Sinners in the hands of an angry George

George R.R. Martin‘s latest book, A Dance with Dragons,  comes out this summer.

I won’t be reading it.

I choose to look away because I choose not to be part of this particular dialogue between author and reader. Time and again, not just in this cycle but in his other books, Martin presents readers with nasty people, nasty plots, and nasty actions. “Look,” he tells us, holding us by the scruff of the neck and forcing us to not blink. “Look at how nasty the world is. Participate in the brutality I’ve laid before you.”

Oh, readers rave about how real Martin is, how truthful, how powerful. No elfy-welfy stories here, we say. No golden child quests, no white hats and black hats, no good vs. evil. Look how real it all is. It’s hard not to buy into it too, especially with the brutality we’re presented with today. Gang rape of a child in rural Texas? That just happened. Kill squads of soldiers in Afghanistan, who murder civilians and gruesomely pose with them? Ditto. And genocide by machete in Rwanda in the 1990s? Not so long ago, was it.

And yet.

I reject the right of Martin to tell those stories and have that worldview, and only that worldview. He does not have the right to co-opt the world’s inhumanity as the only story to tell. He grew up white, middle-class, American, and therefore sheltered from most of the world’s brutality. (We may not like to think that, but it’s true. The vast majority of Americans grew up safe from the killing fields and we should respect that, not exploit it commercially.) He isn’t any different than any of his readers and he doesn’t have any more of a handle on the truth of evil than anyone else. Less, in fact, than someone who grew up in the worst inner city slum surrounded by hopelessness, crime, ignorance, and impoverishment of spirit.

Martin is being a misery tour guide, but he doesn’t have a map for that city any more than anyone else. No matter how powerfully he writes, it is ultimately exploitative.

I choose not to be complicit.

Deleted scenes — the lost prologue to Red Gold Bridge

Words: 1,525.

Music. The KGSR compilation CD Broadcasts volume 16.

(Note: I don’t like prologues. I think that the device is overused in fantasy and is relied upon by writers who don’t start in the right place. One exception is the prologue to G.R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire but let’s just say he’s the exception that proves the rule. Anyway, I don’t like prologues but that doesn’t stop me from trying to write them. Thankfully, my writer’s group told me to deep-six this prologue, since everything that happens in it is repeated later in the book, and better. I don’t always listen to my writer’s group, but I’m usually happy when I do.

Note the second: Not that there’s anything wrong with prologues, or even necessarily anything wrong with the deleted scene here. It’s just that, as you write, try to be aware that you aren’t turning a tool into a crutch. And prologues can be an expository crutch. Unless you are G.R.R. Martin.)

The old morrim hulked in the twilit darkness of the forest. Tall trees blocked out most of the sky. There was very little understory, only a few spindly shrubs where pale sunlight stabbed through to the earth. Marthen’s feet sank into loamy soil, and he could feel the tickling of insects and the dampness of the earth through the worn soles of his shoes.

The morrim was a broken boulder that looked much like the other granite outcroppings in the woods. It was patched with moss and lichen. It didn’t rest on the forest floor so much as was rooted in it, like the tall hickories that surrounded it. He got the sense that the morrim was as big below the surface as it was on the top.

Marthen had traveled months to find this hidden place, deep in the woods. He was on foot – he had sold first his warhorse, then his gear, and finally his sword, all for whispers of this place, coin passed from secretive hand to secretive hand.

He kept the saddle and the gun.

Now he set down the little saddle in the dirt by the morrim, and placed his hand on the cool rough surface of the rock. He felt nothing. The guardians could feel the living morrim, the anchor that held down the gordath between the worlds, but he felt nothing.

Then again, that could have been because he was dead drunk. He fumbled for the lid on the bottle that Kate Mossland brought with her between worlds, and took a swig. The buzzing in his head kept itself to a dull whisper, but he could still hear it. The whisper had been his constant companion for months. Carefully, he replaced the lid, screwing it on with great deliberation. The little bottle was cloudy and light, unlike a heavy blown glass bottle. He had saved it all those months. It was perfect for whiskey.

“Perfect,” he said, enunciating each syllable. He was not a sloppy drunk. He wasn’t a drunk at all, except for the buzzing in his head. He didn’t like to lose control. Marthen replaced the bottle in his shirt pocket. The shirt once had been of fine lawn, a creamy white that his orderly kept crisp and clean with brushing and pressing. Now it was soiled, stained with dirt, sweat, and blood. “There,” he said out loud to the forest. It remained indifferent. The trees hulked with life but there were no insects, no birds, no rustling of creatures. The forest could have been dead, except for Marthen.

And the morrim.

What if he dug? Could he find the gordath? The morrim was the anchor. Uprooted, would the gordath open once again?

He had nothing to dig with but his hands. Shakily, one hand on the rock, he sank to his knees, swallowing to keep from vomiting. When his head settled, he began to dig with rough and dirty hands, his fingernails blackened and broken, into the loamy soil and decaying leaves. At his predicament, Marthen giggled, aware of the absurdity of his situation.

“Kate Mossland,” he said, and this time he slurred. “Are you there? I’m coming to find you.”

He wouldn’t even have come this far if it hadn’t been for that other stranger. Bahard. He had been the one who brought the guns through the Wood and set off a war, and brought Marthen to this pass. Marthen had spent months tracking him down, and his search had led him to this.

Worms and beetles were churned up by his digging. He scraped and dug and scraped. His hands stung where the scrapes broke the skin. At length, Marthen had to stop. He stretched himself out next to the morrim, his heart hammering. He tried to get the bottle of whisky out of his pocket but it was too much for him, and he gave it up. The ground was spinning.

“Kate Mossland,” he said again. He made feeble digging motions with his fingers but he knew he was going to pass out. Help me, Kate Mossland.