Here’s a soundtrack while you read. 😀
I hate Game of Thrones.
I also have very good reason to hate Game of Thrones and George R. R. Martin, so I apologize if you’re a fan of the show, because I’m about to offend you. But before I get into that, a bit of background.
The very first novel I ever owned was called something like The Crystal Shard, and I got it during the summer between the 2nd and 3rd grade. It was, of course, a Fantasy novel, but my love for Fantasy had already started by that point. When I was four or five, my father bought a game at Wal-Mart that he was [incorrectly] told supported 4-players, and that game was Ultima: Exodus on NES. That was when my love for Fantasy began. To call it a lifelong love would be absolutely correct.
I wrote my first fantasy stories, roleplaying adventures, and so on shortly after my dad introduced me to tabletop gaming. He didn’t so much “introduce” me to it as he did “made me aware of its existence,” and it simply was never going to fly for me to have actual Dungeons and Dragons materials in my grandmother’s house. This was before she heavily screened what I could read and listen to, but D&D would never have flown; this was right smack in the middle of the allegations that it was Satanic, and she believed whatever the pastor said. The pastor, of course, called it the devil’s work.
Around the 4th grade, she came upon one of my stories where, according to her, the main character died and brought himself back to life. While I never wrote anything like that, it didn’t matter. She launched into a tirade about how only Jesus could bring himself back to life (because, evidently, it’s normal when Jebus does it, but not normal when a different made-up and fictitious character does it), and that was the end of my exposure to most fantasy. Any future reading was done under the radar; I had to sneak books in, and keep them hidden, or let friends take them home and read them only at school.
That didn’t deter me, however, so strong was my love for these fantastic worlds of mages, dragons, orcs, and elves. I created my own settings. Folders upon folders full of archaic rules based on the set of 6-sided dice I’d snatched out of the RISK boardgame, where all damage and attack rolls used d6s. Entire notebooks filled with details of worlds, characters, mysterious trinkets, magical objects, wondrous secrets, gigantic landscapes… Like anyone under the heel of an extremely oppressive parent, I sank into these fantasy worlds that I created and lived them as completely as I could, because it was just a matter of time before my grandmother found them and destroyed them.
So that’s the context of my love for Fantasy. Fantasy is the reason I am still alive, no question. That I had my own imagination, built from these scraps of stories I’d never actually gotten the privilege of reading–who was Dalamar the Dark? I didn’t know, but I imagined Dalamar the Dark. Who was this Raistlin, this gold-skinned mage? I didn’t know, but I imagined him. Drizzt the Drow–who was he? Elminster? Waterdeep? Ravenloft? Over and over again, I had only slivers, little scraps of passages I’d glimpsed before the wicked claws of my grandmother snatched them away, and from those I built my fantasy.
This is, to be fair, what makes my fantasy unique and new. Let’s not mince words: there is a “standard fantasy,” which is an oxymoron so great that authors throughout the world should be ashamed. There are many traps that Fantasy as a genre fell into, and that there is a standard fantasy is one of those traps. It is not, however, what killed the genre in the early millennium.
No, what killed the genre were the Moral Guardians who forced Fantasy to remain squeaky clean. No references to sex were allowed. No swearing. No outrageous acts of violence. Fantasy, more than any other genre, had to be absolutely clean. If it contained anything that even hinted at non-Christian imagery, it was going to be pulled from the shelves by the Moral Guardians. Weis and Hickman, two of the best fantasy writers of the 80s and 90s, remarked in one of their annotated trilogies that they had to come up with a nine-pointed star, because the publisher would never have allowed a 5-pointed or 7-pointed star at the time. There was constant censorship, and an overarching need to present solid moral values. Nothing less would be tolerated by the Moral Guardians.
In case it took you as long to read that as it did for me to write it:
Fantasy never evolved past that, even after the Moral Guardians turned their eyes onto video games and forgot about literature. R. A. Salvatore, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Niles, Margaret Weis, and Tracy Hickman–these prolific, mighty authors, fallen into obscurity. What happened? There are just as many nerds today as there have ever been. There are as many Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons players as ever–where is the literature?
There is no literature.
Fantasy committed suicide because it never removed its pristine white coat, and people lost interest in these simple worlds of moral black and whites, these clear archetypes of heroes and villains, these bland, dry, and immaculate characters who were all celibate, apparently. It was so bad that even characters like Jarlaxle and Artemis Entreri refrained from sex–two rapscallion thieves and assassins who just lived the good life. Never had sex with anyone in any of their books. C’mon. I’m not asking for a sex scene by any means, and don’t want one, but the books make it a point to say that they refrain from sex. It’s ridiculous, and it was true across all fantasy, with very few exceptions. If a character did have sex, then they did so indiscriminately and it was a character flaw, such as Tanis Half-Elven and Caramon Majere.
I finished my first fantasy novel when I was in the tenth grade. If I’d had more guidance, either from a parent or by the teacher who had more or less taken me under her wing, then it would have been published. But I had no guidance. There I was, 16 years old, shoving the entirety of my unedited 276 page manuscript into a manilla envelope without even a cover letter, and sending it off to Wizards of the Coast. If they’d known a 16 year old had written it, things probably would have different, since that’s such a marketable thing, but c’est la vie.
The road not traveled.
Then life hit. My dad was caught stealing–embezzling, technically–and we lost our place to stay. I had to drop out of high school. My car, a 95 Camaro z28, broke down constantly. I delivered pizzas for a living, paid rent with my sister and her boyfriend, and smoked a lot of weed. Started doing rolls, and just kinda got mildly off track, but with distant thoughts of eventually going to college. Then my girlfriend moved in with me, and I decided I owed it to her to get off my ass. I scheduled to take my GED, and a week before the test got into a fight in the parking lot with the person I’d used to take all those rolls with because he was jealous of her and threatening her. I got fired, things got derailed, and I had very little time to write during all of this. What writing I did was non-fiction–fleshing out my thoughts on religion and the like. And playing a lot of chess.
But I took my GED, I got a new job, and my girlfriend and I got married. I supported us while I worked a full-time job and was a full-time student, and just 6 to 8 weeks before my graduation, I was pulled over by a Tunica County sheriff for not wearing my seatbelt. That tardy caused me to be fired a month or so later, when a “negative point” (a reward of -1 to your point total for employees who go 90 days without a tardy or absence) came off my total. 365 days after something is added to the record, it comes off the record. So I had a -1 come off my record. You know what 9 – -1 is? It’s 9 + 1. It’s 10. And 10 was the point of termination.
I’m fine with having poor attendance. I was supporting myself and my wife while working a full-time job and being a full-time student. That my attendance is as good as it was is something I’m proud of. That shit was exhausting. It was 7 days a week for two solid years. I got one week of vacation during it, and I was in school that week so it wasn’t even really a vacation.
I’m not complaining. Really, I’m not. It’s all good. I’m proud of what I did.
But it did keep me from writing. I was just too busy. I spent my Tuesdays off playing music with an old band, and that took the place of writing for a while. I didn’t have time for both writing and music, and music looked a lot more likely to lift me out of that hellhole. It was also a way of combining social interactivity with leisure. We partied, drank, made music. It was great. And my wife usually played World of Warcraft while we did it. Life was good. I didn’t mind.
I did get back on track, finally coming to work for the colleague with whom I am now associated (but not employed by), and I almost immediately began writing again. He was stunned when he RDP’d into the server late one evening and saw that I’d left my book open. He knew I wrote, but he never expected to find 100 single-spaced pages of text staring back at him. I’ll never forget his statement. “Oh. You’re like, actually serious about writing. That’s awesome.”
I finished that manuscript some time ago. And I thought it was something to be proud of. Reception varied from lukewarm to absolute disinterest. After the critical period of putting it aside and losing my emotional connections to it, I looked again, and it was shit. It was terrible. It was 300 pages of talking about stuff that had happened, not stuff that was happening. The Gaithin War that takes up about 1/3 of the final version–it “had happened years ago” in the previous draft. Queen Selena and Kyle Xenethil didn’t even exist. Calliope and Falrin didn’t exist. The story was weak–exceptionally weak, and I immediately saw why.
I’d crafted too much backstory over the decades, and utterly failed to craft the actual story. Last January I put the bullshit aside. I said “If I’m ever going to be a professional writer, then this ‘Writing when I feel inspired’ crap has to stop.” I swore to write a minimum of 35 pages a week–3 each day, 10 each weekend day. That soon changed to 5 each day, but there were some days when I only got out 3. I still always made up for it on the weekend, even if it meant I had to write 10 pages in one day, because I never went under 35 a week. I didn’t skip a single day. There were times when I was so thankful for dialogue because it made the 3 pages so much easier to hit, and there were times when I literally had to stop myself from writing too many pages in one day.
But I did it.
450,000 words in its first draft form.
The length of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.
I knew immediately that it was going to be a tough sell, but I also don’t care. People have suggested that I divide it, but I refuse to. I don’t refuse to because I’m being stubborn; I refuse because it would hurt the story cohesion. This is an epic tale of more than 25 characters, all woven together, with events in one part of the world impacting events in another part, threading in and out and coming together only for the third book of the trilogy. I will not apologize that it is an epic tale. Whether it’s a good epic tale or not, it is epic.
After flying through the agents I could find, it became apparent that it’s simply not going to work as a debut novel. Agents are terrible, and I have no respect for them. Stephen King wrote in his book On Writing that the first story he ever submitted to a magazine was returned back with only a sticky-note on it that said “Use paperclips. Don’t staple.” King never stapled another submission.
You don’t get that kind of feedback today. 90% of the agents simply won’t reply if they’re not interested. It’s an absolutely disgusting mentality, that people don’t deserve even a rejection letter. Busy, busy, busy! Gotta get that bottom dollar! And there’s no dollars to be made in sending someone a rejection letter. This also means that I have no idea–literally no idea–why these agents have passed up on my novel. The three that have replied (out of well over 30) have all said something like “It’s not for me, but I do wish you luck.”
Which is the literary equivalent of “It’s not you, it’s me.”
I imagine that if Stephen King knew about this, given his position on the value of agents and editors, then he would be repulsed, and he has the sway in the industry to do something about it. I’ve sworn that when I become successful, I will change this system that is damn near impossible to penetrate because the young aspiring writer has literally no idea what they’re doing wrong. Did I do the digital equivalent of stapling? Do they dislike the genre? The length? The style? The word choices? The writing? Who the hell knows?
But that’s another matter. My aim was only to explain why I’m not a currently published fantasy writer. I finished the first draft of that version during March of last year, put it aside for about two months, and then began the laborious process of editing 450,000 words–or more than 1300 pages. This was time consuming, tedious, slow, and exhausting. It was not until September of this last year–a mere 7 months ago–that I even began submitting it to agents. With the way the agent system is and how it is demonstrably stacked against new authors (even those who are already professional writers and who are already published in three different places), and with the fact that this novel is a tough sell, regardless of its merits, it’s no surprise that I didn’t find an agent. And I’m not going to until Aria DiMezzo has published a novel in some other way, and that’s where Dancing in Hellfire, now being edited, comes in.
So that’s my love for Fantasy. It’s a lifelong love of extreme value and depth.
And I’m watching it be cheapened, tarnished, and destroyed by an uncreative hack who peddles smut. Remember I’ve been reading fantasy more or less my entire life, though most of the earlier years were unstable and sporadic. Yet I’d never heard George R. R. Martin’s name before Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones is cheap and tawdry. It idolizes rape, violence, and everything that is disgusting about humanity. It takes the absolute lowest of what humanity has to offer and engrandizes it, dresses it in a suit made of political intrigue, and tries to prevent it as something more than a cheap whore in a moderately expensive dress. But it’s not. It’s just a cheap whore in a moderately expensive dress.
It is the Fantasy equivalent of Hostel or Cannibal Holocaust. It is lewd for the sake of ratings and solely for the sake of ratings, and the same is true of the novels. If you want political intrigue, rape, and violence while still maintaining class and taste, then you need look no further than Ken Follett and his masterful works Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. They were both adapted into mini-series (and the mini-series are what introduced me to Follett), and they are phenomenal. If you can find them on Netflix, Hulu, or <insert website of dubious legality>, they are well worth the 8-9 hours they take to watch.
They masterfully craft villains, and they establish gigantic moral grey areas, yet it is always clear who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. They build the villains up into people that you, the reader or viewer, will absolutely hate. By the end of the books and series, you’ll be damned near frothing at the mouth, angry, irate, desperate to watch these scumbags get what is coming to them. And then they do get what’s coming to them, and the pay-off is just…
There’s nothing else like it. It’s some of the best storytelling I’ve ever experienced. And even when the witch lifts up her skirt and pees on a chicken in front of a priest (it makes sense in context), it never loses class; it never becomes tasteless. There is no rape scene simply because a female character needed to be degraded.
That is Martin’s biggest problem. He relies so much on rape that I wonder if he’s aware that not all strong women endured rapes in their past. He seems to think that any strong woman must have been raped at some point. Female characters start out strong, in command, and then Martin has them raped. Then they despair, and then they build themselves back up to being strong and in command. For that alone, fuck you, George Martin. Rape is not character building.
If it only happened once, it might have been understandable. We could have shrugged and said, “Well, yeah, rape was more common during the Middle Ages.” But it happens constantly. Martin appears to know no other way. And if it’s a male who has to be degraded, what happens? If his dick doesn’t get cut off, then the guy has to watch his sister/wife/girlfriend be raped; it again falls right back to this deplorable crutch of the untalented hack who dresses smut up in fine clothes.
It also doesn’t help that he has no idea how to build an actual hero in this world of Grey and Gray Morality that he has created–this generic Low Fantasy world that could just as easily have been called “Ferelden But Without Mages.”
When the colleague I’ve mentioned heard me ranting about what Martin has done to fantasy, he replied, “Woah. I never even thought of that. I guess it is fantasy, isn’t it? For some reason, I just never considered it fantasy…”
That is what Martin has done to the genre. It’s not even recognizable as fantasy. While he has undoubtedly introduced tons of people to the genre (Has he? I would argue that the overwhelming majority, if not all, of these people had been introduced to the genre by the Lord of the Rings movies by Peter Jackson), he has butchered and tainted the genre to such an extent that it’s hardly recognizable, even to aficionados.
One aspiring writer (allegedly–I’m not sure he ever wrote more than a few pages) told me that he’d handled it by cranking up the Raunch Dial on his “book” and added more sex and violence. Oh, have no doubt–I have no intention of continuing in the footsteps of the squeaky clean writers from whose ashes I am rising. But I will add nothing for the sake of pandering to people who get off on movies like Hostel. I don’t want their attention. There is rape in my novel. To be precise, there is an allusion to rape, and the strongest allusion is that the woman’s name is Persephone. It is neither described, nor is there a “tasteful” cut to black. The woman is attacked, and we revisit her later with her clothes in tatters; no details about what she endured are ever given. Because there is no need.
None of the female protagonists in my story were made strong by enduring traumatic pasts, either. They were all strong already–the same way that men are allowed to be strong without being required to first endure a ton of bullshit that makes them strong. Queen fucking Shadow is basically a goddess by the time the novel takes place, and while she does have a traumatic past, her suffering was a direct result of things she did in pursuit of power. They were not things that happened to her; they were results of things that she did. Queen Selena might be the strongest female character in that world, and other than Kyle usurping her throne after her father’s death, she endured no bullshit. Drusilia did, but like Shadow also caused her own bullshit. Aradiant–no bullshit past. Calliope, no bullshit past. Vera, the valkyrie who basically gets adopted by one of the groups of protagonists, endured a tragic past (but one that’s only tragic in hindsight; she was happy all the years), but she’s not a symbol of women in fantasy–she is there for the reader, because an ignorant and naive character was necessary in order to drop some exposition.
George Martin knows nothing about any of this. He thinks “I need a strong woman character. So let’s have her start out as idealistic. Then she can get raped. Then she can rebuild herself, and then she’ll be strong!!!!11!!11!1one1!”
Game of Thrones is the glorification of everything ugly in humanity. It is an absolute debasement of the goodness of human beings and violates the most basic principle of literature that the human spirit must always endeavor. In Game of Thrones, the human spirit does not endeavor because it has never existed. It is an anomaly that might appear, quite by accident, here and there, before Martin gets in over his head and screws it all up because, frankly, he doesn’t know how to craft a story.
Martin destroyed the genre that I’ve loved my entire life. He cheapened it and attempted to add in the sex and violence that were needed to pull it from the grave, and he did so in the most tasteless, and classless way possible. He is not interested in good storytelling. If you want good storytelling, read or watch Pillars of the Earth. Seriously–it will show you exactly what good storytelling looks like. If you want smut, read or watch Game of Thrones.
And yes. I’d put the quality of my storytelling against Martin’s any day of the week. As long as the judges aren’t people who beat off to Cannibal Holocaust.
Everything has been said before
Nothing left to say anymore
When it’s all the same, you can
Ask for it by name.
Sex, sex, sex,
And don’t forget the violence.
Blah, blah, blah, got your
Lovey dovey sad and lonely
Stick your stupid slogan in,
Everybody sing along.”
The Golden Age of Grotesque, indeed. Nothing encapsulates that as much as Game of Thrones.