Why I Stopped Reading George R. R. Martin

This is not a post about how George R. R. Martin is a bad writer, or his books are lousy. Nor am I here to trash people who love George R. R. Martin and say they have no taste.

This is a post about how, if you don’t want to invest the amount of time required to enjoy his books, or the investment required does not justify the reward for you: it’s okay.

Now, before you go and say I didn’t give it a proper chance – I got to the end of book two. I think I probably read more material written by GRRM than some authors ever publish. I really wanted to like it, and to an extent I did (though, IMHO, he doesn’t write female characters as well as some people think he does). It’s really not the content that bothers me, and I did appreciate his skill in constructing a climax to a scene. I *can* see why he is well loved. And if you’re one of those readers who love him, all the power to you, go enjoy. (What, you’ve read book five and there’s no more? Well, uh, sorry, I got nothing for ya.)

It’s not even because I read it at a time when I was a tad disillusioned with epic fantasy. I read other epic fantasy before and after, and enjoyed that.

My husband has read the first four books, and he’ll go on about how much he enjoyed them. He convince me to start reading them. He has the fifth book in his possession, and has not finished it. He’s tried several times to get into it, and just can’t. He says he got to the part where (yet another) new point of view character is introduced, and he couldn’t get past that point.

What it is, is a severe inefficiency of prose. The only reason I got through book one is because multiple people told me “You have to give it at least to page 100, and then it gets good.” Okay, I gave it to page 100. It actually starts to get good at, I believe, page 81, but that’s neither here nor there. And then I thought, “Okay, we’re getting into the swing of things now, right?”

Nope. Every scene takes forever to get going. It’s like he’s starting things from scratch every time. There’s *so* much buildup.

Speaking of buildup: Arya. She learns sword fighting in book 1. Somewhere in book 2 she gets her sword taken away, and hasn’t got it back yet. Then she’s got another plot line starting with this magician, implying she’s going in a different direction than the sword fighting thing. But it all feels like up to where I left off everything to do with her has been setup. The problem is the whole I-made-it-to-the-end-of-book-2-and-we’re-still-in-setup-mode.

Which results in me losing faith in the author. And I know people are going to run up to me screaming, “Oh, but later she ______!” Only, again, I got to the end of book two. I’ve given it a fair shot, and it’s failed to convince me that this character’s plot line is going to progress at a satisfactory rate. I’ve given up. I no longer care.

Then those people will say, “But…but…You’re going to miss out on all the awesome events that happen later! It gets even better in book three! You stopped at the wrong spot! Sansa gets less pathetically annoying!”

And to that I say, “I’ll watch the TV show.”

See, since I did get as far as book 2, I know exactly how true to the books they were in the first two seasons. And the parts they changed were changed for reasons that made sense to me from a storytelling perspective. They’re true to the characters and the spirit, and any changes to the plot are minor adjustments to make the telling more efficient (see that word? *efficient*) or in some cases to add interest to sections that were not as exciting in the books, like the dragons being kidnapped, or something that was implied, but there were not POV characters to tell the tale, like Renly and the Knight of Flowers hooking up. They’re taking all the awesome stuff and condensing it so that it’s a steady stream of awesome, instead of a dragging scene, dragging on, dragging you along because you know when you get to the end, *something* will happen, and you’re waiting for that little bit of payoff at the end of the scene. I think Daenerys is a psychopath, just like the rest of her family, and people just haven’t realized it yet because she’s doing nice things for brown people. I’m waiting for her to go off the deep end.

And like I said, I was enjoying it. Tyrion is awesome. Tyrion and Bronn are golden. I liked Arya. It’s just, I wasn’t enjoying it enough to keep investing the amount of time it took to get to the good parts. YMMV.

It’s just that I know there are books out there that I will enjoy more thoroughly than that. Even within epic fantasy. You don’t have to resign yourself to slogging through a book to enjoy epic fantasy. It’s like eating ten bowls of chicken noodle soup with one tiny piece of chicken in it, versus a one bowl with lots of chicken.

And saying that is not saying that GRRM is a bad writer. He’s obviously a good one, to have managed the success he has. There’s lots of people for whom this is just their cup of tea, and to them, all the power to you – enjoy. And I applaud GGRM for his success. My criticisms are as a reader, not as a writer. It’s personal taste. Chacun son gout.

Anyway, that’s all I have to say. Lets see how many page hits I get for dissing the Martin.

Advertisements

54 responses to “Why I Stopped Reading George R. R. Martin

  1. Hi Lindsay! I can totally relate. I gave up in the middle of book 2. My only qualm was that my brother in law, who has never warmed up to me, was finally being nice to me because I was reading these books. I’ll probably read the Wikipedia summaries and lie to him next time I see him.

    I completely agree about the female characters. I found Cersei especially tiresome and unredeemable; for an author famous for gray characters, I had trouble finding the gray in her. And I know, it’s just like you said, someone out there reading my comment is probably shouting at their computer, “But if you’d just read a little more you’d see she ___________!” Thanks, but no thanks. Enough with describing every banner in a war camp. Enough with the lists of food. Enough with dropping in images of dead children in *every* scene. I mean, even carved into the walls of Qarth, for pity’s sake! I might have stuck it out with the ponderous pacing if not for that last issue, just for my BiL’s sake, but while I can take child-murder once in a while if it’s absolutely necessary, using as a recurring decorative device is no bueno, as far as I’m concerned.

    So more power to those who love GRRM, but as for me, I’m done. (I’ll still watch the show–I think they do a nice job with Cersei in the show, actually.)

  2. Amazing. This is what I have always taken huge flak for saying.

    I mean, it’s not bad at all. It just made me think I had better things to do or watch. When my fiancee and I tried to watch it because all her friends love it, we were both amazed at how bored we were. And that’s coming from a nerdy fantasy writer. Weird.

    There’s a certain audience who loves this stuff, but the thing that confuses me is why it’s gotten so much mass appeal to people who generally hate fantasy. Is it because when it becomes absorbed in the cable tv scene, people automatically legitimize it because it’s next to Breaking Bad? That’s another show I can’t stand, and it seems those channels rely on high concept ideas with little actual substance in the story.

    I think the popularity of Martin’s stuff with non-fantasy readers says more about social conditions than it does writing.

    • I think I had a really hard time getting into it because of his choice of POV characters. They’re all lords and ladies and knights, and kings and queens, or the bastards thereof. There’s no “small” people. I dunno, maybe there will be more small people later, but with the number of POV characters he’s got, you’d think he’d have *one* commoner. You know, someone I could relate to. I feel like it’s a story about the 1 percent of rich fucks in the world and I’m supposed to sympathize with (some of) them.

      I’m amused at the number of “Amen sister” responses to this post.

  3. I have read all five books in the series, and I agree with your post. My problem is that I am hooked on the story and want to see where it goes.

    If you haven’t read his novella is the “Dangerous Women” anthology, give it a try. He tells a great story of a Targaryen feud with dragon battles and war all across Westeros, in only 80k words. After reading that it felt like he could have told the whole Song of Ice and Fire in one book if he approached it the same way. Can’t blame him for stretching it to 7 books if people will buy them all, but I think it would have been a more satisfying read if he had done it in one (or three at most).

    With that said, I like epic fantasy and have started the Wheel of Time series. There is something awesome about epic fantasy that I enjoy the slow crawl through the stories.

    • I read that he’d originally planned it to be three books, and while he was going around saying it was now going to be six, his wife was standing behind his back holding up seven fingers. Not holding my breath 😛

  4. Amen, Lindsay! I was a fan of GRRM as a horror writer before you were born. But I haven’t even tried reading ‘GAME OF THRONES’. One ‘LOTR’ is enough for me, unlike millions of other people. I watched the first few episodes of the TV boxset and will likely return to it, though even that was slow enough for my tastes. I would like to know who built that 700 foot tall ice wall, though, and how.

    Books should be interesting from sentence one of paragraph one on page one, not page 100. And movie and TV adaptations IMPROVE books as often or more often than they fall short of them, in my opinion, though authors may disagree.

    Speaking of cups of tea, C. S. Lewis once said he never found a cup of tea too large or a book too long. I agree with him about the tea, but not the books. Even dragons can drag on.

    JTS

  5. Do not be too dismayed…it was initially written to be turned into the HBO series. I worked on many book to films or television shows. They start off as a collaboration of ideas by different people in the entertainment industry, a writer is then hired and given a pen name. I started working with many screen writers and producers who hand these ideas over to members of the Writer’s Guild. Why me? I wrote songs which the films and television shows were used as a way to promote them. It was others who tagged us the name “Bloomsbury” group. You can go to Wiki and find that at one time the original “Bloomsbury” group was a secret society of many famous authors, poets, etc. who collaborated with one another.

    • I’m not sure where you’re getting your information about GoT originally having been written for HBO. I read an interview where he explained the reason he’d returned to writing books was because the scripts he was writing were being rejected because they would be too expensive to produce. Historical fiction and fantasy settings are just horrendously costly. So he wrote GoT as a chance to tell the epically big story he wanted to tell, without having to worry about how expensive it would be, because he didn’t figure it would ever get made into a movie or show. I can’t find the interview anymore, or I would link it. He has so many interviews, it would be searching for a needle in a haystack at this point.

      • My maiden name is STARK…my brother-in-law has the unusual name of “BRAN” and my current next door neighbor’s name is “GEORGE MARTIN”…all of which I can prove.

        I am the one who came up with the idea for the Iron Man films and named the character “Anthony Edward Stark” which is my cousin’s first name and my grandfather’s middle name…the Game of Thrones character “Eddard” was using a variation on my grandfather and Tony Stark’s middle name. My contributions were small to the Game of Thrones series…but significant.

        I am also collaborated on the Harry Potter and Twilight book to films. I started out working on the James Bond films in 1983 and during this time collaborated on ideas for Firestarter, Maximum Overdrive, The Terminator, Blade Runner, Aliens, and Indiana Jones series.

          • I came up with Iron Man in about 1995 with Robert Downey Jr. who is a friend of mine who has appeared in many films I worked on script ideas. It was Michael Jackson who named the character Pepper Pott and based her on ME when I was 15. I worked on many ideas for Stan Lee/Marvel Comics and Disney. MJ also based the Disney character I named Ariel on me…red hair…blue eyes…5’4″…115 lbs…

        • Impressive story. I can’t imagine why he would say something completely different in an interview. I found on the Wikipedia page for A Song Of Ice And Fire “He grew frustrated that his pilots and screenplays were not getting made[16] and that TV-related production limitations like budgets and episode lengths were forcing him to cut characters and trim battle scenes.[17] This pushed Martin back towards writing books, where he did not have to worry about compromising the size of his imagination.[16] Admiring the works of J. R. R. Tolkien in his childhood, he wanted to write an epic fantasy without having any specific ideas.[18]”

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Song_of_Ice_and_Fire

          Perhaps you should have a chat with him about being properly credited?

          As for Iron Man, do you mean you collaborated with the comic book writers? That was a *long* time ago. Glancing at your blog, you have a post (http://sacredharpist.wordpress.com/2011/09/24/rock-till-you-drop/) saying you were 15 in 1983, which puts your birth, as john says, five years before Iron Man first appeared in comics, according to wikipedia. Pretty amazing accomplishments for an unborn child – you must have been a prodigy!

          • 1963 happens to be the year my older brother was born in Dallas, TX. A few months later in Dallas on Elm Street, our former President was assassinated. In 1983, I came up with ideas for the film “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and made up the nursery rhyme. The character “Glenn Lantz” was named using the surname of the creator of the redheaded cartoon character Woody Woodpecker. The character was played by the unknown Johnny Depp who I continued to create ideas for television shows and films over the years and includes Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean (which MJ claimed to have it recreated in his home during the early 80s) after we worked on ideas for E.T. I have worked in the industry with Spielberg, George Lucas, Ron Howard, and many others since I was 15.

          • I did not have anything to do with the film, but I did often use Retcon, also known as Retroactive continuity, during my work on films (such as James Bond) and in television shows such as Lois & Clark (The New Adventures of Superman). Iron Man was also not my first comic book to be developed, but also Sailor Moon. I also wrote the songs and worked on ideas for the Batman films starting in the 80’s…such as Batman Forever which Michael Hutchence rec’d “The Passenger”.

          • I was referring to Pepper Potts which you can see her description at WIKI. Michael Jackson did also ask Disney to use me for the model of Ariel. This was after we worked on ideas for the film “Splash”. The idea for Splash came from the story by Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of The Little Mermaid. It is at the age of 15, my age when discovered as a songwriter and started working on film script ideas, when a mermaid is allowed to swim to the surface.

          • I have just heard the Mermaid song for the first time, Lindsay, thanks to yourself and Google and YouTube. I doubt Disney will ever invert one of Ariel’s six sisters like that…

          • The character Pepper Potts did not exist until the 1990’s when we created the character and I created Iron Man which came from the Black Sabbath song of the same title. Marvel comics claims the year 1963 because it is the year my older brother was born in Dallas TX. A few months later in 1963 our President was killed on Elm Street in Dallas and inspiration for me to come up with the character Freddie Krueger and “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. The date JFK was killed in 1963 happened to be November 22nd and the same day Michael Hutchence of INXS chose to leave the public life. I was involved with Michael Hutchence and wrote songs for INXS.

        • Michael Hutchence left all forms of life, public and private, on November 22nd 1997. And Lindsay’s blog has now been officially absorbed into the Twilight Zone. What would George R. R. Martin say? By the way, I’m really Napoleon Bonaparte and I have to go and invade Russia now…

          Boney

          • The man who went by the stage name Michael Hutchence and the lead singer of INXS is alive and well. If you will look at my blog you will even find proof, as in a picture with him outside the hotel he faked his death looking at gifts left by his fans after Nov 22nd in 1997. Yes, he chose the date of Nov 22nd because it corresponded with the date in 1963 JKF was killed, just like he chose the bday of Jan 22nd because it was The Sex Pistols former manager’s birthday. He also gave me the nickname of “Tiger Lily” for the character in Peter Pan after he decided to work on script ideas for the film “The Lost Boys” and INXS provided a song for the soundtrack. It was also during this time Michael Jackson decided to name his ranch “Neverland” and say he was Peter Pan. As for “George R.R. Martin” it is only a pen name. By the way, I wrote a song by the title “Twilight Zone” rec’d by the band Golden Earring.

        • And this Michael Hutchence is still 4 foot 10 inches tall? Good! Exactly 1.5 meters. Like myself. Plenty tall enough for anyone. I’m going to ban all French people from growing any taller than 1.5 meters as soon as I defeat the Russians.

          Boney

          • This Michael Hutchence was the famous lead singer of the Australian band INXS. Yes, he had dwarfism and was only 4’10” but could stand about 5’2″ tall with a lift in his shoes which were often heeled. This was a well kept secret in the entertainment industry. In fact, with heels the artist Prince is about my height of 5’4″. Oh! I wrote the songs which Robert Downey Jr. chose for Iron Man, the ones rec’d by the Australian band AC/DC.

    • Sorry, whole web page dedicated to you called “Amy Lee”, Diary of a Compulsive Liar: A Case Study in Schizoid Narcissism

  6. Well I haven’t read any of it! Well that’s not true, I read the first two chatpers and that was okay, but the problem is I looked at the back of the book – fifty pages of characters and houses, anda bunch of complicated stuff, and then the people around me (who have read all five books) go on about how GRRM develops a bunch of characters and then cuts a swathe through the whole lot of them, and you have o get your head around that.

    Added to that, I’m a bit unimpressed with the way the fantasy genre seems to be going to ever more extremes of 1,200 page sprawling epics that have to have half a dozen plot lines and be as complicated as ******* when what the genre needs to do is tell a good story.

    Added to that, I’m rubbish at remembering stuff in books – so, sorry George, I’m out.

    A

    • Not all fantasy is getting out of hand that way. I’ve read several very good epic fantasies lately, that were rational lengths, very creative, and very well written, page turners. I think in general, the quality demands of the industry have gone up, and GRRM is an outlier. He’s just an outlier that gets a lot of attention, and that gives people the wrong impression of where the genre is really headed.

  7. Lindsay, I couldn’t agree more. While I admit to not reading the books, I did give the show a view. I couldn’t get through the first episode… and I usually try to give a show 2-3 episodes before I ditch it. Based on some of the other comments about describing mundane details, I’m not even going to bother with the books.

    It’s not like I’m adverse to violence or adult content; I love shows like Boardwalk Empire & The Walking Dead. Nor am I averse to reading it, provided it’s not overly gratuitous and serving no purpose. The first chapter of my “book,” I use the term loosely as it’s changed several times, starts off with a graphic murder scene of a family. Unfortunately, for GRRM, the Game of Thrones has not “hooked” me.

    Following up on what others have mentioned, I have always judged part of a writer’s skill based on whether or not you need a checklist for the characters. I’ll use the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy as an example. Tolkien featured characters that had small parts compared to the main cast, yet they’re memorable. A few of these are Boromir, Faramir, and Tom Bombadil.

    Now, I’m sure a GRRM fan will claim that I’m not “intelligent” enough to keep track of the characters or understand the plot. It’s not that I’m lacking the intelligence; I simply feel GRRM & HBO has failed to produce something warranting me caring about the and the characters.

    • Yeah, I’ve been watching the show, but towards the end of last season, I was starting to get a wee bit disillusioned with it myself. Mainly when I got to the Red Wedding. Everyone who’s read the books kept going on about how they wanted to see people’s reactions to that scene. I watched it and kind of went “Okay what was the point of that?”

      And people go “Doesn’t it come out of left field?!?!?!?!”

      And I say, well, sort of. I guess. But what was the point of it? People go on about how he kills so many characters, and does horrible things to them. But that’s not plot. That doesn’t move the story forward on it’s own. I feel like he gets something rolling forward, and then for the sake of nothing else than doing something the audience isn’t expecting, whether it’s good for the story or not, he rampages through and does something awful, just to get a visceral reaction from his audience. I hasn’t taken that long for it to get old for me.

  8. I havent read the books yet, and the more i hear about GRRM, the less i want to!
    – books that drag on forever? (I agree with you – I dont want to be bored reading)
    – murdered children everywhere? (I agree with another poster – include it as a highlighting feature for impact if you must, but otherwise, leave it out.)
    – incest, and perhaps rape? (I seem to recall others mentioning these as being in the books. Neither is particularly wonderful, and must be carefully written to respect the characters of the book, preferably with ‘healing’ or ‘growth’ of said character as part of it, beyond “I must seek revenge!” or “this 6th toe gives me special powers”.

    So yeah…maybe one day I’ll watch the tv show…but probably never read the book!

    • Yeah, there’s some pretty awful stuff happen to characters. The show pulls back on that a little bit in some places. And the problem is it amounts to little more than torture porn thinly disguised as character development.

      If you want to see an example of sexual assault handled in a hugely visceral, graphic way, while still respecting the characters, and drawing meaning from it, read “Who Fears Death” by Nnedi Okorafor. It’s epic fantasy set in an Africa-inspired world, where rape is used as a weapon of war, much like it is today in some parts of Africa.

  9. There is that concern that by not reading these books I’m somehow not allowed into the clubhouse, you know? But meh, I say. Meh. There’s tons of stories out there demanding my attention for reasons I KNOW are valid.

    I may draw all the rage for saying this, but the only thing GRRM has going for him, when it comes to the question “Should I read this guy?” is popularity. Millions read him. Great! I genuinely applaud that kind of success and heck yeah, I’d love even a smidgen of it myself 🙂 Who wouldn’t? But epic fantasy ain’t really my thing. Even if it was, enormously long-winded and overly drawn out scenes ain’t my thing. Keep it short and punchy. Give me a dark sky, some street sounds, a bad smell. I’ll see the rest in my imagination and I’ll be there in the action.

    You hit it on the head with this statement: “What it is, is a severe inefficiency of prose.”

    I don’t need it to be Hemingway for me to read it (heck, I don’t even like Papa’s stuff), but I don’t want to wade through entire chapters of prose waiting for the story to show up.

    • There is no “inefficiency of prose”, it’s a matter of taste. Many people LIKE dense, heavyweight, intricately detailed prose that doesn’t rush through a plot like that’s the only point of reading a story. I do not want prose that is “short and punchy”. That’s for 200 page detective novels, not high fantasy.

  10. One of the reasons why I ditched Martin at the end of the first book is the same you said: it takes forever for anything to happen. There is an enourmous buildup, and one you don’t really need, not for ‘pages’. I didn’t mind at the beginning, but it annoyed me a lot by the end of the first book.

    The other reason was that, as skillfully as they are written, his characters, his situations and his settings are mostly stereotypes (and I don’t have anything against stereotypes, if they are cleverly written). I read many books that took fantasy in a new direction and enjoyed them a lot (I’ll just mention Daniel Abrahams and Stan Nicholls). Martin didn’t do it. he just built a very complex world of stereotypes, used them very cleverly, mind you, did some interesting things with them too, but the authors that did something intersting with fantasy fiction are others, in my opinion, and I’d rather read them.

  11. I can appreciate that GRRM is not for everyone, but I never understood how some people can read ASOIAF and say things like, “You have to read 200 pages before it starts getting good.” I think the people who say that don’t really understand what they are reading. I think if you read the first two chapters and it doesn’t click, then you should give up right there and then. If you think it didn’t start getting good until 200 pages in, then you’ve probably missed the point and are paying attention to all the wrong stuff anyway.

  12. Like your husband, I liked this series right up to Dance with Dragons. When Martin introduced one more pov, it was like the straw that broke the camels back, I was done! I waited how many years for that book? Too long, I have moved on from Martin, not sure I will pick him up again.

    Meanwhile, I have found a love for Brandon Sanderson and his first book of what looks like a great Series The Stormlight Archive: The Way of Kings..I recommend it highly along with the second book in that series: Words of Radiance

    • A lot of people have actually recommended Brandon Sanderson to me, but I’ve actually opted not to pick him up for the same reason I’ve stopped reading Orson Scott Card – he’s spoken out about being against LGBT rights, though not as hatefully as OSC, he still has. In the same way I would refuse to go to a restaurant if I knew the proprietors held those beliefs, I choose to take my business elsewhere. There are lots of authors out there and I have TBR list a mile long.

  13. It’s a great story, but you’r right, GRRM writing just sucks. He takes literally forever and wastes like 100 pages on stupid ass characters that don’t matter squad and then die anyway suddenly. WTF? I’m refering to that Don Quixote parody… at least he re-wrote that crap for the TV show, and it’s slightly more interesting to watch than to read. I only “read” the audiobooks anyway, because I wanted to know how the story goes on after the TV show… but as things are, the bastard probably wont release the last book before the end of the TV show. I guess he delays it ON FRAKKIN PURPOSE.

    • I think there’s a bit more pressure on him to finish now that the tv show is starting to catch up to the books. It helps that they’re splitting the books into 2 seasons per book. I understand he was working on a lot of tv stuff during the big dry spell between books, but it sounds like he’s more focussed on getting the books done now. Not that I care 😛 Actually, I’m more excited about watching the season finale of the 100 than I am Game of Thrones now.

  14. Martin, and so many other modern fantasy writers, are comparable to, say, George Lucas: great with story outlines, universe-building and character creation, but…not so good with actual words. Read Face in the Frost by John Bellairs or even a single sentence by Fritz Leiber and your perspective on what constitutes quality fantasy writing will immediately and irreversibly change. This has saved me a lot of time, because it makes reading the works of significantly inferior authors intellectually painful – something to be avoided. I couldn’t make it through half of Martin’s first book. He is no doubt a talented creator of recombinant fantasy, but he has no special way with words. To be fair, neither to most of the more popular modern fantasists. Like Lucas, the work of Martin seems to me most beautiful at a macro level, or when filtered through others that are more talented with words.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s