Welcome to the Second Apocalypse, Titan. Well met. I'm happy you've found your way here.
I discovered the series through a mention on the Westeros.org forums, and also by googling for fantasy maps. (I'm a real map nerd)
Have you seen Wertzone's piece regarding Bakker's maps?
Yes! I actually saw that, and that analysis of the maps is what finally convinced me to pick up the books. I really do like the realistic looking map, although I wish Bakker would show us more of Ešnna.
(Maps is actually one of my main irritation with GRRM... It painfully clear how the maps are just drawn to fit a book page, and how Westeros is just basically a mirrored England. There's also lots of unrealistic elements - Note how they are almost no rivers that flow in the northern direction, and how a major river flows from just north of KL all the way up into the neck of the North, past the "twins", it makes no sense)
And I agree, although Bakker has different strengths (and weaknesses) compared to GRRM.
What are the comparative weaknesses you perceive, Titan? Just curious.
Hmm... GRRM's writing is ... how should I put it... easier to read. Even though the 5th book (ADWD) is not GRRM's best, I actually found Tyrions journey through Essos to be my favorite part. A lot of people hated this part, but I can read though a LOT of well written world building without getting bored. Bakker has his moments, but frequently his descriptions of the world is lacking. It took until the 5th book to even get a clear picture in my mind of how the Sranc and Nonmen look, which seems like a rather basic failure. There is practically NOTHING about how the Sranc look in the first book (or did I miss it?), so I kept expecting a some sort of twist where the Sranc were just regular humans under some sort of mind-control. Or just a primitive tribe.
Now on the positive side, Bakkers world is FAR better though out, and it doesn't feel as ad-hoc or invented on the fly as GRRM's work. Yes, GRRM has the major elements in the history laid out, but it really feels like he is back-filling in details more then it should. And the "World of A Song of Ice and Fire" history book is great, but there is just so much bizarre stuff that seems like he just randomly came up with just for the book. Bakker has clearly put a LOT of thought into the physical and metaphysical rules of his universe, whereas in ASOIAF it seems like anything goes. Magic is just a some sort of elemental force that is applied where the plot needs it to be.
Does that make sense?