Some thoughts on A Story of Ice and Fire and Wheel of Time

In my news feed (since big brother is constantly monitoring you and know what types of things you look for), I frequently get news about George R. R. Martin (GRRM), the author of the A Song of Ice and Fire (ASoIaF) which was renamed Game of Thrones (GoT) for the HBO series. I got another one today, about some of the reactions that fans are having to the long delayed 6th book, and I got thinking about this and I have a prediction I want to make.

First off, this assumes that you know a little about what is going on with ASoIaF. If not, a little background might help. This is a 7 book fantasy series that is extremely popular. The problem is that it is not yet finished. 5 books have been published, the last one more than 13 years ago. When the GoT HBO series was started, it was assumed (hoped) that GRRM would finish the book series before the material was needed for the HBO series. That obviously never happened, and so the last couple seasons of GoT were written by screen writers without books to draw from. Anyway, that’s pretty much the background.

I want to describe where I am currently at with respect to GRRM. I have actually never read any of the books in ASoIaF. I have also never watched the show, so to a large extent, I am very unfamiliar with the story (I know only bits and pieces). I am, however, very interested in reading the books because I love epic fantasy, and from everything I’ve heard, the books are extremely well written. I’m totally uninterested in watching the TV series for several reasons, not the least of which is the terrible reviews I’ve heard about how it went after exhausting the material written by GRRM.

There’s only one problem… the story isn’t complete. For most of my life, I have adopted the position that I will read a story when it’s complete. I’m not so interested in reading part of a story and then having to wait a year or more (or in this case, a decade or more) before I can read the end. As a result, there have been many times in my life that I have gotten interested in a series in progress, but did not read any of the books until the story was complete (and several I’m still waiting on, including this one).

There has only been one time that I can recall when I broke from that stance, and that was with Wheel of Time. It seemed to me that the author Robert Jordan was going to finally finish the Wheel of Time. I had already cheated years earlier and read the first book and loved it (I wasn’t as rigid in my stance when I was younger), so I was anticipating reading the entire set. When he published the 11th volume, and said there was only one more to go (and based on his publication history, it seemed like it would come out pretty quickly), I started reading the set. And of course, the event that I was hoping to avoid happened… Jordan passed away, leaving the set unfinished. Luckily, in this case, a ghost writer (the extraordinarily talented Brandon Sanderson) was called in to finish the series, and so, a number of years later, I was able to restart the series one last time and read the entire 14-volume story. I will add a few thoughts below about the Wheel of Time (since I don’t want to write an entire blog post about it, and it sort of fits in here), but for now, back to GRRM.

So GRRM (and in a similar fashion, Patrick Rothfuss… another author I’m waiting on to finish their story) shows a disturbing trend that seems to say that the entire storytelling/publication process is very one-sided. The author/publisher has rights (protected by copyright laws) but any rights or reasonable expectations on the reader’s side is not addressed. They are not codified in law. They are not even addressed typically, to the point that I have seen many posts saying “GRRM doesn’t owe you (the reader) anything”.

Here’s the problem though… I disagree with that statement (that the author owes nothing to the reader). When an author tells a story, that story is his. It is 100% his! It is (and absolutely should be) protected by copyright law. The problem is… the author does NOT own the ideas and stories that his (or her) story inspires. The author does NOT own the stories that have not yet been told!

So, when an author writes a story, but then refuses (or is unable) to complete it, does the author maintain ownership of the untold story?

To some extent, I believe that the answer is yes… but it is not to the same level as the published work, and to some extent, that protection might decrease over time. If the author is working to complete the story, then yes, the unwritten work should be protected. If, on the other hand, the story is NOT being written, then in my opinion, the degree of protection is less (probably significantly less). In that case, after a suitable period of time, I find it reasonable to think that the story might be completed by someone else, even without the author’s permission, and I would not consider that a copyright infringement.

So, let’s get to my prediction. GRRM published the first five books in the ASoIaF series in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2005, and 2011. Now, 13 years later, the 6th book is not yet published. It is speculated by many fans that GRRM is unable to finish it. In GRRMs self-reported status updates, it seems to be several years since any significant steps have been made to complete the book (and this still leaves the 7th and reportedly final book yet to write). To make things even better, GRRM is now 75 years old. How many productive writing years does he have left?

Here is my prediction. GRRM will not be able to complete the 6th book in the foreseeable future. Whether the complexity of the story has exceeded his ability to keep everything straight in his head, or his ability to write has declined with his age, or whether he has become involved in so many other projects that he no longer has the time to devote to this one, or for any other reason, it appears to me that GRRM will not complete the 6th book.

In the meantime, we are hearing so much about AI, and how AI is now being used to create art (and having seen some of it, it looks really good) and have natural conversations (and again, they seem very advanced). I believe it is only a matter of 2-3 years when someone is going to take an AI engine, throw the first 5 books at it, and say: write book 6. And it’s going to take a while to analyze the first 5 books, but eventually, it’s going to write book 6 in a style so similar to GRRM as to be indistinguishable. And once that’s done, they’ll write book 7 in the same way.

Then, those books are going to be published somehow. It’ll be illegal. There will be a huge outcry about how artists are being devalued and the sanctity of their creative force. GRRM and his publisher will issue DMCA takedown notices left and right. But every time the book is taken down in one place, it will spring up in three others. There are literally millions and millions of fans waiting for these books, and they will have been waiting for close to 20 years at that point. They’re not going to feel any great degree of loyalty to GRRM. Yes, they may feel twinges of guilt about not supporting GRRM, but when it comes down to it, that lack of support is bidirectional. GRRM hasn’t been supporting them either! And after between 15 and 20 years of waiting for GRRM to finish his story, they FINALLY got the end of the story, and it felt like the others, and it was essentially as good as the others, and it completed the story that they wanted to have completed. The only minor issue is that it wasn’t GRRM who finished the story.

At that point, I think that GRRM may try to hurridly finish his version of the 6th book… but I think that it will be too late. Even with the 6th book out, there is still the 7th to go, and by that time, GRRM will be pushing 80 and there is no way that he will be able to finish the last book. Even more telling, a lot of his fans will have such a sour taste in their mouth that they will actually like the 6th book written by AI more than the 6th book written by GRRM.

GRRM will be angry and bitter about his life’s work being taken from him. I understand that reaction… but I can’t help but ask: was his life’s work taken from him? We still have his first 5 books, and they will be canon for that series. And who forced him to stop writing? Did he really have 100% ownership of ideas that he wouldn’t (or couldn’t) write down?

I think that this may serve to clarify exactly what rights are protected. Of course, depending on how things go, the write decisions about what rights are protected may not be made, but we’ll see.

Anyway, that’s what I think will happen. Ideally, GRRM would publish book 6 this year, and then really sit down and write the 7th book in the next 2-3 years. But I don’t think that will happen.


So, just a couple of notes about Wheel of Time (WoT).

As I mentioned, I actually cheated on this series and read the first one or two of the books long before the series was complete. It was long enough ago, I didn’t have my stance firmly set about only reading complete stories. Anyway, I loved the first couple of books and was looking forward to reading the complete set.

I started reading around the time book 11 was published (in 2005) thinking that the set would be complete with book 12 a year or two later. Unfortunately, Robert Jordan passed away in 2007. I read up through book 9 before stopping. Unfortunately, one of the reasons I stopped (rather than reading the last couple books) was because it had gotten so unsatisfactory in terms of story progression, that I wasn’t certain I’d ever pick it up again. Luckily, Brandon Sanderson was called in to finish it, one of the best and most prolific (a useful attribute when you’re being asked to complete a monster like WoT) authors writing today. And so, in 2021, I revisited the series and completed it.

The second time around, my thoughts of the series was unchanged compared to my first reading. The series starts off very strong, but by book 4, it’s getting so bogged down in side plots that do nothing to advance the main story. To be honest, books 5-10 should be condensed (and easily could be) to a single book. If WoT had been cut in half (by number of pages), it would be twice as good a story.

I would remove entirely the entire story of the Seanchan. That would easily remove 2-3 books. I would throw away the entire plot of the quest to retrieve the Bowl of Winds in Ebou Dar. That would get rid of another 1-2 books. In the final battle, the Seanchan played such a minor role, and the Bowl of Winds wasn’t mentioned more than once or twice that they could have been discarded trivially. The Seanchan role could easily have been filled by expanding the Aiel story. I’d get rid of the Sea Folk since they too played such an insignificant role and removing them would probably get rid of most of a book.

So, removing these three plots would have probably reduced the size by 5 books, and would have required only negligable changes to the real story.

Finally, I would have removed the constant (and horribly annoying) sections where all of the dominant women would try to be more dominant than the other ones! Boy did that get old fast. It would have only removed the equivalent of a handful of chapters, but it would have had a high return of value!

Anyway, I will say that when Jordan, who knew his death was probably immenent, set out to really wrap things up, the story got much better. Volume 11 was easily the 2nd or 3rd best Jordan authored book in the series, and volumes 12 and 13 were excellent.

I actually felt that volume 14 (devoted entirely to the final battle) could have been edited a bit. The final battle was a nearly endless cycle of winning battles and then losing ground, over and over and over. A few of these could have been discarded (especially those that involved feeble attempts to make the Seanchan relevant) could have been removed to tighten up the book without harming the story. Still, it was a pretty good ending to the story.

I enjoyed the series for the most part, but the middle becomes so bogged down in unessential subplots that I doubt I’ll ever read it again.

1 Comment

  1. I think your speculation about the future of an AI-produced ASoIaF book is novel (pun intended) and your timeline for the ability of systems to do such work may be accurate. But, unless we see some gains in computing capacity that far outstrip the energy implications of Moore’s Law, though, I think the amount of power needed to fuel an AI system that can produce a coherent work of book length will be far too costly to support.

    I think, however, to apply your “I will read a story when it’s complete” discipline strictly actually punishes you in some ways. The first 6 books of ASoIaF are well worth reading even without being complete. In a sense, any book an author writes is just an offering in the opus of their entire career, and can be thought of as just another chapter. Would it be worth extending this rule to, “I will only read stories written by dead authors ?” I don’t think so. I hope you’ll give “lazy” authors like Martin (or, if not lazy, then at least inconsistently productive) a break and treat yourself to their works. After all, you never know what’s around the corner for you. Life is short. Make the best of it!


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