A Game of Thrones may be the most popular thing in the world right now, but before he reached Stephen King-fame, George Martin fiddled about with writing in a variety of genres, most notably horror and science fiction. Most of it is good or, at the very least, interesting.
Here are three stories of his that I highly recommend for Martin fans, while they wait for him to coax that sixth book out from his fingertips.
1. Fevre Dream
Fevre Dream is a vampire story. And not one of those recent ones where the vampires are full of self pity and, for some reason, fall in love with little girls many, many decades younger. No, Fevre Dream is about Abner Marsh, an overwieght Mississippi steamboat captain that is not exactly your typical protagonist. And (keep this to yourselves) I couldn’t help but envision George Martin himself as Abner while reading the book).
The world of the book is deep. Encompassing. You feel the heat and the humidity and you smell the marshes as you read. The story is good and, more importantly, scary. It works. The vampires are ruthless killers who think of humans as walking bags of blood to be used and tossed. It is infuriating, exhilarating and well-written.
Fevre Dream is a criminally under-read piece of vampire fiction, and I rate it just below Richard Matheson’s excellent I am Legend.
In Martin’s own words:
“Let’s mix this with that and see what happens. Let’s cross some genre lines and blur some boundaries, make some stories that are both and neither. Some of the time we’ll make a mess, sure… but once in a while, if we do it right, we may stumble on a combination that explodes!
With that as my philosophy, it’s no wonder I’ve produced a number of odd hybrids over the years. Fevre Dream is one such.”
I Like sci-fi. I like horror. I like when assholes get what they deserve. And so I LOVE Sandkings.
In it, a man hosts competitions in parties at his house where guests bring animals that fight each other. Tarantulas against snakes, and so forth, and bets are made as to the outcome. Eventually, Simon (the main character) gets the Sandkings of the title, little creatures that are split into groups in a sort of fishtank. They start to worship him as a god. And they grow. And they start to take on the image of their god, and his temperment. And they grow. And they get out.
Sandkings is a novelette by George R. R. Martin, published in the August 1979 issue of Omni. It won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, the only one of Martin’s stories to have done so.
“That strange little shop on the back alley where queer, dangerous items can be bought had long been a familiar trope of fantasy. I thought it might be fun to do a science fiction version. … [Sandkings] has earned me more money than two of my novels and most of my TV scripts and screenplays.
Is it the best thing I ever wrote? You be the judge.”
3. The Hedge Knight
For those of you that cannot get enough Game of Thrones, there are the Hedge Knight stories. They even come in graphic-novel form now. I enjoyed The Hedge Knight very much, since Martin is forced to keep it short (it was written for an anthology of short stories) and so he doesn’t get into all the many characters/many places/many plots scenario he has gotten himself into with A Game of Thrones. It is funny, exciting and, in true Martin form, very bloody. It also adds some depth and sympathy to the Targaryen family. At least it did for me.
“The Hedge Knight is a prequel to my epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, set amongst the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros about ninety years prior to A Game of Thrones.
The Hedge Knight is high fantasy, nothing could be plainer. Or could it?”
4. Dreamsongs (bonus for reading this far)
The quotes above are taken from Dreamsongs, Martins collection of career-spanning stories. Dreamsongs is split into chapters, each covering a period of writing, both in time and genre. And each of those chapters is prefaced with a little bit about what his life was like at the time, how each story came to be and how it fared at the time and since. The book is worth buying if just for those parts. But it is also worth buying for the stories (including aforementioned Sandkings and The Hedge Knight) has some really good stories, of a number of genres; horror (The Monkey Treatment, The Pear-Shaped Man, Sandkings) werewolf story (The Skin Trade), fantasy, science fiction historical fiction… take your pick. I’m a Martin fanboy and so I own a first edition hardcover of Dreamsongs, but it was split into two for the paperback editions. Make sure to get both.
Fantasy? Science fiction? Horror?
I say it’s a story, and I say to hell with it.
– George R. R. Martin