Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Dance with Dragons

My last post got me thinking about George R.R. Martin and his ever-extending series, A Song of Ice and Fire. It also got me thinking about how much (figuratively, for any lawyers who may be reading) I'd like to set Martin's beard on fire, and then club him over the head with one of those ten-pound ice bags you get at the grocery store. This would 1) be a public service, 2) be deeply and poetically satisfying, and 3) give me a chance to ask him, in his woozy state, if he uses his two middle initials out of a conscious desire to subliminally remind people of J.R.R. Tolkien or just out of sheer pretentiousness.

Alert readers may be sensing some hostility. Allow me to explain. (Also, anyone who has no interest in this series, you may as well tune out now. I'm about to preach, if not to the choir, then at least to a particular congregation.)

I acquired the first book of the series, A Game of Thrones, in a northern California Borders*; it was purchased for me by a dear friend, as we waited for my transportation home to arrive, after a night of rum-soaked antics that shall remain shrouded in the mists of time and bad judgment. That book was every bit as fun as promised by said hung over friend. So the first book, in short, was memorable.

The next three books in the series were also fun (big disclaimer on book four, though, see below), although I think I may already have mentioned, once or twice, how much I despise the overuse of multiple viewpoint characters as a cheap and clumsy way to get around an author's inability to properly use third-person omniscient POV. No? Well, I've mentioned it now. I'm certain I've complained about multiple viewpoint characters before, ahem, Robert Jordan.

Well, as far as viewpoint character abuse goes, A Dance with Dragons takes the flaming icebiscuit. Book four, A Feast for Crows, featured every single character that no readers in their right minds give a damn about. I'm not going to mention any of those characters, because I don't even remember their names I care so little. Every single interesting, entertaining, or important character was left for book five, which covers the same chronological ground as book four. Why, you might rationally ask, is this? Are the events of books four and five so stunningly exciting, so metaphysically complex, as to warrant the whopping 1743 pages devoted to them in the two books together? I'm asking the same thing. The simple answer is no.**

All the same, A Dance with Dragons. Long-awaited and overrated, it now sits upon my shelf as a mute, hardbound reminder of thirty-plus dollars Martin's probably using right now to light his cigars with*** or something. I was so excited about that book. Tyrion Lannister! Jon Snow! Arya Stark! Daenerys Targaryen! Other people with long and complicated names! Assassinations, mayhem, dragons, white walkers, and witticisms ahoy!

I got the book. I cracked it open, prepared to finally, finally be recompensed for the years I spent waiting for book four - waiting that culminated in throwing book four across the room, picking it up again, slogging through it annoyed at every turn, and then spending more years waiting for book five.

Gentle readers, I got about twenty pages into A Dance with Dragons. Then I started skipping ahead. I read a chapter here and there. I skipped some more. I looked particularly for Tyrion's chapters, and although I won't offer any spoilers, um . . . if you've read it, I need not comment. As far as I can tell, Martin gave every single one of his characters a full frontal lobotomy, because if he'd just changed their names, I'd have had no idea they were the same people. Not everyone's going to agree with me on that, but then, a lot of people watch American Idol, too.**** The book sucked. Sorry.

Then, moving on to Big Problem Two, beyond the plot and characterization issues that account, primarily, for how much the book - again - sucked. I try to keep the language to a minimum on this blog, mainly because my mom reads it. (Mom, look away in a moment if you must.) But in general, I don't object to profanity - in fact, anyone reading this who knows me is now laughing hysterically. Gritty, dark fantasy is great, and hey, I was raised with video games and action movies. The more sex and gratuitous violence, in general, the better, when it comes to this kind of entertainment. I laughed my way through Cannibal Holocaust.

With the proper disclaimers in place, A Dance with Dragons was needlessly vulgar. (Please picture me raising one pinky delicately in the air as I sip my tea.) No one has sex, goes to bed together, or - God forbid - makes love. They FUCK. Yeah, man, how gritty am I if all my characters fuck all the time? Whoa, subversive. I'm so turned on right now . . .

Oh, sorry, I think George R.R. Martin stole my keyboard for a sec. But really, when two characters, presented as madly in love, steal a few moments to show how much they care, and they lay down on satin cushions and say, "My darling, I adore you" or suchlike . . . and then they fuck!!!! Fuck hard! Seriously, it's absurd. It's so ridiculously overused - people fuck in this book almost as often as they shit in inappropriate places (like, in the book, while the readers/audience are present). Does Martin get an extra royalty check every time he uses a four-letter word? Or does he just watch too much German porn? Both? Because with all the shitting in this book, I'm wondering if Charmin sponsored the hardback edition. At least if I run out of Charmin anytime soon, I know I have some paper in reserve. One fucking star.

* Let's all take a moment of silence.

** Although I have considered one other possible answer to the conundrum of why Martin split the book into two.

*** I wish I could hope he's using it to hire a new editor.

**** Yes, I meant that to be just as condescending as it sounded.

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