Scott Taylor explains why what was bad in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons is very likely only going to get worse, assuming that George Martin manages to publish another book in A Song of Ice and Fire:
Writers have a window of ‘perfect’ production, and although it’s much more forgiving than the 4 years of an athlete, it still exists. I mean, there’s a reason you know famous works by authors and yet don’t know what they’ve done in the past 20 years of their lives until their obituary is plastered all over the internet.
There comes a time where you need to retire, you need to hang up your cleats, or in this case, your keyboard, and sail into the sunset. It sucks for everyone, sure, and it’s sad to see them go, and yet isn’t it more horrible to pick up an author’s latest work and think ‘wow, what happened?’ Wouldn’t you rather remember them in the light when their words could do no wrong and each sentence was linguistic gold?
I’m going push my argument with some stats and let you be the judge. Inside these stats you’ll see I’ve included a defining award, and I’ve done this because typically an award showcases the very best of an author’s work, thus, that should be the barometer for the high point of a career.
Let me give some examples:
Michael Moorcock [Born 1939]: Definitive series Elric 1965-1979, Nebula Award Behold the Man, 1967. Prime writing years Age 26-40.
Orson Scott Card [Born 1951]: Definitive series Ender 1985 – Ongoing [but can you name a book after Xenocide, 1991?], Nebula Award Ender’s Game, 1985. Prime writing years Age 33-40.
Stephen King [Born 1947]: Definitive series [Fantasy] Gunslinger 1982-Ongoing, Bram Stoker Award Misery 1987. Prime writing years Age 30-50 [ending with The Green Mile].
Piers Anthony [Born 1934]: Definitive series Xanth 1977-Ongoing [I dare you to name all 36 current volumes!], Award Nebula Nomination A Spell for Chameleon, 1978. Prime writing years Age 32-52.
J.R.R. Tolkien [Born 1892]: Definitive series Lord of the Rings 1940+ [written], Published 1954, Award International Fantasy Award 1957. Prime writing years Age 40-57.
Arthur C. Clarke [Born 1917]: Definitive series Odyssey 1968. Hugo Award 1956 ‘The Star’, Prime writing years Age 40-55.
Robert Jordan [Born 1948]: Definitive series Wheel of Time 1990-Ongoing [Jordan died in 2007 at age 58], Locus Award Nominee Lord of Chaos, 1995, Prime writing years 40-50 [before the wheels came off Wheel of Time].
Isaac Asimov [Born 1920]: Definitive series Foundation 1942, Award Nebula The Gods Themselves, 1972, Prime writing years Age 22-65….
This could go on until the cows come home, but the essence of it breaks down to a set of years that ‘most’ great writers produce their best work, which is typically sometime between age 35 and age 55, a very comfortable twenty year window. Yes, yes, all points can be argued, all dates debated, but remember I’m talking as a whole.
The above is an average, but I believe my point is sound, that being that A Game of Thrones was written in Martin’s prime. Martin was born in 1948, so in 1994 he was 46 which pretty much puts him smack dab in the middle of his prime years. You add 17 years to that publishing figure for the release of A Dance of Dragons and all of a sudden you’ve slipped WELL past your golden creative window to the age of 63 [even the great Asimov was just doing novellas at this point in his life].
It’s hard to argue with his conclusions. There are the occasional exceptions, but I remember being simply confused when I read Caesar’s Women by Colleen McCullough, the fourth in her Masters of Rome series. While I enjoyed the first three, the fourth was almost as if it was written by a different writer. I never read Caesar, the fifth book, and while I did pick up a copy of The October Horse – great title, incidentally – it was almost unreadable from the start and I put it down almost immediately. McCullough was born in 1937, Caesar’s Women was published in 1996, three years after Fortune’s Favorites, when she was 59 years old. This suggests that somewhere between the age of 56 and 59, she lost her ups. Or her fastball, if you prefer baseball metaphors. Regardless, it’s quite in keeping with Taylor’s theory.
This is discouraging as a reader of Martin’s work, but I actually find it somewhat encouraging since the first volume in Arts of Dark and Light will be published while I’ve still got another 15 or 20 years left.