I was late joining the Game of Thrones Band Wagon. I was late several times, in fact.
I didn’t get into the books until my sister gave me a copy of Feast For Crows for Christmas one year. Two things became abundantly clear after reading the first three pages. The first was that this was an epic tale I was going to be very interested in. The second was that there was no way I was going to be able to jump on in the middle of this ride. Fortunately I had enough time to read the first three books so I could complete the fourth before the fifth installment-A Dance With Dragons-was published.
I was also late to HBO’s televised adaptation, which I initially refused to watch because I was convinced it would disrespect the books. But I was inevitably drawn in and it turns out that the show does something neither the books nor author George R.R. Martin do; it respects its fans.
I know, I know, some people are getting ready to vilify me, but indulge my math before you break out the pitchforks and torches. Martin published The Game of Thrones, the first book in his epic saga, back in 1996. The last book to hit the stands was Dance With Dragons in 2011. It’s taken him 21 years to write the five books that currently comprise the series, an average of one book every 4.2 years. It’s going on six years since his fans have seen the last book with no publication date for the next one in sight. He’s already exceeded his (glacial) average writing time by roughly 50 percent.
Want a little perspective on how long it’s been since a new book has graced bookshelves? Marvel was still in the first phase of its Cinematic Universe (the first Avengers movie wouldn’t break box office records until the following year) and George Lucas still owned the Star Wars franchise. Barrack Obama was in his first term as President and Stephen Harper was still Prime Minister. Lebron James was still a member of the Miami Heat, the Boston Bruins were Stanley Cup champions and no one had even heard of Connor McDavid yet. You could still shop at Zellers, HMV, Mexx and Danier Leather while Netflix hadn’t even been in Canada a full year yet. Benedict XVI was still Pope, David letterman, Jay Leno and Jon Stewart were still behind their respective late night desks and Robin Williams, Alan Rickman, Carrie Fisher, Paul Walker and Leonard Nimoy were all still with us.
And a little show called Game of Thrones premiered on HBO that spring.
It’s relatively easy to dismiss fandoms because they can say and do some pretty crazy things sometimes, all in the name of their passions (though I have yet to see genre fans riot after a really good movie or book release the way sports fans tend to do, just sayin’). But the fact is, once I pay money for a movie ticket or a music album or a book, I’m now a paying customer. And while I would never presume to speak for A Song of Fire and Ice fans everywhere, I can tell you that as a once loyal Martin customer, I’m feeling more than a little taken for granted these days.
Readers have been with Martin and this story for 21 years and while being a talented writer and imaginative storyteller are crucial to being a successful author, they’re only part of the book publishing equation. The other half is a complex wilderness of marketing, promotion, distribution and pure luck. Without a loyal fan base, an author is essentially a lonely lunatic screaming into the wind and you may be hard pressed to find a fan base more loyal than Martin’s right now. Or one as frustrated.
(And yes, I realize Martin has been heavily involved with the show, but there are plenty of other bestselling authors who are involved with numerous side projects and other media who still produce a book a year or close to that pace. And despite blaming all his other commitments for failing to complete the next book, Martin has recently signed on to produce Nightflyers for Sy-Fy and Who Fears Death for HBO. And that’s on top of all those GoT spinoff rumours, so you have to wonder how strong his commitment to delivering the much delayed Winds of Winter really is.)
But I’m not complaining because HBO is here to save me. While I devoured the first three books of Fire and Ice, I found the last two (Feast For Crows and Dance With Dragons) a little underwhelming. Conversely, while I haven’t seen every episode of the show (you know, the one I refused to watch because I was, well, dumb), I can tell you that I thought season six was the best one. Is there a correlation between the sixth season’s quality and the fact that it was the first one where producers were writing the scripts because they ran out of books?
I’ll leave that debate for another time, but here’s one thing I can tell you for certain. I’ve been anticipating the TV show’s seventh season (which returns to our lives this Sunday) far more than I’m looking forward to the sixth book. Even if they end differently (and they’d have to for anyone to be interested in buying the final two books if and when they’re ever published) I think I can safely say I’m through being taken for granted.
Now pass the remote.