by Leeman Kessler
Name me a situation as bizarre as a group of people angrily wishing someone doesn’t die. For George R. R. Martin, it must come as very confusing. On one hand, the man has a devoted fan base, eager for his latest release with all the tenacity of a wounded tapir. However, that hunger brings with it a sense of entitlement so strong that the prevailing mood is such that should something happen to Mr. Martin, he will be guilty of the ultimate crime of inconveniencing them.
As someone who’s been a fan of Mr. Martin since my older brothers plopped a worn copy of Tuf Voyaging into my fingers, I’ve been following him with a certain amount of interest. I purchased the awesome paperback of Clash of Kings with Davos bowing before Stannis and Melisandre almost decade ago, not realizing that it was part two in the series and as soon as I got a chapter and a half in, I said to myself, this is worth waiting for and ran off to grab the first one with Jon Snow and Ghost on a field of white. (As a side note, how sad and generic are the new covers? It’s like they’re trying to perform a fantasy-ectomy on the series. Shame.)
Storm of Swords was grabbed in a British airport and I had to purchase it in two volumes because they didn’t sell them any other way and I was desperate for more. Then came the golden day when I got Feast for Crows and got to meet Mr. Martin and ask him obnoxious questions about his usage of little people. Since that time, I have acquired his graphic novels, the roleplaying game, the board game, his collected short stories/autobiography and even the first season of Beauty and the Beast. Between the fourth book and the fifth I have gotten married, immigrated, and gotten paid to sell and talk about his books with increasing frequency. My wife and I have had a map of Westeros hanging in our various homes since just after we got married. We came this close to naming our puppy Sandor. So trust me when I say I am a fan.
And there are many like me, I know, just as dedicated if not moreso. And from this great fan base, a disturbing trend arose. And that has been, as time wore on and no book found itself in their hands, to get angry and to decry Mr. Martin as a wastrel and a layabout. “Where’s my effing book, you fat eff?” seems to be the clarion cry of the outraged, the disaffected, the owed. Now, Mr. Martin certainly did not help matters when he spoke in Feast for Crows of the next book being not too long in the offing, even going so far as to give a rough estimate of when it could be expected. Once that estimate was passed, blood began to boil.
Then James Rigney Jr., better known as Robert Jordan died and suddenly the conversation turned. People flipped to the dust jackets and saw an old man with a bit of a belly and whispers began to spring up in the darkest recesses of the internet, “What if he dies? What if it’s never finished?” What began as a worrying echo of Wheel of Times fans’ concerns suddenly took on an edge. Now the concern was less for the man’s health and continued happiness but more for the story, the precious story and its conclusion that Mr. Martin was hoarding away in a rickety tower that could collapse at any moment if he ate another french fry.
Throughout all of this, Mr. Martin did something very interesting: he stayed in touch. Instead of hiding himself away in a cabin, shunning the outside world, the man lived, laughed and shared a portion of that with his fans. This was how those of us who were paying attention knew that there were going to be delays and the original estimation was just that. We got the sense of something brewing and it created excitement instead of anxiety. He also talked a lot about football. This was his gravest error as nerds the world over couldn’t understand how this man could have the gall to enjoy athletic competitions when they were sitting at their computers, dying of a need to know What Happens Next. The bile that was spewed up was shocking to me and to others and I grew very defensive of my author and for the first and only time in my life, I defended a man’s right to watch and enjoy football.
I began to get increasingly frustrated with the tone people were taking and I found myself part of a silent majority who sat, stunned while the violent, hungry fans spewed venom at the man whose only fault as far as I could see, was to make it difficult to read sub-par fantasy again knowing this quality of writing was out there. It made me fight back and rail against the fan-zombies who only wanted to devour what was in Mr. Martin’s brain. It also made me think about my own sense of fan-entitlement and I realized I was guilty of nerd rage. Not at Mr. Martin, but at a different George.
Phantom Menace introduced me to the concept that a work could be bigger than the artist and creator and that I, the fan had a sense of ownership and like a share holder, should be able to have some oversight and the chance to hold Mr. Lucas to account. I was not alone. If the talk about Mr. Martin has been full of condemnation and scorn, it was a light titter compared to the foetid vomit that was projected over Star Wars. People spoke of how the record needed to be wiped clean and that upon his death, a do-over should be announced. Others pondered about trying to legally take the franchise away from him, like an abused child, and bring it into protective custody where the mean man wouldn’t be able to hurt it ever again. We spoke of a man gone mad with power, who surrounded himself with yes-men, who had never been that talented to begin with but had gotten lucky. He turned into a Stalin-esque figure and as we toppled his statues, we cheered at a job well done even as we kept giving him our money and our attention. As we spoke in our digital parlours and meatspace living rooms, very few stood up and said, “Hey, calm down, it’s his baby, he can do what he wants. It’s only a movie.” People only wanted blood. Blood and revenge.
Given that situation, is it any wonder that we turned so quickly against Mr. Martin? We, as geeks, have passion aplenty but when we speak into an echo chamber, sometimes it is easy to forget about things like civility and decency. Neil Gaiman said it best when he said that George R. R. Martin is not our bitch. To accept that, however, we may need to say the same thing about George Lucas and it will take a lot of courage and humility to admit that the bitterness we’ve been tasting for almost fifteen years has not been righteous indignation but just the addictive poison of entitlement and spite.
It is past time we apologized to Mr. Martin for our collective bad behaviour and it is also time to say the same to Mr. Lucas, however much it may gall us. So I am sorry, Georges and I hope you both continued to create works that delight, inspire, and remind me of just why I’m a geek to begin with.