Epic fail

* My friend Rich brought this article to my attention yesterday: The perils and pleasures of long-running fantasy series. It’s about what (if anything) writers of vast, volume-and-decade spanning epics owe their readers, and whether it’s inevitable that books of such unbridled magnitude will break your heart.

* As someone who’s left people hanging on the cliff, I sympathize. I can only imagine how much George R. R. Martin has changed as a person since beginning A Song of Ice and Fire, or how many new ideas he’s had that he can never implement because of all the thousands of pages already committed to print. How such a series may eventually feel like an albatross around the author’s neck.

* Speaking of which, I bought Game of Thrones last week to read on the airplane. It worked superbly for that purpose, making a long travel day seem shorter (except for the part where my son got irritated with me for reading instead of paying attention to him). But when I got home I didn’t pick it up again. I tried reading some more today, but I dunno. I’m finding it both engrossing and aggravating, and sometimes the latter outweighs the former.

* (Trigger/mature subject warning, after the fold) (Also, spoiler warning) (Also, also, sarcastic Rachel warning)

* Rape is an unpleasant subject, but it’s something that happens in the world and I’m not against it happening in books, necessarily. Here’s what I AM against: rape denial. Rape with ribbons on. Rape that gets glossed over as not REALLY rape, because she kind of sort of consented that first time (cleverly accomplished, but still deeply problematic for me) and so surely that consent is good for all the subsequent times where she hates it, right?

* Just so we’re clear, in case anyone has a broken irony-meter: NO, IT ISN’T.

* Because she does hate it, subsequent times. It hurts her; she dreads it. But the author makes a very clear parallel between being raped and riding her horse: riding hurts at first, too! She gets aching muscles and saddle sores! Over time, however, she toughens up and gets used to it, until riding becomes her ultimate freedom. Alongside this, laid out point for parallel point, is the fact that at first the rape is painful, but then she toughens up and gets used to it (likes it, even!), and in the end it does her a world of good. She finds the backbone to stand up to her brother! She seizes the reins and initiates sex for a change! Wow! All that rape improved her life!

* Gross, George. Really, really gross.

11 thoughts on “Epic fail

  1. I keep telling myself I’ll get around to it some day, when it’s all done, and if my friends tell me it’s ultimately worth it… but, eh, maybe not. Annoyingly I have a boxed set of the first four books, and individual copies of the first two or three, because people keep giving them to me.

  2. As much I have enjoyed Martin’s series over the years (I’m even the rare sort that liked Feast of Crows just fine), I have to say that Steven Erikson is now the true master of the doorstopper fantasy series. His just-completed Malazan Book of the Fallen is 10 massive books long, but said books were published in their entirety during the twelve year period between 1999 and 2011. Essentially Erikson wrote 3.33 600-1000 page novels for every single 600-1000 page novel Martin wrote during the same time frame.

  3. Yes!

    The series is quite difficult sometimes around issues like gender and race. The first book or two are so permeated with the “whores, whores, whores, women are whores, whores are women” attitudes of (presumably) the majority of men in the book. It implies that common women are mostly worthless, powerless, and uninteresting except as the sexual property of men. This attitude is very normalized, not critiqued.

    The exceptions of the (noble) women like Sansa, Arya, Kaitlyn, etc., don’t wash away this issue, though they offset it somewhat. Later books in the series slowly change for the better in some ways, on this front, but a certain murder of a certain whore in the 2nd-latest book disappointingly shows it’s not an issue that has disappeared.

    This, plus the Orientalist leanings of the books, have prevented me from purchasing them. But I won’t be able to resist reading my sister’s copy of the latest book.

  4. I’ve decided what I really hate about Martin is that he’s got no hope. By the end of a few books, there’s no one left to root for. All the characters have major issues, I don’t care if they all die. I wish they WOULD all just kill each other off. Maybe the world needs to be overrun from the north just to clean things up a bit.

    It’s weird– because Suzanne Collins and Scott Westerfield manage horrible worlds where people do horrible things, but there’s still always hope that things will get better. I’d imagine Martin would also be a lousy guest at a party–the drunk guy who takes over the CD player, puts “the Cure’s most depressing hits” on infinite repeat, and then spends the whole evening talking about how parties suck, he hates you all, and the world hates him. And then, when someone tried to lighten the mood by pulling out a game of Dominion or something, he’s pee all over the cards and then take the fact that everyone was mad at him as proof that the world was as horrible as he’d said.

    So yeah–I don’t read him anymore. I mean, maybe his overarching theme is “civil wars suck and the Wars of the Roses weren’t fun” or something, but then I’d rather just play Kingmaker for a few hours instead of reading him.

    On the other hand, I also hate Jordan because I started reading his books at one point and pretty quickly knew where it was going–and I also didn’t care about his characters.

    So, I think one hint for an epic series is that people have got to actually care about your characters more than they care about the epic.

    • Well, now we’re in taste-land. I certainly care about a great many of Martin’s characters, and he’s managed to make me care about some characters whom I originally hated. I in no way consider Martin’s books to be as dark as, say, Joe Abercrombie’s, and even Abercrombie is nowhere near the nihilist that Leo Grin says he is.

    • I agree that it’s VERY difficult to know who to root for in the Ice and Fire books. The Stark family is set up as the heroes, but they have their problems too, and there are other characters who are more interesting, even if they’re “villains.”

      Rach, to expand on what you’re talking about a little: I too, found myself chafing at some of the medieval attitudes of some of the women characters in the ‘Ice and Fire’ books. One major female character in one of the later books says something about how terrible it is for a woman to be ugly – ’cause how she’s gonna get a man and continue the family lineage and possibly increase the family wealth and prosperity?

      It’s definitely uncomfortable, but I would argue that it’s meant to be challenging, given the brutal world these characters occupy. That said, a little more hope would be nice.

  5. Can I just say: y’all are awesome. Interesting perspectives all around. I’m not sure I’m up for a MORE epic epic, Rob!

    This book is like Christmas dinner, and that scene is the noxious leering uncle sitting next to me, stinking of port, thinking double entendres give him plausible deniability. Ha ha! He didn’t mean it that way! Clearly MY dirty mind is the problem!

    In such a case, do you let old Uncle Nasty ruin dinner or not? This post is me rolling my eyes and telling him I see what he’s up to and he’s not funny. I’d like to stick around because I’ve heard there’s dessert, but he may yet spoil my appetite.

  6. I find myself on the fence with these. I very much enjoyed the first three novels, and although I do find what happens to a lot of the women to be deplorable, I have to admit that it does seem to be consistent with the rest of the world-building. Doesn’t mean I have to like it, and there are a number of strong female role models, who I shall refrain from naming, because you haven’t seen all of them yet. I’m also aware that as a guy, I’m kind of expected to shrug that sort of thing off and say, “Well, that’s the way that society is.”

    I didn’t really care for the fourth book, though, and the fifth, which ostensibly has the characters I like in it…I’m just stuck, about 300 pages in, and I lack the will to go further. It’s like Martin thought up the worst things that could possibly happen to every character, and he already did those in the first three books, so now he has to make their situations even worse, and it’s getting beyond my tolerance for misery. With a lot of novels, I could tell myself that he’s bringing the characters down to their lowest ebb so he can build them back up before the triumphant ending…but this is Martin, and I honestly have no idea what he might do next.

  7. Oh, man, I’m in the same place re: all the ‘we learn to heart rape!’ that goes on, and am glad you called it out.

    Plus, it’s all so dark that I’ve learned to disassociate my feelings from the characters, because there’s no place to invest without having that investment pulled. A slight variation on the line from Princess Bride: “Goodnight Bran, sweet dreams, the author will most likely kill you in the morning.”

    That said, and I am somehow much farther along in the series than I expected to be, and I do spend a lot of time marvelling on how he’s got all these different characters and their individual arcs and moods, and all the varying plots, to intersect over time. In some ways, I’m now reading the series like I might look at an ant farm. With curiosity for the structure, not the individual. That’s a different place for me to sit while reading, and it’s interesting how he got me there. By bludgeoning, really.

  8. Pingback: On art « Rachel Hartman

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