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 die...er, 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.
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