Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Is George R. R. Martin The Slowest Author Ever?

Every reader knows the misery that comes of waiting for your favourite author to finish the next book in the series that has pretty much taken over your life.  Fans of the fantasy genre know it better than most – out of all mainstream fiction, high fantasy easily clocks up the greatest average waiting time between instalments.

Of course, the logical parts of our brains understand this; writing, editing, proofreading, marketing, revisions, settling copyrights and sorting out how many different dust jackets you're going to give the hardback take a lot of time. Sadly, that logical part is too often over-ruled by the primordial screeching monkey-child part that has been left dangling over a heart-rending precipice to match the one your favourite character was just flung off.

And no, that is not a spoiler for Game of Thrones. Even I'm not that mean.

Ah, Game of Thrones. Or, in its paper-bound incarnation, A Song of Ice and Fire. George R.R. Martin's sprawling fantasy saga is infamous for the long waits between the publication of each book. They're so long, in fact, that the next season of the TV adaptation has already caught up to and, in many ways, overtaken the books. You can tell how much stress this puts on the loyal book fans - once the formidable Night's Watch, guarding the flowering realm of the show-watchers from spoilers, now suddenly under threat from the very folk they sought to protect. Or keep in the dark so that we could laugh and feast upon their anguished, unsuspecting tears, depending how you look at it.

Our whinging is not for nothing; even by the standards of the genre, Mr Martin's writing speed is glacial. To put things in perspective: the most recently published of the Song of Ice and Fire Saga, A Dance with Dragons, came out in 2011. Its predecessor, A Feast For Crows, came out six years before.

How can you justify a waiting time like that? If it were anyone else, Mr Martin's publisher would have had them walking the plank after half that time. Luckily, the worldwide popularity of the books allows 'Evil Santa' (as he is affectionately known) a lot of leeway. Enough that he can begin a series before most of its current fans were even born, and still be talking about sequels as many of them begin having progeny of hteir own.

That said, he isn't alone in his ivory tower of agonisingly slow creative processes. The two published instalments of Patrick Rothfuss' similarly popular Kingkiller Chronicles  came out in 2007 and 2011 – and the non-appearance of the proposed trilogy's conclusion means the wait between book two and three may match that of Mr Martin's recent opuses.

However, popularity is no excuse for slow publication. The longest wait between J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books came between 2000 and 2003, when The Order of the Phoenix took two years more than Ms Rowling's usual yearly intervals. Jim Butcher's Dresden Files have been vaulting off the shelves yearly, with some even appearing within months of each other.

But, I hear you cry, but that's urban fantasy – that can't be comparable to the sheer effort of creating and sustaining the continuity of an entire fictional world!

To that, I ask you to listen. Listen to Robert Jordan cackling in his grave.

The Wheel of Time saga is legendary as a feat of dedication within the fantasy genre and without; twelve books published over twenty-two years, by two different authors (Brandon Sanderson took up the mantle after Jordan passed away in 2007). And yet, despite every circumstance thrown at the series, including – in case you didn't notice – the death of the author . . . there was never more than a three year gap between the books.

So, is George R.R. Martin the slowest moving entity since your grandmother's home-made custard? Are we justified in our rage at being made to wait half a decade just to find out if our favourites live to play the game another day?

I think not. Song of Ice and Fire fans, I have a proposition for you. Go and find the nearest Tolkien fan. And give them a great big hug.

The Lord of the Rings films appeared one after another between 2000 and 2003. The novels appeared between 1954 and 1955.

But how many years of campaigning, bargaining, editing, lawmongering and nail-biting did it take for legions of loyal Tolkienists to see their beloved Professor's rendition of the iconic Beowulf myth?

90 years.

Winter Is Coming . . . a whole lot faster than that.

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