Most of the time, the books you choose to read are entirely your own business, and no one else really cares what you do. Occasionally, though, a series will catch on and become a sort of phenomenon, and the next thing you know everyone is reading it and demanding that you read it, too. This happened with Harry Potter. It happened with Hunger Games. It happened with Twilight, and it’s sort of happening with the only-vaguely-disguised Twilight fanfiction 50 Shades of Grey. And now it is also happening with George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, better known as Game of Thrones (thanks to HBO).
I do not want to read Game of Thrones. I have absolutely zero interest in it. Normally, no one cares about this sort of thing, but for some reason since this series is suddenly “OMG the NEXT BIG THING,” me not wanting to read it has turned into Making A Statement rather than just personal reading preferences. Apparently it’s not enough to just be disinterested. I have to Justify myself.
Fine. Let’s do some justifying.
First off, I do not like George R.R. Martin, like, as a person. I do not like him one bit, because I disagree with his philosophy and his general attitudes around life and also around writing. I could probably rant for pages about why I do not like him, but myrioddity has already done it and I agree with everything she had to say on the subject, so instead I’m just going to send you over there. The only thing I would add is that I also do not like the way Martin treats his fans, which I touched on in that one rant about fan fiction. Of course, not liking Martin is not reason enough to not read the series–I have ranted before about how little I care for Orson Scott Card, but hell if I don’t love the Ender’s Shadow series to pieces. Ditto most writers in the classical American canon (I’m looking at you, Nathaniel Hawthorne).
So why not Game of Thrones? The truth is, there isn’t really a Big Reason. The truth is I’m just not that interested in Epic Fantasy Novels. I think most of them are way longer than they need to be, they’re given far too much leeway by editors in terms of cast of characters, pacing and obsessively detailing elements of their worlds that don’t pertain to the plot (it’s Neal Stephenson syndrome: I don’t care how much you researched blacksmitherthy–I do not need to know how a horse shoe is made unless doing it wrong kills somebody later), and most of them are just weak re-hashes of Lord of the Rings anyway.
And let’s talk about Lord of the Rings for a minute, because that is an Epic Fantasy that I both read and enjoyed (multiple times). First of all, Lord of the Rings suffers from many of the issues that make other series uninteresting to me–too much unimportant detail, too many characters, etc.–but it also provides a very strong, very linear plot that drives you through all of that. Most fantasy novels fail to do this. Most fantasy novels think (mistakenly) that just Being A Fantasy makes them different and interesting enough that you’ll suffer through pages and pages of boring trollop about lineages and shit. I cannot stress how much that is wrong, wrong, utterly wrong, at least for me. This is a personal preference, but I like my stories to move along quickly–not linger over every tense conversation, with lots of Meaningful Silences and Poignant Stares.
I forgave Lord of the Rings its ridiculous lineages and regular dips into irrelevant history because the story moved, and it also provided interesting fantastical backdrops and a look into how non-human societies might operate. While it was clear that the Age of Man was coming, it isn’t a book about men–it’s about the last hurrah of magical species like the Elves, the Dwarves, the Orcs, the Ents and, yes, even the Hobbits, and all of those species have well-developed, non-human cultures that stand in stark contrast to one another. That is interesting to me. That I enjoy reading about.
Game of Thrones, on the other hand, is exclusively about people championing their lineages and making ill-advised power plays. It’s about intrigue and abuse and familial struggles for control between non-magical people, set in a vaguely magical setting that has little to nothing to do with the plot of the story. In fast, I had a friend argue that the main selling point of Game of Thrones is that, if you take out the 5% fantasy element, it’s like reading historical fiction of the medieval period, to which I replied “…so why not just go read historical fiction, then? What is the point of making it fantasy at all?” Basically, it is all of the parts that I skipped when I was reading Lord of the Rings. Why the hell would I want to slog through seven goddamn novels of it?
Also, I’m sorry, but if your novel requires an entire appendix full of family trees to be able to make any sense at all of what’s going on, you’re doing it wrong.
So there you have it. Why I won’t read Game of Thrones: George R.R. Martin is an ass, I don’t generally like epic fantasies, and the ones that I do like actually have fantasy in them. Plus, the sample passages I’ve read are utterly terrible. When did fantasy authors all decide to write like they were vomiting up peonies? For the love of all that is rational in this world, please leave excessively metaphorical dialogue to Shakespeare, because you are doing it wrong.
“Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?” -George R.R. Martin, who apparently dreams about incest rape
P.S. Sorry, boyfriend.
P.P.S. I will make one concession toward Game of Thrones: Tyrion is a badass, and I love Peter Dinklage. Here is an amazing commencement speech he gave: