Speaking Of Tendentious Multithousand Page Fantasies Written For An Audience Of Salaried Adolescents

HBO's adaptation of George R. R. Martin's Game Of Thrones premiers Sunday.  Set your clocks, and your hearts, for this once in a lifetime event Popehat readers.

Unlike Ken (who I know is counting the seconds until Sunday night), I enjoy Atlas Shrugged as much as I enjoy A Game Of Thrones, which is to say, I enjoy it mildly. Rand's followers compare her work favorably to that of Plato and Dostoevsky. Martin's followers call his work C. S. Lewis for adults, or Tolkien meets the Wars of the Roses (and therefore, implicitly, Shakespeare). To call any of these comparisons a stretch is to be kind.  At least Rand knew how her book would end (with a 78 page speech) before she wrote it.

Martin is just stringing his audience along.  When he dies, his fans will compare A Game of Thrones to Schubert's Unfinished Symphony.

But as long as we understand that going in (we surely do four books in), that's entertainment!

Now where is my twelve hour adaptation of Cryptonomicon?  That would be art.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White


  1. says

    I could not even get into Game of Thrones. Gave up about halfway through.

    Cryptonomicon is the best novel ever penned by man, and would make a great four- or five-part movie. Casting would be tough, though. Who to pick for Lawrence Waterhouse?

  2. says

    Actually, I am looking forward to it, though I am bearing in mind that an HBO series is a very different art form.

    But I am unashamed of being a GRRM fanboi. Re-reading series to prepare for Dance of Dragons in July.

  3. PeeDub says

    Speaking of multithousand pages and Neil Stephenson, any of you managed to get into the Baroque Cycle?

  4. Patrick says

    I did, and enjoyed it.

    But it could have used an editor. I agree with Jeffrey about Cryptonomicon, and I'm no shrinking violet when it comes to trilogies and tetralogies and quintologies and the like. In general my taste in novels is like my taste in women: I prefer them to be big and Russian.

    For all that, Baroque Cycle would have been better as two novels.

  5. CarLitGuy says

    GRR Martin's "Game of Thrones", including the long pause while awaiting the most recent (promised to be released soon, he swears) book, remains a shorter series, and much easier read than, say R Jordan's "Wheel of Time", which (as we all know) took roughly two decades to complete – and a writer to finish the work after Jordan passed. (Wikipedia puts it at over 4 million words, roughly 11,000 pages – seems more in paperback) Thus far, GoT remains more focused than Jordan's work as well, though in fairness Jordan seemed to have lost his way somewhere around book three, so Martin still has an opportunity to fail in that regard.

    I'd take either to pass the weekend if my other choice was one of Tad Williams' trilogies, or pretty much anything by CS Lewis. Atlas Shrugged was little more than a long afternoon, though the temptation to skim the final monolgue (much like skipping Tolkien's poetry) is admittedly great.

    Will wait for the DVD series of GoT. I like the books, and the ads show promise, but not enough to justify shelling out for HBO in my household until its done. I have to believe it will turn out better than that monstrosity that shares some character names and settings with Goodkind's "Sword of Truth" series.

  6. Piper says

    Zelazny would be amazing, though the director would definitely have to have a bit of a poet in him. As to Stephenson, as Patrick said, the Baroque Cycle was good, but in dire need of an editor to challenge him to get it down to 2 novels. As a consequence, everytime I think about getting Anathem, I cringe in dread of another Tome of Too Many Words. Regarding a game of thrones – meh. I think the delay turned me off on this, and I'll probably stay away until the series is completed.

  7. elambend says

    After the revolution wipes out copyright law, I plan on making money by selling my edited versions of good work that needs it; like the baroque cycle and a few movies.

  8. says

    I should have enjoyed GRRM's Game of Thrones, since I'm a big history buff and fantasy fan. But I didn't like it.

    Cryptonomicon was good but as I came out of the software business in the '80's and '90's, I sort of lived it once.

    Right now, I'm enjoying Tad Williams' Shadowmarch series, and Patrick Rothfuss' "Name of the Wind" / "Wise Man's Fear" series.

  9. PeeDub says

    So you guys actually do read and like C. S. Lewis?? I loved it as a kid, and recently reread the entire Narnia series. I was shocked at how much less I appreciated it now. Harry Potter even reads better. Maybe it had something to do with all the all-too-obvious religious allegory (even though he said it isn't) and the completely-until-now missed "brown people are evil" overtones.

  10. CarLitGuy says

    How does Shadowmarch compare to Memory, Shadow & Thorn or Otherworld by T Williams? I had to force my way thru both series, and after completing them, determined I'd never pick up another book by him – assuming no major change in style.

    Could use some new reading material by someone likely to complete the series (of at least a few thousand pages) before they die. If the series is already complete – so much the better – prefer reading the books back to back instead of waiting years between novels. Call that "lesson learned" from Wheel of Time, which I started with a publisher's advance copy in the mistaken belief that it was going to be a trilogy…

    Back on topic (more generally), I take it everyone has given up on ever seeing some form of "Death, the High Cost of Living" brought to the screen? Seems to me its time is well past, and other recent movies in which Neil Gaiman had some hand, "MirrorMask" and "StarDust" are hardly inspirations.

  11. says

    CarLitGuy, then you won't like Shadowmarch.

    Actually, a surprise for me with Wheel of Time is that Brandon Sanderson is a better writer than Jordan was.

    Have you read Steve Erikson's Book of the Malazen series? First is "Gardens of the Moon". One unique thing is that Erikson's friend Esslemont has written a couple of books in the same world/timeline in his own unique style that are also quite good.

  12. Patrick says

    So you guys actually do read and like C. S. Lewis??

    Dude, hating on C.S. Lewis is like Winter when it's never Christmas.

    I prefer Lewis for his religious writing, and I don't just mean Screwtape though I love Screwtape, but because Lewis manages to combine empathy and entertainment all at once.

    His children's fantasy novels, like those of Madeleine L'engle and Ursula K. Leguinn, are dismissed as children's novels only by the ignorant, or people who are young but not children.

    Old people, like me, eventually grow up. They learn that Turkish Delight is just a candy, and that sometimes an Orc is just an Orc, and not a metaphor for people of Slavic descent.

    P.S.: SPQR, thank you for the Amber mention. You know as well as I do why Amber cannot be made into a movie: that Humphrey Bogart (the only actor who could ever have played Corwin) is dead.

    I'm serious. Go back and watch The Maltese Falcon: Corwin is Sam Spade in a universe where everything is possible.

  13. says

    Indeed, Patrick, a good "juvenile" can be a great treasure. Like the best of Heinlein's works were his juveniles, and some other SF writers like John Barnes.

  14. CarLitGuy says

    Its been 20+ years since I willingly read CS Lewis. Even then, I felt I was being beaten over the head by the extended allegory. l'Engle was ok, Leguinn much better in my view. Amber would indead be fantastic, if there was a director, the actors, and a studio willing to support it – don't see a huge audience for it though.

    Jordan, I felt, declined as a writer over time, more so as death approached. Of course, I've made the same comment about F Herbert.

  15. PeeDub says

    We'll just have to disagree on Lewis then. But there is a reason they were never going to make A Horse and His Boy for film. A brown person from the desert with a curvy sword isn't even thinly veiled.

  16. Mnem says

    For the record, Anathem blew my mind. Crypto, for me, was Stephenson's weakest work because it was so longwinded.

    For all the good of Narnia, Lewis' best work are the first two books of his science fiction trilogy – Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Ignore the mess that is the third book where he gets lost trying to play with Arthurian legend.

    Sanderson is a better writer than Jordan…and he's more prolific. He writes at almost as breakneck of a pace as Butcher. I have hopes he will actually redeem WoT because it got bogged down in repetitiveness somewhere around the sixth-seventh book. I picked up Sanderson's Way of Kings a few months back and it was very very good and very very ambitious.

    Rothfuss is amazing, but WMF was not as good as Name of the Wind. Not sure why. Wishing Scott Lynch would get it together and give me another Gentleman Bastard book.

    And, for my money, the best of the massive epics as far as world building and characters go, is Janny Wurts. Her latest should come out this fall, thankfully. Although, if you're not a fan of descriptive prose and prefer it lean and mean, you should avoid her.

  17. says

    According to a reviewer with the New York Times, they only threw sex and incest and stuff into it to draw in the ladies, because they like that sort of thing and don't like fantasy stuff.

    That would be the same New York Times where a previous reviewer expressed shock that Nixon had won because she didn't know anyone who had voted for him.

  18. Piper says

    Mnem – is Anathem not a Tome of Too Many Words then? I might pick it up, but I'm really gunshy after the Baroque cycle (and Cryptonomicon- to a lesser degree).

  19. says

    I prefer Lewis for his religious writing, and I don’t just mean Screwtape though I love Screwtape, but because Lewis manages to combine empathy and entertainment all at once.

    His children’s fantasy novels, like those of Madeleine L’engle and Ursula K. Leguinn, are dismissed as children’s novels only by the ignorant, or people who are young but not children.

    Old people, like me, eventually grow up. They learn that Turkish Delight is just a candy, and that sometimes an Orc is just an Orc, and not a metaphor for people of Slavic descent.

    That's absolutely true for the better books – Lion, Magician's Nephew, Dawn Treader. The Last Battle is awful, though, and a dwarf isn't just a dwarf there (but Dwarves are for Dwarves is the greatest line ever) and its impossibly obvious. This is based on a re-read earlier in the 2k-Oughts. I don't think the "thicker" allegory is what kills the book; it lacks the magic of the better books though.

    And yeah, Horse and His Boy has it's share of problems (for reasons unknown to me I don't recall it or Silver Chair from the re-read. I seem to recall liking A Horse and His Boy's general premise but finding the brown people stuff a little obvious).

    Patrick, I think you are giving Martin too little credit. I charge you with suffering a little from all backlash on the ridiculous amounts of hype you've received about them. I sentence you, however, to beer.

    As an aside, Have Spacesuit Will Travel, and Starman Jones are two wonderful books. I am going to read more of the Heinlein Juveniles soon.

  20. says

    I loved Cryptonomicon, liked the Baroque Cycle (but it could have been about a third shorter), but Anathem was the most godawful self-indulgent slog I have read in a long time. As a book it's a great doorstop.

  21. Base of the Pillar says

    I got GoT for free on Kindle. Unfortunately I've found myself trying to finish the last two Black Company books (which are a dreadful fall off from the rest) and haven't gotten too far into it. The first fifty pages are really good… Even if that represents 1% of the series.

    As for unfinished series, I think GRRM takes a ton more shit than King did for Dark Tower. I assume it's because King was King before the Dark Tower series got rolling and that he wrote a trillion other pages. Still, the fan bases were equally, um, passionate.

  22. aczarnowski says

    I'd much rather see Zodiac or Diamond Age than Cyrptonomicon on the silver screen. And for once, a hollywood re-ending wouldn't drive me to anger. As much as I like reading Stephenson, and I DO like it very much, his endings are so consistently bad I've honestly started closing the book two chapters out so I end on a high note.

  23. PeeDub says

    Have Spacesuit, Will Travel and Starman Jones were my first two Heinleins and started me on a long love affair until I got just a little tired of breasts. (How is that even possible??)

  24. CarLitGuy says

    So, we can expect a post on how it was??? I can't seem to find an advance screening of it on YouTube…

  25. Skip Intro says

    For the record, Anathem blew my mind. Crypto, for me, was Stephenson’s weakest work because it was so longwinded.

    This, and +1 to the original comment about The Baroque Cycle desperately needing an editor.

    Anathem was pretty long, but it was a page-turner to me, and that'd never been my experience with Stephenson before.

  26. Mark says

    Glen Cook's Black Company would make wonderful HBO fodder. I have to admit I'd love to see that as much as I'd love to see Zelazny's Amber.

    As for Lewis and l'Engle both had the same problem. Much of the magic and wonder was in the early books, with a severe weakening at the end of each series. With Lewis it is almost worth telling people to read the last 2 first and then 4-5, and then the first 3. It doesn't ruin much and you're left much happier at the end. Leguinn shook herself free and spread her wings and was much better for it.

    I'm also happy to see the complete lack of people wishing someone would film the epic Shanarra stuff. ;-)

    I have two friends hoping Martin actually finishes GoT. They refuse to start reading it until it is done but are tired of us talking about it in the meantime. Both were burned by WoT and swore never-again to read unfinished series.

  27. PLW says

    They refuse to start reading it until it is done but are tired of us talking about it in the meantime.

    I've never understood this reasoning. Would Hamlet not be worth your time if Shakespeare had died before penning the last act? I'm not saying GRRM is Shakespeare, but compared to some of the drek that fantasy readers choke down (see, e.g., reference to Shitstorm of Shanarra, above), he might as well be.

  28. PeeDub says

    I thought (think) ASOIAF was (is) worth it simply for the last chapter of the first novel. If I had read nothing of the series except for that chapter, it still would have been worth it.

  29. mojo says

    The Amber series is perhaps a bit ambitious. 16 books all told, I believe.

    Let's start with something shorter – say, "The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth" or "A Rose for Ecclesiastes"

  30. says

    I loved Anathem, and I gave up after the second book in the Baroque Cycle. I think it's his best book. Arguably, it's also the best suited to being filmed.

  31. says

    I've always had a fondness for Zelazny's Doorways in the Sand if you were looking for something to film. Sadly, not fantasy.

  32. Patrick says

    mojo, the Amber series is only five books. The rest don't count.

    Arguably the Amber series ends with the death of, well, a certain hated older brother. But it surely ends with Corwin standing at the threshold of the Courts of Chaos.

    That's a topic for another post.

  33. The Californian says

    Have Space Suit–Will Travel is the only science fiction novel I recall enjoying less after the introduction of the sci-fi elements.

  34. says

    I recently purchased two Amber suppliments. The Visual guide to Amber and something else. The former is Zelazney, the latte was written by friends. Haven't had time to thumb through them yet, but looking forward to it.

    Idon't think the books of Merlin are worthless by any stretch. But I sort of look at them like I look at the Book of the South in the Black Company universe. Not bad exactly, flashes of the glory of the previous serious. Lots of the same characters. But ultimately significantly inferior.

  35. Piper says

    Amber ends with Corwin's journey to the Courts (per Patrick). Merlin's story is ok, but doesn't stand up to the first 5 books at all, and you truly lose nothing by skipping them.

  36. mojo says

    Casting: Brian Blessed as Oberon

    I disagree about the Merlin-focused part of the series, since it not only involves both the origin of Amber and Corwin's weird family, but has him retrace his grandfather's steps in restoring it.

    It's all of a piece, but with differing protagonists.

  37. says

    Are you crazy? You properly hit Neal Stephenson as a great not-yet-screenified writer and you choose Cryptonomicon? Have you read Snow Crash??? I've probably bought 20 copies of this book just so I always have copies to give away.

  38. Patrick says

    The subject is long novels. Epics, in fact.

    There are many nice things about Snow Crash, but it's a trifle compared to his later writings.

  39. says

    As much as I enjoy Neal Stephenson's bigassbooks©, it's his smaller, pulpier works that would make better translations to the screen. Cobweb is a basic thriller involving the hunt for biological weapons at a midwestern college. Interface is a modern Manchurian Candidate with global conspiracies vying to control the US government. And Zodiac would make a great TV show — think Spencer: For Hire, but with an asshole scientist.

  40. jb says

    I am concerned about GRRM's health, but I assume that he has a sketched out version of the final two books rattling around 'in case of heart attack' for someone else to finish. and since he's married now, his wife can ensure that those books get written.

    If no one else writes them, I will, god damn it! I'll just changed the names enough that I can't be sued :)

    If I had to rank Stephenson's work:

    1) The Diamond Age – possibly IMO the best sci fi book ever
    2) Snow Crash – was #1, until I read TDA
    3) Ananthem – once I realized they were speaking latin, it all fell into place
    4) Cryptonomicon
    5) The Baroque Cycle
    6) Zodiac

    Snow Crash would make a better movie than Cryptonomicon, for many reasons. Action, skateboarding, viruses, avatars, hyperinflation, Reason. The Diamond Age would make a good movie, if it were done the right way. But it would be a good movie for young women and tween girls, not for grown men.

    In any case, I am most concerned at this point about GRRM's health, because I'd like to think his story is going to end up in an epic war between the Others and the Dragons/Humans in alliance.

  41. PeeDub says

    I heard that too, Ken, but am wondering if it's the product of cynical message board ravings.

    I mean, if it's not, it is itself cynical as fuck-all.

  42. says

    You don't need GRRM's notes to reconstruct the future of Game of Thrones. Its just the War of the Roses cast into fantasy.

  43. says

    Snow Crash: "You don't respect those people very much, Y.T., because you're young and arrogant. But I don't respect them much either, because I'm old and wise."

  44. Bob says

    I'll have to read this "American Gods" you speak of. I've picked it up then put it back on the shelf several times.

  45. TomG says

    Long time lurker who is just jumping in to add a suggestion:
    George RR Martin's older novel "Fevre Dream" would make an incredible movie. If you like vampires of the old-fashioned pre-Twilight type, I can't recommend it highly enough.

  46. perlhaqr says

    Mark: I'm in that "buying the GRRM books but not reading them until they're all out" group. I'm buying 'em because I want to give the financial feedback to keep 'em going. I'm not reading 'em yet because I read like a freight train, and I hate waiting for the next book in a series.

    Patrick: I'm totally with you on the Amber thing. The Merlin books read like a transcript of an RPG session between a too generous DM and his favorite player. "Here, have a fantastically powerful artefact. Oh, and another one. Oh, and by the way, you find a third just sort of lying about. Did I mention your ultra-powerful alternate form? What about your hyperdimensional computer?"