clash of Kings, I was tempted to toss it in. Nothing interesting really happens in the book, though the final chapters, detailing the defense of Kings Landing from the point of view of Tyrion, the deformed dwarf son of Lord Tywin, Sansa, the young hostage kept by Queen Cersei, and Davos, the finger shortened sea captain who is part of the attack, is nicely climatic. But I would have been more pleased if, say, the deaths of Bran and Rickon had been even remotely believable. This isn't spoilage, by the way. You'd have to be selling your brain to rats to believe that Bran had died, given the amount of work Martin has put into the Third Eye Crow storyline.

I liked the first book, A Game of Thrones, as I said, but I was entirely right in that it was primarily backflash and setup, and a set up for the following books. Since outside one sudden death of a minor character, there were no deaths or twists to upset the status quo, and the only real fun in A Clash of Kings was Tyrion's control of the court, I was considering seriously the chuck in. I couldn't even keep reading in the hope of writing an essay about underage sex in George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, since that also dropped off. I did consider calling it, 'Underage Sex, Virginity, and the Dead Romance, George R.R. Martin's Treatment of Female Characters in the Song of Ice and Fire,' but nothing I thought of ever equaled that title...

Anyhow, I'm getting off the track.

What made me sign on for the series until the bitter end was the Red Wedding.

I won't talk about it, since it's a huge spoiler in book three, but what it essentially does, is alter the status quo for everyone. Indeed, by the end of book three, everything has changed, with the possible exception that Bran and his storyline are about as interesting as watching parliament on the telly.

There are moments, in tv shows, when you'll know that you'll sign on until the end. I signed on to Deadwood within moments, as the doctor pushed a bullet out of a man's head, and Al brutalised his whore in the back room for shooting her. I signed on to Angel when they slit Wesley's throat, and he became dark and grungy. The death of Fred was likewise a similar moment. South Park won me back with it's relationship of gay loving between Satan and Saddam. There are more moments in other TV shows. A moment when something happens, something that captures you to such a level that you say, after that, that you're there for the end.

Mine was the Red Wedding.

At any rate, in my fifty two books a year challenge, these equaled nine, ten, and eleven. So I'm doing shithouse with that, aren't I? Book eight was Christopher Logue's War Music, which left me so unimpressed that I have absolutely nothing to say about it, except that I was totally unimpressed and totally bored. He's rewriting the Illiad as his own epic poem and I skim read the last thirty pages. Ever skim read a poem before?

I was that unimpressed. Anyhow, so there you go, and here ends trash fantasy time. Next is Peter Carey's Theft.




* Of course, the latest book, A Feast of Crows, is reportedly missing half the cast, since Martin was forced to chop it in half when the book had gone beyond two thousand pages. Or some ridiculous amount. But the complaints of the book have been along the lines that the majority of characters are missing--which would be the exact same complaint you got if, say, Lost cut half its cast and said, "Don't worry. They'll be back next year in season four."

Comments

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ex_chrisbil
Apr. 25th, 2006 12:12 pm (UTC)
Jaime is perhaps the most interest character, and Martin's moment of purest genius throughout the series - what do you think?

There's more of him in A Feast For Crows, and I didn't think that book was half as bad as people are saying.

I think his series got so popular, it's hit that point with the elitist bastards where it's cool to diss it a bit... bollocks to that. I still think it's superb.
benpeek
Apr. 25th, 2006 12:28 pm (UTC)
Jaime is perhaps the most interest character, and Martin's moment of purest genius throughout the series - what do you think?

i do like what martin has done with jaime, actually. i think he's used him well. i dunno about purest genius though--perhaps he does more in the fourth book. but i do dig the changes he's gone through and how martin has done it.
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mariness
Apr. 25th, 2006 12:39 pm (UTC)
Bold and the Beautiful needed some apocalyptic fires and some zombies and a werewolf happily cutting up people's throats and then saying, melodramatically, "I just -- I love both of them! Charlene was my life, and now Regan is my life!" before discovering that this was all the plot of a pharmaceutical company planning on using a toxic waste dump to sell more products.

Just saying.
benpeek
Apr. 25th, 2006 01:32 pm (UTC)
wasn't there one soapy that was kind of like that? demon possession and all?
(no subject) - mariness - Apr. 25th, 2006 03:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - benpeek - Apr. 26th, 2006 12:30 am (UTC) - Expand
bradav
Apr. 25th, 2006 02:37 pm (UTC)
midway through book two
have to agree with you here, there's some characters that I'm not liking and have even started to look at the "chapter" headings to decide if i want to skip the next section or not.

I like the Jon, and Arry the best atm.
benpeek
Apr. 26th, 2006 12:31 am (UTC)
Re: midway through book two
stick with it, man. the second half certainly picks up. about midway through, like i said, i was going to give up, and it was really that whole idea of having already gone so far that kept me going... but i was glad i did.
coalescent
Apr. 25th, 2006 02:50 pm (UTC)
I signed on to Angel when they slit Wesley's throat, and he became dark and grungy.

I signed on when Drusilla walked into Darla's motel room at the end of 'The Trial'.

Hmm; other examples. I signed on to B5 quite late, probably not until 'Severed Dreams' and Delenn turning up with the cavalry. For The West Wing, I think it was Sam's speech in 'Galileo' about why we have to go to Mars. For Buffy, the death of Jenny Calendar. Not sure when it was for Veronica Mars ...
benpeek
Apr. 26th, 2006 12:34 am (UTC)
for buffy, i think it was the mayor and faith's relationship that signed me on. or maybe angel's turn after having sex with buffy. i can't remember which one it was that i saw first. in the later series, when i seriously considered stopping watching, it was the musical that kept me there till the end.

that, and i knew it'd finish at the end of season seven, i suppose. seven was unwatchable if not for the spike redemption angle.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 25th, 2006 03:21 pm (UTC)
Speaking of soap operas, why don't you read Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series? There are 12(?) books and more to come.

A passerby.

- I've only read the first book. I've been hoping someone can tell me the rest of the story ;-)

benpeek
Apr. 26th, 2006 12:37 am (UTC)
i read the first book of jordan's wheel of time ages ago. i read about half of it and gave up. i don't really think i'll be going back, so you're on your own :P
crookfactory
Apr. 25th, 2006 04:53 pm (UTC)
I signed on to the series after the battle (of Blackwater?) at the end of the 2nd book. All that burning and killing and Tyrion running amok was just too good. A Lannister pays his debts and my does Tyrion have a lot of debts to settle...

Glad you enjoyed the series. I'm currently reading "Feast..." and seriously, it's bruising my shoulder when I have to carry it around in my bag.
benpeek
Apr. 26th, 2006 12:39 am (UTC)
i did like the blackwater thing, but i think what i likd in it most was the dog's breakdown, and then his appearance in sansa's room. the dog's one of my favourite secondary characters. you can't have too much dog, in my opinion.
catvalente
Apr. 25th, 2006 05:30 pm (UTC)
I think I like War Music because I like what Logue is trying to do--I like the IDEA of rewriting the Iliad--christ, I wish he hadn't so that /I/ could, because at least I read Ancient Greek for fuck's sake (Logue doesn't, and proudly so.)

But I don't really like the execution. The second book was even worse. I like lines here and there, and whole sections of the beginning of War Music, but All Day Permanent Red was terrible, and I haven't read Cold Calls yet, but the title flummoxes me. And the fact that he's rewriting the Iliad...just a few parts, though, in increasingly smaller and more expensive editions ($20 for the 86 page All Day Permanent Red) several years apart, the parts he thinks are cool, and to hell with the rest of it...

But damn, it was such a good idea. I wish I'd been born twenty years earlier to think of it first.
benpeek
Apr. 26th, 2006 12:29 am (UTC)
yeah, i like the idea, as well. there's lots of rewrites (or uses of) the iliad, however. if you could twist it right to something different to logue, i don't see why you couldn't. i mean, shit, if you write the whole thing you're doing better than logue ;)

but the problem is that it's so unimpressive in its execution. there are moments that i liked, and i even dug the whole use of 'cars' in it, but that didn't go far enough, and good lines don't make up for what is essentially a really bland retelling of it.
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ataxi
Apr. 25th, 2006 09:16 pm (UTC)
"The constant vying for power among the nobles seems very tangible to me in ways that Jordan, Goodkind and Eddings could never do. Every one of the support characters seems to act like a real person to me, in contect of the environment."

Not having anyone act on motives other than desire or self-preservation makes it more real than other fantasy which rips off late mediaeval Europe. The lack of a Great Enemy is what allows that, so if/when the Others come to the fore some of the interest will leak out of the story - unless the twist that reveals what the Others actually are also imbues them with more complexity than they've been granted to this point.
threemonkeys
Apr. 25th, 2006 08:44 pm (UTC)
The handle, however, for the reader when approaching Martin is to use television as the guide

D'oh - why didn't I see that before! George did a lot of work in TV - I think he was script supervisor for Beauty and the Beast among other things. This series marked his return to writing books and was a big style departure from his pre-TV works. And I just thought he did it because there is more money in big fantasy.
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(Anonymous)
Apr. 26th, 2006 03:36 am (UTC)
...maybe you should go into TV.

A passerby
benpeek
Apr. 26th, 2006 04:48 am (UTC)
why?
(Anonymous)
Apr. 27th, 2006 12:53 am (UTC)
Then you can write an Australian series on 'Underage Sex, Virginity, and Dead Romance...'

A passerby
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