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Scott Taylor posted a blog about George R.R. Martin, the last two books in the Ice & Fire series, and some thoughts about the impact of aging on writers at the Black Gate web site.

I am simultaneously angered, disturbed or frightened.

Basically, his argument is that A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons suck because Martin has passed his creative prime. He wondered why those two books took so long to write and why they are "complete, rambling turds."  Ouch.

His explanation? "Well, when I got right down to it, there wasn’t any real mystery… the problem here is age."  He goes on to say, ". . . we all have an expiration date. I mean somewhere on our bodies there really should be a label that says, ‘best if used by’."

Double ouch.

At first the whole article pissed me off.  I know George in a passing sort of way from brief encounters at conventions, and in a readerly sort of way by reading his books and blog.  The idea that someone would post in such a public venue that George is getting dotty, at least in his writing, just seems rude.  It's like Taylor forgot that sometime, inevitably, someone will point the article out to George.  I mean, it's one thing to say that you don't like the work that someone has done--writers expect that--but it's quite another to offer a personal explanation based on guesses about the writer.  This is basic, workshop etiquette: you can critique the manuscript, but you can't extend your critique to what you suppose was going on with the writer when it was written, or what the manuscript might reveal to you about the author, etc.  Critique the story, not the writer.

Besides, George is a real person.  A walking, breathing, feeling human being whose feelings have as much of a right not to be assaulted as the next person.  

And a double besides, the basis for Taylor's opinion is that the last two Ice & Fire books suck.  I disagree.  I loved them.  Every chapter struck me as a narrative gem.  I said so in an earlier post.

Yes, yes, I know that George R.R. Martin is a public figure and journalistically open game for fair comment, and that he's a grown adult who can take care of himself.   Still.  Sheesh!

But all that aside, Taylor's opinion touches on a personal hot button topic for me.  What is happening as I age?  We know that at the end of a long life, for almost everyone, there's a diminishing of mental capacity.  Senile dementia in a variety of flavors and forms seem to be awaiting.  Argh!  What's disturbing about this is that it's probably not likely for most people that they'll be tooling along at full mental capacity one day, and then click into reduced mental capacity the next.  There's a slide into recognizable symptoms.

When does that slide begin?  How does that slide impact creativity and the ability to produce interesting and vital new work?  I think Taylor asks legitimate questions, even if we can't quite agree on a definition of "interesting" and "vital."

It doesn't help that Taylor's list of authors who did their best work early has them all finishing before they reach sixty, except for Asimov and McCaffrey, who he suggests were less effective after sixty-five.  "Hey," says the fifty-seven-year old me.  "I'm standing right here!"

Of course, what I have to conclude is that for me, personally, and for every other creative person out there, the answer to the questions about mental decay and age have no relevance, on the personal level.  It's not like I'll wake up one day, realize I've lost my last bit of edge, and then totter over to my rocking chair.  I'll continue to write as long as I have things to say.  I'll try to continue to grow and improve in my craft as long as I'm still working at it.

I assume that's what every writer does.  I'll bet it's what George R.R. Martin does too.

If you have more interest in the topic of age and creativity, I'd suggest getting a copy of Nicholas Delbanco's Lastingness: the Art of Old Age.  


( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 29th, 2012 12:55 am (UTC)
Senile dementia is not a normal part of aging. It is a syndrome that affects some unlucky people as they get older, and not others. There is an argument to be made that senile dementia is the same as Alzheimer's. The sort of decline in mental function that IS a normal part of aging is nothing that can't be compensated for by a) changing work habits and b) gaining in wisdom and experience.

The guy who wrote that article is an ignorant young punk, and some day he'll be embarrassed by it.
Jan. 29th, 2012 01:01 am (UTC)
I'm sorry I didn't make the idea that not everybody becomes senile clearer in my reply to Taylor's article. My father, though, probably has Alzheimer's we recently learned, and it's been on my mind a lot.
Jan. 29th, 2012 02:05 am (UTC)
Well, that Taylor guy seems to think he can diagnose someone with senile dementia/Alzheimer's just because he doesn't think an author's newest book is any good (although he didn't read it).

I'm sorry about your Dad. My grandma had Alzheimer's and it was very hard.
Jan. 29th, 2012 06:07 pm (UTC)
The guy who wrote that article is an ignorant young punk, and some day he'll be embarrassed by it.

You left out an adjective--"arrogant."

ETA--Not just being snarky here--he really does come off like a cocky, arrogant twit (and young for a 40 year old) who won't Get It with age and experience.

Edited at 2012-01-29 06:09 pm (UTC)
Jan. 29th, 2012 02:15 am (UTC)
Who the fuck is Scott Taylor?
Jan. 29th, 2012 05:28 pm (UTC)
Yes. This is my question as well.
Jan. 29th, 2012 03:57 am (UTC)
What does Scott Taylor's age say about him? That he's an arrogant jerk? What a wacky premise.
Jan. 29th, 2012 04:01 am (UTC)
It's my impression that sf/fantasy writers are most likely to stop producing their best work because of intelligent-but-stupid decisions. "Hey, I've figured out a way to tie all my story universes together!" "I haven't preached nearly enough about conservativism/feminism/the One True Way of Sex/___! I vow to put much more of that in my stories!"
Jan. 29th, 2012 04:57 am (UTC)
LOL! I think I know the three authors you have in mind!
Jan. 30th, 2012 03:15 am (UTC)
Six, actually. Three for the first part, three others for the second part.
Jan. 29th, 2012 07:42 am (UTC)
There's also "Now that I'm a best-selling author, I can do anything I want, so...."
Jan. 29th, 2012 07:10 pm (UTC)
This factor is not exclusive to SF/F authors.

Let us also add the factors outside the author:

The PTBs (publisher, owner, board members, corporate overlords) of the company want to get the book out there making money rather than go through the months-long rigmarole of real editing and rewriting. "Yes, this is good enough" happens a lot. Why spend hundreds of person-hours (necessitating more staff) when it won't make a difference in how the book sells?

I think the last three Harry Potter books desperately needed an editorial knife, but I'm certain it wasn't because Rowling had super-early-onset dementia. (She's in her mid-40s now.)
Jan. 29th, 2012 09:43 am (UTC)
What a jerk. And based on what, exactly? A subjective opinion on books? For myself, I thought A Dance with Dragons was one of the best of the series (I was less keen on A Feast for Crows, because it felt like an intermediary book with people moving into position for the next books, but again ... subjective!)

Jan. 29th, 2012 06:54 pm (UTC)
Note: he didn't even READ A Dance with Dragons. That's the most tragically stupid part of the whole thing.
Jan. 29th, 2012 12:03 pm (UTC)
I can't comment on George R.R. Martin's novels because I haven't read them, but there really isn't any universal cut-off point for when writers should stop writing.

Edith Pargeter (writing as Ellis Peters) didn't create Brother Cadfael until she was in her 60s and these are some of her best and most popular books. She kept writing until her death at the age of 82. I didn't notice any falling off in quality.

Another example is Terry Pratchett who, despite now suffering from a rare form of early onset Alzheimer's, is still writing as well as ever. His Tiffany Aching books are IMHO some of the best he's ever written and the first appeared when he was 55. The latest came out last year when he was 63 and increasingly handicapped by the Alzheimer's.

OK, those are both British authors, but I'm sure that there are plenty of US authors who kept on writing or even started writing later in life.
Jan. 29th, 2012 07:38 pm (UTC)
I bailed from Pratchett at SMALL GODS, iirc; and from Xanth at QUESTION QUEST.
Jan. 29th, 2012 03:29 pm (UTC)
[links] Link salad lies in bed way too long
User jaylake referenced to your post from [links] Link salad lies in bed way too long saying: [...] An excellent piece, even by his usual high standards. Angered, Disturbed or Frightened: Can't Tell [...]
Jan. 29th, 2012 06:12 pm (UTC)
Re: [links] Link salad lies in bed way too long
this is enough to trigger the thoughts for my blog post of the day. Methinks I may mutter a bit about neuroscience and aging.

(and what about Fred Pohl? Arthur C. Clarke? King's still producing decent work. In the mainstream there's the talk of the "Nobel curse" on writers like Steinbeck and Hemingway, but...eh, look at the lives they led)
Jan. 29th, 2012 07:05 pm (UTC)
Losing It
User elfs referenced to your post from Losing It saying: [...] In my inbox to read this morning is Jim Van Pelt's Angered, Disturbed or Frightened: Can't Tell [...]
Jan. 29th, 2012 09:18 pm (UTC)
Wait, that guy is citing Terry Goodkind as a source of wisdom?

Um. Yeah.

I will freely own that I think A Feast for Crows showed clear signs of the story going astray (in ways that echo what I've observed as I've re-read and analyzed the Wheel of Time), and what I've heard of A Dance with Dragons from friends makes me fear the trend is continuing. (No, I haven't read it yet, for the same reason that I stopped with the Wheel of Time until recently: the lag between books is long enough, and promises to continue to be long enough, that I'd rather wait until the end is genuinely in sight.) Obviously opinions vary on that, and so do speculations as to the reason. I won't trouble anybody with my own theories, but let's just say that "age" SINGULARLY fails as a satisfactory explanation.

And pontificating in that fashion out in public? That's crass and rude, in a way that reflects the worst of the Internet. The person he's talking about is a person. I doubt he'd say those things to Martin's face, and he should remember that before he says them online.
Jan. 29th, 2012 11:04 pm (UTC)
And then, looking at the comments in the post...not only is Scott Taylor being snarky in comments but he counts the number of posts as a "win"--so clearly a self-promo move. Bleah.
Jan. 30th, 2012 02:11 am (UTC)
dementia and creativity
I think aging can enhance creativity. No more fumbling over the technical things that had to be learned when we were younger. As an artist I think Gary and I are getting better every day - and if we aren't we can identify what the problem is and then change the result. What about age and wisdom? The only reason we've thrown that out is because of technology - in traditional societies where nothing changes, the old know everything from experience. Been there, done that! But in a society that has been rapidly changing since the 1880s, we value the new, the latest - and the wisdom of age is devalued. It still exists in the area of human relationships and areas where technology is not the be all, end all. Writing and art are two of the areas where humanity is most important, Until we get bored with life and have no ideas (something I've seen too often in the teens I've taught!) keep creating. The creating will keep you going - and if you do get dotty, so what! Dementia could be as interesting as a trip on drugs.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )