George R. R. Martin has become something of a legend in recent years. His short stories have been winning awards for decades and he’s been in the middle of the reformation of science fiction, horror and television throughout his career. More recently he wrote the fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire of which the first two books have been adapted to television in HBO’s A Game of Thrones season’s 1 and 2.
With all of those things it may be surprising to some that I have had very little interaction with Martin’s work. I have an anti popularity meter that goes off in my head. This is the reason that I have not read Harry Potter or seen Titanic or any of a number of other things.
I did once read a short story – ‘The Hedge Knight’ – by George R. R. Martin that I thought was really good.
I can only resist for so long. I decided to start with some short stories.
While any collection of short work is going to be a mixed bag I found this one to be spectacular.
Much of this first volume of Martin’s work is his early writing but even when he was in his early years he wove stories like fiction was his native language. A few highlights:
‘The Fortress’ is brilliant historical fiction about a time and place that many know little about.
‘The Exit to San Breta’ is the best ghost story I’ve read, though admittedly I don’t read many.
‘The Second Kind of Loneliness’ is a science fiction, psychological horror story that will send chills down your spine. Even if it is a little bit predictable.
‘With Morning Comes Mistfall’ and ‘A Song for Lya’ are science fiction that are meant to wrench your heart away… and they do.
Others that I found memorable were ‘This Tower of Ashes’, ‘And Seven Times Never Kill Man’, ‘Bitterblooms’, and ‘The Way of Cross and Dragon’. I find myself thinking about all of these stories whenever their author’s name is mentioned. They stick in my mind and bring up memories of sorrow or loss or anxiety and horror.
That is why I love them. The purpose of fiction is to give the human mind and psyche the opportunity to experience those troubling emoti
ons from a safe distance. We can sorrow and grieve and feel loss and pain and excitement and then we can close the book and walk away. When a story, in any medium, can wring those emotions from us in such a way that they feel real to us even after we’ve closed the book then the job has been not only accomplished, but mastered.
I find in many of these stories Martin has taken me and put me into another world where the events and emotions of a story become my own. I don’t have to be told when something is frightening or sad because I’m there and I can feel it.
However the greatness doesn’t stop there. At the beginning to each of the three sections of this book Martin has written a short explanation of what was going on in his life when he wrote them. These pieces are autobiographies that are told in some of the most poetic and loving language I’ve ever encountered. Martin truly loves the fields of fantasy and science fiction that he’s firmly established in and these little bits of his life show clearly his devotion and unashamed willingness to proclaim it’s affect on his life.
Martin is one of the most skilled writers today and it is evident that he has been one of the most skilled writers in any field for some time. These stories truly sing.