A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
by George R. R. Martin
reviewed by Chris Lampton
In a recent interview that I either read or saw with George R.R. Martin, he said that he likes to add new viewpoint characters in each book of the Song of Ice and Fire series, allowing the story to spread out further and further into the world of his alternative middle ages, bringing new kingdoms, countries and continents into the world-encompassing war that began near the end of A Game of Thrones.
Great idea, George. Pity it doesn’t work.
If anything has weakened the last couple of books in the series, it’s that none of the new characters, the ones introduced since the first book, has been as interesting as the members of the Stark, Lannister and Targaryen families, and it’s still the initial set of eight viewpoint characters (at least those among them who have survived) and their immediate relatives that the reader cares most about. The increasing bloat of secondary characters nearly swamped the fourth book of the series, A Feast for Crows, and if the series recovers its footing in the fifth book, A Dance with Dragons, it’s because Martin wisely concentrates the narrative on the three strongest viewpoint characters remaining from that initial eight: Tyrion Lannister, Daenaerys Targaryen and Jon Snow (though one of the most fascinating chapters in this book is about the most underused of the original set of characters: Bran Stark).
A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
reviewed by Chris Lampton
Let’s see, according to my Nook, I have over the last three months read 3,477 pages of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (including the first book, A Game of Thrones, which I wrote about earlier). It is with great sincerity, then, that I say the following: Whew!
I’m not sure if that’s a whew! of admiration or a whew! of exhaustion, but it’s a whew! of something, that’s for sure. Martin is a terrific writer, one of my favorites, but he does like to go on and on and on and on and on and on and…next month he’ll be publishing another 1,000 pages or so for me to read, with still another two books left before the series is done. Assuming he doesn’t drop dead from carpal tunnel syndrome before he types the final words of the final book, that means I’ll probably eventually read somewhere between 6,000 and 7,000 pages of Martin’s writing on this series alone.
A lot of you now know A Game of Thrones through the HBO series and a few of you have even read the book, but if you haven’t gotten beyond the first volume you may be wondering if the rest of the series is as good as the beginning. Well, no, it isn’t quite. But it comes awfully close. Martin’s writing can be trying at times. He likes to spend hundreds of pages setting up a situation, doling out exposition, even letting his myriad characters (and when you start counting the minor characters there’s a hell of a big myriad here) spend entire chapters in talky political wrangling or discussing the latest gossip about people who often have nothing whatsoever to do with the story, but once Martin has his plot wound up, he lets it explode and the result is thrilling in a way that popular fiction rarely is.
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by George R.R. Martin
reviewed by Chris Lampton
I first read this novel back in 1999 and was mesmerized by it. I’d forgotten much of it in the intervening years and I chose to reread it now because I wanted to freshen my memories of it in preparation for reading the remaining books in the series (those that have been published so far, at least, which will be four as of July) and because I didn’t want the parts of it that I didn’t remember spoiled for me by the HBO TV version. As it turned out, I didn’t remember very much about it at all. It also turned out that it was even better than I’d remembered.
I’ve been familiar with Martin’s work for many years — more about that in a moment — and knew that he was a good writer, but it wasn’t until I read A Game of Thrones that I realized just how good. It’s as perfect and gripping a piece of storytelling as I’ve ever had the pleasure to read, a type of novel that you don’t really find much of these days in which character and story are developed with leisurely yet never boring strokes and intertwined in such a way that each perfectly complements the other: The characters are illuminated by their actions within the story and the story is made compelling and exciting by the believability and depth of the characters. Martin’s writing style is neither literary nor pulpish, but tonally perfect for a story that’s simultaneously old fashioned and modern. His prose never grates yet it never calls attention to itself and he always knows precisely what details to draw out to make the novel’s millieu seem both vivid and lived in. Everything here seems real; much of what’s here seems thrilling.
by David S. Goyer and Michael Cassutt
reviewed by David Bischoff
Sometime in the early 50’s Arthur C. Clarke wrote a story that appeared in WORLDS OF IF. In the story a huge spacecraft is discovered in our Solar System, approaching Earth. In the 1970’s, not far from his triumphant work with Stanley Kubrick on 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY, Clarke expanded the idea into a novel called RENDEVOUS WITH RAMA. A very High Concept indeed, and fraught with mystery. What is in this huge ship, ask Earth’s spacemen of the future. Let’s go check it out!
In 1981, Thomas F. Monteleone and I borrowed the idea — and populated the Big Dumb Object (thanks Greg Benford) with dinosaurs for DAY OF THE DRAGONSTAR, the first of a trilogy. Now, after many Big Dumb Objects in science fiction, we’ve got something special. Here’s a Big Dumb Object coming toward Earth very similar to the one in RAMA, in our very near future. But the astronauts who go out to check it out discover not dinos inside but…
LOST! And to good effect. LOST, of course, is the epic TV series taking a TWILIGHT ZONE sort of concept and stretching it season after season. It created a fascinating web of plots and characters with mystery after mystery begging answers… finally choosing to melt into an ooze of emotionally satisfying resolution for all the characters, but few satisfying answers to the puzzle posed by the plot.
HEAVEN’S SHADOW is the name of the first of a three book series by David S. Goyer and Michael Cassutt. It’s a convincing near-future novel (particularly in the astronautics division) that slowly steers us from Tom Clancy air space, through Clarke and LOST, straight into a series of events that read like a superb novelization of an excellent television series.
Oh yes, and with a fascinating detour through Stanislaw Lem’s SOLARIS.
You see, what our heroes find on the Keanu (name of Big Dumb Object) are resurrections of dead loved ones.
The most fun for me was that for all the high tech and start of the art terminology, this book eventually becomes a wonderful old fashioned science fiction adventure with an SF theme ringing back far before Arthur C. Clarke.
HEAVEN’S GATE is a page turning SF thriller of the best kind. Engrossing, stimulating — and with an ending that promises greater mysteries and surprises to come.
ON SOME BOOKS BY J. G. BALLARD
by Chris Lampton
For some reason, in the 1950s through the 1970s, British science fiction writers became obsessed with the idea of global disaster and wrote novel after novel in which the entire human race falls victim to some horrible shift in the balance of nature. I suppose one could argue that this trend really began with the 1906 H.G. Wells novel In the Days of the Comet, where mysterious gases from a comet’s tail put everyone on earth to sleep for three hours, or even his 1898 The War of the Worlds, where England is devastated by a Martian invasion, but the movement got underway in earnest with John Wyndham’s 1951 The Day of the Triffids, where not only does everyone on earth go blind from meteor light but the planet is simultaneously invaded by sentient plant life. It was as though Wyndham wanted to combine the two Wells novels into a disaster two-fer, with the invaders and the comet conspiring together to end civilization. And then there was John Christopher’s 1956 No Blade of Grass (AKA The Death of Grass), about global famine, and John Brunner’s one-two ecological punch of Stand on Zanzibar (1968) andThe Sheep Look Up (1972), where the earth is devastated by overpopulation and pollution, respectively. (One could also argue that this trend in British SF has never really ended and that P.D. James’ 1992 The Children of Menbelongs to it as well.)
No writer, British or otherwise, has ever become quite so obsessed with the disaster novel as James Graham (J.G.) Ballard. These days the late Mr. Ballard is better remembered for his 1973 flight of surrealism Crash, about people with a sexual fetish for automobile accidents (made into a 1996 movie by David Cronenberg, not to be confused with the 2004 Academy-Award-winning Crash by Paul Haggis), and his semi-fictionalized autobiographyEmpire of the Sun, made into a film by Stephen Spielberg with the young Christian Bale as the teenage Ballard’s avatar. He also became part of the New Wave science fiction movement of the 1960s and 70s, based around the British short story magazine New Worlds, where a group of young writers, both British and American, tried to demonstrate that science fiction could be a form ofavant-garde literature, a movement that eventually died but that immeasurably elevated the writing level of most science fiction that followed even as Star Wars was trying to dumb it back down. However, his writing career began in 1961 with the apocalyptic science fiction novel The Wind from Nowhere, which was followed by three more remarkably similar works of apocalyptic science fiction. It was almost as though Ballard were trying to write the same novel over and over again until he finally got it right. I read the first of these when I was in high school and found it enjoyable, but the other three sat on my shelf in their original paperback editions unread for many years. I finally decided to simply read all four in one long session to see just what the hell Ballard had been up to.