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If an HBO series brings instant gratification, George R.R. Martin's books certainly don't. Readers are left to fantasize about an ending.

You can consider this a disgruntled fan's guide to Game of Thrones.

Normally I'd be thrilled that HBO is making a lavish television series about some of my favorite books, a hugely popular fantasy series by author George R.R. Martin. (The fifth of 10 episodes airs tonight, and the show has been renewed for a second season.) Normally I'd be pleased by the high production values, the talented cast, the faithfulness to the story line, the epic sweep of the plot.

So why am I so annoyed?

It's because, like a lot of Martin's fans, I've been turned off by his apparent lack of interest in finishing the story.

The much-hyped HBO series will no doubt get a lot of people to pick up these books for the first time. But they should know what they're getting into.

At this point, Martin has produced four books out of what is to be a seven-book series called A Song of Ice and Fire. (It was originally going to be a trilogy. It grew.)

He left readers with a number of cliff-hangers, and then . . . nothing. Progress on the story ground to a halt. At this point, some of the main characters haven't appeared in print in more than a decade.

So what does the writer do instead of writing? Well, he blogs endlessly about his beloved New York Jets. He makes appearances at sci-fi conventions, where he is treated like a god. He approves designs for official Ice and Fire broadswords, board games, calendars, pewter miniatures and other claptrap.

A new book is finally coming out this summer - allegedly - but I'm leery of picking up the series ever again. My problem goes to the question: Just what, if anything, does an artist owe his or her fans?

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Martin's work is fantasy with an edge, his books stuffed with sex, violence and political intrigue. Time magazine calls him "the American Tolkien" and just named him one of the 100 most influential people of 2011.

His Ice and Fire series, which has sold more than 7 million copies, has been described as "fantasy for people who don't like fantasy," a kind of Lord of the Rings meets The Sopranos. It's a huge, sprawling story about rival feudal dynasties warring across two imaginary continents.

The first book, A Game of Thrones, and the following two books came out in 1996, 1998 and 2000 - see the pattern there? They absolutely took root in my imagination.

Then things began to stall.

The fourth and most recent book, A Feast for Crows, was published in 2005. And it was half a book.

The manuscript for Crows had grown way too big, so Martin and his publishers decided to split it into two books.

But instead of dividing it in half chronologically, Martin divided up his characters and stuck about half of them in Crows, with the other half to follow in a future book. Some fans were disappointed because many of the best characters were missing from Crows - no Tyrion Lannister, no Jon Snow, no Daenerys Targaryen.

In a postscript to the book, Martin assured readers that the next one was half-written and should be finished in a year.

Six years have passed.

Some of the author's fans have become restless. They heckle him on blogs with names like "Is Winter Coming?" and "Finish the Book, George." They note, impolitely, that Martin is 62 and fat and, at this rate, he could die before he finishes the story.

Martin is defensive about it. In a recent profile in the New Yorker, he suggested that his critics were spoiled and felt entitled.

Fellow fantasy writer and fan favorite Neil Gaiman has come to Martin's defense, writing on his own blog, "George R.R. Martin is not your bitch."

Fine, fine.

Does Martin really owe us prompt service? Is he an artist or a delicatessen? It can be argued that if a writer wants to spend his time on other projects, that's his prerogative.

But I say Martin hasn't been living up to his end of the bargain. The story isn't finished. It's as if Tolkien wrote The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers and then decided to futz around for a while.

The fifth book in Martin's series, A Dance With Dragons, comes out in July. He says he hopes the final two novels will come faster, but can we believe that?

Long-waiting fans will no doubt rush to get their hands on the new novel. But not me, George R.R. Martin, not me. I'll show you.

I'll wait till the paperback comes out.