I wasn’t going to post more today, in light of the April Fool’s joke I played on you. But here’s me going at it again. Lots of stuff I wouldn’t normally stumble upon hits me via Pulse, and today I see this in Salon, Is “Game of Thrones” too white? – Fantasy fiction might have racial problems, but they’re just a reflection of America’s broader battles. Here’s the problem I have, imagine this subhead: “Fantasy fiction might have class problems, but they’re just a reflection of America’s broader battles.” You see, in epic fantasy fiction the class structure is a pyramid, with a few who have, and the vast majority who do not have (let’s take urban fantasy and the like off the table for this discussion). But that’s OK, it’s a feature, not a bug. That’s because epic fantasy is playing with the furniture of the past, and that furniture is riddled with a class system predicated on radical inequality.
The author of the Salon piece concludes:
Ultimately, A Song of Ice and Fire, like the Lord of the Rings, is the work of a brilliant and conscientious writer who is nonetheless writing in his own time and place. The United States in 2012 is, far too often, and even with a black president, still a culture rich in racist stereotypes and xenophobic fear-mongering. Expecting a writer to remain entirely unstained by this is expecting a person to live underwater without getting wet. If we still find troubling racial assumptions and caricatures in fantasy – whether on the page, or on the big or small screen — this probably tells us more about our culture-wide problems than it does about a single writer’s, or a single show’s issues. A Song of Ice and Fire is indeed our American Lord of the Rings, and if Westeros has its race problems, they are simply a powerful reflection of America’s.
So it is now less than a week until A Dance with Dragons, the 5th book in George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, is out. The internet is supposedly flooded with spoilers, some of them fake, thanks to the Germans mistakenly shipping out nearly 200 copies of the book early. At this point I’m kind of irritated by the fact that whenever there’s a media story about the series I have to stare at a photo of Sean Bean looking grave. I’m generally not a fan of film or television adaptations of science fiction or fantasy, but the near overshadowing of the literary production by the T.V. series of late gives me another reason to want to gripe.
The Daily Beast has a very long and lush review (positive). Entertainment Weekly is more concise, ranking the books 3 > 1 > 5 > 2 > 4. And yes, it is for real, at over 1,000 pages this is going to be the longest book! I know I said I’d wait for the Kindle version, but the reviews seem a lot more positive than A Feast for Crows, so I don’t know anymore….
So A Dance with Dragons, A Song of Ice and Fire #5, is coming out in about a month. Honestly I’ve been wondering if it really would drop (at ~1000 pages, it’s literally going to be a heavy drop). Seems as if it’s for real, Publisher’s Weekly has a short review up (and Lev Grossman will be penning a positive review in Time soon). Overall from what I can glean it looks as if A Dance with Dragons will receive a straight-B grade. My own current plan is it to wait for the first assessments to come in on Amazon, and get the Kindle version if the star ratings remain above A Feast for Crows. It is strongly hinted in the Publisher’s Weekly review that this is basically another “bridge” book, suggesting that George R. R. Martin still hasn’t gotten the story under control yet. Nevertheless, it may be that we finally reach the threshold of the portion of Martin’s epic which shifts from Dark Age historical thriller to magical high fantasy, a transition the author has promised, and which helped me convince Alan Jacobs to give the series a second look after being disappointed by the lack of fantastical elements early on. Martin’s penchant for dark plot twists, and shades of gray in character and actions, certainly gave his work a level of verisimilitude which put it above and beyond other works of fantasy, but I’m honestly not too excited about a magicked-up version of the Book of Job. Whereas some fantasists use magic as a deus ex machina which transforms their narrative into farce in short order, at his point a little numinous wonder would do the characters of the A Song of Ice and Fire a world of good.
Also, I still haven’t see the Game of Thrones HBO series, but the incessant web-chatter about it certainly does remind me of A Song of Ice and Fire. I guess it’s doing some good in terms of marketing Martin’s brand.