Friday, February 22, 2013

George R.R. Martin before 'Game of Thrones'
     I have an antipathy to multivolume fantasy series, so I've never read  George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones or its sequels (the overall book sequence is titled A Song of Ice and Fire, but Game of Thrones fits it well-enough). I resisted watching the TV adaptation, too, even though it was getting rave reviews and I already had an HBO subscription. Finally, a co-worker convinced me that the first season was more of a medieval epic with very little Tolkien-style wizardry, so I watched an episode on On Demand.
     I was hooked.
     I still haven't read any of the books. There are five published so far, with at least two more planned (the series has expanded from Martin's original intentions before). The last one took five years. That's one reason I prefer to read a series after the last volume has been published: I want the option of reading them all straight through. I hate to wait if I read faster than the author writes.
     (I learned this lesson the hard way after reading the first two volumes in Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series, with a third and final volume promised for six months later; it came more like six years later, and was only a preamble for a fourth volume. Also, Farmer apparently rethought the plot and his writing style, so volume 3 was more of a reset than a sequel, longer than the first two books combined, with lots of new characters who mostly died by the end of the book.)
     I understand the third season of Game of Thrones will only adapt half of the third book in the series (either because there is too much action to fit into one season or because they are hoping to give Martin time to finish the final volumes before the TV series catches up).
     I'm not sure how closely the cable series is following the books, but if I did read the books published so far, it would spoil the surprise while taking me little closer to resolving the overall storyline.
     If you have read all of the books and are looking for some other George R.R. Martin books to read, several have been recently re-released, including some short story collections. Here are three I've read and can recommend:


by George R.R. Martin 
and Lisa Tuttle

     My favorite George R.R. Martin story was The Storms of Windhaven, co-written with Lisa Tuttle, a novelette that formed the first part of the later novel titled simply Windhaven. The second part was pretty good, too, but I didn't care for the third section very much. It's a science fiction story, set on the planet Windhaven, so-called by the survivors of a spaceship crash-landing because it is a windy planet with no large inhabitable land mass, just islands. Unable to repair their ship, they stripped it for parts and learned to live on the planet. To connect the scattered islands, they created wings from their star sail with which individual fliers could glide/fly. These fliers are the most respected members of the community, and the wings are passed down from father to son (if there's no son, only then a daughter).
     The first story deals with Maris, a young woman, the adopted daughter of a flier, who wants to inherit the wings. The flier has a younger son by blood who tradition demands receive the wings, but he doesn't want them.
     Parts two and three continue Maris' story, but I wish Martin and/or Tuttle had revisited Windhaven. There were more stories than Maris’.

The Armageddon Rag
By George R.R. Martin

     Another novel, The Armageddon Rag, is a horror novel in which a rock and roll promoter reunites a classic band from the 1960s whose lead singer was assassinated on stage during their last performance (I believe the band's name was derived from Tolkien, and the lead singer, who was a little on the short side, was known as Hobbit). He finds a young singer who looks like the original one; in concert, he even seems to be possessed by him.
     The protagonist, a rock critic covering the tour, discovers its a plot to bring back the spirit of the ’60s through magic, and at first assumes that's the Summer of Love, flower children, peace, etc., but it turns out to be the dark side of the ’60s -- riots, assassinations, excess, etc. It's all to culminate in another live assassination of the lead singer while in concert.
     This has some real rock verisimilitude, which I think I found more interesting than the black magic, as well as a more realistic look back at the good and the bad of the 1960s. 

Wild Cards I
edited by George R.R. Martin

     Probably Martin's biggest project before Song of Ice and Fire was Wild Cards, a series of anthologies and mosaic novels involving super heroes in the real world.  (A mosaic novel is one where different writers write interlocking sequences, involving different characters, usually characters they created, with the whole thing woven together but no clear beginning or end for each writer's thread. I think George R.R. Martin created the term.)
     The initial premise: an alien race decides to test a virus weapon on Earthlings because we're genetically similar to them. One alien, believing this is wrong, tries to stop it and then, having failed, decides to remain on Earth to try to repair or at least ameliorate the damage as much as possible.
     The virus becomes known as the Wild Card virus because it kills about 90 percent of its victims, with another 9 percent or so horribly mutilated or deformed (Jokers) and 1 percent given super human abilities (Aces). That 1 percent become sort of heroes. Among the Aces are Dr. Tachyon (the alien who tried the stop the virus' release, who has telepathy and knowledge of super science), Golden Boy (super strong, almost invulnerable to harm and doesn't age), The Sleeper (he sleeps for weeks at a time, than awakens with a different Ace or Joker gift), The Great and Powerful Turtle (a powerful telekinetic) and Fortunato (who channels tantric energy in a variety of psychic ways).
     The first book, Wild Cards, is an anthology covering the first generation of Aces and Jokers, from just after WWII (a war hero known as Jetboy dies trying to stop the virus from being released) to the 1970s or '80s. Different writers did stories on each character, with a little overlap, plus brief excerpts from books and articles about the Wild Cards, including (if memory serves) items supposedly written by Studs Terkel, Tom Wolfe and Hunter S.Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Jokertown). The second book, Wild Cards: Aces High, was also an anthology, but covering a much shorter period of time and with a single overall plot, connected by Jubal, a walrus man who is believed to be a Joker but is really an alien, and the imminent invasion or destruction of Earth by something called Tiamat (after the Sumerian god).
     After that, the mosaic novels started, plus a few single author novels. The series is still ongoing (Book 21, Fort Freak, came out in paperback last year, and at least one more is promised). There were a couple of comic book mini-series also. I read the first three, but the first was by far the best and well-worth reading. Martin created and writes The Great and Powerful Turtle.


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