These days, I doubt many people need an introduction to George R. R. Martin. His A Song of Ice and Fire is a huge (in every way) seller, and has been made into a very large TV series. I like Song, but that’s not why I’m writing today.
What triggered this was the re-publication of Martin’s first novel, 1977’s Dying of the Light. (Yes, that’s my “It changed my life” comment way down the page.) It really did, though. Through the generosity of a teacher, I acquired a bunch of pulp SFF magazines, and one of the Analogs had a serialized version of Dying of the Light. I recall that the first section was missing (I didn’t get that issue), and apparently the story was abridged. But I thought it was fantastic – the whisperjewel in particular (pretty much what it sounds like, but done with genius). The part of the story I had made a real impact on me – I just hadn’t run across that depth of emotion in SFF before.
I didn’t remember the author, just the story. Quite a few years later, I picked up Windhaven (Martin and Lisa Tuttle) – no idea why. It felt like three stories thrown together, but I liked one part of it. I think that was my second exposure to Martin.
I think that was what led me to go and find the book version of Dying of the Light, which I can’t recommend highly enough. But over the years, I also bought or ran across Martin’s short stories, and that’s what this post is really about. Sure, A Song of Ice and Fire is good – but it’s heavily political, and I just don’t find that exciting. As Ursula Le Guin once pointed out about Katherine Kurtz‘ Deryni novels, political stories can lose their footing in fantasy. I’m not saying Song has done that – just that I get enough politics in real life.
What I am saying is that short stories are where Martin’s real genius lies. I’ve read all (most?) of his novels, and they’re good. But for real talent, look to Song for Lya or Sandkings or Portraits of his Children. “The Longely Songs of Loren Darr” can stand against anything out there. Martin has relatively recently issued a couple of sort-of “best of” collections (Dreamsongs I & II), which are interesting mainly for his background notes. The stories are excellent, but what we really need is a Complete Short Stories (So far) that gathers EVERYthing up into one (or two) nice packages.
That said, Dreamsongs II includes a vampire/werewolf story called “The Skin Trade”. Reading it, I thought that Martin completely missed a trick. I appropriated that for a (completely different, and much more light-hearted) story called “Silver Lining” that was one my first published stories. So perhaps I owe Mr. Martin thanks for that as well.
All that said – if you think A Song of Ice and Fire is all there is to George R. R. Martin, you’re cheating yourself out of an epiphany if you don’t go pick up Dying of the Light and as many of Martin’s short story collections as you can find.