Thursday, April 5, 2012

Celebrating George R. R. Martin

John DeNardo posts on Kirkus Reviews about the books George R. R. Martin wrote before "Game of Thrones." He points out, quite rightly, that Martin was already an established author and editor, respected in science fiction, well before his work broke big. I won't repeat this list of his achievements here -- you can go read DeNardo. My personal revelation after reading the article was, "Oh thank goodness, I'm not the only one who loved Martin's work, gave up on "Game of Thrones," and hope Martin returns to writing stuff I can read." Not that DeNardo said that (he didn't), but that I no longer feel I have to justify myself.

I think the first of Martin's books I read was Windhaven (1981), co-written with the amazing and wonderful Lisa Tuttle. (And if you don't know her work, you should immediately seek it out.) It was good solid science fiction, full of action yet thoughtful, and as a woman reading it in the early 1980s, the heroine who wanted to fly spoke right to me. The book marked both authors as "look out for their work." Then followed (not in publication order, in reading order) was Fevre Dream. Steamboats and suitably scary vampires, not the current angsty sparkly kind. Think gothic, think Mississippi River in late 1850s, think seriously creepy.

I've read other work by Martin, but the one that lingers in my mind was his first published book, Dying of the Light (1977).
First, he gives us a planet that, due to its disturbed orbit, is headed so far from its sun that life cannot be sustained. In other words, a long slow journey into endless night. During its time of habitability, people from all over have established a temporary civilization, a sort of "be merry, for tomorrow we, go home." Now shadows are falling, the plants and animals are struggling to adapt to reduced sunlight, and scientists are studying the whole process. And hunters are using it for their private and very bloody playground. That in itself, for me, is worth the price of admission. But Martin uses it as a backdrop for examining cultural conflict, love and betrayal. Pulls it all together, he does, with lots of twists and nifty stuff. Some of the images were so vivid that I still remember them years after reading the book, as lonely and sorrowful as the city, where the wind over the rooftops plays a haunting lament.

"Game of Thrones," on the other hand, simply didn't work for me. Or rather, the first book and a chapter didn't work for me. Characters I really don't want to read about, getting ripped out of every interesting story line time and again... just about the only thing I cared about was the dire wolves, and them only because my ex used to volunteer at the Page Museum (La Brea tarpits) in LA. And those were way cooler than Martin's wolves. Sigh.

Now I am reminded that I can enthuse of Martin's work and simply ignore all the hoo-hah about the ones I don't like. What, you like "Game of Thrones" -- great! There's more than enough cool stuff to go around. I'll stick with Dying of the Light and Fevre Dream.


  1. I still think Martin's best writing is in his short fiction. I read his aSoIaF books first but Dreamsongs really blew me away. It definitely pays to look beyond Westeros when reading Martin.

    Judging from the lack of commercial success not many people will disagree with me but the novel I like best is still The Armageddon Rag. It makes you want to play music very loudly :P

  2. Hi Val, Yes I agree. Just because aSoIaF made it big does not mean it is his only work, or his best (best being completely subjective). Some readers love everything he's written, and one can only hope that the commercial success will lead to greater visibility for his other work.

    I haven't read Armageddon Rag because I'm profoundly uninterested in rock music. However, with your recommendation, I will give it a try.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Dying of the Light & Martin's short fiction are among the best & the most memorable fiction I've ever read. I only read Game of Thrones because of those earlier works. ASOI&F remains the only high fantasy I currently read.
    Martin wrote the script for the debut episode of the Twilight Zone revival,an adaptation of 1 of his own short stories, Sandkings. Both that & the big screen adaptation of another of his short stories, Nightflyers, didn't turn out nearly as well as the Game of Thrones on HBO.

  5. I'm struck by how, when an author "makes it big" with a series (or novel), especially one that gets adapted for film or TV, that's what he or she is known for.

    When I talk about my work continuing Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Darkover" series to non-sf/f readers, I usually get a blank look until I mention "Mists of Avalon." When an author has as rich and varied a bibliography as Bradley or Martin, it seems a shame to be known only for one work.