Untimely Deaths: A Game of Thrones and Beyond

A Game of Thrones is the first in a five-part epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire.

For a long time, the series was one of the pillars of fantasy reading but took a while to gather enough steam for a mainstream crossover audience. Happily, the television series launched last year managed to pull off the dangerous balancing-act between remaining true to the book and attracting new fans, and the first book is now number eight on the Whitcoull's Top 100 list.

Personally, I had the first book sitting around under my bed for about six months before the first season of TV came out. My then-flatmate had lent the book to me with strong recommendations, but a heavily political five-part series can be a time-consuming commitment to make and I shamefully neglected it.

Although I thought parts of the show dwelled on some problematic plot points - romanticising underage forced marriage, anyone?- it did have a similar effect on me as the rest of the Western world. As soon as the first episode finished, I dug out A Game of Thrones, dusted off the carpet lint and got stuck in.

Author George R. R. Martin sat down to write A Song of Ice and Fire as a trilogy in 1991, but eventually pushed back the publishing schedule to include plans for a fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh book. Fifth novel A Dance with Dragons was published last year, and the sixth and seventh are currently listed as “forthcoming.”

Unusually for a bestseller, A Song of Ice and Fire is not fantasy-lite in any way. It has been praised for its gritty realism by both mainstream and fantasy critics, but the series is unmistakably full-cream immersive epic fantasy, complete with princesses and dragons.

The central plot or node of the series has five self-proclaimed kings battling for control of a continent named Westeros. Alongside this is woven a slower-moving tale of icy supernatural monsters named the Others who are preparing to invade Westeros from the north, and another thread involving an exiled princess who has bred dragons to conquor Westeros from the east.

This story is told from a revolving third-person point of view, which grows to involve 31 characters by the fifth novel. The television series publicised a now-infamously discomforting aspect of A Song of Ice and Fire - Martin is not afraid to kill off main characters, and his world is a dangerous one. It adds zing to what could have become a slow-moving behemoth of a series.

While the huge scope of the series is part of what makes the novels so satisfying, it does raise an interesting problem as Martin himself grows older. As he continues to make each new book longer and longer, some fans are becoming concerned the author might actually die before we find out how it all ends.

Martin took over five years to finish A Dance with Dragons alone. Besides an abrupt end, there are two things which could happen if Martin's health gives out before he finishes the seventh book.

One possibility is that he might have left enough notes for editors and publishing staff to cobble together a collector's edition unfinished book. This worked very well for publishers Little, Brown and Company after David Foster Wallace committed suicide in 2008, leaving behind copious notes for his third novel, The Pale King.

Although incomplete, the gaps, holes and assorted texture actually suit Wallace's loose style- in my opinion, he never was one for tying up too many loose ends. Published in 2011, the book was painstakingly compiled by editor Michael Pietsch and was one of three finalists for this year's Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

A scarier idea is that a successor might take over the franchise. Frank Herbert's 1965 novel Dune is a gold-plated science fiction classic, and while I actually prefer the 1984 David Lynch film adaption (complete with soundtrack by Toto, there's no denying the book is a solid achievement.

Less impressive are the sequels and prequels written by Herbert's son Brian Herbert. Herbert Jnr. enlisted science-fiction author Kevin J. Anderson to help him write a trilogy some years following his father's death. In a familiar pattern, the planned trilogy eventually expanded into a wide, sprawling and frankly confusing universe of fourteen further novels, the latest of which came out just this year.

I'm crossing my fingers that Martin makes it to the finish line, but in the meantime, the third season of television will be released on March 31, 2013. It's adapting the first half of second novel A Storm of Swords, but I finished the fifth book just to make sure it didn't get ahead of me again.