Never let it be said that I don’t give the people what they want — I’ve got plenty of half-assed takes on pop culture stuff I vaguely remember. Here’s one on Game of Thrones:
[Disclaimers first, so everyone knows where I stand. I read the first….three? I think…. books. Up to whenever he magically resurrected Caitlyn Stark, at which point I threw the stupid thing across the room. Having seen a few pairs of breasts in my time, I feel no need to watch the tv show (plus, the naked dragon chick is obviously about 4’10”, which gives it a weird pedo vibe). I’m not really much of a fantasy reader, anyway; Tolkien bores my tits off. So again, we’ll do this Jon Stewart style: If you agree with me I’m serious; if you don’t, I’m kidding].
People tell me A Song of Ice and Fire’s plot is complex. It’s not. It’s just busy. A competent historian could knock out a pretty good summary of the major events in five pages (see e.g. this Infogalactic summary of Martin’s inspiration, the Wars of the Roses). Martin likes to pad his page counts by delivering small nuggets of information via viewpoint characters that get killed at the end of their chapters. Instead of simply reproducing a one-paragraph dispatch from a commander to his lackey, we have to read all about Ser Josaph Sixpacke, his hopes and dreams and the girl he left behind him, his journey through the mud and the blood, what he had for dinner, what he’s wearing, the sixteen different positions he used to rape the serving wench at the last tavern, all before he hands over two lines of actual information and gets broadsworded in the face.
By about the seventh time this happens, one begins to suspect that Martin is just stalling — he has no idea what to do with his story; he’s hoping to string it along until the HBO guys figure it out for him, and hoping nobody notices.
I’m sure he’s mostly doing it for the money (do we all appreciate the irony of a minor-league nobody such as myself giving writing advice to a guy who can probably build a complete medieval castle entirely out of stacks of money? If not, I’ll pause for a second to let y’all get that sorted out. Everyone back? Ok, as I was saying…) But I also think his much-publicized SJWism has something to do with it.
Faux-complexity is one of the most reliable ways liberals convince themselves they’re Smarter Than You. The ivory tower’s impenetrable jargon, for instance, isn’t only, or even primarily, to snow you, the consumer. It’s for them. By “arguing” with each other in a bizarre idiom which takes fifty two syllables of neologism to express a simple idea like “all women should be lesbians” (“the social construction of the gender binary within the heterosexual matrix;” read ’em and weep), they convince themselves they are very, very, very Smart. Who but a towering intellect could ever even conceive such a barmy idea, much less phrase it that way?
George R.R. Martin obviously thinks he’s brilliantly “deconstructing” the tropes of your standard High Fantasy sword-n-sandal epic. By making everyone in Westeros a vicious, nihilistic, amoral scumbag, he thinks he’s mocking the pretensions of the 1%. In Martin’s world, anyone who thinks he’s a hero — or even aspires to be anything other than a vicious, nihilistic, amoral scumbag — is either a fraud or a fool. The only “sympathetic” character left standing (for a very loose value of “sympathetic”) is Tyrion Lannister, a malformed, hideously scarred dwarf. That’s some subtle fucking symbolism right there, ain’t it?
But that’s the thing. The more grimy details he packs in — the more rapes, gaping wounds, tortures, degradations, rapes, betrayals, double-crosses, rapes, triple-crosses, rapes, incest, rapes, etc. he shows — the more he reinforces his own pretensions. Like the professor inventing ever more arcane jargon, Martin thinks that by rubbing our faces in it yet again, he’s really putting one over on us. In reality, of course, there’s no “there” there, and there hasn’t been for about 2200 pages.
This is not to say one must be a conservative to write epic fantasy. But again, as with Conan (my interpretation, anyway), even a thorough deconstruction of a trope must acknowledge the trope’s conventions. A hero has a tragic flaw that brings him down. Martin has no heroes, only viewpoint characters, and they’re nothing but flaws. The world is interesting and the writing is intermittently good, but without a moral center, epic fantasy — even a deconstruction of epic fantasy — is just one damn thing after another. Plus rape.