Yesterday I wrote a blog inspired by the upcoming release of books by Ben Aaronovitch and Patrick Rothfuss, in which I talked about the problem with books in series, and how I often have to keep re-reading them to remember what happened each time a new book is released. I briefly mentioned George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series, and I thought I ought to expand upon the mention I made. So the thing is, I have to admit it…I’ve not read any of them. Not one. Or watched the TV show. I know, I know…call myself a fantasy fan! I can hear the sharpening of knives from the GoT fanboys already, but before anyone ‘accidentally’ bumps me off like one of George’s characters, let me explain…
You see, I really am a big fan of sci-fi and fantasy, and have been for just about as long as I can remember. I love grand, epic stories with huge casts of characters, multiple story lines and plenty of bloody action, and I’ve read my fair share of huge, never-ending series. Everything about the Game of Thrones books looks completely up my street, and in fact various people have tried with differing degree of effort to get me to read them. They are, undoubtedly, perfect for the kind of books I like. I would love them, I’ve no doubt about it. But I’m not going to read them, regardless of how much persuasion is applied. Not going to happen. Yet.
Ah, yes. Yet. That’s an important word here…
Let’s take a step back for a moment, and picture a scene. Imagine a school library – modern, brightly-lit, decorated in some eye-watering shades by the…interesting…librarian. It’s during the day, mid-morning, so the library is largely empty except for the librarian and a handful of sixth form students on a free period. Two such students are sat at a table, noses buried in books. Not text books, or exercise books, but novels. One of them is me, and I’m reading The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, as recommended to me by my friend, who I’m sitting with. Neither of us speak to each other, engrossed as we our in our books. This is my introduction to the Wheel of Time series. I’m sixteen years old. At this point the first eight books in the series have been published, and Robert Jordan is planning three or four more. Sadly things didn’t work out that way.
Skip forward to January 2013. I’m working in London, in an office, and on my lunchbreak I walk out of the office, across Leicester Square, over Charing Cross Road, through Cecil Court and up New Row, until I reach Waterstones Covent Garden, where I part with an enormous amount of my hard-earned money for probably the biggest hardback book I have ever owned, or will ever own. I’m almost light-headed as I walk back to the office, clutching all 909 pages of A Memory of Light. I’m twenty-nine, and it’s thirteen years since I first read The Eye of the World.
Thirteen years. That’s a long time to wait to find out what happens to a few (read : many, many, many) characters in a book. In that time I passed my A-Levels, a 3-year degree and an 18-month diploma, left home and moved to Manchester and then London, lived in eight different flats or houses, and re-read those first eight Wheel of Time novels a great many times. In total the 14 books in the series amount to 4.4 million words, but factoring in the re-reads I reckon it’s more like the best part of 15 million words that I’ve read. Just for that one series of books. I’m just thankful that I didn’t start reading when the first one came out, in 1990, as that’s almost a twenty-three year gap!
As you can probably imagine, having been reading about these characters for not far shy of half my life, by the time the final book came out I was rather emotionally invested in their fates. Suffice to say I was delighted with the ending, and very satisfied to have finally finished the series, but I was also somewhat thrown. I remember feeling a strange mix of emotions, and being unable to quite come to terms with the fact that it had finally ended; while it’s often a bittersweet feeling to get to the end of a series, with this one the emotions were just that bit stronger, more complex. It felt like the end of an era for me personally. I did in fact write a blog post about how I felt, which you can have a read of to hear my (slightly) younger self trying to put down in words what it felt like having just finished the book.
Now that’s all well and good, but why am I telling you this? Well, the reason is simple. I don’t want to have to go through all of that again – the interminable gaps between books, the aching void left by not knowing what happens next, the endless reading and re-reading of 800-page behemoths. Not to mention the fear. The fear that something might happen to stop the books being written, that I might be left hanging without finding out what happens. Just imagine the never-ending sense of unfulfilment…
And so we return to George R. R. Martin and the Game of Thrones books. The series started in 1996, and so far there have been five novels released, with at least two more still to come. So let’s look at the timeframe here – five books since 1996, which is eighteen years…so that’s an average of three and a bit years per book. The last one was published in 2011, so following the average gap between books that would put the release date at this year, right? Well, no. According to Martin’s editor “we hope to have it reasonably soon”, whatever that means – the general consensus is that it will come out somewhere between 2015 and 2017. That’s a long gap. And oh yes, there’s still at least another book before the series ends. Thinking optimistically that means the series could potentially be finished by about 2020. Realistically however, it’s more like 2023.
Do you see what I’m getting at? If I started the first novel today, I would probably have nine years to wait before finding out what happens at the end of the series. Okay, it’s not thirteen years, but that’s still an awful long time. Assuming nothing untoward happens, and the series does indeed get finished. Personally, I’m just not prepared to go through nine years of waiting, of reading and re-reading the books, before I get closure on another monstrous, epic fantasy series. Not again. Not. A. Chance.
I’m going to read these books. I guarantee I’m going to read these books (all being well), and I’m going to absolutely love them. I’m going to devour them over a ridiculously short period of time, during which I will probably withdraw from all human contact and live like a hermit, and it’s going to be brilliant. Not until the last book has already hit the shelves though. I’m not risking it. Until then, I’ll continue to see them on bookshelves, being read on the tube and on buses and on aeroplanes, and every time I see a copy I’m going to think “I’m looking forward to reading those. I don’t envy anyone the wait, though.”