My grandfather was a lifelong reader of any sort of history. He read Gibbons’ entire eight volume Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire twice once retired, Churchill’s five volume History of the English Speaking Peoples so many times the binding is as worn as an old library book, even though he took care of his book like precious artifacts. For Christmas of 2001, I got him the first three volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire on a gut feeling. He had never read science fiction or fantasy, but something about these books just felt like the thousand page histories of various kings and queens that filled his shelves to bursting. And he loved them.
He read them straight through in a week or two, and then four years later I got him A Feast for Crows when it arrived at last. He started the books at the beginning and read all the way through all four in a row. When we talked on the phone about them, I said that when the fifth book came out, I’d send that to him too. “Steven,” he said, “I’m going to be dead before he finishes.”
He never read A Dance with Dragons. I had the hardcover of it myself and was supposed to bring it with me when I visited in the couple of months after it was released, but the call came that he was in the hospital first and in the end, that was that.
I’m not writing this to give George R.R. Martin a hard time for the five or six years that pass between each of these releases. God knows he gets enough of that, in all manner of distasteful and rude forms, on the Internet. But it sparks my fury to hear the news that Martin met last week with HBO and ran through what was supposed to happen with the various stories and plotlines as the series is quickly catching up with where the books are at. What tragedy it would be if a writer’s magnum opus was released first as a television series and then never finished in text.
No, this is a plea from one far less published writer to another. You might have forty years left, but you might have one. You’re a writer, sir, we know that you’ll keep writing until the moment of your end. Terry Pratchett has displayed such awe-inspiring tenacity as his body has betrayed him in age, dictating his last several books. Stephen King’s magnum opus was about an inch from ending half-finished. Robert Jordan was taken suddenly and far younger than anyone expected, with several more books still remaining in his great work, leaving enough time to pass on his notes so that Brandon Sanderson could finish.
They’re your books, your stories, your visions. This is a plea for you to hurry up, not because I’m angry that I don’t have another book to read, nor resentful that my grandfather never got to finish your series, but because it breaks my heart to think of someone else finishing what you started. Finish it for yourself. Lock it up in a box for twenty years if you like, but finish it so that way your story remains yours.