The New Yorker on Waiting for GRRM

23:51 Tue 19 Apr 2011
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Laura Miller’s “Just Write It” is an overview of fan discontent with George R. R. Martin over the amount of time it’s taking to finish A Song of Ice and Fire. As a longtime (perhaps erstwhile—but I am planning to read the next book) fan, I thought it covered the ground well, and in particular the interesting question over what duty, if any, an author has to finish a story.

That’s what it comes down to: the series is immensely popular, mainly because the first three books are really damn good, particularly in terms of plot; with popularity comes a mass of people who want to know what happens next. It seems to me that a large audience of people who want to know what happens next is any storyteller’s dream. However, that of course brings with it expectation and pressure, both of which can stifle creativity. It doesn’t help if it also brings tremendous success, which can be another creativity-killer.

I’m somewhat torn: as a writer, I know very well how hard it is to write, and especially to finish projects. I could see myself having tremendous difficulty in George’s place—if I somehow got myself into such an advantageous position—and not having an easy time at all getting through the later books in the series. On the other hand, as a reader, and also as an aficionado of plot in particular, I also feel keenly the desire to have the story finished, and also the sense that the plot and the richly-developed world contain a promise to finish it. Neil Gaiman, in his “George R. R. Martin is not your bitch” post, misses this latter point. He’s right, no contract was signed, but that doesn’t mean no promise was made, and if Neil doesn’t get this he should be made to read If on a winter’s night a traveller… repeatedly until he does get it. Of course readers have no right to dictate GRRM’s actions so that he fulfils this promise, but it’s entirely understandable for them to want to feel that a good-faith effort is being made; that, really, is what we expect of people who make promises. The problem in this case is that the delay, plus Martin’s blogging, plus lots of apparent distractions, plus Martin’s apparent obliviousness to the impatience of large numbers of the fan base, make it easy to conclude that no such good-faith effort is in progress.

I do happen to think that blogging and other engagement with social media make this worse. I honestly think that if there’d been no sign whatsoever of Martin in the intervening period, fans would grumble less. Some might have simply given up on it—but then some have anyway. Many would clamor incessantly for some kind of news (and I’d be among that number), but that’s no guarantee that receiving any such news would do any good at all.

In the spirit of that perhaps-unhelpful news, the long-awaited fifth book is supposedly coming out in July. I’ll believe that when I have it, but I’m still looking forward to it.

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